Inter Press Service » Biodiversity News and Views from the Global South Sat, 30 Apr 2016 22:04:27 +0000 en-US hourly 1 G-77 Should Adopt South-South Climate Change Program of Action: Ambassador Djoghlaf Tue, 26 Apr 2016 18:53:36 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands The beauty of the Paris agreement is that it’s a universal agreement, unlike the Kyoto protocol, said Ambassador Djoghlaf. Credit: Ahmed Djoghlaf.

The beauty of the Paris agreement is that it’s a universal agreement, unlike the Kyoto protocol, said Ambassador Djoghlaf. Credit: Ahmed Djoghlaf.

By Lyndal Rowlands

The 134 members of the Group of 77 and China (G-77) made their mark on the Paris Climate Change Agreement and should now adopt a program of action to implement it, Ambassador Ahmed Djoghlaf told IPS in a recent interview.

Djoghlaf, of Algeria, was co-chair of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP), together with Daniel Reifsnyder, of the United States, a position which allowed him to “witness very closely” the negotiation of the Paris Agreement.

“As the co-chair of the preparatory committee I can tell you that the G-77 has been a major actor during the  negotiation and a major player for the success of the Paris conference,” said Djoghlaf.

Djoghlaf said that the Group of 77 and China made its mark on the Paris agreement by mobilising a diverse range of countries and sub-groups, to “defend the collective interests of the developing countries.”

The group helped to find balance in the agreement “between mitigation issues that are important for developed countries and adaptation issues that are very close to the heart of the developing countries,” said Djoghlaf.

He also said that the group fought for equity, response measures, loss and damage as well as means of implementation, including financing, capacity building and transfer of technology.

“Those that are suffering the most nowadays are those that have less contributed to climate change crisis and they are using their own limited financial resources to address them, to adapt, to adjust to the consequences created by others,” he said.

Program of Action in Marrakech

“I hope that the G-77 through the leadership of Thailand will be able to take the lead and submit to its partners at the next conference of the parties in Marrakech a draft work program on capacity building for the implementation of the Paris agreement,” said Djoghlaf.

The 22nd meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP22) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will be held in Marrakech, Morocco, from 7 to 18 Nov. 2016.

Djoghlaf said the program should address North-South as well as South-South capacity building, which is needed to ensure that developing countries can implement their commitments including on issues related to the finalisation of their nationally determined contributions and preparation of their future contributions.

“It would be important for the developing countries to be able to identify their own capacity building needs and let others do it for them. It will be also important to have a framework to coordinate the South-South cooperation on climate change similar to the Caracas Plan of Action on South-South Cooperation or the Buenos Aires Plan of Action on economic and technical cooperation among developing countries,” he said.

Quoting Victor Hugo Djoghlaf said that “not a single army in the world can stop an idea whose time has come, I do believe when it comes to South-South cooperation on climate change it’s an idea whose time has come also.”

“Within the G-77, the diverse group, you have emerging countries that are now leaders in renewable energy and the energy of tomorrow and the they have I think a responsibility to share their experience and to allow other countries from the same region and the same group to benefit from their experience,” he said.

"It is crystal clear that the Paris agreement will enter into force well before the original expected date of 2020. The clock is ticking and we cannot afford any delay” -- Ambassador Ahmed Djoghlaf

“I also believe that time has come for the G-77 to initiate it’s own program of action on climate change,” he said.

Djoghlaf said that developing countries need capacity building to ensure that they can continue to participate fully in the implementation of the Paris Climate Change Agreement.

Unlike developed countries, which “have fully-fledged ministries dealing with climate change,” he said, “In the South there is not a single country that has a Minister of Climate Change.”

He spoke about how during the negotiations of the Paris agreement many countries of the South had only one focal point and yet sometimes there were 15 meetings taking place at the same time and the meetings also often continued into the night.

It can be difficult for this focal point “to be able to understand and to participate, let alone be heard” when there is a “proliferation of simultaneous meetings,” he said.

Djoghlaf said that countries of the South could help address this disparity by establishing national committees, which include representatives from a number of different ministries.

“There’s not a single sector of activities which is not nowadays affected by the negative impact of climate change,” said Djoghlaf.

“All the sectors need to be engaged and we will succeed to win the battle of climate change when all these ministers, economic ministers and social ministers, will be fully integrating climate change in their planning and in their decision making processes,” he said.

Djoghlaf acknowledged it’s not easy for ministers in developing countries to engage because they have other urgent priorities. “They tend not to see the importance of the impact of climate change because they believe that this is not a priority for them,” he said. Yet there is often evidence that supports a more cross-cutting approach. For example, said Djoghlaf, World Health Organization research, which shows that 7 million people die from air pollution every year, demonstrates that climate change should also be a priority for health ministries.

The beauty of the Paris agreement

Djoghlaf said that the beauty of the Paris agreement is that it’s a universal agreement, unlike the Kyoto protocol. The Paris agreement is “very balanced” and should last for years to come because it takes into in to consideration the evolving capacities and the evolving responsibilities of countries, he said.

“We need a North-South and a South-South global climate solidarity,” said Djoghlaf.

“Without judging the past, who is responsible now, and who is responsible tomorrow, and who is responsible yesterday, I think we are all in the same boat, we are all in the same planet and we have to contribute based on our capacity,” he said.

He described the success of the signing ceremony held here Friday, where in total 175 countries signed and 15 countries deposited their instruments of ratification as “unprecedented”. “This has never happened before,” he said, referring to the developing countries, which also ratified the agreement. “It is a resounding political message and a demonstration of leadership,” he said. “It is crystal clear that the Paris agreement will enter into force well before the original expected date of 2020. The clock is ticking and we cannot afford any delay.”

Djoghlaf also said that he was not concerned about upcoming changes to the United States domestic political situation.

“When you are a party to the Paris agreement you can’t withdraw before three years after its entry into force. In addition I do believe that this historical agreement is in the long term interest of all Parties including the United States of America” he said.

“I believe that this Paris agreement is in the long term strategic interests of every country,” in part because eventually fossil fuel energy is going to disappear.

Investment in renewable energy was six times higher in 2015 than in 2014, he added.

“We tend to ignore the tremendous impact and signal the Paris agreement has already been providing to the business community,” he said.

Another part of the Paris agreement which Djoghlaf is happy about is what he describes as a “fully-fledged article on public awareness and education.”

“It’s to ensure that each and every citizen of the world, in particular the developing countries, are fully aware about the consequences of the climate change and the need for each of us as an individual to make our contribution to address the climate change,” he said.

“There is a need also to educate the people of the world of the need to have a sustainable lifestyle this throw away society can not continue to exist forever and we need to establish a sustainable pattern of production and consumption,” said Djoghlaf.

However Djoghlaf, who was the Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, said that he was concerned that the negotiations in 2015 didn’t adequately reflect the importance of ecosystems and biodiversity.

“Healthy biodiversity and healthy ecosystems have a major role to play to combat climate change,” said Djoghlaf, adding that 30 percent of carbon dioxide is absorbed by forests and 30 percent by oceans.

“For each breath that we have we owe it to the forests, but also to the ocean, also wetlands have a major contribution to make, the peat lands have a major contribution to make, the land itself, the fertile soil of course has a major contribution to play, so biodiversity is part and parcel of the climate global response,” he said.

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Ecosystem Conservation Gives Hope to a Vulnerable Community Mon, 25 Apr 2016 05:55:24 +0000 Stella Paul 0 Developing Countries Take Lead at Climate Change Agreement Signing Fri, 22 Apr 2016 19:40:13 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands The UN General Assembly hall during the record-breaking signing of the Paris Climate Change Agreement. UN Photo/Mark Garten

The UN General Assembly hall during the record-breaking signing of the Paris Climate Change Agreement. UN Photo/Mark Garten

By Lyndal Rowlands

An unprecedented 175 countries signed the Paris Climate Change Agreement here Friday, with 15 developing countries taking the lead by also ratifying the treaty.

The Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Somalia, Palestine, Barbados, Belize, Fiji, Grenada, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Samoa, Tuvalu, the Maldives, Saint Lucia and Mauritius all deposited their instruments of ratification at the signing ceremony, meaning that their governments have already agreed to be legally bound by the terms of the treaty.

Speaking at the opening of the signing ceremony UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon welcomed the record-breaking number of signatures for an international treaty on a single day but reminded the governments present that “records are also being broken outside.”

“Records are also being broken outside. Record global temperatures. Record ice loss. Record carbon levels in the atmosphere.” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.
“Record global temperatures.  Record ice loss.  Record carbon levels in the atmosphere,” said Ban.

Ban urged all countries to have their governments ratify the agreement at the national level as soon as possible.

“The window for keeping global temperature rise well below two degrees Celsius, let alone 1.5 degrees, is rapidly closing,” he said.

In order for the Paris agreement to enter into force it must first be ratified by 55 countries representing 55 percent of global emissions.

The 15 developing countries who deposited their ratifications Friday only represent a tiny portion of global emissions but include many of the countries likely to bear the greatest burden of climate change.

For the treaty to move ahead it is important that some of the world’s top emitters ratify as soon as possible. However unlike in the past, the world’s top emitters now include developing countries, including China, India, Brazil and Indonesia. For these countries, addressing climate change can also help other serious environmental problems including air pollution, deforestation and loss of biodiversity.

According to the World Health Organization air pollution causes millions of deaths every year.

“Air pollution is killing people every day,” Deborah Seligsohn, a researcher specializing in air pollution in China and India at the University of California at San Diego told IPS.

“Countries commitments on climate change will help with air pollution but will be insufficient to reduce air pollution to the levels that we are accustomed to in the West,” she said, adding that not all measures to reduce air pollution necessarily contribute to addressing climate change.

Sunil Dahiya, a Climate & Energy Campaigner with Greenpeace India told IPS that “pollution control measures for power plants, a shift to renewables, more public transport and cleaner fuels as well as eco-agriculture, would not only clean up the air but also reduce our emissions.”

