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Atlanta City Council Approves Agricultural Ordinance
June 11, 2014 10:24 AM PDT
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The Atlanta Local Food Initiative gets a major boost from city officials this week.
Credit ALFI

Expect to see more fruits and vegetables grown in the capital of the Peach State.

Earlier this week, the Atlanta City Council passed the urban ag zoning ordinance.

"This will allow Atlantans and their communities to have access to healthy and nutritious food," says Suzanne Girdner, the executive director of the Atlanta Local Food Initiative.

This ordinance allows Atlantans to grow their own foods, which can be sold at places like farmer's markets and local restaurants.

"In the case of Atlanta, where you have vacant lots, there's a potential there to use land for urban gardens or market gardens and ultimately, it's a way of revitalizing a community," says Girdner.

Supporters say the initiative has another benefit: it gives people in Atlanta healthier options.

"There are numerous folks who just don't have access to fresh, local produce, fresh foods and are getting most of their nutrition from convenience stores," says Mindy Goldstein, the director of the Turner Environmental Law Clinic.

The directive originally came from the Mayor's Kasim Reed's office and is expected to get his signature of approval within the next few days.

Lorinc, J. (2014). Atlanta city council approves agricultural ordinance. WABE. Retrieved from http://wabe.org/post/atlanta-city-council-approves-agricultural-ordinance.

ATLANTA: Ashra Kwesi, "Stand Your Ground," and More!!!
March 28, 2014 06:29 AM PDT

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Silencing the Scientist: Tyrone Hayes on Being Targeted by Herbicide Firm Syngenta
March 16, 2014 06:03 AM PDT
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We speak with scientist Tyrone Hayes of the University of California, Berkeley, who discovered a widely used herbicide may have harmful effects on the endocrine system. But when he tried to publish the results, the chemical’s manufacturer launched a campaign to discredit his work. Hayes was first hired in 1997 by a company, which later became agribusiness giant Syngenta, to study their product, atrazine, a pesticide that is applied to more than half the corn crops in the United States, and widely used on golf courses and Christmas tree farms. When Hayes found results Syngenta did not expect — that atrazine causes sexual abnormalities in frogs, and could cause the same problems for humans — it refused to allow him to publish his findings. A new article in The New Yorker magazine uses court documents from a class action lawsuit against Syngenta to show how it sought to smear Hayes’ reputation and prevent the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from banning the profitable chemical, which is already banned by the European Union.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Now we turn to the story of a University of California scientist who discovered that a popular herbicide may have harmful effects on the endocrine system. Tyrone Hayes was first hired in 1997 by a company that later became agribusiness giant Syngenta. They asked him to study their product, atrazine, a pesticide that is applied to more than half the corn crops in the United States and widely used on golf courses and Christmas tree farms. But after Hayes found results that the manufacturer did not expect, that atrazine causes sexual abnormalities in frogs and could cause the same problems for humans, Syngenta refused to allow him to publish his work. This was the the start of an epic feud between the scientist and the corporation.

AMY GOODMAN: Now a new article in The New Yorker magazine uses court documents from a class action lawsuit against Syngenta to show how it sought to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from banning the profitable chemical, which is already banned by the European Union. To start with, the company’s public relations team drafted a list of four goals. Reporter Rachel Aviv writes, quote, "The first was [quote] 'discredit Hayes.' In a spiral-bound notebook, Syngenta’s communications manager, Sherry Ford, who referred to Hayes by his initials, wrote that the company could 'prevent citing of TH data by revealing him as noncredible.' He was a frequent topic of conversation at company meetings. Syngenta looked for ways to 'exploit Hayes' faults/problems.’ 'If TH involved in scandal, enviros will drop him,' Ford wrote."

Well, for more, we’re joined by TH himself. That’s right, Tyrone Hayes is with us, professor of integrative biology at the University of California, Berkeley, joining us from the campus TV station right now in Berkeley.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Can you tell us what happened to you, how you were originally tied to Syngenta, the research you did, and what prevented you from originally publishing it?

TYRONE HAYES: Well, here at Berkeley, I was a new assistant professor. I was already studying the effects of hormones and the effects of chemicals that interfere with hormones on amphibian development. And I was approached by the manufacturer and asked to study the effects of atrazine, the herbicide, on frogs. And after I discovered that it interfered with male development and caused males to turn into females, to develop eggs, the company tried to prevent me from publishing and from discussing that work with other scientists outside of their panel.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: What was the process within the company? As you raised your findings, what was their immediate reaction to what you had come across?

TYRONE HAYES: Well, initially they seemed sort of supportive. You know, we designed more studies. We designed more analysis. And they encouraged me to do more analysis. But as the further analysis just supported the original finding, they became less interested in moving forward very quickly, and eventually they moved to asking me to manipulate data or to misrepresent data, and ultimately they told me I could not publish or could not talk about the data outside of their closed panel.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Professor Hayes, talk about exactly what you found. What were the abnormalities you found in frogs, the gender-bending nature of this drug atrazine?

TYRONE HAYES: Well, initially, we found that the larynx, or the voice box, in exposed males didn’t grow properly. And this was an indication that the male hormone testosterone was not being produced at appropriate levels. And eventually we found that not only were these males demasculinized, or chemically castrated, but they also were starting to develop ovaries or starting to develop eggs. And eventually we discovered that these males didn’t breed properly, that some of the males actually completely turned into females. So we had genetic males that were laying eggs and reproducing as females. And now we’re starting to show that some of these males actually show, I guess what we’d call homosexual behavior. They actually prefer to mate with other males.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, where did you go with your research?

TYRONE HAYES: Well, eventually, what happened was the EPA insisted that—the Environmental Protection Agency insisted that the manufacturer release me from the confidentiality contract. And we published our findings in pretty high-ranking journals, such as Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. We published some work in Nature. We published work in Environmental Health Perspectives, which is a journal sponsored by the National Institutes of Health.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And when did you begin to get a sense that the company was organizing a campaign against you? What were the signs that you saw post the period when you published your findings?

TYRONE HAYES: Before we published the findings and before the EPA became involved, the company tried to purchase the data. They tried to give me a new contract so that they would then control the data and the experiments. They actually tried to get me to come and visit the company to get control of those data. And when I refused, I invited them to the university, I offered to share data, but they wanted to purchase the data. And then they actually—as mentioned in the New Yorker article, they actually hired scientists to try to refute the data or to pick apart the data, and eventually they hired scientists to do experiments that they claim refuted our data.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what did you do? I mean, you’re actually—I mean, this is very serious. You could bring criminal charges if you’re being threatened and stalked in this way.

TYRONE HAYES: Well, initially, I went to my vice chancellor here at the university. I went to my dean. I went to legal counsel here at the university. And I was told by legal counsel that—well, I was told, first of all, by the vice chancellor for research at the time that, "Well, you published the work. It’s over. So I don’t understand what the problem is." And I tried to impress upon her, Beth Burnside, at the time that—you know, that it wasn’t over, that I was really being pursued by the manufacturer. And eventually, when I spoke with the lawyer here at the University, I was told that, "Well, I represent the university, and I protect the university from liability. You’re kind of on your own." And I remember I looked at him, and I said, "But the very university, from the Latin universitas, is a collection of scholars, of teachers and students, so who is this entity, the university, that you represent that doesn’t include me?" But clearly there’s some entity that doesn’t really include us, the professors and students, and doesn’t really protect our academic freedom, I think, the way that it should.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you about one of your critics, Elizabeth Whelan, president of the American Council on Science and Health. When The New York Times ran a critical story about the herbicide as part of its toxic water series in 2009, she referred to its reporting as, quote, "all the news that’s fit to scare." This is a clip of Whelan from an interview on MSNBC.

ELIZABETH WHELAN: I very much disagree with the New York Times story, which is really raising concerns about a totally bogus risk. Atrazine has been used for more than 50 years. It’s very, very tightly regulated. Even the Environmental Protection Agency, which is not known for soft-pedaling about environmental chemicals, even they say it’s safe.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, it turns out that Syngenta has been a long-term financial supporter of Whelan’s organization, the American Council on Science and Health, paying them at least $100,000. Your comments on her remarks?

TYRONE HAYES: Well, again, they’re paid remarks. And one of the most disheartening things in this whole process is that many of my critics—you know, it’s one to be academic, if you come and say, "Well, we interpreted the data this way, and we want to argue about this point," but these people really didn’t even have an opinion. These opinions were written by the manufacturer, and they were paid to put their names on them, to endorse the opinions of the manufacturer. So, you know, that’s one of the most disheartening things, that they were really just personalities for sale.

