Inter Press Service » Food & Agriculture http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 22 Aug 2014 21:08:27 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Dumping Ban Urged for Australia’s Iconic Reefhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/dumping-ban-urged-for-australias-iconic-reef/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dumping-ban-urged-for-australias-iconic-reef http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/dumping-ban-urged-for-australias-iconic-reef/#comments Thu, 21 Aug 2014 17:43:58 +0000 Stephen Leahy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136271 A Barrier Reef Anemonefish (Amphiprion akindynos) in host anemone. Pixie Garden, Ribbon Reefs, Great Barrier Reef. Credit: Richard Ling/cc by 2.0

A Barrier Reef Anemonefish (Amphiprion akindynos) in host anemone. Pixie Garden, Ribbon Reefs, Great Barrier Reef. Credit: Richard Ling/cc by 2.0

By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Aug 21 2014 (IPS)

Increased effort is needed to protect Australia’s iconic Great Barrier Reef, which is in serious decline and will likely deteriorate further in the future, according to a new report.

“Greater reductions of all threats at all levels, reef-wide, regional and local, are required to prevent the projected declines,”said an outlook report by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the government agency responsible for protecting the reef.“A thriving commercial fishery is gone, so are the dolphins and dugongs.” -- Richard Leck of WWF-Australia

However, the same agency recently approved the dumping of five million tonnes of dredging spoil in the reef region. Scientists and coral reef experts universally condemned the decision.

Documents obtained by Australia’s ABC TV investigative programme this week revealed scientists inside the Park Authority also opposed the dumping inside the UNESCO World Heritage Area.

“That decision has to be a political decision. It is not supported by science at all, and I was absolutely flabbergasted when I heard,”Charlie Veron, a renowned coral reef scientist, told ABC. Veron is the former chief scientist at the Australian Institute of Marine Science.

The Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is one of the seven greatest natural wonders of the world. Visible from space, it is a startlingly beautiful mosaic made up of thousands of reefs, sea grass beds, and islands running 2,300 km along the coast of the state of Queensland.

The GBR from above. Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

The GBR from above. Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

In 1981 UNESCO declared the GBR a World Heritage Area, calling it “an irreplaceable source of life and inspiration”. It was home to 10 percent of all fish on the planet. Dugongs and many varieties of dolphins and sea turtles were once abundant.

Although protected as a marine park for decades, more than half of the coral is dead.Without concerted action, just five to 10 percent of the coral will remain by 2020, according to a 2012 scientific survey reported by IPS.

“I’ve worked on the reef for over a decade and those survey results were absolutely stunning,”said Richard Leck, spokesperson for WWF-Australia.

“The GBR is likely the best monitored reef in the world and we’re seeing the impacts of massive coastal development,”Leck told IPS.

In 2010, the Australian government approved four massive liquid natural gas (LNG) processing plants with port facilities at the coal port of Gladstone in central Queensland. Extensive dredging resulted in the dumping of 46 million tonnes of material in the harbour and inside the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park boundaries.

Much of the most toxic dredging material was to be contained inside a huge retaining or bund wall in the Gladstone Harbour. It soon began to fail, eventually leaking as much as 4,000 tonnes of material daily. The impacts have been devastating.

“A thriving commercial fishery is gone, so are the dolphins and dugongs,”said Leck. “Gladstone was a clear failure by state and national governments.”

Local tourist operators say the water quality and clarity has declined significantly.

Queensland is also a major mining and export region, shipping 156 million tonnes annually, mostly to Asian markets. Now there are proposals to expand that output sixfold to nearly one billion tonnes annually by 2020.

India’s Adani Group plans to spend six billion dollars to build Queensland’s biggest coal mine, including a new town and a 350 km railway to connect to Port Abbot, near the tourist town of Bowen.

Other Indian miners, along with a number of Chinese mining interests, have locked up an estimated 20 billion tonnes of coal resources in central Queensland. Australian mining companies,including mining billionaire Gina Rinehart’s Hancock Prospecting, are also expanding their operations.

In December 2013, Australia’s Minister of Environment Greg Hunt approved a plan to create one of the world’s largest coal ports at Port Abbot. A few months later, and in spite of strong opposition from its own scientists, the Park Authority agreed to allow five million tonnes of dredged material from Port Abbot to be dumped in the GBR.

“The Park Authority was in a difficult position. Saying ‘no’meant rejecting the minister’s approval of the dredging,”said Leck.

Hunt told ABC TV that he’d conducted “a very careful and deep review”and concluded that “the unequivocal advice we received was: this can be done safely.”

There is substantial scientific literature showing sediment from dredging can smother and kill marine species. Sediment also reduces light levels, causes physiological stress, impairs growth and reproduction, clogs the gills of fish, and promotes diseases, said Terry Hughes, director of the Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University in Townsville, Queensland.

Some dredge spoil is very fine sediment — tiny little particles suspended in the water column — readily dispersed by winds, currents and waves. Over a period of just a few months they can travel 100 kilometres or more, Hughes told IPS.

A recently published modelling study predicts that fine sediments in suspension can spread up to 200 kilometres from coal ports within 90 days. It also measured sediments found in coral reefs in the GBR near another coal port and found high levels of chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) which are associated with coal dust.

Given the perilous health of the reef, which is also facing enormous threats from rising water temperatures and ocean acidity due to CO2 emissions from fossil fuels, Hughes and other scientists are calling for a complete ban on dumping in the GBR or anywhere near it.

The additional threat posed by coal ports and other industrial developments along the coast is so serious that UNESCO warned Australia it would change the reef’s prestigious World Heritage Site designation to a “World Heritage Site in Danger”.

The UNESCO decision is expected mid-2015, which is also when the Port Abbot dredging is scheduled to begin.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

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War Veterans Planting for Peace in South Sudanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/war-veterans-planting-for-peace-in-south-sudan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=war-veterans-planting-for-peace-in-south-sudan http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/war-veterans-planting-for-peace-in-south-sudan/#comments Thu, 21 Aug 2014 10:17:08 +0000 Adam Bemma http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136267 Wilson Abisai Lodingareng, 65, is a peri-urban farmer and former Sudan People’s Liberation Army member. He’s started a war veteran’s co-op in Juba, South Sudan’s capital. Credit: Adam Bemma/IPS

By Adam Bemma
JUBA, Aug 21 2014 (IPS)

Along the fertile banks of sub-Saharan Africa’s White Nile, one of the two main tributaries of the Nile River, a war veteran’s co-op is planting for a food secure future in South Sudan, a country potentially facing famine.

Wilson Abisai Lodingareng, 65, is a peri-urban farmer and founder of Werithior Veteran’s Association, or WVA, in Juba, South Sudan. The association is a group of 15 farmers ranging in age, with the youngest being a 25-year-old veteran’s son. This group of 15 farmers tends to a garden, located six kilometres outside Juba, South Sudan’s capital, where they grow nearly 1.5 hectares of vegetables.

“I have seven active members in the group, all former SPLA [Sudan People’s Liberation Army] troops. I call them when it’s time to weed the garden,” Lodingareng told IPS. “I visit once a day, each morning, to check the health of the crops and too see what’s ready for the market.”

Some of the other WVA members have been displaced from their homes and are now living inside the UNMISS, United Nations Mission in South Sudan, Protection of Civilians camp in Juba.

Since the conflict began Dec. 15, 2013 between the government forces of South Sudan President Salva Kiir and the rebel forces of former Vice President Riek Machar, 1.5 million have been displaced from their homes. Three-and-a-half million South Sudanese are suffering from emergency levels of food insecurity, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

Lodingareng said obtaining a plot of land along the Nile River was difficult with many international investors vying for this prime agricultural real estate. It took him almost three years to acquire a lease from the community which owns the idle land.

So far this year he has transformed the field with long grass and weeds into a garden with leafy vegetables and herbs sprouting. WVA cultivates okra, kale, mulukhiyah (jute leaves) and coriander.

“These are short impact crops which grow quickly, within one to two months,” Lodingareng said. “Okra is harvested every three to four days.”

The philosophy behind the WVA garden is to see land as a resource not to be wasted. As Lodingareng looks around his garden he sees a future expansion into the surrounding land, also lying idle.

“I’m looking at expanding to grow food crops like maize, potatoes, carrots and eggplant,” he said. “The first year has been a struggle. The next year should be much better.”

Simon Agustino is the programme officer at Mennonite Central Committee, or MCC, in South Sudan.

“Wilson [Lodingareng] came to our office with a proposal asking for assistance. The veterans had no hope and no way to provide for their families,” Agustino told IPS. “People thought he was wasting his time with digging. But he didn’t give up.”

MCC provided him with some capital for leasing the land, the training of beneficiaries, fruit and vegetable production, farm supplies and tools as well to monitor WVA’s progress.

“Finally he got land and is now yielding and his crops which are being sold at the market. As a sign of improvement, more veterans are considering joining,” Agustino said.

According to Agustino, most SPLA veterans take to criminal activity after being de-commissioned, but Lodingareng wouldn’t turn to cattle raiding or using a weapon to rob and steal. He has a vision for the future of South Sudan.

“I did my part to put my country on the path to self-determination,” Lodingareng said. “Now my approach is to work hard. Me, I will do anything that can pull me out of poverty and improve my situation financially.”

Londingareng fought with the SPLA from 1985 to 2008, and when he wasn’t re-activated into the military six years ago he began to think back to his early days as an economics student at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda.

“I took a course and wrote a paper on agriculture economics. I was taught that land is food and that crops share behaviour traits with humans,” he said.

While Lodingareng comes from the Toposa, a cattle-herding pastoralist tribe in the southeast of the country, his wife is Nuer, one of the country’s two biggest ethnic groups, along with Dinka, in South Sudan.

“We were hunted. I hid my wife in town and with help from MCC, I took her to Uganda.” he said. “I came back to find out people had broken into my house. It was completely ransacked.”

WVA veterans come from various tribes in South Sudan. Its work demonstrates that agriculture could be a way of bringing South Sudanese together, looking past tribal differences, and planting together this rainy season.

Lodingareng believes it’s never too late to take up the cause of agriculture, even while millions are displaced and the country is on the brink of famine.

“The political climate has discouraged many from planting this season,” he said. “But if everyone planted gardens things will improve.”

MCC is looking at ways to start a peace and reconciliation programme with the help of WVA. “He has many ideas on how to end the conflict,” Agustino said.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

The writer can be contacted on twitter @adambemma

 

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Organic Farming Taking Off in Poland … Slowlyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/organic-farming-taking-off-in-poland-slowly-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=organic-farming-taking-off-in-poland-slowly-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/organic-farming-taking-off-in-poland-slowly-2/#comments Thu, 21 Aug 2014 07:07:24 +0000 Claudia Ciobanu http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136234 Organic farmer Slawek Dobrodziej with volunteers from Warsaw helping on his farm. Credit: Courtesy of Malgosia Dobrodziej

Organic farmer Slawek Dobrodziej with volunteers from Warsaw helping on his farm. Credit: Courtesy of Malgosia Dobrodziej

By Claudia Ciobanu
WARSAW, Aug 21 2014 (IPS)

Polish farmer Slawek Dobrodziej has probably the world’s strangest triathlon training regime: he swims across the lake at the back of his house, then runs across his some 11 hectares of land to check the state of the crops, and at the end of the day bikes close to 40 kilometres to and back from a nearby town for some shopping.

That Dobrodziej would still want to enter the triathlon, despite working daily in the fields from dawn until well into the night, speaks volumes about his supra-human levels of energy.

But it takes this kind of stamina to succeed as an ecological farmer in Poland.Community-supported agriculture “could help promote farm biodiversity because consumers buy different types of vegetables and products in this scheme, and it could also help to spread the certified organic model, which is only marginally developed in Poland today” – organic farmer Sonia Priwieziencew

Today, around 3.5 percent of Poland’s agricultural land is taken up by organic farms. Their number has been growing steadily over recent years, yet farmers complain of obstacles. Of the country’s some 1.8 million farmers, just 26,000 have organic certification (though some of these farms are just meadows and do not necessarily produce food), and only 300 of these are vegetable producers.

Under the most recent national policies (adopted in parallel to the new European Union’s 2014-2020 budget, which will finance Polish agriculture), Polish authorities have been cutting subsidies for medium and large organic farms, and they have practically eliminated public support for organic orchards.

Smaller organic producers have to struggle with complicated bureaucratic procedures in place for obtaining national or European funding.

Slawek Dobrodziej and his wife Malgosia clearly have the determination to penetrate these procedures. Over the past eight years, the couple have managed to build up a successful organic farm in the village of Zeliszewo, near the western city of Szczecin. They sell some 100 types of fruit and vegetables to consumers in several Polish major cities, including the capital Warsaw.

According to Malgosia, the book-keeper of the family farm, the first years were particularly rough. Selling large quantities of one product to food processing companies did not pay off: organic farming, which uses no pesticides, is labour-intensive, and the prices paid by the companies were not enough to cover costs.

The family managed to access some national and European funds, but the amounts were barely sufficient to buy some basic machinery. European money must often be co-financed by the recipient, meaning that obtaining more funds would be impossible without becoming heavily indebted to banks.

The Dobrodziej’s fortunes improved once they diversified their vegetable production and found opportunities to sell their produce directly to consumers in big cities. Selling to a bio bazaar in Warsaw was a turning point.

Additionally, for the first time this year, they started selling to consumers via two community-supported agriculture (CSA) schemes in the cities of Szczecin and Poznan, through which the roughly 30 consumers in each scheme pay them in advance for vegetables they will receive weekly throughout the summer and autumn months.

The CSA model is based on the idea that consumers share risks with the farmers: consumers enter the scheme agreeing to take whatever vegetables the farmer is able to produce given weather conditions. They are also able to volunteer on the farm, which provides an understanding of seasonality and farm work that few city inhabitants have. Malgosia says that CSA is an excellent way of offering financial stability to a small farm.

The first CSA was created in Poland in 2012 in Warsaw, and this year six such schemes are operational in the country, including the two served by the Dobrodziej. More schemes are expected to be launched next year, given the warm welcome the model has received from city consumers and the farming community.

At the moment, the Dobrodziej’s week is a mad rush among various cities in Poland, with night-long drives to deliver fresh products, followed by days in the field. Yet Malgosia hopes that next year, once the bank credits are paid, they will be able to rely only on the two CSA schemes and sales to bio bazaars in Warsaw and Katowice. Meanwhile Slawek dreams of setting up an organisation to promote the model nationally.

“We do absolutely too much work right now, and we spend too much time packaging half kilos of vegetables to sell to small organic shops,” explains Malgosia. “The CSA model seems very promising, because we get rid of the packaging ordeal and we also get money in hand at the start of the season from which we can make investments in the machinery we need.”

“I think many Polish farms could go this way, because the model is really economically viable for farmers,” says Sonia Priwieziencew, who together with her partner Tomasz Wloszczowski, runs a 6 hectare organic farm in the village of Swierze Panki, 120 km northeast of Warsaw, which has been serving the first CSA in Poland for three years.

Priwieziencew and Wloszczowski had been active for years in NGOs promoting organic farming in Poland and they wanted to put theory into practice.

“CSA could help promote farm biodiversity because consumers buy different types of vegetables and products in this scheme, and it could also help to spread the certified organic model, which is only marginally developed in Poland today,” says Priwieziencew.

