Sunday, 6 December 2009

Internet and microhydro power in Buayan

London, England

I have just received perhaps the first email sent from Buayan, one of the communities where GDF is active in Sabah, Malaysia. Sent by Adrian Lasimbang, who works with the indigenous NGO Partners of Community Organisations (PACOS), it was a test of a satellite connection installed as part of an ‘e-Buayan’ that is dissolving the digital divide that once separated the Dusun people of this village from the rest of the world.  Adrian reports that the community is working hard to finish by Christmas (this is a Catholic community) an e-Buayan building that will house a classroom with eight PCs and Netbooks all linked by LAN cables. This will allow training in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to go forward.  These developments follow on the launch of a microhydro power station that is providing the electricity that will power the computers.  What is planned next? There will hopefully be a Buayan website through which community researchers can share the results of their studies on the resource catchment areas and community use zones that are key to maintaining their livelihoods in and around a government protected area.  Then perhaps there will be a community radio that will transmit to households within a 5 km radius.  All of this progress towards enhancing a sustainable community will go to naught if plans to create the Kaiduan Dam on the Papar River proceed: a few steps forward erased by a major leap backward.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Rachel Carson Center

London, England

The Rachel Carson Center launched its new website today. A joint initiative of Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich and the Deutsches Museum, the Center is an international think tank whose goal is to ‘further research and discussion in the field of international environmental studies and to strengthen the role of the humanities in the current political and scientific debates about the environment.’ In mid-January, I will be joining 14 others fellows who are taking international, comparative and historical perspectives on topics such as agrarian and post-agrarian landscapes, natural disasters, cultures of risk, and knowledge societies.

I am particularly pleased to be a Fellow at an academic centre named in memory of Rachel Carson. Silent Spring, which I read almost forty years ago, influenced my choice of a career that blends academia, applied research and social awareness. In a few pages in the middle of the book, Dr. Carson evoked the consequences of pesticide use on the biodiversity of a small community in Michigan. East Lansing, my hometown, was the focus of a DDT spraying program initiated in 1954 against the elm bark beetle that was destroying our boulevard trees. By 1959, Prof. Emerson, ornithologist of nearby Michigan State University, discovered a dramatic drop in the robin population. This story, just one of the compelling case studies that Carson evoked, had a particular impact on me as it hit so close to home.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

An oathstone ceremony protesting the Kaiduan Dam

Marrakech, Morocco

News from our fieldsite in Malaysia: There is an ongoing protest against the building of the Kaiduan Dam, which will make environmental refugees of the Kadazandusun people in the Ulu Papar region of Sabah, Malaysia.  On 17 October, the 11 Ulu Papar communities gathered on the banks of the Papar River in the village of Timpayasah to declare their common stand in fighting for their lands and sealed this oath in blood.  Representatives of each community placed a plant around the oath stone.  The plants chosen, among them gingers and palms, cannot survive with too much water, symbolizing what will be lost if Ulu Papar is flooded with the building of the dam.  As reported in the Daily Express, a local newspaper, one of the community leaders stated “In the old days, the oathstone was used as a territorial boundary of a village to demarcate land ownership among the Kadazandusun community. But this time we chose the traditional ceremony … as a strong sign that we … have vowed to stay on our land.”

Thursday, 12 November 2009

What's wrong with charitable giving: part 2

Marrakech, Morocco

The second nugget of wisdom on charitable giving in Pablo Eisenberg’s Wall Street Journal article of 9 November addresses multi-year funding.  He says, “Few foundations are willing to give their grantees long-term support. Most grants are made on an annual basis, renewable for one or two more years. It is the rare institution that is willing to commit upfront support for five, 10 or 20 years. But that is exactly the kind of commitment that excellent organizations, especially public-policy and advocacy groups, require to meet their long-range goals. Public policies and institutions often change slowly. Nonprofit organizations must be given sufficient time and stability to bring about such changes. Not all nonprofits merit this kind of financing, but those that have the capacity, integrity and leadership to achieve long-term success should be given the resources to reach their objectives.”

