India’s Indigenous Women Assert their Land Rights

By Stella Paul
KORCHI, India, Aug 9 2019 (IPS)

Korchi a village of 3,256 people, most of whom are small and marginal farmers belonging to Gondi and Kawar indigenous communities, lies about 750 kilometres east of Mumbai, India. Here, women like Jam Bai, a 53-year-old indigenous farmer, have been leading a ground movement for years to own land.

On the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, IPS correspondent Stella Paul speaks to Bai about what it means to own her own land. Paul joins Bai and several of women relatives and friends who have joined together to help Bai sow the saplings for her rice field.

 

 

Burning Forests for Rain, and Other Climate Catastrophes

Communities living on the foothills of Mount Kenya believe that burning forests will result in rain. A new United Nations report states that deforestation is one of the major drivers of climate change. Credit: CC By 2.0/Regina Hart

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Aug 9 2019 – The villagers living on the foothills of Mount Kenya have a belief: If they burn the forest, the rains will come.

“Generally, we believe that the sky is covered by a thick layer of ice and only a forest fire can rise high enough to melt this ice and give us rainfall,” Njoroge Mungai, a resident from Kiamungo village, Kirinyaga County, which is located on the foothills of Mount Kenya, tells IPS.

It is little wonder then that Kirinyaga is one of the counties most affected by wild fires, according to the Kenya Forest Services (KFS).

During the first two months of this year, at least 114 forest fires were recorded across Kenya with at least five major forests being adversely affected, according to KFS. In just a matter of days in February, a wild fire ravaged an estimated 80,000 acres of Mount Kenya’s forest moorlands. Forest and wildlife experts are adamant that communities living around these forested areas are responsible for the fires.

Such significant loss of forest cover is not a unique occurrence across Africa. And yet deforestation is one of the major drivers of climate change, according to a new report.

Scientists on the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have noted that the world is staring at a climate catastrophe.

These warnings are contained in a new IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land (SRCCL) released yesterday, Aug. 8, in Geneva, Switzerland.

Co-authored by 107 scientists, almost half of whom are from developing nations and 40 percent of whom are female, the report resoundingly places land management at the very centre of the raging war to combat climate change, stating that effective strategies to address global warming must place sustainable land use systems at their core.

The Mijikenda community in southern Kenya carefully tends to the outskirts of kaya forests, which also serve as the ancient burial grounds of their ancestors, nurturing a diverse ecosystem that is home to rare plant and bird species. A new United Nations report states that effective strategies to address global warming must place sustainable land use systems at their core. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

“IPCC’s newly released report focuses on the link between global warming and land use. At the core of this report is the nexus between climate change and unsustainable land use, including unsustainable global food systems,” Richard Munang, the sub-programme coordinator on climate change at U.N. Environment’s Africa Office, tells IPS.

Munang says that this nexus “is already coming to the fore in Africa especially now that the continent is losing forest cover at a rate that is much higher than the global average.”

He further explains that globally, Africa bears the second-highest cost of land degradation—estimated at 65 billion dollars per year—and that this has put a strain on economic growth.

“While average losses resulting from land degradation in most countries are estimated at nine percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), some of the worst afflicted countries are in Africa and lose a staggering 40 percent of their GDP,” he says.

The IPCC report emphasises that while climate change itself can increase land degradation through increases in rainfall intensity, flooding, drought intensity, heat stress and dry spells, it is land management practices that has tipped the balance of increased land degradation. The report noted that agriculture, food production, and deforestation are the major drivers of climate change.

According to the report, land is a critical resource and also part of the solution to climate change. However, as more land becomes degraded, it becomes less productive and at the same time reducing the soil’s ability to absorb carbon. This in turn exacerbates climate change.

As a result of significant land use changes, grazing pressures and substantial reduction in soil fertility, U.N. researchers now say that one-third of total carbon emissions come from land.

Dr. Wilfred Subbo, a lecturer in natural resources at the University of Nairobi, notes the findings with concerns: “Land is under a huge amount of pressure and we are increasingly witnessing how human-induced environmental changes contribute to catastrophic carbon emissions.”

“We are indeed heading straight into a climate disaster and this report has highlighted how damaged land is no longer serving as that large sink that absorbs harmful carbon dioxide emissions,” he tells IPS.

Coordinated action to address climate change can simultaneously improve land, food security and nutrition, and help to end hunger, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in a statement. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

The report also noted “global warming and urbanisation can enhance warming in cities and their surroundings, especially during heat related events, including heat waves”.

“Last year the United Nations Development Programme indicated that Africa’s urban transition is unprecedented in terms of scale and speed and that the continent is 40 percent urban today,” Subbo says.

