Inter Press Service » Special Report http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Wed, 29 Jun 2016 11:29:38 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.12 Soy Fuels Industrialisation in Paraguayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/soy-fuels-industrialisation-in-paraguay/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=soy-fuels-industrialisation-in-paraguay http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/soy-fuels-industrialisation-in-paraguay/#comments Wed, 23 Mar 2016 21:45:30 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144324 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/soy-fuels-industrialisation-in-paraguay/feed/ 1 Rural Costa Rican Families Flourish in the Shadehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/rural-costa-rican-families-flourish-in-the-shade/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rural-costa-rican-families-flourish-in-the-shade http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/rural-costa-rican-families-flourish-in-the-shade/#comments Tue, 15 Mar 2016 19:35:00 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144190 Xinia Solano and Luis Diego Murillo are one of the families working with the shade house programme in Los Reyes, in the southeastern Costa Rican municipality of Coto Brus. This model of agriculture is being promoted by the FAO, in conjunction with various government institutions. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

Xinia Solano and Luis Diego Murillo are one of the families working with the shade house programme in Los Reyes, in the southeastern Costa Rican municipality of Coto Brus. This model of agriculture is being promoted by the FAO, in conjunction with various government institutions. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
LOS REYES, Costa Rica, Mar 15 2016 (IPS)

Before they got involved in farming, Luis Diego Murillo and Xinia Solano paid their bills and put food on their table with Luis’s salary as a foreman on construction sites, an unstable job that kept him on the move.

Now the 33-year-old Costa Rican walks along the rows where he and his wife grow bright green coriander and lettuce, and where stalks indicate a handful of radishes under the soil. They share the land with another family, but they are their own boss.

Over Murillo’s head is an enormous roof of black shade cloth which is crucial to his new life because it protects his crops in the community of Los Reyes, in the rural municipality of Coto Brus, Puntarenas province, in the foothills of Costa Rica’s Talamanca mountain range.

“We’re together now, I’m no longer away from my family,” he told IPS, explaining why they decided to dedicate themselves to farming full-time. “You don’t want to be working away from home, far away from your children and wife. You want to be with your family, no?”

Murillo and his wife, the 34-year-old Solano, are among the 74 families who have benefited from the Shade House programme that the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is carrying out in southeast Costa Rica. “One of the big advantages is that they can produce year round. Before, in the dry season (November to May), the crops would be burnt by the sun. Besides, the popular idea that only a few things can be grown here has been laid to rest, and a greater diversity of crops is now produced.” -- Guillermo Murillo

In the protected shaded areas, 700 square metres in size, the farmers can manage the quantity and quality of sunlight, the percentage of shade and the impact on the crops of rainfall, which can be heavy in this area.

The families are thus able to grow fresh vegetables year-round, have boosted the quality and productivity of their crops and have even managed to grow vegetables that were unthinkable before, given the normal conditions in this area, such as broccoli and cabbage.

With this system, which began to be implemented in late 2013 on just six farms, the families produce food for their own consumption and earn an income selling the surplus.

“We’re very happy because thanks to the shade houses we don’t have to go out and buy food anymore. If you want coriander or a head of lettuce, you just come out and pick it,” said Solano, whose house is in a village next to Los Reyes, which is a six-hour drive from San José, although it is only 280 km away.

Another of the advantages of the programme is that it improves and helps diversify the diet of rural families in the socioeconomic region of Brunca, the area with the highest poverty level in this Central American nation of 4.8 million people.

FAO expert Guillermo Murillo (wearing a hat) talks to family farmers in the settlement of Los Reyes in southeast Costa Rica about techniques for improving production in their shade houses. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

FAO expert Guillermo Murillo (wearing a hat) talks to family farmers in the settlement of Los Reyes in southeast Costa Rica about techniques for improving production in their shade houses. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

Poverty affects 34.6 percent of households in this region of 300,000 people, compared to a national average of 20.6 percent, and only 51 percent of the economically population is employed, according to statistics that FAO provided to IPS.

This region only produces 15 to 20 percent of the fresh fruit and vegetables consumed here, and the rest is brought in from other parts of the country.

The families with shade houses are now eating better.

“We eat salad every day. We used to buy stuff for salad if we had the money, but now we don’t have to buy it,” said Solano.

The shade houses are also looking at larger-scale production and marketing of their crops, to boost family incomes.

The families participating in the programme already grow more than 25 different kinds of fresh vegetables.

“Some of the farmers have cars and lend them to others so they can sell their produce in nearby towns,” said Solano. “But we’re doing the paperwork to create a cooperative, to get a truck.”

Each shade house costs around 3,200 dollars, and the funds are provided by the Costa Rican government institutions working with FAO on the project, such as the Mixed Institute for Social Aid (IMAS) or the Rural Development Institute (INDER).

The programme, which also has the support of the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, is focused on the entire family, and considers women’s contribution as key.

“The women here are very brave, most of them even pick up the shovel and plant. It was my wife who planted all of those plants (that provide shade for the coffee bushes),” Florentino Amador, a 54-year-old farmer, told IPS with pride in his voice.

Ligia Ruiz, 53, one of the most enthusiastic farmers in the four shade houses in Los Reyes, coordinates sales with her neighbours.

The shade house system makes it possible to diversify the production of fresh vegetables in the southern Costa Rican region of Brunca. Some fresh produce, like lettuce, was already grown in the region, but others, like broccoli and cabbage, are only now being produced, thanks to this farming technique promoted by the FAO. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

The shade house system makes it possible to diversify the production of fresh vegetables in the southern Costa Rican region of Brunca. Some fresh produce, like lettuce, was already grown in the region, but others, like broccoli and cabbage, are only now being produced, thanks to this farming technique promoted by the FAO. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

“On Wednesdays and Saturdays we harvest what we’re going to sell, just here in the community for now. I get the orders and we deliver the produce,” she told IPS.

Although each shade house was originally designed for one family, in Los Reyes the four shaded areas are worked by 10 families, who farm together in a very horizontal process; for example, the income from the sales goes into a joint fund, where they hope to save up for the cooperative.

“If there’s a lot to clean on one lot, one family helps the other, and then they in turn receive support,” said Ruíz with regard to the revival of the rural tradition of communal work.

The FAO’s aim is for the beneficiaries to be organised groups of farmers with access to a collective storage and trading centre, although the families are selected by the Costa Rican institutions involved in the project.

In Brazil and Mexico there are small-scale initiatives similar to the shade house project, said Guillermo Murillo, a FAO consultant who has worked in those countries and suggested the shade house model for Costa Rica.

“One of the big advantages is that they can produce year round,” Murillo told IPS. “Before, in the dry season (November to May), the crops would be burnt by the sun. Besides, the popular idea that only a few things can be grown here has been laid to rest, and a greater diversity of crops is now produced.”

Besides the support for setting up shade houses, the team of representatives of the FAO and the public institutions involved in the initiative give advice on farming techniques, tools, and marketing.

“The seeds that used to come here were the ones used in colder parts of Costa Rica, even though there were ‘tropicalised’ ones in the market,” said Murillo. “We looked for them, and the families started to use them.”

The programme is now being expanded to the northwest province of Guanacaste, where the installation of the first shade houses outside of the Brunca region has been approved.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Brazil’s Amazon River Ports Give Rise to Dreams and Nightmareshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/brazils-amazon-river-ports-give-rise-to-dreams-and-nightmares/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=brazils-amazon-river-ports-give-rise-to-dreams-and-nightmares http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/brazils-amazon-river-ports-give-rise-to-dreams-and-nightmares/#comments Fri, 11 Dec 2015 22:48:18 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143303 The U.S. agribusiness giant Cargill’s port terminal on the banks of the Tapajós River in the northern Brazilian city of Santarém, where large cargo vessels dwarf the traditional small fishing boats of the Amazon basin. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The U.S. agribusiness giant Cargill’s port terminal on the banks of the Tapajós River in the northern Brazilian city of Santarém, where large cargo vessels dwarf the traditional small fishing boats of the Amazon basin. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
SANTARÉM, Brazil, Dec 11 2015 (IPS)

River port terminals in the northern Brazilian city of Santarém are considered strategic by the government. But what some see as an opportunity for development is for others an irreversible change in what was previously a well-preserved part of the Amazon rainforest.

In the evening light on the Tapajós River, whose green-blue waters mix with the darker muddy water of the Amazon River in Santarém, it’s not easy to ignore the silos that overshadow what used to be a public beach, where passenger boats and fishing vessels typical of this part of the Amazon jungle state of Pará tie up.

The port terminal of the U.S. commodities giant Cargill began to operate in 2003 as a centre for the storage, transshipment and loading of soy and corn, in this city of nearly 300,000 people.

The cargo ships and convoys of barges carrying grains are headed for the Amazon River and then the Atlantic Ocean on their way to Europe or China, the biggest markets for Brazil’s main agribusiness exports.

This country is the world’s second-largest producer of soy, after the United States, and the biggest exporter. In the 2014-2015 harvest it produced 95 million tons, 60.7 million of which were exported.

Municipal authorities argue that the river port terminals generate jobs and tax revenue, while they drive the construction and services industries, hotels and fuel supplies.

But Edilberto Sena, a Catholic priest who is the president of the Tapajós Movement Alive, holds a very different view.

“Cargill’s arrival has been a tragedy for Santarém,” he told IPS. “When they began to build the port they argued that it would bring jobs, and while they were building it did create 800 jobs. But as soon as it was completed, most of the workers were fired, and now it employs between 150 and 160 people.”

With a current capacity to export five million tons of grain, the port of Santarém was built to ease the congestion in ports in southern Brazil like Santos in the state of São Paulo, or Paranaguá in the state of Paraná.

This port and the transshipment terminal in Mirituba – 300 km to the south of Santarém – have also cut distances by land and sea for the shipment of soy from the neighbouring state of Mato Grosso, the country’s largest soy producer.

The installation was built by the U.S. agribusiness and food company Bunge, which was later joined by Cargill and other transnational corporations.

“These ports make Brazil more competitive,” the director of planning in the Santarém city government, José de Lima, told IPS.

As an example, he pointed out that with respect to the port in Santos, from Santarém to the port city of Shanghai, China, “the distance was cut from 24,000 km to 19,500 km, and going through the Panama Canal will reduce the cost from 159 to 147 dollars per transported ton.”

As of 2020, with an investment of around 800 million dollars, the transnational corporations project that they will export 20 million tons a year of grains through the Amazon basin.

A fisherman carries the day’s catch in the market in the city of Santarém, from the beach now overshadowed by the silos of the river port at the confluence of the Tapajós and Amazon Rivers in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. Credit: Gonzalo Gaudenzi/IPS

A fisherman carries the day’s catch in the market in the city of Santarém, from the beach now overshadowed by the silos of the river port at the confluence of the Tapajós and Amazon Rivers in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. Credit: Gonzalo Gaudenzi/IPS

Nelio Aguiar, the Santarém secretary of planning, stressed the strategic importance of these ports for the agroexport sector. “Brazil’s GDP is growing, based on agribusiness, which is supporting our economy,” he told IPS.

Most of the cargo arrives by truck, over the BR-163 highway in the process of being repaved, which ends at Cargill’s port terminal.

Currently, during the soy and corn harvest some 350 trucks a day arrive. But Lima estimates that the number will rise to 2,000 a day when other port terminals set to be built in the city are in operation.

That is what worries social organisations and academics who have fought the construction of the port.

“Because the city was not adapted to receive so much cargo traffic, it has caused disruptions and we have seen an increase in the number of accidents due to the intensification of truck traffic,” Raimunda Monteiro, the rector of the Federal University of Western Pará, told IPS.

But despite a number of lawsuits challenging the legality of the Cargill port, construction went ahead with the support of local authorities.

“It destroyed a beach in Santarém and there were also a number of indirect impacts because it attracted more soy producers, who expanded across the Santarém plan. These impacts were not foreseen in the environmental impact study,” Ibis Tapajós, a lawyer who works with social movements, told IPS.

To decongest truck traffic, the city government projects the construction of new access roads and truck parking lots outside of the city.

But there is concern about environmental effects such as contamination of the river and pollution from motor vehicle emissions and from the chemical fertilisers carried by the ships.

“The Cargill port is a clear example of the violation of socioenvironmental rights by large corporations,” said Tapajós.

The construction of at least six new port terminals in Santarém is in the study phase. Two would be next to the Cargill terminal and four would be in the area around Maica Lake.

The most advanced project on the lake – now in the phase of obtaining environmental permits – is to be built by EMBRAPS, a private company.

“Maica Lake is an extremely fragile ecological area,” said Monteiro. “It is at one end of a 50-km series of lakes and canals at the mouth of the Tapajós river and its confluence with the Amazon River.”

The EMBRAPS port is to be built in the Green Area neigbhourhood on the lake, in an area that floods during the rainy season and is without water in the dry season.

There are already signs warning “no trespassers, private property,” and the 480 fisherpersons on the lake are worried about the impact on their activity due to the circulation of the cargo vessels and because a large area will be covered over with soil.

“They’re going to practically privatise the lake,” Ronaldo Souza Costa, the president of the Association of Local Residents of the Perola Neighourhood of Maicá, told IPS. Thirty percent of the fish eaten in Santarém comes from the lake.

“As far as we can tell, there will be a major impact on our fishing, mainly in this area, where we fish in the wintertime. They will mark off no-trespassing areas,” said Raimundo Nonato, the administrator of the Maicá market.
The Santarém city government says the installations will be on dry land and that the companies are not interested in the lake but in the Amazon River, which the waters flow into and which is deep enough for large vessels.

“The entire operation of the trucks will be on ramps. It will not affect the water in the lake at all,” said Aguiar.

But because the local communities have not yet been formally consulted about this and other port projects, fears are growing.

“From what we know, if the ships come near us, our boats will be in trouble because of the big waves, which will be dangerous for our small vessels,” local fisherwoman Telma Almeida told IPS.

After unloading her fish, Almeida casts off and sets out on the Amazon River once again in her small boat. Her silhouette becomes tiny and dim in the shadow of a large cargo vessel.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Native Seeds Help Weather Climate Change in El Salvadorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/native-seeds-help-weather-climate-change-in-el-salvador/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=native-seeds-help-weather-climate-change-in-el-salvador http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/native-seeds-help-weather-climate-change-in-el-salvador/#comments Mon, 30 Nov 2015 22:34:40 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143159 Domitila Reyes, 25, picks a cob of native corn in a field in the Mangrove Association, one of the two small farmer organisations that produce these seeds for the government’s Family Agriculture Plan in El Salvador. The seeds are not only high yield but are also more tolerant of the climate changes happening in this Central American country. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Domitila Reyes, 25, picks a cob of native corn in a field in the Mangrove Association, one of the two small farmer organisations that produce these seeds for the government’s Family Agriculture Plan in El Salvador. The seeds are not only high yield but are also more tolerant of the climate changes happening in this Central American country. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
JIQUILISCO /SAN MIGUEL, El Salvador , Nov 30 2015 (IPS)

Knife in hand, Domitila Reyes deftly cuts open the leaves covering the cob of corn, which she carefully removes from the plant – a process she carries out over and over all morning long, standing in the middle of a sea of corn, a staple in the diet of El Salvador.

Reyes is taking part in the “tapisca” – derived from “pixca” in the Nahat indigenous tongue, which means harvesting the field-dried corn.

The process will end, weeks later, with the selection of the best quality seeds, in order to ensure food sovereignty and security for poor peasant farmers in this Central American country of 6.3 million people.

Some 614,000 Salvadorans are farmers, and 244,000 of them grow corn or beans on small farms averaging 2.5 hectares in size, the Ministry of Agriculture and Stockbreeding reports.

In rural areas, 43 percent of households are poor, compared to 29.9 percent in urban areas, according to the latest annual survey by the Ministry of Economy.

“I see that the harvest is good, even though the rain was causing problems,” Reyes, 25, told IPS. She earns 10 dollars a day “tapiscando” or harvesting corn.

Climate change has modified the production cycles in this country, which is experiencing lengthy droughts in the May to October wet season and heavy rain in the November to April dry season. The erratic weather has ruined corn and bean crops.“High quality seeds are strategic for the country, because they make it possible for farming families to grow their crops in periods of national and global crisis, given the problem of climate change.” -- Alan González

But Reyes, covered head to toe to protect herself from the sun in jeans, a long-sleeved blouse and a hat, is relieved that the high-quality or “improved” seeds have managed to resist the effects of the changing climate.

“This corn has withstood it better…the rain hurt it but not very much. Other seeds wouldn’t have survived the blow,” she told IPS in the middle of the cornfield.

Reyes is one of the nearly two dozen workers who, under the burning sun, are harvesting corn on this seven-hectare field, one of several that belong to the Mangrove Association in Ciudad Romero, a rural settlement in the municipality of Jiquilisco in the eastern department of Usulután.

The region is known as Bajo Lempa, named after the river that crosses El Salvador from the north, before running into the Pacific Ocean. In that region there are 86 communities, with a total population of 23,000 people.

Many of the inhabitants are former guerrilla fighters of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), which fought the country’s right-wing governments in the 1980-1992 armed conflict that left a death toll of around 75,000, mainly civilians.

The Mangrove Association is one of the two producers of open-pollinated (the opposite of hybrid) native seeds in El Salvador. The other is the Nancuchiname Cooperative, also in the Bajo Lempa region.

