Archive | Agriculture

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Farmers Are in the Business of Managing Carbon

Posted on 12 December 2009 by editor

Credit: Programme for Land and Agrarian Studies

Credit: Programme for Land and Agrarian Studies

By Terna Gyuse

COPENHAGEN (IPS/TerraViva) – There’s a satisfying beauty to this phrase: “Productivity in perpetuity, without ecological harm.”

Professor M.S. Swaminathan, the celebrated giant of agricultural research from India, offered these words early on in a day devoted to farmers and sustainable food security here at the University of Copenhagen’s Faculty of Life Sciences.

This important side meeting of the United Nations Conference on Climate Change had two clear objectives: to build consensus on what needs to be done to incorporate agriculture into the post-Copenhagen climate agenda, and to discuss strategies and action to address adaptation and mitigation in the agriculture sector.

The problem is straightforward. The world needs food production to more than double by 2050 to feed a growing population; a changing climate threatens to send agricultural output in the opposite direction, quickly adding to the billion people who already live with chronic hunger.

Agricultural activities contribute to greenhouse gas emissions directly and indirectly; yet farmers could be an important part of the solution.

This is the backdrop against which farmers, scientists, policy-makers and activists met to discuss agriculture and rural development.

A key thread running from the keynote speakers through panelists and contributions from the floor was the idea that agriculture is where poverty reduction, food security and climate change intersect.

Yet Kanayo Nwanze, president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, reminded participants that development assistance and support for agriculture have for so long declined while demand has risen. But Nwanze sees renewed interest in funding rural development by donors in the North and a fresh focus on agriculture by governments in the South, as the impending danger to political instability and food security becomes clearer.

“For each one degree rise in temperature, the wheat yield in India will be six million tonnes less,” said Swaminathan, a loss equivalent to 1.5 billion dollars. Without effective adaptation, 44 percent of agricultural productivity could be lost.

Swaminathan, who was instrumental in developing and introducing high-yielding varieties of wheat in India, spoke of the importance of anticipatory research to counter this – conserving seeds to ensure the genetic resources needed for resilient crops are not lost, and studying and improving our knowledge of growing food in coastal regions vulnerable to influxes of salt water.

Gordon Conway, professor of international development at Imperial College, London says the drivers of global warming are still ill-understood.

It’s not that there’s doubt that there will be significant changes in temperature and rainfall patterns, it’s that researchers still do not know precisely how, for example, the El Niño/La Niña ocean current, monsoons, and changing tropical convection patterns interact to affect temperature and rainfall patterns.

Conway said we need to downscale global predictions of climate models to local levels in order to guide appropriate action. “We need projections of weather variables that mean something to farmers,” not just climatologists, such as “‘the first rains, how many days will they last?’”

That information would allow scientists, governments and farmers themselves to develop appropriately resilient crops, as well as livestock and farming systems suited to new conditions, and to set up and manage water resources better.

Lindiwe Sibanda, director of the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Advocacy Network based in South Africa, underlined the central importance of involving farmers in finding solutions. She called for an increase in locally-generated research, and the effective communication of findings and recommendations to farmers themselves.

Speaking from the floor of one session, a farmer from southern Ontario said simply, “Farmers are in the business of managing carbon.” For thousands of years, farmers have bred crop varieties to suit an incredible range of environments; the food on our table comes to us all through their hands.

“We may be 14 percent of the problem,” he said, referring to agriculture’s contribution to total carbon emissions, “but we could be 25 percent of the solution.”

A range of ways to enable this transformation were put forward for consideration in a consolidated statement that the people gathered here will present at a side event at the Bella Center, the main conference venue, on Dec. 14.

An Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scientist spoke of the need to properly synthesize the vast body of knowledge that already exists to practically understand ways forward; simple and effective tools with which to measure carbon stored in agricultural activities.

There were arguments in favour of focusing on farmers in the global South, as well as calls to remember that farmers everywhere are challenged by climate change.

Conway invoked what he said was Chinese president Hu Jintao’s maxim on agricultural development: “Try something. If it doesn’t work, forget it. If it does work, try it again on a bigger scale.”

