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Biotechnology Part of the Solution to Africa’s Food Insecurity, Scientists Say

12 October 2017 - 6:23am

Reduced and insufficient rainfall as well as crop-damaging pests threaten to cripple the very backbone of African economies. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Oct 12 2017 (IPS)

A growing number of African countries are increasingly becoming food insecure as delayed and insufficient rainfall, as well as crop damaging pests such as the ongoing outbreak of the fall armyworm, cause the most severe maize crisis in the last decade.

Experts have warned that as weather patterns become even more erratic and important crops such as maize are unable to resist the fall armyworm infestation, there will not be enough food on the table."Even as we push for biotechnology, there is a need for regulations that guarantee the protection and safety of people and the environment." --Hilda Mukui, an agriculturalist and conservationist in Kenya

Confirming that indeed a severe food crisis looms while at the same time calling for immediate and sufficient responses, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) 2017 World Food Day theme is “Change the future of migration. Invest in food security and rural development.”

Over 17 million people in Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda have reached emergency food insecurity levels, according to the UN agency.

“Maize is an important food crop in many African countries and the inability of local varieties to withstand the growing threats from the fall armyworm which can destroy an entire crop in a matter of weeks raises significant concerns,” Hilda Mukui, an agriculturalist and conservationist in Kenya, told IPS.

“Due to its migratory nature, the pest can move across borders as is the case in Kenya where the fall armyworm migrated from Uganda and has so far been spotted in Kenya’s nine counties in Western, Rift Valley and parts of the Coastal agricultural areas,” she said.

FAO continues to issue warnings over the fall armyworm, expressing concerns that most countries are ill-prepared to handle the threat.

David Phiri, FAO Sub-regional Coordinator for Southern Africa, says that this is “a new threat in Southern Africa and we are very concerned with the emergence, intensity and spread of the pest. It is only a matter of time before most of the region will be affected.”

The UN agency has confirmed that the pest has destroyed at least 17,000 hectares of maize fields in Malawi, Zambia, Namibia and Zimbabwe. Across Africa, an estimated 330,000 hectares have been destroyed.

“To understand the magnitude of this destruction, the average maize yield for small scale farmers in many African countries is between 1.2 and 1.5 tons per hectare,” Dr George Keya, the national coordinator of the of the Arid and Semi-arid lands Agricultural Productivity Research Project, told IPS.

FAO statistics show that Africa’s largest producers of maize, including Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and South Africa, are all grappling with the fall armyworm outbreak.

Uganda’s Ministry of Agriculture notes that the maize stalk borer or the African armyworm – which is different from the fall armyworm – cost farmers at least 25 million dollars annually in missed produce and is concerned that additional threats from the vicious Fall Armyworms will cripple maize production.

FAO and the government of Nigeria in September 2017 signed a Technical Cooperation Project (TCP) agreement as part of a concerted joint effort to manage the spread of the fall armyworm across the country.

According to experts, sectors such as the poultry industry that relies heavily on maize to produce poultry feed have also been affected.

Within this context, scientists are now pushing African governments to embrace biotechnology to address the many threats that are currently facing the agricultural sector and leading to the alarming food insecurity.

According to the African Agricultural Technology Foundation, a genetically modified variety of maize has shown significant resistance to the fall armyworm.

Based on results from the Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) maize trials in Uganda, scientists are convinced that there is an immediate and sufficient solution to the fall armyworm.

Although chemical sprays can control the pest, scientists are adamant that the Bt maize is the most effective solution to the armyworm menace.

Experts say that the Bt maize has been genetically modified to produce Bt protein, an insecticide that kills certain pests.

Consequently, a growing list of African countries have approved field testing of genetically modified crops as a way to achieve food security using scientific innovations.

The Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) which is a public-private crop breeding initiative to assist farmers in managing the risk of drought and stem borers across Africa, is currently undertaking Bt maize trials in Kenya, Uganda, Mozambique and recently concluded trials in South Africa to find a solution to the fall armyworm invasion.

The African Agricultural Technology Foundation confirms that on a scale of one to nine, based on the Bt maize trials in Uganda, the damage from the armyworm was three for the Bt genetically modified variety and six on the local checks or the popularly grown varieties.

Similarly, Bt maize trials in Mozambique have shown that on a scale of one to nine, the damage was on 1.5 on Bt maize and seven on popularly grown varieties.

“These results are very promising and it is important that African countries review their biosafety rules and regulations so that science can rescue farmers from the many threats facing the agricultural sector,” Mukui explains.

In Africa, there are strict restrictions that bar scientists from exploring biotechnology solutions to boost crop yields.

According to Mukui, only four countries – South Africa, Sudan, Burkina Faso and Egypt – have commercialized genetically modified crops, while 19 countries have established biosafety regulatory systems, four countries are developing regulatory systems, 21 countries are a work in progress, and 10 have no National Biosafety Frameworks.

Nigeria, Uganda, Malawi and more recently Kenya are among the countries that have approved GM crop trials after the Kenya Biosafety Authority granted approval for limited release of insect resistant Bt maize for trials.

As Africa’s small-scale farmers face uncertain times as extreme climate conditions, crop failure, an influx of pests and diseases threaten to cripple the agricultural sector, experts say that there is sufficient capacity, technology and science to build resilience and cushion farmers against such threats.

“But even as we push for biotechnology, there is a need for regulations that guarantee the protection and safety of people and the environment,” Mukui cautions.

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The IMF and Climate Change: Three Things Christine Lagarde Can Do to Cement Her Legacy on Climate

11 October 2017 - 2:51pm

By Leonardo Martinez-Diaz
WASHINGTON DC, Oct 11 2017 (IPS)

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and climate change do not often appear in the same headline together. Indeed, environmental issues have been, at most, peripheral to the Fund’s core functions. But now economists inside and outside the IMF are beginning to understand that climate change has significant implications for national and regional economies, and so it’s worth reconsidering the Fund’s role in addressing the climate challenge.

Christine Lagarde, head of IMF. Flickr/World Economic Forum

To her credit, Managing Director Christine Lagarde has boldly injected the IMF’s voice into the global debate on policy responses to climate change and has identified a number of roles the Fund can play.

The Fund has conducted valuable work on how carbon emissions can be reduced through market prices that reflect the negative externalities of those emissions. In particular, the Fund has become a leading voice for quantifying and streamlining or eliminating fossil fuel subsidies, as well as for introducing carbon-pricing mechanisms.

What is still missing, however, is a bigger role for the IMF in enabling countries to prepare and manage the potential impacts of climate change. There are three things the Fund could do, building on its current efforts, that would make a big difference:

1. Deepen Research on Macroeconomic and Financial Impacts of Climate Change

In a climate change debate that has become heavily politicized, the Fund’s technical and nonpartisan voice is uniquely valuable. Few questions are as important as understanding the possible effects of a changing climate on the world’s economies, especially the most vulnerable ones.

The Fund has recently started to make important contributions in this area. In a paper published last year, the IMF started to look into the implications of climate change on so-called “small states”. And last week, the Fund devoted for the first time a whole chapter of its flagship World Economic Outlook to the impacts of weather shocks on economic activity.

Building on these foundations, the Fund should focus its research capabilities on a key question, namely whether climate change is having have a “level effect” or a “growth effect” on per capita income. If the former, then climate change will only destroy a given amount of income over time (think of damaged bridges and buildings) but not affect the capacity of the economy itself to grow. If the latter, then climate change is also harming the drivers of growth themselves, such as the productivity and availability of workers, the productivity of agriculture, and the flow of investment. The economy’s growth rate will slow as a result, and losses will compound year after year, leaving an economy significantly worse off than if only level effects applied.

Getting better answers to this question is essential for policymakers making decisions about how much to spend today to avoid damage tomorrow.

2. Formally Incorporate Climate Change Into Policy Dialogue

One of the Fund’s core functions is macroeconomic surveillance. This function brings Fund staff into regular policy dialogues (called Article IV consultations) with financial authorities in virtually every country in the world.

Financial authorities have a key role to play in preparing for climate change, as they are charged with budget planning and managing fiscal and financial risks. The Fund should bring climate risk into the dialogue as a formal part of its consultations, not just with small states, but with a much larger set of vulnerable countries as well, including systemically-significant ones.

This year, in collaboration with the World Bank, the Fund launched the first Climate Change Policy Assessment (CCPA) during the Article IV consultations for the Seychelles. The assessment focused on policy options to reduce vulnerability to climate change; the Seychelle authorities found it to be very useful. More CCPAs are planned – a small handful per year – but this is simply not fast enough given the urgency and gravity of the challenge.

The Fund should formalize CCPAs as a routine part of Article IV consultations for a broad swathe of vulnerable, low-income countries. This will require investing in staff capacity and training, including in the Fund’s Monetary and Capital Markets Department, which can help countries identify how climate risks and opportunities could affect their financial systems. Maximizing synergies with the World Bank on the CCPAs will also be necessary.

3. Treat Expenditures on Climate Resilience as Investments

Countries facing a balance-of-payments crisis often draw on IMF resources and enter into a program relationship with the IMF. One of the trickiest elements when negotiating such a program is how to treat different categories of spending and where to cut to restore fiscal balance. How should the Fund treat expenditures designed to provide financial protection against extreme weather events? These include, for example, deposits into a national reserve fund, premium payments on sovereign insurance against natural disasters, or the costs of issuing catastrophe (“cat”) bonds.

Protecting some of these expenditures from program-mandated cuts is fully appropriate, as they are designed to provide a measure of fiscal protection to the government in the aftermath of an extreme weather event. For instance, the Fund might treat cat bond issuance costs and insurance premiums as investments with potential upside, rather than as expenditures, thereby exempting them from cuts.

Managing Director Lagarde has positioned the IMF as an important and credible voice in the debate about climate change. Now it’s time for the Fund to expand and institutionalize this new role, helping poor and vulnerable countries understand and confront the macroeconomic and financial risks of climate change.

“This article was originally posted at World Resources Institute’s Insights blog”

The post The IMF and Climate Change: Three Things Christine Lagarde Can Do to Cement Her Legacy on Climate appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Will EU & US Part Ways on Iran Nuclear Deal?

11 October 2017 - 1:57pm

Dr Tarja Cronberg is a Distinguished Associate Fellow at The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) & Dr Tytti Erästö is a Researcher in SIPRI's Programme on Disarmament, Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.

By Tarja Cronber and Tytti Erästö
STOCKHOLM, Oct 11 2017 (IPS)

The Iran nuclear deal has demonstrated that diplomacy can triumph in nuclear non-proliferation: dialogue, rather than military action, can convince states to forgo pursuing nuclear weapons. The European Union has long played an instrumental role in the multilateral diplomacy that produced the historic deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The Busher nuclear power plant in Iran. Credit: IAEA/Paolo Contri

In 2003, the EU took the lead in the negotiations on Iran’s nuclear programme, largely as an attempt to prevent an Iraq-style US military action in Iran. The Obama administration’s subsequent efforts at diplomacy were likewise driven by the concern that the nuclear crisis might escalate to war. The deal—brokered in 2015 with Iran by the P5 + 1 (the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council—China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States—plus Germany) and the EU—solved the nuclear dispute and seemed to effectively put an end to such concerns.

However, since the election of Donald Trump as US president, this key foreign policy success has been under threat. Contrary to all evidence and EU positions, the US president still thinks the nuclear deal is ‘the worst deal ever’. This week, he is expected to issue a formal declaration that the JCPOA is no longer in the interest of US national security. What does this mean for the future of the deal and the transatlantic relationship?

The deal is working, but the United States questions its merits

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has repeatedly confirmed that Iran is in compliance with the provisions of the nuclear deal—most recently in August 2017. As a result of the deal, Iran’s uranium-enrichment activities and number of centrifuges remain limited, its stockpile of enriched uranium has been transported to Russia, and the heavy water reactor in Arak has been modified. Furthermore, Iran is under the most extensive nuclear inspection regime in the world: in addition to implementing the IAEA Additional Protocol, it has also agreed to additional inspections including potential IAEA access to suspected undeclared nuclear facilities and military sites.

In the USA, however, Republicans have been critical of the deal all along. Reflecting the deep-seated US–Iranian enmity, an enmity shared by Israel and Saudi Arabia, the Republicans tend to view Iran as an enemy to be isolated and sanctioned, rather than a state with which to partner and cooperate. Trump’s seemingly irrational dismissal of the JCPOA must be understood against this background.

Since his election campaign, Trump has remained consistent in his opposition to the Iran deal. Personally, he has said that the Iranians are ‘not in compliance with the agreement and they certainly are not in the spirit of the agreement’. However, there are divisions among senior administration officials on the issue.

Both US Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford have called for continued US adherence to the deal. While Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said that Iran is in ‘technical’ compliance, he has also said that Iran is ‘clearly in default of’ the expectation that the JCPOA would also have helped address other issues, such as Iran’s regional activities and continued missile testing.

The EU, in contrast, has been united in its support for the JCPOA. EU High Representative Federica Mogherini has repeatedly stressed that the deal is delivering and will be implemented as agreed. Europeans also stress that the deal was limited to addressing the nuclear dispute and should not be confused with other issues.

As a seeming middle way, the Trump administration has raised the idea of renegotiating the JCPOA, or parts of it, and has lobbied for this alternative in private meetings with Europeans. However, Iran has rejected such suggestions. According to Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, ‘It was complicated enough to reach this deal already, and it would be impossible to reach another deal’.

Europeans do not seem to have warmed up to suggestions for renegotiation either. For example, Peter Wittig, Germany’s Ambassador to the USA, recently said that he saw no practical way of renegotiating the deal and did not regard it possible to do so.

What if Trump decertifies Iran’s compliance?

