Lost in Rio

June 19, 2012

Mićo Tatalović

Mićo Tatalović
Deputy news editor, SciDev.Net


It was nobody’s fault that I spent half a day at Rio’s botanical gardens today, searching for a session that was held at a different venue altogether. But it turns out the day wasn’t a complete loss.

20 minutes into my arrival and several helpful Brazilians’ advice later, I found out that I was in fact standing in the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation’s (EMBRAPA) research center . I learned they were doing some – not for profit – research on indigenous agro-ecology, trying to ensure indigenous people in Xingu Indigenous Park in central Brazil, can maintain their livelihoods by boosting their food security in a culturally-sensitive way. “The greatest challenge to agricultural policy in Brazil is to develop actions for research, development and transfer of technology that promote the sustainability of indigenous people and their lands” says EMBRAPA. The project sets up ‘no-catch’ zones and over the last few years has released 30,000 newborn yellow-spotted Amazon river turtles (tracajas), which form a big part of the community’s diet.

But the natural capital accounting event – my original assignment for the day – was calling, and I had to go.

After locating the gardens, the only visible session was one organised by a Brazilian mining company (I won’t name it as they were so keen to keep me out of their precious session), who were giving awards of up to 15,000 Brazilian Reals (around US$8,000) to promising science students, which was really nice to hear. But after an unpleasant encounter with the mining company’s entourage, I figured I was better off wandering around the garden until I received an update of where I was supposed to be for my session.

The garden was lovely – and it would be good if more Rio+20 delegates went and spent some time in nature – travelling around in air-conditioned gas guzzlers, from one high-energy consumption venue to the next, it’s easy to forget what it is they’re here to protect.

By the time I finally arrived at the National School of Tropical Botany, the session on natural capital accounting was well underway. But that didn’t stop me getting an update on our ‘African nations agree to put a price on nature’ feature – check in to our news site in the next two days to learn more.

All-in-all, another fun and educational day in Rio.


This blog post is part of our coverage of Rio+20: United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. To read news and analysis on Science at Rio+20 please visit our website.


Weathering uncertainty: learn from indigenous communities

June 14, 2012

T. V. Padma

T. V. Padma
South Asia regional coordinator, SciDev.Net


Sha Zukang: Everyone is equally unhappy.. which means they are equally happy
Flickr/UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferra

Hello, and I pitch in to wrap up our blog.

Sustainable Development is a multi-dimensional, complex topic that is, and should be, viewed through a variety of lenses, but it is often impossible to have all the lenses with us, even if we want to.

During Rio+20, SciDev.Net looked at it through the science lens, offering a rich fare of issues from energy for all, to oceans, to agriculture to technology transfer and the role of science in sustainable development.

That coverage was peppered with a view of the scenes outside the conference venue, including exhibitions and the bustling people’s summit.

And there was the African perspective on sustainable development.

The conference secretary general, Sha Zukang, says the summit achieved some notables: including a “substantive pathbreaking outcome”; a registry of voluntary commitments from corporates, international agencies and others for sustainable development; and the ‘zero hunger challenge’ initiative.

“We would have been happier if there had been more science in the document. But the outcome document is something we can build on,” Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the Inter Governmental Panel on Climate Change, remarked to me.

Civil society was predictably furious over what Greenpeace’s Kumi Naidoo described as a “missed historical opportunity” to see a stronger agenda through.

Many of us living in developing countries, including me, recognise the complexity of sustainable development — the sheer magnitude of poverty in some areas; the inequity within countries that has worsened as economies grow and the never-ending ‘environment versus development’ tension as we struggle to lift millions out of poverty and provide access to clean water, sanitation, energy, education and jobs.

I would like to mention two lasting impressions as I sometimes switched the science lens for other lenses.

I, like countless women, am left aghast that this summit has regressed on women’s reproductive health and rights issues which has implications for access to safe contraception and family planning services. It is Rio minus 20 on that count.

Then I am left uneasy with this corporate juggernaut  — it was there with all its public relations machinery.

Jose Maria Figueres, president of the non-governmental organisation Carbon War Room,  told the media that, while governments let Rio+20 down, corporates took it forward. Time to watch out for who will be in the driving seat from now on.

But then as Sha Zukang philosophically noted, such meetings leave “everyone equally unhappy … equally unhappy means equally happy,” he observed. So be it.

This blog post is part of our Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for Sustainable Development blog which takes place 11-15 June 2012. To read news and analysis from the conference please visit our website.


