Social movements united in defiance of false solutions being negotiated at Paris COP
10th December, Paris: Representatives of social movements, grassroots and community groups, and environmental campaigning organisations, between them representing millions of people across the globe, have come together today to denounce the failure of the climate negotiations in Paris. At a press conference at the Le Bourget conference centre this afternoon, they spoke out against the false solutions that look set to be enshrined in the agreement, and called on movements worldwide to continue to build their own, just alternatives to the political and economic systems that have caused the climate crisis.
Pablo Solon, former chief climate negotiator for Bolivia and current Executive Director of the Fundacion Solon, said: “The Paris agreement will force us to choose who of our children will survive, because in a +3C world, not all will be able to live.”
Eberto Diaz, speaking on behalf of La Via Campesina in Colombia said: “False solutions only serve to increase hunger and impoverishment in the countryside and in the cities. Agroecology and food sovereignty contribute to the cooling of the planet. We are in constant struggle to change the system, and not the climate.”
Silvia Ribeiro from the ETC Group in Mexico said: “It’s a perverse paradox that US and Europe, whose governments, energy and agribusiness companies are the main historical culprits of climate change, now present themselves championing a 1.5 degrees goal. That goal is needed, but without false solutions such as carbon markets and geoengineering. The dirty secret is that they speak of “net zero emissions”, not real emissions cuts, and try to justify dangerous oil-industry technologies such as carbon capture and storage (CCS) and bioenergy with CCS (BECCS).”
Shalmali Guttal, speaking on behalf of Focus on the Global South, said: “An illusion of progress is being peddled here in Paris – of rich and poor countries coming together to save the planet from burning. Of course we want progress, of course we support the goal of 1.5 degrees, but we cannot fall into this trap. The so called high ambition proposed by the US-EU is ambition for corporations, not for addressing the root causes of the climate crisis. Many of us from the South are working with grassroots movements and communities to challenge extractive, destructive development and over consumption of the rich in our own societies.”
Nnimmo Bassey, Oilwatch International, said: “By not addressing the need to keep fossil fuels under the ground, the COP continues to adopt the ostrich posture with its head in the sand. It has been co-opted by polluting corporations and is complicit in global warming. This is no time for ‘intended’ voluntary emissions cut, it is time for drastic and binding emissions reduction as well as payment of historical and current climate debt.”
Colin Rajah, International Coordinator of the Global Coalition on Migration said: “More and more of our communities are being displaced by the devastating consequences of the current global economic system and its resulting climate change. And the false solutions and lack of political will by the governments at this COP again offer little hope of relief, but instead raise more fear that these will contribute to even more displacement and a worsening global refugee crisis. Forced migration is NEVER an adaptation strategy.”
Simone Lovera, Executive Director of the Global Forest Coalition, said: “The land use related elements of the current draft of the Paris agreement open the door to a carbon fraud that is so significant that it will make the entire climate regime meaningless. On top of this, they also risk creating major incentives for massive monoculture tree plantations that will wipe out biodiversity, peasant lands, and indigenous peoples territories.”
Maxime Combes, spokesperson for ATTAC France said: “The new draft agreement has dropped any reference to reduction of GHG emissions from international aviation and martime bunker fuels and any requirement for developed contry to provide financial ressources to address barriers created by intellectual property rights (IPRs), showing how economic globalization is a priority on the climate emergency : this is not coming as a surprise since the UN convention on climage change prohitbits states from taking any action that wouldn’t be consistent with international trade rules.”
Cindy Wiesner, National Coordinator of Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, said: “Members of our delegation include a young person from Alaska whose community will be evacuated in the next ten years because of sea level rise. They are mothers and children living alongside fracking wells, coal mines, and oil refineries. We don’t have the luxury of pretending that pollution trading works when we know that it is a hoax. The climate movement as a whole is growing in alignment that our survival requires the kind of leadership and strategies that come from the grassroots.”
