Inter Press Service » Indigenous Rights News and Views from the Global South Wed, 04 May 2016 00:57:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Black Colombian Activists Continue Our Struggle For Rights Sun, 01 May 2016 23:28:03 +0000 Charo Mina Rojas Black Women are leading the resistance in Northern Cauca, Colombia.  Credit: ACONC (Association of Community Councils of Northenr Cauca).

Black Women are leading the resistance in Northern Cauca, Colombia. Credit: ACONC (Association of Community Councils of Northenr Cauca).

By Charo Rojas
Cauca, COLOMBIA, May 1 2016 (IPS)

While Colombia’s peace talks continue in Havana, Cuba, back home in the region of North Cauca, Black Colombians have found their cries for access to their ancestral lands met with tear-gas and rubber bullets.

We saw them approach, the ESMAD, the dreaded special police unit called out to squelch popular mobilizations against the government. We pressed even closer together to maintain our lines on one of the main highways that connects Colombia’s north and south. Over a thousand of us, black Colombians from one of the poorest regions of the country, gathered to demonstrate to the government that we would not be silenced while our territories are taken away. Suddenly, without warning, the ESMAD began their assault and soon elders, children, women and our young people were choking from the tear-gas and holding parts of their bodies stinging from rubber bullets indiscriminately fired at us.

The ESMAD’s assault took place on April 25 in the region of North Cauca, Colombia. The next day, the ESMAD sabotaged conversations between the community councils and the authorities, their renewed attacks this time also effecting some of the government officials. A three month-old baby and several children were hurt by a tear-gas grenade that exploded inside their house. We black Colombians are more or less held hostage by the ESMAD, while the national government had promised a meeting at the Mayor’s office in the nearest town.

The Afrodescendant Women’s Mobilization has received numerous death threats due to our actions to protect our community’s rights and territories. However, the government fails to find the responsible persons for the illegal mining or the death threats.

The Northern Cauca region, located in the department of Cauca, is a critical area in the negotiations between the Colombian government and FARC that are currently taking place in Havana, Cuba. Yet Black communities and our interests have not been considered during these discussions, even though our ancestral territories will be compromised by at least one of the agreements: the 63 so-called campesino reserves. Most of the areas the FARC wants to settle or continue to control are in the middle of or close to black and Indigenous lands.

The main national Black organizations have been concentrated in the National Afro-Colombian Peace Council (CONPA by its acronym in Spanish), which with the Interethnic Commission of Peace, has demanded and lobbied the Colombian government to bring our voice and interests to the table in Havana. But since our demands have been ignored we have had to find new ways to make our voices heard.

As has often been the case in our long history of struggle and resistance in Colombia we have again had to turn to protest. In November 2014, eighty Afro-descendant women mobilized and walked across the country to Bogotá, the capital of Colombia, where we seized the building of the Ministry of Interior to demand a stop to the increase in illegal mining in our territories. These mining activities have brought death, violence and tragedy. In one mine collapse alone, over 40 of our people were killed.

These mobilizations have often been led by Black women, increasingly so in recent years. We have made the government sign agreements to remove illegal mining and admit that granting mining rights to multinationals violates its own laws. We have also made the government acknowledge that these agreement violate the right to prior and informed consultation and consent, as recognized by the International Labour Organization’s Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention. Yet those admissions and agreements have not translated into respect for our rights or any change in government’s actions or approach. In fact, despite the agreements, and the laws and the constitutional mandate to consult, to respect, promote and protect the rights of Black people, the Colombian government has granted mining concessions that cover seventy percent of the Cauca lands to multinationals such as Anglo Gold Ashanti.

The Afrodescendant Women’s Mobilization has received numerous death threats due to our actions to protect our community’s rights and territories. However, the government seems incapable of finding those responsible for the illegal mining or the death threats.

That is why we must continue to resist. The Community Councils will continue blocking the road until the national authorities commit to a renewed dialogue that will lead to substantive changes in how the interests of our communities are protected. It is clear for us that our Black lives matter only through our own efforts.

Charo Mina Rojas is an activist with the Black Communities’ Process in Colombia.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of IPS.

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West Papuans Turn to Africa for Support in Freedom Bid Sat, 30 Apr 2016 06:30:44 +0000 Catherine Wilson Former President of Ghana, John Kufuor, voiced his support for West Papuan political aspirations during a meeting with West Papuan indigenous leader, Benny Wenda, at Ghana's 59th Independence celebrations in March this year. Credit: Benny Wenda

Former President of Ghana, John Kufuor, voiced his support for West Papuan political aspirations during a meeting with West Papuan indigenous leader, Benny Wenda, at Ghana's 59th Independence celebrations in March this year. Credit: Benny Wenda

By Catherine Wilson
CANBERRA, Australia, Apr 30 2016 (IPS)

For more than half a century, the indigenous people of West Papua, located on the western side of the island of New Guinea, who are related to the Melanesians of the southwest Pacific Islands, have waged a resistance to governance by Indonesia and a relentless campaign for self-determination.

But despite regular bloodshed and reports of systematic human rights abuses by national security forces, which have taken an estimated half a million West Papuan lives, the international community has remained mostly unwilling to take concerted action in support of their plight.

Now Benny Wenda, a West Papuan independence leader who has lived in exile in the United Kingdom since 2003, is driving a mission to build the support of African states. Following a visit to Senegal in 2010 and two visits to South Africa last year, Wenda was welcomed at the 59th Independence anniversary celebrations in Ghana in March this year.

“There has been widespread attention and further pan-African solidarity for West Papua renewed following my diplomatic visits to these African countries, both at parliamentary and grassroots levels,” Wenda told IPS.

In Ghana, Wenda met with political and church leaders, including former Presidents, Jerry John Rawlings and John Kufuor.

‘We are honoured to fight for your people. We share a similar history. It is no surprise to me that you had support from Ghana at the UN in 1969 and that we accepted West Papuan refugees in the 1980s,’ Jerry John Rawlings said to the Ghanaian media.