After years of experience with advocacy work and promotion of the organic model among farmers, Priwieziencew is quite critical of the authorities’ approach to ecological farming. According to her, despite the fact that the vast majority of farmers in Poland today have small plots of land, the policies issued both by the Polish government and the European Union are more favourable to large-scale industrial farming.

Despite the new Common Agricultural Policy adopted this year in Brussels, which is supposed to provide guidance to farming in the European Union for the coming years, paying much lip service to organic farming and small-scale agriculture as means to ensure food security, limit climate change and preserve biodiversity, national policies and financing do not necessarily follow this direction, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe.

Yet, over recent years, citizens in these regions have become increasingly aware of the faults of industrial food production and numerous initiatives intended to safeguard small farming and promote ecological agriculture have been created across both regions.

This month, Warsaw saw the opening of the first cooperative shop bringing vegetables and other foods directly from producers, most of them local, and selling them at a discount to members of the cooperative who volunteer work.

Cooperatives and vegetable box schemes exist in most big Polish cities and are even developing at the level of neighbourhoods. A newly discovered passion for urban gardening in the country has led museums in Warsaw and other cities to open up their green areas to local inhabitants who want to grow vegetables.

Other countries in the region are not lagging behind. At least 15 CSA initiatives exist in the Czech Republic and, in addition, vegetable box schemes and urban gardens are continually appearing. In Romania, CSA groups exist now in at least six different cities, with some of the farms explicitly employing people from marginalised social categories.

”Every such new initiative gives small-scale ecological farmers a new chance to sell more and develop in Poland,” says Warsaw-based food activist Piotr Trzaskowski, who set up the first CSA in Poland. ”These farmers must survive because they are real caretakers of the land and the environment, unlike large-scale conventional producers who commodify the land, buying it, using it up and ignoring the impact on biodiversity, people and the environment.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Zambia’s Cash Transfer Schemes Cushion Needy Against Climate Shockshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/zambias-cash-transfer-schemes-cushion-needy-against-climate-shocks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zambias-cash-transfer-schemes-cushion-needy-against-climate-shocks http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/zambias-cash-transfer-schemes-cushion-needy-against-climate-shocks/#comments Thu, 21 Aug 2014 01:30:59 +0000 Friday Phiri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136248 Allens Malambo, an orphan from Pemba in southern Zambia is a beneficiary of the government-run Social Cash Protection Scheme. Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

Allens Malambo, an orphan from Pemba in southern Zambia is a beneficiary of the government-run Social Cash Protection Scheme. Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

By Friday Phiri
PEMBA DISTRICT, Zambia, Aug 21 2014 (IPS)

“Last season, I lost an entire hectare of groundnuts because of a prolonged drought. Groundnuts are my hope for income,” says Josephine Chaaba, 60, from Pemba district in southern Zambia.

A widow since 2002, Chaaba’s story is not unique in this part of Zambia.

Here, in what the Zambia Meteorological Department classifies as a region characterised by low rainfall, most families are entirely dependent on agriculture and have gone through similar hardships.

But when these disasters strike, families have proven resilient and are finding ways to cope.

“The rainfall pattern has been getting erratic with each passing season, and as a widow I decided to start a small business of selling tomatoes and vegetables to sustain my family,” Chaaba, who looks after her 17-year-old son and two grandchildren, tells IPS.

But with only a working capital of 200 Zambian Kwacha (about 35 dollars), Chaaba had to seek assistance from the government-run Social Cash Protection Scheme.

Josephine Chaaba, a widow who looks after her son and two grandchildren, is a beneficiary of Zambia’s social protection grant. Courtesy: Friday Phiri

Josephine Chaaba, a widow who looks after her son and two grandchildren, is a beneficiary of Zambia’s social protection grant. Courtesy: Friday Phiri

Stella Kapumo of the Social Welfare Department in Pemba district explains that “there are three schemes under which our department gives support to the vulnerable in the community.”

“The Public Welfare Assistance Scheme is where material support such as shelter and food aid are given, and there are two cash protection schemes – a social cash transfer and a social protection fund,” Kapumo tells IPS.

According to Kapumo, the cash transfer is a bi-monthly cash allowance of 25 and 50 dollars respectively for vulnerable households and households where there are people with disabilities. The social protection fund is a once-off grant of up to 670 dollars for viable business proposals.

“The cash schemes are the most popular and have proven to be a powerful relief to the socio-economic challenges of the vulnerable communities where they are being implemented.

“However, here in Pemba we are implementing the ‘social protection fund’  where we give cash grants targeting vulnerable families to either boost and/or venture into viable businesses,” Kapumo says.

Piloted in 2003 in Kalomo district, southern Zambia, the social cash transfer has expanded to 50 districts currently providing social protection to about 60,000 vulnerable households.

“I benefited from a grant of 1,500 Zambian Kwacha [250 dollars] to boost my business. I have since added fish to selling tomatoes and vegetables.

“I just have to work extra hard to grow my capital and then school fees will no longer be a problem. I am thankful to the government for this scheme,” Chaaba says cheerfully, adding that she would not be too worried if she were to suffer another crop failure in the near future as she now has an alternative livelihood.

Communities in Zambia that rely on agriculture for their livelihoods are already suffering the consequences of climate change due to their limited resource capacity to adapt.

But stakeholders here are still searching for adaptation options that can be brought within reach of the rural poor.

And social protection may be the key.

Mutale Wakunuma, Zambia coordinator of the Africa Platform for Social Protection, who has witnessed the positive impact of the Social Cash Protection Scheme across the country, believes the strategy is a key step towards transformation and climate change adaptation.

“We believe cash transfers offer flexibility to beneficiaries as compared to food aid or agricultural inputs, and we are encouraging people working on climate change adaptation to consider cash transfers as a coping strategy,” Wakunuma tells IPS.

As government targets to reach over 390,000 households by 2015 through its social cash transfer schemes, it is expected that social protection could become a major socio-economic intervention for the most vulnerable communities in Zambia.

Wakunuma, however, cautions that the social cash transfer is not a holistic social protection strategy when it comes climate change adaptation, although it plays a “significant role in cushioning climate shocks.”

Robson Nyirenda, the training and extension coordinator at Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre, argues for a knowledge-based approach in the fight against socio-economic challenges.

Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre, a Catholic institute run by the Society of Jesus, promotes sustainable agricultural practices among smallholder farmers in the surrounding community.

“We believe knowledge is sustainable and lasts a lifetime. However, we cannot run away from the fact that some people are more vulnerable and require assistance in form of cash or food aid for them to survive,” Nyirenda tells IPS.

“On our part, we have continued teaching farmers climate change adaptation through sustainable farming methods in our role to compliment government efforts in empowering vulnerable communities.”

Wakunuma tells IPS, “the role of social protection cannot be overemphasised but it has to be implemented with the seriousness it deserves.”

And 22-year-old Allens Malambo, an orphan from Pemba and a beneficiary of the social protection grant, agrees.

“For the past two seasons, we have had poor yields due to poor rainfall and it has been a struggle for me and my six siblings,” Malambo tells IPS.

“At 64, grandma has no energy to sustain us. But with this money, I am determined to achieve my dream of getting into college and I urge the government to invest more and help more young people, the majority of whom are unemployed,” he says of the 420 dollars he was awarded to support his poultry business.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

The writer can be contacted on fphiri200@gmail.com 

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U.S., Brazil Nearing Approval of Genetically Engineered Treeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/u-s-brazil-nearing-approval-of-genetically-engineered-trees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-brazil-nearing-approval-of-genetically-engineered-trees http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/u-s-brazil-nearing-approval-of-genetically-engineered-trees/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 23:35:52 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136255 By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Aug 20 2014 (IPS)

The U.S. and Brazilian governments are moving into the final stages of weighing approval for the commercialisation of genetically engineered eucalyptus trees, moves that would mark the first such permits anywhere in the world.

The Brazilian government is slated to start taking public comments on such a proposal during the first week of September. Similarly, U.S. regulators have been working on an environmental impact assessment since early last year, a highly anticipated draft of which is expected to be released any day.

Technician Christine Berry checks on futuristic peach and apple “orchards”. Each dish holds tiny experimental trees grown from lab-cultured cells to which researchers have given new genes. Credit: USDA Agricultural Research Service

Technician Christine Berry checks on futuristic peach and apple “orchards”. Each dish holds tiny experimental trees grown from lab-cultured cells to which researchers have given new genes. Credit: USDA Agricultural Research Service

Despite industry claims to the contrary, critics warn that the use of genetically engineered (GE) trees would increase deforestation. The approvals could also spark off a new era of such products, which wouldn’t be confined solely to these countries.

“If Brazil and the United States get permission to commercialise these trees, there is nothing to say that they wouldn’t just export these products to other countries to grow,” Anne Petermann, the executive director of the Global Justice Ecology Project (GJEP) and the coordinator of the Campaign to Stop GE Trees, a network that Wednesday announced a new global initiative, told IPS.

“These GE trees would grow faster and be more economically valuable, so it’s easy to see how current conventional plantations would be converted to GE plantations – in many parts of Africa, Latin America and Asia. Further, both Europe and the U.S. are currently looking at other genetically engineered trees that bring with them a whole additional range of potential impacts.”

While the United States has thus far approved the use of two genetically modified fruit trees, the eucalyptus is the first GE forest tree to near release. Similar policy discussions are currently taking place in the European Union, Australia and elsewhere, while China has already approved and is using multiple GE trees.

The plantation approach

The eucalyptus is a particularly lucrative tree, currently the most widely planted hardwood in the world and used especially to produce pulp for paper and paper products.

In the United States, the trees would also likely be used to feed growing global demand for biofuels, particularly in the form of wood pellets. In 2012 alone, U.S. exports of wood pellets increased by some 70 percent, and the United States is today the world’s largest such producer.

U.S. regulators are currently looking at two types of eucalyptus that have been genetically engineered to withstand frosts and certain antibiotics, thus allowing for plantations to be planted much farther north. The company requesting the approval, ArborGen, says the introduction of its GE seedlings would quadruple the eucalyptus’s range in the United States alone.

ArborGen has estimated that its sales could see 20-fold growth, to some 500 million dollars a year by 2017, if GE trees receive U.S. approval, according to a comprehensive report published last year by the Washington-based Center for Food Safety. Likewise, Brazilian analysts have suggested that the market for eucalyptus products could expand by some 500 percent over the coming two decades.

Yet the eucalyptus, which has been grown in conventional plantations for years, has been widely shown to be particularly problematic – even dangerous – in monoculture.

The eucalyptus takes unusually high levels of water to grow, for instance, and is notably invasive. The trees are also a notorious fire hazard; during a devastating fire in the U.S. state of California in the 1990s, nearly three-quarters of the blaze’s energy was estimated to come from highly combustible eucalyptus trees.

In addition, many are worried that approval of the GE proposals in the United States and Brazil would, inevitably, act as a significant boost to the monoculture plantation model of production.

“This model has been shown to be very negative for local communities and nature, expelling and restricting the access of people to their territories, depleting and contaminating water sources – especially in the Global South,” Winifridus Overbeek, coordinator of the World Rainforest Movement, a global pressure group, told IPS from Uruguay.

“Many of these plantations in Brazil have hindered much-needed agrarian land reform under which hungry people could finally produce food on their own lands. But under the plantation model, most of the wood produced is destined for export, to attend to the ever-increasing paper demand elsewhere.”

Overbeek says Brazilian peasants complain that “No one can eat eucalyptus.”

More wood, more land

Despite the rise of digital media over the past decade, the global paper industry remains a behemoth, responding to demand for a million tonnes of paper and related products every day. That amounted to some 400 million tonnes of paper used in 2010, according to the World Wildlife Fund, and could increase to 500 million tonnes per year by the end of the decade.

A key argument from ArborGen and others in favour of genetically engineered trees, and the plantation system more generally, is that increased use of “farmed” trees would reduce pressure on native forests. Indeed, ArborGen’s motto is “More Wood. Less Land”.

Yet as the world has increasingly adopted the plantation approach, the impact has been clear. Indonesia, for instance, has allowed for the clear-cutting of more than half of its forests over the past half-century, driven particularly by the growth of palm plantations.

According to U.N. data, plantations worldwide doubled their average wood production during the two decades leading up to 2010.  But the size of those plantations also increased by some 60 percent.

“While it sounds nice and helpful to create faster-growing trees, in reality the opposite is true. As you make these things more valuable, more land gets taken over for them,” GJEP’s Petermann says.

“Especially in Brazil, for instance, because we’ve seen an intensification of wood coming from each hectare of land, more and more land is being converted.”

In June, more than 120 environmental groups from across the globe offered a vision on comprehensive sustainability reforms across the paper sector, traditionally a key driver of deforestation. That document, the Global Paper Vision, encourages users and producers to “refuse fibre from genetically modified organisms”.

“Theoretically, arguments on the benefits of GE trees could be true, motivated by increasing competition for wood resources,” Joshua Martin, the director of the Environmental Paper Network (EPN), a U.S.-based umbrella group that spearheaded the vision document, told IPS.

“But ultimately this is an attempt to find a technological solution – and, we feel, a false solution given the dangers, both known and unknown, around this experimental use. Instead, we advocate for conservation and reducing consumption as logical first steps before manipulating nature and putting natural systems at risk of contamination.”

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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India: Home to One in Three Child Brideshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/india-home-to-one-in-three-child-brides/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=india-home-to-one-in-three-child-brides http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/india-home-to-one-in-three-child-brides/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 06:52:50 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136218 In India, 27 percent of women aged 20-49 were married before they were 15 years old. Credit: Jaideep Hardikar/IPS

In India, 27 percent of women aged 20-49 were married before they were 15 years old. Credit: Jaideep Hardikar/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Aug 20 2014 (IPS)

Basanti Rani*, a 33-year-old farmers’ wife from the northern Indian state of Haryana, recently withdrew her 15-year-old daughter Paru from school in order to marry her off to a 40-year-old man.

“In an increasingly insecure social milieu, where rape and sexual abuse have become so common, marrying off my daughter was a wise move,” she told IPS.

“Who would’ve married her had she been abused or raped? Now, at least, her husband can look after her.”

Such a mindset, widespread across this country of 1.2 billion people, is just one of the reasons why India hosts one out of every three child brides in the world.

A recent United Nations report entitled ‘Ending Child Marriage – Progress and Prospects’ found that, despite the existence of a stringent anti-child marriage law, India ranks sixth among countries with the highest prevalence of child marriages across the globe.

The U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) defines child marriage as unions occurring before a person is 18 years of age, and calls the practice a “violation of human rights.”

In India, 27 percent of women aged 20-49 claim to have tied the knot before turning 15, the survey states.

“The problem persists largely because of the patriarchal vision that perceives marriage and childbearing as the ultimate goals of a girl’s life,” explains Sonvi A. Khanna, advisory research associate for Dasra, a philanthropic organisation that works with UNICEF.

The increasing rates of violence against girls in both rural and urban India, adds Khanna, are instilling fear in the minds of families, leading them to marry their girls off as soon as they reach puberty.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB)’s July 2014 records, there were 309,546 crimes against women reported to the police last year against 244,270 in 2012.

Crimes included rape, kidnapping, sexual harassment, trafficking, molestation, and cruelty by husbands and relatives. They also included incidents in which women were driven to suicide as a result of demands for dowries from their husbands or in-laws.