I would include GDF in this group, as we are committed to long-term, community-based projects that evolve over time. Fortunately, some of our funders – such as the Darwin Initiative – understand this approach. The Darwin Initiative guidelines state, “Experience from previous projects has shown that, when working with local communities, speed of progress may be constrained by the need to build understanding and consensus before engaging in new approaches.  Therefore, projects working with communities should be realistic about timeframes and rates of progress.” The Darwin Initiative has shown its commitment to this principle by supporting our work in Sabah, Malaysia for an eight-year period.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

What's wrong with charitable giving: part 1

Marrakech, Morocco

I am impressed by Pablo Eisenberg’s Wall Street Journal article of 9 November on charitable giving. Among other sensible points, he suggests that individuals and foundations increase their general operating support and multiyear funding to non-profits. His argument for increasing core funds:

“General operating support, or unrestricted money, is the lifeblood of effective organizations. It permits them to hire and maintain quality staff, conduct advocacy activities, build organizational capacity, participate in coalitions and retain the flexibility to pursue targets of opportunity. Unfortunately, only about 20% of all foundation grant money is allocated to such support. Many grantors believe that special-project funding is more easily evaluated and, therefore, more accountable, though there is little evidence to support this contention. What is true, of course, is that special-project funding gives foundations more control over the agendas of their grantees, responsibilities that should be vested in the boards and staff of nonprofits.

Whatever their reasons, foundations need to change their old habits. At least 50% of all foundation money should be granted for general operating support.”

This resonates with GDF’s experience. We have had relative success in attracting donations and obtaining grants for specific profits, but quite a bit less in finding sources of support for general operations.  To remedy this, we are considering launching a funding campaign to engage people interested in providing core support for our international and regional programs.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Protected Natural Areas in Mexico

Marrakech, Morocco

I am reading a report on Mexico’s potential to conserve and sustainably use its biodiversity. Issued by the country’s National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (CONABIO), with support from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), it is an impressive compilation of perspectives on protected areas, community conservation, forestry certification, payment for environmental services and other aspects of conservation.  The establishment of protected areas – such as national parks and biosphere reserves – is an important approach to in situ conservation, which means preserving ecosystems, landscapes and species where they are found rather than in new places such as botanical gardens and germplasm banks.  Mexico has set aside nearly 24 million hectares of land and forest in protected areas, which corresponds to 12.2% of its national territory.  While impressive, a more important question is the overall success of these conservation areas. The National Commission for Natural Protected Areas (CONANP) recognizes many protected areas are deteriorating despite efforts to conserve them.  The CONABIO report argues that working effectively with local communities is an important way of rectifying the situation.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Remembering Claude Lévi-Strauss

Marrakech, Morocco

The news of Claude Lévi-Strauss’s passing brought back memories of his visit to the University of California at Berkeley in autumn 1984, when I was finishing the coursework for my doctorate in the Anthropology Department.  A sign-up sheet for 15-minute meetings with him was circulated among graduate students, and I was quick to put my name down for a slot. I remember being ushered into his office in the Kroeber Building and sitting down to a brief discussion about the importance of the classification of nature as a subject of anthropological enquiry.  Lévi-Strauss had included a few notes on Amazonian ethnobotany in Tristes Tropiques, his philosophical autobiography published in 1955.  In The Savage Mind, which appeared in 1962, he explored – among many other topics – the classification of plants and animals by diverse indigenous peoples.  As this was the subject of my pending fieldwork in Mexico, I was curious to hear what Lévi-Strauss thought about continuing the debate on ethnobiological classification. In sum, he appeared to think it was a relatively passé subject that he had left in his past.  Of course, it was 22 years after his book on the subject …

Monday, 2 November 2009

Ethnobiology conference underway in Pachuca, Hidalgo

Marrakech, Morocco

The GDF-Mesoamerica team has travelled through the Hidalgo Huasteca region of Mexico – where they joined in the Xantolo (Day of the Dead) celebrations – and on to Pachuca today for the combined Ist Latin American and VIIth Mexican Congress of Ethnobiology. Armando Medinaceli, GDF’s new intern from Bolivia, is accompanying Carlos del Campo and Claudia Camacho, the regional coordinators. Armando will present of this master’s research (he was a student in the University of Kent Environmental Anthropology Program) on Chinantec ethnozoology – knowledge, practice and beliefs about animals in this group indigenous peoples of southern Mexico. Carlos and Claudia will discuss our project on strengthening Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas (ICCAs) through ethnobiological research and training. Attending scientific congresses is one way that we disseminate the results of our field projects, and network with colleagues from other regions.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Same sky, reconciliation and rebuilding communities in Rwanda

