Indonesian Palm Oil: A Case Study of Environmental Injustice. Blog 3: Indigenous peoples

In previous blogs I have outlined the justice issues surrounding Indonesian palm oil production. Deforestation and the loss of biodiversity have been the two directions I have taken in describing and explaining the negative impacts of the product. However, the costs aren’t only to the environment or animals. People are also affected by the oil palm plantations associated with deforestation and have been marginalised in the push for economic gain.

Indonesia is one of the flashpoints in the world where indigenous peoples are fighting to defend their land and livelihoods (The Guardian, 2009). As palm oil companies extend their reach into the rainforests, more and more indigenous tribes are being uncovered and displaced as they fail to defend their lands. Many indigenous tribes all over Indonesia are at risk of losing their land and the possibility of extinction hangs over them due to the pressure imposed on them by state owned oil palm companies. One example of this is the indigenous tribe, the Pompang of the Sanggau region, West Kalimantan, Indonesia.

The Pompang tribe are a small tribe in comparison to many other indigenous peoples in the Diyak Bidayuh district of the Sanggau region. The Malay is the largest ethnic group that line the Kapuas River (Sirait, 2009). However, due to their comparative size and the position their lands fall in the area, the palm oil companies have pressured the tribe in to surrendering their lands in a most unjust manner.

In 1974, the state owned palm oil company PTPN XIII collaborated with police and the military to pressurize the Pompang tribe to release their indigenous lands for oil palm plantations. If the tribe had have rejected this proposal they would have been accused of rejecting the governments program and obstructing development (Sirait, 2009). Two years later, in 1976, each household outlined their land and what they wanted to be excluded from the oil palm plantations. Mostly, this included the rubber gardens and the village settlement. However, their ancestral land, including forest and rubber gardens that were far away from the settlement, was cleared for the plantations, even though they were explicit areas that the indigenous tribe wanted excluded.

If that wasn’t enough of an injustice, the proposed compensation ranging from $2.50-$27.50 per hectare was not administered after the clearing. The Pompang had no means to generate income, little to cultivate to feed their families and had lost their cultural relationship with the forested area that was cleared (Sirait, 2009).

The cost of this forced removal and deforestation was the loss the Pompang’s identity, livelihood and heritage. Some may say that with the 26 tribes in the Sanggau region of Sumatra,that this was just collateral damage in reaching development. But the way the Pompang tribe were treated in the forced capture of their cultural heritage is a worrying fact for human rights activists and other campaigners against the palm oil companies. However, as Geographers, we have the capacity to change this injustice, and this is what I will be discussing in my next blog.

References:

Sirait, M.T. (2009) ‘Indigenous Peoples and Oil Palm Plantation Expansion in West Kalimantan, Indonesia,’ Indonesia Country Report, Amsterdam, Amsterdam University Law Faculty

Anon. (2009) ‘Flashpoints where indigenous people are fighting to defend their lands’ The Guardian [online] (last updated 10.12 am on Monday 15 June 2009) Available at: <http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/jun/12/mining-oil-resources-land-flashpoints?INTCMP=SRCH&gt; [Accessed 6 May 2012]

Palm Oil; the invisible truth

Although we may not be aware of it, most of us consume or use palm oil on a daily basis. Products which contain palm oil range from the average Kit Kat to loaves of hearty wholemeal bread. However, the presence of palm oil is often disguised and labelled simply as “vegetable oil” or in some cases, not referred to at all. But what have these manufacturers got to hide?

A shocking image from the 2010 Greenpeace campaign to highlight the use of Palm Oil in Nestle products.

Greenpeace (2007) projects the global demand for palm oil will double by 2030. This expansion is fuelled by the ever increasing threat of global warming on our planet. First World leaders are constantly searching for renewable and clean energy solutions which will require minimum adaptation to our behaviour. Palm oil is often heralded as the perfect substitute for crude oil– a renewable energy source which allows us to continue to avoid public transport and linger safely within our autonomous vehicles. The EU supports this thinking and has set the ambitious target for palm biofuels to constitute 10% of transport fuels by 2020 (Greenpeace, 2007).

On the surface then, palm oil appears to be the saviour of our time; a handy global warming fix and a cheap ingredient in our tastiest snacks. However, all is not what it seems.

An palm oil plantation in Indonesia. Rows of palm crop inhabit the space that was once dense rainforest

In 2007, UNEP identified palm oil as the “leading cause of rainforest destruction”(Danielsen, 2009) and revealed that 28 million hectares of Indonesian rainforest has been destroyed since 1990 for plantations (Greenpeace, 2007). When dense rainforests, typically in Malaysia and Indonesia, are substituted for miles of monolithic palm oil crop, approximately 90% of biodiversity in the area is lost (WWF, 2012). This proves detrimental for iconic species such as the Sumatran Orangutan and Tiger who face extinction due to the expansion of the palm oil industry. Here, the age-old debate of environmental protection vs. economic expansion rears its environmentally unjust head. Although Malaysia and Indonesia are developing countries with abundant natural resources, do they really have the right to exploit these endemic ecosystems and species for economic gain?

