Inter Press Service » Food & Agriculture http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Thu, 02 Jul 2015 04:05:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.5 Poor Bear the Brunt of Corruption in India’s Food Distribution Systemhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/poor-bear-the-brunt-of-corruption-in-indias-food-distribution-system/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=poor-bear-the-brunt-of-corruption-in-indias-food-distribution-system http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/poor-bear-the-brunt-of-corruption-in-indias-food-distribution-system/#comments Wed, 01 Jul 2015 22:21:41 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141383 With a network of 60,000 ration shops, India’s public food distribution system is mired in corruption and inefficiency, leaving millions starving while tonnes of grain rot in storage. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

With a network of 60,000 ration shops, India’s public food distribution system is mired in corruption and inefficiency, leaving millions starving while tonnes of grain rot in storage. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Jul 1 2015 (IPS)

Chottey Lal, 43, a daily wage labourer at a construction site in NOIDA, a township in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, is a beleaguered man. After a gruelling 12-hour daily shift at the dusty location, he and his wife Subha make barely enough to feed a family of seven.

Nor is the couple ever able to procure the subsidized rations they are legally entitled to, under a government law, from their local fair price shop.

"I usually disappear at meal times from home, as it’s heart-wrenching to see so many people parcel out so little food among themselves. I now beg for food, though I live with my sons." -- Savirti, a 50-year-old woman who is cut off from India's public food distribution system
“Whenever we go to the outlet, we’re shooed away by the grocer saying stocks have run out. We end up buying expensive food from the market, which isn’t enough to feed the entire family. Everybody knows the shopkeeper is profiteering from selling grain on the black market. But what can we, the poor, do? We’ve complained at the local police station also, but no action has been taken against the vendor,” Lal told IPS.

Savirti, 50, and Kamla, 39, have a worse tale to share.

Both women, who are widows and live with their married sons, are dependent on their families for food and a roof over their heads. However, they have been reduced to beggary as the family income is meagre and the grain rations they receive from the fair price shops are barely enough to feed half the family.

“I usually disappear at meal times from home, as it’s heart-wrenching to see so many people parcel out so little food among themselves. I now beg for food, though I live with my sons,” Savitri told IPS.

Kamla similarly feels she “eats better outside the home than inside” due to strangers’ kindness.

Engulfed in corruption, leakages and inefficiency, India’s public food distribution system (PDS) – a network of about 60,000 fair price shops around this country of 1.2 billion people – is depriving millions of poor people of the food grain they are entitled to under the National Food Security Act (NFSA).

Essential commodities like rice, wheat, sugar, and kerosene are supposed to be supplied to the public through this network at a fraction of the market rates.

The NFSA aims to sustain two-thirds of the country’s population by providing 35 kg of subsidised food grains per person per month at one to three rupees (0.01 to 0.04 dollars) per kilo.

However, only 11 states and Union Territories (UTs) have so far implemented the law, which was passed by Parliament in September 2013. The rest of the 25 states or UTs have not implemented it yet.

To make matters worse, national surveys have highlighted how millions of tonnes of grain are siphoned off from the distribution system by unscrupulous merchants.

They sell this loot in the open market at high profits, or export it in collusion with corrupt officials from the state-run Food Corporation of India. Much of the food from the PDS is also diverted to neighbouring countries like Nepal, Burma, Bangladesh and Singapore.

A government study done in Uttar Pradesh found that numerous, competing agencies, poor coordination and low administrative accountability have combined to cripple the delivery mechanism.

The Justice D. P. Wadhwa Committee, which was tasked by the Supreme Court of India with monitoring its orders in a public interest litigation case on the right to food in 2006, recently came out with a damning indictment of the PDS.

Investigating irregularities in the chain’s distribution, the committee revealed that 80 percent of the corruption in distribution happens even before supplies reach the ration shops.

Worse, nearly 60 percent of the food that is channeled through the public distribution system is either wasted or siphoned off in transit. “What reaches the poor beneficiaries is often not even fit for consumption,” explains food expert Devinder Sharma who helms the New Delhi-based collective, Forum for Biotechnology & Food Security.

Malnourished kids run around outside a ration shop in India. The lettering on the side of the building is part of an advertisement by a multinational telecom company, peddling cheap phones in the country that hosts the world’s largest population of hungry people. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Malnourished kids run around outside a ration shop in India. The lettering on the side of the building is part of an advertisement by a multinational telecom company, peddling cheap phones in the country that hosts the world’s largest population of hungry people. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

This rampant and systemic abuse in the delivery chain augurs ill for a country like India, home to 194.6 million undernourished people, the highest in the world, according to the recent annual report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations.

The report states that the numbers translate as over 15 percent of the country’s population, exceeding China in both absolute numbers and the proportion of malnourished people in the country.

“Higher economic growth has not been fully translated into higher food consumption, let alone better diets overall, suggesting that the poor and hungry may have failed to benefit much from overall growth,” says the 2015 State of Food Insecurity in the World about India.

Close to 1.3 million children die every year in India because of malnutrition, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). The prevalence of underweight children in India is among the highest in the world, and is nearly double that of sub-Saharan Africa, with dire consequences for mobility, mortality, productivity and economic growth, states the WHO.

In a bid to tackle the problem of chronic hunger, the Shanta Kumar Committee, tasked with a review of the PDS in India, submitted a report to Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier this year, recommending a gradual phasing out of the PDS and a move to cash transfers.

The proposed cash transfer, according to the committee, will whittle down poor beneficiaries’ reliance on PDS ration shops. Some experts have buttressed this idea with the argument that dismantling the food procurement system, by providing coupons or food entitlements in the form of cash to the beneficiaries and allowing them to buy their own quota from the market, is a far more foolproof system.

The belief is that if the people are given the subsidy directly, both the government and the consumers will benefit.

Each year India’s granaries burst with bumper harvests of wheat and rice, but the grain is either pilfered by middlemen or allowed to rot in the rain while millions starve.

The government also incurs a huge expenditure on the food grains it supplies through the system. The leakage of food grains supplied to the PDS is as high as 48 percent, say surveys, and the buffer stocks it maintains are often far above the requirement, leading to huge costs on maintenance.

Ironically, the PDS is one of the largest programmes in India aimed at social welfare of the poor. Renowned economist Jean Drèze has argued that the impact on poverty reduction can be considerable if the PDS works efficiently.

Currently, close to 23 percent of India’s people live on less than 1.25 dollars a day – an arbitrary line that the Asian Development recently found to be an inadequate measure of poverty, suggesting that a line of 1.51 dollars would better reflect the sum required to keep a person at a minimum standard of existence.

Regardless of how extreme poverty is measured, it is clear that millions in this country are at, or very close, to, the point of starvation every single day.

Experts like Dr. Ravi Khetrapal, an agricultural scientist formerly with the Ministry of Food and Civil Supplies, believe the PDS to be an essential component of Indian society because the prevailing market prices for essential commodities are beyond the reach of the downtrodden.

“If the poor don’t access this network, they will starve to death,” he told IPS. “The network can play a more meaningful role if it is streamlined to ensure micro-level success and availability of food grains for all poor households.”

India has an impressive list of programmes to fight hunger, and the budget allocation for these is increased every year, and yet the poor go hungry. In fact, according to U.N. data, the number of impoverished people in the country is increasing with every passing year.

The answer does not lie in dismantling the PDS system, but reforming the world’s largest food delivery system to cleanse it of corruption, and make it more effective.

“This is certainly possible, but given the extent of political meddling – from the allotment of ration shops to transportation of grains – it has never been attempted in earnest. We need to build a system that ensures food for all at all times. This is what constitutes inclusive growth. A hungry population is a great economic loss,” Sharma told IPS.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Toilets with Piped Music for Rich, Open Defecation on Rail Tracks for Poorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/toilets-with-piped-music-for-rich-open-defecation-on-rail-tracks-for-poor/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=toilets-with-piped-music-for-rich-open-defecation-on-rail-tracks-for-poor http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/toilets-with-piped-music-for-rich-open-defecation-on-rail-tracks-for-poor/#comments Tue, 30 Jun 2015 21:34:08 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141368 Children investigate their community's newly improved toilets, one of UNOCI's “quick impact projects” (QIPS) which supported the rehabilitation of schools and toilets in Abidjan. Credit: UN Photo/Patricia Esteve

Children investigate their community's newly improved toilets, one of UNOCI's “quick impact projects” (QIPS) which supported the rehabilitation of schools and toilets in Abidjan. Credit: UN Photo/Patricia Esteve

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 30 2015 (IPS)

As most developing nations fall short of meeting their goals on sanitation, the world’s poorest countries have been lagging far behind, according to a new U.N. report released here.

The Joint Monitoring Programme report, ‘Progress on Sanitation and Drinking Water: 2015 Update and MDG Assessment’, authored by the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF and the World Health Organisation (WHO), says one in three people, or 2.4 billion worldwide, are still without sanitation facilities – including 946 million people who defecate in the open.“We cannot have another situation where we appear to be succeeding because the situation of the comparatively wealthy has improved, even as millions of people are still falling ill from dirty water or from environments that are contaminated with faeces." -- Tim Brewer of WaterAid

“What the data really show is the need to focus on inequalities as the only way to achieve sustainable progress,” said Sanjay Wijesekera, head of UNICEF’s global water, sanitation and hygiene programmes.

“The global model so far has been that the wealthiest move ahead first, and only when they have access do the poorest start catching up. If we are to reach universal access to sanitation by 2030, we need to ensure the poorest start making progress right away,” he said.

Pointing out the existing inequities, the report says progress on sanitation has been hampered by inadequate investments in behaviour change campaigns, lack of affordable products for the poor, and social norms which accept or even encourage open defecation.

Although some 2.1 billion people have gained access to improved sanitation since 1990, the world has missed the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target by nearly 700 million people.

Today, only 68 per cent of the world’s population uses an improved sanitation facility – 9 percentage points below the MDG target of 77 per cent.

Still, the world has made “spectacular progress” in water, Jeffrey O’Malley, Director, Data, at UNICEF’s Research and Policy Division, told reporters Tuesday.

In 2015, 91 percent of the global population used an improved drinking water source, up from 76 percent in 1990, while 6.6 billion people have access to improved drinking water.

The total without access globally is now 663 million, almost a 100 million fewer than last year’s estimate, and the first time the number has fallen below 700 million.

As the MDGs expire this year, the goal on water has been met overall, but with wide gaps remaining, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The goal on sanitation, however, has failed dramatically. At present rates of progress it would take 300 years for everyone in Sub-Saharan Africa to get access to a sanitary toilet, said the report.

Tim Brewer, Policy Analyst on Monitoring and Accountability at the London-based WaterAid, told IPS the MDG goal on water was met largely because of those who were easiest to reach.

“The poorest are often still being left behind. What we need to do in the new U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), now under negotiation, is to make sure that progress for the poorest is made the headline figure.”

“We cannot have another situation where we appear to be succeeding because the situation of the comparatively wealthy has improved, even as millions of people are still falling ill from dirty water or from environments that are contaminated with faeces,” he noted.

Brewer said monitoring is key: “We need to measure basic access for the poor, as well as measuring other indicators such as whether water is safe and affordable, and whether wastewater is safely treated.”

“This is the only way to make sure we reach everyone, everywhere by 2030 and hold governments accountable to their promises,” he argued.

In countries like Japan and South Korea, according to published reports, sanitation is far beyond a basic necessity: it has the trappings of luxury with piped in music, automatic flushing, and in some cases, scenic window views — even while millions in developing nations defecate openly in nearby rural jungles or on rail tracks (with their bowel movements apparently being coordinated with train schedules, according to a New York Times report.)

The practice of open defecation is also linked to a higher risk of stunting – or chronic malnutrition – which affects 161 million children worldwide, leaving them with irreversible physical and cognitive damage.

“To benefit human health it is vital to further accelerate progress on sanitation, particularly in rural and underserved areas,” says Dr Maria Neira, Director of the WHO Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health.

Asked if it would be realistic for sanitation goals to be rolled into the proposed SDGs with a target date of 2030, UNICEF’s Wijesekera told IPS that an even more ambitious sanitation target is suggested for the new SDG agenda – to eliminate open defecation and achieve universal access to sanitation.

“I think the goal of achieving universal access to sanitation by 2030 is possible, but only if we start focusing on the poorest and most vulnerable right now (rather than waiting for the wealthiest to gain access first, as has historically been the case).”

He said: “We can also learn from the successes of the past 25 years, and especially the last 15. A number of countries have made rapid gains during the MDG era.’

For example, he pointed out, Ethiopia has reduced open defecation rates by 64 percentage points and Thailand has closed the gap in access between the richest and the poorest.

This shows what is possible when countries recognise the importance of tackling inequalities in access to Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), thus unlocking wider benefits in health, nutrition, education and economic productivity, he noted.

Asked how the sanitation problem can be resolved, Wijesekera told IPS: “Sanitation is not rocket science; most developed countries take it for granted.”

“But our experience on the ground in developing countries shows that it is not just a question of governments investing money and technology. It is also about changing ordinary people’s attitudes and behaviours, and this takes time,” he said.

Sanitation can best be addressed by countries establishing and investing in people and systems at a local level to change people’s behaviours, and to get the private sector engaged in providing affordable and good quality products and services for the poor.

This, he said, needs to be led by countries themselves, and donors, international organisations and the private sector all have a role in providing financing and expertise.

He also said there is a growing awareness of the importance of sanitation as a foundation for human and economic development.

World leaders – from the U.N. Secretary-General, to the President of the World Bank, to the Prime Minister of India – are all talking about it.

“We need to translate this high level political support into action in order for all people to have access to what is theirs as a human right: clean drinking water and adequate sanitation,” said Wijesekera.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Opinion: “Slight Deceleration” in G20 Trade Restrictions but Continued Vigilance Neededhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-slight-deceleration-in-g20-trade-restrictions-but-continued-vigilance-needed/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-slight-deceleration-in-g20-trade-restrictions-but-continued-vigilance-needed http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-slight-deceleration-in-g20-trade-restrictions-but-continued-vigilance-needed/#comments Mon, 29 Jun 2015 06:43:56 +0000 Roberto Azevedo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141284

In this column, Roberto Azevêdo, sixth Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), writes that the continuing increase in the G20’s stock of new trade-restrictive measures since the financial crisis of 2008 remains of concern in the context of an uncertain global economic outlook; individually and collectively, he says, the G20 must show leadership and refrain from implementing new measures taken for protectionist purposes while removing existing ones.

By Roberto Azevêdo
GENEVA, Jun 29 2015 (IPS)

The latest report by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on G20 trade measures shows a slight deceleration in the application of new trade-restrictive measures by G20 economies, with the average number of such measures applied per month lower than at any time since 2013.

According to the thirteenth such WTO report, issued on Jun. 15, G20 economies had applied 119 new trade-restrictive measures since mid-October 2014, an average of 17 new measures per month over the period.

Roberto Azevêdo

Roberto Azevêdo

A slight decrease in the number of trade remedy investigations by G20 economies has also contributed to this overall figure.

But it is not yet clear that this deceleration will continue and the WTO calls on G20 leaders to show continued vigilance and reinforced determination towards eliminating existing trade restrictions.

