Thursday, 31 July 2008



On holiday until 8th August, 2008. Have a good one.

Here's a pic of me on the front page of the French magazine L'Express, an article within pretending to be know something Auvergnats.

For a tour of my local market today visit:

Farm Blogs

Rural Gentrification

One of my favourite rural blogs is Professor Lisa Pruitt's Legal Ruralism - A Little Legal Realism about the Rural. (

She is also into a subject close to my heart (which you will know if you have read my book A Place in My Country), and that is rural gentrification and the impact on farms, farming and rural communities made by incomers.

Lisa, who is a Professor of Law at the University of California, Davis dropped me a note about a recent posting of her's about this and you can find it at
Those buses tell their own - surprising - story.
She is currently attending a a rural sociology conference, which she writes "is fueling more opportunity to blog about the topic", so keep your eye on her blog if this subject interests you.

Farm Blogs

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

WTO talks collapse over farm trade

GENEVA: After seven years of on-again, off-again negotiations, world trade talks collapsed in rancor on Tuesday, ending hopes of a deal to free up global markets, cut farm subsidies and shore up the international trading system. Discussions here reached an impasse after nine straight days of high-level talks when the United States, India and China failed to compromise over measures to protect farmers in poor countries. Despite exhaustive efforts, Pascal Lamy, director general of the World Trade Organization, failed to bridge differences between a group of newly-confident developing nations and established Western economic powers. In the end too few of the real power-brokers proved committed enough to make compromises necessary to deliver a deal. "It is a massive blow to confidence in the global economy," said Peter Power, spokesman for the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union based in Brussels. "The confidence shot in the arm that we needed badly will not now happen."

Farm Blogs

Cattle 'en pension' in the Auvernge Mountains

IW: Apart from milking his own 'troupeau' and making cheese every day
(see previous but one posting or their web site,
Laurent also has over a hundred Charolais beef cattle summering with him in the mountains. Farmers in the valley pay him a per head price for the grazing and supervision.

He rides out every day to check on them, death by lightning during violent summer thunder storms being the biggest problem.


Book review: The End of Food

The End of Food
By Paul Roberts 390 pages.
$26. Houghton Mifflin Company.

Paul Roberts's prophetic and well-received 2004 book, "The End of Oil: On the Edge of a Perilous New World," anticipated the current energy crisis. Now he's moved on to what we put in our mouths. Roberts's new book, "The End of Food," which takes into account a vertiginous pile of recent developments - including the so-called tortilla riots of 2007, during which thousands took to the Mexico City streets to protest the rapidly rising cost of maize - may prove no less prescient.
A contributor to Harper's and other magazines, Roberts sketches a dire present and ponders a bleak future. We have reached the end of the "golden age" of food, he writes. No longer do the things we eat "grow only more plentiful, more secure, more nutritious and simply better with each passing year." Instead, E. coli outbreaks "have almost become an annual autumn ritual," and a new day is arriving when "cost and convenience are dominant, the social meal is obsolete" and the act of eating has "devolved into an exercise in irritation, confusion and guilt."
Roberts's worst-case scenario isn't tomatoes devoid of taste. It's a "perfect storm of sequential or even simultaneous food-related calamities." Climate change and spiraling population growth have him wondering not just "whether we'll be able to feed 9.5 billion people by 2070, but how long we can continue to meet the demands of the 6.5 billion alive today." Roberts delivers a litany of terrors small and large: "Arable land is growing scarcer. Inputs like pesticides and synthetic nitrogen fertilizers are increasingly expensive. Soil degradation and erosion from hyperintensive farming are costing millions of acres of farmland a year. Water supplies are being rapidly depleted in parts of the world, even as the rising price of petroleum - the lifeblood of industrial agriculture - is calling into question the entire agribusiness model."
Agribusiness and the industrial food it engenders have, of course, already attracted serious critics like Eric Schlosser's ("Fast Food Nation") and Michael Pollan ("Omnivore's Dilemma").
But they didn't finish the job. What eaters (and readers) still need, Roberts argues, "is a way to consider such critical questions and concerns in a larger, more global context." "The End of Food" wants to be what marketing wonks call a category killer, a book that trumps all other takes on the subject.
He gets about halfway there. Roberts is an expert at marshaling facts and collating figures, but a workmanlike writer. He travels to, among other food crisis flashpoints, Kenya and China. No matter the locale, Roberts measures inputs and outputs. And he draws conclusions from the differences. Our modern "food system can only truly be understood as an economic system," he argues, "one that, like all economic systems, has winners and losers, suffers periodic and occasionally profound instability and is plagued by the same inherent and irreducible gap between what we demand and what is actually supplied."
Late in the narrative, he reveals himself to be not a wild-eyed locavore, intent upon growing his own food and transforming the world economy in the process, but a moderate. In an epilogue, he suggests that we eat less meat and more farmed fish; support regional, instead of merely local, food systems; and work within the system to gain support for sustainable farming methods, while engaging the scientific community in open and honest debate about the possibilities of genetically modified crops.
After hundreds of pages of alarm-sounding and rabble-rousing, moderation seems like a curious position for a man who declares that our food production and distribution system is "so focused on cost reduction and rising volume that it makes a billion of us fat, lets another billion go hungry, and all but invites food-borne pathogens to become global epidemics." (- Reviewed by John T. Edge

