Vol 6 N° 4 [October–December 2008]



p 2 Megacities of tomorrow

p 11 Benin first to host African Virtual Campus 
p 11 UNESCO nominated to AMCOST 
p 12 Poland rewards architect of molecular biology centre 
p 12 UNCLOS gives countries breathing space 
p 13 Kanawinka joins global geopark network
p 13 Launch of European Ocean Acidification Project
p 14 GRAPHIC Africa kicks off
p 14 Geological gems join World Heritage

p 15 Patricia Glibert on why scientists are taking a stand against ocean fertilization with urea

p 17 Mayangna knowledge deep in the heart of Mesoamerica
p 20 A geotropical paradise

p 24 Diary
p 24 New releases

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One size does not fit all

From 15 to 18 September, indigenous peoples occupied centre-stage at UNESCO. The Organization’s Paris headquarters played host to both the first official visit of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and the annual meeting of the Inter-agency Support Group on Indigenous Peoples’ Issues, attended by 20 UN agencies and programmes. One year after the historic adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by the UN General Assembly, the Inter-agency Support Group was in Paris to deliberate on the challenging goal of weaving culture and identity into development.

Challenging is the word, for the cultural dimension continues to take a back seat in development planning and implementation. The rush to attain the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) by 2015 reinforces the hand of those who advocate a ‘one size fits all’ approach, as the Mayangna communities of the Bosawas Biosphere Reserve in Nicaragua are painfully discovering.

Slash and burn agriculturalists, hunters and fishers, the Mayangna live in the heart of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor. As we shall see in this issue, they are unequalled when it comes to knowing the ecology of their territories. They are also dauntless defenders of the rainforest they call home. But their success in bringing deforestation to a halt at the edge of their territories may yet be short-lived if current development efforts are pursued.

Called Zero Hunger, the national development programme has been designed to help mainstream rural Nicaraguans. Unfortunately, with the best of intentions, it is also sending cows, pigs and chickens deep into the Mayangna territories to develop ‘model farms’ there. Aside from the logistical headaches associated with transporting livestock by truck and boat to remote communities and the incompatibility of these farm animals with life in a tropical rainforest – many have not survived the experience –, the programme encourages tree-felling in the core zone of the biosphere reserve and heart of the Mesoamerican Corridor to provide pasture for these animals.

What an unfortunate paradox! In the name of food security, this development programme is encouraging deforestation and thereby compromising another MDG, environmental sustainability. It is also urging the Mayangna to give up a way of life that has sustained their culture and a fragile ecosystem for centuries.

Such ill-advised efforts are being repeated all over the world, wherever development continues to ignore the special needs of minority or indigenous groups. To help integrate culture and identity into development, the Inter-agency Support Group has elaborated the UN Development Group Guidelines on Indigenous Peoples’ Issues, distributed to UN Country Teams in February 2008. Its message is clear: only through meaningful consultation with indigenous peoples will development be beneficial rather than detrimental to the very peoples it is supposed to serve, like the Mayangna.

W. Erdelen
Assistant Director-General for Natural Sciences

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