The longer term trend remains one of concern, with the overall stock of trade-restrictive measures introduced by G20 economies since 2008 continuing to rise.

Of the 1,360 restrictions recorded by this exercise since 2008, less than one-quarter have been eliminated, leaving the total number of restrictive measures still in place at 1,031. Therefore, despite the G20 pledge to roll back any new protectionist measures, the stock of these measures has risen by over seven percent since the last report.

The broader international economic context also supports the need for continuing vigilance and action. According to the WTO’s most recent forecast (14 April 2015), growth in the volume of world merchandise trade should increase from 2.8 percent in 2014 to 3.3% percent 2015 and further to four percent in 2016, but remaining below historical averages.“The longer term trend [vis-à-vis protectionism] remains one of concern, with the overall stock of trade-restrictive measures introduced by G20 economies since 2008 continuing to rise”

The overall response to the 2008 financial crisis has been more muted than expected when compared with previous crises. The multilateral trading system has proved an effective backstop against protectionism.

During this period, G20 economies also continued to adopt measures aimed at facilitating trade, both temporary and permanent in nature.

These developments confirm that G20 economies overall have shown a degree of restraint in introducing new trade restrictions. However, it is not yet clear that the deceleration in the number of measures introduced will continue in future reporting periods. It is also relevant that the slow pace of removal of previous restrictions means that the overall stock of restrictive measures is continuing to increase.

The broader international economic context also supports the need for continuing vigilance and action.

Trends in world trade and output have remained mixed since the last monitoring report, as merchandise trade volumes and GDP growth picked up in the second half of 2014 but appear to have slowed in the first quarter of 2015.

Economic activity remained uneven across countries as the United States and China slowed in the first quarter, while growth in the Euro area and Japan picked up.

Plunging oil prices and strong exchange rate fluctuations, including an appreciation of the U.S. dollar and a depreciation of the Euro contributed uncertainty to the economic outlook.

Lower prices for oil and other primary commodities were expected to provide a boost to importing economies, but reduced export revenues weighed heavily on commodity exporters.

In light of these developments, our most recent forecast (14 April 2015) predicted a continued moderate expansion of trade in 2015 and 2016, although the pace of recovery was expected to remain below historical averages.

In the area of government procurement, work from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), identifying 65 measures implemented since the financial crisis, suggests that discriminatory government procurement policies have become increasingly popular and potentially affect 423 billion dollars of government procurement in the implementing economies.

This report shows that G20 economies implemented 48 new general economic support measures during the period under review, with the majority targeting the manufacturing and agricultural sectors through various incentive schemes, often, but not exclusively, in the context of exports.

The overall assessment of this thirteenth report on G20 trade measures is that the continuing
increase in the stock of new trade-restrictive measures recorded since 2008 remains of concern in the context of an uncertain global economic outlook.

Individually and collectively, the G20 must show leadership and deliver on the pledge to refrain from implementing new measures taken for protectionist purposes and to remove existing ones. (END/COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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Donors Pledge Over 4.4 Billion Dollars to Nepal – But With a Caveathttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/donors-pledge-over-4-4-billion-dollars-to-nepal-but-with-a-caveat/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=donors-pledge-over-4-4-billion-dollars-to-nepal-but-with-a-caveat http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/donors-pledge-over-4-4-billion-dollars-to-nepal-but-with-a-caveat/#comments Fri, 26 Jun 2015 20:24:40 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141332 Nepalese people carry UK aid shelter kits back to the remains of their homes, 10 days after the 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the country on 25 April 2015. Credit: Russell Watkins/DFID

Nepalese people carry UK aid shelter kits back to the remains of their homes, 10 days after the 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the country on 25 April 2015. Credit: Russell Watkins/DFID

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 26 2015 (IPS)

Blessed with more than 4.4 billion dollars in pledges at an international donor conference in Kathmandu on Thursday, the government of Nepal is expected to launch a massive reconstruction project to rebuild the earthquake-devastated South Asian nation.

But the pledges came with a caveat.“It is critical that the international community and Nepal learn from the mistakes of past emergencies, where up to half of pledges are never delivered on." -- Caroline Baudot of Oxfam

“While donors were generous, many of them strongly emphasised the need for Nepal to strengthen efficiency, transparency and accountability in handling international assistance,” Kul Chandra Gautam, a former deputy executive director of the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, told IPS..

“They also emphasised the need for political stability, early local elections and speedy completion of the long pending Constitution drafting process,” said Gautam, a native of Nepal and a former U.N. assistant secretary-general, who is based in Kathmandu.

A jubilant finance minister, Ram Sharan Mahat, told reporters the donors’ meeting, titled the International Conference on Nepal’s Reconstruction, was “a grand success”.

“The total pledge made today was 4.4 billion, which was more than expected… 2.2 billion in loans and 2.2 billion in grants,” he said.

India’s Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj pledged 1.0 billion dollars while China promised 3.0 billion yuan (483 million dollars) in assistance.

Additional pledges included 600 million from the Asian Development Bank, 260 million from Japan, 130 million from the U.S., 100 million from the European Union and 58 million from Britain, supplementing an earlier offer of up to 500 million dollars from the World Bank.

Nepal had a projected goal of 6.7 billion dollars for the next phase of rehabilitation and reconstruction of the destroyed infrastructure and services.

This was a rather conservative or realistic needs assessment, considering that the estimated loss and damage from the earthquake was over 7.0 billion dollars, and it usually costs more to “build back better” than just the replacement cost of the destroyed and damaged infrastructure, Gautam said.

It was understood, he pointed out, about one-third of the estimated needs would be met from national resources and two-thirds would come from donors.

Donors really opened their hearts for the suffering people of Nepal, he said.

“We were delighted that even small poor countries like neighbouring Bhutan and faraway Haiti were forthcoming with generous pledges of 1.0 million dollars each,” said Gautam.

The United Nations estimated that about eight million people – almost one-third of the population of Nepal – were affected by the earthquake in April, described as “the largest disaster the country has faced in almost a century.”

More than 8,600 people were reported to have died, and according to U.N. figures, more than 20,000 schools were completely or significantly damaged and about a million children and 126,000 pregnant women are estimated to have been affected.

Caroline Baudot, Oxfam’s Humanitarian Policy Adviser, told IPS the proposed investment provides Nepal with a golden opportunity to get people back on their feet and better prepared for the future.

“Now that pledges have been made, Oxfam is calling for communities to be consulted when the reconstruction plan is developed and implemented, continued attention to livelihoods and access to services, and that future disaster risks are reduced through reconstruction.”

She said donors and the Government of Nepal must now ensure there is a long-term plan which listens to communities – putting people at the center of the reconstruction process, which builds improved basic services like hospitals and ensures new buildings are safe and earthquake resilient.

“It is critical that the international community and Nepal learn from the mistakes of past emergencies, where up to half of pledges are never delivered on. Donors must make good on their promises and ensure the finance they have committed reaches those who need it,” said Baudot.

In a message to the conference, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Nepal has stood strong during this crisis.

“I commend the exceptional efforts of the country’s government and people – in particular the youth who have found new and innovative ways to help their country.”

He also said that the United Nations “stands ready to support the government and people of Nepal in this endeavor. I am confident that Nepal, with its resilient people will be able to recover from this devastating disaster.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Grenada Rebuilds Barrier Reefshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/grenada-rebuilds-barrier-reefs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=grenada-rebuilds-barrier-reefs http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/grenada-rebuilds-barrier-reefs/#comments Wed, 24 Jun 2015 16:46:16 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141280 Globally, 75 percent of coral reefs are under threat from overfishing, habitat destruction, pollution and acidification of the seas due to climate change. Credit: Bigstock

Globally, 75 percent of coral reefs are under threat from overfishing, habitat destruction, pollution and acidification of the seas due to climate change. Credit: Bigstock

By Desmond Brown
BASSETERRE, St. Kitts, Jun 24 2015 (IPS)

The Eastern Caribbean nation of Grenada is following the example of its bigger neighbours Belize and Jamaica in taking action to restore coral reefs, which serve as frontline barriers against storm waves.

Coral reefs also play an extremely important role in the Caribbean tourism economy, as well as in food production and food security, but they have been adversely affected by rising sea temperatures and pollution.“We will actually create coral nurseries where we will harvest live coral from some of the healthy colonies around the island." -- Kerricia Hobson

An assessment of the vulnerability of Grenada, conducted between September and October 2014, identified several areas that are particularly vulnerable that did not already have interventions. Two such areas were Grand Anse on mainland Grenada and the Windward community on the sister island Carriacou.

“What we will be doing through this project is actually establishing coral nurseries and this is the first time it will be done in the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS),” Kerricia Hobson, Project Manager in the Environment Division in Grenada’s Ministry of Agriculture, Lands, Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, told IPS.

“We will actually create coral nurseries where we will harvest live coral from some of the healthy colonies around the island. We will propagate them in the nursery and when they are sufficiently mature, we will plant them on existing reef structures.”

The reef restoration is being done jointly by the Government of Grenada and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) under the Coastal Eco-system Based Adaptation in Small Island Developing States (Coastal EBA Project).

Hobson spoke with IPS on the sidelines of a communication symposium to demystify the complexities of communicating on climate change and its related issues.

The June 18-19 symposium was held here under the OECS Rally the Region to Action on Climate Change (RRACC project), which is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Hobson noted that Grenada and its Caribbean neighbours get a lot of economic benefits from their coastal ecosystems, particularly through tourism and fisheries; and they also provide protection to the coastlines.

But she said a number of factors have led to the destruction of coral reefs.

“A lot of them are climate-related but some of them are the result of human activities. In the Caribbean we have a history of not recognising the importance of some of these structures,” she said.

“Like mangroves, with coral reefs some of the destruction is actually due to things like pollution which comes from land run-off. For example our agricultural sector, there is a tradition of farming close to water sources because it’s easier to get the water for your plants and your animals but it also means that when it rains all of the excess fertilizers and the faeces from your animals wash into the river and because we live on an island, five minutes after it rains these things end up on the reef.

“So what you end up having is a reef that is dominated by algae which overgrow the reefs,” Hobson explained.

Kerricia Hobson says Grenada is launching a coral reef restoration project, the first in the Eastern Caribbean. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Kerricia Hobson says Grenada is launching a coral reef restoration project, the first in the Eastern Caribbean. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

The findings of a three-year study by 90 international experts, released in 2014, said restoring parrotfish populations and improving other management strategies, such as protection from overfishing and excessive coastal pollution, can help reefs recover and even make them more resilient to future climate change impacts.

In Belize, live coral cover on shallow patch reefs has decreased from 80 percent in 1971 to 20 percent in 1996, with a further decline from the 20 percent in 1996 to 13 percent in 1999.

In 1980, Hurricane Allen – the worst storm to hit Jamaica in the past 100 years – smashed the reefs, decimating the ecosystem.

Globally, 75 percent of coral reefs are under threat from overfishing, habitat destruction, pollution and acidification of the seas due to climate change.

The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in its fifth assessment report on climate change impacts and adaptation, said that damage to coral reefs has implications for several key regional services.

It said coral reefs account for 10 to 12 percent of the fish caught in tropical countries, and 20 to 25 percent of the fish caught by developing nations.

Coral reefs contribute to protecting the shoreline from the destructive action of storm surges and cyclones, sheltering the only habitable land for several island nations, habitats suitable for the establishment and maintenance of mangroves and wetlands, as well as areas for recreational activities. The report noted that this role is threatened by future sea level rise, the decrease in coral cover, reduced rates of calcification, and higher rates of dissolution and bioerosion due to ocean warming and acidification.

In the tourism sector, the IPCC said more than 100 countries benefit from the recreational value provided by their coral reefs.

With the advent of climate change, Caribbean countries have been told they have to start acting now, since their future viability is based on their present responsibility.

Dr. Dale Rankine, a researcher at the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology (CIMH) in Barbados, said there are certain things countries have to start doing now, if they have not already started.

“One is mitigation, which is really to limit the amount of greenhouse gases. We have to lobby all the major emitters because collectively all of the small island states really emit very little. We have to pursue a green economy,” Rankine told IPS.

“Adaptation is also a major thing. For adaptation, we have to weigh the cost of action versus inaction right across the different sectors.

“Climate change is not an add-on. Some of the very things that are being advocated for climate change adaptation are the same things that we want to do for sustainable development. So it is not an add-on, it is really something that we can pursue whilst doing the same things but in a more sustainable manner,” he added.

Rankine also suggested that countries start embedding climate change considerations in all of their development planning and look at diversification in the agricultural sector “because some of the crops are just not going to survive in the future”.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Bougainville Election Intensifies Hopes for Independencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/bougainville-election-intensifies-hopes-for-independence/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bougainville-election-intensifies-hopes-for-independence http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/bougainville-election-intensifies-hopes-for-independence/#comments Wed, 24 Jun 2015 12:09:09 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141273 The northern town of Buka was the focus of attention when the newly elected third Autonomous Bougainville Government was inaugurated on Jun. 15. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

The northern town of Buka was the focus of attention when the newly elected third Autonomous Bougainville Government was inaugurated on Jun. 15. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
CANBERRA, Australia, Jun 24 2015 (IPS)

A referendum on independence within the next five years dominated campaigning in the recent general election held in Bougainville, an autonomous region of 300,000 people in the east of Papua New Guinea (PNG), which emerged from a decade-long civil war 15 years ago.

John Momis, a former Catholic priest who has been prominent in national politics for more than 40 years, was re-elected as president, acquiring 51,382 votes, well ahead of his nearest rival with 18,466.

“We are on the threshold of perhaps the most important and portentous five years in our history and to achieve all that is necessary in that period will require great unity, a tremendous sense of purpose, intense energy and an unwavering commitment to the course we intend to follow." -- John Momis, newly-elected president of Bougainville
He is Bougainville’s most experienced politician and peacetime leader and has won two of the three elections held since the formation of the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) in 2005.

“We are on the threshold of perhaps the most important and portentous five years in our history and to achieve all that is necessary in that period will require great unity, a tremendous sense of purpose, intense energy and an unwavering commitment to the course we intend to follow,” Momis stated during the inauguration ceremony of the new government in the northern town of Buka on Jun. 15.

For the majority of candidates and more than 172,000 enrolled voters, the referendum, provided for in the 2001 Bougainville Peace Agreement, symbolises their long held desire to reclaim political and economic control over the islands.

For more than a century, Bougainville was administered by Germany, Britain and then Australia before being incorporated into the state of Papua New Guinea upon its independence in 1975.

Then from 1989 to 1997 armed conflict erupted over grievances about inequity and environmental damage associated with the Panguna copper mine in Central Bougainville, operated by the Australian-owned Rio Tinto subsidiary, Bougainville Copper Ltd, which further entrenched indigenous resolve for autonomy.

More than 50 percent of the mine’s revenues of around two billion dollars from 1972 to 1989 were claimed by British mining giant, Rio Tinto, and 19.06 percent by the PNG Government. Now the people of Bougainville want ownership of the region’s development and its benefits.

Peter Arwin, a landowner in Central Bougainville, told IPS that he “would like to see the government entering into serious negotiations on referendum and eventual independence for Bougainville as this will give the landowners opportunity to take part in independent decisions over our resources.”

