Inter Press Service » Indigenous Rights http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Sun, 21 Sep 2014 05:58:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Environmental Funding Bypasses Indigenous Communitieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/environmental-funding-bypasses-indigenous-communities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=environmental-funding-bypasses-indigenous-communities http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/environmental-funding-bypasses-indigenous-communities/#comments Sat, 20 Sep 2014 12:37:39 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136758 Multi-million-dollar environmental conservation efforts are running headlong into the interests of small local communities. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Multi-million-dollar environmental conservation efforts are running headlong into the interests of small local communities. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
BALI, Indonesia, Sep 20 2014 (IPS)

When she talks about the forests in her native Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of the island of Borneo, Maridiana Deren’s facial expression changes. The calm, almost shy person is transformed into an emotionally charged woman, her fists clench and she stares wide-eyed at whoever is listening to her.

“The ‘boohmi’ (earth) is our mother, the forest our air, the water our blood,” says the activist, who has been taking on mining and oil industries operating in her native island for over a decade.

Deren, who counts herself among the Dayak people, works as a nurse and has had numerous run-ins with powerful, organised and rich commercial entities. They have sometimes been violent – she was once stabbed and on another occasion rammed by a motorcycle.

After years of taking on wealthy corporations, Deren is now facing a new opponent, one she finds even harder to tackle – her own government.

“They want to [designate] our forests as conservation areas, and take them away from us,” she tells IPS.

“Billions of dollars are spent on climate-friendly projects the world over, but very little of that really trickles down to the level of the communities that are affected,” Terry Odendahl, executive director of the Global Greengrants Fund
She alleges that under the guise of the scheme known as REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), which provides financial incentives for developing countries to cut down on carbon emissions, governments are encroaching on indigenous people’s ancestral lands in remote areas like Kalimantan.

The REDD scheme, which came into effect at the close of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations in Bali, Indonesia in 2007, works by calculating the amount of carbon stored in a particular forest area and issuing ‘carbon credits’ for the preservation or sustainable management of these carbon stocks.

The carbon credits can then be sold to polluting companies in the North wishing to offset their harmful emissions. Now, according to indigenous communities worldwide, the programme has become just another way for interested parties to strip small communities of their ancestral lands.

It is not only in Indonesia that large, multi-national and multi-million-dollar environment conservation efforts are running headlong into the interests of local communities. In the Asia-Pacific region, India and the Philippines are witnessing similar conflicts of interest, a pattern that is repeated on a global scale, according to experts and researchers.

In India, activists claim, successive governments have been trying to use the 1980 Forest Conservation Act to take over forests from indigenous communities for decades.

“Now they can use REDD+ as an added reason to take over forests, it is becoming a major issue where communities that have lived off and taken care of forests for generations are deprived of them,” Michael Mazgaonkar, a member of the Indian advisory board at the U.S.-based Global Greengrants Fund, which specialises in small grants to local communities, told IPS.

In the northern Indian state of Manipur, for instance, the Asian Human Rights Commission reports that forest clearing for the purpose of constructing the Mapithel dam on the Thoubal River in the Ukhrul district has, since 2006, ignored the objections of indigenous communities in the region.

Well-oiled global entities undermining grassroots interests under the guise of ‘development’ is a frequent occurrence, according to Mary Ann Manahan, a programme officer with the think-tank Focus on the Global South in the Philippines.

She takes the example of assistance provided by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan that devastated the country in late 2013.

“It was a one-billion-dollar loan, that came with all kinds of conditions attached. It stipulated what kind of companies could be [contracted] with the funding” and how the funds could be spent, she said.

“By doing that, the loan limited how local communities could have benefited from the funds by way of employment and other benefits,” Manahan added.

According to Liane Schalatek, associate director at the Heinrich Böll Foundation of North America, which aims to promote democracy, civil rights and environmental sustainability, close to 300 billion dollars are allocated annually to environmental funding worldwide but it is unclear “how this money is spent.”

What is clear is that the bulk of that funding goes to governments and large corporations, while only a small portion of it ever reaches the communities who live in areas that are supposedly being protected or rehabilitated.

“Billions of dollars are spent on climate-friendly projects the world over, but very little of that really trickles down to the level of the communities that are affected,” Terry Odendahl, executive director of the Global Greengrants Fund, told IPS.

She and others advocate for donors to take a much closer look at how funds are allocated, and who reaps the benefits. Others argue that without the input of local communities, ancestral wisdom dating back generations could be lost.

Mazgaonkar pointed to the example of development in the Sundarbans, the single largest mangrove forest in the world, extending from India to Bangladesh in the Bay of Bengal. The region has long been vulnerable to changing climate patterns and the increasing prevalence of natural disasters like cyclones, typhoons and rising sea levels.

“To stop storm tides, a large bilateral funder [recently] built a big wall [on the island of Sagar, located on the western side of the delta], which has created a new set of problems like pollution and fish depletion.”

He said the project went ahead, even though local women advocated growing mangroves as a more viable solution to the problem.

“What is lacking is priorities on how and where we are spending money,” Maxine Burkett, a specialist in climate change policy at the University of Hawaii, told IPS, adding that a clear policy needs to be laid out vis-à-vis development and assistance that impacts indigenous people.

In March, the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), a collection of organisations that work on land rights for forest dwellers, found that despite the hype on REDD+ it has not led to the predicted increase in recognition of indigenous lands. In fact, recognition of ancestral lands was five times higher between 2002 and 2008 than it was 2008-2013.

An RRI report analysing the ability of indigenous communities to benefit from carbon trading in 23 lower and middle-income countries (LMICs) found, “[T]he existing legal frameworks are uncertain and opaque with regard to carbon trading in general but especially in terms of indigenous peoples’ and communities’ rights to engage with, and benefit from, the carbon trade.”

The report warned that because of the opaque nature of carbon trading laws, governments could use the 2013 Warsaw Framework on REDD+, adopted at last year’s Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 19) held in the Polish capital, to transfer the rights of indigenous communities to state entities.

New RRI research released last week in the run-up to U.N. Secretary-General’s Climate Summit, said that the 1.64 billion dollars pledged by donors to develop the REDD+ framework and carbon markets could secure the rights of indigenous communities living on 450 million hectares, an area almost half the size of Europe.

In order for that to happen, however, the land rights of indigenous communities have to become a priority among major donors and multilateral institutions.

“Secure land tenure is a prerequisite for the success of climate, poverty reduction and ecosystem conservation initiatives,” according to RRI.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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New Fund to Build on “Unprecedented Convergence” Around Land Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/new-fund-to-build-on-unprecedented-convergence-around-land-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-fund-to-build-on-unprecedented-convergence-around-land-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/new-fund-to-build-on-unprecedented-convergence-around-land-rights/#comments Thu, 18 Sep 2014 23:53:18 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136732 Paraguayan Indians fight to enforce collective ownership of their land at the Inter-American Court. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

Paraguayan Indians fight to enforce collective ownership of their land at the Inter-American Court. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Sep 18 2014 (IPS)

Starting next year, a new grant-making initiative will aim to fill what organisers say has been a longstanding gap in international coordination and funding around the recognition of community land rights.

The project could provide major financial and technical support to indigenous groups and forest communities struggling to solidify their claims to traditional lands. Proponents say substantive action around land tenure would reduce growing levels of conflict around extractives projects and land development, and provide a potent new tool in the fight against global climate change.“Yes, the forests and other non-industrialised land hold value. But we must also value the rights of those who inhabit these areas and are stewards of the natural resources they contain." -- Victoria Tauli-Corpuz

The new body, the International Land and Forest Tenure Facility, is being spearheaded by the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), a Washington-based coalition, though the fund will be an independent institution. The Swedish government is expected to formally announce the project’s initial funding, some 15 million dollars, at next week’s U.N. climate summit in New York.

“The lack of clear rights to own and use land affects the livelihoods of millions of forest-dwellers and has also encouraged widespread illegal logging and forest loss,” Charlotte Petri Gornitzka, the director general of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, said Wednesday.

“Establishing clear and secure community land rights will enable sustainable economic development, lessen the impacts of climate change and is a prerequisite for much needed sustainable investments.”

As Gornitzka indicates, recent research has found that lands under strong community oversight experience far lower rates of deforestation than those controlled by either government or private sector entities. In turn, intact forests can have a huge dampening effect on spiking emissions of carbon dioxide.

This is a potential that supporters think they can now use to foster broader action on longstanding concerns around land tenure.

Governments claim three-quarters

National governments and international agencies and mechanisms have paid some important attention to tenure-related concerns. But not only have these slowed in recent years, development groups say such efforts have not been adequately comprehensive.

“There is today an unprecedented convergence of demand and support for this issue, from governments, private investors and local people. But there remains no dedicated instrument for supporting community land rights,” Andy White, RRI’s coordinator, told IPS.

“The World Bank, the United Nations and others dabble in this issue, yet there has been no central focus to mobilise, coordinate or facilitate the sharing of lessons. And, importantly, there’s been no entity to dedicate project financing in a strategic manner.”

According to a study released Wednesday by RRI and Tebtebba, an indigenous rights group based in the Philippines, initiatives around land tenure by donors and multilaterals have generally been too narrowly tailored. While the World Bank has been a primary multilateral actor on the issue, for instance, over the past decade the bank’s land tenure programmes have devoted just six percent of funding to establishing community forest rights.

“Much of the historical and existing donor support for securing tenure has focused on individual rights, urban areas, and agricultural lands, and is inadequate to meet the current demand from multiple stakeholders for secure community tenure,” the report states.

“[T]he amount of capital invested in implementing community tenure reform initiatives must be increased, and more targeted and strategic instruments established.”

As of last year, indigenous and local communities had some kind of control over around 513 million hectares of forests. Yet governments continue to administer or claim ownership over nearly three-quarters of the world’s forests, particularly in poor and middle-income countries.

From 2002 to 2013, 24 new legal provisions were put in place to strengthen some form of community control over forests, according to RRI. Yet just six of these have been passed since 2008, and those put in place recently have been relatively weaker.

Advocates say recent global trends, coupled with a lack of major action from international players, have simply been too much for many developing countries to resist moving aggressively to exploit available natural resources.

“Yes, the forests and other non-industrialised land hold value,” Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on indigenous peoples and a member of the advisory group for the International Land and Forest Tenure Facility, said in a statement.

“But we must also value the rights of those who inhabit these areas and are stewards of the natural resources they contain. Failure to do so has resulted in much of the local conflict plaguing economic development today.”

Unmapped and contested

Experts say the majority of the world’s rural lands remain both unmapped and contested. Thus, the formalisation of land tenure requires not only political will but also significant funding.

While new technologies have made the painstaking process of mapping community lands cheaper and more accessible, clarifying indigenous rights in India and Indonesia could cost upwards of 500 million dollars each, according to new data.

Until it is fully up and running by the end of 2015, the new International Land and Forest Tenure Facility will operate on the Swedish grant, with funding from other governments in the works. That will allow the group to start up a half-dozen pilot projects, likely in Indonesia, Cameroon, Peru and Colombia, to begin early next year.

Each of these countries is facing major threats to its forests. Peru, for instance, has leased out nearly two-thirds of its Amazonian forests for oil and gas exploration – concessions that overlap with at least 70 percent of the country’s indigenous communities.

“If we don’t address this issue we’ll continue to bump into conflicts every time we want to extract resources or develop land,” RRI’s White says.

“This has been a problem simmering on the back burner for decades, but now it’s reached the point that the penetration of global capital into remote rural areas to secure the commodities we all need has reached a point where conflict is breaking out all over.”

The private sector will also play an important role in the International land and Forest Tenure Facility, with key multinational companies sitting on its advisory board. But at the outset, corporate money will not be funding the operation.

Rather, White says, companies will help in the shaping of new business models.

“The private sector is driving much of this damage today, but these companies are also facing tremendous reputational and financial risks if they invest in places with poor land rights,” he says.

“That growing recognition by private investors is one of the most important shifts taking place today. Companies cannot meet their own growth projections as well as their social and environmental pledges if they don’t proactively engage around clarifying local land rights.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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World’s Most Unequal Region Sets Example in Fight Against Hungerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/worlds-most-unequal-region-sets-example-in-fight-against-hunger/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=worlds-most-unequal-region-sets-example-in-fight-against-hunger http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/worlds-most-unequal-region-sets-example-in-fight-against-hunger/#comments Wed, 17 Sep 2014 00:44:20 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136708 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/worlds-most-unequal-region-sets-example-in-fight-against-hunger/feed/ 1 Panama Turns to Biofortification of Crops to Build Food Securityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/panama-turns-to-biofortification-of-crops-to-build-food-security/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=panama-turns-to-biofortification-of-crops-to-build-food-security http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/panama-turns-to-biofortification-of-crops-to-build-food-security/#comments Tue, 16 Sep 2014 13:40:54 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136650 Vicente Castrellón proudly shows his biofortified rice crop. The 69-year-old farmer provides technical advice to other farmers participating in the Agro Nutre programme in the central Panamanian district of Olá. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Vicente Castrellón proudly shows his biofortified rice crop. The 69-year-old farmer provides technical advice to other farmers participating in the Agro Nutre programme in the central Panamanian district of Olá. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabiola Ortiz
PANAMA CITY, Sep 16 2014 (IPS)

Panama is the first Latin American country to have adopted a national strategy to combat what is known as hidden hunger, with a plan aimed at eliminating micronutrient deficiencies among the most vulnerable segments of the population by means of biofortification of food crops.

The project began to get underway in 2006 and took full shape in August 2013, when the government launched the Agro Nutre Panamá programme, which coordinates the improvement of food quality among the poor, who are concentrated in rural and indigenous areas, by adding iron, vitamin A and zinc to seeds.

“We see biofortification as an inexpensive way to address the problem by means of staple foods that families consume on a daily basis,” Ismael Camargo, the coordinator of Agro Nutre, told IPS. Panama has pockets of poverty with high levels of micronutrient deficiencies, he explained.

In 2006 research began here into biofortification of maize; two years later beans were added to the programme; and in 2009 the research incorporated rice and sweet potatoes, as part of a plan that is backed by the National Secretariat of Science, Technology and Innovation.“We are producing three harvests a year, I provide technical support for other farmers. For now it’s for family consumption, but some grow more than they need and earn a little money selling the surplus." -- Vicente Castrellón

Panama’s Agricultural Research Institute and academic institutions are involved in Agro Nutre, which has the support of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the World Food Programme (WFP), and Brazil’sn governmental agricultural research agency, Embrapa.

Some 4,000 of the country’s 48,000 subsistence level or family farmers are taking part in the current phase, planting biofortified seeds.

Adding micronutrients to staple foods in the Panamanian diet became a state policy in 2009. So far, five varieties of maize, four of rice and two of beans, all of them conventionally improved and with a high protein content, have been produced experimentally and approved for release.

“The project began in rural areas, because that is where the extreme poverty is, and where farmers produce for subsistence,” food engineer Omaris Vergara of the University of Panama told IPS.

She added that in this phase, “the commercialisation of these foods is not being considered – the aim is to improve the nutritional quality of the diets of family farmers.”

According to Vergara, the biggest hurdle for the expansion and growth of Agro Nutre is the lack of research infrastructure.