An orangutan walks the deforested ground it used to inhabit

A road blockade protest by Penan people against loggers and palm oil companies entering their land

The palm oil industry also generates severe social injustices. In Sarawak, Borneo, the Penan people inhabit the forested areas which are destroyed for plantations. Traditionally, the tribe follow the ‘molong’ way of life which emphasises the necessity of never taking more than you need (Brosius, 1997). These nomadic hunter gatherers live extremely sustainable lives and rely completely on the natural resources they collect from the forest. However, natives maintain palm oil companies have entered and destroyed their lands “illegally, without consent” (Survival International, 2011). The severity of their injustice is highlighted through the 100 land rights cases Indigenous people have filed which have subsequently been ignored. Particularly when given the full backing of the government, traditional lands can be easily acquired due to a lack of formal ownership and title. Environmental activist Bruno Manser recognised this injustice and whilst living with the Penan people and communicated their plight to the government. Unfortunately his work caused him to be labelled an “enemy of the state” and has suspiciously been declared missing in the forest for 5 years. From the 1990s to the present day, Malaysian indigenous groups have continued protesting against this gross violation of their native customary rights through road blockades and grass-roots movements.

One of many “palm oil action groups” found on Facebook. Members update palm-oil-free product lists and share real time information

So how can geographers help to combat this global injustice? As an interdisciplinary and globally relevant discipline, Geography can contribute greatly to the palm oil debate. There are two ways in which geographers can do so, the first is through an ability to research and expose the social and environmental costs palm oil. From this exposure, geographers have the capability to propose and instigate viable and sustainable solutions for change such as alternative crops, increased biodiversity protection and strengthened indigenous land rights. One modern way in which geographer’s can generate exposure of the palm oil issue and showcase their research is through the social media many of us log onto every day. Sites such as Twitter and Facebook are becoming increasingly powerful tools with which to generate social movements through the exposure of traditionally geographical issues to the public in an accessible and motivating format. Social media is therefore stimulating a connection between geographical research and the public which can be utilised to raise awareness, challenge existing policy and shape future schemes within the palm oil debate.

Whatever the method of exposure, the social and environmental injustices of palm oil cannot be allowed to remain invisible.

Sources:

Brosius, Peter (1997) ‘Prior Transcripts, Divergent Paths: Resistance and Acquiesence to Logging in Sarawak, East Malaysia’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol 39, No 3

Danielsen, F. Beukema, H. Burgess, N. Parish, F. and Brühl, C. (2009) ‘Biofuel Plantations on Forested Lands: Double Jeopardy for Biodiversity and Climate’, Conservation Biology, 23 (2), pp.348-358.

Greenpeace (2012) Image 1 – Kit-Kat Orangutan, Avaliable: http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/climate-change/kitkat/ Last Accessed 07/05/2012

Greenpeace. (2007) How the Palm Oil industry is Cooking the Climate, London: Greenpeace.

Gerber, J. (2010) ‘An overview of resistance against industrial tree plantations in the global South’,  Economic & Political Weekly, 41, pp.30-34.

Hickman, M. (2009) The guilty secrets of palm oil: Are you unwittingly contributing to the devestation of the rainforests?, The Independent, Avaliable: http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/the-guilty-secrets-of-palm-oil-are-you-unwittingly-contributing-to-the-devastation-of-the-rain-forests-1676218.html Last Accessed 07/05/2012

Lee, P. (2009) Image 3 – Penan protests, Avaliable: http://www.foei.org/en/what-we-do/forests-and-biodiversity/latest-news/indigenous-peoples-fight-to-repel-loggers Last Accessed 07/05/2012

Lim, S. and Teong, L. (2010) ‘Recent trends, opportunities and challenges of biodiesel in Malaysia: An overview’, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 14 (3), pp.38–954.

Palm Oil Action Group (2012) Image 4 – Facebook profile of Palm Oil Action Group, Avaliabe: http://www.facebook.com/#!/palmoilaction Last Accessed 07/05/2012

Survival International (2010) Borneo tribes under threat from massive palm oil expansion, Avaliable: http://www.survivalinternational.org/news/6787%2020/dec/2010 Last Accessed 07/05/2012

Survival International (2011) Penan hunter-gatherers to be dumped in vast oil palm plantation, Avaliable: http://www.survivalinternational.org/news/7370 Last Accessed 07/05/2012

The Environmental Investigation Agency (2012) Image 2 – Orangutan on deforested land, Avaliable: http://www.habitatadvocate.com.au/?tag=palm-oil-plantations Last Accessed 07/05/2012

Wicke, B. Sikkema, R. Dornburg, V. and Faaij, A. (2011) ‘Exploring Land Use Changes and he Role of Palm Oil Production in Indonesia and Malaysia’, Land Use Policy, 28 (1), pp.193-206.