Women are adamant, too, that their voices will be heard in public debate and decision-making after they were successful in gaining four of the 39 parliamentary seats. Three of the 35 female candidates took reserved seats and a fourth, Josephine Getsi, won the open constituency of Peit in Buka.

Barbara Tanne, executive officer of the Bougainville Women’s Federation, said that the government must “focus on the path to achieving a peace at the end by addressing the three pillars of the peace agreement” by 2020, the date by which the referendum is to be held. These include good governance and successful disarmament.

Recent reports indicate that about 2,000 arms are still in the possession of communities and former militia groups and restoring unity across the region through post-conflict reconciliation remains an ongoing process.

From the grassroots to the elite, expectations of independence as the key to a better future and the improvement of people’s lives are immense and the incoming government has acknowledged the challenges.

“Since the late 1990s we have made progress in restoring health and education services destroyed during the conflict. But service standards are worse than before the conflict. The ABG [Autonomous Bougainville Government] must solve the problems faced by our people,” Momis declared during his inauguration speech.

An urgent priority is addressing high unemployment and illiteracy among youth who make up more than 50 percent of the population. Meanwhile an estimated 56 percent of people in Central Bougainville do not have access to safe drinking water, and hardship in families is being impacted by violence against women, worsened by untreated post-conflict trauma.

The first hurdle to surmount is, even with a majority yes vote at referendum, full self-government depends on a joint agreement with the PNG government that the conditions of the peace agreement have been met.

Fiscal self-reliance – crucial for delivering infrastructure and services – is another, with 89 percent of the Bougainville government’s revenues last year, totaling 312 million kina (114 million dollars), provided by the PNG Government and international donors.

Options debated by the region’s leaders for increasing government revenues include a return to mining and developing the agricultural industry.

Over the next half decade, the new autonomous government has much to live up to, most of all the people’s hopes and dreams of progress toward equality and inclusive development.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Young People Lend a Hand to Trinidad’s Ailing Watershedshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/young-people-lend-a-hand-to-trinidads-ailing-watersheds/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=young-people-lend-a-hand-to-trinidads-ailing-watersheds http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/young-people-lend-a-hand-to-trinidads-ailing-watersheds/#comments Tue, 23 Jun 2015 18:00:52 +0000 Jewel Fraser http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141258 Feast or famine: Just three years ago, flooding in Trinidad's capital of Port of Spain left residents little choice but to wade through the deluge. But lately drought has become a problem in the dry season. Credit: Peter Richards/IPS

Feast or famine: Just three years ago, flooding in Trinidad's capital of Port of Spain left residents little choice but to wade through the deluge. But lately drought has become a problem in the dry season. Credit: Peter Richards/IPS

By Jewel Fraser
PORT OF SPAIN, Jun 23 2015 (IPS)

Starting in 1999, the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) of Trinidad and Tobago began a 10-year effort to map the country’s water quality. They started to notice a worrying trend.

The watersheds in the western region of Trinidad had progressed from being of moderate quality in some places to being outright bad. By 2010, a survey of the country showed more than 20 per cent of the watersheds were in serious trouble.“By adopting these ecological measures to protect our river water supplies, we can reduce the need for more energy intensive and more costly measures of obtaining water such as desalination.” -- Dr. Natalie Boodram

“We have raised the alarm bell,” said senior hydrologist David Samm. ”WASA is concerned.”

WASA received a lot of bad press during the recently concluded dry season. Residents whose communities were roiled with protests almost weekly over lack of access to potable water vehemently criticised the agency while waving placards and publicly burning tyres.

WASA is the designated body responsible for all of Trinidad and Tobago’s water sources and supply.

But factors beyond its control, like climate change and climate variability, are significant contributors to the crisis.

“During the dry season we would have longer droughts so we will not have as much water for groundwater recharge,” explained Samm, adding, “there is more intense rainfall for a given time period and because of continued development we have more flooding problems during the rainy season.”

That has resulted in more surface runoff “and that water is being flushed through the watercourses and out to sea. Therefore, we have less recharge of our groundwater systems,” he explained.

He told IPS that 60 per cent of Trinidad and Tobago’s potable water comes from surface water sources.

There has also been major housing construction along the east-west corridor of Trinidad, he pointed out. “With climate change and the increase in impervious cover (due to urbanisation) the recharge of our groundwater system will be reduced,” Samm said. As well, “with urban growth, you see garbage in the rivers – refrigerators.”

The authority decided it needed to act to protect the health of the watersheds on which its water supply depends. It introduced the Adopt-A-River programme in the summer of 2013. Since its rollout, several of the country’s rivers have been adopted, including six of the most important, and there are 175 citizens working with the Adopt-A-River programme.

Though river adoption programmes are known in several states in the U.S., the programme in Trinidad and Tobago is among the first for the Caribbean.

WASA’s decision to focus on preserving ecosystems was a forward-looking approach to the issue of sustainably ensuring access to potable water for all, as evident from observations made in the Executive Summary of the United Nations World Water Development Report 2015. Commenting on the water situation worldwide the report states the following:

“Most economic models do not value the essential services provided by freshwater ecosystems, often leading to unsustainable use of water resources and ecosystem degradation. Pollution from untreated residential and industrial wastewater and agricultural run-off also weakens the capacity of ecosystems to provide water-related services.

“Ecosystems across the world, particularly wetlands, are in decline. Ecosystem services remain under-valued, under-recognized and under-utilized within most current economic and resource management approaches. A more holistic focus on ecosystems for water and development that maintains a beneficial mix between built and natural infrastructure can ensure that benefits are maximized.”

In keeping with the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals’ focus on reducing poverty and environmental degradation by helping communities to help themselves, the UNDP provided funds for one of Trinidad and Tobago’s Adopt-A-River participants

Through its Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Programme (SGP), the UNDP provides funds and technical support to civil society organisations working on “projects that conserve and restore the environment while enhancing people’s well-being and livelihoods at the community level.”

The Social Justice Foundation, which works in underdeveloped areas of Central and South Trinidad, received funding of just under 50,000 dollars from the SGP, which it matched with 65,000 dollars of its own money to sponsor an Adopt-A-River programme involving at-risk and disadvantaged youths in the communities of Siparia and Carlsen Field.

The programme ran for nine months from September 2014 to June 2015, during which time young people have been trained as eco-leaders and taught skills in water testing to monitor the health of the rivers in their communities, using La Motte test kits, as well as video production to record the work done.

They learned how to test for temperature, pH, alkalinity, turbidity, dissolved oxygen, phosphate and nitrate and to record the changes in these parameters over the nine months of the project.

Mark Rampersad, administrative manager at the Social Justice Foundation, told IPS that WASA’s Adopt-a-River unit “further refined the project’s scope and depth as well as facilitating the various seminars and workshops, which featured environmental awareness.”

The Caparo River in Central Trinidad and Coora River in South Trinidad were the two rivers adopted by the Social Justice Foundation for their Adopt-A-River initiative.

Though the programme has enjoyed some favourable response from communities and schools, corporate support for the programme has not been as great as the Adopt-A-River unit would have liked. However, Samm said, the unit has been successful in its Green Fund application and will be furthering its community outreach with the funds awarded.

Preserving the health of the rivers was also based on financial considerations, said Raj Gosine, WASA’s head of Water Resources. “It is very expensive to treat poor water quality, so WASA’s motive was also financial.”

“The key thing is to stress that we can all make a positive contribution,” Gosine added.

Along with water quality monitoring and public education, WASA’s Adopt-A-River programme includes reforestation and forest rehabilitation, as well as clean-up exercises.

Global Water Partnership-Caribbean’s Programme Manager Dr. Natalie Boodram told IPS, “Programmes like Adopt-A-River which encourage reforestation of watershed and riparian zones (i.e., areas along the bank of a river or watercourse) help protect water supplies by encouraging water infiltration as opposed to surface runoff.

“By adopting these ecological measures to protect our river water supplies, we can reduce the need for more energy intensive and more costly measures of obtaining water such as desalination.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: The Oceans Need the Spotlight Nowhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-the-oceans-need-the-spotlight-now/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-oceans-need-the-spotlight-now http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-the-oceans-need-the-spotlight-now/#comments Mon, 22 Jun 2015 11:10:30 +0000 Dr. Palitha Kohona http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141237

Dr. Palitha Kohona was co-chair of the U.N. Ad Hoc Open-ended Informal Working Group to study issues relating to the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction

By Dr. Palitha Kohona
COLOMBO, Jun 22 2015 (IPS)

The international community must focus its energies immediately on addressing the grave challenges confronting the oceans. With implications for global order and peace, the oceans are also becoming another arena for national rivalry.

Amb. Palitha Kohona. Credit: U.N. Photo/Mark Garten

Amb. Palitha Kohona. Credit: U.N. Photo/Mark Garten

The clouds of potential conflict gather on the horizon. The U.N. resolution adopted on June 19 confirms the urgency felt by the international community to take action.

His Holiness the Pope observed last week, “Oceans not only contain the bulk of our planet’s water supply, but also most of the immense variety of living creatures, many of them still unknown to us and threatened for various reasons. What is more, marine life in rivers, lakes, seas and oceans, which feeds a great part of the world’s population, is affected by uncontrolled fishing, leading to a drastic depletion of certain species… It is aggravated by the rise in temperature of the oceans.”

The oceans demand our attention for many reasons. In a world constantly hungering for ever more raw material and food, the oceans, which cover 71 percent of the globe, are estimated to contain approximately 24 trillion dollars of exploitable assets. Eighty-six million tonnes of fish were harvested from the oceans in 2013, providing 16 percent of humanity’s protein requirement. Fisheries generated over 200 million jobs.

However, unsustainable practices have decimated many fish species, increasing competition for the rest. The once prolific North Atlantic cod, the Pacific tuna and the South American anchovy fisheries have all but collapsed with disastrous socio-economic consequences.Increasingly the world's energy requirements, oil and gas from below the sea bed, as well as wind and wave power, come from the realm of the oceans, setting the stage for potentially explosive confrontations among states competing for energy sources.

Highly capitalised and subsidised distant water fleets engage in predatory fishing in foreign waters causing tensions which could escalate. In a striking development, the West African Sub Regional Fisheries Commission recently successfully asserted, before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), the responsibility of flag States to take necessary measures to prevent illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

Increasingly the world’s energy requirements, oil and gas from below the sea bed, as well as wind and wave power, come from the realm of the oceans, setting the stage for potentially explosive confrontations among states competing for energy sources. The sea bed could also provide many of the minerals required by strategic industries.

As these assets come within humanity’s technological reach, inadequately managed exploitation will cause damage to the ocean ecology and coastal areas, demonstrated dramatically by the BP Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. (Costing the company over 42.2 billion dollars).

Cross-border environmental damage could give rise to international conflicts. A proposal to seek an advisory opinion from the ICJ on responsibility for global warming and sea level rise was floated at the U.N. by Palau in 2013.

The oceans will also be at the centre of our efforts to address the looming threat of climate change. With ocean warming, fish species critically important to poor communities in the tropics are likely to migrate to more agreeable climes, aggravating poverty levels.

Coastal areas could be flooded and fresh water resources contaminated by tidal surges. Increasing ocean acidification and coral bleach could cause other devastating consequences, including to fragile coasts and fish breeding grounds.

The ocean is the biggest sink of greenhouse gases (GHGs). The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that the rapid increases in anthropogenic GHGs will aggravate ocean warming and the melting of the ice caps. Some small island groups might even disappear beneath the waves.

Scientists now believe that over 70 percent of anthropogenic GHGs generated since the turn of the 20th century were absorbed by the Indian Ocean which is likely to result in unpredictable consequences for the littoral states of the region, already struggling to emerge from poverty.

The increasing ferocity of natural phenomena, such as hurricanes and typhoons, will cause greater devastation as we witnessed in the cases of Katrina in the U.S. and the brutal Haiyan in the Philippines.

The socio-economic impacts of global warming and sea level rise on the multi-billion-dollar tourism industry (476 billion dollars in the U.S. alone) would be far reaching. All this could result in unmanageable environmental refugee flows. The enormous challenge of ocean warming and sea level rise alone would require nations to become more proactive on ocean affairs now.

The international community has, over the years, agreed on various mechanisms to address ocean-related issues. But these efforts remain largely uncoordinated and with the developments in science, lacunae are being identified progressively.

The most comprehensive of these endeavours is the laboriously negotiated Law of the Sea Convention (LOSC) of 1982. The LOSC, described as the constitution of the oceans by Ambassador Tommy Koh of Singapore, who presided over the final stages of the negotiations, details rules for the interactions of states with the oceans and with each other with regard to the oceans.

Although some important states such as the U.S., Israel, Venezuela and Turkey are not parties to the LOSC (it has 167 parties), much of its content is accepted as part of customary international law. It also provides a most comprehensive set of options for settling inter-state disputes relating to the seas and oceans, including the ITLOS, headquartered in Hamburg.

The LOSC established the Sea Bed Authority based in Kingston, Jamaica which now manages exploration and mining applications relating to the Area, the sea bed beyond national jurisdiction, and the U.N. Commission on the Continental Shelf before which many state parties have already successfully asserted claims to vast areas of their continental shelves.

With humanity’s knowledge of the oceans and seas expanding rapidly and the gaps in the LOSC becoming apparent, the international community in 1994 concluded the Implementing Agreement Relating to Part XI of the LOSC and in 1995, the Straddling Fish Stocks Agreement.

Additionally, the United Nations Environment Programme has put in place a number of regional arrangements, some in collaboration with other U.N. agencies such as the FAO and the IMO, for the conservation and sustainable use of marine resources, including fisheries.

The IMO itself has put in place detailed agreements and arrangements affecting the oceans and the seas in relation to shipping. The FAO has been instrumental in promoting regional mechanisms for the sustainable use of marine and coastal fisheries resources.

In 2012, the U.N. Secretary-General launched the Oceans Compact. States negotiating the Post-2015 Development Goals at the U.N. have acknowledged the vast and complex challenges confronting the oceans and have proceeded to highlight them in the context of a Sustainable Development Goal.

The majority of the international community now feel that the global arrangements for the sustainable use, conservation and benefit sharing of biological diversity beyond national jurisdiction need further strengthening. The negotiators of the LOSC were not fully conscious of the extent of the genetic resources of the deep. Ninety percent of the world’s living biomass is to be found in the oceans.

Today the genetic material, bio prospected, harvested or mined from the oceans is providing the basis for profound new discoveries pertaining to pharmaceuticals. Only a few countries possess the technical capability to conduct the relevant research, and even fewer the ability to convert the research into financially beneficial products. The international community’s concerns are reflected in the U.N. General Assembly resolution adopted on June 19.

Many developing countries are concerned that unless appropriate regulatory mechanisms are put in place now by the international community, the poor will be be shut out from the vast wealth, estimated at three billion dollars per year, expected to be generated from this new frontier. Over 4,000 new patents, the number growing at 12 percent a year based on such genetic material, were registered in 2013.

A U.N. working group, initially established back in 2006 to study the question of concluding a legally binding instrument on the conservation, sustainable use and benefit sharing of biological diversity beyond the national jurisdiction of states, and co-chaired by Sri Lanka and The Netherlands from 2009, submitted its report in January 2015, after years of difficult negotiations.

