April 12

Best Defense with the Top Criminal Lawyer in Toronto

If you are facing some kind of criminal charges in and around Toronto area, you must get in touch with a reputed Toronto criminal lawyer. Well, when you hire one of the top criminal lawyers, you can easily rely on their services during each and every step of your case. Basically, the lawyer and his team will do their best to defend their clients who are charged with any type of criminal charges.

Criminal Charge: A Serious Thing

Getting a criminal charge can be a serious thing. A criminal charge can change the life of the accused completely. No matter the accused person is guilty of the crime or not, a criminal charge can affect them professionally and personally. The accused person can lose their job and even their freedom and reputation is at stake. Moreover, the accused person goes through a stressful phase, till any decision is made.

toronto criminal defense

So if you have been falsely accused and you don’t want to go through any physical and emotional turmoil, you can get a lawyer to represent you in court. When looking for a criminal lawyer you will come across numerous such lawyers but not all are efficient. Only a top Toronto criminal lawyer who is highly experienced can easily fight for your charges and protect your rights in the best possible manner.

 

How Criminal Lawyer Can Help You Out?

Whether you want to avoid jail time or a heavy penalty for the criminal charges, you should get in touch with the best criminal attorney possible. This is because the Criminal Code of Canada treats criminal offense very seriously. Only an experienced attorney knows his job well. Thus, the lawyer will try to put up the best defense possible for fighting the case.

Gather Evidences and Cross Examination

Mostly, the criminal attorney will investigate the case from their end to ensure the police have remained fair. They can come up with proof in order to prove the prosecution false. If the Toronto criminal lawyer feels he/she can cross-examine witness which the prosecution comes up with.

toronto criminal lawyer

Inform Clients

In order to provide the best defense, a criminal attorney would be able to guide their clients about the laws. They can also tell clients if they have the chance to win the case or not.

Figure Best Time

A Toronto criminal lawyer can tell whether it would be better to delay the case or get it over as soon as possible.

Get Favorable Sentence

In case, the accused is found guilty then the criminal attorney would try to ensure that their client get a favorable sentence. For instance, if one gets a one year sentence, the lawyer will try to reduce the term of sentence.

Plea Bargaining

Criminal attorneys would work with the prosecutor for negotiating a deal. With plea bargains, attorneys can try to reduce the sentence or charges placed against their client.

Criminal attorneys know the court system very well. Thus, they will try to guide their clients in the best possible manner. With a Toronto criminal lawyer by one’s side, reaching a positive outcome can be very easy.

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February 21

Curitiba, Brazil: The Roads Not Taken

Stuck in a traffic jam? Choking on car fumes? Then take the next exit and head south past the equator to the city of Curitiba, Brazil, where you can board a bus to a public transit utopia.

By the year 2025, two-thirds of the planet’s population will live in cities, according to the United Nations. And almost all of this growth – a staggering 90 percent – will take place in countries of the developing world.

Third World cities usually conjure up images of traffic and pollution, poverty and shantytowns. But the remarkable city of Curitiba in southern Brazil is trying to paint a different picture. This mid-sized city of just over one-and-a-half million has become a Mecca for urban planners, transit officials and environmentalists the world over.

Cities as far flung as Cape Town, Santiago, Lagos, New York, Toronto, Montreal, Amsterdam and Bogota have come to learn how Curitiba fought the car congestion and pollution nightmares that haunt many, if not most, of the world’s cities.

What’s even more remarkable is that by most standards, Curitiba is a poor city. Its annual per capita annual income is under $3,000 (all figures in U.S. dollars). Yet polls show that residents of Curitiba love their city and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. Visitors call it one of the most liveable cities anywhere.

The story of Curitiba’s transformation into a self-styled ‘Capital of Ecology’ begins in the late 1960s when the city of then 360,000 faced a population growth boom, like other cities in Latin America.

Curitiba was industrializing rapidly, levelling the old to make way for the modern. And like most cities, it was suffocating on its own traffic.

The solution, of course, was to build more roads.

So in a scene repeated hundreds of times the world over, the narrow, main street, and many of its magnificent turn-of-the-century buildings, were to be obliterated by a modern expressway. But in 1971, a young architect and newly-minted mayor by the name of Jaime Lerner thought the unthinkable.

He wanted to stop the construction and instead create Brazil’s first pedestrian mall. However, not even the shopkeepers on the old street were in favour; how would people shop if they couldn’t drive their cars?

Lerner, who had trained in Paris, believed that once people experienced a pedestrian mall they’d love it. Over one weekend Lerner pushed the public works department to rip up the pavement and put in cobblestones and flowerbeds.

By Monday afternoon the shopkeepers wanted the mall extended.

Photo courtesy of Institute for Transportation & Development Policy

Today, Curitiba, with 1.6 million people, has car ownership levels comparable with similar-sized Toronto but has 49 blocks of the city closed to traffic.

Seventy-five percent of all city travel is done by transit – the world’s highest usage. But Curitiba didn’t ban cars. Over two decades it gradually made transit cheaper, faster and more convenient than driving.

Instead of spending money on that huge overpass, the Lerner administration invested in public transit. And in Curitiba, that meant buses.

Modern transit usually means subways or light rail trains. But all Curitiba could afford was a short light rail line that would do little to solve the overall traffic problem. Buses were the only way to go – but they would only work if they weren’t stuck in traffic. So the local government set out to create a very fast transit system based on buses.

This idea has become known worldwide as Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).

Planners decided that existing roads would work just fine and reallocated them in groups of three: one avenue for traffic into the city, one avenue for traffic out, and one avenue for a two-way bus-only road called a canaleta.

There are five groups of these three parallel avenues that radiate like spokes of a wheel from the city centre, extending over 20 kilometres. These main roads are connected to common bus lines called interbairros that run in four widening circles to form a spider’s web that connects all sectors of the city.

To minimize delays, bus stops are spaced no closer than three kilometres apart along much of this spider-web-like network. And to streamline the boarding process at the most crowded bus stops, attractive steel and acrylic tube stations are built level to the buses and designed to fit their doors. Fare is collected at the tube station’s turnstile, rather than on the bus.

Photo courtesy of Institute for Transportation & Development Policy

The tubes allow eight people to move in or out of the bus per second, four times the rate of conventional bus stops. Buses also have traffic-signal priority. Signals remain green or turn green a few seconds early for them so they can run from station to station mostly without stopping – just like a subway.

Finally, to handle the huge throngs of passengers riding Curitiba’s BRT, the most popular routes use huge articulated buses with three coach cars that carry as many as 270 passengers. Inside and out they look and act like subway trains, carrying some 23,000 passengers per hour, better than the actual subway in Rio de Janeiro.

This comfort and swiftness has earned the express lines the nickname ligeirinho (swift ones) – as well as national and international recognition.

Going one step further, many of these buses now run on a ‘green’ fuel made up of 89.4 percent diesel, 8 percent alcohol and 2.6 percent soybean. This has reduced particulate emissions by 43 percent and even created some local jobs in agriculture and processing.

At the opposite end of the scale, neighbourhood mini-vans feed conventional bus routes which, in turn, feed the trunk lines. All transfers within the seamless system are free. Curitiba Transit offers one standard rate for all trips regardless of length, which benefits the poor who live on the fringes of the city and travel farther to make a living.

Altogether, the system’s 1,900 buses make 14,000 trips a day, serving more than 1.9 million riders – more than New York City.

To get that kind of passenger traffic, the city also changed its zoning laws to focus commercial and residential growth around these bus corridors, reducing the pressure to expand outward. High-density apartment buildings were encouraged along these main thoroughfares.

Photo courtesy of Institute for Transportation & Development Policy

Stretches of land along rivers were put off limits to builders and made into parks, a practical option that has also eliminated economic loss from flooding. This rezoning, together with other efforts to protect natural areas and build parks, increased the area of green space per person 100-fold over 20 years.

All that green space also created room for 150 kilometres of bike trails that wind their way past parks and protected heritage buildings.

But perhaps the most surprising fact about Curitiba’s mass transit system is that it was cheap.

Most of it cost only about $200,000 per kilometre to install, one-five-hundredth the cost of a subway, which internationally averages about $100 million per kilometre.

As a result of the low cost, the city was able to create a dense transit network where passengers can travel anywhere in the system for about 35 cents.

And before anyone dismisses Curitiba Transit as a grand public charity scheme, it should be pointed out that the system even makes a profit. Fast, comfortable – no bus is older than three years – this mass transit system receives no subsidies and actually makes money.

Private companies buy the buses and the city assigns the routes, sets fares and pays each contractor by kilometre travelled. The city has paid only for the roads, lighting, bus stops and staff to monitor the bus companies. It’s a public-private partnership that works.

Photo courtesy of Institute for Transportation & Development Policy

Commuting by transit has risen from 7 percent in the 70s to about 75 percent today. Air pollution has declined, and overall fuel consumption dropped by 25 percent even as the city tripled in population. The city wins awards nearly every year from groups like the International Institute for Energy Conservation.

Curitiba isn’t a perfect ‘eco-city.’ Its problems include favelas – shantytowns of 300,000 poor inhabitants ringing the city. But the city enjoys a quality of life that is the envy of much of Brazil. Industry, including ironically, foreign auto manufacturers BMW, Chrysler and Renault are attracted to its excellent quality of life.

Other cities are naturally following Curitiba’s example.

Quito, Peru and Bogota, Columbia are just two examples, notes Lloyd Wright, a transit expert with The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP). The ITDP promotes environmentally sustainable and equitable transportation policies and projects worldwide.

Bogota, a city of seven million, now has 41 kilometres of a TransMilenio BRT system. The articulated buses in dedicated lanes have become the world’s busiest bus system in less than two years.

Already car traffic has dropped 10 percent. Three hundred kilometres of dedicated bike lanes – the most in the world – has led to a 900 percent increase in bike ridership. And as Bogota weans itself off the automobile, they’ve started car-free days on Sundays, holidays, and even selected workdays.

The beautiful, historic city of Cuenca, Ecuador, also wants to follow Curitiba’s example. Cuenca has a population of 250,000 people nestled in the Andes, and like many urban areas in developing countries, transportation was unregulated with private operators fighting for passengers with old and often unsafe buses and taxis, says Wright of the ITDP.

So Cuenca developed an urban transportation master plan with a modified BRT system on 24 kilometres of principal trunk lines and approximately 100 kilometres of feeder routes.

Making the transition from unregulated private operations has been difficult in other cities, says Wright, because private bus drivers, taxis and others have protested the changes. Cuenca avoided this by involving all parties in the decision-making process, and by phasing in the plan.

The city maintains overall quality control of the system but the private sector will actually own and operate the buses. Private sector operators have already enjoyed financial benefits from the formal distribution of routes.

Financing has been the biggest hurdle for the small city, even at the modest price of $15 million earmarked mainly for the initial infrastructure. The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) external link to is helping the municipality develop a financing plan that already includes the support of a local commercial bank. The private sector will be investing an additional $50 million, primarily in the form of new buses.

