Inter Press Service » Ed McKenna http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Sat, 20 Dec 2014 18:21:56 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.3 ‘Humanitarian Crisis’ for Ogaden Living Near Ethiopia’s Oil Fieldshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/humanitarian-crisis-ogaden-living-near-ethiopias-oil-fields/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=humanitarian-crisis-ogaden-living-near-ethiopias-oil-fields http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/humanitarian-crisis-ogaden-living-near-ethiopias-oil-fields/#comments Sun, 23 Feb 2014 09:35:52 +0000 Ed McKenna http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131898 There are unconfirmed reports of the Ogaden’s predominantly pastoralist population in southeastern Ethiopia being forcefully removed from land close to oil deposits. Credit: Rudolph Atallah/IPS

There are unconfirmed reports of the Ogaden’s predominantly pastoralist population in southeastern Ethiopia being forcefully removed from land close to oil deposits. Credit: Rudolph Atallah/IPS

By Ed McKenna
ADDIS ABABA, Feb 23 2014 (IPS)

New allegations of scorched earth evictions of the Ogaden people have raised concerns that a lack of benefit sharing could escalate instability in the region and reinforce separatist tensions as foreign energy companies prepare to extract oil and gas from troubled southeastern Ethiopia.

“The resources in this region will make Ethiopia rich but will keep us impoverished. A settlement is all we can hope for to protect our claim to some of the economic advantages of our natural resources,” Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) founder Abdirahman Mahdi told IPS.

The demise of Ethiopian dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam triggered a two-decade conflict between the government of Ethiopia and the ONLF, which began in 1994. The ONLF has been fighting for self-determination of the eight to 10 million Somali ethnic population living in the Ogaden basin within the Somali National Regional State (SNRS).

The government’s heavy paramilitary response to the insurgency has created “a humanitarian crisis throughout the Ogaden [basin] where half of the population live through famine,” said Mahdi.

Reports of forced evictions and human rights abuses in the vicinity of oil and gas fields is creating a new wave of grievances against the government in local communities.

“The army came to our community and burnt our homes and our crops. Our situation is getting worse as the military want many villages removed because of the search for gas.

“Many people in this area have been arrested. We don’t know where they are or if they are alive. Our situation is very bad,” one Ogaden man, who asked to remain anonymous, told IPS.

  • The confirmation of huge oil and gas reserves in the Ogaden basin is set to spike Ethiopia’s wealth as investment starts to pour in from foreign energy companies.
  • Gas deposits in the Ogaden basin are estimated at 2.7 trillion cubic feet over an area of 350,000 square kilometres.
  • Currently there are three oil companies finalising exploration in the area: Africa Oil (Canada), South Western Energy (Hong Kong) and GCL Poly Petroleum Investment (China).

Ethiopia has been Africa’s fastest-growing economy in recent years and could soon be an oil-producing economy. However, a government embargo on the Ogaden has severely isolated the region’s predominantly pastoralist population from Ethiopia’s development gains. Any prospect of consultation over resource extraction at this stage look slim, says Ogaden expert Professor Tobias Hagmann from the Roskilde University in Denmark."Our situation is getting worse as the military want many villages removed because of the search for gas. Many people in this area have been arrested. We don’t know where they are or if they are alive." -- Ogaden villager

“It is very unlikely that the local population will be consulted about local projects. They are not allowed to voice political dissent. How can they be allowed to participate in local decision-making related to development plans,” he told IPS.

Government spokesperson Shimeles Kemal told IPS that oil and gas riches “will contribute to the development of the SNRS including the Ogaden region.”

The Ethiopian government has been criticised by rights organisations for preventing NGOs from providing humanitarian aid to one of the poorest regions of Ethiopia and creating an exodus of thousands of refugees.

Amnesty International’s researcher on Ethiopia  Claire Beston told IPS that the Ethiopian government’s clampdown on the Ogaden Somali population “has severely restricted access to and within the region, including that of humanitarian agencies, and has also placed major restrictions on information coming out of the region about the true state of the humanitarian and human rights situation there.”

In December 2013 the Ogaden European Diaspora Association sent a letter to the European Union requesting that aid to Ethiopia be withheld as long as human rights abuses continue against the Ogaden.  “We are living under political and economic embargo. We demand that NGOs move freely as the humanitarian situation is critical,” Mahdi said.

Chinese oil company, GCL Poly Petroleum Investment, signed a deal with Ethiopia in November 2013 to develop gas reserves at Calub and Hilala in the Ogaden region.  A month later, the ONLF accused government militia, the Liyu police, of burning swathes of pasture belonging to communities close to Calub and Hilala gas fields.

A military clampdown in the region has made verifying such reports impossible. However, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported in 2012 that the Liyu police had been responsible for extra-judicial killings as a form of collective punishment.

“The Liyu police had summarily executed 10 men during a three-day rampage on a series of villages. These attacks, as previous abuses that get carried out by the Ethiopian government as part of its counter-insurgency campaign, take place in a context of complete impunity,” HRW researcher Laetitia Bader told IPS.

Much needed dialogue seems to be the only way to reduce feelings of disaffection in the major Ogaden clan, the Darod, which accounts for close to half of the Somali population in Ethiopia and constitutes the backbone of the ONLF.

However, faltering peace talks between the ONLF and the Ethiopian government broke down in Kenya in September 2012 and the resumption of talks could be further delayed since the abduction of two ONLF negotiators in January by Ethiopian security in Nairobi.

“The ONLF has a valid claim about the lack of accountability of international oil companies operating in the Ogaden. Further, the major clan family in the region is very much frustrated by continuous harassment and an absence of political and civic rights,” said Hagmann.

“They support the ONLF because it is the only organised opposition. It’s not the best choice since many Ogaden don’t support the ONLF but it’s the only choice for those marginalised by government policies.”

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Ethiopia Swamped by Tidal Wave of Returned Migrantshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/ethiopia-swamped-tidal-wave-returned-migrants/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ethiopia-swamped-tidal-wave-returned-migrants http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/ethiopia-swamped-tidal-wave-returned-migrants/#comments Sat, 21 Dec 2013 07:33:37 +0000 Ed McKenna http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129602 Dwindling land access in Ethiopia is a critical issue for 80 percent of the population who make a living as small farmers. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

Dwindling land access in Ethiopia is a critical issue for 80 percent of the population who make a living as small farmers. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

By Ed McKenna
ADDIS ABABA, Dec 21 2013 (IPS)

The return of 120,000 young undocumented migrant workers from Saudi Arabia to Ethiopia has sparked fears that the influx will worsen the country’s high youth unemployment and put pressure on access to increasingly scarce land.

As a result, a growing number of young Ethiopians are choosing to migrate to Sudan to circumvent an indefinite travel ban slapped by the Ethiopian government last month on Ethiopian workers traveling to Middle Eastern countries."I was forced to work seven days a week, 20 hours a day. I was not allowed to leave the house. It was hell." -- A 23-year-old woman who just returned from Riyadh

Esther Negash, 28, is from a family of nine that lives on a four-hectare farm dedicated to growing maize in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia. She has been out of work since leaving school 10 years ago.

Negash’s family recently decided to use their savings to fund her migration to Khartoum in search of employment.

“In the last two months, there have been many people returning from Saudi Arabia. This makes things worse for people like me who cannot find work,” she told IPS.

“The rains were short this year and we did not have a good harvest. My family is large, if we don’t get a good harvest then it is very difficult. We heard about work opportunities in Sudan and thought this was our only solution.”

A large number of Ethiopians migrate every year in search of brighter economic prospects, with the Middle East being the dominant destination.

Saudi Arabia’s crackdown on undocumented foreign workers began after a seven-month amnesty period expired on Nov. 3. Since then, 120,000 Ethiopian migrants have been repatriated to Ethiopia after being corralled in a deportation camp for two months, where conditions are reportedly abject.

Many Ethiopians have reported human rights violations at the hands of their employers as well as while under the control of security forces inside the camps.

IPS spoke to a 23-year-old woman who had just arrived in Ethiopia after working as a domestic in Riyadh for two years. Her account is similar to many other experiences narrated by returnees.

“My employer would sexually abuse me and beat me. I was forced to work seven days a week, 20 hours a day. I was not allowed to leave the house. It was hell,” she said.

“They did not pay me for one year even though I worked also for their relatives. I am so tired and so sad. [But] I am so happy to be back in Ethiopia,” she told IPS.

Despite the many terrible experiences recounted by Ethiopian returnees, poverty and limited economic prospects will continue to force Ethiopian workers to migrate to countries like Sudan and overseas, says the International Labour Organisation, which is working to make regular migration methods more attractive for Ethiopians instead of using unaccountable and illegal brokers to facilitate their migration.

“After the ban, people will try any means possible to work abroad due to a lack of employment opportunities in their home country,” George Okutho, director of the ILO Country Office for Ethiopia and Somalia, told IPS.

“These returnees travelled to Saudi Arabia looking for economic opportunities with a greener pasture mindset in the hope that they could send their family remittances to raise living standards at home. However, most of the time migrant workers are acting on misinformation about the prospects and country of destination,” he said.

A lack of education and skills make Ethiopian migrants especially vulnerable to working in dangerous and exploitative working conditions, both at home and abroad, said Okutho.

“The problem is many of Ethiopia’s migrant workers are uneducated and ill-eqipped even for the domestic work they seek outside the country,” he said. “The result is that even if they go to the Middle East or Sudan, they can earn a little more than when at home, but because they are untrained they end up working in very extreme and difficult circumstances without knowing their rights. “

The Ethiopian government’s planning and logistical capacity has been overwhelmed by the rapidly rising number of returnees. An initial expectation of 23,000 returnees jumped to 120,000 in one month.

“We are engaged with the Saudi government and we are working hard to return Ethiopians stranded in Saudi Arabia,” Dina Mufti, foreign affairs spokesperson, told IPS.

“The number of Ethiopians working illegally is much higher than we anticipated. The Ethiopian government recognises that these people will need employment and so we are trying to create opportunities to assist these people, many of them young, and rehabilitate them back into their communities,” she said.

Dwindling land access in Ethiopia is a critical issue for 80 percent of the population who make a living as small farmers. In the mountainous region of Tigray, the average land availability per household is 3.5 ha.

As life expectancy increases, the potential for subdividing farm plots reduces, leaving many of Ethiopia’s youth food insecure and unemployed.

In the last year, a large number of young people have joined regular protests staged in the country’s main cities to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with high unemployment and inflation.

The inundation of over 120,000 people has the potential to further disenfranchise youth in Ethiopia, where the majority of the population of 91 million earn less than two dollars a day.

Hewete Haile, 18, lives outside Sero Tabia, a small town where youth unemployment is spiraling. Out of 2,200 households, 560 young people between 17 and 35 are unemployed, without access to land or income.

Outside the Sudanese embassy in Addis Ababa, Haile is queuing with several hundred other young girls, mostly from remote rural villages, in hopes of obtaining a visa to allow her to look for work in Khartoum.

Hewete’s friends say a domestic in Khartoum is paid eight dollars a day compared to four dollars in Addis Ababa.

“I would not be leaving my country if there was a way for me to work and make a good income here in my country,” she told IPS.

“If Sudan does not work out then I will travel from there to the Middle East. I know what happened in Saudi Arabia. I would not be leaving Ethiopia if I could get work here, but it is getting more difficult all the time,” she said.

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Creating a New Norm in Non-Circumcising Ethiopian Provincehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/creating-a-new-norm-in-non-circumcising-ethiopian-province/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=creating-a-new-norm-in-non-circumcising-ethiopian-province http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/creating-a-new-norm-in-non-circumcising-ethiopian-province/#comments Mon, 25 Nov 2013 07:17:34 +0000 Ed McKenna http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129019 By Ed McKenna
GAMBELLA, Ethiopia, Nov 25 2013 (IPS)

Chiang Both from Gambella, a remote and a traditionally non-circumcising province in Ethiopia that borders Sudan, volunteered to undergo the procedure despite his community’s initial mistrust.  

Ethiopia has one of the highest circumcised male populations in Africa – 93 percent, according to a 2005 survey by the Ethiopia Demographic and Health Survey. But the dominant ethnic groups of the Nuer and the Anuak in Gambella have until recently regarded the procedure with suspicion and as an instrument of “imperious foreigners”, disliked because of their historic attempts to change the Nuer culture. They also feared that it could cause impotency.

“The people in our culture are in doubt and believe that others want to change our culture. But those of us who have thought about the benefits, see it as only positive,” Both told IPS, explaining that hygiene and HIV prevention were two important benefits of circumcision.

Kelly Curran, director of HIV/AIDS and Infectious Diseases at international health non-profit, Jhpiego, told IPS: “The vast majority of men in Ethiopia are circumcised for religious or cultural reasons, usually in infancy. Gambella region is the exception.”

However, attitudes in the region are changing. It started in 2009 with a voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC) campaign, which set out to increase circumcision prevalence to 80 percent by circumcising more than 40,000 men.

“When the VMMC programme started, Gambella was the only region in Ethiopia where less than half the men were circumcised, and it had an HIV prevalence three times the national average,” Curran said. Gambella has an HIV prevalence rate of 6.5 percent and a male circumcision rate of only 46.8 percent.

Randomised controlled medical trials in Kenya, Uganda and South Africa carried out by the French National Agency for AIDS Research and the United States National Institutes of Health successfully demonstrated that VMMC reduces the risk of female-to-male sexual HIV transmission by roughly 60 percent.

Based on the success of the trials, in 2007 the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the World Health Organisation identified 13 countries with high HIV prevalence and low circumcision rates, all of which were in East and Southern Africa.

There are now 14 countries implementing VMMC programmes, in which males receive a package of HIV prevention services including education and risk-reduction counselling, HIV testing, screening for sexually transmitted infections and condoms.

HIV transmission in Gambella is high due to a low level of awareness, a high influx of itinerant farm workers, and a high number of refugees from neighbouring South Sudan said Ajim Othow, the Gambella regional HIV/AIDS prevention and control officer.

