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Latin America’s Rural Exodus Undermines Food Security

16 June 2017 - 8:15pm

Livestock seek shade on a small farm in the arid centre of the northern Argentine province of Santiago del Estero, where men are forced to migrate to cities or to seek seasonal work in more fertile regions, fleeing from drought and poverty. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Jun 17 2017 (IPS)

In Latin America and the Caribbean, which account for 12 per cent of the planet’s arable land, and one-third of its fresh water reserves, a number of factors contribute to soil degradation and to a rural exodus that compromises food security in a not-so-unlikely future.

These figures, and the warning, emerge from studies carried out by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) ahead of the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought, celebrated on June 17. This year’s theme is “Our land. Our home. Our Future,” highlighting the link between desertification and rural migration, which is driven by the loss of productive land to desertification.

Over the past 50 years, the agricultural area in Latin America increased from 561 to 741 million hectares, with a greater expansion in South America, from 441 to 607 million hectares. This growth led to intensive use of inputs, degradation of the soil and water, a reduction of biodiversity, and deforestation.

Fourteen per cent of the world soil degradation occurs in this region, and it is worst in Mesoamerica (southern Mexico and Central America), where it affects 26 per cent of the land, compared to 14 per cent in South America.“This vicious circle has to do with the historical backwardness of Latin American rural areas, where vulnerability to climatic phenomena aggravate other factors that drive people to migrate, due to the lack of opportunities and because what used to be their main economic activity, agriculture, no longer allows them to survive with dignity,” Saramago said from FAO’s regional office. -- René Saramago

“As the soil degrades, the capacity for food production declines, jeopardising food security,” explained FAO forestry officer Jorge Meza from the organisation’s regional office in Santiago, Chile.

According to Meza, soil degradation depends on factors such as the extent and severity of the degradation, weather conditions, the economic conditions of the affected populations and the country’s level of development.

He told IPS that the first reaction of people trying to survive is intensifying the already excessive exploitation of the most accessible natural resources.

The second step they take, he said, is selling everything they have, such as machinery, to meet monetary needs for education and healthcare, or to put food on the table.

“The third is the fast increase in rural migration: adult men or young people of both sexes migrate seasonally or for several years to other regions in the country (especially to cities) or abroad, looking for work. These survival strategies tend to generate a breakdown of the community and sometimes of the family,” he added.

“The outlook for the future is that as climate change advances and rural populations, particularly vulnerable ones, fail to become more resilient, these figures could significantly increase,” warned the FAO expert.

According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), some 28.4 million Latin Americans live outside the countries where they were born, nearly 4.8 per cent of the total population of 599 million people.

Central America is the area with the most migration, with nearly 15 million migrants, who represent 9.7 per cent of the total population of 161 million people.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) defines “environmental migrants” as people or groups who are forced or choose to leave their communities due to sudden or gradual shifts in their environment that affect their livelihoods.

But for René Saramago, a FAO consultant on rural development, rural migration has multiple causes such as poverty, a lack of opportunities and, in some cases, such as the countries that make up the so-called Northern Triangle of Central America – Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala – soaring rates of violence crime.

And these elements are now compounded by the vulnerability of homes to phenomena aggravated by climate change, such as increasingly intense and frequent droughts, he told IPS.

“This vicious circle has to do with the historical backwardness of Latin American rural areas, where vulnerability to climatic phenomena aggravate other factors that drive people to migrate, due to the lack of opportunities and because what used to be their main economic activity, agriculture, no longer allows them to survive with dignity,” Saramago said from FAO’s regional office.

According to the expert, reverting this phenomenon requires comprehensive responses, to manage land in a sustainable manner, preventing degradation and promoting recovery. He said, however, that this would not be enough to combat rural migration.

“Strategic investment in rural areas is key, in order to generate public assets that enable farmers, particularly small-scale family farmers, to overcome longstanding limitations,” he said.

These are the tools, he said, “to reverse the vicious circle; it is crucial to recover and rethink the concept of rural development, where the joint elaboration of policies and the capacity to tackle the problem in a multidisciplinary and multisectoral manner are key.”

For his part, Meza said that one of these actions is improving the management and distribution of water. Over the last three decades, water use has doubled in the region – a much faster increase than the global rate. The agricultural sector, and particularly irrigation farming, represents 70 per cent of water use.

“From a social perspective, rural poverty is also reflected in a lack of access to water and land. Poor farmers have less access to land and water, they farm land with poor quality soil that are highly vulnerable to degradation. Forty per cent of the world’s most degraded land are in areas with high poverty rates,” he said.

The expert noted that there are numerous experiences that combine production and preservation of biodiversity, particularly indigenous and traditional agrifood systems, as well as management of shared resources and protection of natural resources, which provide a methodology and systematisation of practices and approaches.

Norberto Ovando, president of the Friends of the National Parks of Argentina Association and a member of the World Commission on Protected Areas, described some of the experiences in his country, where 70 per cent of the territory is threatened by desertification.

Eighty per cent of Argentina’s territory is dedicated to agricultural, livestock and forestry activities. Erosion is most acute and critical in arid and semi-arid areas that make up two-thirds of the territory, where the fall in productivity translates into a decline in living conditions and displacement of the local population.

“Currently many farmers in the world and in Argentina are using the drip irrigation system, which should be replicated around the world, and governments should adopt it as a state policy, assisting farmers with soft loans for installing it. With this system, up to 50 per cent of water can be saved, compared to the traditional system,” the environmental consultant told IPS.

Novando also said that the system of production of clean, varied and productive food, known as integrated polyculture agricultural-livestock-fish farming, currently widespread in Asia, should be adopted in the region.

“Public policies that promote support for family farming and that promote rural employment are essential,” he added.

“It could be said that in Latin America and the Caribbean hunger is not a problem of production, but of access to food. For this reason, food security is related to overcoming poverty and inequality,” he said.

“Effective management of migration due to environmental causes is indispensable in order to ensure human security, health and wellbeing and to facilitate sustainable development,” he concluded.

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Africa Could Help Feed the World – If Its Fertile Land Doesn’t Vanish

16 June 2017 - 5:59pm

From left to right: Heads of state Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger, Roch Marc Christian Kabore of Burkina Faso and Ibrahim Boubacar Keita of Mali at the celebration of the World Day to Combat Desertification. Credit: Younouss Youn/IPS

By Younouss Youn
OUAGADOUGOU, Jun 16 2017 (IPS)

The 23rd World Day to Combat Desertification was celebrated in Burkina Faso’s capital of Ouagadougou on June 15 with a call to create two million jobs and restore 10 million hectares of degraded land.

Three African heads of state took part in the celebrations: Ibrahim Boubacar Kéita from Mali, Mahamadou Issoufou from Niger and Roch Kaboré from Burkina Faso. The Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) Monique Barbut also attended the event.Two-thirds of the African continent is desert or drylands, and nearly 75 percent of agricultural land is estimated to be degraded to varying degrees.

According to the UNCCD, two-thirds of the African continent is desert or drylands. This land is vital for agriculture and food production, but nearly 75 percent is estimated to be degraded to varying degrees.

The region is also affected by frequent and severe droughts, which have been particularly devastating in recent years in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel.

“Degraded lands is not an inevitable fate. Restoration is still possible. However, what will be more difficult is to feed 10 billion human beings in 30 years. The only place where there are still lands to do that is Africa. We need these lands to feed the whole planet. Therefore restoring lands is assuring food security for the whole planet,” said Barbut.

The high-level meeting that gathered 400 experts from around the world ended in the Call from Ouagadougou, urging citizens and governments to tackle desertification by restoring ten million hectares of land and by creating two million green jobs for youth, women and migrants.

“By 2050, the African population will double to two billion people,” Barbut noted. “I fear that as the population depends up to 80 percent on natural resources for their livelihoods, those resources will vanish given the great pressure on them.”

She added that young people emerging from this demographic growth will need decent jobs.

“In the next 15 years, 375 million young people will be entering the job market in Africa. Two hundred million of them will live in rural areas and 60 million will be obliged to leave those areas because of the pressure on natural resources.”

According to UNCCD, it is critical to enact policies that enable young people to own and rehabilitate degraded land, as there are nearly 500 million hectares of once fertile agricultural land that have been abandoned.

Talking specifically about Burkina Faso, which hosted the celebration, Batio Nestor Bassiere, the minister in charge of environmental issues, said, “From 2002 to 2013, 5.16 million hectares, 19 percent of the country’s territory, has been degraded by desertification.”

The situation is similar in most African countries. That’s why “it’s nonsense to sit and watch that happening without acting, given that the means for action are available,” said Barbut.

The Call from Ouagadougou comes from a common willingness to save the planet and Africa particularly from desertification. Gathered to discuss the topic “Our land, our house, our future,” linked to the fulfillment of the 3S Initiative (sustainability, stability, and security in Africa), the Call from Ouagadougou also invites African countries to create conditions for the development of new job opportunities by targeting the places where the access to land can be reinforced and land rights secured for vulnerable populations.

Development partners and other actors have also been called on to give their contributions. They were invited to help African countries to invest in rural infrastructure, land restoration, and the development of skills in chosen areas and among those facing migration and social risks.

For that, the UN agency in charge of the fight against desertification and its partners can rely on the firm support of the three heads of state who came for this 23rd World Day to Combat Desertification.

The President of Burkina Faso Roch Kaboré let the audience know that they are all “engaged to promote regional and global partnerships to find funds for investment in lands restoration and long term land management, wherever they will have opportunities to speak.”

Representing the African Union, Ahmed Elmekaa, Director, African Union/SAFGRAD, said drawing attention to the resolutions of desertification, land degradation and drought and on climate change are at the top of the African Union’s environmental agenda.

Taking advantage of the celebration, the national authorities gave the name of the very first executive secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, Hama Arba Diallo, to a street of the capital Ouagadougou. Experts from many countries also had the opportunity to visit sites showing the experience of Burkina Faso in combating desertification.