They sell their annual output of 500,000 kilos of seeds to the government for distribution to 400,000 small farmers, as part of the Family Agriculture Plan (PAF). Each farmer receives 10 kg of seeds of corn and beans, as well as fertiliser.

“One achievement by our organisation is that the government has accepted us as a supplier of native seeds to the PAF,” said Juan Luna, coordinator of the Mangrove Association’s Agriculture Programme.

The hard-working hands of Ivania Siliézar, 55, pick improved beans she grew on her three-hectare farm on the slopes of the Chaparrastique volcano in the eastern Salvadoran department of San Miguel. Thanks to these native seeds, her output has doubled. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

The hard-working hands of Ivania Siliézar, 55, pick improved beans she grew on her three-hectare farm on the slopes of the Chaparrastique volcano in the eastern Salvadoran department of San Miguel. Thanks to these native seeds, her output has doubled. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Luna told IPS that with these seeds, Salvadoran small farmers are better prepared to confront the effects of climate change and ensure food security and sovereignty.

In this country, 12.4 percent of the population – around 700,000 people – are undernourished, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

The Mangrove Association and another three cooperatives in the area produce 40 percent of the improved seeds purchased by the PAF, whether native or the H59 hybrid variety developed by the government’s Enrique Álvarez Córdova National Centre for Agricultural and Forest Technology (CENTA).

The rest are produced by cooperatives in other regions of the country.

“The seeds produced by CENTA are high quality genetic material adapted to growing everywhere from sea level to 700 metres altitude,” FAO resident coordinator in El Salvador, Alan González, told IPS.

Two farmers carry dry leaves of corn, after the harvest of field-dried corn, on a parcel of land belonging to the Mangrove Association, one of the cooperatives that produce native corn seeds in El Salvador. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Two farmers carry dry leaves of corn, after the harvest of field-dried corn, on a parcel of land belonging to the Mangrove Association, one of the cooperatives that produce native corn seeds in El Salvador. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

He added that the effort to promote this kind of seeds as a tool to weather the effects of climate change and strengthen food security and sovereignty are part of the Hunger Free Mesoamerica programme launched by FAO in 2014 in Central America, Colombia and the Dominican Republic.

“High quality seeds are strategic for the country, because they make it possible for farming families to grow their crops in periods of national and global crisis, given the problem of climate change,” said González.

Up to 2009, PAF purchased seeds from only five companies. But that year the FMLN, which became a political party after the 1992 peace deal, was voted into office and modified the rules of the game in order for small farmers to participate in the business, through cooperatives.

Another of the advantages of these improved seeds, besides their resistance to drought and heavy rains, is their high yields. FAO estimates that productivity has increased by 40 percent in the case of beans and 30 percent in the case of corn, which has boosted the food and nutritional security of the poorest families.

“We produce more, and we earn a bit more income,” said Ivania Siliézar, 55, who produces an improved variety of bean in the village of El Amate in the department of San Miguel, 135 km east of San Salvador.

Siliézar told IPS that she took the time to count how many bean pods one single plant produces: “More than 35 pods; that’s why the yield is so high,” she said proudly.

The variety of bean grown by her and 40 other members of the Fuentes y Palmeras cooperative is called chaparrastique, and was also developed by the CENTA technicians. The name comes from the volcano at whose feet this and six other cooperatives grow the bean, which they sell in local markets, as well as to the PAF.

Siliézar grows her crops on her farm that is just over three hectares in size, and in the last harvest of the year, she picked 1,250 kg of beans, a very high yield.

Similar excellent results were obtained by all 255 members of the seven cooperatives, who founded a company, Productores y Comercializadores Agrícolas de Oriente SA (Procomao), and have managed to mechanise their production with the installation of a plant that has processing equipment such as driers.

The plant was built with an investment of 203,000 dollars, financed by Spanish development aid and support from FAO, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the San Miguel city government, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Stockbreeding. It has the capacity to process three tons of beans per hour.

Cooperatives grouping another 700 families from the departments of San Miguel and Usulután also set up three similar companies.

“We have had pests, but thanks to God and the quality of the seeds, here is our harvest,” Siliézar said happily.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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School Meals Bolster Family Farming in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/school-meals-bolster-family-farming-in-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=school-meals-bolster-family-farming-in-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/school-meals-bolster-family-farming-in-brazil/#comments Mon, 09 Nov 2015 21:04:38 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142946 Children between the ages of five and seven eating lunch in the João Baptista Cáffaro School cafetería in the impoverished Engenho Velho neighbourhood in the city of Itaboraí, 45 km from Rio de Janeiro. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Children between the ages of five and seven eating lunch in the João Baptista Cáffaro School cafetería in the impoverished Engenho Velho neighbourhood in the city of Itaboraí, 45 km from Rio de Janeiro. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
ITABORAÍ, Brazil, Nov 9 2015 (IPS)

“That law should have existed since the end of slavery, which threw slaves into the street without offering them adequate conditions for working and producing, turning them into semi-slaves,” said Brazilian farmer Idevan Correa.

The law he was referring to, which was passed in 2009, requires that at least 30 percent of the funds that municipal governments receive from the National Fund for the Development of Education go towards the purchase of food produced by local family farmers.

The formula is one of those discoveries that later seem obvious, self-evident, normal.

Besides guaranteeing small farmers an important market for their produce, “it improved the quality of the food,” the mother of two students, Jaqueline Lameira, who represents families on the Itaboraí School Feeding Council, which oversees the quality of school meals, told IPS.

Itaboraí, a municipality of 230,000 people in the southeast state of Rio de Janeiro, 11 percent of whose residents are rural, dedicates more than the required minimum.

Over 40 percent of school breakfasts and lunches served in the municipal schools are made up of food produced by local small farmers, said Inaiá Figueiredo, in charge of nutrition in the city government’s Secretariat of Agriculture, Supplies and Fishing.

That proportion was just seven percent when the current municipal administration took office in 2012, she told IPS.

The food offered in the school meals was diversified, with a larger proportion of fresh produce, including typical local vegetables that are highly nutritious but not widely consumed, she explained, adding that each meal includes at least three kinds of vegetables.

“For dessert there’s fruit, never candy, and the juice doesn’t have sugar, but locally produced honey,” she said.

School cook Penha Maria Flausina opens the bags of fresh fruit and vegetables recently delivered from local family farms in the João Baptista Cáffaro municipal school, which serves 500 primary students in a poor neighborhood in Itaboraí, a city in southeast Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

School cook Penha Maria Flausina opens the bags of fresh fruit and vegetables recently delivered from local family farms in the João Baptista Cáffaro municipal school, which serves 500 primary students in a poor neighborhood in Itaboraí, a city in southeast Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“The kids eat everything, they ask for seconds; there’s one who only comes to school because of the meals,” Penha Maria Flausina, the cook at the João Baptista Caffaro School in a poor neighbourhood of Itaboraí told IPS, laughing.

She showed IPS the maize, okra, squash and fresh fruit in the school pantry.

This is the result of a lengthy process that began in 1986 with the First National Conference on Food and Nutrition, further editions of which were held in 2004, 2007, 2011 and in the first week of November 2015 in Brasilia, with 2,000 participants.

The National Council on Food and Nutritional Security (CONSEA) was created in 1993, with representatives of civil society and the government. The Organic Law on Food and Nutritional Security was passed in 2006.

Three years later, under that legal framework, a new law linked the National School Feeding Programme (PNAE) and family farming, after overcoming stiff resistance in the legislature, economist Francisco Menezes told IPS.

“The enormous school meals market, today made up of 45 million students, was dominated by companies, some of them contracted by municipal governments for all of the schools,” said Menezes who, as president of CONSEA from 2004 to 2007, played a key role in the drafting and approval of the law.

“Higher prices and lower quality” are typical when suppliers enjoy a monopoly, he said.

It took the law three years to make its way through Congress, where it was blocked by legislators interested in that market themselves or financed by companies that supplied it, which in the end still had control of 70 percent of sales to school meal programmes, although that is a ceiling that was set.

Forging a new path

But in this huge country of 206 million people, the effectiveness of the law has been irregular. “There are municipal governments that comply with it, others don’t, and there are some in the south of Brazil that achieved 100 percent supplies from family farming,” said Menezes.

But there is also fraud, he admitted.

“Strong” municipal councils inhibit irregularities, but they are also subject to pressure, said the expert. Because of that, “everything depends on family farms organised in associations and cooperatives, so that if one producer fails, other members are there to step in to guarantee supplies,” he added.

But the law is essential, because “it turned the school meals programme into a state policy, making setbacks more unlikely to occur,” he said.

Rural leader Idevan Correa examines one of his new orange trees. He decided to plant an orange grove again thanks to a Brazilian law that requires that at least 30 percent of the food consumed in schools come from local family farms. The municipality of Itaboraí was famous for its oranges until a pest reduced production. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Rural leader Idevan Correa examines one of his new orange trees. He decided to plant an orange grove again thanks to a Brazilian law that requires that at least 30 percent of the food consumed in schools come from local family farms. The municipality of Itaboraí was famous for its oranges until a pest reduced production. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Correa, the farmer who would have liked the law to have been in place since slavery was abolished in 1888, told IPS it was smart to set the minimum quota for supplies from family farms at 30 percent.

“It’s a first, experimental step; small farmers can’t increase their production overnight, they have to do it gradually,” said Correa, the president of the Association of Rural Producers of the Fourth District of Itaboraí, who inherited a 100-hectare farm that his father received during the agrarian reform process in the 1950s.

He also agrees with the annual limit of 20,000 reals (5,200 dollars) for each farmer’s sales to the municipal government, although that was not ideal for him this year as he could have sold above that quota with his production of maize, beans, potatoes and fruit.

“It’s better this way, more farmers can sell; if the quota were to be expanded a lot, very few would be able to sell,” he said.

“At the start of the current municipal administration, in 2012, only nine or 10 farmers were taking part in the school feeding programme; now that number is 54,” agronomist Ana Paula de Farias, technical adviser to the local Secretariat of Agriculture, Supplies and Fishing in Itaboraí, told IPS.

There are some 300 farms in the municipality, but most of them raise cattle.

Another problem in expanding the number of suppliers for the school meals programme is that many of them do not have the required documents, she explained.

Furthermore, technical assistance was necessary to help farmers begin to grow organic products, or at least to significantly reduce their use of pesticides and herbicides, and to adapt to the specific needs of meals for children, such as guava fruits in small uniform sizes, in order to provide one for each child without having to cut them into pieces.

“The most important lesson in this learning process was planting without agrochemicals,” said Correa. “You learn as you go along, living up to the requirements of the programme. We used to plant more to earn more, since we weren’t in a position to compete with the big companies; now we try for better quality, and we’re more careful, because it’s food for local children.”

Sales to schools gave a boost to local small farmers, even though there is a quota, he said, because the programme pays retail “supermarket prices,” and there are no costs for transportation because the municipal government sends out its own trucks, while in the big agricultural market farmers have to deal with middlemen who pay less and charge to cover their own costs.

Exportable model

Brazil’s experience in linking family farms and school feeding programmes has already been exported to several countries in Latin America and in Africa, including Bolivia, Mali, Mozambique and Senegal.

It is also one of the models used by the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean, an initiative that emerged in 2009 with technical support from the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO).

Brazil’s law will be studied during the Nov. 15-17 Sixth Forum of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger, to be held in Lima with the participation of legislators from throughout the region as well as guest lawmakers from Africa and Asia.

Brazil’s Food Purchase Programme, based on an earlier law from 2003 and geared towards supplying social assistance networks, has also been replicated abroad, as an example of a public policy that has been doubly successful: in bolstering food security while strengthening family agriculture.

In addition, the area of food security has served to develop a multi-disciplinary approach involving various ministries, such as those of agriculture, health and education, which tend to act in an isolated fashion, said Menezes.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Itaborai, a City of White Elephants and Empty Officeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/itaborai-a-city-of-white-elephants-and-empty-offices/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=itaborai-a-city-of-white-elephants-and-empty-offices http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/itaborai-a-city-of-white-elephants-and-empty-offices/#comments Fri, 23 Oct 2015 16:05:21 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142780 All of the offices, shops and locales in the modern two-building Enterprise complex are empty. It is one of the many white elephants left in the city of Itaboraí, in southeast Brazil, by the state-run Petrobras’ aborted petrochemical and oil industry megaproject. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

All of the offices, shops and locales in the modern two-building Enterprise complex are empty. It is one of the many white elephants left in the city of Itaboraí, in southeast Brazil, by the state-run Petrobras’ aborted petrochemical and oil industry megaproject. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
ITABORAÍ, Brazil , Oct 23 2015 (IPS)

Itaboraí still recalls its origins as a sprawling city that sprang up along a highway, not far from Rio de Janeiro. But a few years ago big modern buildings began to sprout all over this city in southeast Brazil, whose offices and shops are almost all empty today.

The number of white elephants, or costly, useless constructions, in this city of 230,000 people was the result of “two huge shocks” caused by the Rio de Janeiro Petrochemical Complex (COMPERJ), Luiz Fernando Guimarães, the municipal secretary of economic development, told IPS.

“The first impact came from the 2006 announcement by then President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2010) of the project, which was to consist of two refineries and two petrochemical plants that would generate 221,000 jobs, according to the Getulio Vargas Foundation,” he said.

The estímate by the prestigious Rio de Janeiro-based think tank was larger than the entire population of the city, which stood at 218,000 in 2010, according to that year’s census.

The complex, belonging to Brazil’s state-run oil company Petrobras, was to cost around 6.5 billion dollars according to initial projections. But it ballooned to twice that, and will now only entail a single refinery with a capacity to process 165,000 barrels a day of oil. Construction of the petrochemical plants and the second refinery was cancelled.

The original announcement and the start of construction in 2008 “turned Itaboraí into an El Dorado, attracting people from across Brazil, as well as many foreigners. Rents skyrocketed, the prices of food and services soared, and the value of land for building housing more than doubled,” Guimarães said.

The employment of some 30,000 workers and the prospect of a surge in industrialisation around the petrochemical complex drew abundant investment, because of the expectation that the city, “one of the poorest in the country, would soon to enjoy great prosperity,” the municipal secretary of finance, Rodney Mendonça, told IPS.

The real estate boom in this city 45 km from Rio de Janeiro led to the construction of modern buildings, including two big hotels – instead of the four that were originally planned.

In just a few years, there were 4,000 new shops and office buildings, said Guimarães, whose office was renamed the Secretariat of Economic Development and Integration. The former oil industry executive is now in charge of relations between the city government and COMPERJ.

The second shock was the decision to reduce the project to a single refinery, which was only announced in 2014. “But the change happened in 2010, and the public was not informed,” the official said. “I knew because several subsidiaries of Petrobras and Braskem (Latin America’s biggest petrochemical company) pulled out of the consortium.”

Bazarzão, which sells building materials and hardware in the city of Itaboraí, in southeast Brazil, saw its sales rise twofold when construction on the Rio de Janeiro Petrochemical Complex (COMPERJ) began. But they later plummeted when Petrobras cancelled the petrochemical side of the project. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Bazarzão, which sells building materials and hardware in the city of Itaboraí, in southeast Brazil, saw its sales rise twofold when construction on the Rio de Janeiro Petrochemical Complex (COMPERJ) began. But they later plummeted when Petrobras cancelled the petrochemical side of the project. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“Imagine, a local university was getting ready to launch a new degree programme in petrochemical technology, with a view to the jobs that would be offered by COMPERJ. When I told him what was happening, the director just about killed me,” Guimarães said.

Not ony were the petrochemical plants and second refinery cancelled, but “construction of the first refinery stalled, and according to Petrobras, financing is being sought to finish it,” he said – even though it is 87 percent complete.

On the 45 sq km acquired for the construction of COMPERJ, Petrobras is forging ahead with the construction of the Natural Gas Processing Unit, which is now employing around 3,000 workers. “But after it is built, only 80 employees will be left to operate it,” said Guimarães.

The city has felt the blow. The shiny new commercial and office buildings are empty, and walking down the streets you see “to rent” or “to lease” signs everywhere, while most shops and other businesses are closed.

“The land of oranges turned into the land of white elephants,” joked Bruno Soares, the manager of a building materials, hardware and appliances store, Bazarzão, on 22 of May avenue, the main street in Itaboraí.

His store did not register as a COMPERJ supplier. Nevertheless, it has suffered the effects. “Our sales have fallen 50 percent since late 2014,” he estimated, although he admitted that they actually returned to the levels prior to the boom that was cut short.

“Business went up and down in five years, too quickly. Other stores closed and neighbouring towns were also hurt,” he said.

“Itaboraí would be a powerhouse in Latin America if the petrochemical complex was doing well, but it all came crumbling down because of the corruption,” Soares maintained.

The entrance to the nearly empty Hellix luxury office building. The local Secretariat of Economic Development in Itaboraí, in southeast Brazil, moved into several of the offices because of the low rent, driven down by the lack of demand after Petrobras drastically cut back its oil and petrochemical industry megaproject nearby. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The entrance to the nearly empty Hellix luxury office building. The local Secretariat of Economic Development in Itaboraí, in southeast Brazil, moved into several of the offices because of the low rent, driven down by the lack of demand after Petrobras drastically cut back its oil and petrochemical industry megaproject nearby. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

That is a common conclusion reached by the public – and not only in Itaboraí – in response to the daily reports on the kickback scandal involving Petrobas projects, including COMPERJ, in which dozens of politicians and construction companies have been implicated.

