Beahrs ELP Blog

The First Step of a Thousand Miles towards Environmental Governance

by Lwin Maung Maung Swe, Myanmar, ELP 2014
Written on July 20, 2014.

lwin 1In Myanmar, natural resources are degrading at a record pace as a result of extractive industries, which have been increasingly occurring in the country since the democratic transition in 2010. Even though much has been highlighted about socially responsible business for all investments, these business interests and government priorities in economic development have imposed threats to environmental sustainability. Furthermore, the existing regulatory framework and capacity are too weak to monitor and regulate all of these interests and developments. Therefore, to have a valid and realistic regulatory framework of environmental and social impact assessment has become “A Must” to steer civil society-led environmental monitoring for the environmental sustainability in Myanmar. Moreover, there is not a proper and adequate inventory of its environmental situation to this date in Myanmar. Therefore, EcoDev, a leading environmental organization, has introduced the Environmental Report Card System (ERC), to make a regular environmental assessment by empowering the citizens and enhancing the public participation at all levels of the civil society-led environmental monitoring.

Environmental Report Card
lwin 2ERC is a tool which is designed to determine and outlook the state of the country’s natural resources (Forest, Biodiversity, Land, Water, Air) based on people’s perceptions, and also to evaluate the performance of local authorities and government departments on how seriously they are undertaking the improvement of the State of Environment (SOE) in given jurisdictional areas. The idea of ERC is based on Environmental Performance Assessment Tools like DPSIR Framework (Driver, Pressure, State, Impact and Response), but by adapting it to the different localities of Myanmar (hereby adding a pillar like Public Participation) to conduct environmental monitoring across the country. Every single pillar is reinforced by the indicators, which were developed in a participatory manner in order to collect the perception index of the people on environmental status in their surroundings.

Where we are
To date, EcoDev can facilitate to have the environmental statuses assessed using the ERC in 60 out of 330 townships in Myanmar. By doing so, community-led environmental monitoring systems could be initiated in those townships. Accordingly, the ERC, the platform for any citizens to explore their experiences and to claim their rights, has given a chance to all citizens to exercise democratic practices by participating in the group discussion.

As a very first year of the ERC implementation, there have been many weaknesses. Some of the major challenges are:

  1. Methodological weakness – The ERC relies particularly on the Complex Procedures (Group Discussion, Participatory Scoring, Calculating the Average Scores and Providing the Anecdotal Explanation).
  2. Comprehensiveness vs. reliability -There are 6 pillars altogether, which are in turn comprised of different indicators. To have a proper balance between the comprehensiveness and the reliability is a challenge.
  3. Too much dependency on peoples’ perception – Currently, the ERC has a serious weakness in scientific validity. On the other hand, ERC relies too much on the perceptions of the people in the survey areas.

The Way forward
lwin 3The First Myanmar’s Environmental Outlook for 2012-2013 could be published based on the data resulted from the assessment; all the more so because there were many weaknesses in the ERC implementation. This Environmental Outlook will be updated every year by highlighting the major environmental problems and threats in the report, while the ERC is being gradually rolled out over the country to promote the democratic practices in the ground by giving all citizens a chance to participate and explore their opinions at all levels of ERC implementation. This is the first step of a thousand miles. However, we do believe that keeping on moving with the current momentum will help us achieve not only the objectives of the ERC but also ensure the resource rights of the peoples for the sustainable development of Myanmar by giving them a playing field for democratic practices.
lwin 4

An Interview with Annibeth Melo Jacob

by Akiko Segawa, Japan, ELP 2014
Written on July 14, 2014.

Hi, I’m Akiko Segawa from the University of Tokyo. I’m really enjoying classes at Berkeley with 37 professionals and seven colleagues of IARU-GSP. Today, I’d like to introduce Annibeth Melo Jacob’s work.

About the work
Anni is working for Panasonic Corporation, a Japanese multinational electronics corporation, as an environmental engineer. Panasonic has three factories in Brazil to manufacture batteries, audios, TCs, cordless phones, cameras, refrigerators, washing machines and so on. Each factory has one person who is responsible for the environmental management. She is working with them to improve the efficiency of energy consumption and to gain ISO certifications. Since 2010, she has been involved with a project to create a “take-back system” for end-of-life electronic products, because the Brazilian government requests the implementation of a take-back system in a logistic: National Policy of Solid Waste for Brazil. She and Panasonic started the project with batteries. The difficulty was in creating a way to collect the treat end-of-use batteries from all over the country, since there is only one waste treatment facility for batteries in Brazil’s extensive territory. An association to collect and treat batteries was founded together by Panasonic and three other battery manufacturers to solve this problem. Now 17 companies are affiliated with it. It started to work successfully, although there is still a problem in the treatment of batteries that are imported or manufactured by companies that don’t belong to the association.

Now she is focusing on how to apply this system for batteries to other end-of-life electronic products, and how to engage companies to invest in environmental, social and economical sustainability issues. This is a very challenging job, not only because of the variety of products (size, materials, etc.) and insufficient infrastructure, but because of the low environmental awareness of retailers and consumers.