At a dinner ceremony held immediately following the closure of the ceremony, the UNCCD announced the winners of the Land for Life Award, Practical Action Sudan/UNEP from Sudan; Watershed Organization Trust from India. The Land for Life China award was given to Yingzhen Pan, Director General of National Bureau to Combat Desertification, China.

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Housing Refugees of the Middle East Conflicts: Where Will They Go?

16 June 2017 - 4:39pm

Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon signs the ICRC guest book, as Mr. Maurer Looks on; 3rd Oct., 2016. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Roshni Majumdar
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 16 2017 (IPS)

Prolonged conflicts in the Middle East have led to a deadly humanitarian crisis, with as many as 17.5 million people displaced in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

In Syria alone, 11.5 million people have fled their homes—more than three people a minute—since the beginning of war in 2011. Five million have fled the country, and six million live in ad-hoc shelters across the country.

The new numbers, in a report by the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) highlight the sheer magnitude of movement in the region, and the struggle of everyday life in first-hand accounts.

“When the siege of east Aleppo started last Ramadan [2016], the situation grew even more difficult as people were stranded for 190 days. The situation there was in a state of paralysis. My son was always hungry as there was nothing to eat or drink. Food was extremely expensive. We were forced to eat different kinds of lentil-based food. As a result, I lost 25 kilos,” said Yasser, a businessman in Aleppo, who watched his son die as his building collapsed after a bombing.

Aleppo, a flourishing economic hub in northern Syria, laid in ruins after four years of hellish fighting between varying warring groups. When the fighting finally ended on Dec. 15, 2016, 35,000 people were evacuated to neighbouring areas in just one week. As residents move back into the city, livable housing remains a major problem.

In Ramadi, Iraq, which was recently liberated from the Islamic State, fighting damaged almost 80 percent of the city. By March, more than a year since the war ended, only 60 percent of its civilians were able to return to the city. Nationwide, even before the Iraqi offensive on Mosul began in October 2016, almost a tenth of Iraqis were uprooted from their homes.

In Mosul, at the beginning of April this year, nearly 274,000 remained displaced from their homes in the city.

In all cases, the extent of damage has been complicated by tactics of urban warfare—firing in densely packed cities, and employing sieges against civilians.

In three cities—Foua, Kefraya and Madaya—in eastern Aleppo, for instance, nearly 60,000 civilians were trapped in a siege that lasted 190 days in 2016. Similarly, in a 15-month siege in Taiz, Yemen, nearly 200,000 people were caught in the cross-fire.

Matters are made worse by continual use of high-impact weapons that destroy urban infrastructure—a single broken pipe, for instance, can deprive 100,000 people of water.

“What we are witnessing is a sustained assault on, and massive disregard for, the provision of health care during times of conflict,” said ICRC President Peter Maurer and Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) President Dr Joanne Liu in a co-written editorial for The Guardian.

The report urges parties involved in the conflict to uphold the rules of International Humanitarian Law (IHL), protect urban settings, and work to the pressing concerns of civilians.

On May 3, 2016, spurred by ongoing attacks on volunteers and medical facilities, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 2286, which called on all warring parties to protect medical facilities and personnel.

The post Housing Refugees of the Middle East Conflicts: Where Will They Go? appeared first on Inter Press Service.

BRICS to Lead World’s Efforts to Eradicate Hunger, Poverty by 2030

16 June 2017 - 10:35am

The on-going drought in the Horn of Africa is widespread, triggering a regional humanitarian crisis with food insecurity skyrocketing, particularly among livestock-owning communities, and devastating livelihoods. Credit: FAO

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Jun 16 2017 (IPS)

With the clock ticking toward the 2030 deadline for meeting the international goals to eradicate hunger and poverty, five of the world’s most important emerging economies are well positioned to take a leading role in helping to achieve these objectives, according to the United Nations.

The five countries, known collectively as the “BRICS” (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), form an important economic block, the Rome-based UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on June 16 reported.

They account for more than 40 per cent of the world’s population and over 20 per cent of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Together, they produce more than one-third of global cereal production. Last year, Russia became the largest wheat exporter in the world.

“The BRICS countries play an important political role in the international arena. Developing countries around the world look to your successes in economic development over the past few decades as an example to follow,” said Kundhavi Kadiresan, Assistant Director-General and FAO’s Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific, during the 7th Meeting of the BRICS Ministers of Agriculture, in Nanjing, China.

“Your experiences provide a path that can help us all meet our global collective commitments, namely those of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – and the Paris climate accord.”

Kadiresan pointed out that, despite trends towards urbanization, poverty in the world today is primarily rural. As a result, accelerating rural development will be key to achieving the SDGs.

“The question is how can we do this? Our experiences in countries in different parts of the world have shown that it can best be done through a combination of agricultural growth and targeted social protection, but also through growth in the rural nonfarm economy,” she said.

“Agriculture can be a driver of sustained and inclusive rural growth. In low-income countries, growth originating from agriculture is twice as effective in reducing poverty as growth originating from other sectors of the economy.”

Equally important is that all the tools, approaches and technologies developed “must be useful and accessible to poor family farmers in developing countries” so that they can increase production and productivity.

Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa have strong agricultural research systems. Credit: FAO



BRICS Strong in Agricultural Research

Achieving agricultural growth would also require investments in research and development, and the BRICS countries could play a leading role in this, as all five countries have strong agricultural research systems that are working on many of the challenges faced by developing countries, such as feeding a growing population in a sustainable way, according to FAO.

“Biotechnology would also play a key role in these advances, as would agro-ecological approaches. Climate-smart agriculture will be essential to adapt to the uncertain changes facing our farmers, and it will rely heavily on cutting-edge research.”

Information and Communication Technologies are becoming more widespread by the day, and they offer a promising approach to address many of the challenges smallholders face with regard to information on prices, weather forecasts, vaccines, financial services, and much more.

Agricultural Growth Not Enough

Agricultural growth, as important as it is, cannot eradicate hunger and poverty all by itself – social protection programmes can also play a key role in rural development, the UN specialised body says.

These programmes have important poverty reduction and health benefits, and can also strengthen the confidence of family farmers, encouraging them to become more entrepreneurial, it explains. “Brazil’s Fome Zero and India’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Act are global references in this regard.”

Kadiresan stressed that it is important not to overlook the key role played by the rural non-farm economy in fostering rural development.

“As economies transform, most farm households obtain significant income from activities other than farming. The income from these activities provides not only a higher standard of living, but also a more stable one in many cases. Governments play a key role in encouraging this transformation by investing in rural health and education,” she said.

“While these investments are typically not within the Ministry of Agriculture’s mandate, we must support such investments, as they are in the interest of our rural constituents. Where would any of us be today without the opportunities provided by our former teachers and a strong educational system?”

International trade could also serve as an effective instrument in promoting food security and act as an adaptation tool to climate change. When an inevitable bad harvest occurs, as it does in every country at some stage, timely imports can help to rebalance the domestic food economy.

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IFAD’s President Houngbo Calls for Investment in Climate Smart Agriculture for Poverty-Free Future

16 June 2017 - 7:26am

IFAD President Gilbert Houngbo's first official visit to Uganda where he met with small holder farmers in financial saving groups. Credit: IFAD

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 16 2017 (IPS)

Implementing climate-smart agriculture is critical to reduce hunger and poverty, according to International Fund for Agricultural Development’s (IFAD) new president Gilbert Houngbo.

Approximately 20 million are at the brink of starvation.

Over 65 million have been forcibly displaced by conflict.

One in five people in developing regions live on less than 1.25 dollars per day, and many risk slipping back into poverty.

A former Prime Minister of Togo, Houngbo entered IFAD’s presidency at a time of extreme suffering around the world. Though the global picture seems bleak, Houngbo remains optimistic and highlights the importance of long-term investments and development in agriculture in rural areas.

Though often neglected, rural areas are home to 80 percent of the world. Such areas are also responsible for most countries’ agriculture, and small farms in particular account for up to 80 percent of food production in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia.

Agriculture is therefore often the main route out of poverty and food insecurity for rural people, and focus on it will allow for progress in the internationally agreed 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

However, climate change is among the challenges that stand in the way.

As World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought approaches, IPS spoke to Houngbo briefly about the ambitious goals and increasingly complex challenges to make hunger and poverty things of the past.

Q: How realistic is it to eradicate hunger and poverty by 2030? Is this feasible? If not, why? What are or what could be some of the obstacles in trying to achieve those goals?

A: I’m maybe the wrong person to ask this question because I’m always really optimistic. When we started 2000 with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), everybody said that nothing there was realistic. Yet, we know that a lot has been achieved.

I do believe it is doable. Yes, it is very challenging. The point for me is not to say there is no more famine—that can happen as much as it is contained and eradicated quickly and that too is a challenge.

The most important thing for us to increase our chances to achieve the goal by 2030 is to make sure that one, we focus on long-term investment. Second, we also deal with the governance and the leadership dimension to minimize the risk of civil unrest—that’s the nexus of the common famine and the man-made crises.

But the long-term investment and scaling up what has been working really well is important. And I was hoping that with innovation, not only in technology, but among the small-scale or smallholder [farmers] we are focusing on—by adopting much more climate smart agricultural techniques and with innovation, it’s really doable.

Yes, the population is increasing. We need to increase food production by 60 percent by 2050. You have to see that as an opportunity for the smallholders to also increase [yields] and make money. Productivity for me and innovation is really the source.

Q: Would information and communication technologies (ICTs) be helping rural development in terms of food production?

A: Not only food production but also food transformation and access and the linkage to the food system. And to the market at the national level, regional level, or international level.

So we need to also look at agriculture not just as producing food but also business, as a way for the smallholders, for the rural citizens to earn in their daily lives a decent income, so that they don’t feel like they need to move to the city or move out of the country. So we are also talking about a rural transformation.

Q: Do you think advances in ICTs could threaten farmers because of the mechanization of certain jobs?

A: No, I don’t think so.

A couple of year ago a report issued not by IFAD but by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) demonstrated very clearly that yes there will be some jobs that will be lost in some sectors, but also when you think about the jobs that will be created, the net result is a positive. So we should not see that as an issue.

