News and Views from the Global South
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Q&A: Mro Indigenous Community Plea for Halt of Construction of 5-Star Hotel

November 25, 2020 - 10:53am

 CC-BY-SA-3.0/Md.Kabirul Islam

The development of a 5-star hotel on ancestral lands of the Mro indigenous community in Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh could destroy their traditional way of life, activists warn. Courtesy: CC-BY-SA-3.0/Md.Kabirul Islam

By Samira Sadeque

The construction of a five-star hotel in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh, could lead to the forced eviction of the Mro indigenous community from their ancestral lands and destroy “the social, economic, traditional and cultural fabric of the community”, warns Amnesty International.

But local activist Reng Young Mro told IPS that the international community must rally behind the Mro indigenous community to halt the construction.

The hotel is expected to be built collaboratively by a welfare organisation and a local conglomerate. It is expected to affect six villages directly and about a hundred villages indirectly, according to local news.

Young, a masters student who has been protesting against the hotel, says the Mro indigenous community is living in fear of being evicted after the hotel is built. They are also concerned the construction will affect their livelihoods, potentially taking away some of their sources of income.

Many local activists from the Mro indigenous community have been organising for weeks against the project, which would spread over a thousand acres on the indigenous land in the Bandarban area in southern Bangladesh.

On Monday, Nov. 23, Amnesty International issued a statement calling for authorities in Bangladesh to listen to, and comply with, the indigenous leaders’ demands.

“The construction of a five-star hotel under these circumstances would violate the Bangladeshi authorities’ responsibility and commitment to protect and promote the rights of the indigenous peoples, rather than providing the indigenous community with the necessary support to realise their own development plans, for example by improving access to education and electricity,” read a part of the statement, calling for the project to be immediately abandoned.

A representative of the conglomerate building the hotel told the news media that the local government has an 8 percent share in the project. However, local leaders denied this, stating they do not have any such arrangement.

Young said those building the hotel must understand that the Mro indigenous community doesn’t want promises of “improvement” forced upon them as they prefer development on their own terms.

They are completely cheating us to build this project, which will only generate profit for them, while the locals are deprived of these benefits,” Young told IPS in Bengali.

Excerpts below from the full interview follow.

Inter Press Service (IPS): Tell us a bit about your concerns about the hotel.

Reng Young Mro (RY): The locals here have a lot of complaints about the hotel that’s being built and are living in fear about it.

Their concerns are about a range of issues: they’re having to witness construction on their ancient land. The project is [is to be developed over] a large area, where the locals have created a holy space for themselves, built graveyards and created a community. Many bank on this land to earn their living.

Meanwhile, the hotel’s project management has made a lot of plans for different kinds of entertainments such as a cable car between hills.

IPS: What are your specific concerns about facilities such as that?

RY: If there are cable cars between the hills, where the tourists are going back and forth, we are concerned about the kind of interruption this will cause in the life of the locals. There are also fears that the locals might be evicted. But the Mro community really likes to live ordinary lives in solitude, which would be hampered by this.

But it looks like roads are being dug through the villages, across the vast expanses of this area. If tourists end up frequenting these places, it will disrupt the privacy of the local people. As a result, many will either leave themselves, or they will eventually be asked to move — that is the fear. 

And for an area with very little education, for a people to whom the idea of an “improved” life is rather foreign, what good will a five-star hotel do?

IPS: Do you have any fears about the protests the Mro indigenous community are organising against this project?

RY: Yes of course, we have many fears. First of all, they didn’t take any initiative to have any discussions with us. That’s why we asked for very simple conciliation, explaining that we just want to hold on to our culture, we want to continue living our normal lives.

That’s what we’re protesting for: we don’t want a 5-star hotel. And the protests will definitely affect the interests of those who are building this hotel, and so we live in fear of retaliation.

IPS: How do you respond to the justification behind building the hotel?

RY: The project building council says they’ve discussed the project with local leaders. Yes, they did speak a bit but they now targeted more places than they initially discussed. Even if they take 20 acres and build hotels, they need to discuss this with us. To the international community, our request is that this building needs to stop.

The process through which they’ve initiated to establish this is also problematic. According to any kind of legal process — whether it’s national, or local, or specific to the indigenous community — an institution is required to work in collaboration with local leaders and with their permission. None of that is happening.

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Could the Finance Sector Hold the Key to Ending Deforestation?

November 23, 2020 - 2:45am

Despite global commitments from a growing number of governments, companies and financial institutions, the money and effort being directed towards damaging development far exceeds the efforts being made to support sustainable livelihoods. We have not, as a global community managed to put the brakes on the juggernaut of unsustainable economic development. Credit: United Nations

By Sarah Rogerson
OXFORD, UK, Nov 23 2020 (IPS)

At the beginning of 2020, there were hopes that this would be a ’super year for nature’. It has not turned out that way. Tropical forests, so crucial for biodiversity, the climate and the indigenous communities who live in them, have continued to be destroyed at alarming rates. In fact, despite the shutdown of large parts of the global economy, rates of deforestation globally have increased since last year.

The market forces driving deforestation are baked deep into the system of global trade. Agricultural expansion for commodities such as soy and palm oil accounts for two thirds of the problem worldwide. And forests are also being cleared to make way for mining, and for infrastructure to link once remote areas to the global markets they supply.

Coal mining is estimated to affect 1.74 million hectares of forest in Indonesia alone, with as much as nine percent of the country’s remaining forests at risk from permits for new mines. And the threat to forests from road building is significant, with 25 million kilometres of roads likely to be built by 2050, mainly in developing countries.

Underpinning these industries is over a trillion dollars a year in financing from financial institutions around the world. This investment and lending is the fuel that keeps the deforestation fires alight.

Six years ago, governments, companies and civil society signed the New York Declaration on Forests, setting a goal to end global deforestation by 2030. Each year, an independent civil society network led by Climate Focus and including Global Canopy provides a progress assessment. This year, it focuses on the NYDF goals of reducing deforestation from mining and infrastructure by 2020 (goal 3), and supporting alternatives to deforestation for subsistence needs (goal 4).

The findings are an urgent wake-up call. The threat to forests worldwide from these activities is growing, and indigenous people and local communities continue to bear a devastating cost.

But the report also highlights opportunities for progress. A growing number of governments are facing up to this issue and some companies are waking up to the risks of inaction. The same is true of the finance sector, which could become a driver of transformational change.

The opportunity for finance

Financial institutions do not, it must be recognised, have a great track record on these issues. Global Canopy’s annual Forest 500 assessment of the most influential financial institutions in agricultural and timber forest-risk supply chains has consistently found that the majority do not publicly recognise a need to engage on the issue of deforestation.

Fewer still publish clear information about how they will deal with deforestation risks identified in their portfolios, and none of the 150 financial institutions assessed in 2019 had policies across all relevant human rights issues. As a result, investment and lending has largely continued to flow to companies linked to land grabs and deforestation.

Nearly 87% of indigenous territories in the Amazon are recognised in Brazilian law, yet government concessions for mining and oil extraction overlap nearly 24% of recognised territories. This infringement of the communities’ rights is being overlooked by the companies involved, and by the financial institutions that finance them.

Yet there are signs of change. In June this year a group of 29 investors requested meetings with the Brazilian government because of concerns about the fires raging in the Amazon. Some, including BlackRock, have said they will engage with the companies they finance on deforestation risks. And some have gone further, with Citigroup, Standard Chartered, and Rabobank disinvesting from Indonesian food giant Indofood following concerns about deforestation linked to palm oil, and Nordea Asset Management dropped investments in Brazilian meat giant, JBS.

There is also support for the Equator Principles, which provide a framework for banks and investors to assess and manage social and environmental risks in project finance. Companies in the mining and extractive sectors are among the 110 financial institutions to have signed up, although reporting on implementation is voluntary and patchy.

There is also growing recognition that biodiversity loss represents a risk to investments. More than 30 financial institutions have joined an informal working group to develop a Task Force for Nature-related Disclosure (TNFD), intended to help financial institutions shift finance away from destructive activities such as deforestation. Some within the sector are developing new impact investment products designed to support poverty alleviation and sustainable development.

And there are also signs of a shift in development banks – whose finance plays such a critical role in so many development projects in the Global South. Just this month, public development banks from around the world made a joint declaration to “support the transformation of the global economy and societies toward sustainable and resilient development”.

No silver bullets

It is of course one thing to recognise the problem, another to solve it. Transforming the finance sector so that money is moved away from mining or agricultural projects linked to deforestation, and invested in sustainable alternatives that benefit local communities is an enormous challenge – made all the more difficult by the lack of transparency that currently engulfs these sectors.

For while the banks and investors funding deforestation activities are all too often invisible to the local communities and indigenous groups on the ground, those communities, and the impacts of financial investments on their land and livelihoods are similarly invisible or ignored.

But these links are increasingly being brought into the light, and new tools and technologies are bringing a new level of transparency and accountability. The new Trase Finance tool is a great example, it maps the deforestation risks for investors linked to Brazilian soy and beef, and Indonesian palm oil, and aims to extend coverage to include half of major forest-risk commodities by next year. Bringing about a new era of radical transparency could be the key for moving beyond recognition and into real solutions.

Increased transparency brings with it greater accountability, creating an opportunity for local communities to identify the financial institutions involved, and a reputational risk for financial institutions linked to infringements of land rights.

Grassroots movements can play an important role in demanding accountability from the companies and financial institutions involved where land rights are affected. Campaigns can raise awareness with the wider public, creating a reputational risk for the companies involved, and for the financial institutions that finance them. Campaigners have targeted BlackRock for its investments in JBS, for example, pushing for greater action from the investor.

Governments in consumer countries are also increasingly looking at how they can reduce their exposure to deforestation in imported products, with both the European Union and UK proposing mandatory due diligence for companies, requiring far greater transparency from all involved. These measures should be strengthened to include due diligence on human rights.

A global problem

We are all implicated in tropical deforestation – as consumers, as pension-fund holders, as citizens. In the Global North, economies rely on commodities produced in developing and emerging economies, enabled by production practices linked with deforestation.

Despite global commitments from a growing number of governments, companies and financial institutions, the money and effort being directed towards damaging development far exceeds the efforts being made to support sustainable livelihoods. We have not, as a global community managed to put the brakes on the juggernaut of unsustainable economic development.

To meet the NYDF goal of ending deforestation by 2030, as well as climate goals under the Paris Agreement, this must change urgently, and the finance sector is crucial to making this happen.


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The post Could the Finance Sector Hold the Key to Ending Deforestation? appeared first on Inter Press Service.


Sarah Rogerson is a researcher at Global Canopy. Prior to Global Canopy, she has worked on corporate environmental transparency with both CDP and the Climate Disclosure Standards Board, and on domestic recycling and engagement with Keep Britain Tidy. She has a degree in Natural Sciences (Zoology) from the University of Cambridge

The post Could the Finance Sector Hold the Key to Ending Deforestation? appeared first on Inter Press Service.

African Languages Matter: Is There Still Time to Prevent Cultural Genocide?

November 16, 2020 - 4:17am

By Victor Oladokun
ABIDJAN, Côte d’Ivoire, Nov 16 2020 (IPS)

As a 10 year-old newly arrived in Lagos from England, I recall listening intently to how the Yoruba language – my father’s language – was spoken. I would constantly repeat in my head or verbally repeat what I thought I had heard. I was not always successful. Many times, what would come out of my mouth would throw my friends into fits of laughter.

Victor Oladokun

Yoruba is a tonal language. Some three-letter words pronounced wrongly or with the accent on the wrong syllable, can get you into a whole lot of trouble.

I am indebted to the Canadian Catholic boarding School I attended in Ondo – St. Joseph’s College. At the time, the high school was well known for academic rigor and discipline. But one thing I’ve come to really appreciate over the years, was the mandatory learning of the Yoruba language in the first two years of a five-year study. In addition, while Mass was in Latin and English, the music also had a generous sprinkling of uplifting Yoruba hymns backed by traditional drums.

As I look back, I owe my love of the Yoruba language to this cultural exposure.

Which is one of the reasons why I never cease to be amazed by the linguistic snobbery of many upwardly mobile and not-too-upwardly mobile Nigerian and African elite, when it comes to transferring a knowledge of indigenous languages to their children.

In the case of my fellow Yoruba, it is not unusual to be regaled with pride about how their children only speak English.

With an affected Yoruba-English accent denoting social class, this is how the commentary tends to go – “Ehhh … so mo pe awon omo aiye isiyin, won o gbo Yoruba mo. Oyinbo nikan ni won gbo.” Meaning “You must realise that today’s generation no longer speak or comprehend Yoruba. They only speak English.”

The comment by the way is supposed to be a badge of honor.

Languages become endangered for many reasons. While focusing on Nigeria, the same applies to almost all African countries.

1. Unprecedented urban mobility and migration, in which children grow up in places where the language of their parents is either not generally spoken or where it is no longer taught in the community.

2. Inter-ethnic marriages and relationships and a recourse to the official language of English or the more widely spoken Pigin English.

3. A tech-driven world that is dominated by less than a dozen global languages. Consequently, social media, TV and digital content, children’s programs, computer games, mobile apps and news content, do not favor indigenous African languages.

4. Dislocation of populations due to terrorism and ethnic conflicts.

5. Economic migration that ends up leaving the older and elderly speakers of a language behind in rural communities. Languages cannot live without children speakers. As such, as elderly rural speakers die out, the survival of some languages is simply impossible.

This is the dilemma that has befallen the Yoruba language and countless other indigenous languages.

Language is all-encompassing. It is not just a means of communicating. It is also a repository of values, customs, culture and history. In short, language is the embodiment of who a people are.

Therefore, the loss or extinction of a language is simply not an inability to speak in a way and manner that is generally understood. It is the loss of identity – linguistically, culturally, psychologically, and historically.

