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Posted on on July 23rd, 2009
by Pincas Jawetz (

OSI-New York, 400 West 59 Street, New York City, is the main headquarters of the Open Society Institute founded by financier George Soros.  Along with OSI-Budapest, it provides administrative, financial, and technical support to the Soros foundations and also operates OSI initiatives, which address specific issues on a regional or network-wide basis, and other independent programs. OSI-New York is also the home of a series of initiatives that focus primarily on the United States.

OSI-New York is now considering the establishment of an initiative that deals with aspects of Global Climate Change. in this regard, July 22, 2009, it arranged for a panel and webcast to discuss – “The Adaptation Imperative—Food Security and Climate Change.” It was chaired by  Ross Gelbspan, a former editor and reporter at the Boston Globe and the Washington Post, author of two acclaimed books on climate change: “The Heat is On” (1997) and “Boiling Point” (2004) and is working now on his third book .  The participants were: Mark Hertsgaard a journalist covering the environment for the Nation and an Open Society fellow, and Sara Scherr who serves on the United Nations Millennium Project Task Force on Hunger and is founder of Ecoagriculture Partners.

It was announced that they will discuss the implications of – the somber reality that scientists calculate that temperatures will keep rising for the next 50 years, no matter how drastically we cut greenhouse gas emissions – for food production and global hunger – in a nutshell – “the implications of climate change for food production and global hunger” – this being clearly related to the main topics that OSI deals with – human rights and democracy – including the emerging and not-yet-emerging poor countries of the world.

The panelists were supposed to “assess the severity of the problem, which is worsened by widespread soil erosion and dwindling rainfall in crop-growing regions. But they will also identify cause for hope. New farming techniques can boost crop yields while enabling plants to store carbon.” I had the feeling that the above is just the needed dry test run for the preparation of fodder for the creation of the new OSI initiative.

As we would like to hope that a new George Soros Initiative that fords the political waters of climate change will be a big deal indeed – I will start here by going over material from the Soros Foundations Network Report 2008.

George Soros began supporting efforts to promote an open society back in 1978 and five years later established the foundation in Hungary which signaled the start of his network that operates now in all parts of the globe. Today, the President of his New York headquarters is famous human rights advocate Aryeh Neier.

The Foundations have offices in Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Nairobi for East Africa, Estonia, Georgia, Guatemala, Haiti, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovak Republic, South Africa, Johannesburg for Southern Africa, Tajikistan, Turkey, Ukraine, Dakar for Western Africa, then further US based offices that deal with Latin America and the Caribbean; Af-Pak, Turkmenistan, Middle East and North Africa; Albania, Bulgaria, Czech and Slovak Republics, Moldova and Rumania; the Caucasus, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan; The States that resulted from the former Yugoslavia, Hungary, the Baltics, Poland, Russia, and Ukraine; Turkey; Burma/South East Asia. The total expenditures of the network was in 2008 over $540 million.

With above scope before us – so what was discussed last night?

In his introduction, Ross Gelbspan made it clear that the Global Climate Change topic has not made it yet through the Global Press – and by saying so he clearly got my vote unconditionally.

He also said that the authoritarian governments that disregard human rights also do little on climate change. Their people suffer and there is no respite. A properly constructed program on this subject could help create important dynamics. Most important – RENEWABLE ENERGY COULD DRIVE GLOBAL ECONOMY.

The importance is global – just look at what Secretary of Energy Prof. Steven Chu has said – “while we talk about Africa we also talk about California.” We have already a major agricultural collapse in California.

Sara Scherr moved to food security in West Africa. Very large areas in Africa will get drier and much higher temperatures. Even in those countries that get cooler, or get more water – there will be problems. There will be floods and diseases that did not exist earlier. There will be a need for change so there will not be gains as some were saying earlier. In short – even when one sees weather improvements this will not translate as desirable. There will be environmental refugees.

GHG – over 30% come from the agricultural sector. Most of the forest emissions come from drivers in agriculture. There will be adaptation issues and there will be talk of irrigation issues.

