Inflammation and stories on land

Brazil has the strongest economy in Latin America with an extremely important agricultural and industrial influence, but there is still a large amount of poverty in the country. The main cause of the majority of Brazilian poverty is the problems concerning social exclusion and income inequality, though there have been recent improvements with the distribution of income.

Even though Brazil would be classified as a middle-income country with plenty of natural resources, the human development indicators and poverty levels in the poor rural areas are very similar to those of other impoverished Latin American countries.

Nearly 35% of the entire country lives in poverty with less than two dollars a day, and about 51% of the people living in rural areas experience poverty. Since there are approximately 36 million people living in the rural areas of Brazil, there are around 18 million people in poor rural areas; the most in any country in the Western Hemisphere.

In Latin America, the largest concentration of rural poverty is in the Northeastern region of Brazil with 58% of the region living in poverty.

In the poor rural communities, citizens are deprived of sufficient sewage systems, adequate water supplies, infrastructure and technology, and strong education and health facilities. Women, youth and indigenous people are among the poorest and most vulnerable of the Brazilian rural areas. Many women have the responsibility of managing the family farm as well as taking care of their children because they are either single mothers or their husbands are out looking for work; households like this make up 27% of the rural Brazilian poor. These people are living in poverty mostly because of inequality of land and the lack of access to formal education.

In preparation for the 2016 Olympics to be held in Rio de Janeiro, the Brazilian government is taking steps to clean up the city and rejuvenate the area. Though this is good for bringing in revenue from the tourism that will come with the Olympics, the improvements to the city are at the expense of the nearby poor.

Hundreds of thousands have been relocated to make room for the expansion that has begun for the Olympics. The government is expanding the roads and metro lines in addition to renovating the airport in order to make it easier for tourists to travel while in the country.

Many families are offered a proposition by city officials that they really cannot refuse. They can either take a small compensation package or they can simply leave with nothing. If they take the compensation package, they agree to move to a small apartment in a housing project that is very far from where they work, but that is at least better than leaving without any compensation whatsoever. Often times, housing projects like these cannot continue to be maintained because the people living in them do not have the money to pay maintenance fees, so these people are not necessarily making improvements to their lives by moving.

There are varying numbers of how many people have been moved out of their homes, but Amnesty International claims around 19,200 families in the Rio de Janeiro area alone have been forced to relocate since 2009. Rio authorities, on the other hand, claim to only be relocating 278 families that are living where the Olympic Village is being built. There is a large gap between these numbers and it is seemingly the poor that are ultimately paying for the big events to come in Brazil.

– Kenneth W. Kliesner

Sources: Guardian Liberty Voice, Rural Poverty Portal
Photo: The Republic

A project called Hungry Planet depicts what an average family consumes in a week. Ranging from $325 in Germany to $1.23 in Chad, food costs are based on many factors including environment, culture and economy.
An average family in the United States spends about $150 per week on food, according to a 2012 Gallup poll. Hungry Planet depicted a few American families who spent various amounts per week ranging from $341 in North Carolina to $242 in Texas and $159 in California.

The United States Department of Agriculture performed a study in 2011 that revealed what Americans eat. The results include: 632 pounds of dairy products, 415 pounds of vegetables, 273 pounds of fruit and 183 pounds of meat and poultry. Perhaps the most shocking result is that Americans consume 141 of sweeteners and 53 gallons of soda in a year. Of the 415 pounds of vegetables that Americans consume, 29 pounds are french fries.

In Kuwait, the average four-person family spends the equivalent of $221 per week on food. Because most of the land in Kuwait is not well-suited for agriculture due to soil infertility, water scarcity, unfavorable climate or lack of a trained labor force, much of the food comes from the water. Fish and crustaceans are plentiful in the Persian Gulf, but most of the food commodities are imported.

Those in Mali spend the equivalent of $26 per week on food, which consists mainly of rice, millet, sorghum, fish and vegetables. An Emergency Food Security Assessment conducted by the Government of Mali revealed that three out of four households in northern Mali are moderately to severely food insecure.

Chad, a country where people are barely spending the equivalent of one dollar per week on food, is heavily reliant on external assistance. Agriculture and farming is hindered by erratic rains, cyclical droughts and poor farming practices. A 2011 drought left the country in a severe food crisis in 2013.

