30 January 2008

Gandhi's wisdom

60 years after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, and in a world of ever greater violence, it is worth reading some of the quotations of this wise man about peace and non-violence:
  • "I object to violence because, when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent."
  • "Science of war leads one to dictatorship pure and simple. Science of non-violence can alone lead one to pure democracy."
  • "True democracy (...) can never come through untruthful and violent means, for the simple reason that the natural corollary to their use would be to remove all opposition through the suppression or extermination of the antagonists. That does not make for individual freedom. Individual freedom can have the fullest play only under a regime of unadulterated ahimsa (non-violence)."
  • "What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?"
  • "It is my firm conviction, that nothing enduring can be built upon violence."
  • "Peace will not come out of a clash of arms but out of justice lived and done by unarmed nations in the face of odds."
  • "Love is the strongest force the world possesses and yet it is the humblest imaginable."
  • "The first step in non-violence is that we cultivate in our daily life, as between ourselves, truthfulness, humility, tolerance and loving kindness."
Not surprisingly, these words remain as actual and as relevant as they can be in our present-day world of selfishness, intolerance and aggression...

Gandhi, Bombay Sarvodaya Mandal / Gujarat Vidyapith
GandhiServe Foundation
National Gandhi Museum

23 January 2008

Foreign policy in the way of Human Rights

On Friday the 18th, Canada's foreign ministry had placed the United States and Israel on a watch list of nations where prisoners risk being tortured, as part of a training course manual on torture awareness for Canadian diplomats.

This manual also classified some interrogation methods used by the US as torture, including forced nudity, isolation, sleep deprivation and blindfolding prisoners. Other countries on the watch list include Syria, China, Iran, Afghanistan, Mexico and Saudi Arabia.

However, a spokesman of the Canadian Foreign Minister office declared that "the training manual is not a policy document and does not reflect the views or policies of this government".

The government mistakenly provided the document to Amnesty International Canada as part of a court case the rights organization has launched against Ottawa over the treatment of detainees in Afghanistan. Subsequently, it was made available to several media outlets.

Both the US and Israel responded strongly to this list: "The United States does not permit, tolerate, or condone torture under any circumstances", said a spokeswoman for the U.S. embassy in Ottawa; and an Israeli embassy spokesman stated "If Israel is included in the list in question, the ambassador of Israel would expect its removal".

This is despite the numerous records on abuses on prisoners held by the US as confirmed by this statement from Human Rights Watch (HRW) organisation, as part of their "Torture and Abuse" folder:

"Each day brings more information about the appalling abuses inflicted upon men and women held by the United States in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere around the world. U.S. forces have used interrogation techniques including hooding, stripping detainees naked, subjecting them to extremes of heat, cold, noise and light, and depriving them of sleep—in violation of the Geneva Conventions and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment."

On Israel, HRW has published in their World Report 2003, "the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel reported that there appeared to be a gradual reversion to the use of torture" of Palestinian civilians, including children, while in detention, where "reports of ill-treatment were widespread, including kicking, beating, squalid conditions, and deprivation of food and drink."

After the reactions of representatives from these countries, the Canadian Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier said he regretted the embarrassment caused by the public disclosure of the manual: "It contains a list that wrongly includes some of our closest allies. I have directed that the manual be reviewed and rewritten."

Amnesty International Canada, which says it has ample evidence that prisoners are abused both in U.S. and Israeli jails, said it was disappointed by Bernier's announcement: "When it comes to an issue like torture, the government's main concern should not be embarrassing allies."

As a consequence, also Iran used this opportunity to discredit the document. The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad-Ali Hosseini speaking to reporters on Monday said "the recent publication and the subsequent revision of the list under pressure from US and the Zionist regime demonstrates the biased judgement of the Canadian government."

So it seems, that when Human Rights issues interfere with foreign policy concerns the procedure is to "change the facts" according to the diplomatic demands...

Canada puts US and Israel on torture watch list, Reuters
Canada removes US and Israel from torture watch list, Reuters
Iran: Canada torture list is biased, Press TV
US Torture and Abuse of detainees, Human Rights Watch
World Report 2003: Middle East & Northern Africa, Human Rights Watch

15 January 2008

Act together for another world

"The World Social Forum (WSF) is a plural, diverse, non-government and non-party oriented open space of encounters. Its decentralized structure stimulates organizations and social movements engaged in concrete actions, from local to international level, for the construction of a more solidary, democratic and fair world. In its seven years of history, the WSF has built its trajectory in different formats, with different methodologies and preoccupations pointed out by mobilized movements, peoples and cultures."

"For 2008, the WSF and various organizations and movements call attention for a week that will reach its peak on January 26th , the Global Day of Mobilization and Action, which will gather different activities planned by organizations, movements or networks and/or spontaneous manifestations all around the planet, articulating its national and international connections. This joint mobilization will represent the struggle, the resistance and confrontation against neoliberal globalization, wars and oppression, in order to protect the planet and being certain that ANOTHER WORLD IS POSSIBLE!"

Check the WSF2008 website for actions in your area, to propose a new action or to support or promote the World Social Forum!

Fórum Social Mundial
WSF2008 - World Social Forum 2008
World Social Forum Chart of Principles
WSF2008: A Global Day of Action and Mobilisation

10 January 2008

100% renewable...

A pilot project, in Germany, called KombiKraftwerk (or Combined Power Plant) is showing that "renewable energy can secure 100 per cent of energy supplies in accordance with demand."

