News from the frontier (2)

“Newcomers to native societies … are there because they want things of great importance to them: land, trees, minerals, oil and gas and, as a means to getting these, administrative and ideological control. Hence you can see certain kinds of economic exploitation, aggressive greed, missionary zeal …”. From an Open Democracy interview with anthropologist Hugh Brody.

What are the latest developments where the financially rich clash with those outside our culture?
Hamlet in Niyamgiri

In India, the Dongria Kondh tribe is fighting for survival in the face of threats by British mining company Vedanta to bulldoze the side of their sacred mountain. Survival International describes how Vedanta plans to dig an open pit mine on the Dongria Kondh’s mountain in the Niyamgiri Hills, Orissa state, to extract bauxite, an aluminium ore. The mine would devastate the ecology of the region and bring an end to the Dongria Kondh’s independent and sustainable way of life, polluting the streams and destroying the forests they rely on. India’s Supreme Court gave the mine the go-ahead last year, but the Dongria and other tribes are determined to protect the mountain from destruction. The latest news from the area is that hundreds of tribal members have formed a human chain around the mountain, stretching for at least 15km and blocking all roads leading up to it.

Dongria shawlThousands of protestors including Dongria tribespeople, other Kondh tribal groups, farmers and day labourers have also marched recently on the gates of Vedanta’s Niyamgiri refinery. One man, Lodu Sikaka, said, “Vedanta government has come and devastated so many people. It is not letting us live in peace. It is killing so many people and it is also wiping out our Gods and trees and hills.” Survival’s director Stephen Corry described the situation as “a scandal which won’t go away until Vedanta leaves the tribe in peace.”

aluminium ingotsVIVID requested an interview with Vedanta’s main shareholder and CEO Anil Agarwal, through Vedanta’s India headquarters and its UK PR company, to ask him how he squares his decision with his personal, emotional response to the plight of the Dongria Kondh. To date there has been no response from either office. The meaning of the word Vedanta is self-knowledge and spiritual enlightenment.

The agricultural NGO GRAIN reports on an unfolding, global land grab in which cash-rich, ‘food insecure’ countries are snapping up farms worldwide to outsource their own food production, while private investors are eyeing overseas farms as a new source of revenue. ‘These trends combined mean that fertile agricultural land is being swiftly privatised and consolidated by foreign companies in some of the world’s poorest and hungriest countries,’ says GRAIN’s press release.

GRAIN has published a comprehensive report examining 100 cases of agricultural land grabbing over the last year. The countries buying farms elsewhere to satisfy their own food needs include China, India, Japan, Malaysia, Korea, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates.

Those giving up their land, in exchange for oil deals or investments, include the Philippines, Mozambique, Thailand, Cambodia, Burma, Laos, Indonesia, Pakistan, Sudan, Uganda, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan and Zimbabwe.

The private investors purchasing foreign farmland include familiar names such as Goldman Sachs and BlackRock. They are getting help from agencies like the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, who are pressing target countries to make stronger land ownership by foreigners possible.

These financial deals threaten to push local farmers off their land, rob them of their seeds and livelihoods, destroy crop diversity, increase competition for scarce water supplies, and leave local people hungry while their food is exported to wealthy countries. In upholding the imperialist view of dominance, profit and control, they also fail to spot the wealth of local, sustainable, low-impact food production expertise they will be wiping out. Farmers’ organisations, human rights groups and others are challenging these deals but struggle for widespread support.

See ‘Seized: The 2008 land grab for food and financial security’ and this land-grab blog.

A group of indigenous Ecuadorians protesting a proposed a new mining law they say will endanger their communities and the environment endured tear gas attacks, forcible removal and arrest when police broke up their marches in January.

According to Amazon Watch, the Confederation of Indigenous Communities of Ecuador (CONAIE) is concerned that if the new law is passed it would allow mining to take place anywhere in the country including protected areas. CONAIE issued a public statement in which it condemned what it termed “the criminalization of social protest”.

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