Tuesday, 25 September 2012


Volume 1, Issue No. 3, June/July 2012

  • Chair’s Foreword
  • A note by the Society of African Earth Scientists on the environmental effects of land grabbing
  • Earth Science Applications- Earth Now
  • Earth Science Events
  • Suggested Reading and links

Foreword by the Acting Chair of Society of African Earth Scientists, Dr Chukwunyere Kamalu
Welcome to the third issue of the bi-monthly  newsletter of the Society of African Earth Scientists (SAES).
Intersolar Europe June 11-14th 2012      
In June, both Yeno Thorli and I attended the Intersolar Exhibition of solar technology, in Munich, Germany. There were nearly 2,000 exhibitors from 49 countries but the only exhibitors from African countries were one from Egypt and one from Morocco (none outside North Africa). There were some examples of appropriate technology of interest from an African rural community development viewpoint: solar pumps for boreholes and irrigation which appeared to be very effective, able to pump water from 350 m depth. It was in fact a great networking opportunity to meet Africans in the solar field and this should be kept in mind for future events.  Also to be kept in mind, was the possibility of using a similar African based event to stimulate inter-African trade among indigenous solar tech businesses.
The SAES Case against Land Grabbing
 A note of the Society of African Earth Scientists was drafted to explain the environmental   impact of land grabbing. The note will be published on the Stop Africa land Grab website. The draft of the note is here presented and members are welcome to feedback. This forms part of the responsibility undertaken by SAES as the scientific consultant to Stop Africa Land Grab to publish a concise position paper that will set out the scientific and ethical case against land grab in order to persuade African governments against the reckless giveaway of Africa’s precious land and  natural resources.
Future Activities and Events
The planned workshops in i) Soil and Water Conservation and ii) Photovoltaics are yet to be scheduled. The delay has in part been due to the cost and lack of funds. However, it is envisaged that with sufficient notice adequate workshop fees can be raised to finance the workshop events and dates for the first workshop in October 2012 will soon be advertised.
   A third planned workshop will be a Stop Africa Land Grab event, as yet unspecified; but likely to feature a workshop around the videos and  articles  on the Stop Africa Land Grab website.
Affiliation and Association with other earth/solar Science  organizations
SAES is happy to announce its affiliation to YES (Young Earth Scientists) South Africa. Other organisations to  be considered for SAES affiliation are Solar Sister and  Association of African Women in the Geosciences.

