Inter Press Service » Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Wed, 28 Sep 2016 00:26:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.13 Mexico City’s Expansion Creates Tension between Residents and Authoritieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/mexico-citys-expansion-creates-tension-between-residents-and-authorities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexico-citys-expansion-creates-tension-between-residents-and-authorities http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/mexico-citys-expansion-creates-tension-between-residents-and-authorities/#comments Fri, 23 Sep 2016 16:09:22 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147070 Construction work on the Chapultepec Intermodal Transfer Station, with the castle in the famous Chapultepec forest in the background. The recurrent complaint of Mexico City residents affected by public works in this city is the lack of consultation, transparency and information. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Construction work on the Chapultepec Intermodal Transfer Station, with the castle in the famous Chapultepec forest in the background. The recurrent complaint of Mexico City residents affected by public works in this city is the lack of consultation, transparency and information. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Sep 23 2016 (IPS)

People living in neighborhoods affected by the expansion of urban construction suffer a “double displacement”, with changes in their habitat and the driving up of prices in the area, in a process in which “we are not taken into account,” said Natalia Lara, a member of an assembly of local residents in the south of Mexico City.

Lara, who is pursuing a master’s degree in public policies at the Latin American School of Social Sciences (Flacso), told IPS that in her neighborhood people are outraged because of the irrational way the construction has been carried out there.

The member of the assembly of local residents of Santa Úrsula Coapa, a lower middle-class neighborhood, complains that urban decision-makers build more houses and buildings but “don’t think about how to provide services. They make arbitrary land-use changes.”

Lara lives near the Mexico City asphalt plant owned by the city’s Ministry of Public Works, which has been operating since 1956 and has become asource of conflict between the residents of the southern neighbourhoods and the administration of leftist Mayor Miguel Mancera of the Party of the Democratic Revolution, which has governed the capital since 1997.“There is clearly a lack of planning and vision, the strategy of only carrying out projects with a strictly economic focus is affecting us.There is no interest in building spaces that help improve community life. We are becoming more isolated, people don’t take their kids to play in parks anymore, but go to shopping centers instead, the fabric of the community breaks down. These are serious problems.” -- Elias García

In mid-2014, Mancera’s government announced its intention to donate the asphalt plant’s land to Mexico City’s Investment Promotion Agency, which would build the Coyoacán Economic and Social Development Area there.

In response, local residents organised and formed, in September of that year, the Coordination of Assemblies of Pedregales, which brings together residents of five neighborhoods in the Coyoacánborough, one of the 16 boroughs into which Mexico City is divided.

But the transfer of ownership of the land took place in December 2014, to create a development area including the construction of an industrial park and residential and office tower blocks.

To appease local residents, Mancera proposed modifying the initial plan and turning the area into an ecological park, despite the fact that the soil is polluted and will take many years to recover.

Last May, the mayor announced the final closure of the asphalt plant and its reconversion into an environmental site, although the decree for the donation to the city investment promotion agency was never revoked, and there is no reconversion plan.

This conflict shows the struggles for the city, for how the public space is defined and used, one of the central topics to be addressed at the Oct. 17-20 third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) in Quito, Ecuador.

In the upcoming summit organised by U.N.-Habitat, member states will assume commitments with regard to the right to the city, how to finance the New Urban Agenda that will result from Quito, and sustainable urban development, among other issues.

Cities like the Mexican capital, home to 21 million people, are plagued with similar problems.

Elías García, president of the non-governmental Ecoactivistas, knows this well, having worked for three decades as an environmental activist in the borough of Iztacalco, in the east of the capital.

“There is clearly a lack of planning and vision, the strategy of only carrying out projects with a strictly economic focus is affecting us.There is no interest in building spaces that help improve community life. We are becoming more isolated, people don’t take their kids to play in parks anymore, but go to shopping centers instead, the fabric of the community breaks down. These are serious problems,” he told IPS.

The activist and other local residents have witnessed how in Iztacalco a concert hall, a race track for F1 international motor races, and more recently, a baseball stadium were built one after another.

In the process, some 3,000 trees were cut down and many green spaces and local sports fields disappeared.

The last measure taken was Macera’s 2015 decision to revoke the declaration of the Magdalena Mixhuca sports complex’s environmental value, which had protected the facilities for nine year, in order to build a baseball stadium in its place. Local residents filed an appeal for legal protection, but lost the suit last June.

Luisa Rodríguez, a researcher at the public Doctor José María Luís Mora Research Institute’s Interdisciplinary Center for Metropolitan Studies, told IPS that where people live determines their enjoyment of rights, such as to the city, a clean environment and housing.

“The exercise of citizenship is connected to the idea of the city. When a severely fragmented city is built, based on a model that only benefits the few, participation in social institutions like education and healthcare is only partial. Geographical location determines the exercise of those rights,” she said.

There are a number of open conflicts between organised local communities and the government of Mexico City. One high-profile flashpoint flared up in 2015 when the city government intended to build the Chapultepec Cultural Corridor in the west of the city, next to the woods of the same name, the biggest “green lung” that remains in this polluted megalopolis.

In a public consultation last December, the residents of the Cuauhtémoc borough, where Chapultepec is located, voted against the public-private project, which intended to build an elevated promenade for pedestrians, lined with shops, gardens and trees, above the traffic down below.

Instead, the city government is building an Intermodal Transfer Station (known as CETRAMs) at a cost of 300 million dollars, whose first stage is to be completed in 2018. Besides the transport hub, it will include a 50-floor hotel and a shopping center.

The Economic and Social Development Zones (ZODES), which originally were to be built in five areas in the capital, have apparently failed to improve the quality of urban life.

“In spite of the benefits these micro-cities are supposed to offer, the negative aspects of evicting the people currently living in these areas have not been assessed, and they run counter to the concepts of sustainability and strategic management that the government claims to support,” wrote city planner Daniela Jay in the specialised journal “Arquine”.

The last draft of the final declaration of Habitat III, agreed upon in July, makes no reference to the process of building a city based on inclusion and the active participation of citizens, although it does refer to exercising the right to the city and the importance of such participation.

Activists see both positives and negatives in the approach taken by Habitat III. The conference “will reinforce urban laws that focus on building cities, displacing the perspective of native people and local communities. There is no trend towards inclusion,” said Lara.

Activist García demanded that the local people be heard. “They have to listen to the people who are committed to protecting the environment,” he said.

According to Rodríguez, Habitat III offers an opportunity to address urban emergencies. “There are high expectations for governments to start focusing on building cities thinking about the inhabitants instead of the buildings,” she told IPS.

But with or without the conference, the battles for the city in urban centres like Mexico’s capital will continue.

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Making African Palm Oil Production Sustainablehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/making-african-palm-oil-production-sustainable/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=making-african-palm-oil-production-sustainable http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/making-african-palm-oil-production-sustainable/#comments Mon, 12 Sep 2016 17:11:02 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146883 A young peasant farmer transports his oil palm fruit harvest on a donkey cart. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A young peasant farmer transports his oil palm fruit harvest on a donkey cart. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
HONOLULU, Hawaii, USA , Sep 12 2016 (IPS)

“In San Lorenzo they cut down the jungle to plant African oil palms. The only reason they didn’t expand more was that indigenous people managed to curb the spread,” Ecuadorean activist Santiago Levy said during the World Conservation Congress.

Levy, the head of the non-governmental Foundation for the Development of Community-based Development Alternatives in the Tropics (ALTROPICO) in the northern Ecuadorean province of Carchi, cited the impacts of the crop in that region near the border with Colombia, since the start of the last decade.

“Infrastructure is needed, as well as a great deal of water for processing, and wastewater that is generated leaks into the soil. I don’t see sustainable oil palm production as possible; it necessarily implies cutting down jungle to plant a monoculture crop,” he told IPS during the congress, which was held in Honolulu, the capital of the U.S. state of Hawaii, in the first 10 days of September.“There is a need to mobilise efforts in order to respond to all problems stemming from oil palm. We should go step by step. First, we have to stop deforestation and then address the intensification of seeding that takes place on degraded land.” – Arnold Sitompul

The expansion of the African oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) in that Latin American nation in recent years is similar to what has happened in Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras and Indonesia, the world’s biggest producer.

The cooking oil extracted after the fruit of the oil palm is crushed is used in the food, cosmetics and agrofuel industries, and oil palm fever has infected several countries, leading to clashes over land, deforestation, labour disputes, water pollution, and even murders of local activists.

This legacy casts doubt on the mechanisms fomented by producer nations, the industry, environmental organisations and academics, aimed at achieving sustainable production of palm oil.

A new attempt was promoted by participants in the congress organised by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in Hawaii.

One of the resolutions debated in-depth at the gathering involved the mitigation of the impacts on biodiversity of the expansion of oil palm plantations, and efforts to keep from encroaching on ecosystems as-yet untouched by the industry.

The motion urged the Switzerland-based IUCN, which has 1,200 governmental and non-governmental members, to assess the repercussions of the expansion of African palm plantations with regard to conservation of biodiversity, and to study and define best practices for the sector.

It also called for the creation of a working group to support governments and other actors in setting limits on which ecosystems can be used for the production of palm oil, and urged the members to adopt effective safeguards to protect indigenous peoples who have been victims of the expansion of the crop.

The Hawaii Commitments, the document containing 99 resolutions adopted by the congress, says “The need to provide food for people has resulted in the intensification and industrialisation of agriculture, including aquaculture, while traditionally farmed areas, biodiversity and natural ecosystems have been lost”.

This edition of the congress, which is held every four years by the IUCN and whose theme this year was “Planet at the Crossroads”, drew 9,500 participants from 192 countries, including delegates from governments, NGOs, and the scientific and business communities.

The first step in the processing of the oil palm fruit, whose oil is in growing demand around the world, with an increasing impact on biodiversity. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The first step in the processing of the oil palm fruit, whose oil is in growing demand around the world, with an increasing impact on biodiversity. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Arnold Sitompul, WWF Indonesia conservation director, said the current model to certify sustainable production of palm oil has not worked, because deforestation and the loss of biological diversity persist.

“There is a need to mobilise efforts in order to respond to all problems stemming from oil palm,” he told IPS. “We should go step by step. First, we have to stop deforestation and then address the intensification of seeding that takes place on degraded land.”

The area planted in oil palm has grown eight-fold in his country since 1985. Since 2011, the Indonesian government has declared moratoriums on the issuance of permits for new plantations, although the activist said they have not been effective in curbing expansion of the crop.

There are some 200,000 sq km of African oil palm worldwide, and palm oil accounts for 23 percent of global demand for oils and fats.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 65.5 million tons of palm oil will be processed in 2016-2017, 10 percent more than in 2015.

In Indonesia, the world’s leading producer of palm oil, the area under cultivation amounts to 80,000 sq km, with annual production of 35 million tons. It is followed by Malaysia (56,000 sq km and 21 million tons) and Thailand (10,000 km and 2.3 million tons).

In Latin America, Colombia, the world’s fourth-largest producer, produces more than one million tons a year on 5,000 sq km. It is followed by Ecuador (560,000 tons on 2,800 sq km), Honduras (545,000 tons on 1,250 sq km, Brazil (340,000 tons on 1,500 sq km), and Guatemala (320,000 tons on 1,500 sq km).

“Sustainable palm oil certification hasn’t worked,” Antony Lynam, the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society’s regional technical adviser for Asia, told IPS. “What is needed is to protect forests from oil palm expansion.”

“Certification cannot be a pretext for companies to hurt the environment. It can’t be used as greenwashing,” an environmentalist told IPS during the congress, on condition of anonymity.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which has brought together the different stakeholders since 2004, created a certification system.

A review of the complaints filed with the RSPO grievances mechanism would appear to confirm these conclusions about the production of Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO), a complaints have increased since 2014.

Of the total 64 complaints, 40 percent refer to prior informed consent from indigenous people for growing the crop on their territories, 23 percent to conservation problems and 16 percent to pollution and burning of forest and jungle.

Indonesia heads the list, with 35 complaints, followed by Malaysia (13) and Colombia (two). The rest are grievances brought in Brazil, Cameroon, Costa Rica, France, Liberia and Peru.

When the RSPO complaints panel – made up of representatives of companies, banks and environmental organisations – met Jun. 30 in Malaysia it received complaints about violations of labour rights, freedom of movement of indigenous people, failed payments, and impacts on biodiversity.

The RSPO, which groups some 3,000 members from the seven sectors of the palm oil industry, has so far certified 11 million tons of palm oil produced on 22,100 sq km.

The organisation drafted a set of social and environmental criteria which companies must comply with in order to produce CSPO.

These principles include full traceability, compliance with local and international labour rights standards, respect for indigenous rights, preventing clearance of primary forests and other high conservation areas, and the use of clean agricultural practices.

Up to now, CSPO has come from Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Brazil and Colombia and only represents 17 percent of global production.

“It makes no sense to produce biofuels using food. Alternatives to oil crops must be found, with the aim of not hurting the environment,” said Levy.

Sitompul is optimistic. “It’s a good moment to improve the situation. Best practices can be fostered. Indonesia should address value added creation instead of only providing raw materials.

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When It Comes to Conservation, Size Mattershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/when-it-comes-to-conservation-size-matters/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=when-it-comes-to-conservation-size-matters http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/when-it-comes-to-conservation-size-matters/#comments Wed, 07 Sep 2016 22:58:56 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146835 A hall for the sharing of experiences and research among the 9,500 participants in the World Conservation Congress, which among other issues has discussed the benefits and challenges of small-scale conservation, during the sessions held the first 10 days in September in Honolulu, Hawaii. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

A hall for the sharing of experiences and research among the 9,500 participants in the World Conservation Congress, which among other issues has discussed the benefits and challenges of small-scale conservation, during the sessions held the first 10 days in September in Honolulu, Hawaii. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
HONOLULU, Hawaii, USA, Sep 7 2016 (IPS)

When the communities living in the Tatamá y Serranía de los Paraguas Natural National Park in the west of Colombia organised in 1996 to defend their land and preserve the ecosystem, they were fighting deforestation, soil degradation and poaching.

Twenty years later, local residents, farmers and community organisations have created four reserves, a brand of coffee and a community radio station, while making progress in conservation of this part of the Chocó-Darién conservation corridor along the border with Panama, although threats persist.

“One of the factors is sustaining the reserves in the long-term and generating benefits for local communities,” said César Franco, founder and director of the community environmental organisation Corporación Serraniagua.“One of the best solutions for conserving protected areas is working with the people on a small-scale. We have a strengthened, organised community that is economically sustainable. That shows it is better to invest in communities rather than just barging in with major infrastructure projects.” -- Grethel Aguilar

The ecologist told IPS that “everything is under threat,” especially from megaprojects, like gold mining and oil prospecting, the loss of secure tenure on community-owned land, and the encroachment of agribusiness plantations, “which destroy family systems.”

Serraniagua is a collective of owners of nature reserves, associations of agrecological farmers, rural women’s networks, and local environmental groups in an area of 2,500 sq km inhabited by some 40,000 people, including indigenous and black communities.

The work of Franco and his fellow activists earned them one of the 15 prizes awarded to “Hotspot Heroes” for their outstanding conservation efforts, by the U.S. Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) during the 2016 World Conservation Congress (WCC) held in Honolulu, Hawaii in the first 10 days of September.

