Inter Press Service » Cooperatives http://www.ipsnews.net Journalism and Communication for Global Change Thu, 17 Apr 2014 10:43:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.3 Tanzania’s Farming Cooperatives Struggle to Bear Fruit http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/tanzanias-farming-cooperatives-struggle-bear-fruit/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tanzanias-farming-cooperatives-struggle-bear-fruit http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/tanzanias-farming-cooperatives-struggle-bear-fruit/#comments Fri, 04 Apr 2014 10:32:27 +0000 Adam Bemma http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133419 John Daffi climbs to the top of a hill overlooking a scenic Rift Valley wall and the Ngorongoro forest, where wildlife migrates between the world famous Ngorongoro crater and Tanzania’s Lake Manyara. Daffi, 59, looks down upon his family’s farm below and reminisces about the time his father first brought him here as a boy. […]

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John Daffi on his piece of land that is part of a cooperative that began in 1963 in Upper Kitete. However, recent attempts by the government to revive cooperatives have been a failure. Credit: Adam Bemma/IPS

John Daffi on his piece of land that is part of a cooperative that began in 1963 in Upper Kitete. However, recent attempts by the government to revive cooperatives have been a failure. Credit: Adam Bemma/IPS

By Adam Bemma
ARUSHA, Tanzania, Apr 4 2014 (IPS)

John Daffi climbs to the top of a hill overlooking a scenic Rift Valley wall and the Ngorongoro forest, where wildlife migrates between the world famous Ngorongoro crater and Tanzania’s Lake Manyara. Daffi, 59, looks down upon his family’s farm below and reminisces about the time his father first brought him here as a boy.

“Upper Kitete was a model farming village set up by the government of Tanzania. My father received a call while he was in Arusha from his brother in Karatu telling him to apply. We were selected as one of the first 100 families,” Daffi told IPS.

In 1962, British agriculturalist Antony Ellman came to Tanzania and from 1963 to 1966 helped establish the Upper Kitete Cooperative Society on 2,630 hectares located in the Karatu district of northern Tanzania, about 160 kilometres from the city of Arusha.“Even though the population has increased, the land hasn’t. Every inch of it is cultivated.” -- farmer, John Daffi

“It was a very exciting time as Tanzania just received independence and it was a real opportunity for aspiring farmers to have access to great land,” Ellman told IPS.

Daffi’s father, Lucas, relocated his family from Mbulu village in Manyara region to Kitete village in Arusha region. The villagers selected began a social experiment, and distinguished themselves from other nearby villages with the name Upper Kitete.

The cooperative movement pre-dates independence. Professor Amon Z. Mattee, from Tanzania’s Sokoine University of Agriculture, told IPS that the prosperity of cooperatives in the 1960s made the government want to create a level playing field for all.

“Coops started in the 1930s for some of the cash crops like coffee and cotton and for many years up to the time of independence in 1961. They were really member-based and offered excellent services in terms of research, extension, inputs, profitable markets and even social services like education for members’ children,” Mattee said.

Tanzania’s founding President ‘Mwalimu [Teacher]‘ Julius Nyerere started the village settlement programme where farmers were encouraged to work cooperatively hoping they would prosper economically. Eighteen months after independence in 1963, the Upper Kitete Cooperative Society was born and it continues to this day.

“The soil was so fertile. We began farming cereal crops like wheat and barley. Now we’re much smaller scale and farm mainly maize and beans, our staple crops,” Daffi said.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), Tanzania remains primarily a rural country with an agriculture-based economy that employs the majority of the national labour force. Its economy is still highly dependent on predominantly rain-fed agriculture that contributes an estimated 30 percent to the GDP and accounts for 64 percent of all export earnings.

Its main traditional export crops are coffee, cashews, cotton, sugar, tobacco, tea, sisal and spices from Zanzibar. Maize is the main food crop alongside sorghum, millet, rice, wheat, beans, cassava, bananas and potatoes, according to the FAO.

“For the first 10 years Upper Kitete was on an upward path. People worked together willingly and life was improving for everyone. They continually had better yields, built bigger homes and the services improved as a result,” Ellman said.

In 1974, the dream faded as Nyerere forced reluctant Tanzanians from urban and rural areas to move into villages causing environmental and organisational strain to existing villages like Upper Kitete. At this time, its population ballooned from 210 to 1,200 residents.

A 2001 study by academics Rock Rohde and Thea Hilhorst called ‘A Profile of environmental change in the Lake Manyara Basin, Tanzania’ examines the stress put on the land due to government directives.

“Ujamaa [Nyerere’s brand of socialism] aimed to move the entire Tanzanian rural population into cooperative villages and achieved this under ‘Operation Vijijini’ when land was redistributed and several million peasants and pastoralists resettled in new, more compact villages, often under duress. [It] had a profound social and economic effect, especially on the highlands of Karatu where wealthy commercial farmers were deprived of their land holdings,” the study states.

Since then, Daffi has witnessed the land at Upper Kitete become scarce as it was divided into smaller portions for the growing community. This village of 500 people in 1963 is now a town of nearly 5,000. Now, the cooperative produces much less than it previously did because it has less land.

“Even though the population has increased, the land hasn’t. Every inch of it is cultivated,” Daffi said.

Mattee researches farmers’ organisations in Tanzania. He said recent attempts by the government to revive cooperatives, like the 1997 Cooperative Development Policy, were a failure.

“The government has since the 1990s tried to revive the cooperative sector by introducing new policies, but the coops were already too weak and farmers had completely lost faith in them,” Mattee said.

Ellman reflects on his time at Upper Kitete with great nostalgia. But he realises they face the problem all remaining agricultural cooperatives in Tanzania face — a lack of unity and insufficient resources to support the fast-growing population.

“I keep in touch with many people at Upper Kitete and I visited again in 2012. They’ve asked me to record its history,” Ellman said. “It’s been difficult. With such a dense population they need to adopt more intensive forms of land use and even diversify out of agriculture. Tanzanians are resourceful people. They can do it.”

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Rural Costa Rican Women Plant Trees to Fight Climate Change http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/rural-costa-rican-women-plant-trees-fight-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rural-costa-rican-women-plant-trees-fight-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/rural-costa-rican-women-plant-trees-fight-climate-change/#comments Wed, 02 Apr 2014 13:39:21 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133379 Olga Vargas, a breast cancer survivor, is back in the countryside, working in a forestry programme in the north of Costa Rica aimed at empowering women while at the same time mitigating the effects of climate change. Her recent illness and a community dispute over the land the project previously used – granted by the […]

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Olga Vargas next to the greenhouse with which the Quebrada Grande de Pital Women’s Association began to revitalise its sustainable business, whose priority is reforestation. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

Olga Vargas next to the greenhouse with which the Quebrada Grande de Pital Women’s Association began to revitalise its sustainable business, whose priority is reforestation. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
PITAL, Costa Rica , Apr 2 2014 (IPS)

Olga Vargas, a breast cancer survivor, is back in the countryside, working in a forestry programme in the north of Costa Rica aimed at empowering women while at the same time mitigating the effects of climate change.

Her recent illness and a community dispute over the land the project previously used – granted by the Agrarian Development Institute, where the women had planted 12,000 trees – stalled the reforestation and environmental education project since 2012 in Pital, San Carlos district, in the country’s northern plains.

But the group is getting a fresh start.

“After the cancer I feel that God gave me a second chance, to continue with the project and help my companions,” Vargas, a 57-year-old former accountant, told IPS in the Quebrada Grande forest reserve, which her group helps to maintain.

She is a mother of four and grandmother of six; her two grown daughters also participate in the group, and her husband has always supported her, she says proudly.

Since 2000, the Quebrada Grande de Pital Women’s Association, made up of 14 women and presided over by Vargas, has reforested the land granted to them, organised environmental protection courses, set up breeding tanks for the sustainable fishing of tilapia, and engaged in initiatives in rural tourism and organic agriculture.

But the top priority has been planting trees.

A group of local men who opposed the granting of the land to the women from the start demanded that the installations and business endeavours be taken over by the community.

The women were given another piece of land, smaller than one hectare in size, but which is in the name of the Association, and their previous installations were virtually abandoned.

“I learned about the importance of forest management in a meeting I attended in Guatemala. After that, several of us travelled to Panama, El Salvador and Argentina, to find out about similar initiatives and exchange experiences,” said Vargas, who used to work as an accountant in Pital, 135 km north of San José.

The most the Association has earned in a year was 14,000 dollars. “Maybe 50,000 colones [100 dollars] sounds like very little. But for us, rural women who used to depend on our husband’s income to buy household items or go to the doctor, it’s a lot,” Vargas said.

The Association, whose members range in age from 18 to 67, is not on its own. Over the last decade, groups of Costa Rican women coming up with solutions against deforestation have emerged in rural communities around the country.

These groups took up the challenge and started to plant trees and to set up greenhouses, in response to the local authorities’ failure to take action in the face of deforestation and land use changes.

“Climate change has had a huge effect on agricultural production,” Vargas said. “You should see how hot it’s been, and the rivers are just pitiful. Around three or four years ago the rivers flowed really strong, but now there’s only one-third or one-fourth as much water.”

In Quebrada Grande, the Agrarian Development Institute dedicated 119 hectares of land to forest conservation, which the Womens’ Association has been looking after for over a decade. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

In Quebrada Grande, the Agrarian Development Institute dedicated 119 hectares of land to forest conservation, which the Womens’ Association has been looking after for over a decade. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

In San Ramón de Turrialba, 65 km east of San José, six women manage a greenhouse where they produce seedlings to plant 20,000 trees a year.

Since 2007, the six women in the Group of Agribusiness Women of San Ramón have had a contract with Costa Rica’s electric company, ICE, to provide it with acacia, Mexican cedar, and eucalyptus seedlings.

The group’s coordinator, Nuria Céspedes, explained to IPS that the initiative emerged when she asked her husband for a piece of the family farm to set up a greenhouse.

“Seven years ago, I went to a few meetings on biological corridors and I was struck by the problem of deforestation, because they explain climate change has been aggravated by deforestation,” said Céspedes, who added that the group has the active support of her husband, and has managed to expand its list of customers.

Costa Rica, which is famous for its forests, is one of the few countries in the world that has managed to turn around a previously high rate of deforestation.

In 1987, the low point for this Central American country’s jungles, only 21 percent of the national territory was covered by forest, compared to 75 percent in 1940.

That marked the start of an aggressive reforestation programme, thanks to which forests covered 52 percent of the territory by 2012.

Costa Rica has set itself the goal of becoming the first country in the world to achieve carbon neutrality by 2021. And in the fight against climate change, it projects that carbon sequestration by its forests will contribute 75 percent of the emissions reduction needed to achieve that goal.

In this country of 4.4 million people, these groups of women have found a niche in forest conservation that also helps them combat sexist cultural norms and the heavy concentration of land in the hands of men.

