Inter Press ServiceSpecial Report – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Tue, 21 Nov 2017 15:36:53 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.3 White Elephants and the Urban Challenges of Brasiliahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/white-elephants-urban-challenges-brasilia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=white-elephants-urban-challenges-brasilia http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/white-elephants-urban-challenges-brasilia/#respond Tue, 21 Nov 2017 02:30:05 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153118 Two white elephants – a huge football stadium that draws almost no fans and an empty 16-building complex that was to be the new headquarters of the district government – reflect Brasília’s challenges as a metropolis, beyond its role as the capital of Brazil. The Administrative Centre, where the 15,000 officials of the Federal District […]

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Part of the Administrative Centre built by two private companies between 2013 and 2014, to be the new seat of the government of the Federal District, in Brasilia. The 16-building complex with 3,000 parking spaces is not being used, due to an order by the courts, which are investigating allegations of corruption. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

Part of the Administrative Centre built by two private companies between 2013 and 2014, to be the new seat of the government of the Federal District, in Brasilia. The 16-building complex with 3,000 parking spaces is not being used, due to an order by the courts, which are investigating allegations of corruption. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

By Mario Osava
BRASILIA, Nov 21 2017 (IPS)

Two white elephants – a huge football stadium that draws almost no fans and an empty 16-building complex that was to be the new headquarters of the district government – reflect Brasília’s challenges as a metropolis, beyond its role as the capital of Brazil.

The Administrative Centre, where the 15,000 officials of the Federal District (DF), and from foundations and public companies, were to be based, was built in Taguatinga, one of the largest cities surrounding the “Pilot Plan”, another name for the planned city of Brasília, which was inaugurated in 1960, after it was carved out of the jungle.

“It would be good to have the government here, able to get a closer look at the areas where most of the population lives, generating more jobs and benefits for us,” Laura Morais, a young assistant at a hairdressing salon in the centre of Samambaia, a city next to Taguatinga, told IPS.
"It would be good to have the government here, able to get a closer look at the areas where most of the population lives, generating more jobs and benefits for us." -- Laura Morais

Inaugurated on Dec. 31, 2014 illegally, according to the public prosecutor’s office of the Federal District, the centre was left unused, pending the outcome of a judicial tangle yet to be unraveled.

If the idea were to materialise, “it would turn Taguatinga into a hellhole with even worse traffic jams, but it would boost the growth of Samambaia, which has a lot of free space and few businesses,” explained Paulo Pereira, the owner of an optical shop.

“It would also help to decongest Brasília. That is, it would be better for some, worse for others,” he told IPS before complaining about the corruption that has bogged down the project.

Former DF governor Agnelo Queiroz was accused of receiving in 2014 a bribe of 2.5 million Brazilian reais (over 760,000 dollars at present), shared with his deputy governor Tadeu Fellipelli, to promote the construction of the Administrative Centre.

The accusation came from executives of the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht, which partnered with another construction firm, Via Engineering, to build the complex, in a Public-Private Partnership by which the companies would complete the work and would be subsequently remunerated with monthly fees for 22 years.

Odebrecht, Brazil’s largest construction company, which is active in dozens of countries, reached a plea deal with the justice system to cooperate in the corruption scandal that since 2014 has led to the imprisonment of dozens of businesspersons and politicians who offered or received bribes for public contracts, especially oil companies.

Laura Morais smiles in the hairdressing salon where she works in downtown Samambaia, a satellite city of the capital of Brazil. She complains about the lack of leisure and cultural activities in the city, founded in 1989, and in others that surround the Federal District. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

Laura Morais smiles in the hairdressing salon where she works in downtown Samambaia, a satellite city of the capital of Brazil. She complains about the lack of leisure and cultural activities in the city, founded in 1989, and in others that surround the Federal District. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

Queiroz and his predecessor, José Arruda, are in prison for another corruption case, the overbilling of the works on the Mané Garrincha stadium, which was expanded to host several of the matches for the 2014 World Cup, which took place in Brazil.

With an initial budget of 210 million dollars, its cost more than doubled, requiring an additional 270 million dollars, according to investigations by the Federal Police.

Corruption has been proven in the construction of many of the 12 stadiums used in the FIFA (International Federation of Associated Football) World Cup, but the one in Brasilia was the most expensive.

Its capacity was raised to 72,788 spectators – ridiculous in a city without a strong football tradition or clubs to justify such an investment. The average attendance at local matches does not reach 2,000 fans, the local football association acknowledges.

Maintaining this gigantic stadium costs more money to the public treasury and generates permanent losses for indefinite time.

The solution would be to turn the stadium into a cultural-sports complex, with “a museum, a library, movie theaters and conference rooms, as well as a shopping center, all related to sports,” suggested José Cruz, a veteran local journalist, with decades covering sports.

“It is not something new, but would just copy what has already been done successfully in Europe,” and in Brasilia there are great sports heroes, such as runner Joaquim Cruz and the ex-Formula 1 driver Nelson Piquet, who would attract public, he told IPS.

The Mané Garrincha football stadium, one of Brasilia’s white elephants, which is currently mainly used for its parking lot, where thousands of buses park for a good part of the day, waiting to take tens of thousands of commuters back to the dormitory cities where they live. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

The Mané Garrincha football stadium, one of Brasilia’s white elephants, which is currently mainly used for its parking lot, where thousands of buses park for a good part of the day, waiting to take tens of thousands of commuters back to the dormitory cities where they live. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

But to do this it would be necessary to outsource or grant the contract to the private sector, because “the State has no structure to manage this type of initiative,” said the journalist.

For the Administrative Centre, the way out would also be seeking another use for the group of buildings between four and 15 storeys high, in an area of 178,000 square metres, in the middle of the most populous satellite cities, such as Ceilândia, Samambaia, Taguatinga and Aguas Claras, which have a combined population of 1.08 million inhabitants, according to the Federal District Planning Company (Codeplan).

A U.S. university, which intends to open a campus in Brazil, expressed interest in the facilities.

But the judicial situation prevents short-term solutions. Odebrecht claims to have invested more than 300 million dollars in the complex and aims to recover the investment through international arbitration.

For the current government of the DF, headed by socialist Rodrigo Rollemberg, it is not viable to change its headquarters at a cost of millions of dollars per month, at a time of economic crisis and fiscal limitations.

One option is to cancel the 2009 contract, in light of the illegalities that plagued the project. In addition to the allegations of corruption, the previous government of Queiroz inaugurated the Administrative Centre on the last day of its term, based on a permit that the courts threw out as fraudulent.

Buildings grow like mushrooms in Samambaia, the second-largest city surrounding Brasilia, which has grown by about 10,000 people each year, at a rate of at least four percent. On the left, the metro rails of the capital's Federal District, with a capacity much higher than that in use. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

Buildings grow like mushrooms in Samambaia, the second-largest city surrounding Brasilia, which has grown by about 10,000 people each year, at a rate of at least four percent. On the left, the metro rails of the capital’s Federal District, with a capacity much higher than that in use. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

Queiroz and the Taguatinga local authorities responsible for the permit and named one day before it was issued, were heavily fined and banned from politics as a result of the fraud.

The scandal overshadows the problems of urban development that the Federal District faces, formed by the Pilot Plan or Brasilia, seat of the national and district government, and its satellite urban municipalities, officially called Administrative Regions.

The population of the Federal District stands at 3.04 million, according to Codeplan’s District Survey of Households, six times the number of inhabitants predicted when Brasilia was built six decades ago.

The Pilot Plan currently is home to just over 220,000 people, but offers the most and best jobs, attracting a massive influx of commuters from surrounding municipalities every morning.

Ceilandia, the largest city in the area, had a population of 459,000 inhabitants in 2015, having grown 13.6 percent in four years. In the city, 28.1 percent of the active population has a job within the Pilot Plan, while 37.3 works in the municipality itself.

Other neighboring cities have somewhat higher rates of inhabitants employed in the heart of the capital, making up the crowds of commuters that move daily to the Pilot Plan and return at night to their dormitory cities.

The thousands of buses that carry the commuters every day are parked from morning to afternoon in open spaces, such as the square in front of the Mané Garrincha Stadium, until the workers finish their shifts and return to the surrounding municipalities.

A subway, with a single 39-km line that branches off into the different municipalities, is the major mass transport project, but only mobilises about 3.5 million passengers a month, with the trains sitting idle outside rush hour.
Bringing jobs to the periphery would not be a bad idea, but transferring and centralising all the local administration to the outskirts may respond more to personal appetites than to the call for better public management, as other examples show, such as Belo Horizonte, capital of the southern state of Minas Gerais.

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Cycles of Wealth in Brazil’s Amazon: Gold, Lumber, Cattle and Now, Energyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/cycles-wealth-brazils-amazon-gold-lumber-cattle-now-energy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cycles-wealth-brazils-amazon-gold-lumber-cattle-now-energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/cycles-wealth-brazils-amazon-gold-lumber-cattle-now-energy/#respond Sat, 21 Oct 2017 07:50:23 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152630 The burning down of the local forest, on Jun. 29, 1979, was the first step towards the creation of the city of Paranaita, in a municipality that is now trying to shed its reputation as a major deforester of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest and has named itself “the energy capital.” Two large hydropower plants, one of […]

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Aerial view of the TelesPires Hydropower Plant, which has been operating since 2015.With an installed capacity of 1,820 MW, it is the biggest plant on the TelesPires River, which runs across the west-central state of MatoGrosso. Built in the middle of the Amazon rainforest, the reservoir is only 160 sq km in size and only displaced one family. Credit: Courtesy of CHTP

Aerial view of the TelesPires Hydropower Plant, which has been operating since 2015.With an installed capacity of 1,820 MW, it is the biggest plant on the TelesPires River, which runs across the west-central state of MatoGrosso. Built in the middle of the Amazon rainforest, the reservoir is only 160 sq km in size and only displaced one family. Credit: Courtesy of CHTP

By Mario Osava
PARANAITA, Brazil, Oct 21 2017 (IPS)

The burning down of the local forest, on Jun. 29, 1979, was the first step towards the creation of the city of Paranaita, in a municipality that is now trying to shed its reputation as a major deforester of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest and has named itself “the energy capital.”

Two large hydropower plants, one of which is still being built, have changed life in Paranaita. But its future is not yet clearly defined between the rainforest, cattle-breeding and soy and maize monoculture that have advanced from the south, deforesting the west-central state of MatoGrosso, which is the southeastern gateway to the Amazon jungle region.

Construction of the plants has brought investment, new housing and hotels and has given a new boost to the local economy in the city, which now has large supermarkets. “My hotel only had six apartments; now it has 12 complete apartments and a more attractive facade,”Francisco Karasiaki Júnior said brightly, during a tour of the area by IPS.

The Teles Pires dam, 85 km northwest of Paranaita, employed 5,719 workers at the height of construction, in July 2014.

The dam began to be built in August 2011 and was completed in late 2014, when work had already begun on the São Manoel – the former name of the Teles Pires river – dam, which is smaller and located farther away from the city, 125 km downstream.

São Manoel suffered delays when construction was temporarily halted by court order and when the company building it came close to bankruptcy as a result of corruption scandals, which led to massive lay-offs in late 2016.

“I lost money, many of the people who stayed here didn’t pay their bills,” complained Ster Seravali Petrofeza, 68, the owner of the Petros Hotel and of a large store that sells machinery and appliances for production, construction and households in a building on the main street of the city that she saw grow up from nothing.

“The era of the ‘garimpo’ brought me my best business,” she said, recalling the boom in informal gold mining that brought Paranaitaprosperity during the 1980s and the early 1990s.

The sales of dredges, motors and other equipment purchased by miners ensured the success of the business she ran with her late husband, who “used to spend all his time on the road, looking for products, assembling dredges and delivering them to the ‘garimpeiros’ (informal gold-miners) on the river, working round the clock,” she said.

Pedro Correa, director of the environment in the Paranaita city government, looks at a photo of the city surrounded by forests, on his computer screen. Originally from the southern state of São Paulo, he worked for a few months on the construction of the Teles Pires hydropower dam and decided to stay in this town because he likes the quality of life. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Pedro Correa, director of the environment in the Paranaita city government, looks at a photo of the city surrounded by forests, on his computer screen. Originally from the southern state of São Paulo, he worked for a few months on the construction of the Teles Pires hydropower dam and decided to stay in this town because he likes the quality of life. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“The ‘garimpo’ led to the emergence of 11 hotels in the city, between 1982 and 1989,” and put an end to frustrated attempts to grow tomatoes, coffee, cacao and tropical fruit like the guaraná, said Karasiaki, another pioneer who has lived 37 of his 53 years in Paranaíta and inherited the hotel built by his father.

“Our employees would disappear; they would go and ‘garimpar’ (mine for gold),” he said.

But the mining industry declined in the 1990s. The crisis was overcome by the intensification of the extraction of timber and the mushrooming of sawmills in the city. “We started selling chainsaws like hotcakes, about 12 a day,” said Petrofeza.

That era ended in turn the following decade, as a result of increasingly strict environmental controls.

The construction of hydropower dams gave the city new life, reviving the local market, “but they didn’t leave us anything permanent,” lamented the businesswoman, who was widowed in 1991.

“Agriculture isour hope,” said Petrofeza, whose two adult children produce soy and maize.

Paranaita exemplifies the “boom and collapse” cycles that affect an economy based on the exploitation of natural resources in Brazil’s rainforest, said economist João Andrade, coordinator of Socioenvironmental Networks at the non-governmental Centre of Life Institute (ICV), which operates in the north of the state of MatoGrosso.

Mining, rubber, timber, livestock and monoculture – all environmentally unsustainable activities – have succeeded each other in different areas, some of which have now been affected by the construction of hydropower plants.

The hotel and construction materials store owned by Ster Seravali Petrofeza in the city of Paranaita, in the west-central Brazilian state of Mato Grosso. The business and its owner have experienced the economic cycles of boom and collapse in this city, which now aims to become the capital of hydroelectricity. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The hotel and construction materials store owned by Ster Seravali Petrofeza in the city of Paranaita, in the west-central Brazilian state of Mato Grosso. The business and its owner have experienced the economic cycles of boom and collapse in this city, which now aims to become the capital of hydroelectricity. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The plants do not change the model of occupation and domination of the Amazon, but could kick off a new cycle, by providing more accessible energy to the mining industry and facilitating the expansion of export agriculture with new roads, Andrade fears.

Paranaíta, a city of just under 11,000 people in 2010, according to the latest census, declared a state of emergency in November 2013, due to the collapse in public services, because the population had expanded by two-thirds in the first few years of construction of the TelesPires plant, according to the city government.

Rents, the prices of goods and services, crime rates, and demand for health and education suddenly shot up, said biologist Paulo Correa, director of Environmental Projects and Licensing in the city government and a former employee of the Teles Pires dam, who decided to stay in Paranaita.

Contagious diseases like malaria and sexually transmitted infections also increased when the construction work was at its peak in the affected municipalities, said Carina Sernaglia Gomes,analyst of municipal environmental management at ICV.

The number of rapes rose more than threefold in the city of Alta Floresta, an important regional hub of50,000 people, with an airport and institutions of higher learning. The total climbed from 11 cases in 2011 to 36 in 2015, according to police records, Gomes pointed out.

In Paranaita, homicides and other violent crimes rose from 20 to 70 cases in that period.

One of the new avenues in Paranaita, whose population rose 70 percent between 2010 and 2014, which threatened to bring about a collapse in public services, during the nearby construction of two hydroelectric dams on the Teles Pires river, at the gateway to Brazil’s Amazon jungle region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

One of the new avenues in Paranaita, whose population rose 70 percent between 2010 and 2014, which threatened to bring about a collapse in public services, during the nearby construction of two hydroelectric dams on the Teles Pires river, at the gateway to Brazil’s Amazon jungle region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

These negative visions contrast with the enormous social and environmental investments made by the companies, especially the TelesPires Hydroelectric Company (CHTP). But nearly always in this kind of project, the compensation and mitigating measures arrive too late, after the worst impacts of the works have already been felt.

Paving the 55-km road to Paranaitaconnected the once-isolated city with the rest of the world. “It wasn’t an obligation, but we understood what the local populace was longing for and we did it,” said CHTP environment director Marcos Azevedo Duarte.

A road trip between the two towns was cut from three hours to just over half an hour, making it possible for the young people of Paranaitato study at the universities in Alta Floresta.

The training of 2,800 local workerswas “a legacy of knowledge,” said Duarte. Local labour power represented 20 percent of the company’s total at the height of construction.

The company returned outside workers to their homes after the work was done, to ease the demographic pressure on Paranaíta, the most heavily affected town due to its proximity and small population, he said.

Besides the 44 projects aimed at compensating for the damage in the affected municipalities, CHTP has attempted to boost local development.

Along with the city government and ICV, it has fomented improvements in production and administration in the rural settlement of São Pedro, population 5,000, located 40 km fromParanaita, and still dependent on food shipped in from southern Brazil.

Ensuring land titles to family farmers is a priority, said Duarte.

Getting Paranaitaoff the Environment Ministry’s black list of municipalities guilty of the worst deforestation in the Amazon is a goal of the city government that has the support of CHTP. Reducing the deforested area and legalising rural properties in a national land registry are the requirements for achieving that.

With respect to indigenous people, who the company compensated with 20 specific programmes, mainly the donation of vehicles, boats, fuel and community centres, Duarte acknowledged a major failing: the flooding of a site sacred to the Munduruku people, the “seven falls”.

“There is no way to compensate for a sacred site,” and the company feels the obligation to address proposals like building a centre for memory and culture for local indigenous communities and handing over the funeral urns found in the excavation during the construction of the plant, he said.

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Dams Hurt Indigenous and Fishing Communities in Brazilian Amazonhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/dams-hurt-indigenous-fishing-communities-brazilian-amazon/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dams-hurt-indigenous-fishing-communities-brazilian-amazon http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/dams-hurt-indigenous-fishing-communities-brazilian-amazon/#respond Mon, 16 Oct 2017 16:02:39 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152515 The dirty water is killing more and more fish and ‘Taricaya’ yellow-spotted river turtles every day. In addition, the river is not following its usual cycle, and the water level rises or declines without warning, regardless of the season, complained three Munduruku indigenous law students in the south of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest. The change in […]

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The Teles Pires river along the stretch between Sinop and Colider, two cities from which two new hydropower stations take their name, which are transforming the northern part of the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, a major energy generator and producer and exporter of soybean, maize and beef. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

The Teles Pires river along the stretch between Sinop and Colider, two cities from which two new hydropower stations take their name, which are transforming the northern part of the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, a major energy generator and producer and exporter of soybean, maize and beef. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

By Mario Osava
ALTA FLORESTA, Brazil, Oct 16 2017 (IPS)

The dirty water is killing more and more fish and ‘Taricaya’ yellow-spotted river turtles every day. In addition, the river is not following its usual cycle, and the water level rises or declines without warning, regardless of the season, complained three Munduruku indigenous law students in the south of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest.

The change in the natural flow of the Teles Pires river, caused by the installation of four hydropower plants, one in operation since 2015 and the others still under construction, is apparently reducing fish catches, which native people living in the lower stretch of the basin depend on as their main source of protein.

“When the water level rises, the fish swim into the ‘igapó’ and they are trapped when the level suddenly drops with unusual speed,” explained 26-year-old Aurinelson Kirixi. The “igapó” is a Brazilian term that refers to the forested, floodable shore of Amazon jungle rivers where aquatic animals seek food.

That includes the yellow-spotted river turtle (Podocnemis unifilis), a species still abundant in the Brazilian Amazon, whose meat is “as important as fish for us,” the young Munduruku man told IPS during a tour of the indigenous territories affected by the hydroelectric plants.

“It’s even tastier than fish,” he agreed with his two fellow students. But “it is in danger of extinction; today we see them in smaller numbers and possibly our children will only see them in photos,” lamented Dorivan Kirixi, also 26.

“The fish die, as well as the turtles, because the water has gotten dirty from the works upstream,” said 27-year-old Isaac Waru, who could not study Administration because the degree is not offered in Alta Floresta, a city of 50,000 people in the north of the state of Mato Grosso, in west-central Brazil.

Local indigenous people avoid drinking water from the river, even bathing with it, after cases of diarrhea, itchy rashes and eye problems, said the three students who come from three different villages. To return to their homes they have to travel at least eight hours, half by road and the other half by river.

This year they began to study law thanks to scholarships paid by the São Manoel Hydroelectric Plant – also known as the Teles Pires Plant, which is the nearest to the indigenous lands – as part of the compensation measures for damage caused by the project.

