Saturday, 9 August 2014

From the Archives: A Right to Hunt in the Bribri Indigenous Territory, Talamanca, Costa Rica

In 2012, I lived in Talamanca, Costa Rica. There, I was fortunate to collaborate with a group of women and men who taught me about living off the land. These are the people who have taught me most about Indigenous rights, particularly those rights related to the management of natural resources and food.

Courtesy of Google Maps
The Bribri people have lived in Talamanca since time immemorial. In 1977, the Costa Rican government created a Reserva Indigena for the Talamanca Bribri people (43,690 hectares) and appointed local governments for this Bribri Territory. In 1982, “La Amistad International Park” was created bordering and overlapping with the Bribri Indigenous Territory. Also in 1982, La Amistad International Park and the Bribri Territory were proclaimed a United Nations Biosphere Reserve called La Reserva Biosfera La Amistad

In 2012, I worked with people from the Kalom ã community. For many of my colleagues in this community hunting was a way of life. People hunted for many reasons that are themselves are connected. For example, hunting was a way of finding foods and medicines but it was also recreation. In addition, walking hunting paths was a way of teaching youth about the land.

My colleagues taught me that hunting was as a process whereby people communicate with beings in other worlds to ask permission to take animals. These beings include Sibö̀ (the creator) and other beings that protect animals. Asking permission to hunt is one way to show respect for Sibö̀ and other beings. Another way of respecting these beings is to hunt only what they need for food or medicine. For example, the Kalom ã residents I worked with, both young and Elder, explained that they did not hunt and sell forest meat. Instead, animals are hunted for household consumption and sharing among families. 

Kalom ã residents' access to hunting was affected by the hunting law that was implemented when the La Amistad protected area was created. This hunting law has resulted in a management plant that dictates what people can hunt, where they can hunt, and how hunting should take place. Specifically, there is only one area of the protected area where Bribri hunting is permitted and even then, they can only hunt animals that are not endangered and they can only hunt using traditional bow and arrow techniques; this despite the fact that many people use rifles and have done so for many years. 

Bribri people have acted differently towards protected area hunting regulation. For example, some of my colleagues explained to me that the hunting ban was the reason why they no longer hunt. A few female colleagues shared that because of these laws they are scared to send their sons out to hunt. For other residents, the hunting ban did not stop them from hunting. 

Generally speaking, the hunting ban was not well received. One reason it was not well received was because it was imposition on Bribri people's rights to food. I learned how Bribri people have their own ways of thinking about hunting and living off the land that are different from the Costa Rican government's ways of managing forests. In fact, Kalom ã Elders created what they call the original hunting laws. These original hunting laws resulted from meetings among Bribri Elders who had convened to talk about hunting rules, based on Bribri values, because of their concern about changes in animal populations in their communities. Although Elders hunting laws were being observed in Kalom ã when the Costa Rican government hunting ban went into effect, these Elders laws were not considered in protected area managment. 

Another reason hunting bans have not been well received is because they minimize the importance of traditional authority and Indigenous decision-making mechanisms. The original Elder hunting laws are a case in point. Although these Bribri laws existed before the Costa Rican state hunting ban, the Elders laws, recommendations, and teachings were not considered in the Costa Rican state legislation.

On the other hand, there are some Kalom ã residents that support aspects of the hunting ban. For example, one Elder explained that government laws might help to control hunting by people who live outside of Coroma but go there to hunt animal meat for sale; this Elder made it clear that these laws should, however, not be applied to all aspects of Indigenous hunting because hunting, sharing, and eating forest meat is part of what it means to be Bribri.

When I gave a presentation on this topic earlier this year at the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC) conference in San Jose, Costa Rica, I received both positive and negative feedback. Some conference attendees were keen to discuss how to best respect the rights to food of Bribri people living in and around protected areas. Other attendees were concerned that Indigenous rights to food were not compatible with aspects of biodiversity conservation legislation. One attendee said it was unlikely that conservation biologists would ever accept hunting in protected areas, especially when endangered species are being hunted. Although the hunting of endangered species is a valid concern, it is important to acknowledge that hunting is a right for Indigenous people in Costa Rica. And, this right is not limited to the act of hunting; it includes the right to making decisions about how to manage Bribri food systems.

