Inter Press Service » Biodiversity http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Wed, 28 Sep 2016 00:26:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.13 Microsensor-Fitted Locust Swarms? Sci-fi Meets Conservationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/microsensor-fitted-locust-swarms-sci-fi-meets-conservation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=microsensor-fitted-locust-swarms-sci-fi-meets-conservation http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/microsensor-fitted-locust-swarms-sci-fi-meets-conservation/#comments Mon, 19 Sep 2016 12:23:08 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146984 The hi-tech radio room that works with Google Earth maps at Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in northern Kenya where some of the 1,000 rangers of Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) trained in GPS use lead anti-poaching surveillance. Photo takes May 2016. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

The hi-tech radio room that works with Google Earth maps at Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in northern Kenya where some of the 1,000 rangers of Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) trained in GPS use lead anti-poaching surveillance. Photo takes May 2016. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
NEW DELHI, Sep 19 2016 (IPS)

Every November, India’s Gahirmatha beach in the Indian Ocean region develops a brownish-grey rash for 60 to 80 days. Half-a-million female Olive Ridley turtles emerge out of the waves to lay their eggs, over a hundred each. For the sheer numbers, this arrival is hard to miss.

However, knowledge about this IUCN’s endangered species’ exact migration route across oceans has remained fragmentary for conservationists seeking to protect its globally declining population owing to destruction of habitat, global warming and trawl fishing.Migrating songbirds, beetles and dragonflies can soon be hooked up to space satellites helping to predict natural disasters and the spread of zoonoses - diseases that jump from animals to humans like swine flu and avian influenza.

As pressures from climate change, ecosystem loss and wild life crime threaten biodiversity and wildlife around the globe, scientists are responding by harnessing the power of sophisticated space technologies.

Migrating songbirds, beetles and dragonflies can soon be hooked up to space satellites helping to predict natural disasters and the spread of zoonoses – diseases that jump from animals to humans like swine flu and avian influenza. Radars will help locate poachers through infrared, detect through an elephant’s agitated movements, its imminent poaching. Cameras orbiting in space can capture the presence of crop diseases and invasive species in remote locations. The realm of science fiction has already stepped into the real world.

The International Cooperation for Animal Research Using Space (ICARUS) project, whose trial phase starts in 2017, is developing solar-powered sensors weighing 1 to 5 grammes which can be attached to migratory songbirds, even dragonflies, beetles. The transmitted data will inform not simply the geo-positions and movements but provide important clues about the body functions or senses of the animal, giving significant indicators about impending natural disasters.

By 2020, ICARUS sensors could be small enough to fit into locusts, possibly even to use the micro-sensors to control the locust flight path to divert the swarm from valuable crops, say its researchers at Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Ornithology.

Scientists working on ICARUS say battery life is a major limiting factor for tracking small animals since the miniature batteries they can carry do not last long.

However, Russian space agency Roscosmos’s International Space Station, on which ICARUS hardware will be installed, is closer to the Earth than satellites, thus decreasing the amount of power required to upload data. Saving more battery life, the Station will wake the bird-mounted mini transmitter from its energy-saving mode only when it has visual contact to the in-flight bird. It’ll take only a few seconds to transmit all data back to the Station.

The urgency to go beyond manual patrolling to advanced space-based technology to combat poaching and illegal wildlife trade comes strongly from the World Wildlife Crime Report 2016.

The report builds on the data platform World WISE (The World Wildlife Seizures) that contains over 164,000 seizures related to wildlife crime involving 7,000 species from 120 countries spanning 2004 to 2015.

Trafficking of wildlife is now recognised as a specialised area of organised crime and a significant threat to many plant and animal species. The focus of the upcoming 17th Conference of Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is set to be the illegal wildlife trade. According to a 2016 UN Environment Programme report, the wildlife trade is estimated at 7 to 23 billion dollars annually.

With poachers increasingly using more sophisticated technology, wildlife rangers need to be equipped too. When a poacher moves in for the kill, elephants and rhinos will often behave unusually. Animal sensors help detect such behavior and send alerts to law enforcement, giving them time to act.

Other high-resolution constellations (10 or more) of radar satellites, unlike optical Earth observation satellites, are powerful enough to penetrate dense forest canopies, clouds and cover of darkness that aid poachers from detection. Infrared sensors attached to drones controlled by Global Positioning Systems (GPS) can also be used to detect campfires or warm bodies hiding in African bush land, say researchers.

Sophisticated satellites are already monitoring the extent of illegal logging, rate of deforestation and even soil moisture. The launch of hyperspectral imaging satellites that record detailed images in hundreds of electromagnetic wavelengths can assess the extent of disaster, crop growth and diseases, availability of water in remote locations and glacier melts, besides general biodiversity.

Development experts say the role that space tools can play for achieving the SDGs is broad and diverse, specifically Goal 15 to protect, restore and promote sustainable management of ecosystems, forests, soil and biodiversity, monitor not just wildlife but assess whether management practices put in place are having the desired effect.

“There are many types of satellites flying in space,” said Werner Balogh, a programme officer at the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA). “But how are they being used, is there more that can be done? Can we find joint mechanisms to share this data? It’s an exciting field and there’s still lots that needs to be explored.”

There has emerged consistent demand from developing countries who host rich biodiversity that mutual partnerships, free technical assistance, knowledge transfer, adequate resources and capacity building in space-based technologies to developing countries will significantly help achieve the 2030 Agenda.

But the high cost of technology solutions and access to the latest science and knowledge remain major constraints for the global South.

“In India, we use radio-collars to track movement for large animals like tigers and elephants. However, permits costs and taxes add to the already high cost of obtaining wildlife collars; for example, satellite collars to be used on elephants are available for 2,500 dollars each, plus annual subscription costs of 500 dollars,” Shashank Srinivasan, spatial analysis coordinator of World Wildlife Fund, India, told IPS.

The South Asia region, with 40 percent forest cover in Bhutan and Nepal and precious biodiversity, is very vulnerable to illegal traffic and wildlife crimes mainly because there exist easier traffic routes to large markets like China.

“The international community must design low-cost space-based appliances for sharing with developing countries like the solar transmitter chips (ICARUS) Germany is developing. It would be of great conservation value if we could procure it for 50 to 100 dollars,” Saroj Koirala, geospatial technologies expert with the World Wildlife Fund, Nepal, told IPS.

“Even if international commercial companies can provide us with, for example, hyperspectral images as old as of year 2010, this would still help country research. The process to access these are conditional and time-consuming,” Koirala added.

Srinivasan said except for initiatives like wildlabs.net that allow for the sharing of conservation-relevant technology, he knew of no other national, regional or international technology sharing or funding.

Experts say awareness of the importance of space-based technologies needs to be created among law makers for need-of-the-hour policies and fund allocation. Koirala said since nature conservation is linked to livelihoods, people themselves will pressurise democratic governments to set aside funds for latest technologies.

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Corruption and Wildlife Trafficking: the Elephant in the Roomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/corruption-and-wildlife-trafficking-the-elephant-in-the-room/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=corruption-and-wildlife-trafficking-the-elephant-in-the-room http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/corruption-and-wildlife-trafficking-the-elephant-in-the-room/#comments Thu, 15 Sep 2016 04:36:35 +0000 Aled Williams and Rob Parry-Jones http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146930 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/corruption-and-wildlife-trafficking-the-elephant-in-the-room/feed/ 0 Militarised Conservation Threatens DRC’s Indigenous People – Part 1http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/militarised-conservation-threatens-drcs-indigenous-people-part-1/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=militarised-conservation-threatens-drcs-indigenous-people-part-1 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/militarised-conservation-threatens-drcs-indigenous-people-part-1/#comments Wed, 14 Sep 2016 13:56:53 +0000 Zahra Moloo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146904 A man from the community of Mudja holds out his arm to show where he was injured by a park ranger. Credit: Zahra Moloo/IPS

A man from the community of Mudja holds out his arm to show where he was injured by a park ranger. Credit: Zahra Moloo/IPS

By Zahra Moloo
MUDJA/BIGANIRO, Sep 14 2016 (IPS)

It is late afternoon when a light drizzle begins to fall over a group of young men seated together in Mudja, a village that lies approximately 20 kilometres north of Goma on the outskirts of the Virunga National Park. Mudja is home to a community of around 40 families of indigenous Bambuti, also known as ‘pygmies.’*

One of the men holds out his arm to show an injury he received from a park ranger. Others chime in.“When the colonialists left the country, the people who managed those protected areas were trained by the Belgians that conservation should be done without people, in the old-school way." -- Patrick Kipalu of the Forest People's Program

“Just the day before yesterday, they shot at me when I was looking for honey and firewood,” says Giovanni Sisiri. “I abandoned everything, took my tools, and ran.”

Armed paramilitary rangers from the Virunga National Park are tasked with protecting the park from poachers and trespassers, often at risk to their own lives. In Congolese law, human habitation and hunting within the park is forbidden, including for the Bambuti, its original inhabitants.

The Bambuti living in Mudja said that at times they defy these laws, venturing inside to collect wood, hunt small animals and gather non-timber products, but recently it has become more difficult.

“A pygmy cannot live without the park. Before, they could enter secretly,” said Felix Maroy, an agronomist and livestock farmer who works with Bambuti communities. “Since January 2015, the guards are always patrolling the area. And there are other armed groups too, like the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).”

Imani Kabasele, a resident of Mudja and the head of the local branch of an NGO, Program for the Integration and Development of the Pygmy People (PDIP), said that two years ago, a Mbuti resident of a neighbouring village, Biganiro, went to look for honey and disappeared for three days. His body was later discovered, cut up by a machete. Kabasele believes it was someone from the FDLR that killed him.

Imani Kabasele, the head of the branch of a Congolese NGO, PDIP, said that the Mbuti know the forest far better than any other communities, but is it is dangerous for them to venture inside. Credit: Zahra Moloo/IPS

Imani Kabasele, the head of the branch of a Congolese NGO, PDIP, said that the Mbuti know the forest far better than any other communities, but is it is dangerous for them to venture inside. Credit: Zahra Moloo/IPS

Militarisation and colonial conservation policies

The initial demarcation of the Virunga National Park boundaries dates back to 1925 when it was first created by King Albert of Belgium.

The oldest national park in Africa, it was later expanded to include over seven thousand square kilometres of land. Classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, it is now managed by a private-public partnership between the National Park Authority of the DRC (ICCN) and the EU-funded Virunga Foundation, and is home to about a quarter of the world’s mountain gorillas. Congolese farmers living around the Virunga said that its colonial history creates the impression that it was “created by the Mzungu (white man), for the Mzungu.”

After independence, other national parks were established, including Maiko National Park, and Kahuzi-Biega National Park in South Kivu.  According to the Global Forest Coalition, the creation of national parks led to the eviction of thousands of indigenous people who neither gave their consent nor received compensation for their loss of land. It was, they state, “in violation of international law” and the country’s 1977 law on expropriation for public purposes.

Patrick Kipalu, the DRC Country Manager for the Forest People’s Program, said there is an active conflict between communities around the park, both indigenous Bambuti as well as agricultural Bantu, and “conservationists, park rangers and other NGOs working for conservation.”