For nine years, consensus remained elusive. Certain major powers, including the U.S., Russia, Japan, Norway and the Republic of Korea held out, contending that the existing arrangements were sufficient. These are among the few which possess the technological capability to exploit the genetic resources of the deep and convert the research in to useful products.

The U.N. General Assembly is now expected to establish a preparatory committee in 2016 to make recommendations on an implementing instrument under UNCLOS. An intergovernmental conference is likely to be convened by the GA at its 72nd Session for this purpose.

The resulting mechanism is expected to complement the existing arrangements on biological genetic material under the FAO and the Convention on Biological Diversity (Nagoya Protocol) applicable to areas under national jurisdiction.

This ambitious U.N. process is likely to create a transparent regulatory mechanism facilitating technological and economic progress while ensuring equity.

A development with long term impact, especially since Rio+20, was the community of interests identified and strengthened between the G 77 and China and the EU with regard to the oceans.

Life originated in the primeval ocean. Humanity’s future may very well depend on how we care for it.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Takes First Step Towards Treaty to Curb Lawlessness in High Seashttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/u-n-takes-first-step-towards-treaty-to-curb-lawlessness-in-high-seas/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-takes-first-step-towards-treaty-to-curb-lawlessness-in-high-seas http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/u-n-takes-first-step-towards-treaty-to-curb-lawlessness-in-high-seas/#comments Fri, 19 Jun 2015 20:14:34 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141222 A turtle swims in a Marine Protected Area. Credit: Foreign and Commonwealth Office

A turtle swims in a Marine Protected Area. Credit: Foreign and Commonwealth Office

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 19 2015 (IPS)

The 193-member General Assembly adopted a resolution Friday aimed at drafting a legally binding international treaty for the conservation of marine biodiversity and to govern the mostly lawless high seas beyond national jurisdiction.

The resolution was the result of more than nine years of negotiations by an Ad Hoc Informal Working Group, which first met in 2006.“This groundbreaking decision puts us on a path toward having a legal framework in place that will allow for the comprehensive management of ocean areas beyond national jurisdiction.” -- Elizabeth Wilson

If and when the treaty is adopted, it will be the first global treaty to include conservation measures such as marine protected areas and reserves, environmental impact assessments, access to marine genetic resources and benefit sharing, capacity building and the transfer of marine technology.

The High Seas Alliance (HSA), a coalition of some 27 non-governmental organisations (NGOs), played a significant role in pushing for negotiations on the proposed treaty and has been campaigning for this resolution since 2011.

Asked if the treaty will be finalised by the targeted date of 2018, Elizabeth Wilson, director of international ocean policy at The Pew Charitable Trusts, a member of the HSA, told IPS: “Not exactly, although we do expect significant progress.”

The first round of formal negotiations is expected to take place in 2016 and continue through 2017.

The General Assembly will decide by September of 2018 on the convening of an intergovernmental conference to finalise the text of the agreement and set a start date for the conference.

Wilson said it is likely that the intergovernmental conference would then meet multiple times over approximately two years to accomplish this goal.

Asked how the treaty will change the current “lawlessness” in the high seas, Wilson said: “This groundbreaking decision puts us on a path toward having a legal framework in place that will allow for the comprehensive management of ocean areas beyond national jurisdiction.”

Today, she pointed out, the high seas are governed by a patchwork of inadequate international, regional, and sectorial agreements and organisations.

A new treaty would help to organise and coordinate conservation and management. That includes the ability to create fully protected marine reserves that are closed off to harmful activities. Right now there is no way to arrange for such legally binding protections, she added.

Sofia Tsenikli of Greenpeace said: “The high seas accounts for nearly half our planet – the half that has been left without law or protection for far too long. A global network of marine reserves is urgently needed to bring life back into the ocean – this new treaty should make that happen.”

In a statement released Friday, the HSA said the resolution follows the Rio+20 conference in 2012 where Heads of State committed to address high seas protection.

The conference came close to agreeing to a new treaty then, but was prevented from doing so by a few governments which have remained in opposition to a Treaty ever since.

Asked about the significant difference between the 1982 landmark Law of the Sea Treaty and the proposed high seas treaty, Wilson told IPS the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which is recognised as the “constitution” for global ocean governance, has a broad scope and does not contain the detailed provisions necessary to address specific activities, nor does it establish a management mechanism and rules for biodiversity protection in the high seas.

Since the adoption of UNCLOS in 1982, there have been two subsequent implementing agreements to address gaps and other areas that were not sufficiently covered under UNCLOS, one related to seabed mining and the other related to straddling and highly migratory fish stocks, she added.

This new agreement will be the third implementing agreement developed under UNCLOS, Wilson said.

According to HSA, Friday’s resolution stresses “the need for the comprehensive global regime to better address the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction.”

It allows for a two-year preparatory process (PrepCom) to consider the elements that could comprise the treaty.

This will begin in 2016 and culminate by the end of 2017, with a decision whether to convene a formal treaty negotiating conference in 2018.

The “high seas” is the ocean beyond any country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) ‑ amounting to 64 percent of the ocean ‑ and the ocean seabed that lies beyond the continental shelf of any country, according to a background briefing released by the HSA.

These areas make up nearly 50 percent of the surface of the Earth and include some of the most environmentally important, critically threatened and least protected ecosystems on the planet.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Farmers Find their Voice Through Radio in the Badlands of Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/farmers-find-their-voice-through-radio-in-the-badlands-of-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=farmers-find-their-voice-through-radio-in-the-badlands-of-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/farmers-find-their-voice-through-radio-in-the-badlands-of-india/#comments Fri, 19 Jun 2015 05:57:18 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141212 Radio Bundelkhand, based in central India, has about 250,000 listeners, of whom 99 percent are farmers. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Radio Bundelkhand, based in central India, has about 250,000 listeners, of whom 99 percent are farmers. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
TIKAMGARH, India, Jun 19 2015 (IPS)

Eighty-year-old Chenabai Kushwaha sits on a charpoy under a neem tree in the village of Chitawar, located in the Tikamgarh district in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, staring intently at a dictaphone.

“Please sing a song for us,” urges the woman holding the voice recorder. Kushwaha obliges with a melancholy tune about an eight-year-old girl begging her father not to give her away in marriage.

“The radio station is by, of and for the people of this region." -- Naheda Yusuf, head of Radio Bundelkhand
The melody melts into the summer air, and the motley crowd that has gathered around the tree falls silent.

“Thanks for so much for singing to ‘Radio Bundelkhand’,” says Ekta Kari, a reporter-producer at the community radio station based in this predominantly farming district, before switching off the device.

With a listenership of some 250,000 people spread across over a dozen villages in Bundelkhand, an agricultural region split between the states of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, the station is lifting up some of India’s most beaten down communities by getting their voices out on the airwaves and bearing good tidings in a place long accustomed to nothing but bad news.

Endless hardships

Some 18.3 million people occupy this vast region. The majority of them are farmers, and the list of hardships they face on a daily basis is endless.

According to the Planning Commission of India, a loss of soil fertility caused by erratic weather, coupled with severe depletion of the groundwater table, has made life extremely hard for those who work the land.

Crop losses due to unseasonal rains and recurring heat waves have also become common over the last decade. Last year, a majority of farmers lost over half of their winter crop due to unexpected heavy rains.

Two out of every three farmers interviewed by IPS concurred that extreme weather has made farming, already a backbreaking occupation, something of a nightmare in these parts.

Recurring droughts between 2003 and 2010 forced many people to abandon traditional mixed cropping of millets and pulses and switch to mono-cultures like wheat, which require heavy inputs.

NGOs have also pointed to unequal land distribution policies in the region as a major cause of farmers’ strife, with millions of families unable to practice anything beyond very small-scale, subsistence agriculture given the paltry size of their plots.

Earlier this year, plagued by poor weather, miserable harvests and alleged apathy to their plight by both state and federal government bodies, scores of starving and debt-ridden farmers threw in the towel.

In the first two weeks of March, roughly a dozen farmers in Bundelkhand had committed suicide.

This follows a pattern in the region that speaks to the desperation these rural communities face – according to India’s National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 3,000 farmers in Bundelkhand committed suicide between 1995 and 2012.

While this represents only a fraction of all suicides across the country’s agricultural belt, which is now approaching 300,000, Bundelkhand’s death toll is no trifling number.

Given this harsh reality, an outsider might find it hard to fathom how an intervention as simple as a community radio station could make a difference. But for the listeners who toil here daily, the radio has become something of a lifeline.

“Our station, our issues”

Naheda Yusuf, a senior programme manager at the Delhi-based media non-profit Development Alternatives, which helped launch Radio Bundelkhand back in 2008, tells IPS that 99 percent of the listeners are farmers.

Although the villages that make up the bulk of the audience lie in different states, they all fall into the larger Bundelkhand region and so share a distinct culture, traditions and dialect.

“The radio station is by, of and for the people of this region,” Yusuf explains. “It connects with them in their Bundeli dialect, and provides information on issues that concern them.”

Over 75 percent of the shows are dedicated to agricultural issues including farming techniques, pest control practices, market prices, weather forecasts, and climate change updates.

While some of the information is sourced daily from government agencies like the departments of agriculture and meteorology, most of it comes from six reporter-producers who interact directly with the community to gather news and views most relevant to their listeners.

Every day, each of them produces at least one live show, during which the audience is asked to call in with their questions and comments.

“It’s your show,” one commentator announces on the air, “so if you don’t share your opinions, we can’t get it right.”

One of the most popular shows on Radio Bundelkhand is ‘Shuv Kal’ meaning good tomorrow. Its central theme is climate change and its effect on the farming community.

One of the show’s two producers, Gauri Sharma, says they discuss water access, deforestation and solar energy. They also pay homage to the river Betwa, a tributary of the Yamuna that waters these lands, and encourages farmers not to waste the precious resource.

“We discuss planting trees around the farms, so excess water from irrigation pumps can be utilised,” Sharma tells IPS. “We also spread awareness about renewable energy.”

The response from the audience has been encouraging, she adds, especially among the youth who call and write in to share how the station has shaped their practices.

In one such letter, an 18-year-old farmer from the village of Tafarian shared that he had “planted 22 fruit trees around his farm, stopped using polythene and begun vermicomposting” as a result of listening to the show.

Portable, affordable, accessible

Another listener, Jayanti Bai of Vaswan village, says the radio station literally saved her entire crop. “The leaves of my okra plants were turning yellow,” she tells IPS. “Then I heard of a medicine on the radio, which I sprayed on the leaves – it saved me.”

She now wants to buy a radio for the entire community and tie it to a tree so the women in her neighbourhood can listen to it together. It will take some saving – the most popular device used here costs about 1,000 rupees (about 15 dollars) and that is more than she can afford in one go.

But in a region that experiences eight to 10 hours of power cuts a day, and where only 48 percent of the female population and just over 70 percent of the male population is literate, a radio is a far more viable option than a television, or newspapers.

Farmers also tell IPS a radio’s portability makes it a more attractive choice since it can be taken to “work” – meaning carried into the fields and played loud enough for workers to hear as they go about their tasks.

Because the station caters to a largely female audience, it tackles issues that are particularly relevant to women listeners. One of these is the question of suicide, which many women see as a male phenomenon.

“Have you ever heard of a woman farmer committing suicide?” asks 46-year-old Ramkumari Napet, of Baswan village. “It is because she thinks, ‘What will happen to my children when I am gone?’”

Women contend that men require more help in understanding their relationships both to themselves and their families. And indeed, the radio station is helping them determine these blurry lines.

“Last week an anonymous caller said his brother was thinking of committing suicide,” Sharma tells IPS. “He [the caller] said he was going to try to talk his brother out of it.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Donor Conference to Tackle Nepal Reconstructionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/donor-conference-to-tackle-nepal-reconstruction/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=donor-conference-to-tackle-nepal-reconstruction http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/donor-conference-to-tackle-nepal-reconstruction/#comments Wed, 17 Jun 2015 22:32:09 +0000 Zhai Yun Tan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141188 A family stands beside a damaged house near Naglebhare, Nepal. The housing sector bore the brunt of the April earthquake, accounting for three-fifths of all damages. Credit: Asian Development Bank/CC-BY-2.0

A family stands beside a damaged house near Naglebhare, Nepal. The housing sector bore the brunt of the April earthquake, accounting for three-fifths of all damages. Credit: Asian Development Bank/CC-BY-2.0

By Zhai Yun Tan
WASHINGTON, Jun 17 2015 (IPS)

The 7.8 magnitude earthquake that shook Nepal in April, and the numerous aftershocks that followed, left the country with losses amounting to a third of its economy.

As this South Asian nation of 27 million people struggles to get back on its feet, a major donor conference scheduled for Jun. 25 promises to bring some relief, but the extent of the disaster means that Nepal will be dealing with the fallout from the quake for a long time to come.

“The economy of Nepal took a huge hit from these earthquakes and there is a danger that many of the country’s impressive gains in overcoming poverty could be reversed." -- Annette Dixon, vice president for the South Asia Region at the World Bank
The country’s post-disaster needs assessment reported damages of 5.15 billion dollars, losses of 1.9 billion dollars and recovery needs of 6.6 billion dollars. The housing sector bore the brunt of the disaster, accounting for three-fifths of the damages and half of the country’s most pressing needs.

Nepal Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat has called this the worst disaster in Nepal’s history. Over 8,000 lives were lost, 22,000 people were injured and over 1,000 health facilities were destroyed, according to government data.

“One in three Nepali people have been affected by the earthquakes. One in 10 has been rendered homeless,” the foreign minister said. “Half a million households have lost their livelihoods, mostly poor, subsistence farmers.”

An additional three percent of the population, which amounts to roughly a million people, has been pushed into poverty because of this disaster, according to the World Bank.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said on its website that 8.1 million people are in need of humanitarian support and 1.9 million require food assistance.

Only 129 million dollars of the 422-million-dollar humanitarian appeal by United Nations have been raised.

Nepal, a developing country saddled with debts up to 30 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) and dependent on external aid, had nonetheless been making developmental and economic gains before the disaster struck.

For instance, government data indicate that the percentage of people living in poverty fell from 42 percent to 23.8 percent within the last 20 years.

“The disaster has dealt a severe blow to our aspirations,” Mahat said.

The donor conference later this month, to be held in Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, is expected to tackle strategies for reconstruction and the provision of financial support.

“The economy of Nepal took a huge hit from these earthquakes and there is a danger that many of the country’s impressive gains in overcoming poverty could be reversed,” said Annette Dixon, vice president for the South Asia Region at the World Bank.

“The country needs resources to pay for the recovery that can be channeled through credible programmes to make itself more resilient to the next natural disaster and ensure that those most in need receive the help they deserve.”

The conference will be jointly conducted by the Nepal government, the Asian Development Bank, the European Union, the government of India, the Japan International Cooperation Agency, the United Nations and the World Bank.

More challenges lie ahead for Nepal as the annual monsoon season approaches, potentially displacing thousands more people. Charity groups such as CARE are scrambling to provide iron sheeting to households and those in temporary shelters to keep them dry, according to the group’s recent update.