I’m delighted to see indigenous Nigerian languages woven into the fabric of many recent Nollywood blockbuster movies. Its a step in the right direction.

According to the ‘Atlas of Languages in Danger of Disappearing,’ published by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, and (UNESCO), today, there are an estimated 7,000 languages spoken worldwide. Half of the world’s total population speaks only eight of the most common. Also, more than 3,000 languages are said to be spoken by fewer than 10,000 people each.

So what can we do about lingustiic genocide?

Fold our arms? Bemoan our fate? Accept the seemingly unstoppable collision of languages with the forces of ‘modernisation’ and globalization? Or do we take stock, recognize what is at stake, turn adversity into opportunity, and innovatively add value to the tremendous linguistic resources that we own?

We have no choice.

I offer 7 suggestions for starters.

1. Policy makers should go back to the drawing board and once again make the learning of indigenous languages compulsory from kindergarten through high school.

2. Public advocacy and campaigns should be developed to encouage family members and local communities to pass on the treasure of language to the younger generation. One of the dilemmas however, is that today many young and older adults are themselves linguistically challenged. As such, they are in need of tutoring and learning themselves. This is an entrepreneurial opportunity for developers of language apps or creative radio and TV programs.

3. Debates in indigenous languages: Growing up in Lagos, one of my favorite TV programs was the live broadcast of the National High School Debates. I can still hear the opening music ringing in my ears.

Here lies another opportunity. Policy makers, content producers, advertisers, and the private and public sector, could team up to create regionally televised elementary and high school debates in indigenous languages.

To motivate the younger generation, generous and not token awards could include academic scholarships, regional and national media mentions and opportunities to meet with and be honored by leading public and private sector leaders.

4. Business Incubation Hubs: Tech savvy entrepreneurs have an unprecedented opportunity to create innovative indigenous language content, apps and platforms. Opportunities abound for policy makers and the private sector to support and give out annual awards for the best digital content in indigenous languages including children’s animation programs, computer games, TV programs, vlogs or podcasts.

5. Language Schools: France, the UK, Switzerland and Germany have an abundance of schools that offer short or long term language programs. The French language school Alliance Française for example, has a presence in almost every African country. Some foreign language programs are immersive. Others provide tourists or business folk with a basic working knowledge. Again, this is another entrepreneurial opportunity for Nigerians in the Diaspora and at home.

6. Policy makers must help create an environment that promotes learning and drives demand for content and information in indigenous languages. We certainly can learn from countries such as Ethiopia, Somalia, Tanzania and to some extent Rwanda, that use indigenous languages in their respective parliaments.

Why should proficiency in multiple Nigerian or other African languages not be a desirable employment competency? Why should important national messages not be simulcast in their entirety in key indigenous languages in order to reach the largest possible audience? Why is there a complete reliance on English or French in public communication, as is the case in many African countries?

7. Becoming Linguistic Ambassadors: Finally, each one of us can brush up on our own language skills and do so with exceptional pride. For too long, we have bought into the false narrative that ‘local’ is bad and ‘Western’ is sexy. Instead, learn to speak your language with pride. Listen intently to how it is spoken properly. Each week learn new vocabulary words. Over time, you’ll be amazed at the progress you have made.

Every African language is a repository of history, culture and values. When a language dies, so too does history, culture, values, and the intuitive sense of who a people are, where they are from and where they are going.

There is still time to save our languages and prevent cultural genocide. It starts with each one of us.

Dr Victor Oladokun is a communication consultant and former Director of Communication at the African Development Bank


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Global Summit of Development Banks Fails to Learn from Destructive Past

November 13, 2020 - 5:41am

Indigenous men and women of Nuñoa in Puno, Peru, spin and weave garments based on the fiber of the alpacas. Credit: SGP-GEF-UNDP Peru/Enrique Castro-Mendívil

By Siddharth Akali
MANILA, Nov 13 2020 (IPS)

This week, 450 public development banks from around the world met for the Finance in Common Summit at the Paris Peace Forum. They gathered to discuss how they can direct their combined investments of over USD 2 trillion – 10% of total investments in the world – “to support the transformation or the global economy” and “build new forms of prosperity that take care of people and the planet.”

However, the summit has done little to fundamentally transform development so it is bottom up, focussing again on government officials, bankers, think tanks, and academics over the real experts at the frontlines, who are living, breathing, and drinking the impacts of these banks policies and practices that have their stolen lands and polluted their ecosystems.

Grassroots communities and human rights defenders directly affected by these banks’ activities did not have a seat at the summit table, or the chance to speak and be heard in the webinar room.

And after ongoing advocacy by hundreds of civil society groups from around the world, and several United Nations special procedures, the final declaration of the summit contains only reference to community-led development and human rights. There are no concrete actionable commitments beyond business as usual dressed in the language of motherhood and apple pie.

The Finance in Common Summit was the first global meeting of the vast family of institutions that intersect between finance and public policy, and was one of the largest international governance and finance gatherings in 2020 since the spread of the pandemic.

The organizers of the summit are heralding public development banks as a “visible hand” that can help mobilize and direct the finance we need for the future we want. Unfortunately, these institutions do not have a great track record, with significant documentation of their projects excluding directly affected communities and doing more harm.

Development banks have repeatedly supported fossil fuel projects that have contributed to climate change, polluted ecosystems causing lung diseases and made people more vulnerable to the worst effects of Covid-19.

They have also engaged in greenwashing, supporting fossil free projects that take traditionally held lands without the consent of local communities and Indigenous Peoples, destroying the biodiverse ecosystems they have protected for generations.

These institutions have also repeatedly looked the other way and been complicit in the human rights violations of corporations and governments they work with. They support activities where armed forces push forward large infrastructure and extractives projects on traditional lands without the participation and consent of Indigenous Peoples.

They indiscriminately fund states where there is corporate capture of institutions, and police and courts violently punish those who speak truth to power rather than those who murder social justice leaders.

For instance, despite warning from local communities in Colombia several development financiers provided support for the construction of the Hidroituango dam, which has had a catastrophic impact for the people and the environment, including forced displacement of hundreds of families, loss of livelihoods, floods, landslides, and mass fish kill.

In the past 11 years, six members of the grassroots organization Movimiento Ríos Vivos and more than 30 other community members have been killed for raising their concerns about the project.

Development banks have also supported privatization of essential services, prioritizing growth and corporate profits over protections for workers and communities. And now, in the middle of a pandemic, many people are left without access to healthcare, shelter, livelihoods, food, sanitary products and medicines, even as stock markets rise.

However, in the name of crowding in private investments, development banks are continuing to pump out billions of dollars to bail out corporations during the pandemic, with few safeguards to ensure the money reaches the people who need it the most.

Indeed, public development banks have contributed to a world where the 22 richest men in the world have more wealth than all the women in Africa. They have done little to challenge systems through which caregiving falls disproportionately on women, focusing instead on farcical women’s empowerment efforts.

They have also failed to confront their role in advancing racism and colonialism, or contributing to increased surveillance and securitization, and inhibiting world peace.

A better world is possible, even as we reel under the shocks of intersecting crises of the pandemic, climate change and rising inequality, violence and militarization. And a better world can benefit from the right kind of public development finance.

But public banks, governments, and businesses need to make changes if we want to move away from a world of self-inflicted existential threats. The response to the current crises of our times cannot be to simply push out more money without consideration for the long-term environmental and social impacts of these funds on local communities and workers.

And who better to assess the long term impacts of these investments than communities and workers themselves?

The very idea of international development finance has to be reshaped under the leadership of communities who have repeatedly called for the lens of collective responsibility and reparations. The existing models of debt and financial aid, focused on states and corporations, only serve to replicate colonial power imbalances, and support the prevailing top-down paradigm.

Instead, people who are the purported beneficiaries of development finance have to be the key decision-makers.

To make future iterations of the Finance in Common summit impactful, the first thing the organizers have to do is to recognize communities are the experts of their own development.

Community-led development and human rights must be front and center on the summit agenda. Indigenous Peoples, grassroots communities and social movements must be invited to share their vision of development.

If governments and their public banks are serious about transformation, and leaving behind old patterns of crises, human rights in common have to come before finance in common.


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Development banks have repeatedly looked the other way and been complicit in the human rights violations of corporations and governments they work with. They support activities where armed forces push forward large infrastructure and extractives projects on traditional lands without the participation and consent of Indigenous Peoples.

Siddharth Akali is an international lawyer who has been trained by local communities, Indigenous governments and peoples in Canada, India and Nepal. He works as director of the Coalition for Human Rights in Development, a global coalition of social movements, civil society organizations, and grassroots groups working together to ensure that development is community-led and that it respects, protects, and fulfills human rights.

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Indigenous Peoples & Local Communities Offer Best Hope for Our Planetary Emergency

October 13, 2020 - 2:48am

Alianza Ceibo, a 2020 Equator Prize winner, unites four indigenous peoples in their struggle to counter environmental degradation to protect over 20,000 square kilometers of primary rainforest across four provinces and 70 communities in the Ecuadorean Amazon. Credit: Mitch Anderson

By Yoko Watanabe and Nina Kantcheva

Indigenous peoples and local communities offer the best hope for solutions to our planetary emergency. These solutions are grounded in traditional, time-tested practices and knowledge.

Indigenous peoples already steward 80 percent of the world’s remaining biodiversity, as well as nearly one-fifth of the total carbon sequestered by tropical and subtropical forests. Moreover, indigenous territories encompass 40 percent of protected areas globally.

Yet the voices of indigenous peoples and local communities are barely heard and are often excluded from decision-making. Their rights over land, territories, and resources are routinely overlooked, and they are frequently threatened and often subject of murder, assault, intimidation and detention.

Similarly, our planetary emergency puts the rights of today’s youth, rights to a healthy, viable and livable planet, at risk. Although they will feel the brunt of biodiversity loss and climate change in their lifetimes, they do not have a regular seat at the table.

UNDP, together with more than 40 partner organizations, has joined forces to create a virtual Nature for Life Hub where the voices of indigenous peoples, local communities, environmental defenders and youth can be heard.

Listening to youth voices on nature

One example of a group leading the way on youth action on nature is Youth4Nature. Their goals including mobilizing youth advocates to encourage political leaders to recognize that nature can provide up to 30 percent of our climate solutions needed by 2030; elevating the voices of youth by providing a platform to share their stories and have them be heard; and building the capacity of youth as stewards for a nature for climate movement.

Yoko Watanabe

They, and thousands of youth groups around the world, are leading a new generation in the movement to hold leaders accountable for action on nature.

The UNDP-led Equator Initiative hosted this year’s Equator Prize 2020 Award Ceremony in a live-streamed virtual event. Chosen from among hundreds of nominations, this year’s Equator Prize winners, the indigenous and local communities who protect, restore and sustainably manage nature, are the stars.

They showcase a new normal, standing in contrast to the unsustainable business-as-usual model of how we produce and consume virtually everything. The themes of this year’s winners, “Nature for Climate,” “Nature for Water,” and “Nature for Prosperity,” offer a powerful, local response to our global, planetary emergency.

Reimagining conservation: Aligning nature conservation and human rights

Over the last decades, conservation organizations have been repeatedly challenged to confront allegations of a fortress mentality and embrace a more inclusive paradigm, recognizing that we can only truly conserve nature with the full support of Indigenous peoples and local communities who live in and around protected and conserved areas.

Nina Kantcheva

While numerous examples of successful integrated conservation-development projects exist across the world, widely divergent views persist on what exactly ‘nature conservation’ is and should be. A reset is needed, one that includes communities, policymakers, and scientists, to reimagine how nature conversation and human rights can lead us toward a new era of a rights-based approach to conservation.

Local action and efforts at the community level are often seen as too small to address the global crisis of biodiversity loss. However, local action on nature is essential and should be at the core of our efforts if we are to bend the curve on nature loss, recognizing that Indigenous peoples and local communities have long acted as the stewards of nature, with deep traditional knowledge and nature-based solutions.

We must find ways to accelerate and magnify local action, and to scale up impact. Various pathways already exist, including through policy, advocacy, finance and technology.

There are many exciting initiatives that support local action including the GEF Small Grants Programme at UNDP that has supported more than 25,000 projects in 125 countries, Inclusive Conservation Initiative, Dedicated Grant Mechanism, Community-Based REDD+ initiative, and others that provide financial and technical support to civil society and community-based organizations, including indigenous peoples, women, youth, persons with disabilities, in their continuing efforts to safeguard the global environment while improving their well-being and livelihood.

Defending environmental defenders

In 2019, more than 200 environmental defenders were killed, and many more were tortured, beaten or intimidated. Environmental defenders are on the front line in protecting the nature that sustains us all.

If we are to make gains in protecting 30 percent of the planet, and ending and even reversing the loss of biodiversity, then we must consider that these gains will largely need to take place on the remaining world’s intact areas, a large portion of which are owned by indigenous peoples and local communities.

We must start by standing with those environmental defenders who are safeguarding their lands and territories, and we must secure a future for the planet by securing their rights, tenure, and governance.

There is something you can also do to make the change. UNDP with partners is coordinating a global campaign on the importance of nature for life and for sustainable development, and on the need to stand for nature.

Next time you are tweeting, sharing, liking or posting on social media about nature, consider adding the hashtags #NatureForLife and #StandForNature. Together with local action, they can have a big impact!


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Yoko Watanabe is Global Manager of the GEF Small Grants Programme at UN Development Programme (UNDP) and Nina Kantcheva is Senior Policy Adviser, Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities Engagement

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Can Colonialism be Reversed? The UN’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Provides Some Answers

October 7, 2020 - 8:16am

Indigenous women join protests for land rights in Asia. Credit: IWGIA

By External Source
CANBERRA, Australia, Oct 7 2020 (IPS)

Can a state built upon the “taking of another people’s lands, lives and power” ever really be just?  Colonialism can’t be reversed, so at a simple level the answer is no.

