Inter Press Service » Indigenous Rights http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Sat, 13 Feb 2016 08:49:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.10 Agroecology in Africa: Mitigation the Old New Wayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/agroecology-in-africa-mitigation-the-old-new-way/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=agroecology-in-africa-mitigation-the-old-new-way http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/agroecology-in-africa-mitigation-the-old-new-way/#comments Mon, 11 Jan 2016 17:36:27 +0000 Frederic Mousseau http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143552 agroeocology project. ]]>

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

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

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

Frederic Mousseau

Frederic Mousseau

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Initiatives Revive Palestinian Heritage Boosting Economy and ‘Homeland’http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/initiatives-revive-palestinian-heritage-boosting-economy-and-homeland/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=initiatives-revive-palestinian-heritage-boosting-economy-and-homeland http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/initiatives-revive-palestinian-heritage-boosting-economy-and-homeland/#comments Fri, 25 Dec 2015 11:27:41 +0000 Silvia Boarini http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143445 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/initiatives-revive-palestinian-heritage-boosting-economy-and-homeland/feed/ 0 Mexican Government Ignores Social Impact of Energy Projectshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/mexican-government-ignores-social-impact-of-energy-projects/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexican-government-ignores-social-impact-of-energy-projects http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/mexican-government-ignores-social-impact-of-energy-projects/#comments Wed, 23 Dec 2015 17:03:38 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143430 The oil industry contracts granted by the Mexican government since 2014 have not included the social impact assessments required by law. The photo shows the Abkatun-A Permanente shallow-water platform in the Campeche Sound, where a fire broke out on Apr. 1, 2015 off the coast of the state of Campeche in southeastern Mexico. Credit: Courtesy of PEMEX

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Verónica Firme/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Indigenous Villagers Fight “Evil Spirit” of Hydropower Dam in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/indigenous-villagers-fight-evil-spirit-of-hydropower-dam-in-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-villagers-fight-evil-spirit-of-hydropower-dam-in-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/indigenous-villagers-fight-evil-spirit-of-hydropower-dam-in-brazil/#comments Mon, 21 Dec 2015 17:28:52 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143410 Juarez Saw is the chief of the Sawré Muybu village on the Tapajós River between the municipalities of Itaituba and Trairao in the state of Pará, Brazil. Credit: Gonzalo H. Gaudenzi/IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Verónica Firme/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Another Himalayan Blunderhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/another-himalayan-blunder/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=another-himalayan-blunder http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/another-himalayan-blunder/#comments Thu, 17 Dec 2015 11:42:36 +0000 N Chandra Mohan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143381 By N Chandra Mohan
NEW DELHI, Dec 17 2015 (IPS)

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

N Chandra Mohan

N Chandra Mohan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Earthquake Survivors Struggle Amid Fuel Shortages Due to Protestshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/earthquake-survivors-struggle-amid-fuel-shortages-due-to-protests/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=earthquake-survivors-struggle-amid-fuel-shortages-due-to-protests http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/earthquake-survivors-struggle-amid-fuel-shortages-due-to-protests/#comments Thu, 17 Dec 2015 06:36:44 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143380 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/earthquake-survivors-struggle-amid-fuel-shortages-due-to-protests/feed/ 0 Farmers, CSOs Rally Behind Environmentalist Jailed for Exposing Land Grabbing in Cameroonhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/farmers-csos-rally-environmentalist-jailed-for-exposing-land-grabbing-in-cameroon/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=farmers-csos-rally-environmentalist-jailed-for-exposing-land-grabbing-in-cameroon http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/farmers-csos-rally-environmentalist-jailed-for-exposing-land-grabbing-in-cameroon/#comments Tue, 15 Dec 2015 08:04:34 +0000 Mbom Sixtus http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143360 By Mbom Sixtus
YOUNDE, Cameroon, Dec 15 2015 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(End)

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Medicinal Plants Popular and Unprotected in Mexicohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/medicinal-plants-popular-and-unprotected-in-mexico/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=medicinal-plants-popular-and-unprotected-in-mexico http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/medicinal-plants-popular-and-unprotected-in-mexico/#comments Wed, 28 Oct 2015 07:27:54 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142812 Clemente Calixto, a certified traditional healer, discusses the healing properties of a plant during a workshop in Mexico City. In his community in the southern state of Oaxaca, he uses different medicinal plants to make soap and ointments, and to heal a variety of ailments. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Terrace Farming – an Ancient Indigenous Model for Food Securityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/terrace-farming-an-ancient-indigenous-model-for-food-security/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=terrace-farming-an-ancient-indigenous-model-for-food-security http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/terrace-farming-an-ancient-indigenous-model-for-food-security/#comments Wed, 21 Oct 2015 23:44:25 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142758 Terraces built by Atacameño Indians in the village of Caspana in Alto Loa, in the northern Chilean region of Antofagasta. This ageold farming technique represents an adaptation to the climate, and ensures the right to food of these Andes highlands people. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Native Women Green the Outskirts of the City, Feed Their Familieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/native-women-green-the-outskirts-of-the-city-feed-their-families/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=native-women-green-the-outskirts-of-the-city-feed-their-families http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/native-women-green-the-outskirts-of-the-city-feed-their-families/#comments Sat, 17 Oct 2015 13:42:14 +0000 Franz Chavez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142717 Women from the Sucre Association of Urban Producers, who are from poor neighbourhoods on the outskirts of Bolivia’s official capital, with a basketful of ecologically grown fresh vegetables from their greenhouses, which have improved their families’ diets and incomes. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greenhouse figures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her enthusiasm is contagious among her fellow urban farmers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Minorities Speak Out in Latin American Population Conferencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/minorities-speak-out-in-latin-american-population-conference/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=minorities-speak-out-in-latin-american-population-conference http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/minorities-speak-out-in-latin-american-population-conference/#comments Sat, 10 Oct 2015 14:49:06 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142658 “Not one step back” in compliance with the region’s demographic agenda, demanded activists at the Second Session of the Regional Conference on Population and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean, held Oct. 6-9 in Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

“Not one step back” in compliance with the region’s demographic agenda, demanded activists at the Second Session of the Regional Conference on Population and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean, held Oct. 6-9 in Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Oct 10 2015 (IPS)

“The countries of Latin America have not fully committed themselves to the international conventions and have not given indigenous peoples access. Nor have their contents been widely disseminated,” to help people demand compliance and enforcement, said Guatemalan activist Ángela Suc.

The indigenous community organiser’s criticism is an alert regarding the pledges made at the Second Session of the Regional Conference on Population and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean, organised Oct. 6-9 in Mexico City by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and the United Nations population fund (UNFPA).

“We need land, territory, and access to culturally sensitive healthcare and education in line with our traditions and knowledge and in our languages,” Suc told IPS.

Suc, a representative of the Pocomchí people in the Guatemalan delegation to the conference, said the native population also experiences demographic phenomena such as migration and ageing, just like the non-indigenous population in the region.

The vicissitudes of native and black populations were part of the focus of the debates at the conference, which followed the one held in Montevideo in August 2013. A civil society gathering was also organised parallel to the official conference.

Participants discussed the problems still affecting these groups, such as poverty, discrimination, lack of opportunities, and high maternal and infant mortality rates.

More than 45 million indigenous people live in this region of around 600 million. They belong to over 800 native groups, according to the ECLAC report “Indigenous peoples in Latin America: progress in the last decade and pending challenges for guaranteeing their rights.”

Brazil heads the list, with 305 different native groups, followed by Colombia (102), Peru (85) and Mexico (78). At the other extreme are Costa Rica and Panama (nine), El Salvador (three) and Uruguay (two).

The countries with the largest numbers of indigenous people are: Mexico (nearly 17 million), followed by Peru (7.2 million), Bolivia (6.2 million), and Guatemala (5.9 million).

ECLAC reports the fragile demographics of many native peoples, who are at risk of actually disappearing, physically or culturally, as observed in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia and Peru.

The problems they face include forced displacement from their land, scarcity of food, pollution of their water sources, soil degradation, malnutrition and high mortality rates.

Birth rates are dropping in the region, with an average of 2.4 children per indigenous women in Uruguay, 4.0 in Nicaragua and Venezuela, and 5.0 in Guatemala and Panama.

Map of indigenous peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean, drawn up by ECLAC, which estimates the number of native people at 45 million. Credit: ECLAC

Map of indigenous peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean, drawn up by ECLAC, which estimates the number of native people at 45 million. Credit: ECLAC

Infant mortality rates among indigenous people are still higher than among the rest of the population. The biggest inequalities are found in Panama, Peru and Bolivia, in that order. And malnutrition is a major problem in Guatemala, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua.