Brazil and India have also found their way into the list of top emitters in part due to deforestation. Peat and forest fires in Indonesia, exacerbated by last year’s severe El Nino, contributed to a spike in global carbon emissions. However while these environmental problems occur in developing countries, the global community also has a responsibility to help address them.

While both developed and developing countries have responsibilities to reduce their emissions, David Waskow, Director of the International Climate Action Initiative at the World Resources Institute (WRI) said that an equitable approach among countries must take into account several factors.

“Questions of equity are threaded through out” the Paris agreement and that these take into account the respective capabilities of countries and their different national circumstances, said Waskow.

Heather Coleman Climate Change Manager at Oxfam America said that the conversation around equity shifted during negotiations in Paris.

“We moved away from talking about rich versus poor countries and the conversation started really evolving around poor versus rich people around the world,” said Coleman.

According to Oxfam’s research, the richest 10 percent of the world’s population are responsible for over half of the global emissions, said Coleman.

“Putting the burden on rich people around the world is where we need to be moving,” she said.

The WRI has developed a climate data explorer which compares countries not only on their commitments, but also their historic emissions and emissions per person, two areas where developed countries tend to far exceed developing countries.

One area that developed countries are still expected to take the lead is in climate finance said Waskow. Finance commitments will see richer countries help poorer countries to reduce their emissions. Financing could potentially help countries like Brazil and Indonesia address mass deforestation while a new Southern Climate Partnership Incubator launched at the UN Thursday will help facilitate the exchange of ideas between developing countries to tackle climate change.

Financing should also help vulnerable countries to better prepare for and adapt to the impacts of climate change, however Coleman told IPS that the Paris agreement lacks a specific commitment to adaptation financing, and that this omission should be addressed this year.

Despite the records broken at the signing ceremony here Friday Coleman also said it was important to remember that the national commitments made by countries are still “nowhere near enough” to avoid catastrophic climate change.

“We really need to look towards a two degree goal but we need to stretch to 1.5 if we are going to see many vulnerable communities (continue) their very existence,” she said.

Some of the communities most vulnerable to climate change include small island countries and indigenous communities.

For island countries, already threatened by increasingly severe and frequent cyclones and rising sea levels, coral bleaching is a new imminent threat likely to effect the economies which rely on coral reef tourism.

Indigenous communities are also losing their homes to deforestation and have become targets for violence because of their work defending the world’s natural resources.

According to Global Witness at least two people are killed each week for defending forests and other natural resources from destruction, and 40 percent of the victims are indigenous.

However although forests owned by Indigenous people contain approximately 37.7 billion tons of carbon, Indigenous people have largely been left out of national climate plans.

Only 21 countries referred to the involvement of indigenous people in their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) submitted as part of the Paris agreement, Mina Setra an Indigenous Dayak Leader from Indonesia said at an event at the Ford Foundation ahead of the signing ceremony.

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Soil and Pulses: Symbiosis for Life Thu, 21 Apr 2016 15:41:52 +0000 Valentina Gasbarri Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Valentina Gasbarri
ROME, Apr 21 2016 (IPS)

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in partnership with Biodiversity International and the Permanent Mission of Italy to the UN (Rome based UN agencies) jointly organized a seminar on “Soils and pulses: symbiosis for life”, providing a platform to stakeholders, including governments, research organizations, civil society and the private sector, to deliberate increased pulses production and consumption and its relation to higher productivity and fertility of soils. 2016 is the International Year of Pulses as declared by the United General

During the International Year of Soils in 2015, FAO drew attention to the key benefits of healthy soils, including its important role in food production. The Milan EXPO 2015 also highlighted the need to ensure healthy, safe and sufficient food for all. Important interconnections emerge: the key role of healthy soils and pulses to address future global food security and environmental challenges as well as to contribute to balanced and healthy diets.

“The International Year of Pulses can be a valuable opportunity to reflect not only on the high nutritional values of pulses but also to broaden the discussion to the consequences of pulses consumption for economic, social and human-well at the heart of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda”, said Andrea Olivero, Italian Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Food and Forestry Policies who addressed the seminar.

Since millennia farmers have been aware of the significance and potential impact of pulses for human nutrition and agricultural systems. Pulses were cited for their role of nourishing people during the Roman Empire in the Rerum Rusticarum (37 BC) as well as in some recipes of the Native American cuisine. Today, pulses represent a major source of protein in many developing countries, especially among the poorer sections of the population who rely on vegetable sources for their protein and energy requirements. Pulses play an important role in the nutritional security of a large number of people. Pulses offer significant nutritional and health advantages due to their protein and essential amino acid contents as well as being a source of complex carbohydrates and several vitamins and minerals.

Additionally, in view of the biological nitrogen fixation capacity most of leguminous species, pulses and legumes are important components of a healthy diet, said Francesco Branca, Director of the Department of Nutrition for Health and Development at the World Health Organization (WHO). Both WHO and FAO recommend that people eat at least 400 g of fruit and vegetables per day. This is equivalent to consuming about 25 g of dietary fibre per day. Pulses are also functional to prevent obesity and type 2 diabetes, to reduce the risk of heart diseases, blood pressure and certain types of cancers.

“In India, initiatives to enhance lentil consumption played a crucial role in the treatment of anaemia among children” said Mahmoud Solh, Director General of the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA).

Big opportunities are offered by the multidimensional relationship between pulses and soils, as paramount components of food security: nutrient-poor soils, as a non-renewable resource, are indeed unable to produce healthy food with all necessary micronutrient for a healthy person. Soils are under threat. 33% of land (of total land worldwide) is moderately to highly degraded due to the erosion, salinization and, compaction, acidification and chemical pollution of soils.

Agriculture is critical to meet the challenges posed by hunger and malnutrition. A sustainable management of the world’s agricultural soils and sustainable production have become imperative for reversing the trend of soil degradation to ensure current and future global food security. Olivero pointed out that “pulses are sustainable, resilient and soil-friendly, feeding the soil biology and increasing microbial activity. Growing pulse crops in rotation with other crops enables the soil environment to support flourishing of these large, diverse populations of soil organisms”.

Michele Pisante, from Italy’s Council for Agriculture Research and Agrarian Economics (CREA), noted experiments showing that rotating legumes with grain crops could save up to 88 kilograms of nitrogen per hectare in Europe, where fertilizer use is high by international standards. There has been a sharp global reduction in pulse production compared to cereals since 1962, and reversing that would lead to virtuous outcomes including lower carbon costs per unit of glucose, Pisante noted.

Paola De Santis, a researcher at Bioversity International, showcased the organization’s research in Uganda, China and other countries on improving bean seed quality to enhance productivity as well as genetic diversity of key pulses varieties, which can be leveraged to boost plant resistance to diseases and pests.

Pulses are an economic asset in the agricultural sector. They offer farmers higher profit margins than cereal grains and can thus play an important role in helping reduce rural poverty at the local, regional and international levels. In particular, the role of smallholders as custodians of traditions and cultural practices deserves a special attention at a time when food systems and supply chains are increasingly intertwined, said Wafaa El-Khoury, a specialist at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). Without interventions, productivity enhancing skills
may be more available to larger farm enterprises, pushing family farmers onto marginal lands, she added.


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Genetic Resources to Fight Climate Change Fri, 15 Apr 2016 05:52:11 +0000 Justus Wanzala 0 Conserving the Hilsa Tue, 12 Apr 2016 05:37:56 +0000 Rafiqul Islam 0 A Promising Start for a High Seas Treaty Sat, 09 Apr 2016 20:45:36 +0000 Elizabeth Wilson Elizabeth Wilson is the director of international ocean policy at The Pew Charitable Trusts.]]>

Elizabeth Wilson is the director of international ocean policy at The Pew Charitable Trusts.

By Elizabeth Wilson

Delegates from 83 countries came together at the United Nations from March 28 to April 8 for the first in a series of landmark meetings on ocean protection. This Preparatory Committee will help forge an agreement to determine how nations move forward to protect the high seas—the 64 percent of the ocean that belongs to everyone but is governed by no one.

The high seas—which begin beyond each country’s exclusive economic zone, 200 miles from shore—were once thought to be devoid of life. But science has now shown that they’re full of diverse species, from highly migratory sharks and turtles to the smallest microscopic organisms that help build the base of ocean food webs.

As yet, no cohesive management structure exists: While regional fisheries management organizations can set rules for fishing, the International Maritime Organization can do the same for shipping, and the International Seabed Authority controls mining, there’s no way for them to all work together.

And that’s why this U.N. meeting was so important.

While there are four core parts of the proposed agreement, two provisions are particularly important: the creation of marine protected areas and reserves on the high seas, and the development of environmental impact assessments for high seas activities.

High seas marine protected areas are increasingly important. Science has demonstrated that these types of protections—and in particular, large-scale, fully protected reserves—are critical for protecting biodiversity, rebuilding fish stocks, and building resilience to climate change. But to date only 2 percent of the ocean is fully protected—the majority within exclusive economic zones.

The U.N. has adopted a Sustainable Development Goal for the ocean that calls on countries to protect 10 percent of the ocean by 2020. But even that might not be enough. New science suggests that 30 percent of the world’s ocean needs to be set aside. Such a level of protection would be nearly impossible in practice without including the high seas.

The good news is that during the Preparatory Committee meeting, many representatives spoke in favor of a new global regime to implement high seas marine protected areas—evidence that the momentum for such action is growing.

Delegates also floated fresh ideas for effective environmental impact assessments. For example, while we have scientific studies on many of the factors affecting the marine environment, new and emerging activities on the high seas could affect biodiversity in the future. The world community must find a way to evaluate the impact of any activities before they’re allowed to occur.

