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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Capitalism Saves the Day: Peasant Farmers in the Third World Getting Rich

Posted by on Tue, Jan 22, 2013 at 7:54 AM

When I posted the Guardian article about how the growing quinoa market in the West is adding to the suffering of poor Peruvians and Bolivians, there were three responses by those who rejected it: One, the story is old; two, total denial (the story has been debunked!); and three, the farmers are doing just great—they are selling their crops on the world market, they're consuming the extra quinoa, they can afford to buy other foods and enjoy more options, just like us Westerners.

So now I'm supposed to believe that capitalism is actually improving the lives of third world farmers? I'm now supposed to reject 30 years of hard neoliberal history and believe this to be true:

The people of the Altiplano are indeed among the poorest in the Americas. But their economy is almost entirely agrarian. They are sellers – farmers or farm workers seeking the highest price and wage. The quinoa price rise is the greatest thing that has happened to them.
So you are telling me what's happening to quinoa is the best thing to ever happen to the incredibly poor people of Peru?
Daysi Munoz, who runs a La Paz-based quinoa farming collective, agrees. "As the price has risen, quinoa is consumed less and less in Bolivia. It's worth more to them [the producers] to sell it or trade it for pasta and rice. As a result, they're not eating it anymore."

Bitter battles are being fought over prime quinoa-growing land. Last February, dozens of people were hurt when farmers fought with slings and sticks of dynamite over what was once abandoned land.

Many people who migrated to cities in search of a better life are now returning to their arid homeland to grow royal quinoa, says Mejia. Most land is communally owned, she adds, so "the government needs to set out the boundaries or there will be more conflicts".

And you think what's happening to quinoa will have no negative nutritional and ecological impacts on a very poor country?

Asparagus grown in Peru and sold in the UK is commonly held up as a symbol of unacceptable food miles, but a report has raised an even more urgent problem: its water footprint.

The study, by the development charity Progressio, has found that industrial production of asparagus in Peru's Ica valley is depleting the area's water resources so fast that smaller farmers and local families are finding wells running dry. Water to the main city in the valley is also under threat, it says. It warns that the export of the luxury vegetable, much of it to British supermarkets, is unsustainable in its current form.

Next thing you are going to tell me is that microfinancing pulled billions of people out of extreme poverty.


Comments (19) RSS

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@18 No, dummy. I was suggesting we could all plant quinoa instead of Kentucky bluegrass. It's closely related to a native weed that we spend a lot of money trying to keep out of our lawns here in the Northeast.
Posted by Brooklyn Reader on January 23, 2013 at 10:18 AM · Report this
Christampa 19
@18 - You forgot to call @16 a Seattle "progressive".
Posted by Christampa on January 23, 2013 at 2:10 AM · Report this
Did you know Washington State used to be a major producer of asparagus? And who do you think did all the harvesting?…

Asparagus Farmers Face Largest Danger from Peruvian Imports

Imported asparagus from Peru has already devastated asparagus producers in the U.S., but the Peru FTA would accelerate the damage to the remaining farmers in California, Washington, and Michigan. U.S. asparagus imports from all countries , both fresh and frozen , have been exploding since the early 1990‚ when NAFTA and the Peru trade preferences went into effect. Since 1991, total fresh and frozen asparagus imports increased five-fold, from 46 million pounds in 1991 to 278 million pounds in 2007. Peru‚ fresh and frozen asparagus exports to the U.S. market have grown even faster, rising nearly 2,500 percent from 6 million pounds in 1991 to 160 million pounds in 2006. Peru‚ exports now represent more than 3 out of 5 pounds of fresh and frozen asparagus imported by the United States, up from less than one in ten in 1991.

Proponents of the Peru asparagus trade initially claimed that the fresh asparagus imports from Peru would complement the domestic asparagus industry by allowing consumers to get fresh asparagus year-round, even when domestic asparagus was not in season. Peru grew to become a year-round producer and exporter of fresh asparagus, even shipping fresh asparagus during the growing season when California growers produce most of the fresh asparagus for the American market. Increased competitive imports during the growing season depressed prices for fresh asparagus and undercut domestic suppliers. In 2003, California asparagus farmers had to plow their crops under because asparagus prices were too low to cover even the cost of harvesting the crop.

