A cacao tree laden with beans, in the shade of banana trees on the Wronski family farm in Medicilândia, a municipality in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest state of Pará, where organic farmers are helping to reforest the jungle. Credit: Mario Osava/IPSA cacao tree laden with beans, in the shade of banana trees on the Wronski family farm in Medicilândia, a municipality in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest state of Pará, where organic farmers are helping to reforest the jungle. Credit: Mario Osava/IPSBy Mario Osava

MEDICILÂNDIA, Brazil, Jun 11 (IPS) - "Now we realise what a paradise we live in," said Darcirio Wronski, a leader of the organic cacao producers in the region where the Trans-Amazonian highway cuts across the Xingú river basin in northern Brazil.

Besides cacao, on their 100 hectares of land he grows bananas, passion fruit, cupuazú (Theobroma grandiflorum), pineapples and other native or exotic fruit with which his wife, Rosalina Brighanti, makes preserves that she sells as jams or jellies or uses as filling in homemade chocolate bars that she and her assistants make.

All of the products are labeled as certifiably organic.

But the situation they found in the 1970s was more like hell than paradise, they said, when they migrated separately from southern Brazil to Medicilândia, a town known as the "capital of cacao", where they met, married in 1980 and had four children, who work with them on the farm.

They were drawn to the Amazon rainforest by misleading ads published by the then military dictatorship, which promised land with infrastructure and healthcare and schools in settlements created by the National Institute of Colonisation and Agrarian Reform.

The aim was to populate the Amazon, which the de facto government considered a demographic vacuum vulnerable to invasions from abroad or to international machinations that could undermine Brazil's sovereignty over the immense jungle with its rivers and possible mineral wealth.

The Trans-Amazonian highway, which was to run 4,965 km horizontally across the country from the northeast all the way to the west, was to link the rainforest to the rest of the nation. And thousands of rural families from other regions settled along the road.

The unfinished highway, unpaved and without proper bridges, became impassable along many stretches, especially in the rainy season. The settlers ended up isolated and abandoned, practically cut off from the rest of the world, and large swathes of land were deforested.

Medicilândia is a product of that process. The city's name pays homage to General Garrastazú Médici, president from 1969 to 1974, who inaugurated the Trans-Amazonian highway in 1972. The town emerged on kilometer 90 of the highway, and was recognised in 1989 as a municipality, home today to some 29,000 people.

"For the pioneers of the colonisation process it was torture, there was nothing to buy or sell here," said 55-year-old Rosalina Brighanti, who everyone knows as Doña Rosa. "Some foods we could only get in Altamira, 100 km away along an unpaved road."

Her husband Wronski, originally from the southern state of Santa Catarina, where his father had a small farm, impossible to divide between 10 sons and daughters, followed "the Amazonian dream."

After running into failure with traditional crops like rice and beans, Wronski ended up buying a farm and planting cacao, a local crop encouraged by the government by means of incentives.

His decision to go organic accelerated the reforestation of his land, where sugarcane used to grow.

Cacao is increasingly looking like an alternative for the generation of jobs and incomes to mitigate local unemployment once construction is completed on the giant Belo Monte hydropower dam on the Xingú river, near Altamira, the capital of the region which encompasses 11 municipalities.

The dam's turbines will gradually begin operating, from this year to 2019.

The Belo Monte construction project has drawn labour power away from cacao production. "That has caused the loss of 30 percent of Medicilândia's cacao harvest this year," Wronski told IPS during a tour of his farm.

"I know a family that has 70,000 cacao plants, whose son is working on Belo Monte and not in the harvest," the 64-year-old farmer said.

The hope is that workers will return to the cacao crop once large numbers of people start to be laid off as the construction of the dam comes to a close. For routine maintenance of the plants, only the families who live on the farms are needed, but additional workers are necessary at harvest time.

Wronski and his wife Brighanti don't have a seasonal labour problem. Six families – some of them relatives and others sharecroppers – live on their farm and take care of the cacao trees in exchange for half of the harvest.

They also hire seasonal workers from a nearby rural village where some 40 families live, most of whom do not grow their own crops.

Cacao farms employ large numbers of people because "the work is 100 percent manual; there are no machines to harvest and smash the beans," local agricultural technician Alino Zavarise Bis, with the Executive Commission of the Cacao Cultivation Plan (CEPLAC), a state body that provides technical assistance and does research, told IPS.

Besides providing jobs and incomes for people in the countryside, cacao farming drives reforestation. Two-thirds of the population of the municipality of Medicilândia is still rural, and a view from the air shows that it has conserved the native forests.

That is because cacao trees need shade from taller trees. When the bushes are still small, banana trees are used for shade – which has led to a major increase in local production of bananas.

"We have the privilege of working in the shade," joked Jedielcio Oliveira, sales and marketing coordinator of the Organic Production Programme carried out in the Trans-Amazonian/Xingú region by CEPLAC, other national institutions and the German Technical Cooperation Agency (GTZ).

But organic production is still small-scale, accounting for just one percent of total cacao output in the Amazon state of Pará, where Medicilândia is located.

"That's around 800,000 tons a year of cacao beans grown by a niche of 120 families, grouped in six cooperatives," said Bis.

Wronski presides over one of them, the Organic Production Cooperative of Amazonia, and he was just elected to head the Central Cooperative, recently created to coordinate the activities of the six organic cacao cooperatives, including marketing and sales.

