Inter Press Service » Biodiversity News and Views from the Global South Fri, 27 Nov 2015 15:48:38 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Private Nature Reserves in Latin America Seek a Bigger Role Fri, 20 Nov 2015 14:27:09 +0000 Fabíola Ortiz The Punta Leona private reserve on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, where the owners voluntarily protect biological diversity and use a small part of the property for ecotourism. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

The Punta Leona private reserve on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, where the owners voluntarily protect biological diversity and use a small part of the property for ecotourism. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabíola Ortiz
PUNTA LEONA, Costa Rica , Nov 20 2015 (IPS)

Private voluntary nature reserves in Latin America should be seen as allies in policies on the environment, climate change mitigation and the preservation of biological diversity in rainforests, say experts.

“Private reserves in Latin America are not included in conservation policies; they should be integrated in our national strategies,” said Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, vice-president of conservation policies in Conservation International (CI) in Costa Rica.

Rodríguez, a former Costa Rican minister of environment, energy and mines (2002–2006), was addressing 150 environmentalists, promoters of voluntary conservation agreements, and ecotourism business owners, during the 11th Latin American Congress of Networks of Private Reserves, held Nov. 9-13 in the Punta Leona private nature reserve and tourism destination.

In his view, the private sector should play a more central role and governments and the owners of private nature reserves should work together to achieve compliance with the Aichi Biodiversity Targets adopted in Nagoya, Japan in 2010.

During the 10th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Nagoya, 193 United Nations members established 20 targets to fight the loss of biodiversity, with a 2020 deadline.

“We are losing our natural capital due to climate change and the big gap between private and public conservation,” said Rodríguez. “The owners of private reserves should become political actors, to help meet the Aichi Targets.”

The global cost of financing efforts towards the targets is estimated at 150 to 440 billion dollars a year, according to figures from the Convention itself. But currently, CI says, the world is only channeling 45 billion dollars towards that end.

Rodríguez says private conservation efforts could help mitigate the shortfall in funds.

With that aim, the Latin American Alliance of Private Reserves was formally created Nov. 6 – the first of its kind in the world. It groups 4,345 private reserves in 15 countries, with a combined total of 5,648,000 hectares of green areas.

The 11th Latin American Congress of Networks of Private Reserves held No. 9-13 in the Punta Leona nature reserve on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

The 11th Latin American Congress of Networks of Private Reserves held No. 9-13 in the Punta Leona nature reserve on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

“The idea is to form a conservation chain,” Martin Keller of Guatemala, the president of the new alliance, told IPS. “Private areas can form a chain with national parks and expand national conservation systems. They are also a mechanism to absorb drastic climate changes.”

He argues that there should be no borders for private reserves in the region. “We are joining together in something magnificent, and formalising associations with international institutions so that they include us in environmental projects,” he said.

During the congress in Costa Rica, a pilot programme to encourage the sale of carbon credits was announced, with the donation of 200 hectares of land by a member of the Alliance. The programme will have an estimated 3,600 tonnes of carbon.

Keller hopes Latin America will begin to sell carbon as a bloc, starting in 2017.

“We have dreams and a passion for conserving nature,” the president of the Costa Rican Network of Nature Reserves, Rafael Gallo, who is donating the 200 hectares for the pilot plan, told IPS. “We want the sale of carbon to be a mechanism for private conservation at a global level.”

Gallo has an 800-hectare property on the Banks of the Pacuare River along Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast. Of that total, 700 hectares are a forest reserve. It is located in Siquirres, 85 km east of San José, near the Barbilla National Park, which forms part of the La Amistad Biosphere Reserve.

“The market is still just getting off the ground, a ton of carbon is worth three dollars,” said Gallo, who believes the mechanism will become viable when the price of a ton reaches 10 dollars.

The countries in the Alliance are Argentina, Belize, Brasil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay and Peru. Uruguay and Venezuela also have private reserves, but they have not yet set up local networks – a necessary step before they can join.

Keller said he hopes the initiative will expand to the entire hemisphere, including the Caribbean island nations, Canada and the United States.

Private reserves in the northern Costa Rican province of Heredia. A pilot project for carbon credits will be carried out on one such reserve, thanks to a donation of 200 hectares of land by its owner. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Private reserves in the northern Costa Rican province of Heredia. A pilot project for carbon credits will be carried out on one such reserve, thanks to a donation of 200 hectares of land by its owner. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Private reserves would like to benefit from multilateral institution programmes, and with that in mind they have made contact with U.N. partners involved in one way or another with conservation issues, such as the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank.

“We want to be a regional bloc, we want to be heard at an international level, and we want incentives for property owners to continue joining forces to support conservation – because we would have a massive impact as a bloc,” Claudia García de Bonilla, executive director of the Association of Private Natural Reserves of Guatemala, told IPS.

Voluntary conservation areas are set up by ecotourism businesses, academic institutions, research bodies, or organic agricultural producers, and their advocates see them as green shields against climate extremes and the loss of biodiversity.

“Forests are a sponge, absorbing storms and hurricanes. We have to keep expanding our ecological corridors,” Bonilla said.

The representative of private green areas in Chile, Mauricio Moreno, underscored benefits that nature reserves belonging to individuals or private bodies can offer a global vision of conservation.

“These areas are refuges protected with a great deal of goodwill and effort,” he told IPS. “They complement the public networks. There are reserves that border natural parks and thus create much bigger areas that make it possible to conserve species of animals. With a public and private effort, integral conservation is possible.”

According to Ariane Claussen, an engineer in renewable natural resources at the University of Chile, the budget assigned to public protected areas in the region is insufficient, which makes it difficult for countries to have the capacity to act on their own in the preservation of biodiversity.

“Rather than seeing private reserves as independent, they should be seen in an integrated manner,” she told IPS. “If these people didn’t decide to practice conservation, they would be using that land in different ways, for unsustainable monoculture or stockbreeding.”

She said “the property owners dedicate a small portion of this land to (economic) development like tourism, because they need an income.”

Claussen, along with another Chilean colleague, Tomás González, stressed the Latin American initiative Huella, aimed at voluntary cooperation in technical planning for conservation, environmental education and ecological activism in the region.

Private reserves cover gaps left by the state, she said. “The idea is that they take part in conservation as buffer zones and link up the ecosystems of public protected areas that are isolated and fragmented,” she explained.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: Risks? What Risks? Tue, 17 Nov 2015 16:30:37 +0000 Hazel Henderson

Hazel Henderson, president of Ethical Markets Media (USA and Brazil) is economist and author of Mapping the Global Transition to the Solar Age and other books.

By Hazel Henderson
MIAMI, Florida, Nov 17 2015 (IPS)

We humans are acutely aware of risks. From our earliest times, the risks we faced were from hunger, predatory animals, extreme environmental conditions and, as our numbers grew, from other human tribes.

Hazel Henderson Credit:

Hazel Henderson

Fast forward to our growing mastery of nature, technological prowess and the Industrial Revolution. The risks humans faced changed beyond those always present in extreme environmental conditions. The technologies we developed against such risks – advancing our energy, shelter, food and health systems – also created new risks, often unforeseen for decades. Conflicts with other humans grew as the human family colonized every part of our planet, stressing ecosystems and driving other species to extinction.

Today, in the 21st century, new risks dominate our political and social issues from terrorism, barbarous attacks on civilians as in Paris, nuclear meltdowns and weapons, financial crises, desertification and famines, disappearing glaciers in the Himalayas, Greenland and Antarctica, water shortages, polluted air, rising sea levels, new pandemics and drug-resistant diseases.

Yet views about these risks and priorities in addressing them are all over the map. This disparity is largely due to different views on how these new risks arose, who is to blame (since they are mostly humanly self-inflicted). This underlying debate about causes of today’s risks still hampers agreement on how to address let alone solve them or mitigate their effects.

Take the view of risk prevalent in the global financial system and its millions of traders in London, Wall Street, Frankfurt, Tokyo and Shanghai. They focus on risks to corporate earnings and profitability, interest rate risk, weak GDP growth, volatile gasoline prices, grassroots opposition, government regulation, political demands for rising wages, democratic demands to reduce inequality.

I attended a conference on “Playing for the Long-term” in New York, November, 3, 2015, hosted by the New York Times convening some 500 Wall Streeters. Their views focused on these risks, as well as those disrupting finance posed by the incursions of Silicon Valley startups threatening to bypass Wall Street: crowdfunding, peer-to-peer lending, cellphone banking, social media and electronic startups based on Internet platforms. Risks from cyber attacks also focused much attention. Risks from the wider world received little attention – even those now impinging on coal and oil stocks from activists divesting from fossil fuels. I asked Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman if he agreed with Bank of England head Mark Carney that many fossil fuel reserves could never be lifted or burned without further damage to the global climate and that these assets would be devalued. Mr. Gorman allowed that climate change was a problem, but that it was “not our business.”

Climate risk was hardly raised until one of the last speakers, former US Vice President Al Gore, explained how his London-based investment firm Generation Investment Management had produced healthy financial returns on $10 billion dollars of client assets by investing beyond fossil fuels in the more efficient, knowledge-rich technologies of renewable energy companies and the growing next economy: the Solar Age. Unfortunately for the rest of us, financial players like economists see risk in terms of money – forgetting that currencies are simply units of account which track and keep score of human transactions and interactions with nature’s resources.

So it still seems a question of “What risks?” – where and how they arise. How can we come together to share responsibility for our common future on this planet, powered daily by free energy from the Sun? As the beleaguered beautiful city of Paris prepares to host the UN Climate Summit from November 30 to December 11, 2015, even the world’s scientists of the Convention on Climate Change find their assessments of climate risk challenged not only by those denying that humans caused it, but that their models under-estimated these risks.

A UNEP Emissions Gap Report assessed the 119 Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) submitted by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) October 2015, covering 88 per cent of global GHG emissions in 2012. This indicates these efforts could cut up to 11 gigatons of CO2 equivalents from projected emissions by 2030. But, this is only half of the total required if there is a chance of staying below the target of below 2 degrees Celsius of warming by 2100. UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said that these INDC levels are an increase in ambition levels but not sufficient to reach this 2C target.

Several scientists warn that sea level rises are now inevitable due to long feedback processes measured by Earth-observing satellites. These risks focus on melting glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica, reported by scientists James Hanson, Erick Riguot, Richard Alley, Andrea Dutton, John Englander and others. David Wasdell, director of the London-based Meridian Programme, critiques the official IPCC report’s Summary for Policy Makers for downplaying the risks for political and economic expediency. Wasdell’s Climate Dynamics: Facing the Harsh Realities of Now (September 2015) concludes that human greenhouse gases already emitted, moving heat through Earth’s atmosphere and oceans, have already exceeded the 2C target and notional “available carbon budget.” Wasdell’s report concludes that any notional carbon budget allowing further emissions has already collapsed and we face a carbon debt instead.

Are these new climate risks insurmountable? Most experts say that there is time, but it is fast running out.

The good news is that more decision-makers and citizens in all sectors have ended their focus on fossil fuels and now recognize that our planet has always been amply powered by the Sun’s daily shower of free photons. Atmospheric CO2 can be returned to soils, deserts can be greened and ecosystems regenerated as finance is redirected by the 2° Investing Initiative. We humans have all the technology we need to scale up the next economy of efficient renewable resource technologies, as we track in our Green Transition Scoreboard® currently showing 6.22 trillion dollars of private investments in these Solar Age companies and technologies.

Risks also offer opportunities, and stress is evolution’s tool. Breakdowns drive breakthroughs!


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Medicinal Plants Popular and Unprotected in Mexico Wed, 28 Oct 2015 07:27:54 +0000 Emilio Godoy Clemente Calixto, a certified traditional healer, discusses the healing properties of a plant during a workshop in Mexico City. In his community in the southern state of Oaxaca, he uses different medicinal plants to make soap and ointments, and to heal a variety of ailments. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Clemente Calixto, a certified traditional healer, discusses the healing properties of a plant during a workshop in Mexico City. In his community in the southern state of Oaxaca, he uses different medicinal plants to make soap and ointments, and to heal a variety of ailments. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Oct 28 2015 (IPS)

“This plant heals 150 ailments, like diabetes, high blood pressure and gastritis. It’s prepared as an infusion or blended with water, and you take it every day,” says Clemente Calixto, a traditional indigenous healer in Mexico, holding up a green leafy branch.

Calixto, who belongs to the Mazateco indigenous community, is talking about palomilla or common fumitory (Fumaria officinalis), an herbaceous annual flowering plant in the poppy family – one of the more than 3,000 plants in frequent use in this Latin American country to treat a broad range of health problems.

“We work with medicinal plants. Some grow wild in the countryside and others we plant in yards and patios. We make soaps, ointments, cough syrups, dewormers,” Calixto told IPS.

The healer, from the town of Jalapa de Díaz in the state of Oaxaca, 460 km south of Mexico City, also uses chaya or tree spinach (Cnidoscolus chayamansa) and caña agria or spiked spiralflag ginger (Costus spicatus), which he said help heal kidney problems.

Calixto, one of the 30 registered traditional healers with credentials from the health authorities in his region, is one of thousands of herbalists who process, sell and prescribe medicinal plants in Mexico, where they enjoy only weak legal protection.

The Digital Library of Traditional Medicine, created by the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), lists more than 3,000 species of plants in daily use. Many of them are sold fresh or dried.

In this Latin American country of 120 million inhabitants, eight out of 10 people use traditional plants or animal products to cure ailments.

“There is little legal protection,” Arturo Argueta, a professor at UNAM’s Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Science and Humanities, told IPS. “We don’t have adequate legislation; there should be a federal law and institutions that are replicated at the level of the states to prevent biopiracy and grant recognition to this ancestral wisdom.”

In 1994 Argueta, a veteran researcher, and other colleagues published the first “atlas of plants used in Mexico’s traditional medicine”. Their research found that the sale of these plants is especially common in areas to the south of Mexico City, their habitual users come from all socioeconomic strata, and their prices are low.