Although importers of fresh asparagus took immediate advantage of Peru‚ access to the U.S. market, asparagus processors also gain from increasing Peruvian asparagus exports. Under the Peru FTA, asparagus processors would gain permanent access to inexpensive fresh asparagus imports as well as processed asparagus made overseas where farm and factory labor is cheaper. In a House Committee on Ways and Means hearing, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents many vegetable processors and supports the Peru trade deal, stated: ‚Many GMA members benefit from these commitments through access to duty-free imports of seasonal vegetables.”

Asparagus processors were some of the first vegetable companies to invest in Peruvian processing plants. U.S. imports of processed and frozen asparagus from Peru have also started to escalate. In 1991, Peru exported 394,000 pounds of processed and frozen asparagus to the United States, but by 2006 that figure had grown 62 times larger to 28.8 million pounds. Del Monte and Green Giant have relocated their processing plants from Washington state to Peru since 2003. In written comments to the U.S. International Trade Commission on the Peru Free Trade Agreement, Green Giant noted that it could not supply asparagus to U.S. consumers from American processing plants at a competitive price and if the Peru FTA does not go into effect, it will consider shifting production to Mexico or China.

As imports have skyrocketed, asparagus acreage in the United States has been cut nearly in half. Between 1991 and 2006, harvested asparagus acreage for the fresh and processed market fell from 92,000 acres to 45,000 acres. Washington, which was a major producer of asparagus for processing, lost three fifths of the harvested asparagus acres between 2000 and 2006, falling from 23,000 to 9,000 acres. California lost more than a third of its acres over the same period and Michigan‚ harvested asparagus acres fell by 29 percent.

Asparagus growers are the canaries in the coal mine of the Peruvian vegetable trade. Fresh asparagus imports have driven some domestic farmers out of business and remaining growers will face low prices for their crops due to competition from Peruvian imports. Already, asparagus processors have begun to shift their operations to Peru. More processing houses may close in the United States, making it difficult for farmers in Washington and Michigan to get their crops canned or frozen and onto grocery store shelves. The current higher prices many farmers are enjoying could sour when imports of fresh and processed asparagus increases under the Peru Free Trade Agreement.
Posted by elaineinballard on January 22, 2013 at 9:44 PM · Report this
Yes, there is agricultural and economic stress in the world, and people suffer for it. There is cultural imperialism. Aboriginal peoples are taught to envy Western industrial culture and prosperity and to crave our foodstuffs as a path to modernity. There is crass marketing. The American post-War generation of women were convinced that breast-feeding was old-fashioned and icky and they should buy commercial baby formula instead.

There's a lot of shit in the world.

But, if you want to talk about agricultural crimes, let's start right at home. From the point of view of aboriginal, subsistence farmers, what could be a bigger crime than the American lawn?

From Redesigning the American Lawn by F. Herbert Bormann, Diana Balmori, Gordon T. Geballe, Yale University Press, 1993:
30 to 60 percent of urban fresh water is used for watering lawns (depending on city).
$5,250,000,000 is spent on fossil fuel-derived fertilizers for U.S. lawns.
67,000,000 pounds of synthetic pesticides are used on U.S. lawns.
60,000 to 70,000 severe accidents result from lawnmowers.
580,000,000 gallons of gasoline are used for lawnmowers.
$25,000,000,000 is spent for the lawn care industry.
$700,000,000 is spent for pesticides for U.S. lawns.
20,000,000 acres are planted in residential lawns.

That was 20 years ago. I guarantee you those numbers have only increased since then.

Posted by Brooklyn Reader on January 22, 2013 at 3:39 PM · Report this
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn 15

He wants vegans to start eating hamburgers. It's the environmentally friendly food of social justice, peace, and equality.
Posted by Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn on January 22, 2013 at 12:56 PM · Report this
keshmeshi 14
What exactly is Charles' solution to this problem anyway? Is the solution to keep Bolivians and Peruvians in poverty? What else, other than perhaps mineral resources, do those countries have to sell to the rest of the world in order to bring income into the country?

And I thought Charles' Marxist view of the future was to have everyone living in 300 square foot apartments in huge concrete skyscrapers. How does permanent rural poverty in the third world meet that objective?

For that matter, I thought Charles hated the rural poor. Why does he care if now they can only afford to eat refined flour and sugar?

