Mining giant Rio Tinto Face Environmental, Human Rights Complaint in Papua New Guinea

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Contamination of rivers and streams by mine waste in the vicinity of the Panguna copper mine in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson

CANBERRA, Australia, Jan 4 2021 (IPS) – Local communities in the vicinity of the abandoned Panguna copper mine, have taken decisive action to hold the global mining multinational, Rio Tinto, accountable for alleged environmental and human rights violations during the mine’s operations between 1972 and 1989.


The mine operated in the mountains of central Bougainville in Papua New Guinea until 1989.

The complaint by 156 residents was lodged with the Australian Government in September by Australia’s Human Rights Law Centre and subsequently accepted in November, paving the way for a non-judicial mediation process.

“We and the communities we are working with have now entered into a formal conciliation process with Rio Tinto facilitated by the Australian OECD National Contact Point and talks with the company will begin very shortly,” Keren Adams, Legal Director at the Human Rights Law Centre in Melbourne told IPS.

Rio Tinto was the majority owner of the Panguna mine through its operating company, Bougainville Copper Ltd, with a 53.8 percent stake. However, 17 years after it began production in 1972, anger among indigenous landowners about contaminated rivers and streams, the devastation of customary land and inequity in distributing the extractive venture’s profits and benefits triggered an armed rebellion in 1989. After the mine’s power supply was destroyed by sabotage, Rio Tinto fled Bougainville Island and the site became derelict during the decade long civil war which followed.

The mine area, which is still controlled by the tribal Mekamui Government of Unity, comprising former rebel leaders, hasn’t been decommissioned and the environmental legacy of its former operations never addressed.

Now, according to the complaint, “copper pollution from the mine pit and tailings continues to flow into local rivers … The Jaba-Kawerong river valley downstream of the mine resembles a moonscape with vast mounds of grey tailings waste and rock stretching almost 40 km downstream to the coast. Levees constructed at the time of the mine’s operation are now collapsing, threatening nearby villages.”

Gutted mine machinery and infrastructure are scattered across the site of the Panguna mine in the mountains of Central Bougainville, an autonomous region in Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

There are further claims that contamination of waterways and land is causing long-term health problems amongst the indigenous population, such as skin diseases, diarrhoea, respiratory illnesses, and pregnancy complications.

Helen Hakena, Director of the Leitana Nehan Women’s Development Agency in Bougainville’s main town of Buka, fully supports the action taken by her fellow islanders.

“It is long overdue. It is going to be very important because it was the big issue which caused the Bougainville conflict. It will lay to rest the grievances which caused so much suffering for our people,” Hakena told IPS.

The Bougainville civil war, triggered by the uprising at the mine, led to a death toll of 15,000-20,000 people.

The people of Bougainville believe that Rio Tinto has breached the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises by failing both to take action to mitigate foreseeable environmental, health and safety-related impacts at the mine and respect the human rights of the communities affected by its extractive activities. The Human Rights Law Centre claims that “the mine pollution continues to infringe nearly all the economic, social and cultural rights of these indigenous communities, including their rights to food, water, health, housing and an adequate standard of living.”

“While we do not wholly accept the claims in the complaint, we are aware of deteriorating mining infrastructure at the site and surrounding areas and acknowledge that there are environmental and human rights considerations,” Rio Tinto responded in a public statement.

“Accepting the AusNCP’s ‘good offices’ shows that we take this complaint seriously and remain ready to enter into discussions with the communities that have filed the complaint, along with other relevant communities around the Panguna mine site, and other relevant parties, such as Bougainville Copper Ltd, the Autonomous Bougainville Government and PNG Government,” the statement continued.

In 2016, Rio Tinto divested its interest in Bougainville Copper Ltd, the operating company, and its shares were acquired by the PNG and Bougainville governments. Simultaneously, the corporate giant announced that it rejected corporate responsibility for any environmental impacts or damage.

Panguna mine’s copper and gold await political settlement before extraction can resume. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Mineral exploration in Bougainville in the 1960s, followed by the construction of the Panguna open-cut copper mine, occurred when the island region was under Australian administration. It would subsequently become a massive source of internal revenue Papua New Guinea, which was granted Independence in 1975. During its lifetime, the Panguna mine generated about US$2 billion in revenue and accounted for 44 percent of the nation’s exports.