“One of the strong points [of women’s participation] is having access to education – they have been given the possibility of taking part in workshops and trainings,” Arturo Ureña, the technical head of the Coordinating Association of Indigenous and Community Agroforestry in Central America (ACICAFOC) , told IPS.

That was true for the Pital Association. When they started their project, the women received courses from the Instituto Nacional de Aprendizaje (national training institute), which made it possible for two illiterate members of the group to take their final exams orally.

Added to these community initiatives are government strategies. More and more women are being included in state programmes that foment agroforestry production, such as the EcoMercado (ecomarket) of the National Forest Finance Fund (Fonafifo).

EcoMercado is part of the Environmental Services Programme of Fonafifo, one of the pillars of carbon sequestration in Costa Rica.

Since Fonafifo was created in the mid-1990s, 770,000 hectares, out of the country’s total of 5.1 million, have been included in the forestry strategy, with initiatives ranging from reforestation to agroforestry projects.

Lucrecia Guillén, who keeps Fonafifo’s statistics and is head of its environmental services management department, confirmed to IPS that the participation of women in reforestation projects is growing.

She stressed that in the case of the EcoMercado, women’s participation increased 185 percent between 2009 and 2013, which translated into a growth in the number of women farmers from 474 to 877. She clarified, however, that land ownership and the agroforestry industry were still dominated by men.

Statistics from Fonafifo indicate that in the EcoMercado project, only 16 percent of the farms are owned by women, while 37 are owned by individual men and 47 percent are in the hands of corporations, which are mainly headed by men.

But Guillén sees no reason to feel discouraged. “Women are better informed now, and that has boosted participation” and will continue to do so, she said.

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Women Turn Potatoes into Gold in Zimbabwe’s Cities http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/women-turn-potatoes-gold-zimbabwes-cities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-turn-potatoes-gold-zimbabwes-cities http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/women-turn-potatoes-gold-zimbabwes-cities/#comments Sun, 09 Mar 2014 14:46:31 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132579 Shyline Chipfika, 26, is one of thousands of Zimbabwean women in urban centres who have struck gold by growing potatoes. And a lot of their success has to do with an import ban. “I used to be a mere housewife, and my life has changed in a big way after I ventured into potato growing,” […]

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Potato plants in the backyard of Lina Chingama, 44, from Zimbabwe's Norton town, 40 kilometres west of the capital Harare. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Potato plants in the backyard of Lina Chingama, 44, from Zimbabwe's Norton town, 40 kilometres west of the capital Harare. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Mar 9 2014 (IPS)

Shyline Chipfika, 26, is one of thousands of Zimbabwean women in urban centres who have struck gold by growing potatoes. And a lot of their success has to do with an import ban.

“I used to be a mere housewife, and my life has changed in a big way after I ventured into potato growing,” Chipfika told IPS.“Who said women can’t provide for their families? Really, watch what the potato magic has done for many women here." -- Grace Mbiza

Chipfika’s husband, faced with joblessness, turned to hawking at a local commuter omnibus terminus in the capital, Harare, after the company he worked for shut down in 2008 owing to the hyperinflation that crippled many sectors of the economy.

Chipfika’s rags-to-riches story is a very rare one in Zimbabwe, and she boldly declares she will not abandon the potato-growing venture anytime soon.

“I used to stay in a small apartment, but thanks to this venture, I have managed to extend my apartment into a respectable piece of property,” she said.

The potatoes do not require large amounts of land, just ordinary backyards, where the women plant seeds in sacks filled with fertile soil.

“The potato growing method on urban yards by women here is very simple yet extremely productive, although since time immemorial, urban yards have often been wasted by many who have not seen any value in them,” agricultural extension officer Mike Hunde, based in Zimbabwe’s Mashonaland East Province in Marondera, 70 kilometres outside Harare, told IPS.

The officers are engaged by the government to facilitate agricultural research that enhances productivity.

The government promotes potatoes for food security, and as a way of backing local producers like Chingama and many others. In 2013, it banned imports of this staple food, and the crop took off.

Taking advantage of the ban, women in Zimbabwe’s towns and cities have since formed associations to get financial aid from pro-women non-governmental organisations to intensify local potato production.

According to the Urban Women Farmers’ Union, a trade union for women potato growers in Harare, there are 151 associations that women in towns and cities have formed to mobilise funding to cater for their potato growing ventures, with 16,150 women involved in potato production.

“Since the ban of potato imports here, as women potato growers only, we are supplying potatoes to eight percent of the national market, with huge scale indigenous potato growers dominating 88 percent of the market, while a few urban men who have emulated us are supplying the other four percent of the market,” Abigail Mlambo, secretary general of the Urban Women Farmers’ Union, told IPS.

“As an association of 12 potato growers here, we approached non-governmental organisations to seek funding to advance our urban potato growing project,” Nancy Chikwari told IPS.

After securing 1,000 dollars to buy inputs, Chikwari said their project expanded rapidly. Today, the women’s association boasts of sending their children to colleges and universities without financially straining their husbands.

“In 2013 alone, we harvested 30 tonnes and sold each 15-kilogramme packet for eight dollars, raking in thousands of dollars in profits,” Chikwari told IPS, adding that all of them now owned a car and a house in the capital thanks to potato growing.

Women in this Southern African nation make up the majority of jobless. According to the Central Statistical Office, of the country’s 13 million people, 60 percent (7.8 million) are women and 66 percent of them (5.14 million) are unemployed.

Official figures from 2013 indicate that only 850,000 people are formally employed.

The World Food Programme estimates the unemployment rate in Zimbabwe to be around 60 percent, despite the large numbers of people employed in the informal sector.

But for many urban women now undertaking potato farming at home, unemployment has become a thing of the past.

“Women like me no longer worry about employment. I make extensive sales from the potatoes I reap from my backyard,” 44-year-old Lina Chingama from Norton, a town 40 kilometres west of Harare, told IPS.

Chingama said she harvests the potatoes three times in a year and gets 1,200 kilogrammes of potatoes each time. A 10 kilogramme bag of potatoes fetches about 10 dollars at the local market.

This means Chingama pockets 1,200 dollars for the 1,200 kilogrammes she harvests each time.

Traditionally regarded as dependent upon their male counterparts, owing to urban potato farming, many women have even become breadwinners.

“Who said women can’t provide for their families? Really, watch what the potato magic has done for many women here. We are not just sleeping in towns, but rather fending for our families too,” Grace Mbiza, a women’s rights activist, told IPS.

Independent environmentalist Archibald Chigumbu said the process used by women to grow the potatoes is ecologically friendly.

“Their method does not harm the environment, as ordinary sacks with potato plants are placed within urban yards to nurse potatoes as they develop,” Chigumbu told IPS. He said common potato varieties grown here include Amythest, Mont Claire, BPI, Jacaranda, Opal and Emerald.

Ronald Museka, chair of the Potato Council of Zimbabwe, an organisation representing growers, told IPS, “We want to ensure there is enough production for the local market and urban women are just doing that. Soon they may start exporting.”

Zimbabwe’s Agriculture Minister Joseph Made is strongly supportive of these urban women’s ventures.

“Women have championed a grand move, maximising potato yields in their ordinary domestic yards and at the end of the day smiling all the way to the bank. We will not hesitate an inch to support them in every way possible,” Made told IPS.

But women potato growers here may face another hurdle with unpredictable local authorities, as the by-laws on such projects in towns are unclear.

“Yes, women are doing well, but council authorities haven’t approved urban agriculture and I’m unsure about what may or may not befall their potato projects,” a top local authority official speaking on the condition of anonymity, told IPS.

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Sun Shines on Forest Women http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/sun-shines-forest-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sun-shines-forest-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/sun-shines-forest-women/#comments Fri, 07 Mar 2014 08:13:17 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132514 Chintapakka Jambulamma, 34, looks admiringly at a solar dryer. It’s the prized possession of the Advitalli Tribal Women’s Co-operative Society- a collective of women entrepreneurs that she leads. She opens up a drawer in the dryer, scoops out a handful of the medicinal plant Kalmegh and exclaims, “Look, it’s drying so fast.” Around her, women […]

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Forest women in Anantagiri forest in the south-east of India check out their solar dryer. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS.

Forest women in Anantagiri forest in the south-east of India check out their solar dryer. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS.

By Stella Paul
ANANATAGIRI, India, Mar 7 2014 (IPS)

Chintapakka Jambulamma, 34, looks admiringly at a solar dryer. It’s the prized possession of the Advitalli Tribal Women’s Co-operative Society- a collective of women entrepreneurs that she leads.

She opens up a drawer in the dryer, scoops out a handful of the medicinal plant Kalmegh and exclaims, “Look, it’s drying so fast.”“We work hard, gather good quality herbs and seeds. Our life depends on this money. Why should we settle for less?”

Around her, women from the co-operative break into laughter.  The women are from the Koya and Konds tribes in the Eastern Ghat mountains of southern India. The forest has always been their home and their source of sustenance. Now, these women are tapping the sun that shines through it.

The solar dryer has four panels attached. It was installed two years ago by the Kovel Foundation – a non-profit group that helps forest tribes defend their rights and improve their livelihood.

The dryer – one of the two such machines installed by the foundation so far, cost about a million rupees (17,000 dollars)  says Krishna Rao, director of the foundation.

The investment has been worth it, he says, because the women are using it to run a business sustainably. “There are 2,500 women from 20 villages in the cooperative. None of them have studied beyond the junior school. Yet, they know how to run a business well,” Rao tells IPS.

“They are organised and work well as a team. Also, they are learning how to collect the roots, leaves and fruits without harming the mother plant, so that their resources don’t run dry.”

The forests of this region yield more than 700 non-timber forest products that include leaves, edible herbs, medicinal plants, fungi, seeds and roots. Most popular among them are honey, gum, Amla (Indian gooseberry), Tendu leaves, Mahua flowers and soap nuts.

Koyas and Konds have made a living for centuries off such forest products.  Penikala Ishwaramma, 23, is one of the herb gatherers. On a good day she gathers 20-25 kg of herbs. This year there is a bumper growth of the kalmegh herb in the forest, and Ishwaramma has gathered 116 kg of it.

The forest department buys much of this produce – 25 products must be sold to the department alone. But tribal people find the department’s procurement process slow and its prices lower than the market price. The forest department pays 45 rupees for a kilogram of gooseberry, while the existing market price is more than 60 rupees (about a dollar).

It’s this disappointment with government prices that drove the women to build their own collective business of selling forest products. Within two years, they are close to earning the 200,000 rupees (3,300 dollars) the Kovel Foundation loaned them.

The foundation had also provided basic entrepreneurial skill-building. Every day women like Ishwaramma bring their bounty directly to the cooperative where the managing team weighs and buys them, paying much higher than the government rate.

“We work hard, gather good quality herbs and seeds, “ says Ishwaramma. “Our life depends on this money. Why should we settle for less?”

But making a profit for the cooperative depends on producing good quality herbs quickly and efficiently – a difficult task as the women lack proper infrastructure to store or dry their produce. In addition, forests villages are very vulnerable to extreme weather, especially cyclonic storms.

