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April 2011 Archive for The Truth about Trade

RSS By: Dean Kleckner, AgWeb.com

Dean is Chairman Emeritus of 'Truth About Trade & Technology, a nonprofit advocacy group led by a volunteer board of American farmers.

A Kenyan's Determination to Fight Malnutrition

Apr 28, 2011

By Gilbert Arap Bor – Kapseret, Kenya (www.truthabouttrade.org)

One of the paradoxes of food security is that an obese person also can be malnourished.
 
We often associate food insecurity with a lack of calories. This is its classic and most obvious form. In the most extreme cases, a lack of calories can mean severe hunger or even starvation.
 
Yet sometimes people get plenty of calories and not enough nutrients. This is a less obvious form of food insecurity. Some call it “hidden hunger” and it poses incredible challenges.
 
Malnutrition stunts growth. It hurts cognitive development in children. It darkens futures.
 
Fortunately, technological advances in agriculture may help provide a solution.
 
The fundamental challenge of malnutrition is that people don’t always want to buy and eat the food that’s best for them. Their first and last impulse is to want food that’s cheap, tasty and easily available. Nutrition has little or nothing to do with the choices they make when they shop. This is especially true in developing countries, where money and access to food are limited.
 
Here in Kenya, I see the problem of malnutrition regularly. Fruit should be a part of everyone’s diet. But people skip it all the time, especially when it’s out of season and perceived as pricey. The problem is most severe in the urban slums and many rural districts of the country, notably Samburu and Turkana, and the North Eastern districts of the country.
 
Around the world, malnutrition may affect as many as 2 billion people. It has almost certainly grown worse because of the global spike in food prices.
 
The Economist recently described “the bad diet of the poor” as “one of the world’s neglected scourges.” Everybody needs a wide variety of vitamins and minerals, but several types are commonly in short supply. Iron is necessary for a functional immune system, but more than half the women in India and 40 percent of the women in Indonesia don’t consume enough. Zinc contributes to the brain’s functioning and an estimated 400,000 people die each year because they don’t take in a minimal amount.
 
Vitamin A helps the body protect its organs but half a million children go blind each year because they lack this simple ingredient in their diets. In sub-Saharan Africa, 43 million children under the age of 5 are at constant risk.
 
The world must grow more food simply to feed itself--but it also must grow better food so that people may thrive.
 
Farmers in Kenya and Uganda have responded by raising orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, whose rich nutrients improve the health of women and children almost immediately.
 
Around the planet, farmers would like access to the best technologies for fighting malnutrition. Widespread approval of golden rice, a biotech crop, would combat vitamin A deficiencies. So would the advent of biofortified cassava, turning a staple food crop for 250 million sub-Saharan Africans into an arsenal of carotenoids that boost vitamin A intake. If scientific researchers can discover how to switch the color of vitamin A-enriched corn from yellow to white, farmers will find a strong market for it.
 
As a farmer and an educator, I plan to contribute to this process by identifying and working with partners to establish the Center for Food Security and Enterprise Development at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa, Eldoret campus. Our goal is to offer food-security skills training for farmers, suppliers, marketers, and technical service providers. We plan to create partnerships with universities in North America and Europe.
 
Professors at Iowa State University recently used biotechnology to increase the protein content of soybeans. These are exactly the sorts of advances we hope to achieve in Kenya.
 
Winning the war against malnutrition will require the creative efforts of everyone in the food chain, from the experts who develop cutting-edge technologies to the farmers who plant the seeds and harvest the crops to consumers who must educate themselves about the benefits of a proper diet. Governments also have a key role to play--they must allow innovation to spread, unchecked by anti-scientific fear mongering.
 
Above all, it will take a determination to fight hunger in all of its forms--and to deploy every weapon that 21st-century technology can afford us.
 
Gilbert Arap Bor grows maize, vegetables and dairy cows on a small-scale farm of 25 acres in Kapseret, near Eldoret, Kenya. He also teaches at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa, Eldoret campus. Mr. Bor is a member of the Truth About Trade & Technology Global Farmer Network.

Malnutrition: A Slow-Motion Natural Disaster

Apr 21, 2011

 

 
One of my favorite meals from childhood was a sandwich served on white bread with leaf lettuce, an onion, a tomato fresh from the garden--and Spam fresh from a can. Each can produced six slices of meat and my father always got the thickest one. Today, my grandkids continue our family tradition: They love their Spamwiches.
 
In Guatemala, families are forging their own traditions--and delivering a million healthy meals to malnourished children with a new product called Spammy.
 
Spammy is a fortified turkey spread whose specific purpose is to fight malnutrition. Not only is it inexpensive to manufacture and distribute, but Spammy also packs a lot of sustenance into each of its 3-ounce recyclable cans. The meat contains high-quality protein as well as zinc, iron, and vitamin B--the very things that malnourished people desperately need in their diets. Spammy is also shelf-stable, which means that it doesn’t require refrigeration.
 