“The old school of conservation in the colonial period was ‘people out of the forest’ and ‘it’s a protected area without anyone inside,’” said Kipalu. “When the colonialists left the country, the people who managed those protected areas were trained by the Belgians that conservation should be done without people, in the old-school way. They have kept the same strategies, though the ICCN is thinking of a conservation strategy which is supposed to include and involve communities.”

Jean Claude (18, right), poses with his friend Denis Sinzira.  Most of the youth in Biganiro, DRC go to school until they are 9 or 10 years old. Credit: Zahra Moloo/IPS

Jean Claude (18, right), poses with his friend Denis Sinzira. Most of the youth in Biganiro only go to school until they are 9 or 10 years old. Credit: Zahra Moloo/IPS

Last year, in a letter to Kipalu, a representative of the customary chiefs in Lubero on the west coast of Lake Edward said that the ICCN had expropriated land without the consent of the people living on it and without offering any compensation. The letter also accused the ICCN of destroying and setting fire to villages. A 2004 report by a consultant to the World Bank, Dr Kai Schmidt-Soltau, states that the ICCN, along with WWF, claimed to have resettled 35,000 people from an area south-east of Lake Edward through a voluntary process, but that in fact the resettlement was carried out “at gun-point.”

Aggressive conservation activities are part of a widespread trend toward what some researchers call the militarization of conservation,an approach to protecting nature in which conservationists could engage in repressive policies that are counterproductive.

Jean Claude Kyungu, who in charge of community relations for Virunga, said that the park’s relations with communities around the park are good in some areas, but not in others, and that guards only fire at people if there is “resistance” from the population, for instance when communities “recruit armed groups to secure the land.” He added that the Bambuti are only arrested when they have defied the law.

When asked about the repressive behavior of park rangers and officers from the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) towards civilians in and around the park, Norbert Mushenzi, the ICCN’s deputy director of the Virunga National Park, said that the officers are “undertaking legitimate defense.”

“We also try to educate communities to leave and find alternative solutions, for instance to go to the fields around the park. There were 350 families in one area that left voluntarily,” he said. “The problem is not land. It’s that people want to concentrate in the park and we don’t know why,” he said.

But leaving the park and finding other places to settle is not so simple. One problem, according to Kipalu, is that people living inside illegally have nowhere to go. “The park is so big that it takes the whole area where communities work on their traditional lands,” he said.

Compounding the issue are larger and more complex political dynamics.  According to a group of researchers, Virunga lies at the “epicenter of ongoing conflict since 1993-4” and is “strongly affected by cross-border dynamics with both Rwanda and Uganda.” It is also a hideout for numerous armed domestic and foreign groups.

Communities who enter the park often do so with the protection of armed actors, and links between them are further strengthened by politicians who take advantage of the widespread sentiment that the park expropriated people’s ancestral lands, leading these politicians, in some cases, to “finance armed groups operating in the park.”

The authors suggest that the park “adopt a more conflict sensitive approach to conservation”, and increase efforts to improve local communication. But Jean-Claude Kyungu believes that the park’s approach is not particularly repressive given the enormous challenges. “At Kibirizi, the population lives with the FDLR,” he said. “Do we let these people just go and make their own laws not just in a park, but in a country, that is not their own? People who do not respect the boundaries have to be removed.”

Reporting for this story was supported by the International Women’s Media Foundation

*The word ‘pygmy’ has negative connotations and is used widely in the DRC. According to Survival International, it has been reclaimed by some communities as a term of identify.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Conservation Congress Votes to Ban All Domestic Trade in Elephant Ivoryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/conservation-congress-votes-to-ban-all-domestic-trade-in-elephant-ivory/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=conservation-congress-votes-to-ban-all-domestic-trade-in-elephant-ivory http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/conservation-congress-votes-to-ban-all-domestic-trade-in-elephant-ivory/#comments Sun, 11 Sep 2016 13:42:03 +0000 Guy Dinmore http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146875 By Guy Dinmore
HONOLULU, Hawaii, Sep 11 2016 (IPS)

The international conservation community has taken an important step towards saving African elephants from mass slaughter by voting at a major congress to call on all governments to ban their domestic trade in ivory.

A resolution at the World Conservation Congress of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) was passed overwhelmingly by governments and NGOs on its last day on Saturday despite fierce opposition from a minority of countries led by Japan, South Africa and Namibia.Tusks end up smuggled by criminal organisations to Asia where they are carved and sold openly -- mostly in China, Vietnam and Hong Kong -- under the guise of legal ivory imported before a ban on international trade came into force in 1989.

Motion 007 was the last and most contentious of 105 resolutions voted on at the 10-day IUCN congress in Honolulu. Delegates cheered and applauded as some 20 amendments put forward by Namibia and Japan were defeated, and the text of the resolution was approved.

The resolution, sponsored on the government side by the United States and Gabon, aims to deprive illegal poachers of market demand for elephant ivory. Results of a recently released Great Elephant Census of 18 African countries showed that poachers are killing some 27,000 savanna elephants a year, resulting in an annual population decline of 8 percent.

Activists say an elephant is being shot for its ivory every 15 minutes. Tusks end up smuggled by criminal organisations to Asia where they are carved and sold openly — mostly in China, Vietnam and Hong Kong — under the guise of legal ivory imported before a ban on international trade came into force in 1989.

“It is fantastic this was approved,” commented Susan Lieberman of the Wildlife Conservation Society, an NGO co-sponsor of the motion. “It is a great victory for elephants. We are calling on governments to say it is over, it is done — no more domestic trade in ivory.”

The IUCN does not have legal authority to force governments to adopt policies, but as the most authoritative voice on conservation issues – grouping nearly 1,400 states, government agencies and NGOs – its policy decisions carry considerable weight.

Next stop for conservationists on this issue is the meeting of parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Johannesburg on September 24. CITES banned the international trade in elephant ivory in 1989 but allowed two major auctions of ivory in the late 1990s and again in 2008. These sales led to a spike in poaching in Africa and resulted in CITES declaring a 10-year moratorium which expires in 2017.

Delegates in Honolulu said the IUCN policy decision would make it virtually impossible that the CITES conference would agree to South Africa or other nations being allowed to resume limited sales of ivory. A motion will also be put to CITES to call for a ban on the domestic trade in ivory.

Lieberman highlighted the push by most African states and civil society to ban domestic trade in ivory. Speakers at the IUCN congress calling for the ban included Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Benin, Congo, Senegal and Gabon.

“The loudest voices were African from the range countries who spoke out,” Lieberman noted.

But South Africa and Namibia argued that their elephant populations were growing because of their countries’ successful conservation efforts, funded in part by domestic sales of ivory. Both countries said they should not be penalised for the failings of others and that it would be a breach of their sovereignty to be ordered how to manage their wildlife.

Similarly Japan said it had strictly controlled its internal market and prevented the smuggling of ivory, and that efforts should focus on helping other countries achieve tougher regulation. A total ban on domestic trade also contradicted the concept of sustainable development championed by IUCN, Japanese Ministry of Environment official Naohisa Okuda told the Congress.

“Conservation and sustainable use should go hand in hand,” Okuda said.

NGOs however challenge Japan’s claims to have stopped the flow of illegal ivory across its borders. Activists also suspect that the opposition coalition between Japan and the two African nations concealed an intention by Tokyo to try to persuade CITES to allow Japan to buy ivory once more.

IUCN’s proposed ban will also encourage and support China to close its booming domestic trade in ivory where smugglers can earn over $1,000 a kilogram for tusks.

China and the US announced jointly a year ago their intention to ban ivory from their respective markets. The US went ahead – with limited exceptions such as ivory used in musical instruments – while China has not set a timetable.

Chinese government delegates did not speak during the debate over motion 007 but told activists privately that China welcomed the worldwide ban. NGOs are hopeful China will set a timeframe for its domestic ban by the end of this year.

The US urged all IUCN members to support the motion. “Legal markets mask illegal markets. To think otherwise masks the truth,” a State Department official told the plenary session.

At times the debate was heated. A speaker for Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, a South African provincial agency which funds much of its budget from business operations, denounced what she called the “pseudo-science theories” of “smart people” who wanted to tell South Africans how to manage their wildlife.

Safari Club International, a pro-hunting lobby group, said the proposed ban violated the sovereignty of nations.

One of the strongest statements in support of the ban came from Uganda, speaking on behalf of 29 states grouped in the African Elephant Coalition. “The people benefiting from ivory are criminals and terrorists,” said a Ugandan wildlife official, accusing the Lord’s Resistance Army which operates across four countries, of funding its operations through ivory. “I have buried 100 of my Rangers in this war,” he said.

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Conservation Congress Sets Ambitious Target to Protect Oceanshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/conservation-congress-sets-ambitious-target-to-protect-oceans/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=conservation-congress-sets-ambitious-target-to-protect-oceans http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/conservation-congress-sets-ambitious-target-to-protect-oceans/#comments Sat, 10 Sep 2016 20:09:54 +0000 Guy Dinmore http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146864 Clownfish on the Great Barrier Reef. Credit: Jan Derk/public domain

Clownfish on the Great Barrier Reef. Credit: Jan Derk/public domain

By Guy Dinmore
HONOLULU, Hawaii, Sep 10 2016 (IPS)

A major environmental conference of governments and NGOs has called on nations to set aside at least 30 percent of the world’s oceans as “highly protected” areas by 2030, but delegates said opposition from China, Japan and South Africa had seriously undermined chances of success.

Ambitious and controversial, motion 53 was passed in Honolulu at the World Conservation Congress held by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and its nearly 1,400 members who meet in plenary session every four years.Without consensus, and with major nations opposed, delegates said privately the vote could prove to be largely symbolic.

Only about two percent of the world’s oceans are currently designated as marine protected areas. Speaking at the congress opening ceremony on September 1, President Tommy Remengesau of Palau, whose atolls are threatened by climate change and rising sea levels, said he “challenged” IUCN to follow the Pacific nation’s example and set the 30 percent target for protected areas where “no extraction activities” would be allowed.

The motion passed with 129 states and government agencies in favour, and 16 against. Among the NGOs, which make up a separate voting category, 621 were for and 37 against.

But strong opposition was raised in pre-vote statements by China, Japan and South Africa, each with substantial marine economic exclusion zones. France spoke in favour, although with reservations, while the United States did not make its position clear. A breakdown of the voting is to be released after the IUCN Congress.

China said the target of 30 percent by 2030 was “too hard for the relevant countries to achieve”. “China values the health of oceans” and wants to extend marine protected areas but the proposal should have focused on the sustainable use of marine resources, rather than the size of area to be protected, a foreign ministry official said.

“The usual interests of China are at play,” shot back a delegate from Costa Rica, noting the theme of the congress was “Planet at a crossroads”, drawing applause from the floor.

Japan said a strict prohibition on human activities was not the way forward. Not enough scientific data existed on the issue and there had not been adequate discussion, a Japanese Ministry of Environment official said. South Africa was also against, saying the “target is way too ambitious and may not be reachable”.

The US has been ambiguous over the issue. Last week Sally Jewell, Secretary of the Interior, said the US had no position on motion 53 and that more scientific analysis was needed over how much of the oceans should be put under protection.