“The most widely used are 50 herbs,” said the expert. “Many of them grow wild, and others are planted. Use expanded from exotic users in the south of the country to a much wider population.”

Several of the species are protected by Mexican law, as they are listed as threatened or endangered.

Traditional indigenous medicine is recognised in Mexico’s constitution as a cultural right of native peoples.

In addition, the health ministry’s office of traditional medicine, created in 2002, has a list of 125 species that can be prescribed in the national health system since reforms introduced in 2008 in the general health law, which incorporated and regulated traditional medicine.

The general health law recognises the existence of herbal medicine and the “regulations on health inputs” regulates the definition, registration, preparation, packaging, advertising and points of sale of herbal medicines and remedies.

The “regulations on health inputs” office issues credentials annually to traditional healers, authorising them to practice the healing arts that have passed from generation to generation.

Lorenza Euan, a Maya Indian, makes soaps, ointments, mosquito repellent, antibacterial gel, cough syrups and shampoo, together with four other women in the Maya Dzak – Maya medicine, in that tongue – cooperative in the town of Lázaro Cárdenas in the southeastern state of Quintana Roo.

“We inherited it from our ancestors. You heal with the plant’s stalks or roots,” she told IPS, holding up an ointment used to treat muscle pain or bruises, which has extracts from 18 varieties of plants, as an example of the products they make.

“We pick fresh plants, weigh them, wash them, crush them, and boil the mixture,” to prepare the products, she explained.

In their herb garden, the women in the cooperative grow around 25 different species, including nettles, arnica, aloe vera and basil.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) calls for the protection of traditional knowledge, the integration of alternative medicine in national health systems, the certification of those who practice traditional healing, and the fomenting of research.

Euan joins her voice to those who demand greater protection and greater recognition and promotion of traditional healing.

Mexico’s health ministry drew up a guide for strengthening health services using traditional medicine. It recognises as a threat the loss of biodiversity, caused by land-use change, deforestation and the depletion of natural resources.

In its “traditional medicine strategy: 2014-2023″, WHO states that as traditional medicine becomes more popular “it is important to balance the need to protect the intellectual property rights of indigenous peoples and local communities and their health care heritage while ensuring access to (traditional medicine) and fostering research, development and innovation.”

WHO also warns that while intellectual property “may support innovation and provide a stimulus to invest in research, it can also be abused to misappropriate” traditional medicine.

The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) protects traditional medical knowledge against unauthorised use by third parties.

But WIPO’s Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore has not yet reached an agreement on an international legal instrument “for the effective protection of traditional cultural expressions and traditional knowledge, and to address the intellectual property aspects of access to and benefit-sharing in genetic resources.”

Meanwhile, the Mexican government has banned the use of some species of plants in infusions or vegetable oils because of the level of toxicity – a position rejected by traditional healers and experts.

The latest list, from 1999, prohibits 76 species, including some that are habitually used by herbalists and traditional medicine practitioners, such as calamus or sweet flag, hemp (a variety of cannabis), belladonna, wormseed, rue and salvia.

An updated version of the catalogue, expanded to 200 prohibited plant varieties, was prepared by the current government of conservative President Enrique Peña Nieto in September 2014, but has not yet gone into effect.

Argueta said the list is a “contradiction, because instead of informing about the problems, it acts in a punitive manner, without providing information.”

Calixto said: “We don’t agree that curative plants should be declared toxic.”

Euan also disagrees. “We don’t understand why they want to hurt us, when what we need is support,” she complained.

Argueta suggested that one solution would be to register traditional medicine as intangible cultural heritage with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

“We are dedicated to collecting quality information about this sector, to offer a complete, dignified image,” he said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: It’s Time to Put Local Communities in Charge of Liberia’s Forests Thu, 22 Oct 2015 21:32:27 +0000 Matthias Yeanay

Matthias Yeanay is the Facilitator of the NGO Coalition of Liberia. He holds a BA in sociology and demography and holds a certificate in Improving Forest Governance. Roland P. Harris is a Civil Society Independent Forest Monitor and a member of the NGO Coalition of Liberia.

By Matthias Yeanay and Roland Harris
MONROVIA, Oct 22 2015 (IPS)

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf recently affirmed her commitment to the land rights of Liberia’s local communities, who rely on the forests for their livelihoods and have cared for them for generations.

“Any successful paradigm shift for forest management in Liberia must have local communities at its centre,” Edward McClain, Minster of State for Presidential Affairs, said in a speech delivered on the President’s behalf. A draft Land Rights Act would make this possible, but the current session of Parliament ended without the Act’s adoption.

The land by Boegbor, a town in district four in Grand Bassa County, Liberia has been leased by the government to Equatorial Palm Oil for 50 years. Credit: Wade C.L. Williams/IPS

The land by Boegbor, a town in district four in Grand Bassa County, Liberia has been leased by the government to Equatorial Palm Oil for 50 years. Credit: Wade C.L. Williams/IPS

We are eager to see the President’s vision implemented, and hopeful that the Land Rights Act will be adopted in the next Parliamentary session, as Liberia’s local communities are still contending with violent conflicts caused by palm oil plantations and illegal logging on their lands.

Such developments benefit large corporations but fail to deliver on the promise of shared economic development. Over half of Liberia’s territory has been sold to logging companies by the government, threatening the life-line of the communities that rightfully own Liberia’s forests.

These conflicts are not unique to Liberia. Around the world, contested lands fuel violence and threaten the commitments made by governments and companies. New research shows that out of eight fragile states in Africa, the governments of six claim ownership of nearly 100 per cent of the land in each country. Weak community rights also contribute to mass deforestation, as communities are generally better equipped than governments to care for their forests.

Despite growing attention around the world to these issues, the gap between how much land governments recognize as belonging to communities and the amount of land that communities govern in practice remains substantial.

As Ebola recedes, unsustainable demand for timber has returned to Liberia’s forests, but President Sirleaf’s comments give us hope that the government will side with local communities moving forward.

The President signed an agreement with Norway, which has promised up to $150 million over six years to help Liberia keep its forests standing. This agreement could provide much-needed funds for Liberia to provide basic services to its people, and stem the tide of mass deforestation.

Liberia’s leaders are turning towards conserving the forests rather than selling them off, and they recognize that the key to successful forest management is putting local communities in charge of their own forests. It only makes sense that the people who have managed the lands and forests all their lives, and whose communities have managed them for generations, are best-equipped to care for them. Research shows that when Indigenous Peoples and local communities have secure land rights, forest are more likely to stay standing.

The draft Land Rights Act would operationalise many of the commitments Liberia’s government has made. It would recognize Liberia’s local communities as the rightful owners of the country’s forests without requiring them to present an official deed, a significant development given that these communities inhabit a large percentage of Liberia’s land.

By extension, the legislation would protect the forests that communities have been the guardians of for generations. President Sirleaf has expressed her strong support for it, and it is now up to Parliament to take action. We expect them to take this important step towards securing Liberia a future of peace and prosperity.

But recognizing land rights is not enough. Communities already have legal title to over 30 per cent of Liberia’s land area, one of the highest percentages of community ownership in West and Central Africa, but a lack of technical capacity, government coordination and due process has led to legally titled communities losing their land to make way for concessions or conservation areas. Most were never compensated for their losses.

The reality is that local communities want to be the architects of their own development and manage their own forests, but they need more logistical and technical support to ensure that they will not be trampled by big business.

Negotiation of community forest management agreements should be done by the communities themselves with technical support from Liberia’s Forest Development Authority, civil society and other institutions with interest in the forestry sector. This will enable the communities to adequately harness benefits, including sustainable management of the forest as well as economic, social and infrastructure development at the local level.

We hope the new law will make it easier for communities to make fair agreements with corporations. They want the power to require companies operating on their lands to employ community members in key decision-making roles, and to ask companies that violate their wishes for them to leave. But faced with the prospect of negotiating commercial contracts on their land, many communities find themselves on the losing end.

Liberia is poised to clarify land rights at the local level, a move that could make history and make the country a leader in land reform in Africa. For this move to be successful, the government’s policies must not forget the vital role played by the local communities. It is the rightful owners who have kept Liberia’s forests standing.

This new vision for Liberia’s forests may be threatened from many sides, but with the power of the people and the power of President Ellen Sirleaf, how can it fail?


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Terrace Farming – an Ancient Indigenous Model for Food Security Wed, 21 Oct 2015 23:44:25 +0000 Marianela Jarroud Terraces built by Atacameño Indians in the village of Caspana in Alto Loa, in the northern Chilean region of Antofagasta. This ageold farming technique represents an adaptation to the climate, and ensures the right to food of these Andes highlands people. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Terraces built by Atacameño Indians in the village of Caspana in Alto Loa, in the northern Chilean region of Antofagasta. This ageold farming technique represents an adaptation to the climate, and ensures the right to food of these Andes highlands people. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
CASPANA, Chile, Oct 21 2015 (IPS)

Terrace farming as practiced from time immemorial by native peoples in the Andes mountains contributes to food security as a strategy of adaptation in an environment where the geography and other conditions make the production of nutritional foods a complex undertaking.

This ancient prehispanic technique, still practiced in vast areas of the Andes highlands, including Chile, “is very important from the point of view of adaptation to the climate and the ecosystem,” said Fabiola Aránguiz.

“By using terraces, water, which is increasingly scarce in the northern part of the country, is utilised in a more efficient manner,” Aránguiz, a junior professional officer on family farming with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), told IPS from the agency’s regional headquarters in Santiago, some 1,400 km south of the town of Caspana in Chile’s Atacama desert.

In this country’s Andes highands, terrace farming has mainly been practiced by the Atacameño and Quechua indigenous peoples, who have inhabited the Atacama desert in the north for around 9,000 years.

Principally living in oases, gorges and valleys of Alto Loa, in the region of Antofagasta, these peoples learned about terrace farming from the Inca, who taught them how to make the best use of scant water resources to grow food on the limited fertile land at such high altitudes.

The terraces are “like flowerbeds that have been made over the years, where the existing soil is removed and replaced by fertile soil brought in from elsewhere, in order to be able to grow food,” the Agriculture Ministry’s secretary in Antofagasta, Jaime Pinto, told IPS.

“This has made it possible for them to farm, because in these gorges where they terrace, microclimates are created that enable the cultivation of different crops,” Pinto, the highest level government representative in agriculture in the region, said from the regional capital, Antofagasta.

The official said that although water is scarce in this area, “it is of good quality, which makes it possible, in the case of the town of Caspana, to cite one example, to produce garlic or fruit like apricots or apples on a large scale.”

According to official figures, in the region of Antofagasta alone there are some 14 highlands communities who preserve the tradition of terrace farming, which contributes to local food security as well as the generation of income, improving the quality of life.

Communiities like Caspana, population 400, and the nearby Río Grande, with around 100 inhabitants, depend on agriculture, and thanks to terrace farming they not only feed their families but grow surplus crops for sale.

But people in other villages and towns in Alto Loa, like Toconce, with a population of about 100, are basically subsistence farmers, despite abundant terraces and fertile land. The reason for this is the heavy rural migration to cities, which has left the land without people to farm it, Pinto explained.

The town of Caspana, 3,300 metres above sea level, in the Atacama desert in northern Chile. Its 400 inhabitants depend on small-scale agriculture as they proudly declare on a rock at the entrance to the village, thanks to the use of the ancient tradition of terrace farming. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The town of Caspana, 3,300 metres above sea level, in the Atacama desert in northern Chile. Its 400 inhabitants depend on small-scale agriculture as they proudly declare on a rock at the entrance to the village, thanks to the use of the ancient tradition of terrace farming. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

“Ours is fertile land,” Liliana Terán, a 45-year-old mother of four and grandmother of four who belongs to the Atacameño indigenous community, told IPS. One of her income-generating activities is farming on the small terrace she inherited from her mother in Caspana.

“Whatever you plant here, grows,” she added proudly.

The name of her indigenous village, Caspana, means “children of the valley” in the Kunza tongue, which died out in the late 19th century. The village is located 3,300 metres above sea level in a low-lying part of the valley.

Caspana is “a village of farmers and shepherds” reads a sign carved into stone at the entrance to the village, which is inhabited by Atacameño or Kunza Indians, who today live in northwest Argentina and northern Chile.

Each family here has their terrace, which they carefully maintain and use for growing crops. The land is handed down from generation to generation.

Each village has a “juez del agua”, the official responsible for supplying or cutting off the supply of water, to ensure equitable distribution to the entire village.

“The water flows down through vertical waterways between the terraces, from the highest point of the river, and is distributed in a controlled mmaner,” said Aránguiz.

“With this system, better use is made of both irrigation and rainwater, and more water is retained, meaning more moisture in the soil, which helps ease things in the dry periods,” she added. “And the drainage of water is improved, to avoid erosion and protect the soil.”

All of these aspects, said the FAO representative, make terrace farming an efficient system for fighting the effects of climate change.

“Well-built and well-maintained terraces can improve the stability of the slopes, preventing mudslides during extreme rain events,” she said, stressing “the cultural importance of this ancestral technique, which strengthens the economic and social dynamics of family agriculture.”

Aránguiz pointed out that indigenous people in the Andes highlands have kept alive till today this tradition which bolsters food security. She specifically mentioned countries like Bolivia and Peru, noting that terrace farming is used in the latter on more than 500,000 hectares of land.

Luisa Terán, 43, who has an adopted daughter and is Liliana’s cousin, works the land on her mother’s terrace.

When IPS was in the village the day before the traditional ceremony when the local farmers come together to clean the waterways that irrígate the terraces, Luisa was hard at work making empanadas or stuffed pastries for the celebration.

“This ceremony is very important for us,” as it marks the preparation of the land for the next harvest, she said.

Pinto underlined that “maintaining these cultivation systems is a responsibility that we have, as government.”

He said that through the government’s Institute of Agricultural Development, the aim is to implement a programme for the recovery and maintenance of terraces that were damaged in the most recent heavy storms in northern Chile.

In addition, projects are being designed “to help young people see agricultural development as an economic alternative.”

This goes hand in hand with the fight against inequality, Pinto said.

