Monday, December 31, 2012

Read all about it

'This book presents a powerful narrative overview of the human condition in the 21st century. In the decades ahead, our species must navigate the end of fossil fuels and economic growth as we've known ita tall order by any estimation. The risks are great, but so are the potential rewards if Rundgren's advice is heeded and humanity embraces a post-carbon, post-industrial culture.'
Richard Heinberg, Senior Fellow, Post Carbon Institute, Santa Rosa USA, Author, The End of Growth

If you enjoy my posts, you now have the chance to get whole load by reading my book
Garden Earth - from Hunter and Gatherer to Global Capitalism and Thereafter. 
420 pages of facts, analysis and challenging ideas.

In the first step it is published as a paperback available from
Create Space

It is also available as an e-book for Kindle (also published in Japanese)

It will be published as a hard cover within a few month.

For the Swedish version look here
For the Japanese version look here

It is particularly rewarding that I managed to get it published still 2012, even if it was the very last days...
Enjoy reading.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Increase happiness productivity

Compare a litre of water in the swimming pool of a rich person with a litre used for drinking or for cooking in the house of a poor person. To make things worse, the cost of a litre of water that one has to carry by hand is often higher in the slums in developing countries than a litre conveniently poured from the tap by the rich, and the quality of the water is also mostly better for the rich. So the poor are discriminated against thrice over. Isn’t this perspective in itself enough to make one argue in favour of global redistribution of resources?

An increase in the absolute income by a certain sum does a lot more good—results in more well-being—for a poor person than for a rich person. One could discuss the ‘happiness productivity’ of a certain resource, that is, how to use a resource to deliver as much happiness or satisfaction or well-being as possible. 
Diener and Seligman 2005
There is no direct correlation between an individual’s or a country’s economic (material) wealth and their sense of happiness, satisfaction or well-being. This is an old observation. The more balanced defendants of capitalism also agree; for example, the economist Joseph A. Schumpeter says that people in industrial societies don’t have to be happier or experience more well-being than people in the Middle Ages. An American study from 2004 states that while economic wealth has increased threefold in 50 years (see figure), people’s feeling of well-being has been constant; in fact, mental health has deteriorated and social networks are weaker. Between 1958 and 1991, the average income of the Japanese increased sixfold; still, in 1991 they were as satisfied (or as little satisfied) as their parents were in 1958.

Material wealth doesn’t lead to more well-being; on the contrary, it appears that the human quest for more things is threatening not only our space on earth but, ultimately, also our own well-being. There is no reason to moralize over this; considering that scarcity has been the norm for millennia, no built-in barriers exist against over-consumption of food or things. But now the damage is evident, for the physical environ­ment, for society as a whole and for individual human beings. Both the values that hail consumption and the economic system that is driven by this consumption and that, at the same time, amplifies consumption have to be changed. And these two are strongly linked, one feeds on the other, therefore they need to be tackled simultaneously. Inequality adds to the equation by leading to people being more frustrated than they would be in a more just society. To compensate for this frustration they consume. Not only that, inequality itself drives comparison and competition, which had growth as its main expression.
(based on Garden Earth -From Hunter and Gatherer to Global Capitalism and Thereafter, my book that will be published next week)

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Do you like the cover?

The publication of Garden Earth is now imminent. This is the proposed book cover. Do you like it?

There is a poll on the right side for you to fill in. It is perfectly anonymous.

And you can also make more elaborate comments below.
What the book is about? Read here....

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Don't cry for ISO 9001

In 2011, global uptake of ISO 9001 falled. There is just above a million firms certified to ISO 9001 globally. There have been marked drops in the uptake in North America and Europe lately. In Europe almost 40,000 fewer companies were ISO 9001 certified 2011 compared to 2010. In North America the number dropped from a high of 61,000 (ISO 9001 was never that big in North America) in 2006 to just 37,000 in 2011.

Also for the rather new ISO 22000 standard there seems to be little interest.

I will not shed any tears over this as I consider the systems being hyped and sometimes even counterproductive. See my earlier posts on the matter.

Quality management is a management fad elevated to divinity
How quality Management can result in low quality....
What gives value to an eco label

Read the whole ISO 2011 survey here 

And check Dilbert's view here:
Dilbert explanation 1
Dilbert explanation 2

Update: 26 February: It seems like all companies implicated in the horse meat scandal in Europe have had their ISO 9001 certificates...


Saturday, December 8, 2012

Ten reasons to build another word

     The difference between reality and rhetoric in which all are said to be equal and to have the same opportunities is simply too great. Our use of both mineral resources and living resources, with their origin in photosynthesis, is now at a level that simply cannot be sustained.We have now reached a stage where we need to divert more attention to building a new world than to fixing the old one. 