Farm Blogs

Evening milking in the mountains of Auvernge

IW: Some pictures (and text) from the GAEC des Hautes Chaumes, my cheese making friends and neighbours here in the Auvergne. I was up there for the night yesterday with my family and took some snaps.

The summer 'jasserie' where Laurent and his family live during the summer 'estive' at 1200m.

La fourme est un fromage de vache au lait cru, dont la pâte fondante est finement persillée. Sa croûte est épaisse et longuement travaillée par le temps. De forme cylindrique, la fourme mesure 22 cm de hauteur et 13 cm de diamètre.
Nos fourmes sont d’une étonnante richesse aromatique de part nos pratiques agricoles et fromagères. Par ailleurs, selon les saisons, les pâturages, et les aléas d’une fabrication fermière, nous disposons au sein de notre production, de fourmes plus ou moins bleues, fondante, acides, piquantes.

La traite en estive
Sur ces pâturages d’altitude, et en alternance chaque années, nous faisons les foins. Nous avons fait ce choix pour deux raisons : d’une part, les terrains de Valcivières ne sont pas mécanisables car trop accidentés ; d’autre part, la diversité et la richesse floristique des parcelles des Hautes Chaumes concourent à la qualité du lait pendant l’hiver.

Mobile milking trailer used during the summer.

Mobile cheese making trailer used during the summer.

Les Hautes de Chaumes (63)
Ce plateau, appelé les Hautes de Chaumes, est en partie classé « Site Natura 2000 ».

Le troupeau

Notre troupeau est composé de 30 vaches laitières de race abondance (race rustique des Alpes) et de 20 génisses de zéro à trois ans, pour assurer le renouvellement. Ce cheptel nous permet la production de 120 000 litres de lait par an, transformés en totalité en fourmes ; soit environ 10 tonnes de fromages.
Nos bêtes sont majoritairement nourries à l’herbe. En fonction du niveau de production (plus de 15 litres de lait par jour et par vache), chaque vache sera susceptible de recevoir un complément de céréales et de colza pour assurer un bon équilibre alimentaire (glucides/protéines).

Farm Blogs

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Afghanistan's opium

IW: I've posted before on the fate of farmers in Afghanistan.

This letter below pretty much reflects my views.

[Full disclosure: I was appointed by Norine MacDonald - a Canadian QC - of the Senlis Council to do the initial hiring of key staff for the organisation that later changed its name to the Senlis Council.]

