Inter Press Service » Development & Aid News and Views from the Global South Thu, 20 Oct 2016 23:58:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Changing Climate Threatens World’s Smallholder Farmers Wed, 19 Oct 2016 13:45:07 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands 0 Water Bodies Central to Urban Flood Planning Wed, 19 Oct 2016 11:21:32 +0000 Jency Samuel A couple wait on an overturned garbage bin to be rescued by boat during the Chennai flooding of December 2015. Credit: R. Samuel/IPS

A couple wait on an overturned garbage bin to be rescued by boat during the Chennai flooding of December 2015. Credit: R. Samuel/IPS

By Jency Samuel
CHENNAI, India, Oct 19 2016 (IPS)

“The rain was our nemesis as well as our saviour,” says Kanniappan, recalling the first week of December 2015 when Chennai was flooded.

“Kind neighbours let us stay in the upper floors of their houses as the water levels rose. The rainwater was also our only source of drinking water,” he added.“Urban planners value land, not water.” -- Sushmita Sengupta of the Centre for Science and Environment

Kalavathy, another resident, isn’t very familiar with the links between extreme weather events and climate change. All she knows is that in December, her house was completely submerged in 15 feet of water. Now, after working night shifts, she gets up at 4am to pump water, supplied by the administration during fixed timings.

The simple lives of Kalavathy and her neighbours, who live in row houses behind the 15-foot-high wall built on the embankment of Adyar River, seem to revolve around water. Either too much or too little.

Chennai, the capital city of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, literally became an island in December 2015. The airport was inundated. Trains and flights had to be cancelled, cutting off the city for a few days from the rest of India.

The Chennai floods claimed more than 500 lives and economic losses were pegged at 7.4 billion dollars, with similar figures for all flood-affected Indian cities.

Urban flooding in India and other countries is one of the issues being discussed at the Habitat III meeting in Quito, Ecuador this week. The Indian government has also released a draft for indicators of what a “Smart City” would look like.

Extreme weather events

Incessant rains also left Chennai  inundated in November. “The average rainfall for Chennai in November is 407.4 mm, but in 2015 it was 1218.6 mm. For December, the average rainfall is 191 mm, whereas in December 2015 it was 542 mm, breaking a 100-year-old rainfall record,” said G.P. Sharma of Skymet Weather Services Pvt Ltd.

While the extreme rainfall that Chennai experienced was attributed to El Nino, scientists predict that with climate change, extreme weather events will increase. “There will be more rain spread over fewer days, as happened in Chennai in 2015, Kashmir in 2014, Uttarakhand in 2013,” says Sushmita Sengupta of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a Delhi-based research and advocacy organisation. This concurs with the IPCC fifth assessment report that predicts that India’s rainfall intensity will increase.

Poor urban planning and urban flooding

According to India’s National Institute of Disaster Management, floods are the most recurrent of all disasters, affecting large numbers of people and areas. The Ministry of Home Affairs has identified 23 of the 35 Indian states as flood-prone. It was only after the Mumbai floods of 2005 that the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), a government body, distinguished urban floods as different from riverine floods. The cause of each is different and hence each needs a different control strategy.

The Chennai city administration was ill-prepared to cope with the freak weather, in spite of forecast warnings from Indian Meteorological Department. Jammu & Kashmir had neither a system for forecasting floods nor an exclusive department for disaster management when it was hit by floods in 2014. While a different reason can be attributed for the flooding and its aftermath for each of the Indian cities, the common thread that connects  them is extremely poor urban planning.

As per a report by Bengaluru-based Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS), in 1951, there were only five Indian cities with a population of more than one million. In 2011, this number rose to 53. To cater to the increasing population, the built-up area increased, roads were paved and open spaces dwindled.

But an IIHS analysis shows that the built-up area has been increasing disproportionately compared to population growth. Between 2000 and 2010, Kolkata’s population grew by about 7 percent, but its built area by 48 percent. In the same period, Bengaluru’s built area doubled compared to its population, indicating the commercial infrastructural development.

Disappearing urban sponges

The open spaces that disappeared, giving way to concrete structures, are primarily water bodies that act as sponges, soaking up the rainwater. Increasing population also led to increased waste and the cities’ water bodies turned into dumping grounds for municipal solid waste, as was the case with Chennai’s Pallikaranai marshland. They also became sewage carriers like the River Bharalu that flows through Guwahati, Assam.

“Urban planners value land, not water,” says Sengupta.

A 1909 map of Chennai shows a four-mile-long lake in the centre of the city. It exists now only in street names such as Tank Bund Road and Tank View Road. T.K. Ramkumar, a member of the Expert Committee on Pallikaranai appointed by the Madras High Court, told IPS that in the 1970s, the government filled up lakes within the city and developed housing plots under ‘eri schemes’, eri in Tamil meaning lakes.

In fact eris are a series of cascading tanks, where water overflowing from a tank flows to the next and so on till the excess water reaches the Bay of Bengal. But the marsh and the feeder channels have been blocked by buildings, leading to frequent floods. NDMA suggests that urbanisation of watersheds causes increased flow of water in natural drains and hence the drains should be periodically widened. Not only are the water courses not widened, but heavily encroached upon.

Encroachment of water bodies is a pan-India problem. The water spread of all its cities have been declining rapidly over the years. “Of the 262 lakes recorded in Bengaluru in the 1960s, only ten have water. 65 of Ahmedabad’s 137 lakes have made way for buildings,” says Chandra Bhushan of CSE. Statistics reveal that the more a city’s water spread loss, the more the number of floods it has experienced.

Way forward

After the Chennai floods, the government-appointed Parliamentary Standing Committee demanded strict action against encroachments. It directed the Tamil Nadu administration to clear channels and river beds to enable water to flow, to improve drainage networks and to develop vulnerability indices by creating a calamity map. The Committee’s direction applies equally well to all the cities.

The Indian government has allocated 164 million dollars to restore 63 water bodies under its Lakes and Wetlands Conservation Program. But urban flood statistics reveal that the efforts need to be speeded up.

Yet in the Draft Indian Standard for Smart Cities Indicator, there is no indicator to measure the disaster preparedness and resilience of a city.

“Catchment areas and feeder channels should be declared ecologically sensitive and should be protected by stringent laws,” says Sengupta.

As for Chennai, “The retention capacity of Pallikaranai should be enhanced by suitable methods after hydrological and hydrogeological studies says,” said Dr. Indumathi M. Nambi of the Indian Institute of Technology.

She adds that the Buckingham Canal should be connected to the sea to facilitate discharge during floods. Plans are afoot to demonstrate this with the cooperation of industries and NGOs.

The plans are sure to work as Jaipur has created a successful public-private partnership model. Mansagar Lake, which had turned into a repository of sewage, received 70 percent funding from the central government for restoration. The state government raised the balance with the help of the tourism industry by allocating space for entertainment and hospitality spots, successfully restoring the lake.

The restoration of water bodies and flood mitigation measures will need to be site-specific, taking the extent and topographical conditions of catchment area, existing and proposed storm water drains, status of embankments and bunds of water bodies and permeability of soil conditions into account. But with such measures and political will, experts believe the safety of inhabitants and urban resilience can be accomplished.


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U.N. Urban Summit Gives Rise to a Mixture of Optimism and Criticism Tue, 18 Oct 2016 18:30:44 +0000 Emilio Godoy 0 Q&A: Land Degradation Could Force 135 Million to Migrate in Next 30 Years Tue, 18 Oct 2016 10:30:33 +0000 Manipadma Jena A man stands in the middle of parched paddy land in the northern Kilinochchi District, Sri Lanka. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man stands in the middle of parched paddy land in the northern Kilinochchi District, Sri Lanka. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
NEW DELHI/BONN, Oct 18 2016 (IPS)

One of the critical challenges facing the world today is that emerging migration patterns are increasingly rooted in the depletion of natural resources.

Entire populations are being disempowered and uprooted as the land that they rely on for their survival and for their future no longer provides sustenance.

Many people will move within their own region or to nearby cities, driving unplanned urbanisation. Up to 135 million people are at risk of distressed migration as a result of land degradation in the next 30 years, says a United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) vision document.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) along with the Paris Agreement on Climate Change both envision land rehabilitation and restoration as significant actions in development and addressing climate change.

Governments from all over the world are currently meeting in Nairobi in order to agree on the strategic direction of the Desertification Convention. IPS correspondent Manipadma Jena interviewed Monique Barbut, Executive Secretary of the UNCCD, ahead of the ongoing fifteenth session of the Committee for the Review of the Implementation of the Convention (CRIC15) in Nairobi. Excerpts from the interview follow.

Monique Barbut. Photo courtesy of UNCCD.

Monique Barbut. Photo courtesy of UNCCD.

Q: With as many as 170 countries affected by drought or desertification, how could these factors drive conflicts and forced migrations?

A. Two Somali proverbs, nabadiyocaano meaning ‘peace and milk’ and col iyoabaar which means ‘conflict and drought’, illustrate the strong connection between stability and access to pasture and water. The world’s drought-prone and water scarce regions are often the main sources of refugees.

But neither desertification nor drought on its own causes conflict or forced migration. But they can increase the risk of conflict and intensify ongoing conflicts. Converging factors like political tension, weak institutions, economic marginalisation, lack of social safety nets or group rivalries create the conditions that make people unable to cope. The continuous drought and water scarcity from 2006 to 2010 in Syria is a recent well-known example.

Droughts are natural phenomena, they are not fated to lead to forced migration and conflict. Severe droughts also occur in countries like Australia and the United States, but government intervention has made these experiences bearable.

For poor countries where safety nets do not exist, the intervention of the international community is vital.

In Mali, for example, unpredictable and decreasing rainfall seasons have led to a decline in harvests. More and more herders and farmers’ are moving into cities searching for employment. In Bamako, Mali’s capital, population in just over 20 years has grown from 600,000 to roughly   2 million with living conditions becoming more precarious and insecure. As Lagos fills up with those fleeing desertification in rural northern Nigeria, its population now 10 million. Disillusioned, unemployed youth are easy prey for smugglers, organised drug and crime cartels, even for Boko Haram.

Pastoralists face similar challenges when they are compelled to move beyond their accepted boundaries in search of water and pasture and risk clashing with other populations unwilling to share resources. Clashes between pastoralists and farmer are a serious challenge for governments in Somalia, Chad and Niger.

Q: Which other countries are showing signs of vulnerability to extreme droughts in the near future?

A: Drought occurs in almost every climatic region. With climate change, droughts are expected to spread to new areas and to become more frequent and more intense. The vulnerable regions are Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle-East and North Africa, South-Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Australia, Brazil, India, U.S. and China. In the coming decades, most of the United States, the Mediterranean region, Southwest Asia, Western and Southern Africa and much of Latin America, especially Mexico and Brazil, will face extreme droughts.

The more important question, however, is “who is going to be affected and what can be done about it?” The livelihoods of the poor in developing countries will be the most impacted because they rely heavily on natural resources.  So, more investment is needed to incentivise them to adopt sustainable land management (SLM).

But frankly, the investments we have for land rehabilitation are insufficient. We must also improve land tenure security because farmers with secure ownership are more likely to adopt good practices. Improving access to markets and rural services will create alternative non-farm employment, reducing pressure on land and the impacts of droughts in turn.

