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Guarani children working on the sugar cane fields. © Survival International
June 2012

Shell drops biofuels plan after Brazilian Indian protest

cane from land stolen from an indigenous tribe, thanks to a dynamic campaign by the Indians and Survival International. The company, Raizen, was established in 2010 as a joint venture of Shell and the Brazilian ethanol giant Cosan to produce biofuel from sugar cane. But some of its sugar cane is grown on land that belongs to the Guarani tribe, one of the most persecuted and impoverished in South America. Their leaders have been repeatedly killed by gunmen on behalf of the sugar cane growers and cattle ranchers who have taken over almost all their land. Now Raizen has agreed to stop buying sugar cane from land declared as indigenous by the Ministry of Justice.

sources: REDD+ monitor
Survival International

Martin Litton in his Cessna (2006). © Ricardo Dearatanha/Los Angeles Times
Feb 2012

Environmental warrior still fighting at 95

Martin Litton (born Feb 13, 1917) has been an activist for a long time. Back in the 1960s, he successfully fought the damming of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon and helped kill a Disney resort planned near Sequoia National Park. He campaigned for the creation of Redwood National Park in the southern Sierra Nevada.

Litton is the guarding eye and voice of concern for the Giant Sequoia National Monument which encompasses 353,000 acres in California's Sierra Nevada. He and others had fought for decades to preserve these trees, and finally, in 2000, President Clinton created the monument. But unfortunately he assigned its management to the US Forest Service, which had prioritised timber production there for nearly a century – and just would not stop. During the first decade of this millennium, Litton used to fly over the area regularly, in his vintage Cessna 195, and discover 'spots' between 5 and 20 hectares big which were being or had been logged, despite environmental legislation.

The sequoias are still far from safe…

sources: Bettina Boxall, A matter of grove concern, Los Angeles Times, Dec 21, 2006
Jane Braxton Little, Environmental warrior Martin Litton is still fighting at 95, High Country News, Feb 20, 2012

links: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Litton_(environmentalist)

Kondh children swinging in the trees. © Survival International
Aug 2010

Indian Tribe in victory over mining giant

The Dongria Kondh tribe has won an historic battle to save their lands and forests from big-scale bauxite mining on Niyamgiri Mountain in eastern India. Their resistance became a test of whether a small marginalised tribe could stand up against a multinational with its army of lawyers, lobbyists and PR firms. The intruder, who has already built a huge aluminium refinery below the sacred mountain, is the British company Vedanta Resources, worth $8bn.

The Dongria Kondh have been supported by tribal rights campaign group Survival International (founded 1969 in London) who in turn had support from celebrities like Michael Palin, Joanna Lumley, Colin Firth and James Cameron – hence the press began to speak of the 'real Avatar tribe'. (Sadly, there are many of them!)

But the victory of the Dongria Kondh is in danger as India's Supreme Court is reviewing the case.

To keep up to date check the Survival International page.

World Tree on the backside of the French 1-Euro coin
Oct 2008

Global deforestation costs more than the 'financial crisis'

The world's shrinking forests cost us up to US$5 trillion a year – far more than the current banking crisis. Environmentalists hope the sobering calculation, made by a European Union commissioned team, will focus political will on funding conservation.

Read more

the yew tree that stood in the garden of the Richard Jefferies Museum. © Tom Saunders
Sept 2008

Swindon Borough Council destroys old yew tree

An old yew tree (in the media described as '800 years old' but really about 250 years of age), major literary and spiritual importance, was axed by Swindon Borough Council on 25 September 2008 when no-one was around to stop the destruction.

The tree had been much appreciated by the poet Richard Jefferies (1848-1887) who had lived there in his time. The Council said the tree's roots were threatening the building.

Comment: It is a wide-spread paradigm that a building is seen more important than a tree by default and without question. And sadly, cutting down the entire living being is always cheaper than a closer investigation and careful partial surgery.

Compare Telegraph article

illegal timber rafting in Bangladesh. © Tree News
Aug 2008

UK second highest importer of illegal timber

In summer 2008 the World Wildlife Fund Germany published a report revealing that almost 20 per cent of the wood imported into the European Union in 2006 came from illegal sources, with the UK being the second highest importer, after Finland.

The UK being the largest importer in the EU of furniture, finished wood products as well as plywood, it imported 3.5 million cubic metres of illegal wood that year.