Three pilot campaigns were done to implement the system to the whole country, and she learned how different the responses were in each case. In one city, she got seven tons of recyclable waste in a week, but in another city, she only got 500 kg, despite advertisements and TV commercials. The understanding of the importance of recycling is very different from city to city. She also found that education is important in making a satiable system. She is tackling these problems to achieve the goal: to recycle 17% of their production.

Her passion is making a difference in her country. Since her family is originally form an island in Portugal, where water and other resources were limited, it is quite natural for her to save energy and limit resource consumption. However, people in Brazil are generally unconscious of the importance of recycling because of abundant resources. I believe her work can change their minds.

For University Students
The following is three pieces of advice from Anni:

  1. Internships are good opportunities to see the difference between real industry and academia. It might be more challenging and you can get a practical experience.
  2. Management classes are also very useful because learning how to plan or organize things will help you some way in your life.
  3. In field works, listen from not only managers, but also all the people who you are involved with. Don’t judge people based on their education level. Everyone has some history or experience that you can learn from. Learn from everyone and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Currently, I am studying chemical engineering and belong to a laboratory where we are designing both industrial process systems and social systems, such as plastic recycling systems. So her experience was very interesting and motivated me. I’ll keep in mind her advice: Learn from everyone. Actually, I learned a lot from you Anni, thank you for the great story!

Full Belly Farms and “Are we there yet?” in Sustainable Agriculture

by Victoria Pilbeam, Australia, ELP 2014
Written on July 26, 2014.

About 2 hours north of San Francisco lies Full Belly Farms, a certified organic farm that aims to promote a sustainable model of food production. Full Belly Farms appears to be well-known among urban farmers in the bay area and when we met with some later in the course, they were well aware of the work being done there. So one might wonder: is Full Belly the holy grail of agricultural sustainability that the world has been looking for? The answer is probably mixed when you take into account social, economic and environmental concerns (the so-called three pillars of sustainability).

ELP participants explore the Full Belly Farms property in the Capay Valley.

ELP participants explore the Full Belly Farms property in the Capay Valley.

Economic Sustainability: Can they pay the bills?
Through a direct loan from the previous owner of the property, the land that Full Belly stands on today was bought without a mortgage. Furthermore, through the Full Belly membership program, whereby members pay in advance for a full year of produce boxes, Full Belly has ready access to capital without having to borrow from a bank. These financial aspects free Full Belly Farms from the credit issues that many other farmers face. This, combined with the diversity of foods grown on the farm and the focus on farm only inputs, provides Full Belly with a lot of financial resilience to market shocks. This helps Full Belly fund its social and environmental commitments.

Social Sustainability: What do they do for the community?
Full Belly pays its workers a living wage and plants a series of different crops in order to provide year-round work to its staff. This means that Full Belly has excellent staff retention and many of its workers have been there since its inception in 1983. In this way, Full Belly not only adds to the professional capacity of the farm, but also directly contributes to the social sustainability of the surrounding community. In terms of widening this impact, Full Belly also runs summer camps and school trips to provide nutritional and agricultural education. The name “Full Belly,” according to owner Judith Redmond, represents a hope that one day all people will go to bed with a full belly. However, the premium price that Full Belly produce commands may make its food inaccessible to the people who are in the greatest need of higher nutrition. Often it is cheaper to not buy organic and although conventional agriculture costs society much more, this is not reflected in its comparative price.

Environmental Sustainability: The million-dollar question
Because Full Belly is an organic farm, it excludes petrochemical fertilizers and harsh chemical pesticides and herbicides from its production models. Therefore, it relies primarily on agro-ecology techniques to maximize beneficial species, promote agricultural diversity and improve the fertility of the soil. By doing things like planting flowers that attract pollinators between the field or providing bat-boxes for insect eating bats, Full Belly helps to both restore the natural processes of the area and minimize the use of dangerous chemicals. However, one major point for improvement is Full Belly’s use of water. Given that California is in a drought and Full Belly’s wide scale use of drip irrigation, ELP participants were surprised to see sprinklers operating in the middle of the day in full sun. However, on a deeper level, the biggest issue that we identified at Full Belly and indeed every other farm we visited is that they rely primarily on aquifers. These aquifers are unmonitored and unregulated by any higher authority than individual farmers and in past, when the water table has dropped, they have simply lowered the depth of the wells. Overreliance on aquifers and a changing climate are a recipe for water scarcity and Full Belly will have to confront this in the near future.

Agricultural Sustainability: Are we there yet?
Our experience at Full Belly provided us with an entry point into some of the complexities associated with farming in California, into the function of the modern farming system and into sustainability more broadly. So can the thousands of academics and agriculturists working towards a sustainable method of food production lay down tools and focus on recreating the Full Belly model? In this context, it may be useful to re-conceptualize sustainability as a process rather than a destination. Full Belly is not fully sustainable but it is engaged in many sustainable practices, certainly more so than most conventional agriculture. Much of this unsustainability is associated with the wider societal structures that it occupies such as the lack of aquifer regulation in California or the negative externalities, which artificially lowers the price of nonorganic produce. However, farms like Full Belly could play a central role in solving these institutional issues.