But in my book, ‘We Are All Here to Stay’, published last week, I argue colonialism need not be a permanent state.

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which New Zealand is currently thinking about implementing, shows how and why.

New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the United States were the only UN members to oppose the declaration when it was adopted in 2007. They were worried about the constraints they thought it would place on state authority, in particular over Indigenous land.

All four have since changed their positions. In 2010, then New Zealand Prime Minister John Key argued:

While the declaration is non-binding, it both affirms accepted rights and establishes future aspirations. My objective is to build better relationships between Māori and the Crown, and I believe that supporting the declaration is a small but significant step in that direction.


The state’s right to govern is not absolute

The declaration recognises the state’s right to govern. But it also constrains it by recognising self-determination as a right that belongs to everybody — to Indigenous peoples as much as anybody else.

Self-determination has far-reaching implications for rights to land, language and culture and for government policy in areas such as health, education and economic development.

The declaration’s 46 articles challenge the idea of state sovereignty as an exclusive and absolute right to exercise authority over Indigenous peoples. It parallels New Zealand’s Treaty of Waitangi by affirming Indigenous peoples’ authority over their own affairs and their right to meaningful influence as citizens of the state.

The fact that 144 UN member states voted for the declaration shows that the international community regards these assumptions as fair and reasonable. The declaration states:

Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinct political, legal, economic, social and cultural institutions, while retaining their right to participate fully, if they so choose, in the political, economic, social and cultural life of the State.


Indigenous people’s right to make their own decisions

The declaration provides different ways of thinking about political authority. The Māori right to make their own decisions, through iwi (tribes) and other independent institutions, and to participate as members of the wider political community implies a distinctive Māori presence in the sovereign state.

The Waitangi Tribunal, which was established in 1975 to hear alleged breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi, is a forum for thinking about these questions. In a tribunal report concerning Māori culture and identity, Justice Joe Williams, subsequently the first Māori appointed to the Supreme Court of New Zealand, argued:

Fundamentally, there is a need for a mindset shift away from the pervasive assumption that the Crown is Pākehā [non-Māori], English-speaking, and distinct from Māori rather than representative of them. Increasingly, in the 21st century, the Crown is also Māori. If the nation is to move forward, this reality must be grasped.

From this perspective, the Crown is an inclusive and unifying institution. It is neither the Pākehā political community, nor the dominant party in a bi-cultural treaty partnership.


Beyond partnership to independence and authority

In 2019, the state’s solution to allegations of racist and ineffective practices in its child welfare agency Oranga Tamariki was to call for stronger partnerships between Māori and the state.

It is too early to say whether partnership agreements will reduce the numbers of Māori children taken from their families into state care.

But in 2020 independent reports into Oranga Tamariki show measures more robust than partnership may be required to assure Māori of the declaration’s undertaking that:

Indigenous peoples have the collective right to live in freedom, peace and security as distinct peoples and shall not be subjected to any act of genocide or any other act of violence, including forcibly removing children of the group to another group.

Claims to the Waitangi Tribunal, arguing for independent authority in health and education and ensuring that Māori benefit fully from international trade agreements, have had mixed success for the Māori claimants. However, the declaration gives international authority to the arguments made.

Indigenous peoples have the right to determine and develop priorities and strategies for exercising their right to development. In particular, Indigenous peoples have the right to be actively involved in developing and determining health, housing and other economic and social programs affecting them and, as far as possible, to administer such programs through their own institutions.

A colonial state may never be just. But as New Zealand considers its implementation of the declaration, the important moral question is whether the declaration can help people to work out what a state will look like if it no longer reflects the colonial insistence on power over others.The Conversation

Dominic O’Sullivan, Adjunct Professor, Faculty of Health and Environmental Sciences, Auckland University of Technology, and Associate Professor of Political Science, Charles Sturt University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Covid-19 Pandemic Another Threat to Indigenous Communities

August 25, 2020 - 1:30am

Credit: Sarawak Biodiversity Centre

By Angel Mendoza
PARIS, Aug 25 2020 (IPS)

The voices of indigenous people worldwide are being silenced and their lives made invisible. Stewards of the earth, they are left at the fringes of public discourse in countries around the globe. Indigenous people are not “extinct”, they exist, and they are building innovative networks and solutions, that could be the key to many of our world’s problems.

From the Chepang indigenous peoples in Nepal being evicted from their ancestral lands, to the killing of indigenous leaders in Colombia, native communities continue to be victims of attacks, yet they are also building powerful movements, fighting for access to land, education and autonomy.

There’s no democracy in the world without the respect and defence of indigenous people. The diversity of human beings and nature is our wealth,” says Iara Pietricovsky, Chair of Forus International, a global network of civil society organisations.

According to the World Bank, there are approximately 476 million Indigenous Peoples worldwide, in over 90 countries. They represent over 6% of the global population, yet their voices in state’s decision making and the media remain silenced. The Covid-19 pandemic has become a further threat that indigenous communities are facing as it spreads in their vulnerable regions, infecting thousands.

New challenges in times of pandemic

British writer Damian Barr explained it clearly: “We are not all in the same boat. We are all in the same storm. Some are on super-yachts. Some have just the one oar.”

The death on August 5 from Covid-19 of the Brazilian Chief Aritana Yawalapiti, confirms the vulnerability of the indigenous peoples in the face of the pandemic. He was one of the most influential leaders who helped create the Xingu indigenous park, located in the southern Amazon. Nearly 6,000 indigenous people from 16 different ethnic groups live in this protected area in the state of Mato Grosso.

In Brazil, right now, there is a deliberated policy of destruction of the lives and culture of indigenous communities, using the old genocidal strategy: invading their lands and providing no support in terms of the Covid-19 pandemic,” Pietricovsky explained.

According to the Brazil’s Indigenous People Articulation (APIB) there are now 23,000 indigenous people infected with Covid-19 and 639 have already died across the country. In particular, the indigenous communities of the Amazon have already seen their homelands devastated by illegal deforestation, industrial farming, mining and oil exploration.

Now, the coronavirus pandemic has magnified their struggle, just as the forest fires are rampant once more, affecting the livelihood of around three million indigenous people – members of 400 tribes.

Indigenous communities: valuing their diverse identities

We must make sure indigenous peoples are visible, by valuing their identities, knowledge and community-building approach – ending centuries of exploitation and oppression.

Peruvian sociologist, Anibal Quijano, explains how the ideas of “race” and “naturalization” are linked to colonial relations of domination that are still affecting indigenous communities today. The conquered and dominated, were placed in a natural position of inferiority.

This social structure located indigenous communities at the bottom of the social ladder. The colonial era might seem over, but indigenous communities continue to seek recognition in a “horizontal society”, in which one can form relationships on a plane of equality.

In the Covid-19 context, indigenous communities find themselves with little access to health care and prevention. José Luis Caal, project coordinator of CONGCOOP, a platform of civil society organisations in Guatemala, explains how the Covid-19 pandemic has generated a health, economic and cultural crisis, where indigenous peoples are one of the most affected groups, due to the historical structural inequalities in which they live.

The crisis has only highlighted the violation of rights they suffer, especially women, who have had to face an enormous workload as they are the main caregivers in the family and community,” Caal says.

The absence of adequate health services, economic subsidies and food support, as well as the continuation of extractive activities and the expansion of the agricultural frontier in many places, have had a great impact on indigenous people. They are vulnerable to the risk of contagion, Caal says, without their demands and complaints being heard.

In response to the health crisis in Guatemala and worldwide, a series of policies, projects, and subsidies are being implemented to alleviate the economic crisis caused by the pandemic. Government support, however, has not reached rural and indigenous communities. As a result, several communities have taken this issue and many more, in their own hands.

Indigenous Communities and Innovation – the Way Forward

In Peru, a complex country with different social realities, local non-government organizations such as ANC, a national platform of civil society organisations, are listening and understanding the innovative knowledge inherent in indigenous communities.

They constantly organise on-site studies and use an inclusive, ethnological and participatory approach. They don’t teach or import an idea of development; they exchange and learn from indigenous communities. In this way, for over 50 years, civil society organisations in Peru have contributed to the development of social sciences and influenced government policies, by bring indigenous voices forward.

“The first thing that must be understood and valued are indigenous communities’ concepts around nature and their environment. This is essential in order to respect their rights and above all, to ensure that policies do not disrupt their livelihoods. We sometimes think that the western vision is “natural”, and therefore their ideas of family, property, land, and their relationship with nature is trivialised,” says Pina Huamán of the Peruvian platform ANC.

Education, the type of knowledge one absorbs, is a priority for indigenous communities across Latin America. Guatemala for instance, has 22 Mayan languages, yet indigenous young people cannot find educational resources in their native language.

The Guatemalan platform, CONGCOOP, with support from Forus International, has launched a Virtual Training Centre this year, to offer its members, notably young indigenous people, “localised” expertise that will support new leadership in the country.

For indigenous people around the globe, the way forward is to guarantee that their existence, language and culture is respected. We must ensure a meaningful exchange and build bridges of solidarity instead of walls of ignorance.


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Angel Mendoza is a Communication Assistant at FORUS, a global network of civil society organisations, previously known as the International Forum of National NGO Platforms (IFP/FIP).

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Mayan Train Threatens to Alter the Environment and Communities in Mexico

August 24, 2020 - 8:51pm

 Emilio Godoy

The Mayan Train, the flagship megaproject of leftist President Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico, seeks to promote the socioeconomic development of the south and southeast of the country, with an emphasis on tourism and with the goal of transporting 50,000 passengers per day by 2023. The fear is that the mass influx of tourists will damage preserved coastal areas, such as Tulum beach in the state of Quintana Roo on the Yucatan Peninsula. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy

By Emilio Godoy
Mexico City, Aug 25 2020 (IPS)

Mayan anthropologist Ezer May fears that the tourism development and real estate construction boom that will be unleashed by the Mayan Train, the main infrastructure project of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, will disrupt his community.

“What we think is that the east of the town could be affected,” May told IPS by phone from his hometown of Kimbilá.

“The most negative impact will come when they start building the development hub around the train station,” he said. “We know that the tourism industry and other businesses will receive a boost. There is uncertainty about what is to come; many ejidatarios [members of an ejido, public land held in common by the inhabitants of a village and farmed cooperatively or individually] don’t know what’s happening.”

This town of 4,000 people, whose name means “water by the tree”, is in the municipality of Izamal in the northern part of the state of Yucatan, about 1,350 km southeast of Mexico City. The district will have a Mayan Train station, although its size is not yet known, and the prospect awakens fears as well as hope among the communities involved.

In Kimbilá, 10 km from the city of Izamal, there are 560 ejidatarios who own some 5,000 hectares of land where they grow corn and vegetables, raise small livestock and produce honey.

“These ejido lands are going to be in the sights of tourism and real estate companies, real estate speculation and everything else that urban development implies. We will see the same old dispossession and asymmetrical agreements and contracts for buying up land at extremely low prices; we’ll see unequal treatment,” said May.

The government’s National Tourism Fund (Fonatur) is promoting the project, which is to cost between 6.2 and 7.8 billion dollars. Construction began in May.

The plan is for the Mayan Train to begin operating in 2022, with 19 stations and 12 other stops along some 1,400 km of track, which will be added to the nearly 27,000 km of railways in Mexico, Latin America’s second largest economy, population 129 million.

It will run through 78 municipalities in the southern and southeastern states of the country: Campeche, Quintana Roo, Yucatan, Chiapas and Tabasco, the first three of which are in the Yucatan Peninsula, which has one of the most important and fragile ecosystems in Mexico and is home to 11.1 million people.

Its locomotives will run on diesel and the trains are projected to carry about 50,000 passengers daily by 2023, reaching 221,000 by 2053, in addition to cargo such as transgenic soybeans, palm oil and pork, which are major agricultural products in the region.


A map of the Mayan Train’s route through the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. Construction began in May and it is expected to begin operating in 2023. CREDIT: Fonatur

Pros and cons

The Mexican government is promoting the megaproject as an engine for social development that will create jobs, boost tourism beyond the traditional attractions and energise the regional economy.

But it has unleashed controversy between those who back the administration’s propaganda and those who question the railway because of its potential environmental, social and cultural impacts, as well as the risk of fuelling illegal activities, such as human trafficking and drug smuggling.

The megaproject involves the construction of development hubs in the stations, which include businesses, drinking water, drainage, electricity and urban infrastructure, and which, according to the ministry of the environment itself, represent the greatest environmental threat posed by the railway.

U.N. Habitat, which offers technical advice on the project’s land-use planning aspects, estimates that the Mayan Train will create one million jobs by 2030 and lift 1.1 million people out of poverty, in an area that includes 42 municipalities with high poverty rates.

The region has become the country’s new energy frontier, with the construction of wind and solar parks, and agribusiness production such as transgenic soy and large pig farms. At the same time, it suffers from high levels of deforestation, fuelled by lumber extraction and agro-industry.

The environmental impact assessment itself and several independent scientific studies warn of the ecological damage that would be caused by the railway, which experts say the Mexican government does not seem willing to address.

The crux: the development model

Violeta Núñez, an academic at the public Autonomous Metropolitan University, told IPS that there is an internal contradiction within the government between those seeking a change in the socioeconomic conditions in the region and supporters of the real estate business.

“You have to ask yourself what kind of development you are pursuing and whether it is the best option,” she said. “The Mayan Train is aimed at profits and these stakeholders are not interested in people’s well-being, but in making money. What some indigenous organisations have said is that they never asked for a railway, and they feel that the project has been imposed on them.”

The railroad will cross ejido lands in five states where there are 5,386 ejidos totalling 12.5 million hectares. The ejidos would contribute the land and would be the main investors. To finance the stations, Fonatur has proposed three types of trusts that can be quoted on the Mexican stock market and that entail financial risks, such as the loss of the investment.