According to the US Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, the president has to certify every 90 days that Iran ‘is verifiably and fully implementing the JCPOA’. As part of this process, the president must also assess whether adhering to the JCPOA is vital to the national security interests of the USA.

Trump has certified the deal twice, but reluctantly and under pressure to do so by his aides. As the next certification deadline of October 15 draws near, reports from Washington, DC, suggest with increasing certainty that Trump will decertify the deal, based on the argument that it is not in the interest of US national security.

Decertification would be a major blow to the deal. In addition to showing a complete lack of appreciation for Iran’s actual compliance and other JCPOA partners’ views, the president’s decision to decertify would open the door for the US Congress to reimpose the unilateral US sanctions that were lifted as part of the JCPOA. Congress would have 60 days to decide on the reimposition of those sanctions against Iran.

However, decertification does not necessarily mean that the USA is walking out of the deal. The White House seems to be gambling that Trump’s decertification—which would allow him to maintain consistency with his previous anti Iran line—would be offset by a congressional decision to waive nuclear related sanctions.

This way the USA could not be accused of breaching its own commitments under the JCPOA, the deal could be preserved and a conflict with European partners could be avoided. As part of the effort to influence the Congress, the administration is expected to push for tough non-nuclear sanctions legislation, notably by targeting the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

Even if this strategy plays out as planned, the JCPOA would still face an uncertain future. In Iran, Trump’s decertification, coupled with new non-nuclear sanctions and potential new calls for additional inspections of Iranian military sites would be viewed as provocations requiring a response.

The comment by IRGC Head Mohammad Ali Jafari on the US plans to designate the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization illustrates the problem. If the USA is ‘considering the Revolutionary Guards a terrorist group’, he said, ‘then the Revolutionary Guards will consider the American Army to be like Islamic State all around the world, particularly in the Middle East’.

More US sanctions and tensions in the region would also negatively impact international trade with Iran. Despite the lifting of sanctions, international banks and firms have been wary of entering into financial relations with Iran out of fear of being penalized as a result. This has contributed to one of the main Iranian grievances about the JCPOA, namely that sanctions relief—a key concession made to Iran under the deal—has not led to the expected recovery of the Iranian economy.

Thus, the mere talk of reimposing old US sanctions or drafting new ones is creating political tensions and economic uncertainty. This could undermine domestic support for the JCPOA in Iran and empower hardliners, who have promoted themselves by attacking the moderate policies of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.

What can Europeans do if the US Congress reimposes sanctions?

The problem with the Trump administration’s reported strategy is that there is no guarantee that Congress will ultimately be convinced by any White House appeals to not reimpose nuclear sanctions. A congressional decision to reimpose US nuclear sanctions could be potentially fatal to the JCPOA. It would also put Europe in a very difficult position, both politically and economically.

Because the US sanctions are mainly extraterritorial, they would not hit Iran directly, but instead target third parties dealing with Iran. In principle, the EU could provide its banks and companies legal protection against the US Department of the Treasury. As several observers have suggested, this could be done by including the US sanctions in the 1996 blocking statute (Council Regulation EC 2271/96) that shields European companies ‘against the effects of the extra-territorial application of legislation adopted by a third country, and actions based thereon or resulting therefrom.’ Additionally, it has been suggested that the EU could explore offshore dollar-clearing facilities to substitute US-based financial transactions with Iran. One potential partner in such an effort could be China, which has both extensive trade relations with Iran and the economic base necessary for creating alternative financial networks.

It is unclear whether the EU would ultimately find the political will and unity to enter into an economic confrontation with the USA. Recent statements by EU officials, however, suggest that it might be ready for this. When asked how Europe would react to US sanctions being reimposed on Iran, EU ambassador to the USA David O’Sullivan said that he had ‘no doubt’ that the ‘European Union will act to protect the legitimate interests of our companies’.

The Secretary General of the European External Action Service, Helga Schmid, for her part, stated last week that the EU ‘will do everything to make sure it [the JCPOA] stays’. As one concrete example, Schmid referred to the European Commission’s proposal to allow the future operation of the European Investment Bank in Iran. In addition, credit agencies in Austria, Denmark and Italy have stepped in to provide export guarantees to Iran.

If faced with a situation where US sanctions interfere with legitimate trade with Iran, European choices might prove crucial for the JCPOA. As the Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has said, in such a case, ‘the only way Iran would be persuaded to continue to observe the limits on its civil nuclear programme would be if the other signatories … all remained committed to its terms and defy any subsequent US sanctions.’

Potential ‘snap back’ of UN sanctions

The reimposition of unilateral US sanctions would be a breach of the JCPOA. However, the USA could also (mis)use the JCPOA’s Joint Commission dispute resolution mechanism to legally reinstate all previous UN sanctions against Iran. This possibility has, thus far, been overlooked by most observers, as it is an unintended consequence of the formulation of Article 37 of the JCPOA—originally meant to prevent any party from protecting Iran if it breached its commitments.

The Commission, which is chaired by the EU and consists of Iran and the six world powers that negotiated the deal, reviews the implementation of the JCPOA. The parties have agreed that, if no agreement is reached regarding claims of non-performance with the JCPOA, the complaining party may take the issue to the UN Security Council. In such a case, the Security Council is to vote on a resolution to continue the lifting of the sanctions.

Due to its veto power in the Security Council, the USA could thus, at least in theory, block the resolution, and alone cause all previous UN sanctions against Iran to ‘snap back’. Such an action would oblige all UN members to abide by the previous sanctions resolutions issued by the Security Council. Although this would not bring back the harshest sanctions against Iran’s oil industry and the Central Bank, it is hard to imagine how the EU and the rest of the JCPOA partners could continue JCPOA implementation in such a context.

The EU’s high stakes in preserving the JCPOA

Due to its international economic and political leverage, the USA has several tools at its disposal to undermine and potentially kill the JCPOA. If the deal collapses, this could create a crisis far worse than the one before 2015. In the absence of even the rudimentary trust that agreements are honoured, diplomacy between Iran and the USA would be effectively ruled out. In effect, military action would likely return to the USA’s portfolio of policy options for dealing with Iran.

Disagreements over the JCPOA are already straining the transatlantic relationship. If the US Congress decides to walk away from the deal, the EU has the means to push back, at least when it comes to extraterritorial sanctions. However, given the depth of the political, economic and military ties between the EU and the USA, it is an open question whether the EU would eventually muster the political will and unity needed to confront the USA economically.

At the same time, going along with a policy that is almost universally condemned as illegitimate would question the EU’s foreign policy independence as well as its reliability as a serious international actor committed to existing agreements.

It is to be hoped that the US Congress will continue to stick to the Iran deal. But even if it does, this does not mean that the JCPOA is safe. The deal will continue to be affected by the overall US–Iranian relationship, and it remains precarious even if it survives for now.

In the meantime, the EU must do everything that it can to preserve the historic non-proliferation achievement. The stakes are more than political and economic. At its heart, the issue is one of international security. The demise of the JCPOA would lead to nothing less than the recreation of the Iran nuclear crisis, bringing back not only the risk of proliferation, but also the prospect of a new disastrous war in the Middle East.

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Fixing the Food System to Solve Humanity’s Greatest Challenges

11 October 2017 - 1:35pm

Land degradation, a reason for rural people to migrate, is a prominent problem in Senegal. Photo: M. Mitchell/IFPRI.

By Elwyn Grainger-Jones
MONTPELLIER, France , Oct 11 2017 (IPS)

We are at a moment of huge opportunity in the world’s food system. We can continue on our current trajectory of consuming too little, too much, or the wrong type of food at an unsustainable cost to the environment, health care and political stability. Or we can change course. Fixing the food system will help solve humanity’s greatest challenges – creating jobs, reducing emissions, and improving health.

Worryingly, new research shows that after a prolonged decline, world hunger is on the rise again, with some 815 million people acutely or chronically undernourished in 2016, up from 777 million in 2015. A further 2 billion people suffer from micronutrient deficiency, also known as ‘hidden hunger’, whose effects can be damaging for life. In what seems to be an absurd twist, another 2 billion people are overweight or obese.

Food insecurity is a contributor in what has now become one of the world’s most vexing problems – that of forced migration. This year’s World Food Day takes the theme of migration, and the importance of investing in food security and rural development so that people no longer have to uproot their lives and take often perilous journeys into the unknown.

The 21st century is proving to be an epoch of massive human displacement, with people leaving their homes and their homelands at a greater rate than at any time since World War II. Conflict, hunger, poverty, and an increase in extreme weather events all play a part in fuelling instability and driving forced migration. In 2015, there were 244 million international migrants – 40% more than in 2000. Between 2008 and 2015, an average of 26.4 million people were displaced annually by climate or weather-related disasters. In the same year, 65.3 million people were forcibly displaced by conflict and persecution.

Changing trajectory is possible, and will take a huge effort involving governments, civil society, companies and scientists. It is imperative that we rigorously engage with local scientists and research partners, who know best the conditions where deprivations are greatest, and on what emphasis should be placed. Simultaneous transformations in genomics, big data, communications, markets and understanding of nutrition can be harnessed to benefit the people who most need them.

 

Water availability and improved water management can significantly help smallholder farmers produce more and better food, as this farmer shows in Eastern Highlands on the Mozambique border, where she uses a sprinkler system to irrigate her farm. Photo: David Brazier/IWMI.

 

It is impossible to overstate the importance of agriculture and agri-business as an engine for growth and a contributor to stability. As the world’s single largest employer, agriculture provides livelihoods for 40% of the population –78% in developing countries – so advances in this sector will have a powerful knock-on effect on national economies and the prosperity of local communities.

New research shows that after a prolonged decline, world hunger is on the rise again, with some 815 million people acutely or chronically undernourished in 2016, up from 777 million in 2015
During my first year in CGIAR, I had the honour of seeing first-hand some of the inspiring and remarkable initiatives being undertaken by scientists in our 15 Research Centers across the globe, who are committed to finding and sharing new innovations to help successful agriculture catalyse successful rural economies.

To feed a population that is expected to exceed 9 billion by 2050, our scientists are pioneering improvements in crops, animals, fish and trees to increase performance, nutritional value and resource use efficiency, and are building resistance in plants to drought, increased salinity and disease. Each year, around 200 new crop varieties with improved characteristics are released globally through CGIAR’s partners, with which we work closely to bring about transformation on the ground.

For example, CGIAR researchers have designed a field diagnostic tool kit for caprine pleuro-pneumonia, a deadly disease that causes major economic losses to goat production in Africa and Asia. In large swathes of South and Southeast Asia, 5 million farmers have seen their fragile livelihoods safeguarded by the introduction of flood tolerant rice, while in 13 countries of Sub-Saharan Africa, the adoption of drought tolerant maize is estimated to have produced total benefits of US$395 million. Nutritious biofortified varieties, including vitamin A enriched cassava, maize and sweet potato, as well as iron beans, iron pearl millet, zinc rice and zinc wheat, are supplementing diets deficient in micronutrients that can cause irreparable damage, particularly in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life.

While recent studies undoubtedly show the numbers of hungry people going in the wrong direction, there is strong potential for reversing this trend. Science can and is producing solutions to the challenges of hunger and poverty, so it is critical to support innovation and research that can harness global scientific advances to address local challenges.

By 2030, the actions of CGIAR and its partners are expected to result in 150 million fewer hungry people, 100 million fewer poor people – at least 50% of them women – and 190 million hectares of less degraded land. That translates into real prospects for stemming the tide of poor and malnourished people on the move, offering them hope for a decent future without leaving home.

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of this year’s World Food Day on October 16.

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Ending Hunger by 2030? This is Possible

11 October 2017 - 10:57am

Students at a school in an indigenous village in western Honduras work in the school garden, where they learn about nutrition and healthy eating. Since 2016 Honduras has a law regulating a new generation of school meals programme, which focuses on a healthy diet and serves fresh food from local family farmers and school gardens. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

By Rod Brooks
RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA, Oct 11 2017 (IPS)

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recently announced that the number of hungry people in the world has increased by 38 million in the past year due to climate change, conflict and slow economic growth. Given this setback, can we, in fact, end hunger in our lifetime? The answer is a resounding, Yes, we can. The first step is simply wrapping our minds around the reality that—yes—ending hunger is possible.

Tremendous strides have been made over the last two decades as the percentage of the world’s population suffering from hunger has decreased from 24 percent to 11 percent. We are on such a trajectory to end hunger that the United Nations established Sustainable Development Goal #2 – to achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture in our lifetime—by the year 2030.

Clearly, we have work to do to achieve this ambitious goal, which is not in some far distant future. Complacency and business as usual will not get the job done. To be successful, we must not perceive an end to hunger as one large and daunting task. Hunger should be examined as a group of problems that—when viewed as separate, smaller issues—can be tackled through multiple, obtainable goals.

The journey out of poverty and hunger for millions of people can come to a long-awaited end if we create the political and moral will to do so and we act strategically by nourishing lives, empowering communities, providing emergency relief during crisis and growing the movement to end hunger.

Nutrition serves as an incentive for parents in poverty stricken areas to send their children to school. For many kids, humanitarian meals become a physical symbol of hope.
One of the most effective ways to break the cycle of poverty is through school feeding programs. Hunger is a barrier to education, which is in turn a barrier to steady employment, health, infrastructure and economic growth. A school principal in Kenya summarized this best during a visit in his community: without the meals provided by organizations like Rise Against Hunger, kids don’t come to school.

If they fail to come to school, there is no education. Without education, there’s no hope for transformation, and the cycle of poverty continues. Nutrition serves as an incentive for parents in poverty stricken areas to send their children to school. For many kids, humanitarian meals become a physical symbol of hope.

We know that through providing nutrition today, we can change lives and build strong communities for tomorrow. We do so by empowering these communities to become self-sufficient, to learn sustainable farming practices and by stimulating economic growth that improves their resilience during times of strife.