Food insecurity is connected to education and environment. In Chad, access to basic education is limited, with an enrollment rate of 36 percent and adult literacy rates of 21 percent for women and 43 percent for men.

Improved literacy is one factor in increasing the understanding of agricultural and sustainable practices, which can increase food production. Advanced technologies to control excessive rains or draughts also benefit farming practices. When policies aimed at enhancing agricultural productivity are combined with education and climate control technologies, the effect will be a positive change to create more vibrant markets, employment opportunities and economic growth.

– Haley Sklut

Sources: Time, USDA, GALLUP, Our Africa, World Food Programme, UN-FAO
Photo: Time

land grabbing
Natives of Ethiopia’s Omo River Valley are having their way of life threatened by state-run land grabbing projects designed to develop the area. The valley consists of the traditional lands of the Bodi tribe, which is being forced into government-run villages. These natives have no one to help them; the government’s wants only destroy their land.

Much of the development is being allocated to state-run sugar plantations. In the last 15 months, most of the tribe’s traditional lands have been wiped out. The repercussions of the government’s move will likely affect more than just the 7,000 members of the Bodi tribe.

The development consists of the construction of not only sugar plantations, but a large dam within the Omo River basin. The construction of the dam is projected to be the most devastating of the government projects. It will take the majority of the water present in the river basin with the potential to affect over 500,000 Ethiopians.

No social impact studies were done prior to the implementation of the project, the consent of the tribes occupying the river valley was not obtained and absolutely no one has received any type of compensation for the hardship endured by the forced relocation.

The dam, named Gibe III, will be responsible for adjusting river flows to aid commercial agriculture in the valley. Some believe that this will cause a severe shortage within neighboring bodies of water.

Lake Turkana is situated nearby and is expected to experience a severe drop in its water level. Some are expecting the further development of sugar plantations to result in a water level drop of 16 to 22 meters.

Due to the project’s controversial nature, it has failed to receive funding from many institutions outside of Ethiopia. The World Bank, African Development Bank and the European Investment Bank all decided not to fund the project. However, China’s Industrial and Commercial Bank (ICBC) has come through to provide funds.

Sadly, the development of the Omo River Valley is just a footnote in the long list of human rights abuses the Ethiopian government has inflicted upon its people. The government routinely makes a sham out of its “democracy” with one party winning elections time and time again despite the presence of other political parties.

Criticism of the government is routinely punished. Many journalists have been tossed in jail for simply highlighting government abuses. One journalist, Eskinder Nega, received an 18 year jail sentence for criticizing the government. There are also frequent crackdowns against the Muslim minority who have peacefully protested for the freedom to worship.

There does not seem to be much the average Ethiopian can do to evade the impact of this land grabbing development project. Barring intervention by diplomatic forces outside, the Chinese-backed development project will go on as planned and thousands of innocents will suffer for it.

– Zachary Lindberg

Sources: The Huffington Post, Human Rights Watch
Photo: Any Uak Media

Kathputli Colony
The Kathputli Colony is home to artists, musicians, performers, magicians and poets. It is, however, not home to adequate sanitation facilities, a sufficient water supply or a healthy environment for children.

The Delhi Development Authority (DDA), in partnership with Raheja Developers, a private firm, wants to develop the colony in West Delhi. The DDA sees the colony as a future home for apartment blocks, some of which will be sold to the residents at a reduced rate and others which will be offered at the market price to those who can afford it.

During the construction period, the DDA plans to move Kathputli residents to a transit camp and later rehabilitate them back into the multi-story apartment buildings that will replace their modest homes.

Due to population increases, building vertically will be the most efficient way to accommodate everyone. However, some Kathputli members are fearful that after moving away from their village, they will not be able to come back.

From Kathputli’s population of about 20,000, the government will move 2,800. The DDA chose candidates based on a survey done by a private firm in 2011 which indicated that 2,754 families deserved a place in the redeveloped Kathputli Colony. Those families will be moved to the transit camps and relocated back to the redeveloped colony.

