Voices from the field

Voices from the field 1

Fisherfolks say no to the coastal fisheries initiative

World Forum of Fisher Peoples (WFFP) and World Forum of Fish Harvesters and Fish Workers (WFF)

FAO, the World Bank, Conservation International and others have launched in June 2015 the Coastal Fisheries Initiative (CFI), a wide reaching program aiming at the reform of fisheries policy across the world. Through a period of 4 years, 235 million USD will be distributed through a number of projects in countries spanning Latin America, Africa and South-East Asia.

We, as representatives of over 20 million fisher people, wish to express our firm opposition to the CFI, which directly contradict the implementation of the recently endorsed Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries (VGSSF).

The program framework document (PFD) of the CFI has been developed and written in a top-down process, involving an exclusive set of people from Global Environmental Facility (GEF), one of the main sponsors of the initiative. CFI contravened the basic principle of participation of the VGSSF, which emphasizes that affected small-scale fishing communities should be involved in decision-making prior to decisions being taken. We were reduced to the level of other ‘stakeholders’ on par with private sector representatives, academics etc., although we represent the ones most affected by the CFI.

Consequently, it became clear to us that the programs for the targeted countries of CFI all focus on implementing Rights-Based Fisheries (RBF). RBF approach disregards existing local management and governance systems and fails to acknowledge that problems in fisheries result mainly of poor governance or management, ascribing inefficiencies to a lack of private property [See also “The Global Ocean Grab”]. The privatization process generated by RBF clearly benefits a small elite, while dispossesses the majority.

The introduction of RBF in the targeted countries and everywhere else would stand in direct contrast to the progressive content of the VGSSF, which stresses the need for a human rights-based approach as a key tool to poverty reduction. In this light, CFI introduces policies clearly prioritizing the interests of the private sector and/or narrow environmental concerns.

Therefore, we have declined an invitation to become a member of the CFI-steering committee. Accepting the invitation, where the content of the CFI is already clearly defined, would legitimize the RBF-policies that we have spent years fighting against. It would be a huge blow to the implementation of the VGSSF, which we continue to strive for.

Voices from the field 2

Wilmar: no land for sale*

Friends of the Earth US and Nigeria

The oil palm tree is native to West Africa and palm oil, in its rawest form, is a staple of the West African diet. However, what is non-native, and is having drastic impacts in the Nigerian rain forest province of Cross River State, is the industrial-scale expansion of palm oil plantations by the world’s largest palm oil trading company, Wilmar International. Since 2010, Wilmar has acquired 30,000 of hectares of land for palm oil plantations in southeastern Nigeria, and has already expanded its Nigerian land bank to hundreds of thousands of hectares.

Nigeria is one of ten African countries that have signed on to the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, the G8 countries’ strategy to mobilize large-scale foreign investment in Africa’s agricultural sector. As a New Alliance partner, Wilmar may be “guaranteed land acquisition”, benefit from “low average wages”, and be given tax holidays in a process designed to “make it easier to do business in Nigeria.” However, the New Alliance may do more harm than good to small-scale food producers, by increasing the risk of land grabs while undermining land rights and land tenure.

Friends of the Earth’s report, “Exploitation and empty promises: Wilmar’s Nigerian land grab” reveals that Wilmar’s recent acquisition in Cross River State has left local people destitute, and threatens protected forest areas that are home to some of Africa’s greatest biodiversity. One farmer recently displaced by Wilmar’s Nigerian operations said, “By taking our farms, Wilmar is declaring us dead.”

Therefore, Wilmar International and its subsidiaries in Nigeria should, among others:
1 – Halt its expansion plans effective immediately;
2 – Publish all concession maps, Socio-Environmental Impact Assessments, employment policies, minutes of community consultations;
3 – Thoroughly review and overhaul its protocols for seeking the Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) in line with global best practices; and reinitiate a process of open consultation with all affected people.

Besides, the Nigerian government should encourage and incentivize small-holder agricultural production and undertake a process of reforming its land tenure systems in line with FAO Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security.
In the words of Friends of the Earth Nigeria and Rainforest Resources Development Centre, “If Wilmar fails to improve its operations, the company had better pack and go.”

* Text based on “Exploitation and empty promises: Wilmar’s Nigerian land grab” summary, available here.