It’s encouraging that this meeting fostered robust discussions, active participation, and a high level of interest from governments and from intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations. All regions of the world—including small islands and landlocked states—had a seat at the table.

This is just the beginning of the conversation. At the end of August, the same group will come together for the second of its four meetings. By the end of next year, the preparatory meetings will be over—and moving forward with an agreement will be in the U.N. General Assembly’s court to consider. If the momentum that has brought us this far continues, the assembly could fully adopt a treaty by 2020.

The meetings that concluded April 8 offer real hope that strong language will be developed on marine protected areas, including marine reserves, and environmental impact assessments. The high seas, and the biodiversity within them, require no less.


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Balancing Economic Potential of Marine and Social Life Mon, 04 Apr 2016 04:36:38 +0000 Munyaradzi Makoni Fisherfolk catches snoek (Thyrsites atun) a relatively fast-growing, schooling fish found near the sea bottom and occasionally near the surface. Snoek stock levels are considered to be fully fished and no overfishing is taking place in South Africa.  Photo Credit: Mark Chipps/WWF

Fisherfolk catches snoek (Thyrsites atun) a relatively fast-growing, schooling fish found near the sea bottom and occasionally near the surface. Snoek stock levels are considered to be fully fished and no overfishing is taking place in South Africa. Photo Credit: Mark Chipps/WWF

By Munyaradzi Makoni
CAPE TOWN, South Africa, Apr 4 2016 (IPS)

When Africa’s oldest protected marine area, Tsitsikamma — the largest in the world, incorporating 80 km of rocky coastline, bustling with marine life, much of it endangered — was opened as a pilot for public fishing on December 15, 2015, there was a big outcry.

Tsitsikamma is declared to help restore South Africa’s heavily exploited fish stocks.
A group of conservation activists, the Friends of the Tsitsikamma Association, say they have not been properly consulted.

Marine scientists feel the move by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) would “open up the heart” of a protected area to exploitation. Community fisher folk started threatening tourist safety if fishing rights are not granted in the hope the DEA would open up parts of the Tsitsikamma to permit-quota fishing.

Edna Molewa, minister of the DEA, had issued regulations on the rezoning of Tsitsikamma Marine Protected Area in November 2015 unbanning restrictions for residents within a 8 km radius to fish.

The decision was reversed with a court order in January this year. The protests and court decision have highlighted need for proper consultation on the often contentious issue of balancing.

As both parties seek an amicable solution, Molewa published draft notices and regulations in the government gazette to declare a network of 22 new proposed marine protected areas (MPAs) on February 9.

The proposed areas are part of the Operation Phakisa Initiative, a programme launched in October 2014, to maximise the enormous economic potential of oceans while preserving them. It has become a battle to balance economic and social needs.

Molewa said the declaration aims to create approximately 70 000 square kms of marine protected areas, bringing our ocean protection within the South African Exclusive Economic Zone to more than 5 per cent.

Less than 0.5 per cent of South Africa’s ocean ecosystems are formally protected as compared to approximately 8 per cent of terrestrial protected areas such as the Kruger National Park and Table Mountain National Park, she said, adding that “this network will represent the full spectrum of biodiversity, secure ocean benefits and provide important reference areas to understand and manage change in our oceans.”

According to Molewa, the new MPAs will secure protection of marine habitats like reefs, mangroves and coastal wetlands which are required to help protect coastal communities from the results of storm surges, rising sea-levels and extreme weather.

“Offshore (further area into the ocean), these MPAs will protect vulnerable habitats and secure spawning grounds for various marine species, therefore helping to sustain fisheries and ensure long-term benefits important to food and job security,” she elaborated.

The DEA has given the public 90 days to comment on the proposed areas.

According to a South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) report, sixty-four of 136 (47 per cent) marine and coastal habitat types are threatened, with 17 per cent of all critically endangered. Fifty-four, that is 40 per cent marine and coastal habitat types, are not represented at all in South Africa’s MPA network.

Most of these unprotected habitat types are offshore, reflecting the fact that almost all of South Africa’s existing MPAs extend only a short distance from the shore.

Only 9 per cent of coastal and inshore habitat types are well protected. Most coastal habitat types are moderately protected, reflecting the fact that in many MPAs there is insufficient protection from fishing.

“There is poor awareness of the role of MPAs in biodiversity conservation, fisheries management, climate change adaptation and delivery of socio-economic benefits,” the report noted.

Fishing is a key driver of change in marine and coastal ecosystems. “Key challenges include overexploited resources, substantial and unmanaged bycatch in some sectors, incidental seabird mortalities, habitat damage, concerns around food supply for other species and other ecosystem impacts of fishing,” the report said.

Poaching continues to threaten marine biodiversity, resource sustainability and the livelihoods of legitimate fishers.

Theresa Frantz, head of environmental programmes, World Wildlife Foundation South Africa (WWF-SA) supported the gazetting of the new MPAs as this was an important tool protecting fish areas.

“It’s an important tool that allows fish to reproduce,” Frantz said adding that fish like squid, at certain times of the year, congregate in a particular area to breed and grow.

She said such time area closures were allowed under the South African law.
“Each area has a reason for protection, it could be the fish in that area is unique or the bottom of that ocean has unique features that you won’t find somewhere therefore, biodiversity has to be protected,” Frantz told IPS.

The key is you protect different areas, she said. Citing the case of Tsitsikamma, where fisher folk could be affected by new regulations, she said the issue was made delicate by the fact that, the area had proved useful in rebuilding some line fish stocks in South Africa.

Frantz said when Tsitsikamma was declared there was then no public participation as there is now. “There was no inclusive consultative process before declaring, the gazetting of areas would allow that publication protection,” she said.

Yet another expert, WWF’s Samantha Petersen who developed and managed the organisation’s Responsible Fisheries Programme since its inception in February 2007, told IPS that South Africa consumes 312 million tons of sea food annually, hundreds of people were employed by the marine industry, but as the population grows the capacity of oceans cannot change to meet the demands of our society. “Once the special species from the oceans are gone we cannot recreate them,” she said.


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UN Begins Negotiations on Treaty to Protect Marine Resources Mon, 28 Mar 2016 20:37:33 +0000 Thalif Deen A turtle swims in a Marine Protected Area. Credit: Foreign and Commonwealth Office

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

By Thalif Deen

The United Nations has begun negotiations for a new legally binding treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological resources in the world’s oceans – nearly 64 percent of which lie beyond national jurisdiction.

Elizabeth Wilson, Director of International Ocean Policy for The Pew Charitable Trusts, told IPS the treaty negotiations are expected to cover four things: marine genetic resources (including questions on the sharing of benefits); measures such as area-based management tools, including marine protected areas, environmental impact assessments; and capacity-building and the transfer of marine technology.

A UN Preparatory Committee, established by the General Assembly, will hold its first sessions beginning March 28 and continue through 8 April.

Wilson said this is the start of the process, which will continue on with Preparatory Committee meetings through 2017.

In 2018, the General Assembly is expected to decide on the convening of an intergovernmental conference to finalize an agreement.

This is the start of a multiyear process that could lead to significant new protections for the high seas.

Wilson said: “This series of meetings could lead to some of the most significant new protections for the ocean in a generation. Nations have the chance to come together to close management gaps on the high seas and show their commitment to marine conservation beyond borders.”

Ambassador Dr Palitha Kohona, co-Chair, UN Ad Hoc Committee on Biological Diversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BDBNJ), told IPS the preparatory committee is required to make recommendations on an implementing instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

An intergovernmental conference is expected to be convened by the GA at its 72nd Session for this purpose.

Given the urgency felt by the vast majority of states, especially members of the Group of 77 (G77) and China and the European Union (EU), there would be considerable pressure on the preparatory committee to make concrete recommendations within the time frame specified.

“But one must also be realistic,” warned Dr Kohona, a former Chief of the UN Treaty Section.

“There was palpable reluctance demonstrated by certain major countries, such as the US, Russia, Japan, Norway and the Republic of Korea to join the majority during the negotiations in the working group. They are also among the few with the technological capability to exploit the biological resources of the deep”.

An interesting development during the discussions spanning over 10 years, especially since the Rio+20 summit, was the alliance that evolved between the G 77 and China and the EU, he noted.

“The importance to humanity of this unique UN process which will establish a transparent regulatory mechanism ensuring technological and economic progress along with equity, is underlined by the fact that 90% of the world’s living biomass is to be found in the oceans.”

“It is also felt that some areas of the oceans must be set aside as protected areas to ensure the conservation of this resource. It is believed that life originated in the primeval ocean. Our future may also depend on the ocean,” he added.

Asked about the duration of the negotiations and a time frame for the final treaty, Dr Kohona told IPS negotiations on Law of the Sea have, in the past, taken a long time.

The Law of the Sea Convention, he pointed out, took over ten years to be finalised, first under Sri Lanka’s Ambassador Shirley Amerasinghe and then under Singapore’s Ambassador Tommy Koh.

The current working group on the high seas treaty took nine years to complete its task and submitted its recommendations in January 2015.

The working group was chaired by Sri Lanka’s ambassador to the UN and the legal advisor to the Dutch foreign ministry.

Dr Kohona said “key members of the international community, including the US, Turkey and Venezurla, are not party to the Law of the Sea Convention. Nevertheless, much of its provisions are considered to be part of customary international law”.

Meanwhile, a press release from the Pew Charitable Trust said that to date, a patchwork of management mechanisms are responsible for regulating shipping, fishing, and mining in these global commons, but there is no cohesive structure to ensure that special places on the high seas are protected and safe from human activities.

The Preparatory Committee will work together to close these loopholes in high seas management.

The new treaty could also allow for marine reserves on the high seas, which could fully protect significant areas of environmental value.

