Tag Archives: natural resources

Another Way to Exploit African Countries; depleting their oceans by unsustainable fishing

Two-thirds of African countries have access to the sea. Some are making good use of it through fishing and tourism. But the productivity of African waters is plummeting….The main reason is bad governance. African Union calls to fight overfishing with joint navy patrols and co-operation between fisheries have been ignored. Nigeria, among Africa’s richest countries, lacks a serviceable navy. Some governments even collude in overfishing. Angolan fisheries officers rarely report the illegal catches of boats owned by politicians.  At the same time African states are failing to invest in much-needed marine research. They say it is a “donor activity”, meaning they want foreigners to pay for it. The continent has only one large oceanography department, at the University of Cape Town, and that is underfunded.

Coastal wetlands have little protection and fishing grounds are especially vulnerable. In many countries lot of foreign boats operate in areas close to the shore supposedly reserved for locals in dugouts. Some vessels use banned methods like light-luring (attracting fish with floodlights) and pair-trawling (where nets strung between boats are dragged on the sea floor).  Industrial fishing has been encouraged by rising global demand. The European Union has a series of agreements for its boats to fish in African waters. China has moved in too. The Russian fishing fleet is resurgent. In many cases, says André Standing, a researcher into fisheries agreements in Africa, it is not clear how much money is being paid for licences, or to whom. Critics say Africa’s failure to protect its ocean is political, the definition of a continent too weak to exert full control over its resources. A recent deal between Mauritania and China makes it hard to reduce the catch even if it is unsustainable.

Meanwhile the human footprint along Africa’s vast coastline is growing. The UN says African seaside cities are spreading by more than 4% a year…. Making the sea safer and more productive may be the best way to keep landlubbers peaceful. Experts have plenty of suggestions. Community initiatives could help get rid of dynamite-fishing and its ruinous effects. Conservation no-catch schemes such as one run by Blue Ventures, a Madagascan outfit, [of a UK charity] have proven their value. But there is too little money to scale them up. The best way to find the cash would be to point out the security costs of unhappy fishing communities to rich governments. Somalia’s piracy problem began in part as an armed response to illegal fishing in Somali waters. Some banditry in Nigerian waters started as a protest against the threat to fishing from the oil industry…..

The tributaries of Africa’s oceans are mostly clean and its mangroves in good condition, especially compared with those of Asia. But abuse is growing. With the sharks almost gone, Chinese diners are demanding manta rays and mobulid rays as ingredients for their expensive banquet stews. Frank Pope, an Africa-based writer on oceans, says that the slow-breeding rays could be gone even sooner than the sharks they used to swim alongside on the glittering reefs.

Excerpts, Africa’s oceans: A sea of riches,Economist, Feb. 18, 2012, at 52

See also Coalition for Fair Fisheries Arrangements

Climate Change, Water Security and the Himalayas

Four Himalayan nations facing the threat of weather changes have agreed to collaborate on ways to adapt to climate change after a two-day summit in Bhutan.  India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan were part of the Climate Summit for a Living Himalayas held in Bhutan’s capital Thimphu on Saturday. They agreed to cooperate on energy, water, food and biodiversity issues.  “The success of our initiative will not only have direct and immediate benefits for our own people, but we could be setting a worthy precedent for other countries that share similar conditions,” Bhutan’s Prime Minister Lyonchhoen Jigmi Y. Thinley said according to a press statement released late Saturday.

Pakistan, China and Afghanistan were absent from the summit but organizers downplayed that, saying that the summit was focused on securing ecosystems, endangered species,and food and water sources for only the Himalayas’ eastern part.  The summit called for action amid the international community’s inability to agree on limiting greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global climate change. The next round of U.N. climate talks begin in Durban, South Africa Nov. 28, but the expectations of any breakthrough there are limited.

As part of the declaration the four nations agreed to work together to increase access to “affordable and reliable” clean energy resources and technology through a regional knowledge sharing mechanism, a press statement from the World Wildlife Fund said.

