Friday, August 31, 2012

Farming Among the Waste in Cameroon

By Monde Kingsley Nfor, IPS News August 30, 2012

Cameroonian urban famer Juliana Numfor has six plots of land where she grows maize, cassava, sweet potatoes and leafy vegetables, including cabbages, wild okra and greens.

The soil in which her crops grow is moist and visibly marshy, and a stream of water runs near it. But if you take a closer look you will notice that the water is dark and smells unpleasant.

In fact it is wastewater, which comes from a student residential quarter in Yaoundé, popularly called “Cradat”, that is less than 400 metres away from her plots of land.

But it is precisely thanks to the wastewater that Numfor is farming on this public land.

She told IPS that she prefers planting her crops on urban wastewater sites because she can easily irrigate them by using the readily available wastewater. She said that this was because rainfall had become increasingly irregular – coming and going when she least expected.

“The kind of crops on this piece of land can grow on any fertile land if it is well watered. But during this period in August, which is supposed to be a very wet time of the year in Yaoundé, very little rainfall has fallen. It makes it impossible for vegetable crops to grow without proper irrigation,” Numfor said.

And Numfor is not the only farmer doing this. Smallholder farmers around the Yaoundé city centre are increasingly farming on urban wastewater sites.

While there are no official figures of how many people are farming in these areas, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MINADER) admitted that the practice was overwhelming.

Smallholder farmers in and around Yaoundé can be seen planting their crops on public land, along railways, in conservation areas, and even near roads.

“This is a long-time practice that has only intensified due to a lot of causes, climate change being one. Many farmers have resorted to urban farming with wastewater,” Collette Ekobo, an agricultural inspector at MINADER, told IPS.

One 45-year-old woman told IPS that she knew 11 other women who cultivated crops on land near wastewater.

“All I know is that the ground is very fertile. I think when people empty their sewers and other household waste into this water, it makes the land very fertile for farming. And there is water all season round,” she said.

Rural-urban migration, aggravated by the adverse effects of climate change on rural farming, is thought to be one of the main reasons behind the growing number of urban farmers in the city.

In 2011, MINADER began warning farmers about the climate variability affecting agriculture across the country. Yaoundé, which is located in Cameroon’s Centre Region, experienced reduced rainfall.

“Over the years in Yaoundé, the rainfall pattern has been so variable and not easy to understand. Rainfall has become very irregular, unpredictable and reduced … this leads to prolonged dryness and the drying up of streams, accompanied by exceedingly hot climatic conditions – all of which provoke poor agricultural performance and low output,” the ministry said.

Ekobo said that because of the changing climate, many farmers found it difficult to predict when to start planting.

“The month of March traditionally marks the start of the planting season in the Centre Region of Cameroon, following the start of the rains. But due to changing rainfall patterns, farmers have now readjusted their planting periods, a phenomenon which is rather difficult to grasp a perfect mastery of. It has caused a lot of confusion with the farmers,” she said.

She added that urban farming was integrated into the urban economic and ecological system of Cameroon.

“The land is rich with urban resources like organic waste, which is used as compost, and urban wastewater, which is used for irrigation. There are also direct links to urban consumers,” Eboko said.

But farming on urban wastewater sites is not a safe practice, according to Foongang Mathias, an agriculture expert at the Ministry of Environment, Nature Protection and Sustainable Development.

“Wastewater irrigation provides the necessary plant nutrients, especially nitrogen and phosphorous that are required by crops for ample growth. But farming in wastewater poses both health and environmental threats, not only to the urban agriculturalists, but also to the consumers of the crops grown on that field,” he said.

He told IPS that toxic waste from homes, hospitals and industries was probably deposited or carried into the wastewater.

“This water contains pathogenic organisms and disease vectors similar to those in human excreta. Pathogens that are brought in with the wastewater can survive in the soil or on the crop and are responsible for human diseases,” he said.

In addition, according to the World Health Organization: “Available evidence indicates that almost all excreted pathogens can survive in soil for a sufficient length of time to pose potential risks to farm workers.”

Despite the risks to her and her customers’ health, Numfor told IPS that the economic gains from farming in urban wastewater areas far outweighed the dangers.

She will continue to sell her produce to customers, who include restaurant owners and retailers. Numfor said that she earned an average of eight dollars a day, but sometimes made more when she sold her crop to women who export Cameroonian vegetables to the United States and Europe.

At a local market in Obili, a neigbourhood in Yaoundé, stallholders displayed large piles of vegetables that range in price from 200 CFA Francs (50 cents) to 300 CFA Francs (75 cents) per bunch. And consumers here did not care where the produce was grown.

“I totally ignore the fact that they are grown in wastewater because even if they contain germs, the organism cannot survive in the pot with very high temperature,” one woman, who bought three bundles of bitter leaf or Vernonia amygdalina, told IPS.

Another said she felt the vegetables were safe if cooked in hygienic conditions and besides, “no one has ever complained after consuming these vegetables.”

Meanwhile, Eboko said that the government did not plan to regulate farming near wastewater areas.

“Urban wastewater farming is not a regulated activity in Cameroon, although it is an important part of the urban food system. It is not yet considered as a potential problem, but is considered as a subsistence way of life for women.”


Thursday, August 30, 2012

Hurricane Isaac Highlights Vulnerabilities in the Caribbean

By Patricia Grogg, IPS News

The impact of Hurricane Isaac as it made its way through the Caribbean region highlighted both the fragility of some countries in the face of extreme meteorological events, which are expected to become more and more intense, and the different strategies adopted to mitigate the risk of disasters.

Isaac made landfall twice in the southeast U.S. state of Louisiana as a category 1 storm, almost 600 km wide, with top sustained winds up to 130 km an hour. Its slow motion over land – it was travelling at 13 km per hour – raised concerns that it could take a while to blow over.

Authorities in the U.S. reported that the strong winds and torrential rains had overtopped a levee outside New Orleans, and led to power outages affecting some 450,000 homes. But the hurricane was downgraded Wednesday to a tropical storm.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said the storm could dump more than 400 mm of rain because of how slow it was moving. “It is quite ironic that we have a hurricane threatening us on the seventh anniversary of Katrina,” he added.
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Isaac was the first test of the improved levees, rebuilt since the tragedy caused by Katrina, a category 3 hurricane that left 1,800 people dead and 3,000 missing and caused billions of dollars in damages. Most of the deaths occurred after the dikes around the city failed, flooding the city.

Landrieu said the city’s flood defences, a system of walls, floodgates, levees and pumps upgraded since 2005 at a cost of 14.5 billion dollars, had withstood the onslaught.

In Cuba, Isaac, the ninth named storm of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season (June to November), provided abundant water for the country’s thirsty reservoirs, did not claim any lives, and cause little material damage.

But in impoverished Haiti, 19 people were killed and six are missing.

Haiti has not yet recovered from the devastating earthquake of 2010, and around 400,000 people are still living in tent cities and camps. The country’s civil protection office reported that 5,000 people were evacuated and taken to shelters.

About 3,000 of those evacuated were in Port-au-Prince. The authorities are particularly concerned that the flooding could cause a resurgence of the cholera epidemic, which since October 2010 has cost the lives of more than 7,500 people in Haiti.

The Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, reported that five people had drowned as rivers overflowed their banks, and nearly 26,000 people were evacuated, 5,000 dwellings were damaged, and 116 villages and communities were isolated.

The Ozama River, which tends to flood at times of heavy rainfall, flooded some 2,500 makeshift shacks built along the river.

One of the big challenges faced in the Dominican Republic is the proliferation of slums along rivers, which puts thousands of families at risk during extreme events like torrential rains, tropical storms or hurricanes.

The areas with the largest number of families affected are the slums in Santo Domingo and the border region, says a report sent to IPS by World Vision, a U.S.-based Christian relief, development and advocacy organisation, which has an office in Jimaní, in the southwest of the Dominican Republic.

Cuba prepared for the storm

Isaac, which began forming on Aug. 21 in the Atlantic Ocean, caused heavy rain, winds,
coastal storm surges, flooding and blackouts in the eastern Caribbean. After bashing Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Haiti, it touched land in Cuba on Aug. 25 in Maisí, a town in the province of Guantánamo at the eastern tip of Cuba.

Five hours later, Isaac headed back out to sea near Guardalavaca beach in the northern part of the eastern province of Holguín, 743 km from Havana.

The brunt of the storm was felt in Baracoa, a city in Guantánamo province 929 km southeast of Havana, where it affected electricity and phone services, caused flooding, and damaged 89 homes, 19 of which were completely destroyed.

But there was a silver living: official reports indicate that the torrential rains helped fill reservoirs in the eastern part of the country, some of which were far below normal level.

In Santiago de Cuba, 847 km southeast of Havana, the 11 reservoirs now have 71 million cubic metres of water. They are 66 percent full, compared to 57 percent prior to the storm.

