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January 2008, Volume 14, Number 1

Global: NAFTA, Chile, Dole

NAFTA. Mexico's national forestry commission (Conafor) reported that more Mexicans are buying home-grown Christmas trees. About two-thirds of the 1.3 million fresh-cut trees sold in Mexico are imported, but more Mexicans are cutting their own trees on the 750 farms covering 3,000 acres in Mexico.

Mexico's remaining tariffs on corn and beans were removed January 1, 2008, and many small farmers are trying to find alternatives, including Christmas trees. Employment in Mexican agriculture fell about 30 percent between 1994 and 2007, and it is hoped that more Mexican farmers can switch to specialty crops that include organic blue corn, sesame, coffee and cacao.

Chile. Chile exports about $2.2 billion of fresh fruit each year. In December 2007, strikes in the northern city of Copiap¢, Chile's first-of-the-season table grape, led to agreements that guarantee seasonal workers at least 251,000 pesos ($500) a month, the first successful strike of seasonal workers in the export-oriented fruit industry.

Labor accounts for 70 percent of costs in fresh grapes in Chile, and some growers are asking the government to allow them to import workers from Bolivia and Peru to harvest grapes.

Salmon farming centered on Lake Llanquihue has become the economic backbone of Chile's Patagonia's lakes region. However, uneaten fish pellets and salmon feces are adding nutrients to the lake that increases plankton growth and depletes oxygen, threatening some native fish. Salmon smolt are raised in fresh water, and then moved to saltwater facilities to mature; in other countries, smolt are raised in land-based facilities.

A third of the region's 50,000 people are employed in the salmon industry. To preserve the purity of the lakes' waters, no new fish farms have been allowed for the past decade, but existing farms have been allowed to expand, and they have. SalmonChile says that the expansion has been sensitive to the environment; critics say it threatens to destroy both the salmon and the tourism industries.

Dole-Dow. A Los Angeles jury in November 2007 awarded $3.2 million to six Nicaraguan farm workers who had sued Dole Food, alleging that they were made sterile by a Dow-made pesticide, DBCP, that was used in the 1970s on Dole plantations in Nicaragua. Courts in Nicaragua awarded workers $600 million from Dole and other companies, according to lawyers for the workers, but they have been unable to collect.

The jury also decided that Dole and Dow are liable for punitive damages. A Dole executive asked the jury not to assess punitive damages, saying that Dole has changed since it put 75,000 workers at risk by using DBCP on bananas. Dole converted from a public to a private corporation in 2001.

The Dole-Dow case was one of the first testing the reach of US courts to deal with claims outside the US. DBCP, which fights pests that attack the roots of fruit trees and increases banana yields by 20 percent, was suspended for most uses in the United States in 1977, but Dole continued to use DBCP on its Latin American plantations, saying it took precautions to ensure that workers did not come in contact with the chemical. Dole and Dow said they would appeal. Workers from Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala and Panama have suits pending against Dole and Dow in the US.

Chiquita Brands International announced plans in October 2007 to reduce employment in order to lower its costs.

Colombia exports coffee worth $1.5 billion a year, but has slipped to third among coffee exporters, behind Brazil and Vietnam. One result is a push in Colombia to emphasize quality, using the fictional Juan Valdez and his mule to label premium and organic blends of Colombian coffee.

Spain is making the transition from flood to drip irrigation, with the government paying for the cost of the infrastructure needed to install drip irrigation lines and telecommunications cables alongside main water conduits so that computers can regulate the flow of water. About 70 percent of Spain's water is used to irrigate crops.

The world's largest rose producer is Bangalore-based Karuturi Networks. Some 33 rose farms cover 200 hectares near Bangalore, where the mostly female labor force earns more money from year-round jobs than they used to earn as seasonal workers. The major rose exporters are Colombia, Ethiopia and Kenya, but many of the managers of rose farms are Indians.