"Organic cacao farmers are different – they are more aware of the need to preserve the environment, more focused on sustainability," said CEPLAC's Bis. "While conventional farmers are looking at productivity and profits, organic growers are interested in taking care of the family's health and well-being, and preserving nature, although without ignoring profit margins, since they get better prices."

New members have to be invited by a member of one of the cooperatives and approved in assembly, "and the process of conversion to organic takes three years, which is the time needed to detoxify the soil from the effects of chemical fertilisers and poisons," he said.

"The entire production system has to be organic, and not just the final product," another cacao producer, Raimundo Silva from Uruará, a municipality to the west of Medicilândia, who is responsible for commercial operations in the new Central Cooperative, told IPS.

Organic cacao from Pará supplies, for example, the Austrian firm Zotter Chocolate, which boasts 365 different flavours and sells only organic, fair trade chocolate. Among its clients in Brazil is Harald, which exports chocolates to more than 30 countries, and Natura Cosméticos.

The industry in general, although it prefers the more abundant and less costly standard cacao butter, also adds the richer organic cacao to produce the best quality chocolates.

Conventional cacao, which uses pesticides and other chemical products, is still predominant in Pará. A small chocolate factory, Cacauway, was founded in 2010 in Medicilândia by the Trans-Amazonian Agroindustrial Cooperative, which groups traditional producers of non-organic cacao.

"The future of cacao is in Pará, which has favourable conditions for production, like abundant rains, fertile soil, and family farmers who live on the land, unlike the large landowners who live in the cities," said Bis.

Pará is surpassed by another northern state, Bahia, which accounts for two-thirds of national cacao production. But productivity in Pará averages 800 kg per tree – double the productivity of Bahia, the expert noted.

And cacao trees in the Amazon rainforest are more resistant to witch's broom, a fungus that reduced the harvest in Bahia by 60 percent in the 1990s. At the time, Brazil was the world's second-biggest producer, but it fell to sixth place, behind countries of West Africa, Indonesia and even neighbouring Ecuador.

This article forms part of a reporting series conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons. Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

All rights reserved, IPS – Inter Press Service (2015)

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Rising sea levels haves resulted in the relocation of houses and erection of this sea defence in Layou, a town in southwestern St. Vincent. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPSRising sea levels haves resulted in the relocation of houses and erection of this sea defence in Layou, a town in southwestern St. Vincent. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPSBy Kenton X. Chance

KINGSTOWN, May 14 (IPS) - For 32 years, Joel Poyer, a forest technician, has been tending to the forest of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

His job allows him a unique view of what is taking place in the interior of this volcanic east Caribbean nation, where the landscape is mostly an alternation of deep gorges and high mountains.

Poyer, a 54-year-old social and political activist and trade unionist, is hoping that during the 18 months before he retires he can get the government and people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines to focus on how human activities on the nation's beaches and in its forest, are exacerbating the impact of climate change.

"Right now, it's like a cancer eating from the inside," he tells IPS of the action of persons, many of them illegal marijuana growers, who clear large swaths of land for farming then abandon them after a few years and start the cycle again.

Over the past few years, extreme weather events have shown the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines how activities happening out of sight in the forest can have devastating impact on coastal and other residential areas.

Three extreme weather events since 2010 have left total loss and damage of 222 million dollars, about 60 per cent of the gross domestic product.

In October 2010, Hurricane Tomas left 24 million dollars in damage, including damage to 1,200 homes that sent scores of persons into emergency shelter.

The hurricane also left significant damage to agriculture, including the destruction of 98 per cent almost all of the nation's banana and plantain trees, cash crops for many farm families.

In April 2011, heavy rains resulted in landslides and caused rivers to overflow their banks and damage to some 60 houses in Georgetown on St. Vincent's northeastern coast.

In addition to the fact that the extreme weather event occurred during the traditional dry season and left thirty-two million dollars worth of damage, Vincentians were surprised by the number of logs that the raging waters deposited into the town.

On December 24, 2013, unseasonal heavy rains triggered landslides and floods, resulting in 122 million dollars in damage and loss.

Again, resident were surprised by the number of logs that floodwaters had deposited into towns and villages and the ways in which these logs became battering rams, damaging or destroying houses and public infrastructure.

Not many of the trees, however, were freshly uprooted. They were either dry whole tree trunks or neatly cut logs.

"We have to pay attention to what is happening in the forest," Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves told the media after the extreme weather event of December 2013.

"If we are seeing these logs in the lower end, you can imagine the damage in the upper end," he said, adding that the Christmas Eve floods had damaged about 10 per cent of the nation's forest.

"And if those logs are not cleared, and if we don't deal properly with the river defences in the upper areas of the river, we have a time bomb, a ticking time bomb, because when the rains come again heavily, they will simply wash down what is in the pipeline, so to speak, in addition to new material that is to come," Gonsalves said.

Almost one and a half years after the Christmas disaster, Gonsalves tells IPS a lot of clearing has been taking place in the forest.

"And I'll tell you, the job which is required to be done is immense," he says, adding that there is also a challenge of persons dumping garbage into rivers and streams, although the government collects garbage in every community across the country.

The aftermath of a bushfire in southern St. Vincent. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPSThe aftermath of a bushfire in southern St. Vincent. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPSThe scope of deforestation in St. Vincent and the Grenadines is extensive. In some instances, persons clear up to 10 acres of forest for marijuana cultivation at elevations of over 3,000 feet above sea level, Poyer tells IPS.