1.   Our relationship with nature is characterized by over-exploitation of raw materials and natural resources. Certainly, history shows that we have a remarkable capacity to overcome the limitations of our natural environment. Nevertheless, our use of both mineral resources and living resources, with their origin in photosynthesis, is now at a level that simply cannot be sustained. This can be expressed in different ways such as that we are soon reaching ‘peak oil’; that our ecological footprint is already one and half Earth; that we are already using more than half of the entire biosphere; and that wilderness is now only marginal compared to human-dominated ecosystems.
2.   We know that the release of greenhouse gases, largely the effect of extraction of fossil fuels and degradation of natural resources, will lead to marked changes in climate, resulting in great human suffering and material costs. In addition, we have caused severe reduction of biological diversity, the very web of life on earth. We have manipulated other life processes, such as the nitrogen cycle, to such a scale and in such a way that it will most certainly lead to severe disruptions.
3.   We have unleashed 100,000 chemicals, but we have no idea how they affect us. We take medicines, eat food additives and indirectly consume pesticides we spray on crops. Drinking water and the air we breathe are full of man-made chemicals. We have very little knowledge about the long-term impact on us of the cocktail of chemicals we spread, and we know even less about how it affects our living environment.
4.   The production and productivity revolution, which we explain with entrepreneurship, the superiority of capitalism and an individual’s strive for personal gain can equally be interpreted as the result of one thing: access to external sources of energy, primarily fossil fuel. Use of energy is also the cause of many problems, most obviously the greenhouse effect. At least equally serious is that energy is the engine in almost any other resource depletion and degradation of ecosystem services. But the cheap energy sources are drying up and, more importantly, their efficiency is dwindling.
5.   With the commercialization of farming and the introduction of chemical fertilizers, we no longer have to reproduce our production ability and capacity within the system itself. To replenish natural capital, fertility, labour and genetic resources are bought over the counter, thus separating production and reproduction. This system is commercially efficient, but very inefficient in its use of energy; it is threatening the long-term fertility and capacity of the soil. Despite the emphasis on production, a billion people go to sleep hungry every day.
6.   The system does not have sufficient self-correcting feedback loops to keep in check income inequality; the only thing that can keep it running is a constant economic growth so that those at the bottom, after all, will be a little better off every year. This is not primarily an economic problem but a social and moral problem. The difference between reality and rhetoric (in which all are said to be equal and to have the same opportunities) is simply too great.
7.   The capitalist model of development was most successful in countries that industrialized first, followed by countries that had different comparative advantages in certain development stages. But large parts of humanity are outside of the development, including both the individuals who are left behind in industrialized countries and those whole countries that have no comparative advantages to exploit. Just like not all communities could make the transition from gathering and hunting to farming, many communities today cannot make the transition to a capitalist society because they lack the right conditions.
8.   The values, attitudes and mechanisms that form the foundation of capitalism are obstacles to the harmonious development of society. Competition is promoted at the expense of cooperation, self-interest at the expense of solidarity and commitment to others, private property at the expense of commons and exploitation at the expense of stewardship or nursing.
9.   The combined effects of those values, industrial technology, capital accumulation and market competition drive endless growth and consumption. It is certainly within human nature to be a little dissatisfied, to want more, to explore new opportunities. Without those properties, we would probably never become human beings in the first place. It is in society’s nature to contain these desires so that they continue to benefit us all. With the capitalist takeover of society, these restrictions don’t work any more, and we are all trapped in a treadmill of ever-increasing consumption. This consumption, driven by several of the factors mentioned above, has made us healthier, wiser, more beautiful and perhaps happier to begin with, but it has long crossed a line after which ‘more things’ do not mean more well-being.
10. That things are not a lot worse than they are is a result of the deep and strong properties of humanity and of our larger organism, our society. We do our best to mitigate the ills produced by our economic system. When old social institutions break down, we build new ones; when old values and culture lose their meaning, we develop new ones. Ultimately, we will also build a new world. We have now reached a stage where we need to divert more attention to building a new world than to fixing the old one. 

These ten points are from the introduction  of Garden Earth which is due to be published within a month. I will keep you posted...

Monday, November 26, 2012

Mounting resistance to pesticide expansion

"PESTICIDES are like bombs being dropped in the food web creating enormous destruction," said Dr. K. L. Heong, an entomologist who once worked with the Laguna-based International Rice Research Institute.

In recent decades, there has been a steady increase in the amount of pesticides marketed for argicultural use. In the European Union alone, more than 200,000 tonnes of pesticides (active ingredients) are used annually. Between 2005 and 2010, the total volume of global sales rose from US$ 31 billion to US$ 38 billion. The amount of pesticides used internationally has risen fifty-fold since 1950. China is now the country that both uses and produces the largest amounts of pesticides (PAN Germany, Pesticides and health hazards, Facts and figures)

Luckily there is mounting resistance to the pesticide expansion. Pesticides are not as essential as many people think, according to the  International Rice Research Institute (Irri). An Irri study on the effects of pesticides on rice productivity and health shows that farmers’ earnings from chemically-treated crops are often greatly reduced by the cost of treating pesticide-related health problems. "The value of the crops lost to pests is invariably lower than the expense of treating pesticide-caused ailments," Irri said in a statement. "When health costs are factored, the use of correct rice varieties and reliance on natural control by predators and parasites is the least expensive pest control strategy." (Sunstar 25 November).

In the UK, The Environment Secretary Owen Paterson is examining the possibility of banning the controversial nerve-agent pesticides increasingly implicated in the decline of bees and other pollinating insects (Independent 22 November). And in Saudi Arabia, the Saudi Gazette reports that the ministry of agriculture recently banned 30 different agricultural pesticides after research has pointed to the dangers that these harmful chemicals pose to public health. The Ministry of Agriculture has established a center with a total expenditure of SR70 million to promote organic agricultural methods throughout the Kingdom.  

Global chemical pollution impacts on both humanity and ecosystems, and includes adverse effects from long-term exposure to low or sub-lethal concentrations of single chemicals or to mixtures of chemicals. More than 90 per cent of water and fish samples from aquatic environments are contaminated by pesticides. (Global Chemicals Outlook: Towards Sound Management of Chemicals.)  