The NCRB said the number of rapes in the country rose by 35.2 percent to 33,707 in 2013 – with Delhi reporting 1,441 rapes in 2013 alone, making it the city with the highest number of rapes and confirming its reputation as India’s “rape capital”.

Mumbai, known for being more women-friendly, recorded 391 rapes last year, while IT hub Bangalore registered 80 rapes.

Obstacles to ending child marriages

The law, experts say, can do little to change mindsets or provide alternatives to child marriage.

A report by Dasra entitled ‘Marry Me Later: Preventing Child Marriage and Early Pregnancy in India’ states that the practice “continues to be immersed in a vicious cycle of poverty, low educational attainment, high incidences of disease, poor sex ratios, the subordination of women, and most significantly the inter-generational cycles of all of these.”

According to the report, despite the fact that child marriage as a practice “directly hinders the achievement of six of eight Millennium Development Goals, as an issue, it remains grossly under-funded.”

If the present trends continue, of the girls born between 2005 and 2010, 28 million could become child brides over the next 15 years, it states.

The increasing rates of violence against girls in both rural and urban India are instilling fear in the minds of families, leading them to marry their girls off as soon as they reach puberty. Credit: Credit: Sujoy Dhar/IPS

The increasing rates of violence against girls in both rural and urban India are instilling fear in the minds of families, leading them to marry their girls off as soon as they reach puberty. Credit: Credit: Sujoy Dhar/IPS

The 2006 Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (PCMA) seeks to prevent and prohibit the marriage of girls under 18, and boys under 21 years of age.

It states that if an adult male aged 18 and above is wed to a minor he shall be “punishable with rigorous imprisonment for two years or with [a] fine, which may extend to […] one lakh” (about 2,000 dollars).

Furthermore, if “a person performs, conducts, directs or abets any child marriage”, that person too shall face a similar punishment and fine.

Experts term PCMA a fairly progressive law compared to its predecessors, one with the rights of the child at its core.

It even allows for annulment of a child marriage if either party applies for it within two years of becoming adults. Even after annulment of the marriage, the law provides for residence and maintenance of the girl by her husband or in-laws until she re-marries.

“Any children born of the marriage are deemed legal and their custody is provided for, keeping the child’s best interests in mind, states this law,” a Delhi-based High Court advocate told IPS.

Yet, the legislation has not been adequately enforced due to its heavy reliance on community reporting, which rarely happens.

“Since reporting a child marriage could mean imprisonment and stigma for the family, immense financial loss and unknown repercussions for the girl, few come forward to report the event,” Khanna said.

“Adding to the problem is corruption among the implementers, or the police, who are insensitive to the need [to] stop child marriages.”

Small wonder, then, that convictions under PCMA have been few and far between.

According to the NCRB, only 222 cases were registered under the Act during the year 2013, compared to 169 in 2012 and 113 in 2011. Out of these, only 40 persons were convicted in 2012, while in 2011, action was taken against 76 people.

Young brides make unhealthy mothers

Apart from social ramifications, child marriages also lead to a host of medical complications for young mothers and their newborn babies.

According to gynecologist-obstetrician Suneeta Mehwal of Max Health Hospital in New Delhi, low birth weight, inadequate nutrition and anaemia commonly plague underage mothers.

“Postpartum hemorrhage (bleeding after delivery) is an added risk. Girls under 15 are also five times more likely to succumb to maternal mortality than those aged above 20.”

According to data released by the Registrar General of India in 2013, the maternal mortality rate (MMR) dropped from 212 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2007-09 to 178 in 2010-12.

Still, India is far behind the target of 103 deaths per live births to be achieved by 2015 under the United Nations-mandated Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Infant mortality declined marginally to 42 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2012 from 44 deaths in 2011. Among metropolitan cities, Delhi, the national capital, was the worst performer, with 30 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2012.

One in every 24 infants at the national level, one in every 22 infants in rural areas, and one in every 36 infants in urban areas still die within one year of life, according to the Registrar’s data.

This dire health situation is made worse by the prevalence of child marriage, experts say.

Activists point out that the main bottlenecks they encounter in their fieldwork are economic impoverishment, social customs, lack of awareness about consequences of child marriage and the belief that marriage offers social and financial security to the girl.

This is unsurprising since, according to the Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2013, India is one of the hungriest countries in the world, ranking 63rd in a list of 78 countries, behind Pakistan at 57, Nepal at 49 and Sri Lanka at 43.

Many parents also believe that co-habitation with a husband will protect a young girl from rape and sexual activity.

“Nothing could be further from [the] truth,” explains Meena Sahi, a volunteer with Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Childhood Movement), a non-profit organisation working in the field of child welfare.

“On the contrary, the young girl is coerced into early sexual activity by a mostly overage husband, leading to poor reproductive health. Adolescent pregnancies do the worst damage – emotional and physical – to the mother as well as the newborn,” Sahi told IPS.

Social activists admit that to accelerate change, girls should be provided with robust alternatives to marriage. Education and vocational training should be used as bridges to employment for girls, especially in rural areas.

The 2011 census reported a nationwide literacy rate of 74.04 percent in 2011. Male literacy rate stands at 82.14 percent and female literacy hovers at 65.46 percent.

Engaging closely with those who make decisions for families and communities, explaining to them the ill effects of child marriage on their daughters, as well as providing information, as well as birth and marriage registrations, are some ways to address child marriages and track child brides.

Change is happening but at a glacial pace. In an attempt to eliminate child marriages in the Vidarbha district of the southern state of Maharashtra, 88 panchayats (local administrative bodies) passed a resolution this year to ban the practice.

Following the move, 18 families cancelled the weddings of their minor daughters.

Although annulment of child marriage is also a complex issue, India’s first child marriage was annulled in 2013 by Laxmi Sargara who was married at the age of one without the knowledge of her parents. Laxmi remarried – this time of her own choice – in 2014.

*Name changed upon request.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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TNT and Scrap Metal Eviscerate Syria’s Industrial Capitalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/tnt-and-scrap-metal-eviscerate-syrias-industrial-capital/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tnt-and-scrap-metal-eviscerate-syrias-industrial-capital http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/tnt-and-scrap-metal-eviscerate-syrias-industrial-capital/#comments Tue, 19 Aug 2014 17:53:37 +0000 Shelly Kittleson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136210 Member of Aleppo civil defence team searches for survivors after barrel bomb attack, August 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

Member of Aleppo civil defence team searches for survivors after barrel bomb attack, August 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

By Shelly Kittleson
ALEPPO, Syria / GAZIANTEP, Turkey, Aug 19 2014 (IPS)

Numerous mechanics, tyre and car body shops used to line the busy streets near the Old City of Syria’s previous industrial and commercial hub.

Now car parts, scrap metal, TNT and other explosive materials are packed into oil drums, water tanks or other large cylinders from regime areas and dropped from helicopters onto civilian areas in the same city, in defiance of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2139.

In the days spent inside the city in August, IPS frequently heard bombs throughout the day and night and visited several sites of recent attacks on civilian areas. Locally organised civil defence units could be seen trying to extract survivors from the rubble, but often nothing could be done.

Roughly six months ago, on February 22, the U.N. resolution ordered all parties to the conflict to halt the indiscriminate use of barrel bombs on populated areas. The Syrian regime has instead intensified its use of them.An Aleppo local council official told IPS that of the some 1.5 million people living in the city previously, there were now fewer than 400,000, with most of those who have left in recent months now internally displaced.

Human Rights Watch released a report in late July saying that it had identified ‘’at least 380 distinct damage site in areas held by non-state armed groups in Aleppo’’ through satellite imaging in the period from October 31, 2013 to the February 22 resolution, and over 650 new impact strikes on rebel-held areas in the period since, marking a significant increase.

One of the deadliest days of recent months in the city was on June 16, when 68 civilians were killed by aerial attacks, according to the Violations Documentation Center in Syria. The centre also noted that in the five months between February 22 and July 22, a total of 1,655 civilians were killed in the Aleppo governorate by aerial attacks.

An Aleppo local council official told IPS that of the some 1.5 million people living in the city previously, there were now fewer than 400,000, with most of those who have left in recent months now internally displaced. He said that every month the number of people in the area is re-counted for food supply and other requests to donors given the huge displacement under way.

The only road heading towards the Turkish border in rebel hands is now in danger of falling to the fundamentalist Islamic State (IS) – previously known as Islamist State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) – even if the armed opposition groups manage to keep government troops at bay.

Regime forces are trying to inflict a siege on Aleppo’s rebel-held areas to force them into submission, as they have done to other cities in several parts of the country.

The removal of the jihadist IS group from large sections of territory not under regime control has been entirely due to the fighting by the rebel groups themselves, and it is likely that many will face brutal execution if the group enters the city again – a prospect the regime seems to be favouring.

Barrel bombs are not dropped on IS forces or on the territory held by them, and until recently there were few cases of any sort of attack at all by regime forces against IS-held areas.

A local activist from IS-controlled Jarabulus, now living across the border in Turkey – after coming under suspicion of “speaking negatively of IS” within the community – told IPS that since the jihadist group had taken control of the city, ‘’there has not been a single attack on any part of it’’ by the regime.

The TNT-filled cylinders dropped by Syrian government forces have in recent months instead been destroying the few productive activities that had remained in a city formerly known worldwide for its olive oil soap, textiles and other industries.

Aya Jamili, a local activist now living in Turkey, told IPS that the few Aleppo businessmen who had tried to keep their operations up and running through the years of the conflict had in recent months either moved their equipment across the border or just moved whatever capital they had available and started over again.

Much activity needed for day-to-day survival in the city has moved underground. Underground structures have been renovated by civil defence units into shelters, which also served to hold the festivities marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in late July. Any large gathering in the streets would have been likely to attract the attention of the regime.

People who can have moved to basement flats, as have media centres and bakeries, which work at night to avoid being targeted.

Produce is brought in from the countryside and stands sell melons and tomatoes in the streets nearer the regime ones. Because barrel bombs cannot be precisely aimed, there is too large a risk for the regime of dropping them close to its own side, so these locations are deemed ‘safer’.

Nevertheless, there is still the constant risk of snipers and large sheets of bullet-scarred canvas have been hung across some of the streets to minimise their line of vision.

The once bustling, traffic-clogged streets farther away resemble for the most part desolate wastelands.

On the way out of the city, two barrel bombs were dropped in quick succession near the neighbourhood through which IPS was travelling and, just as the driver said ‘’the helicopters only carry two each, so for the moment that’s all’’ and sped onwards, a third, deafening impact occurred nearby, shaking the ground.

Further down the road, signs indicating the way to ‘Sheikh Najjar, industrial city’ are shot through with bullet holes, an apocalyptic scene of crumbling buildings behind them.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Can Land Rights and Education Save an Ancient Indian Tribe?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/can-land-rights-and-education-save-an-ancient-indian-tribe/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=can-land-rights-and-education-save-an-ancient-indian-tribe http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/can-land-rights-and-education-save-an-ancient-indian-tribe/#comments Tue, 19 Aug 2014 12:28:03 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136207 Bonda women in the remote Tulagurum Village in the eastern Indian state of Odisha seldom allow themselves to be photographed. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Bonda women in the remote Tulagurum Village in the eastern Indian state of Odisha seldom allow themselves to be photographed. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
MALKANGIRI, India, Aug 19 2014 (IPS)

Scattered across 31 remote hilltop villages on a mountain range that towers 1,500 to 4,000 feet above sea level, in the Malkangiri district of India’s eastern Odisha state, the Upper Bonda people are considered one of this country’s most ancient tribes, having barely altered their lifestyle in over a thousand years.

Resistant to contact with the outside world and fiercely skeptical of modern development, this community of under 7,000 people is struggling to maintain its way of life and provide for a younger generation that is growing increasingly frustrated with poverty – 90 percent of Bonda people live on less than a dollar a day – and inter-communal violence.

“The abundant funds pouring in for the Bonda people's development need to be transparently utilised so that the various inputs work in synergy and show results." -- Dambaru Sisa, the first ever Upper Bonda to be elected into the state legislature in 2014
Recent government schemes to improve the Bonda people’s access to land titles is bringing change to the community, and opening doors to high-school education, which was hitherto difficult or impossible for many to access.

But with these changes come questions about the future of the tribe, whose overall population growth rate between 2001 and 2010 was just 7.65 percent according to two surveys conducted by the Odisha government’s Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Research and Training Institute (SCSTRTI).

First land rights, then education

In a windowless mud hut in the Bonda Ghati, a steep-sloping mountainous region in southwest Odisha, Saniya Kirsani talks loudly and drunkenly about his plans for the acre of land that he recently acquired the title to.

The 50-year-old Bonda man has illusions of setting up a mango orchard in his native Tulagurum village, which will enable him to produce the fruity liquor that keeps him in a state of intoxication.

His wife, Hadi Kirsani, harbours far more realistic plans. For her, the land deeds mean first and foremost that their 14-year-old son, Buda Kirsani, can finally go back to school.

He dropped out after completing fifth grade in early 2013, bereft of hopes for further education because the nearest public high school in Mudulipada was unaffordable to his family.

Upper and Lower Bondas

Since the mid 20th century, many Bonda families left their original lands and settled in the foothills of Malkangiri, where they have easier access to ‘mainstream’ services such as education and employment.

Known as the Lower or Plains Bondas, they are now found in as many as 14 of Odisha’s 30 districts due to rapid out-migration.

Upper and Lower Bondas have a combined total population of 12,231, registering a growth rate of 30.42 percent between 2001 and 2011 according to census data, compared to a low 7.65-percent growth rate among the Upper Bondas who remain on their ancestral lands.

The sex ratio among Upper Bonda people is even more skewed than in other tribal groups, with the female population outweighing males by 16 percent.

A 2009 baseline survey in Tulagurum village among the age group 0-six years found 18 girls and only three boys.

SCSTRTI’s 2010 survey of 30 Upper Bonda villages found 3,092 men and 3,584 women.

The Upper Bonda are one of 75 tribes designated as a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PTG) in India, including 13 in Odisha state alone.
Moreover, he would have had to walk 12 km, crossing hill ranges and navigating steep terrain, to get to his classroom every day.

Admission to the local tribal resident school, also located in Mudulipada, required a land ownership document that would certify the family’s tribal status, which they did not possess.

The Kirsani family had been left out of a wave of reforms in 2010 under the Forest Rights Act, which granted 1,248 Upper Bonda families land titles but left 532 households landless.

Last October, with the help of Landesa, a global non-profit organisation working on land rights for the poor, Buda’s family finally extracted the deed to their land from the Odisha government.

Carefully placing Buda’s only two sets of worn clothes into a bag, Hadi struggles to hold back the tears welling up in her eyes as she tells IPS that her son is now one of 31 children from the 44-household village who, for the first time ever, has the ability to study beyond primarily school.

She is not alone in her desire to educate her child. Literacy among Upper Bonda men is a miserable 12 percent, while female literacy is only six percent, according to a 2010 SCSTRTI baseline survey, compared to India’s national male literacy rate of 74 percent and female literacy of 65 percent.

For centuries, the ability to read and write was not a skill the Bonda people sought. Their ancient Remo language has no accompanying script and is passed down orally.

As hunters and foragers, the community has subsisted for many generations entirely off the surrounding forests, bartering goods like millet, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, yams, fruits, berries and wild spinach in local markets.