The ECLAC report stresses that indigenous children grow up in material poverty and that violence against native children and women remains a major challenge.

Of the region’s 12.8 million indigenous children, 2.7 million are in Mexico, 2.4 million in Guatemala, and 2.2 million in Bolivia.

“Our demands have been set forth in different international platforms and are still valid,” Dorotea Wilson, general coordinator of the Network of Afro-Latin American, Afro-Caribbean and Diaspora Women (RMAAD), told IPS.

“We are going to monitor, observe and follow up to ensure that countries assume these commitments and comply with them,” said the Nicaraguan activist, who also took part in the regional conference. She added that compliance with the measures in favour of minorities requires political will, as well as agreements between the authorities and civil society, and specific budgets.

More than 120 million afro-descendants also live in the region, including 97 million in Brazil, one million in Ecuador and 800,000 in Nicaragua, according to national census data that included specific questions about ethnic identity. In other countries there are no specific statistics, such as Colombia, which has a significant black population.

The report “Afro-descendant Youth in Latin America: Diverse Realities and (un)Fulfilled Rights”, produced by ECLAC in 2011, showed that teen motherhood among young blacks was more widespread than among the rest of the population, especially in Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Panama.

One of the problems discussed at the conference is the lack of demographic statistics on the region’s afro-descendant population.

In the Montevideo Consensus on Population and Development, which contains the conclusions reached by the first edition of the conference, the region’s countries pledged to take into account the specific demographic dynamics of indigenous people in the design of public policies, and guarantee their right to health, including sexual and reproductive rights, and to their own traditional medicines and health practices.

They also agreed to adopt the necessary measures to guarantee that indigenous women, children, adolescents and young people enjoy full protection and guarantees against all forms of violence and discrimination.

With respect to blacks, they agreed to tackle gender, race, ethnic and generational inequalities, guarantee the enforcement of their right to health, in particular sexual and reproductive health, and promote human development in this population group, while ensuring policies and programmes for improving women’s living conditions.

The plenary of the second conference approved the “Operational guide for the implementation and follow-up of the Montevideo Consensus on Population and Development”, which includes 14 provisions for indigenous and afro-descendant peoples.

Approval of the guide was hindered by the Caribbean delegations’ protest that they had not been given the document ahead of time – an obstacle that was not resolved until the early hours of the morning of the last day of the conference.

“To the extent that full participation by indigenous peoples exists, the guide will be complied with. This is a challenge for the State,” Suc said.

The process can be an engine driving progress in the U.N. International Decade for People of African Descent 2015-2024.

“The guide can be improved. We can influence the follow-up. But it is a challenge,” Wilson said.

The Political Declaration of the Social Forum held parallel to the official conference, which brought together social organisations from throughout the region, stressed that every indicator in the guide should be broken down by age, sex, gender, race and ethnicity.

But it also complained that two years after the approval of the Montevideo Consensus, the “ambitious, innovative agenda has not yet translated into substantive progress, and in some cases there have even been setbacks” in areas such as gender violence, hate crimes, high maternal mortality rates, a rise in teenage pregnancies, and discrimination.

Edited by Estrella Gutierrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Chile’s Altiplano Region Seeks Sustainable Tourismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/chiles-altiplano-region-seeks-sustainable-tourism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=chiles-altiplano-region-seeks-sustainable-tourism http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/chiles-altiplano-region-seeks-sustainable-tourism/#comments Tue, 22 Sep 2015 17:43:21 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142444 The Andes highlands town of San Pedro de Atacama, in the northern region of Antofagasta, is the main tourist destination in Chile. It receives more than one and a half million tourists a year, while the local residents are struggling to turn it into a sustainable municipality. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The Andes highlands town of San Pedro de Atacama, in the northern region of Antofagasta, is the main tourist destination in Chile. It receives more than one and a half million tourists a year, while the local residents are struggling to turn it into a sustainable municipality. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SAN PEDRO DE ATACAMA, Chile , Sep 22 2015 (IPS)

Chile’s altiplano or high plateau region, pounded by the sun of the Atacama desert, the driest place in the world, is home to dozens of indigenous communities struggling for subsistence by means of sustainable tourism initiatives that are not always that far removed from out-of-control capitalism.

“Here, money talks,” Víctor Arque, a tourist guide in San Pedro de Atacama, told Tierramérica. “If you don’t have money, no one’s interested in you.”

San Pedro de Atacama, the capital of tourism, archaeology and astronomy in northern Chile, is home to 4,800 people, 61 percent of whom belong to the Atacameño indigenous group, who refer to themselves as Lickantay in their Kunza tongue.

But during tourist season, hundreds of thousands of visitors come through the town, especially people from other countries drawn by the mysteries of the desert, its volcanoes and geysers.“All planning or studies indicating how we can do better and raise awareness of what we have and what is happening in the ecosystem are valuable.” -- Sandra Berna

The desert also offers some of the clearest night skies on the planet, and in the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array or ALMA Observatory, scientists are working to decipher enigmas of the night sky.

This small highlands town, located at 2,600 metres above sea level and 1,700 km north of Santiago, received over 1.6 million visitors from Chile and abroad in 2014, according to National Tourism Service statistics.

Tourists are awed by the stunning, unique landscape of salt flats, dunes, rock formations, geysers, thermal waters, crystal clear blue lagoons, canyons and snow-capped mountains.

In fact San Pedro de Atacama, in the northern region of Antofagasta, has become the leading Chilean destination for foreign tourists.

But there is well-founded concern in some sectors that the uncontrolled flood of tourists in the area will damage the diverse ecosystems in the municipality of San Pedro de Atacama, which covers 23,439 sq km.

The municipal authorities, together with the regional government, have launched several initiatives aimed at ensuring sustainable development.

One was the Project on Ecosystem Services (ProEcoServ), financed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and implemented by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The project was extended to 2014, with 1.5 million dollars in financing. It consisted of generating tools for the assessment and economic valuation of ecosystem services.

In May a group of local residents completed a training in renewable alternative energies that could help solve the municipality’s electricity problems.

In July, 14 hotels, hostels and restaurants received the “Clean Production Agreement” certification, which foments environmentally friendly practices such as sustainable management of solid waste and efficient water and energy use.

Dawn at the El Tatio geyser field in the northern Chilean region of Antofagasta, visited by some 100,000 tourists a year. The geyser field is administered by two indigenous communities that were granted a concession for 30 years. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Dawn at the El Tatio geyser field in the northern Chilean region of Antofagasta, visited by some 100,000 tourists a year. The geyser field is administered by two indigenous communities that were granted a concession for 30 years. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

“All planning or studies indicating how we can do better and raise awareness of what we have and what is happening in the ecosystem are valuable,” San Pedro de Atacama Mayor Sandra Berna told Tierramérica.

“I would like people to be more aware, to understand what science and studies say about our ecosystem,” she said.

Despite the progress made, the small centre of the town is packed with businesses offering tours to the main local attractions.

And in the wee morning hours on any given day in tourist season you can see a long line of headlights of cars winding their way up to the El Tatio geysers, one of the principal tourist attractions in the area, which receives an average of 100,000 visits a year.

El Tatio, which in the Kunza language means “grandfather who cries”, is a field of 80 geysers located at 4,200 metres above sea level, 97 km from San Pedro de Atacama.

It is the largest geyser field in the southern hemisphere and the third largest in the world, following Yellowstone in the United States and Dolina Giezerov in Russia.

Since September 2014, this natural marvel has been administered by the indigenous communities of the highlands villages of Toconce and Caspana, through a 30-year “free use concession” granted by the government of President Michelle Bachelet.

Tourists from Chile and abroad pay an entrance fee to visit El Tatio. But in addition, leaders of the local indigenous communities charge nearly 1,000 dollars for an interview with the press.

“That’s because this is then published around the world, and it’s you people who earn the profits,” the mayor of the village of Caspana, Ernesto Colimar, told Tierramérica.

Chiu Chiu, a town 38 km from Calama, in Chile’s northern highlands, depends on subsistence farming and tourism for a living. The main attraction is the San Francisco church, a national monument. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Chiu Chiu, a town 38 km from Calama, in Chile’s northern highlands, depends on subsistence farming and tourism for a living. The main attraction is the San Francisco church, a national monument. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Contrite, Luisa Terán, an Atacameño Indian from the same village, hastily clarified that this was an isolated case.

