Fishers of the World Unite!

IMG_3917 2Fishers Unite! It is abnormal for a fisher or fishing community to depend on imported fish for protein. It is an unhappy situation when an experienced fisherman returns from a fishing trip with only flotsam or other debris, including plastics, in the nets. Unfortunately, this is the reality facing fishers in much of the Niger Delta and in other regions where extractive businesses have heavily polluted our creeks, rivers and seas.

The case of fishers toiling for hours, even days, and returning home empty handed and hungry due to the destruction of aquatic ecosystems by oil spills, is similar to the sad experience of farmers whose lands have been damaged by these oil spills, waste dumps and mining wastes.

The ecological balance and health of our marine ecosystems have been heavily impacted by unmitigated pollution emanating from oil, gas and mineral exploration and other extraction activities.

Seismic activities disorient or even lead to the death of aquatic lives, including whales. In the heat of oil exploration in the offshore of Ghana, whales died and were washed onshore. In fact, 30 whales died and were washed to the shorelines of Ghana between 2011 and 2017. Although some people dispute the link between the recorded deaths and oil exploration activities, the spike in such incidents since the intensification of oil exploration and exploitation requires clear explanations.

We note that the undisputed causal links to similar experiences have been established by researchers elsewhere. For example, it is a usual experience to find fish, crabs and other aquatic life forms floating in oil coated waters whenever oil spills or oil-related fires breakout in our creeks.

Over 6.5 million Nigerians are engaged in the fishing business. This includes the fishers and the fish processors. When others in the value chain – involved in fish transportation, net fabrication and repair, boat building, outboard engines maintenance and cold storage operation – are considered, it is clear that this is a sector that requires support and protection.

The employment level in the fishing sector clearly trumps that of the oil and gas sector. While the petroleum sector may contribute in higher amounts to the national purse, the fishing sector directly impacts the lives of more individuals, families and communities than the oil sector. Indeed, if fishers are adequately protected and supported with necessary value addition avenues, fish could reasonably be expected to provide a more sustainable source of revenue and foods than the petroleum sector currently does.

We also bear in mind that millions of Nigerians and beyond depend on fish for 35 percent of their protein needs. This reality underscores the critical need to consider the overall health of our citizens in the management of harmful activities in our water bodies. There is over 12.5 million-hectare of inland water in Nigeria and with this the country can produce over 350,000 metric tonnes of fish yearly. Over 80 percent of the fish in our markets are caught by artisanal fishers. With a huge proportion of our population depending on fish for animal protein, this is an area that requires careful ecological and economic attention.

These considerations become even more urgent when we bear in mind that in a few decades, crude oil will be abandoned as an energy resource. When the need for crude oil fades away, as it soon will, our creeks, rivers and seas will not suddenly become clean or healthy again. The pollution that is being currently condoned is an inter-generational crime that requires to be halted and accounted for.

If our fishers should tell tales of what they see, of what their experiences are, in the struggle to make a living and to provide healthy foods for our teeming population, our hearts would be broken.

The questions are: why is the current state of affairs permitted in our waters? Why are our creeks, rivers and seas polluted with impunity and no one is held to account? Why are our fishers left to struggle to no avail with no compensations paid for fishing gears which are destroyed by oil spills, for loss of fishing grounds and for harms from divers factors?

Now is the time to stem the tide of destruction. Now is the time to use our tongue to count our teeth. Now is the time for fishers to unite and stand against pollution. It is time to demand a halt to extraction activities in our waters. It is time for fishers to say that our streams, rivers and seas are not waste dump sites or channels for disposal of toxic effluents. It is time for fishers to unite and loudly remind the world that our best interest is served by fish, not oil.

The FishNet Alliance provides the avenue for fishers to come together and forge a common front to protect our marine ecosystems, livelihoods and to build resilient economies and a sustainable and just future. Is this something we can do? This is our challenge. This is why we must come together, from community to community, from shore to shore and paddle together, united in the good fight for safe waters devoid of deadly pollution.

Let the conversations continue…

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Welcome words by Nnimmo Bassey, Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) at FishNet Community Dialogue at Mbo, Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria, on 19 June 2018

 

 

 

In the Belly of the Plastic Whale

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Inside the Plastic Whale

Inside the Belly of the Plastic Whale. It was a surreal feeling for me to literally step into the belly of a whale in December 2017. It was an unforgettable experience, to say the least. One could not but imagine what would have been the fate of biblical Jonah if he had found himself in the belly of a whale like the one I encountered.