Marrakech, Morocco

Bridget Bailey, who is active in the charitable organization Same Sky, has been staying with us over the last few days. Same Sky is a trade-not-aid initiative that helps Rwandan women who are living with HIV/AIDS, a tragic result of the widespread sexual abuse during the Rwandan Genocide of 1994. The majority of these women are destitute, and the goal of Same Sky is to help them rebuild their lives and communities. One way to achieve this is to give the women an opportunity to earn an income that allows them to provide food, education and healthcare for their families. In the case of Same Sky, the products sold are glass bead bracelets hand crocheted by women artisans in Kigali, Rwanda. Effective production and marketing are guaranteed by Gahaya Links, a small business created by two sisters, Joy Ndungutse and Janet Nkubana. Gahaya Links, which is supported by Global Relief and Development Partners, now employ over 4,000 rural women who weave intricate baskets that are sold in department stores such as Macy’s in New York. Through this initiative, Tutsi and Hutu women can work side by side, contributing to ethnic reconciliation and community building in Rwanda.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Regreening China clay pits at the Eden Project

Pentawan, Cornwall, UK

Our Cornwallian trilogy was made complete by a visit to the Eden Project, a highly popular tourist attraction dedicated explaining the relationship between people and plants to the general public. It was my third visit, and I was impressed by the sustained vigor of the tropical forest and Mediterranean biomes. Cultivated under geodesic domes on a former clay pit, the lush vegetation is criss-crossed by sloping paths that guide a constant flow of visitors, including over 7,000 on the day of our visit. We were fortunate to have Sir Ghillean Prance, scientific director of the Eden Project, accompany us on a leisurely tour of the grounds outside the domes and into the tropical forest biome. He reckons the greatest achievement of the Eden is revegetation of the barren slopes of the abandoned clay pit, which is now green with hundreds of plants that have stories to tell about food, medicine, fuel and other botanical products that sustain our life and livelihoods.

Monday, 26 October 2009

China clay mining and the Cornwallian landscape

Pentawan, Cornwall, UK

Today we travelled to see the poverty and environmental destruction associated with china clay mining, a sharp contrast to the richness of the Heligan estate. Our first stop was the China Clay Country Park that features an abandoned clay pit surrounded by spoil heaps that together created an eerie landscape that would not be out of place in a Margaret Atwood dystopian novel. One interesting historical detail I gleaned from the museum’s exhibits concerns the workers who dried and loaded the extracted china clay. Able to earn enough money by early afternoon, they would spend the rest of their day cultivating gardens and tending animals, a pattern of work that allowed them to take advantage of Cornwall’s advantageous climate to produce much of their own food. This mixture of subsistence and commercial activity has been a common element that sustained communities over time. Today there is little evidence of backyard gardens, although Ian Martin of the Eden Project is considering working with the clay country communities to bring back household green spaces.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

A day at the Heligan Gardens

Pentawan, Cornwall, UK

Ian Martin of the Eden Project led us on a Saturday visit to the Lost Gardens of Heligan, which gave us a glimpse into horticulture in Cornwall. At the entrance, there was an autumn harvest of diverse varieties of food plants that reminded me of the ‘biodiversity fairs’ that we sponsor in southern Mexico, in which members of indigenous communities bring the food, medicinal and other useful plants for public display during holy day festivals in their villages. At Heligan, the vegetables come from carefully tended plots in the center of the gardens, each variety labelled with handsome, hand-printed wooden stakes. What most interested me is the successful creation of microclimates that allow Cornwall gardeners to grow many exotic species introduced by plant explorers from around the world. One example is the ‘pineapple pit’ – a slanting greenhouse with an underground heating system that produced the humidity and warmth needed to encourage this Amazonian species to produce fruit. This appreciation of microclimate extends to the valley of vegetation – unfortunately called the ‘Jungle’ – oriented obliquely from the gardens towards the sea. It contains a tangle of tropical and temperate plants transplanted from afar, a testimony to the creative horticultural knowledge and practice developed over centuries in this region.