To the contrary, I do not think that commercial farms will ever replace the smallholder farms. In Africa, in Asia today, the smallholders are responsible for 80 percent of the [food] production. What we need to do is to bring technology that will help productivity and that will help with quick access to capital, access to the markets. By bringing that technology, coupled with what I call a rural transformation, then we will make it.

In other words, when you bring the technology here today, in a lot of low-income countries, agriculture contributes 25-35 percent to the gross domestic product (GDP) compared to most advanced economies where agriculture will contribute maybe 5 percent or 2 percent of the GDP.

So it’s true that over time, you will also expect the low-income countries’ agricultural contributions to decrease. That’s why people worry that there will be unemployment. But on the contrary, if you are doing the rural transformation instead of being at the production level, they might be at the transformation level or there may also be a vocational training in other domains yet remain at the rural level.

Q: Do you think that the United States’ announcement to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement is a setback? How are member states strategizing with IFAD to advance climate mitigation and adaptation?

A: First of all, we need to respect the decisions made by member states, whether it be the U.S. or any other country. I want to be very clear that we have to respect their decisions.

Secondly, our plan integrating climate-smart agriculture in our assistance to rural areas is very high on the agenda of all our member states. Obviously, I am concerned about the possible impact on the Green Climate Fund, and therefore the ability of the smallholders to access that financing.

I hope that one way or the other, the international community will find a way to overcome this new challenge.

Q: Do you have a message for the upcoming World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought?

A: For me, it is important that we start really thinking about the techniques that will help us in embedding climate-smart agriculture.

In Africa, for example, it is really affordable and basic irrigation systems and the use of climate or drought-resistant seeds and so forth—that will really help. But really it’s the irrigation dimension that I would like to encourage, to find ways to make it affordable, particularly in Africa because compared to Asia, Africa is very, very much behind.

IFAD is an international financial institution and a UN specialised agency which invests in rural areas of developing countries to help eradicate poverty and hunger.

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Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim Chairman of the Geneva Centre on Human Rights and its Executive Director Ambassador Idriss Jazairy meet with Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales

16 June 2017 - 2:41am

By Geneva Centre
GENEVA, Jun 16 2017 (Geneva Centre)

Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim the Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue (“The Geneva Centre”) as well as the Centre’s Executive Director Ambassador Idriss Jazairy and Board Member Trevor Mostyn attended the inauguration ceremony of the new premises of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies whose patron is HRH Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales.

The ceremony was also attended by the Chairman of the Board of Trustees HRH Prince Turki Al-Faisal and by the Oxford Centre’s Executive Director Dr. Farhan Nizami.

The Chairman of the Geneva Centre and its Executive Director had the opportunity to meet with HRH Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales. On this occasion, the Chairman of the Geneva Centre Dr. Al Qassim stated that he “would be honoured to collaborate with the Oxford Centre to forge dialogue and to build bridges between Islam and Christianity.

“The Geneva Centre”, he said, “is currently in the process of arranging a World Conference on the subject of ‘Religions and Beliefs, Joining Forces to Enhance Equal Citizenship Rights.’ I believe this would be an ideal opportunity for both Centres to unite their forces in addressing prevailing misunderstandings affecting Muslim-Christian relations through the advancement of equal and inclusive citizenship rights.”

Invitees during the inauguration ceremony also included representatives from academic institutions, governmental organizations as well as international and non-governmental organizations.

The Oxford Centre forms part of the renowned Oxford University considered as one of the world’s leading and most influential educational institutions.

The mission of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies is to act as a “meeting point between the Islam and Western worlds of learning.” The Centre is also committed to the “advancement of academic excellence in teaching, research and publication.” It was established in 1985 to encourage thescholarly study of Islam and the Islamic world.”

On 15 February 2017, the Geneva Centre’s Executive Director Ambassador Idriss Jazairy had delivered a lecture at the Oxford Centre on the ideas and teachings of the founder of modern Algeria Emir Abd el Qader el Jazairy.

He had been invited by the current Director of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies to offer his insights on the heritage of Emir Abd el Kader as a “precursor of universal values.”

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Men Who Commit Femicide Lose Rights Over Their Children in Argentina

15 June 2017 - 8:37pm

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Jun 16 2017 (IPS)

In January 2008, Rosana Galliano was shot to death in Exaltación de la Cruz, a rural municipality 80 km from Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires. Her ex-husband, José Arce, who was sentenced to life in prison, had hired hitmen to kill her.

Nine years later, Arce was put under house arrest, for health reasons, and lives with their children, two boys aged 12 and 13.

Women’s organisations hold that there are dozens of similar situations in Argentina, where society is becoming more aware of cases of gender-based violence.“In most cases, the woman files a complaint, but there is no support or monitoring in place to know what happens to her afterwards. And when the judges issue a restriction order, it is not enforced and the woman is defenceless.” -- Mabel Bianco

People have responded by taking to the streets: since 2015, an extraordinary social mobilisation, which has continued to this day, has installed the issue on the public agenda and forced politicians to address the phenomenon of the high rate of femicides, the term given murders of women for gender-based reasons.

The case of Rosana Galliano’s children was the main catalyst for a law passed by Congress on May 31, which strips parents who kill, injure or sexually abuse their partners of parental rights.

“We have received queries about a number of cases similar to that of Rosana Galliano’s children, which don’t make it to the media because the families of the murdered women don’t want to go public,” said Ada Rico, who heads La Casa del Encuentro, a Buenos Aires-based organisation that combats violence, abuse and discrimination against women.

“We submitted a draft law in 2014 aimed at removing parental responsibility from those who commit femicide,” she told IPS. “It was discussed together with seven similar drafts and a consensus was reached. It is a law that is likely to be copied by other countries.”

In the face of the lack of official statistics, La Casa del Encuentro began in 2008 to gather media reports on gender-based murders of women in this South American country of nearly 44 million people.

That same year these murders were officially defined as femicides, during a meeting of the Committee of Experts of the Follow-up Mechanism of the Belem do Pará Convention, the Inter-American instrument signed in 1994 to prevent and punish violence against women.


Demonstrators march along the Avenida de Mayo in Buenos Aires, behind a big banner that reads “Students demand ‘Not one less’” during the massive march against gender violence in the Argentine capital on Jun. 3. Credit: Ana Currarino/IPS

The Argentine Congress followed suit in 2012, stipulating life in prison for men guilty of murders involving gender-based violence.

Up to then, murders resulting from domestic violence were treated as manslaughter, punishable with a maximum of 25 years in prison.

However, this change did not lead to a decline in violence against women in this country. La Casa del Encuentro’s figures show that femicides have remained fairly stable, at a high level: 255 in 2012, 295 in 2013, 277 in 2014, 286 in 2015 and 290 last year.
Among the hundreds of cases, one completely changed life in the town of Rufino, in the province of Santa Fe, and shook the entire country.

Chiara Páez, a 14-year-old girl, disappeared one Sunday in May 2015.

A large part of the town’s 20,000 people went out to search for her. But eventually the police found her body buried at the house of her boyfriend’s grandparents. Her 16-year-old boyfriend confessed that he had beat her to death. The autopsy revealed that Chiara was pregnant and that she had taken medication to have an abortion.

A few days later, hundreds of thousands of people marched through the streets of Buenos Aires and other large cities to demand a stop to male violence against women. “Not one less” (“Ni una menos”) was the slogan devised by a group of feminist activists and journalists, which was taken up immediately by a good part of Argentine society.

Since then, huge “Not one less” marches have become an annual event. The last one was held on Jun. 3 on the Avenida de Mayo avenue, and one of the main speakers was Nora Cortiñas, renowned leader of the human rights group Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo.

The pamphlet handed out at the demonstration noted that many women are murdered after reporting that they are victims of domestic violence, which makes the government responsible for their protection and their deaths, “as much as the murderers.”

“Not One Less” was the slogan of the Jun. 3 march against gender-based violence in Buenos Aires. Credit: Ana Currarino/IPS

They also demanded an end to discrimination against women in the labour market, and called for legal, safe, free of charge abortion.

“Violence against women will not rapidly decline since it is mainly linked to cultural factors very marked in society, such as the greater value put on men in all fields,” Dr. Mabel Bianco, the head of the Foundation for Women’s Studies and Research, told IPS.

“We are still lacking answers from the government. A protocol that unifies the steps to be followed nationwide in the face of complaints of gender-based violence must be designed,” she said.

She said that “in most cases, the woman files a complaint, but there is no support or monitoring in place to know what happens to her afterwards. And when the judges issue a restriction order, it is not enforced and the woman is defenceless.”

One of the results of the social mobilisation was the start of official record-keeping on femicides in 2015. The Supreme Court keeps these figures, and in late May it presented the statistics from 2016: 254 women were murdered for gender-based reasons, 19 more than in 2015.

In this year’s report, the Court for the first time differentiated between “biological females” and trans women, who were the victims of five of the femicides last year.

Meanwhile, Congress did not stop with the parental responsibility law. The same day it was passed, the Senate gave preliminary approval to two other bills focused on gender-based violence.

One of them establishes financial support by the state for women who cannot afford to leave their abusive partners. The other one implements a subsidy for the families who raise children whose mothers have been victims of femicides. The two draft laws are now pending approval in the lower house of Congress.

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Women, Still Major Victims of Sharp Disparities at Workplaces

15 June 2017 - 2:37pm

The ILO encourages decent employment opportunities. Credit: ILO

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Jun 15 2017 (IPS)

Reducing gender disparities at workplaces by 25 per cent by 2025 could inject nearly 5.8 trillion dollars into the global economy and boost tax revenues, according to a United Nations, ahead of the UN Labour Organization’s Summit on “A better future for women at work” on June 15.

The new report released by the United Nations International Labour Organization (ILO) informs that even though women are significantly less likely to participate in the labour market than men, once they manage to enter the labour market, finding work remains even more difficult for them their male counterparts.

Helping women access the labour market is nevertheless an important first step,” said ILO, noting that in 2017, the global labour force participation rate for women –at just over 49 per cent– is nearly 27 percentage points lower than for men.