The case of the Tatamá y Serranía de los Paraguas Natural National Park shows the importance of small-scale protection efforts that benefit the environment and local residents, in comparison to large-scale infrastructure works and their enormous impact on ecosystems.

Local action is one of the main themes at this year’s edition of the congress, which is held every four years, organised by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). On this occasion it is hosted by the U.S. state of Hawaii, and has drawn 9,500 participants from 192 countries, including delegates from governments, NGOs, and the scientific and business communities.

The congress, whose theme this year is “Planet at the Crossroads”, will produce the Hawaii Commitments, 85 of which were approved by the Switzerland-based IUCN Members’ Assembly, which groups 1,200 governmental and non-governmental members, prior to the Honolulu gathering.

The debate in Honolulu is focused on 14 motions on controversial issues, like compensation for destruction of biodiversity, closing domestic markets for ivory trade, and improved standards for ecotourism.

Three of the resolutions address conservation and the impact of major infrastructure projects like highways, hydroelectric dams, ports, mines and oil drilling.

Grethel Aguilar, IUCN regional director for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, stresses the advantages of small-scale conservation efforts as an alternative to megaprojects, during the World Conservation Congress in Honolulu, Hawaii. Credit: Courtesy of Emilio Godoy/IPS

Grethel Aguilar, IUCN regional director for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, stresses the advantages of small-scale conservation efforts as an alternative to megaprojects, during the World Conservation Congress in Honolulu, Hawaii. Credit: Courtesy of Emilio Godoy/IPS

In the northwest Mexican state of Nayarit, Heidy Orozco, executive director of the non-governmental Nuiwari Centre for Social Development and Sustainability, emphasises the advantages of allowing the San Pedro River, the last free-flowing river in Mexico’s western Sierra Madre mountains, to remain dam-free.

“The area contains sacred places, mangroves and a biosphere reserve,” the activist, who lives near the river, told IPS in Honolulu. “It is still considered an area of biological and cultural wealth.”

Small farmers produce crops along the middle stretch of the river, while fishing communities make a living on the lower parts.

But the local ecosystem and agriculture, livestock and fisheries are under threat by the government CFE power utility’s plans to build the Las Cruces hydropower dam 65 km north of the city of Tepic, the capital of Nayarit.

The plant is to have an installed capacity of 240 MW and a 188-metre-high dam with a reservoir covering 5,349 hectares.

The Náyeri Indigenous Council and the Intercommunity Council of the San Pedro River, which emerged to fight construction of the dam, complain that it would hurt the Marismas Nacionales Biosphere Reserve, the most extensive mangrove forest system along Mexico’s Pacific coast.

They also complain that it would destroy 14 sacred sites and ceremonial centres of the Náyeri or Cora indigenous people, the Huichol or Wixáritari people, and the Tepehuán people.

In addition, it would flood the town of San Blasito.

The dam’s environmental impact study acknowledges that subsistence farming and small-scale livestock-raising would be lost in the area, but says it would be replaced by new opportunities for fishing in the reservoir.

In Bolivia, small-scale community conservation initiatives coexist dangerously with the construction of megaprojects.

For example, in a mine in the Natural Integrated Management Area of San Matías, in Bolivia’s Pantanal region in the department of Santa Cruz along the border with Brazil, only one hectare has been used over the last 10 years to mine ametrine, also known as bolivianite, a kind of quartz that is a mixture of amethyst and citrine.

This small-scale mine contrasts with the large-scale gold mining in the north of the country.

“Small-scale development is a solution. A number of lessons have been learned, such as the need for benefit-sharing, the creation of effective conservation mechanisms, and respect for laws and agreements that have been reached,” Carmen Miranda, Amazon region coordinator with the Indigenous Peoples’ and Local Community Conserved Areas and Territories (ICCA), told IPS.

In Guatemala, Q’eqchí communities near the Lachuá Lagoon National Park, in the northern department of Alta Verapaz, have restored the forest, grow organic cacao which benefits 150 farmers and their families, to be expanded to 500 this year, produce honey, and make sustainable use of the forest.

“One of the best solutions for conserving protected areas is working with the people on a small-scale. We have a strengthened, organised community that is economically sustainable. That shows it is better to invest in communities rather than just barging in with major infrastructure projects,” said Grethel Aguilar, the regional coordinator of the IUCN office for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.

Citing an example for IPS, she said that next January the IUCN would launch a project in the jungle in the south of Mexico and northern Guatemala and Belize, with close to nine million dollars in financing from the German Development Bank (KfW), to protect the forest and offer productive opportunities for local residents, who are mainly indigenous.

Franco said “we want to expand the areas under community management. Serraniagua proposes identifying key actions for conserving the forests, which protect the water sources of rural communities.”

Orozco, who is waging her battle a few hundred kilometres to the north, is not willing to accept any hydropower dam. “We will not benefit economically. We want development, public works that will take care of the water, but that don’t affect our culture and identity,” said the activist, whose network has brought several lawsuits against the Las Cruces dam.

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Without Indigenous People, Conservation Is a Halfway Measurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/without-indigenous-people-conservation-is-a-halfway-measure/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=without-indigenous-people-conservation-is-a-halfway-measure http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/without-indigenous-people-conservation-is-a-halfway-measure/#comments Mon, 05 Sep 2016 19:18:47 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146793 Srewe Xerente, an indigenous man from Brazil, performs a ritual during a forum on ancestral rights at the World Conservation Congress in Honolulu, Hawaii, where native peoples are demanding greater participation in conservation policies. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Srewe Xerente, an indigenous man from Brazil, performs a ritual during a forum on ancestral rights at the World Conservation Congress in Honolulu, Hawaii, where native peoples are demanding greater participation in conservation policies. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
HONOLULU, Hawaii, USA , Sep 5 2016 (IPS)

“You don’t convert your own house in a tourist site,” said Oussou Lio Appolinaire, an activist from Benin, wearing a traditional outfit in vivid yellows and greens. He was referring to opening up to tourists places that are sacred to indigenous people.

Appolinaire, who belongs to the Gun people in the West African country of Benin, heads the indigenous-led sustainable rural development NGO GRABE-Benin. He told IPS that “People suffer displacement from sacred sites. If we lose knowledge, we lose ourselves. The sacred is like life. Conservation is the respect of natural law, of every single element in nature.”“Conservation has been State-centered, despite the poor results. Indigenous people' rights to their lands are not adequately recognised or protected.” -- Victoria Tauli-Corpuz

Thanks to the work of GRABE-Benin and other organisations, the government of Benin approved Interministerial Order No.0121 – the first law of its kind in Africa, which protects sacred forests, granting them legal recognition as protected areas that must be sustainably managed.

Benin has more than 2,900 sacred forests, only 90 of which have so far been formally protected.

Appolinaire’s demand for greater participation by indigenous groups in conservation is being voiced by indigenous representatives in the World Conservation Congress, running Sep.1-10 in Honolulu, the capital of the U.S. Pacific Ocean state of Hawaii.

This year’s edition of the congress, which is held every four years by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), has drawn 9,500 participants from 192 countries, including delegates from governments, NGOs, and the scientific and business communities.

Indigenous representatives in Honolulu are focusing on problems related to the Aichi Biodiversity Targets – the 20 points contained in the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, adopted in 2010 by the states party to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

An assessment carried out in May by the Subsidiary Body on Implementation (SBI) of the CBD expressed concern over the scant progress made with respect to capacity-building and participation regarding the biodiversity targets among indigenous and local communities.

Aichi Biodiversity Target 14 states that “By 2020, ecosystems that provide essential services, including services related to water, and contribute to health, livelihoods and well-being, are restored and safeguarded, taking into account the needs of women, indigenous and local communities, and the poor and vulnerable.”

Target 18 refers to respect for “traditional knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, and their customary use of biological resources.”

Target 11 is for “at least 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland water, and 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas,” to be conserved by 2020. But indigenous people are worried that this will run counter to respect for their rights in their traditional ancestral lands.

Indigenous leaders from every continent listen to the report by U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz during the Sep. 1-10 World Conservation Congress in Honolulu. Credit: Courtesy of Emilio Godoy

Indigenous leaders from every continent listen to the report by U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz during the Sep. 1-10 World Conservation Congress in Honolulu. Credit: Courtesy of Emilio Godoy

“We agree with conservation, but what needs to be discussed is conservation with rights, exercised by indigenous people,” said Julio Cusurichi, the president of the Peruvian NGO Native Federation of the Madre de Dios River and its Tributaries (FENAMAD) and representative of the Shipibo-Conibo community.

“The government has created natural areas in our territories and they are limiting our activities,” he told IPS. “It would seem that indigenous people are obstacles and have to be removed from our territories.”

In the southeastern department of Madre de Dios in Peru’s Amazon jungle region, 60 percent of the highly biodiverse territory is a natural protected area. It is also home to some 10,000 people belonging to seven of the country’s 54 indigenous groups.

One of the common problems is the tendency of governments to create protected areas in indigenous areas, without a proper consultation process.

The congress, whose theme this year is “Planet at the Crossroads”, will produce the Hawaii Commitments, 85 of which were approved by the Switzerland-based IUCN Members’ Assembly, made up of governments and NGOs, prior to the Honolulu gathering.

The debate in Honolulu is focused on 14 motions on controversial issues, like compensation for destruction of biodiversity, closing domestic markets for ivory trade, and improved standards for ecotourism. Of the 99 resolutions, only eight mention indigenous people.

“There is little participation in the implementation of conservation policies; just because an indigenous person heads up an office doesn’t mean indigenous people are participating,” complained Dolores Cabnal, a member of the Q’eqchí community who is director of policy advocacy in the Guatemalan NGO Ak’Tenamit Association.

Her NGO is active in the eastern Guatemalan department of Izabal, where there are three natural protected areas that are home to both indigenous and black communities. In these areas, local residents depend on agriculture and fishing, which leads to clashes with the authorities because the law on nature reserves makes these activities illegal.

Activists and experts agree that it will be difficult to reach the Aichi Biodiversity Targets without the involvement of native peoples.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz of the Kankanaey Igorot indigenous people of the Philippines, complained that states are ignoring the role of native people.

In visits to Brazil, Colombia, Finland, Guatemala, Honduras, Norway, Paraguay and Sweden, Tauli-Corpuz found violations of the rights to free, prior, and informed consultation, traditional lands, participation, natural resources, compensation for damage, and cultural rights.

“Conservation has been State-centered, despite the poor results. Indigenous people’ rights to their lands are not adequately recognised or protected,” the special rapporteur said during a meeting with indigenous people in Honolulu.

An estimated 50 percent of the world’s protected natural areas have been established on indigenous lands. The proportion is highest in Latin America and the Caribbean, and in countries like the Philippines, India and Nepal in Asia, and Botswana, Cameroon, Kenya, Namibia, South Africa and Tanzania in Africa.

“The problems of indigenous peoples are not only of one country, they’re global. We have to recognise indigenous law, we can’t change laws of nature,” said Appolinaire.

FENAMAD’s Cusurichi, winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize, calls for co-management by governments and local communities. “We need secure land tenure and it must include resource management and food security,” he said.

In Guatemala, indigenous organisations plan to present a draft law in Congress for the regulation of their rights, natural protected areas, and extractive activities.

Cabnal said the government should study which peoples are in natural protected areas, why they are there and what they need, rather than trying to drive them out.”

The concerns expressed in Honolulu will also be presented at the 13th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the CBD, to be hosted by Cancun, Mexico from Dec. 4-17.

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Indigenous People Demand Shared Benefits from Forest Conservationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/indigenous-people-demand-shared-benefits-from-forest-conservation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-people-demand-shared-benefits-from-forest-conservation http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/indigenous-people-demand-shared-benefits-from-forest-conservation/#comments Wed, 31 Aug 2016 01:25:18 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146726 Emberá leader Cándido Mezúa (holding the microphone) demands that indigenous people be taken into account in climate change mitigation actions and that they share the benefits from forest conservation, during the annual meeting of the international Governors' Climate and Forests Task Force (GCF) in Guadalajara, Mexico. Credit: Emilio Godoy

Emberá leader Cándido Mezúa (holding the microphone) demands that indigenous people be taken into account in climate change mitigation actions and that they share the benefits from forest conservation, during the annual meeting of the international Governors' Climate and Forests Task Force (GCF) in Guadalajara, Mexico. Credit: Emilio Godoy

By Emilio Godoy
GUADALAJARA, Mexico , Aug 31 2016 (IPS)

“Why don’t the authorities put themselves in our shoes?” asked Cándido Mezúa, an indigenous man from Panama, with respect to native peoples’ participation in conservation policies and the sharing of benefits from the protection of forests.

Mezúa, who belongs to the Emberá people and is a member of the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests, told IPS that “the state should recognise the benefit of this valuable mechanism for long-term sustainability, as a mitigation measure unique to indigenous peoples.”

But little progress has been made with regard to clearly defining the compensation, said the native leader, in an indigenous caucus held during the annual meeting of the Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force (GCF), which is being held Aug. 29 to Sep. 1 in Guadalajara, a city in west-central Mexico.

Mezúa’s demand will also be put forth in the 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP 22) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to take place Nov. 7-18 in Marrakesh, Morocco."(Indigenous organisations) promote our own sustainable development strategies that are brought into line with local, national and international standards and that stand out for the fact that native peoples’ knowledge and practices are at their core.” -- Edwin Vázquez

The idea is for it also to be taken into account on the agenda of the13th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), to be hosted by Cancun, Mexico from Dec. 4-17.

“The viewpoints of local organisations should be taken into account in the implementation of any activity in their territory,” said Edwin Vázquez, head of the Coordinator of Indigenous Organisations of the Amazon River Basin (COICA).

The activist told IPS that indigenous organisations “promote our own sustainable development strategies that are brought into line with local, national and international standards and that stand out for the fact that native peoples’ knowledge and practices are at their core.”

While indigenous organisations hammer out their positions with respect to the COP22 in Marrakesh and the CBD in Cancún, the statement they released in this Mexican city provides a glimpse of the proposals they will set forth.

The “Guiding Principles of Partnership Between Members of the Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force (GCF) and Indigenous Peoples and Traditional Communities” demands that the implementation of the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) strategy must incorporate the “full and effective” participation of native peoples and local communities.

The declaration also states that “All initiatives, actions, projects and programmes led by the GCF that concern indigenous peoples and traditional communities must have the participation and direct involvement of local communities through a process of free, prior and informed consent.”

The measures must also “recognise and strengthen the territorial rights of indigenous peoples and local communities,” it adds.

Furthermore, they will promote financing and benefits-sharing mechanisms to be applied in the context of these initiatives and actions.

“Systems of binding social and environmental safeguards will be included,” to help indigenous and local communities face the risks posed by these policies.

The GCF can serve as a laboratory for the performance of the CDB and COP22, because the emphasis of governors focuses strongly on REDD+ plans.