"Some of them may cultivate using a method that is compatible, whereby they may leave trees in strategic areas to help to hold the soil together and attract rain. Other will just clear everything, as much as five to ten acres at one time for marijuana," he explains.

But farmers growing legal produce, such a vegetables and root crops, also use practices that make the soils more susceptible to erosion at a time when the nation is witness longer, drier periods and shorter spells of more intense rainfall.

Many farmers use the slash and burn method, which purges the land of many of its nutrients and cause it to become lose. Farmers will then turn to fertilisers, which increases production costs.

"When they realise that it is costing them more for input, they will abandon those lands. In abandoning these lands, these lands being left bare, you have erosion taking place. You may have gully erosion, landslides," Poyer tells IPS.

He says that sometime access to these lands is so difficult that reforestation is very costly.

"Sometimes we will have to put in check dams to try to reduce the erosion and allow it to come under vegetation naturally and hope and pray that in two years when it begins to come under vegetation that someone doesn't do the very same thing that had happened two years prior," he explains.

As climate change continues to affect the Caribbean, countries of the eastern Caribbean are seeing longer dry spells and more droughts, as is the case currently, which has led to a shortage of drinking water in some countries.

Emergency management officials in St. Vincent and the Grenadines have warned that the rainy season is expected to begin in July, at least four weeks later than is usually the case. Similar warnings have been issued across the region.

This makes conditions rife for bush fires in a country where the entire coastline is a fire zone because of the type of vegetation.

The nation's fire chief, Superintendent of Police Isaiah Browne, tells IPS that this year fire-fighters have responded to 32 bush fires, compared to 91 in all of 2014.

In May alone, they have responded to 20 bush fires many of them caused by persons clearing lands for agriculture.

Poyer tells IPS that in addition to the type of vegetation along the coast, a lot of trees in those areas have been removed to make way for housing and other developments.

"And that also has an impact on the aquatic life," he says. "That is why sometimes we hardly see any fish along the coastline, because there are no trees to cool the water for the algae to get food."

Poyer's comments echo a warning by Susan Singh-Renton, deputy executive director of the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism, who says that as the temperature of the Caribbean Sea rises, species of fish found in the region, important proteins sources, may move further northward.

The effects of bush fires, combined with the severe weather resulting from climate change, have had catastrophic results in St. Vincent.

Among the 12 persons who died in the Christmas 2013 floods and landslides were five members of a household in Rose Bank, in north-western St. Vincent, who died when a landslide slammed into their home.

"The three specific areas in Rose Bank where landslides occurred in in the 2013 floods were three of the areas where fires were always being lit," Community activist Kennard King tells IPS, adding that there were no farms on those hillsides.

"It did affect the soil because as the bush was being burnt out, the soil did get loose, so that when the flood came, those areas were the areas that had the landslide," says King, who is president of the Rose Bank Development Association.

As temperatures soar and rainfall decreases, the actions of Vincentians along the banks of streams and rivers are resulting in less fresh water in the nation's waterways.

"The drying out of streams in the dry season is also a result of what is taking place in the hills, in the middle basin and along the stream banks," Poyer tells IPS.

"Once you remove the vegetation, then you open it up to the sun and the elements that will draw out a lot of the water, causing it to vaporise and some of the rivers become seasonal," he explains.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines has had to spend millions of dollars to protect coastal areas and relocate persons affected by rising sea, as was the case in Layou, a town on the south-western coast, where boardwalk knows stands where house once stood for generations.

Stina Herberg, principal of Richmond Vale Academy in north-western St. Vincent has seen the impact of climate change on the land- and seascape since she arrived in St. Vincent in 2007.

"Since I came here in 2007, I have seen a very big part of our coastline disappear. … The road used to go along the beach, but at a point we had really bad weather and that whole road disappeared. So we got like five metres knocked off our beach. So that was a first warning sign," she tells IPS.

Richmond Vale Academy runs a Climate Compliance Conference, where new students join for up to six months and take part in a 10-year project to help the people in St. Vincent adapt to the challenges of global warming and climate change.

"We had trough system on the 24th December 2013, and that a took a big bite out of our football field. Maybe 10 per cent, 15 per cent of that football field was just gone in the trough system. … We have been observing this, starting to plant tree, getting more climate conscious, living the disasters through," she says.

The academy recently joined with the Police Cooperative Credit Union to plant 100 trees at Richmond Beach, which has been severely impacted by climate change.

"They will prevent erosion, they will look more beautiful, they will motivate and mobilise people that they can see yes we can do something," Herberg tells IPS.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

All rights reserved, IPS – Inter Press Service (2015)

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By Manipadma Jena

Women from the Gunduribadi tribal village in the eastern Indian state of Odisha patrol their forests with sticks to prevent illegal logging. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPSWomen from the Gunduribadi tribal village in the eastern Indian state of Odisha patrol their forests with sticks to prevent illegal logging. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPSNAYAGARH, India, Apr 30 (IPS) - Kama Pradhan, a 35-year-old tribal woman, her eyes intent on the glowing screen of a hand-held GPS device, moves quickly between the trees. Ahead of her, a group of men hastens to clear away the brambles from stone pillars that stand at scattered intervals throughout this dense forest in the Nayagarh district of India's eastern Odisha state.