Coordinated action to address climate change can simultaneously improve land, food security and nutrition, and help to end hunger, the IPCC said in a statement. The report highlights that climate change is affecting all four pillars of food security: availability (yield and production), access (prices and ability to obtain food), utilisation (nutrition and cooking), and stability (disruptions to availability).

“Food security will be increasingly affected by future climate change through yield declines – especially in the tropics – increased prices, reduced nutrient quality, and supply chain disruptions,” said Priyadarshi Shukla, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group III, in the statement.

“We will see different effects in different countries, but there will be more drastic impacts on low-income countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean,” he said.

Munang nonetheless points out that all is not lost: “Over 90 percent of countries in Africa have ratified their commitments to accelerate climate action towards achieving the 2015 Paris agreement.”

This agreement seeks to achieve a sustainable low carbon future. Munang emphasises that such climate goals calls for countries to embrace ambitious eco-friendly practices such as agro-forestry, the use of organic fertiliser and clean energy, among others.

He says that a number of African countries are on track. “Ethiopia has done very well and set a new unofficial world record of planting over 350 million trees in just 12 hours.”

Kenya aims to run entirely on green energy by 2020 and is on record as having the largest wind farm in Africa, as is Morocco with the largest solar farm in the world.

“The key going forward is to change perspective and to look at these actions within the broader goal of building globally competitive enterprises with climate action co-benefits,” Munang says.

Meanwhile, back on the foothills of Mount Kenya, Mungai says that there are efforts to educate the community about forest fires and the effect it has on both the land and climate.

“This belief will take time to change because it was passed down from our grandfathers. But the County government is focused on addressing these problems so future generations will learn to do things directly.”

Land Degradation Jeopardizes Ability to Feed the World

By Ibrahim Thiaw
BONN, Aug 9 2019 – We have known for over 25 years that poor land use and management are major drivers of climate change, but have never mustered the political will to act.

With the release of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report on climate change and land, which makes the consequences of inaction crystal clear, we have no excuse for further delay.

We cannot head off the worst ravages of climate change without action on land degradation. The knowledge and technologies to manage our lands sustainably already exist.

All we need is the will to use them to draw down carbon from the atmosphere, protect vital ecosystems and meet the challenge of feeding a growing global population. We must harness the enormous positive potential of our lands and make them part of the climate solution.

With the help of our scientists, I will ensure the issues in this report that are within the scope of the Convention are presented to ministers for strong and decisive action when they meet at the world’s largest intergovernmental forum where decisions on land use and management are made, the 14th session of the Conference of the Parties to the UNCCD, taking place in New Delhi, India, in three weeks’ time.

The IPCC report is one of four major assessments released over the last two years that show the wide-ranging impacts of land degradation. It is not just the climate that suffers when land quality declines.

Land degradation jeopardizes our ability to feed the world, threatens the survival of over a million species, destroys ecosystems and drives resource-related conflicts that demand costly international interventions.

These problems are no longer local problems. The report underlines that the increasingly global flows of consumption and production means that what we eat in one country can impact land in another. In the wake of land degradation and drought, communities are breaking down due to the swift and devastating loss of life and livelihoods.

Faced with these life-changing consequences, the UNCCD has developed a robust policy framework that can enable countries to avoid further land degradation and recover land that has become virtually unusable.

Change is happening, but not fast enough. In the last four years, 122 of the 169 countries affected by desertification, land degradation or drought have embarked on setting national targets to halt future degradation and rehabilitate degrading land to ensure the amount of healthy and productive land available in 2015 does not decline by 2030 and beyond.

Last year, these countries submitted baseline date to verify this achievement. And in just three years, close to 70 countries have set up national drought management plans to reduce community and ecosystem vulnerability to droughts, which the IPCC says will become stronger, more frequent and more widespread.

This shows that commitment to reversing land degradation is growing, even though much work remains. More than two billion hectares of land are degraded. Initiatives to restore land on a national or landscape level are not only vital in reversing the process.

They are critical for helping the global community mitigate and adapt to climate change in the short term, using soil and vegetations through methods that do not harm the Earth.

When the ministers meet in September (at the UN in New York), I expect the IPCC report to have a strong influence not only on the policy decisions they will debate, but the will to take them home for appropriate action.

Science can help politicians develop informed policies that will support ordinary people to prepare, act and create more positive pathways to the future.

Desertification a Frontline Against Climate Change: IPCC

Drone visual of the area in Upper East Region, Ghana prior to restoration of the land that was taken in 2015. Years later the community restored the land by planting trees. A new United Nations report has described farming, land degradation and desertification as critical frontlines in the battle to keep the global rise in temperatures below the benchmark figure of 2 degrees Celsius. Credit: Albert Oppong-Ansah /IPS

By James Reinl
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 9 2019 – A new United Nations report has described farming, land degradation and desertification as critical frontlines in the battle to keep the global rise in temperatures below the benchmark figure of 2 degrees Celsius.

