|Northeast Ecological Corridor, Puerto Rico. Photo: http://www.sierraclub.org/corredor/.|
The Pro-Northeast Ecological Corridor Coalition (Coalición Pro Corredor Ecológico Noreste) has initiated a massive campaign directed at Governor Luis Fortuño to designate the area known as the Northeast Ecological Corridor (CEN) a natural reserve. The campaign is coordinated by the Sierra Club and the National Wildlife Federation, both of them U.S.-based conservation organizations.
Located between the municipalities of Luquillo and Fajardo, the CEN houses diverse natural ecosystems, such as coastal forests, wetlands, mangroves, coral reefs, sea grass beds, a bioluminescent lagoon, and miles of virgin beaches, and serves as habitat for more than 50 rare, critically threatened, or endangered species unique to Puerto Rico. Additionally, the beaches provide nesting sites for the Leatherback turtle, the world’s largest sea turtle.
“We have been informed that the governor is evaluating the possibility of opening up some of the Natural Reserve Corridor to allow construction of residential and tourism projects,” stated Angel Sosa, president of the local Sierra Club chapter. “This will impact the ecological integrity of the Corridor, making it impossible to develop ecotourism. We urge all citizens to participate in this campaign to make sure that the governor promises to maintain the Natural Reserve, complying with his campaign promises on tourism, planning, and the environment.”
The protection of the CEN as a natural reserve, along with its ecotourism development, has support from numerous institutions, including the United States Forestry Service, the Puerto Rico Conservation Trust, the Puerto Rican Society of Planning, and the Ecumenical and Interfaith Coalition. Other institutions also include members of the Island’s scientific community, community groups, international conservation organizations, representatives of the Puerto Rican community in the United States, and individuals such as Puerto Rican-born actor Benicio del Toro, among others.
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Contrary to biotech industry propaganda, genetically modified (GM) crops have not reduced the use of toxic agrochemicals. In fact, they are causing an increase in their use, according to the organization RAPAL-Uruguay.
The organization points to the cases of Brazil and Uruguay. In a recent newsletter, the organization provided data that was presented by the Brazilian National Health Surveillance Agency during a seminar on toxic Agro-toxins, Health, and Society held in Brasilia in July. “Brazil is one of the major consumers of agro-toxins in the world. GM soy crops have increased its use of such products, followed by corn, sugar cane, and cotton. In 2008 the Brazilian market consumed 673,862 tons of such products; this proves—contrary to industry propaganda—that GM crops increase the use of agro-toxins.”
Uruguay is in a similar situation, maintains RAPAL. According to data obtained by the organization from the Uruguayan government, between 2002 and 2008, imports of herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides increased by 258%. In 2002, Uruguay imported 5,336 tons and in 2008, 13,770 tons of toxic agrochemicals were used on various crops, but mainly in GM soy.
“Businesses that sell GM seeds are the same ones that sell agro-toxins, which means their profits are doubled,” concludes RAPAL-Uruguay. “Our population also suffers from the impacts of this doubled profit; of course from our point of view these are negative impacts: the use of massive agro-toxins contaminates the soil and water. This is a domineering model that displaces small family farms and endangers apiculture and small scale fisheries.”
The small number of transnational corporations that control the GM market, which includes Monsanto, BASF, Bayer, Dow, and Dupont, are the same world leaders in the production of pesticides.
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“After 13 years of expansion in the cultivation of GM soy in Argentina, the socio-environmental consequences are a real catastrophe,” reports the organization GRAIN.
Argentina dedicates nearly 44.5 million acres of farmland to soy cultivation—more than half of the agricultural land in the country. Practically all of the soy seeds in the country are of the GM Roundup Ready (RR) variety, created by the American corporation Monsanto to resist Roundup, an herbicide also produced by Monsanto.
Apart from the toxicity of Roundup, another problem caused by its use is the rise of resistant “super weeds” such as Ipomoea Purpurea (Morning Glory), Verbena Litoralis (Verbena), and Hybanthus Parviflorus (Violetilla), a problem recognized by the vice president of Mosanto. The cultivation of RR soy also uses a large quantity of other toxic agrochemicals such as 2,4-D, atrazine, and endosulfan. “As a result, the chemicals have seriously affected the health of both people and domestic animals, damaged food crops, and contaminated the soil, water courses, and the air,” says GRAIN.
This type of agriculture has a devastating effect on nature. Each year the cost to the Argentine environment includes: one million tons of nitrogen and 160,000 tons of phosphorous, 42,500 million cubic meters of water, and the felling of almost 500,000 acres of native forests.
