Tag Archives: environmental NGOs

The GM Banana and those Who Oppose it

banana affected by bacteria wilt

According to the acting director, Andrew Kigundu,  of Uganda’s National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO): “The idea of work on genetically engineered bananas is a result of many years of testing of Banana production.” The experiments started in 2005 and work is still ongoing to improve on the content of the fruit and resistance to parasites….The East African country is the first African country to turn toward GM to improve its production of bananas. An option which should make the country remain the first producer in the world .

Genetically modified bananas solve Uganda’s productivity problems, AllAfricanews, May 24, 2016

See also Excerpt From “How the EU starves Africa into submission,” by Calestous Juma, a professor of the practice of international development at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, for the website CapX, Oct. 26, 2015:

EU policy undermines African agricultural innovation . . . in the field of genetically modified ( GM) crops. The EU exercises its right not to cultivate transgenic crops but only to import them as animal feed. However, its export of restrictive policies on GM crops has negatively affected Africa.

The adoption of restrictive policies across Africa has been pursued under the pretext of protecting the environment and human health. So far there has been little evidence to support draconian biosafety rules. It is important that the risks of new products be assessed. But the restrictions should proportionate and consistent with needs of different countries.

Africa’s needs are different from those of the EU. There are certain uniquely African problems where GM should be considered as an option.   The Xanthomonas banana wilt bacterial disease causes early ripening and discoloration of bananas, a staple crop for Uganda. This costs the Great Lakes region nearly US $500m annually in losses. There is no treatment for the disease, which continues to undermine food security.  Ugandan scientists at Kawanda Agricultural Research Institute have developed a GM approach but their efforts to further their research in the technology are hampered by opposition to it. Those opposed to the technology advocate the adoption of an EU biosafety approach that would effectively stall the adoption of the technology. In fact, some of opponents using scare tactics against the technology are EU-based non-governmental organizations.

To Kill an Environmentalist

The killing of Chhut Vuthy has shaken Cambodia. A well-known environmentalist and founder of the Natural Resource Protection Group, he had travelled to Koh Kong province in the west of the country to try to film illegal loggers. He was in a heavily forested area near the construction of a 338-megawatt hydropower dam being built by China Huadian, one of China’s five biggest power generators. The project is one of four dams which have drawn widespread criticism because of adjacent logging, and the impact the dams could have on wildlife and the livelihoods of local villagers.

How Mr Chhut Vuthy was killed is not clear, but the official explanation has raised eyebrows. The Cambodian army claims that he was taking photographs without permission. He was confronted by a military police officer who demanded he hand over his camera. An argument followed, says the army. Guns went off, and when the officer realised he had killed the environmentalist, it says, he turned his AK-47 on himself, managing to pull the trigger twice to shoot himself in the stomach and chest.  Mr Chhut Vuthy’s family insists a third person was involved, and after his funeral on April 28th hundreds of family, friends and human-rights activists demanded a full inquiry along with assurances from the government that their safety would be guaranteed.  Two journalists were with Mr Chhut Vuthy when he was killed. A Canadian reporter and her Cambodian colleague say they did not see who pulled the trigger after their car was confronted by a group of soldiers. They ran into the bush and sought shelter with locals, but say they heard one of the soldiers say loudly in Khmer, “Just kill them both.”

Mr Chhut Vuthy’s death is the highest-profile killing in Cambodia since a trade union leader, Chea Vichea, was shot dead in 2004. Three women were also shot in February as they campaigned for better working conditions at a factory supplying Puma, a German sportswear company.All three survived, but the alleged gunman, Chhouk Bandith, a district governor, was arrested only after local media reported that he was being hidden by politically connected friends. He was charged with causing “unintentional injuries”.

Cambodia: Blood trail, Economist, May 5, 2012, at 43

Burning the Amazon, greens versus the farm lobby

The Brazilian Amazon is now home to 24m people, many of them settlers who trekked those roads in the 1960s and 1970s, lured by a government promise that those who farmed “unproductive” land could keep it. Chaotic or corrupt land registries left some without secure title. Rubber-tappers, loggers, miners and charcoal-burners came too. The most recent arrivals are 20,000 construction workers building dams on the Madeira and Xingu rivers to provide electricity to Brazil’s populous south. They have attracted some 80,000 camp-followers, many of whom squat on supposedly protected land.

The population of Jaci-Paraná, the nearest town to the Jirau dam being built on the Madeira, has risen from 3,500 to 21,000 in a decade—but it still has just four police. Prostitutes and drug-dealers do well. On payday, says Maria Pereira, a teacher, busloads of construction workers hit town to drink and fight. Knife-killings are common. When the dam is finished, many of the new residents will move on. Behind them, a bit more of the Amazon will be gone.