Afghanistan's opium
Thomas Schweich's article "Is Afghanistan a narco-state?" (July 24) vividly illustrates the total mismanagement of current U.S. counter-narcotics strategy in Afghanistan.Thankfully, Schweich's favored policy of chemical eradication of opium crops has thus far failed to get off the ground. The herbicides used in such operations are not, as Schweich claims, harmless to humans and the environment. Moreover, chemical eradication will only exacerbate the anger that is already rising among rural farmers against U.S., NATO and Afghan government forces, pushing local Afghans further into the arms of the Taliban.Schweich's claim that Afghan farmers are "wealthy" and have the option of growing numerous alternative crops is a dangerous conclusion. In three years of work on the ground in southern Afghanistan, I have never met a "wealthy" farmer. For the majority of Afghan farmers and sharecroppers, poppy cultivation is no less than a desperate survival strategy.Afghan farmers should be allowed to grow their poppy for the production of essential medicines, such as morphine. This would provide a financial incentive to sever ties with the insurgency, while addressing the global shortage of pain-relieving medicines.
The Poppy for Medicine scheme, developed by the Senlis Council, has worldwide support. According to a nationwide poll, 66 percent of the American public would support poppy-for-medicine projects. In Europe, Poppy for Medicine won the backing of the European Parliament by an overwhelming majority in October 2007.We can use market forces to successfully combat Afghanistan's illegal drug trade and undercut the financing of the Taliban insurgency.

Norine MacDonald, Kabul president and lead field researcher, Senlis Council

Farm Blogs

Atmosphere tense as WTO talks stall

GENEVA: Progress towards a global trade deal ground to a halt on Monday as the United States clashed with China and India over access to their rapidly growing markets and key European Union states demanded better terms."The situation is very tense. Things are finely balanced and the outcome is by no means certain," World Trade Organisation spokesman Keith Rockwell told reporters, as key WTO ministers resumed talks shortly after midnight.Negotiators battled over a "special safeguard mechanism" intended to help poor countries protect their farmers against import surges, with agricultural exporters like Costa Rica, Paraguay and Uruguay pitted against other developing countries.

Farm Blogs

Monday, 28 July 2008

WTO talks progress, but new farm issues surface

IW: I've been posting a lot of news stories about the so-called Doha round of trade negotiations, currently balanced on a knife edge in Geneva at the WTO.

The reason, quite simply, is that the results of these negotiations could have an enormous impact on farmers everywhere, both opportunities and threats.

Here's the latest news.

GENEVA: Disputes over farm policies of emerging Asian countries and European rules on banana imports emerged Sunday as obstacles to a possible global trade deal after a full week of talks.In Geneva, a decades-old dispute over European banana imports was edging toward resolution Sunday. But China and India were both fighting accusations that they were blocking a consensus.China was trying to keep foreign rice, sugar and cotton out of its market by assigning them special status, said one diplomat familiar with the discussions. India was seeking protection for its subsistence farmers.The United States was in talks about its system of tariffs on cotton, and Brazil made clear that it was dissatisfied with restrictions on its ability to export ethanol to Europe.Peter Mandelson, the European Union trade commissioner, said that while the trade round was "not resolved," an agreement was in sight. "The big figures and core issues are largely sorted," he said, "but there are a number of stumbling blocks and potholes dotted around the core issues, any of which would detonate at any moment."

Farm Blogs

Produce photos from an iPhone

Lori at Skoog Farm in New York State, U.S.A, sent me 2 great iPhotos (as she described them) of some onions pulled from their garden this weekend.

By iPhotos, am I to suppose they were taken by an iPhone?

If so, this is a nice illustration of how things are different for farmers in New York State and where I live, in the Auvergne, France.

Firstly, I had never seen an iPhone until I went up to Paris a few weeks ago and a friend had one. (Admittedly she is both American and the technology editor of a newspaper, so one might expect her to have one! Although she nearly lost it when someone tried to pickpocket her, having seen her use it on the Paris metro en route to a Bruce Springstein concert.)

The idea of anyone here being able to afford one, certainly a farmer in this region, is difficult to wrap one's head around.

But more importantly, even if they could, they wouldn't buy one, because, quite simply, what would be the point?
Most people have a mobile phone, we send textos as they are called here, we use them occassionally when there is a signal up in the mountains, but they are a simple, functional item.

What I like about living here is people's complete lack of interest in materialism and consumption. Condie Rice was recently in Australia, and, talking to a group of young students, informed them that her favourite hobby was 'shopping'.

