Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Food Security, National Security

Last night, my wife, children and I watched a video about the destruction of natural habitat of the people of  Kampung Zanegi, in Merauke, West Papua.

The short film, “Mama Malind Su Hilang” (Our Land is Gone) is produced by Gekko Studio based on interviews with the people of Kampung Zanegi. It tells the story of the Malind Anim tribe, hunter gatherers who rely on the forest for their livelihood.  Villagers tell of how they were deceived by Medco, an Indonesian company which has cleared forest for a 169,000 hectare acacia and eucalyptus plantation, and how the loss of their forest has affected their possibilities to provide the most basic necessities of life: harvesting sago and hunting wild animals, and also how infant malnutrition is now on the rise.

According to a 2010 article in the Jakarta Post, “The Merauke project, which spans three districts in Papua, is part of the government’s plan to develop agricultural estates in remote areas such as Papua and Kalimantan so they can become self-sufficient in food production and eventually major food exporters.

The video quotes a research group statement that, “corporations facilitated by the state find the frontier to start the new circuit of capital accumulation in the name of solving the world food and energy crisis.”

However, the Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate (MIFEE) Program has been accused of disenfranchising local farmers in Papua. Berry N. Furqon, director of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), said that more than 100,000 hectares of forest had been cut down for the project, including the sago forest on which the locals depend upon. According to an article by Pacific Scoop, Greenpeace Indonesia has noted that every year the rate of deforestation in the West Papua region reaches as much as 300,000 hectares.

In the Animha and Kaptel districts in Merauke, about 169,000 hectares of native forest, were removed for a industrial tree plantation of acacia and eucalyptus which Medco and its partner LG then export as wood chips and pellets to South Korea, Japan and other countries to burn for energy production. Other industrial scale deforestation in West Papua is to clear land for palm oil expansion for agrofuels, a mega-rice project and mining.

The Zanegi feel that they were deceived by the corporations who promised protection of their sago grove, the starch from which is a staple part of the Zanegi diet. According to one villager interviewed in the video, the habitat of the Bird of Paradise has been destroyed, the sago groves have been cleared, there are less (both in number and size) wild animals to hunt for food for the community.

“The sacred lands are gone,” laments one villager. For a traditional community, as we in Fiji understand well, the loss/destruction of one’s land results in the loss of identity.

Merauke was promoted as a major destination of foreign investment and a source of jobs in impoverished Papua. The Indonesian government predicted the population of the district could soar from about 175,000 to 800,000 as a result of the project. In reality, very few of the locals have been hired by the corporation and those that do find employment work as casual labourers with no job security. The majority of the workforce is migrant labourers. Complaints are few due to intimidation by the Indonesian military. West Papua, after all was annexed by Indonesia in 1969.

The video “Our Land is Gone” can be viewed on YouTube:

For the West Papuans of Merauke, the land is gone. Their source of life has been strangled in the name of development. The cry for self determination by West Papuans is not just a political issue; it is an environmental issue, a human rights issue, an issue of identity, and of life and death.

Today, October 16, is World Food Day. This year’s theme is “Sustainable Food Systems for Food Security and Nutrition”.

Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) states that almost 870 million people worldwide are chronically undernourished. 

Recently one of my friends notice the dwindling size of tuna being landed. He commented, “We won’t be satisfied until it's all gone.....sad”.

“Unsustainable models of development are degrading the natural environment, threatening ecosystems and biodiversity that will be needed for our future food supply, “ said an FAO statement.

Yesterday, October 15th was International Rural Women’s Day.

According to FemLINKPACIFIC report, rural women need information and services which can enable them to define and deliver food security programmes from their homes and beyond the local market stalls:

“For Bulu Ratu, who has ventured into poultry farming, supporting women in agriculture means being able to help her also access mar
kets and secure the sales she needs. This has meant she has to venture out into the Western Division to overcome the growing local competition in Nausori.”

“For Filomena Koroi, from Dilkusha, who manages a school canteen, food security goes beyond providing for the family, it is also about changing the mind set of people on what they eat and ensuring the supply of affordable nutritious meals to children.”

“The President of the Nausori Women market Vendors Association, Salote Delasau who travels two hours a day by horse to reach her plantation, women must be part of climate change adaptation programmes to ensure food security in the future. “

According to the FAO, “a food system is made up of the environment, people, institutions and processes by which agricultural products are produced, processed and brought to consumers.  Every aspect of the food system has an effect on the final availability and accessibility of diverse, nutritious foods – and therefore on consumers’ ability to choose healthy diets. What is more, policies and interventions on food systems are rarely designed with nutrition as their primary objective. Addressing malnutrition requires integrated action and complementary interventions in agriculture and the food system, in natural resource management, in public health and education, and in broader policy domains. “

Food Security is indeed more than just putting food on the table.  

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