And many of the things that she’s saying there is just not true. There are—any independent study, from any scientist that’s not funded by Syngenta, has found similar problems with atrazine, not just my work on frogs. But I’ve just published a paper with 22 scientists from around the world, from 12 different countries, who have shown that atrazine causes sexual problems in mammals, that atrazine causes sexual problems in birds, amphibians, fish. So it’s not just my work in amphibians.

And also, with regards to the EPA, one of the scientific advisory panel members on the EPA that was supposed to review atrazine turns out is paid and works for Syngenta. So the whole process was tainted. And, in fact, the EPA ignored the scientific advisory panel’s opinion and actually decided to keep atrazine on the market and not to do any more studies, when that clearly wasn’t the recommendation of the scientific advisory panel.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to go back just a second to your remarks about your university, because obviously there are many questions about major universities around the country being, in some way or other, supported financially by the pharmaceutical or the drug industry. But you are at a prestigious university, one of the top universities in the country, at Berkeley. Do you have some concerns about how your university responded to your—in your time of need, and the attack on your academic integrity?

TYRONE HAYES: Well, they’re not just my concerns. There are many at the university who fear that the university is just becoming a corporation. You know, we’re a public university that used to get a lot more support from the state. In my lifetime, tuition was free for students. Tuition has been rising. And it’s really an effort to monetize things, and that includes scientific researchers. There’s a lot of pressure on us not just to be scholars and to teach and to do research, but also to bring in funds that will support the university. So there’s some sentiment from the university that if you are raising a concern potentially that might cause the university to lose support or to lose funders, then you won’t necessarily get the support on the campus that you need. And we’ve seen this over and over again. A colleague of mine, Ignacio Chapela, for example, was in a fairly huge battle over the same company, Novartis, and its influences over scientific research at the university.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the significance of Syngenta? First of all, is it a significant presence at the university, at UC Berkeley? But also, the significance of Syngenta as a pesticide company and all that it makes, how powerful is it?

TYRONE HAYES: Well, when they were—when I was originally consulting for the manufacturer, they were Novartis at the time. And Novartis had a big influence on the campus. There was a major deal on the campus. I understand a fifth of the biological sciences’ support was coming from Novartis. And at the time, they both made pesticides, and they made pharmaceuticals.

One of my big concerns is that, as of the year 2000—prior to the year 2000, Novartis not only made atrazine, which is used on corn, of course, which is an herbicide, but it also induces an enzyme called aromatase. It causes you to make too much estrogen. And it’s now been shown that this herbicide, atrazine, and this mechanism, is potentially involved in development of breast cancer, for example. Up until 2000, the company also made a chemical called letrozole, which did exactly the opposite: It blocked aromatase, it blocked this enzyme, it blocked estrogen production. And this chemical, letrozole, is the number one treatment for breast cancer. So this company was simultaneously in 2000 making a chemical that induced estrogen and promoted breast cancer, and making a chemical that blocked estrogen production and was being used to treat breast cancer. So there’s a clear conflict of interest there, a clear problem.

The other problems are that something like 90 percent of the seeds that we use to produce our food right now are owned by the big six pesticide companies. So, again, there’s a conflict of interest where the companies have an interest in, I guess, getting us addicted to the pesticides, to grow the seeds that they also own. And Syngenta, of course, is one of those big six, one of the big pesticide or agribusiness companies.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And a New Yorker that delves into your story also says that you came to find out that the company was also reading your emails. Could you talk about that?

TYRONE HAYES: Well, I originally—I had some suspicion that they had hacked into my email. And originally found out—there was a professor at Minnesota, and I was going there to give a big lecture, and this professor in the School of Public Health, Deb Dubenofsky, said that she happened to be standing in line at the airport, flying back to Minnesota, and just by coincidence she was standing behind somebody who was having a conversation on his cellphone and who identified himself as an employee of Syngenta, and he made the statement, "We have access to his email. We know where he is at all times." So it wasn’t just paranoia on my part. I had direct evidence that they had access to my email. And at the time, I maintained a second and a third email that I could keep private, and I actually used that information, that they had access to my email, to send them information, and sometimes false information—for example, booking plane tickets through that email, because then I could sent them to the wrong place, so they wouldn’t necessarily be there to follow me when I was going to speak in other places.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, Professor Hayes, this is stunning stuff that came out in this class action suit. The suit wasn’t brought by you, but the documents that came out that referenced you, Tyrone Hayes, TH, and trying to discredit you, trying to discredit your family, talk—that was a lawsuit that involved atrazine contaminating water supplies.


AMY GOODMAN: But what was your reaction when you saw this? You suspected this. You felt you were being followed. You felt you were—they were trying to discredit you. But now you had the documents.

TYRONE HAYES: Well, you know, it’s funny. You know, the way the article reads, that I suspected—I mean, I knew. I knew many of the individuals who would follow me around. I knew who they were. I knew they had access to my email. You know, so, for me, I knew that these things were happening. This guy would directly come up and make lewd comments to me and threatening comments to me. But it was the kind of thing where, you know, it sounded like something out of a movie. I couldn’t go and tell my colleagues, like, "They’re following me around, and, you know, they’re hacking into my email"—

AMY GOODMAN: Did you record?

TYRONE HAYES: —because I would look crazy.

AMY GOODMAN: Did you put on a tape recorder?

TYRONE HAYES: You know, what I found—here’s how I’ll answer that question. What I found out, that it was much more powerful for me to suggest and have them think that I recorded everything than for them to actually know what I recorded. And that actually became sort of my protection. So, when this guy came up and threatened me and threatened my wife, to then go back and go, "Oh, my god, did he record that or not?" So, it was much more powerful for me to have them think that. But you can see in their handwritten notes that they were very concerned that I was recording conversations. There’s notes that they wanted to trap me, to entice me to sue, and these kinds of things.

And my reaction now, to see it all in The New Yorker and for—you know, all this open for the world to see, is—there are two reactions. One is, I can’t believe they wrote these kinds of things down, right? That you’re plotting to, you know, investigate me and investigate my school and investigate my hometown and all these kinds of things, and you wrote it down. But my other response is, this is quite analogous to, you know, when you hear these stories of somebody who’s been in jail for murder for 10 years, and then the DNA evidence gets them out, you know, and you ask them, "Are you happy?" Well, of course I’m happy, but I’ve also been in jail for 10 years. You know what I mean? So, of course I’m happy now that these documents have all been revealed, but it’s also been a very difficult time for me for the last—and for my family, you know, for the last 10 or 15 years, for my students, as well, for the last 10 or 15 years, to be pursued this way and to be under a microscope this way and to feel threatened this way for so long.

AMY GOODMAN: As we wrap up, what’s happening with atrazine today? Where does it stand?

TYRONE HAYES: It’s still on the market. We’re still studying it. A number of studies are still coming out from around the world. One recent study has shown that male babies that are exposed in utero to atrazine, their genitals don’t develop properly. Their penis doesn’t develop properly, or they get microphallus. There are studies showing that sperm count goes down when you’re exposed to atrazine. And this is not just laboratory animals or animals in the wild; this is also humans. We use the same hormones that animals do for our reproduction. And it’s a big threat to environmental health and public health.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you very much for being with us, Tyrone Hayes, a professor of integrative biology at the University of California, Berkeley, who’s devoted the past 15 years to studying atrazine, a widely used herbicide made by Syngenta. We’ll link to the article in The New Yorker magazine that reveals how the company tried to discredit Professor Hayes after his research showed atrazine causes sexual abnormalities in frogs and could cause the same problems for humans. The article is called "A Valuable Reputation: After Tyrone Hayes Said That a Chemical was Harmful, Its Maker Pursued Him." This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.

Democracy Now. (2014). Silencing the scientist: Tyrone Hayes on being targeted by herbicide firm Syngenta. Democracy Now. Retrieved from http://www.democracynow.org/2014/2/21/silencing_the_scientist_tyrone_hayes_on


two frogs

An atrazine-induced female frog (a genetic male) is shown (bottom) copulating with an unexposed male sibling. This union produced viable eggs and larvae that survived to metamorphosis and adulthood. Yet, because both animals were genetic males, the offspring were all males. (Tyrone Hayes photo)


Atrazine, one of the world’s most widely used pesticides, wreaks havoc with the sex lives of adult male frogs, emasculating three-quarters of them and turning one in 10 into females, according to a new study by University of California, Berkeley, biologists.