The heavy stone markers, laid down by the British 150 years ago, demarcate the outer perimeter of an area claimed by the Raj as a state-owned forest reserve, ignoring at the time the presence of millions of forest dwellers, who had lived off this land for centuries.

Pradhan is a member of the 27-household Gunduribadi tribal village, working with her fellow residents to map the boundaries of this 200-hectare forest that the community claims as their customary land.

It will take days of scrambling through hilly terrain with government-issued maps and rudimentary GPS systems to find all the markers and determine the exact extent of the woodland area, but Pradhan is determined.

"No one can cheat us of even one metre of our mother, the forest. She has given us life and we have given our lives for her," the indigenous woman tells IPS, her voice shaking with emotion.

Unfolding out of sight and out of mind of India's policy-making nucleus in the capital, New Delhi, this quiet drama – involving the 275 million people who reside in or on the fringes of the country's bountiful forests – could be the defining struggle of the century.

At the forefront of the movement are tribal communities in states like Odisha who are determined to make full use of a 2012 amendment to India's Forest Rights Act (FRA) to claim titles to their land, on which they can carve out a simple life, and a sustainable future for their children.

One of the most empowering provisions of the amended FRA gave forest dwellers and tribal communities the right to own, manage and sell non-timber forest products (NTFP), which some 100 million landless people in India depend on for income, medicine and housing.

Women have emerged as the natural leaders of efforts to implement these legal amendments, as they have traditionally managed forestlands, sustainably sourcing food, fuel and fodder for the landless poor, as well as gathering farm-fencing materials, medicinal plants and wood to build their thatched-roof homes.

Under the leadership of women like Pradhan, 850 villages in the Nayagarh district of Odisha state are collectively managing 100,000 hectares of forest land, with the result that 53 percent of the district's land mass now has forest cover.

This is more than double India's national average of 21 percent forest cover.

Overall, 15,000 villages in India, primarily in the eastern states, protect around two million hectares of forests.

When life depends on land

According to the latest Forest Survey of India, the country's forest cover increased by 5,871 square km between 2010 and 2012, bringing total forest cover to 697,898 sq km (about 69 million hectares).

Still, research indicates than every single day, an average of 135 hectares of forestland are handed over to development projects like mining and power generation.

Tribal communities in Odisha are no strangers to large-scale development projects that guzzle land.

Forty years of illegal logging across the state's heartland forest belt, coupled with a major commercial timber trade in teak, sal and bamboo, left the hilltops bald and barren.

Streams that had once irrigated small plots of farmland began to run dry, while groundwater sources gradually disappeared. Over a 40-year period, between 1965 and 2004, Odisha experienced recurring and chronic droughts, including three consecutive dry spells from 1965-1967.

As a result of the heavy felling of trees for the timber trade, Nayargh suffered six droughts in a 10-year span, which shattered a network of farm- and forest-based livelihoods.

Villages emptied out as nearly 50 percent of the population fled in search of alternatives.

"We who stayed back had to sell our family's brass utensils to get cash to buy rice, and so acute was the scarcity of wood that sometimes the dead were kept waiting while we went from house to house begging for logs for the funeral pyre," recalls 70-year-old Arjun Pradhan, head of the Gunduribadi village.

As the crisis escalated, Kesarpur, a village council in Nayagarh, devised a campaign that now serves as the template for community forestry in Odisha.

The council allocated need-based rights to families wishing to gather wood fuel, fodder or edible produce. Anyone wishing to fell a tree for a funeral pyre or house repairs had to seek special permission. Carrying axes into the forest was prohibited.

Villagers took it in turns to patrol the forest using the ‘thengapali' system, literally translated as ‘stick rotation': each night, representatives from four families would carry stout, carved sticks into the forest. At the end of their shift, the scouts placed the sticks on their neighbours' verandahs, indicating a change of guard.

The council imposed strict yet logical penalties on those who failed to comply: anyone caught stealing had to pay a cash fine corresponding to the theft; skipping a turn at patrol duty resulted in an extra night of standing guard.

As the forests slowly regenerated, the villagers made additional sacrifices. Goats, considered quick-cash assets in hard times, were sold off and banned for 10 years to protect the fresh green shoots on the forest floor. Instead of cooking twice a day, families prepared both meals on a single fire to save wood.

From deforestation to ‘reforestation'

Some 20 years after this ‘pilot' project was implemented, in early April of 2015, a hill stream gurgles past on the outskirts of Gunduribadi, irrigating small farms of ready-to-harvest lentils and vegetables.

Under a shady tree, clean water simmers four feet below the ground in a newly dug well; later in the evening, elderly women will haul bucketfuls out with ease.

Manas Pradhan, who heads the local forest protection committee (FPC), explains that rains bring rich forest humus into the 28 hectares of farmland managed by 27 families. This has resulted in soil so rich a single hectare produces 6,500 kg of rice without chemical boosters – three times the yield from farms around unprotected forests.

"When potato was scarce and selling at an unaffordable 40 rupees (65 cents) per kg, we substituted it with pichuli, a sweet tuber available plentifully in the forests," Janha Pradhan, a landless tribal woman, tells IPS, pointing out a small heap she harvested during her patrol the night before.

