Tiny wasps deployed to kill crop-eating pests in Indonesia

Tiny wasps deployed to kill crop-eating pests

Indonesia’s cassava plantations are being killed by mealybugs, and thousands of wasps will be released to stop them.

The mealybug, originally from South America, is devastating Indonesia's cassava crop [Georgina Smith/CIAT]

The mealybug, originally from South America, is devastating Indonesia’s cassava crop [Georgina Smith/CIAT

Scientists will release 3,000 parasitoid wasps in a cassava plantation in the Indonesian city of Bogor, hoping they will prey on the pink mealybug pest that has devastated the crop, the second-most-consumed starch in Indonesia.

The mealybug, a sap-sucking insect originally from South America, thrives in tropical climates and reproduces year-round. Each female lays about 500 eggs at a time, resulting in up to 15 new generations of the bugs annually.

“If not brought under control [in Indonesia], this invasive pest has the potential to considerably reduce cassava yield as it previously did in Thailand and elsewhere in the Asia region,” said Johannes Willem Ketelaar, the integrated pest management specialist for vegetables with the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) in the Asia-Pacific region.

Parasitoid wasps lay eggs inside the mealybug – and when the eggs hatch as larvae, the mealybug implodes. The strategy has been successfully used before to address a mealybug infestation in Thailand in 2010, as well as in Africa’s cassava belt, where the pest population was reduced to less than 10 percent of its peak, according to the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research Centres (CGIAR).

But repeated introductions of new crops and species to foreign ecosystems were what created the mealybug problem in the first place. Neither the insect nor cassava are indigenous to the Greater Mekong subregion, which includes Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam, and China’s southern Yunnan province.

“There is always a risk of unintended consequences when introducing a new species into an ecosystem,” said Laura Kahn, a physician and co-founder of the One Health Initiative, a scientific research movement investigating interaction among humans, animals and ecosystems.

Nevertheless, using the parasitoid wasps as a form of biocontrol is more environmentally sound than pesticides, scientists say, and has a proven track record.

Taking over, ‘alien-style’

Indonesian cassava farmers first sighted the mealybug in 2010. The pests infected entire plantations in Lampung and Java by 2014, according to Aunu Rauf, an entomologist at Bogor Agricultural University.

“The farmers did not know how to contain it. They tried to cut the tips off the leaves, but it wouldn’t stop spreading,” said Rauf.

Scientists at the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and FAO, in partnership with the Bogor Agricultural University, decided to introduce the wasps.

With heads the size of pins, the two-millimetre-long wasps use the mealybug’s body as a host by implanting their eggs inside and growing into larvae, eventually taking over the plant-sucking pests, “alien-style”, according to Kris Wyckhuys, a cassava entomologist at CIAT based in Hanoi.

A photo of the parasitoid wasp released by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture [AP]

A photo of the parasitoid wasp released by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture [AP]

“Following parasitism, mealybugs slowly perish and completely die within about two weeks, while the parasitoid wasp develops and feeds inside the mealybug’s body,” Wyckhuys explained.

It will take two years to bring down the mealybug population using the wasps, which scientists hope will adapt to local conditions and reproduce to initiate a long-term, full-fledged assault on mealybugs, which otherwise could become more resilient because of temperature increases associated with climate change.

Better than pesticides

The use of parasitoids, or parasite-like organisms that develop inside other life forms and later kill them, is more effective, safe and sustainable than pesticides, especially in Southeast Asia where farmers often do not use protective equipment, according to the FAO.

“Use of pesticides are often ineffective, contaminate the environment, can result in secondary pest outbreaks and can be hazardous for the applicator’s health,” said Ketelaar.

In addition, the waxy substance covering the mealybug’s body acts as an armour against insecticide, while the toxic poison is likely to kill other beneficial insects including the wasps, according to Rauf.

According to the FAO, for the wasp deployment to be successful, “farmers must stop use of pesticides”, stressed Ketelaar.

The study conducted before the wasp release did not find any potential negative side effects on Indonesian flora and fauna, noted CIAT’s Wyckhuys, who added the wasps have never been known to host in other species besides mealybugs.