Up until very recently, most Upper Bondas wove and bartered their own cloth made from a plant called ‘kereng’, in addition to producing their own brooms from wild grass. Thus they had little need to enter mainstream society.

But a wave of deforestation has degraded their land and the streams on which they depend for irrigation. Erratic rainfall over the last decade has affected crop yields, and the forest department’s refusal to allow them to practice their traditional ‘slash and burn’ cultivation has made it difficult for the community to feed itself as it has done for hundreds of years.

Mainstreaming: helping or hurting the community?

Since 1976, with the establishment of the Bonda Development Agency, efforts have been made to bring the Upper Bonda people into the mainstream, providing education, better sanitation and drinking water facilities, and land rights.

“Land ownership enables them to stand on their own feet for the purpose of livelihood, and empowers them, as their economy is predominantly limited to the land and forests,” states India’s National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST), a key policy advisory body.

Efforts to mainstream the Bonda people suffered a setback in the late 1990s, when left-wing extremists deepened the community’s exclusion and poverty by turning the Bonda mountain range into an important operating base along India’s so-called ‘Red Corridor’, which stretches across nine states in the country’s central and eastern regions and is allegedly rife with Maoist rebels.

Still, Odisha’s tribal development minister Lal Bihari Himirika is confident that new schemes to uplift the community will bear fruit.

“Upon completion, the ‘5000-hostel scheme’ will provide half a million tribal boys and girls education and mainstreaming,” he told IPS on the sidelines of the launch of Plan International’s ‘Because I Am A Girl’ campaign in Odisha’s capital, Bhubaneswar, last year.

The state’s 9.6 million tribal people constitute almost a fourth of its total population. Of these tribal groups, the Upper Bonda people are a key concern for the government and have been named a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PTG) as a result of their low literacy rates, declining population and practice of pre-agricultural farming.

Social activists like 34-year-old Dambaru Sisa, the first ever Upper Bonda to be elected into the state legislature in 2014, believe mainstreaming the Bonda community is crucial for the entire group’s survival.

Orphaned as a child and educated at a Christian missionary school in Malkangiri, Sisa now holds a double Masters’ degree in mathematics and law, and is concerned about his people’s future.

“Our cultural identity, especially our unique Remo dialect, must be preserved,” he told IPS. “At the same time, with increased awareness, [the] customs and superstitions harming our people will slowly be eradicated.”

He cited the Upper Bonda people’s customary marriages – with women generally marrying boys who are roughly ten years younger – as one of the practices harming his community.

In customary marriages, Bonda women marry boys who are seven to 10 years their junior. Typically, a 22-year-old woman will be wed to a 15-year-old boy. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

In customary marriages, Bonda women marry boys who are seven to 10 years their junior. Typically, a 22-year-old woman will be wed to a 15-year-old boy. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Women traditionally manage the household, while men and boys are responsible for hunting and gathering food. To do so, they are trained in archery but possession of weapons often leads to brawls within the community itself as a result of Bonda men’s quick tempers, their penchant for alcohol and fierce protection of their wives.

A decade ago, an average of four men were killed by their own sons or nephews, usually in fights over their wives, according to Manoranjan Mahakul, a government official with the Odisha Tribal Empowerment & Livelihood Programme (OTELP), who has worked here for over 20 years.

Even now, several Bonda men are in prison for murder, Mahakul told IPS, though lenient laws allow for their early release after three years.

“High infant mortality, alcoholism and unsanitary living conditions, in close proximity to pigs and poultry, combined with a lack of nutritional food, superstitions about diseases and lack of medical facilities are taking their toll,” Sukra Kirsani, Landesa’s community resource person in Tulagurum village, told IPS.

The tribe’s drinking water is sourced from streams originating in the hills. All families practice open defecation, usually close to the streams, which results in diarrhoea epidemics during the monsoon seasons.

Despite a glaring need for change, experts say it will not come easy.

“Getting Bonda children to high school is half the battle won,” Sisa stated. “However, there are question marks on the quality of education in residential schools. While the list of enrolled students is long, in actuality many are not in the hostels. Some run away to work in roadside eateries or are back home,” he added.

The problem, Sisa says, is that instead of being taught in their mother tongue, students are forced to study in the Odia language or a more mainstream local tribal dialect, which none of them understand.

The government has responded to this by showing a willingness to lower the required qualifications for teachers in order to attract Bondas teachers to the classrooms.

Still, more will have to be done to ensure the even development of this dwindling tribe.

“The abundant funds pouring in for Bondas’ development need to be transparently utilised so that the various inputs work in synergy and show results,” Sisa concluded.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Island States to Rally Donors at Samoa Meethttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/island-states-to-rally-donors-at-samoa-meet/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=island-states-to-rally-donors-at-samoa-meet http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/island-states-to-rally-donors-at-samoa-meet/#comments Mon, 18 Aug 2014 20:49:19 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136190 Flood damage in St. Vincent. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Flood damage in St. Vincent. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
ST. JOHN’S, Antigua, Aug 18 2014 (IPS)

Amid accelerating climate change and other challenges, a major international conference in the South Pacific island nation of Samoa next month represents a key chance for Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in the Caribbean to turn the tide.

“This is an opportune moment where you will have all of the donor agencies and the funding partners so as civil society we have prepared a draft which looks at agriculture, health, youth, women and many other areas to present to the conference highlighting the needs in the SIDS,” Pamela Thomas, Caribbean civil society ambassador on agriculture for the United Nations, told IPS."We face particular vulnerabilities and our progress is impacted more than other developing countries by climate change and other natural phenomenon." -- Ruleta Camacho

“My primary area is agriculture and in agriculture we are targeting climate change because climate change is affecting our sector adversely,” she said.

“One of the projects we are putting forward to the SIDS conference is the development of climate smart farms throughout the SIDS. That is our major focus. The other area of focus has to do with food security, that is also a top priority for us as well but our major target at this conference is climate change,” added Thomas, who also heads the Caribbean Farmers Network (CaFAN).

SIDS Accelerated Modalities of Action (S.A.M.O.A) Pathway, a 30-page document developed ahead of the conference, outlines the particular challenges that SIDS face.

These include addressing debt sustainability, sustainable tourism, climate change, biodiversity conservation and building resilience to natural systems, sustainable energy, disaster risk reduction, threats to fisheries, food security and nutrition, water and sanitation, to name a few.

Ruleta Camacho, project coordinator on sustainable island resource management mechanism within Antigua and Barbuda’s Ministry of the Environment, said the challenges faced by Caribbean SIDS are related to sustainable development issues.

She pointed out that there are still significant gaps with respect to sustainable development in SIDS and developing countries generally.

“With respect to SIDS we face particular vulnerabilities and our development progress is impacted more than other developing countries by climate change and other natural phenomenon,” she told IPS. “So because of our isolation and other physical impacts of these phenomenons we are sometimes held back.

“You take the case of Grenada where its GDP went to zero overnight because of a hurricane. So we have these sorts of factors that hinder us and so we are trying our best.”

Despite these circumstances, Camacho said Caribbean SIDS have done very well, but still require a lot of international assistance.

“The reason for these conferences, this being the third, is to highlight what our needs are, what our priorities are and set the stage for addressing these priorities in the next 10 years,” she explained.

In September 2004, Ivan, the most powerful hurricane to hit the Caribbean region in a decade, laid waste to Grenada. The havoc created by the 125 mph winds cut communication lines and damaged or destroyed 90 percent of all buildings on the island.

Thomas’ group, CaFAN, represents farmers in all 15 Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries. Initiated by farmer organisations across the Caribbean in 2002, it is mandated to speak on behalf of its membership and to develop programmes and projects aimed at improving livelihoods; and to collaborate with all stakeholders in the agriculture sector to the strategic advantage of its farmers.

Camacho said the Sep. 1-4 conference provides opportunities not only for farmers but the Caribbean as a whole.

“Because we are small we are a little bit more adaptable and we tend to be more resilient as a people and as a country,” she said. “So with respect to all our challenges what we need to do is to communicate to our funders that the one size fits all does not work for small island developing states.

“We have socio-cultural peculiarities that allow us to work a little differently and one of the major themes that we emphasise when we go to these conferences is that we don’t want to be painted with the broad brush as being Latin America and the Caribbean. We want our needs as small island Caribbean developing state and the particular opportunities and our positioning to be recognised,” Camacho said.

And she remains optimistic that the international funding agencies will respond in the affirmative in spite of a recurring theme in terms of the Caribbean requesting special consideration.

“Like any business model, you can’t just try one time. You try 10 times and if one is successful then it was worth it. Yes there have been disappointments where we have done this before, we have outlined priorities before,” she explained.

“To be quite frank, this document (S.A.M.O.A) seems very general when you compare it to the documents that were used in Mauritius or Barbados, however, we have found, I think Antigua and Barbuda has been recognised as one of the countries, certainly in the environmental management sector to be able to access funding.

“We have a higher draw down rate than any of the other OECS countries and that is because of our approach to donor agencies. We negotiate very hard, we don’t give up and we try to use adaptive management in terms of fitting our priorities to what is on offer,” Camacho added.

The overarching theme of the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States is “The sustainable development of Small Island developing States through genuine and durable partnerships”.

The conference will include six multi-stakeholder partnership dialogues, held in parallel with the plenary meetings.

It will seek to achieve the following objectives: assess the progress to date and the remaining gaps in the implementation; seek a renewed political commitment by focusing on practical and pragmatic actions for further implementation; identify new and emerging challenges and opportunities for the sustainable development of SIDS and means of addressing them; and identify priorities for the sustainable development of SIDS to be considered in the elaboration of the post-2015 U.N. development agenda.

Editing by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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Does Iceland Gain From Whaling?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/does-iceland-gain-from-whaling/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=does-iceland-gain-from-whaling http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/does-iceland-gain-from-whaling/#comments Mon, 18 Aug 2014 07:39:28 +0000 Lowana Veal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136177 Two fin whaling boats in Reykjavik harbour, shortly before heading out to sea. Credit: Lowana Veal/IPS

Two fin whaling boats in Reykjavik harbour, shortly before heading out to sea. Credit: Lowana Veal/IPS

By Lowana Veal
REYKJAVIK, Aug 18 2014 (IPS)

Although fin whaling by Icelanders has encountered increasing opposition over the last year, Icelandic whaling boats headed off to sea again in mid-June for the first hunt of the summer and by August 14 had killed 80 fin whales.

The story of what then happens to the whales once they have been taken back to Iceland is part mystery and part an economic balancing act between the country’s economic interests and its international image.

As soon as the whales are landed in Iceland, work begins on dismembering the whales. But does the meat get sold and where? How much money does it bring in for the Icelandic economy? And are the costs involved more than the revenue?

All of the whale meat is sent to Japan, but Hvalur hf, the only Icelandic company that hunts fin whales, has encountered a great deal of resistance in transporting it there and has had to resort to commissioning a ship to take the meat directly from Iceland to Japan, undoubtedly leading to extra costs.“The story of what happens to the whales once they have been taken back to Iceland is part mystery and part an economic balancing act between the country’s economic interests and its international image”

IPS was unable to find out the fate of the fin meat sent to Japan earlier this year. Two months after arriving at its final destination, a Japanese source, who did not want to be named, told IPS: “My colleague told me that the whale blubber is still in the cold storage of Osaka customs.” The Japanese embassy in Reykjavik acknowledges that there is at least some sale of fin whale meat, but actual figures do not seem to be available.

Earlier this year, a group of North American animal rights and environmental groups started to pressure North American companies to stop buying fish from Icelandic fishing company HB Grandi because of its links with Hvalur hf. Almost immediately, the Canadian/U.S. company High Liner Foods said it would no longer buy fish from HB Grandi and a number of other companies followed suit, including the U.S. health food chain Whole Foods.

The campaigners also called on U.S. President Barack Obama to invoke the Pelly Amendment, which allows the President to embargo any and all fisheries products from countries operating in a way that undermines a conservation treaty – in this case, the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.

Obama decided to invoke the Amendment, and has already implemented one albeit diplomatic rather than economic action, which was not to invite Iceland to the large international “Our Ocean” conference hosted by the United States in June.

Besides the well-known Pelly Agreement, there is also the Packwood-Magnuson Amendment of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which allows the President to block foreign fleets from access to U.S. fisheries if their country is deemed to have diminished the effectiveness of an international conservation programme.

In 1984, Iceland and the United States signed an agreement whereby Iceland would obtain fishing permits in U.S. waters if it agreed to stop whaling. Due to various complications, although Iceland stopped whaling for 20 years in 1986, it did not start fishing in U.S. waters until December 1989 and then only caught a few tonnes of fish.

In spring this year, Social Democrat MP Sigridur Ingibjorg Ingadottir and seven other Icelandic opposition MPs tabled a parliamentary resolution calling for an investigation into the economic and trade repercussions for Iceland of whaling.

There was not enough time to discuss the matter in the last parliamentary session that ended mid-May, but Ingadottir is currently revising and updating the proposal with a view to submitting it early in the next parliamentary session, which starts in September.

“There are two main aspects to the proposal. One concerns the economic and trade interests of the country and the second Iceland’s image on an international scale,” she told IPS.

According to a report published in 2010, “In the years 1973-1985, when Hvalur hf pursued whaling of large cetaceans, whale processing usually stood for about 0.07 percent of GNP. The contribution of whaling itself to GNP is not known.” Minke whaling is not included in these figures.

Ingadottir, who trained as an economist, says that this figure is very low. “At that time, whaling was an industry and pursued systematically. Since then, a range of other large industries and commercial enterprises have sprung up, so the figure is likely to be lower,” she notes.

Gunnar Haraldsson, Director of the University of Iceland’s Institute of Economic Studies and one of the authors of the 2010 report, told IPS: “The problem is that no official figures exist on the returns of whale watching and various other parameters, thus there is a need to collect this sort of data specifically. It is therefore necessary to carry out a new study if we want to know what the national gains (and costs) actually are.”

Whale watching has blossomed over the last few years and at least 13 companies run whale-watching trips from various places around Iceland. Between 2012 and 2013, the number of whale watchers increased by 45,000, and the total number is now around 200,000 annually.

Three MPS had also called for an inquiry into whaling in the autumn of 2012. This was supposed to cover overall benefits to the economy, including economic interests, animal welfare issues and international obligations. A committee was set up to look into the organisation and grounds for whaling, but this petered out.

“The committee has not actually been dissolved, but it hasn’t met since the new government took over (in May 2013],” Asta Einarsdottir from the Ministry of Industries and Innovation told IPS. When asked why the committee had not met, Einarsdottir replied: “The Minister has not had a chance to meet with the Chair of the committee, despite repeated requests.”

Einarsdottir said that the committee was quite large and included representatives from the whale-watching and conservation sectors as well as from the whaling industry and various ministries.

Meanwhile, Icelandic lamb has also been affected by the whaling dispute. Over the last few years, Icelandic lamb has been exported to the United States and sold in the Whole Foods chain of shops under the banner of “Icelandic lamb”.

Last year, however, the chain decided not to brand the lamb as Icelandic because Iceland’s whaling activities had given Iceland a bad name. The expected increase in sales did not occur, and considerable pressure had to be applied to persuade them to keep selling the meat at all.

