Tag Archives: livelihood

Survival of indigenous communities and forests amidst the pandemic

This blog post is written by Anudini Wijayarathna, Master’s student in Rural Development & Natural Resource Management at SLU.

Image by cultur668 from Pixabay

‘Impacts of the pandemic on forest communities and forest resource use – what do we know, what do we need to know and how to find out?’ have been one of the most enlightening discussions that I have participated in. It was a dialogue co-arranged by Focali (Forest, Climate and Livelihood research network) and SIANI (Swedish International Agricultural Network Initiative).

It’s been around a year since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged worldwide. Yet, the impacts of it will extend over many years. Currently, there are various entities that are deeply impacted by the pandemic globally as well as nationally.  Forest resources and forest communities can be considered as one of them. Most importantly, the world is still in the process of identifying the extent of these implications. This dialogue has been an instrumental platform in creating awareness on that. However, my attention was grabbed particularly by the discussion on the disruptions that occurred in the livelihoods of indigenous people.

Absence of state and regressive actions of the governments

Having forest-based livelihoods, indigenous communities are affected by the pandemic in different ways. To a certain extent, the pandemic has been a positive cause of livelihoods for some of the indigenous communities. They got the chance to depend more on the forest resources as there are fewer external activities functioning within the forests due to lockdowns. Nevertheless, for some indigenous communities, the pandemic has been a cause of destruction.

In this event, Ricardo Camilo Niño Izquierdo, Technical Secretary of the Indigenous Secretariat of the National Commission for Indigenous Territories, Colombia and Keyla Barrero, Anthropologist, National University of San Marcos, Peru, shared their views on how the pandemic has affected the indigenous communities. According to their experience, the indigenous people are subjected to negligence with insufficient health care and sanitation by the state during the nationwide lockdowns.

The absence of state governing authorities in the forest territories during the lockdowns allowed powerful actors to expand their illicit activities. Those are illegal logging, use of land for illegal plantations, presence of armed groups, drug trafficking etc. These activities aggravated deforestation in 2020 in comparison to the previous years. Moreover, there has been a significant increase in human rights violations of indigenous communities, which sometimes ends up in murdering them.

The situation becomes worse when the governments are trying to overcome the ongoing financial crisis through detrimental policies and actions towards the forest resources. Renewal of mining and excessive extraction of resources by the authorities is such an instance that threatens the sustainability of the livelihoods. In addition to that, indigenous people who are not yet given proper land titles or tenures, get further suppressed when the local governments endorse illegal invaders to occupy the forests. Lack of effective policies and excluding indigenous community representation in the government consultation procedures has also been a stimulating factor for this vulnerable situation.

Ultimately, all these activities cause not only the deterioration of indigenous people’s livelihoods but also many other destructive consequences such as degradation of natural resources and climate and increase of global hunger and poverty. Thus, reaching UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 has become an immense challenge to the whole world.

For a brighter future

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Under such circumstances, it is a dire need to put forward remedial measures to decrease these vulnerabilities. Yet, identifying the needful actions to overcome these issues is the toughest among all. I believe, primarily it is important at this stage to lay a legal framework to ensure indigenous communities’ land tenure and to include them in the government consultation in policy making.

As discussed in the dialogue, it is also crucial to strengthen the local capacity building on merging the voice of indigenous and local communities. I consider this kind of effort will be essential to involve indigenous people and their lay-knowledge in local sustainable development efforts such as smallholder farming and plantations. It will be beneficial to upgrade the livelihoods as well as to promote sustainable use of ecosystems. In order to make the procedure more effective, the researchers and practitioners also need to collaborate in building knowledge and applying it in implementation.

Apart from that, creating public awareness continuously through global partnerships on the challenges and opportunities for indigenous communities is also needful for the long-term survival of indigenous communities as well as the forests. Accordingly, strengthening indigenous communities will not be merely an effort of uplifting indigenous livelihoods but also a part of green recovery. However, in order to see a brighter future, the implementation strategies of these remedial measures might have to be shaped according to the situation while aiming towards sustainable development.

What are the effects of something that never happened?