Provinces of central and western Cuba also received heavy rainfall, to the point that some reservoirs had to open their gates to release excess water. The reservoirs are indispensable for storing water reserves during periods of drought in this Caribbean island nation, which does not have significant sources of water.

With its internationally renowned disaster management system, which involves the entire population, from the highest levels of government to every rural and urban community, Cuba has managed to reduce the loss of human lives to a minimum, even during storms of the intensity of Hurricanes Gustav, Ike and Paloma, which caused 10 billion dollars in economic losses in a single season, in 2008.

Cuba’s disaster risk prevention system includes an early warning service, evacuation of all at-risk people, the protection of economic resources with an emphasis on food, and the immediate start of the recovery phase in the wake of a disaster.

José Rubiera, head of the Meteorology Institute’s Forecast Centre, said Cuba is the safest country in the region during hurricanes.

“That is the result of years of work focused on adapting disaster prevention, preparedness and response to the new conditions emerging as a result of the increase in hurricane activity in this area, which could be a forerunner of what could happen as a result of climate change, which to a certain extent is already being felt,” Rubiera told IPS.


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Philippines Floods Prompt Climate Action

By Kara Santos, IPS News, August 27, 2012

This year’s floods, one of the worst in Philippine history, destroyed a staggering 57 million dollars worth of crops, pushing this climate vulnerable country to implement disaster risk reduction measures.

“We used to schedule our harvest season around the wet and dry months. But now you can never tell,” says Teresita Duque, a rice farmer in the Nueva Ecija province of the Central Luzon region, the ‘rice granary’ of the Philippines.

“The sky suddenly darkens, and the rains just fall,” Duque, who uses native rice varieties and eco-fertiliser on her farm, told IPS in an interview in Manila.

Monsoon rains enhanced by Typhoon Haikui near China had already been drenching Luzon, the Philippines’ main island, for several days when, from Aug. 6-7, nearly two months worth of rain fell on Metro Manila and several provinces in Luzon.

At least 95 people perished in the ensuing floods and landslides, with nearly a million others forced to evacuate their homes.

As the Philippines tries to emerge from years of agricultural backwardness and attain food self-sufficiency, farmers, non-government organisations (NGOs) and government agencies are trying to map out strategies that can mitigate the effects of weather patterns gone wild.

Scientists at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), a non-profit agricultural research centre based in Los Banos, Laguna, believe that a flood resistant variety of rice, dubbed ‘submarino’ for its ability to withstand two weeks of submergence, could be one answer.

Last year, when typhoons Nessat and Nalgae devastated Central Luzon, farmers who had planted ‘submarino’ were able to harvest their crops even after their paddies had been submerged for nearly a week.

Glenn Gregorio, senior scientist and plant breeder at IRRI, told IPS that several ‘climate-change ready’ rice varieties, including drought-resistant varieties, are being developed at the institute.

“When you talk about floods in the country, you often see images of urban areas with cars floating and people stranded on their rooftops, but the farmers are really the worst affected,” Gregorio told IPS in a telephone interview.

The farmers’ group ‘Sarilaya’ agrees that while agriculture in the Philippines needs to adapt to climate change, it is best to stick to naturally resilient native varieties rather than go in for hybrids developed in laboratories.

Sarilaya workers say that hybrid varieties are dependent on expensive chemical-based fertilisers which, in the long run, ruin the soil and harm the health of farmers and communities.

“Extreme weather patterns are making the agricultural sector more vulnerable than ever before,” said Pangging Santos, advocacy officer at Sarilaya that works to empower farmers like Duque. “What used to be considered normal is no longer normal.”

“There are many different native varieties that still need to be tested, but the experience of our farmers shows that native varieties are more sustainable than hybrid varieties in the long run,” Santos told IPS.

Sarilaya runs a farming school and model eco-farms in Northern Luzon where farmers learn how to make their own organic fertiliser. Farmers are taught to make pesticides from locally available ingredients instead of buying costly chemical-based insecticides and sprays.

Duque said where she used to spend at least 223 dollars on farm inputs for one cropping, she now spends less than 16 dollars, mostly on organic fertiliser and pesticides.

“We need to change our mindsets about climate change strategies and look at long-term sustainability,” said Santos.

Sarilaya’s strategy of promoting organic farming is in line with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)’s vision of ‘climate-smart agriculture’.

Hideki Kanamaru of the Climate, Energy and Tenure Division of the FAO says climate-smart agriculture is about sustainably increasing productivity. It is also about adaptation and mitigation by reducing greenhouse gases from agricultural production without compromising on food security.

Kanamaru introduced FAO’s vision during a symposium held in February by the Philippines department of agriculture, which was attended by policy makers, scientists and practitioners from the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation nations and select organisations.

The essence of FAO’s climate-smart farming is careful use of natural resources such as land, water, soil and genetic material as well as good practices that include conservation agriculture, integrated pest management, agro-forestry and sustainable diets.

While the government is providing free rice seeds and crop insurance to farmers in Luzon – where crops have been severely damaged by floodwaters and heavy rains – the country’s climate change commission admits that it may be too late to meet this year’s rice harvest targets.

In 2010, the Philippines topped the list of rice importers when it bought up 2.5 million tonnes of rice. While determined efforts towards self-sufficiency have brought the figure down to 860,000 tonness in 2011, plans to drop imports further have gone awry.

The national climate change action plan says that sensitivity to weather fluctuations “will greatly affect the country’s production and have a domino effect on our target of self-sufficiency by 2013.”

The plan notes: “The Philippines, being archipelagic and because of its location, is one of the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change…ranking highest in the world in terms of vulnerability to tropical cyclone occurrence.”

When President Benigno S. Aquino III signed into law the People’s Survival Fund (PSF), on Aug. 17, by amending the Climate Change Act of 2009, it was not a moment too soon.

“As we have seen clearly over the past few weeks, there is a pressing need to financially support disaster prevention efforts of local government units,” said Senator Loren Legarda, the driving force behind the 2009 law, at the launch of the PSF.

Worth 23 million dollars annually, the PSF will finance adaptation programmes and projects based on the National Strategic Framework on Climate Change. The fund may be augmented by donations, endowments, grants and contributions.

“The signing of the law signifies the president’s commitment to better prepare the country for erratic weather patterns and climate change,” said Elpidio Peria, convenor of Aksyon Klima, a coalition of 40 civil society organisations working on climate change.


Monday, August 27, 2012

Building Resilience In A Changing Climate

By Richard Heinberg,, August 25, 2012

Climate shocks are on the way. We’ve already spewed so much carbon into the atmosphere that a cascade of worsening crop failures, droughts, floods, and freak storms is virtually guaranteed. You, your family, and your community will feel the effects.

Ironically, however, avoiding climate change also has its costs. It makes sense from a climate-protection standpoint to dramatically and rapidly reduce our use of fossil fuels, which drive global warming. But these fuels largely, well, fueled the spectacular economic growth of the past 200 years, and weaning ourselves from them quickly now—while most industrial economies are over-indebted and starved for growth—could risk financial upheaval.

Oil, the most economically pivotal of the fossil fuels, is getting more expensive anyway. Cheap, onshore, conventional crude is depleting; its replacements—deepwater oil, tar sands, and tight oil—cost more to produce, in both dollar and environmental terms. Though high oil prices discourage driving (good for the climate), they also precipitate recessions (bad for the economy). While renewable energy sources are our hope for the future and we should be doing everything we can to develop them, it will be decades before they can supply all our energy needs.

In the face of impending environmental and economic shocks, our best strategy is to build resilience throughout society. Resilience is the subject of decades of research by ecologists and social scientists who define it as “the capacity of a system to tolerate disturbance without collapsing into a qualitatively different state that is controlled by a different set of processes.” In other words, resilience is the capacity to absorb shocks, reorganize, and continue functioning.

In many respects a resilient society defies the imperative of economic efficiency. Resilience needs dispersed inventories and redundancy, while economic efficiency—in its ruthless pursuit of competitive advantage—eliminates inventories and redundancies everywhere it can. Economic efficiency leads toward globalization, resilience toward localization. Economic efficiency pursues short-term profit as its highest objective, while resilience targets long-term sustainability. It would appear that industrial society circa 2012 has gone about as far in the direction of economic efficiency as it is possible to go, and that a correction is necessary and inevitable. Climate change simply underscores the need for that course correction.

Building resilience means helping society to work more like an ecosystem—and that has major implications for how we use energy. Ecosystems conserve energy by closing nutrient loops: plants capture and chemically store solar energy, which is then circulated as food throughout the food web. Nothing is wasted. We humans—having developed the ability to draw upon ancient, concentrated, cheap, and abundant (though ultimately finite) fossil fuels—have simultaneously adopted the habit of wasting energy on a colossal scale. Our food, transport, manufacturing, and dwelling systems burn through thirty billion barrels of oil and eight billion tons of coal per year; globally, humans use over four hundred quadrillion BTUs of energy in total. Even where energy is not technically going to waste, demand for it could be substantially reduced by redesigning our basic systems.