Asked if the US could go further with its clean energy policies and stop oil and gas extraction in the Gulf of Mexico, she told reporters that many businesses and jobs were at stake there. “The Gulf is a very important source of US energy. We can’t just pull out the rug from these companies,” she said.

IUCN resolutions do not carry the weight of law. However, approval by governments and civil society with the backing of extensive scientific expertise make the congress an important platform for formulating and implementing international treaties and domestic legislation. But without consensus, and with major nations opposed, delegates said privately the vote could prove to be largely symbolic.

Delegates said China and others were concerned that the resolution could influence further agreements under the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity, which calls for 10 percent of coastal and marine areas to be protected by 2020.

The IUCN resolution made clear that the goal was to establish “highly protected” areas “with the ultimate aim of creating a fully sustainable ocean at least 30% of which has no extractive activities”. However, in a gesture to some small Pacific nations heavily reliant on fishing, the resolution adds that this was “subject to the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities”.

The congress also calls for the U.N Convention on the Law of the Sea to set about development of a mechanism to ensure “conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction”, meaning outside nations’ economic exclusion zones.

Oceans, which make up over two-thirds of the Earth’s surface, play an important role in mitigating the impact of climate change, acting as a buffer to absorb carbon emissions and slow the rise in global temperatures. The IUCN Ocean Warming Report released on September 5 said the oceans had prevented a rise of 36 degrees centigrade in global temperatures in the industrial era. Fish also help absorb carbon by depositing it on the ocean floor.

Motion 53 said marine protected areas were “important tools that help conserve the critical habitats, ecosystem services and biodiversity that support human life.” It cited scientific studies that supported “full protection of at least 30% of the ocean…to reverse existing adverse impacts, increase resilience to climate change, and sustain long-term ocean health.”

Some – including conservationists of iconic status such as Professor E.O. Wilson – say 30 percent is not enough. The 87-year-old professor from Alabama argues in his latest book, Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life, that 50 percent of the planet’s surface area should be designated as natural reserves – as inter-connected as possible — to preserve biodiversity.

Wilson, who has a 15-foot male Great White Shark named after him, says fishing in the open seas beyond national boundaries should stop. Setting aside half of the world could save 80 to 90 percent of species, he estimates.

“Half the world is possible,” he told reporters in Honolulu this week. “For oceans it is no big problem,” he said, noting that about half of the ocean’s surface is covered by economic exclusion zones and half were “blue waters”. “That’s basically what it is all about. Do it now. Put half the world aside… And we need to eat much less meat,” he said.

Debate over the concept of “sustainable development” versus outright bans or prohibited activities was a constant theme throughout the IUCN Congress which adopted nearly 100 resolutions, some by consensus.

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Japan and South Africa Try to Block Proposed Ban on Domestic Ivory Tradehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/japan-and-south-africa-try-to-block-proposed-ban-on-domestic-ivory-trade/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=japan-and-south-africa-try-to-block-proposed-ban-on-domestic-ivory-trade http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/japan-and-south-africa-try-to-block-proposed-ban-on-domestic-ivory-trade/#comments Thu, 08 Sep 2016 19:02:02 +0000 Guy Dinmore http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146849 Ivory crush at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge on November 14, 2013. Credit: Robert Segin/USFWS

Ivory crush at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge on November 14, 2013. Credit: Robert Segin/USFWS

By Guy Dinmore
HONOLULU, Hawaii, Sep 8 2016 (IPS)

Japan and South Africa have ignited a furore at a major conservation congress by coming out against a proposed appeal to all governments to ban domestic trade in elephant ivory.

Elephants in Africa are being killed by poachers for their tusks at the rate of one every 15 minutes, according to the results of the recently released Great Elephant Census. A motion that would seek to halt the domestic trade in ivory was seen as one of the most significant and contentious to be voted by delegates at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Honolulu.

But Japan and South Africa expressed their opposition to such a ban on Wednesday when a contact group of government and NGO representatives attempted to hammer out an agreed text of a resolution sponsored by the United States and Gabon.

In a sign of the sensitivity over the motion, the media was expelled from the conference hall by the International Union for Conservation of Nature chair of the contact group. Negotiations continued into Wednesday night but the Japanese and South African delegations walked out of the talks after the session decided to stick with the original strong wording of the motion calling for a ban. A vote by the plenary session of the IUCN congress, which convenes every four years, is to be held on Friday.

Conservationists from NGOs pushing for the ban on domestic trade were livid at the attempts by Japan and South Africa, backed apparently at times by Namibia, to significantly water down the motion.

“This is atrocious,” commented Mike Chase, founder of Elephants Without Borders and the principal investigator for the Great Elephant Census carried out in 18 countries.

“Six elephants were killed while they were deliberating over one sentence,” said Chase of the first 90-minute session, checking his watch.

Susan Lieberman, vice president of international policy for Wildlife Conservation Society, a co-sponsor of the motion on behalf of NGOs, commented: “There is a crisis going on here. People are in denial over the crisis. What good is IUCN if we cannot do something strong on ivory?”

Japan and South Africa say they are just as much for saving Africa’s elephants as everyone else but that the right way forward is through regulated and tightly controlled domestic trade, not a ban.

“Regulating is fiddling while Rome burns,” commented Ms Lieberman.

Naohisa Okuda, director of the Biodiversity Policy Division of Japan’s environment ministry, said a ban was “not appropriate”.

“We have to stop all the illegal trade. It is not necessary to ban legally traded ivory,” he told this reporter, giving the example of ivory imported by Japan before the 1989 ban on international trade in ivory came into force. “The problem is identifying what is legal and what is illegal,” he added. He said the international community should find an effective control system for the trade of ivory, which could be used to benefit conservation of African elephants.

“The Japanese control system is very good and highly effective, as the IUCN recognises,” Okuda said. “Other countries should follow.” However some activists dispute this and question the amount of carved ivory artefacts produced in Japan.

South Africa argues that its elephant populations are stable or even growing and that culls are needed, with the proceeds from ivory sales going to conservation efforts. The government has also held one-off sales of ivory stocks, but activists say these sales have triggered a spike in raids by poachers.

Morgan Griffiths of the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa said that despite the sophisticated technology used in Kruger National Park, poachers were increasingly trying to infiltrate from Mozambique where they are driving the elephants to extinction. But South Africa’s conservation efforts are “totally stretched” protecting the endangered rhinoceros from poachers and Griffiths is among those urging the government to accept a ban on all domestic trade.

“One-off sales of ivory will trigger massive outbreaks of poaching,” he said.

Other African countries are calling for the ban on domestic trading of ivory, knowing that as much pressure as possible must be brought to bear on China and Vietnam, the main importers of illegal ivory, to stem demand.

The IUCN, whose voting members include some 1300 NGOs and governments, does not have the legal authority to impose bans on domestic trade. But such an appeal by the world’s most authoritative conservation organisation – if broadly supported — would carry considerable moral weight and put pressure on governments to act.

Motion 7 on ivory is among several contentious issues under debate at the IUCN Congress. Others include proposals to create “No Go” areas, such as indigenous peoples’ sacred sites, with stricter protection laws; to set up marine reserves for 30 percent of the world’s oceans; and policy guidelines for “biodiversity offsets” by industrial companies.

China is by far the biggest consumer of illegally smuggled ivory, much of it passing through Hong Kong and Vietnam. A year ago China and the US announced jointly that they would enact a ban on their respective domestic ivory trade. China has not given a timetable, however, and has remained silent during the debate in Honolulu. Hong Kong says it will ban its domestic trade by 2021.

“It is unconscionable that these animals are being killed for vanity and trinkets. To stop the trade in ivory we have to stop supply and the demand side,” said Tony Banbury, chief philanthropy officer of Vulcan Inc which was set up by billionaire philanthropist Paul Allen and funded the Great Elephant Census.

The Great Elephant Census, an aerial survey that took almost three years and tracked 350,000 square miles, showed that savanna elephant populations in 15 countries had declined by 30 percent – equal to some 144,000 elephants – between 2007 and 2014. The rate of decline is accelerating and is currently running at an annual 8 percent primarily due to poaching, meaning that some 27,000 elephants a year in those countries are being slaughtered for their ivory. Comparative data did not exist for three countries. The sharpest declines were seen in Tanzania and northern Mozambique.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Big Oil and Activists Unite to Protect Endangered Whaleshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/big-oil-and-activists-unite-to-protect-endangered-whales/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=big-oil-and-activists-unite-to-protect-endangered-whales http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/big-oil-and-activists-unite-to-protect-endangered-whales/#comments Mon, 05 Sep 2016 15:37:00 +0000 Guy Dinmore http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146790 Gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) breaching. Credit: Merrill Gosho, NOAA/public domain

Gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) breaching. Credit: Merrill Gosho, NOAA/public domain

By Guy Dinmore
HONOLULU, Hawaii, Sep 5 2016 (IPS)

A rare case of intensive and decade-long collaboration between Big Oil, scientists and environmental activists has been hailed as a success story in protecting an endangered species of whale from extinction.

In the early 2000s, the western grey whale was thought to number about 115 off the island of Sakhalin in the Russian Far East where they would spend the ice-free summer months feeding before their winter migration. Sakhalin Energy, then majority-owned by Shell, announced plans to expand its oil and gas operations in those waters, kicking off a fierce campaign by NGOs, including WWF, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and others.We started campaigning against this project but now we are part of it.” -- Wendy Elliott, a biologist and senior campaigner at WWF-International

Protests failed to halt Sakhalin Energy but the NGOs crucially succeeded in persuading international banks to place tough conditions on their loans to the company. This included working with an independent group of scientists for the duration of the loans and projects to mitigate the impact on the whales.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature – the world’s largest environmental association of governments and NGOs – convened and administered what became known as the Western Grey Whale Advisory Panel (WGWAP) made up of 13 independent scientists. That was in 2004. Ten years later and the grey whale population was estimated to have grown to 175.

This week, the IUCN, holding its World Conservation Congress in Honolulu, hailed the panel as a “fantastic example” of conservation and how business and environmentalists can work together. NGOs involved in the project agree.

“As an NGO it has been a journey. We started campaigning against this project but now we are part of it,” Wendy Elliott, a biologist and senior campaigner at WWF-International, told a news conference.

What could have become a catastrophe has been a success, she said, calling on other financial institutions to follow this model in imposing conditions when lending to projects that impact bio-diversity.

Stewart Maginnis, IUCN global director of the Nature-based Solutions Group that oversaw the panel, noted that 90 percent of the panel’s 539 recommendations to Sakhalin Energy had been implemented, superseded or were no longer applicable. Crucial proposals that were accepted included changing the route of a proposed pipeline and adopting recommendations for seismic surveys. However it also took another fierce campaign by NGOs in 2011 to persuade Sakhalin Energy not to start building a third platform.

During the panel’s work, monitoring of one female whale, named Varvara by the scientists, found she had migrated in November 2011 from Sakhalin Island across the Pacific to Alaska and all the way south to Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula – a journey of 10,880 km, the longest recorded one-way migration of any mammal.

