Despite the ever increasing challenges facing both people and our planet, we stayed positive and focused in 2011 and overall, it was a great year for Gaia and our partners across the world. Together with our partners, work on sacred sites continued to gain strength, we carried out eco-cultural mapping and participatory video processes, collaborated on no less than eight reports, held six Gaia Evenings, gave legal support, campaigned, tweeted, fundraised and blogged our way through an eventful & exciting 12 months. Read on to find out more…


Eco-Cultural Mapping along Kathita River, Kenya

We joined our Kenyan partners the Institute for Culture and Ecology (ICE) to carry out a week-long eco-cultural mapping process along the Kathita River. The Kathita is a tributary of the larger Tana River in Eastern Kenya, flowing from Mount Kenya, providing water to the whole ecosystem and the rural communities whose livelihoods depend on it. The river is peppered with ‘sacred sites’ – points of cultural, spiritual and ecological importance for the local people.

ICE has been working with communities in Tharaka to revive their traditional knowledge around the protection of sacred sites and forest restoration. More than 80 elders and community members took part and the workshop and learned how to ‘map’ their territory and the cultural practices imbued within it. Thy explored the changes and alterations to their land – the past, the present and their future vision – and the importance of recovering traditional practices and rituals. Together, they developed maps and eco-calendars for the Kathita River.

Tremendous enthusiasm resulted from the mapping process. The local communities have since been planting indigenous seedlings, which are adaptable to climate change; a youth group was formed, which is looking at sustainable non-timber livelihoods such as beekeeping; two cultural events, celebrating their traditional knowledge and practices, have been held; and other neighbouring communities have joined in the reforestation work, protecting an additional 8 sacred sites.

We will be releasing a short film about the process later this year but if you’d like to find out more about eco-cultural mapping click here.

Protecting Venda’s Sacred Sites against Mining

The Phiphidi waterfall and Thathe Vondo sacred forest, both in Venda region of South Africa, continue to be threatened and Gaia has been providing legal support to protect these sacred sites from development. Court interdicts have continued to be ignored by the developers involved, and now further destruction looms for the communities of Venda as a Coal of Africa mining project seeks to take root in the region. The Makhado Project, a mine operated by Australian registered company Coal of Africa Limited (CoAL), would decimate the regions water supply and ecosystems in the coming two years. Gaia is supporting the local sacred sites custodians (through their community association, Dzomo la Mupo) and our partner Mupo Foundation, to resist the mine by registering their sacred sites and gaining public support to stop mining in this already fragile ecosystem.

A successful registration of Venda’s sacred sites, especially within the framework of the African Charter, could set a precedent for community sacred sites into national and international law.

Prior to CoAL’s General Meeting of Shareholders in London, Gaia assisted civil society groups and community members from Venda to send emails and letters to over fifty shareholders and potential investors requesting that they reconsider their plans to support the company and specifically the Makhado Project. On 14th December, we held a silent and peaceful protest outside CoAL’s General Meeting in solidarity with the Makhadzi and the Venda communities.  See a short film of the demonstration.

UNESCO Recognises Traditional Knowledge and Governance of the Colombian Amazon Rainforest 

In November, the traditional knowledge of indigenous communities of the Pirá Paraná river in Colombia was identified by UNESCO as in need of protection, and was thereby officially included in its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

The UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage includes nearly 250 different cultural expressions, of which Hee Yaia Keti Oka (the term for the traditional knowledge and practices of the ethnic groups of the Pirá Paraná River) is probably the first example of an entire cultural complex, rather than an individual song, a ritual, or a tradition, being recognised as endangered.

short video was produced in support of the successful UNESCO application. Gaia supported the application process and provided English translations of all materials.

Advocacy and legal support for Karima sacred forest

Karima Sacred Forest is a small patch of indigenous forest, on a hilltop, surrounded by a larger area of plantation forest. Since 2005, the local clans have been claiming their customary right to govern and restore the sacred forest. Our local partner, Porini Association, has accompanied them and provided legal support. This year, the Town Council of Othaya announced its plan for clear-felling the plantation forest, which would cause tremendous soil erosion and impact upon the health of the inner indigenous sacred forest. The local communities protested against this blatant disregard for their traditional governance system and contravention of articles in the new Kenyan Constitution.

Gaia has provided legal advice for the case and is assisting Porini Association with media coverage, strategic advice and funding to support community efforts to protect the sacred forest and restore the rights of the community. A case has been filed in the high court of Kenya. It puts a spotlight on Article 70 of the new Constitution, which prohibits any new projects for the extraction of “natural resources” until environmental legislation is in place. A successful outcome will establish the legal recognition of the Karima Forest Hill as a sacred site, as well as the traditional custodial governance associated with it – and important legal precedent for other African partners and the communities they work with.

Launching the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA)

Gaia worked closely with the African Biodiversity Network and the other African groups to ensure a successful launch of the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA), during COP17 in Durban.

The launch itself was a great event, with a wonderful sense of excitement and pride, underlined by women farmers and children singing in celebration. ABN, La Via Campesina, COPAGEN, ROPPA, Friends of the Earth Africa, Indigenous Peoples’ of Africa Co-ordinating Committee, PELUM, Eastern and Southern Africa Small Scale Farmers’ Forum (ESSAFF) were all in attendance and presented on Food Sovereignty. There was real excitement over the potential for a network of African networks to provide a voice for African solutions for Africa, and the event generated significant media and coverage among global food sovereignty movements.

