1999 : Panama Canal turned over to Panama
On this day in 1999, the United States, in accordance with the
Torrijos-Carter Treaties, officially hands over control of the
Panama Canal, putting the strategic waterway into Panamanian
hands for the first time. Crowds of Panamanians celebrated the
transfer of the 50-mile canal, which links the Atlantic and Pacific
oceans and officially opened when the SS Arcon sailed through
on August 15, 1914. Since then, over 922,000 ships have used
Interest in finding a shortcut from the Atlantic to the Pacific
originated with explorers in Central America in the early 1500s.
In 1523, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V commissioned a survey
of the Isthmus of Panama and several plans for a canal were
produced, but none ever implemented. U.S. interest in building a
canal was sparked with the expansion of the American West and
the California gold rush in 1848. (Today, a ship heading from
New York to San Francisco can save about 7,800 miles by taking
the Panama Canal rather than sailing around South America.)
In 1880 a French company run by the builder of the Suez Canal
started digging a canal across the Isthmus of Panama
(then a part of Colombia). More than 22,000 workers died from
tropical diseases such as yellow fever during this early phase of
construction and the company eventually went bankrupt, selling
its project rights to the United States in 1902 for $40 million.
President Theodore Roosevelt championed the canal, viewing
it as important to America's economic and military interests.
In 1903, Panama declared its independence from Colombia in
a U.S.-backed revolution and the U.S. and Panama signed the
Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty, in which the U.S. agreed to pay
Panama $10 million for a perpetual lease on land for the canal,
plus $250,000 annually in rent.
Over 56,000 people worked on the canal between 1904 and
1913 and over 5,600 lost their lives. When finished, the canal,
which cost the U.S. $375 million to build, was considered a
great engineering marvel and represented America's
emergence as a world power.
In 1977, responding to nearly 20 years of Panamanian protest,
U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Panama's General Omar Torrijos
signed two new treaties that replaced the original 1903 agreement
and called for a transfer of canal control in 1999. The treaty,
narrowly ratified by the U.S. Senate, gave America the ongoing
right to defend the canal against any threats to its neutrality.
In October 2006, Panamanian voters approved a $5.25 billion plan
to double the canal's size by 2015 to better accommodate modern
Ships pay tolls to use the canal, based on each vessel's size and
cargo volume. In May 2006, the Maersk Dellys paid a record toll of
$249,165. The smallest-ever toll--36 cents--was paid by Richard
Halliburton, who swam the canal in 1928.
1999 : Panama Canal turned over to Panama
1600 : Charter granted to the East India Company
1775 : Patriots defeated at Quebec
1879 : Edison demonstrates incandescent light
1968 : Soviets test supersonic airliner
As 2009 approaches, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) notes nearly a billion people a day go hungry worldwide. While India supplies Switzerland with 80% of its wheat, 350 million Indians are food-insecure. Rice prices have nearly tripled since early 2007 because, according to The International Rice Research Institute, rice-growing land is being lost to industrialization, urbanization and shifts to grain crops for animal feed.
Yet, according to FAO statistics, world food supplies have kept pace with population growth. There is enough food to adequately feed everyone. Clearly, root causes of the food crisis lie in politics, problems with food distribution, poverty and a failure of the industrial food system to deliver its promises.
Dr. Bob Watson, chief scientist for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the UK, places the blame for the food price spikes on several factors; grain being shifted to animal feed, drought, increased use of grains for biofuels and speculation in food crops. While proponents assert that industrial agriculture is the only hope to end the food crisis, it appears that industrial agriculture is *causing* the food crisis.
A study by the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) found, that as industrial farming practices are adopted in countries like India, small farmers and landless peasants are forced off the land. Hundreds of vegetables and weeds that were part of the traditional diet are wiped out by mono-cultures and herbicides used on the Genetically Modified (GM) crops. Thus, as Margaret Visser tells us, more rice and wheat produced in India really meant less food and less nutrition.
In 1995 Monsanto CEO Robert Shapiro addressed the Society of Environmental Journalists stating "The commercial industrial technologies (the Green Revolution) that are used in agriculture today to feed the world... are not inherently sustainable." Even Shapiro, was admitting the Green Revolution would fail. As George Kent notes in /The Political Economy of Hunger/, "the benefits of Green Revolution yields went into the mouths of rich world denizens, in the form of meat and processed foods"
IAASTD concluded that small-scale farmers in diverse ecosystems should be the focus of efforts to get better quality food in the right places. Farmers need better access to knowledge, technology and credit, but was biotechnology *the *technology ? Watson told the UK Daily Mail "Are transgenics the simple answer to hunger and poverty? I would argue, no."
Study after study indicates small scale, integrated organic/low input sustainable production can produce more food, of higher nutritional value locally, where it is needed.
A 15 year study at the Rodale Institute showed similar yields for conventionally raised vs. organic corn and soy, with soil fertility being consistently higher in the organic systems.
The Broadbalk study in the UK, ongoing for over 150 years, shows higher yields in integrated organic systems over conventional systems with soil fertility remarkably in the organic system.
In /This Organic Life/, Joan Dye Gussow notes that prior to World War II, even with its harsh climate, Montana produced 70% of its own food, including fruit. Sustainably, organically on small farms.
The advantage of integrated organic and sustainable systems is even more apparent in the Global South where most farms are an acre or less. While "yield" per acre can be higher on large conventional farms, "total output" per acre, the sum of everything the farmer produces, is according to Peter Rosset in /The Ecologist/, far higher on small farms. More food, more nutrition, more animal feed.
Gardeners are familiar with the Three Sisters, corn, beans and squash, three food crops that thrive together. This system of intercropping, has long been practiced by small scale indigenous farmers. Integrating livestock, manure and crop rotation makes the system even more productive in terms of food per acre.
According to Rosset, economists at the World Bank realize that redistribution of land to small farmers would promote greater food production, yet due to corporate and political pressure, the industrial farming model is promoted as the standard that will "feed the world." Helena Norberg-Hodge notes that the industrial food system became dominated by the "need for corporate profits, not the need to feed the global population".
Industrial farming has been an abysmal failure at feeding the world. The best hope, according to the IAASTD report, long term research and countless generations of indigenous farmers, lies with "small scale farmers in diverse eco-systems".
As for the US, we need sensible food policy; less grain for animals, more home and community gardens, farmer owned grain reserves, energy policy that does not use food for fuel and an end to food price speculation. That is a "Change we can believe in".