This year, Hormel promises to provide over 1.5 million cans of Spammy to impoverished people in Guatemala.
 
It chose Guatemala for this project because this Central American nation of 13 million has such a high rate of poverty. A pair of nonprofit organizations, Food for the Poor and Caritas Arquidiocesana, work with family centers and orphanages to put Spammy into the hands and bellies of the people who need it most.
 
The problem in Guatemala isn’t that people don’t have enough to eat, but that they don’t eat enough of the right things. Poor diets result in stunted growth and diminished cognitive development. The victims are also more susceptible to disease.
 
According to some estimates, almost half the children of Guatemala show signs of malnutrition. The rate is 80 percent in some remote Mayan villages. The long-term ramifications for national health are troubling.
 
A recent report by Christiane Amanpour of ABC News highlighted the problem. Her team drew a blue chalk line on a wall, marking the World Health Organization’s estimate for the proper height of nine-year-old children. Then they compared Guatemalan children in Guatemala with Guatemalan-American children in Florida. The kids in Central America were uniformly shorter.
 
This is a problem of nurture, not nature. It’s about access to healthy food.
 
In newspapers and on television, we’re always reading about catastrophes such as earthquakes and tsunamis in Japan, New Zealand, and Haiti. Global malnutrition is a slow-motion natural disaster that doesn’t make headlines everyday but still demands our sustained attention.
 
Spammy is perfectly situated to confront this challenge. It’s not just a tool of relief, but possibly an instrument of economic empowerment if it improves the intellectual development of the boys and girls who will create the jobs and run the businesses that represent Guatemala’s future. 
 
The children of Guatemala eat Spammy for the taste. They may not fully appreciate what the food’s biofortification does for them while they’re enjoying their meals, but their parents and teachers surely have noticed. “According to our local partners,” reports Hormel, “the children have more energy and their grades have improved.”
 
Spammy fits right in to Guatemala’s native cuisine. The locals mix it with beans or serve it with tortillas. Other popular dishes involve pasta, pizza, and stew.
 
This comes as no surprise. Spam has a remarkable history of cultural adaptation. Many Pacific Islanders, introduced to Spam by American GIs, consider meat-in-a-can something of a delicacy. When Barack Obama visited Hawaii shortly after his presidential election in 2008, the media reported on the meal he sought out: “Spam musabi,” a Hawaiian dish that features grilled Spam and rice wrapped by seaweed.
 
As a food producer and animal scientist, I’m always searching for new technologies and innovative approaches to feed our domestic and global consumers. Spammy provides a perfect example. It re-engineers an old manufacturing process and fits it to a modern need that meets all the environmental, economic, and social criteria for product sustainability.
 
How long before Guatemalans and others discover the wonders of the Spammywich?
 
Carol Keiser owns and operates cattle feeding operations in Kansas, Nebraska and Illinois. She is a Truth About Trade & Technology board member.   www.truthabouttrade.org

Sen. Baucus vs. Free Trade

Apr 14, 2011

By Carol Keiser - Belleair, Florida

 
At a Senate Finance Committee hearing on March 31, chairman Max Baucus of Montana spoke of boosting U.S. exports to Asia.
 
“In today’s world, we seek not to build, but to tear down the economic walls that divide us,” he said, in remarks about the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC).
 
Last week, Sen. Baucus took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to advocate approval of the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement. “Trade is critical to American innovation and economic growth. It can expand opportunity for workers and entrepreneurs, both at home and abroad,” he wrote in an op-ed with Sen. John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts.
 
These are wonderful sentiments. It’s too bad that Sen. Baucus doesn’t apply them more broadly: He’s one of the major reasons why Congress has not yet approved the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement, which would be America’s biggest and most important trade accord since NAFTA.
 
President Obama has called for passage of the Korean trade deal. So have both Democratic and Republican congressional leaders. Yet Sen. Baucus remains a stumbling block.
 
“I am deeply disappointed that [the] deal fails to address Korea’s significant barriers to American beef exports,” said Baucus in December. He kept up his criticism in February: “I don’t support Korea until Korea opens up its market,” he said.
 
Sen. Baucus likes to make it sound as though he’s defending the interests of ranches. Well, I’m a rancher and Sen. Baucus doesn’t speak for me. He doesn’t speak for many of the ranchers I know, either. We think the pending trade agreement with South Korea is a good one for our industry. It isn’t perfect, but it will knock over an economic wall that currently prevents us from selling beef worth millions of dollars a year to an important group of foreign consumers.
 
Ratification of the agreement would wipe out $15 million in tariffs in its first year, growing to $325 million annually by the time of its full implementation in a decade and a half, as a current tariff of 40 percent vanishes to zero. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association believes that approval of the trade agreement would turn South Korea into a $1 billion market for U.S. beef. It could even become our top destination for beef exports. These sales will increase profitability for American ranchers, meaning that we’ll be able to expand our operations and hire more workers.
 
