Sunday, March 10, 2013

Does Gender Play A Role In Sustainable Forestry?

While the world is coming to appreciate the unique perspective women have on forest management, researchers, conservationists and policy makers are still struggling to find ways to incorporate these views into their work. A new report by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) sets out to offer guidance.

By combing through 40 years of literature and tracking down researchers with relevant expertise, Carol Colfer and her co-author Rebakah Daro Minarchek were able to place existing methodologies to address gender and forestry research into three broad categories, each corresponding with the level of resources available.

The most optimal was the broad, multi-level participatory approach, whereby well-trained, qualified researchers, committed to being regularly involved in the lives of villagers, strive for long-term and beneficial development. In addition to significant finances and expertise, however, this requires a lot of time and sometimes decades.

“Although we recognise a number of institutional and resource constraints to doing this, we see this approach as the most likely to result in improvements, both for the environment and the welfare of both women and men,” said Colfer.

Moreover, she argued, shorter time spans supposedly required by the other two approaches are often a chimera. The systematic, academic approach (using existing documents, qualitative and quantitative analysis, and interpretive methods), is suitable to those with access to significant social science expertise. Most often these findings end up being published in peer-reviewed journals.

And, for those with very limited resources, there is the “quick (and sometimes, somewhat) dirty” approach, whereby a researcher may head into the field for a rapid-fire assessment of local people’s interests and goals. Not ideal, perhaps, but better than having no information about gender at all.

“Whichever case, though, unless you explicitly say women and men as you gather your information, people will often ignore the women,” cautioned Colfer.

“Generally, when people do address issues of people and forests, they very often see the community as a homogenous mass who all interact with the forests in the same way.”

Not all forest users are created equal
Decades of research have consistently shown that in addition to playing important roles in forest use, women and men appreciate forests in very different ways. Rather than exploiting resources (timber, game and mineral wealth), in many areas women have long recognised the value of more sustainable activities, such as gathering edible fruits, and harvesting of medicinal plants. In some parts of the world, they also are more actively involved in the trading of non-timber forest commodities, such as nuts and shea butter.

Unfortunately, the role gender plays in forests is rarely, if ever, addressed in the political arena. This is largely due to the globally disadvantaged situation women face as compared to men, something that is now starting to be acknowledged, with a number of institutions, including the International Food Policy Research Institute and the Institute of Social and Environmental Transition, establishing indices to measure disparities.

Still, this does not provide instruction on how to fix the problem. And even for experienced forestry researchers who well understand the powerful contribution women have to make, it’s often hard to escape old, preconceived notions that they are primarily interested in family and health.

“All the systems we know are inequitable towards women,” says Colfer, “so it’s a topic that people have difficulty addressing.”

Though a number of reviews of women and natural resources have been produced, Colfer is unaware of any to date specifically relating to forests. That’s what makes this new how-to report, 'Women, Men and Forest Research', so unique.

“I felt there was a need for something that is longer than an article, because the amount of material compared to what is out there is phenomenal compared to when I started working in this field in the early 1980s, and the analyses have become much more sophisticated,” Colfer said as the world marks International Women’s Day.

“Today we increasingly appreciate that we not only need to acknowledge that women have different kinds of involvement in production activities, but we also need to look at things like power differentials and interactions between men and women. The more we know about women, the more complex the systems become.”

Saving forests with a stethoscope
For example, there are many issues that affect women that may not intuitively be related to forests, like violence against women (some are subject to reprisals for legitimate activities outside the home) or the need for family planning.

“If we want forests to thrive, we need to have a fairly low population density in the area,” says Colfer.

“If we want women to have equal access to education, income generation, and political leverage, we have to allow them to control their fertility and there is a widespread demand for more birth control.”

A handful of initiatives, Colfer noted in an earlier CIFOR study, are already striving to integrate conservation and human health. Women living in the lush, biologically diverse forests of Indonesia’s portion of Borneo, for instance, are vulnerable to lung disease from cooking with wood, a problem that is exacerbated when land-clearing fires blanket the region with heavy, choking smoke.

Because they have so little access to formal healthcare (few doctors, clinics or drugs) they have to travel long distances on bad roads for anything from a routine doctor’s visit to a medical emergency. The latter costs money, enough at times to ruin a family financially, forcing some to turn to illegal logging, others to burn rainforest to clear new land for pesticide-laden crops and plantations. Clean watersheds become contaminated and floods damage fields and roads and accentuate disease.