The organisations speaking today are part of the Climate Space,  a network of groups calling for radical action on climate change, and promoting systemic alternatives to the current climate crisis.
International Rights of Nature Tribunal Constituted in Paris
In an extraordinary display of global solidarity, vision and determination, communities and organizations from all over the world took the initiative this past weekend by formally establishing the International Tribunal for the Rights of Nature. People flocked to the Maison des Metallos in Paris to listen to more than 65 people from 31 nationalities speaking in 7 languages, who participated as judges, Earth Defenders, or witnesses during the two days of Tribunal hearings. More than 300 people attended the hearings on each of the two days and hundreds had to be turned away due to lack of space.
Indigenous peoples from around the world played a leading role throughout the Tribunal as judges, experts and witnesses. One of the highlights was the signing by the legendary Chief Raoni of the Kayapo people of the Brazilian Amazon, of the People’s Convention that formally established the Tribunal. The judges of the Tribunal reciprocated by signing documents confirming their support for the Alliance of Earth’s Guardians established by Chief Raoni and his delegation.
While governments participating in the COP 21 are locked in tortuous negotiations over the wording of an agreement that will worsen the destruction of Mother Earth, the people of the world demonstrated what genuine global collaboration and solidarity can achieve. They showed the strong, united leadership that is so lacking at COP 21 by signing the People’s Convention that formally established the Tribunal on 4 December 2015 and opened the way to the creation of Regional Tribunals throughout the world.
The Tribunal bases its judgements primarily on the Universal Declaration for the Rights of Mother Earth and international human rights law, but also recognized ecocide as a crime. The judgements provide clear direction in each case on who is accountable and on what must be done to repair the harm and restore Earth (and communities) to health and well-being.
The panel of Judges
The following distinguished judges constituted the International Rights of Nature Tribunal in Paris: President – Cormac Cullinan (Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature, and author of Wild Law- South Africa); Tom Goldtooth (Indigenous Environmental Network, Turtle Island – USA); Alberto Acosta (Economist and former president of the Constitutional Assembly – Ecuador); Osprey Orielle Lake (Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network – USA); Terisa Turner (International Oil Working Group, Friends of the Earth – Canada, professor – Canada and USA); Felicio Pontes (Federal Prosecutor – Brazil) Damien Short (Director Human Rights Consortium, University of London – UK); Attosa Soltani (Amazon Watch founder – USA); Nnimmo Bassey (Health of Mother Earth Foundation / Oilwatch – Nigeria); Ruth Nyambura (African Biodiversity Network – Kenya); Christophe Bonneuil (Historian of Sciences, CNRS, Attac – France); Philippe Desbrosses (Doctor in Environmental Sciences, Farmer, Intelligence Verte – France); – Honorary Judge on December 4th Dominique Bourg (philosopher and author, University of Lausanne, Switerland).
Listening to Nature
The proposed solutions to climate change being presented at COP 21 are almost all abstract, theoretical, market-driven and motivated by self-interest. The approach at the hearings of the Tribunal could not have been more different. Its findings were based on the first-hand experiences of witnesses, and drew on both scientific knowledge and the cosmovision/ worldview and wisdom of indigenous and local communities. The focus was on listening to Nature and was based on the recognition that Nature’s laws cannot be broken – an understanding that appears to be absent from COP 21.
The evidence presented at the Tribunal established beyond any doubt that human rights and the rights of nature are inseparable, and that both are being systematically violated by systems based on arrogant delusions arising from the misconception that humans have the right and ability to dominate and exploit Earth.
The Tribunal opened and closed with deeply moving evocations of Mother Earth by indigenous people. They also presented testimonies that drew the Tribunal’s attention to dimensions ignored in the COP 21 negotiations. Central to these dimensions was how patriarchal, capitalist and dominating mind-sets and world views deny the sacred, and as a consequence, cause the creative feminine principle of Mother Earth to be attacked, resulting in the disruption of vital balances.