“Without high seas marine protected areas and reserves, it will be virtually impossible to reach the 2014 World Parks Congress recommendation to protect 30 percent of the marine environment, much less the 10 percent countries committed to as part of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. “

The writer can be contacted at

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The PELIS Factor Wed, 23 Mar 2016 06:38:45 +0000 Moraa Obiria Peter Wainaina, member of Aberdares Community Forest Association (CFA), at the forest farm harvesting Irish potatoes. Credit: Moraa Obiria/IPS

Peter Wainaina, member of Aberdares Community Forest Association (CFA), at the forest farm harvesting Irish potatoes. Credit: Moraa Obiria/IPS

By Moraa Obiria
NJABINI, West Central Kenya, Mar 23 2016 (IPS)

Peter Wainaina’s focus is on the fresh Irish potatoes he has just harvested. He assembles them into a 90-kilogramme bag while sorting out the unmarketable ones like sliced and tiny tubes. He lives on a small plot of land in Njabini, 600 metres away from a farm in Aberdares forest, west central Kenya, where he has been growing this fast-maturing crop for the past three months.

Communities living in forest ranges depend mainly on farming to raise household incomes and feed their families. Some locals own less than two acres. Others, who include domestic migrants in search for a better avenue of income, access land through rental or leasehold agreements. “I harvest not less than 60 bags of potatoes per acre in the forest farm. This is four times what I get from a quarter of an acre back home,” says Wainaina who harvests an average of 15 bags from his plot.

A bag sells between Sh 1,200 (USD $11.8) and Sh 2,000 (USD$19.7) depending on the season. Fetching better prices is a major problem since brokers largely dominate the crop market. Nevertheless, these returns constitute the backbone of survival for households. The focus must to be to raise productivity to increase earnings. This is where the Plantation Establishment and Livelihood Improvement Scheme (PELIS), a community participation programme to promote forest conservation while enhancing food security, comes into the picture. .

PELIS is a Kenyan government scheme recognised under the Forest Act (2005), managed by the Kenya Forest Service (KFS). Its implementation targets communities with access to the forest for short-term cultivation and ensures achievement of the 10 per cent forest cover target as provided for in the Constitution. The regulations stipulate the creation of CFAs which draws membership from communities living adjacent to forests. Only members one can benefit from PELIS.

Wainaina is one of the 300-member Aberdares CFA which has been operating since 2011. Now, he is a happy father able to comfortably meet the expenses for his two children in high school. “I don’t know how possible it could be for me to raise Sh 60,000 (USD $ 591) a term without this enhanced productivity. Combined harvests from the forest farm and my plot are enough to pay their fees, buy food supplements and save at least Sh 2, 000,” he noted.

The CFAs enter into an agreement with the KFS so that members proactively protect the forest against any destruction, including forest fires, illegal logging and burning logs for charcoal. Members become the watchdogs of the forest reinforcing the vigilance of forest guards. Under PELIS, KFS is bound by law to allocate CFA members acres of land where commercial trees have been harvested by industrial timber traders. The farmers are allowed to intercrop short-term crops such as Irish potatoes, beans, maize and green peas with tree saplings for a period of three to four years.

KFS provides farmers with the certified tree seedlings for replenishment. During the cropping duration, farmers strictly take care of trees as this is an obligation under the CFA-KFS agreement. “I have seen many lives changed through PELIS,” says Anne Wanyoike, chairperson of the Aberdares CFA. “Some of our members are landless. They have rented houses around to do business. I am happy they have progressed. Some have bought motorbikes for business and others expanded their enterprises,” she reveals further. The scheme guarantees households access to a balanced diet since farmers have surplus for sell and purchase of nutritious food, she added.

“We summon a meeting to ballot soon after KFS informs us of the available land. If you choose a Yes ticket you win for the season and No means waiting for the next season. Each member agrees on the portion he or she needs,” Wanyoike.explains. The forest land is exceptionally cheap and highly productive due to fertile soils compared to private rent. An acre in Njabini, where Wainaina and Wanyoike reside, goes for between Sh 8,000 and Sh 10,000 (USD $98.6) Meanwhile a member pays Sh 125 (USD 1.2) for a quarter an acre to KFS through the CFA, doubles the amount to farm on a half of the acre. An acre goes for Sh 500 (USD $4.9).

PELIS, which rolled out in 2007, is pivotal to ending food insecurity in the country according to Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI).The scheme generates annual revenues of Sh 14 billion based on its own estimates. Simiyu Wasike, deputy director in charge of Plantation and Enterprise at KFS says the scheme has been instrumental in making farmers millionaires. He said there are more than 150 CFAs in the country with a total membership exceeding 11,000. “We have CFAs which have formed Saccos and cooperatives and they are exporting their produce,” he says.

By 2013, a total of 9,939 hectares were under PELIS, a tremendous increase from 2,933 hectares according to available data from KEFRI. Wasike says PELIS offers a 75 per cent survival rate for the seedlings, thereby effective in increasing forest cover. However, more sensitisation is necessary to recruit more members into the scheme since many living adjacent to the forests are unaware of the benefits and significance of joining the CFA, as the officer indicated.


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Forests Help Quench Urban Thirst Mon, 21 Mar 2016 18:29:44 +0000 René Castro Salazar By René Castro Salazar
ROME, Mar 21 2016 (IPS)

The next time you turn on the tap to fill the kettle, you might want to spare a thought for the forest that made it possible. It may be a hundred kilometres away or more from where you are sitting, but the chances are that you owe your cup of tea, in part at least, to the trees that helped to capture the water, and to filter it on its long journey to you the consumer.

René Castro Salazar

René Castro Salazar

The importance of forests to the water cycle cannot be overstated. They slow down the flow of water, percolating it gently through the soil, ensuring stable year-round supplies even during drier seasons. At the same time, forests filter the water that enters our rivers, lakes, streams and groundwater, increasing the quality of this life-giving resource. Research in Burkina Faso has shown how a single tree can help with groundwater recharge, protecting water from evaporating from the soil, its root system allowing rainwater to filter more deeply into the ground, providing clean, safe drinking water.

The intertwined and essential relationship between forests and water is the theme of this year’s International Day of Forests (March 21). At the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), we are taking the opportunity to highlight the crucial role that forests play in providing good quality water for the world’s growing population. As well as safeguarding quality water supplies, forest management reduces poverty by creating jobs, preventing forest fires, protecting watersheds and providing other services, such as removing carbon dioxide from the air we breathe.

Worldwide, forested watersheds and wetlands provide a massive 75 percent of our freshwater resources. That may not come as much of a surprise for rural areas. But think of big cities, such as Mumbai, Tokyo, Bogotá and Mexico, and ask yourself where their water comes from. The truth is that one-third of the world’s largest cities obtain a significant proportion of their drinking water from protected forests – and this figure will continue to rise as urban centres increase in size and population. Take the case of New York, one of the most densely populated cities on the planet. There, two forest systems — spread over 2,000 square miles (5,180 square kilometres) and located far upstream from the city itself — supply water for 9 million people, delivering 1.3 billion 4.9 billion litres every day.

Like any living organism, trees transpire, and in so doing they increase humidity levels in the air, ultimately leading to rain or snowfall. On average, 40 percent of rainfall over land originates from evapotranspiration – the name given to this process – from plants, including trees. In some areas, that figure is even higher. For example, more than 70 percent of rainfall in the Rio de la Plata river basin originates from evapotranspiration from the Amazon forest.

When managed sustainably, forests also make a significant contribution to reducing soil erosion and the risk of landslides and avalanches – natural disasters which in turn can disrupt sources and supplies of freshwater. Forests can reduce the effects of flooding and prevent and reduce dryland salinity and desertification. By storing water, trees and forests bolster resilience to drought events, one of climate change’s most damaging symptoms.

The evidence is clear: investing in forest-water policies aimed at sustainable management makes sound economic sense. Faced with a choice between putting in place a forest resource protection strategy or installing a facility to treat water for consumers, New York City planners quickly realised there was no contest. The artificial system would have cost US$6-8 billion, plus an annual $300-500 million in operating costs. The total price tag for sustainably managing the two forests upstream on either side of the Hudson River was far lower, at less than $1.5 billion.

One telling example of the economic value of forests as providers of freshwater comes from China. Its forests have a water storage function worth an estimated $1 trillion—three times the value of the wood they contain.

The value of forests can be measured in human lives too – the most important metric. In Africa, there is strong evidence that the extensive deforestation currently taking place in the tropical central belt is having an impact on water supplies in other parts of the continent, such as Ethiopia in the east. Some people have been forced to migrate from their homeland as a result. It is a sobering thought that forest management decisions – or lack of them –can have such a devastating effect on communities situated thousands of miles (kilometres) away.

Clearly, the links between forests, water, and human well-being are many – and cannot be ignored.

René Castro Salazar was minister of environment, energy and foreign affairs of Costa Rica and is currently Assistant Director General of FAO, Forestry Department.


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Corruption Threat to Pacific Island Forests Mon, 21 Mar 2016 07:15:48 +0000 Catherine Wilson Customary landowners in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, both rainforest nations in the Southwest Pacific Islands, are suffering the environmental and social impacts of illegal logging. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Customary landowners in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, both rainforest nations in the Southwest Pacific Islands, are suffering the environmental and social impacts of illegal logging. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
CANBERRA, Australia, Mar 21 2016 (IPS)

The vast rainforests of Papua New Guinea (PNG) and the Solomon Islands in the southwest Pacific Ocean are crucial for environmental sustainability, survival of indigenous peoples and the wider goal of containing climate change. But forest degradation, driven primarily by excessive commercial logging, most of which is illegal, is a perpetual threat.

PNG is now the world’s top exporter of tropical timber, estimated at 3.8 million cubic metres in 2014. But an estimated 90 per cent of the formal trade in wood-based products from the country and 85 per cent from the Solomon Islands are illegal, reports the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Eighty per cent of log exports from PNG are exported to China, the world’s main destination for illicit timber.