Leadership is key. It has taken dynamic mayors in both Curitiba and Cuenca to make these transit dreams a reality.

Jaime Lerner was Curitiba’s indomitable mayor for three, four-year terms, and has been governor of the Brazilian State of Parana for the past eight years. A state-wide bus system is now up and running.

The excellent economics of bus rapid transit in conjunction with strong political will is proving to be a successful combination in Latin America. But could it happen in the First World?

In fits and starts, several North American cities are applying some of Curitiba’s transportation innovations. Pittsburgh now has a short BRT line connecting downtown to the airport.

Car-paralysed Los Angles recently announced its first BRT line, a modest 20 kilometres that will replace some existing buses and cut travel time in half when fully operational by 2005.

In car-capital Detroit, activists concerned about urban sprawl, the bane of many a city, are pushing for a BRT system called SpeedLink that is “modelled after the real-world experience of Curitiba.”

The Ottawa-Carleton Region has had a successful 15 kilometres BRT system for many years that carries approximately 200,000 passengers daily. This year a snazzy, new light-rail train has been added to the system.

And the huge sprawling ‘905-area’ surrounding the city of Toronto – where the car is the uncontested king – has congestion so severe that some politicians are talking up the $240 million in savings a BRT system could offer over just expanding roads. York Region, with 800,000 people and growing at 40,000 per year, wants it now and is changing its land use policies to encourage population growth along major roads to make BRT feasible.

One of the reasons for Curibita’s transit success story is that Curibitanos weren’t already wedded to the automobile in the 1970s, says Todd Litman, Director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, one of Canada’s leading research centres for sustainable transportation.

Curitiba’s public officials managed to convince the middle class that transit was safe, fast and pleasant – and better for them than driving their cars.

In North America, 75 percent of the cost of automobile travel is owning a car; once people have one, you can’t get them out of it because it’s a cheap form of transportation.

“We created a very successful and efficient automobile transportation system – as long as you’re not in rush hour,” says Litman.

But although transit – especially buses – have a poor image in North America, people will use them given sufficient incentive, says Litman. And one of the big incentives is to avoid being stuck in those huge traffic jams.

No one place is doing all the right things in terms of sustainable transportation, adds Litman. “It’s a matter of taking ideas from here and there. Europe is a decade ahead of North America in re-structuring their transportation systems. It is home to many examples of new thinking in urban planning.” The mix includes transit, bike lanes and wiser urban planning.

Public officials in North America seem reluctant to tackle our heavily subsidized auto lifestyle directly through ‘full-cost pricing’ of fuel, roads or parking says Litman.

Moreover, in Europe, the people planning transit changes intend to use it themselves. “Here, transit or other transportation options are for people who can’t afford a car.”

There are those who argue that just as an individual can’t afford that car, cities can’t afford fancy new mass transit systems. But the lesson to be learned from Curitiba is that creativity can substitute for financial resources, says Jonas Rabinovitch, Senior Urban Development Advisor for the United Nations Development Program.

Photo courtesy of Institute for Transportation & Development Policy

Any city, rich or poor, can draw on the skills of its residents to tackle urban environmental problems.

“But what may not be as easily transferable is the will to change, the political commitment, and the leadership that Curitiba has enjoyed over the past 25 years.”

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February 21

From the Roots Up

Small, independent farmers are an endangered species. So some consumers are putting their money where their mouths are, by sharing the bounty – and the risk.
It was a heart-warming sight, even for a hot summer’s day. Moved by the plight of drought-stricken western farmers forced to sell cattle because they couldn’t afford to feed them, farmers in eastern Canada donated hay to their western brethren.

But this summer’s “Hay West” adventure only skimmed the surface of the problems facing Canada’s farmers. Drought, rising costs, competition from heavily-subsidized U.S. farmers and an agricultural system geared to agribusiness have combined to push growing numbers of farmers off their land. In only five years – from 1996 to 2001 – the number of farms in Canada has plunged over 10 percent down to 246,923, according to a survey by the Globe and Mail newspaper.

So that’s why some Canadians are putting their money where their mouths are, when it comes to supporting farmers. They are personally connecting with local growers to buy food direct from the source.

Nope, this doesn’t mean a quick stop on the highway to pick up fresh corn or blueberries from a roadside stall. It’s something much deeper and more powerful: providing farmers with guaranteed incomes, while eating well. These consumers are buying produce directly from farms throughout the growing season.

Unlike most of us, they know exactly where their food comes from.

It’s called Community-Shared Agriculture (CSA), and it’s taking root. About 500 CSA co-ops are scattered across Canada, with another 1,000 or so in the United States.

Photo by Scott Bauer, courtesy of Agricultural Research Service A ‘CSA’ generally involves a group of families and individuals who team up with one farmer or a group of farmers, and who then pay a fee for their share of the harvest. They pay part of the cost of the season’s produce upfront and the rest later – regardless of the quantity of the bounty.
Vegetables are harvested and delivered fresh on the same day to drop-off spots where members pick them up. Some CSAs (also called community-supported agriculture) offer other products, like fruit, eggs and meat.

Hooking up directly pays off in four main ways:

Farmers get better prices than if selling to a ‘middleman,’ and receive money early in the growing season. They can then avoid (hopefully) the bank loans needed to buy seeds and other planting supplies.
Consumers eat better food, getting a box of fresh vegetables weekly or bi-weekly throughout the growing season. Most CSAs offer organic produce.
CSAs put the “culture” back into agriculture. Instead of being an anonymous commodity bought in a bland supermarket, food becomes an intimate part of life. CSA members know where their food comes from and who grew it. The farmer-consumer link is made stronger – and more enjoyable – through days when people can visit ‘their’ farm. In fact, some members cite the farm visits as the highlight of the whole experience.
The environment gets a boost by being spared the chemical preservatives, packaging and long-distance trucking associated with most supermarket produce.
In a good year, it’s a win-win situation. And in a bad year, the farmer survives.

Industrial Farming Bites the Dust

In the mainstream commercial food system, there’s a growing gap between the person who grows food and the person who eats it. “Vertical integration” means that fewer and fewer people produce more and more food, with large companies in command.

Harry Cleborg of U.S.-based Farmland Industries describes how it works: “If you’re going to be a serious professional producer of cattle and hogs, for example, you are going to have to be aligned with a processor and a system, and produce to standards. If you aren’t in a system, if you don’t produce the kind of cattle and hogs your system needs, you won’t have a market.”

Community-shared agriculture turns this model on its head.

Photo by Scott Bauer, courtesy of Agricultural Research Service
While most Canadian farmers scramble to stay afloat by getting bigger and taking advantage of economies of scale, CSA farms live out the “small is beautiful” philosophy. Most of the farms rely on a customer base of only 50 to 100 households.

“It’s called community-shared agriculture because it’s based on the belief that providing healthy food while maintaining a healthy ecosystem is the responsibility of everyone,” say Ed Bennett and Diane Heise, who helped found the Fair Share Harvest CSA in southwestern Ontario in 1995. Its 130 members sustain the livelihoods of 14 farmers by buying organic lettuce, carrots, beets, collards and other staple vegetables. Nearly all the farmers are Old Order Amish and Mennonites who still farm with horses.

“For us it relates to values,” says Bennett. “Understanding food as a social and cultural good is extremely important. When you look at the environmental footprint that we all make, we’re contributing to a more ecologically minded society. We also feel that the quality of food is better than conventional food.”

Her experiences as a Fair Share member have radically changed how Stratford, Ontario, homemaker Laura Reilly views food. “There’s a learning involved and you have to be willing to do that,” she says. “Yet it makes such a difference to be aware of the seasons, of how you eat, of what goes on with your food.”

It’s not always easy, she admits. “You share the abundance and you bear the risk.” A cold spring followed by searing heat ruined the strawberry crops of Fair Share farmers this year. As members learned they wouldn’t enjoy any strawberries, the common response was “That’s too bad,” followed quickly by “What about the farmers?”

Bringing Food Home…to the Inner-City

Many of Canada’s community-shared agriculture projects have sprouted in the West. For half of the year, Manitoban Dan Wiens works for the Canadian Foodgrains Bank (a development organization that collects donations of grain and cash for distribution to the world’s hungry) educating people about hunger. But in the spring and summer you’ll find him on the Wiens Shared Farm that he operates south of Winnipeg with his wife Wilma and their four children.

Wiens is one of Canada’s pioneers in CSA. Since last year the Wiens family has also shared their land with Sister Sheila, a Catholic nun who moved onto the farm in hopes of starting a spiritual retreat centre.

“Shared Farm” refers not so much to the people living on the farm but rather to those who eat from it. The farm supplies more than 100 families with weekly boxes of fresh, organic produce during Manitoba’s four months of warm weather. This year the sharing expanded beyond middle-class suburbs into inner-city Winnipeg.

People too poor to own a phone, often living in rooming houses and who use food banks to avoid hunger, are now eating better by being part of the Shared Farm.

Here’s how it began. Early in the spring of 2001 members of the newly formed West Broadway Good Food Club expressed interest in receiving weekly deliveries of food direct from local farmers. But members also wanted to help grow the food. They spoke with Farmer Dan, as Wiens is known, about working together. Sister Sheila offered some of her land for the growing project and the work began.

Once or twice a week a group of inner-city residents drove to the farm and spent the day getting down and dirty. First they seeded, then they weeded. Then they harvested: corn, broccoli, beets, beans, carrots, lettuce, squash, pumpkins and tomatoes.

Photo by Keith Weller, courtesy of Agricultural Research Service
At the end of the day the group drove back to the city with a vanload of vegetables. Parked outside the local community centre, the humble van was transformed into the Veggie Van, providing a bag brimming with top quality produce to other Good Food Club members for minimal cost.

Sometimes the harvest was so large that the group sold the extra produce to neighbourhood grocery stores, earning the money that will perhaps some day make the program sustainable economically as well as ecologically.

The farm is also a sheltered space where Good Food Club members can learn to work together while participating in something bigger than themselves: watching life emerge. It’s nothing short of miraculous for people with few opportunities to accomplish anything.

“The price of vegetables is astronomical if you’re on a fixed income,” says member Sharon. Another, Lorraine, adds, “You can’t get fresh produce at the food bank. Broccoli is too expensive for people on assistance even if you get disability benefits. You can’t ask for anything more than what the Veggie Van offers.”

Breaking Bread in Nova Scotia

SunRoot Farm in Kennetcook, Nova Scotia, is another CSA that connects people of very different backgrounds through food.

Jennifer Melanson, Evelyn Jones and Steve Law operate SunRoot, an organic farm that includes a commercial market garden as well as a CSA. They were attracted to the CSA concept as a way to strengthen the links between food, farming and consumers.

Each spring, 45 families buy shares in SunRoot’s yearly harvest. This allows SunRoot’s farmers to buy seed and other supplies without involving a bank. This guaranteed market benefits the farmers, who can carefully plan the growing season to maximize the harvest and minimize the waste, thus ensuring a viable farm business.