“We are working on creating the conditions for food autonomy and it is this kind of cultivation that can generate contributions to agricultural production to feed the region,” he added.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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In Hawaii, Concern Rises about Use of Farm Pesticides Fri, 16 Oct 2015 21:32:24 +0000 Christopher Pala Tammy Brehio of Kihei, Hawaii, pointing from her back balcony to a Monsanto cornfield a few hundred yards from her house.  The inset photo, taken by Tammy, shows a Monsanto tractor spraying pesticides. Credit: Photo by Christopher Pala.  Inset photo by Tammy Brehio.

Tammy Brehio of Kihei, Hawaii, pointing from her back balcony to a Monsanto cornfield a few hundred yards from her house. The inset photo, taken by Tammy, shows a Monsanto tractor spraying pesticides. Credit: Photo by Christopher Pala. Inset photo by Tammy Brehio.

By Christopher Pala
KIHEI, Hawaii, Oct 16 2015 (IPS)

Tammy Brehio stood on the back balcony of her home in Kihei on the island of Maui and pointed to a brown field a few hundred yards away.

“That’s where they spray the pesticides, even when the wind is blowing directly at us,” said the 40-year-old year mother of three small children. “Ever since we moved here, we all have sore throats and we cough all the time.”

She and a neighbour, who declined to be identified because he works for an agricultural company and feared losing his job, said the spraying often takes place at night. “It wakes me up, it smells really strong and it’s hard to breathe,” Brehio said.

“We do not apply pesticides at night,” said Monica Ivey, the spokeswoman for Monsanto, which grows genetically modified corn on the field. “Monsanto complies with all federal and state laws that govern responsible pesticide use.”

Whether or not the companies respect these laws, which forbid allowing pesticides sprayed on a field to drift beyond it, has become one of the biggest controversies in Hawaii in the past few years.

Over the past decade or so, Monsanto, DuPont and Dow Chemical of the United States, Bayer and BASF of Germany and Syngenta of Switzerland have more than doubled their acreage in Hawaii. Attracted by a year-round growing season that cuts in half the time it takes to bring a new variety to market, they have turned the Aloha State into the epicentre of corn grown with genes modified in laboratories – designed mostly to tolerate the pesticides the companies produce and sell to farmers with the corn.

The kernels grown in Hawaii are sent the mainland United States, where they are planted and harvested. Those kernels are then sold to farmers, whose production ends up mostly as cattle feed and ethanol. The corn sold as food is known as sweet corn and constitutes perhaps one percent of the industrial variety, which is known as field corn.

The agro-chemical companies now own or lease about some 25,000 acres on the islands of Maui, Molokai, Kauai and Oahu – about 2 per cent of the land area. Because the islands are mountainous and farmland is scarce, the fields often abut homes, businesses and schools. Most of these fields were previously used to grow sugar cane and pineapple, and the towns grew around them in the 19th and 20th centuries.

At any given time, about 80 per cent of the fields are bare and brown. The crops are grown in small patches of a few acres and sprayed often with pesticides, which residents complain that they often are forced to inhale.

Even a mile from the nearest cornfield in downtown Waimea, on the island of Kauai, Lois Catala, 75, reports that the pesticide clouds percolate into her home with no warming. “All of a sudden, your eyes are burning and you’re itching all over, and you hear everybody complaining,” she said. A local doctor says she stopped biking to work on a road that bisects cornfields because she went through clouds of pesticides too many times. Other residents interviewed told of similar experiences.

Testing new varieties of pesticide-resistant field corn and growing seed corn from them requires 17 times more restricted-use insecticides and more frequent applications than farmers in the US use for their crops, a study by the Center for Food Safety has concluded. Court documents filed by attorneys for Waimea homeowners who successfully sued DuPont for pesticide and dust impacts to their homes show the company sprayed 10 times the mainland average, based on internal pesticide records obtained from DuPont.

The frequent, sometimes daily, sprayings have led to a spate of complaints that the companies violate with impunity federal and state laws.

The laws say that commercial applicators who spray pesticides that winds carry out of their property is liable for a $25,000 fine and/or six months in jail. The pesticides receive approval from the federal Environmental Protection Agency only after being tested for their legal use, which does not include human inhalations.

In 2006 and 2008, Howard Hurst was teaching special-education classes at Waimea Middle School, on Kauai, when clouds of what he believes were concentrated pesticides blew into the school from an adjoining field operated by Syngenta. “It feels like you have salt in your eyes, your tongue swells, your muscles ache, it’s awful,” he said in an interview at the school. Both times, the school was evacuated and several students were treated at the nearest emergency room.

But the state authorities, instead of prosecuting the Swiss company, which denied that it was spraying on those days, insisted that the evacuations were caused by mass hysteria triggered by an onion-like plant called stinkweed.
Without ever accepting responsibility, Syngenta stopped using the field adjacent to the school. The closest is now a half-kilometer away. Hurst said pesticide odors have become much less frequent.

In 2013, the Kauai county council passed a law ordering the companies to create wider buffer zones and to disclose in far more detail than they do now what they spray, where and when. A group of doctors in Waimea, which is surrounded by cornfields on three sides, testified that the number of cases of serious heart defects in local newborns was 10 times the national rate.

Meanwhile, in Honolulu, a pediatrician said in an interview that he’d noticed a statewide spike in another birth defect called gastroschisis, in which the baby is born with the abdominal organs outside.

“Data suggest that there may also be an association between parental pesticide use and adverse birth outcomes including physical birth defects,” the American Academy of Pediatrics reported this year.

“I think it’s serious,” says Bernard Riola, a pediatrician in Waimea. “We need an in-depth epidemiological study. Right now, we just don’t know” if the pesticides are causing the birth defects. Another doctor at the hospital said he tried to get the state to do just such a study, to no avail.

Bennette Misalucha, the head of the agro-chemical companies trade group, the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association, dismissed the doctors’ concerns. “We have not seen any credible source of statistical health information to support the claims,” she wrote in an e-mail after declining to be interviewed.

The companies she represents strongly opposed the buffer-zones and disclosure law, which resembled others passed in 11 other states. They argued that it would drive away the companies and cause job losses, and that critics of the pesticide-drift problem were simply victims of scare-mongering by opponents of genetically modified food.

They sued and a federal judge struck the law down, arguing that only the state can regulate pesticide use. Civil Beat, a Hawaii news site, reported here that it effectively does not.

In Maui and Molokai, which form one county, a bitterly fought ballot initiative was approved by the voters in November 2014 banning genetically modified agriculture until an Environment Impact Statement is performed and proves the industry is safe.

The companies spent $8 million to fight it, reportedly the most spent on any political campaign in Hawaii history. Another federal judge struck it down on the same grounds as the Kauai ordinance: that only the state can regulate pesticide use. Both rulings are being appealed.

Back in Maui, Brehio, the mother of three who says she is dispirited by the lack of progress in curbing illegal pesticide drift, was remodeling her kitchen with her husband and preparing to sell their house. “This is a not a safe place for me and my family,” she said.

Meanwhile, construction has started on a strip of land between her house and the Monsanto field for a 660-unit affordable-housing development where the cheapest units will be right against the Monsanto fields.

“This report was supported by a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism.”

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ASEAN Agreement on Haze? As Clear as Smoke Sat, 10 Oct 2015 20:25:37 +0000 Kanis Dursin Volunteers taking on fires at Garung village in Pulang Pisau district, Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Credit: Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Indonesia

Volunteers taking on fires at Garung village in Pulang Pisau district, Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Credit: Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Indonesia

By Kanis Dursin
JAKARTA, Oct 10 2015 (IPS)

A regional agreement on managing transboundary haze caused by fires raging in Indonesia’s forests and peatlands appears all but buried in the embers of frustration of its neighbouring countries.

Nearby Singapore and Malaysia, apart from eastern Indonesia, have been hardest hit by the haze, which has been sending air pollution indices soaring to unhealthy levels for more than a month now. In recent days, the winds have blown the haze to southern Thailand as well.

In parts of Southeast Asia, a pall of grey hangs over the skies from morning until dusk, and scenes of residents walking around with masks have become common.

Over the past month or so, schools have been closed at some point, flights delayed or outdoor activities cancelled or limited, with warnings about the risks to children and the elderly, as countries asked Indonesia, with whom they are members in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), to address the burning of forests and land in eastern Indonesia.

After months of digging in its heels and saying it can manage on its own, the Indonesian government was quoted as saying this week it believes foreign help would be needed to put out the fires.

“This has proven quite a challenge for us, so we see it as a necessity to work together with countries that have the available resources to extinguish the fires,” foreign ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir said on Oct. 8. He said Indonesia’s foreign minister, Retno LP Marsud, had talked to Singapore, Malaysia, Russia, China and Australia “to discuss cooperation initiatives to overcome fire hotspots.”

But in these discussions about the fires there has hardly been any mention of the 1997 ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, a legally binding agreement among the 10 member countries of the organisation. These are Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

In truth, activists say, they did not have much hope in the ASEAN haze agreement and ASEAN’s ability – or will – to hold its members to its own commitments.

“The agreement is said to be legally binding, but ASEAN has no court to try offenders,” said Nur Hidayati, head of the advocacy department of the Indonesian Forum for Environment, known by its Indonesian acronym WALHI. She added that the haze accord would likely meet the same fate as the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, which activists see as weak.

Yet this year would have been an opportunity to show the teeth of the haze agreement, which ASEAN has long held up as an example of successful regional cooperation. The haze agreement was the world’s first regional arrangement that binds a group of states to tackle transboundary pollution from land and forest fires.

After years of resistance, Indonesia – whose inability to control the fires for nearly two decades has been an irritant in its ties with its neighbours – finally ratified the haze agreement in September 2014 and became legally bound by it. That is 12 years after Indonesia signed it with other ASEAN countries in 2002, a fact that has raised doubts about ASEAN’s ability to enforce its own decisions.

ASEAN countries are also moving toward deeper economic integration and launching the ASEAN Community in December 2015, but addressing transboundary tensions continue to challenge the 48-year-old organisation.

“If the most powerful three members of ASEAN (Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia) are not able to address a recurring and predictable problem (haze), what hope does the region have for economic integration with the ASEAN Economic Community that is going to be finalized end of this year?” asked a September commentary in the Jakarta Post newspaper by Joseph Cherian of the Centre for Asset Management Research and Investments, Jack Loo of Think Business and Ang Swee Hoon of the National University of Singapore Business School.

Singapore and Malaysia have repeatedly offered assistance to put out the raging fires, but Indonesia’s officials until recently said they could manage on their own.

“For the time being, we are only thinking of exhausting all of our internal resources before seeking external assistance,” J S George Lantu, director of ASEAN functional cooperation of the Indonesian foreign ministry said in an interview earlier in October. “We really appreciate their offers of help, but as a sovereign state we don’t want to seek to external help without trying hard enough to put out the fires. We can handle the fires ourselves,” the diplomat said.

But Indonesia is showing “complete disregard for our people, and their own,” Singapore Foreign Minister K Shanmugan told the British Broadcasting Corporation earlier in October.

The head of the environment division of the Jakarta-based ASEAN secretariat, which oversees the implementation of the ASEAN haze agreement, said Indonesia’s responses to the fires were in line with the accord. “Obviously, Indonesia can deal with the fires with its own resources,” division head Ampai Harakunarak said. “All member states are standing by, ready to receive requests from Indonesia.”

The accord aims to “prevent and monitor transboundary haze pollution as a result of land and/or forest fires which should be mitigated, through concerted national efforts and intensified regional and international cooperation.” It requires parties to “cooperate in developing and implementing measures to prevent and monitor transboundary haze pollutions as a result of land and/or forest fires” and “to control sources of fires.”

In truth, “Indonesia ratified the agreement under strong protest from Singapore and Malaysia over haze pollution. It (the ratification) was more as a political gesture than a statement of intent,” said WALHI’s Hidayati.

Significantly, Article 12.2 of the agreement says that external assistance “can only be employed at the request of and with the consent of the requesting party, or when offered by another party or parties, with the consent of the receiving party.”

President Joko Widodo had instructed government agencies to handle the fires in peatlands and forest being cleared by plantations for products like palm oil or paper. Foreign companies run many of them, prompting Singapore’s National Environmental Agency to name five companies with Indonesian concessions suspected to be contributing to the haze.

The Singapore Environment Council and Consumers Association of Singapore have urged consumers to use only products of companies that do not use burning practices in Indonesia.

Satellite images show that 70 per cent of hotspots in Sumatera and Borneo islands in Indonesia are in local plantations. Some 1.7 million hectares of land, more than a third of which are on peatland in Sumatra and Kalimantan, have been burned, Widodo said.

Clearly, Indonesia has a lot of cleaning up to do of the concessions it gives to plantation companies and enforcing of local laws, critics say.

Land and/or forest fires have plagued Indonesia annually over the past 18 years due to unprecedented expansion of pulp and paper companies and oil palm plantations and their conversion into easy-to-burn peatlands, according to WALHI.

“By nature, tropical rain forests are impossible to burn due to high humidity. However, when trees are felled and a monoculture system is introduced in oil palm and rubber plantations or forest estates, their humidity disappears and they become vulnerable to fires,” Hidayati said.

Government officials say they have frozen some oil palm and forest concessions, adding that they have fined some companies and that others are awaiting trial. “Previously, we only charged individuals or corporates violating the 2009 environmental law in criminal and civil courts. Since January 2015, however, we also impose administrative sanctions on them by either freezing or revoking their concessions,” said Muhammad Yunus, director of the criminal law enforcement division of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry.

But the government must review all forest and plantation concessions to determine whether companies can handle fires, Hidayati said. “A fire that breaks out in a plantation or forest estate should been seen as a concession holder’s inability to manage the land and thus serve as a ground to revoke the concession, regardless who sets it or whether or not it’s deliberate.”

Untung Suprapto, head of the land and forest fire control sub-directorate of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, said his office is drafting a regulation that would require plantation and forest concession holders to have own firefighter teams, trucks and equipment.