The 43-page study from the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released this week says better management of land can help combat global warming and limit the release of greenhouse gases.

“Climate change poses a major risk to the world’s food supply, and while better land management can help to combat global warming, reducing greenhouse gas emissions from all sectors is essential,” U.N. spokesman Stefan Dujarric told reporters Thursday.

The report offered “compelling evidence” for redoubling global efforts and shows that while “food security is already at risk from climate change, there are many nature-based solutions that can be taken,” added Dujarric.

Among the IPCC’s recommendations were calls for vigorous action to halt soil damage and desertification and for people globally to throw less food into trash cans, whether in private homes or out the back of supermarkets and factories.

Instead, scrap food can be used to feed farm animals, in some cases. Alternatively, food waste can be donated to charities so that homeless people and others in need get much-needed meals.

Controversially, the IPCC also noted that more people could be fed using less land if individuals cut down on eating meat and switched up their diets by consuming more “plant-based foods”.

“Some dietary choices require more land and water, and cause more emissions of heat-trapping gases than others,” said Debra Roberts, co-chair of an IPCC working group.

“Balanced diets featuring plant-based foods, such as coarse grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, and animal-sourced food produced sustainably in low greenhouse gas emission systems, present major opportunities for adaptation to and limiting climate change.”

The report was co-authored by 107 scientists and was finalised this week at talks in Geneva, Switzerland.

It is called “Climate Change and Land, an IPCC special report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems”.

The report’s findings would be key at the Conference of Parties of the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) in New Delhi, India, in September and at other confabs over the coming months, said Dujarric.

Some 500 million people live in areas facing desertification, IPCC scientists said. These regions are more vulnerable to climate change and such extreme weather events as droughts, heatwaves, and dust storms. 

Once land is degraded, it becomes less productive and unsuitable for some crops. It also becomes less effective at absorbing carbon, which drives a vicious cycle of rising temperatures degrading soils even more.

“Land plays an important role in the climate system,” Jim Skea, co-chair of an IPCC working group, said in a statement accompanying the document.

“Agriculture, forestry and other types of land use account for 23 percent of human greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time natural land processes absorb carbon dioxide equivalent to almost a third of carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and industry.”

Under the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement, governments pledged to limit the rise in average global temperatures to “well below” 2°C above pre-industrial times, and ideally to 1.5°C. The world has already heated up by about 1°C.

Droughts and heatwaves are getting worse, according to the UNCCD. By 2025, some 1.8 billion people will experience serious water shortages, and two thirds of the world will be “water-stressed”.

Though droughts are complex and develop slowly, they cause more deaths than other types of disasters, the UNCCD warns. By 2045, droughts will have forced as many as 135 million people from their homes.

But there is hope. By managing water sources, forests, livestock and farming, soil erosion can be reduced and degraded land can be revived, a process that can also help tackle climate change.

“The choices we make about sustainable land management can help reduce and in some cases reverse these adverse impacts,” said Kiyoto Tanabe, co-chair of an IPCC task force on greenhouse gasses.

“In a future with more intensive rainfall the risk of soil erosion on croplands increases, and sustainable land management is a way to protect communities from the detrimental impacts of this soil erosion and landslides.”

Global Geodetic Framework Helps Monitor Natural Disasters & Rising Sea Levels

By Lakshi De Vass Gunawardena
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 9 2019 – There are several initiatives in place to foster sustainable development– and the Global Geodetic Reference governance frame is one that has proved effective.

“This proposed governance framework, the establishment of a Global Geodetic Centre of Excellence (GGCE), will strengthen all Member States – as global geodesy is fundamental to sustainable development,” Anne Jørgensen, Senior Strategic Communications Advisor for the UN Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management (UN-GGIM), told IPS.

“Global warming is the defining issue of our time,” Anne Gueguen, Deputy Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations said at a panel discussion August 6 organized by the UN-GGIM and the Subcommittee on Geodesy.

“We are in a race against time for the survival of human life on the planet as we know it, and that this global challenge can only be met by universal global efforts.”

Since its inception, the UN-GGIM has recognized the growing demand for more precise positioning services, the economic importance of a global geodetic reference frame and the need to improve the global cooperation within geodesy, according to its website.

UN-GGIM created a Working Group for a Global Geodetic Reference Frame (GGRF), which formulated and facilitated a draft resolution for a Global Geodetic Reference Frame (GGRF), adopted by UN-GGIM in July 2014 and the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in November 2014.

On 26 February 2015, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on Global Geodetic Reference Frame for Sustainable Development that was led by the Republic of Fiji.