Overall, the EU imported between 26.5 and 33.1 million cubic metres of illegal wood. 23 per cent of products imported from Eastern Europe originated from illegal or suspect sources, 40 per cent from South-East Asia, 30 per cent from Latin America and up to 56 per cent from Africa. The report traces ten main trading routes, the biggest one going through Russia. Half of this wood arrived in the European market through Finland.

The WWF put pressure on the British government for playing a major role in fuelling the illegal trade, and in the twelve months since the report was published, the UK government has announced some serious steps to better the situation.

WWF offers the full report for download (pdf).

diagram displaying the characteristics of the world's forests. © FRA 2005
Jan 2006

The global forest situation 2005

Since 1946, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has regularly published its Global Forest Resources Assessment (FRA). FRA 2005 compares the 2005 data with those from 2000 and 1995. Here are some of the results.

 

Total forest

The total forest area was judged to be just under 4 billion hectares – 30 per cent of the total land area of the Earth. However, this is more than a little euphemistic, as the FAO defines a 'forest area' as being half an acre or more of land of which at least ten per cent is under tree cover. Thus, any small field with a hedge around becomes a forest! Indeed this is a major point of contention and international criticism of the FAO reports and should not be forgotten regarding the following numbers.

Ten countries with the largest forest area (2005)

 

Deforestation continues at an alarming rate, about 13 million hectares per year. On the other hand, landscape restoration, forest planting and natural expansion has increased to about 5.7 million hectares, leaving the total forest area 'net loss' at 7.3 million hectares. Again, there is a hidden euphemism, as the destruction of (dense) primary, old-growth forest cannot just be offset against planting seedlings, creating commercial plantation or even using cloned plants. Africa and South America had the largest net loss of forests. Asia had a net gain, primarily due to large-scale reforestation in southeastern China.

 

Primary forests

On average, 36 per cent of the world's forest area is still composed of primary forests, defined by FAO as 'forests of native species where there are no clearly visible indications of human activities and where the ecological processes are not significantly disturbed'. The rapid decrease continued at some six million hectares annually from 2000 through to 2005.

Characteristics of the world's forests (2005)

 

Protective forests

About 348 million hectares (nine per cent of the total) provide protection, either from erosion, dropping of the groundwater table, drought, flooding, desertification, avalanches or even tsunamis.

 

Tree diversity

The biodiversity levels vary widely between regions – naturally, there are fewer species towards the poles and increasingly more towards the equator. Hence, there are three native tree species in Iceland but about 7,780 in Brazil.

In most regions, the ten most common species comprise more than 50 per cent of the total forest cover, the exceptions are the tropical forests.

Number of native tree species (2005)

 

Conservation

In 2005, eleven per cent of the world's forests were designated for the conservation of biological diversity, an increase by an estimated 96 million hectares since 1990. Conservation has been reported as one of the main targets in forest management plans for more than 25 per cent of the world's forest area. If only illegal – and legal! – logging would show respect for the status of conservation areas!

Functions of forests (2005)

 

The annual report can be downloaded in full from the FAO website.

Vandana Shiva. © Vandana Shiva
March 2005

India wins landmark battle vs. multinational bio-piracy

The Neem tree (Azadirachta indica) is a wide-spread and popular tree throughout South Asia, especially in India, Sri Lanka and Burma. Its many medicinal properties have been known for thousands of years. And yet, the international agro-chemical business has been staking its claims by patenting Neem products since 1985. Indian environmentalist Dr Vandana Shiva was willing to challenge the bio-piracy of the behemoths. [1]

Due to its vast spectrum of medicinal uses Neem features in ancient Sanskrit texts and it is called 'India's tree of Life' or, more pragmatically, the 'village pharmacy' of South Asia. Neem twigs are known, for example, throughout India as a natural antiseptic toothbrush. Furthermore, Neem trees give shadow, prevent soil erosion, and preparations from Neem seeds can be used as a natural pesticide or fungicide. All in all the tree is so crucial to life that in Indian Hindu villages it is regarded sacred.

Outside those villages, it has been recognized that Neem 'can have a global impact on some of the world's greatest problems including malaria, dengue fever, Aids and human population growth' [2], and the interest of pharmaceutical and agro-chemical giants has long been awakened. In China and Brazil, millions of Neem seedlings are being cultivated each year.