In most countries there is no systematic follow up of pesticides in nature and in no country there is monitoring of all active substances; what is found is still frightening enough. Eighty percent of all rivers in the USA contain pesticide residues. Sixty percent of all wells have residues. The proportion contaminated wells was almost as high in urbanized areas, due to use in home gardens, gravel or stone paths, golf courses etc. In France, pesticides are found in all rivers and half of all water sources had at least traces of them. Of the fifty substances that are checked in the Netherlands, two thirds were found in ground water (OECD 2001). 20 pesticides were found in groundwater used by 3.5 million people in the Santa Ana River watershed. On the great plains in the USA researchers detected two insecticides and 27 herbicides in reservoir water. Water treatment removed from 14 to 86% of individual herbicides. Drinking water contained 3–15 herbicides (average, 6.4).

Pesticide Suicides
Because of their availability, intake of these pesticides is a frequent suicide method. Many hospital records show that a high proportion of severe acute pesticide poisonings are in fact suicides, especially in Asia. The WHO estimates that there are about 2 million pesticide suicides and suicide attempts worldwide every year. The number of suicidal deaths through pesticides was estimated as being as many as 370,000 in 2007. In Asia alone, more than 300,000 people die this way each year. The numbers reported from Sri Lanka are especially alarming. In several rural areas there, pesticide suicides are the most frequent cause of death in hospitals. (PAN Germany, Pesticides and health hazards, Facts and figures).

In 1990, the WHO assumed that one million severe cases of unintentional pesticide poisoning occurred annually. What is remarkable is another, much higher WHO estimate from the same year that is rarely cited in the relevant literature. This figure refers to 25 million unintentional poisonings annually of farm workers in developing countries alone, with on average 3% of agricultural workers in developing countries suffering an episode of pesticide poisoning per year. A recent study by PAN International assumes that currently, of the total 1.3 billion farm workers worldwide, about 41 million suffer pesticide poisoning each year, with average poisoning rates at 32%. (PAN Germany, Pesticides and health hazards, Facts and figures)

Statistics on illnesses due to chronic poisoning as a result of pesticide use or pesticide contamination of food are very limited. But there is reliable evidence that the increasing incidence of cancer, hormonal effects, and neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease is linked to the use of certain pesticides in agricultural production. (PAN Germany, Pesticides and health hazards, Facts and figures)

The damage on nature and the suffering of humans also come with costs. UNEP Cost of Inaction Report (2012) reveals that the costs of injury (lost work days, outpatient medical treatment, and inpatient hospitalization) from pesticide poisonings, in Sub-saharan Africa alone, amounted to USD $4.4 billion in 2005. This is an underestimate as it does not include the costs of lost  livelihoods and lives, environmental health effects, and effects of other chemicals. Another study suggests that the major economic and environmental losses due to the use of pesticides in the United States amounted to USD $1.5 billion in pesticides resistance and USD $1.4 billion in crop losses, and USD $2.2 billion in bird losses. (Global Chemicals Outlook: Towards Sound Management of Chemicals)

Enough is enough, It is now high time to simply ban most pesticides. There are in almost all cases good alternatives available. They might be a bit more costly for the farmers, but for society it makes economic sense to ban pesticides.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The changing climate for cimate change....

"The global energy map is changing, with potentially far-reaching consequences for energy markets and trade. It is being redrawn by the resurgence in oil and gas production in the United States and could be further reshaped by a retreat from nuclear power in some countries, continued rapid growth in the use of wind and solar technologies and by the
global spread of unconventional gas production. "

This "rapid growth in renewables sound promising, BUT

"Coal has met nearly half of the rise in global energy demand over the last decade, growing faster even than total renewables."

"Natural gas is the only fossil fuel for which global demand grows in all scenarios, showing
that it fares well under different policy conditions"

"Growth in oil consumption in emerging economies, particularly for transport in China,
India and the Middle East, more than outweighs reduced demand in the OECD, pushing
oil use steadily higher."

"The transport sector already accounts for over half of global oil consumption, and this share increases as the number of passenger cars doubles to 1.7 billion and demand for road freight rises quickly. The latter is responsible for almost 40% of the increase in global oil demand"

Some of the conclusions in the latest World Energy Outlook

So oil increases slightly, coal increases a lot and natural gas increases.
It seems like climate change is forgotten...Or rather that actions against climate change are forgotten.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Quality management is a management fad elevated to divinity

Every second shipment was delayed and the invoices were never correct. Those were the experiences I had as a client of one freight-company in Sweden in the late 1980s. What was special with this company? They were pioneers in the implementation of an ISO 9000 certified quality management system. 

When I first implemented a quality management system some 23 years ago, it was new and fresh, and seemed like a good idea. I mean, who could possibly oppose a focus on quality, and approaching quality in a systematic way through a management system? The approach really suited my personality of an introvert system designer. Just write down how things should be done; do; check that it is working and revise if it isn’t; then repeat the cycle. However, over the years I have grown more and more cynical about the use of such systems, and in particular how the belief in them is like a dogma that can’t be questioned.

What is a QMS
There are many definitions of quality management systems (QMS). It can be ‘A set of coordinated activities to direct and control an organisation in order to continually improve the effectiveness and efficiency of its performance’. Alternatively, it can be “A system by which an organisation aims to reduce and eventually eliminate nonconformance to specifications, standards, and customer expectations in the most cost effective and efficient manner.’  The latter is at least a bit more modest about what a QMS can deliver, or should deliver.

In my view, the time is overdue to challenge this management idea, to expose it as just another fad, loaded with jargon and promoted by a hoard of consultants (including myself), certification bodies and accreditation bodies who earn their living from it. My objections to it are based on two different issues; on the one hand it is based on some erroneous principles or assumptions and on the other hand, even if it were useful, the positive effects are not big enough to justify the energy spent. What I am discussing here is quality management as a management principle. Clearly, I have no objections to quality, how could I? After all, quality is anything you define. I also have no objections to ‘management systems’, how could I? All organisations are managed according to one or the other system, documented or not, good or bad. But those who have spent weeks writing manuals and training staff etc know what I am talking about, the quality management system (QMS).     