My encounter was with a Cuvier’s beaked whale. An adult male Cuvier’s beaked whale can weigh up to 3000 kilogrammes and measure 5-7 metres in length. These whales usually have just two visible teeth at the tip of their short beak. Lacking much in terms of teeth, they feed by suction. They hunt by echolocation and can be injured or confused by noises generated by humans, including noise from seismic exploration for fossil fuel resources.

Encountering them is not easy, so Jonah would probably not have been given a hike by this specie. Why? They live where there is no light, at about 2000 metres way down in the ocean. Plus, they feed on fish, crustaceans and mostly deep-sea squid. This appetite for squid may be one of the key problems that modern man now poses to these deep-sea creatures.

Scientists suspect that the Cuvier’s beaked whales get attracted to floating plastics, mistaking them for squids or ingest them while hunting for other species that may seek hiding places in floating plastics materials. Plastics in the seas are a huge threat to the Cuvier whales and other sea creatures.

Ending a Plastic Civilisation

The World Environment Day 2018 presents a challenge and an instigation. The theme, Beat Plastic Pollution, challenges us to take action and the notion that plastics pollution can be beaten should inspire actions. The World Oceans Day equally urges action against plastic pollution.

Beating plastics pollution is a huge challenge when we consider the perverse culture of current disposable economy. Fifty percent of plastics in use are disposable or single-use type. Globally, we buy one million plastic bottles every minute and use up to 5 trillion plastic bags every year. The least anyone can do is to pause and think before grabbing that plastic bottle of so-called soft drinks. We should learn to refuse plastics and not just aim to reduce, reuse or recycle them. It is time to tackle this menace at source. Packaging is said to account for 40 percent of all plastics in use. It is time to terminate this plastic civilisation.

Tissue papers decompose in 2 to 4 weeks. Cigarettes decompose in 5 years. The plastic cups in which coffee is served at cafes and fast food shops float around for 50 years. Plastic bottles will swirl about for 450 years. And, wait for it, the plastic in baby diapers will equally hang around for 450 years – long after the babies who wore them would have become ancestors.

Sadly, many folks think that the story of their plastic bags or wraps end once they toss them into the trash bin. In a bid to appear hygienic, we cover or wrap foods with plastics – in both restaurants and homes. However, plastics out of sight is not plastics out of life. Tons of these materials end up in the gutters, rivers and the oceans. 15 tons of plastics are said to end up in the ocean every minute with more than 8 million tons being dumped into the oceans every year. An incredible 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals lose their lives to plastic pollution every year

Reports by Ocean Conservancy, suggest that there will be more plastics than fish in the oceans by 2050. Already, plastics have been found in over 60 percent of all seabirds and in all sea turtles species that mistake plastic for food. We must beat plastics, for our survival and for the survival of other species. We need fish, not plastics.

Floating on the waves

Plastics from one whale

All these plastics from the belly of one whale

It is interesting when we consider how long it takes for some of the plastics that end up in the oceans to decompose. Tissue papers decompose in 2 to 4 weeks. Cigarettes decompose in 5 years. The plastic cups in which coffee is served at cafes and fast food shops float around for 50 years. Plastic bottles will swirl about for 450 years. And, wait for it, the plastic in baby diapers will equally hang around for 450 years – long after the babies who wore them would have become ancestors. Even the balloons that are used as decorative items – when released to float around for a few minutes or hours, end up taking years to degrade in the oceans and water ways.

The Cuvier whale at Bergen

Unfortunate ending for this Cuvier’s beaked whale

And, so, there was I in the belly of the Plastic Whale Museum, a museum set up at the University of Bergen, Norway, to serve as a poignant reminder of the harm that plastics pose to our oceans and to marine life in particular. This museum hosts displays of the plastics recovered from the belly of the whale that was stranded on the Sotra Island, west of Bergen, on 28th January 2017. The whale had more than 30 plastic bags and a large quantity of microplastics in its belly.

I was in the Plastic Whale Museum at the invitation of Rafto Foundation for Human Rights to discuss plastics, oil pollution and the threats to our communities as well as to marine ecosystems, the plastic backdrop was a haunting reminder of the harm that we are doing to our environment. When we eat fish that feeds on plastics, it is reasonable to say that we are actually eating plastics.

On that day, I ended my talk with a rendition of my poem, We Thought it Was Oil, but It Was Blood. Perhaps I should have changed that to read We Thought it Was Fish, but It Was Plastic. We simply have to beat plastic pollution.

 

 

*This blog was written to mark the World Environment Day and the World Oceans Day 2018

 

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.

Talanoa

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.

Eco-Instigator #19— Climate, Biosafety, Conflicts and more!

Eco-Instigator #19 coverWe bring you the March edition of our Eco-Instigator for 2018. The global environmental pollution is increasing and same heightened by the unholy wedlock between polluting industries and the supposed regulators. Activists from around the globe continue to work tirelessly for environmental and climate justice even as we prepare for a global “power shift” for climate action and activism.