The Global Geodetic Reference Frame (GGRF) is a generic term describing the framework which allows users to precisely determine and express locations on the Earth, as well as to quantify changes of the Earth in space and time

Data from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Gravity Recovery and Climate revealed that Greenland alone lost an average of 286 billion tons of ice per year between the years 1993 and 2016, while Antarctica lost about 127 billion tons of ice per year during the same time frame, and that the rate of Antarctica ice mass loss has tripled in the last decade.

Record high temperatures, mass rainfall, and rising sea levels are occurring at unparalleled rates as well.

The Geodetic framework seeks to support the increasing demand for positioning, navigation, timing, mapping, and geoscience applications, and thus is an irreplaceable asset for reliable information on changes on Earth such as natural disaster management, rising sea levels, climate change, and information for decision-makers.

The UN- GGIM hopes to establish a Global Geodetic Centre of Excellence as well, in order to support the frame and cites that it will “act as a GGRF operational hub” that will support the objectives of the UN- GGIM – to enhance global cooperation, provide technical assistance and capacity building.

However, there are challenges surrounding the framework itself, such as degradation, a lack of open data sharing, and halted development and maintenance due to a lack of global coordination.

“Open data sharing is fundamental to science applications and also alignment to the global reference frame,” Zuheir Altamimi, Researcher at the Institut National de l’Information Géographique et Forestière (IGN) said during the panel discussion, pointing to a map that highlighted data gaps in Africa, East and South East Asia, and South America.

“It means that data is not shared,” Altamimi noted, concluding “we need to share data in order to maintain the global geodetic framework.”

“Global geodesy lacks global coordination.” Laila Løvhøiden, Deputy Director at Kartverket added. To tackle this, the UN GGIM and Subcommittee has proposed solutions, including a revised position paper and the Geodetic Centre.

“The Global Geodetic Centre of Excellence would provide the coordinating role that is key to creating synergy,” Francisco Javier Medina Parra, Director of the Geodetic Framework at National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI) added.

People at home can also help sustain the framework. “There’s also a need for the broader community to communicate to policymakers and the political class how much we actually rely on these things in our day to day lives,”

Gary Johnston, Co- Chair of the UN- GGIM Subcommittee on Geodesy told IPS, that no one country can do this alone, and that we need all countries and member states to contribute “in any way that they can, and concluded that everyone has a role and everyone can benefit from it.”

If Fertility Rates Remain Constant

By Joseph Chamie
NEW YORK, Aug 9 2019 – What if current fertility rates of countries remain constant for the rest of the 21st century? Under this assumption, the populations of high fertility countries skyrocket while those of most low fertility countries plummet and world population nearly triples in size by the century’s close. 

If fertility rates do not change, today’s world population of 7.7 billion increases to 21.6 billion by the end of the 21st century. That projected figure is double the commonly cited United Nations medium fertility projection of 10.9 billion for world population in 2100.

The United Nations medium fertility projection assumes that the rates of high fertility countries decline to near replacement levels of 2.1 births per woman by the century’s end. It also assumes that today’s below replacement fertility rates of countries increase slightly over the coming eight decades.

Assuming fertility rates remain at their current levels, eighteen countries, all in sub-Saharan Africa, experience the most rapid demographic growth. Each of their populations leaps more than tenfold by the end of the century.

The fastest demographic growth occurs in Niger, which has a fertility rate of 7 births per woman. Niger’s population surges thirtyfold over the century assuming constant fertility, from 23 million to 695 million.

 

What if current fertility rates of countries remain constant for the rest of the 21st century? Under this assumption, the populations of high fertility countries skyrocket while those of most low fertility countries plummet and world population nearly triples in size by the century’s close

Source: United Nations Population Division.

 

The most populous country in Africa, Nigeria, experiences an elevenfold increase in the size of its current population if its fertility rate of 5.4 births per woman remains constant, leaping from today’s 201 million to 2.3 billion by the year 2100. Similarly, assuming its fertility rate of 6 births per woman remains unchanged, the population of the Democratic Republic of the Congo increases eighteenfold, surging from 87 million to 1.6 billion at the century’s close.

Without immigration the current populations of Australia, United States, United Kingdom and Canada are smaller by the century’s close, -7%, -9%, -15 and -29, respectively
Together those eighteen sub-Saharan African countries contribute an additional 8 billion people to the world’s population by 2100 if their fertility rates remain unchanged.

However, if their high fertility rates decline to near replacement levels by the end of the century, as assumed by the United Nations medium fertility projection, the eighteen countries contribute 2 billion additional people to world population, or 6 billion less than the constant fertility projection.

Nigeria’s population, for example, reaches 733 million by 2100 in the medium fertility projection rather than 2.3 billion in the constant fertility projection. Niger’s population increases sevenfold by 2100 in the medium fertility projection instead of thirtyfold if fertility remains unchanged. Also instead of growing to 1.6 billion assuming constant fertility, the population of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is 362 million in medium fertility projection at the century’s close.

