Inter Press Service » Biodiversity http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Wed, 01 Apr 2015 14:38:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 Nicaragua’s Future Canal a Threat to the Environmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/nicaraguas-future-canal-a-threat-to-the-environment/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nicaraguas-future-canal-a-threat-to-the-environment http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/nicaraguas-future-canal-a-threat-to-the-environment/#comments Tue, 31 Mar 2015 07:45:01 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139956 Executives of the Chinese company HKDN and members of the Nicaraguan Grand Interoceanic Canal Commission, behind a large banner on Dec. 22, 2014, in the Pacific coastal town of Brito Rivas, during the ceremony marking the formal start of the gigantic project that will cut clean across the country. Credit: Mario Moncada/IPS

Executives of the Chinese company HKDN and members of the Nicaraguan Grand Interoceanic Canal Commission, behind a large banner on Dec. 22, 2014, in the Pacific coastal town of Brito Rivas, during the ceremony marking the formal start of the gigantic project that will cut clean across the country. Credit: Mario Moncada/IPS

By José Adán Silva
MANAGUA, Mar 31 2015 (IPS)

The new interoceanic canal being built in Nicaragua has brought good and bad news for the scientific community: new species and archeological sites have been found and knowledge of the local ecosystems has grown, but the project poses a huge threat to the environment.

Preliminary reports by the British consulting firm Environmental Resources Management (ERM) revealed the existence of previously unknown species in the area of the new canal that will link the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. The study was commissioned by Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development (HKND Group), the Chinese company building the canal.

Among other findings, the study, “Nicaragua’s Grand Canal”, presented Nov. 20 in Nicaragua by Alberto Vega, the consultancy’s representative in the country, found two new species of amphibians in the Punta Gorda river basin along Nicaragua’s southern Caribbean coast.

The two new kinds of frogs have not yet been fully studied, said Vega, who also reported 213 newly discovered archaeological sites, and provided an assessment of the state of the environment along the future canal route.

The aim of the study was to document the main biological communities along the route and in adjacent areas, and to indicate the species and habitats in need of specific conservation measures in order to identify opportunities to prevent, mitigate and/or compensate for the canal’s potential impacts.

The 278-km waterway, which includes a 105-km stretch across Lake Cocibolca, will be up to 520 metres wide and 30 metres deep. Work began in December 2014 and the canal is expected to be completed by late 2019, at a cost of over 50 billion dollars.

The environmental impact study will be ready in late April, Telémaco Talavera, the spokesman for the presidential Nicaraguan Grand Interoceanic Canal Commission, told Tierramérica.

“The studies are carried out with cutting-edge technology by an international firm that is a leader in this area, ERM, with a team of experts from around the world who were hired to provide an exhaustive report on the environmental impact and the mitigation measures,” he said.

Three farmers study the route for the interoceanic canal on a map of Nicaragua, which the Chinese firm HKND Group presented in the southern city of Rivas during one of the meetings that the consortium has organised around the country with people who will be affected by the mega-project. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

Three farmers study the route for the interoceanic canal on a map of Nicaragua, which the Chinese firm HKND Group presented in the southern city of Rivas during one of the meetings that the consortium has organised around the country with people who will be affected by the mega-project. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

Víctor Campos, assistant director of the Humboldt Centre, told Tierramérica that HKND’s preliminary documents reveal that the canal will cause serious damage to the environment and poses a particular threat to Lake Cocibolca.

The 8,624-sq-km lake is the second biggest source of freshwater in Latin America, after Venezuela’s Lake Maracaibo.

Campos pointed out that HKND itself has recognised that the route that was finally chosen for the canal will affect internationally protected nature reserves home to at least 40 endangered species of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians.

The route will impact part of the Cerro Silva Nature Reserve and the Indio Maiz biological reserve, both of which form part of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor (CBM), where there are endangered species like scarlet and great green macaws, golden eagles, tapirs, jaguars, spider monkeys, anteaters and black lizards.

Along with the Bosawas and Wawashan reserves, Indio Maíz and Cerro Silva host 13 percent of the world’s biodiversity and approximately 90 percent of the country’s flora and fauna.

This tropical Central American country of 6.1 million people has Pacific and Caribbean coastlines and 130,000 sq km of lowlands, plains and lakes. There have been several previous attempts to use Lake Cocibolca to create a trade route between the two oceans.

The Cocibolca Group, made up of a dozen environmental organisations in Nicaragua, has warned of potential damage by excavation on indigenous land in the CBM, on the country’s southeast Caribbean coast.

One site that would be affected is Booby Cay, surrounded by coral reefs and recognised by Birdlife International as an important natural habitat of birds, sea turtles and fish.

Studies by the Cocibolca Group say that dredging with heavy machinery, the construction of ports, the removal of thousands of tons of sediment from the lake bottom, and the use of explosives to blast through rock would have an impact on the habitat of sea turtles that nest on Nicaragua’s southwest Pacific coast.

Map of Nicaragua with the six possible routes for the Grand Canal. The one that was selected was number four, marked in green. Credit: Courtesy of ERM

Map of Nicaragua with the six possible routes for the Grand Canal. The one that was selected was number four, marked in green. Credit: Courtesy of ERM

The selected route, the fourth of the six that were considered, will run into the Pacific at Brito, 130 km west of Managua. A deepwater port will be built where there is now a beach that serves as a nesting ground for sea turtles.

ERM’s Talavera rejects the “apocalyptic visions” of the environmental damage that could be caused by the new waterway. But he did acknowledge that there will be an impact, “which will be focalised and will serve to revert possible damage and the already confirmed damage caused by deforestation and pollution along the canal route.”

The route will run through nature reserves, areas included on the Ramsar Convention list of wetlands of international importance, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) biosphere reserves, and water basins.

According to Talavera, besides the national environmental authorities, HKND consulted institutions like the Ramsar Convention, UNESCO, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Birdlife International, “with regard to the feasibility of mitigating and offsetting the possible impacts.”

The canal is opposed by environmental organisations and affected communities, some of which have filed a complaint with the Inter-american Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

In an IACHR hearing on Mar. 16, Mónica López, an activist with the Cocibolca Group, complained that Nicaragua had granted HKND control over the lake and its surrounding areas, including 16 watersheds and 15 protected areas, where 25 percent of the country’s rainforest is concentrated.

López told Tierramérica that construction of the canal will also lead to “the forced displacement of more than 100,000 people.”

In addition, she criticised “the granting to the Chinese company of total control over natural resources that have nothing to do with the route but which according to the HKND will be of use to the project, without regard to the rights of Nicaraguans.”

The 2013 law for the construction of the Grand Interoceanic Canal stipulates that the state must guarantee the concessionaire “access to and navigation rights to rivers, lakes, oceans and other bodies of water within Nicaragua and its territorial waters, and the right to extend, expand, dredge, divert or reduce these bodies of water.”

The state also gives up the right to sue the investors in national or international courts for any damage caused to the environment during the study, construction and operation of the waterway.

In the IACHR hearing in Washington, representatives of the government, as well as Talavera, rejected the allegations of the environmentalists, which they blamed on “political interests” while arguing that the project is “environmentally friendly”.

They also repeated the main argument for the construction of the canal: that it will give a major boost to economic growth and will enable Nicaragua, where 42 percent of the population is poor, to leave behind its status as the second-poorest country in the hemisphere, after Haiti.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: A Major Push Forward for Gender and Environmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-a-major-push-forward-for-gender-and-environment/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-a-major-push-forward-for-gender-and-environment http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-a-major-push-forward-for-gender-and-environment/#comments Mon, 30 Mar 2015 15:23:00 +0000 Joni Seager, Deepa Joshi, and Rebecca Pearl-Martinez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139940 Bangladeshi women farmers prefer climate-proof crops varieties. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Bangladeshi women farmers prefer climate-proof crops varieties. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Joni Seager, Deepa Joshi, and Rebecca Pearl-Martinez
NEW YORK/NAIROBI, Mar 30 2015 (IPS)

Experts from around the world gathered in New York recently to launch work on the Global Gender Environment Outlook (GGEO), the first comprehensive, integrated and global assessment of gender issues in relation to the environment and sustainability.

Never before has there been an analysis at the scale of the GGEO or with the global visibility and audience. It will provide governments and other stakeholders with the evidence-based global and regional information, data, and tools they need for transformational, gender-responsive environmental policy-making – if they’re willing to do so.The facts are conclusive: addressing gender equality is both the right and the smart thing to do. And yet, despite the obvious benefits, around the world, gender inequality remains pervasive and entrenched.

The writing workshop happened in the context of the recent 59th session of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) 20 years after 189 countries met in Beijing to adopt a global platform of action for gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Beijing+20 offers a critical moment to assess how far we’ve come and put gender at the centre of global sustainability, environment and development agendas. Twenty years later, what have we accomplished?

In 2015, governments will be setting the development agenda for the next 15 years through the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as negotiating a new global climate agreement.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) will be making a bold contribution to these global efforts by putting gender at the heart of environment and development analysis and action in the Global Gender Environment Outlook (GGEO). The GGEO will be presented at the United Nations Environment Assembly in May 2016.

A recent flagship publication by UN Women, The World Survey on the Role of Women in Development: Gender Equality and Sustainable Development (2014), reveals that 748 million people globally (10 per cent of the world’s population) are without access to improved water sources.

Women and girls are the primary water carriers for these families, fetching water for over 70 per cent of these households. In many rural areas, they may walk up to two hours; in urban areas, it is common to have to wait for over an hour at a shared standpipe.

This unpaid “women’s work” significantly limits their potential to generate income and their opportunities to attend school. Women and girls suffer high levels of mental stress where water rights are insecure and, physically, the years of carrying water from an early stage takes its toll, resulting in cumulative wear and tear to the neck, spine, back and knees.

The bodies of women, the Survey concludes, in effect become part of the water-delivery infrastructure, doing the work of the pipes. Not only in water, but also in all environmental sectors – land, energy, natural resources – women are burdened by time poverty and lack of access to natural and productive assets.

Their work and capabilities systematically unrecognised and undervalued. This is a long call away from the Beijing commitment to “the full implementation of the human rights of women and the girl child as an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of all human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

On the one hand, our thinking about the inter-linkages between gender, sustainability, and development has progressed significantly since 1995. Innovative research and analysis have transformed our understanding so that gender is now seen as a major driver – and pre-requisite – for sustainability.

Gender approaches in U.N. climate negotiations are a good case in point. Thanks to persistent efforts on advocacy, activism, research, and strategic capacity building by many, it is more widely accepted that gender roles and norms influence climate change drivers such as energy use and consumption patterns, as well as policy positions and public perceptions of the problem.

These were acknowledged – albeit late – in negotiations, policies and strategies on the topic. One small indication is that references to “gender” in the draft climate change negotiating texts increased dramatically from zero in 2007 to more than 60 by 2010.

According to data by the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO) as of November 2014, 32 decisions under the climate change convention now include gender.

On the other hand, not much seems to have changed. In 1995, inequalities, foremost gender inequality, undermined economic prosperity and sustainable development. This is even more the case today.

Perpetuating gender inequality and disregarding the potential contribution of both men and women is short-sighted, has high opportunity cost and impacts negatively on all three the pillars of sustainable development – environmental, social and economic.

The course to achieving gender equality also remains plagued by a simplistic translation of gender as women and empowerment as ‘gender mainstreaming’ in projects and interventions that are not necessarily planned with an objective of longer-term, transformational equality.

Numerous studies point out the obvious links between social and political dimensions of gender inequality and the economic trade-offs, and that narrowing the gender gap benefits us all and on many fronts.

The World Bank, World Economic Forum and the OECD, for example, have all concluded that women who have access to education also have access to opportunities for decent employment and sustainable entrepreneurship – key components of an inclusive green economy. The education of girls is linked to its direct and noticeable positive impact on sustainability.

The facts are conclusive: addressing gender equality is both the right and the smart thing to do. And yet, despite the obvious benefits, around the world, gender inequality remains pervasive and entrenched.

And most global policies on environment and development remain dangerously uninformed by gendered analysis.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Q&A: “Protect Your Biodiversity”http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/qa-protect-your-biodiversity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-protect-your-biodiversity http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/qa-protect-your-biodiversity/#comments Thu, 26 Mar 2015 21:24:25 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139884 St. Vincent and the Grenadines has installed 750 kilowatt hours of photovoltaic panels, which it says reduced its carbon emissions by 800 tonnes annually. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

St. Vincent and the Grenadines has installed 750 kilowatt hours of photovoltaic panels, which it says reduced its carbon emissions by 800 tonnes annually. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

By Desmond Brown
ST. JOHN, Antigua, Mar 26 2015 (IPS)

Richard Huber is chief of the Sustainable Communities, Hazard Risk, and Climate Change Section of the Department of Sustainable Development of the Organisation of American States (OAS). Its objective? Foster resilient, more sustainable cities – reducing, for example, consumption of water and energy – while simultaneously improving the quality of life and the participation of the community.

On a recent visit to Antigua, IPS correspondent Desmond Brown sat down with Huber to discuss renewable energy and energy efficiency. Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: What is a sustainable country?

A: A sustainable country is a country that is significantly trying to limit its CO2 emissions. For example, Costa Rica is trying to become the first zero emissions country, and they are doing that by having a majority of their power from renewable sources, most notably hydroelectric but also wind and solar and biofuels.

So a sustainable country in the element of energy efficiency and renewable energy would be a country that is planting lots of trees to sequester carbon, looking after its coral reefs and its mangrove ecosystems, its critical ecosystems through a national parks and protected areas progamme and being very, very energy efficient with a view towards, let’s say by 2020, being a country that has zero carbon emissions.

Q: How can small island states in the Caribbean be sustainable environmentally?

