Home » Knowledge sharers: Guatemalan farms, tech firms mapping illegal fishing

Knowledge sharers: Guatemalan farms, tech firms mapping illegal fishing

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1. United States

The United States finished destroying its chemical arsenal July 7, marking the first time declared weapons of mass destruction have been eliminated globally. Modern chemical weapons were first used during World War I, after which they were widely condemned as inhumane. In 1925, the Geneva Protocol prohibited the use of chemical weapons, and in 1997, a United Nations convention required their eradication. Chemical weapons remain in use by some terrorist groups, and some nations have been accused of retaining them illegally.

Why We Wrote This

A story focused on Our progress roundup shows an exponential benefit to sharing expertise and knowledge. In Guatemala, farmers go to school to learn from each other. And a new open-source mapping project lets people around the world help look for suspicious patterns from fishing vessels.
The U.S. amassed huge volumes of chemical weapons for decades as a deterrent and began dismantling its stockpile in 1990. But the endeavor has taken far longer – and cost much more – than originally anticipated, because of safety concerns for workers and communities where the processing facilities are located.
   
DAVID ZALUBOWSKI/AP
Technicians at a chemical depot in Pueblo, Colorado, disassemble weapons that have been held for more than 70 years.
“Most people today don’t have a clue that this all happened – they never had to worry about it,” said Irene Kornelly, chair of a citizens advisory commission in Colorado that has assisted with the program. “And I think that’s just as well.” Sources: The New York Times, The Guardian

2. Guatemala

Guatemalan agroecology schools are facilitating the spread of Indigenous knowledge to strengthen smallholder farmers. As monocultures such as palm oil were encroaching on communities, the Utz Che’ Community Forestry Association in 2006 started the first of some 40 programs across the country. Groups of 30 to 35 participants identify what strategies they want to pursue, from bokashi fertilizing to making natural pesticides, and then learn campesino a campesino (farmer to farmer) on their own lands. Former enrollees provide expertise and guidance, mirroring traditional methods of passing knowledge down through generations. Utz Che’ estimates that it has improved the livelihoods of 33,000 families, which protect 74,000 hectares (182,858 acres) of forest. “The recovery and, I would add, revalorization of ancestral practices is essential to diversify fields and diets and to enhance planetary health,” said Claudia Irene Calderón of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Practices that are rooted in communality and that foster solidarity and mutual aid [are] instrumental to strengthen the social fabric of Indigenous and small-scale farmers in Guatemala.” Source: Mongabay

3. Netherlands

The Netherlands is returning nearly 500 artifacts taken from Indonesia and Sri Lanka during colonial times. The country’s first-ever repatriation of objects followed a 2020 Dutch advisory committee recommendation that objects acquired through colonial conquest be returned. In July, King Willem-Alexander apologized for the country’s role in the slave trade.
   
RIJKSMUSEUM/AP
The richly decorated Cannon of Kandy is to be repatriated by the Netherlands to Sri Lanka.
Last year, Indonesia requested from the Netherlands a list of objects that included the Lombok treasure, looted in 1894 from a royal palace, and 132 pieces of modern art from Bali. Not included in the restitution were the remains of Java man, an ancient human fossil. The advisory committee made a distinction between cultural heritage objects that were looted and those, such as Java man, that were not removed under duress. “Nothing has been declined, but some things take longer than others,” said a Dutch spokesperson. The government said the advisory committee continues to evaluate requests for returns. Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum will return the 6-foot ceremonial Cannon of Kandy and five other decorated weapons to Sri Lanka later this year. Sources: The Guardian, Museums Association

4. Nigeria

Flood-tolerant varieties of rice are increasing productivity for 30,000 farmers in Nigeria. The Africa Rice Center and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), whose researchers won an agritech prize in May, say the new strains of rice produce higher yields and can survive more than two weeks of submergence – double what older rice types commonly planted in Africa can tolerate. Many countries in Africa have faced increasingly catastrophic deluges in recent years, due in large part to climate change. Flooding in West Africa last year killed 800 people and in 2020 destroyed 25% of Nigeria’s rice harvest.
   
SUNDAY ALAMBA/AP
Workers load bags of rice at a market in Lagos, Nigeria. The country is Africa’s largest producer of rice.
Gene technology remains controversial among some governments and consumers with concerns about environmental impacts and human health, but genetically modified, flood-resistant “scuba rice” has proved useful in flood-prone Asia since 2009. “With improved flood-tolerant rice varieties, smallholder farmers in the region are able to adapt better to the floods that used to destroy their crops, ensuring farmers’ yields and income,” said IRRI scientist Venuprasad Ramaiah. The institute estimates that more than 90% of Africa’s potential rice-growing land remains untapped. Sources: SciDev.Net, International Rice Research Institute

World

Open-access ocean maps created by a nonprofit, Global Fishing Watch, are tracking the global fishing fleet to help prevent illegal fishing. A primary driver of overfishing, illegal fishing threatens marine ecosystems, food security, and the human rights of fishing crews. Global Fishing Watch started as a collaboration among several tech companies in 2015. It uses location data that fishing vessels are required to broadcast, along with machine learning and satellite information, to create publicly available, easy-to-read maps. Law enforcement can more easily pursue illegal fishers in a wilderness that, due to its size, is otherwise difficult to police. The effort has seen success, even among “dark vessels,” which disable their transponders to go undetected. Illegal fishing off the coast of North Korea decreased by 75% after the organization uncovered widespread plunder of squid in 2017-18. In the marketplace, “buyers and suppliers want to try and prove their due-diligence,” said Tony Long, the group’s CEO. “They’re starting to recognize the role transparency has to play. They use this information to hold fleets accountable.” Sources: Good Good Good, The Washington Post
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