Valcir José Vieira, the owner of a parking lot in downtown Itaboraí, concurs with Soares. “Between 2006 and 2014 my parking lot was always full – 200 cars a day came in. Today, I receive 100 at the most,” he told IPS.

The decline in the number of cars began in November 2014, and forced him to reduce his fees from five to two reais (1.30 dollars to 52 cents) an hour.

For the city government the disaster is twofold. Tax revenue plunged, while expenditure, which was driven up by the frustrated megaproject and the illusion of progress, continued to increase.

The tax on services, the municipal government’s main source of income, brought in around 64 million dollars a year during the COMPERJ construction boom – an amount that will fall 40 percent this year, according to forecasts by the local Secretariat of Finance.

Revenue from other taxes is also falling, due to the insolvency faced by companies in crisis.

Meanwhile, public spending has not dropped. The influx of workers and their families drawn by the prospect of jobs and prosperity drove up demand for healthcare, schools and other public services.

“The number of people who visited the emergency room of the Municipal Hospital climbed from 500 a day, to 2,000 since 2013,” said Mendonça, the finance secretary. The city government dedicates 30 percent of its budget to healthcare – double what is required by law, he pointed out.

And the administration that left office in 2012 hired 2,000 new public employees through competitive examinations, based on the increased demands and projected new revenue flow. And although the tax revenue dropped, the new civil servants can’t be laid off, because they enjoy guaranteed job stability in Brazil. So that increase in expenditure remains in place.

The two municipal secretaries complained that there was no compensation from COMPERJ for the impacts in the municipality, nor investment to mitígate the damaging effects of the shrinking megaproject.

In the face of these challenges, the city government is seeking alternatives to fuel development. Guimarães is convinced that logistics will be the main future activity in Itaboraí.

The city is located at the intersection of several highways, outside of the congested Rio de Janeiro metropolitan region, and in the centre of an area of oil industry activity – unrelated to COMPERJ – ports, shipyards and various industries, he pointed out.

At the same time, the municipalities affected by the downsizing of the COMPERJ project mobilised to pressure Petrobras to at least resume construction of the first refinery.

Itaboraí is also focusing on boosting small businesses. Guimarães’ Secretariat of Economic Development created a centre for entrepreneurs, aimed at expediting the creation of microenterprises and formalising the ones currrently operating in the informal sector of the economy.

Small firms that refurbish or expand housing, and beauty salons are the most frequent businesses opening at this time. “They rival the evangelical churches,” the head of the centre, Wilson Pereira, told IPS.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Toasting to a More Sustainable Planet with Argentine Winehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/argentine-wine-to-toast-for-a-more-sustainable-planet/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=argentine-wine-to-toast-for-a-more-sustainable-planet http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/argentine-wine-to-toast-for-a-more-sustainable-planet/#comments Tue, 20 Oct 2015 21:37:50 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142748 Vineyards belonging to the Dominio del Plata winery in Luján de Cuyo in the Argentine province of Mendoza. It is one of the companies taking part in the Federal Programme for Cleaner Production, which involves a sustainable reconversion inthe wine-growing industry. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Vineyards belonging to the Dominio del Plata winery in Luján de Cuyo in the Argentine province of Mendoza. It is one of the companies taking part in the Federal Programme for Cleaner Production, which involves a sustainable reconversion inthe wine-growing industry. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
LUJÁN DE CUYO, Argentina , Oct 20 2015 (IPS)

The region of Cuyo in west-central Argentina is famous for its vineyards. But it is one of the areas in the country hit hardest by the effects of climate change, such as desertification and the melting of mountain top snow. And local winegrowers have come up with their own way to fight global warming.

In the cup, malbec, Argentina’s flagship red wine, still has the same intense flavour and colour.

But behind the production process is a new environmental reconversion, which began four years ago in the arid province of Mendoza, where vineyards bloom in the midst of oases created by human hands.

Only 4.8 percent of the desert province of Mendoza is green; 3.5 percent is dedicated to agricultural production, which uses 90 percent of the water consumed, and the rest is urban areas.“Many people think investing in ecological practices has an additional cost and won’t necessarily bring the company any benefits. This shows that is not the case.” -- René Mauricio Valdés

“We are trying to maintain the same production levels, using less water and less energy, reducing waste, reusing waste products, and creating less pollution,” the provincial coordinator of the Federal Programme for Cleaner Production, Germán Micic, told Tierramérica.

The initiative, launched by the national Secretariat of the Environment and Sustainable Development, benefits some 1,250 small and medium-sized companies in Argentina.

It is carried out with technical and administrative support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and funds from the Interamerican Development Bank. In Mendoza, 210 companies – 60 percent of them wineries – are participating. They receive advice and up to 28,000 dollars in funds.

“We’re producing the same wine, but in a sustainable manner,” said Luis Romito, the head of the Sustainability Commission of the Bodegas de Argentina wineries association, while participating in the Climate Change Forum organised this month in Mendoza by the National University of Cuyo and the UNDP.

Some of these practices have begun to be implemented by Dominio del Plata, a family winery at the foot of the Andes mountains, in Agrelo, a town in the department of Luján de Cuyo.

By changing equipment and modifying processes, the family business has managed to use less water in the production of its wine.

In the wine production process, water is mainly used for washing, rinsing, heating and cooling.

One example of the changes introduced was the replacement of manual washing of the grape picking lugs, which took some 20 minutes per unit, by automated industrial washers.

“The lug is washed in five minutes with this machine,” Marcelo del Popolo, the winery’s adviser on quality and environmental responsability, told Tierramérica. “We have reduced water consuption by some 60,000 litres a month. In three months of harvest, that’s 180,000 litres of water saved.

“And the water used in the washing process goes down a drain and is carried to a treatment plant, and is then used to irrígate the vineyards,” he said.

And irrigation systems are being improved in Mendoza, where 90 percent of water is used in agricultural activities, and where water shortages are increasingly severe as a result of global warming.

“Water is vital to our province, and we are being seriously affected by this problem,” Ricardo Villalba, an expert in geosciences and former director of the Mendoza-based Argentine Institute of Snow Research, Glaciology and Environmental Sciences, told Tierramérica. “Water is the element that controls regional development.”

Wine storage tanks with special jackets maintain temperatures more efficiently in wineries in the wine-growing region of Luján de Cuyo in the Argentine province of Mendoza, which are taking part in a special programme to create more green-friendly processes to help combat the effects of climate change. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Wine storage tanks with special jackets maintain temperatures more efficiently in wineries in the wine-growing region of Luján de Cuyo in the Argentine province of Mendoza, which are taking part in a special programme to create more green-friendly processes to help combat the effects of climate change. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

“Our province basically depends on the water that comes from the snow up in the mountains, and all of the global forecasts and models indicate that there will gradually be less and less snow,” said Villalba, who is a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The wine-growing industry, which represents six percent of GDP in Mendoza and 1.3 percent of GDP nationwide, also aims to reduce energy consumption, which in Argentina is responsible for 43 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.

In the wineries, energy is used for heating, cooling, pumping of liquids and lighting.

“In each one of these stages we can incorporate modifications of equipment or processes, which make significant energy savings possible,” Micic said. “From jackets on the tanks to maintain temperatures more efficiently to the installation of advanced new pumps for a stronger water flow and lower energy consumption, through the change of compressors and lighting.”

Del Popolo said: “We keep track here of the water that comes in and the temperature we manage to achieve. By doing this we have reduced the energy used for heating by 15 percent.”

The company also uses green-friendly materials like lightweight wine bottles and lighter boxes that use less cardboard. Plastic and other waste products like broken bottles are classified, recycled and reused.

“We’re using boxes that we have already recycled many times over,” he said.

The benefits to the environment also bring considerable cost savings.

“We have addressed two fundamental questions: savings in energy and in water. And in both of them, we’re also seeing significant economic savings,” said the head of the winery, which plans in the future to invest in a solar thermal system for heating and fermentation.

This, according to UNDP representative in Argentina René Mauricio Valdés, is what makes the project self-sustainable.

“Many people think investing in ecological practices has an additional cost and won’t necessarily bring the company any benefits. This shows that is not the case,” said Valdés during a visit to the winery.

Fincas Patagónicas Tapiz, an olive oil producer in the neighbouring department of Maipú, is another company taking part in the programme in Mendoza.

Among other measures, it implemented a system to circulate water heated by solar energy around the tanks of oil to eliminate that energy expense.

It also insulated the room holding the tanks of oil, to keep the temperature steady. This made it possible to avoid the need to use air conditioning in the entire plant, which consumed an enormous amount of energy.

“If the temperature of the oil drops below 14 or 15 degrees Celsius, it solidifies and I can’t filter it,” plant manager Sebastián Correas explained to Tierramérica. “Which means that in the (southern hemisphere) winter I have to keep heating the entire plant until the warmer temperatures of September and October make it possible to bottle the oil.”

Argentina is not one of the world’s top emitters of greenhouse gases. Producing 0.66 percent of all greenhouse gases released globally, it is 22nd in a ranking that counts the 28 European Union countries as a single bloc.

But Villalba, the scientific researcher, believes that Argentina, like Mendoza, has a role to play.

“We are going to have to prepare ourselves for this, for example to continue to be leaders in the production of malbec at a global level,” he 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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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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Youngster Uses Technology to Fight Teen Pregnancy in Honduran Villagehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/youngster-uses-technology-to-fight-teen-pregnancy-in-honduran-village/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=youngster-uses-technology-to-fight-teen-pregnancy-in-honduran-village http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/youngster-uses-technology-to-fight-teen-pregnancy-in-honduran-village/#comments Wed, 14 Oct 2015 22:53:28 +0000 Thelma Mejia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142698 Cinthia Padilla, the 16-year-old who has revolutionised the village of Plan Grande on the Caribbean coast of Honduras, where she teaches local residents to use basic computer programmes and is using an Internet platform to help prevent teen pregnancy. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Cinthia Padilla, the 16-year-old who has revolutionised the village of Plan Grande on the Caribbean coast of Honduras, where she teaches local residents to use basic computer programmes and is using an Internet platform to help prevent teen pregnancy. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

By Thelma Mejía
PLAN GRANDE, Honduras, Oct 14 2015 (IPS)

Four years ago, Cinthia Padilla, who is now 16, learned how to use a computer in order to teach children, adolescents and adults in this isolated fishing village in northern Honduras how to use technology to better their lives.

Now she is using her expertise in an online e-learning platform aimed at reducing teen pregnancies in her remote village and neighbouring communities.

Her father, Óscar Padilla, is the community leader who radically changed life in Plan Grande by bringing it round-the-clock hydroelectricity, as well as a project for the conservation and protection of the Matías River basin. His daughter learned a great deal accompanying him to village meetings from an early age.

“My dad would tell me: ‘Stay home little girl! What are you doing here?’” she told IPS. “But I would ignore him because I liked listening to the adults. That’s how I learned, with a computer project that came to the village, and today I teach kids and adults in my free time how to use programmes like Word, Excel and others that help them in their work and studies.“I’m in fourth grade and I like this idea because we’re going to learn by using games, and girls won’t get pregnant or fall in love so young,” Javier Alexander Ramos, eight years old

“I started out with a used computer that a businesswoman from the capital gave me four years ago. So far I have trained more than 60 kids and a number of adults. It hasn’t been easy, because who was going to believe in a girl?” said a smiling Cinthia, who is in the first year of secondary school.

Thanks to the skills of this young girl who dreams of becoming a systems engineer to help her community develop and use technology to protect the environment, the 500 inhabitants of Plan Grande discovered the advantages offered by the Internet and other information and communication technologies (ICTs).

Thanks to what they have learned from Cinthia, local fisherpersons have improved their financial skills when selling their catch and purchasing products.

She also launched the e-learning platform to raise awareness among and educate adolescents to prevent teen pregnancy, with the support of the Sustainable Development Network, a civil society organisation that boosts technology use in communities in this impoverished Central American nation of 8.8 million people.

The success of the initiative drew the interest of Noel Ruíz, the mayor of the municipality of Santa Fe, where Plan Grande is located, and of the Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Programme (GEF SGP), implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

With a 50,000 dollar grant from the SGP, the e-learning project will be expanded throughout the entire municipality of Santa Fe and the neighbouring Balfate, starting in 2016. The users will be students and teachers.

In Plan Grande, which is operating as a pilot programme for the platform, the schoolteachers are enthusiastic about the project because teen pregnancy is frequent in this region inhabited mainly by members of the Garifuna ethnic group – descendants of African slaves who intermarried with members of the indigenous Carib tribe.

The National Assembly of Afro-Honduran Organisations and Communities estimates that 10 percent of the country’s population is black.

“This will open kids’ minds and help them not make the mistake of getting pregnant due to a lack of sex education,” Julissa Esther Pacheco, the teacher in Punta Frijol, a hamlet next to Plan Grande, told IPS.

“They have taught us how to use it, even though we don’t have Internet, with interactive educational programmes created to help youngsters learn about their bodies,” she said.

In Punta Frijol, just over three km from the centre of Plan Grande, Pacheco teaches 22 children in grades one through six in the rural schoolhouse. She divides the children by grade and teaches some while the others do homework.

Students in the hamlet of Punta Frijol on the northern coast of Honduras welcome this IPS reporter visiting this remote area to learn about their e-learning programme aimed at bringing down the teen pregnancy rate. The teacher at the one-room rural schoolhouse, Julissa Esther Pacheco, is behind the group of children, to the right. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Students in the hamlet of Punta Frijol on the northern coast of Honduras welcome this IPS reporter visiting this remote area to learn about their e-learning programme aimed at bringing down the teen pregnancy rate. The teacher at the one-room rural schoolhouse, Julissa Esther Pacheco, is behind the group of children, to the right. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Pacheco says the children have been very open to the programme “and are motivated because they know life isn’t all peaches and cream.”

Eight-year-old Javier Alexander Ramos told IPS: “I’m in fourth grade and I like this idea because we’re going to learn by using games, and girls won’t get pregnant or fall in love so young.”

His remarks drew laughter from his fellow students and the parents who had gathered at the school to tell IPS about their expectations for the project, in a demonstration of the importance that local residents put on telling their story, and of their support for the initiative.

Javier said he dreams of a country that is “better educated, in peace and safe, like Plan Grande. I would like to be a congressman when I grow up, to help in so many ways here, and that’s why I like to study. I enjoy learning how to use the computer because although we don’t have our own computers we learn with the ones in the school, which we all share.”

Because of Plan Grande’s location, some 400 km from the capital of Honduras on the Caribbean coast, and only reachable by boat, there are few educational opportunities and locals depend on fishing and subsistence agriculture for a living, while some move away or find seasonal work elsewhere.

Teen pregnancy is frequent in the municipality of Santa Fe, which includes three villages and nine hamlets.

According to Health Ministry and United Nations figures, Honduras has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in Latin America: one out of four adolescents between the ages of 15 and 19 have given birth.

The birth rate is 108 per 1,000 teenagers in that age group, according to official statistics.

To support the transformation that Cinthia has begun to bring about, Santa Fe Mayor Ruíz came to Plan Grande in September to lay the first stone in what will be a computer lab for the e-learning platform, set to open in January 2016.

“These are very neglected communities, but what they are doing in Plan Grande deserves support; the computer lab will have Internet and other appropriate technologies because we want adolescent girls to one day say: today I’m ready to be a mother,” he told IPS.

Cinthia broke in to say: “Young people here are losing their fear of expressing ourselves, and with this platform we’re going to teach them how to take care of themselves, and how to use the social networks.

“When the SGP proposed this idea, I was the first to say yes because they helped us before to bring electricity, they taught us the importance of nature, and now they’re going to help us educate people so our dreams as young people aren’t cut short at such a young age,” she said.

This remote village of poor fishing families on Honduras’ Caribbean coast has become a national reference point for community-run, clean self-sustainable energy.

And now they want to become an example to be followed in the prevention of teen pregnancy, led by a 16-year-old girl who has also launched a campaign for donations to her village of computers, whether new or used – because she has learned how to fix them as well.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Honduran Fishing Village Says Adios to Candles and Dirty Energyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/honduran-fishing-village-says-adios-to-candles-and-dirty-energy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=honduran-fishing-village-says-adios-to-candles-and-dirty-energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/honduran-fishing-village-says-adios-to-candles-and-dirty-energy/#comments Thu, 01 Oct 2015 21:28:07 +0000 Thelma Mejia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142574 View from the Caribbean sea of the village of Plan Grande in the northern Honduran department of Colón. The isolated fishing community, which can only be reached after a 20-minute motorboat ride, is a 10-hour drive on difficult roads away from Tegucigalpa, and has become an example of sustainable energy management. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

View from the Caribbean sea of the village of Plan Grande in the northern Honduran department of Colón. The isolated fishing community, which can only be reached after a 20-minute motorboat ride, is a 10-hour drive on difficult roads away from Tegucigalpa, and has become an example of sustainable energy management. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

By Thelma Mejía
PLAN GRANDE, Honduras, Oct 1 2015 (IPS)

A small fishing village on the Caribbean coast of Honduras has become an example to be followed in renewable energies, after replacing candles and dirty costly energy based on fossil fuels with hydropower from a mini-dam, while reforesting the river basin.

