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A Jekyll and Hyde food price index

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FAO's usual winsome twosome, the food price index and food commodity price index charts.

FAO’s usual winsome twosome, the food price index and food commodity price index charts.

Why does the perversity of international food price monitoring continue when all evidence tells us food price inflation is raging just as it was in 2007-08? Here is an example of how persistent this perversity is.

Maize in Malawi at 280%, maize in Tanzania at 110%, maize in Mozambique at 60%, maize in Zambia at 50%. Wheat in Tajikistan and in Russia at 55%, wheat in Kyrgystan and Afghanistan at 40%, rice in Myanmar at 35%. Maize in Haiti at 55%, maize in Honduras at 40%, wheat and rice in Brazil at 30%, maize in Nicaragua at 30%, rice in Bolivia at 25%.

Those are the annual increases in the prices of these cereals in the countries named. The estimates come from the charts found in the FAO Global Food Price Monitor for 2013 May (which has prices for up to April). The charts however are at the end of the Monitor. On the first page, the Monitor offers very short summaries. Like this one:

“In Eastern Africa, maize prices mostly strengthened for the second consecutive month following seasonable patterns. However, prices stabilized or started to decline in some countries where new harvests are about to start.” Is that what is being described with a 110% increase in Tanzania?

Or this one:

“In Asia, domestic prices of rice and wheat generally weakened with the arrival of the 2013 early season rice and winter wheat harvests.” Is that what is being described with a 35% increase in Myanmar?

Or even this one:

What FAO's own charts tell us about rising food prices for staples worldwide. These are from the FAO Global Food Price Monitor for 2013 May.

What FAO’s own charts tell us about rising food prices for staples worldwide. These are from the FAO Global Food Price Monitor for 2013 May.

“In Central America, maize prices strengthened in April with the onset of the lean season and in some countries were at high levels. Bean prices remained low, pressured by abundant supplies from bumper crops in the 2012-13 cropping season.” Is that what is being described with a 40% increase in Honduras?

Who are these summaries really for and why does FAO persist in releasing to the public these misleading pictures of food prices (when it means export prices), and especially when its own price monitoring tools tell us very clearly that many many people are struggling under crushing inflation in the prices of food staples?

To take the food price opera further, this is what the FAO Food Price Indexwhich is one of the world’s primary indices and referred to thousands of times a day by planners, the food industry, policy-makers, bankers (always bankers), commodity traders, foreign exchange brokers, bond market artists and rogues, warehousing tycoons, the purveyors of genetically modified seed, the cigar-smoking CEOs of grain trading companies, and the smarmy corrupt political cronies of all of the above – says about cereals:

“The FAO Cereal Price Index averaged 234.6 points in April, down 10 points (4.1%) from March, but nearly 11 points (4.9%) above the corresponding period last year. Most of the decline in April was triggered by weaker maize prices on expectation of higher closing stocks and favourable 2013 crop prospects. Wheat prices changed little, as the downward pressure stemming from expectation of larger inventories was offset by the upward pressure resulting from concern over the poor growing conditions and spring crop planting delays in the United States. Rice prices were marginally down …”

Read that again, 4.9% above the corresponding period last year. The smallest of the annual percentage increases in the second paragraph of this posting is five times as much as 4.9% which is why we must ask FAO, again and again, who the beneficiaries of this large international effort to collect and distribute food prices really are.

Not the populations of Mzuzu, Kampala and Milange or Jalalabad, Yangon and Sughd, or Tegucigalpa, Sao Paulo and Jacmel, all of whom must find their own means of measuring the burdens of food price increases, and who have in the last year, cut down on health care and perhaps even the education of their children, only to not go hungry too often, too painfully.

A food policy pedlar’s annual derby

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IFPRI_GFPR_2012Evidence, investment, research, commitments and growth. You will find these reprised in the second Global Food Policy Report by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI, which, as I must never tire of mentioning, is the propaganda department of the CGIAR, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, which, ditto, is the very elaborate scientific cover for control over the cultivation and food choices made especially by the populations of the South). And now, with the dramatis personae properly introduced, let me quickly review the plot.