Brazil’s government no longer encourages cutting down the forest. Nearly half of it now lies within indigenous reserves, or state and federal parks where most logging is banned. Private landowners must abide by the Forest Code, a law dating from 1965 that requires them to leave the forest standing on part of their farms (four-fifths in the Amazon, less elsewhere), and in particular around the sources and banks of rivers, and on hillsides.  But the code is routinely flouted. Less than 1% of the fines levied for failing to observe it are ever paid, because of uncertain ownership and poor enforcement. The Suruí, an Amerindian people, recently mapped its territory in Rondônia, on paper strictly protected. The tribe was shocked to find that 7% had been cleared.  In Brasília 2,000km (1,250 miles) and a world away, politicians are haggling over laws that will affect the fate of the forest. Some legislators are pushing a bill that would give Congress, rather than the president, the power to create new reserves. That would probably mean fewer new ones—a blow for the forest, says Ivaneide Bandeira of Kanindé, a non-profit group in Rondônia. “Indigenous people protect the forest better than anyone else,” she says.

The Senate is poised to vote on a new version of the Forest Code, already approved by the lower house. The president, Dilma Rousseff, wants a final version on her desk before Christmas. Everyone agrees that change is needed. The share of private land that must be set aside has risen since 1965 and farmers who were once in compliance but omitted to update their paperwork can end up lumped in with lawbreakers. Kátia Abreu, a senator who is the president of the main farm lobby, says farmers find such uncertainty “deeply worrying”. Environmentalists dislike it too, since it encourages loggers and land-grabbers by fuelling disrespect for the law.  But the consensus has gone no further. The farm lobby wanted all past land clearance regularised, arguing that if farmers had to replant trees, crop output would fall, food prices soar and poor Brazilians go hungry. Greens countered that an amnesty would fuel future deforestation. So far, at least, the farm lobby is winning. The current draft allows farmers to dodge fines for illegal logging and postpone their obligation to replant by simply declaring that their violations were committed before July 2008 and by enrolling in a vague and leisurely “environmental recovery programme”, to be run by individual states.

“This is an amnesty in all but name,” says Maria Cecília Brito, the head of WWF-Brazil, a conservation group. “Without safeguards, states will be able to postpone forever the requirement to act.” After several years in which the annual rate of deforestation fell, this year it has risen, possibly because landowners think the new code will let them get away with it. Law-abiding farmers are outraged. When Darci Ferrarin bought a large farm in Mato Grosso in 1998, he knew that its riverbanks had been illegally cleared. He paid to replant. “Those who deforested illegally should go to jail,” declares his son, Darci Junior.  The only promising aspect of the new code, thinks Roberto Smeraldi of Amazônia Brasileira, a green NGO, is that it offers benefits such as subsidised loans to landowners who have always stuck by the rules, or who are reforesting faster than the law demands. But he laments the missed opportunity for a grand bargain to align opposed interests. A cap-and-trade system like those used to limit industrial pollution in rivers could have helped farmers short of set-aside to comply with the law by paying neighbours with more than the legal minimum to maintain it. That would both have spared farmers from costly replanting and cut future deforestation by making standing forests financially valuable.

Ms Rousseff promises to veto any amnesty for illegal deforesters. But the figleaf of the “environmental recovery programme” may give her scope to temporise, and with a heavy legislative schedule she may be tempted to do so. If she does, the Amazon’s best hope will lie with the enlightened farmers and indigenous tribes who care for their land better than the state is willing to.

For Mr Ferrarin, the way to halt deforestation is to use existing farmland better. Almost half his farm of 13,350 hectares (33,000 acres) is set aside as forest; the rest supports 3,000 cattle as well as soya and several other crops, farmed in rotation. Innovative no-till methods cut carbon emissions, fertiliser use and labour. The Ferrarins run workshops to teach other farmers about such “integrated farming” techniques. Mr Ferrarin’s daughter, Valkiria, runs a cattle-breeding programme, with an on-site IVF clinic where embryos from prize animals are implanted in surrogates. A productive farm can support an extended family for several generations, he says.

Cassio Carvalho do Val’s father settled in Redenção in Pará in 1959. It was then virgin rainforest: the last 150km of the journey was by donkey, carrying dried meat, rice and beans. Nine-tenths of the 300,000 hectares he was granted has since been sold, but the farm is still vast (the average farm in the United States comprises around 160 hectares), and unproductive, with just one cow per hectare of pasture. But his son has started to fatten his cows with grain and plans to try integrated farming. “It’s the dream of every crop farmer to be a rancher,” he says with a laugh. “It’s so much easier.” But he thinks he needs to keep up with the times.

Some of Brazil’s indigenous peoples are redoubling their efforts to protect the standing forest. The 1,300 Suruí have moved their 25 villages to the borders of their territory to get early warning of incursions. With help from Kanindé and others, since 2005 they have started to reforest where intruders have cleared. To the inexperienced eye, the new trees already look ancient (though to the Suruí the sparser cover is still obvious). Next year the tribe will host other indigenous peoples who want to repair deforestation on their own lands. They hope to start teaching non-indigenous folk, too.

The Suruí are the first Brazilian tribal people to set up a REDD project, an international aid scheme to prevent deforestation. Up to 10% of the income generated will go to local non-Indians, to show them that standing forest can create jobs and income. “We are not saying, don’t use the forest,” explains the chief, Almir Narayamoga Suruí. “We are saying you should think about the medium and long term when you decide how to use it.” That will be easier if the politicians approve a Forest Code that looks to the future, not the past—and then provide the means to enforce it.

Protecting Brazil’s forests: Fiddling while the Amazon burns, Economist, Dec. 3, 2011, at 47