A note by the Society of African Earth Scientists on the environmental effects of land grabbing
Land grabbing may be defined as the buying or leasing of large areas of land by local or international corporations in developing countries; often resulting in the eviction of indigenous people from their ancestral homeland, or family land owned through customary land tenures established over generations.
   This brief note, inspired in its title and thrust by the reports of African Biodiversity Network (CDM and Africa [11]), Friends of the Earth (Land, Life and Justice [6]) and others, sketches an outline of the scientific and ethical case against land grab, specifically in respect of its ominous signs of threat to Africa’s water security, soil fertility and biodiversity, and food security. It also briefly highlights the injustice of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) scheme, proposed as part of the famous Kyoto Protocol, and noted in the report of the African Biodiversity Network as being a motivating factor in land grabbing.
   It is hoped that this note, with its essential recommendations, will help dissuade African governments from giving away the most precious birthright of Africa’s children and future generations: our land and the natural resources within it.
Land Grab Threatens Water Security
A recent report by GRAIN [1] warns that land grabbing will alter the hydrological balance of the local environment and have an adverse effect on local community water supplies in Africa. The reason for this is that the high water demand envisaged for irrigation of crops planted on land grabbed farms, is expected to exceed that available in local rivers and local groundwater [2]. In some instances the rate of groundwater exploitation will far outstrip the rate of groundwater recharge [3], leading to the significant depletion of the water table in local aquifers [4].
   There are already many documented instances where pesticides and fertilizers used on large scale farming contaminates the groundwater supplies and denies access to clean water to local communities[5].
   Some of the prevention of access to local water resources has occurred through the forcible displacement of peoples from their land of many generations (according to customary land tenure).  This has involved people being displaced away from the land from which they draw their water, or in some cases, their access to water wells being barred by force [6] under the new land acquisitions and arrangements.
Land Grab Threatens Biodiversity and Soil Fertility
Land grab farming tends to be in the pattern of large scale monoculture[7], whereby the fertile soil is more prone to be eroded and lost forever, as mono-cultural planting means that for part of the season,  the soil is not protected  from soil erosion by rainfall by the canopy of other crops;  whilst in the case of mixed cropping (where various species of crops are planted  together) there is year-round protection for the soil due to the fact that not all the crops, with canopies shielding the soil from the rain, are harvested at once[8].
Land Grab Threatens Food Security
Through land grabbing, many African people belonging to traditional farming families have been dispossessed of their land and the means to grow food for their families to survive [9]. Often the lands acquired were then used for agro-fuel crops instead of food crops [10], threatening the food security of not only the dispossessed communities, but the region through the depletion of local subsistence farming capacity.
The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) as a Motivation for Land Grabbing and a Loop Hole for Industrialised Economies to avoid direct cuts to Carbon Emissions
   Documents published by the African Biodiversity Network [11]Friends of the Earth and others[12] clearly highlight  the view that CDM motivates land grabbing.
 Through the disingenuous mechanism that is CDM the industrialised north shows its reluctance to adopt
i) Its political and economic responsibility for meeting its own climate change targets
ii) Its social and economic responsibility to change its pattern of over-consumption
CDM has created a dangerous loophole for the industrial economies to avoid cutting greenhouse gases. Instead of effectively  passing on the responsibilities of the industrial north to cut greenhouse gases on to the poorer countries  of the south by  “offsetting” its carbon emissions against carbon absorbed by tree planting in Africa and other regions,  large industrial corporations should be making their best efforts to cut their own emissions . Africa and other regions are bearing the cost in the form of land grabbed for the purpose of tree planting to offset carbon emissions of large corporations. Above we see the environmental devastation resulting from this activity.
   Furthermore, as Friends of the Earth note in their report; the industrial north has the challenge of tackling its own habits of drastic over-consumption to a level that is in sync with the sustainability of the Earth and its ecosystem.

Essential Recommendations for Action by African Governments
Whilst the behaviour of investors in Africa’s land grab that results in the destruction of African livelihoods and environment is to be condemned; Society of African Earth Scientists (SAES) can only make essential recommendations that address the governments of Africa, who ultimately hold the reigns of control over the leasing and sale of African land and resources  to private corporations. The essential demands include
  • African governments should protect the rights of African citizens with customary land tenure. No African citizen should be made homeless from their ancestral home.
  • African governments should protect Africa’s precious water resources, both its rivers and its groundwater resources
  • African governments should protect Africa’s natural forests and the rights of its indigenous peoples
  • African farming must aim to be agro-ecological and sustainable, prioritising food production and avoiding the production of agro-fuels and other large scale monoculture plantations motivated by carbon emission trading, which deplete the soil’s fertility,  threaten food security,  and the long term biodiversity and sustainability of the environment
  1. The term “groundwater” refers to water that lies below  the natural ground surface
  2. A hydrologic process where water moves downward from surface water to groundwater.
  3. An aquifer is an underground layer of water-bearing permeable rock or unconsolidated materials (gravel, sand, or silt) from which groundwater can be usefully extracted.
  4. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Prospects for the Environment: http://www.fao.org/docrep/004/y3557e/y3557e11.htm; Xu, Y and Brent Usher (eds), Groundwater Pollution in Africa, Taylor & Francis, UNEP, 2006.
  5. Friends of the Earth: Land, Life and Justice - How Land Grabbing in Uganda is affecting the Environment, Livelihoods and Food Sovereignty of Communities, April 2012. http://www.foei.org/en/resources/publications/pdfs/2012/land-life-justice
  6. International Fund for Agricultural Development, Soil and Water Conservation in Sub-Saharan Africa, Rome, 1992.
  7. Friends of the Earth, Op. Cit.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Friends of the Earth, Op. Cit. See also Benjaminsen, T.,  et al, Op. Cit.