The undertaking was not suspended by the appearance of the COVID-19 pandemic in Mexico, as the government classified its construction as an “essential activity”.

 Emilio Godoy/IPS

In Calakmul, in the southeastern state of Campeche, the Mayan Train will make use of the right-of-way that the Federal Electricity Commission has for its power lines. But on other stretches construction of the new 1,400-km railway will lead to the eviction of families. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

To legitimise its construction, the leftwing López Obrador administration organised a consultation with indigenous communities through 30 regional assemblies, 15 informative and 15 consultative, held Nov. 29-30 and Dec. 14-15, 2019, respectively.

These assemblies were attended by 10,305 people from 1,078 indigenous communities in the five states, out of a potentially affected population of 1.5 million people, 150,000 of whom are indigenous.

But the consultation was carried out before the environmental impact assessment of the megaproject was even completed.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Mexico questioned whether this process met international standards, such as the provisions of International Labour Organisation Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, to which the country is a party.

The railway will also displace an undetermined number of people, to make room for the tracks and stations, although U.N. Habitat insists that this will be “consensual”.

Fears of a new Cancún

The government argues that the project will not repeat the mistakes of mass tourism destinations, symbolised by Cancún, which wrought environmental havoc in that former Caribbean paradise in Quintana Roo. But its critics argue that the major beneficiaries appear to be the same big tourism, real estate and hotel chains, and that it will cause the same problems as a result of the heavy influx of visitors.

In Kimbilá, the local population already has firsthand experience of confrontations over megaprojects, such as a Spanish company’s attempt to build a wind farm, cancelled in 2016. But the difference is that now the opponent is much more powerful.

May said the railway “is an attempt to transform indigenous peoples and integrate them into the tourism-based economic model. They want us to imagine development from a global perspective, because it is a sign of socioeconomic progress. They believe that tourism is the source of progress, that cities bring development and that this is the best way to go.”

In Izamal, home to more than 26,800 people, construction of the development hub would require 853 hectares, 376 of which belong to ejidos.

Núñez warned of the disappearance of the campesino (peasant farmer) and indigenous way of life. “People have survived because of their relationship with the land and now this survival is being thrown into question and they are to become workers in the development hubs. This is not an option, if we are to defend the rural indigenous way of life,” she said.

The researcher suggested that an alternative would be the appropriation of the megaproject by the communities, in which “the ejidatarios themselves, in a joint association, present an alternative proposal other than the trusts on the stock market.”

The Mayan Train is a link in a plan that seeks to integrate the south and southeast of Mexico with Central America, starting with the government’s “Project for the territorial reordering of the south-southeast” and linked to the “Project for the integration and development of Mesoamerica”, which has been modified in appearance but not in substance since the beginning of the 21st century.

Its aim is to link that region to global markets and curb internal and external migration through the construction of megaprojects, the promotion of tourism and the services entailed.

In the 2000s, the government of the southern state of Chiapas fomented “Sustainable Rural Cities”, with aims similar to those of the Mayan Train, and experts argue that the failure of that project should be remembered.

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Indigenous Best Amazon Stewards, but Only When Property Rights Assured: Study

August 20, 2020 - 5:10am

 Mario Osava / IPS

Deforestation due to the expansion of livestock farming dominates the landscape near Alta Floresta, a southeastern gateway to the Brazilian Amazon. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

By Sue Branford
Aug 20 2020 (IPS)

“The xapiri [shamanic spirits] have defended the forest since it first came into being. Our ancestors have never devastated it because they kept the spirits by their side,” declares Davi Kopenawa Yanomami, who belongs to the 27,000-strong Yanomami people living in the very north of Brazil.

He is expressing a commonly held Indigenous belief that they — the original peoples on the land, unlike the “white” Amazon invaders — are the ones most profoundly committed to forest protection. The Yanomami shaman reveals the reason: “We know well that without trees nothing will grow on the hardened and blazing ground.”

Now Brazil’s Indigenous people have gained scientific backing for their strongly held belief from two American academics.

In a study published this month in the PNAS journal, entitled Collective property rights reduce deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, two political scientists, Kathryn Baragwanath, from the University of California San Diego, and Ella Bayi, at the Department of Political Science, Columbia University, provide statistical proof of the Indigenous claim that they are the more effective forest guardians.

In their study, the researchers use comprehensive statistical data to show that Indigenous populations can effectively curb deforestation — but only if and when their full property rights over their territories are recognized by civil authorities in a process called homologação in Portuguese, or homologation in English.


Full property rights key to curbing deforestation

The scientists reached their conclusions by examining data on 245 Indigenous reserves homologated between 1982 and 2016. By examining the step-by-step legal establishment of Indigenous reserves, they were able to precisely date the moment of homologation for each territory, and to assess the effectiveness of Indigenous action against deforestation before and after full property rights were recognized.

In their study, the researchers use comprehensive statistical data to show that Indigenous populations can effectively curb deforestation — but only if and when their full property rights over their territories are recognized by civil authorities

Brazilian law requires the completion of a complex four-stage process before full recognition. After examining the data, Baragwanath and Bayi concluded that Indigenous people were only able to curb deforestation within their ancestral territories effectively after the last phase ­— homologation — had been completed.

Most deforestation of Indigenous territories occurs at the borders, as land-grabbers, loggers and farmers invade. But the new study shows that, once full property rights are recognized, Indigenous people were historically able to reduce deforestation at those borders from around 3% to 1% — a reduction of 66% which the authors find to be “a very strong finding.”

However, they emphasize that this plunge in deforestation rate only comes after homologation is complete. Baragwanath told Mongabay: The positive “effect on deforestation is very small before homologation and zero for non-homologated territories.” The authors concluded: “We believe the final stage [is] the one that makes the difference, since it is when actual property rights are granted, no more contestation can happen, and enforcement is undertaken by the government agencies.”

Homologation is crucially important, say the researchers, because with it the Indigenous group gains the backing of law and of the Brazilian state. They note: “Without homologation, Indigenous territories do not have the legal rights needed to protect their territories, their territorial resources are not considered their own, and the government is not constitutionally responsible for protecting them from encroachment, invasion, and external use of their resources.”

They continue: “Once homologated, a territory becomes the permanent possession of its Indigenous peoples, no third party can contest its existence, and extractive activities carried out by external actors can only occur after consulting the [Indigenous] communities and the National Congress.”

The scientists offer proof of effective state action and protections after homologation: “For example, FUNAI partnered with IBAMA and the military police of Mato Grosso in May 2019 to combat illegal deforestation on the homologated territory of Urubu Branco. In this operation, 12 people were charged with federal theft of wood and fined R $90,000 [US $23,000], and multiple trucks and tractors were seized; the wood seized was then donated to the municipality.”


Temer and Bolsonaro tip the tables

However, under the Jair Bolsonaro government, which came to power in Brazil after the authors collected their data, the situation is changing.

Before Bolsonaro, the number of homologations varied greatly from year to year, apparently in random fashion. A highpoint was reached in 1991, when over 70 territories were homologated, well over twice the number in any other year. This may have been because Brazil was about to host the 1992 Earth Summit and the Collor de Mello government was keen to boost Brazil’s environmental credentials. The surge may have also occurred as a result of momentum gained from Brazil’s adoption of its progressive 1988 constitution, with its enshrined Indigenous rights.

Despite wild oscillations in the annual number of homologations, until recently progress happened under each administration. “Every President signed over [Indigenous] property rights during their tenure, regardless of party or ideology,” the study states.

But since Michel Temer became president at the end of August 2016, the process has come to a standstill, with no new homologations. Baragwanath and Bayi suggest that, by refusing to recognize the full property rights of more Indigenous peoples, the Temer and Bolsonaro administrations “could be responsible for an extra 1.5 million hectares [5,790 square miles] of deforestation per year.” That would help explain soaring deforestation rates detected by INPE, Brazil’s National Institute of Space Research in recent years.

Clearly, for homologation to be effective, the state must assume its legal responsibilities, says Survival International’s Fiona Watson, who notes that this is certainly not happening under Bolsonaro: “Recognizing Indigenous peoples’ collective landownership rights is a fundamental legal requirement and ethical imperative, but it is not enough on its own. Land rights need to be vigorously enforced, which requires political will and action, proper funding, and stamping out corruption. Far from applying the law, President Bolsonaro and his government have taken a sledgehammer to Indigenous peoples’ hard-won constitutional rights, watered down environmental safeguards, and are brutally dismantling the agencies charged with protecting tribal peoples and the environment.”

Watson continues: “Brazil’s tribes — some only numbering a few hundred living in remote areas — are pitted against armed criminal gangs, whipped up by Bolsonaro’s hate speech. As if this wasn’t enough, COVID-19 is killing the best guardians of the forest, especially the older generations with expertise in forest management. Lethal diseases like malaria are on the rise in Indigenous communities and Amazon fires are spreading.”

In fact, Bolsonaro uses the low number of Indigenous people inhabiting reserves today — low populations often the outcome of past horrific violence and even genocide — as an excuse for depriving them of their lands. In 2015 he declared: “The Indians do not speak our language, they do not have money, they do not have culture. They are native peoples. How did they manage to get 13% of the national territory?” And in 2017 he said: “Not a centimeter will be demarcated… as an Indigenous reserve.”

The Indigenous territory of Urubu Branco, cited by Baragwanath and Bayi as a stellar example of effective state action, is a case in point. Under the Bolsonaro government it has been invaded time and again. Although the authorities have belatedly taken action, the Apyãwa (Tapirapé) Indigenous group living there says that invaders are now using the chaos caused by the pandemic to carry out more incursions.


 Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

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


Land rights: a path to conserving Amazonia

Even so, say the experts, it still seems likely that, if homologation was implemented properly now or in the future, with effective state support, it would lead to reduced deforestation. Indeed, Baragwanath and Bayi suggest that this may be one of the few ways of saving the Amazon forest.

“Providing full property rights and the institutional environment for enforcing these rights is an important and cost-effective way for countries to protect their forests and attain their climate goals,” says the study. “Public policy, international mobilization, and nongovernmental organizations should now focus their efforts on pressuring the Brazilian government to register Indigenous territories still awaiting their full property rights.”

But, in the current state of accelerating deforestation, unhampered by state regulation or enforcement, other approaches may be required. One way forward is suggested in a document optimistically entitled: “Reframing the Wilderness Concept can Bolster Collaborative Conservation.”

In the paper, Álvaro Fernández-Llamazares from the Helsinki Institute of Sustainable Science, and others suggest that it is time for a new concept of “wilderness.”

For decades, many conservationists argued that the Amazon’s wealth of biodiversity stems from it being a “pristine” biome, “devoid of the destructive impacts of human activity.” But increasingly studies have shown that Indigenous people greatly contributed to the exuberance of the forest by domesticating plants as much as 10,000 years ago. Thus, the forest and humanity likely evolved together.

In keeping with this productive partnership, conservationists and Indigenous peoples need to work in harmony with forest ecology, say the authors. This organic partnership is more urgently needed than ever, they say, because the entire Amazon basin is facing an onslaught, “a new wave of frontier expansion” by logging, industrial mining, and agribusiness.

Fernández-Llamazares told Mongabay: “Extractivist interests and infrastructure development across much of the Amazon are not only driving substantial degradation of wilderness areas and their unique biodiversity, but also forcing the region’s Indigenous peoples on the frontlines of ever more pervasive social-ecological conflict.…  From 2014 to 2019, at least 475 environmental and land defenders have been killed in Amazonian countries, including numerous members of Indigenous communities.”

Fernández-Llamazares believes that new patterns of collaboration are emerging.

“A good example of the alliance between Indigenous Peoples and wilderness defenders can be found in the Isiboro-Sécure National Park and Indigenous Territory (TIPNIS, being its Spanish acronym), in the Bolivian Amazon,” he says. “TIPNIS is the ancestral homeland of four lowland Indigenous groups and one of Bolivia’s most iconic protected areas, largely considered as one of the last wildlands in the country. In 2011, conservationists and Indigenous communities joined forces to oppose the construction of a road that would cut across the heart of the area.” A victory they won at the time, though TIPNIS today remains under contention today.

Eduardo S. Brondizio, another study contributor, points out alternatives to the industrial agribusiness and mining model: numerous management systems established by small-scale farmers, for example, that are helping conserve entire ecosystems.

“The açaí fruit economy, for instance, is arguably the region’s largest [Amazon] economy today, even compared to soy and cattle, and yet it occupies a fraction of the [land] area occupied by soy and cattle, with far higher economic return and employment than deforestation-based crops, while maintaining forest cover and multiple ecological benefits.” he said.

And, he adds, it is a completely self-driven initiative. “The entire açaí fruit economy emerged from the hands and knowledge of local riverine producers who [have] responded to market demand since the 1980s by intensifying their production using local agroforestry knowledge.” It is important, he stresses, that conservationists recognize the value of these sustainable economic activities in protecting the forest.

The new alliance taking shape between conservationists and Indigenous peoples is comparable with the new forms of collaboration that have arisen among traditional people in the Brazilian Amazon. Although Indigenous populations and riverine communities of subsistence farmers and Brazil nut collectors have long regarded each other as enemies — fighting to control the same territory — they are increasingly working together to confront land-grabbers, loggers and agribusiness.

Still, there is no doubt time is running out. Brazil’s huge swaths of agricultural land are already contributing to, and suffering from, deepening drought, because the “flying rivers” that bring down rainfall from the Amazon are beginning to collapse. Scientists are warning that the forest is moving toward a precipitation tipping point, when drought, deforestation and fire will change large areas of rainforest into arid degraded savanna.

This may already be happening. The Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM), a non-profit, research organisation, warned recently that the burning season, now just beginning in the Amazon, could devastate an even larger area than last year, when video footage of uncontrolled fires ablaze in the Amazon was viewed around the world. IPAM estimates that a huge area, covering 4,509 square kilometers (1,741 square miles), has been felled and is waiting to go up in flames this year — data some experts dispute. But as of last week, more than 260 major fires were already alight in the Amazon.