They offered a total of seven scholarships for the three affected indigenous communities: the Apiaká, Kayabí and Munduruku, the latter of which is the largest indigenous group in the Tapajós river basin, formed by the confluence of the Teles Pires and Juruena rivers.

Three Munduruku indigenous students who study law in the city of Alta Floresta, in the southeast of the Brazilian Amazon region, thanks to scholarships from one of the companies building the hydroelectric plants on the Teles Pires river. They are highly critical of the impact of the new dams on their people. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

Three Munduruku indigenous students who study law in the city of Alta Floresta, in the southeast of the Brazilian Amazon region, thanks to scholarships from one of the companies building the hydroelectric plants on the Teles Pires river. They are highly critical of the impact of the new dams on their people. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

The compensations for the indigenous communities were few in number and poorly carried out: “precariously built houses and health posts,” said Patxon Metuktire, local coordinator of the National Indigenous Foundation (FUNAI), the government body for the protection of indigenous peoples in Brazil.

“The companies believe that our problem is just one of logistics, that it is just a matter of providing trucks and fuel, and they forget that their projects damage the ecosystem that is the basis of our well-being and way of life,” he told IPS.

An oil spill further contaminated the river in November 2016. The hydroelectric plants denied any responsibility, but distributed mineral water to the indigenous villages, recalled Metuktire, whose last name is the name of his ethnic group, a subgroup of the Kayapó people.

Fisherpersons are another group directly affected by the drastic modification of the course of the river by the hydropower dams, because their lives depend on flowing water.

Since the vegetation in the river began to die off after the river was diverted to build the dam, fish catches have shrunk, said Solange Arrolho, a professor of biology at the State University of Mato Grosso in Alta Floresta, where she is head of the Ichthyology Laboratory of the Southern Amazon.

A map of the Teles Pires river, a source of hydroelectric energy in Mato Grosso, in the southeast of the Brazilian Amazon region. In red is the location of hydroelectric power plants that have damaged the way of life of indigenous people and riverbank communities that depend on fishing. Credit: Courtesy of Instituto Ciencia e Vida

A map of the Teles Pires river, a source of hydroelectric energy in Mato Grosso, in the southeast of the Brazilian Amazon region. In red is the location of hydroelectric power plants that have damaged the way of life of indigenous people and riverbank communities that depend on fishing. Credit: Courtesy of Instituto Ciencia e Vida

The researcher, who said she has been “studying fish for 30” of her 50 years, led a project to monitor fish populations in 2014 in the area of influence of the Colider hydroelectric power station, as part of the Basic Environmental Program that the company that built and will operate the dam must carry out.

Colider, which will start operating in mid-2018, is the smallest of the four plants that are being built on a 450-km stretch in the middle course of the river, with a capacity of 300 MW and a 183-sq-km reservoir.

The others are the Teles Pires and São Manoel plants, downstream, and Sinop, upstream. The entire complex will add 3,228 megawatts of power and 746 square kilometers of reservoirs.

These works affect fishing by altering the river banks and the river flow, reducing migration of fish, and cutting down riverbank forests, which feed fish with fruit and insects that “fall from the trees into the water,” said Arrolho . “The fish do not adapt, they migrate,” he told IPS.

The Teles Pires river is suffering from the accumulated effects of polluting activities, such as soy monoculture, with intensive use of agrochemicals, livestock farming and mining, he pointed out.

The Colider and Sinop plants do not directly affect indigenous lands such as those located downstream, but they do affect fisherpersons.

“They killed many fish with their explosions and digging,” said Julita Burko Duleba, president of the Sinop Colony of Fisherpersons and Region (Z-16), based in the city of Sinop, the capital city of northern Mato Grosso.

“Fish catches in the Teles Pires basin have dropped: we used to catch over 200 kilos per week, but now we catch a maximum of 120 kilos and on average only between 30 and 40 kilos,” she said.

At the age of 68, she now does administrative work. But she was a fisherwoman for more than two decades, and her husband still works as a fisherman, the activity that allowed them, like other colleagues, to live well and buy a house.

 Deforestation due to the expansion of cattle ranches dominates the landscape in the vicinity of Alta Floresta, the city that is a southeastern gate to the Brazilian Amazon rainforest, and is also known as a center for ecotourism based on fishing and bird-watching. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

Deforestation due to the expansion of cattle ranches dominates the landscape in the vicinity of Alta Floresta, the city that is a southeastern gate to the Brazilian Amazon rainforest, and is also known as a center for ecotourism based on fishing and bird-watching. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

They are currently struggling to obtain better conditions for the sector, such as a warehouse and a refrigerated truck that would allow them to ”collect” the fish from the widely spread members and sell them in the market.

One difficulty facing this colony is the dispersion of its members throughout 32 municipalities. The association at one point had 723 members, but now there are only 290, mainlyin the cities of Colider and Sinop, from which the nearby hydroelectric plants take their names.

Many have retired, others have given up. “We are an endangered species,” Duleba lamented to IPS.

The compensations offered by the hydroelectric companies for the damage caused do not include a focus on helping small-scale fisherpersons recover their livelihoods, as Duleba and other activists had hoped.

The headquarters of the Colony, which will be built by the Sinop Power Company, owner of the power plant of the same name, will be more of a tourist complex, with a restaurant, lookout, swimming pools and soccer field, on the river bank, 23 km from the city .

There will be a berth and an ice factory which could be useful for fishing, but not the fishing village, with its houses and infrastructure, which Duleba tried to negotiate.

In Colider, fisherpersons preferred compensation in cash, instead of collective projects, she lamented.

Northern Mato Grosso, where the land is the current source of local incomes and wealth, which is now based in agriculture, livestock farming and mining, after being based on timber, has now discovered the value of its water resources.

But its energy use is imposed to the detriment of traditional users, just as the land was concentrated in export monoculture to the detriment of food production.

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Hydropower Dams Invade Brazil’s Agricultural Economyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/hydropower-dams-invade-brazils-agricultural-economy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=hydropower-dams-invade-brazils-agricultural-economy http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/hydropower-dams-invade-brazils-agricultural-economy/#respond Mon, 09 Oct 2017 20:43:17 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152403 “After being displaced for the third time,” Daniel Schlindewein became an activist struggling for the rights of people affected by dams in Brazil, and is so combative that the legal authorities banned him from going near the installations of the Sinop hydroelectric dam, which is in the final stages of construction. He was a teenager […]

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Brothers Daniel (left) and Armando Schlindewein stand in front of the small bridge over the Matrinxã river which will be submerged by the filling of the Sinop hydropower dam reservoir in western Brazil. Since the house they share is on the other side of the river, they will have to move, and their farms, which are connected by the bridge, will be separated. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Brothers Daniel (left) and Armando Schlindewein stand in front of the small bridge over the Matrinxã river which will be submerged by the filling of the Sinop hydropower dam reservoir in western Brazil. Since the house they share is on the other side of the river, they will have to move, and their farms, which are connected by the bridge, will be separated. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
SINOP, Brazil, Oct 9 2017 (IPS)

“After being displaced for the third time,” Daniel Schlindewein became an activist struggling for the rights of people affected by dams in Brazil, and is so combative that the legal authorities banned him from going near the installations of the Sinop hydroelectric dam, which is in the final stages of construction.

He was a teenager in 1974 when the Iguaçu National Park was expanded in the southwest of the country, leading to the expulsion of his family and other local farmers. Seven years later, his family was once again evicted, due to the construction of the Binational Itaipu dam, shared with Paraguay, which flooded 1,350 sq km of land.

That was during Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship, when fighting for people’s rights could lead to prison and torture.

Today there are laws, recognition of rights and mechanisms to defend people which make conflicts more visible, such as the one triggered by the construction of four dams on the Teles Pires river in the western state of Mato Grosso, where Schlindewein now lives, 1,500 km north of where he was born.

The announcement, last decade, of the plans for the new dams “prompted previously fragmented social movements to organise in their resistance” in Mato Grosso, Maria Luiz Troian, an instructor at the Sinop state vocational-technical school, told IPS.

In 2010 the Teles Pires Forum was born, an umbrella group of trade unions, non-governmental organisations, religious groups, associations of indigenous people and fisherpersons, university professors and groups like the Movement of those Affected by Dams (MAB) and the Landless Movement (MST).

It is a “pluralistic forum without hierarchies,” for the defence of rights that are threatened or violated by hydropower dams, said Troian, one of the group’s most active participants.

Farmers whose land will be flooded by the construction of dams “are forced to accept unfair compensation, because the alternative is legal action, which takes a long time and has an uncertain outcome,” she said.

Aerial view of the hydropower dam being built by the Sinop Energy Company on the Teles Pires river which is changing the lives of the people in a large part of the western Brazilian state of Mato Grosso – both family farmers and monoculture producers of soy. Credit: Courtesy of CES

Aerial view of the hydropower dam being built by the Sinop Energy Company on the Teles Pires river which is changing the lives of the people in a large part of the western Brazilian state of Mato Grosso – both family farmers and monoculture producers of soy. Credit: Courtesy of CES

“In practice it is expropriation; they pay us four times less than the local market price,” complained Schlindewein, 56, one of the first people who settled in the village of Gleba Mercedes, in 1997, five years after emigrating from the southern state of Paraná, drawn by the prospect of cheap land in Mato Grosso.

“Many gave up because it rained too much and it took four hours to get to the city of Sinop, just 100 km away, in ‘girico’ (the name given to improvised motorised carts brought by peasant farmers from Paraná),” he said. Electric power did not arrive in the area until 10 years later.

Despite the difficulties, years later Schlindewein brought his divorced brother Armando, one year younger, who purchased land next to his, separated by the Matrinxã river that runs into the Teles Pires river.

The two brothers share a tractor and other machinery, and live together in the elder brother’s house, less than 100 metres from the small river.

But the dam will put an end to their brotherly cooperation, because the water will rise up to eight metres deep in that area, submerging the small wooden bridge that connects their farms and forcing them to move the house to higher ground.

The solution demanded by the Schlindewein brothers is to build up the riverbanks and make a longer, higher bridge. This modification depends on the Sinop Energy Company (CES), which owns the dam, and is important for local residents, because otherwise the distance to the city would be increased by 20 km since they would have to skirt around the flooded Matrinxã river.

The Teles Pires river, where it winds its way past the future Sinop and Colider hydropower plants, under a bridge on BR-163, the road used to transport most of the soy produced in the state of Mato Grosso northwards to Miritituba, the start of the Tapajós river waterway, which continues along the Amazon river until running into the Atlantic ocean, in Northeast Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Teles Pires river, where it winds its way past the future Sinop and Colider hydropower plants, under a bridge on BR-163, the road used to transport most of the soy produced in the state of Mato Grosso northwards to Miritituba, the start of the Tapajós river waterway, which continues along the Amazon river until running into the Atlantic ocean, in Northeast Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Of the 560 families in the village – also known as the Wesley Manoel dos Santos settlement – 214 will see their land totally or partially flooded by the dam when the reservoir is filled in 2018.

Besides the low level of compensation, some complain that improvements made to their land and assets that they will lose have not been taken into account.

In the case of José da Silva Teodoro, his wife Jacinta de Souza and their four children, 79 of their 81 hectares of land will be flooded. With the indemnification, they were able to buy 70 hectares of land nearby, but “without the three sources of water” they have on their farm now – the Teles Pires river along the back and a stream running on either side.

“It wasn’t enough money for us to buy land within the settlement; we were expelled and we will lose our fruit trees, for which they hardly gave us a thing,” Teodoro told IPS. “We’ll plant new ones, but they won’t produce fruit for four or five years.”

The couple, who also come from southern Brazil, grow bananas, cassava, pineapples and mangos, raise chickens, and produce milk and cheese.

Their neighbour Ely Tarabossi, his wife and two children already had to give up half of their 100 cows, because the heavy traffic of trucks, tractors and buses caused by the construction of the dam cut off their access to water from the river. But Tarabossi plans to stay, even though the reservoir will flood 30 of his 76 hectares.

“I don’t have any other option,” he said. Although he was reluctant to do so, he plans to dedicate himself to monoculture production of soy, of which Mato Grosso is Brazil’s largest producer. “We tried everything here, from cassava to cucumbers…logistics is the hurdle. I’m 83 km from Sinop, and growing fresh produce is not feasible – everything perishes on the long journey there,” he said.

José da Silva Teodoro and his wife Jacinta de Souza stand next to their “girico” – the small, improvised vehicle that they use to transport people and products in the northern part of the western Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, which they brought with them when they moved here from the southern state of Paraná. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

José da Silva Teodoro and his wife Jacinta de Souza stand next to their “girico” – the small, improvised vehicle that they use to transport people and products in the northern part of the western Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, which they brought with them when they moved here from the southern state of Paraná. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The logging industry was the first economic driver in the area, and helped clear the land for agriculture, according to the local residents.

Then came cattle-raising, which led to the deforestation of vast expanses of land, followed by soy, which rotates with corn or cotton every year. Livestock and then soy dominated the middle and northern part of the state of Mato Grosso and spread northwards, into the Amazon rainforest.

Then came the construction of hydropower dams.

The 408-MW Sinop dam, 70 km from the city of the same name, built at a cost of 950 million dollars, and its 342-sq-km reservoir will favour three hydroelectric plants downstream: Colider (300 MW), Teles Pires (1,820 MW) and São Manoel (700 MW).

With regard to compensation, CES stated that its calculations are based on the rules of the Brazilian Association for Technical Standards, subject to approval by the concerned parties. The negotiations, which have almost been completed, are carried out individually with each property owner, the company’s communication department told IPS.

“Everyone who is affected has constant meetings with our teams, who are always available for whatever is needed,” the statement said. Bridges and access roads will be built with the approval and “active participation” of the concerned parties, with the aim of minimising the impacts of the dam, it added.

To boost local development, CES has been implementing a Fruit and Vegetable Production Project over the last year in the settlements of Mercedes and 12 de Outubro, with the participation of 88 families.

Large agricultural producers in the area complain that the project ruled out sluices in the hydropower plants, and as a result, discarded the idea of a Teles Pires-Tapajós waterway for exporting soy produced in Mato Grosso, which currently depends on road transport.

“The hydroelectric dams respond to a national need; unfortunately their construction was agreed before the adoption of the new law that requires the creation of canals for future sluices,” Antonio Galvan, the president of the Sinop rural producers association, told IPS.

His hope now is that the waterway will be created on another nearby river, the Juruena, which along with the Teles Pires runs into the Tapajós river, and connect with the 1,142-km Ferrogrão railway running between Sinop and Miritituba, the export port on the Tapajós river in the northern Amazon state of Pará.

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Rainwater Harvesting Improves Lives in El Salvadorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/rainwater-harvesting-improves-lives-el-salvador/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rainwater-harvesting-improves-lives-el-salvador http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/rainwater-harvesting-improves-lives-el-salvador/#respond Wed, 04 Oct 2017 17:33:52 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152354 Filling a jug with water to supply her household needs used to be an ordeal for Salvadoran villager Corina Canjura, because it meant walking several kilometers to the river, which took up a great deal of time, or else paying for water. But an innovative project of rainwater harvesting has changed her life. “Now we […]

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Corina Canjura loads a jug of water that she has just filled, thanks to a system of rainwater collection located on the ground next to her house, which also supplies another 12 families in the village of Los Corvera in the municipality of Tepetitán, in the central Salvadoran department of San Vicente. Credit: Edgardo Ayala / IPS

Corina Canjura loads a jug of water that she has just filled, thanks to a system of rainwater collection located on the ground next to her house, which also supplies another 12 families in the village of Los Corvera in the municipality of Tepetitán, in the central Salvadoran department of San Vicente. Credit: Edgardo Ayala / IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
TEPETITÁN, El Salvador, Oct 4 2017 (IPS)

Filling a jug with water to supply her household needs used to be an ordeal for Salvadoran villager Corina Canjura, because it meant walking several kilometers to the river, which took up a great deal of time, or else paying for water.

But an innovative project of rainwater harvesting has changed her life.

“Now we just pump, fill the tank and we have water ready to use,” said the 30-year-old woman from the village of Los Corvera, in the rural municipality of Tepetitán, in El Salvador’s central department of San Vicente.

In this village, 13 families benefit from a system that collects the rainwater that falls on the roof of Canjura’s house, which is then channeled through a pipe into a huge polyethylene bag, with a capacity of 25,000 liters.

From there, it is manually pumped into a tank with a faucet used by all of the families.

“Since it has rained a lot, the bag is always full, which is a joy for us,” Canjura told IPS, while carrying a jug on her head which she had just filled."We are the ones who do the housework and have to go looking for water... we are the ones who worry and suffer to find it for our families." -- Lorena Ramirez

The initiative, launched in February 2017, is being promoted by the Global Water Partnership (GWP), which, together with Australian aid and the Ford Foundation, have provided funds to get it going, while local organisations and governments have given operational support.

The system´s technology was developed by the consortium Mexichem Amanco, which entered into the market of polyethylene membranes used as waterproof barriers in civil engineering works, sanitary landfills, and artificial lagoons for aquaculture, among other uses.

In 2013, GWP Central America had already promoted a water harvesting project in southern Honduras in communities suffering from drought, and this project is being replicated in El Salvador’s Jiboa Valley.

In this small country of 6.4 million people, eight rainwater harvesting systems have been installed so far in seven municipalities in the Jiboa valley in San Vicente. There is one in each municipality, except for Jerusalen, located in the department of La Paz, where two systems have been installed.

Of the 323 families identified as having problems of access to water in rural communities in these municipalities, 100 are benefiting directly from the project, conceived of as a pilot plan that would offer lessons for its expansion to other areas.

Participation by local women has been vital to the implementation of the project, taking advantage of the fact that they already have a strong presence in the communities through the Network of Women Entrepreneurs of the Jiboa Valley.

“We are the ones who do the housework and have to go looking for water… we are the ones who worry and suffer to find it for our families,” said 43-year-old Lorena Ramirez.

Ramirez shared her experience with IPS during a meeting on the country’s water situation, held on Sept. 21 in San Vicente, the capital of the department.

Women from rural communities in the Jiboa Valley debate at a forum in San Vicente, in central El Salvador, about the impact of water scarcity in that ecoregion. They are the main drivers of the installation in their villages of a system of rainwater harvesting, which has improved the living conditions of the participating families. Credit: Edgardo Ayala / IPS

Women from rural communities in the Jiboa Valley debate at a forum in San Vicente, in central El Salvador, about the impact of water scarcity in that ecoregion. They are the main drivers of the installation in their villages of a system of rainwater harvesting, which has improved the living conditions of the participating families. Credit: Edgardo Ayala / IPS

She is originally from Hacienda Nuevo Oriente, a village of 400 people, located in the jurisdiction of Verapaz, also in the department of San Vicente. There, another 15 families are benefiting from the harvesting of rainwater.

Ramírez, a homemaker who has a kitchen garden, added that, before the arrival of the project, the families of the village had to look for water in the ravines to wash clothes and for other necessities.

The water they used to drink was fetched from a spring located a kilometer away, but they had to get up very early, otherwise it would be empty. “We drank from that spring,” she said.

During the May to October rainy season there is no problem keeping the polyethylene bag full, Ramirez said. But during the dry season, they will have to establish a mechanism for using the resource wisely.

It is estimated that the 25,000 liters stored in the bag are equivalent to five tanker trucks, and can supply a family for 15 days to one month, depending on the use, although each system installed in El Salvador is intended for 15 families.

“We can’t say this completely meets the needs of those 15 families; this is for filling a couple of jugs for drinking water and to use for basic things,” she stressed.

And when the water runs out in the summer, the participating municipalities have committed to sending tanker trucks and keep the bags filled, so there will always be water.

The basic idea is that the harvested water is exclusively for drinking, so the families involved in the program have received a filter to make it potable.

The University of El Salvador will provide equipment and scientific personnel to measure the quality of the water that has been purified, said Marta Alfaro, mayor of Jerusalen, one of the municipalities participating in the programme.

One of these systems is currently being installed in the Jerusalen neighborhood of El Progreso, and another in the village of Veracruz.

“We want to keep installing more systems, it’s not so costly, but the thing is that this year it was not included in the budget,” Alfaro told IPS.

For the next year her administration will include in the budget the installation of 10 systems in 10 other communities.

Each system costs around 1,400 dollars, Vilma Chanta, a researcher in territorial development for the non-governmental National Development Foundation, told IPS.