Ingadottir is forthright in her opinions. “Are they damaging our interests? Are they protecting a narrow group of interests rather than the national interest? What are we actually protecting with this whaling?” she asks, adding: “Iceland has to come up with very good reasons for pursuing whaling in order to continue doing it.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Protecting America’s Underwater Serengetihttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/protecting-americas-underwater-serengeti/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=protecting-americas-underwater-serengeti http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/protecting-americas-underwater-serengeti/#comments Fri, 15 Aug 2014 16:09:49 +0000 Christopher Pala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136151 The move would create giant havens where fish, turtles and birds could reproduce unhindered and edge back to their natural levels. Credit: ukanda/cc by 2.0

The move would create giant havens where fish, turtles and birds could reproduce unhindered and edge back to their natural levels. Credit: ukanda/cc by 2.0

By Christopher Pala
WASHINGTON, Aug 15 2014 (IPS)

U.S. President Barack Obama has proposed to more than double the world’s no-fishing areas to protect what some call America’s underwater Serengeti, a series of California-sized swaths of Pacific Ocean where 1,000-pound marlin cruise by 30-foot-wide manta rays around underwater mountains filled with rare or unique species.

Obama announced in June that he wants to follow in the steps of his predecessor George W. Bush, who in 2010 ended fishing within 50 nautical miles of five islands or groups of islands south and west of Hawaii. Bush fully protected about 11 percent of their Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), a total of 216,000 km2, by declaring them marine national monuments under the Antiquities Act, which does not require the approval of Congress.“This would be by far single greatest act of marine conservation in history.” -- Fisheries scientist Daniel Pauly

Obama is expected to use the same tool to extend the ban to 200 nautical miles and protect the rest of the EEZs, or a whopping 1.8 million km2. Given that the only two other giant fully protected areas, the U.K.’s Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean and the U.S. Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, total about one million km2, Obama would more than double the no-take areas of the world’s oceans.

“This would be by far the single greatest act of marine conservation in history,” said Daniel Pauly, a prominent fisheries scientist at the University of British Columbia. “It’s particularly welcome because overfishing is shrinking the populations of fish almost everywhere.”

By increasing the number of fish, the closure would boost genetic diversity, which will be increasingly valuable as marine species adapt to an ocean that is becoming warmer and more acidic at unprecedented speeds, he explained. The area is rich in sea-mounts, underwater mountains where species often evolve independently.

The move would create giant havens where fish, turtles and birds could reproduce unhindered and edge back to their natural levels. The Pacific bigeye tuna population, the most prized by sushi lovers after the vanishing bluefin, is down to a quarter of its unfished size, according to official estimates, and calls for reducing their take have been ignored.

The five roundish EEZs are called PRIAs, for Pacific Remote Island Areas. They are: Wake Atoll, north of the Marshall Islands; Johnston Atoll, southwest of Hawaii; Palmyra and Kingman Reef, in the U.S. Line Islands south of the Kiribati Line Islands; Jarvis, just below, and Howland and Baker, which abut Kiribati’s 408,000 km2-Phoenix Islands Protected Area. President Anote Tong has pledged to end all commercial fishing in the Phoenix protected area by Jan 1, 2015. The two areas together would create a single no-take zone the size of Pakistan, by far the world’s biggest.

None of the islands have resident populations. Palmyra has a scientific station with transient staff and Wake and Johnson are military, with small staffs. The others are uninhabited.

“These islands are America’s Serengeti,” said Douglas McCauley, a marine ecologist at the University of California at Santa Barbara who once worked as an observer on a long-lining vessel based in Honolulu. “That’s where you can still find the grizzlies and the buffaloes of the sea.”

In Honolulu Monday, a public hearing recorded testimony from opponents and supporters. Though only four percent of the take of the Hawaii fleet in 2012 came from PRIAs, criticism from fishermen ran strong. A local television station headlined its story, “It’s designed to protect the environment, but could it put local fishermen out of business?”

Opposition was led by the Western Pacific Fisheries Advisory Council, known as Wespac and controlled by the local fishing industry. Wespac issued a report citing the “best available scientific information” that asserted the closure was unnecessary because, it claimed, the fisheries in the five areas, which are open only to U.S. vessels, were healthy and sustainable.

Like many academics, McCauley, the ecologist, disagreed. He pointed to official statistics that show the Pacific tuna, the world’s most valuable fishery, are becoming smaller and fewer, the result of the same kind of overfishing that pummeled populations in the other tropical oceans.

John Hampton, the Central and Western Pacific fishery’s chief scientist, analyses whole stocks – in this case Pacific populations of skipjack, bigeye, albacore and yellowfin, along with billfish like marlin and swordfish. He said closing even such large areas won’t help because the fish move around the entire ocean.

But studies have shown that varying percentages of tuna are actually quite sedentary and stay inside PRIA-sized areas; most Hawaii yellowfin, for instance, stay within a few hundred miles of the islands.

McCauley pointed to statistics collected by the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service that show that the number of fish caught per 1,000 hooks by long-line vessels is higher in the PRIAs than in non-U.S. waters. For skipjack and albacore tuna, the ratio is two to one, and for yellowfin it’s six to one.

“This indicates that there’s already more fish inside the PRIAs, which illustrates that if you fish less, the population increases,” he said.

Alan Friedlander, a marine ecologist at the University of Hawaii, said even seabirds, the category of birds undergoing the steepest decline, would benefit from a ban on fishing.

Many species depend on tuna and other predators that feed on schools of small fish by driving them to the surface, where the birds can pick them off. “If you have more tuna, there’s going to be more prey fish driven to the surface and that will help the sea birds,” Friedlander said.

McCauley agreed and noted that historically, efforts to prevent the complete collapse of overfished species had focused on the species themselves.” “But by closing giant areas like these, you allow the ecosystem to become whole again,” he said.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

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U.S. Waives Sanctions on Myanmar Timberhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/u-s-waives-sanctions-on-myanmar-timber/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-waives-sanctions-on-myanmar-timber http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/u-s-waives-sanctions-on-myanmar-timber/#comments Thu, 14 Aug 2014 20:49:42 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136138 Commercial logging and firewood extraction for domestic use have accelerated Myanmar's deforestation rates in the last three decades. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Commercial logging and firewood extraction for domestic use have accelerated Myanmar's deforestation rates in the last three decades. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Aug 14 2014 (IPS)

Civil society groups are split over a decision by the U.S. government to waive sanctions on Myanmar’s timber sector for one year.

The decision, which went into effect late last month, is being hailed by some as an opportunity for community-led and sustainability initiatives to take root in Myanmar, where lucrative forestry revenues have long been firmly controlled by the military and national elites. The European Union, too, is currently working to normalise its relations with the Myanmarese timber sector.“The concern is that the system that is gaining traction with the international timber industry is to bypass any national systemic forestry reform process.” -- Kevin Woods of Forest Trends

Yet others are warning that Washington has taken the decision too soon, before domestic conditions in Myanmar are able to support such a change.

“Lifting sanctions on the timber industry now appears to be a premature move by the U.S., and risks lessening Burma’s impetus towards reform,” Ali Hines, a land campaigner with Global Witness, a watchdog group, told IPS.

“Burma is not yet in a position to state convincingly where and how timber is sourced, meaning that U.S. importers and traders have little way of knowing whether Burmese timber is illegal, or linked to social or environmental harm.”

In June, Washington granted a limited one-year license to the 200 members of the U.S.-based International Wood Products Association (IWPA) to engage in transactions with the Myanma Timber Enterprise, the state logging agency. U.S. officials say the aim of the decision is to allow U.S. companies and customers to help strengthen reforms in the Myanmarese timber trade, hopefully promoting transparency and building nascent sustainability practices.

“Interaction with responsible business can help build basic capacity so that Burma can begin to tackle the long-term systemic issues present in its extractive sectors,” Kerry S. Humphrey, a media advisor with the U.S. State Department, told IPS.

“The State Department has been in consultations with IWPA to ensure that any trade conducted under this license is in line with U.S. Government policies, including promoting sustainable forest management and legal supply chains.”

Humphrey notes that IWPA will now be required to file quarterly reports with the State Department on its “progress in helping to ensure legal timber supply chains”.

Yet critics worry this will simply create two parallel timber sectors, one licit and another that is little changed. The industry, as with Myanmar’s broader extractives sector, has long been notorious for deep corruption and human rights abuses.

“The concern is that the system that is gaining traction with the international timber industry is to bypass any national systemic forestry reform process,” Kevin Woods, a Myanmar researcher with Forest Trends, a watchdog group, told IPS.

Instead, Woods says, the end result could be to “create a wall around a few government-managed timber reserves to feed global tropical timber demand, leaving the rest of the country’s forests located in ethnic conflict zones to be continually pillaged and sold across its borders.”

Free-for-all?

Nearly a half-decade after Myanmar began a stuttering process of pro-democratic reform, many today are increasingly concerned that this process is slowing or even reversing course. Late last month, 72 members of the U.S. Congress warned U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that conditions in the country have “taken a sharp turn for the worse” over the past year and a half.

Kerry was in Myanmar over the past weekend, where he reportedly raised U.S. concerns over such regression with multiple top government officials.

Yet he also rejected concerns that Washington is “moving too quickly” in rolling back punitive bilateral sanctions on Myanmar. He had gone through “a long list of challenges” with Myanmarese officials, Kerry told journalists Sunday, “in a very, very direct way”.

With the removal of sanctions, however, many worry that Washington is losing important leverage. In the timber sector in particular, some question the extent to which U.S. and other foreign companies will have the wherewithal, or interest, to effect change on the ground in Myanmar – particularly given the tepid commitments made by the country’s government.

“This is not the time for U.S.-based timber importers to be investing in Burma,” Faith Doherty, a senior campaigner at the Environmental Investigation Agency, a watchdog group, told IPS.

“Secretary Kerry … raised serious questions as to the backsliding of reforms and continuing human rights abuses within the country – how do companies within the IWPA think they are able to avoid contributing to these issues that are prevalent throughout the timber sector?”

Indeed, some observers suggest that Myanmar’s opening-up has been accompanied by a sense of free-for-all.

“Illegal logging and natural resource grabbing, including land, in ethnic states and regions … have become worse since the reforms started and the influx of foreign investment into the country,” Paul Sein Twa, with the Burma Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organisation, told IPS.

“Remember, we are still in a fragile peace-building period and there is no rule of law in the conflict areas. So our recommendation is to go slowly on reforming law and policies – to open up more space, engage with civil society organisations and the ethnic armed groups.”

Certification momentum

Any ultimate success in reforming Myanmar’s forestry sector will depend on future actions by both the country’s government and the foreign companies that end up purchasing the country’s timber. Yet some are applauding the lifting of U.S. sanctions as an important opportunity to finally begin the work of reform.

“The problem with sanctions is that they restrict buyers in our country from engaging in the sector – the international marketplace, which today includes strong preferences for sustainable products, is inaccessible,” Josh Tosteson, a senior vice-president with the Rainforest Alliance, a group that engages in the certification of tropical forest products, told IPS.

“Particularly if the lifting of sanctions comes along with some commitments from significant buyers to work cooperatively to support and incentivise the march toward sustainability certification, that can inject some real energy to drive this process forward.”

This week, the Myanmar Forest Department accepted a proposal from the Rainforest Alliance for a pilot production community forest in the country’s south.

“Having market mechanisms there that provide a minimum preference and a new market norm that won’t allow anything other than responsible or sustainably produced products to enter the market – that will be the key element,” Tosteson says.

“Particularly in intra-Asian trade you’ll need to have buying companies get on board with these norms. That will be a significant challenge, but if they’re not stepping up to create these new market norms no other efforts will matter – illicit products will simply flow through the routes of least resistance.”

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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South Sudan Heads towards Famine Amid ‘Descent into Lawlessness’http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/south-sudan-heads-towards-famine-and-descends-into-lawlessness/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=south-sudan-heads-towards-famine-and-descends-into-lawlessness http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/south-sudan-heads-towards-famine-and-descends-into-lawlessness/#comments Thu, 14 Aug 2014 10:17:08 +0000 Andrew Green http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136125 A woman living in a displacement site in Mingkaman, South Sudan, grinds grain that she received from humanitarian agencies during their monthly food distribution. More than 1.5 million people have been displaced by the fighting in South Sudan and many are now dependent on aid agencies for food, shelter and protection. Credit: Andrew Green/IPS

A woman living in a displacement site in Mingkaman, South Sudan, grinds grain that she received from humanitarian agencies during their monthly food distribution. More than 1.5 million people have been displaced by the fighting in South Sudan and many are now dependent on aid agencies for food, shelter and protection. Credit: Andrew Green/IPS

By Andrew Green
JUBA, South Sudan , Aug 14 2014 (IPS)

Another deadline has passed. But instead of bringing about peace, the leaders of South Sudan’s warring parties have allowed the country to continue its slide toward famine.

Sunday was the deadline for the delegations of President Salva Kiir and his former deputy turned rebel leader Riek Machar to present a final proposal for a unified transitional government that would end eight months of conflict.

Instead, the weekend brought more fighting.

Each new clash exacerbates the country’s already-desperate food security situation. The international community has warned that famine could arrive as early as December. At least 1.1 million people are facing emergency food shortages. And – until fighting actually stops – aid agencies do not have access to tens of thousands of people who need their help.“Attacks on civilians and destruction and pillage of civilian property lie at the heart of how this war has been fought.” -- Skye Wheeler, a researcher with Human Rights Watch

There are no indications from the field that the clashes will stop any time soon. On Tuesday, during a visit of the United Nations Security Council to South Sudan, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power shared reports they had received “of more arms being brought into this country in order to set the stage for another battle.”

Meanwhile, in early August, a local militia group operating outside the command of either of the two forces tracked down and executed six aid workers in Upper Nile state, near the country’s border with Sudan. They chose their targets based on ethnic affiliation, perpetuating the tribal divisions that are driving this conflict.

By the time the two sides finally get to work in Addis Ababa, they may be drafting a solution to a situation over which they no longer have any control.

The now eight-month conflict began as a political squabble between Kiir and Machar over who would control the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement party. But it quickly stoked ethnic tensions as it moved across the eastern half of the country. Human rights violations became one of the grim hallmarks of the violence.

“Attacks on civilians and destruction and pillage of civilian property lie at the heart of how this war has been fought,” Skye Wheeler, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, said in an interview with IPS. Patients have been shot in their hospital beds and people sheltering in a mosque and at U.N. bases have been massacred. At least 10,000 people have been killed and 1.5 million more displaced.

Even as violence has become the norm across large swathes of the country, the targeted killings of aid workers and other Nuers living in Upper Nile state’s Maban County may have marked the transition to a more volatile stage in South Sudan’s conflict.

Maban, which hosts tens of thousands of Sudanese refugees, had been relatively untouched by the fighting. But that did not stop a local militia, calling itself the Mabanese Defence Force and with no obvious alliance to either side, from executing the Nuer civilians.

The U.N. Mission in South Sudan warned in a press release that Maban was now at risk of an “ongoing descent into lawlessness” – a lawlessness that, in the absence of a legitimate peace deal, could easily spread to other areas of the country as communities decide to exact their own forms of justice.

“We’ve seen how abuse has driven further violence and more abuses during reprisal attacks directed against civilians,” Wheeler said. The weekend brought reports that another armed group was on the march in Maban, this one to exact revenge for the killings earlier in August.

The consequences of the Maban murders could be further reaching.

The people living in the conflict regions – as well as tens of thousands of displaced – are almost completely dependent on the U.N. and non-governmental organisations for food, shelter and protection.