Friday, 16 October 2009

A Global Strategy for Plant Conservation

Taking advantage of a delayed deadline to send ideas for sessions at the 2010 Congress of the International Society of Ethnobiology, I submitted a proposal on the role of local people in the policy and practice of plant conservation. Through a multi-media presentation, roundtable and open discussion, we plan to explore revised targets of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC) that address indigenous and local knowledge, innovations and practices. As reworded during a Liaison Group Meeting of the Global Partnership for Plant Conservation (GPPC) I attended in May 2009, the strategy argues that we must conserve the genetic diversity of crops and other socio-economically valuable plant species, and maintain associated indigenous and local knowledge. In addition, it calls for a halt in the decline of plant resources and associated indigenous and local knowledge, innovations and practices that support sustainable livelihoods, local food security and health care. Both of these targets are directly related to Convention on Biological Diversity articles 8j and 10c, which draw attention to the key role that indigenous people and local communities play in maintaining the world’s biodiversity.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Rolex Awards for Enterprise 2010 Young Laureates Programme

Marrakech, Morocco

The Rolex Awards for Enterprise announced the Jury today for the 2010 Young Laureates Programme, which “enables visionary young men and women to tackle the most pressing issues facing our world”. The Laureates receive financial support for two years and publicity through international media coverage to launch a new idea or scale up an existing project in one of five areas: science and health, applied technology, exploration, the environment and cultural preservation. The nearly 200 candidates, who are between 18 and 30 years old and come from around the world, were invited to submit proposals that outline the social or scientific benefits of their work.

I will join the other nine members of the jury in Geneva next March to select the five winners, who will be announced in April 2010. My fellow jury members come from Brazil, India, Mexico, Singapore, Spain, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and United States.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

A morning at Unesco

Paris, France

Beautiful spring days in Paris, which make me feel more like exploring gardens in bloom than spending time inside. I made an exception to visit colleagues at UNESCO, one of the institutions involved in creating the People and Plants Initiative (PPI) in 1992. I spent the better part of the years I lived in Paris, from 1988 – 1996, working as a field coordinator for PPI, a position that had me travelling to many parts of Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Pacific. My travels and interactions with colleagues and communities provided some of the inspiration for the creation of GDF in 2000.

At Unesco, I caught up with Meriem Bouamrane, a French-Algerian friend who draws on her training as an environmental economist in her role of programme specialist in the Division of Ecological and Earth Sciences and Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme. She focuses on promoting broad community participation in biosphere reserves, from their inception through their implementation and management. She is using a methodology that analyses how Actors, Resources, Dynamics and Interactions (ARDI) can be brought together in successful negotiations on protected areas. We may explore how this approach can be integrated into our efforts to ensure the participation of Dusun and other indigenous peoples in the nomination of Crocker Range Park is Sabah, Malaysia as a Biosphere Reserve.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Plants, Livelihoods and Community Conservation in the Kalahari

D’Kar, Botswana

I am camping in the Kalahari under one of the clearest, starriest skies I have seen in many years. We are in Dqae Qare Game Farm, which is owned by the D’Kar community. Covering more than 7500 hectares in the Ghanzi District given by the Dutch government and Netherlands Development Organisation to San Bushman people, it is a community run place that has a lodge, huts and a campsite. The aim of the game farm is to generate employment and income while preserving Ncoakhoe indigenous knowledge through tourism.

We are here to facilitate a workshop on ‘Plants, Livelihoods and Community Conservation in the Kalahari’. The 30 participants, converging from various parts of Botswana, Namibia and South Africa, have been arriving throughout the day and into the night. Over the next few days, we will be hearing about their experiences of working with plant resources – including harvesting of medicinal plants, mapping useful plants in conservancies, and cultivating domesticated and semi-domesticated plants in home gardens. Our goal is to reinforce these diverse ways of sustainably using plants by setting up a learning network that will allow representatives of community organisations to exchange ideas and knowledge. If all goes according to plan, we will engage in an extended dialogue on how to design and implement the network, culminating in a proposal to the UK Darwin Initiative and other funding agencies. If successful, we will launch the project in August 2010. This long timeline – which sometimes tests our patience and that of our collaborators – is necessary not only to line up funding but also to ensure that the entire process is fully participatory.