The plan to harvest rainwater is “a short-term solution for rural communities, instead of installing water pipes connected to the national grid or other mechanisms, which would be for the medium and long term,” added Chanta, who is also a volunteer at the Water Youth Network, an independent space promoted by GWP Central America.

And with the already visible climate change effects, this effort “has the potential to be an alternative for the adaptation to climate change impacts,” she said.

Jorge García, of the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources’ Water Fund, told IPS that one of the main goals of the water plan is to store water in large reservoirs, to address the problem of scarcity.

The plan would cost about 1.2 billion dollars, he said.

“This pilot project in the Jiboa Valley will set a precedent that can be replicated,” he said.

And while the water collected is primarily for drinking, Lorena Ramírez, from Hacienda Nueva Oriente, said that because in the rainy season the bag fills up quickly and must be drained, she plans to capture that surplus in a small well and use it in her garden.

“That way I use it to cover our main needs and irrigate my milpa (traditional corn crop) and my crops of beans, tomatoes and green beans, and without affecting the other 14 families,” she concluded.

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Small Farmers in Brazil’s Amazon Region Seek Sustainabilityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/small-farmers-brazils-amazon-region-seek-sustainability/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=small-farmers-brazils-amazon-region-seek-sustainability http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/small-farmers-brazils-amazon-region-seek-sustainability/#respond Tue, 19 Sep 2017 23:00:28 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152139 The deforestation caused by the expansion of livestock farming and soy monoculture appears unstoppable in the Amazon rainforest in the west-central Brazilian state of Mato Grosso. But small-scale farmers are trying to reverse that trend. Alison Oliveira is a product of the invasion by a wave of farmers from the south, lured by vast, cheap […]

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After living in the city for 10 years, Oliveira and Marcely Federicci da Silva, a young married couple, decided to return to work on their farm with a sustainable agriculture project, nearby Alta Floresta, in the so-called Portal of the Amazon, in the west-central Brazilian state of Mato Grosso. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

After living in the city for 10 years, Oliveira and Marcely Federicci da Silva, a young married couple, decided to return to work on their farm with a sustainable agriculture project, nearby Alta Floresta, in the so-called Portal of the Amazon, in the west-central Brazilian state of Mato Grosso. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
ALTA FLORESTA, Brazil, Sep 19 2017 (IPS)

The deforestation caused by the expansion of livestock farming and soy monoculture appears unstoppable in the Amazon rainforest in the west-central Brazilian state of Mato Grosso. But small-scale farmers are trying to reverse that trend.

Alison Oliveira is a product of the invasion by a wave of farmers from the south, lured by vast, cheap land in the Amazon region when the 1964-1985 military dictatorship aggressively promoted the occupation of the rainforest.

“I was born here in 1984, but my grandfather came from Paraná (a southern state) and bought about 16 hectares here, which are currently divided between three families: my father’s, my brother’s and mine,” Oliveira told IPS while milking his cows in a barn that is small but mechanised.

“Milk is our main source of income; today we have 14 cows, 10 of which are giving milk,” he explained. “I also make cheese the way my grandfather taught me, and I sell it to hotels and restaurants, for twice the price of the milk.”

But what distinguishes his farm, 17 km from Alta Floresta, a city of about 50,000 people in northern Mato Grosso, is its mode of production, which involves an agroforestry system that combines crops and trees, irrigated pastureland, an organic garden and free-range egg-laying chickens.

Because of its sustainable agriculture system, the farm is used as a model in an Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) programme, and is visited by students and other interested people.

“We want more: a biodigester, solar power and rural tourism, when we have the money to make the investments,” said Oliveira’s wife, 34-year-old Marcely Federicci da Silva.

The couple discovered their vocation for sustainable farming after living for 10 years in Sinop, which with its 135,000 people is the most populated city in northern Mato Grosso, and which owes its prosperity to soy crops for export.

“Raising two small children in the city is harder,” she said, also attributing their return to the countryside to Olhos de Agua, a project promoted by the municipal government of Alta Floresta to reforest and restore the headwaters of rivers on small rural properties.

 Alison Oliveira, surrounded by the organic crops that he and his wife grow on their small-scale farm outside the city of Alta Floresta, on the southern edge of Brazil’s Amazon region. Sustainable family farming, supported by several organisations, acts as a barrier against deforestation and soy monoculture. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS


Alison Oliveira, surrounded by the organic crops that he and his wife grow on their small-scale farm outside the city of Alta Floresta, on the southern edge of Brazil’s Amazon region. Sustainable family farming, supported by several organisations, acts as a barrier against deforestation and soy monoculture. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The financial viability of the farm owes a great deal to the support received from the non-governmental Ouro Verde Institute (IOV), which in addition to providing technical assistance, created a mechanism for on-line sales, creating links between farmers and consumers, Oliveira pointed out.

The Solidarity-Based Marketing System (Siscos), launched in 2008, is“an on-line market that allows direct interaction between 30 farmers and over 500 registered customers, zootechnician Cirio Custodio da Silva, marketing consultant for the IOV, explained to IPS.

Customers place weekly orders, the system chooses suppliers and picks up the products to be delivered to the buyers in a shop on Wednesdays.

Besides, Siscos supports sales in street markets, and the school feeding programme, which by law in Brazil buys at least 30 per cent of its food products from family farmers, and the women textile workers’ network, who make handcrafted textiles.

The IOV, founded in 1999 in Alta Floresta to drive social participation in sustainable development, especially in agriculture, has promoted since 2010 a network of native seeds, to encourage reforestation and crop diversification.

Alison Oliveira milks one of his cows, which feed on a pasture with nocturnal irrigation, which cuts power costs by 60 per cent. Together with an organic garden and an agroforestry system, it makes their farm an example of sustainability which attracts many visitors. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Alison Oliveira milks one of his cows, which feed on a pasture with nocturnal irrigation, which cuts power costs by 60 per cent. Together with an organic garden and an agroforestry system, it makes their farm an example of sustainability which attracts many visitors. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Seed collectors organised in a 115-member cooperative, with 12 seed banks, 200 selected tree species, and mainly oilseeds for agriculture, represent an activity that is also a source of income, said agronomist Anderson Lopes, head of that area at the IOV.

Initially, the interest of the farmers was limited to having access to agricultural seeds, but later it also extended to
seeds of native tree species, for the restoration of forests, springs and headwaters, and degraded land, he said.

Silva and Lopes have similar backgrounds. Their farming families, from the south, ventured to the so-called Portal of the Amazon, a region that covers 16 municipalities in northern Mato Grosso, where the rainforest begins.

It is a territory with a rural economy, where one-third of the 258,000 inhabitants still live in the countryside, according to the 2010 national census.

It is a transition zone between the area with the largest soybean and maize production in Brazil, in north-central Mato Grosso, and the Amazon region with its dense, sparsely populated jungle.

This is reflected in 14 indigenous territories established in the area and in the number of family farmers – over 20,000 – in contrast with the prevalence of large soybean plantations that are advancing from the south.

The road that connects Sinop – a kind of capital of the empire of soy – with Alta Floresta, 320 km to the north, runs through land that gradually becomes less flat and favourable for mechanised monoculture, with more and more forests and fewer vast agricultural fields.

Pedro Kingfuku, owner of four supermarkets, stands among fruit and vegetables that come from Paraná, 2,000 km south of Paranaita, a municipality with a population of 11,000 people. Local family farming has a great capacity for expansion to cater to the large market in the north of the state of Mato Grosso, in west-central Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Pedro Kinfuku, owner of four supermarkets, stands among fruit and vegetables that come from Paraná, 2,000 km south of Paranaita, a municipality with a population of 11,000 people. Local family farming has a great capacity for expansion to cater to the large market in the north of the state of Mato Grosso, in west-central Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

That tendency is accentuated towards Paranaita, a municipality with a population of 11,000 people, 54 km west of Alta Floresta, which announces the last frontier of livestock farming and soy monoculture, at least through that south-north highway across Mato Grosso, the national leader in the production of soy.

Movements in favour of sustainability, such as the one supported by IOV, and the important presence of family farmers, are joining forces to help curb the invasion of the Amazon region by soy monoculture which dominated north-central Mato Grosso, creating a post-harvest desert-like landscape.

Another non-governmental organisation, the Center of Life Institute (ICV), also active in Alta Floresta and surrounding areas, has a Sustainable Livestock Initiative, with reforestation and restoration of degraded pastures.

The “colonisation” process of the Portal of the Amazon was similar to that of the rest of Mato Grosso. People from the south came with dreams of working in agriculture, after previous waves of loggers and “garimpeiros” – informal miners of gold and precious stones – activities that still continue but have become less prevalent.

“Many of those who obtained land harvested the timber and then returned south,” because planting crops was torture, without roads, marketing or financial support, recalled Daniel Schlindewein, another migrant from Paraná who settled in Sinop in 1997.

Agriculture failed with coffee, rice and other traditional crops that were initially tried, until soy monoculture spread among the small farms, rented from the large producers.

But family farming has survived in the Portal of the Amazon.

“If the town of São Pedro didn’t exist, I would have to close the store in Paranaíta,“ Pedro Kinfuku, the owner of a chain of four supermarkets in the area, told IPS. He opened the stores in 2013 betting that the construction of the Teles Pires Hydropower Plant nearby would generate 5,000 new customers.

“But not even a tenth of what was expected came,“ he lamented.

The 785 farming families who settled in São Pedro, near Paranaíta, saved the local supermarket because they mainly buy there, said Kingfuku, the son of Japanese immigrants who also came from Paraná.

“Among the settlers, the ones who earn the most are the dairy farmers, like my father who has 16 hectares of land,” said Mauricio Dionisio, a young man who works in the supermarket.

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Solar Tents Improve Nutrition in Highlands Villages in Boliviahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/solar-tents-improve-nutrition-in-highlands-villages-in-bolivia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=solar-tents-improve-nutrition-in-highlands-villages-in-bolivia http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/solar-tents-improve-nutrition-in-highlands-villages-in-bolivia/#comments Wed, 07 Jun 2017 01:22:56 +0000 Franz Chavez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150784 In this remote highlands valley community in central Bolivia, a group of Quechua indigenous women have learned how to combat the intense frosts and the shortage of water in solar tents, and to use what they grow to prepare nutritious new meals for their families. In Phuyuwasi, in the central department of Cochabamba, in a […]

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The young Jhaneth Rojas shows radishes planted in a greenhouse-type family garden or solar tent in the village of Phuyuwasi in a highland valley in the central Bolivian department of Cochabamba. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

The young Jhaneth Rojas shows radishes planted in a greenhouse-type family garden or solar tent in the village of Phuyuwasi in a highland valley in the central Bolivian department of Cochabamba. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

By Franz Chávez
PHUYUWASI, Bolivia, Jun 7 2017 (IPS)

In this remote highlands valley community in central Bolivia, a group of Quechua indigenous women have learned how to combat the intense frosts and the shortage of water in solar tents, and to use what they grow to prepare nutritious new meals for their families.

In Phuyuwasi, in the central department of Cochabamba, in a landscape dominated by vegetation resistant to low temperatures, Maribel Vallejos told IPS how the project involving family gardens in greenhouses has changed her life and those of other women in the community.

“I used to buy vegetables for 100 Bolivian pesos (about 12 dollars), but now I save that money,” said Vallejos, the only participant in the project who speaks Spanish as well as their mother tongue, Quechua.

This village ino Pocona, one of the 46 municipalities of the department of Cochabamba, is benefiting from a programme run by the Ministry of Rural and Land Development, with the support of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and other U.N. agencies.

After two years of skills training, “there is no more (child) malnutrition. We used to not eat well, now we eat clean and we know what we are eating. We are stronger eating these vegetables,” said Vallejos.

Although the surrounding fields are green, with oats and potatoes growing in the fertile soil, it is not easy to produce crops in these Andean region valleys as temperatures can drop abruptly to four degrees Celsius at night before soaring to 28 degrees, the project coordinator in Cochabamba, agronomist Remmy Crespo, explained to IPS.

Experts from several disciplines arrived at the municipalities of Pocona and the neighbouring Pojo, where the local population lives in scattered villages and hamlets, to provide integral support ranging from food production, transformation or commercialisation to consumption, said Abdón Vásquez, the programme’s national coordinator.

When the extension workers arrived in 2015, the local diet consisted mainly of rice, eggs and occasionally chicken. Today the daily intake of the members of the families involved in the project has increased by about 800 calories in proteins, vitamins and minerals provided by the vegetables they grow, said Crespo.

Two carp freshly netted from one of the family ponds dug with the support of FAO in Conda Baja, in the municipality of Pocona. The introduction of fish farming and vegetables in the production and food intake of rural communities in highlands valleys in Bolivia has changed the lives of local people. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

Two carp freshly netted from one of the family ponds dug with the support of FAO in Conda Baja, in the municipality of Pocona. The introduction of fish farming and vegetables in the production and food intake of rural communities in highlands valleys in Bolivia has changed the lives of local people. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

Jhaneth Rojas, a young farmer from Phuyuwasi, described to IPS how much her family’s dietary habits changed, as she pulled red radishes from the dirt and showed them to us with a smile.

Local farmers did not used to grow radishes, beets, cucumbers, squash, green beans, broccoli or spinach, but today “my father is interested in expanding the solar tent so that his children grow strong” with the production and intake of vegetables, said Rojas.

The project began in this village of 102 families in February 2016 with six tents, and today the community grows vegetables in 28 solar greenhouse tents.

Communities in Pocona, with a combined total population of 14,000 people, asked for technical support and supervision to build another 36 greenhouse tents, which protect the crops in a temperature-controlled environment.

In the village of Conda Baja, Elvira Salazar shows us her small garden, with lush green lettuce, green beans and beets she grows to feed her family.

Close to her garden, several fish farming ponds appear to be empty, but on closer look, carp (Cyprinus carpio) fry can be seen swimming in the one-metre-deep water diverted from the mountain slopes.

 A farmer from Phuyuwasi examines a green tomato in her greenhouse garden, with Remmy Crespo, FAO coordinator in Bolivia’s central department of Cochabamba.  Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS


A farmer from Phuyuwasi examines a green tomato in her greenhouse garden, with Remmy Crespo, FAO coordinator in Bolivia’s central department of Cochabamba. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

The fish have also been incorporated into the diet of the village’s 99 families, said Luis Alberto Morales, who together with his wife Zulma Miranda enjoy the taste of the fish.

Every 100 grams of carp provide 120 protein-rich calories, as well as vitamins A, B2, B6, B12 and E, iron, potassium, magnesium and phosphorus.

Harvesting the fish is a festive event. The fish farmers invested around 150 dollars in each 10 X 10 metre pond, and received intensive training sessions in fertilisation of fish, raising fish fry, water oxygenation, water quality control and feeding.

A total of 224 families from the municipalities of Pocona and Pojo (which has a population of over 10,000), have ponds populated with fish brought from the southern department of Santa Cruz.

In addition to fish, FAO added the production and consumption of the meat of guinea pigs, an Andean rodent smaller than a rabbit, which produce an average of 30 offspring per female annually.

Daly García told IPS that the nutritional quality of guinea pig meat motivated her to build breeding pens.

On her two-hectare family farm near Pojo, the seat of the municipality, 200 km from the city of Cochabamba, she now breeds guinea pigs using the fodder and alfalfa that she herself grows. She also produces apples, peaches and other fruit.

Clemencia Zapata, from Villa Esperanza, proudly holds up the leaves of two cabbages just picked from her small farm 3,000 metres above sea level in the Bolivian Andes, which she plants using organic bio-inputs provided by FAO and the municipality, to replace agrochemicals. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

Clemencia Zapata, from Villa Esperanza, proudly holds up the leaves of two cabbages just picked from her small farm 3,000 metres above sea level in the Bolivian Andes, which she plants using organic bio-inputs provided by FAO and the municipality, to replace agrochemicals. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

Farther from Pojo, at 3,300 metres above sea level, on the slopes of the mountains surrounding the village of Villa Esperanza, Clemencia Zapata tends her 1.5-hectare plot. Every morning she climbs a path to her land, where lettuce, cabbage and maize grow in neat rows.

The crops, growing under the bright sun of the Andes highlands, need assistance to combat pests, Zapata explained to IPS. FAO agronomist Miguel Vargas brought containers with “bio inputs” which replace agrochemicals.

Bio inputs have the technical support of FAO, the German Technical Cooperation Agency (GTZ) and the Andes Agrecol organisation, in addition to the Pojo city government.

The products have been widely welcomed by the 150 people who have used them to replace agrochemicals, which they blame for health ailments such as eyesight problems and damage to the nervous system.

The project sells the bio inputs to farmers, at cost price, using the income to expand the production and benefits to other producers.

The last link in the project’s chain is the Healthy Products Processing Plant, inaugurated on Apr. 21 and headed by the Pojo Association of Producers of Nutritious Food. Like the solar tents, the facilities and brand have a female face.

Teacher Cinthya Orellana and producer Zaida Orellana direct the activities, under strict quality and hygiene control. The food must be boiled for 20 minutes and served hot, they recommend.

A nutritious soup of corn, vegetables and jerky or dried meat, or vegetables combined with fava beans, are among the dishes offered at local trade fairs.

“Men are not interested, that’s why all the partners are women,” said Orellana, a young woman who left the textile workshops of Argentina and Brazil to return to her land to look after her husband and children and work in the industrial processing of food products in Pojo.

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Brazil Drives New School Feeding Model in the Regionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/brazil-drives-new-school-feeding-model-in-the-region/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=brazil-drives-new-school-feeding-model-in-the-region http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/brazil-drives-new-school-feeding-model-in-the-region/#respond Mon, 29 May 2017 00:46:12 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150613 “I am going back to Panama with many ideas,” said Gilda Montenegro, a nutritionist with the Panamanian Education Ministry, after getting to know the school feeding system in the city of Vitoria, in central-eastern Brazil. She said she was impressed with how organised it is, the resources available to each school and “the role of […]

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A farmer picks lettuce in Santa María de Jetibá, a hilly farming municipality that is the main supplier of agricultural products for school meals in the city of Vitoria, 90 km away along a winding highway. It is home to the largest Pomeranian community in Brazil and possibly in the world. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A farmer picks lettuce in Santa María de Jetibá, a hilly farming municipality that is the main supplier of agricultural products for school meals in the city of Vitoria, 90 km away along a winding highway. It is home to the largest Pomeranian community in Brazil and possibly in the world. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
VITORIA, Brazil, May 29 2017 (IPS)

“I am going back to Panama with many ideas,” said Gilda Montenegro, a nutritionist with the Panamanian Education Ministry, after getting to know the school feeding system in the city of Vitoria, in central-eastern Brazil.

She said she was impressed with how organised it is, the resources available to each school and “the role of played by nutritionists, in direct contact with the lunchrooms, training the cooks in hygiene and nutrition, educating everyone while fulfilling a key educational function.”

Montenegro and 22 other visitors from throughout Latin America and the Caribbean met with Brazilian representatives in the city of Vitoria, for a tour through schools and centres of production and distribution of food that supply the municipal schools.

The May 16-18 technical visit was organised by the Strengthening School Feeding Programmes in Latin America and the Caribbean programme implemented by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), as part of a cooperation agreement signed with the Brazilian government in 2008.“Families adopt our habits, even though we only eat dinner at home. Now we eat more vegetables at home. I used to be fat, but I lost weight doing sports and eating food with less calories, and today I have my health under control.” -- Marcos Rodrigues

The aim was a first-hand look at the implementation in Vitoria of the Brazilian National School Feeding Programme (PNAE), which has become a model replicated in a number of countries around the world. The programme serves 43 million students in public preschools and primary schools, which are municipal, and secondary schools, which are the responsibility of the states.

The PNAE was first launched in 1955. But the significant impact it has had in terms of food security, nutrition and social participation has been seen since a 2009 law established that at least 30 percent of the funds received by each school had to be devoted to buying food produced by local family farms.

“This decentralisation favours local producers and students gain in better-quality, fresh food at a lower cost. It promotes cooperatives and stimulates the local economy, through small-scale farming, while benefiting the environment by reducing transportation time,” said Najla Veloso, the regional project coordinator for FAO.

“In most of the municipalities, the suppliers are parents of the students,” which help forge closer ties between local families and the schools and improves the quality of the food. All of this constitutes an important help for keeping people in rural areas,” Veloso told IPS.