The alliance which Wenda is forging is based on a sense of shared historical experience.

“Africa is the motherland to all people and we Melanesians feel this strongly….our affinity primarily lies in our shared ancestral heritage, but also in our recent history because Africa has also suffered the brutalities of colonialism,” Wenda said.

Following decolonisation of the Dutch East Indies, Indonesia gained independence in 1949, but there was disagreement between the Netherlands and Indonesia about the fate of Dutch New Guinea, which the former was preparing for self-determination. A United Nations supervised referendum on its political future, named the ‘Act of Free Choice,’ was held in 1969, but less than 1 per cent of the region’s population was selected to vote by Indonesia, guaranteeing an outcome for integration, rather than independence.

At the time, Ghana and more than a dozen other African states were the only United Nations members to reject the flawed ballot.

During Wenda’s visit to South Africa last February, other leaders, such as Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela’s grandson, Chief Nkosi Zwelivelile ‘Mandla’ Mandela MP, added their solidarity.

‘I’m shocked to learn that West Papua is still not free. I call on the United Nations and all the relevant bodies, please, do what is right, as they know, for West Papua,’ Tutu said in a public statement.

The momentum continued when the Nigeria-based non-government organisation, Pan African Consciousness Renaissance, held a pro-West Papua demonstration outside the Indonesian Embassy in Lagos in April 2015.

Indonesia’s refusal to recognise secessionist aspirations in its far-flung troubled region is often attributed not only to concerns about national unity, but the immense mineral wealth of copper, gold, oil and natural gas which flows to the state from ‘West Papua’, the umbrella term widely used for the two Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua.

Since coming to power in 2014 populist Indonesian President, Joko Widodo, has vowed to increase inclusive development in the region and called on security forces to refrain from abusive measures, but the suffering of West Papuans continues. In May last year, there were reports of 264 activists arrested by police ahead of planned peaceful protests. Twelve Papuans were shot by security forces in Karubaga in the central highlands in July, while in August three people were abducted and tortured by police in the Papuan capital, Jayapura, and two shot dead outside the Catholic Church in Timika.

West Papua’s political fate stands in contrast to that of East Timor at the end of last century. East Timor, a Portuguese colony militarily annexed by Indonesia in 1975, gained Independence in 2002. The positive result of an independence referendum in 1999 was widely accepted and further supported by a multi-national peacekeeping force when ensuing violence instigated by anti-independence forces threatened to derail the process.

But in the political climate of the 1960s, Wenda says “West Papua was effectively handed over to Indonesia to try and appease a Soviet friendly Indonesian government….our fate was left ignored for the sake of cold war politics.” Now Indonesia staunchly defends its right of sovereignty over the provinces.

In the immediate region, West Papua has obtained some support from Pacific Island countries, such as the Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu which have voiced concerns about human rights violations at the United Nations.

And last year the Melanesian Spearhead Group, a sub-regional intergovernmental organisation, granted observer status to the United Liberation Movement for West Papua coalition. However, Indonesia, a significant trade partner in the Pacific Islands region, was awarded associate membership, giving it an influential platform within the organisation.

“Luhut Pandjaitan’s [Indonesia’s Presidential Chief of Staff] recent visit to Fiji suggests that Indonesia is continuing its efforts to dissuade Pacific states from supporting West Papua and is willing to allocate significant diplomatic and economic resources to the objective,” Dr Richard Chauvel at the University of Melbourne’s Asia Institute commented to IPS.

In contrast to Indonesia’s Pacific Island neighbours, Dr Chauvel continued, “African states mostly do not have significant trade, investment, diplomatic and strategic interests with Indonesia and do not have to weigh these interests against support for the West Papuan cause at the UN or elsewhere.”

How influential south-south solidarity by African leaders will be on West Papua’s bid for freedom hinges on whether championing words translate into action. In the meantime, Benny Wenda’s campaign continues.


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Forced Closure of Bedouin Settlements Fri, 22 Apr 2016 07:43:44 +0000 Silvia Boarini 1 Ethiopia’s Smoldering Oromo Mon, 11 Apr 2016 04:31:40 +0000 James Jeffrey 7 Are Indigenous Women Key to Sustainable Development? Mon, 21 Mar 2016 23:06:48 +0000 Valentina Ieri By Valentina Ieri

“We, indigenous women want to be considered as part of the solution for sustainable development, because we have capabilities and knowledge, ” said Tarcila Rivera, a Quechua journalist and activist for the rights of indigenous people in Peru, at a press conference on the Empowerment of Indigenous Women.

Tarcila Rivera Zea, President of the Centre for Indigenous Cultures of Peru (CHIRAPAQ) and a member of the UN Women Global Civil Society Advisory Group, addresses a press conference on indigenous women’s rights, March 2015. Photo: UN Media/ Mark Garten

Tarcila Rivera Zea, President of the Centre for Indigenous Cultures of Peru (CHIRAPAQ) and a member of the UN Women Global Civil Society Advisory Group, addresses a press conference on indigenous women’s rights, March 2015. Photo: UN Media/ Mark Garten

Rivera, like many other women who are fighting for the rights of indigenous people in parts of Central and Latin America, Northern Europe, Canada, Asia, Australia, New Zealand and Africa, is attending the 60th annual sessions of the inter-governmental body, UN Commission of the Status of Women (CSW60), which concludes March 24.

As a functional commission of the U.N. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the CSW is meeting with representatives of Member States, U.N. agencies, international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and civil society to discuss the status of women’s political, economic and social advancement and the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls.

Opening the 60th CSW session, Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, who during his nine years in office has appointed over 150 women as Assistant Secretaries-General or Under-Secretaries-General — urged country leaders to take action to end gender inequality.