Putting all these pieces into practice may seem staggering, but that’s why organizations like the UN and World Food Programme (WFP) are in place, to provide the data, science and international infrastructure needed to tackle this problem. But, I’m telling you—the ways to end hunger are scalable and it starts with each of us. There’s no need to purchase a plane ticket or even leave your hometown to participate in ending world hunger.

Local meal packaging events are the first step to providing nutrition to the world’s most vulnerable people. Your age, gender, faith, political affiliations—none of these preclude you from taking a small action—that when multiplied by individuals and communities around the world, will help feed the 815 million people who do not have enough food to live a healthy, productive life.

As October 16— World Food Day —approaches, let us be reminded of what we can achieve through working together, by becoming educated, participatory advocates for the world’s hungry. The world has enough production potential. Ending hunger by 2030 is at your fingertips. This is possible.

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of this year’s World Food Day on October 16.

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WB Cites PH System for Migrant Labor as Model for Southeast Asia

11 October 2017 - 5:59am

By Editor, The Manila Times, Philippines
Oct 11 2017 (Manila Times)

The World Bank has commended the Philippines’ support system for its overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) as a model for other Southeast Asian countries, and as a vehicle for regional economic integration.

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This is significant and far-reaching.

It proves that our government is doing the right thing in pressing forward with the bold and far-sighted program that began under the government of President Ferdinand Marcos during the 1970s.

It proves that our achievement of having some 10 million Filipinos in productive employment abroad did not come by accident. Filipino overseas workers contribute over $26 billion annually in remittances to the economy, and account for 9.8 percent of our gross domestic product (GDP).

It proves that we have worked effectively in building the institutional mechanism and processes to attend to the welfare and protection of our OFWs.

The World Bank extolled the Philippines’ support system for migrant labor in its recent “Migrating to Opportunity” report. The Washington-based multilateral lender said the Philippines has a migration system with clearly defined institutional responsibilities.

WB said in the report: “In the Philippines, several migrant-focused agencies are housed mostly within the Department of Labor and Employment. Their roles and responsibilities are well-defined, with the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency responsible mainly for managing migration and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration responsible mainly for protecting migrants.”

The bank noted further that in the Philippines, recruitment agencies must attend an orientation seminar prior to receiving a license and a continuing education seminar for license renewal.

The government also provides a listing of job opportunities available abroad through the job advertising site JobStreet.com and offers an orientation program to workers contemplating migration.

The lender also lauded the Pre-Employment Orientation Seminar (PEOS) for potential migrants, which includes modules on working overseas, job search, illegal recruitment, allowable fees and the essential provisions of the employment contract, and country-specific information.The PEOS is mandatory but can be completed online at no cost.

It is in this broad context that the WB commends the Philippine example as a good model for other Southeast Asian countries and as a vehicle for regional integration.

Southeast Asia, the WB said, saw intra-regional migration increase significantly between 1995 and 2015. Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand turned into regional hubs with 6.5 million migrants — 96 percent of the migrant workers in the region.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) has taken steps to facilitate mobility but its regulations only cover certain skilled professions — doctors, dentists, nurses, engineers, architects, accountants, and tourism professionals — or just five percent of jobs in the region.

Overall, the WB noted that migration procedures across Asean remain restrictive. Barriers such as costly and lengthy recruitment processes, restrictive quotas on the number of foreign workers allowed and rigid employment policies were said to be constraining workers’ employment options and their welfare.

The Philippines is not content to sit on its well- earned achievements in the management of labor migration. The government of President Rodrigo Duterte aims ambitiously to repatriate nearly all Filipinos who work abroad today. It aims to create some 12 million jobs during its term.

It has also set in motion the creation of a bank to service the needs of overseas workers and their families.

In sum, we have a dynamic and effective program for labor migration, and a government that builds on a commendable legacy.

This story was originally published by The Manila Times, Philippines

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Wanted: Violent Muslim Women

11 October 2017 - 5:48am

By Rafia Zakaria
Oct 11 2017 (Dawn, Pakistan)

It was only a couple of months ago that the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) came out with its women’s magazine. Titled Sunnat-i-Khaula, the magazine attempted to appeal to Muslim women, offering first-person stories of a female doctor who gave it all up to travel to ‘Khorasan’, an interview with the wife of a commander (he did the dishes and helped around the house), and even a supposedly inspirational portrait of a child soldier.

Rafia Zakaria

The objective was simple: brand extremism as heroic, joining up as a duty of faith possible for all sorts of women; they could go themselves, or send their husband and even their baby sons.

Last week, the militant Islamic State (IS) group, which has long been in the game of recruiting women and has a whole brigade comprised of them, renewed its call for action. Unlike prior attempts at recruitment that have appeared in Dabiq, the group’s English-language magazine, this latest one was issued in its Arabic newspaper under the title ‘Wajib un-Nisa’.

Unlike previous attempts at swelling the numbers of women in IS-controlled territory, which hinted at fighting as an option for women, this latest call demands it, calling it an obligation and a duty. Specifically, it says, “Today, in the context of the war against the IS, it has become necessary for female Muslims to fulfil their duties on all fronts in supporting the mujahideen in this battle”, and that women should “prepare themselves to defend their religion by sacrificing themselves [for] Allah”. To bolster the legitimacy of its command, the directive points to the women who were companions of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and who (according to IS) fought alongside men, and also to female warriors in the golden age of Islam.

With so many men leaving, the militant Islamic State group is quite predictably turning to women.

Unlike the TTP, whose open attempts to recruit women surfaced only very recently, IS has been targeting women as recruits for some time. Even in the initial days of the group’s takeover of Raqqa in Syria, its efforts were directed at women who were recruited into the Al Khansaa Brigade, which went around disciplining and abducting women who did not conform with the group’s stern directives.

Women without a full-face veil, women without guardians, and even women talking loudly were all subject to the wrath of this wandering all-female morality police.

On social media, the group’s female recruits, particularly those from the West, took on the task of wheedling others to join, talking about how lovely life was in daula [the IS-controlled ‘state’] and what a grand time was to be had in living in such a pure place. Even then, the group manufactured a genealogy for the female warrior. Al Khansaa, originally a female poetess, and Nusaybah, a female warrior, were selected from history for this purpose.

Propaganda for terrorism was thus couched in religious duty, a return to Islamic authenticity, both of which had been honed to perfection in the group’s recruitment of men. The small difference was in the details, mentioned here and there: that women were to have a ‘supporting’ role whose focus was the implementation of decisions by men.

So it was until this summer, when IS began to lose. As the reports of the group’s losses mounted and fighters were lost, more were required. The desperation was evident in the group’s propaganda; an article in Rumiya, another of its propaganda publications, asked women to “rise with courage and sacrifice in this war”.

Perhaps pre-empting that this could be considered a capitulation to the fact that no male fighters were available, the author went on to add that this call to women was “not because of the small number of men” and that women should join owing to “their love for jihad”.

The argument that turning to women does not come from the surrender of men would be harder to make now. Last week’s call to women to fulfil their obligation for ‘jihad’ and undertake terrorist attacks came in the wake of enormous losses suffered by the group. According to the New York Times, more than 1,000 IS fighters surrendered en masse to Kurdish militias. Their commander had told them to make their own decisions and they had chosen to surrender, they said, because it meant they would have some chance at survival. With so many men leaving, the IS is predictably turning to women.

The whole story proves only one thing: terrorist groups, whether they are the TTP or IS, manipulate history and text and faith, all to serve their own desire for power. When the groups take over territory, women are deemed worthless, sentenced to isolation, banished from public space and treated like animals. Other women are recruited to carry out these degradations, to beat and search and imprison others.

In those moments, faith to these groups means segregation, seclusion and derision, a relegation of women to the status of lesser beings. When they are losing, so too does the religious demand, and suddenly, women are duty-bound to be in the battlefield fighting alongside men and carrying out attacks. All the reasons previously offered to keep them hidden and at home and subject to the whims and directives of guardians disappear in an instant.

Muslim women are smarter than Muslim men. The sly manipulation of faith that lies at the core of all terror groups and that is so useful in recruiting men is unlikely to be quite so effective in drawing in women. Unlike Muslim men, Muslim women know and remember that the violence now being demanded of them by IS is a mere redirection of the violence that is inflicted upon them.

Men who justify beating women, mistreating women and abusing women as a religious right, are now arguing for the same women to take up arms so that they may return to power and to the task of subjugating women. Whether it is IS or the TTP or some other militant group, Muslim women are not fooled, not duped by the propaganda that insists that murder is a religious duty.

The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.
rafia.zakaria@gmail.com

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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The Rakhine — Avatars of Tony Blair?

11 October 2017 - 5:40am

By Khademul Islam
Oct 11 2017 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

Two parties are widely blamed for the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingyas: the Myanmar army and Aung San Suu Kyi. They stand amid the embers and ashes of torched Rohingya homes, objects of a furious global condemnation. Yet, the army, a feral beast from deep within a Mahabharat forest, keeps protesting its innocence, while Myanmar’s Lady Macbeth sleepwalks through teak-roofed rooms feverishly repeating ‘Out, damned spot!’ But all to no avail. Prince Charles crossed out Myanmar from his highly symbolic Asia visit list; the frowning visage of Bishop Desmond Tutu looms across the oceans.

The 2015 ISCI report titled “Countdown to Annihilation: Genocide in Myanmar” concluded that the attacks on the Rohingya minority amounted to genocide.

But there is another villain in this grisly dystopian tale. Surely the Rakhine were just as hot-wired into the killing fields as the other two; surely, they were one of the signifiers in that ecosystem of death. As our own 1971 history illustrates, a proper genocide needs locals. To drive a stake through the heart of an entire community requires natives. To paraphrase Hillary Clinton, if it takes a whole village to raise a child, it sure as heck takes a whole bunch of them to raze many.

But in the global media coverage of the current crisis the Rakhine were largely missing, thereby escaping the severe censure directed at the other two. Over the years, as fresh atrocities took place, they would show up in the reportage of Human Rights Watch and other such bodies, but what was missing was a detailed, all-encompassing study. The reason for it, of course, was that Myanmar continually barred such investigations and the Rakhine tended to be hostile. Yet, if now they were to be hauled before the court of public opinion, it was necessary to have a precise understanding of their part in the interlocking mechanism of Myanmar’s ethnic-cleansing machine. The marauders that appeared in the global journalistic margins were cloaked in the anodyne phrases of “pillaging mobs of youth”, or “armed vigilantes” or “groups of young Buddhists”, or fleeting images of men racing down rural paths in BBC documentaries, and thus hard to pin down. They sprang up, they terrorised, they disappeared. And sprang up somewhere else. Over time, the reporting on the Rakhine did become sharper (especially in the local Bangla press), but the overall view, like the patches of smoke-covered Myanmar border, remained hazy. The Rakhine, in effect, had become the avatars of Tony Blair, that slipperiest of war criminals—dubbed by a fellow Brit pol as “a mixture between Harry Houdini and a greased piglet, barely human in his elusiveness.”

Until the ISCI report showed up in my email inbox.

The International State Crime Initiative is a UK-based, interdisciplinary research centre founded to investigate state crimes such as genocide, war crimes and torture. The June 2012 communal violence in Rakhine state, after which state-organised persecution of the Rohingyas escalated, and later in 2014, when they became boat people, drew its attention. ISCI decided to assess whether the Myanmar government’s crimes did indeed amount to a full-scale genocide. It conducted a 12-month study that included a nervy four-month field investigation at ground zero in Rakhine state. The result was the publication in 2015 of Countdown to Annihilation: Genocide in Myanmar, that then represented “the only systematic academic fieldwork on the question of genocide in the Rakhine state.”

Genocide studies have come a long way since Attila the Hun, and so unsurprisingly, ISCI utilised an analytical framework very similar to the one used by the Permanent People’s Tribunal (PPT) in September in Kuala Lumpur (see CR Abrar’s excellent account “Rohingya Genocide: Culpability through denial and inaction”, published in The Daily Star, September 24, 2017). Part I of the report gave the historical, political and economic context of the ethnic cleansing, with a focus on state-army-Rakhine relations. Part II was an account of how the reality on the ground was scrupulously tested against the genocide markers in the framework, detailing the processes of the first four stages that had left Rohingyas degraded to “a people whose agency has been completely destroyed.” The final two stages—“mass annihilation and their erasure from Myanmar history”—began, as we know all too well, in August 2017.

It most definitely was, the report concluded, a genocide. No two ways about it. It also thereby nailed the Rakhine.

Interspersed among and at various levels of the text of Part II were the field investigations that added up to a devastating picture of the role and actions of the Rakhine state, its civil society and monks, and the Arakan National Party (ANP) in the genocide.

The Rakhine state was the institutional arm of the genocide. It gave, among other things, blanket immunity to the murderous Rakhine thugs. Asked about an arson attack and massacre of Rohingyas in June 2012, the state attorney-general flatly said, “It happened at night time so there is no evidence.”

Rakhine civil society was the multi-tasking enabler, stoking the fires of ancient communal prejudices. Its “human rights activism” on land, labour and environmental issues was based on “an extreme form of anti-Rohingya propagandizing”—i.e., that it was the Rohingyas, and not the Myanmar state or the ruling ethnic group the Bamar, who were the cause of Rakhine poverty and underdevelopment.

The Arakan National Party was the attack dog. They attacked Rohingyas. They attacked the offices of the UN and international NGOs distributing relief to the Rohingyas. When, to her credit, Aung San Suu Kyi in 2012 said that she was concerned about the situation in Rakhine state, the ANP attacked her local NLD (the National League for Democracy) party offices multiple times. Instead of resisting, she caved in and never again spoke on the issue. The ANP kept the chokehold on the NLD, and in the build-up to the November 2015 elections, Aung San Suu Kyi reportedly purged her party of its Muslim members and conspicuously did not field any Muslim candidates. After the elections, from the moment she shook hands with the generals, it was open season on the Rohingyas.