“HIV awareness is low especially among the local population. Many still believe that condoms carry viruses. They understand that HIV exists, but do not take it seriously,” Ajim told IPS.

In 2009, Jhpiego, with support from the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, partnered with the Gambella regional health bureau to target adult males here. Gambella had only one surgeon prior to the medical alliance.

To date, the programme has circumcised over 32,000 males, trained 71 healthcare providers as male circumcision surgeons, and trained 26 educators and counsellors as well as 129 health extension workers.

“This programme is really trying to create a new norm in Gambella, it also has worked hard to respect the diverse ethnic groups living in Gambella,” said Curran.

VMMC is cost effective as it saves on antiretroviral therapy costs, which are expected to exceed 5.8 million dollars between 2009 and 2025 in Ethiopia. Modelling shows that every five to 15 circumcisions avert one HIV infection in a high HIV-prevalence environment.

In Gambella town, outreach campaigns have targeted at-risk populations such as high school students and the city’s prison population. The programme has also sponsored educational broadcasts in the local ethnic language on local radio. All of which have helped to raise awareness of the benefits of male circumcision.

Bang Chut, a 32-year-old water supply worker, attended the programme’s Lare health centre in Gambella with his wife. On the basis of an educational campaign, they both decided he should take advantage of the free surgery and be circumcised.

“We read the leaflet together. It was written in our language and easy to understand. We both see the obvious benefits. Now that it’s free, there’s no reason not to do it,” he told IPS.

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Ethiopia’s Indigenous Excluded from Rapid Growthhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/ethiopias-indigenous-excluded-from-rapid-growth/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ethiopias-indigenous-excluded-from-rapid-growth http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/ethiopias-indigenous-excluded-from-rapid-growth/#comments Mon, 11 Nov 2013 09:10:40 +0000 Ed McKenna http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128723 The ethnic communities living along Ethiopia’s Omo River and depend on annual flooding to practice flood retreat cultivation for their survival and livelihood. Credit: Ed McKenna/IPS

The ethnic communities living along Ethiopia’s Omo River and depend on annual flooding to practice flood retreat cultivation for their survival and livelihood. Credit: Ed McKenna/IPS

By Ed McKenna
OMO VALLEY, Ethiopia, Nov 11 2013 (IPS)

As the construction of a major transmission line to export electricity generated from one of Ethiopia’s major hydropower projects gets underway, there are growing concerns that pastoralist communities living in the region are under threat.

The Gibe III dam, which will generate 1,800 megawatts (MW), is being built in southwest Ethiopia on the Omo River at a cost of 1.7 billion dollars. It is expected to earn the government over 400 million dollars annually from power exports. On completion in 2015 it will be the world’s fourth-largest dam."We are being told to stop moving with our cattle, to stop wearing our traditional dress and to sell our cattle. Cattle and movement is everything to the Mursi.” -- Mursi elder

But the dam is expected to debilitate the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of indigenous communities in Ethiopia’s Lower Omo Valley and those living around Kenya’s Lake Turkana who depend on the Omo River.

The Bodi, Daasanach, Kara, Mursi, Kwegu and Nyangatom ethnic communities who live along the Omo River depend on its annual flooding to practice flood-retreat cultivation for their survival and livelihoods.

But the semi-nomadic Mursi ethnic community are being resettled as part of the Ethiopian government’s villagisation programme to make room for a large sugar plantation, which will turn roaming pastoralists into sedentary farmers. The hundreds of kilometres of irrigation canals currently being dug to divert the Omo River’s waters to feed these large plantations will make it impossible for the indigenous communities to live as they have always done.

“We are being told that our land is private property. We are very worried about our survival as we are being forced to move where there is no water, grass or crops,” a Mursi community member told IPS.

The Omo Valley is set to become a powerhouse of large commercial farming irrigated by the Gibe III dam. To date 445,000 hectares have been allocated to Malaysian, Indian and other foreign companies to grow sugar, biofuels, cereals and other crops.

“The Gibe III will worsen poverty for the most vulnerable. The government already has trouble managing hunger and poverty [among] its citizenry. By taking over land and water resources in the Omo Valley, it is creating a new class of ‘internal refugees’ who will no longer be self-sufficient,” Lori Pottinger from environmental NGO International Rivers told IPS.

Top global financiers, including the World Bank and the African Development Bank (AfDB), have committed 1.2 billion dollars to a 1,070 km high-voltage line that will run from Wolayta-Sodo in Ethiopia to Suswa, 100 km northwest of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. The transmission line, powered by Ethiopia’s Gibe III, will connect the country’s electrical grid with Kenya and will have a capacity to carry 2,000 MW between the two countries.

According to the AfDB, it will promote renewable power generation, regional cooperation, and will ensure access to reliable and affordable energy to around 870,000 households by 2018.

Although the latest U.N. Development Programme Human Development report ranks Ethiopia 173rd out of 187 countries, Ethiopia, Africa’s second-most populous country, is one of the continent’s fastest-growing economies.

According to Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, Ethiopia’s economy is set to maintain a growth rate of 11 percent in 2014. Fully exploiting its massive water resources to generate a hydropower potential of up to 45,000 MW in order to sell surplus electricity to its neighbours is central to Ethiopia’s Growth and Transformation plan, a five-year plan to develop the country’s economy.

The Horn of Africa nation currently generates 2,000 MW from six hydroelectric dams and invests more of its resources in hydropower than any other country in Africa – one third of its total GNP of about 77 billion dollars.

According to a World Bank report published in 2010, only 17 percent of Ethiopia’s 84.7 million people had access to electricity at the time of the report. By 2018, 100 percent of the population will have access to power, according to state power provider Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCO).

“We are helping mitigate climate risk of fossil fuel consumption and also reduce rampant deforestation rates in Ethiopia. Hydropower will benefit our development,” Miheret Debebe, chief executive officer of EEPCO, told IPS.

The Ethiopian government insists that the welfare of pastoralist communities being resettled is a priority and that they will benefit from developments in the Omo Valley. “We are working hard to safeguard them and help them to adapt to the changing conditions,” government spokesperson Shimeles Kemal told IPS.

However, there are concerns that ethnic groups like the Mursi are not being consulted about their changing future. “If we resist resettlement we will be arrested,” a Mursi elder told IPS.

“We fear for the future. Our way of life is under threat. We are being told to stop moving with our cattle, to stop wearing our traditional dress and to sell our cattle. Cattle and movement is everything to the Mursi.”

The importance of ensuring that benefits from Ethiopia’s national development projects do not come at a price of endangering the lives of hundreds of thousands pastoralists is critical said Ben Braga, president of the World Water Council. Braga decried governments that failed to compensate communities like the Mursi as displacement of surrounding communities is always an inevitable consequence of major dams that need plenty of advanced planning to avoid emergencies.

“How can we compensate these people so that the majority of the country can benefit from electricity? There is a need for better compensatory mechanisms to ensure that benefits are shared and that all stakeholders are included in consultations prior to construction,” he told IPS.

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India Illegal Mining Enquiry Cut Shorthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/india-illegal-mining-enquiry-cut-short/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=india-illegal-mining-enquiry-cut-short http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/india-illegal-mining-enquiry-cut-short/#comments Wed, 23 Oct 2013 21:17:50 +0000 Ed McKenna http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128339 Three Adivasi women stand next to Kawardah mine in Chhattisgarh where Vedanta Aluminium Ltd is expected to receive bauxite supplies from the Bharat Aluminium Company. Credit: Nella Turkki/IPS

Three Adivasi women stand next to Kawardah mine in Chhattisgarh where Vedanta Aluminium Ltd is expected to receive bauxite supplies from the Bharat Aluminium Company. Credit: Nella Turkki/IPS

By Ed McKenna
NEW DELHI, Oct 23 2013 (IPS)

A nationwide enquiry into illegal mining in India was aborted before it completed its investigation into the failings of the country’s mining industry. The study had prompted the government to ban mining in two states and arrest high-ranking politicians.

The government’s Oct. 16 decision to terminate the enquiry is a worrying indicator of its commitment to ending corruption and malpractice in the mining sector, says Vijay Pratap, convener of the think tank South Asian Dialogues on Ecological Democracy.

“Our government has been overwhelmed by the corporate power of mining companies. The government had to stop this enquiry because too many uncomfortable truths were being revealed about the nexus between politics and companies,” he told IPS.

The commission, headed by Justice M B Shah, was appointed in November 2010 to investigate illegal iron ore and manganese mining practices and track the financial records of transactions in the mining industry between 2006 and 2010.

Illegal mining in resource-rich states of India spans unlicenced encroachment of forest areas, bribery, under-payment of government royalties, environmental offences and displacement of tribal communities.

Two earlier reports by the Shah Commission on illegal mining across the country led to a ban on the country’s largest iron ore mines in the states of Karnataka and Goa.

The government’s decision to end the enquiry will halt detailed hearings in three of the states listed in the commission’s terms of reference – Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.

UV Singh, a member of the Shah Commission, told IPS that the government gave no justification for its decision to end the investigation before it could conclude its study.

“There is no reason. The investigation was incomplete. Major details were missing from our study, while in three states we were unable to commence any enquiry. Justice Shah is not satisfied with this outcome,” he told IPS.

According to the report on Goa’s iron ore mining sector, 90 mines had been operational without the requisite permission from the National Board for Wildlife. In September 2010 the government declared a temporary ban on all mining activity in Goa, which is still in place, and revoked all mining licences in response to a report by the commission. The small western state of Goa accounts for more than half of India’s iron ore exports.

The commission’s latest report described the state’s failings to regulate the industry as “a deliberate omission that resulted in illegal mining and a huge loss to the exchequer.”

The commission has estimated that illegal mining in Goa has cost the state financial losses of up to six billion dollars.

High-ranking government officials flagged by the commission for their involvement in bogus mining practices include Goa’s former director of mines and geology, Arvind Lolienkar, who was suspended for his alleged involvement in illegal mining.

M E Shivalinga Murthy, former director of Karnataka’s mines and geology department, was also charged, in May 2012, for illegally issuing transferred mining permits to the Associated Mining Company (AMC). A subsequent investigation found six other officials from his department guilty of collusion.

AMC is owned by former Karnataka tourism minister Janardhana Reddy, who has been imprisoned for using fake permits.

The enquiry’s findings set a precedent for the Supreme Court to ban mining in Karnataka from July 2011 to April 2013. The ban was lifted as the investigation in the state had concluded and there was strong pressure to allow mining industry activity to resume.

“Our system and its governing elite are controlled by large corporations who use bribery and intimidation to get what they want,” Pratap told IPS.

India’s iron ore exports have been in constant decline since 2009-2010, when exports stood at 117 million tonnes. In 2010-2011 exports had slumped to 61 million tonnes. According to the Federation of Indian Mineral Industries, the ban on mining in Goa and Karnataka has cost the country 10 billion dollars.

The closure of the commission will prevent further evidence being compiled on illegal mining and will also perpetuate “the illegal violation of resource rights and forest and environmental laws by mining companies in the tribal dominated mineral rich and forested districts of the state,” Madhu Sarin, honorary fellow at the Rights and Resources Initiative, a global coalition that works to encourage forest tenure and policy reforms, told IPS.

India’s eighty million Adivasis – members of forest-dwelling traditional communities – are the major casualties of this decision, says Samantha Agarwal with Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan, an alliance of people’s groups and mass organisations.

She told IPS that access to resources such as land and clean water will continue to be threatened by encroachment from illegal mining companies.

“Adivasis who live in areas with mining operations are the poorest by all measures, including access to electricity and drinking water,” Agarwal said.

“Their farm and forest land is taken by illegal means with particularly blatant violations of PESA (Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act) and the Forest Rights Act…then due to mining activities their ground water dries up and whatever remaining land of theirs gets destroyed by surface water effluents from the mines.”

Adivasis had their land rights curtailed earlier this year when the government overturned a key provision of the Forest Rights Act legislation to allow major linear infrastructure projects such as road building in forest habitat without consent from the affected community as previously mandated in the FRA.

In response to the decision to terminate the Shah Commission, Sanjay Basu Mallick from the All India Forum of Forest Movements told IPS: “Adivasis can no longer rely on legal process to protect their rights. Their only weapons are courage and non-violent protest.”

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Ethiopian Government Choking Muslim Unresthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/ethiopian-government-choking-muslim-unrest/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ethiopian-government-choking-muslim-unrest http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/ethiopian-government-choking-muslim-unrest/#comments Thu, 10 Oct 2013 06:57:32 +0000 Ed McKenna http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128026 Ethiopia’s Muslim community has been taking part in major demonstrations over the last two years against the country’s ruling regime for alleged interference in its religious affairs. Credit: Ed McKenna/IPS

Ethiopia’s Muslim community has been taking part in major demonstrations over the last two years against the country’s ruling regime for alleged interference in its religious affairs. Credit: Ed McKenna/IPS

By Ed McKenna
ADDIS ABABA, Oct 10 2013 (IPS)

The refusal by the Ethiopian government to redress grievances harboured by the Muslim community here, which comprises about 34 percent of the country’s 91 million people makes this Horn of African nation vulnerable to extremism.

“If legitimate grievances are not met there is a risk that extremist violent elements will exploit those grievances to further their own aim,” Mehari Taddele Maru, head of the African Conflict Prevention Programme at the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies, told IPS.

Ethiopia’s Muslim community has been taking part in major demonstrations over the last two years against the country’s ruling regime for alleged interference in its religious affairs. The majority of Ethiopians are Christian.

The mass protests have been non-violent but the Sep. 21 terror attack by the Somali extremist group Al-Shabaab on Kenya’s Westgate Shopping Mall raises questions about the spread of Islamic extremism here, as there are growing concerns that radicalists could exploit grievances if they are not addressed."There is sufficient reason to believe that there is a minority group of extremists who will use domestic grievances to further their own political agenda." -- Mehari Taddele Maru, Institute for Security Studies

Ethiopia’s Salafist Muslims accuse the government of having infiltrated the country’s most important Islamic political institution, the Ethiopia Islamic Affairs Supreme Council, arresting its religious leaders and replacing them with government-approved preachers from the Al Habashi sect.