Q: A lot now hinges on achieving Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) which requires a paradigm shift from ‘degrade-abandon-migrate’ to ‘protect-sustain-restore’. UNCCD aims to achieve LDN by 2030.  Given the tremendous and diverse pressures on land for economic growth, also from large populations in regions like Africa and Asia, where do you see their achievements in 14 years?

A. We want to move from business as usual to a future where the amount of productive land passing from one generation to the next remains stable.

In the current scenario, large numbers of people and a large share of national economies are tied to the land sector, particularly in the developing countries. So any degradation of the land reduces a country’s productivity. Unsustainable land use practices costs Mali about 8 percent of its gross domestic product, for example.

By 2030, along with a higher world population, a large middle class will emerge, accelerating the demand to draw more from these land-based sectors. For Africa and Asia to bridge these gaps, the farmers need to keep every inch of their land productive. This switch to sustainable land management however needs strong government support – to move farmers to scale up these good practices, to recover degraded lands and to prevent losing the most productive lands to urbanisation.

Reforms would move credit, market access and rural infrastructural development to ignite sustainable growth in agriculture. This is what it will take, to achieve land degradation neutrality by 2030.

The Great Green Wall of the Sahara and the Sahel Initiative that seeks to restore degraded lands and create green jobs in the land-based sectors is a good example of this vision. The Desertification Convention is working with partners around the world to develop initiatives that are linked to the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target of achieving land degradation neutrality by 2030.

Q: Which countries are faring better in turning around land degradation and what is the key factor driving this achievement?

A. A 2008 global assessment showed that most of the land restoration since 1983 was in the Sahel zone. But we have seen a rise in global attention to land degradation through diverse initiatives. that include the Conventions on Biological Diversity and Climate Change,the Bonn Challenge on Forest and Landscape Restoration and the New York Declaration on Forests. There are also regional initiatives such as Initiative 20×20 in the Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa’s Great Green Wall and initiative AF100, also in Africa.

Once the SDGs were adopted last year, our ambition for 2016 was to have at least 60 countries committing to set voluntary national targets to achieve land degradation neutrality by 2030. We have surpassed that target. Today, we have more than 100 country commitments.

This achievement is due, in part, to the success of a pilot project that enabled 14 countries to assess and politically communicate the potential returns each would get by reversing land degradation in target areas. Armenia, Belarus and Ethiopia could quantify how they could meet their national obligations under the climate change agreement by pursuing land degradation neutrality.

Some common patterns among the countries that tend to fare better in fighting land degradation and drought (DLDD) is strong government leadership that values the socio-economic benefits accruing to their people and political commitment to make effective policies. They also have active champions of good land use practices which can be NGOs, development and private sector partners as well as small and large farmers.

Q: UNCCD is open to private business funding for projects under LDN. Which type of projects would businesses -for- profit show investment interest?

A. There is a growing appetite in the private sector for sustainable land use projects that can contribute to land degradation neutrality. More industry players have committed to LDN-related initiatives and other environmental targets. Companies committing to reduce the ecological impacts of their commodity supply chains rose from 50 in 2009 to nearly 300 by 2014, Supply Change reported in 2016. Many businesses dealing in agricultural and/or forestry commodities get raw materials from the land, and may be interested in investing in projects that make their supply chains more sustainable.

But there is no dedicated public funding pool investing globally in projects to combat land degradation, and public financing alone is not sufficient to protect our planet’s ecosystems. The private sector needs to step up. This is what created the need and opportunity for a new dedicated funding source –the LDN Fund. It combines public and private capital in support of the SDG target of land degradation neutrality.

The sustainable agriculture, sustainable forestry (including agroforestry), land rehabilitation and conservation, and the ecotourism sectors can support profitable investments. Forestry has attracted 77 percent of all capital raised for LDN investments to date. Agriculture is expected to see the strongest increase in investments and to grow by nearly 350 percent by 2021. It is clear that projects that incorporate at least some component of food and/or timber production are more likely to generate a stable cash flow are more appealing to private investors in LDN.

In the developed countries, many of the conservation activities receiving private investment are backed by government legislation. A strong regulatory framework provides certainty to the market and helps to create end buyers. As a result, the investments attract steady flows of private capital.

Q: Do governments need to put in place smallholder-safeguard mechanisms for private investments in land?

A. Safeguard mechanisms that recognise the land rights of smallholders are vital, even when the farmers have no formal tenure. Smallholdings support billions of livelihoods, which makes these households extremely sensitive to land use change.

In developing countries, government policies designed to attract investment are often biased towards large-scale farming, and hardly offer the protection to smallholders require. Private investors should have their own safeguards but governments have a responsibility to implement and enforce mechanisms to protect smallholders. The LDN Fund is designed to align with progressive global environmental and social standards.

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From City 50/50 to Planet 50/50 – How to Step it Up for Gender Equality and Sustainable Development Mon, 17 Oct 2016 17:41:38 +0000 Lakshmi Puri Lakshmi Puri is UN Assistant-Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director UN Women]]> Panama City, one of the fastest growing metropolises in Latin America. Credit: Emilo Godoy/IPS

Panama City, one of the fastest growing metropolises in Latin America. Credit: Emilo Godoy/IPS

By Lakshmi Puri
QUITO, Oct 17 2016 (IPS)

Urban development ministers, mayors from all over the world, city planners, architects and municipal authorities, civil society and private sector will meet in Quito, the capital city of Ecuador, for Habitat III, the Third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (17-20 October, 2016), to adopt the New Urban Agenda as well as to strategize and agree on its implementation.

Women’s and grass roots women’s organizations, youth champions for gender equality and UN Women, have consistently supported UN Habitat, the United Nations entity responsible for this agenda, in the three-year preparatory process, and will be at the Conference, to ensure that the historic gender equality and women’s empowerment compact agreed by the international community during 2015 is not only reflected in the outcome, but actually implemented where it matters most – on the ground at the local level, in communities and households.

Lakshmi Puri - UN Assistant-Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director UN Women

Lakshmi Puri – UN Assistant-Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director UN Women

HABITAT III is critical for the effective, accelerated and full implementation of the 2030 Agenda and its transformative and comprehensive gender equality compact, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, the outcome of the Financing for Development Conference and the Women, Peace and Security agenda in conflict and post-conflict countries.

It also comes at a time of unprecedented urbanization of the world with the large exodus of people from villages to haphazardly and rapidly growing cities in developing countries with inadequate infrastructure, services and social protection, transferring extreme rural poverty into vast city slums.

Studies indicate that there is a higher proportion of women within the urban population overall, and a concentration of women-headed households in urban centers.  Also, the population is becoming younger, and women and youth will continue to make up the majority of people living in poverty, with limited control over assets and with unequal access to economic and income generating opportunities and participation in public and private decision-making.

This population also faces greater vulnerability to gender inequalities, gender based violence and multiple forms of discrimination. For cities and human settlements it is increasingly more complex and challenging to meet the needs of women and young populations including for housing, infrastructure, transportation, energy and employment, as well as for basic services such as education and health care.

Yet for many the trend towards the “feminization of urbanization” creates new opportunities for escaping the inequality trap and realizing their human rights, but it also poses new challenges.

The NUA is a collective vision and a political commitment to promote and realize sustainable urban development.

 It provides a strategic opportunity to support the implementation of the Agenda 2030 by improving the spatial configuration of cities and human settlements in a gender-inclusive way and by recognizing the crucial dimensions of women’s rights. In this regard, the Quito Implementation Plan envisions to develop cities that “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls, ensuring women’s full and effective participation and equal rights in all fields and in leadership at all levels of decision-making, and by ensuring decent work and equal pay for equal work, or work of equal value for all women, as well as preventing and eliminating all forms of discrimination, violence, and harassment against women and girls in private and public spaces.”

In adopting «Leaving no one behind» and «Sustainable and inclusive urban economies» as part of its guiding principles, the NUA commits to ensuring equal rights and opportunities for all, end poverty and discrimination and promoting full and productive employment and decent work for all.

With the adoption of the NUA, Member States are pledging their commitment to adopt sustainable, people-centered, age- and gender- responsive and integrated approaches to urban and territorial development.

Efforts have been made throughout the grounds up and consultative process leading up to HABITAT III to reflect the imperative recognized in the 2030 Agenda and elsewhere that without realizing the human rights of half of humanity – that of women and girls – sustainable development, peace and security, or effective humanitarian action and resilience cannot be achieved.

In this case, gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls is both an end and a vital means to these ends.

Equally it should be noted that there is an inextricable link between the achievement of SDG 11 and its targets on making cities and human settlements sustainable, inclusive, safe and resilient, and SDG 5 on achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls.

This link has been emphatically recognized as critical to unlock the power of cities to empower women and girls as well to transform gender power relations within cities and human settlements.

In this regard, the NUA draws on SDG-5 and the gender equality component of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, for example, by committing to promoting safety and eliminating discrimination and all forms of violence; ensuring public participation providing safe and equal access for all (SDG 5.1); eliminating all forms of discrimination, violence, and harassment against women and girls in private and public spaces (SDG 5.2); eliminating harmful practices against women and girls, including child, early, and forced marriage, and female genital mutilation (SDG 5.3); recognize the contribution of the working poor in the informal economy, particularly women, including the unpaid, domestic, and migrant workers to the urban economies (SDG 5.4); ensuring women’s full and effective participation and equal rights in all fields and at all levels of decision-making, including in local governments (SDG 5.5);  promoting access to adequate, inclusive, and quality public services, social infrastructure and facilities, such as health-care services, including universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services to reduce newborn child and maternal mortality (SDG 5.6).

Furthermore, to consolidate the transformative power of cities, the NUA promotes increased security of tenure for all with particular attention to security of land tenure for women as key to their empowerment; make information and communications technologies accessible to the public, including women and girls, children and youth; and promoting participatory age- and gender-responsive approaches at all stages of the urban and territorial policy and planning processes, from conceptualization to design, budgeting, implementation, evaluation.

The NUA also references age- and gender-responsive measures throughout, including in relation to sustainable, safe, and accessible urban mobility for all and resource efficient transport systems, goods, services, and economic opportunities; housing policies, water and sanitation, and climate change. It makes reference to paying special attention to the needs and rights of women in relation to services provision, full and productive employment, decent work, and livelihood opportunities in cities and human settlements. It also commits to promote gender-responsive urban territorial development, budgeting, and tenure security, among others.

We now have the strongest political commitment ever to embedding the gender equality and women’s rights agenda in the path-breaking twenty-first century New Urban Agenda.  All stakeholders of cities and of all human settlements – peri urban and rural areas – should implement this agenda without which we will not be able to localize and achieve the first-ever universal and ambitious sustainable development agenda; nor will we be able to make and build peace in fragile and war torn countries; nor deal with the enormous migration and refugee crisis, humanitarian and climate change related challenges effectively.

As Habitat III unfolds, the challenge now is to ensure significant frontloading effort in implementation. Gender equality advocates, including UN Women, have played a critical role both in setting the agenda and monitoring the insider process during the run-up to Habitat III.

Now, we must remain vigilant to ensure, with a sense of urgency, its full and effective implementation. Strong accountability mechanisms are to be in place with clear responsibilities for all stakeholders while also providing avenues for women’s and grassroots’ and other civil society organizations at all levels to hold decision-makers answerable for their actions, and seek redress when necessary.

The most transformative commitments of land tenure, violence against women in public spaces and equal access to productive resources and decent employment, will truly root if the age and gender-responsive integrated approaches that the NUA promises are spelled out ensuring that women and girls’ human rights and fundamental freedoms are fulfilled.