A truck picks up a shipment of organic food from the farm.

A truck picks up a shipment of organic food from the farm.

The landowner concept will affect poor people, farmers and women

by Ines Noronha Martins, Timor-Leste, ELP 2014
Written on July 19, 2014.

Land issue in Timor-Leste is a very sensitive and complicated case because the previous systems introduced by the Portuguese and Indonesian governments were done in unfair processes. They took huge land from populations through the tax systems, applied land titles, forced labor and moved people from towns to live in villages. These systems are now affecting people’s right (farmers, women and poor people) to access and use land.

To resolve the problem the Timor-Leste Government, specially the Ministry of Justice, in 2008-2012 produced three Land Laws: Land Law, Expropriation Law and Real Estate Finance Fund. The ministry was assisted by USAID via the Ita Nia Rai Program that drafted the 3 Land Laws and registered a total of 50,000 land parcels in 13 districts (in districts capitals only). The draft Land Law was brought to public consultation in 2009-2010. The Council of Ministers approved the proposed Land Law and sent it to the Parliaments in 2010. Members of the Parliaments approved and sent the law to the Timor-Leste president in February 2012. The president vetoed the proposed Land Law in March 2012, because these 3 land laws were not considered to reflect people’s needs, particularly poor people. He also considered the law would give more power to the State and those who have money and power to have more land.

In 2013, the Minister of Justice reviewed these three draft land laws and submitted them back to the Parliament. The 3 new reviewed land laws are currently waiting for discussion and approval from the Parliament this year. This land law will create new conflicts in the future because the main objective of this law is just to define “who can own a land”.

When we talk about the concept “landowner,” the objective is merely to define the property owner to respond to the monetary/market demand. The example can be seen in Sub-Sahara Africa, Southeast Asia and now Timor-Leste where the concept of “landowner” is oriented by the government and financial institution in order to facilitate them to exercise their interest on development and exploiting the land. If we based the Land Law on this concept, farmers and poor people will be the ones who suffer the most because they will lose their land, the foundation for their sustainable life.

The government and financial institution do not consider the fundamental meanings of land. They considered land just as an economic commodity. The Timor-Leste people, farmers, women and poor people are depending on the land because land is their ancestral place. Land is a family’s guarantee to survive as well as part of their cultural and social system. The Timor-Leste communities share the benefit and protect the environment based on their own traditional system commonly known as Tara Bandu.

In Sub-Saharan Africa the financial institutions recognized that apply the land title to the community was not working as they have expected and created more problems because people started to sell their land, which reduces the productivity in the agriculture sector and does not guarantee the safety for families. What is more important is to have a land policy to redistribute land, improving access and use the land as the foundation of their livelihood.

Tobacco Deforestation in Zimbabwe

by Abbyssinia Mushunje, South Africa, ELP 2014

Zimbabwe is the leading producer of tobacco, mainly Virginia, in Africa and fourth in the world. For curing the flue-cured tobacco, farmers use either coal or firewood, mainly from the Miombo Forests. Geist (1999), in an article published in the Tobacco Control Journal, classified Zimbabwe as one of the countries that had a serious impact on the usage of wood in tobacco production upon forest resources in the developing world. In Zimbabwe the main culprits of this deforestation are the resource-poor smallholder farmers, whose livelihoods mainly depend on the natural resources in their surrounding environments.

Geist’s (1999) article was published when the country, according to FAO (2006), had less than 5,000 flue-cured communal and resettled farmers. The number of growers has since risen to close to 91,000 in 2013 and to over 127,000 in 2014. Over 80% of these are communal and resettled farmers. Anyone who travelled the width and breath of Zimbabwe this 2014 agricultural season witnessed the phenomenal adoption of the golden leaf crop by smallholder farmers. It is an open secret that these farmers depend heavily on the Miombo Woodlands for energy to flue-cure the tobacco. This has raised uproar with environmentalists who want something to be done to curb the unprecedented destruction of the indigenous forests in Zimbabwe.

On July 12th, 2014, carried an article titled “Tobacco Farmers Reject Deforestation Charge.” The Zimbabwe Farmers’ Union that represents smallholder and resettled farmers in Zimbabwe are denying that they are causing deforestation in their surrounding areas. They claim to have started the Southern Africa Deforestation Initiative where each farmer is made to grow fast growing trees, like the eucalyptus, at the maximum rate of 100 trees per hectare every year. The farmers’ union goes on to accuse the environmentalists of destroying the forests in the past.

To me this is a very sad scenario where organizations exchange accusations while the forests are being depleted. Across the country there is no evidence of any significant reforestation but massive deforestation. We all know the impact of losing our precious trees and forests. It is high time that all stakeholders such as the government, Environmental Management Agency, Zimbabwe Farmers’ Union, political and traditional leaders, etc. come together and accept the environmental catastrophe that the country is facing. Together a lasting solution can be found before it is too late.

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