Lessons Learned From a Land Grab in Ghana

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Lessons Learned From a Land Grab in Ghana

Lessons Learned From a Land Grab in Ghana jatropha-128x96

Sharing our experiences with other communities may very well be one of the most vital steps in defending the land, because it offers us a chance to spare others from repeating our mistakes – and from having to bear the burden so often associated with its destruction.

Bakari Nyari, Vice Chairman of the Regional Advisory and Information Network Systems (RAINS), and a member of the Ghana and African Biodiversity Network Steering Committee, recently wrote an article in the hopes of achieving this end.

He tells a story “…of how a Norwegian biofuel company took advantage of Africa’s traditional system of communal land ownership and current climate and economic pressure to claim and deforest large tracts of land in Kusawgu, Northern Ghana with the intention of creating ‘the largest jatropha plantation in the world.’” (NB the plan pales in comparison to Burma’s “National Cause”)

“Bypassing official development authorization and using methods that hark
back to the darkest days of colonialism,” says Nyari, an investor claimed legal ownership of lands “by deceiving an illiterate chief to sign away 38000 hectares with his thumb print.”

“This is also the story of how the effected community came to realize that, while the promised jobs and incomes were unlikely to materialize, the plantation would mean extensive deforestation and the loss of incomes from gathering forest products, such as sheanuts. When given all the information the community successfully fought to send the investors packing but not before 2600 hectares of land had been deforested. Many have now lost their incomes from the forest and face a bleak future.”

Those involved in this struggle want to share their story “as a warning to other African communities, leaders and policy-makers to be wary of the promises made by biofuel investors and the disasters that their land grabbing may bring.”

It all began in November 2007 when a team from RAINS discovered massive destruction of land near a village called Alipe in Northern Ghana.

“Heavy agricultural machinery were systematically pulling down trees and decimating the area a few metres south of the village. The land had been stripped bare of all its vegetation cover. Enquiry revealed that the site was to be the beginning of a large jatropha plantation developed by a Norwegian biofuel company called BioFuel Africa – a subsidiary of Bio Fuel Norway (www.biofuel.no).”

After contacting the District Chief Executive (DCE), RAINS also learned that the project was illegal. It appeared as if the company had no permission or contract to be in the region.

RAINS then visited the community’s Traditional headman, who informed them that “some white men” were pressuring him to give up traditional lands.

Eventually he conceded, with the support of most people in the community, who were under the impression that they would receive jobs and income from the land trade.

“The Chief was initially unwilling to go against the wishes of his people [for that reason],” says Nyari. But even so, he tried to stop the developers. “[It was] interpreted by the community as driving away opportunities to earn an income during the current dry season.”

Upon further investigation, RAINS found that a Government official “was promoting the project and had deployed his business associates in the Region to front for him. This front man was immediately employed as the Local Manager of BioFuel Africa.”

A few days later, on January 28, 2008, RAINS went back to the village to discuss some issues surrounding the land acquisition. Mr Finn Byberg, the Chairman of BioFuel Africa, attended the meeting.

During his presentation, Mr. Byberg essentially tried to con everyone. He failed to state that the promises made to the communities were a guarantee. Rather, he argued that the company was “still learning.”

It was a pleasant way of saying that the promises “of jobs, shared prosperity and improved livelihoods” were nothing more than “campaign gimmicks” and not the company’s problem.

That’s part of the gimmick too, of course.

It goes like this: “rural communities who are desperate for incomes are enticed by developers who promise them a ‘better future’ under the guise of jobs with the argument that they are currently only just surviving from the ‘unproductive land’ and that they stand to earn a regular income if they give up the land for development,” says Nyari.

The companies will also try to capture the imaginations of a few leaders, “[telling them] about prospects for the community due to the project and [swaying them] with promises of positions in the company or with monetary inducements. The idea is that these people do the necessary ‘footwork’ in the villages where they spread the word about job opportunities.”

“A document is then prepared, essentially a contract, to lease the land to the company. In the event of problems the developer can press their claim by enforcing the ‘contract’ or agreement…”

And if things get heated, they can simply pull out, none-the-wiser. Just like BioFuel Africa eventually had to do.

Considering the sheer number of land grabs taking place in the world today, this lesson carries with it a great sense of urgency.

If we do not learn from our mistakes than companies will continue forcing us, tricking us, killing us, and displacing us to repeat them.


