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Re-Colonization Of Africa Through Buying Agricultural Land: Wealthy Nations And Their Multinationals On The Rampage

Re-Colonization Of Africa Through Buying Agricultural Land: Wealthy Nations And Their Multinationals On The Rampage

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Posted 26 September 2011, by Akinyi Princess of K’Orinda-Yimbo, Tom Wilt News, tomwilt.com

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The global food crisis of 2007/2008 that triggered riots from Cape to Cairo and from Senegal to Haiti made governments and their agriculturally-engaged companies to get on the saddle and gallop – with their thinking caps on. Export tariffs were slapped on staple food crops to minimise how much could be sold outside their countries.  In my book – Darkest Europe and Africa’s Nightmare: A Critical Observation of Neighbouring Continents, I mentioned, rather apocalyptically, that if we Africans don’t take care then the outside world will turn our continent into “a timber plantation.” This is now happening, but on a worst-case scenario. Africans are being colonised again and this time not with the power of  weapons but through Africans themselves selling their continent willingly. The 99- and 999-year lease – a remnant of colonialists – surely cannot fool anybody. This is equivalent to a full century and/or full millennium which translates into three and a half to thirty-four consecutive generations of Africans.

Africans are selling the one natural resource they can’t afford to sell – their land. Especially arable land. In Antananarivo, Madagascar, earlier in 2009, President Ravalomanana’s government was overthrown by angry urban poor who were already spending two thirds of their income to feed themselves ever since the 2008 massive rise in global prices for commodities like rice and wheat. This was not just because of his own private jet bought from a member of the Disney family for his own use with public funds – no. President Ravalomanana was leasing 1.3 hectares (half the size of Belgium and half of Madagascar’s arable land) to South Korea’s Daewoo for 99 years to grow maize and palm oil and send all harvests during this period back home to feed South Koreans. Daewoo paid nothing: they PROMISED to improve the island’s infra structure. And of course they would provide “jobs for the citizens of Madagascar by farming it, which is good for Madagascar” (read cheap slave labour). As usual the public was kept in the dark. Until the news was leaked by London’s Financial Times. This is the first government in the world to be toppled by angry mobs and the military for “land-grabbing”. Kudos to the people.

There are more than 100 similar land-grabs globally, since September 2008, where huge tracts of farmland are bought up by wealthy countries as well international corporations. Mark Weston, Britain’s international development policy consultant does the colourful canvas thus: “Imagine if China, following a brief negotiation with a British government desperate for foreign cash after the collapse of the economy, bought up the whole of Wales, replaced most of its inhabitants with Chinese workers, turned the entire country into an enormous rice field and sent all the rice produced there for the next 99 years back to China… Imagine that neither the evicted Welch nor the rest of the British public knew what they were getting in return for this, having to content themselves with vague promises that the new landlords would upgrade a few ports and create jobs for the local people.

“Then, imagine that, after a few years – and bearing in mind that recession and the plummeting pound have already made it difficult for the UK to buy food from abroad – an oil-price spike or an environmental disaster in one of the world’s big grain-producing nations drives global food prices sharply upwards and beyond the reach of many Britons. While the Chinese next door in Wales continue sending rice back to China, the starving British look helplessly on, ruing the day their government sold off half their arable land. Some of them plot the violent recapture of the Welch valley.”

This – huge tracts of land being “sold” to foreigners for “promises” – is what is happening all over Africa this very minute. Except that in my experience not many Africans are that good at organising themselves as a unified force to recapture their valley. They would either fall upon each other with machetes for a few grains some “kind” soul dropped them from the air, or they’d turn into a trillion factions with double the number of “generals”.

Even the great pope of the free market, Financial Times, has used words like “rapacious” for the likes of Daewoo, warning that it was the most “brazen example of a wider phenomenon” where rich nations are trotting the globe buying up the natural resources of poor countries. The new colonialism is vast in Africa, with the buyers being wealthy countries unable to grow their own food. The Arabs are back fleeing their barren sands to turn Africa into their granary like they did one and a half millennia ago (in Egypt at the time). The Gulf states are in the lead in this new investment. Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, controlling between them 45% of the world’s oil, are snatching AGRICULTURAL LAND in Egypt, Ethiopia, Cameroon, Zambia, Uganda, but also in Cambodia, Brazil, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Russia. South Korea has grabbed a staggering 960,000 hectares in Sudan, the largest country in Africa, where at least 6 other rich countries are said to have secured large land-holding – and precisely where the local population are among the hungriest and least secure in the world. The Saudis are negotiating 500,000 hectares (not acres) in Tanzania. Companies for the United Arab Emirates have snapped up 324,000 hectares in Pakistan. Highly populated countries like China, South Korea and India have acquired swathes of African farmland to produce food for export. India recently lowered tariffs for Ethiopian commodities that could enter India after the Indian government lent money to 80 Indian companies to buy 350,000 hectares of farmland in Africa, particularly huge tracts in Kenya and Ethiopia. And this is the same Kenya where, in the year 2008, the locals of African descent were chopping each other’s limbs off, being shot by their own police and armed forces and burning innocent men, women and children locked up in churches – because of the land tenure! This is the Kenya where the Gallmanns, Briatores and Bransons and many others own private ranches the size of 3 Cypruses, where Prince William and his girlfriend spend a bit of “Hollywood in the bush” once or so a year – the rest of the time, all the above celebrities have their small states looked after by their private property “my Africans” – while 75% of Afro-Kenyans have no scratch of land to plant a tomato!