According to the Disaster Management department of Andhra Pradesh state in southern India, the area has witnessed over 60 cyclones in the past 40 years, and the frequency is rising.

Using solar energy to dry their herbs has helped the women minimise risks of damage. In 2013, their forest was hit by five big cyclones – Mahasen. Phailin, Helen, Lehar and Madi. Yet the group didn’t lose much of their produce.

“Before a storm approaches, we try to dry as much of the herbs as possible and quickly pack them,” says Jambulamma. “We no longer need to leave them in the courtyard to dry.”

With drying and packaging no longer under weather, the group is now focusing on building a network of regular buyers, which would help them break even.

Bhagya Lakshmi, programme manager at the Kovel Foundation which connects the women with herbal product manufacturers, agrees. “They have already got their first big client which is a Bangalore-based herbal pharmaceutical company called Natural Remedies Private Limited. Currently, they are buying kalmegh in bulk quantity. We are trying to find more firms who will buy other products from them.”

Besides establishing a clientele, the women are planning to upgrade their technology. Krupa Shanti heads five forest villages in the area. Shanti says she is proud of the women’s cooperative and would like to see it grow bigger.

The government has installed a solar photo voltaic station at a nearby school that can convert and store solar power. Shanti is lobbying authorities to install one such station in her village.

“The government has so many welfare schemes. But for forest women like us, the best scheme is one that will help us become economically independent. If the government installs a solar charging station in each of our villages, we can expand this business and change our future.”

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Vegetable Gardens Ease Poverty in El Salvador http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/vegetable-gardens-ease-poverty-el-salvador/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=vegetable-gardens-ease-poverty-el-salvador http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/vegetable-gardens-ease-poverty-el-salvador/#comments Mon, 03 Mar 2014 20:41:08 +0000 Edgardo Ayala and Tomas Andreu http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132389 Vegetable growing is flourishing in Cuscatlán, the smallest department in the tiny country of El Salvador, with the help of a national programme to promote family agriculture and lift hundreds of thousands of people out of poverty. On one and a half hectares of land, four of the Ramírez brothers used to grow only maize, […]

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Agronomist Francisco Ramírez, a member of the Cuscatlán vegetable producers’ cooperative, and his family, in one of the greenhouses where they grow tomatoes. Credit: Tomás Andréu/IPS

Agronomist Francisco Ramírez, a member of the Cuscatlán vegetable producers’ cooperative, and his family, in one of the greenhouses where they grow tomatoes. Credit: Tomás Andréu/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala and Tomás Andréu
EL CARMEN, El Salvador, Mar 3 2014 (IPS)

Vegetable growing is flourishing in Cuscatlán, the smallest department in the tiny country of El Salvador, with the help of a national programme to promote family agriculture and lift hundreds of thousands of people out of poverty.

On one and a half hectares of land, four of the Ramírez brothers used to grow only maize, without much expertise. Today they sell fruit and vegetables to the Walmart transnational chain.

They were determined to make the most of the Family Agriculture Plan (PAF), launched by the government in February 2011 to give support to more than 300,000 producers, improve their yields and incomes and fight hunger.

Government technicians trained the Ramírez brothers in horticulture and the creation and management of a cooperative. They learned to build greenhouses to control pests and rainfall, as well as dropwise irrigation techniques.

Entrenched poverty

The policy of the centre-left government of President Mauricio Funes is being supported by several regional and international organisations, as part of a wider fight against poverty, which has had some successes in this country of 6.3 million people.

• 34.5 percent of households are poor
• 8.94 percent of households are extremely poor
• 43.3 percent of rural households are poor
• In 2009, 37.8 percent of households were poor and 12 percent were extremely poor.

Source: Multi-Purpose Household Survey, El Salvador Ministry of Economy, May 2013.
The Asociación Cooperativa de Producción Agropecuaria Hortaliceros de Cuscatlán (Cuscatlán vegetable producers’ cooperative) was founded in 2013. It already has 18 members and is one of several that supply national and transnational supermarkets.

In the canton of Santa Lucía belonging to the municipality of El Carmen, the cooperative produces tomatoes, chili peppers, squash, pumpkin, sweet potato, bananas and guavas. Production gradually increased, and so did the families’ incomes.

“I like to work the land that belongs to us, instead of being in a ‘maquila’ (export assembly plant) earning next to nothing,” Andrea Beltrán, the wife of Francisco Ramírez, told IPS as she sorted foods before packaging them.

Her husband was walking along the rows of tomato plants, followed by his three children, checking the colour and ripeness of each fruit.

The cooperative makes three food deliveries a week to supermarkets in El Salvador owned by the U.S. corporation Walmart, generating monthly sales of 12,500 dollars.

Its members share the greenhouses and irrigation system, and each farmer grows their own produce, delivering what they harvest to a collection centre which handles sales and distribution to the markets.

The more a member produces, the more he or she earns, unlike traditional cooperatives in which all income goes into a central fund which is distributed equally between the members.

“The cooperative started with four brothers, and since then our family concern has grown,” said Francisco Ramírez, who has graduated as an agronomist.

The PAF is directed at two main sectors, very poor subsistence farmers and other farmers who, while still poor, have introduced some improvements and have some excess crops for sale, a group comprising some 60,000 producers.

The Ramírez brothers are among this group of poor rural people who nevertheless have a small plot of land that has allowed them to produce enough to pay for Francisco’s studies at the University of El Salvador, which is virtually free.

Another advantage the cooperative has is the Collection and Services Centre (CAS), which also handles produce from other cooperatives in the area, and carries out quality and hygiene monitoring before sending the products to their final sales points.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, the country has 35 CASs funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), which up until late 2013 benefited 45,000 producers.

Lorena Guadalupe Fabián joined the cooperative two years ago, at no cost. Previously her life consisted of buying products and re-selling them in street markets.

“I would leave for work at three in the morning and get back at seven at night, but the PAF changed my life,” she told IPS.

She has received training “that has been very useful.” And now she grows vegetables, but also takes part in quality control, and the reception and dispatch of produce. “I am not only a member, I also have a job,” she said.

“Only yesterday, we sold Walmart 2,000 chilis,” she said enthusiastically.

Another beneficiary is José Arnoldo. He looks after the planting and harvesting, has a steady job, and has become an expert on treating produce, especially in the use of agrochemicals.

The cooperative is a few steps away from becoming a supplier to Súper Selectos, the largest supermarket chain in El Salvador.

It is also negotiating with ALBA Alimentos (ALBA Foods), a subsidiary of ALBA Petróleos, an initiative born of an agreement between mayors’ offices in the hands of the governing (formerly insurgent) Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) and the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA, and which is broadening its scope to other fields.

“Now we have to carry on growing a lot more,” said Francisco Ramírez.

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Ghana’s Small Women’s Savings Groups Have Big Impact http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/ghanas-small-womens-savings-groups-big-impact/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ghanas-small-womens-savings-groups-big-impact http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/ghanas-small-womens-savings-groups-big-impact/#comments Fri, 28 Feb 2014 09:22:23 +0000 Albert Oppong-Ansah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132257 Dunwaa Soayare, 45, a smallholder farmer, widow and mother of five had the sort of economic profile that meant she was denied access to credit from Ghana’s mainstream banking institutions. She had no collateral, no bank account and found it impossible to provide three meals a day for her children, let alone ensure that they […]

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Dunwaa Soayare, 45, shows her savings book that tracks her weekly contributions to the Asong-taaba Women’s Group, a cooperative in Denugu, Upper East Region, northern Ghana. Credit: Albert Oppong-Ansah/IPS

Dunwaa Soayare, 45, shows her savings book that tracks her weekly contributions to the Asong-taaba Women’s Group, a cooperative in Denugu, Upper East Region, northern Ghana. Credit: Albert Oppong-Ansah/IPS

By Albert Oppong-Ansah
DENUGU, Ghana, Feb 28 2014 (IPS)

Dunwaa Soayare, 45, a smallholder farmer, widow and mother of five had the sort of economic profile that meant she was denied access to credit from Ghana’s mainstream banking institutions.

She had no collateral, no bank account and found it impossible to provide three meals a day for her children, let alone ensure that they stayed in school.

But after joining the Asong-taaba Women’s Group, a cooperative in Denugu, Upper East Region, northern Ghana, her life has changed dramatically. Not only has she been able to provide for her family by moving them from their mud hut into the brick house she built, she’s also been able to provide tertiary education for children and has seen two of them qualify as teachers.  “This is a small project with a big impact…even though we are poor we can save." -- Solomon Atinga, programme manager of the Presbyterian Agricultural Station at Garu Tempane

“Aside from taking care of my children’s education I have expanded my farming from half a hectare to two hectares. I now cultivate one hectare of maize, half a hectare of millet as well as half a hectare of groundnut,” she told IPS.

Soayare explained that from one hectare of land she harvests 15  bags of 84 kilograms each, which she sells for 70,000 Ghana Cedis (380 dollars) – a huge sum.

The group, which started in 2008, raised 5,000 dollars at the end of 2013 from the weekly contribution of its 25 members – almost all smallholder farmers and the breadwinners in their families.

Every Monday, the women meet under a shea tree and pay their contributions of between 50 cents to five dollars. They are allowed to apply for a loan, which many use to fund alternative businesses if their crops fail.

For Soayare it’s meant that she and her family are no longer vulnerable during the lean season. In Upper East Region the rainy season usually starts in May and ends in October. However, changes in the weather pattern now mean that the rains fall much later.

So when the rains don’t come, instead of suffering through a crop failure, Soayare borrows money from the group and makes soap and buys vegetables for resale.

“I don’t know what I would have done without this savings initiative,” Soayare said.

But Asong-taaba is one of 500 groups in the district that involve almost 12,000 people, mostly women, scattered across the Garu Tempane district in Upper East Region. These cooperatives were started under a Care International project called Enhanced Savings and Credit Association for Poverty Eradication.

Soayare and these thousands of women are living better lives thanks to the savings cooperatives.

A Ghana Statistics Services 2011 survey shows that 31 percent of households in Ghana are headed by women. Regional director of the National Population Council, Zangbalum-Bomahe Amadu, said that due to polygamous practices in northern Ghana some men refuse to take care of their children, often leaving the burden to the women.

“The situation becomes bad if the man dies…most women, who are mostly illiterate in the rural areas strive to take care of almost all the needs of their children,” he told IPS.

Musah Abubakari, deputy coordinating director of Garu Tempane district, told IPS that the cooperatives have helped reduce poverty among many families in the area.

“Most of them are engaged in different forms of economic activities. Many of them are concerned about the education of their children, so school enrolment has also increased in the last three years,” he said.

Collins Kyei Boafoh, an outreach specialist at the Agricultural Cooperative Development International/Volunteers in Overseas Cooperative Assistance (ACDI/VOCA), told IPS that the village savings and loans concept played a critical role in the livelihoods of women and was also a climate change adaptation measure.