Voices from the field 3

Corporate capture of cities in Honduras: a special threat to women*

Andrea Nuila and Ismael Moreno

Charter Cities are tiny states within the State: they are territories that are released and handed over to third parties. In the 2010-2013 legislative period, the Honduran National Congress, comprised by a majority of lawmakers that supported the 2009 coup d’État, approved the Charter Cities’ bill. Citizen opposition saw this as an act of treason to the country and forced the Supreme Court to declare this bill as unconstitutional in October 2012. Even so, a new version of the bill was approved in 2013.

For the political and business elite, Charter Cities are not uncommon. They are an extended form of the maquila industry, imposed since the 90s: real tax havens where human trafficking is practiced with policies that ignore the Labor Code and dismiss workers arbitrarily.
The so-called Organic Law on Zones for Employment and Economic Development (Charter Cities’ bill) allows pieces of territory to be handed over and administered by one or several countries or transnational corporations, creating autonomous cities oriented to encourage foreign investment.

A Charter City within the territory of a country with an economic, social and politically failed society will increase inequality and deepen imbalances to unsustainable extremes. Especially women and feminist organizations have raised their voices and added their concerns regarding the negative impacts that such “special zones” will inevitably generate against the body and life of women nationwide.

It is important to highlight that women in Honduras already live in an extremely violent patriarchal society (1 woman killed every 16 hours) that is reinforced by impunity, criminalization of women rights defenders and an institutional discrimination against women. In the rural areas, where the majority of the Charter Cities are being planned, high rates of violence against women prevail together with an increasing number of evictions, limited access to healthcare and to natural resources.
Peasants, indigenous and afro-descendant women will undoubtedly be the most affected groups from the construction of such cities. According to Garifuna leader Miriam Miranda, with the construction of the Charter Cities, the Honduran government is putting 70% of the Garifuna territory (afro-descendant communities) at risk.
An absent State and the possibility of Charter Cities to provide public services, to decide over local norms and discretion over tax regulations will only put women in a more vulnerable position.

* Text based on “A Charter City Amidst a Tattered Society” published in FIAN’s “Right to Food Journal 2015”, vol. 10.

Voices from the field 4

Dematerialization of seeds: the case of “DivSeek”

La Via Campesina

After a week of arduous debates at the FAO headquarters in Rome, on 9 October 2015, the Governing Body of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food Agriculture, the Seed Treaty, in its sixth session had to choose between plague and cholera: to accept as fait accompli its irregular “governance arrangements”, to say the least, or to sink into an open crisis.

To prevent immediate burst, it has declared valid:

1 – The commitment of its secretariat to the DivSeek program that organizes biopibiopracy at a global level. DivSeek aims to sequence the genomes of all varieties of the plant genetic resources stored in gene banks, working towards the electronic publication of genetic information on seeds entrusted to the gene banks, for which the Seed Treaty is responsible. It will enable the ownership of all plants that contain those sequences and which have a related characteristic. All this without including any prohibition to patent nor to share benefits, thus violating the rules of the Treaty.
2 – A resolution leaving farmers without any possibility to defend themselves against this violation of their rights, which nevertheless are stipulated in the Treaty. Patents on genetic information published by DivSeek will indeed prohibit farmers to continue to grow the seeds they have graciously given to the collections for which the Treaty is responsible.
3 – The renewal of the contract of its secretary-general, which was carried out secretly, thereby violating its own rules of procedure.

Since the ratification of the Convention on Biological Diversity in 1992, the seed industry has accumulated a huge debt by tapping into the huge reservoir of peasant seeds collected in fields worldwide without sharing any of the profits generated. In 2013 in Oman, the Treaty’s Governing Body required the seed industry to find a fair solution. So far, no progress has been made. Quite the contrary, with DivSeek, the industry organizes further pillage by letting all the seeds, in their dematerialized form, escape from the Treaty’s control, enabling patenting without any restrictions.

La Via Campesina expects a strong reaction from all the governments, which in Rome have witnessed these unacceptable diversions from the Treaty’s objectives, so that it be put back on the right track. La Via Campesina hopes that the next consultation on Farmers Rights (article 9 of the Treaty) organized by Indonesia in 2016 will make these rights a priority, guaranteeing food sovereignty against the theft of seeds by industry’s property rights.