Posts Tagged ‘India’

Earth Day has come and gone, and most people, if they even participated in any activities, have probably moved on with other things.  It’s great to celebrate Earth Day, but the time has come for something beyond just a single day.  Something that will make a lasting difference.

(image: visibleearth.nasa.gov)

(image: visibleearth.nasa.gov)

What would make a difference is recognizing rights of nature. There is a growing movement in support of this right, especially as environmental degradation worsens, the impacts of climate change become more severe, and more people are calling for healthy and empowered communities.

The city of Santa Monica, California just passed by unanimous vote a Bill of Rights for Sustainability, which authorizes the city to “recognize the rights of people, natural communities and ecosystems to exist, regenerate and flourish.”  What this really does is empower citizens to sue on behalf of their local environment.  According to Mark Gold, chair of Santa Monica’s Task Force on the Environment, “It was time to shake things up, recognize the existing environmental laws just weren’t doing the job and that sustainability wasn’t actually possible as long as we treat nature as a thing to be exploited.”

This is a step in the right direction that more communities and countries should consider.  As noted in previous posts, Ecuador, Bolivia, and over three dozen U.S. municipalities have passed rights of nature laws.

In India, the rights of nature movement is coalescing around cleaning up and protecting sacred rivers such as the Ganga (Ganges) and Yamuna.  The National Ganga Rights Movement has formed over concern that over 3 billion liters of pollution – namely toxic chemicals and sewage – are dumped into the Ganga River.

One-third of India’s 1.2 billion people live near the river, and most depend on it for drinking, cooking, and washing.  It is also home to the Ganges river dolphin.  According to World Wildlife Fund, the river dolphin “is threatened by removal of river water and siltation arising from deforestation, pollution and entanglement in fisheries nets.”

Despite being one of the world’s most polluted rivers, in Hindu mythology the Ganga is the embodiment of all sacred waters, and therefore to bathe in it is a holy act.

The Ganges River (photo: commons.wikimedia.org)

The Ganges River (photo: commons.wikimedia.org)

The National Ganga Rights Movement is calling for a National Ganga Rights Act which would, among other things, establish, secure, and defend the inalienable and inherent rights of the Ganga River, its tributaries, and watershed, and the rights of the people of India to a healthy, thriving river basin.  And, it “establishes the rights of the people of India and their governments to defend and enforce the rights of the Ganga.”

You can read more about it at Avaaz, and sign a petition in support of the Ganga and rights of nature.

Lest you think there is no precedence, last year New Zealand granted the rights of personhood for the Whanganui River.

In the U.S. we accept corporations as people, so why not extend rights to nature?  If we are to truly protect ecosystems in India and around the world, we need to start thinking outside the proverbial box, as well as for the long-term.


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The headline from an Indian newspaper tells us all we really need to know: 69 tigers die in 9 months; only 1,706 left.

India’s National Tiger Conservation Authority (NCTA)  just announced that tiger deaths are on the rise and that 69 of them having been killed or died naturally in the past nine months.  This is a five-fold increase as compared to 2011.

“While 41 tigers were killed due to poaching or in road-hits and other accidents, the other 28 were natural deaths,” said Rajiv Sharma, an assistant inspector-general with NCTA.  He reported that the maximum number of tiger deaths took place in Uttarakhand, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.

These deaths have brought down India’s tiger count to 1,706.  This includes 61 tigers at the Kanha reserve, 143 at Corbett National Park, 22 in and around the Tadoba reserve, 65 at Mudumalai and 40 at Ranthambore tiger reserve.  (However, in some good news, Sariska Reserve now has two new cubs, bringing its total number of tigers to seven.  This is something, since only a few years ago no tigers were at Sariska, due to poaching).

Minister of state for environment and forests Jayanthi Natarajan said  “The anthropogenic pressure on our forests and wildlife is much more than ever before due to the thrust on economic growth and creation of more jobs.”  That’s a bit of an understatement.

New guidelines on tourism have been proposed by the Indian government, which, if accepted, would see the ban relaxed, but India’s Supreme Court once again postponed its decision to review the proposed guidelines and determine whether they are sufficient to lift the ban.

The ban has so far had a limited impact, but this month marks the start of the tiger tourism season and the real pain of the ban could be felt.  The Supreme Court is due to hold another hearing on October 9th.  There are concerns, especially from those in the tourism industry, that a final court decision could be delayed, partly due to the complexity of the issues, and India’s convoluted legal system.

Personally, I’m concerned that nothing concrete is going to happen.  Tiger numbers will continue to decline, and people dependent upon tourism for their livelihoods will also suffer.

If you read the New York Times or National Geographic, you  might have seen several stories on the poaching of elephants for the ivory trade.  Much of it goes to China and Southeast Asia.  Same with tiger parts.