“It is an open secret that for the past five years the savannah belt of Ghana, consisting of Northern, Upper East and Upper West regions, continue to experience low rains and long drought periods. This is not supportive of farming, which employs about 80 percent of people in the region,” he explained.

Boafoh said the women’s cooperatives are now using their funds to venture into other activities like petty trading to supplement their incomes.

“After the short farming periods, the women gather their monies in the form of community savings and offer themselves petty loans for trading, aggregation and processing. This gives them a sustained income and job security,” he said.

Boafoh suggested that the initiative must be adopted, modernised and expanded by the government as a poverty-reduction initiative in the four poorest regions in the country namely Northern, Upper East, Upper West and Central Regions.

Solomon Atinga is programme manager of the Presbyterian Agricultural Station at Garu Tempane – another Care International cooperative.

He said the initiative, which extends to about 100 communities in the district, has had a positive impact on the lives of women here. They are able to take care of their children and support their extended family members.

“In fact the living standard of the women and their families has improved tremendously,” he added.

“This is a small project with a big impact…even though we are poor, we can save. The least amount a group usually raises at the end of the year is 2,000 dollars,” he said.

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World Bank Arm Admits Wrongs in Honduras Loan http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/world-bank-arm-admits-wrongs-honduras-loan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-bank-arm-admits-wrongs-honduras-loan http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/world-bank-arm-admits-wrongs-honduras-loan/#comments Fri, 24 Jan 2014 01:18:03 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=130694 In an unusual statement, the World Bank’s private-sector arm has threatened to cancel a controversial investment in a Honduran palm oil company that has been implicated in serious human rights abuses, including numerous killings, over the past five years. The statement came two weeks after the release of a damning report by the Office of […]

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By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Jan 24 2014 (IPS)

In an unusual statement, the World Bank’s private-sector arm has threatened to cancel a controversial investment in a Honduran palm oil company that has been implicated in serious human rights abuses, including numerous killings, over the past five years.

A member of the Aguan Valley Palm Producers Association holds the fruit from which palm oil is extracted. Credit: USDA/cc by 2.0

A member of the Aguan Valley Palm Producers Association holds the fruit from which palm oil is extracted. Credit: USDA/cc by 2.0

The statement came two weeks after the release of a damning report by the Office of the Compliance Advisor/Ombudsman (CAO) of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) that concluded, among other things, that Bank officials should have raised serious questions about the alleged complicity in those abuses by Corporacion Dinant before approving a 30- million-dollar loan to the company in 2008.

The company, which is owned by Miguel Facusse Barjum, “the wealthiest, most powerful businessman in the country,” according to a State Department cable obtained by Wikileaks, is based in the lower AguanValley, a region populated by hundreds of campesino cooperatives established there as a result of a far-reaching land-reform programme initiated in the 1960s.

Conflicts over Dinant’s efforts to buy up these communities’ lands under a 1992 law designed to favour the country’s burgeoning privately-owned agro-export industry, account for many of the abuses.

Since the 2009 military coup, which ousted a pro-reform president and which was reportedly backed by Facusse, nearly 100 people – mostly campesinos, as well as some Dinant employees – have been killed in the valley, according to press reports, although Rights Action, a Washington-based group that has closely monitored the conflict, estimates the campesino death toll at “well over one hundred.”

“IFC has not disbursed funds to Dinant since 2009, and will not disburse further funding until Dinant fulfills its commitments in the Action Plan (worked out between the IFC and Dinant in light of the ombudsman’s report), including strengthening its community engagement and environmental and social standards, and reviewing its security practices,” the IFC said.

“Should Dinant fail to meet these commitments, IFC stands prepared to exercise all remedies available, including cancelling the loan,” according to the statement, which also promised to “refine” its action plan to take account of recent criticism by international and Honduran civil-society organisations (CSOs) and “reflect on” internal problems that led to mistakes.

While many CSOs welcomed the IFC’s latest statement, comparing it favourably to the agency’s initial, more ambiguous reaction to the CAO report, they said it still fell short of what is required to redress the situation.

“The only real difference from its previous statement is that they explicitly said the possibility of cutting off the loan remains open if the action plan is not complied with,” Annie Bird, who directs Rights Action, told IPS.

“The action plan that the IFC is proposing is completely inadequate. People are going into hiding, afraid of being killed, and entire communities remain in constant fear of being evicted from their land. And the IFC really isn’t doing anything to do about it. It’s just calling on the Dinant Corp to work with the government.”

Her disappointment was echoed by Berta Caceres, co-ordinator of the Honduras-based Indigenous Lenca organisation (COPINH). “There is a risk that the situation of violence and impunity which exists in the Bajo Aguan will repeat itself in the future, if the World Bank does not investigate this company’s activities nor consult indigenous communities, farmers, and Garifunas,” she said.

The original 30-million-dollar loan – part of a 100 million dollar package that included Germany’s development bank, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and the Central American Bank for Economic Integration — was signed in April 2009 to fund expansion of Dinant’s snacks and edible-oils processing facilities.

In November 2009 – four months after the military coup that ousted elected President Manuel Zelaya – the IFC disbursed 15 million dollars in support of the project.

One year later, a coalition of CSOs asked the CAO to audit the project and its implementation in light of the human-rights situation in the valley.

The German development bank cancelled its 20 million dollar loan in 2011 after one rights group, Food First Information and Action Network (FIAN), submitted “evidence of the involvement of private security forces hired by Dinant and other companies owned by Miguel Facusse in human rights abuses and, in particular, in the murder of peasants in Bajo Aguan.”

In its 72-page report, the CAO concluded that IFC staff had violated the agency’s own rules by failing to undertake due diligence in assessing and responding to risks of violence and forced evictions and to consult adequately with the agency’s environmental and social specialists on the project.

These deficiencies, it found, were in part due to its culture and incentive system that effectively encouraged staff to “overlook, fail to articulate, or even conceal potential environmental, social, and conflict related risks.”

“IFC has important policies to protect human rights and the environment,” noted Jessica Evans, senior international financial institutions researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW). “But the Dinant case shows that staff treat them as optional. That needs to avoid more tragic outcomes.”

In response, the IFC took issue with some findings but agreed with others and set forth an “Action Plan” which was immediately denounced by most of the CSOs, including HRW, as inadequate. Their reaction, as well as negative international media coverage, reportedly triggered the Bank board’s demand that the agency revise its plan – details of which have not been disclosed — and issue a new statement.

The statement differs mainly from the IFC’s initial reaction in the apologetic tone it assumes, stressing, for example, that it “acknowledges that there were shortcomings in how we implemented our environmental and social policies and procedures…

“As noted in the audit, IFC must take a broad view of the country and sector risks when considering projects. Additionally, we need to pay more attention to a client’s security practices and preparedness in fragile country situations,” it said.

But its contrite tone failed to appease the CSOs or some Honduras experts.

The IFC’s reliance on the Honduran government in resolving the land conflicts and addressing the human-rights situation made little sense, according to Dana Frank, a Honduras specialist at the University of California at Santa Cruz.

“There’s a reason why the national government is not intervening in the Aguan valley to stop these killings of campesinos and why there’s complete impunity for the security forces and private security guards who have been killing them,” she told IPS. “It’s because Facusse is a formidable power in the national state.”

Indeed, the Facusse family, of which he, at age 90, is considered the partriarch, is widely seen as the most important and influential in what is essentially an oligarchic system.

Rights Action’s Bird also complained about the inadequacy of the response, insisting that the IFC should not only cancel the loan but also work with the affected communities to redress the abuses they have suffered.

She also complained that the IDB, whose own private-sector facility, the Inter-American Investment Corporation (IIC), had participated in the loans to Dinant, has never audited its own performance. “Instead, the IDB is initiating a 60 million dollar loan to create a police intelligence unit that human rights organisations in Honduras are screaming about because the security forces there are out of control,” she said.

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Digital Age Demands Educational Transformation, World Forum Says http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/digital-age-demands-educational-transformation-world-forum-says/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=digital-age-demands-educational-transformation-world-forum-says http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/digital-age-demands-educational-transformation-world-forum-says/#comments Fri, 24 Jan 2014 00:54:09 +0000 Clarinha Glock http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=130691 The challenges of the digital age call for schools to develop an alternative model of education, with teachers who incorporate new technology and employ a more critical pedagogy, participants said at the Fórum Mundial de Educaçao (World Education Forum) in this southern Brazilian city. Guadalupe Jover, a Spanish education expert, told IPS that information and […]

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Participants in a panel on “Pedagogy, territories and resistance” at the World Education Forum in the Brazilian city of Canoas. Credit: Clarinha Glock/IPS

Participants in a panel on “Pedagogy, territories and resistance” at the World Education Forum in the Brazilian city of Canoas. Credit: Clarinha Glock/IPS

By Clarinha Glock
CANOAS, Brazil, Jan 24 2014 (IPS)

The challenges of the digital age call for schools to develop an alternative model of education, with teachers who incorporate new technology and employ a more critical pedagogy, participants said at the Fórum Mundial de Educaçao (World Education Forum) in this southern Brazilian city.

Guadalupe Jover, a Spanish education expert, told IPS that information and communication technologies (ICT) must be used as a tool for building collective knowledge through pedagogical renewal, and not to perpetuate the worst aspects of the prevailing educational system.

“We are talking here about the offensive strategies of the markets aimed at those who want to be involved in education, that is, sales through ICT,” said Jover, the coordinator of Spain’s Platform of Citizens for Public Schools in Spain, at the forum held Jan. 21-23 in Canoas, 19 km from Porto Alegre, the state capital of Rio Grande do Sul.

In suffocatingly hot weather, more than 4,000 participants from 13 countries debated the forum’s central theme: “Pedagogy, Metropolitan Regions and Peripheries,” holding three plenary meetings and working groups on six sub-themes.

Porto Alegre was the cradle of the World Social Forum, an alternative movement which first met in 2001 under the slogan “Another World Is Possible.” Thousands of social organisations and movements from all over the world participate in its meetings, which are held in different regions of the developing South.

Jover was a panellist at the meeting on “Pedagogy, Territories and Resistance,” which discussed the problems posed by present-day curricula and the prevailing neoliberal concept that students should be trained to satisfy the needs of the market.

Jaume Martínez Bonafé of the University of Valencia, Spain, told IPS that “pedagogy continues to be autistic, obsolete, because previously the whole world was explained in classrooms, whereas now the focus is on the major commercial hubs.”

His concern, he said, is that ICT “will only change the tools without altering educational content.”

According to educators from different regions, ideally curricula should contribute to the growth of persons and their emancipation, as proposed by Brazilian philosopher Paulo Freire (1921-1997), one of the most innovative educational theorists of the 20th century, who did for education what Liberation Theology did for the Catholic Church.

His influential ideas heralded alternative education, through unorthodox formulas of learning based on freedom, and through his concern for promoting equality through education and increasing access to schooling for the oppressed.