By: Dr. Linda Engström, Department of Urban and Rural Development, SLU

It is early morning when we leave a cool, overcast Bagamoyo town and the beaches of the Indian Ocean behind us. We are driving north-west towards Razaba Ranch, the area in eastern Tanzania where the Swedish company Eco Energy is planning to plant thousands of hectares of sugar cane and construct a sugar factory. Over the years, I have visited the area many times. This time, as well, I want to talk to the people living on the land targeted by the project, to understand their perceptions of it and the dynamics on the ground. The rainy season has just started and we expect a muddy, slippery trip. As we approach Razaba Ranch, we round a bend in the road and see that the Ruvu river has burst its banks, covering the bridge in slowly simmering, brown water. Two young men have seen the potential to make some money and are doing the important job of guiding cars through the water in order to avoid invisible rocks and to direct drivers to the shallow waters. Our car cannot pass through with us inside it. We pull off our shoes and start wading through the brown water until we reach across to the muddy road. Over the years, these floods have caused delays in project timelines, since they reduce access to the project site, and they have been repeatedly omitted in new timelines. We stop at one sub-village on the left side of the road, the side that is promised to the investor. We greet the village chair, people appear from nearby houses and some people travelling along the road stop, all gathering under a huge tree to talk to us about the planned investment, sitting on logs and, as the group expands, on yellow plastic containers. I know several of them by now, others are new acquaintances. Outside the nearest house are rows of white plastic rice bags packed with charcoal. In the meeting, we are told, among other things, that due to restrictions on agricultural practices while awaiting resettlement, more people have become dependent on charcoal production for their livelihoods. People are hoping that, after the ongoing rainy season, something will progress as concerns the resettlement as the roads are opened up again.

The Swedish sugar-cane project in Bagamoyo was initiated in 2006 through a Memorandum of Understanding between the company, then called SEKAB, and the Government of Tanzania. Since then, the original idea to produce ethanol for the European market has, for various reasons, changed into mainly producing sugar for the Tanzanian market. The plan has been to launch a 450 million USD project with a 300 million USD loan from the African Development Bank and a credit guarantee from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, Sida. The project, based on a 99-year lease of the land, was marketed by the Swedish company executives with great promises. For instance, the project was to produce 130,000 tons sugar and 10 million litres ethanol annually, produce reliable electricity supply to 100,000 rural households. It would employ 2000 people and 10,000–12,000 jobs as spin-off effects, provide  13–18 million USD in annual revenue for outgrower farmers and provide the state with 30 million USD in yearly tax revenues. In all, it would reduce poverty and bring rural development.

However, when we visit the area this time, ten years have passed since project initiation, and there is still not a single sugar cane in sight. Timelines have been repeatedly postponed; conflicts over land have arisen, negotiations over compensations, floods and issues of resettlement have interfered with the process, bureaucratic procedures and unexpected external events have grinded down the expected simple, linear project implementation process – it encountered reality. All the while, major proponents of the project, such as Sida, the African Development Bank and the Tanzanian President at the time, Kikwete (2005-2015), maintained their support of the project. Sida even supported the project with 54 million SEK from the Swedish development budget. One could assume that the transaction costs for the Tanzanian government must have been severe. And all the while, the approximately 1400 people living on the land and using it for their livelihoods have been regularly informed to be ready for an upcoming resettlement. They have been encouraged not to invest in their land, nor any other assets; they should not plant perennial crops such as trees, since they will not be compensated for such investment upon resettlement. Some people were lucky to get training in construction or driving, as part of the international best practice that was pursued for the resettlement process. Some farmer men decided to send away their wives and children to relatives, where the future seemed more predictable, or quit farming and took jobs with the company for minimum salaries. Many farmers we talk to have stopped investing in their land and houses, and postponed development plans. As indicated above, charcoal production became an interesting alternative way of earning an income, with subsequent environmental consequences. Most of all, the uncertainty, the lack of complete information about what was happening, when and why, are factors that caused great mental stress and frustration. I often received questions about what was actually happening. For instance they repeatedly asked me if I knew whether the inflation rate was going to be considered for their compensation payments, since many years had passed since the evaluation of their assets had been performed. As a matter of fact, they did not even have the information about how much their assets were valued at in the initial evaluation.

Thus, while many of the project proponents referred to the project as “nothing has happened”, there was a myriad of events, processes, negotiations and impacts going on, both on the project site and outside it. Most notable is the profound livelihood effects the non-implemented project had on the people living in Razaba Ranch. Moreover, when the newly elected President Magufuli in 2016 decided to withdraw the land-rights of the company, Eco Energy decided to sue the Tanzanian government at an international center for dispute settlement in Washington to get the allegedly invested 52 million USD back. In all, these processes have impacted on relations of all kinds, between and within different involved groups of actors.

While unintended outcomes of failed development projects have been rather frequently discussed in development studies (see, for instance David Mosse’s “Ethography of Aid” from 2005 or Tania Li’s “Will to Improve” from 2007), to my experience, it is rarely being reflected in development policy debates. Rather, delayed or non-implemented projects risk ending up “under the radar”, where impacts are irrelevant to monitor or mitigate. Moreover, it seems sparsely reflected in sustainability criteria, such as the IFC (International Finance Cooperation) standards applied in this case. Therefore, risks of failure and its effects should be paid more attention in policy debates, especially since projects that never happened apparently can have profound, and even negative, impacts on all involved actors, not least the people assumed to benefit from them.

Engström, L.(2018). Development Delayed – Exploring the failure of a large-scale agricultural investment in Tanzania to deliver promised outcomes. (Doctoral Degree), Swedish University for Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, Sweden.