News

2017-09-20 |

UN report calls for fundamental shift in agriculture to stop land degradation

Landdegradation Land degradation: a major threat (Photo: CC0)

A fundamental shift away from intensive agriculture is needed to halt and reverse land degradation, according to a new report. The Global Land Outlook, published by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) on September 12, warns that consumption of the earth’s natural reserves has doubled in the last 30 years, with a third of the planet’s land now severely degraded. Each year, we are losing 24 billion tonnes of fertile soil. The report mainly blames agriculture and livestock, which cover over one-third of the world’s land surface. “Intensification, driven by a lucrative but largely inefficient food system, has boosted production. However, it has also disturbed cultural landscapes and accelerated land and soil degradation, water shortages, and pollution,” the authors write.

The report warns that there is enormous pressure on land resources due to rising food demand, a global shift in dietary habits, biofuel production, urbanization, and other competing demands. As a result, a significant proportion of managed and natural ecosystems are degrading. From 1998 to 2013, around 20% of the Earth’s vegetated land surface showed declining trends in productivity, apparent in 20% of cropland, 16% of forest land, 19% of grassland, and 27% of rangeland. Currently, more than 1.3 billion people are trapped on degrading agricultural land. “As the ready supply of healthy and productive land dries up and the population grows, competition is intensifying, for land within countries and globally. As the competition increases, there are winners and losers,” said UNCCD Executive Secretary Monique Barbut. The report identifies smallholder farmers, women and indigenous communities as the main losers: “Small-scale farmers, the backbone of rural livelihoods and food production for millennia, are under immense strain from land degradation, insecure tenure, and a globalized food system that favors concentrated, large-scale, and highly mechanized agribusiness. These farmers often have limited options to pursue alternative livelihoods,” the report reads. Millions of people have already abandoned their ancestral lands and migrated to urban areas.

The experts argue that our inefficient food system is further accelerating the rate of land use change, land degradation and deforestation. They call for a shift away from resource-intensive production, carbon-intensive processing and transport, land-intensive diets (primarily from the increased demand for animal products and processed foods), and the current high levels of food waste, including post-harvest losses. On the production side, this requires a fundamental shift in agriculture practices to support a wider array of social, environmental, and economic benefits from managing land-based natural capital. Farm output needs to be measured in terms that are more than just yield per area, but include nutritional value, and wider values in terms of both the costs to environment and society, and benefits of a healthy landscape. Expanding the scope of agriculture to include a broader range of ecosystem and social services could provide extra incentives and a lifeline for the half billion small farmers, who are currently in danger of being displaced. The report highlights that there are already ways of growing food without excessive environmental costs, both through changes to conventional systems and alternative production pathways, such as organic agriculture, where yields are fast approaching those of more intensive systems. “Organic agriculture addresses many of the drivers of land degradation and their offsite impacts by eliminating chemical fertilizers and pesticides, helping to build soil organic matter, and applying water conservation methods,” the authors write.

On the consumer side, the report recommends more plant-based and whole food diets. „Changing diets, especially in the richer countries, could have major positive impacts on both personal health and the condition of the land. Virtually every scenario of future food availability shows that reducing meat consumption, especially beef, is the quickest and most effective way to increase food security and reduce carbon emissions.” The authors are optimistic that with changes in consumer and corporate behavior, and the adoption of better land use and management, we will have sufficient land available in the long-term to satisfy all demands. But they stress that a move from the current “age of plunder” toward an “age of respect”, where we respect biophysical limits, is essential. Without this, we will not be able to achieve many of the Sustainable Development Goals - especially SDG 15, which calls for the protection, restoration and sustainable management of land-based ecosystems. (ab)

2017-09-18 |

World hunger is on the rise again, affecting 815 million people

MyanmarGirl Market girl in Myanmar, where 16.9% of the population are undernourished (Photo: CC0)

The number of undernourished people in the world has increased to an estimated 815 million in 2016, according to a report released by five UN agencies on Friday. For the first time since the turn of the century, the number of hungry people is on the rise again, up 38 million from the previous year. The report, published jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), UNICEF, the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization, says that conflicts, exacerbated by climate-related shocks, are a cause of much of the recent increase in food insecurity.