The 75 percent that are chemically castrated are essentially “dead” because of their inability to reproduce in the wild, reports UC Berkeley’s Tyrone B. Hayes, professor of integrative biology.

“These male frogs are missing testosterone and all the things that testosterone controls, including sperm. So their fertility is as low as 10 percent in some cases, and that is only if we isolate those animals and pair them with females,” he said. “In an environment where they are competing with unexposed animals, they have zero chance of reproducing.”

The 10 percent or more that turn from males into females – something not known to occur under natural conditions in amphibians – can successfully mate with male frogs but, because these females are genetically male, all their offspring are male.

“When we grow these guys up, depending on the family, we will get anywhere from 10 to 50 percent females,” Hayes said. “In a population, the genetically male females can decrease or wipe out a population just because they skew sex ratios so badly.”

Though the experiments were performed on a common laboratory frog, the African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis), field studies indicate that atrazine, a potent endocrine disruptor, similarly affects frogs in the wild, and could possibly be one of the causes of amphibian declines around the globe, Hayes said.

Hayes and his UC Berkeley colleagues report their results in this week’s online early edition of the journalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In last week’s issue of the Journal of Experimental Biology, Hayes and colleagues published a review of the possible causes of a worldwide decline in amphibian populations, concluding that atrazine and other hormone-disrupting pollutants are a likely contributor because they affect recruitment of new individuals and make amphibians more susceptible to disease.

“These kinds of problems, like sex-reversing animals skewing sex ratios, are much more dangerous than any chemical that would kill off a population of frogs,” he said. “In exposed populations, it looks like there are frogs breeding but, in fact, the population is being very slowly degraded by the introduction of these altered animals.”

Some 80 million pounds of the herbicide atrazine are applied annually in the United States on corn and sorghum to control weeds and increase crop yield, but such widespread use also makes atrazine the most common pesticide contaminant of ground and surface water, according to various studies.

More and more research, however, is showing that atrazine interferes with endocrine hormones, such as estrogen and testosterone – in fish, amphibians, birds, reptiles, laboratory rodents and even human cell lines at levels of parts per billion. Recent studies also found a possible link between human birth defects and low birth weight and atrazine exposure in the womb.

As a result of these studies, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is reviewing its regulations on use of the pesticide. Several states are considering banning atrazine, and six class action lawsuits have been filed seeking to eliminate its use. The European Union already bars the use of atrazine.

Hayes’s studies in the early 2000s were the first to show that the hormonal effects of atrazine disrupt sexual development in amphibians. Working with the African clawed frog, Hayes and his colleagues showed in 2002 that tadpoles raised in atrazine-contaminated water become hermaphrodites – they develop both female (ovaries) and male (testes) gonads. This occurred at atrazine levels as low as 0.1 parts per billion (ppb), 30 times lower than levels allowed in drinking water by the EPA (3 ppb).

Subsequent studies showed that native leopard frogs (Rana pipiens) collected from atrazine-contaminated streams in the Midwest, including from areas up to 1,000 miles from where atrazine is applied, often had eggs in their testes. And many males had lower testosterone levels than normal females and smaller than normal voice boxes, presumably limiting their ability to call mates.

Hayes’ research also established that many frogs in Midwestern streams contaminated by atrazine and other pesticides have compromised immune systems, leading to increased mortality from bacterial disease.

Those early studies were hampered by the inability to easily distinguish genetically male from genetically female frogs. Male frogs have two identical sex chromosomes (ZZ) while females have both a Z and a W – the opposite of XX female and XY male humans. But because all frog chromosomes look the same under a light microscope, it’s not simple to distinguish male from female.

To overcome this, Hayes’ colleague Roger Liu developed a line of all-male frogs so that the genetics would be unequivocal.

“Before, we knew we got fewer males than we should have, and we got hermaphrodites. Now, we have clearly shown that many of these animals are sex-reversed males,” Hayes said. “We have animals that are females, in the sense that they behave like females: They have estrogen, lay eggs, they mate with other males. Atrazine has caused a hormonal imbalance that has made them develop into the wrong sex, in terms of their genetic constitution.”

Coincidentally, another lab in 2008 discovered a sex-linked genetic marker in Xenopus, which has allowed Hayes to confirm the genetic sex of his frogs.

In Hayes’ study, where 40 frogs lived for about three years after hatching in water with 2.5 ppb atrazine, about 10 percent of the frogs appeared to be resistant to the effects of the pesticide. In ongoing studies, Hayes is investigating whether this apparent resistance is inherited, as well as whether the sex-reversed males have more susceptible offspring.

Syngenta, which manufactures atrazine, disputes many of these studies, including Hayes’, that show adverse effects of the pesticide. But Hayes said that “when you have studies all over the world showing problems with atrazine in every vertebrate that has been looked at – fish, frogs, reptiles, birds, mammals – all of them can’t be wrong.”

“What people have to realize is that, just as with taking pharmaceuticals, they have to decide whether the benefits outweigh the costs,” he said. “Not every frog or every human will be affected by atrazine, but do you want to take a chance, what with all the other things that we know atrazine does, not just to humans but to rodents and frogs and fish?”

Hayes’ long-term studies of the effects of atrazine on frogs have been assisted by many UC Berkeley students, including co-authors on the current paper: undergraduates Vicky Khoury, Anne Narayan, Mariam Nazir, Andrew Park, Lillian Adame and Elton Chan; and graduate students Travis Brown, Daniel Buchholz, Sherrie Gallipeau and Theresa Stueve.

The work was funded by the Park Water Co., Mitch Kapor, Freada Klein, the Mitch Kapor Foundation, the David Foundation, the Cornell-Douglas Foundation, the Wallace Foundation, the UC Berkeley Class of ’43 endowed chair and the Howard Hughes Biology Fellows Program.

Sanders, R. (2010). Pesticide atrazine can turn male frogs into females. UC Berkley News Center. Retrieved from http://newscenter.berkeley.edu/2010/03/01/frogs/

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Libya: Standoff Over North Korean Oil Tanker Intensifies
March 10, 2014 11:11 AM PDT
Deutsche Welle (Bonn)
9 MARCH 2014
Photo: Al Jazeera
Libya has threatened to attack a North Korean ship over seized oil.

Libya's Defense Ministry has authorized force to stop a North Korean-flagged tanker from taking crude oil from a rebel port. The prime minister has warned separatists loading the tanker that the vessel could be bombed.

On Sunday, the Defense Ministry announced that it had issued orders for military action to the armed forces, the official Lana news agency reported. Culture Minister Amin al-Habib said that Libya had deployed navy ships at sea to stop the tanker from leaving port.

"The tanker cannot leave any more, or it will be turned into a pile of metal," Habib said on Sunday.

The government insists that the ship leaves without any oil being loaded aboard, while the rebels say it is their right to sell the crude, and distribute the revenue generated themselves.

Demanding autonomy in eastern regions and a share in oil revenues, rebels who turned against Libya's authorities after toppling the dictator Muammar Gadhafi in the 2011 uprising have blockaded oil terminals that the government had entrusted them with guarding. The oil fallout represents just the latest challenge for Libya's fragile young government.

'Act of piracy'

Under heavy guard on Saturday, rebels began loading oil onto the 37,000-ton Morning Glory tanker docked at Al-Sidra terminal. Prime Minister Ali Zeidan ordered them to stop and threatened to bomb the tanker, and Oil Minister Omar Shakmak accused the separatists of an "act of piracy."

Zeidan told a news conference on Saturday that Libya's attorney general had given the order to stop the ship. The prime minister said that authorities had told the vessel's captain to leave Libya's waters, but added that armed gunmen on board had prevented him from setting sail without the oil on board.

"All parties must respect Libyan sovereignty," Zeidan said. "If the ship does not comply, it will be bombed."

Those threats escalated on Sunday, when the Defense Ministry ordered the chief of staff, the navy and the air force "to deal with the tanker that entered Libyan waters without a prior permit from the legitimate authorities," Lana reported. As the news emerged, National Oil Corporation spokesman Mohamed al-Harairi reported that the Morning Glory remained inside the harbor with loading under way.

Harairi said he expected the operation to continue until the end of Sunday, noting that the ship could take up to 350,000 barrels of crude oil. The local newspaper al-Wasat reported that the tanker had loaded $36 million (26 million euros) of crude.