All too often we focus on one way of looking at land-use. In the case of my recent conference experience, I learned that many people strongly associate protected forests with conservation of biological species. So, how can we have a discussion about different ways of understanding the land? One way is to think about it from a human rights perspective. As a researcher, it is my goal to use my research to help the public become familiar with human rights to land, to food, and to decision-making. And, I hope the more familiar we are with human rights policies, the better chance we have of convincing policy makers to act on them. 

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

What is Guar gum? And why do oil companies want this plant product?

Guar Seeds (courtesy of wikimedia commons)
I’m sure you have all heard of fracking. Fracking is short for hydrolic fracturing and it is a process used in the oil industry to crack shale rock to get at the liquid gold found inside. In short, oil riggers drill a well in rock and then they shoot pressurized water into these holes to break down deep rock formations; as rocks break down, natural gas and petroleum start filling the well. 

What you might not know about fracking is this process involves the use of many different chemicals and synthetic products. One synthetic product used is a gelling agent. A gelling agent is like a glue that is added to the cracks in the recently opened rocks so the rocks stay open. The gelling agent is extremely important because its use allows the riggers to keep rocks open while they extract oil. Gelling agents can be expensive and can be environmentally unfriendly so, the oil industry has come up with an alternative to chemical gelling agents. This alternative is a plant product called Guar Gum.

Photo taken by: Bubba Lamolinare, Guar emerging near Williston ND
Guar Gum comes from the Guar plant (Cyamopsis tetragonoloba), an legume native to India and Pakistan. The extract from Guar that companies want comes from Guar seeds. Specifically, Guar seeds are milled, husked, and refined to produce a powder that is used as a natural glue. This natural glue acts just like a chemical gelling agent because it is so thick it can hold open cracks in shale rock; in fact, Wikipedia tells us that guar gum has eight times the thickening potential of corn starch.

Where exactly does the guar gum used in the oil and gas industry come from?

Currently 80% of worlds Guar comes from India and Pakistan. But this does not mean this crop can not be grown elsewhere; this crop can be grown across the American Mid-West including North Dakota. Growing Guar in the USA could be very economical considering the US oil and gas industry currently imports most of what they use from India and Pakistan. The main issue with growing Guar in the USA is frost. Guar is very susceptible to frost and can be damaged or killed if there is unusually cold weather during its growing period.
Still, because the USA consumes 65-70% of all Guar produced in the world, there is a strong interest in developing Guar varieties that can be grown locally. 

Are there other reasons US farmers would want to grow Guar?

Of course!

Guar, in Hindi, means cow food and, in fact, food is one of its uses. Guar is an important additive in the human food industry. Guar gum, like its better-known cousin Xanthum gum, is a gluten-free thickening agent used in many foods. 

The Guar plant is also good for the soil because it helps with nitrogen-fixing bacteria. In other words, Guar, like many other legumes, is a natural fertilizer. In semi-arid regions of Rajasthan, India, people use Guar to replenish the soil between planting seasons.

Could Guar be win-win for the environment and the oil industry?

After working with the Guar plant and living in the center of the North Dakotan oil boom over the past 3 months, I feel Guar could be a win-win for the environment and the oil industry. At the very least, using Guar would decrease the amount of syntheic chemicals used in oil extraction. If Guar is grown locally, it could diversify farmer’s income generating crops. And, this nitrogen fixing legume can also be added to a standard crop rotation and help fertilize the soil without any additional fertilizers. Overall, because soil is vital to virtually everything living on the earth’s surface, the less degradation done to it the better!

This post is a contribution from Michael Cardillo who graduated from the University of Manitoba with a Master's of Science. Currently he is working in Williston North Dakota for North Dakota State University. Michael enjoy sworking outside and learning about projects related to environmental process.