“The project is focused on vulnerable populations. Academic institutions will carry out impact studies, but they haven’t yet begun to do so because the studies are very costly,” said the engineer, who sees the lack of research facilities as the weak point of the project.

According to figures from Agro Nutre, of the 3.5 million people in this Central American country, one million live in rural areas. And of the rural population, half live in poverty and 22 percent in extreme poverty.

But the worst poverty in Panama is found among the 300,000 indigenous people who live in five counties, 90 percent of whom are poor.

Beans and rice in Olá

Isidra González, a 54-year-old small farmer, had never heard of improving the nutritional quality of food with micronutrients until she and her oldest son began five years ago to plant biofortified seeds on their small plot of land in the community of Hijos de Dios in the district of Olá, which is in the central province of Coclé.

Now the 70 families in that village next to the only road in the area produce biofortified crops: beans on small plots climbing tropical lush green hills and rice on nearby floodable land.

“I think these seeds are better and produce more. They grow with just half the amount of water,” González, who has been involved in the project since the experimental phase, told IPS. “People like these crops because they have more flavour and are really good – my kids eat our rice and beans with enthusiasm, you can tell,” she added, laughing.

Vicente Castrellón, a 69-year-old local farmer, plants improved seeds and became a community trainer to help farmers in the district.

“We are producing three harvests a year, I provide technical support for other farmers. For now it’s for family consumption, but some grow more than they need and earn a little money selling the surplus,” he told IPS.

“Life here is very expensive for farmers like us,” Castrellón said in Hijos de Díos, which is 250 km from Panama City, over three hours away by car.

He added that it was not easy for the families in Olá to switch over to biofortified seeds. “It took nearly a year to get them to join Agro Nutre,” he said. “But now people are excited because for every 10 pounds that are planted, they grow 100 to 200 pounds of grains,” he added, proudly pointing to the rice plants on his plot of land.

The inclusion of the fourth crop, sweet potatoes (Imopeas batata), was a strategic move, researcher Arnulfo Gutiérrez explained.

The sweet potato, which had nearly disappeared from the Panamanian diet, is the world’s fifth-largest crop in term of production and FAO is promoting its expansion worldwide. The incorporation of sweet potatoes in Panama has the aim of boosting consumption and in 2015 two or three improved varieties are to be released.

Luis Alberto Pinto, a FAO consultant, forms part of the Agro Nutre administrative committee and is the national technical coordinator in the first two indigenous counties where improved seeds are being used, Gnäbe Bugle and Guna Yala.


“We are working in four pilot communities,” he told IPS. “In Gnäbe Bugle we are working with 129 farmers in Cerro Mosquito and Chichica, and in Guna Yala we are working with 50 farmers on islands along the Caribbean coast.

“We work in accordance with their customs and cultures, incorporating these products in a manner that can be sustained in time,” Pinto said. “Our hope is to expand the project to all of the indigenous counties.”

Besides science and production, the project requires constant lobbying of legislators and government ministries, to keep alive the political commitment to biofortification as a state policy.

Eyra Mojica, WFP representative in Panama, told IPS it now seems normal to her to walk down the corridors of parliament and visit the offices of high-level ministry officials.

“We have worked in advocacy with legislators, directors, ministers and new authorities,” she said. “The issue of food security is so complex. The WFP has become the main support for supplying information on nutrition to the authorities. There is a great deal of ignorance.”

By 2015, the WFP hopes to introduce cassava and summer squash as new biofortified crops.

“We want to have a basket of seven biofortified foods,” Mojica said. “The idea is to move forward by incorporating small groups, of women farmers for example. We are also looking into working with the school lunch programme, starting next year.”

Biofortification of staple foods with micronutrients, to reduce hidden hunger, was developed by HarvestPlus, a programme coordinated by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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A Flood of Energy Projects Clash with Mexican Communitieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/a-flood-of-energy-projects-clash-with-mexican-communities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-flood-of-energy-projects-clash-with-mexican-communities http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/a-flood-of-energy-projects-clash-with-mexican-communities/#comments Mon, 15 Sep 2014 15:22:02 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136634 Trees on the bank of the Blanco river that have been felled to make way for a power plant. Hydroelectric projects are threatening biodiversity and the way of life of communities in the state of Veracruz, in southeast Mexico. Credit: Courtesy of Comité de Defensa Libre

Trees on the bank of the Blanco river that have been felled to make way for a power plant. Hydroelectric projects are threatening biodiversity and the way of life of communities in the state of Veracruz, in southeast Mexico. Credit: Courtesy of Comité de Defensa Libre

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Sep 15 2014 (IPS)

Since January, villagers and townspeople near the Los Pescados river in southeast Mexico have been blocking the construction of a dam, part of a multi-purpose project to supply potable water to Xalapa, the capital of the state of Veracruz.

“Our rights to a pollution-free life, to decide where and how we live, to information, to free, prior and informed consultation, are being infringed. We don’t want our territory to just be invaded like this any more,” Gabriela Maciel, an activist with the Pueblos Unidos de la Cuenca Antigua por Ríos Libres (PUCARL – Peoples of La Antigua Basin United For Free Rivers), told IPS.

PUCARL is made up of residents from 43 communities in 12 municipalities within the La Antigua river basin. Together with other organisations, it succeeded in achieving a suspension of work on the dam that was being built near Jalcomulco by Odebrecht, a Brazilian company, and the State of Veracruz Water Commission.

The dam has a planned capacity of 130 million cubic metres, a reservoir surface area of 4.13 square kilometres and a cost of over 400 million dollars. It is one of more than a hundred dams planned by federal and state governments, which are causing conflict with local communities.

Infrastructure building on a vast scale is under way in Mexico as part of the country’s energy reform. The definitive legal framework for this was enacted Aug. 11, opening up electricity generation and sales, as well as oil and gas extraction, refining, distribution and retailing, to participation by the domestic and foreign private sectors.

Nine new laws were created and another 12 were amended, implementing the historic constitutional reform that was promulgated Dec. 20.“Fossil fuels should not be given greater priority than a healthy environment. Zoning should be carried out, where possible, to indicate areas for exploitation and to establish constraints." -- Manuel Llano

The new energy framework is expected to attract dizzying sums in investments from national and international sources to Mexico, the second largest economy in Latin America, during the four-year period 2015-2018, according to official forecasts.

On Aug. 18 the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) announced 16 investment projects worth 4.9 billion dollars. Of this total, 27 percent is for public projects and 73 percent is earmarked for the private sector.

In the framework of the 2014-2018 National Infrastructure Programme (PNI), the CFE is planning 138 projects for a total of 46 billion dollars, including hydroelectric, wind, solar and geothermal energy generation plants, transmission lines and power distribution networks.

“Environmental and social legislation has been undermined in order to attract investment. Laws guaranteeing peoples’ rights and land rights have been weakened. This heightens the risk of a flare-up of social and environmental conflicts. It is a backward step,” Mariana González, a researcher on transparency and accountability for Centro de Análisis Fundar, an analysis and research centre, told IPS.

State oil company Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX) is programmed to carry out 124 projects as part of the PNI, totalling over 253 billion dollars. They include gas pipelines, improvements to refineries, energy efficiency measures at oil installations and oil exploration and extraction projects, among others.

The majority of the planned investments are slated for the southeastern state of Campeche, where 43 billion dollars will be spent on the exploitation and maintenance of four offshore oilfields.

In second place is the adjacent state of Tabasco, with projects amounting to nearly 15 billion dollars for shallow water oilfields and for the construction and remodelling of oil installations.

In Veracruz, PEMEX is planning investments of 11 billion dollars in shallow water offshore reserves and building and modernising oil installations, while in the northeastern state of

Tamaulipas it will spend 6.67 billion dollars on deepwater facilities and infrastructure modernisation.
Hydrocarbons licensing rounds

On Aug. 13, the Energy ministry (SENER) determined Round Zero (R-0) allocations, assigning PEMEX the rights to 120 oilfields, equivalent to 71 percent of national oil production which is to remain under state control.

PEMEX was also awarded 73 percent of gas production in R-0.

PEMEX’s current daily production is 2.39 million barrels of crude and 6.5 billion cubic feet of gas.

For Round One (R-1) concessions, SENER called for tenders from private operators for 109 oil and gas exploration blocks and 60 production blocks.

The government estimates the investment required for these projects at 8.52 billion dollars between 2015 and 2018, for exploration and extraction in deep and shallow waters, land-based oilfields and unconventional fossil fuels like shale gas.

The National Hydrocarbons Commission (CNH), the industry regulator, is preparing the terms for the concessions. Contracts will be assigned between May and September 2015.

Manuel Llano, technical coordinator for Conservación Humana, an NGO, cross-referenced maps of the detailed areas involved in Round Zero and Round One with protected natural areas, indigenous peoples’ and community territories.

He told IPS that the total land area assigned in R-0 is nearly 48,000 square kilometres, distributed in 142 municipalities and 11 states. Most of the assigned area is in Veracruz, followed by Tabasco. R-1 allocations cover 11,000 square kilometres in 68 municipalities and eight states.

The lands affected by R-0 overlap with 1,899 out of the country’s 32,000 farming communities. R-1 areas affect another 671 community territories, representing 4,416 square kilometres of collectively owned land.

Thirteen indigenous peoples living in an area of 2,810 square kilometres are affected by the R-0 allocations. Among the affected groups are the Chontal, Totonac and Popoluca peoples. The R-1 areas involve five indigenous peoples, including the Huastec, Nahuatl and Totonac, and more than 3,200 square kilometres of land.

“It’s hard to say exactly which places will be worst affected. There could be a great deal of damage in a very small area. It depends on the particular situation in each case. I can make reasonable estimates about what might occur in a specific concession area, but not in all of them,” Llano said.

Llano carried out a similar exercise in 2013, when he produced the “Atlas de concesiones mineras, conservación y pueblos indígenas” (Atlas of mining concessions, conservation areas and indigenous peoples). For this he mapped mining concession areas and compared them with protected areas and indigenous territories.

The new Hydrocarbons Law leaves land owners no option but to reach agreement with PEMEX or the private licensed operators over the occupation of their land, or accept a judicial ruling if agreement cannot be reached.

“The institutions have not carried out their work correctly. We know how the government apparatus works to get what it wants. We will oppose the approval of concessions and they will not succeed. We will continue our struggle. We are not alone; other peoples have the same problems,” said Maciel, the PUCARL activist.

Since March, several social organisations have taken collective legal action against government agencies for authorising the dam on La Antigua river and its environmental consequences. Los Pescados river is a tributary of La Antigua.

Between 2009 and 2013, SEMARNAT, the Environment and Natural Resources ministry, gave the green light to 12 hydroelectric and mini-hydropower plants on rivers in Veracruz. Construction has not yet begun on these projects.

Llano intends to compare maps of oil and gas reserves with the concession areas and contracts that are granted, in order to locate the potential resources claimed by the government and identify whether they match the bids at auction.

“Fossil fuels should not be given greater priority than a healthy environment. Zoning should be carried out, where possible, to indicate areas for exploitation and to establish constraints,” he said.
Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

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Majority of Consumer Products May Be Tainted by Illegal Deforestationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/majority-of-consumer-products-may-be-tainted-by-illegal-deforestation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=majority-of-consumer-products-may-be-tainted-by-illegal-deforestation http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/majority-of-consumer-products-may-be-tainted-by-illegal-deforestation/#comments Thu, 11 Sep 2014 23:43:39 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136591 Stacks of confiscated timber logged illegally in the National Tapajos forest, Brazil. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Stacks of confiscated timber logged illegally in the National Tapajos forest, Brazil. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Sep 11 2014 (IPS)

At least half of global deforestation is taking place illegally and in support of commercial agriculture, new analysis released Thursday finds – particularly to supply overseas markets.

Over the past decade, a majority of the illegal clearing of forests has been in response to foreign demand for common commodities such as paper, beef, soy and palm oil. Yet governments in major markets such as the United States and European Union are taking almost no steps to urge corporations or consumers to reject such products.“The biggest threat to forests is gradually changing, and that threat is today from commercial agriculture." -- Sam Lawson of Earthsight

Indeed, doing so would be incredibly difficult given the incredibly widespread availability of potentially “dirty” products, the new analysis, published by Forest Trends, a Washington-based watchdog group, suggests. In many countries, consumers are likely using such products on a regular basis.

“In the average supermarket today, the majority of products are at risk of containing commodities that come from illegally deforested lands,” Sam Lawson, the report’s author and director of Earthsight, a British group that investigates environmental crime, told IPS.

“That’s true for any product encased in paper or cardboard, any beef, and any chicken or pork given that these [latter] animals are often raised on soy. And, of course, palm oil is now in almost everything, from lipstick to ice cream.”

In the absence of legislation to prevent such products from being imported and sold, Lawson says, “There’s always this risk.”

Overall, some 40 percent of all globally traded palm oil and 14 percent of all beef likely comes from illegally cleared lands, the paper estimates. The same can be said of a fifth of all soy and a third of all tropical timber, widely used to make paper products.

Meanwhile, some three-quarters of Brazilian soy and Indonesian palm oil are exported. Such trends are growing in countries such as Papua New Guinea and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

While many case studies on these issues have previously been published on particular countries, sectors or companies, the new report is the first to try to extrapolate that data to the global level.

“Consumer demand in overseas markets resulted in the illegal clearance of more than 200,000 square kilometers of tropical forest during the first 12 years of the new millennium,” the report estimates, noting this adds up to “an average of five football fields every minute”.

While much this illegal clearing is being facilitated by corruption and lack of capacity in developing countries, Lawson places the culpability elsewhere.

“It’s companies that are carrying out these acts and they bear ultimate responsibility,” he says. “Big consumer countries also need to stop undermining the efforts of developing countries by allowing these products unfettered access to their markets.

Logging lessons

The ramifications of degraded forestlands, of course, are both local – impacting on livelihoods, ecosystems and human health – and global. Standing, mature forests not only hold massive amounts of carbon but also continually suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

Between 2000 and 2012, the emissions associated with illegal deforestation for commercial agriculture each year was roughly the same as a quarter of the annual fossil fuel emissions in the European Union.

The new findings come just ahead of two major global climate summits. Later this month, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will host international leaders in New York to discuss the issue, and in December the next round of global climate negotiations will take place in Peru, ahead of intended global agreement next year.

The Lima talks are being referred to as the “forest” round. Some observers have suggested that forestry could offer the most significant potential for global emissions cuts.

This rising global consensus around the importance of maintaining forest cover in the face of global climate change has led to significant international efforts to tackle illegal logging. And these have met with some important success.

Yet Earthsight’s Lawson says that some of the companies that were previously involved in illegally cutting tropical hardwoods are now engaging in the illegal clearing of forests to make way for large-scale agriculture.

“The biggest threat to forests is gradually changing, and that threat is today from commercial agriculture,” he says. “What we need now is to repeat some of the efforts that have been made in relation to illegal logging and apply those to agricultural commodities.”

The European Union, for instance, is currently in the process of implementing a bilateral system of licensing, in order to allow for legally harvested timber to be traced back to its source. Similar bilateral arrangements, Lawson suggests, could be introduced around key commodities.

