Involve indigenous communities in climate change mitigation, activists demand

Willis Omullo, a climate change ambassador holds a placard in the streets of Homa Bay Town, Kenya telling residents to take action on climate change. The environment activist asked the County Assembly to adopt a climate change policy to enable the county government to engage effectively in adaptation and mitigation of the impact of climate change. PHOTO/George Omondi, The Scholar Media Africa.

Climate justice advocates are calling for the allocation of at least 30 percent of global environmental conservation resources to indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs).

The advocates separately spoke on June 22, 2022 at intersessional meetings held in Nairobi to build up consensus and momentum for the forthcoming Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) COP15 conference set to be held in Montreal, Canada, on 5th to 17th December 2022.

According to the Greenpeace policy brief on protecting indigenous communities, more needs to be done for the vulnerable group if the world is to make any headway in meaningful environmental conservation and climate justice for all.

“Now that the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) COP15 has confirmed the final talks will be held in December in Montreal, Canada, negotiators must take advantage of this week’s  Nairobi intersessional meetings to focus on the key policy issue of recognizing the rights of IPLCs and their key roles in protecting biodiversity,” Greenpeace said in a press release dated June 26, 2022.

Representatives drawn from all around the globe will meet in November to deliberate on progress so far made and the way forward for environmental conservation in Montreal, Canada.

Participants are expected to agree on the new Global Biodiversity Framework expected to steer the climate change mitigation processes.

“Overall, any new target to protect nature and biodiversity will not be enough in and of itself.

The outcome of the CBD Conference of Parties 15 (COP15) should ensure that a nature protection target of at least 30 percent is delivered in a way that shifts power from extractive industries to IPLCs, decolonizes our relationship with nature and systemically protects biodiversity,” reads the Greenpeace policy brief, published on June 17, 2022.

The allocation will go a long way in the formal recognition and inclusion of IPLCs in efforts to reduce the global rate of environmental degradation.

The stalemate and way forward

Greenpeace International senior biodiversity campaign strategist, An Lambrechts, regretted the strained proceedings at the Nairobi meetings.

“CBD negotiations reached a crisis point.

Sadly, the rest of the week was even more appalling than the Geneva meetings in March: draft text kept on ballooning, often without a clear sense of direction,” she noted.

The Greenpeace official hit out at the confusion witnessed at the meetings, adding that “Lack of progress and political leadership pose a great challenge for COP15.”

Ms. Lambrechts said Montreal meeting participants should strive to ensure the new Global Biodiversity Framework is a more inclusive and realistic document that accommodates the rights and views of indigenous communities.

“Next to the urgent need of COP15 to put indigenous rights front and center in relevant sections, executing the process also means taking a good and honest look at the actual quality of protected areas in terms of effective biodiversity and habitat protection.

There is a clear choice to be made between perpetuating the flaws of existing conservation models and truly accepting that quality is as important as quantity,” she explained.

More activist’s voices

Greenpeace International Congo Basin forest project leader, Irene Wabiwa, said climate justice activists are equally concerned about the importance of carrying out climate action without jeopardizing the livelihoods or dignity of indigenous peoples.

“We come to Nairobi with a shared objective of protecting biodiversity tangibly and effectively.

Yet, we insist this must also be done ethically.

The CBD COP15 needs to recognize the rights of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities by creating a ‘third category’ for indigenous land as conservation land, and put them at the center of decision-making and funding,” she said.

According to the activists, indigenous communities can play a significant role in stopping the planet’s slide into the murky waters of widespread climate change effects, with its attendant consequences including biodiversity loss, pollution, zoonotic disease outbreaks and food insecurity.

Greenpeace Africa’s ‘Food For Life’ campaigner, Claire Nasike, termed the indigenous people “the deserving custodians of traditional food production systems”.

Punitive seed laws are farmers’ stumbling block

Ms. Nasike added that Kenyan legislation designed to weed out traditional seed banks was a threat to the conservation of a rich store of crop varieties native to their areas of residence.

“Indigenous farming communities are the custodians of indigenous seeds, which are critical to the conservation of agrobiodiversity.

In Kenya, punitive seed laws seek to criminalize farmers for sharing and selling their own indigenous seeds,” she said.

Ms. Nasike said there was need for COP15 to listen to the voices of the indigenous peoples, in addition to protecting them from ruthless commercial interests that seek to take away their rights to locally propagate and share seeds.

“The CBD COP15 needs to amplify local voices and the rights of these communities and safeguard them from exploitation, dispossession, and corporate control of seed cultures.

 These all lead to loss of biodiversity,” added Ms. Nasike.

Ms. Ikal Angelei, who heads the Friends of Lake Turkana (FOLT) lobby, said there was need to de-colonize the seed production system, which she saw as a lopsided setup that only favors commercial seed companies and state agencies.

“We have to be honest with ourselves and identify the disadvantaged people in the changing farming systems.

Who controls the food supply, and what is the place of indigenous people in this commercial arrangement?” posed Ms. Angelei during the launch of an Intersectional Feminist Climate Justice guide in Nairobi on June 4, 2022.

She joined Ms. Nasike in condemning the raft of local seed laws proposed to control seed propagation in Kenya.

“It is unfortunate that draconian laws are becoming a threat to natural plant variety protection and seed education and preservation systems that give people the power to sustainably grow their own food,” she said.

Hybrid rice varieties

Giving his views on similar concerns earlier, Dr, Sanni Kayode, the leader of Alliance for Hybrid Rice in Africa (AHyRA) and Project Manager at African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), disagreed with the allegations on the existence of a nefarious commercial system designed to lock indigenous seed out of African farms.

Using biotechnologically improved rice as a case in point, Dr. Kayode said the use of gene editing for the development of rice varieties had improved output by between 2-3 tons per hectare.

A typical farm in Nigeria using traditional seed can be expected to produce around 2 tons per hectare. “Improved varieties,” he said, “can increase the rate by more than double if adopted.”

“Hybrid varieties give 2-3 extra tons per hectare. Some can even get between 5-7 tons per hectare when there is good rainfall. And because the cost of seed is constant, the improved yield brings in better returns for farmers,” he said.

The scientist confirmed that most farmers in the continent were still growing traditional rice varieties.

“We found in our research that indigenous rice varieties continued to persist in the growing areas despite the introduction of several improved varieties, said Dr Kayode, who leads the Alliance for Hybrid Rice in Africa (AHyRA) and is the Project Manager at African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF).

He noted that the alliance had secured the genetic code for 21,000 rice lines at the continental rice gene databank, adding that the collection also included indigenous varieties.

He however pointed out that the traditional varieties were not well-adapted to deal with changes in climate such as reduced rainfall or adaptation to pests.   

Dr Kayode was speaking recently at the fifth annual science congress hosted by Media for Environment, Science, Health and Agriculture (MESHA).

He called on African farmers to take up the improved varieties for cultivation, saying they stood to gain between Ksh 11.8-17.7 trillion or 100-150 m USD in revenues.

“Improved rice varieties are one of Africa’s best chances to achieve food security in the face of growing population and output challenges posed by climate change,” said Dr Kayode. 

Montreal’s COP15, a quality deal

Greenpeace East Asia senior policy advisor, Li Shuo, said the decision to hold the meeting in Montreal paves the way for the most critical task of concentrating on environmental conservation while upholding indigenous people’s rights to participate in the process as valued stakeholders.

“Governments have finally made a decision on where and when the COP will be held.

This should now focus everyone’s minds on the quality of the deal.

That means ambitious targets to ensure appropriate levels of protection both on land and at sea with solid guarantees for respect of the rights and roles of IPLCs and a strong implementation package,” he observed.

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