Proudly certified!
The main standard for quality management is the ISO 9000 standards. ISO 9000 was first published in 1987.  It was based on the BS 5750 series of standards from the British Standards Institute. However, its history can be traced back some twenty years earlier to a US Department of Defense standard in 1959, which was aimed at ensuring bombs go off at the target and not in the hangars or in the factory – a laudable effort (not for the targets, though). The concept of the ISO 9000 has spread into a wide range of other standards, such as the ISO 14000 series for environmental management, the ISO 22000 for food quality management and the ISO 65 for certification bodies and ISO 17011 for accreditation bodies.

Despite its rapid uptake in various industries quality management is not a proven method. Agreed, there are many reports and statement from quality managers, and consultants and certification bodies about how good quality management is. However, very little peer-reviewed research has been conducted that evaluates whether the system delivers what it promises to do, that is, consistent quality. And there has been even less work done to prove that it delivers general management benefits, which proponents claim most often. One study in Australia and New Zealand did look at the effect of ISO 9000.1 The central finding of the project was that ‘on average ISO 9000 certification has little or no explanatory power of organisational performance.[1] Another study reports that ‘However, surprisingly no significant difference is found with respect to defective part production and manufacturing cost between the two groups [those who had a QMS and those that hadn’t].’[2]

We are told to put quality first, but what does that really mean? Is quality more important than following the law? How does it relate to workers’ safety, the environment or, the most obvious factor in organisations, profit? The quality management culture is based on the fact that there are special quality manuals and a special quality system. But organisations are not managed by these kinds of manuals, and controllers and financial departments work with a different logic. Where does that really leave quality management? Instead of acknowledging the contradictions and different interests in an organisation, QMS proponents spread the illusion that the QMS is the most important part of the management system, which is at best delusional.   

The starting point in the development of a quality system is, almost exclusively, the standard itself, and all the issues required by the standard. This is in itself a very bad starting point. ‘Planners of quality systems, guided by ISO 9000, start with a view of how the world should be as framed by the Standard. Understanding how an organisation works, rather than how someone thinks it should, is a far better place from which to start a change of any kind’ says British management consultant, John Seddon.

QMSs are based on a view that people perform better when told what to do, rather than when they are given freedom and motivation. They exaggerate the use of written instructions at the expense of social interaction and continuous problem solving. This degrades people to automata, a development that risks the quality in their work and ultimately the performance of the organisation.

Even good systems take considerable time and energy to implement. Consequently their implementation competes for resources and attention, resulting in less energy and attention orientated to other (real) problems within the organisation. In addition, QMSs discriminate against small firms as they are more costly to implement while the potential benefit is even less than in a big firm.

While a well functioning QMS might be good for operations, they are often badly designed and implemented, and thus are likely to do more harm than good. An organisation with shelves full of files telling people what to do and how to do it, with a workforce that disregards the policies, is worse off than a company with very few policies, which are vigorously enforced and promoted, and grounded in the organisation’s culture. Many organisations implement a QMS because they ‘have to’ – as a result of demands from the clients or from other outside parties – and not because they see the value of them. Again a very bad starting point for good implementation.

And finally, there are the audits of quality management systems. The actual quality of the product or service is not included in an audit or assessment. Auditors look into systems, procedures and organisational structures, and very little at implementation. Increasingly, audits look at ‘meta-systems’, that is the systems used to develop and maintain the system, for instance, internal audits. Here it follows the footsteps of financial audits, which also has gone from checking the actual books, stocks and assets to auditing the system. This has been well analysed, and criticised, by Michael Power in the book Rituals of Verification. Power says that most effort is actually spent on making the systems auditable, and not on making them reliable.

In the organic sector, where I have a lot of first hand experience all from farming to accreditation of certification bodies, conformity assessment has moved towards focusing on ‘auditable performance’. Quality management is enforced all along the food chain, from the accreditor to the farms; every level expects the next level to implement a QMS. QMS in accreditation demands QMS in certification, which in turn demands QMS on farms. On the farm level this is not as yet formulated in demands for fully fledged QMS, but the tendency to enforce QMS style demands on farms and even more on food processors is clear. Real control is rarely made – this was pointed out in a recent report by the European Court of audits of the EU control systems, and it was pointed out by the Swedish Food Authority some years ago. It is clear that audits don’t address, detect or prevent fraud to any larger extent. When blatant mistakes are made – if the mistake is even detected – the “corrective action” is mostly to insist on more quality management policies or written procedures, which are actually counterproductive.

In certain situations a QMS can be useful, even very useful, for organisations, but that does not imply a QMS is good for all organisations. Nor does it suggest that a functioning QMS contributes to the integrity of the system in general. Instead they should be seen as one of many tools organisations use to manage themselves and the service they offer; a tool that suits some much better than others because all organisations differ in size, culture, resources and stability.

1. The Business Value of Quality Management Systems Certification. Evidence from Australia and New Zealand,  Samson, D. Terziovski, M. Dow, D. Journal of Operations Management Vol. 15, No. 1, 1997, pp. 1-18
2. The impact of ISO 9000 quality management systems on manufacturing, Tufan Koc, Journal of Materials Processing Technology Volume 186, Issues 1–3, 7 May 2007, Pages 207–213

Swedish article about the quality management craze:
Update: 22 January, I have another article about quality management published in Svenska Dagbladet (Swedish).

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Does vegan farming work?