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Healthy Oceans Key to Fighting Hunger Thu, 08 Oct 2015 17:06:44 +0000 Marianela Jarroud U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry addressing the second international Our Ocean conference, held in the Chilean port of Valparaíso. Sitting next to him are Chilean Foreign Minister Heraldo Muñoz and President Michelle Bachelet. Credit: Foreign Ministry of Chile

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry addressing the second international Our Ocean conference, held in the Chilean port of Valparaíso. Sitting next to him are Chilean Foreign Minister Heraldo Muñoz and President Michelle Bachelet. Credit: Foreign Ministry of Chile

By Marianela Jarroud
VALPARAÍSO, Chile, Oct 8 2015 (IPS)

Seafood offers a large amount of animal protein in diets around the world, and the livelihoods of 12 percent of the global population depend directly or indirectly on fisheries and aquaculture.

However, the impacts of climate change, plastic waste pollution, illegal fishing, and acidification threaten the oceans and their biodiversity, said experts at the second international Our Ocean conference, held Oct. 5-6 in the Chilean port of Valparaíso, 120 km northwest of Santiago.

The more than 500 participants from 56 countries taking part in the gathering committed to some 80 marine conservation and protection initiatives for over 2.1 billion dollars, covering more than 1.9 billion km of ocean, said Chile’s foreign minister, Heraldo Muñoz.

Muñoz and his U.S. counterpart, Secretary of State John Kerry, hosted the conference, whose first edition took place in 2014 in Washington, D.C.

In one of the keynote speeches, the director general of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), José Graziano da Silva, said keeping the oceans healthy and productive was key to eradicating hunger and reaching the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by the international community during a Sept. 25-27 U.N. summit in New York.

“We cannot continue to use water resources as if they were infinite,” said Graziano da Silva, who pointed out that nearly one-third of the world’s fish stocks are overfished.

The U.N. official said oceans do not have an infinite capacity to withstand the threats they face: over-exploitation of marine resources, climate change, pollution and loss of habitat.

“The health of our own planet and our food security depends on how we treat the blue world,” he stated.

FAO emphasises that fish is a highly nutritious complement to diets lacking in essential vitamins and minerals.

According to FAO, about one billion people – largely in developing countries – rely on fish as their primary source of animal protein. And in 2010, “fish provided more than 2.9 billion people with almost 20 percent of their intake of animal protein, and 4.3 billion people with about 15 percent of such protein.”

And in some countries, especially small island states, fish accounts for over 25 percent of animal protein intake, the U.N. agency reports.

Besides offering a staple element in diets worldwide, fishing and aquaculture provide jobs and incomes to millions of people across the planet.

“Fishing is part of the oldest, most remote history of the American continent,” social anthropologist Juan Carlos Skewes told IPS. “In the interior of the continent as well as along the coasts and rivers it provided sustenance for dozens of native peoples, especially groups whose nomadic way of life depended on the sea.”

And that is still true: 12 percent of the global population – or 875,000,000 people – depend directly or indirectly on fishing and aquaculture.

“The sea is so important for us because it not only feeds us, but gives us life,” said Petero Edmunds, mayor of Rapa Nui, better known as Easter Island, located 3,700 km off the coast of Chile in the Pacific ocean.

Oceans cover over 70 percent of the planet’s surface and 97 percent of all water on earth is salty, but only one percent is protected. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Oceans cover over 70 percent of the planet’s surface and 97 percent of all water on earth is salty, but only one percent is protected. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

“For Polynesians, the sea is our source of life,” he said in an interview with IPS. “It is so important that in our mythology we have Tangaloa, the God of the Sea, and in Rapa Nui’s ancient traditions, when a baby is born, the first thing the father must do is dip it into the sea, to return it to its natural state.”

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

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

The main one is the Humboldt Current, in the Pacific ocean. It flows north along the west coast of South America, from the southern tip of Chile, past Ecuador, to northern Peru, creating one of the world’s most productive marine ecosystems with approximately 20 percent of the world’s fish catch, according to FAO.

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

But these ecosystems are in serious danger: Around eight million tons of plastic bottles, bags, toys and other plastic waste is dumped into the oceans every year, killing innumerable marine animals and sea birds.

In addition, nearly one-third of global fish stocks are overfished.

Of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) approved at the late September global summit in New York, number 14 is to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources.”

But the interdependence of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the vital role played by oceans which, for example, absorb more than 30 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, mean the SDGs are impossible to achieve without healthy and resilient oceans.

“Today we know there is a much closer relationship between oceans and climate change,” EU Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Karmenu Vella told IPS.

He added that the protection of oceans should be a central focus of the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to be held in Paris from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11.

Foreign Minister Muñoz, meanwhile, said the government leaders taking part in the conference in Chile, who will also attend COP21, “have promised that protection of the oceans will be included in the documents and commitments that emerge from the summit.”

Muñoz stressed the importance of the announcements made by a number of countries at the Valparaíso conference.

He emphasised Chile’s pledge to protect more than one million sq km of sea, which will be one of the largest protected marine areas in the world.

As part of that initiative, the country announced the creation of 720,000 sq km of protected areas in Rapa Nui, as demanded by the island’s slightly over 5,000 inhabitants, who are seeking to protect the biodiversity of the surrounding waters, which are home to 142 endemic species, 27 of which are endangered or threatened.

The measure will also make it possible for them to continue their ancestral practice of subsistence fishing in the island’s 50 nautical mile zone.

“Artisanal fishing is still practiced according to our ancestral traditions in Rapa Nui,” Edmunds said. “Rocks are used as weights for the hooks, so we can catch tuna or other big fish.”

He said the creation of the marine protected area, announced by President Michelle Bachelet at the opening of the conference, would help combat illegal fishing in the waters surrounding the island.

“For decades we have seen ‘ghost’ ships that appear in the early hours of morning as lights on the horizon, which take our fish,” the mayor said.

“With the help of NGOs (non-governmental organisations), it has been shown that an average of 20 illegal vessels a day fish in our waters, which are taking our resources, and we don’t want them to be exhausted,” he added.

Bachelet also announced the creation of the Nazca-Desventuradas Marine Park covering 297,518 sq km, which will be the biggest such protected area in the Americas.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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World Running Out of Time to Save Oceans Mon, 07 Sep 2015 01:15:26 +0000 Thalif Deen A new United Nations assessment has found the world’s oceans to be in dire shape. Credit: Shek Graham/CC-BY-2.0

A new United Nations assessment has found the world’s oceans to be in dire shape. Credit: Shek Graham/CC-BY-2.0

By Thalif Deen

The United Nations is posting a new environmental warning: the world is running out of time to prevent the gradual degradation of the world’s oceans and the widespread destruction of marine life.

In its first comprehensive assessment on the state of the oceans, the United Nations says delays in implementing solutions to the problems already identified as threatening to degrade the world’s oceans will lead, unnecessarily, to incurring greater environmental, social and economic costs.

“The ocean rivals the wealth of the world’s richest countries, but it is being allowed to sink to the depths of a failed economy.” -- Marco Lambertini, director general of WWF International.
Comprising 55 chapters, the first World Ocean Assessment will be presented to the General Assembly’s Ad Hoc Working Group of the Whole at a meeting scheduled to take place Sep. 8-11.

The study found the sustainable use of the oceans cannot be achieved unless the management of all sectors of human activities affecting the oceans is coherent.

“Human impacts on the sea are no longer minor in relation to the overall scale of the ocean. A coherent overall approach is needed,” the report stated.

According to the United Nations, the Assessment marks the first time ever that scientific experts have assessed the current knowledge on the biological, chemical, economic, physical and social aspects from an integrated, overall perspective.

Steered by the 22-member Group of Experts, the scientists selected from the Pool of Experts, comprised of some 600 members worldwide, looked at the oceans, their flora and fauna and the ways in which humans are benefitting from, and impacting on the ocean.

The experts examined a wide range of issues that affect the oceans’ ecosystems and marine biodiversity, including the impacts of climate change, ice coverage, the frequency of storms, ocean acidification, land-based activities, unsustainable fishing practices, shipping activities, invasive non-native species, offshore hydrocarbon industries and marine debris.

“And they found that the world’s oceans are in dire shape,” according to the U.N.

John Tanzer, director of the Global Marine Programme at World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) told IPS the U.N. report is “further substantive proof that the health of our ocean and its economic base are under serious threat and that we need to take immediate action.”

He said the implementation of the post-2015 development agenda and negotiation of a new climate deal present major opportunities for governments, businesses and communities to work together in support of the ocean and the people around the world that rely on the ocean for food security and livelihoods.

According to the United Nations, the oceans cover more than 70 percent of the earth’s surface.  More than 3.5 billion people depend on them for food, energy and income.

By protecting the ocean’s natural and cultural resources, marine protected areas play a central role in addressing some of the global development challenges of today, such as food and energy security, poverty and climate change.

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

The resolution was the result of more than nine years of negotiations by an Ad Hoc Informal Working Group, which first met in 2006.

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

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

Meanwhile, in a study released last April, WWF said the untapped riches in the world’s oceans are estimated at nearly 24 trillion dollars – the size of the world’s leading economies.

Describing the oceans as economic powerhouses, the study warned that the resources in the high seas are rapidly eroding through over-exploitation, misuse and climate change.

“The ocean rivals the wealth of the world’s richest countries, but it is being allowed to sink to the depths of a failed economy,” said Marco Lambertini, director general of WWF International.

“As responsible shareholders, we cannot seriously expect to keep recklessly extracting the ocean’s valuable assets without investing in its future.”

If compared to the world’s top 10 economies, the ocean would rank seventh with an annual value of goods and services of 2.5 trillion dollars, according to the study.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Islamic Declaration Turns Up Heat Ahead of Paris Climate Talks Wed, 19 Aug 2015 18:39:07 +0000 Kitty Stapp Mohammed Rashid Qabbani, the Grand Mufti of Lebanon, was one of the signers of the Islamic Declaration on Climate. Credit:

Mohammed Rashid Qabbani, the Grand Mufti of Lebanon, was one of the signers of the Islamic Declaration on Climate. Credit:

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Aug 19 2015 (IPS)

Following in the footsteps of Pope Francis, who has taken a vocal stance on climate change, Muslim leaders and scholars from 20 countries issued a joint declaration Tuesday underlining the severity of the problem and urging governments to commit to 100 percent renewable energy or a zero emissions strategy.

Notably, it calls on oil-rich, wealthy Muslim countries to lead the charge in phasing out fossil fuels “no later than the middle of the century.”

The call to action, which draws on Islamic teachings, was adopted at an International Islamic Climate Change Symposium in Istanbul.

“Our species, though selected to be a caretaker or steward (khalifah) on the earth, has been the cause of such corruption and devastation on it that we are in danger ending life as we know it on our planet,” the Islamic Declaration on Climate statement says.

“This current rate of climate change cannot be sustained, and the earth’s fine equilibrium (mīzān) may soon be lost…We call on all groups to join us in collaboration, co-operation and friendly competition in this endeavor and we welcome the significant contributions taken by other faiths, as we can all be winners in this race.”

The symposium’s goal was to reach “broad unity and ownership from the Islamic community around the Declaration.”

Welcoming the declaration, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres said, “A clean energy, sustainable future for everyone ultimately rests on a fundamental shift in the understanding of how we value the environment and each other.

“Islam’s teachings, which emphasize the duty of humans as stewards of the Earth and the teacher’s role as an appointed guide to correct behavior, provide guidance to take the right action on climate change.”

Supporters of the Islamic Declaration included the grand muftis of Uganda and Lebanon and government representatives from Turkey and Morocco.

The UNFCCC notes that religious leaders of all faiths have been stepping up the pressure on governments to drastically cut carbon dioxide emissions and help poorer countries adapt to the challenges of climate change, with a key international climate treaty set to be negotiated in Paris this December.

In June, Pope Francis released a papal encyclical letter, in which he called on the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics to join the fight against climate change.

The Church of England’s General Synod recently urged world leaders to agree on a roadmap to a low carbon future, and is among a number of Christian groups promising to redirect their resources into clean energy.

Hindu leaders will release their own statement later this year, and the Buddhist community plans to step up engagement this year building on a Buddhist Declaration on climate change. Hundreds of rabbis released a Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis.

The Dalai Lama has also frequently spoken of the need for action on climate change, linking it to the need for reforms to the global economic system.

Interfaith groups have been cooperating throughout the year. The Vatican convened a Religions for Peace conference in the Vatican in April, and initiatives such as our Our Voices network are building coalitions in the run-up to Paris.

Reacting to the Islamic Declaration, the World Wildlife Fund’s Global Climate and Energy Initiative Head of Low Carbon Frameworks, Tasneem Essop, said, “The message from the Islamic leaders and scholars boosts the moral aspects of the global climate debate and marks another significant display of climate leadership by faith-based groups.

“Climate change is no longer just a scientific issue; it is increasingly a moral and ethical one. It affects the lives, livelihoods and rights of everyone, especially the poor, marginalised and most vulnerable communities.”

Edited by Kanya D’ Almeida

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Latin America Should Lead in Protecting the Planet’s Oceans Mon, 17 Aug 2015 19:07:25 +0000 Marianela Jarroud Fishing boats crossing the Chacao Channel off the coast of the Greater Island of Chiloé in Chile’s southern Los Lagos region. Credit: Claudio Riquelme/IPS

Fishing boats crossing the Chacao Channel off the coast of the Greater Island of Chiloé in Chile’s southern Los Lagos region. Credit: Claudio Riquelme/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Aug 17 2015 (IPS)

Latin America should assume a position of global leadership by adopting effective measures to protect the oceans, which are threatened by illegal fishing, the impacts of climate change, and pollution caused by acidification and plastic waste.

“The whole world is lagging in terms of effective measures to protect the oceans, and Latin America is no exception,” Alex Muñoz, executive director of Oceana – the world’s largest international organisation dedicated solely to ocean conservation – in Chile, told Tierramérica.

But, he added, “We hope the region will take on a leadership role in this area, creating large protected marine areas, eliminating overfishing and creating better systems to combat illegal and unreported fishing.”