Residents conducted their own survey and put the number of families at 3,200 because they were unhappy at the way the initial survey was conducted. Nonetheless, none of the residents, even those on the DDA’s original list, are prepared to move. Furthermore, representatives from the colony have demanded that a 15-square-yard plot be given to each resident to use how he or she pleases.
The representatives have insisted that if residents are able to develop their own plots from scratch, the true essence of Kathputli Colony will not only remain intact, but the infrastructure will become more developed. Though the Kathputli Colony is seen as a slum by many outsiders, the residents keep the colony alive with their art as well as music and, further, plan to continue their self-sustaining colony without government intervention.

– Haley Sklut

Overfull and varying widely in accommodation, Syrian refugee camps have become an international crisis. The United Nations has made the largest humanitarian appeal for aid ever at $5 billion to relieve the situation but has received less than $2 billion to date. Some 2.2 million refugees are currently scattered across Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt while more Syrians are fleeing war at an alarming pace. Estimates say more than 3 million refugees will be in those areas by January.

Such numbers are startling given the Syrian population before the onset of war was only  22.5 million. Lebanon, for example, has no official camps despite having more than a million refugees in its borders and does not allow the building of permanent refugee structures. Those who can afford it rent apartments or rooms in the cities at an exorbitant rate while others share the homes of sympathetic civilians or even inhabit abandoned buildings in depressed areas. In the northeast region, an average of 17 people per household are packed together according to a study conducted by Doctors Without Borders last year.

Water, food and healthcare are rationed out slowly and insufficiently, with less to go around as numbers rise. Employment for refugees was around 20% last year in Lebanon, and the economies of Iraq, Turkey and Jordan are in little better position to provide opportunities for such a rapid influx of labor.

Dependency on humanitarian aid is heightened and the desperation of the situation has many refugees working for extremely low wages in poor conditions and engaging in child labor. Economic and physical insecurity in Jordan’s Zataari camp has led parents to arrange hurried marriages for their teenage daughters as young as 14. Matchmakers recruit young girls for Saudi husbands but often end up as prostitutes or victims of “pleasure marriages” where the suitor divorces them after consummation.

Though some of Syria’s displaced persons find bourgeois  housing in Cairo or end up in one of Turkey’s refugee camps that consist of metal trailers with access to satellite T.V. and air conditioning, most see basic necessities and sanitation as luxuries. The Domiz camp in Iraq is made up primarily of tents and has 45,000 residents despite being designed for just 30,000. In just two weeks between August and September, more than 1,500 people were treated for upper respiratory infections there by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Security is also an issue in these camps with reports of rape, theft, kidnapping and murder being common. In the Zataari camp, Jordan security forces restrict entry but lack the manpower to adequately police the camp’s 120,000 residents. Other camps in Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey reportedly funnel arms and recruits back into Syria. In Lebanon, crime has increased by 30% and increased tensions between Hezbollah and Sunni refugees may be behind the recent bombing of the Iranian embassy in Beirut.

Syria’s bordering nations are gradually increasing restrictions for entering refugees. Lebanon and Turkey are both planning to relocate some people to camps they wish to build within Syria’s insecure borders. Only about 25% of Syria’s refugees are actually in camps now, the rest are trying to survive by their own means. There are also an additional 3.8 million who are internally displaced.

Despite their faults, the refugee camps provide essential support and the need for more camps is evident, but where they can be built and how they will be funded is not so clear.

– Tyson Watkins

Sources: Medecins Sans Frontieres, World Health Organization, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees: Syrian Arab Republic,
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees: Moving Refugees, The Guardian, Integrated Regional Information Networks, BBC, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees: Syrian Regional Response Plan, Aljazeera, The Daily Star United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees: Stories from Syrian Refugees, The New York Review of Books
Photo: NPR

There are approximately 1.02 billion undernourished people in the world today, with hunger and malnutrition as the leading causes of death in the developing world. Yet, despite the overwhelming magnitude of this problem, global hunger can be solved. By addressing the factors behind widespread hunger – poor agricultural systems, poverty, environmental exploitation and economic crises – we can come closer to ending it. Below are just five practical ways to end global hunger.