"We made good money selling some in the town when potato prices skyrocketed a few months back," she adds. In a state where the average earnings are 40 dollars per month, and hunger and malnutrition affects 32 percent of the population – with one in two children underweight – this community represents an oasis of health and sustenance in a desert of poverty.

At least four wild varieties of edible leafy greens, vine-growing vegetables like spine gourd and bamboo shoots, and mushrooms of all sizes are gathered seasonally. Leaves that stem bleeding, and roots that control diarrhoea, are also sustainably harvested from the forest.

Reaping the harvest of community management

But the tranquility that surrounds the forest-edge community belies a conflicted past.

Eighty-year-old Dami Nayak, ex-president of the forest protection committee for Kodallapalli village, tells IPS her ancestors used to grow rain-fed millet and vegetables for generations in and around these forests until the Odisha State Cashew Development Corporation set its sights on these lands over 20 years ago.

Although not a traditional crop in Odisha, the state corporation set up cashew orchards on tribal communities' hill-sloping farming land in 22 of the state's 30 districts.

When commercial operations began, landless farmers were promised an equal stake in the trade.

"But when the fruits came, they not only auctioned the plantations to outsiders, but officials also told us we were stealing the cashews – not even our goats could enter the orchards to graze," Nayak recounts.

"Overnight we became illegal intruders in the forestland that we had lived in, depended on and protected for decades," she laments.

With over 4,000 trees – each generating between eight and 10 kg of raw cashew, which sells for roughly 0.85 dollars per kilo – the government was making roughly 34,000 dollars a year from the 20-hectare plantation; but none of these profits trickled back down to the community.

Furthermore, the state corporation began leasing whole cashew plantations out to private bidders, who also kept the profits for themselves.

Following the amendment to the Forest Rights Act in 2012, women in the community decided to mobilise.

"When the babus [officials] who had secured the auction bid arrived we did not let them enter. They called the police. Our men hid in the jungles because they would be beaten and jailed but all they could do was threaten us women," Nayak tells IPS.

"Later we nailed a board to a tree at the village entrance road warning anyone trespassing on our community forest that they would face dire legal consequences," she adds. Once, the women even faced off against the police, refusing to back down.

In the three years following this incident, not a single bidder has approached the community. Instead, the women pluck and sell the cashews to traders who come directly to their doorsteps.

Although they earn only 1,660 dollars a year for 25,000 kg – about 0.60 dollars per kilo, far below the market value – they divide the proceeds among themselves and even manage to put some away into a community bank for times of illness or scarcity.

"Corporations' officials now come to negotiate. From requesting 50 percent of the profit from the cashew harvest if we allow them to auction, they have come down to requesting 10 percent of the income. We told them they would not even get one rupee – the land is for community use," recounts 40-year-old Pramila Majhi who heads one of the women's protection groups that guards the cashew orchards.

It was a hard-won victory, but it has given hope to scores of other villages battling unsustainable development models.

Between 2000 and 2014, more than 25,000 hectares of forests in Odisha have been diverted for ‘non-forest use', primarily for mining or other industrial activity.

In a state where 75 percent of the tribal population lives below the poverty line, the loss of forests is a matter of life and death.

According to the ministry of tribal affairs, the average earnings of a rural or landless family sometimes amount to nothing more than 13 dollars a month. With 41 percent of Odisha's women suffering from low body mass and a further 62 percent suffering from anaemia, the forests provide much-needed nutrition to people living in abject poverty.

Rather than ride a wave of destructive development, tribal women are charting the way to a sustainable future, along a path that begins and ends amongst the tress in the quiet of Odisha's forests.

Edited by Kanya D'Almeida

All rights reserved, IPS – Inter Press Service (2015)

 

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By Fabiola Ortiz

RIO DE JANEIRO, Apr 24 (IPS) - Activists and local residents have brought legal action aimed at blocking the construction of a nearly 50 sq km port terminal in the Northeast Brazilian state of Bahia because of the huge environmental and social impacts it will have.

The biggest project of its kind in Brazil has given rise to several court battles. With a budget of 2.2 billion dollars, Porto Sul will be built in Aratiguá, on the outskirts of the city of Ilhéus, at the heart of the Cocoa Coast's long stretches of heavenly beaches, where the locals have traditionally depended on tourism and the production of cocoa for a living.

The courts have ordered four precautionary measures against the project, while civil society movements say they will not stop fighting the projected mega-port with legal action and protests.

The Porto Sul port complex will be financed by the Brazilian government, through its growth acceleration programme, which focuses largely on the construction of infrastructure.

Construction of the deepwater port and the complex will employ 2,500 people at its peak. But the project is staunchly opposed by locals and by social organisations because of what activists have described as the "unprecedented" environmental impact it will have.

Critics of the project have dubbed it the "Belo Monte of Bahia" – a reference to the huge hydroelectric dam being built on the Xingú river in the northern Amazon jungle state of Pará, which will be the third-largest in the world in terms of generation capacity.

Environmentalists protest that the new port terminal and its logistical and industrial zone will hurt an ecological corridor that connects two natural protected areas.

These are the 93-sq-km Sierra de Conduru State Park, which boasts enormous biodiversity in flora and fauna, and the 4.4-sq-km Boa Esperança Municipal Park in the urban area of Ilhéus, which is a refuge for rare species and a freshwater sanctuary.

Construction of the port complex "shows a lack of respect for the region's natural vocation, which is tourism and conservation. Since 2008 we have been fighting to show that the project is not viable," activist Maria Mendonça, president of the Nossa Ilhéus Institute, dedicated to social monitoring of public policies, told IPS.