They now have round-the-clock electric power, compared to just three hours a week in the past.

The community, Plan Grande, is in the municipality of Santa Fe in the northern department of Colón, and can only be reached by sea, after a 10-hour, 400-km drive from Tegucigalpa on difficult roads to the village of Río Coco on the Caribbean coast.

From Río Coco you take a motorboat the next morning, which takes 20 minutes to reach Plan Grande.

It’s 6:00 AM and the sun has started to come up. The sea is calm and the conditions are good, say the motorboat operators, who add that manatees used to be found in these waters but have since disappeared, which they blame on the damage caused to the environment.

Plan Grande, a village of 500 people, is at the foot of steep slopes, along the Caribbean coast.

On the boat ride to the village, seagulls can be seen flying in the distance as the fishermen return in their cayucos (dugout canoes) and small boats after fishing all night at sea. Others take jobs on larger fishing boats, which keeps them away from home for eight months at a stretch.

Fishing and farming are the only sources of work in the village, which makes electricity all the more important: in the past, because they couldn’t refrigerate their catch, they had to sell it quickly, at low prices.

“There was very little room for negotiating prices, and we would lose out,” community leader Óscar Padilla, the driving force behind the changes in Plan Grande, told IPS.

The village finally got electricity for the first time in 2004, thanks to development aid from Spain. But it was thermal energy, and for just three hours a week of public lighting they paid between 13 and 17 dollars a month per dwelling.

Óscar Padilla, a community leader in Plan Grande who was the main driving force behind the initiative that finally brought round-the-clock energy to the village, in the 21st century. Sustainable management of renewable energy, based on a plan marked by solidarity, has transformed this fishing village in Honduras’ northern Caribbean region. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Óscar Padilla, a community leader in Plan Grande who was the main driving force behind the initiative that finally brought round-the-clock energy to the village, in the 21st century. Sustainable management of renewable energy, based on a plan marked by solidarity, has transformed this fishing village in Honduras’ northern Caribbean region. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

“We couldn’t afford anything more than street lamps – no electricity for TV and no refrigerator, because the costs would skyrocket. We couldn’t keep things on ice for long, and our dairy products and meat would spoil,” said Padilla, 65.

But in 2011 the people of Plan Grande opted for hydropower after a visit by technicians from the Small Grants Programme (SGP), implemented by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), who suggested a small community-owned hydroelectric plant.

The entire community got involved and designed their own project for renewable energy and sustainability. With 30,000 dollars from the SGP and aid from Germany’s International Cooperation Agency (GIZ) and the Honduran Foundation for Agricultural Research (FHIA), a round-the-clock power supply became possible and Plan Grande left candles and dirty energy based on fossil fuels in the past.

“Our lives have changed – we now have electricity 24 hours a day and we can have a refrigerator, a freezer, a fan, and even a TV set – although we have to use the energy rationally and respect the limits and controls that we set for ourselves,” another local resident, Edgardo Padilla, told IPS.

“If we’re not careful, demand for power will soar, which would create problems for us again,” said the 33-year-old fisherman, who is responsible for running the energy supply from the micro-hydroelectric power station.

Edgardo Padilla, who administers the use of the small hydroelectric dam, explains how the process works and the rules the community has established to ensure rational use and distribution of electricity in Plan Grande, a fishing village on the Caribbean coast of Honduras. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Edgardo Padilla, who administers the use of the small hydroelectric dam, explains how the process works and the rules the community has established to ensure rational use and distribution of electricity in Plan Grande, a fishing village on the Caribbean coast of Honduras. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

The rules and schedules set by the villagers to optimise and ration energy use include specific times for watching soap operas, turn on freezers, or use fans. For example, freezers are turned on from 10 PM to 6 AM, which is the time of lowest consumption, he said.

“For now, air conditioning is not allowed because it uses so much electricity, and light bulbs and freezers have to be the energy efficient kind,” said Edgardo Padilla, who added that they also focus on transparency and accountability in their energy policy.

The change in the source of energy has brought huge advantages. “We used to pay 360 lempiras (17 dollars) for three hours a week; now we pay 100 lempiras (four dollars) for a round-the-clock power supply,” he said.

The villagers also set a sliding pay scale. Families who have a refrigerator, fan, TV set, computer and freezer pay 11 dollars a month; those who have only a fan and a TV set pay six dollars; and families who just have light bulbs or lamps pay just four dollars.

The Plan Grande mini dam is 2.5 km from the centre of the village, along footpaths through a 300-hectare forest that runs along the Matías river, which provides them with electricity. The plant generates 16.5 kilowatt-hours (kWh).

The villagers also developed a conservation plan to preserve their water sources and installed cameras to monitor illegal logging and to identify the local fauna.

Belkys García is in charge of the Plan Grande nursery, where seedlings are grown to reforest the Matías river basin, which provides hydropower for the village, and to grow fruit and timber trees to generate incomes for this isolated fishing village in Honduras’ northern Caribbean region. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Belkys García is in charge of the Plan Grande nursery, where seedlings are grown to reforest the Matías river basin, which provides hydropower for the village, and to grow fruit and timber trees to generate incomes for this isolated fishing village in Honduras’ northern Caribbean region. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Belkys García runs a nursery created a year ago to grow trees such as pine, which can be used for timber, in order to reforest and keep the area green. She organises maintenance and reforestation crews, which all villagers take part in.

“If someone doesn’t come on the day they were scheduled to do clean-up and maintenance of the nursery or the streets and paths that lead to the dam, they have to pay for that day of missed work,” García, 27, told IPS while watering seedlings.

“We organise ourselves, and using the nursery we also want to become entrepreneurs in other income-generating areas, such as growing rambutan (Nephelium lappaceum),” said García.

The local population is of mixed-race heritage. The municipality of Santa Fe is mainly Garifuna – descendants of African slaves who intermarried with members of the indigenous Carib tribe. The mayor of Santa Fe, Noel Ruíz of the Garifuna community, is proud of the village. “It is a model at the national level for the good use of clean energy,” he told IPS.

“It’s worth investing here; this is a committed community and its leaders know about accountability, believe in transparency and love nature, three things that you can’t find easily,” said the 44-year-old mayor, who was reelected to a second term.

“These people are happy because while the country has energy problems, they don’t; they have understood that there is a correlation between conservation of nature and well-being for the community,” added Ruíz, an agronomist.

Energy demand in this country of 8.8 million people is estimated at 1,375 MW. Sixty percent of that is generated by the national power utility, ENEE, and the rest comes from private companies or is imported by means of interconnection with other Central American nations.

Energy in Honduras comes from four sources: thermal, hydropower, wind and biomass. In 2010, 70 percent came from thermal power stations, and 30 percent from renewable sources. But since 2013, that has changed, and thermal energy now represents 51 percent of the total, while the rest comes from renewables.

The village of Plan Grande is now an example of the rational use and conservation of renewable energy.

Thanks to the new power supply this isolated community now has its own bakery.

“As a little girl I would imagine that one day I would trade my candle for a lamp. Things have really changed for us!” a 55-year-old local resident, Julia Baños, told IPS.

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Antofagasta Mining Region Reflects Chile’s Inequalityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/antofagasta-mining-region-reflects-chiles-inequality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=antofagasta-mining-region-reflects-chiles-inequality http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/antofagasta-mining-region-reflects-chiles-inequality/#comments Fri, 11 Sep 2015 15:52:42 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142349 In the city of Calama, the so-called mining capital of Chile in the northern region of Antofagasta, the marked social contrasts are reflected by the proximity of affluent neighbourhoods of modern homes next to shantytowns of tumbledown wooden huts. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

In the city of Calama, the so-called mining capital of Chile in the northern region of Antofagasta, the marked social contrasts are reflected by the proximity of affluent neighbourhoods of modern homes next to shantytowns of tumbledown wooden huts. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
CALAMA, Chile, Sep 11 2015 (IPS)

The inhabitants of the northern Chilean mining region of Antofagasta have the highest per capita income in the country. But some 4,000 local families continue to live in slums – a reflection of one of the most marked situations of inequality in this country.

“The contrasts in this region are enormous. The miners earn a lot of money, their wages are really high. It’s common to see enormous houses, and hovels just a few metres away,” said Jaime Meza, who lives in the city of Calama.

In the municipality of Calama, where the city is located, there are 37 mining operations. One of them is the Chuquicamata mine, the world’s biggest open-pit copper mine.

The region of Antofagasta has the highest GDP per capita the country, the highest level of economic growth, and the best conditions for achieving development, according to a study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Official figures indicate that this region of 625,000 people has an average per capita income of 37,205 dollars a year, nearly eight times the average per capita income of the southern region of Araucanía, which is just 4,500 dollars.

The national average in this country of 17.6 million people is 23,165 dollars.

However, 45,000 people are living in poverty in Antofagasta, including 4,000 in extreme poverty.

In the region, some 4,000 families, representing thousands of people, live in 42 slums.

The city of Calama, known as the “mining capital of Chile”, which calls itself the oasis of the Atacama desert, is located 2,250 metres above sea level, some 240 km from Antofagasta, the regional capital, and 1,380 km north of Santiago.

The city is home to 150,000 people, although the floating population of workers attracted by the mines drives the total up to over 200,000.

In the municipality of Calama, which covers an area of 15,600 sq km, are located four of the eight mines belonging to the state-run copper company, CODELCO, which has majority ownership of the industry and is the world’s biggest copper producer.

The city of Calama describes itself as an oasis hidden in the middle of the Atacama desert, the driest place in the world. It is also a strategic hub of mining in the region of Antofagasta in northern Chile, where copper mining is the main economic activity. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The city of Calama describes itself as an oasis hidden in the middle of the Atacama desert, the driest place in the world. It is also a strategic hub of mining in the region of Antofagasta in northern Chile, where copper mining is the main economic activity. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

A large part of the 57,000 immigrants living in the region, which borders Argentina and Bolivia and is not far from Peru, are in Calama, drawn by the mining industry.

The mix of nationalities can be seen on a day-to-day basis, such as in the waiting room at a public hospital.

“This is definitely a multicultural city,” Dr. Rodrigo Meza at the Doctor Carlos Cisternas de Calama hospital told IPS. “Of all the births at our hospital, 40 percent are to immigrant women.”

In a short tour of the run-down centre of Calama, which stands in sharp contrast to the better-off parts of the city, visitors run into immigrants from Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.

“It’s harder to find a Chilean than a foreigner on these streets,” said Sandra from Colombia, in downtown Calama.

The foreign labour force is mainly engaged in domestic service, in the case of women, and in professional and technical jobs or manual labour in mining or construction, in the case of men.

A significant number of immigrant women are also involved in prostitution, traditionally a service in high demand in mining towns, where there are many men on their own.

Meanwhile, the profits raked in by the Calama casino grow around 10 percent a year, and the city’s commercial centre receives over 10 million visitors a year.

“A miner with little experience can start out earning nearly one million pesos (some 1,500 dollars) a month, and the wages just go up from there,” Jaime Meza told IPS. He works in a company that provides consulting services in social responsibility to mining companies, which leads him to constantly visit the mines.

But life in this city is expensive. One kilo of bread, a staple of the Chilean diet, costs over two dollars, and typical housing for a middle-class family costs 150,000 dollars. But “there is money and people willing to pay,” a local shopkeeper told IPS.

By contrast, the minimum wage in Chile is just 350 dollars a month, and many immigrants in Calama earn only half that, since they work without any formal job contract or social security coverage.

The inequality is put on display when the mining companies pay their workers special bonuses at the end of each collective bargaining session.

The bonuses are worth thousands of dollars and local businesses simultaneously launch special sales to draw in customers.

“The contrasts in this city are tremendous. The miners line up every Friday to withdraw money and go out carousing, spending it on women and alcohol,” taxi driver Francisco Muñoz told IPS.

“The differences are very extreme,” added Muñoz, who was born in Calama and has lived here all his life.

The taxi driver said the situation got worse about seven years ago, when CODELCO decided to move the Chuquicamata mining settlement from its spot 15 km from Calama to the city itself.

Some 3,200 families were the last to be moved from the installations where the CODELCO workers lived in comfort with all the modern amenities.

The miners moved directly to homes built for them, which defined zoning in the city: to the east, the new upscale CODELCO housing, and to the west and the north, the poorer parts of town.

“The miners bought these houses at preferential prices, and CODELCO gave them a bonus so they could easily afford them. But now they are selling them at exorbitant prices. It’s almost inconceivable to think of buying a house in Calama. An ordinary person can only afford (subsidised) state housing, never one of the houses they are selling,” Meza said.

The inequality in mineral-rich Calama led in 2009 to a wave of protests demanding that the municipality receive five percent of the revenue brought in by copper, the country’s main source of wealth.

In 2014 alone, Chile produced 5.7 million tons of copper – 31.2 percent of global output.

The protests over the longstanding neglect of the municipality continue to this day, under the slogan “What would Chile be without Calama?”

The demonstrations, the latest of which took place on Aug. 27, are “a predictable outburst,” in the view of anthropologist Juan Carlos Skewes.

“That’s good, because what big outburst do is broaden the avenues of participation,” he told IPS.

He added that the protests will undoubtedly continue as long as there is no concrete response to the demands for more equitable distribution of mining profits in Chile – of which Calama sees very little, even though the mines are in its territory.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Women Revolutionise Waste Management on Nicaraguan Islandhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/women-revolutionise-waste-management-on-nicaraguan-island/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-revolutionise-waste-management-on-nicaraguan-island http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/women-revolutionise-waste-management-on-nicaraguan-island/#comments Mon, 07 Sep 2015 20:29:48 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142301 Women from the community of Balgüe working with waste materials donated to the Association of Women Recyclers of Altagracia on the island of Ometepe in Nicaragua. Credit: Karin Paladino/IPS

Women from the community of Balgüe working with waste materials donated to the Association of Women Recyclers of Altagracia on the island of Ometepe in Nicaragua. Credit: Karin Paladino/IPS

By José Adán Silva
ALTAGRACIA, Nicaragua, Sep 7 2015 (IPS)

A group of poor women from Ometepe, a beautiful tropical island in the centre of Lake Nicaragua, decided to dedicate themselves to recycling garbage as part of an initiative that did not bring the hoped-for economic results but inspired the entire community to keep this biosphere reserve clean.

It all began in 2007. María del Rosario Gutiérrez remembers her initial interest was piqued when she saw people who scavenged for waste in Managua’s garbage dumps fighting over the contents of bags full of plastic bottles, glass and metal.

How much could garbage be worth for people to actually hurt each other over it? she wondered. She was living in extreme poverty, raising her two children on her own with what she grew on a small piece of communal land in the municipality of Altagracia, and the little she earned doing casual work.

Gutiérrez talked to a neighbour, who told her that in Moyogalpa, the other town on the island, there was an office that bought scrap metal, glass and plastic bottles.

The two women checked around and found in their community a person who bought waste material from local hotels, washed it and sold it to Managua for recycling.

So Gutiérrez, who is now 30 years old, got involved in her new activity: every day she walked long distances with a bag over her shoulder, picking up recyclable waste around the island.

Her neighbour and other poor, unemployed women started to go with her. Then they began to go out on bicycles to pick up garbage along the roads tossed out by tourists, selling the materials to a middleman.

“It wasn’t a lot of money, but it was enough to put food on our tables. And since we didn’t have jobs, it didn’t matter to us how much time it took, although the work was really exhausting at first,” Gutiérrez told IPS.

María del Rosario Gutiérrez (centre), with her daughter María and another member of the Association of Women Recyclers of Altagracia, Francis Socorro Hernández, rest after a day collecting and processing garbage on the island of Ometepe, in Nicaragua. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

María del Rosario Gutiérrez (centre), with her daughter María and another member of the Association of Women Recyclers of Altagracia, Francis Socorro Hernández, rest after a day collecting and processing garbage on the island of Ometepe, in Nicaragua. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

Women filling enormous bags with scraps of trash have now become a common sight along the streets on the island.

Seeds of change

Miriam Potoy, with the Fundación entre Volcanes, said her non-governmental organisation decided to support women who were scavenging for a living, starting with a group in Moyogalpa.

“We initially helped them with safety and hygiene equipment, then with training on waste handling and treatment and the diversified use of garbage, so they could sell it as well as learn how to make crafts using the materials collected, to sell them to tourists and earn an extra income,” she told IPS.

Impressed by the women’s efforts, other institutions decided to support them as well.

The Altagracia city government gave them a place to collect, classify and sort the waste, tourism businesses that previously separated their garbage to sell recyclable materials decided to donate them to the women, and food and services companies provided equipment and assistance.

Solidarity and cooperation with the group grew to the point that the city government obtained funds to pay the women nearly two dollars a day for a time, and provide them with free transportation to take their materials to the wharf, where they were shipped to the city of Rivas. From there, the shipments go by road to Managua, 120 km away.

“The community appreciates the women’s work not only because they help keep the island clean, which has clearly improved its image for tourists, but also because they have showed a strong desire to improve their own lives and their families’ incomes,” said Potoy.

And they have done this “by means of a non-traditional activity, which broke down the stereotype of the role women have traditionally played in these remote rural communities,” she said.