This figure is forecast to remain unchanged in 2018.

ILO on June 15 held a Summit on “A better future for women at work” in Geneva to discuss how to shape a better future for women at work.

Further recalling the commitment expressed by leaders of the Group of the 20 most industrialised countries (G20) in 2014, to reduce the gap in participation rates between men and women by 25 per cent by the year 2025, the ILO report World Employment and Social Outlook Trends for Women 2017, estimates that some 5.8 trillion dollars could be added to the world economy.

A woman walks to work in Singapore. Credit: ILO/Giorgio Taraschi


“This could also unlock large potential tax revenues, in particular in countries in the North Africa, Arab and Southern Asia regions.”

In addition to the significant economic benefits, engaging more women in the world of work would have a positive impact on their well-being since most women would like to work.

“The fact that half of women worldwide are out of the labour force when 58 per cent of them would prefer to work at paid jobs is a strong indication that there are significant challenges restricting their capabilities and freedom to participate,” said Deborah Greenfield, the ILO Deputy Director-General for Policy.

“The most immediate concern for policy makers, therefore, should be to alleviate the constraints that women face in choosing to enter the labour market and address the barriers they are confronted with once they are in the workplace,” she added.

Attitudes on Women and Men ‘Roles’ Have to Change

Furthermore, the ILO report also highlights the need to “redefine the roles” of men and women at the workplace.

“We need to start by changing our attitudes towards the role of women in the world of work and in society. Far too often some members of society still fall back on the excuse that it is ‘unacceptable’ for a woman to have a paid job,” said Steven Tobin, the lead author of the report.

The report also emphasises the need to promote equal pay for work of equal value; tackle root causes of occupational and sectoral segregation; recognise, reduce and redistribute unpaid care work; as well as transforming institutions to prevent and eliminate discrimination, violence and harassment against women and men in the world of work.

Policies should also address the socio-economic factors that influence participation by introducing policies that improve work-family balance, create and protect quality jobs in the care economy and target the macroeconomic environment and informal economy, according to Tobin.

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Negotiations in Miami Must not Treat Central American Asylum Seekers as Bargaining Chips

15 June 2017 - 2:12pm

Credit: Amnesty International

By Madeleine Penman and Marselha Gonçalves Margerin
MEXICO CITY, Jun 15 2017 (IPS)

Today in Miami, the governments of US and Mexico are putting aside their well-publicized tensions of recent months and co-hosting a conference on security and governance in Central America´s Northern Triangle of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, from where thousands of people flee extreme violence to seek asylum in the US and Mexico. 

Seeing the United States and Mexico in front of the cameras as happy co-hosts sparks a number of questions.

Many citizens have no choice but to flee from these countries that have some of the highest homicide rates on the planet.
Why is no one speaking about Trump´s great big wall? Who is talking about their much-aired differences in negotiating a new NAFTA trade agreement?

It remains to be seen whether these impasses between the US and Mexico will be the bargaining chips during discussions in Miami that affect the lives of families, children and entire communities whose lives are being destroyed by powerful gangs known as maras that effectively control the lives of thousands of people in countries such as Honduras and El Salvador.

Many citizens  have no choice but to flee from these countries that have some of the highest homicide rates on the planet.

Yet rather than looking at humanitarian approaches to the crisis in these countries, the Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America will be largely led by John Kelly, Secretary of Homeland Security, whose main job is to patrol US borders. He will be inviting attendants to bunker down together at the United States armed forces Southern Command base to discuss solutions for Central America with a host of government, private sector and international development actors.

Credit: Amnesty International

At the same time, the obligations of all these governments under international law to protect people who are fleeing for their lives, must not be forgotten.

While leaders meet to discuss ways of addressing the security crisis in Central America, the United States has already started implementing one of the most ambitious border control programmes in its recent history, directly affecting thousands of Central American asylum seekers.

A report launched by Amnesty International today shows how these measures, currently being rolled out in line with President Trump´s Executive Order on Border Security of 25 January 2017, threaten to repeat the very same failed strategies that US presidents have tried since the 1990s. Rather than promote stability in Central America, hardline border patrol has been proven to cause an increase in the people smuggling industry, lining the pockets of powerful criminal networks in the region and affecting lives of thousands of vulnerable people.

Trump’s measures not only call for the construction of a wall, but allow for the forcible return of people to life-threatening situations as well as increasing the unlawful mandatory detention of asylum-seekers and families for months on end. The discussions taking place in Miami today must not forget the cycle of migration from beginning to end, and not only look at the security crisis in Central America but also criticize the inhumane responses being devised by the USA for arriving Central Americans, measures that violate international law.

There is no hiding the United States´ desire for Mexico to play a key role in stemming the flow of asylum seekers and migrants arriving on its borders from Central America.

A Mexican government eager to register gains in other negotiations open with the USA may be keen to ramp up its existing efforts as the USA´s chief gatekeeper.

Credit: Amnesty International

Amnesty International´s research shows how Mexico plays the role of the chief immigration officer for the USA, deporting thousands of Central Americans to situations of murder or other human rights violations, when the very Mexican government bemoans the same treatment of its own citizens.

Yet it must not be forgotten that both governments are bound to principles under international human rights treaties that prohibit the return of people to life threatening situations. Of 113 people from the Northern Triangle that Amnesty International spoke to in recent months, 86% alleged major threats to their life.

Nevertheless, the US and Mexican governments are complicit in violations of international law that send back thousands of people to their death and rather than tackling a problem, only threaten to make it worse.

This crisis is not likely to go away any time soon. The question now is how much blood governments are willing to have on their hands.

Read more

Facing Walls: USA and Mexico’s violation of the rights of asylum seekers (Report, 15 June 2017)

https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/amr01/6426/2017/en/

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Drought Pushes 1 in 3 Somalis to a Hunger Knife-Edge

15 June 2017 - 1:55pm

FAO massive famine-prevention campaign in Somalia--12 million animals treated so far against livestock diseases and illness. Credit: FAO

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jun 15 2017 (IPS)

Another famine in former European colonies in Africa and another time in its Eastern region, with Ethiopia and Somalia among the major victims of drought and made-made climate disasters mainly caused by US and European multinational business.

While an estimated 7.8 million people are food insecure in Ethiopia, where drought has dented crop and pasture output in southern regions, in the specific case of Somalia, the United Nations reports that 3.2 million people—that’s one third of its estimated 11 million inhabitants, are now on a ‘hunger knife-edge.’

Meanwhile, more than six million people are affected, of whom only about three million have been reached with food rations.Key Numbers

· Animals provided with life-sustaining care so far: 12.3 million

· People supported by those animals: 1.8 million pastoralists

· Approximate cost of each FAO treatment per animal: $0.40

· Cost to a pastoralist to replace one dead animal: $40

· Cumulative value of prevented livestock losses so far: $492 million

SOURCE: FAO

“The humanitarian crisis has deteriorated more rapidly than was originally projected,” the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia, Raisedon Zenenga, few weeks ago told the Council in New York.

People Are Dying. Survivor, Forced to Migrate

“People are dying and need protection, particularly women and children, as drought conditions force them to migrate from rural areas to town, and as sexual violence increases in displacement camps.”

Worldwide, land degradation, severe droughts and advancing desertification are set to force populations to flee their homes and migrate.

Over the next few decades, worldwide, close to 135 million people are at risk of being permanently displaced by desertification and land degradation, says Monique Barbut, executive secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

“If they don’t migrate, the young and unemployed are also at more risk of falling victim to extremist groups that exploit and recruit the disillusioned and vulnerable, “ added Barbut in her message on the occasion of this year’s World Day to Combat Desertification (WDCD) marked on June 17.

They are missing out on the opportunity to benefit from increasing global demand and wider sustained economic growth. In fact, the economic losses they suffer and growing inequalities they perceive means many people feel they are being left behind, Barbut said.

“They look for a route out. Migration is well-trodden path. People have always migrated, on a temporary basis, to survive when times are tough. The ambitious often chose to move for a better job and a brighter future.”

Famine-prevention: The livestock protection campaign is vital for vulnerable pastoralists who rely on their animals to survive. Credit: FAO

One in every five youth, aged 15-24 years, for example is willing to migrate to another country, she noted, adding that youth in poorer countries are even more willing to migrate for a chance to lift themselves out of poverty.

“It is becoming clear though that the element of hope and choice in migration is increasingly missing. Once, migration was temporary or ambitious. Now, it is often permanent and distressed.”

Saving Animals Saves Human Lives, Livelihoods

In parallel, concerned United Nations agencies have been strongly mobilised to help mitigate the new famine facing African countries. One of them, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), has been pushing forward with a massive campaign that has so far treated more than 12 million animals in less than three months.

The objective is to protect the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of families who rely on their livestock’s meat and milk for survival. By mid-July, the UN specialised body will have reached 22 million animals, benefiting over 3 million people.

“Saving animals saves human lives and livelihoods. When animals are weakened by drought, they stop producing milk or die which means people go hungry and families are pushed out of self-reliance,” said Richard Trenchard, FAO Representative in Somalia.

Worsening drought conditions have left hundreds of thousands of Somalis facing severe food and water shortages. Credit: OCHA Somalia

Around 3.2 million people in Somalia are on a hunger knife-edge, the agency reports, adding that the majority live in rural areas and livestock such as goats, camels, sheep and cattle are their main source of food and income.

“What we have heard again and again from displaced people in camps is that when they lost their animals, everything collapsed. It is a steep, long climb for them to get back on their feet again. We have stepped up our response to reach families before that happens,” added Trenchard. “Livelihoods are their best defence against famine”.

In Somalia, 6.7 million people face acute hunger as threat of famine persists, according to a FAO new assessment.

The UN agency is deploying 150 veterinary teams across Somalia to treat goats and sheep as well as cattle and camels – up to 270,000 animals each day. The teams are made up of local Somali veterinary professionals.

