Small-scale Farmers Feed the World

IMG_1866Small-scale or family farmers feed the world. This is an incontrovertible fact. This fact is unfortunately often overlooked. The willful rejection of the truth that small-scale farmers feed the world has persisted because accepting the truth would compel policy makers to refocus attention where it matters rather than pumping resources into industrial farming that create ecological and socioeconomic problems, and is vastly inefficient when outputs are compared to inputs. Small scale farmers use less than 30% of arable land and resources and feed 70% of the population while the  reverse is the case with industrial farming.

Scare tactics of ever-growing population has been used as an excuse to force the diversion of public funds into private industrial agriculture as well as the introduction of genetically engineered crops into Africa and other parts of the world. Again, the fact that the world currently produces enough food to feed almost double the current population is ignored in the conversations. For Nigeria, our country, we are told that we will have the third largest population by 2050, surpassing the United States of America (USA) among others. In fact, the United Nations projects that the population growth rate in Africa will “at least double” by 2050. Lineal population growth may be possible if African countries deepen socioeconomic disparities and do not improve on social indices and if disease, poverty and illiteracy persist. It is time to re-examine the statistical basis of Nigeria’s population otherwise the shame will be on us when we become the most populous nation on earth and the people cannot be found!

Concerned medical doctors and religious bodies and consumer groups have expressed reservations over the pollution of our seeds and foods. The agencies responsible continue to push on in utter contempt of these concerns.

Another fact that begs for acceptance is that people are not hungry because there is no food in the world. About 30 percent of food goes to waste. In addition, industrial farming thrives on monocultures and is the major supplier of feed stock, as expected, for industrial processes. The assertion that people are not hungry due to lack of food in the market is also buttressed that most of the people that go to bed hungry are actually farmers. This happens because farmers have to sell their produce so as to meet family needs – such as housing, medicals, transportation and school needs of their children.

Farmer to farmer exchanges are vital for the sharing of ideas, farming practices and ways for preserving seeds and our overall biodiversity. Meeting to have dialogues between farmers provides a platform to diagnose the challenges facing small holder farmers as they struggle to meet the food requirements of the population.

Dialogue spaces also provide platforms for examining the quality of seeds available to farmers and the special threats posed by opening of the flood gates to genetically engineered crops into Nigeria.

We continue to demand for a radical revision of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) Act 2015 and the installation of a neutral Biosafety Regulatory Agency that is totally different from the extremely pro-GMO one currently in place. In fact, today it is hard to distinguish NBMA from National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) – an agency expressly set up to promote GMOs even before any biosafety law was in place in the country. We are experts at putting the truck ahead of the truck pusher and once on the wrong path we stubbornly refuse to step back, except in rare cases like that of our Nigeria Air.

Today, respectable research institutions have bought into the GMO train making it difficult for farmers to know when they are being sold genetically modified cassava, beans or maize. Even if farmers were to know that they are being sold suspect seeds, once the seeds get into the food market, consumers have no way of knowing what is being sold to them. There is no way anyone will label akara, moi moi, ogi, eba or similar foods made from genetically modified seeds. In other words, Nigerians are on the wrong bus already.

Concerned medical doctors, religious bodies and consumer groups have expressed reservations over the pollution of our seeds and foods. The agencies responsible continue to push on in utter contempt of these concerns.

Together we will demand rural infrastructure, storage and processing facilities for farm produce as well as provision of extension officers to share knowledge on agroecological methods of agriculture that is in line with sustainable practices developed over the millennia and are not tied to the apron strings of institutions that are patently neocolonial and unpatriotic.

We will proceed to dissect, debate and consider the risks to our health and biodiversity, not just for our sake but for the sake of generations yet unborn. We are concerned that unproven assertions are presented as truths by GMO promoting agencies in total disregard of the globally increasing call for ban of cancer-causing herbicides that are already in our markets and will be more extensively used in the cultivation of crops genetically modified to withstand them.

Today we assure our farmers that you have strong allies in the GMO-Free Nigeria alliance and that we will stand with you in the struggle to ensure that technofixes are not presented as cure-all in our agricultural sector. We will stand with you and demand justice for us all. Together we will demand rural infrastructure, storage and processing facilities for farm produce as well as provision of extension officers to share knowledge on agroecological methods of agriculture that is in line with sustainable practices developed over the millennia and are not tied to the apron strings of institutions that are patently neocolonial and unpatriotic.

Farmers do matter and must be listened to.

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Welcome words by Nnimmo Bassey, director of the ecological think tank, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) at Farmers’ Dialogue – Promoting Biosafety in Nigeria – held on 21 September 2018 at Ugbiyoko, Benin City, Nigeria

 

Fish is More Valuable than Crude

 

Fish is More Valuable Than Oil. When we say that fish is more valuable than oil, we are staying a plain fact. Fish are living organisms whereas crude oil comes from fossils or long dead matter. Fish support our life with necessary protein. It is estimated that about 63.2 percent of Ghanaians depend on fish for animal protein. Marine resources provide the backbone of the economy and social life of many coastal communities. They employ millions of peoples across the coast lines of Africa and in both Great and small lakes on the continent.