It’s a vicious cycle, one the Indonesian non-governmental organisation, Alam Sehat Lestari (ASRI), based next to Gunung Palung National Park, sought to address by setting up a high-quality mobile health clinic. In addition to offering free birth control, affordable diagnostics and ambulance service, they offer training in organic farming. Treatments don’t have to be paid in cash. Patients and their families can instead give manure for the clinic’s garden or seeds for its reforestation site.

Integrating gender is good science
Colfer acknowledges she and her colleague only scratched the surface with their latest report, but it’s a starting point. Cristina Manfre, author of a related CIFOR guide published recently agrees. In 'Integrating Gender into Forestry Research', she lays out the numerous steps that researchers can take to ensure that perspectives on gender are included in their work. She hopes the research will help fill the knowledge gap and rectify many of the imbalances in people’s daily lives.

“How do you involve women in governance? Formal government, resource governance, and household governance – who does what work and who benefits,” Manfre said.

“This is ultimately about the division of labour: who gets to determine who does what.”

This requires long-time collaborative work with communities, she said. Only then is it possible to implement policies effectively.

“Integrating gender perspectives,” she said, “is good science.” - Zoe Cormier, AlertNet

Is Tunisia Moving Towards A Sustainable Agricultural Future?

Africa's infrastructure is under pressure from increasing disasters but the infrastructure deficit is an opportunity for the continent to take a global lead on sustainable development and to leap-frog environmentally unfriendly technologies, said Mrs. Rhoda Peace, the African Union Commissioner for rural economy and agriculture, at a seminar marking the 11th African Day for the Environment hosted by the Tunisian government.

"Green growth and the avoidance of unsustainable consumption patterns are integral to Africa's efforts to reduce disaster risk and we would like this reflected adequately in the discussions at the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in a few months time as well as in the new post-2015 framework agreement on disaster risk reduction when the Hyogo Framework for Action expires," she told UNISDR.

Mamia El Banna Zayani, Minister for the Environment, Tunisia, said her country was honoured to be the first country in North Africa to host the Africa Day for the Environment dedicated to the memory of the Kenyan Nobel Prize Winner and environmental activist, Wangari Maathai.

Mrs. El Banna Zayana said that Tunisia has realised the importance of the green economy as a promising field for employuments and had enshrined this in the new employment strategy at the national level.

She said that Tunisia was looking forward to playing a regional role in promoting the green economy with a strong focus on water, energy and food. "We cannot think of the development of Africa without addressing these."

A statement from the UN Environment Programme recognized Tunisia's potential to accelerate transition to a green economy in view of the fact that it is the second largest producer of organic farming in Africa with over 285,000 ha of organic farms and organic agriculture product exports reached 89 million Tunisian dinars. Tunisia also has a solar programme underway since 2005 and has the goal of reaching 4.3 % of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2014.

Frank Sperling, Chief Climate Change Specialist with the Africa Development Bank, highlighted that strengthening risk management and building resilience is essential for advancing green growth in light of climatic change, increasing natural resource pressures and population growth globally and in Africa itself. "The rationale for green growth is global and regional but we need solutions tailored to national circumstances," he said.

Desta Mebratu, UNEP's Deputy Regional Director for Africa, said that most part of the technological innovation required for the Green Economy transition is already here and where we have a significant lack is in the area of social innovation which will enable us to make the best use of the available technological options.

Mr. Mebratu highlighted the fact that Africa needed to improve its capacity to transform to new technologies and make maximum use of the available opportunities from global financing mechanisms including funds that are made available through the Global Environment Facility. - Denis McClean, Prevention Web 

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Should The Food Term "Natural" Have A Legal Definition?

The million-strong Organic Consumers Association (OCA), North America’s leading watchdog over organic and fair trade standards, announced today at the national Expo-West Natural Products convention, along with its allies in the organic and natural health community, a new nationwide campaign: the Organic Retail and Consumer Alliance (ORCA). This new alliance of public interest groups and food producers and retailers, including co-ops, natural food stores, farmers markets, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) buying clubs and wholesalers, will aggressively promote organic food and products, and expose and eliminate the misleading practice of “natural” labeling and marketing that has slowed the growth of America’s $30-billion dollar organic sector.