The cities have a huge responsibility in generating an enabling environment to grant women and girls equal access to opportunities and the benefits of urban development, including in relation to the sharing of care work, for example through the provision of child care which actually has been left out of the NUA.

City 50/50 is the foundation for building a Planet 50/50 so we need to get all actors – local and national governments, the private sector and civil society to step it up for gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls!!

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We Can Eliminate Hunger and Poverty Quickly with Greater Commitment Mon, 17 Oct 2016 12:08:06 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram Jomo Kwame Sundaram was the Assistant Secretary-General for Economic and Social Development in the United Nations system during 2005-2015 and received the 2007 Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought. ]]> All those who currently go hungry in the world can be adequately fed with about two percent of current food production, much of which is wasted or lost. Credit: IPS

All those who currently go hungry in the world can be adequately fed with about two percent of current food production, much of which is wasted or lost. Credit: IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Oct 17 2016 (IPS)

Why do people go hungry? Mainly because they do not have the means to get enough food, whether by producing it themselves or by purchasing it. There is more than enough food to feed the world. All those who currently go hungry can be adequately fed with about two percent of current food production, much more of which is wasted or lost. The main problem is one of distribution or access, rather than production or availability.

Inequality and poverty, and increasingly, ‘natural disasters’ and armed conflict in the world are at the core of the problem of world hunger. While there still is enough food to feed the growing world population, unequal distribution of resources, incomes and vulnerability mean that food security remains a challenge for localities, households, and individuals. Countries with persistent poverty and high population growth face the greatest challenges as the poor there are least likely to be able to raise incomes or mobilize resources to adequately feed themselves.


Despite some progress in reducing undernutrition, including micronutrient deficiencies, over the second half of the 20th century, almost 800 million people are still conservatively estimated by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization to be suffering chronic severe dietary energy (carbohydrate) undernourishment. About 30 percent of children in developing countries are stunted, suffering deficiencies of at least one key micronutrient.

In recent decades, diet-related non-communicable diseases, often associated with obesity, have become a serious public health concern in many countries, including in the developing world, with over two billion overweight, and consequently, more vulnerable to diet-related non-communicable diseases. Earlier this year, the UN General Assembly declared a Decade of Action Against Malnutrition following the 2014 Second International Conference on Nutrition.

Meanwhile, food systems – the processes by which food is produced, processed, distributed and consumed – and lifestyles have been changing rapidly in much of the world. More sedentary lifestyles with rising food consumption – especially of fats, oils, and sugars – have been particularly problematic.

Well-designed social protection programs can help improve nutrition for the most vulnerable, while appropriate interventions in food systems, health and education can be decisive. Healthy lifestyles remain a formidable challenge for most.

Food prices

Among the factors influencing price volatility, crop harvests and policy interventions are the most important. With accelerating greenhouse gas emissions and global warming, the weather has become increasingly extreme and unpredictable. Consequently, unexpected supply shocks, due to output shortfalls, have become more common.

Bio-fuel mandates in the West have also exacerbated food price increases, especially of feedstock. To make matters worse, incentives promote conversion of food crops into bio-fuels – unlike some second generation bio-fuels produced from other plants grown on marginally arable land.

Thankfully, since the 2007-2008 price spike, financial speculation has been less significant despite price increases due to drought and harvest failures.


Food production, supply, and availability clearly matter. There are less hungry people today than in the mid-20th century because food supply expansion has continued to outstrip population and food consumption growth in the second half of the 20th century – thus lowering food prices. This may well have been the main reason for the decline of poverty as food costs are the main expense in determining poverty line incomes. However, although food prices generally declined during the second half of the 20th century, there was a reversal for almost a decade until 2012.

With decelerating population growth and rising life expectancy in many parts of the world, food supply will still need to increase, but less rapidly — by about 60% between now and 2050, much less than the 170% increase between 1961 and 2007. Without massive increases in land productivity, farmland will need to increase by some 70 million hectares globally, mainly in a few countries of Latin America and Africa. Yield improvements are expected to account for about 80% of crop production growth, with productivity improvements more modest than in the past.

At the third Financing for Development conference in Addis Ababa in July 2015, the Rome-based food agencies presented a simple, yet feasible plan to accelerate sustainable progress poverty and hunger by using social protection to accelerate productivity increases among the poor farmers. Considerable additional annual investments are required for research, development, and extension, including for climate adaptation.

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Pan-African Parliament Seeks Larger Role in Food Security, Policy Mon, 17 Oct 2016 10:23:00 +0000 Hisham Allam With better extension support, women farmers can increase productivity and food security in Africa. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

With better extension support, women farmers can increase productivity and food security in Africa. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Hisham Allam
CAIRO, Oct 17 2016 (IPS)

The Pan African Parliament (PAP) concluded its session in Egypt’s Sharm El-Sheikh Monday with initiatives on PAP’s identity, counter-terrorism challenges in the continent and joint development plans, particularly the question of food security.

The session, themed “Taking the PAP to the People of Africa” and held in Egypt for the first time, witnessed a huge turnout from an array of parliamentarians, politicians, presidents and policymakers from across Africa.

The PAP is one of the organs of the African Union (AU) and comprises five members from each of the 54 African parliaments. Established in March 2004, it is headquartered in Midrand, South Africa.

Thursday’s special session witnessed the signing of a key Memorandum of Understanding between the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the PAP, announcing the establishment of the Pan African Parliamentary Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition (PAPA-FSN).

This agreement is part of a broad strategy to mobilise key actors in both government and civil society with the aim of ending hunger and malnutrition by 2030, a statement by PAP read.

Abdessalam Ould Ahmed, FAO Assistant-Director General and Regional Representative for the Near East and North Africa, told IPS parliamentarians play a vital role in working through existing institutions, both for capacity building and sustainability of the partnership.

According to Ahmed, PAP represents all member states of the African Union and therefore offers overall continental political support for ending hunger and malnutrition.

“This is expected to make it easier for implementation at the national level. Further, sustainable development forms part of PAP’s mandate,” he said.

According to the president of the Pan African Parliament, Roger Nkodo Dang: “Our alliance puts the battle against hunger on the right pathway, and I am convinced that FAO is the ideal partner based on its notoriety and determination.”

Another key issue in the session was the ratification of the Malabo Protocol, adopted by the AU in Equatorial Guinea in 2014.

Should 28 African countries sign and ratify the protocol, PAP will move from being just a consultative body of the African Union and become a separate legislative body for the continent. It also provides for more representation of women. Only two countries have ratified the agreement so far, Mali and Sierra Leone.

“The transformation of PAP into a legislative body will empower African countries to draft new bills to counter regional challenges—chiefly terrorism,” Dang said.

Dang also highlighted the importance of drafting new legislation to counter terrorism. “No one is safe from terrorism anymore.”

Meanwhile, a special celebration took place to mark the 150th anniversary of the first Egyptian parliament convention. President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi said in a speech at Sharm El-Sheikh on Sunday that the parliament is a “mirror” reflecting what is happening in today’s Egypt.

He said last year’s legislative elections marked a new phase of parliamentary life in Egypt by “electing the most pluralist chamber in the country’s history,” with over 40 percent youth and 90 female MPs.

Among the other issues tackled in the session was the perils of UN sanctions imposed on Sudan.

Mahadi Ibrahim, former communication minister of Sudan, called on African parliamentarians to adopt a resolution to end those economic sanctions, in order for Sudan to enjoy the legitimate aspiration of its citizens to sustainable development.

Ibrahim noted that the sanctions, which have been imposed since 1997, have had a profound effect on all vital areas such as infrastructure, education, health and the economy. The sanctions also led to a dramatic reduction of the country’s ability to deal with epidemics such as HIV/AIDS.

Speaking to IPS, head of the African affairs committee at the Egyptian parliament and member of the African Union Hatem Bashat said that the sanctions are not “smart.”

“Some African parliamentarians suggested filing a memorandum to end sanctions on Sudan, and to send an official delegation of Arab and African parliament members to negotiate with American counterparts in this regard,” he said.

Some delegates also called for broader reform of the United Nations, in particular the Security Council.

“To meet the challenges of this new century, the UN must become more effective, more representative and more democratic,” said Ivone Soares, a member of parliament from Mozambique, in a plenary speech.

Soares said that Africa should be given two permanent seats. “The privilege of the veto enjoyed by the permanent members must be called into question,” she said.

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Indigenous Land Rights Bring Economic, not just Environmental Benefits Mon, 17 Oct 2016 03:46:52 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands Cloud forest in Costa Rica. Credit: Germán Miranda/IPS.

Cloud forest in Costa Rica. Credit: Germán Miranda/IPS.

By Lyndal Rowlands
Oct 17 2016 (IPS)

Secure indigenous land rights not only bring environmental benefits, they can also foster economic development, according to a new report released by the World Resources Institute.

The report, Climate Benefits, Tenure Costs: The Economic Case for Securing Indigenous Land Rights, describes how local communities can sustainably manage forests and generate economic growth when given tenure rights to their land.

In Guatemala, Indigenous communities have successfully created sustainable income from the forest, while treating it as a renewable resource, Juan Carlos Jintiach, Advisor of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon River Basin (COICA) told IPS.

Indigenous communities in Guatemala export forest products including highly nutritious berries which are popular in Korea and Japan, said Jintiach.

“The role of forests in climate mitigation is vastly under-appreciated, even by most climate experts,” Dan Zarin

Their careful management of the forests has also made their wood products popular with guitar manufactures such as Gibson and Fender, he added.

“In Guatemala the community-based industry is very well organized.” They have a land rotation system for their timber activities and they monitor the timber products up to the point they reach the consumer.

“They have a sophisticated way of managing their forests – you can almost trace a product from the tree it came from on a particular patch of land.”

“They use this revenue to improve local development, healthcare and education in their communities and that’s where the economic impact comes into the picture,” said Jintiach.

The world’s 370 million Indigenous people have only limited land rights and are much more likely to live in extreme poverty than non-Indigenous peoples.

Although they make up just five percent of the world’s population, Indigenous peoples make up 15 percent of the world’s extreme poor, according the World Bank.

Therefore, inclusive economic growth which benefits indigenous peoples is one of the ways that countries can tackle extreme poverty, and achieve the first Sustainable Development Goal of ending extreme poverty.

However, economic benefits are not the only reason why Indigenous Land Rights are important, the report argues.

“The role of forests in climate mitigation is vastly under-appreciated, even by most climate experts,” Dan Zarin, Director of Programs, Climate and Land Use Alliance said at the launch of the report.

“Other than the oceans there are no other carbon capture and storage technologies that are nearly as cost effective as forests and are proven on a large scale,” said Zarin.

“Deforestation rates on legally recognised Indigenous lands are two to three times lower registered to Indigenous peoples,” the report found.

Yet far too often government overlook local communities and allocate the rights to exploit a forest and other natural resources to multinational corporations with few if any links to the land.

“Indigenous Peoples and other communities hold and manage 50 to 65 percent of the world’s land, yet governments recognise only 10 percent as legally belonging to these groups, with another 8 percent designated by governments for communities,” the report found.

The report argues that allocating land rights to indigenous groups is relatively inexpensive for governments especially considering the measurable benefits.

“Secure indigenous forestlands provide significant global carbon and other ecosystem service benefits in Bolivia, Brazil, and Colombia, estimated at between $679 and $1,530 billion for the next 20 years,” said the report.