The economic value of artisanal and small-scale fishing includes the big population of processors and sellers that are mostly women. To these must be added the families that depend on them and the income from the sector. With these considerations and in comparison, to the negative impacts of oil exploration and extraction in our waters, the fishing sector is more valuable and needs to be consciously protected.

Before the arrival of oil and gas rigs in our territories we enjoyed pristine waters and we could fish freely in the deep offshore and on the inland shores. Our people could literally pick sea foods from the shallow waters and from the creeks. Oil activities in our waters have raised serious security concerns, with large areas around oil installations becoming off limits to fishers. Sadly, oil fields have notoriously been found in areas with endemic fish species. Besides oil spills from offshore oil operations, they also pollute the oceans with drilling muds, pipeline leaks, produced water and deck runoff water. These have considerable impacts on the fish, coral reefs and water birds in the short and long terms.

When the seismic ships arrive, trouble knocks. Oil companies invest a lot in their search for oil reserves. Governments readily back these searches because both corporations and governments benefit from huge reserves as the market value of an oil company rises as their reserves rise. Governments that belong to a cartel like the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) can press for higher production quotas depending on how much reserves they can show that they have. While their reserves rise, so do the pains and poverty of the fishers.

A total of twenty four whales died on the coasts of Ghana between 2009 and 2013. While the government and oil companies keep insisting that the deaths of the whales have nothing to do with oil and gas exploration and extraction, what cannot be denied is that the alignment of the incidents and oil exploration and exploitation are too close to be ignored.

Seismic testing is often carried using multiple air guns that emit thousands of high-decibel explosive impulses to map the seafloor. The engineers repeat the blasts from the seismic air-guns every ten seconds and all through the day and these go on for days and weeks at a time.

These activities are known to disorientate marine mammals such as whales and other marine life. This happens when the sensory organs of these aquatic animals are affected causing them to lose their sense of orientation as well as ability to track food sources.

You are witnesses to the many whales that have died off the Ghanaian coasts in recent years. Right here in Keta, a dead whale washed onshore at the Tettekope beach on Tuesday, September 19, 2017. A total of twenty four whales died on the coasts of Ghana between 2009 and 2013. While the government and oil companies keep insisting that the deaths of the whales have nothing to do with oil and gas exploration and extraction, what cannot be denied is that the alignment of the incidents and oil exploration and exploitation are too close to be ignored.

In South Africa, as exploratory activities intensify off the coast of Durban, concerns have risen over the fate of the highly valuable marine ecosystem there. Just this week a dead whale washed onshore. Before the beaching of the whale, scientists were worried that a particular fish species that has survived millions of years including the ice age, without much change, may not be equipped to withstand oil pollution. Last week a baby whale washed onshore on the coast of Delta State, Nigeria. These incidents have become more regular in recent times.

Oil drilling is a resounding tragedy to marine life forms, killing and injuring them. It is a threat to the natural heritage of our coastal communities. It is time for our nations to ban extractive activities and reckless fish exploitation by local and foreign fleets in our waters, create marine parks and protect them. Our fishers are getting tired of going all night in search of fish and returning home only with polluted nets.

Our FishNet Dialogues provide spaces for us to interrogate changes in the state of our marine environment and to map actors negatively impacting our marine ecosystems, and to proffer actions that must be taken to halt the harms. In the course of our conversations today, we will ask ourselves some questions. Such questions will include whether crude oil is in anyway more valuable to us than fish. We will compare how many persons work in the oil sector to the number that work in fisheries. We will also ask which of these supports our local livelihoods, natural heritage and sociocultural activities.

As you will see, we are not here to give or receive lectures.  We are here to have a dialogue, listen to ourselves, ask questions and collectively seek answers. We are here to seek ways we can work together and extend the webs of solidarity to other fishers who could not join with us today.

Health of Mother Earth Foundation is pleased to collaborate with Oilwatch Ghana and our fishers here in Keta to make this gathering happen. We also welcome FishNet Alliance members form Togo to the gathering. Let the conversations begin!

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Welcome words by Nnimmo Bassey, Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), at the FishNet Dialogue held at Keta, Volta Region, Ghana on 23 August 2018

 

 

 

 

Introducing FishNet Alliance

FishNet Alliance

Introducing FishNet Alliance, a network of fishers engaged in and promoting sustainable fishing in line with ecosystem limits. We stand in solidarity against extractive activities in water bodies – including rivers, lakes and oceans.