The Al Habash sect is widely regarded as a moderate alternative to extremist Islamic doctrines such as Wahhabism, while Salafists are Sunni Muslims with a strict and puritanical approach. The Salafist reform movement has been spreading in Africa and in Ethiopia’s Muslim community over the last few decades.

Twenty-nine Muslim leaders have been arrested over the last two years including religious leaders and protest organisers.

The best strategy to diffuse potential extremism in Ethiopia is for the government to address existing grievances and avoid conflating legitimate demands with an onset of Islamic radicalism, says Terje Østebø, an East African Islamist Reform movement expert at the Center for African Studies at the University of Florida.

“There is this dangerous presumption that when Muslims protest for their rights that they are under the influence of radicals. Much of the debate within Islamic society in Ethiopia is about politics of recognition. Young Muslims are trying to find their identity as both Ethiopian and as a Muslim,” he told IPS.

During the Eid al-Fitr holiday in August, thousands of Muslims gathered in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa demanding religious rights. One of the protestors, who was beaten along with his wife and child for holding a placard that read ‘Release our Leaders’, was indignant over the government’s response to the rally. He refused to give his name to IPS due to fear of repercussions.

“We are peaceful Muslims protesting against this government for arresting our leaders. We are not extremists. Our teachers are not extremists. We do not want the government controlling our religious lives. We feel that we do not have any religious freedom. They beat us, shoot us and arrest us. We have no religious rights in this country,” the protester told IPS.

On Aug. 4, 14 Muslims were shot dead by government security forces during an attempt to arrest a local Imam in Central Ethiopia. The government has come under fire from international human rights organisations for its heavy-handed reaction to demonstrators.

“The government continues to respond to the grievances of the Muslim community with violence, arbitrary arrests and the use of the overly-broad Anti-Terrorism Proclamation to prosecute the movements’ leaders and other individuals. This is a violation of people’s right to peacefully protest, as protected in Ethiopia’s constitution. The Ethiopian government must end its use of repressive tactics against demonstrators,” Claire Beston, Amnesty International’s Ethiopia researcher, told IPS.

The government has continued to accuse protestors of being extremists under the influence of foreign-backed radical ideologues.

“These protestors want Ethiopia to become an Islamic state and for us to release their teachers. They have been arrested for conspiracy to commit terrorism as this is what they are advocating with support from the Middle East. We will not engage with the protestors’ demands, as we do not negotiate with terrorists,” Shimeles Kemal, the Ethiopian government spokesperson, told IPS.

A report released in June 2013 by the European Parliament revealed how Wahhabi and Salafi groups in Saudi Arabia are working to “support and supply arms to rebel groups around the world.”

There are good reasons for Ethiopia’s government to fear the prospect of extremism taking root in the Muslim community, says Mehari.

“The Horn of Africa has the third-largest Muslim population in the world and has become increasingly volatile due to the war being waged inside Somalia against Al-Qaeda linked terrorist organisation Al-Shabaab, which has declared jihad on Ethiopia several times,” he said.

In 1996, Al Ittihad al Islamiya (AIAI), Somalia’s erstwhile foremost terrorist organisation, bombed several hotels in Addis Ababa, killing five people.

Centred in Somalia, the Al-Qaeda-affiliated group sought to establish an Islamic state that would incorporate all of Somalia and portions of Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya.

Although the AIAI base was effectively dismantled by the Ethiopian military, five Somalis were sentenced to death in 2002 for carrying out a series of bomb attacks in Ethiopia.

Since Ethiopian troops joined the U.S-backed invasion of Somalia in 2006, there has been no retaliatory action taken by Somali terrorists against Ethiopians. This suggests high security and a lack of capacity to mobilise Al-Shabaab operations in Ethiopia, says Mehari.

“They have a lot of willingness to attack Ethiopia, they just don’t have the capacity due to fighting counter insurgency forces. Counter terrorism is also very strong in Ethiopia because of world leaders regularly attending the African Union in the capital. The instinct to identify risk and danger in hotels and shopping centres makes an incident like Westgate very unlikely,” Mehari said.

However, the Ethiopian government may be making itself vulnerable to extremist influences by not engaging with demands for independent mosque elections inside the country’s Islamic Affairs Supreme Council.

“There has been a pattern of Salafist extremists using local grievances to recruit Muslims in Mali, the Sahel region and other parts of Africa. In Ethiopia there is sufficient reason to believe that there is a minority group of extremists who will use domestic grievances to further their own political agenda,” Mehari said.

The government’s reluctance to engage with the Muslim rights movement is also consistent with the country’s autocratic leadership strategy, says Østebø.

“This regime has maintained its power by limiting any space for political opposition and civil society to move in. The demands being made by Ethiopia’s Muslim community are secularist, non-violent and part of a Muslim rights movement that is far from being extremist,” Østebø said.

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Seeding Ethiopia’s Future Food Securityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/seeding-ethiopias-future-food-security-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=seeding-ethiopias-future-food-security-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/seeding-ethiopias-future-food-security-2/#comments Mon, 07 Oct 2013 11:24:32 +0000 Ed McKenna http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128031 By Ed McKenna
ADDIS ABABA, Oct 7 2013 (IPS)

Datta Dudettu and his seven children know what is like to go hungry. They live in Woliyta, a drought-prone area in southern Ethiopia that has experienced chronic food shortages. But hopefully, thanks to the successful use of hybrid seed, that is now firmly in the past.

A farmer in Woliyta area of Ethiopia experiences higher yields of taro since adopting disease-resistant and drought-tolerant seed varieties. Agricultural research centres in Ethiopia are cross-pollinating root and tuber seeds to produce higher yielding plant material. Credit: Ed McKenna/IPS

A farmer in Woliyta area of Ethiopia experiences higher yields of taro since adopting disease-resistant and drought-tolerant seed varieties. Agricultural research centres in Ethiopia are cross-pollinating root and tuber seeds to produce higher yielding plant material. Credit: Ed McKenna/IPS

“It was common to experience chronic food shortages due to drought or crop disease. My children were even too weak to go to school,” Datta told IPS. Datta and a number of other farmers in this Horn of Africa nation are experiencing improving food and livelihood security since the introduction of hybrid seed here.

In 2013 hybrid seed trials became long-term strategies to reduce hunger for major agricultural organisations here including NGO Self Help Africa and the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

“Improved seed varieties are produced by cross-breeding seeds from open pollinated varieties [self-producing] to obtain the best traits to create a high-yielding seed; whereas Genetically Modified seeds require the introduction of an organism’s genes into a plant’s genome to achieve desired traits,” John Moffett, director of policy at Self Help Africa, told IPS.

Improved hybrid seeds deliver benefits to smallholder farmers without the dangers that come with GM, said Moffett. “We are concerned that the introduction of GM crops could have an impact on the genetic integrity of open pollinated varieties with negative impacts on farmers reliant on saved seed,” he said.

Ethiopia currently prohibits the use of GM crops. “The old seeds gave us a small crop. But the new seeds consistently provide us with a much better harvest every year … Since our increased yield they have more energy to attend and get an education,” said Datta who produces tuber crops. In 2010, the FAO initially gave him 100 kgs of improved taro seeds from which he was able to harvest 800 kgs.

Three out of every four Ethiopians are engaged in agriculture, mainly in subsistence and rain-fed farming. Despite this, more than 31 million out of a total population of 91 million do not have adequate nutritious food in their diet according to the FAO.

The Ethiopian government is trying to transform the country’s agricultural sector through the Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA). ATA believes “not all seeds are created equal” and has been investing in improved, higher-quality, higher-yielding seeds as a strategy to raise productivity on many Ethiopian smallholder farms.

“High-potential seed varieties can double or even triple a farmer’s yield, which would certainly translate into increased food security on a regional and national scale. It would also lead to savings on foreign exchange – if Ethiopia can grow a higher volume of its own food, there’s less need to import goods at higher costs,” Yonas Sahelu, director of ATA’s Seed Programme, told IPS.

FAO has been working to help farmers in remote villages access the latest scientific research into improved crop varieties by collaborating with Ethiopia’s agricultural research centers for the multiplication and distribution of improved varieties of seeds.

Between 2009 and 2012, the organisation pioneered a three-year trial of improved seed varieties in 12 food insecure districts throughout the country in a bid to boost food security and the household income of small farmers.

The project replaced seeds that farmers normally used with improved seed varieties. According to FAO, 144,000 targeted rural households benefited from the improved high yielding and drought- and disease-resistant seeds. This year, the intervention was established as a leading programme. “Seed security is food security,” project leader and FAO agricultural expert, Wondimagegne Shiferaw, told IPS.

“We are targeting large poor farming families who don’t have access to improved seeds to grow cassava, sweet potato and enset. Our aim has been to help farmers overcome barriers to access these seeds to increase their productivity and resilience when faced with drought and poor soil,” Wondimagegne said.

He added that the organisation was also providing training to local farmers. “Improved seeds and improved knowledge,” he said. Knowledge sharing between farmers plays a major role in community food security.

Wondimagegne says that the initiative’s targeted farmers have shared their new seeds, which has increased knowledge transfer exponentially and created “a multiplication effect”. “There is a good cultural practice of farmers sharing with friends and relatives. We have observed that farmers share the knowledge and the planting material without any imposition.”

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Seeding Ethiopia’s Future Food Securityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/seeding-ethiopias-future-food-security/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=seeding-ethiopias-future-food-security http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/seeding-ethiopias-future-food-security/#comments Mon, 07 Oct 2013 07:49:50 +0000 Ed McKenna http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=127923 A farmer in Woliyta area of Ethiopia experiences higher yields of taro since adopting disease-resistant and drought-tolerant seed varieties. Agricultural research centres in Ethiopia are cross-pollinating root and tuber seeds to produce higher yielding plant material. Credit: Ed McKenna/IPS

A farmer in Woliyta area of Ethiopia experiences higher yields of taro since adopting disease-resistant and drought-tolerant seed varieties. Agricultural research centres in Ethiopia are cross-pollinating root and tuber seeds to produce higher yielding plant material. Credit: Ed McKenna/IPS

By Ed McKenna
ADDIS ABABA, Oct 7 2013 (IPS)

Datta Dudettu and his seven children know what is like to go hungry. They live in Woliyta, a drought-prone area in southern Ethiopia that has experienced chronic food shortages. But hopefully, thanks to the successful use of hybrid seed, that is now firmly in the past.

“It was common to experience chronic food shortages due to drought or crop disease. My children were even too weak to go to school,” Datta told IPS.

Datta and a number of other farmers in this Horn of Africa nation are experiencing improving food and livelihood security since the introduction of hybrid seed here.

In 2013 hybrid seed trials became long-term strategies to reduce hunger for major agricultural organisations here including NGO Self Help Africa and the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

“Improved seed varieties are produced by cross-breeding seeds from open pollinated varieties [self-producing] to obtain the best traits to create a high-yielding seed; whereas Genetically Modified seeds require the introduction of an organism’s genes into a plant’s genome to achieve desired traits,” John Moffett, director of policy at Self Help Africa, told IPS.

Improved hybrid seeds deliver benefits to smallholder farmers without the dangers that come with GM, said Moffett. “We are concerned that the introduction of GM crops could have an impact on the genetic integrity of open pollinated varieties with negative impacts on farmers reliant on saved seed,” he said.

Ethiopia currently prohibits the use of GM crops.

“The old seeds gave us a small crop. But the new seeds consistently provide us with a much better harvest every year … Since our increased yield they have more energy to attend and get an education,” said Datta who produces tuber crops.

In 2010, the FAO initially gave him 100 kgs of improved taro seeds from which he was able to harvest 800 kgs.

Three out of every four Ethiopians are engaged in agriculture, mainly in subsistence and rain-fed farming. Despite this, more than 31 million out of a total population of 91 million do not have adequate nutritious food in their diet according to the FAO.

The Ethiopian government is trying to transform the country’s agricultural sector through the Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA).

ATA believes “not all seeds are created equal” and has been investing in improved, higher-quality, higher-yielding seeds as a strategy to raise productivity on many Ethiopian smallholder farms.

“High-potential seed varieties can double or even triple a farmer’s yield, which would certainly translate into increased food security on a regional and national scale. It would also lead to savings on foreign exchange – if Ethiopia can grow a higher volume of its own food, there’s less need to import goods at higher costs,” Yonas Sahelu, director of ATA’s Seed Programme, told IPS.

FAO has been working to help farmers in remote villages access the latest scientific research into improved crop varieties by collaborating with Ethiopia’s agricultural research centers for the multiplication and distribution of improved varieties of seeds.

Between 2009 and 2012, the organisation pioneered a three-year trial of improved seed varieties in 12 food insecure districts throughout the country in a bid to boost food security and the household income of small farmers.

The project replaced seeds that farmers normally used with improved seed varieties. According to FAO, 144,000 targeted rural households benefited from the improved high yielding and drought- and disease-resistant seeds. This year, the intervention was established as a leading programme.

“Seed security is food security,” project leader and FAO agricultural expert, Wondimagegne Shiferaw, told IPS.

“We are targeting large poor farming families who don’t have access to improved seeds to grow cassava, sweet potato and enset. Our aim has been to help farmers overcome barriers to access these seeds to increase their productivity and resilience when faced with drought and poor soil,” Wondimagegne said.

He added that the organisation was also providing training to local farmers.

“Improved seeds and improved knowledge,” he said.

Knowledge sharing between farmers plays a major role in community food security. Wondimagegne says that the initiative’s targeted farmers have shared their new seeds, which has increased knowledge transfer exponentially and created “a multiplication effect”.

“There is a good cultural practice of farmers sharing with friends and relatives. We have observed that farmers share the knowledge and the planting material without any imposition.”

Self Help Africa has established 15 improved seed-producing cooperatives in Ethiopia this year with a current membership of 625 smallholder farmers in Ethiopia’s third-largest state, the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR).