Maginnis stressed that the critical element in the panel’s success was its freedom and independence to draw up conclusions that were transparent – a process that involved NGO observers attending its plenary meetings with the company.

Deric Quaile, manager of Environmentally Sensitive Areas in Shell, now a minority shareholder in Sakhalin Energy, called the process “fantastic” and an important part of Shell’s “journey” to improve its environmental performance.

“This panel has brought the right balance of knowledge, credibility and authority to advise in an environmentally challenging and sensitive area,” he said. “It shows business and conservation can work together.”

He said the panel experience since 2004 had helped bring about a “shift” in Shell’s approach to environmental issues. “There was a lot of mistrust and disbelief and it took a lot of time in Shell for engineers to realise that it was very useful and made good business sense. Good environmental management is a good business proposition.”

He acknowledged it had been a slow process for the company, but argued that Shell had made strides.

“Responsible environmental management is engrained in the DNA of our corporate culture,” he said.

Such a claim, however, has been hotly challenged.

Shell came under huge pressure from environmental groups before it announced last year it would abandon its Arctic oil operations, having sunk some 7 billion dollars in exploratory drilling. Its public statement blamed a tough regulatory environment by the U.S. but analysts said it was clear other factors were at play, including widespread public opposition and falling oil prices.

And last November, Amnesty International and the Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development accused Shell of making “blatantly false” claims to have cleaned up heavily polluted areas of the Niger Delta at four oil spill sites.

“By inadequately cleaning up the pollution from its pipelines and wells, Shell is leaving thousands of women, men and children exposed to contaminated land, water and air, in some cases for years or even decades,” Amnesty International said.

A similar panel to WGWAP and also administered by IUCN is working in the Niger Delta advising on oil spill clean-up operations, involving Shell.

Maginnis said the model of WGWAP was “effective and replicable for conflict resolution, to reconcile economic development and conservation.”

However, Elliott of WWF-International warned that in the case of Sakhalin the western grey whale population remained small and that “success is very fragile”.

“There is a situation jeopardising this success,” she said, accusing U.S. oil giant Exxon of putting the western grey whale at risk with its plans to build a pier in one of the Sakhalin island lagoons where the whales feed.

“The panel expressed extensive concerns over this development but they fell on deaf ears,” she said. Experts say the pier is not necessary and an alternative exists.

NGO observers found that Exxon was disregarding its own guidelines, for example by operating boats at speed at night with the danger of hitting whales, Elliott said. She called on Exxon to drop its objections and join the panel.

Exxon did not respond to a request for comment by IPS.

WWF, in an earlier report, quoted Exxon as saying its subsidiary’s plans met Russian environmental requirements, had been approved by the authorities and had all the necessary permits. Operations would start, Exxon said.

IPS asked Maginnis if there was a danger that such panels administered by IUCN could be seen as giving the green light for energy companies to operate in areas where environmentalists would argue that no drilling at all should take place.

Maginnis replied that the IUCN would not endorse such a scientific panel for extractive operations in World Heritage Sites, which he described as “No Go” areas for development. But, in other areas, if governments gave licences and banks gave loans, then the IUCN urged pragmatism.

“There are some clear cases where we would say ‘no’. But we must be pragmatic. Without the (western grey whale) panel, there would have been a continuous decline in population numbers,” he said.

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Eastern Gorilla, Our ‘Closest Cousin’, Added to Endangered Species Listhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/eastern-gorilla-our-closest-cousin-added-to-endangered-species-list/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=eastern-gorilla-our-closest-cousin-added-to-endangered-species-list http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/eastern-gorilla-our-closest-cousin-added-to-endangered-species-list/#comments Sun, 04 Sep 2016 22:26:42 +0000 Guy Dinmore http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146779 Four out of six great ape species are now listed as Critically Endangered. Photo courtesy of IUCN

Four out of six great ape species are now listed as Critically Endangered. Photo courtesy of IUCN

By Guy Dinmore
HONOLULU, Hawaii, Sep 4 2016 (IPS)

Our closest cousin in the animal world, the Eastern Gorilla, is sliding towards extinction because of illegal hunting, the IUCN announced today in the latest update of its Red List of Threatened Species.

“Today is a sad day as the Red List shows we are wiping out our closest relative,” Inger Andersen, director general of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, told a news conference in Honolulu where the IUCN is holding its World Conservation Congress.“We are losing species at a faster pace than ever." -- Inger Andersen, director general of the International Union for Conservation of Nature

The Eastern Gorilla, the largest living primate found in the rainforests of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, was moved from Endangered into the Critically Endangered category – one step away from extinction.

The Eastern Gorilla, made up of two sub-species, has suffered a devastating population decline of more than 70 percent in two years and is now estimated to number fewer than 5,000, IUCN said. Its greatest threat is illegal hunting. Four out of six great ape species are now listed as Critically Endangered. The other two – chimpanzees and bonobo – are listed as Endangered.

The IUCN Red List, updated twice a year, now covers some 82,954 species on our planet, of which 23,928 are threatened with extinction. The target is to increase that coverage to 160,000 species by 2020. The list is seen as a “barometer of life” and is the world’s most comprehensive source of information on the global conservation status of plants, animal and fungi species. The list plays a major role in influencing government and civil society on conservation goals and policies.

“We are losing species at a faster pace than ever,” Andersen said. The latest findings made it imperative for governments, scientists and society at large to reverse the trend, she said.

The latest update did reveal some progress, however, particularly in China, thanks to the Chinese government’s efforts to stop illegal hunting and the degradation of habitats.

The Giant Panda, perhaps the conservation movement’s most iconic animal and the logo of WWF, was moved down one category to the status of Vulnerable from Endangered. The Tibetan Antelope, its hide prized in the international luxury shawl market, was classified as Near Threatened rather than Endangered.

IUCN said the Giant Panda population had grown due to effective forest protection and reforestation and a successful linking up of previously separated panda populations. Hunting was also reduced. However the IUCN warned that some scientific models predicted that climate change would eliminate more than 35 percent of the panda’s bamboo habitat over the next 80 years, reversing the gains made over the last two decades.

“The Chinese government’s plan to expand existing conservation policy for the species is a positive step and must be strongly supported to ensure its effective implementation,” IUCN said.

Developed countries with greater funding had a stronger record of protecting species and it was noteworthy that the Chinese government and people were having success, commented Simon Stuart, chair of the IUCN species survival commission.

Joseph Walston of the Wildlife Conservation Society which was involved with efforts to protect the Tibetan Antelope, noted that its population – which collapsed from around one million to some 70,000 in the 1980s and 1990s – had been threatened because of demand for its products in luxury markets outside China.

“China did something about it. This is an important precursor,” he said. He expressed the hope that China would now play a positive role in saving species of other countries that were threatened because of demand inside China. Just one notable example is the pangolin – an ant-eating creature whose meat is prized on the dinner table and its scales in medicine.

“China is a net consumer of the world’s wildlife at the moment,” Walston told IPS. “We all did it,” he added, noting how Britain and the United States had been huge destroyers of species during their period of industrialisation and rapid economic growth. He said the emergence of middle classes and a consciousness about the importance of nature and environment had been a critical factor in the west. “This process is starting in China, but too slowly,” he commented.

Carlo Rondinini, a biologist at Rome’s La Sapienza University working for the IUCN Red List, warned that the trend for mammals was still downward.

“We are the only species of Great Ape not threatened with extinction,” he said.

The latest update showed that the once abundant Plains Zebra, hunted for its meat and hide, had been reduced by about a quarter over the past 14 years to just over 500,000 animals. IUCN moved it to Near Threatened from Least Concern. Three species of antelope in Africa were also added to Near Threatened.

But one other success story in the animal world was Australia’s Greater Stick-nest Rat, a unique nest-building rodent whose resin is so strong that it can last for 1000 years if not exposed to water. A successful species recovery plan, involving reintroductions and some movements to predator-free areas, took the species from Vulnerable to Near Threatened. The Bridled Nailtail Wallaby also moved down a category, from Endangered to Vulnerable, after a successful but expensive translocation conservation programme.

IUCN experts noted that such programmes involved considerable funding and effort, underscoring the need for the world to put more financing into conservation.

Hawaii, which is hosting the congress, held every four years, is seeing a rapid loss of its biodiversity, especially in plant life because of the introduction of invasive species. The Red List update assessed 38 of Hawaii’s endemic plant species as extinct, with four others listed as Extinct in the Wild, meaning they only occur in cultivation.

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Elephant Census Ramps Up Pressure to Stop Domestic Trade in Ivoryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/elephant-census-ramps-up-pressure-to-stop-domestic-trade-in-ivory/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=elephant-census-ramps-up-pressure-to-stop-domestic-trade-in-ivory http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/elephant-census-ramps-up-pressure-to-stop-domestic-trade-in-ivory/#comments Sat, 03 Sep 2016 10:31:10 +0000 Guy Dinmore http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146766 Savanna elephant populations in 15 countries declined by an average of 30 percent – equal to some 144,000 elephants – between 2007 and 2014. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

Savanna elephant populations in 15 countries declined by an average of 30 percent – equal to some 144,000 elephants – between 2007 and 2014. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

By Guy Dinmore
HONOLULU, Hawaii, Sep 3 2016 (IPS)

A dramatic decline in Africa’s savanna elephant populations caused by poaching – as exposed by the results of a three-year aerial survey released this week – has piled pressure on reluctant governments to back proposals that would lead to bans on domestic trade in ivory.

The United States and Gabon, plus nine NGOs, are co-sponsoring a motion at the IUCN World Conservation Congress underway in Honolulu that would push all governments to extend an existing international ban on the ivory trade to their own domestic markets.“It is unconscionable that these animals are being killed for vanity and trinkets. To stop the trade in ivory we have to stop supply and the demand side.” -- Tony Banbury, Vulcan Inc’s chief philanthropy officer

But several rich nations, as well as some African countries, are opposed to the measure which could prove to be among the most hotly disputed of some 100 motions to be voted on by the 1,300 members of the International Union for Conservation of Nature who hold a congress every four years. A vote is scheduled to take place on Sep. 7, although it is possible that negotiators could first reach agreement on a revised text.

Susan Lieberman, vice president of international policy for Wildlife Conservation Society, a co-sponsor of the motion, told IPS she expected a close vote, but that the shocking results of the Great Elephant Census (GEC) could tip the balance.

“The GEC puts pressure on governments. It shows this is not the time to wring your hands but the time to take action,” she said.

Statistical analysis of the census findings showed that savanna elephant populations in 15 countries had declined by an average of 30 percent – equal to some 144,000 elephants – between 2007 and 2014.

The rate of decline accelerated in that period and is currently running at an annual 8 percent “primarily due to poaching”. Those figures indicate poachers are slaughtering some 27,000 elephants a year

The aerial survey, carried out by spotters in low-flying planes, spanned nearly 350,000 square miles in 18 countries. The data, after statistical analysis, came up with a count of 352,271 elephants. Comparative data only existed for 15 countries. The spotters also counted carcasses that helped compile estimates on the percentage of illegally killed elephants. Forest elephants, more difficult to spot by air, are to have a separate census.