India needs to do a better job protecting its tigers, with support from the international community.  But as with the African elephants, education needs to be front and center where animal parts are sought after, especially in China. We know what needs to be done, though it may not be easy or cheap.  Poaching needs to end, there must be more enforcement, plus viable economic opportunities provided to poor communities, educational efforts in places where people buy poached parts, and more protected areas and corridors, to name a few.

Ultimately the tiger ban is a good thing, but as I’ve written before, it could  be in only certain parks, with some tourism allowed in others.  There needs to be a balance between people and nature, but nature needs to be given a fair chance.

The Rights of Nature movement is active in India, with Dr. Vandana Shiva and her organization Navdanya gathering over 100,000 signatures in support of these rights.  You can watch her presentation on rights of nature at this summer’s UN Rio+20 Earth Summit.

Conservation efforts alone aren’t enough.  It’s time to do more and take serious action for the sake of tigers and all species – including people – before tigers are poached out of India.

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In just a couple of days, on August 29th, the Indian Supreme Court will make a decision on whether or not to extend its temporary ban on tourism in core areas of the nation’s tiger reserves.

Royal Bengal Tiger (photo credit: tanplal, http://www.flickr.com/photos/13070711@N03/)

The reasons behind the ban are rather complex and involve the creation of buffer zones that many of the states failed to do, or even provide plans for doing so, as mandated by law.

The Supreme Court judges even asked the Indian government’s attorney what they are doing to save tigers, and chastised the government for lacking effective tiger protection measures.  “What have you done for tiger project…?”, the judges wondered.

Much is at stake, with the tourism and related industries pushing hard to end the ban.

It seems that one viable approach might be to allow some of the most accessible parks to be open to tourism, as before, and leave the ban in place in a majority of the tiger reserves.  Leave open Rathambore and Corbett National Parks, for example, and a few in mid and southern India.  There are 42 tiger reserves in India, more than anywhere else in the world.  It could be worth a try leaving some closed and some open to tourists.

There are many people dependent upon the tourism industry for their livelihoods.  And, according to Belinda Wright, a tiger expert and executive director of the Wildlife Protection Society of India, the presence of tourist vehicles also deters poachers. “The number of local people who depend on wildlife tourism is huge,” she said.

Yet K. Ullas Karanth, with the Wildlife Conservation Society, recently wrote that “The arguments that the tourism industry’s watchful eyes are necessary to protect wildlife and its ‘ban’ will lead to collapse of wildlife protection are also facetious.”  He also made a crucial distinction between budget tourism and high-end tourism, and how the tendency toward “boutique tourism” can undermine long-term public support for wildlife conservation in India more than the court’s suspension of tourism in a few high-profile tiger reserves.

If there aren’t any wild tigers left in the reserves, that part of the tourist industry is going to eventually collapse anyway.

Others have suggested looking at the South African and Kenyan models of tourism, and how these two countries have used well-managed tourism programs and higher fees to fund conservation initiatives, local economic growth, and to fight poaching.

While seeing a wild tiger must be an amazing experience, the safety and survival of tigers should be the priority.  Poaching patrols need to be vastly increased, as well as education of those who buy tiger parts (mainly from China).  Some people and organizations have also claimed that the government has done a very poor and ineffective job saving tigers.  Given the dire situation, this is probably true in many cases.

India and the world are running out of time to protect the Bengal Tiger.   It is estimated that only 3,700 tigers exist in the world today.  All efforts should be made to protect them.

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2 Bengal tigers

2 Bengal tigers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I put off reading the December 2011 issue of National Geographic until just the other day, even though it had a story on saving wild tigers.  I knew it would be upsetting.  That said, it is worth a read, with superb pictures, and a little bit of hope. There is also an excellent map depicting tiger strongholds in Asia.

Author Caroline Alexander writes about how, despite international conservation efforts, tigers in the wild face the “black abyss of annihilation”.   In particular, she says:

Less acknowledged are botched conservation strategies that for decades have failed the tiger. The tiger population, dispersed among Asia’s 13 tiger countries, is estimated at fewer than 4,000 animals, though many conservationists believe there are hundreds less than that. To put this number in perspective: Global alarm for the species was first sounded in 1969, and early in the ’80s it was estimated that some 8,000 tigers remained in the wild. So decades of vociferously expressed concern for tigers―not to mention millions of dollars donated by well-meaning individuals―has achieved the demise of perhaps half of the already imperiled population. 

It is thought that tigers occupy roughly 7 percent of their former range.  Between human encroachment, habitat destruction, poverty, and poaching, it’s a wonder there are any left in the wild at all.  Tigers are one of nature’s most magnificent creatures, and it is beyond me how anyone could kill one, especially just for a few “tiger parts”.  Same with sharks and their fins.  Senseless killings.