A typical weekly CSA share in August included turnip, kale, Swiss chard, beets, potatoes, lettuce, broccoli, garlic, peas, salad mix, squash, sprouts, cabbage and radishes. SunRoot farmers produce a newsletter that explains the contents of what’s been delivered, along with suggested recipes. Weekly deliveries are made from June until October.

Similar to the Wiens Shared Farm, SunRoot Farm is also involved in a community venture to benefit low-income people. “Growing Bread into Baskets” is a pilot project supported by the provincial Department of Community Services that involves people on social assistance. Like other families, they receive fresh vegetables, but they also learn about harvesting, cooking and communication skills. “It’s really a community development project,” says Melanson.

“Farming was an important part of this pilot project,” she adds, “but there was a lot more to it. People took part in the decisions, attended information sessions about organic agriculture and learned about canning.”

“But perhaps most importantly, many people increased their self-esteem. People on social assistance are often isolated because of their fixed incomes and lack of transportation options. ‘Growing Bread into Baskets’ allowed everyone the chance to work together, and to share ideas, recipes, abilities and laughter on a regular basis.”

Sinking Deeper Roots

Admittedly, CSAs are not feasible in all parts of Canada or for all farmers. Growers far from cities or without a major customer base can find it tough to operate community-supported farms. However, new farmers interested in the CSA approach can tap into a growing bank of resources about the CSA way, and connect with other farmers experienced in this shared approach.

Nor can the CSA model, in itself, solve the problems that threaten to make Canada’s farmers an endangered species. “The real problem is that we don’t pay enough for our food,” argues Jennifer deGroot. “No one has any clue how hard farmers work and how little they receive.” Dan and Wilma Wiens both have day jobs in order to sustain themselves, while part-time jobs help keep SunRoot Farm afloat.

By encouraging consumers to meet farmers and see first-hand how hard they work, for such low incomes, community-shared agriculture can help people realize the true value of the food they eat. Members at one CSA farm in Ontario even urged the farmer to increase his prices, arguing that he simply wasn’t earning enough money.

It might be naïve to think community-shared agriculture could grow into a powerful alternative to how most of us get food on our tables. But in Japan tens of thousands of CSAs are now flourishing because of urban organizations that support the farms.

“The key seems to be the organization of the customers, because the distance from farm to city is so great, both physically and culturally,” notes Cathleen Kneen, a former farmer who now co-publishes The Ram’s Horn, a newsletter on farming issues. “There is huge potential, but it would require a policy shift at the municipal level at least, to support the urban end.”

For the thousands of people belonging to Canada’s CSA farms, the benefits extend beyond tastier, healthier food. “For me and my family, the experience of Fair Share has been a sign of hope in a dark time and has opened our imaginations to different ways of living creatively,” says Laura Reilly.

That learning can be a key ingredient in turning around Canadian agriculture. As Cathleen Kneen says, “anything which reduces the distance between producer and consumer will begin to address the crisis in Canadian agriculture.”

Murray MacAdam is a Toronto-based writer specializing in community development and global issues.
Written October 2002.

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February 21

No Sweat

Many people who make the shirts on our backs don’t make enough to put food on their tables. So some customers are starting to look behind the labels.

The hip young models stare out seductively from the magazine ads, clad in the latest fashions from Gap or Club Monaco.

But behind the glossy photos, forgotten by most of us, are the people who actually make the clothes we wear.

People like Ana in El Salvador, who works in a maquiladora garment factory in a free trade zone outside capital city San Salvador. (Maquiladora is a common term for an export-oriented factory located in the Third World). Thirteen hours a day, six days a week – sometimes seven – she sews sleeves onto shirts. Ana doesn’t like the long hours and weekend work, but her pay is so low that she and her children couldn’t survive without the overtime.

The factory is hot and the ventilation is poor. Many of the women suffer respiratory problems from the fabric dust. They can only go to the washroom twice a day.

It’s not a pretty picture. And yet for hundreds of thousands of workers, this is the reality of ‘globalization,’ as multinational corporations search for ways to make their clothes at a lower cost. Shareholders want profits, and consumers want bargains.

Impoverished countries, desperate for foreign cash and economic activity of any kind, compete for these factory jobs, offering bargain-basement wages and inexpensive (i.e. weak) health and safety standards.

If workers dare to organize unions, companies threaten to close down and move to greener pastures – green as in the colour of money. It’s no idle threat. Hundreds of young women at one Guatemalan factory worked around the clock making Van Heusen dress shirts. They got tired of the 60-hour workweeks and poor wages, and tried to organize a union.

Ten years later, they won – or thought they had. Van Heusen simply closed down and moved the work to nearby sweatshops that pay even lower wages.

‘Sweatshop’ may be a word that brings to mind near-slave labour conditions from a century ago. But if you check out popular stores such as The Bay, Roots, Club Monaco, Gap or Eddie Bauer, chances are you’ll find clothes made in developing countries that enticed corporations to their shores with promises of cheap labour.

Fortunately for Ana and the others like her, consumer awareness – and sometimes even outrage – has grown as more and more people learn of the miserable conditions endured by the workers who make our clothes.

Some shoppers are looking beyond their wallets and are asking questions about where and how their clothes are made.

“As business goes global, so is the movement against sweatshops,” notes the Toronto-based Maquila Solidarity Network (MSN), which serves as a major focal point for Canada’s growing anti-sweatshop movement.

MSN promotes solidarity with groups in Mexico, Central America and Asia organizing in maquiladora factories and export processing zones to improve conditions and wages. Targeting specific companies like Disney and Nike, and public education are all part of its work.

The Network is also lobbying the Canadian government to force companies to disclose where their clothes are made, using provisions under the Textile Labeling Act. The Act monitors what info should be put on labels of clothing. Currently, it only asks for washing instructions and fabric content, but sweatshop activists want the regulations revised so that consumers would know exactly where a piece of clothing is made.

This would not tell shoppers at a glance if the article was made in a sweatshop, but it would allow both activist groups and companies to better monitor their suppliers. The Conference Board of Canada is currently studying the impact of such a change.

So far, though, most companies have been reluctant to reveal what’s behind the label, and the federal government has not yet used its powers to force mandatory disclosure. But some companies, such as Roots, have publicly supported the concept.

The MSN won a 2002 International Cooperation Award for promoting corporate responsibility from the Canadian Council for International Cooperation.

Not surprisingly, labour is a major player in the anti-sweatshop movement. The Toronto-based Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE) fights against sweatshops by promoting corporate responsibility and consumer action against exploitative companies. On the national labour scene, the Canadian Labour Congress is promoting “No Sweat” clauses in collective agreements.

Church goers are also helping to build the movement through Ten Days for Global Justice, a network of 180 local groups across Canada, now part of the Kairos justice coalition. As part of a campaign to close the rich-poor gap, Ten Days groups raised awareness about sweatshops by organizing “Wear Fair” fashion shows and by launching petition drives against sweatshops.

Activists do not want the sweatshops closed down. Factory closures that throw employees out of work only increase suffering and hardship among working people and their communities.

Nor do factory closures do anything to alleviate the abuse of workers. If companies are allowed to ‘cut and run’ from sweatshops targeted by activists, the same exploitation will surface in new factories opened elsewhere.

Instead, students, trade unionists, churches and others appalled at the suffering of sweatshop workers are joining forces to force companies to change. Fair Trade is the rallying cry. An Ethical Trading Action Group brings together Canadian Autoworkers, the Steelworkers Humanity Fund, Kairos, Oxfam Canada, Students Against Sweatshops and other groups to push for corporate codes of conduct among apparel companies.

A code of conduct includes promises that a company and its contractors will treat workers fairly by agreeing to:

Pay a living wage that meets basic needs
Stop forced overtime
Ensure that workers have the right to form trade unions without harassment, threats or firings, and that they can engage in collective bargaining
Commit to not using child labour or prison labour
In the States, groups such as the Workers Rights Consortium are also pushing to ensure that Codes of Conduct are enforced and workers’ rights respected. Europe’s “Clean Clothes” Campaign targets major retailers and major brands in ten European countries to promote decent wages and labour conditions for garment workers.

But a code doesn’t mean much without commitment – and inspection. The issue of independent monitoring of workers’ rights is crucial. A report on Wal-Mart sweatshops in Honduras found that no workers had ever heard of Wal-Mart’s code of conduct.

“Going into these factories is like entering prison,” says a Honduran priest. Teenagers and young women, often only 14 or 15 years old, put in 10 to 12 hours of grueling labour each day. After a few years many are so exhausted that they can’t work anymore.

Photo courtesy of behindthelabel.org

These realities continue to fuel consumer action. When Nike moved into Toronto’s Kensington Market neighbourhood this past summer to launch its “Presto” sneakers, they weren’t expecting to see a pair of sneakers dripping with red paint hung from a Presto sign. That ‘greeting’ was offered by local youth who, together with the Maquila Solidarity Network and UNITE, organized an anti-Nike street party to protest the company’s labour practices. “Nike go home!” chanted the dancing youth.

By August Nike had had enough and pulled out of the Market. It was a very public defeat for a gigantic company that doesn’t even have to mention its name because its trademark ‘swoosh’ is so recognizable around the world.

Nike has been targeted because of the treatment of the 500,000 workers, mostly women, who make Nike footwear (through local contractors) in China, Indonesia and Vietnam. The Nike Campaign has become an international movement demanding the company accept independent monitoring of working conditions at its contractors’ factories, and that workers be paid a living wage.

Graphic courtesy of maquilasolidarity.org

Anger towards the company grew after news that on March 8, 1997 (ironically, International Women’s Day), 56 women employed by a Nike contractor in Vietnam were forced to run around the factory in the hot sun until a dozen of them collapsed. They were being punished for not wearing regulation shoes to work.

Last April, 10,000 Indonesian workers took to the streets during a dispute about the minimum wage of $2.46 (US) a day. Nike spokesperson Jim Small responded by saying “Indonesia could be reaching a point where it is pricing itself out of the market.”

Wages for Nike and Adidas workers in Indonesia are so paltry that some women workers are forced to send their children to live with relatives, according to a recent report. Full-time wages are as low as $2 U.S. a day.

But solidarity efforts can have an impact, even on a huge company like Nike. (For their part, Nike says that conditions are improving.) In September 2001, workers at Mexico’s Mexmode factory, which makes sweatshirts for Nike, had their independent union recognized. It was a major breakthrough – the only independent union with a signed collective agreement in Mexico’s 3,500-plus maquiladoras. Workers won pay increases and improved working conditions, after Nike was bombarded with thousands of letters from anti-sweatshop activists.

And many of those activists are students. Visitors strolling about the venerable stone buildings of the University of Toronto campus two years ago would have noticed something distinctly unusual: a banner hanging from a building demanding NO SWEATSHOPS. Inside, a group of students had occupied the office of then-university president Robert Pritchard to demand that the university approve a code of conduct guaranteeing that workers producing university merchandise received a living wage and the right to organize.

Ten days later, after Pritchard was flooded with emails and faxes supporting the students’ demand, the university agreed.