Nature is alive. She has the right to exist, to maintain natural cycles, to flourish and to constantly regenerate life. However, the dominant world political economy in its legal, economic and political systems, treats nature as an object which cannot have rights – as a slave to be used and exploited. Reverence for nature is replaced with utilitarian and perverse views of nature that seek to commodify and commercialize vital natural processes.
Findings of the Tribunal
The Tribunal’s findings are clear, strong and specific with respect to who must be held accountable and why, and in the practical measures that need to be taken to solve the challenges faced by humanity. The Tribunal recognized that solutions do exist: communities and indigenous people have been applying these solutions and have been putting their bodies on the line to protect Earth for hundreds of years. At the heart of the way forward is the recognition that we are living in an unequal world and that the solutions need to be equitable.
The evidence presented at the Tribunal established beyond any doubt that human rights and the rights of nature are inseparable, and that both are being systematically violated by systems based on arrogant delusions arising from the misconception that humans have the right and ability to dominate and exploit Earth. Evidence presented at the Tribunal also showed how indigenous understandings and knowledge complement scientific knowledge. It also demonstrated the extraordinary creative energies that are released when diverse peoples unite, inspired by a shared love of Earth, to find the solutions that humanity so desperately needs, especially at this moment in time.
Cases the Tribunal heard in Paris
Former Bolivian ambassador to the United Nations, Pablo Solón led the presentation of the Climate Change case. The evidence showed why geo-engineering, nuclear energy, industrial and “climate smart” agriculture, biofuels, and the accelerated exploitation of fossil fuels are false solutions devised for corporate profit that will increase the damage to Earth. The Tribunal found that the rights of Nature are being systemically violated by climate change, mainly as a consequence of the acts and inaction of governments and international organizations (including the United Nations), within the dominant global political economy with its legal, economic and political regimes that they have established; and the activities of large corporations amongst which the most culpable are a relatively few companies. The Tribunal closed the case and a written judgement will follow.
Commercialization of nature
The case of the financialization of nature, presented by Ivonne Yanez, was expanded from the previous Tribunals that before dealt only with REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation). The Tribunal took note of the evidence that there are emerging many more instances of the commodification and commercialization of Nature. These instances include biodiversity offsets, carbon offsets, (so-called) clean development mechanisms, and (so-called) smart agriculture. The Tribunal decided to keep open the case of the financialization of Nature so that more evidence can be collected and presented – particularly with regard to the identity of the perpetrators.
Genetically modified organisms
Dr. Vandana Shiva led the presentation of this case that deals with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and the agro-food industry. The Tribunal heard expert evidence from Ronnie Cummins, Marie Monique Robin, Andre Leu and José Bové; all of whom exposed the damage that GMOs and associated pesticides are doing to consumers, to animals and to soil. The Tribunal decided to keep the case open in order to hear additional evidence especially through regional Tribunals including in Asia.
Defenders of Mother Earth
Two cases of Defenders of Mother Earth were heard in the Tribunal: (1) the criminalization of Defenders in Ecuador and (2) the persecution of Defenders who protest against the pollution in Houston, Texas arising from fossil fuels and chemical contamination. The judges ratified the principle that the Tribunal would defend the Defenders of Mother Earth and hear further cases where necessary. It condemned the Government of Ecuador’s criminalization of Defenders of Mother Earth in that country, and demanded the restitution of human rights, liberty and the re-opening of closed institutions in Ecuador. The Tribunal closed the Ecuador case but kept the Texas case open in order to gather new evidence.
The Tribunal had already conducted hearings about global fracking at its previous sessions in Quito and Lima. The Tribunal heard evidence from witnesses about the damage that fracking is causing in Argentina. Witnesses testified about how in the USA fracking is “breaking the bones of Mother Earth”, causing earthquakes and imposing widespread suffering on the people who inhabit lands that are being sacrificed to unconventional oil extraction. The Tribunal confirmed that fracking results in a range of serious violations of the rights of Nature. After hearing the new evidence presented in Paris, the judges decide to close this case but recognized that fracking is an ongoing threat that should continue to be examined by regional tribunals.