  1. FishNet Alliance aims to halt the expansion of extractive activities such as mining and oil/gas exploitation in our inland waters and oceans.
  2. FishNet Alliance is a network of like minds from different coastal communities that believe in solidarity, dignity and respect of the indigenous rights.
  3. The Alliance promotes, mobilizes and supports fishing activities that are in consonance with the natural cycles of the marine ecosystems.
  4. FishNet Alliance respects diversity and sustainable local knowledge.
  5. We are against indiscriminate displacement of fishing settlements and sand-filling of fishing creeks and rivers.
  6. We believe in and propagate the principles of knowledge generation and sharing to build capacity of fishers and engender improved sustainable engagements with the marine environment from a holistic perspective – including human rights, climate change, biodiversity conservation, ecological debt and external debt.
  7. We are against the use of chemicals and explosives to enhance fishing in our waters.
  8. FishNet Alliance engages in exchange visits to promote ties, solidarity and cross-cultural practices in fishing practices.
  9. We promote the principle of “what affects one – affects all” hence we take distributive actions in solidarity with any member(s) whose offshore and inland waters are/have been affected adversely by the extractive industry.
  10. We campaign for the rights of the fishers to
    earn a living from the fishing and contribute to the economy of their countries. We press for justice and/or compensation in cases where these rights have been abridged by corporations and governments.

Download and read about FishNet Alliance for more details and for information on how to be a part of this Alliance.

#FishNotOil #FishNetAlliance

Beyond Fossil Fuels

Beyond Fossil Fuels – OILWATCH AFRICA’s LAMU DECLARATION Oilwatch Africa network members, Lamu community representatives, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), community-based organisations (CBOs) met in Lamu Kenya, on 7th and 8th August, 2018 at a conference on the theme: Beyond Fossil Fuels. The conference considered the politics of fossil fuel extractions, the impacts of fossil fuels on the continent and the strategy to unlock Africa’s power using alternatives to fossil fuels energy systems that are environmentally friendly and socially just.

The participants of the conference considered also the implications of the proposed LAPSET project (Coal power plant, deep Sea Port and Oil extraction) by the Kenyan Government on the socio-economic lives of the people of Lamu, including the impacts of these project on their culture, agriculture, fisheries and livelihoods of the people. After listening to the Save Lamu movement experiences, the conference noted that Lamu is an example of similar dirty energy and mega projects being pursued on the continent without full consultations with the people and without their free prior informed consent.

The conference analysed:

  1. Africa’s energy needs and the politics of a just transition;
  2. The challenges that fossil fuels funding in African countries, including the issues of debt and the resolution of disputes under a jurisdiction different from the involved country;
  3. The way Africa should go about renewable energy in relation to land tenure and land use;
  4. The political corruption and abuse of political power as a major problem faced by the people
  5. The destruction of livelihoods and local economies by the polluting activities of fossil fuels industries
  6. The issues of land grabbing, displacements and the marginalisation of communities in Africa due to fossil fuel industry activities among others

The conference declared:

  1. Full support for the demands of the Save Lamu movement;
  2. Opposition to the use of public funds to subsidize fossil fuels;
  3. That land tenure systems on the continent must respect community ownership as dictated by culture and tradition
  4. Communities must give their free prior informed consents for projects proposed for their territories while retaining their right to say NO
  5. That governments should urgently transit to renewable energy for all, owned and controlled by people
  6. African governments must urgently diversify national economies away from dependence on fossil fuels, exploitation of peoples and the destruction of the gifts of nature.

This declaration was issued on the 7th of August, 2018 in Lamu, Kenya

Participants at the meeting were drawn from Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa, South Sudan, Swaziland, Togo and Uganda.

 

 

 

Re-Connecting to Mother Earth

VerdantThinking about re-connecting to Mother Earth brings up one of my fondest memories of my late father. Those were moments moments when we stood at the back of our home and gazed at the verdant valley rolling off our garden and on to the sculpted hills that fade off as far as our eyes could see. Those were the moments he told me stories of life. The stories close to his heart. And each time we stood there he told me the same stories. Although I grew weary of hearing the same tales over and over again, I always looked forward to those precious, private moments. Today, older and hopefully wiser, I understand the power of looking across valleys and over hills.

Memories. Life. Hope.

There was a time when I got really agitated and angry if anyone responded with the phrase “no problem” when asked “everything okay?” The phrase, “no problem”, indicated to me that the respondent was not attentive to the objective realities around him/her. My emotions have been so moderated that I can stomach that response these days. I would only extend it: “no problem that cannot be overcome.”

Some of the problems confronting humankind today have been constructed by our greed, naivety and indifference. Humankind has arisen as a unique species when it comes to exploitation without responsibility and appropriation of the gifts of Nature without appreciation. Commodification of Nature has not ended in the transformation of the physical elements around us to the marketing of intangibles and things only grasped by imagination. Think of the fact that our major medium of exchange is the imaginary promissory material called money, for which individuals compete, kill and destroy. Is it not surprising that many people measure their worth by this weightless imaginary means of exchange?