Students eat lunch in the Alberto Martinelli Municipal Preschool in the city of Vitoria. A good part of their food comes from local family farms, like in the rest of the public schools in Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Students eat lunch in the Alberto Martinelli Municipal Preschool in the city of Vitoria. A good part of their food comes from local family farms, like in the rest of the public schools in Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Buying local could rekindle the ancestral agricultural knowledge of the Ngäbe and Buglé people, who live in western Panama, said Montenegro. Since 1997, the two ethnic groups have shared an indigenous county with a population of about 155,000.

“They provide 80 per cent of the food for four schools, but they have not been able to expand, because of the system of purchases by tendering process, and are almost limited to producing for their own consumption,” lamented the Panamanian nutritionist. More school purchases could “rescue their traditional methods of harvesting and preserving their typical products,” she said.

The technical visits organised by FAO “show successful experiences for building knowledge in other countries, stimulating innovation,” said Veloso.

A new generation of school feeding programmes is emerging in the region, combining healthy nutrition, public purchases, family agriculture and social integration.

Vitoria, the capital of the Brazilian state of Espírito Santo, was chosen to receive technicians and authorities from 13 countries because of “its strong implementation of the PNAE, its organised team, and because it has been a pioneer in this area,” explained Veloso.

Before the new law went into effect in 2008, Vitoria already prioritised healthy food produced by small-scale local farmers, said Marcia Moreira Pinto, coordinator of the School Food and Nutrition Sector in the Municipal Secretariat of Education.

It also always surpassed the minimum proportion of purchases set for family agriculture, she said. In 2016, 34 per cent of the purchases were from small-scale farmers.

This aspect has only recently been recognised as key to food security.

Gilda Montenegro, a nutritionist with Panama’s Education Ministry who took part in a FAO-organised technical visit to get a first-hand look at the school feeding programme in Vitoria, Brazil, together with 22 other representatives of 12 Latin American and Caribbean countries. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Gilda Montenegro, a nutritionist with Panama’s Education Ministry who took part in a FAO-organised technical visit to get a first-hand look at the school feeding programme in Vitoria, Brazil, together with 22 other representatives of 12 Latin American and Caribbean countries. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“This integration between education and family agriculture benefits society as a whole, it’s fantastic. I will try to do it in my town,” said Mario Chang, director of education in the department of San Marcos, Guatemala.

“The visit gave me new ideas,” said Rosa Cascante, director of Equality Programmes in Costa Rica’s Ministry of Public Education.

The challenge, she said, “will be to adapt Brazil’s local purchases system” to her country, where all supplies for public institutions go through the state National Production Council.

A campaign against the waste of food is an innovation created by students in the Eunice Pereira da Silveira Municipal Primary School. In 2015, the losses amounted to 50 kilos a week. This has been reduced to just seven or eight kilos, according to the school’s authorities.

Students are served three meals a day at the full-time school, whose 322 students attend from 7 am to 5 pm.

The campaign started with a few students under the guidance of teachers. They monitored the food wasted in the school kitchen, carried out surveys on nutrition, and talked with other students and the cooks to adapt the meals in order to make them tastier and reduce waste.

Besides cutting economic losses and boosting a healthier diet in schools, with more salads and lower fat, the campaign is helping to improve family habits, said 14-year-old Marcos Rodrigues, one of the campaign’s leaders.

The refrigerator of a public preschool and daycare centre in the city of Vitoria, full of locally-produced fruit and vegetables. In Brazil, the obligatory supply of at least 30 per cent of the food for school meals from family farms has improved nutrition among the students and has promoted local development. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The refrigerator of a public preschool and daycare centre in the city of Vitoria, full of locally-produced fruit and vegetables. In Brazil, the obligatory supply of at least 30 per cent of the food for school meals from family farms has improved nutrition among the students and has promoted local development. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“Families adopt our habits, even though we only eat dinner at home. Now we eat more vegetables at home. I used to be fat, but I lost weight doing sports and eating food with less calories, and today I have my health under control,” the teen-ager told IPS.

But it is “in the acceptance of healthy foods where we need more effort, in light of an international scenario of increasingly industrialised products which offer great convenience,” said Moreira Pinto.

Most of the fruits and vegetables served in schools in Vitoria come from Santa Maria de Jetibá, a hilly municipality 90 km away, populated by Pomeranians, a European ethnic group that used to occupy parts of Germany and Poland, who scattered at the end of World War II.

Pomeranian immigration to Brazil occurred mainly in the late 19th century, to Espírito Santo, where they maintained their rural customs and their language in a number of municipalities where there are big communities.

“Santa Maria is the most Pomeranian municipality in Brazil and perhaps in the world,” according to Mayor Hilario Roepke, due to both the number of inhabitants as well as the preservation of a culture that has disappeared or has changed a lot even in their native land.

“Of nearly 40,000 inhabitants, 72 per cent are still rural,” allowing the municipality to occupy first place in agricultural production in the state of Espírito Santo and eleventh in Brazil, and the second leading national producer of eggs: nine million a day, said the mayor.

The 220-member Cooperative of Family Farmers of the Serrana Region (CAF) is the biggest supplier of food to schools.

“The school feeding programme in Vitoria´s metropolitan region is our main market,” said Maicon Koehler, an agricultural technician for CAF. Greater Vitoria has a total population of nearly two million.
With 102 municipal schools, the city buys nearly 20 tons of meat and 6.3 tons of beans a month to feed its almost 500,000 students, estimated the coordinator of the sector, who explained that the amounts of fruits and vegetables vary, depending on the season.

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Climate Change Has Changed the Geography of Honduras’ Caribbean Coasthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/climate-change-has-changed-the-geography-of-honduras-caribbean-coast/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-change-has-changed-the-geography-of-honduras-caribbean-coast http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/climate-change-has-changed-the-geography-of-honduras-caribbean-coast/#respond Mon, 15 May 2017 23:07:27 +0000 Thelma Mejia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150427 In Balfate, a rural municipality that includes fishing villages and small farms along Honduras’ Caribbean coast, the effects of climate change are already felt on its famous scenery and beaches. The sea is relentlessly approaching the houses, while the ecosystem is deteriorating. “What was it like before? There used to be a coconut palm plantation […]

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The sea is encroaching fast in the coastal area of Balfate, along Honduras’ Caribbean Coast, where natural barriers are disappearing and the sea is advancing many metres inland. Credit: Courtesy of Hugo Galeano to IPS

The sea is encroaching fast in the coastal area of Balfate, along Honduras’ Caribbean Coast, where natural barriers are disappearing and the sea is advancing many metres inland. Credit: Courtesy of Hugo Galeano to IPS

By Thelma Mejía
BALFATE, Honduras, May 15 2017 (IPS)

In Balfate, a rural municipality that includes fishing villages and small farms along Honduras’ Caribbean coast, the effects of climate change are already felt on its famous scenery and beaches. The sea is relentlessly approaching the houses, while the ecosystem is deteriorating.

“What was it like before? There used to be a coconut palm plantation before the beach, and a forest with howler monkeys. Today there are no palm trees and the howler monkeys have left,” environmental activist Hugo Galeano, who has been working in the area for over three decades, told IPS.

“Where the beach is now, which used to be 200 metres inland, there used to be a thick palm tree plantation and a beautiful forest. Today the geography has changed, the sea has swallowed up much of the vegetation and is getting closer and closer to the houses. The effects of climate change are palpable,” he said.

Galeano coordinates the Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Programme (SGP) in Honduras, and is one of the top experts on climate change in the country. He also promotes climate change mitigation and reforestation projects, as well as community integration with environmentally friendly practices, in low-income areas.

In the near future, this majestic tree will no longer be part of the scenery and a natural barrier protecting one of the beaches in Balfate, on Honduras’ Caribbean coast. Credit: Courtesy of Hugo Galeano to IPS

In the near future, this majestic tree will no longer be part of the scenery and a natural barrier protecting one of the beaches in Balfate, on Honduras’ Caribbean coast. Credit: Courtesy of Hugo Galeano to IPS

The municipality of Balfate, with an area of 332 square kilometres and a population of about 14,000, is one of the localities in the Caribbean department of Colón that makes up the coastal corridor where the impact of climate change has most altered the local residents’ way of life.

Other communities in vulnerable corridor are Río Coco, Lucinda, Río Esteban and Santa Fe. In these places, the sea, according to local residents, “is advancing and the trees are falling, because they can’t resist the force of the water, since the natural protective barriers have disappeared.”

This is how Julián Jiménez, a 58-year-old fisherman, described to IPS the situation in Río Coco. He said his community used to be 350 metres from the sea, but now “the houses are at the edge of the beach.”

Río Coco, a village in the municipality of Balfate is increasingly near the sea. Located in the central part of the Caribbean coast of this Central American country, it is a strategic hub for transportation by sea to islands and other remote areas.

To get to Balfate you have to travel along a partly unpaved road for nearly eight hours from Tegucigalpa, even though the distance is only around 300 km. To reach Río Coco takes another hour, through areas where the drug trafficking mafias have a lot of power.

Jiménez has no doubts that “what we are experiencing is due to climate change, global warming and the melting of glaciers, since it affects the sea, and that is what we tell the community. For the past decade we have been raising awareness, but there is still much to be done.”

The geography of Balfate, a land of famous landscapes in Honduras’ Caribbean region, has changed drastically from three decades ago, due to encroachment by the sea, according to local residents. Credit: Courtesy of Hugo Galeano to IPS

The geography of Balfate, a land of famous landscapes in Honduras’ Caribbean region, has changed drastically from three decades ago, due to encroachment by the sea, according to local residents. Credit: Courtesy of Hugo Galeano to IPS

“We are also guilty, because instead of protecting we destroy. Today we have problems with water and even with the fish catches. With some kinds of fish, like the common snook, there are hardly any left, and we also are having trouble finding shrimp,” he said.

“It is hard for people to understand, but everything is connected. This is irreversible,” said Jiménez, who is the coordinator of the association of water administration boards in the coastal areas of Balfate and the neighbouring municipality of Santa Fe.

Not only Colón is facing problems along the coast, but also the four departments – of the country’s 18 – with coasts on the Caribbean, the country’s eastern border.

In the northern department of Cortés, the areas of Omoa, Barra del Motagua and Cuyamelito, which make up the basin of the Motagua River, near the border with Guatemala, are experiencing similar phenomena.

In these areas on the gulf of Honduras, fishers have also reported a substantial decline inT fish catches and yields, José Eduardo Peralta, from the Coastal Sea Project of the Ministry of Energy, Natural Resources, Environment and Mines, told IPS.

“The sea here has encroached more on the beach, and on productive land, than in other coastal areas. With regard to fishing, there are problems with the capture of lobster and jellyfish; the latter has not been caught for over a year and a half, save for one capture reported a month ago in the area of Mosquitia,“ in the Caribbean, he said in his office in Tegucigalpa.

This tree on one of the beaches in Balfate could fall in a matter of six months, due to the force of the waves which works against its roots, as part of the encroachment of the sea. Credit: Courtesy of Hugo Galeano to IPS

This tree on one of the beaches in Balfate could fall in a matter of six months, due to the force of the waves which works against its roots, as part of the encroachment of the sea. Credit: Courtesy of Hugo Galeano to IPS

Peralta said the government is concerned about the effects of climate change, because they could reach dramatic levels in a few years.

The sea, he said, is rising and “swallowing up land, and we are also losing biodiversity due to the change in water temperatures and the acidification of the water.”

In line with Jiménez, Peralta said that “the sea currents are rapidly shifting, and the current should not shift overnight, the changes should take between 24 and 36 hours, but it’s not like that anymore. This is called climate change.”

Honduras is considered by international bodies as one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate impacts, as it is on the route of the hurricanes and due to the internal pressures that affect the wetlands, such as deforestation and large-scale African oil palm plantations, which have a direct effect on water scarcity.

Ecologist Galeano said official figures show that in wetland areas, there are approximately two hectares of African oil palms per one of mangroves. He said it was important to pay attention to this phenomenon, because the unchecked spread of the plantations will sooner or later have an impact on the local ecosystems.

On Mar. 9, Environment Minister José Antonio Galdames launched the Climate Agenda, which outlines a National Plan for Climate Change Adaptation for the country, whose implementation recently began to be mapped out.

Among the measures to be carried out under the plan, Galdames underscored in his conversation with IPS a project of integral management of the Motagua River basin, which will include reforestation, management of agroforestry systems and diversification of livelihoods at the productive systems level.

Hurricane Mitch, which caused incalculable economic losses and left over 5,000 people dead and 8,000 missing in 1998, tragically revealed Honduras’ vulnerability. Two decades later, the climate impact is felt particularly in the Caribbean coastal area, which was already hit particularly hard by the catastrophe.

According to the United Nations, 66.5 percent of households in this country of 8.4 million people are poor.

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Poor Rural Communities in Mexico Receive a Boost to Support Themselveshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/poor-rural-communities-in-mexico-receive-a-boost-to-support-themselves/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=poor-rural-communities-in-mexico-receive-a-boost-to-support-themselves http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/poor-rural-communities-in-mexico-receive-a-boost-to-support-themselves/#comments Thu, 11 May 2017 22:12:30 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150390 Jilder Morales, a small farmer in Mexico, looks proudly at the young avocado trees that are already over one metre high on her ejido – or communal – land, which already have small green fruit. “These were little-used lands. Now the people see that they can be worked. We seek a balance between a nutritional […]

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Jilder Morales tends to a young avocado plant on her plot of land within the ejido, where 55 farmers got together in 2014 to farm and improve their diet and incomes, in the poor farming town of Santa Ana Coatepec in southern Mexico. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Jilder Morales tends to a young avocado plant on her plot of land within the ejido, where 55 farmers got together in 2014 to farm and improve their diet and incomes, in the poor farming town of Santa Ana Coatepec in southern Mexico. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
HUAQUECHULA, Mexico, May 11 2017 (IPS)

Jilder Morales, a small farmer in Mexico, looks proudly at the young avocado trees that are already over one metre high on her ejido – or communal – land, which already have small green fruit.

“These were little-used lands. Now the people see that they can be worked. We seek a balance between a nutritional diet and an income, producing healthy food that brings in a profit,” said Morales, who told IPS that she starts her day as soon as the sun comes out, checking on her avocado trees, trimming her plants, applying fertiliser and making organic compost.

She is a member of the “Santa Ana for Production” association in the town of Santa Ana Coatepec, in the municipality of Huaquechula, in the southeastern state of Puebla, some 170 km south of Mexico City.

On August 2015, these small-scale producers planted avocado trees on 44 hectares of land in the ejido of El Tejonal, where 265 hectares belong to 215 ejido members. Of these, 55 are currently members of the association, which is close to achieving gender equality, with 29 men and 26 women, who play an especially important role.“It is a strategy to articulate other programmes, whose coordinated actions will generate greater impacts. PESA offers productive opportunities seeking to increase food production, while respecting natural resources, and improving the diet and health of the local population.” -- Fernando Soto

Each member was initially given 32 plants on the ejido, which is public land allocated for collective use – a widespread traditional system in rural Mexico.

The initiative is part of Mexico´s Strategic Programme for Food Security (PESA).

This programme, created globally by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in 1994, was adopted by the Mexican government in 2002, and has been implemented since 2011 by the Agriculture Ministry together with the U.N. agency.

The aim is improving agricultural production and the diet and income of poor rural families and communities, such as Santa Ana Coatepec, in order to strengthen food security and help them gradually overcome poverty.

The association raises poultry to sell its meat and eggs, in addition to planting avocadoes, maize, sorghum and different vegetables. They also raise tilapia, a fish used widely in aquaculture in Mexico and other Latin American countries.

Santa Ana for Production was founded in 2014, together with the Community Foundation, one of the 25 rural development agencies (ADR) in Puebla implementing the PESA, which only supports groups of small-scale farmers and not individuals.

Last year, the Agriculture Ministry hired 305 ADRs in the 32 states (plus the capital district) into which Mexico is divided, to carry out the programme in selected low-income rural areas.

“Women who participate have the personal satisfaction that we ourselves are producing, that we are the workers,“ said Morales, a single woman with no children.

The group has been trained in fish farming techniques, agroecological practices, and nutrition, to produce their own food and to know what to eat. The first production goal is self-sufficiency, and the surplus production is sold or traded with local residents.

Santa Ana Coatepec, population 1,147, was chosen by FAO and the Mexican government to participate in PESA, due to the high poverty rate.

The Ministry of Social Development and the National Council of Assessment of Social Development Policies reported in 2015 that 80 per cent of the population in Huaquechula, population 26,514, lived in poverty, while 30 per cent lived in conditions of extreme poverty.

María Aparicio (front) feeds the tilapia in the tank that her association built thanks to the support and training by PESA, an association of small-scale producers in Santa Ana Coatepec, in the southern Mexican state of Puebla. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

María Aparicio (front) feeds the tilapia in the tank that her association built thanks to the support and training by PESA, an association of small-scale producers in Santa Ana Coatepec, in the southern Mexican state of Puebla. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

The state of Puebla has the fourth largest number of ADRs, after Guerrero, Oaxaca and Chiapas – the poorest states in Mexico.

María Aparicio, a married mother of three, knew nothing about fish farming, but became an expert thanks to the project, which has financed the association’s initiatives with a total of 263,000 dollars.

“We are creating knowledge for the region (of Puebla), for people to know how to raise tilapia,“ she told IPS.

First, the association installed a tank four metres deep, with a capacity of 4,500 cubic metres of water, obtained from the El Amate spring, 1.6 km from the town.

They laid a pipeline from the spring to the tanks, using the water also to irrigate the avocado trees, and maize and sorghum crops. The works took three months. The members pay 0.26 dollars per hour of water use.

The association raises Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus), from the southeastern state of Veracruz, and so far have produced 1.6 tons of fish. Tilapia grows to 350 grams in five months, when it is big enough to be sold.

The fish farmers sell the fish at about four dollars per kilogram, with a production cost of about 1.8 dollars for each fish.

In June 2016, they installed three more tanks that are one metre deep and have a volume of 28 cubic metres, to raise “Rocky Mountain White” tilapia, a light-colored hybrid breed, investing 105 dollars. But in March they produced only 90 kilograms, much less than expected.

“We’re going to raise grey tilapia now. Our goal is to farm some 5,000 fish“ during each production cycle, said Aparicio, who returned to live in her town after working as an undocumented immigrant in the United States.

The group created a savings fund, fed by the profits of their different undertakings, to finance and expand their projects.

For Fernando Soto, FAO representative in Mexico, PESA generates “positive results“ of different types.

“It is a strategy to articulate other programmes, whose coordinated actions will generate greater impacts. PESA offers productive opportunities seeking to increase food production, while respecting natural resources, and improving the diet and health of the local population,” he told IPS in Mexico City.

These days, with the arrival of the first rains, the farmers have begun to prepare the land to plant maize and sorghum.

Watching their avocado trees and tilapia grow, the members of the association have new hopes for their future. “We will have food security, and we will generate employment,” said Morales.

“I see this and I cannot believe it. Soon all this will be full of plants and then we will harvest,” said Aparicio, looking at the avocado plantation with a hopeful expression.

PESA still has a long way ahead. An internal FAO report carried out in January stressed the importance of studying the factors that affect the survival and performance of the ADRs that support farmers at a local level, not only with quantitative measurements, but also with qualitative studies.

This study found that 270 ADRs do not register community promoters, 120 lack administrative staff, and 65 report no members.

“A higher chance of survival for the agencies and better prospects of stability in the employees’ jobs would have positive effects on the programme´s impact,” the document says.

Soto suggested promoting programmes to increase productivity in the southern and southeastern regions, strengthen the well-being and capacities of local people, contribute to preserving environmental assets, expand coverage under urban development systems, and strengthen productive infrastructure and regional connecting services.

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No Trace of the Nicaraguan Interoceanic Canalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/no-trace-of-the-nicaraguan-interoceanic-canal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-trace-of-the-nicaraguan-interoceanic-canal http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/no-trace-of-the-nicaraguan-interoceanic-canal/#comments Tue, 25 Apr 2017 23:40:11 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150149 Less than three years from the projected completion in Nicaragua of a canal running from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean, there is no trace of progress on the mega-project. IPS traveled to both ends of the routet: Bluefields, on the Caribbean coast in eastern Nicaragua, 383 km from Managua, and Brito, on the […]

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Nicaragua canal: less than 3 years from the projected completion of a canal running from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean, there's no trace of progress

In April 2017, three years after this road was created to mark the official start of the construction of the Great Nicaraguan Interoceanic Canal in Brito, on the country’s Pacific ocean western coast, it remains unpaved, and is only used by horses from nearby farms. Credit: José Adán Silva/ IPS

By José Adán Silva
PUNTA GORDA/BRITO, Nicaragua, Apr 25 2017 (IPS)

Less than three years from the projected completion in Nicaragua of a canal running from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean, there is no trace of progress on the mega-project.