“There are people here who are mad about money, but not all of us are like that,” said Terán, who along with her cousin attended a course in India to become a “barefoot solar engineer” and installed the first solar panels in Caspana. “Most of us work hard for a living and try to protect our community,” she told Tierramérica.

The majority of the highlands villagers in Chile are family farmers who grow their own food and raise llamas, vicuñas and guanacos.

In communities like Caspana, 114 km from San Pedro de Atacama, local residents still use pre-Hispanic farming techniques, such as terraces.

Others, like the town of Chiu Chiu, have more limited tourist attractions, like the local church, although it was left nearly in ruins by the 2007 earthquake that hit Antofagasta.

Along the road between El Tatio and San Pedro is found Machuca. Although it is nearly a ghost town, it is an obligatory stop for tour guides.

Located 4,000 metres above sea level, in the hamlet of 20 houses there is one church, the main attraction for tourists, who buy traditional llama meat “anticuchos” or kebabs and goat cheese “empanadas” or hand pies.

The village has only a handful of residents, and is kept alive to receive tourists. Members of the families who used to live here take turns coming up to attend the visitors.

Only the buildings and landscape can be photographed: to take pictures of the members of the community, you have to pay.

“All of us want tourists to come, of course; you tell me what community wouldn’t want that, if it means more investment and if it means people could come back,” Terán said.

“Our peoples are almost destined to disappear, because every year dozens of families go to the cities so their children can study, or for work, so this would help us survive,” she added.

But “no one wants their town to become what San Pedro de Atacama is now, because that is the other extreme,” she said.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Two Indigenous Solar Engineers Changed Their Village in Chilehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/two-indigenous-solar-engineers-changed-their-village-in-chile/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=two-indigenous-solar-engineers-changed-their-village-in-chile http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/two-indigenous-solar-engineers-changed-their-village-in-chile/#comments Wed, 02 Sep 2015 22:56:27 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142243 Liliana Terán, left, and her cousin Luisa, members of the Atacameño indigenous people, are grassroots solar engineers trained at the Barefoot College in northwest India. By installing solar panels in their northern Chilean village, Caspana, they have changed their own lives and those of their fellow villagers. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Liliana Terán, left, and her cousin Luisa, members of the Atacameño indigenous people, are grassroots solar engineers trained at the Barefoot College in northwest India. By installing solar panels in their northern Chilean village, Caspana, they have changed their own lives and those of their fellow villagers. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
CASPANA, Chile , Sep 2 2015 (IPS)

Liliana and Luisa Terán, two indigenous women from northern Chile who travelled to India for training in installing solar panels, have not only changed their own future but that of Caspana, their remote village nestled in a stunning valley in the Atacama desert.

“It was hard for people to accept what we learned in India,” Liliana Terán told IPS. “At first they rejected it, because we’re women. But they gradually got excited about, and now they respect us.”

Her cousin, Luisa, said that before they travelled to Asia, there were more than 200 people interested in solar energy in the village. But when they found out that it was Liliana and Luisa who would install and maintain the solar panels and batteries, the list of people plunged to 30.

“In this village there is a council of elders that makes the decisions. It’s a group which I will never belong to,” said Luisa, with a sigh that reflected that her decision to never join them guarantees her freedom.

Luisa, 43, practices sports and is a single mother of an adopted daughter. She has a small farm and is a craftswoman, making replicas of rock paintings. After graduating from secondary school in Calama, the capital of the municipality, 85 km from her village, she took several courses, including a few in pedagogy.

Liliana, 45, is a married mother of four and a grandmother of four. She works on her family farm and cleans the village shelter. She also completed secondary school and has taken courses on tourism because she believes it is an activity complementary to agriculture that will help stanch the exodus of people from the village.

But these soft-spoken indigenous women with skin weathered from the desert sun and a life of sacrifice are in charge of giving Caspana at least part of the energy autonomy that the village needs in order to survive.

Caspana – meaning “children of the hollow” in the Kunza tongue, which disappeared in the late 19th century – is located 3,300 metres above sea level in the El Alto Loa valley. It officially has 400 inhabitants, although only 150 of them are here all week, while the others return on the weekends, Luisa explained.

They belong to the Atacameño people, also known as Atacama, Kunza or Apatama, who today live in northern Chile and northwest Argentina.

“Every year, around 10 families leave Caspana, mainly so their children can study or so that young people can get jobs,” she said.

Up to 2013, the village only had one electric generator that gave each household two and a half hours of power in the evening. When the generator broke down, a frequent occurrence, the village went dark.

Today the generator is only a back-up system for the 127 houses that have an autonomous supply of three hours a day of electricity, thanks to the solar panels installed by the two cousins.

The indigenous village of Caspana lies 3,300 metres above sea level in the Atacama desert in northern Chile. The 400 inhabitants depend on small-scale farming for a living, as a stone marker at the entrance to the village proudly declares. Now, thanks to the efforts of two local women, they have electricity in their homes, generated by solar panels, which have now become part of the landscape. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The indigenous village of Caspana lies 3,300 metres above sea level in the Atacama desert in northern Chile. The 400 inhabitants depend on small-scale farming for a living, as a stone marker at the entrance to the village proudly declares. Now, thanks to the efforts of two local women, they have electricity in their homes, generated by solar panels, which have now become part of the landscape. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Each home has a 12 volt solar panel, a 12 volt battery, a four amp LED lamp, and an eight amp control box.

The equipment was donated in March 2013 by the Italian company Enel Green Power. It was also responsible, along with the National Women’s Service (SERNAM) and the Energy Ministry’s regional office, for the training received by the two women at the Barefoot College in India.

On its website, the Barefoot College describes itself as “a non-governmental organisation that has been providing basic services and solutions to problems in rural communities for more than 40 years, with the objective of making them self-sufficient and sustainable.”

So far, 700 women from 49 countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America – as well as thousands of women from India – have taken the course to become “Barefoot solar engineers”.

They are responsible for the installation, repair and maintenance of solar panels in their villages for a minimum of five years. Another task they assume is to open a rural electronics workshop, where they keep the spare parts they need and make repairs, and which operates as a mini power plant with a potential of 320 watts per hour.

In March 2012 the two cousins travelled to the village of Tilonia in the northwest Indian state of Rajasthan, where the Barefoot College is located.

They did not go alone. Travelling with them were Elena Achú and Elvira Urrelo, who belong to the Quechua indigenous community, and Nicolasa Yufla, an Aymara Indian. They all live in other villages of the Atacama desert, in the northern Chilean region of Antofagasta.

“We saw an ad that said they were looking for women between the ages of 35 and 40 to receive training in India. I was really interested, but when they told me it was for six months, I hesitated. That was a long time to be away from my family!” Luisa said.

Encouraged by her sister, who took care of her daughter, she decided to undertake the journey, but without telling anyone what she was going to do.

The conditions they found in Tilonia were not what they had been led to expect, they said. They slept on thin mattresses on hard wooden beds, the bedrooms were full of bugs, they couldn’t heat water to wash themselves, and the food was completely different from what they were used to.

“I knew what I was getting into, but it took me three months anyway to adapt, mainly to the food and the intense heat,” she said.

She remembered, laughing, that she had stomach problems much of the time. “It was too much fried food,” she said. “I lost a lot of weight because for the entire six months I basically only ate rice.”

Looking at Liliana, she burst into laughter, saying “She also only ate rice, but she put on weight!”

Liliana said that when she got back to Chile her family welcomed her with an ‘asado’ (barbecue), ‘empanadas’ (meat and vegetable patties or pies) and ‘sopaipillas’ (fried pockets of dough).

The primary school in Caspana, 1,400 km north of Santiago. Two indigenous cousins who were trained as solar engineers got the municipal authorities to provide solar panels for lighting in public buildings and on the village’s few streets, while they installed panels in 127 of the village’s homes. Credit: Mariana Jarroud/IPS

The primary school in Caspana, 1,400 km north of Santiago. Two indigenous cousins who were trained as solar engineers got the municipal authorities to provide solar panels for lighting in public buildings and on the village’s few streets, while they installed panels in 127 of the village’s homes. Credit: Mariana Jarroud/IPS

“But I only wanted to sit down and eat ‘cazuela’ (traditional stew made with meat, potatoes and pumpkin) and steak,” she said.

On their return, they both began to implement what they had learned. Charging a small sum of 45 dollars, they installed the solar panel kit in homes in the village, which are made of stone with mud roofs.