“Our biggest priority now is to make sure we get people through the monsoon safe and dry,” said CARE shelter expert Tom Newby in the Jun. 5 release. “Families want to know how to rebuild their homes safer and better and our job is to help them do this.”

Orla Fagan, public information officer at OCHA’s Asia Pacific regional office, said in an email to IPS that providing shelter is a key concern.

“There were around 500,000 families affected and left without homes after the two earthquakes,” Fagan said, adding that greater relief efforts are needed before the country can move on to reconstruction.

Rupa Joshi, communications manager for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Nepal, is concerned about the country’s fragile hillsides.

“The monsoon is already upon us,” Joshi said in an email to IPS. “We feel when the rain comes in, or pour like it did last week in eastern Nepal, our mountains will see numerous large landslides.”

Agencies like UNICEF and the World Food Programme (WFP) are working to help children return to school, provide safe birth-centers and deliver food to people in Nepal’s hard-to-reach mountainous areas.

Meanwhile, groups like Jubilee USA Network, an alliance of over 75 U.S.-based NGOs and 400 faith communities, are fighting to help Nepal obtain debt relief from the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), to which Nepal owes about 54 million dollars.

“The country pays 600,000 dollars a day [to its creditors],” Eric LeCompte, executive director of the coalition, told IPS. “It is a significant amount that can be freed up for relief efforts.”

Nepal could also qualify for assistance under the IMF’s Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust (CCR), which aims to relieve debt burdens of low-income countries like Nepal.

To qualify for the trust, Nepal will have to demonstrate that the natural disaster has directly affected at least one third of its population and destroyed more than a quarter of its productive capacity.

Jubilee USA Network has succeeded in securing similar debt-relief schemes for several Ebola-stricken countries by applying pressure on the IMF.

LeCompte said the Jun. 25 conference is crucial for Nepal.

“The Nepal government is expected to ask for debt relief at the conference,” LeCompte said. “It will push the decision-making process onto the banks.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Industrial Fisheries Crowd out Artisanal Fisherpersons in South Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/industrial-fisheries-crowd-out-artisanal-fisherpersons-in-south-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=industrial-fisheries-crowd-out-artisanal-fisherpersons-in-south-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/industrial-fisheries-crowd-out-artisanal-fisherpersons-in-south-america/#comments Wed, 17 Jun 2015 20:00:55 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141184 Small-scale fishermen who belong to the National Council for the Defence of Artisanal Fishing (CONDEPP) protest in Santiago against the fisheries law, which they say has left 90 percent of artisanal fishers without fish. The white-haired man in the middle is the organisation’s leader, Gino Bavestrello. Credit: Claudio Riquelme/IPS

Small-scale fishermen who belong to the National Council for the Defence of Artisanal Fishing (CONDEPP) protest in Santiago against the fisheries law, which they say has left 90 percent of artisanal fishers without fish. The white-haired man in the middle is the organisation’s leader, Gino Bavestrello. Credit: Claudio Riquelme/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Jun 17 2015 (IPS)

Millions of families on South America’s Pacific coast have long depended on artisanal fishing for a living. But they have been increasingly being pushed aside by the industrial fisheries that have made this region a major player in the global seafood industry.

“Fishing is part of the most ancient history of the Americas,” social anthropologist Juan Carlos Skewes told IPS. “Both on land and along the coasts and rivers it provided sustenance for many (indigenous) peoples, including those whose nomadic lives revolved around the sea.”

In Latin America and the Caribbean there are over two million small-scale fisherpersons who generate some three billion dollars a year in revenues, according to the Latin American Organisation for Fisheries Development (OLDEPESCA).

Three of the world’s large marine ecosystems are found along South America’s coasts.

The main one is the Humboldt Current. It flows north along the west coast of South America, from the southern tip of Chile, past Ecuador, to northern Peru, creating one of the world’s most productive marine ecosystems with approximately 20 percent of the world’s fish catch, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

Other important ecosystems in the region – but in the Atlantic Ocean – are the Patagonian Shelf along the coasts of Argentina and Uruguay, and the South Brazil Shelf.

Despite the enormous diversity of species and ecosystems, production and trade flows in the region are dominated by a handful of countries: Peru, Chile, Mexico, Argentina and Brazil, which together and in that order account for 90 percent of the region’s catch, with a total combined production of 18 million tons a year.

Fishing and aquaculture have made a major contribution to the wellbeing and prosperity of the people living in South America’s coastal areas, who for centuries depended on them for a living and for highly nutritional food.

“In the pre-Hispanic world fishing was an essential tool for the existence of humankind and it also provided a link with nature,” Skewes said.

But the voracious large-scale fishing industry poses a threat to this way of life.

This is exemplified by 57-year-old Gino Bavestrello, a small-scale Chilean fisherman from the coastal town of Corral, near Valdivia, some 800 km south of Santiago. He has worked out at sea since as far back as he can remember, and he is both the son and the father of fishermen.

“I’ve been an artisanal fisherman all my life,” he told IPS with emotion in his voice. “My father was also a scuba diver; 30 years ago he found the mast of the (Chilean corvette) Esmeralda,” which sank during the War of the Pacific (1879-1883).

But for the last two months Bavestrello, the head of the National Council for the Defence of Artisanal Fishing (CONDEPP), has not gone out to sea. His energy is focused on a greater good: the repeal of the controversial fisheries law.

Artisanal fishing, which is facing a number of threats, has long provided food and a livelihood to millions of fisherpersons in South America like these small-scale fishers in the town of Duao on the southern coast of Chile, who make a living selling their daily catch at informal markets on the beach itself. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Artisanal fishing, which is facing a number of threats, has long provided food and a livelihood to millions of fisherpersons in South America like these small-scale fishers in the town of Duao on the southern coast of Chile, who make a living selling their daily catch at informal markets on the beach itself. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The law, in force since 2013, was promoted by the government of right-wing former president Sebastián Piñera (2010-2014) and grants fishing concessions for 20 years, renewable for another 20.

Small-scale fishermen complain that the law further concentrates the activity in the hands of large-scale commercial fishing interests, because large companies can receive fishing rights in perpetuity, which can be passed from one generation to the next.

The legislation also directly threatens marine life, and thus the livelihoods of small-scale fisherpersons.

In addition, there have been irregularities, as a recent judicial investigation showed. It found that the fishing corporation Corpesca, which controls 51.5 percent of the Chilean market, had paid bribes to members of the Senate fishing commission before it approved the fisheries act.

“What is happening is an extremely serious problem for us,” Bavestrello said. “For two months we haven’t brought in any income. We have organised soup kitchens and thanks to people who have constantly helped us, we have been able to feed our families.

“What we’re doing now is selling firewood, and we’ve fallen to the level of illegal practices, such as cutting down native trees,” he admitted.

“This law needs to be modified soon. We fishermen can’t continue to face these conditions. The aim of the law is to kill us,” he asserted.

CONDEPP spokesman Juan Carlos Quezada told IPS that the fishing law not only privatised marine resources, but also undermined the rights of small-scale fishermen.

“Ninety percent of artisanal fisherpersons have been left without fish catch quotas,” because concessions and quotas were only assigned to industrial fisheries and shipowners, he said.

“Artisanal fisherworkers who used to have quotas and used to fish were left without rights and a lot of them as a result had no work,” he complained.

“Because of that they have had to find other work, and the great majority are taking jobs as paid crew hired by medium-scale owners of several boats.”

The unfair competition between artisanal and industrial fishers is part of a complex crisis where ecological sustainability is also at risk in South America.

One example of this is Peru, where the Argentine oil company Pluspetrol has polluted rivers and lake Shanshacocha in the Amazon rainforest. Consequently, the fish catch has been reduced by nearly 50 percent in the lake.

The scarcity of the Peruvian anchoveta is now endangering exports of fish meal and oil, two of Peru’s main exports.

In Colombia, meanwhile, a study by the National University’s Biology Group found up to three times less fish today in the country’s waters than in the 1970s.

“Industrial scale fishing in the region has increasingly put pressure on artisanal fishers,” said Skewes.

“Currently we’re seeing a scenario where big industrial producers have taken over a major part of not only the ocean but the fish stocks,” he said.

This situation “has pushed small-scale artisanal fishers to find ways to get by, which are starting to complicate the survival of the ecosystem.”

The damage has been suffered by low-income people who have begun to work in other areas of production – which has made the problem invisible from a social point of view, he added.

But many small-scale fishers continue to fight for their rights and their livelihoods.

“Today we are fighting against the poverty facing artisanal fishers, who made a living from natural resources and brought these resources to the rest of the population, boosting food sovereignty,” said Bavestrello.

“We fish for a living while industrial-scale fishing interests fish to make profits,” he said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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From Residents to Rangers: Local Communities Take Lead on Mangrove Conservation in Sri Lankahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/from-residents-to-rangers-local-communities-take-lead-on-mangrove-conservation-in-sri-lanka/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=from-residents-to-rangers-local-communities-take-lead-on-mangrove-conservation-in-sri-lanka http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/from-residents-to-rangers-local-communities-take-lead-on-mangrove-conservation-in-sri-lanka/#comments Wed, 17 Jun 2015 17:24:57 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141176 Young mangrove plants tended by women beneficiaries from the Small Fishers Federation of Lanka have helped the Puttalam Lagoon regain some of its lost natural glory. The success of the programme has prompted the government to support an island-wide project worth 3.4 million dollars. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Young mangrove plants tended by women beneficiaries from the Small Fishers Federation of Lanka have helped the Puttalam Lagoon regain some of its lost natural glory. The success of the programme has prompted the government to support an island-wide project worth 3.4 million dollars. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
KALPITIYA, Sri Lanka, Jun 17 2015 (IPS)

Weekends and public holidays are deadly for one of Sri Lanka’s most delicate ecosystems – that is when the island’s 8,815 hectares of mangroves come under threat.

“The mangroves are a part of our life, our culture. We destroy them, we destroy ourselves.” -- Douglas Thisera, also known as Sri Lanka's Mangrove Master
With public officials, forest rangers and NGO workers on holiday, no one is around to enforce conservation laws designed to protect these endangered zones. Except the locals, that is.

Residents of the Kalpitiya Peninsula in the northwest Puttalam District are no strangers to the wanton destruction of the area’s natural bounty. Kalpitiya is home to the largest mangrove block in Sri Lanka, the Puttalam Lagoon, as well as smaller mangrove systems on the shores of the Chilaw Lagoon, 150 km north of the capital, Colombo.

For centuries these complex wetlands have protected fisher communities against storms and sea-surges, while the forests’ underwater root system has nurtured nurseries and feeding grounds for scores of aquatic species.

Perhaps more important, in a country still living with the ghosts of the 2004 Asian Tsunami, mangroves have been found to be a coastline’s best defense against tidal waves and tsunamis.

Many poor fisher families in western Sri Lanka also rely heavily on mangroves for sustenance, with generation after generation deriving protein sources from the rich waters or sustainably harvesting the forests’ many by-products.

But in Sri Lanka today, as elsewhere in the world, mangroves face a range of risks. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) says that the unique ecosystems, capable of storing up to 1,000 tonnes of carbon per hectare in their biomass, are being felled at three to five times the rate of other forests.

Over a quarter of the world’s mangrove cover has already been irrevocably destroyed, driven by aquaculture, agriculture, unplanned and unsustainable coastal development and over-use of resources.

On the west coast of Sri Lanka, despite government’s pledges to protect the country’s remaining forests, the covert clearing of mangroves continues – albeit at a slower rate than in the past.

But a small army of land defenders, newly formed and highly dedicated, is promising to turn this tide.

Douglas Thisera, better known as the Mangrove Master, has spent the last two-and-a-half decades protecting the mangroves of Sri Lanka’s northwest Puttalam District. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Douglas Thisera, better known as the Mangrove Master, has spent the last two-and-a-half decades protecting the mangroves of Sri Lanka’s northwest Puttalam District. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

When residents become rangers

They call him the ‘Mangrove Master’, but his real name is Douglas Thisera. A fisherman turned vigilante, he is the director for conservation at the Small Fisheries Foundation of Lanka (Sudeesa) and spends his days patrolling every nook of the Chilaw Lagoon for signs of illegal destruction.

Massive Boost for Mangroves

Last month, the Sudeesa programme received a massive boost from the U.S.-based NGO Seacology to expand its operations island-wide. The Sri Lankan government also signed on as a major partner for the five-year, 3.4-million-dollar mangrove protection scheme.

The project will use Sudeesa’s original initiative as a blueprint to pair conservation with livelihood prospects on a much larger scale.

The plan is to provide assistance to over 15,000 persons, half of them widows and the rest school dropouts, living close to Sri Lanka’s 48 lagoons where mangroves thrive.

There will be 1,500 community groups who will look after the mangroves and also plant 3,000 hectares’ worth of saplings.

In a further boost to conservationists, on May 11 the Sri Lankan government declared mangroves as protected areas, bringing them under the Forest Ordinance.

The move now makes commercial use of mangroves illegal, and the government has pledged to provide forest officials for patrols and other members of the armed forces for replanting programmes.

This is a huge step away from previous governments' policies and reflects a commitment from the newly-elected administration to conservation and sustainability - both priorities at the international level as the United Nations moves towards a pot-2015 development agenda.

“We can dream big now,” says the Mangrove Master, scanning the horizon.
He has been replanting and conserving mangroves since 1992, so he knows these forests – and its enemies – like the back of his hand.

“Suddenly we will see earth movers and other machinery clearing large tracts of mangroves – by the time pubic officials are alerted, the destruction is already done,” he tells IPS.

This pattern follows decades of state-sanctioned deforestation that began in the early 90s, when an aggressive government-backed prawn-farming scheme was taking root around the lagoon and private corporations as well as politically-linked business enterprises were eyeing and clearing the mangroves indiscriminately.

For years Thisera tried to draft the local community into conservation efforts, but they were up against a Goliath.

He recalls one instance, back in 1994, when a powerful politician cleared a 150-metre stretch of forest almost overnight. “We were helpless then, we did not have the organisational capacity to take on such figures.”

By 2012, prawn farming, salt panning, solid waste disposal and hotel construction for the country’s thriving tourist sector had conspired to cut Sri Lanka’s mangrove cover by 80 percent, according to some estimates.

Today, under the aegis of a major mangrove conservation programme in the region, Thisera not only has financial backing for his efforts – he has a network of residents just as dedicated to the task as he is.

The project is led by Sudeesa, whose chairman, Anuradha Wickramasinghe, believed that only “community-based” action could hope to save the disappearing forests.

But this was easier said than done.

Poverty stalks the population of Sri Lanka’s northwest coast, and the most recent government statistics indicate that the average income among fisher families is just 16 dollars a month, with 53 percent of the population here living below the national poverty line.

Unemployment is roughly 20 percent higher than the island-wide average of 4.1 percent, and most families spend every waking moment struggling to put food on the table.

So Sudeesa created a micro-credit scheme to incentivize conservation efforts, and tailored the programme towards women. Women are offered a range of loans at extremely low interest rates to start home-based sustainable ventures. In exchange, they care for young saplings, help replant stretches of mangrove forest and take it upon themselves to prevent illegal clearing for commercial purposes.