IPS traveled to both ends of the routet: Bluefields, on the Caribbean coast in eastern Nicaragua, 383 km from Managua, and Brito, on the Pacific coast in the southern department of Rivas, 112 km from the capital.

In the South Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region, IPS traveled by boat from Bluefields, the regional capital, to the town of Punta Gorda to the south.“About two years ago, foreigners used to come and travel around by helicopter and boat from the mouth of the Punta Gorda River all the way upstream. They were escorted by the army and would not talk with anyone, but they have not returned." -- Anonymous indigenous leader

There are 365 small scattered indigenous settlements along the banks of the rivers, in a region divided into two sectors: the Southern Triangle, facing the sea, and the Daniel Guido Development Pole, along the banks of the Punta Gorda River – the Caribbean extreme of the projected canal.

According to the plans of the Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development (HKND) group, in charge of the project to build the Great Nicaraguan Interoceanic Canal, in this sparsely populated jungle area bordering the territory of the Rama indigenous people, a deep-water harbour must be built, as well as the first locks on the Caribbean end for the ships that cross to or from the Atlantic Ocean.

The entire Great Canal project, according to HKND, is to include six sub-projects: the canal, the locks, two harbours, a free trade zone, tourist centres, an international airport, and several roads.

Other connected works are a hydroelectric power plant, a cement factory, and other related industrial facilities to ensure the supply of materials and the successful completion of the canal in five years, counting from 2014, when the project officially got underway.

But in Punta Gorda there are no infrastructure works, no HKND offices, and among the local population nobody is willing to openly talk about the subject.

“The silence is a matter of caution, people think you might be a government agent,” a local indigenous leader of the Rama and Kriol Territorial Government (GTR-K), an autonomous organisation of indigenous communities that own the lands that will be affected by the canal, told IPS on condition of anonymity.

In the days prior to IPS’ visit to the region, army troops and the police carried out operations against drug trafficking, and there was an overall sense of apprehension.

The members of the GTR-K are divided between supporting and opposing the project, but negotiations with the government representatives have been tense and conflict-ridden, to the extent that complaints by the local indigenous people demanding respect for their ancestral lands have reached the Washington-based Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

“About two years ago, foreigners used to come and travel around by helicopter and boat from the mouth of the Punta Gorda River all the way upstream. They were escorted by the army and would not talk with anyone, but they have not returned,” said the indigenous leader of this remote territory that can only be accessed by boat or helicopter.

Silence on the subject is not just found among the locals. There is no talk anymore at a government level about what was once a highly touted project.

Fishermen and stevedores on one of the docks on the Punta Gorda River, near where it runs into the Caribbean Sea, the projected Caribbean extreme of the interoceanic canal, where local residents have not seen any visible sign of progress on the works officially launched more than two years ago. Credit: José Adán Silva/ IPS

Fishermen and stevedores on one of the docks on the Punta Gorda River, near where it runs into the Caribbean Sea, the projected Caribbean extreme of the interoceanic canal, where local residents have not seen any visible sign of progress on the works officially launched more than two years ago. Credit: José Adán Silva/ IPS

However, Vice President Rosario Murillo, the chief spokesperson of the government of her husband Daniel Ortega, president of Nicaragua since 2007, announced this month that with Taiwan’s support, a deep-water harbour, not connected to the plan for the canal, would be built in the same area with an investment that has not yet been revealed.

María Luisa Acosta, coordinator of the Legal Aid Centre for Indigenous Peoples, told IPS that the Special Law for the Development of Infrastructure and Transportation in Nicaragua Relating to the Canal, Free-Trade Areas and Associated Infrastructure, known as Law 840, was passed in June 2013 without consulting local indigenous and black communities.

A year later, on July 7, 2014, HKND and the Nicaraguan government announced the route that had been chosen for the canal, running from the Rivas Isthmus across Lake Cocibolca, also known as Lake Nicaragua, to Punta Gorda.

The route would negatively affect the indigenous communities of Salinas de Nahualapa, Nancimí, Veracruz del Zapotal, Urbaite de las Pilas and San Jorge Nicaraocalí, along the Pacific, while in the Caribbean region it would impact the Creole communities of Monkey Point and Punta Gorda, as well as the Rama people of Wiring Kay, Punta de Águila and Bangkukuk Tai, home to the last speakers of the Rama language.

According to leaders of different indigenous communities, government representatives began to pressure them to give their consent over their lands to allow the canal to be built, giving rise to a still lingering conflict.

The canal is to be 278 km in length – including a 105-km stretch across Lake Cocibolca – 520 metres wide and up to 30 metres deep.

It was to be built by the end of 2019, at a cost of over 50 billion dollars – more than four times the GDP of this Central American country of 6.2 million people, 40 per cent of whom live in poverty.

The construction of a harbour, the western locks and a tourist complex is projected in Brito, a town on the Pacific coast in the municipality of Tola.

The town is named after the Brito River, a natural tributary of Lake Cocibolca, which winds through the isthmus until flowing into the Pacific Ocean. The works were officially inaugurated in Brito in December 2014.

The president of HKND, Wang Jing, together with Nicaraguan government officials, appeared in the media next to the construction equipment to inaugurate the work on a 13-km highway, which would be used to bring in the heavy machinery to build the initial infrastructure.

It was the last time Wang was seen in public in Nicaragua.

There is no new paved highway, just a dirt road which in winter is difficult to travel because it turns into a muddy track.

No heavy machinery is in sight, or vehicular traffic, workers or engineering staff.

Here, as in Punta Gorda, people avoid talking about the canal, and if they do it is on condition of anonymity and in a low voice.

“In Rivas we drove out the Chinese with stones when they tried to come to measure the houses, and after that, the police harassed us. They disguised themselves as civilians – as doctors, vendors and even priests, to see if we were participating in the protests,” said one local resident in Brito, who was referring to the 87 protest demonstrations held against the canal in Nicaragua.

In Managua, Telémaco Talavera, the spokesman for the state Commission of the Great Nicaraguan Interoceanic Canal, said briefly to a small group of journalists, including IPS, that studies on the canal continue and that “the project is moving ahead as planned.”

However, Vice President Murillo announced in January that a 138-km coastal highway would be built along the Rivas Isthmus, to cater to the tourism industry and improve transportation, at a cost of 120 million dollars – with no mention of the canal.

One month later, government machinery was moved to Rivas to begin building the road where the canal was supposed to go.

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Nicaragua’s South Caribbean Coast Improves Readiness for Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/nicaraguas-south-caribbean-coast-improves-readiness-for-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nicaraguas-south-caribbean-coast-improves-readiness-for-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/nicaraguas-south-caribbean-coast-improves-readiness-for-climate-change/#respond Sat, 22 Apr 2017 01:41:32 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150081 The effects of climate change have hit Nicaragua’s Caribbean coastal regions hard in the last decade and have forced the authorities and local residents to take protection and adaptation measures to address the phenomenon that has gradually undermined their safety and changed their way of life. Bluefields, the capital city of Nicaragua’s South Caribbean Autonomous […]

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A dock in the coastal community of Laguna de Perlas, in the municipality of Bluefields, which owes its name to its location along the longest coastal lagoon in Nicaragua, 40 km north of the city. Coexistence with maritime, river or lake water is part of life in the South Caribbean Region, but climate change is compelling the local population to make changes. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

A dock in the coastal community of Laguna de Perlas, in the municipality of Bluefields, which owes its name to its location along the longest coastal lagoon in Nicaragua, 40 km north of the city. Coexistence with maritime, river or lake water is part of life in the South Caribbean Region, but climate change is compelling the local population to make changes. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

By José Adán Silva
BLUEFIELDS, Nicaragua , Apr 22 2017 (IPS)

The effects of climate change have hit Nicaragua’s Caribbean coastal regions hard in the last decade and have forced the authorities and local residents to take protection and adaptation measures to address the phenomenon that has gradually undermined their safety and changed their way of life.

Bluefields, the capital city of Nicaragua’s South Caribbean Autonomous Region, has endured a series of hurricanes, floods due to heavy rains or storm surges, droughts, environmental pollution and general changes in temperatures, which have caused economic damages to the local population.

The latest catastrophic event along Nicaragua’s eastern Caribbean coast was Hurricane Otto, which was a category 2 storm on the five-point Saffir-Simpson scale when it hit in October 2016.

The structural damages and heavy flooding were the same as always, but something changed for the better: there were no fatalities, wounded or missing people in Nicaragua.“The population in this area has suffered a lot due to climate change, not only because of the hurricanes and flooding from the sea and rivers, but due to the climate variability. They have lost crops because of droughts or too much rain. They used to know how to interpret the signs of rain, but not anymore.” -- Guillaume Craig

The 10,143 people from the 69 coastal communities directly affected in the South Caribbean Region survived with no injuries, having taken refuge in shelters set up by the governmental National Agency for Disaster Management and Prevention (SINAPRED).

This was due to the gradual development of social awareness in the face of climatic events, according to Ericka Aldana, coordinator of the non-governmental international organisation Global Communities’ climate change project: “Citizens Prepared for Climate Change”.

“Historically, Nicaragua’s South and North Caribbean regions have been hit by natural disasters due to their coastal location and environment surrounded by jungles and big rivers which have served as means of transport. But with climate change the vulnerability increased, and it was necessary to make an effort to change the mindset of the population,” Aldana told IPS.

Her organisation, together with the civil and military authorities, have organised conferences, discussion forums and environmental awareness campaigns, in addition to prevention and coastal community rescue plans in the entire South Caribbean Region.

The two autonomous Caribbean coastal regions represent 52 per cent of the territory of Nicaragua and are home to 15 per cent of the country’s 6.2 million people, including a majority of the indigenous and black populations.

Aldana said that in the coastal communities, especially Corn Island and Little Corn Island, located in the Caribbean Sea off the coast of Bluefields, the waves changed due to the intensity and instability in wind patterns.
This makes it difficult to maneuver fishing boats, alters fishing cycles, drives away the fish, and erodes the coasts of the two small islands.

On Little Corn Island, local resident Vilma Gómez talked to IPS about the threats posed and damages caused by the change in ocean currents, winds and waves.

As an example, she said that she has seen almost four km of coastline submerged due to the erosion caused by waves over the last 30 years.

The municipality of Corn Island, comprised of the two islands separated by 15 km, with a total area of 13.1 square kilometres, is one of the most populated areas in Nicaragua’s South Caribbean Autonomous Region, with about 598 people per square kilometre.

Part of the central region of the city of Bluefields, in Nicaragua’s South Caribbean Autonomous Region, from the access pier to Bluefields lagoon, with buildings at the water’s edge. The municipalities’ urban and rural residents learned to raise their houses on pilings, among other measures to face the increasingly frequent floods. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

Part of the central region of the city of Bluefields, in Nicaragua’s South Caribbean Autonomous Region, from the access pier to Bluefields lagoon, with buildings at the water’s edge. The municipalities’ urban and rural residents learned to raise their houses on pilings, among other measures to face the increasingly frequent floods. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

Gómez said that on her island, infrastructures such as seawalls was built with government funds, to contain the coastal erosion, the damage in wetlands, the shrinking of the beaches and the impact on tourism, which together with fishing make up 90 per cent of the municipality’s economic activity.

But in her opinion, they are futile efforts in the face of the strength of the sea. “I believe that if this continues this way, in a few years the island will become uninhabitable, because the sea could swallow it entirely after contaminating the water sources and arable lands,” lamented Gómez.

Other communities located near Bluefields Bay and its tributaries suffer ever more frequent storm surges and sudden floods, that have destroyed and contaminated the wetlands.

But once the shock and fear were overcome, the population started to try to strengthen their capacities to build resilience in the face of climate change, said Aldana.

Guillaume Craig, director of the environmentalist organisation blueEnergy in Nicaragua, is involved in the project “Citizens Prepared for Climate Change”, in which authorities, civil society and academia together in Bluefields carry out campaigns to strengthen the Caribbean communities’ response capacity to the impacts of climate change.

“The population in this area has suffered a lot due to climate change, not only because of the hurricanes and flooding from the sea and rivers, but due to the climate variability. They have lost crops because of droughts or too much rain. They used to know how to interpret the signs of rain, but not anymore,” Craig told IPS.

As a result, he noted that “the wells dry out in January, when that used to happen in April, the rains in May sometimes fall in March, or do not occur until July. It is crazy, and the local people did not know how to handle it.”

After years of training and campaigns, the locals learned to apply techniques and methods to save water, plant crops resistant to the changes, and techniques for building in coastal areas, which started to suddenly flood due to storm surges or heavy rains.

Climate change has already cost the communities a great deal: a fall in the production of basic grains, a loss of biological diversity and forest resources, water shortages, degradation of soils, salinization of wells, floods in low-lying coastal areas and landslides, among other phenomena.

“The rise in temperatures is affecting people’s health and producing cardiac problems, increasing the populations of vectors that carry diseases, erosion by sea waves and loss of soil, and increasing energy consumption and the risk of fires. The rise in the water level is driving up the risks,” said Craig.
Bluefields, originally a pirate base of operations, is 383 km from the capital city, Managua, and can only be reached by air or by boat along the Escondido River from the El Rama port, located on the mainland 292 km from the capital.

The population of just over 60,000 people is multi-ethnic: Creoles, mestizos (mixed-race), Rama and Garifuna peoples, and descendants of English, French or Asian immigrants.

It faces a bay that serves as a barrier to the sea’s direct waves, and is surrounded by rivers and lakes that connect the region with the Pacific Ocean and the North Caribbean. The elevation above sea level is barely 20 metres, which makes it especially vulnerable.

Marlene Hodgson, who lives in the impoverished coastal neighborhood of El Canal, on the outskirts of the city, told IPS that she and her family have been suffering from the bay’s swells for years.

“Sometimes we did not expect it and all of a sudden we had water up to the waist. Now we have raised the house’s pilings with concrete and dug canals and built dikes to protect it. But we have also become aware of when they come and that allows us to survive without damages,” said the woman of Creole ethnic origin.

After the storms, many houses in the area were abandoned by their occupants, who moved to higher and less vulnerable lands.

The phenomenon also disrupted the economy and the way of life of the traditional fishers, said Alberto Down.

“Just 20 years ago, I would throw the net and in two hours I would get 100 fish,” he told IPS. “Now I have to spend more in fuel to go farther out to sea and I have to wait up to eight hours to get half of that. And on some occasions I don’t catch anything,” said the fisherman from the 19 de Julio neighbourhood, one of the most vulnerable in this area forever threatened by the climate.

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Fishing Village Fights Iron Mine in Northern Chilehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/fishing-village-fights-iron-mine-in-northern-chile/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fishing-village-fights-iron-mine-in-northern-chile http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/fishing-village-fights-iron-mine-in-northern-chile/#respond Tue, 11 Apr 2017 22:09:39 +0000 Orlando Milesi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149913 In Punta de Choros, a hidden cove on Chile’s Pacific coast, some 900 fishers do not yet dare celebrate the decision by regional authorities to deny the Dominga port mining project a permit due to environmental reasons. The fishers, from the northern region of Coquimbo, are afraid that the government will unblock the project, in […]

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Punta de Choros, a picturesque cove in northern Chile, has become a major tourist draw, and the number of restaurants, lodgings and whale-watching boat tours has climbed. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

Punta de Choros, a picturesque cove in northern Chile, has become a major tourist draw, and the number of restaurants, lodgings and whale-watching boat tours has climbed. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

By Orlando Milesi
LA HIGUERA, Chile, Apr 11 2017 (IPS)

In Punta de Choros, a hidden cove on Chile’s Pacific coast, some 900 fishers do not yet dare celebrate the decision by regional authorities to deny the Dominga port mining project a permit due to environmental reasons.

The fishers, from the northern region of Coquimbo, are afraid that the government will unblock the project, in which the Chilean company Andes Iron planned to invest 2.5 billion dollars for the extraction of iron ore, promising 9,800 jobs in the building phase and 1,400 in the production phase.

The project would affect several nature reserves, and the local fishers also question the effects from the traffic of cargo ships and from a desalination plant.“More than a political problem, what we have here is a problem with the environmental assessment. There were a series of irregularities and that means that the impacts on one of the world’s 36 top biodiversity hotspots cannot be assessed.” -- Liesbeth Van der Meer

And as they said in interviews with IPS, they also doubt that the cabinet of ministers will uphold the decision by the regional environmental authorities, who rejected the plan for the Dominga mine, controlled by the Délano family.

Andes Iron will file an appeal this month to the cabinet – which will reach the final decision – asserting the positive aspects of the project, which is to extract 12 million tons a year of iron concentrate and other 150,000 tons of copper concentrate.

The 10,000-hectare project would involve an open-pit mine with a useful life of 26.5 years, a plant and a tailing disposal facility. It would also require a port to export the minerals to China, Japan and other markets.

“It is an area rich in benthic resources (bottom dwellers) and in algae and microorganisms. We want the mining project to be redesigned. Development is needed, especially in a poor area like this, but it has to be well done,” geographer and park ranger Paulina Correa, head of the Humboldt Penguin National Reserve, told IPS.

“We have low-impact tourism here. Many people make a living from this and protect it. We want development that protects the environment,” said Correa, lamenting that the mining project has divided the community between those who make a living from fishing and tourism, and those who live in the foothills of the Andes mountains.

Punta Choros has an official permanent population of 238, but that figure is multiplied by ten during tourist season, with the influx of workers employed by a dozen restaurants and lodgings that cater to the tourists drawn by the spectacular beaches, whale watching and traditional seafood cuisine.

The project was initially approved by the Coquimbo regional environmental authority, which stated that the mine complied with “the applicable environmental regulations,” and that the company “had corrected any errors, omissions and inaccuracies.”

Oscar Rebolledo, deputy director of the Coquimbo environmental authority, said “the measures proposed (by the company) take responsibility for the effects and circumstances” that may result from the mining project.

Signs against the Dominga iron mine are seen all over Punta de Choros, where fishers point to the growing catches, nature reserves crucial to the planet’s biodiversity, and the presence of large marine mammals, to argue against the extractive project in this village in northern Chile. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

Signs against the Dominga iron mine are seen all over Punta de Choros, where fishers point to the growing catches, nature reserves crucial to the planet’s biodiversity, and the presence of large marine mammals, to argue against the extractive project in this village in northern Chile. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

But Coquimbo Governor Claudio Ibáñez disagreed, and on Mar. 9 cast the vote that broke the tie between six regional secretariats, rejecting the project.

“What the company proposes in terms of environmental reparations or redress is inadequate to properly ensure the right to live in an environment free of pollution, the protection of the environment, the conservation of nature and the preservation of the environmental heritage,” said Ibañez, explaining his decisive vote.

He said he was aware that Dominga represents “an important possibility for economic and social development,” but added that he is just as aware that “we are putting at risk one of the world’s most important nature reserves and the habitat of dozens of species.”

Local fisherman and diver Josué Ramos, a member of the Los Choros fishing association, began making a living harvesting surf clams (Mesodesma donacium) in 1996. He told IPS that in 2000 the clam became locally extinct, and two years later a restocking programme started to be implemented.

World biodiversity hotspot
The area where the open-pit mining project is to be developed includes the Humboldt Penguin National Reserve, created in the year 1990 to protect this species (Spheniscus humboldti), which is listed as vulnerable. The reserve is home to 80 per cent of the species’ entire population.

The area is also home to other endangered species: the Peruvian diving petrel (Pelecanoides garnotii), a seabird that can dive 80 metres deep, and mammals such as the South American sea lion (Otaria flavescens) and the rare marine otter (Lontra felina). The reserve includes three islands where several species of threatened endemic flora grow, which are under protection due to the fragility of the ecosystem.

Also in the area is the Choros-Damas Island Marine Reserve, with 49 species of flowers, including the yellow añañuca (Rhodophiala bagnoldii). Near the Chañaral island, whale watchers in the summertime see bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus), humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae), fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus) and blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus).

“Just 10,000 clams, of the 100,000 that were projected, were restocked. But 14 years later, the effort had produced results. Today there is an 18-km beach with a 10-km productive area, and the clams are expanding,” he said.

