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GLOBAL INDIGENOUS: Rangelands critical in climate change fight

Deusdedit Ruhangariyo
Special to ICT

Around the world: Report finds rangelands are vital to fighting climate change, Indigenous fishing Initiative seeks to empower Indigenous businesses, Yukon Indigenous group demands halt to mining, Uyghur group wins appeal to investigate alleged forced labor, and Māori and Pasifika people undergo diabetes amputations a decade earlier.

UN REPORT: Report: Rangeland preservation critical

When it pertains to conservation, forests and oceans often dominate conservation, but rangelands, covering 54 percent of Earth’s surface, are equally crucial. Including deserts, grasslands, shrublands and savannas, they host a third of global biodiversity hotspots. Over 40 percent of Africa’s iconic landscapes are rangelands, Mongabay reported on July 5.

Just like its forests and oceans, the world’s rangelands face threats. Climate change, industrial food production, mineral extraction, and unsustainable livestock practices contribute to rangeland degradation. A U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification report indicates up to a third of global rangelands are at risk, leading to desertification, soil fertility loss, and biodiversity loss, or conversion into plantations, including those for carbon credits from non-native trees.

The consequences of rangeland degradation are significant. Wildlife is displaced, water becomes scarcer, and sandstorms increase. Rangeland loss exacerbates climate change, with nearly one-third of the global carbon pool in grasses, soil and vegetation. Despite this, rangelands rarely feature prominently at international climate change and biodiversity conferences.

Rangelands are crucial for food production, accounting for 16 percent of global food output and providing 70 percent of feed for domesticated herbivores like cows, goats and camels. Approximately 2 billion people rely on these landscapes, including 200 million pastoralist households producing about one-tenth of the world’s meat. The U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification emphasizes the importance of pastoralists in protecting rangelands. “If we don’t manage to understand how pastoralists think and manage the land … we are going to end up degrading the whole Earth’s rangeland system,” said Pedro Herrera, the report’s lead author.

Pastoralism, an ancient way of life, involves moving herds across distances in search of water and grazing spots. However, industrialization and modernization policies have often undermined pastoralism, pushing for sedentary livestock rearing. Conservationists have also viewed pastoralist herds as competition for wildlife in grazing areas, with 12 percent of global rangelands classified as protected areas, sometimes established through the eviction of pastoralist communities.

Recent years have seen forced removals of Maasai pastoralists in Tanzania for tourism-focused national park expansions. Herrera argues that such policies are human rights abuses and poor ecosystem management. “If we evict pastoralists … we are totally mismanaging [them],” he said, according to Mongabay. Proper management, including sustainable grazing practices, is needed to increase soil organic matter, remove dry vegetation, and accelerate nutrient cycles. The U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification report suggests integrating pastoralism into rangeland management planning.

Promoting sustainable grazing practices can regenerate and protect rangelands while acting as a climate solution. Rotational grazing and respecting resting periods can increase soil carbon. The report also highlights threats to pastoralists across Africa, including conservation-related restrictions, herder-farmer clashes, climate-induced droughts, and involvement in regional conflicts.

Ian Scoones, principal investigator of the PASTRES project, states that pastoralists’ involvement in regional conflicts stems from long-term neglect by states. Herrera suggests the world should learn from pastoralists. “Pastoralists … know how to deal with very uncertain conditions … and keep producing in a sustainable way. That’s a very important lesson for the future,” he said.

CANADA: Indigenous group demands mining halt

The Na-Cho Nyäk Dun First Nation demands an “immediate halt” to all mining in Yukon and calls for an “urgent Independent Investigation and Review” of the Eagle mine site’s recent and potentially catastrophic failure, APTN News reported on July 03.

“We have been sounding the alarm for decades on the need for sustainable development and responsible mining,” said Chief Dawna Hope in a statement released on July 3, according to APTN News. “The integrity of our lands, people and ecosystems are our top priority.

“There must be an independent investigation and review immediately to understand environmental impacts from this disaster.”

On June 24, Victoria Gold Corp., operating the Eagle Gold Mine north of Whitehorse in Na-Cho Nyäk Dun territory, stopped operations after a system failure involving chemicals used to extract gold.

Victoria Gold reported that its heap leach pad near Mayo failed, damaging infrastructure and causing a portion of the failure to breach containment. Heap leaching involves chemicals percolating through crushed ore to extract gold. The company’s technical report mentions using a cyanide solution at the Eagle Gold Mine.

Yukon government officials held a technical briefing for the media on June 28 but provided limited information about the incident or its potential dangers. Water test results, available on July 2, have not yet been released.

“The severity of contamination from cyanide and other chemicals has not been publicly conveyed. This event impacts all life in the region, including salmon stock recovery. Cyanide contamination affects spawning rivers, their tributaries, and all regional life,” Hope stated, according to APTN News

This incident isn’t the first for the mine. In January 2024, a similar landslide occurred. In 2023, the company was fined $95,000 for six license violations after a 2021 spill released nearly 20,000 liters of cyanide.

