Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Exploring bio-cultural community protocols in Sri Lanka

A workshop hosted by Community Knowledge Service (CKS) Sri Lanka and the COMPAS Network begins today in Avissawella, Sri Lanka. The three-day workshop brings together CKS and COMPAS partners from Sri Lanka, India, the Philippines, and Nepal, and provides an opportunity for over 30 community and NGO representatives to explore the concept of bio-cultural community protocols in their local contexts. The workshop will provide an overview of how communities in India and African countries are using bio-cultural community protocols to affirm their customary uses of natural resources, and will facilitate discussion about their application to the participants' local challenges and national legal and policy frameworks. Natural Justice thanks Sujeewa Jasinghe, CKS Sri Lanka Coordinator, for his excellent logistical assistance.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Contextualizing the Sri Lankan Environment

From July 24-26, Harry Jonas and Holly Shrumm (Natural Justice) met with a number of Sri Lankan environmental experts and lawyers. They met with Hemantha Withanage (Centre for Environmental Justice), Uchita de Zoysa (Centre for Environment and Development and Climate Sustainability Platform), Meloney Palihakkara and Mr A. Sarveswaran (Centre for the Study of Human Rights, University of Colombo), Mihiri Gunewardene (Public Interest Law Foundation), and Shireen Samarasuria (UNDP-SGP). These meetings took place in preparation for a workshop on bio-cultural community protocols that will be co-hosted by colleagues from CKS-Asia, CKS-Sri Lanka, and COMPAS-Sri Lanka. Natural Justice looks forward to closer collaboration in the future, and in particular thanks the de Zoysa and Withanage families for their excellent food and kind hospitality.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Raika call for recognition of pastoralists' rights in India

On July 22nd in central Rajasthan, India, 1800 Raika herders delivered an appeal to the Forest Department to restore their traditional grazing rights in the surrounding forests. The Raika have been grazing their local breeds of sheep and camel in the forests for hundreds of years and have contributed to the conservation and sustainable use of the forest biodiversity. However, the Forest Department has imposed daily fines on the Raika's sheep and has restricted their access to the forest in contravention of the their rights under the national Forest Rights Act and under international law (particularly Articles 8(j) and 10(c) of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity). Last year, with the support of Natural Justice and local NGO Lokhit Pashu-Palak Sansthan, the Raika developed a bio-cultural community protocol and have since shared their concerns and priorities at UN working group meetings and with other pastoralist communities in India and around the world. They will also present at the upcoming CBD Conference of Parties in Nagoya and will host a preparatory meeting in India from August 13-15, which Kabir Bavikatte (Natural Justice) plans to attend. More information about the Raika can be found in a briefing about the July 22nd appeal, a July 26th article in The Hindu Online, and on Natural Justice's website.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

A glimmer of hope for the protection of sacred sites

On July 7th, Judge Mann of the High Court of South Africa ordered the cessation of tourism development on the sacred Phiphidi waterfall in the Limpopo province. Evidence such as community maps led to the judge agreeing with the traditional custodians that the whole site is sacred, "In the same way a church building is regarded by some as a holy place, even though the rituals are done only at the altar". The judge also agreed that the Ramunangi clan were the custodians of this site acting in public interest and according to cultural and spiritual rights and the right to environmental protection under South African law.

However, the development still continues in breach of the court order. Natural Justice has submitted a letter of support to the legal team and custodians, who are now formally applying to the High Court of South Africa to permanently stop the development. If the court case is successful, it will set an important precedent in asserting cultural and custodianship rights and responsibilities in Venda, elsewhere in South Africa, and throughout Africa. More information can be found here and here.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

German exposure

On July 18th, the weekly Sunday news show on Germany’s principal public broadcaster explored two recent accusations of biopiracy in South Africa in a story entitled “Kampf gegen Biopiraterie”. The first involves German company Schwabe's illegitimate use of traditional knowledge of the medicinal properties of pelargonium. Johanna von Braun (Natural Justice) features in the second case of alleged bioprospecting on Honeybush and Rooibos by Swiss food giant Nestle. The news clip (in German) can be found here. Read more about Natural Justice's involvement in the Nestle case here.


The resumed 9th meeting of the Working Group on Access and Benefit Sharing ended on July 16th, 2010, in Montreal. The Working Group was unable to complete the mandate given to it by the Conference of Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to complete negotiation of a Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS). The Working Group therefore decided to not conclude the 9th meeting but to resume it in September in Bangkok, Thailand, to complete its work. Parties negotiating the Protocol hailed the Montreal meeting as a breakthrough after years of deadlocks and were extremely hopeful that the next round of negotiations will be the final round.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Pirates in Montreal?

At the resumed 9th meeting of the Working Group on Access and Benefit Sharing (WGABS) in Montreal, Natural Justice and the Berne Declaration hosted a side event on the Nestle-Rooibos and Honeybush biopiracy case in South Africa. This case exemplifies the key problems potentially arising within ABS, including commodities being used as genetic resources for bioprospecting by companies contrary to the laws of the country of origin. The side event, hosted by Kabir Bavikatte (Natural Justice) and Francois Meienberg (the Berne Declaration) and moderated by Geoff Burton (United Nations University), was attended by about 60 people and led to a rich discussion of the implications of this case for the negotiations of the Working Group on ABS. Throughout the meeting, daily coverage by IISD Reporting Services can be read here and CBD Alliance (civil society) coverage can be found here.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Viewing Sabah through a biocultural lens

On July 13th, the Sabah Biodiversity Centre (SaBC) and Global Diversity Foundation (GDF) Southeast Asia Programme hosted the grand opening of the inaugural Biocultural Photography Exhibition in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. Attended by community members from Kiau, Bundu Tuhan, and Buayan, members of the general public, various government departments, and NGOs such as Natural Justice, the exhibition showcased approximately 30 framed photographs taken by GDF community researchers over the past 2 years. Participatory photography has been part of GDF's Darwin Initiative-supported project on identification of indigenous peoples' and community conserved areas (ICCAs) in Sabah, and has enabled community researchers to document and communicate their perceptions and values of their customary ways of life.

