Maxima AcuñaNews about native peoples fighting for the rights to their land is, sadly, nothing new. For many years, the indigenous populations of many nations around the world have struggled to keep their rights to their land. They are often ignored by their own country’s governments as well as international entities. However, that didn’t stop Maxima Acuña from fighting against the powerful Newmont and Yanacocha Mining Companies in defense of her land.

The Case

Maxima Acuña’s battle started one day when the Peruvian Mining Company Yanacocha, through the Newmont Mining Company, claimed rightful ownership of her property. Acuña’s land, as well as four lagoons near it, were the new grounds for the Conga mining project. While Conga was projected to be one of the most ambitious gold extraction projects, it didn’t sit well with the farmers that live around the land.

For the successful extraction of the materials, four critical lagoons would have to be “sacrificed” as they would be turned into waste pits or be completely dried out. Since 2011, the Newmont Mining company has been trying to claim the rights to her land. Maxima and her family were told to move as they were on official mining grounds. But, there was no way Maxima Acuaña would go out without a fight.

The Brutality of the Authorities

Because of her refusal, Yanacocha and the Newmont committed several acts of brutality and abuse of power against Maxima Acuña and her family. On more the one occasion, armed men destroyed her home and crops. They sent death threats and even “beat her and one of her daughters unconscious.” Despite all of this, Maxima refused to leave her land. The local authorities accused her of invasion of private land and sentenced her to three years in prison with a $2,000 fine. Luckily, through the help of an environmental NGO called GRUFIDES, Maxima Acuña was released from her sentence and granted legitimate property rights.

With the majority of the local population opposing the Yanacocha and the Conga project and the unconditional support of Grufindes, Maxima Acuña had the means to fight the mining companies. GRUFIDES fights for the environmental rights that were ignored by the Conga Project. With their help, Maxima Acuña was able to overturn the court’s decision. This huge win was not only for her but also for the farmers protesting the Conga project and protecting the lakes. Maxima Acuña now had the support of the local and even the international community.

The Lesson of Hope

In 2016, she became the winner of The Goldman Environmental Prize, making her case known in America. In March 2019, Maxima Acuña and her family won a vital appeal against the Newmont Mining Company against the company’s abuse. The motion guaranteed a fair trial for both parties, something big for Peruvian Farmers.

For many years, the abuse against indigenous farmers has been a topic that many choose to ignore. However, Maxima Acuña’s case is not the first and won’t be last. Her case shows that the fight is not over yet. Even with all the stakes against the environment, even the big companies can overthrow a fighting spirit.

Adriana Ruiz
Photo: Flickr

Deforestation and Poverty
Deforestation throughout the world has been increasing over the past decades. Forests contribute to 90 percent of the livelihood of those that live in extreme poverty. Once people cut down and remove these resources, it takes years to replace them, which puts people deeper into poverty. Deforestation and poverty connect because of what the forest can provide for people living in poverty.

Reasons for Deforestation

There are several reasons that deforestation is so much a part of developing nations. One of the most prominent reasons is logging or cutting down trees for processing. While logging does provide temporary relief from poverty once loggers cut down the trees, it takes years for them to grow back.

Indonesia has the worst problem with illegal logging with 80 percent of its logging exports being illegal. Agriculture is necessary for a country to become self-sufficient and rely on itself to feed its people. Hence, to clear land for crops, farmers cut down large sections of forests. Indonesia also has the worst problem with clearing forest for agriculture; the country states that it is necessary to make way for the trees for palm oil, one of its major exports, in order to reduce poverty.

In Brazil, clearing forests to make way for grazing livestock is the reason for deforestation. Brazil is a top beef exporter having exported over $5 billion worth of beef in 2018 and beef is a significant contributor to its economy.

The Benefits and Harm of Deforestation

The three countries that have the most deforestation are Brazil, Peru and Bolivia. These countries all have access to the Amazon rainforest and they use its resources to help alleviate the strain of poverty. Deforestation has devastated all three of these countries, as each has cut down millions of acres of rainforest.

Since 1978, Brazilian loggers, cattle rangers and farmers have cut down 289,000 square miles of rainforest. One of Brazil’s top crops is soybeans that farmers use to feed its growing cattle population. Massive sections of forest require cutting to make way for both soybean production and cattle and this impacts the indigenous people of Brazil the most. Their entire livelihood is dependent on the forest and when the trees disappear, they suffer extreme poverty.

Peru has recently increased its efforts to control deforestation due to mining. Gold is a large part of the economy of Peru along with logging. These efforts have worked for the people of Peru who were able to cut their poverty rate from 48.5 percent to 25.8 percent in less than 10 years. However, experts believe that this relief, while significant, could only be temporary because the rate of deforestation will have a profound impact on climate change that will, in turn, harm the forests and economy of the country.

The GDP per capita of Bolivia is currently at $2559.51. This makes it one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere. To help the poor people of the country, the government has doubled the amount of deforestation that occurs in the country to make way for cattle, agriculture and infrastructure.