“Meanwhile, the costs of securing indigenous forestlands amount to less than one percent of these benefits.”

However without secure land rights, indigenous communities are often unable to protect the forest, Helen Ding, Environmental Economist and report author World Resources Institute, told IPS.

“We have seen that the REDD+ program has been there for more than 10 years now and there is still deforestation happening in Brazil and Indonesia. The reason for that is partly because many of these lands are held by indigenous people are not recognised and they are not protected,” said Ding.

In practical terms, she points out, land tenure rights allow local communities to access credit, which will enable them to generate economic benefits.

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Eradicating Poverty – a Lofty Ideal or Achievable Goal? Sun, 16 Oct 2016 20:00:24 +0000 Dr Kanayo F. Nwanze Dr Kanayo F. Nwanze is President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)]]> IFAD President Kanayo Nwanze visits Fanose Assafa’s vegetable farm in Ethiopia, created with the help of an IFAD-supported small-scale irrigation project. She is now entirely self-sufficient and food secure. Credit: ©IFAD/Abate Damte

IFAD President Kanayo Nwanze visits Fanose Assafa’s vegetable farm in Ethiopia, created with the help of an IFAD-supported small-scale irrigation project. She is now entirely self-sufficient and food secure. Credit: ©IFAD/Abate Damte

By Dr Kanayo F. Nwanze
ROME, Oct 16 2016 (IPS)

The first Sustainable Development Goal calls for us to end poverty in all its forms everywhere by 2030. The goal and the deadline are ambitious – and they need to be. We do not have the luxury of time.

Poverty is so intertwined with hunger, migration, forced displacement, conflict and environmental degradation that prioritising its eradication is not only a moral and economic imperative, but essential to address the most pressing global issues of our time.

To eradicate poverty, we have to focus our attention on the rural areas of developing countries where three quarters of the world’s poorest and hungriest people live.

The incomes of 2.5 billion people worldwide still depend directly on rural small farms, therefore developing smallholder agricultural production and market access is an essential starting point.

In terms of poverty, the plight of sub-Saharan Africa is particularly disturbing. Although, according to the World Bank, more than 1 billion people were able to escape extreme poverty globally between 1990 and 2012, in sub-Saharan Africa absolute poverty has actually increased since 1990 and an estimated 330 million people live below the poverty line.

Ines Terodoro dos Santos, 17, with her daughters, Eliara, 14-months, right, and Isabel, 3-years-old, in the family garden at home, in Aldeia Segredo Velho, near Ribeira do Pombal, in the state of Bahia, Brazil, on Wednesday, April 13, 2016. Credit: ©IFAD/Lianne Milton/Panos

Ines Terodoro dos Santos, 17, with her daughters, Eliara, 14-months, right, and Isabel, 3-years-old, in the family garden at home, in Aldeia Segredo Velho, near Ribeira do Pombal, in the state of Bahia, Brazil, on Wednesday, April 13, 2016. Credit: ©IFAD/Lianne Milton/Panos

It is important to ask why the continent has not made progress in its fight against poverty, and what can be done about it.

Extractive natural resources account for three-quarters of sub-Saharan Africa’s total exports but the resulting billions of dollars in revenue have had a limited impact on poverty reduction.

In some cases, the promotion of these industries has been to the detriment of investments in agriculture. Yet studies show that growth in agriculture is up to 11 times more effective in reducing poverty than growth in any other sector in sub-Saharan Africa.

The potential of agriculture to create prosperity for millions of people cannot be underestimated. In fact, agriculture is the single largest employer in the world, providing livelihoods for close to 40 per cent of today’s workforce globally, and 60 per cent in Africa.

The untapped potential on the African continent is enormous. It has 25 per cent of the world’s arable land and half the world’s uncultivated land suitable for growing food crops.

The African population growth of 2.7 per cent annually means food demand will double every 30 years. Agriculture could lead African development, improve food security and job growth so that people can move out of poverty and will not need to leave rural areas in search of opportunities elsewhere.

But even with all this potential agriculture is, unfortunately, not the priority of many African leaders. In 2003, African governments pledged to allocate 10 per cent of national budgetary resources to agriculture and rural development within five years. Only 13 countries had met their targets by 2012.

Instead of developing its own agricultural sector, the continent spends US$35 billion on food imports annually – money that could be invested in creating domestic employment, particularly in rural areas.

Some members of Nnedima rice cooperative with their bagged processed rice. The cooperative is comprises of 10 women collectively farming and processing rice. The results have been less effort and higher yields of quality rice thanks to the support the cooperative benefits from the IFAD Value Chain Development programme. Credit: ©IFAD/Andrew Esiebo/Panos

Some members of Nnedima rice cooperative with their bagged processed rice. The cooperative is comprises of 10 women collectively farming and processing rice. The results have been less effort and higher yields of quality rice thanks to the support the cooperative benefits from the IFAD Value Chain Development programme. Credit: ©IFAD/Andrew Esiebo/Panos

Too often leaders expect economic growth alone to result in poverty reduction – but the one does not automatically lead to the other. Last month, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) released The Rural Development Report 2016, which analysed rural development, transformation, and poverty reduction in more than 60 developing countries.

One of the study’s central findings is that targeted policies focused on transforming rural areas are essential to eliminate poverty.

These are policies that promote increased agricultural productivity and marketable surpluses, expanded off-farm employment opportunities and better access to services and infrastructure. These policy and investment choices have to be made. They do not happen on their own.

IFAD’s experience over nearly four decades has shown that when rural people have reliable access to land and other natural resources, functioning infrastructure, technologies, finance and markets, then both their livelihoods and their communities flourish, contributing significantly to economic growth.

Once we see smallholder farmers as rural entrepreneurs and their farms as viable and profitable businesses, the importance of investing in agriculture to ensure those businesses thrive becomes evident.

The result: rural areas become vibrant centres of employment and prosperity and the estimated 600 million young people in developing countries who will be looking for jobs over the next decade will not need to migrate to urban areas or beyond their counties’ borders to find opportunities elsewhere.

Of course, achieving poverty eradication is not just the responsibility of governments. It will require all actors – farmers, domestic investors along food value chains, research institutions, development agencies, educational institutions and others – to work together towards this common goal.

With visionary leadership, targeted investments and policies, and coordinated effort, poverty eradication is not just a lofty ideal. It is achievable – but we must recognise the urgency and act now.

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Private Interests Valued over Human Lives in Flint, Michigan Sun, 16 Oct 2016 19:10:37 +0000 Phoebe Braithwaite Flint water tower. Credit: George Thomas / Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Flint water tower. Credit: George Thomas / Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

By Phoebe Braithwaite
NEW YORK, Oct 16 2016 (IPS)

When the water in Flint, Michigan was found to be corroding cars at a General Motors’ (GM) factory, government officials agreed to change the factory’s water source, yet the same water source continued to poison the residents of Flint for another year.

From 17 to 20 October governments will meet in Quito, Ecuador, for HABITAT III, the UN’s most important conference about cities, which only occurs once every 20 years. HABITAT III looks to inaugurate a new urban agenda and set down goals about how cities can and should be responsible for the wellbeing of their inhabitants.

Flint’s ongoing crisis demonstrates some of the challenges cities face, all the more important due to extensive urbanisation, which means that half the world’s population now lives in cities. Judging by the example of Flint, much more can be done to hold state officials to account, and protect and support the most vulnerable in society, as corporations become more powerful.

In October 2014, six months after the crisis in Flint had begun, GM were given permission by the city’s emergency manager, appointed by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, to reconnect their water to Detroit’s water source, Lake Huron, at a cost of $440,000. According to reporting by Democracy Now!, GM also took all the water fountains out of the plant, indicating they knew it was not fit for human consumption.

All over the world, the poorest pay the most for water, and 650 million people – almost 1 in 10 – don’t have easy access to clean water. Many of these people spend half their daily income on informal water supplies, while those connected to formal water sources pay a fraction of this amount, according to a report published this year by Water Aid. It cites Papua New Guinea as a salient example, where 60% of the population lives without access to clean water, and water costs, on average, 54% of an already economically deprived person’s salary.

But the United States is the richest country in the world, and the web of factors which have brought about this crisis did so because – in America as elsewhere – poor lives matter less than richer ones. “If this had happened in a more well-to-do or more economically successful or vibrant area, it is arguable that the problem would not have become as bad as it was permitted to become… their voice was more easily ignored,” lawyer Kenneth Stern, Chief Executive of Stern Law PLLC, who has represented many Flint residents affected by the crisis, told IPS.

“It is truly sad that money is more important than the welfare of the people,” -- Lorei Graham

“It’s shameful. I’m not proud as an American to say that to you. It embarrasses me, quite frankly… You can’t treat these people like that,” Stern said.

“It is truly sad that money is more important than the welfare of the people,” Lorei Graham, a Flint resident who to this day deals with chronic rashes and hair loss as a result of ongoing contact with Flint water, told IPS. Graham has two jobs, one in a department store, another for a merchandising agency. She used to work in a gas station, where customers would cringe at the sight of her skin, thinking she was contagious, an experience she says wore her down.

In East Chicago’s West Calumet Housing Complex, 1,100 residents were recently forced to move after extraordinary levels of lead were found in their soil, showing that the public health crisis in Flint is by no means a lone example of negligence towards poor, primarily black citizens. There are thought to be comparable problems with plumbing in at least 19 states.

“Really, humans matter. Life matters,” said Flint resident Clarissa Camez to IPS. “And when you put profits before people, profits before the environment, profits before the good of all, this is what you end up with.”

What happened in Flint

All of Flint’s 98,310 residents have been exposed to the water’s various toxins. A public health crisis of enormous proportions has afflicted the city: Legionnaire’s Disease, a virulent form of pneumonia caused by bacteria that can multiply in certain water systems, has so far killed 10 of the 87 people it affected. Though data is scarce, the city’s 8-9000 children under six have been exposed to lead poisoning, which leads to brain damage, developmental disorders, and sudden behavioral change. It has also been linked to violent behaviour later in life.

Graham has noticed changes of these kinds in her own grandchildren. Her 8-year-old granddaughter, who used to be a good student, is now struggling in school. Her grandson, who is even younger, is no longer the obedient kid he once was, and she says that both children are far slower to respond to requests. These reports are incredibly common, and doctors are clear that no level of lead exposure is safe for developing brains.

About 57 percent of Flint’s inhabitants are black, and 41.6 percent of the city lives below the poverty line. There is nothing accidental about the fact that Flint’s primarily black population experiences increased poverty, while its more affluent suburbs are still substantially white: beginning in the 1930s, racist mortgage redlining policies were explicitly and systematically designed to stop black people from buying homes and building wealth, and left them more vulnerable to extortion through contracts that overvalued homes, harshly punished them for missing payments and never entitled them to own those houses.

These policies enabled white residents to move out when GM began to de-industrialise and jobs began to be cut in the 1940s, as the company sought cheaper labour according to the whims of the global economy. This trapped black people in increasingly economically deprived areas, and lay the groundwork for the poverty that persists in Flint today, a shell of the headquartered industrial town General Motors claimed it as in 1908.

“The Federal Housing Administration, along with the Homeowners Loan Corporation, mapped out cities across the country and determined which areas of the metropolis were safe for federally backed mortgages,” Andrew Highsmith, Assistant Professor of History at the University of California, Irvine, and author of Demolition Means Progress, a history of inequality and metropolitan development in Flint, told IPS. “Effectively, this enabled millions of white Americans to leave cities like Flint or Los Angeles and move to racially segregated suburbs with federal subsidies.”