The monks were the ideologues. They spread the message of hate against Muslims; they pushed for the destruction of mosques as a defence against ‘jihadist Islam’ and blessed the Rakhine civil society members and politicians providing transport and refreshments to groups attacking Rohingya villages.

***

The report makes for sickening reading—a validation of Lacan’s statement that human history is a “sewer.” What was perpetrated on the Rohingyas was awful. Simply awful.

It is especially difficult to look at the Rohingya children in the camps, gazing wide-eyed at their brave new world. The cruelty inflicted on them will be a stain forever on all the three parties, but especially on the Rakhine, for these children lived side by side with them.

The Yemeni poet Ahmed Al-Shami wrote about the loveless and the forlorn; his poems could apply equally to these children:

Ride, ride the horse of your despair;
Do not hark back to what you left behind.
The land you cross, love will not be there,
No fated meeting, no melodious air,
No welcome waits for you, and hope is blind.
Once and for all your halcyon days are gone;
All those ghosts behind you! You…
Dare now the dark to eat the light

you’re riding through.

Khademul Islam is the editor of the literary journal Bengal Lights.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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World Bank Must Stop Encouraging Harmful Tax Competition

10 October 2017 - 2:29pm

Instead of encouraging tax competition, the World Bank should help developing countries improve tax administration to enhance collection and compliance, and to reduce evasion and avoidance. Credit: IPS

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 10 2017 (IPS)

One of the 11 areas that the World Bank’s Doing Business (DB) report includes in ranking a country’s business environment is paying taxes. The background study for DB 2017, Paying Taxes 2016 claims that its emphasis is “on efficient tax compliance and straightforward tax regimes”.

Its ostensible aim is to aid developing countries in enhancing the administrative capacities of tax authorities as well as reducing informal economic activities and corruption, while promoting growth and investment. All well and good, until we get into the details.

Tax less
First, the Report advocates not only administrative efficiency, but also lower tax rates. Any country that reduces tax rates, or raises the threshold for taxable income, or provides exemptions, gets approval.

Second, it exaggerates the tax burden by including, for example, employees’ health insurance and pensions and charges for public services like waste collection and infrastructure or environmental levies that the businesses must pay. The IMF’s Government Financial Statistics Manual correctly treats these separately from general tax revenues.

Third, by favourably viewing countries that lower corporate tax rates (or increase threshold and exemptions) and negatively considering those that introduce new taxes, DB is essentially encouraging tax competition among developing countries.

Thus, the Bank is ignoring research at the OECD and IMF which has not found any convincing evidence that lower corporate tax rates or other fiscal concessions have any positive impact on foreign direct investment.

Instead, they found net adverse impacts of tax concessions and fiscal incentives on government revenues. According to the research, factors such as the availability and quality of infrastructure and human resources were more important for investment decisions than taxes.

Moreover, the World Bank’s Enterprise Surveys do not find paying taxes to be high on the list of factors that enterprise owners perceive as important barriers to investment. For example, the Enterprise Survey for the Middle East and North Africa found political instability, corruption, unreliable electricity supply, and inadequate access to finance to be important considerations; paying taxes or tax rates were not.

Yet, the World Bank has been promoting tax cuts and tax competition as magic bullets to boost investment. Not surprisingly, thanks to its still considerable influence, tax revenues in developing countries are not rising enough, or worse, continue to fall. According to some estimates, between 1990 and 2001, reduction in corporate taxes lowered countries’ tax revenue by nearly 20%.

Instead of encouraging tax competition, therefore, the World Bank should help developing countries improve tax administration to enhance collection and compliance, and to reduce evasion and avoidance. According to OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria, “developing countries are estimated to lose to tax havens almost three times what they get from developed countries in aid”.

Global Financial Integrity has estimated that illicit financial flows of potentially taxable resources out of developing countries was US$7.85 trillion during 2004-2013 and US$1.1 trillion in 2013 alone!

Conflicts of interest
But the Bank’s Paying Taxes and DB reports do little to strengthen developing countries’ tax revenues. This should come as no surprise as its partner for the former study is Pricewaterhouse Cooper (PwC), one of the ‘Big Four’ leading international accounting and consultancy firms. PwC competes with KPMG, Ernst & Young and Deloitte for the lucrative business of helping clients minimize their tax liabilities. PwC assisted its clients in obtaining at least 548 tax rulings in Luxembourg between 2002 and 2010, enabling them to avoid corporate income tax elsewhere.

How are developing countries expected to finance their infrastructure investment needs, increase social protection coverage, or repair their damaged environments? Instead of helping, the Bank’s most influential report urges them to cut corporate tax rates and social contributions to improve their DB ranking, contrary to what then Bank Chief Economist Kaushik Basu observed: “Raising [tax] allows developing countries to invest in education, health and infrastructure, and, hence, in promoting growth.”

How are they supposed to achieve the internationally agreed Agenda 2030 for the Sustainable Development Goals in the face of dwindling foreign aid. After all, only a few donor countries have fulfilled their aid commitment of 0.7% of GNI, agreed to almost half a century ago. Since the 2008 financial crisis, overseas development assistance has been hard hit by fiscal austerity cuts in OECD economies except in the UK under Cameron.

The Bank would probably recommend public-private partnerships (PPPs) and borrowing from it. Countries starved of their own funds would have to borrow from the Bank, but loans need to be repaid.

Governments lacking their own resources are being advised to rely on PPPs, despite predictable welfare outcomes – e.g., reduced equity and access due to higher user fees – and higher government contingent fiscal liabilities due to revenue guarantees and implicit subsidies.

Financially starved governments boost Bank lending while PPPs increase the role of its International Finance Corporation (IFC) in promoting private sector business. Realizing the Bank’s conflict of interest, many middle-income countries ignore Bank advice and seek to finance their investments and other activities by other means. Thus, there are now growing demands that the Bank stop promoting tax competition, deregulation and the rest of the Washington Consensus agenda.

Bank must support SDGs
However, nothing guarantees that the Bank will act accordingly. It has already ignored the recommendation of its independent panel to stop its misleading DB country rankings. While giving lip service to the International Labour Organization (ILO) and others who have asked it to stop ranking countries by labour market flexibility, the Bank continues to promote labour market deregulation by other means.

If the Bank is serious about being a partner in achieving Agenda 2030, it should align its work accordingly, and support UN leadership on international tax cooperation besides enhancing governments’ ability to tax adequately, efficiently and equitably. In the meantime, the best option for developing countries is to ignore the Bank’s DB and Paying Taxes reports.

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Rohingya Refugee Women Bring Stories of Unspeakable Violence

10 October 2017 - 8:26am

Women and children who escaped the brutal violence in Myanmar wait for aid at a camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Parvez Ahmad Faysal/IPS

By Naimul Haq
COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh, Oct 10 2017 (IPS)

Yasmin, 26, holds her 10-day-old baby, who she gave birth to in a crowded refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, a southeastern district bordering Myanmar.

Three weeks ago, when she was still in her home in Hpaung Taw Pyin village in Myanmar, she was raped by a group of soldiers as houses burned, people fled and gunfire shattered the air.“I have been working as a human rights activist for the last 20 years but never heard of such an extreme level of violence." --Bimol Chandra Dey Sarker, Chief Executive of the aid organisation Mukti

With sunken eyes, Yasmin told IPS how she was beaten and raped in her ninth month of pregnancy by Myanmar soldiers. Yasmin’s village was almost empty when she and many of her neighbours were violated. Only a few dozen women and children remained after the men had fled in fear of being tortured or killed.

“On that dreadful evening an army truck stopped in our neighbourhood, and then came the soldiers raiding homes. I was alone in my home and one of the soldiers entering my thatched house shouted to invite a few others to join him in raping me.”

“I dare not resist. They had guns pointed at me while they stripped me to take turns one by one. I don’t remember how many of them raped me but at one stage I had lost consciousness from my fading screams,” she said, visibly exhausted and traumatized by the horrific ordeal.

Yasmin’s husband was killed by the Myanmar army on September 4 during one of the frequent raids, allegedly by state-sponsored Buddhist mobs against the Muslim minority in their ancestral home in Rakhine state.

Bandarban, a hilly district, and Cox’s Bazaar, a coastal district, both some 350 km southeast of Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka, are hosting the overcrowded Rohingya camps. The locals here are no strangers to influxes of refugees. Rohingyas have been forced out of Myanmar since 1992, and Bangladesh, as a neighbor, has sheltered many of them on humanitarian grounds.

However, the latest Rohingya exodus, following a massive government crackdown that began last August, has shaken the world. The magnitude of the atrocities carried out by the military junta this time is beyond imagination. Some describe the persecution as ‘genocide,’ which Myanmar’s rulers deny.

To add to the communal violence, dubbed ‘ethnic cleansing’ by Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, the military junta intensified physical assaults and soldiers have been sexually harassing innocent, unarmed Rohingya women alongside the regular killings of men.

The reasoning is obvious: no one should dare to stay in their homes. Many believe it’s a pre-planned operation to clear Rakhine state of the Rohingya population, who Myanmar does not recognize as citizens.

One Rohingya man, who managed to reach the Bangladesh border in mid-September, told IPS, “They have indeed successfully forced the Rohingya men out while the remaining unprotected women were a headache for the military junta, as killing the unarmed women would expose them to international criticism. So they chose a strategy of frightening the women and children – apply physical assault and sexual abuse, which worked so well.”

IPS spoke with many of the agencies, including the United Nations and local NGOs, working on the ground to provide emergency services such as food distribution, erecting shelters, organizing a safe water supply and hygienic latrines and, of course, healthcare.

Everyone who spoke to this correspondent said literally every woman, except the very old and young, has had experiences of either being molested or experiencing an extreme level of abuse like gang rape.

Survivors and witnesses shared brutal stories of women and young girls being raped in front of their family members. They described how cruel the soldiers were. They said the soldiers showed no mercy, not even for the innocent children who watched the killings and burning of their homes.

Bimol Chandra Dey Sarker, Chief Executive of Mukti, a local NGO in Cox’s Bazaar, told IPS, “I have been working as a human rights activist for the last 20 years but never heard of such an extreme level of violence. Many of the women who are now sheltered in camps shared their agonizing tales of sexual abuse. It’s like in a movie.”

Kaniz Fatema, a focal person for CODEC, a leading NGO in coastal Cox’s Bazaar, told IPS, “Stories of sexual abuse of Rohingya women keep pouring in. I heard women describing horrific incidents which they say are everyday nightmares. How can such violence occur in this civilized world today?”

“Although women are shy and traumatized, they speak up. Here (in Bangladesh) they feel safer and so the stories of abuses are being submitted from every corner of the camps,” she said.

The chief health officer of Cox’s Bazar 500-bed district hospital, where most of the wounded are being treated, told IPS, “At the beginning we were providing emergency treatment for many Rohingya refugees with bullet wounds. Now, we are facing a new crisis of treating so many pregnant women. We are registering pregnant women and admitting them almost every day despite shortages of beds. Many of these women complain of being sexually harassed.”

An attending nurse at the hospital who regularly treats the sexually abused women, said, “Many women still bear marks of wounds during rape encounters. It’s amazing that these women are so tough. Even after so many days of suffering, they keep silent about the agonies and don’t complain.”

The UNFPA is offering emergency reproductive healthcare services in Bandarban and Cox’s Bazaar, where aid workers shared similar tales from women who suffered torture and gang rape at gunpoint.

“It is so horrifying,” said a field worker serving in Ukhia upazila in Bandarban, adding, “I heard of a young girl being raped in front of her father, mother and brother. Then the soldiers took the men out in the courtyard and shot them.”

Faisal Mahmud, a senior reporter who recently returned to the capital from Rohingya camps, also said he spoke to many victims of rape. “Most of them I spoke to were so traumatised they were hardly able to narrate the brutality. I could see the fear in their faces. Although I hardly understand their dialect, a translator helped me to understand the terrifying tales of being stripped naked and gang raped.”

Mohammad Jamil Hossain trekked through the deep forests, evading mines and Myanmar border guards who look for men to catch and take back.

“The systematic cleansing will not end until every member of Rohingya population is evicted and forced out of the country,” he said. “The whole world is watching and yet doing nothing to stop the killings. Here we have a female ‘Hitler’ who enjoys world support for what she says is an ‘internal problem’,” he added, referring to Myanmar’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, who has failed to challenge the military over its atrocities against the Rohingya.

Shireen Huq, founder member of Naripokkho, Bangladesh’s leading NGO fighting for women’s rights, told IPS, “I was shocked and overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of people, mostly women and children, fleeing Myanmar and entering Bangladesh. The media had reported widespread atrocities, mass rape, murder, arson and brutality in the state of Rakhain.”

“Women arriving at Nayapara through Shah Porir Dwip were in a state of shock and fatigue. Many of them were candid about the julum (a word used to mean both torture and rape) they had undergone, about being raped by several military,” she said.

“We must ensure appropriate and adequate care for the refugees, especially all those who have suffered sexual violence. They need medical care, psycho-social counseling and abortion services.”

“Agencies working in the Rohingya refugee camps estimate that 50,000 women are pregnant. Several hundred deliveries have already taken place. Round the clock emergency health services must be made available to deal with the situation,” Shireen said.

More than 501,800 Rohingya have fled the Buddhist-majority country and crossed into Bangladesh since August 25. Densely populated refugee settlements have mushroomed around road from Teknaf to Cox’s Bazar district that borders Myanmar divided by Naf river. About 2,000 of the refugees are flooding into the camps every day, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

IOM has appealed to the international community for 120 million dollars between now and February 2018 to begin to address the humanitarian crisis.