“… Argentina was used by Monsanto as a gateway for the expansion of GMOs into the rest of the southern cone. For six years a small group of Brazilian consumers and environmentalists fought doggedly in the courts to keep GMOs out of their country, but their battle was fatally undermined by the smuggling of RR soya over the frontier from Argentina. Seduced by the extravagant promises made by salesmen, Brazilian farmers bought the illegal seeds on such a scale that the official ban on GMOs became meaningless and was revoked by President Lula. Similar tactics were used to spread RR soya into Paraguay and Bolivia. The RR soya frenzy, which is turning the southern cone into what has been called the ‘Republic of Soya,’ has led to no increase in productivity, despite all the promises made by the salesmen.”
GRAIN concludes that “the weak attempts made by fragile Latin American democracies to put some limit on the dominant economic power created by two decades of globalization and the imposition of neoliberal economic policies have encountered a major roadblock in the contemptible alliance between large landowners and agribusiness corporations that are taking brutal action in all countries of the southern cone.”
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A growing number of Latin American organizations are joining an international declaration against the massive production of “biochar” (charcoal derived from burnt plant material) as a way to combat global warming. This proposal consists of the production massive quantities of charcoal (burnt plant material), which will supposedly sequester atmospheric carbon. According to the theory if that charcoal is then tilled back into the soil that portion is said to be sequestered away reducing carbon emissions into the atmosphere. But the 147 non-governmental organizations from 44 countries have signed a declaration denouncing the so called “biochar” as a false solution to global warming.
“The production of carbon at such a scale requires millions of hectares of land to produce biomass, most of it coming from tree plantations,” states the declaration, titled “Biochar: A New Threat to People, the Land, and Ecosystems.”
“As seen in the succession of disasters provoked by bio-fuels, a similar conversion in land use implies a great threat to biodiversity and to natural ecosystems, which play an essential role in climate stabilization and regulation and are also necessary for food production and water protection. This also signifies a threat to many communities’ ways of life, such as indigenous peoples.”
“The idea that vegetable carbon will save the planet is absurd,” says Stella Semino, from the Rural Reflection Group of Argentina. “Some defenders of biochar talk about huge quantities of vegetable carbon which would require more than 500 million hectares of industrial tree cultivation. We already know that the agricultural industry and tree plantations are a major cause of climate change, displaced populations, and [damage to] biodiversity. We need to protect the ecosystems, and stop major monocultivation that is later burned! It is a farce.”
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South America is suffering from an invasion of monoculture tree plantations. These plantations, which include the enormous cultivation of species such as eucalyptus, pine, and oil palm, are found in Brazil (6 hectares), Chile (about 2 million hectares), and Uruguay (1 million hectares). They not only produce wood but also pulp to make paper and cardboard for commercial packaging. A growing number of tree plantations are serving as “carbon sinks” for the lucrative carbon stock market sanctioned by the UN’s Convention on Climate Change. Some species such as oil palms are used for biofuel production, and there are plans being discussed to use biotechnology in creating transgenic trees that would be sources of cellulosic ethanol for “second generation” biofuels.
Environmental and civil society groups maintain that these tree cultivations cause devastating social and environmental problems. “These large scale monocultures are being promoted throughout Latin America, where rapid tree growth in combination with low cost land and labor results in cheap lumber,” says the World Rainforest Movement (WRM) in a recent report on tree plantations, which lists the major political and corporate actors of the monoculture forestry model and the protest movements rising from the expansion of these “green deserts.”
“A sizable amount of forests, meadowlands, and agricultural lands are invaded by these extensive plantations. In country after country the result is impoverishment, rural expulsion, environmental degradation (soil, water, flora, fauna, countryside), and growing local opposition,” adds the WRM. “Additionally, it has been confirmed that these plantations have disproportionate impacts on the lives of women.”
“The tree plantations are areas of industrialized and artificial existence,” says a columnist from the magazine Biodiversidad, Sustento y Cultura, whose front page is dedicated to tree monoculture. “Its homogeneity is rampant, stifling. As designated areas (agriculture factories), its species and structure are drastically simplified to produce just a few goods: lumber, firewood, resin, oil, fruit, and possibly fuels. There are no animals, no secondary vegetation, no interconnectivity, but there are enough agro-toxins to poison extensive areas.”
The editor warns that “The plantations contribute to global warming, to the destruction of natural food chains and cycles, and social fabrics, exhausting water supplies and nutrients, increasing the salinity and acidity of soils. Now, the GM trees can exacerbate such problems and provoke large collapses.”
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