Years ago Davi Kopenawa Yanomami warned: “They [the white people] continue to maltreat the earth everywhere they go.… It never occurs to them that if they mistreat it too much it will finally turn to chaos.… The xapiri [the shamanic spirits] try hard to defend the white people the same way as they defend us.… But if Omoari, the dry season being, settles on their land for good, they will only have trickles of dirty water to drink and they will die of thirst. This could truly happen to them.”



Kathryn Baragwanath and Ella Bayi, (10 August 2020), Collective property rights reduce deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Álvaro Fernández-Llamazares, Julien Terraube, Michael C. Gavin, Aili Pyhälä, Sacha M.O. Siani, Mar Cabeza, and Eduardo S. Brondizio, (29 July 2020) Reframing the Wilderness Concept can Bolster Collaborative Conservation, Trends in Ecology and Evolution.


This story was originally published by Mongabay

The post Indigenous Best Amazon Stewards, but Only When Property Rights Assured: Study appeared first on Inter Press Service.

International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples 2020 – Statement of the Indigenous Partnership (TIP)/NESFAS

August 9, 2020 - 9:45am

Phrang Roy, Chairperson NESFAS, India
Coordinator, The Indigenous Partnership for Agrobiodiversity and Food Sovereignty (TIP).

By Phrang Roy
ROME, Aug 9 2020 (IPS-Partners)

As we commemorate the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, let us not forget that supporting Indigenous Peoples is not only a social good; it is also a sound development policy.

Defending the lands, languages and cultural practices of indigenous peoples and tackling the racism and injustices against them will lessen the outbreaks of future pandemics and manage climate change.

Although there has been no homogenous pattern in the responses of Indigenous Peoples to COVID 19, Indigenous Peoples in many countries such as India (Meghalaya, Mizoram, Sikkim), Thailand (Northern Thailand), The Philippines (Cordillera Region) etc. have very few COVID cases and their coping strategies have displayed their resilience. Their close relationship to nature and their respect of the wisdom and advice of Elders and those in governance have helped them to smoothly follow traditional isolation practices and to turn to often neglected local livelihoods and local food production systems.

There are of course indigenous communities in isolation such as those in the Amazon Basin for whom COVID 19 poses a huge threat to their lives and culture.

The Pastoralists whose livelihoods depend on animals and who move from place to place seeking water and pasture are also seriously challenged and terrorised by the Pandemic and the travel bans. The world must not leave them behind.

Their Right to Life, Traditional Livelihoods, Practices and Culture must be supported as universally enshrined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Eighty percent of the world’s remaining biocultural diversity is in indigenous lands and territories.

Let us all recognise this as a critical asset for building a more sustaining and pandemic-free world for all.

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Phrang Roy, Chairperson NESFAS, India
Coordinator, The Indigenous Partnership for Agrobiodiversity and Food Sovereignty (TIP).

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28 Organizations Promoting Indigenous Food Sovereignty

August 7, 2020 - 7:20am

Credit: Food Tank

By Danielle Nierenberg
Aug 7 2020 (IPS)

These 28 organizations are preserving Indigenous food systems and promoting Indigenous food sovereignty through the rematriation of Indigenous land, seeds, food and histories.

The world’s Indigenous Peoples face severe and disproportionate rates of food insecurity. While Indigenous Peoples comprise 5 percent of the world’s population, they account for 15 percent of the world’s poor, according to the World Health Organization.

But through seed saving initiatives, financial support, mentorship, and community feeding programs, many organizations are working to protect Indigenous food sovereignty—the ability to grow, eat, and share food according to their own traditions and values.

“We must care for this [natural] abundance as it will nourish our families—both physically as well as spiritually,” said Maenette K. P. Ah Nee-Benham, Chancellor of the University of Hawai’i at West O’ahu at a Food Tank Summit in partnership with the Arizona State University Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems on the wisdom of Indigenous foodways.

In honor of International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples on August 9, Food Tank is highlighting 28 organizations from around the world protecting and cultivating Indigenous food systems. Through what many of the following organizations call rematration, they strive to return Indigenous lands, seeds, foods, and histories to Indigenous Peoples and protect them for future generations.

1. Aboriginal Carbon Foundation (Oceania)
The Aboriginal Carbon Foundation is building a carbon farming industry in Australia by Aboriginals, for Aboriginals. The Foundation offers training and support for new Indigenous farmers so they can learn how to capture atmospheric carbon in the soil. The carbon farming projects generate certified Australian Carbon Credit Units (ACCU), which major carbon-producing businesses must purchase to offset their carbon emissions. Income generated by ACCUs is reinvested in Aboriginal communities by the Aboriginal Carbon Foundation and its participating farmers.

2. AgroEcology Fund (International)
The AgroEcology Fund (AEF) galvanizes global leaders and experts to fund biodiverse and regenerative agriculture projects worldwide. Projects funded by AEF have included Indigenous food sovereignty initiatives, agroecology training institutions, and women’s market access networks on every continent. With the support of governments and financial institutions, AEF hopes that agroecology will become the standard model for food production worldwide within thirty years.

3. Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (Asia)
The Asia Indigenous People Pact is an alliance of Indigenous organizations across southern and eastern Asia. Collectively, the Pact promotes and protects Indigenous lands, food systems, and biodiversity. Their alliance is bolstered by regional youth and women’s networks, as well as support from international institutions, including the United Nations and Oxfam.

4. Association of Guardians of the Native Potato from Central Peru (South America)
The Association of Guardians of the Native Potato from Central Peru (AGUAPAN) is a collective of Indigenous farmers. Each farmer grows between 50 and 300 ancestral varieties of potato, which are indigenous to the Andes Mountains of modern-day Peru. AGUAPAN farmers preserve the crop’s biodiversity in their native communities and band together to advocate for economic, gender, education, and healthcare equity.

5. Cheyenne River Youth Project (North America)
The Cheyenne River Youth Project in Eagle Butte, South Dakota has served Lakota youth for more than three decades. Its Native Food Sovereignty initiative offers public workshops on Three Sisters gardening of corn, beans, and squash. They also offer classes on Indigenous plants, gardening, and cooking. Their Winyan Tokay Win (Leading Lady) Garden serves as an outdoor classroom to reacquaint Lakota children with the earth. Their other programs use food grown in the garden for meals and snacks. They also sell surplus crops at their weekly Leading Lady Farmer’s Market.

6. Dream of Wild Health (North America)
Dream of Wild Health runs a 10-acre farm just outside of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Their Indigenous Food Share CSA program and farmer’s market booths sell produce and value-added products grown by Native Americans. During the summer, Dream of Wild Health offers a Garden Warriors program where children can learn about seed saving, foraging, farmers market management, and other aspects of food sovereignty. They also host the Indigenous Food Network (IFN), a collective of Indigenous partners who advocate for local and regional policy changes. The IFN also hosts community food tasting events featuring prominent Indigenous chefs.

7. First Peoples Worldwide (International)
First Peoples Worldwide was founded by Cherokee social entrepreneur Rebecca Adamson to help businesses to align with First Peoples’ rights. Now a part of the University of Colorado’s Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility, First Peoples Worldwide continues to ensure that Indigenous voices are at the forefront of decision-making processes affecting their own self-determination. The organization works with businesses and institutions to assess their investments and guide them in incorporating Indigenous Peoples’ rights and interests into their business decisions.

8. Indigikitchen (North America)
Mariah Gladstone’s Indigikitchen uses Native foods as resistance. Her cooking videos offer healthy, creative ways to eat pre-contact, Indigenous foods. The recipes abstain from highly-processed grains, dairy, and sugar, ingredients that did not become standard in diets of the Americas until European colonization. Indigikitchen hopes that its recipes inspire Indigenous cooks to connect with Native foods.

9. Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative (North America)
The Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative at the University of Arkansas provides model policies for Tribal governments to help promote and protect food sovereignty. They also co-organize the Native Farm Bill Coalition with the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, the Intertribal Agriculture Council, and the National Congress of American Indians. The Initiative hosts annual Native Youth in Food and Agriculture Leadership Summits, where American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian youth can learn about agricultural business, land stewardship, agricultural law, and more.

10. Indigenous Food Systems Network (North America)
The Indigenous Food Systems Network (IFSN) is a convener of Indigenous food producers, researchers, and policymakers across the 98 Indigenous nations of Canada. IFSN supports research, policy reform, and direct action that builds food sovereignty in Indigenous communities. The organization’s Indigenous Food Sovereignty email listserv offers its subscribers everything from stories and legends to recipes and policy reform tools.

11. Indigenous Partnership for Agrobiodiversity and Food Sovereignty (International)
Indigenous Partnership for Agrobiodiversity and Food Sovereignty is an international organization based in Rome, Italy connecting the world’s Indigenous People to agricultural research and advocacy groups. With Indigenous communities from China to India and Thailand to Latin America, Indigenous Partnerships forges dialogues within Indigenous communities to ensure free, prior, and informed consent between research and advocacy partners. Indigenous Partnerships also seeks to incorporate global and local Indigenous knowledge into non-Indigenous knowledge systems.

12. Indigenous Terra Madre (International)
Indigenous Terra Madre is a global network of Indigenous Peoples sponsored by Slow Food, an international institution based in Rome, Italy. The network amplifies Indigenous voices and protects the biodiversity of the crops Indigenous communities cultivate. By providing a platform for Indigenous communities to pool power and resources, Indigenous Terra Madre fights to defend the land, culture, and opportunity of all Indigenous Peoples.

13. Intertribal Agriculture Council (North America)
The American Indian Food Program by the Intertribal Agriculture Council (IAC) helps Native American and Alaskan Native agribusinesses and food entrepreneurs expand their market reach. The Made/Produced by American Indians Trademark promoted by the IAC identifies certified American Indian products and is used by over 500 businesses. IAC’s other major American Indian Food Program, Native Food Connection, helps market Native American foods and food producers across the United States. IAC also offers technical and natural resource assistance to connect Native businesses with U.S. Department of Agriculture programs and conservation stewardship resources.

14. Inuit Circumpolar Council-Alaska (North America)
Through its Alaskan Inuit Food Sovereignty Initiative, the Inuit Circumpolar Council-Alaska is convening Inuit community leaders from across Alaska. The Initiative seeks to unify Inuit throughout the state to advocate for land and wildlife management sovereignty. The Initiative also strives for international cooperation to promote food sovereignty across Inuit Nunaat.

15. Mantasa (Asia)
Mantasa is a research institution in Indonesia dedicated to expanding the number of indigenous plants consumed by the Javanese people. According to Mantasa, only 20 plant species comprise 90 percent of Javanese food needs. Their research is incorporating new wild foods from Indonesia’s vast biodiversity into Javanese diets to improve food security and nutrition. Mantasa also helps promote these foods to consumers and local farmers to increase their popularity.

16. Muonde Trust (Africa)
In Mazvhiwa, Zimbabwe, the Muonde Trust invests in Indigenous innovations in food, land, and water management. The Trust seeks out individuals with new ideas and provides peer-to-peer support to help bring those ideas to life. Muonde Trust currently supports innovations in indigenous seed saving and sharing, livestock and woodland management, irrigation systems, and constructing kitchen spaces.

17. Native American Agriculture Fund (North America)
The Native American Agriculture Fund (NAAF) is the largest philanthropic supporter of Native American agriculture. The Fund offers grants to Tribal governments, nonprofit organizations, and educational institutions to support healthy lands, healthy people, and healthy economies. In 2020, NAAF is offering US$1 million in grant funds specifically for youth initiatives and young farmers and ranchers. NAAF is also centralizing COVID-19 relief information for Native farmers, ranchers, fishers, and Tribal governments.

18. Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance (North America)
The Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance (NAFSA) places Indigenous farmers, wild-crafters, fishers, hunters, ranchers, and eaters at the center of the fight to restore Indigenous food systems and self-determination. NAFSA’s primary initiatives are the Indigenous Seedkeepers Network, the Food and Culinary Mentorship Program, and their Native Food Sovereignty Events. Each of these initiatives centers around the reclamation of Indigenous seeds and foods.

19. Native Seed/SEARCH (North America)
Native Seed/SEARCH preserves and proliferates indigenous seeds through their Native Access programs. Their Native American Seed Request program offers free seed packets to Native Americans living in or originating from the Greater Southwestern Region. The Bulk Seed Exchange allows growers to pay it forward by returning 1.5 times the seeds they receive to be put towards future Native American Seed Request packs. While Native Seed/SEARCH sells an assortment of popular seeds to the general public, its collection of indigenous seeds are only available to Native farmers and families. They hope these seeds will revitalize traditional foods and build food sovereignty.

20. Navajo Ethno-Agriculture (North America)
Navajo Ethno-Agriculture is sustaining Navajo culture through lessons on traditional farming. The seasonal courses focus on land, water, and food as students cultivate, harvest, and prepare heritage crops. During COVID-19, Navajo Ethno-Agriculture suspended its courses and is focusing on supplying neighboring farms with heritage seeds and farm equipment. They are also offering food processing and packaging services to protect and rejuvenate soil.

21. North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems (North America)
Founded by the chefs of The Sioux Chef, North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems (NāTIFS) is reimagining the North American food system as a generator of wealth and good health for Native communities. The organization seeks to reverse the effects of forced assimilation and colonization through food entrepreneurship and a reclamation of ancestral education. NāTIFS is establishing an Indigenous Food Lab in Minneapolis, Minnesota as a training center and restaurant for Native chefs and food. NāTIFS plans to eventually spread this model across North America.

22. Oyate Teca Project (North America)
In response to dire food access on the Pine Ridge Reservation in North Dakota, the Oyate Teca Project offers year-long classes in gardening, food entrepreneurship, and traditional food preservation techniques. Oyate Teca helps make local foods available to the community by selling produce grown in their half-acre garden at farmer’s markets. The project also serves as an emergency food provider for families and children.