Yet this future requires final approval of a trade agreement that has languished since it was negotiated by the Bush administration. Although we’ve seen healthy growth in beef sales to destinations in Asia such as Japan and Hong Kong, our exports to South Korea have remained flat.
 
Choosing to do nothing almost certainly will cost market share. South Korea is now in bilateral trade talks with Australia. If it completes this deal before finalizing ours, it will give the Aussies a 2.67 percent tariff advantage over American-made beef for the next 15 years.
 
In fairness, it’s possible to imagine a better deal with Korea. The tariff phase-out could take place more quickly. Then there’s the central concern of Sen. Baucus: South Korea’s insistence that it won’t accept beef from cattle that is older than 30 months. This is a frustrating restriction because it’s based on unfounded fears about mad-cow disease.
 
Yet we cannot let the perfect become the enemy of the good--and the current accord with South Korea is a very good one. The tariff phase-out is acceptable and the limits on age won’t hurt American ranchers in practice. We can adjust our operations accordingly. That’s really what our business is all about anyway: meeting the demands of consumers.
 
“APEC has been extremely successful in reducing tariff barriers,” said Sen. Baucus last month.
 
Too bad the same can’t be said of him.
 
Mrs. Keiser, a Truth about Trade & Technology board member, owns and manages cattle feeding operations in Kansas, Nebraska, and Illinois.
 
This column was in The Washington Times on April 12.

Exports Matter

Apr 07, 2011

 

 
Exports matter more than ever. They account for almost 13 percent of all U.S. output--the highest rate of productivity since the government started keeping track during Herbert Hoover’s administration.
 
“To an extent unique in post-World War II history, the U.S. economy’s climb out of recession has been led by selling crops, natural resources, and manufactured goods to the rest of the world,” reported the Wall Street Journal last week.
 
Here’s the really good news: Exports can do even better, especially if Washington gives itself the proper tools.
 
So when our economy is in the dumps, why aren’t our lawmakers trying to push this dynamic sector to make additional gains, helping it build upon the considerable momentum that it has already achieved?
 
Politics deserves the blame. President Obama has called for doubling exports by 2015--a worthy goal, but the White House hasn’t done nearly enough to seek congressional approval of pending trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea. Members of Congress are divided. Republicans say they’re for the agreements, but they want to vote on them all at once. Many Democrats either won’t vote for any of them or insist that they come up for a vote one at a time.
 
The result is partisan paralysis. Nothing gets done.
 
I don’t understand the squabbling. Ranchers like me, who are a part of the export economy, don’t care if these trade agreements go through all at once or piece by piece. They just need to go through, so we can continue to grow our businesses, hire new workers, and help the U.S. economy crawl out of its doldrums.
 
Our recent success with exports won’t go on forever, especially if Washington continues to dither. Global pressures will see to that. Foreign customers are finding it harder to purchase American-made goods. Unrest in the Middle East has pushed up fuel costs. The earthquake and tsunami in Japan have disrupted supply chains--and although there’s a chance we’ll see our exports to this devastated country rise, the government in Tokyo appears to be pulling back from plans to join the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement, which would lower tariffs.
 
Korean lawmakers are fed up with American indecision on trade. They wanted to finish the trade deal three years ago. Upon Obama’s insistence, they renegotiated elements of it last fall. Now they’ve said they won’t take any more steps to complete the pact until Congress acts.
 
This speaks to a deeper problem, which is that other countries won’t even start trade talks with the United States. It isn’t worth their time--not when they can start and finish deals with our competitors while Washington bickers and delays.
 
Let’s say you want to hire a company for a small job, such as a carpet installation for your home. What would you do if you worked out the price--only to be told that the installers will need at least three years to get to your job and that even then they may renegotiate its terms?
 
This is how we’ve treated the Colombians, Panamanians, and Koreans.
 
We have to get serious about exports--and somebody in Washington needs to think creatively about pushing for trade.
 
Perhaps congressional Republicans could make the first move: They could vote to give Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) to the president. This act of goodwill would signal their sincere interest in helping Obama meet his export goal and also let the world know that the United States is committed to trade talks.
 
TPA is a tool. It gives the president the power to negotiate trade agreements and submit them to up-or-down votes before Congress. Unfortunately, politicians have treated it as a political football. In the 1990s, a Republican Congress let it expire under President Clinton. More recently, a Democratic Congress let it expire under President Bush.
 
This is silly. The president should have TPA and he should have it permanently. Obama hasn’t sought it, but if congressional Republicans were to give it to him anyway, there could be no mistaking that they mean to help America’s export economy. And Obama would have no excuse not to negotiate new agreements.
 
It certainly would be a good first step. Somebody in Washington needs to take it.
 

Carol Keiser owns and manages cattle feeding operations in Kansas, Nebraska and Western Illinois. Keiser is a Truth About Trade & Technology board member.

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