Kenya made a deal with Qatar, an Arab land with only 1% arable land, to acquire 40,000 hectares of land to grow food. A third of Kenya’s population was facing food shortages and President Kibaki had no better answer for hungry Kenyans opposing the deal but to impose a state of emergency and then turn around to appeal for international food relief. Where is the logic here, by the bony ancients? If Qatar can grow food on Kenyan soil to feed Qataris, why can’t Kenya grow food in Kenya to feed Kenyans? The land offered to Qatar is in the fertile Tana River delta with an abundance of fresh water. Some 150,000 Kenyan farming and pastoralist families for whom the land is communal graze their 60,000 cattle there. It is no wonder that, supported by opposition activists and environmentalists fearing the destruction of a pristine ecosystem of mangrove swamps, savannah and forests, the people now threaten armed resistance. When that happens, the rest of the world will only report about “warring African tribes”, not a group of people fighting to keep their land and ecosystem instead of allowing it delivered to Qatari farmers to feed their Arabs.

Next door in Uganda, 400 small farmers comprising a total of 2,000 people, were driven out (using violence through the Ugandan army) of their land in 2001 to make room for the German coffee grower Neumann Kaffee Gruppe. This was against the OECD guidelines for multinational concerns. On 24th August 2001, the concern’s boss, Michael R Neumann, together with President Museveni inaugurated the plantation. The people who were driven off their land can since then neither feed themselves adequately nor pay school fees for their children. This is another in a long line of  violations of social human rights perpetrated by yet another African so-called leader against his own citizens. Are Africans surprised when the rest of the world view them as some strange pathogens? Who is polishing the patina of Africa’s “bad image”?

Mozambique has signed a $ 2bn deal to give 10,000 Chinese “settlers” land in return for $ 3m in military aid from Beijing. Right. Take the land for 99- or 999-year lease and settle down while you give the starving Mozambicans both reason and means to kill each other off, leaving Mozambique a Chinese province. Food is a weapon is a weapon is a weapon….

But the list is long. The British investor Cru Investment Management has grabbed tracts of the fruitful agricultural land in dirt poor Malawi. US investment banker Philippe Heilberg, assisted by a “warlord”, acquired 4,000 square kilometres of land in southern Sudan. Congo-Brazzaville is allegedly selling 10 million hectares to Euroancestral South Africans to farm. Multinational finance concerns such as Deutsche Bank, Blackstone Group, Goldman & Sachs and Dexion Capital all have invested in African agricultural land. The World Bank and International Finance Corporation are engaged in “the development of agro-business” big time in Africa and other developing countries ever since the food crisis of 2008, pumping billions to agro-concerns to ensure food production in Africa for their own countries. All such investors no longer want to depend on speculators, they want to eliminate middlemen and take control themselves. Cru Investment spokesman, Duncan Parker maintains, “Africa has what it takes to be one of the leading food producers worldwide. Her potential in workers is big, her soil productive and there’s plenty of sun and water.”

Is the man not talking about the same Africa whose people are starving and dying of diseases that could be avoided by mere clean drinking water?

And Philippe Heilberg told the US media that whatever political and legal risks he is taking in Africa at the moment will pay most lucratively because he expects several African states in the coming years to simply fall apart. Can Africans legitimately blame Heilberg for his arrogance and indifference? Besides, when one listens between the words, there is always a plan-in-motion behind such blatant utterances. Africans may well be the next Palestinians – pariahs in their own land.

And now food is not the only thing that African land is needed for. Think of the recent EU Desertec cordoning off the Sahara for solar energy for Europe. In the Desertec Concept are the words:

In the upcoming decades, several global developments will create new challenges for mankind. We will be confronted with problems and obstacles such as climate change, population growth beyond earth’s capacity, and an increase in demand for energy and water caused by a strive for prosperity and expansion.The DESERTEC Concept provides a way to solve these challenges.

The question is, SOLVE THEM FOR WHO? Certainly not for Africans. And how does this concept work?

It works just like a coal steam power plant, with the difference that concentrated solar power is used for steam production, instead of coal. Large mirrors are positioned in such a way that they reflect and concentrate the sunlight onto a certain point much like capturing sunlight through a magnifying lens. A major advantage of this technology is that a part of the sun’s heat can be collected in heat storage tanks during the day and then run through steam circuits at night or specifically during peak hours, depending on the demand. With this technology, renewable and controlled energy can be provided according to the demand of the electricity grid.