The cooperatives are now responsible for meeting 15 percent of the region’s wheat seed  demand – Ethiopia is currently a net importer of the cereal grain.

“Typically, farmers repeatedly use saved seeds from one season to the next, which tends to reduce the genetic quality of the seed resulting in diminishing yields over time. By giving farmers control of quality assured seed production they have greater confidence of a sustainable supply chain that will lead to improved yields and improved food security,” Moffett said.

The NGO One Acre Fund distributes improved seeds to over 130,000 smallholder farmers in Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, and Tanzania. Stephanie Hanson, director of policy at the fund, told IPS that their farmers have doubled their income per planted half hectare.

“Distributing improved seed varieties to smallholder farmers, when paired with training on how to use them, is one of the most cost-effective ways to increase a farmer’s productivity,” she said.

 

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Bright Ideas Will Help Feed Africa’s Poorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/06/bright-ideas-will-help-feed-africas-poor/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bright-ideas-will-help-feed-africas-poor http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/06/bright-ideas-will-help-feed-africas-poor/#comments Sun, 30 Jun 2013 05:43:55 +0000 Ed McKenna http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=125327 A successful women’s farming project in Ethiopia is a model for training other urban farmer groups all over Africa on how to adapt to climate change. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

A successful women’s farming project in Ethiopia is a model for training other urban farmer groups all over Africa on how to adapt to climate change. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

By Ed McKenna
ADDIS ABABA, Jun 30 2013 (IPS)

Across Africa, smallholder farmers, who are some of the world’s most impoverished people, are slowly being introduced to innovative approaches, such as entrepreneurial loan schemes and conservation practices, to combat food insecurity.

Resource-constrained African smallholder farmers contribute to 80 percent of food production in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

But investment and support for agriculture in Africa must be innovative and aim for nothing less than the transformation of smallholder farming practices, according to Chris Henderson, a policy adviser at Practical Action, an organisation that champions agro-ecological approaches to increase global food sovereignty.

“Transformation of smallholder farming systems should be an important part of the solution to providing food security, improved nutrition and equitable growth in African countries,” Henderson told IPS.

He was speaking ahead of a two-day high-level international meeting on ending hunger in Africa, which is being held in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa from Jun. 30 to Jul. 1. It is organised by the African Union, FAO and Instituto Lula, a foundation with the backing of former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Experts say that meeting the challenge of boosting food security in African countries requires pioneering solutions so that farmers can grow enough food to feed a population that is expected to reach two billion by 2050.

One Acre Fund is an ambitious NGO that calls itself a business for Africa’s farmers. By providing loans in the form of agricultural inputs and technical support to poor farmers, it aims to double their income per half hectare.

The fund uses an innovative business model where farmers apply for agricultural development and receive a loan of 80 dollars worth of seed and fertiliser. Each farmer signs a contract that binds them to repaying the loan, an added service fee, and a flat rate of 16 percent interest, in cash by the end of the agricultural season.

The One Acre Fund began in Kenya in 2006. It currently serves 125,000 farmers in Kenya, Rwanda, and Burundi. Within three years, it aims to represent Africa’s largest network of smallholder farmers.

The fund also has something called a market bundle, which is another approach to helping subsistence farmers to “grow” themselves out of poverty with a view to enhanced trade and market access. This consists of identifying existing local farmer groups, providing them with an education on how to improve their farming techniques, utilise farm inputs and budget to afford costly planting materials such as fertilisers.

“Smallholder farmers are marginalised from everything and have extremely limited access to inputs or market information. The farmer is successful in proportion to access to inputs and value chains. Farmers without access to seed and fertiliser will not succeed,” Stephanie Hanson, director of policy research at One Acre Fund, told IPS.

According to Hanson, 98 percent of clients pay their loans on time, which is a good indication that the majority of farmers are increasing their income per half hectare.

Traditional conservation approaches are also being reinvigorated by organisations like Farm Africa, a charity that works with small-scale farmers across the continent.

Smallholder farmers in Kitui, a semi-arid area in eastern Kenya, have received training in building earth structures that help capture as much rainwater as possible during a short downpour. These structures, or micro-catchments, come in the form of terraces and small pits or zai pits, which are filled with topsoil and manure to make a fertile, absorbent planting bed for crops.

“The project is designed to help smallholders improve their resilience to drought in arid and semi-arid areas, which are being increasingly hit by the effects of climate change. Areas like Kitui have become a priority and we are working to improve the ability of some 7,000 households in the region to cope with drought,” Matt Whitticase, the communications officer for Farm Africa, told IPS.

According to Whitticase, there has been a trebling in crop yields thanks to this training and new farming methods.

“Increased yields mean that families have an additional month of food from their harvests, meaning farmers have more money to spend on essentials such as buying animals and essentials for their farms,” he said.

Electronic cash transfers have been helping elevate subsistence farming to a profit-generating activity in Ethiopia under the country’s Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA). Last year, 10,000 of the poorest, food-insecure people in Ethiopia received electronic money transfers directly into their bank accounts for the first time. This is an intervention aimed at the country’s previously “unbanked” or “under-banked” farmers.

“A profit-generating business requires access to financial services. In order to grow, every small business needs credit and banking services, whether it’s to invest in necessary infrastructure, improved inputs, seeds and fertiliser, or to fund expansion efforts,” Khalid Bomba, chief executive officer of ATA, told IPS.

Electronic transfers are conditional on the recipient’s pledge to participate in public works that improve community assets, boost food security, and combat the effects of drought. The Ethiopia government’s cash transfer programme, which has been operating since 2005, aims to reduce food insecurity by providing transfers to over 7.5 million people.

However, Henderson warned, there is a risk that making Africa’s smallholder farmers dependent on value chains could skewer the impact of well-intentioned interventions as these chains are bound to market forces and could expose hungry communities to volatile global food prices and the rapacity of large multinational agricultural companies.

He was concerned that despite the range of support being offered to boost food security in Africa, insufficient support was being given to smallholder farmers.

“The dominant approach of international development organisations has been to incorporate Africa’s smallholders into large value chains and to encourage the private sector to develop large-scale, external input-based production systems in the belief that this will create agricultural growth and therefore reduce poverty.”

However, Henderson is concerned that “there is a risk that these private, investment-based agricultural development strategies will be supporting multinational companies in Africa at the expense of the rural poor.”

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Examining the Depths of Ethiopia’s Corruptionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/06/examining-the-depths-of-ethiopias-corruption/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=examining-the-depths-of-ethiopias-corruption http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/06/examining-the-depths-of-ethiopias-corruption/#comments Sun, 16 Jun 2013 09:00:24 +0000 Ed McKenna http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=119926 Despite Ethiopia having one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, it also remains one of the world’s poorest countries. Corruption has played a huge role in hindering the development of this Horn of Africa nation. Credit: Elias Asmare/IPS

Despite Ethiopia having one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, it also remains one of the world’s poorest countries. Corruption has played a huge role in hindering the development of this Horn of Africa nation. Credit: Elias Asmare/IPS

By Ed McKenna
ADDIS ABABA/LONDON , Jun 16 2013 (IPS)

Ethiopia may be one of the fastest-growing, non-oil producing economies in Africa in recent years, but corruption in this Horn of Africa nation is a deterrent to foreign investors looking for stable long-term partnerships in developing countries.

“Bankers, miners and developers presenting projects to investment committees in countries that fare badly in corruption rankings frequently struggle to get investment. Corruption raises red flags because it makes local markets uncompetitive, unpredictable and therefore largely hostile to these long-term players,” Ed Hobey, the East Africa analyst at the political risk firm Africa Risk Consulting, told IPS.

On May 11, in the biggest crackdown on corruption in Ethiopia in the last 10 years, authorities arrested more than 50 high profile people including government officials, businessmen and a minister.

Melaku Fanta, the director general of the Revenue and Customs Authority, which is the equivalent rank of a minister, his deputy, Gebrewahid Woldegiorgis, and other officials were apprehended on suspicion of tax evasion.

But the arrests have raised questions about the endemic corruption at the heart of the country’s political elite.

Berhanu Assefa of the Federal Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission of Ethiopia told IPS that these arrests highlighted how corruption has insinuated itself into the higher levels of officialdom.

“Corruption is a serious problem we are facing. We now see that corruption is occurring in higher places than we had previously expected. Areas vulnerable to corruption are land administration, tax and revenue, the justice system, telecommunications, land procurement, licensing areas and the finance sector,” he said.

Ethiopia ranks 113 out of 176 countries on the Corruption Perceptions Index of Transparency International, a global civil society coalition that encourages accountability. The country has also lost close to 12 billion dollars since 2000 to illicit financial outflows, according to Global Financial Integrity (GFI), whose statistics are based on official data provided by the Ethiopian government, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Dr. Getachew Begashaw, a professor of economics at Harper College in the United States, told IPS that there was a fear that the recent high profile arrests were merely political theatre designed to placate major donors such as the World Bank and the IMF, and to give credibility to the new regime’s fight against corruption. Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn took over leadership of the country after Prime Minister Meles Zenawi died in August 2012.

“They are using this as a PR stunt to appease not only the donors, but to also dupe the Ethiopian people. Because many non-party affiliated Ethiopians in the business community are complaining, and this complaint is trickling down to the average people on the streets,” he told IPS.

According to the World Bank, companies held by business group the Endowment Fund for the Rehabilitation of Tigray (EFFORT) account for roughly half of the country’s modern economy. The group is closely allied with the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPDRF), an alliance of four parties.

EFFORT is a conglomerate formed from assets collected in 1991 by the EPRDF to rehabilitate the Tigray region in northern Ethiopia after it had been decimated by poverty and conflict. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) is the lead party in the EPDRF coalition.

Tigrayans, however, only account for eight percent of the country’s 90 million people. According to Abebe Gellaw, an exiled Ethiopian journalist and founder of Addis Voice, a web platform that provides news that is otherwise censored by the Ethiopian government, EFFORT has become a business racket for the Tigrayan elite who are monopolising major sources of the country’s wealth.

“The TPLF controls key government institutions and a significant portion of the economy. For over 15 years, EFFORT has been used by the TPLF to channel public resources and funds to the coffers of the TPLF through illegal deals, contracts, tax evasion, kick-backs and all sorts of illegal operations,” he told IPS.

Azeb Mesfin, Zenawi’s widow, currently manages the multi-billion-dollar business empire.

She claims her husband paid himself a modest salary of 250 dollars a month, yet the online website “the Richest.org”, which publishes the net worth of the richest people in the world, recently divulged that Meles was in fact one of Africa’s wealthiest leaders having amassed a personal fortune of three billion dollars. This has led many to question the provenance of the erstwhile leader’s wealth – when he had no known business engagements.

Illicit financial flows as a result of corruption are a major hindrance to a country’s development, undermining institutions, economies and societies. According to the Africa Progress Panel’s Africa Progress Report 2013, the continent is losing more through illicit financial outflows than it receives in aid and foreign direct investment.

A commitment to greater accountability and transparency to curtail illicit financial flows should occur on both the national and international levels, according to E. J. Fagan, deputy communications director at GFI.

“Reforms and policies are needed to strengthen customs enforcement and make governing apparatuses more transparent. The international community can create a multilateral system of automatic exchange of tax information that African countries like Ethiopia can access, so as to make it difficult for illicit actors to hide money and transfer large amounts of illicit money without detection,” he told IPS.

Begashaw added that corruption in the social sphere also breeds social inequality, disenfranchisement and a breakdown in national unity and civil society.

“The very existence of parastatals and TPLF-affiliated endowed business conglomerates like EFFORT is a major source of corruption. The Birr (Ethiopian currency) will depreciate and inflation will skyrocket. The capacity of the state to provide public goods and services will decline. Free market competition will be eroded. Government revenue will be reduced and the budget deficit will rise.

“If they are really serious about combating corruption, they should start doing so from the top,” he said.

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Landgrabbing to Provide Horn of Africa with Electricityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/06/landgrabbing-to-provide-horn-of-africa-with-electricity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=landgrabbing-to-provide-horn-of-africa-with-electricity http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/06/landgrabbing-to-provide-horn-of-africa-with-electricity/#comments Wed, 05 Jun 2013 05:33:36 +0000 Ed McKenna http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=119531 Ethiopia invests more of its resources in hydropower than any other country in Africa. Pictured here is the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, situated in Ethiopia’s Benishangul-Gumuz Region on the Blue Nile. Credit: William Davison/IPS

Ethiopia invests more of its resources in hydropower than any other country in Africa. Pictured here is the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, situated in Ethiopia’s Benishangul-Gumuz Region on the Blue Nile. Credit: William Davison/IPS

By Ed McKenna
ADDIS ABABA , Jun 5 2013 (IPS)

Ethiopia’s long-term hydropower strategy is proving to be both a source of economic sustenance and contention. In becoming Africa’s leading power exporter through the construction of a series of dams across the country, Ethiopia could threaten the lives of millions who depend on the Nile River’s waters.

This Horn of Africa nation invests more of its resources in hydropower than any other country in Africa – one third of its total GNP of about 77 billion dollars.

But at the centre of Ethiopia’s hydropower development is a tough ethical question: which has the greater negative impact?

Alessandro Palmieri, a lead dam specialist at the World Bank, told IPS: “Is it the impact on Ethiopia’s population (who will not have electricity) … or the negative impact on half a million people (who will be displaced by the construction of the dams)? One tree falling always makes more sound than 10,000 trees growing.”

Ethiopia has ambitious targets. It currently generates 2,000 MW from six hydroelectric dams and will increase its power generation to 15,000 GWh, according to state power provider Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCO).

According to a World Bank report published in 2010, only 17 percent of the country’s 84.7 million people had access to electricity. EEPCO states that by 2018, 100 percent of the population will have access to power.

Despite the ethical issues, Ethiopia’s hydropower focus is fuelling growth and development and is offering an example for other African countries to follow. “Africa is currently only using seven percent of its hydropower potential. Per capita consumption of water in Africa is shameful,” Palmieri said.