Mark Hertsgaard added that so far we focused on energy and overlooked agriculture. WHERE DO YOU GET MEAT IS AS IMPORTANT AS THE CAR! he said. How do we eat? On the mitigation side – agriculture is an important tool.

One must get a way to pull the carbon out of the atmosphere he said. Changing the agricultural system we might start turning the clock back in so far as CO2 in the atmosphere. The pressure is to get agriculture high on the Copenhagen agenda he said.

Mark traveled through India and saw that in the last 20-30 years there were large changes in agriculture – they got used to grow trees in the middle of the field. Here it becomes a topic of democracy and human rights as in authoritarian regimes the trees belong to the government – so why grow trees? It is only when the farmer gets acknowledged his property rights that there is interest in those trees. Interesting in this respect to look at the Niger?Nigeria border from the air. You see trees in Niger but not in Nigeria and this is plain demonstration of the larger acceptance of property rights in the more democratic Niger as compared to the authoritarian Nigeria.

At Q&A time questions came about US agriculture and the cap and trade program for dealing with climate change. Is there real advantage in the way how emission permits will be distributed – what about additionality in the agricultural sector, what about the fossil fuels used by agriculture …and we got away from the original issue of Africa. There was talk of monocultures but there was no talk of self sustaining agriculture and what foreign aid in kind does to destroy local potential in agriculture. Can the small local farmer break into the market if there is this unfair competition?

Indeed Ross spoke of the impact the press has by NOT bringing out the full facts of climate change, but then I felt that the speakers still thought that the UN is of help in these matters. I believe that it will take a George Soros push in order to level with a UN that for years did not allow the dissemination of the facts that the Darfur killings started because of the impact of climate change on the environment.

Human rights do not exist when the land cannot support all its children. Here we have security problems, and built in future genocides. These are the kind of issues that must be put on the table, as former UK government did when it brought up the issues to the forefront at the UN Security Council in 2007 and finally broke the UN leadership taboos in this respect. The UN Department of Public Information still had difficulty reporting on African leaders talking about climate change, and they were even slow in disseminating positions that were taken by some on the UN task forces. They were not alone in this. Some known accredited journalists still wanted just figures of how many corpses were found in the killings , but had no interest in why those things happen – do not waste our precious time they said – and it is amazing which self inflated correspondents said this.



Regarding the planting of trees on farmlands – by coincidence we got now also the following:


Trees on Farms Key to Climate and Food-Secure Future; Experts Call for Worldwide Adoption of Sustainable Farming Practices by 2030 ahead of Major International Agroforestry Congress, Nairobi, Kenya, 24 July 2009.

The World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) are calling for the widespread uptake of ‘green’ agricultural practices that will deliver multiple benefits to the world’s rapidly growing populations – from combating climate change and eradicating poverty to boosting food production and providing sustainable sources of timber.

The call was made at the launch of the 2nd World Congress of Agroforestry, which will be held in Nairobi from 23-28 August 2009.

Agriculture, deforestation and other forms of land use account for nearly one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions. With just a few months to go until the crucial UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, agricultural and environmental experts agree that all forms of land use should be included in a post-Kyoto climate regime.

According to a UNEP report, the agricultural sector could be largely carbon neutral by 2030 and produce enough food for a population estimated to grow to nine billion by 2050, if proven methods aimed at reducing emissions from agriculture were widely adopted today. Key among these methods are agroforestry, reduced cultivation of the soil, and the use of natural nutrients such as fertilizer trees.

A study by World Agroforestry Centre scientists, for example, on fertilizer trees that capture nitrogen from the air and transfer it to the soil indicates that their use can reduce the need for commercial nitrogen fertilizers by up to 75 per cent while doubling or tripling crop yields. “These results should make agroforestry appealing to farmers” noted Dennis Garrity, Director General of the World Agroforestry Centre and Co-Chair of the Congress Global Organizing Committee.

UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said: “Addressing the range of current and future challenges – from the food, fuel and economic crises to the climate change and natural resource scarcity ones – requires an accelerated transition to a low carbon, resource efficient Green Economy for the 21st century. Farming will be either part of the problem or a big part of the solution. The choice is straight forward: continuing to mine and degrade productive land and the planet’s multi-trillion dollar ecosystems or widely adopting creative and climate-friendly management systems of which agroforestry is fast emerging as a key shining example.”

“If implemented over the next fifty years, agroforestry could result in 50 billion tons of carbon dioxide being removed from the atmosphere, about a third of the world’s total carbon reduction challenge,” Dr Garrity said.

Researchers suggest that integrating agroforestry in farming systems on a massive scale would create a vital carbon bank. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates no less than a billion hectares of developing country farmland is suitable for conversion to carbon agroforestry projects.

“Nations must seal the deal on a comprehensive and scientifically-credible new climate agreement in Copenhagen – there is a lot at stake, not least the future of agriculture and farmers’ livelihoods. One key step will be for nations to agree to a scheme for Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) which will pave the way for preserving forests and other key ecosystems, as well as closing the gap in global demand for sustainable timber by shifting production from forest to farm,” Mr. Steiner stated.

According to a UNEP report released in June, the farm sector has the largest readily achievable gains in carbon storage, if best management practices were widely adopted. Up to 6 gigatonnes (Gt) of CO2 equivalent, or up to 2 Gt of carbon, could be sequestered each year by 2030, which is comparable to the current emissions from agriculture. Many of the agricultural practices that store more carbon can be implemented at little or no cost. The majority of this potential – 70 per cent – can be realized in developing countries.

While farmers in developing countries are one of the world’s largest, most efficient producers of sequestered carbon, to date it has not been possible to calculate or verify how much they are removing from the atmosphere. The World Agroforestry Centre and UNEP are partners in a project that promises to provide the basis for widespread adoption of agroforestry and other sustainable forms of agriculture.

The Carbon Benefits Project, launched in May 2009, is developing a standard and reliable method for accurately measuring, monitoring, reporting, and projecting how much carbon each kind of land use is storing. This global project makes use of the latest remote sensing technology and analysis, soil carbon modeling, ground-based measurements, and statistical analysis.

Garrity noted that if nations agree to a scheme for REDD in Copenhagen, the work of the Carbon Benefits Project will provide a more credible basis for smallholders to receive payments for conserving forests, practicing conservation agriculture and increasing tree cover on their farms that sequesters carbon.

“Saving carbon is not a priority for smallholder farmers. But, supporting them to expand their agroforestry systems provides income generation and service benefits to farmers that also have the co-benefit of sequestering carbon” Garrity said. “For example, by using fertilizer trees and other conservation agriculture techniques, farmers have increased their maize yields from an average of 1 tonne per hectare to 3 or even 4 tonnes per hectare while greatly improving exhausted soils. Food security is enhanced while farmers’ production systems become better adapted to climate change.”

Garrity also cited an agroforestry project underway in Malawi, where smallholder farmers are being supported with knowledge about how to plant trees for fertilizer, fruit and fuelwood benefits. The addition of fuelwood and fruit trees on these farms releases women from having to take timber from the forest, and their children are receiving more vitamins and minerals in their diet.

The theme of the Congress is Agroforestry – the future of global land use. It will assess opportunities to leverage scientific agroforestry in promoting sustainable land use worldwide. Over 1,000 researchers, practitioners, farmers, and policy makers from all corners of the globe are expected to attend, including Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and renowned environmental activist, and M. S. Swaminathan, World Food Prize laureate and “Father of the Green Revolution in India”.

Tree geneticists will explain successful processes for domesticating tree species such as rubber, coffee and indigenous fruits. Economists will present findings of studies on value-adding and improving access to markets. And soil scientists will debate the best tree-based systems for reversing land degradation.