“Routine mislabeling and marketing has confused millions of U.S. consumers, and enabled the so-called ‘natural’ foods and products sector to grow into a $60-billion dollar a year powerhouse, garnering twice as many sales in 2012 as certified organic products,” said Ronnie Cummins, OCA’s National Director. “By exposing these misleading tactics, and promoting truth-in-labeling, we believe we can rapidly grow sales of certified organic and authentically natural food and products.”

Polls and surveys indicate that the majority of America’s health- and environmentally conscious consumers are confused about the qualitative difference between organic foods and items and so-called “natural” products. The majority of consumers believe, contrary to fact, that the cheaper foods, supplements, body care, clothing, and other products bearing the “natural” label are “almost organic,” while many consumers actually believe that the “all natural” label means a product is better than organic.

“This is outrageous,” said Cummins, “given that organic food and products, by law and by third-party certification, are produced without the use of synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilizers, animal drugs, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), irradiation, nanoparticles, or sewage sludge, whereas so-called “natural” products are unregulated.”

ORCA members will ORCA members will use a combination of public education, marketplace pressure, boycotts, class action lawsuits and state legislation to end misleading labeling practices in the “natural” products sector. Member will agree to:

Promote organic foods and products, especially local and regionally produced organic, as well as products in transition to organic, rather than so-called "natural" products. (“Transition to organic” means a producer has signed a contract with an accredited organic certifier to begin making the transition to organic.)

Promote truth-in-labeling by demanding signed, legally binding affidavits from “natural” product and ingredient suppliers stating whether or not their products contain genetically engineered ingredients. Voluntarily label or inform consumers about which “natural” or “conventional” brands or products contain GMOs.

Educate customers and the public about the qualitative superiority of organic and truly natural products (i.e. 100% pastured and free-range meat and animal products), as opposed to bogus “natural” products, which in most cases are no different than “conventional” chemical-intensive, factory-farmed products. - eNews Park Forest 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Have Scientist In Dubai Created Genetically Modified Camels?

Researchers in Dubai hope to create the first genetically modified (GM) camels capable of producing pharmaceutical proteins in their milk,which can then be processed to manufacture cheaper drugs for the region.

The project aims to slash the prices of life-saving drugs including insulin, and clotting factors for treating hemophilia in the Middle East and North Africa, according to Nisar Wani, head of the Reproductive Biology Laboratory at Dubai's Camel Reproduction Center, in the United Arab Emirates.

The cost of camel milk in the region is comparable to that of cow's milk, but the former is more suited to local climates, said Wani. Camels are highly resistant to disease, easier to maintain in the region's arid climate, and are more efficient in converting food [into body mass] than cows.

"We are establishing camel cells modified with exogenous [foreign] DNA, for use in producing transgenic cloned animals, or GM camels," Wani told SciDev.Net. "Hopefully we will transfer camel transgenic embryos to surrogate mothers for the first time later this year."

Wani said he was unable to pinpoint when the first transgenic animal would be born, as the calving rate for cloned embryos was only five per cent, and "this rate gets even smaller when transgenic cells are used".

"We have crossed some critical barriers but still need to do a lot of work to reach the final destination," he added.

"Producing a transgenic animal will bring the Emirates to the top of the international research field," Serge Muyldermans, head of the Laboratory of Cellular and Molecular Immunology at Vrije University Brussel, in Belgium, told SciDev.Net.* "However, so far they have just been repeating what others are doing with goats and cattle."

"Cows would be better producers of transgenic protein as they produce more milk," Muyldermans said. "But as camels can be kept in arid areas and are used to living under harsh conditions, they might be better suited to the Middle East."

The Reproductive Biology Laboratory was established in Dubai in 2003, to study the reproductive techniques in species from the region, particularly camels.

"[Previously] there was little or no literature available on assisted reproductive techniques in camels, so we had to standardise all the basic techniques one by one," explained Wani. "Finally, in 2009, we produced the first cloned camel calf named Injaz and thereafter produced many more."

The lab's researchers have established a cell bank from 'elite' camels, which excel in milk production and adapting to drought and hot weather, and now plan to clone these animals. The researchers are also setting up a cell bank for the region's other critically endangered species. - Rehab Abd Almohsen, Science Developement