Mega dams in Brazil
Gert Peter Bruch and Christian Poirier presented the case of mega dams in Brazil, with the powerful testimonies of Antonia Melo, María Lucia Munduruku and Chief Raoni. The Tribunal condemned the building of Belo Monte and Tapajos mega dams and the planned construction of many more, which will cause horrific destruction of the Amazon and its inhabitants. It decided to leave the case open to hear additional evidence in a regional Tribunal in Brazil.
New cases accepted for hearing at subsequent sittings of the Tribunal
A number of new cases were presented as probable violations of the Rights of Nature, thus justifying them being heard by the Tribunal in the future. The Tribunal accepted them all for further consideration and gave directions about how the cases should be developed.
The Corralejas case concerns the cruel killing of animals for ‘entertainment’, notably bulls in Colombia. The Tribunal found that there was clear evidence of torture and cruelty to animals in violation of the Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth and asked that the case be widened to include other violations of animal rights for initial consideration by a regional Tribunal. The case of the community of Rosia Montana in Romania which has been threatened by proposed gold mining by a Canadian corporation was accepted with the direction that it be widened to consider other instances of destructive mining practices. The depletion of marine life was accepted with the request that more specific information be presented about the identity of the main perpetrators. The Shell case in Nigeria was accepted and the violence in the area was condemned with the recommendation that consideration be given to establishing a regional tribunal to conduct hearings. Finally, the case of the tar sands in Canada was accepted and the Tribunal observed that there was evidence that this may be one of the most dangerous instances of ecocide on the planet.
The Tribunal also re-considered two cases that it had previously heard. The objective of the reconsideration was to determine whether in addition to being violations of the Declaration, there was also evidence that the two cases were instances of the international crime of ecocide. (Severe violations of the Rights of Nature may also qualify as ecocides, because they constitute crimes against humans and the planet.) The Tribunal re-examined the Yasuní case (which involves proposed oil exploitation in a national park in the Ecuadorian Amazon) and Chevron case (which involves responsibility for rectifying huge damage to the Amazon caused by Texaco/ Chevron) from the perspective of ecocide. The Tribunal found that the Chevron case was one of the worst instances of ecocide perpetrated on the Amazon and that restorative justice should be applied. In preparing the written judgment, consideration would be given to whether or not Chevron itself should be liquidated and its assets used to restore the damage. The Tribunal noted that individuals, such as the directors of Chevron and corrupt government officials, could also be criminally liable in their personal capacity for ecocides.
Regarding Yasuní, the Tribunal decided that it would be appropriate to issue a directive prohibiting future exploitation of the Yasuni oil as a measure to prevent ecocide.
General findings and comments
The Rights of Nature Tribunal recommend that the Rome Statute be amended to enable perpetrators of the crime of ecocide to be prosecuted before the International Criminal Court (ICC),
The Tribunal strongly supported keeping fossil fuels in the ground (keep the oil in the soil, the coal in the hole, the gas under the grass and the tar sands in the land) as an essential approach to prevent further harm to Nature.
In regards to Ecuadorian President Correa’s call for the establishment of an Environmental Justice Tribunal, this Tribunal made the point that the peoples of the world had already done so by establishing the existing Tribunal on the Rights of Nature. It called on governments to provide support for Peoples’ Tribunals. It called on President Correa to publically support and help implement the judgements of the Tribunal concerning cases in Ecuador (Yasuni, Chevron and the criminalization of defenders of Mother Earth).
The Tribunal commended the pursuit of the Rights of Nature cases that have been won in Ecuador and the use of local ordinances and other documents that recognize the rights of nature in the USA, as effective means of stopping destruction such as fracking, and recommended that these approaches be considered elsewhere in the world.