Together they have planted 170,000 saplings covering an area of 860 hectares in the district – and they are working to multiply this number.

Futures tied to the land

The entire scheme relies on community action.

Women are put in charge of designated locations, mostly close to their homes. When encroachment or illegal harvesting takes place, they use local networks and cell phones to get the word out.

Here, the Thisera plays a pivotal role, acting as an intermediary between local watchdogs and networks of public officials, which he can activate when the women raise a red flag.

Last year this rudimentary conservation machine managed to halt encroachment by a private company with a stake in prawn farming by forcing it to dismantle fencing around the mangroves and retreat to demarcations laid down in government maps of the area.

Thisera says powerful business interests present the biggest menace to locals. Although an epidemic in the late 1990s decimated most of the prawn farms, leaving large, empty man-made tanks in place of mangrove ecosystems, companies have been reluctant to retreat and many continue to pay taxes on former areas of operations.

“They want to keep a legal hold on the land for other purposes,” Thisera explains, such as tourism on the northern ridge of the Puttalam Lagoon that has seen a revival since the end of the country’s civil war in 2009.

Already two islands have been leased out to private companies, though no major construction operations have yet begun.

When they do, however, they will be forced to reckon with Thisera and his unofficial rangers.

“The mangroves are a part of our life, our culture,” Thisera explains. “We destroy them, we destroy ourselves.”

Self-confidence and self-reliance

Cut off from the country’s commercial hubs and major markets, women in this district have long had to rely on their wits to survive.

Take Anne Priyanthi, a 52-year-old widow with two children who until three years ago had struggled to feed her family. She tried to lift herself out of poverty by applying for a bank loan – but was refused on the basis that she did not “meet the criteria”.

In 2012 Sudeesa granted her a loan of 10,000 rupees – about 74 dollars – which she used to start a small pig farm. Today, she earns a monthly income of 25,000 rupees, or 182 dollars.

It seems a pittance – but it means her kids can stay in school and in these impoverished parts that is a monumental success.

Another beneficiary of Sudeesa’s conservation-livelihood project is 58-year-old Primrose Fernando, who now works as a coordinator for the NGO. The widow has three daughters, one of whom has a minor disability.

With her loan she was able to set up a small grocery shop for the disabled daughter and also invest in an ornamental fish breeding business.

“Without this assistance I would have been left destitute,” Fernando tells IPS.

Since 1994 Sudeesa had given out loans to the tune of 54 million rupees (over 400,000 dollars) to 3,900 women in the Puttalam District. Officials say that the loans have a repayment rate of over 75 percent.

By conserving the mangroves, thousands of women have also carved out a better life for themselves and their families and no longer spend every waking moment wondering where their next meal will come from. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By conserving the mangroves, thousands of women have also carved out a better life for themselves and their families and no longer spend every waking moment wondering where their next meal will come from. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Now the loans scheme falls under a registered public organisation called Sudeesa Social Enterprises Corporation, of which 683 of the most active women are shareholders.

“It is the shareholders who run the orgainsation now, who decide on loans, repayments and follow-up action in case of defaulters,” explains Malan Appuhami, a Sudeesa accountant.

The operation is not your average micro-credit scheme – interest rates are less than three percent, and since the women are all part of the same community, they are more interested in helping each other succeed than hunting down defaulters.

For instance during the months of June to September, when rough seas limit a fisher family’s catch, the shareholders create more flexible repayment plans.

In a country where the female unemployment rate is over two-and-a-half times that of the male rate, and almost twice the national figure of 4.2 percent, the conservation-livelihood scheme is a kind of oasis in an otherwise barren desert for women – particularly older women without a formal education, as many in the Puttalam District are – seeking paid work.

Suvineetha de Silva, a Sudeesa credit officer, tells IPS that there has been a visible shift in women’s outlooks and attitudes – no longer ragged and shy, they now ripple with the confidence of those who have taken matters into their own hands.

Some have even been able to send their kids to university, de Silva says, something that was “unheard of” a decade ago, when the simple act of completing primary school was considered a luxury for youth whose parents needed the extra labour to help feed the family.

Other women are spending more time at home, with the result that sustainable cottage industries like home bakeries, dress making ventures and even hairdressing operations are thriving.

Best of all is that Puttalam’s mangroves now have a fighting chance, with determined women keeping watch over them.

Globally, an estimated 100 million people live in the vicinity of mangrove forests. What would it mean for the future of biodiversity if all of them followed Sri Lanka’s example?

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

This article is part of a special series entitled ‘The Future Is Now: Inside the World’s Most Sustainable Communities’. Read the other articles in the series here.

 

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons
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Cities Will Be Decisive in Fight for Sustainable Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/cities-will-be-decisive-in-fight-for-sustainable-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cities-will-be-decisive-in-fight-for-sustainable-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/cities-will-be-decisive-in-fight-for-sustainable-development/#comments Wed, 17 Jun 2015 13:44:32 +0000 Beatriz Ciordia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141169 The sharp contrast between the poorer communities’ shanties and the skyline of the Makati City financial district underscores the huge income gap between the haves and have-nots. The Philippines’ income disparity is one of the biggest in South-east Asia. Credit: IPS

The sharp contrast between the poorer communities’ shanties and the skyline of the Makati City financial district underscores the huge income gap between the haves and have-nots. The Philippines’ income disparity is one of the biggest in South-east Asia. Credit: IPS

By Beatriz Ciordia
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 17 2015 (IPS)

With cities increasingly in the spotlight on the international stage, urban planning and development has become a critical issue in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

While slums continue to grow in most developing countries, reinforcing other forms of inequality, urban planning requires a shift from viewing urbanisation mainly as a problem to seeing it as a powerful tool for development, according to the 2015 UN-Habitat Global Activities Report.“The U.N. is fundamentally challenged with its construct of one country, one vote, when most of the implementation of sustainable development will fall to the world's 200 or so largest cities." -- Daniel Hoornweg

Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson says cities have the potential to shape the future of humankind and to win the battle for sustainable development.

“Cities are at the forefront of the global battle against climate change,” he said last week at the Mayor’s Forum of the World Cities Summit in New York.

“The way in which cities are planned, run and managed is crucial. The leadership role of mayors and city governments is therefore of fundamental importance,” he added.

In the last two decades, cities and urban centres have become the dominant habitats for humankind and the engine-rooms of human development as a whole. For the first time in history in 2008, the urban population outnumbered the rural population, marking the beginning of a new “urban millennium”.

Today, more than half of humanity lives in cities. By 2050, around 70 percent of the world’s population will live in urban areas, according to the report.

Poverty, which remains the greatest global challenge facing the world today, is increasingly concentrated in urban areas.

As Eliasson highlighted, close to one billion of the world’s urban dwellers still live in dire, even life-threatening, slum conditions – and this figure is projected to rise to 1.6 billion by 2030. Some 2.5 billion people in the world lack access to improved sanitation, not least in urban areas.

Daniel Hoornweg, a former World Bank specialist on cities and climate change, says that the lion’s share of implementation will fall to cities regardless of what countries agree in terms of the SDGs.

“National governments, when negotiating, need to fully reflect local government capacities as the ‘doing arm of government’. This is less about urban planning than it is about empowerment and assistance to local governments,” he told IPS.

As stated in the 2014 Revision of the World Urbanization Prospects, urbanisation is integrally connected to the three pillars of sustainable development: economic development, social development and environmental protection.

However, international governments and organisations have not respected this triumvirate, going against the 11th SDG, which aims to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

“Urban planning is still too focused on economic efficiency and growth, leaving aside the goal of upgrading sustainable lifestyles,” Leida Rijnhout, director of Global Policies and Sustainability of the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), told IPS.

“Facilitating a well-functioning and affordable public transport system can be more important than building highways for an increasing number of private cars. Also, preserving local shops (SMEs) and not ‘killing them’ by building big shopping malls is another example of urban sustainability that provides social cohesion,” she added.

The equation is clear: if well managed, cities offer a unique opportunity for economic development and growth, but at the same time, they can expand the access to basic services, including health care and education, for millions of people.

In other words: providing universal access to electricity, water, sanitation, housing and public transportation for a densely settled urban population promotes economically, socially and environmentally sustainable societies.

However, this goal can only be achieved if U.N. member states and U.N. agencies come together to promote sustainable urbanisation and if there’s a connection between the power dynamics of local governments and national governments.

“The U.N. is fundamentally challenged with its construct of one country, one vote, when most of the implementation of sustainable development will fall to the world’s 200 or so largest cities,” Hoornweg told IPS.

According to Hoornweg, the U.N. needs to be reformed in order to get a fair representation of large cities on the international stage – “Countries like Fiji and Vanuatu cannot have more influence than Shanghai and Sao Paulo.”

He says an alternative approach could be establishing a “pragmatism council” of the world’s largest cities –say those that are expected to have five million or more residents by 2050 (around 120 cities).

“Having this council negotiate things like SDGs would not yield binding accords but they would yield a very powerful ‘shadow accord’ that no country could easily ignore,” he told IPS.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Climate Justice: Trial by Public Opinion for World’s Pollutershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/climate-justice-trial-by-public-opinion-for-worlds-polluters/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-justice-trial-by-public-opinion-for-worlds-polluters http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/climate-justice-trial-by-public-opinion-for-worlds-polluters/#comments Tue, 16 Jun 2015 21:31:49 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141158 Campaigners at the September 2014 NYC Climate March say, “We need a cooperative model for climate justice.” Credit Roger Hamilton-Martin/IPS

Campaigners at the September 2014 NYC Climate March say, “We need a cooperative model for climate justice.” Credit Roger Hamilton-Martin/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 16 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations, which is tasked with the protection of the global environment, has asserted that climate change affects people everywhere – with no exceptions.

Still, one of the greatest inequities of our time is that the poorest and the most marginalised individuals, communities and countries — which have contributed the least to greenhouse gas emissions — often bear the greatest burden, says the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.“Our climate-impacted communities have a moral and legal right to defend our human rights and seek Climate Justice by holding these big carbon polluters accountable." -- Tuvalu delegate Puanita Taomia Ewekia

With an increasing link between climate change and human rights, Greenpeace Southeast Asia, which is conscious of the growing threat of rising sea levels to Pacific island nations, is seeking “climate justice,” including both redress and accountability.

“For the first time anywhere in the world,” says Greenpeace, it will submit a petition to the Philippines Commission on Human Rights asking the Commission to investigate the responsibility of the world’s biggest polluters for directly violating human rights or threatening to, due to their contribution to climate change and ocean acidification.

Anna Abad, climate justice campaigner for Greenpeace Southeast Asia, told IPS: “The filing of the human rights petition before the Philippine Commission on Human Rights is a first step to investigate the responsibility of the Carbon Majors (a.k.a. big carbon polluters) for their human rights violations or threatened human rights violations resulting from climate change and ocean acidification impacts.”

Asked whether there is a possibility of the issue being taken up either by the Security Council or the International Court of Justice, she said Greenpeace Southeast Asia is also exploring other avenues – both legal and transnational – to amplify the urgency of climate justice and to ensure that those responsible for the climate crisis are held accountable for their actions.

“This is a collective effort between our partners and allies. With the climate justice campaign, we have certainly begun the trial by public opinion,” Abad said.

Zelda Soriano, legal and political advisor from Greenpeace Southeast Asia, said climate change is a borderless issue, gravely affecting millions of people worldwide.

“The U.N. Human Rights Council has recognised that climate change has serious repercussions on the enjoyment of human rights as it poses an immediate and far-reaching threat to people and communities around the world.”

In this light, she said, “We view climate change as a social injustice that must be addressed by international governments and agencies, most especially those responsible for contributing to the climate crisis.”

Last week, the President of Vanuatu Baldwin Londsdale joined climate-impacted communities from Tuvalu, Kiribati, Fiji and the Solomon Islands, as well as representatives from the Philippines, at “an emergency meeting” in Vanuatu vowing to seek ‘Climate Justice’ and hold big fossil fuel entities accountable for fuelling global climate change.

The Climate Change and Human Rights workshop was held on board the Greenpeace ship, Rainbow Warrior, with the participation of about 40 delegates and civil society groups from Pacific Island nations.

“It is now more important than ever before that we stand united as affected communities in the face of climate change, rising sea-levels and changing weather patterns. Let us continue to stand and work together in our fight against the threats of climate change,” Londsdale told delegates.

The workshop concluded with participants signing on to the ‘People’s Declaration for Climate Justice,’ which was handed over to the President of Vanuatu.

According to Greenpeace, human-induced climate change is forecast to unleash increased hardship on the Philippines and Pacific Island nations due to stronger storms and cyclones.

A new study, Northwestern Pacific typhoon intensity controlled by changes in ocean temperatures, suggests that with climate change, storms like Haiyan, which in 2013 devastated Southeast Asia and specifically the Philippines, could get even stronger and more common.

It projects the intensity of typhoons in the western Pacific Ocean to increase by as much as 14 percent – nearly equivalent to an increase of one category – by century’s end even under a moderate future scenario of greenhouse gas emissions.

Greenpeace says it believes that those most vulnerable will continue to suffer, representing a violation of their basic human rights.

According to Greenpeace, recent research has shown that 90 entities are responsible for an estimated 914 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) of cumulative world emissions of industrial CO2 and methane between 1854 and 2010, or about 63 percent of estimated global industrial emissions of these greenhouse gases.

Abad said: “These big carbon polluters have enriched themselves for almost a century with the continued burning of coal, oil and gas. They are the driving force behind climate change.”

She said time is running out for these vulnerable communities and the world’s big carbon polluters have a moral and legal responsibility for their products and to meaningfully address climate change before it is too late.

Tuvalu delegate Puanita Taomia Ewekia was quoted as saying: “Climate change is not a problem for one nation to solve alone, all our Pacific Island countries are affected as one in our shared ocean.”

She said governments must stand up for their rights and demand redress from these big carbon polluters for past and future climate transgressions.

“Our climate-impacted communities have a moral and legal right to defend our human rights and seek Climate Justice by holding these big carbon polluters accountable and to seek financial compensation,” she declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Adaptation Funding a Key Issue for Caribbean at Climate Talkshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/adaptation-funding-a-key-issue-for-caribbean-at-climate-talks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=adaptation-funding-a-key-issue-for-caribbean-at-climate-talks http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/adaptation-funding-a-key-issue-for-caribbean-at-climate-talks/#comments Mon, 15 Jun 2015 14:00:40 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141141 Rising sea levels pose a challenge for tourism-dependent Caribbean economies where the beach is a major attraction. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
GEORGETOWN, Guyana, Jun 15 2015 (IPS)

With less than six months to go before the next full United Nations Conference of the Parties also known as COP 21 – widely regarded as a make-or-break moment for an agreement on global action on climate change – Caribbean nations are still hammering out the best approach to the talks.

The Caribbean Community’s (CARICOM) Director of Sustainable Development, Garfield Barnwell, said “the region’s expectations are extremely sober” with regards to COP 21, scheduled for Paris during November and December of this year. This is due to the poor response from the major emitting countries in addressing the issue of climate change."For the region, climate change magnifies the growing concerns regarding food security, water scarcity, energy security and the resource requirements for protection from natural disaster." -- CARICOM Chair Perry Christie

“An ideal 2015 agreement for the Caribbean would be one that first and foremost addresses the global rate of emissions and if that could be as close as possible to 1.5 degrees stabilisation of the global emissions level,” Barnwell told IPS.