Two Argentine educators inspired by Freire, Carla Azul Cassineiro and Laura Mombelli, travelled a long distance from their country to participate in the forum. Cassineiro teaches physical education and and Mombelli accounting. They are both popular educators in La Cava, Argentina’s second largest shanty town, in Buenos Aires.

Their students have access to the digital world, but many of their families see their devices and want them to buy food and get jobs, creating conflict and violence, they told IPS.

Cassineiro said the government Universal Child Allowance programme, which over the past five years has paid Argentine families with incomes of less than the minimum wage 31 dollars a month for each child, on condition that they attend school, has “helped integration and social containment.”

While Latin America is the second most urbanised world region, in Africa the school population is 60 percent rural, Aidil de Carvalho Borges, project manager for educational reform in Cape Verde, told IPS.

“This accentuates every kind of inequality, especially in relation to technology, which is only available in the cities,” she said. This hinders what ought to be a priority in education, that is, “for all children to have the same rights, no matter where they live.”

“Needs and demands are growing constantly,” said the Cape Verde education ministry official. “In some countries there may be one or two politicians who want to change the situation, but I think only radical social movements can bring about changes, or at least concessions, in education.”

Moacir Gadotti, the head of the Paulo Freire Institute, said that “schools need to discuss the kind of country they want, the kind of neighbourhood they want; there must be no fear of being free.”

He talked about the new Brazilian phenomenon of “rolezinhos”, in which large groups of young people from disadvantaged or peripheral areas occupy leisure spaces, especially shopping malls, after some of them, mostly Afro-Brazilian and poor, were expelled from one of these malls in São Paulo in late 2013.

“These young people have aspirations, they want to participate in the new Brazil,” Gadotti said. “Young people are connected to the social networks and this is something that politicians often do not understand or pay attention to.”

Popular educator Alberto Croce, the founder and president of Fundación SES in Argentina which promotes social inclusion of young people with limited resources, believes that the “rolezinhos” are a way of defying the system, connecting the movement with protests against educational and social exclusion in countries like Chile or Colombia.

Croce said that it is true that poor people are now better off in Latin America, but it is also true that inequality has increased in this region, the most unequal in the world.

The differences between educational models in big city schools and those in the poor suburbs is, in a way, a reflection of the contradictions of that inequality, he said.

The general run of schools prioritise the neoliberal model of preparing students for the labour market, but in the shanty towns and poorer districts there is resistance to this model because it discriminates against them and makes them invisible.

“One of the keys to education is respect for diversity. When education values cultural differences, integrates and incorporates them, then we can talk of quality education,” Croce said.

“Digital inclusion is a phenomenon that is present” in society, he said. Previously, young people wanted fashionable shoes, “but now they want to buy cell phones; there has definitely been a change, because access to technology is valued.”

In his view, young people have chosen mobile phones, the most personal device, to access ICT. “Inclusion is limited, but it has without doubt created a transformation,” Croce said.

It is a transformation that education cannot turn its back on, said participants at the Canoas forum, in debates on topics such as “Education as a human right,” “Education, environment and sustainability,” “Education in the emerging paradigm,” and “Education, diversity and inclusion.”

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Seedpods Worth More than Gold in Argentina’s Arid North http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/seedpods-worth-gold-argentinas-arid-north/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=seedpods-worth-gold-argentinas-arid-north http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/seedpods-worth-gold-argentinas-arid-north/#comments Thu, 02 Jan 2014 15:48:21 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129851 Tired of the drought driving away their men and killing their livestock, the women of Guanaco Sombriana, a town in northern Argentina, have found a new source of income by using the seedpods of native trees that up to now merely provided shade in this arid landscape. The football pitch is a graphic symbol of […]

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Teolinda Coronel gathers ‘algarroba’ pods with her granddaughter in San Gerónimo, Santiago del Estero. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Teolinda Coronel gathers ‘algarroba’ pods with her granddaughter in San Gerónimo, Santiago del Estero. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
GUANACO SOMBRIANA, Argentina , Jan 2 2014 (IPS)

Tired of the drought driving away their men and killing their livestock, the women of Guanaco Sombriana, a town in northern Argentina, have found a new source of income by using the seedpods of native trees that up to now merely provided shade in this arid landscape.

The football pitch is a graphic symbol of this semiarid region in the department of Atamisqui, 120 km south of Santiago del Estero, the capital of the province of the same name.

Two goalposts made of dry branches are set amidst the thin vegetation of cactus plants and low bushes on the white saline soil of this rural district of some 10,000 people.

The empty, unused pitch reflects a bleak reality: the players – husbands, brothers, sons and fathers – have gone off again to find seasonal work, this time harvesting maize and blueberries, in the south of the country.

“I have been left on my own with my seven kids for up to eight months a year,” says Graciela Sauco. “To get by I raised cows, baby goats, baby pigs and chickens. We would sell them, and have something left for our own consumption. But because of this drought we’ve been suffering for the past two years, many animals have died.”

Locals say this is the worst drought they have seen in a decade. There is no money for fodder, and the animals die as the farmers look on, helpless. They are poor, with farms up to 50 hectares in size, passed down through the generations but without legal title deeds.

Nor can they plant squash or maize to feed the livestock, as they used to, because there is no water.

“I would like my sons to have better work, so they wouldn’t have to go so far away. I miss them,” says Sauco, between sobs.

Eleuteria Ledesma says “My last son left today for the maize harvest in Buenos Aires. They live in prefabricated little houses, they suffer from the heat and sleep on cots.”

For the year-end holidays, “they didn’t give them permission to come home” – making things even sadder for the women of Guanaco Sombriana.

But now there is a new feeling of hope in the air.

A decade ago the women organised, setting up the Association of Small Farmers of Salinas Atamisqueñas (APPSA Guanaco), which today groups 80 families in this village of 566 people.

It wasn’t easy at the beginning, says Lastenio Castaño, an extension worker with the agriculture ministry’s Undersecretariat of Family Farming.

“Sometimes there’s no water, not even for people’s consumption, let alone for the livestock or for watering crops,” he says. “The only thing that can be raised here are goats. But even though they are hardy animals, a lot of goats have died in the last few years.”

Nor does the local flora – scrub forest consisting of open, low vegetation – offer many alternatives “for any kind of productive enterprise,” he tells Tierramérica. “There is very little variety of species.”

But the local farmers hope the adobe shed they built will be “a place to store harvested wild fruits and pods as well as grains, to provide balanced feed for their livestock,” Castaño says.

APPSA, with support from the Undersecretariat and from the Unit for Rural Change (UCAR), also has a small mill to produce flour from the seedpods of the ‘algarrobo blanco’ (Prosopis alba), known in English as the Argentine mesquite or white carob tree, and the ‘algarrobo negro’ (Prosopis nigra), the black mesquite or black carob tree – typical native trees that even appear in the Santiago de Estero provincial folk songs.

In the past, the seedpods were only used in Guanaco Sombriana as livestock fodder when times were tough. But the members of the Association took courses on how to produce flour and baked goods using the pods, which are popular now in organic food markets and shops.

The flour is aromatic and sweet, with a taste similar to cacao, and is rich in fibre, protein, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, iron, pectin, tannins and vitamins.

“We used to grind up the pods with a mortar and pestle,” says Lili Farías. “But with the new mill, we can grind up a lot really quickly. Not just the pods, but anything we want to grind, including maize.”

Tierramérica is visiting the APPSA building on a busy day in December, in the middle of harvest season.

A pickup truck full of bags of seedpods pulls up outside the building. The Association now has enough funds to buy harvested pods from other villages.

The women weigh the bags and keep the accounts in a small notebook. Others grind the pods, in a race against time. Temperatures can get up to 50 degrees C at this time of year – the southern hemisphere summer – and the pods can be full of pests, they explain.

To keep their accounts, they use the calculators on their cell-phones, “which are only good for this, and for taking pictures, because we have no signal here,” complains Marcela Leguizamón.

Each member of the Association brings a bottle of water from their well. The women are drinking mate – a traditional caffeinated herbal brew that is popular in Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay – and celebrating the milling of some 2,000 kg of flour.

“This has been a very important step for the Association, which has grown and has become more independent; we now have funds to work with,” says Claudia Rojas. “We used to get by with our member fees, and by holding raffles. Now, with the sales of the flour, we bring in a profit.”

Castaño says they need to improve the distribution and transportation of their products, as well as access to basic services like electricity and piped water.

But APPSA has become an important local interlocutor, bringing grievances and demands to the authorities.

With a revolving fund of around 21,000 dollars for Guanaco Sombriana and other communities, APPSA is able to buy livestock fodder and grant micro-loans for projects like building corrals and digging wells.

The revolving fund is financed by UCAR’s Rural Areas Development Programme, an initiative with national scope aimed at strengthening “social and productive cohesion” among small farming communities, with an emphasis on local and regional economies.

APPSA’s members dream of having computers “to keep records of everything, because papers sometimes get mislaid,” says Leguizamón.

The incomes of local families have begun to improve. The extra money is spent on food, clothing or motorcycles, the mode of transport par excellence in this region, where roads are often impassable.

“We are seeing that young people who usually go off to find work as migrant farmworkers are starting to stay here to work with the harvested pods,” says Farías. “Why go somewhere else to work the land, when they can take advantage of what we have here?”

An estimated 75 percent of Argentina’s territory is drylands, and 40 percent of that portion is showing signs of desertification.

The government wants to extend the project to other regions where the white and black carob trees grow.

A similar initiative is being carried out in San Gerónimo, in the neighbouring department of Loreto.

Teolinda Coronel and her daughter, niece and granddaughter are heading out to the countryside to harvest seedpods at 6:30 AM.

“We bring the thermos and drink mate, and come back at midday,” she says. “By that time each one of us has gathered 35 kg or more.” They head back out at 5:00 PM, when the scorching sun has lost some of its glare.

She hopes her sons will come back. With what they earn as migrant farmworkers, “they can’t even pay their bills.” But with the income from the seedpods, they have been able to buy clothes and shoes, and to help their mothers.

The tour through the areas where the carob pods are almost worth their weight in gold ends at a table with pastries and cakes, washed down with ‘aloja’, a mildly intoxicating beverage made from the pods, and the thick, sweet syrup made from the fruit of the chañar (Geoffroea decorticans), another native tree.

The pods also bring other kinds of benefits that aren’t jotted down in the notebooks.

“I used to be stressed out at home, thinking about how to earn a little money, and now people come to my house to buy my products, and I’ve seen other places and met other people,” says Graciela Ardiles, a farmer from the town of Arraga, who used to bring in some money cleaning other people’s houses.

“Now I have my own independent job. And my kids will be able to get an education, which I wasn’t able to do,” she adds.