2nd World Congress of Agroforestry website

The World Agroforestry Centre, based in Nairobi, Kenya, is the world’s leading research institution on the diverse role trees play in agricultural landscapes and rural livelihoods. As part of its work to bring tree-based solutions to bear on poverty and environmental problems, centre researchers – working in close collaboration with national partners – have developed new technologies, tools and policy recommendations for increased food security and ecosystem health.

For more information please contact:

For more information on the 2nd World Congress of Agrofrestry, see…
For more information on UNEP’s work in ecosystem management, see


and from NPR:

Niger’s Trees May Be Insurance Against Drought.

by Richard Harris

In response to droughts and threatening sand dunes, Niger villagers have grown trees with the help of international aid. Farmers are encouraged to scatter the trees throughout the land in order to grow crops on the same plot.  Although farmers normally prune the limbs only, some farmers clear the land for profit.

All Things Considered, NPR, July 2, 2007.

Scientists studying vegetation patterns in the broad, arid region just south of the Sahara desert have discovered that trees are growing like crazy there. And while it’s a big unknown whether global warming will bring further drought to this impoverished region, these trees will be one of the things that help people in countries like Niger cope.

A huge chunk of Niger is Sahara desert, and what’s not outright desert gets just a smattering of rain. You don’t expect to see a lot of trees in this land-locked, West African country.

But that’s exactly what ecologist Mahamane Larwanou and geographer Gray Tappan see when they roll out a satellite photo of central Niger. Both are passionate about understanding why trees are making a big comeback in many parts of Niger .

In Niger, trees aren’t just aesthetic. They are essential. Ninety percent of the nation’s energy comes in the form of firewood. Trees also feed animals, nourish the soil, provide wood for construction, and bear fruit and lucrative products, like gum Arabic. And unlike most crops, trees can survive the inevitable hard times when the climate suddenly turns even drier and more hostile.

So to get a closer look at the hopeful trend in tree growth, Larwanou and Tappan pack up a couple of four-wheel-drive trucks with gear, food and helpers and head east out of the capital city. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is funding a study to monitor tree growth in Niger, part of which involves a two-week road trip by Larwanou and Tappan.

As we wind through broad agricultural areas and across rocky plateaus, it’s the same thing everywhere: acacia trees, gum Arabic, ebony, tamarind. As we cross a plateau, Larwanou marvels that there’s actually greenery dotted around us.

“Before, this was an unproductive area,” he says. “There was not a single tree, only stones.”

We descend off the plateaus and make our way into the town of Adouna .

Larwanou and Tappan stop on the outskirts of town to measure the trees and figure out how much wood they’re producing.

“If we know the amount of wood that is being produced, we can figure out a sustainable rate of harvest of the wood for firewood,” Tappan says.

First they set up their study plot. Then, they measure the height and width of each tree and bush. Eventually, they will be able to extrapolate these readings to measure tree growth over an area of Niger the size of West Virginia. That’s a lot of wood.

Tappan works for SAIC, a contractor that helps the U.S. Geological Survey run a remote sensing center in South Dakota. He’s precise and a bit reserved, especially in contrast to Larwanou, who is everybody’s instant friend. Larwanou’s face is adorned with tribal markings that look like whiskers.

That gregarious quality serves Larwanou well, because the researchers don’t just want to measure tree growth. They want to understand what people are doing to encourage trees. And to do that, Larwanou talks to the locals.

We wander up a slope overlooking the study plot to talk to three women who have been looking down on us and laughing at the strange activity they see. The women are chopping up a branch that had been lopped off the tree. First, goats and sheep had a chance to eat the leaves. Now the women are taking the rest for firewood.

The first thing we learn is that these trees aren’t all that old. Oomah, the oldest woman, tell us that, long ago, this area was dotted with trees. But during the early 1970s, there was a horrible drought throughout this region of West Africa and people used the trees to survive.

“People suffered in a way that cannot be described. People were displaced by that crazy drought. Those who dared to stay, cut down the trees and took them to the markets to sell,” Oomah says. “That was their only way to get food.”