Simple, Cost-Effective Care

Livestock badly weakened by the lack of feed and water are highly susceptible to illnesses and parasites but are too weak to withstand vaccination, the specialised organisation reports.

As part of an integrated response program to improve the conditions of livestock, animals are treated with multivitamin boosters, medicines that kill off internal and external parasites, deworming, and other treatments to fight respiratory infections.

The simple and cost-effective care being provided by the FAO vet teams is reinforcing animals’ coping capacity and keeping them alive and productive. (See Key Numbers Box).

Meanwhile, through its Famine Prevention and Drought Response Plan, the UN specialised body is delivering large-scale, strategic combinations of assistance to prevent famine in Somalia.

In addition to livestock treatments, this includes giving rural families cash for food purchases, helping communities rehabilitate agricultural infrastructure, and providing farmers with vouchers for locally-sourced seeds along with tractor services that reduce their labour burden.

Any serious reaction from Africa’s former colonisers?

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Migrant Workers Pour Trillions into World Economy

15 June 2017 - 12:54pm

Press Conference on IFAD report at the UN Foundation (06/14/17)

By Roshni Majumdar
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 15 2017 (IPS)

A new report by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) says the flow of money from migrants—commonly located in developed countries—to their families in lower income countries has doubled over the last decade.

Dubbed the remittance flow, it increased by 51 percent—from 296 billion dollars in 2007 to 445 billion in 2016—lifting families out of poverty across the world.

Migrants in the United States typically send the largest amount of money, making the U.S. the biggest benefactor, closely followed by Saudi Arabia and Russia, according to the report.

In fact, the top ten countries, largely in Europe and the Gulf Council, account for half of the annual flows.

The increase in flow of money brings good news. First, it increases the leverage of migrant workers all over the world. Second, it boosts sustainable development in countries which benefit from the money, notably China, India and the Philippines, which tops this list.

Asia receives nearly 55 percent of the total money sent from developed countries.

The money sent is used by families to achieve personal goals, such as improving healthcare, educa-tion and food security. This is why, despite the seemingly staggering numbers, Gilbert F. Houngbo, the President of IFAD, said “It is not about the money being sent home, it is about the impact on people’s lives.”

Still, even if the leading blocs account for half of the flow, they represent a tiny fraction of their country’s GDP.

For instance, migrant earnings in the U.S. account for almost 4 percent of the GDP, while the money they send back to their families represents only 0.65 percent of the GDP.

Generally, 85 percent of a migrant’s income remains within the host country.

The value of the money sent back cannot be underestimated—most families rely on this income, which can make up to 60 percent of the household income in rural areas.

However, many criticize the high costs of transactions, especially in rural areas which receive the bulk of remittances.

Pedro de Vasconcelos, lead author of the IFAD report speaks at a press conference (06/14/17).

Speaking about the prospect of building better infrastructure to ensure easy and cheap flow of money, Pedro de Vasconcelos, the lead author of the report, told IPS that it was particularly im-portant in rural areas, “where remittances count the most, and where we can have them count more.” He added that “simply opening a saving account can transform the lives of people” and can go a long way towards eradicating poverty.

In the end, there is a lot of room for innovation and growth as the demand for migrant labour will continue to grow in developed countries.

To understand the scale of this flow, it is important to understand the number of people involved: one in every seven people in the world is directly impacted—either as a sender or a beneficiary. This means that a billion people in the world are involved in the transaction in some way. Even when times get tough, as during the financial crisis of 2008, remittance flows remained steady.

There are two overarching reasons that explain the growth of the flow, and why it’ll continue.

First, it reflects the demand for migrant labour as populations in high-income countries grow older with advances in medicine.

Second, migrant workers are committed to make ends meet for their families at home, and readily make sacrifices—such as eating fewer meals—to ensure money they can send home. This is why this corridor of money has been increasingly referred to as “Family Remittances.”

The flow of money has greatly exceeded migratory flow, which only grew by 28 percent over the last decade. This means that there are as many 800 million people across the world who are reliant on migrant workers, who are about 200 million in number.

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The High Price of Desertification: 23 Hectares of Land a Minute

15 June 2017 - 8:28am

Farmer Margaret Gauti Mpofu adds manure to her vegetable crops in a field on the outskirts of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Busani Bafana
BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, Jun 15 2017 (IPS)

Urban farmer Margaret Gauti Mpofu would do anything to protect the productivity of her land. Healthy soil means she is assured of harvest and enough food and income to look after her family.

Each morning, Mpofu, 54, treks to her 5,000-square-metre plot in Hyde Park, about 20 km west of the city of Bulawayo. With a 20-litre plastic bucket filled with cow manure in hand, Mpofu expertly scoops the compost and sprinkles a handful besides thriving leaf vegetables and onions planted in rows across the length of the field, which is irrigated with treated waste water.Mpofu’s act of feeding the land is minuscule in fighting the big problem of land degradation. But replicated by many farmers on a large scale, it can restore the productivity of arable land.

“I should not be doing this,” Mpofu tells IPS pointing to furrows on her field left by floodwater running down the slope during irrigation. “The soil is losing fertility each time we irrigate because the water flows fast, taking valuable topsoil with it. I have to constantly add manure to improve fertility in the soil and this also improves my yields.”

Mpofu’s act of feeding the land is minuscule in fighting the big problem of land degradation. But replicated by many farmers on a large scale, it can restore the productivity of arable land, today threatened by desertification and degradation.

While desertification does include the encroachment of sand dunes on productive land, unsustainable farming practices such as slash and burn methods in land clearing, incorrect irrigation, water erosion, overgrazing – which removes grass cover and erodes topsoil – as well as climate change are also major contributors to desertification.

Desertification is on the march.  Many people are going hungry because degraded lands affects agriculture, a key source of livelihood and food in much of Africa. More than 2.6 billion people live off agriculture in the world. More than half of agricultural land is affected by soil degradation, according to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

It gets worse. The UN body says 12 million hectares of arable land, enough to grow 20 tonnes of grain, are lost to drought and desertification annually, while 1.5 billion people are affected in over 100 countries. Halting land degradation has become an urgent global imperative.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that by 2030 Africa will lose two-thirds of its arable land if the march of desertification — the spread of arid, desert-like areas of land — is not stopped.

Deserting homes thanks to desertification

Though not new, desertification has serious economic and development implications, especially for Africa. The economic costs of desertification and land degradation are estimated at 490 billion dollars per year, but sustainable land management can help generate up to 1.4 trillion dollars of economic benefits, says the UNCCD, which this year marks the 2017 World Day to Combat Desertification under the theme, “The land is our home, our future.”

This year the WDCD is focusing on the link between land degradation and migration and how local communities can build resilience to several development challenges through sustainable management practices.

The number of international migrants worldwide has grown from 222 million in 2010 to 244 million in 2015, according to the United Nations. The UNCCD says behind these numbers are links between migration and development challenges, in particular, the consequences of environmental degradation, political instability, food insecurity and poverty.

“Migration is high on the political agenda all over the world as some rural communities feel left behind and others flee their lands,” Monique Barbut, UNCCD Executive Secretary, said in a public statement ahead of the global observation of the WDCD.

“The problem [of migration] signals a growing sense of hopelessness due to the lack of choice or loss of livelihoods. And yet productive land is a timeless tool for creating wealth. This year, let us engage in a campaign to re-invest in rural lands and unleash their massive job-creating potential, from Burkina Faso, Chile and China, to Italy, Mexico, Ukraine and St. Lucia.”

Barbut said more than 100 of the 169 countries affected by desertification or drought are setting national targets to curb a runaway land degradation by the year 2030.

“Investing in the land will create local jobs and give households and communities a fighting chance to live, which will, in turn, strengthen national security and our future prospects for sustainability,” said Barbut.

The 17th of June was designated by the United Nations as the World Day to Combat Desertification to raise public awareness about the challenges of desertification, land degradation and drought and to promote the implementation of the UNCCD in countries experiencing serious drought and desertification, particularly in Africa.

Loss of land , loss of livelihoods

The 1992 Rio Earth Summit identified desertification together with climate change and biodiversity loss as the greatest challenges to sustainable development. The UNCCD was established to galvanize global efforts to maintain and restore land and soil productivity while mitigating the effects of droughts in the semi-arid and dry sub humid areas where some 2 billion people depend on the ecosystem there.

In May 2017, a high-level event on Land Degradation, Desertification and Drought held at the UN headquarters and organized by the Permanent Mission of Qatar, Iceland and Namibia together with the office of the President of the General Assembly underlined Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) as a catalyst in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals.

Sustainable Development Goal 15 emphasizes the protection, restoration and promotion of sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainable forest management, combating desertification, halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.

“More than half of the world’s agricultural land is affected by soil degradation, and the deterioration of dry lands has led to the desertification of 3.6 billion hectares of land,” Ambassador Peter Thomson, President of the General Assembly, told the high level meeting, citing the drought and famine which affected millions of people across Africa.

Last year, many countries in Southern Africa declared a drought disaster. The Southern Africa Development Community launched a 2.4-billion-dollar food and humanitarian aid appeal for 40 million people affected by a drought that was the worst in more than 30 years.

With food demand expected to grow by 50 percent to 2030, there will be greater demand for land, leading to even more deforestation and environmental degradation if global action is not taken to restore the productivity of degraded lands.

The UNCCD is promoting a land degradation neutral world by 2030. It has set the Target 15.3 to combat desertification, restore degraded land and soil, including land affected by desertification, drought and floods, and strive to achieve a land degradation-neutral world.

Achieving SDG target 15.3 would empower women and girls who mostly bear the brunt of desertification, land degradation and drought, and also contribute to ending poverty and ensuring food security, said the Group of Friends on Land Degradation, Desertification and Drought co-chaired by Ambassador Einar Gunnarsson of Iceland and Ambassador Neville Gertze of Namibia.

Land is finite but restoring it is not

The world cannot grow new land but there is good news. Degraded land can be restored.  Burkina Faso, which is hosting the official global events to mark the 2017 WDCD, has shown the way.