Friday, 27 February 2009

Is traditional medicine viable in a globalising world?

London, United Kingdom

How can we sustain traditional medicine, which is said to be the treatment of choice of more than 80% of the world’ population? As we are discovering in our work on herbal remedies in Morocco, the challenges are multiple. With growing demand driven by urban and international markets, the viability of wild plant resources is threatened. This can lead to substitution of scarcer species with more available ones, with unknown health consequences. The transmission of knowledge about medicinal plants is being disrupted as well, potentially affecting the competence of younger healers. For these reasons, medical professionals call into question the safety and efficacy of traditional medicine. These issues were on my mind today when I met with Michael Heinrich, Professor and Head of the Centre for Pharmacognosy and Phytotherapy at the University of London’ School of Pharmacy. We met in 1981, when I was on my way to Berkeley to begin my doctorate in Anthropology, and he was completing a masters degree in Anthropology in my home state of Michigan. Now nearly thirty years later, we hope to collaborate on some aspect of traditional medicine in Morocco, perhaps the safety of herbal medicines given to children.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Speaking of human evolution and cultural diversity...

Canterbury, United Kingdom

After participating in research cluster meetings at the University of Kent on ‘governance and conservation’ and ‘biocultural diversity’ I had the opportunity to listen to stimulating seminars from two very different colleagues. In the late afternoon Stephen Jones delivered the Darwin lecture on “Is Human Evolution Over?”. His message was quite similar to that of a dialogue at UNESCO in 1999 on “What Future for the Human Species” that featured the late Harvard University palaeontologist Stephen Jay Gould and the French Sociologist Edgar Morin. They agreed that the physical evolution of humans would not change greatly, but that our cultural development was far from finished. Jones described how the analysis of the trio of evolutionary factors – mutation, natural selection and geographical isolation – reveals that people will not change physically to a great degree, contrary to popular conceptions and depictions in science fiction movies.

Our great cultural development, in the recent past and into the future, was evoked in an earlier Anthropology Department seminar given by Dario Novellino, an Italian anthropologist and ethnobiologist. In a lecture on “Stories of Plants, Politics and Social Life: from the Tropics to the Mediterranean’, Dario spoke of the indigenous people in Palawan, Philippines where he lived for many years, and of local shepards in Maranolo, a community in southern Italy near his native Naples. Under the pressure of various global processes that affect their lifestyles, these distinct communities are struggling to maintain knowledge and practices related to the environment. Even if our physical evolution is static, our cultural development remains dynamic.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Darwin Initiative funds GDF's Malaysia and Mexico projects

Marrakech, Morocco

We received the welcome news today that the UK Darwin Initiative will support our community conservation efforts in Oaxaca, Mexico and Sabah, Malaysia for the next three years. The Darwin Initiative began in 1992 as part of the UK’s effort to implement the Convention on Biological Diversity. The funds allow people from British institutions to assist colleagues in other countries (or in British Overseas Territories) to conserve and sustainably use biological diversity while ensuring that any benefits are equitably shared. In April we will begin a project to help Chinantec communities create management plans for the voluntary conservation areas that they have created in the Sierra Norte of Oaxaca. Then in August, we will launch a new phase of our work with Dusun communities, ensuring that their traditional rights to access and use natural resources are respected when Sabah’s Crocker Range Park is nominated as a Biosphere Reserve. I will be giving regular updates of these initiatives on the GDF website, eNewsletter and this blog.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Wild edible plants and local diets