Yet Africans, fifty years down independence road and with the technology already existing and sitting their for a price they can more than afford, cannot position large mirrors in such a way that they reflect and concentrate the abundant African sunlight like capturing sunlight through a magnifying lens! Africans have had the Sahara forever – but they just couldn’t come up with the idea of getting some solar energy from this vast desert. No idea from the whole of Sunny Africa? Yes they could, if Africans start thinking of themselves as worthwhile human beings too, and join forces to keep what is theirs theirs. Otherwise Africans might as well follow the butcher meekly to the slaughter house because that’s where they’re going to end up – in “native reserves” dying off as a people until the few Africans left are put in museums like they were once the main attraction in circuses all over the West in the 18th through early 20th centuries.

German, British and American companies have also bought land in Tanzania and Ethiopia to grow biofuels. Ethiopia – the byword for famine – argues that since it imports oil, biofuels will set off price fluctuations and dependency on oil! What about the environmental impact – 75% of the land allocated to the foreign biofuel firms are forested and these forests will have to be chopped off! The Chinese chopstick manufacturers are delighted.

A Norwegian biofuel company will create “the largest jatropha plantation in the world” by deforesting vast tracts of land in northern Ghana. The company was back to darkest Europe when it flagrantly cheated an illiterate chief to sign 38,000 hectares with his thumbprint. Jatropha is a non-too-demanding plant that produces oily seeds from which biodiesel can be made.

This entire new scramble for poor countries’ land is the result of the food crisis of 2007-2008 when the price of wheat, rice and other cereals skyrocketed across the globe. When the food-grower countries applied tariffs to minimize the amount of staple crops that left their countries, the supply was further tightened resulting in prices shooting further up. It was a policy-created scarcity rather than the true-and-tried traditional supply and demand. A situation arose where rich countries reliant on massive food imports put on their thinking caps. They began to put the fundamentals of global trade (that each country should concentrate on its best product and then trade it) under the microscope. The Gulf states, among other rich countries, with their unimaginable amounts of cash from trading oil suddenly realised you can’t eat cash dipped in oil. Nor can you gnaw on a Rolls-Royce. Or feed your children computer chips. The sheikhs & associates saw that the costs of food imports had doubled in five years. The future boded for worse – both regional and global markets were no longer reliable.

The perfect answer was to own agricultural land. “Control of foreign farmland”, writes Paul Vallely, “would not only secure food supplies, it would eliminate the cut taken by middlemen and reduce food-import bills by more than 20 percent. And the benefits could only increase.” Because the fundamental conditions that had ushered in the worldwide food crisis remain unchanged and could easily get worse.

According to the UN the world population will double by 2050. To grow enough food to feed 9bn people choke the planet. So, long term strategies are the right response. When the Prime Minister Taro of Japan (the world’s largest food importer) asked the G8 leaders in Italy: “Is the current food crisis just another market vagary?” he answered his own question: “Evidence suggests not; we are undergoing a transition to a new equilibrium, reflecting a new economic, climatic, demographic and ecological reality.”

Not that the market is asleep either. The cost of land is rising rapidly, making the irresponsible but insatiable African leaders salivate. And we Africans sit with our hands folded on our laps, waiting for some force of nature to come to our rescue. Many are not even aware of the fact that their ancestral land is being offered for re-colonisation, because their governments are big boys who believe informing their citizens of what is going on puts the boys in a subservient position. These are the chaps in this world who are unaware that they are servants of their people.

The food and financial crises combined have made agricultural farmland the new strategic asset. Veteran speculator Jim Rogers, in league with fellow veterans like Lord Jacob Rothschild, said in July 2009: “I’m convinced that farmland is going to be one of the best investments of our time.” This should actually augur well for Africa because there is land in abundance in the continent, and the agricultural sector – Africa’s backbone – is in need of capital and technology. A win-win situation. Except that Africans are auctioning their continent’s most sacred possession for nought and a staggering 99- or 999-year lease (depending on which salivating leader is dealing with whom. There are leaders out there offering the old colonial 999-year lease). That interprets into three and a half to thirty-four generations of Africans – left in limbo. Or as eventual specimens in museums of the wealthy.

Producing enough food to feed 9bn people in 2050 will crush the planet, denuding forests and drainage rivers and ruining arable land. In Copenhagen, capital saw to it that their lackeys, known as governments the world over, treated climate change as Father Christmas – a fairy tale. But, to capital’s delight, oil prices continue to rise in direct relation to fertilizer and tractor fuel – hence biofuels to further cut the land that would be available for food crops. The horrors are ahead because the fat harvest times are over – there won’t be enough food for the table even for the filthy rich – unless they can afford €3m a day residency in outer space. The market economy will this time – as always – not provide for all and sundry as falsely proclaimed. Land prices have jumped from 15% to 30% globally.

After the financial crisis in mortgage-based derivatives, agricultural land is the new strategic asset. An asset that nobody can manufacture or erect, and then sell. Once given away, it is gone and there’s no replica or spare parts, Africans.

Marginally seen, it could be a good thing for African countries. Apart from the staggering and varied natural resources, some of which cannot be found anywhere on the planet, land, as already said, is what Africans have in plenty. All Africa needs is capital to develop her agriculture. A mammoth share of this capital is ferreted out of the continent by the handful few wrongly-wired Africans to develop economies NOT AFRICAN. The Big Curse for which Africans only have themselves to blame. The rest of the world call it capital flight – as if this staggering amount of money simply made up its mind to take to the air and fly to the West – the mad terminologies of our times where human beings call their own dead “collateral damages”.