Almost two thirds of the world’s hungry, or 520 million people, live in Asia, followed by Africa with 243 million and Latin America and the Caribbean with 42 million undernourished people. The report also noted a rise in the share of people globally who are chronically hungry, from 10.6% of the world population in 2015 to 11% in 2016. Africa remains the region with the highest share of undernourished people, affecting an alarming 20% of the population in 2016. The situation is especially urgent in Eastern Africa, where 33.9% of the population is estimated to be undernourished. In Asia, 11.7% of the population are suffering from hunger, while the share is 6.6% in Latin America and the Caribbean. The report only counts people as hungry if they have been unable to acquire enough food to meet their minimum dietary energy requirements (around 1,800 kilocalories per day) for more than a year.

But there is more bad news: The report says that some 155 million children aged under five are stunted (too short for their age), while 52 million suffer from wasting, meaning their weight is too low for their height. At the same time, multiple forms of malnutrition are threatening the health of millions worldwide. An estimated 41 million children are overweight. “This has set off alarm bells we cannot afford to ignore: we will not end hunger and all forms of malnutrition by 2030 unless we address all the factors that undermine food security and nutrition,” the heads of the five UN agencies write in their joint foreword to the report. However, the report singles out just one cause - conflict - as one of the key drivers behind the resurgence of hunger and many forms of malnutrition. “Over the past decade, conflicts have risen dramatically in number and become more complex and intractable in nature. Some of the highest proportions of food-insecure and malnourished children are found in countries affected by conflict, a situation that is even more alarming in countries characterized by prolonged conflicts and fragile institutions,” the five UN officials added. According to David Beasley, executive director of the World Food Programme, 60% of the chronically food insecure or 489 million people live in conflict zones. “With all the technology and wealth, this is a shame,” he said at the press conference in Rome. “We should be going into another direction.” If current trends continue, Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 of ending global hunger and malnutrition by 2030 will not be reached.

The UN report comes just a few days after FAO published its forecast for the global cereal production to reach 2.6 billion tonnes in 2017, an all-time record. World cereal stocks are expected to hit a record high of 719 million tonnes. However, food loss and waste affects more than a third of the total amount of food produced. In addition, only 43% of the cereal production is directly used as food, while 35% is used as animal feed. The remained is burnt or processed into fuel and other industrial products. (ab)

2017-09-12 |

Organic farms store more carbon in the soil and for longer, study finds

Soil Organic soils have higher levels of soil organic matter and humic substances (Photo: CC0)

Soils on organic farms sequester more carbon and for longer periods of time than soil from conventional farms, new research suggests. A large-scale field study conducted in the United States shows that organic soils have significantly higher levels of humic substances, which are very effective in locking away carbon in long-term reserves. The study, directed by The National Soil Project at Northeastern University in collaboration with The Organic Center, found that soils from organic farms had 26% more long-term carbon storage potential than soils from conventional farms. The results will be published on October 1 in the peer-reviewed journal Advances in Agronomy. According to the authors, this is the first time scientific research has given an accurate picture of the long-term soil carbon storage on organic versus conventional farms throughout the U.S., since most studies focus only on individual farms or total soil organic carbon.

The researchers at Northeastern University compared over 1000 soil samples from organic and conventional farms across the US, taking into consideration different farming methods, crops and soil types. They used data from the National Soil Project, which has been measuring the organic soil content of primarily conventional soils since 2008, as well as soil samples of organic farmers who acted as so-called “citizen scientists”. In 2015 and 2016, those farmers collected 659 organic soil samples from 39 states. Similar to previous studies, the result was that soils from organic farms have 13% more soil organic matter. But the research team also measured humic substances, in particular their main components fulvic and humic acid. “We don’t just look at total soil organic carbon, but also the components of soil that have stable pools of carbon – humic substances, which gives us a much more accurate and precise view of the stable, long-term storage of carbon in the soils,” said Dr. Jessica Shade, Director of Science Programs for The Organic Center. The study showed that fulvic acid and humic acid were consistently higher in organic than in conventional soils. On average, organic farms had 44% higher levels of humic acid, the component of soil that sequesters carbon over the long term, and 150% more fulvic acid than soils not managed organically.