Koryama proudly shows his carrots. The leaves are not very impressive, but the roots are. He grows according to the Shizen Natural Farming concept, which essentially is about not applying any fertilizers, manures or composts. They claim that yields are somewhat lower than organic farming but that taste is superior. I can at least confirm that taste was very good.
Koryama pulls a very decent carrot!
Having grown vegetables myself for 32 years on rather poor soils, I am not particularly easy to convince that it is possible to do this without major soil building. This can be in the form of green manures and, at least on poor soils, some addition of e.g potash or phosphorus-rich minerals if not animal manure is admitted. Having promoting organic for 35 years I am also aware of how easily an alternative thought is dismissed, so I agree with myself to be open minded.

I ask Koryama if he applies the method for the Japanese staple food rice also, but no, this was only for fruits and vegetables. However, fruit and vegs are greedy and spoiled crops, so in my opinion, if it works for them, it should also work for other crops. The soils of Koryama, in Narita in Japan, are volcanic and I believe very rich, so it is of course possible that he is still “mining fertility”. But he has farmed with the method for more than 30 years, so one can’t easily say that he will soon run out of nutrients. His crops are sold by the Shizen Organic and Natural Food Ltd. They sell for the same price as organic and are also certified organic. His yield is lower but he says he can sell lower grades to the clients that want his produce and in addition he doesn’t have to buy any inputs, so it compares quite well with “normal” organic, for which he is also certified.

My starting point in thinking is that the various production systems that mankind developed over centuries have been rather well adapted to the ecological conditions where they developed. That is why the Mediterranean production system is quite different from the system in Western Europe or in the river valleys of India. But even if they were different, there were no systems without animals. And if all these systems had animals there were probably some quite good reasons for it. Even in India, where they supposedly are vegetarians (a truth with big modification) their system has been very much based on keeping cows and buffaloes – they are the worlds biggest milk producer and the biggest beef exporter!

Natural systems also have animals and plants mixed. We can’t easily integrate wild animals in our crop production systems, as they mostly will destroy the crops. Humans are not a replacement for the grazing animals, as we can’t break down cellulose. Animals also eat a lot of stuff that we don’t want to eat. Not only people, but also a lot of soil micro-organisms like animals, or at least their droppings. So for my simplistic mind, that prefers mimicking nature, an ecologically sound system is most likely to have animals.

I have seen other farms who have basically been independent from brought in compost, manure or other fertilizers, e,g. grain farms having rotations with a lot of legumes and green manures. But in most cases the same farm get a better yield – and far better economy – by introducing animals in the production system. This was essentially what happened in Europe some 150-200 years ago. Before that, most farms grew grain crops in almost monocultures, but the soils were exhausted and yields low and land was let fallow, every second, third or fourth year. With crop rotations including clover-grass and similar, farmers could suddenly both produce more grain and meat and milk from the same area.

It is possible that the same can be accomplished with a crop rotation where the legumes and grasses can be used for other purposes, e.g. for biogas production. But also here, it seems that it in almost all cases makes more sense to feed the animals and make biogas from the manure, in which case you can make better use of bio mass. If you think it is immoral for humans to keep domesticated animals this is irrelevant, and you would argue that there is no major difference between my argument and the arguments people use in favour of factory farming. Well, I do think there is a difference, because my discussion is about an appropriate way to produce food for 9-10 billion people with as small ecological footprint as possible, and keeping animals in a way that respect their animalness. This means that we need to use resources smartly.

Perhaps the vegan culture will develop such systems in the future. Perhaps I will then stop eating meat. Meanwhile, I hope we don’t have to hear the stories about that meat-eating, as a principle, takes away food from people. That is simply not true (and if you don’t believe that read some of the blog posts listed below).

Some reading:
Proponents of vegan farming:
even my mama grows vegan-organic

Some of my posts on meat production:
Producing meat (for export) or food for the people
The complicated story of meat


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Paying farmers for environmental services in Japan

An organic farm in the densly populated area close to the Narita airport
Japan is perhaps not a pioneer in paying farmers for environmental services, but it has some interesting schemes. The value of the eco system services of farming in Japan equals the value of production.

At the seminar linked to the launch of my book in Japan, Mashahito Enomoto,  Director of the Policy Division for the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries held an interesting presentation about what the government is doing in support of more environmentally friendly farming in Japan. He stated that the estimated value of production from agriculture was 9.5 trillion Yen (some 120 billion dollars at today's rate) while the value of the ecosystem services were estimated to 8.2 trillion Yen, i.e. almost at par with the production value.

This shows clearly how important it is that we get in place mechanism that ensures that farmers take care of the management of the eco systems. (I have some very strong concerns about using market incentives for this. Read for example Ecosystems: Invaluable and worthless). 

Payment for ecosystem services has a long history in Japan. Already 1901, the Government of Tokyo implemented a scheme for forest management in the catchment area for its water supply (read more).For farms, Japan is partly using similar systems of support as in Europe. Organic farmers in Japan can get support in the same way, with a flat payment per area unit approximately of 64,000 Yen (800 dollar) per hectare (mind you, most Japanese farms are VERY small, outside of Hokkaido, average size is about 1 hectare). The uptake of organic farming in Japan is still rather slow (I will write more about this in a later post).

Some countries, such as the US pays farmers to take land out of production. The US Conservation Reserve Program has some 30 million acres that are taken out of production and the EU has during various periods have had set-aside programs. In Japan, an overarching concern is abandonment of land (see my previous post), and Japan has had a program for maintaining land under cultivation since 2000. Farmers could get anything between JPY3,000 up to JPY210,000 depending on site and kind of production.  By 2004, 660,000 farmers in 33,000 communities received in total JPY55 billion for active management of the farms.