“In countries where children have “disappeared”, grandmothers stood up to demand justice. In areas ravaged by AIDS, HIV-positive mothers replaced stigma with hope. In homophobic societies, lesbian victims of rape survived and organized […] As long as one woman’s human rights are violated, our struggle is not over.”

In line with this year’s CSW theme —Women’s Empowerment and Its Link to Sustainable Development and the U.N. 2030 Agenda– indigenous women are demanding governments in their countries to recognise them as a driving force in achieving economic and social development.

In Kenya, it is mostly women who play a key role in supporting families despite growing up in a patriarchal society, explained Valerie Kasaiyian – an indigenous Maasai woman, lawyer and educator for girl’s reproductive rights.

There are indigenous women groups, such as those from Samburu, who for the past 20 years have provided alone for their entire community by building houses and schools. They also established self-sustaining economic activities by selling livestock or traditional jewels in order to get their families out of poverty, continued Kasaiyian.

Women from Marsabit, in the northern part of Kenya, developed sustainable farms, where they grew tomatoes and other crops in greenhouses, and then sold them to the community, without reliance on their male counterparts.

“Sustainable development is about preserving resources and the land for future generations. Indigenous communities, who for centuries have lived in isolation, have found their own system to work the land and to preserve it. It is in our ancestral culture and identity,” Kasaiyian told IPS.

“Yet we assist to a systematic ethnocide of our indigenous culture by the government […] where young indigenous women are meant to be homogenised and integrated into the mainstream culture,” she added.

Since the implementation of the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action, along with the U.N. Resolution 1325, on the importance of women in peace negotiations and peace-building, and the 2007 U.N. Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People, there have been several important steps to highlight the voices of indigenous women in the international arena. But at a slow pace.

Indigenous women and girls- who are not to be confused with rural women – have their own identity, defined by their own specific language, education, traditional knowledge and socio-economic values, remarked Rivera, who is the founder of the Center for Indigenous Cultures of Peru (CHIRAPAQ) .

However, they are mostly excluded by government policies, as they are not fully treated with human dignity, said the Peruvian activist.

“Many programs look at us as subject of assistance. But we don’t want to depend on these kind of food programs. We are trying to be considered as subject of change, and development from within, (through) our capacity,” she said.

Despite the lack of thorough national statistics, indigenous women suffer from high levels of discrimination, sexual and domestic violence, extreme poverty, trafficking, lacking in access to land rights and education and poor maternal and infant healthcare.

Myrna Cunningham Kain, member from Nicaragua of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, briefs journalists on highlights of the twelfth session of the Forum on Indigenous Issues, taking place in New York from 20 to 31 May, 2013.Photo: UN Media/Evan Schneider

Myrna Cunningham Kain, member from Nicaragua of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, briefs journalists on highlights of the twelfth session of the Forum on Indigenous Issues, taking place in New York from 20 to 31 May, 2013.Photo: UN Media/Evan Schneider

Myrna Cunningham, an indigenous Mixteca woman from the Waspam community in Nicaragua, told IPS about the problem of data disaggregation in certain countries, where indigenous people are not counted or excluded from certain indicators.

“When talking about statistics” – said Cunningham, who is President of the Center for Autonomy and Development of Indigenous Peoples (CADPI), and former chair of the U.N. Permanent Forum of Indigenous Issues – “self-identification, should be the main indicator, which can be used complementarily to other types of info-gathering questions. Also, government statistics should use more culturally sensitive indicators, which will help to define public policies and implement them.”

With the adoption of the U.N. Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People, the U.N. set a framework that will foster the partnership between members states and indigenous communities, through dialogue, proposals and projects, in order to further implement the Declaration and recognise and protect indigenous women, Chandra Roy-Henriksen, Chief Secretariat of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, told IPS.

Kasaiyian said: “We will strongly push for a U.N. Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Women specifically, so that women can prosecute in case of violation of their rights in international tribunals.

Indigenous women must bridge the gap between academics, professionals and activists, by establishing their own jurisprudence and theories of law regarding the eradication of violence against women and to empower future generations.”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Tribute to a Slain Environment Activist Tue, 15 Mar 2016 07:20:11 +0000 Amantha Perera Berta Cáceres on the banks of the Gualcarque River, in the Rio Blanco region in western Honduras that she fought so hard to protect. Photo Credit: Goldman Environment Prize

Berta Cáceres on the banks of the Gualcarque River, in the Rio Blanco region in western Honduras that she fought so hard to protect. Photo Credit: Goldman Environment Prize

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, Mar 15 2016 (IPS)

Berta Isabel Cáceres Flores, was in her early 20s when she co-founded the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras (Cophin), a group that campaigned for the rights of indigenous communities in the Central American nation.

Influenced by a mother, who took in fleeing El Salvadorian refugees, Cáceres was fully committed to her cause. She told friends and colleagues that her struggle was against ‘deadly powers’ that put profit before the rights of her people. In the last two decades, she saw colleagues being threatened, attacked and killed, but her work only got bigger.

Twenty three years after she formed Cophin, Cáceres paid the ultimate prize. She was gunned down in her home after assassins had stormed it around 1 am on March 3.

Before her death, Cáceres had received dead threats and had in fact moved house for safety. Recently, she had been in the forefront of protests against one of the biggest hydropower projects in Central America. The envisioned four dam Agua Zarca project on the Gualcarque river was being built by a local Honduran firm DESA but initially had the backing of China’s Sinohydro and the World Bank’s private sector financier International Finance Cooperation (IFC).

Both pulled out following the protests and Cáceres and others had been publicly calling for other backers like the Dutch Development Bank, the Finnish Fund for Industrial Cooperation and Germany’s Siemens and Voith to follow Sinohydro and IFC.

Her work won worldwide recognition. “With her people she made the World Bank withdraw from Honduras. It is precisely because of this struggle of Cophin led by her and for more then 20 years of resistance to new colonial powers that she won the Emma Goldman Prize in 2015,” Tatiana Cordero, executive director, Latin America at Urgent Action Fund, an international organisation that works for women’s rights, told IPS.