But given that 75 percent of all emerging infectious diseases originate in the animal world – often when exotic species are introduced to a new place – risks cannot be completely ruled out, said Kahn.

For example, Kahn said, “white nose syndrome, the fungal disease that is decimating the little brown bat population in the US, was probably introduced by [a European species]. Hopefully nothing bad will happen with the wasps, but you never know.”

Entomologists, however, say the greater risk is that the initiative will not work, because of the use of pesticides or unforeseen wasp predators.

“The huge task of tackling the mealybug problem is just starting, and lots of work remains to be done,” concluded Wyckhuys.

Resilience planning – some do’s and don’ts

Resilience planning – some do’s and don’ts

Resilience planning can ignore the most vulnerable/ Photo courtesy of Jason Gutierrez, Philippines floods/ IRIN

Resilience planning can ignore the most vulnerable (Photo courtesy of Jason Gutierrez, Philippines floods, IRIN)

BANGKOK, 26 September 2014 (IRIN) – Among the topics being discussed at the 2014 World Climate Week in New York City (22-26 September), are financing resilient cities, corporate actions for resilience, the ways data can support resilience moves, and women’s leadership in resilience planning.

IRIN looks at some of the successes, failures and pitfalls in resilience planning.

Hazard-resilient investments can range from enforced building codes, to early warning systems, to community-level waste management – all crucial for buffering societies against disasters.

“It can be as easy as painting lines on trees to gauge water levels [so] you can see when it is time to pack up and leave, before it is too late,” Richard Yates, the director of the US Agency for International Development’s (USAID) regional mission for Asia, told IRIN, pointing to a USAID-supported project in the Philippines.

But resilience planning which does not include a range of actors – from vulnerable communities to big companies – can fail to accomplish anything new, warned a critique by the Humanitarian Policy Group at the London-based Overseas Development Institute (ODI).

“There is a danger that we go on and think we are building resilience when really we are ignoring the most vulnerable,” said Paul Levine, a livelihoods and vulnerability specialist with ODI. “In coming up with a whole new language and framework, we forget the basics.”

For example, relocations without community consent, can do more harm than good. The best way to proceed is to bring together scientists, governments, the private sector, and communities.

What doesn’t work?

In the aftermath of the April 2014 floods in Honiara, Solomon Islands, where more than 10,000 people lost their homes, the City Council declared informal riverside settlements as “no-build zones” while simultaneously pushing to shut evacuation centres, leaving people with no choice but to return to places with limited access to livelihoods and services.

“The [government-run] process of relocating people from the formal Honiara evacuation centres has been quite a fraught one, as people are being removed to provinces where they have either never lived, or have not lived in 20 or 30 years,” said Philippa Ross, the UN Women’s gender and protection adviser based in Suva, Fiji’s capital, adding that at least hundreds remained homeless.

But, argued Sune Gudnitz, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Bangkok, “the government has to enforce no-build zones in areas of high risk.”

He explained that geo-hazard mapping from aerial footage captured by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC – an intergovernmental organization made up of 26 nations) found that riverside areas are unsafe because of flood hazards.

ODI’s Levine says such relocations are not uncommon, calling them a “disturbing reality”.

“Relocating populations in high risk coastal areas under the name of resilient urban planning, then a few years later installing tourist resorts there, is not unknown to happen,” said Levine, citing relocations in Sri Lanka after the Indian Ocean 2004 tsunami, where decisions based on the scientific and technical aspects of resilience resulted in forced relocations.

Accountable governance

According to Mercy Corps, which has been working on resilience in East Africa since 2004, and is a member of the Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network (ACCRN) in Indonesia, making communities resilient is less about science and more about equitable and accountable governance.

It is often the most impoverished who set up their homes on vacant urban land in areas frequently not suitable for building, according to the Jakarta-based Institute of Social and Environmental Transition ISET-International (ISET), a research institution that works on climate change adaptation in cities.

“You often have large flows of workers and migrants seeking any open space they can find to settle because it’s fundamental to accessing work, school for their children,” said Marcus Moench, ISET’s president.

