Thursday, 12 July 2018

Environmental Justice and Participation for Communities in Southern India

By Cassandra Szabo, 2nd year MDP student

I, another MDP student (Ari Phanlouvong) and undergraduate student (Sean Goldstone) from the University of Winnipeg were selected to participate in a research project led by Dr. Alan Diduck and Dr. Kirit Patel of the University of Winnipeg. This research project is a SSHRC funded project and is seeking to understand the impact of a judicial bench called the National Green Tribunal in India, hoping to understand the effect these decisions are having on all levels of individuals in the country. 

Cassandra at the office in Honnavar, Karntaka
In preparation for our time in India we chose specific cases that were in line with our own academic interests. I chose a case that was related to fishing and sand mining in a community called Baikady Village. Upon reviewing the literature, the case appeared to be quite simple – the community came to the National Green Tribunal, the court ruled in favour of the community and ruled that sandbar removal permits only be issued in very specific cases and only to local community members. Of course, once arriving on site the reality was much more nuanced.

Upon speaking with the village they informed me that while the National Green Tribunal ruled in their favour it took many years to get to that point, and to stop the sand mining. The mining impacted the village very negatively, some villagers lost their lives, some lost their livelihoods, and some their land. 

Map of Baikady Village. Heavy sand removal areas are outlined in red. Source: Google Earth

The sand mining caused erosion of the river bank which meant that there could be no collection of clams, and it also meant that the water was much deeper so when community members went to collect clams they were at risk of drowning. In addition to this the fish were no longer coming for their typical breeding cycle, which then meant that other birds or animals dependent on that food source were not coming to the river – the entire food cycle was disrupted. The coconut trees that were farmed on the banks of the river were falling into the river due to erosion. While the clam collection and coconut farming were noticeable impacts, perhaps the largest issue was that local fishers were now losing their ability to fish. The fish were no longer in the river, the river was much deeper than before, and the fishing nets were being damaged. So the community lost multiple streams of revenue, their community felt unsafe, and they were losing their land due to erosion.  

A traditional fishing boat on the banks of the Suvarna River

These negative effects are what spurred the community to action, they first went to their local government and then the district government, all to no avail. The community got in touch with activists and then created their case with the National Green Tribunal. The verdict was that all sand mining be barred and that sandbar removal be monitored strictly. The community was happy with this as the sand miners and migrant workers largely left the community. However little environmental remediation has occurred since the verdict, but the community can see the river health slowly improving. The villagers showed immense courage and perseverance in protecting their land and livelihoods, and this case also shows the importance and power in non-partisan judicial systems.

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Environmental Justice in India – International Field Placement

By Ari Phanlouvong, 2nd year MDP student

India has been amazing so far. I have been extremely fortunate to have been in good health and have adapted so easily and quickly. Since arriving Friday, May 18, Cassandra and I hit the ground running, immediately immersing ourselves in the chaos of Mumbai which was a whirlwind, to say the least. For someone who has never travelled to India, Ahmedabad may have been a better place to begin our journey as it is much quieter than Mumbai, however, we decided to spend our first weekend visiting the big city before flying north to the state of Gujarat which would mark the official beginning of our field placement.  

The end of a productive day at GNLU
The research on which we are working consists of examining both the social and environmental impacts of court decisions regarding specific development projects located in the states of Goa and Karnataka. Through this analysis we hope to increase positive impacts to local communities.

My specific case is located in Goa. During our time in Ahmedabad at the Gujurat National Law University (GNLU), each member of the team did in-depth research on our respective projects by analyzing court documents as well as using the University’s available resources and contacts to guide us through our next steps in the research.

We then headed south to Honnavar in the state of Karnataka where we met our community liaison who has been helping us connect with the communities in each of our cases. Our contact in Honnavar has played a crucial role by allowing us to approach communities in such a short amount of time. As we all know, building relationships and a rapport with community members is a crucial process in research and normally takes longer than a few short weeks. 

Our Honnavar office

After spending a few weeks in Honnavar building our interview tools and skills, as well as courage to undertake the next steps of field work independently, the team separated. We are now in our respective project areas. I took a 6-hour bus journey to the city of Panjim (Panaji) in Goa, where I have organized meetings between nearby cities and towns. My next stop is Vasco da Gama where I will base myself for the remainder of my time on the field.

The beautiful beach behind our Honnavar office

Thursday, 21 June 2018

WUSC & Lanka Impact Investing Network: Promoting Social Entrepreneurship in Sri Lanka

By Silvina Antunes, 1st year MDP student

WUSC summer students at orientation (Silvina on far right)
This summer, I am completing my international field placement in Colombo, Sri Lanka at Lanka Impact Investing Network (LIIN), an organization that is partnered with World University Service of Canada (WUSC), and shares the goal of promoting economic development in Sri Lanka.

LIIN works to connect social entrepreneurs and small social enterprises with investors who can help them financially to scale-up but also in mentorship and logistical matters. LIIN places focus on youth and women entrepreneurs as they are currently underrepresented in the workforce here in Sri Lanka. 

My primary role this summer is to help organize and arrange a conference that is being held at the end of July to help educate and garner the support of more investors so that more social enterprises will have access to funds to grow their businesses. This includes creating conference materials, connecting with potential investors or interested parties, reporting on current initiatives of LIIN and doing research into what impact investing looks like elsewhere in the world and how this can be relevant to Sri Lanka.
We are feeling hopeful that this conference will lead to expansion of the current network of impact investors as well as the development of a social impact fund that social entrepreneurs can tap into. I have also had the opportunity to participate in various meetings with UNDP and other organizations that LIIN is working in partnership with. 
LIIN's Impact Investing Conference Promotional Poster
So far, this placement has been an exceptional learning experience for me. Most of my experience is related to development and non-profit work so working with private sector actors is quite a jump. It is interesting to observe the different mindsets and methods of doing things in bringing private sector investors into the development field.