The authors highlight that organic agriculture can make a real difference in climate change mitigation due to the higher levels of humic substances. These substances resist degradation and can remain in the soil for hundreds and sometimes thousands of years. The more humic substances in a soil, the longer that healthy soil is trapping and keeping carbon out of the atmosphere. “These results highlight the potential of organic agriculture to increase the amount of carbon sequestration in the soil, and by doing so help decrease a major cause of climate change,” said Dr. Shade. According to Dr. Tracy Misiewicz from The Organic Center, practices commonly used in organic farming such as the use of manure and legume cover crops, extended crop rotations, fallowing and rotational grazing, are likely involved in increasing humic substances in soil. Dr. Geoffrey Davies, leader of the National Soil Projects, told Civil Eats: “What I’d like to do next is to see if the humic substances in organic soils are the same as in conventional soils. If they differ, he said, that will be another indication that with conventional farming practices such as fertilizer use, “we’re going against nature.” (ab)

2017-09-06 |

African forests threatened by export-oriented agricultural expansion

Baum Forests in Cameroon are at risk (Photo: CC0)

Export-oriented and industrial agricultural expansion in Africa could threaten the continent’s valuable tropical forests, researchers from Stanford University have warned. According to a study, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters in April, multinational companies are increasingly looking to Africa to expand production of in-demand commodity crops such as soy, cocoa and oil palm as land in other world regions is getting scarce. This could cause the same levels of destruction as seen in Asia and Latin America unless measures are introduced to prevent deforestation. “Sub-Saharan Africa, with its abundant cheap land and labor, would seem an obvious next step for multinational companies looking to expand farther,” reads Standford’s press release. Since 2015, agricultural production in the region has grown at the fastest rate globally, and cropland is predicted to expand more than 10 percent by 2025. But lead author Elsa Ordway suggests that “in Africa, we have the opportunity to take lessons learned from other regions and recommend preventive policies.”

For the study, the scientists assessed the effects of domestic- and export-oriented agricultural expansion in recent decades in order to find out how international demand for commodity crops, such as cocoa, is affecting sub-Saharan Africa’s tropical forests, which are second in size only to the Amazon. Analyses were conducted at the global, regional and local scales. Although deforestation rates in Africa remain well below those in South America and Southeast Asia, the region has lost an area of intact forest about the size of Iceland since 2000. The authors found that commodity crops are further expanding in sub-Saharan Africa, increasing pressure on tropical forests. They write that four Congo Basin countries, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Côte d'Ivoire were most at risk in terms of exposure, vulnerability and pressures from agricultural expansion. These countries had the highest percent forest cover and lowest proportions of potentially available cropland outside forest areas. The study results indicate that foreign investment in these countries was concentrated in oil palm production (81%), with a median area receiving foreign investments of 41 582 thousand hectares. Cocoa, the fastest expanding export-oriented crop across the region, accounted for 57% of global expansion in 2000–2013 at a rate of 132 thousand hectares per year.

According to the study, deforestation from agricultural expansion in sub-Saharan Africa is often associated with small-scale farmers, consisting of subsistence farming and commodity crop production for domestic and international markets. However, more recently, investments in large-scale, industrial plantations in sub-Saharan Africa are on the rise. In recent years, multinational companies have bought up a land area larger than Costa Rica in the heavily forested Congo Basin, mostly for crops such as oil palm and soy. As multinationals move in, they are more likely to acquire land by clearing intact forest due to property conflicts resulting from the region’s land tenure complexities. This could have devastating consequences, the scientists warn, since these forests are an important source of local income, food and subsistence means in addition to regulating climate, safeguarding water quality and controlling disease. But the authors say that Africa could be spared the massive deforestation seen in other regions by implementing policies that prioritize forest conservation and local control of the land. “Civil society, policymakers and private companies can benefit from many years of trial-and-error with anti-deforestation policies in South America and Southeast Asia to design more effective interventions in sub-Saharan Africa,” said co-author Eric Lambin. The study recommends policies that alleviate poverty in local regions and incentivize forest conservation. Measure could include encouraging shade cultivation of crops such as cocoa and ensuring that small and medium-scale farmers dominate crop cultivation instead of industrial plantations. (ab)