“The refugees who fled Rakhine did so in the belief that they would find safety and protection in Cox’s Bazar,” said William Lacy Swing, IOM’s Director General, in a statement on October 4. “It is our responsibility to ensure that the suffering and trauma that they have experienced on the way must end.”

Meanwhile, witnesses say there are still thousands of refugees in the forest waiting to cross over the Bangladesh border, which has now been officially opened. Many can be seen from distant hilltops, walking with whatever belongings they could take.

“I was really struck by the fear that these people carry with themselves, what they have gone through and seen back in Myanmar,” the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, told Reuters in a camp recently, where refugees live under thousands of tarpaulins covering the hills and rice paddies.

“Parents killed, families divided, wounds inflicted, rapes perpetrated on women. There’s a lot of terrible violence that has occurred and it will take a long time for people to heal their wounds, longer than satisfying their basic needs,” Grandi said.

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Hydropower Dams Invade Brazil’s Agricultural Economy

9 October 2017 - 4:43pm

Brothers Daniel (left) and Armando Schlindewein stand in front of the small bridge over the Matrinxã river which will be submerged by the filling of the Sinop hydropower dam reservoir in western Brazil. Since the house they share is on the other side of the river, they will have to move, and their farms, which are connected by the bridge, will be separated. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
SINOP, Brazil, Oct 9 2017 (IPS)

“After being displaced for the third time,” Daniel Schlindewein became an activist struggling for the rights of people affected by dams in Brazil, and is so combative that the legal authorities banned him from going near the installations of the Sinop hydroelectric dam, which is in the final stages of construction.

He was a teenager in 1974 when the Iguaçu National Park was expanded in the southwest of the country, leading to the expulsion of his family and other local farmers. Seven years later, his family was once again evicted, due to the construction of the Binational Itaipu dam, shared with Paraguay, which flooded 1,350 sq km of land.

That was during Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship, when fighting for people’s rights could lead to prison and torture.

Today there are laws, recognition of rights and mechanisms to defend people which make conflicts more visible, such as the one triggered by the construction of four dams on the Teles Pires river in the western state of Mato Grosso, where Schlindewein now lives, 1,500 km north of where he was born.

The announcement, last decade, of the plans for the new dams “prompted previously fragmented social movements to organise in their resistance” in Mato Grosso, Maria Luiz Troian, an instructor at the Sinop state vocational-technical school, told IPS.

In 2010 the Teles Pires Forum was born, an umbrella group of trade unions, non-governmental organisations, religious groups, associations of indigenous people and fisherpersons, university professors and groups like the Movement of those Affected by Dams (MAB) and the Landless Movement (MST).

It is a “pluralistic forum without hierarchies,” for the defence of rights that are threatened or violated by hydropower dams, said Troian, one of the group’s most active participants.

Farmers whose land will be flooded by the construction of dams “are forced to accept unfair compensation, because the alternative is legal action, which takes a long time and has an uncertain outcome,” she said.

Aerial view of the hydropower dam being built by the Sinop Energy Company on the Teles Pires river which is changing the lives of the people in a large part of the western Brazilian state of Mato Grosso – both family farmers and monoculture producers of soy. Credit: Courtesy of CES

“In practice it is expropriation; they pay us four times less than the local market price,” complained Schlindewein, 56, one of the first people who settled in the village of Gleba Mercedes, in 1997, five years after emigrating from the southern state of Paraná, drawn by the prospect of cheap land in Mato Grosso.

“Many gave up because it rained too much and it took four hours to get to the city of Sinop, just 100 km away, in ‘girico’ (the name given to improvised motorised carts brought by peasant farmers from Paraná),” he said. Electric power did not arrive in the area until 10 years later.

Despite the difficulties, years later Schlindewein brought his divorced brother Armando, one year younger, who purchased land next to his, separated by the Matrinxã river that runs into the Teles Pires river.

The two brothers share a tractor and other machinery, and live together in the elder brother’s house, less than 100 metres from the small river.

But the dam will put an end to their brotherly cooperation, because the water will rise up to eight metres deep in that area, submerging the small wooden bridge that connects their farms and forcing them to move the house to higher ground.

The solution demanded by the Schlindewein brothers is to build up the riverbanks and make a longer, higher bridge. This modification depends on the Sinop Energy Company (CES), which owns the dam, and is important for local residents, because otherwise the distance to the city would be increased by 20 km since they would have to skirt around the flooded Matrinxã river.

The Teles Pires river, where it winds its way past the future Sinop and Colider hydropower plants, under a bridge on BR-163, the road used to transport most of the soy produced in the state of Mato Grosso northwards to Miritituba, the start of the Tapajós river waterway, which continues along the Amazon river until running into the Atlantic ocean, in Northeast Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Of the 560 families in the village – also known as the Wesley Manoel dos Santos settlement – 214 will see their land totally or partially flooded by the dam when the reservoir is filled in 2018.

Besides the low level of compensation, some complain that improvements made to their land and assets that they will lose have not been taken into account.

In the case of José da Silva Teodoro, his wife Jacinta de Souza and their four children, 79 of their 81 hectares of land will be flooded. With the indemnification, they were able to buy 70 hectares of land nearby, but “without the three sources of water” they have on their farm now – the Teles Pires river along the back and a stream running on either side.

“It wasn’t enough money for us to buy land within the settlement; we were expelled and we will lose our fruit trees, for which they hardly gave us a thing,” Teodoro told IPS. “We’ll plant new ones, but they won’t produce fruit for four or five years.”

The couple, who also come from southern Brazil, grow bananas, cassava, pineapples and mangos, raise chickens, and produce milk and cheese.

Their neighbour Ely Tarabossi, his wife and two children already had to give up half of their 100 cows, because the heavy traffic of trucks, tractors and buses caused by the construction of the dam cut off their access to water from the river. But Tarabossi plans to stay, even though the reservoir will flood 30 of his 76 hectares.

“I don’t have any other option,” he said. Although he was reluctant to do so, he plans to dedicate himself to monoculture production of soy, of which Mato Grosso is Brazil’s largest producer. “We tried everything here, from cassava to cucumbers…logistics is the hurdle. I’m 83 km from Sinop, and growing fresh produce is not feasible – everything perishes on the long journey there,” he said.

José da Silva Teodoro and his wife Jacinta de Souza stand next to their “girico” – the small, improvised vehicle that they use to transport people and products in the northern part of the western Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, which they brought with them when they moved here from the southern state of Paraná. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The logging industry was the first economic driver in the area, and helped clear the land for agriculture, according to the local residents.

Then came cattle-raising, which led to the deforestation of vast expanses of land, followed by soy, which rotates with corn or cotton every year. Livestock and then soy dominated the middle and northern part of the state of Mato Grosso and spread northwards, into the Amazon rainforest.

Then came the construction of hydropower dams.

The 408-MW Sinop dam, 70 km from the city of the same name, built at a cost of 950 million dollars, and its 342-sq-km reservoir will favour three hydroelectric plants downstream: Colider (300 MW), Teles Pires (1,820 MW) and São Manoel (700 MW).

With regard to compensation, CES stated that its calculations are based on the rules of the Brazilian Association for Technical Standards, subject to approval by the concerned parties. The negotiations, which have almost been completed, are carried out individually with each property owner, the company’s communication department told IPS.

“Everyone who is affected has constant meetings with our teams, who are always available for whatever is needed,” the statement said. Bridges and access roads will be built with the approval and “active participation” of the concerned parties, with the aim of minimising the impacts of the dam, it added.

To boost local development, CES has been implementing a Fruit and Vegetable Production Project over the last year in the settlements of Mercedes and 12 de Outubro, with the participation of 88 families.

Large agricultural producers in the area complain that the project ruled out sluices in the hydropower plants, and as a result, discarded the idea of a Teles Pires-Tapajós waterway for exporting soy produced in Mato Grosso, which currently depends on road transport.

“The hydroelectric dams respond to a national need; unfortunately their construction was agreed before the adoption of the new law that requires the creation of canals for future sluices,” Antonio Galvan, the president of the Sinop rural producers association, told IPS.

His hope now is that the waterway will be created on another nearby river, the Juruena, which along with the Teles Pires runs into the Tapajós river, and connect with the 1,142-km Ferrogrão railway running between Sinop and Miritituba, the export port on the Tapajós river in the northern Amazon state of Pará.

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Rohingya Children Drown Fleeing Myanmar Violence

9 October 2017 - 11:41am

IOM staff speak to survivors from a fishing boat that capsized in stormy weather in waters between Bangladesh and Myanmar. Photo: UN Migration Agency (IOM) 2017

By International Organization for Migration
COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh, Oct 9 2017 (IOM)

Tragedy struck more Rohingya refugees fleeing violence in Myanmar last night. At least 13 people, mostly children, drowned when the fishing boat carrying them to safety in Bangladesh capsized in stormy weather.

The Bangladesh coast guard found 13 bodies, including seven boys between the ages of 3-10 years, and four girls aged 2-3 years. The bodies of a 70-year-old man and a 60-year-old woman were also recovered from the waves.

There were approximately 60 refugees aboard the 20-metre, wooden fishing vessel when it left Myanmar under cover of darkness, hoping avoid patrols on both sides of the border, survivors told UN Migration Agency staff at the scene.

IOM staff spoke to survivors, among them a traumatized 8-year-old boy. Transfixed with shock, Arafat, said his entire family was lost in the accident. They included his father Kamal Hossain, 25 years; mother Shahara Khatun, 20 years; sister Jannat Ara, 10 years; and younger brother Ziad, who was 7 years of age.

“Where will I go now,” he cried, as a relative who had travelled from Cox’s Bazaar on hearing the news of the tragedy stood by him.

Two other children sitting next to Arafat also lost their entire families last night.

As of 7th October, 519,000 Rohingya refugees have arrived in Bangladesh, including 467,800 identified by IOM assessments in the Cox’s Bazar area
Rumana, a 7-year-old girl, told IOM her mother Ayesha (35), two sisters Minara  (8) and Nur Fatima (10) as well as her  brother Nur Hashim (7) all drowned. Her father had died shortly after she was born. Rumana, still visibly in shock as she recounted the names and ages of her family, ended with: “Everyone in my family died.”

Jobayer, an 8-year-old boy lost his entire family. His mother Moriom Khatun (30) father Habibullah (40), brother Kefayet Ullah (10) and two sisters Fatema (9) and Taiyaba (7) where amongst those who did not make it last night.

Another survivor, Hassan (22) lost all nine members of his family, who were also on the boat. His mother Gulzar, 60 years old; father Jahid Hossain, 55; sister Senoara, 25; her husband Abdus Subhan, 35; and their three children aged 4, 3 and 18 months all drowned, along with a baby niece and a nephew.

Syed Hoson, 25, lost his wife Khaleda Begum, 22 and three boys Ibrahin, 7, Mohammad Hoson, 5, and Sobayer, 3 months-old.

The funeral of seven of those who drowned took place earlier today. The service attended by the IOM filed staff on the scene, was conducted near where they drowned.

The fleeing Rohingya had paid Bangladeshi fisherman the equivalent of USD 30 a head for what should have been a short sea journey, survivors said.

Their boat was headed for Shahporir Dwip, an island at the southern tip of Bangladesh, about 78 kilometres south of Cox’s Bazar, when it foundered at Golar Para Char when the fisherman at the helm lost control and ran aground.

The overloaded boat, which would normally carry 20 people, had approximately 60 on board, and was swamped by high waves and winds in a sudden monsoon storm.

It sailed from Dongkhalir Char in Buthidaung Township, North Rakhine State, at around 6.00 pm local time. At around 9 pm the Bangladesh coast guard and border police were alerted and launched a rescue mission.

Like many of the most recent arrivals in Bangladesh, the refugees caught up in last night’s tragedy came from villages well inside Myanmar. They told IOM staff that they walked for eleven days before reaching the coast.

“Thousands of Rohingya have taken shelter at Dongkhalir Char. Some are living in the open under the sun, others managed to get polythene, tarpaulin or are using pieces of cloth to make temporary shelters for themselves. People there are waiting for boats to come from Bangladesh to help them cross,” Hassan told IOM.

Their tragedy follows on another mass drowning on September 28, when another fishing boat carrying refugees capsized near the same spot. In that incident 23 people were drowned and 17 survived.

As of 7th October, 519,000 Rohingya refugees have arrived in Bangladesh, including 467,800 identified by IOM assessments in the Cox’s Bazar area.

For more information please contact:

In Cox’s Bazar:
Hala Jaber, Tel : +8801733335221, Email: hjaberbent@iom.int
Leonard Doyle, IOM Spokesperson, Tel: +41 792857123, Email: ldoyle@iom.int

In Dhaka
Shirin Akhter Tel: +8801711187499, Email: sakhter@iom.int

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Dubai Environment Outlook Traces Path to Sustainability

9 October 2017 - 7:59am

By WAM
DUBAI, Oct 9 2017 (WAM)

The Dubai Environment Outlook report, supervised by The General Secretariat for The Executive Council in cooperation with Dubai Municipality, has said that rising population demographics and economic growth are the main drivers of environmental change in Dubai.

The report provides a comprehensive assessment of the current status of the environment, while also highlighting challenges the emirate will need to overcome in the coming years. In total, it takes a look at seven separate themes: air, water, biodiversity, land, coastal zone, built environment, and waste.

The report responds to global calls for greater transparency and access to environmental data, as Dubai makes a conscious effort to adopt a sustainably clean and healthy environment. The report also supports Dubai Plan 2021, which has committed to building a smart and sustainable city, by ensuring the availability of clean energy sources and protecting natural resources such as soil, water, and air.