Vaswani, K. (2011) Palm oil threat to Indonesia’s orangutans, BBC News, Avaliabe: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-16336582, Last Accessed 07/05/2012

False hope…False promises: another indigenous community facing extinction.

Brazil’s president Rousseff plans to build 60 dams in the Amazon. By focusing purely on economic growth President Rousseff is ignoring human rights and environmental consequences. The construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam will cause land degradation as well as social implications. Brazil’s indigenous population of 500,000 is becoming invisible and facing extinction due to the countries development projects.

Kaiapo Indians protesting outside the National Congress, Brasilia

Indigenous leader Juma Xipara claimed ‘our ancestors fought so we could be here now’, but the land is slowly disappearing. Other tribesmen have reiterated that if communities are displaced it would result in war and blood. Several tribes have liaised with mainstream Brazilian society, but loss of land, cultures and traditions, have meant groups will fight for their rights (Fearnside 2006). The Kaiapo´ tribe protested outside Brasilia National Congress in 2011, presenting them with a petition with over 600,000 names against the dam construction (BBC 2011). The construction of the dam would cause an area the size of Chicago to be flooded; this criminal act does not consider the people, ecosystems or Amazon Rainforest.

In January 2011 the dam was approved…February 2011 Brazilian judge Destêrro blocked the proposed dam due to environmental queries…November 2011 the dam was once again given the green light. The Brazilian government stated Indigenous groups did not have to be consulted by law for the dam construction. This encapsulates the great injustice, false hopes and confusion for the 500,000 indigenous people affected.

Belo Monte's proposed construction.

Not only have the government ignored the indigenous population; Judge Martins has overturned his previous decision to prioritise Brazil’s fish stock, in favour of those who claim the fish would not be affected by the dam. Did Judge Martins not consider the declines in fish due to the loss of the River Shingle? Did Judge Martins overlook the ecosystems lost in the 600 acres of forest destroyed for the dam? Did he forget the dam would cause rivers to dry up causing people to be without water supplies, food and transportation? Or was he focussing on Brazils increased wealth? Yes, fishing is vital for the 37 different ethnic indigenous tribes, but there is little consideration for the loss of homes, communities and predicted flooding (Fearnside 2006).

The chief of the Kayapo tribe finding out about Belo Monte's go-ahead

 It’s a great pity that the Brazilian government hasn’t learnt the social and environmental problems from the creation of the Tucuruí Dam in 1975 (Fearnside 1999).  The Tucuruí Dam caused great universal hostility with the loss of towns, homes and communities. With no compensation for the 15,000 people displaced by the Tucuruí Dam what hope is there for 40,000 relocated by Belo Monte?

As a geographer this geopolitical case shows that Belo Monte is not combating global warming but in fact increasing carbon dioxide levels due to deforestation, loss of wildlife and threatening the 500,000 strong indigenous community. Not only geographers, environmentalists and local tribes, but now celebrities, are beginning to raise awareness about Belo Monte’s construction; for example: film director James Cameron and Brazilian icon Criolo, proving that this is a contemporary global issue. 

 Sigourney Weaver’s views, images and proposals of Belo Monte.

If you feel you are against Belo Monte Dam construction sign the petition: http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/2486/action/StopBeloMonteDam

References:

BBC, 2011, Brazil: Indigenous tribes protest against Amazon dam. Available: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-12399817. Last Accessed, 16/03/2012.

Fearnside P.M., 1999, Social Impacts of Brazil’s Tucuruí Dam, Environmental Management, 24(5), 483-495.

Fearnside P.M., 2006, Dams in the Amazon: Belo Monte and Brazil’s Hydroelectric Development of the Xingu River Basin, Environmental Management, 38(1), 16-27.

Yapp R, 2011, Indigenous groups oppose Belo Monte dam construction. Available: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/southamerica/brazil/8855691/Indigenous-groups-oppose-Belo-Monte-dam-construction.html. Last Accessed, 16/03/2012.

Picture 1- BBC, 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-12399817. Last Accessed, 16/03/2012.

Picture 2- BBC, 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-16228680. Last Accessed, 16/03/2012.

Picture 3- King T, 2012, http://www.salem-news.com/articles/february122012/brazil-indians.php. Last Accessed, 16/03/2012

Video- Weaver S, 2010,  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Melq7VA7FjY. Last Accessed, 16/03/2012

The Sardar Sarovar Project: winners and losers

Today water scarcity is a huge environmental issue in the developing south, for example Gujarat in India suffers from drought one out of every 4 years, which has caused prolonged and significant damage to crops, livelihoods, cattle and human health. With increasing water scarcity across the globe many nations have turned to dams to not only provide ‘the answer to water scarcity’ (Mehta, 2011) but also to provide renewable energy by way of hydropower.