The GFPR (to give this slick production an aptly ugly acronym) for 2012 follows the first such report and furthers its  claim to provide “an in-depth look at major food policy developments and events”. It comes equipped with tables, charts, cases, apparently authoritative commentary (many from outside IFPRI), and is attended by the usual complement of models and scenarios (can’t peruse a report nowadays without being assaulted by these).

In an early chapter, the GFPR 2012 has said:
“Evidence points to a number of steps that would advance food and nutrition security. Investments designed to raise agricultural productivity — especially investments in research and innovation — would address one important factor in food security.”
“Research is also needed to investigate the emerging nexus among agriculture, nutrition, and health on the one hand, and food, water, and energy on the other.”
“In addition, by optimizing the use of resources, innovation can contribute to the push for a sustainable ‘green economy’. Boosting agricultural growth and turning farming into a modern and forward-looking occupation can help give a future to large young rural populations in developing countries.”

The G20 in session

The G20 in session

Consider them one by one. Whose evidence? That of the IFPRI, the CGIAR and its many like-minded partners the world over (they tend to have the same group of funding donors, this institutional ecosystem). A round-up of food policy by any outfit would have ordinarily included at least some evidence from the thousands of studies and surveys, large and small, humble and local, that discuss policy pertaining to food and cultivation. But, you see, that is not the CGIAR method. What we have then is the IFPRI view which, shorn of its crop science fig leaf, is similar to that of the Asian Development Bank’s view, the World Bank’s view, the International Finance Corporation’s view or the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development’s view (raise your fist in solidarity with the working class of Cyprus for a moment). And that is why the GFPR 2012 ties ‘investment’ to ‘evidence’, and hence ‘research’ to ‘food security’.

What research? Well, into “the emerging nexus among agriculture, nutrition, and health” naturally. This extends the CGIAR campaign that binds together cultivation choices for food staples, the bio-technology mittelstand which is working hard to convince governments about the magic bullet of biofortification (especially where cash transfers and food coupon schemes are already running), and the global pharmaceutical industry. It is really quite the nexus. As to food, water and energy, that is hardly an original CGIAR discovery is it, the balance having being well known since cultivation began (such as in the fertile crescent of the Tigris and Euphrates, about seven millennia ago, now trampled into sterility by ten years of an invasion, or as was well recognised by the peons of central America, an equal span of time ago, and whose small fields are being reconquered by the GM cowboy duo of Bill Gates and Carlos Slim).

What kind of ‘green economy’? Among the many shortcomings of IFPRI (in common with the other CGIAR components) is its studied refusal to incorporate evidence from a great mass of fieldwork that supports a different view. ‘Growth’, ‘modern’ and ‘forward looking’ are the tropes more suited to a public relations handout than an annual review of policy concerning agriculture and therefore also concerning the livelihoods and cultural choices made by millions of households. IFPRI’s slapdash use of ‘green economy’ reflects also its use by those in the circuit of the G20 and by the Davos mafia – they are the hegemons of politics and industry who force through decisions (they use sham consensus and gunpoint agreement) that have scant regard for climate change, biodiversity loss or dwindling resources. Hence the IFPRI language of “optimizing the use of resources”. The idea of unfettered growth as the way to end poverty and escape economic and financial crisis remains largely undisputed within the CGIAR and its sponsors and currently reflects the concept as found in ‘green economy’.

Food (trade and commodity) security.

Food (trade and commodity) security.

[The GFPR 2012 report and associated materials can be found here. There is an overview provided here. There are press releases: in Englishen Français and in Chinese.]

“Building poor people’s resilience to shocks and stressors would help ensure food security in a changing world”, the IFPRI GFPR 2012 has helpfully offered, and added, “In any case, poor and hungry people must be at the center of the post-2015 development agenda”. Ah yes, of course they must be, in word and never mind deed. “International dialogues, such as the World Economic Forum, the G8, and the G20, must be used as platforms to develop this concept, propose policy options, and formulate concrete commitments and actions to reduce poor people’s vulnerability to food and nutrition insecurity and enhance their capacity for long-term growth”.

To call the World Economic Forum, the G20 and the G8 ‘platforms’ and ‘dialogues’ is laughable, for there are no Southern farmers’ associations present, nor independent trade unions, nor members of civil society and community-based organisations that actually pursue, rupee by scarce rupee, the agro-ecological restoration of rural habitats in the face of migration, rural to urban, that occurs through dispossession, nor are there any of the myriad representatives of socialist and humanist groups whose small work has a restorative power greater than that of the CGIAR and its sponsors.