“The key point is that if resettlement does need to happen, everyone needs to be involved whether they are informal settlements or not,” said Paul Jeffery, Indonesia country director for Mercy Corps.

Septic tanks in lieu of relocation

Experts say much can be done to improve peoples’ situations without relocating them.

“We don’t want to erode people’s decision-making ability to live where they choose,” said Mercy Corps’ Jeffery. “First [we need to] know why they are living there, ensure people are aware of the risks, and then find ways to better prepare them.”

For example, a Mercy Corps sanitation project in flood-prone Jakarta helps to install affordable septic tanks in densely-populated areas to protect people from the health risks of wading through faeces during floods.

It encompasses all local actors: Mercy Corps worked in communities to raise awareness about the importance of septic tanks, which get installed in individual homes. The NGO then campaigned for the municipal government to install larger septic tanks in nearby rubbish dumps so the household tanks could be emptied regularly. Microcredit loans, supplied by the NGO, prompted small businesses to open push-cart services for hauling waste from small tanks to the big central tank.

The system even attracted funding from IKEA, the Swedish retailer, which will now pay to install 100 septic tanks in parts of North Jakarta within the next two years.

Gender and resilience

Experts say that supporting genuine resilience also requires questioning who speaks for the community. Gender, for example, can offer a lens on power disparities that poorly-framed resilience interventions can exacerbate.

“Even within the same household, individuals will experience shocks and stresses in different ways,” said a 2014 Mercy Corps report, which also noted that during assessments, women tend to identify risks sometimes absent from traditional frameworks.

“The big-picture worldview associated with resilience tends to reflect men’s priorities more than women’s. We just hear what the men say as being important because it matches what we assume and think is important  rather than something like sickness, which affects people more but is not a crisis as we conceptualize it,” said Levine.

A 2013 study co-researched by the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) on Kenya, Ethiopia and the self-declared republic of Somaliland noted that women needed to be prompted in order to identify recent droughts as a risk.

“Investing in resilience makes good business sense”

“Businesses are also recognizing that investing in resilience makes good business sense,” said USAID’s Yates. Nearly 80 percent of all economic investment comes from private companies, according to the UN’s 2013 Global Assessment report.

“The challenges are too great for any single entity or sector to tackle alone,” said Kyla Reid, the head of the GSMA Disaster Response Network, a liaison between mobile phone operators and humanitarian organizations that works in disaster areas such as in the wake of the Philippines 2013 Typhoon Haiyan.

In August 2014, USAID partnered with the Rockefeller Foundation to sponsorUS$100 million in prize money to inspire new measures in resilience from public and private sector actors.

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Solomon women carry climate change burden

 Solomon women carry climate change burden

Solomon Islands has seen temperatures surge, and female farmers are struggling to provide food for families.

The Solomons has seen plant disease outbreaks, floods, and rising sea levels [Dana MacLean/Al Jazeera]

The Solomons has seen plant disease outbreaks, floods, and rising sea levels [Dana MacLean/Al Jazeera]

Koregu, Solomon Islands – Every afternoon as dusk descends onto the farm-terraced hillsides, the spotlight of acute environmental anxiety and resilience planning, traditional gender roles play out amid the struggle to adapt to hazard-inducing climate change in rural Solomon Islands.

As the UN Climate Summit gets under way in New York City, the plight of women in the Solomon Islands intersects with a pivotal political moment for environmental change.

The country suffers the consequences of greenhouse gas emissions from the developed world in the form of extreme temperatures, which in recent years have culminated in pest and plant disease outbreaks, floods, and rising sea levels at 8mm per year since 1993. That’s more than double the global average of 3.4mm annually, according to the International Climate Change Adaptation Initiative.

As the primary food suppliers of the household, women in Solomon Islands carry the burden of climate change, feeling stress – and often taking the heat – when low crop production means less food on the table.

Unpredictable climate patterns have wreaked havoc on planting and harvesting times [Dana MacLean/Al Jazeera]

“There is more fighting in the house because men think women are not tending to the garden enough,” said Veronica Kefu, 47, a sturdy outspoken mother of four hailing from the 300-person Tausese community of Koregu village in Isabel province.