The financial global players who brought on the crisis are the very same ones now roaming the agricultural landscape and grabbing chunks of it. These land deals should bring investments, technology and know-how to local farmers, reduce dependency on food aid and similar maladies. They should provide infrastructure that goes beyond roads leading from the foreign leaseholder’s farms to the port that transport 100% of their harvests back to their own countries. The deals should enable the building of schools and health centres for the whole community. They should provide enough taxes to the government for more development – assuming African governments would at last invest in their own countries and people instead of castles and numbered accounts overseas. African so-called leaders have some inborn dread of educated and healthy citizens. Instead of recognising the greatest potential to their nations of human resources they see adversaries.

Then there is the problem of monoculture in growing plantation of large-scale food crops dependent of huge amounts of pesticides and fertilisers. This would ruin the long-term sustainability of tropical soils not suited to intensive cultivation, as well as damage the local water table. Soil erosion will occur and ruin long-term land fertility. The diversity of plants, animals and insect life will be drastically threatened while the intensive usage of agrochemicals bring in water-quality maladies. In addition the irrigation of the foreign investors’ plantations would take water away from the indigenous users. So these grabs are in effect water grabs – the most valuable part of these deals – instead of land grabs, since once you own the land you own the water beneath it.

The chief executive of Nestlé, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe puts it this way: “Water withdrawal for agriculture continue to increase rapidly. In some of the most fertile regions of the world (America, southern Europe, northern India, north-eastern China), over-use of water, mainly for agriculture, is leading to sinking water tables. Groundwater is being withdrawn, no longer as a buffer over the year but in a structural way, mainly because water is seen as a free good.”

It is not. The average person in the world uses 3,000-6,000 litres of water daily, less than a tenth of which is used for hygiene or manufacturing. The rest goes to farming. Meat-eating has increased and meat requires ten times more water per calorie than plants. The thirstiest products on earth are biofuels. To grow Soya for one litre of biodiesel takes up to 9,100 litres of water and up to 4,000 litres to transform corn into bioethanol. Brabeck-Letmathe predicts, “Under the present conditions and with the way water is being managed, we will run out of water long before we run out of fuel.” India and the USA combined produce a third of the world’s cereals, but Frank Rijsberman of the International Water Management Institute cautions, “we could be facing annual losses equivalent to the grain crops” of India and the USA.

The land grabs are now a pandemic. As with natural resources in Africa, there is no transparency and foreign governments and multinationals engaged in bribes have no great fear of prosecution in poor countries. In their own wealthy countries, at least somebody may publicly cry foul or demonstrate with huge placards in the streets without fearing being shot down by the police or armed forces.

In Africa land rights are not just written, they also exist through custom and practice. There should indeed be (if nothing else) compulsory sharing of benefits such as construction of schools and health centres. Short leases, or better still contract farming, would leave smallholders in control of their land and contract to investors. On the other hand the investors must never have the right to export entire harvests especially during a food crisis in the host country.

Land-grabs represent a serious violation of the human right to food. Humankind’s most primordial fight was over food. It is food that makes the fittest who then survives. I therefore call to all Africans, Continental and Diaspora, and all friends and fans of Africa, to join me in this fight by going to my web site – www.akinyi-princess.de – and signing in the with both your name, the words and your valid email address. In addition, please spread the word to your friends, families, social network chums and pals, chat room and forum acquaintances around the globe to join us in the fight. I need at least 25,000 authentic email “signatures” to enable me to write a petition to the AU Commissioner in Addis Ababa demanding that African governments may not simply “negotiate” land grab deals with foreign governments and multinationals without prior consultations with their respective citizens in the form of a referendum. The petition is now being professionally drafted and will be posted in my web site ASAP.

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A graduate journalist – the London Schools of Journalism as well as an economics graduate of the London School of Economics. Been writing as a freelance journalist since 1980, columnist with various dailies and monthly magazines in Africa and Europe. Gives lectures and seminars in various German universities, colleges and high schools on topics ranging from socio-economy in Africa, Business English, African literature and the socio-ethnological conflicts in the traditions of Africans and the West in general. Written and published articles, papers, novels in Engish and German. Her non-fiction book “Darkest Europe and Africa’s Nightmare: A critical Observation of the Neighbour Continents” published in 2008 by a New York publisher. Full CV –  www.akinyi-princess.de. More works as yet unpublished and a children’s fantasy/thriller.

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Maine Gardener: Ferry Beach students elevate garden to a sustainable ecosystem

 

Maine Gardener: Ferry Beach students elevate garden to a sustainable ecosystem

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Posted 25 September 2011, by Tom Atwell, Maine Sunday Telegram (MaineToday Media Inc.), pressherald.com

 

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The Ferry Beach Ecology School in Saco has given a new name to its organic garden.

“We are calling it a ‘sustainable food ecosystem,’ ” said John Ibsen, coordinator of the school’s Food for Thought program. “This garden is our feeble attempt to replicate a natural ecosystem.”