A: The first thing you would want to do is to have a very strong national parks and protected areas programme, as we are working on right now through the Northeast Management Marine Area as well as Cades Bay in the south, two very large parks which would encompass almost 40 percent of the marine environment.

In fact, there is a Caribbean Challenge Initiative throughout many Caribbean countries that began through the prime minister of Grenada where many, many Caribbean countries are committing to having 20 percent of their marine areas well managed from a protection and conservation point of view by the year 2020.

So protect your biodiversity. It’s a very good defence against hurricanes and other storm surges that occur. Those countries that in fact looked after their mangrove ecosystems, their freshwater herbaceous swamps, their marshes in general, were countries that had much less impact from the tsunami in the South Pacific. So protect your ecosystems.

Second of all, be highly energy efficient. Try to encourage driving hybrid cars, fuel efficient cars and have a very good sustainable transport programme. Public transportation actually is a great poverty alleviation equaliser, helping the poor get to work in comfort and quickly. So be energy efficient, protect your biodiversity would be the two key things towards being a sustainable country.

Q: What examples of environmental sustainability have you observed during your visit to Antigua?

A: I’ve been travelling around with Ruth Spencer, who is the consultant who’s working on having up to 10 solar power photovoltaic electricity programmes in community centres, in churches and other outreach facilities. We went to the Precision Project the other day which not only has 19 kilowatts of photovoltaic, which I think is more electricity than they need, and they are further adding back to the grid. So that is less than zero carbon because they are actually producing more electricity than they use.

There is [also] tremendous opportunity for Antigua to grow all its crops [using hydroponics]. The problem with, for example, the tourism industry is that they depend on supply being there when they need it so that is the kind of thing that hydroponics and some of these new technologies in more efficient agriculture and sustainable agriculture could give. The idea would be to make Antigua and Barbuda food sufficient by the year 2020.

Q: Could you give me examples of OAS projects in the Caribbean on this topic?

A: This is the second phase of the sustainable communities in Central America and the Caribbean Project. So the first one we had 14 projects and this one we have 10 projects. So let me give you a couple of examples in the Caribbean. In Dominican Republic we are supporting hydroelectric power, mini hydro plants and also training and outreach on showing the people who live along river basins that they could have a mini hydro powering the community.

Another project which is very interesting is the Grenada project whereby 90 percent of the poultry in Grenada was imported. The reason it’s imported is because the cost of feed is so expensive. So there was a project where the local sanitary landfill gave the project land and the person is going by the fish market and picking up all the fish waste which was thrown into the bay earlier but he is now picking that up and taking it to the sanitary landfill where he has a plant where he cooks the fish waste and other waste and turns it into poultry feed.

So now instead of being 90 percent of the poultry being imported it’s now down to 70 percent and not only that, his energy source is used engine oil.

Q: What advice would you give to Caribbean countries on the subject of renewable energy and energy efficiency?

A: The first thing that needs to happen is there needs to be an enabling environment created on order to introduce renewables, in this case mostly solar and wind. Right around this site here in Jabberwock Beach there are four historic windmills which are now in ruins, but the fact of the matter is there is a lot of wind that blew here traditionally and still blows and so these ridges along here and along the beach would be excellent sites for having wind power.

Also lots of land for example around the airport, a tremendous amount of sun and land which has high security where you could begin to have solar panels. We’re beginning to have solar panel projects in the United States which are 150 megawatts which I think is more than all of Antigua and Barbuda uses.

So these larger plants particularly in areas which have security already established, like around the airport you can introduce larger scale photovoltaic projects that would feed into the grid and over time you begin to phase out the diesel generation system that supplies 100 percent or almost 99 percent of Antigua and Barbuda’s power today.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

You can watch the full interview below:

Q&A from IPS News on Vimeo.

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Opinion: The Scourge of Illegal Wildlife Tradehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-the-scourge-of-illegal-wildlife-trade/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-scourge-of-illegal-wildlife-trade http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-the-scourge-of-illegal-wildlife-trade/#comments Mon, 23 Mar 2015 19:43:44 +0000 Steven Broad http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139833 Mother and baby rhinoceros in Tigertops Wildlife Sanctuary, Nepal. The unrestricted exploitation of wildlife has led to the disappearance of many animal species at an alarming rate, destroying earth's biological diversity and upsetting the ecological balance. Credit: UN Photo/John Isaac

Mother and baby rhinoceros in Tigertops Wildlife Sanctuary, Nepal. The unrestricted exploitation of wildlife has led to the disappearance of many animal species at an alarming rate, destroying earth's biological diversity and upsetting the ecological balance. Credit: UN Photo/John Isaac

By Steven Broad
CAMBRIDGE, UK, Mar 23 2015 (IPS)

On Feb. 13, 2014, heads of state and ministers from 41 countries met in London to inject a new level of political momentum into efforts to combat the growing global threat posed by illegal wildlife trade to species such as elephants, rhinos and tigers.

The UK government-hosted meeting adopted the 25-point London Declaration, with ambitious measures agreed to eradicate the market for illegal wildlife products; strengthen law enforcement efforts and ensure effective legal frameworks and deterrents are in place; and promote sustainable livelihoods through positive engagement with local communities.Most worrying is the significant increase in the frequency of large-scale ivory seizures—those of over 500 kg—which are a strong indication of the involvement of organised criminal networks.

More than a year on, representatives from these governments will gather again March 25 in Kasane, Botswana, to review progress on the implementation of that Declaration and, hopefully, commit to new and tangible actions to further strengthen their implementation.

The scale of the crisis governments in Kasane are facing is daunting: Africa-wide, almost 1,300 rhinos were lost to poaching in 2014, 1,215 of them in South Africa alone.

The situation with elephants remains dire—the most recent analysis of data from the TRAFFIC-managed Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) clearly indicates high levels of illegal ivory trade continuing.

Most worrying is the significant increase in the frequency of large-scale ivory seizures—those of over 500 kg—which are a strong indication of the involvement of organised criminal networks. The 18 seizures made in 2013 collectively constitute the greatest quantity of ivory derived from large-scale seizures since 1989, when records began.

The crisis is not confined to Africa: in Asia, TRAFFIC’s tiger seizures database clearly indicates that illicit trafficking of tiger parts remains persistent. A minimum of 1,590 tigers were seized in tiger range countries between January 2000 and April 2014, an average of two per week and increasing numbers of seizures have been made by most range States.

With over 218,000 pangolins reported to have been seized by enforcement agencies between 2000 and 2012 world-wide, we must also remember that wildlife crime is an issue that goes well beyond elephants, rhinos and tigers.

While these figures paint a bleak picture of the illegal wildlife trade landscape, it would be wrong to conclude that countries will have little to report in terms of progress at Kasane. Although the ivory seizure figures do demonstrate high levels of trade, they also demonstrate higher levels of law enforcement action, especially in Africa, and we hope these countries remain vigilant.

High-level political attention to the issue continues to be significant, with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon earlier this month expressing concern over the environmental, economic and social consequences of wildlife crime and Premier Li Keqiang of China last May pledging financial support for African countries to combat poaching.

Some countries have made improvements to legislation, including Thailand, which probably had one of the largest unregulated ivory markets in the world but has recently taken steps to improve the legislation governing its domestic ivory market.

There is still a very long way to go for Thailand before its illegal ivory markets are shut down, but this was an important step in the right direction. China has recognised the importance of a more targeted approach to reducing demand for ivory and this January organised a workshop to discuss strategies for curbing illegal ivory trade—particularly targeted at the collection and art investment circles.

Countries in Africa are working together on a common African Strategy on combatting illegal wildlife trade that will be discussed at an African Union conference just a month after Kasane.

While these green shoots of progress are promising, there is little doubt that much more needs to be done and it is hoped that Kasane can be the turning point where the lofty declarations of London can be translated into tangible actions on the ground.

Wildlife criminals are responding to the actions of last year by changing their trade routes and methods, using new technologies and getting more organised. To keep up with these developments, new approaches need to be agreed at Kasane that make it significantly harder for criminals to operate, increasing the indirect and actual risks they face and reduce the rewards they reap.

New players will also need to be brought into the fray. For example, with traffickers typically using the same transportation means as legal importers, the transport sector is inadvertently becoming a critical link within illegal wildlife trade chains.

Much more outreach is needed to the private sector, to prevent criminals abusing other legitimate business services in the finance, insurance and retail sectors.

Meanwhile the power of local communities, who live with and adjacent to wildlife, needs to be harnessed for they are the eyes and ears, the very guardians of the wildlife within their realm.

Community-led approaches need to strengthen the role these communities can play in reducing illegal wildlife trade—while safeguarding their dependence on natural resources.

The world’s governments in London last year declared they were up to the challenge and committed to end the scourge of illegal wildlife trade. A year later, Kasane provides the venue for those governments, and others, to show that they are able and willing to turn those words into action.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Four Fast Facts to Debunk Myths About Rural Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/four-fast-facts-to-debunk-myths-about-rural-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=four-fast-facts-to-debunk-myths-about-rural-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/four-fast-facts-to-debunk-myths-about-rural-women/#comments Mon, 23 Mar 2015 16:34:01 +0000 Jacqui Ashby and Jennifer Twyman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139827 With adequate extension support, women farmers can increase productivity and food security in Africa. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

With adequate extension support, women farmers can increase productivity and food security in Africa. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Jacqui Ashby and Jennifer Twyman
PARIS, Mar 23 2015 (IPS)

We are lucky to live in a country that has long since abandoned the image of the damsel in distress. Even Disney princesses now save themselves and send unsuitable “saviours” packing. But despite the great strides being made in gender equality, we are still failing rural women, particularly women farmers.

We are failing them by using incomplete and inadequate data to describe their situation, and neglecting to empower them to improve it. As a consequence, we are all losing out on the wealth of knowledge this demographic can bring to boosting food supplies in a changing climate, which is a major concern for everyone on this planet.The millions of poor farmers, both men and women, all over the developing world have an untapped wealth of knowledge that we are going to need if we are to successfully tackle the greatest challenge of our time: safeguarding our food supply in the face of climate change.

Whilst it is true that women farmers have less access to training, land, and inputs than their male counterparts, we need to debunk a few myths that have long been cited as fact, that are a bad basis for policy decision-making.

New research, drawing on work done by IFPRI and others, presented in Paris this week by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security will start this process – here are four fast facts that can serve food for thought.

  1. Rural women have more access to land than we think

For decades the same data has done the rounds, claiming that women own as little as 2 per cent of land. While this may be the case in some regions, these statistics are outdated and are answering the wrong questions. For example, much of this data is derived from comparing land owned by male-headed households with that owned by female-headed households. Yet, even if the man holds the license for the land, the woman may well have access to and use part of this land.

Therefore a better question to ask, and a new set of data now being collected is, how much control does the woman have over how land is used and the resultant income? How much of the land does she have access to? What farming decisions is she making? There is plenty of evidence to support the fact that women play a significant role in agricultural production. This role needs to be recognised so that women receive better access to agricultural resources, inputs and services

  1. Rural women are not more vulnerable to climate change because they are women

We need to look beyond gender to determine the root causes of why individuals and communities are more vulnerable to climate change. We have found many other contributing factors, such as gender norms, social class, education, and wealth can leave people at risk.

Are more women falling into this trap because they don’t have control over important resources and can’t make advantageous choices when they farm? If so, how can we change that? We must tackle these bigger problems that hinder both men and women in different ways, and not simply blame unequal vulnerability to climate risks and shocks on gender.

  1. Rural women do not automatically make better stewards of natural resources

Yes, rural women are largely responsible for collecting water and firewood, as well as a great deal of farm work. But the idea that this immediately makes them better stewards of natural resources is false. In fact, the evidence is conflicting. One study showed that out of 13 empirical studies, women were less likely to adopt climate-smart technologies in eight of them.

Yet in East Africa, research has shown women were more likely than, or just as likely as men to adopt climate-smart practices. Why is this? Because women do not have a single, unified interest. Decisions to adopt practices that will preserve natural resources depend a lot on social class, and the incentives given, whether they are made by women or men. So we need more precise targeting based on gender and social class.

  1. Gender sensitive programming and policymaking is not just about helping women succeed

We all have a lot to gain from making food security, climate change innovation and gender-sensitive policies. The millions of poor farmers, both men and women, all over the developing world have an untapped wealth of knowledge that we are going to need if we are to successfully tackle the greatest challenge of our time: safeguarding our food supply in the face of climate change.

A key to successful innovation is understanding the user’s perspective. In Malawi, for example, rural women have been involved in designing a range of labour saving agri-processing tools. As they will be the primary users of such technologies, having their input is vital to ensure a viable end product.

In Nicaragua, women have been found to have completely different concerns from men when it comes to adapting to climate change, as they manage household food production, rather than growing cash crops like male farmers. Hearing these concerns and responding to them will result in more secure livelihoods, food availability and nutrition.

We hope that researchers will be encouraged to undertake the challenge of collecting better data about rural women and learning about their perspectives. By getting a clearer picture of their situation, we can equip them with what they need to farm successfully under climate change, not just for themselves, and their families, but to benefit us all.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Sustainable Development Goals Could Be a Game-Changer for Waterhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-sustainable-development-goals-could-be-a-game-changer-for-water/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-sustainable-development-goals-could-be-a-game-changer-for-water http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-sustainable-development-goals-could-be-a-game-changer-for-water/#comments Fri, 20 Mar 2015 12:55:44 +0000 Betsy Otto and Kitty van der Heijden http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139788 Mauritius experienced a water shortage for months in 2011 when the anticipated summer rains failed to arrive. Credit: Nasseem Ackbarally/IPS

Mauritius experienced a water shortage for months in 2011 when the anticipated summer rains failed to arrive. Credit: Nasseem Ackbarally/IPS

By Betsy Otto and Kitty van der Heijden
WASHINGTON, Mar 20 2015 (IPS)

Suppose money was being deposited and withdrawn from your bank account, but you didn’t know how much. And suppose you knew you had bills coming due, but you didn’t know when or what amount would be required to cover them.