Separatist movement's demands

Abd Rabbo al-Barassi, a leading figure in the self-declared Cyrenacia region, said the separatists were "asserting" their rights to oil revenues needed by the "Libyan people" because the central government had "failed" to do so. He said the oil revenue from al-Sidra would be "shared" among Libya's three main regions.

"We are not defying the government or the parliament," Barassi said. "But we are insisting on our rights."

Separatists in eastern Libya want the restoration of autonomy granted when the country first gained independence in 1951. The region was the starting point of the revolt that toppled the late-strongman Muammar Gadhafi in 2011.

The battles over oil exports began last July, when security guards shut down key terminals and accused authorities of corruption. In January, the navy prevented two tankers from docking at al-Sidra to take on crude.

The dispute led to a fall in exports, with the Economy Ministry estimating the losses at over $9 billion. Oil represents a key source of revenue for Libya, and, following the blockade of terminals, production plunged to about 250,000 barrels per day from 1.5 million.

Deutsche Welle. (2014). Standoff over North Korean oil tanker intensifies. Deutsche Welle. Retrieved from http://allafrica.com/stories/201403100983.html

Nigeria: Four Nigerian Poets Make World Poetry Anthology
March 10, 2014 11:00 AM PDT
Premium Times (Abuja)
8 MARCH 2014
Photo: Books Live
Professor Wole Soyinka

The works of four Nigerian poets have been chosen for inclusion in a forthcoming publication titled: The Second Genesis: An Anthology of Contemporary World Poetry.

The poets are Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, Uzor Maxim Uzoatu, Obari Gomba and Ikeogu Oke.

Wole Soyinka and Obari Gomba will contribute a poem each, titled "A Vision of Peace" and "The Ghost of a Country" respectively, to the anthology.

Uzor Maxim Uzoatu will contribute three poems titled "Bonding," "Tropical Lore" and "Regenerating Lines".

Ikeogu Oke has four poems slated for inclusion in the anthology, titled "Being Black," "A 'Savage' Writes Back," "The Tree" and "A Gandhian Prayer".

The anthology is a project of the Academy of raite(s)* And World Literati (A.R.A.W.LII) based in Ajmer, India, and will feature works of poets from 58 countries and all the seven continents.

The roll of poets from other countries include the South African poet laureate Keorapetse Kgositsile, Aerdinfu Yiren and Zhu Likum from China, Elizabeth Adams and Katherine Gallagher from the UK, and Charles Fishman and Elizabeth Johnson from the USA. Others include Jayanta Mahapatra and Rinkoo Wadhera from India, James Charlton from Australia, Enrique Sacerio-Gari and Mireya Robles from Cuba, Maria Alekhina from Russia, Luis Raul Calvo from Argentina, etc.

The project manager of A.R.A.W.LII, Dr. Moizur Rehman Khan, conveyed the decision to feature the works of the four Nigerian poets in a recent email to the poets dated February 28, 2014.

"I am pleased to inform you that the final MSS of the proposed anthology is ready to go to print. This I write to let you know the final selection of the poems sent to us for the volume," he said.

For half a decade, ARAWLII has been working to promote literature and creative writing and strengthen cultural ties between India and other countries.

"I'll be delighted to see my poems in the anthology," said Mr. Oke, author of several poetry collections for adults and the recent Song of Success, a musical book of children's poems, whose poetry has received high praise from Nadine Gordimer, the winner of the 1991 Noble Prize in Literature. "I consider it an honour. Gathering such an expanse of the world's poets in the anthology conforms with ARAWLII's cardinal goal of strengthening literary and other cultural ties between India and the rest of the world and deserves commendation."

"It's crucial to cross boundaries in our poetic intercourse," said Mr. Maxim Uzoatu, a 2008 Caine Prize nominee whose poetry collections include the highly regarded God of Poetry. "The transnational sharing elicits the loftiest grains in poetry. The knowledge that there are kindred spirits in the wider world lends cubits to the engagement in rhythm and metaphor."

In his reaction, Obari Gomba, whose poetry collection, Length of Eyes, was long-listed for the 2013 Nigerian Literature Prize, described the anthology as a great project for global literature. "This anthology is a great project for global literature. It is a platform for voices across cultures and generations," he said. "I am happy that Soyinka, Ikeogu Oke, Maxim Uzoatu and I have been chosen to represent Nigeria's poetic tradition."

Premium Times. (2014). Four Nigerian poets make world poetry anthology. Premium Times. Retrieved from http://allafrica.com/stories/201403100620.html

Stranded in Atlanta's food deserts
March 06, 2014 07:00 PM PST

Stranded in Atlanta's Food Deserts

In a region that prides itself on celebrity chefs and lush farmers markets, half a million people live without access to something as basic as a grocery store

Photographs by Audra Melton

Once a month, Emma and Charles Davis make their “big” grocery-shopping trip. It’s practically an all-day expedition: To travel the twelve miles from their apartment off Bolton Road to the Kroger on Moreland Avenue requires two MARTA transfers, and the journey begins and ends with a fifteen-minute trek between their front door and the bus stop. “The hardest part is all that walking,” said Charles, who suffers from arthritis. They pile their grocery bags in a wheeled basket, and the bus driver lowers the wheelchair ramp to help them board. But pushing the loaded cart gets tiring. “You just buy what you need, because you have to carry it all,” explained Charles.

If everything goes right—the buses are on time and they make every connection—a one-way trip from their apartment to the store takes two hours. But if there’s a glitch, and there’s almost always a glitch, they’re looking at three hours. Each way. By car it takes twenty minutes to cover the same route. There’s another Kroger, half the distance from the one on Moreland Avenue. But the bus to get there is crowded. “No one gives up a seat,” Charles said. “We have to stand the whole way.” Forget the store five miles north in Vinings Village; MARTA service ends at the border of Fulton and Cobb counties.

When they need to restock between their monthly trips, the Davises venture to Super Giant Food on Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway, about three miles from their apartment. On weekdays, the trip to Super Giant takes three-quarters of an hour—thirty minutes of walking and fifteen on the bus. But on the weekend, MARTA schedules are reduced, which means waiting up to an hour for the bus.

Super Giant Food is the only grocery store 
for miles; many customers travel an hour 
or more by bus.

I met the Davises one frigid morning in January as they left Super Giant Food. Charles wore jaunty alligator shoes and a heavy leather jacket decorated with patches, mementos from his Army years. Emma, bundled in a green jacket and a cozy fleece hat, pushed their wheeled basket to the curb. “The prices can be higher here than at Kroger—especially for meat,” said Charles, squinting down at the plastic bags bundled in Emma’s basket. “But it seems like everywhere is getting higher, just when everyone’s food stamps are getting cut.” Still, the couple, who are in their sixties, prefer Super Giant to the only close alternative: convenience stores. “The smaller corner stores nearby are a waste of time and money,” Charles said. They navigated the empty parking lot slowly, Emma clutching the handles of their wheeled cart and Charles leaning on his cane. They crossed the four lanes of Hollowell Parkway and then stood at the bus stop, waiting.

Inside Super Giant, owner Sam Goswami was overseeing the installation of a new produce case. An electrician was perched atop a ladder, the whirring of his drill blending with the gospel music that poured through the store’s sound system. The Super Giant is light and airy. It sparkles—quite literally—thanks to six-foot strips of mirror tile wrapped around the top of each pillar that supports its roof. The tiles cast disco-ball twinkles over the neatly stocked display shelves and wide aisles.

That seventies decorative touch was in place when Goswami bought Super Giant back in 2003. A hotelier who’d worked in San Francisco and then Hiawassee, Georgia, before moving to Gwinnett County, Goswami never planned to get into the grocery business, but was intrigued when the Super Giant came on the market. His friends and family, on the other hand, were skeptical. The store adjoined a onetime Kmart that housed a flea market, surrounded by six acres of asphalt in the epicenter of Bankhead, a west Atlanta neighborhood best known for blighted housing projects, sketchy auto parts shops, and a dance called the Bankhead Bounce.

But Goswami was undeterred, and over the past decade, a funny thing happened: He fell in love with Bankhead. When you’re in the hotel business, your customers come and go. As a grocer, you see the same people week after week, year after year. You watch them select ingredients for daily suppers, plan birthday celebrations, stretch their budgets during lean times, and try to follow the doctor’s orders and eat more vegetables.

Store owner Sam Goswami bags groceries at Super Giant Food.