The assault on Mother Earth has tested her patience. She was here before humans arrived. She will be here after we have left. How shameful that we could imagine that we own Mother Earth or a piece of her!

Market Environmentalism and Loss of Memory

The commodification of Nature has been built on the false notion that Nature can only be protected or defended if it has a monetary value. This extremely contentious idea has become mainstream in neoliberal thinking and drives policy discussions in official bilateral and multilateral spaces. Not surprisingly, serious harm has resulted from the market environmentalism and the loss of sense of the intrinsic value of Nature. These harms have not only arisen from the unrestrained exploitation of Nature without thought being given to the repercussions, it has permitted the crimes of ecocide and even genocide as tolerable inevitabilities.

It is this thinking that made a Chief Economist of the World Bank to write that Africa is under polluted and that it made economic sense to ramp up pollution on the continent. In his words,

“…I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that. I’ve always thought that under-populated countries in Africa are vastly under-polluted.”

We see in this position that the market dogma can permit the twisting of logic and the willful poisoning of whole populations without compunction. In this statement, Africa is not only presented as nothing but a waste dump, she is also presented in a narrative that permits abuse.  Here we refer to the notion of some African countries being under-populated. Although most African countries are actually under-populated, the popular narrative, and one that permits aggressive birth control proposals for the continent, is that Africa is overpopulated and is plagued by a threatening youth population bulge.

The logic of being under-polluted gives a good explanation of why international oil companies operating in the communities of the Niger Delta, Nigeria, can maintain an uninterrupted oil spilling and gas flaring for sixty years. As we speak, there are ongoing oil spills and unquenched gas furnaces raging in the communities. Raised as totems of development, the activities of oil companies have rendered the environment hostile to human survival. Oil activities have not only instituted militarization of the region and the attendant human rights abuses, the installation and transportation of extractive facilities have led to severe habitat loss and fragmentation occasioning the decline in biodiversity as well as threat to sustainable livelihoods of rural communities according to Prof. J. Ekpere in a foreword to HOMEF’s Report. Fragmentation of habitats in some communities come through the laying of oil and gas pipelines. In coastal communities, fresh water systems have been experiencing salinization due to canals constructed to allow movement of equipment inland. The result of turning fresh water brackish is a severe loss of biodiversity as well as loss of access to potable Water.

With water, soil and air assaulted with toxic elements, it is no surprise that human life expectancy has dropped precipitously to a mere 41 years in the region.

On the other hand, the idea that Africa is over populated is hinged on to encourage manipulation of plant genetic material in ways that are harmful to human health as well as the environment. Products of agricultural biotechnology are accompanied with heavy doses of toxic chemicals which degrade soils and run off to pollute water sources.  This technology which is portrayed as the silver bullet to agricultural challenges puts livelihoods of millions of small scale farmers at risk while it favours a large-scale farming system that is driven by the profit motive and thrives on market monopoly.

Meanings and Actions

In a foreword to a report by Health of Mother Earth Foundation(HOMEF), Beyond Oil – Re-imagining Development in the Niger Delta, Alberto Acosta reminds us that, “serious environmental damage caused in the name of ‘modernity’, development and progress, the bastardization of concepts such as “sustainable development”, the persistence of false solutions such as the “green economy”, make it necessary to look no longer at alternative developments, but rather at “alternatives to development” and indeed alternatives to capitalist society. Such limitations should not lead to catastrophic conclusions. In various parts of the world, and in the Niger Delta itself, there are communities that re-imagine their lives over and over again.

“They have understood that they cannot follow the mantra of development and progress imposed by colonial and neocolonial invasions, whether military or conceptual. And from these readings many communities give concrete answers honed from their own daily life in response to their demands of life. Breaking with the false promises of oil, people’s alternatives emerge in this region of Africa, such as training, learning and re-learning programs; breeding poultry and chickens; integrated sustainable farms; community microcredit schemes; economic diversification programs; banana plantations without chemicals or transgenics; fish farms; own telecommunication and transport systems; communal farms to produce rice; use of renewable resources …”

Latching on the African philosophical concept of Ubuntu, Acosta points out that the needed alternatives are practical and hold the promise of “a decent life for many communities but, in addition, they are projected into the future, because they possess a strategic horizon of action. These alternatives are based on an ethical position: an assumption that a human being must not only take care of him or herself, but others as well. A person is understood to become a person by looking through the eyes of others; thus, human beings have to act with the consciousness of being interconnected with the rest of humanity and other living beings. Such a way of life involves caring directly for the environment and working for life in harmony with Mother Earth.”