Emberá huts in a clearing in a forest protected by this indigenous people in Panama, in their 4,400-sq-km territory. Native peoples want global climate change accords to recognise the key role they play in protecting forests, and demand to be included in benefits arising from their conservation efforts. Credit: Government of Panama

Emberá huts in a clearing in a forest protected by this indigenous people in Panama, in their 4,400-sq-km territory. Native peoples want global climate change accords to recognise the key role they play in protecting forests, and demand to be included in benefits arising from their conservation efforts. Credit: Government of Panama

REDD+ is a plan of action that finances national programmes in countries of the developing South, to combat deforestation, reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, and foment access by participating countries to technical and financial support to these ends.

It forms part of the United Nations Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (UN-REDD Programme) and currently involves 64 countries.

The GCF, created in 2009, groups states and provinces: seven in Brazil, two in the Ivory Coast, one from Spain, two from the United States, six from Indonesia, five from Mexico and one from Peru.

Financed by various U.S. foundations and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, the GCF seeks to advance programmes designed to promote low-emissions rural development and REDD+.

It also works to link these efforts to emerging greenhouse gas (GHG) compliance regimes and other pay-for-performance plans.

More than 25 percent of the world’s tropical forests are in the states and provinces involved in GCF, including more than 75 percent of Brazil’s rainforest and more than half of Indonesia’s.

Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, storing the carbon in their trunks, branches and roots, which makes it essential to curb deforestation and avoid the release of carbon. In addition, trees play a key role in the water cycle through evaporation and precipitation.

“The conditions must exist for effective participation in the programme preparation stage,” Gustavo Sánchez, the president of the Mexican Network of Rural Forest Organisations, who is taking part in this week’s GCF debates, told IPS.

In their 2014 annual meeting in the northwestern Brazilian state of Acre, the governors assumed a commitment for their regions to reduce deforestation by 80 percent by 2020 through results-based international financing.

For example, Brazil’s GCF states would avoid the release of 3.6 million tons of GHG emissions a year.

From 2000 to 2010, CO2 emissions from deforestation totalled 45 million tons in Mexico.

To cut emissions, Mexico has adopted a zero deforestation goal for 2030. The five Mexican states in the GCF could reduce their CO2 emissions by 21 tons a year by 2020, around half of the total goal.

Peru has offered a 20 percent cut in its emissions, avoiding the release of 159 million tons by 2030 from land-use change and deforestation. The South American country could reduce emissions from deforestation between 42 and 63 million tons annually by that year.

The GCF manages a fund, created in 2013, aimed at guaranteeing and disbursing 50 million dollars a year, starting in 2020, for capacity-building and the execution of innovative projects.

But the GCF did not invite indigenous organisations to form partnerships until 2014.

The countries of Latin America have not yet shown mechanisms of how to use the emissions cuts to ensure results-based payments. But REDD+, criticised by many indigenous and community organisations, is still in diapers in the region, where only Costa Rica will soon start participating in the plan.

Mexico, for its part, is completing its REDD+ National Strategy consultation.

“We have always had traditional climate policies,” said Mezúa. “The GCF can come up with a more complete proposal, with partnerships between different jurisdictions.”

Sánchez said the goals would be met if the administrators of natural resources are included. “The reach will be restricted if we limit ourselves to REDD+ policies, which are still being designed. A mechanism that brings all efforts together is needed.”

Vázquez said it is “decisive” for the process to include “the establishment of safeguards, mechanisms for participation in decision-making and the implementation of action plans, and equal participation in the benefits.”

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Concern over Profit-Oriented Approach to Biodiversity in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/concern-over-profit-oriented-approach-to-biodiversity-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=concern-over-profit-oriented-approach-to-biodiversity-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/concern-over-profit-oriented-approach-to-biodiversity-in-latin-america/#comments Mon, 22 Aug 2016 23:16:28 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146641 An indigenous peasant farmer holds native coffee grains he grows in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. The sharing of benefits generated by genetic resources has become a controversial issue throughout Latin America. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

An indigenous peasant farmer holds native coffee grains he grows in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. The sharing of benefits generated by genetic resources has become a controversial issue throughout Latin America. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Aug 22 2016 (IPS)

In July 2015, the Mexican government granted a U.S. corporation permission for the use of genetic material obtained in Mexican territory for commercial and non-commercial purposes, in one of the cases that has fuelled concern in Latin America about the profit-oriented approach to biodiversity.

The agreement, which is catalogued with the identifier number Absch-Ircc-Mx-207343-2, was approved by the National Seeds Inspection and Certification Service and benefits the U.S. company Bion2 Inc, about which very little is known.

Prior, informed consent from the organisation or individual who holds right of access to the material was purportedly secured. But the file conceals the identity of this rights-holder and of the genetic material that was obtained, because the information is confidential.

This is an example of confidentiality practices that give rise to concern about the proper enforcement of the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization, signed in that Japanese city in 2010 and in effect since 2014.

The protocol, a supplementary agreement to the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity, in force since 1993, seeks to strengthen the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilisation of genetic resources.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, the protocol has been ratified by Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Peru and Uruguay.

The protocol stipulates that each party state must adopt measures to ensure access to traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources in the possession of indigenous and local communities.

That will be done, it states, through the prior informed consent and the approval and participation of these groups, and the establishment of mutually agreed conditions.

“The expectations of indigenous people are not well-covered by the protocol,” Lily Rodríguez, a researcher with the Institute for Food and Resource Economics at Germany’s Bonn University, told IPS.

She stressed that the protocol is “the opportunity to recognise traditional knowledge as part of each nation’s heritage and to establish mechanisms to respect their decisions with regard to whether or not they want to share their knowledge.”

Latin America and the Caribbean is the region with the greatest biodiversity in the world, as it is home to several mega-diverse countries like Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico.

The questions covered by the Nagoya Protocol will form part of the debate at the 13th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, to be held December 4-17 in Cancun, Mexico.

Indigenous groups and civil society organisations complain that the protocol recognises intellectual property rights for so-called bioprospectors, research centres or companies hunting for biological information to capitalise on.

Quechua peasant farmers plant quinoa seeds in Peru’s highlands. Civil society organisations and indigenous peoples are strongly opposed to the commercial use of Latin America’s genetic wealth. Credit: Courtesy of Biodiversity International

Quechua peasant farmers plant quinoa seeds in Peru’s highlands. Civil society organisations and indigenous peoples are strongly opposed to the commercial use of Latin America’s genetic wealth. Credit: Courtesy of Biodiversity International

Furthermore, the sharing of eventual monetary and non-monetary benefits for indigenous peoples and communities is based on “mutually agreed terms” reached in contracts with companies and researchers, which can put native people at a disadvantage.

In Guatemala, civil society organisations and indigenous groups have fought their country’s inclusion in the Nagoya Protocol, which it signed in 2014.

In June, a provisional Constitutional Court ruling suspended the protocol in Guatemala.

“We are opposed because it was approved without the necessary number of votes in Congress; indigenous people were not consulted; and it gives permission for experimentation with and the transfer and consumption of transgenics,” said Rolando Lemus, the head of the Guatemalan umbrella group National Network for the Defence of Food Sovereignty.

The activist, whose NGO emerged in 2004 and which groups some 60 local organisations, told IPS, from the Guatemalan department of Chimaltenango, that the use of biodiversity is part of the culture and daily life of indigenous people, whose worldview “does not allow profiting from ancestral know-how.”

Guatemala had accepted three requests for research using the medicinal plant b’aqche’ (Eupatorium semialatum), cedar and mahogany. The request for the first, used against stomach problems like worms, was in the process of being studied, and the other two were approved in October 2015 for research by the private University del Valle of Guatemala.

As a subsidiary to the Biodiversity Convention, the protocol also covers activities carried out since last decade, regulated by national laws, in different countries of Latin America, which are discussed in a regional study published in 2014.

Brazil, for example, has granted at least 1,000 permits for non-commercial research since 2003 and 90 for commercial research since 2000.

Between 2000 and 2005, Bolivia granted 10 genetic resources access contracts, out of 60 requests filed. Several of them involved quinoa and other Andes highlands crops.

Two of them were for commercial uses. But since new laws were passed in Bolivia in 2010, ecosystems and the processes that sustain them cannot be treated as commodities and cannot become private property. The legislation amounts to a curb on the country’s adherence to the protocol.

In Colombia there are permits to collect samples and to send material abroad. Since 2003, that South American country has granted 90 contracts, out of 199 requests, and has signed a contract for commercial research.

Although Costa Rica has not approved permits for access to traditional knowledge or genetic resources in indigenous territories, it has issued 301 permits for basic research and access to genetic resources and 49 for bioprospecting and access to genetic resources since 2004.

Bioprospecting involves the systematic search for, classification of, and research into new elements in genetic material with economic value. The role of the protocol is to ensure that this does not deprive the original guardians of their knowledge and eventual benefits.

Ecuador has received 19 requests since 2011 and in 2013 it negotiated a commercial contract.

For its part, Mexico has authorised 4,238 permits for scientific collection since 1996, and only a small percentage of requests have been denied.

Peru, meanwhile, requires a contract for every kind of access. Since 2009, it has authorised 10 contracts, out of more than 30 requests, and 180 permits for research into biological resources.

Ecuador is a good example in the region of the plunder of genetic material, as officials in that country complain.

The “First report on biopiracy in Ecuador”, released in June by the Secretariat of Higher Education, Science, Technology and Innovation, stated that Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States have improperly exploited their biological wealth.

Of 128 identified patents, companies from the U.S. hold 35, from Germany 33, from the Netherlands 17, from Australia 15 and the rest are held by firms in a number of countries.

“It all depends on how the governments of each country protect indigenous people, in accordance with their own legal frameworks,” said Rodríguez.

“If the legislation says that they will only negotiate prior consent, including clauses on mutually agreed conditions – if they aren’t in a position to negotiate, it would be good if the government supported them so the negotiations would be more equitable and favourable for native peoples,” she argued.

Lemus is confident that the suspension in Guatemala will remain in place. “We are thinking of other actions to engage in. People must have mechanisms to protect themselves from intellectual property claims and genetic contamination,” he said.

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Lessons from Germany for Latin America’s Energy Transitionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/lessons-from-germany-for-latin-americas-energy-transition/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lessons-from-germany-for-latin-americas-energy-transition http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/lessons-from-germany-for-latin-americas-energy-transition/#comments Mon, 01 Aug 2016 20:02:13 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146344 A house with solar panels on the roof in a town in North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany - a common sight in this European nation, but still rare in many countries of Latin America. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

A house with solar panels on the roof in a town in North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany - a common sight in this European nation, but still rare in many countries of Latin America. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
DÜSSELDORF, Germany, Aug 1 2016 (IPS)

Germany has been undergoing an energy transition for over 20 years, and it can offer valuable lessons to Latin America with regard to promoting renewable energy and moving towards a low-carbon economy.

Germany’s transformation formally began in 2011, based on six laws that foment alternative energies through a surcharge for suppliers, the expansion of the power grid to boost the incorporation of renewables, and cogeneration, to use energy that goes to waste in power plants that run on fossil fuels.

There are twice as many laws that bolster the generation and consumption of renewable sources worldwide as there were at the start of the century, and Latin America is no exception to this trend.

“Other countries, including those of Latin America, should probably look at Germany’s experiences and learn from both the good and the bad,” Sascha Samadi, an analyst with the German Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy, which carries out research on the energy transformation, told IPS.

The expert said that “at the start of the energy transition, everything was about how to rise up against the big energy companies that so many people hated,” while now the main driver of support for the transition is concern about climate change.

To move towards a low-carbon energy mix, “in the countries of Latin America, other aspects can be more important on the agenda, such as reducing dependence on imports or making supplies more stable,” he said.

In Germany, renewables accounted for 30 percent of the electricity produced in 2015 and this European nation is the third-largest producer of renewable energy – not including hydropower. It is third in wind energy and biodiesel and fifth in geothermal.

It is also a leader in per capita solar power, despite its relatively low amount of sunlight.

In the last decade, strides have been made in developing renewable energies in Latin America, a region highly dependent on fossil fuels, either because the countries are major producers of them, such as Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela, or because they depend on imports, like the nations of Central America or Chile.

Most countries in the region have included plans to foment the energy transition, policies to make production and consumption more efficient, and targets for the generation of renewable energy.

Reaching Germany’s goal, a low-carbon economy, requires social change and modifications in consumption patterns and industrial policies, and will force plants like the ThyssenKrupp steel mill in the city of Duisburg to replace coal with cleaner sources. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Reaching Germany’s goal, a low-carbon economy, requires social change and modifications in consumption patterns and industrial policies, and will force plants like the ThyssenKrupp steel mill in the city of Duisburg to replace coal with cleaner sources. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

For example, Mexico passed in December an energy transition law, Chile has its 2050 energy plan, and Uruguay has a 2005-2030 energy policy. This legislation includes medium to long-term goals for the generation of renewable energy, tax incentives, and other actions aimed at a cleaner energy mix.

In 2015, Brazil drew more than 7.1 billion dollars in investment in renewables – 10 percent less than the previous year; Mexico drew 4.0 billion – double the 2014 level; and Chile, 3.4 billion – an increase of 150 percent, according to the report “Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2016”.

Nations like Honduras and Uruguay also received over 500 million dollars in investment in renewables in 2015, according to the study produced by the United Nations Environment Programme Collaborating Centre for Climate and Sustainable Energy Finance at the Frankfurt School of Finance & Management.

The study reports that investment in Brazil climbed from 800 million dollars in 2004 to 7.1 billion in 2015.

Without counting the region’s leading producer, Latin America captured 1.7 billion in investment in 2004, rising to 12.8 billion in 2015. But last year’s capital flows fell from 2014 levels, due to factors such as political instability in some countries and low oil prices.

The region generates 209,419 MW of renewable energy, of which hydropower represents 171,960.

To promote a low-carbon energy mix, there is an element in which Latin America should try to emulate Germany, Sophia Schönborn, an analyst with the German multisectoral organisation on energy KlimaDiskurs.NRW e.V, told IPS.

“Germany’s transition shows the importance of bottom-up decision-making and listening to the public’s concerns. It was not imposed; society pushed for changes in the energy model,” said the expert.

In the hands of the market

Germany has reached the point where it is producing excess renewable energy. As a result, parliament revoked fixed rates for renewables as of January 2017, and created auctions for all sources of clean energy.

The reform of the renewable energy law that will go into effect at that time rewards suppliers that have the lowest prices, sets caps on energy generation, and leaves fixed rates in place only for cooperatives and small-scale producers.

Germany’s energy transition has included facilities for wind and solar power generated by cooperatives and private citizens, such as the innovative bioenergy park in Saerbeck, in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Germany’s energy transition has included facilities for wind and solar power generated by cooperatives and private citizens, such as the innovative bioenergy park in Saerbeck, in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Under the German model, citizens can generate their own electricity, and can even sell it to the grid, as part of the construction of what experts and organisations are referring to as the “energy citizenship”. But that is far from being the reality in Latin America.

The fixed rates, which included a surcharge to support suppliers of renewables, helped fuel the expansion of alternative sources in Germany.

In Latin America, countries such as Ecuador, Honduras, Panama, Peru and Uruguay use surcharges or mix them with net metering, which allows consumers who produce their own electricity to use it at any time, rather than when it is generated. The consumers only pay the difference between what they consume and what they generate.

And countries like Chile, Mexico and Peru have put in place renewable energy auctions since 2015, which have led to a drop in prices per kilowatt-hour, partly due to their vast renewable sources, according to the Global Status Report 2016 released in June by REN21, the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century.