23. Tebtebba (Asia)
Tebtebba is an international organization based in the Philippines committed to sharing global Indigenous wisdom. Its Indigenous Peoples and Biodiversity project strengthens Indigenous organizations’ research, policy advocacy, and education on biodiversity. The project also works directly with Indigenous communities to strengthen their governance structures, protect their land, and improve their food security.

24. Sierra Seeds (North America)
Rowan White and her organization, Sierra Seeds, are dedicated to the next generation of farmers, gardeners, and food justice activists. Her flagship program, Seed Seva, offers a multi-layered education on seed stewardship and Indigenous permaculture. The program is offered online, allowing anybody to access White’s wisdom. Additionally, Sierra Seeds offers a Seeding Change leadership incubator, where emerging food justice leaders meet virtually to support one another while developing individual projects.

25. Storying Kaitiakitanga (Oceania)
Storying Kaitiakitanga – A Kaupapa Māori Land and Water Food Story is a project of Dr. Jessica Hutchings and other Māori researchers and storytellers. The project was developed as part of the Our Land and Water National Science Challenge to collect the stories of Māori food producers across the food system. Storying Kaitiakitanga is exploring how traditional Māori principles and practices can inspire more sustainable food systems for the next generation. Stories include beekeepers, yogurt producers, and business development service providers.

26. Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation (North America)
The Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation (CDC) is a grassroots Lakota organization building food sovereignty on the Pine Ridge Reservation in North Dakota. Their reservation-wide Food Sovereignty Coalition is dedicated to reconstructing a healthy local food system. They have greatly increased food production on the reservation and train residents and students on Oglala food histories, current local foods, gardening, and food preservation.

27. Wangi Tangni (Central America)
In Nicaragua’s Caribbean Coast, the women of Indigenous Miskita communities receive native plants from Wangi Tangni to grow for food, medicine, and reforestation. The organization provides communal and legal support for women, many of whom do not speak Spanish. The organization’s overall mission is to promote political participation and gender equality through sustainable development projects such as indigenous plant rematriation.

28. Zuni Youth Enrichment Project (North America)
The public schools of the Zuni Pueblo in New Mexico and Arizona partner with the Zuni Youth Enrichment Project to build gardening spaces and provide nutrition education. The partnership is intended to reintroduce traditional knowledge and practices into students’ educations about food. The Project hopes that the community gardens will also inspire more Zuni to grow their own food and reduce rates of obesity and diabetes in their communities.

This story was originally published by Food Tank


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Contributing author: Jason Flatt

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Include Indigenous People in COVID-19 Response

July 28, 2020 - 12:57pm

Credit: Nidwan.

By Pratima Gurung
KATHMANDU, Jul 28 2020 (IPS)

In Nepal the COVID-19 crisis has been especially hard on indigenous peoples. We had to learn a new vocabulary and use words like quarantine, self-isolation, hand sanitizers and social distancing.

We also had to respect rules that did not previously apply to our lives. Indigenous peoples are not used to washing their hands all the time because our culture is so much closer to Mother Earth and because much of the time we don’t have running water.

The situation has been even more difficult for indigenous persons with a disability, like me. I cannot keep my social distance if I need help at the same time. I can manage on my own but as I only have one hand I have not been able to follow the health recommendations to the letter, which causes me a lot of anxiety. The pandemic has made me feel more “disabled” than ever.

Pratima Gurung, General Secretary, IPWDGN President, NIDWAN.

This is the situation that indigenous people with disabilities face everyday. Most of them don’t have access to vital medical supplies – for instance, people with spinal cord injuries who need catheters or those with hemophilia in need of plasma.

Indigenous women with disabilities have faced discrimination, violence and abuse. There have also been rising levels of suicide during this pandemic.

Indigenous people make up around one third of the country’s total population, approximately 11 million out of the 30 million Nepalese. Their special needs need to be addressed in a way that takes into account their cultures.

When the authorities announced the lockdown, persons with disabilities and indigenous peoples could not get information about this virus in native, local and sign languages, because health and public campaigns around COVID-19 are still not indigenous and culture friendly.

The situation has been even more difficult for indigenous persons with a disability, like me. I cannot keep my social distance if I need help at the same time. I can manage on my own but as I only have one hand I have not been able to follow the health recommendations to the letter, which causes me a lot of anxiety. The pandemic has made me feel more “disabled” than ever

While the government is distributing relief packages to some residents, most indigenous people do not have the required paperwork to receive these supplies. To get help either you need to have a citizenship or disability card or your name should be registered. Most often vulnerable, marginalized groups like indigenous people and persons with disabilities do not have these documents so they are excluded from services. People are dying of starvation.

We don’t have a full picture of what it is really happening in the country. Nepal has been under nationwide lockdown since March and it has been extended about half-a-dozen times since. As COVID-19 cases continue to surge these measures will be extended until 22 July.

To improve things we first need to properly evaluate the situation on the ground. Indigenous people, especially those with disabilities, have special needs. Without disaggregated data by sex, age, ethnicity, disability, health status, income and geography we cannot properly address them. A blanket approach does not work.

In spite of all the difficulties, indigenous peoples are rising to the challenge. Some organizations, including the National Indigenous Disabled Women Association Nepal are disseminating information about COVID-19 and providing food and sanitation supplies to some communities. The indigenous TV channel has been giving information in both indigenous and sign language, with the support of the National Indigenous Disabled Women Association Nepal.

I hope the measures they have put in place (which aim to strengthen health systems, ensure job recovery and enhance access to social protection) will not leave us behind. We need to be part of any discussion that addresses these issues because only we know how the pandemic is affecting us. Implementation of ILO Convention No. 169 has therefore become more important than ever.

As an activist, this situation has been a real challenge for me and for my organization. I am confined in Katmandu and cannot travel. I feel that I am not helping my people as much as I would like. I fear that when we know what is really happening on the ground we will face a worse situation than the one we suffered after the 2015 earthquake that devastated our country.


This opinion editorial was originally published here

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Pratima Gurung is General Secretary, the Global Network of Indigenous Peoples with Disabilities (IPWDGN) President, the National Indigenous Disabled Women Association in Nepal (NIDWAN).

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How Kenya’s Indigenous Ogiek are Using Modern Technology to Validate their Land Rights

July 21, 2020 - 3:51am

 Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

72-year-old Ogiek community elder, Cosmas Chemwotei Murunga, inspects one of the trees felled by foreigners in 1976. Ogiek community protests put an end to government approved logging of the indigenous red cedar trees here. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

By Isaiah Esipisu
CHEPKITALE, Kenya , Jul 21 2020 (IPS)

The Ogiek community, indigenous peoples from Kenya’s Chepkitale National Reserve, are in the process of implementing a modern tool to inform and guide the conservation and management of the natural forest. The community has inhabited this area for many generations, long before Kenya was a republic. Through this process, they hope to get the government to formally recognise their customary tenure in line with the Community Land Act.

In collaboration with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), community elders, civil society members and representatives from the 32 clans that form the Chepkitale Ogiek community are mapping their ancestral territory using a methodology known as Participatory 3-Dimensional Modelling (P3DM).

Technically speaking, P3DM or 3D maps brings together three elements that were previously considered impossible to integrate – local spatial and natural resource knowledge, geographic information systems (GIS) and physical modelling.

“The mapping will support the spatial planning and management of the Chepkitale National Reserve by identifying actions required to address the various challenges affecting the management and conservation of the natural resources in the targeted area,” John Owino, Programme Officer for the Water and Wetlands Programme at IUCN, told IPS.

The process, which started in 2018, involves extensive dialogue with community members in order to document their history, indigenous knowledge of forest conservation and protection of natural resources using their traditional laws and geographical territories.

According to IUCN, which is providing both technical and financial support, the exercise was projected to be completed by the end of 2020. However, this target will be delayed as a result of the prevailing coronavirus pandemic.

Some of the Ogiek’s unique traditional community laws recorded in the participatory mapping exercise state that charcoal burning is totally prohibited, poaching is strictly forbidden and commercial farming is considered illicit.

“In this community, we relate with trees and nature the same way we relate with humans. Felling a mature tree in our culture is synonymous to killing a parental figure,” Cosmas Chemwotei Murunga, a 72-year-old community elder, told IPS. “Why should you cut down a tree when you can harvest its branches and use them for whatever purpose?” he posed.

Very famously, in 1976, the Ogiek community protests put an end to government-approved logging of the indigenous red cedar trees here.

The trees, felled some 44 years ago, still lie perfectly untouched on the ground in Loboot village.

 Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

The Ogiek indigenous community who live in Kenya’s Mount Elgon forest have conserved the forest’s natural ecosystem for centuries. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

While the Ogiek are an asset to the conservation of the forested area within the park, their dispute with the government over their rights to the forested land has been a long-running one.

  • There have been several attempts by the government to evict the community from the forest, following the gazetting of the entire Ogiek community land as the ‘Chepkitale National Reserve in Mount Elgon,’ which made the land they live on a protected area from the year 2000.
  • Since then, police officers invaded the Ogiek community land several times, torching their houses, destroying their property and forcefully driving them away from the forest.
  • But in 2008, the community, through Chepkitale Indigenous People Development Project (CIPDP) — a community based organisation that brings together all Ogiek community members — went to court for arbitration. The court issued orders to immediately halt the forceful evictions. However, the case is yet to be determined.

“In many indigenous communities, governments have always used an excuse of environmental destruction to evict residents, and that was the same thing they said about our community,” Peter Kitelo, co-founder of the CIPDP, told IPS.

“However, we have proved them wrong, and when the case is finally determined, we are very hopeful that we will emerge victorious,” he said.

The 3D mapping, according to Owino, is in line with the Whakatane Mechanism, an IUCN initiative that supports the implementation of “the new paradigm” of conservation. It focuses on situations where indigenous peoples and/or local communities are directly associated with protected areas and are involved in its development and conservation as a result of their land and resource rights, including tenure, access and use.

  • The mechanism promotes and supports the respect for the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities and their free prior and informed consent in protected areas policy and practice, as required by IUCN resolutions, the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

There are previous examples of P3DM mapping proving successful among another Ogiek communities — those in the Mau Forest.

  • In 2006, a P3DM exercise involving 120 men and women from 21 Ogiek clans in the Mau Forest resulted in a 3D map of the Eastern Mau Forest Complex.
  • According to the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation ACP-EU (CTA), the 3D map was persuasive enough to convince the Kenyan Government of the Ogiek’s right to the land, and the need to protect the area from land grabbing and resource exploitation.

The CTA further reported that a rich P3DM portfolio of outputs, including reports, papers and maps, have been used at international forums to document the value of local/indigenous knowledge in sustainable natural resource management, conflict management and climate change adaptation, and in bridging the gap between scientific and traditional knowledge systems.

In addition to the 3D map, the Ogiek community is already working with the National Land Commission of Kenya, an independent body with several mandates. Among them is the mandate to initiate investigations, on its own initiative or based on a complaint, into present or historical land injustices and to recommend appropriate redress.

“Once completed, the 3D map will be a very important tool for this community because apart from effective management of the natural resources in Chepkitale, we will use it as an instrument to prove how we have sustainably coexisted with nature for generations,” said Kitelo.

The Ogiek community want their territory officially recognised as community land provided for by Kenya’s new constitution, particularly in relation to the Community Land Act, 2016, which provides for the “recognition, protection and registration of community land rights; management and administration of community land”.

According to elderly members of the Ogiek community, the forest is their main source of livelihood.

Inside the forest, the community keeps bees for honey production, which is a major part of their diet apart from milk, blood and meat. They also gather herbs from the indigenous trees, shrubs and forest vegetation, and feed on some species found in the forest. Their diet is not limited to bamboo shoots, wild mushrooms and wild vegetables such as stinging nettle.

“Since I was born 72 years ago, this forest has always been the main source of our livelihoods,” Chemwotei Muranga told IPS.

Now, armed with traditional knowledge of forest management and conservation of natural resources, community-based rules and regulations, and provisions within the country’s new constitution and the Community Land Act— they hope to be doing so for centuries to come.

“Living in such a place is the only lifestyle I understand,” Chemwotei Muranga said.

The inclusive approach of supporting indigenous peoples and local communities in conservation will be a major focus at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Marseille, France, next January. The topic falls under one of the main themes of the Congress, Upholding rights, ensuring effective and equitable governance with sessions aiming to discuss and provide recommendations for how the conservation community can support the existing stewardship of indigenous peoples and local communities.

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Beware the ‘Hunger’ to Access Indigenous Peoples’ Land and Resources for Post-COVID-19 Recovery

July 9, 2020 - 4:07am

 Manipadma Jena/IPS

An ethnic matriarch in India's biodiversity-rich Sikkim State in the Himalayan foothills. She is a repository of traditional knowledge on plants both for food and medicinal properties. Experts say that indigenous women are being denied their fundamental right to access information because the information is not being disseminated in indigenous languages. This is especially crucial as indigenous women hold a key role as caretakers in many of their communities. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Samira Sadeque

When governments and states begin their recovery journey from the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic, there might be a heightened threat to indigenous peoples, their land and resources. 

“The fear is [that] the economic recovery is based on access to land and natural resources,” Lola García-Alix, senior advisor on Global Governance at the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA), told IPS.

“Indigenous people also live in areas with the most biological diversity. So of course they are the last frontier where the many governments meet in a situation of economic recovery. It’s an economic asset for them to have access there,” she said.

García-Alix moderated a panel on Jul. 7 about the impact of COVID-19 on indigenous communities around the world and key factors that states must keep in mind during the recovery process. 

The panel, “Delivering Results For Not Leaving Indigenous Peoples Behind: COVID-19 Responses and Beyond” was organised as part of the United Nations’ High Level Political Forum (HLPF). 