The community now pays them some 75 dollars each a month for maintenance, every two months, of the 127 panels that they have installed in the village.

“We take this seriously,” said Luisa. “For example, we asked Enel not to just give us the most basic materials, but to provide us with everything necessary for proper installation.”

“Some of the batteries were bad, more than 10 of them, and we asked them to change them. But they said no, that that was the extent of their involvement in this,” she said. The company made them sign a document stating that their working agreement was completed.

“So now there are over 40 homes waiting for solar power,” she added. “We wanted to increase the capacity of the batteries, so the panels could be used to power a refrigerator, for example. But the most urgent thing now is to install panels in the 40 homes that still need them.”

But, she said, there are people in this village who cannot afford to buy a solar kit, which means they will have to be donations.

Despite the challenges, they say they are happy, that they now know they play an important role in the village. And they say that despite the difficulties, and the extreme poverty they saw in India, they would do it again.

“I’m really satisfied and content, people appreciate us, they appreciate what we do,” said Liliana.

“Many of the elders had to see the first panel installed before they were convinced that this worked, that it can help us and that it was worth it. And today you can see the results: there’s a waiting list,” she added.

Luisa believes that she and her cousin have helped changed the way people see women in Caspana, because the “patriarchs” of the council of elders themselves have admitted that few men would have dared to travel so far to learn something to help the community. “We helped somewhat to boost respect for women,” she said.

And after seeing their work, the local government of Calama, the municipality of which Caspana forms a part, responded to their request for support in installing solar panels to provide public lighting, and now the basic public services, such as the health post, have solar energy.

“When I’m painting, sometimes a neighbour comes to sit with me. And after a while, they ask me about our trip. And I relive it, I tell them all about it. I know this experience will stay with me for the rest of my life,” said Luisa.

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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CORRECTION/Who Will Pay the Price for Australia’s Climate Change Policies?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/who-will-pay-the-price-for-australias-climate-change-policies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=who-will-pay-the-price-for-australias-climate-change-policies http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/who-will-pay-the-price-for-australias-climate-change-policies/#comments Wed, 02 Sep 2015 21:43:34 +0000 Neena Bhandari http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142239 Australia has set a target to cut emissions by 26 to 28 percent of 2005 levels by 2030 but aggressive coal mining could hamper those plans. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

Australia has set a target to cut emissions by 26 to 28 percent of 2005 levels by 2030 but aggressive coal mining could hamper those plans. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

By Neena Bhandari
SYDNEY, Sep 2 2015 (IPS)

Rowan Foley has spent many years as a ranger and park manager, caring for Uluru–Kata Tjuta National Park Aboriginal lands in the spiritual heart of Australia’s Red Centre in the Northern Territory. He has been observing the effects of soaring temperatures and extreme weather events on his people, residing in some of the hottest regions of the country.

“There are hotter and more frequent fires. Salt water intrusion is leading to less fresh water. This is impacting on indigenous traditional owners of the land, who have contributed the least to global warming,” says Foley, who belongs to the Wondunna clan of the Badtjala people, Traditional Owners of Fraser Island and Hervey Bay in the state of Queensland.

“Australia’s target does not reflect any recognition that the impacts [of climate change] are already being felt by our Indigenous people and Pacific Island neighbours nor the sense of urgency that grips so many of these communities." -- Negaya Chorley, head of advocacy at Caritas Australia
Australia, the driest inhabited continent, is on an average likely to experience more global warming than the rest of the world. Increasing drought, floods, heatwaves and bushfires are already impacting on the country’s environment and economy, further disadvantaging Indigenous Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and the most vulnerable in remote and island communities.

“The Coconut Islands in the Torres Strait are under threat from sea level rise. [For Indigenous people], their culture and heritage are tied to the island and they would have nowhere to go. We are also seeing spikes in heat related deaths,” says Kellie Caught, climate change national manager for the World Wildlife Fund-Australia.

Deaths from heatwaves are projected to double over the next 40 years in Australian cities and sea levels are projected to continue to rise through the 21st century at a rate faster than over the past four decades, according to a recent report by the independent organisation Climate Council.

To support the sustainable development of Aboriginal lands by combining traditional practices and business needs, Foley launched the Aboriginal Carbon Fund, a national not-for-profit company, in partnership with Caritas Australia, five years ago.

For thousands of years, Indigenous people have traditionally managed the land in the savannah regions of tropical northern Australia by making small fires in winter. This prevents uncontrolled late-season fires from destroying the land and also reduces the amount of carbon produced by wildfires in the atmosphere.

The Fund has set up a programme whereby farmers and land managers undertake carbon farming, which allows them to earn carbon credits by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, or capture carbon in vegetation and soils.

These credits are then sold to organisations and businesses wishing to offset their own emissions. Payment for carbon credits is helping create sustainable livelihoods in remote communities.

“Carbon farming is an agribusiness and we urgently need a development package to support this industry,” says Foley, the Fund’s general manager.

Similarly, civil society advocates say that being one of the sunniest and windiest countries in the world, Australia has huge potential for solar power and wind energy.

But the country’s Liberal-National coalition has slashed renewable energy targets and repealed carbon and mining taxes.

“Our government has gone to extreme lengths to repeal or undermine climate and clean energy policy,” Tom Swann, a researcher with the Canberra-based The Australia Institute, told IPS. “If Australia succeeds in its plans to double its exports in the next 10 years, the world loses in its plans to tackle climate change.

“More coal mines mean lower coal prices, less renewable energy and more climate impacts. Indeed, meeting the two-degrees centigrade target, to which Australia has signed up, means 95 percent of Australia’s coal must stay in the ground, but Prime Minister Tony Abbott says he can think of ‘few things more damaging to our future’,” Swann added.

Coal is Australia's second-largest export, generating over 200 billion dollars in foreign sales. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

Coal is Australia’s second-largest export, generating over 200 billion dollars in foreign sales. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

Coal is Australia’s second largest export and this year it is forecast to generate 346 billion Australian dollars (253 billion U.S. dollars) in foreign sales, according to Australia’s Department of Industry and Science. Australia exports 80 percent of the coal it mines and currently meets three-quarters of the country’s electricity needs from burning coal.

A survey by The Climate Institute released on Aug. 10 showed 84 percent of Australians prefer solar amongst their top three energy sources, followed by wind at 69 percent.

Australia has set a target to cut emissions by 26 to 28 percent of 2005 levels by 2030 (equivalent to a 19 percent cut on 2000 levels).

WWF’s Caught says, “The Australian Government’s pollution reduction target is woefully inadequate and not consistent with limiting warming below two degrees centigrade. If all countries matched Australia’s targets the world would be on track for a 3-4 degree centigrade warming. The target puts Australia at the back of the pack on international action.”

The United States and the European Union proposals will mean emission reductions of around 2.8 percent a year whereas Australia’s proposals will yield a 1.8 percent reduction, according to the World Resources Institute (WRI).

Environment groups argue that it is economically feasible for Australia to move to a low carbon economy.

“The Government’s draft 2030 target is estimated to reduce GDP growth by 0.2-0.3 percent over the next 15 years,” Caught told IPS.

“With a stronger 45 percent target, it would only reduce growth by 0.5-0.7 per cent over the same time. Our GDP would make up that small difference in growth in just a few months.”

Community sector organisations are especially concerned that people experiencing poverty and inequality will be hardest hit by sea level rise inundating low-lying coastal areas, reducing crop yields and forcing migration of millions of people; and they would be the least able to adapt.

“Australia’s target does not reflect any recognition that the impacts are already being felt by our Indigenous people and Pacific Island neighbours nor the sense of urgency that grips so many of these communities,” says Negaya Chorley, head of advocacy at Caritas Australia, an international aid and development agency of the Catholic Church.

“Given this denialism, our government is in no way ready or prepared to take in and support people and whole communities that will be forced to migrate due to the impacts of climate change.”

World Health Organisation (WHO) figures estimate a third of the global burden of disease is caused by environmental factors and children under five bear more than 40 percent of that burden, even though they represent just 10 percent of the world’s population. They are more at risk from waterborne diseases and more likely to be impacted by air pollution.

Save the Children Campaigns Manager, Tim Norton, told IPS, “Wealthier nations such as Australia must scale up its contribution to international climate finance, such as The Green Climate Fund, to 400 million Australian dollars [285 million U.S. dollars], independent of its aid budget.