Worse, what if you discovered that money was being siphoned from your retirement account to cover the shortfall in your checking account? How confident would you feel about your financial stability?While challenging to implement, the new SDGs could bring unprecedented action to mitigate the world’s water demand and supply crises.

This situation plays out every day when it comes to freshwater. We don’t know how much water we are withdrawing and consuming. In many places, we don’t even know how much groundwater and surface water we have.

But we do know this unequivocally: People, ecosystems, food, energy and cities can’t exist without water. Already, water resources are being strained to the breaking point – in Sao Paulo, northern China, the western United States, northwestern India and many other places. And the world’s water needs are rising inexorably.

Yet this World Water Day, we also find ourselves at a watershed moment. There is a powerful opportunity that may help countries move toward better water management: the United Nations’ proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Walking the Talk through Targets, Measurement

The SDGs will replace the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals, which expire in 2015, and set the international development agenda for the next 15 years. For the first time ever, the goals could offer new transparency and accountability in how the world uses its water resources. Goal 6 of the proposed SDGs has specific targets related to sustainable and efficient water use, water and sanitation, water quality and protection of critical natural infrastructure.

Beyond a dedicated goal on water, the issue is also mainstreamed across the 17 goals – in goal 3 on health, goal 11 on cities, goal 12 on sustainable consumption and production and goal 15 on terrestrial ecosystems.  These targets will focus political attention, resources and stakeholders on water management more than ever before.

This fall, the international community will finalise the SDGs and the metrics to measure and track water use at a country level. These targets could help hold countries accountable for better water management. Importantly, the SDGs would apply to both developed and developing countries, forcing all countries to “walk the talk.”

Where companies lead, others follow

Many companies already understand that the world is on an unsustainable path. They’re experiencing it in their bottom lines, and investors are asking tough questions. The 2015 World Economic Forum listed “water supply crises” as the top global risks affecting businesses.

Industry leaders are taking steps to reduce their risk exposure and making investments to lessen watershed-level stress, devoting resources to urban water efficiency, aquifer recharge and reforestation and other strategies. For example, Heineken committed this year to create source water protection plans for all of its production units located in water-stressed areas, while MillerCoors has a five-part water stewardship strategy in place.

The private sector and civil society will be useful allies in raising awareness in countries facing particularly high competition for water resources. Hopefully this, combined with the SDGs, will motivate governments to take positive action to reduce water stress – from more rational water pricing, to regulating groundwater withdrawal rates to incentivizing efficient irrigation and reducing water intensity in energy extraction and production.

It starts with good data

This first-of-its-kind SDG system will depend on strong metrics and data. A first step will be establishing a baseline to track sustainable water use against the target.

This challenge will require the best efforts of experts on global water data systems. These discussions are already underway across the world’s professional water communities.

The World Resources Institute’s Aqueduct tool is a good place to start. The open-source platform provides the most up-to-date, globally consistent water supply and demand data publicly available today. Many companies, investors, governments and others are already using the Aqueduct tool Forthcoming water stress projection maps will also provide scenarios for future demand and supply for 2020, 2030 and 2040, helping the private sector and government create forward-looking water management policies.

An unprecedented opportunity

We can move from a picture of frightening scarcity, uncertainty and competition to one of abundance. Strategies to reduce water stress and use water more efficiently have been successfully applied by countries on virtually every continent. Awareness drives action, and transparency drives accountability.

The international consensus embedded in the new SDGs could be a game-changer. While challenging to implement, the new SDGs could bring unprecedented action to mitigate the world’s water demand and supply crises. And done well, they will foster growth, reduce poverty and build resilient ecosystems – delivering a more sustainable future.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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In Thrall to the Mall Crawl and Urban Sprawlhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/in-thrall-to-the-mall-crawl-and-urban-sprawl/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-thrall-to-the-mall-crawl-and-urban-sprawl http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/in-thrall-to-the-mall-crawl-and-urban-sprawl/#comments Thu, 19 Mar 2015 13:02:02 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139762 A typical image of the kind of subdivisions that epitomise urban sprawl, Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Credit: "Rio Rancho Sprawl" by Riverrat303 - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rio_Rancho_Sprawl.jpeg#/media/File:Rio_Rancho_Sprawl.jpeg

A typical image of the kind of subdivisions that epitomise urban sprawl, Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Credit: "Rio Rancho Sprawl" by Riverrat303 - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rio_Rancho_Sprawl.jpeg#/media/File:Rio_Rancho_Sprawl.jpeg

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

There’s little argument about the basic facts: It’s ugly (think strip malls and big box stores). It’s not very convenient (hours spent behind the wheel to get to work). And it wreaks havoc on the natural environment (lost farmland and compromised watersheds).

So why is “urban sprawl”, the steady creep outward of cities to more rural areas and corresponding heavy reliance on cars to commute anywhere, just getting worse?"A growing portion of middle-income households want to live in more compact, multimodal communities - often called a 'walkable' or 'new urban' neighbourhood - instead of sprawl." -- Todd Litman

Experts like Todd Litman of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute in British Columbia say it’s a matter of what planners call smart growth – or lack thereof.

“Much of the motivation for middle-class households to move from cities to suburbs was to distance themselves from lower-income households that cannot afford single-family homes and automobile transportation,” he told IPS.

“Over time, anybody who could, left, resulting in economically-disadvantaged households concentrated in urban neighbourhoods.”

The list of woes this segregation created is not short, and includes reduced agricultural and ecological productivity, increased public infrastructure and service costs, increased transport costs, traffic congestion, accidents, pollution emissions, reduced accessibility for non-drivers, and reduced public fitness and health.

In fact, a new analysis released Thursday by the New Climate Economy, the Victoria Institute, and LSE Cities finds that sprawl imposes more than 400 billion dollars in external costs and 625 billion in internal costs annually in the U.S. alone.

Poor communities get even poorer, and research shows that this concentration of poverty increases social problems like crime and drug addiction, stacking the odds against inner city children from the very start.

By contrast, says Litman, the study’s lead author, “smart growth consists of compact neighbourhoods with diverse housing and transportation options which accommodate diverse types of households – young, old, rich, poor, people with disabilities – and residents can choose the most efficient mode for each trip: walking and cycling for local errands, high quality public transit when traveling on busy urban corridors, and automobiles when they are truly optimal overall, considering all impacts.

smart growth

“This type of development tends to reduce per capita land consumption, reduces per capita vehicle ownership and travel, and increases the portion of trips made by walking, cycling and public transport, which provides numerous savings and benefits compared with the same people living and working in sprawled locations,” he said.

Once considered primarily a blight of developed countries, the problem has now gone global, according to UN Habitat.

In Guadalajara, Mexico, between 1970 and 2000, the surface area of the city grew 1.5 times faster than the population. The same is true for cities in China; Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar; Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest commercial hub; and the capitals of Egypt and Mexico, Cairo and Mexico City, respectively, the agency says.

In Latin America, sprawl has wreaked serious damage on environmentally sensitive areas. These include Panama City and its surrounding Canal Zone, Caracas and its adjacent coastline, San José de Costa Rica and its mountainous area, and São Paulo and its water basins.

“For more than half a century, most countries have experienced rapid urban growth and increased use of motor vehicles,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted in the Global Report on Human Settlements 2013. “This has led to urban sprawl and even higher demand for motorized travel with a range of environmental, social and economic consequences.

“Urban transport is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions and a cause of ill-health due to air and noise pollution. The traffic congestion created by unsustainable transportation systems is responsible for significant economic and productivity costs for commuters and goods transporters.”

Reversing this trend now is critical, since projections show that between 1950 and 2050, the human population will quadruple and shift from 80 percent rural to nearly 80 percent urban.

Typical urban densities today range from 5-20 residents per hectare in North America, 20-100 residents per hectare in Europe, and more than 100 residents per hectare in many Asian cities.

One major challenge, Litman says, is the common perception that cities are inefficient and dangerous, when in fact “in many ways they are actually more efficient and safer than suburban communities, and they become more efficient and safer as more middle-class households move into urban neighbourhoods.”

In addition, zoning codes and development policies often discourage urban development and favour sprawl, and transportation policies excessively favour investments in car travel.

“For example, most jurisdictions devote far more road space and funding to automobile transportation than to walking, cycling and public transit, and impose minimum parking requirements on developers which result in massive subsidies for motorists, and it is difficult to shift those resources to alternative modes even if they are more cost effective overall. Resource efficient modes – walking, cycling and public transit – get little respect!”

The good news, he said, is that “a growing portion of middle-income households want to live in more compact, multimodal communities – often called a ‘walkable’ or ‘new urban’ neighbourhood – instead of sprawl. They are willing to accept a smaller house and they want to drive less and rely more on walking, cycling and pubic transit, but they can only do so if zoning codes and development policies change to support that.”

As a positive example, he said, many jurisdictions have ‘complete streets’ policies which recognise that public roads should be designed to service diverse users and uses, including walking, cycling, automobile, public transit, plus adjacent businesses and residents, so planning should account for the needs of pedestrians, cyclists and sidewalk café patron, not just motorists.

“Many cities are doing well on some [projects and policies] but not others. For example, Los Angeles is improving walking, cycling and public transit, but doing poorly in allowing compact infill development. Vancouver has great density near downtown but needs to allow more density in other areas. Portland and Seattle have great cycling facilities, but could have more bus lanes.

“Virtually no city is implementing all of the policy reforms that I think are justified based on economic efficiency and social equity principles,” Litman concluded.

“For example, even relatively progressive cities restrict development densities and require minimum parking for new development, few cities have programs to both increase affordable housing supply and improve livability – e.g., building more local parks – in accessible neighbourhoods, and only a few cities use efficient road tolls or parking fees to control congestion. There is more to be done!”

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Women Turn Drought into a Lesson on Sustainabilityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/women-turn-drought-into-a-lesson-on-sustainability/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-turn-drought-into-a-lesson-on-sustainability http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/women-turn-drought-into-a-lesson-on-sustainability/#comments Tue, 17 Mar 2015 19:35:16 +0000 Zofeen Ebrahim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139719 Women in Pakistan fare worse than all their neighbours in terms of resilience to climate change. Credit: Ali Mansoor/IPS

Women in Pakistan fare worse than all their neighbours in terms of resilience to climate change. Credit: Ali Mansoor/IPS

By Zofeen Ebrahim
KARACHI, Mar 17 2015 (IPS)

When a group of women in the remote village of Sadhuraks in Pakistan’s Thar Desert, some 800 km from the port city of Karachi, were asked if they would want to be born a woman in their next life, the answer from each was a resounding ‘no’.

They have every reason to be unhappy with their gender, mostly because of the unequal division of labour between men and women in this vast and arid region that forms a natural boundary between India and Pakistan.

"South Asian countries need to realise the tremendous capacity for leadership women have in planning for and responding to disasters." -- David Line, managing editor of The Economist Intelligence Unit
“A woman’s work is never done,” one woman says.

“She works in the fields as well as the home, fetches water, eats less,” adds another.

Others say women are compelled to perform manual labour even while pregnant, and some lament they cannot take care of themselves, with so many others to look after.

While this mantra rings true for millions of impoverished women around the world, it takes on a whole new meaning in Tharparkar, one of 23 districts that comprise Pakistan’s Sindh Province, which has been ranked by the World Food Programme (WFP) as the most food insecure region of the country.

But a scheme to include women in adaptation and mitigation efforts is gaining ground in this drought-struck region, where the simple act of moving from one day to the next has become a life-and-death struggle for many.

Over 500 infant deaths were reported last year, the third consecutive drought year for the region. Malnutrition and hunger are rampant, while thousands of families cannot find water.

In its 2013 report, the State of Food Security, the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) listed Tharparkar as the region with the country’s highest caloric deficit, a by-product of what it labels a “chronic” food crisis, prompted by climate change.

Of the 1.5 million people spread out over 2,300 villages in an area spanning 22,000 square km, the women are bearing the brunt of this slow and recurring disaster.

Tanveer Arif who heads the NGO Society for Conservation and Protection of Environment (SCOPE) tells IPS that women not only have to look after the children, they are also forced to fill a labour gap caused by an exodus of men migrating to urban areas in search of jobs.

With their husbands gone, women must also tend to the livestock, fetch water from distant sources when their household wells run dry, care for the elderly, and keep up the tradition of subsistence farming – a near impossible task in a drought-prone region that is primed to become hotter and drier by 2030, according to the Pakistan Meteorological Department.

The promise of harder times ahead has been a wakeup call for local communities and policymakers alike that building resilience is the only defense against a rising death toll.

Women here are painfully aware that they need to learn how to store surplus food, identify drought-resilient crops and wean themselves off agriculture as a sole means of survival, thinking that has been borne out in recent studies on the region.

Conservation brings empowerment

The answer presented itself in the form of a small, thorny tree called the mukul myrrh, which produces a gum resin that is widely used for a range of cosmetic and medicinal purposes, known here as guggal.

Until recently, the plant was close to extinction, and sparked conservation efforts to keep the species alive in the face of ruthless extraction – 40 kg of the gum resin fetches anything from 196 to 392 dollars.

Today, those very efforts are doubling up as adaptation and resiliency strategies among the women of Tharparkar.