Francis Socorro Hernández, another woman from the first batch of recyclers, told IPS that at the start “it was embarrassing for people to see us picking up garbage.”

But she said that after taking workshops on gender issues, administration of micro-businesses, and the environment, “I realised I was doing something important, and that it was worse to live in a polluted environment, resigned to my poverty – and I stopped feeling ashamed.”

The Concepción volcano, one of the two that are found on the island of Ometepe in the middle of Lake Nicaragua, seen from the port of San Jorge in the western department or province of Rivas. Credit: Karin Paladino/IPS

The Concepción volcano, one of the two that are found on the island of Ometepe in the middle of Lake Nicaragua, seen from the port of San Jorge in the western department or province of Rivas. Credit: Karin Paladino/IPS

Their work also inspired other initiatives. For example, Karen Paladino, originally from Germany but now a Nicaraguan national, is the director of the community organisation Environmental Education Ometepe, which works with children and young people on the island in environmental awareness-raising campaigns.

When Paladino learned about the work of the recyclers, she got students and teachers in local schools to support their cause, organising clean-up days to collect waste which is donated to the women’s garbage collection and classification centre.

Ometepe is a 276-sq-km natural island paradise in the middle of the 8,624-km Lake Nicaragua or Cocibolca, in the west of this Central American nation of 6.1 million people.

Not everything is peaches and cream

Of the 10 women who started the collective – now the Association of Women Recyclers of Altagracia – six are left.

They continue to scavenge for recyclable waste material, removing it from the island and shipping it to Managua, where it is sold. They make enough for their families to scrape by.

Gutiérrez said the mission has been difficult because of the high cost of transport, the job insecurity, and the scant financing they have found.

“We have always had support, thank God; the city government supported us, some hotels have too, people from the European Union gave us funds for improving the conditions of the landfill,” she said.

“But we need more funds, to be able to collect and transport the material, process it, and remove it from the island,” she added.

Students and mothers from a school in the city of Altagracia make wastepaper bins using disposable bottles. It is one of the numerous recycling initiatives that have emerged on the island of Ometepe in Nicaragua, inspired by a group of women who organised to collect and process garbage. Credit: Karin Paladino/IPS

Students and mothers from a school in the city of Altagracia make wastepaper bins using disposable bottles. It is one of the numerous recycling initiatives that have emerged on the island of Ometepe in Nicaragua, inspired by a group of women who organised to collect and process garbage. Credit: Karin Paladino/IPS

With backing from the EU, the city government of Moyogalpa was able to improve the garbage dumps of the island’s two municipalities. Now there are large sheds in both dumps, where organic material is treated, as well as containers for producing organic compost using worms, and rainwater collection tanks.

The two municipalities also gave the recyclers plots of land for growing their own vegetables and grains for their families.

But the efforts and the solidarity were not sufficient to keep some of the women from dropping out.

As global oil prices plunged, the value of waste products also dropped, and profits did the same, which discouraged some of the women who went back to what they used to do: combining farm work with domestic service.

“I was really committed to the work of collecting garbage, but all of a sudden I felt that the project wasn’t doing well and I needed to feed my family, so I went with my husband to plant beans and vegetables to earn a better income,” María, one of the former members, told IPS.

“But I still collect waste products anyway, and although I’m not participating anymore, I donate them to my former mates in the collective,” said María, who did not give her last name.

But while some of the women dropped out, others joined. “The waste keeps pouring in, and support for our work is going to grow. Our families back us and we are enthusiastic,” one of the new women, Eveling Urtecho, told IPS.

With Gutiérrez’s leadership, backing from the city government, and renewed assistance from the EU, the women are confident that their incomes and working conditions will soon improve.

Ometepe – which means ‘two mountains’ in the Nahuatl tongue – is visited by an average of 50,000 tourists a year, and at least 10 million tons of plastic enter the island annually, according to figures from local environmental groups.

The association of Altagracia gathers between 1,000 and 1,200 kg of plastic a month, and their counterparts in Moyogalpa collect a similar amount.

Until the women launched their revolution, most of the waste in Ometepe ended up strewn about on the streets, in rivers and in backyards, or was burnt in huge piles. When it rained, the water would wash the refuse into the lake.

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons

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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The Future Tastes Like Chocolate for Rural Salvadoran Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/the-future-tastes-like-chocolate-for-some-rural-salvadoran-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-future-tastes-like-chocolate-for-some-rural-salvadoran-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/the-future-tastes-like-chocolate-for-some-rural-salvadoran-women/#comments Thu, 20 Aug 2015 17:30:36 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142066 The hands of Idalia Ramón care for the cacao beans produced in the town of Caluco in western El Salvador. She and a group of women transform the beans into hand-made chocolate, in an ecological process that is taking off in this Central American country thanks to the national project Alianza Cacao, aimed at reviving the cultivation of cacao and improving the future of 10,000 small farming families. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

The hands of Idalia Ramón care for the cacao beans produced in the town of Caluco in western El Salvador. She and a group of women transform the beans into hand-made chocolate, in an ecological process that is taking off in this Central American country thanks to the national project Alianza Cacao, aimed at reviving the cultivation of cacao and improving the future of 10,000 small farming families. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
CALUCO/MERCEDES UMAÑA, El Salvador, Aug 20 2015 (IPS)

Idalia Ramón and 10 other rural Salvadoran women take portions of the freshly ground chocolate paste, weigh it, and make chocolates in the shapes of stars, rectangles or bells before packaging them for sale.

“This is a completely new source of work for us, we didn’t know anything about cacao or chocolate,” Ramón tells IPS. Before this, the 38-year-old widow was barely able to support her three children – ages 11, 13 and 15 – selling corn tortillas, a staple of the Central American and Mexican diet.

She is one of the women taking part in chocolate production in Caluco, a town of 10,000 in the department or province of Sonsonate in western El Salvador, in the context of a project that forms part of a national effort to revive cacao production.

“Now I have extra income; we can see the advantages that cacao brings to our communities,” she said.“On one hand this is about reviving the age-old cultivation of a product that is rooted in our culture, and on the other it’s about boosting economic and social development in our communities.” -- María de los Ángeles Escobar

She and the rest of the women work at what they call the “processing centre”, which they put a lot of work into setting up. Here they turn the cacao beans into hand-made organic chocolates.

Since December, the effort to revive cacao production has taken shape in the Alianza Cacao El Salvador cacao alliance, which has brought together cooperatives and farmers from different regions, including these women who have become experts in making artisan chocolate.

The paste that comes out of the grinder is given different shapes, most frequently round bars. Dissolved in boiling water, the chocolate is used to make one of El Salvador’s favorite beverages.

Over the next five years, the Alianza Cacao aims to generate incomes for 10,000 cacao growing families in 87 of the country’s 262 municipalities, with 10,000 hectares planted in the crop. The idea is to generate some 27,000 direct and indirect jobs.

“The project is helping us to overcome the difficult economic situation, and to increase our production, thus improving incomes,” another local farmer, 33-year-old María Alas, tells IPS as she deftly forms hand-made chocolates in different shapes.

The Alianza Cacao has received 25 million dollars – 20 million from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.S.-based Howard G. Buffett Foundation, and the rest from local sources.

Four of the women who make chocolate in the community processing centre in Caluco, a town in western El Salvador, check the paste that comes out of the grinder before making organic chocolate bars and chocolates of different shapes. They are part of the Alianza Cacao project which is aimed at reviving the production of cacao, once a key element of this country’s history, culture and economy, but which was abandoned. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Four of the women who make chocolate in the community processing centre in Caluco, a town in western El Salvador, check the paste that comes out of the grinder before making organic chocolate bars and chocolates of different shapes. They are part of the Alianza Cacao project which is aimed at reviving the production of cacao, once a key element of this country’s history, culture and economy, but which was abandoned. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

In the pre-Columbian era, cacao beans were used as currency in Central America and southern Mexico, and later they were used to pay tribute to the Spanish crown.

Although cacao plantations practically disappeared in modern-day El Salvador due to pest and disease outbreaks, hot chocolate remained a popular traditional drink, and for that purpose cacao was imported from neighbouring Honduras and Nicaragua.

“On one hand this is about reviving the age-old cultivation of a product that is rooted in our culture, and on the other it’s about boosting economic and social development in our communities,” María de los Ángeles Escobar, director of the Casa de la Cultura or cultural centre in Caluco, told IPS.

The idea emerged as an alternative to mitigate the impact of coffee rust or roya, caused by the hemileia vastatrix fungus, which has affected 21 percent of coffee plants in the country, according to official estimates, and has reduced rural employment and incomes.

In El Salvador, 38 percent of the population of 6.2 million lives in rural areas. And according to the World Bank, 36 percent of rural inhabitants were living in poverty in 2013. This vulnerability was aggravated by the impact of coffee rust and the effects on corn and bean production of drought caused by El Niño – a cyclical climate phenomenon that affects weather patterns around the world – which has hurt 400,000 small farmers.

Caluco and four other municipalities in Sonsonate – areas in western El Salvador with a large indigenous presence – have joined the project: San Antonio del Monte, Nahuilingo, Izalco and Nahuizalco.

Farmers in the five municipalities – including the women interviewed in Caluco – set up the Asociación Cooperativa de Producción Agropecuaria Cacao Los Izalcos cacao cooperative, in order to join forces at each stage of the production chain.

Cacao growers, mainly women, during a training session on how to make organic fertiliser to enrich the soil on their land in San Simón, a village in the municipality of Mercedes Umaña in the eastern Salvadoran department of Usulután. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Cacao growers, mainly women, during a training session on how to make organic fertiliser to enrich the soil on their land in San Simón, a village in the municipality of Mercedes Umaña in the eastern Salvadoran department of Usulután. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

The cooperative has 111 hectares of cacao trees. Because they need shade to grow, the farmers plant them alongside fruit and timber trees.

In the first few months after it was formed, the Alianza Cacao focused on growing seedlings in nurseries that the members began to plant on their farms. The trees start to bear fruit when they are three or four years old.

But in Caluco local farmers are already making chocolate, because there were cacao producers in the municipality, who used locally-grown cacao along with imported beans to produce chocolate. In fact, Caluco was historically inhabited by Pilpil indigenous people, whose cacao was famous in colonial times.

“We hope that next year our production level will be higher; output today is low, because things are just getting started,” the vice president of the Asociación Cooperativa de Producción Agropecuaria Cacao Los Izalcos cooperative, Raquel Santos, tells IPS.

When the cooperative’s production peaks, it hopes to produce 500 kg a month of cacao, Artiga said.

Although for now the chocolate they produce is all hand-made, the members of the cooperative plan in the future to make chocolate bars on a more industrial scale. But that will depend on their initial success.

Since the cooperative was founded, the aim has been for women’s participation to be decisive in the local development of cacao production.

The Caluco Local Cacao Committee is made up of 29 male farmers and 25 women who process the beans and produce chocolate. They have a nursery and have built the first collection centre for locally produced cacao.

In the nursery, students from the local school are taught planting techniques and the importance of cacao in their history, culture and, now, economy.

Miriam Bermúdez, one of the rural women who joined the project to grow cacao in San Simón, a village in the eastern Salvadoran municipality of Mercedes Umaña, outside the Vivero La Colmena, the nursery where the 25,000 cacao seedlings to be planted on 25 hectares belonging to the participants in the initiative are grown. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Miriam Bermúdez, one of the rural women who joined the project to grow cacao in San Simón, a village in the eastern Salvadoran municipality of Mercedes Umaña, outside the Vivero La Colmena, the nursery where the 25,000 cacao seedlings to be planted on 25 hectares belonging to the participants in the initiative are grown. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

On the other side of the country, in the eastern department of Usulután, 52-year-old Miriam Bermúdez is one of the most enthusiastic participants in the Vivero La Colmena community nursery project. She managed to convince other people in her home village, San Simón in the municipality of Mercedes Umaña, to join the Alianza Cacao.

“I used to drink chocolate without even knowing what tree it came from. But now I have learned a lot about the production process,” Bermúdez tells IPS during a break in the training that she and a group of men and women farmers are receiving about producing organic fertiliser.

The pesticide-free fertiliser will nourish the soil where the cacao trees are planted.

There are 25,000 seedlings in the nursery, enough to cover 25 hectares of land on local farms with cacao trees. The project also has an irrigation system, to avoid the effects of periodic drought.

While the seedlings grow big enough to plant, the farmers of Mercedes Umaña are deciding which fruit and timber trees to grow alongside the cacao trees for shade. These trees will also generate incomes, or already do so in some cases.

Bermúdez, on her .7 hectare-farm, has planted plantain and banana trees, as well as a variety of vegetables, to boost her food security.

“When the vegetable truck comes by I never buy anything because I get everything I need from my garden,” she says proudly.

Her 16-year-old granddaughter Esmeralda Bermúdez has decided to follow in her grandmother’s footsteps and participates actively in the different tasks involved in cacao production in her community.

“I really like learning new things, like preparing the soil or making organic compost,” she told IPS after the training session.

In Usulután, besides the municipality of Mercedes Umaña, cacao production has extended to the towns of Jiquilisco, San Dionisio, Jucuarán, Jucuapa, California, Alegría, Berlín and Nueva Granada. In each municipality there is a nursery of cacao tree seedlings run by 25 families.

That is another important component of the Alianza Cacao: the final product has to be high-quality and organic, because the goal is to promote sustainable development. Planting cacao trees is an ecological activity in and of itself, because it creates forests, when the cacao trees are full-grown.

“It’s very important for the farmers to know that their plantations can be managed ecologically, for the good of the environment, and also because the product fetches a better price,” Griselda Alvarenga, an adviser to the project, tells IPS.

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Indigenous People in Brazil’s Amazon – Crushed by the Belo Monte Dam?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/indigenous-people-in-brazils-amazon-crushed-by-the-belo-monte-dam/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-people-in-brazils-amazon-crushed-by-the-belo-monte-dam http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/indigenous-people-in-brazils-amazon-crushed-by-the-belo-monte-dam/#comments Thu, 16 Jul 2015 21:57:33 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141614 The school in the Juruna indigenous village of Paquiçamba on the banks of the Volta Grande (Big Bend) of the Xingú River in Brazil’s Amazon jungle, which will not be flooded but will see the water flow considerably reduced due to the construction of the Belo Monte hydropower dam. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The school in the Juruna indigenous village of Paquiçamba on the banks of the Volta Grande (Big Bend) of the Xingú River in Brazil’s Amazon jungle, which will not be flooded but will see the water flow considerably reduced due to the construction of the Belo Monte hydropower dam. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
ALTAMIRA, Brazil, Jul 16 2015 (IPS)

Ethnocide, the new accusation leveled against the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, brings to light deeper underlying aspects of the conflicts and controversies unleashed by megaprojects in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest.

Federal prosecutor Thais Santi announced that legal action would be taken “in the next few weeks” against Norte Energía, the company building the dam, on the argument that its initiatives to squelch indigenous resistance amount to ethnocide.

“This will be an innovative legal process in Brazil,” said Wilson Matos da Silva, who has a direct interest in this “pioneer legal proceeding” as a Guaraní indigenous lawyer who has written about the issue in publications in Dourados, the city in western Brazil where he lives.

“Brazil has no legislation on ethnocide, a neologism used as an analogy to genocide, which is classified by a 1956 law,” said the defender of indigenous causes. “The object of the crime isn’t life, it is culture – but the objective is the same: destroying a people.

“Ethnocide only occurs when there is omission on the part of the state, which means it can be implicated in an eventual lawsuit,” added Matos da Silva.

The issue has been debated for some time now, especially among anthropologists, in international forums and courts. The novel development in Brazil is that it will now reach the courts, “a laudable initiative” that could set an important legal precedent, the lawyer said in a telephone interview with Tierramérica.

Belo Monte has been the target of numerous complaints and lawsuits that sought to halt the construction process. The company has been accused of failing to live up to the measures required by the government’s environmental authority to mitigate or compensate for impacts caused by the hydropower complex on the Xingú River which will generate 11,233 MW, making it the third –largest of its kind in the world.

The 22 lawsuits brought by the public prosecutor’s office failed to halt work on the dam. But they managed to secure compliance with several environmental requisites, such as the purchase of land for the Juruna Indigenous Community of Kilometre 17 on the Trans-Amazonian highway, who were exposed to the bustle and chaos of the construction project because they lived in a small area near the dam.

Socorro Arara, an indigenous fisherwoman whose surname is the name of her indigenous community, is fighting to maintain the way of life of the seven family units in her extended family. The island where they live on the Xingú River will be flooded by the Belo Monte reservoir, and she is demanding another island or riverbank area for resettling her family. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Socorro Arara, an indigenous fisherwoman whose surname is the name of her indigenous community, is fighting to maintain the way of life of the seven family units in her extended family. The island where they live on the Xingú River will be flooded by the Belo Monte reservoir, and she is demanding another island or riverbank area for resettling her family. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

In a Jun. 29 report, the non-governmental Socioenvironmental Institute (ISA) said the conditions were not in place for the government to issue the final operating permit to allow Belo Monte to fill its reservoirs and begin generating electricity in early 2016.

ISA, which is active in the Xingú basin, said that many of the 40 initial requisites set before the concession was put up to tender in 2010, as well as the 31 conditions related to indigenous rights, have not yet been fulfilled.