Ilhéus, a city of 180,000 people, has the longest coastline in the state, and is famous as the scenario for several novels by renowned Bahia writer Jorge Amado, such as "Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon".

The project's environmental impact study, carried out in 2013, identified 36 potential environmental impacts, 42 percent of which could not be mitigated. Some of them will affect marine species that will be driven away by the construction work, including dolphins and whales. The project will also kill fauna living on the ocean floor.

Aratiguá, the epicentre of the Porto Sul port, "is an important fishing location in the region, where more than 10,000 people who depend on small-scale fishing along a 10-km stretch of the shoreline clean their catch," Mendonça said.

An estimated 100 million tons of earth will be moved in this ecologically fragile region, where environmentalists are sounding the alarm while authorities and the company promise economic development and jobs, in a socioeconomically depressed area.

Social and environmental activist Ismail Abéde is one of 800 people living in the Vila Juerana coastal community, who will be displaced by the port complex project.

"The erosion will stretch 10 km to the north of the port, where we live, and the sea will penetrate up to 100 metres inland. It will be a catastrophe," Abéde complained to IPS.

He pointed out that the complex was originally to form part of the Projeto Pedra de Ferro project.

That project, operated by Bahia Mineração (Bamin), a national company owned by Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation (ENRC) and Zamin Ferrous, is to extract an estimated 20 million tons of iron ore a year in Caetité, a city of 46,000 people in the interior of the state.

The iron ore will be transported on a new 400-km Caetité-Ilhéus railway, built mainly to carry the mineral to Bamin's own shipping terminal in Porto Sul.

The mining project was granted an environmental permit in November 2012 and an operating license in June 2014.

Meanwhile, the Porto Sul complex received a building permit on Sep. 19, 2014, and construction is to begin within a year of that date at the latest. The complex is to be up and running by the end of 2019.

Porto Sul, the biggest port being built in Northeast Brazil and one of the largest logistical structures, will be the country's third-largest port,l moving 60 million tons in its first 10 years of activity.

The main connection with the complex will be by rail. But an international airport is also to be built in its area of influence, as well as new roads and a gas pipeline.

The interconnected Projeto Pedra de Ferro requires a 1.5 billion dollar investment, and the mine's productive potential is 398 million tons, which would mean a useful life of 20 years.

"The mine is not sustainable and the railway to carry the mineral to the port runs through protected areas and local communities," Mendonça complained.

Activists argue that iron ore dust, a toxic pollutant, will be spread through the region while it is transported, affecting cocoa crops and the rivers crossed by the railroad.

Abedé also protested the way the company has informed the families that will be affected by either of the two projects. He said neither the company nor the authorities have offered consultation or dialogue.

"The state can expropriate property when it is for the collective good, not for a private international company," he said.

The Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation (ENRC), a United Kingdom-based multinational, was delisted from the London Stock Exchange in November 2013, accused of fraud and corruption.

"We are preparing reports that we will present to public banks to keep them from financing the projects," said Abedé, referring to one of the measures the activists plan to take to fight the project, along with court action.

Bahia Mineração (Bamin) reported that until Porto Sul is operative, the Caetité mine will continue to produce a limited output of one million tons a year of iron ore.

According to Bamin, "the company will contribute to the social and economic development of Bahia and its population." It says the Projeto Pedra de Ferro project will create 6,600 jobs and estimates the company's total investment at three billion dollars in the mine and its terminal in the port complex.

Officials in the state of Bahia, which controls the Porto Sul project, reported that Brazil's environmental authority held 10 public hearings to discuss the port complex, and said that 17 sq km of the complex will be dedicated to conservation.

A communiqué by the Bahia state government stated that all of the families to be affected by the works are included in a programme of expropriation and resettlement. Indemnification payments began in the first quarter of this year.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

 All rights reserved, IPS – Inter Press Service (2015)

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Pina WuAbout the Author
Pina Wu is an Environmental Services Professional based in Taipei, Taiwan.  Her specialties include Urban Planning, Community Engagement and International Development. She has a Master in Public Policy and Urban Planning from Harvard University and an M.S. in Building & Planning from National Taiwan University. She currently teaches Environmental Education and English for Tour Guiding in Wenshan and Tainan Community Colleges.

By Pina Wu, ECOCLUB.com Correspondent

Those who think of Taiwan as an agglomeration of crowded cities and bustling industries will be pleasantly surprised by its east coast with its diverse cultures, pristine beauty and rich biodiversity stretching 170 kilometres down the coast along the Pacific Ocean: sand and pebble beaches, shoreline reefs, inshore islands, and capes along with sea-eroded platforms, trenches and caves, idyllic fishing villages and rice paddies. The region is the homeland of the Amis, the most populous of the 14 officially recognised aboriginal tribes of Taiwan.

Endowed with rich natural and cultural resources, the east coast has been a target area for tourism development in the country. According to the official East Coast National Scenic Area Administration statistics there were over three million tourists in the region during 2014, 90% of whom were domestic tourists. Most visitors concentrate on famous sites, scenic areas, theme parks and stay in large hotels. Conventionally, the visitors come by tour buses that pass by the area in a few hours. Few stop to have a deeper encounter with the local culture and the natural environment. Only recently, when the concepts of “slow travel” and “deep tourism” became widely spread, independent travellers and tourists in small package tours show interest in venturing into the villages.