2017-09-01 |

Study shows negative effects of pesticide exposure on birth outcomes

Pesticides Pesticide exposure increases the risk of birth defects (Photo: CC0)

High exposure to agricultural pesticides as a result of living close to fields increases the risk of adverse birth outcomes, according to a study published in the journal Nature Communications. Researchers from the University of California, Santa Barbara, have gathered new evidence on the negative effects of pesticide exposure on birth outcomes, such as weight, gestation and abnormalities. For the study, they used individual birth and demographic characteristics for over 500 000 birth observations between 1997–2011 in the agriculturally dominated San Joaquin Valley of California. The San Joaquin Valley is the state’s most productive agricultural region, growing an abundance of high value, high chemical input, and labor-intensive fruit, vegetable, and nut crops. The researcher coupled the birth statistics with pesticide use data from the California Department of Pesticide Regulation which includes detailed temporal and geographical information on agricultural pesticide use, the date of pesticide application, pounds of active ingredients and the method of application. The scientists were then able to determine if residential agricultural pesticide exposure during gestation - by trimester and by toxicity - influenced birth weight, gestational length or birth abnormalities.

For the majority of births, there was no statistically identifiable impact of pesticide exposure on birth outcome. But especially for the mothers exposed to very high levels of pesticides, the researchers found negative effects for all birth outcomes - birth weight, low birth weight, gestational length, preterm birth, birth abnormalities. “Mothers exposed to extreme levels of pesticides, defined here as the top 5 percent of the pesticide exposure distribution, experienced between 5 and 9 percent increases in the probability of adverse outcomes with an approximately 13-gram decrease in birth weight,” said lead author Ashley Larsen, an assistant professor in UCSB’s Bren School of Environmental Science & Management. The top 5th percentile group was exposed to 4,200 kilograms of pesticides applied in the 1-square-mile regions encompassing their addresses during pregnancy.

The authors say that there is still a lack of research on the adverse health impacts of agricultural pesticide, which may in part be due to logistical challenges of health research. Since controlled studies are clearly unethical, much of the available evidence relating pesticides to adverse health outcomes comes from occupationally exposed groups, such as certified pesticide applicators which may not reflect exposures that are relevant for the broader agricultural community. While the authors describe their findings as “the most comprehensive to date”, they were unable to isolate the roles of individual chemicals and their mixtures in driving the negative outcomes. “We don’t have a good understanding of how different chemicals interact with each other in the environment,” Larsen said. “Additional work is needed to understand which chemicals or combinations of chemicals are most dangerous to human health.” (ab)

2017-08-29 |

World’s soils have lost 133bn tons of carbon, new research shows

Soil Agriculture has removed 133bn tons of carbon from the top 2 meters of soil (Photo: CC0)

The world’s soils have lost 133 billion tons of carbon from the top 2 meters of soil since the beginning of agriculture around 12,000 years ago, new research suggests. And the rate of soil organic carbon loss has increased dramatically over the past 200 years since the start of the industrial revolution, according to the study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on August 21. The research team found that agriculture has historically released almost as much carbon into the atmosphere as deforestation. “The spread of agriculture has created a large carbon debt in soils,” said lead author Dr. Jonathan Sanderman of the Woods Hole Research Center, a US-based climate change think tank. However, “it has been difficult to estimate the size and spatial distribution of soil organic carbon loss from land use and land cover change.” The authors write that conclusions of previous studies on global soil carbon losses have varied widely, with estimates ranging from 40 billion to 500 billion tons of carbon. The authors now generated a new estimate using a machine learning-based model, a global compilation of soil carbon data, and the History Database of the Global Environment (HYDE) land use data.