“This provides the best opportunity for Australia to actively contribute to mitigating the impacts of climate change on vulnerable communities in the developing world. It also allows nations to transition to low-emission clean economies without the need of fossil fuels.”

Australia scores highest with 26.6 tonnes of CO2 equivalent (tCO2e) emissions per capita, contributing 1.3 percent of global emissions, according to 2011 data from the WRI, even though it has a relatively small population of 23.8 million people.

A 2015 poll conducted by the Lowy Institute of International Policy recorded the third consecutive rise in Australians’ concern about global warming, with 63 percent saying the government should commit to significant emissions reductions so that other countries will be encouraged to do the same at the Conference of States Parties (COP-21) to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris this December.

*The story that moved on Sep. 2 incorrectly attributed the following quote to Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) Chief Executive Officer Cassandra Goldie: “We need new measures to shift from dirty coal to renewable energy, including a commitment from all parties to at least 50 percent renewable energy by 2030.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Strong Words, But Little Action at Arctic Summithttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/strong-words-but-little-action-at-arctic-summit/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=strong-words-but-little-action-at-arctic-summit http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/strong-words-but-little-action-at-arctic-summit/#comments Tue, 01 Sep 2015 17:08:47 +0000 Leehi Yona http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142214 The one-day summit on ‘Global Leadership in the Arctic – Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement, and Resilience (GLACIER) held in Anchorage, Alaska on Aug. 31 failed to make commitments to serious action to fight the negative impacts of global warming. Credit: Leehi Yona/IPS

The one-day summit on ‘Global Leadership in the Arctic – Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement, and Resilience (GLACIER) held in Anchorage, Alaska on Aug. 31 failed to make commitments to serious action to fight the negative impacts of global warming. Credit: Leehi Yona/IPS

By Leehi Yona
ANCHORAGE, Alaska, Sep 1 2015 (IPS)

After a one-day summit in the U.S. Arctic’s biggest city, leaders from the world’s northern countries acknowledged that climate change is seriously disrupting the Arctic ecosystem, yet left without committing themselves to serious action to fight the negative impacts of global warming.

The Aug. 31 summit on ‘Global Leadership in the Arctic – Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement, and Resilience (GLACIER)’, was organised by the U.S. State Department and attended by dignitaries from 20 countries, including the eight Arctic nations – Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and United States.

Political leaders like U.S. President Barack Obama, who urged Arctic nations to take bolder action as the summit ended, came out with strong words, but stakeholders from civil society and scientific groups said the outcome came short of the tangible action needed.“This statement (from the one-day GLACIER Arctic summit] unfortunately fails to fully acknowledge one of the grave threats to the Arctic and to the planet – the extraction and burning of fossil fuels” – Ellie Johnston, World Climate Project Manager at Climate Interactive

The summit attracted the attention of environmental and indigenous groups, which criticised Obama’s reputation as a climate leader in the face of allowing offshore oil drilling in the Arctic.

Numerous protests and acts of non-violent civil disobedience in recent months have attempted to block oil company Shell from drilling; the company is currently active off the Alaskan coast.

“The recent approval of Shell’s Arctic oil drilling plans is a prime example of the disparity between President Obama’s strong rhetoric and increasing action on climate change and his administration’s fossil fuel extraction policies,” said David Turnbull, Campaigns Director for Oil Change International.

All participating countries signed a joint statement on climate change and its impact on the Arctic, after the initial reluctance of Canada and Russia, which eventually added their names.

“We take seriously warnings by scientists: temperatures in the Arctic are increasing at more than twice the average global rate,” the statement read, before going on to describe the wide range of impacts felt by Arctic communities’ landscapes, culture and well-being.

“As change continues at an unprecedented rate in the Arctic – increasing the stresses on communities and ecosystems in already harsh environments – we are committed more than ever to protecting both terrestrial and marine areas in this unique region, and our shared planet, for generations to come.”

However, the statement lacked concrete commitments, even on crucial topics like fossil fuel exploration in the Arctic, leaving climate experts with the feeling that it could have been more ambitious or have offered more specific, tangible commitments on the part of countries.

“I appreciate the rhetoric and depth of acknowledgement of the climate crisis,” the World Climate Project Manager at Climate Interactive, Ellie Johnston, told IPS. “Yet this statement unfortunately fails to fully acknowledge one of the grave threats to the Arctic and to the planet – the extraction and burning of fossil fuels.”

“This is particularly relevant as nations and companies jockey for access to drilling in our historically icy Arctic seas which have now become more accessible because of warming,” she said. “Drilling for fossil fuels leads to more warming, which leads to more drilling. This is one feedback loop we can stop.”

Oil and gas companies were encouraged – but not required –to voluntarily take on more stringent policies and join the Climate and Clean Air Coalition’s Oil and Gas Methane Partnership, an initiative to help companies reduce their emissions of methane and other short-lived climate pollutants.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry addressed participants – members from indigenous communities, government representatives, scientists, and non-governmental organizations – at the opening of the summit. “The Arctic is in many ways a thermostat,” he said. “We already see [it] having a profound impact on the rest of the planet.”

Kerry also attempted to drum up action ahead of the COP21 United Nations climate change negotiations in Paris this December, urging governments to “try to come up with a truly ambitious and truly global climate agreement.”

He added that the Paris conference “is not the end of the road […] Our hope is that everyone can leave this conference today with a heightened sense of urgency and a better understanding of our collective responsibility to do everything we can to deal with the harmful impacts of climate change.”

In a closing address to summit participants, President Obama repeatedly said “we are not doing enough.” He outlined the stark impacts of a future with business-as-usual climate change: thawing permafrost, forest fires and dangerous feedback loops. “We will condemn our children to a planet beyond their capacity to repair … any leader willing to take a gamble on a future like that is not fit to lead,” he stated.

However, neither Kerry nor Obama acknowledged, as many environmental groups have pointed out, that the United States’ current greenhouse gas emissions reduction commitment falls nearly halfway short of what the country must do in order to stay within the Paris conference goal of a 2oC warming limit.

While participants emphasised engagement from affected communities, the summit itself did not manifest engagement with those communities: less than one-third of the panellists and presenters were either indigenous or female, and only one woman of colour was present.

“It would have been nice to hear more from indigenous women or women of colour,” Princess Daazrhaii, member of the Gwich’in Nation and strong advocate for the protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, told IPS. “The Arctic is more diverse than what I felt like was represented at the conference.”

“As life-givers and as mothers, many of us nurse our children. We know for a fact that women in the Arctic are more susceptible to the persistent organic pollutants (POPs) that are bound to the air we breathe. Violence against women is another issue that I feel gets exacerbated when there are threats to our ecosystem.”

All individuals talked to appreciated the conference’s emphasis on climate change as a significant problem, yet all of them also expressed a desire for the United States – and governments around the world – to do more.

“[Climate change] is what brings human beings together,” Daazrhaii said. “We’re all in this together. And we have to work on this together.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Local Development, the Key to Legitimising Amazon Hydropower Damshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/local-development-the-key-to-legitimising-amazon-hydropower-dams/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=local-development-the-key-to-legitimising-amazon-hydropower-dams http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/local-development-the-key-to-legitimising-amazon-hydropower-dams/#comments Mon, 31 Aug 2015 21:23:00 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142206 The Altamira water treatment plant is practically inactive because the sewer pipes installed 10 months ago in this city of 140,000 people have not been connected to the homes and businesses. Altamira is 50 km from the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam in Brazil’s Amazon jungle region. Credit. Mario Osava/IPS

The Altamira water treatment plant is practically inactive because the sewer pipes installed 10 months ago in this city of 140,000 people have not been connected to the homes and businesses. Altamira is 50 km from the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam in Brazil’s Amazon jungle region. Credit. Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
ALTAMIRA, Brazil, Aug 31 2015 (IPS)

In the case of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam in Brazil, the projects aimed at mitigating the social impacts have been delayed. But in other cases, infrastructure such as hospitals and water and sewage pipes could improve the image of the hydropower plants on Brazil’s Amazon rainforest rivers, turning them into a factor of effective local development.

Under construction since 2011 on the Xingú river, Belo Monte has dedicated an unprecedented amount of funds to compensating for the impacts of the dam, through its Basic Environmental Project (PBA), which has a budget of 900 million dollars at the current exchange rate.

To that is added a novel 140-million-dollar Sustainable Regional Development Plan (PDRS), aimed at driving public policies and improving the lives of the population of the dam’s area of influence, made up of 11 municipalities in the northern state of Pará.