The initiative links 36 decentralised biogas plants, wind, solar and hydropower installations in a robust network to demonstrate that distributed power can replace both fossil fuels and nuclear power.

The use of intelligent control and regulation technology enables decentralised wind, solar, biogas and hydropower installations to be linked together so that fluctuations in the amount of electricity fed into the grid can be compensated for. The central control unit forms the core of the Combined Renewable Energy Power Plant. Here, the various output forecasts and measurement values are balanced and, based on these data, suitable schedules and control instructions are drawn up for each plant.

"The 'virtual power plant' is a concept well known in research. It means that individual, decentralised power plants are linked to one another via a central control unit using information technology. The Combined Power Plant applies this principle by using renewable energy sources only."

An information campaign for renewable energies called "Deutschland hat unendlich viel Energie" (Germany has endless energy), has had an important role in promoting this initiative.

The campaign
aims at strengthening the acceptance of renewable energies by the wide public, but also the media and policy-makers. It gathers information about the advantages of a lasting power supply on the basis of renewable energies, for dissemination.

Technically, there is nothing preventing us from 100 per cent provision with renewables."

The Combined Power Plant press release
Das Regenerative Kombikraftwerk
Deutschland hat unendlich viel Energie

05 January 2008

International Year of the Potato

Among many other things, 2008 is the International Year of the Potato (IYP), proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly, recalling resolution 4/2005 of the Conference of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), adopted on 25 November 2005.

According to the IYP official website, "the celebration of the International Year of the Potato will raise awareness of the importance of the potato - and of agriculture in general - in addressing issues of global concern, including hunger, poverty and threats to the environment".

The potato has been consumed in the Andes for about 8 000 years. Being taken to Europe in the 16th century, it quickly spread across the globe. Today, potato is the world's forth most important staple food crop (after rice, wheat and maize).

"The potato should be a major component in strategies aimed at providing nutritious food for the poor and hungry. (...) The potato produces more nutritious food more quickly, on less land, and in harsher climates than any other major crop - up to 85 percent of the plant is edible human food, compared to around 50% in cereals".

Potatoes are rich in carbohydrates (good source of energy), have a high protein content ("with an amino-acid pattern that is well matched to human requirements") and very rich in Vitamin C and potassium.

Still according to FAO, the IYP is an opportunity to make a valid and effective contribution towards meeting some of the UN Millennium Development Goals, namely:
  • Goal 1 - Erradicate extreme poverty and hunger;
  • Goal 2 - Reduce child mortality;
  • Goal 5 - Improve maternal health;
  • Goal 7 - Ensure environmental sustainability;
  • Goal 8 - Develop a global partnership for development.
Particularly, it is aimed at focusing global attention on:
  • the need to reach the vulnerable with solutions that reduce constraints, create opportunities, improve productivity and reduce risks in the farming systems on which they depend;
  • the need to alleviate poverty by increasing incomes and linking farmers to markets;
  • the range of actions needed to protect, conserve and utilize potato diversity;
  • solutions for sustainable intensification of farming systems that will stop or reverse the loss of natural resources.
One of IYP's key partners is the International Potato Centre (CIP), an international research institute dedicated to potatoes, sweetpotatoes and other root and tuber crops, with the aim of reducing poverty and achieving food security, on a sustainable basis, through improved management of natural resources.

The CIP will be organising many activities during the year. Most importantly, it will organise an international forum entitled "Potato Science for the Poor - Challenges for the New Millenium", a working conference to celebrate the IYP, to be held in Cuzco, Peru in 25-28th of March. The conference will explore the role of potato research and the development of potato-based systems in the heterogeneous developing world.

A good example of CIP's activities is its partnership programme "The Papa Andina Initiative", a regional initiative that promotes technological, commercial, and institutional innovation in the potato sector in Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru.

The Papa Andina's strategic partner in Peru is the project INCOPA (Innovation and Competitiveness of Peru's Potato Sector), which aims at identifying and implementing new market opportunities taking advantage of potato biodiversity of Peru, using a Participatory Market Chain Approach.

A Participatory Market Chain Approach is a participatory R&D method that has recently been developed. Involving different actors of market chains, it seeks to generate group innovations based on a well-led and -structured participatory process that gradually stimulates interest, trust and collaboration among members of the market chain.

This way, the project INCOPA has created a marketing concept of linking small-scale farmers from the Andean highlands in Peru to new urban markets, the "T'ika Papa". T’ika Papa promotes biodiversity conservation and environmentally friendly potato production techniques while giving farmers open access to technological assistance and innovation, encouraging local farmer’s associations and propagating the flow of market information.

T'ika Papa has been so successful that it has received several international awards, such as the UN Seed Awards 2007 (Supporting Entrepreneurs in Environment and Development) and the BBC/Newsweek/Shell World Challenge 2007 ("competition aimed at finding individuals or groups from around the world who have shown enterprise and innovation at a grass roots level"). Also, last 16th of October, the World Food Day 2007, FAO has recognised T'ika Papa as a successfull experience in the promotion of the small production of peasant communities.

Welcome to the International Year of the Potato!

International Year of the Potato, FAO
Potato Science for the Poor - Challenges for the New Millenium, CIP
T'ikapapa, INCOPA, CIP
The INCOPA project, CIP

The Papa Andina Initiavive, CIP
CIP - International Potato Centre
FAO - Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, UN