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Portraits: From every corner of the world

Posted on 12 December 2009 by editor

Via Campesina's Alicia Muñoz. Credit: Stephen Leahy/IPS.

Via Campesina's Alicia Muñoz. Credit: Stephen Leahy/IPS.

By Daniela Estrada

COPENHAGEN (IPS/TerraViva) Chilean activist Alicia Muñoz of Via Campesina, the global movement of small- and medium-scale farmers, rural women and indigenous people, has been in Copenhagen for a week taking part in different activities in Klimaforum, the civil society meet held parallel to COP15.

“It is very clear to Via Campesina that we have to apply pressure for an agreement to be reached, because we know the negotiations are not coming up with positive results,” Muñoz, one of the few Chilean activists in Copenhagen, told TerraViva.

“The people cannot continue to pay for this problem,” said Muñoz, president of the National Association of Rural and Indigenous Women (ANAMURI) of Chile. “We are completely sure that this demonstration will have an influence on the world’s leaders,” added the activist, recalling the record of battles she says have been won by Via Campesina.

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Small Farmers Can Cool the World

Posted on 12 December 2009 by editor

Alicia Muñoz of La Via Campesina in Chile. Credit: TerraViva/A. Libisch

Alicia Muñoz of La Via Campesina in Chile. Credit: TerraViva/A. Libisch

By Stephen Leahy

COPENHAGEN (IPS/TerraViva) Industrial agriculture may emit nearly half of climate-heating greenhouse gases, but that reality has gone unrecognised by negotiators at the climate treaty talks here, say farmers with La Via Campesina, an international movement of hundreds of millions of small-scale peasant farmers.

“Small-scale farmers use 80 percent less energy than large monocultures,” said Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, a Haitian farmer with Mouvement de Paysan, through a translator.

“Peasant farmers from La Via Campesina and others can help cool the planet,” Jean-Baptiste told a press conference at the Klimaforum09, the alternative climate action talks being held here in Copenhagen Dec. 7-18.

Unlike the official talks, set in a remote location surrounded by police and razor wire, Klimaforum09 is being held in the city’s community centre and is free and open to the public.

“System Change for Climate Change” – that’s the phrase most often heard at the Klimaforum09 and in parts of Copenhagen.

La Via Campesina’s claim that industrial agriculture is by far the biggest source of carbon emissions is based on a recent study that looked at all emissions from the global food system.

This includes oil-dependent industrial farming, together with the expansion of the meat industry, the destruction of world’s savannahs and forests to grow agricultural commodities, the use of fossil fuel energy to transport and process food, and the extensive use of chemical fertilisers.

The study was conducted by GRAIN, an international non-governmental organisation that promotes the sustainable management and use of agricultural biodiversity to support local communities.

“These results are horrifying. So much carbon is lost from the soil using monoculture practices,” said Camila Montecinos, the lead GRAIN researcher from Santiago, Chile.

The study looked at all the available scientific literature and worked with soil scientists to arrive at this “rough” but thorough estimate, Montecinos told TerraViva.

The study does not include methane emissions from animals and their manure because studies conflict and incorporating manure into the soil increases fertility and soil carbon, she explained.

Surprisingly, one-third of the emissions come from food processing and transport, although the former is responsible for most. The bulk of emissions come from land use changes – conversions of forest and grasslands – and from direct agricultural production like fuel use, fertiliser and tillage.

Calculations in the report show that policies oriented towards agriculture in the hands of small farmers and focused on restoring soil fertility could, over the next 50 years, capture about 450 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, which is more than two-thirds of the current excess in the atmosphere.

“The evidence is irrefutable. If we can change the way we farm and the way we produce and distribute food, then we have a powerful solution for combating the climate crisis. There are no technical hurdles to achieving these results, it is only a matter of political will,” said Henk Hobbelink, coordinator of GRAIN, in a release.

Governmental policies and trade agreements the world over support industrial agriculture production and the study shows this must change in order to stabilise the climate, Montecinos said. “No governments are talking about this,” she noted.

Worse still, many of those policies are pushing small farmers off the land, the ones who are by far the most efficient in terms of carbon emissions and energy use, she said.

Ending such policies and giving the lands back to small farmers could result in major emission reductions on the order of 50 to 66 percent, said La Via Campesina in a news release.