Here, for now at least in our secret valley, the idea of going shopping being a planned leisure activity has not taken hold. It will, no doubt, but not yet. You go not shopping, but to a specific shop or market to buy something you need. It's not a hobby!

Anyway, what's all this got to do with farming? Not much, and we can now say that an iPhone takes great pictures of onions. And what fine onions.

(This year our vegetable crop isn't the best. Too much rain in the spring, and now hot, parching days and then quite cold at night. Not ideal.)
Farm Blogs

Coca farmers in Colombia

It may seem strange to post on coca cultivation, the end product being cocaine, 90% of which is consumer in the United States. But coca farming is farming like any other in its basic biological and sociological respects, whatever your views on cocaine.

It's interesting to compare this article below with another I recently posted from the NYT Magazine about opium farming in the Afghanistan.

Like it not, the producers of the raw commodity behind cocaine and opium are farmers, farmers who are extremely poor and who need alternatives.

In my view eradication programmes only work if complemented by agricultral investment into alternative crops. In Geneva, at the WTO, they are trying to bash out an end to farm subsidies in the USA and Europe, or at least a reduction, and in the import tariffs on agricultural goods from countries like Colombia.

We in Europe and the USA bear much of the responsibility for the problems these farmers face because we consumer their product that we try to destroy, and we prevent them from easily competing in our markets on a level playing field of tariffs and subsidies.

If anyone can find a blog by a coca producer in Colombia, hats off to them! But some real on the ground insight into what is going in, through the views of voiceless farmers in these regions, is what we all need to understand and resolve the problem.

Personally, I am not entirely unconvinced that complete legalisation of both heroin and cocaine would not be the more sensible way to go. But that's another story of complex social, economic, security and development issues.

No end in sight for Colombia fighting
The United Nations reported in June that coca cultivation in Colombia surged 27 percent in 2007 to about 99,000 hectares, or around 245,000 acres, the first significant increase in four years.

Nariño had the largest increase of any Colombian department, or administrative district, up 30 percent to 20,300 hectares.

The expansion has allowed Colombia to remain the world's largest coca producer and the supplier of 90 percent of the cocaine consumed in the United States.

It has also made the drug-fueled conflict a resilient virus in large pockets of the country, with double-digit increases in coca cultivation in at least three other departments, Putumayo, Meta and Antioquia. In Nariño, almost every week, government officials, Roman Catholic leaders or aid workers report actions by the rebels or paramilitary groups.

In the last week of June, four schoolteachers in remote areas of the province were killed by a FARC column called Mariscal Sucre, one of three units of the FARC that are active in the area.

The rebels claimed that the schoolteachers, all of them recently posted to remote schoolhouses by Roman Catholic officials, were army informants.

Just weeks before, in April, the FARC knocked out power for 300,000 residents along the Pacific coast with an attack on an electrical station. Colombian soldiers also found eight fuel-processing depots - holding 77,000 barrels of oil - used by the guerrillas for fuel and to process coca into cocaine in makeshift labs.

Nationwide, the FARC still collects $200 million to $300 million a year by taxing coca farmers and coordinating cocaine smuggling networks, according to Bruce Bagley, a specialist on the Andean drug war who teaches at the University of Miami.

That is down from $500 million earlier this decade, Bagley said, but it is still enough to finance the FARC after recent desertions and killings that have thinned its ranks to about 9,000 from 17,000.

Farm Market in Brockport, New York

Thanks to Lori at The Skoog Farm Journal for sending me these photos of a farm market in the U.S.A. this last weekend.

She writes:
"More and more vendors are appearing now that the fruit and vegetables are ready to eat. We live in and area that is full of orchards as well as big farms that grow veggies. Thanks to the horses, our dirt is very rich and our gardens do very well."