The mining agreement negotiated between the Australian Government and Conzinc Rio Tinto Australia in the 1960s didn’t include any significant environmental regulations or liability of the company for rehabilitation of areas affected by mining.

There has been no definitive environmental assessment of the Panguna site since it was forced to shut down. However, about 300,000 tonnes of ore and water were excavated at the mine every day. In 1989, an independent report by Applied Geology Associates in New Zealand noted that significant amounts of copper and other heavy metals were leaching from the mine and waste rock dumps and flowing into the Kawerong River. Today, the water in some rivers and streams in the mine area is a luminescent blue, a sign of copper contamination.

Bougainville residents’ action comes at the end of a challenging year for Rio Tinto. It is still reeling from revelations earlier this year that its operations destroyed historically significant Aboriginal sacred sites, estimated to be 46,000 years old, in the vicinity of its iron ore mine in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. The company’s CEO, Jean-Sebastien Jacques, has subsequently resigned.

Nevertheless, Adams is optimistic about the corporate giant’s willingness to engage with Bougainville and PNG stakeholders.

“In the first instance, we hope that this non-judicial process will help to facilitate discussions to explore whether Rio Tinto will make these commitments to address the impacts of its operations. If not, then the communities will be asking the Australian OECD National Contact Point to investigate the complaint and make findings about whether Rio Tinto has breached its human rights and environmental obligations,” the Human Rights Law Centre’s Legal Director said. A full investigation, if required, could take up to a year.

Ultimately, the islanders are seeking specific outcomes. These include Rio Tinto’s serious engagement with them to identify solutions to the urgent environmental and human rights issues; funding for an independent environmental and human rights impact assessment of the mine; and contributions to a substantial independently managed fund to enable long term rehabilitation programs.

Otherwise, Australia’s Human Rights Law Centre predicts that “given the limited resources of the PNG and Bougainville governments, it is almost inevitable that if no action is taken by Rio Tinto, the environmental damage currently being caused by the tailings waste will continue and worsen.”

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Could the Finance Sector Hold the Key to Ending Deforestation?

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Opinion

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

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

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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Preserving World’s Biodiversity: Negotiations Convene at FAO Headquarters

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

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.

Background

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.

Perspectives

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.’

[1] http://www.fao.org/3/CA3129EN/ca3129en.pdf

 

Social Summit Demands Stronger Commitments in Climate Talks

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Climate Change

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

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

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.

 

Indigenous Knowledge, a Lesson for a Sustainable Food Future

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BCFN Yes winner Geraldin Lengai is researching bio-integrated crop management among tomato farmers in Tanzania. Credit: Busani Bafana / IPS

MILAN, Italy, Dec 4 2019 (IPS) – Local knowledge systems rooted in traditional practices and culture passed down generations provide sustainable solutions to food and nutritional insecurity on the back of climate change, a conference heard this week.


More than 370 million indigenous people, living in 70 countries, make up just 6 percent of the global population, according to the United Nations. But their food systems are models of diet diversity, innovation, conservation and local adaptability the world can benefit from in the face of risks such as climate change, delegates at the 10th Forum on Food and Nutrition convened by the Barilla Centre heard.

Speaking at a panel session on Preserving Mother Earth, Food Culture, Local Traditions and Biodiversity, Mattia Prayer Galletti, lead technical specialist on indigenous peoples and tribal issues at IFAD, said indigenous peoples have a connection with nature. They understand the concept of sustainability and the protection of natural resources.

IFAD has promoted an Indigenous People’s Forum to foster dialogue and consultant among indigenous people organisations and IFAD member countries. Through this Forum, IFAD has supported the economic empowerment of indigenous people, particularly women and the youth. IFAD has also contributed to the improvement in livelihoods of indigenous peoples through the Indigenous Peoples Assistance Facility which has provided small grants of up to US$50 000 for development projects.