Protection of indigenous territories is one of the conditions that have not been met, as reflected in the increase of illegal logging and poaching by outsiders, it said.

Norte Energía argues that it has invested 68 million dollars to benefit the roughly 3,000 people in 34 villages in the 11 indigenous territories in the Belo Monte zone of influence.

The programme aimed at providing social development in the local area has included the construction of 711 housing units and the donation of 366 boats, 578 boat motors, 42 land vehicles, 98 electrical generators, and 2.1 million litres of fuel and lubricants, as of April 2015.

In addition, teachers were trained as part of the indigenous education programme.

“But indigenous communities are unhappy because the plan was only partially carried out: of the 34 basic health units that were promised, not a single one is yet operating,” complained Francisco Brasil de Moraes, the coordinator for FUNAI – the government agency in charge of indigenous affairs – along the middle stretch of the Xingú River.

Nor is the project for productive activities, a local priority as it is aimed at enhancing food security and generating income, moving forward, he added. Technical assistance for improving agriculture is needed, and few of the 34 community manioc flour houses, where the staple food is processed and produced, are operating.

Another indispensable measure, the Indigenous Lands Protection Plan, which foresees the installation of operating centres and watch towers, has not been taken up by Norte Energía and “FUNAI does not have the resources to shoulder the burden of this territorial management,” Moraes told Tierramérica.

But the actions that prompted the accusation of ethnocide occurred, or started to occur, before the projects making up the Basic Environmental-Indigenous Component Plan were launched.

Part of what will be the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant’s turbine room in the northern Brazilian state of Pará – a mega-project which is 80 percent complete and will be finished in 2019. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Part of what will be the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant’s turbine room in the northern Brazilian state of Pará – a mega-project which is 80 percent complete and will be finished in 2019. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

For 24 months, up to September 2012, Norte Energia carried out an Emergency Plan, distributing donations of necessary goods to the 34 villages, at a monthly cost of 9,600 dollars per village.

That fuelled consumption of manufactured and processed foods such as soft drinks, which have hurt people’s health, increased child malnutrition, and undermined food security among the indigenous communities by encouraging the neglect of farming, fishing and hunting, the ISA report states.

“Norte Energía established a relationship with the indigenous people that involved coopting the only outspoken opponents of the dam, and making their leaders come frequently to the city (of Altamira) to ask for more and more things at the company headquarters,” Marcelo Salazar, ISA’s assistant coordinator in the Xingú River basin, told Tierramérica.

In addition, villages were divided and the authority of local leaders was weakened by the company’s activities in the area, according to the public prosecutor’s office.

But Norte Energía told Tierramérica in a written response from the press department that “the so-called Emergency Plan was proposed by FUNAI,” which also set the amount of monthly spending at 30,000 reals.

The funds went towards “the promotion of ethno-development,” and included the donation of farm equipment and materials, the construction of landing strips and the upgrading of 470 km of roads leading to the villages, the company said.

Strengthening FUNAI by hiring 23 officials on Norte Energía’s payroll and purchasing computers and vehicles was another of the Emergency Plan’s aims, the company reported.

But the emphasis on providing material goods such as boats, vehicles and infrastructure forms part of a business mindset that is irreconcilable with a sustainable development vision, say critics like Sonia Magalhães, a professor of sociology at the Federal University of Pará, who also accuses Belo Monte of ethnocide.

“Their culture has been attacked, a colonial practice whose objective is domination and the destruction of a culture, which is a complex and dynamic whole,” she told Tierramérica, referring to the Emergency Plan.

“The Xingú River forms part of the world vision of the Juruna and Arara Indians in a way that we are not able to understand – it is a reference to time, space and the sacred, which are under attack” from the construction of the dam, she said.

Indifferent to this debate, Giliard Juruna, a leader of a 16-family Juruna indigenous village, is visiting Altamira, the closest city to Belo Monte, with new requests.

“We got speedboats, a pickup truck and 15 houses for everyone,” he told Tierramérica. “But things run out, and it was very little compared to what is possible.”

“We also asked for speedboats for fishing, although the water is murky and dirty, we don’t have sanitation, we have schools but we don’t have bilingual teachers,” he said, adding that they were seeking “a sustainability project” involving fish farming, cacao and manioc production, a manioc flour house, and a truck.

“We have customers for our products, but we don’t have any means of transport, because we won’t be able to use boats anymore,” he said.

The diversion of part of the waters of the Xingú River to generate electricity in Belo Monte will significantly reduce the water flow at the Volta Grande or Big Bend, where his village is situated.

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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Zimbabwean Women Weave Their Own Beautiful Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/zimbabwean-women-weave-their-own-beautiful-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zimbabwean-women-weave-their-own-beautiful-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/zimbabwean-women-weave-their-own-beautiful-future/#comments Wed, 03 Jun 2015 17:49:17 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140954 Siduduzile Nyoni, a mother of three, busily completing one of her ilala palm products, which will be sold through a women’s cooperative in western Zimbabwe. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Siduduzile Nyoni, a mother of three, busily completing one of her ilala palm products, which will be sold through a women’s cooperative in western Zimbabwe. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Busani Bafana
LUPANE, Zimbabwe, Jun 3 2015 (IPS)

Seventy-seven-year-old Grace Ngwenya has an eye for detail. You will never catch her squinting as she effortlessly weaves ilala palm fronds into beautiful baskets.

“Working together as women has united us, and strengthened our community spirit.” -- Lisina Moyo, a member of the Lupane Women's Centre (LWC)
Her actions are swift and methodical as she twirls, straightens and tugs the long strands into a fine stitch. Periodically she pauses to dip the last three fingers of her right hand into a shallow tin of water that sits beside her, to wet the fibres and make them pliable.

Slowly, under the deft motion of her hands, a basket takes shape. She insists on attention to “detail, neatness and creativity.” Once she has decided on the shape and colour of her product, she will work for seven days straight to complete the task.

When she’s done, the basket will be inspected for quality, carefully packed up, and shipped off to its buyer who could be anywhere in the world from Germany to the United States. Her efforts earn her about 50 dollars a month – a small fortune in a place where women once counted it a blessing to earn even a few dollars in the course of several weeks.

Ngwenya lives in Shabula village in Ward 15 of Zimbabwe’s arid Lupane District, located in the Matabeleland North Province that occupies the western-most region of the country, 170 km from the nearest city of Bulawayo.

Home to about 90,000 people, this area is prone to droughts and has a harsh history of hunger.

Today, rural women are putting Lupane District on the map with an innovative basket-weaving enterprise that is earning them a decent wage, preserving an indigenous skill and enabling them to erect a barrier against extreme weather events by investing the profits of their creativity into sustainable farming.

Perfecting skills, preserving arts

It started small, when a group of women came together in 1997 to produce baskets and other crafts from local forest products and sell them along the Bulawayo-Victoria Falls road, a major tourist route.

In 2004, with the help of a Peace Corp volunteer, they establised the Lupane Women’s Centre (LWC) in order to streamline their production. At the time they had just 14 registered members.

A decade later they have grown their ranks to 3,638 members hailing from 28 wards in the district. Average earnings have increased from one dollar to 50 dollars a month, and this past May one of their number earned 700 dollars from the sale of her crafts.

For a community that was barely able to put three square meals on the table every day, this is a huge step towards a more wholesome life.

“Weaving has transformed my life, even in my old age,” Ngwenya tells IPS, pointing to a half-built residence not far from where she sits, busily threading away. In this impoverished village, the emerging two-roomed brick house is a veritable super-structure.

Grace Ngwenya, a skilled weaver from Zimbabwe’s Lupane District, deftly threads palm strands into a sturdy basket. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Grace Ngwenya, a skilled weaver from Zimbabwe’s Lupane District, deftly threads palm strands into a sturdy basket. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

“This year sales have been slow,” she says, “but God willing, my house should be complete by next year. I have already bought the windows and I will plaster and paint it myself.”

In addition to a dwelling place, her income has helped her buy a goat and erect a fence around her ‘keyhole’ garden, a popular farming method all across the African continent involving a keyhole-shaped vegetable bed with an active compost pile at its centre that feeds crops in the walled-in plot.

At a weaving competition last year she even won an ox-drawn plough and recently sunk more of her savings into the purchase of a heifer and some simple farm tools.

Considering that she joined the collective during a drought year back in 2008, she is forever grateful for her newfound wellbeing. And it is not just her own life that has changed.

Barely a stone’s throw away is the homestead of her sister Gladys, and her husband, Misheck Ngwenya. This cluster of huts is distinguished by solar lights attached to their thatched roofs, a luxury secured with the boons of Gladys’ basket sales.

“In the past I would go to my neighbours to ask for sugar,” Gladys Ngwenya recalls. “Not anymore.”

She tells IPS the women’s centre has helped her perfect her art by improving the dimensions and measurements of her craft work.

Beating hunger with baskets

It is no coincidence that these entrepreneurs sprang from the dry soil of Lupane District. The area is a farmer’s nightmare, yielding only drought-tolerant crops such as sorghum and finger millet and receiving inadequate rainfall – just 450-600 mm annually – to allow extensive maize cropping.

When the weather is bad, with long, dry spells, rural communities suffer badly.

Statistics from the Department of Agriculture and Extension Services indicate that Lupane experiences annual food shortages. In 2008, it had a food production deficit of more than 10,000 metric tonnes of grain, producing just over 3,000 tonnes of cereal against an estimated annual requirement of 13,900 metric tonnes.

The situation has not changed seven years later. In 2015, scores of people are at risk of hunger, with government data suggesting that only half of the region’s required 10,900 metric tonnes will be produced this year.

Families who practice subsistence agriculture will be forced to purchase food to make up for lower harvests, a situation that could leave many with no food at all given that income-generating opportunities are scarce.

Zimbabwe is this year importing 700,000 tonnes of the staple maize grain to cover a deficit following another bad agricultural season. The country requires 1.8 million tonnes of maize annually.

The Women’s Centre in Lupane is now tackling these twin problems – hunger and livelihoods – by helping craftswomen become breadwinners.

Hildegard Mufukare, who manages the Centre, tells IPS that putting women at the head of the household has created “peace in the home.”

“Women have bought assets from farm implements to cattle, they have taken up agricultural activities and are working together with the men to sustain their families.”

Applying a communal, grassroots approach to its management and upkeep, members contribute five dollars annually towards operational costs, accounting for 31 percent of the Centre’s required financing.

The remaining 59 percent comes from donors, including patron backers like the Liechtenstein Development Services (LED), but members say they plan to cultivate greater self-sufficiency by establishing and running a restaurant, conference centre and farm which will serve the dual purpose of providing more food and skills to the community.

As they grow their markets overseas, securing additional funding will not be difficult. Already members courier their wares to clients in the U.S., Germany, the Netherlands, Australia and Denmark.

Revenue from craft sales tripled over a two-year period, going from 10,000 dollars in 2012 to 32,000 dollars in 2014. The members keep the bulk of the profits while the Centre retains 15 percent to cover administration fees and government taxes.

The baskets are multi-functional, doubling up as waste bins or fruit bowls. The women are now toying with the idea of turning them into biodegradable coffins – to ensure sustainability even in their deaths.

Members of the Lupane Women’s Centre hope to market these ‘eco coffins’, biodegradable caskets made from local materials, to ensure their community is sustainable, even in death. Credit: Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Members of the Lupane Women’s Centre hope to market these ‘eco coffins’, biodegradable caskets made from local materials, to ensure their community is sustainable, even in death. Credit: Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

They are unsure how such an idea will be received, but their bold proposal suggests a commitment to holistic living that goes beyond incomes or nutrition.

Preparing for a changing climate

Community-led buffers against the horrors of global warming are desperately needed in Zimbabwe, a country of 14.5 million that faces a host of climate risks from floods to droughts.

Unable to access adequate international climate finance, the country was forced to slice its environment ministry’s budget from 93 million in 2014 to 52 million this year.

The funding crunch has crippled the country’s ability to respond to natural disasters, with the meteorological services department – responsible for forecasts and early warnings – also experiencing budget cuts.

This means that when calamity strikes, remote communities and especially rural women will be left to fend for themselves, a reality that the women of Lupane are more than prepared to deal with.

Siduduzile Nyoni, a mother of three who joined the cooperative in 2008, says that the simple act of weaving baskets has helped her build a lifeline for times of crisis.

She has used her savings to buy a goat, and is also maintaining a chicken farm and a thriving vegetable garden. When the weather is fine, the garden feeds her family. If it takes a turn for the worse, she simply dips into her surplus stores to tide her over until the land yields food again.

“I joined the centre even though I didn’t know how to weave,” she tells IPS. Her husband is unemployed, but she is doing well enough to support them both.

She and three other women have created their own micro-savings scheme, pooling five dollars of their monthly income into a rotational pool of 20 dollars that each enjoys on a quarterly basis.

Other groups of women have taken advantage of skills training at the Centre and taken up potato farming, bee keeping, candle making, and cattle rearing. Rearing indigenous chickens is also hugely popular activity as an additional source of revenue, and nutrition.

Women from Zimbabwe’s Lupane District invest the profits of their craft sales in ‘keyhole’ gardens to ensure food security. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Women from Zimbabwe’s Lupane District invest the profits of their craft sales in ‘keyhole’ gardens to ensure food security. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Others have turned to small-scale farming so they don’t have to rely on central supply chains for their food. According to Lisina Moyo, who joined the Centre in 2012, keyhole gardens “should be a part of every home” – earning 15 dollars a month from her personal vegetable patch has helped her pay her children’s school fees and contribute to a savings club that keeps her afloat during harsh seasons.

Saving the forests

Perhaps more importantly, the thousands of women who comprise the cooperative’s membership are natural caretakers of forests, having practiced sustainable harvesting of forest products for years.

The art of basket-weaving from both ilala palm and sisal, a species of the Agave plant found in Zimbabwe’s forests whose tough fibres make strong rope and twine, has been passed down for generations.

Furthermore, local communities have traditionally relied on surrounding forests for medicines, timber, fuel and fruits, so they have a vested interest in protecting these rich zones of biodiversity.

Considering the country lost an estimated 327,000 hectares of forests annually between 1990 and 2010, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), empowering guardians of Zimbabwe’s remaining forested areas is crucial.

With an estimated 66,250 timber merchants operating throughout the country, as well as millions of rural families relying on forests for fuel, deforestation will be a defining issue for Zimbabwe in the coming decade.

But here again, the women of Lupane are planning for the worst, creating small plantations of ilala palms to ensure propagation of the species, even in the face of rapid destruction of its natural habitat.

Their work is reinforcing the land around them, and breathing life into the women themselves.

As Moyo tells IPS: “Working together as women has united us, and strengthened our community spirit.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

This article is part of a special series entitled ‘The Future Is Now: Inside the World’s Most Sustainable Communities’. Read the other articles in the series here.

 

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons
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Reviving Dignity: The Remarkable Perseverance of Myanmar’s Displacedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/reviving-dignity-the-remarkable-perseverance-of-myanmars-displaced/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=reviving-dignity-the-remarkable-perseverance-of-myanmars-displaced http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/reviving-dignity-the-remarkable-perseverance-of-myanmars-displaced/#comments Tue, 12 May 2015 16:27:21 +0000 Rob Jarvis and Kim Jolliffe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140574 Noor Jahan spends her days drying out and grinding chillies to help support her three children, mother-in-law, and out of work husband who used to be a labourer downtown where they are no longer allowed to travel. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Noor Jahan spends her days drying out and grinding chillies to help support her three children, mother-in-law, and out of work husband who used to be a labourer downtown where they are no longer allowed to travel. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

By Rob Jarvis and Kim Jolliffe
SITTWE, Myanmar, May 12 2015 (IPS)

In Myanmar’s Western Rakhine State, over a hundred thousand people displaced by inter communal violence that broke out nearly three years ago remain interned in camps on torrid plains and coastal marshes, struggling to survive.

In the face of unimaginable hardship, many have found ways to cope and maintain their dignity, through innovation and hard work.

Behind sensational and at times gory headlines peddled by the mainstream media, a far more simple story is unfolding: the story of scores of victims of violence in camps for internally displaced people (IDPs) outside the Rakhine State capital, Sittwe, gaining sustenance, acquiring fuel for fires, re-establishing businesses, and developing community-led social services.

Inter communal violence erupted in 2012 between the region’s majority Rakhine Buddhists and minority Muslims who mostly self-identify as Rohingya, an ethnic label that remains heavily contested and at the heart of a decades-old conflict.

Three years later, over 140,000 IDPs, predominantly Rohingya Muslims, remain effectively interned and segregated in camps from which the government has not allowed them to return home.

Aid is administered through United Nations agencies and other mainstream bodies that are bound to work primarily with the government, leading to top-down interventions that do little to build the capacity of beneficiaries themselves, at worst stifling their ability to take their lives back into their own hands.

Up against the odds, these communities are nevertheless demonstrating the sheer strength of the human spirit, and the remarkable resilience that often presents itself only in the darkest, most hopeless situations. Through small acts of determination, courage and kindness, they are assuring their own survival and slowly regaining their dignity.