The perfect occasion for that, he said, would be the second international Our Ocean Conference, to be held Oct. 5-6 in Valparaiso, a port city 120 km northwest of Santiago, Chile.“We only have a few years to curb the deterioration of the ocean, especially of the fish stocks, and these conferences help us accelerate marine conservation policies with a global impact.” -- Alex Muñoz

In the conference, 400 government representatives, scientists, members of the business community and environmental activists from 90 countries should “commit to carrying out concrete actions to tackle the grave threats that affect the oceans,” Chile’s foreign minister, Heraldo Muñoz, told Tierramérica.

“The big global themes should be addressed from a broad, inclusive perspective,” the minister said.

The central pillar of the global system for governance of the oceans is the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), adopted in 1982, to be completed with a treaty to govern the mostly lawless high seas beyond national jurisdiction, as the U.N. General Assembly decided in June.

But, the foreign minister argued, “as a complement, we see as indispensable initiatives making possible a more detailed and direct analysis of the efforts that governments are making to protect this valuable resource.”

The first edition of the international conference on oceans, held in 2014 in Washington, gave rise to alliances and voluntary initiatives for more than 800 million dollars, aimed at new commitments for the protection of more than three million square km of ocean.

In Valparaíso, meanwhile, the participating countries will report the progress they made over the last year and undertake new commitments.

“These meetings generate healthy competition between countries to make announcements that otherwise wouldn’t be made,” said Oceana’s Alex Muñoz.

“We only have a few years to curb the deterioration of the ocean, especially of the fish stocks, and these conferences help us accelerate marine conservation policies with a global impact,” he said.

He added that since the 2014 conference, “many governments have been motivated to create large marine parks or to sign accords to fight illegal fishing, like the New York United Nations accord, which hadn’t been ratified for a number of years.”

He was referring to the U.N. accord on the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, signed in 1995.

Chile, he pointed out, is one of the countries that signed the agreement after the first Our Ocean Conference.

In this year’s conference in Valparaíso “we hope important announcements will be made on the creation of large new protected marine areas,” said the Oceana director, who added that Chile, as host country, “should set an example with a large marine park in the Pacific ocean.”

Threatened riches

Oceans cover more than70 percent of the planet’s surface, but only one percent of the world’s oceans are protected. Between 50 and 80 percent of all life on earth is found under the ocean surface, and 97 percent of the planet’s water is salty, according to U.N. figures.

Phytoplankton generates about half of the oxygen in the atmosphere through photosynthesis, and the vast variety of highly nutritious products provided by the oceans contributes to global food security.

Fisherpersons in Duao cove in Chile’s central Maule region. The degradation of the world’s oceans is a threat to the livelihoods of the more than two million small-scale fishers in Latin America. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Fisherpersons in Duao cove in Chile’s central Maule region. The degradation of the world’s oceans is a threat to the livelihoods of the more than two million small-scale fishers in Latin America. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

A study published in April by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimates that the oceans conceal some 24 trillion dollars of untapped wealth.

Oceans are also an inspiration for artists and for poets like Chile’s 1971 Nobel Literature prize-winner Pablo Neruda (1904-1973).

In the poem “The Great Ocean” he wrote: “If, Ocean, you could grant, out of your gifts and dooms, some measure, fruit or ferment for my hands, I’d choose your distant rest, your brinks of steel, your furthest reaches watched by air and night, the energy of your white dialect downing and shattering its columns in its own demolished purity.”

But the WWF study warns that the resources in the high seas are rapidly eroding through over-exploitation, misuse and climate change.

Latin America, where five of the world’s 25 leading fishing nations are located – Peru, Chile, Mexico, Argentina and Brazil, in that order – is not free from these dangers.

In Chile, 16 of the 33 main fisheries are in a critical situation due to over-exploitation, according to a government report.

Climate phenomena threaten large-scale anchovy fishing in Peru, the world’s second largest fishing nation after China.

Illegal fishing, meanwhile, is jeopardising some species of sharks, like the whitetip reef shark (Triaenodon obesus), found along Central America’s Pacific coast, as well as the Patagonian toothfish or Chilean seabass (Dissostichus eleginoides), and sea cucumbers (Holothuroidea).

Foreign minister Muñoz said illegal fishing is a 23 billion dollar industry – “very close to the amount moved by drug trafficking.”

To this is added the severe problem of pollution from plastic waste faced by the world’s oceans. In 2010 an estimated eight million tons of plastic were dumped in the sea, killing millions of birds and marine animals.

Plastic represents 80 percent of the total marine debris in the world’s oceans.

Ocean acidification, meanwhile, is one of the consequences of climate change, and its effects could cause major changes to species and numbers of fish living in coastal areas over the next few years.

The foreign minister stressed that these conferences must continue to be held, due to “the urgent need to protect our seas and to follow up on government commitments and the progress they have made, while they pledge to carry out further actions.”

At this year’s conference, he said, the main focuses will include the role of local island communities and philanthropy at the service of marine protection and conservation, and there will be a segment on governance, exemplified in the system for the regulation of the high seas.

He also announced that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the creator of the initiative, confirmed a third edition of the Our Ocean Conference, to be held once again in Washington in 2016.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Pope Francis Joins Battle Against Transgenic Crops Tue, 11 Aug 2015 06:51:30 +0000 Emilio Godoy There is no papal bull on transgenic crops in Laudato Si, the second encyclical of Pope Francis, “on the care of our common home” – planet earth. Credit: Norberto Miguel/IPS

There is no papal bull on transgenic crops in Laudato Si, the second encyclical of Pope Francis, “on the care of our common home” – planet earth. Credit: Norberto Miguel/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Aug 11 2015 (IPS)

A few centuries ago, the biotechnology industry would have been able to buy a papal bull to expiate its sins and grant it redemption. But in his encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si”, Pope Francis condemns genetically modified organisms (GMOs) without leaving room for a pardon.

In his second encyclical since he became pope on Mar. 13, 2013 – but the first that is entirely his work – Jorge Mario Bergoglio criticises the social, economic and agricultural impacts of GMOs and calls for a broad scientific debate.

Laudato Si – “Praise be to you, my Lord” in medieval Italian – takes its title from Saint Francis of Assisi’s 13th-century Canticle of the Sun, one of whose verses is: “Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth, who feeds us and rules us, and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.”

It is the first encyclical in history dedicated to the environment and reflecting on “our common home” – planet earth.“In many places, following the introduction of these crops, productive land is concentrated in the hands of a few owners due to ‘the progressive disappearance of small producers, who, as a consequence of the loss of the exploited lands, are obliged to withdraw from direct production’.” – Laudato Si

The encyclical, which was published Jun. 18, acknowledges that “no conclusive proof exists that GM cereals may be harmful to human beings.” But it stresses that “there remain a number of significant difficulties which should not be underestimated.”

“In many places, following the introduction of these crops, productive land is concentrated in the hands of a few owners due to ‘the progressive disappearance of small producers, who, as a consequence of the loss of the exploited lands, are obliged to withdraw from direct production’,” it adds.

As a result, says the first Latin American pope, farmers are driven to become temporary labourers, many rural workers end up in urban slums, ecosystems are destroyed, and “oligopolies” expand in the production of cereals and inputs needed for their cultivation.

Francis calls for “A broad, responsible scientific and social debate…one capable of considering all the available information and of calling things by their name” because “It sometimes happens that complete information is not put on the table; a selection is made on the basis of particular interests, be they politico-economic or ideological.”

Such a debate on GMOs is missing, and the biotech industry has refused to open up its databases to verify whether or not transgenic crops are innocuous.

According to the encyclical, “Discussions are needed in which all those directly or indirectly affected (farmers, consumers, civil authorities, scientists, seed producers, people living near fumigated fields, and others) can make known their problems and concerns, and have access to adequate and reliable information in order to make decisions for the common good, present and future.”

Miguel Concha, a Catholic priest who heads the Fray Francisco de Vitoria Human Rights Centre in Mexico, said this country “is already a reference point in the fight for the right to a healthy environment, due to the determined efforts of social organisations. This encyclical reinforces our collective demand,” he told Tierramérica.

The priest said the encyclical warns of the social, economic, legal and ethical implications of transgenic crops, just as environmentalists in Mexico have done for years.

In a local market in Mexico, María Solís shows the different colours of native maize that she grows. Native crops are threatened by attempts to introduce large-scale commercial planting of GM maize in the country. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

In a local market in Mexico, María Solís shows the different colours of native maize that she grows. Native crops are threatened by attempts to introduce large-scale commercial planting of GM maize in the country. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

The document holds special importance for nations like Mexico, which have been the scene of intense battles over transgenic crops – in this country mainly maize, which has special cultural significance here, besides being the basis of the local diet.

That is also true for Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica, which together with southern Mexico form Mesoamérica, the seat of the ancient Maya civilisation.

The pope is familiar with the impact of transgenic crops, because according to experts his home country, Argentina, is the Latin American nation where GMOs have done the most to alter traditional agriculture.

Soy – 98 percent of which is transgenic – is Argentina’s leading crop, covering 31 million hectares, up from just 4.8 million hectares in 1990, according to the soy industry association, ACSOJA.

The monoculture crop has displaced local producers, fuelled the concentration of land, and created “a vicious circle that is highly dangerous for the sustainability of our production systems,” Argentine agronomist Carlos Toledo told Tierramérica.

Just 10 countries account for nearly all production of GMOs: the United States, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, India, China, Paraguay, South Africa, Pakistan and Uruguay, in that order. Most of the production goes to the animal feed industry, but Mexico wants GM maize to be used for human consumption.

In July 2013, 53 individuals and 20 civil society organisations mounted a collective legal challenge against applications to commercially plant transgenic maize, and in September of that year a federal judge granted a precautionary ban on such authorisations.

Since March 2014, organisations of beekeepers and indigenous communities have won two further provisional protection orders against commercial transgenic soybean crops in the southeastern states of Campeche and Yucatán.

On Apr. 30, 2014, eight scientists from six countries sent an open letter to Pope Francis about the negative environmental, economic, agricultural, cultural and social impacts of GM seeds, especially in Mexico.

In their letter, the experts stated: “…we believe that it would be of momentous importance and great value to all if Your Holiness were to express yourself critically on GM crops and in support of peasant farming. This support would go a long way toward saving peoples and the planet from the threat posed by the control of life wielded by companies that monopolise seeds, which are the key to the entire food web…”

Laudato Si indicates that the pope did listen to their plea.

“The encyclical is very encouraging, because it has expressed an ecological position,” Argelia Arriaga, a professor at the University Centre for Disaster Prevention of the Autonomous University of Puebla, told Tierramérica. “It touches sensitive fibers; the situation is terrible and merits papal intervention. This gives us moral support to continue the struggle.”

But legal action has failed to curb the biotech industry’s ambitions in Mexico.

In 2014, the National Service for Agri-Food Health, Safety and Quality (SENASICA) received four applications from the biotech industry and public research centres for experimental planting of maize on nearly 10 hectares of land.

In addition, there were 30 requests for pilot projects involving experimental and commercial planting of GM cotton on a total of 1.18 million hectares – as well as one application for beans, five for wheat, three for lemons and one for soy – all experimental.

SENASICA is also processing five biotech industry requests for planting more than 200,000 hectares of GM cotton and alfalfa for commercial and experimental purposes.

“This is an economic and development model that ignores food production,” said Concha, the priest who heads the Fray Francisco de Vitoria Human Rights Centre.

The participants in the collective lawsuit against GMOs, having successfully gotten federal courts to throw out 22 stays brought by the government and companies against the legal decision to temporarily suspend permits for planting, are now getting ready for a trial that will decide the future of transgenic crops in the country.

Arriaga noted that the focus of the encyclical goes beyond GM crops, and extends to other environmental struggles. “For people in local communities, the pope’s message is important, because it tells them they have to take care of nature and natural resources. It helps raise awareness,” the professor said.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Caribbean Artists Raise Their Voices for Climate Justice Mon, 10 Aug 2015 12:13:37 +0000 Kenton X. Chance Award-winning St. Lucian poet Kendel Hippolyte says human beings would treat the environment differently if they see the Earth as their "mother". Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

Award-winning St. Lucian poet Kendel Hippolyte says human beings would treat the environment differently if they see the Earth as their "mother". Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

By Kenton X. Chance
CASTRIES, St. Lucia, Aug 10 2015 (IPS)

Award-winning St. Lucian poet and playwright Kendel Hippolyte thinks that Caribbean nationals should view the Earth as their mother.

“For me, the whole thing is so basic: the earth that we are living on and in is our mother and there are ways that we are supposed to treat our mother and relate to our mother,” the 64-year-old, who has won the St. Lucia Medal of Merit (Gold) for Contribution to the Arts, told IPS.“We will clamour if we must, but they will hear us -- 1.5 to Stay Alive!" -- Didacus Jules

Caribbean residents are expected to accord the highest levels of respect to their mothers. Therefore, Hippolyte’s approach could see many of the region’s nationals engaged in more individual actions to adapt to and mitigate against climate change.

“And if we deal with our mother as a person is supposed to deal with his or her mother, then so much falls into place,” Hippolyte tells told at a climate change conference last month dubbed “Voices and Imagination United for Climate Justice”.

Hippolyte is one of several artists from across the Caribbean who have agreed to use their social and other influences to educate Caribbean residents about climate change and what actions that they can take as individuals.

The conference focused on the establishment of an informal grouping of Caribbean artists and journalists who will be suitably briefed and prepared to add their voice — individually or collectively — to advocacy and awareness campaigns, with an initial focus on the climate change talks in Paris in December.

The artists include Trinidad and Tobago calypsonian David Michael Rudder, who is celebrated for songs like “Haiti”, a tribute to the glory and suffering of Haiti, and “Rally ‘Round the West Indies”, which became the anthem of Caribbean’s cricket.

British-born, Barbados-based soca artist Alison Hinds and Gamal “Skinny Fabulous” Doyle of St. Vincent and the Grenadines have also signed on to the effort.