Makuta'ay (credit: Sra)Makuta'ay (credit: Sra)Performance group rehearse by the sea.Performance group rehearse by the sea.Makuta’ay village lies at the centre of the east coast like a well-kept treasure, an one and half hour driving distance from the nearest big city. According to the legend, Makuta'ay was one of the landing points for the Amis a tribe of Austronesian origin, when they migrated to Taiwan with their boats millennia ago. From here the people spread, and the culture flourished. Currently a total of 200,000 Amis reside along the coast and in the valley in the east of Taiwan. The indigenous people of Taiwan today account to only 2% of the total population. Among the many villages, Makuta’ay is considered one of the oldest village communities and recognised as having played a strong role throughout the Amis history. The village has a rigid, age-based social hierarchy. The males are divided into eight age groups that are responsible for specific tasks for the community. As a hub for the Amis culture, the village carries rich traditions in rituals and celebrations.

The settlement of Makuta’ay is small but endowed with rich ecological resources. To the east it is bounded by the Pacific Ocean; to the west rises the Coastal Mountain Range. The Siouguluan River in the south brings fresh water sources and is full of migratory fish. The Kuroshio current brings abundant marine life to the near shore. And the Coastal Mountain Range provides habitat for a rich diversity of flora and fauna. However, life in Makuta’ay has changed dramatically in the last hundred years with the introduction of Christianity, Japanese occupation and under the Taiwanese Han people’s government. The rice and taro (Colocasia esculenta) produced in the village are no longer competitive in the market while commercial fishing has crushed the local fishery. As a result the village population has dwindled with young people moving to the cities to look for employment. Few among the younger generation now speak Amis.

The government has long promoted tourism development in the region but most of the development required investment from external corporations. The Amis had few resources to develop tourism facilities and programs of their own until a few locals returned to the village in the late 1990s. They had experienced the city life and seen the outside world and had returned to seek their culture roots. They tried to revive the traditions and reinterpret them to the visitors. They also made use of whatever resources were available in the environment to create new cultural expressions. A man called Lahez was among these local artists and tourism pioneers and he found wisdom in the traditional Amis way of life. Lahez used driftwood from the beach as the material for his artworks. This attracted more local young people to come home to learn with him.

Preparing a meal at Sawaluan (credit: Sra)Preparing a meal at Sawaluan (credit: Sra)Your correspondent first visited the village over ten years ago, as an assistant for a Tourism Planning project organised by the government. I arrived in the village in the night in a yard of a local’s house for a field trip. The moon rose from the sea. Four or five older people came in, they all carried small colourful baskets (in which there were betel nuts). They came to practice traditional songs. The breezes set in. A woman began to sing, and I was blown away by the unfathomed space that was evoked in her voice. Then in another song a man led, and the rest of the choirs responded with humming, it was as harmonious as the ocean waves. Only later on I found out that what I saw that night was not a spontaneous gathering but a deliberate result: the host, an elderly gentleman named Pudon, had paid the local equivalent of 3 US dollars to each of his neighbours so they would come. Pudon, who had also returned to the village after a long time living in the city, was hoping to develop a performance group of traditional shamanic songs and rituals. As not everyone shared his vision, he decided to cover the costs of training the group members by himself as an early investment. In this way, tourism in Makuta'ay developed slowly. Contrary to the common expectation that a community would or should develop its tourism in a coordinated or co-operative fashion, tourism in Makuta’ay developed in a diverse and decentralized way. Tourism programs are run by individuals out of their studios or homes. They are often strong characters who have persevered through the ups and downs of starting up and have developed their “niches”.

One of them is Sumi Runi, a charismatic woman with artistic talents, who revived the weaving traditions and began to receive visits by the artists from the city. The Necklace Studio, designed and built by two brothers using driftwood and cement carving techniques, is famous for its open space that blended in with the seashore. Many visitors come for coffee or just to relax by the sea for an afternoon. “Sawaluan” is run by the Podon family. The studio provides homestay, guided tours, weaving lessons, dance performance, and meals to the tourists in a homy environment. Liway, the manager, specializes in using open fire to prepare crabs and shrimps that he catches from the streams. “Neolian”, run by a couple, offers wood-carving workshops where you can learn how to make drums with driftwood.

Normally, the studios operate independently from each other. Only when they receive a booking from a large group staying for a longer period, will they reach out to each other and refer the visitors to other studios for meals or for activities. Each studio establishes its own media contacts and customer base and Makuta’ay has developed a very extensive tourism connections network in a short time. But this very decentralized model also makes each studio short of labour as each studio owner is busy with bookings, preparations and all the paperwork associated with tourism development. There is also competition for government funding. As I revisited the village over the years, I often heard that people would like to do something together as a community, but there is no stable structure or operational framework and they just continue to work on their own.

Traditional Weaving (credit: Sra)Traditional Weaving (credit: Sra)Currently there are seven main studios in Makuta’ay, and at least five homestays that can take in small groups of visitors for accommodation. Makuta’ay attracts visitors who have an interest in exploring the nature and understanding the indigenous people’s culture. This includes a wide range of visitor types- independent travelers, families, working-holiday visitors and all age groups. Group visitors often come from NGOs, public sectors, community associations, travel agencies and schools. The majority of the tourists come for a one-day tour but every month studios receive one large group with over 40 people for a two-day program. The average rate is USD 120 per person for a two-day program.