“The year 2015 was the first year they started harvesting while simultaneously studying and monitoring the biomass. We extracted 670 tons and from a management area controlled by local people 95 tons were harvested. In 2016, the number increased to 832 tons in the main area and my trade association extracted 156 tons,” said Ramos.

“With the awareness that has been generated, we have obtained better results in the management areas, the seabeds to which the state gave us exclusive access to use and protect. Along 30 km of coastline, there are six management areas, which represent 70 per cent of the production of benthic resources in the region,” he said.

Ramos is opposed to Dominga because “they overexploit, export and then the prices rule. To obtain a ton of iron ore, which currently fetches 52 dollars, they leave 100 tons of tailings with chemical compounds. We harvest a ton of clams for 1.5 million dollars, and we only lift the sand, we don’t change it in any way.”

The local fisherman has “no expectation” that the cabinet will uphold the local environmental authority’s rejection of Dominga and believes that “the cursed progress” is going to prevail.

“Two ministers that vote have already resigned,” he added, in reference to the recent resignations of the ministers of transport, Andrés Gomez Lobos, and the environment, Pablo Badenier.

On Mar. 30, representatives of Andes Iron met with a dozen shepherds in the Casa Dominga, in the municipality of La Higuera. Although the meeting was closed, IPS saw the minutes.

“We are going to fight with everything we have. There is injustice here and we are not going to give in,” a representative of the company told the shepherds, who are in favour of the mine, and who took turns reporting on their interviews with local radio stations to discuss the positive aspects of the project.

At the end of the meeting, Omar Alfaro, with the La Higuera association of shepherds, told IPS that thanks to a framework agreement, “the Dominga project would improve the productive sectors, and when the mine closed down, we would be left with greater development in activities like agriculture, shepherding and fishing.”

Alfaro took part in a community meeting where the framework agreement was signed, which commits the company to pay “a minimum of 1.3 billion and a maximum of 2.6 billion pesos (between two and four million dollars) a year for projects, once the mine starts producing,” he said.

The agreement includes “the genetic improvement of livestock and the possibility of reforesting and recovering the native forest, deteriorated by prolonged droughts,” he said.

About the water the mine will use, Alfaro said that “a hydrogeologist explained the situation to us” stating that Dominga “is going to re-inject water into the same river basin.”

“We are hopeful that our institutions will be respected. I believe the project is important for the country, and the cabinet has a huge opportunity to revert and organise the technical instruments that have been used by the environmental institutions,” Iván Garrido, general manager of the Dominga project, told the online newspaper Pulso.

He urged the cabinet “to assess the report” by the Coquimbo environmental authority, which was favourable to the company.

Liesbeth Van der Meer, executive director of the non-governmental organisation Océana Chile, believes that the project will be rejected in the end.

“More than a political problem, what we have here is a problem with the environmental assessment. There were a series of irregularities and that means that the impacts on one of the world’s 36 top biodiversity hotspots cannot be assessed,” she told IPS.

If Dominga is approved, it will amount to “a crime against our natural heritage,” she said.

Van der Meer said he hoped “that not all development in Chile will be extractivist,” and called for respect for fishers and tourist operators in Punta de Choros, where the number of visitors soared from 900 in 1998 to 50,000 in 2016.

Mining is crucial to the Chilean economy and attracts more than one-third of all foreign investment, in a country that is the leading world producer of copper and other minerals, such as rhenium, lithium and iodine, as well as an important producer of several other minerals.

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Gold Mine Aggravates Tensions in Brazil’s Amazon Regionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/gold-mine-aggravates-tensions-in-brazils-amazon-region/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gold-mine-aggravates-tensions-in-brazils-amazon-region http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/gold-mine-aggravates-tensions-in-brazils-amazon-region/#comments Fri, 07 Apr 2017 22:22:18 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149859 The decline of this town is seen in the rundown houses and shuttered stores, and the few people along the streets on a Sunday when the scorching sun alternates with frequent rains at this time of year in Brazil’s Amazon region. “There is still a lot of gold here,” said Valdomiro Pereira Lima, pointing to […]

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The main street of Ressaca, a town of garimpeiros or artisanal gold miners, on the right bank of the Xingu River, along the stretch called the Volta Grande or Big Bend, where a large-scale mining project, promoted by the Canadian company Belo Sun, is causing concern among the local people in this part of Brazil’s Amazon region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The main street of Ressaca, a town of garimpeiros or artisanal gold miners, on the right bank of the Xingu River, along the stretch called the Volta Grande or Big Bend, where a large-scale mining project, promoted by the Canadian company Belo Sun, is causing concern among the local people in this part of Brazil’s Amazon region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
RESSACA, Brazil, Apr 7 2017 (IPS)

The decline of this town is seen in the rundown houses and shuttered stores, and the few people along the streets on a Sunday when the scorching sun alternates with frequent rains at this time of year in Brazil’s Amazon region.

“There is still a lot of gold here,” said Valdomiro Pereira Lima, pointing to the ground on a muddy street in the town of Ressaca, to emphasize that the riches underground extend along the right bank of the Xingu River at the 100-km stretch known as Volta Grande or Big Bend, which could restore the local economy.

This drew Belo Sun, a transnational Canadian mining corporation that intends to extract 60 tons of gold in 12 years through plants that separate gold from rock, in what is to be the largest open-pit gold mine in the country.

But the mine has given rise to a new wave of concern among the locals of Ressaca and other communities downstream, where the local population has already been affected by the impacts of the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant, operational since late 2015 and set to be completed in 2019.

Valdomiro Pereira Lima, a garimpeiro or informal miner, says there is gold beneath the streets of the town of Ressaca, as in many other areas along the Volta Grande of the Xingu River. But the residents of this rundown town in Brazil’s Amazon region are opposed to a large-scale gold mining project. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Valdomiro Pereira Lima, a garimpeiro or informal miner, says there is gold beneath the streets of the town of Ressaca, as in many other areas along the Volta Grande of the Xingu River. But the residents of this rundown town in Brazil’s Amazon region are opposed to a large-scale gold mining project. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The 64-year-old Pereira Lima has been mining for gold since 1980, when at the age of 27 he left farming in Maranhão, his home state in northeastern Brazil, to become a “garimpeiro” or informal artisanal miner in Brazil’s Amazon region.

He worked in Sierra Pelada, in the northern state of Pará, and in Volta Grande, which lured near 100,000 miners in the 1980s, as well as in the state of Roraima, along the border with Venezuela, before settling in Ressaca.

But the gold that gave rise to this village and brought it prosperity, as well as to other towns and settlements that emerged around nearby mines, started to become less accessible, while the garimpeiro way of life deteriorated, IPS noted, talking with all the interested parties during a one-week tour of the Volta Grande.

“There were over 8,000 garimpeiros when I arrived here in 1992, today there are just 400 to 500 left,” said 53-year-old José Pereira Cunha, vice president of the Mixed Cooperative of Garimpeiros from Ressaca, Itatá, Galo, Ouro Verde and Ilha da Fazenda.

“We used to find up to two kg of gold per week, now it’s only one per year,” said the garimpeiro leader, known by the nickname of Pirulito, because he is a small man. He has been a miner since the age of 17, and also got his start in Sierra Pelada.

But everything collapsed after 2012, when the police and environmental inspectors began to crack down on the garimpeiros, driving out many of them, he said. Moreover, the mining authorities did not renew the operating permits for the cooperative, outlawing the miners, who are still active in some mines.

Dozens of them have filed lawsuits in faraway cities.

“We have turned to the justice system to secure our rights,” said Cunha, who blames the campaign on Belo Sun and the municipal and state governments, interested in collecting more taxes, since the persecution began two years after the company began investigating potential gold deposits along the Volta Grande.

The village of Ilha da Fazenda depends economically on the town of Ressaca, where many families have left due to the decline of small-scale gold mining, added to the impact of the nearby Belo Monte hydroelectric plant. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The village of Ilha da Fazenda depends economically on the town of Ressaca, where many families have left due to the decline of small-scale gold mining, added to the impact of the nearby Belo Monte hydroelectric plant. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The company obtained an advance license in 2004, which recognises the environmental viability of the project. And on Feb. 2 the Environment and Sustainability department of the state of Pará granted it a permit to build the necessary plants.

But just two weeks later, the justice system suspended the permit for 180 days, demanding measures to relocate the affected population and clarification about the land acquired for the mine, presumably illegally.

Belo Sun claims that it has met all the requirements and conditions. The company keeps a register of the local population in the directly affected area, which it continually updates, because “the garimpeiros come and go,” according to Mauro Barros, the director of the company in Brazil.

João Lisboa Sobrinho, 85, a baker from Ilha da Fazenda who “only” has ten children. Until recently, he used 50 kg of flour a day to make bread, but now uses just three – a reflection of the decline and depopulation of this island village along the Xingu River, in the northern Brazilian state of Pará.  Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

João Lisboa Sobrinho, 85, a baker from Ilha da Fazenda who “only” has ten children. Until recently, he used 50 kg of flour a day to make bread, but now uses just three – a reflection of the decline and depopulation of this island village along the Xingu River, in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“It is not necessary to remove the population, we can even operate with everybody staying in their homes, if that’s what they want. All over the world there are active mines next to cities,” said Barros, a lawyer with previous experience in other mining companies.

But he said, in an interview at the company’s headquarters in the nearby city of Altamira, that those who are relocated will be provided with all the services, access to the river and support to earn an income. “We want to develop the region,” he said, adding that at least 80 per cent of the company’s employees will be locals.

The company will generate 2,100 direct jobs at the peak of the installation phase, and 526 once the mine is operational, he said. The promise is to train the garimpeiros to work in mechanized mining.

According to estimates from Belo Sun, there are probable reserves of 108.7 tons of gold.

It takes a ton of rocks to obtain a gram of gold.

Barros ruled out the risk, which has raised concern among the local population and environmentalists, that the mine will pollute the waters of the Xingu River, which has already been contaminated and has a reduced water level due to the Belo Monte mine. He guaranteed that Belo Sun would only use rainwater, and would hold its waste products safely.

But the conflict with the miners’ cooperative, community leaders and indigenous people who live along the Volta Grande has already begun.

“Either Belo Sun throws us out of here or we throw them out,” said Cunha, vice president of the cooperative.

The town has not received the promised compensation from Norte Energía, the company that holds the concession to run Belo Monte, nor services from the municipality, because “it would be pointless, since we are supposed to be resettled,” said Francisco Pereira, head of the Association of Ressaca Residents.

A map from Belo Sun showing the area where the Canadian mining company intends to extract 60 tons of gold. In blue, the Volta Grande or Big Bend in the Xingu River, where the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant has been built, in Brazil’s Amazon region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A map from Belo Sun showing the area where the Canadian mining company intends to extract 60 tons of gold. In blue, the Volta Grande or Big Bend in the Xingu River, where the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant has been built, in Brazil’s Amazon region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The town of about 200 families still has no basic sewage. “The wastewater runs into the river, we have no drinking water or sports field, and at the school the heat is unbearable,” and nothing will be done because of the uncertainty created by Belo Sun, said Pereira, a 58-year-old garimpeiro who is now working as a farm labourer.

The uncertainty and decline are also affecting the roughly 50 families that live in Ilha da Fazenda, a village dependent on Ressaca and separated from it by a two-kilometre stretch of a tributary of the Xingu River. Children from the fifth grade and up and sick people can only go to school or receive healthcare in the town of Ressaca, which they reach in small boats.

“In the good old days of the ‘garimpo’ (informal mining), there were dozens of bars in Ilha da Fazenda. They extracted gold in Ressaca and came here to spend their money,” said 85-year-old baker João Lisboa Sobrinho, who has “only ten children” and is a living history of the island village.

“I used to use 50 kg of flour a day to make bread, now I use three at the most,” he said, standing next to the brick oven made by his father in 1952.

“Ninety-five per cent of the people on the island want to move away,” because if Ressaca disappears, it will be impossible to live in Ilha da Fazenda,” said Sebastião Almeida da Silva, who owns the only general store on the island.

More than 20 families have already left the village.

But “I will only leave if I am the only one left,” said Adelir Sampaio dos Santos, a nurse from José Porfirio, the municipality where the mining area is located. “We will only be left isolated if we don’t take action,” she said, urging her fellow villagers to struggle for the school, medical post, water and electricity that are needed in the village.

“With the garimpo in better conditions, supported by the government, with state banks buying our gold, we could bring life back to local cities and towns, we could pay taxes, we could all stay and prosper,” said Divino Gomes, a surveyor who worked with environmentalist organisations before becoming a garimpeiro.

“I have seen mining companies elsewhere, they take all the wealth and leave craters. We have to think about it ten times over before accepting their projects,” he concluded.

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Brazilian Dam Causes Too Much or Too Little Water in Amazon Villageshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/brazilian-dam-causes-too-much-or-too-little-water-in-amazon-villages/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=brazilian-dam-causes-too-much-or-too-little-water-in-amazon-villages http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/brazilian-dam-causes-too-much-or-too-little-water-in-amazon-villages/#comments Sat, 01 Apr 2017 21:42:59 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149744 The Juruna indigenous village of Miratu mourned the death of Jarliel twice: once on October 26, when he drowned in the Xingu River, and the second time when the sacred burial ground was flooded by an unexpected rise in the river that crosses Brazil’s Amazon region. Their cries are also of outrage against the Norte […]

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A chicken coop in the village of Miratu, flooded because the Xingu River rose much more than was announced by Norte Energía, the company that built and operates the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant, whose main reservoir is some 20 km upstream from the Juruna community in Brazil’s northern Amazon jungle region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A chicken coop in the village of Miratu, flooded because the Xingu River rose much more than was announced by Norte Energía, the company that built and operates the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant, whose main reservoir is some 20 km upstream from the Juruna community in Brazil’s northern Amazon jungle region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
ALTAMIRA, Brazil, Apr 1 2017 (IPS)

The Juruna indigenous village of Miratu mourned the death of Jarliel twice: once on October 26, when he drowned in the Xingu River, and the second time when the sacred burial ground was flooded by an unexpected rise in the river that crosses Brazil’s Amazon region.

Their cries are also of outrage against the Norte Energía company, the concession-holder for the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, which determines the water flow in the Volta Grande stretch of the Xingu River, a 100-km area divided in three municipalities, with five indigenous villages along the riverbanks.

Jarliel Juruna, 20, was very good at what he did: catch ornamental fish, which have been increasingly scarce since the dam was inaugurated in November 2015. Apparently the need to dive deeper and deeper to find fish and help support his family contributed to the fatal accident, according to his siblings Jailson and Bel.

The company had ensured that the rise in water level in that area would be moderate, since the flow was divided between the Volta Grande and a canal built to feed the main Belo Monte generating plant, near the end of the curve in the river known as Volta Grande or Big Bend.

The markers showing how high the water would rise were surpassed early this year, due to heavy rains and a limited diversion of the water to be used by the hydroelectric plant, which will be the third largest in the world in terms of capacity once it is completed in 2019.

The unexpected rise also caused material losses. Boats and equipment were carried away by the high water. “My manioc crop was flooded, even though it was on land higher than the markers,” said Aristeu Freitas da Silva, a villager in Ilha da Fazenda.

Despite the excess of water, this village of 50 families is suffering a lack of drinking water.

“The river is dirty, we drink water from a well that we dug. The three wells drilled by Norte Energía don’t work because the water pump broke eight months ago,” said Miguel Carneiro de Sousa, a boatman hired by the municipality to ferry students to a nearby school.

The school in Ilha da Fazenda only goes up to fourth grade, and in Brazil education is compulsory up to the ninth grade.

Bel Juruna, a Juruna indigenous leader from the village of Miratu along the Volta Grande of the Xingu River. The 25-year-old woman is an impressive defender of indigenous rights, against the Belo Monte hydropower plant and inefficient government authorities, in this territory in Brazil’s Amazon region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Bel Juruna, a Juruna indigenous leader from the village of Miratu along the Volta Grande of the Xingu River. The 25-year-old woman is an impressive voice in the defence of indigenous rights, against the Belo Monte hydropower plant and inefficient government authorities, in this territory in Brazil’s Amazon region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Deiby Cardoso, deputy mayor of Senador José Porfirio, one of the municipalities in Volta Grande, admitted that water supply is a municipal responsibility, and promised that the problem would be resolved by late April.

He did so during a Mar. 21 public hearing organised by the public prosecutor’s office in the city of Altamira, to address problems affecting Volta Grande. IPS attended the hearing as part of a one-week tour of riverbank and indigenous villages in this area.

Taking over the Xingu River for energy purposes, to the detriment of its traditional users, such as indigenous and riverine peoples, has cost Norte Energía many obligations and complaints in its area of influence in the northern state of Pará, where local people sometimes confuse its role with that of the government.

The company is required to carry out a plan for compensation and mitigation of social and environmental impacts, with conditional targets, and the number of complaints about non-compliance is increasing.

Local residents of Ilha da Fazenda had reasons to complain at the hearing. The health post is filthy and abandoned, the ambulance boat has a broken motor, and the electricity produced by the village generator is only available from 6:00 to 10:00 PM.

The deputy mayor accepted the complaints about the delays, which he said were due to the short period that the municipal government has been in power, since January.

The dilapidated, unkempt health post in Ilha da Fazenda, one of the villages on the banks of the Xingu River affected by the construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant, in the state of Pará in Brazil’s Amazon region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The unkempt health post in Ilha da Fazenda, one of the villages on the banks of the Xingu River affected by the construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant, in the state of Pará in Brazil’s Amazon region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

But holding the key to the Xingu River, opening or closing spillways and activating or shutting off its turbines, Norte Energía dictates the water level downstream, especially in the Volta Grande. At the hearing, it seemed clear that they do it without considering the human and environmental impacts.

“The water level drops and rises all of a sudden, without warning,” complained Bel Juruna, a 25-year-old community leader and defender of indigenous peoples’ rights who talked to IPS during the visit to the village of Miratu.

“These abrupt fluctuations in the volume of water released in the Volta Grande produce changes in the water level in the river that confuse the aquatic fauna, disoriented by the availability of space to feed and breed,” said ecologist Juarez Pezzuti, a professor at the Federal University of Pará.

And once the hydroelectric plant starts to operate normally, the water flow will be permanently reduced, he added.

The local people are informed daily, through phones installed by the company in many houses, about the volume of water that enters Volta Grande. But this information about cubic metres per second means nothing to them.

“The information has to be useful,” adding the water level in the river in each village, the local indigenous people told the authorities present at the hearing, who included prosecutors, public defenders and heads of the environmental and indigenous affairs agencies.

There is a “failure of communication” that Energía Norte needs to fix, it was agreed during the hearing, where there were no representatives of the company.

Indigenous houses, practically submerged by the unexpected rise of the Xingu River. These traditional houses of the Juruna people give support to the “canoada”, a tourist and political event that the native people organize each September along the Volta Grande, in the northern Amazon state of Pará in Brazil.  Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Indigenous houses, practically submerged by the unexpected rise of the Xingu River. These traditional houses of the Juruna people give support to the “canoada”, a tourist and political event that the native people organize each September along the Volta Grande, in the northern Amazon state of Pará in Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Safety of navigation is another demand by the Juruna and Arara native people, who live on the banks of the Volta Grande. The damming of the river exacerbated the “banzeiros” (turbulence or rapids), which have already caused one death, early this year.

The local indigenous peoples are demanding large vessels, one for each of the five villages, to cross the reservoir to Altamira, the capital of the Medio Xingú region, without the risks that threaten their small boats.

They are also asking for support equipment for the most turbulent stretches of the Volta Grande, from August to November, when small dangerous rocky islands emerge due to the low water level.

The reduced water flow has made navigation difficult in the Volta Grande, the traditional transport route used by local people, increasing the need for land transport.

An access road to the routes that lead to Altamira is a chief demand of the Arara people.

“It was a condition of the building permit for Belo Monte, to this day unfulfilled. We have been waiting for that road since 2012,” protested José Carlos Arara, leader of the village of Guary-Duan.

They rejected the handing over of a Base of Operations that Norte Energía built for the National Indian Foundation, the state body for the defence of indigenous rights, to protect their territory. “With no land access, we won’t accept the base, because it will be incomplete,” said Arara, supported by leaders of other villages.

To improve territorial protection and the participation of indigenous people in the committees that deal with indigenous issues and those involving Volta Grande within the programmes of compensation and mitigation of impacts of Belo Monte is another common demand, submitted to the hearing in a letter signed by the Arara and Juruna people.

The need for protection was stressed by Bebere Bemaral Xikrin, head of the association of the Xikrin people, from the Trincheira-Bacajá indigenous land.