He said indigenous food systems provide food security and biodiversity because indigenous communities have cultivated resilient foods, making them ideal in adapting to climate change. This despite the growing threats indigenous communities have faced, including marginalisation, loss of their ancestral lands and the destruction of their way of life.

Dali Nolasco Cruz, an advisory board member of the Indigenous Terra Madre (ITM) from Mexico. Credit: Busani Bafana / IPS

Dali Nolasco Cruz, an advisory board member of the Indigenous Terra Madre (ITM) from Mexico, concurred saying indigenous people are being criminalised and killed by big powers that are extracting natural resources in their lands.

“We need alliances, we need to fight for Mother Earth,” Cruz said, “We need to transform our livelihoods by protecting the Earth to help others.”

Indigenous Innovations for food security

Indigenous knowledge provides innovations researchers are convinced can provide models for promoting resilience in our current food systems. Several researchers shared their on-going work on this.

Martina Occelli, a PhD student at the Santa Anna School of Advanced Studies in Pisa, is undertaking multidisciplinary research on how smallholder farmer’s collective knowledge is shaping soil productivity in the Gera Gera region of Ethiopia among 300 smallholder farmers. The research has shown that collective knowledge within and between households which farmers learnt from their fathers was relevant in determining the soil ability, which is critical in food production and resilience.

Martina Occelli speaks at the 10th International Forum on Food and Nutrition. Credit: Busani Bafana / IPS

Occelli is a winner of 2018 BCFN Yes international multidisciplinary contest launched by the BCFN Foundation in 2012 to support research on promoting the intersection of food sustainability and environmental sustainability.

Geraldin Lengai, another BCFN Yes winner, is researching on enhancing sustainable agriculture through the adoption of bio-integrated crop management among tomato farmers in Tanzania comparing conventional and non-conventional farming methods. Her research expects to provide insights into the use of organic pesticide properties of ginger and turmeric – cash crops grown by farmers in Tanzania – in fighting pests and diseases in vegetables. Also, she has researched the efficacy of organic fertilisers such as goat manure and chicken manure on the productivity of the spice coriander and amaranthus, a plant cultivated as a vegetable.

“Sustainable agriculture is important because you need a doctor once in a while, but you need the farmer at least three times a day,” Lengai told IPS. “I believe people should have access to food that is safe and healthy. How we produce the food, process it and how the food reaches the end consumer is the business of sustainable agriculture, and my research is on crop protection because people use crop protection synthetically yet there are alternatives that nature has provides. Before synthetic pesticides, our forefathers used tobacco to control insects, and if we can look at other plants that have the same capacity, we can promote sustainable agriculture.”

Lengai said the benefits of manure has in producing vegetables and the near to zero cost for farmers who keep animals means farmers have a sustainable fertiliser for organic produce which is attractive for global markets. Citing the case of pesticides with the Kenya market for French beans, Lengai said organic produce had secured international markets which have traceability systems in place.

“Growing organic vegetables and using organic pesticides and fertilisers is a win-win for everybody for the environment, for the farmer for the consumer,” said Lengai. She added that synthetic pesticides are favoured because they are easy to apply and cheaper – but come at a cost to the environment and health.

 

Climate Change and Loss of Species: Our Greatest Challenges

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Opinion

Farhana Haque Rahman is Senior Vice President of IPS Inter Press Service; a journalist and communications expert, she is a former senior official of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented and the rate of species extinctions is accelerating. Credit: UN

ROME, Nov 19 2019 (IPS) – Mottled and reddish, the Lake Oku puddle frog has made its tragic debut on the Red List, a rapidly expanding roll call of threatened species. It was once abundant in the Kilum-Ijim rainforest of Cameroon but has not been seen since 2010 and is now listed as critically endangered and possibly extinct.


Researchers attribute its demise to a deadly fungal disease caused by the chytrid fungus. As noted by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the skin fungus has devastated amphibian populations globally and holds the distinction of being the world’s most invasive killer, responsible for the decline of at least 500 amphibian species, including 90 presumed extinctions.

The IUCN’s Red List has expanded to cover more than 105,000 species of plants and animals, and its most recent update in July found that 27 percent of those assessed were at risk of extinction. No species on the list was deemed to have improved its status enough since 2018 to be placed in a lower threat category.