It is dangerous to assume that simply because we speak to one another we have a common understanding of the terms and concepts that we use. It is rather the interrogation of terms such as modernity, development, progress, sustainable development and green economy that reveals whether we are on the same track or if indeed we are heading in divergent directions.

Things labeled modern are superficially seen as superior to things that are labeled primitive. Can this position be routinely correct? It cannot be assumed that simply because weapons of mass destruction are modern then they are superior to weapons of war that date back to thousands of years. Neither can we say that the fossil fuel dependent automobile is superior to a bicycle, outside the concept of speed. Even then, is moving faster an ideal if one is headed in the wrong direction?

Green is a Colour

Concepts such as carbon trading, green economy and even clean coal so readily capture attention. An oil company like Shell publishes an annual Sustainability Report. How sustainable is the extremely polluting extraction of oil and gas? Consider that other mining companies and governments project ideas of sustainable mining. How can extraction be sustainable. Extraction by definition is subtraction, a taking away, a hacking away at Mother Earth. In the same vein, sustainable development as a concept is an oxymoron. It is only when there is an agreed definition of development, including a base line that shows what is developed, underdeveloped or developing, that we can say if what is so defined is realistic in a finite world and if the conditions that led to that state of affairs can be replicated.

Green economy evokes an image of life, but in reality it places life on the chopping block. Built on the concept of commodifying Nature or keeping tabs of natural capital, it places value on so-called environmental services, including the job done by rivers and even the value of pollination by bees. It is doubtful that anyone can gauge the true value of the gifts of Nature in a way that would produce an equal ecological exchange.

By creative or selective accounting, efforts to internalize environmental costs in the price of commodities has not gained traction. This willful amnesia ensures that vulnerable workers, communities, territories and nations bear the hidden costs of extraction and production while the oligarchs smile to the bank with their bounties.

 There is a global rejection of subsidies doled out to fossil fuel industries. We applaud the need the remove those subsidies, but that is not going far enough. When shall relief come to the communities/territories that are subsidizing the cost of extraction by bearing the brunt of environmental costs? When will Mother Earth enjoy a relief from these unending despoliations? When, indeed will the call to Keep it in the Ground become a binding rule and not just a slogan mouthed by the polluters and their supporting neoliberal institutions? When, indeed, will we demand an end to pollution and not merely demand that polluters pay?

The Measure of Progress

After the lecture

After the Lecture

What development or progress birth well being? Efforts have been made to measure development and progress through a variety of indexes including the notorious Gross Domestic Product (GDP) which has been described as Gross Domestic Problem (Lorenzo Fioramonti, 2013). It has been shown by many analysts that the GDP of a nation has no correlation to the state of well being of the citizens. Yet other indices include Measure of Economic Welfare (MEW), Total Income System of Accounts (TISA), Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare, Physical Quality of Life Index (PQLI), Human Suffering Index (HSI) and Ecological Footprint.

Writing on the quest for statistical measure of economic performance, Joseph Stiglitz said, “Just as a firm needs to measure the depreciation of its capital, so too, our national accounts need to reflect the depletion of natural resources and the degradation of our environment. Statistical frameworks are intended to summarize what is going on in our complex society in a few easily interpretable numbers. It should have been obvious that one couldn’t reduce everything to a single number, GDP. The report by the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress will, one hopes, lead to a better understanding of the uses, and abuses, of that statistic.”

Some politicians and statisticians are stuck with the GDP because it offers flattering pictures of their economies. As a compilation that is built mainly on imagination and sleight of hand, the GDP stubbornly marches on despite the arrival of other measures such as Human Development Index (HDI) and the Gross Happiness Index (GHI) that are closer to reality and do indicate a correlation to reality and the hopes of citizens.

Consider how Nigeria became Africa’s largest economy in 2014. Nigeria’s GDP was said to have grown by 6.81 percent in the third quarter of 2013. But this and other optimistic GDP projections mask the lived reality of ordinary citizens on the ground as evidenced even in official statistics. For example, a joint study conducted by the World Bank (WB) and the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on poverty in Nigeria. A blog on the report opens with an oblique statement that “The World Bank and the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS) have recently completed an in-depth analysis of Nigeria’s last set of household survey statistics, which were compiled in 2010 but until recently were not fully understood”. Why did it take the WB and the NBS so long to get to the point of comprehending the real situation? The stumbling block obviously is the stark contradiction between the huge growth rates in the nation and the “stubbornly high” poverty rates.

Reporting on the sudden jump of the Nigerian economy, the Economist (8th April 2014) tackled “How Nigeria’s economy grew by 89% overnight.” It explained that the base year for previous computations was 1999, but the government decided to change that base to 2010. The opening paragraph of the report makes a clear statement about GDPs. Here: “ON SATURDAY, April 5th, South Africa was Africa’s largest economy. The IMF put its GDP at $354 billion last year, well ahead of its closest rival for the crown, Nigeria. By Sunday afternoon that had changed. Nigeria’s statistician-general announced that his country’s GDP for 2013 had been revised from 42.4 trillion naira to 80.2 trillion naira ($509 billion). The estimated income of the average Nigerian went from less than $1,500 a year to $2,688 in a trice. How can an economy grow by almost 90% overnight?”