The Narmada River basin provides water for four states in India, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan, and to maximise the potential benefits of the water available the Narmada Valley Development Programme was implemented. Before this only 10% of available water was being utilised, the development also aimed to settle disputes over ownership between the four states (Gupta, 2001). The development involves more than 3,000 dams being used to control the Narmada River and its 41 tributaries. Of all the projects that make up this vast development, the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) has received by far the most attention.

The Peoples Movement – protesting against the Narmada Valley Development Project and the displacement it will cause

Since the construction of the SSP began again in 2006 after an 18 month halt, the interests of local people have been evaluated more closely, and interestingly many locals have different views and experiences of the project. Many problems arise concerning the displacement of locals due to flooding caused by the submergence of land relative to the dam; many locals have been displaced without rehousing or compensation (Leech, 2009). The government have tried to legitimise the dispossession that has been taking place over the 33 years since the construction of the dam began by essentially promoting loss; they claimed that for every one person displaced, one hundred more will benefit from the dam terms of the power generated and the increased means for irrigation (Randolph, 2010).

It is clear here that there is a discrepancy between local wellbeing and government aims; that meeting the needs of the whole is more important than the needs of some of the individuals that make up that whole. It has to be said though, benefits of the project have been delivered far and wide, the project is expected to provide drinking water to 18 million people, and the dam itself has the capacity to generate 1,450 megawatts of electricity and would allow for the irrigation of vast amounts of land. Most importantly perhaps and arguably what the project was built for is its aim to make the area less vulnerable to drought, which is clearly very valuable in a drought prone area.

Evidently the problem here is the conflict between achieving the ‘greater good’ and meeting the immediate needs of the individual, and in this case the pressure to satisfy the larger population is being prioritised. So understandably it becomes very hard to identify the extent to which certain projects are beneficial or detrimental, and sometimes the line between justice and injustice is very blurred.

References:

Mehta, L.  2011. The social construction of scarcity: the case of water in western India. In Peet, R., Robbins, P. And Watts, M. (eds). Global Political Ecology. London: Routledge, pp. 371-386.

 

Gupta, R.K., 2001. River Basin Management: A Case Study of Narmada Valley Development with Special Reference to the Sardar Sarovar Project in Gujarat, India. International Journal of Water Resources Development, 17 (1), pp. 55-7.

Randolph, E., 2010. India protest over Narmada dam builds awareness of rights. Available from:   http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/south-asia/indian-protest-over-narmada-dam-builds-awareness-of-rights#page2 [Accessed 19 March 2012].

 

Leech, K., 2009. The Narmada dambusters are wrong. Available from: http://www.guardian.co.uk/ commentisfree/2009/mar/03/india-narmada-dams?INTCMP=SRCH [Accessed 19 March 2012].

Picture reference:

International Rivers, 2009. India [photograph]. Available from: http://www.internationalrivers.org/ south-asia/india [Accessed 19 March 2012].

 

 

Solar Panels in the Mojave Desert – America’s Contested Green Future

US President, Barack Obama speaks at the State of the Union Address, 2012.

In his final State of the Union address before the US elections, Barack Obama stated that the United States needed “an all-out, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy – a strategy that’s cleaner, cheaper and full of new jobs,” (Goldenberg, 2012). The target of the declaration was undoubtedly the Republican politicians who are determined to push Keystone XL through Congress, but it also bought attention back to the USA’s clean energy aims.

The Sierra Sun Tower, California

The United States Department of Energy had approved 18 solar farm projects at the end of 2011, indicating that they are working towards a greener stance on energy; as the world’s second largest consumer of energy (Swartz & Oster, 2010) the US would be wise to invest in renewable sources.

Many of the planned solar panel farms are set to be constructed in the vast Mojave Desert; however two particular projects (the $1 billion Genisis Solar Project and the Solar Millenium Project) have been met by protests from environmental activists and Native American Groups. Their concern is that these enormous wind farms will damage the desert environment; Alfredo Figueroa, a Chemeheuvi Indian has criticised the projects saying they will affect important cultural features such as ancient rock art and sacred heritage sites (Helmore, 2012).

Environmentally there are worries that billions of water will be taken from the desert habitat (Glennon, 2009) and that the solar farms will not be efficient in water conservation. Infrastructure associated with energy development is likely to cause changes to desert quality (Allen & McHughen, 2011). The life span of solar farms has also been under fire. Additionally there are over 2,500 species of plants and animals which call the Mojave home, and which will be affected by the construction of the huge solar farms. So for the indigenous groups and the desert ecosystems that will be affected, the solar farms do not do much in the way of justice.

The Mojave Desert Tortoise will be one of threatened species.