Such global accolades only strengthened Cáceres’ resolve to campaign more vigorously against the dam project, but they obviously need to give her more protection. Less than two weeks before her assassination she led a massive march in Rio Blanco that ended in a confrontation with government security personnel and employees from DESA.

“She was a global voice for the rights of indigenous people to water, food, land and life. She bravely challenged those in positions of power to do what was right — instead of what would result in the most profit,” said Terry Odendahl, President and CEO, Global Greengrants that has funded over 3,000 grants in over 145 countries to the tune of over $45 million said.

The brazen murder of a high-profile activist sent shockwaves through the global environmental rights community. UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz said she was horrified at the murder. Tauli-Corpuz had met Cáceres during a visit in November 2015 and had been personally appraised on the threats.

Tauli-Corpuz said that the international community should work together to bring such wanton violence faced by indigenous activists to a stop: “It is time for the nations of the world to bring perpetrators to justice and to protect indigenous rights activists peacefully protesting the theft of their lands and resources.”

That grass roots environmental activists are under threat across the globe has been known for awhile now. Global Witness found that in 2014, 116 environmental activists were murdered, almost double the number of journalists killed in the same period. Over 40 per cent of the victims were from indigenous communities while three quarters of them were from Central or South America. Between 2002 and 2013, at least 903 citizens engaged in environmental protection work were killed world over.

“The case of Cáceres is emblematic of the systematic targeting of environmental defenders in Honduras. Since 2013, three of her colleagues have been killed for resisting the Agua Zarca hydro-dam on the Gualcarque River, which threatens to cut off a vital water source for hundreds of indigenous Lenca people,” Global Witness said soon after the murder. The organisation also found that such attacks do not get much attention in the international press.

Activists say that the international community needs to understand the real dangers faced by the likes of Cáceres and the impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators. “There is a difference between realising the danger and holding the people and systems accountable. This assassination took place because of the Honduran government’s inability to ensure indigenous people and women can carry out their legitimate work without fear.” Odendahl said.

Aleta Baun, an Indonesian activist from the western half of Timor, who has been campaigning on behalf of her Mollo people can relate easily to the Cáceres predicament. Baun, who also won the Goldman Environmental Award in 2013, has survived at least two assassination attempts.

“You feel completely alone when such attacks happen,” she said of an attack in when she was waylaid by 30 men. She said that there has been no serious pressure brought on by local governments and international players to curb such attacks.

Suryamani Bhagat an activist with Save the Forests of Jharkhand Movement in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand also shares these sentiments. “I work with a lot of women, so I feel safer,” she said.

But once they are alone, that protective shield shatters and leads to deadly consequences.


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Public Primary Boarding Schools in Pastoral Communities Mon, 07 Mar 2016 06:49:20 +0000 Miriam Gathigah 0 Tanzania Farmers, Pastoralists Launch Forum to Resolve Water Conflicts Thu, 03 Mar 2016 06:52:30 +0000 Kizito Makoye 0 Latin America’s Indigenous Peoples Find an Ally in the Pope Mon, 15 Feb 2016 21:26:12 +0000 Emilio Godoy 0 Agroecology in Africa: Mitigation the Old New Way Mon, 11 Jan 2016 17:36:27 +0000 Frederic Mousseau agroeocology project. ]]>

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

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

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

Frederic Mousseau

Frederic Mousseau

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Initiatives Revive Palestinian Heritage Boosting Economy and ‘Homeland’ Fri, 25 Dec 2015 11:27:41 +0000 Silvia Boarini 0 Mexican Government Ignores Social Impact of Energy Projects Wed, 23 Dec 2015 17:03:38 +0000 Emilio Godoy The oil industry contracts granted by the Mexican government since 2014 have not included the social impact assessments required by law. The photo shows the Abkatun-A Permanente shallow-water platform in the Campeche Sound, where a fire broke out on Apr. 1, 2015 off the coast of the state of Campeche in southeastern Mexico. Credit: Courtesy of PEMEX

The oil industry contracts granted by the Mexican government since 2014 have not included the social impact assessments required by law. The photo shows the Abkatun-A Permanente shallow-water platform in the Campeche Sound, where a fire broke out on Apr. 1, 2015 off the coast of the state of Campeche in southeastern Mexico. Credit: Courtesy of PEMEX

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Dec 23 2015 (IPS)

Mexico’s hydrocarbons law stipulates that oil contracts must include a social impact assessment. But this has not been done in the case of the oilfields granted to the country’s former oil monopoly, Pemex, or to private companies since the industry was opened up to private investment.

Civil society organisations argue that concessions that do include a social impact asessment are illegal.

“The authorities have the obligation to carry out the consultations,” Manuel Llano, the founder of Cartocrítica, a Mexican NGO, told IPS. “One interesting detail is that the law says the evaluation must be conducted prior to the public tenders.”

Article 120 of the hydrocarbons law in effect since August 2014 states that the energy ministry must organise consultations to obtain free, prior and informed consent from indigenous communities that will be affected by oil industry projects in their territories.

And article 121 establishes that those interested in obtaining a permit for oil industry activity must present a social impact assessment (SIA) to the energy ministry. The energy reform opened up oil exploration, extraction, refining, transportation, distribution and sale of oil and its by-products to local and foreign private investment.“With respect to the shallow water projects, the government argues that there is no social impact, which is why the SIAs weren’t conducted. But one of the long-time conflicts is with fisherpersons because of the damage they suffer due to oil industry activity.” -- Aroa de la Fuente

After Pemex’s monopoly was broken up by the new law in August 2014, the state oil company was allowed to keep 83 percent of the country’s probable reserves and 21 percent of the prospective reserves, equivalent to 20 billion barrels of crude. This selection process was known as Round Zero.