I posted earlier this year on India’s tiger protection force and I am currently doing some outreach to folks to find out what’s taking place on the ground in India’s tiger territories. I’ll report back what I find.

And recently, I came across a blog post by the International Fund for Animal Welfare that mentioned that the organization has published two Chinese language books for young readers on elephant and tiger conservation.

The tiger story is called Run Tiger Run – The Story of a Tiger.  It is told from the point of view of a young Bengal tiger who shares his story of growing up on the Indian subcontinent and the challenges and adversities he has had to face.

The books, reportedly endorsed by many popular Chinese celebrities, “aim to motivate Chinese readers to reject products using elephant ivory and tiger bone, to have concern for the welfare of wildlife and the desire to protect them in the wild.”

There are just 50 wild tigers in all of China.

In other tiger related news, India’s Economic Times reported that India’s forests are in serious decline, both in numbers and in health.  The paper found that the Forest Survey of India had flawed methodologies and definitions.  “It’s an expansive definition, says Harini Nagendra, a researcher studying how forests in India are changing. Under it, tea and coffee plantations, orchards, parks and timber plantations, among others, qualify as forests.”  Obviously wildlife, especially tigers, need native forests for survival, not urban forests.

And a bit of good news, India’s Green Tribunal suspended environmental approval for the Posco South Korean steel company project in the state of Orissa.  The long-delayed project has faced much opposition from environmentalists and forest peoples. The tribunal ruled that the project had been given approval without fully taking into account it effect on its surroundings.  I honestly don’t know what effect it might have on tigers in Orissa, given that there are only approximately 32 tigers in the state.  But given the impact of extractive industries on communities and the environment, surely it wouldn’t be a good thing for tigers or Orissa.

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Women, Food Security and Climate Change Training Program (photo: WEA)

The 101st International Women’s Day is March 8th.  Despite often hearing about existing obstacles to women’s well-being, there is much to celebrate this year.

Climate change, of course, is an enormous threat to just about every topic one could name.  In India, though, people are taking a holistic approach to the problem, including tapping into traditional knowledge, especially that of women.

I’ve written before on the work of the Women’s Earth Alliance(WEA) and its initiative to improve livelihoods and food security of small and vulnerable women farmers.  WEA works with a local Indian environmental organization, Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group, helping women farmers start or strengthen organic farming practices and diversify their food production.  And just as importantly, they connect women farmers, who share best practices with one another and start campaigns to create change in their communities.

According to WEA, the women they are working with are experiencing much success:

  • Soma and Thumpa in West Bengal have guided women farmers to set up 20 nutrition gardens, as well as install improved cooking stoves that reduce carbon emissions;
  • Manju Devi in Bihar has continued her training on organic farming practices and is encouraging others to plant multi-purpose indigenous trees. “My goal is to see women stand on their own feet and improve their self-reliance,” says Manju who set up her own organic kitchen garden as a demonstration site;
  • Kusum Lata in Uttar Pradesh has worked to ensure that rural women have job cards registered under their names. This enables them to get fair wages under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act that provides 100 days of employment to rural households willing to do public work-related work, including water conservation and reforestation.

Compare this to a recent report by the development NGO Action Aid and the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, that found that more than 80 percent of smaller farmers – who contribute to half of India’s crop production – will be affected by climate change.  One farmer quoted in the report said that “The pattern of rainfall has changed.  It is so scattered that at times it rains but fields remain dry.”

And just last week Indian researchers reported that India’s monsoonal rains are becoming less frequent and more intense.

I heard similar stories from women farmers with whom I met in India a few years back. All over the world we are seeing how changing precipitation patterns are affecting water and food security.    That’s why it’s more important than ever to empower women.

I also saw this news article by Aditi Kapoor, writing on how “Innovative measures by women farmers across India are helping several poor families adapt better to climate change and keep hunger at bay.”  Kapoor interviewed a woman farmer from Uttar Pradesh, who said “Earlier, we could not produce enough food for a year because our village would get water-logged by the flood waters. Now, using early maturing paddy varieties and organic manure to revive soil fertility, we can at least eat for all 12 months from the same piece of land.”

What is needed in India and around the world, in terms of agriculture, is support for seed and grain banks, ecological farming training, appropriate technology, education, and economic empowerment for Indian women and farmers.  This will enable them to improve their food and economic security, preserve the environment and traditional knowledge, build political will, and better their lives.

It sounds to me like we have lots to celebrate this year!

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Women Farmers Training 2011 (photo: WEA)

Nearly eighty percent of Indian women work in agriculture, and less than seven percent of have land tenure.

Small farmers livelihoods in India are threatened by industrial agriculture, which degrades the environment and negatively impacts the role of women in agriculture. Women have traditionally been seed keepers who preserve the biological diversity and health of crops.