“We will pursue every available avenue, including legal options, to protect our rights and address this environmental catastrophe. Ensuring the lands and waters of our Territory are safe for fish, wildlife, and people is crucial,” Hope added, according to APTN News.

The Yukon government’s email statement did not address the moratorium request but emphasized its commitment to working with Na-Cho Nyäk Dun. “Our top priority is safeguarding the health and wellbeing of people and the environment,” the statement said, according to APTN News.

AUSTRALIA: Fund seeks to empower Indigenous fishers

Qantas Super, a $9 billion corporate super fund, and Australian asset manager Longreach Maris have partnered to assist First Nations mud crab fishers in North Queensland by establishing the Longreach Maris’ First Nations Fishing Initiative, National Indigenous Times reported on July 01.

Fishing for mud crab has been integral for many Indigenous communities in Queensland, but high up-front costs and limited access to fishing quotas have long excluded them from commercial fishing. Qantas Super and Longreach Maris have invested in ITQs, creating partnerships with local First Nations mud crab fishers to overcome these barriers.

Spencer Brown, a First Nations mud fisher who co-owns On-Country Seafood with members of the Giangurra Aboriginal Community, has fished all his life. Only recently, through his partnership with Longreach Maris, has he entered the commercial mud crab industry, securing the necessary quota.

Qantas Super and Longreach Maris supported an Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation grant application to purchase a new commercial fishing vessel for On-Country Seafood, delivered in May 2023.

Mr. Brown acknowledged the initiative’s critical role in establishing his business. “I learned to fish from Elders, catching prawns and crabs to eat and exchange for necessities. Transitioning to mud crab fishing was natural, but the upfront costs are huge,” he said.

Longreach Maris contacted Brown, assisting him in applying for fishing permits and the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation grant. “Without the partnership, we wouldn’t have progressed due to the high upfront costs,” he stated, according to National Indigenous Times. Brown aims to employ other Indigenous people, enabling them to access the industry. “I want to break the cycle of unemployment in my community. Many people fish daily as part of their life but not commercially. Employing them in what they already do can lead to long-term self-determination,” he added.

Andrew Spence, Qantas Super’s chief investment officer, said their investment in ITQs, managed by Longreach Maris, provides First Nations fishers with long-term and secure access to valuable fishing quotas. “We aim to deliver strong financial returns to our members while aligning with our values of positive impact and sustainability. We are proud to be a founding member of the First Nations Fishing Initiative,” Spence said, according to National Indigenous Times.

Dr. Andrew Rado, Longreach Maris’ chief investment officer, noted that despite a long cultural history of fishing, First Nations peoples have been largely excluded from the wild-caught seafood industry due to limited quota access. “The First Nations Fishing Initiative allows First Nations fishers to participate meaningfully in Australia’s sustainable wild-caught seafood industry,” Rado said, according to National Indigenous Times.

The First Nations Fishing Initiative also supports First Nations abalone divers in Tasmania. Longreach Maris recently released its Innovate Reconciliation Action Plan to include more First Nations fishers in the wild-caught seafood industry, contributing to key UN Sustainable Development Goals, Closing the Gap targets, and National Fisheries Plan priorities.

UNITED KINGDOM: Uyghur group wins appeal

An appeals court in the UK reversed a prior ruling, instructing the National Crime Agency to reconsider investigating whether cotton imports from Xinjiang allegedly use Uyghur forced labor, Radio Free Asia reported on July 02.

The Global Legal Action Network and the World Uyghur Congress won their case in the UK Court of Appeal on June 27.

The groups pursued legal action following a High Court ruling in January 2023, which had supported British authorities’ decision not to investigate whether the imports used forced labor, thus deeming them illegal.

The outcome of the National Crime Agency’s investigation remains uncertain. However, Global Legal Action Network and World Uyghur Congress hope it will prompt the agency to prevent goods produced with forced labor from entering UK markets.

This ruling exemplifies countries’ increasing efforts to restrict trade with China due to concerns over Uyghur forced labor and broader human rights abuses in the region.

It also serves as a significant warning to companies with forced labor in their supply chains. They face the risk of prosecution for money laundering or having their products confiscated, according to the two groups.

The High Court’s initial ruling led to “an untenable situation,” allowing importers to knowingly acquire forced labor goods without prosecution if they paid market price. This was highlighted in a statement by World Uyghur Congress and Global Legal Action Network, a nonprofit focused on legal actions involving human rights violations.

Global Legal Action Network lawyer Leanna Burnard told Radio Free Asia, “It makes it very clear that these companies must clean up their supply chains or risk prosecution or having their goods confiscated as the proceeds of crime.”