On Jul. 15, the Mexican government opened up Round One and assigned two contracts for the exploration and drilling of deep sea oilwells off the coast of the southeastern states of Campeche, Tabasco and Veracruz. The contracts were signed on Sept. 4.

On Sept. 30, the energy ministry assigned three more contracts, and on Dec. 15 the third public tender was held.

“They haven’t done the assessments,” Aroa de la Fuente, a researcher with the FUNDAR Centre for Research and Analysis, told IPS. “With respect to the shallow water projects, the government argues that there is no social impact, which is why the SIAs weren’t conducted. But one of the long-time conflicts is with fisherpersons because of the damage they suffer due to oil industry activity.”

She questioned the argument that there are no social impacts, if no studies have been carried out to demonstrate this.

Since March, the guidelines for the SIAs have been open to public consultation in the Federal Regulatory Improvement Commission (COFEMER).

According to the “general administrative guidelines on social impact assessments in the energy sector”, drawn up by the energy ministry, the evaluations must assess the likely social impacts from oil industry activity and outline the social impact plans and measures to mitigate potentially adverse effects.

The guidelines require a baseline, representing a starting point for companies to compare actual with projected impacts. The baseline should be established before any oil industry activity begins. It should provide statistics in the following areas: demographic, migration, households and families, education, health services, jobs and labour conditions, social security, housing, main economic activities, local public finances, and tangible and intangible cultural heritage.

The company must also include the results from the analysis of stakeholders – individuals, communities, groups, organisations and institutions – taking into consideration their rights, interests and expectations, as well as their levels of involvement, importance and influence regarding the project.

The SIA must specify whether the impacts are short, medium, long-term or permanent; whether the adverse effects are mild, moderate or severe or the benefits are mild or strong; and whether the impacts are low, moderate, high or very high.

The comments about the SIA process reflect the resistance of companies, especially in the storage and distribution sectors, to conduct them.

The energy ministry estimates 176 million dollars in losses from the cancellation of projects due to the lack of SIAs.

The government argues that the first two public tenders did not require SIAs because they involved shallow water drilling. But the law does not make any such distinction.

Llano said SIAs are important for the defence of territory and for those who wish to legally challenge the areas that have been granted in concession.

The position taken by the government “is serious, because many of the wells are on land,” he said. “They are not complying with the law. They say the first two tenders are in offshore areas, which means no assessment is needed, but there is no legal foundation for this argument. What about the issues of the environment and fisherpersons?”

The expert complained that the government assumes that there are no affected groups, “when it is the assessment that must determine this.”

The government has already suffered its first setbacks. On Dec. 11, a federal judge ordered the permanent suspension of the construction of a wind park in the municipality of Juchitán, in the southern state of Oaxaca, after accepting a legal plea for protection filed by Binnizá indigenous communities.

Native groups and NGOs have fought the Energía Eólica del Sur wind park project by the company of the same name, which would generate 396 MW to be fed into power grids in the region. Their argument is that no free, prior and informed consent was sought.

The SIAs can be a useful tool for local populations. “In the public tenders for oil wells on land, the situation will become more complex, because people are going to try to defend themselves, and this is a mechanism that allows them to do so,” said de la Fuente.

Edited by Verónica Firme/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Verónica Firme/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Another Himalayan Blunder Thu, 17 Dec 2015 11:42:36 +0000 N Chandra Mohan By N Chandra Mohan
NEW DELHI, Dec 17 2015 (IPS)

South Asian integration remains a distant dream as some member countries like Nepal resent India’s big brotherly dominance in the region. They perceive that they have no stakes in India’s rise as an economic power. Ensuring unrestricted market access perhaps would have made a big difference in this regard. Their resentment has only deepened as this hasn’t happened. Instead they have registered growing trade deficits with India! The on-going travails of the Himalayan kingdom vis-a-vis India exemplify the problematic nature of integration in a region that accounts for 44 per cent of the world’s poor and one-fourth of its’ population.

N Chandra Mohan

N Chandra Mohan

Nepal appealed to the UN to take “effective steps” to help remove an “economic blockade” imposed on it by India. According to SD Muni, Professor Emeritus at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, this situation is reminiscent of what happened in 1989 when King Birendra’s decision to import anti-aircraft guns from China and his refusal to reform the Panchayat system in the face of a democratic movement precipitated tensions in bilateral relations. India closed down the special entry points for trade and transit, resulting in a severe shortage of essential supplies. Twenty-six years later, Indian trucks have been stopped from entering Nepal.

This blockade similarly has resulted in a shortage of fuel, food and medicines in the Himalayan Kingdom. Supplies of vaccines and antibiotics in particular are believed to be critically low. UNICEF has warned that this will put more than three million infants at risk of death or disease as winter has set in. More than 200,000 families affected by earthquakes earlier in the year are still living in temporary shelters at higher altitudes. The risks of hypothermia, malnutrition and shortages of medicines will disproportionately affect children. As if all this weren’t bad enough, fuel shortages are resulting in illegal felling of forests.

Nepal’s non-inclusive constitution is the proximate cause of this development disaster-in-the-making. The blockade is being spearheaded by ethnic communities who make up 40 per cent of the population like the Madhesis and Tharus from the southern plains or the Terai These minorities have strong historic links with India and are protesting that the recently promulgated constitution marginalizes them. They have stopped goods from India entering the country by trucks since September. India of course formally denies that it has anything to do with the blockade but it is concerned that the constitution discriminates against these minorities.

As Nepal shares a 1,088 mile open border with it, India is concerned that the violent agitation over the constitution will spill over into its country. The bulk of the Himalayan Kingdom’s trade is with India, including a total dependence on fuel. It is also a beneficiary of special trading trade concessions and Indian aid. Nepali soldiers in the Indian army constitute one of its leading infantry formations — the Gurkha Regiment. Nepali nationals freely cross the border and work in India. Normally, such interdependence should occasion closer bilateral ties and integration. Unfortunately, this hasn’t happened till now.