I just posted pictures of a French market from last Saturday, and it's interesting to compare the difference in prices, especially given how low the dollar (or 'peso' as some less charitable people in Europe call it now) is against the euro.
Please do send me pictures of your local farm market. I am particularly interested in also hearing about the clientele and their demographic.
Of course here in France, the notion of a 'farm market' is not one that really exists. There are simply markets that have been in existence for centuries and which continue to flourish, at least as far as food is concerned.
For other products, such as clothes, with so many cheap imports from China available to all wholesalers and retailers, many market stall holders are struggling to compete against regular shops. Their price advantage has evaporated and the timing of the markets (during the week and working hours mostly, except in the larger towns) doesn't suit a more office/factory workforce when the markets had traditionally served more flexible agricultural communities and ones with more non-working women.

What has changed though, certainly, is a dramatic increase in a new generation of well-educated, lifestyle driven and especially organic 'petits producters' (small producers). They are breathing new life into markets that during the 80s and 90s were struggling to differentiate the quality of the food available with that of the supermarkets.
Farm Blog

Sunday, 27 July 2008

WTO asks U.S. to lower farm subsidy ceiling

GENEVA: A compromise proposal to break a deadlock in talks on a global trade deal would require the United States to lower its ceiling on farm subsidies to about $14.5 billion (7.28 billion pounds), sources familiar with the talks said on Friday.The United States said on Tuesday it was ready to cut its ceiling for trade-distorting farm subsidies to $15 billion (7.5 billion pounds) a year to help unblock the World Trade Organisation talks.A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the U.S. offer still stood at $15 billion, compared to its current ceiling of $48.2 billion under WTO rules."We have always signalled that additional flexibility is contingent on an entire package containing additional market access," the U.S. official said.Under the compromise proposal, the EU would be required to lower its ceiling for trade-distorting farm subsidies by 80 percent to 24 billion euros ($37.7 billion) although that figure was within the scope of reforms already approved by the EU.

Something you don't see very often these days

IW: Hand-cutting and raking with a traditional silage/hay rake: something you don't see very often these days and which I passed by last Friday.

Troubled world trade talks show signs of progress

GENEVA: Global trade talks showed signs of progress Friday after crunch negotiations among seven crucial countries and regions, ministers and officials said.In a sudden turnaround suggesting that a week of deadlock was finally breaking, ministers began to talk of a possible success at the World Trade Organization talks."There has been progress made, yes," the EU trade chief, Peter Mandelson, told reporters. He said progress had been made in most areas of the talks, which are focusing on moves to open up trade in agriculture and industrial goods. Asked whether a final deal was in reach, Mandelson replied: "It's possible, it's possible."A WTO spokesman, Keith Rockwell, said new ideas to narrow gaps between rich and poor countries had emerged in five hours of talks on Friday among the seven ministers and would be passed along to a meeting of ministers from 35 countries.Earlier, the WTO director general, Pascal Lamy, had warned that the talks risked collapsing Friday if members failed to narrow their differences, following a day of intransigence Thursday.

Farm Blogs

Blue tongue reaches my corner of the Auvernge

Farm Blogs

Backlash brewing against ethanol in United States

OKLAHOMA CITY: "Why Do You Put Alcohol in Your Tank?" demands a large sign outside a gasoline service station here, which reassures drivers that it sells only "100% Gas.""No Corn in Our Gas," advertises another station nearby.Along the highways of this city, and elsewhere in the United States, a mutiny is growing against energy policies that heavily support and subsidize the blending of ethyl alcohol, or ethanol, generally made from corn, into gasoline.Many consumers complain that ethanol, which constitutes as much as 10 percent of the fuel they buy in most states, hurts the efficiency of their cars and chokes the engines of their boats and motorcycles.As ethanol has spread around the country to reduce the consumption of petroleum, gas station owners and wholesalers are catering to concerns about ethanol that are often exaggerated but not entirely unfounded. High gas prices seem to be helping them plant seeds of doubt in customers' minds.

Farm Blogs

A Place in the Auvergne

IW: My wife thinks this blog needs pictures.

So I'll be posting a few, more of which can be found at my rural blog

I went with my friend and neighbour who makes 'fourme fermiere' (cows milk cheese) to help out on his regular Saturday stand.

This is market day in Puy-en-Verlay, Haute Loire, France. (Every Saturday.)

In France, it is safe to say that markets are not the highly priced reserves of high-income families, as in the U.K and parts of the U.S.A.

Farm Blogs