According to experts, the recent swings are a signal to Latin America with respect to the handling of the renewable energy market, to avoid risks of over-production or excessive payments to suppliers.

Samadi stressed that “the costs of the expansion of renewables are paid by consumers in Germany.”

“This might not be a good mechanism for the countries of Latin America, where low energy prices could be important for social development and cohesion,” he said. With this in mind, he suggested taxes or special funds.

There is another lesson too. “If the huge growth in renewables was just starting now in Germany, with today’s low technological costs our overruns for generation would be lower than what we pay now.”

In his view, “the countries that start to invest heavily today in wind and solar energies will not face the same high costs as Germany, especially when the solar potential in most of Latin America is taken into account.”

Schönborn concurred, stressing the competitive costs of renewable sources. But she warned of the risk of “social division” for those who cannot generate their own energy and must buy it from the grid.

This inequality “requires intervention by the state to guarantee access,” she said.

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Germany’s Energy Transition: The Good, the Bad and the Uglyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/germanys-energy-transition-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=germanys-energy-transition-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/germanys-energy-transition-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly/#comments Tue, 19 Jul 2016 12:19:42 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146128 In Germany, wind and solar energy coexist with energy generated by burning fossil fuels. A wind farm next to one of the electric power plants fired by lignite in the Western state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

In Germany, wind and solar energy coexist with energy generated by burning fossil fuels. A wind farm next to one of the electric power plants fired by lignite in the Western state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
COLOGNE, Germany, Jul 19 2016 (IPS)

Immerath, 90 km away from the German city of Cologne, has become a ghost town. The local church bells no longer ring and no children are seen in the streets riding their bicycles. Its former residents have even carried off their dead from its cemetery.

Expansion of Garzweiler, an open-pit lignite mine, has led to the town’s remaining residents being relocated to New Immerath, several kilometres away from the original town site, in North Rhine-Westphalia, whose biggest city is Cologne.

The fate of this small village, which in 2015 was home to 70 people, reflects the advances, retreats and contradictions of the world-renowned transition to renewable energy in Germany.

Since 2011, Germany has implemented a comprehensive energy transition policy, backed by a broad political consensus, seeking to make steps towards a low-carbon economy. This has encouraged the generation and consumption of alternative energy sources.

But so far these policies have not facilitated the release from the country’s industry based on coal and lignite, a highly polluting fossil fuel.

“The initial phases of the energy transition have been successful so far, with strong growth in renewables, broad public support for the idea of the transition and major medium and long term goals for government,” told IPS analyst Sascha Samadi of the non-governmental Wuppertal Institute, devoted to studies on energy transformation.

Renewable electricity generation accounted for 30 percent of the total of Germany’s electrical power in 2015, while lignite fuelled 24 percent, coal 18 percent, nuclear energy 14 percent, gas 8.8 percent and other sources the rest.

This European country is the third world power in renewable energies – excluding hydropower – and holds third place in wind power and biodiesel and fifth place in geothermal power.

Germany is also renowned for having the highest solar power capacity per capita in photovoltaic technology, even though its climate is not the most suitable for that purpose.

But the persistence of fossil fuels casts a shadow on this green energy matrix.

“The successful phasing out of fossil fuels entails a great deal of planning and organisation. If we do not promote renewables, we will have to import energy at some point,” Johannes Remmel, the minister for climate protection and the environment for North Rhine-Westphalia, told IPS.

Germany has nine lignite mines operating in three regions. Combined, the mines employ 16,000 people, produce 170 million tonnes of lignite a year and have combined reserves of three billion tonnes. China, Greece and Poland are other large world producers of lignite.

A part of the Garzweiler open-pit lignite mine, in North Rhine-Westphalia. One of the greatest challenges facing the energy transition in Germany is the future of this polluting fuel. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

A part of the Garzweiler open-pit lignite mine, in North Rhine-Westphalia. One of the greatest challenges facing the energy transition in Germany is the future of this polluting fuel. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Garzweiler, which is owned by the private company RWE, produces 35 million tonnes of lignite a year. From a distance it is possible to see its cut-out terraces and blackened soil, waiting for giant steel jaws to devour it and start to separate the lignite.

Lignite from this mine fuels nearby electricity generators at Frimmersdorf, Neurath, Niederaussen and Weisweiller, some of the most polluting power plants in Germany.

RWE is one of the four main power generation companies in Germany, together with E.ON, EnBW and Swedish-based Vattenfall.

Coal has an expiry date

The fate of coal is different. The government has already decided that its demise will be in 2018, when the two mines that are still currently active will cease to operate.

The Rhine watershed, comprising North Rhine-Westphalia together with other states, has traditionally been the hub of Germany’s industry. Mining and its consumers are an aftermath of that world, whose rattling is interspersed with the emergence of a decarbonized economy.

A tour of the mine and the adjoining power plant of  Ibberbüren in North Rhine-Westphalia shows the struggle between two models that still coexist.

In the mine compound, underground mouths splutter the coal that feeds the hungry plant at a pace of 157 kilowatt-hour per tonne.

In 2015 the mine produced 6.2 million tonnes of extracted coal, an amount projected to be reduced to 3.6 million tonnes this year and next, and to further drop to 2.9 million in 2018.

The mine employs 1,600 people and has a 300,000 tonne inventory which needs to be sold by 2018.

“I am a miner, and I am very much attached to my job. I speak on behalf of my co-workers. It is hard to close it down. There is a feeling of sadness, we are attending our own funeral”, told IPS the manager of the mine operator, Hubert Hüls.

Before the energy transition policy was in place, laws that promoted renewable energies had been passed in 1991 and 2000, with measures such as a special royalty fee included in electricity tariffs paid to generators that are fuelled by renewable energy sources.

The renewable energy sector invests some 20 billion dollars yearly and employs around 370.000 people.

Another measure, adopted in 2015 by the government in Berlin, sets out an auction plan for the purchase of photovoltaic solar power, but opponents have argued that large generation companies are being favoured over small ones as the successful bidder will be the one offering the lowest price.

Energy transition and climate change

Energy transition also seeks to meet Germany’s global warming mitigation commitments.

Germany has undertaken to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent in 2020 and by 95 per cent in 2015. Moreover, it has set itself the goal of increasing the share of renewable energies in the end-use power market from the current figure of 12 per cent to 60 per cent in 2050.

In the second half of the year, the German government will analyse the drafting of the 2050 Climate Action Plan, which envisages actions towards reducing by half the amount of emissions from the power sector and a fossil fuel phase-out programme.

In 2014, Germany reduced its emissions by 346 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, equivalent to 27.7 per cent of the 1990 total. However, the German Federal Agency for Environment warned that in 2015 emissions went up by six million tonnes, amounting to 0.7 per cent, reaching a total of 908 million tonnes.

Polluting gases are derived mainly from the generation and use of energy, transport and agriculture.

In 2019, the government will review the current incentives for the development of renewable energies and will seek to make adjustments aimed at fostering the sector.

Meanwhile, Germany’s last three nuclear power plants will cease operation in 2022. However, Garzweiler mine will continue to operate until 2045.

“There are technological, infrastructure, investment, political, social and innovation challenges to overcome. Recent decisions taken by the government are indicative of a lack of political will to undertake the tough decisions that are required for deep decarbonisation”, pointed out Samadi.

Companies “now try to mitigate the damage and leave the search for solutions in the hands of the (central) government. There will be fierce debate over how to expand renewable energies. The process may be slowed but not halted”, pointed out academic Heinz-J Bontrup, of the state University of Applied Sciences Gelsenkirchen.

Meanwhile, the regional government has opted to reduce the Garzweiler mine extension plan, leaving 400 million tonnes of lignite underground.

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North and South Face Off Over “Right to the City”http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/north-and-south-face-off-over-right-to-the-city/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=north-and-south-face-off-over-right-to-the-city http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/north-and-south-face-off-over-right-to-the-city/#comments Thu, 30 Jun 2016 20:38:59 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145893 Panama City, one of the fastest growing metropolises in Latin America. The Third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) will be held in Quito in October and will adopt the New Urban Agenda. Credit: Emilo Godoy/IPS

Panama City, one of the fastest growing metropolises in Latin America. The Third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) will be held in Quito in October and will adopt the New Urban Agenda. Credit: Emilo Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jun 30 2016 (IPS)

The declaration that will be presented for approval at the Third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) in October has again sparked conflict between the opposing positions taken by the industrial North and the developing South.

The aim of the conference, to be held in Quito, Ecuador from October 17-20,  is to reinvigorate the global commitment to sustainable urban development with a “New Urban Agenda,” the outcome strategy of Habitat III.

Developing countries want the declaration to include the right to the city, financing for  the New Urban Agenda that will be agreed at the meeting, and restructuring of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) to implement the agreed commitments. “Long term goals must be put in place that will generate management indicators that can be measured by governments and civil society. Experience related to the social production of habitat should be taken into account, (like that of) people living in informal settlements who have built cities with their capabilities and skills.” - Juan Duhalde

Another bloc, headed by the United States, Japan and the countries of the European Union, is striving to minimise these issues.

In the view of representatives of civil society organisations, these issues should be incorporated into the “Quito Declaration on Sustainable Cities and Human Settlements for All,” the draft of which is currently being debated by member states in a several rounds of preparatory meetings.

Juan Duhalde, head of the Social Research Centre at Un Techo para mi País (A Roof for my Country), a Santiago-based international non governmental organisation, told IPS that these are “key” issues and must be included as part of the discussion and be reflected in a concrete action plan.

“They are the general guidelines that will inform national public policies. The only way forward is for these commitments to be translated into long term agreements for the future. Right now discussions are mainly political and may fall short when it comes to bringing about the progress that is required,” said Duhalde.

The Chilean researcher stressed that “the right to the city goes hand in hand with achieving a paradigm shift away from the present situation, which is biased in favour of profitability for an elite rather than collective welfare for all.”

Stark North-South differences were plainly to be seen at the first round of informal intergovernmental talks held May 16-20 in New York. They will continue to fuel the debate at further informal sessions, the first of which will last three days and is due to end on Friday, July 1.

In the run-up to Habitat III, to be hosted by Quito in October, Ecuador and France are co-chairing the preliminary negotiations. The Philippines and Mexico are acting as co- facilitators.

Brazil, Chile, Ecuador and Mexico lead a bloc promoting the right to the city. Together with defined mechanisms to follow up the declaration, funding for the New Urban Agenda and implementation measures, the right to the city is major irritant at the talks. Among implementation measures is the creation of a fund to strengthen capabilities in developing countries.

The right to the city, a term coined by French philosopher Henri Lefebvre (1901-1991) in his 1968 book of the same title, refers to a number of simultaneously exercised rights of urban dwellers, such as the rights to food and housing, migration, health and education, a healthy environment, public spaces, political participation and non discrimination.

Household possessions dumped on the pavement: a family was evicted from the historic centre of Mexico City. The United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) will address the right to the city and the problems faced by people living in informal settlements. Credit: Courtesy of Emilio Godoy

Household possessions dumped on the pavement: a family was evicted from the historic centre of Mexico City. The United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) will address the right to the city and the problems faced by people living in informal settlements. Credit: Courtesy of Emilio Godoy

Lorena Zárate, head of the non governmental Habitat International Coalition (HIC) which has regional headquarters in Mexico City, advocates the inclusion of social production of habitat in the declaration. However, it is not explicitly mentioned in the draft declaration.

“We want it to be included, as otherwise it would mean turning a blind eye to half or one-third of what has been constructed in the world. But there is little room to negotiate new additions, because they are afraid of acknowledgeing them, and consensuses have to be built,” said the Argentine-born Zárate, who is participating in the New York meetings.

The concept recognises all those processes that lead to the creation of habitable spaces, urban components and housing, carried out as the initiatives of self-builders and other not-for-profit social agents.

The most recent version of the draft declaration, dated June 18, bases its vision “on the concept of “cities for all” recognises that in some some countries this is “understood as the Right to the City, seeking to ensure that all inhabitants, of present and future generations, are able to inhabit, use, and produce just, inclusive, accessible and sustainable cities, which exist as a common good essential to quality of life.”

States party to the declaration emphasise “the need to carry out the follow-up and review of the New Urban Agenda in order to ensure its effective and timely implementation and progressive impact, as well as its inclusiveness, legitimacy and accountability.”

Moreover they stress the importance of strengthening the Agenda and its monitoring process, and invite the U.N. General Assembly to “guarantee stable, adequate and reliable financial resources, and enhance the capability of developing nations” for designing, planning and implementing and sustainably managing urban and other settlements.

They also request that UN-Habitat prepare a periodic progress report on the implementation of the New Urban Agenda, to provide quantitative and qualitative analysis of the progress achieved.

The process of report preparation should incorporate the views of national, sub-national and local governments, as well as the United Nations System, including regional commissions, stakeholders from multilateral organizations, civil society, the private sector, communities, and other groups and non-state actors, the draft declaration says.

A building being renovated in Havana, Cuba. Developing countries want the Third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development to provide the necessary funding to promote the New Urban Agenda, to be adopted by UN-Habitat. Credit: Courtesy of Emilio Godoy

A building being renovated in Havana, Cuba. Developing countries want the Third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development to provide the necessary funding to promote the New Urban Agenda, to be adopted by UN-Habitat. Credit: Courtesy of Emilio Godoy

The outline of the draft declaration report has section headings on sustainable and inclusive urban prosperity and opportunities for all; sustainable urban development for social inclusion and the eradication of poverty; environmentally sound and resilient urban development; planning and managing urban spatial development; means of implementation and review.

“It’s (like) a soap opera saga. Right now we are trying to contribute ideas to strengthen the proposal for the right to the city. In the draft, this issue is diluted out; we do not want it to be further diluted,” a Latin American official participating in the negotiations told IPS.

“The United States and China do not want the text to contain references to human rights,” the official added, speaking on condition of anonymity.

It is expected that the draft declaration will be finalised at the meeting of the Habitat III preparatory committee (PrepCom3) to be held July 25-27 in Indonesia, and be presented for approval by U.N. member states at the full Habitat III conference in Quito.

To avoid a repetition of the sequels to the 1976 Vancouver Habitat I conference and the 1996 Habitat II conference in Istanbul, which were not evaluated afterwards, Duhalde and Zárate both wish to see a comprehensive review and follow-up programme established.

“Long term goals must be included and management indicators must be created that can be measured by governments and social actors. The experience in social production of habitat acquired by people living in informal settlements who have built cities with their capabilities and skills must be taken into account,” said Duhalde.

“We are keen to see the generation of evidence and promotion of research into real problems on the ground, in order to generate practical solutions,” he said.

In Zárate’s view, progress cannot be made in debating a new agenda without having evaluated fulfillment of the previous programme goals.

“There must be a means of discerning what is new and what is still ongoing, what has been successfully done and what has not been achieved, why some things were done and why some were not, and what actors have been involved. There have never been clear mechanisms for review monitoring nor for prioritisation,” she said.

“We are adamant that this should not happen again. But they are not going to include goals or indicators, and there is not much clarity about review and monitoring mechanisms,” she said.