Humanitarians were already dealing with access issues amid the ongoing fighting, as well as funding shortages. The U.N. estimates aid agencies will need 1.8 billion dollars to reach 3.8 million people before the end of the year. So far they have raised just over half.

And while the situation does not yet meet the technical criteria to be declared a famine, “there is extreme suffering,” Sue Lautze, the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organisation country director, told IPS.

If aid workers become targets, the suffering will get much worse.

In Maban, a team from Medair, a humanitarian group currently providing emergency services in South Sudan, is responsible for operating clean water stations and running other health and hygiene services for the 60,000 people, including Sudanese refugees who live in the Yusuf Batil Camp, as well as members of the surrounding communities. Country Director Anne Reitsema said in an interview with IPS the attacks showed a “total disrespect for humanitarian actors.”

Following the attack, Medair temporarily pulled some staff members out of Maban, though leaving enough people to continue their operations. It’s too early to say when they will return, but Reitsema cautioned that the attack “makes it very hard for us to do our work.” The problem is, there is no one else to do it.

All of this – the increasing violence, the possible famine and another missed deadline – can be used as points “to shame” the two parties into an agreement that finally sticks, according to Jok Madut Jok, an analyst with the Sudd Institute, a local think tank.

It’s already happening. During her visit to Juba, Power said, “We do not see the urgency that needs to be brought to these negotiations.” And the international community has raised the threat of economic sanctions once again.

It’s a strategy that has not yet worked – the United States and European Union have already sanctioned a military leader on each side of the conflict. But neither has anything else the local and international community has tried. Which is why Jok expects more deadlines may come and go without anything being accomplished.

“The peace talks are about what each one of them hopes to walk away with from the peace talks, rather than peace, itself,” he told IPS.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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Adaptation Gaps Mean African Farmers Fork Out More Money for Reduced Harvestshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/adaptation-gaps-mean-african-farmers-fork-out-more-money-for-reduced-harvests/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=adaptation-gaps-mean-african-farmers-fork-out-more-money-for-reduced-harvests http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/adaptation-gaps-mean-african-farmers-fork-out-more-money-for-reduced-harvests/#comments Thu, 14 Aug 2014 09:13:38 +0000 Monde Kingsley Nfor http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136122 Judith Muma, a smallholder farmer from Cameroon’s Northwest Region, says if climate change adaptation funds could reach farmers like her, her farming costs would reduce. Credit: Monde Kingsley Nfor/IPS

Judith Muma, a smallholder farmer from Cameroon’s Northwest Region, says if climate change adaptation funds could reach farmers like her, her farming costs would reduce. Credit: Monde Kingsley Nfor/IPS

By Monde Kingsley Nfor
YAOUNDE, Aug 14 2014 (IPS)

In Cameroon’s Northwest Region, Judith Muma walks 9km from her home to her 300-square-metre farm. The vegetables she grows here are flourishing thanks to the money she has borrowed from her njangi (thrift group) and a local credit union to finance a small artisanal irrigation scheme.

“I spend more money today buying farm implements such as water tanks, watering pumps, fertilisers, insecticides and improved seeds. I think we must spend in farming today if we want to adapt to climate change,” Muma tells IPS.

Cameroon’s economy is primarily agrarian and about 70 percent of this Central African nation’s 21.7 million people are involved in farming. Changes in temperature and precipitation pose a serious threat to the nation’s economy where agriculture contributes about 45 percent to the annual GDP.

In the northern parts of Cameroon, the semi-arid lowlands and hills are mostly dependent on rainfall and groundwater. The impact of forest clearance on hydrological processes has also aggravated climate change impact in these areas.“If most of the projects on climate change adaptation ... could reach us, the farmers, directly, important farm implements the cost of farming could reduce.” Judith Muma, smallholder farmer, Cameroon

Muma explains that even small-scale subsistence farmers like her now need to invest money in their livelihoods to ensure a minimal output. She says as a result of her investment, most of her harvest — 60 percent — is sold at a local vegetable market.

According to the World Bank, agriculture in Africa declined in absolute terms from eight billion dollars in 1984 to 3.5 billion dollars in 2005. There was also a decline in development cooperation policies and in national budget allocations for agriculture.

“This drop in concern for agriculture had a considerable influence on Africa’s capacity to develop climate adaptation policies and early warnings [systems]. But after two decades of decline, investments in agriculture are now on the rise,” Collotte Eboko, an agriculture inspector in Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, tells IPS.

“Sub-regional initiatives have generated a multiplicity of commitments to addressing climate change, poverty and hunger with a new focus on climate friendly agriculture,” Eboko says.

According to a United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, Africa faces “very high” risks to crop production as a result of global warming.

Last year’s Adaptation Gap study published by the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) warned that Africa could face an annual adaptation bill of 35 to 50 billion dollars by 2050.

But Africa lags behind as far as adaptation projects to support vulnerable groups are concerned.

“African governments have not done enough for the developed world to see adaption as priority for the continent. They still think climate change is a white people’s [western] problem…

“The position of Africa is grounded on these assumptions. But if we started by showing more commitments, our claims shall be more rational,” Samuel Nguiffo, of the Centre for Environmental Development, a research organisation in Cameroon, tells IPS.

Investment in climate change adaptation can help ensure that the impacts of climate change — including a projected 20 to 50 percent decline in water availability — do not reverse decades of development progress in Africa, according to the UNEP.

As the international community prepares for the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris 2015, Africa still has much at stake in this global discuss. But the issues are many and complex due to the continent’s high level of vulnerability to climate change and its low level of resources.

But Nguiffo says that Africa should not wait for a developed nation to finance a policy formulation project.

“The will and commitments should rather come from our own parliaments and decision makers first. Africa needs an effective climate change adaptation policy that considers climate change as survival issue.

“Integrating a gender approach is vital to promoting a quick response to climate action both at international and national level,” Nguiffo says.

Many African countries are lagging behind as far as adaptation projects are concerned. The Climate Funds Update (CFU) website highlights a large gap between funding approved and funding spent on projects in Africa.

For this reason, Africans have missed out on important funding opportunity for their projects. For example, under the U.N.’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), only two percent of the over 7,000 projects are based on the continent.

  •  In 2011, 72 CDM  projects  were  registered across Africa, accounting  for  only  two percent of global CDM projects.
  • South Africa and Egypt host a majority of the projects in Africa, with the rest in the remaining African countries.
  •  The remainder of the CDM projects are in the Asia–Pacific: 73.1 percent; and in Latin America and the Caribbean: 23.5 percent.

The failure of the CDM of the Kyoto Protocol to support projects in Africa has been a major concern for African climate experts.

This lag has been blamed on Africa’s low capacity to develop and invest in mitigation as well as climate-resilient agriculture.

“Africa is in dire need of capacity building of national institutions responsible for mitigation and adaptation to facilitate and increase Africa participation in CDMs and REDD,” Timothee Kagonbe, one of Cameroon’s envoys to the climate change negotiations, tells IPS.

There are serious bottlenecks in programme implementation in Africa. In Cameroon, for example, there were over 30 CDM projects registered by Cameroon’s Ministry of Environment, but only one has been implemented and is qualified as a CDM project.

In 2010, the Japanese government supported 20 African countries with 92.1 million dollars over three years to implement integrated and comprehensive adaptation actions and resilience plans.

According to Daniel Seba of the Ministry of Environment, “the Japanese Africa Adaptation Programme helped Cameroon develop climate-resilient policies and development processes to incorporate climate change risks/opportunities in priority sectors but we need funding for its implementation.”

But Kagonbe explains that weak governance and limited capacity has resulted in failures in climate change adaptation and mitigation projects. The various international procedures for the formulation and implementation of mitigation and adaptation projects are very complicated for African countries, which have very little capacity and funding.

The African Development Bank has recently opened the Africa Climate Change Fund. This is aimed at ensuring countries on the continent get more help adapting to the effects of global warming. The fund received six million dollars from Germany in April.

“Climate change is a great opportunity for economic growth given increasing climate funding pledges and if more investment is made in agriculture it will becomes more sustainable, increasing its productivity and becomes more resilient against the impact of climate change,”  Eboko says.

Africa needs to rethink many of its basic economic assumptions and investment strategies and start spreading investment in rural and deserted regions to reduce climate induce security risk and migration, she adds.

“If most of the projects on climate change adaptation we hear about on the radio and read in publications could reach us, the farmers, directly, important farm implements the cost of farming could reduce,” Muma says.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

The writer can be contacted at nformonde@gmail.com

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IFC Warned of Systemic Safeguards Failures in Hondurashttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/ifc-warned-of-systemic-safeguards-failures-in-honduras/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ifc-warned-of-systemic-safeguards-failures-in-honduras http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/ifc-warned-of-systemic-safeguards-failures-in-honduras/#comments Wed, 13 Aug 2014 00:34:01 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136085 By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Aug 13 2014 (IPS)

For the second time this year, an internal auditor has criticised the World Bank’s private sector investment agency over dealings in Honduras, and is warning that similar problems are likely being experienced elsewhere.

The investigation found that the bank’s private sector investment agency, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), took on a significant stake in a Honduran bank but undertook “insufficient measures” to assess that institution’s own investments. These included at least one company involved in a deadly land dispute.“The philosophy of the World Bank is to ‘end poverty’, but what has happened in this process has been the opposite.” -- La Plataforma Agraria de Honduras

The auditor, known as the Compliance Advisor/Ombudsman (CAO), also levels a broader critique of the IFC’s investments in third-party groups such as the Honduran bank. When dealing with these “financial intermediaries”, the CAO warns, financial considerations appear to be receiving far more attention from officials than the environmental and social policies meant to safeguard local communities.

“IFC acquired an equity stake in a commercial bank with significant exposure to high risk sectors and clients, but which lacked capacity to implement IFC’s environmental and social requirements,” the CAO states in a report released Monday.

“The absence of an environmental and social review process that was commensurate to risk meant that key decision makers … were not presented with an adequate assessment of the risks that were attached to this investment.”

The report focuses on a 2011 IFC investment, worth 70 million dollars, in Banco Ficohsa, Honduras’s third-largest bank. CAO found that important information was withheld between IFC offices over the extent of business between Banco Ficohsa and Corporacion Dinant, an agribusiness company that for years has been accused of waging a violent campaign to expand its palm oil plantations in the country’s Aguan Valley.

In January, CAO issued critical findings on a separate IFC investment in Dinant, from 2009, worth 30 million dollars. Dinant is owned by Miguel Facusse Barjum, one of the wealthiest businessmen in the country and reportedly a backer of the 2009 military coup that ousted a pro-reform president.

Over the past half-decade, more than 100 people have reportedly been killed in the Aguan Valley in clashes between Dinant security personnel and local cooperatives.

IFC has put on hold the Dinant deal and enacted a plan aimed at ameliorating the situation. The new report does not find evidence that the Banco Ficohsa deal was aimed at funnelling additional funds to Dinant, but CAO researchers suggest that the effect was the same.

“[W]aiving a key financial covenant and then taking an equity position in Ficohsa … facilitated a significant ongoing flow of capital to Dinant, outside the framework of its environmental and social standards,” the report states.

Local civil society groups say the effect has been devastating.

“The philosophy of the World Bank is to ‘end poverty’, but what has happened in this process has been the opposite,” La Plataforma Agraria de Honduras, a Honduran network, told IPS in Spanish.

“Instead, we’ve seen greater wealth for corporations and transnational landowners and greater poverty for the poor, who have been driven from their lands. And although the previous CAO report was very critical, the World Bank has continued to finance Dinant through Ficohsa.”

Beneath the intermediaries

In a formal response also released Monday, the IFC does not dispute the CAO findings. But it does suggest that they are no longer relevant, following changes put in place in part in response to the January CAO report on Dinant.

New procedures, for instance, will now allow for additional oversight visits to “medium risk clients”. Multiple new processes will also aim to close information gaps of the type that led to the Ficohsa revelations, including the creation of a new vice-president-level position to focus on “risk and sustainability”.

“Under this new structure, [environmental and social] risk will receive the same weight and attention as financial and reputation risk,” two IFC vice-presidents wrote in a letter to CAO.

Yet the remarkably critical CAO report has already added momentum to an ongoing campaign to convince the World Bank Group to reform the IFC’s dealings with financial intermediaries such as Banco Ficohsa. Such deals have become increasingly important to the IFC’s portfolio over the past decade, but they have traditionally offered far less oversight for the agency.

In such projects, the IFC requires the intermediary to set up a system aimed at ensuring that stringent environmental and social safeguards are met. But analysis of the effects of this system on the ground is left to the intermediary.

“This issue has been questioned in many cases – where a financial intermediary is the one doing the disbursements and the IFC is completely separate and doesn’t know what’s going on,” Carla Garcia Zendejas, a programme director at the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), a Washington-based watchdog group, told IPS.

“That’s the case here. Even if you have a system in place to assess these risks, if you’re not doing that properly the whole system is worthless.”

Systemic reassessment

The CAO has repeatedly questioned the IFC’s policies on investments in financial intermediaries (a broad investigation can be found here). This time, the investigators are clear that the Honduras situation is likely not an isolated incident.

“[T]he shortcomings identified in this investigation … are indicative of a system of support to [financial intermediaries] which does not support IFC’s higher level environmental and social commitments,” CAO states.

“CAO’s findings raise concerns that IFC has, through its banking investments, an unanalyzed and unquantified exposure to projects with potential significant adverse environmental and social impacts.”

The auditor warns that, under current disclosure mechanisms, “this exposure is also effectively secret”, and calls for a “reassessment” of the agency’s management of social and environmental risk in its dealings with financial institutions.

Rights advocates note that similar concerns are cropping up in IFC investments in financial intermediaries elsewhere.

“One of this report’s main findings is that there is a breakdown in the IFC’s systems approach to [financial intermediaries], especially in risk categorization,” Jelson Garcia, of the Bank Information Center (BIC), a watchdog group here, told IPS in an e-mailed statement. “This … links to recent cases in Myanmar and India as yet another example of the IFC needing to take stringent and urgent reforms of its financial markets lending approach.”

Advocacy groups say a primary concern is the IFC’s institutional culture, which they say prioritises the volume of loans disbursed over their quality. BIC, CIEL and others are now calling on World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim to order the preparation of a reform plan in time for the next big World Bank Group meetings, in October.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Eco-Friendly Agriculture Puts Down Roots in Spainhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/eco-friendly-agriculture-puts-down-roots-in-spain/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=eco-friendly-agriculture-puts-down-roots-in-spain http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/eco-friendly-agriculture-puts-down-roots-in-spain/#comments Tue, 12 Aug 2014 18:26:17 +0000 Ines Benitez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136081 An ecological market that is set up every weekend on one of the busiest streets in Málaga. Similar markets can be found in towns and cities all around Spain. Credit: Inés Benítez/IPS

An ecological market that is set up every weekend on one of the busiest streets in Málaga. Similar markets can be found in towns and cities all around Spain. Credit: Inés Benítez/IPS

By Inés Benítez
MALAGA, Spain, Aug 12 2014 (IPS)

José María Gómez squats and pulls up a bunch of carrots from the soil as well as a few leeks. This farmer from southern Spain believes organic farming is more than just not using pesticides and other chemicals – it’s a way of life, he says, which requires creativity and respect for nature.