Ibsen showed a bit of a twinkle when he mentioned the new name, but it fits with the school’s goals.

“Our focus is on the science of ecology,” said executive director Drew Dumsch, “and the practice of sustainability. It is sustainability applied to ecology.”

Founded in 1999, Ferry Beach Ecology School hosts students from other schools for as little as an afternoon or as long as a week, taking advantage of the seven natural ecosystems within walking distance of the school and teaching about nature and ecology. It’s located at a Unitarian summer camp that was established in 1901, and uses the buildings when the camp isn’t. So far, 80,000 students have taken part in the program.

The garden is located on a challenging site that was built on beach sand on secondary dunes and buffeted by ocean winds. But the students and staff have slowed the winds by creating woven fences from trees cut down for projects elsewhere on the property.

The soil is improved by a no-till method of lasagna gardening, where layers of organic matter and newspapers are put down and allowed to decompose to create a rich topsoil.

“We teach that it takes 5,000 years in nature to create an inch of topsoil, but we can make it a lot faster,” Dumsch said.

Ibsen stresses putting plants close together, having mulch and compost on the soil and gardening vertically, to make the most of a garden that is about the size of a small house lot.

“Bare soil is like an open wound, letting out soil moisture and soil fertility,” Ibsen said.

He combines the permaculture and American Indian practice of the three sisters with a crop rotation in several plots in the garden. The three sisters are corn, squash and beans. The corn provides structure for the beans to climb, the beans provide nitrogen to the soil for the other two plants, and the squash shades the soil to keep weeds to a minimum.

The planting pattern is more like a forest, Ibsen said, where there is a mixture of plants rather than the distinct rows of a traditional vegetable garden.

After the squash is harvested in October, Ibsen has the students plant garlic, which is supposed to cleanse the soil. This year, he planted some summer squash around the garlic a few weeks before the garlic harvest to make more use of the soil.

Next year, that plot will be planted with peas, rye and vetch, all of which improve the soil.

In another area, Ibsen uses more combination planting with an apple tree as a centerpiece. Rhubarb will improve the soil. Fennel is believed to repel a lot of apple-tree pests. And bee balm will attract a lot of pollinators.

Ibsen was especially proud of a tomato cage that was about 7 feet tall and 6 feet long, made entirely from items taken from a Dumpster at a school construction project.

The wood for the frame came from discarded pallets. The tomatoes climb metal reinforcing grids that usually go into a concrete floor.

All of this is put together in a package that will please older elementary and middle-school students. There are wanted posters for some of the bad bugs, such as Japanese beetles and tomato hornworms.

The little red garden shed has snacks from the garden as well as tools. The woven fences are both whimsical and practical. The mammoth sunflowers are about 8 feet tall with foot-wide seed heads.

Although the garden provides only a small percentage of the food served at the school, the dining hall is used as a teaching tool.

“With the kind of teaching we do here, we didn’t want the cafeteria food to be from Sysco,” Dumsch said.

It costs the school about an extra $30,000 a year to get organic and local food, he said, but donations help pay for it.

One of the major fundraisers for the school will be Eco Appetito, to be held from noon to 3 p.m. Oct. 2 at Cinque Terre, 36 Wharf St. in Portland.

Chef Lee Skawinski and his staff will be preparing locally sourced food, wine and beer. There also will be live entertainment, door prizes and a silent auction. Tickets are $40.

Tom Atwell can be contacted at 791-6362 or at:

tatwell@pressherald.com

 

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http://www.pressherald.com/life/homeandgarden/ferry-beach-students-elevate-garden-to-a-sustainable-ecosystem_2011-09-25.html

Sri Lanka’s women deminers clean up legacy of Asia’s longest war


Sri Lanka’s women deminers clean up legacy of Asia’s longest war

Biruntha Ravichandran, 21, a deminer working for the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action (FSD), searches for mines in a mine field in Kannaddi, located in Mannar district in Sri Lanka (reuters_tickers)

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Posted 23 September 2011, by Nita Bhalla, SwissInfo (Swiss Broadcasting Corporation), swissinfo.ch

 

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MANNAR, Sri Lanka (AlertNet) – Wearing a visor and a protective vest over grey fatigues tucked into black military boots, former housewife S. Dishanty crawls on her hands and knees through dense bush, slowly inching forward and methodically scanning the ground.

A year ago, this 23-year-old Sri Lankan woman was looking after her elderly parents and young son in their war-devastated village. Nowadays, she searches for an instrument of that destruction: landmines.

“My husband went missing during the war. My family and I lived in a camp for displaced people … when we returned home after the fighting, everything was destroyed,” Dishanty told Reuters in a cleared patch of a mine field in Sri Lanka’s northwestern district of Mannar.

Dishanty is part of a small number of women in post-war Sri Lanka who are taking on the risky role of clearing up the legacy left from a conflict which lasted a quarter of a century — and changing age-old views in this conservative and patriarchal, largely Hindu Tamil community.

“I had to find a job to support my family. This job gives me an income and has made people proud of me.”