Never part of the CGIAR-IFPRI sonata that is played at these ‘dialogues’, there is ample evidence (since that is the theme) of locally articulated and politically wrested food sovereignty that can be held up as examples with which to reduce poor people’s vulnerability. In the past ten years, countries particularly in South America (we salute you, Hugo Chavez) have incorporated food sovereignty into their constitutions and national legislations.

In 1999 Venezuela approved by referendum the Bolivarian Constitution of Venezuela whose Articles 305, 306 and 307 concern the food sovereignty framework. In 2001 Venezuela’s Law of the Land concerns agrarian reform. In 2004 Senegal’s National Assembly included food sovereignty principles into law. In 2006 Mali’s National Assembly approved the Law on Agricultural Orientation which is the basis for implementation of food sovereignty in Mali. In 2007 Nepal approved the interim constitution which recognised food sovereignty as a right of the Nepalese people. In 2008 Venezuela enacted legislation to further support food sovereignty: the Law of Food Security and Food Sovereignty; the Law for Integrated Agricultural Health; the Law for the Development of the Popular Economy; the Law for the Promotion and Development of Small and Medium Industry and Units of Social Production. In 2008 Ecuador approved a new constitution recognising food sovereignty. In 2009 Bolivia’s constitution recognised the rights of indigenous peoples as well as rights to food sovereignty. In 2009 Ecuador’s Food Sovereignty Regime approved the Organic Law on Food Sovereignty. In 2009 Nicaragua’s National Assembly adopted Law 693 on Food and Nutrition Security and Sovereignty.

This is what true resilience looks and sounds like. For those unfortunate populations that continue to struggle under a food price inflation whose steady rise is aided and abetted by the CGIAR and its sponsors, the alternatives become clearer with every half percent rise in the price of a staple cereal, and with the loss of yet another agro-ecological farming niche to the world’s land grabbers.

The year the GM machine can be derailed

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In the Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka state in India, farmers heap harvest residue, accompanied by a cow, a cattle egret and a dog (yes he's there, behind the stack!).

In the Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka state in India, farmers heap harvest residue, accompanied by a cow, a cattle egret and a dog (yes he’s there, behind the stack!).

It is looking like a good start to a year in which GM foods and GM crops can be further purged from our fields, shops and pantries. Through 2012 November and December, there were reports from the continents of Africa and South America that such crops and seeds were either being banned or that decisions concerning their use were being discussed, and pending those decisions the use of these crops and seeds would not be permitted.

Writing in The Guardian, John Vidal has barracked the UK government’s enthusiasm for GM and has said this enthusiasm (in Britain’s official, corporatised, retailed decision-making circles) is not matched in developing nations. Vidal has written: “Across the world, countries are turning their backs on GM crops; perhaps the coalition in the UK could learn something from them”.

Early morning in the Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka state in India, and a farmer leads his cattle to fields.

Early morning in the Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka state in India, and a farmer leads his cattle to fields.

What is remarkable, Vidal’s article has said, “is not that GM crops have, after 20 years and so much money spent, now reached 19 out of more than 150 developing countries, but that most nations have managed to keep out a rapacious industry, and that only a handful of GM food commodity crops like oilseed rape, soya and maize are still grown, mainly for animals and biofuels”. Well, yes and sadly a bit of ‘no’ too.

Although Vidal is right about the more rapacious elements of the GM/GE/DNA-manipulation industry (aren’t they all that way though?) may have been kept out of direct markets, the arguments about labelling and about monitoring (independently, which needs civic capacity, which is hardly there in the South, for instance in India) are taking place while food with GM material can be found on shop shelves. Cottonseed oil for example, which is pressed out of GM cotton, is said to be used as an alternative to other edible oils for cooking.

There’s no doubt left whatsoever that the role of genetically modified food in our food chain is a highly contested political issues. In a long, carefully argued and copiously referenced article, the Soil Association’s Peter Melchett dismantles the pro-GM lobby’s staking of the ‘scientific high-ground’. In the essay, intriguingly titled ‘The pro-GM lobby’s seven sins against science’, Melchett has said this lobby has been good at “simultaneously positioning itself as the voice of reason and progress, while painting its opponents as unsophisticated ‘anti-science’ luddites, whose arguments are full of dogma and emotion, but lack scientific rigour”.