“If there are commitments on the part of the major emitters meeting their commitments; and also if the international community would acknowledge the importance of adaptation and that they would provide adequate resources for all developing countries to address their adaptation needs, certainly that would be a good starting point with regards to further discussions in addressing the serious challenge of dangerous climate change.”

Barnwell said the region has been taking stock of what has been happening at the global level with regards to greenhouse gas emissions and “great concerns” remain concerning the responses from the major emitting countries.

He pointed to “the lack of action in meeting the commitments made in the past” on the climate change issue.

“The expectation is that there would be a number of announcements with regards to how the major emitters plan to meet their goals with respect to the expected discussions, but the (countries of the) region do, to a large extent,  have a measured level of expectation regarding the Paris talks in December.”

Caribbean countries are also trying their utmost to seek the mobilisation of resources to more aggressively implement their adaptation programmes at the national level.

“Adaptation is of great significance to us in the Caribbean because our region as a group contributes less than one percent of the total global greenhouse gasses. When we calculated the amount, it comes up to about 0.33 percent of global greenhouse gasses so mitigation is not an issue for the Caribbean given our contribution,” Barnwell said.

“However, it must be stated that the impact of both temperature rises and precipitation levels poses serious challenges for our survival as a region and a national security (concern) to many of our member states given that most of us are either islands or most of our populations and social and economic infrastructure reside on the coastal belt which brings into focus the issue of sea level rise which is of great concern to all our member states.”

Climate change poses significant challenges to the natural resource base of the Caribbean, with most countries having resource-based economies including tourism where there is great reliance on the sea in terms of the beaches which are a major source of attraction.

Some countries are also primary producers of agricultural crops, and the agricultural sector, like tourism, is significantly affected by climate change.

“We have a problem with regards to rising sea levels in terms of the oceans coming more inland and that poses a challenge not only for the beaches but also for the hotels and the airports that to a large extent are roughly about three centimetres away from the sea in many of our islands,” Barnwell said.

“For many of our islands, we are challenged and have been challenged by the impact of natural disasters and again as a result of rising sea levels and warming oceans, the potential for a greater impact of natural disasters poses some significant challenges in terms of the frequency and the impact.

“For those agriculture-oriented economies in the region, we also face challenges associated with the change in temperatures and also the precipitation rates with regards to patterns with respect to planting, with respect to reaping of our products. All these are significant problems with regards to how we have been living and the kinds of activities we’ve been engaged in. So climate change poses significant challenges for our region in terms of our livelihood and our survival,” Barnwell added.

At the just ended two-week Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany, Caribbean negotiators maintained the pressure to limit global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial level.

They noted that limiting global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius instead of 2 degrees Celsius would come with several advantages, including avoiding or significantly reducing risks to food production and unique and threatened systems such as coral reefs.

The Caribbean negotiators also requested that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) ensure that the lowest marker scenario used in its 6th Assessment Report is consistent with limiting warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Chairman of CARICOM and Prime Minister of The Bahamas Perry Christie said as a result of the impacts of climate change, the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC), which spearheads the technical work for CARICOM on this issue, estimates the cost of global inaction in the sub-region to be approximately 10.7 billion dollars per year by 2025 and that this figure could double by 2050.

He said the Caribbean is urging parties that have made pledges towards the initial capitalisation of the Green Climate Fund (GCF) to enter into their contribution agreements with the GCF as soon as possible and scale up their contributions in line with the pledge for 100 billion dollars per year by 2020.

“For the region, climate change magnifies the growing concerns regarding food security, water scarcity, energy security and the resource requirements for protection from natural disaster,” Christie told IPS.

“Another significant threat is linked to the projected impact of climate change on public health, through an increase in the presence of vectors of tropical diseases, such as malaria and dengue, and the prevalence of respiratory illnesses.

“These diseases will affect the well-being and productivity of the workforce of the sub-region and compromise the economic growth, competitiveness and development potential of the Caribbean Community,” he said.

Meantime, Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerritt, who chairs the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), said they are constantly reminded that the power to bring about the desired change in the global climate system rests with those countries that are the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.

“We in the OECS are among the smallest of the small and despite or negligible contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, we are on the frontline as the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change,” Skerritt told IPS.

“For us, climate change and its related phenomenon are issues affecting our very survival and can be viewed as a matter of life and death.

“As an organisation comprising and representing the smallest of the small, ours is a solemn duty and responsibility to articulate and champion the cause of all our member states – those that are sovereign as well as those that are not; and those that are party to the UNFCC as well as those that are not.”

Skerritt said they have adopted this posture in the knowledge that climate change has absolutely no regard for political status and that it impacts, with equal severity, the islands and low-lying and coastal regions regardless of political or sovereign status.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: GM Cotton a False Promise for Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-gm-cotton-a-false-promise-for-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-gm-cotton-a-false-promise-for-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-gm-cotton-a-false-promise-for-africa/#comments Mon, 15 Jun 2015 08:58:31 +0000 Haidee Swanby http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141132 Zambian cotton grower sitting on his bales. Some African governments and local cotton producers have high hopes that GM technology will boost African competitiveness in the dog-eat-dog world that characterises the global cotton market. Credit: Nebert Mulenga/IPS

Zambian cotton grower sitting on his bales. Some African governments and local cotton producers have high hopes that GM technology will boost African competitiveness in the dog-eat-dog world that characterises the global cotton market. Credit: Nebert Mulenga/IPS

By Haidee Swanby
MELVILLE, South Africa, Jun 15 2015 (IPS)

Genetically modified (GM) cotton has been produced globally for almost two decades, yet to date only three African countries have grown GM cotton on a commercial basis – South Africa, Burkina Faso and Sudan.

African governments have been sceptical of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) for decades and have played a key role historically in ensuring that international law – the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety – takes a precautionary stance towards genetic engineering in food and agriculture.

They have also imposed various restrictions and bans on the cultivation and importation of GMOs, including on genetically modified (GM) food aid.

But now resistance to GM cultivation is crumbling as a number of other African countries such as Malawi, Ghana, Swaziland and Cameroon appear to be on the verge of allowing their first cultivation of GM cotton, with Nigeria and Ethiopia planning to follow suit in the next two to three years.“Scrutiny of actual experiences [with GM cotton] reveals a tragic tale of crippling debt, appalling market prices and a technology prone to failure in the absence of very specific and onerous management techniques, which are not suited to smallholder production”

Some African governments and local cotton producers have high hopes that GM technology will boost African competitiveness in the dog-eat-dog world that characterises the global cotton market.

At the moment African cotton productivity is declining – it now stands at only half the world average – while global productivity is increasing. The promise of improving productivity and reducing pesticide use through the adoption of GM cotton is thus compelling.

However, African leaders and cotton producers need to take a close look at how GM cotton has fared in South Africa and Burkina Faso to date, particularly its socioeconomic impact on smallholder farmers.

Scrutiny of actual experiences reveals a tragic tale of crippling debt, appalling market prices and a technology prone to failure in the absence of very specific and onerous management techniques, which are not suited to smallholder production.

As stated by a farmer during a Malian public consultation on GMOs, “What’s the point of encouraging us to increase yields with GMOs when we can’t get a decent price for what we already produce?”

In Burkina Faso, the tide turned against GM cotton after just five seasons as low yields and low quality fibres persisted. In South Africa, GM cotton brought devastating debts to smallholders and the local credit institution went bust. Last season, smallholders contributed to less than three percent of South Africa’s total production.

In Malawi, Monsanto has already applied to the government for a permit to commercialise Bollgard II, its GM pest resistant cotton, to which there has been a strong reaction from civil society and an alliance of organisations has submitted substantive objections.

Even Malawi’s cotton industry, the Cotton Development Trust (CDT), has publically voiced its concerns over a number of issues, including inadequate field trials, the high cost of GM seed and related inputs, and blurred intellectual property arrangements.

In addition, CDT has expressed unease over the potential development of pest resistance and the inevitable applications of herbicide chemicals.

Regional economic communities (RECs), such as the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the Economic Community for West African States (ECOWAS), are also key players in readying their member states for the commercialisation of and trade in GM cotton, through harmonised biosafety policies. Together COMESA and ECOWAS incorporate 34 countries in Africa.

The COMESA Policy on Biotechnology and Biosafety was adopted in February 2014 and member states validated the implementation plan in March 2015.

The ECOWAS Biosafety Policy has been through an arduous process for more than a decade now and pronounced conflicts between trade imperatives and safety checks have stalled agreement between stakeholders. However, recent reports indicate that agreement between member states and donor parties has been reached and a final draft of the Biosafety Policy will soon be published.

Experiments and open field trials with GM cotton have been running for many years in a number of African countries and are increasingly at a stage where applications for commercial release are imminent.

However, there are many obstacles to the birth of a new GM era in Africa, chief among them the fact that this high-end technology is simply not appropriate to resource-poor farmers operating on tiny pieces of land, together with fierce opposition from civil society and sometimes also from governments.

Attempts by the biotech industry to impose policies that pander to investors’ desires at the expense of environmental and human safety may be easier to realise at the regional level, through the trade-friendly RECs. This is where many biotech industry resources and efforts are currently being channelled.

Despite whatever legal environments may be implemented to enable the introduction of GM cotton regionally or nationally, the fact remains that Africa’s cotton farmers are operating in a difficult global sector – prices are erratic and distorted by unfair subsidies in the North, institutional support for their activities is often lacking, and high input costs are already annihilating profit margins.

Fighting for the introduction of more expensive technologies that have already proven themselves technologically unsound in a smallholder environment is deeply irresponsible and short-sighted.

It is time that African governments turn their resources to improving the local environments in which cotton producers operate, including institutional and infrastructural support that can bring long-term sustainability to the sector, without placing further burdens and vulnerability on some of the most marginalised people in the world.

Civil society actions will continue to vehemently oppose and challenge the false solutions promised by GM cotton and will insist on just trading environments and true and sustainable upliftment for African cotton producers.

Edited by Phil Harris   

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

* This opinion piece is based on the author’s more extensive paper titled Cottoning on to the Lie, published by the African Centre for Biodiversity, June 2015

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Peru a Shining Example for South America’s Climate Action Planshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/peru-a-shining-example-for-south-americas-climate-action-plans/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=peru-a-shining-example-for-south-americas-climate-action-plans http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/peru-a-shining-example-for-south-americas-climate-action-plans/#comments Fri, 12 Jun 2015 13:13:59 +0000 Chris Wright http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141107 A villager from Combayo, Peru. Citizen engagement is critical for the country to achieve its ambitious climate action plans. Photo courtesy of La República /IPS

A villager from Combayo, Peru. Citizen engagement is critical for the country to achieve its ambitious climate action plans. Photo courtesy of La República /IPS

By Chris Wright
BONN, Jun 12 2015 (IPS)

This week, Peru became the first South American nation to publicly announce its Climate Action Plan, or INDC. In doing so, it may have set the scene for a new wave of highly transparent and ambitious INDC submissions from the continent.

This most recent plan comes after 12 years of collective planning, as Peru developed a suite of regional and national strategies to address climate change. As a result, the government of Peru has come out with an ambitious proposal to cut business as usual emissions by 31 per cent.

However, it is the carefully constructed road map towards this goal that displays what Tania Gullen from Climate Action Network Latin America describes as its true “leadership”.

Gullen, who is also from SUSWATCH, has welcomed the new draft action plan “as an example for other Latin American countries who are still developing or haven’t started their national planning processes”.

This is because Peru’s target of 31 per cent is backed up by 58 clearly outlined different mitigation projects. These projects cover energy, transport, agriculture, forestry and waste management. While two of these projects involve a shift from coal to natural gas, rather than renewables, each of these options has been carefully identified and their emissions reduction potential quantified.

chris chart

This makes it very easy for Peru to ask for support from developed countries to help improve on its commitments. In fact, the government has even outlined how it can increase emissions cuts to up to 42 per cent with an extra 18 projects. Considering the planning that has gone into creating this additional scenario of a 42 per cent reduction by 2030, this could also be released as a twin-track conditional and unconditional pledge.

Marcela Jaramillo from E3G believes this is a key aspect of the Peruvian proposal that should be copied by other Latin American states. She argues that “the INDCs” need to be “translated into investment plans that attract national and international resources”. She believes that these resources will “build action on the ground in hand with government, private sector and all critically supported with actively engaged citizens”.

Citizen engagement may be critical to Peru being able to achieve these ambitious plans. However, the most recent pledge also makes the country vulnerable. There are those who are worried that given a poor implementation record in the past, the government is opening itself up for failure.

Last year, NGO’s at COP20 in Lima criticised the government’s “Law 30230”, which they argued “decouples environmental protection from economic growth”. As such there are ongoing concerns that environmental bodies in Peru will have the power to “regulate and supervise economic activity like power and infrastructure development”.

Other questions have been raised over Peru’s business as usual projections. After years of political instability and all-out conflict in Peru during the 1980’s, Peru’s economy has transitioned from one of the lowest levels of economic freedom in the world to now being ranked as the 20th most-free economy in the world, according to the Economic Freedom of the World 2014 Annual Report. This has been partnered by a relatively consistent growth rate of 5.5 per cent per year.

However, Peru’s growth has slowed over the last 12 months and is not represented in its “Business As Usual” scenario. Here, its emissions trajectories are based on its growth rate leading into 2013, rather than the reality that had been witnessed more recently.

Under a BAU scenario, it is estimated that Peru would increase its annual emissions to 216 million tonnes of CO2 eq., and that this would rise to 243 millon tonnes by 2o25, and to 269 millon tonnes CO2eq by 2030.

This could potentially become a key aspect of the ongoing civil society dialogues that are now open until Jul. 17. As Gullen notes, the “inclusiveness” of this process will be a clear sign of the former COP president’s leadership. This is due to the fact that she believes “inclusive and participative consultation processes are crucial for the definition of the INDC in Peru, but also in all Latin American and Caribbean countries.”

As Bitia Chavez, a young Peruvian from Generacion+1, has suggested, it is critical that Peruvians are “aware and fully engaged in this process to contribute positively to the environment”.

However, it won’t just be this clearly laid out mitigation pledge that Peruvians will have to decide on. Peru has also developed an extensive adaptation package. Its adaptation plan focusses on decreasing the vulnerability of its largely agrarian population, and even has distinct indicators for how to meet adaptation goals going forward.

This includes specific adaptation sectors, objectives and indicators. Below is an example of its specific goal of ensuring health as a key adaptation sector.

salud

Considering that a number of developing nations have called for a global adaptation goal to be a key part of the Paris agreement, the inclusion of quantifiable adaptation goals within the Peruvian INDC could be a key step that other countries may also like to follow.

This may indeed be one of the goals of Peru, as Argentinian campaigner Tais Gadea Lara believes its extensive INDC may be a wake-up call to some of the country’s neighbours who “haven’t realised yet the power they have on their hands to participate actively through delivering an ambitious INDC”.