Nepal’s ballooning bilateral trade deficit is of course one factor behind the lingering resentment of India. Realizing this, India’s PM Narendra Modi assured South Asian leaders during a summit meeting in Kathmandu in November 2014 that this trade surplus was neither right nor sustainable. That India stood ready to reduce deficits which South Asian countries were incurring in exchange of their goods and services. This is as clear as it gets that India might roll out unilateral trade liberalization; take whatever they have to offer to boost trade within South Asia from the lowly five per cent level at present.

India’s compulsions to do so are simple. If the drift in South Asian integration is allowed to continue, it will only be to the advantage of China. The dragon’s shadow is indeed lengthening over the region, as it is rapidly developing port and transport infrastructure in Pakistan and Sri Lanka. It has promised aid to Nepal to develop its northern border districts. Nepal has also opened more border trading points with China. That China has become Bangladesh’s largest trading partner is a painful reminder to India of its failure to deepen economic cooperation in the neighborhood. Clearly, the challenge for India is to defend its turf against China.

It is in Nepal’s interests, too, that it addresses the sources of discontent over the constitution through dialogue to ensure broad-based-ownership and acceptance. Its top leadership has also agreed to amend the constitution within three months. A more harmonious relationship with India, too, is in its interests. For instance, it has not been able to tap its abundant water resources by developing hydroelectricity generation. South Asia’s diverse topography lends itself to greater cross border power trade, but political inhibitions have ensured that progress has been less than the potential. Some power trading is taking place in the region bordering Bhutan and India.

Nepal has of late seized this opportunity but politics can swiftly derail this process. The signing of a much delayed $1.4 billion deal between the Investment Board of Nepal and India’s GMR Group to develop a 900 MW dam and tunnel system on the upper Karnali River is exactly the sort of big ticket project that can transform the economy of this Himalayan kingdom. Another Indian firm, Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Limited signed a deal with the Nepal Government to build a 900 MW project known as Arun-3 in east Nepal. These are just two examples of India’s involvement to help Nepal realize its hydro power potential.

Nepal is also part of India’s efforts to secure greater connectivity by road, rail and sea within South Asia with Bangladesh and Bhutan. These countries have signed a motor vehicle agreement for freer movement of passenger, cargo and personnel traffic within these countries. These processes must be allowed to fructify. This is exactly the sort of stake that Nepal needs to develop in an economics and business-driven partnership with India. Allowing the processes of regional integration to drift is another Himalayan blunder that Nepal can do without.


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Earthquake Survivors Struggle Amid Fuel Shortages Due to Protests Thu, 17 Dec 2015 06:36:44 +0000 Stella Paul 0 Farmers, CSOs Rally Behind Environmentalist Jailed for Exposing Land Grabbing in Cameroon Tue, 15 Dec 2015 08:04:34 +0000 Mbom Sixtus By Mbom Sixtus
YOUNDE, Cameroon, Dec 15 2015 (IPS)

Farmers and activists in Cameroon say a jail sentence handed down on an environmentalist who exposed land-grabbing by a multinational agro-industrial company, sends a dangerous signal to communities trying to protect their land and resources.

Nasako Bessingi, Director of Struggle to Economize Future Environment, SEFE, was sentenced on November 3, by a court in Mundemba, a small village in Cameroon’s southwest region. The SG-SOC company, a subsidiary of the New York-based Herakles Farms and two of his former employees sued him for defamation.

The verdict: a fine of just over 1,800 dollars or 3-years imprisonment. He was also ordered to pay damages of about 18,000 dollars to the two civil parties and costs of about 364 dollars. Nasako was given 24 hours to pay the fine otherwise he faces jail for 3 years.

Nasako says his NGO has paid the fine “Just to have time to do other things while our lawyer Adolf Malle follows up an appeal at the southwest regional Court of Appeal.”

Recounting his plight to IPS, he said Herakles Farms sued him following government’s suspension of its activities. He also revealed to IPS he had written petitions against the company in which he accused its officials of lying to villagers.

In his complaints, he notified the government of the company’s activities, clearing, felling trees and planting nurseries pending authorization, which he called illegal. He said he had also reported claims by the multinational firm that it had authorization to acquire 73,000 hectares of land on a 99 year-lease at the cost at about 50 cents per hectare per year.

“My complaint was filed in August 2012 and in November 2013, President Paul Biya signed a decree, limiting the company to 19,843 hectares of land in Cameroon and to pay seven dollars per hectare per year.” The company abandoned the project.

Going by Nasako, the initial suit filed by the company, charged him with inciting the government to suspend the activities of the company, but during the proceedings which took close to two years, the company modified its claims and emphasized on defamation.

Nasako led journalists from both the local and international media to cover conflicts between Herakles Farms (SG-SOC) and communities of the Mundemba sub-division in the southwest of Cameroon. He was attacked in the forest a few days later on his way to an interior village in the subdivision for a sensitization campaign.

In his report of the incident, a copy of which he forwarded to Bruce Wrobel, (now deceased), the CEO of the company at the time, stating that he had identified the attackers as workers of his company.

“They used the report against me claiming I defamed the company, whereas there were many witnesses at the scene of the event,” Nasako said. “I filed a complaint in court against the company, but they too filed one at the same time and for some reasons, the court decided to listen to the multinational firm.”

Several environmental NGOs, some of which were equally against the land grabbing attempts of Herakles Farms, have denounced the verdict which to them is unjust. Nasako says he is comforted by officials of local and international NGOs including Nature Cameroon, Cultural Survival, the African Coalition Against Land Grabbing, Green Peace among other sympathizers.

To Samuel Nguiffo, Coordinator of the Yaounde-based Center for Environment and Development, CED, “The conviction of Nasako Besingi, which follows a series of other procedures, suggests a desire to intimidate environmental activists, in a context marked by the proliferation of investments in land and natural resources, which strongly encroach on village land.”