Powerful forces in Western society have been promoting genetic engineering (now usually genetic modification – GM) in agricultural crops since the mid-1990s, Melchett has written. I would have added that these “powerful forces” are in no small measure aided and abetted by potentially more powerful forces in the countries of the South (like India) that are interested in the same – vast and detailed control over the cultivation of primary crop and the consumption of industrially processed and retailed food.

Spanking new agricultural machinery on the highway, southern India. A government-industry answer to the loss of cultivation labour that is chivvied into the cities by adverse economics.

Spanking new agricultural machinery on the highway, southern India. A government-industry answer to the loss of cultivation labour that is chivvied into the cities by adverse economics.

These forces, Melchett has written, “have included many governments, in particular those of the USA and UK, powerful individual politicians like George Bush and Tony Blair, scientific bodies like the UK’s Royal Society, research councils, successive UK Government chief scientists, many individual scientists, and companies selling GM products”. They have ignored the views of citizens, he has added, and most sales of GM food have relied on secrecy – denying consumers information on what they are buying. Very true. If there is ignorance to be found in the ‘western’ consumer (let us say the consumer in the western European OECD countries) concerning GM foods and GM crops, then the ignorance quotient is far higher in the consumers of let’s say the BRICS and ASEAN countries – which of course works to the advantage of the alliance of powerful forces.

Despite the efforts of the ag-biotech, industrial agriculture and processed and retailed food sector worldwide (with its dense financial and political inter-linkages), there are 20 states in the USA which are currently embroiled in fierce battles over GM labelling, strenuously opposed by the GM combine. GM cotton is widely grown in India and China, but GM foods are largely limited to the USA and South America. Brazil grows 29 million hectares of GM soy and maize, and Argentina slightly less, but Mexico has delayed the introduction of GM maize until this year, Peru has approved a 10-year moratorium on the import and cultivation of GM seeds, and Bolivia has committed to giving up growing all GM crops by 2015. In Central America Costa Rica is expected to reject an application from a Monsanto subsidiary to grow GM corn.

Written by makanaka

January 5, 2013 at 12:41

The Rights of Nature, a Rio reminder from Bolivia

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The so-called ‘Zero Draft of the Outcome Document for the Earth Summit 2012’, an unwieldy name for any collaborative document, has been commented upon and responded to by a very large group of NGOs and voluntary organisations. That’s good, because the UN Secretariat, insofar as it can make a contribution, has provided some synthesis of the conversations till date.

'The Rights of Nature', condensed into a word cloud

But, and this is a big ‘but’, the Zero Draft is not urgent, it is woefully unambitious, it has next to no detail and its tone is about as attractive as a dentist’s chair. Not good for what is to be a grand 20th anniversary meeting which will be watched and heard by tens of thousands of interested parties worldwide.

There’s precious little on the mess that is our socio-economic systems, there’s far too little honesty about what’s wrong. There’s a worrying tendency of repeating the words ‘sustainable’ and ‘development’ and overusing word pairs like ‘green economy’ and overusing ideas like ‘earth systems governance’.

But – there is an alternative. Hard-hitting and truly visionary, this alternative is called ‘The Rights of Nature’. It was submitted to the UNCSD (UN Commission on Sus Dev, which is the host of the Rio+20 meeting). “The proposals developed by the Plurinational State of Bolivia bring together and build upon the progress made in the World Charter for Nature (1982), the Rio Declaration (1992), the Earth Charter (2000), and the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth (2010),” explains the Bolivian proposal at the outset, a calling to history which regrettably is left out of the Zero Draft.

You can re-read the stirring ‘The Law of Mother Earth’, and here is a little more from ‘The Rights of Nature’:

1. In this century, the central challenges of sustainable development are: on the one hand, to overcome poverty and the tremendous inequalities that exist and, on the other hand, reestablish the equilibrium of the Earth system. Both objectives are intrinsically linked and one cannot be reached independently of the other.