For example, we could reduce transport energy used in food systems by producing food more locally; at the same time, we could reduce other fossil fuel inputs to those systems (fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and packaging) by changing farming practices and consumer habits. We could retrofit our buildings so they require far less energy for heating and cooling. And we could reduce the need for motorized transportation by redesigning cities around mixed-use neighborhoods that are friendly to pedestrians and bicyclists.

By cutting our reliance on fossil fuels, by reducing energy requirements in general, and by eliminating our economic system’s need for perpetual growth (and hence for perpetually increasing energy consumption), we can make our way of life less vulnerable to energy shortages and price spikes while also reducing carbon emissions.

Ecosystems build resilience through biodiversity. Thus if the population of one organism that plays a crucial role in an ecosystem is greatly reduced, another organism that performs a similar function will be there to take its place. When we reduce diversity in human systems in the name of economic efficiency, we trade away resilience and increase vulnerability to systemic collapse. For example, industrial agriculture favors monocrops, which present a huge opportunity to any pest that manages to evolve immunity to the chemicals that farmers use to keep it at bay.

Communities can build economic diversity and resilience by encouraging and investing in small businesses and family farms, rather than offering incentives to giant retail or manufacturing companies to locate in town, only to see them move or outsource jobs a few years later.

Feedback loops (either balancing or self-reinforcing) control energy flows and populations in ecosystems, stabilizing or destabilizing the system. Climate change is itself subject to both kinds of feedbacks: forests and oceans absorb carbon and help keep the climate system in balance, while melting permafrost releases greenhouse-enhancing methane, thus reinforcing global warming. Part of the challenge of building community resilience is to identify reinforcing and balancing feedback loops, to learn how they affect human systems, and to make them work for us.

Once we start down the path of building resilience, the positive effects become synergetic. For example, by reprocessing recycled materials locally rather than sending them to far-off countries for reprocessing, and by composting local food waste and sewage, communities can conserve energy while creating jobs, building topsoil, and reducing dependence on increasingly unreliable distant sources of food and materials. Again: resilience helps us adapt to inevitable shocks and changes, while also aiding proactive efforts to reduce energy consumption and thus avert future global warming. Building resilience helps us address a range of problems with just a few basic strategies.

Resilience can’t remove all the challenges and hardships ahead. For example, people typically don’t adapt to intense, prolonged drought—they move elsewhere, as tens of thousands did during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. No strategy will guarantee immunity to impacts from acidifying oceans, melting glaciers, and weird weather. But resilience buys us a better insurance plan. And in the bargain, it might also revive our communities, create economic opportunity, and make life more satisfying.


Saturday, August 25, 2012

Indigenous Knowledge and Climate Change Adaptation in the Peruvian Andes

By Intercambio Climático, May 28, 2012

In Eastern Africa, severe drought is causing massive famines. In the United States, temperature records are soaring due to one of the warmest winters in decades. From pine beetle infestations in the Rockies to thinning ice in the Arctic, the impacts of climate change are inescapable.

Adapting to these changes is not an easy task. In addition to using modern science and engineering, we will need to draw on indigenous peoples’ traditional knowledge. This knowledge is an invaluable and often overlooked tool for adaptation. Indigenous peoples have extensive knowledge of their local environments, gained through hundreds of years of observation and trial and error. They possess a large repository of strategies, skills, and techniques for dealing with climate variability.

In this paper by Emily Kirkland, Brown University, three examples from the Peruvian Andes illustrate the importance of the role of indigenous knowledge for adaptation. In the southern Andes, an archaeologist named Ann Kendall is working with local communities to recover Inca-era terraces long abandoned as ruins. These terraces can successfully retain water for prolonged periods, allowing farmers to withstand droughts.

In nearby Cusco, six mountain communities have banded together to conserve hundreds of native potato varieties. Unlike imported white potatoes, many native varieties are resistant to heat, drought, and crop pests making them a more resilient option in the face of climate impacts.

And in Peru’s Piura region, an NGO called Soluciones Prácticas has created an innovative weather prediction system that blends modern meteorology with traditional forecasting methods. By combining local observations of plants and animals with official predictions, Soluciones Prácticas creates seasonal forecasts more accurate than those delivered by modern science alone.

Unfortunately, indigenous knowledge is threatened by some aspects of globalization and the continued marginalization and impoverishment of indigenous peoples. This paper also points out the crucial role of outside actors – such as NGOs and governments — in promoting, protecting, and disseminating traditional knowledge.

Read the full paper from here

Friday, August 24, 2012

As Green Climate Fund Finally Meets, Funding Remains Uncertain

By Carey L. Biron, IPS, August 21, 2012

Five months behind schedule, the board of the newest and largest international financing mechanism aimed at dealing with the effects of climate change, the Green Climate Fund, is finally slated to meet this week, just ahead of a late-summer deadline.

On Monday, however, insiders admitted that funding plans for the ambitious initiative – 100 billion dollars a year after 2020, in addition to dealing with a massive shortfall until then – remain unclear.

“We are expecting no serious discussion about the 100 billion dollars at this meeting,” Omar El-Arini, an Egyptian member of the Green Climate Fund (GCF) Board, told journalists Monday, speaking from Geneva.

“We have had very little time to discuss the architecture of funding.”

Given that the board’s responsibility lies in figuring out how to disburse, not raise, the eventual cash, El-Arini said that the upcoming meet, scheduled for August 23-25 in Geneva, would most likely focus on procedural issues. These would include rules for board meetings, the budget for a secretariat and a host country in which to house it.

When the GCF was proposed, under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2009, its aim was to steer money towards the world’s poorest countries to deal with the effects and causes of climate change. At the time, developing countries were asking for 400 billion dollars per year, but eventually settled on a quarter of that.
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Still, such a pot of money would dwarf current such efforts. A 2010 report by the United Nations suggested that raising the money would be difficult but doable.

Meanwhile, in the current environment of fiscal austerity, particularly in the United States and the European Union, coupled with a general international erosion in political support for climate-related projects, the question of where the GCF will get enough money to make its mandate realistic remains a pressing one.

Washington has already expressed dissatisfaction over the idea of financing so-called “middle income” countries, such as India and Brazil.

Representation and equity

One issue expected to be decided upon this week – that of the GCF’s host country – could serve as motivation for figuring out the longer-term financing options. Six countries are currently in contention – Germany, Mexico, Namibia, Poland, South Korea and Switzerland – and analysts suggest that the winner would be expected to make the first substantial contribution.

With the GCF made up of just 24 full members (as well as 24 alternates) from across the globe, overarching conversations about representation and equity have reportedly been to blame for the three delays since the board’s scheduled first meeting.

“It is quite unfortunate that we ended up with equal representation for developed and developing countries, meaning that there is place for just 12 developing countries,” Meena Raman, of the Third World Network, an umbrella of international NGOs, said Monday from Geneva, noting that the decision over the host country will be one of the most important facets of this week’s talks.

“If you talk about equitable representation, there should have been more seats for developing countries.”

Indeed, increasing recrimination between developing and developed countries have been considered central to the failure of the UNFCCC process to yield substantive agreement in recent years, a pattern that many involved are eager to avoid early on in the creation of the GCF.

The GCF is now said to be under massive pressure to sort out its ideological issues and financing framework before November, when the next international climate summit is set to begin in Qatar.

Public and private roles

Meanwhile, environmentalists and rights activists are warning that developed countries appear to be steering the GCF towards an overreliance on the private sector while marginalising the input of international civil society.

In this context, the procedural discussions this week in Geneva could do much to shape how the fund ultimately functions. Already, for instance, there are discrepancies over the extent to which input from civil society will play a part in the initial rules creation.

“It’s troubling that we might have to fight for civil society observers to be allowed in the room,” Karen Orenstein, an international policy campaigner at Friends of the Earth, an environment watchdog based here in Washington, said on Monday. “This meeting should be open, broadcast on the Internet, and those broadcasts should be archived.”

The framework that may emerge from this week’s discussions could also have a direct impact on the eventual funding decision by some of the largest donors. According to Orenstein, “The U.S. and the U.K. say they won’t commit substantial funding until they ‘see what the fund looks like’.”

At this point, it is unclear exactly what these countries would like to see in the fund’s final outlines.

“There is no clear idea what’s on their mind, what kind of fund they foresee,” El-Arini says.

Yet, Orenstein notes, “in private conversations, representatives of these countries have placed emphasis on a fund that leverages private finance as much as possible.”

No rubber stamps

A report released Monday, of which Orenstein is a lead author, urges the GCF board to follow through on a UNFCCC request that the fund develop procedures that would require close alignment with a host country’s needs before a project can go forward, particularly carving out a substantial space for civil society.