Even so, the drought killed hundreds of thousands of people throughout Niger and other parts of West Africa .

Gray Tappan picks up the story from there.

“When the people were hit by a second drought within their living memory,” he says, “they realized that they have to consider other options to survive the next drought. Everybody knows that drought is a natural part of this environment here. It is only a matter of time before we see another drought.”

Aid groups from Europe and the United States knew that trees could help people adapt during the bad years. So they planted trees extensively starting in the 1980s. This explains part of the story.

The government of Niger also changed its policies and let local people take ownership of the trees. And that has encouraged farmers to let the trees grow. These days, they prune them for wood rather than chopping them down altogether.

“They know the importance of trees,” Larwanou says . “If there are no trees here, they are in trouble. That’s end of their lives.”

Here in Adouna, there’s an extra twist to the story. Alhaja Ishmaila, brother to Adouna’s chief, says that the village had been surrounded by sand dunes. After the trees were cut down in the 1970s, the dunes moved in on the town.

The dunes moved so quickly that the people in the village were on the verge of abandoning the town altogether, Ishmaila says.

A European aid group volunteered to plant trees to stabilize the dunes — so long as the town’s people built fences to keep the trees safe from the camels, donkeys, sheep and goats. Today, the people in Adouna say those trees saved the village.

The stories vary from one village to the next, but Tappan says the result is the same: Large swaths of Niger are getting greener.

“As we go from village to village, what we are hearing from farmers is they consider themselves better off today than they were 20 years ago. We see less and less migration of youth to cities,” Tappan says. “Youth stay because they can actually make a living on the land today.”

Trees here are really another crop. Farmers generally encourage them to grow scattered throughout their land, so there’s still enough space and light to grow grains on the same plot. But Tappan and Larwanou have also noticed a few curious places in the aerial imagery where trees are growing back much more densely.

“This is literally a forest — there was nothing there in 1975,” Tappan says, looking at the photos. “It is the densest stand of vegetation we have anywhere near this village area.”

So we pile back into the trucks, pass some nomads who are riding camels, and head out — slowly — across deeply- rutted fields.

Across the river, the scene is not at all what Tappan and Larwanou expected. The farmer who owns this land has recently chopped down most of his trees.

“This was all forest a year and a half ago, and now look at all of the stumps. They cut everything,” Larwanou says. “They burned the soil to avoid sprouting. I am highly disappointed. I am an ecologist, and I would like to see everything green. But the farmer has to eat.”

He not only needs to eat, he needs to make his land produce more and more food every single year. That’s because the population here is growing at an astounding pace, doubling every 20 years.

These circumstances are difficult, but Larwanou sees an alternative to poverty’s destructive effects on Niger’s trees. In today’s global carbon marketplace, Niger could receive credit for trees that are soaking up the carbon dioxide produced by rich countries.

The World Bank is already funding a few tree plantations in Niger, so the country can earn cash for taking carbon out of the atmosphere. It is hard to see how individual subsistence farmers could benefit from this exchange. But if Larwanou can find a way for all to reap the benefits, that would be yet another reason for the people in Niger to let their trees grow tall.


So, we learn that there is a multipurpose for planting tres on African farmland – perhaps not all of this is what we would like to hear. We assume that a Soros Foundation Initiative would look at how to help the locals feed themselves first – this before they fall into a new trap of what is good for the people from affar. We say this even though we are clearly in the corner of the climate change fighting world brigade, but doing another rffort on the back of Africas marginal people is not our thing.

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One Response to “Seemingly, George Soros will plunge his foundations into the climate change troubled political waters, and we expect that this will be a very serious effort that will start by tackling hunger in Africa – a perfect issue for a network of institutions that had made Human Rights and Democracy as their trade mark.”

  1. Henry Says:

    You are dreaming if you think Niger is more democratic than Niger. Nigeria is a lot further down the road on their way to democracy than Niger which has become a police state of late.

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