She noted that in the case of Argentina, there is a disconnect between its strong stance within the negotiations, and lack of action domestically.

She hopes that “Argentina, Peru, Brazil and all of the countries across the region can start making history with ambitious and quantified Climate Action Plans that demonstrate the continent’s leadership on climate change.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Journey Towards an African Taxation Renaissancehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-journey-towards-an-african-taxation-renaissance/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-journey-towards-an-african-taxation-renaissance http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-journey-towards-an-african-taxation-renaissance/#comments Fri, 12 Jun 2015 07:42:45 +0000 Sipho Mthathi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141103

Sipho Mthathi is Executive Director of Oxfam South Africa

By Sipho Mthathi
JOHANNESBURG, Jun 12 2015 (IPS)

Africa is known as the ‘paradox of plenty’. How can a continent so rich in natural resources be so poor?

Economic growth is predicted to increase by 4.5 percent across the continent this year, despite falling oil prices and the Ebola crisis. South Africa’s economy, the second biggest in Africa is expected to continue to grow by 3.5 percent this year; Nigeria will grow by an enviable 5.5 percent.

Sipho Mthathi, Executive Director of Oxfam South Africa

Sipho Mthathi, Executive Director of Oxfam South Africa

However, millions across Africa are struggling.  Economic inequality is on the rise, and public coffers are insufficient due to an increasing demand for public services like health, education and housing.

Recently, Thomas Pogge and other distinguished academics have written about the cost of progress. Surprisingly, history provides us with examples of countries where, if there is a balance between economic growth and public spending, it is possible to address inequality.

There is no time to waste in looking for ways to address this widening gap across Africa.

It is urgent that, collectively, African nations look at the billions of dollars flowing out of the continent every year, most of which can be attributed to corporate tax dodging.

In January, the report of the High Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows (IFFs) from Africa, chaired by former South African President Thabo Mbeki, contended that IFFs from Africa increased from about 20 billion dollars in 2001 to 60 billion in 2010 in the merchandise sector alone.

According to Global Financial Integrity’s 2014 report on IFFs from developing countries, South Africa alone may have lost more than 122 billion dollars between 2003 and 2012 in IFFs.

This is a lost opportunity for money that could have been reinvested in advancing Africa’s development and increased access to public goods for her Africa’s people.“It is urgent that, collectively, African nations look at the billions of dollars flowing out of the continent every year, most of which can be attributed to corporate tax dodging”

But this is only the half of the story. Multinational companies are gaining at the expense of African people through other ‘legal’ forms of corporate tax dodging, and through negotiated tax breaks. This is happening because of a lack of fair global tax rules, and behind-closed-door deals between corporations and governments, rushing to seal deals under pressure.

Africa’s astounding growth is affecting human development. And these losses in tax revenue come at a time when the role of official development assistance to Africa is declining.

Fair and progressive tax systems should be providing financing for well-functioning government programmes to enable governments to uphold citizens’ rights to basic services (such as healthcare and education), and cement trust between citizens and governments.

Establishing an effective tax system is critical if Africa is going to mobilise the resources it needs to tackle poverty and inequality.  Africa is home to six out of ten of the world’s most unequal countries – South Africa, Lesotho, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, and Central Africa Republic.  Some estimates on Africa’s financing needs include 40-$60 billion dollars per year to finance the post-2015 development agenda.

This is not just Africa’s problem. Around the world, many lower-income countries have been subject to harmful tax practices, including transfer pricing, whereby a transfer price may be manipulated to shift profits from one jurisdiction to another, usually from a higher-tax to a lower-tax jurisdiction.

After revelations of how multinational enterprises (MNEs) such as Starbucks, Google and Apple deliberately structured themselves to minimise their tax bills, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) launched an effort to reform this base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS) practice. This reform is expected to wind up by the end of 2015.

However, since the launch of the BEPS Action Plan, developed countries have not had a real voice or influence in the process.  Just four African countries, including South Africa as a G20 member country, have been invited to participate as observers.  These countries are bringing attention to the many mining corporations which are offered lucrative tax incentives which must be addressed in the BEPS plan.

The African Tax Administration Forum (ATAF) is a regional tax body that has been invited by the OECD/G20 to participate in the BEPS reform process.  This should provide further scope to influence the BEPS process with an African perspective.

At the same time, the South Africa Revenue Services (SARS) is going after billions lost through wasteful incentives and trade mispricing. SARS has recovered 5.8 billion rand (460 million dollars) over the three-year period 2011-2014, 55 percent (3.4 billion rand or 274 million dollars) of which is attributed to the mining industry.

South Africa’s membership in the G20 (and its role as co-Chair of the G20 Development Working Group) provides an enormous opportunity to insist on broad inclusion of all nations in the BEPS reform process.

At a recent conference convened by ATAF, South African Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene called for “Africa to protect its own tax base, and advance domestic resource mobilisation through a common voice, a common concern and a common action plan.”

It is time that all African finance ministers wake up to the possibility that tax revenues for financing essential services for their citizens, or investment in small-holder agriculture or infrastructure, could come from the recovery of billions of dollars lost from corporate tax dodging and unfair tax competition.

Tax breaks provided to six large foreign mining companies in Sierra Leone, for example, are equivalent to 59 percent of the total budget of the country – or eight times the country’s health budget.

It is time for a global inter-governmental body on international tax cooperation to allow for a more inclusive and coordinated approach to ongoing tax reform, beyond BEPS.

All countries should be able to participate in tax negotiations on an equal footing, which guarantees one country, one vote, and where representatives will have the political mandate to speak on behalf of their governments.  Simply relying on the BEPS process to re-write tax rules will not be enough to end international tax dodging.

Through the BEPS reform process and this new tax body, there would be real potential for an African taxation renaissance.

Edited by Phil Harris

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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Organic Cacao Farmers Help Reforest Brazil’s Amazon Junglehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/organic-cacao-farmers-help-reforest-brazils-amazon-jungle/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=organic-cacao-farmers-help-reforest-brazils-amazon-jungle http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/organic-cacao-farmers-help-reforest-brazils-amazon-jungle/#comments Thu, 11 Jun 2015 18:22:57 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141097 Darcicio Wronski displays the cacao seeds drying in the sun in his yard. His family is one of 120 grouped in six cooperatives that produce organic cacao near Medicilândia and Altamira in the Amazon rainforest state of Pará, in northern Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
MEDICILÂNDIA, Brazil, Jun 11 2015 (IPS)

“Now we realise what a paradise we live in,” said Darcirio Wronski, a leader of the organic cacao producers in the region where the Trans-Amazonian highway cuts across the Xingú river basin in northern Brazil.

Besides cacao, on their 100 hectares of land he grows bananas, passion fruit, cupuazú (Theobroma grandiflorum), pineapples and other native or exotic fruit with which his wife, Rosalina Brighanti, makes preserves that she sells as jams or jellies or uses as filling in homemade chocolate bars that she and her assistants make.

All of the products are labeled as certifiably organic.

But the situation they found in the 1970s was more like hell than paradise, they said, when they migrated separately from southern Brazil to Medicilândia, a town known as the “capital of cacao”, where they met, married in 1980 and had four children, who work with them on the farm.

They were drawn to the Amazon rainforest by misleading ads published by the then military dictatorship, which promised land with infrastructure and healthcare and schools in settlements created by the National Institute of Colonisation and Agrarian Reform.

The aim was to populate the Amazon, which the de facto government considered a demographic vacuum vulnerable to invasions from abroad or to international machinations that could undermine Brazil’s sovereignty over the immense jungle with its rivers and possible mineral wealth.

The Trans-Amazonian highway, which was to run 4,965 km horizontally across the country from the northeast all the way to the west, was to link the rainforest to the rest of the nation. And thousands of rural families from other regions settled along the road.

The unfinished highway, unpaved and without proper bridges, became impassable along many stretches, especially in the rainy season. The settlers ended up isolated and abandoned, practically cut off from the rest of the world, and large swathes of land were deforested.

Rosalina Brighanti or Doña Rosa in her kitchen, where she makes jams and preserves, holding a sign advertising the organic chocolates made with the family’s special recipes, which are popular with consumers and businesses in Brazil and abroad. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Rosalina Brighanti or Doña Rosa in her kitchen, where she makes jams and preserves, holding a sign advertising the organic chocolates made with the family’s special recipes, which are popular with consumers and businesses in Brazil and abroad. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Medicilândia is a product of that process. The city’s name pays homage to General Garrastazú Médici, president from 1969 to 1974, who inaugurated the Trans-Amazonian highway in 1972. The town emerged on kilometer 90 of the highway, and was recognised in 1989 as a municipality, home today to some 29,000 people.

“For the pioneers of the colonisation process it was torture, there was nothing to buy or sell here,” said 55-year-old Rosalina Brighanti, who everyone knows as Doña Rosa. “Some foods we could only get in Altamira, 100 km away along an unpaved road.”

Her husband Wronski, originally from the southern state of Santa Catarina, where his father had a small farm, impossible to divide between 10 sons and daughters, followed “the Amazonian dream.”

After running into failure with traditional crops like rice and beans, Wronski ended up buying a farm and planting cacao, a local crop encouraged by the government by means of incentives.

His decision to go organic accelerated the reforestation of his land, where sugarcane used to grow.

Cacao is increasingly looking like an alternative for the generation of jobs and incomes to mitigate local unemployment once construction is completed on the giant Belo Monte hydropower dam on the Xingú river, near Altamira, the capital of the region which encompasses 11 municipalities.

The dam’s turbines will gradually begin operating, from this year to 2019.

A cacao tree laden with beans, in the shade of banana trees on the Wronski family farm in Medicilândia, a municipality in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest state of Pará, where organic farmers are helping to reforest the jungle. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A cacao tree laden with beans, in the shade of banana trees on the Wronski family farm in Medicilândia, a municipality in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest state of Pará, where organic farmers are helping to reforest the jungle. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Belo Monte construction project has drawn labour power away from cacao production. “That has caused the loss of 30 percent of Medicilândia’s cacao harvest this year,” Wronski told IPS during a tour of his farm.

“I know a family that has 70,000 cacao plants, whose son is working on Belo Monte and not in the harvest,” the 64-year-old farmer said.

The hope is that workers will return to the cacao crop once large numbers of people start to be laid off as the construction of the dam comes to a close. For routine maintenance of the plants, only the families who live on the farms are needed, but additional workers are necessary at harvest time.

From settler to reforester

José “Cido” Tinte Zeferino, 57, brought his passion for growing coffee from the southern state of Paraná to the Trans-Amazonian highway. But since coffee production wasn’t feasible in that area, he tried several other crops until hitting on organic cacao in Brasil Novo, a municipality bordering Altamira and the Xingú river.

Today his passion is forestry – the huge trees he has planted or preserved on the 98-hectare farm he bought 15 years ago.

Cacao trees require deep shade, but according to other members of the cooperative Cido went overboard, at the expense of productivity. He says, however, that “I produce 2,800 to 3,000 kgs a year, and thanks to the better prices fetched by organic cacao, it’s enough to live on.”

What he likes most is being surrounded by the giant trees on his land; his house is invisible from the road, hidden behind the dense vegetation. He has completed the journey from settler to reforester.

Wronski and his wife Brighanti don’t have a seasonal labour problem. Six families – some of them relatives and others sharecroppers – live on their farm and take care of the cacao trees in exchange for half of the harvest.

They also hire seasonal workers from a nearby rural village where some 40 families live, most of whom do not grow their own crops.

Cacao farms employ large numbers of people because “the work is 100 percent manual; there are no machines to harvest and smash the beans,” local agricultural technician Alino Zavarise Bis, with the Executive Commission of the Cacao Cultivation Plan (CEPLAC), a state body that provides technical assistance and does research, told IPS.

Besides providing jobs and incomes for people in the countryside, cacao farming drives reforestation. Two-thirds of the population of the municipality of Medicilândia is still rural, and a view from the air shows that it has conserved the native forests.

That is because cacao trees need shade from taller trees. When the bushes are still small, banana trees are used for shade – which has led to a major increase in local production of bananas.

“We have the privilege of working in the shade,” joked Jedielcio Oliveira, sales and marketing coordinator of the Organic Production Programme carried out in the Trans-Amazonian/Xingú region by CEPLAC, other national institutions and the German Technical Cooperation Agency (GTZ).

But organic production is still small-scale, accounting for just one percent of total cacao output in the Amazon state of Pará, where Medicilândia is located.

“That’s around 800,000 tons a year of cacao beans grown by a niche of 120 families, grouped in six cooperatives,” said Bis.

Wronski presides over one of them, the Organic Production Cooperative of Amazonia, and he was just elected to head the Central Cooperative, recently created to coordinate the activities of the six organic cacao cooperatives, including marketing and sales.

“Organic cacao farmers are different – they are more aware of the need to preserve the environment, more focused on sustainability,” said CEPLAC’s Bis. “While conventional farmers are looking at productivity and profits, organic growers are interested in taking care of the family’s health and well-being, and preserving nature, although without ignoring profit margins, since they get better prices.”

New members have to be invited by a member of one of the cooperatives and approved in assembly, “and the process of conversion to organic takes three years, which is the time needed to detoxify the soil from the effects of chemical fertilisers and poisons,” he said.

Cacao farmer José Tinte Zeferino, known as “Cido”, in front of his house, which is hidden by dense vegetation and surrounded by his cacao trees, in the municipality of Brasil Novo, near the Xingú river and the Trans-Amazonian highway. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Cacao farmer José Tinte Zeferino, known as “Cido”, in front of his house, which is hidden by dense vegetation and surrounded by his cacao trees, in the municipality of Brasil Novo, near the Xingú river and the Trans-Amazonian highway. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“The entire production system has to be organic, and not just the final product,” another cacao producer, Raimundo Silva from Uruará, a municipality to the west of Medicilândia, who is responsible for commercial operations in the new Central Cooperative, told IPS.

Organic cacao from Pará supplies, for example, the Austrian firm Zotter Chocolate, which boasts 365 different flavours and sells only organic, fair trade chocolate. Among its clients in Brazil is Harald, which exports chocolates to more than 30 countries, and Natura Cosméticos.

The industry in general, although it prefers the more abundant and less costly standard cacao butter, also adds the richer organic cacao to produce the best quality chocolates.

Conventional cacao, which uses pesticides and other chemical products, is still predominant in Pará. A small chocolate factory, Cacauway, was founded in 2010 in Medicilândia by the Trans-Amazonian Agroindustrial Cooperative, which groups traditional producers of non-organic cacao.

“The future of cacao is in Pará, which has favourable conditions for production, like abundant rains, fertile soil, and family farmers who live on the land, unlike the large landowners who live in the cities,” said Bis.

Pará is surpassed by another northern state, Bahia, which accounts for two-thirds of national cacao production. But productivity in Pará averages 800 kg per tree – double the productivity of Bahia, the expert noted.

And cacao trees in the Amazon rainforest are more resistant to witch’s broom, a fungus that reduced the harvest in Bahia by 60 percent in the 1990s. At the time, Brazil was the world’s second-biggest producer, but it fell to sixth place, behind countries of West Africa, Indonesia and even neighbouring Ecuador.

This article forms part of a reporting series conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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