The Rights of Nature and Earth Jurisprudence

Gaia is an active member of Wild Law UK, an alliance of lawyers, students and activists campaigning for the rights of Nature and practice of Wild Law as a way of life. An exciting campaign is emerging to promote the Universal Declaration for the Rights of Mother Earth through a Rights of Nature Act in the UK, and the Ecocidecampaign led by Polly Higgins is gaining increasing momentum and global attention!

As a member of Wild Law UK, Gaia supported the drafting of a submission to the United Nations’ ‘zero draft paper in October, calling for re-framing sustainable development to Earth-centred governance. This recognises the Rights of Nature and of future generations, and our duty to live within Earth’s limits/ boundaries.

In November, Gaia and Wild Law UK launched the book Exploring Wild Law – The Philosophy of Earth Jurisprudence. The book presents a collection of essays on Earth Jurisprudence and includes a chapter on indigenous teachings by Gaia’s founding director Liz Hosken. Liz joined Gathuru Mburu, Polly Higgins and others to celebrate the launch of the book – video highlights coming soon & the book will be available to buy through the website in February!

Other news…

We got a brand new website! You’re on it right now so do take a good look around and find out much more about our work with partners internationally.

We welcomed Nic MarksVandana ShivaColin TudgePeter RodderickNnimmo Bassey and Gathuru Mburu (to name just a few!) to the Gaia Evening stage for wonderful talks. All of last years talks can be accessed as videos and podcasts.

We got social media savvy! So please do ‘like’ us on facebooksign up to the blog and follow us on twitter. What a fabulous way to spread messages.

We launched various films including The Story of Sheka Forest – about community-led forest governance in one of Ethiopia’s most critical rainforests; A Story Worth Remembering – narrated by Hugh Quarshie, documenting the ‘Botswana Experience’ which Gaia and the African Biodiversity hold annually as a way to explore African identity and restore confidence in African-led solutions to the challenges facing the continent; and Seeds of Freedom – the trailer for an exciting film we’ll be launching in the coming months, highlighting the impact of the corporate takeover of seed and the effects this is having on small-scale farmers across the world.

We produced a DVD featuring Gaia and ABN’s flagship films so far. The DVD “Stories of Change” was co-produced with ABN and features The Kamburu Story, Reviving our Culture, mapping Our Future and The Sheka Forest Story. You can bow buy it online now!

Gaia joined several African partners in preparing an effective presence at the climate change negotiations in Durban, South Africa, in December 2011. Have a look at the list of publications below to see what we were up to, and check out our blog for our account of the conference.

We co-facilitated a “training of trainers” in Participatory Video (PV) for a small group of Kenyan partners. It generated a lot of energy and enthusiasm for grassroots video from those involved and marked the start of the adoption of participatory video across the African Biodiveristy Network.

Our partners Mphatheleni Makaulule from South Africa and Million Belay from Ethiopia were both shortlisted for the UN Forest Heroes Award. They are two of the 3 Africans finalists in this UN recognition of unspoken Forest Heroes in each continent. Winners announced soon!

Our 2011 Publications & Reports…

This year we co-authored or collaborated on no less than 8 publications ranging from Biofuels to Soil Carbon Markets, Food Sovereignty to Gaia’s Story of Origin, you can find information and links to them all here…

“Biofuels: a failure for Africa”, in collaboration with ABN and the Ethiopian Society for Consumer Protection, looks at the Ethiopian experience of biofuels and the failure of jatropha and castor to grow successfully on “marginal” lands.

“The CDM in Africa: marketing a new land grab” was co-written with ABN, Carbon Trade Watch, Timber Watch and Biofuelwatch. It explores the perverse and polluting impact of carbon trading projects in Africa so far, and the likely land grabbing impacts if the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) expands into “soil carbon sequestration”.

“Clear as Mud: why agriculture and soils should not be included in carbon offset schemes”, in collaboration with ABN, was released at a critical time when the World Bank was pushing strongly for the UNFCCC to include agriculture in their carbon markets.

“The GMO Emperor has no Clothes” is a Global Citizens’ Report on GMOs launched by Navdanya International and featuring the African Biodiversity Network.

“Food Sovereignty Systems: Feeding the world, regenerating ecosystems, rebuilding local economies and cooling the planet – all at the same time”, is the first publication from the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA). The report was launched during COP17 in support of AFSA’s message that food sovereignty and agroecology have a crucial role for developing socially and ecologically just solutions to climate change.

“Soil Carbon Sequestration for Carbon Markets: The wrong approach to agriculture”, produced with ABN and Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) is a short 2-page briefing based on research that Gaia and ABN undertook in Kenya. The research found that dependence on international carbon markets would not benefit the farmers, and could in fact make their livelihoods more vulnerable.

“Gaia – from story of Origin to Universe Story From Goddess to Symbol”, written by Jules Cashford, is the first in Gaia’s series of Earth Jurisprudence booklets.

In Loving Memory…

Wangari Maathai: A Life of Firsts

Sadly in 2011 our dear friend Wangari Maathai passed away. Wangari, or ‘Prof’ as she was fondly known, was one of Gaia’s earliest Associates. She founded the Green Belt Movement and through it has supported the planting of almost 50 million trees across Kenya and beyond. Messages of condolences have come from far and wide, across our global network, you can read some of them here