The Indian Ocean island is in its third year of peace after government forces defeated the separatist Tamil Tigers in May 2009, but the threat of landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXOs) lies buried under swathes of agricultural and forest land, as well as some villages.

After almost 10 years of the army and aid groups “de-contaminating” the island, reports of casualties are dropping. According to the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, there were six deaths in 2009 compared with 11 the year before.

But experts say there are hundreds of thousands more mines, mainly in the north of the country, which could take another decade to clear.

In an environment where skills are scarce, funding low and pressure high to clear farmland to restart cultivation, women like Dishanty — survivors of the violence — are stepping forward.

“These women work on the front line of the humanitarian demining effort in Sri Lanka,” said Nigel Robinson, country programme manager for the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action (FSD), which counts 75 women among its 750 deminers.

SURVIVORS TO DEMINERS

Aid workers estimate Asia’s longest-running modern war left behind as many as 90,000 war widows or women whose husbands just disappeared.

“Many of these ladies head their households — their husbands are missing or were killed in the war — so this is an opportunity for them to earn money to take back to their families.”

As displaced communities return home and begin to rebuild, many women are being forced to change from their traditional roles as carers to providers for families with as many as six or seven mouths to feed.

With a scarcity of skills and jobs in this war-ravaged region, opportunities offered by organisations like FSD — although seen as dangerous and against the traditional view of a woman’s role in this society — have been welcome.

Among the three main demining groups, there are now about 200 women deminers.

The women, like the men, attend a camp for three weeks learning about the types of explosives and landmines they are likely to encounter, plus the skills and techniques required to search and mark landmines.

In the minefields of Mannar, deminers work in searing temperatures in heavy protective clothing, using shears to cut through the overgrown grassland which was once paddy field.

The work is painstaking and stressful — the deminers systematically scrutinise the ground inch by inch, with the potential of a deadly or dismembering explosion ever-present.

But the women say the job, with a salary of $250 (162 pounds) a month and full insurance, provides not only income but also respect, even if they have to spend three weeks at a time away from home.

“I did have concerns about the safety at the beginning, but we have a standard operating procedure and if you are careful and follow instructions, it’s safe,” says Biruntha Ravichandran, 21, who is supporting nine family members.

“People used to come up and say ‘How can a woman do that job?’ But now they ask me to get them a job here too,” she says, smiling as she puts on her baseball cap and heads back to camp after finishing a seven-hour shift.

(AlertNet is a global humanitarian news service run by Thomson Reuters Foundation. Visit http://www.trust.org/alertnet)

(Editing by Bryson Hull)

Reuters

 

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http://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/news/international/Sri_Lankas_women_deminers_clean_up_legacy_of_Asias_longest_war.html?cid=31199490

This month in ecological science

This month in ecological science

Evolutionary traps, invasive yellow starthistle’s favorable response to carbon dioxide and plant breeding for harmony between agriculture and the environment

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Posted 22 September 2011, by Nadine Lymn (Ecological Society of America) , EurekAlert! eurekalert.org

 

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Evolutionary traps in human-dominated landscapes

A study published in the September issue of Ecology looks at how human activities can diminish the usefulness of an ornamental trait, such as colorful feathers, as a signal of fitness. Cardinals, for example, need carotenoids in their diet to produce their red plumage; brilliant red plumage can signal an individual’s health and fitness. Researcher Amanda Rodewald (Ohio State University) and colleagues looked at the socially monogamous Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) in 14 forests in Ohio between 2006-2008, measuring plumage color, reproduction, and quantifying habitat. They found that the non-native Amur honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii) altered the selective environments for coloration by creating an evolutionary trap for the cardinals in rural landscapes and possibly relaxing selection in cities. Evolutionary traps occur when behavior that was once beneficial is a drawback in an altered environment.

The non-native honeysuckle is appealing to cardinals because it provides dense vegetation for nesting. Honeysuckle fruits are also a source of carotenoid pigments the birds need for their red plumage. Previous studies suggest that plumage brightness or hue signal a bird that is in good condition, has a good territory, and will put energy into raising its offspring. But the non-native honeysuckle’s appeal to cardinals comes with a price: a nest in this shrub is more vulnerable to predators. Rodewald and colleagues found that in rural areas the mostly brightly colored male cardinals were in best condition, bred earliest in the season, and secured the more preferred territories that included the non-native shrub. But their annual reproductive success was lower than that of duller males. The authors did not see these results in urban forests, where color was not related to any reproductive indicators, likely because the abundant honeysuckle and birdseed reduce the usefulness of color as a signal of quality. This scenario might lead to relaxed selection for bright color in urban forests and selection against bright color in rural forests.