While similar mechanisms do exist in three exiting related multinational initiatives – the Clean Development Mechanism, the Global Environment Facility and the International Finance Corporation, the latter being the World Bank Group’s private-sector arm – the report suggests that these have often become toothless safeguards reduced to little more than rubber stamps.

It also warns that the role of the private sector in the GCF has shaped up as a new fight between the developed and developing worlds.

“Throughout the development of the Green Climate Fund…developed countries…have insisted that the private sector be given direct access to finances from the GCF…[meaning that] firms would not have to clear their activities with national climate agencies,” the report states.

“Many developing countries, in contrast, have objected to direct access…because it could place the private sector in a position of creating de facto climate policies and programs, thus usurping the rightful role of government.”


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The economic and environmental feasibility of biofuels Vs fossil fuels

By Madison Jones, August 2012**

Today’s post by Madison Jones, a researcher and writer about emerging trends in biology education and sub-programs in biology, delves into the debate over the economic and environmental feasibility of biofuels in comparison with fossil fuels. Here, Madison emphasizes the economic and governmental interests in developing biofuels to replace fossil fuels, suggesting that this is an industry and academic field to watch. However, the obvious pros to developing effective biofuel technology are sometimes overshadowed by the cons, like the concern that using crops for fuel will eliminate land for food crop production, as was mentioned in a post from May 2012.

Solving the Oil Crisis with Biology Instead of War and Politics

The advent of biofuels technology has been touted as a sustainable solution to problems stemming from the global oil shortage. However, factors such as cost, fuel economy and vehicle performance have led many industry experts to pose the question: are biofuels really a feasible alternative to petroleum-based fuels?

A biofuel is defined as any fuel source derived from naturally occurring biological processes. They are generally defined into two classes. First-generation biofuels are rendered from starches, sugars, animal fats, vegetable oils and other substances that are easily extracted from their source; second-generation biofuels, on the other hand, are derived from woody biomass, lignocellulose, agricultural waste and other materials from which energy extraction is a much more complex, difficult process. Despite the economic recession, biofuel production has spiked on a worldwide level. In 2010, global biofuel manufacture increased by 17% to 105 billion liters; leading produers included the United States, Brazil, Argentina, and China.

Given current biofuel models, the most feasible alternative to petroleum appears to be biodiesel – particularly, biodiesel that is derived from a clean-burning feedstock like vegetable oil. Biodiesel can be poured directly into a diesel engine; other biofuels must be blended in order to power vehicles. Studies have also shown that biodiesel outperforms petrodiesel in terms of lubrication ability, largely because the former does not require sulfur to enable lubrication. Two brands of biodiesel – B100 and B20 – emitted significantly fewer hydrocarbons and less carbon monoxide and nitrous oxide; however, emissions of carbon dioxide and particulate matter were actually higher than petrodiesel. Another drawback to biodiesel is fuel economy; in order to achieve the same mileage-per-gallon as petrodiesel, vehicle operators must pay 5% less per gallon for biodiesel. In addition, some motorists have complained that biodiesel performs poorly in cold weather. Despite these problems, biodiesel has become quite popular in Europe over the last few years. And according to Science Daily, an economically viable form of biodiesel rendered from microalgae could be available to consumers within 10-15 years.

In contrast, ethanol – the most widely used biofuel in North and South America – has been criticized as an unfeasible alternative to petroleum. The problem partially stems from its source. In the United States and Canada, ethanol is primarily rendered from either corn or soybean crops. According to USA Today, this poses a problem to the nation’s food supply; a 2006 study suggested that second-generation ethanols (most of which are currently still in development) would lower the environmental impact without diminishing the energy efficiency. However, feedstock is merely one of the concerns regarding ethanol. Like biodiesel, ethanol’s critics have noted substandard fuel economy. Vehicle owners who use E10 (or gasohol) achieved 3-4% fewer miles per gallon than regular gasoline, while those who used E85 achieved 25-30% fewer miles per gallon. But ethanol is not without its positive aspects. A 2009 study conducted at the University of Nebraska found that ethanol lowered carbon emissions by more than 50% when compared to gasoline. And due to its widespread production throughout the Americas, ethanol has proven to be a cash crop for many farmers struggling through the recession.

Interestingly, the most efficient and economically viable biofuel may be years away from public availability. Last year, Science Daily reported that scientists were working to develop biofuel rendered from seaweed (or kelp). Since this matter would be harvested in the sea, it would be seen as a feasible alternative to “terrestrial grown biofuels” that take up precious agricultural space. And since marine ecosystems are home to more than 50% of the world’s total biomass, researchers are optimistic that the seaweed biofuel would be a sustainable model. But before this biofuel is produced, scientists must first identify high value substances and develop techniques for their extraction.

The feasibility of biofuels as alternatives to petroleum depends on who is asked. According to many environmentalists and ‘green-minded’ individuals, sustainable fuel sources are integral to the livelihood of Earth. But while many economists and engineers may agree with that statement, they are quick to point out that a viable alternative to fossil fuels simply has not yet been made available to the public.

** For any feedback on this article, please contact Madison Jones on email:

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Learning from the Pacific Islands as they Lead the Renewable Race


Last week, the Pacific Island archipelago of Tokelau turned on the first of three solar-power plants. Once all three are online, it will be able to switch off it's diesel generators. Meanwhile, not far away, Tonga is also undergoing a rapid transition to renewable energy. The first solar-powered plant it has switched on will help Tonga save 470,000 litres of diesel annually for 25 years. And that's just the start of their plans for solar. Tokelau and Tonga are not alone in the Pacific - just about every Pacific Island nation has plans in action to make the switch from fossil fuel dependence to renewable energy. As the renewable energy revolution spreads across the Pacific ocean, there's important lessons for the world:

1. Make fossil fuels more expensive and renewables will win. Getting diesel to remote Pacific Island nations is expensive, and it makes energy very expensive. If you read the reports for why the New Zealand Government funded the Tongan solar powered-plant, it wasn't because it would be good for the climate. Actually the New Zealand Government's recent performance on climate change is not pretty. Domestically, they have created new subsidies and opened swathes of new land to oil and coal mining. So the New Zealand Government is hardly a strong proponent of renewable energy - or of climate solutions. The reason it supported renewable energy in Tonga was because of the economics. Renewable energy is much more cost-effective than constantly importing diesel.

This is a great demonstration of how fast the global transition to renewables could happen if Governments got serious about putting a price on carbon pollution. Make economies pay the true cost for fossil fuels and renewables quickly start winning.

2. Take out the influence of the fossil fuel industry and leaders act on renewable energy. The Pacific Islands is kind of an annoying place for the fossil fuel industry - small economies and demand, spread far apart, and not much oil or coal to drill for. When you travel around the islands, the fossil fuel industry is still visible in the major towns, but it has nothing like the reach and influence they do in other parts of the world. This has meant that the fossil fuel industry is not polluting the airwaves with fossil fuel propaganda, it's not lobbying so actively against climate change policies and renewable energy plans. Implementing solar-plants is not a simple process either, but without the destructive influence of the fossil fuel industry, leaders in the Pacific Islands have taken on the challenges of renewable energy and are overcoming them.

Sure, the situation is always more complicated than these generalizations here (for example different scales of economies etc) - but both of these are important lessons and reassurances we can take - from the fact that the Pacific Islands are winning the renewable energy race. Now to help the rest of the world catch up: as a global movement we need to be pushing for genuine, non-corrupted pricing on carbon emissions, and campaigning hard against the fossil fuel industry to clear the airwaves of their fossilized influence and exploitation.


Monday, August 20, 2012

Green Economy and Sustainable Development: Which Way for the Informal Economy?

By IPC, August 17, 2012

This think piece argues that the informal economy should be included in discussions on green economy. The informal economy represents three-fourths of non-agricultural employment in sub-Saharan Africa, making it an important component in the social, economic and political arenas in Africa.

The authors draw on a case study on the informal sector in Kenya, known as the Kamukunji Jua Kali cluster, to make their case. The cluster is an initiative by subaltern groups that supports rural agriculture, creates jobs, recycles industrial waste and has an association that runs its own affairs. It is an example of how the informal economy in Kenya is linking social and environmental concerns.

The likelihood that this sector will persist requires rethinking the informal economy in terms of community economies that secure livelihoods, cultural identity and employment while moving toward green economies more generally.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) defines green economy as a system of economic activities related to the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services that result in improved human well-being over the long term, while not exposing future generations to significant environmental risks and ecological scarcities (UNEP 2011). Following from this premise, this think piece argues for the incorporation of the informal economy in the green economy agenda for sustainable development. Drawing on research from Kenya, it stresses the important social dimensions that are part of the informal economy and highlights some of the ways the informal economy is adapting to current market and climatic changes.

