As climate talks continue to grind along in Doha, food security would seem to be a major concern (especially as the U.N. issues warnings about the increasingly desperate food situation in Syria). However, the question of how farmers will feed the world's booming population while adjusting to changing weather patterns appears to have been sidelined even as this year's crippling drought in the U.S. sent grain prices to record highs.
That doesn't mean, however, that the race for food security hasn't already begun. As the authors of the recently released book The Global Farms Race argue, cash-rich but resource-poor governments have been quietly making controversial bids for the arable fields of foreign lands to shore up their own food security. Since the 2008 global food crisis, these "land grabs" -- considered an economic lifeline by supporters and neocolonialism by critics -- have been booming. The editors of the book note a 2011 Oxfam study that claimed nearly 230 million hectares of land have been sold or leased since 2001, mostly after 2008 (that's about the size of Western Europe). In one of the most publicized deals, the South Korean company Daewoo Logistics leased 3.2 million acres in Madagascar in 2008 to grow corn and palm oil so that the company could "ensure our food security." The deal, which was eventually canceled, was so unpopular domestically that it contributed to an uprising that helped to oust Madagascar's President Marc Ravalomanana.
While that deal fell apart, countless others have gone through, sparking debates over the economic, environmental, and political implications of exporting crops from food-insecure countries. As Michael Kugelman, co-editor of the book with Susan L. Levenstein, said at a book launch event at the Wilson Center on Tuesday, this development marks "a new phase of the global food crisis" -- one that may help countries importing food, but has grave implications for the countries hosting the crops. One of the disaster scenarios of these large-scale investments is that they will recreate scenes straight out of the Irish Potato Famine, during which crops were shipped out of the starving nation to feed wealthy foreigners. But equally urgent are the day-to-day economic, environmental, and political ramifications of the deals, from the effects of clearing forest to make way for new farmland to the implications of replacing food crops with biofuels.
Defenders of this type of direct foreign investment often tout the willingness of investors to share technology -- such as seeds for drought-resistant plants and satellite monitoring for crops -- with the host nation. However, corrupt governments willing to offer deals that don't benefit their own populations compromise these promises of development. (Unlike the land-grabs of yore, host governments solicit many of these deals. According to Kugelman, Pakistan offered a 100,000-strong security detail to protect the property of foreign investors and other countries have offered "fire sales" on land in the form of tax write-offs).
As the book acknowledges, these deals are most likely here to stay, so the focus is on minimizing the potential conflict over the contentious real estate. Many of the policy recommendations provided by the book lean toward community supported agriculture programs: Wealthy nations contracting directly with small-scale farmers to meet food needs while also providing them with the technology and capital to improve their yields. While that's all well and good, the willingness and ability of foreign investors to abide by these recommendations seems doubtful, especially given the difficulty of enforcing even well-established international economic rules.
The inability of the current multilateral climate talks to make meaningful headway on even a single key issue highlights the inherent problem with these arrangements. "You can have all the rules and regulations for land rights," contributor Derek Byerlee, the World Bank's former Rural Strategy advisor, said on Tuesday, "But you have to be able to implement them."
Fifty years ago today, President John F. Kennedy learned that the Soviet Union had deployed nuclear missiles to Cuba, thereby beginning the most dangerous nuclear standoff the world has ever known. Popularly known as the "13 days in October," Oct. 16 marked the beginning of some of the most tense diplomacy in U.S. history. To mark the event, Foreign Policy and award-winning journalist Michael Dobbs, author of One Minute to Midnight, have created the Cuban missile crisis + 50 project, looking at what happened then -- and what we know now.
To keep track of events, follow Dobbs as he live-tweets the crisis. For a detailed look at what's coming next, you can also see our comprehensive blow-by-blow of the events of those days. And want to know how these dramatic events changed America forever? Leslie Gelb explains the myth that ruined 50 years of foreign policy -- and Stephen Sestanovich explains why he's wrong.
You can also get a sense for what was in the nuclear arsenal at that time, as well as read secret documents from the National Security Archive that show why the crisis was much, much scarier than you think.
Finally, you can browse the entire project here.
We have extended the deadline for FP and the Belfer Center's Cuban missile crisis contest, which means you have another chance to save the world -- and possibly win a new iPad. The challenge is simple: We're looking for a persuasive lesson in 300 words or less flowing from the most dangerous nuclear standoff the world has ever know. If our judges select your lesson, you could win a new iPad and a subscription to Foreign Policy.
Before you enter, catch up on your history with FP's Cuban missile crisis +50 project. Award-winning author Michael Dobbs takes you inside the standoff as he live-tweets the events leading up to the crisis (you can follow him here). And be sure to check out FP's comprehensive, day-by-day guide to the 13 days that made up the crux of the crisis.
You can see the complete list of contest directions and regulations here.