Human exploitation is often responsible, as with the now endangered red-capped mangabey monkey hunted for bushmeat while its forest habitat in West Africa is destroyed for agriculture; or the East African pancake tortoise critically endangered because of the global pet trade. Thousands of tree species now make the list too.

Farhana Haque Rahman

In its multi-faceted approach towards combating species loss, the IUCN has launched its First Line of Defence against Illegal Wildlife Trade program in eastern and southern Africa, engaging rural communities as key partners in tackling wildlife crime. But this is just a small part of a much wider challenge.

As Grethel Aguilar, IUCN acting director general, noted: “We must wake up to the fact that conserving nature’s diversity is in our interest, and is absolutely fundamental to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. States, businesses and civil society must urgently act to halt the overexploitation of nature, and must respect and support local communities and Indigenous Peoples in strengthening sustainable livelihoods.”

Jane Smart, global director of the IUCN Biodiversity Conservation Group, said the Red List update confirms the findings of the recent IPBES Global Biodiversity Assessment: “Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history.”

More than one million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades, “unless action is taken to reduce the intensity of drivers of bio-diversity loss”, according to a landmark report by IPBES, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.

It bleakly warns that the global rate of species extinction is already at least tens to hundreds of times higher than it has averaged over the past 10 million years, and the rate will accelerate if action is not taken.

A summary was released in May and the full report is expected to be approved soon, assessing changes over the past 50 years and offering possible future scenarios.

Frightening statistics detail how 32 million hectares of primary or recovering forest were lost across much of the highly biodiverse tropics between 2010 and 2015 alone. Put in perspective that totals an area nearly the size of all Germany.

“Ecosystems, species, wild populations, local varieties and breeds of domesticated plants and animals are shrinking, deteriorating or vanishing. The essential, interconnected web of life on Earth is getting smaller and increasingly frayed,” said Professor Josef Settele, co-chair of the report. “This loss is a direct result of human activity and constitutes a direct threat to human well-being in all regions of the world.”

Crucially, for the first time on such a scale of evidence, the report’s more than 400 authors rank the five main drivers of this global disaster. In descending order they are listed as: (1) changes in land and sea use; (2) direct exploitation of organisms; (3) climate change; (4) pollution and (5) invasive alien species.

Clearly such challenges are interwoven and cannot be tackled in isolation. Some species are affected by all of these main drivers, or a deadly combination. Researchers into the fungal diseases wiping out amphibians like the Lake Oku puddle frog believe the most important factor in the spread of the pathogens is the global trade in wildlife. Some have also suggested that local changes in climate have also enabled the chytrid fungus to flourish in new habitats.

That governments are failing to address these warnings comes as little surprise, however.

“Despite 40 years of global climate negotiations, with few exceptions, we have generally conducted business as usual and have largely failed to address this predicament,” declared 11,258 scientists grouped under the Alliance of World Scientists in a recent report, warning that the climate crisis is accelerating faster than most of them had expected and could reach potential irreversible climate tipping points, making large areas of Earth uninhabitable.

The UN Climate Change Conference, COP25, is to be held in Madrid from 2-13 December amidst severe signs of leadership stress. Brazil was to have hosted the summit but President Jair Bolsonaro ruled that out on his election and in the first nine months under his government over 7,600 sq km of rainforest were felled. The baton was then passed to Chile which pulled out because of ant-government unrest. And then this month President Donald Trump formally launched the process to withdraw the US from the 2015 Paris Agreement.

COP25 has unfinished business from COP24, held in Poland’s coal-mining area of Katowice, namely negotiating the final elements of the Paris Agreement ‘rulebook’. Work must also start on future emissions targets ahead of the crunch 2020 conference next November in Glasgow, in the knowledge that commitments submitted by governments and current greenhouse gas emission trajectories fall far short of what is needed to achieve the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement.

“Loss of species and climate change are the two great challenges facing humanity this century,” warns Lee Hannah, senior scientist in climate change biology at Conservation International. “The results are clear, we must act now on both…”

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