Global Legal Action Network and World Uyghur Congress noted that most Chinese cotton sold by UK retailers is linked to forced labor.

According to Radio Free Asia, “This is the very first successful step towards accountability for Uyghurs,” World Uyghur Congress president Dolkun Isa said in a statement.

“We hope that moving forward, UK-based companies will take adequate caution not to trade or import Uyghur forced labor goods, and that the government will also conduct investigations diligently,” he added, according to Radio Free Asia.

NEW ZEALAND: High amputation rates

A new study in the NZ Medical Journal reveals Māori and Pasifika undergo diabetes-related amputations a decade earlier than other northern region groups, Te Ao Maori News reported on July 5.

An audit covering Northland, Auckland, Waitematā and Counties Manukau DHB areas from 2013 to 2016 revealed that diabetes-related lower extremity amputations were significantly more common among Māori and Pacific peoples, and those in higher deprivation areas.

The study noted that men were three times more likely than women to undergo diabetes-related lower extremity amputations. Conducted by Te Whatu Ora podiatrist Michele Garrett and public health physician Sarah Gray, the research titled “Audit of Diabetes-Related Lower Extremity Amputations in the Northern Region of New Zealand 2013–2016” was published in the July issue of the NZ Medical Journal, according to Te Ao Maori News. It focused on individuals aged 35 and older with diabetes in the region.

One key finding was that Pacific people and Māori had diabetes-related lower extremity amputations at a mean age of 59.9 and 60 years, respectively, compared to 69.7 years for the rest of the population. From July 2013 to June 2016, 155 Māori were admitted for diabetes-related lower limb amputations, accounting for 24.4 percent of the region’s 635 total diabetes-related lower extremity amputations-related admissions. For Pasifika, the number was 151, or 23.8 percent, of admissions.

The study found higher amputation rates in the most deprived areas (quintile 5) using the New Zealand Index of Deprivation 2013. People in these areas had nearly the same number of amputations (311) as those in the other four quintiles combined (319).

Overall, 460 males (72.4 percent) and 175 females (27.6 percent) were admitted for diabetes-related lower extremity amputations in the region. During the three-year period, 863 amputations were performed on 488 people, with 75 percent classified as “minor.” Twenty-two percent of individuals had multiple admissions.

The study concluded, “Males, Māori, and Pacific people faced elevated admission rates for diabetes-related lower extremity amputations.” It also observed high diabetes-related lower extremity amputations rates in areas of greater deprivation, with Māori and Pacific populations undergoing amputations about a decade earlier than other groups.

While pinpointing a primary cause for diabetes-related lower extremity amputations was challenging, the study identified common precursors such as foot ulcers, skin infections, ischaemia (inadequate blood supply), and osteomyelitis (bone tissue inflammation). It emphasized the importance of timely intervention to provide specialist podiatry care at the onset of foot complications to prevent diabetes foot ulcers from leading to diabetes-related lower extremity amputations.

“Findings indicate that people with diabetes-related foot complications may not be receiving timely specialist podiatry services, with only 35% of admissions being seen before their first (diabetes-related lower extremity amputations),” the study noted, according to Te Ao Maori News. “With timely access to diabetes foot protection services and rapid referral of (diabetes foot ulcers) to specialist foot services, many (diabetes foot ulcers) and their potential sequelae can be avoided.”

My final thoughts

My final thoughts are about the recent U.N. report that underscores the critical role of rangelands in global conservation efforts. Rangelands, which make up 54 percent of the planet’s terrestrial surface, are home to diverse ecosystems such as deserts, grasslands, semi-arid shrublands, and savannas.

These areas, often overlooked in conservation discussions, harbor a third of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. Notably, more than 40 percent of the African continent is rangeland, including iconic landscapes like the Serengeti and South Africa’s Highveld.

The ancestral and Indigenous communities who have lived on these lands for millennia are often unfairly labeled as enemies of conservation. Contrary to this misconception, these communities have developed sustainable ways to live in harmony with their environments, effectively protecting and preserving these lands.

The report highlights that the rangelands still occupied by these indigenous peoples are in better ecological health compared to those from which they have been evicted.

The forced eviction of these communities from their ancestral lands not only violates their rights but also undermines conservation efforts. The degradation observed in these evicted lands starkly contrasts with the flourishing ecosystems maintained by indigenous stewardship. This highlights the necessity of respecting and integrating indigenous knowledge and practices into conservation strategies.

Considering these findings, it is imperative for all stakeholders to heed the recommendations of the UN report. This involves recognizing the vital role of indigenous communities in conservation, halting their forced evictions, and actively involving them in the management and protection of rangelands.

Implementing the UN report’s guidelines will not only promote justice and equity but also enhance the effectiveness of global conservation efforts, ensuring that these critical ecosystems continue to thrive for generations to come.

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