In addition to the two main drivers, the report notes that while there was widespread environmental degradation during the construction boom as city planners and developers rolled out mainland and offshore development schemes of epic dimension, often with little regard for the environment, evidence now may suggest that Dubai has reached a turning point, with environmental improvement prominently featured in national plans like Dubai Plan 2021 and Dubai Clean Energy Strategy 2050, as well as a number of corporate strategies in the country.

In addition, technological advances and multilateral environmental agreements have an increasingly large role to play. In Dubai, technological innovations by the likes of DEWA present powerful tools for mitigating some of the environmental impacts caused by human activities. And all of these efforts will be central to the UAE’s broader global obligations. Last year, the country ratified the Paris agreement, which was negotiated by representatives of 195 countries at the 21st Conference of the Parties of The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC, in Paris. The central goal of the agreement is to hold the increase in global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Commenting on the report, Abdullah Al Shaibani, Secretary-General of The Executive Council of Dubai, said, “Ensuring a sustainable pathway for the future is vital, and Dubai has taken bold and swift steps in that direction of late. Economic growth and the resulting increase in construction activity have both necessitated the need for a deeper examination of the resulting environmental impact, providing us with the opportunity to develop a greener and more sustainable approach, and this report has given us a basis to build on, in line with the objectives of Dubai Plan 2021.”

He continued, “The importance of sustainable solutions for future generations is of unquestionable importance, and directing more investment towards research and development, innovation and advanced technologies should be given special priority. We are seeing increasing momentum in this regard, to create systems that are resilient to climate change, and institutions that are building sustainable development into their core business strategy. This report is a welcome step in that regard.”

Saeed Mohammed Al Tayer, Chairman of the Infrastructure and Environment Committee of the Executive Council of Dubai, said, “We work under the directives of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, to be first in everything we do. The Infrastructure and Environment Committee, a part of the Executive Council of Dubai, is working with several government organisations to achieve long-term sustainability goals. This supports the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals 2030 and the UAE Centennial 2071, to provide all the elements of success to empower people and ensuring their happiness. This is done by investing in an advanced physical and digital infrastructure. We also work to achieve the goals of the Dubai Plan 2021, to make Dubai a smart and sustainable city with a secure and reliable urban environment, and to make it the preferred place to live, work, and visit.”

He added, “The need to innovate and foresee the future is more important than ever before. The committee aims to develop and adopt modern innovative technologies to ensure a futuristic infrastructure, and create a healthy environment with good quality air for Dubai’s residents. This is done by identifying the elements that affect air quality and their impact, and controlling those factors, which is an important way of supporting the leadership’s vision to further sustainable development in Dubai.”

Hussain Nasser Lootah, Director General, Dubai Municipality, said, “Addressing these challenges effectively requires our urgent attention, as well as continued efforts to develop programmes that aim to minimize the negative impact on our environment. Reports such as this one are invaluable for our sustainable planning efforts, and represent a starting point as we begin to prioritizing environmental issues. In this respect, Dubai Municipality has provided its full support and backing to this project, which demonstrates Dubai’s commitment to ensuring a sustainable future. I am confident that we can work together to help the city reduce its carbon footprint and provide more sustainable choices to our residents.”

“The Dubai Environmental Outlook notes some challenges that Dubai will need to overcome moving forward. These include: diversifying its fuel mix without affecting total emissions, reducing car ownership and controlling the size of its fast growing vehicle fleet, concomitant and costly expansion of the sewage networks and treatment plants, changing the common perception by city planners and the general public that drylands and deserts are waste lands with little value to society, mitigating the long-term effects of completed Offshore Development Schemes on Dubai’s shoreline and marine ecosystems, as well as mitigating the impacts of desalination on the marine environment. Overcoming these challenges, and the others mentioned in the report, will be key if the emirate is to effectively improve environmental governance.”

Sameera Al Rais, Director of Policies and Strategies – Sustainable Development, said, “The report takes a look at seven separate environmental themes, in line with global best practice – including air, water, biodiversity, land, coastal zone, built environment, and waste. This report is one of many steps we are taking in our efforts to manage against Dubai’s future growth by ensuring the availability of clean energy sources and protecting our natural resources, for the benefit of our future generations.”

The report noted that the degradation of air quality was an increasing concern. Key pressures impacting this included the transport and energy sectors; in 2014, there were 1.4 million vehicles, a figure that is expected to rise to 2.7 million by 2030.

With less than 100 mm of annual rainfall concentrated in a few storm events, Dubai lacks perennial freshwater. Dubai relies on desalination plants to supply it with most of its domestic water needs. Dubai Electricity and Water Authority, DEWA, produced in 2014 1.27 million m3 per day of desalinated water, a figure that is expected to rise to 2.45 million m3 per day by 2030. The report indicated that lowering per capita water consumption from 546 to 430 liters per day 2030 can be achieved by mainstreaming greywater treatment in all new residential developments as well as recreational facilities and pools.

The report notes that Dubai has made a conscientious decision to mainstream biodiversity conservation in all economic sectors including urban planning. The Convention on Biological Diversity, CBD, has gained renewed attention and popularity and Dubai Municipality has teamed up with leading research centres and faculties to identify and implement approaches in support of the UAE National Biodiversity Strategic Action Plan, NBSAP. To promote urban biodiversity, Dubai has joined the global network of biophilic cities that have significantly enhancing the ecological value of its parks and gardens.

The report also emphasised the importance of reviving the Dubai 2020 Urban Master Plan and updating this to cover the period through 2030. It also recommends that Dubai Municipality adopt a unified land cover/use classification and publishes biannual land use/cover data – such data may influence responses to climate change and land degradation.

The report also recommends that policies are developed that promote a transit-oriented development aimed at concentrating business and population around Dubai metro stations to increase ridership and reduce daily travel distance.

The report also recommends that the Dubai Roadmap towards Sustainable Waste Management is updated and revised based on a detailed field assessment of recycling activities and outlets in Dubai and the UAE. The waste recycling value chain for each type of waste (e.g., green, electronic, paper and cardboard, plastics, glass, and metals) would then become the basis for the revised roadmap. All segments of Dubai’s consumer society (residential, commercial, institutional/government, and industry) can then be engaged to achieve the declared waste diversion goals. As a result, per capita waste generation drops from 3.4 kg/capita/day in 2014 to 2.5 kg/capita/day in 2030.

 

WAM/Esraa Ismail/Chris Moran

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World Food Day 2017 – Change the future of migration. Invest in food security and rural development

9 October 2017 - 6:18am

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Oct 9 2017 (IPS)

Large movements of people is one of the most complex challenges the world faces today. In recent years there has been a huge increase in the number of people migrating around the world. Why is this happening and do they have a choice of staying in their own homes ?

Addressing migration is an important part of Agenda 2030 and is critical for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

 

 

About one-third of all international migrants are aged 15-34 years. Nearly half are women.

The United Nations estimates that more than 60 million, or nearly 1 in 100 people worldwide, have been forced to flee their homes due to increased conflict and political instability. That’s more than at any time since the Second World War.

Hunger, poverty, and an increase in extreme weather events linked to climate change are other important factors contributing to the migration challenge.

Almost three-quarters of the extreme poor base their livelihoods on agriculture or other rural activities. Creating conditions that allow rural people, especially youth, to stay at home when they feel it is safe to do so, and to have more resilient livelihoods, is an essential component of responding to the migration challenge.

Rural development can address factors that compel people to move by creating business opportunities and jobs for young people.

The international community can also harness migration’s potential by investing in rural development and building the resilience of displaced and host communities, thereby laying the ground for long-term recovery and inclusive and sustainable growth.

This year the theme for World Food Day, celebrated annually on 16 October – a date commemorating the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in 1945 – will focus on the link between migration, food security and sustainable rural development.

The drivers and impacts of migration are intimately linked to fighting hunger and achieving food security, reducing rural poverty and promoting the sustainable use of natural resources

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Global Green Growth Week 2017 Kicks Off in Addis Ababa

9 October 2017 - 5:23am

By IPS World Desk
ADDIS ABABA, Oct 9 2017 (IPS)

The Global Green Growth Week 2017 (#GGGWeek2017), in its second year, will take place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from October 17 – 20 to discuss ways to scale up green growth in Africa and around the world.

Jointly organized by the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) and the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, the four-day event will serve as a platform bringing together over 300 high-level ministers, thought leaders, institutional investors and decision makers to catalyze creative solutions for transformational green growth in Africa and the world over. The discussions will revolve around achieving Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to the Paris Agreement and making progress on the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals.

Under the theme ‘Unlocking Africa’s Green Growth Potential’, #GGGWeek2017 will focus on addressing a number of green growth topics: mobilizing green/climate finance to bankable projects in developing countries; sustainably managing resources to address water and food security challenges; and developing and adopting policies that drive environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive economic growth. Sessions at #GGGWeek2017 will provide an opportunity for delegates to identify ways to secure financial resources and explore issues such as how to match climate finance with bankable projects and mobilize local capital markets for renewable energy investment.

Sessions like Africa’s Green Energy Challenges and Off-grid Renewable Energy Solutions, Green Strategies and Success Stories in Africa, Greening the Belt and Road Initiative, and Greening African Cities will shed light on transformational green growth initiatives and global knowledge of green growth implementation.

The private sector, which will have a strong presence at the event, has a critical role to play given that climate finance is at the forefront of NDC implementation. Among private sector partners attending GGGWeek is Elion Resources Group, a Beijing-based company committed to eco-friendly, green finance.

Together with partners such as the Green Climate Fund (GCF), the African Development Bank (AfDB), other multilateral development banks, UN regional, economic and social commissions, GGGI is working globally to leverage private as well as public sector investment in inclusive green growth. An example is the establishment of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia’s Climate Resilient Green Economy (CRGE) Facility, the financing channel for a USD50 million project to enhance critical irrigation systems in the country’s drought-prone regions. Established by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Cooperation (MOFEC) with the close support of GGGI, the Facility will receive and channel the recently approved USD 45 million from the GCF for the project, developed by MOFEC in cooperation with the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate (MEFCC). With co-financing from the Ethiopian government of USD 5 million, the project is set to directly benefit 330 000 people directly and nearly 1 million people indirectly.

Over 15 unique sessions will highlight examples and success stories, like the Ethiopia CRGE Facility case, of global and African green growth interventions, policies and strategies.

The African Union, the International Renewable Energy Agency, CGIAR, the New Climate Economy, and the World Resources Institute are among a few partners who will showcase best practices of global green growth policies and implementation.

As a host for the Week, Ethiopia will showcase its green growth initiatives, including site visits that will highlight some of the fast growing African nation’s renewable energy and other green growth projects.

For more information on #GGGWeek2017, visit http://www.gggweek2017.org/

About GGGI

Based in Seoul, GGGI is a treaty-based international, inter-governmental organization founded to support and promote green growth. The organization partners with countries to help them build economies that grow strongly, are more efficient and sustainable in the use of natural resources, less carbon intensive, and more resilient to climate change. GGGI works with countries around the world, building their capacity and working collaboratively on green growth policies that can impact the lives of millions. To learn more about GGGI, see http://www.gggi.org and visit us on Facebook and Twitter.

Follow GGGWeek2017 @gggi_hq on twitter #GGGWeek2017 or #GreenGrowthInAfrica

 

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How to Eradicate Rural Poverty, End Urban Malnutrition – A New Approach

9 October 2017 - 2:40am

Nuclear applications in agriculture rely on the use of isotopes and radiation techniques to combat pests and diseases, increase crop production, protect land and water resources, ensure food safety and authenticity, and increase livestock production. Credit: FAO

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Oct 9 2017 (IPS)

Population growth, increasing urbanisation, modern technologies, and climate change are transforming the world at a fast pace. But what direction are these transformations headed in? Are they benefitting the poor and the food insecure? And will the food systems of the future be able to feed and employ the millions of young people poised to enter labour markets in the decades to come?

These are some of the main questions posed by the just-released State of Food and Agriculture 2017 report, which argues that a key part of the response to these challenges must be transforming and revitalising rural economies, particularly in developing countries where industrialisation and the service sector are not likely to be able to meet all future job demand. “Unless economic growth is made more inclusive, the global goals of ending poverty and achieving zero hunger by 2030 will not be reached,” Graziano da Silva.

“It lays out a vision for a strategic, ‘territorial approach’ that knits together rural areas and urban centres, harnessing surging demand for food in small towns and mega cities alike to reboot subsistence agriculture and promote sustainable and equitable economic growth,” says the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in its report, issued on 9 October.

One of the greatest challenges today is to end hunger and poverty while making agriculture and food systems sustainable, it warns, while explaining that this challenge is “daunting” because of continued population growth, profound changes in food demand, and the threat of mass migration of rural youth in search of a better life.

The report analyses the structural and rural transformations under way in low-income countries and shows how an “agro-territorial” planning approach can leverage food systems to drive sustainable and inclusive rural development.

Otherwise, the consequences would be dire. In fact, the world’s 500 million smallholder farmers risk being left behind in structural and rural transformations, the report says, while noting that small-scale and family farmers produce 80 per cent of the food supply in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, and investments to improve their productivity are urgently needed.

“Urbanisation, population increases and income growth are driving strong demand for food at a time when agriculture faces unprecedented natural-resource constraints and climate change.”

Harvesting sunflowers in Pakistan. Credit: FAO


Moreover, urbanisation and rising affluence are driving a “nutrition transition” in developing countries towards higher consumption of animal protein. “Agriculture and food systems need to become more productive and diversified.”

Catalytic Role of Small Cities, Towns

According to the report, small cities and towns can play a catalytic role in rural transformation rural and urban areas form a “rural–urban spectrum” ranging from megacities to large regional centres, market towns and the rural hinterland, according to the report. In developing countries, smaller urban areas will play a role at least as important as that of larger cities in rural transformation.