2. It is essential to recognize and affirm that growth has limits. The pursuit of unending development on a finite planet is unsustainable and impossible. The limit to development is defined by the regenerative capacity of the Earth’s vital cycles. When growth begins to break that balance, as we see with global warming, we can no longer speak of it as development, but rather, the deterioration and destruction of our home. A certain level of growth and industrialization is needed to satisfy basic needs and guarantee the human rights of a population, but this level of “necessary development” is not about permanent growth, but rather, balance among humans and with nature.

3. New technologies will not allow unending economic growth. Scientific advances, under some circumstances, can contribute to resolve certain problems of development but can’t ignore the natural limits of the Earth system.

You can download a pdf of ‘The Rights of Nature’ from here, the source being the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth.

The Law of Mother Earth, by Bolivia

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Bolivian indigenous people celebrate sunrise during a winter solstice ceremony in Tiwanaku, about 70 kilometers from the capital of La Paz, on Monday. The winter solstice coincides with the start of the New Year for South America's Aymara Indians. Photo: National Geographic/ David Mercado, Reuters

A consensus translation of the Law of Mother Earth has appeared on a number of websites and blogs now, no doubt a result of much collaboration between Spanish and other language speakers. Here it is, with thanks to Mother Pelican, A Journal of Sustainable Human Development and to No Unsacred Place.

Legislative Assembly of the Multi-National State of Bolivia

DECREE

Law of Rights of Mother Earth

Chapter 1 – Objective and Principles

Article 1. (Objective). The present Law has as its objective the recognition of the rights of Mother Earth, as well as the obligations and duties of the Multi-national State and of its Society, to guarantee respect of these rights.

Article 2. (First Principles). The First Principles which govern the current law, and with which compliance is an obligation, are:

1. Harmony. Human activities, in the framework of plurality and diversity, should achieve dynamic balance with the cycles and processes inherent to Mother Earth.

2. Collective Good. Societal interests, in the framework of the rights of Mother Earth, prevail in all human activity and over any other acquired rights.

3. Guarantee of Regeneration of Mother Earth. The State, at its varying levels, and society, in harmony with the common interest, should guarantee the conditions necessary for the diverse living systems of Mother Earth to absorb damages, adapt to disturbances, and regenerate itself without significant alteration to its structure and functionality, realizing that living systems have limits in their abilities to regenerate themselves, and that humanity has limits in its ability to reverse its effects.

4. Respect and Defense of the Rights of Mother Earth. The State and any other individual or collective persons shall respect, protect and guarantee the rights of Mother Earth for the well-being of existing and future generations.

5. No Commercialization. That life systems cannot be commercialized, nor the processes that sustain them, nor form part of the private inheritance of anyone.

6. Multi-cultural. The exercise of the rights of Mother Earth requires the understanding, recovery, respect, protection and dialogue of the diversity of sensitivities, values, knowledge, understandings, practices, abilities, transcendences, sciences, technologies and standards, of all the world cultures that seek harmonious coexistence with the natural world.

Chapter II – Mother Earth, Definition and Characterization

Article 3. (Mother Earth) Mother Earth is the living dynamic system comprised of the inter-related, interdependent and complementary indivisible community of all life systems and living beings that share a common destiny.

Mother Earth is considered to be sacred, as per the cosmologies of the nations of rural indigenous peoples.

Article 4. (Life Systems) They are complex and dynamic communities of plants, animals, micro-organisms and other beings in their entirety, in which human communities and the rest of nature interact as a functional unit, under the influence of climatic, physiographic and geologic factors, as well as the productive practices and cultural diversity of Bolivians of both genders, and the cosmologies of the nations of rural indigenous peoples, the intercultural communities and the Afro-Bolivians.

Article 5. (Legal Character of Mother Earth) In order to be protected and for the teaching of her rights, Mother Earth adopts the characteristics of collective rights of public interest. Mother Earth and all its components, including human communities, are owners of the rights inherently understood in this Law. The application of Mother Earth’s rights shall take into account the specificities and particularities of its diverse components. Those rights established in this Law do not limit the existence of other rights of Mother Earth.

Article 6. (Exercise of the Rights of Mother Earth) All Bolivians of either gender, as part of the community of beings which comprise Mother Earth, exercise the rights established in this Law, in a manner that is compatible with individual and collective rights.

The exercise of individual rights is limited by the exercise of collective rights of the living systems of Mother Earth, any conflict among these shall be resolved in a manner that does not irreversibly affect the functionality of those living systems.