Recipients of the support have to make an agreement with local communities that stipulates conservation activities to be conducted for the duration of no less than five years. This include management of fields and the maintenance of common resources such as irrigation canals, ponds and community roads. Local governments (both prefectural and municipal) play key roles in propagating, implementing and enforcing the program.

I find it very interesting that it is only through the local communities that farmers can get this kind of compensation. I believe this has a lot of additional values. First it means that the local communities, and the municipalities, get influence over how the systems develop, secondly, I believe the monitoring and control of the support must be quite easy, and to a large extent can be informal and finally it clearly must strengthen the local communities as such. This is very different from how the EU agri-environmental support works. I am quite convinced that this model in Japan is superior.You can read more about it in: Direct Payments for Environmental Services from Mountain Agriculture in Japan: Evaluating its Effectiveness and Drawing Lessons for Developing Countries, by Takumi Sakuyama. The evaluation points to some shortcomings of the program, which have a lot to do with the criteria for support, where to few indicators have been used to determine who should get support and at which level.

More about ecosystem services in my blogposts:
The Polluter Gets Paid Principle
Ecosystems: Invaluable and worthless
carbon projects drives land grabbing and GMOs?
Man: more dependent on nature than ever
The market is not a management system for the planet


Monday, October 29, 2012

Launching Garden Earth in Japan

I am in Japan for the launch of my book, Garden Earth in Japanese. It is published by Doyosha, a smaller publisher.

JONA, Japan Organic & Natural Foods Association is my host here and have made a very intensive visit program. The first day brought us two two organic farms, a cooperativa, a wholesaler, the Ministry of Agriculture and JICA, the Japan public development agency.

Ageing farmers is a very big problem in Japan (see my earlier post Will there be farmers? about this global problem). Only some 5% of the farms are operated by people below 45 years. Paradoxically enough there is quite some land agriculture land abandoned in Japan which seems strange in a country with so little agriculture land and the lowest food self-sufficiency in the world (of the bigger countries at least). This seems to have many reasons, among others, global specialization and competition, the small scale of Japanese farms combined with zoning and other regulations making it hard to consolidate farms into larger units, and the aging farmers that continue to own the land, but stopped managing it.

The government is now supporting young farmers with subsidies in the range of JPY1.5 million per farmer and year for five years. Many of these young farmers go for organic farming, and the Sanbu-Yasai Cooperative has a special program to find land and train young organic farms. A great initiative!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Burning food?

Small scale biofuel (Jatropha) production in Zambia

If the EU commission really cared about the poor and the hungry in developing countries, it should be concerned with the effects of its own agriculture and trade policies on these people, rather than engaging in fruitless discussions over biofuel competing with food.
“BRUSSELS, Oct 17 (Reuters) - New EU rules to limit how much food can be made into biofuels are "not perfect" and make it harder to achieve overall goals on switching to low carbon energy, European Commissioners said on Wednesday. But they insisted the proposals sent out the right signal to the biofuel industry, which would have to move on to new-generation fuels that do not compete with demand for food.”
If the EU commission really cared about the low carbon economy, it should be more concerned with the 95% of the fuel that is fossil than the 5% that is renewable. Or as a matter of fact, it should be concerned with a transportation system built around the private car. Cars and petrol are the culprits – not biofuel. Actions to reduce car traffic and total fuel use is much more important that the application of sustainability criteria on the 5% that should be biofuel. 

And if the EU commission really cared about the poor and the hungry in developing countries, it should be concerned with the effects of its own agriculture and trade policies on these people, rather than engaging in fruitless discussions over bio fuel competing with food. Why single out biofuel? What about the liquor, wine and tobacco cultivation? What about cotton? We can wear nylon instead. What about all land that is used of golf courses or hobby horses? In Sweden we use more than half a million hectare to feed our hobby horses. What about feed stuff? The EU commission seems to forget that most biofuel production also produces highly valuable animal feed stuff, so the net land use for biofuel is not as big as it looks like. 

The EU commission seems to have no understanding of how global food and agriculture markets work. From the perspective of farmers, the food sector has been a buyer’s market for most of the time. Increased food prices and more alternative uses for farmland is a boon for farmers. It is also in general positive for rural areas, and for those living in the rural areas. Most hungry people in the world live in rural areas and even those that are net buyers of food (e.g. agriculture workers and small farmers) will in most cases benefit from increased incomes in the area as it means more employment, more demand for services, better infrastructure. Admittedly, higher prices, are a problem for the poor in the slums of the mega cities. But there is not a very strong link between biofuel and higher food prices. The price hikes the last five years are more strongly linked to increased oil price than anything else. See more in Why oil price and grain price follow each other.
If the biofuel production of the US, the EU and Brazil would cease, there would be a massive fall in global agriculture prices. For a short while, poor people in the slums would get cheaper food. But within a few years, masses of farmers in both developed and developing countries would have been forced off the land and in developing countries, most would become dirt poor. They and the people working for them would be worse off than today, and more hungry.