* This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

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Rebuilding Lives Skilfully http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/rebuilding-lives-skilfully/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rebuilding-lives-skilfully http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/rebuilding-lives-skilfully/#comments Fri, 27 Dec 2013 08:34:01 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129745 Farhat Bibi, 43, was left to fend for her three young sons after her husband was killed in a bomb attack in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) three years ago. A few days later, she landed at a camp for people displaced by violence. “The camp proved to be a blessing in disguise,” she […]

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Women who lost their menfok in terror attacks develop new skills to rebuild their lives. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

Women who lost their menfok in terror attacks develop new skills to rebuild their lives. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Dec 27 2013 (IPS)

Farhat Bibi, 43, was left to fend for her three young sons after her husband was killed in a bomb attack in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) three years ago. A few days later, she landed at a camp for people displaced by violence. “The camp proved to be a blessing in disguise,” she says.

“It helped me learn skills and now I earn enough to buy clothes, food and fulfil the other needs of my children,” she recalls. She embroiders clothes and makes cushions, bags, wicker baskets, bracelets and other ornaments, earning around 150 dollars a month.

“I am also teaching these skills to other tribal women,” Farhat Bibi tells IPS.

The works of 100 displaced women like her were showcased at an exhibition here titled ‘Hunnarmande Guthey’ (skilful fingers). The colourful array of products on display belied the tragic past of the hands that made them.Most of the women displaced from Orakzai Agency due to military action have lost their men and desperately need help."

The show was organised by the NGO Centre of Excellence for Rural  Development (CERD) in collaboration with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). It presented handicrafts made by women from Kurram Agency in FATA who now live at the New Durrani Camp, home to 29,607 displaced families.

Violence has played out in FATA, bordering Afghanistan, ever since Taliban militants moved there after the fall of their government in Kabul in 2001. As a frontline ally of the U.S. in the war on terror, Pakistan has carried out military operations there.

CERD coordinator Kashif Islam, citing UNHCR statistics, says about two million people have been displaced from FATA. “Women constitute 50 percent of the displaced population. They need vocational training to empower them,” Islam tells IPS.

Caught in the conflict, many FATA residents have fled to the adjacent Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

“We have been imparting training to 200 women every month in Hangu district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Most of the women displaced from Orakzai Agency due to military action have lost their men and desperately need help,” Islam says.

He says women widowed by the conflict in FATA are the main beneficiaries of their UNHCR-sponsored endeavour. “We hold exhibitions every month to seek markets for these handicrafts which depict the skill and creativity of displaced FATA women,” he tells IPS.

Visitors to these shows are left marvelling at the creativity and grit of these women. Most of them are illiterate. Many of them were worried and depressed when they arrived at the camps, but they have learnt to look ahead.

Jamila Bibi, a 33-year-old woman from North Waziristan Agency, is one of them. She was devastated when her father was killed by a stray bullet. But the camp gave her courage.

She learnt embroidery, sewing and other skills and now supports her two sisters, a brother and a widowed mother. Sitting at a stall displaying her wicker baskets and trays, Jamila Bibi says had she not come to the camp, she would have been begging on the streets.

“I supply handicrafts to a nearby market. It has brought respectability to our lives as we are no longer dependent on charity and handouts by NGOs,” says Jamila Bibi.

Saeeda Gul, a CERD trainer, says the displaced women are trained before being provided raw materials.

“They come to three community centres near the camps where they learn to make things with wicker,” says Gul. “The women are very happy with their newly acquired skills because it helps them earn a living in a decent way,” she says.

Most of the women start from scratch, picking up the skills at the community centres.

Shukria Khan, a trainer, says “We just help them make the products in a more professional way and give them three months of training, besides raw materials.” The women are required to be at the community centre for four hours every day.

Khan says the women show a keen interest in fine-tuning their skills and making good quality handicrafts.

And the efforts don’t go unrewarded.

Aziz-ur-Rehman, a local businessman, says he displays the handicrafts at his showroom. “The items reflect the creativity and skills of tribal women and mostly manage to find buyers,” he tells IPS.

It is heartening to see that these women haven’t given up despite the harsh reality of their lives, he says. “The training has brought dignity to their lives. They are more empowered now.”

Buyers lap up these handicrafts because they are high on aesthetics and are inexpensive, he says. “Some items like handmade clothes also sell out fast.”

Kashmala Shah, a tribal woman from Kurram Agency who benefited from the programme, has now opened her own centre where she is training 30 women.

Shah says the displaced women now hope for a better future for themselves and their families. She tells IPS, “I lost my father and brother in the conflict but that doesn’t mean I should sit idle and wait for charity. It is a big opportunity and we are seizing it.”

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In Haiti, Planting Trees Is No Simple Matter http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/haiti-planting-trees-simple-matter/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=haiti-planting-trees-simple-matter http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/haiti-planting-trees-simple-matter/#comments Fri, 29 Nov 2013 16:48:57 +0000 Correspondents http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129161 Reforestation and soil conservation programmes costing many thousands of dollars in this rural community have resulted in hundreds of small ledges built of straw or sacks of earth. In certain areas, the earthworks seem to be lasting, but in others, they are disintegrating. The construction and destruction of the anti-erosion ledges – all made with […]

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Agronomist Ludson Lafontant looking at one of the recently constructed ledges during a visit to Doucet in August 2013. It contains a young mango tree plant, a grass plant, and peanut plants. Photo: HGW/Milo Milfort

Agronomist Ludson Lafontant looking at one of the recently constructed ledges during a visit to Doucet in August 2013. It contains a young mango tree plant, a grass plant, and peanut plants. Photo: HGW/Milo Milfort

By Correspondents
Doucet, Petit-Goâve, HAITI, Nov 29 2013 (Haiti Grassroots Watch)

Reforestation and soil conservation programmes costing many thousands of dollars in this rural community have resulted in hundreds of small ledges built of straw or sacks of earth. In certain areas, the earthworks seem to be lasting, but in others, they are disintegrating.

The construction and destruction of the anti-erosion ledges – all made with foreign development and humanitarian money – offer an example of how at least some of Haiti’s reforestation projects turn out.No matter what promises were made, a farmer will always be concerned with the immediate need of feeding and clothing his or her family first.

In the years since the 2010 earthquake, the 11th and 12th communal sections of Petit-Goâve, located 60 kilometres southwest of the capital, have hosted several soil conservation and agricultural programmes with budgets in the tens and even hundreds of thousands.

The U.N.’s Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), Helvetas and Action Agro Allemande (AAA), sometimes working with a local development organisation – Mouvman Kole Zepòl (MKOZE) – oversaw projects aimed at rehabilitating the watershed of the Ladigue River.

The steep slopes around the river “are very vulnerable to water erosion and mudslides,” MKOZE explained in a report on one project that had a budget of 91,534 dollars. “During rainy season, the waters from the Ladigue River dump a lot of sediment and rocks at the river’s mouth, destroying fields and causing homes to flood. Sometimes harvests, homes, animals and even human lives are lost.”

In the Petit-Goâve region, deforestation started about a half-century ago, according to many residents. It began with the devastating 1963 Hurricane Flora, which caused great damage and over 5,000 deaths in Haiti’s western and southern regions.

Molière Jean Félix, 62, remembers. “There were a lot of mango trees at the top of this mountain. We grew corn and rice. Now you can’t even plant Congo beans there,” recalled the farmer.

Haiti has less than three percent tree cover, down from about 60 percent a century ago, and perhaps 80 percent when Christopher Columbus first disembarked. In Haiti, trees are cut down primarily for fuel.

Most energy consumed in the country for cooking, industrial bakeries and dry cleaning – in fact, 75 percent of all energy used comes from wood and charcoal, according to government figures.

Missteps to Learn From

A few observers noted some bad choices made in the projects. For example, although Louis Calixte worked for AAA as a technician, he thinks the structures will not last.

“Some of the structures are good, but others are not good because of the kind of tree they planted. You can’t just plant a mango any old place. You have to plant it in a certain environment, where it will flourish. The same goes for eucalyptus. You can’t put it in a place meant to produce food,” Calixte explained.

After visiting many of the hillsides, agronomist Ludson Lafontant noted that some of the the techniques used offer advantages. For example, the dried grass used for some of the ledges will eventually decompose and serve as compost for weeds. However, the agronomist agreed that eucalyptus is not the best choice for reforestation.

“All plants use water,” he said. “But these kinds of plants – eucalyptus and also neem – I would not put them near rivers or wells or farmers’ fields. They suck up all the water around them.”

Félix sees tree-cutting almost every day. “Today, young people don’t have any way to make a living. They don’t produce coffee, they don’t raise pigs. So, they cut down trees in order to send their children to school,” he said.

In Doucet, as well as other parts of Haiti, foreign organisations often fund projects where local residents overseen by technicians are paid 200 to 300 gourdes a day (4.65-6.98 dollars) to build ledges made of sacks of dirt, dried reeds and wattle. The ledges are then planted with tree seedlings.

In addition to assisting with reforestation, development organisations also see the projects – known as “Cash for Work” (CFW) in English – as a kind of post-disaster emergency income programme.

“[CFW] helps us hire a lot of families and assures that they get a minimal revenue. This provides immediate assistance and is therefore a real advantage,” AAA’s Beate Maas told Haiti Grassroots Watch (HGW).

Reforestation vs. everyday needs

All around Doucet, many hills are decorated with hundreds of the new little ledges holding seedlings of fruit or eucalyptus trees. But there are many others where the ledges are disintegrating: mud is spilling out, and the saplings are dead or dying.

Farmers have planted peanuts, peas and other crops around the structures. In a few months, the hillsides will be as naked as they were before the reforestation project.

Ilomène Tataille is a mother, a landowner and a member of one of the voluntary committees set up to keep an eye on the ledges and the new plants, to assure that animals don’t eat them and to make sure the ledges are drained after each rainfall. Another task, she explained, is to make sure farmers don’t plant anything on the eroding slopes, and especially not peanuts, a popular crop in the region.

According to Tataille, even though the CFW workers and landowners all agreed at first not to disturb the hillsides, it is almost impossible to stop people from farming. Even she breaks her promise.

“Yes, I plant there also. We live in a very dry region. We can only farm peanuts. That is our profession. Sorry, but we don’t have any other job,” she said.

Tataille noted that another problem is the fact that landowners lease out their land, so even if they have made promises to AAA and MKOZE, they can’t force their tenants to follow suit.

Staff who work on the projects are aware of the vicious-circle element.

Agronomist Esther Paynis was a consultant to AAA for a project carried out with MKOZE between September 2012 and August 2013.

“We told people not to plant peanuts and other crops that involve digging into the earth, like yam and sweet potato. In the training sessions we held, everyone promised to respect those principles,” Paynis told HGW in a Sep. 30 email.

“If we give them advice that they later ignore, that’s not our fault. We told them the disadvantages of planting peanuts and how that could lead to the total degradation of the zone.”

During a visit in August 2013, journalists saw many young peanut plants on a number of hillsides near the ledges. Two months later, in October, many recently made structures on those same hillsides were in various states of disintegration. Many had been destroyed and tree saplings and other plants were dead, either drowned or buried by earth, both the result of the lack of maintenance.

One reason might be because the committees are voluntary.