Chillies on sale at a market in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Photo: Smithsonian Magazine

Chapter III – Rights of Mother Earth

Article 7. (Rights of Mother Earth)

I. Mother Earth has the following rights:

1. To Life: It is the right to the maintenance of the integrity of living systems and natural processes which sustain them, as well as the capacities and conditions for their renewal.

2. To the diversity of life: It is the right to the preservation of the differentiation and variety of the beings that comprise Mother Earth, without being genetically altered, nor artificially modified in their structure, in such a manner that threatens their existence, functioning and future potential.

3. To Water: It is the right of the functionality of the water cycles, of its existence and quantity, and the quality necessary to sustain living systems, and their protection with regards to contamination, for renewal of the life of Mother Earth and all its components.

4. To Clean Air: It is the right of the preservation of the quality and composition of air to sustain living systems and their protection with regards to contamination, for renewal of the life of Mother Earth and all its components.

5. To Balance: It is the right to maintenance or restoration of the inter-relation, interdependence, ability to complement and functionality of the components of Mother Earth, in a balanced manner for the continuation of its cycles and the renewal of its vital processes.

6. To Restoration: It is the right to the effective and opportune restoration of its living systems affected by direct or indirect human activities.

7. To live Free of Contamination: It is the right for preservation of Mother Earth and any of its components with regards to toxic and radioactive wastes generated by human activities.

Chapter IV – Obligations of the State and Social Duties

Article 8. (Obligations of the Multi-national State) The Multi-national State, at all its levels and all its territories, and across all its institutions and authorities, has the following obligations:

1. Develop public policies and systematic preventive actions, early alert, protection and prevention, to avoid human activities that lead to extinction of populations, the alteration of cycles and processes that guarantee life, or the destruction of living systems, including the cultural systems that are part of Mother Earth.

2. Develop balanced forms of production and patterns of consumption for the well-being of the Bolivian peoples, safeguarding the regenerative capacities and integrity of the processes and vital balances of Mother Earth.

Pachamama on Condoriri. Scratchboard drawing by Janet Morgan. Evocation of Bolivian indigenous people's Earth Mother Goddess.

3. Develop policies to defend Mother Earth, in the environment of multi-national and international over-exploitation of components, against the commercialization of living systems or the processes that sustain them, and of the structural causes of Global Climate Change and its effects.

4. Develop policies to ensure the sustainability of power generation in the long run by means of saving, increases in efficiency and the gradual incorporation of clean and renewable alternative sources of power.

5. Demand in the international arena the understanding of the environmental debt by means of financing and technology transfer of clean technologies that are clean, effective and compatible with the rights of Mother Earth, as well as other mechanisms.

6. Promote peace and the elimination of all nuclear, chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction.

7. Promote the understanding and defense of the rights of Mother Earth in arena of multilateral, regional and bilateral international relationships.

Article 9. (Duties of the Persons) It is the duty of public or private natural and juridical persons:

1. To defend and respect the rights of Mother Earth.

2. To promote harmony on Mother Earth and in all its relationships with the rest of the human communities and natural living systems.

3. To participate in an active form, personally or collectively, in the generation of proposals aimed at the respect for and defense of the rights of Mother Earth.

4. To take up production and consumption practices in harmony with the rights of Mother Earth.

5. To ensure sustainable use and exploitation of Mother Earth’s components.

6. To denounce all acts against the rights of Mother Earth, its living systems and/or its components.

7. To attend meetings of competent authorities or civil society oriented at conservation and/or protection of the rights of Mother Earth.

Article 10. (Ombudsman of Mother Earth). The position of Ombudsman of Mother Earth is created, whose mission is to watch over the applicability to, promotion and diffusion of, and compliance with the rights of Mother Earth established in this Law. A special law will establish its structure, function and attributes.

Remitted to the Executive Agency, for constitutional ends.

Given in the Sessions Chamber of the Multi-National Legislative Assembly, on the seventh day of the month of December, 2010.

Written by makanaka

June 6, 2011 at 23:15

A step towards Mother Earth rights

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An international coalition of academics and environmental activists has launched a global campaign for the creation of a new UN convention to protect “mother earth”, Inter Press Service has reported.