Women often bare the brunt of natural disasters since they are responsible for the upkeep of the household and the wellbeing of their families. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Women often bare the brunt of natural disasters since they are responsible for the upkeep of the household and the wellbeing of their families. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

It began in 2013, when SCOPE launched a project with support from the Scottish government to involve women in conservation. Today, some 2,000 women across Tharparkar are growing guggal gum trees; it has brought nutrition, a better income and food security to all their families.

“For the first time in so many years, we did not migrate […] in search of a livelihood,” 35-year-old Resham Wirdho, a mother of seven, tells IPS over the phone from Sadhuraks.

She says her family gets 100 rupees (about 0.98 dollars) from the NGO for every plant she raises successfully. With 500 plants on her one-acre plot of land, she makes about 49 dollars each month. Combining this with her husband’s earnings of about 68 dollars a month as a farmhand, they no longer have to worry where the next meal will come from.

They used some of their excess income to plant crops in their backyard. “This year for the first time, instead of feeding my children dried vegetables, I fed them fresh ones,” she says enthusiastically.

For the past year, they have not had to buy groceries on credit from the village store. They are also able to send the eldest of their seven kids to college.

Women in Pakistan’s drought-struck Tharparkar District are shouldering the burden of a long dry spell that is wreaking havoc across the desert region. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Women in Pakistan’s drought-struck Tharparkar District are shouldering the burden of a long dry spell that is wreaking havoc across the desert region. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Wirdho says it is a gift that keeps on giving. In the next three years, each of the trees they planted will fetch at least five dollars, amounting to net earnings of 2,450 dollars – a princely sum for families in this area who typically earn between 78 and 98 dollars monthly.

And finally, the balance of power between Wirdho and her husband is shifting. “He is more respectful and not only helps me water and take care of the plants, but with the housework as well – something he never did before,” she confesses.

Lessons from Pakistan for South Asia

The success of a single scheme in a Pakistani desert holds seeds of knowledge for the entire region, where experts have long been pushing for a gendered approach to sustainable development.

With 2015 poised to be a watershed year – including several scheduled international conferences on climate change, many believe the time is ripe to reduce women’s vulnerability by including them in planning and policies.

Such a move is badly needed in South Asia, home to 1.6 billion people, where women comprise the majority of the roughly 660 million people living on less than 1.25 dollars a day. They also account for 50 percent of the agricultural labour force, thus are susceptible to changes in climate and ecosystems.

The region is highly prone to natural disasters, and with the population projected to hit 2.2 billion by 2050 experts fear the outcome of even minor natural disasters on the most vulnerable sectors of society, such as the women.

A recent report by The Economist’s Intelligence Unit (EIU), ‘The South Asia Women’s Resilience Index’, concluded, “South Asian countries largely fail to consider the rights of women to be included in their disaster risk reduction (DRR) and resilience-building efforts.”

Using Japan – with a per capita relief budget 200 times that of India, Pakistan or Bangladesh – as a benchmark, the index measured women’s vulnerability to natural calamities, economic shifts and conflict.

A bold indictment of women’s voices going unheard, the report put Pakistan last on the index, lower than Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

On all four categories considered by the EIU in measuring women’s resiliency – economic, infrastructural, institutional and social – Pakistan scored near the bottom. On indicators such as relief budgets and women’s access to employment and finance, it lagged behind all its neighbours.

According to David Line, managing editor of The Economist Intelligence Unit, “South Asian countries need to realise the tremendous capacity for leadership women have in planning for and responding to disasters. They are at the ‘front line’ and have intimate knowledge of their communities. Wider recognition of this could greatly reduce disaster risk and improve the resilience of these communities.”

And if further proof is needed, just talk to the women of Tharparkar.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Caribbean Community Climate-Smarting Fisheries, But Slowlyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/caribbean-community-climate-smarting-fisheries-but-slowly/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=caribbean-community-climate-smarting-fisheries-but-slowly http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/caribbean-community-climate-smarting-fisheries-but-slowly/#comments Tue, 17 Mar 2015 14:08:07 +0000 Zadie Neufville http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139705 Vendors at the fish market in Belize. Courtesy of the Fisheries Department Belize City, Belize.

Vendors at the fish market in Belize. Courtesy of the Fisheries Department Belize City, Belize.

By Zadie Neufville
KINGSTON, Mar 17 2015 (IPS)

Caribbean nations have begun work on a plan to ‘climate smart’ the region’s fisheries as part of overall efforts to secure food supplies.

The concept is in keeping with plans by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) to improve the “integration of agriculture and climate readiness” as the region prepares to deal with the impacts of climate change and the increasing demand for food.“With the projections, we're looking at almost total loss of our corals. For us in the Caribbean our reefs are important, not from the perspective of tourism, but from the perspective of livelihoods when you consider fisheries." -- Dr. Orville Grey

Olu Ajayi, CTA’s senior programme coordinator, told IPS in an email that climate-smarting the region’s aquatic resources will “enable the sector to continue to contribute to sustainable development, while reducing the vulnerability associated with the negative impacts of climate change”.

“Climate-smart fisheries require improving efficiency in the use of natural resources to produce fish, maintaining the resilience of aquatic systems and the communities that rely on them,” he noted.

The fisheries sector of the Caribbean Community is an important source of livelihoods and sustenance for the estimated 182,000 people who directly depend on these resources. In recent years, fishermen across the region have reported fewer and smaller fish in their nets and scientists believe these are signs of the times, not just the result of over-exploitation and habitat degradation.

“We believe the signs of climate change are already affecting our vital fisheries sector in the increase in seaweed events causing the loss of access to fishing grounds and increased frequency of coral bleaching events,” Peter A. Murray, Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) Secretariat’s Programme Manager, Fisheries Management and Development, told IPS.

Listing some of the predicted changes, including climatic variations that promote the spread of invasive species, as well as increased salination, Murray noted that climate change is also expected to impact traditional species and contribute to coastal erosion due to more frequent and devastating hurricanes.

In fact, the secretariat’s Deputy Executive Director Susan Singh Renton told reporters at the Caribbean Week of Agriculture last November that warmer seas could also push larger species to the north, making them less available to regional fishers. CRFM is the Caricom organisation charged with the promotion of responsible use of regional fisheries.

Two weeks after launching its Climate Smart Agriculture project at the 13th celebration of Caribbean Week of Agriculture in Paramaribo, Suriname in November 2014, the CTA began development of several initiatives. The programmes, they said would help the region to “tackle the impact of agriculture on small-scale producers” – among them small-scale fishers and fish farmers – in a way that will facilitate the construction of “resilient agricultural systems”.

The project came on the heels of the announcement of a Caribbean Community Common Fisheries Policy (CCCFP) and the CRFM Climate Change Action Plan. These are two of several proposals by Community organisations to monitor and regulate capture fisheries as well as implement common goals and rules on the adaptation, management, and conservation of the resources.

Ajayi pointed out that since 2010, the CTA has been working closely with regional agencies including the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (5Cs) and the CRFM to implement the Regional Framework for Achieving Development Resilience to Climate Change.

Timely, since some of the species most fished and traded by the region’s fishermen are already under pressure from over-exploitation, degraded habitats and pollution. The Queen Conch, the Caribbean Spiny Lobster, the Nassau Grouper and the Parrotfish are among a growing list of species under closer scrutiny for tougher regulations on their capture and trade. Climate change is expected to make the problems worse.

“The support is aimed at developing common regional policy platforms and advocating regional policy initiatives in regional and global forums; strengthening national capacities through training and other supports and conducting comparative analyses of issues on a regional and sub-regional basis,” Ajayi said.

Scientists agree that there is need for immediate action. Technical officer in Jamaica’s Climate Change Division, Dr. Orville Grey, told reporters recently at the Jamaica Observer’s weekly exchange: “If you look at what is happening with sea surface temperatures, you’ll see that we are losing our corals through the warming of the oceans.”

He continued, “With the projections, we’re looking at almost total loss of our corals. For us in the Caribbean our reefs are important, not from the perspective of tourism, but from the perspective of livelihoods when you consider fisheries”.

Murray pointed out that because the marine resources are shared, it is important that the Caribbean Community work together to implement supporting policies and agreements.

He noted, “The region has an action plan to address climate change in fisheries, but to be fully ready it has to be taken aboard by all stakeholders.”

There are also efforts to empower fisherfolk to access and share information that will enable them to participate in policy development at the local and regional levels. But fisherfolk are still not ready.

Mitchell Lay, coordinator of the Caribbean Network of Fisherfolk Organisations (CNFO), said, however, climate smarting is on the group’s agenda for 2015

Both governments and NGOs have upped their activities to protect the resources. But while the former has been slow to act at the national and regional levels, environmentalists are upping the ante by seeking protection for several species that are seen to be in need of protection.

Two years ago, U.S.-based WildEarth Guardian petitioned to have the Queen Conch listed as threatened or endangered under U.S. law. For Caribbean nations like the Turks and Caicos Islands, the Bahamas, Jamaica and Belize that depend on economically important species like conch and lobster, the ability to trade is critical to the local economies.

On Nov. 3, 2014 the NOAA denied the petition, but many believe regional trade of these species is on borrowed time, particularly as the effects of climate change grows.

“The CRFM Action Plan seeks to work towards a regional society and economy that is resilient to a changing climate and enhanced through comprehensive disaster management and sustainable use of aquatic resources,” Murray said.

He pointed to the five objectives of the plan, which among other things include actions to mainstream climate change adaptation into the sustainable development agendas of member states, and promoting actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and employing renewable and clean energy sources. Historically, however, the region has been slow to enact Community policies.

Key to successful climate smarting is the participation of the fisherfolk who have been the beneficiaries of several CTA-sponsored programmes to help them access information; assist them to become more efficient; and to enable them to engage in policy development at the local and regional levels.

The next steps are dependent on the implementation of relevant and necessary policies and the strengthening the legislation. Until then, fisherfolk and supporting institutions continue to wait.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Socioenvironmental Catastrophe Emerges from the Ashes of Patagonia’s Forestshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/socioenvironmental-catastrophe-emerges-from-the-ashes-of-patagonias-forests/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=socioenvironmental-catastrophe-emerges-from-the-ashes-of-patagonias-forests http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/socioenvironmental-catastrophe-emerges-from-the-ashes-of-patagonias-forests/#comments Tue, 17 Mar 2015 07:43:44 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139697 Lake Cholila, to the right, with part of its valley enveloped in smoke on Mar. 12, in the province of Chubut, in Argentina’s Patagonia region. Credit: Courtesy of Daniel Wegrzyn

Lake Cholila, to the right, with part of its valley enveloped in smoke on Mar. 12, in the province of Chubut, in Argentina’s Patagonia region. Credit: Courtesy of Daniel Wegrzyn

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Mar 17 2015 (IPS)

In the wake of the fire that destroyed more than 34,000 hectares of forests, some of them ancient, in Argentina’s southern Patagonia region, the authorities will have to put out flames that are no less serious: the new socio-environmental catastrophe that will emerge from the ashes.

The worst forest fire in the history of the country will take a while longer to fully extinguish in the area surrounding Cholila, a town set amidst the lakes, valleys and mountains in the northwest part of the southern province of Chubut. Its 2,000 residents are longing for the start of the rainy season in April in this region that borders Chile and the Andes mountains.

But in the town, which counts among its tourist attractions the fact that the legendary U.S. outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid bought a ranch in Cholila in 1902, as a hideout, the big fear now is what will come after the fire.

The blaze broke out on Feb. 15 and was officially extinguished on Mar. 6, although there are still some hot spots, predicted to burn for another few weeks, according to experts.“The wind cycles will change, as will the availability of oxygen, the humidity and evapotranspiration in the environment will be reduced, temperatures will rise, there will be more solar radiation and light, and the greenhouse effect will be aggravated.” -- Silvia Ortubay

“We are very anxious. We lost the surrounding wilderness where we had chosen to live, and of course economic activity will be hurt,” pilot Daniel Wegrzyn, who had to close his inn on Lake Cholila, which was not affected by the flames but served as an evacuation shelter, told Tierramérica by phone.

“The fires could hurt air quality and health due to the smoke and dust for months or years,” Thomas Kitzberger, an expert in Patagonian forests at the National University in Comahue, told Tierramérica.

The fire also devastated pasture land.

But livestock farming and ecotourism are not the only areas that have suffered losses.

“Ecological damage is what lies ahead,” said Wegrzyn.

The blaze destroyed forests of cypress, Antarctic beech (Nothofagus antártica), lenga beech (Nothofagus pumilio), coigüe or Dombey’s southern beech (Nothofagus dombeyi), Chilean feather bamboo (Chusquea culeou), and giant trees such as the Patagonian cypress (Fitzroya cupressoides).

It also killed, or drove away, endemic fauna such as tiny pudu deer, lizards, birds and foxes, and endangered species like the rare huemul or south Andean deer.

Kitzberger explained that these ecosystems are home to plants that are “relatively well adapted to fire like species that grow in scrubland and on the steppes, which are resilient and quickly put out new shoots after a fire.”

An isolated hotspot throws up smoke in the Alerce River valley on Mar. 11, after some rain fell in the area. Argentina’s southern Patagonia region suffered the worst forest fire in the country’s history. Credit: Courtesy of Daniel Wegrzyn

An isolated hotspot throws up smoke in the Alerce River valley on Mar. 11, after some rain fell in the area. Argentina’s southern Patagonia region suffered the worst forest fire in the country’s history. Credit: Courtesy of Daniel Wegrzyn

Others, like the forests of cypress, Dombey’s southern beech or Patagonian cypress, which are moderately resilient, “can survive fire and recolonise burnt areas.” But in the case of Patagonian cypress trees that have been badly burnt, the seedbeds have been killed and are basically irrecoverable, because it would take centuries for a new forest to grow.