1. Decrease the production of meat.
The intense rate at which many countries focus on producing meat has taken a serious toll on resources. Nearly 40 percent of the world’s valuable agricultural resources go towards feeding livestock. If the production of meat was reduced, those resources could go toward ending undernourishment instead.
2. Food for Life and the human responsibility. 
Food for Life is an organization committed to putting a stop to world hunger. Based on simple, yet powerful, principles of human spirit, humility and compassion, Food for Life has developed a number of programs that bring both food and education to malnourished countries.
3. Stop land grabbing. 
Wealthy countries without extensive landholdings have started seizing land in underdeveloped countries to use as allotments. This “land grabbing” prevents people living in the region from using that land to grow crops and sustain their communities, further perpetuating hunger and malnutrition in the area.
4. Small-scale farming. 
Family farmers play a vital role in the development of food sustainability. Small farmers are more likely to produce crops rich in nutrients as opposed to conventional agribusiness that grow mostly starchy crops. Organizations such as AGRA, which works towards a green revolution in Africa, focus heavily on small farmers, providing them with education, quality soils and the seeds necessary to build a prosperous farm.
5. Eliminate infant malnutrition. 
Infant malnutrition is rampant in underdeveloped countries that lack the resources and education necessary to nourish healthy children. Educating families and mothers living in these regions on proper feeding techniques and providing them with the right nutrients at every stage of the pregnancy will make a huge difference in alleviating infant malnutrition.
– Chante Owens

Sources: The Guardian, Food for Life, Living Green Magazine
Photo: Greenpeace

Irrigation, known for improving crops and overall increasing capabilities of life for centuries, may have one major drawback. With an increase in water abundance through irrigation, infrastructure such as irrigation canals are proving to be havens for mosquito growth.

Recent research shows that newly constructed irrigation infrastructure in malaria prone areas can increase the risk of malaria in the local community.

Research was conducted in the northwest region of India known as Gujarat. The research project found that when irrigation infrastructure was already established in sub-districts, such as Banaskantha and Patan, the monsoon rain influx had less of a malarial increase than sub-districts with early and transitional irrigation systems.

These transitional irrigation systems, known as “low irrigated,” were found to be the most susceptible to malaria that comes after the rainy monsoon season. In comparison, “mature irrigated” areas that had established wells and canals for over thirty years, were less affected by the mosquitoes and the disease they carry.

Led by University of Michigan graduate student, Andres Baeza, the team of researchers monitored the methods and results of a large irrigation project that was set to irrigate 47 million acres of farmland.

“In these dry, fragile ecosystems, where increase in water availability from rainfall is the limiting factor for malaria transmission, irrigation infrastructure can drastically alter mosquito population abundance to levels above the threshold needed to maintain malaria transmission” according to Baeza.

Although it has been known that malaria increases and new irrigation improvements are correlated, this new research shows that the improvements to land that eventually reduce malaria may take longer than expected for farmers in malaria prevalent regions.

This is not to persuade readers that irrigation is not worth it. On the contrary, with irrigation improvements come improved farm yields, food security, better incomes and increased access to finance and healthcare. With improved farmland, malaria is deterred and over the course of a few decades will be much lower as long as farming improvements are made accordingly.

– Michael Carney

Sources: Humanosphere, Proceedings of the National Academy of the Scienes (PNAS)
Photo: The Gef

Suicide can be defined as the act of taking one’s own life voluntarily and intentionally by an individual driven to despair out of a complex web of motivations. It is estimated that more than a quarter of a million of Indian farmers have committed suicide in the last 16 years.

Even while this figure is striking, it considerably underestimates the actual number of farmer suicides taking place. Women, for instance, are often omitted from farmer suicide statistics because most do not have title to land. A great number of those affected are cash crop and cotton farmers in particular. The question is – why are these Indian farmers committing suicide on a mass scale?

Backed by leaders from the United States and other countries, farmers in India abandoned traditional farming methods in the 1960’s and 1970’s, joining the Green Revolution. The goal of the Green Revolution was to increase the efficiency of agricultural processes so that productivity of crops would increase and could help developing countries feed their growing populations.

Indian farmers started growing crops the American way, with chemicals, high-yielding seeds and irrigation. The system worked well for years and since then, India has gone from a country of soil imports to one of exports.

The Green Revolution has been credited with being one of the most successful political and technological achievements in human history. It turned India from a food-deficient country to one of the world’s leading agricultural nations, and therefore a major contributor to the world market.

Despite all this, in 2009 alone, 17,638 Indian farmers committed suicide. That’s one farmer every 30 minutes. How has the export of Green Revolution technologies led to the largest wave of recorded suicides in human history?