“But it is not true, the garden does not produce the same as before.”

The traditional role of women farmers descends partly from matrilineal land ownership among certain tribes, and mostly from a heavily patriarchal culture where men make the decisions – and earn whatever cash is needed in the household through occasional casual work in the towns – while women plant, till, and harvest crops in the fields to bring home food and care for the family.

“Men usually do not even step foot in the garden after clearing it. They hardly go, but at the end of the day they still expect a big taro [root vegtable] on their plate,” said Benjamin Tambe, a research officer with the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock based in Avu Avu.

Decades ago, when planting a garden promised nearly a full harvest, farming was only necessary a few days a week to secure enough food and surplus to sell to neighbouring communities at the weekly market.

But unpredictable climate patterns in the past few years have wreaked havoc on women’s planting and harvesting times, with unseasonable rainfall and violent storms that destroy gardens through landslides. Initiatives by the government, in partnership with the UN Development Programme (UNDP), have introduced dry rice farming, sites which provide seeds and other planting materials, and training to encourage the women to diversify the traditional Solomon diet.

Women farmers on the frontline

Taro, sweet potato, and cassava – the three traditional staple foods – have suffered extensively under increasingly erratic weather patterns. Extended periods of unseasonable rainfall have destroyed root vegetables, which can only stay submerged under water for a day without rotting, according to the UNDP’s SWoCK project – Strogem Woaka Lo Community Fo Kaikai – which works with the Ministry of Agriculture to provide root vegetables and seedlings in 18 communities across three regions in the Solomons.

“We used to know when to grow what, but now we don’t know,” said Linesu, 35, a mother of four hailing from Tausese community in Koregu, Santa Isabel province, which was recently the battleground for a 10-day typhoon that burst the Jarihana river banks and left cassava and kumara crops rotten and mouldy.

It is the growing discrepancy between commitment to labour and yield that remains the most trying aspect of the barrage of symptoms brought on by climate change.

“Where we used to be able to grow taro in three months, it now takes five. We do the same amount of work, and the garden produces less,” said Kefu.

While men are also worried, according to the village chief, Jaspar, and the local heads of households, “The women are the ones who face it on a daily basis, because they are responsible for procuring food,” said Jacob Pitu, the ministry’s chief field officer overseeing Koregu.

Rosemary, 28, gave birth to her fifth child on the kitchen floor of her leaf hut in mid-August with the help of her sisters, and plans to go back to the fields in a few weeks, though she is still tired from the birth and newborn care.

“If I don’t go, then we will not have any food to eat. We cannot rely on my relatives forever,” she told Al Jazeera.

Women, who on average have five or more babies, generally return to fields less than two months after delivery – strapping the babies to their backs or taking the older children to the fields with them to look after their younger siblings, according to Mary Waletasu, an assistant field officer for the Women in Agriculture Programme for the government.

“Nobody will go to work for them, so they have to work,” she said. “It’s not enough [time to rest], but it’s part of our daily lives because it’s the woman’s task.”

Dietary changes

Yet the fertility of the soil in the inland Tausese community makes the burden of food insecurity less than other parts of the Solomon Islands, along the windward coast, where growing crops is nearly impossible because of constant landslides and torrential winds, which wash away the top layer of soil.

In other towns, the only fertile soil is at the top, and if rainstorms wash it away, nothing can grow

– Jacob Pitu, Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock

“In other towns, the only fertile soil is at the top, and if rainstorms wash it away, nothing can grow,” explained Pitu.

Since 2011, the Solomon Islands government, in partnership with SWoCK, supported by the Adaptation Fund under the Kyoto Protocol, has provided farming training along with seeds and planting materials to grow different crops simultaneously, maximising chances for survival for at least one crop if disaster strikes.

“If water washes out the taro, there is rice or swamp taro planted in another place, which thrives in water,” said Nixon Buka, SWoCK’s provincial project coordinator based in Isabel province.

But even with adaptation methods, women still carry the burden.

“Women are working harder than men, even more so now. It needs to change, both of them need to work together in both garden and home,” said Waletasu.

Many climate scientists say time is of the essence.