Arafa lives in this tent with her six children and three grandchildren. When she fled her burning home she had nothing but her longyi (traditional skirt) and one shirt so has begun growing gourds on the tent for extra sustenance. Her grandchildren photographed here, all wear beads that were blessed by the local Mullah. Credit: Courtsey Rob Jarvis

Arafa lives in this tent with her six children and three grandchildren. When she fled her burning home she had nothing but her longyi (traditional skirt) and one shirt so has begun growing gourds on the tent for extra sustenance. Her grandchildren photographed here all wear beads that were blessed by the local mullah. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Chu Mar Win, a Rakhine Buddhist IDP in her early twenties whose house was burned down by Rohingya Muslims in July 2012, volunteers as a teacher in her camp. To ensure the young children can stay in school, the community all donate some rice and small amounts of money to ensure that she can afford to keep teaching. Credit: Courtsey Rob Jarvis

Chu Mar Win, a Rakhine Buddhist IDP in her early twenties whose house was burned down by Rohingya Muslims in July 2012, volunteers as a teacher in her camp. To ensure the young children can stay in school, the community all donate some rice and small amounts of money so she can afford to keep teaching. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Zadi Begum, a 25-year-old single mother of five, runs a small noodle shop out of the front of her hut. As she fled her village in July 2012 with her mother and children, her husband, 30-year-old Ibrahim, stayed behind to collect some things but was killed by Rakhine Buddhists with a machete. She struggled to raise the roughly 27 dollars needed to buy the basic tools and materials to start her noodle shop. Credit: Courtsey Rob Jarvis

Zadi Begum, a 25-year-old single mother of five, runs a small noodle shop out of the front of her hut. As she fled her village in July 2012 with her mother and children, her husband, 30-year-old Ibrahim, stayed behind to collect some things but was killed by Rakhine Buddhists with a machete. She struggled to raise the roughly 27 dollars needed to buy the basic tools and materials to start her noodle shop. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Three years ago, in July 2012, Noor Ahmed had his boat stolen by Rakhine Buddhists in his village of Myo Thu Gyi. Now, he and his 13-year-old son, both IDPs, work tirelessly on other people’s boats for daily wages. He stands before one such boat that the pair has been working on for 20 days. Credit: Courtsey Rob Jarvis

Three years ago, in July 2012, Noor Ahmed had his boat stolen by Rakhine Buddhists in his village of Myo Thu Gyi. Now, he and his 13-year-old son, both IDPs, work tirelessly on other people’s boats for daily wages. He stands before one such boat that the pair has been working on for 20 days. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Mohammed Hussain, aged eight, spends his weekends in the mud with friends looking for buried pieces of wood that can be salvaged for fuel. Here, he has been at work with his three brothers and two friends for four hours, and they have found a single piece that he is excited to take home to his mother. Credit: Courtsey Rob Jarvis

Mohammed Hussain, aged eight, spends his weekends in the mud with friends looking for buried pieces of wood that can be salvaged for fuel. Here, he has been at work with his three brothers and two friends for four hours, and they have found a single piece that he is excited to take home to his mother. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

La La May is making a blouse, catching the last minutes of sunlight through her doorway. She provides training to other girls here and makes between fifty cents and one dollar per day by tailoring clothes. She currently has four female students who she teaches for free using this single sewing machine, which they bought from the ‘host community’, locals from the neighbouring village. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

La La May is making a blouse, catching the last minutes of sunlight through her doorway. She provides training to other girls here and makes between fifty cents and one dollar per day by tailoring clothes. She currently has four female students who she teaches for free using this single sewing machine, which they bought from the ‘host community’, locals from the neighbouring village. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Farida, aged 18, works in her family’s betel nut processing business. The nuts belong to Rakhine business owners, who pay the family less than 0.09 dollars per nut. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Farida, aged 18, works in her family’s betel nut processing business. The nuts belong to Rakhine business owners, who pay the family less than 0.09 dollars per nut. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Abul Kasim, aged 53, a father of seven, finds it hard to explain what is wrong with him. He spends most of his days at the local clinic in Say Tha Ma Gee IDP camp, having not been able to eat properly, with severe bowel problems and internal bleeding for eight months. The clinic has referred him to Sittwe General Hospital but he says dares not go, and could not afford to in any case. Relying on traditional medicine, he has bouts of pain every day that leave him shaking uncontrollably. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Abul Kasim, aged 53, a father of seven, finds it hard to explain what is wrong with him. He spends most of his days at the local clinic in Say Tha Ma Gee IDP camp, having not been able to eat properly, with severe bowel problems and internal bleeding for eight months. The clinic has referred him to Sittwe General Hospital but he says dares not go, and could not afford to in any case. Relying on traditional medicine, he has bouts of pain every day that leave him shaking uncontrollably. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

 

Da Naing clinic demonstrates the abject level of neglect faced by the IDP communities, as a result of aid mismanagement and the government’s lack of care. The clinic was built by an international NGO in 2012 and has lain dormant for much of the time since. Though the government promised doctors and medicine, such provisions have been discontinued. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Da Naing clinic demonstrates the abject level of neglect faced by the IDP communities, as a result of aid mismanagement and the government’s lack of care. The clinic was built by an international NGO in 2012 and has lain dormant for much of the time since. Though the government promised doctors and medicine, such provisions have been discontinued. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Noor Jahan spends her days drying out and grinding chillies to help support her three children, mother-in-law, and out of work husband who used to be a labourer downtown where they are no longer allowed to travel. She buys the chillies fresh from the local market and then sells small affordable packets of 1-2 teaspoons worth, and is able to make just about two dollars in three or four days. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Noor Jahan spends her days drying out and grinding chillies to help support her three children, mother-in-law, and out of work husband who used to be a labourer downtown where they are no longer allowed to travel. She buys the chillies fresh from the local market and then sells small affordable packets of 1-2 teaspoons worth, and is able to make just about two dollars in three or four days. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Mi Ni Ra, 16, is from Nasi village, which was burned to the ground during the violence in 2012. Her baby, just 16 days old here, was born in a small hut in Bu May IDP camp, outside Sittwe. Her baby was delivered traditionally in a small hut nearby, with the help of a local traditional birth attendant, without modern medical support. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Mi Ni Ra, 16, is from Nasi village, which was burned to the ground during the violence in 2012. Her baby, just 16 days old here, was born in a small hut in Bu May IDP camp, outside Sittwe. Her baby was delivered traditionally in a small hut nearby, with the help of a local traditional birth attendant, without modern medical support. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

This boy spends his days selling betel nut in the traditional form, wrapped in a leaf with a bit of lime powder and tobacco. A salvaged halved buoy serves as his basket. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

This boy spends his days selling betel nut in the traditional form, wrapped in a leaf with a bit of lime powder and tobacco. A salvaged halved buoy serves as his basket. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

This elderly Rakhine woman has lived through independence and suffered as a member of a repressed minority under authoritarian rule by successive military regimes in Burma. After Rohingya Muslims burned her village in 2012, she has lived in an IDP camp outside Sittwe, where she struggled to save enough money to open this shop. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

This elderly Rakhine woman has lived through independence and suffered as a member of a repressed minority under authoritarian rule by successive military regimes in Burma. After Rohingya Muslims burned her village in 2012, she has lived in an IDP camp outside Sittwe, where she struggled to save enough money to open this shop. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

In the face of adversity, many of the displaced Muslims have turned to God, as instructed by their mullahs. These handmade bamboo Mosques have been built in each IDP camp, with pump well washing facilities outside. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

In the face of adversity, many of the displaced Muslims have turned to God, as instructed by their mullahs. These handmade bamboo mosques have been built in each IDP camp, with pump well washing facilities outside. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Angu Mia plucks and boils chickens for a female Rakhine business owner, who pays him 0.4 dollars per bird and then sells the meat at a local market. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Angu Mia plucks and boils chickens for a female Rakhine business owner, who pays him 0.4 dollars per bird and then sells the meat at a local market. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

This man has installed solar panels to the top of his hut to provide a phone charging service to the minority of IDPs who have phones, as their huts have no power. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

This man has installed solar panels to the top of his hut to provide a phone charging service to the minority of IDPs who have phones, as their huts have no power. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

These pufferfish are dried and turned inside out to be sold to traders who take them to China. This man lost stocks of the product worth hundreds of dollars when his house was burned down in June 2012. He now leases fish from local fishermen, promising to pay them in full once he has made a sale. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

These pufferfish are dried and turned inside out to be sold to traders who take them to China. This man lost stocks of the product worth hundreds of dollars when his house was burned down in June 2012. He now leases fish from local fishermen, promising to pay them in full once he has made a sale. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

These women spend hours crouched in the sun on the seashore, drying out fish caught in previous days. Drying the fish preserves it for longer, making it more attractive locally, where a single fish will be eaten over days with small portions of rice. Large numbers of Rohingya Muslims from fishing communities in other parts of Rakhine State fled by boat when the violence began and came straight to this part of the coast, where the Rohingya Muslim communities have long run their fishing businesses. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

These women spend hours crouched in the sun on the seashore, drying out fish caught in previous days. Drying the fish preserves it for longer, making it more attractive locally, where a single fish will be eaten over days with small portions of rice. Large numbers of Rohingya Muslims from fishing communities in other parts of Rakhine State fled by boat when the violence began and came straight to this part of the coast, where the Rohingya Muslim communities have long run their fishing businesses. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

Photos by Rob Jarvis: info@robjarvisphotography.com.

Text by Kim Jolliffe: spcm88@gmail.com

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Farmers Fight Real Estate Developers for Kenya’s Most Prized Asset: Landhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/farmers-fight-real-estate-developers-for-kenyas-most-prized-asset-land/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=farmers-fight-real-estate-developers-for-kenyas-most-prized-asset-land http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/farmers-fight-real-estate-developers-for-kenyas-most-prized-asset-land/#comments Mon, 11 May 2015 18:56:24 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140554 David Njeru, a farmer from central Kenya, attends to his cabbages. This community is at risk of being displaced from their land by powerful real estate developers. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

David Njeru, a farmer from central Kenya, attends to his cabbages. This community is at risk of being displaced from their land by powerful real estate developers. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NGANGARITHI, Kenya, May 11 2015 (IPS)

Vegetables grown in the lush soil of this quiet agricultural community in central Kenya’s fertile wetlands not only feed the farmers who tend the crops, but also make their way into the marketplaces of Nairobi, the country’s capital, some 150 km south.

Spinach, carrots, kale, cabbages, tomatoes, maize, legumes and tubers are plentiful here in the village of Ngangarithi, a landscape awash in green, intersected by clean, clear streams that local children play in.

“I am not fighting for myself but for my children. I am 85 years old, I have lived my life, but my great-grandchildren need a place to call home.” -- Paul Njogu, a resident of the farming village of Ngangarithi in central Kenya
Ngangarithi, home to just over 25,000 people, is part of Nyeri County located in the Central Highlands, nestled between the eastern foothills of the Abadare mountain range and the western hillsides of Mount Kenya.

In the early 20th century, this region was the site of territorial clashes between the British imperial army and native Kikuyu warriors. Today, the colonial threat has been replaced by a different challenge: real estate developers.

Ramadhan Njoroge, a resident of Ngangarithi village, told IPS that his community’s worst fears came to life this past January, when several smallholder families “awoke to find markers demarcating land that we had neither sold nor had intentions to sell.”

The markers, in the form of concrete blocks, had been erected at intervals around communal farmland.

They were so sturdy that able-bodied young men in the village had to use machetes and hoes to dig them out, Njoroge explained.

It later transpired that a powerful real estate developer in Nyeri County had placed these markers on the perimeters of the land it intended to convert into commercial buildings.

The bold move suggested that the issue was not up for debate – but the villagers refused to budge. Instead, they took to the streets to demonstrate against what they perceived to be a grab of their ancestral land.

“We cannot have people coming here and driving us off our land,” another resident named Paul Njogu told IPS. “We will show others that they too can refuse to be shoved aside by powerful forces.”

“I was given this land by my grandmother some 20 years ago,” he added. “This is my ancestral home and it is also my source of livelihood – by growing crops, we are protecting our heritage, ensuring food security, and creating jobs.”

But Kenya’s real estate market, which has witnessed a massive boom in the last seven years, has proven that it is above such sentiments.

Those in the business are currently on a spree of identifying and acquiring whatever lands possible, by whatever means possible. It is a lucrative industry, with many winners.

The biggest losers, however, are people like Njoroge and Njogu, humble farmers who comprise the bulk of this country of 44 million people – according to the Ministry of Agriculture, an estimated five million out of about eight million Kenyan households depend directly on agriculture for their livelihoods.

Land: the most lucrative asset class

Last September, Kenya climbed the development ladder to join the ranks of lower-middle income countries, after a rebasing of its National Accounts, including its gross domestic product (GDP) and gross national income (GNI).

This woman, a resident of Ngangarithi village in central Kenya, uses fresh water from the surrounding wetlands to irrigate her crops. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

This woman, a resident of Ngangarithi village in central Kenya, uses fresh water from the surrounding wetlands to irrigate her crops. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

The World Bank praised the country for conducting the exercise, adding in a press release last year, “The size of the economy is 25 percent larger than previously thought, and Kenya is now the fifth largest economy in sub-Saharan Africa behind Nigeria, South Africa, Angola and Sudan.”

According to the Bank, “Economic growth during 2013 was revised upwards from 4.7 percent to 5.7 percent [and] gross domestic product (GDP) per capita changed overnight, literally, from 994 dollars to 1,256 dollars.”

The reassessment, conducted by the Kenyan National Bureau of Statistics, revealed that the real estate sector accounted for a considerable portion of increased national earnings, following closely on the heels of the agricultural sector (contributing 25.4 percent to the national economy) and the manufacturing sector (contributing 11.3 percent).

David Owiro, programme officer at the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), a local think tank, told IPS, “Kenya’s land and property market is growing exponentially.”

His analysis finds echo in a report by HassConsult and Stanlib Investments released in January this year, which found that the scramble for land in this East African nation is due to the fact that land has delivered the highest return of all asset classes in the last seven years, up 98 percent since 2007.

Land prices in the last four years have risen at twice the rate of cattle and four times the rate of property, while oil and gold prices have fallen over the same period, researches added.

Advertised land prices have risen 535 percent, from an average of 330,000 dollars per acre in 2007 to about 1.8 million dollars per acre today. Thus, equating land to gold in this country of 582,650 sq km is no exaggeration.

According to Owiro of the IEA, a growing demand for commercial enterprises and high-density housing in the capital and its surrounding suburban and rural areas is largely responsible for the price rise.

Government statistics indicate that though the resident population of Nairobi is two million, it swells during the workday to three million, as workers from neighbouring areas flood the capital.

This commuter workforce is a major driver of demand for additional housing, according to Njogu.

As a result, two distinct groups who see their fortunes and futures tied to the land seem destined to butt heads in ugly ways: real estate developers and small-scale farmers.

What is sustainable?

While the land rush and real estate boom fit Kenya’s newfound image as an economic success story, they run directly counter to the United Nations’ new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), due to be finalised in September.

The attempt to seize farmers’ land in Ngangarithi village reveals, in microcosm, the pitfalls of a development model that is based on valuing the profits of a few over the wellbeing of many.

A farmer shows off his aloe plants, popular among farming families in central Kenya for their medicinal value. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

A farmer shows off his aloe plants, popular among farming families in central Kenya for their medicinal value. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Farmers who have lived here for generations not only grow enough food to sustain their families, they also feed the entire community, and comprise a vital link in the nation’s food supply chain.

Taking away their land, they say, will have far-reaching consequences: central Kenya is considered one of the country’s two breadbaskets – the other being the Rift Valley – largely for its ability to produce plentiful maize harvests.

In a country where 1.5 million people experience food insecurity every year, according to government statistics cited by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), pushing farmers further to the margins by separating them from their land makes little economic sense.

Furthermore, encroachment by real estate developers into Kenya’s wetlands flies in the face of sustainable development, given that the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) has identified Kenya’s wetlands as ‘vital’ to its agriculture and tourism sectors, and has urged the country to protect these areas, rich in biodiversity, as part of its international conservation obligations.

For Njogu, the land rush also represents a threat to an ancient way of life.

He recounted how his grandmother would go out to work on these very farmlands, decades ago: “Even with her back bent, her head almost touching her knees, she did all this for us,” he explained.

“When she became too old to farm, she divided her land and gave it to us. What if she had sold it to outsiders? What would be the source of our livelihood? We would have nowhere to call home,” he added.

Already the impacts of real estate development are becoming plain: the difference between Ngangarithi village and the village directly opposite, separated only a by a road, has the villagers on edge.

“On our side you will see it is all green: spinach, kale, carrots, everything grows here,” Njogu said. “But the land overlooking ours is now a town.”

Various other villagers echoed these sentiments, articulating a vision of sustainability that the government does not seem to share. Some told IPS that the developers had attempted to cordon off a stream that the village relied on for fresh water, and that children played in every single day, “interacting with nature in its purest form,” as one farmer described.

“I am not fighting for myself but for my children,” Njogu clarified. “I am 85 years old, I have lived my life, but my great-grandchildren need a place to call home.”

Villagers’ determination to resist developers has caught the attention of experts closer to the policy-making nucleus in Nairobi, many of whom are adding their voices to a growing debate on the meaning of sustainability.

Wilfred Subbo, an expert on sustainable development and a lecturer at the University of Nairobi, told IPS that a strong GDP is not synonymous with sustainability.

“But a community being able to meet its needs of today, without compromising the ability of its children to meet their own needs tomorrow, [that] is sustainable development,” he asserted.