Alongside the movement of whites into the suburbs, a drastic restructuring of state revenue-sharing occurred between 1998 and 2012, reducing Flint’s income from $900 million to $215 million, and significantly diminishing its tax base. This is led to a chronic lack of investment in public services. The same impulses underlay initial plans to build a cost-saving pipeline and the corresponding switch from Lake Huron to Flint River water.

Cutting Flint’s money, Highsmith says, has been “part of this broader shift towards austerity,” “this belt-tightening at all levels of government”. But, reflecting the same pattern of prioritising private investments over basic social provisions, in this topsy-turvy world, enormous tax subsidies were created to attract private investment, such as the millions film studios were offered to set up in Michigan. GM saves an undisclosed amount in capped tax credits, in return for which the company has made a deal with Governor Snyder that it should spend a billion on public investment.


Although Flint’s water has been switched back to Lake Huron, the crisis is far from over for Flint’s residents.
Residents “are still not drinking water. They are still afraid of the water,” Stern says. “Many of these people if not most of them are still washing their clothes in only bottled water; many of them are still drinking only bottled water; many of them are still bathing in bottled water.”

Residents are concerned that their water is still being contaminated because of the corrosion already caused to their pipes.

Nobody knows when the $1.5 billion needed to replace the pipes will turn up.

This is more than just inconvenient, he stresses. It is an extraordinary cost to bear over years – and Graham, like many other Flint residents, is still being charged for water that has poisoned her and continues to cause them severe health problems There have been recent reports of shigellosis in Flint, a bacterial disease that spreads from people not washing their hands.

There are also a vast number of problems caused by the crisis for which it is impossible to demonstrate a direct causal connection. Camez suffers from a chronic auto-immune disorder, as well as accompanying psychiatric effects. Both have been aggravated by the crisis – she experiences tingling in her hands and feet, she has pain in her joints and her hair falls out. All of the pre-existing difficulties in her life have been exacerbated by the crisis, and she conveys her sense of betrayal that what is causing all the ruin in Flint is “something that is necessary for life”.

“People say, ‘why is it so important?’ Well, why is it so important that you have something that’s necessary for the sustenance and maintenance of life? You know, you can do without food for a few days, but you should really have water every day. It would help if it was clean.”

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Inclusion in Markets Replaces Exclusion from Success – How Seeds and Insurance Can Lead to Pride Sat, 15 Oct 2016 20:11:28 +0000 Dr. Marco Ferroni Smallholders need to see new varieties tested in the field. But inclusion also requires information from experts. (Photo: Syngenta Foundation)

Smallholders need to see new varieties tested in the field. But inclusion also requires information from experts. (Photo: Syngenta Foundation)

By Dr. Marco Ferroni
BASEL, Oct 15 2016 (IPS)

“Humiliation and exclusion” – what a fascinating thematic twist to the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty! Too often, discussion of poverty focuses entirely on material resources. Those play an important role, but are only part of the story. We all know people who seem happy with very little, and others who are definitely unhappy with riches. However, having children publicly sent home from school because of unpaid fees is just one of the many humiliations faced by small farmers and other resource-poor people around the world. The resulting exclusion from education and the society of their peers is a terrible burden to force upon children. Poverty brings many others as well.

Dr. Marco Ferroni, Executive Director Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture, Basel, Switzerland

Dr. Marco Ferroni, Executive Director Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture, Basel, Switzerland

How, then, to turn humiliation and exclusion into pride and inclusion? My own field, agriculture, offers numerous opportunities. Many smallholders are, for example, excluded from the markets that would help them step out of poverty. One is the market of knowledge. In many places, agricultural extension services – through public or private advisors – are unavailable. Frequently, farmers cannot read. Few are fortunate enough to hear agricultural broadcasting in their local language. Excluded from knowledge of innovations and better techniques, these smallholders are unable to improve the way they farm.

They are further handicapped by exclusion from commercial markets. If, for example, irrigation or improved seed is personally unaffordable, locally unavailable or nationally inaccessible, smallholders’ harvests limp far behind their potential. If lack of organisational strength prevents farmers from selling into more lucrative markets than their grandparents did, then their families remain condemned to low incomes. Inclusion in such markets, conversely, goes hand in hand with farmers’ pride – not just in the material signs of better income, but also pride in their crops, their work, and their children’s development.

More access, less risk

But how, people often ask, can farmers break out of the vicious cycle of poverty? How, for example, can a smallholder with almost no spare cash get the better seed that would (all being well) grow into a profitable crop? There are two crucial aspects to the answer: access and risk reduction.

Access to seeds remains a key constraint to sustainable intensification of smallholder agriculture, worldwide. In Sub-Saharan Africa alone, critically important crops such as sorghum, potatoes, beans and cassava grow on more than 29 million hectares and support over 100 million smallholders*. Yet only a tenth of the seed used is of certified quality*. This situation is the single most important reason for the region’s yield gap.

Why does this occur? In the Syngenta Foundation’s view, it is because business models are often lacking for non-hybrid crops, and the markets are uncertain. Small seed companies need a much easier operating environment. But they will only enter markets in which they see a genuine chance of recouping their investments. There must therefore be enough customers able to pay a fair price for the seeds.

Making all this possible requires strong partnerships between public breeders, the companies and potential seed purchasers. So far, however, such Private-Public Partnerships have been few in number and limited in scope. There is a clear need for trusted and independent intermediaries to broker these relationships, so that smallholders gain access to better planting material.

Potatoes of pride: Of all the ways a smallholder can improve yields, access to better seeds makes the single largest difference. (Photo: Syngenta Foundation)

Potatoes of pride: Of all the ways a smallholder can improve yields, access to better seeds makes the single largest difference. (Photo: Syngenta Foundation)

Detractors of formal seed supply solutions claim repeatedly that smallholders have neither the inclination nor the means to buy better-quality certified seed. The first of these claims is contradicted by our experiences in the field; the second cries out for innovative solutions.

Clearly, new technology initially costs more than old versions. Buying seed is more expensive up front than saving it from the previous harvest. What are required are therefore smart ways to lower the entrepreneurship threshold – in other words, to make it easier for smallholders to invest in their harvests. Government subsidies may help kick-start a change, but are not a sustainable option. Making credit and/or insurance affordable and accessible is a better way to encourage investment, year after year. The insurance typically addresses weather-related issues, because weather represents farmers’ largest, least predictable and most wildly fluctuating block of risk. However, well-designed insurance products not only help shift the burden of risk from smallholders’ shoulders. By acting as security, they can also open the door to loans.

With initial barriers to investment reduced, smallholders can look forward much more confidently to the increased yield and income brought by better seed. They can escape from a poverty trap caused by very understandable reluctance to spend their limited cash several months before a harvest can be sold. A virtuous circle begins. Inclusion in markets replaces exclusion from success; pride will then increasingly drive out humiliation.

*Syngenta Foundation internal data

 Marco Ferroni is an expert on international agriculture and sustainability issues. He has been Executive Director of the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture since 2008. Ferroni had previously worked at the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank. A Swiss citizen, he holds a PhD in agricultural economics from Cornell University.

The Syngenta Foundation’s mission is to modernize small-scale farming in low- and middle-income countries through sustainable intensification, diversification and the activation of value chains. The Foundation incubates scalable products and solutions, tests them and catalyzes uptake and dissemination through commercial partnerships. Focus areas include seed systems, agricultural insurance and finance, and farmer support services, including digital decision tools in agriculture.

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320 Million Children in Single-Parent Families Sat, 15 Oct 2016 16:27:13 +0000 Joseph Chamie 0 Why farmers respond differently to higher food prices? Sat, 15 Oct 2016 08:45:24 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram Jomo Kwame Sundaram was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.]]> Bangladeshi women farmers. With food production growth in OECD countries slowing down, developing countries will need to step up production to meet increased food needs in the future. Credit: IPS

Bangladeshi women farmers. With food production growth in OECD countries slowing down, developing countries will need to step up production to meet increased food needs in the future. Credit: IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Oct 15 2016 (IPS)

Higher food prices are supposed to induce farmers to increase production for sale. In reality, however, their supply responsiveness is influenced by many factors, including their ability to respond to price changes.

With food production growth in OECD countries slowing down, developing countries will need to step up production to meet increased food needs in the future. Such growth is primarily expected in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa.

Higher global prices, better farming practices, and an improved environment to encourage agricultural innovation should lower the yield gap and increase aggregate production.

But in order to be effective, appropriate policies should be mindful that farmers can be very different from one another, and their circumstances greatly influence how they respond to changes, including to the prices of the food they may produce.

Not all farmers are the same

Smallholder agriculture involves very different producers, varying in the resources and technologies they have access to and are able to effectively utilize, as well as by the determinants of their production and consumption decisions. These include household dependency ratios, access to off-farm employment, production and market risks, and the markets to which they can sell.

Depending on their nature and context, farm households facing similar incentives may make different decisions. Three sets of factors seem to influence farmers’ inclination to increase production for sale:

• access to, and productivity of assets, including natural resources, labour and capital, will determine their ability and willingness to do so;

• connectivity to different markets, defined in terms of geographical proximity, information flows, power relations and costs;

• functionality of the markets in which they participate. Prices in many local food markets are characterized by high inter-seasonal volatility due to the low volumes transacted and limited integration into regional or international markets. Volatility can affect the level and riskiness of returns to producers. Where markets are not well integrated, returns to increased output can diminish quickly, significantly affecting incentives, and consequently, the adoption of productivity- enhancing technology and other practices.

These factors play out differently for various farm households. Faced with similar market incentives, some smallholders intensify production on existing plots by adopting new technologies or practices, while others increase the amount of land under the crop. Meanwhile, other smallholders may well be constrained from benefiting from apparently improved opportunities for all.

Analyses of the supply responsiveness of smallholder-dominated sectors in Sub-Saharan Africa suggest that:

* although improved prices have induced greater output in many countries, often, only a relatively small proportion of smallholders account for much of the increased production.

* some, particularly poorer smallholder producers have actually reduced farm production in response to food price increases due to the complex resource allocation decisions they make, e.g. to earn more in wages by working on other farms.

* household production and consumption decisions are inter-related and may constrain the deployment of limited resources and hence, adoption of the technologies and practices needed to significantly increase food crop production.

Policy support?

Consequently, smallholder participation in markets – both as sellers and buyers of food, and hence, their capacity to benefit from increased food prices – is constrained by limited choices. Smallholders are more likely to increase food sales when well-functioning markets provide appropriate incentives, and they are able to use their assets to produce more for the market, and also efficiently use adequate available infrastructure, e.g. to market their produce cost-effectively. Conversely, they may not do so if any one condition is absent.

As smallholder households differ significantly in the ways they participate in markets, and local markets vary in the extent of their integration with other domestic, regional and international markets, the design of policy interventions to raise smallholder production for sale needs to take adequate account of this variety. It is especially important to identify critical constraints preventing smallholder producers from responding to higher food prices.

Higher prices may be effective incentives for farmers with the ability to respond. For these producers, policy support may be required, primarily in the form of better access to risk management instruments and/or improved pre- as well as post-harvest and market infrastructure.

For smallholders with less access to well-functioning markets, policy support may have to be targeted to overcome specific constraints, which may mean, for example, improving markets, or strengthening the ability of producers to engage, individually or collectively, in these markets.