“The more we wait, the more difficult, the more expensive, the more challenging it will be to adapt to climate change caused by human activities,” said Michel Jarraud, the secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization, in a recent statement.

Source:
Al Jazeera

With ‘even the fish confused’, Solomons seek new weather data

With ‘even the fish confused’, Solomons seek new weather data

A Solomon Islands man in the 300-person Tausese community in Koregu, Isabel province, harvests sweet potatoes. THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION/Dana MacLean

A Solomon Islands man in the 300-person Tausese community in Koregu, Isabel province, harvests sweet potatoes. THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION/Dana MacLean

AVUAVU, Solomon Islands (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – An abandoned airstrip overgrown with weeds marks the entrance to this village of 400 people on Guadalcanal, the largest of the Solomon Islands. Since January, it has been home to the Solomon’s first automatic weather station, a device that may help the Pacific archipelago nation bear up to climate change.

“This is the first time we can know what is happening on the other side (of the island) in real time,” said David Hiriasia, director of the government’s meteorology department. “Before we could only use Japan’s rotating satellite, so we received the data half a day later.”

The weather monitoring system measures wind speed, air temperature, rainfall, soil moisture and other indicators to help predict oncoming storms and other weather problems. Information is automatically sent to the National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research in New Zealand, then back to the Ministry of Environment, Climate Change, Disaster Management and Meteorology in Honiara, the Solomon Islands’ capital city.

Over the last two years, Honiara has suffered floods that displaced more than 10,000 people, while a town on Taro island, part of the Solomons, has had to relocate entirely because of flooding. The new high-tech weather system aims to provide better advance warning of such extreme weather, and close the gap with island nations like Samoa and Fiji, which have already adopted similar technology to monitor and adapt to climate change.

The station was put in place by the government and the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP), with money channeled through the  Adaptation Fund, created under the Kyoto Protocol.

‘EVEN THE FISH ARE CONFUSED’

Residents say improved forecasting will be a relief in the face of growing weather unpredictability that has made traditional knowledge less useful.

“We used to be able to predict the next day’s weather by watching the movement of the clouds, the strength of the winds, and the currents of the ocean. But now the weather changes dramatically in an instant,” said Thomas Tareoha, 46, a pastor.

“When I was a child, our fathers knew when to fish and when to grow. Now with the weather, even the fish are confused,” he said.

With sea level rising and temperatures rising, the new weather data will be particularly important for subsistence farmers struggling to deal with worsening high tides, more saline water tables and changing growing conditions.

In a June report, UNDP administrator Helen Clark said increasingly extreme and erratic weather could “make it very difficult for small farmers to decide what to cultivate and when to sow and harvest.”

Officials from the Ministry of Environment, Climate Change, Disaster Management and Meteorology and UNDP say they hope to use the new climate data to develop things like new cropping calendars for farmers, and to send out early warnings about droughts and other climate-related disasters, in an effort to build resilience.

Farmers and agricultural experts countrywide have seen harvests of their traditional staple, sweet potato, fall in the past decade, and noted changes in fish migration patterns that make fishing more difficult. However, most of the information has anecdotal, or based on irregular recordings.

Alan Porteous, a climate scientist based in Samoa for New Zealand’s National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research, called the station a crucial long-term investment in climate change adaptation.

Hiriasia, head of the island meteorology department, said the equipment should provide “more material to make decisions on and to prepare communities.”

The equipment installed in January is expected to be supplemented with additional barometric pressure sensors and equipment to measure grass and leaf temperatures and moisture in the coming year. Altogether the equipment will cost more than a million dollars, the officials said.

QUESTIONS ABOUT LOCAL CAPACITY

The toughest challenge ahead, said Hiriasia, one of only three meteorologists in the country, is “lack of local capacity to maintain and run it,” something his agency is working on building.

Local conditions can also be a challenge. The equipment is located near a tumultuous section of ocean called tasi mauri (“alive sea” in the local Ghari dialect). In August, a boatful of supplies and specialists headed for the station were hurled into the raging ocean. The supplies sank, and staff from the UNDP and the Ministry of Environment swam against a forceful current for more than an hour to reach the shore.