Since mid-2016, the waters of the Bacajá River have been dirty, which has killed off fish. The reason is the “garimpo” or informal surface mining along tributary rivers of the Bacajá, on the outskirts of the Xikrin territory.

And things will get worse with the construction of a road to bring in machinery for the garimpeiros or informal miners, if the Protection Plan, which was to be ready in 2011 “but hasn’t made it from paper to reality, is not fully implemented soon,” said Bebere Bemaral.

The Xikrin people do not live along the Volta Grande, but everything that happens in that stretch of the Xingu River affects the Bacajá, a tributary of the Xingu, which this people depend on for survival, he explained.

The rivers which were the lifeblood of local indigenous and riverine people became a risk factor with the implementation of a hydropower megaproject, to which could be added the Belo Sun mining project, also on the banks of the Volta Grande.

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Fishing Villages Work for Food Security in El Salvadorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/fishing-villages-work-for-food-security-in-el-salvador/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fishing-villages-work-for-food-security-in-el-salvador http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/fishing-villages-work-for-food-security-in-el-salvador/#comments Mon, 20 Mar 2017 20:17:45 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149499 After an exhausting morning digging clams out of the mud of the mangroves, Rosa Herrera, her face tanned by the sun, arrives at this beach in southeastern El Salvador on board the motorboat Topacio, carrying her yield on her shoulders. For her morning’s catch – 126 Andara tuberculosa clams, known locally as “curiles”, in great […]

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Rosa Herrera returns to the village after spending the morning digging for clams in the mangroves that border Isla de Méndez in Jiquilisco bay, in the southeastern department of Usulután. The struggle to put food on the table is constant in fishing villages in El Salvador. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Rosa Herrera returns to the village after spending the morning digging for clams in the mangroves that border Isla de Méndez in Jiquilisco bay, in the southeastern department of Usulután. The struggle to put food on the table is constant in fishing villages in El Salvador. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
ISLA DE MÉNDEZ, El Salvador, Mar 20 2017 (IPS)

After an exhausting morning digging clams out of the mud of the mangroves, Rosa Herrera, her face tanned by the sun, arrives at this beach in southeastern El Salvador on board the motorboat Topacio, carrying her yield on her shoulders.

For her morning’s catch – 126 Andara tuberculosa clams, known locally as “curiles”, in great demand in El Salvador – she was paid 5.65 dollars by the Manglarón Cooperative, of which she is a member.

“Today it went pretty well,” she told IPS. “Sometimes it doesn’t and we earn just two or three dollars,” said the 49-year-old Salvadoran woman, who has been harvesting clams since she was 10 in these mangroves in the bay of Jiquilisco, near Isla de Méndez, the village of 500 families where she lives in the southeastern department of Usulután.“I have left my life in the mangroves, I was not able to go to school to learn to read and write, but I am happy that I have provided an education for all my children, thanks to the clams.” -- Rosa Herrera

Isla de Méndez is a village located on a peninsula, bordered to the south by the Pacific ocean, and to the north by the bay. Life has not been easy there in recent months.

Fishing and harvesting of shellfish, the main sources of food and income here, have been hit hard by environmental factors and by gang violence, a problem which has put this country on the list of the most violent nations in the world.

For fear of the constant raids by gangs, the fishers shortened their working hours, particularly in the night time.

“We were afraid, so nobody would go out at night, and fishing this time of year is better at night, but that is now changing a little,“ said Berfalia de Jesús Chávez, one of the founding members of the Las Gaviotas Cooperative, created in 1991 and made up of 43 women.

But the gang was dismantled and, little by little, life is returning to normal, said the local people interviewed by IPS during a two-day stay in the village.

“Climate change has also reduced the fish catch, as have the la Niña and el Niño climate phenomena,” said María Teresa Martínez, the head of the cooperative, who added however that fishing has always had periods of prosperity and scarcity.

Ofilio Herrera (L) buys a kilo of fish freshly caught by Álvaro Eliseo Cruz off the coast of Isla de Méndez, a fishing village in southeastern El Salvador. Cruz caught 15 kilos of fish this day, including red porgy and mojarras, which he uses to sell in the market and feed his family. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Ofilio Herrera (L) buys a kilo of fish freshly caught by Álvaro Eliseo Cruz off the coast of Isla de Méndez, a fishing village in southeastern El Salvador. Cruz caught 15 kilos of fish this day, including red porgy and mojarras, which he uses to sell in the market and feed his family. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

The women in Las Gaviotas are making an effort to repair their three canoes and their nets to start fishing again, a real challenge when a good part of the productive activity has also been affected by the violence.

Fishing and selling food to tourists, in a small restaurant on the bay, are the cooperative’s main activities. But at the moment the women are forced to buy the seafood to be able to cater to the few visitors who arrive at the village.

Sea turtle project suspended due to lack of funds

Another project that was carried out in Isla de Méndez but has now been suspended was aimed at preserving sea turtles, ensuring the reproduction of the species and providing an income to the gatherers of turtle eggs.

All four species that visit El Salvador nest in Jiquilisco bay: the hawkbill (Eretmochelys imbricata), leatherback or lute (Dermochelis coriácea), olive or Pacific ridley (Lepidochelys olivácea) and Galápagos green turtle (Chelonia agassizii).

In 2005, this bay, with the biggest stretch of mangroves in the country, was included in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance, and in 2007 the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) declared it the Xiriualtique – Jiquilisco Biosphere Reserve.

The gatherers were paid 2.5 dollars for 10 turtle eggs, which were buried in nests until they hatched. The hatchlings were then released into the sea.

But the project was cancelled due to a lack of funds, from a private environmental institution, to pay the “turtlers”.

“Our hope is that some other institution will help us to continue the project,” said Ernesto Zavala, from the local Sea Turtle Association. To this septuagenarian, it is of vital importance to get the programme going again, because “those of us who cannot fish or harvest clams can collect turtle eggs.”

“Now tourists are beginning to come again,” said a local resident who preferred not to give his name, who had to close his restaurant due to extortion from the gangs. Only recently did he pluck up the courage to reopen his small business.

“Before, at this time, around noon, all those tables would have been full of tourists,” he said, pointing to the empty tables at his restaurant.

In Isla de Méndez, each day is a constant struggle to put food on the table, as it is for rural families in this Central American country of 6.3 million people.

According to the report “Food and Nutrition Security: a path towards human development”, published in Spanish in July 2016 by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the prevalence of undernourishment – food intake insufficient to meet dietary energy requirements – in El Salvador stands at 12.4 percent of the population.

The United Nations are still defining the targets to be achieved within the Sustainable Development Goals, but in the case of El Salvador this prevalence should at least be cut in half, Emilia González, representative of programmes at the FAO office in El Salvador, told IPS.

“Sometimes we only manage to catch four little fishes for our family to eat, and nothing to sell, but there is always something to put on the table,” said María Antonia Guerrero, who belongs to the 37-member Cooperative Association of Fish Production.

“Sometimes what we catch does not even cover the cost of the gasoline we use,” she said.

Because of the cooperative’s limited equipment (just 10 boats and two motors), they can only go fishing two or three times a week. When fishing is good, she added, they can catch 40 dollars a week of fish.

The local fishers respect the environmental requirement to use a net that ensures the reproduction of the different species of fish.

“We do it to avoid killing the smallest fish, otherwise the species would be wiped out and we would have nothing to eat,” said Sandra Solís, another member of the cooperative.

González, of FAO, said one of the U.N.’s agency’s mandates is to strive for food and nutrition security for families, adding that only by empowering them in this process can their standard of living be improved.

“We have worked a great deal in these communities for families to be the managers of their own development,” she said.

In this community, efforts have been made to develop projects to produce organic compost and to treat solid waste, said Ofilio Herrera with the Community Development Association in Area 1.

More ambitious plans include setting up a processing plant for coconut milk and cashew nuts and cashew apples, he added.

Rosa Herrera, meanwhile, walks towards her house with a slight smile on her face, pleased with having earned enough to feed her daughter, her father and herself that day.

As a single mother, she is proud that she has been able to raise her seven children, six of whom no longer live at home, on her own.

“Because I had to work to get food I was not able to go to school. We were eight siblings; the younger ones studied, and the older ones worked. My father and mother were very poor, so the older of us worked to support the younger ones. Four of us did not learn to read and write. The others learned as adults, but I didn’t,” she said.

“I have left my life in the mangroves, I was not able to go to school to learn to read and write, but I am happy that I have provided an education for all my children, thanks to the clams,” she said.

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Innovative Credit Model Holds Out Lifeline to Farmers in Hondurashttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/innovative-credit-model-holds-out-lifeline-to-farmers-in-honduras/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=innovative-credit-model-holds-out-lifeline-to-farmers-in-honduras http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/innovative-credit-model-holds-out-lifeline-to-farmers-in-honduras/#comments Wed, 08 Feb 2017 01:33:26 +0000 Thelma Mejia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148852 In this village in southern Honduras, in one of the poorest parts of the country, access to credit is limited, the banking sector is not supportive of agriculture, and nature punishes with recurrent extreme droughts. But over the past two years, the story has started to change in Paso Real, a village of about 60 […]

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Employees of Grupo Ideal, a participatory company in the village of Paso Real, pull out tilapias ready to be sold, from the José Cecilio del Valle reservoir. An innovative credit system is helping family farmers in poor rural areas of Honduras, who have been excluded by the banking system. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Employees of Grupo Ideal, a participatory company in the village of Paso Real, pull out tilapias ready to be sold, from the José Cecilio del Valle reservoir. An innovative credit system is helping family farmers in poor rural areas of Honduras, who have been excluded by the banking system. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

By Thelma Mejía
PASO REAL, Honduras, Feb 8 2017 (IPS)

In this village in southern Honduras, in one of the poorest parts of the country, access to credit is limited, the banking sector is not supportive of agriculture, and nature punishes with recurrent extreme droughts.

But over the past two years, the story has started to change in Paso Real, a village of about 60 families, with a total of just over 500 people, in the municipality of San Antonio de Flores, 72 kilometres from Tegucigalpa.

A group of family farmers here, just over 100 people, got tired of knocking on the doors of banks in search of a soft loan and opted for a new financing model, which the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) decided to test in this impoverished Central American country.

The initiative involves the creation of development financing centres (FCD), so far only in two depressed regions in Honduras: Lempira, to the west, and the Association of Municipalities of North Choluteca (Manorcho), to the south.

Both areas form part of the so-called dry corridor in Honduras, that runs through 12 of the country’s 18 departments, which are especially affected by the impacts of climate change.

Paso Real is part of Manorcho, composed of the municipality of San Antonio de Flores plus another three –Pespire, San Isidro and San José – which have a combined population of more than 53,000 people in the northern part of the department of Choluteca, where people depend on subsistence farming and small-scale livestock-raising.

Rafael Núñez is one of the leaders of Grupo Ideal, a company that is an association of family farmers who also breed and sell tilapia, a freshwater fish very popular in Central America. In addition, they raise cattle and grow vegetables.

Núñez is pleased with what they have achieved. Even though his family already owned some land, “it was of no use because nobody would grant us a loan.”

“The banks would come to assess our property, but offered loans that were a pittance with suffocating interest rates. They never gave us loans, even though we knocked on many doors,” Nuñez told IPS.

“But now we don’t have to resort to them, we have gained access to loans at the development financing centre in Menorcho, at low interest rates,” he said, smiling.

Nuñez said that because the banks would not lend them money, they had to use credit cards at annual interest rates of 84 per cent, which were strangling them. Now the loans that they obtain from the FCD are accessible, with an annual interest rate of 15 per cent.

Farmer Rafael Núñez told Central American visitors how the banking system mistreats small farmers in Honduras, and how the introduction in their municipality, San Antonio de Flores, of a financial centre for development which the FAO is testing in two depressed areas in the country, has improved their lives.  Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Farmer Rafael Núñez told Central American visitors how the banking system mistreats small farmers in Honduras, and how the introduction in their municipality, San Antonio de Flores, of a financial centre for development which the FAO is testing in two depressed areas in the country, has improved their lives. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

“It has not been easy to get on our feet because the banking system here doesn’t believe in agriculture, let alone family farming. I collect the bank books that you see and someday I will frame them and I’ll go to those banks and tell them: thanks but we don’t need you anymore, we have forged ahead with more dignified options offered by people and institutions that believe in us,” said Nuñez with pride.

He shared his experience during a Central American meeting organised by FAO, for representatives of organisations involved in family farming and the government to get to know these innovative experiences that are being carried out in the Honduran dry corridor.

Nuñez showed the participants in the conference the tilapia breeding facilities that his association operates at the José Cecilio del Valle multiple-purpose dam, located in the village.

Grupo Ideal is a family organisation that divides the work among 11 siblings and offers direct jobs to at least 40 people in the area and generates indirect employment for just over 75 people. They are convinced that their efforts can be replicated by other small-scale producers.

Among the things that make him happy, Nuñez says they have started to improve the diet of people in the local area.

 

 

 Marvin Moreno, the FAO expert technician behind this solidarity-based and inclusive innovative microcredit model, which so far has helped change the lives of 800 poor families. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS


Marvin Moreno, the FAO expert technician behind this solidarity-based and inclusive innovative microcredit model, which so far has helped change the lives of 800 poor families. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

“We eat with the workers, we work with them, side by side, and at lunch they used to only bring rice, beans and pasta, but now they bring chicken, beef, tilapia and even shrimp,” he said.

One requirement for working in the company is that employees have to send their children to school. “This is an integral project and we want to grow together with the village because there are almost no sources of employment here,” he said.

Marvín Moreno, the FAO expert who has been the driving force behind the two experimental FCD finance centres, told IPS that the new model of financing has allowed families to organise to access opportunities to help them escape poverty.

Participating in the FCDs are local governments, development organisations that work in the area and groups of women, young people and farmers among others, which are given priority for loans.

The innovative initiative has two characteristics: solidarity and inclusiveness. Solidarity, because when someone gets a loan, everyone becomes a personal guarantor, and inclusive because it doesn’t discriminate.

“The priority are the poor families with a subsistence livelihood, but we also have families with more resources, who face limited access to loans as well,” Moreno said.

“It’s a question of giving people a chance, and we’re showing how access to credit is changing lives, and from that perspective it should be seen as a right that must be addressed by a country’s public policies,” he said.

Abel Lara, a Salvadoran small-scale farmer, highlighted the experience of the financial centres developed by FAO in Honduras, which he says show that concentrating on local solutions close to farmers is key for supporting family agriculture. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Abel Lara, a Salvadoran small-scale farmer, highlighted the experience of the financial centres developed by FAO in Honduras, which he says show that concentrating on local solutions close to farmers is key for supporting family agriculture. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

This view is shared by Abel Lara, a small-scale farmer from El Salvador, who after learning about the experience, told IPS that this “basket of funds that makes available loans with joint efforts only comes to prove that it is possible to get family agriculture back on its feet, from the communities themselves..”

The two FCDs established by FAO in Honduras have managed to mobilise about 300,000 dollars through a public-private partnership between the community, organisations and local governments.

That has enabled more than 800 small farmers to access loans ranging from 150 to 3,000 dollars, payable in 12 to 36 months.

In the case of Manorcho, César Núñez, the mayor of San Antonio de Flores, said that “people are starting to believe that the financial centre offers a real opportunity for change and our aim here is to help these poor municipalities, which are hit hard by nature but have potential, to move forward.”

In a country of 8.4 million people, where 66.5 per cent of the population lives in poverty, access to loans as a boost to family agriculture can change the prospects for some 800,000 poor families living in the dry corridor.

These experiences, according to FAO representative in Honduras María Julia Cárdenas, will be part of the proposals for regional dialogue that the Central American Agricultural Council will seek to put the development of family agriculture on the regional agenda.

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Riverbank Populations Displaced by Dams in Brazil Miss Old Way of Lifehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/riverbank-populations-displaced-by-dams-in-brazil-miss-old-way-of-life/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=riverbank-populations-displaced-by-dams-in-brazil-miss-old-way-of-life http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/riverbank-populations-displaced-by-dams-in-brazil-miss-old-way-of-life/#respond Sun, 29 Jan 2017 00:43:15 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148703 “Now we have internet and TV. Before, we didn’t even have electricity, but it was better,” said Lourival de Barros, one of the people displaced by the hydropower plants which have mushroomed aorund Brazil, mainly since the 1970s. Barros was evicted from his home in Sento Sé towards the end of 1976. The town of […]

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A boat under repair on the shore of the Sobradinho reservoir, which has a low water level due to the five years of drought which has plagued the semi arid interior of Northeastern Brazil. Bushes submerged by the dammed-up waters of the São Francisco river since the 1970s can be glimpsed. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A boat under repair on the shore of the Sobradinho reservoir, which has a low water level due to the five years of drought which has plagued the semi arid interior of Northeastern Brazil. Bushes submerged by the dammed-up waters of the São Francisco river since the 1970s can be glimpsed. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
SENTO SE, Brazil, Jan 29 2017 (IPS)

“Now we have internet and TV. Before, we didn’t even have electricity, but it was better,” said Lourival de Barros, one of the people displaced by the hydropower plants which have mushroomed aorund Brazil, mainly since the 1970s.

Barros was evicted from his home in Sento Sé towards the end of 1976. The town of 7,000 people was submerged under the waters of the Sobradinho reservoir just over a year later.

Three other towns, Casa Nova, Pilão Arcado and Remanso, also disappeared under water, along with dozens of riverside villages, in the state of Bahía in Northeastern Brazil.

In total, 72,000 people were displaced, according to social organisations, or 59,265 according to the company responsible for the project, the São Francisco Hydroelectric Company (CHESF).

The sacrifice was made for the sake of the country’s energy requirements and for the development of what was described by government leaders of the time, during the 1964-1985 military dictatorship, as an “irrelevant” region, marked by widespread illiteracy, a “subsistence economy,” and “primitive,” isolated people afraid of change.

To relocate the population of Santo Sé, a new city with the same name was built, with better houses, including indoor bathrooms and services such as electricity and sewage. But “we lost much more”, said Barros, a 70-year-old retired fisherman and small farmer with eight children, nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

“We had many fish in the river. In the reservoir at first we could fish 100 kg a day, but the fish declinednin the last 10 to 15 years, and now it’s hard to catch even 10 kg, just enough to feed the family,” he told IPS.

“There were 2,000 fishers and it was the livelihood of all of us. Today, there are at best 50 who are able to live off fishing,” even though 9,000 are registered in the trade association, many of them just to receive the unemployment payments during the spawning period when fishing is banned, he said. “They need it,” he added.

Barros laments that the fish native to the area have disappeared, while other Amazon species were introduced in the artificial lake, including one, the pavón (Cichla ocellaris), which eats all the others.

Retired fisherman and farmer 70-year-old Lourival de Barros, in his house in the town of Sento Sé, which he received as compensation for the loss of his nice house and other property in the old town, which was submerged by the Sobradinho dam four decades ago, whichburied a lifestyle that he still misses. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Retired fisherman and farmer 70-year-old Lourival de Barros, in his house in the town of Sento Sé, which he received as compensation for the loss of his nice house and other property in the old town, which was submerged by the Sobradinho dam four decades ago, whichburied a lifestyle that he still misses. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

He also complains that his family used to have five plots of land where they grew crops and he owned a mill to make manioc flour, for which they did not receive any compensation. “We lost everything,” he said.

Many flooded properties or assets have still not been compensated, said Adzamara Amaral, author of the book “Memories of a submerged city,” written in 2012 as the thesis for her journalism degree at the University of the State of Bahía.

Her own family is still fighting in court for compensation for 15,000 hectares registered as property of her grandfather, which was in her family for three centuries and included three houses and fruit orchards.

The new town built for the relocated population was deprived of its “riverine” spirit, as in the case of other “rebuilt” towns.

Also lost, besides the fish, was the traditional riverbank farming during the dry season, when water levels were down and crops were planted next to the river on the nutrient-rich soil replenished each year by the seasonal floods.

Large harvests of corn and beans were planted between April and October. “That is why the São Francisco river is known as the ‘Brazilian Nile,’ Amaral told IPS.

With the dam, the water flooded rocky areas or parts of the Caatinga – the semi-arid ecosystem exclusive to the Northeast – and modified the annual changes in the low and high water levels in the river, putting an end to dry season farming.

Relocation to the new Sento Sé, population 41,000 today, accentuated the isolation of the local inhabitants, among other reasons because the distance doubled with respect to Juazeiro, a city of 220,000 people, which is the economic and educational hub of the northern part of Bahía.