These funds amount to 12.8 percent of the cost of the giant dam on the middle stretch of the Xingú river, one of the Amazon river’s major tributaries. If distributed per person, each one of the slightly more than 400,000 inhabitants of these 11 municipalities would receive 2,500 dollars.

But the funds invested by the company building the Belo Monte hydropower plant, Norte Energía, have not silenced the complaints and protests which, although they have come from small groups, undermine the claim that hydropower dams are the best energy solution for this electricity-hungry country.

“The slow pace at which the company carries out its compensatory actions is inverse to the speed at which it is building the hydropower plant,” complained the Altamira Defence Forum, an umbrella group of 22 organisations opposed to the dam.

The most visible delay has involved sanitation works in Altamira, the main city in the area surrounding the dam, home to one-third of the local population. Installed 10 months ago, the sewage and water pipes are not yet functioning, leaving the water and wastewater treatment plants partially idle.

The problem is that the pipes were not connected to the local homes and businesses, a task that has been caught up in stalled negotiations between Norte Energía, the city government and the Pará sanitation company, even after the company expressed a willingness to shoulder the costs.

“In addition, the storm drainage system was left out of the plans; the city government didn’t include it in the requirements and conditions set for the company,” the head of the Live, Produce and Preserve Foundation, João Batista Pereira, told IPS.

Part of one of the 18 big turbines that will generate electricity in the main Belo Monte plant, ready to be inserted into one of the big circular metal holes built in the giant dam in the Brazilian Amazon. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Part of one of the 18 big turbines that will generate electricity in the main Belo Monte plant, ready to be inserted into one of the big circular metal holes built in the giant dam in the Brazilian Amazon. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The lack of storm drains is especially destructive for cities in the Amazon rainforest, where torrential rains are frequent.

The works and services included in the PBA respond to requirements of the Brazilian Environment Institute, the national environmental authority. Incompliance with these requisites could supposedly bring work on the dam to a halt. But the rules are subject to flexible interpretations, as recent experience has shown.

Pereira is one of the leaders of the PDRS, a “democratic and participative” programme where decisions on investments are reached by an administrative committee made up of 15 members of society and 15 representatives of the municipal, state and national governments.

The projects can be proposed by any local organisation that operates in the four areas covered by the plan: land tenure regularisation and environmental affairs, infrastructure, sustainable production, and social inclusion.

In these areas and some projects that the company finances, such as the Cacauway chocolate factory that processes the growing local production of cacao, the PDRS is distinct from the PBA, which addresses the immediate needs of people affected by the dam, such as indigenous people, fisherpersons or families displaced by the reservoirs.

The PBA’s activities were defined by the environmental impact study produced by researchers prior to the dam concession tender. Hospitals and clinics were built or refurbished to compensate the municipalities for the rise in demand for health services, while 4,100 housing units were built for relocated families.

These are responses to the immediate needs of affected individuals, groups or institutions, without integral or lasting planning. The only one responsible for implementation is the company holding the concession, even though they involve tasks that pertain to the public sector.

“The confusion between public and private is natural,” José Anchieta, the director of socioenvironmental affairs in Norte Energía, told IPS.

The delay in compensatory programmes generated chaos, the Altamira Defence Forum complains. Many of the initiatives were supposed to be carried out prior to construction of the hydropower plant.

The hospitals and health clinics were not delivered by Norte Energía until now, when construction of the dam is winding down. But they were most needed two years ago, when the floating migrant worker population in the region peaked as a result of work on the dam. The same is true for schools and urban development works.

This mistiming led to serious problems for the local indigenous population. The institutions protecting this segment of the population were not strengthened. On the contrary, the local presence of the National Indigenous Foundation (FUNAI), the government agency in charge of indigenous affairs, was weakened during the construction of the dam, and the overall absence of the state was accentuated.

From 2010 to 2012 an “emergency plan” distributed processed foods and other goods to indigenous villages. This led to an abrupt change in habits, driving up child malnutrition and infant mortality among indigenous communities, which only recently began to be provided with housing, schools and equipment and inputs to enable them to return to agricultural production.

Bridge under construction on a road at the entrance to the city of Altamira, in Brazil’s Amazon region. The delay in building the bridge has hindered the reurbanisation of the low-lying parts of the city that will be partially flooded when the Belo Monte dam reservoir is filled. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Bridge under construction on a road at the entrance to the city of Altamira, in Brazil’s Amazon region. The delay in building the bridge has hindered the reurbanisation of the low-lying parts of the city that will be partially flooded when the Belo Monte dam reservoir is filled. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The PBA and PDRS also have different timeframes. The former is to end before the reservoirs are filled, which is to be completed by the end of this year. The latter, meanwhile, involves a 20-year action plan.

The company’s social programmes are also “an important sphere of debate, definition of projects and redefinition of public policies, which should become permanent by being transformed into an institute or foundation,” said Pereira, defending “the adoption of their democratic administration by other development agencies.”

The question is of concern to Brazil’s National Economic and Social Development Bank (BNDES), which has financed 78 percent of the cost of the construction of Belo Monte.

Besides providing a team to accompany the PDRS, it promoted a study to organise its projects and ideas in an “initiatives file” and a Territorial Development Agenda (TDA) in the Xingú basin.

But this planning and promotion effort to bring about real development has come late, when it is difficult to neutralise the negative effects, which will stand in the way of the construction of new hydropower dams in the Amazon, even with the promise of a TDA.

Belo Monte has also highlighted the dilemmas and challenges of power generation, currently dramatised by severe drought in much of Brazil.

Belo Monte, which will be the second-largest hydropower plant in Brazil and the third-largest in the world, producing 11,233 MW, will aggravate the seasonal drop in hydropower in the second half of each year, once it becomes fully operational in 2019.

That is because the Xingú has the biggest seasonal variation in flow. From 19,816 cubic metres per second in April, the month with the strongest flow, it plummets to 1,065 cubic metres in September, the height of the dry season. This was the average between 1931 and 2003, according to the state-run Eletrobras, Latin America’s biggest power utility company.

There is probably no worse choice of river for building a run-of-the-river power station, whose reservoirs do not accumulate water for the dry months. Belo Monte will represent 12 percent of the country’s total hydropower generation, which means the effect of the plunge in electricity will be enormous, fuelling demand for energy from the dirtier and most costly thermal plants.

One alternative would have been a reservoir 2.5 times bigger, which would have flooded two indigenous territories – something that is banned by the constitution.

Another would have been the construction of four to six dams upstream, to regularise the water flow in the river, as projected by the original plan in the 1980s which was ruled out due to the outcry against it.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez

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Activists Criticise Offshore Drilling as Obama Prepares for Arctic Summithttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/activists-criticise-offshore-drilling-as-obama-prepares-for-arctic-summit/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=activists-criticise-offshore-drilling-as-obama-prepares-for-arctic-summit http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/activists-criticise-offshore-drilling-as-obama-prepares-for-arctic-summit/#comments Sun, 30 Aug 2015 18:06:23 +0000 Leehi Yona http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142194 Climate change is melting the Arctic’s ice, and will be on the agenda of the one-day GLACIER summit in Alaska on Aug. 31. Photo credit: Patrick Kelley/CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Climate change is melting the Arctic’s ice, and will be on the agenda of the one-day GLACIER summit in Alaska on Aug. 31. Photo credit: Patrick Kelley/CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

By Leehi Yona
ANCHORAGE, Alaska, Aug 30 2015 (IPS)

A one-day summit taking place here on Aug. 31 hopes to bring Arctic nations together in support of climate action against a backdrop of criticism of offshore oil drilling in the region.

The meeting on ‘Global Leadership in the Arctic – Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement, and Resilience (GLACIER)’, is being organised by the U.S. State Department and will be attended by dignitaries from 20 countries, including the eight Arctic nations – Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and United States. U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are scheduled to address the conference.

The conference comes at a time of significant changes to the ever-shifting Arctic: this year’s forest fires in Alaska reached record highs, blazing so rapidly that many were left unmanaged. Last week, thousands of walruses hauled up on Alaskan shores as the ice they depend on as habitat disappeared.“Arctic drilling is a violation of the human rights of the indigenous peoples of the Arctic. Obama and Shell are bypassing many laws designed to protect our coast and our communities” – Carl Wassilie, a Yu’pik activist with ShellNo Alaska

“The evidence for climate change in the Arctic is visible from space as we observed declining sea ice and melting glaciers, and in the lived lives of Arctic residents who see coastlines eroding from sea level rise and reduced access to traditional foods from the land and sea,” said Ross Virginia, Director of the Institute of Arctic Studies at Dartmouth College and co-lead scholar of the Fulbright Arctic Initiative.

