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. 

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Edible Landscapes and Trees that Feed

There are thousands of species of edible fruit trees in the world yet too many people are still food insecure. So, why don’t we do our landscaping with edible fruit trees? I know two people that did exactly that! Mary and Mike McLaughlin, the founders of Trees that Feed, decided to tackle food insecurity by landscaping Caribbean islands with fruit producing trees, such as breadfruit. In the process, Mary and Mike have worked to provide people with the means to sell the fruits from these trees to a growing local market. 

Mike shared some alarming food security statistics: 

In Jamaica they are spending something of the order of four billion dollars a year. That’s a huge amount of money to spend on imported food when Jamaica has a natural climate, warm weather, a year round growing season, and good rainfall.

Breadfruit Tree
Trees that Feed is a project designed to cut down peoples’ need to import food on two levels. First, Mike and Mary have dedicated time to promoting cuisine made from locally available fruit trees. In this sense, they are promoting a local market for these fruits. Second, this couple works with famers to help them get more trees and to increase local production to provide fruits for local markets. 

In the long run the benefits of this process are invaluable because, as we all know, the costs of importing foods are on the rise. And, imported food is rarely of the same nutritional as food produced locally, and imported food does not have the same cultural value.

So, why did Mary and Mike choose to start planting breadfruit or other cultural trees, such as Akee, in the Caribbean?  

Mary answered, “both of us are from Jamaica and these are foods from trees that we are used to and we see the value of them”. But these are not just any trees, Mike added, they are culturally appropriate species that farmers want to have on their land.” 

And Mike further explained, “It is very important to us that these foods are culturally accepted; it takes a very long time for cultural acceptance of a new food.” 

Mike told me that breadfruit is not actually native to the West Indies, it was actually introduced there 200 years ago. That means that although Jamaican breadfruit has become a traditional food, it is a relative newcomer to the region. He also explained that it took a generation for people to start using it and to accept it. Mike and Mary explained they don’t want to wait 25 years before their efforts begin to increase food security. So, instead of supplying or importing new foods for people, they are planting foods that are already well-known.  

Mike and Mary’s efforts to increase food security are unique because trees are different than cash crops.  Cash crops require fertilizers, they can deplete the soil, and they can be hard to harvest. On the other hand, fruit trees do not require fertilizer and they only need a little care.

And, trees can be planted in urban areas. Mary explained that growing fruit-producing trees in urban areas is important because much of the food in cities is imported from rural areas. 

In addition to their potential in supporting the food insecure, fruit trees can have large benefits for the ecosystem. Fruit trees provide shade, habitat for wildlife, they purify the air, and sequester carbon. In Haiti, breadfruit trees prevent erosion and as a result these trees keep the streams and rivers clear. What’s good for the streams and rivers is good for the fish. So, the fishing industry in Haiti has started planting breadfruit too!

There is no doubt in my mind Trees that Feed is a great initiative, but will this idea catch on in the long term? 

Mike and Mary think so and they have planned to make this project last. They have encouraged the local people to start small and build up their capabilities, their resources, and local markets. They have encouraged people to sell locally because it is easier for farmers to make more profit when they avoid paying duty and other external taxes. 

But, farmers that work with Mary and Mike still face challenges. Mary and Mike have an initiative that helps farmers make gluten-free flour from their breadfruit. However, Mary told me that, “…in Haiti where local artisans are making breadfruit flour they can’t compete against heavily subsidized North American wheat they just don’t make it you know a farmer can’t compete against free”. 

I saw this same trend in Costa Rica where indigenous farmers do not stand a chance selling their local organic corn when the United States is flooding the market with extremely cheap, low quality corn. 

Despite the real obstacles farmers experience in our
industrial food era, Trees that Feed gives people options. 

So, here you have it, a new idea on how to make landscapes edible, using culturally-appropriate foods. But, Mary and Mike have much more than food in mind. They have increased the number of jobs, improved livelihoods, and restored degraded lands in the process.  

For more info check out Trees that Feed or follow them @TreesThatFeed

All photographs in this blog are courtesy of Mary and Mike McLaughlin.