“I am really into this community,” said Goswami with a bemused grin and a broad shrug. “I love it.” We sat in his office, an upstairs aerie with a wall of windows that allow him to scan the store, where on this winter morning shoppers lingered in the produce aisle, inspecting the mustard greens—a special at eighty-nine cents a bunch. Wearing a sweater vest, plaid dress shirt, and steel-rimmed glasses, Goswami exuded a professorial air as he explained his plans: to redevelop the Kmart property, which he purchased in 2008; add a health clinic in partnership with Emory; put in a coin laundry and gas pumps; plant a community garden; and almost double the size of Super Giant Food—from 22,000 square feet to 42,000.

Goswami’s ambitions are an exception, said Dale Royal, senior project manager with Invest Atlanta, the city’s economic development agency. Few independent grocery operators invest in their properties like Goswami has, and even fewer chains will consider opening stores in places like Bankhead. “They are laser-focused on demographics and just do a simple analysis of [shopping] data,” Royal said. The chains consider factors like median income and density, and they make decisions based on what they see on paper, compared with Goswami, who “really has his heart in it,” Royal said. Consider this: There are four supermarkets in the zip code 30318, three of which—Kroger, Publix, and a Walmart Supercenter—are clustered within a half mile of each other at Howell Mill Road, the eastern edge of the zip’s boundary, close to Buckhead’s Bitsy Grant Tennis Center. The fourth store is Goswami’s Super Giant, the only supermarket in a four-mile radius. For tens of thousands of people who live on the south and west side of Atlanta, going to Super Giant, whether by bus or car or cab or foot, is the only way to get fresh food at all.

When he bought this store (bargain priced at just $750,000) in a part of town ignored by most developers, Sam Goswami had no idea he would become the accidental operator of an oasis in the middle of one of Atlanta’s food deserts—communities where many people are poor and live more than a mile from the nearest supermarket. Indeed, more than half a million people in the city of Atlanta and the ten counties that surround it live in neighborhoods the U.S. Department of Agriculture classifies as food deserts. You don’t find these nutritional wastelands only in places like Bankhead; it’s even harder to get fresh, healthy food in the suburbs. In Cobb County, 75,000 people are food desert residents, as are 124,000 in Clayton. Emma and Charles Davis’s trips to the store aren’t easy, but at least they can catch a bus. Transit in Cobb is limited; Clayton grounded its bus service in 2010.

Living in a food desert doesn’t just make it tough to get your daily servings of fruit and veggies. A 2011 Food Trust geographic analysis of income, access to grocery stores, and morbidity rates concluded that people who live in metro Atlanta food deserts are more likely to die from nutrition-related sicknesses like diabetes and heart disease.

Mapping the terrain  
The USDA scored every census tract in 
the country by location ofgrocery stores 
and income distribution. Metro Atlanta 
is no land of plenty. View the map

Getting fresh food isn’t only a problem for the poorest Atlantans. Areas most of us would hardly consider underprivileged—the middle-class suburbs of DeKalb County or the gentrified enclaves around Grant Park, for instance—are labeled “low access” by the USDA, meaning at least a third of the people who live there have to travel a mile or more to get to a grocery store. My zip code, 30312, includes Boulevard Heights, half of Cabbagetown, and much of the Old Fourth Ward. It does not have a single supermarket. My husband and I travel two and a half miles to the same Kroger on Moreland Avenue where Emma and Charles Davis shop. Of course, we have a car.

In most of the world’s densely packed urban areas, you can pick up fresh produce at a stall on the way home from work, or buy bread, meat, and staples at the corner shop across the street. But in sprawling metro Atlanta, where the model is mega markets surrounded by mega parking lots, very few of us have the option of a quick dash to the store. When you’re trying to figure out what to fix your young children for dinner and you realize you need milk and eggs and a bag of salad greens and chicken breasts, and you have no choice but to load everyone in the minivan and drive five miles through traffic to get to the store, you’re feeling the impact of development patterns that have made Atlanta the third-worst urban food desert in the country (behind only New Orleans and Chicago).

In Atlanta, the ninth-biggest metropolis of the world’s richest country, thousands of people can’t get fresh food, and some are getting sick—even dying—as a result. Which raises a simple question: Why can we build multimillion-dollar highway systems and multibillion-dollar stadiums but not more grocery stores? If we can build a museum dedicated to a soft drink and one that celebrates college football and another that trumpets civil rights, can’t we help Emma and Charles Davis with what seems to be a most essential and basic right: putting an affordable and healthy dinner on the table?

When you talk about Atlanta’s food deserts, you have to talk about the three themes entwined in every civic issue in this region: race, class, and sprawl. The fact is, food deserts are more prevalent in nonwhite neighborhoods. In poor communities, food is more expensive. And here’s an irony: Much of the local produce prized by the city’s finest chefs is grown in urban farms in poor neighborhoods—produce that is often trucked across town to farmers markets in wealthier enclaves. But of all the factors, none is more important than transportation. Our low population density combined with a lack of comprehensive public transit means that many people simply cannot get to places where fresh food is available.

Atlanta’s west side, with its stark contrasts of wealth and poverty, is a microcosm of the region’s food desert dilemma. It’s also a place where—motivated in part by the impending construction of the new Falcons stadium—a handful of potential solutions are being tested. One of the answers can be found at, of all places, Walmart.

Former Army Ranger Quincy Springs runs the Vine City Walmart.

Quincy L.A. Springs IV, thirty-three years old and a Washington and Lee graduate, spent eight years as an Army Ranger. His last post was in Afghanistan, where he was a logistics combat adviser. Embedded with a tactical team, he helped train 850 Afghani soldiers for antinarcotics missions. “The Taliban weren’t too happy about their poppy fields being destroyed,” he told me. We were walking the aisles of the Walmart Supercenter in Vine City, where Springs has been general manager since the store opened in January 2013.

Springs, striding with a soldier’s impeccable posture, paused to tap a Mylar balloon decorated with the signature Walmart smiley face. It hovered near racks of fleece jackets and $39.86 peacoats. “That balloon’s not filled up enough,” Springs said. “It needs to be replaced. Plus, the ribbon’s too long.”

Springs left the Army in 2009 and went to work for Walmart, which was recruiting veteran officers for leadership positions. “I dusted my boots off from Afghanistan and put on a suit,” Springs said. Soldiering in Afghanistan was nowhere near as tough as managing a few hundred Walmart employees, he told me. For some of his staff, this is the first job they’ve ever held. Springs serves as a drill sergeant in customer service and has high expectations. His mission: to prove that a chain store can be successful in a neighborhood that other companies have written off. “I want our customers to expect to be treated the same way and get the same service in the West End as they would in Buckhead,” said Springs, who previously managed the Walmart Supercenter on Howell Mill Road, one of the behemoth retailer’s prototype urban stores. Springs pointed out that the Vine City Walmart ranked second out of the eleven in its region on customer satisfaction surveys for 2013, and said he is even more proud that it ranked third in “associate satisfaction,” meaning the people who work there are happy, no matter how hard he pushes them.

When it moved into Vine City, Walmart retrofitted and expanded space that had been left vacant when Publix moved out of the neighborhood in 2009. As it had done on Howell Mill, Walmart created a scaled-down version of its suburban supercenters—75,000 square feet versus 200,000; thirteen checkout lanes versus thirty. There’s a pharmacy but not a garden center; you’ll find housewares like plates and pillowcases and shower curtains but not patio furniture. There’s no hunting or fishing gear. Since it opened, the Vine City Walmart has been profitable, said Springs. More than 30,000 people shop here weekly, and while they buy paper towels and bleach and other household products, the store’s biggest category is groceries. The top sellers: tilapia, bananas, strawberries (when they’re in season), and chicken leg quarters.

If Walmart could be successful operating in 30314, a zip where the median household income is $22,400, why couldn’t Publix? The store closed after seven years because it did not see the sales volume that had been projected when it moved to the neighborhood in 2002, according to Publix community relations manager Brenda Reid. One factor that contributed to the low volume was that promised development of nearby property stalled, providing Publix a smaller customer base than anticipated, according to Reid.

Ivory Young, who has represented the Vine City area on the Atlanta City Council since 2001, said that after Publix decamped the city approached Walmart and the retailer initially said no. “But they did their own analysis and came to find they were wrong; the community would support it,” he said.
What Vine City needs—maybe even more than fresh food—is jobs. Most of the Walmart’s 200 to 250 full- and part-time staff live nearby. Springs said that people who are quick to criticize Walmart’s labor practices don’t acknowledge that the giant retailer actually hires underemployed and underexperienced workers. “Why not focus on the opportunity Walmart offers?” he asked. “How about the more than 200 people who didn’t have jobs who now do?”