However, the solar farms have many positive facets. They will increase employment and economic investment in the area and provide clean energy to over 3 million homes. BrightSource, operator of Ivanpah (a $2.2 Google partnered project which will be the largest solar plant on earth after its construction) further argue that the farms will only take up 0.26% of the entire Mojave Desert (Helmore, 2012). They are also dedicated to ensuring the protection of desert species and meeting state regulations. Campbell et al. (2009) suggest that the solar farms are the best option for California’s green aims. The Mojave Desert has excellent conditions for solar farms, and Glennon (2009) argues that ‘the area seems perfect of solar power; it’s hot and flat and vast’.

Computer image of the proposed Ivanpah Solar Farm. The farm will supply energy to 140,000 homes, provide 1,400 construction jobs, and save 13.5 million tonnes of CO2 in its lifetime.

If we consider solar farms in the long term they look set to increase the US’s use of sustainable and clean energy. The determination to implement renewable energy schemes looks like a gesture towards a greener future and to environmental justice, and after all, isn’t that the aim of renewable energy?

Sources

Allen, Michael F.; & McHughen, Alan. (2011). Solar Power in the Desert: Are the current large-scale solar developments really improving California’s environment?. UC Riverside: Center for Conservation Biology. Retrieved from: http://escholarship.ucop.edu/uc/item/2ff17896

Campbell, H et al. . (2009). Here Comes the Sun: Solar Thermal in the Mojave Desert—Carbon Reduction or Loss of Sequestration?. Available: http://circleofblue.org/waternews/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/Solar-Thermal-Mojave-Desert.pdf. Last accessed 13th March 2012.

Glennon, R. (2009). Is Solar Power Dead in the Water?. Available: http://www.law.arizona.edu/news/Press/2009/Glennon060709.pdf. Last accessed 13th March 2012.

Goldenberg, S. (2012). State of the Union 2012: Barack Obama’s environment agenda in review. Available: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/jan/25/state-of-union-2012-environment?INTCMP=SRCH. Last accessed 13th March 2012.

Helmore, E (2012) Solar power firms in Mojave desert feel glare of tribes and environmentalists. Available: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/mar/11/solar-power-mojave-desert-tribes. Last accessed 12th March 2012.

Swartz, S and Oster, S. (2010). China Tops U.S. in Energy Use. Available: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703720504575376712353150310.html. Last accessed 13th March 2012.

Picture Sources

  1. http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/287605/20120125/obama-state-union-mortgage-refinance-changes-obstacles.htm
  2. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=first-us-power-tower-lights-up-california
  3. http://www.theurbn.com/2011/05/animal-conservation-technology-tracking-threatened-tortoises/dtrelease_007_med/
  4. http://ivanpahsolar.com/

Developing countries are fuelling the rich.

No forests, no crops and no communities. Ethiopia's new landscape dominating of sugar canes.

You would have thought that land grabbing would have stopped due to the implications of the Hyland Clearances in the 18th and 19th century, but evidently not. Today land grabs are happening at a larger extent impacting the most vulnerable communities in the developing world (Zoomers 2010). Many land grabs happen to create biofuel plantations. We all presumed biofuel was aimed to reduce global warming, whereas actually it is increasing carbon dioxide levels due to deforestation.

With issues such as famine, poverty and droughts common in the developing world, land grabbing is another unwanted problem.  The Guardian stated that over 66% of land grabs in Africa were intended for biofuel, so far causing a loss of 277 million hectors. In some cases land areas the size of Britain are given to investors (Oxfam 2011). Imagine, if the UK was used for biofuel plantations where would we all be living? Replacing land once used for crops with palm oil trees has increased starvation and resulted in communities being dispersed. The developing world is suffering to fuel the rich’s greed.

Ethiopia receives approximately 700,000 tonnes of food and 1.8 billion of aid each year from the developed world.  If Ethiopia stopped selling land for as cheap as £150 for 1000mi² it could reduce reliance on aid and prevent starvation. The Gambella region in Ethiopia has attracted over 896 worldwide investors in the last nine years (Vermeulen and Cotula 2010). In Gambella, there is no consultation between the government, investors and local people. Farmers have been killed, jailed and tortured trying to protect their land and community. Due to the government’s dominance many villagers are too afraid to protest for their human rights. This raises questions as to whether biofuel plantations are a step forward in the world’s development.

Forest is being burnt in the Karuturi compound in order to create biofuel plantations.

Karuturi PLC brought a piece of land in Ethiopia the size of Wales for biofuel plantations. With the forced eviction of thousands of African tribes and exploitation of workers the company is now under the eye of the Human Rights Watch. Karuturi’s promise of building schools and homes are nowhere to be seen, it appears that their focus is only on profit. In 2010, flooding occurred in Ethiopia and Karuturi lost 12,000 hectors of planted crops, could this resemble some natural justice for the displaced communities perhaps?

With Ethiopia’s Ministry of Agriculture agreeing with biofuel plantations stating they were key for development, like foreign investors he is prioritising economic growth over the people’s welfare and the environment (Zoomers 2010). Many impoverished communities lack justice and are rarely compensated for loss of land and food, explicitly demonstrating how investors are denying people their human rights (Vermeulen and Cotula 2010).