“Such a transformation of world agriculture would not only greatly contribute to solving the climate crisis – it would also provide healthy food for all – as well as provide livelihoods to millions of women and men,” the group said.

When asked what he would like to tell the negotiators at the official climate talks, Jean-Baptiste said: “We have to change the model of production and consumption, especially in the northern half of the world.”

“Corporate control and concentration has not provided any solutions. Instead people suffering more than ever,” Alicia Muñoz from Via Campesina in Chile told TerraViva. “The men standing up there [at the official negotiations] will never solve the problems of poverty and climate change.”

“Women need to be involved and part of the solution,” she stressed.

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Adaptation Funds Must Reach Africa’s Women Farmers

Posted on 12 December 2009 by editor

200811_SwaziInputTradeFairs_EditedBy Mantoe Phakathi

COPENHAGEN (IPS/Terraviva) – One of the key components of global action on climate change will be measures to adapt to changes that are already unavoidable. The Global Gender and Climate Alliance argues that specific attention be paid to the needs of women.

“With climate change taking away their source of livelihood because of the erratic weather patterns preventing them from farming, women must find another means of making a living,” said Rachel Harris, the media coordinator for GGCA.

Women make up a majority of smallholder farmers in Africa and in other developing countries. In contrast to the options open to many men, few women can respond to drought, for example, by relocating to cities or other rural areas in search of work. Women are often tied down by the need to care for children, or social obstacles to mobility; they are also frequently without even the smallest cash savings of their own or assets to sell to bridge hard times.

Rodney Cooke, the director of the Technical Advisory Division at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), admitted that previous funding mechanisms overlooked women farmers. 
“We’ve made mistakes before,” said Cooke. “Women make up 70 percent of smallholder farmers, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, but somehow funding targets were disproportionately directed towards men.”

Cooke’s employer, IFAD, is the U.N. agency charged with financially supporting rural livelihoods; the organisation was set up in response to a crisis of food security in the 1970s.
Cooke said there were no clear guidelines attached to previous funding on how women would benefit.

The alliance isn’t waiting for a deal to be reached to complain that gender blind funding is failing the women who may need it most. Instead they are initiating proposals that will ensure women are the agents of change, able to create and adopt new agricultural options and explore other entrepreneurial ventures as a way of adapting to climate change.

Constance Okelletti and Rachel Harris at the GGCA stand in Copenhagen. Credit: Mantoe Phakathi/IPS

Constance Okelletti and Rachel Harris at the GGCA stand in Copenhagen. Credit: Mantoe Phakathi/IPS

Constance Okeletti, a smallholder farmer from Uganda, said women have a lot of knowledge useful for adaptation because they work with the environment through their household duties: include fetching water, gathering firewood and fruits and farming.

“We’ve been trying to adapt since climate change started to affect us. With the money we can do more,” she said.

Okelleti observed that most development aid to African countries does not penetrate to the women at grassroots level because there are no specific provisions of how much of it should go to the poor.

“We don’t know whether it’s eaten by politicians or the workers in the cities,” said Okelleti, who is representing a network of 40 groups of small-scale farmers in Uganda.

“Women fail to hold those in authority to account because we don’t even know how much was meant for helping out women,” she continued.

“We expect the final text of the declaration to emphasise the percentage of the funds that are expected to assist women projects so that they adapt to climate change,” said Okelleti.

GGCA, in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), has come up with a women’s Green Business Initiative to promote women’s entrepreneurship opportunities in the sphere of climate change adaptation and mitigation to try and tap into the climate change funding.

“For example through the initiative a local women’s group in Rwanda uses a voluntary carbon credit grant to implement a bamboo project for income generation and environmental protections,” said Lucy Wanjiru UNDP’s gender and climate change and GGCA.

She said with funding from the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), the Adaptation Fund, and new money coming from reduction of emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD) schemes, women could be the ones accessing funds to start ecologically sustainable projects – be that planting trees or managing eco-tourism ventures – and earn a living.

“Agriculture is the sector most vulnerable to climate change,” said Cooke. “An extra two million people in sub-Saharan Africa are going to be affected by water shortages and the majority of these are women.”