Ahead of the 2015 climate change summit in Paris this year, Caribbean negotiators are seeking the support of the region’s artists in spreading the message of climate justice.

They say that the region has contributed minimally to climate change, but, as small island developing states (SIDS), is being most affected most its negative impacts.

Countries that have contributed most to climate change, the argument goes, must help SIDS to finance mitigation and adaption efforts.

St. Lucia’s Minister of Sustainable Development, Energy, Science and Technology, James Fletcher, told IPS that at the world climate change talks in Paris this year, SIDS will be pushing for a strong, legally-binding climate accord that will keep global temperature rise to between 1.5 and 2 degree Celsius above pre-industrialisation levels.

Caribbean negotiators have put this redline into very stark terms, using the rubric “1.5 to stay alive”.

If global temperature rise is capped at 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrialisation temperatures, most countries in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) — a 15-member bloc running including Guyana and Suriname on the South American mainland, Jamaica in the northern Caribbean, and Belize in Central America — will still see their total annual rainfall decrease between 10 and 20 per cent, Fletcher says.

And even with a 2-degree Celsius cap, the Caribbean is projected to experience greater sea level rise than most areas of the world, he tells IPS.

He says that some models predict that a 2-degree Celsius rise in global temperatures will lead to a one-metre sea level rise in the Caribbean.

Caribbean negotiators say capping global temperature rise at 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrialisation levels is necessary to protect infrastructure, such as in Kingstown, the capital of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

Caribbean negotiators say capping global temperature rise at 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrialisation levels is necessary to protect infrastructure, such as in Kingstown, the capital of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

This will translate to the loss of 1,300 square kilometres of land — equivalent to the areas of Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, Anguilla, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines combined, Fletcher told IPS.

Over 110,000 people, a number equivalent to the population of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, will be displaced.

In a region highly dependent on tourism, 149 tourism resorts will be damaged, five power plants will be either damaged or destroyed, 1 per cent of all agricultural land will be lost, 21 airports will be damaged or destroyed, land surrounding 21 CARICOM airports will be damaged or destroyed, and 567 kilometres of roads will be lost.

The countries of the Caribbean, famous for sun, sea and sand, have at the national level been rushing to implement mitigation and adaptation measures.

But Hippolyte believes that there is much that can be done at the individual level and says while a lot of information is available to Caribbean nationals, there needs to be a shift in attitude.

“A lot of the information about what we need to do is out there, but in a way, it is here, it is in the brain,” he says, pointing to his head.

“And to me, where I see the arts coming in, and where I see myself and other artists coming in to take the information, the knowledge,” he says, pointing again to his head, “and to bring it here — into the heart,” he says.

“And if that information goes into the heart, then it goes out into the hands and into the body into what we do and what we actually don’t do,” Hippolyte tells IPS.

Speaking at the climate justice event, Didacus Jules, director general of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), a nine-member political and economic sub-group within CARICOM, told IPS that “justice lies in the protection of the vulnerable whether they be the individual poor or the marginal state”.

Most of the infrastructure in small island development states is along the coast and threatened by sea level rise, Jules points out.

“The negative impacts of climate change are also influencing how we interact with each other as a people given that we have to compete for limited resources,” he tells IPS.

“The climate justice message must therefore be spread in every corner of this region (the Caribbean) and not only promoted by global media that does not always have the interests of SIDS at the forefront.”

He says that Caribbean artists can play a role in spreading the message of climate justice.

“We have seen the power of our Caribbean artists and musicians. Caribbean music is a global force with an impact outlasting any hurricane that we have experienced,” Jules said.

He said that despite the vulnerabilities and challenges that SIDS face, “rallying in the region by using our voices can send a strong signal to let the world know that we are fully aware of the implications of not having a legally binding international agreement on climate change and the impacts it can have on SIDS in our region.

“The bottom line is that the impacts of climate change threaten our very existence,” Jules tells IPS.

“We will clamour if we must, but they will hear us — 1.5 to Stay Alive! The Alliance of Small Island States has made it clear that it wants below 1.5° Celcius reflected as a long-term temperature goal and benchmark for the level of global climate action in the Paris agreement this year,” Jules said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Unique Alliance Between Gauchos and Environmentalists Protects Argentina’s Pampas Fri, 07 Aug 2015 16:37:17 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet Gauchos have lived in harmony with nature for centuries in Argentina’s pampas, where a project to preserve the grasslands is seeking to protect the ecosystem with the participation of traditional stockbreeders and gauchos. Credit: Courtesy of Gustavo Marino/Aves Argentinas

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Aug 7 2015 (IPS)

The traditions of Argentina’s gauchos or cowboys have joined together with modern agricultural technology in a unique alliance between stockbreeders and environmentalists aimed at preserving biodiversity in the pampas, boosting productivity, and enhancing the flavour of this South America’s country’s famous beef.

“National parks leave people out of the equation,” said Gustavo Marino, with the local environmental organisation Aves Argentinas (Argentine Birds). “We tried to come up with a way to integrate people, as well as human activity, as just another component of the ecosystem.”

Aves Argentinas and the Argentine Wildife Foundation (FVSA) are carrying out the project “Grasslands and Savannas of the Southern Cone of South America: Initiatives for Their Conservation in Argentina Project”.

“We also saw that the grasslands of the pampas are almost all privately owned, there is very little public land, and we necessarily had to work with producers,” Marino told IPS.

The project receives financing from the World Bank’s Global Environment Facility (GEF) and support from the National Institute of Agricultural Technology and National Parks Administration.

The initiative in Argentina forms part of the Southern Cone Grasslands Alliance. (The Southern Cone sub-region is made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.)

The grasslands “gave rise to a culture represented by the gaucho, but which permeates our entire society, with traditional meals like ‘asado’ (beef roasted over a wood fire) and the need we Argentines feel of open spaces, of being able to see the horizon and the sky,” said Marino.

The pampas are also at the heart of this country’s economy.

A typical snapshot of Argentina’s pampas: A small herd of cattle milling around a lone tree in natural grasslands in the rural municipality of Marcos Paz in the eastern province of Buenos Aires. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

A typical snapshot of Argentina’s pampas: A small herd of cattle milling around a lone tree in natural grasslands in the rural municipality of Marcos Paz in the eastern province of Buenos Aires. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

“Grasslands provide a wide range of environmental goods and services, as well as the beef, milk, wool and leather produced by the pasture systems,” environmentalist Fernando Miñarro, the head of FVSA’s Pampas and Gran Chaco Programme, told IPS.

The pampas ecosystem, which is home to more than 370 species of gramineous plant species (mainly types of grass), 400 species of birds, and roughly 100 species of mammals – several of which are threatened, such as the pampas deer – is essential in maintaining the ecological balance.

Threatened grasslands

The pampas eco-region covers 750,000 sq km in Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, including 460,000 sq km in several provinces of Argentina.

Between 2002 and 2004 alone, these provinces lost 9,000 sq km of grasslands, at an annual rate of over 0.5 percent. The rate of replacement of grasslands by crops was over five percent in some areas.

Only one-third of Argentina’s pampas ecosystem was covered with natural or semi-natural grasslands, and a significant proportion of the remaining grasslands was used for stockbreeding.

In Uruguay and the southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, only 71 and 48 percent, respectively, were still grasslands.

In Paraguay, 44 percent of the ecosystem is in a semi-natural or natural state.

Source: FVSA

“The pampas contribute to the maintenance of the composition of the atmospheric gases through the sequestration of CO2 (carbon dioxide) and soil erosion control, and they are a source of genetic material for a large number of plant and animal species which currently constitute the basis of the global diet,” he said.

They also play a fundamental role as a supplier of pollinating insects and natural enemies of crop pests, he added.

According to Marino, Argentina has lost 60 percent of its grasslands, due to the expansion of intensive agriculture (such as soy and rice production) and commercial forestry, and the urbanisation of the most valuable portions – the areas not prone to flooding.

The initiative, which involves 70 producers on 200,000 hectares of land, seeks to salvage traditional livestock-raising techniques of the pampas, perfected by means of new agricultural methods and ecological practices.

Marino mentioned rotational grazing and spelling of pastures for part of the peak growing season, and prescribed burning – practices that boost the growth of high-quality forage, he explained.

Another technique being used is the creation of small dikes, to retain water during the rainy season.

Using these methods they have curbed the growth of exotic plants and stimulated high-quality grass species for the cattle which, at the same time, attract birds like golden plovers (Pluvialis dominica).

“This is our most illustrative example. On one hand we are focusing on beef production and on the other we are thinking about the plovers’ quality of habitat,” said Marino, referring to precision livestock farming, adapted to each kind of pasture.

Marino, an agronomist and bird-watcher, said that when the project began eight years ago, stockbreeders looked at them as if they were oddballs.

But he said stockbreeders have increasingly turned to them for advice because “we offer a middle way where they earn money while maintaining biodiversity at the same time.”

Miñarro said that “When biodiversity is lost, the stockbreeder has to buy forage or nutrients. These inputs are expensive, and are tied to market prices. Preserving natural grasslands benefits breeders because it’s nothing short of the natural capital that their economic activity is based on.”

And thanks to the changes introduced, their products also fetch higher prices since they now have the grass-fed beef stamp, which open up export markets as well.

A local supermarket in Argentina promotes “grass-fed beef”, a label earned by the 70 stockbreeders participating in the project “Grasslands and Savannas of the Southern Cone of South America: Initiatives for Their Conservation in Argentina Project”, thanks to the changes they introduced. Credit: Courtesy of Gustavo Marino/Aves Argentinas

A local supermarket in Argentina promotes “grass-fed beef”, a label earned by the 70 stockbreeders participating in the project “Grasslands and Savannas of the Southern Cone of South America: Initiatives for Their Conservation in Argentina Project”, thanks to the changes they introduced. Credit: Courtesy of Gustavo Marino/Aves Argentinas

“Consumers increasingly want to know what the production system is like, and this stamp tells them that the beef is pasture-raised in an ecological fashion that respects biodiversity, and that it has the flavour of traditional Argentine beef, which made us famous around the world,” Marino said.

The participating stockbreeders also earn income from bird-watchers, as the programme advertises, provides advice, and trains guides for this ecotourism activity.

Tiziana Prada owns the San Antonio hacienda – a 4,918-hectare estate with some 2,000 head of cattle in the Esteros del Iberá wetlands in the northeast province of Corrientes, where she is practicing sustainable stockbreeding.

“We started out by converting old rice paddies to pasture land for cattle,” she told IPS. “We began seeing more wildlife; there are many more deer, and black howler monkeys, yacaré caiman, and many species of birds have come back.”

This was thanks to the new techniques introduced.

“If you know about the growth cycles of the good-quality grass species, you can manage them according to the seasons….always keeping in mind the nesting and breeding seasons of the birds and other animals that inhabit the grasslands,” she said.

She believes caring for the environment and keeping productivity up “go hand in hand.”

“Stockbreeders, especially now that they are moving into marginal areas, where the ecosystem is much more fragile, have to practice conservation because otherwise our resources are destroyed, our activity won’t be sustainable in time, and we also fervently believe that it is possible to produce sustainably without compromising our efficiency.”

Prada believes stockbreeders are increasingly interested because they can see “there is a growing urban market that is demanding that we preserve the environment so their kids will have a better world tomorrow.”

Moreover, it’s not just about business, she said. “Love of nature is something that rural people carry inside them,” she said.

Marino sums up that spirit with a stanza from a song, “El payador perseguido”, by legendary Argentine folksinger Atahualpa Yupanqui: “Estoy con los de mi lao cinchando tuitos parejos, pa hacer nuevo lo que es viejo y verlo al mundo cambiao” (I’m with those on my side all of us pulling together, to make the old new and see the world change).

“It’s about returning to traditional stockbreeding, but using today’s technologies,” he said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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U.N. Post-2015 Development Agenda Adopted Amidst Closed-Door Deals Fri, 07 Aug 2015 12:41:13 +0000 Bhumika Muchhala Bhumika Muchhala of Third World Network. Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

Bhumika Muchhala of Third World Network. Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

By Bhumika Muchhala

At about a quarter to seven on the evening of Sunday, Aug. 2, the member states of the United Nations adopted the post-2015 development agenda outcome document, titled “Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda.”

As governments endorsed the 29-page product resulting from almost two years of transparent and relatively democratic negotiations, the final 48 hours had witnessed a very different story, that of a sharp turn towards closed-door consultations and last-minute bargaining chips.What transpired requires a moment to reflect on the reality of vested interests and deeply unequal power between negotiating governments.

The 2030 Agenda is arguably the most ambitious and expansive development agenda that has ever been set in motion. It will be in effect for 15 years (2015-2030) and is to be implemented on all levels ranging from the global and multilateral level (such as the World Bank), regional (such as regional commissions and funds) and national (both government level and development agencies).

The main meat of the 2030 agenda is the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), comprised of 17 goals and 169 targets covering economic, social and environmental issues ranging from inequality, poverty, climate change, infrastructure, energy, industrialisation, consumption and production, health, education, ecosystem, biodiversity and oceans.

These SDGs will be the first global development paradigm to be marked by universality, meaning that all countries are to take action toward sustainable development, including the rich and powerful. This distinguishes the SDGs from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of 2000-2015, which was based on an explicitly donor-recipient model of aid from the rich countries to the poor.

For all 193 governments of the U.N. to come to an agreement on this agenda was a breathtaking feat of conflict and compromise. However, over the first weekend of August, the otherwise open and recorded negotiations went into radio-silence in the back-rooms as the United States reportedly issued an ultimatum without which they refused to adopt the document.

The U.S. wanted to replace the word “ensure” with the word “promote” in two goals that talked about ensuring that the profits and patents reaped from the world’s natural biodiversity are shared fairly with the countries and communities from which they are extracted. The legal agreement on biodiversity clearly states the word “ensure.” By injecting the much weaker word “promote,” the U.S. tried to dilute hard-won legal language to something that is nebulous at best and unenforceable at worst.