Ethiopia’s plan to become the powerhouse of Africa gained momentum when it began to divert the Nile River’s waters to start filling the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on May 28. On completion in 2017 it will be Africa’s largest power project, generating 6,000 GW.

The dam is situated in Ethiopia’s Benishangul-Gumuz Region on the Blue Nile, a tributary of the Nile River and the supplier of most of the Nile River’s waters. The Blue Nile originates in Ethiopia’s Lake Tana.

However, the project has been beset by controversy regarding its potential environmental impact since it was announced in 2011.

The first provisional impact study by a technical committee

has only just been released this year, on Jun. 1, two years into construction, and states that the dam will have no significant effects on downstream countries. Egypt called the report “inadequate”.

The Gibe III Dam, which will generate 1,800 MW, is being built in southeast Ethiopia on the Omo River at a cost of 1.7 billion dollars and is expected to earn the government over 400 million dollars annually from power exports.

But it will not bring development to Ethiopian communities along the Omo River.

“The Gibe III dam will wreak havoc and destruction on the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of tribal people in Ethiopia’s Lower Omo Valley and the peoples living around Kenya’s Lake Turkana who depend on the Omo River for survival,” Elizabeth Hunter, from Survival International, an organisation working for the rights of local ethnic groups across the globe, told IPS.

According to the World Water Council (WWC), an international think tank for world water management, strides in Ethiopia’s hydropower development over the last decade have increased the annual average water storage per person from 40 cubic metres to 240.

Water storage in large dams makes ecological sense, provides a key adaptation measure to mitigate the effects of climate change and is a boost to growth and development, according to Ben Braga, president of WWC.

“Water storage is a good solution to the problems of climate variability and uncertainty. In terms of energy generation and the water needs of industry and agriculture, hydropower is a good solution. Our policy is: more storage equals more resilience,” he told IPS.

However, there is still a long way to go to catch up with the United States, which stores 5,000 cubic metres per citizen per year.

Diverting the flow of the Nile to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam will provide hydroelectricity not only for Ethiopia but also for neighbouring countries. Ethiopia plans to sell 2,000 MW to northern Kenya while Djibouti currently receives 80 percent of its electricity (50 to 70 MW) from Ethiopia.

“After meeting national demand, surplus electricity will be supplied to neighbouring countries. Our hydropower will benefit economic development in the Horn of Africa region,” Miheret Debebe, chief executive officer of EEPCO, told IPS.

Upstream countries like Egypt have had to enter into a new era of dialogue and cooperation with Nile basin countries to safeguard future access to the Nile waters. It was a critical move for 160 million people who are said to live downstream along the Nile and depend on its waters.

“When Ethiopia announced its plan to build the largest dam in Africa on the Blue Nile in 2011 we entered a new era of riparian politics. Since then the Nile Basin Initiative has been crucial to ensuring cooperation and long-term water access between the Nile states,” Braga said.

However, human rights violations damage the country’s hydropower policies, according to international rights groups such as Human Rights Watch and Survival International. These organisations have reported cases of violence and intimidation, which have been carried out to forcefully move indigenous tribes from their land in the Lower Omo valley for the hydropower project and large-scale commercial plantations.

Media access to the Omo Valley has become very difficult and much of the area has been ring-fenced by government security forces. However, a researcher for Survival International managed to speak to members of indigenous groups affected by the dam’s construction.

One member of the local Mursi ethnic group, a pastoralist community, told Survival International: “The government says cattle and people have to move from the Omo Valley to where there is no grass and no crops. So that means we and the cattle will die together.”

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Wind Brings Light to Somalilandhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/04/wind-brings-light-to-somaliland/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=wind-brings-light-to-somaliland http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/04/wind-brings-light-to-somaliland/#comments Mon, 22 Apr 2013 06:19:36 +0000 Ed McKenna http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=118181 An electricity pylon in Somaliland being repaired by Edwin Mireri. Somaliland’s first Electricity Energy Act will be launched this year and it will be the country’s first legal and regulatory framework aimed at managing energy production and distribution. Credit: Ed Mckenna/IPS

An electricity pylon in Somaliland being repaired by Edwin Mireri. Somaliland’s first Electricity Energy Act will be launched this year and it will be the country’s first legal and regulatory framework aimed at managing energy production and distribution. Credit: Ed Mckenna/IPS

By Ed McKenna
HARGEISA, Apr 22 2013 (IPS)

A wind turbine, situated some 20 kilometres outside of Somaliland’s capital Hargeisa, has become a significant totem of the country’s changing energy landscape.

The breakaway semi-autonomous region that was once part of Somalia has struggled to develop its economy despite dilapidated energy infrastructure that makes it almost impossible for businesses to function.

But later this year, Somaliland’s first Electricity Energy Act will be launched. It will be the country’s first legal and regulatory framework aimed at managing energy production and distribution, with a focus on piloting alternative energy solutions, including wind farms in four major cities.

“Businesses have been unable to operate to their full potential as there is no regular or reliable supply of electricity in Somaliland. This is slowing economic activity and development in the region. We need to look at alternative and renewable sources of energy to reverse this trend,” Minister of Mining, Energy and Water Resources Hussein Abdi Dualeh told IPS.

Somaliland has one of the world’s highest electricity rates. While the rest of the world pays an average 15 to 30 cents per kilowatt hour, Hargeisa’s residents pay one dollar per kWh. High energy prices and a lack of an energy policy framework have blocked competition and stifled investment in the region’s private energy sector. Investors have little confidence in any long-term financial return due to limited regulation.

Local businessmen frequently complain that high energy bills are causing fewer products to be produced in Somaliland, giving foreign imports an unfair competitive advantage.

“When so much of our income is spent on electricity bills, we lose our ability to compete with foreign imports in the local market,” Faisil Wadani, the owner of a small factory, told IPS.

The streets of Hargeisa are densely populated with kiosks and vendors who pay independent power providers approximately 10 dollars a month to run a single 100-watt light bulb. For the majority of these small kiosks their improvised lighting system has no switch and the bulb is likely to burn all day and night unless unscrewed.

After the collapse of Somalia in 1991, the new Somaliland government retrieved wires, poles and generators from the bombed debris in Hargeisa to try and assemble a functional, albeit crude, infrastructure for generating electricity for its citizens.

Independent power providers quickly began to appear when it became apparent that the government had no funds to invest in the power grid. This rapidly gave rise to an unregulated system that has endured since 1991.

Somaliland’s antiquated electricity infrastructure is now run by a decentralised network of local power providers in Hargeisa, which involves neighbours paying neighbours for electricity.

The lack of government support for power creation has compelled many of Hargeisa’s wealthier residents to import diesel generators from the Middle East to power their homes and businesses. The majority of Hargeisa’s power is now generated by diesel generators and transmitted through the capital city’s hazardous electricity network.

A disorganised supply of electricity in the hands of independent power providers makes consumers vulnerable to high costs and erratic power access, said Dualeh.

“The government manages only 20 percent of the electricity market while independent providers are responsible for the majority of Somaliland’s electricity. Somaliland rates are very high due to this spaghetti network of independent power providers where each has their own grid using outdated equipment,” he said.

According to the government, 40 percent of electricity is lost due to the poor electric infrastructure used to generate and distribute energy.

To help Somaliland draft its first Electricity Energy Act, the United States Development Agency (USAID) has been working closely with the Ministry of Mining, Energy and Water Resources, local power providers and consumers to expedite the process of creating a more regulated electricity supply.

This has created a mood of confidence among the business community that they will soon be able to be open for business for longer periods of time without interruption from frequent power cuts.

“A supply of affordable electricity without frequent daily interruption will increase my business activity and make my job less of a daily fight for financial survival,” said Wadani.

The Electricity Energy Act is expected to standardise the sector’s infrastructure and establish safety standards by building on the existing electric grid infrastructure in Hargeisa.

“We cannot guarantee that the new electricity law will reduce costs but we can expect the supply of electricity to be more efficient. It is more often than not to do with inefficiency that electricity rates are so high in Somaliland,” Suleiman Mohamed, head of USAID partnership programme, told IPS.

But Dualeh said that the new electricity regulations “will support more efficient distribution, enhanced safety in the sector and higher levels of investment from the private sector, as they will have greater confidence in the energy market.”

Wind power in Somaliland is also rapidly emerging as a promising alternative source of energy. The government has realised that the potential for renewable sources of energy should be exploited to help revitalise the region’s power supply and provide a cost-effective alternative.

“We must seriously look at sources of renewable energy such as solar and wind power, especially when Somaliland has over 340 days of sun and some of the fastest wind in the world,” says Dualeh.

To confront Somaliland’s ongoing energy crisis, with the support of USAID the Ministry of Mining, Energy and Water Resources has erected five turbines worth over 350,000 dollars on a wind farm pilot project near the Hargeisa International Airport. Wind data stations have also been installed across the country, to offer investors information about wind power potential.

Somaliland’s independent power providers are also learning about the economic benefits of generating renewable energy.

The Abaarso Tech Secondary School in Hargeisa had a wind turbine in their storage room for nearly three years before finally setting it up in January 2012. Once fully operational, the 20 kW turbine provided enough electricity to run the high school. The city government subsequently came up with an income-generating plan for the school to sell the surplus electricity it generated to neighbouring villagers.

In the long term, harnessing alternative energy solutions such as wind power should have higher returns for consumers and providers than using diesel would.

“We just spent 240,000 dollars on new diesel generators. After seeing the projected returns for wind energy, I wish we could have spent that money on wind turbines and saved on diesel costs. Diesel is the past, wind is the future,” Yusuf Aaaden, a local Hargeisa independent power producer, told IPS.

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Ethiopia Leads the Bamboo Revolutionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/04/expanding-ethiopias-bamboo-sector/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=expanding-ethiopias-bamboo-sector http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/04/expanding-ethiopias-bamboo-sector/#comments Mon, 08 Apr 2013 06:11:31 +0000 Ed McKenna http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=117794 Ethiopia currently has the largest area - one million hectares - of commercially untapped bamboo in East Africa, making it attractive to investment partners from the bamboo industry. Ghana’s bamboo frames for bicycles are being exported to Austria. Credit: Portia Crowe/IPS

By Ed McKenna
ADDIS ABABA , Apr 8 2013 (IPS)

A combination of an abundance of bamboo and eager foreign investment is making Ethiopia a frontier for the bamboo industrial revolution in Africa, according to this country’s government.

“Ethiopia has the resources, the investment, a rapidly-developing manufacturing industry and a strong demand for our bamboo products from foreign markets. We have what we need. The expansion of Africa’s bamboo sector has begun,” Ethiopia’s State Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development Mitiku Kassa told IPS. 

Ethiopia currently has the largest area – one million hectares – of commercially untapped bamboo in East Africa, making it attractive to investment partners from the bamboo industry. However, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development told IPS that they were unwilling to disclose any figures on the bamboo economy, but added that there had been no formal bamboo economy in Ethiopia until 2012.

“The market potential of bamboo in Europe is massive. We believe that there can be a reliable and effective supply chain built here in Ethiopia to create a bamboo manufacturing industry,” said Felix Boeck, an associate engineer at Africa Bamboo PLC, a public-private partnership set up with Ethiopian partners and supported by the German Development Cooperation in 2012.

The partnership plans to invest 10 million euros over the next five years in their Ethiopia-based manufacturing operation, which will supply competitive flooring products to European and United States markets. The company plans to export 100,000 square metres of bamboo flooring products by 2014. By 2016 this figure is expected to rise to 500,000 square metres.

“The fastest-growing market in Europe for the wood industry is flooring and outdoor decking. We expect our products to play a large role in this market,” Boeck told IPS.

In comparison to soft wood trees that can take 30 years to reach maturity, bamboo is a fully mature resource after three years, making it commercially and environmentally sustainable.

Sub-Saharan Africa has three million hectares of bamboo forest, around four percent of the continent’s total forest cover. Ethiopia plans to increase its bamboo cover to two million hectares over the next five years.

Small-scale Ethiopian bamboo farmers like Ghetnet Melaku are enthusiastic to participate in the development of the bamboo sector, if investment in its expansion is inclusive of small farmers.

“I am just making enough money to subsist by producing bamboo for the local craft market and, if I had the opportunity, I would like to increase my capacity for skilled production and a better financial return,” Melaku told IPS.

The International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) is an intergovernmental organisation that assists governments, businesses and local communities to identify innovative bamboo-based opportunities for human development.

It is helping sensitise African governments to the high potential of bamboo as a versatile and renewable resource that can generate sustainable development. According to INBAR, one billion people around the world use bamboo in their daily lives as housing material, fencing and food, and in craft production, etc.

“If properly managed, this highly versatile resource could spur economic growth in a world export market valued at two billion dollars in 2011, reduce deforestation and cut carbon emissions,” INBAR director general J. Coosje Hoogendoorn told IPS.

Deforestation has ravaged Africa’s environment – the carbon emissions from burning timber on the continent alone are expected to reach 6.7 million tonnes by 2050. As 90 percent of the population in sub-Saharan Africa use firewood or charcoal to cook, the development of an alternative resource like bamboo has become essential.

“Sourcing fuel for cooking food is integral to food security,” said Hoogendoorn. “Rice, maize and pulses all require heat to become edible. Renewable alternatives like bamboo can help minimise deforestation caused by the logging of soft timber wood for cooking fuel and house materials.”

Ethiopia’s government has prohibited the creation of charcoal from burnt wood for retail and is actively advocating sustainable alternatives such as bamboo.

“Bamboo is a major untapped resource for Ethiopia. We are pushing to grow and conserve our bamboo resources. We are starting to work with farmers and enterprises to encourage and develop this sector for the country’s economic and environmental benefit. We are working to undo unsustainable practices and advocate new alternatives,” State Minister Kassa told IPS.

Although Ethiopia has one of the highest deforestation rates in Africa, it has increased its national forest cover to seven percent from three percent a decade ago, out of an original 40 percent. Hoogendorn said that governments needed to make financial resources available to enterprises that wished to develop Africa’s bamboo industry.