If a deal reached at the U.N. Conference on Climate Change is to achieve its objectives, he said, it will have to incorporate a gendered perspetive.


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Cattle, the Ignored Predator

Posted on 11 December 2009 by editor

Activists urge people to go vegetarian. Credit: Nasseem Ackbarally/IPS

Activists urge people to go vegetarian. Credit: Nasseem Ackbarally/IPS

By Mario Osava

RIO DE JANEIRO (IPS/TerraViva) – Because of its effect on the environment, cattle must be given the same priority in global agendas as nuclear weapons, wars and, in particular, climate change, says Brazilian activist João Meirelles Filho, author of two books on Amazon deforestation. Continue Reading

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Systematic Suppression of Systemic Solutions?

Posted on 11 December 2009 by editor

Credit: Claudius

Credit: Claudius

By Ashok Khosla *

COPENHAGUE (IPS/TerraViva) Systemic failures, such as sudden changes in climate, accelerated loss of biodiversity and rapid growth of poverty and population, can only be solved by systemic solutions that address the deeper, underlying causes of these failures.

Moreover, since many of these problems are inter-related, they generally have to be solved together – where possible – to get maximum all-round benefits at least cost; when necessary, to minimize the likelihood of ameliorating one while worsening the others. Continue Reading

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La culpa también es de las vacas

Posted on 11 December 2009 by editor


Por una dieta vegetariana. Crédito: Nasseem Ackbarally/IPS

Por una dieta vegetariana. Crédito: Nasseem Ackbarally/IPS

Por Mario Osava


RÍO DE JANEIRO (IPS/TerraViva)  La ganadería vacuna debería tener la misma prioridad que el cambio climático, las armas nucleares y las guerras en el debate internacional, pero no está en la pauta, lamentó el activista brasileño João Meirelles Filho, autor de dos libros sobre la ocupación amazónica.

En Brasil la ganadería es la mayor causa de emisiones de gases invernadero, al provocar cuatro quintos de la deforestación amazónica y tres cuartos de las quemas de bosques y vegetación agrícola en todo el país, además generar el grueso del gas metano emitido en el proceso digestivo del vacuno. Continue Reading

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Portraits: Quechua Women from Peru Attuned to Pachamama

Posted on 10 December 2009 by editor

Irma Luz Poma Canchumani, a Quechua woman from Peru, at Klimaforum. Credit: Daniela Estrada/IPS

Irma Luz Poma Canchumani, a Quechua woman from Peru, at Klimaforum. Credit: Daniela Estrada/IPS

“We came to Copenhagen to bring harmony to the whole world,” Irma Luz Poma Canchumani, a Quechua woman from Peru, told TerraViva. Her village participated with others in five countries – Canada, Cameroon, Kenya, Panama and the Philippines – in making a documentary produced by the British organisation InsightShare, which was shown at Klimaforum.

“In the video (called ‘Conversations with the Earth’) you can see reality. We did not come to accuse, we came to show that Pachamama (Mother Earth) is life, that water is life, not money. We want to show how we live,” said Poma, who travelled to Copenhagen with her mother, funded by InsightShare.

They both live in the town of Cochas Grande, where they say the climate is already changing. “For example, the water is disappearing. It comes from the snow and ice on the Huaytapallana mountain, which is gradually losing its ice cap. We need rain at seed time (for potatoes, maize, wheat, barley and beans) and there isn’t any,” she said.

“We want to infuse harmony and make the whole world aware that we must care for Pachamama, because Pachamama gives us life. You may have a lot of money, but what are you going to eat? Money?” asked María, who has also visited the Bella Center, where the official COP 15 negotiations are taking place.

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L’Afrique observe: Côte d’Ivoire

Posted on 10 December 2009 by editor

Albertine Dramé

Albertine Dramé (38 ans, agricultrice) : "J’aurais voulu arroser Copenhague

By Fulgence Zamblé
ABIDJAN (IPS/TerraViva) Dans un bas-fond situé à environ cinq kilomètres de la capitale économique ivoirienne, Abidjan, Albertine Dramé (38 ans), est occupée à arroser ses plants de tomates, d’aubergines et de patates. Selon elle, la maîtrise du cycle des pluies est devenue impossible, ce pourquoi elle a abandonné la culture de masse (riz, igname) pour se consacrer aux bas-fonds. Mais là aussi, l’eau manque souvent.