Furthermore, “the lenga beech is incapable of regenerating on these sites (of intense fires) or does so very slowly, which means it would also take centuries to grow back,” he said.

Kitzberger pointed out that the forests are the habitat of numerous species, and “create locally stable conditions that make it possible for ecosystems to function.” When they are burnt down, “they give rise to ecosystems with more bushes or species of grass,” which do not play the same roles, he said.

According to biologist Silvia Ortubay, there will be climate modifications that will extend to other ecosystems.

“The wind cycles will change, as will the availability of oxygen, the humidity and evapotranspiration in the environment will be reduced, temperatures will rise, there will be more solar radiation and light, and the greenhouse effect will be aggravated,” she told Tierramérica from the area.

There is a risk of worse flooding and drought, which means “drawing up a plan for restoring the ecosystem should be a top priority,” she added.

She stressed that the local vegetation, organic matter and tree roots are a protective layer for the soil and act as a natural barrier for water, and that with the first rains and the dispersal of ashes, this layer will erode and suffer fertility loss.

Runoff will also increase, causing mudslides and creating steeper inclines and ditches which aggravate the situation.

At a regional level, “when the forest cover is eliminated by severe fires that affect upper river basins, the capacity of regulation and provision of good quality water is undermined, and the supply of energy generated by dams downstream is modified,” said Kitzberger.

Ortubay said the transportation of sediments could also muddy Patagonia’s lakes, “which are considered the world’s clearest,” while the degradation of river basins, with lower water levels in the summertime and higher levels in the winter, would create floods or drought.

Moreover, said the biologist, the deterioration of the forest will generate grasslands that will attract cattle, which will be an obstacle for seedlings to take root and for trees to grow back.

And the cattle, through their manure, will spread seeds of invasive exotic species like sweet briar, one of their favourite foods.

Wegrzyn complained about the lack of risk evaluation and “the delay in taking action,” while warning about the risk of new fires breaking out, based on what he has seen while flying over the area.

He said everyone knew this was “a critical year” because of a phenomenon that occurs every half century: the flowering and death of the Chilean feather bamboo, which produces an enormous amount of highly flammable dry vegetation.

There was also a severe drought and climate conditions that favoured strong winds and high temperatures in the southern hemisphere summer, “which were decisive for the expansion of the fire,” that at one point was spreading at one kilometre per hour.

According to Wegrzyn, a few lookout towers in strategic spots, a good radio system and air patrols would have been sufficient to provide an early warning.

Activist Darío Fernández told Tierramérica from Cholila that if caught early, “the fire could have been extinguished with shovels,” avoiding the need for bringing in brigades of firefighters, airtankers and helitankers from neighbouring Chile.

Intentional fire

The government sacked the official responsible for the National Fire Management Plan over errors in how the fire was handled, and stated that it had been intentionally set.

That is also the conclusion of Chubut Governor Martín Buzzi, who said the fire was linked to the real estate business, which due to the ban on cutting down trees, protected as part of the country’s natural heritage, “makes them disappear.”

To curb the land speculation, Buzzi announced measures such as a 10-year moratorium on selling or transferring land with forests that have been burnt, and the creation of an investigative committee.

Fernández, born and raised in Cholila, who had predicted intentionally set fires, noted that between 2003 and 2011, the previous governor, Mario das Neves, distributed public land by decree, in violation of the provincial constitution.

Fernández said the “green business” involves everything from country clubs and tourist developments to the forestry industry, which “needs to eliminate native species” in order to introduce commercial timber like pine. “The common denominator is the clearing of forests,” he added.

These allegations run counter to the hypothesis that lightning started the fire – which Kitzberger and Wegrzyn said was improbable, since the last thunderstorm in the region happened on Feb. 3, 12 days before the fire started. However, both of them acknowledged that fire originated by lightning can smolder for days before a blaze breaks out.

“But it is not likely that such a long time would go by between the start and the spread of the blaze,” said Kitzberger, especially since one of the first fires was detected by satellite image in a valley, “and lightning tends to strike on mountaintops or hillsides, higher up than in valleys.”

Nevertheless, he said that since the 1990s, in the north of the Patagonia region there has been a marked increase in the frequency and magnitude of electric storms and drought, which intensify fires.

For example, in the Nahuel Huapi National Park, 160 km from Cholila, the last thunderstorm caused eight small fires, he said.

“From politics to the mafia there is just one tiny spark,” Cholila Online, a digital newspaper founded by locals, wrote, summing up the doubts about the origin of the worst fire in Argentine history.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Indonesia’s Palm Oil Industry in Need of a Makeoverhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/indonesias-palm-oil-industry-in-need-of-a-makeover/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indonesias-palm-oil-industry-in-need-of-a-makeover http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/indonesias-palm-oil-industry-in-need-of-a-makeover/#comments Mon, 16 Mar 2015 16:50:33 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139681 Maridiana Deren, an environmental activist based in Kalimantan, Indonesia, says that palm oil companies are destroying indigenous peoples’ ancient way of life. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Maridiana Deren, an environmental activist based in Kalimantan, Indonesia, says that palm oil companies are destroying indigenous peoples’ ancient way of life. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
BALI, Indonesia, Mar 16 2015 (IPS)

Over the past three decades, 50 percent of the 544,150 square kilometres that comprise Kalimantan, the Indonesian portion of the island of Borneo, has been taken over by the palm oil industry.

“It will expand until it pushes us all into the ocean,” prophesies Mina Setra, deputy secretary-general of the Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), who has fought for years to preserve an ancient way of life from being bulldozed to make way for mono-crop plantations.

“The people who have lived off the land for generations become criminals because they want to preserve their way of life." -- Mina Setra, deputy secretary-general of the Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN)
For her, the business of producing the oil, a favourite of consumers around the world, needs to fall in line with the principles of sustainability. On its current growth spurt, the industry threatens to undermine local economies, indigenous communities and Indonesia’s delicate network of biodiversity.

Consumption of palm oil has risen steadily at seven percent per annum over the last 20 years, according to new data from a report published by the Dublin-based consultancy Research and Markets.

Globally, more people consume palm oil than soybean oil, and Indonesia is the largest producer of the stuff, churning out 31 million tonnes of palm oil in 2014. Malaysia and Indonesia together account for 85 percent of palm oil produced globally each year.

While output is predicted to be lower in 2015, the industry continues to expand rapidly, swallowing up millions of hectares of forestland to make space for palm plantations.

Indonesian government officials and industrialists insist that the sector boosts employment, and benefits local communities, but people like Setra disagree, arguing instead that the highly unsustainable business model is wreaking havoc on the environment and indigenous people, who number between 50 and 70 million in a country with a population of 249 million.

Busting the myth of equality and employment

A recent study by the Washington-based Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) found that the main benefactors of the palm oil industry are the big investors and companies that control 80 percent of the global palm oil trade.

The report found, “[The] palm oil sector has added little real value to the Indonesian economy. The average contribution of estate crops, including oil palm and rubber, to GDP [gross domestic product] was only 2.2 percent per year […].”

On the other hand, “food production is the main source of rural employment and income, engaging two-thirds of the rural workforce, or some 61 million people. Oil palm production only occupies the eighth rank in rural employment, engaging some 1.4 million people.”

About half of those engaged in palm oil production are smallholders, earning higher wages than their counterparts employed by palm oil companies (about 75 dollars a month compared to 57 dollars a month).

According to the World Wildlife Fund in the last three-and-a-half decades Indonesia and Malaysia lost a combination of 3.5 million hectares of forest to palm oil plantations. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

According to the World Wildlife Fund in the last three-and-a-half decades Indonesia and Malaysia lost a combination of 3.5 million hectares of forest to palm oil plantations. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The industry witnessed a 15-percent drop in profits last year, but this year profits are expected to rise, with prices settling between 500 and 600 dollars per tonne. Still, many producers in Indonesia and Malaysia openly advocate lower wages to keep profit levels high.

Experts also believe the sector does a poor job of redirecting profits into the communities because of a model that relies on eating up land and falling back on a system of patronage.

“This patronage system serves as the basic structure for the production, marketing, and distribution of palm oil. It connects significant actors in order to facilitate their businesses through legitimate mechanisms such as palm oil consortia, which usually consist of local strongmen, senior bureaucrats, and influential businessmen with close links to top national leaders,” the RRI report concluded.

Grassroots activists like Setra say that industrialists are also skilled at manipulating legal loopholes to continue expanding their plantations.

For instance, the Indonesian government has imposed a moratorium on land clearing for new plantations, a bid to appease scientists, Western nations and citizens concerned about the gobbling up of rainforests for monocultures.

However, the ban only applies to new licenses, not existing ones, allowing companies with longstanding licenses to violate the law without question.

Even when the central government cracks down, activists say, companies use local connections with powerful politicians to undercut regulations.

“It is a vicious system that feeds on itself,” the indigenous activist tells IPS.

Unjust, unsustainable

According to Bryson Ogden, RRI’s private sector analyst, “The structure of the industry is such that it leaves out local communities.”

“The biggest losers in this process were locals who lost their lands and livelihoods but have not been incorporated in the new economy on advantageous terms,” the RRI report said. “Indigenous peoples, subsistence farmers, and women were the most vulnerable groups, as well as smallholders owning and managing their own oil palm plots.”

But when locals try to take a stand for their rights, such campaigns result in the alienation of whole communities or, worse, the criminalisation of their activities.

In July 2014, a protestor was shot dead by police in south Kalimantan while taking part in a protest against palm oil expansion. Another such killing was reported on Feb. 28 in Jambi, located on the east coast of the island of Sumatra.

“The people who have lived off the land for generations become criminals because they want to preserve their way of life,” Setra laments.

She believes that as long as there is global demand for the oil without an accompanying international campaign to highlight the product’s impact on local people, companies are unlikely to change their mode of operation.

Others say the problem is a lack of data. Scott Poynton, founder of The Forest Trust (TFT), an international environmental NGO, tells IPS that there is inadequate information on the socio-economic impacts of oil operations.

He says the focus on deforestation – in Indonesia and elsewhere – is a result of the tireless work of NGOs dedicated to the issue, combined with “easy-to-use tools like the World Resource Institute’s Global Forest Watch”, a mapping system that allow people to quickly and cheaply identify deforestation.

He says similar resources must be made available to those like Setra – grassroots leaders on the ground, who are able to monitor and report on social degradation caused by the palm oil sector.

As the United Nations and its member states move closer to finalising the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – the international community’s blueprint for development and poverty-reduction in the coming decades – Indonesia and the palm oil sector will be forced to reckon with the unsustainable nature of the mono-crop corporate model, and move towards a practice of inclusivity.

One of the primary topics informing the knowledge platform on the SDGs is the promise of Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP), defined as “the use of services and related products, which respond to basic needs and bring a better quality of life while minimizing the use of natural resources […] so as not to jeopardize the needs of further generations.”

According to the World Wildlife Fund in the last three-and-a-half decades Indonesia and Malaysia lost a combination of 3.5 million hectares of forest to palm oil plantations.

Statistics like these suggest that nothing short of sweeping changes will be required to put indigenous people like Setra at the centre of the debate, and build a sustainable future for palm oil production.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Anger Seethes in Gabon after Wood Company Sacks Protesting Workershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/anger-seethes-in-gabon-after-wood-company-sacks-protesting-workers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=anger-seethes-in-gabon-after-wood-company-sacks-protesting-workers http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/anger-seethes-in-gabon-after-wood-company-sacks-protesting-workers/#comments Fri, 13 Mar 2015 20:03:58 +0000 Ngala Killian Chimtom http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139648 By Ngala Killian Chimtom
MBOMAO, Gabon, Mar 13 2015 (IPS)

There is rising anger among trade unionists, environmentalists and civil society groups in Gabon after a wood company, Rain Forest Management (RFM), sacked 38 fixed-term workers last month in Mbomao, Ogooué-Ivindo province.

RFM, a Gabonese wood processing company with Malaysian investment, is one of several exploiting the rich natural forests in Gabon. The forestry sector is the country’s second source of foreign exchange after oil.

RFM and the woodworkers had been locked in a lengthy dispute over working conditions, lack of contacts and legal working hours, among other complaints.

According to the Entente Syndicale des Travailleurs du Gabon (ENSYTG) union, RFM refused to negotiate with them and workers who were planning to take part in trade union meetings were threatened and intimidated.“Although Gabon’s forests are often described as being relatively undamaged and offering great potential for long-term sustainable timber production, it is clear that industrial forestry within the current policy framework threatens their future integrity and the country’s biodiversity” – Forests Monitor

After numerous threats and charges of intimidation, on Feb. 17, as the employees were returning to work, RFM called on police to evict them from their company-supplied dormitories, claiming that the workers had violated company rules.

The dismissals were linked to worker protests over poor working conditions, unsanitary housing infested with rats, cockroaches and snakes, demands for legal working hours and payment of wages on time.

Léon Mébiame Evoung, president of ENSYTG, told IPS that the workers were simply calling on the company to respect basic rights and provide a pharmacy and an infirmary that should be managed by competent Gabonese health professionals.

RFM failed to meet any of these demands, said the union official. Instead, it decided to execute its earlier threat by firing all protesting workers.

The action has provoked the ire of civil society groups and syndicates, including Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWINT), which is circulating an online petition to help the strikers’ return to their jobs.

Marc Ona Essangui, founder of the environmental NGO Brainforest and president of Environment Gabon, a network of NGOs, told IPS in an online interview that he could not accept such “gross suppression” of workers’ rights. “I have signed up to the call to protect the workers,” he said.

“I strongly protest against the dismissal of these workers, which is clearly linked to their strike action,” he insisted. Such anti-union activities, he added, violate International Labour Office (ILO) conventions 87 and 98 (on freedom of association and the right to organise and bargain collectively, respectively).