As a geographer I believe that this neoliberal policy was aimed to create sustainable development. Biofuel plantations could be successful if locals are properly compensated and allowed a say in the country’s development programme. Furthermore, companies could create oil palms on degradable land instead of destroying existing farmland, communities and people’s rights.

References.

Guardian 2012, Global land grab could trigger conflict, report says. http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/2012/feb/02/global-land-grab-trigger-conflict-report?INTCMP=SRCH. Last Accessed 08/03/2012

Guardian 2009,The cost of the biofuel boom on Indonesia’s forests.  http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/jan/21/network-biofuels?INTCMP=SRCH. Last Accessed 08/03/2012

Vermeulen and Cotula, 2010, Over the heads of local people: consultation, consent, and recompense in large-scale land deals for biofuels projects in Africa, Journal of Peasant Studies, 37 (4), 899-916

Zoomers 2010, Globalisation and the foreignisation of space: seven processes driving the current global land grab, Journal of Peasant Studies, 37 (2), 429-447

Picture 1: Alfredo Bini. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-17116284. Last Accessed 08/03/2012

Picture 2: Alfredo Bini. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-17116284. Last Accessed 08/03/2012

Video: John Vidal, 2011, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6yGkJsR7-HY. Last Accessed 08/03/2012

Too Little, Too late?

Image

Just over two hundred years ago aboriginal language was rife. Around one million people spoke over 250 different aboriginal languages (BBC News, 2011). Yet since the colonialization of Australia, aboriginal language has been suppressed by the ever overpowering English language. In 2009 the BBC reported that only 60 aboriginal languages – roughly, are still spoken from day-to-day amongst aboriginal communities. These languages can be lost within a generation and are the embodiment of the aboriginal lifestyle, way of being, thinking and seeing. To lose a language is to lose a precious source of history, not just Australian history but the history of language evolution, the history of land management and the history of colonial experience. It is essential that Aboriginal groups receive the justice deserved and their voices are heightened rather than squandered and killed.

Languages are declining at a record rate and not by choice (Mercer, 2008). It is believed that once a language dies, once the last speaker passes away, it is almost impossible to bring the language back to life. However, in Chifley College Dunheved Campus justice for aboriginals was acknowledged (Mercer, 2009). On point of principle rather than a source of indigenous knowledge, aboriginal lessons were organised and written records of the Dharug language were used to bring the language back to life. This attempt for justice was a complete success. Both Aboriginal school children and non-aboriginals partook in the lessons twice a week. Many of the aboriginal students spoke of how Dharug lessons had helped develop their aboriginal culture, identity and pride in a community where their aboriginal roots were frequently overlooked. For this school in New South Wales Dharug is now on their curriculum (Mercer, 2009).

Acknowledgement of the importance of aboriginal languages is vital, but its only one step. More than this has to be done to stop the death of anymore of these precious languages. As a geographer the knowledge contained within these capsules of language need to savoured and shared, but not just for reasons than some may believe. Undoubtedly it is massively important to maintain aboriginal culture, but aboriginal language also contains knowledge that may not have been shared. This knowledge needs to be respected. This knowledge needs to be understood. And under Aboriginal regulation this knowledge need to be utilised. This special community knows more about the environment, land management techniques and the evolution of their surrounding than any others. Why would anyone force this knowledge out of existence? We must use what aboriginals have already spent thousands of years developing to understand our environment, as well as maintain their fabulously rich culture.

However, there are 60 aboriginal languages spoken day to day, less than 300 years ago over four times this existed, any move from here on in, will it just be too little too late?

Anon, 2010. Borrowed terms. Australian geographic. 7th July 2010

Anon, 2011. Australian project hunts lost indigenous languages. BBC News. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-14503382

Barada, W. 2008. English will be the death of Aboriginal languages. Crikey.com.au http://www.crikey.com.au/Politics/20081120-The-fate-of-Aboriginal-languages.html

Crystal, D. 2000. What can be done? In Language death (pp.127-169). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Mercer, P.  2009. Lost Aboriginal language retrieved. BBC News. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/7992565.stm

Mercer, P. 2008. Aboriginal languages ‘dying out’. BBC News. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/7225570.stm

Photograph: http://religionandmediacourse.blogspot.com/2010/11/religious-representation-of-australian.html

The real power of environmental justice movements

Indigenous land rights conflicts are widespread today, often as the result of certain global power structures. Western favoured capitalistic and economic views of the environment are coming increasingly into conflict with the cultural and highly spiritual beliefs of various indigenous populations. But what happens after the land rights conflicts are established? The conflicts don’t merely simmer out; one of the two competing groups is almost always eventually displaced.  It is frequently the case that economic values of the environment prevail, and the groups which are in favour of it are able to come up with a list of reasons which make displacing the indigenous groups justifiable. Indigenous groups are increasingly viewed has having little power compared to official bodies in their country – and other countries – which means that their arguments are rarely backed up by enough reasons or people, creating a situation where they yet again suffer injustice.