“The committees don’t have any support. Some people agree to work for free, but others do not,” Junior Joseph, a member of a local peasant association, explained. “That’s when the structures deteriorate.”

In order to get an independent opinion, HGW consulted an agronomist who had not worked on the project. Agronomist Ludson Lafontant agreed with some of the criticism voiced by local farmers.

Reforestation is necessary but failure to implicate local farmers is a big problem, he said. No matter what promises were made, a farmer will always be concerned with the immediate need of feeding and clothing his or her family first.

Lave men siyè a tè?”

During a visit in August 2013, Lafontant said he feared the reforestation project would be another example of wasted money, of the Haitian proverb “Lave men siyè a tè,” which means “wash your hands, dry them on the ground.”

But Lafontant also criticised the population and the government.

“I always say we ought to love ourselves more than others love us. In other words, the non-governmental organisations come here, they write projects, they look for the money and they do the project,” he said.

“The money has to be justified so they can be proud to say they have worked on a X number of hectares, built contours on a Y square metres of land and given Z number of people jobs. That’s how they justify their money. But whose problem is it? Whose country is it? It’s ours, here in our home. We need to become conscious of that.”

Haiti Grassroots Watch is a partnership of AlterPresse, the Society of the Animation of Social Communication (SAKS), the Network of Women Community Radio Broadcasters (REFRAKA), community radio stations from the Association of Haitian Community Media and students from the Journalism Laboratory at the State University of Haiti.

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Private Initiative Finds Garbage Profitable in Cuba http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/private-initiative-finds-garbage-profitable-in-cuba/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=private-initiative-finds-garbage-profitable-in-cuba http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/private-initiative-finds-garbage-profitable-in-cuba/#comments Wed, 23 Oct 2013 12:33:02 +0000 Patricia Grogg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128336 The ageold occupation of picking through trash for reusable materials is taking on a new dimension in Cuba for self-employed workers and members of cooperatives.

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A waste picker unloads empty soda cans at the San José de las Lajas recycling cooperative in Mayabeque province. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A waste picker unloads empty soda cans at the San José de las Lajas recycling cooperative in Mayabeque province. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Oct 23 2013 (IPS)

As self-employment and cooperatives expand in socialist Cuba, they are making incursions into new areas, such as waste picking and recycling – for many a means of subsistence, but for others, a gold mine.

“Pitusa” said the trash thrown out by the people of Havana is an inexhaustible source of useful materials. “I don’t waste anything – I collect, select, clean and keep for myself when I need it,” said this middle-aged Cuban who uses discarded components to fix windows or make “multi-functional” furniture.

“I’m 43 years old and I’ve been working in recycling for 19 years,” he told Tierramérica*, after asking to be identified merely as Pitusa, because he does not have a permit to be a self-employed worker or “cuentapropista”.

“I do so many different things that I wouldn’t know how to register and pay taxes,” he said, to justify his lack of a permit.

He said the garbage yielded everything from broken furniture to bottles, glass, plastic tubes, steel pipes, fishing reels, or old sofas, doors and windows. “Nothing is completely useless, although to make a new piece of furniture from a piece of junk isn’t easy. For me it’s an artistic thing to give a use to something that was abandoned and no one wants anymore,” he said, with a touch of pride.

Pitusa is a “buzo”, as waste pickers who salvage reusable or recyclable materials are known in Cuba.

“At this time there are 5,800 recoverers with cuentapropista permits, but we know that there are many more who aren’t registered,” said Marilyn Ramos, assistant director general of the Unión de Empresas de Recuperación de Materias Primas (UERMP) – the state association of companies that salvage raw materials, which recycles scavenged trash.

Odilia Ferro has dedicated herself to collecting and selling recyclable waste – “legally” she stresses – for the past 20 years in San José de las Lajas, the municipal seat in Mayabeque, a province that borders Havana.

“Sometimes I go out on the streets and look for stuff myself. But because people know that I work in this, they come to my house to sell things to me,” she told Tierramérica.

She buys aluminium, bronze, steel, plastic and empty rum or beer bottles. Until July she sold them to the state-run salvage company of Mayabeque, which has since then become a cooperative of nine members, four of whom are women.

“The good thing is that now they always have money to buy what you bring them, and in cash,” Ferro said.

In Cuba’s centralised economy, for many years cooperatives were only allowed in agriculture. But in mid-2013, the government of Raúl Castro made it possible to establish cooperatives in other areas, as part of wider reforms to boost “prosperous, sustainable socialism.”

Of the first 124 cooperatives established outside of agriculture, two are involved in salvaging waste materials.

The government’s aim is for each of the country’s 168 municipalities to have a waste recovery cooperative.

Ramos said the UERMP association is not equipped to go door to door collecting recyclable waste materials. That task is left to the growing private sector, while the state reserves for itself the large sources of recoverable waste products, she explained in an interview with Tierramérica.

Ignoring the stigma traditionally faced by waste pickers, Eida Pérez, a 39-year-old accountant, has found the recovery of waste materials to be surprisingly lucrative. In just two months, the cooperative she heads earned a profit of 14,750 dollars. (The average salary in Cuba is 19 dollars a month.)

“Three years ago, we couldn’t imagine this could happen” she said. Pérez said her cooperative is moving towards labour autonomy, overcoming fears and obstacles from a recent past when people only did what was indicated “from above.”

“We have increased the products we recover…Now we see ourselves as more efficient, and at an advantage compared to the state companies, because I don’t face restrictions. We operate in cash, we can pay more if the product merits it, lease our trucks and hire the services of cuentapropistas,” she said.

“We earn a 50 percent profit on all of the products we buy,” Pérez added. Her fellow cooperative members, who elected her as president, hope to reach the end of the year with a strong profit margin. But in the last two months they have already managed to pay off the initial interest-free loan of 5,400 dollars.

At the start, most of the new cooperatives were created on the initiative of the state, which later handed operations over to employees.

“It’s a bad way to start, because one basic principle of these forms of business management is individual enterprise,” an economist who preferred to remain anonymous told Tierramérica.

But in Ramos’s view, “the benefit is double. We increased the recovery of recyclable waste materials and kept them from going into the dump – in other words, there’s also an environmental impact.

There are 986 garbage dumps in Cuba, which received just over 5.3 million tonnes of trash in 2012, according to the government statistics office.

In the past year, around 420,000 tonnes of waste were recovered, including steel, cast iron, lead, bronze, aluminium, paper, cardboard, plastic, textiles, electronic scrap and glass bottles.

These products were exported or sold to national industries, like the metallurgical industry, wire and cable production factories or paper and cardboard companies.

If local industry had had to import these materials, it would have cost the country 120 million dollars, Ramos said. “We want to increasingly industrialise this work and increase the value added of recycled products.”

The UERMP recycling association wants to foment the creation of provincial cooperatives that would carry out “at least basic” processing of waste products, Ramos said. Today there are only two garbage separating plants.

The ideal thing, she admitted, would be to get households to classify their own garbage. But that achievement, which would require heavy investment, is still a far-off dream for Cuba.

* This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

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Building a Better World, One Block at a Time http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/building-a-better-world-one-block-at-a-time/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=building-a-better-world-one-block-at-a-time http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/building-a-better-world-one-block-at-a-time/#comments Tue, 08 Oct 2013 21:58:59 +0000 Stephen Leahy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128024 One evening in the small village of Ashton Hayes in Cheshire, England, someone started a conversation about climate change and energy at the local pub. It was 2005. Two years later, residents had cut their carbon dioxide emissions and energy costs by 20 percent. Ashton Hayes now aims to be England’s first carbon-neutral community. “People […]

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The Bristol pound. Credit: Mark Simmons/IPS

The Bristol pound. Credit: Mark Simmons/IPS

By Stephen Leahy
NANTES, France, Oct 8 2013 (IPS)

One evening in the small village of Ashton Hayes in Cheshire, England, someone started a conversation about climate change and energy at the local pub. It was 2005. Two years later, residents had cut their carbon dioxide emissions and energy costs by 20 percent.

Ashton Hayes now aims to be England’s first carbon-neutral community."What we're doing could apply to thousands of cities and towns. And we have lots of parties and fun doing it." -- Bristol's Mayor George Ferguson

“People know major changes have to be made in the face of climate change and resource depletion,” said Rob Hopkins, one of founders of the Transition Town movement in which local people get together to find ways to make their streets and neighbourhoods more sustainable.

“It started with friends and neighbours saying ‘what can we do as ordinary people knowing that our governments are not going to sort it out,’” Hopkins told IPS.

Plagued by a mounting trash problem, residents of the South African community of Greyton jammed trash into plastic bottles to make ‘ecobricks’. These make good building material with a high insulation value, and are now being used to construct things like toilet blocks in Greyton.

In Portugal, where unemployment is over 20 percent and wages are depressed, the transition movement is focused on reducing the need to use money. One small town banned money for three days. People shared or exchanged services instead.

“We can make things happen,” said Hopkins, who is author of the book “Power of Just Doing Stuff – How local action can change the world”.

There are now over 1,000 communities involved in Transition Towns, a volunteer, non-profit movement. These communities are inventing their own ways to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels while increasing local resilience and self-sufficiency in food, water, energy, culture and wellness.

According to the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2000+page report released Sep. 30, temperatures between 1983 and 2012 were the warmest they have been in the past 1,400 years in the Northern Hemisphere.

The cautiously-worded report details observed impacts such as increased temperatures, precipitation changes, weather extremes and more. It also confirms that these and other impacts will worsen as CO2 emissions increase.

“Cities have the biggest role to play in getting to zero carbon,” said George Ferguson, the mayor of Bristol, a city of half a million people in the UK.

“Bristol emphasises active transport, walking and cycling and we plan to double our tree canopy. We want to improve air quality and the health of residents,” Ferguson told IPS.

One of the first Transition Towns, the city is a living lab for ideas and experiments in creating an ecocity for everyone, he said. Cars are banned on many streets between 3:00 and 5:00 pm to allow children to reclaim them for play. That’s sparked a street-play movement in many other communities.

Bristol is also the recycling champion of Britain and plans to launch a city-owned sustainable energy company. Beginning next year school children will learn about ecology by determining where and what kinds of trees they will plant in their neighbourhoods as part of an annual city-funded greening effort.

“The children will teach their parents important eco-lessons, I believe,” Ferguson said.

He takes his entire salary in the local alternative currency called the Bristol pound. It can only be spent at local businesses.

“I bought my bike, my pants, my food and got my hair cut using the Bristol pound,” he said.

There are over 400 alternative currencies in use around the world and the number is growing quickly in response to globalisation and corporate domination of many businesses. While residents can pay their local taxes in Bristol pounds, the corporate-owned supermarkets won’t accept it, he said.

This summer Bristol was rewarded for its efforts, becoming the European Green Capital for 2015, the first British city to win.

“What we’re doing could apply to thousands of cities and towns. And we have lots of parties and fun doing it,” said Ferguson.