Along with other environmentalists in the region, Essangui – who once received a suspended sentence for accusing a presidential ally of exploiting timber, palm oil and rubber in Gabon’s “favourable agri-climate” – is troubled by risks to the region’s natural forests due to development activities.

The Gabonese government and international donors, however, regard the exploitation of timber as central to the country’s macroeconomic development.

According to Forests Monitor, an NGO that supports forest-dependent people, “although Gabon’s forests are often described as being relatively undamaged and offering great potential for long-term sustainable timber production, it is clear that industrial forestry within the current policy framework threatens their future integrity and the country’s biodiversity.”

The NGO notes that “production levels are already considerably above the official sustainable production estimates and are set to continue rising”, meaning that “the contribution which forestry sector revenues make to the country’s population as a whole and to people living in the locality of forestry operations is questionable.”

On its website, the World Resources Institute (WRI) notes that “nowhere is the pressure (on resources) more intense than in Gabon, a nation with 80 percent of its territory covered by dense tropical forest. With resource use demands spiralling in recent years, Gabon urgently needs better forest management planning if the government is to achieve its goal of becoming an emerging economy while preserving the country’s natural resources.”

RFM’s woodworking factory lies at the centre of three national parks – Lope, Crystal Mountain, and Ivindo – and to the east of Libreville. The park area is a small fraction of the land marked for development on a WRI map. The wood used by RFM is locally sourced.

Established in 2008, RFM produces windows and doors for the Gabonese domestic market. It exports semi-finished products to Asia, Europe and the Middle East. The company employs more than 700 workers, with a Gabonese majority.

Since November 2009, when log exports were banned, the formal economy production of processed wood has increased significantly.

According to a WRI report titled ‘A First Look at Logging in Gabon’, compiled by seven Gabonese environmental organisations, “Gabon has vast forest resources, but rapid growth of logging activity may threaten those resources. If managed properly, Gabon’s forests could offer long-term revenues without compromising the ecosystems’ natural functions.”

However, the authors continued, “(we) found information about forest development unreliable, inconsistent, and very difficult to obtain. We believe that more public information will promote accountability and transparency and favour the implementation of commitments made to manage and protect the world’s forests, which would significantly slow forest degradation around the world.”

Edited by Lisa Vives/Phil Harris    

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Sendai Conference to Move From Managing Disasters to Risk Preventionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/sendai-conference-to-move-from-managing-disasters-to-risk-prevention/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sendai-conference-to-move-from-managing-disasters-to-risk-prevention http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/sendai-conference-to-move-from-managing-disasters-to-risk-prevention/#comments Fri, 13 Mar 2015 19:32:50 +0000 Jamshed Baruah and Katsuhiro Asagiri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139644 Sendai, Japan, hosts the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR). Credit: UN Photo

Sendai, Japan, hosts the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR). Credit: UN Photo

By Jamshed Baruah and Katsuhiro Asagiri
SENDAI, Japan, Mar 13 2015 (IPS)

As the world inched towards a crucial United Nations Conference in Sendai, Japan, Margareta Wahlström, head of the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), assured that there was “general agreement” on the need to “move from managing disasters to managing disaster risk”. 

The rationale behind that understanding, she said, is: “If the world is successful in tackling the underlying drivers of risk such as poverty, climate change, the decline of protective eco-systems, uncontrolled urbanisation and land use the result will be a much more resilient planet. The framework will help to reducing existing levels of risk and avoid the creation of new risk.”The total economic impact from global disasters stood at 1.4 trillion dollars between 2005 and 2014.

Echoing the UNISDR head’s sentiments, Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) President Saber Hossain Chowdhury pleaded for “a good start” in Sendai as the international community moves towards “the year for sustainable development”.

The U.N. General Assembly will in September endorse a wide-ranging set of Sustainable Goals (SDGs) to replace the Millennium Develo0ment Goals (MDGs) aimed, among others, at halving poverty.

Sendai, in the centre of Japan’s Tohoku region, which bore the brunt of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that led to the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster, is hosting the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR) from Mar. 14 to 18, which is being joined by government leaders and civil society representatives from around the world.

According to the UNISDR, at least 700,000 people have been killed and 1.7 billion affected by disasters worldwide since the last such conference in Kobe, Japan, in 2005. The total economic impact from global disasters stood at 1.4 trillion dollars between 2005 and 2014. The first conference on disaster risk reduction was hosted by Yokohama in Japan in 1994.

Chowdhury said, sustainable development was not possible with the levels of disaster losses increasing. Welcoming the focus on local capacity at the Sendai Conference, he said at a session of parliamentarians on Mar. 13: “Local government is absolutely critical. Parliamentarians have an important role, including helping to increase the allocation of resources to the local level.”

He lauded the long-standing partnership between parliamentarians and UNISDR, citing how the two had co-developed practical tools that were being used by legislators to strengthen disaster resilience at the local and national levels.

Observers noted in this context the voluntary commitment of the government of Nepal to a local disaster reduction management plan.

The WCDRR website reported: “Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development will support the 130 municipalities in the country to prepare the Local Disaster Risks Management Plan. We will do so in cooperation with all stakeholders involved in disaster risks reduction in Nepal that include NGOs. This plan will guide the activities on disaster risks reduction at local level.”

Pakistan announced a commitment to “build the capacity of 20 master trainers on disability inclusive DRR (disaster risk reduction); influence 100 humanitarian projects through grassroots level technical training; and training of 150 key humanitarian actors on disability inclusive DRR.”

Ahead of the opening of the Conference, government representatives discussed on Mar. 13 the text of the post-2015 Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction to be adopted on Mar. 18, the closing day of the conference.

According to the draft text, the Sendai conference would declare it as “urgent and critical to anticipate, plan for and act on risk scenarios over at least the next 50 years to protect more effectively human beings and their assets, and ecosystems”.

The text of the post-2015 Framework calls for “a broader and a more people-centred preventive approach to disaster risk”, stressing the importance of “enhanced work to address exposure and vulnerability and ensure accountability for risk creation” at all levels.

The text expected to be adapted says: “Given their differential capacities, developing countries require enhanced global partnership for development, adequate provision and mobilization of all means of implementation and continued international support to reduce disaster risk.”

The draft notes that enhanced North-South cooperation complemented by South-South cooperation and triangular cooperation has proved to be “key to reduce disaster risk”, that “there is a need to strengthen them further”.

It adds: “Partnerships will play an important role by harnessing the full potential of engagement between governments at all levels, businesses, civil society and a wide range of other stakeholders, and are effective instruments for mobilizing human and financial resources, expertise, technology and knowledge and can be powerful drivers for change, innovation and welfare.”

Addressing the oft-controversial issues of financing and technology transfer, the draft says: “Developing countries, in particular least developed countries, small island developing States and landlocked developing countries, and Africa require predictable, adequate, sustainable and coordinated international assistance, through bilateral and multilateral channels, for the development and strengthening of their capacities, including through financial and technical assistance, and technology transfer on mutually agreed terms.”

It also pleads for enhanced access to, and transfer of, environmentally sound technology, science and innovation as well as knowledge and information sharing through existing mechanisms, such as bilateral, regional and multilateral collaborative arrangements, including the United Nations and other relevant bodies.

Further: States and regional and international organisations, including the United Nations and international financial institutions, are called upon to integrate disaster risk reduction considerations into their sustainable development policy, planning and programming at all levels.

States and regional and international organisations are urged to foster greater strategic coordination among the United Nations, other international organisations, including international financial institutions, regional bodies, donor agencies and nongovernmental organisations engaged in disaster risk reduction.

The draft text also calls for adequate voluntary financial contributions to be provided to the United Nations Trust Fund for Disaster Reduction, in an effort to ensure adequate support for the follow-up activities to this framework.

“The current usage and feasibility for the expansion of this Fund should be reviewed, inter alia, to assist disaster-prone developing countries to set up national strategies for disaster risk reduction,” adds the draft scheduled to be adopted by the Sendai conference.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Feeding a Warmer, Riskier Worldhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/feeding-a-warmer-riskier-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=feeding-a-warmer-riskier-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/feeding-a-warmer-riskier-world/#comments Fri, 13 Mar 2015 15:57:04 +0000 Jose Graziano da Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139638

José Graziano da Silva is Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

By José Graziano da Silva
ROME, Mar 13 2015 (IPS)

Artificial meat. Indoor aquaculture. Vertical farms. Irrigation drones. Once the realm of science fiction, these things are now fact. Food production is going high tech – at least, in some places.

But the vast majority of the world’s farmers still face that old and fundamental fact: their crops, their very livelihoods, depend on how Mother Nature treats them. Over 80 percent of world agriculture today remains dependent on the rains, just as it did 10,000 years ago.

José Graziano da Silva. Credit: FAO/Alessandra Benedetti

José Graziano da Silva. Credit: FAO/Alessandra Benedetti

At the Second International Conference on Nutrition held in Rome last November, Pope Francis said: “God forgives always; men, sometimes; the Earth, never. Mother Nature can be rough – and she’s getting rougher as our planet’s climate changes.”

When drought, floods, tsunamis or severe weather hit, the consequences for people’s food security and economic well-being can be profound. Beyond the disaster-provoked hunger crises that make newspapers headlines, the development trajectories of entire nations and regions can be seriously altered by extreme events.

Remember: In many developing countries farming remains a critical economic activity. The livelihoods of 2.5 billion family farmers depend on agriculture, and the sector accounts for as much 30 percent of national GDP in countries like Burkina Faso, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, Niger and Mozambique, among others.Losses and damages to crops and livestock, fisheries and forestry due to natural hazards accounted for at least 22 percent of the total bill between 2003 and 2013.

It is not only drought, floods, and storms the pose a threat to agriculture, by the way. Diseases and pests like Small Ruminants Plague (PPR), or desert locusts or wheat rusts do as well. Nor is harsh weather the only threat: wars, economic crises – the work of humans – frequently wreak havoc on agricultural communities and infrastructure.

Conflicts, natural hazards have always threatened food security. However today we are witnessing their aggravation. Economic losses due to natural disasters have tripled over the last decade – and continue to rise.

Initial results from a new FAO study show that losses and damages to crops and livestock, fisheries and forestry due to natural hazards accounted for at least 22 percent of the total bill between 2003 and 2013.

Small scale farmers, herders, fishers and forest-dependent communities, who generate more than half of global agricultural production, are particularly at risk. (By the way, these very same people make up 75 percent of the world’s poor, hungry and food insecure population.)

So how can we ensure food security in a world with ever more people, exposed to ever more intense and frequent hazards?

Agriculture itself can provide solutions. It is a main driver for land use changes and can therefore be instrumental in increasing vulnerabilities to natural hazards. At the same time, a more sustainable approach to food production would help us protect the environment and build the resilience of our communities in the face of disasters.

Over the past decade, good progress has been made in fleshing out the concept of disaster risk reduction and its vital contribution to inclusive and sustainable development. Yet more must be done to harness the potential of agriculture in reducing disaster-related risks and to factor agriculture, food security and nutrition into strategies for bolstering up the resilience of societies.

Next week, world leaders and the international development community will gather in Sendai, Japan, to chart a pathway for a broad-reaching and holistic global approach to disaster risk reduction.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations will be taking the message to the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (Mar. 14-18) that risk-sensitive development in the agriculture-food-nutrition sector is an essential building block for enhancing overall global resilience to disasters.

Our vision for ensuring that agriculture both benefits from and contributes to disaster risk reduction rests on four mutually reinforcing pillars that are applicable at the local, national, regional and global levels.

First, we must manage risk. This includes developing legal and regulatory frameworks for risk reduction and crisis management and building capacities at all levels to implement them. Risk factors need to be systematically factored into agriculture, fisheries and forestry planning, from step one.

Second, we have to watch to safeguard, establishing better information-gathering and early warning systems to identify threats. Then we must be proactive and act before disaster hits. In the past, the global community received early warning of impeding crisis, but did not react. The 2011 famine in Somalia is a recent and sobering example.

Third, we need to reduce the underlying risk factors that make farmers, pastoralists, fishers and foresters vulnerable. This can be achieved by focusing on – and investing in – more sustainable models of food production and the use of improved agricultural technologies and practices which raise yields and boost resilience against shocks while protecting the natural resource base.

There is a rich tool kit of options already available, such as conservation agriculture and agroforestry, strengthening producer organisations, or establishing field schools to disseminate best practices, to name just a few.

Finally, maintaining a state of readiness to allow for rapid responses to the needs of the food production sector if disaster does hit is also key. Despite massive damage, agricultural livelihoods in the Philippines were rapidly restored after 2013’s Typhoon Haiyan thanks to appropriate national-level preparedness and timely international community support.

Sendai – and July’s development financing conference in Addis Ababa and the Paris 2014 climate summit – give us a chance to hard-wire resilience into the post-2015 development agenda. Agriculture – and the many, diverse communities that make it up – can and should be the bedrock on which increased resilience for millions of people is built.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Safeguarding Africa’s Wetlands a Daunting Taskhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/safeguarding-africas-wetlands-a-daunting-task/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=safeguarding-africas-wetlands-a-daunting-task http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/safeguarding-africas-wetlands-a-daunting-task/#comments Thu, 12 Mar 2015 19:51:55 +0000 Tonderayi Mukeredzi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139631 Africa’s wetland areas are experiencing immense pressure from commercial development and agriculture, settlements, excessive exploitation by local communities and improperly-planned development activities. Credit: Creative Commons CC0

Africa’s wetland areas are experiencing immense pressure from commercial development and agriculture, settlements, excessive exploitation by local communities and improperly-planned development activities. Credit: Creative Commons CC0

By Tonderayi Mukeredzi
HARARE, Mar 12 2015 (IPS)

African wetlands are among the most biologically diverse ecosystems on the continent, covering more than 131 million hectares, according to the Senegalese-based Wetlands International Africa (WIA).