Proven legality

Such a process would charge governments and multinational companies with ensuring that globally traded commodities do not originate from illegally cleared forestlands. In essence, this would create a situation in which the base requirement for entry into major markets would be proven legality.

Today, of course, the choice of whether or not to purchase a product made with ingredients potentially sourced from illegally deforested lands is up to the consumer – if that information is available at all. Yet such a new arrangement would turn that responsibility around entirely.

“All of this onus on the consumer bothers me – it really shouldn’t have to be so difficult to make these choices,” Danielle Nierenberg, the president of Food Tank, a Washington think tank focused on sustainability issues, told IPS.

“The fact is, consumers are still blind to these issues – despite the growth of the local food movement in Western countries, there remains significant demand for a range of inexpensive products. That’s why the real action has to come from the corporate side, and governments need to take a bigger interest.”

The United States has landmark legislation in place that bans the use of illegally sourced wood products in the country. By many accounts, that legal regime has been notably effective in cutting off the country’s massive market to those products.

Yet for now, Nierenberg says that there is no political appetite in Washington to do something similar regarding agricultural commodities.

“Instead, the real opportunity for government initiative comes from the developing world,” she says. “They need to invest more in small- and medium-scale farmers, protect their lands from land grabs, and invest in simple agricultural technologies that actually work. That’s where the real change could happen.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Mexico’s Cocopah People Refuse to Disappearhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/mexicos-cocopah-people-refuse-to-disappear/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexicos-cocopah-people-refuse-to-disappear http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/mexicos-cocopah-people-refuse-to-disappear/#comments Mon, 08 Sep 2014 18:36:10 +0000 Daniela Pastrana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136544 The Zanjón, the nucleus of the Alto Golfo de California y Delta del Río Colorado Biosphere Reserve in northwest Mexico, where the Cocopah have fished for a living for centuries. The restrictions on fishing condemn them to extinction. Credit: Courtesy of Prometeo Lucero

The Zanjón, the nucleus of the Alto Golfo de California y Delta del Río Colorado Biosphere Reserve in northwest Mexico, where the Cocopah have fished for a living for centuries. The restrictions on fishing condemn them to extinction. Credit: Courtesy of Prometeo Lucero

By Daniela Pastrana
EL MAYOR, Mexico , Sep 8 2014 (IPS)

In their language, Cocopah means “river people”. For over 500 years the members of this Amerindian group have lived along the lower Colorado River and delta in the Mexican states of Baja California and Sonora and the U.S. state of Arizona.

They fish and make crafts for a living, have strong family ties, and are united by their Kurikuri or rituals and funeral ceremonies – and, now, by the struggle to keep from disappearing, in a battle led by their women. Today, the Cocopah number just over 1,300 people, most of whom live in Arizona.

“I’m Hilda Hurtado Valenzuela. I’m a fisherwoman. And I am Cocopah,” says the president of the Cocopah Indigenous People Cooperative Society.

She and other women of this community introduce themselves this way at an assembly attended by IPS, held to discuss the federal government’s promise to finally consult them about a fishing ban which took away their livelihood and practically condemns them to extinction.“The case of the Cocopah is an example of how ultra-conservationist policies can endanger the existence of a native community.” -- Lawyer Yacotzin Bravo

“No government has the right to take our habitat from us,” Hurtado told IPS during a visit to the El Mayor Cocopah Indigenous Community, where the Red de Periodistas de a Pie (Journalists on Foot Network) and the Mexican Commission for the Defence and Promotion of Human Rights are carrying out a project for the protection of human rights defenders, financed by the European Union.

In May, the 61-year-old Hurtado, a mother of four and grandmother of 10, sat down on the road connecting the port of San Felipe on the Gulf of California with Mexicali, the capital of the state of Baja California, which abuts the U.S., and refused to budge until the federal government formalised its promise to hold a consultation with the local communities.

“The government agreed to do something that it should have done 25 years ago,” said the lawyer Ricardo Rivera de la Torre of the Citizens Commission of Human Rights of the Northwest, an organisation that has been documenting violations of civil rights in Baja California since 2004.

Rivera de la Torre and Raúl Ramírez Baena took the case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2008.

“The government violated the Cocopah’s people’s right to consultation as outlined in the International Labour Organisation’s Convention 169,” which Mexico ratified in 1990, said Ramírez Baena.

ILO Convention 169 Concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples requires prior consultation of local indigenous communities before any project is authorised on their land.

But in 1993, without any prior consultation, the government decreed the creation of the Alto Golfo de California y Delta del Río Colorado Biosphere Reserve. The nucleus of the reserve is the Zanjón, where the Cocopah have fished for the Gulf weakfish (Cynoscion othonopterus) for centuries.

The Gulf weakfish lay their eggs between February and May in shallow waters in the Gulf of California where the states of Sonora and Baja California meet, and the fish are widely sold during Lent, when Catholics abstain from eating meat on Fridays.

After the biosphere reserve was created, a Reserve Management Plan was adopted in 1995, along with a string of laws and regulations – such as the Law on Ecological Balance and a fishing quota and ban – which restricted the fishing activities of the Cocopah to levels that have made it impossible for them to make a living.

“The case of the Cocopah is an example of how ultra-conservationist policies can endanger the existence of a native community,” said Yacotzin Bravo, another lawyer with the Citizens Commission of Human Rights of the Northwest.

A group of Cocopah women in the Indiviso ejido, in the El Mayor Cocopah Indigenous Community in the Mexican state of Baja California, during an assembly where they discussed how to carry out a consultation on reforming the regulations and laws that limit their fishing in the biosphere reserve. Credit: Courtesy of Prometeo Lucero

A group of Cocopah women in the Indiviso ejido, in the El Mayor Cocopah Indigenous Community in the Mexican state of Baja California, during an assembly where they discussed how to carry out a consultation on reforming the regulations and laws that limit their fishing in the biosphere reserve. Credit: Courtesy of Prometeo Lucero

The Mexican constitution defines indigenous people as the descendants of the populations that inhabited the area before the state was formed and who preserve their ancestral cultural or economic institutions.

Article 2 of the constitution establishes that native people have “preferential access” to the nation’s natural assets.

“Indigenous rights are the rights of peoples,” expert in indigenous law Francisco López Bárcenas told IPS. “Not of persons, not of municipalities, not of rural communities. With respect to indigenous rights, we are talking about the appropriation of territory, which is necessary for a people to be able to exist as such.

“They depend for a living on fishing, on a close relationship with their natural surroundings. It’s not only about money. First, as a result of the laws on agriculture, their territories were shrunk to small spaces, and now their main livelihood activity is reduced. And if they can’t fish, they have to go to other parts to find work,” he said.

Every year, just after the waning moon, the weakfish begin their migration to the shallow waters of the Colorado River delta, and fishing season starts.

The Cocopah go to sea in their “pangas” or fishing boats and sit quietly until they hear the weakfish and throw their “chinchorros” or nets. The Cocopah capture between 200 and 500 tons of fish per season.

“What the government has done with us is segregation,” Juana Aguilar González, the president of the El Mayor Cocopah Rural Production Society, told Tierramérica. “They know that we Indians don’t threaten the environment.”

The Cocopah are not the only ones who catch weakfish. There are also two non-indigenous cooperatives in the area – San Felipe in Baja California and Santa Clara in Sonora – with a fishing capacity 10 times greater, according to statistics from the governmental National Commission for Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (CONABIO).

The weakfish “captured by the Cocopah are approximately 10 percent of the recommended quota, which shows that the fishing done by that indigenous community, even if they fish in the nucleus of the reserve, does not hurt the ecological balance or threaten the species with extinction,” says recommendation 8/2002 of the National Human Rights Commission addressed to the ministries of the environment and agriculture.

“The decree creating the reserve changed our lives,” Mónica González, the daughter of the late Cocopah governor Onésimo González, said sadly. “Now, instead of being busy organising our dances, we have to be worried about the legal action, the trials, confiscations and arrests.”

The Cocopah, descendants of the Yumano people, are one of the five surviving indigenous groups in Baja California.

In the 17th century, some 22,000 Cocopah were living in the Colorado River delta. Today there are only 1,000 in the Cocopah Indian Reservation in the southwest corner of Arizona, and just over 300 in Mexico, in Baja California and Sonora, according to the governmental National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) , Cocopah is an endangered language. There are only 10 Cocopah speakers still alive. Years ago one of them, 44-year- old Mónica González, began to make an effort to revive the language.

“Sometimes I think our leaders talk about the Cocopah as if we had already died, but we are alive and still putting up a struggle,” she told IPS.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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

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Indigenous Peoples Seek Presence in Post-2015 Development Agendahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/indigenous-peoples-seek-presence-in-post-2015-development-agenda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-peoples-seek-presence-in-post-2015-development-agenda http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/indigenous-peoples-seek-presence-in-post-2015-development-agenda/#comments Thu, 04 Sep 2014 08:14:13 +0000 Gloria Schiavi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136485 The Bonda tribe is one of the most ancient indigenous groups in India. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

The Bonda tribe is one of the most ancient indigenous groups in India. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Gloria Schiavi
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 4 2014 (IPS)

The world’s 370 million indigenous people, who say they were marginalised in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), want to play a key role in the U.N.’s post-2015 development agenda, which will be finalised next year.

“The world can still benefit from [our] knowledge by including us in the journey for the next 15 years. And we want this to be an equal partnership, we do not want to be beneficiaries,” stated Galina Angarova, the New York representative of Tebtebba Foundation (the Indigenous Peoples’ International Center for Policy Research and Education).

In her speech at the closing session of the three-day conference of NGOs sponsored by the U.N. Department of Public Information (DPI) last week, she highlighted the need to include marginalised groups in development targets as well as in the on-going negotiations for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will replace the MDGs in 2015.

"A lot of the corporations are eyeing [indigenous peoples'] territories for future profit. This is why free prior and informed consent is key. Because without it, they are just free to go and grab, and develop on those territories." -- Galina Angarova, the New York representative of Tebtebba Foundation (Indigenous Peoples' International Center for Policy Research and Education)
Indigenous peoples continue to fight for their right to self-determination, which is not a reality yet, despite being granted by the 2007 U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The outcome document of the DPI/NGO conference, drafted and amended through a participative process over the past months, will feed into the discussion about the post-2015 agenda and the SDGs in the General Assembly, the first World Conference on Indigenous People that will be held on Sep. 22-23, and into the Secretary General’s synthesis report to be issued later this autumn.

Although this declaration is not legally binding, it has strong power in terms of accountability and review mechanisms, which are key points in the SDGs.

“The fact that the resource document is based upon officially submitted positions by major U.N. groups and stakeholders gives it quite a strong voice,” Maruxa Cardama, co-chair of the conference declaration drafting committee, told IPS.

“I think that this document can take us very far if we understand the power of soft law and soft policy,” she added.

This year marked the 65th edition of the DPI/NGO conference, which returned to New York after seven years, and registered an unprecedented attendance from civil society: more than 2,000 representatives of international NGOs gathered from more than 100 countries. Among those present, indigenous groups and organisations managed to make a strong case for their inclusion in the development agenda.

According to Angarova, indigenous peoples’ territories cover 24 percent of the land worldwide, and host 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity.

“A lot of the corporations are eyeing those territories for future profit. This is why free prior and informed consent is key. Because without it they [corporations] are just free to go and grab, and develop on those territories,” she told IPS.

Indigenous people are then thrown into mainstream society without the means to survive.

Instead, advocates and representatives say they should be able to give their consent to any reforms that directly or indirectly impact governance in their community, or development in the lands they inhabit.

“This has to be done at all levels, starting from the sustainable development programmes; and then the national governments should derive the mandate from the U.N. level, from the multilateral level down to national government plans,” Angarova stated.

Harnessing these policies into the development goals of reducing hunger and achieving food security also has great potential.

“Food sovereignty, with the rights and culture-based approach that it encompasses, is a pre-requisite for indigenous peoples’ food security,” Andrea Carmen, executive director of the International Indian Treaty Council (IITC), told IPS.
Indigenous people have lived in a sustainable way for centuries and passed their knowledge from generation to generation, feeding their people without damaging the natural environment. And this is one of the reasons why protecting their culture is crucial, she added.

Not only must these communities be able to access the natural resources but they also have to ensure the learning curriculum for their children includes traditional education and allows kids to spend time with elders to learn about the cycle of life, nature, harvesting and farming.

Their challenge is now to preserve their knowledge and pass it on.

“The knowledge and understanding that we have is really vital […],” Carmen continued. “Maybe the world will look at indigenous people and ask in a respectful way how to grow corn with no water.”

Myrna Cunningham, president of the Centre for Autonomy and Development of Indigenous People in Nicaragua, pointed out that indigenous people are not poor of their own accord, but have been impoverished as a result of the development paradigm that has been imposed on them.

For instance, about 600 indigenous languages have been lost in the past 100 years, roughly one every two weeks. As language is part of the biodiversity indigenous communities preserve, losing language means losing biodiversity. This is necessarily linked to a change in their relationship with the world.

Carmen explained to IPS that there is no translation in indigenous language for words like “intellectual property” or “human rights”, for example. These concepts have to be imported from a different culture.

So things have been literally lost in translation. Paradigms from other languages and cultures have been imposed over a reality that was perceived in a different way for centuries.

Now it is time to revisit this paradigm, as the world prepares for a decade of inclusive and sustainable development.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Mexico’s Wind Parks May Violate OECD Ruleshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/mexicos-wind-parks-may-violate-oecd-rules/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexicos-wind-parks-may-violate-oecd-rules http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/mexicos-wind-parks-may-violate-oecd-rules/#comments Thu, 28 Aug 2014 17:38:06 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136392 Communities in the southern Mexico state of Oaxaca complain that the wind parks being built in their territory violate their human rights. Credit: Courtesy of the Assembly of Indigenous Peoples of the Isthmus in Defence of Land and Territory

Communities in the southern Mexico state of Oaxaca complain that the wind parks being built in their territory violate their human rights. Credit: Courtesy of the Assembly of Indigenous Peoples of the Isthmus in Defence of Land and Territory

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Aug 28 2014 (IPS)

Four wind farm projects in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, operated or financed by European investors, could violate Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) rules, say activists.

Three of the parks are being developed by Electricité de France (EDF) and the fourth is financed by public funds from Denmark and the Netherlands.

Benjamin Cokelet, founder and executive director of the Project on Organizing, Development, Education, and Research (PODER), said the wind farms have committed several violations of human rights, which should be examined by the OECD – made up of the nations of the industrialised North and two Latin American countries, Chile and Mexico.

“EDF’s three wind farm projects claim that the community consultations took place, but we have not seen any evidence that these permits were obtained,” the head of PODER, which is based in New York and Mexico City, told IPS.

The OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises contain recommendations for responsible business conduct in areas such as human rights, employment and industrial relations, environment, combating bribery and extortion, consumer interests, and taxation.

With respect to the environment, it says businesses should “provide the public and workers with adequate, measurable and verifiable…and timely information on the potential environment, health and safety impacts of the activities of the enterprise”.

Windy isthmus

The Isthmus of Tehuantepec has the strongest potential for wind power in Mexico. Currently more than 1,900 MW are generated by 26 wind parks in the country, where Spanish companies have taken the lead.