So, what happens in the opposite situation, where indigenous groups do stand up for themselves and do not back down? The Dongria Kondh people are a highly spiritual indigenous group in the Niyamgiri hills, East India, who have had to fight for their land, their culture and their lives. The British mining group Vedanta had claims to set up an open-pit mine on the Dongria Kondh’s most sacred mountain in order to extract Bauxite. Survival International successfully led the campaign to support the land rights of the Dongria Kondh in which there were 10,000 letters sent to the Indian Government, 1000’s of demonstrations all over the world and eventually over £42 million disinvested by Vedanta shareholders. This victory has been described as “stunning”, “historic” and one which “nobody would have believed possible”. Most people would have deemed Vedanta, the $8 billion company to have the most power and to come out on top in a conflict between them and the almost entirely illiterate Eastern Indian tribe, which makes their victory even more unbelievable.

This land rights battle was never easy for the groups on either half, but especially not for the Dongira Kondh people.  They were up against a huge multinational company, who had the power to claim that their environmental policies were among the best and that the marginalised tribe was always considered with best

'The real Avatar Tribe'

interests. When people within the tribe first started to protest, some were physically abused and almost all were illegally pushed out of their homes which were often bulldozed down. Yet, the Dongira Kondh people stood together and refused profoundly to let Vedanta win the conflict, and with the help of Survival International, groups and individuals all over the world, won the right to live and worship on their sacred land and mountain. It is with the help of people, especially human geographers – who can apply their knowledge of the environment, culture and the reasons behind exploitation of  natural resources – that both sides of issues like this can be spread publicly, allowing the general public to voice their opinions. This is ultimately what a social movement is; a large group of people who all believe the same thing protesting in a variety of ways. It may be that after hearing both sides of such a conflict, the largest percentage of people still favour the interests of the multinational company, such as Vedanta in this instance. This would be fine, because at least that decision would be informed. The real problem here is that marginalised indigenous groups such as the Dongria Kondh often struggle to get their voices heard, meaning that no one can ever even begin to consider their side of the story. It is therefore incredibly important that human geographers, groups like Survival International or anyone else who has the ability to, spread the word of both sides of any conflict, give a voice to the marginalised groups and give people’s beliefs the justice they deserve.

This triumph can be used as an example of the power of social movements and to help people see that all people’s opinions and values need to be considered equally in order for the decision-making people to make a fully informed decision.  Despite this, the success  of the tribe is threatened as India’s Supreme Court is currently reviewing the case, suggesting that the world still has a long way to go before the values and beliefs of all different groups from all parts of the world are considered to be equal.

Anon., (2010) India rejects Vedanta plans to mine tribal land. Available: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-11067678. Last Accessed 10th March 2012.

Brett, C., (2002). The indigenous environmental movement in the United States. Organization & Environment. 15 (4) 410-442.

Grammaticas, D., (2008) Tribe takes on global mining firm. Available:http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/7486252.stm. Last Accessed 10th March 2012.

Survival International, (2010) David v. Goliath: Indian tribe in ‘stunning’ victory over mining giant. Available: http://www.survivalinternational.org/news/6385. Last accessed 10th March 2012.

Survival International, The Dongria Kondh. Available: http://www.survivalinternational.org/tribes/dongria. Last accessed 10th March 2012.

Survival International, Mine: Story of a Sacred Mountain. Available: http://www.survivalinternational.org/films/mine. Last accessed 10th March 2012.

The social cost of commodifying nature

The commodification of ecosystem services is a much contested and debated area within Geography. Commodification in its simplest form means to attach monetary value to something; this blog will examine the effects this can have. In eastern Africa value is attached to vast amounts of woodland as this woodland provides a means for carbon sequestration, a very valuable, regulating ecosystem service. Places of intense carbon sequestration also known as carbon sinks absorb carbon dioxide and have become a major component in the ever expanding emissions trading market. Emissions’ trading allows carbon credits to be bought and sold, it is a form of carbon offsetting which allows countries to offset their own emissions or sell the credits they create to other countries.

The New Forests Company (NFC) is currently planting and harvesting trees across Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique and Rwanda, and hopes to attract revenue from carbon credits created, but this scheme is having negative social and economic impacts on the local population. Since the NFC was founded in 2004 it has acquired 90,000 hectares of land but claims made in a recent Oxfam report carried out in 2011 state that much of this land belonged to the indigenous communities (Lang, 2011).

Locals living in a hut after being evicted from their homes and land

Oxfam made serious allegations that as many as 20,000 people in Uganda were dispossessed or lost entitlements to their land during the proceedings. Evictions were allegedly very violent and involved the destruction of houses and crops (Granger and Geary, 2011). On top of this locals claim that they were not given enough prior notice and that objections were not taken into consideration, those who did lose their land and or property were not fully compensated or offered substitute land holdings, many were forced to reside in temporary shacks.

