Friday, July 18, 2008

Agricultural landuse and transportation policy

We all know that transportation policy leads to sprawl. The leading impetus is road building. By funding roads we do more than make it possible for cars to kill kids trying to cross to school in Half Moon Bay (on the same road that lead to the San Mateo Farm Systems Alliance meeting last week.) Jared Lawson of Pie Ranch adds a caution for turning off HWY 1 to his communications and says that discussions are on going with Caltrans. The consumption of forests through government-promoted road projects and wetland loss result from agricultural expansion..road building, residential development, and the building of large facilities like shopping malls, factories, airports and, ironically, reservoirs. Roads and related impermeabilities increase runoff compromising environmental services of streams, ditches, and oceans with modern agriculture. The result on the coast side is the townless highway, from northcounty to the just south of HMB, and the original SM coast's highwayless towns to the south.

The solution is to use the expected road's traffic envelope based congestion mitigation fees to offset ag land depreciation relative to sprawl. Not locally to improve sprawl's profitability with AB1991 at the expense of existing agricultural practices.

What happens when roads lead to development of what Scott Morrow, Chief Medical Officer, San Mateo, characterized at the SMFSA, as the development of large farms that grow, not for the local community, but Brussel sprouts for distant markets? How is agriculture transformed and what is the impact on nutrition at the local school, another concern of the SFMCA?

Argentina is the throes of living these questions. Following the second financial meltdown of the Bush presidency (California's energy deregulation was the first) many changes have lead to attempts to tackle how the economy was organized over the last 50 years. The most recent item of contention is large farms designed and subsidized for export!

The government imposed a sliding tax on large commodity farms to pay for social programs and encourage agriculture for local consumptions (Local food?). "The tax was designed to generate more revenue for social projects in Argentina, the government says, from the global bonanza in grain exports, especially sales of soy to Asia and Europe. Argentina, with its vast Pampas, is a leading producer of soy, corn, wheat and beef, and the nation has benefited from soaring global food prices. The government said the tax was also meant to encourage the planting of wheat and corn, staples here, instead of export crops such as soy."

Its hard to read the LA Times article because the reporter writes ignorant of the rebirth by fire in Argentina and the issues we faced recently with commodity subsidies. Why wouldn't workers in Argentina expect the same resource redistribution we attempted with the Farm Bill? Do farmers take advantage of large state infrastructure spending on roads, airports, shipping and ports to grow food for distant markets? Is the realigned food distribution system impacting the availability of nutrition at the local school? As large food systems develop around a few crops are consumption rates changed to the detriment of health at the local schools? Arn't small farmers and local food consumers constituencies, along with prosperous farmers and middle class urbanites? Or is everyone else locked in a leftist, non property owner, working class terminology versus middle class urbanites and wealthy farmers?

Are the same landuse forces paradoxically, creating misery in the midst of bounty? Have surging fuel prices ignited inflation throughout the region, driving up the cost of food? Roads for sprawl are prepositioned on cheap oil as Kunster and Duany (Suburban Nation) remind us. Cheap oil is used to fertilize, distribute, and transport food, making organic, local, and self sustainable farming a marginal component of the economy. Argentina's tax appears to have been undone by surging food prices; and the indecision of not shielding the tax from the courts has raised anticipation how the Kirchner's and their small farms alliance will respond. The economic fractures of 2002 appear distant enough for wealth farmers to regroup as backers of a coup.

The price of food and local supply are raising stressful questions similar to those faced in Cuba leaving a muddy picture on Argentina in the Times. The related article on oil prices says "Fearful of social unrest, Latin American leaders are now scrambling to blunt the impact of the price shocks. Mexico, for example, has eliminated duties on imported grain and is increasing cash payments to families enrolled in the nation's largest anti-poverty program. It's also keeping a lid on the price of gas, which is about $2.68 a gallon in most of the country. That subsidy is projected to cost the treasury more than $20 billion this year, a figure officials say is unsustainable if crude prices continue to rise. Fallout from the crisis could last generations. Even short periods of malnutrition can permanently stunt the brain development of children. Kids pulled out of school to help with the family finances often remain permanently behind their peers." Its hard to imagine Argentina avoiding these stresses especially on a senate vote involving food.

Winona LaDuke, Anishinaabe, as quoted by Jered Lawson in his recent barn dance email, "They said we would never become civilized because we enjoyed our harvest too much," speaks to the economic forces that shape empire through agricultural landuse and transport policies.

No comments: