January 2003, Volume 9, Number 1
Brazil, India, Bananas, Ecotourism
AgBrazil, a US company that helps US farmers get started farming in Brazil, estimates that there are 200 US farmers in Brazil. Many of the transplanted farmers in are the cerrado, a region of grasslands and savannas. Brazil has about four times more farm land than the US, and land suitable for growing soybeans averages about $700 an acre, compared to $3,000 to $4,000 an acre in the Midwestern US.
Most American farmers live only part of the year in Brazil, and most rely on bilingual managers to communicate with workers.
India. India's stockpile of rice and wheat has more than tripled to over 60 million tons, or roughly a quarter of world food stocks. India's total grain production in 2002 was about 220 million tons, and India is second only to Thailand as an exporter of rice.
India has a nationwide system of 454,000 ration or "fair-price" shops that distribute subsidized food to the poor, yet there are simultaneous food surpluses and shortages. Roughly a third of the food stocks meant for the poor are sold off on the black market by corrupt officials. Much of the remainder is rotting in central government warehouses: about half of India's food subsidy budget is spent on maintaining the country's stockpile of grains in warehouses.
Punjab has two percent of India's land and grows 55 percent of its food, in part because of high government-guaranteed prices, $129 a metric ton (2,200 pounds) in 2002, that have encouraged to plant more wheat and rice.
Chiquita. Chiquita, formerly United Fruit, has a great deal of influence in many of the Central American countries in which it grows bananas, which inspired the term "banana republic." The Cincinnati Enquirer published an 18-page section of articles critical of Chiquita on May 3, 1998, "Chiquita Secrets Revealed," but soon afterward issued a retraction and paid Chiquita $14 million, acknowledging that the reporter stole voice-mail messages.
Chiquita, which began in 1899, owns 119 farms from Honduras to Colombia, and employs 15,000 workers in Latin America, 70 percent of whom belong to unions. Chiquita worked with the Rainforest Alliance to develop guidelines for the Better Banana Program, an effort to be environmentally friendly, and there are discussions of adding a union label to Chiquita-grown bananas.
Dibromochloropropane, or DBCP, was used on bananas for decades, even after it was banned in the US in 1977 for causing sterility in men. Some 3,000 Central American banana workers sued American chemical and banana companies--Shell Oil, Dow Chemical and Occidental Chemical; Dole Food, Del Monte Fresh Produce and Chiquita Brands International-- in the US for damages, and they brought their case in US federal court.
There have been significant settlements. Starting in 1997, all of the companies except Dole settled with 26,000 former banana workers in Central America, Africa and the Philippines for $41 million which, after lawyer fees, gave workers an average of $1,500 each. The companies contend that class-action suits should only be heard in the country where the damage occurred.
Jobs on the banana plantations pay well by local standards, from $3,000 to $7,000 a year in Central America.
Ecotourism. Junin, a village of 250 in northern Ecuador in an area with 18,000 people, closed its mine and launched an ecotourism business, charging $28 a night for a room and three meals. In 1997, villagers burned an exploratory mining camp, fearing polluted water, and raised money to buy about 5,000 acres of land and set up an environmental preserve in the Andean cloud forest.
Only three of 46 families earn money directly from ecotourism; the other villagers are subsistence farmers, some of whom belong to a "fair trade" coffee-growing association that markets coffee at above-market prices to consumers in the United States and Europe. Daily wages average $3 a day, and some argue that the mine, which would have paid $10 a day, may have been an economic engine for the region.
Coffee. The New York Times on November 3, 2002 described the Fair Trade certified coffee movement as the 1960s grape boycott of the 21st century--antiglobalization and human rights advocates in California are pressuring coffee roasters and coffee shops to sell some or only coffee produced by farmers who received a "fair price" for their beans, about $1.25 a pound. The coffee industry has retail sales of $55 billion a year, and TransFair USA says that two percent of US coffee sales are fair-trade coffee.
According to advocates, farmers are paid about 24 cents a pound for beans, while retail coffee prices average $3.60 a pound. However, an initiative to require that only "fair trade" coffee sold in Berkeley, California failed in the November 2002 election
Jose Bove, the French sheep farmer and convicted vandal opposed to fast food and free trade, must serve 14 months in prison for smashing up a McDonald's in Millau and destroying several fields of genetically modified rice.
Dates. Iraq was once famous for the dates produced on the Fao peninsula south of the port city of Basra. However, most of the 16 million date palms were destroyed during the 1980-88 Iraq-Iran war, and only three million remain. Dates are rich in vitamins and minerals and last for months without refrigeration, and today most Middle Eastern dates are produced in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
Elaine Sciolino, "A Star of Anti-Globalization Has Fallen," New York Times, November 20, 2002. Edmund L. Andrews, "Ecotourism Is All Very Well, but $3 a Day Isn't," New York Times, November 13, 2002. Kim Bendheim, "Global Issues Flow Into America's Coffee," New York Times, November 3, 2002. Simon Romero, "U.S. Farmers Put Down Roots in Brazilian Soil," New York Times, December 1, 2002.