IPS: Savez-vous que le monde entier est réuni actuellement au Danemark pour discuter de la question du changement climatique ?

Albertine Dramé: Je ne sais véritablement rien d’où se tient cette réunion, encore moins du contenu de ce qui se discute. Je ne pense pas aussi que cela puisse m’apporter grand-chose. La saison des pluies, la saison sèche, la chaleur, la fraîcheur… Tout leurs cycles ont commencé à changer depuis quelques années et cela m’a personnellement causé d’énormes désagréments. J’ai laissé tomber la culture de riz et d’igname pour me consacrer à des choses qui n’ont aucune certitude à la production parce qu’il manque de la régularité à la pluie. Mon lendemain est chaque fois fait de craintes et de peur. Je n’attends que ce qui peut me permettre de sauver la situation.

IPS: C’est pourtant ce qui se discute à Copenhague…

AD: Peut-être parce que je ne suis pas une décideuse que j’ai été ignorée et donc pas suffisamment informée de la chose. Mais je dis qu’il urge de trouver des solutions aux problèmes que nous vivons.

Par le passé, à cette période, nous étions dans la période de l’harmattan en décembre qui débouchait sur une courte saison sèche (entre fin janvier de mars) et nous entrions dans la petite saison des pluies. Aujourd’hui, il pleut sans arrêt. Et après c’est une forte chaleur qui s’empare de nous.

De l’autre côté, c’est le niveau de la mer qui ne cesse de grimper et détruire les habitations en bordure. Nous ne maitrisons plus rien et c’est très inquiétant.

Alors qu’attendez-vous de cette rencontre ?

AD: Je l’ai dit, je n’attends pas grand-chose, pas par pessimisme. Nos gouvernants, eux  sont allés au Danemark, sans passés me voir avant. S’ils l’avaient fait, je leur aurais remis mon arrosoir pour arroser les discussions. Mais, il faut espérer que chacun fasse l’effort au niveau des pays puissants pour sauver le monde. Il ne s’agit pas d’un problème unique aux pays pauvres pour que l’on traîne les pieds.

Chaque continent à au moins une fois subit les conséquences du changement climatique et je crois que les différentes alertes en Amérique, en Asie, en Afrique (Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire) vont faire réfléchir plus d’une fois. S’ils pensent que des décisions judicieuses et applicables peuvent être prises pour atténuer les effets du changement, il n’y a pas de raison à hésiter.

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“Feria de falsas soluciones”

Posted on 09 December 2009 by editor

Miriam Nombre. Crédito: Daniela Estrada/IPS

Miriam Nobre. Crédito: Daniela Estrada/IPS

Por Daniela Estrada

COPENHAGUE (IPS/TerraViva) La conferencia sobre cambio climático parece una “gran feria de soluciones”, donde la gente evita hablar del problema de fondo, que es el cambio del modelo de desarrollo, dijo a TerraViva Miriam Nobre, coordinadora del secretariado de la Marcha Mundial de las Mujeres.

Nobre, ingeniera agrónoma y feminista brasileña, arribó el martes a Copenhague para participar en el Klimaforum, la cumbre de la sociedad civil paralela a la COP-15, inaugurada el lunes y que se extenderá hasta el 18 de este mes. Continue Reading

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Latin American Women Want Change in Trade Rules

Posted on 09 December 2009 by editor

Guatemalan indigenous girls. Credit: Danilo Valladares/IPS

Guatemalan indigenous girls. Credit: Danilo Valladares/IPS


Daniela Estrada

COPENHAGEN (IPS/TerraViva) – “We don’t need to change the climate, we need to change trade,” said Brazilian activist Marta Lago at Klimaforum, the civil society meeting held in parallel with the climate change summit in the Danish capital.

Lago and Norma Maldonado from Guatemala, who belong to the International Gender and Trade Network (IGTN), criticised the free trade treaties signed by Latin American countries with the United States and the European Union in a panel Tuesday.