The Tribunal noted that the only mention in the official COP21 texts of the integrity of ecosystems and Mother Earth and indigenous peoples (paragraph 10) was in danger of being eliminated. The Tribunal strongly condemned COP21’s shocking failure to address the real drivers of climate change. It highlighted the fact that the magnificent testimonies presented to the Tribunal proved beyond doubt that the rights of Mother Earth are being systematically violated.
The Tribunal condemned the violence produced by terrorism and exacerbated by climate change. We need to make peace with Mother Earth to achieve peace among peoples.
Judgments will be written and published for all closed cases, as was done and presented in Paris for the Great Barrier Reef and the Yasuní Case. The Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature will be a hub for accepting the submission of new cases and for providing guidelines, documents, assistance and intellectual support and training in order to expand the initiative to recognize the Rights of Nature worldwide.
The Tribunal calls on all communities and organizations that share its vision:
to become parties to the Peoples’ Convention on establishing the International Rights of Nature Tribunal;
to establish more regional tribunals under the umbrella of the International Tribunal; and
to take creative action to support the implementation of its judgements.
 Algeria; Argentina; Bangladesh, Belorussia, Bolivia; Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, France, Ecuador, Germany, Guatemala, India, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Paraguay, Philippines, Romania, Slovakia South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, Tunisia, Uganda, United Kingdom, USA, Austria, Venezuela.
The COP is an interesting space where climate criminals prowl about in well cut suits dripping with blood. Of course the COP means two key things: Conference of Polluters and more importantly, Conference of Procrastinators. A really toxic combination. When they tell you that CCS means carbon capture and storage do not believe them. Any location stipulated for such activities are actually Climate Crime Scenes. Just like every mine pit or oil well are.
Polluters and their lobbyists hold the keys that insert brackets and other spanners in the works to ensure that real climate actions do not take place. While the toxic output of these polluters pile up profits in bank vaults and stock exchanges, they do all they can to to hide the piles of bodies of children, men and women incapacitated or murdered by their poisons.
Today we are gathered to present badges of dishonour to the leading corporations who have stayed the path of resource corruption and have done the most to earn the recognition for setting the planet on the road to incineration.
The year 2015 is significant in the history of climate inaction. It marks a moment that may be lost if all that world leaders can do is to draw up a chart of intentions and make no commitments to radically cut emissions. The procrastinators are already sliding down the road that would see their intentions coming into force by 2030. By 2030? Really? A full 25 years down the road. The same number of years required to clean up the waters of Ogoniland, Niger Delta, of Shell’s toxic oil spills and other wastes.
And do not forget that a climate cabal had also said that fossil fuels will be phased out by the end of the century. By that time all these decision makers would have turned into fossils, but unfortunately not sufficiently so to provide fuel! So, with these post-dated actions, the future is toasted, fried, scrambled and roasted. All for the sake of corporate profits. All at the expense of the planet and of peoples. There is a climate mafia on the prowl!
Today we are gathered to present badges of dishonour to the leading corporations who have stayed the path of resource corruption and have done the most to earn the recognition for setting the planet on the road to incineration.
We urge these corporations to be proud of their achievement, because they have very clearly gone beyond the limits of what would be humanly and morally conceivable. These are awards for reprehensible environmental, ecological, economic and social activities. These awards are given to highlight obnoxious corporations freely voted by citizens of the world in recognition of their social bankruptcy.
Climate Angels took the climate crooks to the clouds!
The COP provides the best backdrop for these Pinocchio Awards, because you cannot imagine any other space where billions of dollars have been sunk or a space where leaders of nations, that annually collectively spend over a trillion of dollars on military adventures, gather for backslappings and and yet dither when it comes to raising token money to throw a life line to sinking Small Island States and other vulnerable nations and territories that are victims of climate change.
We urge all winners to wear their badges of dishonour with pride and quickly strut into the raised fists of abused peoples who will no longer stand aside and see their future bastardised. Today we roll out the drums in register knocks on these Kings of Infamy, these liars extraordinaire.