Gómez, 44, goes to organic food markets in Málaga to sell the vegetables and citrus fruits he grows on his three-hectare farm in the Valle del Guadalhorce, 40 km west of Málaga, a city in southern Spain,

And every week Gómez, whose parents and grandparents were farmers, does home deliveries of several dozen baskets of fresh produce, “thus closing the circle from the field to the table,” he told Tierramérica on his farm.

The economic crisis in Spain, where the unemployment rate stands at 25 percent, hasn’t put a curb on ecological farming. In 2012, organic farming covered 1.7 million hectares of land, compared to 988,323 in 2007, according to the latest statistics from the Ministry of Agriculture and Environment.

Organic farming generated 913,610 euros (1.22 million dollars) in 2012, 9.6 percent more than in 2011.

“Ecological farming is growing in Spain and Europe despite the crisis because those who consume organic produce are loyal,” agricultural technician Víctor Gonzálvez, coordinator of the non-governmental Spanish Society of Organic Agriculture (SEAE), told Tierramérica.

Organic food markets have mushroomed in the streets and plazas of cities and towns around Spain, and some supermarket chains now sell ecological produce.

The southern community or region of Andalusía has the largest extension of land under organic farming: 949,025 officially registered hectares, equivalent to 54 percent of the national total, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.

Most production from Andalusía is exported to other European countries, like Germany and the United Kingdom – which seems contradictory to those in favour of organic farming that truly provides a local alternative to intensive, industrial agriculture, with a short food supply chain.

“It doesn’t make sense to talk about exporting ecological foods because production should bring benefits to the local economy,” Pilar Carrillo told Tierramérica from her La Coruja farm in the municipality of Tacoronte on Tenerife, one of Spain’s Canary Islands.

She and her partner, Julio Quílez, have been living there for a year with their young son. They have less than half a hectare of land, where they practice permaculture – the use of ecology and local ecosystems to design self-sustaining productive landscapes that, once established, need a minimum of human intervention. They sell their produce every Saturday in the nearby farmer’s market.

“When you buy local ecological products you are eating healthy food, you’re interacting with people from the countryside, and you generate wealth in your local surroundings,” engineer Juan José Galván, who for five years has been buying food in organic markets in Málaga, told Tierramérica.

José María Gómez walking among the tomato plants on his Bobalén Ecológico farm in the Valle de Guadalhorce near the southern Spanish city of Málaga, where he grows organic vegetables and fruits. Credit: Inés Benítez/IPS

José María Gómez walking among the tomato plants on his Bobalén Ecológico farm in the Valle de Guadalhorce near the southern Spanish city of Málaga, where he grows organic vegetables and fruits. Credit: Inés Benítez/IPS

Spain, with its mild climate, has the largest area dedicated to organic farming in the European Union, according to Eurostat 2012 figures, and the fifth largest area in the world, after Australia, Argentina, the United States and China, according to a report by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements.

But the controls and certification of ecological agricultural production, which in Spain are carried out by both public and private bodies, are neither simple nor free of cost.

To be sold as organic food, products must carry a label with the code of the corresponding authority in each community, the Ministry of Agriculture explains on its website.

Certification of ecological farming takes at least two years to obtain, and the inspections are thorough, farmers told Tierramérica. The requisites and controls involved and the economic effort entailed drive up the prices of organic products, they argued.

Quílez, who grows aromatic and medicinal plants in Tenerife, said he has to pay for certification “as an ecological farmer and also as a seller of organic produce, which doubles the cost; a large part of the price of ecologically produced food goes into red tape.”

According to Gonzálvez, public funds in Spain go more towards conventional agricultural production and research in biotechnology than into supporting ecological farming.

He said farmers “are afraid to take the leap” into this kind of alternative production because there are no advisory services, unlike in intensive, industrial agriculture.

“Ecological agriculture is very empirical. If an aphid attacks my melons, I plant beans next to the melons because they draw the aphids away. Every year you get wiser,” Gómez said, standing among his tomato plants on his Bobalén Ecológico farm.

Gómez, who has tousled dark hair and skin tanned by the sun, argues that while “big industry produces market-oriented varieties, ecological agriculture, especially local farming based on geographical proximity, focuses on producing quality food,” as well as preserving the environment and soil fertility.

Critics argue that organic products are expensive and the production methods inefficient, “but it depends on what you buy, and where,” Esther Vivas, with the Centre for Studies on Social Movements at the Pompeu Fabra university in the northeast city of Barcelona, wrote in her article “Who’s afraid of ecological agriculture?”

Vivas told Tierramérica that although the level of consumption of organic products in Spain is still low compared to conventional farm products, the market for ecological produce is growing, as interest has been boosted by various scandals involving food products.

Galván said that while it is true that the higher cost of organic products can turn away consumers, “demand is steadily growing.”

“The real revolution has to come from below, from the consumer who goes to the markets to buy and who demands high-quality products,” Gómez said.

The ecological farmer – who worked for years as an environmental agent – stressed the social dimension of organic agriculture and short food supply chains, pointing to “the affection that your customers give you, as they are aware of the health benefits of the food and of the sustainability of the production.”

Quílez, who left a well-paid job in computers to dedicate himself to ecological farming, said “exploitative agriculture undermined food sovereignty,” and this is seen clearly in the Canary Islands “where 85 percent of the products consumed come from outside.”

On Gómez’s farm it’s time to plant beans, potatoes, cauliflower and broccoli to harvest in October and November. “I get up at 5:30 in the morning and farm for 15 or 16 hours,” he said.

But “it’s the best job I’ve had in my life,” he added, smiling.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

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What Do the World Bank and IMF Have to Do With the Ukraine Conflict?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/what-do-the-world-bank-and-imf-have-to-do-with-the-ukraine-conflict/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=what-do-the-world-bank-and-imf-have-to-do-with-the-ukraine-conflict http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/what-do-the-world-bank-and-imf-have-to-do-with-the-ukraine-conflict/#comments Tue, 12 Aug 2014 13:26:25 +0000 Frederic Mousseau http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136051 Typical agricultural landscape of Ukraine, Kherson Oblast. Credit: Dobrych (Flickr)/CC-BY-SA-2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Typical agricultural landscape of Ukraine, Kherson Oblast. Credit: Dobrych (Flickr)/CC-BY-SA-2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

By Frederic Mousseau
OAKLAND, United States, Aug 12 2014 (IPS)

Mostly unreported as the Ukraine conflict captures headlines, international financing has played a significant role in the current conflict in Ukraine.

In late 2013, conflict between pro-European Union (EU) and pro-Russian Ukrainians escalated to violent levels, leading to the departure of President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014 and prompting the greatest East-West confrontation since the Cold War.

Frédéric Mousseau

Frédéric Mousseau

A major factor in the crisis that led to deadly protests and eventually Yanukovych’s removal from office was his rejection of an EU association agreement that would have further opened trade and integrated Ukraine with the European Union. The agreement was tied to a 17 billion dollars loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Instead, Yanukovych chose a Russian aid package worth 15 billion dollars plus a 33 percent discount on Russian natural gas.

The relationship with international financial institutions changed swiftly under the pro-EU government put in place at the end of February 2014 which went for the multi-million dollar IMF package in May 2014.

Announcing a 3.5 billion dollars aid programme on May 22, World Bank president Jim Yong Kim lauded the Ukrainian authorities for developing a comprehensive programme of reforms, and their commitment to carry it out with support from the World Bank Group. He failed to mention the neo-liberal conditions imposed by the Bank to lend money, including that the government limit its own power by removing restrictions that hinder competition and limiting the role of state control in economic activities. “The stakes around Ukraine's vast agricultural sector, the world’s third largest exporter of corn and fifth largest exporter of wheat, constitute a critical factor that has been overlooked. With ample fields of fertile black soil that allow for high production volumes of grains, Ukraine is the breadbasket of Europe”

The rush to provide new aid packages to the country with the new government aligned with the neo-liberal agenda was a reward from both institutions.

The East-West competition over Ukraine, however, is about the control of natural resources, including uranium and other minerals, as well as geopolitical issues such as Ukraine’s membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

The stakes around Ukraine’s vast agricultural sector, the world’s third largest exporter of corn and fifth largest exporter of wheat, constitute a critical factor that has been overlooked. With ample fields of fertile black soil that allow for high production volumes of grains, Ukraine is the breadbasket of Europe.

In the last decade, the agricultural sector has been characterised by a growing concentration of production within very large agricultural holdings that use large-scale intensive farming systems. Not surprisingly, the presence of foreign corporations in the agricultural sector and the size of agro-holdings are both growing quickly, with more than 1.6 million hectares signed over to foreign companies for agricultural purposes in recent years.

Now the goal is to set policies that will benefit Western corporations. Whereas Ukraine does not allow the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in agriculture, Article 404 of the EU agreement, which relates to agriculture, includes a clause that has generally gone unnoticed: both parties will cooperate to extend the use of biotechnologies.

Given the struggle for resources in Ukraine and the influx of foreign investors in the agriculture sector, an important question is whether the results of the programme will benefit Ukraine and its farmers by securing their property rights or pave the way for corporations to more easily access property and land.

By encouraging reforms such as the deregulation of seed and fertiliser markets, the country’s agricultural sector is being forced open to foreign corporations such as Dupont and Monsanto.

The Bank’s activities and its loan and reform programmes in Ukraine seem to be working toward the expansion of large industrial holdings in Ukrainian agriculture owned by foreign entities.

Amid the current turmoil, the World Bank and the IMF are now pushing for more reforms to improve the business climate and increase private investment. In March 2014, the former prime minister ad interim, Arsenij Yatsenyuk, welcomed strict and painful structural reforms as part of the 17 billion dollars IMF loan package, dismissing the need to negotiate any terms.

The IMF austerity reforms will affect monetary and exchange rate policies, the financial sector, fiscal policies, the energy sector, governance, and the business climate.

The loan is also a precondition for the release of further financial support from the European Union and the United States. If fully adopted, the reforms may lead to significant price increases of essential consumer goods, a 47 to 66 percent increase in personal income tax rates, and a 50 percent increase in gas bills. These measures, it is feared, will have a devastating social impact, resulting in a collapse of the standard of living and dramatic increases in poverty.

Although Ukraine started implementing pro-business reforms under president Yanukovych through the Ukraine Investment Climate Advisory Services Project and by streamlining trade and property transfer procedures, his ambition to mould the country to the World Bank and IMFs standards was not reflected in other realms of policy and his allegiance to Russia eventually led to his removal from office.

Following the installation of a pro-West government, there has been an acceleration of structural adjustment led by the international institutions along with an increase in foreign investment, aimed at further expansion of large-scale acquisitions of agricultural land by foreign companies and further corporatisation of agriculture in the country.

The experience of structural adjustment programmes around the developing world foretells that it will increase foreign control of the Ukrainian economy as well as increase poverty and inequality. As Western powers get ready to impose sanctions on Russia for its transgressions in Ukraine, it remains unclear how programmes and conditionalities imposed by the World Bank will improve the lives of Ukrainians and build a sustainable economic future.

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Aleppo Struggles to Provide for Basic Needs as Regime Closes Inhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/aleppo-struggles-to-provide-for-basic-needs-as-regime-closes-in/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=aleppo-struggles-to-provide-for-basic-needs-as-regime-closes-in http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/aleppo-struggles-to-provide-for-basic-needs-as-regime-closes-in/#comments Mon, 11 Aug 2014 06:37:41 +0000 Shelly Kittleson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136044 Syrian boy carries bread back from underground bakery in severely damaged opposition-held area of Aleppo (August 2014). Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

Syrian boy carries bread back from underground bakery in severely damaged opposition-held area of Aleppo (August 2014). Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

By Shelly Kittleson
ALEPPO, Syria, Aug 11 2014 (IPS)

The single, heavily damaged supply road remaining into the rebel-held, eastern area of the city is acutely exposed to enemy fire.

All lorries with wheat for the areas’ underground bakeries, soap for hygiene purposes, and fuel for vehicles and generators travel by this route. While snipers focus on this road and other frontlines throughout the city, regime barrel bombing is meanwhile steadily, painfully reducing the rest of the city to rubble.

Although many areas are now under the control of the more moderate Islamic Front, Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Al-Nusra helps provide for basic needs in some areas where the underfunded Syrian National Council-linked administration is unable to do so.While snipers focus on this road [the only remaining supply road into the rebel-held, eastern area of the city] and other frontlines throughout the city, regime barrel bombing is meanwhile steadily, painfully reducing the rest of the city to rubble

IPS watched as members of the armed group handed out metre-long rectangular blocks of ice, after they slid down a metal shaft to armed men waiting to give them to inhabitants waiting nearby who have been without electricity and running water for months.

‘’They’re good people,’’ said one inhabitant of the city, who nonetheless had been arrested by them for undisclosed reasons a few months back. ‘’They’re friends.’’

In private, however, many Syrians will say that they are not happy with the group, though it is ‘’not anywhere near as bad as ‘Daeesh’ (the Islamic State, formerly known as ISIS).”

Inside the Aleppo city council offices, bright red filing cabinets and a new coat of white paint mark a sharp contrast with the crumbling buildings and concrete slabs hanging precariously above streets where those left continue to go about their daily affairs as best they can.

‘’We have been hit many times, but we need to show that we will keep rebuilding,’’ one employee said.

Council chief Abdelaziz Al-Maghrebi, a former teacher and manager at a textile factory, walks with a limp from what he says was an injury from a tank bomb never properly treated.

The council has civil registry, education, legal affairs and civil defence directorates – and an office for electricity, water, sewage, and rubbish – but often receives no money from the ‘government-in-exile’, said Mohammed Saidi, financial manager of the council.

‘’The amount of money depends on the month, and no money was received from the SNC in July.’’

However, Saidi stressed, all reports of siphoning off of money by members ‘’are false’’.

Private donors and foundations play a large part in the council’s budget as well, and ‘’funding depends on the project proposals that are accepted’’, he said.

One of the recent proposals was for underground shelters, which the head of the civil defence directorate – established at the council only recently after long acting as an entirely volunteer force – told IPS had been granted four months ago, and 16 of which had since been built.

For medical needs, doctor Ibrahim Alkhalil, head of the Aleppo health directorate for rebel areas, said that as doctors and hospitals continue to be targeted, the location of medical facilities ‘’has to be kept confidential and change frequently’’.

The doctor, who is Syrian but who spent most of his professional career in Saudi Arabia and only came back after the uprising started, noted that everything was in short supply or lacking entirely: antibiotics, water, electricity and trained staff.

He added that the lack of maintenance for vehicles and the terrible road conditions meant that many people were dying simply from being unable to reach the few existing medical centres.

Moreover, the local council can afford to provide funds only to some medical facilities that do not receive any from other donors, council chief Al-Maghrebi told IPS.

Alkhalil pointed out, however, that no amount of supplies would solve the main problem if ‘’the regime isn’t stopped from killing and injuring in the first place.’’

A truck with lights switched off to avoid attracting regime aircraft attention often makes its way through the streets of a central neighbourhood at night, calling out ‘haleeb’, ‘haleeb’ (‘milk’).

A number of children in the area have been hit by snipers while crossing a street now ‘protected’ by a bullet-riddled sheet of canvas meant to reduce visibility.