Multinational corporations took advantage of India’s new market liberalization and structural adjustment policies by promoting the introduction of genetically modified seeds into Indian agriculture.

In 2002, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee approved Monsanto Bollgard’s Bt cotton, which is genetically modified to produce a toxin whose job is to kill American bollworm, a common cotton pest in India. A majority of cotton farmers in India have invested in this new, genetically modified cotton in hopes their cotton crop would survive bollworm infestations, result in higher yields, decrease instances of crop failure, and overall provide greater economic security for their families.

Investing in high-yielding seeds has not led to greater financial security, but has instead contributed to the financial distress for far too many farmers. Bt cottonseeds demand even more of two resources that are already scarce for many farmers: money and water. These cottonseeds cost at least double what non-Bt seeds cost, and multinationals only allow them to be sold in waves, which prevent farmers from replanting seeds the following year.

To afford the expense, many farmers have to take out one or even multiple loans. Many small farmers resort to community moneylenders, who usually charge high interest rates. Furthermore, Bt cottonseeds require much higher amounts of water than others, and for farmers who lack access to proper irrigation and who rely on rain waters, the crop often fails.

This lack of access to water, and lower yields as a result, means that farmers are often unable to cover their costs, a problem that will be magnified as India privatizes water and irrigation pathways.

For multinational corporations, it is common knowledge that Bt cottonseeds require more water. However, this is not being effectively communicated to farmers. Boxes of Bt cotton have a warning label that instructs farmers to use the seed only in irrigated fields, however, the warning is in English. English is not commonly spoken as a first language and is not readable by a vast majority of the Indian population.

“Producing more. Conserving more. Improving farmer’s lives.” These are the promises made on Monsanto India’s website, alongside pictures of happy, prosperous farmers from the state of Maharashtra. 95 percent of India’s cotton seed is now controlled by Monsanto. Because seeds are the first link in the food chain, corporate control of seeds means corporate control of life, particularly the life of a farmer.

– Ali Warlich
Sources: Global Research, Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, Development and Social Change, Phillip McMichael, Huffington Post
Photo: Instablogs

The National Coordinating Body of Indigenous Peoples in Panama, or COONAPIP, is rallying for support to protect land rights, claiming the national government has failed to do so. “Our government has committed sins of omission as well as commission, showing great lack of concern about the wellbeing of indigenous peoples,” said Betanio Chiquidama, President of COONAPIP.

The UN is also calling on the government to expand and protect land rights. “The development of large investment projects in indigenous territories of Panama has been the subject of numerous allegations of violations of the rights of indigenous peoples, especially in recent years,” said the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, James Anaya.

Land in Panama has been increasingly used-up by third parties, illegal loggers and miners. The misuse of indigenous land is not only making life difficult for people, but also puts Panama’s rainforests in jeopardy. In the past 5 years, unsustainable harvesting of natural resources has escalated on indigenous territories, which include more than half of Panama’s old-growth forests. The fight for indigenous peoples to hold onto their land has resulted in nine deaths in standoffs with the police in a two year span.

Panama’s indigenous groups comprise 10 percent of the total population, and most remain largely autonomous in the governance of their preserves, called comarcas. However, the strong interest in natural resources on the preserves is weakening the indigenous communities’ ability to protect their land. Some parts of the comarcas are not even on the map, which makes it hard for indigenous peoples to claim the land is theirs. Another problem is that the government has stopped designating comarcas in the 1990s, leaving nearly 20 indigenous communities without rights to their land. They had to lobby hard for the government to recognize just two more preserves, which are smaller than those established two decades ago.

Illegal logging, mining, and dam construction occurs on lands which are not clearly designated. The Program Director of Rainforest Foundation U.S., Christine Halvorson says, “there’s no good state presence, so it’s a little bit of a Wild West.” Indigenous people have even been bribed by companies with gifts of money and food to give their signatures in support of mining operations on land owned by their community, according to a 2011 report on indigenous experiences with mining in Panama.

COONAPIP is fighting for the voices from the comarcas to be heard by the decision makers in government, who continue to sell their land to international investors without including indigenous peoples. “They are making deals for investments on our land and we know nothing about it until the bulldozer arrives,” said Williams Barrigón Dogirama, former president of COONAPIP.

– Jennifer Bills

Sources: Thomson Reuters Foundation, UN News
Photo: Take Part