The sharpest declines were seen in Tanzania and northern Mozambique, while some areas showed slight increases or a stable population, including South Africa and parts of Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Kenya. Relatively high carcass ratios in Uganda and the W-Arli-Pendjari conservation complex spanning Benin, Niger and Burkina Faso suggested that numbers there had been swelled by elephants moving in from surrounding areas.

Mike Chase, founder of Elephants without Borders, was the principal investigator for the census which was funded at a cost of 7 million dollars and by Vulcan Inc, created by Paul Allen, billionaire philanthropist and co-founder of Microsoft.

“Armed with this knowledge of dramatically declining elephant populations, we share a collective responsibility to take action and we must all work to ensure the preservation of this iconic species,” Allen said in a statement on Aug. 31 accompanying the release of the census at the start of the 10-day IUCN congress.

Tony Banbury, Vulcan Inc’s chief philanthropy officer, told a press conference on Sep. 2 that it was highly important that motion 007 seeking a ban on domestic trade was passed with broad support.

“It is unconscionable that these animals are being killed for vanity and trinkets,” he said. “To stop the trade in ivory we have to stop supply and the demand side.”

The U.S. has paved the way by imposing its own ban on domestic trade in ivory in June. China, the biggest consumer of illegally smuggled ivory, has pledged to stop its domestic trade. Its prohibition is not yet in force but the announcement had the effect of sharply reducing market prices.

However, according to James Deutsch, Vulcan Wildlife Conservation director, “many countries in the EU are sitting on the fence” over the issue. He mentioned the powerful lobbying of the fine arts and antiquities sectors, even though ivory more than 100 years old would be exempt, singling out the UK. France is among those backing the proposed ban.

A vote by IUCN members to stop domestic trade in ivory would not be legally binding. However, as noted by Lieberman of the Wildlife Conservation Society, such a move by the world’s leading conservation movement would in turn pile pressure on governments to back a similar resolution at the triennial meeting of CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, to be held in Johannesburg later this month.

There is debate over whether CITES, which regulates international trade in certain threatened animal species, can use its remit to ban domestic trade, but a vote to that effect would be seen as highly influential if not binding.

Lieberman said Japan was known to be against the motion at IUCN, as were Namibia and South Africa, while other African nations had appealed for help in imposing bans.

Brian Child, a South African professor at the University of Florida, interjected during Vulcan Inc’s press conference to protest that a ban on his country’s domestic and controlled trade of ivory would be a “breach of sovereignty” that penalised South Africa for what he said was its good husbandry of elephants.

Turning to Europe, Lieberman said Germany wanted the issue of the domestic ban raised not at IUCN but at CITES, while the position of the UK was unclear. The EU votes as a bloc at CITES but member states vote separately at the IUCN.

The UK had not even sent a representative to the IUCN congress, apparently as a result of confusion over funding following the referendum decision to quit the European Union, she added.

“It is inconsistent that the UK is not showing leadership on this,” Lieberman said. However, she added, Prince William, a patron of the Royal Foundation which puts conservation among its top priorities, was known to be against the domestic trade in ivory while the royal family had withdrawn its extensive collection of ivory objects from public display.

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Dire Warnings But Also Hope as IUCN Environmental Congress Openshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/dire-warnings-but-also-hope-as-iucn-environmental-congress-opens/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dire-warnings-but-also-hope-as-iucn-environmental-congress-opens http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/dire-warnings-but-also-hope-as-iucn-environmental-congress-opens/#comments Fri, 02 Sep 2016 10:26:21 +0000 Guy Dinmore http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146754 Laysan albatross on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument number over a million and cover nearly every square foot of open space during breeding and nesting season. Credit: Andy Collins/NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries

Laysan albatross on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument number over a million and cover nearly every square foot of open space during breeding and nesting season. Credit: Andy Collins/NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries

By Guy Dinmore
HONOLULU, Hawaii, Sep 2 2016 (IPS)

A congress billed as the world’s largest ever to focus on the environment has opened to warnings that our planet is at a “tipping point” but also with expressions of hope that governments, civil society and big business are learning to work together.

The 10-day IUCN World Conservation Congress hosted by the United States in Hawaii has brought together 9,500 participants from 192 countries and communities, IUCN Director-General Inger Andersen told reporters.“The world must move from random acts of kindness to strategic conservation." -- Sally Jewell, U.S. Secretary of the Interior

“Ambitions for this conference are very high…It is the largest environmental gathering ever,” she said after the Sep. 1 opening ceremony.

The Swiss-based International Union for Conservation of Nature was founded in 1948 by British biologist Julian Huxley, and brings together its members – including governments, NGOs, scientists and the business community – in a congress every four years where motions and resolutions are put to a vote. Although they might not carry the weight of international law, the findings of the IUCN have gone on to form the basis of legislation in member states and international bodies.

Focused on the theme of “Planet at a crossroads”, speakers at the opening ceremony held in a Honolulu sports arena reminded participants that the main goal was to come up with concrete proposals and measures to help implement the two historic international agreements forged last year – the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change.

IUCN president Zhang Xinsheng, a senior Chinese politician and former senior UN official, set the tone of collaboration by praising U.S. President Barack Obama for establishing the world’s largest nature sanctuary – more than half a million square miles – in the waters and islands of the northwest Hawaiian archipelago. “President Obama has set a high bar,” Zhang said. This congress, he added, was not just about “avoiding tragedy” but working together.

His comments followed remarks made by Obama at a meeting of Pacific leaders in Honolulu on Wednesday night, raising expectations that China and the US may soon announce they intend to formally join the Paris Agreement. China opens a meeting of the G20 industrialised nations on Friday.

With the IUCN venue being Hawaii – renowned for its rich biodiversity but also as the world’s “extinction capital” for the large numbers of its eradicated or dying species – there was also emphasis, reinforced by performances of traditional songs and dance, on the importance of the age-old practices and wisdom of indigenous peoples.

Palau’s President Tommy Remengesau was given rock star acclaim at the congress for his pioneering environmental policies proving that small nations can make a difference. Remengesau in turn praised Obama who on Thursday was meeting scientists at Midway Atoll in his newly expanded Papahanaumokuakea marine sanctuary. Former president George W. Bush first set up the reserve 10 years ago but Obama quadrupled its size by executive order last week, although the US military will continue to hold exercises in the waters.

“This cements his legacy as an ocean leader,” Remengesau said and challenged the U.S. to follow the example of Palau in the western Pacific by turning 80 percent of its maritime economic exclusion zone into protected waters. Noting that despite the vast size of Papahanaumokuakea only 2 percent of the world’s waters are designated as marine sanctuaries, Remengesau said Palau would put forward a motion to the IUCN congress that this figure be raised to 30 percent.

Erik Solheim, head of the UN Environment Programme, noted the warnings that mankind is destroying its only home but went on to dwell on the progress being made. Brazil, he said, had dramatically reduced its rate of deforestation while Costa Rica had doubled its tree cover.

He singled out French oil company Total for abandoning oil exploration plans in the Arctic and also praised Kellogg, Unilever and Nestle for “leading the politicians” on environmental policies. China, he added, was rapidly moving to “green” financing while Germany, on some days, was producing all its energy from renewables.

As for Obama and his marine reserve, Solheim simply said, “How much we will miss this president when he leaves office.”

Sally Jewell, U.S. Secretary of Interior, suggested that the Papahanaumokuakea example could be followed by similar initiatives for the territories of indigenous people’s on the U.S. mainland.

“The world must move from random acts of kindness to strategic conservation,” she added, noting research showing that a “football field” of natural areas disappears every two minutes in the U.S.

She and other speakers also stressed the need for the congress to come up with further measures to tackle what Jewell called the “scourge” of wildlife trafficking. “The U.S. is part of the problem and must be part of the solution,” she said.

Hawaiian Senator Brian Schatz appealed to scientists working in IUCN’s special commissions to help tackle the devastation by a mysterious fungus of Hawaii’s most established canopy tree, the ‘ohi’a. More than 34,000 acres are affected, earning the disease the name “rapid ‘ohi’a death”. Experts in Hawaii were facing “the fight of their professional lives”, he said, adding, “Every community has its own battles.”

“Around 100 motions are expected to be adopted by this unique global environmental parliament of governments and NGOs, which will then become IUCN Resolutions or Recommendations calling third parties to take action,” the IUCN said.

Motions on the agenda include advancing conservation of biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction; mitigating the impacts of oil palm expansion on biodiversity; the end of use of lead in ammunition; protection of primary and ancient forests and protecting biodiversity-rich areas from damaging industrial-scale activities and infrastructure development.

On Sep. 4 the Congress will also unveil the updated IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, said to be the most comprehensive information source on the global conservation status of flora and fauna. An Ocean Warming report is to be launched on Sep. 5.

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Obama Stresses Climate Change Urgency Ahead of IUCN Congresshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/obama-stresses-climate-change-urgency-ahead-of-iucn-congress/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=obama-stresses-climate-change-urgency-ahead-of-iucn-congress http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/obama-stresses-climate-change-urgency-ahead-of-iucn-congress/#comments Thu, 01 Sep 2016 12:41:33 +0000 Guy Dinmore http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146737 An oil palm seedling in a burned peat forest, Indonesia. Motions on the IUCN agenda include mitigating the impacts of oil palm expansion on biodiversity. Photo courtesy of Wetlands International.

An oil palm seedling in a burned peat forest, Indonesia. Motions on the IUCN agenda include mitigating the impacts of oil palm expansion on biodiversity. Photo courtesy of Wetlands International.

By Guy Dinmore
HONOLULU, Hawaii, Sep 1 2016 (IPS)

U.S. President Barack Obama has stressed the urgency of tackling climate change in a speech to Pacific leaders in his home state of Hawaii.

“No nation, not even one as powerful as the U.S., is immune from a changing climate,” he told the Pacific Islands Conference of Leaders at the University of Hawaii’s East-West Center on Wednesday evening.Debates and lobbying behind the scenes could be intense as governments and industries seek to protect their narrower interests from environmental pressure groups.

Obama said the sea was already “swallowing villages” in Alaska and glaciers were melting at an unprecedented pace.

Highlighting his administration’s efforts to combat climate change in its energy policies, the president added: “There is no conflict between a healthy economy and a healthy planet.”

The unusual threat posed to Hawaii this week by two approaching hurricanes underscored the president’s message as the island state also prepared to host the IUCN World Conservation Congress from Sep. 1 to 10. Over 8,300 delegates are expected to attend from more than 180 countries, including heads of state and government, U.N. agencies, NGOs and business leaders.

“Today, the U.S. is proud to host the IUCN Congress for the first time,” Obama said on Wednesday night.

His repeated warnings on climate change were ignored by the national media, however, with the networks firmly fixed on the race to elect his successor, focusing on statements made on immigration by Republican candidate Donald Trump in Mexico. Storm warnings just made the weather report.

The IUCN – International Union for Conservation of Nature – said Obama was not expected to attend Thursday’s opening ceremony in Honolulu.

Instead he was scheduled to visit Midway Atoll, making his first trip to the world’s largest marine sanctuary which he massively expanded by executive order last week. He then heads to China for G20 talks.