“These changes will be more evident to the rest of us,” he added. “The challenge is to learn from the Arctic and to work with the Arctic to adapt and prevent further climate change.”

The GLACIER summit is also taking place at a time of great public focus on the issue of climate change. Critiques of Arctic drilling, as well as the upcoming United Nations climate change negotiations in December in Paris, have helped bring global warming to the political forefront.

“In visiting the U.S. Arctic, President Obama is clearly demonstrating that the United States is an Arctic nation with a stake in the region’s future,” said Margaret Williams, Managing Director of U.S. Arctic Programs at the World Wildlife Fund. “This trip provides the President with the perfect opportunity to define his vision of how all nations should work in unison to manage and conserve our shared Arctic resources.”

The conference has drawn the attention of environmental and indigenous groups, which both praise the conference’s potential for ambitious leadership but also criticise Obama’s reputation as a climate leader in the face of allowing offshore oil drilling in the Arctic.

Numerous protests and acts of non-violent civil disobedience in recent months have attempted to block oil company Shell from drilling; the company is currently active off the Alaskan coast.

“The recent approval of Shell’s Arctic oil drilling plans is a prime example of the disparity between President Obama’s strong rhetoric and increasing action on climate change and his administration’s fossil fuel extraction policies,” said David Turnbull, Campaigns Director for Oil Change International.

“The President needs to align his energy policy with his climate policy and put an end to Shell’s drilling for unburnable oil in the Arctic,” Turnbull said.

Dan Ritzman, Associate Director of the Sierra Club’s Our Wild America campaign, stressed that the drilling decision “went against science, common sense, and the will of the people.” Many environmental groups pointed to the irresponsibility of drilling in the Arctic, one of the world’s regions most vulnerable to climate change.

A senior State Department official responded to this criticism on Aug. 28 by stating that many “citizens of Alaska, and in particular, Alaskan natives” desire more drilling in an effort to develop their communities.

However, indigenous activists rejected the official statement. Carl Wassilie, a Yu’pik activist with ShellNo Alaska, said: “Arctic drilling is a violation of the human rights of the indigenous peoples of the Arctic. Obama and Shell are bypassing many laws designed to protect our coast and our communities. Obama needs to start listening to the peoples of the Arctic who oppose Arctic drilling.”

One of the aims of the GLACIER conference is to be a stepping stone towards COP21, the U.N. climate change conference to be held in Paris in December. COP21 hopes to usher in a binding, ambitious agreement on climate change.

Observers said that GLACIER may be an important moment on the road to Paris because it hopes to bring together a small subset of countries – including China, Canada, India, Japan, Russia, the United States and many European nations – which together account for the overwhelming majority of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Some suggested that the conference could be a moment for these polluting countries to step up their carbon emission reduction commitments.

“On climate change, President Obama has been good, but not good enough,” according to marine biologist Richard Steiner. “The U.S. commitment to reduce carbon emissions by about 30 percent in the next 15 years is about half of what is urgently needed.”

Steiner said: “It is like we are on a sinking boat, taking on two gallons of water a minute, and we are bailing 1 gallon a minute. We are still sinking. We urgently need a U.S. and global commitment at the Paris climate summit of at least 60 percent carbon reduction by 2030. Otherwise, we’re sunk.”

With these challenges ahead, the GLACIER summit has high expectations for international cooperation on climate change. Among the diversity of opinions, one clear message has rung out – the need to engage young people in Arctic climate change discussions

“A real priority should be engaging youth at all aspects of the climate problem – education, research, leadership and activism,” said Virginia. “It is vital that they are ‘at the table’ and that they help shape the questions to be addressed by policy-makers. After all, they have the most at stake.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Plant in Chile Opens South America’s Doors to Geothermal Energyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/plant-in-chile-opens-south-americas-doors-to-geothermal-energy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=plant-in-chile-opens-south-americas-doors-to-geothermal-energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/plant-in-chile-opens-south-americas-doors-to-geothermal-energy/#comments Wed, 26 Aug 2015 15:44:20 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142140 The El Tatio geyser field in the northern Chilean region of Antofagasta. Geothermal energy comes from the earth’s internal heat, and the steam is delivered to a turbine, which powers a generator. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The El Tatio geyser field in the northern Chilean region of Antofagasta. Geothermal energy comes from the earth’s internal heat, and the steam is delivered to a turbine, which powers a generator. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
OLLAGÜE, Chile, Aug 26 2015 (IPS)

Chile, a land of volcanoes and geysers, has started building South America’s first geothermal plant, which would open a door to this kind of renewable energy in this country that depends largely on fossil fuels.

The Cerro Pabellón geothermal project is “immensely important for the Chilean state, which started geothermal exploration and drilling over 40 years ago,” but no initiative had taken concrete shape until now, Marcelo Tokman, general manager of the state oil company, ENAP, told IPS.

Located in the rural municipality of Ollagüe, 1,380 km north of Santiago, in the Andes highlands in the region of Antofagasta, Cerro Pabellón “will not only be the first geothermal plant in Chile and South America, but will also be the first in the world to be built at 4,500 metres above sea level,” Tokman added.

The Italian company Enel Green Power has a 51 percent stake in the project and ENAP owns 49 percent. The plant consists of two units of 24 MW each for a total gross installed capacity of 48 MW in the first phase, but with the advantage of being able to generate electricity around-the-clock.

That makes it equivalent, in terms of annual generating capacity, to a 200-MW solar or wind power plant.

The first stage would enter into operation in the first quarter of 2017 and a year later another 24 MW would be added. But the plant could be generating around 100 MW in the medium term, on 136 hectares of land.

Tokman said that once the plant is fully operational, it will be able to produce some 340 megatwatt-hours (MWh) a year that would go into the national power grid and would meet the consumption needs of 154,000 households in this country of 17.6 million people.

He also said it would avoid over 155,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year, by reducing fossil fuel consumption.

The Atacama desert, the most arid in the world, has a large part of Chile’s geothermal potential and is the location of the first South American plant to tap into this source of energy. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The Atacama desert, the most arid in the world, has a large part of Chile’s geothermal potential and is the location of the first South American plant to tap into this source of energy. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Sixty million dollars were invested in the exploratory phase, and an estimated 320 million dollars more will go into the plant and the construction of a 73-km power line.

Geothermal energy is obtained by tapping underground reservoirs of heat, generally near volcanoes, geysers or other hotspots on the surface of the earth. If well-managed, the geothermal reservoirs can produce clean energy indefinitely. The steam generated is delivered to a turbine, which powers a generator.

Advances in South America

Brazil has the world’s two largest freshwater reserves: the Guarani and Alter do Chão aquifers. But it does not have geothermal potential, according to a 1984 study, which is currently being revised. Geothermal energy is included in an agreement with Germany to search for alternative sources.

Six South American countries form part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, a string of volcanoes and sites of seismic activity with virgin territory for geothermal exploration: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.

In 1988, Argentina built Copahue I, an experimental geothermal plant constructed with Japanese capital, which supplied 0.67 MW but stopped operating. Currently, the country’s energy projects include the construction of the Copahue II geothermal plant in the hot springs of Copahue in the southern province of Neuquén, which would generate 100 MW.

In Peru, a preliminary study by the Japan International Cooperation Agency and the Ministry of Energy and Mines found in 2013 that the country has 3,000 MWh of geothermal potential. But so far there are no plans for geothermal plants.

In February, Bolivian President Evo Morales announced that starting in 2019 the country would begin to export electricity to neighbouring countries, from the Laguna Colorada geothermal plant. The project, financed by Japan, will consist of two stages, of 50 MW each.

The Philippines is home to three of the world’s 10 biggest geothermal plants, followed by the United States and Indonesia, with two each, and Italy, Mexico and Iceland, with one each.

Studies indicate that Chile is one of the countries with the greatest geothermal potential in Latin America.

This long, narrow country, which forms part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, stretches 4,270 km along the Andes mountains, the earth’s largest volcanic chain.

Environmentalists say geothermal energy has a relatively low impact, as long as questions of scale and location are respected.

“Geothermal is an unconventional renewable energy source to the extent that it is carried out in accordance with territorial and cultural needs. The energy source in and of itself does not guarantee social and environmental sustainability,” land surveyor Lucio Cuenca, director of the Santiago-based Latin American Observatory on Environmental Conflicts, told IPS.