Summer is the peak season, particularly the time of the Harvest Festival. In 2011, the Harvest Festival of Makuta'ay (which takes place in July every year) was designated as an Intangible Cultural Asset by the Cultural Ministry of Taiwan. But even during the slow season a small number of individuals and small groups visitors come to Makuta’ay in a steady stream. They linger of a meal, or join the guided tours to walk around the village. There are no precise statistics on the total number of tourists in Makuta’ay, but they are estimated to be around 1,500 to 2,000 annually.

In 2009, the Agency of the East Coast National Scenic Area announced plans to develop a multi-functional park project, with a performance venue, picnic area, and shops in the north side of Makuta’ay- five hectares of prime land with superb scenic beauty at Shi-ti Bay. The plan aimed to foster tourism development for the area and bring employment but it was met with strong local opposition and protests. It was actually this event that helped local people galvanize. The local people claimed that the land was theirs, farmland that historically belonged to over forty families, rather than public land that could be used by the government freely. They also disputed the government’s model of tourism development, tourism facilities built and operated by large corporations which often destroyed local diversity and reaped all economic gains. The locals wanted to have a say in shaping the area’s future development so that it continued to reflect their culture and improve the village’s well being.

The Weaving ClassThe Weaving ClassThe protests went on from 2010 to 2012. The people of Makuta’ay protested on the street in front of the Presidential Hall in Taipei, joining forces with other “Reclaim the Land” movements of indigenous people, negotiated with governmental officials in the Legislative Yuan and confronted the bureaucracy in the local Township. The village was mobilized again and again. Finally, in 2013, the Agency of the East Coast National Scenic Area and the Save the Land of Makuta’ay Committee arrived at a compromise and decided to co-manage the land. The community is now entrusted by the government to formulate its own proposal for the land. And the government has promised to provide funding for that. Makuta’ay is pushed to develop a collective tourism scheme together. The co-management agreement between the Agency of the East Coast National Scenic Area and the Save the Land of Makuta’ay Committee is currently being drafted by local people, mostly led by the younger generation (Spring 2015). The local people are taking things in their hands, setting up a cooperative that will act as the managing body for tourism development for the future. Ideas such as “sustainable development”, “fair share”, and “cultural awareness” have been brought up, and the local people are finding ways to put the ideas into practice. When it is finalized, this may be the first case of co-management of tourism between the government and an indigenous community in Taiwan. The negotiation process has been transparent and the draft can be seen at the blog of Save the Land of Makuta’ay Committee.  Lafay Chen, the Board of Director of Save the Land of Makuta’ay Committee said the process of negotiation has not been easy. It is especially difficult to have the landowners in the village to form consensus. “There is deep mistrust between the locals and the government. The elderly asked me, aren’t we going to fight for our land? Why do we sit down to negotiate with the government now?” It is not easy to convince the locals that co-manage the land with the government will be of best interests to them as they feel restricted by the regulations.

As most people are still struggling to make their ends meet, in the past ten years, many locals have already expanded studios, constructed new houses, and created parking lots to accommodate tourists. In regional public hearings some scholars and NGOs (Citizen of the Earth, Taiwan) have raised concerns. They urge for stronger government interventions in regulating the coastline development in the area as a whole. This creates conflicts with the local people. It is also not clear how tourism will impact the culture of the village. It will be a pity if the studios were becoming more and more just like other cafes, restaurants, and homestays in the city that serve only to satisfy the demand of the tourists.

Planting event for the Ocean RicePlanting event for the Ocean RiceOn the positive side, some studios are developing guided tours on local history and plants ecology. Visitors can also take classes in ramie fiber making and weaving. There are also farming programs. The village has recently replanted its rice paddles by the sea side. The project named “Ocean Rice” has attracted many visitors to come to participate in planting and to share the harvest. In 2012, Sumi Runi - owner of Fire Studio was awarded National Woman of Excellence on International Women’s Day for her work in rice field rehabilitation. Artists Iyo Kacaw and Sapod Kacaw receive regular exhibitions to museums, galleries, and international workshops. Anu Kaliting Sadipongan, a young musician at the village, won the prestigious Golden Melody Award in Taiwan with an album in 2014.

And there are more and more young people returning to the village. They make documentary films, have photo exhibitions, hold events and shows to express their indigenous identities and to discuss the local issues they care about. In recent years, numerous NGOs, well-known journalists, scholars and artists have visited Makuta'ay. They come to hear the story of Makuta’ay and to share their experiences. In this way, Makuta'ay seems to go beyond tourism, and become a site for learning, inviting people of different culture backgrounds to come together. Young people in Taiwan are more and more aware of issues such as indigenous people’s rights, land justice and sustainability. Since the Reclaiming the Land movement, Makuta’ay has become a hub for education that spoke of such issues with its own example. Small groups of students would come to visit, listening to the locals and learning about the issues first handedly. The village has become a field school. Throughout the east coast of Taiwan, many indigenous communities communities are disputing government-led tourism policies and are in search of a new development model. Among these communities, Makuta’ay plays as an important example, for it has a diverse range of capable local studio owners, artists, spokespersons who have strong cultural influences. Hopefully Makuta'ay will continue to serve as an example for other indigenous communities in the east coast, Taiwan.

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