Either way, he is ridiculously way behind the curve here. Turning agricultural land over from local subsistence agriculture to a few monoculture cash crops is something the third world has been dealing with for over a century. It still beats forest clear cutting and blood diamonds as sources of third world income.
Posted by keshmeshi on January 22, 2013 at 12:34 PM · Report this
So "dozens of people were hurt when farmers fought with slings and sticks" ... that sounds traditional enough! Are we still crying about whoever lost hegemony to the Inca???

Oh, wait ... "slings and sticks of dynamite ... damned predatory capitalist invention!!! That's an outrage!!!!!

In a zero-export world, ya know, most of us would still be scratching our livings out of the earth with tools of stone and wood ... and our local economies would be ordered around more traditional forms, like hereditary god-kings and slave castes.
Posted by RonK, Seattle on January 22, 2013 at 12:14 PM · Report this
Whatever, vegans do deserve to be taken down a notch. It's like making fun of evangelicals - everyone knows that you're not referring to ALL of them, just the annoying, hypocritical blowhards.

Also, could it maybe be true that the price of quinoa rising has both positive and negative effects on Peru? I can't see this not being a good thing for quinoa farmers. More income for them. Probably more of a bad thing for Peru's urban poor, who depended on quinoa as an important source of protein and minerals, but obviously can't be growing it themselves.
Posted by redemma on January 22, 2013 at 11:50 AM · Report this
Some Old Nobodaddy Logged In 11
The main problem w/ your post had nothing to do w/ its accuracy, or implications, or its model of economics.

The problem w/ your post is because you presented it like a complete ass clown. "White Vegans" are somehow destroying something, reads your title. Instead of trying to actually convey information, you chose to make a lame joke about a class of people who you feel should be ridiculed, 'taken down a peg.' Yes, it is an internet truism that the best posts are snide witty insults. But often it's not the best way to convey information.
Posted by Some Old Nobodaddy Logged In on January 22, 2013 at 11:12 AM · Report this
Paternalism doesn't suit you Charles. So much wrong here.

#1 Neither The Guardian nor you have provided any evidence that the health and welfare of Peru and Bolivia's poor have been specifically harmed by the increase in quinoa exports. Are they living longer? How is the general quality of life changed since quinoa began to be exported?

#2 Neither The Guardian nor you have provided any evidence that vegans/vegetarians are the main consumers of quinoa.

#3 Neither the Guardian nor you have provided any evidence that vegans/vegetarians might eat quinoa to correct global inequality and that they therefore should care about this. People who are vegan/vegetarian for ethical reasons seem primarily to be concerned about not slaughtering animals and not destroying the global environment. Any consumption of resources hurts someone, somewhere.

#4 Asparagus is not quinoa. Whatever negative effects the growing of asparagus has on Peru's ecology has nothing to do with quinoa.

This was linked to the first time you posted about this, and I think it's worth linking to again.…

Peru's economy is far better than it was 20 years ago, when their agricultural exports picked up. Per capita income is well up, there are fewer Peruvians below the poverty line and income inequality is decreasing (and is now about equal to the US).…

Posted by dirge on January 22, 2013 at 11:02 AM · Report this
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn 9
I also want to know how there could possibly be that many vegans that they're upsetting the economies of Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador.

Maybe it's all complex and we shouldn't jump straight to lazy stereotypes like white vegans or pastoralized descendents of noble Incans.
Posted by Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn on January 22, 2013 at 10:24 AM · Report this
Food is always a tricky subject because there's an ethics to almost everything we eat, but at the end of the day, we have to eat. In a perfect world, we would all eat a locally, sustainably grown diet that is composed mainly of grains, fruits, and vegetables and supplemented with ethically grown animal agriculture. This lifestyle is impossible for most of us because of cost limitations, food availability, and time. There are nuances in every choice we make. Omnivores in Seattle can make the decision between Chilean Seabass and American farmed talapia, and there's a clear ethical choice.

Maybe your concern, and I think it's a legitimate concern, is that vegans, once having made an ethical choice, no longer examine the ethics of everything they eat. Choosing between a Dole Banana and a Washington apple is the same choice ethically as the choice between fishes. A vegan DIET can be a great moral decision, but it's not a pass on looking at the ethics of what you eat. Soy that's been imported from South America is unethical, so just eating tofu instead of meat is not a solution to problems.