Projection of this model onto a world without farming indicated a global carbon debt due to agriculture of 133 billion tons for the top two meters of soil. These soil organic carbon losses are on par with estimates of carbon lost from living vegetation primarily due to deforestation. “Historically, I think we’ve underestimated the amount of emissions from soils due to land use change,” Sanderman told the Washington Post. The study also showed that “grazing” and “cropland” contributed nearly equally to the loss of soil organic carbon. Even though there were higher percent losses on cropland, slightly higher total losses were found from grazing land since more than twice the surface of land is grazed. According to the study, the rate and extent of decline in soil organic carbon stocks varies greatly across the globe, due to differences in soil properties, climate, type of land-use conversion, and, importantly, the specific management implementation of a given form of land use. The authors also highlight that loss of soil organic carbon under agricultural land use is not universal; modest gains are seen when soil of naturally low fertility is improved and the previous constraint on plant growth is alleviated.

The authors say their results can provide a basis for national and international policies to target soil organic carbon restoration efforts. “Our maps indicate hotspots of soil carbon loss, often associated with major cropping regions and degraded grazing lands, suggesting that there are identifiable regions that should be targets for soil carbon restoration efforts,” they write. “The large soil carbon debt can be thought of as the maximum potential for soils to remove carbon from the atmosphere and act as a natural climate solution. Even realizing only a fraction of this potential would be an important climate mitigation strategy,” Sanderman said. The researchers point out that sustainable land management practices which help to put carbon back into the ground, such as efficient crop rotation, cover crops and changes in tillage practices, could make a great difference. “Modifying large-scale agricultural practices to restore some of these lost soil carbon stocks might be a valuable strategy in our efforts to dampen climate change,” co-author Dr Thomas Crowther from the Yale Climate and Energy Institute told CarbonBrief. “If regenerative agriculture can restore some of the carbon that we have lost, then it might be a really valuable tool in our fight against climate change.” (ab)

2017-08-24 |

Study links rising farmer suicides in India to climate change

Indian Farmer in India (Photo: CC0)

Climate change may have contributed to the suicides of nearly 60,000 Indian farmers and farm workers over the past three decades, new research suggests. According to a study from the University of California, Berkeley, crop failures caused by drought and low rainfall during India’s agricultural growing season are pushing farmers into poverty and triggering suicides. The study, published in the August issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), found that an increase of just 1 degree Celsius during the growing season lead to roughly 70 suicides across the country whenever that day’s temperature was above 20 degrees. An increase of 5 degrees had five times that effect. “The tragedy is unfolding today. This is not a problem for future generations. This is our problem, right now,” said researcher Tamma Carleton. But she projects that today’s suicide rate will rise further as temperatures continue to warm.

According to the UC Berkeley press release announcing the study more than half of India’s working population is employed in rain-dependent agriculture, long known to be sensitive to climate fluctuations such as unpredictable monsoon rains, scorching heat waves, and drought. Heat waves, for example, drive crop losses, which can cause ripple effects throughout the Indian economy as poor harvests increase food prices, shrink agricultural jobs and draw on household savings, Carleton says. During these times, it appears that a staggering number of people, often male heads of household, turn to suicide. “Without interventions that help families adapt to a warmer climate, it’s likely we will see a rising number of lives lost to suicide as climate change worsens in India,” she adds.

For the study, Carleton paired the numbers for India’s reported suicides in each of its 32 states between 1967 and 2013, using a dataset prepared by the Indian National Crime Records Bureau, along with statistics on India’s crop yields, and high-resolution climate data. High temperatures and low rainfall during the off-season, when few crops are grown, did not have the same effect on suicide rates, indicating that the impact on agriculture in the main growing season is indeed the critical link. The study could help explain India’s evolving suicide epidemic, where suicide rates have nearly doubled since 1980, claiming more than 130,000 lives each year. The study indicates that 6.8% of the total upward trend can be attributed to warming that has been linked to human activity. Carleton estimates that warming temperature trends over the last 30 years have already been responsible for over 59,000 suicides throughout India. She argues that these estimates could even be too low since deaths in general are underreported in India and because until 2014, national law held that attempted suicide was a criminal offense, further discouraging reporting.