The West African nation, one of the early signatories to the UNCCD, has since the early 1980s been rehabilitating degraded land by building on our traditional techniques such as the Zaï and  adopting new techniques that work such as farmer managed natural regeneration.

“We are hosting the global observance on 17 June because we want to show the world, what we have achieved and is possible in order to inspire everyone into action,” Batio Bassiere, Burkina Faso’s Minister of Environment, Green Economy and Climate Change, said in a statement.

Innovative farmer Yacouba Sawadogo from northwestern Burkina Faso is credited with using an old practice known as ‘zai’ in which holes are dug into hard ground and filled with compost where seeds are planted.  During the rainy season the holes catch water and retain moisture and nutrients for the seeds during the dry season.

Within 30 years, Sawadogo has turned a degraded area into a 15-hectare forest with several tree species in a country where overgrazing and over-farming had led to soil erosion and drying.

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Effective Management of Landslides

15 June 2017 - 1:58am

By Farid Hasan Ahmed
Jun 15 2017 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

At least 141 people (at the time of writing), including children and four army personnel, were killed in separate series of landslides triggered by heavy rains in Rangamati, Bandarban, and Chittagong on June 13, 2017. The losses have been monumental, and officials fear that the death toll may rise even further in the worst landslide since 2007, when a landslide resulted in the death of around 130 people and affected 1.5 million people in the region.

Photo: Star

Landslide has always been a geological hazard in Bangladesh, especially in the southeastern part of the country. Southwest monsoon flows over the Bay of Bengal, heading towards northeast India and Bangladesh, picking up more moisture from the Bay from June through September. The winds arrive at the Eastern Himalayas with large amounts of rain. Bangladesh and certain regions of India frequently experience heavy rains during this season, and most landslides occur after heavy rainfall. In recent times, landslides have increased both in frequency and intensity, causing widespread loss and damage to life, infrastructure, assets and property, and posing serious challenges to the existing development process. This increase has been prompted by a blend of several elements (morphometric, climatic and anthropogenic) that cause slope instability, most of which is human-induced.

In 2015, heavy floods and landslides during the last week of June inundated the districts of Chittagong, Bandarban and Cox’s Bazar. A second series of heavy rain from July 22–27 caused new floods, landslides and further displacements. The side-effects, so to speak, of Cyclone Komen, were again heavy rainfall, causing additional landslides and flooding which extended to all the coastal regions.

It is disheartening that despite the occurrence of such disasters in the past, we have learnt little from our experiences. Thus, thanks to mismanagement and lack of preparedness, landslides of such magnitude continue to strike our hills.

The Chittagong region is especially vulnerable due to various aspects, ranging from physical, social, political and environmental factors. It goes without saying that comprehensive, well-coordinated steps by the government are needed for sustainable landslide hazard management.

How, one might ask, can we prevent a natural disaster of such scale? Actually, there are several ways. First of all, by controlling the grabbing of state-owned land, such occurrences can definitely be limited. Moreover, understanding the rainfall pattern and its exact relationship with landslide in the region could also help us be prepared. Detailed land use planning of the vulnerable areas, a landslide database, landslide mapping and geophysical analysis of the region are essential to minimise landslides and their impacts in the region.

For locals living in the hills, it is imperative that they are taught how to secure themselves against landslides. They could also be taught how to control landslides through proper drainage, protection, soil conservation, and watershed management.

Early warning systems need to be strengthened, with active participation of community leaders. Proper communication amidst the Bangladesh Meteorological Department, community based organisations, the civil defence wing and local government authorities is needed to receive regular data relevant to the area as soon as the monsoon season sets. Volunteers or representatives of the vulnerable communities could also be involved to assist in the alertness and preparedness process. Moreover, existing cross departmental coordination and cooperation on landslide management should be reviewed and strengthened with necessary resources.

In order to ensure sustainable landslide management, contingency planning at different levels for emergency response should be developed and updated at least once a year. The focus of these plans should be on landslide prone areas and their vulnerability status, and the availability of resources and capacity, apart from other requisite elements that feature in such a plan.

Capacity building courses on landslide hazard management is needed after a proper gap analysis. Moreover, the constant planning process should include volunteers, managers, workers, government officials, local government representatives, relevant military authorities and media of the vulnerable districts. Half of the participants in the process should be women, as they should also be trained on how to protect their homes, families and communities against such natural disasters.

Landslide mitigation refers to lessening the aftereffects of landslides by taking various projects at vulnerable slopes. Appropriate feasibility studies, along with assessments of risk, uncertainty, possible consequences, constructability, environmental impacts and cost benefit analysis by independent authorities are needed for any mitigation measure. A public hearing and consultation is important in this regard.

Many of those living in the vulnerable areas might not even be aware of the legal provisions that are already in place to tackle such natural disasters. And so, laws such as the Disaster Management Act, and Standing Orders on Disaster (SOD) of the Government of Bangladesh should be understood and exercised by all concerned with appropriate resources, planning, and monitoring and accountability mechanism.

Landslides are the consequence of the political and administrative incapability to manage urban expansion. Consequently, the risks facing the urban poor remain unaddressed or partially addressed by relevant agencies. Measures to reduce landslide risks need to be integrated into area planning. In this regard, actors, including government and local government authorities, the private sector, NGOs and individuals, have particular roles to ensure compliance with land use and relevant policies and procedures, so that landslide risks are addressed when infrastructure is constructed on hillsides. Moreover, the poverty-stricken who live in landslide prone areas cannot even afford an alternative area to live in which could be safer for them. Therefore, addressing poverty of the hill people should be considered as a priority for reducing landslide-related risk and vulnerability.

Politically and socially empowered people of the society in conjunction with corrupt government officials are involved with hill graving and cutting in Bangladesh, violating the existing rules and regulations. Legal instruments should be in place and the enforcement of existing rules should be executed to manage risk-free hills.

In addition, integrating landslide risk reduction in existing development works and future initiatives of different government departments and others working in the area should be made a priority. The concerned authorities should develop a database to carry out detailed study and planning. Government organisations and NGOs also need to redesign their development programmes with the active participation of the most vulnerable communities to ensure that they maximise hazard mitigation potential and incorporate traditional community coping practices. To guarantee the best implementation of all this, adequate resources from the central government and development partners should be ensured by authorities and policymakers.

Countries like China, Philippines, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Japan and the US have managed to control the frequency of landslide occurrence. We should learn from their experiences and seek cooperation from them to enhance our capacity in managing landslide risks. If we are to truly avoid landslide of such magnitude, we need to learn how to be prepared from the beginning instead of waiting for disaster to strike before taking any concrete step.

The writer is a disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation expert, and a development lawyer.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Brotherhood’s Role

15 June 2017 - 1:45am

By Owen Bennett-Jones
Jun 15 2017 (Dawn, Pakistan)

The Jamaat-i-Islami might consider itself a vanguard party in the Leninist style but there is no escaping the fact that its Islamist platform has never found great electoral resonance in Pakistan. Even if it can claim to have had a disproportionate influence on the development of Pakistan’s polity, its election results have never put it close to winning power.

Owen Bennett-Jones

In the Middle East, it’s a different story. There the Muslim Brotherhood — also committed to achieving an Islamic system of government through, for the most part, parliamentary politics — attracts the support of countless millions. Before Egypt’s Gen Sisi threw it out of power, the Brotherhood had won every election it contested in the post-Mubarak era.

The Brotherhood’s popularity helps explain the current crisis concerning Qatar which, time and again, has given sanctuary to members of the Brotherhood chased out of other countries. That’s not to say the Muslim Brotherhood is the only issue driving the diplomatic stand-off. There is also Al Jazeera which, from the day it was set up, has irritated governments throughout the Middle East. Its role in fomenting the Arab Spring has been neither forgotten nor forgiven. And then, there is the growing sectarianism in the region that means any suggestion of Qatar having a less than hostile relationship with Iran is bound to cause problems.

Anxiety about the Muslim Brotherhood runs deep in the ME.

But the Brotherhood poses a particularly profound challenge to not only the Middle East’s autocratic rulers but also to violent jihadists and Western governments. Both Al Qaeda and the militant Islamic State group denounce the Brotherhood, fearing that its more peaceful approach to achieving Islamist goals might attract too much support. For them, the Brotherhood is too moderate. The West, meanwhile, wonders whether it’s too extreme. Critics point out that even if most Brotherhood members have, for most of the time, in most countries, remained committed to parliamentary politics, there have been times and places where the organisation has embraced violence. Then there are the final goals that it espouses. The West worries that the Brotherhood remains committed to Islamic punishments and to the eventual achievement of Sharia more broadly. It wonders whether any election won by the Brotherhood would be the last, as it moved to clerical government. But, at the same time, it fears that if the Brotherhood were completely closed down, Arab youth might be driven into the arms of Al Qaeda and IS.

A multi-year review of the Muslim Brotherhood, commissioned by former prime minister David Cameron, concluded that, as far as the UK was concerned, the Brotherhood should not be described as a terrorist outfit. But, perhaps for fear of upsetting Middle Eastern governments with large defence budgets, he did not give it a completely clean bill of health. “The main findings of the review,” he said, “support the conclusion that membership of association with, or influence by, the Muslim Brotherhood should be considered as a possible indicator of extremism.”

Many in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf — thought to be any to have insisted on the review in the first place — lamented that fudge. For them, the issue was rather starker. Muslim Brotherhood activists, after all, have long been trying to take power off them: and given the degree of support they enjoy, they are a genuine threat.

The poster boy for an Islamism acceptable to the West is Tunisia’s Rashid Gannouchi. His variety of the Brotherhood — Ennahda — is a political party, or indeed movement, which, in the face of considerable provocation, has held on to the idea that if Tunisia is to be Islamicised, it should be through persuasion rather than force: “through the heart”, as he puts it.

President Trump, however, is not convinced. When he said that Qatar should “stop teaching people to kill other people, stop filling their heads with hate”, and stop funding terror, he showed that he had listened to the concerns raised by the Middle Eastern leaders he met in Riyadh last month. Given permission by President Trump to give voice to their long-standing grievances against Qatar, they haven’t hesitated to do so.