“Agro-territorial development that links smaller cities and towns with their rural ‘catchment areas’ can greatly improve urban access to food and opportunities for the rural poor.” This approach seeks to reconcile the sectoral economic aspects of the food sector with its spatial, social and cultural dimensions.

On this, the report explains that the key to the success of an agro-territorial approach is a balanced mix of infrastructure development and policy interventions across the rural–urban spectrum.

“The five most commonly used agro-territorial development tools –agro-corridors, agro-clusters, agro-industrial parks, agro-based special economic zones and agri-business incubators – provide a platform for growth of agro-industry and the rural non-farm economy.”

A Clear Wake-Up Call

Announcing the report, FAO Director-General, José Graziano da Silva said that in adopting the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development two years ago, the international community committed itself to eradicating hunger and poverty and to achieving other important goals, including making agriculture sustainable, securing healthy lives and decent work for all, reducing inequality, and making economic growth inclusive.

With just 13 years remaining before the 2030 deadline, concerted action is needed now if the Sustainable Development Goals are to be reached, he added.

“There could be no clearer wake-up call than FAO’s new estimate that the number of chronically undernourished people in the world stands at 815 million. Most of the hungry live in low-income and lower-middle-income countries, many of which have yet to make the necessary headway towards the structural transformation of their economies.”

Graziano da Silva said that successful transformations in other developing countries were driven by agricultural productivity growth, leading to a shift of people and resources from agriculture towards manufacturing, industry and services, massive increases in per capita income, and steep reductions in poverty and hunger.

Countries lagging behind in this transformation process are mainly concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Most have in common economies with large shares of employment in agriculture, widespread hunger and malnutrition, and high levels of poverty, he explained.

Nuclear techniques are now used in many countries to help maintain healthy soil and water systems, which are paramount in ensuring food security for the growing global population. Credit: FAO


1.75 Billion People Survive on Less than 3.10 Dollars a Day

According to the latest FAO estimates, some 1.75 billion people in low-income and lower-middle-income countries survive on less than 3.10 dollars a day, and more than 580 million are chronically undernourished.

The prospects for eradicating hunger and poverty in these countries are overshadowed by the low productivity of subsistence agriculture, limited scope for industrialization and –above all– by rapid rates of population growth and explosive urbanisation, said Graziano da Silva.

In fact, between 2015 and 2030, their total population is expected to grow by 25 percent, from 3.5 billion to almost 4.5 billion. Their urban populations will grow at double that pace, from 1.3 billion to 2 billion.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the number of people aged 15–24 years is expected to increase by more than 90 million by 2030, and most will be in rural areas.

“Young rural people faced with the prospect of a life of grinding poverty may see few other alternatives than to migrate, at the risk of becoming only marginally better off as they may outnumber available jobs in urban settings.”

Enormous Untapped Potential

The overarching conclusion of this report is that fulfilling the 2030 Agenda depends crucially on progress in rural areas, which is where most of the poor and hungry live, said the FAO Director General.

“It presents evidence to show that, since the 1990s, rural transformations in many countries have led to an increase of more than 750 million in the number of rural people living above the poverty line.”

To achieve the same results in the countries that have been left behind, the report outlines a strategy that would leverage the “enormous untapped potential of food systems” to drive agro-industrial development, boost small-scale farmers’ productivity and incomes, and create off-farm employment in expanding segments of food supply and value chains.

“This inclusive rural transformation would contribute to the eradication of rural poverty, while at the same time helping end poverty and malnutrition in urban areas.”

A major force behind inclusive rural transformation will be the growing demand coming from urban food markets, which consume up to 70 per cent of the food supply even in countries with large rural populations, he added.

The FAO chief explained that thanks to higher incomes, urban consumers are making significant changes in their diets, away from staples and towards higher-value fish, meat, eggs, dairy products, fruit and vegetables, and more processed foods in general.

The value of urban food markets in sub-Saharan Africa is projected to grow from 150 billion dollars to 500 billion dollars between 2010 and 2030, said Graziano da Silva.

Urbanisation thus provides a “golden opportunity for agriculture”, he added. However, it also presents challenges for millions of small-scale family farmers. “More profitable markets can lead to the concentration of food production in large commercial farms, to value chains dominated by large processors and retailers, and to the exclusion of smallholders.”

Small-Scale Producers

According to the FAO head, to ensure that small-scale producers participate fully in meeting urban food demand, policy measures are needed that: reduce the barriers limiting their access to inputs; foster the adoption of environmentally sustainable approaches and technologies; increase access to credit and markets; facilitate farm mechanisation; revitalise agricultural extension systems; strengthen land tenure rights; ensure equity in supply contracts; and strengthen small-scale producer organisations.

“No amount of urban demand alone will improve production and market conditions for small-scale farming,” he said. “Supportive public policies and investment are a key pillar of inclusive rural transformation.”

The second pillar is the development of agro-industry and the infrastructure needed to connect rural areas and urban markets, said Grazano da Silva, adding that in the coming years, many small-scale farmers are likely to leave agriculture, and most will be unable to find decent employment in largely low-productivity rural economies.

Agro-Industry Already Important

In sub-Saharan Africa, food and beverage processing represents between 30 per cent and 50 per cent of total manufacturing value added in most countries, and in some more than 80 per cent, he said. “However, the growth of agro-industry is often held back by the lack of essential infrastructure – from rural roads and electrical power grids to storage and refrigerated transportation.”

In many low-income countries, such constraints are exacerbated by a lack of public- and private sector investment, FAO chief explained.

The third pillar of inclusive rural transformation is a territorial focus on rural development planning, designed to strengthen the physical, economic, social and political connections between small urban centres and their surrounding rural areas.

In the developing world, about half of the total urban population, or almost 1.5 billion people, live in cities and towns of 500,000 inhabitants or fewer, according to the report.

“Too often ignored by policy-makers and planners, territorial networks of small cities and towns are important reference points for rural people – the places where they buy their seed, send their children to school and access medical care and other services.”

Recent research has shown how the development of rural economies is often more rapid, and usually more inclusive, when integrated with that of these smaller urban areas.

“The agro-territorial development approach described in the report, links between small cities and towns and their rural ‘catchment areas’ are strengthened through infrastructure works and policies that connect producers, agro-industrial processors and ancillary services, and other downstream segments of food value chains, including local circuits of food production and consumption.”

“Unless economic growth is made more inclusive, the global goals of ending poverty and achieving zero hunger by 2030 will not be reached,” warned Graziano da Silva.

The post How to Eradicate Rural Poverty, End Urban Malnutrition – A New Approach appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Searching for a Doctor at 3,000 Metres High

6 October 2017 - 8:15am

Celestina of Porcón Alto, a rural region high in the Andes, whose family has lived on the same plot of land for generations. Credit: Andrea Vale/IPS

By Andrea Vale
PORCÓN, Peru, Oct 6 2017 (IPS)

Good healthcare can be hard to get – particularly when one lives on top of a mountain. The road to Porcón in the Cajamarca region of Peru, therefore, is as breathtaking as it is sobering. With every step further into its isolated natural beauty, a group of volunteers sent to deliver healthcare essentials are reminded how long the trek would be in an emergency.

After a bus has taken the volunteers as far as it can, to the rim of a sweeping valley dipping into the basin of a ring of mountains, they start their hike.“We have a lot of fear,” Celestina says. “The doctors are always telling us that they’re going to help us and heal us, but we can’t always get to them and they’re not able to get to us."

It’s not very long mile-wise, but they stumble over unforgiving drops in a rocky wind that leads them through tilted pastures resting on the sides of the mountains. The looming brown stillness is disrupted by their panting, at a loss of breath from the gasping altitude.

At the end lies a community of artisans who live in close proximity to one another in Porcón Alto, a rural region high in the Andes.

They’ve been waiting. Once the volunteers arrive, several women filter out into the pasture where they’ve set up shop and sit cross-legged around them, all accompanied by toddlers clutching at their long skirts and babies peeking out of the tops of the shawls slung over their backs to carry infants, or vegetables.

They have a flood of questions ready, about basic nutrition, exercise, disease prevention. They have a waiting list of ailments to look at – my child has this rash. My child can’t say his R’s. It hurts when I stand up from bed.

Immediately put to work, volunteers begin taking their blood pressure, weighing them, measuring their heart rates and their blood glucose levels. Under the shadow cast by one woman’s tall brimmed hat her skin is wrinkled in layers, leathery and toughened from years of work in the sun. She looks anywhere between 40 and 60, balancing a squirming toddler in her lap while she squints at the volunteer helping her with rapt attention and concern. But a glance at her chart reveals that she is only 22.

One woman sits in the center of the others, shucking corn with a baby tied to her back. Her eyes crinkle with smile lines and her elements-exposed skin is a mosaic of black freckles and brown creases. Her name is Celestina.

Porcón is home to her in a deep sense – her family has lived on this exact plot of land for generations.

“The house over there was taken down, but that’s where my grandmother and her mother lived,” she says in Spanish, gesturing out towards a rolling plot of land.

As to what life has been like, living high up here: “Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad. Sometimes I get worried. My daughter is sick right now, so I’m sad right now,” Celestina says, touching her daughter’s face as the baby girl plays in her lap. Baby Analee, she says, was bit by an insect just this morning. Analee’s cheek is already massively swollen with a red welt.

Fearing for her daughter is a constant reality of existence for Celestina.

“When I’m sleeping I can forget, but otherwise there’s always that worry for my child,” she says. “She needs to go to school, she needs to work, and I’m always worried about her, to know that she’ll be okay.”

Despite how long her family has lived on this land, Celestina says without a hint of hesitation that she wishes Analee could grow up in an urban area, perhaps the city Cajamarca below.

“Of course I want to live out in the city, but we don’t have land. Where would we build a house? Here, being out in the country, we just cook, we clean, we try to bathe, and we wait. All we can do is wait for the proper transportation to get to Cajamarca to try to get the proper attention if someone is sick.”

She says that there are no home remedies that she or anyone in the community uses to try to treat illness. Their best defense is simply the best level of hygiene they can achieve, and oftentimes it isn’t enough.

According to the Pan American Health Organization, only 19.1% of the urban population in Peru make up the country’s total poverty – as compared to 54.2% of rural peoples. In regards to extreme poverty, the contrast is even starker – 2.5% of the urban population, and 23.3% of the rural.

Celestina is 38 years old. She has the health of a 60-year-old. Plagued with health struggles since childhood, she currently suffers from chronic eyesight and stomach trouble.

But she brushes this acknowledgement off and automatically returns her attention to her baby.

“My daughter is sick and I am worried,” she says. “Always, I am scared for her.”

Celestina may worry about emergency illness striking, but what her and the other community members don’t realize is that the real threat of living in such isolation is not one-time tragedies, but rather chronic health problems. Of the children screened in Porcón, one-fourth were underweight and one-fourth were either at risk of being overweight or actually overweight. Of the adults screened, 33% were obese and 42% were overweight.

Most of the people examined during the health screenings, both in Porcón and across Cajamarca, had hypertension and were overweight. An inordinate number had diabetes and were completely unaware of it, ignorant to what caused the disease. One woman’s blood glucose level was close to 230 – the volunteer who tested her was so shocked that she tested the level twice more, sure that that initial reading couldn’t be possible.

Uneducated on signs of cancer and prevention techniques, many have had parents and grandparents pass away from the disease and simply chalked it up to having ‘just died,’ without a known cause.

According to the World Health Organization, the current national Human Resources for Health Density in Peru – meaning doctors, nurses and midwives – is 17.8 per 10,000 population. That distribution, however, is extremely inequitable, with rural areas usually having an HRH density of below ten. Lima, for instance, has three times more physicians per population – 15.4 – than Huancavelica, one of the poorest cities in Peru and populated in majority by indigenous peoples. 89.1% of births in urban regions are assisted by a professional – while only 42.9% of births in rural areas are.

Consequently, it’s perhaps not surprising that child mortality rates in Peruvian rural areas are almost twice that of urban areas – 40% to 26%.  According to the Pan American Health Organization, 35.3% of adults in rural areas of Peru are overweight, and 16.5% are obese. Only 40% of them perform any “moderate physical activity” – all of the health screenings concluded with group exercise classes.

Without doctors nearby, without easy and reliable transportation to get to the closest doctors, and without health education, Celestina has to live in constant fear. There is fear for her neighbors and for herself – but above all, fear for her baby. There is fear that disease will strike, that accidents will happen, that unexplained illness will come. Because when it does, Celestina and the rest of the community are left alone on top of the Andes with only their best abilities as a defense – uneducated, unequipped and without adequate and reliable transportation.

“We have a lot of fear,” Celestina says, “The doctors are always telling us that they’re going to help us and heal us, but we can’t always get to them and they’re not able to get to us. They’re always promising that they’re going to help us, but it never happens because they’re so far.”

For now, all that Celestina and the rest of Porcón can do is wait.

“The only thing we can do is wait until we can go to the doctor,” she says, “To go to the doctor and then wait again. Sometimes there’s nobody.”

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Alternative Financing Strategies to Boost Small Businesses in Africa

5 October 2017 - 8:38am

Chef and owner of a restaurant and catering company in Liberia. Credit: UN Photo/C. Herwig

By Franck Kuwonu, Africa Renewal*
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 5 2017 (IPS)

A few years ago, more than half a century after the concept was first proposed, the government of Côte d’Ivoire completed construction of the Henri Konan Bédié Bridge, a span over the Ébrié Lagoon linking the north and south of Abidjan, the country’s main city. The project became a reality after the government received development bank and private capital financing.

