October 2014

October 13th, 2014

"In Kenya, where he works with small farmers, Daniel Maingi “failed miserably” in his attempts to connect with agricultural organizations funded by The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

So he and fellow African activists from Zimbabwe, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda and Ethiopia are bringing their message to Seattle, headquarters of the world’s richest philanthropy. At a Town Hall event Sunday, The Global Struggle for Food Sovereignty, they will argue that the foundation’s push for a “Green Revolution” in Africa is a flawed attempt to impose industrial agriculture at the expense of more ecologically sound approaches to farming.

Some of the visitors, including Maingi, will meet with staff at the Gates Foundation. But it won’t be the high-level gathering he had hoped for.

“At least we tried,” Maingi said.

The Gates Foundation spends nearly $400 million a year on programs to improve production and income for African farmers. Since 2006, the foundation has funneled nearly $420 million to its flagship agricultural initiative, a collaboration called the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, or AGRA.

But the foundation’s outsized spending and influence have raised concerns in Africa, just as some American educators have become alarmed over the foundation’s influence on the U.S. education system.

“It’s important that these voices be heard,” said Heather Day, of Seattle-based AGRA Watch/Community Alliance for Global Justice, an organizer of the Town Hall event and a five-day summit between African and American organizations seeking to persuade the Gates Foundation to change course.

While the goal of helping African farmers is laudable, the “Green Revolution” approach is based on Western-style agriculture, with its reliance on fertilizer, weed killers and single crops, such as corn, Maingi said.

But much of Africa is so dry that it’s not suited for thirsty crops, and heavy use of fertilizer kills worms and microbes important for soil health. “The model of farming in the West is not appropriate for farming in most of Africa,” Maingi said."

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October 6th, 2014

Despite being, arguably, the most important natural resource in the Midwest, the Great Lakes remain extremely vulnerable to natural and man-made pollution. Though algae blooms are a naturally occurring phenomenon, recent blooms in Lake Erie are so extreme that people in parts of Canada and Ohio have been instructed not to use their water for drinking or recreational purposes.

Lyman Welch, Water Quality Director of the Alliance of the Great Lakes, explains that though the blooms are naturally occurring, the extremely high levels and resulting negative implications of recent blooms are both human induced and reversible.

"We've had a history in the Great Lakes of algae, which grows naturally," Welch explains. "But when we have excessive amounts of nutrients in the water, mainly from agricultural runoff, it feeds the algae, and we'll get a large algae bloom."

In addition to affecting wildlife and water quality, the algae washes up and accumulates on shores, detracting from the natural beauty and keeping people away from certain destinations.

Lake Erie is the shallowest of the five Great Lakes, reaching depths no greater than 20 feet in many areas. The shallow basin allows water temperatures to fluctuate more easily and quickly. As the warmest of all the Great Lakes, Lake Erie is particularly susceptible to the formation of the blooms.

"The short depths combined with the warmer waters and introductions of invasive species like zebra mussels have contributed to larger algae blooms in recent years," Welch explains. "The main element that causes algae is the nutrient input, which we have control over. Excess nutrients are coming into the lake from several states and are the largest source contributing to this problem, with phosphorous as the main culprit."

Read more from Michigan Live.

October 2nd, 2014

"The Environmental Protection Agency announced that it remains “committed to biofuels” and that its goal is to put the renewable fuels program “on a path that supports continued growth.”

Let me translate that into English: “We’re cutting back on the ethanol mandate, mainly because of pressure from the oil industry, but we’ll pretend that the program is still full speed ahead because we don’t need any backlash from ethanol investors.”

The proposed cuts to the Renewable Fuel Standard from 18.15 billion gallons of biofuels to 15.21 billion gallons in 2014 represent a win for the oil industry, which has made no secret of its intention to force repeal of the biofuel mandate. Of course, the industry’s argument that adding 10% ethanol to motor vehicle fuels places “a crippling financial burden on refiners” is a crock. But like the ethanol industry, they’re simply protecting their interests.

The American Petroleum Institute urged the Obama administration to finalize the 2014 rule as quickly as possible, warning that delays could “harm consumers” and make it “harder to produce the fuels Americans need.”


This battle began in November 2013, when EPA officials issued a draft rule significantly reducing federal requirements for use of ethanol and biodiesel in U.S. fuel supplies. Predictably, the biofuel industry warned that unless EPA reversed course, disaster would ensue."

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