Obama more than quadrupled the size of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument to more than 582,000 square miles of land and sea in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

The sanctuary was first established by former president George W. Bush, and IUCN organisers had hoped that their choice of Hawaii to host the World Conservation Congress, held every four years, would prompt Obama in his home state to seek to outdo his predecessor.

Their gamble paid off but the choice of remote Honolulu for the Congress has not been without controversy, with IUCN members expressing dismay at the message contained in the carbon footprint left by thousands of delegates jetting into the city over vast distances.

A small group of protesters also demanded that the U.S. remove its military bases from Hawaii.

The IUCN calls the Congress “the world’s largest and most inclusive environmental decision-making forum” which has the aim of defining the global path for nature conservation for years to come.

“The IUCN Congress will set the course for using nature-based solutions to help move millions out of poverty, creating a more sustainable economy and restoring a healthier relationship with our planet,” World Bank President Jim Yong Kim was quoted by IUCN as saying.

“We’re all in this together. It’s time to be bold. It’s time to take action. There’s no time to lose, so let’s make it count in Hawaii,” commented former Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

Held under the theme of ‘Planet at the crossroads’, the Congress sets out to emphasise that nature conservation and human progress are not a zero-sum game. “Credible and accessible choices exist that can promote general welfare while supporting and enhancing our planet’s natural assets,” according to the IUCN, which is made up of 1,300 member organisations.

It says key issues to be discussed include wildlife trafficking, ocean conservation, nature-based solutions for climate change mitigation and adaptation, and private investment in conservation.

“Around 100 motions are expected to be adopted by this unique global environmental parliament of governments and NGOs, which will then become IUCN Resolutions or Recommendations calling third parties to take action,” the IUCN said.

Motions on the agenda include advancing conservation of biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction; mitigating the impacts of oil palm expansion on biodiversity; the end of use of lead in ammunition; protection of primary and ancient forests and protecting biodiversity-rich areas from damaging industrial-scale activities and infrastructure development.

On Sep. 4 the Congress will also unveil the updated IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, said to be the most comprehensive information source on the global conservation status of flora and fauna. An Ocean Warming report is to be launched on Sept 5.

Two European delegates, who asked not to be named, said debates and lobbying behind the scenes could be intense as governments and industries sought to protect their narrower interests from environmental pressure groups.

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Ships Bring Your Coffee, Snack and TV Set, But Also Pests and Diseaseshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/ships-bring-your-coffee-snack-and-tv-set-but-also-pests-and-diseases/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ships-bring-your-coffee-snack-and-tv-set-but-also-pests-and-diseases http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/ships-bring-your-coffee-snack-and-tv-set-but-also-pests-and-diseases/#comments Tue, 23 Aug 2016 13:22:26 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146649 Containers pile up in the Italian port of Salerno. Photo: FAO

Containers pile up in the Italian port of Salerno. Photo: FAO

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Aug 23 2016 (IPS)

“Every evening, millions of people all over the world will settle into their armchairs to watch some TV after a hard day at work. Many will have a snack or something to drink…

… That TV probably arrived in a containership; the grain that made the bread in that sandwich came in a bulk carrier; the coffee probably came by sea, too. Even the electricity powering the TV set and lighting up the room was probably generated using fuel that came in a giant oil tanker.”

This is what the International Maritime Organisation (IMO)  wants everybody to keep in mind ahead of this year’s World Maritime Day. “The truth is, shipping affects us all… No matter where you may be in the world, if you look around you, you are almost certain to see something that either has been or will be transported by sea, whether in the form of raw materials, components or the finished article.”

Yet few people have any idea just how much they rely on shipping. For the vast majority, shipping is out of sight and out of mind, IMO comments. “This is a story that needs to be told… And this is why the theme that has been chosen for the World Maritime Day 2016 is “Shipping: indispensable to the world.” The Day is marked every year on 29 September.


Over 80 Per Cent of Global Trade Carried by Sea

Some $1.1 trillion worth of agricultural products are traded internationally each year. Photo: FAO

Some $1.1 trillion worth of agricultural products are traded internationally each year. Photo: FAO

Meanwhile, another UN organisation–the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), informs that around 80 per cent of global trade by volume and over 70 per cent of global trade by value are carried by sea and are handled by ports worldwide.

These shares are even higher in the case of most developing countries, says UNCTAD.

“There are more than 50,000 merchant ships trading internationally, transporting every kind of cargo. The world fleet is registered in over 150 nations and manned by more than a million seafarers of virtually every nationality.”

A Floating Threat

All this is fine. But as another major United Nations organisation also reminds that not all is great about sea-born trade. See what happens.

A Floating Threat: Sea Containers Spread Pests and Diseases’  is the title of an information note issued on August 17 by the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

FAO highlights  that that while oil spills garner much public attention and anguish, the so-called “biological spills” represent a greater long-term threat and do not have the same high public profile. And gives some good examples.

“It was an exotic fungus that wiped out billions of American chestnut trees in the early 20th century, dramatically altering the landscape and ecosystem, while today the emerald ash borer – another pest that hitch-hiked along global trade routes to new habitats – threatens to do the same with a valuable tree long used by humans to make tool handles, guitars and office furniture.”

FAO explains that perhaps the biggest “biological spill” of all was when a fungus-like eukaryotic microorganism called Phytophthora infestans – the name of the genus comes from Greek for “plant destroyer” – sailed from the Americas to Belgium. Within months it arrived in Ireland, triggering a potato blight that led to famine, death and mass migration.

“The list goes on and on. A relative of the toxic cane toad that has run rampant in Australia recently disembarked from a container carrying freight to Madagascar, a biodiversity hotspot, and the ability of females to lay up to 40,000 eggs a year make it a catastrophic threat for local lemurs and birds, while also threatening the habitat of a host of animals and plants.”

In Rome, FAO informs, municipal authorities are ramping up their annual campaign against the tiger mosquito, an invasive species that arrived by ship in Albania in the 1970s. Aedes albopictus, famous for its aggressive biting, is now prolific across Italy and global warming will make swathes of northern Europe ripe for colonisation.

“This is why the nations of the world came together some six decades ago to establish the  International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) as a means to help stem the spread of plant pests and diseases across borders boundaries via international trade and to protect farmers, foresters, biodiversity, the environment, and consumers.”

“The crop losses and control costs triggered by exotic pests amount to a hefty tax on food, fibre and forage production,” says Craig Fedchock, coordinator of the FAO-based IPPC Secretariat. “All told, fruit flies, beetles, fungi and their kin reduce global crop yields by between 20 and 40 per cent.”

Credit: IMO

Credit: IMO

Trade as a Vector, Containers as a Vehicle

Invasive species arrive in new habitats through various channels, but shipping, is the main one, FAO reports.

“And shipping today means sea containers: Globally, around 527 million sea container trips are made each year – China alone deals with over 133 million sea containers annually. It is not only their cargo, but the steel contraptions themselves, that can serve as vectors for the spread of exotic species capable of wreaking ecological and agricultural havoc.”

For example, an analysis of 116,701 empty sea containers arriving in New Zealand over the past five years showed that one in 10 was contaminated on the outside, twice the rate of interior contamination.

“Unwelcome pests included the gypsy moth, the Giant African snail, Argentine ants and the brown marmorated stink bug, each of which threaten crops, forests and urban environments. Soil residues, meanwhile, can contain the seeds of invasive plants, nematodes and plant pathogens,” FAO informs.

“Inspection records from the United States, Australia, China and New Zealand indicate that thousands of organisms from a wide range of taxa are being moved unintentionally with sea containers,” the study’s lead scientist, Eckehard Brockerhoff of the New Zealand Forest Research Institute, told a recent meeting at FAO of the Commission on Phytosanitary Measures (CPM), IPPC’s governing body.

These phytosanitary (the health of plants) measures are intended to ensure that imported plants are free of specified pests.

Here, FAO warns that damage exceeds well beyond agriculture and human health issues. Invasive species can cause clogged waterways and power plant shutdowns.

Biological invasions inflict damages amounting to around five per cent of annual global economic activity, equivalent to about a decade’s worth of natural disasters, according to one study, Brockerhoff said, adding that factoring in harder-to-measure impacts may double that.

Around 90 per cent of world trade is carried by sea today, with vast panoply of differing logistics, making agreement on an inspection method elusive. Some 12 million containers entered the U.S. last year, using no fewer than 77 ports of entry.

“Moreover, many cargoes quickly move inland to enter just-in-time supply chains. That’s how the dreaded brown marmorated stink bug – which chews quickly through high-value fruit and crops – began its European tour a few years ago in Zurich.”

This animal actively prefers steel nooks and crannies for long-distance travel, and once established likes to set up winter hibernation niches inside people’s houses.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Time is Ripe to Act against Droughthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-time-is-ripe-to-act-against-drought/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-time-is-ripe-to-act-against-drought http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-time-is-ripe-to-act-against-drought/#comments Thu, 18 Aug 2016 14:13:32 +0000 Monique Barbut http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146601

The author is the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which co-organized with the Namibian government the Africa Drought Conference on 15-19 August in Windhoek. This Op-Ed is based on Barbut’s opening speech to the Conference High –level Segment.

By Monique Barbut
WINDHOEK, Aug 18 2016 (IPS)

Let us start with some good news.  Sort of.  The strongest El Niño in 35 years is coming to an end. [1]

In 2015/2016 this “El Niño effect” led to drought in over 20 countries [2].  There were scorching temperatures, water shortages and flooding around the world.  Worst hit were eastern and southern Africa[3]

Monique Barbut

Monique Barbut

To understand what that means for people, you just have to look at the numbers about food insecurity[4].  32 million people in southern Africa were affected by food insecurity as a result.  Across Africa, 1 million children required treatment for severe acute malnutrition.

And though the worst of the drought is coming to an end, predictions are high (at about 75%) that La-Nina will arrive later in 2016. La Nina – El Niño’s opposite number – is known for the flooding it brings.

There may not be much relief for policy makers and people across Africa before the end of the year.

But then, if will be over, we can breathe again.  We can go back to business as usual – right?

Well…if you will allow me…for Albert Einstein…one of the definitions of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.

Going back to business as usual fits this definition of insanity very well.

  • We know the next El Niño droughts are likely to return regularly.  Probably as often as every two to seven years.
  • We know that the extent and severity of droughts will increase.  This is because of climate change and unsustainable land use.   Scientists have estimated that the fraction of the land’s surface regularly experiencing drought conditions is predicted to increase from less than 5 percent today to more than 30 percent by the 2090s[5].
  • We know we will miss our targets on water scarcity (6.4, 6.5 and 6.6) under the sustainable development goals[6].
  • We know poor people, who tend to be wholly dependent on natural resources like water and land to provide for their families, will suffer.

Unless we change our approach, when drought comes and the rains fail, the future of the 400 million African farmers who rely on rain fed subsistence agriculture, for example, is put in jeopardy.

Rain-fed agriculture accounts for more than 95 percent of farmed land in sub-Saharan Africa. And water scarcity alone could cost some regions 6 percent of their Gross Domestic Product.

Unless we change our approach, people are going to be increasingly forced to decide whether to ride out a drought disaster and then rebuild.  Or simply leave.

It is a form of madness that we force our people to make these difficult choices.