Similarly, the Dakar-Diamniado Highway in Senegal, although a public structure, was built and is being operated by private companies. Increasing difficulties in obtaining traditional financing, including bank loans for public infrastructure such as roads, railways and dams are forcing African countries to explore alternative financing approaches.

Having the private sector build and operate infrastructure, recoup its investments and later transfer the infrastructure to governments is one way of compensating for the shortfall in official development assistance and banks’ reluctance to provide loans.

Economic backbone

Aid to the least developed countries (LDCs), most of which are in Africa, fell by 3.9% in 2016, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which promotes policies that improve economic and social well-being of rich countries.

At the moment, governments are coming up with innovative financing strategies, while big corporations are relying on investments or bank loans to grow and expand their businesses. However, Africa’s small and medium-size (SMEs) enterprises, still struggle for financing.

Governments that seek financing from private partnerships or international financing institutions such as the African Development Bank (AfDB), the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the World Bank and others often realise that the funding available cannot meet the financial needs of the SMEs.

“In Ghana, SMEs can safely be regarded as the backbone of the economy, employing thousands of people,” Ghana’s minister of finance, Ken Ofori-Atta, said at a gathering of Ghanaian entrepreneurs in June.

SMEs represent 92% of all local businesses in Ghana, providing up to 85% of manufacturing jobs in the country and contributing about 70% to the country’s GDP. In Nigeria, 37 million SMEs employ about 60 million people and account for about 48% of the country’s GDP.

South Africa (the most advanced economy south of the Sahara) is home to more than 2.2 million SMEs, about 1.5 million of them in the informal sector. About 43% of South Africa’s SMEs operate in trade and accommodations, according to South Africa’s Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA), which, among other functions, implements the government’s small business strategy.

A 2016 SEDA report says that SMEs face challenges in accessing finance and markets. Yet eight out of 10 jobs and nine out of 10 of all businesses in sub-Saharan Africa are related to small business, according to UN figures.

Potential

SMEs, especially those in the informal sector, have a hard time accessing bank loans. A majority of African SMEs rely on personal savings or start-up capital from friends and family.

“Even when a bank is willing to lend them some money, the collateral and guarantee they require and sometimes the down payment is just too much for a small company like us,” says Alex Treku, the communications and projects manager at the Togo-based LOGOU Concept Togo (LCT).

LCT manufactures a type of electric food mixer (the Foufou Mix) that is used in place of the traditional mortar and pestle and saves women the energy used in pounding yam for fufu, a West African staple dish.

“The Foufou Mix allows for quick and hygienic yam preparation in approximately eight minutes,” the African Innovation Foundation (AIF) said when it named LCT the runner-up for the Innovation Prize for Africa in 2014.

AIF added that “pounding of yam has traditionally been done by women; this innovation provides a solution not currently being contemplated by international manufacturers. It also opens up possibilities for a whole new industry for manufacturing of such appliances on the continent.”

One-third of Nigerians reportedly eat fufu, making the country of 170 million people an attractive market for the gadget. Yet LCT is able to manufacture only about a hundred mixers a month, according to Mr. Treku. The reason? “We don’t have access to bank credit or funds to grow our business,” he says. LTC currently employs 19 people.

Operational capacities and access to markets are other challenges African MSMEs face, but access to financing is the most critical.

Partnership and innovation

On the occasion of the first-ever MSME Day marked globally on 27 June, the AfDB called for an increase in new and affordable financing schemes. Both the AfDB and the IFC would like SMEs to have increased access to financing.

Last year the AfDB reported helping 156,000 SME business owners through financial intermediaries such as commercial banks, development investment and guarantee funds. That’s a good start, but hardly enough, experts say.

By providing coverage for risks associated with lending to SMEs, an intermediary such as the African Guarantee Fund (AGF) can provide credit guarantee facilities to financial institutions that give loans to enterprises they would normally be reluctant to lend to.

Last June, the AGF announced that through a partnership with the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States, the European Union and the UN Development Programme, some 5,000 SMEs in “development minerals” in five countries will have more affordable financing because of AGF’s $12 million credit guarantee.

Two years ago, the IFC and Ecobank, a pan-African commercial and investment banking group, launched a $110 million risk-sharing facility that allows Ecobank to lend money to SMEs operating in fragile and conflict-afflicted states in West and Central Africa. In addition to current efforts by traditional banks to lend to SMEs, experts have urged SMEs in Africa to explore innovative financing, such as cooperative financing and diaspora funds.

The World Bank is said to be exploring other ideas like crowdfunding—an innovative way of financing a project by raising funds from a very large number of people—peer-to-peer lending, social impact bonds and development impact bonds.

But the AfDB wants credit providers to increase lending by at least $135 billion to meet demand by African SMEs. As the overall financing gap in developing countries is currently between $2.1 and $2.6 trillion, new strategies are required to finance the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

According to the World Economic Forum, “blended finance” could plug this hole. Should these funds become available, the majority of SMEs still operating in the informal sector will have to “take giant steps towards formalisation in order to increase their potential for accessing formal credits,” according to a 17 March study, Financing the Growth of SMEs in Africa: What Are the Constraints to SME Financing within ECOWAS? published in the Review of Development Finance.

The authors of the study maintain that policy reforms are as necessary as available financing. They also suggest requiring companies to provide credit information to boost creditors’ confidence and to make sure that government-sponsored credit schemes are managed efficiently and transparently.

*Africa Renewal is published by the UN’s Department of Public Information

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Ghana Aims to Regain Top Spot in Cocoa Production

5 October 2017 - 8:03am

Professor of Food Science and Technology at the University of Ghana, Emmanuel Afoakwa, and other researchers at a cocoa farm. Credit: Kwaku Botwe/IPS

By Kwaku Botwe
ACCRA, Oct 5 2017 (IPS)

Ghana is home to the world’s favourite cocoa beans. They’re bigger in size, have a higher butter content and superior flavour – all qualities which make Ghana’s cocoa the world standard against which all cocoa is measured.

But while cocoa used to be the biggest foreign exchange earner for the West African country, contributing about 45 percent of the total foreign exchange earnings, now the commodity barely provides 25 percent.“They [farmers who sell their lands] don’t know what they are doing because cocoa is a legacy that can be left to children, unlike one-time cash.” --Nana Kwasi Ofori of the Cocoa Farmers Association

Farmers in Ghana follow a strict routine in the planting, harvesting and drying of cocoa, supported and monitored by the government regulator, the Ghana Cocoa Board.

They employ natural drying of the beans in the sun (instead of heating), turning the beans at regular intervals for not less than a week. This natural and painstaking means of drying ensures the beans turn out their characteristic golden brown. The layers of monitoring at the time of purchase are all part of government’s intervention.

The country is the second biggest supplier of cocoa worldwide, beaten only by its West African neighbour, Cote D’Ivoire. But Ghana was once the world champion. It lost the first spot to its neighbour in the 1970s after government reduced the price given to farmers, thereby discouraging many from going into the venture.

Exchanging Golden Pods for Golden Nuggets

Several factors have contributed to the shortfall. Distribution of free or subsidized farm inputs such as fertilizers or chemicals have been fraught with several challenges.

“Not all of us were given the free fertilizers. And they were politicizing it. Someone with a small farm of four acres could be given 50 bags of fertilizer while others with very big farms were given less,” Abusuapanyin Kwabena Amankwaa, a cocoa farmer, told IPS.

Central Regional Chief Cocoa Farmer Nana Kwasi Ofori also said that “farmers who are not cultivating cocoa were given some of the inputs”.

CEO of the Cocoa Board Joseph Baidoo has said his interactions with farmers revealed that Ghana’s fertilizers – which are not supposed to be for sale – were in fact being sold in Nigeria, Gabon and other neighbouring African countries, adding that this meant the free fertilizers were given to political party loyalists who were not cocoa farmers.

Diseases such as black pod, swollen shoot, and capsids have had a field day as a result.

The new government decided to discontinue the free fertilizer programme following what it says were complaints from farmers. Instead, it wants to sell the fertilizer at subsidized prices.

Ghana has an annual cocoa production target of one million tonnes. That target was achieved in 2011. Since then government has struggled to maintain the target, with annual production hovering around 800,000 tonnes.

In previous years, government decided to absorb the cost and technical assistance needed to apply the right chemicals and fertilizers to cocoa farms nationwide – initiatives called the Mass Spraying Exercise and the Hi-tech Programme, respectively.

Government also created the Rehabilitation Programme where old, less productive trees were felled and replaced with new, more-yielding hybrid seedlings for free. This saw a big dividend in cocoa bean output, with the country recording its highest cocoa output of over 1 million tonnes in 2011. But government has not been able to sustain the programme.

Probably the biggest threat to hit the cocoa industry in recent times is illegal mining, locally called galamsey. The upsurge in the search for gold between 2012 and 2016 has threatened the livelihoods of several cocoa farmers as galamsey takes over cocoa farms.

“Some chiefs are part of the problem which we are facing. They sell the land to the miners and collect the money so sometimes farmers are not even compensated,” said Nana Kwasi Ofori, an executive member of the Cocoa Farmers Association.

Most farmers are tenant farmers who work on lands owned by chiefs or families. Fifty-three-year-old Adwoa Oforiwaa, a cocoa farmer in the Central Region, says she was only given 500 cedis (about 112 dollars) as compensation when galamsey operators took over a good part of her farm.

“When they [galamsey operators] come, they tell you they have orders from the chiefs or even government, and they start the destruction,” she added.

A journalist in the Western Region – the leading cocoa-producing region in Ghana – Yaw Obrempong says some farmers willingly sell off their cocoa farms for ready cash.

“If the galamsey operator is here with a bag full of cash, why won’t I sell my land instead of staying in a queue for over two weeks only to be given a bag of fertilizer?” Obrempong noted.

He says some farmers claim they had to pay bribes in order to get farm inputs from the government. Other farmers sold their lands when the much-needed labour to work on the cocoa farms shifted into illegal mining.

But Nana Kwasi Ofori says, “They [farmers who sell their lands] don’t know what they are doing because cocoa is a legacy that can be left to children, unlike one-time cash.”

The galamsey invasion has affected a good part of the 1.7 million hectares of cocoa farms in the country.  The Government has launched an anti-galamsey crusade to flush out illegal miners. With the help of a taskforce including the military, several arrests and confiscation of galamsey equipment have been carried out.

The launch of the Media Coalition against Galamsey has also given government a shot in the arm. Government has moved the crusade a notch higher with the announcement by the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources of its intention to procure drones at the cost of 3 million dollars for surveillance.

Guaranteed Pricing

Nonetheless, cocoa remains the most important economic crop for Ghana, raking in about 2 billion dollars annually, contributing to some 4.22 percent of the country’s GDP.  Such a feat has been achieved through government interventions such as price stability. For instance, the world price of cocoa beans has plummeted from about 3,122 dollars per tonne last year to about 1,900 dollars this year, yet the Cocoa Board maintained s producer price of 7,600 cedis per tonne (1,700 dollars).

The Board is able to cushion farmers with a Stabilization Fund established some ten years ago, as well as other sources of funds. This presents a big advantage for cocoa farmers in Ghana over other cocoa-producing countries on the continent this year.

For instance, the Ivorian government has slashed the prices of cocoa almost by a third, to 700 CFA per kg (about 1,300 dollars per tonne). Some Ghanaians have expressed concern that the development is likely to reverse the dreaded cross-border smuggling of cocoa (Ghana has in the past seen a lot of its cocoa smuggled to their neighbor countries because of price differences).

But professor of Food Science and Technology at the University of Ghana, Emmanuel Afoakwa says “it is not likely because Ghana is bent on protecting its premium quality and so there is tight security to ensure cocoa does not move from Cote D’Ivoire and other countries into the country”.

He adds that “farmers must cherish that government is interested in their welfare because government now loses about 500 dollars on every tonne of cocoa bought from them”.

The Ghana Cocoa Board also has an arrangement to pay for the felling and replanting of old and diseased cocoa trees. The board has announced that it will be giving away about 60 million seedlings to farmers for replanting. The exercise, called rehabilitation, is meant to boost output.

The Government also has a programme to woo youth into the sector to replace aging cocoa farmers. The Board is providing support for all young cocoa farmers by giving them hybrid pods, improved seedlings, free fertilizer and inputs, a farmer business school programme, as well as extension support to boost cocoa production. Cocoa farmers are also pushing for a Cocoa Farmers Pension Scheme which they believe will help attract the youth.

Cocoa Processing

To maximize revenue from cocoa, the government has its eyes on adding value to the cocoa it exports. The global cocoa market has an estimated value of 9 billion dollars for unprocessed cocoa beans, about 28 billion dollars for semi-processed/intermediate products and a whopping 87 billion dollars for fully processed/final products. In an attempt to get its share of the 87-billion-dollar cake, government has set a target of processing 50 percent of its exported cocoa.

Currently, the seven processing companies operating at various levels of value-addition process about 25 percent of the county’s exported cocoa. But most of the processed cocoa are exported in semi-processed form of cocoa paste.

Prof. Afoakwa says the huge capital requirement involved in processing cocoa into finished products fit for export could be a big hurdle for Ghana. Moreover, there are high tariff walls with regards to the export of processed products. For example, the European Union levies no duties on the import of raw cocoa beans, but levies a 7.7 percent and 15 percent duty on cocoa powder and cocoa cake, respectively.

He believes heightening the campaign on the consumption of cocoa products would be one way of tackling the issue.

“I’m working with Ghana Cocoa Board to conduct the cocoa product processing competition and we are bringing together ten different polytechnic institutions to develop new products using cocoa. We are going to invite high schools to come witness it. What we are trying to do is to advocate for higher consumption of cocoa products and this can be done when we know the kind of different products that we can make out of cocoa,” he added.

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