The action was an early example of what has become a growing movement on Canadian campuses to ensure that university-identified clothes sold for students meet basic standards. U of T is just one of a number of campuses where students have banded together through Students Against Sweatshops to push for action. Students at 15 universities from one end of the country to another – Memorial in Newfoundland to Simon Fraser in B.C. – are campaigning for sweat-free campuses.

Their efforts are paying off. McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, recently became the eighth Canadian university to adopt a No Sweat policy to ensure its university apparel is not made under sweatshop conditions.

Nor are university students the only young Canadians galvanized into action. High school students and teachers across Canada are increasingly on board, promoting the adoption of No Sweat purchasing policies by their schools and school boards. Last August, as parents and students stood in line outside the R.J. McCarthy uniform store in Toronto, high school students handed them leaflets about sweatshops and how they could help ensure their school uniforms are made under human working conditions.

South of the border, a student anti-sweatshop movement has been woven together as well, with students at over 200 American campuses combating sweatshops under the banner of United Students Against Sweatshops. The New York Times called the student anti-sweatshop movement “the biggest surge in campus activism in nearly two decades.”

Kevin Thomas, an organizer for the Maquila Solidarity Network, says that students have plugged into the sweatshops campaign because of the direct connection to the clothes on their backs. They’ve also realized that pushing companies and university administrations to adopt sweat-free policies can actually make a difference.

Photo courtesy of maquilasolidarity.org “Here’s an issue where there’s something you can do,” says Thomas. “There’s been real wins. Students respond incredibly well because they can see that their actions have an effect on the industry.”

“I’m involved because of my interest in making links between my life and the lives of people around the world,” says Jennifer deGroot of Winnipeg, a sparkplug in Manitoba’s anti-sweatshop movement. It’s pushing the provincial government to adopt a No Sweat purchasing policy. “I can use the power I have as a northern consumer to demand fair treatment of workers around the world.”

Perhaps it’s the influence of youth, but the grim reality of sweatshops hasn’t drained this fair trade movement of creativity and fun.

Few social justice campaigns have used such a wide array of tactics – petitions, government and corporate lobbying, demonstrations, sit-ins, even “fashion shows.”

And as Christmas fast approaches, harried shoppers at malls across Canada will again be stopped in their tracks as they hear:

Door bell rings, are you listening?
On your brow, sweat is glistening
You’re working tonight; it just isn’t right,
Slaving in a Sweatshop Wonderland.
and:

Shirts from Honduras
and Nikes from China
clothes made in sweatshops
in North Carolina
all wrapped in packages
and tied up with string,
these are a few of my
least favourite things.
What, then, does the responsible shopper do? After all, we need clothes, and no one is suggesting drab, Soviet-style utilitarian clothing. The idea is simply to use your purchasing power to help others make a decent living. Info on responsible shopping is available from groups like Shop for Change and Global Exchange, which publishes the Responsible Shopping Guide.

Unfortunately, it’s not yet possible yet to know whether that stylish shirt you’ve been eyeing in the local mall was made in a sweatshop or not. That could change if the disclosure campaign is successful. Meanwhile, caveat emptor – buyer beware.

And buyer, take action. The harsh truth is than most consumers go for the bargains; it’s understandable that we try to make our hard earned dollars go further. Yet the lowest price isn’t always the best one – not if it involves sweatshop labour. The movement against sweatshops has blossomed because more people now believe we need to think about more than just prices when we shop.

Each of us, in how we choose to spend our dollars, can help reduce the demand for products made in sweatshops.

And that will give companies known to follow ethically based purchasing policies, such as Roots and the Mountain Equipment Co-op, the competitive edge

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February 21

Wish You Were Here

On this private patch of island in Africa, the view from the large green canvas tent is breathtaking: a lake of deep blue water framed by lushly flowered trees and swaying sorghum crops. Birds with names like Bou Bous, Robin-Chats and Weavers dart about, each speaking its own language.

Butterflies dance in the air, cats rustle in the foliage and spiders weave their webs on this 1.8-hectare island on Lake Bunyonyi in southwestern Uganda.

At Bushara Island Camp, you can start your day with breakfast at your tent or wake up by running the Eucalyptus trail a few times round the island. Later in the day you can take a birdwatching tour with Enosh – he’ll give you a checklist that has hundreds of birds you might see or hear.

Photo courtesy of Lake Bunyonyi Development Company

You can also take a tour of one of the nearby islands, visit a primary school, see some traditional dancers or just canoe for the thrill of the paddle.

Meals up at Swallows Restaurant include Crayfish Masala, Chicken Curry, Lemon Cinnamon scones and Banana Fritters topped with passion fruit. In the giftshop above the restaurant, you can choose from sarongs, baby rompers and ties in stunning African fabrics, or homemade baskets made from elephant grass and papyrus.

Of course, the views on vacations in the tropical Third World are supposed to be breathtaking, the food delicious, the atmosphere ‘exotic.’ That’s what the brochures always say as they describe your ‘vacation of a lifetime.’

But at Bushara Island Camp, an idyllic nature retreat for travelers in East Africa, there is both a view and a viewpoint.

Photo courtesy of Lake Bunyonyi Development Company

Tourism can be good for the host community as well as the visitor’s soul. It should create jobs so people don’t have to leave their communities. And it should promote development in a way that conserves the environment – and local cultures.

While at Bushara, you might not realize you are part of a community development project, although the dry pit-latrines, candlelight and solar energy probably give it away that you are at an ecotourism hotspot in Uganda, often called the ‘pearl of Africa.’

When you pay the bill (reasonably priced, I should add) for your stay at Bushara Island, in addition to the camp’s operations costs your money goes towards school fees, agroforestry projects and an orphan-care program. As a ‘fair travel’ operation, Bushara is a pioneer in Uganda.

And tourism has become vital to the local economy because the beautiful setting of Lake Bunyonyi is not sufficient to feed the community – home to roughly 47,000 people – beyond a point of subsistence farming. Soil erosion, over-farming and the decreasing size of land holdings are all barriers to a healthy standard of living.

Photo courtesy of Lake Bunyonyi Development Company

Traditionally, in the Lake Bunyonyi area as in the rest of Uganda, agriculture is the most important sector of the economy, employing between 80 and 90 percent of the workforce. Women are responsible for up to 80 percent of the agricultural production, which involves both subsistence and cash crops.

Uganda’s GNP per capita is U.S.$170 – the seventh lowest in the world. The average life expectancy is only 45.5 years. Stats like those spawned the creation of the Lake Bunyonyi Development Company (LBDC).

The Lake Bunyonyi Development Company was developed in partnership with the Church of Uganda, the Lake Bunyonyi community and the Africa Community Technical Service (ACTS), a Canadian Christian non-governmental organization (NGO). This coalition spent a good deal of time assessing the community’s needs, and learned that the area desperately needed some kind of industry to create long-term jobs.

Photo courtesy of Lake Bunyonyi Development Company

The people also needed immediate community development: orphan-care, better schools and an agroforestry program that would educate people about higher-yield farming techniques. But what could provide employment now and in the future? What would provide the money for community development?

One thing the area has always had going for it is sheer physical beauty. And Lake Bunyonyi is a rare swimmable lake – only two other lakes in Uganda do not have beaver fever and other dangers. So in 1992 the LBDC rented Bushara island from the Church and made it the region’s first ever tourist facility.

The camp quickly found its niche: NGO workers looking for a break, missionaries looking for spiritual tranquility and big-time bird enthusiasts looking for the aforementioned Bou Bous and Robin-Chats.

In the beginning many of the staff were volunteers working for a meal a day. The company now provides jobs for 40 people, and revenue has grown from $27,000 in 1997 to $110,000 in 2001.

Bushara Island Camp has become the flagship for other camps in the area, and indeed for the whole country. There are now six other camps around the lake, each tailored to different clienteles, and a hotel is under construction.

The LBDC achieved success by tailoring projects to suit the environment and the community. Canadian involvement has come largely in the form of human investment. ACTS workers Tim and Joanne Specht arrived in Bushara in 1997. Their mission was to develop the camp, provide training to the staff and oversee local community projects.

After an assessment period, the Spechts and the staff focused on getting the camp up to tourist industry standards. Bushara added more menu items, safari tents and solar panels. Birdwatching and cultural tours were introduced, and new products were added to the giftshop. Staff were trained in customer service, market research and business development.

And a number of grassroots initiatives took root: a micro-credit loan plan, the Bunyonyi Wear sewing cooperative, an orphan-care program and an agroforestry education project.

Photo courtesy of Lake Bunyonyi Development Company

William Tibamwenda, from the Mukoni village on the mainland, has worked for the company since 1992. He started as a latrine digger and night watchman, but over the years has worked his way up to general manager. He had never before had the opportunity to use a phone, fax or email, nor had he ever travelled around his country.

Now he is in charge of all Bushara Camp operations.

When I sit down with William he has two things on the table: a handwritten stapled journal and a book on how to be a good manager. He is very proud of his company’s history. He speaks of Tim and Joanne as being family, brothers and sisters in solidarity.

“This partnership between Ugandans and Canadians benefits the local people here,” William tells me. “Before there was no development, no money, no education, no jobs, no agroforestry. This campground here is the mother of all campgrounds in the Kabale district. Others have copied us. The island was just used for cultivation before.”

“The Canadians who first came here saw how poor the people were and wanted to create some revenue. Tim started the orphan-care program and expanded the agroforestry program. We have never failed to pay the wages or taxes, and we have never failed to buy what we need.”

The LBDC is a leader in sustainable development on the lake. What makes this development company unique is that it is largely independent of foreign donors.

This for-profit business model is fueling the region’s economic growth, and funding these community development projects:

Agroforestry

The hills around Lake Bunyonyi were losing their fertility due to over-farming and soil erosion, so the LBDC started an agroforestry program in 1994, training staff to carry out extension work. A tree nursery was set up on Bwama Island (directly opposite Bushara), with the Calliandra as the tree of choice due to its capacity to reduce soil erosion and replace nitrogen in the soil.

The LBDC provides local farmers with 60,000 trees a year through a seedling program. Farmers work in groups of four to six, each receiving 100 trees. Members of the group support each other in the planting and caring of the trees. Since its inception, the agroforestry program has aided hundreds of farmers around the lake.

Orphan-Care Program

In 1998 Benon Mugisha, an employee of the LBDC, died and was survived by his wife Loid and their two children Penelope and Peterson. These sad circumstances inspired an orphan-care program.

The community decided on a milling machine business to raise money for an orphanage. The LBDC provided the revenue for the capital costs of the machine and its installation, and the community built a structure to house it. They fired up the machine in August 2000, and the LBDC is now initiating similar orphan-care programs in other communities.

Bunyonyi Wear

Sarongs, dresses, hats, baby rompers and ties are some of the items sold at the camp giftshop. When you make a purchase, you receive a brochure explaining that Bunyonyi Wear comes from a cooperative of women who sew on foot treadle machines. They come from various villages around Lake Bunyonyi and have been chosen due to their inability to fulfill traditional roles within their families – roles that include heavy physical labour.