Yet, despite their importance and value, wetland areas are experiencing immense pressure across the continent. Commercial development ranks as the major threat for the draining of wetlands, including for tourism facilities and agriculture, where hundreds of thousands of hectares of wetlands have been drained.

Other threats to Africa’s wetlands are commercial agriculture, settlements, excessive exploitation by local communities and improperly-planned development activities. The prospect of immense profits from recently discovered oil, coal and gas deposits has also led to an increase in on-and offshore exploration and mining in sensitive ecological areas.Commercial development ranks as the major threat for the draining of [Africa’s] wetlands, including for tourism facilities and agriculture … Other threats are commercial agriculture, settlements, excessive exploitation by local communities and improperly-planned development activities

In Nigeria, Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique, for example, wetlands and estuaries coincide with fossil fuel deposits and related infrastructure developments.

In northern Kenya, port developments in Lamu are set to take place in the West Indian Ocean Rim’s most important mangrove area and fisheries breeding ground.

In KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape of South Africa, heavy mineral sands are located in important dune forest ecosystems, and gas is being prospected for in the water-scarce and ecologically unique Karoo.

In East Africa, oil discoveries have been made in the tropical Congo Basin rain forest and the Virunga National Park – a world heritage site and a wetland recognised under the Ramsar Convention.

The Okavango Delta in Botswana, one of Africa’s most important wetlands and designated as the 1,000th world heritage site by UNESCO, has been home to many threatened species and the main water source of regional wildlife in Southern Africa. Yet it is shrinking due to drier climate, increased grazing and growing pressure from tourism.

“This delta is a true oasis in the middle of the bone-dry Kalahari Sand Basin, a rare untouched wilderness that’s been preserved by decades of border and civil wars in the Angolan catchment,” said National Geographic explorer Steve Boyes in an interview. “Many people along the Okavango River live like communities did some 400 years ago – and from them I think we can learn a lot about how to be better stewards of the natural world.”

Boyes calculated the abundance of life in the delta: more than 530 bird species, thousands of plant species, 160 different mammals, 155 reptiles, scores of frogs and countless insects.

“Everywhere you look you find life. We surveyed bats and we found 17 species in three days. We started looking for praying mantises and found 90 different species,” he said.

A recent survey by the Botswana Department of Wildlife and National Parks and the environmentalist group BirdLife Botswana concluded that that the wetland’s historical zones of dense reed beds and water fig islands were largely destroyed by hydrological changes and fire. Bush fires and a high grazing pressure further reduced the natural shores of the Okavango Delta.

Studies by BirdLife Botswana also showed that the slaty egret, a vulnerable water bird living only in Southern Africa, with its main breeding grounds in the wetlands of Zambia, Mozambique and Botswana’s Okavango Delta, is now estimated to have a total population of only about 4,000 birds.

The egret, which is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as vulnerable, seems to be losing its main breeding sites in the Okavango.

Environmentalists hope that they can still save the wetland, and pin their hopes on a “Slaty Egret Action Plan” which will be used by the Botswana’s Department of Wildlife and National Parks, BirdLife and other environment stakeholders to guarantee the survival of the Okavango Delta as a safe haven for the birds.

In a further step to save the wetlands, the Botswana government announced this month that from now on, seekers of mobile safari licences would be prohibited from operating in the Okavango Delta because the area in now congested.

The Botswana Guides Association, which represents many of the mobile safaris, is threatening to appeal.

Another example of the devastation of major wetlands occurred in Nigeria with pollution of farmlands linked to the Shell oil company.  The Niger Delta Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration Project, an independent team of scientists from Nigeria, the United Kingdom and the United States, has characterised the Niger Delta as “one of the world’s most severely petroleum-impacted ecosystems.”

In 2013, a Dutch court found the Nigerian subsidiary of Shell culpable for the pollution of farmlands at Ikot Ada Udo in Akwa Ibom state in the coastal south of the country.

The Niger Delta is Africa’s largest delta, covering some 7,000 square kilometres – one-third of which is made up of wetlands. It contains the largest mangrove forest in the world.

Assisted by environmental organisation Friends of the Earth, the court ruling was a victory for the communities in the Niger Delta after years of struggle against the oil company dating back 40 years, although the clean-up still has far to go.

“Destruction of wetlands is prevalent in almost all countries in Africa because the driving factor is the same – population pressure – many mouths to feed, ignorance about the role wetlands in playing in the ecosystem, lack of policies, laws and institutional framework to protect wetlands and in cases where these exist, they are hardly enforced,” John Owino, Programme Officer for Water and Wetlands with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)  told IPS from his base in Nairobi, Kenya.

Owino said that the future of African wetlands lies in stronger political will to protect them, based on sound wetland policies and encouragement for community participation in their management, which is lacking in many African countries.

But very few African governments have specific national policies on wetlands and are influenced by policies from different sectors such as agriculture, national resources and energy.

Edited by Lisa Vives/Phil Harris   

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Opinion: Eco-efficient Crop and Livestock Production for Nicaraguan Farmershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-eco-efficient-crop-and-livestock-production-for-nicaraguan-farmers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-eco-efficient-crop-and-livestock-production-for-nicaraguan-farmers http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-eco-efficient-crop-and-livestock-production-for-nicaraguan-farmers/#comments Thu, 05 Mar 2015 21:25:47 +0000 Kwesi Atta-Krah and Reynaldo Bismarck Mendoza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139523 A field day conducted to share information with farmers. Credit: Lucía Gaitán

A field day conducted to share information with farmers. Credit: Lucía Gaitán

By Kwesi Atta-Krah and Reynaldo Bismarck Mendoza
MANAGUA, Mar 5 2015 (IPS)

For Roberto Pineda, a smallholder farmer in the Somotillo municipality of Nicaragua, his traditional practice after each harvest was to cut down and burn all crop residues on his land, a practice known as “slash-and-burn” agriculture.

A widespread practice on these sub-humid hillsides of Central America, it was nonetheless causing many negative environmental implications, including poor soil quality, erosion, nutrient leaching, and the loss of ecosystem diversity. Slash-and-burn allows farmers to use land for only one to three years before the plots become too degraded and must be abandoned.The programme offers farmers like Pineda an easily established yet biologically complex option, combining traditional knowledge with new insights into sustainable land management to maintain crop productivity for many years.

“We used to work in our traditional way, pruning everything down to the ground, and if there was anything left we would burn it,” he said. “The land would be destroyed and things weren’t getting better.”

But about three years ago, Pineda and a group of farmers became involved in an agroforestry programme overseen by a group of partners including the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) as well as Nicaraguan, American, Austrian and Colombian institutions.

The programme works with farmers to enhance the eco-efficiency of their rural landscapes, helping them to introduce stress-adapted crop and forage options and improve crop and livestock productivity and profitability. This helps smallholders not only to improve local ecosystems but also to adapt to extreme climate conditions and safeguard soil fertility and food production over the long term.

“Now we have seen a change,” Pineda said. “We used to yield 10 quintals per manzana, and now we produce between 30 and 40 quintals per manzana. We have improved our natural resources, and trees have grown. Before, we had no trees and there was no rain.”

How it works

The programme offers farmers like Pineda an easily established yet biologically complex option, combining traditional knowledge with new insights into sustainable land management to maintain crop productivity for many years.

Farmers are encouraged to plant a scattering of trees in their croplands, thereby stabilising the hillsides and minimising soil erosion. The trees also capture carbon dioxide, help fix nitrogen in the soil and draw up essential crop nutrients such as phosphorous and potassium from deeper soil layers.

The trees are pruned regularly, and the cuttings are laid around the crops as nutritious mulch, providing them nutrients and retaining moisture to protect them against periods of drought while reducing nutrient leaching. The remaining required nutrients are supplied by eco-efficient use of chemical fertilizers.

The overall result is a more productive, resilient farming system that can withstand the increasingly variable climate conditions of Central America, ranging from extended periods of drought to intense rain, and thus improve income and food security for the rural families.

This is especially important as climate conditions are becoming more unpredictable as a result of climate change. For instance, over a three-year period, the yields of key staple crops such as maize, beans and sorghum increased; farmers obtained secondary incomes from selling surplus wood; and in most plots soil loss was converted into net soil accumulation of 40 tonnes per hectare, as a result of the new methods introduced.

What next?

The project started implementing its activities with a sample size of 16 farm households in north Nicaragua. As these trials proved successful, the system was disseminated to around 300 farmers in the area through Farmer Field Schools and guided visits.

Programs like this are good examples of a new holistic approach to agricultural research put forth by Humidtropics, which looks at the system as a whole – from farm, landscape, province, agro-ecological zone, region – in order to understand how these components interact with each other, and better manage the synergies, trade-offs and overall integrity of the ecosystem within which the farming takes place.

The farmer and her community are central in this research approach, including exploring the specific roles and opportunities for women, men and youth and focusing improving their resilience.

Ultimately, this programme has the potential to reach 10,000 smallholder farmers to help them boost their productivity through the sustainable intensification of their limited resources. Furthermore, its methods can be disseminated through community radio stations and local television networks to reach over 200,000 farm households in Nicaragua and Honduras.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Can Indigenous and Wildlife Conservationists Work Together?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/can-indigenous-and-wildlife-conservationists-work-together/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=can-indigenous-and-wildlife-conservationists-work-together http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/can-indigenous-and-wildlife-conservationists-work-together/#comments Thu, 05 Mar 2015 11:28:06 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139518 “The forest used to be for the Baka but not anymore. We would walk in the forest according to the seasons but now we’re afraid,” say the Baka of Cameroon.  Credit: © Survival International

“The forest used to be for the Baka but not anymore. We would walk in the forest according to the seasons but now we’re afraid,” say the Baka of Cameroon. Credit: © Survival International

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 5 2015 (IPS)

Indigenous and wildlife conservationists have common goals and common adversaries, but seem to be struggling to find common ground in the fight for sustainable forests.

The forest lifestyle of the Baka people of Cameroon helps provide improved habitats for wild animals.“When wildlife trafficking and bush meat trade results in the decline in wildlife populations, the very first people to suffer are indigenous people who need those wildlife populations to survive.” -- James Deutsch

When the Baka clear a patch for a camp, the clearing later turns into secondary forest that gorillas prefer, Mike Hurran, Survival International Africa campaigner, told IPS.

“When they harvest wild yams that grow in the forest, they always leave part of the root intact and that spreads the pockets of wild yams through the forest that elephants and wild bush pigs like,” he said.

They have “sophisticated codes of conservation” and have lived sustainably for generations following the ‘ancestor’s path’.

But pressures on the Baka’s forest home are coming from many angles; logging, mining, and illegal poaching.

According to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), worldwide wildlife trafficking is now worth an estimated 23 billion dollars annually, threatening endangered species and ruining opportunities for sustainable development.

On the ground, tackling wildlife crime is becoming increasingly difficult. Poachers, backed by the same international crime syndicates that traffic in drugs and people, are employing increasingly sophisticated techniques.

At the same time, forests are under increased pressure from resource exploitation. Mining and logging destroy habitats and brings thousands of workers to the forest who themselves hunt, eat and trade wild animals.

“When wildlife trafficking and bush meat trade results in the decline in wildlife populations, the very first people to suffer are indigenous people who need those wildlife populations to survive,” James Deutsch, vice president, conservation strategy for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), told IPS.

Deutsch said conservationists and indigenous people have common adversaries, in organised crime syndicates and the extractives industry.

However, Survival International is concerned that although conservationists have in recent years expressed a greater commitment to working with indigenous communities, this is not always reflected on the ground.

“What these anti-poaching squads are doing, and by extension the conservation agencies that fund them, is really just focusing on the least powerful people, who are really just hunting to feed their families as they have for generations,” Hurran said.

“Often the poaching squads [that] enforce wildlife law are maybe corrupt or they don’t have much respect for the human rights of tribal people, such as the Baka,” he said.

“The Baka have told us that even when they are hunting in their special zones, using techniques which are recognised as traditional and legal and hunting just for food and not for sale, sometimes their meat is confiscated, and they are being harassed or beaten by anti-poaching squads,” Hurran added.

Survival International has named specific international conservation organisations that they say provide funding to these anti-poaching squads, including World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Cameroon.

In a statement provided to IPS, WWF said, “On the ground, advancing the status and rights of tribal communities while also protecting the resources vital to them and the global community is extraordinarily difficult… WWF agrees that parks need people, and models such as Community Based Natural Resource Management being pursued by WWF globally over many years have ensured that many parks have people.

“WWF is open to a collaborative approach to these issues.  WWF is standing by commitments to assist a Cameroon National Human Rights and Freedom Commission investigation of alleged human rights abuses by Ecoguards and military and is reviewing field experience and our activities in support of the Baka and forest protection in Cameroon.”

Deutsch also echoed WWF’s call for a collaborative approach, saying that a deeper partnership between the human rights community and the conservation community is needed to address complex conservation challenges. Survival International also says WCS funds similar anti-poaching squads in the Republic of Congo.

“The conservation community has to be committed to partnering with indigenous people, because that’s the only way that we’re both going to find a future for wildlife, but also do it in such a way that human rights are respected and traditional societies are respected,” Deutsch said.

Deutsch, who previously led WCS’s programmes in Africa for 11 years, said that solutions were not simple and required perseverance, working with local communities on the ground.

One area both sides agree on is shortfalls in national and international laws protecting indigenous people.

WWF’s statement said that complications included “lack of official recognition in law or in practice of customary rights (and) shortfalls in knowledge, commitment and infrastructure necessary to support international human rights agendas.”