On the International Day of Forests, observed on March 21, Pacific Islanders spoke of why fighting for the future of their rainforests is also a struggle against fraud and crime.

Samson Kupale of the PNG Eco-Forestry Forum, a non-governmental organisation headquartered in the capital, Port Moresby, told IPS that lack of compliance and enforcement of the logging code of practice is a major issue.

“Trees are being cut in prohibited zones, logging occurs beyond surveyed areas….community obligations [by logging companies], such as roads and bridges, are not built to standards,” he declared.

PNG is one of the world’s largest tropical rainforest nations with an estimated 29 million hectares covering about 75 per cent of its landmass. Neighbouring to the east, the Solomon Islands has 2.2 million hectares of forest covering 80 per cent of the country, considered by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation to contain ‘globally outstanding biodiversity.’ More than 80 per cent of the population of both countries resides in rural areas and forests are essential sources of food, fresh water and materials for shelter.

But industrial logging has escalated with the immense demand for raw materials by emerging Asian economies. Land clearance for other uses, such as agriculture and plantations, now contributes further to high timber export volumes.

The monitoring of logging operations, which are mostly conducted in remote rural locations, can be a serious challenge for forestry authorities in developing countries. Recently, the London-based Chatham House rated PNG 25-50 per cent for level of forest governance.

Professor Simon Saulei of the PNG Forest Research Institute said that, amongst other factors, “the [forestry] authority is not effectively addressing and responding to such issues [of logging non-compliance] due to insufficient manpower and other resources, including funds.”

Inadequate law enforcement further undermines PNG’s strong forestry legislation, according to Chatham House.

Meanwhile, the US-based Oakland Institute recently claimed in a new report that there are strong indicators of widespread transfer pricing in the country with the potential loss of US$100 million per year in tax revenues. Despite the rapacious appetite for timber extraction by foreign investors, the majority claims that they have made little or no profit over the past decade and, thus, avoided paying 30 per cent income tax on profit, the report details.

“In any business venture, if you cannot make any profit from whatever you are doing then it makes no sense to continue and you might as well close up or do something else profitable. Here one can only ask where are they getting the money to continue their respective operations?”, Professor Saulei probed.

In the Solomon Islands, the situation is now critical where, after decades of commercial logging peaking at seven times the sustainable rate of 250,000 cubic metres per year, accessible forest resources are nearing exhaustion.

Half the forests on Kolombangara Island in the country’s northwest are now degraded after 50 years of voracious extraction while local landowners have battled against illegal loggers in the courts for years.

Timber trafficking depends on the agency of government, forestry and customs officials; the actions, often involving bribery and patronage, of people in critical positions throughout the production and supply chain. Crooked collusion between foreign logging companies and political elites is acknowledged as a serious barrier to industry compliance.

“There are government ministers, provincial ministers who are agents of these loggers and they exercise undue discretionary powers over the granting of logging concessions,” Ruth Liloqula, Chair of Transparency Solomon Islands, told IPS, adding that loggers also “have undue influence over the politicians not to pass relevant legislation in this sector.”

Misconduct in public office, according to the nation’s leadership code, includes business associations which could lead to conflicts of interest with public duties. However, the Leadership Code Commission, which is mandated to hold leaders accountable, is “under-resourced and the penalties are too small,” Liloqula claims.

Another problem, she said, is that logging companies, rather than the government, now pay the costs of timber rights meetings where decisions are made about logging proposals.

“Even when the evidence is heavily on the side of the objectors, the decision is [often] in favour of the side supported financially by the loggers,” Liloqula said.

The fate of forests is being decided at the local level, too. More than 80 per cent of land in the Solomon Islands is under customary ownership and negotiation between logging companies and traditional landowners for access to land can be flawed. ‘Middle men’, or individuals within communities who do not have the traditional authority, are known to sign-off logging agreements in return for sweeteners, Liloqula confirms.

Yet educated informed rural communities play a significant role in environmental justice. In 2012, landowners from Western Province in PNG, supported by the Center for Environmental Law and Community Rights, achieved a victory in the national court following legal action against Malaysian logging company, Concord Pacific. It was found to have cleared a vast tract of unauthorised forest either side of a road construction project and fined US$97 million for environmental damage associated with the wrongful extraction of an estimated more than US$60 million worth of timber.

“This win was an important moment for the environmental NGO movement in PNG and sends out a clear message that destructive logging is not acceptable and cannot be tolerated,” Kupale emphasised.


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African Staple Plantains at Risk of Same Diseases as Bananas Mon, 07 Mar 2016 12:29:29 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands and Palwesha Yusaf Anna Gamusi is a banana and plantain grower on the outskirts of Kampala, Uganda. Anna has only recently started using pesticides after discovering worms affecting her crop. Credit: Palwesha Yusaf/IPS

Anna Gamusi is a banana and plantain grower on the outskirts of Kampala, Uganda. Anna has only recently started using pesticides after discovering worms affecting her crop. Credit: Palwesha Yusaf/IPS

By Lyndal Rowlands and Palwesha Yusaf
Kampala / New York, Mar 7 2016 (IPS)

Anna Gamusi, has been growing ‘matooke’ – plantains – for over 20 years. She originally learnt how to grow them in her home village of Busolwe in Eastern Uganda, but says that they are no longer grown there.

“I learnt how to plant matooke in my village, Busolwe in Butaleja district, but now there is nothing, no matooke in Busolwe,” she said. “Now we grow mostly cassava, sorghum millet and rice.” Gamusi said that the soil doesn’t support the growth of the matooke anymore.

“The soil has been exhausted, you need virgin land, very fertile soil and a lot of fertilizer, manure, to grow matooke, but now the soil has gotten tired,” she said.

She says that she has also recently had problems with her own matooke crops in Kampala, where she now lives. A worm has begun to affect the roots and make the fruit inedible, she says.

“(The worms) did not used to be there before, it is a recent thing,” she said, “it affects all types of plantain.”

These soil borne worms — or nematodes — are one of three types of diseases affecting plantains, Rony Swennen, who leads banana and plantain breeding in Africa for the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), told IPS.

Plantains, an important staple in Uganda, as well as through much of the tropical world, are susceptible to the same diseases currently threatening the world’s most popular banana the Cavendish.

“120 plantain varieties they all suffer from the same susceptibility to black sigatoka, nematodes and weevils, like the cavendish, so there’s no variation in response to the disease except that they are all extremely susceptible”, he said.

IITA have developed new hybrid varieties which are resistant to the common diseases effecting plantains, says Swennen, yet further research may also help to identify ways to protect the 120 varieties of plantains which remain susceptible.

“If you have the plantains growing around the houses so the small backyards they are suffering far less than when they are in the fields,” said Swennen.

“Possibly there is a nutrition content in the soil of the very rich back gardens which we have not properly understood,” he said.

The fruit, which is closely related to bananas, is an important source of starch and calories, and is also very rich in vitamin A.

Protecting the plantains is important because they help to fill the hunger gap in the off-season when other crops have already been harvested, says Swennen.

Unlike other crops plantains can be grown year round, they also have many other benefits for farmers, said Swennen, they are cheaper to grow “than any other crop in Africa”, and they also provide valuable shade for other crops.

“They create a micro-environment and therefore they allow the other crops to come into the farm,” he said.

The new varieties also address another important concern of farmers, the ability to grow plantains year in year out in the same field.

As Gamusi said, it has become difficult to grow plantains in her village because the fields become tired from the traditional crops, which are not perennial.

Swennen says that feedback from farmers has shown that they value perennial behaviour, and the ability to produce more plantains in a given period of time, over increasing crop yields.

The new hybrid varieties developed by IITA are perennial so they don’t need to be replanted each year, he says.

“The new plantain varieties also have very good ratooning, which leads to a faster crop cycling, meaning that farmers can produce more plantains in a given period of time,” he added.

The new hybrids were developed in Nigeria and have proved popular, and are even being trialled in the Caribbean and Colombia.

Researchers at the University of Agriculture in Nigeria say that plantains are eaten in many different ways, including as fried chips. They are also boiled, baked, pounded, roasted or sliced and turned into beer and baby food.

Gamusi says that it is now popular to fry or boil the plantains and eat them with groundnut sauce. Traditionally, she says the plantains were wrapped and steamed. “This is the traditional way to cook it called okusanika emere,” she says.


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Asian Scientists Grapple with How to Foster Crop Pollination Tue, 01 Mar 2016 16:50:00 +0000 Sumon Dey 0 The UAE’s Journey Towards Clean Energy Fri, 29 Jan 2016 12:04:44 +0000 Rajeev Batra Rajeev Batra is partner and head of risk consulting at KPMG.]]>

Rajeev Batra is partner and head of risk consulting at KPMG.

By Rajeev Batra, Special to Gulf News
ABU DHABI, Jan 29 2016 (IPS)

(WAM) - The discovery of hydrocarbon reserves brought tremendous prosperity for the UAE and made it a central player in the global energy market. With one of the highest gross domestic product per capita levels in the world, the UAE has generally used its wealth wisely to stimulate sustainable economic growth. However, volatility in oil markets, growing unrest across the region and the growing threat of climate change has concentrated minds on the need for immediate and decisive action.

Credit: Gulf News archive

Credit: Gulf News archive

The UAE has long recognised that environmental responsibility and economic diversification are essential for a better, more sustainable future. As the first country in the region to set renewable energy targets and as home to the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena), Masdar City and the Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, the shift towards cleaner energy sources and reduced carbon emissions is evident.

Ahead of last month’s COP21 summit in Paris, the UAE government pledged to increase clean energy’s share of the national energy mix to 24 per cent by 2021. This is a pivotal step towards making the UAE a global centre of renewable energy innovation. With more than 300 days of abundant sunshine every year, increasing solar’s share of the UAE energy mix should be attainable. Hydrocarbons that are not burnt to generate electricity can be used for other, higher value-adding purposes, or sold to increase the gross national income. Clean energy could also reduce the long-term social costs the government will face as adverse environmental and health effects could be minimised — or even eradicated.