Each of these women has a health problem or disability, making them economic burdens to their families or labelling them as “unmarryable.” Joanne Specht developed the cooperative with Maudah, William Tibamwenda’s wife, when she could no longer work the family field.

The cooperative now trains women in sewing, style and pattern making. Joanne is also teaching the women bookkeeping and marketing so they can run their cooperative independently. The proceeds from tourists’ purchases go directly back into the cooperative.

Crafts for Export: Fair Trade Products

In association with the Uganda Community Tourism Association (UCOTA), the LBDC started a program to teach the art of craft making. The LBDC coordinates the community project and UCOTA provides training in basket weaving, handmade paper products and other products. UCOTA then exports the products to local and international ‘fair trade’ markets.

Micro-Credit Program

Like many micro-credit programs worldwide, small groups of people who know and are willing to support each other apply collectively for loans. Each participant receives a share of these small loans to start or expand a micro-enterprise, and the LBDC provides training in business.

“It’s very exciting,” explains Tim Specht, “the micro-loans have a really significant impact. You’re dealing with $100 for one person. They’re allowed to pursue anything that involves trade – they can buy sorghum, sell it, buy chickens and sell eggs. The thing with ventures like buying sorghum in the harvest season and selling it in the high season is they can realize 60 – 80 percent on their investment. That has a substantial impact on the community if they can take $100 and get back $80.”

Bushara Island Camp is just one small player in a huge international travel industry. Half of the people who holiday now do so in the Third World – in many countries tourism is a main source of money.

But while tourism does create employment, too often the jobs are in the low-wage service sector.

And much of the travel industry is based on the all-inclusive resort, walled off from the surrounding country while importing food and furniture. Owned by foreign companies, very little of the money spent by tourists is left behind in the host communities.

Photo courtesy of Lake Bunyonyi Development Company

This sets Bushara Island Camp apart as a destination that’s good for you, and good for them. The Lake Bunyonyi Development Company is not dependent on foreign donors, but on international solidarity and support. So if you are in East Africa on your way to see the mountain gorillas or just looking for a unique retreat, consider a visit to Bushara Island.

William Tibamwenda will be waiting with a torch to lead you to your tent and a cup of strong African tea. You can sleep in the clear African air content in the knowledge that your dollars will benefit both the local environment and community.

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February 21

Walking on Water: The Nova Scotia Coastal Trail

Nova Scotia’s coastal communities have been hit hard economically by the ecological collapse of the fisheries. But an eco-tourism ‘water trail’ is helping to preserve nature while creating jobs.

On this typical summer morning, the coves and inlets along Nova Scotia’s South Shore lie concealed beneath a blanket of fog. In the peaceful isolation found offshore, small waves stir the surface. At intervals, the quiet is disturbed by a gull’s sharp protest or by the soft splash of a cormorant diving for fish.

The thick fog hides a beautiful and fragile coastline. Like many marine ecosystems around the world, it is under threat from human activity. But here, economic need, a new awareness of the environment and an ageless love of the ocean have come together to create a pearl of eco-tourism.

The Nova Scotia Coastal Water Trail unites boaters and maritime communities under a common cause – the protection and preservation of the coast – while creating local employment.

The shoreline here varies from the exposed and windswept granite of Peggy’s Cove to the tree-covered shores of St. Margaret’s Bay and Mahone Bay, sheltered inlets home to small communities, houses and cottages. Here too, tucked between stretches of rock like buoys strung along a net, are beautiful cobble, shingle and sand beaches.

On a perfect day, the sun and the breeze unite to push the fog off the coast. Clusters of small drumlin islands decorate the expanse of blue-grey water. These islands defend the inshore waters from the larger swells and waves of the open Atlantic, creating a zone of relative calm.

Marine life flourishes here. Seabirds fill the air and whales can sometimes be seen surfacing when waters are calm. In fine weather, the gentle waves near the shore become an ocean playground for another marine mammal, the recreational boater.

It is the water that draws many of us, the simple pleasures of wind and waves and the smell of the sea. But finding a site to launch, and more importantly, a place to come ashore, can be a challenge. It has been estimated that up to 95 percent of Nova Scotia’s 7,500 kilometres of coastline is privately owned. Coastal land, including islands, is highly coveted, and much of it is being developed.

For those without access to the water’s edge, the ability to cross the margin from land to sea is increasingly limited. To discover the invisible barricade, one has only to travel the land routes along the coastline to see roads framed with signs reading “Private Road,” “No Trespassing” or “Turn Around Now.”

Yet put-in spots for boaters is just part of the story. The use of shorelines by both recreational boaters and private landowners can harm fragile ecosystems. Coastal communities, economically ravaged by the ecological collapse of the fisheries, can do further damage if illegal poaching and destructive harvesting of natural resources replaces lost income.

These challenges led kayak enthusiast Sue Browne and a small group of friends in 1997 to envision a ‘water trail’ – essentially a hiking path on the sea. The idea is old rather than new. From the start of the first permanent settlements, homes and communities have grown up near water; before there were railways and roads, water trails connected people.

In Canada today, people and goods travel primarily by road, rail and air. Except for major routes like the St. Lawrence River, water trails are essentially recreational. They are “less concerned with livelihood,” notes Browne, “but they’re connected to livelihood because they’re bringing people to coastal communities by a traditional way.”

Water trails are again tracing the best routes along rivers, lakes and ocean coastlines all over North America, linking boaters with land access and community services. What’s new is the level of environmental consciousness.

Nova Scotia’s South Shore is a perfect place for a trail of this type. The Ecology Action Centre, an environmental group based in Halifax, took up the challenge, and in July of 2000 Sue Browne realized her dream as she joined a small fleet of boaters for the inaugural cruise on the sea trail. Subsequently, administration of the project was handed over to the Nova Scotia Coastal Water Trail Association.

The trail, still under development, hugs the shore from the UNESCO heritage town of Lunenburg to Nova Scotia’s capital city of Halifax It is aimed at all types of recreational boats: kayaks, canoes, motorized boats, small sailboats and yachts. More than a playful line drawn upon the water, it is a real trail leading recreational boaters to safe harbour, scenic views and good picnic sites.

A guidebook provides sectional maps and descriptions of routes along the coast and points-of-interest on shore. An annotated map of a road on water, the guide identifies all the usual items: access points, businesses, scenic views, danger signs, places to stop, even beds for the night. These things make the trail a timely revival of an old tradition – boaters need to know where they can stop, where they can stay and where they can get help.

As intended, there are benefits for landlubbers too – boaters make use of services in coastal communities, boosting local businesses and benefiting the economy.

Economic spin-off is pivotal in ensuring the trail is successful as an eco-tourism venture, as local people discover that protecting the ecosystem can be more profitable than exploiting it in damaging ways.

Photo by Sean KellySue Browne hopes the boaters on the trail embrace the same philosophy of ecological stewardship to ensure recreational waters and shorelines are preserved, a key feature of sea trails everywhere. “Water trails basically are a way of managing a resource, and that means that people who use them have to become involved in the concept, and adopt the ethic of the water trail which is conservation and low impact use.”

Low impact use includes camping in grassy areas away from delicate groundcover, building open fires below the high tide mark and packing away all garbage. Wildlife is not interfered with. Breeding and nesting areas are left undisturbed.

While mainland sites fall under these guidelines, islands are of extra concern and other water trail associations encourage members to volunteer as custodians to ensure that island sites remain pristine.

As the trail becomes more established, its guardians will have to be on the lookout for eco-tourism interlopers. Commercial profit seekers from outside, often with financial resources that dwarf those of local operations, are sure to move in, taking profits out of coastal communities and undermining trail benefits. Small seaside villages would become nothing more than rustic wallpaper for tourists to enjoy.

Benefits would also be weakened if businesses attract patrons by claiming to be ecologically friendly without the commitment. These opportunists wear the ecotourism hat but ultimately profit through over-exploitation. If an increase of boaters on the water is to protect the coast, the commitment must be real and lasting.

Browne wonders how many recreational boaters will be enough – or too many. “On one hand we’ve got this trail that is supposed to be attracting people [to help save it]. On the other hand we don’t want too many people.” It’s a paradox that plagues any successful eco-tourism project. When the fine line of carrying capacity is crossed, environmental destruction begins anew.

There is already tension as to whether the trail is primarily about protecting nature or providing jobs. Critics argue that the concept of eco-tourism is a contradiction in itself: can people really use an environmental resource without changing it, sometimes profoundly? Reflecting on the value of the trail as wild space, Browne says, “the whole concept of maintaining areas that are wild is needed by all types of boaters. [They are] looking for a place to get away.” She knows, though, that the more boaters use the trail, the less wild it will be. At some undefined point, it will cease to be a get-away and natural carrying capacity will be reached.

One way to lessen the impact of people on the trail is to make it longer. The shoreline from Lunenburg to Halifax is only a small section of the province’s threatened coastline, and South Shore communities are not alone in the hardships suffered as a result of the fisheries crisis. The trail has lots of room to grow.

Indeed, Browne’s original vision had the trail going all the way around Nova Scotia. One day it may move beyond its borders and link up with water trails in New Brunswick and the well-established Maine Island Trail.

However, it has been difficult to find funding to expand and monitor the trail, and to update the guide. Eco-tourists could be harming vulnerable ecosystems, and crown land sold to private interests could become inhospitable to boaters. The water trail association does not have paid staff.

Nevertheless, the trail will continue to grow in some form as seashore communities realize the aesthetic and economic value of coastal wild places, and see the potential of a water path to protect them. Under the guidance of the Nova Scotia Coastal Water Trail Association, community groups can begin to develop trail sections, each with a local focus and a local benefit.

Lower Prospect, for example, is home to East Coast Outfitters’ Codfish to Kayaks program. Says ECO founder Dave Adler, “cultural and eco-tourism can provide a new cornerstone resource for coastal communities who can no longer depend on the fishery for survival.”

The dream is that one by one the pieces will join together, until the trail traces all of Nova Scotia’s coastline. Hopefully, this will form a continuous barricade of its own, one that protects and preserves the coast.

Skeptics may ask whether the trail is really for the environment or for the people. If this tourism initiative is to work it has to be for both. But at least the future of the water trail, and some of Nova Scotia’s beautiful coastline, is where it should be – in the hands of people who know how fragile and precious it is.

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February 21

Buddha was a Lumberjack

A meditating eco-logger in Nova Scotia sees the forest for the trees

Jim Drescher is not your typical lumberjack. Sure, he cuts down trees, mills the logs and sells them. Yeah, he’s got big strong hands, wears tough denims, checkered shirts and steel-toed boots. But unlike most loggers, Drescher spends a lot of his time in the woods meditating. He’s a practitioner of what he calls “contemplative eco-forestry” – a custom blend of forest ecology and Buddhism, a way to cut down trees without cutting down the forest. In fact, the primary goal of his business is to keep the forest healthy and resilient.

“The forest is the final product,” says Drescher. “The lumber is just a perk.” Drescher’s ‘product’ is Windhorse Farm, 150 acres of sustainably harvested old-growth forest on Nova Scotia’s windswept South Shore.