“One of the main threats that indigenous people are facing today is land grabbing,” García-Alix added. “So, it’s not so much the issue of financial support but the issue of where will be the protection and respect of indigenous peoples’ right to land and national resources in a context where there will be huge interest in those resources.” 

She was responding to concerns posed by other indigenous leaders about different factors affecting the impact of COVID-19 on their communities. 

At the Jul. 7 talk, Antonia Urrejola, vice president of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, warned of “external actors” coming into territories of indigenous peoples that are exacerbating the pandemic’s impacts. 

“External actors are coming into these territories now more than ever so there’s more contagion and this is why they’re putting at risk not only the individual people but as a collective group as well,” she said. 

These “actors” include members of security forces, drug traffickers as well as miners. García-Alix said that there’s been an increase in illegal logging, entering of different actors, as well as an increase in killing of indigenous community members under the pandemic. 

“It’s a hunger to access their resources in their lands. And this hunger is in the part of states’ as well as other actors – from cartels to illegal logging, or companies,” she told IPS. “Many of these illegal actors don’t stop because there’s quarantine. It’s even better because there’s no police.”

Urrejola added other concerns that are currently exacerbated because of the pandemic, such as lack of access to health services.

“Hospitals are very far away in general from indigenous areas, and sometimes [the people] have to travel even for a day, and they [still] cannot receive medical treatment,” she said. “We know that they don’t have basic needs, many times they can’t even get tested.” 

García-Alix pointed out how language and accessibility can play a role in this lack of services for the indigenous community. 

“In most cases, the problem is that indigenous people haven’t had the information in their own language and have not had the access to the medical services,” she said. 

Kamla Thapa, executive director of National Indigenous Women’s Federation in Nepal, also brought up this issue during a panel talk about indigenous women in COVID-19 responses and impacts on Jul. 8. 

“Indigenous women are not in decision-making positions, and they are ignored,” she said, adding that many of these women are being denied their fundamental right to access information because the information is not being disseminated in indigenous languages. This is especially crucial as indigenous women hold a key role as caretakers in many of their communities. 

Thapa expressed hope going forward, citing the example of a group of indigenous women in India who developed a herbal sanitiser, as well as the Santal community from India and Nepal who are making sure outsiders aren’t allowed into the community so as to protect members from contracting COVID-19.

“We indigenous women are the knowledge holders, we have hope; we are knowledgeable, and changemakers,” she said. “We have the power to transform the pandemic into an opportunity, to derive a new normal by applying our knowledge, our skills.”

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A look into the lives of Cambodia’s gentle giants

June 22, 2020 - 3:09pm

By External Source
Jun 22 2020 (IPS-Partners)

For generations, elephants have been inextricably tied to the lands of Mondulkiri in Cambodia.

The people who call this place their home — the indigenous Bunong community — share a unique bond with the gentle giants of the land.

It is a relationship that has been tried and tested over the years and pressure to make ends meet has pushed some villagers to rent out elephants at high prices to companies with a record of mistreating animals.

Some villagers have even sold the elephants to companies. There is also a taboo about elephants giving birth within the community.

However, there are sanctuaries such as Mr Tree’s that attempt to breed, rescue and care for elephants which were either kept in captivity or were sold off.

To know more about the elephants of Mondulkiri and their stories, watch the video.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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‘I Can’t Breathe!’ Australia Must Look in the Mirror to See our Own Deaths in Custody

June 3, 2020 - 6:46pm

The only response to racism is resistance. This must take place not simply in passive solidarity with African Americans, but in our active support, protest and sacrifice for the lives of First Nations Australia

Brendan Esposito/AAP

By External Source

I can’t breathe, please! Let me up, please! I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!

These words are not the words of George Floyd or Eric Garner. They weren’t uttered on the streets of Minneapolis or New York. These are the final words of a 26-year-old Dunghutti man who died in a prison in south-eastern Sydney.

David Dungay Jr was killed when prison officers restrained him, including with handcuffs, and pushed him face down on his bed and on the floor. One officer pushed a knee into his back. All along, Dungay was screaming that he could not breathe and could be heard gasping for air.

Dungay’s death in custody occurred in Long Bay prison during the 2015 Christmas season. It happened a short drive from an elite university, next to affluent, waterside suburbs.

But his horrific death did little to pierce this white bubble of privilege. The media barely blinked. The politicians did not emerge from their holiday retreats. None of the officers involved were disciplined or called to account.


Australia’s glass house

It is comfortable for us in Australia to throw stones at racist police violence in the United States. It is comfortable because we do not see our own glass house.

This is evident in Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s comments to 2GB on Monday:

And so as upsetting and terrible is the murder that took place, and it is shocking … I just think to myself how wonderful a country is Australia.

It is “wonderful” because we do not see the horror inflicted by the criminal justice system on First Nations people.

It is “wonderful” because we do not ever call their deaths in custody “murder”, using instead the euphemisms of “accident” or “natural causes”.

It is “wonderful”, because we have so normalised the passing of First Nations people that we are never shocked when they are killed.

It is “wonderful”, because we have a vocabulary to defend police officers responsible for racist violence, including people doing an “extremely difficult job”.

The official response to the killing of Dungay has wide ripples in the white Australian community and the legal community. His family maintain that the killing of their son, brother and uncle, who was unarmed, was murder. No criminal charges have been brought and the coroner in November 2019 blamed Dungay’s pre-existing health conditions. His comments minimised the responsibility on the part of the officers:

it is most likely that the cause of David’s death was cardiac arrhythmia. It is noted that David had a number of comorbidities, both acute and chronic, which predisposed him to the risk of cardiac arrhythmia … However, the expert evidence also established that prone restraint, and any consequent hypoxia, was a contributing factor although it is not possible to quantify the extent or significance of its contribution.


First Nations people are the most incarcerated in the world

The deaths in custody of First Nations Australians are not hidden. As a nation, we are choosing not to look at them. In 1991, the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody documented 99 deaths in custody.

Since then, 432 Indigenous Australians have died in custody, according to Guardian Australia’s Deaths Inside project.

First Nations people are the most incarcerated in the world, surpassing the rates of African American people in the United States. In 2019, for every 100,000 First Nations adults, 2,481 are in prisons, compared with 164 non-Indigenous people.

Despite comprising 2% of the general adult population, First Nations Australians are 28% of the prison population. For First Nations women, the rate is 33% and they are 21 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Indigenous women. This is a product of systemic racism that also contributes to disproportionate deaths in custody.

Yet the deaths are only the tip of the iceberg. Everyday occurrences of police brutality against First Nations people, frequently filmed and uploaded on social media platforms, have even less formal oversight. The casual complacency about the harm inflicted on First Nations people means we do not know the true extent of its occurrence.

On Tuesday, a NSW police officer was put on restricted duties after a video emerged on social media of him appearing to kick an Aboriginal teenager.


Protesting deaths in custody in our backyard

In the wake of Floyd’s death, Dungay’s nephew, Paul Silva pointed to the lack of response to First Nations deaths in Australia:

We don’t get the same big response in Australia as they do in the United States with the Black Lives Matter movement, but we have had many people, both First Nations and non-Indigenous people standing with us. We can build on that – we need many more to join us. We can take inspiration from the United States and get back out on the streets in our own backyard, where there is so much brutality against Black people too, that’s the only way to get justice.

While the spotlight has been shone on the protests in the United States, most Australians would be unaware that each year on the anniversary of Dungay’s killing, there has been a protest, mostly at Long Bay jail.

This week in cities around Australia, protests are planned in the name of First Nations people who have died in custody. The numbers of those who converge on the streets is a litmus test of national tolerance for racial violence against First Nations people in the criminal justice system.


Where does racial violence against First Nations people end?

Despite more than 500 First Nations deaths in custody since 1980, there has never been a successful homicide prosecution in the criminal courts. Indeed, only a handful have resulted in charges being laid in manslaughter or, less frequently, murder.

A police officer has been charged with murder following the shooting death of a 19-year-old Warlpiri man last year. The officer intends to plead not guilty.

The Victorian Coroner this April also referred the death of Yorta Yorta woman Tanya Day to prosecutors for further investigation.

Without accountability, justice will not flow for the families and the chain of racial violence will not be broken.

The danger of expressing outrage towards African American deaths in custody is that we deflect our own agency and responsibility. We legitimise the violence at our doorstep that is in our control.

It allows us to walk past racist police interventions on the false assumption that the problem is with the First Nations person rather than the police and Australian culture.

The only response to racism is resistance. This must take place not simply in passive solidarity with African Americans, but in our active support, protest and sacrifice for the lives of First Nations Australia.The Conversation


Thalia Anthony, Professor of Law, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Preserving World’s Biodiversity: Negotiations Convene at FAO Headquarters

February 24, 2020 - 3:04pm

Delegates gather at FAO headquarters to advance negotiations of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework. Credit: Maged Srour/IPS

By Maged Srour
ROME, Feb 24 2020 (IPS)

“The world out there is watching and waiting for results,” Elizabeth Maruma Mrema warns while talking to IPS regarding the preservation of biodiversity of our planet.

The acting Executive Secretary of the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, is referring to a worrying report[1] released by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) which paints a grim picture of the planet.

“Many key components of biodiversity for food and agriculture at genetic, species and ecosystem levels are in decline and evidence suggests that the proportion of livestock breeds at risk of extinction is increasing,” the report says.

The FAO also warns that “nearly a third of fish stocks are overfished, and a third of freshwater fish species assessed are considered threatened”.

These are just some of the critical issues being debated during the open-ended working group on the post-2020 biodiversity framework. This round of negotiations is taking place at FAO headquarters from 24 to 29 February. In the run-up to October’s historic UN Biodiversity Conference, government officials, experts and activists from around the world gathered today at FAO headquarters, Rome, to forge ahead with negotiations. This round of talks was supposed to take place in Kunming, China, on the same dates. Due to the ongoing situation following the outbreak of the novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19), it was moved to Rome, Italy.


The fourteenth meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) had its meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in 2018. It was here that the working group on the post-2020 global biodiversity framework was appointed. The working group’s mandate was to prepare the text of a framework that would guide the work of the Convention after the year 2020. At the working group’s first meeting held in Nairobi in August 2019, the Open-ended Working Group (WG2020) requested the Co-Chairs and the Executive Secretary to prepare a zero-draft text of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework. This framework is under consideration at its second meeting, which is currently taking place in Rome. The aim of the second meeting of the Working Group is to significantly advance the negotiation of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework, discussing the different aspects of the whole ambitious project.

‘Healthy Diets’ was among the proposed initiatives during the first day of the six-day event at FAO headquarters. The initiative emphasised the importance of ‘geographical indications’ for biodiversity, with examples and experiences from Africa and Eastern Europe. Credit: Maged Srour/IPS

Negotiations in Rome: Promoting a bi-directional approach

In the coming days, the working groups will be divided on a regional basis. They will discuss a wide variety of concerns including biodiversity, food, agriculture and fishing systems, to the importance of promoting an approach that leaves no one outside of this circuit. Civil society, the private sector, indigenous people, local communities, women and youth are all represented to create a functional framework for the whole society and at all levels. Many organisations, like Bioversity International, supported by a host of international agencies, have submitted research reports on biodiversity and food systems. It has also made representations on alternative models for access and benefit-sharing rules, practices and impacts in the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework.

The voice of indigenous people

Key to the discussions is the role of indigenous people in biodiversity and Aslak Holmberg, the representative of the indigenous people, is convinced that policymakers can learn from these groups.

“There is a key message we want to share with other groups here during these negotiations,” he told IPS. “Indigenous peoples and local communities’ management of natural resources is (in fact) conserving biodiversity. (This is) because these management practices are built on a balanced relationship with the respective environment.

“Biological and cultural diversity are linked, and by this, I mean that (for indigenous communities) culture plays a fundamental role in the process of preserving biodiversity: it is in our culture to use our areas in a sustainable way. That is the message we want to share with others”.

The voice of the business sector

Representatives of the private sector too, in particular of the business world, wish to be part of the framework that will result from the negotiations and officially approved in October, in China.
Eva Zabey, Executive Director of the Business for Nature Coalition, told IPS she was grateful to the CBD secretariat for giving business and opportunity to engage and contribute to the zero draft of the post-2020 framework.

This coalition is a unique global group of influential business and conservation organisations participating in the negotiations.

“Forward-thinking businesses are starting to change the way they operate, based on their understanding of the value of nature – but this is still the exception, not the norm,” she told IPS.
“Therefore,” said Zabey, “Political leadership is needed now to transform our economic and financial systems in a way that places nature at the heart of global decision-making. It needs to create a level playing field and a stable operating environment for business.”

Zabey is looking forward to an ambitious post-2020 framework which will facilitate businesses’ involvement and create and positive “policy-business feedback loop,” she said.


Audrey Azoulay, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Director-General, perfectly summarised urgency at the negotiation.

Commenting on the global assessment report, she said: “The present generations have the responsibility to bequeath to future generations a planet that is not irreversibly damaged by human activity.”

“Our local, indigenous and scientific knowledge are proving that we have solutions and so no more excuses: we must live on earth differently”.

Zabey echoes Azouley. She said entrepreneurs are increasingly aware that the profit-sustainability ‘conflict’ is no longer feasible or conceivable.

“Companies planning on being successful in the future are starting to realise that financial performance is irrelevant on a dead planet.’


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Lithium and Clean Energy in Argentina: Development or Mirage?

December 18, 2019 - 2:31am

 Daniel Gutman/IPS

"No to lithium" reads a sign erected in Salinas Grandes by local indigenous communities, who depend on the salt flats for tourism and to harvest salt, in the northwest of Argentina. In February 2019 they blocked the nearest highway, which runs to Chile, for nearly two weeks, halting exploration for lithium by a mining company. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

By Daniel Gutman
OLAROZ, Argentina , Dec 18 2019 (IPS)

The intense white brightness of the salt flats interrupts the arid monotony of the Puna in northwest Argentina, resembling postcards from the moon. Beneath its surface are concealed the world’s largest reserves of lithium, the key mineral in the transition to clean energy, the mining of which has triggered controversy.