Waging War with GDP

The GDP as an economic measure goes back to the 1600s and has its roots in war efforts. It began when a physician of the British army, William Petty, was asked to conduct a systematic survey of the country’s wealth in order to aid in the redistribution of land among the soldiers. In order to position both land and labour for taxation, Petty tried to place market value on them. In the process, Petty got to increase his financial assets significantly.  He acquired land from soldiers cheaply in lieu of salary and as such lands were declared “unprofitable.”

During the great depression of 1929 and 1941, it was found that market forces could not stabilize the economy quickly enough.  The then president of USA needed a means of stimulating the economy and statistician Simon Kuznets started to work on the conceptualization and measurement of national income in 1932. His aim was to condense all economic production by individuals, companies and the government into a single number. The method developed by Kuznets finally came together during the Second World War (1939-1945) and the GNP was used a main scorecard for the design and implementation of national economic policy. The GNP accounts turned to be a powerful instrument used to estimate militarization costs and to calculate the speed at which the economy needed to grow in order to ‘pay for war’. Instructively, the government aimed to get citizens to increase consumption in order to be able to pay for the ammunitions used in war. It should be noted that Kuznets reportedly had reservations on the GDP right from the start. See Has GDP Outgrown its Use? 

How could war or use of hard drugs be counted as activities that add to human welfare?

In the words of Lorenzo Fioramonti, “GDP was designed as a war device. That war did not end in 1945 but has continued ever since. It turned into an endless war against social equilibria, natural environments and non- renewable resources, in which consumers become the new foot soldiers; ultimately, a war against our own future on this planet”.

Humility and Defiance: Looking across that Valley

Sulak sculpted

Memorable: Visiting Sulak Sivaraksa (RLA1995) with Hans van Willenswaard

Saying No to mining and Yes to life is not a decision taken lightly. It is an inescapable objective reality when one has seen and experienced widespread ecocide in communities and territories that happen to harbour the gifts of Nature. Humans have no doubt developed tools through the transformation of Nature. However, the shift into a throwaway system of production where obsolescence is inbuilt, so as to promote inordinate consumption, is indefensible. The sure way to living well is by respecting Mother Earth and ensuring that our actions do not impede her right to maintain her cycles.

Standing on the lips of the valley behind my father’s house, it becomes clear that living well is possible for individuals, communities and the larger society. Living well happens when we are at peace with ourselves and with other beings and see them as our relatives. Living well happens when solidarity trumps competition and reckless wars. Living well occurs when we do not compete about whose car or house is bigger. Not even about who has the larger or more destructive nuclear button.

As my mind’s eyes wander beyond the horizons, it becomes clearer that well-being is not a private affair. It may begin as a personal quest but is only actualized in our connectedness. It is consummated in the commons, in our collectives, in our cooperations and in our undying trust that we can recover our memory. A recovered memory reminds us that the Earth does not belong to us, but that we are children of the Earth. Calling ourselves sons and daughters of the soil states a deep truth. As Vandana Shiva stated, we are the soil!

We are stewards bequeathed with gifts that have generational responsibilities. It is time to see the gifts of Mother Earth as re-sources perpetually calling on us to re-connect to her.  True reconnection provokes healing and at the same time eliminates divisive instincts, and the dispositions that promote exploitation, domination and destruction.

The complex ecosystems around and within us yearn for an understanding of the intricate connections in the webs of life. Living with this consciousness and practice is Ubuntu, true liberation, true healing of both self, society and Mother Earth. We are individuals, yet we are community. This reality calls for both humility and defiance. Humility to accept that the tiniest being, even those invisible to our naked eyes, and the most complex ones need each other. Defiance by the essential need to oppose irresponsible exploitation of the gifts of Nature, ecocide and war.

The power that will tilt the ecological balance in favour of the health of Mother Earth, respecting the rights of Nature, will come through broad based mass movements joining forces, building common understanding and forging global solidarity of peoples.

In conclusion

We are at a crossroads. The Chinese saying advises that to get out of a hole you have to stop digging. Now is the time to make the transition to a post extractivist world. Extractivism has had its day and has driven many species to extinction. It has yielded what may euphemistically be termed a plastic civilization. Now is the time to move to the back of our homes and take a long gaze at the remains of what we have not yet destroyed.