According to Subbo, when a community understands that they can “resist and set the development agenda, they are already in the ‘future’ – because they have shown us that there is an alternative way of doing business.”

“Land is a finite resource,” Subbo concluded. “We cannot turn all of it into skyscrapers.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

 

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons
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Families in Quake-Hit Nepal Desperate to Get on With Their Liveshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/families-in-quake-hit-nepal-desperate-to-get-on-with-their-lives/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=families-in-quake-hit-nepal-desperate-to-get-on-with-their-lives http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/families-in-quake-hit-nepal-desperate-to-get-on-with-their-lives/#comments Tue, 05 May 2015 16:47:56 +0000 Naresh Newar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140458 Sixty-five-year-old Rita Rai still has not received emergency relief in the remote village of Mahadevsthan in Kavre district, 100 km south of Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

Sixty-five-year-old Rita Rai still has not received emergency relief in the remote village of Mahadevsthan in Kavre district, 100 km south of Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

By Naresh Newar
KAVRE DISTRICT, Nepal, May 5 2015 (IPS)

Just over a week after a dreadful 7.8 magnitude earthquake rocked Nepal, displaced families are gradually – but cautiously – resuming their normal lives, though most are still badly shaken by the disaster and the proceeding aftershocks that devastated the country.

However, delivery of humanitarian aid and basic relief supplies remains slow, hindered by the scale of the tragedy. With the annual summer monsoon just around the corner – and heavy rains already lashing some parts of the country – experts say the clock is ticking for effective relief efforts.

“We have stopped crying out of fear because we need to move on now and be brave." -- Sunita Tamang, a teenager from rural Nepal who lost her home and school in the recent quake
As of May 3, the death toll was 7,250 in 30 districts, with half of them in Kathmandu and its neighbouring Sindupalchok district, according to the Nepal Red Cross Society (NRCS), the largest humanitarian NGO in the country.

A further 14,122 people have been injured.

Over one million families have been displaced in 35 districts, while over 297,000 houses have been completely destroyed.

The United Nations says close to eight million people – over a quarter of Nepal’s population of 27 million – have been impacted by the crisis.

Of these, about 3.5 million are in need of food aid. The World Food Programme (WFP) has issued an urgent appeal for 116.5 million dollars to deliver aid to those most in need – some 1.4 million people – over the next three months.

The U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), meanwhile, is worried about the plight of the country’s wheat harvest.

The agency had predicted a yield of 1.8 million tonnes in 2015, but is concerned that this forecast will change, as farmers struggle to access devastated fields and deal with severely damaged drainage systems and irrigation canals.

As the government scrambles to meet the needs of its people, the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) announced Tuesday that it had begun to airlift 80 metric tonnes of humanitarian aid to the worst-affected areas.

According to a statement on the agency’s website, “[The] aircraft will deliver water, sanitation, and hygiene supplies, such as chlorination material, diarrhoea and cholera kits, as well as water bladders, to provide clean and safe water supplies as fears of an outbreak of waterborne diseases grow. Also on board are health kits and tarpaulins, with many families having fled to open spaces under threat of further aftershocks.”

Families yearn for normalcy

“We have stopped crying out of fear because we need to move on now and be brave,” 13-year-old Sunita Tamang tells IPS, hugging her best friend – 12-year-old Manju Tamang.

The girls hail from the remote Ghumarchowk village of Shankarpur municipality, 80 km from the centre of Kathmandu city. Both of their families lost their homes, cattle and food stocks in the quake.

Their school remains dilapidated and though they are desperate to resume their classes, they must patiently wait out the month-long government-declared closure of schools in case of further natural calamities.

In this village, which is only accessible after a steep, three-hour uphill trek, most of the 500 homes remain unsafe for residence, a major obstacle for families who are getting tired of sleeping under the stars in their potato and squash farms where they are living in makeshift tents, nothing but thin plastic sheets covering their heads.

This village in Nepal's Kavre district was one of the worst casualties of the Apr. 25 earthquake that devastated great swathes of this South Asia nation. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

This village in Nepal’s Kavre district was one of the worst casualties of the Apr. 25 earthquake that devastated great swathes of this South Asia nation. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

The torrential rainfall that is lashing this village makes life in agricultural fields difficult, as the ground becomes too muddy to sleep on.

“I would rather return home and take the risk,” a social worker named Bikash Tamang from the Scout Community Group tells IPS.

The National Society for Earthquake Technology-Nepal (NSET), which aims to create “earthquake safe communities in Nepal by 2020”, has begun a series of assessments of major offices and residential areas across the country.

Chief of communications for the NSET tells IPS in Kathmandu that the organisation is assessing the extent of the damage, to ensure that key service providing agencies within the government, as well as the medical and communications sector, can access those most in need.

But the destruction is so extensive that an exhaustive assessment will take time.

Residents of affected areas are receiving sporadic assistance from local Nepali engineers, who have been volunteering their services to assess damages and safety issues in neighborhoods across the country.

“These engineers are helping us free of charge, and I am so grateful to them,” Shankar Biswakarma, hailing from Bagdol ward in Kathmandu, tells IPS.

But these charitable efforts will not be enough.

Migrant families remain in limbo

The number of residents in Tundikhel, the largest camp area for the displaced in Kathmandu, has halved over the last few days. The remaining families are largely migrant workers, a 25-year-old mother of two children tells IPS.

“Many have left who have relatives and friends to help,” says young Manisha Lama. “Those who come from outside Kathmandu are the ones left here in the camps.”

Her home is in the remote village of Deupur in Kavre district, which is among the most affected districts, nearly 100 km south of the capital.

Kavre also has a record number of destroyed homes – some 30,000 lost to the quake, according to NRCS records.

“The needs of the most affected families are crucial and the response is becoming a huge challenge,” NRCS Chief of Communications Dibya Paudel tells IPS.

He explains that affected people are growing extremely frustrated at the snail’s pace of the emergency response, adding that the government and its relevant agencies are inundated by requests, and under intense pressure to respond to the specific humanitarian needs of million of affected people.

As of May 2, the combined total pledged by the international community to the relief effort stood at 68 million dollars, far short of the required 415 million dollars needed for full recovery, according to estimates prepared by the United Nation’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

To make matters worse, aid agencies are reporting incidents of looting of relief goods before they reach their specified destination; those on the ground say families are getting too desperate to wait for supplies to reach them through formal channels.

“We’re still waiting for relief but I heard the government and agencies are now scared to come because of the incidents of looting,” Sachen Lama, a resident of the affected village of Bajrayogini, 10 km from Kathmandu, tells IPS.

He and his fellow villagers have been asking the community to stay calm when the relief arrives, and let the aid workers do their job so that there is no obstruction in the distribution process.

“But there was looting two days ago by some local people as they were desperate, [so our] relief supplies never arrived here,” Lama says.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Watch What Happens When Tribal Women Manage India’s Forestshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/watch-what-happens-when-tribal-women-manage-indias-forests/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=watch-what-happens-when-tribal-women-manage-indias-forests http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/watch-what-happens-when-tribal-women-manage-indias-forests/#comments Thu, 30 Apr 2015 18:46:51 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140401 Women from the Gunduribadi tribal village in the eastern Indian state of Odisha patrol their forests with sticks to prevent illegal logging. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Women from the Gunduribadi tribal village in the eastern Indian state of Odisha patrol their forests with sticks to prevent illegal logging. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
NAYAGARH, India, Apr 30 2015 (IPS)

Kama Pradhan, a 35-year-old tribal woman, her eyes intent on the glowing screen of a hand-held GPS device, moves quickly between the trees. Ahead of her, a group of men hastens to clear away the brambles from stone pillars that stand at scattered intervals throughout this dense forest in the Nayagarh district of India’s eastern Odisha state.

The heavy stone markers, laid down by the British 150 years ago, demarcate the outer perimeter of an area claimed by the Raj as a state-owned forest reserve, ignoring at the time the presence of millions of forest dwellers, who had lived off this land for centuries.

“No one can cheat us of even one metre of our mother, the forest. She has given us life and we have given our lives for her." -- Kama Pradhan, a tribal woman from the Gunduribadi village
Pradhan is a member of the 27-household Gunduribadi tribal village, working with her fellow residents to map the boundaries of this 200-hectare forest that the community claims as their customary land.

It will take days of scrambling through hilly terrain with government-issued maps and rudimentary GPS systems to find all the markers and determine the exact extent of the woodland area, but Pradhan is determined.

“No one can cheat us of even one metre of our mother, the forest. She has given us life and we have given our lives for her,” the indigenous woman tells IPS, her voice shaking with emotion.

Unfolding out of sight and out of mind of India’s policy-making nucleus in the capital, New Delhi, this quiet drama – involving the 275 million people who reside in or on the fringes of the country’s bountiful forests – could be the defining struggle of the century.

At the forefront of the movement are tribal communities in states like Odisha who are determined to make full use of a 2012 amendment to India’s Forest Rights Act (FRA) to claim titles to their land, on which they can carve out a simple life, and a sustainable future for their children.

One of the most empowering provisions of the amended FRA gave forest dwellers and tribal communities the right to own, manage and sell non-timber forest products (NTFP), which some 100 million landless people in India depend on for income, medicine and housing.

Women have emerged as the natural leaders of efforts to implement these legal amendments, as they have traditionally managed forestlands, sustainably sourcing food, fuel and fodder for the landless poor, as well as gathering farm-fencing materials, medicinal plants and wood to build their thatched-roof homes.

Under the leadership of women like Pradhan, 850 villages in the Nayagarh district of Odisha state are collectively managing 100,000 hectares of forest land, with the result that 53 percent of the district’s land mass now has forest cover.

This is more than double India’s national average of 21 percent forest cover.

Overall, 15,000 villages in India, primarily in the eastern states, protect around two million hectares of forests.

When life depends on land

According to the latest Forest Survey of India, the country’s forest cover increased by 5,871 square km between 2010 and 2012, bringing total forest cover to 697,898 sq km (about 69 million hectares).

Still, research indicates than every single day, an average of 135 hectares of forestland are handed over to development projects like mining and power generation.

Tribal communities in Odisha are no strangers to large-scale development projects that guzzle land.

Forty years of illegal logging across the state’s heartland forest belt, coupled with a major commercial timber trade in teak, sal and bamboo, left the hilltops bald and barren.

Streams that had once irrigated small plots of farmland began to run dry, while groundwater sources gradually disappeared. Over a 40-year period, between 1965 and 2004, Odisha experienced recurring and chronic droughts, including three consecutive dry spells from 1965-1967.

As a result of the heavy felling of trees for the timber trade, Nayargh suffered six droughts in a 10-year span, which shattered a network of farm- and forest-based livelihoods.

Villages emptied out as nearly 50 percent of the population fled in search of alternatives.

“We who stayed back had to sell our family’s brass utensils to get cash to buy rice, and so acute was the scarcity of wood that sometimes the dead were kept waiting while we went from house to house begging for logs for the funeral pyre,” recalls 70-year-old Arjun Pradhan, head of the Gunduribadi village.

As the crisis escalated, Kesarpur, a village council in Nayagarh, devised a campaign that now serves as the template for community forestry in Odisha.

The council allocated need-based rights to families wishing to gather wood fuel, fodder or edible produce. Anyone wishing to fell a tree for a funeral pyre or house repairs had to seek special permission. Carrying axes into the forest was prohibited.

Women vigilantes apprehend a timber thief. Village councils strictly monitor the felling of trees in Odisha’s forests, and permission to remove timber is only granted to families with urgent needs for housing material or funeral pyres. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Women vigilantes apprehend a timber thief. Village councils strictly monitor the felling of trees in Odisha’s forests, and permission to remove timber is only granted to families with urgent needs for housing material or funeral pyres. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Villagers took it in turns to patrol the forest using the ‘thengapali’ system, literally translated as ‘stick rotation’: each night, representatives from four families would carry stout, carved sticks into the forest. At the end of their shift, the scouts placed the sticks on their neighbours’ verandahs, indicating a change of guard.

The council imposed strict yet logical penalties on those who failed to comply: anyone caught stealing had to pay a cash fine corresponding to the theft; skipping a turn at patrol duty resulted in an extra night of standing guard.

As the forests slowly regenerated, the villagers made additional sacrifices. Goats, considered quick-cash assets in hard times, were sold off and banned for 10 years to protect the fresh green shoots on the forest floor. Instead of cooking twice a day, families prepared both meals on a single fire to save wood.

From deforestation to ‘reforestation’

Some 20 years after this ‘pilot’ project was implemented, in early April of 2015, a hill stream gurgles past on the outskirts of Gunduribadi, irrigating small farms of ready-to-harvest lentils and vegetables.

Under a shady tree, clean water simmers four feet below the ground in a newly dug well; later in the evening, elderly women will haul bucketfuls out with ease.

Manas Pradhan, who heads the local forest protection committee (FPC), explains that rains bring rich forest humus into the 28 hectares of farmland managed by 27 families. This has resulted in soil so rich a single hectare produces 6,500 kg of rice without chemical boosters – three times the yield from farms around unprotected forests.

“When potato was scarce and selling at an unaffordable 40 rupees (65 cents) per kg, we substituted it with pichuli, a sweet tuber available plentifully in the forests,” Janha Pradhan, a landless tribal woman, tells IPS, pointing out a small heap she harvested during her patrol the night before.

With an eighth-grade education, Nibasini Pradhan is the most literate person in Gunduribadi village, in the eastern Indian state of Odisha. She operates a government-supplied GPS device to help the community define the boundaries of their customary land. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

With an eighth-grade education, Nibasini Pradhan is the most literate person in Gunduribadi village, in the eastern Indian state of Odisha. She operates a government-supplied GPS device to help the community define the boundaries of their customary land. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

“We made good money selling some in the town when potato prices skyrocketed a few months back,” she adds. In a state where the average earnings are 40 dollars per month, and hunger and malnutrition affects 32 percent of the population – with one in two children underweight – this community represents an oasis of health and sustenance in a desert of poverty.

At least four wild varieties of edible leafy greens, vine-growing vegetables like spine gourd and bamboo shoots, and mushrooms of all sizes are gathered seasonally. Leaves that stem bleeding, and roots that control diarrhoea, are also sustainably harvested from the forest.

Reaping the harvest of community management

But the tranquility that surrounds the forest-edge community belies a conflicted past.

Eighty-year-old Dami Nayak, ex-president of the forest protection committee for Kodallapalli village, tells IPS her ancestors used to grow rain-fed millet and vegetables for generations in and around these forests until the Odisha State Cashew Development Corporation set its sights on these lands over 20 years ago.

Although not a traditional crop in Odisha, the state corporation set up cashew orchards on tribal communities’ hill-sloping farming land in 22 of the state’s 30 districts.

When commercial operations began, landless farmers were promised an equal stake in the trade.

“But when the fruits came, they not only auctioned the plantations to outsiders, but officials also told us we were stealing the cashews – not even our goats could enter the orchards to graze,” Nayak recounts.

“Overnight we became illegal intruders in the forestland that we had lived in, depended on and protected for decades,” she laments.

With over 4,000 trees – each generating between eight and 10 kg of raw cashew, which sells for roughly 0.85 dollars per kilo – the government was making roughly 34,000 dollars a year from the 20-hectare plantation; but none of these profits trickled back down to the community.

Furthermore, the state corporation began leasing whole cashew plantations out to private bidders, who also kept the profits for themselves.

Following the amendment to the Forest Rights Act in 2012, women in the community decided to mobilise.

“When the babus [officials] who had secured the auction bid arrived we did not let them enter. They called the police. Our men hid in the jungles because they would be beaten and jailed but all they could do was threaten us women,” Nayak tells IPS.

“Later we nailed a board to a tree at the village entrance road warning anyone trespassing on our community forest that they would face dire legal consequences,” she adds. Once, the women even faced off against the police, refusing to back down.

In the three years following this incident, not a single bidder has approached the community. Instead, the women pluck and sell the cashews to traders who come directly to their doorsteps.

Although they earn only 1,660 dollars a year for 25,000 kg – about 0.60 dollars per kilo, far below the market value – they divide the proceeds among themselves and even manage to put some away into a community bank for times of illness or scarcity.

“Corporations’ officials now come to negotiate. From requesting 50 percent of the profit from the cashew harvest if we allow them to auction, they have come down to requesting 10 percent of the income. We told them they would not even get one rupee – the land is for community use,” recounts 40-year-old Pramila Majhi who heads one of the women’s protection groups that guards the cashew orchards.

It was a hard-won victory, but it has given hope to scores of other villages battling unsustainable development models.

Between 2000 and 2014, more than 25,000 hectares of forests in Odisha have been diverted for ‘non-forest use’, primarily for mining or other industrial activity.

In a state where 75 percent of the tribal population lives below the poverty line, the loss of forests is a matter of life and death.

According to the ministry of tribal affairs, the average earnings of a rural or landless family sometimes amount to nothing more than 13 dollars a month. With 41 percent of Odisha’s women suffering from low body mass and a further 62 percent suffering from anaemia, the forests provide much-needed nutrition to people living in abject poverty.

Rather than ride a wave of destructive development, tribal women are charting the way to a sustainable future, along a path that begins and ends amongst the tress in the quiet of Odisha’s forests.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

 

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons
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