With civil society groups and NGOs fighting a relentless battle against water pollution, loss of biodiversity, desertification, deforestation and climate change the campaign for a “Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth” has taken added significance. Maude Barlow, a lead campaigner for the UN convention has said: “We hope that one day a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth will stand as the companion to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights as one of the guiding covenants of our time.”

The campaign has also been boosted by the fact that the United Nations is commemorating two key environment-related events this year: the International Year of Forests and the beginning of the International Decade for Biodiversity.

“It took a long time to get the world to accept the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” Barlow told IPS. “It will not be an easy struggle to have the rights of nature understood and adopted. But it will happen one day,” she predicted. Last month, a group of scholars and environmental experts from around the world launched a new book titled ‘The Rights of Nature: The Case for a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth and Wild Law: A Manifesto for Earth and Justice.’

Addressing the UN General Assembly in April 2009, Bolivian President Evo Morales made a strong push for the proposed new Convention. And in December, the General Assembly adopted a resolution calling on all 192 member states to share their experiences and perspectives on how to create “harmony with nature”. A draft Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth was approved at the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in Cochabamba, Bolivia in April 2010. The draft declaration was formally presented to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in May last year.

Barlow told IPS the rights of nature are based on the notion that the natural world is a fully operating system, a community, with its own laws. It is therefore necessary for humans to construct laws that are compatible with the laws of nature. This means promoting human and community development in a way that protects nature and promotes sustainability, said Barlow, a former UN Adviser on Water.

“What might it look like if we created laws to give the earth and other species the right to exist?” she asked. “If we believe that rights are inherent, existing by virtue of our creation, then they belong to all nature, not just to humans.” Under a system that recognises the rights of nature, it would be unlawful to drive a species to extinction or to destroy a watershed.

The Andean Cosmovision of the Kallawaya, and chemodiversity

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The Kallawaya are an itinerant community of healers and herbalists living in the Bolvian Andes. The Andean Cosmovision of the Kallawaya was inscribed in 2008 on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Photo: UNESCO/J Tubiana

The Kallawaya are an itinerant community of healers and herbalists living in the Bolvian Andes. The Andean Cosmovision of the Kallawaya was inscribed in 2008 on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Photo: UNESCO/J Tubiana

In a short and insightful commentary in the latest issue of the Unesco Courier, Vanderlan da Silva Bolzani has discussed ‘chemodiversity’ as being “one component of biodiversity”. It’s a truth we often miss or overlook. The latest issue of the Unesco Courier, 2001 January-March, celebrates 2011 as the International Year of Chemistry.

Since the Earth Summit (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1992), da Silva Bolzani has written, the exploitation of natural resources and the socio-economic benefits of bioprospecting have become increasingly poignant issues. One of the principal goals of the Convention on biological diversity, which was adopted at the Summit, is “the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources.” But bioprospecting, which consists of making an inventory of the components of biodiversity with a view to ensuring their conservation and sustainable use, has, on the contrary, not ceased to be misused to further the interests of industry, which often patents the substances as they are found.

The tenth Conference of Parties to the Convention, held in Nagoya (Japan) in October this year, will change the picture, though, as it reached a legally binding agreement on the fair and equitable use of genetic resources. As from 2012, this Protocol will regulate commercial and scientific relations between countries which possess not only most of the organic substances, but also the knowledge – often non-scientific – surrounding these resources, and those countries wishing to use them for industrial purposes. A new page has turned in the history of the exploitation of the extraordinary chemodiversity of so-called ‘megadiverse’ countries.

Chemodiversity is one component of biodiversity. Secondary metabolites – alkaloids, lignans, terpenes, phenylpropanoids, tanins, latex, resins and the thousands of other substances identified so far – which have a whole host of functions in the life of plants, are also playing a crucial role in the development of new drugs. And, although we are living in the era of combinatory chemistry, with high-speed screening and molecular engineering, we still continue to turn to nature for the raw materials behind many medically and economically successful new treatments. Nature has provided over half of the chemical substances that have been approved by regulatory bodies across the world over the past 40 years.