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Negligent Central American Leaders Fuel Deepening Refugee Crisis Fri, 14 Oct 2016 19:29:04 +0000 Erika Guevara-Rosas 0 Q&A: We Won’t Go Far Until Climate Issues Are Mainstreamed in Policy Fri, 14 Oct 2016 12:10:07 +0000 Charles Mkoka Estherine Fotabong, NEPAD Director of Programmes Implementation and Communication, in Nairobi, Kenya during the Second Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance Forum. Credit: Charles Mkoka/IPS

Estherine Fotabong, NEPAD Director of Programmes Implementation and Coordination, in Nairobi, Kenya during the Second Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance Forum. Credit: Charles Mkoka/IPS

By Charles Mkoka
NAIROBI, Oct 14 2016 (IPS)

Two years ago at the 31st African Union Summit in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, heads of state and government endorsed the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) programme on agriculture and climate change with the bold vision of at least 25 million smallholder households practicing Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) by 2025.

This means sustainable food systems and broad-based social and environmental resilience from the household level up. CSA also supports the aspirations and goals in Africa’s Agenda 2063 and the AU Malabo Declaration as well as the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and COP21 Paris climate agreement.

As a result of farmers embracing Climate-Smart Agriculture, some fields are still green and alive even as drought rages in the south of Madagascar. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

As a result of farmers embracing Climate-Smart Agriculture, some fields are still green and alive even as drought rages in the south of Madagascar. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

IPS correspondent Charles Mkoka caught up with Estherine Fotabong, NEPAD Director of Programmes Implementation and Coordination, at the Safari Park Hotel in Nairobi, Kenya during the Second Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance Forum this week to shade more light on some of the initiatives her institution is implementing. Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: What does the CSA Alliance bring to agriculture and rural development on the African continent?

A: As you know, 2025 is the African Union decision to reach 25 million farmers that are practicing CSA on the continent in order that agriculture remains relevant to the changing weather and climate patterns.  NEPAD being the technical arm, it is part of our responsibility to translate all the decisions into practical actions on the ground. In that respect we have developed partnership and programmes that are targeted to bring support to farmers.

Q: NEPAD cannot do this mammoth task alone considering its footprint is invisible in some states. In terms of synergy, who are you working with on the ground?

A: In terms of partnership we entered in the NEPAD/International Non Governmental (INGOs) Alliance. This is an alliance between NEPAD and five INGO’s working through communities and community-based groups on the ground. As NEPAD, we cannot be present in every country but we realise the role of subsidiary organisations to work with others who have the first engagement with farmers. The alliance can structure their programmes into providing concentrated support to the farmers. This support would either be providing new technologies of farming, inputs that farmers need or availability of credit. But also to adopt practices that help them cope with weather patterns or adapt to innovations that reduce greenhouse gases.

The second area of partnership is the CSA forum. You have seen the last two days that there is a lot of knowledge but this knowledge is sitting on computers. It is not shared for others to utilize. This platform creates space to bring all those working on agriculture, climate change and climate smart agriculture to share experience and knowledge generated through research.

Q: Can you tell our readers what other programmes you’re involved in at the secretariat level as far as issues of building climate change resilience and rural development are concerned across the continent?

A: Resilience-building among farmers is one target coming out of the Malabo Declaration. The declaration reaffirmed the continent’s resolve towards ensuring, through deliberate and targeted public support, that all segments of our populations, particularly women, the youth, and other disadvantaged sectors of our societies, must participate and directly benefit from the growth and transformation opportunities to improve their lives and livelihoods.

So we are working with member states to review the Agricultural Investment Plans, so that issues of climate change can be mainstreamed in their lives. It is clear that we are not going to go far if we don’t ensure that climate change issues are mainstreamed in national development and sectoral policies.

Zambia, for instance, was an early adopter of conservation agriculture, which is an example of climate smart agriculture. According to reports, farmers – particularly women – appreciated the increase in yields as a result of CSA. Yields have translated into increased income, which has translated into improved social economic conditions for their families.

Peter Mcharo's two children digging their father’s maize field in Kibaigwa village, Morogoro Region, some 350km from Dar es Salaam. Mcharo has benefitted greatly from conservation agriculture techniques. Credit: Orton Kiishweko/IPS

Peter Mcharo’s two children digging their father’s maize field in Kibaigwa village, Morogoro Region, some 350km from Dar es Salaam. Mcharo has benefitted greatly from conservation agriculture techniques. Credit: Orton Kiishweko/IPS

Q: Despite the experimentally proven results in the case of Zambia as you have stated, why is there low uptake of CSA across the continent?

A: The programmes we have try to address those obstacles. These include land ownership, particularly for smallholder farmers, access to finance, access to technologies to take up CSA techniques are some of the challenges.

So through our Gender Climate Change Agriculture Support Programme we hope to reach a significant number of households and women farmers to contribute to the target.  Furthermore, through our Climate Fund programme, we hope to continue to finance grassroots initiatives for the 2025 target. It is our belief that government themselves will put in place investments that will support farmers in their countries to ensure they take on board interventions on CSA so they withstand and cushion shocks brought  about by climate variability.

Q: More women are involved in food production on the continent. However, data shows that in terms of the policy framework embracing gender dimension little is being done by countries to provide an enabling environment for women participation especially when it comes to land ownership. What is your take on this?

A: I have always said that I think it will always be smart for any government to invest in women and make their condition better.

Even in the difficult conditions that they work, women contribute 80 percent of the food we consume in our households on the continent. True that they use these resources to support their families so that brings social cohesion in our communities and countries.

But also, we want to invest in women in terms of supporting their economic empowerment. They will also increase their political participation and empowerment. It is really important that countries give particular attention to policies that favour women, such as policies that make it easier to form women cooperatives. In some countries to register a women’s cooperative they have to pay more money than if it was a men’s cooperative. Why?

Why that kind of discrimination and inequality? The platform has to be equal for both men and women. So we need to develop policies that cut across the board for all stakeholders.

The issue of land is a big question and challenge. We can learn from other countries such as Rwanda and Ethiopia. These countries have developed policies that allow for co-ownership of land, so that a woman who is married in a village will not be chased away not to farm when the husband dies, for instance.

Q: In your speech, you hinted at the need to utilise local indigenous knowledge in the face of climate change, together with scientific-backed data. Why is this crucial in resilience-building?

A: We tend to forget what we have been doing over the years and get good results from that. Much as it is important to embrace new knowledge from science, I think we have also good knowledge from what our ancestors have been doing over the years. Such kind of knowledge we should document and replicate.

We should believe that our farmers have knowledge. They have ideas that can be used to cope with climate change. In Cameroon, for instance, fishermen when I visited them described what they had noticed over the years in their area. They explained about the changes in the water level, changes in the seasonal patterns. As such we need to engage with farmers. They have rich information and knowledge that can help us as technocrats to make informed decisions as well.

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The Elusive Woman Secretary-General Fri, 14 Oct 2016 06:37:32 +0000 Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury is former Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the UN; chairman of the UN’s Administrative and Budgetary Committee in 1997-1998 that approved Kofi Annan’s first reform budget; initiator of the Security Council resolution 1325 underscoring women’s equality of participation; and a well-known analyst of the UN system’s work. ]]>

Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury is former Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the UN; chairman of the UN’s Administrative and Budgetary Committee in 1997-1998 that approved Kofi Annan’s first reform budget; initiator of the Security Council resolution 1325 underscoring women’s equality of participation; and a well-known analyst of the UN system’s work.

By Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury
NEW YORK, Oct 14 2016 (IPS)

United Nations’ apex forum, the General Assembly elected the next Secretary-General yesterday by acclamation rubber-stamping the recommendation of the Security Council (SC). I am appalled by the choice of 15 members of the Security Council of another man following eight others in 70 plus years of UN’s existence as if only men are destined to lead this global organization.

Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury

Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury

The Council members were totally insensitive to a groundswell of support worldwide for a woman as the next Secretary-General. They advanced the legacy of ignoring the 50 per cent of humanity in their action. This is an absolute aberration of the system whereby the 15 members of the Council impose their choice prompted by P-5 pressure and manipulation upon the total membership of 193, not to speak of wide swath of civil society opinion and activism for a woman Secretary-General.

It is so very unfortunate that in the selection process politics has trumped women’s equality, violating UN Charter’s article 8 which underscores the eligibility and equality of men and women to participate in any capacity in all its organs – principal or subsidiary.

The grapevine is spreading that one of the East European women candidates would get the post Deputy Secretary-General (D-SG) as a part of the deal about the new SG. This is not a big deal as we already had two woman DS-Gs in the past.

It should also be remembered that when the DS-G post was created in 1998 by the General Assembly, it was the understanding that if the S-G is from an industrialized country, the DS-G would be from a developing country and vice-versa. Similarly, if the S-G is a man, the DS-G should be a woman – no possibility of vice-versa till now. This double balance in UN’s two highest posts has been ignored on occasions in recent years.

I would also underscore that the new S-G should bring in a true and real 50-50 gender balance at the level of Under Secretaries-General (USGs) and Assistant Secretaries-General (ASGs). This is an action which should be clearly laid down in a transparent way within the first 100 days in office.

UN General Assembly’s 70th President Mogen Lykketoft’s praiseworthy initiative for exposure of the candidates to wider membership and civil society did not have any impact of the predominant political process in the Security Council. Doing well in a Q&A is not a shortcut to the world’s most demanding job.

I believe strongly that a most practical and feasible way to prevent such Security Council’s choice imposition– though the UN Charter envisages as such– the General Assembly should decide to also hold straw polls on all candidates the way Council does to send a signal about how the majority of UN membership is expressing their choice. This can be done informally like the SC straw polls but made public and transmitted to the Council.

This will at least tell the world how the UN membership as a whole is assessing the candidates and hopefully will have an impact on the Council’s choice. All this can be done without amending the Charter or disrespecting any of its provisions.

Like any leader of an organization, the UN leader’s success or absence of it depends on his team. That is another area I belief needs a total overhaul in UN. It is long overdue. As in case of any new corporate CEO, each time the UN’s Chief Administrative Officer – that is how the S-G is described in the UN Charter – gets elected or reelected, interested quarters wonder whether he will introduce any new guidelines on senior appointments, and will he be subject to pressure from the big powers — as it happened with his predecessors?.

In that context, it is strongly felt that the UN’s so-called political appointments at ASG and USG levels should be more transparent and open. The pressures from Member States and personal favoritism have made the UN Charter objective of “securing the highest standards of efficiency, competence and integrity” (article 101.3) almost impossible to achieve.

It is also to be kept in mind that for his (yes, still it is “his”) own appointment, the incoming Secretary-General makes all kinds of deals – political, organizational, personnel and others. And those are to be honored during first years in office. That then spills over for the second occasion when he starts believing that a second term is his right, as we have seen in recent years.

The tradition of all senior management staff submitting their resignations is only notional and window-dressing. The new Secretary-General knows full well that there is a good number of such staff who will continue to remain under the new leadership as they are backed strongly by influential governments. In the process, merit and effectiveness suffer.

It is a pity that the UN system is full of appointments made under intense political pressure by Member States individually or as a group. Another aspect of this is the practice of identifying some USG posts for P-5 and big contributors to the UN budget.

What makes this worse is that individuals to these posts are nominated by their governments, thereby violating article 100 of the UN Charter which says that “In the performance of their duties the Secretary-General and the staff shall not seek or receive instructions from any government or from any other authority external to the Organization.”