Gildalio da Gama (L), municipal secretary of environment up to December, and boat repairman João Reis on the banks of the resevoir in Sento Sé, where the inhabitants of the old town were resettled with almost no compensation, displaced by the Sobradinho hydropower plant on the São Francisco river in Northeastern Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Gildalio da Gama (L), municipal secretary of environment up to December, and boat repairman João Reis on the banks of the resevoir in Sento Sé, where the inhabitants of the old town were resettled with almost no compensation, displaced by the Sobradinho hydropower plant on the São Francisco river in Northeastern Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Now the town is 196 km away, 50 of which are along a dirt road filled with potholes that makes transportation difficult. That is the reason the irrigation agriculture company Fruitmag which employed 1,800 workers, pulled out of Sento Sé, arguing that the jolting of the trucks damaged the grapes.

“Paving the road is key to the development of the municipality, as is offering technical and university courses, which would prevent the exodus of young people, which has been reducing the local population in recent years,” said Amaral.

The new location of the town on the banks of the lake was meant to keep it near the shore even during the dry season, she said. But many people believe that the then mayor decided on the location so it would be near his farm.

Now, the shore of the Sobradinho reservoir has retreated some 600 metres from Santo Sé, after five years of drought.

“There are places where the water ebbs up to 10 km, like in Quixaba, a nearby town,” said João Reis, a 65-year-old metal worker from São Paulo, who worked for years in CHESF.

He has lived for 33 years in Sento Sé, his parents’ hometown, and he currently repairs boats in the São Francisco river. He says that with its fertile lands and marble and precious stone deposits, the municipality has “a great potential to prosper.”

One of eight wind farms built near Sento Sé due to the strong winds on the plateaus surrounding the town in Northeast Brazil, whose population was paradoxically displaced in the 1970s to build the biggest hydropower plant in the region.  Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

One of eight wind farms built near Sento Sé due to the strong winds on the plateaus surrounding the town in Northeast Brazil, whose population was paradoxically displaced in the 1970s to build the biggest hydropower plant in the region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

To overcome its isolation, his colleague Djalma Vitorino, a boat specialist, proposes setting up a ferry service between Sento Sé and Remanso, another relocated town, on the other side of the reservoir. About 25 km or “an hour and a half of navigation” separate the two towns.

“They have a good hospital there where we can take our sick people,” as an alternative to Juazeiro, which is more than three hours away by road, Vitorino told IPS.

Built between 1973 and 1979 on the São Francisco river, the Sobradinho hydropower plant has the capacity to generate 1,050 MW, thanks to its reservoir of 34,000 cubic metres that covers 4,214 square km, the biggest in surface area and the third in water volume in Brazil.

In addition to the generation of electric power, accumulating so much water also gives it the functions of regulating the flow, optimising the operation of seven hydropower plants built downstream, and supplying water for the irrigation of crops in the surrounding area.

Its social impacts stood out because a highly populated area was flooded, in the 1970s, when the country was governed by an authoritarian military regime and environmental legislation was just starting to be developed. Moreover, social movements were weak or nonexistent.

To flood that much land, Sobradinho required the expropriation of 26,000 properties.

CHESF shelled out very low sums in the few cases of compensation it paid, mostly because “the local people did not have official title deeds or did not know how much their property was worth,” said 47-year-old Gildalio da Gama, who until December was secretary of environment in Sento Sé.

“Any money was a lot for people who always handled little money,” da Gama, who is now a primary school teacher on an island where his parents live, 150 km from the town, told IPS:

His grandfather was not compensated for his land because CHESF did not recognise the submitted documentation, he said.

New hydropower plants, such as Itaparica, inaugurated in 1988, downstream on the São Francisco river, meet the regulations, because of the pressure of environmentalists and social organisations. But forced displacement continues, generating noisier conflicts than in the past.

Protests have grown even more against hydropower plants in the Amazon rainforest, particularly the one in Belo Monte, a huge power plant with a capacity of 11,233 MW, inaugurated on May 2016.

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Native Seeds Sustain Brazil’s Semi-Arid Northeasthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/native-seeds-sustain-brazils-semi-arid-northeast/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=native-seeds-sustain-brazils-semi-arid-northeast http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/native-seeds-sustain-brazils-semi-arid-northeast/#respond Fri, 06 Jan 2017 21:51:57 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148428 In his 76 years of life, Raimundo Pinheiro de Melo has endured a number of droughts in Brazil’s semi-arid Northeast region. And he remembers every one of them since 1958. “The worst one was in 1982 and 1983, the only time that the river dried up,” said Pinheiro do Melo, who has lived near the […]

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Raimundo Pinheiro de Melo, better known as Mundinho, a 76-year-old farmer who lives in the Apodi municipality in Northeast Brazil, shows a visiting farmer a bottle of bean seeds which he stores and protects. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Raimundo Pinheiro de Melo, better known as Mundinho, a 76-year-old farmer who lives in the Apodi municipality in Northeast Brazil, shows a visiting farmer a bottle of bean seeds which he stores and protects. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
APODI, Brazil, Jan 6 2017 (IPS)

In his 76 years of life, Raimundo Pinheiro de Melo has endured a number of droughts in Brazil’s semi-arid Northeast region. And he remembers every one of them since 1958.

“The worst one was in 1982 and 1983, the only time that the river dried up,” said Pinheiro do Melo, who has lived near the river since 1962. “The one in 1993 was also very bad,” he told IPS, because neither Bolsa Familia nor Networking in Brazil’s Semi-Arid Region (ASA) existed yet, which contribute to a less traumatic coexistence with droughts like the current one, which has dragged on for five years.

Bolsa Familia is a government cash-transfer programme which helps some 13.8 million poor families in Brazil, half of whom are in the Northeast. ASA is a network of 3,000 social organisations which promotes the collection of rainwater, as well as techniques and know-how suited to rural life in a climate of irregular rainfall.

Water is not so scarce for Pinheiro do Melo and his neighbours because of their proximity to the Apodi river, because even when it dries up, they can get water from the cacimbas, which are water holes in the riverbed or along the banks.

Mundinho, as he is known, besides making an effort to obtain water on the high-lying land where he lives in a rural area in the Apodi municipality, in the state of Rio Grande do Norte, is dedicated to a task that is vital to the sustainability of small-scale farming in the semi-arid interior of Northeast Brazil, an ecosystem known as the Sertão. He is a “guardian” of native seeds.

In bottles and small plastic barrels, he stores the seeds of corn, bean, sorghum, watermelon and other locally planted species, in a shack next to his house, in the middle of land that is now sandy and covered with dried-up vegetation.

More than a thousand homes that serve as “seed banks”, and 20,000 participating families, make up the network organised by ASA to preserve the genetic heritage and diversity of crops adapted to the climate and semi-arid soil in Brazil’s Northeast.

Saving seeds is an age-old peasant tradition, which was neglected during the “green revolution”, a period of agricultural modernisation which started in the mid-20th century and involved “an offensive by companies that produced the so-called ‘improved’ seeds,” which farmers became dependent on, said Antonio Gomes Barbosa, a sociologist who is coordinator of ASA’s Seed Programme.

Native seeds stored in recycled plastic bottles, in a shack on his farm specially built by Raimundo Pinheiro de Melo, who proudly guards native seeds that contribute to food security in Northeast Brazil, in the midst of a drought that has dragged on for over five years. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Native seeds stored in recycled plastic bottles, in a shack on his farm specially built by Raimundo Pinheiro de Melo, who proudly guards native seeds that contribute to food security in Northeast Brazil, in the midst of a drought that has dragged on for over five years. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The strategy, adopted in 2007, of disseminating technologies for harvesting rainwater for production, in search of food security, lead ASA to the awareness that small producers needed to always have seeds available, he told IPS.

A study carried out among 12,800 families found that “the semi-arid Northeast has the greatest variety of seeds of food and medicinal plant species in Brazil.” Of the 56 million people who live in the Northeast, more than 23 million live in the semi-arid parts of the region, in this South American country of 208 million.

According to the survey, the family and community tradition of storing seeds and passing them down from one generation to the next contributed to this diversity of seeds, as did migrants who returned to the semi-arid Northeast from southern São Paulo and east-central Brazil, bringing seeds native to those areas.

What ASA did was to identify the houses which had stored seeds, create a network of them and help multiply the number of these traditional seed banks, in order to salvage, preserve, increase stocks and distribute native seeds, Barbosa said.

Antonia de Souza Oliveira, or Antonieta as she is known, participates in seed bank number 639, according to ASA’s records, in Milagre, a village of 28 families on the Apodi plateau, which is crossed by the river of the same name.

The community seed bank “has 17 guardians and stocks mainly of corn, bean and sorghum seeds,” she said.

Antonia de Souza Oliveira in front of the seed bank in Milagre, a rural settlement of 28 families in the state of Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil, which has become famous for the strong participation of women in the village’s collective activities. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Antonia de Souza Oliveira in front of the seed bank in Milagre, a rural settlement of 28 families in the state of Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil, which has become famous for the strong participation of women in the village’s collective activities. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The strong presence of women in the activities in this community prompted former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011) to choose Milagre to inaugurate a line of credit for women participating in the National Programme to Strengthen Family Farming (PRONAF).

A model case, highlighted by ASA, is the seed bank in Tabuleiro Grande, another rural settlement in the municipality of Apodi, in Rio Grande do Norte. There, a family initiative stores seeds of 450 varieties of corn, beans and other legumes and herbs.

Antonio Rodrigues do Rosario, 59, heads the fourth generation that maintains the “family bank”.

The native seed movement is in conflict with the green revolution, where seeds are distributed by the government or are sold by biotech corporations “in great quantities but with little variety,” said Barbosa.

“We don’t need this kind of distribution, just local initiatives in every area to rescue local seeds, with great diversity and dissemination,” said Barbosa.

The movement is about knowledge accumulated by local families with experience in adaptation to each specific place, soil and climate, based on the intended type of production and resistance to pests and drought.

Antonio Gomes Barbosa, coordinator of the Native Seeds Programme of the movement Networking in the Brazilian Semi Arid, which brings together more than 3,000 organisations. This initiative is key to food security and biodiversity in agriculture in Northeast Brazil, especially during the prolonged drought currently plaguing the region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Antonio Gomes Barbosa, coordinator of the Native Seeds Programme of the movement Networking in the Brazilian Semi Arid, which brings together more than 3,000 organisations. This initiative is key to food security and biodiversity in agriculture in Northeast Brazil, especially during the prolonged drought currently plaguing the region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“There are many varieties of corn that address different needs; you can produce more leaves to feed animals, or more corn for human consumption,” he said.

“Family gardens are laboratories, where experiments are carried out, genetic improvements and testing of resistance and productivity of seeds. The garden is where women participate the most, teaching their children as well,” Barbosa said.

“In the severe 1982-1983 drought, a variety of fast-growing potato, which in 60 days was reproduced and stored by a grandmother, saved many lives,” he said.

The exchange of materials and knowledge within and among communities is also an important part of maintaining the diversity of native seeds. ASA works to bolster this exchange, promoting contact among small farmers from different areas.

“Native seeds are at the centre of resistance to the impositions of the market, in order to overcome the dependence on big suppliers,” said Barbosa.

Climate change boosts the importance of native seeds from the semi-arid region. “There is no agricultural poison to combat the rise in temperatures,” he said, half-jokingly.

The Semi-Arid Seeds Programme proved the “great creative capacity and ability to experiment of family farmers in the Northeast,” Barbosa told IPS in the nearby municipality of Mossoró.

It also showed their tendency towards autonomy. “Farmers follow their own experience, more than the advice of agronomists, because they always choose the safest bet.”

But there are two threats that concern ASA’s seed movement. One is the “genetic erosion” which could be caused by the current drought, which in some areas has lasted for seven years.

Isolated rains tempt farmers to plant. Knowing they could lose their entire crop, they never use all of their seeds. But the seeds are gradually lost, with each deceptive rainfall, which puts their entire stock of seeds at risk.

Another threat is posed by transgenic seeds, which farmers involved in ASA reject. The presence of genetically modified corn was detected in some crops in the northeastern state of Paraíba, apparently a consequence of contamination from seeds brought in from other regions.

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No More Mass Deaths from Drought in Northeast Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/no-more-mass-deaths-from-drought-in-northeast-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-more-mass-deaths-from-drought-in-northeast-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/no-more-mass-deaths-from-drought-in-northeast-brazil/#respond Fri, 30 Dec 2016 20:57:42 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148366 The drought that has plagued Brazil’s semiarid Northeast region since 2012 is already more severe than the 1979-1983 drought, the longest in the 20th century. But prolonged dry spells no longer cause the tragedies of the past. There are no widespread deaths from hunger or thirst or mass exodus of people due to water shortages, […]

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Water tanks to collect rainfall water behind a house in Buena Esperanza, a settlement of 45 families in the state of Pernambuco in Brazil’s semiarid Northeast region, where thanks to such initiatives the rural population manages to survive prolonged droughts, without the tragedies of the past. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

Water tanks to collect rainfall water behind a house in Buena Esperanza, a settlement of 45 families in the state of Pernambuco in Brazil’s semiarid Northeast region, where thanks to such initiatives the rural population manages to survive prolonged droughts, without the tragedies of the past. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

By Mario Osava
OURICURI, Brazil, Dec 30 2016 (IPS)

The drought that has plagued Brazil’s semiarid Northeast region since 2012 is already more severe than the 1979-1983 drought, the longest in the 20th century. But prolonged dry spells no longer cause the tragedies of the past.

There are no widespread deaths from hunger or thirst or mass exodus of people due to water shortages, like in the past when huge numbers of people would swarm into cities and towns and even loot the shops, or head off to distant lands in the more developed centre-south of the country, in search of a better life.

The lack of rains, nevertheless, impacts everything. The caatinga, an ecosystem exclusive to Brazil’s semiarid region, which consists of shrubland and thorn forest, looks dead with the exception of a few drought-resistant trees and areas where recent sprinkles have turned some shrubs green again.

The Tamboril reservoir, on the outskirts of Ouricuri, a city of 68,000 people in the state of Pernambuco, has been dry for more than a year now. Fortunately, the city is also supplied by water piped in from the São Francisco river, 180 kilometres away.

“The 1982-1983 drought was worse, not so much due to the lack of water, but because we did not know how to cope with the situation,” Manoel Pereira Barros, a 58-year-old father of seven, told IPS on his farm in Sitio de Santa Fe, about 80 kilometres from Ouricuri.

He got married at the height of the crisis, in 1983. “It was difficult for the entire family…we killed some oxen, we survived on the water from a cacimba (water hole), a few cattle and many goats. The animals saved us, the bean crop dried up,” he said.

That year, the governors of the nine states that make up Brazil’s semiarid region requested more help from the national government, pointing out that one hundred people a day were dying as a result of the drought.

According to the state governments in the region, 100,000 people died in the space of five years, although researchers put the number of deaths at more than 700,000. Most of those who died were children.

And one million deaths is the estimate of Networking in Brazil’s Semi-Arid Region (ASA), a network of 3,000 social organisations created in 1999 to promote the transformations which are improving the life of the population most affected by the drought: poor farmers in the Northeast.

Apparently dead dry vegetation of the caatinga, an ecosystem exclusive to Brazil’s semiarid Northeast. But in general the plants are highly resilient and turn green again after even just a sprinkle. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

Apparently dead dry vegetation of the caatinga, an ecosystem exclusive to Brazil’s semiarid Northeast. But in general the plants are highly resilient and turn green again after even just a sprinkle. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

Distributing water tanks to collect and store rainwater for drinking and cooking was their first goal. Beyond assuring safe drinking water during the eight-month dry season, this initiative was at the centre of a new approach towards the development of the semiarid region, which is home to more than 23 million people in this country of 208 million.

One million water tanks have been built so far, about one-third by ASA, which distributes 16,000-litre family units made of concrete slabs that are installed with the participation of the beneficiaries, who also receive citizenship classes and training in water management.

To coexist with the local climate, overcoming the failed policies of the past based on “combating the drought”, is the movement’s slogan, which thus promotes learning about the ecosystem, capitalising on farmers’ traditional knowledge and fostering an intense exchange of experiences among rural communities.

Other methods for coexisting with the local ecosystem include contextualised education, which prioritises the local reality, agroecological practices, and the principle of storing everything, including the water used for irrigation and livestock, fodder for the dry season, and native seeds adapted to the local soil and climate.

These technologies, provided by the Advice and Help Centre for Workers and Alternative Non-Governmental Institutions (CAATINGA), a member of ASA, did not exist during previous droughts and are making the difference today, Barros said.

To these are added the Bolsa Familia, a monthly grant of 53 dollars on average, new retirement pensions for farmers, and other government social programmes that help farmers survive even when it doesn’t rain.

Manoel Pereira Barros shows the beehives on his small farm, now useless because the bees have left due to the drought. Honey production, one of the sources of income of many small farming families, will have to wait to be resumed until the rains return to Northeast Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

Manoel Pereira Barros shows the beehives on his small farm, now useless because the bees have left due to the drought. Honey production, one of the sources of income of many small farming families, will have to wait to be resumed until the rains return to Northeast Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

Barros decided to leave his land in 1993, at the end of another two-year drought, to look for work in vineyards and on mango plantations in the municipality of Petrolina, 200 km south of Ouricuri, on the shores of the São Francisco river.

“I spent 15 years away from my family, working with poisonous agricultural chemicals, that is why I look older than my age,” he said jokingly. “Here I only eat organic food.”

“I dreamed of having a water tank, which did not exist. Now I have three, and one of them still has water from the January rains. Used only for drinking water, it lasts over a year for five people,” he said. “We are very strict about saving, we used to waste a lot of water.”

Besides the water tanks, the community of 14 families has a pond dug in the rocky ground 70 years ago, to collect water from a stream. It has not dried out yet, but it is very dirty. “It needs to be cleaned,” said Clarinda Alves, Barros’ 64-year-old neighbour.

“Biowater”, a system of filters which makes it possible to reuse household sewage to irrigate vegetable gardens and fruit trees, is another technology which is expanding among the farmers of the semiarid region.

Despite this arsenal of water resources, plus the water increasingly distributed by the army in tanker trucks throughout the Northeast, Barros decided to stop growing vegetables and other crops, unlike many other farmers, who have managed to keep producing. He opted instead to prioritise the water for human and animal consumption.

ASA believes there is still much to do with respect to the question of water supply. To reach the goal of universalising “two water tanks”, there is still a need for 350,000 tanks for drinking water and 800,000 devoted to production.

 The water in Sobradinho, Brazil’s largest reservoir, covering 4,200 square kilometres in the state of Bahía, is 500 metres away from the normal shoreline due to the low water level - another impact of the drought that the country’s Northeast has been suffering since 2012. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS


The water in Sobradinho, Brazil’s largest reservoir, covering 4,200 square kilometres in the state of Bahía, is 500 metres away from the normal shoreline due to the low water level – another impact of the drought that the country’s Northeast has been suffering since 2012. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

“Five water tanks” are needed, according to André Rocha, climate and water coordinator for the non-governmental Regional Institute for Appropriate Small-Scale Agriculture (IRPAA), a member of ASA, based in Juazeiro, in the Northeast state of Bahía.

Domestic use requires two tanks, one for drinking and cooking, and one for hygiene, so water for production purposes would be the third source, he said. The fourth is for emergencies or reserves, “like a blood bank, and the fifth would be dedicated to the environment, to recuperating freshwater sources, restoring the groundwater table and keeping rivers running year-round,” Rocha told IPS in his office.

But the task of “building coexistence with the semiarid ecosystem,” ASA’s goal, faces a political threat.

It will be difficult to maintain water collection and the strengthening of small-scale agriculture as public policies, after Brazil’s government took a conservative turn in August 2016, when the leftist Workers’ Party, which governed the country since 2003, lost power.

It also requires an ongoing ideological battle and communications effort, because “combating drought”, instead of adapting, is still the mindset of the country’s authorities and economic powers-that-be.

Large water projects, like the diversion of the São Francisco river to provide water to other rivers and basins in the Northeast, as well as the irrigation of the monoculture crops of agribusiness or large-scale agriculture destined mainly for export, are still being carried out to the detriment of family agriculture.

Hefty investments and official loans are devoted to agribusiness, despite previous failures and corruption, while funding is dwindling for ASA’s activities, which have proven successful in overcoming the effects of drought.

The post No More Mass Deaths from Drought in Northeast Brazil appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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