 

Especially if the cycle of drought disaster and recovery could be broken. 

Progress is starting to happen. Mexico, Brazil, Vietnam and Morocco, to name just a few countries, are now implementing drought plans with a strong emphasis on risk mitigation and preparedness.

And in the areas where land has been restored in Central and Eastern Tigray in Ethiopia, ecosystems and people seem to have fared better in recent El Nino related droughts than areas where no restoration has been undertaken.

But because by 2050, one in four people – up to 2.5 billion people – will be living in a country at risk of water scarcity, more needs to be done. Everywhere.  We must prepare better and manage drought risks proactively.

Africa has already done a lot[7] but needs to stay on its toes.

UNCCD is proposing three important pillars for your consideration.

 

Firstly, Early Warning Systems. 

Declaring a drought too late can have a devastating impact on lives and livelihoods. Yet when you declare a drought, it can often be very subjective and highly political.

Africa would benefit from an effective Early Warning System (EWS) in all countries. The system would need good data and – equally important – local and traditional knowledge. It would guide you by providing timely information that you can use to reduce risks and to better prepare for an effective response.

 

Secondly, vulnerability and risk assessment.

Of course, no amount of early warning will work without action to protect the most vulnerable.

Some people and some systems are more vulnerable to drought as a result of social, economic, and environmental factors. So it is important to combine better forecasts with detailed knowledge on how landscapes and societies respond to a lack of rain.

Which communities and ecosystems are most at risk? Why are important sectors like agriculture, energy, tourism, health vulnerable?

Then turn that knowledge into early intervention.

We can assure it would be highly cost effective.  Before the cost of a single late response is reached, you can “overreact” up to six times.

In Niger and Mozambique for example, the cost of an early intervention and resilience building efforts would lead to a cost reduction of 375 million US dollars in Mozambique and 844 million US dollars in Niger when compared to late humanitarian response to drought.[8]

 

Finally, drought risk mitigation measures.

We can identify measures to address these risks head on.  There are things that can be done at a very practical level to reduce drought risk, which if started right away, can deliver real and tangible benefits to your communities.

African countries could consider the development of sustainable irrigation schemes for crops and livestock or water harvesting schemes or the recycling and reuse of water. They can explore the cultivation of more drought tolerant crops, expand crop insurance schemes and establish alternative livelihoods that can provide income in drought-prone areas.

Investing in improved land management, for example, can improve on-farm water security by between 70 and 100%[9].

This would result in higher yields and more food security.   In Zimbabwe, water harvesting combined with conservation agriculture increased farmers gross margins by 4 to 7 times and increased returns on labour by 2 to 3 times. [10]

This is the type of proactive drought risk management, which could save lives and the livelihoods of millions of people, is something that we all should aspire to.

 

The Africa Drought Conference is a rare window of opportunity.

An opportunity for the continent to recognize that the traditional approach of “responding” to drought is no longer viable. It has proved to be ineffective far too often. Instead, Africa could lead a proactive drought revolution.

By investing in early warning systems and addressing their vulnerabilities head on, well-planned and coordinated drought action will have a positive ripple effect across sectors and across borders.

Nelson Mandela once said, “We must use time wisely and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right”.

The time is ripe. Taking proactive action against drought is the right thing to do.

 

Footnotes

[1] http://media.bom.gov.au/releases/267/el-nino-ends-as-tropical-pacific-ocean-returns-to-neutral/

[2] List compiled from: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/may/22/southern-africa-worst-global-food-crisis-25-years and https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/may/30/el-nino-is-over-but-it-leaves-nearly-100-million-people-short-of-food.

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/may/22/africa-worst-famine-since-1985-looms-for-50-million

[4] https://docs.unocha.org/sites/dms/Documents/OCHA_ElNino_Overview_13Apr2016.pdf

[5]  WMO( 2011): Towards a Compendium on National Drought Policy, p. 9.

[6] https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg6

[7] i.e. The Sahel and Sahara Observatory (OSS), IGAD’s Drought Resilience Sustainability Initiative (IDDRSI), the Southern Africa Development Community – Community Climate Service Center (SADC-CSC) or the African Drought Risk and Development Network (ADDN).

[8] Department for international development : The Economics of Early Response and Resilience Series, https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/226255/TEERR_Two_Pager_July_22.pdf

[9] Bossio, Deborah et al( 2010): Managing water by managing land: Addressing land degradation to improve water productivity and rural livelihoods, p. 540.

[10] Winterbottom, R. (et al.): Improving Land and Water Management. Working Paper, Installment 4 of Creating a Sustainable Food Future. World Resources Institute, 2013, p. 18.

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False Promises: Avoid ‘Miracle’ Rice and Just Eat a Carrothttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/false-promises-avoid-miracle-rice-and-just-eat-a-carrot/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=false-promises-avoid-miracle-rice-and-just-eat-a-carrot http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/false-promises-avoid-miracle-rice-and-just-eat-a-carrot/#comments Wed, 10 Aug 2016 17:06:38 +0000 Vandana Shiva 2 http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146509 TRANSCEND Member Prof. Vandana Shiva is a physicist, ecofeminist, philosopher, activist, and author of more than 20 books and 500 papers. She is the founder of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, and has campaigned for biodiversity, conservation and farmers’ rights, winning the Right Livelihood Award [Alternative Nobel Prize] in 1993. She is executive director of the Navdanya Trust.]]> Vandana Shiva. (Photo: The Seeds of Vandana Shiva film)

Vandana Shiva. (Photo: The Seeds of Vandana Shiva film)

By Dr Vandana Shiva
NEW DELHI, Aug 10 2016 (IPS)

Norman Borlaug, father of the Green Revolution, died on September 9, 2009. Alfred G. Gilman died on December 23, 2015.

Both were Nobel laureates and now both dead. Gilman was a signatory to a recent letter condemning Greenpeace and its opposition to genetic engineering.

How many Nobel laureates does it take to write a letter? Easily ascertained — the dead Gilman and 106 others were enlisted in “supporting GMOs and golden rice”. Correct answer — 107, dead or alive.

The laureates were rounded up by Val Giddings (senior fellow, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation), Jon Entine (author of Abraham’s Children: Race, Identity and the DNA of the Chosen People) and Jay Byrne (former head of corporate communications, Monsanto). Real people don’t have the luxury of getting Nobel laureates to write 1/107th of a letter, “chosen” folk do. Evidently.

Photo source: Vandana Shiva

Photo source: Vandana Shiva

Cornell University is a “chosen” institution – central to genetically modified public relations. The Cornell Alliance of Science is funded by Bill Gates, just like the failed golden rice experiment.

The Nobel laureates accuse Greenpeace of killing millions by delaying ghost rice — something the biotech industry accuses me of doing, for the same reason. Unlike golden rice — whose failure to launch is the industry’s own failure, the opposition to genetic engineering (and hence golden rice) is very real and successful.

As Glenn Stone, a rice scientist at Washington University, states: “The simple fact is that after 24 years of research and breeding, golden rice is still years away from being ready for release.”
Golden rice is a false miracle. It is a disease of nutritionally empty mono-cultures offered as a cure for nutritional deficiency. In fact, golden rice, if successful, will be 400 per cent less efficient in providing Vitamin A…’ - Vandana Shiva

It is Borlaug’s Green Revolution monocultures that contributed to malnutrition by destroying biodiversity, which destroys the diversity of nutrients we need to be healthy. As Navdanya research has shown, biodiversity produces more food and nutrition per acre. Borlaug’s ghost is still shaping the industrial agriculture “miracles” based on monocultures of the mind and spin in place of science.

It is now more than 20 years since the “miracle” golden rice began to be promoted as the excuse to allow patents on life.

The last time golden rice was resurrected when Patrick Moore of Allow Golden Rice Now was sent to Asia to push the failed promise. Women of the world organised and responded to Moore — Diverse Women for Diversity issued a declaration on International Women’s Day in 2015 titled Women and Biodiversity Feed the World, not Corporations and GMOs.

Golden rice is genetically engineered rice with two genes from a daffodil and one gene from a bacterium. The resulting GMO rice is said to have a yellow colouring, which is supposed to increase beta-carotene – a precursor of Vitamin A. It has been offered as a potential miracle cure for Vitamin A deficiency for 20 years.

But golden rice is a false miracle. It is a disease of nutritionally empty monocultures offered as a cure for nutritional deficiency. In fact, golden rice, if successful, will be 400 per cent less efficient in providing Vitamin A than the biodiversity alternatives that women have to offer. To get your daily requirement of Vitamin A, all you need to eat is one of the following:

Two tablespoons of spinach or cholai (amaranth) leaves or radish leaves
Four tablespoons of mustard or bathua leaves
One tablespoon of coriander chutney
One-and-a-half tablespoon of mint chutney
One carrot
One mango

So, if you want to be four times more efficient than 107 Nobel laureates, just eat a carrot!

Not only do these indigenous alternatives based on women’s knowledge provide more Vitamin A than golden rice ever will, and at a lower cost, but also provide multiple other nutrients.

Our critique of golden rice is that even if it is developed, it will be inferior to the alternatives women have in their hands and minds. Women are being blocked from growing biodiversity and spreading their knowledge to address malnutrition, by rich and powerful men and their corporations who are blind to the richness of the earth and our cultures.

Through their monoculture of the mind, they keep imposing monocultures of failed technologies, blocking the potential of abundance and nourishment. As I wrote in 2000, blindness to biodiversity and women’s knowledge is a blind approach to blindness prevention.

Grain.org concluded in Grains of delusion: Golden rice seen from the ground, way back in 2001: “The best chance of success in fighting Vitamin A deficiency and malnutrition is to better use the inexpensive and nutritious foods already available, and in diversifying food production systems in the fields and in the household.

The euphoria created by the Green Revolution greatly stifled research to develop and promote these efforts, and the introduction of golden rice will further compromise them. Golden rice is merely a marketing event. But international and national research agendas will be taken by it.”

The Giddings-Entine-Byrne Nobel PR stunt was timed to coincide with the US Senate vote on the Dark Act — the denial to Americans of the right to know what they eat. With two decades of the GMO experiment failing to control pests and weeds, creating super pests and super weeds instead, there is now an attempt to push through the “next generation” of GMOs — such as “gene drives” for exterminating nutrient-rich species like the amaranth.

Amaranth, a weed to the 107 Nobel laureates, is a richer source of Vitamin A than golden rice has promised it will be, when it grows up. The laureates would have us round up all the Vitamin A we already have in abundance, create deficiencies by exterminating it with RoundUp, and provide golden rice to alleviate the absence of Vitamin A.

Mr Gates is also supporting this failed miracle, as well as the failed communication through the Cornell Alliance for Science. He also funds the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition and Harvest Plus, the corporate alliance for biofortification.

The corporate-controlled World Food Prize for 2016 has been announced for “Biofortification”. Scientists funded by Mr Gates have been given the prize for inventing an orange sweet potato. But the Maori in New Zealand had developed kumara, orange (beauregard) sweet potato, centuries ago.

Mr Gates is also funding the biopiracy research of James Dale of Queensland, who took the Vitamin A-rich indigenous bananas of Micronesia and declared them to be his invention.