“We want governments to put structures in place that offer financial support such as micro finance and that remove any hindrance for investors in the bamboo market, so that when companies want to set up a bamboo industry they have access to financial support,” he said.

High demand for Ethiopia’s agricultural output such as bamboo can drive growth and development for the country’s poor if it generates employment opportunities and remains non-exploitative towards farm workers and the land, said research fellow Steve Wiggins from the Overseas Development Institute (ODI). The ODI is the United Kingdom’s leading independent think tank on international development and humanitarian issues.

“It is good if there is another source of demand for farm produce, so long as the economics of bamboo offer decent returns to land and labour, equitable deals can be struck in the supply chain, and the crop is environmentally sustainable,” Wiggins told IPS.

While bamboo production in Asia carries connotations of unsustainable forestry practices and illegal logging, INBAR is working to share lessons learnt and bring bamboo production in Africa’s market up to the highest standards.

“Sustainable management of a country’s bamboo sector is extremely important to the future of a country’s market, especially if that country is wanting to export its products to the European market where laws stipulate conformity to high sustainability standards,” Hoogendoorn said.

As the industrial development of bamboo in Africa is in its infancy, investors have until recently been cautious about ploughing large amounts of money into a market whose dividends are relatively unknown.

“We are ready for the same industrial revolution in bamboo development that Ethiopia is currently experiencing,” Andrew Akwasi Oteng-Amoako, the chief research scientist at the Forestry Research Institute in Ghana, told IPS.

He lamented that although his West African country had an abundance of bamboo, it failed to secure the same investment as Ethiopia.

“We anticipate a revival of investment interest in Ghana’s bamboo industry in the near future thanks to Ethiopia’s success,” Oteng-Amoako said.

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India Undercuts Tribal Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/02/india-undercuts-tribal-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=india-undercuts-tribal-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/02/india-undercuts-tribal-rights/#comments Fri, 22 Feb 2013 07:50:13 +0000 Ed McKenna http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=116608 An Adivasi tribesperson walks down a forest path in India’s Chhattisgarh state. Credit: Virppi Venell

An Adivasi tribesperson walks down a forest path in India’s Chhattisgarh state. Credit: Virppi Venell

By Ed McKenna
NEW DELHI, Feb 22 2013 (IPS)

Over a decade ago, the Dongria Kondh tribe – tucked away in the Niyamgiri hills, a mountain range in the eastern Indian state of Orissa – found itself under attack.

For centuries the tribe had lived peacefully in the hills, worshipping the sacred ‘mountain of law’ and protecting the forests surrounding it. But when the London-based Vedanta Resources mining conglomerate discovered a rich deposit of bauxite atop the same mountain, the community found their ancient land suddenly up for grabs.

Environment Impacts

According to Ashish Kothari from the conservation NGO Kalpavriksh, linear projects outlined as crucial for economic development often lead to a host of highly negative environmental consequences.

“Roads, railway lines and transmission lines through forests cause fragmentation and risk killing animals (dozens of elephants have been killed attempting to cross railways),” he told IPS.

“They also divide villages or clusters of villages, with serious impacts on social and economic relations. Linear projects through waterways can impact breeding of species by blocking their movements.”
In 2006 the company inaugurated a factory at the foot of the mountain to convert the exceptionally high-quality bauxite into aluminium. Almost immediately, the tribal population began to feel the impacts of pollution in the air and water.

A huge push by international NGOs, local forest rights groups, tribal representatives and legal advocates here finally managed to shut down the factory in 2012.

A crucial step along the way to victory was the amendment of the 2006 flagship Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, making it mandatory for developers to first obtain the consent of gram sabhas (or village councils) before commencing work on projects that would affect forest dwelling communities.

Today, the fruits of that hard-won struggle – which secured some degree of protection for the rights and environment of endangered tribal communities in India – are once again under threat.

Earlier this month the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) retracted the clause in the 2006 Forest Rights Act (FRA) that gave tribal groups the power to reject major infrastructure projects that endanger their land and livelihoods.

The ruling, made public on Feb. 5, stated that “linear” projects – meaning those involving the construction of roads and canals, and the laying of pipelines, optical fibres and transmission lines — will all be exempt from the need to acquire consent of village communities affected by the clearance, diversion and pollution of their forest land.

The government thus gave itself – and its many private partners — the green light to divert forests or displace tribal communities at will.

The ruling also effectively renders powerless the guideline contained within the FRA that “no member of a forest dwelling Scheduled Tribe or other traditional forest dweller shall be evicted or removed from forest land under his occupation till the recognition and verification procedure is completed.”

Dr. Swati Shresth from the Global Forest Coalition told IPS the MoEF’s ruling is “a continuation of land grabbing and a violation of the rights of traditional forest dwellers in the name of development, economy and national good”.

The decision to exempt linear projects is the first step towards diluting the FRA, according to Ashish Kothari from Kalpavriksh, one of India’s oldest development and conservation NGOs.

“Over the last few years the government has hardly implemented the FRA, and now that communities are asserting their rights by using it to resist projects they consider damaging to their environment and livelihoods, the government is desperate to find ways to bypass them,” Kothari told IPS.

The recent controversial decision has sparked an outcry resulting in letters of protest to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) signed by a coalition of international rights organisations including Oxfam and Rights and Resources, as well as a letter of protest signed by a large group of Indian lawyers.

Ruling against resistance?

The Bhumia tribal community practices sustainable forestry: these women returning from the forest carry baskets of painstakingly gathered tree bark and dried cow dung for manure. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

For over seven years, India’s village councils have leveraged provisions in the FRA to block attempts by the South Korean Pohang Steel Company (POSCO) to forcibly acquire their land.

In early February there were attempts to evict farmers from their land in the Jagatsinghpur district of Orissa, in order to make way for a giant, 12-billion-dollar steel plant with a capacity of four million tonnes.

Various Indian and international organisations – including South Korean NGOs – have registered their disgust at the violent attempts to forcefully acquire the land.

According to a statement released on Feb. 3 by the All India Forum of Forest Movements (AIFFM), “Around 4,000 families who will be affected by the project do not want their homes and livelihood sources to be ceded for construction of the integrated steel plant.”

Thanks to the new ruling, these communities no longer have a legal leg to stand on in defense of their land.

In response to concerns that the recent decision could diminish the state’s capacity to safeguard tribal rights, Tribal Affairs Minister Kishore Chandra Deo assured IPS that the government “will always remain committed to strengthening the gram sabhas of India”.

“A Dangerous and Twisted Precedent”

On Feb. 15, 2013, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) re-confirmed in an affidavit to the Supreme Court its position that mining by the British mining company Vedanta in the Niyamgiri mountain would violate the forest rights of the local Dongria communities.

It stated that the Forest Rights Act (FRA) should be upheld to protect or manage the community forest reserve as well as other traditional and customary rights of the tribal community in India.

But in what will be a landmark ruling, the MoEF proposes to modify how the FRA is implemented by mandating that consent is required only from Primitive Tribes and limited only to their rights of tenure and the religious aspects of their culture - as in the case of the Niyamgiri mountain – while all other forest rights can be "extinguished using the eminent domain of the state", states the affidavit.

The original text of the FRA called for consent from forest communities for any diversions in their area - not just sacred places but also for land necessary to maintain their cultural integrity over their habitation, subsistence, and food supply.

Ville-Veikko Hirvelä, a specialist in international agreements at Friends of the Earth-Finland, told IPS, “The FRA is at risk of being (weakened) if the Supreme Court ruling follows the inaccurate MoEF affidavit's suggestion.

“That would set a very dangerous and twisted precedent for further implementation of the FRA”, which could be diluted by limiting forest rights and consent of communities to those areas that are home to Primitive Tribes or places of worship.
In fact, last year, the Tribal Affairs Ministry wrote, “The consent of the gram sabha, with at least a 50 percent quorum…is the bare minimum that is required to comply with the Act before any forest area can be diverted, or destroyed”.

That even this “bare minimum” requirement has now been revoked does not bode well for tribal rights.

“By withdrawing this major provision, the government can pretend to hold ‘consultations’ in the form of public hearings but negate the core principle of the FRA – the right of communities to determine what happens to their environment,” Shresth told IPS.

Making way for growth

According to Sanjay Basu Mallick from the AIFFM, “This (decision is supposedly) about the county’s flagging GDP and creating access for mining industries in the name of economic development.

“But in human terms this is an undemocratic step towards total neglect of the development and welfare of forest communities,” he told IPS.

Growth in Asia’s third-largest economy slowed to its weakest in nearly a decade to 6.2 percent in the fiscal year ending in March 2012, announced the International Monetary Fund in a report released early February.

“In 2011/12, India’s growth rate was 6.5 percent. That figure is expected to drop to 5.4 percent in 2012/13,” said the IMF.

The international lending organisation blamed a lack of investment in infrastructure and delays in land clearance for industrial projects as major reasons for the drop in GDP.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government is taking steps towards boosting the economy, including a raft of pro-market reforms announced in 2012. Despite these reforms to restore growth, the IMF believes that “more needs to be done”.

Last November, a leaked report from the Prime Minister’s Office recommended “diluting” tribal rights, likely in response to pressure from mining conglomerates and related industries to expedite clearance on major projects. According to the National Highways Authority of India, a total of 101 infrastructure projects, including 32 road projects, have been stalled due to clearance delays.

“The PMO has been lobbying the MoEF to amend the 2009 order due to increasing pressure from the private sector on him to speed up clearance for large mining operations to commence,” Basu Mallick told IPS.

The MoEF finally buckled last December, when it announced that existing coal mining projects could bypass the process of a public hearing, as stipulated in the FRA, and receive a one-time capacity expansion of up to 25 percent.

That move now finds echo in the recent reversal of the FRA provision for tribal consent, experts say.

“The broad context to this is that in the blind pursuit of economic growth, processes such as local community consent are seen as impediments rather than essential aspects of a genuine democracy,” Kothari noted.

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The Rise of Ethiopia’s Sole Rebelshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/01/the-rise-of-ethiopias-sole-rebels/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-rise-of-ethiopias-sole-rebels http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/01/the-rise-of-ethiopias-sole-rebels/#comments Tue, 01 Jan 2013 07:12:49 +0000 Ed McKenna http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=115551 Ethiopian entrepreneur Bethlehem Tilahun started Sole Rebels in 2005 in order to create jobs and sustainable prosperity in her country. Courtesy: Sole Rebels

Ethiopian entrepreneur Bethlehem Tilahun started Sole Rebels in 2005 in order to create jobs and sustainable prosperity in her country. Courtesy: Sole Rebels

By Ed McKenna
ADDIS ABABA , Jan 1 2013 (IPS)

Innovative Ethiopian footwear manufacturer Sole Rebels will open its second retail outlet in Taiwan this year. With ambitions to open 30 more franchise stores across the world in countries like the United States, Australia, Italy and Japan, Sole Rebels, the largest African footwear brand, is now fast becoming a global competitive brand.
The company currently sells its innovative range of artisan shoes made from recycled materials in 55 countries and is now one of Ethiopia’s thriving businesses with a major presence on e-commerce sites such as Amazon. Its success reflects this Horn of Africa nation’s growing footwear-manufacturing industry as Chinese businesses are increasingly investing in the sector here.

Founded in 2005 by Ethiopian entrepreneur Bethlehem Tilahun, who wanted to create jobs and sustainable prosperity in her country, Sole Rebels made two million dollars in sales in 2011 and is expecting to generate over 15 to 20 million dollars in revenue by 2015.

“We are extremely excited to open a Sole Rebels store in the heart of Taichung. Taichung is a footwear epicentre, home to the Asian design centre for the planet’s largest footwear brands,” Bethlehem told IPS. 

The new outlet expands the company’s plan to exploit increasing consumer demand in Asia’s mushrooming retail footwear market and makes it the first African consumer brand to open franchise retail outlets in Asia.

Bethlehem is intent to defy the stereotypes about her country. A poverty index released by Oxford University and the United Nations in 2011 ranked Ethiopia as the world’s second-poorest country after Niger.

But the success of Sole Rebels is evidence of how Ethiopia is ready to make a transition from being foreign-aid reliant to being able to direct its economic future by exploiting home grown skills, resources and the many business opportunities in the country, according to Bethlehem.

“Sole Rebels is proud to be the planet’s fastest-growing African footwear brand and the very first global footwear brand to ever emerge from a developing nation. It stands as living proof that creating innovative world-class brands is the best road to greater shared prosperity for developing nations like Ethiopia,” Bethlehem said.

Sole Rebels is the world’s first certified fair trade footwear company. All of the shoes are hand crafted by a staff of over 100 people using traditional Ethiopian artisan practices and locally-sourced, hand-spun organic cotton and recycled materials. In a market where the majority of footwear brands are produced by machines, Sole Rebels shoes are a breath of fresh air.

“Our business model centres on eco-sensibility and community empowerment. Our model maximises local development by creating a vibrant local supply chain while creating world class footwear,” Bethlehem said.

Bethlehem, who was on the front cover of Forbes magazine in January 2012 where she was listed as one of Africa’s most successful women, has won many plaudits and a significant amount of international recognition for her work at Sole Rebels. She is now one of Africa’s most recognisable female entrepreneurs. Female entrepreneurship is, according to the World Bank, higher in Africa than in any other region of the world.

In 2011, the World Economic Forum selected her as a “Young Global Leader”. In June 2012, she won the award for “Most Outstanding Businesswoman” at the annual African Business Awards organised by African Business Magazine.

Eugene Owusu, Ethiopia’s representative at the United Nations Development Programme, told IPS: “Sole Rebels is taking advantage of the improving infrastructure and growing local skilled labour to exhibit all of the characteristics one looks for in Ethiopian entrepreneurs.

“It’s innovative, a jobs creator, environmentally sustainable, and globally competitive. Sole Rebels is indeed blazing a trail for other local companies to follow, as Ethiopia seeks to minimise its dependency on aid.”