The Latin American official consulted by IPS downplayed the likely achievements of the summit. “Habitat III will only be a reference point. There will be no major changes overnight after October 21. National governments will do whatever they intend to do, with their own resources, their own political and social forces, and their own governance,” he predicted.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez. Translated by Valerie Dee.

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Civil Society in Latin America Campaigns Against Trans-Pacific Partnershiphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/civil-society-in-latin-america-campaigns-against-trans-pacific-partnership/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civil-society-in-latin-america-campaigns-against-trans-pacific-partnership http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/civil-society-in-latin-america-campaigns-against-trans-pacific-partnership/#comments Mon, 20 Jun 2016 14:22:12 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145699 Activists from Chile, Mexico and Peru opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), during a meeting in January in the Mexican capital, which was also attended by representatives of civil society from Canada and the United States. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Activists from Chile, Mexico and Peru opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), during a meeting in January in the Mexican capital, which was also attended by representatives of civil society from Canada and the United States. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jun 20 2016 (IPS)

Civil society organisations from Chile, Mexico and Peru are pressing their legislatures and those of other countries not to ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

The free trade agreement, which was signed in New Zealand on Feb. 4, is now pending parliamentary approval in the 12 countries of the bloc, in a process led by Malaysia. Chile, Mexico and Peru are the three Latin American partners.

The treaty will enter into effect two months after it has been ratified by all the signatories, or if six or more countries, which together represent at least 85 percent of the total GDP of the 12 partners, have ratified it within two years.

“We are seeking a dialogue with like-minded parliamentary groups that defend national interests, and we provide them with information. We want to use the parliaments as hubs, and we also want dialogues with organisations from the United States, Canada and the Asian countries,” Carlos Bedoya, a Peruvian activist with the Latin American Network on Debt, Development and Rights (LATINDADD), told IPS.

Civil society groups in Peru created the “Our Rights Are Not Negotiable” coalition, to reject the most controversial parts of the agreement.

With similar initiatives, “A Better Chile without TPP” and “A Better Mexico without TPP”, non-governmental organisations and civil society figures are protesting the negative effects that the treaty would have on their societies.

The activists complain that the intellectual property chapter of the agreement stipulates a minimum of five years of data protection for clinical trials for Mexico and Peru. And in the case of biologics, the period is three years for Mexico and 10 years for Peru.

In Chile, in both cases it will be five years of protection, in line with its other free trade agreements.

These barriers delay cheaper, generic versions of drugs from entering the market for a longer period of time.

Another aspect criticised by activists is that the member countries must submit disputes over investments to extraterritorial bodies, like the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).

The alliances against the TPP also criticise the provisions for Internet service providers to oversee content on the web in order to control the distribution of material that violates copyright laws.

Latin American activists complain as well about the U.S. demand that the partners reform domestic laws and regulations to bring them into line with the TPP, in a process separate from or parallel to ratification by the legislature.

In addition, they protest that Washington was given the role of certifying that each partner has faithfully implemented the agreement.

The TPP emerged from the expansion of an alliance signed in 2006 by Brunei, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore, within the framework of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. These countries were later joined by Australia, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, the United States and Vietnam.

A girl holds a sign saying the TPP means Transferring Fully our Powers, during a protest against the trade agreement in Santiago, Chile. Credit: Courtesy of "A Better Chile without TPP"

A girl holds a sign saying the TPP means Transferring Fully our Powers, during a protest against the trade agreement in Santiago, Chile. Credit: Courtesy of “A Better Chile without TPP”

The agreement encompasses areas like customs, textiles, investment, telecommunications, e-commerce, dispute settlement, and labour and environmental issues.

The economies in the bloc represent 40 percent of global GDP and 20 of world trade.

The TPP “has negative effects on health and economic development. It won’t benefit our countries. But there will be a lengthy debate, because it contains issues that generate conflict,” Carlos Figueroa, a Chilean activist with his country’s coalition against the treaty, which encompasses 99 organisations, prominent individuals and five parliamentarians, told IPS.

Among its actions, the “A Better Chile without TPP” organises mass email campaigns to petition the government against the accord, promotes campaigns over the social networks, holds public demonstrations and is lobbying in parliament to block approval of the treaty.

In Mexico, conservative President Enrique Peña Nieto has enough votes in the Senate, which is responsible for ratifying international accords, to approve the treaty, with the votes from the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party, its ally the Green Party, and the opposition right-wing National Action Party.

In Chile, socialist President Michelle Bachelet’s centre-left alliance will be able to count on enough votes from the right to ratify the agreement.

And in Peru, the party of President-elect Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, a former World Bank economist and Wall Street banker in favour of free trade, has only a small number of seats in Congress. But a rival right-wing party, Fuerza Popular, which has a broad majority in the legislature, will approve the TPP, after the new government takes office in July and the new lawmakers are sworn in.

But furthermore, in Peru, the content of any free trade agreement does not require legislative approval unless it goes beyond what was agreed in 2009 with the United States.

Despite attempts by governments of the countries in the bloc to promote the positive impacts of the TPP, recent reports call the supposed benefits into question.

“Global Economic Prospects; Potential Macroeconomic Implications of the Trans-Pacific Partnership”, a report published in January by the World Bank, projected that the treaty could boost the GDP of its members by 1.1 percent and their trade by 11 percent a year on average by 2030.

In the case of Canada, Mexico and the United States, which have their own free trade agreement, NAFTA, since 1994, the benefit is just 0.6 percent of GDP.

And for Mexico, the positive impact would be even more reduced, because the cuts in import duties give other members of the TPP greater access to the U.S. market, the document says.

Economists from Tufts University in the U.S. state of Massachusetts had a more negative view of the trade deal, predicting “increasing inequality and job losses in all participating economies.”

“Trading Down: Unemployment, Inequality and Other Risks of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement”, a study by the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University, estimates that the TPP would lead to employment loss in all member countries, with a total loss of 771,000 jobs, including 448,000 in the United States alone.

In Mexico, 78,000 jobs would be lost, and in Chile and Peru, 14,000.

The authors estimate that by 2025, Mexican exports will grow 6.2 percent and GDP one percent; Peru’s exports will grow 7.1 percent and GDP 1.4 percent; and Chile’s exports will grow 2.5 percent and GDP 0.9 percent.

For its part, the U.S. International Trade Commission stated May 18, in its report “Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement: Likely Impact on the U.S. Economy and on Specific Industry Sectors”, that by 2032 the TPP would boost the U.S. economy by an average of 0.01 percent a year and employment by 0.07 percent.

Enrique Dussel, coordinator of the China/Mexico Studies Center at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, questions Mexico’s involvement in the TPP without evaluating the consequences of further freeing up trade.

“There has been a 20-year learning process to know what works and what doesn’t,” he told IPS. “TPP partners without free trade agreements represent one percent of trade with Mexico and one percent of investment. The question is what do I do with the remaining 99 percent, what focus do I give trade and investment.”

NGOs in Latin America are hoping the U.S. election campaign will limit the debate on the TPP to Congress until the winner of the November elections takes office.

“That gives us a little time to fight against ratification. It will be a long battle,” said Bedoya.

Dussel anticipated three possible scenarios. “In two years it goes into effect; there will be no TPP; or in the United States the new president will call for substantial changes.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Closing the Gaps in Fight Against Wildlife Trafficking in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/closing-the-gaps-in-fight-against-wildlife-trafficking-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=closing-the-gaps-in-fight-against-wildlife-trafficking-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/closing-the-gaps-in-fight-against-wildlife-trafficking-in-latin-america/#comments Thu, 02 Jun 2016 16:57:46 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145408 Because of their biological wealth, Latin America and the Caribbean are a source and destination of trafficked species. In the photo, trafficked parrots in a cage after being seized. Credit: World Animal Protection

Because of their biological wealth, Latin America and the Caribbean are a source and destination of trafficked species. In the photo, trafficked parrots in a cage after being seized. Credit: World Animal Protection

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jun 2 2016 (IPS)

Although it violates the international conventions that regulate the wildlife trade, it is possible to go online and find websites to buy, for example, axolotl salamanders (Ambystoma mexicanum) or spiny softshell turtles (Trionyx spiniferus).

These websites reflect new trends in the trafficking of plant and animal species, which help fuel the smuggling of wildlife and form part of the ‘Deep Web’, made up of pages that search engines cannot find.

Despite the magnitude of the damage to biodiversity, Latin America and the Caribbean have made scant progress in fighting wildlife trafficking. The theme of this year’s World Environment Day, celebrated on Jun. 5, is Go Wild for Life.“People have to be taught that they should not purchase wild animals or plants. That would be enough to cut down trafficking to sustainable levels.” -- Juan Carlos Cantú

Because of their biological wealth, Mexico, Central America and the Amazon rainforest – which is shared by Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela – are the main sources of trafficked plant and animal species in the region.

“Latin America represents significant criminal activity, because there are several countries considered megadiverse, which makes this region highly vulnerable to trafficking,” Roberto Vieto, with World Animal Protection, told IPS.

Vieto, who is wildlife campaigns officer for Latin America at the London-based international animal welfare organisation, said wildlife trafficking has seen a resurgence in the region, driven by online trade.

The World Wildlife Crime Report, published May 26 by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said Mexico, Argentina, Chile and Venezuela headed the region in terms of seizures of trafficked wildlife in the 2004-2015 period.

This region accounted for 15 percent of global seizures, while North America represented 46 percent, the Asia-Pacific region 24 percent, Europe 14 percent and Africa one percent.

The seizures indicate that the main destinations for reptiles, mammals and birds trafficked from this region are the United States, Europe, and more recently, China.

UNODC reports that some 7,000 species have been discovered in seizures worldwide. And the European Union reported in February that wildlife trafficking generates anywhere between 8.9 and 22.25 billion dollars a year. That makes it one of the four main transnational criminal activities, along with drug, weapon and people trafficking.

Smuggling, forgery of documents, and the mixture of legal and illegal products are the favorite techniques used by traffickers of wild species. In the photo are small birds in tin cans and a cage, discovered during a seizure in Brazil. Credit: World Animal Protection

Smuggling, forgery of documents, and the mixture of legal and illegal products are the favorite techniques used by traffickers of wild species. In the photo are small birds in tin cans and a cage, discovered during a seizure in Brazil. Credit: World Animal Protection

Wildlife seizures are an indicator of the scale of the phenomenon. To cite just one example, authorities in Mexico seized more than 200,000 specimens between 2007 and 2011 and arrested 294 suspects.

Part of the SDGs

The elimination of wildlife trafficking forms part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), number 15 is dedicated to protecting ecosystems, and target number seven is “Take urgent action to end poaching and trafficking of protected species of flora and fauna and address both demand and supply of illegal wildlife products.”

“The problem is very serious,” said Juan Carlos Cantú, the representative in Mexico of the U.S.-based Defenders of Wildlife. “For certain species, trafficking is the only threat they face. International trafficking is focused on endemic species, the rarest ones, the ones that are the most threatened by extinction.”

In Latin America, there are legal vacuums, and laws against wildlife trafficking are not always adequately enforced.

One illustration of this: in its first “National report on the traffick of wild animals”, published in 2014, the Brazilian organisation Renctas concluded that more than one million caimans – related to alligators – are poached every year in wilderness areas in Brazil, and their hides are taken to neighbouring countries for processing and export.

In 2015, Defenders of Wildlife stated in its report “Combating Wildlife Trafficking from Latin America to the United States” that the five most frequently seized animals in the region are queen conches, sea turtles, caimans, crocodiles and iguanas.

The lucrative Chinese market poses an enormous threat to species like the totoaba, sea cucumbers and sharks. The capture of the totoaba, a fish that is endemic to the Gulf of California in northwest Mexico, whose swim bladder is considered a delicacy in Chinese cuisine, is a death sentence for the vaquita (Phocoena sinus), a rare species of porpoise only found in the same area.

Traffickers often use legal documents to hide illegal activities or forged permits to smuggle specimens. As UNODC notes, certain markets are especially vulnerable to the infiltration of illegally sourced or trafficked wildlife.

In the photo, an inspector from Mexico’s federal environmental protection agency carries a box of parrots seized in a 2011 operation against the trafficking of protected species of birds. Credit: PROFEPA

In the photo, an inspector from Mexico’s federal environmental protection agency carries a box of parrots seized in a 2011 operation against the trafficking of protected species of birds. Credit: PROFEPA

Smugglers and their clients take advantage of legal gaps in the region. For example, in Brazil it is illegal to sell wild animals, but it is legal to own them if they were raised in captivity.

Requests for protection

For the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES, to be held in Johannesburg Sep. 24-Oct. 5, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras asked for the inclusion of four kinds of lizards from the Abronia genus in Appendix I – species for which CITES prohibits international trade.

In one illustrative case, Mexico asked for the inclusion of 13 species of rosewood (Dalbergia calderonii) in Apendix II - species in which trade must be controlled – to protect the tree from logging for timber.

Sharks are the perfect illustration of incoherent and contradictory regulations and laws. Most Latin American nations allow them to be sold, but ban their capture for the purpose of removal of their fins, which are in high demand in Asia and provide an incentive to blur the distinction between the legal and illegal markets.

The global gendarme

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), in effect since 1975, regulates more than 5,600 species of animals and 30,000 species of plants from overexploitation through international trade, in accordance with the degree of risk of extinction.

But the millions of species that aren’t covered by CITES can be illegally bred and raised and internationally traded.

Furthermore, national markets are also outside of the reach of the convention, if it cannot be proved that specimens or products have crossed international borders, in contravention of CITES.

In the case of Latin America, since at least 2010 most of the countries have not presented their biennial reports to CITES on how they are implementing the convention, despite the importance of oversight and monitoring in the fight against trafficking.

That gap is going to close, because in its annual meeting in Geneva in February, the CITES Standing Committee decided that its member states must provide statistical information every year on seizures, which will go into an annual report, the first of which will be published in October 2017.

Vieto and Cantú agree on the importance of raising public awareness so that people understand they must not buy wild animals. “Educational campaigns are needed to reduce the consumption of products, step up enforcement of existing regulations and laws, and bolster international cooperation,” to fill in gaps at a local level, said Vieto.

For Cantú, the key is reducing demand. “People have to be taught that they should not purchase wild animals or plants. That would be enough to cut down trafficking to sustainable levels,” he said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Traditional Mexican Recipes Fight the Good Fighthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/traditional-mexican-recipes-fight-the-good-fight/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=traditional-mexican-recipes-fight-the-good-fight http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/traditional-mexican-recipes-fight-the-good-fight/#comments Fri, 27 May 2016 11:54:49 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145330 AraceliMárquez prepares dishes based on Mexico’s rich, nutritional traditional cuisine, at a fair in the southeast of Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

AraceliMárquez prepares dishes based on Mexico’s rich, nutritional traditional cuisine, at a fair in the southeast of Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, May 27 2016 (IPS)

In a clay pot, Araceli Márquez mixes tiny Mexican freshwater fish known as charales with herbs and a sauce made of chili peppers, green tomatoes and prickly pear cactus fruit, preparing a dish called mixmole.

“I learned how to cook by asking people and experimenting,” the 55-year-old divorced mother of two told IPS. “The ingredients are natural, from this area. It’s a way to eat natural food, and to fight obesity and disease.”