–Talking points used at the 2015 Pinocchio Awards held at La Flèche D’or, Paris on 03.12.2015 #COP21
From the HOMEF stable is this brand new Guide to Community Environmental Monitoring and Reporting. The thing is that we must be alert to happenings in our environment. Notice any changes or incidents? Report them promptly. Download a copy. If you prefer to have a hard copy drop a mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nothing prepared me fully for what I would experience on my trip to Northern Burkina Faso. My regular tours are ones to pollution sites, to places degraded by extractive activities of profiteering corporations. This trip was different. I was seeking out The Man Who Stopped the Desert.
Arriving any city by air always provides a rough picture of what to expect in the ground. That is if you do not mind making an aerial survey as the plane heads down to land. And, if the weather is clear you can ascertain of the traffic pattern and if at night you may even see what parts of the city have power supply problems or if the city has streetlights and if the roads are paved and formally laid out. As seat belt signs lit up and the cabin crew made final checks before arrival I could not resist the urge to do an aerial survey of Ouagadougou. I tried to make out the residential and business districts as well as the traffic pattern in the city. But beyond those spatial fixations my mind was rapidly overtaken by thoughts on the dreams that were aborted when Thomas Sankara was assassinated on 15 October 1987.
A number of previous plans to visit Burkina Faso failed to work out due to conflicts with other matters. This made touching the soil of the honourable people a specially momentous event for me in April 2015. We should add here that another trip planned for September 2015 was aborted by the uncertainties that accompanied an aborted coup in the nation.
The major reason for my visit was to get to Ouahigouya in northern Burkina Faso to meet a man whose work on restoring biodiversity in otherwise barren lands has received much attention and acclaim. My task was to meet and learn from a man who has fought the forces of climate change with bare knuckles and is winning.
Before heading North it was essential to set my eyes on the graves wherein lie the remains of Thomas Sankara and those that were also felled by the assassins’ bullets on that treacherous and infamous day. Understandably, those that benefitted from the death of Sakara did not take any steps to immortalise him. As great a son of Africa as he was, the idea appears to have been to brush his existence out of memory. So, while Sankara has been celebrated in other countries and has inspired hope of the possibility of revolutionary changes on the continent, one could not find even tiny mementoes in his own land.
A truly man of the people, Sankara’s life was exemplary especially with regard to gender rights, self-reliance and dignity of labour. After his assassination, his remains and that of other compatriots were buried in a nondescript cemetery in the Dagnoen part of Ouagadougou. With the help of a guide we made our way to the cemetery. As we went thoughts of touching the cold slab over his grave and taking photos that would enable me take away memories of the visit loomed large in my mind. In the past one has been privileged to visit, touch and have photos taken at the graves of Nkrumah of Ghana, Martin Luther King of the USA and Yasser Arafat of Palestine. The resting place of Samora Machel lies in a traffic intersection close to the international airport at Maputo and can be seen by all.
Today, standing by Sankara’s resting place would be an epochal experience. As we approached the cemetery we noticed a military post by the entrance. My guide explained that since the October 2014 popular uprising that led to the fleeing of Blaise Compaore from the presidential seat soldiers had to be stationed to guard against possible interferences with the graves. When we arrived there were three soldiers in the tent. Two were watching while one appeared to be having a siesta on a camp bed. As we approached the tent, one of the officers came out to meet with us. We quickly told him what we were there for. To assure the officer that we meant no harm, my guide showed him a copy of my poetry collection, I Will Not Dance to Your Beat. Pointing at the drawing of a clenched fist on the cover of the collection, she told the officer that I was a revolutionary poet (how flattering) who had come all the way from Nigeria to pay homage to the great revolutionary son of Africa.