Given that it is home not only to a US military base but will also host the 2022 football World Cup, Qatar must have thought it was pretty much immune from the sort of buffeting it is now receiving. But anxiety about the Muslim Brotherhood runs so deep that no amount of deft diplomacy and strategic positioning has been enough to protect Qatar from the isolation it is experiencing.

It seems as if profoundly important new alliances are emerging with military leaders and royal families opposing a Turkish-led Islamist bloc which take in Qatar, Tunisia and maybe others in the future. The Brotherhood may have been kept out of power but it still managing to shape the future.

The writer is a British journalist and author of Pakistan: Eye of the Storm.
Published in Dawn, June 15th, 2017

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

The post Brotherhood’s Role appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Global Coalition Calls for Withdrawal of SDGs Progress Report

14 June 2017 - 8:32am

Clean drinking water is available to no more than half of Asia’s population. Water is fundamental to the post-2015 development agenda. Credit: IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 14 2017 (IPS)

A report on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) fails to capture the the true picture of water challenges and the UN must withdraw it, said a global civil society coalition.

The civil society coalition End Water Poverty (EWP) criticised the Secretary-General’s report on progress towards the globally agreed SDGs, stating that it lacks understanding and analysis of goal 6, which aims to ensure the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

“Such reports should not be done in haste…they must report based on agreed indicators not outdated ones,” said EWP’s International Campaign Coordinator Al-hassan Adam, noting that the terminology and measures used in report reflect the previous Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) rather than the SDGs which are “poles apart.”

The report, which was recently submitted to the General Assembly, states that over 90 percent of the world’s population used improved drinking water sources in 2015 while over two-thirds of the world’s population used improved sanitation facilities.

However, improved water supply does not indicate whether water and sanitation is directly accessible and safely managed, current measures of progress for the SDGs.

Currently, if a young girl has to travel 30 minutes to and from to fetch water, putting her at risk of sexual assault and increasing the likelihood of poor school participation and attendance due to exhaustion from traveling back and forth for water, water supply is considered improved.

However, the SDGs should have transformed this scenario as progress is calculated based on water supply that is within a household and available for 24 hours.

“But in 2017, a report takes into consideration the 30 minutes this young girl has to travel to fetch water and views is as progress. This is not considered progress under the initial agreement and in the eyes of the young girl, nothing has changed,” Adam told IPS.

“At a time where we have set global goals for positive changes, we must not go backwards, but only forward,” he continued.

The measure of improved water supply also fails to assess water quality, including whether it is free from fecal or chemical contamination.

The report also notes progress in the implementation of national water management plans in 2012 as well as procedures to engage local communities in numerous countries. What is not included, however, is the quality and level of such plans and participation.

EWP noted that such language has negative global implications as it allows governments to neglect the provision of adequate services to their citizens.

“In December 2015, we all celebrated when the Sustainable Development Goals and the 2030 Agenda were agreed, for the people and the planet…unfortunately, the latest progress report shows that we might be sleep-walking into 2030 without any substantial gains made,” they stated.

The coalition urged the UN to withdraw the current report and to amend its content with accurate data and indicators on the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation as agreed upon in the SDGs.

“To reach the Sustainable Development Goals, we cannot continue to do business as usual. We urge the UN to take its role seriously and deliver state-of-the-art, inspiring progress reports,” Adam concluded.

EWP is a coalition of water, sanitation, and hygiene organisations from around the world including Action Against Hunger, Care International, and Oxfam.

According to the UN, global demand for fresh water is predicted to grow by more than 40 percent by 2050 and at least a quarter of the world’s population will live in countries with a chronic or recurrent lack of clean water.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres highlighted the consequences of growing water shortages around the world, telling the Security Council: “Water, peace, and security are inextricably linked. Without effective management of our water resources, we risk intensified disputes between communities and sectors and increased tensions among nations.”

World Day to Combat Desertification

14 June 2017 - 7:54am

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Jun 14 2017 (IPS)

Today’s world is facing an unprecedented level of human mobility and migration is high on the political agenda all over the world.

The number of international migrants worldwide has continued to grow rapidly, surpassing 244 million in 2015,growing at a rate faster than the world’s population.

Behind these numbers are complex links that tie migration to the consequences of environmental degradation, political instability, food insecurity and poverty. Many flee their lands, while many rural communities feel left behind.

The 2017 World Day to Combat Desertification (#2017WDCD) will look closely at the important link between migration and land degradation.  It will be the Day to remind everyone of the importance of productive land for assuring nutritious food, generating local employment and contributing to the sustainability, stability and security of places affected by desertification.

The challenges are dire and often the apparent lack of choice or loss of livelihoods can lead to hopelessness.  And yet productive land is a timeless tool for creating wealth.

Monique Barbut, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, is calling for serious re-investment in rural lands so they can contribute to productive rather than negative trends.

Robust and sustained investment in rural lands can create local jobs and give households and communities a fighting chance to thrive. That in turn will strengthen national security and future prospects for sustainability.

East Asian Miracle Myth Making

14 June 2017 - 6:28am

At the World Bank, the Japanese Executive Director argued that the Washington Consensus menu of policy advice and conditionalities had resulted in the 1980s’ ‘lost decade’ in Latin America and Africa. In contrast, the East Asian region had seen rapid growth and industrialization. Credit: IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Jun 14 2017 (IPS)

Even before the term ‘Washington Consensus’ (WC) was popularized, it was already coming under great criticism despite the ‘counter-revolutions’ against ‘development economics’ and Keynesian economics associated with Thatcherism and Reaganomics. At the World Bank, the Japanese Executive Director argued that the WC menu of policy advice and conditionalities had resulted in the 1980s’ ‘lost decade’ in Latin America and Africa. In contrast, the East Asian region had seen rapid growth and industrialization.

At Japanese government expense, the Bank published the East Asian Miracle (EAM) volume in 1993. But instead of recognizing that the WC was in fact the problem, the volume contributed to the myth-making which ensured its continued influence for years thereafter.

The EAM study’s eight high-performing Asian economies (HPAEs) consisted of Japan, Hong Kong and three first-generation newly industrializing economies (NIEs), namely South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore, and three second-generation South East Asian newly industrializing countries (NICs), namely Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, but excluded China.

It identified six types of state interventions in East Asia, only approving four ‘functional’ interventions, said to compensate for ‘market failures’, namely:
– ensuring macroeconomic discipline and balances;
– providing physical and social infrastructure;
– raising savings and investment rates; and
– providing good governance.

Macroeconomic balance
Although no one recommends reckless macroeconomic policies, there is little consensus on what constitutes sound macroeconomic policy. Although most ‘neoliberal’ economists insist on maintaining macroeconomic balances, they rarely agree on what this implies, while Keynesian economists favour counter-cyclical policies to address business cycles.

For instance, inflation was generally kept under 20 per cent in the HPAEs, but certainly not always below 10 per cent. Single digit inflation was not a common and consistent policy priority of all HPAEs during their high-growth periods. Hence, for example, Indonesia depreciated its currency regularly for many decades.

Similarly, the fiscal balance and the current account of the balance of payments were not always strictly maintained as the Bretton Woods institutions came to insist for the developing world. Many HPAEs ran large fiscal deficits to ensure high growth.

Infrastructure
Since the 1980s, the Bank has increasingly urged private provision of physical infrastructure. Except in Hong Kong, a British colony until 1993, most physical infrastructure in East Asia was provided by governments until fairly recently. HPAEs privatizing physical infrastructure provision became the basis for powerful private monopolies associated with ‘cronyism’, later blamed for the 1997-1998 Asian crisis.

Governments have been extremely important in providing social services in East Asia. But the Bank recommends universal and free primary education, and does not recommend subsidization beyond the primary level, when students should bear the full costs. Hence, about half the young people of age in Korea get tertiary education, while the shares are well over a quarter in other first-generation East Asian NIEs. If East Asian NIEs had listened to the Bank, their progress would have been slowed considerably.

Savings and investments
For some, the region’s rapid growth and industrialization were simply due to high investment and labour participation rates, rather than productivity gains: ‘perspiration rather than inspiration’. While conventional economic wisdom attributes high investment rates to high savings rates, savings rates have, in fact, followed – rather than determined – investment rates in East Asia.

After all, much of the high East Asian savings rates are due to firm savings, rather than just household savings. East Asian firms were generally able to enjoy high profits due to government interventions, subsidies, tax breaks and other incentives for favoured investments. Government policy also induced high reinvestment of these profits.

And contrary to the myth that East Asians are ‘culturally’ thrifty, unlike others, household savings in East Asia are not significantly higher than elsewhere, except for ‘forced savings’ – for employees’ retirement as mandated by law – and for children’s education.

Good governance
The notion of good governance is often used ambiguously, even tautologically. When the economy is doing well, it is attributed to good governance, and when it is not, governance is deemed to have been poor. Hence, governance does not really explain economic performance.

Instead, Mushtaq Khan has shown that developed countries generally score well on good governance indicators while developing countries do not. Governance indicators do not clearly distinguish developing countries growing rapidly from those which do not.

In the late 1960s, economics Nobel laureate Gunnar Myrdal argued, in his three volume Asian Drama, that ‘strong government’ was good for development. However, his notion of strong government is often misunderstood or misrepresented, and associated with despotic government rather than developmental governance, i.e., governance arrangements prioritizing acceleration of development.

Peter Evans’ notion of the ‘embedded autonomy’ of the developmental state has been used to explain developmental governance. Autonomy from powerful and influential ‘vested interests’, ‘distributional coalitions’ and ‘rent seekers’ ensures that ‘special interest groups’ do not usurp government for their own ends. Thus, Evans’ notion tries to explain conditions for developmental governance to better co-ordinate rapid progress.

Thus, the very policies that the Bank endorsed as ‘market friendly’ were actually quite ‘distortive’. Market outcomes had to be modified to support East Asia’s rapid growth and structural transformation. However, while some policies became less effective or even dysfunctional as circumstances changed, the Washington Consensus menu of economic liberalization and privatization largely undermined the region’s rapid progress.