Mixmole, which is greenish in color and has a distinctive flavour and a strong aroma that fills the air, is one of the traditional dishes of the town of San Andrés Mixquic, in Tlahuac, one of the 16 boroughs into which Mexico City, whose metropolitan region is home to 21 million people, is divided.

Márquez belongs to a cooperative named “Life and death in Tlahuac- heritage and tourist route”dedicated to gastronomy and ecotourism. The ingredients of their products and dishes, which are based on recipes handed down over the generations, come from local farmers.

Another dish on her menu is tlapique – a tamale (seasoned meat wrapped in cornmeal dough) filled with fish, chili peppers, prickly pear cactus fruit, epazote (Dysphaniaambrosioides) – a common spice in Mexican cooking – and xoconostles (Opuntiajoconostle), another kind of cactus pear native to Mexico’s deserts.

“We are trying to show people thelocal culture and cuisine.The response has been good, people like what we offer,” said Márquez, who lives in the town of San Bartolo Ameyalco, in Tlahuac, which is on the southeast side of Mexico City.

Márquez’s meals reflect the wealth of Mexican cuisine and the growing efforts to defend and promote it, in this Latin American country of 122 million people, which is one of the world’s fattest countries, meaning diabetes, hypertension, cardiac and stomach ailments are major problems.

Traditional Mexican cuisine, on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage since 2010, revolves around corn, beans and chili peppers, staples used by native peoples long before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century.

The local diet was enriched by the contributions of the invaders, and is now rich in vegetables, herbs and fruit – a multicultural mix of aromas, flavours, nutrients, vitamins and minerals.

Activists offer beans on downtown Reforma Avenue in Mexico City to promote consumption of this staple of the Mexican diet, produced with non-genetically-modified native seeds, and to boost food security. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Activists offer beans on downtown Reforma Avenue in Mexico City to promote consumption of this staple of the Mexican diet, produced with non-genetically-modified native seeds, and to boost food security. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Liza Covantes is also dedicated to reviving traditional cuisine based on local products. With that aim she helped found a bartering and products cooperative in Zacahuitzco, in the south of the capital, in 2015.

“We are a group of people working for the right to a healthy, affordable diet who got together to foment healthy eating. We’re exercising the right to food, health and a clean environment,” she told IPS.

The cooperative brings together 45 families who produce food like bread, cheese and vegetables. To sell their products, in November they opened a store, Mawi, which means “to feed” in the Totonaca indigenous language.

“We don’t accept anything with artificial ingredients,” said Covantes. The cooperative sells six-kg packages of food, which always include vegetables.

Mexico’s world-renowned cuisine is a significant part of this country’s attraction for tourists.

To cite a few examples of the rich culinary heritage, there are 200 varieties of native chili peppers in Mexico, 600 recipes that use corn, and 71 different kinds of mole sauce.

But this culinary wealth exists alongside the epidemic of obesity caused by the proliferation of sodas and other processed food high in added fats and sweeteners.

The 2012 National Survey on Health and Nutrition found that 26 million adults are overweight, 22 million are obese, and some five million children are overweight orobese. This generates growing costs for the state.

The survey also found that over 20 million households were in some category of food insecurity.

Referring to the country’s traditional cuisine, expert Delhi Trejo told IPS that “its importance lies in the diversity of the food.”

“We have a great variety of fruits, vegetables and grains; they’re important sources of fiber, vitamins, protein and minerals. Their costs are low and they have benefits to the environment,” said Trejo, the senior consultant on nutrition in the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) Mexico office.

María Solís, who grows different varieties and colours of native corn, removes the kernels from a cob in San Juan Ixtenco, Tlaxcala state, during a traditional fair dedicated to corn, the country’s main crop, which originated in Mexico and forms the base of the national diet. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

María Solís, who grows different varieties and colours of native corn, removes the kernels from a cob in San Juan Ixtenco, Tlaxcala state, during a traditional fair dedicated to corn, the country’s main crop, which originated in Mexico and forms the base of the national diet. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

FAO declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses – one of the key elements in the Mexican diet.

But traditional cuisine not only has nutritional value; the preparation of foods employs more than five million people and the country’s 500,000 formal restaurants generate two percent of GDP in Latin America’s second-largest economy.

To improve nutrition and defend an important segment of the economy, in August 2015 the government launched a Policy to Foment National Gastronomy, aimed at fostering and strengthening the country’s gastronomic offerings, fomenting tourism and boosting local and regional development through restaurants and the value chain.

But its measures have not yet yielded clear dividends.

“The traditional diet would be a solution for diabetes or obesity,” independent researcher Cristina Barros told IPS. “It is indispensable to return to our roots…We are what we eat.”

The Dietary Guidelines launched by the United States in 2010 state that people with traditional plant-based diets are less prone to cancer, coronary disease and obesity than people with diets based on processed foods.

Márquez is calling for more support and promotion. “There is assistance, but it is not enough. I hope the federal programme brings results,” said the cook, whose goal this year is to make a Tláhuac recipe book.

For Trejo, the FAO consultant, part of the problem is that a segment of the population erroneously associates traditional food with what is sold by street vendors or food stalls.

“The country has to foster its gastronomy and do away with false ideas of combinations of fats, sugar and industrialised food that increasingly reach every corner of the country and put traditional cuisine at risk,” she said.

Initiatives in different parts of Mexico have pointed in that direction, like in the southern state of Chiapas, one of the country’s poorest, where several organizations launched in April 2015 the campaign “Pozol project: eating healthier as Mexicans”, aimed at fomenting the consumption of pozol, a nutritious fermented corn drink.

On Apr. 28, the Mexican Senate approved the draft of a Federal Law to Foment Gastronomy, which outlines measures to strengthen the sector. The bill is now pending approval by the lower house of Congress.

“Collectively we can defend these principles and create a social trend that boosts the nutritional values of our gastronomy, to also benefit local producers,” said Covantes.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Mexico Needs to Improve Control of Toxic Chemicalshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/mexico-needs-to-improve-control-of-toxic-chemicals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexico-needs-to-improve-control-of-toxic-chemicals http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/mexico-needs-to-improve-control-of-toxic-chemicals/#comments Fri, 06 May 2016 07:15:24 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144997 Two Greenpeace technicians take water samples from a river that runs by the Pajaritos Petrochemical Complez in the Mexican city of Coatzacoalcos, where an Apr. 20 explosion in the Planta Clorados III plant left 32 people dead and 136 injured. Credit: Greenpeace Mexico

Two Greenpeace technicians take water samples from a river that runs by the Pajaritos Petrochemical Complez in the Mexican city of Coatzacoalcos, where an Apr. 20 explosion in the Planta Clorados III plant left 32 people dead and 136 injured. Credit: Greenpeace Mexico

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, May 6 2016 (IPS)

A recent explosion at a petrochemical plant in southeast Mexico highlighted the need to strengthen monitoring of hazardous substances, step up inspections of factories and update regulations in this country.

The Apr. 20 blast at the Clorados III plant in the Pajaritos Petrochemical Complex in the port city of Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz state, left 32 dead and 136 injured.

“One basic problem is the handling of toxic chemicals,” Robin Perkins, the Detox Programme leader at Greenpeace Mexico, told IPS. “This is a country with few regulations and the list of regulated and controlled substances is short. There is a lack of regulations, inspections and reviews.”

The plant, which belongs to Petroquímica Mexicana de Vinilo (PMC), a public-private petrochemical company, produces 170,000 tons a year of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which generates dioxins and furans, and has two incinerators.“We want the government to monitor and tell us what chemicals were there and what was released into the environment; there has to be short, medium and long-term monitoring; we need to know the impact on the workers, firefighters and surrounding communities; we’re talking about an impact on the entire ecosystem. It’s virtually impossible for there not to be an impact on the environment.” -- Robin Perkins

Dioxins and furans are environmental pollutants that belong to the so-called “dirty dozen” – a group of dangerous chemicals known as persistent organic pollutants (POPs). According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), POPs are present throughout the food chain and bio-accumulate in organisms.

Vinyl chloride, a known carcinogen, is found in gas and liquid form, and through inhalation or contact with skin it can cause dizziness, drowsiness, and headaches, while long-time exposure can lead to severe skin problems or liver damage.

Dioxin exposure has been linked to birth defects, miscarriage, learning disabilities, immune system suppression, lung problems, skin disorders and other health problems.

“It is important to monitor these kinds of chemicals, not only through environmental samples but also in the biota, and in exposed human populations, such as workers or local residents,” said Fernando Díaz-Barriga, a researcher at the Coordination for the Innovation and Application of Science and Technology at the public Autonomous University of San Luis Potosí.

To do that, he told IPS, “they must be detected in sediments and soils.”

For the past three decades, Díaz-Barriga has studied the impact of these substances on human health and the environment, including in the area of Pajaritos, and the result has always been the same: high levels of toxic compounds and elements.

In the wake of the explosion at the petrochemical plant, one of the worst environmental disasters in the history of Mexico due to the possible emission of dioxins, Greenpeace experts took samples of water, soil and dust in nearby communities, to detect pollutants.

The material is now being analysed at the University of Exeter in Britain and independent laboratories, and the results will be published in a few weeks.

Two weeks earlier, Díaz-Barriga had gathered samples of biota, soil and sediment around the Pajaritos complex, to identify POPs in the area, which is near the Gulf of Mexico and the mouth of a river.

The PVM company emerged in 2013 from an alliance between the private firm Mexichem, which holds a 54 percent share and runs the plant, and the state-run oil company Pemex, which owns 46 percent.

The accident was not an isolated incident.

 “We want the truth!” about what happened in an explosion of a polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plant in a petrochemical complex in the city of Coatzacoalcos in southeast Mexico, reads a Greenpeace sign, while a technician takes a soil sample after the disaster. Credit: Greenpeace Mexico


“We want the truth!” about what happened in an explosion of a polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plant in a petrochemical complex in the city of Coatzacoalcos in southeast Mexico, reads a Greenpeace sign, while a technician takes a soil sample after the disaster. Credit: Greenpeace Mexico

In Pajaritos there have been at least three accidents since 1991, and there are an average of 600 emergencies a y ear involving hazardous materials in Mexico, and at least one major disaster every 12 months, according to the environmental justice programme in the Federal Agency of Environmental Protection (PROFEPA).

International commitment

The explosion in the plant underscored the importance of Mexico living up to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, signed in 2001 and in effect since 2004.

The Convention is aimed at eliminating or reducing levels of nine chemicals used as pesticides, dioxins, furans and polychlorinated biphenyls – elements involved in the blast in Coatzacoalcos.

Every two years, parties to the convention meet to decide which additional chemicals should be added to the original “dirty dozen”. The next meeting is in 2017.

In Mexico, the Updating of the National Implementation Plan for the Stockholm Convention, which is reviewing the first plan from 2007, makes it clear how far the country still is from being up-to-date with respect to hazardous materials.

The evaluation for modernising the plan stresses the lack of a national network of laboratories for studying POPs, a formal programme for monitoring them, and a basic studies programme to identify trends involving these compounds.

Another problem is that the new industrial POPs that emerge are not studied, which means the country is not fully complying with the Stockholm Convention.

Greenpeace is calling for a longer list of regulated substances, a mandatory greenhouse gas emissions registry, and stricter penalties for polluters.

“We want the government to monitor and tell us what chemicals were there and what was released into the environment; there has to be short, medium and long-term monitoring; we need to know the impact on the workers, firefighters and surrounding communities; we’re talking about an impact on the entire ecosystem. It’s virtually impossible for there not to be an impact on the environment,” said Perkins.

On Apr. 28, PROFEPA closed down the Clorados III plant indefinitely, instructed the company to remove and safely confine substances like hydrochloric acid, ethane, and ethylene, and ordered it to carry out an impact study and a damage remediation programme.

In 2013, the government’s Registry of Emissions and Transference of Pollutants covered 3,523 establishments that reported 73 substances released into the air, water and soil or transferred in waste or discharge.

A food processor, an auto-maker, the Pajaritos complex, two oil refineries, two steel mills, three paper plants, seven chemical factories, 10 hazardous waste treatment plants and at least 35 cement plants reported dioxins and furans.

Of 135 substances identified as hazardous by various international bodies, 43 have been included in 13 laws in Mexico.

“The difficult thing is establishing new substances as the convention is updated,” said Díaz-Barriga. “The disaster in Pajaritos showed that we were right, that the monitoring programme is important. This is a problem of national priority.

“But the environmental issue has been pushed to the backburner, because it’s not a priority for the country; it only arises when these accidents happen.”

As part of the National Plan for the Stockholm Convention, Mexico plans to update and modify its regulations on the characteristics, handling, identification and classification of hazardous waste.

It also plans to expand the list of hazardous substances and establish stricter regulations with regard to emission limits on particulate matter from fixed installations.

The process will take at least two years.

The plan also establishes the modification of the General Law of Ecological Balance and Environmental Protection, in effect since 1988, with a special annex on POPs and chemical substances.

In addition, it proposes monitoring the presence of pesticides and other POPs in food, soil, water and air, and assessing the effective application of the measures, as well as a programme to hold companies accountable for proper handling of these pollutants.

By 2024, Mexico plans to have a programme to monitor POPs in the atmosphere and in breast milk, and to gauge the economic costs of these pollutants for the environment and health.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Rural Community Fights a Second Dam and a New Expropriation of Landhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/rural-community-fights-a-second-dam-and-a-new-expropriation-of-land/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rural-community-fights-a-second-dam-and-a-new-expropriation-of-land http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/rural-community-fights-a-second-dam-and-a-new-expropriation-of-land/#comments Tue, 08 Mar 2016 18:01:42 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144124 Part of the rural municipality of Chicoasén to be flooded by the second dam built in that area, in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. A large part of the local peasant farmers are fighting the new hydropower plant, pointing to the damages they say were caused by the Chicoasén 1 dam, built 40 years ago. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Part of the rural municipality of Chicoasén to be flooded by the second dam built in that area, in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. A large part of the local peasant farmers are fighting the new hydropower plant, pointing to the damages they say were caused by the Chicoasén 1 dam, built 40 years ago. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
CHICOASÉN, Mexico , Mar 8 2016 (IPS)

In 1976, the construction of a hydroelectric dam destroyed farmland in the rural municipality of Chicoasén in southern Mexico. Forty years later, part of the local population is fighting a second dam, which would deprive them of more land.

“They destroyed everything,” Antonio Herrera, one local resident of this municipality in the state of Chiapas, told IPS. “The land is useless now, it’s impossible to farm it. The dam has affected our lives a great deal.”

Herrera complained that local peasant farmers have been unable to reach their land since Mexico’s state-owned power utility Comisión Federal de Electricidad (CFE) granted a contract in January 2015 for the construction of the Chicoasén 2 dam on the Grijalva River. The project includes a plan to expropriate part of the ejido – formerly public land held in common by the inhabitants of a village and farmed cooperatively or individually.“We don’t have any information about the hydropower dam. We don’t know what will happen to the people who live along the riverbanks. The CFE says it has permission from the ejidatarios, but we haven’t given them permission. They are basing their arguments on a false (community) assembly, which has signatures from owners who are already dead.” -- Claudia Solís

A huge mechanical shovel digs up sand and gravel while Herrera, a member of the Chicoasén ejido committee, points to the work site in the distance, where the formerly green land is coated by brown.