The good news is that many people are working to protect and improve the lives of women farmers. I attended a talk recently given by Rucha Chitnis of the Women’s Earth Alliance (WEA) on the “Women, Food Security and Climate Change Training” Program, which works to connect rural women farmers and help them overcome the many challenges they face, with climate change and food security at the top of the list. This program focuses on ecological farming, rights education, traditional knowledge, just livelihoods, and adapting to climate change.

WEA does incredible work, and this program promotes the idea that women are not victims but instead are the ones holding down the fort and finding ways to improve lives. Through peer-to-peer/farmer-to-farmer exchanges, women come together around empowerment, self-reliance, and to learn from one another.

One training participant, Manju Devi, is a single mother of three from Bihar who has trained over 144 women in five villages in organic farming and seed saving. She has also set up her own organic kitchen garden site, which she uses for demonstrations.

Another Indian woman farmer’s success story was that of Ram Ratti. A decade ago she was fortunate enough to receive training from the Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (and now WEA’s partner in the Women, Food Security and Climate Change program) in sustainable farming practices. Today she grows over 30 varieties of fruits and vegetables and has trained 200 women in organic agriculture and seed saving. Ninety of these women are now smallholder organic farmers with a diverse group of crops cultivated from local seed varieties.

Both of these women understand that sharing women’s knowledge is an integral part of food security, especially in the face of climate change. And they are making use of women’s intimate knowledge of farming, natural pesticides, and medicine. In Rucha’s words, these “women are reclaiming “green” from the green revolution.”

Ultimately, it is women who are the primary caretakers of natural resources. By empowering them with property rights, economic opportunities, and decision-making authority our environment and communities will be better off. I know some of the women farmers I met in Maharashtra a couple of years ago talked about these same things.

The theme of the presentation and of the women’s training revolved around unity, sharing and empowerment. These are concepts that we should all use to guide our lives in light of the challenges facing the planet.

Countries all over the world can raise women’s status by educating girls and by improving women’s access to credit, land, jobs, and training. This is exactly what WEA’s India program is doing, but taking it a step further by bringing women together to learn from each other. And they are having great success.

Watch here WEA’s short video on the training, and get ready to be inspired!

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photo credit: yourdiscovery.com

A team of divers studying sharks near an island off the coast of Colombia recently discovered that up to 2,000 hammerhead sharks had been killed for their fins and left to die on the sea floor.  The killings took place in a wildlife sanctuary.

It would be easy for me to get on my soapbox and rage at this senseless massacre. But perhaps it would be better to approach this issue from an economic standpoint. While I don’t agree with killing sharks for their fins, if you are going to do that why don’t you use the whole shark? Why waste it?  I’m aware of the value that some cultures place on fins, but surely you can eat the rest of the shark without inhumanely finning it and throwing it overboard.  It is a senseless and wasteful act.

CNN had this to say about shark fins:

Shark fin soup can be expensive. A bowl of imperial shark fin soup can cost upwards of $100. These days, shark fin soup is so fashionable that it’s becoming commonplace. Buffets serve versions of it for as low as $10 a bowl. The irony is that shark fin is flavorless — its cartilage has a chewy consistency. Tens of thousands of sharks are being killed for a gelatinous thing in a soup.

Now that I think about it I supposedly had shark tacos once in Mexico (though I don’t really believe it was shark I was eating but some type of white fish). How many people could 2,000 sharks feed?  Certainly there is a value to sharks beyond their coveted fins.

When I was in Bolivia I lived with a family that seemed to me ate almost the entire cow.  Bolivia is a poor country and you don’t waste much of anything, much to my American disgust at being served fried fat.  Still, it does underscore the point of “waste not, want not.” The world is getting to a point where we shouldn’t be wasting things.

An estimated 100 million sharks are killed each year. India is number two on the list of the top countries for catching sharks and is yet to pass any legislation protecting sharks. According to the wildlife trade monitoring group TRAFFIC, India accounts for 9% of the global shark catch, with an annual average yield of over 74,000 tons.  It is also suspected that fins are being exported illegally.

Sharks are a vital part of the ecosystem. By decimating the population of the ocean’s top predator, an essential link in the food chain, humans are altering the equillibrium and web of life in ways we don’t yet understand.

While I wonder at the waste of killing a shark solely for its fin, this “tradition” convinces me of the need to pursue a global rights of nature declaration if we are to have a chance at maintaining healthy communities and environment.  This doesn’t mean that sharks or anything else in the ecosystem are put before humans.  It does mean that we should respect the species with whom we share this planet. People can still fish, just do it in a sustainable, humane and non-wasteful manner.  That shouldn’t be too much to ask.

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