“People think they can just check weather data on the internet. But how do you think it gets there? You have to go to (the station) at some point,” said Hiriasia.

While island farmers will not have direct access to the data, the government will use it to design cropping calendars to share with farmers, Hiriasia said.

“These technologies are not solutions in themselves, but rather the means to developing solutions,” Porteous said.

Concern over World Bank proposals to roll back safeguards for indigenous people

IRIN Global

BANGKOK, 3 September 2014 (IRIN) – Activists warn of a harmful regression in the World Bank’s safeguard policies, claiming that proposed changes being considered this autumn could weaken the rights of indigenous people, and others in danger of displacement and abuse as a result of Bank-funded development projects.

“This [version of the safeguards] will be dangerous backsliding into their bad legacy of treatment against indigenous people if it is approved,” said Joan Carling, secretary-general of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP), a network that operates in 14 Asian countries.

According to the World Bank, “the proposed Environmental and Social Framework builds on the decades-old safeguard policies and aims to consolidate them into a more modern, unified framework that is more efficient and effective to apply and implement.”

However, campaigners say the current draft dilutes the protective promise of the safeguards and fails to include indigenous rights considerations in projects funded by the World Bank by obtaining “free, prior, and informed consent” for development interventions. The proposed changes, including an “opt out” policy, could leave development decisions solely at the discretion of governments.

In a 22 July statement the Bank Information Centre (BIC), an independent watchdog, explained: “The Bank is proposing a new loophole that allows governments to ‘opt out’ of following requirements related to indigenous peoples, which would be a major blow to indigenous peoples who have counted on the Bank to recognize them when governments refuse.” The World Bank was the first multilateral development bank to introduce an indigenous people’s policy (in 1982).

Other adjustments suggest a broader attempt to roll-back responsbilities: “The elimination of clear, predictable rules also appears to be a clear attempt by the Bank to avoid accountability for the negative impacts of projects that it funds,” BIC said.

With more than US$50 billion in development aid at risk of being funnelled into projects that could forcibly evict, displace, or fail to adequately compensate communities for resource losses, pressure is mounting on the Bank as board meetings begin on 3 September.

Loophole

The pending amendments retain the requirement for project-affected peoples’ “free, prior and informed consent” to relocate; proper compensation; labour rights of workers; and non-discriminatory development. However, the draft includes options for the Bank’s non-compliance, which leaves it for governments to decide how to proceed with projects – including by ignoring indigenous people.

“Allowing [governments] not to recognize groups [as indigenous] is incredibly problematic particularly when we know the history of government violating indigenous peoples’ rights,” said Jessica Evans, senior researcher on international financial institutions at Human Rights Watch’s (HRW).

According to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Persons (UNDRIP), indigenous people are those who maintain historical continuity with pre-colonial groups, have strong relationships with natural resources and land as the basis of their cultural and physical survival, and self-identify themselves as indigenous as part of their belief systems which differ from the dominant society.

While UNDRIP has been adopted by 143 countries, domestic implementation has been limited. The draft safeguards give governments a loophole to escape recognition of indigenous persons when it comes to Bank-funded development interventions status if it causes conflict or goes against the constitution of the country.

According to a 30 July statement from the Bank about the proposed safeguards draft, indigenous status can be opted out of “in exceptional circumstances when there are risks of exacerbating ethnic tension or civil strife or where the identification of Indigenous Peoples is inconsistent with the constitution of the country…”

“Setting the standard is something an institution as powerful and influential as the World Bank should be considering as mandatory, rather than optional.”

As the draft safeguards go under review by the Bank’s board, activists warn that without major reform to the draft, consultations with indigenous groups when designing and implementing development projects have little meaning.

“If they provide the opt out option for recognizing indigenous groups, indigenous people will suffer adverse impacts,” warned AIPP’s Carling, adding that government refusal to acknowledge the indigenous status of many ethnic minorities can be a contributing factor to statelessness, poverty and forced relocation.