The 240-MW dam, to be built at a cost of 300 million dollars, is scheduled to come onstream in July 2018.

IPS saw the environmental impact study that the CFE presented to the environment ministry. It states that the total surface area amounts to 234 hectares, 188 of which will be covered by the reservoir, located some 850 km south of Mexico City in this municipality of 5,159 people, the traditional territory of the Nahoa and Zoque indigenous peoples.

The CFE awarded the contract for the construction of the dam to a consortium of three Mexican companies and the Costa Rica-based subsidiary of the Chinese firm Sinohydro. The utility has already expropriated 69 hectares of land for the new dam. The owners of the land were paid 2,300 dollars per hectare.

In 1951, the government granted the local residents 3,400 hectares to create the ejido, which doubled in size in 1986 when they were given another 3,461 hectares. The land is owned by 460 ‘ejidatarios’ or members of the ejido, around 50 of whom have since died and passed on their land to their wives or children.

The first Chicoasén dam, 100 km from the second, expropriated land from the original ejido grant, and the second will take part of the land awarded in 1986.

When the CFE built the 2,400-MW Manuel Moreno Torres dam, better known as Chicoasén 1, in 1976, the company promised to pay for the land and provide piped water, a school and a health clinic.

But these promises were not fulfilled, the ejidatarios complain.

And now they are afraid history will repeat itself.

“We don’t have information about the hydropower dam,” Claudia Solís, the daughter of one of the ejidatarios, told IPS. “We don’t know what will happen to the people who live along the riverbanks. The CFE says it has permission from the ejidatarios, but we haven’t given them permission. They are basing their arguments on a false (community) assembly, which has signatures from owners who are already dead.”

Mainly elderly peasant farmers in Chicoasén, in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, who have land in an “ejido” – formerly public land that was granted to communities to farm individually or cooperatively – take part in a protest against the installation of a second hydroelectric dam in the area, which will affect their farms and their way of life. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Mainly elderly peasant farmers in Chicoasén, in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, who have land in an “ejido” – formerly public land that was granted to communities to farm individually or cooperatively – take part in a protest against the installation of a second hydroelectric dam in the area, which will affect their farms and their way of life. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

To block construction of the new dam, local residents have held demonstrations, community elders have gone on hunger strike, and legal action has been taken.

But the ejidatarios are divided, because one group supports the new dam.

The opponents are a majority in the community and are led by a group of elders who are dedicating their last remaining energy to defending their land and their way of life, taking to the streets with their canes, their straw ‘sombreros’ and their families.

In December 2014, 62 ejidatarios brought individual lawsuits, which were admitted by a federal judge in October 2015. And in March 2015 they filed a collective lawsuit, which was accepted by another federal judge in May 2015.

But work on the dam has not been brought to a halt.

The local population grows crops like maize, pumpkin, beans, watermelon and melon, fishes in the water of the reservoir and caters to tourists who visit the area.

Chiapas, a supplier of energy

Several large-scale energy projects have been built or are planned by the government or companies in the impoverished state of Chiapas.

Four dams already operating in the state represent 45 percent of the country’s hydroelectricity. Three others also produce energy in what is Mexico’s main river basin.

Construction of the dams has left its mark on local communities and has modified the natural water regimes, led to the loss of vegetation, displaced wildlife and destroyed their habitats, environmentalists and ejidatarios told IPS during the last protest held against the dam and a visit to the affected area.

In Mexico, 13 large hydroelectric dams generate more than 10,000 MW a year, of the total 65,000 MW produced in the country. There is only one new hydropower project in the 2015-2029 National Electric System Development Programme (PRODESEN), launched in July 2015: Chicoasén 2.

The Chicoasén 2 environmental impact study says the dam will directly affect five communities in the municipality and will indirectly affect another 10. It also acknowledges that the dam, the reservoir and the hypdropower plant will hurt the landscape, wildlife and surface drainage.

“We don’t want the dam,” said Herrera, whose family includes four other ejidatarios. “The CFE doesn’t listen to us, it doesn’t take us into account.”

In 2013, the Clean Development Mechanism of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change rejected the inclusion of Chicoasén 2 as a carbon offsetting project, under the argument that there was no clear demonstration of the emissions reduction, which the government estimated at 300,000 tons of carbon dioxide.

Besides the key role it plays in the generation of hydropower, since the 1970s Chiapas has become increasingly important in terms of oil production, and both the state-owned oil giant Pemex and the energy ministry included new fields in the state to be explored or put to tender, in their plans in 2015.

Twenty oilfields are operating in Chiapas, with a total of 278 million barrels of oil in reserves, and an impact on 38 Zoque communities in six municipalities.

And the 2015-2019 Five-Year Plan for the Expansion of the System for the Transportation and Storage of Natural Gas includes the projected 440-km Salina Cruz-Tapachula gas pipeline between the states of Chiapas and Oaxaca, to be completed in 2018, but not yet put out to tender.

A survey carried out in the state by the energy ministry on the impact of oil industry operations on other economic activities found that it hurt agriculture, tourism and archaeological sites, as well as nine large environmental areas.

“Exploration for oil has an impact on forests, water resources, and indigenous communities,” Fabio Barbosa, a professor in the economy department of the Autonomous National University of Mexico, told IPS. “The conflicts that already exist will be aggravated, but oil companies aren’t stopped by social conflicts.”

Barbosa said oil industry plans are unsustainable. “If an important well is developed, environmental disasters created in other states can be repeated,” he warned.

Mexico’s law on fossil fuels, in effect since August 2014 as part of the reform that opened up the oil and power industries to private capital, stipulates that the energy ministry must hold non-coercive negotiations to obtain free, prior and informed consent from indigenous communities when energy projects are to be carried out in their territories.

In addition, companies must present a social impact assessment in order to obtain a permit for their projects.

But these requisites have not been enforced in Chiapas, according to local residents and social and environmental activists.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Mexico’s Chinampas – Wetlands Turned into Gardens – Fight Extinctionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/mexicos-chinampas-wetlands-turned-into-gardens-fight-extinction/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexicos-chinampas-wetlands-turned-into-gardens-fight-extinction http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/mexicos-chinampas-wetlands-turned-into-gardens-fight-extinction/#comments Sat, 27 Feb 2016 19:25:46 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144016 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/mexicos-chinampas-wetlands-turned-into-gardens-fight-extinction/feed/ 0 Latin America’s Indigenous Peoples Find an Ally in the Popehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/latin-americas-indigenous-peoples-find-an-ally-in-the-pope/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-americas-indigenous-peoples-find-an-ally-in-the-pope http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/latin-americas-indigenous-peoples-find-an-ally-in-the-pope/#comments Mon, 15 Feb 2016 21:26:12 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143888 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/latin-americas-indigenous-peoples-find-an-ally-in-the-pope/feed/ 0 Mexico Creates First and Second-class Migrantshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/mexico-creates-first-and-second-class-migrants/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexico-creates-first-and-second-class-migrants http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/mexico-creates-first-and-second-class-migrants/#comments Mon, 25 Jan 2016 23:00:27 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143693 A group of Central American migrants walking along a trail in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, on the border with Guatemala, at the start of their long journey across Mexico on their way to the United States. Credit: Courtesy Médecins Sans Frontières – Mexico

A group of Central American migrants walking along a trail in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, on the border with Guatemala, at the start of their long journey across Mexico on their way to the United States. Credit: Courtesy Médecins Sans Frontières – Mexico

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jan 25 2016 (IPS)

The Mexican government’s decision to grant humanitarian visas to Cuban migrants stranded in Costa Rica contrasts sharply with the poor treatment received by the tens of thousands of Central American migrants who face myriad risks as they make their way through this country on their long journey to the United States, social organisations and activists complain.

Although migrant rights activists put the greatest blame on the United States, complaining that Cuban immigrants are given privileged treatment across the border, they also accuse Mexico of fomenting the differences.

Washington “promotes the irregular migration of Cubans,” activist Danilo Rivera told IPS from Guatemala City. “They have double standards, and Mexico plays into their interests. It contradicts the goal of achieving orderly, safe migration flows.”

“Mexico isn’t coherent, because it’s a country that produces migrants itself,” said Rivera, with the Guatemala-based Central American Institute for Social Studies and Development (INCEDES).

INCEDES belongs to the Regional Network of Civil Organisations for Migration (RROCM), which studies these issues and works with governments on immigration policies.

The 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act, known as the “wet foot-dry foot policy”, grants Cuban immigrants U.S. residency one year and a day after they reach the country, regardless of whether their entry was legal or illegal.

Mexican Migrants in the U.S.

Tens of thousands of undocumented Mexican migrants also head to the United States. The Mexican authorities bitterly complain about the poor treatment this country’s citizens are given across the border, while they provide similar treatment to Central American immigrants here, human rights activists argue.

In a study published Jan. 20, the Center for Migration Studies of New York (CMS) reported that the number of undocumented immigrants in the United States fell to 10.9 million in 2014, from 12 million in 2008.

Six million of the undocumented immigrants in the country are from Mexico. But CMS Executive Director Donald Kerwin said the Mexican-born undocumented population was about 600,000 smaller in 2014 than in 2010.

The report also said that between 1980 and 2014, the population of Mexican-born legal residents grew faster than the number of undocumented Mexicans.

The previously little-known route taken by Cubans from Ecuador to the United States drew international attention in November, when nearly 8,000 Cubans found themselves stuck at Costa Rica’s border with Nicaragua, after the government in Managua refused to let them in the country.

A solution to the crisis was negotiated and the governments of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico agreed to put an initial group of 180 of the migrants on a charter flight from Costa Rica to Guatemala – thus avoiding Nicaragua – as part of a pilot plan that got underway on Jan. 12.

The next day, the 139 men and 41 women were taken by bus to the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, on the border with Guatemala.

With the special humanitarian visas issued by the Mexican government’s National Migration Institute (INM), the Cubans were able to cross the country on their own, without being stopped by the migration authorities.

After the success of the test flight, the four governments involved in the negotiations agreed in a meeting in Guatemala to carry out more flights, after Feb. 4.

The possibility of issuing humanitarian visas is provided for in Mexico’s 2011 National Migration Law. The permits can be granted for a duration of 72 hours to 30 days, in cases where migrants are victims of a natural catastrophe, face danger in their country of origin, or require special treatment due to health problems.

In November, the last month for which official data is available, Mexico granted 1,084 humanitarian visas: 524 to Hondurans, 370 to Salvadorans, 146 to Guatemalans, 43 to Nicaraguans, and one to a Costa Rican.

That same month, the authorities in Mexico detained 73,710 Guatemalans, 53,648 Hondurans, 31,997 Salvadorans and 1,427 Nicaraguans, and deported 64,844 Guatemalans, 47,779 Hondurans, 27,481 Salvadorans and 1,188 Nicaraguans.

An estimated 500,000 undocumented migrants from Central America cross Mexico every year in their attempt to cross the 3,185-km border separating Mexico from the United States, according to estimates from organisations that work with migrants.

“No one cares about Central Americans migrants; they’re rejects from poor, violence-stricken countries,” Catholic priest Pedro Pantoja told IPS.

“Political negotiations, and a state of servitude to the United States, were behind the way the Cuban migrants issue was handled. The Cubans have everything in their favour; the Central Americans have nothing,” said Pantoja, the director of the Belén Posada del Migrante migrants’ shelter in Saltillo, the capital of the northeast Mexican state of Coahuila, which borders the United States.

The activist also complained about the “unequal response” by the Central American governments, which showed solidarity with the Cuban migrants while being “so insensitive, distant and utilitarian” towards migrants from Central America itself.

On their way across Mexico, Central American migrants face the risk of arbitrary arrest, extortion, theft, assault, rape, kidnapping and murder, at the hands of youth gangs and people trafficking networks, as well as corrupt police and other agents of the state.

Defenders of migrant rights have asked Mexico to issue humanitarian visas to minimise these risks.

And in an August report, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ Rapporteur on the Rights of Migrants also urged the government to issue humanitarian permits.

“We have called for a stop to the deportations. Mexico needs to make progress towards protecting migrants in transit, using safe-conduct passes to keep them from going through dangerous areas and to help them to avoid criminal groups. But the United States does not want the border area to become the impact zone,” Rivera said.

Activists blame the Southern Border Plan, implemented since August 2014 by the Mexican government with U.S. support, for the offensive against undocumented immigrants. The plan included the installation of 12 naval bases on rivers in the area, and three security cordons using electronic sensors and other security measures to the north of Mexico’s southern border.

So far, the United States has provided 15 million dollars in equipment and assistance, and an additional 75 million dollars in aid are in the pipeline.

The flow of Cubans without visas through Central America and Mexico to the United States is not likely to let up, even though in December the Ecuadorean government once again began to require a letter of invitation and other requisites to enter the country, after giving Cubans free access since 2014.

In September, the Costa Rican government reported that it had detained 12,000 undocumented Cubans in the previous 12 months.

Migrant rights activists plan to demand a response from Mexico regarding its double standards towards immigrants.

“We are not going to sit still. We’re going to demand that the INM (National Migration Institute) be held to account,” said Pantoja, a member of the INM’s Citizen Council, made up of representatives of civil society and academia.

Immigrant rights organisations will meet Jan. 25-28 in Chiapas and the neighbouring state of Tabasco to study the phenomenon and monitor migration flows and the performance of the local authorities.

They will also question the INM during the Citizen Council’s March session.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Mexican Government Ignores Social Impact of Energy Projectshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/mexican-government-ignores-social-impact-of-energy-projects/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexican-government-ignores-social-impact-of-energy-projects http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/mexican-government-ignores-social-impact-of-energy-projects/#comments Wed, 23 Dec 2015 17:03:38 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143430 The oil industry contracts granted by the Mexican government since 2014 have not included the social impact assessments required by law. The photo shows the Abkatun-A Permanente shallow-water platform in the Campeche Sound, where a fire broke out on Apr. 1, 2015 off the coast of the state of Campeche in southeastern Mexico. Credit: Courtesy of PEMEX

The oil industry contracts granted by the Mexican government since 2014 have not included the social impact assessments required by law. The photo shows the Abkatun-A Permanente shallow-water platform in the Campeche Sound, where a fire broke out on Apr. 1, 2015 off the coast of the state of Campeche in southeastern Mexico. Credit: Courtesy of PEMEX

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Dec 23 2015 (IPS)

Mexico’s hydrocarbons law stipulates that oil contracts must include a social impact assessment. But this has not been done in the case of the oilfields granted to the country’s former oil monopoly, Pemex, or to private companies since the industry was opened up to private investment.

Civil society organisations argue that concessions that do include a social impact asessment are illegal.

“The authorities have the obligation to carry out the consultations,” Manuel Llano, the founder of Cartocrítica, a Mexican NGO, told IPS. “One interesting detail is that the law says the evaluation must be conducted prior to the public tenders.”

Article 120 of the hydrocarbons law in effect since August 2014 states that the energy ministry must organise consultations to obtain free, prior and informed consent from indigenous communities that will be affected by oil industry projects in their territories.