They said free trade agreements accentuate poverty and the loss of biodiversity, as a result of megaprojects for the extraction of natural resources which use water intensively, spew out pollution, and exacerbate the effects of climate change.

Examples are mining projects, construction of large hydroelectric dams, and plantations of monoculture crops and genetically modified (GM) organisms.

Free trade deals include strict regulation of intellectual property rights for patented GM seeds, which harms small farmers, creating food insecurity in poor communities that already suffer from harvest variability because of global warming.

“Where there is biodiversity, where there is wealth, where there is culture, that’s where corporate interests flock,” Maldonado, deputy head of Ecumenical Services for Christian Development in Central America (SEFCA), an organisation working with women and young people for community development and political effectiveness, told TerraViva.

SEFCA’s work covers a wide range of issues, focusing on the recovery of traditional farming practices, the carving out of local markets for products, the improvement of the diets of people in rural communities and the provision of training for international trade negotiations.

“The trade treaties give (foreign countries) a legal claim to plunder our natural resources. We cannot separate the trade treaties from their everyday effects: the privatisation of water; the loss of land; the mining companies that use 250,000 gallons of water a minute for free, while polluting our rivers,” she said.

“Guatemala was the birthplace of many food crops, and yet its people are undernourished. Children are dying of hunger. How can we have a country that produces food, but all of it for export, to sell to the great international markets?” she demanded.

In her view, the EU “gives with one hand,” through development aid, “and takes away with the other,” by means of its trade treaties.

In Guatemala, SEFCA works with Q’eqchi’ indigenous communities that are recovering degraded coffee plantations.

Women bear the brunt of climate change effects, Lago and Maldonado said, as the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) stated in its latest report.

SEFCA is making a documentary to raise awareness on the water crisis, which includes footage, screened at Klimaforum, showing rural women who spend four hours a day fetching water from streams around their communities.

According to Maldonado, “the problem of water has been, and will continue to be,” a women’s issue, “for cultural reasons,” because they are the ones who do most of the cooking, bathing of children and washing of clothes in their homes.

“Lack of access to water adds to women’s burden,” already a heavy one, she said.

“Women take four hours to fetch two gallons of water at a time, and then we want them to further their education and participate in community affairs. What time do they have for this?” she asked.

How much do Guatemalan women supported by SEFCA know about climate change? According to Maldonado, they are unaware of factors like greenhouse gas emissions and other scientific aspects. “Actually, I don’t understand them very well myself, yet,” she admitted.
“What we are very well aware of is that there are constant landslides and floods, while we women can’t even swim, that the weather is getting hotter all the time, that the rhythm of the crops is altered – sometimes the coffee is ripe in January and previously it was in October – and the cycles and agricultural calendars are upset, and we don’t have enough water,” said the activist.

“We may not know what a carbon sink is, but we do know that our land is being taken from us,” said Maldonado, who said she has been threatened and intimidated for her opposition to free trade agreements in Guatemala.

“A wave of repression swept the country when the first free trade treaty between Guatemala and the United States was signed. Since then there has been systematic persecution of the leadership and raids on organisations (opposed to the trade accords). They searched my house, injured two colleagues, took our computers: we are on their blacklist,” she complained.

Maldonado is in Copenhagen, but she said she “expects nothing” from the Dec. 7-18 15th Conference of the Parties (COP 15) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, attended by delegates from 192 countries and 3,500 journalists. She says she is putting her faith in the alliances that emerge from Klimaforum, where the keynote is scepticism of the current development model.

This huge alternative meeting is being held in a multi-purpose centre in the Danish capital that includes a conference centre and is 15 minutes by train from the Bella Centre, the venue for COP 15.

The Klimaforum programme lists 150 panels and talks, 50 exhibitions and 30 artistic events, including documentaries, theatre and music, which will continue until Dec. 18.

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Cambiar el comercio, claman latinoamericanas

Posted on 09 December 2009 by editor


Niñas guatemaltecas. Crédito: Danilo Valladares/IPS

Niñas guatemaltecas. Crédito: Danilo Valladares/IPS

Por Daniela Estrada


COPENHAGUE (IPS/TerraViva) “No necesitamos cambiar el clima, necesitamos cambiar el comercio”, dijo la activista brasileña Marta Lago en el Klimaforum, el principal ámbito de la sociedad civil paralelo a la COP-15.