The most contentious part of the talks dealt with water security, according to the WWF release, but the four nations did agree to work together on ecosystem and disaster management, sharing their knowledge in water use efficiency.  Regional tensions have long prevented Himalayan cooperation, including basic research in the world’s largest block of glaciers outside the polar regions, and accounting for 40 percent of the world’s fresh water.  There was also consensus on food security and securing livelihoods and the deal covers way to adapt and improve food production and help vulnerable communities get better access to nutritious food.

4 Himalayan nations agree to work together to help each other adapt to climate change, Associated Press, Nov. 20, 2011

Forest Ownership: government or the people?

Indonesia remains Asia’s most-forested nation, but it has suffered serious deforestation in recent decades, contributing to Indonesia’s status as the third-largest emitter of carbon after the U.S. and China.  And perhaps there is no starker example than Borneo — roughly three-quarters of which belongs to Indonesia, the rest to Malaysia and Brunei.  Conservationists are urging Indonesia’s government to respect the Dayak’s rights to their traditional lands and to affirm their stewardship of the forests based on their animist religion. But in much of Borneo, it appears too late.

Where forests once stood, towns now hum with traffic and commerce. According to Indonesian government statistics, 60 percent of Borneo’s rainforests have been cut down. Only 8 percent of its virgin forests remain, mostly in national parks. Western Borneo is the most denuded.  Efforts to combat deforestation are under way. In May, the Indonesian government announced a two-year moratorium on cutting down virgin forests. As well, a U.N.-backed scheme will see developed countries paying Indonesia to protect its rainforests.  But it’s too soon to say how effective these measures will be, calling into question the sustainability of Indonesia’s current economic boom, which is largely dependent on the extraction of natural resources.

Andy White, a coordinator at the Washington, D.C.-based Rights and Resources Initiative, a coalition of groups focusing on land rights, says confusion over property rights [generates conflict]. “Seventy percent of the territory of the country, tens of millions of people are essentially squatters on their own historic lands,” he says. “And over 20,000 villages are in this contested status, basically sitting on land that they think is their own and the ministry of forestry claims as their own.”  In the future, the children and grandchildren of the indigenous people will not own these lands. They will become beggars or criminals, because the bounty before their eyes is no longer theirs.  Corruption is endemic at all levels of government in Indonesia, but some observers point to the forestry ministry as an egregious example. A recent expose in Indonesia’s Tempo magazine accuses officials from the forestry ministry of filling their political party’s war chests with bribes, which businessmen pay in exchange for tracts of forested land.  The ministry denies the allegations. But Kuntoro Mangkusobroto, a troubleshooter for Indonesia’s president and the chairman of a government task force on deforestation and climate change, says the reports are “not surprising.”  Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission will investigate suspected illegal grants of forested land, but Kuntoro says that the problem has become deeply entrenched and hard to root out. “Forests are a means for the power holder to maintain his power, by giving concessions to the military commander in the regions, governors or those who can support the regime,” he explains. “You cut trees, you got money, OK? And it’s been practiced like that for 40 years.”

Conservationists’ hopes of saving Borneo’s rainforests and its inhabitants’ traditions may be unrealistic, romantic, or simply too late. They may also obscure indigenous peoples’ fight to control the terms on which they develop and modernize. Some Indonesians see the Dayaks as culturally backwards, and many Dayaks themselves seem unsentimental about shedding the ways of their forefathers.

White, of the Rights and Resources Initiative, notes that forests can be re-grown to support communities and store carbon. Indigenous people have the right to choose their own path of development, he adds, and the issue of rights will not go away with the destruction Indonesia’s forests.  “Of course it’s sad, of course it should be stopped, but that does not diminish the importance of this issue,” he says, “or the potential of these lands to be restored and for these communities to live much better lives in the future and for these areas to contribute much, much more to their country’s development.”

Excerpts from Anthony Kuhn, Battle Is Under Way For The Forests Of Borneo, NPR, Aug.21, 2011

See also Rights and Resources Initiative