Carleton hopes her work will help people better understand the human cost of climate change, as well as inform suicide prevention policy in India and other developing countries. “It was both shocking and heartbreaking to see that thousands of people face such bleak conditions that they are driven to harm themselves,” she said. “But learning that the desperation is economic means that we can do something about this. The right policies could save thousands.” The study indicates that protecting farmers and farm workers from major economic shortfalls during these events, through policies like crop insurance or improvements in rural credit markets, may help to rein in a rising suicide rate. The Indian government has already established a $1.3 billion crop insurance plan aimed at reducing the suicide rate but it is still unknown if that will be sufficient or effective. (ab)

2017-08-16 |

Working with nature: The Push-Pull method can help achieve the SDGs

PuPu Maize and desmodium, a great team (Photo: Clément Girardot, bit.ly/CGira bit.ly/ccby-nc-sa20)

The biological pest management strategy Push-Pull can help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by contributing to ending poverty and hunger. This is the message of a guest article on IISD’s SDG Knowledge Hub, published by Zeyaur Khan, Programme Leader for Push-Pull at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) in Kenya, and Samuel Ledermann, Scientific Advisor at Biovision Foundation, which helps to spread the Push-Pull method from farm to farm. The authors argue that the Push-Pull method is a successful example of how a knowledge-intensive solution to the problem of yield losses to maize crops caused by striga weed and stemborers became a proven technology. It is closely linked to many of the 17 SDGs, adopted by world leaders in September 2015: Push-Pull does not only have a beneficial impact on the implementation of SDG 2, which aims at ending hunger, achieving food security and improved nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture, they write, but also positively impacts SDG 1 (no poverty), SDG 5 (gender equality) and SDG 15 (life on land).

Maize production in Africa is constrained by two major pests: stemborers, which can cause yield losses of 20-80%, and Striga, a parasitic weed that attaches itself to the maize roots and can cause yield losses up to 100%. By the late 1990s, in search of an ecological solution to stemborers, scientists at the ICIPE, Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) and Rothamsted Research in the UK developed the biological pest management strategy to control the stemborer. The leguminous plant desmodium is planted in between the rows of maize or sorghum. It then suppresses the growth of the striga weed by natural means. The smell of desmodium repels the stem borer moths and drives them away from the main crop (push). Around the fields, the farmers plant napier grass, which attracts female stem borer moths (pull). They place their eggs in the grass where, once they try to bore into the grass, the hatched larvae die in the sticky substance the grass produces. Soils and livestock also benefit from Push-Pull. Like other leguminous plants, desmodium fixes nitrogen from the air with its root nodules. As of early 2017, the number of adopters in East Africa has reached 140,000 farmers.

According to Khan and Ledermann, at the level of SDG 2, the ability to control these two major pests resulted in on-farm maize yield increases in Kenya from less than 1 tonne per hectare to at least 3.5 tonnes per hectare. Furthermore, adapted for drier climate with drought-tolerant varieties, the climate-smart Push-Pull variant results in yield increases for sorghum from less than 1 tonne per hectare to 2.5 tonnes per hectare. This can contribute to achieving SDG 2 target 2.3 of doubling the agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers by 2030. With regard to SDG1, the authors highlight that these yield gains correspond with positive returns on investment for farmers. In addition, the two companion plants serve as a highly nutritious extra fodder for the cattle that increases milk production. Farmers can also generate an additional income by selling the remaining napier grass.

At the level of SDG 5, Khan and Ledermann say that Push-Pull is a technology mainly adopted by women due to targeted dissemination campaigns. The programme promoting the adoption of Push Pull is accompanied by community-based seed production whereby women’s groups are multiplying desmodium seeds and subsequently earn additional household income. Since desmodium is a nitrogen-fixing plant, Push-Pull also contributes to SDG 15 by reducing soil erosion, improving moisture conservation and increasing carbon sequestration through a reduced need for plowing. Khan and Ledermann are not alone with their opinion: With over 100 scientific research articles published, Push-Pull is a proven and chemical-free agricultural technology to control pests. (ab)

2017-08-09 |

Indigenous peoples are the best guardians of world’s biodiversity, UN expert

Bild Apatani woman (Photo: Global Landscapes Forum, bit.ly/Apatani, bit.ly/ccby_20)