In this oil-producing country, renewable energies account for nearly seven percent of total supply, without including large hydroelectric dams. But the government has set a target for renewable energy sources to represent 23 percent of consumption in 2018, 25 percent in 2024 and 26 percent in 2027.

Wind energy is projected to produce 15,000 MW by the start of the next decade.

It also says companies should “engage in adequate and timely communication and consultation with the communities directly affected by the environmental, health and safety policies of the enterprise and by their implementation.”

EDF, through its subsidiary EDF Energies Nouvelles (EDF EN), owns the Mata-La Ventosa wind farms. Another subsidiary is co-owner of the Bii Stinu park, while a third operates the Santo Domingo wind farm.

The three projects are in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in the southern state of Oaxaca, which is the shortest distance between the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean.

The Mata-La Ventosa farm generates 67.5 MW, Bii Stinu 164 and Santo Domingo 160.

The other project that has been questioned is Mareña Renovables, with a generating capacity of 396 MW, in the Oaxaca coastal community of San Dionisio del Mar, on the Pacific Ocean.

This project is currently at a standstill because of legal action brought by members of the community whose land it is being built on.

According to PODER statistics, in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, which is 200 km wide and has a surface area of 30,000 square kilometers, there are at least 20 wind park projects, controlled by 16 different companies.

The isthmus is also home to 1,230 agrarian communities, mainly indigenous “ejidos” or communal lands. Of the five indigenous people on the isthmus, the largest groups are the Zapotecs and Ikoots.

Reports from PODER indicate that conditions are favourable to business and negative for the local communities.

“The irregularities show collusion between public and private actors,” the organisation says.

The result is asymmetrical relationships and abusive leasing arrangements, characterised by the concealment of the permanent damage that the wind parks cause to farmland, the lack of fair compensation for damage, and extremely low rental payments for the land.

One problem was the lack of translators and interpreters for the local indigenous languages in the negotiations between the companies and the communities.

The right of local and indigenous communities to free, prior and informed consent is enshrined in the International Labour Organisation Convention 169 concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

But this right has not been respected by the companies building the wind farms in the isthmus, PODER says.

Cokelet said the companies have thus failed to comply with international social and environmental standards.

In December 2013 the EDF EN joined the United Nations Global Compact, a set of 10 voluntary, non-binding principles in the areas of human rights, labour, the environment and anti-corruption for public or private signatories. In December this year, the EDF EN must present its report on compliance with these principles.

Construction of the Mareña Renovables wind farm complex was brought to a halt in 2013 by court rulings favourable to the affected communities.

The project consists of two wind parks that would produce a total of 396 MW, with an investment of 1.2 billion dollars. The project is partly owned by PGGM, the Netherlands’ largest pension management company.

The project also has nearly 75 million dollars in financing from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and a 20 million dollar loan for the electricity purchaser from Denmark’s official Export Credit Agency (EKF).

In December 2012 the international Indian Law Resource Center filed a complaint on behalf of 225 inhabitants of seven indigenous communities with the IDB’s Independent Consultation and Investigation Mechanism (ICIM).

The complaint seeks damages given the absence of adequate consultation with the communities at the start of the project and the lack of measures in its design and execution aimed at avoiding negative impacts.

In September 2013, the IBD’s Panel of the Compliance Review Phase admitted the complaint. The panel is now preparing the investigation of the case, in order to draw up a report and proceed to oversee compliance with its provisions.

EDF’s Mata-La Ventosa also received a 189 million dollar loan from the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group. In addition, the IFC channeled another 15 million dollars from the Clean Technology Fund (CTF).

Roberto Albisetti, IFC manager for Mexico and Central America, acknowledged to IPS the risk of complaints against the wind farms in Oaxaca, although he said the IFC’s independent grievance mechanism, the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO), had not received any up to now.

“The handling of the communities has been very serious,” he said. “We invested a lot of money in the consultation processes, because it is better to prevent than to face complaints later.”

In 2010, the IFC disbursed 375 million dollars for the construction of Eurus, another wind park in Oaxaca, which generates 250 MW.

Mareña Renovables, PGGM’s project, is also exposed to international legal action, on another flank.

Fomento Económico Mexicano (Femsa), Coca Cola’s bottler in Mexico, would be the biggest consumer of the electricity generated by the wind park. Femsa is the second-largest shareholder in the Dutch brewing company Heineken International.

Femsa also signed the U.N. Global Compact, in May 2005, and is to present its compliance report in March 2015. Heineken, meanwhile, joined in January 2006 and handed in its report in July.

Cokelet said Denmark’s EKF export credit agency, which also signed the Global Compact, could face legal action before the OECD for violating its principles to promote sustainable lending in the provision of official export credits to low-income countries.

Heineken and PGGM, which could also face complaints of violating OECD guidelines and principles, are in the same position, he added.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Can Land Rights and Education Save an Ancient Indian Tribe?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/can-land-rights-and-education-save-an-ancient-indian-tribe/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=can-land-rights-and-education-save-an-ancient-indian-tribe http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/can-land-rights-and-education-save-an-ancient-indian-tribe/#comments Tue, 19 Aug 2014 12:28:03 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136207 Bonda women in the remote Tulagurum Village in the eastern Indian state of Odisha seldom allow themselves to be photographed. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Bonda women in the remote Tulagurum Village in the eastern Indian state of Odisha seldom allow themselves to be photographed. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
MALKANGIRI, India, Aug 19 2014 (IPS)

Scattered across 31 remote hilltop villages on a mountain range that towers 1,500 to 4,000 feet above sea level, in the Malkangiri district of India’s eastern Odisha state, the Upper Bonda people are considered one of this country’s most ancient tribes, having barely altered their lifestyle in over a thousand years.

Resistant to contact with the outside world and fiercely skeptical of modern development, this community of under 7,000 people is struggling to maintain its way of life and provide for a younger generation that is growing increasingly frustrated with poverty – 90 percent of Bonda people live on less than a dollar a day – and inter-communal violence.

“The abundant funds pouring in for the Bonda people's development need to be transparently utilised so that the various inputs work in synergy and show results." -- Dambaru Sisa, the first ever Upper Bonda to be elected into the state legislature in 2014
Recent government schemes to improve the Bonda people’s access to land titles is bringing change to the community, and opening doors to high-school education, which was hitherto difficult or impossible for many to access.

But with these changes come questions about the future of the tribe, whose overall population growth rate between 2001 and 2010 was just 7.65 percent according to two surveys conducted by the Odisha government’s Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Research and Training Institute (SCSTRTI).

First land rights, then education

In a windowless mud hut in the Bonda Ghati, a steep-sloping mountainous region in southwest Odisha, Saniya Kirsani talks loudly and drunkenly about his plans for the acre of land that he recently acquired the title to.

The 50-year-old Bonda man has illusions of setting up a mango orchard in his native Tulagurum village, which will enable him to produce the fruity liquor that keeps him in a state of intoxication.

His wife, Hadi Kirsani, harbours far more realistic plans. For her, the land deeds mean first and foremost that their 14-year-old son, Buda Kirsani, can finally go back to school.

He dropped out after completing fifth grade in early 2013, bereft of hopes for further education because the nearest public high school in Mudulipada was unaffordable to his family.

Upper and Lower Bondas

Since the mid 20th century, many Bonda families left their original lands and settled in the foothills of Malkangiri, where they have easier access to ‘mainstream’ services such as education and employment.

Known as the Lower or Plains Bondas, they are now found in as many as 14 of Odisha’s 30 districts due to rapid out-migration.

Upper and Lower Bondas have a combined total population of 12,231, registering a growth rate of 30.42 percent between 2001 and 2011 according to census data, compared to a low 7.65-percent growth rate among the Upper Bondas who remain on their ancestral lands.

The sex ratio among Upper Bonda people is even more skewed than in other tribal groups, with the female population outweighing males by 16 percent.

A 2009 baseline survey in Tulagurum village among the age group 0-six years found 18 girls and only three boys.

SCSTRTI’s 2010 survey of 30 Upper Bonda villages found 3,092 men and 3,584 women.

The Upper Bonda are one of 75 tribes designated as a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PTG) in India, including 13 in Odisha state alone.
Moreover, he would have had to walk 12 km, crossing hill ranges and navigating steep terrain, to get to his classroom every day.

Admission to the local tribal resident school, also located in Mudulipada, required a land ownership document that would certify the family’s tribal status, which they did not possess.

The Kirsani family had been left out of a wave of reforms in 2010 under the Forest Rights Act, which granted 1,248 Upper Bonda families land titles but left 532 households landless.

Last October, with the help of Landesa, a global non-profit organisation working on land rights for the poor, Buda’s family finally extracted the deed to their land from the Odisha government.

Carefully placing Buda’s only two sets of worn clothes into a bag, Hadi struggles to hold back the tears welling up in her eyes as she tells IPS that her son is now one of 31 children from the 44-household village who, for the first time ever, has the ability to study beyond primarily school.

She is not alone in her desire to educate her child. Literacy among Upper Bonda men is a miserable 12 percent, while female literacy is only six percent, according to a 2010 SCSTRTI baseline survey, compared to India’s national male literacy rate of 74 percent and female literacy of 65 percent.

For centuries, the ability to read and write was not a skill the Bonda people sought. Their ancient Remo language has no accompanying script and is passed down orally.

As hunters and foragers, the community has subsisted for many generations entirely off the surrounding forests, bartering goods like millet, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, yams, fruits, berries and wild spinach in local markets.

Up until very recently, most Upper Bondas wove and bartered their own cloth made from a plant called ‘kereng’, in addition to producing their own brooms from wild grass. Thus they had little need to enter mainstream society.

But a wave of deforestation has degraded their land and the streams on which they depend for irrigation. Erratic rainfall over the last decade has affected crop yields, and the forest department’s refusal to allow them to practice their traditional ‘slash and burn’ cultivation has made it difficult for the community to feed itself as it has done for hundreds of years.

Mainstreaming: helping or hurting the community?

Since 1976, with the establishment of the Bonda Development Agency, efforts have been made to bring the Upper Bonda people into the mainstream, providing education, better sanitation and drinking water facilities, and land rights.

“Land ownership enables them to stand on their own feet for the purpose of livelihood, and empowers them, as their economy is predominantly limited to the land and forests,” states India’s National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST), a key policy advisory body.

Efforts to mainstream the Bonda people suffered a setback in the late 1990s, when left-wing extremists deepened the community’s exclusion and poverty by turning the Bonda mountain range into an important operating base along India’s so-called ‘Red Corridor’, which stretches across nine states in the country’s central and eastern regions and is allegedly rife with Maoist rebels.

Still, Odisha’s tribal development minister Lal Bihari Himirika is confident that new schemes to uplift the community will bear fruit.

“Upon completion, the ‘5000-hostel scheme’ will provide half a million tribal boys and girls education and mainstreaming,” he told IPS on the sidelines of the launch of Plan International’s ‘Because I Am A Girl’ campaign in Odisha’s capital, Bhubaneswar, last year.

The state’s 9.6 million tribal people constitute almost a fourth of its total population. Of these tribal groups, the Upper Bonda people are a key concern for the government and have been named a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PTG) as a result of their low literacy rates, declining population and practice of pre-agricultural farming.

Social activists like 34-year-old Dambaru Sisa, the first ever Upper Bonda to be elected into the state legislature in 2014, believe mainstreaming the Bonda community is crucial for the entire group’s survival.

Orphaned as a child and educated at a Christian missionary school in Malkangiri, Sisa now holds a double Masters’ degree in mathematics and law, and is concerned about his people’s future.

“Our cultural identity, especially our unique Remo dialect, must be preserved,” he told IPS. “At the same time, with increased awareness, [the] customs and superstitions harming our people will slowly be eradicated.”

He cited the Upper Bonda people’s customary marriages – with women generally marrying boys who are roughly ten years younger – as one of the practices harming his community.

In customary marriages, Bonda women marry boys who are seven to 10 years their junior. Typically, a 22-year-old woman will be wed to a 15-year-old boy. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

In customary marriages, Bonda women marry boys who are seven to 10 years their junior. Typically, a 22-year-old woman will be wed to a 15-year-old boy. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Women traditionally manage the household, while men and boys are responsible for hunting and gathering food. To do so, they are trained in archery but possession of weapons often leads to brawls within the community itself as a result of Bonda men’s quick tempers, their penchant for alcohol and fierce protection of their wives.

A decade ago, an average of four men were killed by their own sons or nephews, usually in fights over their wives, according to Manoranjan Mahakul, a government official with the Odisha Tribal Empowerment & Livelihood Programme (OTELP), who has worked here for over 20 years.

Even now, several Bonda men are in prison for murder, Mahakul told IPS, though lenient laws allow for their early release after three years.

“High infant mortality, alcoholism and unsanitary living conditions, in close proximity to pigs and poultry, combined with a lack of nutritional food, superstitions about diseases and lack of medical facilities are taking their toll,” Sukra Kirsani, Landesa’s community resource person in Tulagurum village, told IPS.

The tribe’s drinking water is sourced from streams originating in the hills. All families practice open defecation, usually close to the streams, which results in diarrhoea epidemics during the monsoon seasons.

Despite a glaring need for change, experts say it will not come easy.

“Getting Bonda children to high school is half the battle won,” Sisa stated. “However, there are question marks on the quality of education in residential schools. While the list of enrolled students is long, in actuality many are not in the hostels. Some run away to work in roadside eateries or are back home,” he added.

The problem, Sisa says, is that instead of being taught in their mother tongue, students are forced to study in the Odia language or a more mainstream local tribal dialect, which none of them understand.

The government has responded to this by showing a willingness to lower the required qualifications for teachers in order to attract Bondas teachers to the classrooms.

Still, more will have to be done to ensure the even development of this dwindling tribe.

“The abundant funds pouring in for Bondas’ development need to be transparently utilised so that the various inputs work in synergy and show results,” Sisa concluded.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Brazil’s “Dalai Lama of the Rainforest” Faces Death Threatshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/brazils-dalai-lama-of-the-rainforest-faces-death-threats/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=brazils-dalai-lama-of-the-rainforest-faces-death-threats http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/brazils-dalai-lama-of-the-rainforest-faces-death-threats/#comments Thu, 14 Aug 2014 22:45:14 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136140 Davi Kopenawa at an assembly of the the Hutukara Associação Yanomami . Credit: Courtesy Luciano Padrã/Cafod

Davi Kopenawa at an assembly of the the Hutukara Associação Yanomami . Credit: Courtesy Luciano Padrã/Cafod

By Fabiola Ortiz
RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 14 2014 (IPS)

Davi Kopenawa, the leader of the Yanomami people in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, who is internationally renowned for his struggle against encroachment on indigenous land by landowners and illegal miners, is now fighting a new battle – this time against death threats received by him and his family.

“In May, they [miners] told me that he wouldn’t make it to the end of the year alive,” Armindo Góes, 39, one of Kopenawa’s fellow indigenous activists in the fight for the rights of the Yanomami people, told IPS.