A history of abuses

A root concern about the proposed safeguards is that they shift the onus forenvironmental and social responsibility away from the Bank and onto borrowing governments, which means funds could go to states alreadynotorious for land grabs, corruption and human rights violations.

In recent years researchers have documented cases of forced evictions in poor communities as a part of World Bank-funded projects.

For example, in East Badia, a community in Lagos, Nigeria, Amnesty International reported that 9,000 people had their homes razed to make way for luxury apartments. In Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital, up to 135,000 families will be relocated in the next three years to make way for urban development, the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), a Sri Lankan NGO, argues.

In East Badia, community protests against the razing of homes met all of the requirements to trigger the safeguards for a full World Bank investigation. However, the Bank’s eight-member board instead decided to institute a pilot project for resettlement which compensated communities one-third below the market rate for informal housing in Lagos.

“The compensation was so low it did not enable them to live anywhere else except another slum or precarious accommodation which will put them in danger of being forcibly evicted again,” said Alessandra Masci, Amnesty International’s senior analyst for business and human rights, and lead researcher for the report on Lagos.

The Bank’s pilot, implemented in November 2013, was in line with the new direction of the bank (and the draft safeguards currently under consideration), in which vague language creates flexibility in decision-making for the Bank and the borrower government – leaving the poor to fend for themselves, analysts say.

“Banks and panels are standing back and leaving communities completely alone to deal with entities much more powerful than them,” explained Masci.

In the case of Sri Lanka, the government, armed with US$213 million of World Bank loans, will forcibly relocate an estimated 300,000 people under the Metro Colombo Urban Development Project (MCUDP), according to CPA.

A commitment to ending poverty?

Critics warn that without airtight safeguards for vulnerable people, the rights of indigenous groups will continue to be violated by development projects, and undermine the very target the Bank has set for itself: to end poverty.

While indigenous people comprise 5 percent of the global population, they make up 15 percent of all people living beneath national poverty lines globally,according to the UN.

“In order for grievance mechanisms to work, environmental and social standards need to be clear and prescriptive,” said Kristen Genovese, a senior attorney with the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), a Washington-based watchdog.

Some fear that growing competition in international lending – with the emergence of Chinese and Japanese development banks, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and the BRICS bank – may stoke a fear of losing clients and trigger a race-to-the-bottom panic. Experts argue that the World Bank should see its safeguards as an opportunity to assert its position as a global leader.

“Competition is good. It means more finance for development,” said HRW’s Evans. “The Bank could show other lenders best practices and be a model development bank.”

Sophie Chao, a project officer with the Forest People’s Programme (FPP), a Netherlands-based indigenous and environmental rights organization, said: “Setting the standard is something an institution as powerful and influential as the World Bank should be considering as mandatory, rather than optional.”

Carling asked: “If their main target is to address poverty – if not for the poor, who is development really for then?”

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Food security and Solomon Islands

Food Security and Solomon Islands

(The Diplomat)— Pests and other ravages of climate change are creating a food security challenge for the Pacific island nation.

A woman in Koregu, Isabel Province, farms for yams, one of the staple foods for Solomon Islanders.

A woman in Koregu, Isabel Province, farms for local yams, one of the staple foods for Solomon Islanders at risk of perishing with climate change impacts

The entrance to the government-run garden in Gozoruru, in Santa Isabel island, is littered with bug-bitten leaves, and many of the sweet potato stalks have started to brown and wilt under the unforgiving scorch of the midday sun. Planting was once a cut-and-dry process, with a field planted with yam seeds producing a full harvest within three months.

Now, throughout Solomon Islands, yams take at least five months to grow, their tubers pushed up through poor soil doused with unexpected rainfall during the dry season from April to October. Pests and disease flourish in the higher, damper temperatures, and sometimes only half of a planted garden bears fruit.

“The pests were always there, but now they come in numbers, and we don’t have any remedy for the new pests or plant diseases,” said Dominic Alebua, 59, a primary school teacher in Avuavu, on southern Guadalcanal island.

The communities near Gozoruru and Avuavu are far from sites where boats could regularly dock to bring supplies such as dry rice and tuna from Honiara – making self-reliance critical during the seven months of the year when only one or two ships pass by. Rough seas also make fishing a challenge, with people sometimes going weeks without their only source of protein.