It is time to gaze at the valleys and hills and re-connect and re-encounter Nature as a critical priority that cannot be postponed.  We simply have to terminate models that situates humans as external to Nature. We are children of Mother Earth and it is time to wake up, regain our memory and return home. For healing to begin and be sustained we have to put a halt to the harms.

poetry time

Connecting the heart through poetry

Down to Earth

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…window for thought…

Humans are rapidly losing a sense of being, of being human beings, of being just one of the beings among other beings on Planet Earth. Our inventiveness has radically changed our relationship with Nature and we give little thought to actions which severely disrupt the right of Mother Earth to maintain her cycles. This disruption of our intimate relations with nature comes at a price and the cost keeps mounting. The fact that something must be done to correct this has brought us together here.

This gathering presents us with an opportunity to remind ourselves of the brutal assault being unleashed on Earth defenders in parts of the world as they struggle to live in harmony with the Earth, defend their territories and resources and to live in dignity. It is hoped that in this gathering we will spare thoughts on the heroic struggles by brothers and sisters against the assault of extractive corporations bent on amputating the Earth through exploitative activities in mining, oil and gas. It is hoped that we will stand together to denounce corporations assaulting pollinators and soil organisms with agro-toxics and eroding biodiversity through genetic manipulations.

As we reflect on the assaults on the Nature and fashion ways to hold those that commit ecocide to account, we should also roundly condemn actions such as fracturing of the bones of the earth in search of shale gas and oil. We have already literally scrapped the bottom of the natural resource pot. It is time to pause and think. This is why we are here.

The maxim in today’s global political landscape appears to be that might is right. The rightness of that right may be contested, but the rise of unilateralism has rendered multilateralism almost cosmetic. The rise of prescriptive neo-liberalism couched in terms that suggest the respect of democratic ideals of liberty and fair competition has allowed an upsurge of military humanism in the world. The backdrop of this scenario has been appropriately captured as disaster capitalism by Naomi Klein in her book The Shock Doctrine – a situation where disasters are seen as opportunities to impose a pre-planned superstructure that inevitably denies powerless citizens of the world their rights. The whole idea is to hit the people so hard that they are pushed into a state of shock and while in that condition they are unable to react collectively or cogently to the harm being inflicted on them. Such disasters are increasingly man-made, although even natural disasters are equally exploited to dispossess the weak.

The path of current petroleum civilization is strewn with blood and skeletons across the world. The recent situation in Nigeria is a glaring example. Many wars have been fought and nations destroyed over Natures gifts or resources. In 1999, as the first barrels of crude oil were shipped from Sudan, so did the war between government forces and those of the then Sudanese People’s Liberation Army escalate. While the bombs were still being dropped in Libya, oil was being exported. When Iraq was invaded and blown apart, the offices of the Petroleum Ministry were spared.

Everywhere there are conflicts and wars today we see the raw situation of war waged for profit and resource appropriation and control. If this scenario blossoms unchecked, what we experience today will end up being nothing more than a whimper.

There are also less openly explosive conflicts going on today in the world. The lack of climate action on the basis of justice and common but differentiated responsibilities show a tendency were more resilient nations care little about vulnerable ones, especially those set to go under the waves if sea levels continue to rise. We see the burden of climate action being placed on Nature rather than being tackled by checking human consumption appetite and polluting actions. Efforts are being made to label forests as carbon sinks and to displace forest dependent communities in order to secure the carbon stock in the trees or soils or rivers. Market environmentalism elevates ecosystem services as the new and monetized way to see Nature and our environment.

We cannot be silent over this posturing that permits business as usual and places the burden for this indulgence on the poor. We should denounce false climate solutions such as plans for seizing the planetary thermostat through geoengineering. We cannot close our eyes to extreme genetic engineering procedures (including gene editing) that are bound to have grave and irreversible intergenerational implications.

The commodification of Nature has done humans and other beings much harm. Our alienation from nature keeps us from seeing the intrinsic value of her gifts. The quest to appropriate, transform and accumulate resources has bred all manners of iniquitous social relations, oppression and outright brigandage be they in the form of petty exploitation or outright neocolonialism and imperialism.

We are here on common grounds. We are on firm ground. We care about Mother Earth and all beings, knowing that she is constantly fighting for our survival. Time is running out, and we shall not indulge in long talks, but spend time sharing on the way forward on the urgent matters impacting Mother Earth and our lives as individuals and collectives.

We cannot afford mindless conflicts and wars that we see in the world today. It is time to take difficult but essential actions including halting dependence on fossil fuels, stopping polluting activities and reducing consumption levels within planetary boundaries. Conflicts and harms are certain to intensify as the non-renewable re-sources run out and as habitable environment for the reproduction of renewable re-sources reduce.

Earth Democracy demands that we reconnect to our roots, to nature and remind ourselves that the Planet can do without humans and that our future can only be secured if we live in harmony with Mother Earth and in solidarity with one another.