A statement from the Amy Moas, a US-based Senior Forest Campaigner and Eric Ini, an Africa Forest Campaigner for Green Peace, says Nasako is “Guilty for nothing more than exercising his democratic right to protest.” They hold that Herakles Farms has consistently worked to silence its critics and that the activist has been intimidated and assaulted in recent years.

Chief Alexander Ekperi of Esoki, one of the villages affected by the Herakles agro-industrial project told IPS that as a traditional ruler, he was a middleman between the investors and the indigenes. He said his people depend on farming and without land they will be idle and poor.

“I am 100 per cent in support of Nasako. The company concealed information from us. We were fooled our village will be developed but Nasako and other environmentalist educated us on the project and we realized the company was going to exploit both timber and non-timber products, grab our farmland and leave people stranded. We were not even aware of how much land the company was grabbing,” he said.

The traditional ruler complained, “Even our people, like Dr. Blaise Mekole who were close to the investors have vanished and no longer communicate with us. People are looking up to me to pay for some work they did for the company, whereas I was given a fake ECOBANK cheque. It was a mafia (incident) and we regret the person who exposed it is getting a heavy sentence.”

Peter Okpo Wa-namolongo who lives in one of the villages in the Korup National Park, believes Nasako’s verdict was unjust. “I don’t know if some of our elite are truly Cameroonians, because when it comes to money, they don’t feel for their own people. The investors give us oil, food and beer and pay the elite huge amounts of bribe money for our land,” he said.

Wa-namolongo pointed out, “These big companies have money. They pay their way into places and I’m sure even the judges received their money. I am strongly against what is happening to Nasako.”

Mosembe Cornelius, owner of a vast farmland that was coveted by Harakles farms told IPS that “The main problem is that government has incomplete information about the crisis. I would have lost my own seven hectares if environmentalists were not here to help.”

Before Mosember could finish his statement, another villager, Edwin Njio joined in and said, “Environmentalists helped us meet international lawyers who exposed the illegality of the company. We would be dead without our land. We the villagers are very angry.”

He also said, “We were treated as animals but we now understand our rights. If Nasako is convicted then the whole of Cameroon should be jailed. Even our chiefs (traditional rulers) treated us as if we don’t deserve respect.”

But Chief Eben Joseph sees things conversely. He is one of the traditional rulers in whose jurisdiction Herakles Farms’ project was being set up. “This project was going to bring development to my village. The head of state wants Cameroon to be emergent by 2035. How can we get there without foreign investments?” he asked.

Quizzed on the disparities in the amount the company paid per hectare on the annual basis and what was later determined by the head of state, as well as the surface area of land they initially wanted to exploit and the limitations by the 2013 Presidential Decree, Chief Eben stated he is a businessman.

“One cannot invest where he will not make profit. You go where you will make the highest profit. Gulf Oil had a permit to exploit oil in the Bakassi Peninsular in the 1970s, they claimed to the government the oil was little and sold their permit to Pecten which then exploited oil for about 30 years. Pecten recently sold the same area to Addax Petroleum which is still exploiting oil where Gulf Oil had claimed had little oil. It’s just business,” he said.

The traditional ruler said the government would have been collecting taxes from Herakles Farms while villagers enjoy some royalties. “Nasako and I have been friends for long, he always sees things from his own unique way. But he is not above the law. I will not say whether his court sentence was right or wrong.”

To Chief Orume, another traditional ruler in the region, “I knew this company will bring development to my village which is in a conservative area with community forests and a national park. I knew they would construct roads to ferry their produce out of the forest. But I am surprised they have just disappeared and we don’t know when they will be back.”

Though grappling with an appeal, Nasako told IPS that he has received complaints from laid-off workers of Herakles Farms. “They made severance payments to some workers in July 2015 promising to pay 70 other workers on September 30 but did not,” he said.

The company wrote an appeal to Cameroon’s presidency on October 3, pleading the government should intervene in court cases against the company. Jonathan Watts, the company’s Chief Operations Manager, sent a letter saying the company spent funds on court cases and said that the government should help dismiss the cases so that the company could focus on producing palm oil, which is a disputed product in ecological circles as it destroys forests.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Native Women Green the Outskirts of the City, Feed Their Families Sat, 17 Oct 2015 13:42:14 +0000 Franz Chavez Women from the Sucre Association of Urban Producers, who are from poor neighbourhoods on the outskirts of Bolivia’s official capital, with a basketful of ecologically grown fresh vegetables from their greenhouses, which have improved their families’ diets and incomes. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

Women from the Sucre Association of Urban Producers, who are from poor neighbourhoods on the outskirts of Bolivia’s official capital, with a basketful of ecologically grown fresh vegetables from their greenhouses, which have improved their families’ diets and incomes. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

By Franz Chávez
SUCRE, Bolivia, Oct 17 2015 (IPS)

The hands of women who have migrated from rural areas carefully tend to their ecological vegetable gardens in the yards of their humble homes on the outskirts of Sucre, the official capital of Bolivia, in an effort to improve their families’ diets and incomes.

“The men worked in the construction industry, and 78 percent of the women didn’t have work – they had no skills, they washed clothes for others or sold things at the market,” Lucrecia Toloba, secretary of “productive development and plural economy” in the government of the southeastern department of Chuquisaca, told IPS.

Her hair in two thin braids and wearing traditional native dress – a bowler hat, a short, pleated skirt called a pollera, and light clothing for the mild climate of the Andean valleys – Toloba, a Quechua Indian, is an educator who now runs the National Urban and Peri-urban Agriculture Programme in the region.“We organised as women, and now we eat without worry because we grow our food free of chemicals." -- Alberta Limachi

In her modest office, she explains that women are at the centre of the programme, which brings them recognition from their families and communities, diversifies their families’ diets, and offers them economic independence through the sale of the vegetables they grow ecologically in the city, which at the same time benefits from healthy, diversified fresh produce.