The biopiracy of people’s biodiversity and indigenous knowledge is what Mr Gates is funding. The Gates fortification or Nobel fortification, will not nourish people. Fraud is not food.

Dr Vandana Shiva’s article was published in Go to Original – vandanashiva.comSource: TRANSCEND Media Service

The statements and views mentioned in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of IPS.

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Forests and Crops Make Friendly Neighbors in Costa Ricahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/forests-and-crops-grow-hand-by-hand-in-costa-rica/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=forests-and-crops-grow-hand-by-hand-in-costa-rica http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/forests-and-crops-grow-hand-by-hand-in-costa-rica/#comments Tue, 26 Jul 2016 18:55:58 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146239 Tapantí National Park lies east from the capital San José covering more than 50.000 hectares of forest, which in turn provides valuable watershed protection. Picture: Diego Arguedas Ortiz / IPS

Tapantí National Park lies east from the capital San José covering more than 50.000 hectares of forest, which in turn provides valuable watershed protection. Picture: Diego Arguedas Ortiz / IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Jul 26 2016 (IPS)

While Latin America keeps expanding its agricultural frontier by converting large areas of forest, one country, Costa Rica, has taken a different path and is now a role model for a peaceful coexistence between food production and sustainable forestry.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) flagship publication The State of the World’s Forests revealed that commercial agriculture was responsible for 70 percent of forest conversion in Latin America between 2000 and 2010.

“What FAO mentions about the rest of Latin America, clearing forests for agriculture or livestock, happened in Costa Rica during the 1970s and 1980s,” Jorge Mario Rodríguez, the director of Costa Rica’s National Fund for Forestry Finance (Fonafifo), told IPS.“Agricultural development doesn’t necessarily require the expansion of croplands; rather, it demands the coexistence with the forest and the intensification of production by improving national farmers’ productivity and competitiveness" -- Octavio Ramírez.

At its worst moment, during the 1980s, Costa Rica’s forest cover was limited to 21 to 25 percent of its land area. Now, forests account for 53 percent of the country’s 51,000 square kilometers, with almost five million inhabitants.

The country has managed to hold and even push back the advance of the agricultural frontier while strengthening its food security, according to FAO, which says that Costa Rica’s malnutrition rate is under 5 percent, something the organisation accounts as “zero hunger”.

“Here’s a learned lesson: there’s no need to chop down forests to produce more crops,” FAO Costa Rica director Octavio Ramírez told IPS.

Despite the increase in forest cover, FAO states the average value of food production per person increased by 26 percent in the period 1990–1992 to 2011–2013.

FAO attributes this change “to structural changes in the economy and the priority given to forest conservation and sustainable management” which were seized upon by Costa Rican authorities in a specific context.

“It has to do with the livestock crisis during the 1980s but also the priority given by Costa Rica to forest management,” said Ramírez, born in Nicaragua but Costa Rican by naturalisation.

In The State of the World’s Forests report, launched on July 18, FAO explains that Costa Rican forests were regarded as “land banks” that could be converted as necessary to meet agricultural needs.

“To keep the forest intact was looked upon as a synonym of laziness and unwillingness to work,” Ramírez explained.

But there were two key elements during the 1980s that led to better forest protection, the environmental economist Juan Robalino told IPS.

José Alberto Chacón weeds between bean plants on his small farm in Pacayas, on the slopes of the Irazú volcano, in Costa Rica. The terraces help control water run-off that would otherwise cause soil erosion. Picture: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

José Alberto Chacón weeds between bean plants on his small farm in Pacayas, on the slopes of the Irazú volcano, in Costa Rica. The terraces help control water run-off that would otherwise cause soil erosion. Picture: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

Meat prices plummeted while eco-tourism became a leading economic activity in the country, explained the specialist from Universidad de Costa Rica and the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center.

“This paved the way for very interesting policy-making, like the creation of the Payments for Environmental Services (PES) program,” said Robalino, one of the top experts in Costa Rican forest cover.

FAO states that a big part of Costa Rica’s success comes from PES, a financial incentive that acknowledges those ecosystem services resulting from forest conservation and management, reforestation, natural regeneration and agroforestry systems.

The program, established in 1997 and ran by Fonafifo, has a simple logic at its core: the Costa Rican state pays landowners who protect forest cover as they provide an ecosystem service.

From its launch until 2015, a total of 318 million dollars were invested in forest-related PES projects.  64 percent of the funding came from fossil fuel tax, 22 percent from World Bank credits and the remainder from other sources.

After studying PES impacts for years, Robalino explains the challenge for 2016 is to look for landowners with less incentives to protect their forests and bring them on board with the financial argument.

“The goal is to always look for those who’ll change their behavior because of the program,” Robalino stated.

Because of budget limitations, the program must decide which properties to work with, as applications exceed its capacity fivefold, according to Fonafifo director Rodríguez.

Priorities for PES funding include ecosystem services like watershed protection, carbon capture, scenic beauty and biodiversity conservation.

“Costa Rica learned that forests are worth more for their environmental services than because of their timber,” Rodríguez pointed out.

Fonafifo is now looking for new partnerships with the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock to launch a new program focused on small landowners who require more technical support, a road also favoured by FAO.

“Agricultural development doesn’t necessarily require the expansion of croplands; rather, it demands the coexistence with the forest and the intensification of production by improving national farmers’ productivity and competitiveness,” said Ramírez, FAO’s local representative.

Both FAO and local experts interviewed by IPS agreed that PES seized upon a national and international crossroads to launch a program that despite its success, is not the only cause for Costa Rica’s recovery.

“Costa Rica’s success cannot be exclusively attributed to PES since other policies, like the creation of the National Protected Areas System and its education system, also played a major role,” Rodríguez explained.

Beyond this program, the country has a longstanding environmental tradition: close to a quarter of its territory is under some type of protection, the forestry law bans forest conversion, and sports hunting, open-air metallic mining and oil exploitation are all illegal.

The country’s Constitution declares citizens’ right to a healthy environment in its article 50.

“I remember my school teacher telling us students that we had to protect the forest,” Robalino recalled.

However, Costa Rica’s forest recovery didn’t reach all ecosystems in the country and left mangroves behind. Their area has diminished in the past decades.

According to the country’s 2014 report to the Convention on Biological Diversity, mangrove coverage fell from 64.452 hectares in 1979 to 37.420 hectares in 2013, a 42 percent loss.

This ecosystem is particularly vulnerable to large monoculture plantations on the Pacific coast, where the local Environmental Administrative Tribunal denounced the disappearance of 400 hectares between 2010 and 2014, due to human-induced fire, logging and invasion.

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Malawi Leads Africa’s Largest Elephant Translocationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/malawi-leads-africas-largest-elephant-translocation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=malawi-leads-africas-largest-elephant-translocation http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/malawi-leads-africas-largest-elephant-translocation/#comments Wed, 20 Jul 2016 11:13:47 +0000 Charles Mkoka http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146153 Elephants in a solar-powered holding pen in Malawi, which is carrying out a major translocation between conservation parks. Credit: Charles Mkoka/IPS

Elephants in a solar-powered holding pen in Malawi, which is carrying out a major translocation between conservation parks. Credit: Charles Mkoka/IPS

By Charles Mkoka
LILONGWE, Jul 20 2016 (IPS)

One of the world’s largest and most significant elephant translocations kicked off earlier this month within Liwonde National Park in southern Malawi.

Patricio Ndadzela, Malawi country director of African Parks, a non-profit conservation group based in South Africa that is leading the relocation, told IPS that so far, 10 bulls and 144 family groups of elephants have been successfully captured from the park and transported 300 kilometers by truck to their new home in the Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve in central Malawi.

A few decades ago, around 1,500 elephants roamed Malawi’s biggest wildlife reserve, but now only a few herds totaling about 100 remain. The park is poised to be revitalised and serve as a critical elephant sanctuary for populations nationwide.

Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve covers 1,800 square kms of Miombo woodlands and afro-montane forest along Chipata Mountain on the border with Ntchisi district. The relocation, which began on July 3, involves tranquilising the elephants by dart from a helicopter and loading them by crane onto trucks for the journey to Nkhotakota."It's a story of hope and survival. It is a story of possibility." -- Peter Fearnhead, CEO of African Parks

The World Wildlife Federation notes that elephants remain under severe threat from ivory poaching, habitat loss, and human-wildlife conflict. Since 1979, African elephants have lost over half of their natural range. Less than 20 percent of African elephant habitat is currently under formal protection.

Local engagement for a balanced ecosystem

But Malawi is setting an example for the rest of the continent in how to protect elephants with the full consent and assistance of local communities. Before embarking on this major translocation exercise, African Parks engaged peripheral communities after taking over the reserve in July last year from government. Zonal area committees were established at the traditional authority level. These are chiefs of jurisdiction in the four districts that border the reserve. The districts are Nkhota Kota, Mzimba, Ntchisi and Kasungu.

“We have had a good working partnership with African Parks, together with the local people. They are managing the reserve for 25 years.  So far a number of activities have been done in consultations with the local people,” says Malijani Kachombo, the Traditional Authority Mphonde in Nkhota Kota district.

“They then brought the issue of restocking endangered species so that we have a more balanced ecosystem. This promise that they made has now been fulfilled today. The translocation of 500 elephants is no more a promise but reality.”

The animals will be well secured now as a new fence is already under construction and communities have been given ownership of the reserve, said the chief.

Other animals were also relocated, including 23 zebras, 25 elands, 220 waterbuck, 284 impalas, 32 warthogs, 99 kudu, 200 sables and two collared black rhinos.

A special landing site

As part of their integration into the reserve, a special landing site for the animals was chosen that provided for basic needs. According to Samuel Kamoto, African Parks Manager for Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve, the site was identified after confirming that it had adequate water, shelter and food for the animals.

More importantly, they considered the proximity of the landing site’s accessibility to the road, since the heavy trucks carrying the animals need to align the doors with the entrance of the holding pen.

“Elephants started arriving last night and we let them inside the holding pen so that they can rest and regroup as social beings and families. This enables the animals to settle down first other than just letting them out, which confuses them,” Kamoto told IPS.

Senior Lecturer in Ecology and Wildlife at Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources, John Kazembe, said that the move was a good option considering the fact that Liwonde National Park was relatively small. Overcrowding of elephant populations in Liwonde had led to the animals devouring large areas of vegetation and coming into conflict with local people.

“Elephant herds should be moved into the reserve at intervals so that the ecosystem is not overwhelmed by a one-off relocation,” Kazembe said.

Peter Fearnhead, Chief Executive Officer of African Parks, said “Most stories we hear about elephants in Africa are doom and gloom. This translocation of 500 elephants, which is a pivotal moment for Malawi who is emerging as a leader in African elephant conservation, is a story of hope and survival. It is a story of possibility.”

It’s hoped that this rich reserve, coupled with a good working partnership with the local populace, will enable the animals to resettle quickly.

The giant seven-week translocation is costing 1.6 million dollars, and has been made possible with support from the Dutch Postcode Lottery, the Wyss Foundation, the Wildcat Foundation, Donna and Marvin Schwartz, Dioraphte and the People’s Post Code Lottery.

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