Biodiversity And Land Reforms: Still A Neglected Linkage At The CBD
By Anandi Sharan
15 June, 2016
From now until the end of my two-year time as board member of the Convention on Biodiversity Alliance, I will write a short note every day on things going on at the Convention on Biological Diversity.
My purpose is to keep readers informed about important ideas that are being expressed at the level of the United Nations in the hope that the ideas provide ideas for action at home.
In an important paper from 2008 entitled “Biodiversity and land reforms: a neglected linkage”, S.Faizi and M. Ravichandran had pointed out that
“at a meeting in Rome, (the headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO)), the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA) of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) sidestepped the critical issue of reforming the agricultural land tenure as a means to enhance agro-biodiversity.” (p.2817).
They provided examples from Kerala, Japan, Nicaragua, Cuba and Soviet Afghanistan, and argued that
“an equitable redistribution of the farmlands will not only enhance the livelihood security of one-third of the citizens but also strengthen the nation’s ecological security.” (p. 2818)
The short and concise paper concludes that
“unfortunately land tenure reform as a vital tool in biodiversity conservation has been kept off the agenda of the CBD process, and is yet to be given its rightful place in the biodiversity discourse itself. Few biodiversity-related studies mention this as an issue to be addressed.”
Jumping forward now to 3 June 2016andthe CBD Secretariat press release on “integrating agricultural issues in national biodiversity strategies”, and it appears that the CBDhas not learnt anything.
If the press release is anything to go by, the policies of the FAO, the institution from which many SBTTA experts at the CBD are drawn, and which is hugely influential at the CBD, are long on tautologies and short on punch, and totally ignorant about the linkage between biodiversity and land reforms, perhaps intentionally so.
Thepress releaseis about their programme on “incentives for ecosystem services in agriculture (IES).”
Funded by the EU and various other industrialised countries, the programme is based onthe profound observation that agriculture and food systems are biological and social systems. A catchy new slogan “ecological intensification of agriculture” is coined, “mainstreaming” is mentioned umpteen times, there is avague reference to “partners engaged in biodiversity management,” even “indigenous knowledge”; there are “entry points for harnessingsynergies between sound chemical management and biodiversity conservation”, a vague reference to “overcoming adoption barriers to best practices,”and well, that’s about it.
It would appear that on paper at least India is way ahead of the curve in trying to address the neglected linkage between biodiversity and land reforms, at least for indigenous people, and has nothing to learn in this respect from the CBD.
The Scheduled Tribes And Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 “empowers the holders of any forest right, Gram Sabha and village level institutions in areas where there are holders of any forest right under this Act to protect the wild life, forest and biodiversity; ensure that adjoining catchments area, water sources and other ecological sensitive areas are adequately protected; ensure that the habitat of forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers is preserved from any form of destructive practices affecting their cultural and natural heritage; ensure that the decisions taken in the Gram Sabha to regulate access to community forest resources and stop any activity which adversely affects the wild animals, forest and the biodiversity are complied with.”
The Scheduled Castes And The Scheduled Tribes (Prevention Of Atrocities) Act, 1989, as amended, provide for someone not from a Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribe to be jailed for 5 years, and fined, if she “wrongfully occupies or cultivates any land, owned by, or in the possession of or allotted to, or notified by any competent authority to be allotted to, a member of a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe, or gets such land transferred; and wrongfully dispossesses a member of a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe from his land or premises or interferes with the enjoyment of his rights, including forest rights, over any land or premises or water or irrigation facilities or destroys the crops or takes away the produce therefrom.”
Practically all the forested lands of India are presently wrongfully occupiedin some way or the other at present, to the extent that rights are not being recognised and Gram Sabhas not being given their responsibilities. But once these rights are recognised, biodiversity will get a huge fillip; - no thanks to the CBD or the FAO.
It would have been better if the poor Kenyans who had to sit through the CBD and FAO meetings referred to in the press release had come here to learn about integrating agricultural issues in national biodiversity strategies. The linkage to land reform would surely not have been neglected, at least as far as indigenous people are concerned.
Anandi Sharan is a historian and blogger based in Bangalore. She was at one time running an NGO funded by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Clean Development Mechanism to pay for biogas plants and improved cookstoves in Kolar District and some Photovoltaic Lights in Tumkur District. Now she is a board member for a two year term of the Convention on Biodiversity Alliance. She also has a consultancy assignment to provide photovoltaic lighting systems for an NGO in Araria District. She can be contacted at email@example.com.