In addition to rapid population increase, the population age structures of the sub-Saharan African countries stay relatively young if their high fertility rates continue. Today’s proportions of children (below 15 years), for example, remain basically unchanged at around 43% of the population by 2100 in the constant fertility projection. However, if fertility rates decline as assumed in the medium fertility projection, those proportions are halved to approximately 22%.

In striking contrast to sub-Saharan African countries, the populations of 50 countries with below replacement fertility rates decline during this century if fertility levels remain constant. Even if their below replacement fertility rates increase slightly as assumed in the United Nations medium fertility projection, those countries still experience population decline but to a lesser extent.

The current populations of a dozen countries, including Japan, Poland and South Korea with current fertility rates of 1.4, 1.4 and 1.1 births per woman, respectively, decline by about 50 percent by the end of the century if fertility rates remain unchanged (Figure 2). Significant declines in population size also occur by 2100 in Italy (-40%), Hungary (-39%) China (-30%) and Germany (-17%) and Russia (-15%).

 

Source: United Nations Population Division.

 

In addition to population decline, the age structures of those countries with below replacement fertility are markedly older in 2100 if their fertility rates remain constant. The proportions of elderly persons aged 65 years and older in those countries increase to unprecedented high levels, the highest being more than 40 percent in Italy, Greece, Japan, Portugal, South Korea and Spain. During the 20th century the proportion elderly in countries never reached higher than 17 percent.

Furthermore, in many countries the number in the working ages of 15 to 64 years per person aged 65 years and older, the potential support ratio (PSR), falls below two. In Japan, Italy, South Korea and Spain, for example, constant fertility rates lead to PSRs that are to close to one by the end of the century.

The populations of some countries with below replacement fertility continue to increase due to immigration. Without immigration, however, the population sizes of those countries also decline over the coming decades. For example, without immigration the current populations of Australia, United States, United Kingdom and Canada are smaller by the century’s close, -7%, -9%, -15 and -29, respectively (Figure 3).

 

Source: United Nations Population Division.

 

Among the forces keeping fertility rates below the replacement level are urbanization, survival of children, widespread education, improvements in status of women including increased employment and economic independence, the costs of childrearing, delayed childbearing, voluntary childlessness and reproductive health services, including modern contraceptives. Given that those forces are continuing, it is unlikely that low fertility rates will return to replacement levels in the foreseeable future.

Countries with below replacement fertility need to anticipate and plan for the near certain consequences of population decline and aging. While smaller and older populations can certainly lead to considerable societal, individual and environmental benefits, those changes also pose challenges for economic growth, retirement, pensions, healthcare and caregiving.

If the high fertility rates of countries remain unchanged, the projected future growth of those populations, which are among poorest in the world, is extraordinary. Such enormous demographic growth not only overwhelms the development goals of those countries, but also poses serious challenges to countries worldwide as well as to the planet’s flora, fauna and ecosystems.

A variety of long-term development efforts, including education for girls and boys, employment and vocational training, lower mortality and improved healthcare, contribute to the transition from high fertility rates to near replacement levels. The invaluable contribution of reproductive health information and services in reducing high fertility levels, however, can be made available now.

The costs for providing reproductive health services, including modern methods of contraception, are small compared to the considerable benefits for families and society. In addition to permitting women and men to choose the desired number and spacing of their children, reproductive health services constitute a vital component of socio-economic development and environmental sustainability.

Governments, including those of the wealthier nations, international agencies and donor organizations need to follow through on their commitments on the provision of reproductive health services. Increased efforts are needed to ensure that all women and men have access to sexual and reproductive health care services, including modern methods of family planning.

Those efforts are especially vital in the high fertility countries of sub-Saharan Africa where usage of modern methods of family planning is relatively low. Only about half of women of reproductive age (15 to 49 years), for example, have their need for family planning met with modern contraceptive methods.

It is clearly in interests of all to facilitate the transition from high to low fertility rates, especially in sub-Saharan African countries, as has already been realized throughout much of the world.

To do otherwise makes it enormously more difficult to address the critical issues and development challenges facing humanity, including shortages of food, water and housing, poverty, unemployment, gender equality, climate change, environmental degradation, emigration and displacement, civil conflict and peace and security.

 

How India’s Indigenous Female Forest Dwellers Feel about Owning Their Own Land

By Stella Paul
KORCHI/GADCHIROLI, India, Aug 9 2019 – Kumaribai Jamkatan, 51, has been fighting for women’s land rights since 1987.
Though the constitution of India grants equal rights to men and women, women first started to stake their claim for formal ownership of land only after 2005–the year the government accorded legal rights to daughters to be co-owners of family-owned land.
For the Indigenous communities, it was the Forest Rights Act 2006 which allowed women to own land.
The struggle has been long and hard with social, financial and legal challenges, Jamkatan says.