The informal economy in Africa

The informal economy, comprising micro- and small-scale trade, services, agriculture, manufacturing, transport and construction, is a sprawling phenomenon in African cities and rural areas, and is an important component of African economies. Informal businesses are often dominated by people, especially youth, with low levels of income and limited formal education, and by recent rural-urban migrants. Situated in municipal markets, streets, empty plots and bus parks, the informal economy is often not planned for in many cities.

The informal economy represents three-quarters of non-agricultural employment in sub-Saharan Africa and accounts for 78 per cent of employment in the region (ILO 2002); for example, in Nairobi, Kenya, about 2.2 million people were engaged in the informal economy (Government of Kenya 2010). In countries such as Kenya and Uganda, employment in the informal sector exceeds its counterpart in the formal sector (Xaba et al. 2002). In fact, due to economic and labour reforms in the 1990′s, the informal sector created 93 per cent of the new jobs in Africa (Chen 2001). This makes the informal economy an important component in the social, economic and political arenas of Africa. It is therefore crucial that green economy discussions acknowledge the informal economy from which many people derive their livelihoods and daily sustenance.

The informal economy plays a significant role in the restructuring of capitalism in the era of globalization,1 with important social dimensions. For example, Gibson-Graham (2006) conceptualizes the informal economy as diverse economies that communities are using to cope with the effects of globalization. There is increasing evidence that the informal economy, like the formal sector, has been responding to socioeconomic shocks and political changes. Bangura (1994) documents how the informal economy served as a coping strategy for middle-class groups in Africa, while Meagher and Mohammed Bello (1993, cited in Bangura 1994) illustrate how the informal sector was forced to diversify during the structural adjustment era. The likelihood that the sector will persist therefore requires a rethinking of the informal economy in terms of community economies that secure livelihoods, cultural identity and employment while moving toward green economies more generally.

Consider, for example, informal businesses, particularly in manufacturing, that are important for green economy. The question is: should we wait for the informal economy to formalize before we include it in green economy strategies? If we agree to upgrade and formalize it, how long should we wait? And how can such a process be accomplished? We argue that the informal economy ought to be treated as an economy in its own right without waiting for its upgrading or formalization.

Informal and green economies

Informal economies should be part and parcel of the green economy and sustainable development, as should the social relations and cultural tenets that contribute to their growth. First, the informal economy has its own way of organizing capital and distributing surplus, which makes it a form of “community economy” (in the words of Gibson-Graham 2006) or solidarity economy. It therefore includes a sociocultural dynamic involving the production and transfer of cultural products such as foodstuffs and creative industries; this is often disregarded when solely economic and entrepreneurial models are used for analysis (Kinyanjui 2010).

Second, the informal economy is neither shielded from the effects of climate change nor is it indifferent to them; rather, it is seeking alternatives to deal with them. The ability of actors within the informal sector to recycle plastics and waste metal is one example of how the informal economy can respond to environmental concerns. Waste recyclers also often do so due to poverty, but the importance of the need to recycle, as part of an environmental strategy, is significant.

Third, there is a need to avoid strategies for green economy and sustainable development that fail to consider the livelihood strategies used by people in the informal economy. These include “shortcuts” such as banning charcoal burning; prohibiting the felling of trees; reducing the number of vans (matatu) on roads; or relocating informal businesses from river basins. A systematic strategy for incorporating the informal economy into conceptualizing the social dimensions of green economy for sustainable development is essential, and also entails taking into consideration issues related to the participation of women, livelihood security and respecting actors’ cultural and religions beliefs.

Case study: Informality and green economy in Kenya

How the informal economy is responding to demands initiated by climatic changes can be illustrated by the Kamukunji Jua Kali cluster in Kenya. The cluster engages in widescale recycling of industrial metal products and plastic waste. Its use of non-renewable energy resources such as diesel or petrol is minimal. For example, in heating and melting metal products, the main source of energy comes from waste products from other industries, such as sawdust and used tyres. The fact that these can also be polluting stresses the need to equip workers with clean technology using available materials. The cluster also engages in the design of energy-saving furnaces, stoves and other equipment used for heating and cooking in rural homes, slums and informal settlements. It supports small-scale dairy processing by producing milk coolers and chaff cutters for dairy farmers, and small-scale poultry farming by making chicken brooders and feeding troughs.

The informal economy illustrates important social dimensions. Most of the informal workers in the Kamukunji Jua Kali cluster are men carrying out manual labour with very little mechanization or automation. However, women are also making inroads into the cluster, primarily focusing on the final stages of production, such as painting finished metal boxes and cooking stoves, or engaging in sales. The cluster is managed by the Kamukunji Jua Kali Association with all workers registered as members. The association serves as the link between the cluster and the government, and advocates for the rights of the informal workers. It also handles matters of security and conflicts between members, and mobilizes them into taking part in saving and credit associations.

In summary, the Kamukunji Jua Kali cluster is an initiative by subaltern groups that supports rural agriculture, creates jobs, recycles industrial waste and has an association that runs its affairs. Due to these positive socioeconomic effects, the cluster is an example of how the informal economy in Kenya is linking social and environmental concerns, and thus, should be included more centrally in the green economy agenda.

Toward a green informal economy for sustainable development?

Earlier models of economic development have tended to ignore the informal economy, with informal workers being excluded from the capitalist economy because of the complicated legal framework favouring large capitalists and the lack of property rights (De Soto 1989). However, notwithstanding the lack of statistics, informal employment in many African countries surpasses formal jobs, especially for women (Chen 2001). It absorbs low-income earners and those who have been excluded from the formal economy, especially during the structural adjustment labour reforms (Bangura 1994). It also acts as a site of resilience and possibility (Kinyanjui 2010) in the face of climate change, as discussed above. As such – and if green economy is supposed to define the future world economic system – the implicit link between the social components of the informal economy should and must be made more explicit when incorporating it in any green economy strategy.


Sunday, August 19, 2012

Growing sustainability in Malawi through permaculture

By Kate Berrisford on August 16, 2012, Green Africa Directory

In the context of Malawi’s food security, development and environmental sustainability challenges and needs, the Kusamala Institute of Agriculture & Ecology (Kusamala) is tackling these issues by working with communities through permaculture training programs and reforestation initiatives. Permaculture means “permanent agriculture” and they believe the country could improve its economy and environment by focusing on growing a variety of food around people’s homes and diversifying their diets.

Malawi is a country rich in agricultural diversity – with over 500 documented food species, an all-year growing season and the world’s 9th largest lake. Its economy is centered around agriculture which accounts for over 90% of its export earnings, with over 80% of Malawi’s population practicing agriculture. However, Malawi is one of the Least Developed Countries in Africa and according to the United Nations, “two thirds of the population live below the national poverty line and more than one in five people live in ultra poverty – unable to afford basic minimum food requirements.”

Kusamala promotes permaculture as a means to increase environmental sustainability, food security, and improved nutrition throughout Malawi. Initially founded in 2009 as Nature’s Gift Permaculture, Kusamala is a training and demonstration NGO that showcases permaculture and agro-ecology as a means to enhance agricultural yields, improve land use, increase environmental stewardship and improve nutrition in Malawi.

Since its inception in 2009, Kusamala has focused its efforts on conducting trainings in food and nutrition security, resilient farming systems, and adaptable livelihood strategies at the community level. In addition to trainings and outreach, Kusamala has partnered with several local and international organizations on large projects throughout Malawi. Some of these partnership projects include working with farmers groups on value-chain creation and market diversification, creating sustainable agriculture demonstration sites, and the establishment of an apprentice program.

Permaculture offers key benefits to smallholder farmers in Malawi, as it enables communities to efficiently use small pieces of land on which to grow food and has potential to restore soil fertility and health, enhance crop diversity and produce crops suited to local conditions.

Kusamala provides a working example of household-level nutrition security through its “memo” garden and its ‘commercial market garden’, which provides income for the NGO, and demonstrates the economic potential of applied sustainable agriculture methods. The Centre offers a range of courses focused on permaculture design, ecological sanitation, and natural earth building and thatching. It also offers a range of educational activities including an Apprenticeship Programme, which focuses on teaching Malawians how to implement these principles on a community level, and tours for local schools.

“building a food secure future for all Africans requires focus and action in critical areas – from increasing the productivity of smallholder farmers to advancing nutrition among children, building resilient communities and sustainable food systems, and empowering women and the rural poor. Success in these areas will come only if we view food security as a challenge that extends beyond sectoral mandates and reaches across the national development agenda and if we better integrate humanitarian and development work to strengthen the resilience of people and their communities to even the most severe crisis.”

This forward states the heart of Kusamala and why it was founded. Their vision is to strengthen Malawi and through their programs and initiatives, they are doing it one community and individual at a time.


Saturday, August 18, 2012

Business focus: Creating a closed loop for Cassava production in Vietnam

By RTCC, August 15, 2012

n the build-up to Rio+20 RTCC asked businesses and communities from around the world to send us their stories of how they are working to build resilient, low-carbon business models.