The UAE should be proud of its clean energy leadership role. Abu Dhabi’s renewable energy agency Masdar was a key sponsor of Solar Impulse, the flying laboratory full of clean technologies that represents 12 years of research and development. Solar Impulse generated tremendous global excitement when it attempted the first round-the-world solar flight to demonstrate how a pioneering spirit and clean technologies can change the world.

The Zayed Future Energy Prize — which represents the environmental stewardship vision of the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan — celebrates impactful, innovative and long-term achievements in renewable energy and sustainability. It reflects the UAE’s commitment to finding solutions that meet the challenges of climate change, energy security and the environment. The 2016 winners were announced on January 19 and ranged from SOS HG Shaikh Secondary School, a school for 300 students three hours from Somaliland’s capital, Hargeisa, to BYD, the largest rechargeable battery supplier and new energy vehicle manufacturer, based in Shenzhen. A lifetime achievement award to Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland recognised her many achievements and accomplishments, included being a guiding force behind the “Brundtland Report” on sustainability over 25 years ago.

The UAE, like many other developed and developing countries, faces a number of clean energy and carbon emission issues. In a reflection of its growing economy, there is an increasing number of vehicles on our roads, leading to increasing fuel usage and higher carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and nitrous oxide levels. Electricity demand from individuals, industries and commercial buildings — which are major consumers of electricity — is high and the UAE has a significant carbon footprint. Competitively priced oil, gas and energy prices, while driving economic growth in some traditional industries, is undermining renewable energy and stifling growth in what could be a key sector of the country’s future economy.

The recent adoption of the Paris agreement was a historic moment. COP21 was an unprecedented international climate deal and presents both risks and opportunities for businesses who have an important role in terms of emissions reductions and investments to help governments achieve the goals.

As countries start reforming their economies based on their COP21 commitments, we should see the global economy evolving to a lower carbon model. Companies will be required to be more open and transparent about the financial, environmental and social risks and opportunities that they face from climate change.

Investment in clean technology should grow dramatically — governments are expected to double their clean-tech research and development budgets and the private sector is likely to increase its involvement and investment. The role of the private sector, in fact, is key to the sustainability agenda — because of its central role in the development of the global economy. The increase in the private sector’s rate of triple bottom-line reporting — which focuses on social and environmental as well as economic costs and benefits — will be a key marker of the likely success, or failure, of the COP21 programme.


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Caribbean Biodiversity Overheated by Climate Change Wed, 20 Jan 2016 22:44:12 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez A young man on the banks of lake Enriquillo on the border between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, which forms part of the Caribbean Biological Corridor created in 2007 by these two countries and Cuba with the support of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the European Union. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

A young man on the banks of lake Enriquillo on the border between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, which forms part of the Caribbean Biological Corridor created in 2007 by these two countries and Cuba with the support of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the European Union. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

By Ivet González
SANTO DOMINGO , Jan 20 2016 (IPS)

The nearly 7,000 islands and the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea are home to thousands of endemic species and are on the migration route of many kinds of birds. Preserving this abundant fauna requires multilateral actions in today’s era of global warming.

That is the goal of the Caribbean Biological Corridor (CBC), a project implemented by the governments of Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, which was created in 2007 with the support of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the European Union with the aim of protecting biodiversity in the region.

“Puerto Rico should form part of the corridor in 2016,” Cuban biologist Freddy Rodríguez, who is taking part in the initiative, told IPS.

In late 2015 Puerto Rico, a free associated state of the United States, presented an official letter asking to join the sustainable conservation project, whose executive secretariat is located in the Dominican Republic on the border with Haiti.

“The admission of new partners, which has been encouraged from the start, is a question of time,” said Rodríguez. “Several countries have taken part as observers since the beginning.”

He said the Bahamas, Dominica, Jamaica and Martinique are observer countries that have expressed an interest in joining the corridor.

The Caribbean region is already prone to high temperatures, because the wind and ocean currents turn the area into a kind of cauldron that concentrates heat year-round, according to scientific sources.

And the situation will only get worse due to the temperature rise predicted as a result of climate change, a phenomenon caused by human activity which has triggered extreme weather events and other changes.

The extraordinary biodiversity of the Caribbean is increasingly at risk from this global phenomenon, which has modified growing and blooming seasons, migration patterns, and even species distribution.

Meanwhile, the biological corridor is one demonstration of the growing efforts of small Caribbean island nations to preserve their unique natural heritage.

A flock of birds flies over a coastal neighbourhood of Havana, Cuba. The Caribbean Biological Corridor is on the migration route for many species of birds, and its conservation requires multilateral actions in today’s era of global warming. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A flock of birds flies over a coastal neighbourhood of Havana, Cuba. The Caribbean Biological Corridor is on the migration route for many species of birds, and its conservation requires multilateral actions in today’s era of global warming. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

It also reflects the long road still ahead to regional integration in the area of conservation.

The 1,600-km CBC includes the Jaragua-Bahoruca-Enriquillo Biosphere Reserve and Cordillera Central mountains, in the Dominican Republic; the Chaîne de la Selle mountain range, Lake Azuéi, Fore et Pins, La Visite and the Massif du Nord mountains – all protected areas in Haiti; and the Sierra Maestra and Nipe-Sagua-Baracoa mountain ranges in Cuba.

Tips on the insular Caribbean’s biodiversity

- The region has 703 threatened species according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

- It provides wintering and nursery grounds for many North Atlantic migratory species, including the great North Atlantic humpback whale, which breeds in the north of the Caribbean.

- Several parts of the Caribbean are stopping points for millions of migratory birds flying between North and South America.

- The population of the Caribbean depends on the wealth of fragile natural areas for a variety of benefits, such as disaster risk prevention, availability of fresh water and revenue from tourism.

Studies carried out by researchers involved in the biological corridor have documented damage caused to nature by extreme events like Hurricane Sandy, which hit eastern Cuba in 2012, and the severe drought of 2015, which affected the entire Caribbean region.

Rodríguez said they have carried out more than 60 training sessions, involving local communities as well as government officials from the three countries, with the participation of guests from other Caribbean nations.

And they have a web site, which compiles the results of studies, bulletins, a database and maps of the biological corridor.

“Other people and institutions say the CBC’s biggest contribution has been to create a platform for collaboration with regard to the environment, which did not exist previously in the insular Caribbean. This has created the possibility for the environment ministers to meet every year to review the progress made as well as pending issues,” Rodríguez said.

“We are trying to grow in terms of South-South collaboration,” he said.

The insular Caribbean is a multicultural, multi-racial region where people speak Spanish, English, Dutch, French and creoles. It is made up of 13 independent island nations and 19 French, Dutch, British and U.S. overseas territories.

These differences, along with the heavy burden of under-development, are hurdles to the conservation of the natural areas in the Caribbean, which is one of the world’s greatest centres of unique biodiversity, due to the high number of endemic species.

Experts report that for every 100 square kilometres, there are 23.5 plants that can only be found in the Antilles, an archipelago bordered by the Caribbean Sea to the south and west, the Gulf of Mexico to the northwest, and the Atlantic Ocean to the north and east.

The project is focusing on an area of 234,124 square km of greatest biodiversity, home to a number of unique reptile, bird and amphibian species.

View of the Caribbean Sea in the Dominican Republic near the border with Haiti on the island of Hispaniola, which the two countries share. The roughly 7,000 Caribbean islands are home to thousands of endemic species, whose preservation is complicated by climate change. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

View of the Caribbean Sea in the Dominican Republic near the border with Haiti on the island of Hispaniola, which the two countries share. The roughly 7,000 Caribbean islands are home to thousands of endemic species, whose preservation is complicated by climate change. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

The CBC’s 2016-2020 development plan also involves continued research on climate change, and aims to expand to marine ecosystems.

The four million square km of ocean around the Antilles are “the heart of Atlantic marine diversity,” according to a report by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund.

The region contains 25 coral genera, 117 sponges, 633 mollusks, more than 1,400 fishes, 76 sharks, 45 shrimp, 30 cetaceans and 23 species of seabirds.

The area also contains some 10,000 square km of reef, 22,000 square km of mangroves, and as much as 33,000 square km of seagrass beds.

“As a Dominican, I didn’t have that much experience and I hadn’t heard about the Caribbean environment,” business administration student Manuel Antonio Feliz, who has taken CBC courses, told IPS. “The trainings have opened my eyes to the natural riches of our islands.”

“We talk more about the polar bear and the loss of its habitat at the North Pole than about a little local frog or solenodon (one of the rarest mammals on earth, native to the Antilles),” Cuban researcher Nicasio Viña said in a conference for a group of journalists in the capital of the Dominican Republic, which IPS took part in. “The people of the Caribbean, we don’t know what treasures we have in our hands.”

Viña, director of the CBC executive secretariat, explained that initiatives like the biological corridor require at least 30 years of work to solidify.

He called for “thinking about conservation systems, due to the extraordinary influence and responsibility that we human beings have with regard to biodiversity in the Caribbean, because of what we have done, and climate change.”

The corridor has a centre of plant propagation in each one of the member countries, where seedlings of native species are grown to reforest the areas that are benefiting from pilot projects.

The pilot projects are aimed at helping Dominican, Haitian and Cuban communities to find environmentally-friendly sources of income, besides restoring degraded environments.

So far they are being implemented in the Cuban settlements of Sigua in Santiago de Cuba and the Baitiquirí Ecological Reserve in Guantánamo; the communities of Pedro Santana, Paraje Los Rinconcitos and Guayabo, in the Dominican province of Elías Piña; and in the Haitian towns of Dosmond and La Gonave.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Agroecology in Africa: Mitigation the Old New Way Mon, 11 Jan 2016 17:36:27 +0000 Frederic Mousseau agroeocology project. ]]>

Frederic Mousseau, Policy Director of the Oakland Institute, coordinated the research for the Institute’s agroeocology project.