The reality in the Secretariat does not reflect the Charter objectives – I believe it never did. One way to avoid that would be to stop nomination and lobbying – formally or informally – for staff appointments giving the S-G some flexibility to select senior personnel based on “competence and integrity”. Of course, one can point out inadequacies and possible pitfalls of this idea. But, there the leadership of the S-G will determine how he can make effective use of such flexibility being made available to him.

A very negative influence on the recruitment process at the UN, not to speak of senior appointments, has been the pressure of donors – both traditional and new ones – to secure appointments of staff and consultants, mostly through extra-budgetary resources and other funding supports. This has serious implications for the goals and objectives as well as political mission and direction of the UN in its activities.

No Secretary-General would be willing or be supported by the rest of the UN system to undertake any drastic reform of the recruitment process for both the senior management or at other levels. Also, at the end, he has to face the Member States in the General Assembly to get their nod for his reforms.

Yes, opposition will be there, both from within his own Secretariat and from influential Member States, but the determination and effectiveness of leadership of the new S-G will be tested in having the courage to push a drastic overhaul of the appointments and recruitments practice within the UN system as a whole.

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Cultivating a Different Future for Rural Women in Argentina Thu, 13 Oct 2016 20:15:24 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet Olga Campos (left), her grandson Jhonny and her sister-in-law Limbania Limache, on the three-hectare leased plot of land where they plant organic vegetables in El Pato, 44 km south of Buenos Aires.In cold, hot or wet weather they work every day in the vegetable garden. Credit: Guido Ignacio Fontán/IPS

Olga Campos (left), her grandson Jhonny and her sister-in-law Limbania Limache, on the three-hectare leased plot of land where they plant organic vegetables in El Pato, 44 km south of Buenos Aires.In cold, hot or wet weather they work every day in the vegetable garden. Credit: Guido Ignacio Fontán/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
EL PATO, Argentina, Oct 13 2016 (IPS)

Her seven children have grown up, but she now takes care of a young grandson while working in her organic vegetable garden in El Pato, south of the city of Buenos Aires. Olga Campos wants for them what she wasn’t able to achieve: an education to forge a different future.

“I am 40 years old and I am just now going to school, something that I never thought I would do. As I was not able to go to school, to me as a mother the most important thing was that my kids got to go,” Campos told IPS in this town of 7,000 people in the municipality of Berazategui, 44 km from the capital of Argentina.

Her three-year-old grandson Jhonny, one of her five grandchildren, plays picking chives (Allium schoenoprasum) – a task that was not fun and games for his grandmother.“Rural women do not have the same access as men to land tenure, credit, or training. Public policies are often designed by and for rural men, and women are left in the background.” -- Cecilia Jobe

“I would get up and take (my kids) to school, then I would work in the fields for a while,” said Campos. “At 11 AM I would pick them up at school, before making lunch that would be ready by 12:30, and at 1 PM I would go back to work. Now my children help me out but then I was alone because my husband had left me. It was tough raising my children on my own, but between the vegetable garden and work cleaning people’s homes, I managed to do it.

“It is tiring work, because in summer when it is really hot you have to work anyway; when it rains you have to work anyway; when it is cold you have to work anyway,” she said.

Campos grows crops on a leased three-hectare plot of land, together with her sister-in-law Limbania Limache.

In the city “people have transportation options. But here we have to walk or bike, even when it rains,” said Limache, a 30-year-old mother of two children, one of whom is disabled.

“It is hard when it rains because the roads are impossible. The kids sometimes don’t want to go to school because they end up all muddy, and as they are older they feel ashamed,” she said.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), rural women, whose international day is celebrated Saturday Oct. 15, represent one fourth of the world’s population but produce more than half the global food supply, while facing economic, social and gender inequality.

This is true in Argentina as in the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean.

“Rural women do not have the same access as men to land tenure, credit, or training. Public policies are often designed by and for rural men, and women are left in the background,” Cecilia Jobe, in charge of gender issues in the FAO office in Argentina, told IPS.

“What kills us are the land leases. And on top of that we have to pay for ploughing since tractors are very expensive to rent. I would love to acquire my own land. We are asking for the possibility of paying for our own land, not for them to give it to us,” said Campos.

Obtaining loans is also hard. “They give you the runaround till you finally just get fed up,” said Limache, whose husband also farms, on a different plot of land.

Graciela Rincón, a poultry producer, prepares the eggs to be sold on her farm in El Pato, 44 km south of Buenos Aires. Credit: Guido Ignacio Fontán/IPS

Graciela Rincón, a poultry producer, prepares the eggs to be sold on her farm in El Pato, 44 km south of Buenos Aires. Credit: Guido Ignacio Fontán/IPS

According to the 2010 census in Argentina, of the country’s 40,117,096 people, 20,593,330 were women, of whom 651,597 worked in rural villages or towns and 1,070,510 in scattered rural settlements, for a total of 1,722,107 rural women.

“Rural women also produce most of the family’s food, which ensures a varied diet, minimises losses, and provides marketable products. Women also spend their incomes on food and children’s needs,” said Patricio Quinos, under-secretary of family agriculture programmes in Argentina’s Agribusiness Ministry.

The official told IPS: “Studies by FAO have shown that a child’s chances of survival increase by 20 per cent when the mother controls the household budget.”

“Women, therefore, play a decisive role in food security, dietary diversity and children’s health,” said Quino, whose department will open a “gender office” to deal with the specific needs of women.

FAO’s campaign in Argentina, “Rural Women, Drivers of Development”, seeks to engage the different branches of government to make public policies and laws with a gender perspective.

“Rural women are still invisible. The hardships that urban women face are exacerbated in the rural sphere. We are talking about unpaid reproductive and productive work,” said Jobe.

The concept of “rural women” includes those who live in the countryside and those who live in villages or towns but are involved in agricultural production.

It is not a “homogeneous” group, Quinos said.

“We understand that economically underprivileged rural women have the greatest difficulties with regard to the gaps produced by gender inequality. In many senses, they are made invisible as productive, economic and social subjects,” he said.

Graciela Rincón and her husband moved from the municipal seat, Berazategui, to set up a small poultry farm to produce eggs in El Pato.

Her job, she told IPS, is “from Monday to Monday, because the chickens need the water pump to be turned on every two hours, so they can drink water; you need to check if any cable is disconnected or watch out that the dogs don’t get in and cause a disaster, which has already happened to us.”

Access to health care is also difficult. “There is a hospital in Berazategui that is quite far away, or else there is a small first aid clinic that is closer, but sometimes the only doctor there is a pediatrician, and I’m a grown woman,” said Rincón.

For her part, Limache said “I would like my children to study and work in something else, because the countryside is hard.”

According to FAO, if the rights of rural women were guaranteed, between 20 and 30 per cent more food would be produced, meaning 150 million less hungry people worldwide.

Aware of that, agricultural engineer María Lara Tapia advises her neighbors in El Pato on organic vegetable production, which is in growing urban demand, and on its commercial distribution.

“I show them that there are different options. What happens sometimes in family agriculture is that producers do not leave the rural areas to see other alternatives, so they are subject to a truck that comes from the market, imposes a price and takes away the goods,” she told IPS.

To increase their incomes she teaches them for example how to make their own seedlings, adding “another link” to the “value chain”.

“Being a woman in the rural environment is hard. I think that it is a very conservative sector,” Tapia said, for whom it was not easy either to advise male farmers.

The situation for rural women is worse, she says.

“They are not seen to be working, but ‘helping’. The husband, father or brother tells them: ‘come help in the field’, when really they are working just like they are,” she stressed.

Limache said: “We are as much a part of the work as they are. We do the same work and on top of that, all the housekeeping. We are part of this.”

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Antonio Guterres: New UN Secretary General Thu, 13 Oct 2016 15:28:57 +0000 Farhana Haque Rahman By Farhana Haque Rahman, Director General, Inter Press Service
ROME, Oct 13 2016 (IPS)

The new UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who takes office on January 1, arrives with strong credentials — both as a former Prime Minister of Portugal and an ex-UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Farhana Haque Rahman

Farhana Haque Rahman

As a senior UN official, he spearheaded an ambitious but politically intricate action plan to battle one of the world’s major humanitarian crises that threatened to unravel European unity as millions of refugees from the Middle East, Africa and Asia landed on the shores of Europe last year.

Guterres was elected mostly on merit – with a rare unanimous decision by the five veto-wielding permanent members at a time when the Security Council is sharply divided over Syria, Yemen, Ukraine and North Korea. The consensus in the 15-member Council, and the approval of his nomination by the 193-member General Assembly, underlined a strong affirmation of his appointment.

When both the Security Council and the General Assembly gave their overwhelming support to Guterres, they side-stepped two alternative options: picking the first woman Secretary-General or the first Secretary-General from Eastern Europe.

The lobbying for a female UN chief was initiated by more than 750 civil society and human rights organizations, while the proposal for an East European as UN chief came mostly from member states.

While there was a strong case for a woman Secretary-General in a 71-year-old male-dominated world body, Eastern Europe had less of a legitimate claim. As a geographical entity, it existed only within the confines of the UN, not outside of it. After the end of the Cold War, most Eastern European states became an integral partner of the European Union (EU) or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and often both

So, in effect, Guterres overcame both campaigns, as he was anointed the fourth Western European to hold the position.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of South Korea, who will step down on December 31 after a 10-year tenure, will leave behind two legacies: the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. But it will be left to Guterres to ensure their implementation.

A member of the Socialist Party in Portugal, Guterres spent over 20 years in government and public service before he was elected by the UN General Assembly to become the 10th High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), serving for a decade until the end of 2015.

His work with the UNHCR was nothing short of groundbreaking. As High Commissioner, he oversaw the most profound structural reform process in UNHCR’s history and built up the organization’s capacity to respond to some of the largest displacement crises since the end of World War Two.

Guterres has already pledged to serve the “victims of conflicts, of terrorism, human rights violations, poverty and injustices of this world”. Ban Ki Moon rightly complimented Guterres as a “superb choice” and said “his experience as Portuguese prime minister, his wide knowledge of world affairs, and his lively intellect will serve him well in leading the United Nations in a crucial period”.

However, he acknowledged that the election was also a disappointment as his vision of a female successor did not become a reality. Ban Ki Moon, is not alone in his sentiments, as many consider the outcome of the election to be “bittersweet”. Christiana Figueres, a Costa Rican diplomat and one of Guterres’ female rivals for the job, tweeted on 5 October, “Bitter:not a woman. Sweet: by far the best man in the race. Congrats Antonio Guterres! We are all with you”.

Guterres takes over the UN at a time when the world body has remained paralyzed over several unresolved political problems, including the five-year-old devastating civil war in Syria, hundreds of civilian killings in Yemen, Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan, and the emergence of North Korea as the world’s newest nuclear power in defiance of Security Council resolutions.

The new Secretary-General will also be entrusted with the task of resolving several lingering problems, including ongoing reports of sexual abuse of women by some UN peacekeepers and compensation for Haitian victims of cholera inadvertently brought in by UN peacekeepers, and address new challenges, such as helping muster the trillions of dollars needed to implement the 17 SDGs and the Climate Change agreement as well as ensuring a 50:50 gender parity in senior and decision-making positions in the UN Secretariat.

One of his first appointments should be to name a woman as his Deputy, preferably from the developing world.
We wish him well in his endeavors.