Many disputes have erupted over entitlements to the land. Some indigenous folk argue that they were given deeds for their land by the Idi Amin government in return for their or their relatives’ service in the Second World War; other locals say that the land was rightfully theirs as they purchased it legally from the government (Vidal, 2011). The NFC excuses itself from the debate saying that it was the Ugandan government who were responsible for the evictions and it was their responsibility to resolve conflicts over land, both the NFC and Ugandan government say cases that did arise were disregarded on account of their illegitimacy, but lawyers say many cases are still active and will most likely never be resolved.

The injustice present here is undeniable. The commodification of carbon sinks present in Uganda and East Africa as a whole have jeopardised indigenous peoples way of life, and in too many cases taken away their way of life completely. As a geographer I appreciate the need to protect the environment and investing in carbon sinks and carbon sequestration projects is admirable and effective, however it should not come at such a high social cost.

References:

Grainger, M. and Geary, K. 2011. The New Forests Company and its Uganda plantations. Oxfam international.

Lang, C., 2011. Ugandan farmers kicked off their land for New Forests Company’s carbon project forest project. Available from: http://www.redd-monitor.org/2011/09/23/ugandan-farmers-kicked-off-their-land-for-new-forests-companys-carbon-project/ [Accessed 3 March 2012].

Vidal, J., 2011. Ugandan Farmer: ‘my land gave me everything. Now I’m one of the poorest’. Available from: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/sep/22/uganda-farmer-land-gave-me-everything?INTCMP=SRCH [Accessed 3 March 2012].

 

Picture references:

Rawles, S., 2011. Ugandan Farmer: ‘my land gave me everything. Now I’m one of the poorest’ [photograph]. Oxfam. Available from: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/sep/22/ uganda-farmer-land-gave-me-everything?INTCMP=SRCH [Accessed 2 March 2012]

 

“We’re a human being, We’re not an animal!” – Woodside Energy’s empty promises?

What’s at stake? See for yourself…

The Kimberly is a very sparsely populated and vast region in the far north west of Western Australia; its uniqueness is prevailing and is thus thought to be one of the few global assets. This pocket of tranquillity is home to some of the most endangered marine animals, including the humpback whale that swims just off the shore, furthermore Kimberly’s ecosystem and landscape is as immense as its beauty. The indigenous foundations are strong amongst Kimberly’s identity, oozing with an ever present aboriginal culture. Yet amongst this tranquillity the world’s second largest gas extractor plans to be built. Woodside Energy Ltd, a transnational gas company submitted an application to build a gas extraction plant in the sea, as well as a terminal on the Dampier Peninsula cliffs. The land right in this area are legally owned by the local indigenous group and in 2010, after a long debated period of bullying and empty promises, the aboriginal group approved the project. But where is the justice? Was this choice truly theirs? And how will this impact upon their current and future lifestyles?

Australia is economically dependent on mineral resources extraction. By exporting commodities such as iron and uranium, Australia can afford to import manufactured goods. Although, the bi-product of this reliance on natural resource seems to be the widespread disputes amongst environmentalists, energy companies, government officials and aboriginal communities. For energy companies as well as government organisations, the economic benefits outweigh the disruption and further marginalisation of precious Australian sub cultures, as well as the environmental damage caused. But in the case of the Kimberly gas extractor, some voices will not be ignored.

Woodside Energy Ltd promised a number of benefits that the aboriginal groups would reap upon commencing the project. These included; better education for young indigenous people, training and employment, support systems, protection of cultural heritage, environmental reassurance and compensating native title claims. Figures as high as $30 billion are thought to be assigned to helping and protecting indigenous culture. Yet, before constructing has even begun, aboriginals feel like the rights, the voice and the empowerment they were so forcefully lead to believe they would have, are vanishing.

Socially the long term impacts of this development could ruin the aboriginal community. The affirmative decision to allow the project instantly divided many communities, and since, the attitude of gas worker and associates toward indigenous people has been degrading and racist. As well as this, from an environmental perspective greater pressure, on the already stressed housing in Kimberly would worsen, tourism rates would plummet and the impact of the toxic fumes would put further strain of the health services in Kimberly. The project promises jobs for indigenous groups, but after further examination it seems these would be both short term and have few long term benefits. In previous cases, the white invasion has caused dependence on alcohol and drugs for indigenous groups, as well as sexual corruption from the white workers. Environmentally the cost of this gas plant would be very high. Continuous polluting flares will degrade not just the environment, but the fragile ecosystem as a whole. But above all, I struggle to comprehend when indigenous voices are still not equal. Some women speak about how they are treated like dogs. “We’re a human being! We’re not an animal!” (Crombie, 2012). This should not be stood for.

To allow aboriginals the freedom and right the not only deserve, but are entitled to, this project needs supervisor at the roots. We need to protect the Kimberly, its residents and its wildlife, before it’s too late.