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that Ethiopia’s economy grew at a rate of 7.5 percent in 2011. This second-most populated country in Africa has been one of the fastest growing, non-oil producing economies in Africa in recent years, according to the World Bank.

The country’s export earnings increased by 15 percent to 3.2 billion dollars between 2010 and 2011, according to the Ministry of Trade and Industry of Ethiopia. The government aims to double exports as a share of economic output by 2015 with a much bigger contribution coming from the sale of minerals and manufactured goods.

Owusu said Ethiopia’s booming private sector would help the country continue with its growth trajectory and this should translate into poverty reduction and national development.

“Locally-grown private enterprises will be a foundation from which Ethiopia can consolidate the strong overall growth exhibited over the last decade, and to achieve the bold transformative vision that the country has set itself to become a middle-income country by the year 2025,” Owusu said.

According to a recent IMF report on Chinese investment in Ethiopia: “The manufacturing sector accounts for the largest amount of Chinese foreign direct investment in Ethiopia, attracted by low-cost labour and large-scale land leases, in addition to Ethiopia’s market size.”

Chinese manufacturers, particularly footwear manufacturers, are now starting to relocate production facilities to Ethiopia to escape rising production costs at home, but also because Ethiopia has one of the largest livestock industries in Africa to supply leather to producers.

Ethiopia also boasts one of the largest and cheapest labour forces in Africa. Ethiopia’s late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi wanted the country to become a major producer and exporter of leather shoes as part of his economic development plan.

Chinese company, Huajian Shoes, announced in 2012 that it would invest two billion dollars in Ethiopia’s footwear manufacturing industry. To date, Chinese companies have invested 900 million dollars into Ethiopia’s economy, according to Ethiopia’s Investment Agency.

Zemedeneh Negatu, a managing partner at Ernst & Young in Ethiopia, thinks that companies like Sole Rebels will help transform the economic landscape of Ethiopia and the continent.

“The company’s success is an inspiration to the newly-emerging Ethiopian private sector. It’s important to remember that until 1991, Ethiopia was a pseudo-socialist country with no private sector. Yet in a relatively short time it has started to produce success stories such as Sole Rebels, which is a good example of an export-oriented global success story from the private sector.

“I regularly use the phrase ‘It’s time for Africa’ precisely because I see more and more African Sole Rebels like Bethlehem and her company.”

 

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Africa Cashes in on Mineral Wealthhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2012/12/africa-cashes-in-on-mineral-wealth/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africa-cashes-in-on-mineral-wealth http://www.ipsnews.net/2012/12/africa-cashes-in-on-mineral-wealth/#comments Mon, 24 Dec 2012 12:44:11 +0000 Ed McKenna http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=115445 In the forest in Gbarpolu County, northwest Liberia, a group of men work on a surface gold mine. Credit: Travis Lupick/IPS

In the forest in Gbarpolu County, northwest Liberia, a group of men work on a surface gold mine. Credit: Travis Lupick/IPS

By Ed McKenna
ADDIS ABABA , Dec 24 2012 (IPS)

Many of the fastest-growing countries in the world are in Africa, the poorest continent on the planet, but the potential for recently-discovered resources to generate broad-based inclusive development opportunities is massive and remains under-exploited.

“I don’t believe that African nations are even close to understanding the enormous wealth that is their natural resource endowment,” David Doepel, chair of the Africa Research Group at Australia’s Murdoch University, told IPS.

African countries preparing to cash in on mineral wealth in East Africa include Tanzania, Uganda, Mozambique and Ethiopia, based on recent discoveries of oil and gas.

In 2010, Guinea alone represented over eight percent of total world bauxite production, Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo have a combined share of 6.7 percent of the total world copper production, and Ghana and Mali together account for 5.8 percent of the total world gold production, while Ethiopia also accounts for one-sixth of the world’s tantalum production.

A World Bank report issued in October claimed consistent high commodity prices and strong export growth show that African countries need to value the economic importance of their unexploited natural resources.

Well-managed revenue from Africa’s resources could increase economic activity in the long term, create jobs, reduce poverty and improve access to health and education,said Doepel.

“It is vitally important for any resource-rich country to have a focus of maximising the total value of any of its natural resources over the lifetime of that resource – that is a combination of maximising returns and minimising negative consequences (both environmental and social). Opportunism and urgency to extract are not necessarily ingredients for maximising value,” warned Doepel.

African countries like Nigeria have been losing out to corruption and short-sightedness in pursuit of quick profits in the oil sector. Nigeria is Africa’s largest crude oil exporter, shipping more than two million barrels per day, and is also home to the world’s ninth-biggest gas reserves. An investigative report requested by Nigeria’s oil ministry released in October revealed that a lack of transparency in the West African nation’s oil sector led to a loss of revenue of 29 billion dollars between 2002 and 2012.

The Revenue Watch Institute is a non-profit policy institute that promotes the effective, transparent and accountable management of oil, gas and mineral resources for the public good. Alexandra Gillies, head of governance at the institute, told IPS that African countries need to be circumspect at every stage of exploiting their recently-discovered oil reserves.

“For new African producers, striking a good deal can be a real challenge. They often lack capacity and familiarity with the oil sector as compared with the oil companies, and political agendas can make leaders overly anxious to begin production quickly, sometimes at the expense of better, long-term deals.”

Current working models that ensure the private sector and the government are held to account are starting to succeed in countries like Ghana.

“Ghana has taken some promising steps with its young oil sector. They have created a citizen-led Public Interest and Accountability Commission to oversee the collection and allocation of oil revenues,” said Gillies.

Countries endowed with natural resources have a tendency to heavily depend on economic activity solely based around extracting and exporting the resource as a primary product. This approach limits economic opportunities for development and makes a country vulnerable to fluctuations in commodity prices and levels of demand, according to Doepel. For example, Nigeria possesses 2.9 percent of the world’s oil and gas reserves and hazardously depends on oil and gas for 90 percent of its export revenue.

Focusing on maximising revenue by taking oil out of the ground and exporting it without any value addition could be seen as dangerous short termism and as a barrier to long-term inclusive development, he said. It is not just the resources that are a source of development but also the potential for local industry to be built around the extraction of resources.

Extraction industries offer huge opportunities for job creation and skill enhancement to improve the lives of ordinary Africans, said Doepel. He is convinced that many of the skills required by the extractive industries are transferable and could be utilised to help generate and expand economic activity in developing countries with an emerging industrial base.

“Mechanical engineers and civil engineers can work on building an open cut mine and just as easily work on water purification plants and roads and bridges,” he said.

Economic benefits can be achieved “as long as the extraction industry is deeply linked to the national and local economies and the ‘mining spend’ is captured rather than ‘exported’ along with the ore,” said Doepel.

There are many opportunities ahead for enterprising Africans to play a role in their country’s development based on the continent’s untapped resources, said Francis Steven George, CEO of Innovation Africa, an organisation that provides consulting to companies and institutions on how to exploit business opportunities for development and poverty reduction.

“Citizens can benefit by participating in the exploration of the resources. They can gain employment or can become suppliers or service providers to the industry. Governments need to help by creating an enabling environment. For example, investment in the education system to enable the relevant degree programmes to meet the needs of the industry, or by providing soft loans to local entrepreneurs who participate in the industry,” he told IPS.

Countries like Ethiopia, which has recently discovered vast mineral reserves such as gold, tantalum, oil and potash, are taking inspiration from countries like Botswana as they strive to maximise development opportunities. In early 2012 Botswana demanded that diamond company De Beers move much of its diamond-sorting operations from the United Kingdom to Botswana in an effort to localise value addition.

Citing this as a good example of how mining can enrich a country, the Ethiopian government seems determined to exercise maximum transparency and caution to ensure mining revenues benefit its population of over 90 million, which makes it Africa’s second-most populous nation.

“We want our country to benefit from our resources in the broadest sense. Development for all and not just a few is our goal,”  Ethiopia’s State Minister of Mines Tolesa Shagi told IPS.

British Nyota Minerals is set to be the first foreign company to receive a mining license to extract gold on the basis of its own exploration in western Ethiopia in the coming months.

Recent surveys indicate an estimated 500 tonnes of gold reserves in Ethiopia. According to mining experts, extraction of gold could rise to 40 tonnes a year from just over four tonnes last year, earning the country around 1.7 billion dollars based on current commodity prices.

Ethiopia is planning to sign up to Publish What You Pay, an international initiative subscribed to by over 70 countries, early next year. It holds governments of resource-rich nations accountable for the management of revenues from extraction industries.

Organisations like the Revenue Watch Institute are emphatic about the need for transparency from governments to ensure countries make the most of their resources and embark on a course of sustainable development that improves the lives of ordinary Africans.

“After the deals are signed, governments must regulate operations, maximise complex revenue streams like profit taxes, manage these revenues which are very volatile, and spend them on valuable development projects. Across all these functions there are risks of corruption, of decisions driven by patronate, favoritism and short-term political considerations,” said Gillies.

The message is clear – by having 30 percent of the world’s extractive resources, Africa has one of the greatest opportunities it will ever have to graduate its people out of poverty.


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The Industrialisation of Africa’s Smallholder Agriculturehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2012/12/the-industrialisation-of-africas-smallholder-agriculture/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-industrialisation-of-africas-smallholder-agriculture http://www.ipsnews.net/2012/12/the-industrialisation-of-africas-smallholder-agriculture/#comments Sun, 23 Dec 2012 06:19:45 +0000 Ed McKenna http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=115443 Development organisations are promoting the view that sustainable development in African countries should be generated by a partnership between large corporations and small farmers. Credit: Elias Asmare/IPS

Development organisations are promoting the view that sustainable development in African countries should be generated by a partnership between large corporations and small farmers. Credit: Elias Asmare/IPS

By Ed McKenna
ADDIS ABABA, Dec 23 2012 (IPS)

Africa’s smallholder farmers, who contribute 80 percent of food and agricultural production in sub-Saharan Africa and much of the world’s food supply, are being encouraged by big business, governments and NGOs to become less subsistence based and more entrepreneurial by tailoring production to market forces.

“Increased productivity and value-chain involvement should address weaknesses in Africa’s food economy and create employment opportunities by engaging smallholder farmers in agro-processing, packaging and the marketing of their products,” John Moffett, director of policy and strategy at Self Help Africa, an NGO that works with rural communities to bring sustainable solutions to the causes of hunger and poverty, told IPS.

The question is: can Africa balance the task of feeding a population of two billion by 2050 and at the same time accommodate the interests of global food retailers who are hungry to capitalise on the continent’s resources, markets and smallholders?

Michael Hailu, director of the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation, which works to advance agricultural and rural development in African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, told IPS that the private sector needed to play a greater role in smallholder agriculture as their increased participation in agricultural value chains was essential to stabilising global food supply and developing the livelihood of Africa’s smallholders.

“More than at any other time in the past, agriculture has been getting considerable global and national attention, particularly after the 2007-2008 food price crisis. As a result, the sector is attracting the policy and investment support it needs to fulfil the goals of food security and economic growth.”

Against a backdrop of volatile food supply and climatic uncertainty, global food retailers and agribusinesses want to prioritise smallholder farmers more than ever. Many large companies like Unilever and Walmart are claiming that the livelihood of smallholders is critical to the commercial expansion of giant food retailers.

David Hughes, professor of food markets at Imperial College, London, told IPS that the emphasis on smallholders was a commercial imperative and not just a corporate social responsibility afterthought.

“If they don’t get on the green train then they know they won’t have a long-term business. I think we will start seeing businesses making radical changes to their business models over the next 10 years.”

Development organisations are also promoting the view that sustainable development in African countries should be generated by a partnership between large corporations and small farmers.

Farm Concern is an Africa-wide market development organisation that advocates smallholders need to be market savvy and strategise production to satisfy the demands of the market in order to break out of subsistence agriculture.

The NGO promotes a smallholder “Commercial Village” model to help producers respond to the needs of food security and market forces.

“We take the total number of hectares in a village and promote three categories of commodities. Food and nutrition commodities are produced using 35 percent of the available land; the second category being inedible commercial crops occupies 65 percent, leaving five percent of land for natural resource management,” Mumbi Kimathi, strategy director for Farm Concern, told IPS.

The United Kingdom is also busy promoting the role of the private sector in smallholder agriculture.

Its Department for International Development is funding the creation of smallholder farmer linkages with the U.K.’s food retail industry and supermarkets to create opportunities for Africa’s farmers to export more of their products to U.K. supermarket shelves.

The partnership between Taylors U.K., a Yorkshire tea brand, and Rwandan smallholder tea growers is one example of how the U.K. government has helped facilitate the entry of giant retailers into Africa. This alliance resulted in the training of 10,000 farmers and 1,800 producers, and a 40 percent increase in the minimum wage for Rwanda’s small-scale tea producers.

Global food retailers are also getting excited about the high growth potential within emerging markets in sub-Saharan Africa. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecasts a 5.7 percent economic growth in 2013. This growth, according to the IMF, is being driven by rising commodity prices.

Global food retailers have seen these trends as opportunities for integrating smallholders into more sophisticated value chains to satisfy the new demand.

The world’s biggest food retailer, Walmart, made profits of 460 billion dollars last year– 15 times the size of Ethiopia’s GDP. Walmart is now extending its monopoly into Africa. The company purchased South Africa’s Massmart supermarket chain in 2011, providing them entry into 13 sub-Saharan African countries.

They aim to sell one billion dollars in food from small-scale farmers by 2015 in a bid to demonstrate a commitment to sustainable development.

Resource-constrained African smallholders are being lured by promises of greater access to credit, inputs, improved seed varieties, and market training opportunities, and the promise of a greater financial return.

Agricultural growth is more important for Africa than for any other continent. Africans depend on agriculture and non-farm rural enterprises for their livelihoods, yet they are also unable to meet their basic food needs due to population pressure, the effects of climate change and land degradation.

According to the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, an African Union programme for pan-African socio-economic development, nutrient depletion in Africa represents a significant loss of natural capital valued at an estimated one to three billion dollars per year. If most of the nearly 70 million smallholder families in sub-Saharan Africa fail within the next decade to adopt sustainable land and water management practices on their farms, long-term food security, productivity and income will be jeopardised.