Lago y la guatemalteca Norma Maldonado, ambas de la Red Internacional de Género y Comercio (IGTN, según sus siglas en inglés), cuestionaron los tratados de libre comercio firmados por países de América Latina con Estados Unidos y la Unión Europea, en una charla ofrecida el martes. Continue Reading

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CLIMATE CHANGE: Brazil Defends Biofuels

Posted on 08 December 2009 by editor


Smoke from sugar cane burn-off chokes the air in the countryside. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Smoke from sugar cane burn-off chokes the air in the countryside. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Claudia Ciobanu


COPENHAGEN (IPS/TerraViva) – Being the world’s largest producer and exporter of ethanol, it is natural for the Brazilian government and its partners to push biofuels as  the only real alternative for a world trying to wean itself away from fossil fuels that contribute to global warming.

Brazilian authorities were ready with their arguments at the United Nations climate change summit underway here. Over the past 30 years, since the country embarked on its ethanol programme, an estimated 800 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions have been avoided.

Brazilian delegates were at pains to show that not only is biofuel production the best way to reduce greenhouse gas (GhG) emissions but it can also combat poverty as exemplified by the country’s scheme to promote micro-distilleries to provide additional income for rural families.

Biofuels have, however, come under serious attack in recent years for eating into farmlands meant for food production. As a result, the European Union backed out, last year, from a commitment to introduce a 10 percent mandatory quota of biofuels in all transportation by 2020.

In Brazil itself environmentalists have pointed to biofuel production as one of the key reasons for the steady deforestation of the Amazon basin.

Countering such criticism, Jose Migues from the Brazilian ministry of science and technology said:  “We were told that biofuels lead to deforestation in the Amazon, but the ethanol production areas are 3,000 km away from the Amazon.’’

Migues referred to Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC), a phrase describing the effects of biofuel production, which pushes human activities towards the Amazon rainforest. In the Sao Paulo area, where most ethanol production is concentrated, there has been a significant decrease in cattle raising and agricultural production.

“But is it fair to say that all of these activities are now moving to the Amazon?” asked Thelma Krug, another representative of the ministry.  “There is much room for making agriculture and cattle raising more efficient in Brazil.”

While the question of where Sao Paulo’s farmers have moved remained unanswered in Copenhagen, the planned expansion of the ethanol industry threatens further displacement. There are currently over six million hectares under sugar cane in Brazil, but Krug said there are “64 million ha available for expanding sugar cane production.”

She said the government is working on using satellite imagery to monitor the loss of forest cover and keep deforestation under check. A representative of Nature Conservancy, a Brazilian NGO, spoke of the thoroughness of forest protection laws.

As for food security issues linked to biofuel production, Andre Correa do Lago, director general of the energy department in the ministry of foreign affairs, stopped short of an outright denial that biofuels were to blame for the 2008 rise in food prices.

“Food security is one of the main concerns of our government,” he said. “Biofuels, like any other human endeavour, can be done in a better way. So we should not use the worst case as a general reference point.”

Legislation is under consideration to prevent biomass burning, which is responsible for large amounts of GhG emissions. Much of the waste, especially bagasse, is increasingly replacing polluting nitrogenous fertilisers. The production process is being made more efficient with nine units of energy being produced from bagasse for every unit of fossil energy.

But while admitting that “biofuels are no silver bullet,” Brazilian authorities insist that they are the best way forward for developing countries.

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Missing Gender Dimension

Posted on 04 December 2009 by editor

Sabina Zaccaro interviews IUCN gender advisor Lorena Aguilar Revelo

Lorena Aguilar Revelo. Credit: U.N.

Lorena Aguilar Revelo. Credit: U.N.

ROME  (IPS/TerraViva) Women are known to be innovators when it comes to responding to climate change. The question is how to ensure that the role of women and gender equality are reflected in climate change agreements.

Women in poor countries will be the most affected by climate change effects, according to the 2009 State of the World Population report, released last month by the United Nations Population Fund. This is because women comprise the majority of the world’s farmers, have access to fewer income-earning opportunities, and have limited or no access to technology. Continue Reading

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