Marrakech, Morocco

Spring comes early to Marrakech, at least in comparison to my home state of Michigan. With my son Edward, I was out harvesting wild asparagus in my garden this morning. The tender sprouts grow up through the spiny stems of the previous year, giving them good protection from grazing animals. My hands were poked and scraped as I cut away the old growth to harvest the wild vegetable for lunch. This ‘hidden harvest’ brings to mind the many species of wild edible plants that were an important part of local diets throughout the world until people transitioned to eating processed foods. Later in the day, I read that Harriet Kuhnlein, a colleague from McGill University, has put together, an impressive website dedicated to promoting local foodways. It features a series of videos that portray indigenous peoples' culinary traditions and describes how they could contribute to better diets for millions of people who are malnourished or are suffering from lifestyle diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart conditions.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Marrakech, Morocco

I have mixed feelings about Sebastião Salgado’s Genesis initiative, said to be the last of his great photographic projects. Described in an interview as a project ‘designed to reconnect us to how the world was before humanity altered it almost beyond recognition', it has sent Salgado on an eight-year quest to capture pristine nature and peoples untouched by modernity. His photographs are stunningly beautiful, and they communicate the importance of the world’s threatened natural and cultural diversity. The UK newspaper The Guardian is running a series of photo essays in its Weekend magazine, and his photographs appear regularly in other publications in Europe. In January 2008, he spent several weeks in Botswana to document the disappearing semi-nomadic lifestyle of the San Bushmen who were forcibly removed from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. An article in the popular French magazine Paris Match (5-11 February 2009) presents twelve photos of the San engaging in hunting and gathering activities at Trail Blazer Farm, where they have taken refuge.

The accompanying text contains some accurate testimony of their environmental knowledge and use of resources. It also conveys some naïve notions about the San (and by extension indigenous peoples in general). The photos appear to be stylized and posed, and they make me wonder if the San Bushmen who participated in the shoot were asked to recreate a lifestyle and even way of dressing that is rarely practiced today. One image of the San drinking rainwater from the ground carries the caption, “just after the cloudburst, they drink like lions”. Depictions of their hunting skills are accompanied by a reference to ‘instinct, cunningness and simple sticks’.

Salgado is quoted as saying that he found himself ‘thousands of years in the past’. These characterizations give the impression that the San are primitive and animal-like. Paris Match makes scant mention of the alcoholism and other social problems that are common among the San and refers only briefly to their dreams of returning to former lifestyle. As beautiful as they are, Salgado’s images seem to inspire romanticism about culture and nature that belies the harsh reality the San and other indigenous peoples are living today.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Marrakech, Morocco

The 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth is bringing about a new reckoning. Museum exhibits and popular articles are asking what he got right, and how did he err. Many point out that evolution and natural selection are now widely accepted in the natural sciences, and that the special cases of sexual and group selection are increasingly embraced. But what I find intriguing are the lessons to be drawn from Darwin’s intellectual quest, and how they can inform the way that we conduct science today. Nicholas Wade of the New York Times notes that “one of Darwin’s advantages was that he did not have to write grant proposals or publish 15 articles a year.” He would ponder his theory for more than twenty years before publishing “The Origin of Species”, and then 12 years more before explaining how it related to people in “The Descent of Man”. The time he took to develop his ideas was dedicated to not only deep reflection on how to interpret empirical observations from his fieldwork but also explaining his insights in lucid and engaging English. He honed his knowledge of natural history by exploring anatomy, fossils, plants, sexual reproduction and the geographical distribution of living things. These are approaches that we should take to heart and mind in the new integrative, interdisciplinary science that is being developed to address our global cultural and environmental challenges.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Marrakech, Morocco

After recent snowfalls, the High Atlas mountains are exceptionally beautiful. From my office terrace, I feel that I can almost reach out and touch them over the palm oasis. The Atlas – and the Anti-Atlas mountains and Sahara desert behind them – are home to many Amazight communities, the indigenous peoples of Morocco (who were formerly known as Berbers). GDF’s work in Morocco has focused primarily on wildlife trade – an alluring subject whose importance comes clear whenever you visit any of the local ‘souks’ or marketplaces of Marrakech, where hundreds of species of plants and animals are offered for sale. Much of this biodiversity comes from the High Atlas and other parts of Marrakech’s hinterland, where local harvesters wander the fields and forests in search of wild plants. We are trying to understand how this commerce supports livelihoods, and if it is ecologically sustainable.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia

I woke up early to enjoy a final stroll along the canopy walkway of the Borneo Rainforest Lodge. Dawn in a tropical rainforest is a mystical time. As the sun rises, the mist churns among the trees. Woodpeckers and other birds fly in our line of sight, high in the canopy. We are not the earliest risers, as we can already hear the calls of hornbills and Bornean gibbons. A few days in a protected area such as Danum Valley highlights the importance of setting aside some nature reserves where the impact of people is limited to conservation and recreation.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Buayan, Sabah, Malaysia

After a torrential downpour last evening, I woke to a few stars in the early morning sky. As the sun rose, there was mist over the mountain forests and patches of blue between the layered cirrus clouds. With the roar of the Papar River below and bird song in the air, it felt like the earth was thriving like it should, respiring, transpiring and renewing itself with new life. A fitting way to start the day when the United States has a new President to take us on a new journey. As an American, I feel that I can breathe again. I sense a new beginning filled with tenuous energy and hope shared by so many people around the world.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Buayan, Sabah, Malaysia

The landscapes around Buayan have a detailed story to tell about local peoples’ management of the environment. One of the most striking features is the patchiness of vegetation cover. Although ardent conservationists might regret the loss of forest, a more humanistic viewing reveals a mosaic of fields of rice ripening in the intermittent sunshine, great shafts of bamboo emerging from clumps of tropical trees and small clearings that are evidence of the previous years’ farming. The overall diversity of these landscapes, from field to forest, is higher than in the protected areas where access for local people is denied. An understanding of these anthropogenic landscapes – ones created by people – has led to a new trend in conservation that embraces cultural diversity and local ecological practices.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Buayan, Sabah, Malaysia

Grey literature – the reports produced by governmental agencies, academic institutions and other groups but not available through commercial publishers – lets me keep my finger on the pulse of the diverse organizations that are working on community-based conservation and other pressing issues. Taking advantage of early nights and a handy flashlight, I am reading The Role of Indigenous Peoples in Biodiversity Conservation: The Natural but Often Forgotten Partners. This World Bank report – like so much grey literature – flies below the radar of the popular press and scientific papers, and is certainly consulted by too few people. Written by Claudia Sobrevilla, a World Bank Senior Biodiversity Specialist from Colombia, the report provides a good if somewhat repetitive account of some international policies on indigenous people and the natural environment.

The World Bank’s commitment to supporting free, prior and informed consultation with indigenous peoples before engaging in development projects is enshrined in its Operational Policies and Bank Procedures 4.10, which are fully reproduced in annex 2 of the report. Claudia is honest about the poor implementation of these policies: only 18.3% of the Bank’s biodiversity portfolio has been dedicated to indigenous peoples programs, and only a third of these projects are classified as ‘full engagement’. With a total price tag of US$6.18 billion over twenty years (from 1988 to 2008), the biodiversity conservation efforts of the World Bank are in need of a major reorientation.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia

I left for Buayan, the Dusun community in Borneo where we have been working since 2004, under a threatening sky. After a quick drive to Donggongon with James Wong, GDF-Southeast Asia’s field coordinator, we waited for our fellow travellers to assemble for the bumpy 1 hour drive along logging roads and then 4 hour walk in mountainous terrain. I crossed paths with Jannie Lasimbang, who has resettled in Sabah after several years in Thailand, where she was coordinating the Asia Indigenous Peoples Programme (AIPP). This and other indigenous organisations are playing a leading role in making sure that communities are involved in negotiating and implementing international policy on indigenous peoples’ livelihoods, rights and self-determination.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Marrakech, Morocco

An end of the year conversation with my daughter convinced me to finally join the league of bloggers. She encouraged me to write a journal that would relate my experiences as I travel to develop GDF’s field projects. She imagined, she later told me, that I would take notes in a leather-bound notebook carried on my journeys. The practical difficulties precluded this, as leather doesn’t fare too well in the wet tropics, and I am out of practice holding a pen. I quickly transformed the idea into a blog where I could describe my experiences and record some reflections about what the Global Diversity Foundation is trying to achieve. In appropriate Web2 form, I could add photos from the field, link to the institutions and resources that inspire me, and provide access to some of the community video clips that we are producing.