In this edition, we bring you report from the UNFCCC COP23 which held in Bonn last November on the outcome of the Talanoa dialogue especially for the African stakeholders. We also serve you report from the maiden event of our FishNet Alliance in Lome, Togo.

Download and read this issue Eco-Instigator #19 X

Share your thoughts. Send articles, photos, poems, songs and/or reports of ecological challenges. We like to hear from you. Reach us at editor@homef.org and home@homef.org.

Living in Fear – a book by Juan Lopez Villar

Living with Fear coverLiving in Fear– Wars, conflict and natural resources in the heart of Africa – is a book written by Juan Lopez Villar, a development and environmental analyst. He holds a PhD in the field of Environmental Law.

This book explores the general relation between wars, conflicts and natural resources, focusing in particular on two African countries: Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and South Sudan. Both countries have gone through some of the bloodiest wars and conflicts in recent decades in the world. Peace efforts have been made at the UN level to try to minimize the conflict situations. The book provides a succinct but comprehensive overview of both conflicts and shows their relation with natural resources.

Living in Fear is published by Kraft Books Ltd for Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF). It was first issued in 2016. To make the information freely available you may download and read the book here: Living in Fear.

To send feedback or request for hard copies reach us by email at home@homef.org

 

Eco-Instigator #18 goes online!

Issue #18 coverEco-Instigator #18 goes online! In this last edition of our Eco-Instigators for 2017 we bring you  articles and reports on the following topics: Nigeria deserves an unbiased Biosafety regulator. Climate Change impacts on our land and food. Eat and Quench – Let’s listen to what our food is telling us. Geoengineering governance. South Sudan: new nation, new famine.

It was an incredibly exciting year with many things to cheer and plenty of others to fight. In this edition we bring you reports and articles that should interest and spur us up to take positive action aligned to the best interests of Mother Earth.

In this special edition, we serve you reports from our workshop held in South Sudan, our Community Dialogue and Sustainability Academy held in Abuja, in September and October, 2017 respectively. These activities provided us with the spaces to interrogate the complex issues of “climate Change, Pastoralism, Land and Conflict”. We also serve you reports from the UN climate change Conference of Parties (COP23) and from the conference on Redesigning the Tree of Life hosted by the Canadian Council of Churches.

This edition also features articles on Climate Change and the false solutions of geoengineering . We bring you reports from South Sudan and on the alarming fact that pollution is a top killer in the world today. The fight against colonizing our agricultural system through the genetic engineering is still on as the Nigerian biosafety regulator appears overtly in support of the risky technology. We bring you an article that questions their dangerous bias.

We also bring you interesting poetry and a selection of books that you should read. Want to know more about us and how you can be a volunteer? Drop us a mail.

Eco-Instigator #18 and read the edition here.

 

Halting Killer Herders

Halting Head Hunting Herders. The gruesome murder of our brothers, sisters and children in Benue State by herdsmen has taken the level of insecurity in Nigeria to new heights. While some of us were quick to avoid the devastating photos of the carnage as posted in social media platforms, photos of rows of caskets in which the victims were buried etched indelible prints on our souls as a people. The uniformity of the caskets says to us: this could be you.

As each victim was lowered into the grave, their departure marked a strong rebuke to a system that allows these atrocities to be perpetuated. How low can we sink as a people? The need to urgently check the spread of this terror cannot overemphasized. The relocation order given to the Inspector General of police days after the massacre does not convey a sense of the level of seriousness with which the Federal Government should approach the situation. It is not conceivable that the Nigerian police would adequately handle terror of this magnitude.

We hope that the mass burial in Benue State serves as a wakeup call for the Federal Government and its security agencies. And we do hope that mass burials do not turn into regular or repeated events, as happened in the case of previously inconceivable suicide bombings.

Some of the responses to the abominable killings in Benue have been contentious.  Consider, for instance, the presidential spokesperson’s statement that over 756 persons were killed by herdsmen in two years during the tenure of former President Jonathan. Efforts at informing us that the present massacre was not as horrendous as what may have happened in the past simply increase the pains rather than raise any sense of hope that things would change for the better. The murder of a single person diminishes us all and the death of 756 Nigerian in two or more years do nothing to calm nerves when it is recalled that 2,500 citizens were said to have been killed by herders in Plateau, Nasarawa, Kaduna and Benue States in just 2016 alone.

Moreover, the notion that migration is due to a population explosion in Nigeria is debatable. The lack of credible population figures and reliance on projections based on dubious figures make such assertions grossly unrealistic. Reliance on such notions inflicts avoidable harm on our planning efforts. Our larger-than-life population figure gives us ready excuse for not taking right decisions.