“Our study provides evidence that human –induced changes to ecosystems can both create evolutionary traps that alter relationships between sexual and natural selection (i.e., via exotic shrubs in rural landscapes) and facilitate escape from evolutionary traps (i.e., via anthropogenic resources in urban landscapes),” write the authors. Read more at:http://www.esajournals.org/doi/abs/10.1890/11-0022.1

Noxious and invasive yellow starthistle responds favorably to increased carbon dioxide

Yellow starthistle (Centaurea solstitaialis) is a highly invasive plant species in the grasslands of western North America. Native to the lands northeast of the Mediterranean Sea and highly poisonous to horses, yellow starthistle is considered one of California’s most problematic non-native plants. Jeffrey Dukes (Purdue University) and colleagues conducted field experiments in California and found that Centaurea grew more than six times larger in response to increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration and also responded favorably to nitrogen (N) deposition. In contrast, the surrounding grasses and wildflowers responded less strongly or not at all to increased CO2 and nitrogen levels. The researchers report their findings in the September issue of Ecological Applications.

“Given these results, we add Centaurea to a short but growing list of noxious and invasive plants demonstrated to dramatically benefit from CO2 in community settings, and to the longer list of invasives that benefit from increased N availability,” write the authors. “Atmospheric CO2 concentrations are increasing by 2 ppm/yr around the globe. Nitrogen deposition rates vary spatially, but are already higher than our treatment levels at one sampling station in California, and are expected to increase globally. Unless biocontrol agents become more effective at controlling Centaurea, the weed’s response to environmental changes is likely to heighten the challenge facing many North American land managers over the course of this century.” Read more at: http://www.esajournals.org/doi/abs/10.1890/11-0111.1

Plant breeding for harmony between agriculture and the environment

Meeting basic human needs while also preserving the natural resources to do so is a major challenge of the coming century. Earth’s human inhabitants need more food, animal feed, fiber, fuel and forest products, all while facing shrinking vital resources such as land, water and nutrients. A new eView review paper in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment asserts that plant breeding is a critical tool to bring about a more positive relationship between agriculture and the environment on which it depends.

In their review, E. Charles Brummer (Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation) and colleagues note that plant breeders are working to improve crop hardiness to withstand various environmental conditions, such as those associated with climate change. Many breeders are also interested in reducing agriculture’s negative impacts on the environment, such as contributing to oxygen-deprived dead zones in water bodies or soil erosion. Since the 1950s, crop improvements—together with inputs including fertilizers, pesticides and water—have enabled agricultural production to keep up with human demands. Now, say the authors, “partnerships between ecologists, urban planners, and policy makers with public and private plant breeders will be essential for addressing future challenges.” Co-author Seth Murray (Texas A&M University) adds that: “We tend to think that solutions are technological and can be put in place quickly. But new crop cultivars and species take decades or more to develop and there is no shortcut so we really need to start thinking now about what we will need in 10-20 years.” Read more at: http://www.esajournals.org/doi/abs/10.1890/100225

 

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http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-09/esoa-tmi092211.php

Orissa: People issue forest rights title in own name

 

Orissa: People issue forest rights title in own name

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Posted  21 September 2011, by Pradeep Baisakh, Orissa Diary, orissadiary.com

 

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 Report by Pradeep Baisakh; Kashipur: After approaching the Tehsil office, Block office and Collectorate Office time again to know the status of the claims they have filed under Forest Rights Act and having failed to find any answer each time, the people decided to prepare the forest right title of their own in the same style the district administration has prepared.

In place of the signatories in the title like Divisional Forest Officer, District Collector and District Welfare Officer the self-styled title contains the signature and seal of President of Forest Rights Committee (FRC), Sarpanch of Panchayat and Secretary of FRC respectively. One of the title which is issued in the name of Sripati Majhi of Ranjuguda Village in Renga Panchayat of Kashipur Block in Rayagada District of Odisha contains the signature of Saiba Majhi the President of FRC, Sumitra Majhi the Sarapanch of Renga Panchayat and Anantaram Majhi the Secretary of FRC. The title recognizes right over three acres of Forest land which was claimed before the Administration.

Hundred and fifty such titles in Renga Panchayat and fifty titles each in Kashipur and Mandibisi Panchayat have already been issued to the claimants according to their claim after due verification by the FRC. Local Activist Nabin Nayak says that around 15,000 tribal people had undertaken a march in February 2011 to ventilate their grievance of inaction and apathy of district administration in recognizing their forest rights. Scenario did not change, so the people finally decided to issue their titles by equating their Sarpanch with the District Collector.

These titles are already in the knowledge of government officials who still remain silent to such novel form of protest of people.

 

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http://www.orissadiary.com/CurrentNews.asp?id=29298

Religion and ecology among China’s Blang people


Religion and ecology among China’s Blang people

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Posted20 September 2011, by Staff (Queen’s University), PhysOrg, physorg.com

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James Miller, a professor in Queen's University's (Ontario, Canada) School of Religion and the Cultural Studies program, and An Jing, a visiting research student in the School of Graduate Studies, found a distinct link between the strong religious culture of the indigenous Blang people of southwest China and their region’s economic and ecological development. Credit: Queen's University

Fieldwork conducted by two Queen’s researchers could help develop culturally appropriate conservation efforts and environmental education programs in a remote mountainous area of southwest China where deforestation is a major environmental issue.

James Miller, a professor in the School of Religion and the Cultural Studies program, and An Jing, a visiting research student in the School of Graduate Studies, found a distinct link between the strong religious culture of the indigenous Blang people and their region’s economic and ecological development.