Our Land. Our Home. Our Future

14 June 2017 - 4:16am

Burkina Faso: 20 000 trees are planted to create living hedges. Credit: UNCCD

By Monique Barbut
BONN, Germany, Jun 14 2017 (IPS)

We all have dreams. For most of us, those dreams are often quite simple. They are common to individuals and communities all around the world. People just want a place to settle down and to plan for a future where their families don’t just survive but thrive.  For far too many people in far too many places, such simple dreams are disappearing into thin air.  

This is particularly the case in rural areas where populations are suffering from the effects of land degradation.  Population growth means demand for food and for water is set to double by 2050 but crop yields are projected to fall precipitously on drought affected, degraded land.

Over the next few decades, worldwide, close to 135 million people are at risk of being permanently displaced by desertification and land degradation
More than 1.3 billion people, mostly in the rural areas of developing countries, are in this situation.  No matter how hard they work, their land no longer provides them either sustenance or economic opportunity. They are missing out on the opportunity to benefit from increasing global demand and wider sustained economic growth. In fact, the economic losses they suffer and growing inequalities they perceive means many people feel they are being left behind.

They look for a route out.  Migration is well trodden path.  People have always migrated, on a temporary basis, to survive when times are tough. The ambitious often chose to move for a better job and a brighter future.

One in every five youth, aged 15-24 years, for example is willing to migrate to another country. Youth in poorer countries are even more willing to migrate for a chance to lift themselves out of poverty. It is becoming clear though that the element of hope and choice in migration is increasingly missing.  Once, migration was temporary or ambitious. Now, it is often permanent and distressed.

Over the next few decades, worldwide, close to 135 million people are at risk of being permanently displaced by desertification and land degradation.  If they don’t migrate, the young and unemployed are also at more risk of falling victim to extremist groups that exploit and recruit the disillusioned and vulnerable.

Monique Barbut. Photo courtesy of UNCCD.

So this year, the Convention is calling for a focus on making the land and life in rural communities viable for young people. As the global population edges towards at least 9 billion, in Africa alone 200 million of the 300 million young people entering the job market over the next 15 years will be living in rural areas.

Let’s give young, rural populations better choices and options. We need policies that enable young people to own and rehabilitate degraded land.  There are nearly 500 million hectares of once fertile agricultural land that have been abandoned. Let us give young people the chance to bring that natural capital back to life and into production.

If we secure access to new technologies and to the knowledge they need, they can build resilience to extreme weather-elements like drought.  With the right means at their disposal, they can feed a hungry planet and develop new green sectors of the economy.  They can develop markets for rural products and revitalize communities.

With the right type of investments in land, rural infrastructure and skills development, the future can be bright.  We have to send a clear message that if it is well managed, the land can provide not just enough to get by but a place where individuals and communities can build a future.

Digitization Can Improve Financial Inclusion for Smallholder Farmers

14 June 2017 - 3:50am

Mathew Khaemba and his wife Everline Wakhungu with their mobile phones.

By Mike Warmington
KAKAMEGA, Kenya, Jun 14 2017 (IPS)

Mathew Khaemba, a smallholder farmer in western Kenya, remembers a time when his children were failing in school because they were too hungry to concentrate on their lessons.

In those years, Mathew never harvested enough crops to support his wife and six children – often they would eat just one meal a day to ration food. Mathew says his crops were always small because he couldn’t afford fertilizer or good-quality seeds. He lives miles away from the nearest urban area, and there was no one around to offer him a loan to buy the inputs he desperately needed.

When Mathew joined One Acre Fund seven years ago, he was at his wits end. My organization, a nonprofit working with more than 445,000 smallholders in sub-Saharan Africa, offers farmers seeds and fertilizer on credit and provides training on improved farming techniques. Within a season after enrolling, Mathew’s harvest nearly tripled. Now, he has no trouble feeding his family, and his children are doing much better in school.

Access to credit can be life altering for smallholders like Mathew, but for more than 450 million farming families around the world, it remains painfully out of reach. The financing gap is huge – the Rural and Agricultural Finance (RAF) Learning Lab estimates that there is $200 billion of demand for credit from smallholders that the financial services industry is failing to meet worldwide. In fact, smallholder finance represents the greatest opportunity for scale and impact in the financial inclusion sector today.

One of the major roadblocks to lending is that many farmers live in remote rural areas, and they operate in cash-based economies without access to modern banking. Traditional microfinance institutions and banks face high cost barriers against working in the rural sector, but that doesn’t mean lending to farmers can’t be done. My organization has found success in lowering costs and addressing other challenges associated with smallholder lending by using one innovative new tool – mobile phones.

Digitization in Kenya has been surprisingly swift – and mobile phones have become almost as ubiquitous in rural areas as livestock. Last year, One Acre Fund, in partnership with Citi Inclusive Finance, introduced a new mobile repayment system to about 200,000 farmer clients in Kenya. Now, instead of handling millions of small cash transactions – which were often subject to miscounting, delays, and even fraud – the organization receives electronic transfers directly from clients. Farmers receive text messages confirming that their payments have arrived, creating peace of mind and allowing them to better manage their household finances.

The United Nations-based Better Than Cash Alliance just released a new case study about our work to increase financial inclusion for smallholders through this new digital payments system. For Mathew and thousands of farmers like him, the benefits of making the switch to digital are clear.

“Mobile money is efficient because I can do the transaction myself, and not have to give cash to someone else,” Mathew recently told us. “Before it was not as trustworthy. Now it is easy.”

Reducing the costs and risks associated with reaching smallholder farmers is critical for enabling more financial practitioners to be able to serve them. In One Acre Fund’s case, we saw an 80 percent reduction in the costs of revenue collection and reconciliation after introducing the mobile money system. Digitization isn’t the only solution, however.

There are many innovative ways that service providers could do more to better meet the giant financing need – either directly, or through partnerships. Trainings that address farmer capacity, creating access to quality inputs, or improving post-harvest storage and marketing are all crucial services that both reduce credit risk and increase farmer impact

Whatever method is used, the opportunities are huge for both financiers and farmers alike. Access to credit enabled Mathew to improve his family’s situation almost immediately. Over the years, he’s continued to invest in his farm and his children’s educations. He’s also used his extra income to make improvements on his house and buy livestock.

“It not only changed my life, but the lives of my children too,” he says.

New Alert: Refugee Numbers Outpace Resettlement Spots

13 June 2017 - 1:49pm

Congolese refugee (Bora, second from right) arrives at Cape Town International Airport with her friends. She is being relocated to France with her children under a UNHCR scheme to resettle the most vulnerable refugees. Credit: UNHCR/James Otaway

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Jun 13 2017 (IPS)

Against the backdrop of increasing refugee numbers around the globe, fuelled by crisis and insecurity, and an ever-widening gap in places to resettle them, the top United Nations official dealing with refugee issues has called on governments to “step up” and deliver places for refugees in line with the commitments they have made.

“The fact is global resettlement needs today far outweigh the places made available by governments by a factor of 13 to one, despite more countries taking part in the programme and an increase in private sector and community involvement,” on June 12 said Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) at the opening of the UN agency’s annual resettlement consultations in Geneva, Switzerland.

Close to 1.2 million refugees need resettling globally, but only 93,200 places in resettlement countries are expected to be available this year – 43 per cent fewer than in 2016. For refugees from sub-Saharan Africa the situation is especially acute – with just 18,000 available places for more than half a million refugees.

“The New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants was a milestone in global solidarity with refugees and the mainly developing countries which host almost 9 in 10 of them. But true sharing of responsibility requires places for refugees in third countries on a scale in line with the needs. We need urgent action to get there,” Grandi said.

The UN refugees agency’s report UNHCR Projected Global Resettlement Needs in 2018 estimates some 1.2 million refugees need a third country solution in the coming year – a slight increase from the previous year.

This includes more than 510,000 refugees in 34 different countries across Africa, some 280,000 in the Middle East, 302,000 in Europe (mostly in Turkey), over 100,000 in Asia and some 1,800 in the Americas.

The UNHCR report tabled at the Geneva meeting notes that the widening gap between needs and places in 2017 follows a year of several positive achievements in the global resettlement programme.

In 2016, UNHCR submitted more than 162,500 refugees for resettlement – the highest number in 20 years – and more than 125,800 started new lives in third countries. Almost half of the refugees submitted were Syrians, while 44,000 were from sub-Saharan Africa – the highest from this region in almost 15 years.

The number of resettlement states grew to 37 in 2016, with some European governments setting up programmes for the first time and Argentina and Brazil, amongst others, making new commitments to resettle Syrian refugees, the UN agency informs.

“Despite the rhetoric against refugees in some quarters we have also seen an outpouring of good will, with ordinary citizens sponsoring refugees to live in their countries, inviting them into their homes and helping them to find jobs,” Grandi added.

He also noted that the increased engagement of civil society and the private sector embodies the spirit of the New York Declaration, which calls for all parts of society to play a role in the global response to large movements of refugees.

“Resettlement places not only help those refugees who face extreme difficulty in their first country of asylum, but are an important gesture of solidarity with countries hosting large numbers of refugees.”

The New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants was adopted on 19 September 2016 by 193 Member States of the United Nations.

In it governments committed – amongst other objectives – to work on increasing resettlement places and other legal pathways for admission of refugees on a scale that would match the annual resettlement needs identified by UNHCR.

Refugees in need of resettlement are those people identified by UNHCR as having particular problems in the countries where they have sought refuge because their life, liberty, safety, health or other fundamental rights are at risk.

We need urgent action to get there,” he underscored.

“Despite the rhetoric against refugees in some quarters we have also seen an outpouring of good will, with ordinary citizens sponsoring refugees to live in their countries, inviting them into their homes and helping them to find jobs,” Grandi added, urging all partners to support ways to provide additional places for refugees.

“Resettlement places not only help those refugees who face extreme difficulty in their first country of asylum, but are an important gesture of solidarity with countries hosting large numbers of refugees,” he said.

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