What keeps his forest healthy is his method for harvesting the trees. Drescher only selects a few hundred trees, never taking more biomass then can be replenished in a year. He only cuts in the winter when the ground is frozen and coated in snow, to prevent damage to the surrounding soil and plants.

He doesn’t bring in heavy machinery, but rather a chainsaw and small portable mill. Instead of trucks and tractors, he uses his two giant Clydesdale horses to haul the logs over the frozen ground. The logs are milled in different spots throughout the forest, leaving all the sawdust, wood chips, branches and bark behind to decompose, to give nutrients back to the soil. The horses then carry out the planks to the meadows where they are stacked for drying.

A walk in his woods is to go to a place most think no longer exists in the Maritimes. Massive trunks surge out of the ground into the sky – up where arching green needled branches make a vaulted cathedral canopy. Bright green sponge moss carpets the forest floor. Pale green stringy lichen grows like unwanted hair off tree limbs. Ferns and saplings poke out of the moss carpet and catch whatever beams of light have filtered through the foliage overhead.

The air is fresh – the real fresh – a blended scent of pine, hemlock, fern and earth that manufacturers of air fresheners aspire but fail to reproduce.

“All of Nova Scotia once looked something like this,” Drescher says. “But there’s only five percent of forest left in the province that displays the characteristics of the natural Acadian forest.” Practices such as clearcutting have stripped Nova Scotia of much of its natural wealth.

Drescher is a logger, and also a dedicated member of the Shambhala Buddhism community. Tibetan monk Chogyam Trungpa Rimpoche started this Westernized form of Buddhism in the late sixties, based in the hippy-mecca of Boulder, Colorado. In the late seventies, with almost a thousand followers, he moved his headquarters to Nova Scotia. Over the eighties, hundreds of families relocated to Halifax to be with their Shambhala community. Jim and Margaret Drescher were among Rimpoche’s closest students and were chosen to be among the first six to make the move in 1979.

Born on a farm in Wisconsin in 1942, Drescher enjoyed an early education in forestry and ecology. His father William, a hydrologist by training, also managed a commercial woodlot on the family farm. His grandmother Margarite was an avid naturalist. She and young Jim used to go on long walks together – watching and learning. Although his family raised him as a Christian, he left that theology behind on the farm, but took with him a strong devotion to morals and ethics.

After he graduated in 1966 from the University of Wisconsin with a Masters degree in Ecology, he taught for a few years at the University of Washington. In 1973, he met Trungpa Rimpoche and moved to Boulder, Colorado so that he could pursue studies in Buddhism.

When they moved to Nova Scotia in 1979, Jim and Margaret set up home in Halifax. Although he consulted in the forestry business on the side, he worked in the coastal city for a successful construction and real estate company.

But he was happy to give all that up when, in 1990, he discovered a special piece of land for sale. It’s a pretty rare thing in Nova Scotia, to find land with old growth forest. Even rarer is the family that sold it to Drescher. The Wentzells were the original owners and had kept it in the family for four generations while following the strict “eco-forestry” principles laid out by Conrad Wentzell, the original owner.

Carol Wentzell would have passed the land down to his son, only he and his wife were childless and aging. A year before Carol passed away, Drescher sealed the deal.

Drescher sets aside time in his day to wander aimlessly through the original Wentzell forest. Sometimes he crawls, sometimes he rolls around, sometimes he splays out on his back across the needles, and sometimes he just sits and meditates. But whatever he’s doing, he’s not thinking about the forest with his brain, he’s feeling it with his heart.

Although he doesn’t preach or encourage any of his employees to meditate, he does want everyone who works for him to develop a deep connection to the forest. Anywhere from five to 11 people work at Windhorse at any given time. There are usually around five full-timers, including a forest manager, a business manager, two carpenters in the woodshop and a full-time gardener. It changes season by season and often he has volunteers or interns working for room and board.

Windhorse makes the most of its trees in the woodworking shop by converting the logs into flooring, shingles and cabinets. Value-added is an important concept in sustainable forestry. Jim also runs the “Ecoforestry School of the Maritimes,” and offers courses to youth, woodlot owners, forest managers and Buddhists. Margaret, who’s in charge of the gardens, sells organic produce at farmers’ markets.

Surprisingly, Drescher never uses naturally felled dead trees – too many animals and insects depend on them for habitat. “Dead wood is the life of the forest,” he says. “It’s one of our eco-forestry slogans.”

Windhorse Farm operates under 31 of these slogans – bits of wisdom collected from around the world. A big one for Drescher is: “Sustainability through diversity.” The more diverse an ecosystem is, the stronger it will be. When selecting what trees to cut, he never cuts the tallest trees, as he wants as much diversity in heights and ages as possible. An even-aged stand is structurally weak. The more species of animals, plants, insects and bacteria a wild area has, the stronger the forest will be. He never cuts underrepresented tree species.

“Slow the Water” is another key slogan. The more a creek meanders, the longer it keeps the water around for the plants and animals that need it. The more contours in the forest floor, the more opportunity there is for water to be collected and stored. Machines and roads are not allowed in his forest because they compact the earth, creating a hard surface for rain to quickly run off into the rivers. Down in the meadows and gardens, Jim and Margaret have turned a short 500-metre long creek into a meandering system of ponds and wetlands several kilometres long.

Drescher has had his Buddhist teachings put to the test while dealing with emotions of anger, sadness, and depression after an elderly neighbour sold off all her trees for a retirement fund. The resulting clearcut, smacked right up against his forest, is like a desert outside an oasis. Drescher eventually learned to accept the situation and even look on it positively.

“It will grow back. It might not be the same forest when it does, and it might take a thousands of years to achieve its former level of complexity, diversity, and overall magnificence, but it will grow back.”

Drescher has learned to be patient and let the forest teach him what he needs to know. “We may not know how a forest works, but we can unearth some of its knowledge to help keep the forests we work with strong.”

And he has had excellent human teachers too, he says. “There’s Merv Wilkinson who’s been doing all this out in B.C. for decades. My father. Trungpa Rimpoche, who is my guru, but who is unsurpassed as an ecology teacher.”

And the Buddha, Jim Drescher might add, who didn’t just sit under the bodhi tree – he also cut them down from time to time.

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February 21

Chile’s Street Kids Circus

International bigtop phenomenon Cirque du Soleil of Montreal teaches the art of the circus – and of life – to street kids in Chile.

At one time or another, most children think about running away from home. One classic destination for these wayward dreams is the circus. The more adventurous may even fantasize about finding fame and glory under the bigtop. Camilo Echevarria Reinoso did leave home and join the circus, but he discovered a different reward amongst the clowns and trapeze artists.

Today, Echevarria, a community worker with the non-profit Canadian development agency CUSO, is technical director of the Circo del Mundo’s School of Social Circus in Santiago, Chile.

An initiative of Canada’s internationally acclaimed Cirque du Soleil, Circo del Mundo (Circus of the World) is an example of the Quebec-based outfit’s creative touch. Circo del Mundo allows Soleil’s performers to “share the challenge and magic of circus arts with young people in difficult circumstances, especially those who live in the street.”

A social circus, says Manon Bernier, a project leader with Cirque du Soleil in Montreal, is a marriage of arts and social action. In a social circus, “the final objective is not to develop circus performers,” but rather to give youth confidence and raise their image in the eyes of elders.

Bernier admits that not all artists work well with at risk youth. That’s why Echevarria’s school offers a four-year program of social circus instruction. No longer a member of a traditional performance circus, Echevarria spends long hours passing along his expertise and experience to a group of ten Chileans who are developing Latin America’s first social circus school.

A circus of some kind has been Echevarria’s home for a long time. Growing up in post-revolutionary Cuba, he began at age seven to practice gymnastics at a sports school in Havana. With Olympic dreams spurring him on, Echevarria practiced hard throughout his primary and secondary school career. When it came time for a post-secondary education, Echevarria chose the circus. He attended his country’s national school of circus arts and was soon showing off his acrobatic skills to the world.

Echevarria toured Italy, France, Hungary, Poland and Russia. He also travelled to Chile, Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador and, in 1994, to Colombia where he decided he would stay and not return to his homeland.

“If for you, this is escaping, then yes, I escaped,” says Echevarria. After 16 years of acrobatics, he knew he could find work in South America, especially in Chile. For three years he toured that long narrow nation that snakes its way to the southern tip of South America, working with Chile’s largest circuses.

Then Echevarria attended a performance put on by Circo del Mundo. What he saw captured his imagination. After the show he talked to the kids and their director. He described his background and expressed an interest in getting involved. He volunteered for two years before the opportunity with CUSO opened up and he was selected to set up the school where circus performers learn to become social circus instructors.

The Circo del Mundo approach teams Cirque du Soleil circus arts instructors with social workers. Together they interact with troubled youth, many of whom are difficult to reach through conventional means. Circo del Mundo’s program is based on the belief that “circus arts give youth at risk a chance to blossom, to express themselves and to use their fringe status as a basis for forging new links into a society which has often rejected them.”

Manon Bernier explains that when these youths perform for their community it might be the first time grown-ups have seen them in a positive light. Achieving any level of success as a circus artist, she explains, “changes the image of these youth in the community.” And in themselves.

For instance, while one youth talked of how Circo del Mundo taught him to juggle, he was more interested in crediting his circus experience with the decision to avoid using drugs.

One of Circo del Mundo’s earliest programs began in Chile in 1995. After 17 years of rule under dictator General Augusto Pinochet, ending in 1990, this nation of 15-million has emerged as Latin America’s economic powerhouse. Chile boasts soaring glass skyscrapers and the other trappings that many equate with success: upscale restaurants, big-screen television sets and personal-use automobiles.

The literacy rate for those aged 15 and older is 96 percent, and in 2002 unemployment was less than 10 percent. The gross domestic product grew by over 4 percent annually during most of the 1990s, making Chile the fourth fastest growing economy in the world during that time. On January 1, 2004, Chile entered into a free trade agreement with the United States.

Despite these successes, some 20 percent of the population live below the poverty line. Family violence is a concern and, like their counterparts throughout the world, disadvantaged youths struggle with drugs and alcohol, and the tendency to drop out of school.

Heading up Circo del Mundo in Chile is Bartolomé Silva Llanos, Echevarria’s boss. An actor by training, Silva is an enthusiastic leader who gets excited when he sees how Circo del Mundo helps troubled youth realize their dreams.

Under his guidance, Circo del Mundo assists some 500 youths each year. Most of them come from Santiago, the nation’s sprawling capital that is home to a third of all Chileans. Circo del Mundo, says Silva, uses circus arts as a tool to help frustrated teenagers improve their self-esteem, develop social skills and gain a sense of humour.

Community workshops are at the heart of the program in Chile. Teaming up with a variety of municipal and state social agencies including Chile’s drug prevention agency, pairs of instructors work with youths once or twice a week for eight to ten months. The teaching duo consists of a circus arts performer and a social worker. During the three hour-long sessions, youth ranging in age from early teens to early twenties are taught to juggle and do acrobatics. Some also learn the art of being a clown.

