World News

2017 was a deadly year for land rights defenders, report

ZT Research Team

Srinagar, Jan 5: At least 116 people were killed in 2017, defending their right to land and resources, with the Philippines leading the list of the most dangerous countries for land activists. According to a report, published by the non-governmental organization PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP), this year saw continuing and intensifying attacks against rural communities that are asserting their right to land. 

For the report, the rights group regularly monitored news and articles and collected information from reports of partners and networks. PANAP has recorded 142 cases of human rights violations related to land conflicts in 21 countries from various regions, covering the period January 1 to November 30, 2017. These cases include politically motivated killings of farmers, farmworkers, indigenous peoples as well as activists and supporters who closely work with the affected rural communities. The recorded cases also include various forms of repression such as arrest, detention, legal persecution, threats, harassment, and physical assault, as well as displacement.

According to the report, the 73 cases of killings claimed the lives of 116 individuals, 71 of whom were farmers and farmworkers; 23 were land activists; and 21 were indigenous peoples. Of the total number of victims, 86% were men. 

The Philippines accounted for 61 victims, followed by Brazil with 22 victims and Mexico with seven victims. Land rights defenders were also killed in Peru, Colombia, India and Uganda, among other countries. In terms of threats, harassment, and physical assault, there were 17 cases and 45 victims monitored this year. 

Of the total number of victims, 14 were indigenous peoples, 26 were farmers and farmworkers, and 4 were land activists. There were also 52 cases of human rights violations, of which 25 cases or more than half involved mining companies while 15 cases occurred in plantations. State security forces – including the military, police, and paramilitary – have been implicated in seven out of every ten cases of human rights violations.

“Alarmingly, global and regional developments that create conditions for greater land and resource grabbing continue to emerge and fuel social conflicts and unrest in the rural areas,” the report says. 

“The continued rule of repressive regimes create the environment of impunity in violating the human rights of the rural peoples and small food producers in order to pave the way for corporate, including foreign, interests to take over lands and resources.” PANAP warns that these trends challenge rural communities and advocates of the people’s right to land and resources, food sovereignty and genuine land reform. The group highlights that a strong mass movement is needed that will confront and make accountable land grabbers and human rights violators.

Unsustainable agriculture and urbanisation threaten wild crop species: IUCN

ZT Research Team

Srinagar, Dec 27: Species of wild rice, wheat and yam are threatened by intensive agriculture and urban expansion, according to the latest red list of endangered species published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The conservationists warn that this could negatively impact food security. 

“Healthy, species-rich ecosystems are fundamental to our ability to feed the world’s growing population and achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goal 2 – to end hunger by 2030,” said IUCN Director General Inger Andersen in a press release. 

“Wild crop species, for example, maintain genetic diversity of agricultural crops that can adapt to a changing climate and ensure food and nutritional security.” For the red list update, 26 species of wild wheat, 25 species of wild rice and 44 species of wild yam were assessed. The researchers found that in total, three species of wild rice, two species of wild wheat and 17 wild yam species are threatened. 

The “IUCN Red List update raises the alarm about their decline and stresses the urgency to address it – for the sake of our own future,” Andersen added.

Deforestation and urban expansion alongside pressures from intensive agriculture, particularly over-grazing and extensive use of herbicides, are the primary threats to these species. IUCN therefore highlights the need to reduce intensive agricultural practices such as overgrazing and indiscriminate herbicide use in order to conserve crop wild relatives. The group also calls for a better preservation of crop wild relatives in gene banks and their use in plant breeding. 

Cross-breeding modern crop cultivars with crop wild relatives adds necessary genetic diversity, improving resistance to drought, disease and pests – all of which are likely to become increasing problems in a changing climate, the conservationists said. 

“The genetic diversity provided by crop wild relatives will allow us to develop more resilient crops in the era of climate change, helping ensure food security. We ignore the fate of these species at our own peril,” warns IUCN’s wild relative specialist Nigel Maxted. 

The group points to a recent study which found that 72% of crop wild relatives are not adequately preserved in gene banks and conservation in situ in the wild remains a challenge. 

According to ICUN, crop wild relatives are also of high economic value, contributing US$115 billion annually to the global economy. 

WTO's inevitable collapse

Crucial WTO meet ends without consensus

India refuses to budge on key issues of its interest


Buenos Aires, Dec 14:

Eluding a consensus, the 11th ministerial conference (MC11) of the World Trade Organization (WTO) ended last week without any substantial outcome.

After the US blocked a permanent solution on government stockholding for food security purposes, India toughened its stand on new issues including e-commerce and investment facilitation.

Finally, consensus could not be reached on a ministerial declaration and the conference ended with a chair’s summary of MC11 proceedings.

Member states did, however, agree to secure a deal on elimination of fisheries subsidies by the next ministerial in December 2019. Reluctance on the part of China and India to make immediate commitments thwarted a deal on fisheries at the Buenos Aires meet.

Argentine President Mauricio Macri even made a last-minute call to India’s trade minister Suresh Prabhu, leading the Indian delegation at Buenos Aires, to sign a draft ministerial declaration.

“As the draft lacked emphasis on issues close to India’s concern such as multilateralism, Doha Development Agenda, special and differential treatment of developing countries, India refused to budge. No ministerial declaration is better than a bad one,” a senior Indian commerce ministry official said on condition of anonymity.

“Due to divergences among members, and a few members not supporting acknowledgement and reiteration of key underlying principles guiding the WTO and various agreed mandates, ministers could not arrive at an agreed ministerial declaration,” an Indian commerce ministry statement said.

“We knew that progress here would require a leap in members’ positions,” WTO director general Roberto Azevedo said at the concluding ceremony. “We didn’t see that.”

Indian officials expressed disappointment as the WTO failed to deliver on its promise of a permanent solution in this round, but expressed satisfaction that they were able to thwart moves by developed countries to introduce new issues into the WTO agenda such as e-commerce, investment facilitation, MSMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises) and gender equality.

WTO 2017 - Key highlights

The 11 Ministerial Conference (MC11) of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) ended on December 13, 2017, as it had begun—without any fervour. 

At Nairobi in 2015—during MC10—there was a major agreement eliminating export subsidies in agriculture. 

At Bali in 2013—during MC9—there was the momentous trade facilitation agreement. At the Buenos Aires meeting in 2017, there was not even a ministerial declaration.In fact, there was not even a big fight. 

The stalemate dashed hopes for new deals on e-commerce and curbs to farm and fisheries subsidies and raised questions about the body’s ability to govern increasingly disputed global trade.

The frustrations led some ministers, including U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, to suggest that negotiations among smaller groups of “like-minded” WTO countries were a better approach going forward.

WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo added that WTO members needed to do some “real soul searching” about the way forward and realize they cannot get everything they want.

“Progress was going to require a leap in members’ positions,” Azevedo said at the event’s closing ceremony. “We didn’t see that.”

EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan, said: ”From the agriculture perspective, It is very disappointing that a work programme could not be agreed post Buenos Aires. That means that important issues such as food security will not now be prioritised in the work of the WTO. This is not in the interest of farmers and rural people in the developing world, nor in the developed world for that matter. This is a lose-lose outcome for all involved - a negative-sum outcome. The WTO is not a zero sum game, it is a positive-sum game when everyone plays their part”.