Shannon Rivers, Akimel O’otham, standing up for Indigenous Rights

This was originally posted by Brenda Norrell at http://bsnorrell.blogspot.com/

Shannon Rivers, Akimel O’otham, standing up for Indigenous Rights

By Brenda Norrell
Censored News

Photo 1: Brita Brookes Photo 2: Brenda Norrell
SAN FRANCISCO — The Gila River Pima-Maricopa Indian Nation became the first in the United States to ratify the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Shannon Rivers, Akimel O’otham from Gila River in Arizona, speaks on the importance of this action on Censored News Blog Talk Radio.
“We hope it becomes customary law, throughout the United States and the world ,” Rivers said of the Declaration, speaking on Earthcycles’ Longest Walk Talk Radio at the end of the Longest Walk.
Pointing out that the Declaration includes rights at borders and self-determination, he said Gila River undertook this hallmark move in commitment and solidarity with Indigenous Peoples worldwide, on May 21, 2008.
Rivers also describes the visit by Bolivian President Evo Morales to the United Nations in New York and the disrespect this world leader has been shown in the U.S. Rivers also describes how Homeland Security used fear after 9/11 to increase fear of migrants. Ultimately, the US profiteered with jails and prisons.
Further, Rivers discusses how the lifestyle and foods of the colonized U.S. has damaged the health of Indigenous Peoples in the Sonoran Desert. Rivers said there is a revitalization on Gila River of people growing traditional foods in their fields.
“Indigenous Peoples are some of the richest peoples,” he said, during the interview a Greenbelt Park, Maryland. “We have many languages and we can learn many songs, many teachings.”
Rivers urged Indigenous Peoples to stand up with courage and fight for what they believe in, with sacred walks and sacred runs, protection of sacred places and listening to the stories of the elderly.
Rivers is joined by Phillip Morris, Navajo from Page, Arizona. Morris describes the abuses of the US government and Peabody Coal in the destruction of Navajo lands and aquifer water.
“They call it ‘Relocation.’ I don’t care what you call it, it is another way of the government saying, ‘We want your land,'” Morris said.
Morris said the strip mining of Peabody Coal has resulted in the springs drying up. While Peabody Coal drained the aquifer, most Navajo people were hauling their water there. With words and millions of dollars, the U.S. and Peabody has continued with their ways, he said, “Of keeping us poor.”
Morris said, “Healing is within us, but when we do it together as a group, in unity, it is more powerful.”
“It all starts with prayers. We have to start coming together,” Morris said, urging people to go to sweatlodges and learn from others.
Also, on the blog radio show, Long Walkers speak in tornado-hit Greensburg, Kansas, a town that was more than 90 percent destroyed by a tornado in 2007. Adriano Buckskin, Luv the Mezenger, Calvin Magpie, Jr., Paul Owns the Sabre and Rebecca Duncan speak as Long Walkers over a feast to the community. The show includes a song by the Miwok youth singers who were Long Walkers.
Recorded live by Earthcycles, producer Govinda Dalton, and cohost Brenda Norrell, on the Longest Walk northern route across America, Feb. through July, 2008.
Radio stations may rebroadcast in whole or part. Please credit Earthcycles.
Photo 1: Shannon Rivers as master of ceremonies at the Longest Walk Concert in D.C. Photo by Brita Brookes Photo 2: Phillip Morris and Shannon Rivers onboard the Earthcycles radio bus on the Longest Walk in Greenbelt Park, Maryland, in July 2008, during this interview. Photo Brenda Norrell
Contact Shannon Rivers at:



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A team of scientists exploring Springs Preserve with remote- sensing gear has found what appears to be a prehistoric village of pit houses where as many as 30 Anasazi people lived about 1,300 years ago, the preserve’s archaeologist said Friday.

The discovery of two and possibly four pit house structures was made “in the last few days” by researchers from Ithaca College in New York who used ground-penetrating radar to probe beneath topsoil in the northwest corner of the 180-acre preserve along U.S. Highway 95, Springs Preserve Archaeologist Patti Wright said.

She said carbon dating of plant charcoal remnants found in the hearth of a pit house that was partially excavated several years ago near the village indicates ancestral Puebloans were living there between A.D. 700 and A.D. 800, or between 1,200 and 1,300 years ago.


Natives, educators hail release of dictionary

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The irony has never been lost on Imelda Perley.

The only time she would usually hear fluent Maliseet, the language with which she grew up on New Brunswick’s Tobique reserve, was during funerals.

It’s almost as if it was a sign from the ancestors that if this is the only place that we’re going to be using our language and people are dying, then our language is also dying,” says Perley, who along with her husband David, teaches at the Mi’kmaq- Maliseet Institute at the University of New Brunswick.


Lessons from the ‘ancient one’: the conflict between tradition, science

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Consider Native American oral history, with its rich and powerful stories, equally legitimate as empirical scientific evidence in determining the events of Native American history.

Western anthropology department chair and professor Daniel Boxberger will discuss the relationship between the two in the second installment of the Turning Points Faculty Lecture Series at 5:15 p.m., Jan. 14 in Communication Facility room 110.

Boxberger’s presentation, “Objectivity and Relativity in the Science of the American Indian:  Lessons Learned from the Ancient One,” will focus on the history of the conflict between Native American traditions, the science of anthropology and land-resource management.


Diné fare

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WINDOW ROCK — As Char Kruger slowly adds corn meal to the blue corn mush on the stove, stirring it clockwise, people begin asking questions. Should they roast corn meal before making the blue corn mush? Do they add sugar? How long should it cook?

On Saturday, Kruger gave a presentation on how to make blue corn mush at the Navajo Nation Museum as part of activities to encourage cultural teachings.

Blue corn mush is a traditional Navajo food. Kruger said this is the perfect time to teach how to make it because it is a healing food.


Jim Thorpe: the greatest athlete of the 20th century

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In an age of superstars, one man’s athletic prowess puts him head and shoulders above the rest as the greatest athlete of the 20th century.

James Francis Thorpe was born on May 28th, 1887, in a one-room cabin in Oklahoma. His parents were Hiram Thorpe, a farmer, and Mary James, a Pottawatomie Indian. Jim was actually born a twin, but his brother Charlie died at the age of nine. Jim’s Indian name, Wa-Tho-Huk, translates to “Bright Path.”

Jim attended school beginning in 1904 at the Carlisle Industrial Indian School in Pennsylvania where he began his athletic career. He played football and ran track. In 1908 he was selected as a third-team All-American, and in 1909 and 1910 he made the first team.