The Huong Hoa Tapioca Starch Plant in Quang Tri Province, Central Vietnam got in touch to let us know about the work they have been doing processing the Cassava plant.

Here’s their story.

Native to South America, the Cassava is now widely grown across the world. The root is a high source of carbohydrates – according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation it is the third most important source of calories in the tropics, after rice and maize.

This particular factory in Vietnam has the capacity to process of about 600 tones of fresh cassava roots per day to produce tapioca starch for export – this is used as a thickener and stabilizer in soups, puddings, breads, sauces, soy and meat products.

The key for success is that the plant has created a closed loop of cassava use and strategies for sustainable development between factories and farmers.

The establishment of the tapioca factory provides opportunities for farmers to grow cassava as raw materials for the plant, moved to stable resettlement and generation of cash income.

However, after about five years of planting cassava, cassava production decreased – the soil becomes barren. The plant is in danger of shortage of raw material. In addition, treatment of wastewater and solid wastes discharged from cassava production has not been fully effective, creating pollutions to the surrounding.

The initial achievements become fragile. The plant was facing the risk of forced closure due to pollution and shortage of raw material.

Producing bio-fertiliser from Cassava

Faced with enormous challenges, in 2009, the plant started research to produce slow release bio- fertilizer from cassava peel waste and provide it to farmers with very low price for soil nutrient regeneration.

The production of slow release fertilizer to the farmers has gradually help restore nutrients to the soil and increase cassava yield.

For wastewater treatment, the plant has invested in an anaerobic treatment system from the sale of emission credits through the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).

The system treats wastewater of 2.200m3/day.

Biogas created from the system has been used for as heat for boilers and electricity for the plant.

For farmers growing cassava, the plant has the extension workers and technical support for each area, provided assistance to help farmers in capital and advanced materials through commercial contracts, which could be seen as platform for farmers to have access to market.

Mr. Ho Xuan Hieu, Plant Director, who joined cassava plant from the first day, said that the business philosophy of plant is “Doing Business with the Poor”.

Further benefits

Since then the factory has implemented many measures to help people such as technical manuals, pest control, organize study tours, workshops, helping people at tough time of economic recession.

At present, many ethnic minorities have generated income over 100 million VND / year ($5,000) by planting cassava.

The plant has strong support and full cooperation from local people.

From a poor district, Huong Hoa has gradually get out of poverty and advance to higher living standards than before, in which a contribution from cassava is not small.


Friday, August 17, 2012

Belo Monte Dam Can No Longer Ignore Native Communities

By Fabiana Frayssinet, IPS News, August 16, 2012

A judicial order to halt construction of the Belo Monte dam in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest may be just one more battle in a long-drawn-out war in the courts over the controversial hydroelectric project.

But it leaves a lesson for other infrastructure works: the courts in this country are prepared to uphold the right of indigenous people to be consulted on projects that affect them and their territories.

The order to stop work on the Belo Monte dam on the Xingu river in the northern Brazilian state of Pará was unanimously adopted late Monday Aug. 13 by a panel of judges in a regional federal court, and announced the next day.

The judges ruled that the construction of what is to be the world’s third-largest dam failed to respect the Brazilian constitution or International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 169 Concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, both of which require prior consultation of local indigenous communities.

“The Federal Constitution and the ILO Convention state that the national Congress must consult affected traditional peoples before authorising any project for the exploitation of resources on their land,” said Judge Antônio de Souza Prudente, announcing the ruling.

But “on the contrary, deputies and senators approved the decree that allowed the construction work to begin, providing for a posterior rather than previous consultation,” said Prudente, adding that this was “the way dictatorships work.”

“Indigenous people must be listened to and respected,” he stated.

Belo Monte is one of the major infrastructure projects planned by the administrations of Brazil’s leftist Workers’ Party, under former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011) and his successor, President Dilma Rousseff.

The government argues that the dam, which will flood over 500 square kilometres of land, is necessary to meet the country’s growing energy needs.

Belo Monte will have a maximum capacity of 11,233 megawatts (MW) during the rainy season, and an average capacity of 4,500 MW. It will supply electricity to some 26 million people, while generating job opportunities.

But indigenous villages and traditional communities living along the banks of the Xingu river are opposed to the dam, because although it will not flood their territories, it will divert 80 percent of the water in the river, reducing their water supply and severely affecting the fish stocks that they depend on.

For years the communities have held protests against the dam, which increased after work got underway in 2011. The issue has drawn wide international attention.

In April 2011, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) recommended that the Brazilian government immediately suspend work on the dam, and called for “free, prior, informed, in good faith, and culturally appropriate” consultations with the local indigenous communities.

But the government rejected the request.

“This problem with Belo Monte should serve as a warning for other large companies to take into account the indigenous communities who are affected,” Brazilian jurist Dalmo Dallari told IPS. “Instead of adopting an authoritarian attitude, they should follow the route of talks. This court decision draws attention to the judicial requirement of dialogue.”

“The court decision once again confirms the lack of consent on the part of the local communities and the need for comprehensive environmental impact studies prior to approval of this kind of project, which can cause irreparable damage,” lawyer Joelson Cavalcante with the Inter-American Association for Environmental Defence, which has given the affected communities legal support, told IPS from Mexico.

“We welcome this decision because it gives hope that judges in Brazil will enforce national and international laws for the protection of the rights of communities, and the environment,” he added.

Dallari, a member of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) who has advised other indigenous villages in environmental and land conflicts, noted that prior consultation has been carried out in similar cases, and that this does not necessarily lead to the cancellation of projects.

He cited the case of the Tucuruí dam, also in the state of Pará, where an agreement reached with native communities after a consultation process “addressed both the national interests and those of the indigenous communities.”

After the talks took place, a projected power line was rerouted so that it would run next to, rather than through, a village, Dallari noted. “Listening to indigenous people does not mean creating obstacles, but making the necessary adjustments,” he said.

He also mentioned other cases, such as the construction of roads running through indigenous territories or the Itaipú binational dam on the border with Paraguay, where local communities were not initially consulted either.

“The companies in charge of these construction works do not tend to remember that there is a legal obligation to listen to indigenous communities, and want to impose their solutions taking into account only technical and economic aspects, when it is also necessary to listen to (concerns about) human aspects,” he said.

With respect to Belo Monte, the court ruled that construction could only resume once the local indigenous people had a say in the matter before Congress.

It is not clear whether the project would be definitively cancelled if the communities continue to oppose it.

Dallari believes that will depend on the arguments raised. But he said he was confident that, as on previous occasions, an agreement satisfactory to all sides would be reached.

“There is always a possibility to adapt the project, in order to reconcile interests,” he said. “And it is possible for Belo Monte to follow that route, with adaptations that take into account the interests of both sides.”

The affected communities say the government overestimates the importance of Belo Monte in terms of the electricity it would supply, and defend clean energy sources, such as solar or wind, which would not modify the life of rainforest communities.

As a result of the Belo Monte dam, the Volta Grande (Big Bend) of the Xingu river, a 100-km sweeping curve in the river, would suffer from even more severe drought in the summer, because most of the water along that stretch would be diverted by the dam.

The river is the main source of protein and means of transport for some 200 indigenous people who live along the Volta Grande in the Paquiçamba and Arara reserves, and of hundreds of peasant families who also inhabit that part of the riverbank.

Antônia Melo, the head of the Xingu Forever Alive Movement, fears that the indigenous lands, which are “very well-preserved,” will be damaged.

She told IPS that when construction work started, the river already began to dry up along some stretches, and “fish began to be lost.”

If construction continues, she said, these effects could be aggravated, and the native communities “will lose their land, for the future generations. If they have to go to the land of white people, they will suffer discrimination and will be affected by alcoholism and by the violence in the cities.”

She applauded the court order to suspend construction, which she said “strengthens our hope and our movement of resistance against Belo Monte and this kind of hydroelectric dam, which destroy life and the environment.”

The court also fined Norte Energia – the consortium building the dam – 250,000 dollars a day if it fails to comply.

As of Wednesday, the consortium had not acknowledged the ruling, which can be appealed.

The first turbine of the Belo Monte dam is set to begin operating in 2015, and the entire 13-billion-dollar project is to be completed in 2019.


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Social Side of Biofuels in Brazil, India and Indonesia

By Mairon G. Bastos Lima, PhD candidate at the VU University Amsterdam, the Netherlands

One of the most widespread—and controversial—elements of the pursuit of green economy has been the adoption of biofuel policies to reduce reliance on fossil energy. Since the energy sector is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases that lead to climate change (IPCC 2007), a transition towards cleaner fuels has become imperative. Countries that are net oil-importers and/or have large agricultural sectors have seen this as an opportunity to improve energy self-reliance and create an additional market for agriculture, with a large and elastic demand. However, it is crucial to understand how this process can affect people, particularly more vulnerable groups. How are benefits and burdens across social groups changing? How is social equity affected? Can biofuels become an effective strategy to tackle rural poverty?