Having said that, there are many issues to discuss around biofuel:
Like the rest of the agriculture sector, biofuels too are subject to large political interventions. Globally, biofuels received some US$ 11–12 billion in subsidies in 2006 (FAO 2008). During 2006/2007, one-fifth of the maize yield in the United States was used for biofuels, stimulated by heavy subsidies, and still the amount only corresponded to some 3% of petrol consumption (World Bank 2007). A report for Friends of the Earth states:
 [A] realistic bioenergy potential on cropland and grazing land in the year 2050 may be around 70–100 EJ/yr,[1] with the lower number being environmentally considerably more favourable than the higher one. For comparison, we note that the global technical use of primary energy is currently around 550 EJ/yr (fossil energy use around 450 EJ/yr). This means that the bioenergy potential from cropland and grazing land is in the order of magnitude of 15–22% of current fossil energy use. (Erb et al. 2009: 25)
 The results of the report Agriculture as Provider of Both Food and Fuel, Kersti Johansson, Karin Liljequist, Lars Ohlander, Kjell Aleklett are more or less the same. This shows that biofuels present a very limited possibility for reducing society’s dependency on oil. This doesn’t have to be an argument against biofuels by itself, rather an argument for the need to totally redesign transport systems. This also means that we have to address the growth in transportation as the main problem (for those saying that electric cars are the solution, read this).

One disturbing aspect is that a lot of biofuel production has a bad energy ratio; some examples even show ratios below 1, implying that the production of biofuel uses more energy than the energy content of the fuel itself, something that is obviously only possible to achieve with massive political distortion. For grain-based biofuels, the energy ratio in a number of cases studied ranged from 0.7 to 2.8.[2] The energy ratio of biofuels from lignocellulose is normally higher as is the energy efficiency of sugar cane ethanol.

The biggest problem with biofuel is the potential competition with other land use, as increased biofuel production is likely to either take place in now-low-on-production, but highly biodiverse, rangelands or expand into ‘virgin’[3] lands, such as wetlands and primary and secondary forests. Biofuel is also often grown in monoculture, uses a lot of agrochemicals and can be the reason for ”land-grabbing”. But none of these apply for all forms of biofuel, and can’t be used as an argument against biofuel as such. Small scale biogas made from manure and other waste fuels the cooking of many million of people around the globe. Several hundred million animals provide power to pull farm implements and transport goods all over the globe – their fuel is all from agriculture lands. 

Read More:
Biofuel in many shapes, about biofuel for the local market in Zambia
BBC had a very interesting article about biofuels in Germany
Energy and agriculture about the general questions about energy in agriculture
Financial times on the EU proposal
The Guardian

[1]            Here ‘EJ’ stands for Exa Joule; 1 EJ=1018 J.
[2]            This also means that if you want to replace 100 EJ of oil with biofuel, you might need 200 EJ of biofuel, because 100 EJ will be lost in the process of making biofuels if the ratio is 2. 
[3]            I put virgin in quotation marks to indicate that there is no such thing. All landscapes today, with the exception of land under the glaciers, are influenced by human activity.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Standards as tools for power

Standards are not innocent technical specifications, but tools of power and dominance. Standards and the conformity assessment linked to them are a vital components of the neo-liberal project. Review of Standards: Recipes for Reality by Lawrence Busch, The MIT Press, 408 pages.

We hear the news every day about the price of oil expressed in dollars per barrel. The standard barrel of crude oil is 42 US gallons (34.9723 imp gal; 158.9873 L). This measurement originated in the early Pennsylvania oil fields. Oil has not actually been shipped in barrels since the introduction of oil tankers, but the 42-US-gallon size is still used as a unit for measurement. Interestingly enough, the ”standard oil drum” that you see in use is a 55-US-gallon barrel! The two sizes of oil drums represent some of the millions of standards that shape the society we live in. Almost all products and services we are exposed to are subject to one or, mostly, many standards. A life without standards is almost incomprehensible today. Just think about how to conduct simple trade without standards. There would be no agreed measures (scales), no clear quality standards, no agreed value reference (currency), and there would be no standard terms of trade etc. We would be back to the situation of two unrelated civilizations have their first encounter. Standards, and their cousin norms, give us predictability in an otherwise rather chaotic world.

Within most professions, there are heated debates about the standards to apply, and people spend a lot of time arguing over them, write them and revise them. But very few actually think about standards as a social institution, their governance and how they can be used in the interest of some groups against others. In the excellent book Standards: Recipes for Reality, Lawrence Busch, Professor at Michigan State University, makes us aware of how standards shape our lives every day. More importantly, he puts standards in a wider economic, social and political context.

Busch questions many of the claims normally related to standards. For example, in the language of ISO and others, standards are developed based on consensus. Busch argue that consensus is not at all a salient feature of standards. It is rather that they are taken for granted or forced upon people that ensure that people conform to them. The organic sectors shows ample evidence of this. Even more striking is how certain proprietary technical standards can dominate markets, e.g. Microsoft Windows and its associated programs. Even governments yields to their powers in many cases.

For a frequent traveler like me it is a normal hassle to carry adapters. For some reasons sockets developed differently in different countries, and today we sit with huge assets built with one type of socket in each country. It is an example of “path dependence”, i.e. that we follow a certain path, not because it is the best one, but it is the one we choose in an early stage, and the cost to go back and start all over is simply too big. On the larger scale, the automobile transportation system is a another example of path dependence, where all those within the system have an interest to continue developing it, despite the fact that neither the car itself nor the combustion engines use to propel them, are the best transport solution for cities of today. So while we have thousands of car models to chose from, and each model has hundreds of variations, many people can’t chose whether they want a car or not. This situation is what the priest and sociologist Ivan Illich called “radical monopolies”. Unfortunately, second-best solutions are likely to remain in the future as a result of path dependency, says Mr Busch. 