Indigenous communities emerge as proactive negotiators

June 14, 2012

T. V. Padma

T. V. Padma
South Asia regional coordinator, SciDev.Net


For me, a refreshing change in climate change and sustainable development meetings, compared to the high-brow, purely scientific meetings, is that they bring in local communities’ representatives on the podium to share their insights and wisdom.

And so I enjoyed listening to Roberto Marin,  (Asociación de Capitanes y Autoridades Tradicionales Indigenas del Pira Parana (ACAIPI), Colombia; Jaqueline Dias, (Articulação Pacari) PCARI, Brazil; and  Myrna Cunningham, member, UN permanent forum on indigenous issues ad executive director of CADPI, Nicaragua, albeit I had to make do with an English translation of their speeches in Spanish or Portuguese.

They narrated their struggles to preserve their culture and knowledge even as they assimilate some of the more ‘modern’ concepts of education and health; their efforts to forge inter-cultural universities for indigenous community students and with special courses on traditional knowledge; and their emergence from passive or helpless, marginalized victims of relentless modernization to determined negotiators in international treaties and conventions.

For example, Brazil’s Pacari network brings together 47 traditional pharmacies and community-based organisations to cultivate medicinal plants, preserve traditional ecological knowledge and health traditions, and protect biodiversity in the Cerrado (savannah) biome.

With no comprehensive legislation that recognizes traditional health practices in Brazil, the network mobilized medicinal plant producers and local health practitioners to create self-regulating policies; set standards on the amount of plant used to prepare traditional medicines, safety and sanitary conditions for plant processing; and sustainable harvesting techniques.

And Myrna Cunningham Kain was the first Miskitu woman to become a surgeon, and was the founder and first rector of the University of the Autonomous Regions of the Nicaraguan Caribbean Coast (URACCAN).

Jennifer Rubin, climate frontlines negotiator at UNESCO, explained how indigenous communities are determinedly making use of state and national dialogues; and UN mechanisms, to express their concerns ad protect their rights. Indigenous people live in or sue resources on some  22 per cent of the world’s land area, which harbours 80 per cent of the global biological diversity.

They made effective interventions in the Convention on Biological Diversity   (CBD), but feel they are yet to make a similar dent in climate change negotiations.  There has been some progress though. – recognition of indigenous knowledge at the the 2010 Cancun adaptation framework principles; and the upcoming fifth IPCC assessment report.

Indigenous people have not been passive. We are negotiating, resisting, adapting, and engaging with policymakers, nationally and internationally,  Rubis said.

This blog post is part of our Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for Sustainable Development blog which takes place 11-15 June 2012. To read news and analysis from the conference please visit our website.


How to adapt to climate change: ask the locals

March 30, 2012

T. V. Padma

T. V. Padma
South Asia regional coordinator, SciDev.Net


The one group conspicuous by their absence in the Planet Under Pressure conference is the local communities who, one would presume, have the highest stakes in all the developments and debate on climate change.

The reason is obvious: no one invites indigenous communities to conferences straddled by international and national policy experts and scientists. But it turns out that local communities are finding their own ways of coping with increasingly erratic weather changes, without the top-down ‘expert’ inputs, so thank you. And some experts suggest scientists could learn a thing or two from them.

Tirso Gonzales, professor at the department of indigenous studies in the University of British Columbia, described today (Wednesday) how for local communities who have been living in the Peruvian Andes for 8000 years, climate change is not a new phenomenon. They have the local knowledge to deal with erratic weather patterns, but neither scientists nor policy experts care to talk to them.

A session on ‘resilient communities: local pathways to meet the energy, climate and resource depletion challenges’ on Tuesday heard several case studies about how local farming communities in Nigeria, Senegal and India are devising their own methods of coping with the impacts of changing weather, even as their governments grapple with policy announcements and implementation.

Ranjay Singh, scientist at the Central Soil Salinity Research Institute, Karnal in northern India, cited several examples of local communities devising their own solutions, from cross-breeding yaks to  domestication of wild species with drought or flood tolerance, to intercropping to adapt to the changes they see around them.

“Most of the community knowledge led initiatives are based on incremental learning and natural adaptive capacity,” Singh says.

What’s missing is the will and interest of natural and social scientists to include this informal traditional knowledge into their research strategies, share experiences and knowledge, says Gonzales.

The day, for now, has not yet dawned.

This blog post is part of our Planet Under Pressure 2012 coverage — which takes place 26–29 March 2012. To read news and analysis from the conference please visit our website.


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