“Sometimes we only eat bananas for three weeks. Or we skip lunch,” said Anthony Suava, 46, a local police officer in Avuavu.

Solomon Islands has been among the nations hardest hit by the impact of climate change, with sea levels rising up to 8 mm per year since 1993 – more than double the global average of 2.8 -3.6 mm – and temperatures rising 0.15 degrees since 1951. Each rainy season averages 300 mm rainfall, and this is projected to increase by 20 percent in the late 21st century, according to the International Climate Change Adaptation Initiative. With 85 percent of all people distributed throughout the 1000-island archipelago relying on the earth and sea for food, environmental changes shake the basis of survival for rural communities.

So, in 2012, the government and the UN Development Programme’s (UNDP) climate change adaptation project Strogem Waka Lo Community Fo Kai Kai (SWoCK), pidgin for enhancing community resilience, supported by the Adaptation Fund, began a series of experimental gardens, known as bulking sites, throughout Solomon Islands. Their plan was to test out which crop varieties will survive the barrage of ill weather brought by climate change, and distribute planting materials to farmers.

“We want to determine which ones are strong enough to grow in erratic conditions,” said Benjamin Tambe, the Ministry’s research officer based in Avuavu, who lives alone at the isolated site, tending to the garden and collecting growth data and weather patterns.

Flourishing Pests

Countries from all over the world have sent their seedlings for experimentation, including Peru, the U.S., Papua New Guinea, Denmark, Mexico and Taiwan. The tubers, planted in November this year, will be examined and rated next year to determine their hardiness against pests, heavy rainfall, soil erosion, and rising temperatures.

But there are more than 2,755 different pests flourishing in Solomon Islands, according to the Pacific Islands Pest List Database, and identifying the resistant crops will be an arduous process of trial and error, with constant adjustment to new conditions, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock – which, with SWoCK, plans to open a Plant Health Clinic (PHC) in the upcoming months. Community members will be able to bring in samples of plant materials ravaged by pests and disease for physical examination, diagnoses, and practical advice for treatment. Common pests include the taro beetle, taro worms, and the weevil. The Alomae-Bobone disease transmitted through mealy bugs can destroy more than half a field.

“The low-lying coastal areas used to be the only places infested, but now the pests are appearing in the cooler highland areas, a sign that the temperature is warming,” said Nixon Buka, the SWoCK Provincial Project Coordinator based in Isabel province.

Rotting Crops

By encouraging seasonal crop rotation with support from SWoCK, the ministry hopes to cut off the life cycle of the pest and control population growth. Planting different crop varieties, such as swamp taro (which thrives in swampy, wet conditions) will also ensure more tuber and vegetable varieties are available after heavy rainfall.

“The problem is that the food people like and have planted mono-crop for years is very vulnerable to pest attack,” said Buka.

The staple yams can only survive two to three days of rain, but others, such as the ubiquitous swamp taro, thrive in swampy wet conditions throughout the bush.

“If people don’t have sweet potato, they say there is a shortage of food. But [there are other things] they can plant and eat,” he stressed.

But the farmers have not given up hope that the experimental gardens will result in seeds and planting materials for their staple starches.

“We need to have our own taro and yam again,” said Alebua. “The farmers don’t give up, they keep making gardens in spite of pests and disease… it is part of our tradition,” said Alebua.

The pests are  but one concern in the host of climate-related issues for Pacific Island state governments. The third international conference on Small Island Development States (SIDS) being held this week in Apia, Samoa is giving them an opportunity to discuss such issues, and to see how cooperation on initiatives such as seed swaps can mitigate the harsh impacts of climate change on communities.

Solomon Islands Photo Essay for UNDP

8 August 2014 — Communities struggle to fight against sea level rise changes in Solomon. Here is a photo essay I took last week including shots from an area buffered by a tumultuous sea, known as tasi mauri, or sea that is alive. Communities receive only one or two boats during the entire seven month rainy season from from February to August each year, making their survival dependant on their ability to grow food.

https://undp.exposure.co/af-solomon-islands