The World Bank often advises developing countries in Africa to reduce input subsidies, arguing that the private market will substitute for government programs that provide subsidized seeds and fertilizers. Malawi first tried the private market approach, but reversed course when the result was high prices due to only a handful of private sector firms entering the market. Malawi's newly elected president in 2005 restored fertilizer subsidies and they, plus ample rains, gave the country a record corn harvest in 2007.

The European Food Safety Agency in January 2008 announced that meat from cloned animals was safe, potentially opening the door to US meat from cloned animals. The Food Safety Agency decision, which is not binding on the European Commission, had previously found that genetically modified crops posed no health or environmental risks. However, with the FSA saying that GMO crops are safe, EU efforts to ban them (or meat from cloned animals) could lead to challenges at the WTO.

The US Food and Drug Administration announced in January 2008 that food from cloned animals and their progeny is safe, making final a tentative decision reached in 2004. Since cloning animals is expensive, most observers expect cloned animals to be used for breeding, and their progeny to produce milk and meat.

Fisheries. Declining fish catches off the west African coast are reportedly spurring migration to the Canary Islands and on to Europe. In 2006, more than 31,200 migrants arrived in the Canaries, more than tripling the previous annual record and overwhelming authorities. Stepped-up maritime patrols off Africa's Atlantic coast run by the European Union border agency Frontex reduced smuggling activity in 2007. To avoid detection, the operators have shifted their departure points farther to the south where patrols are still weak, but the move only means the already dangerous trips are longer and more perilous.

Some fishermen reportedly offer their boats for smuggling migrants because there are fewer fish off the coast of northwest Africa. One reason for few fish is that EU-subsidized boats have fished in African waters, paying for the privilege. However, African governments seeking money have also allowed boats from Russia, China and elsewhere to fish, and with no idea of the stock of fish, the result is overfishing. The number of local fishing boats, known as pirogues, has increased rapidly, increasing pressure on fish stocks.

In the coastal waters off Senegal, for example, there are few remaining fish. Sharp declines in fishery stocks were reported over a decade ago, but that did not prevent the EU and Senegal to agree to a four-year deal under which the EU paid Senegal $4 million a year to fish for bottom-dwelling species and tuna. Mauritania sold fishing rights to 43 EU vessels for $146 million a year in 2006, even as the local fleet was shrinking because of too few fish.

Fish is the most traded animal commodity, with about 100 million tons of wild and farmed fish sold each year. The wild catch is estimated to be about 90 million tons a year, including 30 million tons that are discarded after being brought to the surface by nets and found to be unsalable.

Europe is the number one importer, and imports 60 percent of its fish, almost all from developing countries. It is very difficult to trace the origins of fish, so that when the EU places limits on fishing to preserve its stocks, buyers turn to fish from elsewhere. The China National Fisheries Corporation, for example, has offices along the West African coast and a compound in Las Palmas through which the fish its fleet catches pass en route to Europe.

Climate. The UN in Fall 2007 warned that human activities were increasing CO2 emissions, contributing to global warming.

The Food and Agriculture Organization says that livestock are responsible for 18 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions, and that their emissions will rise as consumption of meat and dairy products rises. Per capita meat consumption in developing countries rose from 31 pounds in 1980 to 62 pounds in 2002. Americans are the third-largest consumers of beef and veal, after Argentina and Uruguay.

Cows and other ruminants, such as sheep and goats, take in fodder and put out methane and nitrous oxide, two greenhouse gases that are far more efficient at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. One cow can produce 25 to 130 gallons of methane a day, and methane has 21 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide. Ruminants have four stomachs, the first of which, called the rumen, has bacteria that produce methane. Livestock manure produces both methane and nitrous oxide, which has 296 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide.

Sharon Lafraniere, "Europe Takes Africa's Fish; Migrants Follow," New York Times, January 14, 2008. "Chile's fruit industry braces for labor turmoil," Santiago Time, January 8, 2008. Marla Dickerson, "Many Mexican farmers find that Christmas trees provide a lucrative alternative to traditional crops," Los Angeles Times, December 22, 2007. John Spano, "Dole must pay farmworkers $3.2 million," Los Angeles Times, November 6, 2007.