Busch calls the combination of standards, certification and accreditation for the tripartite standards regime (TSR) and sees the TSR emerging as an alternative mode of governance for most aspects of social life. He is rather critical towards the TSR and claim among others that audits often do violence to the subject of certification. This is particularly the case when the audits are weakly related to the real purpose of the standards; when audits take away attention from other important but difficult to measure aspects, when the audits follow an approach of ”mechanical objectivity” which relieves the certification body from responsibility or when audits intrude into the subjects pursuance of whatever goals they have. It seems to me that all those four points apply to how organic certification is mastered. The problem, and the violence done, is exacerbated when standards are written into law, says Busch. Busch concurs with the Michael Power in his book The Audit Society that one main requirement of the TRS is that organizations subject to certification are forced to reorganize their work to be more easily auditable, but that such a reorganization to satisfy the auditors may backfire, and risk to confuse predictability with trustworthiness.

He sees the standards movement of the last century as part of the industrialisation concept, linked to the division of labour, economies of scale and to the whole organization of the factories. The same standardization enables global markets and unlimited competition. Through standardization in transportation, such as containerization, improved communications etc., the competition is now also truly global in many markets. The container itself, once it was standardised in 1965, determined shapes of the ships but also of pallets, boxes and of goods to fit into the standardized boxes. This competition in turn drives the ”technological treadmill”. I can’t raise the price (as the quality is fixed) which means that I have to lower costs of production, e.g. by using chemical fertilizers or by using more efficient machinery.

As a counter-reaction to this development, there has been a drive last decade to use standards for differentiation. Organic standards and certification is one of the most prominent examples of such differentiation. Classic standardization leads producers down the path of ”commodity hell”. It has cleared the market from unique products, made to order or in a one-by-one production process and transformed it to ”same” products. With the new standards differentiation, we get a market where we can ”chose between hundreds of different, but equally standardized – varieties of ketchup, automobiles or airline tickets”. But Busch also notes that ”their (the differentiating standards) value as such is diminished as their numbers increase”. Busch explores how this contradiction came into being.

He sees the rapid increase in use of standards coinciding with the neo-liberal project, with less central planning and retreating states. He sees an inherent conflict in that managers of companies on the one hand want less regulation on the other hand are afraid of the vacuum created by the retreating state. The total free market situations favoured in most liberal economic theories have been abolished by the companies themselves through the development of closely knitted supply-chains which in turn are a pre-condition for lean management, outsourcing and other modern trends. To make all participants in a supply-chain subject to standards and certification means they are tied together and the market is less free, and therefore predictable. ”No large firm can afford to subject itself to the instabilities and risks associated with the free market”. In this way, the Tripartite Standards Regime becomes a new model for governance. The lead firm or lead firms in the supply-chains or value-chains will mostly impose their standards on others. The standards themselves often also distribute burden and costs unevenly in the value-chain. Busch mentions GlobalGAP as such an example, where small farmers are not able to carry the substantial direct and indirect costs involved . He also discusses how NGOs have turned to certifications and supply chains in attempts to advance their goals, instead of lobbying increasingly powerless governments.

Busch shows how standards are intimately connected to power–that they often serve to empower some and disempower others; ”in our modern world standards are arguably the most important manifestation of power relations”. He points to the dual character of the English word “ruler” as a manifestation of this, on the one hand, it is someone who rules, on the other hand a measuring device. Busch gives examples from colonial times of how schools in the British colonies taught medieval British history, but didn’t include the history of the countries where the books were used. The imposition of Western standards for private property in conflict with customary ownership systems is another example.

Also today, standards are tools of power and domination, but now in the hands of companies. By means of standard, conflicts are seemingly resolved or at least transferred from a political domain into a technical, technocratic domain. The claimed “voluntary” nature of standards also adds to the perception that the use of the standard is just an economic choice which is made in the market place. In this way, standards are stealthily becoming weapons for power and blurs power relationships. Because of the perceived technical nature of the standards, the standards governance model (the TPR) falls short of ethics, justice and democracy. In a recent article, Can Fairy Tales Come True Mr Busch writes: 
The TSR is a new and ubiquitous form of governance that, although supported by the state, is fundamentally responsible only to itself and not to any democratically elected legislative body. Hence, while it can do good, it can just as easily do harm, with little or no democratic oversight.
 That standards are power tools is shown by the many social movement that are formed around standards such as the women’s suffrage movement, anti-apartheid movement, labour movement and lately gay rights movement. Many of these movements want rights to be extended to their constituency, instead of being limited to just some group, e.g. the right of marriage to be limited to heterosexual couples.

The privatization of public services requires further standardization as services that before were just provided (say schools and electric utilities)  now have to be purchased in the market place, and therefore made comparable, i.e. standardized. This development transforms all sorts of habitual action into decisions where we are forced to make rational choices. To this can be added the stress of the market place where we are supposed to decide whether we want, for example, fair trade or organic products. The increase in choices by the differentiation in the market as well as by privatization of former public services may not be very democratic according to Busch, all the choices and decisions to be made are time consuming and require skill-”skills that the middle class might have, the upper class can buy, the lower class is rarely able to pursue and the ”underclass” cannot pursue at all.”
“Standards” is a book to read for those professionally engaged in the tripartite regime of standards, certification and accreditation. It will pose some hard questions, and give some ideas for improvements. While the tone is critical, Busch makes no attempt to trash standards as a whole:  "Thus, the challenge is not to eliminate standards, to return to some mythical past during which standards were of trivial importance, Instead [...] to ensure that seemingly benign standards do not lead to gross injustices." Before embarking on making a standard, we should ask the central question: Is standards the most appropriate form of governance in this particular situation? There are laws, regulations, statutes, customs, norms and habit that could perhaps be a better alternative. He makes a list of qualities –standards for standards if you so wish - that he believe standards should have such as subsidiarity; use of precaution; do minimal violence; make actionable standards; encourage participation in standard setting; and review standards frequently. 

Read and enjoy.  

Other reviews of this book: 
Wall street Journal
Galveston daily news