There is also a risk that cash crops like tea, coffee, tobacco and flowers will become more attractive to smallholder producers than staples, which could damage efforts to make Africa more food secure.

Patrick Mulvay, co-chair of U.K. Food Group, is opposed to the industrialisation of smallholder agriculture and the participation of small African farmers in the corporate food economy. He told IPS that although it might boost production and provide a supply of raw commodities in the short term, in the long term it is unsustainable and destructive.

“African farmers really need support to sustain these food systems, which currently feed more than 70 percent of the world’s population, and they need protection from the industrialised commodity production as they will capture and trash the farmers’ markets, livelihoods and environment in the long term.”

He said he was concerned about how sustainable it was to divert food production towards the demands of giant foreign retailers and global volatile markets when 63.6 percent of household income in sub-Saharan Africa was spent on food. Mulvany was also worried that African countries that are unable to feed their growing population would become vulnerable to revolt as experienced in Tunisia in 2011.

 

 

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Ethiopia Throttles Rights Organisationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2012/11/ethiopia-throttles-rights-organisations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ethiopia-throttles-rights-organisations http://www.ipsnews.net/2012/11/ethiopia-throttles-rights-organisations/#comments Thu, 22 Nov 2012 05:59:45 +0000 Ed McKenna http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=114350 Heinrich Böll Foundation country director Patrick Berg said the current NGO law makes it impossible for the foundation to carry out its mandate to encourage inclusive political debate. Credit: Ed McKenna/IPS

Heinrich Böll Foundation country director Patrick Berg said the current NGO law makes it impossible for the foundation to carry out its mandate to encourage inclusive political debate. Credit: Ed McKenna/IPS

By Ed McKenna
ADDIS ABABA , Nov 22 2012 (IPS)

The world received contradictory signals about Ethiopia’s human rights record when in the same week it was elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council, a major German charity closed its Ethiopian office in protest against a restrictive political environment.

“If the qualification to be elected to the UNHRC is the human rights record of a country – then Ethiopia should not have been appointed…. the condition of human rights in this country is disastrous,” Endalkachew Molla, director of Ethiopia’s oldest rights organisation, the Human Rights Council (HRCO), told IPS.

Ethiopia, together with four other African countries – Kenya, Gabon, Côte d’Ivoire and Sierra Leone – was elected on Nov. 12 to serve as a member of the UNHRC for a three-year term beginning on Jan. 1, 2013.

In the same week, one of Germany’s major civil rights groups, the Heinrich Böll Foundation (HBF), decided to close its office in protest against the human rights restrictions in the Horn of Africa nation. The closure is the most high profile so far in Ethiopia.

Named after the German Nobel Prize winner for literature, the Heinrich

Böll Foundation is an NGO that promotes democracy and human rights, with 30 offices across the globe.

“Our mission, to work together with local partners for democracy, gender equality and sustainable development, can no longer be carried out. The closure of the office in Ethiopia is a sign of protest by the foundation against the ongoing restrictions on civil rights and freedom of speech,” said Barbara Unmüßig, director of the HBF, in a statement on Nov. 7.

Unmüßig was referring to the controversial NGO law passed in 2009 known as the “Charities and Societies Proclamation”.

This law places restrictions on the work, operations and funding of human rights organisations in Ethiopia. It prohibits any human rights organisation from receiving more than 10 percent of their funding from foreign sources.

Because of this law, the HBF office, which opened in 2006, was forced to shrink its mandate over three years from the promotion of democracy and gender equality to doing mostly environmental work to be consistent with the new law, according to country director Patrick Berg.

Other Restrictive Laws in Ethiopia

Other laws passed subsequent to 2005 include the Mass Media Proclamation and the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation, launched in 2008 and 2009 respectively.

These laws have attracted opprobrium for their broad and ambiguous language. Peaceful protest and dissent can now be considered terrorism, and critical reporting by the media can be construed as “encouraging terrorism”.

To date 11 journalists have been convicted of terrorism-related offences in Ethiopia under the anti-terror law.

“We are allowed to provide crafts training for women, but we are not allowed to help them demand their constitutional rights. Our mandate is to encourage an inclusive political debate – but the current law makes that impossible,” Berg told IPS.

In addition, a recent guideline to the law states that a maximum of 30 percent of an NGO’s budget can be devoted to administrative costs. Berg studied the definition of what an administrative cost was and he was alarmed to discover that the definition was extensive enough to account for the majority of costs incurred by his organisation.

“Overnight, our core work of producing and disseminating information and providing space for public dialogue is now seen as an administrative task. There is no way to comply with these rules without changing who we are. We are not willing to do that,” Berg said.

In 2009 the HBF had accepted working under the restrictions with the hope of reaching an agreement with the Ethiopian government that would fully restore the organisation’s previous scope of work. However, after three years of fruitless negotiations, the foundation finally decided to close.

The “Charities and Societies Proclamation” has become notorious for granting the government latitude for interference, surveillance and direct involvement in the management and operations of organisations.

Currently there are nearly 3,000 international civil society groups, NGOs and charities operating here, and 400 of these have been warned about operating against the rules and regulations of the law.

The importance of preserving human rights in countries like Ethiopia was stressed by U.N. deputy secretary general Jan Eliasson, who told IPS that “the four crucial pillars of a post-2015 MDG (Millennium Development Goal) world are peace, development, the rule of law and human rights; if one of these pillars is weak then the whole structure is weak.”

Ethiopia’s government spokesman Bereket Simon explained to IPS that “the purpose of the NGO law is to limit foreign intervention, to better enable citizens to participate in political life.” According to Bereket, the recent appointment to the UNHRC “gives the government more energy to pursue democracy and human rights in Ethiopia.”

However, Endalkachew believes that restricting foreign involvement in human rights creates a rationale that is inconsistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the U.N. in 1948.

“Human rights know no borders, they are universal. It is an agenda for all human beings. Why can’t human rights in Ethiopia have the same unlimited access to resources as agriculture and infrastructure do?” he asked.

The HRCO and the country’s leading women’s rights organisation – the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association (EWLA) – had their bank accounts frozen in December 2009 after the passing of the Charities and Societies Proclamation, despite the fact that all their foreign funding had been received prior to passage of the 2009 legislation.

The EWLA had provided free legal aid to over 17,000 women. In 2011, the organisation effectively ceased to function.

In October, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch protested against the decision by Ethiopia’s Supreme Court to uphold the freezing of assets amounting to 500,000 dollars belonging to the HRCO.

The HRCO’s outreach and capacity have been severely restricted by the 2009 law. They have been reduced from 12 branches to three, from 60 staff members to 12 and have had to close offices across the country. The scope of their aid services to victims of human rights violations has been quashed.

“We can remain a human rights organisation but only as a resource-less organisation,” Endalkachew said.

According to Endelkachew, the deterioration of human rights in the country stems from the civil unrest that followed the 2005 elections, when a large number of the opposition was voted into power.

“In the eyes of the ruling party the majority of NGOs and journalists were seen as supportive of the opposition, so they believed something had to be done to restrict their activities.”

After these events, the government introduced a series of proclamations including the 2009 “Charities and Societies Proclamation”.

If the rationale behind the appointment of Ethiopia to the UNHRC is to encourage the new government to improve its human rights record under the watchful gaze of the international community then Enadalkachew believes “there could be reason to be hopeful about the future of human rights in Ethiopia.”

 

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Ethiopia Charts a Chinese Coursehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2012/10/ethiopia-charts-a-chinese-course/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ethiopia-charts-a-chinese-course http://www.ipsnews.net/2012/10/ethiopia-charts-a-chinese-course/#comments Wed, 03 Oct 2012 07:49:16 +0000 Ed McKenna http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=113062 Radisson Blu hotel in Addis Ababa. Credit: Ed McKenna/IPS

Radisson Blu hotel in Addis Ababa. Credit: Ed McKenna/IPS

By Ed McKenna
ADDIS ABABA, Oct 3 2012 (IPS)

The death of Ethiopia’s leader of 21 years has raised fears of instability in one of Africa’s fastest-growing non-oil producing nations, which could potentially slow investment activity.

Former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who passed away in August, saw foreign direct investment (FDI) as key to his development plan for Ethiopia. This attitude helped shift Ethiopia’s economy from being wholly reliant on the export of agricultural commodities to, for example, utilising abundant labour and cheap power to begin developing a manufacturing industry.

“Without Meles, Ethiopia will struggle to control unrest (ethnic/religious) that could easily spill across regional borders,” a recent International Crisis Group report said.

According to the National Bank of Ethiopia, FDI in this country climbed from 150 million dollars in 2005 to 1.1 billion dollars in 2010. To bring in scarce foreign exchange, Meles channeled investment to export-oriented sectors like floriculture, horticulture, textiles, and leather.

Ethiopia’s foreign earnings increased 15 percent last year to 3.2 billion dollars, according to the Ministry for Trade. The government aims to double exports as a share of output by 2015, with a much bigger contribution coming from minerals and manufactured goods.

Dr Getachew Begashaw, professor of economics at Harper College in the U.S. city of Chicago, questions to what extent foreign investment is translating into jobs and improved quality of life for Ethiopians.

“Ethiopia has the lowest per capita GDP (only 351 dollars) in Africa; it is one of the last four countries in Africa. Similarly, it stands at the bottom of all countries reviewed for the human development and prosperity indices (171 out of 178 for HDI and 108 out of 110 for prosperity),” he told IPS.

By citing China as his model for governance, Meles may have mistakenly presumed that investors were only interested in receiving a good return on finance, according to Getachew, who believes that if the government’s repressive approach continues it could deter companies in the future.

“The political climate in the country is not conducive for investments; the degree of human rights abuses in the country dampens the sense of economic security; the lack of a free, secure, and safe political environment will discourage bold economic initiatives. The current uncertainties following (Mr. Meles´s) death could slow investment decisions,” Getachew said.

In speeches, Meles outlined his vision of how state-rooted protectionist capitalism would benefit Ethiopia.

Although he used FDI to spur economic transformation, he also wanted to nurture a competitive productive base and expressed concern that laissez-faire economics would undermine that goal, reducing the chances of lifting a population of 94 million out of poverty.

In keeping with this rationale throughout his reign, Meles maintained a state monopoly in telecommunications and barred foreign banks.

This approach meant a natural affinity with East Asia’s statist powerhouses. Chinese banks and firms have funded and built roads and dams, and more recently have moved into leather and footwear manufacturing in Ethiopia.

According to a recent International Monetary Fund report, Chinese firms are attracted by cheap labour, large plots of land and a growing market of 94 million people.

Chinese factories like shoe manufacturer Huajian are now relocating production facilities to Ethiopia to escape rising costs at home. The company was also drawn by one of the largest livestock industries in Africa.

The firm may generate four billion dollars in exports a year, according to a recent Bloomberg report that cites the company’s vice president. Chinese businesses have invested 900 million dollars in the country, Ethiopia’s Investment Agency reports.

Foreign firms are also eyeing up services. This year the number one hotel group in Europe, the Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group, expanded its upscale Radisson Blu brand into Ethiopia. The company says it sees this country as its vanguard in east Africa.

Also this year, Schulze Global Investments, a U.S. firm, announced a 100 million dollar Ethiopia fund, the first private-equity scheme focused exclusively on this Horn of Africa country. The fund will invest in sectors from agribusiness and cement to health care and natural resources.

Meles’s economic policies resulted in improved bilateral trade relations with some countries. The UK Trade and Industry (UKTI) office in Ethiopia enthuses about growth in trade: Exports from the UK quadrupled to 248 million pounds in the last five years, while imports from Ethiopia doubled to 105 million pounds over the same period.

Rival beverage companies Diageo and Heineken made a total combined investment of 400 million dollars last year in privatised breweries, solid evidence that Western firms are beginning to follow the trail blazed by Chinese, Indian and Middle Eastern firms, says Zemedeneh Negatu, managing partner of Ernst and Young in East Africa.

“FDI is increasing steadily, and Ethiopia could receive 1.5 to 2.0 billion dollars each year up to 2015, excluding possible additional investments in the oil and gas sector,” he told IPS.

Although investors experience problems with costly transport and cumbersome customs procedures, Ethiopia’s ranking in the World Bank’s Doing Business annual survey has improved to 111th out of 183 countries, higher than the oft-vaunted emerging giants of India and Brazil.

Four UK companies are at an advanced stage of gold and oil and gas exploration, according to UKTI’s Dessalegn Yigzaw, with Nyota Minerals planning to invest 200 million dollars to develop the Tulu Kapi gold mine once it acquires a mining license later this year.

Gold reserves may be around 500 tons, a recent study claimed. If potash, oil and gas deposits are found by companies such as Allana Potash Corp of Canada, Ethiopia’s South West Energy and the London-based Tullow Oil, billions of dollars will be needed to develop them.

One area of controversy has been the government’s commercial farming drive. In 2008 Karuturi, an Indian floriculture company, leased 100,000 hectares in a remote province near the South Sudan border to grow corn, rice, palm oil, sugar and other crops.

Critics argue that a food-aid dependent country should not be exporting cash crops. But the government maintains that investments like Karuturi’s will bring jobs and expertise and boost fragile hard currency reserves.

At the Ethiopian Investment Summit earlier this year, a characteristically bullish Meles announced to investors: “Ethiopia has over four million hectares of fertile and unutilised agricultural land that we intend to avail to the private sector.” Meles’s protectionist rationale continues to prohibit the purchase of land.

Meles displayed an impressive aptitude for attracting investors. While the new administration has vowed to achieve his vision, strong leadership is required by his successor Hailemariam Desalegn to continue Meles’s grand project of modernising Ethiopia. For the time being, there are no signs of the feared instability, or of jittery investors cutting and running.

According to Ernst and Young’s Zemedeneh, “Ethiopia has to continue an aggressive but focused strategy to attract even more FDI since there is a lot of global competition from many other countries around the world, including right here in Africa.”

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