Low prices, weak laws and cheap labor
While we flock to low priced stores to buy goods we never fail to complain in the same breath the effects of the loss of manufacturing jobs is having on the lives of people here. Its very surprising that we are not very aware of that connection.
We are OK with getting low prices as long as the slave labor happens thousands of miles away from where we cannot see them. We might not for a second tolerate the appalling conditions people slave in those factories and farms. Somebody pays the price somewhere.
I read in the paper a few days how Walmart was trying to hold Chinese companies to stricter environmental laws. Perhaps Walmart more than any company is the face of the low price mania and has taken advantage of lax Chinese environmental and labor laws. It is now pressuring its Chinese suppliers to abide by the environmental laws, flouting those very same laws when it was convenient and has made it tons of profit. As customers who are starting to pay attention to the business practices of companies they patronize it makes perfect business sense for Walmart to start amending its business practices.
Read the details New sheriff in China is named Walmart.
Walmart it seems is encouraging and providing monetary help for farmers setup green houses to grown oranges and nectarines in mid-winter. Is this a good thing? Maybe int the short term to provide jobs and means of income for struggling farmers but in the long run who knows.
Local farmers abandon crops that are best suited for their climatic and soil conditions and start growing crops that their multinational buyer demands. Walmart with its buying power truly can bully its suppliers to abide by the environmental laws which the government might fail however hard it tries. Even then I am unwilling to give Walmart a pass.
Head over to PJ's Ginger and Garlic for another take on Walmart's foray into organic produce.
2 articles in different publications (there might be more) talking about Walmart's organic practices in 2 different places sounds to me like a marketing campaign more than anything else. Just like when a movie or book is released the protagonists saturate the medium with participants. So forgive me here for my skepticism.
Subsidies and Agriculture
What is an agricultural subsidy?
Subsidy is money paid out by the government to farmers to supplement their income and provide price support for food commodities like wheat, corn, soybean, cottonseed, rice etc. The 2 most subsidized food crops in the US are corn and soybean.
If you are driving out in the country side and see acres and acres of farm land under corn cultivation, there lies the answer. In the face of it grudging farmers for the payments they receive for their hard work might be counterproductive especially considering we have been talking about how hard it is for farmers to make a living.
Subsidies are given for all the right reasons, to preserve local farmers, local farming techniques but they have the exact opposite effect. Taxpayer money is transfered to big landowners and companies that need them the least.Farm land is used for growing commodities that fit the government sanctioned list of commodities. Eighty percent of the subsidies directly benefit large business and it is a direct payment independent of profit or loss that was made for the year.
This agricultural subsidies given by rich countries keep commodity prices low in the world market directly hurting farmers in poor countries who are dependent on the prices of the commodities in the open market to make a living.
Agricultural subsidies transfer wealth to a small group of people who have powerful representation in the halls of power and it is a scared cow no farm state politician will touch, though it is an entitlement program few voters know or care about.
Rightly so the subsidies are a big barrier in trade negotiations with developing countries who are reluctant to open their doors to subsidized commodities from the rich countries entering their marketplace which will drive prices lower in their countries and hurt their farmers.
Who receives for subsidies?
Though intended for small farmers large farm holding companies are the ones who benefit by using the extra money from the federal government to drive out small farmers and buying up the land. Due to loopholes companies which have nothing to do with agriculture get these subsidies too. Click here to see the companies that get the most subsidies.
Wealthy individual with big estate homes on lands that used to be farms.
The farm payments are based on land calculations that were done in 1981. So owners collect subsidies even when they planted timber on the farm land as long as they do not develop it.
Farmers and landowners benefited from the 1996 law whether their land once grew wheat, corn, cotton or any of the other subsidized crops. But nowhere is the impact more evident than in the sunbaked Texas rice country that spreads southwest from Houston to the Colorado River and east to the Gulf of Mexico.
In 1981, the Texas rice belt extended over about 600,000 acres. By last year, USDA records show, the amount of planted rice had shrunk to 202,000 acres, partly because landowners were able to get farm payments even if no rice was grown on their land.
In fact, so many landowners and farmers are collecting money on their former rice lands -- $37 million last year alone -- that the acres no longer used for rice outnumber the planted ones.
From the Washington Post - Bill Moyer expose on farm subsidies
As for the actual farmers who rent these these rice lands in Texas, the landowners still receive the subsidy payments. Some of these landowners canceled the lease to farmers who grow rice because money for just keeping the land paid them more. When the laws changed and the actual farmers got the payment the landowners simply raised the rent.
In 2004, the property was sold to Shin Shan Chu, an elderly investor who lives in Vancouver, Canada. Once a year, Bailey, who still grows rice on part of the 4,000 acres, cuts a $25,000 check and sends it to Chu, whom he has never met.
Reached by telephone, Chu said he hoped to eventually "develop some residential buildings there. It's very nice land, very flat, very close to the city."
Chu, who also owns and leases 17,000 acres of farmland in west Texas, grew up in mainland China and Taiwan, worked in electronics and moved to Vancouver 36 years ago. He described himself as nearly 80.
"It's just an investment," he said of his farm holdings. "I'm waiting for the money."
If you are interested in learning more I strongly encourage to spend some time and look over this website.
References:Agricultural Subsidy Programs - by David Sumner
About Current Farm Subsidies
The struggles and problems that farmers face even in the face of so much money being spent by the governments is truly incredible.
Giving these Puy Lentils a try has been a long time project. Finally got some at an organic store, the speciality about this store is they sell organic products but the prices are in par with the regular stores. Decided to pair them with some whole wheat couscous. And these must be the prettiest lentils around.
Moroccon spiced couscous
1. 2 Cups Whole Wheat couscous
2. 2 Cups water
3. 1 tbsp Moroccon spice blend (any spice will work or leave it out)
4. 2 tbsp olive oil
5. 1 tsp salt.
1. In a sauce pan, mix in the oil,salt and spice blend and bring to a boil. Switch off the heat.
2. Pour in the couscous and let it sit for 5-10 minutes. Fluff with a fork.
Puy Lentils with tomatoes
1. 1 Cup Puy Lentils
2. 1/2 cup sliced onions (I used yellow onions)
3. 1/2 cup chopped tomatoes
4. 2 garlic crushed
5. 3 fresh Red/green chilies slit
6. 3 garlic cloves crushed and chopped
7. handful of coriander leaves (optional, did not add them)
8. 2 tsp red chili powder + 1 tsp cumin seeds
9. salt to taste
1. Cook the lentils to soft not mushy they should still hold their shape with plenty of water. (add as much water depending on how runny or thick you want it cooked)
2. In a pan heat oil, add the cumin seeds followed by the onions and garlic, saute till soft.
3. Add the slit chilies and saute for a minute more.
4. Add the tomatoes and let them cook till soft.
5. Add the cooked lentils along with the water and salt, let it boil for 5-6 minutes.
Serve over the couscous.