Kopenawa, 60, is Brazil’s most highly respected indigenous leader. The Yanomami shaman and spokesman is known around the world as the “Dalai Lama of the Rainforest” and has frequently participated in United Nations meetings and other international events.“The landowners and the garimpeiros have plenty of money to kill an Indian. The Amazon jungle belongs to us. She protects us from the heat; the rainforest is essential to all of us and for our children to live in peace.” -- Davi Kopenawa

He has won awards like the Global 500 Prize from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). His voice has drawn global figures like King Harald of Norway – who visited him in 2013 – or former British footballer David Beckham – who did so in March – to the 96,000-sq-km territory which is home to some 20,000 Yanomami.

Kopenawa is president of the Hutukara Yanomami Association (HAY), which he founded in 2004 in Boa Vista, the capital of the northern state of Roraima. Before that he fought for the creation of the Yanomami Indigenous Territory (TI), which is larger than Portugal, in the states of Amazonas and Roraima, on the border with Venezuela.

On Jul. 28, HAY issued a statement reporting that its leader had received death threats in June, when Góes, one of the organisation’s directors, was accosted on a street in the Amazonas town of São Gabriel da Cachoeira by “garimpeiros” or illegal gold miners, who gave him a clear death message for Kopenawa.

Since then “the climate of insecurity has dominated everything,” Góes told IPS.

Garimpeiros are penetrating deeper and deeper into Yanomami territory in their search for gold, in Brazil as well as Venezuela, encroaching on one of the world’s oldest surviving cultures.

Illegal gold miners damage the territory and attack the families of the Yanomami. Credit: Courtesy Colin Jones/Survival International

Illegal gold miners damage the territory and attack the families of the Yanomami. Credit: Courtesy Colin Jones/Survival International

The Yanomami TI was demarcated just before the 1992 Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro. And it was the Rio+20 Summit, held in this city in 2012, that made Kopenawa more prominent at home, where he was less well-known than abroad.

“Davi is someone very precious to Brazil, but some people see him as an enemy. He is a thinker and a warrior who forms part of Brazil’s identity and has fought for the rights of the Yanomami and other indigenous people for over 40 years,” activist Marcos Wesley, assistant coordinator of the Rio Negro sustainable development programme of the Socioenvironmental Institute (ISA), told IPS.

The Rio Negro, the biggest tributary of the Amazon River, runs across Yanomami territory.

In the 1990s, Kopenawa managed to get 45,000 garimpeiros evicted from the Yanomami TI, Wesley noted. “He and Hutukara are the spokespersons for the Yanomami, for their demands. I can imagine there are people who have suffered economic losses and are upset over the advances made by the Yanomami,” he added.

“There are threatening signs that put us on the alert,” Góes said. “We are working behind locked doors. Two armed men were already searching for Davi in Boa Vista. They even offered money if someone would identify him. We are getting more and more concerned.”

The director of HAY explained that “our lives are at risk, and our elders advised Davi to take shelter in his community.”

Shaman Davi Kopenawa with former British football star David Beckham, who visited Yanomami territory in March. Credit: Courtesy Nenzinho Soares/Survival International

Shaman Davi Kopenawa with former British football star David Beckham, who visited Yanomami territory in March. Credit: Courtesy Nenzinho Soares/Survival International

Although the Yanomami TI was fully demarcated, illegal activities have not ceased there.

“There are many people invading indigenous land for mining,” Góes said.

Kopenawa comes from the remote community of Demini, one of the 240 villages in the Yanomami TI. The only way to reach the village is by small plane or a 10-day boat ride upriver.

On Aug. 8, IPS managed to contact the Yanomami leader, just a few minutes before he set out for his community. But he preferred not to provide details about his situation, because of the threats.

“At this moment I prefer not to say anything more. I can only say that I am very worried, together with my Yanomami people; the rest I have already said,” he commented.

Five days earlier, Kopenawa had been one of the guests of honour at the 12th International Literature Festival in Paraty in the southern state of Rio de Janeiro. He talked about the violence facing his people, when he presented his book “The Falling Sky: Words of a Yanomami Shaman”.

Violence against environmentalists and indigenous activists

The organisation Global Witness reported that nearly half of the murders of environmentalists committed in the world in the last few years were in Brazil. In the 2012-2013 period the total was 908 murders, 443 of which happened in this country.

The 2013 report by the Catholic Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI) on violence against indigenous people in Brazil documented 53 victims of murder, 29 attempted murders, and 10 cases of death threats.

The executive secretary of CIMI, Cleber Buzatto, told IPS that threats against indigenous leaders had increased in the last year.

“Economic interests act together and mount violent attacks on the rights of indigenous people, especially in terms of their rights to their territory,” he added. “It’s a very touchy situation. The threats continue to occur because of the existing impunity and because the authorities have not taken effective action.”

“The landowners and garimpeiros have plenty of money to kill an Indian. The Amazon jungle belongs to us. She protects us from the heat; the rainforest is essential to all of us and for our children to live in peace,” he said.

He had previously denounced that “They want to kill me. I don’t do what white people do – track someone down to kill him. I don’t interfere with their work. But they are interfering in our work and in our struggle. I will continue fighting and working for my people. Because defending the Yanomami people and their land is my work.”

In its communiqué, HAY demanded that the police investigate the threats and provide Kopenawa with official protection.

“The suspicion is that the threats are in reprisal for the work carried out by the Yanomami, together with government agencies, to investigate and break up the networks of miners in the Yanomami TI in the last few years,” HAY stated.

Kopenawa and HAY provide the federal police with maps of mining sites, geographic locations, and information on planes and people circulating in the Yanomami TI. Their reports have made it possible to carry out operations against garimpeiros and encroaching landowners; the last large-scale one was conducted in February.

According to the federal police, in Roraima alone, illegal mining generates profits of 13 million dollars a month, and many of the earnings come from Yanomami territory.

Góes stressed to IPS that mining has more than just an economic impact on indigenous people.

“It causes an imbalance in the culture and lives of the Yanomami, and generates dependence on manufactured, artificial objects and food. It changes the entire Yanomami world vision. Mining also generates a lot of pollution in the rivers,” he complained.

“We know that in Brazil we unfortunately have a high rate of violence against indigenous leaders and social movements,” Wesley said. “Impunity reigns. Davi is a fighter, and will surely not be intimidated by these threats. He believes in his struggle, in the defence of his people and of the planet.”

In Brazil there is no specific programme to protect indigenous people facing threats.

Representatives of Brazil’s indigenous affairs agency, FUNAI, told IPS that a request from protection was received from Kopanawa and other HAY leaders, and that it was referred to the programme of human rights defenders in the Brazilian presidency’s special secretariat on human rights.

But they said that in order to receive protection, the Yanomami leader had to confirm that he wanted it, and the government is waiting for his response to that end.

In this country of 200 million people, indigenous people number 896,917, according to the 2010 census.

 

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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IFC Warned of Systemic Safeguards Failures in Hondurashttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/ifc-warned-of-systemic-safeguards-failures-in-honduras/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ifc-warned-of-systemic-safeguards-failures-in-honduras http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/ifc-warned-of-systemic-safeguards-failures-in-honduras/#comments Wed, 13 Aug 2014 00:34:01 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136085 By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Aug 13 2014 (IPS)

For the second time this year, an internal auditor has criticised the World Bank’s private sector investment agency over dealings in Honduras, and is warning that similar problems are likely being experienced elsewhere.

The investigation found that the bank’s private sector investment agency, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), took on a significant stake in a Honduran bank but undertook “insufficient measures” to assess that institution’s own investments. These included at least one company involved in a deadly land dispute.“The philosophy of the World Bank is to ‘end poverty’, but what has happened in this process has been the opposite.” -- La Plataforma Agraria de Honduras

The auditor, known as the Compliance Advisor/Ombudsman (CAO), also levels a broader critique of the IFC’s investments in third-party groups such as the Honduran bank. When dealing with these “financial intermediaries”, the CAO warns, financial considerations appear to be receiving far more attention from officials than the environmental and social policies meant to safeguard local communities.

“IFC acquired an equity stake in a commercial bank with significant exposure to high risk sectors and clients, but which lacked capacity to implement IFC’s environmental and social requirements,” the CAO states in a report released Monday.

“The absence of an environmental and social review process that was commensurate to risk meant that key decision makers … were not presented with an adequate assessment of the risks that were attached to this investment.”

The report focuses on a 2011 IFC investment, worth 70 million dollars, in Banco Ficohsa, Honduras’s third-largest bank. CAO found that important information was withheld between IFC offices over the extent of business between Banco Ficohsa and Corporacion Dinant, an agribusiness company that for years has been accused of waging a violent campaign to expand its palm oil plantations in the country’s Aguan Valley.

In January, CAO issued critical findings on a separate IFC investment in Dinant, from 2009, worth 30 million dollars. Dinant is owned by Miguel Facusse Barjum, one of the wealthiest businessmen in the country and reportedly a backer of the 2009 military coup that ousted a pro-reform president.

Over the past half-decade, more than 100 people have reportedly been killed in the Aguan Valley in clashes between Dinant security personnel and local cooperatives.

IFC has put on hold the Dinant deal and enacted a plan aimed at ameliorating the situation. The new report does not find evidence that the Banco Ficohsa deal was aimed at funnelling additional funds to Dinant, but CAO researchers suggest that the effect was the same.

“[W]aiving a key financial covenant and then taking an equity position in Ficohsa … facilitated a significant ongoing flow of capital to Dinant, outside the framework of its environmental and social standards,” the report states.

Local civil society groups say the effect has been devastating.

“The philosophy of the World Bank is to ‘end poverty’, but what has happened in this process has been the opposite,” La Plataforma Agraria de Honduras, a Honduran network, told IPS in Spanish.

“Instead, we’ve seen greater wealth for corporations and transnational landowners and greater poverty for the poor, who have been driven from their lands. And although the previous CAO report was very critical, the World Bank has continued to finance Dinant through Ficohsa.”

Beneath the intermediaries

In a formal response also released Monday, the IFC does not dispute the CAO findings. But it does suggest that they are no longer relevant, following changes put in place in part in response to the January CAO report on Dinant.

New procedures, for instance, will now allow for additional oversight visits to “medium risk clients”. Multiple new processes will also aim to close information gaps of the type that led to the Ficohsa revelations, including the creation of a new vice-president-level position to focus on “risk and sustainability”.

“Under this new structure, [environmental and social] risk will receive the same weight and attention as financial and reputation risk,” two IFC vice-presidents wrote in a letter to CAO.

Yet the remarkably critical CAO report has already added momentum to an ongoing campaign to convince the World Bank Group to reform the IFC’s dealings with financial intermediaries such as Banco Ficohsa. Such deals have become increasingly important to the IFC’s portfolio over the past decade, but they have traditionally offered far less oversight for the agency.

In such projects, the IFC requires the intermediary to set up a system aimed at ensuring that stringent environmental and social safeguards are met. But analysis of the effects of this system on the ground is left to the intermediary.

“This issue has been questioned in many cases – where a financial intermediary is the one doing the disbursements and the IFC is completely separate and doesn’t know what’s going on,” Carla Garcia Zendejas, a programme director at the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), a Washington-based watchdog group, told IPS.

“That’s the case here. Even if you have a system in place to assess these risks, if you’re not doing that properly the whole system is worthless.”

Systemic reassessment

The CAO has repeatedly questioned the IFC’s policies on investments in financial intermediaries (a broad investigation can be found here). This time, the investigators are clear that the Honduras situation is likely not an isolated incident.

“[T]he shortcomings identified in this investigation … are indicative of a system of support to [financial intermediaries] which does not support IFC’s higher level environmental and social commitments,” CAO states.

“CAO’s findings raise concerns that IFC has, through its banking investments, an unanalyzed and unquantified exposure to projects with potential significant adverse environmental and social impacts.”

The auditor warns that, under current disclosure mechanisms, “this exposure is also effectively secret”, and calls for a “reassessment” of the agency’s management of social and environmental risk in its dealings with financial institutions.

Rights advocates note that similar concerns are cropping up in IFC investments in financial intermediaries elsewhere.

“One of this report’s main findings is that there is a breakdown in the IFC’s systems approach to [financial intermediaries], especially in risk categorization,” Jelson Garcia, of the Bank Information Center (BIC), a watchdog group here, told IPS in an e-mailed statement. “This … links to recent cases in Myanmar and India as yet another example of the IFC needing to take stringent and urgent reforms of its financial markets lending approach.”

Advocacy groups say a primary concern is the IFC’s institutional culture, which they say prioritises the volume of loans disbursed over their quality. BIC, CIEL and others are now calling on World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim to order the preparation of a reform plan in time for the next big World Bank Group meetings, in October.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Women Warriors Take Environmental Protection into Their Own Handshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/women-warriors-take-environmental-protection-into-their-own-hands/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-warriors-take-environmental-protection-into-their-own-hands http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/women-warriors-take-environmental-protection-into-their-own-hands/#comments Fri, 08 Aug 2014 06:32:25 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135998 Indian activist Suryamani Bhagat has been fighting state officials in the eastern state of Jharkhand to protect tribal people’s forest rights. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Indian activist Suryamani Bhagat has been fighting state officials in the eastern state of Jharkhand to protect tribal people’s forest rights. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
BALI, Aug 8 2014 (IPS)

Aleta Baun, an Indonesian environmental activist known in her community as Mama Aleta, has a penchant for wearing a colourful scarf on her head, but not for cosmetic reasons.

The colours of the cloth, she says, represent the hues of the forests that are the lifeblood of her Mollo people living in West Timor, part of Indonesia’s East Nusa Tenggara province.

“The forest is the life of my people, the trees are like the pores in our skin, the water is like the blood that flows through us…the forest is the mother of my tribe,” Aleta told IPS.

“If I were a man, I would have been arrested and thrown in jail by now. Because we women stand together, police are reluctant to act like that.” -- Suryamani Bhagat, founder of the Torang tribal rights and cultural centre
The winner of the 2013 Goldman Environmental Prize, she represents an expanding international movement against environmental destruction helmed by humble, often poor, rural and tribal women.

For many years, Aleta has been at the forefront of her tribe’s efforts to stop mining companies destroying the forests of the Mutis Mountains that hug the western part of the island of Timor.

The Mollo people have long existed in harmony with these sacred forests, living off the fertile land and harvesting from plants the dye they use for weaving – a skill that local women have cultivated over centuries.

Starting in the 1980s, corporations seeking to extract marble from the rich region acquired permits from local officials, and began a period of mining and deforestation that caused landslides and rampant pollution of West Timor’s rivers, which have their headwaters in the Mutis Mountains.

The villagers living downstream bore the brunt of these operations, which they said represented an assault on their way of life.

So Mama Aleta, along with three other indigenous Mollo women, started traveling by foot from one remote village to the next, educating people about the environmental impacts of mining.

During one of these trips in 2006, Aleta was assaulted and stabbed by a group of thugs who waylaid her. But the incident did not sway her commitment.

“I felt they were raping my land, I could not just stand aside and watch that happen,” she told IPS.

The movement culminated in a peaceful ‘occupation’ of the contested mountain, with Aleta leading some 150 women to sit silently on and around the mining site and weave traditional cloth in protest of the destruction.

“We wanted to tell the companies that what they were doing was like taking our clothes off, they were making the forest naked by [cutting down] its trees,” she said.