With a smile, the officer told us that the grave was off limits to visitors and that we could not even take photos of the grave – not with or by it. Strict orders. He was gracious enough, however, to allow is into the cemetery. That was splendid. So we walked in. The officer explained that the cluster of graves that were cordoned off with metal rails and ribbons were where Sankara and his comrades were buried. No photographs. We got up to a point where we could read the names on the headstones of the graves. One grave was alone to the front while twelve others were arrayed behind it. The lone grave at the front bore the names Noel Isidore Thomas Sankara. The officer announced we could not get any closer than where we stood. He himself was not authorized to get any closer than that to the graves. We paused for moments of silence in honour of this great son of Africa, of these great sons of the soil who were sacrificed in their brilliant youth, as were Patrice Lumumba, Amilcar Cabral and others who dared to toe an alternative path from that of predatory capitalism. We paused. No photographs allowed. But the film in my heart captured this moment in a manner that cannot be deleted.
Two of the graves behind Sankara’s bore the name Sawadogo. That struck a chord immediately because the farmer I was billed to meet in Ouahigouya is also a Sawadogo. One of the first persons we met at the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development at Ouahigouya was the new director of forestry. Guess who she is? It was exciting moment for us to find out that she is from the larger Sankara family. Dressed in military fatigues, I could not but notice how jauntily her beret sat in her head. Just like how that Thomas Sankara’s use to sit.
Simple things in this land drove home the meaning of its name – the land of honourable people. Two days earlier when I was checking into my hotel in Ouagadougou I insisted on making cash deposit to cover the room charges since their POS was not functioning. On checking out the receptionist brought out the cash I had deposited. I discovered that the cash had been wrapped up and kept in a notebook. I actually did not need to have made a deposit. Dishonourable people could just stay in the hotel and walk away without payment since there was no form of security to ensure that bills could not be dodged. That may happen in some Hotels in Nigeria if you were a well-known customer. But here I was a complete stranger to these folks. At our hotel at Ouahigouya we were told upfront that we could settle our bill on departure the next day. No security. I thought about how many people would simply enjoy the accommodation and hospitality and then walk away – in other countries. Did I mention Nigeria? But then, this is “the country of honourable people” as the name Burkina Faso implies.
One interesting fact that emerged from the visit to Ouahigouya and environs was that most of the farmers engaged in using local knowledge systems to create forests in this Sahel environment all took to farming from the 1970s. At that time the region was largely a dust bowl wracked by
droughts. Some of them had previously been immigrant traders in Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea or Mali. They returned to Burkina Faso with determination to work the land and were driven by stubborn optimism and hope. They tackled the barren soils using the zai techniques of soil regeneration.
One of such farmers, Mr Kindo, got involved in a motor accident on the way back to Burkina Faso and lost an arm in the incident. Losing an arm did not stop him from being a successful farmer with local knowledge and a hoe and machete as his major tools. His 11 hectares farm produces enough to cater for his family’s food needs and leaves a surplus for sale.
The method of soil reclamation is hinged on trapping scarce water, nutrients and seeds in the soil. How do they achieve this? Through zai holes, organic fertilizer and stone ridges. Keeping animals and attracting birds in their farms ensure that droppings from the animals enrich the soil and that seeds are also dropped by the animals and by the birds. With low financial costs and with intense commitment to working with nature, these farmers reap good harvests and soils that would otherwise have gone barren are now teeming with life. In fact, some of their forests, like that of Mr Yacouba Sawadogo whom I had gone to seek out, are considered too thick or tightly packed with trees for an ecosystem in the Sahel.
The zai farmers are connected in a continually expanding association through which they share seeds, ideas. Contrary to what happens in other west African communities where trees are slashed and burned as part of land preparation for farming, in Ouahigouya the farmers plant trees, nurture them and cultivate their crops alongside the trees. Some of them insisted they do not cut down trees, except dead ones.
Seeing the results of the agricultural practices of these farmers and considering that they have shared these ideas beyond Burkina Faso and particularly with farmers in Niger Republic, it became clear to me why southern Niger is greener than northern Nigeria where millions of Naira is spent in annual tree planting exercises to little result. The farmers in the Burkina Faso and Niger Republic Sahel are fighting climate change and showing the possibilities of what can be scaled-up and replicated elsewhere in this epic battle.