By Frederic Mousseau
OAKLAND, California, Jan 11 2016 (IPS)

Millions of African farmers don’t need to adapt to climate change. They have done that already.

Frederic Mousseau

Frederic Mousseau

Like many others across the continent, indigenous communities in Ethiopia’s Gamo Highlands are well prepared against climate variations. The high biodiversity, which forms the basis of their traditional enset-based agricultural systems, allows them to easily adjust their farming practices, including the crops they grow, to climate variations.

People in Gamo are also used to managing their environment and natural resources in sound and sustainable ways, rooted in ancestral knowledge and customs, which makes them resilient to floods or droughts. Although African indigenous systems are often perceived as backward by central governments, they have a lot of learning to offer to the rest of the world when contemplating the challenges of climate change and food insecurity.

Often building on such indigenous knowledge, farmers all over the African continent have assembled a tremendous mass of successful experiences and innovations in agriculture. These efforts have steadily been developed over the past few decades following the droughts that impacted many countries in the 1970s and 1980s.

In Kenya, the system of biointensive agriculture has been designed over the past thirty years to help smallholders grow the most food on the least land and with the least water. 200,000 Kenyan farmers, feeding over one million people, have now switched to biointensive agriculture, which allows them to use up to 90 per cent less water than in conventional agriculture and 50 to 100 per cent fewer purchased fertilizers, thanks to a set of agroecological practices that provide higher soil organic matter levels, near continuous crop soil coverage, and adequate fertility for root and plant health.

The Sahel region, bordering the Sahara Desert, is renowned for its harsh environment and the threat of desertification. What is less known is the tremendous success of the actions undertaken to curb desert encroachment, restore lands, and farmers’ livelihoods.

Started in the 1980s, the Keita Rural Development Project in Niger took some twenty years to restore ecological balance and drastically improve the agrarian economy of the area. During the period, 18 million trees were planted, the surface under woodlands increased by 300 per cent, whereas shrubby steppes and sand dunes decreased by 30 per cent. In the meantime, agricultural land was expanded by about 80 per cent.

All over the region, a multitude of projects have used agroecological solutions to restore degraded land and spare scarce water resources while at the same time increasing food production, and improving farmers’ livelihoods and resilience. In Timbuktu, Mali, the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) has reached impressive results, with yields of 9 tons of rice per hectare, more than double of conventional methods, while saving water and other inputs. In Burkina Faso, soil and water conservation techniques, including a modernized version of traditional planting pits­zai­ have been highly successful to rehabilitate degraded soils and boost food production and incomes.

Southern African countries have been struggling with recurrent droughts resulting in major failures in corn crops, the main staple cereal in the region. Over the years, farmers and governments have developed a wide variety of agroecological solutions to prevent food crises and foster their resilience to climatic shocks. The common approach in all these responses has been to depart from the conventional monocropping of corn, which is highly vulnerable to climate shocks while it is also very costly and demanding in purchased inputs such as hybrid seeds and fertilizers. Successful sustainable and affordable solutions include managing and harvesting rain water, expanding conservation and regenerative farming, promoting the production and consumption of cassava and other tuber crops, diversifying production, and integrating crops with fertilizer trees and nitrogen fixating leguminous plants.

The enumeration could go on. The few examples cited above all come from a series of 33 case studies released recently by the Oakland Institute. The series sheds light on the tremendous success of agroecological agriculture across the African continent in the face of climate change, hunger, and poverty.

These success stories are just a sample of what Africans are already doing to adapt to climate variations while preserving their natural resources, improving their livelihoods and their food supply. One thing they have in common is that they have farmers, including many women farmers, in the driver’s seat of their own development. Millions of farmers who practice agroecology across the continent are local innovators who experiment to find the best solutions in relation to water availability, soil characteristics, landscapes, cultures, food habits, and biodiversity.

Another common feature is that they depart from the reliance on external agricultural inputs such as commercial seeds, synthetic fertilizers, and chemical pesticides, on which is based the so-called conventional agriculture. The main inputs required for agroecology are people’s own energy and common sense, shared knowledge, and of course respect for and a sound use of natural resources.

Why are these success stories mostly untold, is a fair question to ask. They are largely buried under the rhetoric of a development discourse based on a destructive cocktail of ignorance, greed, and neocolonialism. Since the 2008 food price crisis, we have been told over and over that Africa needs foreign investors in agriculture to ‘develop’ the continent; that Africa needs a Green Revolution, more synthetic fertilizers, and genetically modified crops in order to meet the challenges of hunger and poverty. The agroecology case studies debunk these myths.

Evidence is there, with irrefutable facts and figures, that millions of Africans have already designed their own solutions, for their own benefits. They have successfully adapted to both the unsustainable agricultural systems inherited from the colonial times, and to the present challenges of climate change and environmental degradation. Unfortunately, a majority of African governments, with encouragement from donor countries, focus most of their efforts and resources to subsidize and encourage a model of agriculture, largely reliant on the expensive commercial agricultural inputs, in particular synthetic fertilizers mainly sold by a handful of Western corporations.

The good news is that an agroecological transition is affordable for African governments. They spend billions of dollars every year to subsidize fertilizers and pesticides for their farmers. In Malawi, the government’s subsidies to agricultural inputs, mostly fertilizers, amount to close to 10 percent of the national budget every year. The evidence that exists, based on the experience of millions of farmers, should prompt African governments to make the only reasonable choice: to give the continent a leading role in the way out of world hunger and corporate exploitation and move to a sustainable and climate-friendly way to produce food or all.


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Indigenous Villagers Fight “Evil Spirit” of Hydropower Dam in Brazil Mon, 21 Dec 2015 17:28:52 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet Juarez Saw is the chief of the Sawré Muybu village on the Tapajós River between the municipalities of Itaituba and Trairao in the state of Pará, Brazil. Credit: Gonzalo H. Gaudenzi/IPS

Juarez Saw is the chief of the Sawré Muybu village on the Tapajós River between the municipalities of Itaituba and Trairao in the state of Pará, Brazil. Credit: Gonzalo H. Gaudenzi/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
SAWRÉ MUYBU, Brazil , Dec 21 2015 (IPS)

At dusk on the Tapajós River, one of the main tributaries of the Amazon River in northern Brazil, the Mundurukú indigenous people gather to bathe and wash clothes in these waters rich in fish, the staple of their diet. But the “evil spirit”, as they refer in their language to the Sao Luiz Tapajós dam, threatens to leave most of their territory – and their way of life – under water.

“The river is like our mother. She feeds us with her fish. Just as our mothers fed us with their milk, the river also feeds us,” said Delsiano Saw, the teacher in the village of Sawré Muybu, between the municipalities of Itaituba and Trairao in the northern Brazilian state of Pará.

“It will fill up the river, and the animals and the fish will disappear. The plants that the fish eat, the turtles, will also be gone. Everything will vanish when they flood this area because of the hydroelectric dam,” he told IPS.

The dam will flood 330 sq km of land – including the area around this village of 178 people.

According to the government’s plans, the Sao Luiz Tapajós dam will have a potential of 8,040 MW and will be the main dam in a complex of hydropower plants to be built along the Tapajós River and its tributaries by 2024.

But the 7.7 billion-dollar project has been delayed once again because of challenges to the environmental permitting process.

“The accumulative effect is immeasurable. Environmental experts have demonstrated that it will kill the river. No river can survive a complex of seven dams,” Mauricio Torres, a sociologist at the Federal University of Western Pará (UFOPA), told IPS."No river can survive a complex of seven dams.” -- Sociologist Mauricio Torres

The Tapajós River, which flows into the Amazon River, runs 871 km through one of the best-preserved areas in the subtropical rainforest, where the government whittled away at protected areas in order to build the hydroelectric dams, which are prohibited in wildlife reserves.

The area is home to 12,000 members of the Mundurukú indigenous community and 2,500 riverbank dwellers who are opposed to the “megaproject” – a Portuguese term that the native people have incorporated in their language, to use in their frequent protests.

The Mundurukú have historically been a warlike people, and although they have adopted many Brazilian customs in their way of life, they still wear traditional face paint when they go to the big cities to demonstrate against the dam.

Village chief Juarez Saw complains that they were not consulted, as required by International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 169 concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries, which has been ratified by Brazil.

The process of legalisation of their indigenous territory has been interrupted by the hydropower project.

“We aren’t leaving this land,” he told IPS. “There is a law that says we can’t be moved unless an illness is killing indigenous people.”

The village is located in a spot that is sacred to the Mundurukú people. And they point out that their ancestors were born here and are buried here.

“This is going to hurt, us, not only the Mundurukú people who have lived along the Tapajós River for so many years, but the jungle, the river. It hurts in our hearts,” said the village’s shaman or traditional healer, Fabiano Karo.

The interview is taking place in the ceremonial hut where the shaman heals “ailments of the body and spirit.” He fears being left without his traditional medicines when the water covers the land around the village – and his healing plants.

Academics warn that the flooding will cause significant losses in plant cover, while generating greenhouse gas emissions due to the decomposition of the trees and plants that are killed.

 A little girl in Sawré Muybu, an indigenous village on the Tapajós River between the municipalities of Itaituba and Trairao in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

A little girl in Sawré Muybu, an indigenous village on the Tapajós River between the municipalities of Itaituba and Trairao in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

This biodiversity-rich river basin is home to unique species of plants, birds, fish and mammals, many of which are threatened or endangered.

“The impact will be great, especially on the aquatic fauna, because many Amazon River basin fish migrate from the lower to the upper stretches of the rivers to spawn,” ecologist Ricardo Scuole, at the UFOPA university, explained to IPS.
“Large structures like dikes, dams and artificial barriers generally hinder or entirely block the spawning migration of these species,” he said.