The debate is not only about the environmental impact but also about how real are the benefits for the local communities of this region located more than 4,000 metres above sea level, where people unaccustomed to the Andes highlands have a hard time breathing.

“I have no doubt that our province is destined to play a key role in the coming years, which will be marked by the abandonment of fossil fuels,” Carlos Oehler, president of the Jujuy Energy and Mining State Society (Jemse), told IPS.

“It’s an opportunity for development. And the people who only emphasise the environmental impact do so out of ignorance,” he argued, at the company’s headquarters in Salvador, the capital of the province of Jujuy.

Jemse, which is owned by the province – bordering Bolivia and Chile – has been producing lithium since 2014 in the Olaroz salt flats, through Sales de Jujuy, a public-private partnership with Australia’s Orocobre and Japan’s Toyota Tsusho.

The participation of Toyota Tsusho – part of the Toyota conglomerate – is a reflection of the international interest in lithium for the production of batteries for electric vehicles, a market expected to boom in the coming years in industrialised countries.

The impact of lithium mining in the Puna region of Jujuy is limited for now and differs depending on the area, IPS saw first-hand during a several-day tour through the scattered towns and villages of this rugged Andes plateau region.

Several of these communities, mostly populated by indigenous Kolla people, became Solar Villages this year – a provincial project that harnesses the abundant sunlight of the Puna region to bring electricity to remote villages.

A few km from the Salar de Olaroz salt flats is the village of the same name, made up of a few dozen adobe houses and reached by a desolate dirt road.

 Daniel Gutman/IPS

A street in Olaroz, the village near the salt flats of the same name in the northwest Argentine province of Jujuy, where lithium mining provides stable work for some of the local inhabitants, in an area where communities have traditionally raised llamas and sheep for a living. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

A few “pros”…

Last year, the town’s first secondary school opened its doors. It is a vocational-technical institution with an orientation in chemistry, which aims precisely to train young people about lithium.

In addition, lithium has brought stable jobs to a poor region, where a majority of the population depends on llama and sheep farming. Mirta Irades, principal of the Olaroz primary school, told IPS: “Everyone here wants to work at the mining company, even if it’s just washing the dishes.”

The real benefits, however, are modest. According to a report presented by the national and provincial governments in November, only 162 people, or 42 percent of those working in the Sales de Jujuy company, come from local communities.

In total, the document says, direct mining employment in Jujuy increased from 1,287 jobs in 2006 to 2,244 in 2018, with lithium mining accounting for three-quarters of the growth. That is just 3.5 percent of registered employment in the province, although wages are more than double the overall average.

The timeframes involved in lithium production are another hurdle.

Sales de Jujuy is the only company in the province that is commercially mining lithium. There are dozens of other companies working, but exploration, pilot tests, the installation of processing plants and other previous tasks can take up to 10 years.

 Daniel Gutman/IPS

Two men from indigenous communities near Salinas Grandes pick up bags of salt harvested by members of the local cooperative. Villages around Salinas Grandes have blocked attempts to mine lithium in the area. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

There is only one other company already mining lithium in the entire northwest of Argentina, which is also made up of the provinces of Salta and Catamarca.

This is the area that, along with northern Chile and southern Bolivia, comprises the so-called Lithium Triangle, which concentrates 67 percent of the world’s proven reserves of the mineral, with Argentina at the head, according to data from the U.S. Geological Survey.

…and several “cons”

But those who are skeptical about lithium’s potential for the region point out that South American countries are once again falling into the role of mere producers of primary products, as in the case of agricultural and livestock exports.

This is crudely reflected in Olaroz, one of the Solar Villages that is supplied with electricity by a small local solar park, which like the others in the programme runs 24 hours a day thanks to lithium batteries.

But the batteries are imported from China, since neither Argentina nor the rest of South America has the technology to manufacture them.

When you walk through communities in Jujuy’s Puna region, there are places where people don’t even want to hear lithium mentioned.

In Salinas Grandes, another giant white sea of salt, located about 100 km from Olaroz, no mining company has been able to gain a foothold due to opposition from the 33 indigenous communities in the area.

 Daniel Gutman/IPS

Two indigenous women wait for customers at a craft stand in Salinas Grandes, in the Puna highlands region in northwestern Argentina. The tourist routes through the immense salt flats that break up the arid landscape here are an alternative created by the local indigenous communities to boost their income. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

“This is our territory, we decided that lithium will not be mined here, and they are going to have to respect us,” Verónica Chávez told IPS, while participating in an assembly of some 100 members of indigenous communities in the middle of the salt flats.

Chávez lives in the village of Santuario Tres Pozos, home to some 30 families, and she is a member of the local cooperative that brings together indigenous families who work harvesting salt, using the same techniques their ancestors used for centuries.

“All the promises they make to us with the arrival of the lithium companies are lies. Lithium is food for today and hunger for tomorrow,” adds Chávez.

Local alternatives

Four years ago the communities in Salinas Grandes embarked on another activity: guided tours and the sale of handicrafts to Argentine and foreign tourists attracted by the seemingly endless white landscape that glitters in the sunlight.

Alicia Chalabe, a lawyer for the indigenous populations of Salinas Grandes, says no economic offer will manage to modify the situation. “The communities live close to the salt flats and use the territory, which for them has a very important historical, cultural and patrimonial value,” she told IPS.

“In the Olaroz area, the situation is different because the communities never used the salt flats,” she adds.

 A sign marks the entrance to Sales de Jujuy, one of the only two companies that mines and sells lithium in Argentina, the country with the largest proven reserves. It operates in the Olaroz salt flats and is made up of the Australian company Orocobre, Japan's Toyota and a public enterprise from the province of Jujuy, in the northwest of Argentina. Credit Daniel Gutman/IPS

A sign marks the entrance to Sales de Jujuy, one of the only two companies that mines and sells lithium in Argentina, the country with the largest proven reserves. It operates in the Olaroz salt flats and is made up of the Australian company Orocobre, Japan’s Toyota and a public enterprise from the province of Jujuy, in the northwest of Argentina. Credit Daniel Gutman/IPS

In February, the communities of Salinas Grandes staged a nearly two-week roadblock on national highway 52, which connects Argentina with Chile, successfully bringing to a halt the exploration work that a lithium mining company had begun in the area without the approval of the local indigenous population.

The resistance in Salinas Grandes is based in part on studies by Marcelo Sticco, a hydrogeologist at the University of Buenos Aires (UBA), who points out that lithium extraction puts community water sources at risk in a desert area where rain is a very sporadic luxury.

“The studies we carried out are conclusive,” Sticco told IPS from the Argentine capital. “Lithium is separated through the evaporation of enormous quantities of water, which fuels the salinisation of the groundwater used for consumption in the region.”

The government of Jujuy has a project to add value to lithium in the province: it partnered with the Italian electronics group SERI, which could locally install a battery assembly plant, with the aim of moving towards electric urban public transport.

This initiative, if implemented, could modify a scenario that for now does not offer significant concrete benefits, even though many in Argentina are already counting on the wealth that the so-called “white gold” will bring.

But although Argentina’s lithium exports have been growing, they reached just 251 million dollars in 2018, a mere 6.5 percent of the country’s mining exports.

However, Oehler, the president of Jemse, believes that the peak in international demand for lithium has not yet arrived: “It will peak between 2025 and 2030 and we have to take advantage of it to grow and to improve the lives of our communities,” he said.

But some experts fear the consequences of staking too much on this mineral, which could soon be outdated by a new technology that reduces or eliminates its current attraction.

Lithium has many uses, but it is most coveted as a heat conductor in rechargeable batteries.

These are used in cell phones, in the storage of different renewable energies, especially solar power, and in electric vehicles, the use of which is projected to steadily increase, especially in public transport, as they push aside fossil-fuel vehicles as part of the effort to curb global warming.

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Social Summit Demands Stronger Commitments in Climate Talks

December 9, 2019 - 2:48pm

 Emilio Godoy/IPS

One of the continuous protests staged at the Social Summit for Climate Action, meeting Dec. 7-13 parallel to the official 25th Conference of the Parties (COP25) on climate change. The Summit, hosted by the Complutense University of Madrid, is tackling issues such as the controversial trading of carbon credits, human rights in the climate struggle and opposition to the growing production of hydrocarbons. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MADRID, Dec 9 2019 (IPS)

As the COP25 deliberations enter the decisive final week, representatives of environmental and social organisations gathered in a parallel summit are pressing the governments to adopt stronger commitments in the face of a worsening climate emergency.

In the debates in the week-long Social Summit for Climate Action, which began Dec. 7 parallel to the Dec. 2-13 United Nations 25th Conference of the Parties (COP25) on climate change taking place in Madrid, skepticism has been expressed with respect to the results to come out of the official meeting.

“Nothing good is going to come out of it for Central America, only proposals that are going to make it more vulnerable. The damage is going to become more serious,” Carolina Amaya, representative of the Salvadoran Ecological Unit, told IPS, pointing out that the region is one of the most exposed to the climate crisis, facing persistent droughts, intense storms, rising sea levels and climate migrants.

The social summit is taking place at the public Complutense University, in the west of the Spanish capital, about 15 km from the IFEMA fairgrounds which are hosting COP25 after Chile pulled out on Oct. 30 from holding the event due to massive anti-government protests and social unrest.

The alternative activities, which also end on Friday Dec. 13, include a varied menu of issues, such as free trade and its socioenvironmental impacts, oil drilling in indigenous territories, the protection of forests, and opposition to trading reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which cause global warming.

They are also discussing the monetisation of environmental services, increased funding for the most vulnerable nations, climate justice and attacks against land rights activists.

The Madrid Social Summit is also holding sessions in Santiago de Chile, under the same slogan, “Beyond COP25: People for Climate”, although there are fewer representatives of organised civil society than at previous COPs because of the last minute change of venue.

Civil society groups are also organising activities at their green pavilion within the official COP25 compound of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), where their participation is more formal and ceremonious.

The demands of civil society gained visibility thanks to the mass demonstration held in Madrid on Friday Dec. 6, with the participation of Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, the reluctant star of the official conference and social summit.

COP25 is the third consecutive COP held in Europe, this time under the motto “Time to act”.

The deliberations, which enter the crucial phase of the adoption of agreements Tuesday Dec. 10, are focusing on financing national climate policies, rules for emission reduction markets, and the preparation of the update of emissions reductions and funding of the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage, designed to assist regions particularly affected by climate change.

COP25 is the climate summit that directly precedes the 2020 entrance into effect of the historic Paris Agreement on climate change, adopted in the French capital in 2015, which left key areas to be hashed out at the current conference, such as the controversial emissions market.

In their statement to the COP, the organisations criticise the economic model based on the extraction of natural resources and mass consumption, blaming it for the climate crisis, and complaining about the lack of results in the UNFCCC meetings.

“The scientific diagnosis is clear regarding the seriousness and urgency of the moment. Economic growth happens at the expense of the most vulnerable people,” says the statement, which defends climate justice “as the backbone of the social fights of our time” and “the broadest umbrella that exists to protect all the diversity of struggles for another possible world.”

At the social summit, the first “Latin American Climate Manifesto was presented on Monday Dec. 9, which lashes out at carbon credit trading, the role of corporations in climate change and the increase in production of hydrocarbons, while expressing support for the growth of agroecology, the defence of human rights and the demand for climate justice.

In addition, indigenous peoples are holding their own meeting, the “indigenous Minga“, with the message “Traditional knowledge at the service of humanity in the face of climate change.” They are demanding respect for their rights, participation in the negotiations and recognition of their role as guardians of ecosystems such as forests.

“We are here to raise our voices and offer our contribution to fight” against the climate emergency, Jozileia Kaingang, a chief of the Kaingang people and a representative of the non-governmental Articulation of the Indigenous Peoples of Brazil, told IPS.

Brazilian indigenous groups are in conflict with the government of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro because of its attempts to undermine their rights and encourage the commercial exploitation of their territories. In fact, the Brazilian government delegation does not include a single indigenous member – unprecedented in the recent history of the COPs.

Faced with this dispute and the critical situation of the Amazon jungle, Brazil’s indigenous people have sent representatives to Madrid to speak out and seek solidarity.

The murder of two leaders of the Guajajara people in northeastern Brazil on Saturday Dec. 7 shook the indigenous delegation. Two murders had already occurred in that native community in the last two months.

In 2017, the States Parties to the UNFCCC adopted at COP23 the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform for the exchange of experiences and best practices, thereby ensuring the participation of these groups in the negotiations of the convention.

The Platform’s facilitative working group, composed of delegates from seven States Parties and seven indigenous peoples, is currently developing its plan for the period 2020-2021.

Martín Vilela, a representative of the Bolivian Platform for Climate Change umbrella group of local organisations, questioned the effectiveness of the climate summits.

“The agreements are only paper. Emissions continue to rise and countries’ voluntary targets are insufficient. The countries have to be more ambitious if they really want to avoid major disasters,” he told IPS.

Social organizations fear that the Paris Agreement, when it replaces the Kyoto Protocol next year, will be stillborn, because countries are failing to keep their promises, even though scientists are warning that the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is insufficient.

The Agreement sets mandatory emission reduction targets for industrialised countries and voluntary targets for developing countries in the South.

“The countries need to know that we’re monitoring them. We, the organisations, must prepare ourselves to demand better action,” said Amaya from El Salvador.

For her part, Brazil’s Kaingang argued that the climate struggle would only be effective if it includes indigenous peoples.

COP26 will be hosted by Glasgow, Scotland in November 2020, after pre-conference meetings in Germany and Italy.

This article was supported by the COP25 Latin American Journalistic Coverage Programme.

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