These social dimensions remain understudied amid a growing body of research on purely ecological or economic aspects of biofuels. Yet, the social pillar is of key importance to an energy transition towards a more socially inclusive and sustainable green economy (UNEP 2011). This research fills that gap through the examination of ambitious biofuel policies in Brazil, India and Indonesia. The findings are based on extensive field work in each of the three countries, including more than 100 interviews with key informants (such as government policy makers, business actors, non-governmental organization/NGOs, academics, farmers and grassroots organizations) and a review of policies and relevant literature related to each case. This piece gives a brief overview of those contexts before drawing some general lessons for socially oriented biofuel policies.


Brazil has adopted a two-tiered strategy whereby it relies on its established sugarcane agroindustry to produce ethanol and also attempts to create biodiesel production chains that incorporate small-scale farmers. The government uses a portfolio of regulatory and economic incentives including tax breaks, credit from public banks and blending mandates for both ethanol and biodiesel. However, despite its success from both an economic and emissions-reduction standpoint, the social performance in the sugarcane-ethanol industry remains very limited. The sector builds upon a highly uneven allocation of benefits and burdens in a system of very concentrated land and production ownership. The sugarcane agribusiness captures all value addition, and the rural poor participate only in low-paid jobs, as seasonal cane-cutters working under harsh and insecure conditions.

A socially oriented biodiesel policy has tried to compensate for this by promoting the inclusion of smallholders through contract-farming schemes with biodiesel industries. However, initial lack of organizational capacity led to difficult relationships between these actors, and to poor representation of farmers’ interests at contract negotiations. In addition, the promotion of a non-edible crop (castor bean) proved to be a gamble with local food security. Low yields ended up compromising the economics of purchasing crops from smallholders, leading to smallholders being abandoned by companies. Smallholders’ dependence on a single buyer then meant they were left with seeds they could neither eat nor sell.

Only the mobilization of rural social movements and the government’s commitment to a social agenda forced a revision of the biodiesel policy. This included the creation of Petrobrás Biofuels, a new subsidiary of the Brazilian state-controlled oil company Petrobrás, which started offering higher quality seeds and improved assistance to smallholders. Policy changes further required the validation of farming contracts by a representative social movement and the promotion of mixed cultivation with food crops (instead of as fuel-crop monocultures) to safeguard local food security.

India has, to a large extent, followed the Brazilian model and attempted to build a biofuel sector based on its established sugarcane agroindustry and on the cultivation of non-edible oilseeds such as Jatropha curcas. The policy instruments used are also similar: blending mandates, regulatory and economic incentives to agroindustry, and the promotion of contract farming with smallholders. Unlike Brazil, India only uses sugarcane molasses (and not sugarcane juice) as an ethanol crop due to tight sugar supplies. The sugarcane sector also has a much larger participation of small-scale growers. However, the overall social performance is very similar: the industry benefits from governmental incentives and from an additional market and continues to capture all value-addition stages of production, while the conditions of small sugarcane growers remain basically unchanged.

The biodiesel policy, in contrast, does not build on an existing agricultural sector but rather aims to create new production chains based on Jatropha curcas cultivation, a non-edible crop that allegedly could grow well on what the government—and many companies and researchers—regard as “marginal lands”. However, it has become clear that even though those lands are not mainstreamed into industrial agriculture, this does not mean they have no use. Rather, they have proven to be essential for resource collection, grazing, energy and food security at the local level (Rajagopal 2008). The jatropha policy has therefore led to a widespread conflict of interests between the government, private companies and customary land users, with the latter often being more vulnerable due to unclear land ownership and lack of tenure security. Meanwhile, jatropha cultivation through contract farming on privately held lands in India has also proven unsuccessful, with low yields leading to economically unviable production chains and smallholders being abandoned, worse off than before.

Despite having a much smaller sugarcane sector, Indonesia has pursued more or less the same strategy as India and Brazil, by providing policy incentives for sugarcane-ethanol production from molasses and for biodiesel production from palm oil and jatropha. There have been a number of subsidies and regulatory modifications to stimulate both the expansion of sugarcane cultivation and the conversion of molasses into fuel. However, other ethanol markets (such as industrial and medical applications) remain more profitable than those for fuel, meaning that there is currently no fuel-ethanol being commercialized in Indonesia. Regardless, industrial plantation expansion—with its associated impacts on indigenous peoples and traditional livelihoods—remains partially driven by a biofuel rationale. This is illustrated by the government’s recent tendency to refer to such plantations as “food and energy estates”. Meanwhile, the only benefit offered to the rural poor in such enterprises is seasonal employment under health-degrading and disempowering conditions.

The cultivation of jatropha for biodiesel on supposedly unused lands has encountered the same problems as in India, including lack of agreement among different stakeholders and low yields, thus proving economically unattractive. As such, the Indonesian biodiesel industry has relied entirely on oil palm, a crop already well established and cultivated on a large scale in the country. The most common form of oil palm cultivation in Indonesia is through partnerships between private companies and smallholders. The government acts as a facilitator, issuing permits for a company to approach smallholders and negotiate land leasing, normally for the duration of 25 years (the average productive life of the oil palm plant). If an agreement on prices and terms is reached, then the company acquires the right to cultivate (usually) 70 per cent of that land, leaving the remainder to be cultivated by smallholders, who then become contracted suppliers. As an incentive, the government grants land titles to the smallholders, something which in most cases they did not have before. On the one hand, this system provides smallholders with a stable income. However, on the other hand, their bargaining power with the oil palm companies is often weak, and frequently the payment they receive for the land ceded is small. In addition, farmers tend to believe that the 70 per cent leased to the industry will return to them at the end of the contract, whereas in reality it becomes government property. As such, this production system ends up further concentrating ownership and control over resources instead of allocating them more equitably.

Limitations, risks and opportunities for social development through biofuel policy

The first important limitation seen in the examples above relates to the promise of rural development through the mere expansion of corporate-owned industrial plantations and the jobs they create. While employment is essential, one must also consider (i) the quality and work conditions of those jobs; (ii) the self-employment and traditional forms of subsistence that might be eliminated as plantations expand; and (iii) inherent limitations to creating structural change and reducing inequality. While jobs in biofuels production might indeed alleviate poverty temporarily, inequality structures are maintained—not only in terms of income, but also in land ownership, power, decisions and control over production. Similar structural limitations are present across contract farming schemes where private industries systematically retain control over most or all stages that add value and reduce smallholders to raw material suppliers.

There are also significant pitfalls around policies aimed at including the rural poor in biofuel production chains, particularly when using non-edible crops. The fact that in all three countries smallholders contracted to plant those crops were abandoned and left to bear the social and economic consequences should not be overlooked. From the start, the policy designs left smallholders more vulnerable to market fluctuations on a single cash crop that could not be used for food or fodder, and constrained by a single buyer that could respond negatively to such market volatility by either going bankrupt or moving away. It is thus essential for rural development policies to strengthen farmers’ resilience instead of undermining it.

Biofuel policies better tailored to the needs and interests of the rural poor can substantially improve those outcomes. Support for organizational capacity and the creation of farmer cooperatives; increased participation of social movements at contract negotiation to improve bargaining power; mixed production of biofuel and food crops (rather than fuel-crop monocultures); flexibility to adjust prices according to market signals—all of these policies can improve smallholder empowerment and food security and stabilize income generation. Finally, it is important that the poor can climb up the biofuel value chain and start to lift themselves out of a condition of raw material suppliers. In other words, some degree of locally owned rural industrialization seems necessary. This will require political will and additional technical support, financial resources and organizational capacity, but it seems to be the necessary step forward if rural development goals are to be taken seriously.


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Not just about going green

By Woo Sian Boon, August 13, 2012

Sustainable development is not just about going green and saving the environment. That is the first common misconception that 27-year-old Min Cheong would like to change.

Ms Cheong was the only Singaporean involved in Road to Rio +20, a global youth-led movement that sought to engage young people on sustainable development in conjunction with Rio +20, a United Nations conference on sustainable development held in June.

Under the movement, youths across 50 cities worldwide organised fringe activities in April to raise awareness and connect people who are passionate about sustainable development initiatives.

Ms Cheong, who writes for an online publication, was selected to be part of the four-member media team for Road to Rio +20 after two rounds of written tests and a final interview with the team's director over Skype.

Educating people on the broad spectrum of sustainable initiatives, including access to equal rights among people and environmental issues such as overconsumption and pollution of the earth's resources, was among the challenges she faced when she took up the role of media coordinator.

"If you ask most people what they would associate sustainable development with, I'd venture to say that they would make some reference to climate change and the green movement. But that is such a limited interpretation of the term," she said.

In addition to creating press material and facilitating endorsements, she handled media queries from around the globe and organised team meetings over the Internet.

"I have a tab open in Firefox which lists the times in major regions and cities around the world, so that I can keep track of the time zones that matter to make sure that I am awake to handle any requests that might come in. Sleep of course, became secondary," added the active champion of youth advocacy and development.