With regard to action responses to violent herdsmen, let us consider one of the proposed actions that would be taken as a long-term solution to the conflict — the idea of creating grazing or cattle colonies across the nation as announced by the Minister of Agriculture. It sounds rather bizarre and raises a number of concerns. Top on the list of concerns is the undertone of the word colony. For most Nigerians, the idea of a colony would be one defined as “a country or area under full or partial political control of another, often distant country.” Could it be that the minister was using the term in the sense sometimes used to describe animals of the same breed staying together in a closed structure? Whatever the case, the imagery requires further interrogation.

Keeping in mind that colonialism was entrenched by the power of the barrel of the gun, could anyone believe that it is at a period of heated conflict and distrust that colonizing any territory, for any purpose, can be the way to resolve the conflicts?

Unfortunately, the persistent conflicts between pastoralists and farmers are often reduced to incidents induced by struggle for religious or ethnic dominance. While there may be a basis for reaching such conclusions, it is clear that pursuing those lines would not lead to a resolution of the crisis. Pastoralism is not a preserve of particular ethnic nationalities or religion.  We can indeed develop pastoral activities across the nation with the mind-set that the business is not patented to only one ethnic nationality. With this understanding, a dedicated grazing area in a particular state would not translate to the ceding of such territories to be colonized by anyone. It should also be clear that grazing is not restricted to those breeding and rearing cattle. Goats, sheep, camels and other livestock can equally benefit from such developments.

It was from the understanding that the conflicts can best be resolved by tackling the root instigators of the crises, that Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) and the Confederation of Traditional Herder Organizations in Africa (CORET) began a series of engagements with pastoralists and farmers starting from Abuja in September and October 2017. In those engagements, we examined the confluence between pastoralists, farmers, land use, conflicts and climate change. These were examined also from a gender perspective to provide a rounded understanding of the dynamics that throw up different kinds of conflicts in our society.

One of the conclusions from the engagements was that farmers and pastoralists can operate in a mutually beneficial manner. If the right physical environment is guaranteed, the culture of nomadic herders trekking over huge distances could be moderated in such a way that the movements would be strategic and not necessarily translate to herders trekking all over the nation. It cannot be denied that Nigeria needs multiyear environmental management plans with clear targets and strategic action paths.

The fact that southern Niger Republic is greener than parts of northern Nigeria should suggest to us that our approach to environmental management is defective. Here we refer specifically to our management of our vegetative cover and water resources. We tend to see our environment as capable of rapid self-regeneration irrespective of how rabid our rate of consumption of Nature’s gifts to us may be. The result is the reality of desertification in northern Nigeria that we characterize as the downward march or spread of the Sahara Desert. Permit us to pose a simplistic question: if the desert were marching down so mercilessly, how come Niger Republic has not gone completely under the sand?

cops and cows

While the security agents fish out and bring the perpetrators of the Benue massacre to book, it would be useful for the Minister of Agriculture, other relevant ministries, as well as security agencies, to consider some of the resolutions that came out of the October 2017 Sustainability Academy:

  1. There should be greater engagement of agricultural extension workers by all levels of governments to effectively engage in communicating climate change to farmers and pastoralists.
  2. Pastoralists and farmers have lived in harmony in Nigeria and can do so now. The ongoing conflicts are needless and distort development efforts.
  3. There should be re-orientation for pastoralists and farmers for harmonious co-existence as both are interdependent and their actions can be mutually beneficial.
  4. The fact that climate change impacts differently on different gender and social groups should be considered in preparing climate action plans.
  5. The Great Green Wall Programme aimed at combating desertification amplified by climate change through improved use of land and water resources should incorporate pastoralists in their fodder production scheme for sustainable development.
  6. Government should implement a livestock development policy that aligns with regional and international practices.
  7. The Federal Government should initiate actions to produce a detailed land use and environmental plan for the country.
  8. There is need for public-private partnership and scientific re- orientation for the development of pastoralism in Nigeria.
  9. Herders should adopt the practice of managed intensive systematic rotational grazing as well as ranching.
  10. Fully integrate gender justice in the brokering of peace and the implementation of all forms of conflict management initiatives.
  11. The Federal Government should create a Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries as is obtained in several other African countries like Ethiopia, Kenya, Cote D’Ivoire, Senegal, Mali, Niger and Tanzania
  12. Climate change dose not respect geopolitical boundaries and should be tackled with this understanding.
  13. Take inventory of the all existing grazing reserves, traditional grazing areas, transhumance corridors, major stock routes, review and take appropriate development actions.