Society of African Earth Scientists
September 2012

An Earth Science Application Review – “Earth Now” satellite climate monitoring
Members may be made aware of a number of applications that are available for the use of monitoring climate, which make use of satellite technology.
   You might be interested to learn that some of the earth science applications are available free from the internet and can be operated on your mobile smart-phone.
   One such application is called “Earth Now” produced by NASA2 and described on the NASA site:  Earth Now displays data on many of the key vital signs of our planet that NASA satellites track. Whether your interest is current surface air temperatures over Australia, carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide levels over Canada, ozone over Oman, water vapour over Wales, gravity anomalies in Greenland or sea level height anomalies at St. Petersburg, Earth Now brings a world of ever-changing climate data to your fingertips”
   A view of the facility for mapping and displaying the intensity of the Earth’s gravitational field shows the field to be most intense in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The reason (probably somehow related to the abundance of valuable minerals of this  region) appears to be an area for specialised geological research and the only article on this area at the time noted is  to the interpretation of Congo gravity data by Yves Shandini et al3 in selected reading.
   It is a useful educational tool. It has small drawbacks: Temperature is indicated only in degrees Fahrenheit so you must make the conversion to centigrade. Also it measures the earth’s surface temperature 10 km above ground so an adjustment must be made for that, if need be.

Earth Science Events
October 22 - 24, 2012
Venue: Cape Town Convention Centre, Cape Town, South Africa
Windaba 2012 is the international event on wind energy in South Africa hosted by the South African Wind Energy Association.
The South African Wind Energy Association (SAWEA) is proud to introduce WinDABA 2012, South Africa's Wind Industry's Conference and Exhibition. We welcome you to join us in this exciting event taking place at the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC), Cape Town, South Africa.

November  19-21, 2012
International Conference on Biodiversity and Sustainable Energy Development
Venue: Hyderabad, India
Biodiversity-2012 paves a path to move towards the nature respecting the beautiful lives comprising the diversity. The conference states a call to the scientific community to take the Social responsibility saving the Mother Nature and providing a ground to explore the survival opportunities by sharing thoughts through scientific research and applying them into social
life. Biodiversity-2012 shares the opportunity to bring together researchers from academia and corporate, activists, ecosocial organizations and NGOs to foster collaborations through the research talks & presentations to put forward many thought provoking strategies sharing the common agenda of Biodiversity Conservation

December 3 - 4, 2012
Achieving Food and Environmental Security - New Approaches to Close the Gap
Venue: Royal Society, London
THE ROYAL SOCIETY 2012 scientific discussion meetings at the Royal Society
Achieving food and environmental security – new approaches to close the gap. Organised by Professor Guy Poppy, Professor Paul Jepson, Professor John Pickett CBE FRS and Dr Michael Birkett. These meetings are free to attend, but pre-registration is essential.
For more details visit http://royalsociety.org/events

December 3 - 4, 2012
Annual International Conference on Geological & Earth Sciences (GEOS 2012)
Venue: Hotel Fort Canning, Singapore, Malaysia

Selected Reading, Links, etc

  1. A link on “Groundwater and Rural Water Supply in Africa”: http://www.iah.org/downloads/occpub/IAH_ruralwater.pdf
  2. The link for the NASA “Earth Now” climate change monitoring app https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=gov.nasa.jpl.earthnow.activity
  3. Shandini, Y., Gravity data interpretation in the northern edge of the Congo Craton, South-Cameroon, Anu. Inst. Geocienc., Rio de Janero, 2010:URL link is given as http://ppegeo.igc.usp.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0101-97592010000100007&lng=en&nrm=iso]

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