A year later, the mining groups were forced to cease their operations at four sites within Mollo territory, and finally give up on the enterprise altogether.

 

Indigenous women from the Indonesian island of Lombok make traditional handicrafts using supplies from the forest. Amantha Perera/IPS

Indigenous women from the Indonesian island of Lombok make traditional handicrafts using supplies from the forest. Amantha Perera/IPS

Increasingly, women like Aleta are taking a front seat in community action campaigns in Asia, Africa and Latin America aimed at safeguarding the environment.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) estimates that women comprise one of the most vulnerable populations to the fallout from extreme weather events.

In addition, small-scale female farmers (who number some 560 million worldwide) produce between 45 and 80 percent of the world’s food, while rural women, primarily in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, spend an estimated 200 million hours per day fetching water, according to UN Women. Any change in their climate, experts say, will be acutely felt.

According to Lorena Aguilar, senior gender advisor with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), in some parts of rural India women spend 30 percent of their time looking for water. “Their role and the environment they live in have a symbiotic connection,” she said.

Ordinary mothers accomplish extraordinary feats

In the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand, Suryamani Bhagat, founder of the Torang tribal rights and cultural center, is working with women in her village of Kotari to protect the state’s precious forests.

Working under the umbrella of the Jharkhand Save the Forest Movement (known locally as Jharkhand Jangal Bachao Andolan), Bhagat initially brought together 15 adivasi women to protest attempts by a state-appointed forest official to plant commercially viable timber that had no biodiversity or consumption value for the villagers who live off the land.

The women then went to the local police station – accompanied by children, men and elders from the village – and began to pluck and eat the fruit from guava trees in the compound, announcing to the officers on duty that they wanted only trees that could provide for the villagers.

On another occasion, when police showed up to arrest women leaders in the community, including Bhagat, they announced they would go voluntarily – provided the police also arrested their children and livestock, who needed the women to care for them. Once again, the police retreated.

Now the women patrol the forest, ensuring that no one cuts more wood than is deemed necessary.

Bhagat believes that her gender works to her advantage in this rural community in Jharkhand’s Ranchi district.

“If I were a man, I would have been arrested and thrown in jail by now,” she told IPS. “Because we women stand together, police are reluctant to act like that.”

Over 7,000 km away, in the Pacific island state of Papua New Guinea, Ursula Rakova is adding strength to the women-led movement by working to protect her native Carteret Atoll from the devastating impacts of climate change.

The tiny islands that comprise this atoll have a collective land area of 0.6 square kilometers, with a maximum elevation of 1.5 metres above sea level.

For nearly 20 years, locals here have battled a rising sea that has contaminated ground water supplies, washed away homes and made agriculture virtually untenable.

The National Tidal Centre at the Australian government’s bureau of meteorology has been unwilling to provide long-term projections for the atoll’s future, but various media outlets report that the islands could be completely submerged as early as 2015.

In 2006, at the request of a local council of elders, Rakova left a paid job in the neighbouring Bougainville Island and returned to her native Carteret, where she helped found Tulele Peisa, an NGO dedicated to planning and implementing a voluntary relocation plan for residents in the face of government inaction.

The organisation advocates for the rights of indigenous islanders, and seeks economic alternatives and social protections for families and individuals forced to flee their sinking land.

“It is my island, my people, we will not give up on them,” Rakova told IPS. “It is our way of life that is going under the sea.”

All three women are ordinary mothers, who have taken extraordinary steps to make sure that their children have a better world to live in, and that outsiders, who have no sense of their culture or traditions, do not dictate their lives.

Of course this is nothing new. Michael Mazgaonkar, an India-based coordinator and advisor for the Global Greengrants Fund (GGF), told IPS that women have always played an integral role in environmental protection.

What is new is their increasing prominence on the global stage as fearless advocates, defenders and caretakers.

“The expanding role of women as climate leaders has been gradual,” Mazgaonkar stated. “In some cases they have been thrust forward, because they had no choice but to take action, and in others they have volunteered to play a leadership role.”

While the outcome of many of these campaigns hangs in the balance, one thing is for certain, he said: that the world “will continue to see their role becoming more pronounced.”

GFF Executive Director Terry Odendahl believes that “men are doing equally important work” but added: “historically women and their roles have been undervalued. We need to create the space for their voices to be heard.”

“If we raise women’s choices,” she said, “We can improve this dire environmental predicament we are faced with.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Will Climate Change Lead to Conflict or Cooperation?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/will-climate-change-lead-to-conflict-or-cooperation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=will-climate-change-lead-to-conflict-or-cooperation http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/will-climate-change-lead-to-conflict-or-cooperation/#comments Mon, 04 Aug 2014 18:26:46 +0000 Joel Jaeger http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135923 In conflict-prone regions such as Darfur, violence is sometimes blamed on climate change. Credit: UN Photo/Albert González Farran

In conflict-prone regions such as Darfur, violence is sometimes blamed on climate change. Credit: UN Photo/Albert González Farran

By Joel Jaeger
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 4 2014 (IPS)

The headline of every article about the relationship between climate change and conflict should be “It’s complicated,” according to Clionadh Raleigh.

Director of the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, Raleigh thinks that researchers and the media have put too simplistic a spin on the link between climate change and violence.“It’s just appalling that we’re at this stage 100 years after environmental determinism should have been rightly dismissed as any sort of framework for understanding the developing world,” -- Clionadh Raleigh

In recent years, scientists and the United Nations have been increasing their focus on climate conflict. The debate ranges from sensational reports that say the world will soon erupt into water wars to those who do not think the topic is worthy of discussion at all.

Much of the uncertainty over the connection between climate change and armed conflict exists because it is such a fledgling area of interest. According to David Jensen, head of the U.N. Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Environmental Cooperation for Peacebuilding programme, the relationship between climate change and conflict began receiving significant U.N. attention only in recent years.

“While the debate on this topic started in 2006-2007, there remains a large gulf between what is discussed at the global level and in the Security Council, and what is actually happening at the field level,” he told IPS.

A body of peer-reviewed literature on climate change and conflict has recently begun to emerge, but scientists have discovered that the link between climate change and conflict is more complex than they expected.

“A number of studies have found a statistical link between climate change and conflict, but they tend to focus on a specific area and cover a short time period,” Halvard Buhaug, director of the Peace Research Institute Oslo’s Conditions of Violence and Peace department, told IPS. “The challenge is to determine whether these studies are indicative of an overarching, more general trend, which hasn’t been documented yet.”

Much of the nuance behind the climate conflict correlations is lost when technical scientific reports are spread to a wider audience.

Buhaug told IPS that “parts of the public debate on climate change and violence are accurate, but there is an unfortunate tendency, whether by researchers or the media, to exaggerate the strength behind the scientific research and under-communicate scientific uncertainty.”

“In some media reports, phrases like ‘may’ are turned into ‘will’ and the future is portrayed in… gloomy shades.”

Following is a sampling of the back-and-forth debate taking place in the scientific community:

A prominent study by Burke etal. (2009) concluded that rising temperatures would lead to increased battle deaths in Africa. It predicted that if current trends held, increased temperatures would cause 393,000 extra battle deaths in Africa by 2030.

According to Buhaug (2010), the prevalence and severity of African civil wars has decreased since 2002 in spite of increased warming, defying Burke’s hypothesis. In his study, he found no evidence of a correlation between temperature and conflict.

Hendrix and Salehyan (2012) found that extreme deviations in rainfall, whether it was more rain or less rain than usual, are positively associated with all types of political conflict in Africa.

Benjaminsen et al. (2012) found little evidence for claims that rainfall variability is a substantial driver of conflict in Mali.

In 2013, Hsiang, Burke and Miguel published a meta-analysis of 60 studies on the subject in Science. They found that the majority of studies from all regions support the conclusion that climate change does and will lead to higher levels of armed conflict.

In a response in Nature Climate Change, Raleigh, Linke and O’Loughlin (2014) criticized the above study for using faulty statistics that ignored political and historical drivers of conflict and overemphasized climate change as a causal factor.

The debate over whether climate change exists and is human-caused has long been settled by scientists. The debate over whether it will impact armed conflict goes on.

A deeper understanding of the connection between climate change and conflict requires a careful examination of the drivers of violence and the role of the environment in individuals’ livelihoods.

Cullen Hendrix, assistant professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, told IPS that the relationship between climate and conflict is mediated by levels of economic development.

Climate conflict is most likely to occur in rural, non-industrialised regions “where a large portion of the population is still dependent on the natural environment for their income and sustenance,” he said.

In most sub-Saharan African countries, more than two-thirds of the population is employed in agriculture. A change in climate conditions could have negative impacts on stability. However, researchers would emphasise that it is important not to jump to conclusions and assume that climate change will necessarily lead to conflict.

“Almost all of us would acknowledge that other factors such as political exclusion of persecuted minority groups or economic inequalities or weak central government institutions matter more [than climate]” Hendrix told IPS. “But that’s not the same as saying that climate doesn’t matter.”

When asked about the biggest lessons learned during his time with UNEP, Jensen had a similar take. “When you’re trying to rebuild communities and livelihoods, you can’t just focus on a single stress factor like climate change, you have to be looking at multiple factors and building resilience to all kinds of shocks and stresses…including climate change but not exclusively.”

Hendrix expects the next generation of scientific work to examine how drought, floods, desertification and other climate change phenomena could impact conflict “through indirect channels such as suppressing economic growth or causing large-scale migration from one country to another.”

In post-conflict situations and fragile states at risk of climate conflict, governance and land distribution have emerged as key considerations.

“Clarity on land and resource rights is one of the key prerequisites to reducing vulnerability and supporting livelihood recovery,” Jensen told IPS.

Clionadh Raleigh, who is also a professor of Human Geography at the University of Sussex, believes that government land distribution policies are often the real source of conflict, but their impact is obscured by the climate conflict debate.

“If you were to ask somebody in Africa ‘what are the conflicts about here?’ they might readily say something like land or water access,” she told IPS. “But land and water access are almost entirely determined by local and national government policy, so they don’t have almost anything to do with climate.”

Certain leaders have attempted to blame climate change for the consequences of their own disastrous policies, according to Raleigh. Robert Mugabe has blamed Zimbabwe’s famines on climate change, instead of his own corrupt land reallocation policies.

Omar al-Bashir blamed the Darfur conflict on drought instead of the government’s shocking political violence against a large chunk of its population.

While climate change itself is a topic of utmost importance, is it even worth it to talk about its connection to armed conflict? Raleigh doesn’t think so.

“It’s just a simplistic, nonsense narrative that the climate makes people violent,” Raleigh told IPS.

She believes the climate conflict debate falls into a trap called environmental determinism, a school of thought that asserts that climatic factors define human behaviour and culture. For example, it assumes that a society will act in a certain way depending on whether it is located in a tropical or temperate region.  Environmental determinism gained prominence in the late 19th century but soon declined in popularity amidst accusations of racism and imperialism.

“It’s just appalling that we’re at this stage 100 years after environmental determinism should have been rightly dismissed as any sort of framework for understanding the developing world,” Raleigh told IPS.

Buhaug believes the climate change and armed conflict debate does have merit, since most scientists are careful to not ascribe too much causal weight to one particular factor.

However, he does worry that “there is a tendency in research, but especially in the communication of research, to ignore the importance of political and socio-economic conditions and the motive and agency of actors.”

Raleigh, for her part, wishes the whole debate would just go away.

“People have an often mistaken interpretation of what’s going on at the sub-national level, on the local level within African states and developing countries,” she told IPS. “And they just assume that violence is one of the first reactions to societal change, when it is far more likely to be cooperation.”

Environmental cooperation occurs at both the inter-state and local levels, according to Jensen. At the local level, “in Darfur, we see different groups coming together to co-manage water resources.” At the trans-national level, “there’s a lot of talk about water wars between countries, but we often see the opposite in terms of much more cooperation between states over shared water resources.”

Following this line of thinking, the U.N. has tried to expand the climate conflict discussion from focusing on problems to exploring new solutions.

In November 2013, it launched a new website for experts and field practitioners to share best practices in addressing environmental conflicts and using natural resources to support peacebuilding, Jensen told IPS.

Climate change will most likely wreak havoc on the natural world and it may create the conditions for increased violence, but environmental scientists and practitioners agree: the future is not determined.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at joelmjaeger@gmail.com

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The ‘Global’ Land Rushhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/the-global-land-rush/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-global-land-rush http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/the-global-land-rush/#comments Mon, 04 Aug 2014 07:05:26 +0000 Anuradha Mittal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135890

In this column, Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of the Oakland Institute, an independent policy think tank on today’s most pressing social, economic, and environmental issues, argues that the time has come for a more holistic discussion of land deals that places transfer of land in both the developed and developing worlds along the same continuous spectrum.

By Anuradha Mittal
OAKLAND, United States, Aug 4 2014 (IPS)

The first years of the twenty-first century will be remembered for a global land rush of nearly unprecedented scale.

An estimated 500 million acres, an area eight times the size of Britain, was reported bought or leased across the developing world between 2000 and 2011, often at the expense of local food security and land rights.

When the price of food spiked in 2008, pushing the number of hungry people in the world to over one billion, it spiked the interest of investors as well, and within a year foreign land deals in the developing world rose by a staggering 200 percent.

Anuradha Mittal

Anuradha Mittal

Today, enthusiasm for agriculture borders on speculative mania. Driven by everything from rising food prices to growing demand for biofuel, the financial sector is taking an interest in farmland as never before.

The Oakland Institute has reported since 2011 how a new generation of institutional investors – including hedge funds, private equity, pension funds, and university endowments – is eager to capitalise on global farmland as a new and highly desirable asset class.

But the thing most consistently missed about this global land rush is that it is precisely that – global. Although media coverage tends to focus on land grabs in low-income countries, the opposite side of the same coin is a new rush for U.S. farmland, manifesting itself in rising interest from investors and surging land prices, as giants like the pension fund TIAA-CREF commit billions to buy agricultural land.

One industry leader estimates that 10 billion dollars in institutional capital is looking for access to U.S. farmland, but that figure could easily rise as investors seek to ride out uncertain financial times by placing their money in the perceived safety of agriculture.

In the next 20 years, as the U.S. experiences an unprecedented crisis of retiring farmers, there will be ample opportunity for these actors to expand their holdings as an estimated 400 million acres changes generational hands. And yet, the domestic face of this still unfolding land rush remains largely unseen.

For all their size and ambition, virtually nothing is known about these new investors and their business practices. Who do they buy land from? What do they grow? How do they manage their properties? In an industry not known for its transparency, none of these questions have a satisfactory answer.

For more than six years the Oakland Institute has been at the forefront of exposing the murky nature of land deals in the developing world. The challenge today is to begin a more holistic discussion that places transfer of land in both the developed and developing worlds along the same continuous spectrum.

Driven by the same structural factors and perpetrated by many of the same investors, the corporate consolidation of agriculture is being felt just as strongly in Iowa and California as it is in the Philippines and Mozambique.

Down on the Farm, a new report from the Oakland Institute, aims to increase awareness of the overlapping global and national factors enabling the new American land rush, while at the same time introduces the motives and practices of some of the most powerful players involved in it: UBS Agrivest, a subsidiary of the biggest bank in Switzerland; the Hancock Agricultural Investment Group (HAIG), a subsidiary of the biggest insurance company in Canada; and the Teacher Annuity Insurance Association College Retirement Equities Fund (TIAA-CREF), one of the largest pension funds in the world.