Survival International also acknowledges that national and international laws need to provide more protection to tribal people, both on paper and in practice.

“The criteria that the Baka people need to meet in order to hunt legally is very strict and unrealistic, so often they are considered poachers, when they aren’t,” Hurran said.

Speaking at a United Nations event on World Wildlife Day on Tuesday, Nik Sekhran, director of the UNDP’s Sustainable Development Cluster, said, “For many communities and for indigenous people around the world, sustainable use of wildlife and sustainable use of flora for medicines for food … is really critical to their survival.”

The financial benefits of wildlife tourism are often cited as an important reason to support wildlife conservation in developing countries. However, tourism income does not always trickle down to the poorest communities in developing countries.

“It’s particularly a challenge with hunter-gatherer people,” Deutch said. “There are many cases where wildlife tourism has been created and the intention has been to benefit hunter-gatherer societies and yet in some cases it’s been difficult to make sure that the benefits go to those people because they are less able to deal with the scrum for resources that results.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Brazil Called upon to Block Genetically Engineered Eucalyptus Treeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/brazil-called-upon-to-block-genetically-engineered-eucalyptus-trees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=brazil-called-upon-to-block-genetically-engineered-eucalyptus-trees http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/brazil-called-upon-to-block-genetically-engineered-eucalyptus-trees/#comments Thu, 05 Mar 2015 04:35:37 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139513 By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 5 2015 (IPS)

Forest protection, increased biodiversity and wildlife conservation are just a few of the promises made by proponents of genetically engineered (GE) plants. But campaigners are not buying these promises.

On Tuesday, environmental activists gathered in Brazilian consulates and embassies demanding that the government reject the proposal of FuturaGene, a biotechnological company, to legalise GE eucalyptus trees.

The action was taken as part of the Emergency Global Day of Action on Four Continents to STOP Genetically Engineered Trees, organised by an international group of NGOs which have formed the The Campaign to STOP GE Trees. The campaign aims to protect forests, biodiversity, and support communities which may be threatened by the effects of GE plants in the environment.

Campaigners fear that the Brazilian Technical Commission on Biosafety (CTNBio), which regulates genetically modified organisms in Brazil, will accept FuturaGene’s request for the legalisation of industrial GE plantation, at a conference which will be held on 5th March in Brasilia.

International Coordinator of World Rainforest Movement, Winnie Overbeek, said in a statement: “CTNBio does not have sufficient research on the serious impacts that approval of GE eucalyptus trees could cause to render a decision,” adding that CTNBio held only one public meeting, back in September 2014 in Brasilia, which showed the insufficiency of the existing studies on the issue.

“Existing non-GE eucalyptus plantations are already causing serious conflicts over access to land, and living conditions of communities surrounded by them have been destroyed. Approval of GE eucalyptus trees will worsen these problems,” Overbeek concluded.

As opposed to the negative picture painted by environmentalists, FuturaGene claims that, “Technology developed by FuturaGene could position Brazil as a new model for the plantation forestry industry. This innovation provides benefits in the social, economic and environmental spheres.” However, activists insist on saying that introducing GE eucalyptus trees plantation would simply worsen the impact on the environment, biodiversity, and indigenous and local communities worldwide.

Anne Petermann, International Coordinator of the Campaign to STOP GE Trees, said, “Industry requests to legalise GE Trees are not just being decided in Brazil, but in the U.S. also. And companies in other countries would like to develop GE trees.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has had the same proposal put to them by a different GE tree company, ArborGen.

“Today’s day of action shows once more that people around the world reject genetically engineered trees and Brazil must also,” Petermann added.

In November 2014, a group of experts, scientists, agronomists, indigenous peoples and foresters met in Paraguay to discuss the rejection of all GE trees, even those in field trials. Recently, this committee has finalised a declaration, the Asuncion Declaration, which has been submitted to the CTNBio.

Follow Valentina Ieri on Twitter @Valeieri

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Opinion: Let’s Grant Women Land Rights and Power Our Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-lets-grant-women-land-rights-and-power-our-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-lets-grant-women-land-rights-and-power-our-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-lets-grant-women-land-rights-and-power-our-future/#comments Wed, 04 Mar 2015 15:20:12 +0000 Monique Barbut http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139496 Mary Wanjiru is a farmer from Nyeri County in central Kenya. Granting land rights to women can raise farm production by 20-30 per cent in developing countries. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Mary Wanjiru is a farmer from Nyeri County in central Kenya. Granting land rights to women can raise farm production by 20-30 per cent in developing countries. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Monique Barbut
BONN, Mar 4 2015 (IPS)

Women are not only the world’s primary food producers. They are hardworking and innovative and, they invest far more of their earnings in their families than men. But most lack the single most important asset for accessing investment resources – land rights.

Women’s resourcefulness is astonishing, but they are no fools. They invest their income where they are most likely to see returns, but not in the land they have no rights to. Land tenure is the powerful political tool that governments use to give or deny these rights. We are paying a high price for the failure to grant land rights to the women who play a vital role in agriculture.

Courtesy of UNCCD

Courtesy of UNCCD

Women produce up to 80 per cent of the total food and make up 43 per cent of the labour force in developing countries. Yet 95 per cent of agricultural education programmes exclude them. In Yazd, the ‘desert capital’ of Iran, for example, women have invented a method to produce food in underground tunnels.

In Asia and Africa, a woman’s weekly work is up to 13 hours longer than a man’s. Furthermore, women spend nearly all their earnings on their families, whereas men divert a quarter of their income to other expenses. But most have no rights to the land they till.

Land rights level the playing field by giving both men and women the same access to vital agricultural resources. The knock-on effect is striking. Granting land rights to women can raise farm production by 20-30 per cent in developing countries, and increase a country’s total agricultural production by up to 4 per cent.

This is critical at a time when we are losing 12 million hectares of fertile land each year, but need to raise our food production by up to 70 per cent by 2050 due to population growth and consumption trends – not to mention climate change.

But what is land tenure exactly? Land tenure works like a big bundle of sticks, with each stick representing a particular right. There are five important sticks in the bundle; the sticks to access, to use, to manage land independently, to exclude and to alienate other users. The more sticks a land user has in the bundle, the more motivated they are to nourish and support the land.Women are grimly aware that without land rights, they could lose their land to powerful individuals at any moment. Where, then, is the incentive to invest in the land; especially if you’re hungry now?

The failure to grant these rights, not just to poor, rural land users, but to women as well, means fertile land is exploited to barrenness. With rising competition over what little is available, conflicts are inevitable.

In rural Latin America, only 25 per cent of the land holdings are owned by women. This drops to 15 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa and to less than 5 per cent in western Asia and northern Africa. These are shocking figures, and yet they may be even more optimistic than the reality.

A recent study in Uganda, for instance, shows that even when men and women nominally jointly own land, the woman’s name may not appear in any of the documentation. If a husband dies, divorces or decides to sell the land, his wife has no recourse to asserting her land rights.

Women are grimly aware that without land rights, they could lose their land to powerful individuals at any moment. Where, then, is the incentive to invest in the land; especially if you’re hungry now? Instead, those without rights take what they can from the land before they move to greener pastures. This adds to the unfortunate, yet preventable, spiral of land degradation.

At least 500 million hectares of previously fertile agricultural land is abandoned. And with less than 30 per cent of the land in developing world under secure tenure, there is little hope that these trends will change. The lack of secure land tenure remains a vital challenge for curbing land degradation in developing countries.

Among the rural poor, men are often the main beneficiaries. But granting land rights to both men and women will narrow inequalities and benefit us all.

In Nepal, women with strong property rights tend to be food secure, and their children are less likely to be underweight. In Tanzania, women with property rights are earning up to three times more income. In India, women who own land are eight times less likely to experience domestic violence. The social gains from secure land tenure are vast.

For years, women have dealt with land degradation and fed the world without the support they need. Imagine how granting them land rights could power our future. Let’s mark this year’s International Women’s Day by shouting the loudest for the land rights of rural women.

Edited By Kitty Stapp

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Syrian Conflict Has Underlying Links to Climate Change, Says Studyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/syrian-conflict-has-underlying-links-to-climate-change-says-study/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=syrian-conflict-has-underlying-links-to-climate-change-says-study http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/syrian-conflict-has-underlying-links-to-climate-change-says-study/#comments Mon, 02 Mar 2015 17:59:45 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139443 On a drought-hit farm in Syria, December 2010. Credit: Caterina Donattini/IPS

On a drought-hit farm in Syria, December 2010. Credit: Caterina Donattini/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 2 2015 (IPS)

Was the four-year-old military conflict in Syria, which has claimed the lives of over 200,000 people, mostly civilians, triggered at least in part by climate change?

A new study by Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory says “a record drought that ravaged Syria in 2006-2010 was likely stoked by ongoing man-made climate change, and that the drought may have helped propel the 2011 Syrian uprising.”"Added to all the other stressors, it helped kick things over the threshold into open conflict." -- climate scientist Richard Seager

Described as the worst ever recorded in the region, the drought is said to have destroyed agriculture in the breadbasket region of northern Syria, driving dispossessed farmers to cities, where poverty, government mismanagement and other factors created unrest that exploded in spring 2011.

“We’re not saying the drought caused the war,” said a cautious Richard Seager, a climate scientist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, who co-authored the study.

“We’re saying that added to all the other stressors, it helped kick things over the threshold into open conflict. And a drought of that severity was made much more likely by the ongoing human-driven drying of that region.”

Doreen Stabinsky, a professor of Global Environmental Politics at College of the Atlantic, Maine, U.S., told IPS that obviously the Syrian war is a complex situation that cannot be explained solely due to drought and the collapse of agricultural systems.

“Yet we know that agricultural production will be one of the first casualties of the climate catastrophe that is currently unfolding,” she noted.

Indeed, she said, climate change is not some far-off threat of impacts that will happen in 2050 or 2100.

“What this research shows is that climate impacts on agriculture are happening now, with devastating consequences to those whose livelihoods are based on agriculture.

“We can expect, even in the near-term, more of these types of impacts on agricultural systems that will lead to large-scale migrations – within countries and between countries – with significant human, economic, and ecological cost,” she added.

And what this research shows more than anything is that the global community should be taking the climate crisis – and its impacts on agricultural production – much more seriously than it has to date, said Stabinsky, who is also a visiting professor of climate change leadership at Uppsala University in Sweden.

Meanwhile, previous studies have also linked climate change – water shortages and drought – as triggering conflicts in Darfur, Sudan.

Asked about Syria, Dr Colin P. Kelley, lead author of the study, told IPS: “From what I’ve read , there is little evidence of climate change (precipitation or temperature) contributing to the Darfur conflict that erupted in 2003.

“I know this has been a controversial topic, though,” he added.

According to the new Columbia University study, climate change has also resulted in the escalation of military tension in the so-called Fertile Crescent, spanning parts of Turkey and much of Syria and Iraq.

It says a growing body of research suggests that extreme weather, including high temperatures and droughts, increases the chances of violence, from individual attacks to full-scale wars.

Some researchers project that human-made global warming will heighten future conflicts, or argue that it may already be doing so.

And recent journalistic accounts and other reports have linked warfare in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere in part to environmental issues, especially lack of water.

The new study, combining climate, social and economic data, is perhaps the first to look closely and quantitatively at these questions in relation to a current war.

The study also points out the recent drought affected the so-called Fertile Crescent, where agriculture and animal herding are believed to have started some 12,000 years ago.

The region has always seen natural weather swings.

But using existing studies and their own research, the authors showed that since 1900, the area has undergone warming of 1 to 1.2 degrees Centigrade (about 2 degrees Fahrenheit), and about a 10-percent reduction in wet-season precipitation.

“They showed that the trend matches neatly with models of human-influenced global warming, and thus cannot be attributed to natural variability,” according to the study.

Further, it says global warming has had two effects.

First, it appears to have indirectly weakened wind patterns that bring rain-laden air from the Mediterranean, reducing precipitation during the usual November-April wet season.

Second, higher temperatures have increased evaporation of moisture from soils during the usually hot summers, giving any dry year a one-two punch.

The region saw substantial droughts in the 1950s, 1980s and 1990s. However, 2006-10 was easily the worst and longest since reliable record keeping began.

The researchers conclude that an episode of this severity and length would have been unlikely without the long-term changes.

Other researchers have observed the long-term drying trend across the entire Mediterranean, and attributed at least part of it to manmade warming; this includes an earlier study from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has predicted that the already violent Mideast will dry more in coming decades as human-induced warming proceeds.

The study’s authors say Syria was made especially vulnerable by other factors, including dramatic population growth— from 4 million in the 1950s to 22 million in recent years.

Also, the ruling al-Assad family encouraged water-intensive export crops like cotton, the study notes.

Illegal drilling of irrigation wells dramatically depleted groundwater that might have provided reserves during dry years, said co-author Shahrzad Mohtadi, a graduate student at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) who did the economic and social components of the research.

The drought’s effects were immediate. Agricultural production, typically a quarter of the country’s gross domestic product, plummeted by a third, according to the study.

In the hard-hit northeast, it said, livestock herds were practically obliterated; cereal prices doubled; and nutrition-related diseases among children saw dramatic increases.

As many as 1.5 million people fled from the countryside to the peripheries of cities that were already strained by influxes of refugees from the ongoing war in next-door Iraq.

In these chaotic instant suburbs, the Assad regime did little to help people with employment or services, said Mohtadi. It was largely in these areas that the uprising began.

“Rapid demographic change encourages instability,” say the authors. “Whether it was a primary or substantial factor is impossible to know, but drought can lead to devastating consequences when coupled with preexisting acute vulnerability.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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