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Hit by Extreme Weather, South Asia Balances Growth and Food Security Thu, 13 Oct 2016 12:46:20 +0000 Amantha Perera A man rides his bicycle through a dusty village in the Mahavellithanne area, about 350 km northeast of Sri Lanka's capital Colombo, where daytime temperatures were hitting 38C this week. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man rides his bicycle through a dusty village in the Mahavellithanne area, about 350 km northeast of Sri Lanka's capital Colombo, where daytime temperatures were hitting 38C this week. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
POLONNARUWA, Sri Lanka, Oct 13 2016 (IPS)

Sri Lanka is literally baking these days.

During the first week of October, the Metrological Department reported that maximum daytime temperatures in some parts of the country were between 5 to 2C above average. They hit 38.3C in some parts of the North Central Province, a region vital for the staple rice harvest.South Asia needs around 73 billion dollars annually from now until 2100 to adapt to the negative impacts of climate change if current temperature trends continue.

The prolonged dry spell has already impacted over 500,000 people, with government agencies and the military providing them with safe drinking water brought in from other areas. When those supplies are not sufficient or delayed, the affected communities can buy water from private dealers who sell safe drinking water in one-litre bottles at a price between Rs four to 10 (three to seven cents).

“It has been like this for over three months now,” said Ranjith Jayarathne, a farmer from the region.

Ironically, a little over three months back, the area was fearing floods. In early May, heavy rains brought in by Cyclone Roanu left large parts of the country inundated, caused massive landslides, and left over half million destitute and over 150 dead or missing.

It is not only Sri Lanka that is facing the acute impacts of changing weather. A study by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) found the entire South Asia region stands to lose around 1.3 percent of its collective annual GDP by 2050 even if global temperature increases are kept to 2 degrees Celsius.

After 2050, the losses are predicted to rise sharply to around 2.5 percent of GDP. If temperature increases go above 2 degrees Celsius, losses will mount to 1.8 percent of GDP by 2050 and a staggering 8.8 percent by 2100, according to the analysis.

Coping is not going to be cheap. South Asia needs around 73 billion dollars annually from now until 2100 to adapt to the negative impacts of climate change if current temperature trends continue.

In its regional update, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said that this year, above-average monsoon rains, coupled with a succession of typhoons and tropical storms from June to early August, have caused severe localized floods in several countries in the subregion, resulting in the loss of hundreds of lives, displacement of millions of people and much damage to agriculture and infrastructure.

Losses of livestock, stored food and other belongings have also been reported. Affected countries include Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

If current climate patterns continue, like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh will face severe fallout. The ADB study said Bangladesh is likely to suffer an annual economic loss from climate risks of about 2 percent of GDP by 2050. That is expected to balloon to 8.8 percent by 2100.

Annual rice production could fall by 23 percent by 2080 in a country where agriculture employs half of the labour force of around 60 million. Dhaka could see 14 percent of its territory underwater in case of a one-metre sea level rise, while the South Eastern Khulna region and the delicate eco-system of the coastal Sundarbans could fare far worse, the report said.

Women wait for water in the village of Chenchuri, in Eastern Bangladesh, about 300 km from Dhaka. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Women wait for water in the village of Chenchuri, in Eastern Bangladesh, about 300 km from Dhaka. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Bangladesh’s other South Asian neighbours also face mounting risks, according to ADB assessments.

Nepal could lose as much as 10 percent of GDP by 2100 due to melting glaciers and other climate extremes, while in neighbouring India, crop yields could decline 14.5 percent by 2050, the bank said.

India’s 8,000 kilometre-long coastline also faces serious economic risk due to rising sea level, it said. Currently 85 percent of total water demand for agriculture is met through irrigation, and that need is likely to rise with temperature increases, even as India’s groundwater threatens to run short.

Sri Lanka has already seen its rice and other harvests fluctuate in recent years due to changing monsoon patterns. ADB data warns that yields in the vital tea sector could halve by 2080.

Death and mayhem could be the most visible impact of changing climates, but according to experts, extreme weather events have also caused major disruptions in the island’s agriculture and food sectors.

According to the World Food Programme (WFP) Sri Lanka’s rapid development has been scuttled by fickle weather events. Though the country has been classified as a lower middle income country since 2010, “improvements in human development, and the nutritional status of children, women and adolescents have remained stagnant. The increased frequency of natural disasters such as drought and flash floods further compounds food and nutrition insecurity.”

Nearly 4.7 million (23 percent of the population) people are undernourished, according to the State of Food Insecurity in the World 2015, and underweight and anaemia affect nearly a quarter of children and women. According to WFP’s most recent Cost of Diet Analysis, 6.8 million people (33 percent) cannot afford the minimum cost of a nutritious diet.

Experts say that despite cyclic harvest losses due to erratic weather patterns in the past decade, Sri Lanka is yet to learn from them. “People are yet to fathom the extent of extreme weather events,” Kusum Athukorala, Co-chair of the UNESCO Gender Panel on the World Water Development Report, told IPS.

Athukorala, who is an expert in community water management, said that Sri Lanka needs a national water management plan that links all relevant national stake-holders and a robust community awareness building programme.

In a classic example of lack of such national coordination, the Irrigation Department is currently reluctant to release waters kept in storage for the upcoming paddy season for domestic use in the drought-hit areas. Department officials say that they can not risk forcing a water shortage for cultivation.

Experts like Athukorala contend that if there was active coordination between national agencies dealing with water, such situations would not arise. She also stresses the need for community level water management. “The solutions have to come across the board.”

Officials in South Asia do understand the gravity of the impact but say that their governments are faced with a delicate balancing act between development and climate resilience.

“Right now, the priority is to provide food for 160 million (in Bangladesh),” said Kamal Uddin Ahmed, secretary of the Bangladesh Ministry of Forest and Environment. “We have to make sure we get our climate policies right while not slowing down growth.”

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What Happens When a Small Farmer Migrates? Thu, 13 Oct 2016 06:42:26 +0000 Baher Kamal Kenya - Maasai pastoralists, who participate in the Farmer Field School, taking their cattle to a local livestock market. ©FAO/Vitale

Kenya - Maasai pastoralists, who participate in the Farmer Field School, taking their cattle to a local livestock market. ©FAO/Vitale

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Oct 13 2016 (IPS)

Now that world attention is focused on the fast growing process of urbanisation, with 2 in 3 people estimated to be living in towns and cities by the year 2030, an old “equation” jumps rapidly to mind: each time a small farmer migrates to an urban area, equals to one food producer less, and one food consumer more.

Such an equation especially impacts developing countries, where small farmers produce between 60 and 80 per cent of all food.It also affects the living conditions in urban centres, with negative repercussions on the policies aimed at achieving the sustainability of world’s cities, which is scheduled to be top on the agenda of HABITAT III conference in Quito, Ecuador on October 17-20.

IPS interviewed Dr. Peter Wobst at the United Nations leading agency dealing with food and agriculture, to assess the impact of rural migration on food production.

“Every smallholder moving out is one producer less – that’s for sure… But the reality is complex…,” says Wobst, who is senior advisor on the Strategic Programme on Rural Poverty Reduction at the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

Dr. Peter Wobst

Dr. Peter Wobst

According to Wobst, migration (mobility of people, largely comprising of labour mobility) is a common phenomenon that occurs during the economic and social transformation of societies/economies.

“We want this to happen for economies and regions to develop. Today, in a more integrated world economy, more than ever. And the numbers speak for themselves – one billion people not living in the communities where they were born.”

Hence, as the rural areas (including agriculture) transform, new production systems require different compositions of skills, which in turn needs to be taken into account in the relevant education systems (basic education as well as vocation training), Wobst adds.

While some people find new opportunities in the changing rural economy, others are seeking opportunities in nearby towns or cities or ultimately move abroad. This is all fine as long as people improve their relative livelihoods condition, he says.

“What obviously we do not want to see is that people move because of economic distress, because they cannot cope with the changing rural (economic) environment and do not see any other viable livelihoods opportunity in their communities of origin. To be beneficial, migration should be a choice, not a necessity.”

Wobst then explains that “we at FAO are therefore working on ‘addressing the root causes of distress migration’, dealing with the socio-economic issues that drive people out of rural areas.”

Now, back to the farmer moving to the city. According to Wobst, for an individual, that “equation” seems obvious… But in a time continuum and over a large number of farmers it does not hold.

Pakistan - People escaping flooded areas by tractor. ©FAO/Hafeez

Pakistan – People escaping flooded areas by tractor. ©FAO/Hafeez

Wobst goes further to explain why the equation “each time a farmer migrates to an urban area, means one food producer less and one food consumer more” does not necessarily hold.

“As economies undergo structural transformation, the movement of people in search of better employment opportunities elsewhere is inevitable. Farmers can migrate to an urban area, but also to other rural areas, and can do this on a short-term (including seasonal/cyclical migration) or long-term basis.”

However, even in the case of rural-urban migration, generally the “equation” (rural migration to urban centres implying less food production and more food consumption) does not hold, Wobst adds.

“If properly managed, safe and regular migration can reduce pressure on local labour markets and foster a more efficient allocation of labour and higher wages in agriculture.”

“Some farmers may find a much more productive occupation in urban areas. Some may still have a farm back home that they support to become more productive through the remittances they send as well as the new knowledge and skills they have acquired.”

Some of those remaining farmers in the rural areas become more productive over time (fostered by agricultural transformation, advancement in technologies, agricultural investment, better vocational training, extension services, etc.), says Wobst.

And adds that agricultural and rural transformation will lead to more integrated food systems, with further occupational opportunities up the value chain (including processing, packaging, transport, wholesale, and retail).

Wobst also explains that remittances from family members who migrated can relax liquidity constraints and foster investments in agriculture and other rural economic activities with potential for job creation in rural areas of origin.

Burundi - Refugees fleeing civil conflict. ©FAO/Linton

Burundi – Refugees fleeing civil conflict. ©FAO/Linton

“Further, migrants can acquire new knowledge, skills and networks which will allow them to engage in more productive and attractive employment and entrepreneurial opportunities linked to agriculture upon their own return or simply facilitate those opportunities for the remaining farm household or community members.”

IPS asked Wobst about the latest figures. In 2015, there were 244 million international migrants, including 150 million migrant workers. About one third of them are aged 15-34, he said.

Internal migration is an even larger phenomenon, with 740 million internal migrants in 2013. Around 40 per cent of international remittances are sent to rural areas, reflecting the rural origins of a large share of migrants, Wobst further explained.

Moreover, in 2015, 65.3 million people around the world were forcibly displaced by conflict and persecution.

Regarding the impact of migration, Wobst believes it brings both opportunities and challenges for countries of origin, transit and destination.

In countries of origin, diaspora, migrant networks and return migrants can foster the transfer of skills, know-how and technology, as well as investments to promote agriculture and rural development, he says. In countries of transit and destination migrants can help fill labour shortages.

“However, large movements of people present complex challenges. Rural areas of origin risk losing the younger and often most dynamic share of their workforce, while in transit and destination countries migration can constitute a challenge for local authorities to provide quality public services for migrants and host populations, and further strain the natural resource base.”

Hence, the FAO has been working to create alternative and sustainable livelihood options in rural areas, with a special focus on women and youth, and harness the developmental potential of internal and international migration.

“Hence, the FAO has been working to create alternative and sustainable livelihood options in rural areas, with a special focus on women and youth, and harness the developmental potential of internal and international migration”.

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