Ms Cheong hopes her involvement in the global event would get more young people in the region interested in current affairs, although she admitted that sustainable development is "not a sexy topic" and does not generate much youth interest in Singapore.

"Our socio-political culture is one that tends towards prioritising the pursuit of short-term economic aggrandisation over long-term development and progress. Unfortunately, this proclivity to quick-fixes and wealth-generation does not inspire true individual and collective fulfilment nor does it benefit society and the world we live in," she said.

She hopes to let youth know that they are capable of making a difference. "What youth have is idealism. Even though people may scoff at idealism, that our ideas are too lofty, I think it is also necessary for change as its fuel.

"I want to demonstrate that from wherever you are in the world, you can be part of any process; you can find a way to use your skills to pursue your passion in life," she added.

While Rio +20 has been criticised for failing to commit governments to action, Ms Cheong, however, felt that the conference served as a platform for representatives around the world to come together to converse about sustainable development.

She added: "While global summits such as Rio+20 have their place in the pursuit of sustainable development, it is absolutely imperative that individuals, businesses, NGOs and other groups continue to do what they can to contribute to the cause however possible. This is where the hope for concrete solutions and a more balanced consensus will exist."


Sunday, August 12, 2012

From crisis to resilience: why inequality matters (Op-Ed)

By Anuradha Seth, The Hindu, August 8, 2012

The frequency of global financial and economic crises has increased over the past decade-and-a-half, and they appear to have become a systemic feature of the international economy. The risk of economic growth and human development achievements being undermined by such volatile international developments is fostering an overall rethink about the inner nature of crises, the growing vulnerability of developing countries and their capacity to be resilient in the face of these shocks.

As the 2015 Millennium Development Goals deadline approaches, the debate around a new framework for understanding macroeconomic vulnerability and resilience is gaining momentum among a wide array of stakeholders, ranging from academia, civil society and grassroots movements, to international organisations, development policymakers and the media. A new research piece by the United Nations Development Programme contributes to the public debate by arguing that at present there is no uniform approach to understanding macroeconomic vulnerability or resilience in the context of financial and economic crises in developing countries.
Two approaches

Broadly, two distinct approaches can be identified: the first addresses macroeconomic vulnerability principally in relation to financial crises — currency, debt or banking crises. Currency crises, for instance, are seen as being driven mainly by macroeconomic imbalances in the financial sector of developing economies and by fragile domestic financial systems. Hence, policy recommendations to build resilience to such shocks are focused on containing credit growth and the money supply, ensuring flexible exchange rates and guarding against expansionary fiscal policies. However, the empirical and theoretical assumptions underlying many of the studies and articles that support this approach have been long questioned — in particular, the assumption that markets are self-regulating and inherently efficient.

A second approach frames macroeconomic vulnerability in the context of both economic and financial crises. The focus here is on identifying the structural determinants and transmission channels through which an economy is exposed to crises, reflecting the rapid integration of developing countries in international trade and finance. This broader perspective argues that the growing dependence of many developing countries on exports — specifically primary commodity exports, their increased dependence on foreign investment for economic growth, coupled with limited fiscal and institutional capacity — renders them vulnerable to economic and financial shocks. Yet, there is no clear agreement on which structural determinants and transmission channels are the primary drivers of macroeconomic vulnerability. Some argue that the size and location of an economy are critical determining factors, whereas others focus on trade dependency or dependency on international private capital flows as the primary conditions that expose an economy to shocks.
Major factor

A major determinant of macroeconomic vulnerability that is either totally neglected or barely mentioned by these studies is that of rising income inequality. The staggering escalation in inequality contributes to global and domestic economic and financial instability by fostering a political environment that lends itself to risky investment behaviour and the emergence of asset bubbles. The critical importance of inequality as a driver of crisis is clear when one is confronted with the fact that the average income of the world’s richest five per cent is 165 times higher than the poorest five per cent. In a world where the richest five per cent earn in 48 hours as much as the poorest in one year, understanding the linkages between rising income inequality and the greater frequency and severity of the financial and economic crises is central to proposing policies that build systemic resilience and enable a less volatile growth process. In traditional thinking, there is no disagreement on the need for policies that help economies cope with or counteract the impacts of shocks. Indeed, this is how resilience is defined in the economics literature. Nevertheless, coping with a shock only when it happens presents decision makers with a limited set of policy options to build resilience. This narrows the choices for concerted action to tackle rising inequality and to address the longer term policies needed to build systemic resilience.
A relook

The recent — and lasting, economic and financial — crisis, along with renewed calls for a rethink on traditional approaches to economic growth and development, offers us the opportunity to embark on a more comprehensive framework for the assessments of macroeconomic vulnerability in developing countries. Such a framework should allow for a comprehensive mapping of all the structural conditions and transmission channels that drive the vulnerability of developing economies, and that expose them to the virulent impacts of crises. Calls for a rethink of existing approaches should ultimately help us deliver policies for resilience that build coping capacities to withstand and counteract a shock and reduce exposure to shocks, while advocating for global coordination mechanisms to minimise the frequency of global crises themselves.


Saturday, August 11, 2012

Peru seeks to build a new relationship with mining companies

By Mattia Cabitza, The Guardian Newspaper, August 8, 2012

Peru is among the richest mineral nations in the world and it seems as if everyone wants to tap into its immense wealth. Much of the Andean and coastal areas, from north to south, are divided into allotments loaned to mining companies to exploit. In one southern region alone, Apurímac, mining concessions account for 58.8% of the land; in Cajamarca in the north, home to the largest gold mine in Latin America, they cover 48% of the total territory.

But this land is not an unpopulated sand desert where nothing grows. Most Peruvians live in the very rural areas from which tons of gold, zinc, tin and lead are extracted year after year, often with social and environmental consequences. This year alone, 10 people were killed in anti-mining protests in three Peruvian regions, following clashes with the police. The most recent deaths, in Cajamarca in early July, came after months of opposition to the construction of a multibillion-dollar gold mine, which residents are worried will leave the agricultural and cattle-ranching area without water.

Mining can bring jobs and wealth to whole regions. Newmont, a US company involved in the gold project in Cajamarca, stresses its mineral extraction would not jeopardise the environment. But as the protests continue, all parties involved in trying to find a way out of this and other mining conflicts – that is to say, the central and regional governments, the mining companies, and local residents – say they are ready to build a new relationship based on trust and respect.

"We need to design and implement a new approach to the relationship that mining activities have with the environment and the exploitation of natural resources, based on a balanced management of the land and a rational use of water resources," said President Ollanta Humala during his address to the nation on 28 July.

Days earlier, a Newmont executive in Lima, Carlos Santa Cruz, reiterated his company's intention "to listen, to dialogue and to build together more opportunities for everybody". And in Cajamarca, a local protest leader, Edy Benavides, spoke about the need to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. "What mining companies do is exploit the mineral and then leave," he said. "What we need is development that is sustainable for future generations."

Last month, the Peruvian government set up a permanent commission aimed at fostering this new relationship. It is yet to make its proposals, but José de Echave, who resigned last year from the ministry of the environment due to the government's handing of the Cajamarca protests, says the commission needs to realise that in Peru, as elsewhere, it is possible to mine without leaving a negative impact on residents and the environment.

"In any serious country in the world with lots of natural resources, the government's environment authority is strong, puts into place strong regulations and strongly sanctions companies that pollute," he said. "In Peru, we are not asking for something out of proportion."

De Echave believes the Andean country can implement tough environmental laws, like Australia's or Canada's, without fearing that mining companies will flee. Mineral prices are high and deposits harder to find, so he believes multinationals will adapt to stricter conditions. "What's more, if one looks at their ethical codes of conduct, they say that their operations always meet the best global standards," he says.

De Echave is now a spokesman for Tierra y Libertad (Land and Freedom), a political movement that aims to protect human and environmental rights and has sent a letter to President Humala urging him to promote better international standards and sustainable development. "It can't just be all about economic growth," he says. "There are three factors to development: economic, social and environmental. All of these need to work together."

But De Echave recognises that, by nature, mining does not exploit a sustainable resource. "I think the idea is to find a balance," he concludes, "so that mining can be complemented by other economic activities that may be relevant, meaningful, sustainable and, perhaps, more friendly to nature and social environments."

Humala says he also wants this and is seeking congressional support to make access to water a fundamental human right inscribed in the constitution. The proposal aims to protect natural resources such as water from predatory and uncontrolled mineral exploitation.

Critics say these announcements alone are not enough, arguing a radical change to how mining companies operate in Peru is necessary. Regions such as Huancavelica and Cajamarca sit on mineral riches but, despite experiencing decades of exploitation, their residents are the poorest in the country. With fewer resources around, and continuing social conflict, De Echave says change will be painful to implement, but now seems inevitable.