Helping Indigenous Peoples Live Equal Lives

Mapuche indigenous peoples from Chile celebrate their new year. Credit: Fernando Fiedler/IPS

By Emily Thampoe
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 6 2018 (IPS)

Although indigenous peoples are being increasingly recognised by both rights activists and governmental organisations, they are still being neglected in legal documents and declarations. Indigenous peoples are only mentioned in two of the 17 United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and only seen in two of the 230 SDG indicators, says indigenous rights expert Chris Chapman.

According to Chapman, an indigenous rights researcher from Amnesty International, even recognition by governmental bodies is not enough to ensure that indigenous peoples are on an equal level as “regular people”. But this recognition is a move in the right direction and securing land rights for indigenous peoples is being increasingly seen as an urgent and necessary global priority.“Indigenous peoples will be the moral measurement of achievement and nurturers of a new relationship with nature.” — Joshua Cooper, director of the International Network for Diplomacy and Indigenous Governance Engaging in Nonviolence Organising for Understanding and Self-Determination.

“Indigenous peoples have the right to determine and develop priorities and strategies for exercising their right to development. In particular, indigenous peoples have the right to be actively involved in developing and determining health, housing and other economic and social programmes affecting them and, as far as possible, to administer such programmes through their own institutions,” he tells IPS via email.

He adds that effectively helping indigenous peoples, “means empowering indigenous peoples to help themselves, ensuring that their voices are heard, and enabling them to set the agenda in terms of development. This is in accordance with the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples.”

At a side event titled ‘The Land, Territories, and Resources of Indigenous Peoples’, held during a two-week High-Level Political Forum on SDGs this July in New York, representatives from different nations spoke about the treatment of immigrants and the scarcity of resources available to them.

“Indigenous peoples will be the moral measurement of achievement and nurturers of a new relationship with nature,” shares Joshua Cooper, an activist and the director of the International Network for Diplomacy and Indigenous Governance Engaging in Nonviolence Organising for Understanding and Self-Determination.

“The 17 [SDGs] outline an opportunity to organise, to overhaul global governance, to be honest for future generations. [The goals are] rooted in a philosophy of ‘no one left behind,’ with a human rights blueprint dedicated to ‘furthest behind first.’”

The meeting was held and organised by the Indigenous Peoples Major Group for Sustainable Development (IPMG), which aims to respect, protect, and fulfil the rights of indigenous peoples.

The group maintains that as well as helping with these rights, it is imperative that indigenous peoples are involved with, “the development, implementation, monitoring and review process of actions plans and programmes on sustainable development at all levels.”

According to a representative from the African branch of IPMG, across the continent different groups of indigenous peoples live according to their unique lifestyles. It is important for governments to recognise ways of life that divert from the norm of living in a family home—where indigenous peoples live in savannahs or deserts.

African Union’s African Agenda 2063 guidelines aim to help improve the state of the continent’s socio-economic climate over the next five decades. There are seven goals or aspirations that stress the importance of growth and sustainable development. These include a politically united continent; a continent that upholds the values of democracy and respects human rights; a continent that embraces its strong cultural identity and values and ethics; and a continent that uses its citizens to help create progress and develop society.

While discussing what is being done to help indigenous peoples in terms of the U.N.’s SDGs Joan Carling, the convenor of IPMG, said this of Africa: “In their national report they relayed that in Congo, indigenous peoples are subjected to land grabs and conflicts. There is no clear action on those issues.”

According to the Centre for Research on Globalisation agricultural companies are reportedly behind these land grabs that have prevented local communities from using land for farming and raising livestock—even on land that is no longer in use by the company.

During the meeting, a representative from the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact shared that the continent is home to approximately 411 million indigenous peoples, who in their poignant words, “are the guardians of our nature”. The representative also shared that the following Asian countries legally recognise the presence and importance of indigenous peoples; the Philippines, Cambodia, India, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

Carling says that IPMG and other organisations working with indigenous peoples are hoping that, “more countries will implement the ideas of the sustainable development goals into their action plans and strategies.”

“We see some progress in certain countries where they have inclusion in reference to indigenous peoples, but these are the countries that were already supporting indigenous peoples in the past; they are now adding the element of SDGs,” she says.

In terms of helping indigenous peoples on a global scale, Carling stresses the importance of quality education.

“Education has to respect the use of [indigenous peoples’] mother tongue at the primary level. How can kids adjust when the language being used is completely alien to them? It doesn’t really help facilitate their learning at a higher level. In terms of land rights, change is important. Without land rights, we can not achieve sustainable development not only for indigenous peoples, but for the whole system,” she says.

It is also important to sample data correctly, in order to precisely determine the demographics of a society and their needs. This is a dire need, in Carling’s eyes, as more can be done if governments know how many indigenous peoples are not well off, for example. If information about lifestyles and certain ethnic groups are distributed, progress in terms of indigenous peoples rights will be more easily made.

The world is on the right path towards creating more sustainable societies that are fulfilling for all groups of people but in Carling’s words, nations need greater political will and attention at state level rather than focusing attention on the matter at global level.

As It Recovers, Argentina’s Beef Production Faces Environmental Impact Questions

Cattle line up at a trough in a feedlot, which are now widely used in Argentina. Credit: Courtesy of Ana Garcia

Cattle line up at a trough in a feedlot, which are now widely used in Argentina. Credit: Courtesy of Ana Garcia

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Aug 6 2018 (IPS)

Beef is one of the symbols historically identified with Argentina. After lean years, production and exports are growing, as is the debate on the environmental impact of cattle, which is on the radar of environmentalists and actors in the agricultural value chain.

The problem of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – methane and nitrous oxide – from livestock farming has been raised since the 1992 Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit.

