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    Mongabay, a leading resource for news and perspectives on environmental and conservation issues related to the tropics, has launched Tropical Conservation Science - a new, open access academic e-journal. It will cover a wide variety of scientific and social studies on tropical ecosystems, their biodiversity and the threats posed to them. Tropical Conservation Science - March 8, 2008.

    At the 148th Meeting of the OPEC Conference, the oil exporting cartel decided to leave its production level unchanged, sending crude prices spiralling to new records (above $104). OPEC "observed that the market is well-supplied, with current commercial oil stocks standing above their five-year average. The Conference further noted, with concern, that the current price environment does not reflect market fundamentals, as crude oil prices are being strongly influenced by the weakness in the US dollar, rising inflation and significant flow of funds into the commodities market." OPEC - March 5, 2008.

    Kyushu University (Japan) is establishing what it says will be the world’s first graduate program in hydrogen energy technologies. The new master’s program for hydrogen engineering is to be offered at the university’s new Ito campus in Fukuoka Prefecture. Lectures will cover such topics as hydrogen energy and developing the fuel cells needed to convert hydrogen into heat or electricity. Of all the renewable pathways to produce hydrogen, bio-hydrogen based on the gasification of biomass is by far both the most efficient, cost-effective and cleanest. Fuel Cell Works - March 3, 2008.

    An entrepreneur in Ivory Coast has developed a project to establish a network of Miscanthus giganteus farms aimed at producing biomass for use in power generation. In a first phase, the goal is to grow the crop on 200 hectares, after which expansion will start. The project is in an advanced stage, but the entrepreneur still seeks partners and investors. The plantation is to be located in an agro-ecological zone qualified as highly suitable for the grass species. Contact us - March 3, 2008.

    A 7.1MW biomass power plant to be built on the Haiwaiian island of Kaua‘i has received approval from the local Planning Commission. The plant, owned and operated by Green Energy Hawaii, will use albizia trees, a hardy species that grows in poor soil on rainfall alone. The renewable power plant will meet 10 percent of the island's energy needs. Kauai World - February 27, 2008.

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Friday, August 08, 2008

FAO: Indigenous peoples threatened by climate change; hold keys to our future

Increasingly tough climatic conditions and limited rights to land and other basic resources risk jeopardizing the lives and livelihoods of many indigenous groups, FAO noted today on the eve of the International Day for the World’s Indigenous Peoples. These groups hold the keys to our long term survival, because they represent alternative economic and social systems, guard globally important agricultural heritage systems and preserve biodiversity.
Indigenous peoples are among the first to suffer from increasingly harsh and erratic weather conditions, and a generalized lack of empowerment to claim goods and services to which other population groups have greater access. - Regina Laub, FAO focal point for Indigenous Peoples
A number of indigenous groups make their living within vulnerable environments - in mountainous areas, in the Arctic, in jungles or in dry lands - and are thus often the first to discern and suffer the effects of climate change.

However, the indigenous are not just victims of global warming; they also have a critical role to play in supporting global adaptation to climate change. In Peru, for example, during the last planting season only those potatoes planted in the traditional way survived the unprecedented extreme frost temperature.

Indigenous communities are often the custodians of unique knowledge and skills and the genetic and biological diversity in plant and animal production that may be vital in adapting to climate change. Approximately 80 percent of the world’s remaining biodiversity is found within indigenous peoples’ territories.

Currently there are an estimated 370 million indigenous peoples representing at least 5,000 different indigenous groups in more than 70 countries. The Amazon basin alone is home to about 400 different indigenous groups. Defending the recovery of ancestral lands, the self-determination of indigenous peoples and their human rights is at the core of their claims.

Indigenous peoples are often among the most marginalized, showing higher levels of poverty and vulnerability than other population groups in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Land rights

Only a few countries have recognized ancestral and customary rights to land, a cornerstone of the livelihoods of indigenous peoples. Lack of political will and the lack of legal recognition of indigenous rights in national legal frameworks and tenure regimes, different forms of discrimination and inappropriate policies towards indigenous peoples are limiting indigenous peoples’ land rights.

Sub-Saharan Africa

As a result of violent conflicts, increased competition, degradation of natural resources and negative effects of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, land tenure insecurity is growing in Sub-Saharan Africa. This has led to increased vulnerability of rural communities and a high incidence of extreme poverty and hunger:
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FAO has developed activities for improving tenure security of the rural poor including indigenous groups in sub-Saharan Africa by giving disadvantaged groups greater control over decisions, particularly over natural resources, improving the legal capacities of rural poor communities to secure land rights. Better awareness and access to legal information, and creating rural institutions and simplified procedures for securing land and resources tenure are other objectives of FAO’s activities. FAO has documented good practices in several countries in sub-Saharan Africa as well as in the Pacific.

Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS)
Throughout history, human beings have domesticated plants and animals and shaped harsh and remote environments to guarantee their survival. Generations of farmers and herders have, for more than 12 thousand years, developed ingenious farming systems to overcome extreme climatic conditions, geographic isolation and scarcity of natural resources.

This patient work has resulted in magnificent reservoirs of globally significant agricultural biodiversity and valuable cultural inheritance, but also in sites of great aesthetic beauty. However, many of these systems are now under severe threats from global development challenges, including climate change, rural impoverishment, exodus towards urban areas and exclusion of local economies from international markets, and are at risk of disappearing forever.

In 2002 FAO initiated a wide programme on conservation and adaptive management of Globally Important Agricultural Heritage systems (GIAHS) aiming to establish the basis for the global recognition, conservation and sustainable management of such systems and their associated landscapes, biodiversity, knowledge systems and cultures.

During the preparatory phase (2002-2006), the GIAHS initiative has identified pilot sites in Peru, Chile, China, the Philippines, Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria. For the next seven years (2007-2014), the pilot systems will implement dynamic conservation management approaches aimed at helping the national and local stakeholders to protect and sustainably conserve the systems and their components.

The lessons learned will serve as basis for creating a World Agriculture Heritage category, in collaboration with other institutions, like UNESCO and the World Heritage Convention, to guarantee the sustainability of these globally important traditional agricultural systems.

: Pygmy woman from the Ituri forest, Democratic Republic of Congo.


9 August - International Day of the World's Indigenous People

FAO: Indigenous peoples threatened by climate change - World day highlights fundamental role of indigenous peoples in food security - August 8, 2008.

FAO: Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS).

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Ecuador's Correa to kickstart biofuels to fight energy crisis

Ecuador's left-wing President Rafael Correa has announced he plans to promote biofuels in Ecuador in order to limit the country's heavy dependence on imported petroleum products, which are draining the Andean nation's treasury and are pushing up inflation.

During his weekly address to the nation, Correa said that his administration was reviewing a plan to begin developing biofuels, because Ecuador has a large untapped agricultural potential:
Ecuador has the capacity to feed 80 million people and we only have 13 million people. In other words, there is land available to develop the agricultural industry. - Rafael Correa, President of Ecuador
Correa, a US-educated economist, cited several reasons for his turn towards biofuels, the most important one being the skyrocketing costs of imported fuel products.
[Biofuels] would allow us to diversify our energy mix, currently based on petroleum derivatives, and save enormous amounts of hard currency lost in importing gasoline and other fuels.
Despite being the fifth-largest oil producer in Latin America, Ecuador imports gasoline at an annual cost of some $3.6 billion - a heavy burden on the nation's economy.

Biofuels could also boost the local farming sector and restore large tracts of degraded land. Correa said some 50,000 hectares (123,450 acres) of sugar cane could be planted immediately - a minimal amount compared with the 5 million hectares (12.3 million acres) of farmland classified as degraded. This exhausted land could be restored by introducing biofuel crops. Correa said that sugar-cane ethanol, a biofuel already sold in some parts of the Andean nation, would be highly efficient.

The feasibility of producing biofuels from non-edible feedstocks like jatropha and castor, which grow abundantly in the wild in Ecuador, is being researched:
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Biofuels used to divide Latin America, with several coalitions battling it out. Former Cuban president Fidel Castro and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez were firmly against corn ethanol produced in the U.S. But both leaders did sign several agreements on the production of biofuels in their own countries.

Brazil, the world's second largest producer of ethanol, has always supported biofuels, pointing to the great difference between highly efficient ethanol made from sugar cane and the biofuels made in Europe or the U.S.

For a while, other Latin American leaders chose sides, but soon agreed to expand biofuel production on the continent in a sustainable manner. Cuba's new president, Raul Castro, has indicated the island state might begin to invest in sugar cane ethanol in order to revive the ailing sugar sector.

President Correa, a staunch ally of Hugo Chavez, and one of the more left-wing leaders of the continent, has been critical of biofuels in the past, but now seems to see more benefits than drawbacks.

However, he stressed that the biofuel policies under study will guarantee the food security of Ecuador's population.

El Mercurio: Gobierno apunta hacia el desarrollo de biocombustibles - August 8, 2008.

El Nuevo Diario: Ecuador proveerá biocombustibles sin riesgo a alimentos - August 8, 2008.

El Comercio: Biocombustibles, en la agenda - August 8, 2008.

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