A grocery trade imbalance  
The Food Trust showed 
spending disproportionately 
occurs in 
northeast Atlanta; the 
darker areas 
are where sales are 
View the map

The Vine City Walmart is located on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, just two blocks from Sunset Avenue, where King once lived. In 1966 King and Ralph David Abernathy joined protests that highlighted the living conditions in Vine City: rat-infested houses owned by slumlords, boarded storefronts, no parks or playgrounds. In the half century since, there have been other efforts to revitalize Vine City and its neighbors, English Avenue to the north, Castleberry Hill to the south, West End and Bankhead to the west. But the neighborhoods continue to struggle, even as other parts of Atlanta rise around them. Since the Georgia Dome opened in 1992, the population of Vine City has declined by two-thirds. Now that a new stadium is coming, the spotlight again is focused on the people who will live in its shadow. When you read about “community benefits agreements” between the City of Atlanta, the Atlanta Falcons, and Falcons owner Arthur Blank, these are the communities everyone’s talking about.

John Bare, who runs the Atlanta Falcons Youth Foundation, a division of the Blank Foundation, said the organization is focusing on fresh foods as part of an overall strategy to promote a healthy lifestyle for children. The foundation has worked on the west side for several years, said Bare, and the stadium project is drawing attention to work that has been in progress. The long-term goal, he said, is “moving away from giving people a box of food so they don’t starve to giving them access to fresh food they can prepare themselves.”

In the 1960s, when Martin and Coretta King moved their family into a redbrick house on Sunset Avenue, it was easy to shop for groceries in Vine City. Back then, even though Atlanta’s sprawl to the suburbs had started, most people still lived intown and walked to well-stocked corner stores or shopped at small groceries near bus routes.

Over the past half century, most of those minimarkets have scaled back or shuttered completely. They lost customers with the flight of middle-class Atlantans—white and black—to the suburbs. Consolidation in the industry meant suppliers began servicing just big suburban chain stores. But one throwback remains: Shoppers Supermarket, tucked into Simpson Plaza, a 1963 shopping center on Joseph E. Boone Boulevard, a five-minute walk around the corner from King’s former home. From the outside, Shoppers does not appear particularly promising. Day in and out, men cluster on the sidewalk in front of the laundry next door, smoking and tossing dice. The storefront is dingy, the sign askew, the doors barricaded by thick burglar bars. But inside, the cases are stocked with fresh meat, fruits, and vegetables, a rare sight among corner stores, where refrigeration units are barren or used to store nonperishables. (I visited one store in Summerhill where produce coolers held hair weaves.)

Cassandra Norris has worked here since 1983 and has been store manager for two decades, a steady presence through three ownership changes (the present owners, Joo Ho and Sunhwa Song, bought Simpson Plaza in 1995 for $465,000). Norris grew up a few blocks away, graduated from Booker T. Washington High School in 1978, and has watched generations of families buy groceries. “We stock things to make the older people happy,” she said, gesturing toward a meat case that holds smoked meats and ham hocks ($1.49 a pound). “The younger people are the ground beef generation.” Norris said she strives to keep prices as low as possible; she drives Mrs. Song’s van to the State Farmers Market at Forest Park to pick up all those fresh fruits and vegetables and cut out delivery fees. “I just put it all in the boss lady’s van,” she said.

Cassandra Norris, left, manager of Shoppers Supermarket, drives to Forest Park to get produce.

Hard data confirms my observation that Norris runs the best-stocked little store in the area. Stephen Barrett wrote his Georgia State University master’s thesis on the availability of fresh or local produce in Vine City and English Avenue. He used an iPhone app to track shelf stock and logged 311 miles by bike as he visited twenty stores. Barrett’s findings are dispiriting: Half of the stores he surveyed carried zero produce. Of the other ten, most stocked only one or two types of fruit—usually apples or bananas, placed up at the cash register along with lottery tickets and cigarettes. Shoppers Supermarket, however, stocked seventeen types of vegetables and eight kinds of fruit; the only nearby store with greater selection was Walmart (ninety-seven varieties of veggies, forty-five fruits).

If Shoppers Supermarket is the best-case scenario for corner stores, a mile down the road, Simpson Food Mart represents the norm. A neatly painted sign touts eggs, milk, groceries, and sandwiches. Inside, however, the tiny store smells like smoke and echoes with the electronic clank of four video slot machines that occupy about a third of the floor space. On one of my visits there, the four black stools in front of the machines were occupied by players, while a handful of observers squeezed behind them. The gaming area might have once held a dairy case; now the few pints of milk and cartons of eggs are stored in minifridges on a counter that also holds wrapped sandwiches. “We don’t stock any fruit or vegetables,” the clerk told me when I asked if he had any apples. The closest thing resembling produce I could find in the store was a pint of Tropicana apple juice.

One of the paradoxes of food deserts is that the people living in them often have the highest rates of obesity—and its associated illnesses. A 2009 study in the journal Pediatrics showed that children who live in neighborhoods with lots of corner stores consume more calories and are more likely to be obese than children who live in neighborhoods with supermarkets. When King and Abernathy railed against poverty in the 1960s, many poor people were malnourished and severely underweight. Today they are still malnourished—but overweight.

The communities near the Georgia Dome are served by one supermarket (Walmart), one well-stocked small store (Shoppers Supermarket), and at least sixty convenience stores that carry little but packaged snacks.

A decade ago, Charles Moore, an Emory and Grady physician, analyzed his patient files and found that his worst cases came from one zip code: 30314, home to Vine City and English Avenue. Moore realized that diet contributed to his patients’ health problems and began to write “food prescriptions,” advocating healthier eating and preventive care. In 2005 he founded the Healing Community Center, now a full-service clinic on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.

Apples to apples  
Rebecca traveled to Simpson Food 
Mart (above), Walmart, Super Giant, 
and Shoppers Supermarket to see 
what staples she could get for the 
best prices
Read what she found out

“Instead of talking about a food desert, the better term is really ‘food swamp.’ There is an abundance of food, but it’s not healthy or varied,” Kwabena Nkromo told me. Nkromo runs a program called Atlanta Food & Farm, which aims to connect local growers, store owners, and poor neighborhoods. “It’s not a lack of food; it’s a lack of good food.” Nkromo studied agriculture and economic development at Tuskegee and Clemson; he presumed that he’d work on famine relief in Africa or some other developing region of the world. He did not imagine that he’d be working on urban farm policies in the American South.

Nkromo’s work underscores another paradox of food deserts, this one particular to Atlanta. While the south and west sides of the city contain some of the neighborhoods most starved for healthy foods, they also are home to at least a dozen urban agricultural businesses—Patchwork City Farms and Atwood Community Gardens, for instance. There’s a higher density of farms and gardens in this section of metro Atlanta—an arc across the south and west sides that has been dubbed the “Fertile Crescent”—than elsewhere, but many of them export their produce to other parts of town.

With the aim of keeping more of that locally grown food closer to home and using urban farms as catalysts for other economic development, Nkromo is organizing a project, also called the Fertile Crescent. One of the group’s pilot projects has been training teens and young adults at a west side shelter called City of Refuge to grow and harvest kale. The trendy green is slated to be processed into Queen of Kale chips—snacks sold online and in places like the Johns Creek Whole Foods store.

Previously, when the west side farms have tried to sell to their neighbors, there were “socioeconomic, cultural, and racial barriers,” wrote Barrett, the Georgia State researcher. He surveyed eleven sites in the area and found that only one had tried to sell produce to local stores. When it came to selling directly, some farmers and garden operators seemed confounded, for example, that locals didn’t subscribe to their CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) plans. But a CSA at Patchwork City Farms costs $450 for eighteen weeks; at a weekly cos

t of $25, that CSA subscription would eat up most of the total allowance for a Georgia resident on food stamps—about $34 a week. Another farm operated a full season before grasping that the reason its neighbors wouldn’t come to its on-site market was that they could only get there by foot. Walking a mile to market isn’t an obstacle; trekking home with a five-pound melon is.