This amendment essentially lets rich and powerful countries, whose corporations and research institutions extract the vast majority of biodiversity resources of the world, off the hook from their legal commitments to equitably share benefits and rewards that come from these resources. Developing countries were infuriated because most of this extraction happens in their countries, specifically, from the seeds, plants, forests and land on which most indigenous peoples across the world live in.

The negotiating group of 134 developing countries had repeatedly stated that the global goals were not to be re-opened for negotiation at the last minute, that they were sacrosanct. The fact that this firm position was flagrantly violated as a last-minute take-it-or-leave-it deal filled the air of the U.N. conference room with a palpable distrust and tension. People rushed in and out of conference rooms, furiously whispering in each other’s ears while working day and night to reach a consensus, no matter what.

Similarly, the progressive language on debt was also undermined, reportedly by the European Union this time. Up until the morning of Sunday, Aug. 1, the document said: “We recognize the need to assist developing countries … through debt financing, debt relief, debt restructuring and sound debt management, as appropriate.” This language recognised the sound development economics arguments called for by numerous economists and developing countries, on the urgent need to address external debt if any development goals are to be achieved.

By late afternoon, this was inserted: “Maintaining sustainable debt levels is the responsibility of the borrowing countries…”  Plucked out of the outcome document of the Financing for Development conference in Addis Ababa last month, this sentence harmfully faults borrowing countries for their debt burdens without due attention on the complex role of lenders and creditors, a point that has been repeatedly emphasised in the Greek case.

It’s a stark regression from the notion of co-responsibility between lenders and borrowers in previous U.N. documents from Monterrey in 2002 and Doha in 2008.

The fear of such retrogression in language from the Addis Ababa document drove developing countries to keep insisting until the last hour that it not be annexed to the 2030 Agenda as developed countries called for. In the end, the Addis Ababa text was not annexed. But the compromise was this sort of selective importation of language. Other attempts were also proposed by developed countries in the final hours but were steadfastly fought back, such as removing reference to “policy space,” arguably the most vital demand of developing countries.

Although policy space is mentioned twice in the 2030 agenda and once in the SDGs, it is qualified with language from the Addis Ababa text in one of these three mentions. This language is: “…while remaining consistent with relevant international rules and commitments.” This negates the very point of policy space, which is to address the very “international rules and commitments” that constrain the ability of a state to formulate and carry out development-oriented policies and pathways.

On the other side of the North-South firewall, African and Arab countries called for the removal of a critical paragraph recognising human rights as a principal aim of sustainable development and a commitment to non-discrimination for all. While the paragraph was saved from this late Friday night intervention, the essential term “discrimination” was scrapped and the word “fulfill” was demoted to “promote.”

Issues such as ethnicity, migration status, culture, economic situation or age as a protected status were also scrapped although “race, colour, sex, language, religion, political opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, disability or other status” remain.

African and Arab diplomats argued against the recognition of LGBT rights and objected to the inclusion of “all social and economic groups,” while many Latin American countries, the European Union and the U.S. firmly opposed the offense against human and civil rights.

It is now more than two decades since the U.N. reaffirmed the interdependence of human rights and development at the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights and more than 20 years since the U.N. first recognised sexual orientation and gender identity as prohibited grounds of discrimination.

The 11th hour turn from openness to opacity reflects a crisis of multilateralism in the world’s primary locus of multilateralism, the U.N. After all, the U.N. is supposed to be the most democratic and universal institution that exists to date, one in which every nation has a vote, unlike the rich country-dominated IMF or World Bank.

The private bilateral consultations over the weekend of Aug. 1-2 were, according to many independent observers, a manufactured crisis that opened the door to text that endangers global development and law.

The problem is that backroom dealings and pressure campaigns have ominous implications for the legitimacy and fairness of international negotiations, not to mention the political will of governments to take the sustainable development goals seriously.

The new global development agenda has powerful potential to make an ambitious and universal dent of urgently needed progress in our economies, societies and environments.  At the same time, process is also important. What transpired this first weekend of August requires a moment to reflect on the reality of vested interests and deeply unequal power between negotiating governments.

(Note: As of Aug. 6, 3:00 p.m., the final outcome document of the post-2015 development agenda has not yet been officially published by the U.N. Secretariat. The last draft available is the Aug.1  draft without the changes noted above.  There is some speculation and concern as to why there is a delay of four days, which is only compounding the lack of transparency in the final hours of negotiation.)

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Making the World’s Indigenous Visible in the SDGs Thu, 06 Aug 2015 23:36:26 +0000 Aruna Dutt Chief Wilton Littlechild, Advisor to the Secretariat of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), addresses a press conference on the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples in September 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Amanda Voisard

Chief Wilton Littlechild, Advisor to the Secretariat of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), addresses a press conference on the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples in September 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Amanda Voisard

By Aruna Dutt

As the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples approaches on Sunday, Aug. 9, concerns are growing that they will not fully benefit from the newly drafted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In a policy brief on the SDGs and the Post-2015 Agenda, the Indigenous Peoples Major Group said that there was a failure to recognise indigenous peoples as distinct groups under the expiring Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which resulted in the absence of targeted measures to address their specific situations related to poverty and severely limited favorable outcomes."Disadvantages faced by indigenous peoples are related to dispossession and exacerbated by powerlessness and poverty." -- Roberto Mukaro Borrero

They added that there was also culturally-blind implementation of the MDGs resulting in “inappropriate development programmes for indigenous peoples including discriminatory actions related to education, health and basic services.”

Any project not including the participation of Indigenous Peoples is making their needs invisible. The lack of dialogue with Indigenous Peoples and their participation in any process constitutes the main barrier,” Sandra del Pino, Regional Advisor on Cultural Diversity at the World Health Organization (WHO) for The Americas, told IPS.

There are an estimated 370 million indigenous peoples living in more than 70 countries. They continue to be among the world’s most marginalised population groups, according to the WHO. The need for more participation and inclusion of Indigenous communities and their perspectives is one of the main purposes of the international day.

The health status of indigenous communities varies significantly from that of non-indigenous population groups in countries all over the world, which is one reason why health is the main theme of this year’s International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

“The focus of this international day is to analyse how indigenous people have access to health services, what are the causes of exclusion, and how we can contribute to reduce those gaps existing in child and maternal health, nutrition, communicable diseases, etc.,” says del Pino.

“Children born into indigenous families often live in remote areas where governments do not invest in basic social services such as health care, quality education, justice and participation, and indigenous peoples are at particular risk of not being registered at birth and of being denied identity documents.”

Health is defined in WHO’s Constitution as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”, which is similar to the values behind traditional healing systems in Indigenous communities. According to WHO estimates, at least 80 percent of the population in developing countries relies on these traditional healing systems as their primary source of care.

“Many factors have an impact on indigenous populations’ health, including geographic barriers, language, and lack of education,” Del Pino told IPS.

“However, of all the barriers faced by indigenous peoples, it is perhaps the cultural barriers that present the most complicated challenge. This is because there is little understanding of the social and cultural factors deriving from the knowledge, attitudes, and practices in health of the indigenous peoples.”

Roberto Mukaro Borrero, an indigenous Taino leader and representative of the International Indian Treaty Council and the United Confederation of Taino People, told IPS that in order  to create more understanding, there needs to be an increased focus on cooperative and informed partnership building among traditional healers, non-traditional health professionals, health service agencies, organisations, and communities. 

“These partnerships should recognise the clear relationship between the social disadvantages experienced by Indigenous Peoples and their current status of health,” Borrero said. “Disadvantages faced by indigenous peoples are related to dispossession and exacerbated by powerlessness and poverty.”

“Governments must implement the commitments made to indigenous peoples within international agreements such as the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, among others,” said Borrero.

“These agreements were developed to improve the well-being of indigenous peoples around the world; however, political will including adequate resource allocation is a pre-requisite to success.”

Climate change and environmental hazards also have a disproportionate impact on the health of indigenous peoples.

“In many cases indigenous communities are more exposed to these disasters because they live in most vulnerable and isolated areas,” Del Pino said.

“Another cause of Indigenous peoples being among the first to face the direct consequences of climate change is their dependence upon and close relationship with the environment and its resources. For example, in the Amazon, the effects of climate change include deforestation and forest fragmentation, and consequently, more carbon released into the atmosphere, exacerbating and creating further changes.”

She added, “Droughts in 2005 resulted in fires in the western Amazon region. This is likely to occur again as rainforest is replaced by savannas, thus having a huge effect on the livelihoods of the Indigenous peoples in the region. Climate change exacerbates the difficulties already faced by vulnerable indigenous communities.”

“The inclusion of target 17.18 of the SDGs –  to improve the quality, coverage and availability of disaggregated data –  is in response to one of the lessons commonly drawn from the MDGs: the need for the SDGs to make visible the most vulnerable populations,” Del Pino said.

It is an essential component to meet the objective of “no one should be left behind” and “no target should be met, unless met for all groups” in the new post-2015 agenda, she said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Trans Fat Substitute May Lead to More Deforestation Thu, 06 Aug 2015 17:57:36 +0000 Zhai Yun Tan An oil palm seedling in a burned peat forest. Credit: Courtesy of Wetland International

An oil palm seedling in a burned peat forest. Credit: Courtesy of Wetland International

By Zhai Yun Tan
WASHINGTON, Aug 6 2015 (IPS)

Following growing concerns in the United States about the risks of trans fat since 1999, demand for palm oil, a cheap substitute for trans fat, more than doubled over the last decade and is expected to increase, eliciting concerns about deforestation in several Southeast Asian countries that provide 85 percent of the world’s palm oil.

Trans fat is a partially hydrogenated oil added to many frozen and baked goods that improves shelf life and adds flavour. The United States’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed banning trans fat after studies showed it may cause cardiovascular diseases. FDA banned the use of trans fat last month.

The ban, along with the burgeoning demand by China and India, are among the reasons many experts say motivate the rise in demand for palm oil. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, global demand for palm oil is likely to grow by 60 percent in 2050 from 1999. Palm oil imports in the United States increased by more than 80 percent since 1999, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

“Palm oil has a lot of same properties that hydrogenated oil has, that’s one of the reasons why it’s a common replacement,” Lael Goodman, a tropical forest analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists told IPS in an interview. “As companies are looking around on what to use instead of these partially hydrogenated oils, palm oil is the cheapest vegetable oil in the market now.”

Palm oil plantations, according to the United Nations Environment Programme and Greenpeace International, is the leading cause of deforestation in Indonesia and Malaysia. Although United States imports most of its palm oil from Malaysia, Malaysia’s production growth is slowed by limited land and labor, according to USDA. Indonesia has emerged as the largest exporter since 2011.

Source: World Resources Institute

Source: World Resources Institute

The concerns come at a time when Indonesia is expecting to double its palm oil production by 2020 in response to the rise in demand, although it is already suffering from one of the world’s highest deforestation rates.

Joko Widodo, president of Indonesia, strengthened the country’s moratorium against deforestation earlier this year. However, the moratorium, which was introduced in 2011, has failed to control the expansion of oil palm plantations in primary forest and peat lands, according to USDA.

A study by researchers from University of Maryland and World Resources Institute (WRI), a Washington, D.C. based think tank, revealed that Indonesia lost over 6 million hectares of primary forest from 2000 to 2012, an area half the size of England.

“We don’t have the data for 2014 or 2015 yet and there was a decrease in 2013, but the end result is still that the deforestation rate is at one of the highest rate it’s been in the country’s history,” James Anderson, communications manager for WRI’s Forests Program, told IPS.

The country is also notorious for causing haze pollution in Southeast Asia for forest burning activities that are often linked to land clearing for palm oil plantations.

“Up to 20 percent of land that are on fire have been traced back to palm oil,” Goodman said. “When peat soils are cleared– these are very carbon-rich soils– they can burn for months or even years. It puts a lot of particulate matter into the air that spreads across Asia and it is a huge health issue every year.”

The fires usually peak around September every year. In 2013, Malaysia and Singapore were badly hit by the haze pollution. The Singapore Meteorological Service expects haze pollution from Indonesia to be as bad this year with the incoming El Nino season.

Goodman said companies, under pressure from the public, have begun to focus on deforestation-free palm oil.

“There is a very great corporate attention to where palm oil comes from,” she said. “A lot of those pledges started in 2015, some of them don’t start until 2020. We are really just starting to see what’s going to make a difference hopefully in the next few years.”

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was established in 2004 as a certification body for the production of sustainable palm oil. The nonprofit’s website said that it has over 2,000 members, representing 40 percent of the palm oil industry, and it certifies 20 percent of the world’s palm oil production.

Several companies, such as Dunkin’ Brands, Krispy Kreme, McDonald’s have made commitments to purchase deforestation-free palm oil in recent years.

Global Forest Watch (GFW), an initiative convened by WRI, tracks forest fires and forest clearings in Indonesia. The service offers real time maps of deforestation and hotspots for users. According to WRI, companies using the system include Unilever and members of the RSPO.

“A lot of companies lack the tools to actually implement the commitments simply because it is very difficult to trace their supply chains to know if the palm oil is coming from a place that is actually deforested,” Sarah Lake, corporate engagement research analyst for GFW told IPS.

The GFW service, she said, was offered free-of-charge to companies to receive alerts and monitor their land for deforestation or fires.

“Our approach isn’t necessarily to reduce the use of palm oil,” Lake said. “It can be perfectly sustainable. It’s just a matter of making sure you’re sourcing palm oil that isn’t linked to environmentally problematic behaviour.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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‘Permaculture the African Way’ in Cameroon’s Only Eco-Village Sun, 02 Aug 2015 08:16:10 +0000 Mbom Sixtus Scene from Ndanifor Permaculture Eco-village in Bafut in Cameroon’s Northwest Region, the country’s first and only eco-village which is based on the principle that the answer to food insecurity lies in sustainable and organic methods of farming. Credit: Mbom Sixtus/IPS

Scene from Ndanifor Permaculture Eco-village in Bafut in Cameroon’s Northwest Region, the country’s first and only eco-village which is based on the principle that the answer to food insecurity lies in sustainable and organic methods of farming. Credit: Mbom Sixtus/IPS

By Mbom Sixtus
YAOUNDE, Aug 2 2015 (IPS)

Marking a shift away from the growing trend of abandoning sustainable life styles and drifting from traditional customs and routines, Joshua Konkankoh is a Cameroonian farmer with a vision – that the answer to food insecurity lies in sustainable and organic methods of farming.