Instructors get the chance to strut their stuff too. A troupe of circus artists, especially clowns, performs for hospitalized children and families that live in neighbourhoods with social problems. The troupe’s primary objective is to make youthful audiences laugh.

Many international agencies, including CUSO and Oxfam, support the circus with money or people. Though Echevarria is not the first of what CUSO calls ‘cooperants’ to work with Circo del Mundo Chile, he is different in that he is not a Canadian.

Forty-four years old and without family in Chile, Echevarria has visited Cuba just a few times since he left home ten years ago. Maybe it’s because Fidel Castro’s government has banned him from returning home permanently that Echevarria has thrown so much of his heart and soul into getting the circus school up and running. Echevarria rationalizes his leaving Cuba by saying that in Chile he has an opportunity to pass along his skills to those who will benefit from them.

Twenty-three-year-old Rodrigo Oyaczún Rivera is a member of Echevarria’s team. Oyaczún spends every weekday learning the ropes, so to speak. From 10 am until 7:30 pm he takes classes in the trapeze and acrobatics as well as receiving lessons in social issues. Oyaczún would like to become a professional circus artist.

Another student, 20-year-old Daniela Oyanedel Alarcón, cherishes the opportunity to pass along her knowledge of “the magical world of circus,” while 15-year-old Marcelo Ibacache Guebba says his goal is to “travel so he can learn more than he already knows.”

The opportunity to visit other lands is a benefit that Executive Director Silva believes is especially valuable. Last year, five of the youths involved in his program spent two months in Australia. Upon their return, Silva noticed, “they were very different, stronger and more professional.”

Possibly they were more like the Cirque du Soleil’s founders. In the early 1980s, a few young street performers in Montreal believed in themselves as well. Today, Cirque du Soleil and its unique form of circus spectacle employs 2,500 people, over 500 of whom are artists. The company has nine shows on the go with permanent theatres in Florida and Las Vegas. Since 1984, Cirque du Soleil has staged more than 240 performances in 90 cities before 40 million spectators.

And the magicians behind the Montreal phenomenon could easily expand its Circo del Mundo initiative too. “There is so much demand that if we wanted we could develop Cirque du Monde programs all over the world,” enthuses Manon Bernier. As it is, staff involved with Cirque du Soleil’s social programs have difficulty keeping up with their workload. But Bernier promises that Circo del Mundo will coach other motivated groups interested in setting up their own version of the program.

And then more kids will be able to join the circus after running away from home and onto the streets.

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February 21

Can Small Business Be Beautiful?

If you give the world’s poor legal title to their land – no mater how humble or how acquired – you could give them the collateral they need to start businesses and create jobs.

“I hate telling you this, but I don’t think your [foreign] aid really matters much,” influential Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto told a Canadian audience a few years back, during the taping of a talk for the CBC radio show Ideas. “You are a small part of [Developing World] economies. It just doesn’t matter. It’s too small.”

De Soto, consultant and author of The Mystery of Capital, is the man that politicians and key decision-makers – including Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin – turn to when they want to get a handle on Third World poverty and the role of the private sector. A United Nations report released in March 2004 titled Unleashing Entrepreneurship: Making Business Work for the Poor, which Paul Martin co-authored with former Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo, was heavily influenced by the Peruvian economist’s writings.

De Soto says that foreign aid has more to do with the person doing the giving than the person receiving. “I know lots of people, including myself, that give resources to the poor so that they stop starving, but I know that I am not going to change the situation [in the long-term].” The crux of the problem, de Soto says, is that the poor need to start businesses, create jobs and earn a living.

But if you are living in poverty, getting the capital to start a business can be next to impossible. Few banks will open their vaults. De Soto believes the poor should be given title to their homes and land, no matter how humble or how acquired. This champion of property rights would give full legal protection to the de facto rights observed informally by millions worldwide, including so-called squatters. These impoverished citizens are sitting on billions of dollars of land and assets, which could be used as collateral to start or expand businesses. Or, land could be sold once its value increases, freeing up capital for a better life.

Streamlined legal systems would further help the budding entrepreneur. De Soto points to bureaucratic laws in many Developing Countries that slow down or impede the formal registration of business enterprises. This encourages the growth of black market or informal businesses, ranging from street hawkers of miscellaneous sundry to household-based manufacturing. In some countries, this informal sector counts for 50 percent or more of the total economy. The solution, according to the report by Martin and Zedillo, is to bring these unregistered enterprises out of legal limbo, give them mainstream protection and, presumably, tax them.

De Soto is a busy man, in demand as president of the Lima-based Institute for Liberty and Democracy. He works with governments in Mexico, Egypt, the Philippines, Honduras and Haiti. The charismatic consultant, whose has two pet dogs called Marx and Engles (they have little respect for private property, he has joked), led a pro-capitalist intellectual crusade against the ideological underpinnings of the Shining Path in Peru, an ultra-Maoist and ultra-violent guerilla army. He was on the top of their hit-list and survived three attempts on his life. He has been credited in part with the Path’s downfall.

Away from the radical fringe, de Soto’s answer to poverty has it mainstream critics too, including Roy Culpeper, the director of the Ottawa-based North-South Institute. He says that many urban dwellers across Latin America, Africa and Asia are too poor to possess sufficient living space to leverage bank loans. “These properties, perhaps as big as the office that I am sitting in, are just not enough.”

De Soto’s appeal stems from his ability to deliver “a simple message” for complex problems to an audience suffering from “development fatigue,” Culpeper argues. It’s understandably appealing when “someone comes along and says, well, you shouldn’t be taxing the honest taxpayers of the Developed Countries, because the answer is really that the poor are sitting on assets, so give them title and liberate that capital.”

But Hernando de Soto is “something of a hero” to business leaders in Egypt, says Fred Mooney, a Guelph-based Canadian consultant working in the city of Mansoura, in the Nile region of Daqahliya. Pre-1989 Soviet influence unrolled miles of red tape, and encouraged companies to be less market-oriented and more focused on bartering goods with the Russians. De Soto discovered that the process of gaining title to land in Egypt can take six to 14 years, and require as many as 77 bureaucratic steps with applications to 31 different entities, mostly public bodies.

Mooney is helping to strengthen small and medium-sized enterprises – which employ on average six to 50 employees each – active in metals, plastics, textiles and food processing. A project manager in the emerging markets division of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, a large international business consulting firm, Mooney is looking after a series of business services projects supported to the tune of $13-million by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

In co-operation with government ministries, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), women’s groups and academia, the firm of Deloitte Touche focuses on the development of local support networks and organizations to provide advice in areas like marketing, product quality control, business proposals and training. One major achievement is the establishment of ‘One-Stop-Shopping’ in partnership with the governorate of Daqahliya, where local entrepreneurs need only to go to one office to have their businesses licensed. In the past, this process involved an arduous journey through various government ministries.

“It used to take a year and some baksheesh to start a business,” says Mooney. “Now, on average, we are down to 19 days.” Mooney concedes that job creation is a longer-term goal of these enterprises. “Often, when we go into a place in the first year, or maybe the first two years, it doesn’t change the employment level because we have introduced efficiencies and …better quality control to help them find new markets.” The same service is being rolled out in other parts of Egypt.

While de Soto’s ideas are focused on slicing the bureaucratic red tape in the urban environment, do they have much relevance in the countryside of the South where many of the world’s people live in impoverished conditions – and where the issue of land reform is paramount?

In her travels to Ecuador, where large estates and “servile social relations” are often the norm in rural areas, York University political scientist Lisa North has watched firsthand how title and ownership can have a powerful impact on people’s livelihood and sense of economic independence. Yet she is critical of de Soto’s support for the push by large lenders of capital (for example, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund) on client states to open up their markets to competition, as well as deregulate and privatize public services.

North says it the ‘rough justice’ nature of capitalism and lack of subsidies for local enterprises that has hurt the kind of small businesses that de Soto, and for that matter Martin and Zedillo, want to foster and nurture. “Many of the policies that are being pursued actually undercut the possibility of developing entrepreneurship on a widespread scale,” says the co-editor and contributor to Rural Progress, Rural Decay: Neoliberal Adjustment Policies and Local Initiatives.

Between 1997 and 2001, North made annual visits to the Ecuadorian community of Pelileo, population 38,000, to follow the progress of some of the most successful household-based enterprises in the canton. In many of these businesses the women take a leading role as owners or partners. “The women never took a back seat,” North notes.

The political scientist says that this Andean highland community – which includes both a village and the surrounding rural area – is an ideal scenario for de Soto’s theories. As a result of broad distribution of land dating back to the 19th century, many small farmers enjoy title to their own parcels of property. Starting around the Second World War, many leveraged this land and diversified into the manufacture of clothes, particularly blue jeans for local markets. Employing three to seven people, mostly other family members, these Andean enterprises maintain farming links to the land as an “insurance policy” against market fluctuations in demand for their clothing.

The initial successes of the businesses led to a more prosperous community where people could afford to improve their houses – many of which are now brick – and to develop new skills. What is noteworthy, says North, is that while these people had better access to credit because of land ownership, they mostly used it in their business dealings with wholesale distributors. Very little assistance was requested from NGOs or international donor agencies, she reports. “We are not talking about people who are millionaires. But we are talking about a situation in which there was a lot of employment, something above minimum wages.”

Unfortunately, this combination of farming and clothing manufacturing could not save between a quarter to a half of the 700 such enterprises that had been active at their height in the 1980s, from closing their doors a decade later in face of competition from cheaper imports. Food and garments flooded in from Peru, Columbia and China. The adoption of the U.S. dollar by Ecuador made its products increasingly uncompetitive. “Neighbouring countries were devaluing [their currencies] and producing the same kind of things [for less],” says North.

What also did not help was the weakening of local consumer markets in Ecuador. The loss of jobs in metal and mechanical industries in the nearby provincial capital of Ambato, the result of competition from foreign imports, meant that fewer people could afford to buy new jeans. By the third year of her journeys, North saw the first signs of outmigration from Pelileo, which until then had never experienced such flight in a substantial way. “People were debating which member of the family should go abroad [to earn income and send back money],” North recalls.

The political scientist has seen estimates that about a million Ecuadorians have left since the late 1990s to work in Spain, Italy and the U.S. – particularly New York City and Los Angeles. “Some of the textile industries in New York have got incredibly well-trained people from the Ecuadorian communities that have been devastated by liberalization policy.”

North admits that she fell in love with “the hardy and resourceful” people of Pelileo. “And when I saw what was starting to happen to them, it broke my heart.”

Development experts are divided on whether aiding small businesses in Developing Countries is a worthwhile goal. The North American-European model of the isolated individual creating a business out of a great idea is difficult enough in the North, especially in the absence of support from banks or government, says Daryl Reed, an assistant professor and coordinator of the business and society program at York University in Toronto. It’s even harder in the South. “Is that a realistic model for success?” he asks. “[The United Nations report and de Soto] don’t ask the question because that is the only way they can think about [development].”

And, Reed adds, the UN report on entrepreneurship ignored the success of many “community and co-operative” based enterprises that can, with technical and financial support, generate as much or perhaps more employment than corporations focused on short-term profits.