More poverty, less fresh food
While almost equal percentages of 
Atlanta’s poorest and wealthiest areas 
have greater than average access to 
fast food, the difference is striking when
it comes to fresh food. 
View more graphs

The growers’ disingenuousness was matched by suspicion on the part of locals. Some see the farms as signs of gentrification, literal land-grabbing efforts by middle class—often white—interlopers. The community garden at Lindsay Street Baptist Church in English Avenue is funded by a group of donors, mostly from Buckhead, who also volunteer to plant and harvest produce. Once, when the donors arrived at the church, they were greeted by a picketer holding a sign that read, “Go home, colonialists!” While the encounter was distressing, Lindsay Street pastor Reverend Anthony Motley said that the incident underscored the need for communication and cooperation: “It’s only going to happen with a real coalition—across class and color and the rest—creating something together.” Focusing on groceries alone will never solve deep-rooted problems, he said. “Food is important, but what’s more important is the issue of employment. We can’t create a sustainable society when we are just feeding folks. People want to feed the hungry but don’t want to ask why they are hungry.”

There are dozens of organizations that feed hungry Atlantans and dozens more that try to help malnourished people eat healthier food or obese people to lose weight. But many of these agencies operate in vacuums. One group zealously promotes organics; another distributes surplus cheesecake donated by a fast food chain. One advocates exercise; another wants to train farmers.

Forging a consistent and logical strategy from those disparate efforts is the goal of a project called the Georgia Food Oasis. Its members include the Atlanta Community Food Bank, the American Heart Association, Georgia Organics, and the Blank Foundation. The group has a lofty goal: eradicating food deserts across the state. It’s starting with a pilot, the Westside Food Oasis. Cicely Garrett is the Food Bank’s point person on the Food Oasis; last fall she was appointed to the newly created and wonkily titled position of food systems innovation manager. “Being able to feed yourself and your family should not be a privilege in this country,” she said. The pilot will test ideas such as mobile farm trucks, incentives for convenience stores to stock fresh foods, urban farms, and wellness education.

All of those innovative ideas are worthy and can contribute to better, healthier food options—for the west side and any community. But let’s face it: We all still need supermarkets. There’s not a substitute for a big store where you can pick up pantry staples and fresh foods—not to mention toilet paper and dishwashing liquid—in a single stop at the end of a busy workday or while running your weekend errands. The Georgia Supermarket Access Task Force—whose members include usual suspects like the Food Bank, the Blank Foundation, and Georgia Organics, as well as less predictable players like A.J. Robinson of the Central Atlanta Progress business association and Mike Worley of Georgia Power—issued a report in 2013 recommending that local, state, and federal governments create incentives for more supermarkets to locate in underserved parts of Georgia and metro Atlanta. Some local governments have already responded; Invest Atlanta, for instance, has policies that make it easier for supermarkets to qualify for tax credits than other businesses.

Solving the problem of our food deserts requires addressing transit and income inequality—people need to get to stores and they need to have money to buy food. Those are intractable, systemic challenges. But when it comes to the third piece of the puzzle, simply making healthy food itself more readily available, there are examples worth replicating. National retailers can change the way they operate and take a chance, as Walmart has done in Vine City. And local governments can support independent store owners like Sam Goswami who are willing to invest in underserved areas.

Goswami was recently approved for a $500,000 low-interest loan that will help him expand his produce section and the rest of the store. Issued by the nonprofit ACE (Access to Capital for Entrepreneurs), this is the largest Healthy Food Finance Initiative bank loan in Georgia to date, according to ACE director of strategic initiatives Karen Davis. Goswami is in the process of applying for an Invest Atlanta program called New Market Tax Credits, a local and federally funded deal that gives incentives to businesses that open or expand in under­developed areas. He showed off an architect’s renderings of a community center, a place for cooking demonstrations, maybe even a credit union or pharmacy. He wants to run a jitney service (in partnership with Emory) that would offer rides to people who, like Emma and Charles Davis, have to contend with the vagaries of public transit.

Tiara Hart and her mother-in-law, Mechelle Burston, scrutinize prices while shopping at Super Giant. Between them, the women have seven children to feed.

On a clear but freezing Friday morning, Goswami waited outside a canvas tent erected in the parking lot behind Super Giant Food. Inside, a quartet of longtime patrons huddled near a portable heater, eyeing the tent’s door and a wooden planter. They were waiting for congressman John Lewis. The civil rights leader was slated to break ground—ceremonially, at least—for a community garden. Eventually, the garden will occupy twelve large raised beds in the supermarket parking lot. For this morning’s ceremony, a four-by-four-foot planter had been assembled for Lewis’s use.

Betty Bohanan, who said she had met the congressman several times, moved to Bankhead thirty-seven years ago, and raised seven sons in the neighborhood. For decades, she has shopped at Super Giant, “the only store around here.” Bohanan now lives in an apartment nearby, and said she walks to the store a few times a week, about ten minutes each way.

Everyone was nearly numb—an Emory student dug around in her car trunk and found a plush blanket for the ladies to place over their laps—when the congressman arrived. He threw several shovels of dirt over the roots of a sapling an aide held in the planter; come spring it will have a permanent spot in the garden. “This is a fine thing you are doing,” Lewis said, shaking Goswami’s hand. “I hope this is the first of many gardens we see in our communities that need them,” added Lewis.

After the congressman and his entourage drove away, everyone else got a turn to dig in the dirt. Goswami, Emory students and professors, Reverend Larry Hill of nearby Word of God Ministries, and Charles Moore, the doctor who writes nutrition prescriptions, planted carrots and turnips. The garden should be sustainable, said Hugh Green, the project manager and an Emory public health student. The goal is that a third of its harvest will be sold in Super Giant, a third sold directly to Bankhead residents, and a third to chefs at Atlanta restaurants.

“This is very exciting, to see the next step,” said Goswami. He dusted off his palms and walked back to the store. Inside, the lines at the cash registers already were deep; the garden might yield produce this summer, but for now everyone wanted the collards and apples for sale at the one food oasis in Bankhead.

Burns, R. (2014). Stranded in Atlanta's food deserts. Atlanta Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.atlantamagazine.com/features/2014/03/03/stranded-in-atlantas-food-deserts

Nigeria Pushes to Recover Abacha's €185 Million From Liechtenstein
March 06, 2014 04:49 AM PST

This Day (Lagos)


Photo: Premium Times

Late Sani Abacha

Nigeria has embarked on an international campaign to press Liechtenstein to return the €185 million ill-gotten gains linked to the late military dictator, General Sani Abacha, which is still harboured in the tiny principality nearly 14 years after recovery proceedings began.

The Nigerian government first requested assistance from Liechtenstein in returning the assets in 2000, two years after Abacha's sudden death paved the way for the return of civilian rule.

A report by the Financial Times yesterday, stated that criminal investigations and subsequent forfeiture proceedings established that the funds originated from bribes paid by Germany's Ferrostaal AG to companies, whose ultimate beneficiary was the late head of state. According to the newspaper, the transactions were related to a grossly inflated contract for the construction of an aluminium smelter.

Liechstenstein's constitutional court ordered the confiscation of the funds in 2012 and in March 2013, dismissed a final appeal against the order by companies linked to the Abacha family, clearing the way for restitution of the funds.

But the Liechtenstein government has declined to accept written guarantees from Nigeria that it will compensate the country in the unlikely event that it should incur any liabilities in a further suit that had been filed by the Abacha-linked companies at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

This could delay the return of the funds for several more years. The late Abacha was the penultimate and most brutal of Nigeria's military rulers, the newspaper said.

The late head of state and what Switzerland's Supreme Court dubbed the "Abacha family criminal enterprise," the newspaper alleged, amassed a fortune worth several billion dollars from misappropriation of public funds during his 1993 to 1998 rule. The lawyer representing the Abacha family could not be reached for comment.

It quoted the Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, to have described the delay as "outrageous" and accused the Liechtenstein government of being uncooperative.

She told the Financial Times that she plans to appeal for support for Nigeria's claims at the ongoing International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank meetings.

"This is about funds that were stolen by a corrupt dictator. We have spent nearly 14 years trying to get them back and we are pleading with the Liechtenstein authorities not to aid and abet the continuation of that corruption," Okonjo-Iweala said.

On their part, Liechtenstein officials defended the delay as the result of the case in Strasbourg which would, if the court accepts to hear it, address the plaintiffs' rights to a fair hearing under article 6 of the European convention on human rights. The European court cannot overrule Liechtenstein court rulings restoring the funds but officials in the principality fear they could be laid open to compensation claims from the Abacha-linked companies.