Five km away, on the outskirts of the city, women in the neighbourhoods of 25 de Mayo and Litoral, who belong to the Sucre Association of Urban Producers, met IPS with a basket of fresh produce from their gardens, including shiny red tomatoes, colourful radishes and bright-green lettuce.

A total of 83 poor suburban neighborhoods in Sucre are taking part in the project, which has the support of the national and departmental governments and of the .

The initiative has 680 members so far, said Guido Zambrana, a young agronomist who runs the Urban Garden Project.

The lunch we are served is soup made with vegetables grown in their backyard gardens, accompanied by tortillas made with cornmeal mixed with flour from different vegetables. Fresh produce is also grown in greenhouses built throughout the hills of Sucre, 2,760 metres above sea level and 420 km south of La Paz, the country’s political centre.

The women have learned how to grow vegetables and how to improve their family’s food security, Tolaba explained.“We want to reach zero malnutrition,” she said.

In Sucre temperatures range between 12 and 25 degrees Celcius. But in the greenhouses, built by the families with support from the government, temperatures climb above 30 degrees.

Sometimes, the temperatures marked by the thermometers in the greenhouses spike and the windows have to be opened. The greenhouses have roofs made of transparent Agrofil plastic sheeting and walls of adobe. They are built under the guidance of technical agronomist Mery Fernández.

Two of the peri-urban agricultural producers of Sucre proudly show one of their greenhouses, which families from 83 poor suburban neighbourhoods have set up in their yards as part of the National Urban and Peri-urban Agriculture Programme. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

Two of the peri-urban agricultural producers of Sucre proudly show one of their greenhouses, which families from 83 poor suburban neighbourhoods have set up in their yards as part of the National Urban and Peri-urban Agriculture Programme. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

The luscious leafy chard and lettuce in the greenhouse of Celia Padilla, who came to Sucre from an indigenous village in the neighbouring department of Potosí with her husband in 2000 and settled in Bicentenario, a neighbourhood in a flat area among the hills surrounding the city.

Padilla, who also belongs to the Quechua indigenous community like most of the women in the association, joined the project with a garden of just eight square metres last year, and is now thinking about building a 500-square-metre greenhouse.

Greenhouse figures

On average, according to FAO statistics, each greenhouse run by the Sucre association produces some 500 kg of fresh produce a year, in three harvests. And an average of 60 percent of the food grown goes to consumption by the families, while the rest is sold, either by the individual farmers, collectively, or through the association.

A total of 17 different kinds of vegetables are grown, nine in each garden on average. The women and their families provide the land and the labour power in building the greenhouses. Besides planting and harvesting they select the seeds and make organic compost, in this sustainable community project.

The Bolivian organisers of the programme say each greenhouse can produce an average income of at least 660 dollars a year.

Her husband, a construction worker who does casual work in the city, is pleased with the idea of expanding the garden by building a greenhouse. Their home garden provides the family with nutritional food and brings in a not insignificant income through the sale of fresh produce to neighbours or at market.

With the earnings, “I buy milk and meat for the kids,” Padilla told Tierramérica, holding bunches of shiny green chard in her hands.

Water for irrigation is scarce, but a local government programme has donated 2,000-litre tanks to capture water during the rainy season and store it up for using in drip irrigation.

The chance to improve the family diet generated a good-natured dispute between Alberta Limachi and her husband, who came to this city from the village of Puca Puca, 64 km away.

The couple, who own a 150-square-metre plot of land on the outskirts of the city, had to decide between a family garden or using the space to build a garage. Limachi, one of the leaders of the urban producers, won the argument.

Her enthusiasm is contagious among her fellow urban farmers.

“We organised as women, and now we eat without worry because we grow our food free of chemicals,” she told Tierramérica, after proudly serving a snack of green beans and fresh salad.

One of the farmers on the outskirts of Sucre with her son, sitting proudly on the 2,000-litre water tank donated by the government of Chuquisaca. The tank stores rainwater used in drip irrigation on the organic vegetables she grows. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

One of the farmers on the outskirts of Sucre with her son, sitting proudly on the 2,000-litre water tank donated by the government of Chuquisaca. The tank stores rainwater used in drip irrigation on the organic vegetables she grows. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

“I don’t ask my husband for money anymore, and we don’t spend anything on vegetables,” Padilla said, pleased to help support her family. Her garden is well-known in the neighbourhood because she grows lettuce, chard, celery, coriander and tomatoes, and her neighbours come knocking every day to buy fresh vegetables.

A committee made up of associations of farmers and consumers monitors and certifies that the fresh produce is organic and of high quality, José Zuleta, the national coordinator of the Urban and Peri-urban Agriculture Programme, told Tierramérica.

“The women grow their food without (chemical) fertiliser, using organic compost that can return to the soil, which means their production is sustainable,” Yusuke Kanae, an agronomist with the FAO office in Sucre, commented to Tierramérica.

Kanae, originally from Japan, offers the women technical know-how and simple practices such as converting a creative variety of containers – ranging from a broken old football to plastic television set packaging – into improvised pots for growing vegetables.

“Even if it’s just 20 bolivianos (slightly less than three dollars), the women can help buy notebooks and shoes,” said Kanae, to illustrate the importance of the women’s contribution to the household, which chips away at what he described as “sexist” dependence, while putting them in touch with their indigenous cultural roots.

Kanae also supports the introduction of organic vegetables in the city, and has encouraged the owners of the Cóndor Café, a vegetarian restaurant, to buy products certified by the women as organic.

Visitors to the restaurant enjoy substantial dishes prepared with the vegetables from the women’s peri-urban gardens, which combine Japanese and Bolivian cooking, and cost only three dollars a meal.

The manager of the restaurant, Roger Sotomayor, told Tierramérica that he enjoys supporting the family garden initiative. “We want to encourage environmentally-friendly production of vegetables,” he said, stressing the high quality of the women’s produce and the fact that the cost is 20 percent lower than that of conventional crops.

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

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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