Respecting these parameters, geothermal energy “is a very good alternative for this country,” he said.

In the case of the Cerro Pabellón plant, the surrounding communities form part of the Alto El Loa nature reserve, made up of the villages and communities of Caspana, Ayquina, Turi, Chiu Chiu, Cupo, Valle de Lasana, Taira and Ollagüe, which have a combined total population of just over 1,000, most of them Atacameño and Quechua indigenous people.

The Alto El Loa Indigenous Peoples Council got ENAP and ENEL to sign a series of agreements for the implementation of social development projects in the local communities in compensation for the impact of the geothermal project, and especially the power line.

For the inhabitants of Alto El Loa, scattered in remote areas in the Atacama desert, if the project is sustainable and benefits their communities, it will be a positive thing. But they say they are concerned that their way of life may not be respected.

“I would like to see more help, and if this is a good thing, then it’s welcome,” Luisa Terán, a member of the Atacameño indigenous group from the village of Caspana, told IPS. “Sometimes we feel a bit neglected and isolated.

“But it has to come with respect for our traditions, and it is our elders who are demanding that most strongly,” she added.

Others, however, reject the project as “anti-natural” and “violent” towards the local habitat.

“If you hurt the earth, she will in one way or another get back at you,” tourist guide Víctor Arque, of San Pedro de Atacama, a highlands village 290 km from Ollagüe, told IPS. “It can’t be possible to drill kilometres below ground without something happening.”

A photo taken at dawn in the middle of the steam from the El Tatio geysers in northern Chile, where this clean, unlimited source of energy will begin to be harnessed with the construction of the Cerro Pabellón geothermal plant in the rural municipality of Ollagüe. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

A photo taken at dawn in the middle of the steam from the El Tatio geysers in northern Chile, where this clean, unlimited source of energy will begin to be harnessed with the construction of the Cerro Pabellón geothermal plant in the rural municipality of Ollagüe. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The El Tatio precedent

Chile was a pioneer in research on geothermal potential. The first exploration was carried out in 1907 in El Tatio, a geyser field located some 200 km from Cerro Pabellón and 4,300 metres above sea level. This country was the third to explore geothermal energy, after the United States and Russia.

Two wells were drilled in that area in 1931, and in the late 1960s the government carried out more systematic exploration, which was later abandoned.

In 2008, the Geotérmica del Norte company, which belonged to the Italian consortium ENEL, began exploration in Quebrada del Zoquete, a few km from El Tatio, using the equipment already installed in the geyser field.

In September 2009, a 60-metre high column of steam shot up from one of the wells where the company was extracting and reinjecting geothermal fluids. The anomaly, caused by a failed valve, lasted more than three weeks and led to the government’s cancellation of the permit for further operations.

Tokman, energy minister at the time, remembered the incident. “Fortunately all of the safeguards had been taken to demand different instruments of measurement for the project, to ensure that the reservoir was deeper and distinct from the reservoir in the El Tatio geyser field,” he said.

Cuenca said the mistake was “having restarted a geothermal programme in Chile doing everything that shouldn’t be done: that is, interfering in a place where there are indigenous communities, an area with a high tourist and economic value, simply to take advantage of the infrastructure that was already installed there.”

Experts warn that geothermal power is not a panacea for Chile’s energy deficit, because if there is one thing this country has learned, it is that a diversified energy mix is essential.

But if Chile’s potential is confirmed, Cerro Pabellón could open the door to geothermal development not only in this country but in South America.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Native Protest Camp in Argentine Capital Fights for Land and Visibilityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/native-protest-camp-in-argentine-capital-fights-for-land-and-visibility/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=native-protest-camp-in-argentine-capital-fights-for-land-and-visibility http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/native-protest-camp-in-argentine-capital-fights-for-land-and-visibility/#comments Wed, 19 Aug 2015 17:00:27 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142044 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/native-protest-camp-in-argentine-capital-fights-for-land-and-visibility/feed/ 0 Zimbabwe’s Forest Carbon Programme Not All It Seemshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/zimbabwes-forest-carbon-programme-not-all-it-seems/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zimbabwes-forest-carbon-programme-not-all-it-seems http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/zimbabwes-forest-carbon-programme-not-all-it-seems/#comments Fri, 14 Aug 2015 10:47:42 +0000 Ignatius Banda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141986 Rain forest in Zimbabwe, where the politics of access and control over forests and their carbon is challenging conventional understanding, and comes down to the question of land and whether local rural communities can benefit if they are not the owners of land. Credit: By Ninara/CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Rain forest in Zimbabwe, where the politics of access and control over forests and their carbon is challenging conventional understanding, and comes down to the question of land and whether local rural communities can benefit if they are not the owners of land. Credit: By Ninara/CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

By Ignatius Banda
BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, Aug 14 2015 (IPS)

The efficacy of attempts to sustainably manage forests and conserve and enhance forest carbon stocks in Zimbabwe is increasingly coming under scrutiny as new research warns that the politics of access and control over forests and their carbon is challenging conventional understanding.

It all comes down to the question of land and of whether local rural communities can benefit if they are not the owners of land.

Even where they do “own” land, say researchers, these communities often find themselves competing with other players driven by different economic considerations, nullifying the very ideals being pushed under the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) mechanism of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

“Carbon forestry projects – as previous interventions in forest use, ownership and management – have not been the panacea some had expected … multiple conflicts have emerged between landowners, forest users and project developers” – Ian Scones
Despite the country’s agrarian reform programme, under which land was redistributed to millions of landless local communities, the state remains the biggest landowner, raising questions about community empowerment and the ownership of forests.

With researchers pointing to a spike in the demand for land based not only on rural population growth but also on people reportedly moving to rural areas, there is no doubt that any increase in the rural population brings with it increased demand for natural resources.

“The demand on natural resources for land is growing year on year at a rate which is not sustainable,” says Steve Wentzel, director of Carbon Green Africa, and this will mean reforestation in the millions, with these trees being planted on plots that do not belong to local communities at a time when some farmers are decimating forest cover by using firewood to cure their tobacco.

The promise held out by REDD+ was that through reforestation and by reducing emissions, communities would then have access to or earn certified emission reduction credits to be sold to or traded with the worst polluters to meet their own emission reduction targets, yet it is clear that like any economic transaction, those who owns the means of production profit most.

Land is still owned either by the state or big business, with little cascading to the “bottom billion” as some economists have called the world’s poor, and landowners and the rich industrialised countries benefit at the expense of rural communities.

According to Ian Scoones, co-editor with Melissa Leach of a recently published book titled Carbon Conflicts and Forest Landscapes in Africa, “carbon forestry projects – as previous interventions in forest use, ownership and management – have not been the panacea some had expected.”

Scoones says that “multiple conflicts have emerged between landowners, forest users and project developers. Achieving a neat market-based solution to climate mitigation through forest carbon projects is not straightforward.”

On Zimbabwe’s REDD+ project, which has covered 1.4 million hectares under Carbon Green Africa, Scoones says that “as notional ‘traditional’ and ‘administrative’ owners of the land, they [rural communities] should have the authority. But they are pitched against powerful forces with other ideas about resource and economic priorities.”

Civil society organisations (CSOs) here argue that this explains why rural communities get the shorter end of the stick.

Meanwhile, a recent brief from Zimbabwe’s climate ministry noted that “rich countries have barely kept the promise” of meeting their pledges, casting doubts on whether rural communities will in fact trade any anticipated carbon credits for cash.

The rural poor could well be saying “show us the money” by 2020, the year targeted in Cancun, Mexico, for emission reduction pledges.

Climate and environment ministry officials agree that land ownership under REDD+ has remained a sticking point in its dialogue with CSOs on how local communities may derive premium dividend from forest carbon projects.

“CSOs represent the interests of local communities and lack of safeguards has made this issue an area of divergence between governments and CSOs,” says Veronica Gundu, acting deputy director in the Climate Change Management Department of the Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate.

“They (CSOs) are pushing for clarity on land ownership and the benefits to the local communities because they view the current regime of implementation to be beneficial only to the project implementers and leaving out the locals,” Gundu told IPS.

However, Wentzel of Carbon Green Africa which is implementing Zimbabwe’s sole REDD+ project in the Zambezi valley, told IPS: “As it stands the people of these districts are the rightful beneficiaries of revenue generated from their natural resources even if they are not titled land owners.”

Edited by Phil Harris 

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