With the increase of deforestation, the benefits can seem like relief for those that are deeply immersed in poverty. While these countries’ removal of whole forests can help those living in poor conditions, the help is only temporary and in the long run can harm their well being as much as help. Deforestation and poverty are linked and to save the forests, it is essential to help those living in and around the forests.

Samuel Bostwick
Photo: Flickr

Environmental Justice
When thinking about reducing poverty, environmental protection may not come to mind as something to be put in the same category. However, environmental protection and poverty reduction go hand in hand and achieving environmental justice is a vital step in fully ending global poverty.

Preserving the environment means protecting air quality and water sanitation, as well as land to produce food. Additionally, it means preserving the health of both humans and animals. Yet according to DAC Guidelines on Poverty Reduction, the poorest countries and people in the world are the most vulnerable to the effects of environmental degradation. DAC Guidelines say that the key to reducing poverty is integrating “sustainable development, including environmental concerns, into strategic frameworks for reducing poverty.” Therefore, protecting the environment can reduce poverty if people take the correct steps.

Countries Taking a Stand

According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), around 20 percent of the total loss of life expectancy in developing countries is due to environmental causes, compared to only 4 percent in advanced countries. In addition, 99 percent of deaths related to using unsafe water or having limited access to clean water occurs in developing countries.

Countries around the world are aware of the impact that environmental degradation has on poor communities specifically, and programs and leaders are taking action in order to protect the environment and make safe living spaces for the poor. Specifically, researchers in Costa Rica are working to show exactly how protecting the environment can reduce poverty in poorer countries and communities.

Costa Rica’s researchers’ ultimate goal was to show the effect that environmental issues have on poor communities and how environmental protection can reduce poverty. Two professors, Paul J. Ferraro and Merlin M. Hanauer, found that Costa Rican poverty reduced by 16 percent by protecting natural areas and that around  “two-thirds of the poverty reduction associated with the establishment of Costa Rican protected areas is causally attributed to opportunities afforded by tourism.”

In turn, Ferraro’s and Hanauer’s findings have demonstrated that improved conservation programs and policies are necessary to reduce poverty in poor communities even further. The goal of conserving wild areas for the purpose of ecotourism could potentially lead to more job creation, a growing economy, the reduction of deforestation and a refuge for wildlife in poor areas and developing countries. Costa Rica is taking the initiative to clean up the environment and create a healthier living space for citizens, yet most countries still face day-to-day environmental justice. For this reason, the world must take further steps to allow every person to have environmental justice.

The Truth About Environmental Justice

The EPA defines environmental justice as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” The EPA emphasizes that the goal of environmental justice will only be met once every person around the world has both the same accessibility to protection from natural disasters and environmental/health hazards and the equal right to partake in community and country decision-making about environmental health.

While environmental justice is a goal of a lot of different communities, countries and organizations, environmental injustice is very prevalent around the world. The result is that the most vulnerable and financially unstable people on earth feel the global impact of environmental degradation the most severely. Although developed nations like the United States and those of Europe emit larger quantities of greenhouse gases per capita, developing nations often experience the worst effects of environmental degradation and air pollutants. This is because people living in developing countries often do not have the financial support to be able to move to less polluted areas, and usually have inadequate housing and limited resources, which makes it nearly impossible to adapt to environmental disasters.

Ways to Support Environmental Justice for All Humans

Protecting the environment can reduce poverty, but poverty reduction is also just as important in order to protect the environment. UNICEF states that girls in poor communities often do not go to school because they have to fetch water for their families. As a result, they often do not know the importance of conserving the environment and natural resources because they have not had the opportunity to learn about it.

According to 1 Million Women, 70 percent of the world’s people that live below the poverty line depend solely on natural resources for survival. Yet without clean water or proper waste and garbage disposal systems, escaping pollution is almost impossible. Therefore, supporting and donating to nonprofit organizations that help to provide resources for the world’s poorest and aim to stop environmental degradation is vital. In addition, taking small steps like eating more a plant-based diet, buying sustainable products, volunteering for community cleanups and educating others can make an enormous difference in protecting the environment, and in turn, reducing poverty.

These steps are crucial in supporting not only the environment but also the communities and developing nations around the world that battle environmental justice every day of their lives. In addition to small changes that every person can make to help the most vulnerable against environmental degradation and health hazards, organizations and federal agencies are also helping drastically. Specifically, the EPA started EJSCREEN in 2015, which creates data that shows the environmental demographics across the country and also assists federal agencies in allowing the public to view the impacts of environmental injustice in every area open to new development. By opening up this information to the public, people may be more cautious before blindly living in an area in which they may feel the effects of environmental injustice. With more and more companies and organizations supporting sustainability and environmental justice every day, these trends could increase and start to make an even bigger difference.

Change Starts with Individuals

The link between environmental protection and poverty reduction is clear, and it is imperative that nations and communities continuously work towards a healthier environment in order to secure the well-being of future generations. Protecting the environment can reduce poverty while the smallest changes to one’s life can make a huge difference to the globe.

Paige Regan
Photo: Flickr