There is still room for positive change. We may not agree on everything; we may not even have the same levels of intimacy with the Earth, but one thing is clear: we are children of the Earth. We are here on the common ground that we care about Mother Earth and all her children. We all realize that rapacious exploitation of the Planet cannot continue on the current trajectory except some clever guys can.

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…with Wallapa and Hans van Willenswaard of the School of Wellbeing

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Above are thoughts behind the sharing I made at the Earth Trusteeship gathering at The Hague – 22 .06.18

Talanoa Dialogues in Climate Negotiations

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The innovative Talanoa Dialogues in Climate Negotiations took place on Sunday 6 May 2018 in Bonn, sandwiched between the first and second weeks of the climate negotiations.  After the dialogue everyone was somewhat upbeat about how useful the experience was. Indeed, a delegate said that the Talanoa Dialogue (TD) offered representatives of countries the space to sit without tables and national flags, speak like humans and not as parties (to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – UNFCCC). Another delegate said that the TD was an inclusive and open process creating a new space for international diplomacy. Some said the process should continue beyond COP24.

The TD was a facilitative dialogue proposed by the Fijian President of COP23 to reflect the ‘Pacific spirit’ of sharing stories, problem solving and wise decision-making for the collective good. The Dialogue encouraged parties to speak freely to each other on three questions about the global climate crisis: Where are we? Where do we want to go? How do we get there?

Parties and non-state actors including businesses, youths, indigenous peoples, labour, women, and other civil society organisations gathered in three spaces for storytelling, echoing the Pacific processes for building empathy, conflict resolution and building consensus.

At the report back session from the Dialogue on Tuesday 8 May, the leader of the Nigerian delegation, Dr Peter Tarfa, stated that the TD had a positive outcome and that Nigeria will plan to replicate it at the national level. He stressed that the answer to the question of How do we get there can only be fashioned on trust and transparency.

A Dream Dialogue

On the whole, the fact remained that the dialogue aimed to prepare the hearts of the parties to the hard tasks of negotiations – to bring everyone to the point of hearing one another and understanding that we can only go far when we walk together. It reminds us of the saying by Martin Luther King Jnr that “It may be true that the law cannot change the heart but it can restrain the heartless.” Hopefully the TD could soften some hearts.

While moderating a side event that took place before the TD, Meenakshi Raman of Third World Network, spoke the mind of many observers with regard to the blind side of the TD. She pointed out that a critical question was not on the table and that is how did we get here? That is the question that some parties are unwilling to talk about. It has to do with historical responsibility, with the core principles of the climate convention – that of equity and the common but differentiated responsibility and respective capacities.

Meenakshi Rama further stated that “Asking this question will point to historical emissions responsible for global warming. However, historical responsibility seems like a dirty word that is not being allowed to be mentioned in this space. We cannot ignore the historical perspective.”

The first week of the negotiations had already raised concerns among some delegates with regard to aspects of the Paris Agreement such as:  loss and damage, climate finance and the levels of ambition among the industrialised nations. Discussions on the matter of finance were testy as parties looked at how to identify information to be provided by Parties in accordance with Article 9.5. The Article provides that developed countries “shall biennially communicate indicative quantitative and qualitative information” related to the provision and mobilisation of financial resources “including as available, projected levels of public financial resources” to be provided to developing countries.

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The Wake of the Dialogue

The report back session from the TD had plenty of bright as well as poignantly dark spots. The bright spots were the many stories of hope, trust, readiness to offer political support and commitment to be fair and to comply. It was also said that indigenous peoples and their knowledge would not be ignored. It was also interesting to hear the presentation of the TD as a storification of the Paris Agreement, with an emphasis on the fact that the story has just started. That makes a lot of sense when it is considered that most of what is being negotiated will only come into effect in 2020, two years down the stormy road.

The dark sports of the Dialogue etched in running conclusions from the various rapporteurs who brought word back from the dialogues. The dialogue on where we are complained that too much attention was paid to technicalities and too little to human values. However, it could actually be said that since voluntary emissions reduction pledges took the place of required emissions reduction based on science, technicalities are actually taking the back seat, except if we are talking of technicalities of semantics.

The TD brought up over 700 stories, but there were running threads in the summaries that should catch our attention. The first was that by 2050 the world should have negative or zero emissions achieved through technologies and forests as carbon sinks. Negative emissions through technologies and forests as carbon sinks imply carrying on with polluting technologies and merely ‘eliminating’ the pollution through sinks. It also suggests that forest dependent communities would be compelled to bear the burden of climate action and get dislocated from Nature’s gifts to them. The second statement said that the question of how do we get there will be answered by technology which was presented as the ultimate solution to tackle global warming.

If those are the takeaways from the Talanoa Dialogue, and if the technologies include geoengineering and the like, it does appear that the stories from the grassroots and from the streets are yet to be heard.