“In the beginning, nobody even believed in the individual land rights of women. Some saw it as a huge work burden as the land is usually in the name of the patriarch of the family and granting ownership to women would mean distributing the land to individual family members.”
About 3,000 women are reported to have received land rights since local Indigenous villages in Gadchiroli district grouped together to assist one another.
Jamkatan is pursuing a personal goal of helping 1,000 women get land rights this year.

In the Midst of Conflict, India’s Indigenous Female Forest Dwellers Own their Land

Jam Bai (in red sari), a member of the Indigenous ‘Kawar’ community, sows rice saplings in her paddy field as her relatives and neighbours help her. After years of struggle she now officially owns the land she farms on. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
KORCHI/GADCHIROLI, India, Aug 9 2019 – Jam Bai, an Indigenous farmer from Korchi village in western India, is a woman in hurry. After two months of waiting, the rains have finally come and the rice saplings for her paddy fields must be sown this week while the land is still soft.

But on Saturday Aug. 3, a day before IPS visited the village, government security forces shot dead seven armed rebels belonging to a far left, radical communist group called the ‘Maoists’ or ‘Naxals’ in a village 40 km from here.

Located roughly 750 km east of Mumbai in Maharashtra state’s Gadchiroli district, which has one of the India’s thickest teakwood forests, the area is often in the news for the violent incidents such as landmine blasts, killing, gunfire, arrests and protests that occur here. Maoists have been waging war against the government for over a decade here as they demand a classless society.

Since the incident, there has been an unofficial shutdown around Korchi. As tension and fear spreads, Bai could not find a single labourer to hire. But the 53-year-old will not give up: not sowing the fields this season is not an option.

Her reasons are not only financial but also emotional.

After years of struggle she now officially owns the land.

So today Bai has called on several of her women relatives and friends from the village. With saris pulled up over their knees and heels dug into the muddy water, they bend in a row, holding a bundle of saplings in one hand, while sowing a small bunch with the other.

“I have five acres of land. So far we have finished sowing about one acre. There are four more to go, but we will surely finish the rest in two to three days,” says Bai. The women laugh and cheer for her.

  • The village of Korchi consists of just over 3,000 people, most of whom are small and marginal farmers belonging to Gondi and Kawar Indigenous communities, who recognised by the country’s constitution as ‘Schedule Tribes’the official term for Indigenous peoples in the country.
  • The area may be conflict-ridden but studies show that the district stands as being the first in all of India to grant land rights to Indigenous people. Much of this is credited to local Indigenous women like Bai who have been leading a ground movement for years for formal ownership of both the farming land and the forest land.

The paddy fields that Bai owns are located at the edge of a her village, beyond which lies a forest. For generations, Bai’s family has sustained itself both by farming on the land and collecting fruit, tree bark, vegetables and herbs that grow in the forest, just like other members of their Indigenous communities.

But they never possessed official rights over either of the land areas.

It was only after the government started to implement the Forest Rights Acts 2006a new law which recognised the rights of the Indigenous peoples living in the forest—that Bai applied for formal ownership to the land her family held. Finally, after nearly a decade’s struggle, she received her land rights last year.

“Before me, my mother in law and her mother in law also sowed rice in this land. But 15-20 years ago, everyone started to say, ‘this land belongs to government, you are only occupying it’. That is when we realised that we need formal rights and ownership. After the new forest law came, along with others, I also applied in 2008 for my rights. Finally, last year I received my Patta (ownership certificate),” she says. 

A woman shows an application for individual landrights and the documents that are required. This includes maps and receipts of the land tax paid to the district government by the family for past three generations, multiple signatures of the applicant, their family members, the village chief, and senior government officials at the Land and Revenue department etc., several rounds of verification by village and district level officials. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Land ownership for women: a complex story

Kumaribai Jamkatan, 51, is one of those leaders who have been fighting for women’s land rights since 1987.

  • Though the constitution of India grants equal rights to men and women, women first started to stake their claim for formal ownership of land only after 2005–the year the government accorded legal rights to daughters to be co-owners of family-owned land.
  • For the Indigenous communities, it was the Forest Rights Act 2006 which allowed women to own land.
  • Presently, the Indigenous people here in Korchi have two kinds of land rights:
    • The rights of an individual over farmland in their village, and
    • A collective right over a specific area in the forest for hunting-gathering – which was made possible in 2006 under a special forest law (The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act).

Under this law, the entire community shares the forest resources of barks, seeds, fruit and vegetables, which include; gooseberries, blackberries, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, soap nuts, and various herbs and shrubs. All of these have been part of the Indigenous communities’ diets and source of their livelihood for generations.