Only by studying the motives and practices of these actors today does it become possible to begin building policies and institutions that help ensure farmers, and not absentee investors, are the future of our food system.

Nothing is more crucial than beginning this discussion today. The issue may seem small for a variety of reasons – because institutional investors only own an apparently tiny one percent of all U.S. farmland, or because farmers are still the biggest buyers of farmland across the country.

But to take either of these views is to become dangerously blind to the long-term trends threatening our agricultural heritage.

Consider the fact that investors believe that there is roughly 1.8 trillion dollars’ worth of farmland across the United States. Of this, between 300 and 500 billion dollars is considered to be of “institutional quality,” a combination of factors relating to size, water access, soil quality, and location that determine the investment appeal of a property.

This makes domestic farmland a huge and largely untapped asset class. Some of the biggest actors in the financial sector have already sought to exploit this opportunity by making equity investments in farmland. Frequently, these buyers enter the market with so much capital that their funds are practically limitless compared with the resources of most farmers.

Although they have made an impressive foothold, this is the beginning, not the end, of a land rush that could literally change who owns the country and our food and agricultural systems. Not only is there space in the market for institutional investors to expand, but there are also major financial incentives for them to do so.

If action is not taken, then a perfect storm of global and national trends could converge to permanently shift farm ownership from family businesses to institutional investors and other consolidated corporate operations. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

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Indigenous Leaders in Costa Rica Tell Ban Ki-moon Their Problemshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/indigenous-leaders-in-costa-rica-tell-ban-ki-moon-their-problems/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-leaders-in-costa-rica-tell-ban-ki-moon-their-problems http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/indigenous-leaders-in-costa-rica-tell-ban-ki-moon-their-problems/#comments Fri, 01 Aug 2014 22:13:04 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135883 A Costa Rican indigenous family runs to take shelter in the community of Cedror in the indigenous territory of Salitre on Jul. 6, afraid of being attacked by landowners who occupied their land after setting fire to their homes and belongings the day before. Credit: David Bolaños/IPS

A Costa Rican indigenous family runs to take shelter in the community of Cedror in the indigenous territory of Salitre on Jul. 6, afraid of being attacked by landowners who occupied their land after setting fire to their homes and belongings the day before. Credit: David Bolaños/IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Aug 1 2014 (IPS)

Indigenous people in Costa Rica, hemmed in by violent attacks from farmers and ranchers who invade their land and burn down their homes, have found a new ally: United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who met with 36 native leaders during a recent visit to this country.

The leaders, representing eight indigenous groups, described the violence faced by native people in Costa Rica, and the many struggles they face, even in simply getting identity cards.

But they underlined that their most pressing concern is the occupation of indigenous areas by “the white man”, which has led to an escalation of attacks from landowners, who invade their ancestral territory and try to drive them off the land, despite a law that guarantees their right to collective ownership of their territory.

The latest violent episode occurred in the community of Cedror, in the Salitre indigenous territory in the southeast of the country.

The Bribri people in Salitre had begun a process of recovering territory occupied by landowners or “finqueros”, who responded by burning down their modest homes and blocking access to their territory.

The violence, which continued from Jul. 5 to 8, prompted a visit to Cedror by the deputy minister of political affairs, Ana Gabriel Zúñiga, sent by President Luis Guillermo Solís, along with representatives of the Defensoría de los Habitantes – ombudsperson’s office – and the Ministry of Justice and Peace.“We don’t want to be beggars of the state. If they approve our law, we could develop ourselves according to our vision that we must protect the forests and water.” -- José Carlos Morales

A mob of around 80 thugs converged on the community on Jul. 5, armed with rocks and guns, chased the local indigenous people out of their homes, and then burned down the huts, with all of the families’ belongings inside.

Ligia Bejarano, one of the indigenous leaders who informed the U.N. secretary-general of the situation, told him that in 2010 native people were thrown out of the legislature when they went to lobby for approval of a new law on indigenous affairs.

According to Bejarano, Ban was very receptive and told them he was aware of the latest attack on native people in this Central American country, where members of indigenous groups represent 2.6 percent of the population of 4.5 million.

The secretary-general paid an official visit to Costa Rica on Jul. 30, and spent an additional four days in the country on vacation.

“I stress that dialogue is a very powerful tool and that we must continue to foment it, as long as there is grassroots community participation,” Magaly Lázaro, a member of the Brunca indigenous community who also participated in the meeting with Ban, told IPS.

“This is a group of marginalised populations who have long been discriminated against by societies,” Ban said shortly after the meeting, referring to indigenous people during a conference held in the San José-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

“I do take away the empty feeling that it was very short, for such an important meeting – five minutes weren’t enough for me to say what I feel; you can’t sum up so many things because the problem is bigger than what was discussed,” another of the three female participants, Justa Romero, told IPS.

The indigenous territory with the worst problems is Térraba, 150 km southeast of San José. Around 85 percent of the community’s land has been occupied by non-indigenous outsiders, according to the 2012 State of the Nation report drawn up by the National Provosts Council.

This is happening despite the fact that Costa Rica’s Indigenous Law, in force since 1977, declared native territories inalienable, indivisible, non-transferable and exclusive to the indigenous communities living there.

In other words, even if outsiders buy land in indigenous territories, the purchase and land title are invalid.

The native leaders told IPS that in the meeting with Ban they asked him to help them get the authorities to accelerate the adoption of measures to ensure respect for their rights and support for their autonomous development.

“Now we want to see how many non-indigenous people are in our territory,” Romero, a Bribri native who belongs to the Commission of Indigenous Women of Talamanca Association (ACOMUITA) in the country’s southern Caribbean region, told IPS. “But it’s not just a question of saying ‘we found this or that’ – I mean we should go and remove them and demonstrate that the land truly belongs to indigenous people.”

According to the 2011 national census, the roughly 100,000 members of the Brunca, Ngäbe, Bribri, Cabécar, Maleku, Chorotega, Térraba and Teribe communities live in 24 indigenous territories scattered around the country. Altogether, these areas cover 350,000 hectares of land – around seven percent of the national territory.

After visiting Salitre, Deputy Minister Zúñiga said the administration of Solis, who took office as president in May, recognises indigenous people’s right to their land and will support them in recovering their territory.

“We have started to carry out an analysis of all aspects related to the demarcation of Salitre and we are taking the first steps to see who [non-indigenous people] have farms in the territory and who has the right to be indemnified,” Geiner Blanco, a member of the Maleku indigenous community and a presidential adviser on native affairs, told IPS.

A bill aimed at overcoming the gaps and problems in the country’s institutions with respect to indigenous affairs has been stalled in the legislature for 19 years.

The proposed reforms include the governance of native territories by indigenous councils; the removal of all non-native people from the territories; and education for indigenous children designed in line with the native world vision and culture.

“We don’t want to be beggars of the state,” Brunca indigenous leader José Carlos Morales told IPS. “If they approve our law, we could develop ourselves according to our vision that we must protect the forests and water.

“But they don’t want to pass it. They want us to keep being beggars,” said Morales, who helped draft the 1977 Indigenous Law and worked for five years in the United Nations Human Rights Council’s indigenous rights body.

Lázaro, a 29-year-old member of the Brunca community, told IPS that she would be happy just to stop being plagued by the fear she started to feel in August last year, when she was visiting Salitre and preparing a meal with the women and children while the men went out to patrol the borders of the territory.

“We were about to eat when a bunch of people came up with sticks and clubs and surrounded us in a question of just a few seconds,” she said. “It was a mob of finqueros and white people; I had heard of that kind of violence, but I hadn’t experienced it, and the fear has stayed with me.”

Edited by: Estrella Gutiérrez / Translated by: Stephanie Wildes

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Laws that Kill Protesters in Mexicohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/laws-that-kill-protesters-in-mexico/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=laws-that-kill-protesters-in-mexico http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/laws-that-kill-protesters-in-mexico/#comments Thu, 31 Jul 2014 22:34:02 +0000 Daniela Pastrana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135859 Students from the high school attended by José Luis Alberto Tehuatlie, during the boy’s Jul. 22 funeral in the town of San Bernardino Chalchihuapan, in the Mexican state of Puebla. Credit: Daniela Pastrana /IPS

Students from the high school attended by José Luis Alberto Tehuatlie, during the boy’s Jul. 22 funeral in the town of San Bernardino Chalchihuapan, in the Mexican state of Puebla. Credit: Daniela Pastrana /IPS

By Daniela Pastrana
SAN BERNARDINO CHALCHIHUAPAN, Mexico , Jul 31 2014 (IPS)

People in this town in the central Mexican state of Puebla found out the hard way that protesting can be deadly.

A new law passed in Puebla makes it possible for police to use firearms or deadly force to break up demonstrations.

Local inhabitants felt the impact of the measure during a harsh crackdown on a protest against another law that they say undermines their autonomy.

A dead 13-year-old boy, another who lost three fingers, a third with a broken jaw and teeth knocked out, a driver who lost an eye, and 37 others injured by beatings and tear gas were the price this Nahua indigenous town of 3,900 people paid for blocking a road to demand the repeal of a state law that transferred responsibility over civil registries from local community authorities to the municipalities.

“It’s not fair that they attack the people like this just because we are asking that our community life, our authorities, be respected,” Vianey Varela, a first year high school student, told IPS.

On Jul. 9, when local residents blocked the Puebla-Atlixco highway some 150 km from Mexico City, the state police first used the powers given to them by the Law to Protect Human Rights and Regulate the Legitimate Use of Force by the police, which the state legislature passed in May.

The “Ley Bala” or Bullet Law, as it was dubbed by journalists, allows Puebla state police to use firearms as well as “non-lethal weapons” to break up “violent” protests and during emergencies and natural disasters.

The roadblock was mounted to protest another state law approved in May, which took away from the local authorities the function of civil registry judges or clerks and put it in the hands of the municipal governments.Since May, in at least 190 villages and towns in the state, no one has been born, no one has died, and no one has been married – at least officially, because there are no records.

As a result, since May, in at least 190 villages and towns in the state, no one has been born, no one has died, and no one has been married – at least officially, because there are no records.

Javier Montes told IPS that he became “presidente auxiliar”- a post just under mayor – of San Bernardino Chalchihuapan in May, but added that “I still haven’t signed a thing. The archives are in our care, but we don’t have stamps or the necessary papers. And in the municipal presidency [mayor’s office] they don’t know what to do, so in the meantime nothing is being registered.”

“We sent letters to all the authorities,” said Montes, who has received anonymous threats for speaking out. “They never responded. When the ink and paper ran out, and our fingers were worn out from so much typing, we went out to protest and this is what happened.”

The town is in the municipality of Ocoyucan and the local inhabitants belong to the Nahua indigenous community. According to the latest estimates by the government’s National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples, the native population of Puebla is one million people – one quarter of the state’s total population.

In Mexico’s municipalities there is a “presidente” or mayor, and “presidentes auxiliares”, who are the highest level authorities in the communities, many of which are remote and located far from the seat of the municipal government.

The presidentes auxiliares name the police chief and run the town. And up to May they were also the civil registry judges or clerks..

They are directly elected by local voters without participation by the political parties, and they tend to be highly respected local leaders who are close to the people.

In the Jul. 9 police crackdown, 13-year-old José Luis Alberto Tehuatlie was hit by a rubber bullet in the head and died after 10 days in coma.

The Puebla state government initially denied that rubber bullets had been used. But the public outrage over the boy’s death forced Governor Rafael Moreno to announce that he would repeal the law.

Puebla is not the only place in Mexico where there have been attempts to regulate public protests. In the last year, the legislatures of five states have discussed similar bills.

The first was, paradoxically, the Federal District, in Mexico City, which has been governed by the leftwing Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) since 1997.

In the capital street protests are a daily occurrence, but since the very day that Enrique Peña Nieto was sworn in as president, on Dec. 1, 2012, demonstrations and marches have frequently turned violent.

A Federal District bill on public demonstrations, introduced in December 2013 by lawmakers from the rightwing opposition National Action Party, failed to prosper.

In April, the southeastern state of Quintana Roo, ruled by the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), became the first part of Mexico to regulate protests.

A state law, the “Ley de Ordenamiento Cívico”, known as the “anti-protest law,” is a toned-down version of another initiative that would have required demonstrators to apply for a permit to protest at least 48 hours ahead of time.

But the law maintains the ban on roadblocks and allows the police “to take pertinent measures” against demonstrators.

Other initiatives to regulate and allow the “legitimate use of force” have been adopted in the states of San Luis Potosí and Chiapas.

Global rights groups like Article 19 and Amnesty International have spoken out strongly against these laws aimed at regulating demonstrations, pointing to a worrisome tendency towards the criminalisation of social protests in Mexico since 2012.

But the governmental National Human Rights Commission has failed to make use of its legal powers to promote legal action challenging the anti-protest initiatives as unconstitutional.

On the contrary, in October 2013 it recommended that the Senate amend article 9 of the constitution referring to the freedom to hold public demonstrations and to the use of public force.

The Jul. 9 protest was not the first time rubber bullets have been used in Puebla.

Just hours before Tehuatlie’s death was confirmed, the Puebla state secretary of public security, Facundo Rosas, showed a document from the secretariat of national defence which indicated that the government had not purchased rubber bullets under the current administration.

However, in December 2011 the state human rights commission rebuked the Puebla police chief for the use of rubber bullets to evict local residents of the community of Ciénega Larga, when 70-year-old Artemia León was injured, as reported by the Eje Central online news site.

It became clear in conversations that IPS held with people in San Bernardino Chalchihuapan that they are very angry. Hundreds of people attended the boy’s funeral, on Jul. 22, where many of them called for the governor’s resignation.

“Why doesn’t he try the rubber bullets on his own kids,” said one man after the funeral, which was attended by some 40 “presidentes auxiliares” from other communities.

So far no one has been held accountable for the boy’s death.

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World Bank Board Declines to Revise Controversial Draft Policieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/world-bank-board-declines-to-revise-controversial-draft-policies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-bank-board-declines-to-revise-controversial-draft-policies http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/world-bank-board-declines-to-revise-controversial-draft-policies/#comments Thu, 31 Jul 2014 01:11:09 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135842 By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Jul 31 2014 (IPS)

A key committee of the World Bank’s governing board Wednesday spurned appeals to revise a  draft policy statement that, according to nearly 100 civil-society groups, risks rolling back several decades of reforms designed to protect indigenous populations, the poor and sensitive ecosystems.

While the Committee on Development Effectiveness did not formally endorse the draft, it approved the document for further consultation with governments, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and other stakeholders over the coming months in what will constitute a second round a two-year review of the Bank’s social and environmental policies.“The proposed ‘opt-out’ for protections for indigenous peoples, in particular, would undermine existing international human rights law." -- Joji Carino

At issue is a draft safeguard framework that was designed to update and strengthen policies that have been put in place over the past 25 years to ensure that Bank-supported projects in developing countries would protect vulnerable populations, human rights, and the environment to the greatest possible extent.