In Africa, where subsistence farming is the norm, it makes more sense to encourage the development of community-based enterprises where all of the profit is plowed back into ongoing projects, says Winston Johnston, a retired Charlottetown-based plant pathologist and president of the PEI non-profit Farmers Helping Farmers. “We work with groups of people. We don’t work with an individual entrepreneur who is making money out of it.”

Since 1997, his organization has helped the 7,000 inhabitants of Nyeri and the surrounding rural district in Kenya set up the Wakulima Self-Help Group Dairy with the assistance of about $154,000 from CIDA. At the centre is a bulk-cooling tank, which facilitates the safe storage of locally generated milk. In the past, farmers were only able to sell their morning milk from the cows because they had no means to refrigerate milk overnight from afternoon milking. With increased production and a higher quality product, the dairy tank has led to the doubling of sales and increased income for the community.

The Wakulima co-op has expanded with the addition of a feed store, a credit union, a hardware store and some veterinary services for artificial insemination. Members can now afford school fees and medical bills for their children. “It’s the biggest thing in town,” boasts Johnston. The direction of the co-op, which employs about 60 people, is set by an elected board of directors.

One interesting perspective of the Kenyan farmers is that they do not like to use their land as collateral to borrow money. Johnston says that the credit union, which all the farmers belong to as members, relies more on trust and personal references from each other to guarantee loans.

It’s a different relationship to land then the one de Soto advocates using to bankroll a better future. “Their whole life depends on the land,” says Johnston. “It is too valuable to let anyone take it away.”

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February 21

Growing Hope on the Miskito Coast

An unlikely partnership between Native communities in Saskatchewan and Nicaragua grows hope through the sustainable logging of indigenous forests.

Native communities in snowy Saskatchewan and tropical Nicaragua may seem worlds apart, but Chief Richard Gladue of the Meadow Lake Tribal Council believes these worlds have much in common. Gladue goes so far as to call the relationship “sacred.”

“There are times we take things for granted here in Canada without really thinking about it,” says Chief Gladue. “We think we have a hard life, but we’ve never seen anything like down there. Nobody goes to Nicaragua and comes back the same person. It’s very, very humbling.”

Saskatchewan’s Meadow Lake Tribal Council (MLTC) is involved in rural development projects with Indigenous groups in isolated corners of Nicaragua. One of the reasons for this unlikely partnership is Sam Mercado, a Miskito Indian. His story parallels the struggles, strategies and resilience of his people.

A Miskito who grew up in northern Nicaragua, near where the Río Coco forms the border with Honduras, Mercado spent two years in jail during the Sandinista years. “I know all the jails in Nicaragua,” he says, “I became an expert in torture.”

Although the Miskitos initially supported the Sandinistas, worlds did collide when the revolutionary government forced its version of land reform on the country’s North and South Autonomous regions. The Sandinistas tried to dole the land out into parcels that would be owned by individual campesinos, including the local Indigenous people. But Native land was communally held, and some Indigenous groups took up arms during this era of the U.S.-backed Contras.

Mercado, then working for a community group headed by the Sandinistas, was plunged into the personal contradiction of working for a government at war with his own people. Though he didn’t pick up the gun, his resignation from the organization labelled him an enemy of the state. The police barged into his house in the dead of night and hauled him away.

Ironically, his release two years later was a result of international pressure from connections he’d made while in the employ of the Sandinistas. To avoid future imprisonment, Mercado fled with his wife and children to Costa Rica, where he decided to join the armed struggle on the second front against the Sandinistas; the first front was on the Honduran border, fought by the so-called Counter-Revolutionaries or Contras.

In 1988, before the war ended, he and his family made their way to Saskatchewan to start a new chapter in their life, which at one point had Mercado cleaning animal carcasses for a meat packing plant in Moose Jaw.

That Prairie province is where Mercado was introduced to Richard Gladue ten years ago. The Chief had answered a request from the Canadian government for his tribal council to become involved in a forestry venture with a group of Miskitos in Nicaragua. That entreaty was the beginning of a long relationship that is finally bearing fruit.

MLTC is an umbrella organization that delivers services and manages programs on behalf of nine First Nations in Saskatchewan. It is involved in political activities including treaty rights protection and self-government. MLTC also manages around four million hectares of forest. Its mission is to have individual Native communities assume control of their own services and programs and, increasingly, their own economic development. Chief Gladue says the fortunes of the communities he represents only changed after they took charge of their own affairs.

Chief Gladue’s 1996 visit to Nicaragua inspired him to see if MLTC’s sustainable forestry model would take root in Nicaragua’s Indigenous communities where, despite rich timber, agricultural and fisheries resources, 95 percent of the population is unemployed. Access to healthcare and education is limited, running water and electricity sporadic. “When you see the richness of the natural resources [in Nicaragua] it’s hard to believe that it can be so poor,” says Gladue.

After a failed attempt to set up a commercial forestry operation, MLTC created a Canadian not-for-profit corporation, Contigo International, in 1997. MLTC charged it with developing a Nicaraguan scheme that would avoid the oft-repeated foreign aid “dependency cycle.” Enrique Madueno, the First Secretary in Canada’s Embassy in Managua, appreciates the approach. “The program gives the people the tools to improve their income,” he says. “They will choose their priorities themselves.”

With Sam Mercado’s help, Contigo brought together 16 Nicaraguan Indigenous communities to create Consejo Territorial Prinzapolka-Bambana, a management structure similar to a Canadian tribal council. The communities then set up the Limi-Nawah Corporation, the first company to be registered, owned and operated in Nicaragua by Indigenous people. (Limi means jaguar in Miskito and Nawah means jaguar in Mayagnas or Sumu.) These ‘jaguars of the forest’ hope to build an economic base grounded in the sustainable use of natural resources. Limi-Nawah borrowed heavily from MLTC’s successful model.

Limi-Nawah’s money will grow from trees sustainably harvested using a forest management plan that goes so far as to identify and map every tree within the project’s boundaries. Then, rather than selling timber to each community’s síndico or land manager, Limi-Nawah will negotiate higher prices with national and international buyers.

To add value to the trees, Limi-Nawah is building a sawmill near the Río Prinzapolka which will create new jobs. A percentage of profits from timber and lumber sales are to be turned over to the communities to improve health and education services.

Limi-Nawah received a $162,000 grant from Nicaragua’s Institute for Rural Development to build the sawmill, and to cover operating expenses Contigo is lending Limi-Nawah $250,000 from money provided by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA, Canada’s foreign aid wing).

In year one, Limi-Nawah plans to log 1,000 hectares that have forest management plans in place. The company has also arranged to harvest trees from an additional 3,500 hectares located in a community that is not a Limi-Nawah member. In total, the corporation expects to sustainably cut 3,000 cubic metres of round wood, most of it Andiroba, a precious hardwood known locally as cedro macho. Fifty percent of profits from the operation will go to an economic development fund, 35 percent to social development and 15 percent to Contigo for administrative services.

Fifteen of the communities involved are Miskito, the most numerous of Nicaragua’s Indigenous people. The 16th community is Mayagnas (also known as Sumu). In all, some 10,000 people live in the 700,000-hectare area that takes in a large native pine savannah forest. It includes pockets of tropical hardwoods, though the majority of the most valuable trees, mahogany for example, have already been picked over.

Each of the 16 communities has one representative on Limi-Nawah’s board. They’d hoped that 25 percent would be women, but only one woman ran for a position. She won. There is, however, excellent female representation on Limi-Nawah’s various committees. Women, alongside their male counterparts, are being trained to work in the sawmill and in the forest.

Confident because of MLTC’s track record, the powers behind the ambitious undertaking are convinced the model will offer a new path of economic development. But ‘development’ is rarely easy or straightforward.

Steve Gretzinger, who represents the World Wildlife Fund in Central America, worries that while “the concept is splendid, the problem is how they are going about it.” Gretzinger is concerned that Contigo “took the classic approach – they promised everybody everything,” and will have to deal with widespread disappointment because they can’t deliver.

Bob Stewart, Contigo’s general manager, admits they haven’t yet lived up to all the communities’ expectations, but he’s bullish on how the project is moving forward. Limi-Nawah recently presented a plan to Nicaragua’s Foundation for the Technical Development of Agriculture and Forestry asking for $400,000. In total, Limi-Nawah hopes to raise almost $7-million to invest in forestry, agriculture and ecotourism.

Gretzinger of the WWF also worries that the model takes away flexibility since all the communities are expected to sell their forest resources to Limi-Nawah, by-passing the síndicos. While these land managers have been known to abuse their position, Gretzinger would prefer that they were included in the solution. “The corrupt practices of the síndicos,” he suspects, “are the result of their having to operate in a country where there is a lot of corruption.” Limi-Nawah’s approach has, admits Contigo’s Stewart, upset some of the tree brokers.

But the real thorn in the side of Nicaragua’s Indigenous people, Mercado included, is the national government. Tension between politicians in Managua and Native Peoples goes back a long time, and just as in Canada, much of it is centred on land claims. Nicaragua’s Indigenous people live throughout the North and South Atlantic Coast Autonomous Regions that make up eastern Nicaragua. The Autonomous Regions take up more than half the country, but have less than ten percent of Nicaragua’s population.

In Nicaragua, title to crown land is awarded to people who improve it. This encourages poor landless campesinos to squat, cut down trees and farm the land – which is considered an improvement. In reality, once title is granted, many rural citizens sell the cleared land to cattle ranchers. In this way, most of western Nicaragua has been deforested.

While the Sandinista-Contra war of the 1980s slowed this slash-and-burn process down, relative peace since 1990 has led to the practice once again cutting into Nicaragua’s forests. Campesinos have made their way across the mountains and are now making incursions into communal Indigenous lands in both the Autonomous Regions.

Friction has been mounting because politicians in Managua have been unwilling or unable to intervene and stop non-Native farmers from clearing Indigenous land. In February 2004, the situation exploded. Some 100 Indigenous people in Layasiksa (a Limi-Nawah member community) took the law into their own hands. They armed themselves, burned down eight dwellings, injured five and killed two campesinos in the skirmish. Several Miskitos await sentencing as a result.

While he doesn’t condone violence, Mercado sees the current situation as a watershed moment. “Most of the natural resources left in Nicaragua are in this region,” he says. “The government currently has plans to deforest the entire Atlantic Coast.”

Mercado believes the Limi-Nawah programs can prevent this hostile takeover of his people’s traditional land. He hopes to prove that Limi-Nawah’s sustainable forest management plans meet the legal definition of improvement to the land. If successful, the Miskitos and Mayagnas can cement their land claims, protect trees and other natural resources throughout the Atlantic coastal area, and raise their standard of living.

Mercado has been fighting for Native rights for most of his life, and it’s been eight years since he first introduced Meadow Lake Chief Richard Gladue to his people in Nicaragua. Finally, Mercado is allowing himself to believe that the dream may succeed. “Now, we are in a good position,” he says. Like a forest, “it just takes time.”

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