"Unfortunately, now we are in a situation where we have a final judgment, we have the assets and the government wants to return those assets to Nigeria, but four entities have filed a case at the ECHR," Liechtenstein's attorney-general, Robert Wallner said.

Wallner added: "Even though their chances of winning are low we lawyers know we can never be sure of the outcome."

Also, a Swiss lawyer working with the Nigerian government, Enrico Monfrini, traced $2.4 billion of assets linked to Abacha, most of which were channeled through European banks.

Nigeria has recovered $1.3 billion, the largest tranche of which - $500 million - came from Switzerland in 2005. A further $1.1 billion - in France, the UK, Luxembourg and the Channel island of Jersey - is still tied up in legal proceedings. "Every other country where a final court decision was taken, paid back immediately," Monfrini said, taking issue with Liechtenstein for failing to accept the Nigerian guarantee relating to the Strasbourg case.

"They don't want to trust these people because they are Africans, although the balance sheet of Nigeria is a lot better than France or Spain. I would call this a neo-colonialist attitude," he added.

Nigeria has engaged the World Bank's Stolen Asset Recovery unit, Star, set up by Okonjo Iweala herself when she was at the bank, to monitor the use of the funds once they are returned - as it has done with other recovered assets. But Liechtenstein wants the World Bank to play a greater role as guarantor.

"We want the World bank to discuss with us and develop different opportunities to how we can bring the money back," a senior official at the justice ministry said. "We are okay to pay the money back but we want to have an opportunity to be on the safe side. It is a long process but it is a fair proceeding," the official added.

Chima, O. (2014). Nigeria pushes to recover Abacha's €185 million from Liechtenstein. This Day. Retrieved from http://allafrica.com/stories/201310110161.html


U.S. Freezes U.S.$458 MIllion of Abacha Loot


The United States Justice Department yesterday moved to seize more than half a billion dollars of alleged corrupt proceeds from former a former Head of State, the late Gen. Sani Abacha and his associates, in what officials called the largest such action in US history.

In a court filing unsealed yesterday in a federal court in Washington, D.C., and obtained from the US Justice Department website , government lawyers said the US has already frozen more than $458 million in bank accounts around the world, and seeks to recover at least $100 million more.

The US government has moved to freeze $313 million in accounts in the Bailiwick of Jersey and $145 million in accounts in France. There are also investment portfolios and bank accounts in the United Kingdom worth at least $100 million that the US has targeted, the official said.

Under the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative, the Justice Department seeks to seize the proceeds of foreign officials' corruption and return the money to the harmed countries.

Ijioma, E. (2014). U.S. freezes U.S.$458 mIllion of Abacha loot. Leadership. Retrieved from http://allafrica.com/stories/201403060264.html?aa_source=slideout

Nigeria: Youth Vigilantes Stand Up to Boko Haram, But At a Cost
March 04, 2014 08:44 PM PST



With Civilian Joint Task Force units having some success in suppressing Boko Haram attacks in urban areas, the Islamist militants have shifted their focus to rural civilians.

Shortly after President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in Adamawa, Yobe, and Borno states in May 2013, storiesabout youth groups patrolling various sections of Maiduguri emerged.

Collectively referred to as the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF), the vigilantes employed knives, machetes, cutlasses, and other crude weaponry to rid their neighborhoods of the Islamist militant group Boko Haram.

The CJTF is representative of a newfound confidence and a population unwilling to live under the sway of militants. Many CJTF members havesuggested that their intimate knowledge of the areas in which they grew up - in contrast to deployed security personnel - allows them toidentify suspected Boko Haram members or other suspicious individuals more easily.

And the groups have been credited in part with changing security dynamics in Maiduguri, reducing violence in a city where attacks had been a near daily occurrence for the previous three and a half years.

However, the emergence of roving youth vigilante gangs has also brought with it some worrying aspects. For starters, their presence potentially opens the door to abuse or political manipulation - all the more worrying given recent history in northern Nigeria.

In July 2013, for example, the CJTF in Maiduguri, allegedly looking for Boko Haram insurgents, targeted All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) chairperson Mala Othman, setting his home ablaze. CJTF units have also overstepped their bounds on a number of occasions, lynchingsuspected Boko Haram members rather than handing them over to security officials. And there are fears that the rise of the CJTF has led Boko Haram to change of tactics and targets.

Yet despite these concerns, the apparent success of the CJTF in Maiduguri has led to the creation of similar youth vigilante groups in other areas of Borno state, sometimes encouraged by political officials.

The state government does, however, seem aware of some of the dangers and is also seeking to train and professionalise youth members, with an ambitious goal of training 5,000 by 2015. The training programme is both a reflection of a reliance on vigilante movements to help maintain local security, and the need to avert future trouble by keeping such groups occupied.

Boko Haram and the CJTF

The development of the CJTF has not gone unnoticed by Boko Haram. Abu Zinnira, a spokesperson for the group, first threatened the vigilante youths in June 2013.

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau then referenced the killing of some CJTF during a battle in Monguno in a September video message, and more recently warned of reprisals in a flyer discovered in northern Cameroon. Undeterred, some CJTF members have said they are not afraid, and are prepared to die young.

The rhetoric from Boko Haram has been matched by violent action on multiple occasions too, with clashes reported between Boko Haram members and CJTF units in MainokBamaBenesheik, and Konduga, amongst other Borno state locations.

In addition, during a June 2013 attack on a group of fisherman along the outskirts of Maiduguri, the Islamist militants reportedly told their victims, "your children brought this fate upon you; they are busy catching our members." The assailants then reportedly killed some and ordered those they had spared to take the message to the vigilante youths.

Since then, it seems that the expansion of the CJFT's operations has instigated a further shift in Boko Haram's tactics, with the militants targeting not just youth vigilantes or their friends and families, but also civilians at large. In September 2013, Boko Haram dressed as soldiers set up a roadblock in Benesheikh and proceeded to slaughter at least143 travellers. Assailants reportedly selected those from Borno state for death, while letting others go free.

And more recently, Boko Haram has conducted major assaults on small population centres in Borno, killing over 200 in KondugaIzghe, and Bama in February 2014 alone.

Boko Haram has typically dealt violently with perceived informants, and not been squeamish about killing hundreds of civilians. But the recent attacks in Borno state are notably different to the January 2012 Kanobombings, for example, or the November 2011 attack in Damaturu.

The attacks in the last months have been more rural and less discriminate, involving up to hundreds of gunmen descending on small villages and towns to wreak havoc for hours. These assaults seem have had little specific targeting but rather the goal of complete destruction, marked by the use of petrol bombs and other improved explosive devices to burn large swathes of villages to the ground.

The highly destructive Kano and Damaturu attacks initially focused on the traditional Boko Haram targets of police stations and churches. By contrast, the recent attack in Konduga destroyed houses, shops, health clinics, schools and government buildings, while in Izghe, gunmen reportedly went door-to-door murdering villagers.

Civilians in the crosshairs

While security dynamics in Maiduguri may have largely improved in part thanks to the CJTF, conditions in rural areas of Borno state, especially near presumed Boko Haram hideouts in the hills by Gwozaor the forests of Sambisa Game Reserve, have deteriorated. This is likely more than just a coincidence. Boko Haram is seeking to punish Borno state citizens for the rise of the youth vigilantes, and re-establish a culture of fear and intimidation.

A professed Boko Haram member captured in October 2013 explained as much, revealing, "our original target was security operatives and politicians, but [now] ... we decided to kill anyone that is from Maiduguri, because we believe every person in Maiduguri and some other towns of Borno state are members of Civilian JTF."

As a result, Boko Haram has expanded its target list to include all Borno residents, rendering the definition of an innocent civilian in the eyes of Boko Haram - at least in its main operating centre of Borno state - non-existent.

Thus, while the Civilian Joint Task Force in Borno state has commendably confronted Boko Haram and positively affected the security situation in urban locations such as Maiduguri, one consequence has been high-level destruction and violence in more rural areas of the state.

For all their short-term success, the CJTF units are essentially unarmed and unprepared to repel Boko Haram attacks such as these. And given the apparent helplessness of the Nigerian government to combat these assaults as well, it seems the plight of Borno state civilians is set to increase even further.

Omar S Mahmood is an Africa Analyst. Follow him on twitter at @OmarSMahmood.

Mahmood, O. (2014). Youth vigilantes stand up to Boko Haram, but at a cost. Think Africa Press. Retrieved from http://allafrica.com/stories/201403041131.html?viewall=1

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