We here at FP loved going through pictures of the young skateboarders for our photo essay on the kids of Skateistan, the group teaching Afghan youth to skateboard in order to build their self-esteem and foster a strong sense of community. It was heartbreaking when we learned just days later that four young members of the group -- including the girl pictured above, 14-year-old Khorshid -- were killed on the morning of Sept. 8 when a suicide bomber blew himself up outside of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) headquarters in Kabul.
Seventeen-year-old volunteer instructor Nawab, 13-year-old student Mohammad Eeza, and 8-year-old Parwana -- who was Khorshid's sister -- were also killed in the blast. You can read more about the children on Skateistan's website. They have collected remembrances from other students and also shared this quote from Khorshid:
If you are scared you end up doing nothing and without doing you cannot achieve anything. But if you do things, all that can happen is you succeed or fail."
Our thoughts are with the families of the victims.
Former NBA player and Chinese superstar Yao Ming has a new gig as a goodwill ambassador for the nonprofit organization WildAid, who recently brought him to Kenya to
make all of our photo dreams come true "document the poaching crisis facing rhinos and elephants, as a result of Asian demand for rhino horn and ivory." One unintended consequence of his visit was to make everything in the country appear comically small.
Above, he towers over a baby elephant named Kinango, whose mother was killed by ivory poachers. "He pushes against me partly for contact, but also testing his strength," Yao writes on his blog.
But Yao isn't just surrounded by tiny elephants. He's also accompanied by a number of diminuitive elderly men.
You can read more about Yao's adventures in Africa on his blog.
Kristian Schmidt for WildAid
In 2001, the Taliban shocked and angered the world by destroying the Buddhas of Bamiyan, 800 year-old statues that the hardline group declared declare "un-Islamic" due to their depiction of the human form.
A decade later, here's a woman identified on the group's Facebook page as Erika killing it in front of the craters that were left behind. Erika is a volunteer for the group Skateistan, an international non-profit attempting to "use skateboarding as a tool for empowerment" and developers of Afghanistan's first skateboarding school. The school welcomes both girls and boys to participate, even going so far as to open a private girls' skating rink so that older students could continue to practice without men present.
A spate of increased violence, and in particular the increase of Afghans dressed as security attacking U.S. forces, have frayed nerves throughout the country and brought renewed attention to the role of the U.S. mission. However, while it may be just one girl on a skateboard, the photo, besides being awesome, is a reminder that not all the news coming out of Afghanistan today is bad.
Sex sells -- but can it sell a bloody Middle Eastern revolution pitting disparate armed factions against an entrenched autocrat?
Last year's successful overthrow of Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi turned Libya's rebels with a cause into international sex symbols. Now Syrian rebels are getting the star treatment, with one particularly dashing combatant starring in his very own internet meme -- "Ridiculously photogenic Syrian soldier." With his nonchalant stride, close-cropped dark hair, chiseled chin, and steely-eyed intensity, this freedom fighter's sculpted physique gives us some ideas about the guns of the Syrian opposition. An RPG rests casually on one sculpted shoulder, prompting one caption-er to posit:
While Secretary of State Hillary Clinton skipped meeting with the Syrian National Council while visiting Turkey this week, we'd be happy to draw some red lines of our own with this coy comrade. And although observers are bracing for the implications of spillover from the conflict throughout the region, we're ... actually pretty worried about that, too.
Perhaps the beleaguered uprising will finally grab headlines now that its most attractive proponent has been identified. Just one more reason the world should keep an eye on Syria -- in this case, a very close eye indeed.
Who says there are no second acts in American life?
You may remember L. Paul Bremer III as the administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) immediately following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Astute readers may also recall that he presided over such decisions as the dismantling of the Iraqi army, the "de-Baathification" of Iraq's government, some questionable financial decisions involving hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of Iraqi money, and the scandal over prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib.
But the real question is, what's he up to now?
While perusing a Tablet magazine profile of Dan Senor, we happened to notice this gem of a parenthetical: "Bremer wound up retiring to Vermont to become a landscape painter." Do go on!
Apparently, Bremer turned to painting around 2007 and has been going strong ever since, as you can see on his website. He appears to favor landscapes, mostly of rural Vermont, in various muted shades. But as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. Let's look at some highlights. From the "private collection," we have a rare female nude, the title of which -- Nude with Matisse Colors (2009) -- refers to innovative French artist Henri Matisse:
Next up, we swing to his preferred subject matter, landscapes.
A muted rural scene from Vermont. We're not sure what the classical influence on this one is, but the skewed perspectives and somber coloring bring to mind certain elements of the Oval Office circa 2003.
Here's another landscape, this one titled Fishing on the Potomac River.
Really, they're all gems. You can see the entire collection here.
Correction: This post originally identified Bremer's primary medium as watercolors. He actually uses primarily oil paints.
L. Paul Bremer
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