The guest of honour, Datuk Masidi Manjun, the Sabah Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment, spoke about the need for a "holistic approach" to development in order to "pass on what we have to future generations". He noted that "it has become easy to build tall buildings, but the real challenge is how to keep a small river running." The exhibition was supported by SaBC, GDF, the Darwin Initiative, the Japan International Cooperation Agency, and the Bornean Biodiversity and Ecosystems Conservation Programme.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Opening Pandora's Box?

The resumed 9th meeting of the Ad Hoc Open-ended Working Group on Access and Benefit Sharing of the Convention on Biological Diversity (WGABS) began on July 10th in Montreal, Canada. The format for the negotiations is the 'Cali style', named after the first time this negotiating method was used at the 9th meeting of the WGABS in Cali, Colombia.

Hot off the COMPAS press

The sixth issue of the Endogenous Development Magazine has just been released by the COMPAS Network. This issue focuses on how bio-cultural community protocols help enforce the benefits of biodiversity and includes articles about the experiences of livestock keepers, traditional healers, and recognition of sacred sites. Natural Justice wrote an article entitled, "How bio-cultural community protocols can empower local communities". At the current Working Group on Access and Benefit Sharing meeting in Montreal, Kabir Bavikatte (Natural Justice) is helping distribute printed copies of the magazine, which has been very well-received and lauded for its visual and substantive quality. The digital version can be downloaded here.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Weaving the Web of Life with National Geographic

Natural Justice friend and colleague Luisa Maffi (co-founder and director of Terralingua) has recently been recruited as a guest blogger for David Braun's NatGeo News Watch. After meeting Luisa in Tofino, Canada, at the recent International Society of Ethnobiology Congress, Braun featured her on NatGeo News Watch in a video interview on June 1st. Luisa's June 29th inaugural posting, "Biocultural diversity: The true web of life", explores how the concept of biocultural diversity has been emerging over the past 20 years in academia, advocacy, and policy.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

News Article: REDD Alert

According to a July 4th article in The Guardian, the global carbon offset scheme that will create an estimated $10 billion per year by 2020 is seriously threatened by corruption. Under the United Nations Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD), 37 countries have requested over $14 billion by 2015 as compensation for cutting emissions from forestry activities such as logging. However, national forestry reform plans already submitted to the World Bank by the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guyana, and Indonesia, among others, demonstrate intentions to continue "logging as usual", including by opening 25 million hectares of new forest concessions, building roads and dams in densely forested areas, and converting forests to palm oil plantations. Environmental groups such as Global Witness (which Natural Justice associate Peter Wood works for) "fear that REDD is being used by governments to victimise and steal the carbon rights of people who live and depend on the forests." The full article can be read here.

Monday, July 5, 2010

News Article: Landmark Recognition of Native Title Rights in Torres Straight

Nine years after the Torres Straight Regional Sea Claim was filed in the Federal Court of Australia, Justice Finn has formally recognized the native title rights of the Torres Straight Islanders. "Commercial fishing rights are essential to Indigenous peoples of Australia," Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda said. "The Torres Strait is now operating in a post-determination environment in which native title holders can focus on achieving substantive outcomes through the exercise of their recognised native title rights." The July 2nd press release by the Australian Human Rights Commission can be read here and a follow-up article in The Guardian can be read here.

21st-century David and Goliath

The recent Nestle patent challenge by Natural Justice and the Berne Declaration has been highlighted as an exemplary case of civil society's efforts to expose the malpractices of multinational corporations. "A Story of David versus Goliath", released on July 2nd by the South African Civil Society Information Service, notes the critical role of modern-day "media guerrilla warfare" in promoting transparency and accountability, particularly against a backdrop of companies' well-resourced and far-reaching public relations campaigns. The article acknowledges the difficulties of raising awareness of "biopiracy" when its implications and consequences are rarely visible to the public eye.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Supporting biodiversity in a global hotspot

On June 30th, Harry Jonas and Holly Shrumm (Natural Justice) met with Dr. Abdul Fatah Amir (director, Sabah Biodiversity Centre). The meeting was a continuation of discussions that have been occurring since March. Natural Justice will be entering into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Sabah Biodiversity Centre in order to support the implementation of the forthcoming 2010 Sabah Access and Benefit Sharing Rules, persuant to the 2000 Sabah Biodiversity Enactment.

Bridging the digital divide

Natural Justice participated in the online launch of Terralingua's Biocultural Diversity Conservation Portal. Kabir Bavikatte was on the panel on Indigenous Peoples and Protected Areas along with Márcia Gomez de Oliveira, Norbert Suchanek, and Cristina Mittermeier. Harry Jonas and Holly Shrumm were on the panel about Community-based Conservation along with Hugh Govan and Jeanine Pfeiffer. Natural Justice thanks Luisa Maffi for the invitation and looks forward to continuing these discussions.