In another area, Salahheddin – the ‘first liberated area of Aleppo’ and the very name of which retains a sort of mythical status in the eyes of some – children laugh and play soccer in the empty street near the frontline after nightfall. The blood of a boy hit by a sniper recently still stains the ground nearby.

Despite the constant risk of government snipers, IPS was told, near the frontlines was often the ‘’safest place, since it is too close to regime areas for them to drop barrel bombs on.’’

IPS was asked by a freckled, red-haired boy barely out of his late teens now working for a local Muslim, ‘’Why have you come here? What is there left to say?’’

The boy works to get charities abroad to help his organisation provide 50 dollars per month to the neediest widows and orphans of those killed in the fighting and for food packages.

A barrel bomb outside the charity’s offices killed a good friend and co-worker about 15 days ago. Sandbags are now stacked in front of windows and, according to another volunteer, over half of the staff left immediately after the incident, either for other parts of the country or for Turkey – or they simply no longer come to the office out of fear, a niqab-clad woman also working at the organisation said.

The charity has an underground bakery with which it normally provides bread to those in need, but its equipment had broken down a few days prior to IPS’s visit. It was unclear when it would be fixed, whether the spare parts needed could be brought into the city, and whether the regime might soon take the one road left in.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Nepal’s Poor Live in the Shadow of Natural Disastershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/nepals-poor-live-in-the-shadow-of-natural-disasters/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nepals-poor-live-in-the-shadow-of-natural-disasters http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/nepals-poor-live-in-the-shadow-of-natural-disasters/#comments Mon, 11 Aug 2014 03:45:19 +0000 Naresh Newar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136032 A poor Muslim family in the Habrahawa village of the Banke district in west Nepal has little means of recovering from natural disasters. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

A poor Muslim family in the Habrahawa village of the Banke district in west Nepal has little means of recovering from natural disasters. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

By Naresh Newar
BANKE, Nepal, Aug 11 2014 (IPS)

Barely 100 km north of Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, the settlement of Jure, which forms part of the village of Mankha, has become a tragic example of how the country’s poorest rural communities are the first and worst victims of natural disasters.

Barely a week ago, on Aug. 2, a slope of land nearly two km long located roughly 1,350 metres above the Sunkoshi river collapsed, sweeping away over 100 households and killing some 155 people in this tiny settlement with a population of just 2,000 people.

“The majority of natural disaster victims have always been [from] the poorest communities and the tragic incident in Jure is an unfortunate reminder of that fact." -- Pitamber Aryal, national programme manager of the U.N.’s Comprehensive Disaster Risk Management Programme in Nepal
According to the Nepal Red Cross Society (NRCS), the country’s largest humanitarian agency, the death toll from last week’s disaster ranks among the worst in the history of this catastrophe-prone South Asian nation.

With so many dead, and fears rising that the artificial lake – created by blockages to the river – may burst and flood surrounding villages, experts are urging the government to seriously consider mapping out hazard areas across the country and integrate the management of natural disasters into its national economic and development plans.

Such a move could mean the difference between life and death for Nepal’s low-income communities, who are often forced to live in the most vulnerable areas.

When disasters strike, these groups are left homeless and injured, stripped of the small plots of agricultural land on which they subsist.

Poorest suffer worst impacts

Steep slopes, active seismic zones, savage monsoon rains between July and September and mountainous topography make Nepal a hotbed of disasters, according to the World Bank.

Over 80 percent of the country’s 27.8 million people live in rural areas, with a quarter of the population languishing below the poverty line of 1.25 dollars a day.

The poorest of the poor, who largely rely on agriculture, typically live on steep slopes under the constant shadow of landslides, or in low-lying flood-prone areas, and have virtually no resources with which to bounce back after a weather-related calamity, says the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

“In many cases, communities that live in high-risk areas tend to have higher levels of poverty and as a result, do not have the ability to relocate to safer areas,” Moira Reddick, coordinator of the Nepal Risk Reduction Consortium (NRRC), told IPS.

Most homes are abandoned in the flood-prone Holiya village in Nepal but poor families often return to them in the aftermath of natural disasters. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

The NRRC, a collaborative body of local and international humanitarian and development aid agencies acting in partnership with the Nepal government, have long advocated for disaster risk reduction (DRR) to be incorporated into the state’s poverty reduction strategies in order to better provide for vulnerable communities and “minimise the impact of disasters” Reddick added.

“The majority of natural disaster victims have always been [from] the poorest communities and the tragic incident in Jure is an unfortunate reminder of that fact,” Pitamber Aryal, national programme manager of the U.N.’s Comprehensive Disaster Risk Management Programme in Nepal, told IPS.

In the last three decades, landslides have resulted in 4,511 fatalities and flattened 18,414 houses, affecting 555,000 people, according to official data.

Forced to take risks

Nepal: Fast Facts

According to the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR):

• Nepal faces several types of natural disasters every year, the most prominent being floods including glacial lake outburst flooding (GloFs), drought, landslides, wildfires and earthquakes.

• Nepal ranks 11th in the world in terms of vulnerability to earthquakes and 30th in terms of flood risks.

• There are more than 6,000 rivers and streams in Nepal. On reaching the plains, these fast-flowing rivers often overflow causing widespread flooding across the Terai region as well as flooding areas in India further downstream.

• Another potential hazard is Glacial lake outburst Flooding (GloF). In Nepal, a total of 159 glacial lakes have been found in the Koshi basin and 229 in the Tibetan Arun basin. Of these, 24 have been identified as potentially dangerous and could trigger a GloF event.

• Out of 21 cities around the world that lie in similar seismic hazard zones, Kathmandu city is at the highest risk in terms of impact on people. Studies conducted indicate that the next big earthquake is estimated to cause at least 40,000 deaths, 95,000 injuries and would leave approximately 600,000 – 900,000 people homeless in Kathmandu.
With little help from the government, civil society is struggling to provide necessary services to the affected population.

Dinanath Sharma, DRR coordinator for the international NGO Practical Action, told IPS that his organisation has made several attempts to move communities to safer locations, but their efforts are thwarted by the lack of a comprehensive relocation plan that offers both secure residence and economic viability.

“We will not move anywhere unless the government finds us a place that is fertile and good for our livelihoods,” a Muslim farmer from the remote Habrahawa villagein the Banke district, 600 km southwest of the capital, told IPS.

This simple demand is heard often throughout Nepal’s numerous villages, particularly in those that sit on the banks of the Rapti River, one of the largest in the country that has been the source of major flooding over the past decade.

Although floods have affected over 3.6 million people in the last decade alone, according to the government’s National Disaster Report for 2013, villagers continue to return to their ancestral homes where they at least have access to fertile land and water, which enables them to eke out a living.

“Where can we go really? How can we abandon our homes here and go to a new place where there is no fertile land?” Chitan Khan, a farmer from the Khalemasaha village, also in the Banke district, told IPS.

Several families told IPS they sometimes temporarily relocate to villages far from the river during the monsoon season, but always return when the rain subsides. Khan is already stockpiling food in a safer place, but he is resigned to the fact that the annual floods will wash away half his food stores in the village.

According to the ministry of home affairs, floods and landslide cause 300 deaths and economic damages of about three million dollars annually – adding to an already precarious situation in Nepal, where an estimated 3.5 million people are food insecure, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

History repeats itself

For those familiar with Nepal’s vulnerabilities, the government’s unwillingness to establish comprehensive DRR programmes is nothing short of baffling.

The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), for instance, has been studying and analysing the fragile mountain ecosystem across the Himalayas in Asia’s central, south and eastern regions for the last 30 years.

One of its observations included the Sunkoshi Valley’s vulnerability to water-induced hazards due to a weak geological formation and steep topography, made worse by frequent and heavy rainfall.

The lack of an appropriate monitoring and early-warning system, however, resulted in a tragedy on Aug. 2 that could easily have been avoided, experts say.

In response, the government has created a high-level committee to seek solutions for longer-term disaster preparedness, said officials.

“There is definitely serious discussion now on how to reduce vulnerability of [poor] communities and the only way to do that is to relocate them with a comprehensive economic programme,” Rishi Ram Sharma, director general of the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM), told IPS.

To ensure the safety of villagers, the government must create intensive geological studies to map the dangerous areas, which could also help to also identify the safest places to relocate whole villages, explained Sharma, who now heads the newly created disaster preparedness committee.

Local aid workers told IPS the government’s emergency response, coordinated through the army and police force under the supervision of the home ministry, was efficient but that rescue workers faced challenges in reaching remote villages due to a combination of difficult terrain and heavy rainfall.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Women Warriors Take Environmental Protection into Their Own Handshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/women-warriors-take-environmental-protection-into-their-own-hands/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-warriors-take-environmental-protection-into-their-own-hands http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/women-warriors-take-environmental-protection-into-their-own-hands/#comments Fri, 08 Aug 2014 06:32:25 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135998 Indian activist Suryamani Bhagat has been fighting state officials in the eastern state of Jharkhand to protect tribal people’s forest rights. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Indian activist Suryamani Bhagat has been fighting state officials in the eastern state of Jharkhand to protect tribal people’s forest rights. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
BALI, Aug 8 2014 (IPS)

Aleta Baun, an Indonesian environmental activist known in her community as Mama Aleta, has a penchant for wearing a colourful scarf on her head, but not for cosmetic reasons.

The colours of the cloth, she says, represent the hues of the forests that are the lifeblood of her Mollo people living in West Timor, part of Indonesia’s East Nusa Tenggara province.

“The forest is the life of my people, the trees are like the pores in our skin, the water is like the blood that flows through us…the forest is the mother of my tribe,” Aleta told IPS.

“If I were a man, I would have been arrested and thrown in jail by now. Because we women stand together, police are reluctant to act like that.” -- Suryamani Bhagat, founder of the Torang tribal rights and cultural centre
The winner of the 2013 Goldman Environmental Prize, she represents an expanding international movement against environmental destruction helmed by humble, often poor, rural and tribal women.

For many years, Aleta has been at the forefront of her tribe’s efforts to stop mining companies destroying the forests of the Mutis Mountains that hug the western part of the island of Timor.

The Mollo people have long existed in harmony with these sacred forests, living off the fertile land and harvesting from plants the dye they use for weaving – a skill that local women have cultivated over centuries.

Starting in the 1980s, corporations seeking to extract marble from the rich region acquired permits from local officials, and began a period of mining and deforestation that caused landslides and rampant pollution of West Timor’s rivers, which have their headwaters in the Mutis Mountains.

The villagers living downstream bore the brunt of these operations, which they said represented an assault on their way of life.

So Mama Aleta, along with three other indigenous Mollo women, started traveling by foot from one remote village to the next, educating people about the environmental impacts of mining.

During one of these trips in 2006, Aleta was assaulted and stabbed by a group of thugs who waylaid her. But the incident did not sway her commitment.

“I felt they were raping my land, I could not just stand aside and watch that happen,” she told IPS.

The movement culminated in a peaceful ‘occupation’ of the contested mountain, with Aleta leading some 150 women to sit silently on and around the mining site and weave traditional cloth in protest of the destruction.

“We wanted to tell the companies that what they were doing was like taking our clothes off, they were making the forest naked by [cutting down] its trees,” she said.

A year later, the mining groups were forced to cease their operations at four sites within Mollo territory, and finally give up on the enterprise altogether.

 

Indigenous women from the Indonesian island of Lombok make traditional handicrafts using supplies from the forest. Amantha Perera/IPS

Indigenous women from the Indonesian island of Lombok make traditional handicrafts using supplies from the forest. Amantha Perera/IPS

Increasingly, women like Aleta are taking a front seat in community action campaigns in Asia, Africa and Latin America aimed at safeguarding the environment.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) estimates that women comprise one of the most vulnerable populations to the fallout from extreme weather events.

In addition, small-scale female farmers (who number some 560 million worldwide) produce between 45 and 80 percent of the world’s food, while rural women, primarily in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, spend an estimated 200 million hours per day fetching water, according to UN Women. Any change in their climate, experts say, will be acutely felt.

According to Lorena Aguilar, senior gender advisor with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), in some parts of rural India women spend 30 percent of their time looking for water. “Their role and the environment they live in have a symbiotic connection,” she said.

Ordinary mothers accomplish extraordinary feats

In the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand, Suryamani Bhagat, founder of the Torang tribal rights and cultural center, is working with women in her village of Kotari to protect the state’s precious forests.

Working under the umbrella of the Jharkhand Save the Forest Movement (known locally as Jharkhand Jangal Bachao Andolan), Bhagat initially brought together 15 adivasi women to protest attempts by a state-appointed forest official to plant commercially viable timber that had no biodiversity or consumption value for the villagers who live off the land.

The women then went to the local police station – accompanied by children, men and elders from the village – and began to pluck and eat the fruit from guava trees in the compound, announcing to the officers on duty that they wanted only trees that could provide for the villagers.

On another occasion, when police showed up to arrest women leaders in the community, including Bhagat, they announced they would go voluntarily – provided the police also arrested their children and livestock, who needed the women to care for them. Once again, the police retreated.

Now the women patrol the forest, ensuring that no one cuts more wood than is deemed necessary.

Bhagat believes that her gender works to her advantage in this rural community in Jharkhand’s Ranchi district.

“If I were a man, I would have been arrested and thrown in jail by now,” she told IPS. “Because we women stand together, police are reluctant to act like that.”

Over 7,000 km away, in the Pacific island state of Papua New Guinea, Ursula Rakova is adding strength to the women-led movement by working to protect her native Carteret Atoll from the devastating impacts of climate change.

The tiny islands that comprise this atoll have a collective land area of 0.6 square kilometers, with a maximum elevation of 1.5 metres above sea level.

For nearly 20 years, locals here have battled a rising sea that has contaminated ground water supplies, washed away homes and made agriculture virtually untenable.

The National Tidal Centre at the Australian government’s bureau of meteorology has been unwilling to provide long-term projections for the atoll’s future, but various media outlets report that the islands could be completely submerged as early as 2015.

In 2006, at the request of a local council of elders, Rakova left a paid job in the neighbouring Bougainville Island and returned to her native Carteret, where she helped found Tulele Peisa, an NGO dedicated to planning and implementing a voluntary relocation plan for residents in the face of government inaction.

The organisation advocates for the rights of indigenous islanders, and seeks economic alternatives and social protections for families and individuals forced to flee their sinking land.

“It is my island, my people, we will not give up on them,” Rakova told IPS. “It is our way of life that is going under the sea.”

All three women are ordinary mothers, who have taken extraordinary steps to make sure that their children have a better world to live in, and that outsiders, who have no sense of their culture or traditions, do not dictate their lives.

Of course this is nothing new. Michael Mazgaonkar, an India-based coordinator and advisor for the Global Greengrants Fund (GGF), told IPS that women have always played an integral role in environmental protection.

What is new is their increasing prominence on the global stage as fearless advocates, defenders and caretakers.

“The expanding role of women as climate leaders has been gradual,” Mazgaonkar stated. “In some cases they have been thrust forward, because they had no choice but to take action, and in others they have volunteered to play a leadership role.”

While the outcome of many of these campaigns hangs in the balance, one thing is for certain, he said: that the world “will continue to see their role becoming more pronounced.”

GFF Executive Director Terry Odendahl believes that “men are doing equally important work” but added: “historically women and their roles have been undervalued. We need to create the space for their voices to be heard.”

“If we raise women’s choices,” she said, “We can improve this dire environmental predicament we are faced with.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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