  • The land allotted to a village community is typically decided by the size of the village population. However, it usually falls between four to 10 acres.
  • But their struggle for land rights started decades ago and continues today as many women are still waiting to receive land rights due to slow pace of implementation of Forest Rights Act and lack of awareness in their communities. According to India’s Agriculture Census 2010-2011, nationally, women own only 10.34 percent of land.

The struggle has been long and hard with social, financial and legal challenges, Jamkatan says.

“In the beginning, nobody even believed in the individual land rights of women. Some saw it as a huge work burden as the land is usually in the name of the patriarch of the family and granting ownership to women would mean distributing the land to individual family members.

“Then there are legal challenges: the application needs several documents, including maps and receipts of the land tax paid to the district government by the family for past three generations, multiple signatures of the applicant, family members, the village chief, and senior government officials at the Land and Revenue department etc., several rounds of verification by the village and the district level officials and goes through several government agencies all of which take a long time,” says Jamkatan.

In 2017, locals, supported by a local NGO, Amhi Amchya Arogyasathi (We for our own health in Marathi), formed the Maha Gram Sabha (the Great Village Assembly). The assembly is a community-based organisation with members from 90 Indigenous villages of the district’s 125 villages. Gadchiroli district is at least nine times the size of London, with a total population of about 1.7 million.

The Great Village Assembly has not only spearheaded the land rights movement of women in a collective manner, but also asserted their rights to the forests and its resources. About 3,000 women are reported to have received land rights since the assembly was formed.

The assembly believes that Indigenous people have the first right to land and forest. When this is ensured, the community has a better life and the forest also flourishes, Nand Kishore Wairagade, a former village chief and now an advisor to the assembly, tells IPS.

Wairagade says the formation of the Great Village Assembly helped revolutionise people’s rights over the land: “There are 90 villages in this assembly who meet regularly and decide on everything from applying for land rights to collecting forest resources like Tendu leaves (a significant source of income for the forest peoples which is used to make hand-rolled cigarettes), gooseberry, mushroom etc. The assembly also oversees the sale of Tendu leaves, negotiates its price with the buyers and ensures that the money is paid directly to bank accounts of the women sellers.”

These have all been hard-won gains.

“We have taken to the road many times. Since 2012, when the government first decided to grant us the collective rights, we have held protest rallies, sit-in demonstrations, road blockades and strikes. Finally, last year they started to distribute the certificates again. Now, people in 77 villages (out of the 90 villages that are part of the assembly) have land ownership but people in 13 villages are yet to receive theirs,” says Jamkatan who is pursuing a personal goal of helping 1,000 women get land rights this year.

Indigenous people’s land–what experts say

Global experts have emphasised how land use by Indigenous peoples plays a role in conserving the environment and mitigating climate change. A special report on Land and Climate Change released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on Thursday, Aug. 8, highlights how indigenous and traditional ways of managing land can help reverse land degradation and mitigate climate change in the process.

Commenting on the report, Andrea Takua Fernandes, frontline organiser for Indigenous communities at 350.org, tells IPS the leadership of the Indigenous people is key to addressing both the climate crisis and deforestation. “The biodiversity defended by Indigenous people will be essential to cracking the code of how to respond sustainably and fairly to the climate breakdown.”

In Korchi village, Wairagade shares an example of how Indigenous people use land in a sustainable manner: “the community here knows exactly how much to take from the forest. Their need is not driven by market and profits, but meeting the need of the family. When they harvest bamboo shoots, they take only a few to feed themselves and leave enough in the wild, so that the forest can be regenerated. So, sustainability is in our culture.”

No land rights, no empowerment of women
Sarajaulabai Ganesh Sonar, a smallholder farmer in Korchi who owns three acres of land which she was officially awarded the title deed to last year, believes that without land ownership, women’s empowerment is incomplete.

She tells IPS that previously women were too scared to demand their share of land.

“Now they see it as a fight for their own identity. [A woman] can also earn a living from her own land. In the forest also, before we had collective rights, we used to be scared of the forest guards and think ‘what if he caught us and beat us etc’. Now we don’t have to sneak in and hide. So, for us, land is our real source of empowerment.”

The World Bank Needs to Understand Poverty and What it Actually Costs a Family to Live on

Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Sharan Burrow
BRUSSELS, Aug 9 2019 – The World Bank claims poverty is decreasing around the world but UN research shows it depends on what you measure. If we are serious about reducing poverty, we need to start by properly identifying it.

The World Bank has repeatedly claimed that extreme poverty is on the decline. In its Poverty and Shared Prosperity Report, it states that ’the world has made tremendous progress in reducing extreme poverty. The percentage of people living in extreme poverty globally fell to a new low of 10 percent in 2015 — the latest number available — down from 11 percent in 2013, reflecting continued but slowing progress. The number of people living on less than $1.90 a day fell during this period by 68 million to 736 million.