The village of Sawré Muybu currently covers 300 hectares, and the flooding for the hydroelectric dam will reduce it to an island.

María Parawá doesn’t know how old she is, but she does know she has always lived on the river.

“I’m afraid of the flood because I don’t know where I’ll go. I have a lot of sons, daughters and grandchildren to raise and I don’t know how I’ll support them,” Parawá told IPS through an interpreter, because like many women in the village, she does not speak Portuguese.

A few hours from Sawré Muybu is Pimental, a town of around 800 inhabitants on the banks of the Tapajós River, where people depend on agriculture and small-scale fishing for a living.

This region was populated by migrants from the country’s impoverished semiarid Northeast in the late 19th century, at the height of the Amazon rubber boom.

Pimental, many of whose inhabitants were originally from the Northeast, could literally vanish from the map when the reservoir is created.

“With the impact of the dam, our entire history could disappear underwater,” lamented Ailton Nogueira, president of the association of local residents of Pimental.

The consortium that will build the hydroelectric dam, led by the Eletrobrás company, has proposed resettling the local inhabitants 20 km away.

But for people who live along the riverbanks, like the Mundurukú, the river and fishing are their way of life, sociologist Mauricio Torres explained.

“Their traditional knowledge has been built over millennia, passing from generation to generation,” he told IPS. “It is at least 10,000 years old. When a river is dammed and turned into a lake, it is transformed overnight and this traditional knowledge, which was how that region survived, is wiped away.”

The Tapajós River dams are seen by the government as strategic because they will provide energy to west-central Brazil and to the southeast – the richest and most industrialised part of the country.

“The country needs them. Otherwise we are going to have blackouts,” said José de Lima, director de of planning in the municipality of Santarém, Pará.

But the Tapajós Alive Movement (MTV), presided over by Catholic priest Edilberto Sena, questions the need for the dams.

“Why do they need so many hydropower dams on the Tapajós River? That’s the big question, because we don’t need them. It’s the large mining companies that need this energy, it’s the São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro markets that need it,” he told IPS.

It’s evening in Sawré Muybu and the families gather at the “igarapé”, as they call the river. While people bathe, the women wash clothes and household utensils.

From childhood, boys learn to fish, hunt and provide the village with water. For the community, the river is the source of life.

“And no one has the right to change the course of life,” says Karo, the local shaman.

Edited by Verónica Firme/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Soy, an Exotic Fruit in Brazil’s Amazon Jungle Tue, 08 Dec 2015 00:36:47 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet Members of the São Raimundo do Fe em Deus cooperative in the rural municipality of Belterra in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest peel manioc, to make flour. The associations of small farmers help them defend themselves from the negative effects of the expansion of soy in this region on the banks of the Tapajós River. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Members of the São Raimundo do Fe em Deus cooperative in the rural municipality of Belterra in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest peel manioc, to make flour. The associations of small farmers help them defend themselves from the negative effects of the expansion of soy in this region on the banks of the Tapajós River. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BELTERRA, Brazil, Dec 8 2015 (IPS)

In the northern Brazilian state of Pará, the construction of a port terminal for shipping soy out of the Amazon region has displaced thousands of small farmers from their land, which is now dedicated to monoculture.

The BR-163 highway, along the 100-km route from Santarém, the capital of the municipality of that name, to Belterra runs through an endless stretch of plowed fields, with only a few isolated pockets of the lush rainforest that used to cover this entire area.

State-of-the-art tractors and other farm machinery, a far cry from the rudimentary tools used by the local small farmers in the surrounding fields, are plowing the soil this month, ahead of the planting of soy in January.

José de Souza, a small farmer who owns nine hectares in the rural municipality of Belterra, sighs.

“Soy benefits the big producers, but it hurts small farmers because the deforestation has brought drought,” he tells IPS. “The temperatures here were pleasant before, but now it’s so hot, you can’t stand it.”

The effects are visible in his fields of banana plants, which have been burnt by the hot sun.

Resigned, De Souza waters a few sad rows of straggling cabbages and scallions.

Like other farmers, he has been hemmed in by the expansion of soy in the municipalities of Santarém and the nearby Belterra and Mojuí dos Campos.

According to the Santarém municipal government, of the 740,000 cultivable hectares in this region, soy now covers 60,000.

But Raimunda Nogueira, rector of the Federal University of Western Pará, offers a much higher figure. “Land-use change has involved 112,000 to 120,000 hectares, which have been turned into soy plantations,” she tells IPS.

And with the soy came the spraying.

“The soy fields bring a lot of pests because the poison they use to fight them drives them off their plantations onto our small fields,” laments De Souza.

The agrochemicals have polluted the soil and poisoned crops and animals, local farmers complain.

“The crops die, and as a result the property becomes completely unproductive – and the solution is to sell,” Jefferson Correa, a representative of the local non-governmental organisation Fase Amazonia, tells IPS.

There are no epidemiological data. But in these rural municipalities, the widespread perception is that health problems like respiratory and skin ailments have become more common.

According to Selma da Costa with the Rural Workers Union of Belterra, the threats to their health and the temptation to sell their land have led 65 percent of local small farmers to leave the municipality, which had a population of 16,500.

“They end up leaving, because who is going to put up with the stench of the pesticides? No one. People are getting sick. Pregnant women often feel ill and they don’t know why,” she tells IPS.

José de Souza waters the garden on his nine-hectare farm in the municipality of Belterra in the northern Brazilian Amazon rainforest state of Pará, where his vegetables grow sparsely due to the effects of the spread of soy monoculture, which has hurt family farmers in the area, who produce 70 percent of the food consumed by the local population. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

José de Souza waters the garden on his nine-hectare farm in the municipality of Belterra in the northern Brazilian Amazon rainforest state of Pará, where his vegetables grow sparsely due to the effects of the spread of soy monoculture, which has hurt family farmers in the area, who produce 70 percent of the food consumed by the local population. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

“They sold their land for a pittance. They practically gave away their land to the big producers, thinking their lives would get better, that they would build a nice house in Santarém But they can’t support themselves because they can’t grow anything,” she explains.

Correa points out that back in 2000, land here was cheap. There were people who sold 100 hectares for 1,000 to 2,000 dollars, and later regretted it.

“They went to the city, spent all the money, and without any formal education, the only solution was to go back to work in the countryside, as rural labourers for the people who had bought their land,” he says.

Others scrape by on the outskirts of Santarém as street vendors or in other informal sector activities.

“The farmers had their property, their own food, like beans, rice, flour and what they could fish and hunt; but in the city they no longer have that,” adds Claudionor Carvalho with the Federation of Agricultural Workers of the State of Pará.

The change, he explains to IPS, has fuelled prostitution in the slums surrounding the city, “because the families weren’t prepared for what they would face.”

The process was accentuated 15 years ago, with the construction of a port facility in Santarém by the US commodities giant Cargill.

Through the new port terminal in Santarém, on the banks of the Tapajós River where it runs into the Amazon River, soy and other grains can be exported to the Atlantic Ocean.

The aim was to reduce the distance and the costs of transporting soy from the neighbouring state of Mato Grosso, Brazil’s biggest producer.

Brazil is the world’s second-largest producer and leading exporter of soy, which it sells to China, Europe and other markets.

Ports like this one in the Amazon basin have nearly cut in half the transport distance from Mato Grosso, which is around 2,000 km from the congested ports in the southeast, such as Santos in the state of São Paulo.

The new Amazon port, with silos that now have a total capacity of 120,000 tons – double the initial capacity – has drawn hundreds of soy producers from the south of the country, leading to a land-buying stampede and driving up property prices.

One of those who came with his family was Luiz Machado, from Mato Grosso.

“We had 90 hectares that we sold to buy a bigger farm here because the land was cheap,” he tells IPS. “Besides, we would be closer to the port, so we could get a better price for our product.”

Machado says the purchase was legal, and that he has left untouched the rainforest surrounding his property, much of which had already been deforested.

But many others did not do this, and the expansion of soy has devastated large swathes of forest, Cándido Cunha with the National Institute of Colonisation and Agrarian Reform explains in a conversation with IPS.

In 2006, in a “soy moratorium,” associations of producers, many of whom had ties to Cargill, pledged not to sell any more soy from deforested areas.

There was a temporary drop in deforestation. But it once again increased because the farmers that sold their land cleared property in other areas.

“What happened was what we call ‘grillaje’ of land: forged documents or illegal appropriation of public land,” which further complicated the already highly irregular land tenure situation in the Amazon region, says Cunha.

Of the two million and a half tons of soy exported annually from Santarém, just six percent is locally grown; the rest comes from Mato Grosso.

But Nelio Aguiar, secretary of planning in Santarém, says it helped modernise the economy, fomenting a shift from family farming to mechanised agriculture.

“Today we have larger scale, dollarised agriculture, and every harvest produces great riches,” he tells IPS.

But while some celebrate the expansion of agribusiness here, others are worried about the future of local food security.

The greater metropolitan region, population 370,000, depends on family farming for 70 percent of the local food supply.

“Now you have to buy everything in the market, even rice and beans – things we didn’t have to buy before because we produced everything ourselves. And we also sold what we produced,” complains De Souza.

“Why are we buying? Because we don’t have land anymore. And what we plant is being poisoned,” says Da Costa.

For Correa, one solution is to expand government programmes that support family farming. De Souza is a beneficiary of one of them.

Another solution is to join together in farming associations or cooperatives.

De Souza proudly takes IPS to the São Raimundo do Fe em Deus cooperative, of which he is a member, where a festive group of men and women are sharing the tasks of peeling, grating and cooking manioc to make the flour that is a staple food in Brazil.

“We have to help each other, because small farmers face a difficult situation today,” he says.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Pakistan Moves to Stop Biodiversity Loss Mon, 07 Dec 2015 16:05:43 +0000 Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio 0