And article 121 establishes that those interested in obtaining a permit for oil industry activity must present a social impact assessment (SIA) to the energy ministry. The energy reform opened up oil exploration, extraction, refining, transportation, distribution and sale of oil and its by-products to local and foreign private investment.“With respect to the shallow water projects, the government argues that there is no social impact, which is why the SIAs weren’t conducted. But one of the long-time conflicts is with fisherpersons because of the damage they suffer due to oil industry activity.” -- Aroa de la Fuente

After Pemex’s monopoly was broken up by the new law in August 2014, the state oil company was allowed to keep 83 percent of the country’s probable reserves and 21 percent of the prospective reserves, equivalent to 20 billion barrels of crude. This selection process was known as Round Zero.

On Jul. 15, the Mexican government opened up Round One and assigned two contracts for the exploration and drilling of deep sea oilwells off the coast of the southeastern states of Campeche, Tabasco and Veracruz. The contracts were signed on Sept. 4.

On Sept. 30, the energy ministry assigned three more contracts, and on Dec. 15 the third public tender was held.

“They haven’t done the assessments,” Aroa de la Fuente, a researcher with the FUNDAR Centre for Research and Analysis, told IPS. “With respect to the shallow water projects, the government argues that there is no social impact, which is why the SIAs weren’t conducted. But one of the long-time conflicts is with fisherpersons because of the damage they suffer due to oil industry activity.”

She questioned the argument that there are no social impacts, if no studies have been carried out to demonstrate this.

Since March, the guidelines for the SIAs have been open to public consultation in the Federal Regulatory Improvement Commission (COFEMER).

According to the “general administrative guidelines on social impact assessments in the energy sector”, drawn up by the energy ministry, the evaluations must assess the likely social impacts from oil industry activity and outline the social impact plans and measures to mitigate potentially adverse effects.

The guidelines require a baseline, representing a starting point for companies to compare actual with projected impacts. The baseline should be established before any oil industry activity begins. It should provide statistics in the following areas: demographic, migration, households and families, education, health services, jobs and labour conditions, social security, housing, main economic activities, local public finances, and tangible and intangible cultural heritage.

The company must also include the results from the analysis of stakeholders – individuals, communities, groups, organisations and institutions – taking into consideration their rights, interests and expectations, as well as their levels of involvement, importance and influence regarding the project.

The SIA must specify whether the impacts are short, medium, long-term or permanent; whether the adverse effects are mild, moderate or severe or the benefits are mild or strong; and whether the impacts are low, moderate, high or very high.

The comments about the SIA process reflect the resistance of companies, especially in the storage and distribution sectors, to conduct them.

The energy ministry estimates 176 million dollars in losses from the cancellation of projects due to the lack of SIAs.

The government argues that the first two public tenders did not require SIAs because they involved shallow water drilling. But the law does not make any such distinction.

Llano said SIAs are important for the defence of territory and for those who wish to legally challenge the areas that have been granted in concession.

The position taken by the government “is serious, because many of the wells are on land,” he said. “They are not complying with the law. They say the first two tenders are in offshore areas, which means no assessment is needed, but there is no legal foundation for this argument. What about the issues of the environment and fisherpersons?”

The expert complained that the government assumes that there are no affected groups, “when it is the assessment that must determine this.”

The government has already suffered its first setbacks. On Dec. 11, a federal judge ordered the permanent suspension of the construction of a wind park in the municipality of Juchitán, in the southern state of Oaxaca, after accepting a legal plea for protection filed by Binnizá indigenous communities.

Native groups and NGOs have fought the Energía Eólica del Sur wind park project by the company of the same name, which would generate 396 MW to be fed into power grids in the region. Their argument is that no free, prior and informed consent was sought.

The SIAs can be a useful tool for local populations. “In the public tenders for oil wells on land, the situation will become more complex, because people are going to try to defend themselves, and this is a mechanism that allows them to do so,” said de la Fuente.

Edited by Verónica Firme/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Mexico to Export Nixtamalisation of Grains to Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/mexico-to-export-nixtamalisation-of-grains-to-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexico-to-export-nixtamalisation-of-grains-to-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/mexico-to-export-nixtamalisation-of-grains-to-africa/#comments Fri, 18 Dec 2015 03:12:23 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143385 The corn is cooked with limewater to eliminate aflatoxins that cause liver and cervical cancer. Here a worker at the Grulin company is stirring the corn before it is washed, drained and ground, in San Luís Huexotla, Mexico. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

The corn is cooked with limewater to eliminate aflatoxins that cause liver and cervical cancer. Here a worker at the Grulin company is stirring the corn before it is washed, drained and ground, in San Luís Huexotla, Mexico. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
TEXCOCO, Mexico , Dec 18 2015 (IPS)

Every day in the wee hours of the morning Verónica Reyes’ extended family grinds corn to make the dough they use in the tacos they sell from their food truck in Mexico City.

Sons, daughters-in-law and nephews and nieces divide the work in the family business that makes and sells cecina (dried, salted meat) tacos, longaniza (a kind of Spanish sausage), quesadillas and tlacoyos (thick stuffed oval-shaped corn dough tortillas).

“We cook the corn the night before and we grind it early in the morning, to serve people at 8:00 AM,” said Reyes, who has made a living selling food for years.

The family loads up the metal countertop, gas cylinders, tables, chairs, ingredients and over 60 kg of corn dough in their medium-sized truck before heading from their town of San Jerónimo Acazulco, some 46 km southwest of Mexico City, to whatever spot they have chosen that day to sell their wares.

When the taco truck packs up, it has sold just about all the food prepared that day.

The cooked corn dough takes on a yellow tone, an effect caused by a process called nixtamalisation – the preparation of corn or other grain, which is soaked and cooked in an alkaline solution, usually limewater, and hulled.According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), 25 percent of world food crops are contaminated with aflatoxins.

This technique dates back to before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in Mexico in the 15th century, when local indigenous people cooked corn this way.

Nixtamalisation significantly reduces aflatoxins – any of several carcinogenic mycotoxins produced by molds that commonly infect corn, peanuts and other crops.

“In Mexico aflatoxins are a serious problem,” Ofelia Buendía, a professor at the department of agroindustrial engineering at the Autonomous University of Chapingo, told IPS. “A major effort has been made to eliminate them. The most effective is the traditional nixtamalisation technique.”

She has specialised in “nixtamalising” beans, quinoa, oats, amaranth, barley and other grains, and in producing nutritional foods.

Mexico’s corn dough and tortilla industry encompasses more than 78,000 mills and tortilla factories, over half of which are concentrated in just seven of the country’s 31 states.

Nearly 60 percent of the tortillas sold were made with nixtamalised dough.

Corn is the foundation of the diet in Central America and Mexico, where the process of nixtamalisation is widely used.

But consumption of tortillas has shrunk in Mexico, from 170 kg a year per person in the 1970s to 75 kg today, due to the inroads made by fast food and junk food.

Mexico is now cooperating with Kenya in east Africa to transfer know-how and technology to introduce the technique, to help that country reduce aflatoxins.

Mexico and Kenya signed two cooperation agreements, one of which offers technical support and involves the sending of mills by Mexico’s International Development Cooperation Agency.

Kenya needs 45 million 90-kg bags of corn a year, and only produces 40 million.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), 25 percent of world food crops are contaminated with aflatoxins, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that more than 4.5 billion people in the developing world have chronic exposure to them.

Studies by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) suggest that approximately 26,000 people in sub-Saharan Africa die every year of liver cancer associated with chronic exposure to aflatoxins.

At 3:00 AM, the machines are turned on in the processing plant of the Comercializadora y Distribuidora de Alimentos Grulin food processing and distribution company in the town of San Luís Huexotla, some 50 km east of Mexico City.

The work consists of washing the corn cooked the night before, draining it, and grinding it to produce the dough for making tortillas and toast, which are packaged and distributed to sales points in the area.

“Nixtamalisation respects the nutrients in the corn, although some are lost in the washing process,” José Linares, director general of Grulin, told IPS. “There are faster systems of nixtamalisation, but they’re more costly. The technology is shifting towards a more efficient use of water and faster processing.”

His father started out with one tortilla factory, and the business expanded until the Grulin company was founded in 2013.

Grulin processes between 32 and 36 50-kg balls of dough a day. One kg of corn produces 1.9 kg of dough.

The corn is cooked for 90 minutes and then passes through a tank of limewater for 30 seconds before going into tubs with a capacity of 750 kg, where it remains for 24 hours. It is then drained and is ready for grinding between two matching carved stones.

Officials from the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) have visited Mexico to learn about nixtamalisation and test corn products.

The experts who talked to the Kenyan officials said the technique could be adopted by nations in Africa.

“In Africa they want to know about the process, because of its tremendous uses for food. Some variables can be influenced, such as texture and taste,” said Buendía. “The Chinese eat tortillas, so this technique could be adopted. These opportunities cannot be missed.”

Besides cultural questions, the availability of water and generation of waste liquid – known as ‘nejayote’ – can be problems. For every 50 kg of corn processed, some 75 litres of water are needed. The nejayote, which is highly polluting because of its degree of alkalinity, is dumped into the sewer system.

Academic researchers are investigating how to make use of the waste liquid to produce fertiliser, to reuse it in washing the corn, and to make water use more efficient.

“It would be necessary to overcome the cultural barriers, and make sure the taste of lime isn’t noticeable….The technique is replicable,” said Grulin’s Linares.

In 2009, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture – Agricultural Research Service developed a biological control technology called AflaSafe, to fight aflatoxins in corn and peanuts. It is so far available in Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Gambia, Kenya, Senegal and Zambia.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez and Verónica Firme/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Vertical Farming – Agriculture of the Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/vertical-farming-agriculture-of-the-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=vertical-farming-agriculture-of-the-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/vertical-farming-agriculture-of-the-future/#comments Sat, 05 Dec 2015 07:06:42 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143221 Nelson Pérez monitors the water temperature in the trays where lettuce grows in a controlled-environment farm in the town of Rio Hato, Panama. Vertical farms are beginning to catch on around the world, as a technique that boosts food security, in the face of the impacts of climate change. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Nelson Pérez monitors the water temperature in the trays where lettuce grows in a controlled-environment farm in the town of Rio Hato, Panama. Vertical farms are beginning to catch on around the world, as a technique that boosts food security, in the face of the impacts of climate change. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
RÍO HATO, Panama, Dec 5 2015 (IPS)

Infrared thermometer in hand, Nelson Pérez checks the water temperature in the trays where dozens of small lettuce plants are growing in a nutrient-rich liquid in this vertical farm in Panama.

The water, which contains calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and vitamins, must be kept at a steady 21 degrees Celsius, to obtain the best growth.

Pérez is the watchful carekeeper of the lettuce growing in trays in the controlled environment created by the Urban Farms company in the town of Río Hato, population 15,700, in the province of Coclé, some 125 km north of Panama City.

The vertical farm, the only one of its kind in Latin America, is an example of controlled-environment agriculture, a technology-based approach toward food production which often uses hydroponic methods. This kind of farming helps combat the effects of climate change on agriculture.

“Climate change has affected agricultural production,” said David Proenza, founder of Urban Farms. “So we saw a need to see what changes we could bring about, using technology.”

In 2010, Proenza heard about experiments with vertical farming in Asia and travelled to Japan, where he contacted researchers and members of the business community.

He brought the technique back to Panama, and he and his new partners decided to send an agronomist to be trained in Japan.

Until then, he was a conventional producer of watermelon and other crops.

“The farmer controls everything, from the seeds to the harvest,” he explained to IPS. “The idea is to produce and consume locally.”

Proenza set up a partnership with two other people, and receives guidance from an outside group. He employs two full-time and two temporary workers.

On his four-hectare property, Proenza dedicated a 12 by 17-square-metre space to setting up 60 hydroponic trays with a capacity for growing 30 to 36 plants each.

Hydroponics is a method of growing plants without soil, using mineral nutrient solutions in water.

After three days, the seeds are transplanted from the germination tray to the growing trays. Three weeks later the lettuce is picked, processed and packed for distribution to supermarkets.

The vertical farm produces some 2,000 heads of five different kinds of lettuce a month, without pesticides, preservatives or large extensions of land.

A computer programme controlled from a smartphone regulates the temperature of the room and the water, as well as the lighting and irrigation.

The low voltage grow lights, which stay on for 18 hours a day and cost 120 dollars each, produce red, yellow or blue light, each of which has a particular effect. The trays hold between 25 and 100 litres of water, depending on the size.

Controlled-environment agriculture encompasses vertical farms, urban gardens, and hydroponics.

Panama is highly vulnerable to climate change, exposed to intense storms, flooding, landslides and drought. The climate of this tropical Central American nation of four million people was previously divided into wet and dry seasons, but now the difference is less marked.

Río Hato is at one end of the Arco Seco or “dry arch”, an important area of food production for both export and domestic consumption.

Panama’s main crops are corn, rice, beans, melons, watermelons, oranges, bananas and coffee. Stockbreeding is also a key driver of the economy.

Agriculture accounts for around four percent of the country’s GDP.

Official statistics show that grain harvests have shrunk in 2014 and 2015, with the exception of corn, due to factors that experts blame on climate change.

The 2010 report “Panama: Effects of Climate Change on Agriculture”, produced by the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and other international bodies, stated that climate change would cause this country agricultural losses amounting to between four and seven percent of GDP by 2050 and between eight and nine percent by 2100.

Gustavo Ramírez, a professor with the Cuautitlán Higher Studies Faculty at the Autonomous National University of Mexico, said vertical farming is viable in Latin America, but policies to stimulate it are lacking.

“With this system you can make better use of space,” he told IPS. “In urban areas, there are abandoned buildings that could be put to use, and there is much more space in rural areas.”

In Río Hato, Proenza, who has invested over 70,000 dollars in the farm, has tried growing strawberries, cucumbers, chili peppers, melons and watermelons, with positive results.

Vertical farming is in vogue in the United States, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. An Association for Vertical Farming has been created, and groups companies, universities and individuals. It has offices in Canada, China, India and several European countries.

This farming method offers an alternative in cities around the world, and in impoverished rural areas where people still go hungry.

In cities like Buenos Aires, Mexico City or Santiago, rooftop gardens where people grow their own fresh produce are now common.

To foment the sharing of knowledge, Proenza created the Foundation for the Development of Controlled Environment Agriculture, which organised the International Congress on Controlled Environment Agriculture here in May, which drew more than 350 researchers, academics and farmers from around the world. The next edition is slated for 2017.

“Farmers earn three times more than in the countryside,” said Proenza. “Vertical farms are 30 percent less expensive than traditional farming, and 15 percent cheaper than greenhouses. The risk is minimal,” added the entrepreneur, whose initiative won the second National Prize for Business Innovation, granted by the National Secretariat on Science and Technology, in 2014.

His plan is to expand the vertical farm by 400 square metres, adding varieties of parsley, basil, coriander, arugula and strawberries.

Ramírez recommended that governments refocus their agricultural policies and rethink priorities. “Governments must show an interest, and should focus policies on exploring this technique. We need better planning for production, distribution and logistics,” he said.

The local and regional markets that would be developed through vertical farming would have “an enormous impact,” he said, but “seed capital and technological packages would be needed, based on our own model.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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