But “it was very hard to get Argentina to take it seriously,” veterinarian Guillermo Berra, who led the first research group on the subject at the governmental National Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA), told IPS.”The aim must be to improve the productivity of livestock systems. The weaning rate, which reflects the proportion of cows that produce the ideal of one calf per year that is ready to be fattened, is 60 percent, compared to 85 percent in the United States. Improving that rate would mean producing more meat with the same emissions.” — Sebastián Galbusera

“The intensification of production processes through feedlots has improved yields lately and has therefore contributed to reducing GHG emissions, but it has generated another problem, which is soil and groundwater pollution,” he explained.

According to the latest National GHG Inventory, which Argentina submitted last year to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), agriculture and livestock raising, including deforestation, generates 39 percent of total emissions.

A significant detail emerges from the data: livestock farming is the subsector with the highest emissions, ahead of transport, emitting 76.41 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent per year, which represents 20.7 percent of the total.

‘Enteric fermentation’, which refers to the methane that cattle release into the atmosphere as a result of their normal digestion process, is the main source.

Sebastián Galbusera, who teaches environmental economics at the ‘Tres de Febrero’ National University, told IPS that “these results should come as no surprise in a country where farming is key. But they show us the complexity of the challenge of reducing emissions.”

“The aim must be to improve the productivity of livestock systems. The weaning rate, which reflects the proportion of cows that produce the ideal of one calf per year that is ready to be fattened, is 60 percent, compared to 85 percent in the United States. Improving that rate would mean producing more meat with the same emissions,” he added.

Argentina was the world’s largest exporter of beef at the beginning of the 20th century. However, in recent decades, livestock farming has not experienced the same technological development as agriculture, which has gained ground and relegated it to feedlots or marginal areas.

Osvaldo Barsky, a researcher on rural history in Argentina, told IPS that “with the incorporation of technologies and varieties, agriculture expanded to the best lands.”

“In livestock farming, the processes were slower and there were even times of decline, such as when President Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007) temporarily banned exports to curb the growth of domestic prices,” he said.

Livestock farming is responsible for the highest greenhouse gas emissions in Argentina, ahead of transport, emitting 76.41 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year, which is 20.7 percent of the total. Credit: Courtesy of Ana Garcia

Livestock farming is responsible for the highest greenhouse gas emissions in Argentina, ahead of transport, emitting 76.41 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year, which is 20.7 percent of the total. Credit: Courtesy of Ana Garcia

As a result, “there was a major drop in production, 10 million head of cattle were lost and neighbours like Uruguay and Paraguay overtook us in the international market,” said Barsky. Meanwhile, Brazil has become the world’s largest exporter of beef and poultry in the last two years.

Today, beef is one of the few sectors of economic activity where the government of Mauricio Macri, in office since December 2015, can show favourable figures.

Macri himself, in fact, led the bimonthly meeting of the National Beef Board, which brings together various state and private stakeholders, on Jul. 16.

According to official data, in the first five months of this year Argentina exported 60 percent more beef than in the same period in 2017: 121,277 tons against 75,934.

Government projections released on Jul. 19 indicate that the country will export 435,000 tons of beef this year, surpassing Uruguay and Paraguay for the first time in years, although still far behind Brazil, which will export some two million tons.

Currently, half of Argentina’s beef exports go to China, followed by Russia, Chile, Israel and Germany in that order.

Exports reached 1.2 billion dollars in 2017 and the government hopes they will bring in nearly two billion dollars this year.

Production is also growing, albeit at a slower pace.

Average domestic consumption of beef in this country of 44 million people, which at one point reached an average of 80 kg per person per year, fell due to competition from other kinds of meat, but is still high: 59 kg, according to updated figures from the Argentine Beef Promotion Institute (IPCVA).

Berra warns that “If we want to continue exporting in the long term, livestock production must not only be economically efficient but also environmentally sustainable and socially responsible.”

“Argentina, in the future, could be at a commercial disadvantage if environmental trade barriers are implemented,” he added.

In this sense, feedlots play a fundamental role. Extensive livestock farming and its pastoral image of cows grazing in open fields is becoming less and less common.

Feedlots, which began to be used in Argentina in the 1990s, allow for intensive meat production in less time and with less space.

Currently, 65 to 70 percent of the cattle that arrive at slaughterhouses in Argentina come from feedlots, Fernando Storni, general manager of the Argentine Feedlot Chamber, told IPS.

“This production method in Argentina is relatively new and regulations are still being designed. The disposal of livestock waste is only regulated in one province (Córdoba),” he added.

Storni said that “we are aware that we have to work on mitigating the impacts because the requirements are going to be increasingly strict at the international level.”

The issue is being followed with concern by researchers from the School of Agronomy of the University of Buenos Aires (UBA).

Ana García, who holds a PhD in Agricultural and Forestry Research and is a researcher at the UBA School of Agronomy, said that “it is urgent to regulate these activities because they have a negative impact on the environment and can affect human health.”

“I have been studying feedlots since 2004 and I see that there is no adequate treatment or final destination for problems that accumulate over the years. There is a lack of synchronisation of the production system with environmental criteria. You have to help producers to set criteria before you can demand it,” said Ileana Ciapparelli, a professor of Inorganic Chemistry at UBA.

She explained that “producers don’t know how to dispose of the feedlot solid waste and do what they can. Some use it to try to improve soil fertility but others leave it in piles, generating a source of methane emissions.”

Ciapparelli carried out a study that showed that hundreds of tons of manure deposited in clay soil generate concentrations of substances that can penetrate the soil up to more than a metre deep and contaminate groundwater, which in turn is connected to surface water bodies.

One of these substances is phosphorus, a nutrient that agricultural producers buy through fertilisers and that could be obtained from the waste from feedlots, which today contaminate watercourses.