[Vanderlan da Silva Bolzani is Professor of Chemistry at the Institute of Chemistry-UNESP, (Araraquara, Sao Paulo, Brazil) and Past President of the Brazilian Chemical Society (2008 – 2010)]

In Dakar, a call to ‘clear away invaders’

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Ringing statements from Bolivian president Evo Morales and former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva have been made at the World Social Forum 2011. Addressing tens of thousands who marched through Dakar, the Senegalese capital, to mark the start of the World Social Forum 2011, Morales called for a programme of social struggle to build a new world. “There must be awareness and a mobilisation to put an end to capitalism and clear away invaders, neocolonialists and imperialists […] I support the popular uprisings in Tunisia and in Egypt. These are signs of change.”

Lula told delegates that economic doctrines imposed on the world’s poorest countries no longer have a place in modern societies. “In South America, but above all in the streets of Tunis and Cairo and many other African cities, a new hope is being born. Millions of people are rising up against the poverty to which they are subjected, against the domination of tyrants, against the submission of their countries to the policies of the big powers,” said Lula.

Marching in the streets of Dakar. Photo: Abdullah Vawda/IPS

Marching in the streets of Dakar. Photo: Abdullah Vawda/IPS

In its eleventh year, the Forum remains a space for open and honest debate. Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade did not hesitate to declare himself a supporter of the market economy which most here reject, and threw down a challenge to participants regarding their engagement with established global institutions such as the United Nations. “If you who are here, if you had supported the idea, then Africa would already be on the Security Council. Since 2000, I have followed your movement and I still – excuse my frankness – ask myself this question: have you succeeded in changing the world at the global level?”

IPS news has reported that this is a challenge participants in the WSF take very seriously. Kenyan social justice activist Onyango Oloo was a key organiser of the 2007 edition of the Forum in Nairobi; he was unable to attend this year, but he suggested that the building of another world is already begun, away from the fleeting attention of the media. The WSF is a place where those builders can meet each other directly. Organisers said 75,000 people from 132 countries attended, to share their experiences of injustice and resistance, to test each others’ analyses and return home newly-inspired.

Eurodad has reported that a new international debt justice campaign has launched at the World Social Forum in Dakar. Several civil society organisations are launching a global campaign for a new international debt court. The campaign, “Defuse the Debt Crisis,” calls upon French President Nicolas Sarkozy (G20 Chair in 2011) and the international community to establish new rules for debt justice. These rules must ensure fair settlement of debt disputes when a country struggles to repay its loans or when the legitimacy of a debt is in question.

Countries all over the globe are experiencing worryingly high levels of sovereign debt, much of which has been caused by reckless private lending which triggered the global financial crisis. Unsustainable and illegitimate debt impedes development and prevents poverty reduction in developing countries. A fair and lasting solution to the debt problem is urgently needed.

European activists on stilts carry a banner reading "For a world without borders" as they walk in a march on the opening day. Photo: Rebecca Blackwell/AP

European activists on stilts carry a banner reading "For a world without borders" as they walk in a march on the opening day. Photo: Rebecca Blackwell/AP

“The European approach to the current debt crisis repeats the errors that helped turn the sovereign debt crisis of Southern countries in the 1980s into what was later called “a lost decade for development,” says Oygunn Brynildsen Policy Officer at Eurodad. “Rather than holding investors responsible for the risks of their investments, public funds are being used at the expense of tax payers to bail-out the private sector,” she added.

However, “there are alternatives to handle such protracted crises in ways which do not put the burden on the poor,” says Nuria Molina, Eurodad Director. “Rather than condemning debtor countries to protracted adjustments, while securing profits from risky investments, governments must put in place fair and transparent debt workout mechanisms based on well-tested insolvency principles.”

The Guardian reported that migration and movements of people are a key theme of this year’s World Social Forum, along with the growing role of the countries of the “south” and the evolving geopolitics of south-south relations. The city’s Cheikh Anta Diop University, which is hosting the forum, has seen its population explode overnight. The expansive campus – if you get lost, allow three-quarters of an hour to find your way – is home to around 80,000 students: a city within a city. The forum brings another 75,000 participants weaving in, out and among the university’s daily crowds.

“The mobilisation here at Dakar is beyond any expectation,” said one of the forum’s organisers on Wednesday. The overwhelming size of the forum shows both the momentum of the claim that “another world is possible” and brings the limitations of the current structure into sharp relief, she adds. More local and regional forums are needed, interjects another organiser, to complement the world edition and deepen the movement against “globalisation under the interests of capital”.