Konkankoh, who left a job with the government to pursue that vision, founded Better World Cameroon, which works to develop local sustainable agricultural strategies that utilise indigenous knowledge systems for mitigating food crises and extreme poverty, and is now running Cameroon’s first and only eco-village – the Ndanifor Permaculture Eco-village in Bafut in Cameroon’s Northwest Region.

“Biodiversity was protected by traditional beliefs. Felling of some trees and killing of certain animal species in certain forests were prohibited. They were protected by gods and ancestors. We want to protect such heritage” – Joshua Konkankoh
Talking with IPS, Konkankoh explained how the eco-village organically fertilises soil through the planting and pruning of nitrogen-fixing trees planted on farms where mixed cropping is practised. When the trees mature, the middles are cut out and the leaves used as compost. The trees are then left to regenerate and the same procedure is repeated the following season.

“Here we train youths and farmers on permanent agriculture or permaculture,” he said. “I call it ‘permaculture the African way’ because the concept was coined by scientists and we are adapting it to our old ways of farming and protecting the environment.”

While government is keeping its distance from the project, Konkankoh said that local councils and traditional rulers are encouraging people to embrace the initiative, which is said to be ecologically, socially, economically and spiritually friendly.

“I was active during the U.N. Decade of Education for Sustainable Development. In studying the reason why many countries failed to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), we realised that there were some gaps but we also found out that permaculture was a solution to sustainability, especially in Africa. So I felt we could contextualize the concept – think globally and act locally.”

The permaculture used at the eco-village makes maximum use of limited agricultural land, and villagers are taught how to plant more than one crop on the same piece of land, use a common organic fertiliser and obtain high yields.

Farmers, said Konkankoh, are encouraged to trade and not seek aid, to benefit from their investment and prevent middlemen and multinationals from scooping up a large share of their earnings. The organic agriculture practised and taught in the eco-village is a blend of culture and fair trade initiatives.

Joshua Konkankoh, founder of Cameroon’s first and only eco-village, shows off some nitrogen-fixing trees. Credit: Mbom Sixtus/IPS

Joshua Konkankoh, founder of Cameroon’s first and only eco-village, shows off some nitrogen-fixing trees. Credit: Mbom Sixtus/IPS

“We encourage rural farmers to guarantee food sovereignty by producing what they also consume directly and not cash crops like cocoa and coffee.”

Farmers are trained in the importance of manure, of producing it and selling it to other farmers, as well in innovative techniques of erosion control, water management, windbreaks, inter-cropping and food foresting.

Konkankoh also told IPS that it was a mistake to have left the spiritual principle out of the MDG programme. “Biodiversity was protected by traditional beliefs.  Felling of some trees and killing of certain animal species in certain forests were prohibited. They were protected by gods and ancestors. We want to protect such heritage.”

The eco-village has started a project to replant spiritual forests with 4,000 medicinal and fruit trees in a bid to reduce CO2 emissions.

Fon Abumbi II, traditional ruler of Bafut, the village which hosts the Ndanifor Permaculture Eco-village, believes that the type of cultivation of fruits, vegetables and medicinal plants used by the eco-village will improve the health of local people.

He is also convinced that with many firms around the world producing health care products with natural herbs, the demand for the products of the eco-village is high, guaranteeing a promising future for the villagers who cultivate them.

Houses in the eco-village are constructed with local materials such as earth bags and mud bricks, and grass for the roofs. Domestic appliances such as ovens and stoves are earthen and homemade.

Sonita Mbah Neh, project administrator at eco-village’s demonstration centre, said that the earthen stoves bit not only reduce the impact of climate change by minimising the use of wood for combustion but the local women who make then also earn a living by selling them.

Lanci Abel, mayor of the Bafut municipality, told IPS that his council is mobilising citizens to embrace permaculture. “You know, when an idea is new, people only embrace it when it is recommended by authorities. We are carrying out communication and sensitisation of the population to return to traditional methods of farming as taught at the eco-village.”

Abel also had something to say about the performance of genetically modified plantain seedlings planted by the Ministry of Agriculture at the start of the 2015 farming season in Cameroon’s Southwest Region, which recorded a miserable 30 percent yield.

The issue had been raised by Mbanya Bolevie, a member of parliament from the region who asked Minister of Agriculture Essimi Menye about the failure of the modern seeds during the June session of parliament.

Julbert Konango, Littoral Regional Delegate for the Chamber of Agriculture, said the failure was due the fact that seeds are often old because “there is inadequate finance for agricultural research organisations in Cameroon as well as a shortage of engineers in the sector,” a sign that the country not fully prepared for second-generation agriculture.

Commenting on the incident, Abel said that citizens using natural seeds and compost would not have faced these problems, adding that “besides the possibility of failure of chemical fertilisers, they also pollute the soil.”

The eco-village, which would like to become a model for Cameroon and West Africa, is a member of the Global Ecovillage Network.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Opinion: RIP Cecil the Lion. What Will Be His Legacy? And Who Decides? Fri, 31 Jul 2015 22:29:53 +0000 Dr. Rosie Cooney Lions, Krugersdorp Game Reserve in South Africa. Credit: Derek Keats/cc by 2.0

Lions, Krugersdorp Game Reserve in South Africa. Credit: Derek Keats/cc by 2.0

By Dr. Rosie Cooney
GLAND, Switzerland, Jul 31 2015 (IPS)

Cecil the lion, a magnificent senior male, much loved and part of a long-term research project, was lured out of a safe haven in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park last week and apparently illegally shot, to endure a protracted death.

As the global outrage pours out, consider for a moment that trophy hunting has now been banned across Africa. Trophy hunting is the limited “high value” end of hunting, where people (often the wealthy and mainly Westerners) pay top dollar to kill an animal. In southern Africa it takes place across an area close on twice the sum total of National Parks in the region.Hwange Park staff numbers have been radically cut, and there is little money for cars or equipment for protection. Bushmeat poaching is on the rise and the rangers are ill equipped to cope.

It arouses disgust and revulsion – animals are killed for sport – in some cases (such as lions) the meat not even eaten. Even the millions of weekend recreational hunters filling their freezers are uncertain about trophy hunting.

It seems to have little place in the modern world, where humanity is moving toward an ethical position that increasingly grants animals more of the moral rights that humanity grants (in principle at least) to each other.

So let us move now through the thought bubble where the EU and North America ban import of trophies, Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe and others ban trophy hunting, the airlines and shipping lines refuse to carry trophies, and the industry dies a slow (or fast) death, ridding the world of this toxic stain on our collective conscience.

We turn to survey southern Africa, proud of what we have achieved by our signing of online petitions, our lobbying of politicians, our Facebook shares and comments.

Did we save lions? Have we safeguarded wildlife areas? Have we dealt the death blow to trafficking of wildlife? Have we liberated local communities from imperialistic foreign hunters?

Let’s go back to Hwange National Park, the scene of Cecil’s demise. The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, responsible for managing this and other National Parks, is now in trouble.

It derived most of its income for protection, conservation and management of wildlife across the country from trophy hunting, with minimal revenue from central government (not well known for its good governance and transparent resource allocation).

Hwange Park staff numbers have been radically cut, and there is little money for cars or equipment for protection. Bushmeat poaching is on the rise and the rangers are ill equipped to cope. The commonly used wire snares are indiscriminate, and capture many lions and other predators who die agonising and pointless deaths.

In Namibia, more than half of the communal conservancies (covering 20 percent of the country) have collapsed, because the revenue from non-hunting sources (such as tourism) is not enough to keep them viable and they have not been able to find alternative sources of income.

Namibia’s communal conservancies are an innovation of the 1990s, and have been responsible for dramatic increases in a wide range of wildlife species outside of national parks including elephant, lion, and black rhino.  Income from trophy hunting and tourism has encouraged communities to turn their land over to conservation.

Communities retain 100 percent of benefits from sustainable use of wildlife, including hunting – almost 18 million Namibian dollars in 2013. This money was spent by communities on schools, healthcare, roads, training, and the employment of 530 game guards to protect their wildlife.

Almost two million high protein meals a year were a by-product of the hunting. Now this is all gone. A few conservancies managed to find wealthy philanthropic donors to prevent them going under – but they cross their fingers that the generosity will continue to flow for decades to come.

Game guards are unemployed, unable to feed their families, looking for any opportunity to obtain some income. Communities are angry – they were never asked by the world what they thought about this. Few journalists or social media activists ever reflected their side of the story. Conservation authorities and communities are again becoming enemies.

Where the conservancies have collapsed, the wildlife is largely wiped out. The bad old days pre-reform have returned, and wildlife is worth more dead than alive.

Hungry bellies are fed with poached bushmeat and the armed poaching gangs have moved in – communities are no longer interested in feeding information to police to help protect wildlife, game guard programmes have collapsed for lack of funds, and rhino horns, lion bone, and ivory are being shipped out illicitly to East Asia.

In South Africa, trophy hunting has stopped, including the small proportion that was “canned”. On the private game ranches that covered some 20 million hectares of the country, though, revenues from wildlife have effectively collapsed.

Those properties with scenic landscapes that are close to major tourist routes or attractions and have good tourism infrastructure are surviving on revenues from phototourism, but gone are the days of expanding their wildlife asset base by buying land and restocking this with additional wildlife. Most of the other landowners have returned to cattle, goats and crop farming in order to educate their children, run a car, pay their mortgages.

Wildlife on these lands has largely gone along with its habitat – back to the degraded agriculture landscapes that prevailed before the 1970s when wildlife use by landholders (including hunting) became legal here.

Lions that were on these farmlands are long gone, and the few that remain in national parks are shot as problem animals as soon as they leave the park. The great conservation success story of South Africa is rapidly unravelling.

Speculative? Yes, but a reasonable prediction, because this has happened before. Bans on trophy hunting in Tanzania 1973-1978, Kenya in 1977 and in Zambia from 2000-2003 accelerated a rapid loss of wildlife due to the removal of incentives for conservation. Early anecdotal reports suggest similar patterns are already happening in Botswana, which banned all hunting last year.

Let us mourn Cecil, but be careful what we wish for.

*Note: these views are the writer’s and do not necessarily represent those of IUCN.


Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Hungry for Change, Achieving Food Security and Nutrition for All Thu, 30 Jul 2015 22:53:10 +0000 Paloma Duran

Paloma Durán is director of the Sustainable Development Goals Fund (SDG-F) at the United Nations Development Programme

By Paloma Duran

With the enthusiasm of the recent Financing for Development conference behind us, the central issues and many layers of what is at stake are now firmly in sight. In fact, a complex issue like hunger, which is a long standing development priority, remains an everyday battle for almost 795 million people worldwide.

Courtesy of Paloma Duran, Director of the Sustainable Development Goals Fund.

Courtesy of Paloma Duran, Director of the Sustainable Development Goals Fund.

While this figure is 216 million less than in 1990-92, according to U.N. statistics, hunger kills more people every year than malaria, AIDS and tuberculosis combined. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) defines hunger as being synonymous with chronic undernourishment and is measured by the country average of how many calories each person has access to every day, as well as the prevalence of underweight children younger than five.

So where do we stand if food security and nutrition is destined to be a critical component of poverty eradication and sustainable development. In fact, the right to food is a basic human right and linked to the second goal of the proposed Sustainable Development Goals, (SDGs) which includes a target to end hunger and achieve food security by 2030.

The United Nations Development Programme is engaged in promoting sustainable agricultural practices to improve the lives of millions of farmers through its Green Commodities Programme. According to the World Food Programme, the world needs a food system that will meet the needs of an additional 2.5 billion people who will populate the Earth in 2050.

To eradicate hunger and extreme poverty will require an additional 267 billion dollars annually over the next 15 years. Given this looming prospect, a question that springs to mind is: how will this to be achieved?

Going forward, this goal requires more than words, it requires collective actions, including efforts to double global food production, reduce waste and experiment with food alternatives. As part of the Sustainable Development Goals Fund (SDG Fund) mission, we are working to understand how best to tackle this multi-faceted issue.

With the realisation that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for how to improve food security, the SDG Fund coordinates with a range of public and private stakeholders as well as U.N. Agencies to pilot innovative joint programmes in the field.

For example, the SDG Fund works to tackle food security and nutrition in Bolivia and El Salvador where rural residents are benefiting from our work to strengthen local farm production systems. In addition, we engage women and smallholder farmers as part of our cross-cutting efforts to build more integrated response to development challenges. We recognise that several factors must also play a critical role in achieving the hunger target, namely:

Improved agricultural productivity, especially by small and family farmers, helps improve food security;

Inclusive economic growth leads to important gains in hunger and poverty reduction;

the expansion of social protection contributes directly to the reduction of hunger and malnutrition.

In the fight against hunger, we need to create food systems that offer better nutritional outcomes and ones that are fundamentally more sustainable – i.e. that require less land, less water and that are more resilient to climate change.

The challenges are almost as great as the growing population which will require 70 percent more food to meet the estimated change in demand and diets. Notwithstanding is if we continue to waste a third of what we produce, we have to reevaluate agriculture and food production in terms of the supply chain and try to improve the quality and nutritional aspects across the value chain.

Food security and nutrition must be everyone’s concern especially if we are to eradicate hunger and combat food insecurity across all its dimensions. Feeding the world’s growing population must therefore be a joint effort and unlikely to be achieved by governments and international organisations alone.

In the words of José Graziano da Silva, FAO Director General, “The near-achievement of the MDG hunger targets shows us that we can indeed eliminate the scourge of hunger in our lifetime. We must be the Zero Hunger generation. That goal should be mainstreamed into all policy interventions and at the heart of the new sustainable development agenda to be established this year.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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