“The policies we have in place now have served us well, but the issues our clients face have changed over the last 20 years,” said Kyle Peters, the Bank’s vice president for operations policy and country services.

He stressed that the draft provisions would also broaden the Bank’s safeguard policies to include promoting social inclusion, anti-discrimination, and labour rights, and addressing climate change.

But, according to a number of civil-society groups, the draft, which was leaked over the weekend, not only fails to tighten key safeguards, in some cases, it weakens them substantially.

“The World Bank has repeatedly committed to producing a new safeguard framework that results in no-dilution of the existing safeguards and which reflects prevailing international standards,” according to a statement sent to the Bank’s executive directors Monday by Bank on Human Rights (BHR), a coalition of two dozen human-rights, anti-poverty, and environmental groups that sponsored the letter.

“Instead, the draft safeguard framework represents a profound dilution of the existing safeguards and an undercutting of international human rights standards and best practice,” the coalition, which includes Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the NGO Forum of the Asia Development Bank, among other groups, said.

Perhaps the most dramatic example of that dilution is a provision that would permit borrowing governments to “opt out” of the Indigenous Peoples Standard that was developed by the Bank to ensure that Bank-funded projects protected essential land and natural-resource rights of affected indigenous communities.

“We have engaged with social and environmental safeguard development with the World Bank for over 20 years and have never seen a proposal with potential for such widespread negative impacts for indigenous peoples around the world,” said Joji Carino, director of the Forest Peoples Programme.

“The proposed ‘opt-out’ for protections for indigenous peoples, in particular, would undermine existing international human rights law and the significant advances seen in respect for indigenous peoples rights in national laws,” she added.

But Mark King, the Bank’s chief environmental and social standards officer, insisted that the draft’s provisions represented a “strengthening of existing policy” that, among other provisions, introduces “Free, Prior and Informed Consent of Indigenous Peoples” in all Bank-supported projects.

“In exceptional circumstances when there are risks of exacerbating ethnic tension or civil strife or where the identification of Indigenous Peoples is inconsistent with the constitution of the country, in consultation with people affected by a particular project, we are proposing an alternative approach to the protection of Indigenous Peoples,” he said, adding that any such exception would have to be approved by the Bank’s board.

The Bank, which disburses as much as 50 billion dollars a year in grants and loans, remains a key source of project funding for developing countries despite the rise of other major sources over the past 20 years, notably private capital and, more recently, China and other emerging economies, which have generally imposed substantially fewer conditions on their lending.

Faced with this competition, the Bank has been determining how to make itself more attractive to borrowers by, for example, streamlining operations and reducing waste and duplication. But some critics worry that it may also be willing to exercise greater flexibility in applying its social and environmental standards – a charge that Bank officials publicly reject, despite the disclosure of recent internal emails reflecting precisely that concern.

Under prodding by NGOs and some Western governments in the 1980’s and 1990’s, the Bank had established itself as a leader in setting progressive social and environmental policies.

More recently, however, “it has fallen behind the regional development banks and many other international development institutions in terms of safeguarding human rights and the environment,” according to Gretchen Gordon, BHR’s co-ordinator.

“The Bank has an opportunity to regain its position as a leader in the development arena, but unfortunately this draft backtracks on the last decade of progress,” she told IPS. “We hope that the [next round of] consultations will be robust and accessible to the people and communities who are most affected, and that at the end of the day, the Bank and its member states adopt a strong safeguard framework that respects human rights.”

While welcoming the Bank’s new interest in issues such as discrimination and labour rights, the BHR statement criticised what it called the framework’s movement from “one based on compliance with set processes and standards, to one of vague and open-ended guidance…”

According to the statement, the draft threatens long-standing protections for people who may be displaced from their homes by Bank-backed mega-projects and may permit borrower governments and even private “intermediary” banks to use their own standards for assessing, compensating and resettling affected communities “without clear criteria on when and how this would be acceptable.”

In addition, according to BHR, the draft fails to incorporate any serious protections to prevent Bank funds from supporting land grabs that have displaced indigenous communities, small farmers, fishing communities and pastoralists in some of the world’s poorest countries to make way for major agro-industrial projects.

“We had hoped that the new safeguards would include strong requirements to prevent governments like Ethiopia from abusing its people with Bank funds,” said Obang Metho, executive director of the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia, a group that has brought international attention to Bank-backed land grabs in his home country. “But we are shocked to see the Bank instead opening the flood-gates for more abuses.”

The draft was based on a five-month-long consultation involving more than 2,000 people in more than 40 countries and a review of other multilateral development banks’ environmental and social standards, according to the Bank.

In a teleconference with reporters, King denied that the Bank was lowering its existing standards. In addition to broadening existing standards, he said, the Bank will “use as much as possible the borrower country’s own existing systems to deliver social and environmental outcomes that are consistent with our values.”

He and Peters also stressed that more attention will be paid to assessing and addressing the risks of social and environmental damage during project implementation, as opposed to the more “up-front approach” the Bank has taken in the past.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com.

Editing by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at ipsnoram@ips.org

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Land Grabbing – A New Political Strategy for Arab Countrieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/land-grabbing-a-new-political-strategy-for-arab-countries/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=land-grabbing-a-new-political-strategy-for-arab-countries http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/land-grabbing-a-new-political-strategy-for-arab-countries/#comments Wed, 30 Jul 2014 22:57:26 +0000 Mona Alami http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135839 By Mona Alami
BEIRUT, Jul 30 2014 (IPS)

Food price rises as far back as 2008 are believed to be the partial culprits behind the instability plaguing Arab countries and they have become increasingly aware of the importance of securing food needs through an international strategy of land grabs which are often detrimental to local populations.

Between 2007 and 2008, rises in food prices caused protest movements in Egypt and Morocco. “This has become an important concern for countries in the Arab region which want to meet the growing demands of their populations,” notes Devlin Kuyek, a researcher at GRAIN, a non-profit organisation supporting small farmers and social movements in their struggles for community-controlled and biodiversity-based food systems.Arab countries ... have become increasingly aware of the importance of securing food needs through an international strategy of land grabs which are often detrimental to local populations

Arab countries, which appear to have started losing confidence in normal food supply chains, are now relying on acquisitions of farmland around the world. Globally, land deals by foreign countries were estimated at about 80 million ha in 2011, according to figures provided by the World Bank.

The 2008 international food price crisis caused alarm among policy-makers and the public in general about the vulnerability of Arab countries to potential future food supply shocks (such as, for example, in the event of closure of the Straits of Hormuz) as well as the perceived continued sharp increase in international food prices in the long term, explains Sarwat Hussain, Senior Communications Officer at the World Bank.

Increasing food prices are caused by entrenched trends that include population growth combined with high urbanisation rates, depleting freshwater sources, increased demand for raw commodities and biofuels, as well as speculation over farmland.

To face such threats, Arab countries have worked on buying or leasing farm land in foreign countries. “Investment in land often takes the form of long-term leases, as opposed to outright purchases, of land. These leases often range between 25 and 99 years,” says Hussain.

Currently, the United Arab Emirates accounts for around 12 percent of all land deals, followed by Egypt (6 percent) and Saudi Arabia (4 percent), according to GRAIN.

“It is however very difficult to estimate the total value of land grabbed today because most deals remain in the negotiations phase and are, for the most, very obscure ,” adds Hussain.

Land acquisitions are becoming institutionalised as clear strategies are developed by governments, which also rely on the private sector and international organisations, explains Kuyek.

Some governments of member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – have adopted explicit policies to encourage their citizens to invest in food production overseas as part of their long-term national food security strategies.

Such policies cover a variety of instruments, including investment subsidies and guarantees, as well as the establishment of sovereign funds focusing exclusively on investments in agriculture overseas.

Countries falling victims of the land acquisition mania range from Western countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Poland, Russia, Ukraine and Romania to countries in Latin America, Asia or Africa.

Globally, the largest targeted countries are Brazil with 11 percent by land area; Sudan with 10 percent; Madagascar, the Philippines and Ethiopia with 8 percent each; Mozambique with 7 percent; and Indonesia with 6 percent, according to the World Bank.

“The main driving force seems to be biofuels expansion, with exceptions in Sudan and Ethiopia, which are seeing a trend towards growth of food from Middle Eastern and Indian investors,” Hussain points out.

Governments, often through sovereign wealth funds, are negotiating the acquisition or lease of farming land. According to GRAIN, the Ethiopian government has made deals with investors from Saudi Arabia, as well as India and China among others, giving foreign investors control of half of the arable land in its Gambela region.

Powerful Saudi businessmen are pursuing deals in Senegal, Mali and other countries that would give them control over several hundred thousand hectares of the most productive farmlands. -“The [Saudi Arabian] al-Amoudi company has acquired ten thousand hectares in south western Ethiopia to export rice,” notes Kuyek.

Besides food security concerns, it appears that such acquisitions are increasingly perceived by international companies as a useful investment tool allowing for diversification. A number of investment companies and private funds have been acquiring farmland around the globe.  These include Western heavyweights such Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank, but also Arab players such as Citadel Capital, an Egyptian private equity fund.

Kuyek explains that large land acquisitions are triggering debates in developing countries and can become electoral issues.  Land grabs can have adverse repercussions on indigenous populations which find themselves evicted from the land they have used over generations for cultivation and irrigation.

“People are concerned by the sale of their local resources,” adds Kuyek.

This has translated into the creation of local groups that are challenging large land sale deals negotiated by their governments. As an example, farmers in Serbia have made formal complaints about the purchase of farmland by an Abu Dhabi company, Al Rawafed Agriculture, according to The National newspaper.

Small opposition groups will nonetheless face increasing difficulty in fighting-off governments and institutions, for which food security has become a matter of political survival.

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Forest Rights Offer Major Opportunity to Counter Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/forest-rights-offer-major-opportunity-to-counter-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=forest-rights-offer-major-opportunity-to-counter-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/forest-rights-offer-major-opportunity-to-counter-climate-change/#comments Thu, 24 Jul 2014 00:14:31 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135713 Salvadorans Elsy Álvarez and María Menjivar – with her young daughter – planning plantain seedlings in a clearing in the forest. Credit: Claudia Ávalos/IPS

Salvadorans Elsy Álvarez and María Menjivar – with her young daughter – planning plantain seedlings in a clearing in the forest. Credit: Claudia Ávalos/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Jul 24 2014 (IPS)

The international community is failing to take advantage of a potent opportunity to counter climate change by strengthening local land tenure rights and laws worldwide, new data suggests.

In what researchers say is the most detailed study on the issue to date, new analysis suggests that in areas formally overseen by local communities, deforestation rates are dozens to hundreds of times lower than in areas overseen by governments or private entities. Anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions are attributed to deforestation each year."This model of government-owned and -managed forests usually doesn’t work. Instead, it often creates an open-access free-for-all.” -- Caleb Stevens

The findings were released Thursday by the World Resources Institute, a think tank here, and the Rights and Resources Initiative, a global network that focuses on forest tenure.

“This approach to mitigating climate change has long been undervalued,” a report detailing the analysis states. “[G]overnments, donors, and other climate change stakeholders tend to ignore or marginalize the enormous contribution to mitigating climate change that expanding and strengthening communities’ forest rights can make.”

Researchers were able to comb through high-definition satellite imagery and correlate findings on deforestation rates with data on differing tenure approaches in 14 developing countries considered heavily forested. Those areas with significant forest rights vested in local communities were found to be far more successful at slowing forest clearing, including the incursion of settlers and mining companies.

In Guatemala and Brazil, strong local tenure resulted in deforestation rates 11 to 20 times lower than outside of formally recognised community forests. In parts of the Mexican Yucatan the findings were even starker – 350 times lower.

Meanwhile, the climate implications of these forests are significant. Standing, mature forests not only hold massive amounts of carbon, but they also continually suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

“We know that at least 500 million hectares of forest in developing countries are already in the hands of local communities, translating to a bit less than 40 billion tonnes of carbon,” Andy White, the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI)’s coordinator, told IPS.

“That’s a huge amount – 30 times the amount of total emissions from all passenger vehicles around the world. But much of the rights to protect those forests are weak, so there’s a real risk that we could lose those forests and that carbon.”

White notes that there’s been a “massive slowdown” in the recognition of indigenous and other community rights over the past half-decade, despite earlier global headway on the issue. But he now sees significant potential to link land rights with momentum on climate change in the minds of policymakers and the donor community.

“In developing country forests, you have this history of governments promoting deforestation for agriculture but also opening up forests through roads and the promotion of colonisation and mining,” White says.

“At the same time, these same governments are now trying to talk about climate change, saying they’re concerned about reducing emission. To date, these two hands haven’t been talking to each other.”

Lima link

The new findings come just ahead of two major global climate summits. In September, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will host international leaders in New York to discuss the issue, and in December the next round of global climate negotiations will take place in Peru, ahead of intended agreement next year.

The Lima talks are being referred to as the “forest” round. Some observers have suggested that forestry could offer the most significant potential for global emissions cuts, but few have directly connected this potential with local tenure.

“The international community hasn’t taken this link nearly as far as it can go, and it’s important that policymakers are made aware of this connection,” Caleb Stevens, a proper rights specialist at the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the new report’s principle author, told IPS.

“Developed country governments can commit to development assistance agencies to strengthen forest tenure as part of bilateral agreements. They can also commit to strengthen these rights through finance mechanisms like the new Green Climate Fund.”

Currently the most well-known, if contentious, international mechanism aimed at reducing deforestation is the U.N.’s REDD+ initiative, which since 2008 has dispersed nearly 200 million dollars to safeguard forest in developing countries. Yet critics say the programme has never fully embraced the potential of community forest management.

“REDD+ was established because it is well known that deforestation is a significant part of the climate change problem,” Tony LaVina, the lead forest and climate negotiator for the Philippines, said in a statement.

“What is not as widely understood is how effective forest communities are at protecting their forest from deforestation and increasing forest health. This is why REDD+ must be accompanied by community safeguards.”

Two-thirds remaining

Meanwhile, WRI’s Stevens says that current national-level prioritisation of local tenure is a “mixed bag”, varying significantly from country to country.

He points to progressive progress being made in Liberia and Kenya, where laws have started to be reformed to recognise community rights, as well as in Bolivia and Nepal, where some 40 percent of forests are legally under community control. Following a 2013 court ruling, Indonesia could now be on a similar path.

“Many governments are still quite reluctant to stop their attempts access minerals and other resources,” Stevens says. “But some governments realise the limitations of their capacity – that this model of government-owned and -managed forests usually doesn’t work. Instead, it often creates an open-access free-for-all.”

Not only are local communities often more effective at managing such resources than governments or private entities, but they can also become significant economic beneficiaries of those forests, eventually even contributing to national coffers through tax revenues.

Certainly there is scope for such an expansion. RRI estimates that the 500 million hectares currently under community control constitute just a third of what communities around the world are actively – and, the group says, legitimately – claiming.

“The world should rapidly scale up recognition of local forest rights even if they only care about the climate – even if they don’t care about the people, about water, women, biodiversity,” RRI’s White says.

“Actually, of course, people do care about all of these other issues. That’s why a strategy of strengthening local forest rights is so important and a no-brainer – it will deliver for the climate as well as reduce poverty.”

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