It has been very uplifting and inspiring to see so many prominent Sri Lankan business leaders interested in how they can get involved in improving the livelihoods of others. I have also been able to hone in on my writing and communication skills through various tasks which has certainly been positive. My coworkers have been so lovely and have helped me so much in adapting the different culture and work context.
I feel so grateful to be here and I can’t wait for what the next couple months have in store!

Monday, 18 June 2018

Remediating Environmental Damage through Traditional Knowledge Use and Indigenous Peoples’ Leadership

By Amanda Appasamy, 2nd year MDP student

My host family: Edilma Queta, Lionel Yiyoguaje, Anjeli, & Baker (2 months old)
What drew my attention to the Fundacíon de Sobrevivencia Cofán, is the victory of the Cofán People, one of the oldest surviving Indigenous groups in the north eastern Ecuadorian Amazon, in securing the legal rights to actively manage and protect over one million acres of their ancestral territory.

Co-management and cooperation agreements with the Ecuadorian Ministry of Environment have been achieved along with the transfer of federally-protected lands which have now been placed under the official custody of the Cofán; hence, honouring the role of land-based stewardship and conservation by Indigenous Peoples. The protection of these ancestral lands are crucial to maintaining the rich traditional knowledge, culture and traditions of the Cofán which concurrently have critical implications for climate change adaptation. 

Amongst other achievements of the Cofán people are:

• In 1978, they were the first Indigenous People in the world to develop community-based ecotourism projects.

• Between 1991-1994, the Cofán of Zábalo are the first Indigenous People to be victorious over oil company invasion in their territory in Ecuador.

• In 1992, the Cofán are the first Indigenous Nation in Ecuador to negotiate treaties for the recovery of ancestral lands within national protected areas.

• In 1993, the Cofán developed the first community-based conservation management plans without outside intervention.

• The Cofán Bermejo Ecological Reserve is the first national protected area that was lobbied for and administered by an Indigenous People in Ecuador.

• First time, Indigenous park guards and conservation workers have acquired equal recognition as government park guards with same legal powers and jurisdiction across all Cofán territories.

I am grateful for the opportunity to have travelled to the Cofán territory in Zábalo, Amazon to meet the outstanding people and help promote the long-term sustainability of a community-led conservation program of the vulnerable Amazon river turtle (Podocnemis unifilis), a sacred species for the Cofán.

The Amazon river turtle also known as Charapa
The turtle repopulation program began in 1991 by the Cofán in response to overexploitation and illegal commercialization of turtle eggs. Over 25 years later, they have successfully generated a natural over-production of the turtle population without destroying the environment or the species.

However, relying on outside funding for the continuation of this conservation program is not viable. In order to achieve long term sustainability, the Cofán have decided to embark on an eco-tourism project that involves raising donations for the release of baby turtles in Amazon basin rivers. Visitors will have the opportunity to partake in responsible conservation of a vulnerable species led by local guides allowing the Cofán to be economically self-sustainable.

This form of bio-trade establishes possibilities for the responsible use of natural resources. It provides a different perspective on the management of biological diversity, shifting the paradigm of maintaining a protected intact area without it generating its own resources to economically benefitting Indigenous nations.

For more information on these efforts, please visit the Cofán Survival Fund web page here.

The whole community participates as egg guardians including women & children in the process of collecting the eggs from the beach, transferring them to artificial pools & caring for the babies until they are about 6 months old & healthy for release into the wild.

Monday, 9 October 2017

The Endasak tree-planting and bee-keeping group: a group like none other!

By Aliraza Alidina, 2nd year MDP student
MVIWATA – Mtandaowa Vikundibya Wakulima Tanzania – is a national network of small scale farmer’s groups. In my three months internship in Babati, I worked as a Monitoring and Learning officer for the MVIWATA branch of the Manyara region. MVIWATA Manyara works in five districts of the Manyara region: Babati, Hanang, Kiteto, Mbulu and Simanjiro.

Being part of activities with multiple groups, I realized that project success really depends on the group dynamics. Many – if not most – groups we worked with were facing different challenges which affected the progress and success of the projects. For that reason, MVIWATA works hard to constantly follow-up activities and assist in any way possible. But at the end of the day, committed groups with a strong team are the only ones to really achieve successful results. One such group is the Endasak group in Hanang district. The Endasak group has 30 members. Amongst them, five are crucial members and sort of lead much of the project due to their strong dedication.

Planning session with Endasak group
One of the focus areas of MVIWATA Manyara is ‘environment conservation and water’. MVIWATA has tree planting, bee-keeping, biogas and climate-change sensitization projects. I was able to take part in some of these projects, particularly tree-planting and bee-keeping. The way it works is that MVIWATA works with different small-scale farmers groups to implement the projects. MVIWATA supports the groups through the funding that comes from Trias, a Belgian NGO.

Cleaning of the hives
I witnessed a tree-planting and bee-keeping project with this group which consisted of the following: initial a planning session, the moving of bee-hives, cleaning of bee-hives and the opening “ceremony”. The ceremony was a short meeting where we were invited to mark a new beginning for the group. There were prayers in Islamic and Christian style followed by sharing of biscuits and soda. The experience was quite humbling.

From my short experience, I can firmly say that the Endasak group is exemplar for other groups to emulate. An essential ingredient of this successful team is the presence of a solid core sub-group who are at the fore-front of much of the activities. I hope their projects achieve the intended results and other groups take inspiration from them!
Celebrating a new beginning