This week there has been some seriously great writing about under-the-radar topics that concern food and agriculture, but provide more general insights on the links between countries, sectors and people. I always enjoy link roundups from the blogs and newsletters I follow to get a peek into their reading lists; I hope you will, too!
This is a very poignant account of the decision of two Honduran brothers to stay or leave in their Honduran village in the dry corridor. One has migrated to New Orleans; the other has stayed in Honduras, but is reconsidering every month the rains don’t come and agricultural opportunities literally dry up. It’s very close to what we have observed in the field in Honduran coffee communities, where considerable amounts of men have left to seek their fortune in the USA. What the article doesn’t touch on as much is the important role of smallholder women who try to keep the farms running despite the lack in workforce. On the other hand, we have also seen that remittances are an important part of many households’ economies. Read this article for a visually stunning, very personal impression of such struggles.
Thanks to its relatively high value per fruit, the avocado has been heralded as a wonder crop for smallholder farmers. As this article explains, unfortunately it has not escaped the fate of many other high-value crops: organized crime. In the Michoacán region of Mexico, a group known as the Caballeros Templarios, the “Knights Templar”, uses extortion, kidnapping and the choice between plomo o plata (the choice between bribes and violent retribution familiar to any Narcos-viewer) to dominate the industry.
From the field, we know that money flowing around agricultural communities often attracts crime – to the point that development organizations are reluctant to work in communities during harvest time (since cash payments lead to more insecurity) and, in effect, avocado farmers I have talked to have to guard their fields day and night against robbers. This level of extortion however is baffling to me. It seems small-scale farmers in such a security context are truly caught between a rock and a hard place, since any economic success will soon be noticed and “taxed” by such organizations. Look forward to a post soon on the link between licit and illicit crops, which plays into this problematic.
As if we needed another reminder that the kingdom of insects is complex and impossible to divide into good and bad: In Dorchester County, South Carolina, upwards of 3 million honeybees were killed when county officials sprayed the area with the insecticide naled to get rid of mosquitos likely to carry the Zika virus. The difficulty of using pesticides when dealing with crops that require pollination by insects is well-known and discussed (see the documentary “More Than Honey” for more in-depth coverage), but other conflicts of interest such as exterminating disease-carrying insects vs. caring for beneficial ones seem to have gone more unnoticed. This could account for the “ignorance” (in the words of a local beekeeper) of county officials when scheduling aerial spraying during the day (when honeybees are more active) and failing to notify all local beekeepers. But even if they had notified them – consider how many wild honeybees, who nobody would be likely to protect, also fell victim to this practice? Definitely food for thought.
Speaking of honeybees, this story is really eye-opening as it chronicles the fraught relationship between the agro-chemical company Monsanto and the environmentalist movement who share a common interest: saving honeybees, whose existence has recently come under increased stress. In addition to the aforementioned pesticides, there is another culprit: the varroa mite, which transmits viruses and diseases to its host, the honeybee. While scientists at Monsanto are investigating an innovative method of exterminating the mite using RNA, environmentalists are increasingly sceptical and hostile. This piece profiles a man caught in the middle: Jerry Hayes, a apiary scientist that switched to working for Monsanto to do something against his nemesis, the varroa mite.
These are culture wars. Honeybees have become as political as GMOs or vaccines. Anti-corporate environmentalists battle from one redoubt, Big Ag technologists from the other. Hayes stands in the middle, taking fire from both sides.
The piece brings up a lot of interesting points: differences in culture, focal points and methods of these organizations; the importance of profit-seeking when solving global problems and the loss of credibility attached to that; and the difficulty of bridging gaps that have grown over years of distrust, ridicule and an attitude of good-versus-evil. Plus great information on RNA-based pest control, if that’s what makes your skirts fly up.
And that’s it for the week, except for the fascinating tale of ice cream theft in New York City during the hot summer months. Drop back in soon!