Already in 1995, the European Patent Office (EPO) [why them?] granted a patent to the US Department of Agriculture and chemical giant WR Grace for a method of using Neem tree oil for fungicidal purposes. But an international group led by Dr Vandana Shiva campaigned against the hijacking of ancient indigenous knowledge and finally took the case back to the European Patent Office. 'We wanted to reveal what bio-piracy is, this patenting of indigenous knowledge and bio-diversity,' she says. [1] The patent was revoked by EPO, six years after it had been granted, but the legal battle continued, altogether for ten years. The EU Parliament's Green Party and the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) began to challenge the patent too. The final victory is heralded by campaigners as a landmark in the fight to stop big business exploiting plants and genes at the expense of poor people in the developing world. [1]

The next step of the Indian government to counteract the continuing threat of bio-piracy was to set up the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library in Delhi. Here, millions of recipes of traditional ayurvedic medicines are translated from ancient texts into modern medical terms and collated into an online library. This database will be made selectively available in different languages to patent offices around the world to enable them to check whether a request for a patent is for a genuinely new use of an ancient medicine that has been known for thousands of years. [2]

Tip: Youth Leader: Campaign for Seed Freedom; Vandana Shiva.
video tip: Vandana Shiva: 'The Future of Food and Seed – Justice, Sustainability and Peace in the 21st Century', speech at the Organicology Conference in Portland, Oregon, Feb 28, 2009
video tip: Vandana Shiva on Geo-engineering, TV debate

Sources:
[1] India wins landmark patent battle, BBC News, 9 March 2005
[2] Anna Horsbrugh Porter, Neem: India's tree of life, BBC News, 17 April 2006

clearfelling in the Brazilian rainforest. © Edward Parker
Jul 2003

USA to start global initiative against illegal logging

The USA have started a global initiative against illegal logging and hence for the preservation of the tropical rainforests. Foreign Affairs Minister Colin Powell made public on Monday the fact that Third World countries will now be aided in their fight against the illegal timber trade. The US would support local police forces and supply modern technologies to monitor activities in the woodlands.

The initiative focuses on the Congo and the Amazon, as well as the tropical forests in Latin America and south-east Asia. As an example, Powell mentioned Liberia, whose president Charles Taylor used illegal timber trade profits to buy weapons. According to estimates by the World Bank, developing countries lose 10 to 15 billion dollars annually to illegal logging.

source: dpa [German press agency], July 29, 2003

The German Minister for the Environment, Juergen Trittin, pointed out the importance of the role of Germany and the European Union in the conservation of the last tropical rainforests. The EU supports a comprehensive approach for efficient conservation of the rainforests. He describes the latest American initiative as half-hearted. 'It is not enough to supply developing countries with surveillance technology. Only a more far-reaching approach, encompassing financial aids, sensitizing the buyers' market for illegal products, and a system of benefits and sanctions, can limit the illegal logging of the rainforests effectively.' (The German government finances forest projects in the developing world with over 125 million Euro, £83m, annually.)

source: dpa [German press agency], July 30, 2003

U'wa leader praying. © Amazon Watch
May 2002

Oilfield in Colombia disappears after Indio prayers

In 1995, the US oil company Occidental Petroleum, Oxy, bought the concessions to mine for oil – in one of Latin America's supposedly biggest oilfields – at the border of the territory of the U'wa tribe in north-eastern Colombia.

Near the bore hole, the natives started to pray to their god Sira, asking to hide the oil from the white man, deep in the underworld. And indeed, no more oil could be found. The company has spent about 100 million dollars since, drilling to a depth of 3600 metres (!) but the oil is gone. And Oxy is leaving for good.

Is it possible for an entire oil field to disappear? No question for the U'wa tribespeople. 'The king of money is merely an illusion,' they say. Capitalism which destroys everything reckons us crazy. And that's what we'd like to remain, if it allows us to keep on living on our beloved Mother Earth.' In their cosmology, the oil is the 'blood of the Earth'. It rests in the depth where the earthquakes come from and holds all life in equilibrium.

Over just a few decades, the U'wa have been heavily decimated to about 5,000 people by diseases imported by the white man. The neighbouring tribes call them the 'thinking people' and their noble task is to 'sing the world into being every morning'. In 1996 their fight was supported by a young Californian eco-activist, Terry Freitas, who was murdered three years later. But by then the U'wa had already matured to global eco-heroes by making efficient use of the internet, road blockades, and court hearings. Two years ago they exposed US vice president Al Gore who had inherited Oxy shares from his father.

Now, the Colombian state company Ecopetrol has announced its intention to go looking for the oil themselves.

source: Der Spiegel [German news magazine], no. 21, 2002
string: Protecting the Rainforest: The U'Wa Defence Project

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