When indigenous peoples’ rights to their lands are protected, they are the best guardians of the world’s forests and biodiversity. However, indigenous peoples are facing acute challenges due to the loss of their lands and the violation of their rights. This is the message of Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, to mark the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples on 9 August. It is now 10 years since the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2007, but indigenous peoples still face discrimination, exclusion and lack of protection, the UN expert has warned. Even though the Declaration is the most comprehensive international instrument on indigenous peoples’ collective rights, including the rights to self-determination, traditional lands and culture, the lack of implementation remains a major problem. “Indigenous Peoples are still forced from their lands for development and conservation projects, and still face violence and criminalisation when they stand up for their rights,” Victoria Tauli-Corpuz told the British newspaper The Guardian.

It is estimated that there are more than 370 million indigenous people spread across 70 countries worldwide. The United Nations warn that they still suffer from racism, discrimination, and unequal access to basic services including healthcare and education. Where statistical data is available, it shows clearly that they are facing disproportionately higher levels of poverty, lower life expectancy and worse educational outcomes. Indigenous peoples are particularly threatened by the loss of their lands and the violation of their rights over resources, which are pillars of their livelihoods and cultural identities. “Many indigenous communities face intractable poverty despite living on resource-rich lands because their rights are not respected and their self-determined development is not supported,” says Tauli-Corpuz. “Protecting the rights of indigenous women, who are often responsible for both their communities’ food security and for managing their forests, is particularly important.”

According to the Special Rapporteur, the biggest threats are extractive industries, conservation projects and climate change. “Many Indigenous Peoples live on resource-rich territory - in large part because they have protected and preserved that land for generations - making them prime targets for both extractive industries and protected areas.” Tauli-Corpuz criticises that international law still heavily privileges investors and companies despite the fact that the UN Declaration has been accepted as an international norm. “Many Indigenous Peoples are still being dispossessed of their lands by states and corporations, and are being criminalised and assassinated when they fight to protect their lands from being grabbed and polluted by mining and oil companies,” she added. Individuals and communities who dare to defend indigenous rights are labelled as obstacles to progress, anti-development forces, and in some cases, even enemies of the State or terrorists. Tauli-Corpuz also told the Guardian that even projects that are planned as solutions to climate change can sometimes threaten indigenous land rights. “Protected areas are still being established on indigenous lands without their consent, even though indigenous peoples are the proven best guardians of the forest and forcing them from their lands does not improve environmental outcomes,” she said. This view is backed by studies which show that where Indigenous Peoples have secure rights to their lands, carbon storage is higher and deforestation is lower. (ab)

2017-08-07 |

World food prices reach highest level since January 2015, FAO

Food Global food prices rose for the third month in a row (Photo: CC0)

Global food prices have reached their highest level since January 2015, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said on Thursday. The FAO Food Price Index, which measures monthly changes in international prices of a basket of food commodities, averaged 179.1 points in July, up 2.3 percent from June. Global food prices rose for the third consecutive month in July, driven mainly by higher cereal, sugar and dairy quotations. This latest rise put the Index almost 16.6 points or 10 percent above last year’s level, FAO said in a press release. The FAO Cereal Price Index reached 162.2 points in July, an increase of almost 5.1% from June and 9.5 percent from July 2016. According to the UN agency, this was caused by stronger wheat prices and, to a lesser extent, also by firmer rice quotations. Wheat values rose the most in July, as continued hot and dry weather deteriorated spring wheat conditions in North America.

The FAO Dairy Price Index also rose 3.6 percent from June because of higher prices for butter, cheese and whole milk powder. Although the FAO Sugar Price Index rose by 5.2 per cent in July, it was the first monthly increase since the beginning of the year. The FAO Vegetable Oil Price Index fell 1.1 percent from June to its lowest level since August 2016. “The July slide primarily reflected good production prospects for palm oil in Southeast Asia and weak global import demand,” FAO explained. The FAO Meat Price Index remained steady. An increase in international prices for ovine meat in July was offset by downward price movements in bovine, pig and poultry sectors. (ab)

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