But generalizing is never a good way to make a point. Calling a anyone's bluff about eating ethically is a legitimate way to change things, but if you start by just blaming vegans for problems that are everyone's problems kills the conversation. I think that was why so many people got angry yesterday.

The point is, no decision is fail-proof. Every decision we make has to be made in context. Quinoa is not an ethically great meal. Neither is a McDonald's hamburger. It's not a matter of which is worse, it's a matter of knowing why both are bad.
Posted by AndyInChicago on January 22, 2013 at 10:24 AM · Report this
"..who runs a La Paz-based quinoa farming collective.."

Still having trouble with that English languagh, huh, Chas?????

There's a very old, ancient term known as "economic democracy" --- NOT FRIGGING PREDATORY CAPITALISM --- comprendez-vous, dude?????

(Of course, I realize you are being sarcastic here, and realize fully that it is a cooperative, and not the neocon/neoliberal predatory corporate agribusiness at work.)

But I felt the awesome need to vent today after that American Exceptionalistic bulltwacky from your man in the Oval Office.

Screw the inaugeration claptrap, let's hear more the real Ode to Aaron Swartz:…

Posted by sgt_doom on January 22, 2013 at 10:20 AM · Report this
At supermarkets, I wonder how fresh produce sections are still around at all.

I buy fresh produce. I buy vegetables and fruit...and that's pretty much mainly what I buy. But the rest of the market is entirely processed and boxed foods. My cart or basket always stands out...full of colorful peppers and corn ears and broccoli crowns.

But as I take up the time to weight and price these items, everyone else in line has "foods" that are rectilinear. Packages that flow smoothly from cart, to scanner, to bag, to SUV.

I keep wondering who else buys these fresh foods? Who even cooks any more? And worst of long before they get rid of it all or charge prices that make it scarce.

How soon before the Soylent green....
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on January 22, 2013 at 10:20 AM · Report this
I'm not too clear on how the story about farmers fighting over abandoned land debunks the claim that their standards of living are rising along with the rising price of quinoa. Not saying I believe that claim to be true however.
Posted by Rhizome on January 22, 2013 at 10:16 AM · Report this
gwhayduke 4
A thoughtful response, Charles.

But why do some get to eat quiona and not all? We all should be able to do so. I imagine that, if we all ate less animals, we'd have plenty of high-quality land to grow nutrient-dense grains.

Why blame individual Westerners, or Northerners, who eat quinoa? Citizens participate in a global system -- that we may strenuously object to -- to the best of our ability. (Assume this is the case, will you?) If we are to be faulted, it is not for a responsible food choice but for allowing power to concentrate in corporate and nation-state. Eh?

And so we should buy from agricultural cooperatives, fair-trade middle-people, etc. But where are they?
Posted by gwhayduke on January 22, 2013 at 10:03 AM · Report this
Sargon Bighorn 3
The Peruvians are not being forced to sell any thing to any body. Don't blame the consumer for buying what is on the shelf. They are not the "bad guys". If the Peruvian government wants to help its people, it will. But I suspect some Peruvian bureaucrat is getting very rich from the selling of this crop. Follow the money, it won't be leading to a Black nor White nor Blue Vegan in America.
Posted by Sargon Bighorn on January 22, 2013 at 9:51 AM · Report this
Matt from Denver 2
They'll also say how quinoa can be grown elsewhere in the world, although the most nutrient-dense varieties appear to thrive only in South America.
Posted by Matt from Denver on January 22, 2013 at 9:31 AM · Report this
Janell8me 1
Haters gotta hate Charles. The comments from yesterday's post were absolutely depressing. Fact: pasta or rice not as good for you as quinoa. The native people's in Peru are going to be worse off because "western" culture has taken an interest in one of their agricultural gems, ie. coffee.
Once again the west finds a way to subjugate an indigenous people for the latest fad and all you hear when someone raises alarm to this moral horror is "we'll I'm sure they have more money now." Right because farmers always get paid well for their crop.... Side note when I go to wayward cafe for some vegan brunch and look around I find it awfully pale...
Posted by Janell8me on January 22, 2013 at 8:56 AM · Report this

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