 

What are we measuring?

The World Bank’s extreme poverty line of US$1.90 a day is in fact not based on real estimates of people’s cost of living within countries. This explains why it fails to capture the desperation experienced by so many.

As soon as we focus on people’s lived experience, the picture becomes more stark. At a most intuitive level, we know that poverty is determined by a person’s inability to meet their material needs. Perhaps the most basic of these needs is food. The UN’s 2018 figures on hunger show that it is on the rise globally.  It estimates that 821 million people are currently going hungry. It is striking then that the World Bank considers millions of those living in hunger as living above its poverty line.

While the World Bank estimates that 400 million people live in extreme poverty in the Asia-Pacific Region, a 2018 report from the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia-Pacific highlights that 520 million people in the region are undernourished, and 1.2 billion people lack access to basic sanitation

Regional snapshots also contradict the World Bank’s poverty findings. While the World Bank estimates that 400 million people live in extreme poverty in the Asia-Pacific Region, a 2018 report from the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia-Pacific highlights that 520 million people in the region are undernourished, and 1.2 billion people lack access to basic sanitation.

The World Bank also estimates extreme poverty in Latin America, at 4.1%, to be low, and suggests it has been declining over the last years. Meanwhile, the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean’s (ECLAC) 2018 figures indicate that both poverty (29.6%) and extreme poverty (10.2%) have been increasing since 2012.

ECLAC defines its poverty and extreme poverty lines based on the costs of food and other essential goods and services. While the World Bank claims that extreme poverty has nearly been eradicated in the region, ECLAC figures show that nearly a third of people in Latin America are unable to cover the costs of basic goods and services, and one in 10 cannot even afford the basic costs of food.

So what is the World Bank’s poverty line based on? The US$1 a day indicator was set out in the World Bank’s 1990 World Development Report. While the ‘dollar a day marker’ was easily understandable to the public, it was primarily symbolic and not based on any estimate of the income people would need to live on. The poverty line has since been updated according to inflation and changes to the consumer price index, and it currently stands at US$1.90 for the poorest countries. The Bank did develop additional poverty lines for lower-middle and upper-middle income countries, at US$3.20 and US$5.50 a day, largely to reflect higher prices in those countries.

 

If it is broken, fix it

The  arbitrary nature of the Bank’s approach to poverty measurement has critics abound and many have identified the need to move towards a basic needs approach. This would define the amount of money needed to cover food, housing, and other essential goods and services, including health and education.

It is estimated that if the Bank were to measure poverty on the basis of needs, international poverty rates would be considerably higher. The Bank has resisted such a call, arguing that the US$1.90 poverty line is valid and meaningful as it corresponds to the median of the national poverty lines of the world’s poorest countries.

What’s really happening is the World Bank validates its poverty line largely on that basis of other World Bank-developed national poverty lines, a flagrant case of partiality and circular logic. Research by Professor Sanjay Reddy showed only 9 of the 87 national poverty lines cited by the Bank have been derived independently.

The Atkinson Commission on Global Poverty, which was set up to advise the Bank on global poverty measurement, set out several recommendations to improve its poverty monitoring and measurement. It recommended that the World Bank partner with other agencies to construct a basic needs estimate of poverty. This is entirely feasible and some regional agencies are already successfully doing it. Nevertheless the Bank argued against it, putting the onus for adopting a more accurate approach on individual countries and preventing the development of internationally comparable estimates.

The Bank’s own Acting Director for Research Francisco Ferreira recently conceded, ‘there is significant room for arbitrary decision making’ in setting the World Bank’s international poverty estimates. He went on to argue that correcting against such arbitrary consequences is unfeasible as the Sustainable Development Goals’ (SDGs) poverty reduction target is based on World Bank poverty measures. For an international institution to argue that an inaccurate measure should be maintained because the international community is using it, highlights a profound lack of ambition and responsibility-taking.

The World Bank, and the greater international community, should not fear changing a measure that is not working. In fact, it is necessary in order to achieve the Bank’s stated goal of poverty reduction.

Under-reporting poverty does not make it go away. Rather, inaccurate indicators make it harder to identify the policies that truly address it, such as raising wages, reducing precarious work, extending social protection coverage and enhancing access to essential public services such as health and education.

It is high time the World Bank moves away from an arbitrary indicator towards one that captures the cost of living, based on the real needs of people.

 

Sharan Burrow is General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), which brings together 331 national trade union centres, and represents 207 million members. The ITUC is a regular interlocutor of the World Bank’s and Ms. Burrow has been on numerous high level panels with the World Bank.