“Our research provides clear evidence of religion playing an influential role in managing the relationship between the Blang people and their local ecosystems,” says. Dr. Miller. “Their religious life is not a matter of private belief or personal spirituality, but a cultural system that clearly intersects with ecological and economic systems.”

Previously subsistence farmers, Blang villagers have now turned almost exclusively to producing tea leaves, which when processed becomes a highly valuable finished product. Since China began its economic and landholding reforms in the 1980s, the villagers have been steadily converting their lands to the production of tea, with tea bushes now dominating the steeply-terraced mountainsides.

Interestingly, the researchers observed that recent economic development from tea production in the village is contributing to a resurgence of religion, new temple construction and lavish religious activities. But while the economy is benefiting, deforestation is impacting biodiversity preservation and water management in the local area.

However, during a three-month annual Buddhist festival that marks the beginning of the rainy season, there is a prohibition on cutting down large trees. While in traditional times the trees might have been cut down for building houses, these days they are cut down to increase the land available for tea production. Observance of the tree-cutting injunction has a positive effect on the local ecology by slowing the tree removal. It also demonstrates how indigenous and culture can be an ally in promoting conservation efforts.

More information: For more information, visit Dr. Miller’s research blog at http://www.sustain … echina.info/

Provided by Queen’s University (news : web)

 

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http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-09-religion-ecology-china-blang-people.html

UN: Indigenous Peoples abused in race for natural resources

UN: Indigenous Peoples abused in race for natural resources

Indigenous peoples suffer abuses in race for natural resources – UN rights expert

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Posted 20 September 2011, by Brenda Norrell, Censored News, bsnorrell.blogspot.com

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Special Rapporteur James Anaya

UN News Centre

20 September 2011 
Posted at Censored News

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Extraction of natural resources and other major development projects in or near the territories of indigenous peoples is one of the most significant sources of abuse of their human rights worldwide, an independent United Nations expert warned today.

“In its prevailing form, the model for advancing with natural resource extraction within the territories of indigenous peoples appears to run counter to the self-determination of indigenous peoples in the political, social and economic spheres,” the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples James Anaya told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

In a report based on answers to a questionnaire he distributed to governments, indigenous peoples and organizations, business corporations and other actors, he cited conflicting viewpoints on the potential adverse impact and benefits of such activities as mining, forestry, oil and natural gas extraction and hydroelectric projects in indigenous territories.

He said he had made it a priority to reconcile the differing views and courses of action to ensure the full protection of indigenous rights and promote best practices through a broad dialogue with governments, indigenous peoples’ organizations, corporate actors and international institutions, in which consensus-building would be a key element.

“The lack of a minimum common ground for understanding the key issues by all actors concerned entails a major barrier for the effective protection and realization of indigenous peoples’ rights,” he added, praising a new Peruvian law compelling private companies to consult indigenous communities before going ahead with major projects such as mining.

Among key concerns, Mr. Anaya included the gradual loss of control by indigenous peoples over lands, territories and natural resources; water source depletion and contamination for drinking, farming and grazing; the adverse effects of water and airborne pollution on overall community health; and an increase in infectious diseases spread by interaction with workers or settlers.

Another concern was the adverse impact on indigenous social structures and cultures, including alarming rates of alcoholism and prostitution previously unheard of among such peoples, imported by illegal loggers or miners, non-indigenous workers and industry personnel in specific projects, and increased traffic due to the construction of roads and other infrastructure.

“Submissions by indigenous peoples and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) also reported an escalation of violence by government and private security forces as a consequence of extractive operations in indigenous territories, especially against indigenous leaders,” Mr. Anaya noted. “A general repression of human rights was reported in situations where entire communities had voiced their opposition to extractive operations.”

Several governments highlighted the key importance of natural resource extraction projects for their domestic economies that, reportedly accounting for up to 60 to 70 per cent of the gross national product (GNP) in some countries, with positive benefits for indigenous peoples.

Mining companies noted that indigenous peoples have been direct beneficiaries of basic infrastructure construction such as roads, communications, electricity and water services, as well as health and educational opportunities.

But most indigenous peoples underscored the adverse effects on their environment, culture and societies, which they said outweighed the minimal or short-term benefits arising out of extractive operations.

For example, a member of the Pemon people of Venezuela reported that benefits from extractive industries were not a top priority within the community, which sought “healthy communities, with no infections, in a pollution-free environment,” Mr. Anaya said.

Similarly, an organization representing the traditional authorities of the Cofan people of Colombia concluded that “indigenous peoples are left with no option other than to try to find something positive for their communities out of the disaster left behind by the extraction of oil, mineral, and other resources” in their lands.

“The vast majority of indigenous peoples’ responses, many of which stemmed from the direct experience of specific projects affecting their territories and communities, rather emphasized a common perception of disenfranchisement, ignorance of their rights and concerns on the part of States and businesses enterprises, and constant life insecurity in the face of encroaching extractive activities,” Mr. Anaya said.

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http://bsnorrell.blogspot.com/2011/09/un-indigenous-peoples-abused-in-race.html