Saint-Gilles-Du-Mene is a rural French village in Brittany that was losing residents and failing economically. It decided to reinvent itself as a community-owned net energy producer. Today, using a combination of wind, solar, biomass and biodigesters and improved housing insulation, it produces 30 percent of its own energy. By 2025, residents hope to sell energy to other communities.

“Our energy transformation has created new jobs and synergies. We have a new video-conferencing facility and produce our own biodiesel for farm tractors,” said Celine Bilsson of the village’s renewable energy commission.

Bilsson said her village was inspired by the example of the Austrian town of Güssing, a once-poor town that was the first in Europe to operate completely on renewable energy in the late 1990s. It cut its energy use 50 percent through efficiency and now makes millions of euros selling renewable energy to others.

“We didn’t spend time doing studies. We just reacted. You just do it,” Bilsson said.

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Homeless Again http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/homeless-again/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=homeless-again http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/homeless-again/#comments Fri, 04 Oct 2013 22:01:57 +0000 Ines Benitez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=127957 A police cordon kept everyone out of the Buenaventura “corrala” on Thursday after the police evicted 13 families living in the occupied building in the centre of this southern Spanish city early in the morning. “Tonight we’ll sleep at a friend’s house. I don’t have any work or money. We have to start over again […]

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Families and activists protest the Oct. 3 eviction from the Buenaventura squatter community. Credit: Inés Benítez/IPS

Families and activists protest the Oct. 3 eviction from the Buenaventura squatter community. Credit: Inés Benítez/IPS

By Inés Benítez
MÁLAGA, Spain , Oct 4 2013 (IPS)

A police cordon kept everyone out of the Buenaventura “corrala” on Thursday after the police evicted 13 families living in the occupied building in the centre of this southern Spanish city early in the morning.

“Tonight we’ll sleep at a friend’s house. I don’t have any work or money. We have to start over again from scratch, and it’s really complicated,” Catalina González, 39, told IPS, crying.

The families, who have been living here since February, unable to afford other housing, have a total of 12 children between them.

The corralas are communities of squatters that have emerged in crisis-stricken Spain in the last few years, as foreclosures and evictions have skyrocketed due to the housing and mortgage crisis.A total of 362,776 people in Spain lost their homes because of mortgage arrears and foreclosures between 2008 and 2012. -- Platform for Mortgage Victims

The term corrala refers to the galleried tenement buildings with common courtyards and shared services that proliferated in working-class neighbourhoods in Spain’s cities in the 16th to 19th centuries, and has been adopted to stress the sense of community in the occupied buildings.

González, who comes from Barcelona in the northeast, sought shelter in one of the apartments in Buenaventura, a four-storey block of flats, two months ago. She had just arrived from Italy, fleeing her husband who she said mistreated her sons, four-year-old Leónidas and three-year-old Manuel.

The children were playing, sitting on the ground with their two dogs, near a police van while several officers tried to reach, with the help of fire fighters, three activists who were resisting the eviction order and protesting from their perch on the rooftop of the building.

Dozens of people who have been evicted, members of social movements like Stop Desahucios (Stop Evictions), the 15M “indignados” movement, and squatters from other corralas in Málaga gathered for several hours in the street under intermittent rainfall, chanting slogans like “people without a home, homes without people, how can this be?” or “another eviction, another occupation”, until the authorities arrested several activists and left.

The Buenaventura building belonged to the Bankinter bank, which acquired it after the construction company went under and sold it – complete with families living in some of the apartments – to Gestiones Hospedalia, a real estate company.

There are some 3.5 million vacant housing units in this country of 47 million people, equivalent to 14 percent of the housing stock, and 700,000 of them are in the southern region of Andalusia, according to the National Institute of Statistics (INE).

Although most of the people who were occupying the Buenaventura apartments have found a place to stay for the time being, “some families have nowhere to go,” José Cosín, a local lawyer, told IPS.

Cósín is an activist with the Platform for Mortgage Victims (PAH), which helps block evictions and foreclosures and repairs empty buildings to provide housing for people in need, while trying to negotiate social rents.

Montse, who has an 11-year-old daughter and preferred not to give her last name, told IPS that she was going to live in a trailer.

Andrés Clemente said he would ask a friend if he could stay in his garage again.

Carolina, who also wanted to remain anonymous, and her children will stay for now at a friend’s place in the La Suerte corrala – another occupied building.

Since the start of the economic crisis in 2007, the number of occupied buildings has soared. Many of the buildings are brand-new, and owned by banks or real estate companies.

The squatters in Buenaventura held months-long talks with the local and regional authorities, the bank and the company that owns the building.

“But in the end we got nowhere. They’ve been fooling around with us, and merely referred us to the social services,” said Leticia Gómez, 32, who was living in the corrala because she “had nowhere to go” after breaking up with her partner.

The Málaga city government gave each family evicted from the corrala an average of 1,000 euros (1,362 dollars) to cover the cost of rent for the first few months. But those who received the payment say it is not enough help, and are asking for the empty units to be converted into affordable housing, where each family pays according to their income.

“They gave me 900 euros (1,226 dollars) for three months rent. And after that what am I supposed to do? We’ll be back on the streets again,” said Yuli Fajardo, 42, hugging her cinnamon-coloured dog.

José Manuel, standing next to her, said he would occupy an apartment in another empty building. He described how early that morning, the police broke through a human chain that had formed around the corrala to prevent the eviction operation.

Finding a place to rent is not easy for these people, who often have no guarantor to sign for them and no formal job, and who can’t afford to put down a deposit of several months’ rent.

Some of the people who were evicted complained that the police used excessive force and “tore the doors off.”

The police, however, told IPS that the operation “went normally.”

“Even the heavens are crying for us,” Kira Vela, 37, exclaimed when she heard thunder.

Vela ended up in Buenaventura after she lost her home in the Málaga neighbourhood of Ciudad Jardín because she got behind on her mortgage payments. One of her three children, Yolanda, was also living in the corrala with her one-year-old baby.

A total of 362,776 people in Spain lost their homes because of mortgage arrears and foreclosures between 2008 and 2012, according to a report by PAH.

So far, the organisation has managed to block 757 evictions and has rehoused 712 people.

Soaring unemployment, which stands at over 26 percent in Spain – the highest rate in Europe after Greece – has led many families to lose their homes when they are unable to meet rent or mortgage payments. Dozens of people have committed suicide because of the evictions.

“There are many empty homes,” Carmen Gil, who lives near Buenaventura, commented to IPS while watching the protesters shout at a dozen police officers posted at the entry to the building. “They should give them to these families with kids. It’s not a crisis, it’s a scam.”

A number of the people evicted from the building have been out of work for years. Many of them used to work in the construction industry.

“If I could afford to pay rent, I would,” Clemente, a carpenter, told IPS.

In April, the government of the autonomous region of Andalusía, where Málaga is located, approved a decree-law on the social function of housing, establishing the need for a stock of social housing units.

The regional law also provides for the temporary expropriation – for a period of three years – of the housing units of families facing imminent eviction, “in cases where there is a risk of social exclusion or a threat to the physical or mental health of persons.”

“Why do we have to leave?” eight-year-old José asked his mother Silvia, who was holding him and his six-year-old sister Esther by the hand during a protest demanding “the right to a roof over our heads” the day before the eviction.

In May, the legislators of the governing right-wing People’s Party (PP) passed a law containing measures to strengthen protection for mortgage-holders, make more affordable housing available, and require banks to renegotiate mortgages.

The law was originally based on two bills: one presented by the executive branch, and the other by PAH, which collected 1.5 million signatures and presented a “popular legislative initiative” to Congress.

But the PAH proposals were eliminated from the final version of the bill.

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“Bring What You Want, Take What You Want” http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/09/bring-what-you-want-take-what-you-want/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bring-what-you-want-take-what-you-want http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/09/bring-what-you-want-take-what-you-want/#comments Sun, 08 Sep 2013 12:12:10 +0000 Marcela Valente http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=127324 In the face of an intense wave of consumerism, some people in Argentina are beginning to discover the advantages of sharing goods and services, instead of buying them.

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Nothing is for sale at this street market in Plaza Italia, in the Palermo district of Buenos Aires. Credit: Juan Moseinco/IPS

Nothing is for sale at this street market in Plaza Italia, in the Palermo district of Buenos Aires. Credit: Juan Moseinco/IPS

By Marcela Valente
BUENOS AIRES, Sep 8 2013 (IPS)

Disillusioned with an economy that promotes individualism and ruthless consumption, thousands of people in Argentina are giving things away in street markets, organising car pools with strangers or offering free accommodation to travellers from abroad.

These are early trends in this South American country, but they are expanding, based on Web 2.0 platforms. Users share a concern for the environment and a rejection of consumerism. But they also have a desire to strengthen a sense of community and trust.

“We need much less than we consume. The basis of our street markets is detachment, the need to free ourselves from the concept of private ownership,” said Ariel Rodríguez, the creator of La Gratiferia (The Free Market) which operates under the slogan: “Bring what you want (or nothing), take what you want (or nothing).”

Launched in 2010, the first market was in Rodríguez’s home, in the Buenos Aires district of Liniers. Rodríguez offered friends and neighbours books, CDs, clothes, furniture and other goods that he had accumulated and didn’t need. He offered food and beverages as well.

In time, people began to follow his lead. He recalls that the 13th market “went out on the street and exploded” with dissemination on social networks. “This breaks with traditional mindsets,” Rodríguez said. Visitors are initially incredulous, in doubt about whether or not they can really take things without leaving something else in exchange.

People can come to a gratiferia with the stuff they wish to get rid of, and they do not have to worry about whether someone will take it. The idea is that someone will be interested in extending items’ useful life, instead of buying new goods.

“It’s a reorganisation of material objects that also generates an interesting kind of socialisation, by creating a sense of community,” Rodríguez said.

Gratiferias have spread to cities in some of the provinces, as well as to Chile, Mexico and other countries, he said.

This free give-and-take, according to Rodríguez, did not arise during a situation of crisis, like the bartering systems that were so popular during the 2001-2002 economic and social meltdown. “This is an attempt to respond to a much longer crisis in our relationship with material goods,” he said.

The practice has caught on in other areas. At the University of Buenos Aires engineering department, a group of students is offering lecture notes and study materials at a free fair this month.

“The idea is in the spirit of the gratiferias, and it should be a wider movement involving other departments, but for the moment we are trying to establish it in engineering,” Santiago Trejo, one of the students organising the fair, told Tierramérica*.

These are original forms of “collaborative consumption”, an expression coined in the United States to describe mechanisms for sharing or exchanging electrical appliances, books, clothes, shoes, instruments, furniture, bicycles and even cars.

In 2011, Time magazine named collaborative consumption one of the 10 ideas capable of changing the world.

Similar ideas have emerged among people who regard travel as not just going to another part of the world, but having a human and social experience with people who live in a different country.

“When I went to Europe I stayed at hostels, and when I came home I realised I hadn’t much idea of how people lived in those countries, or what they thought of ours,” 24-year-old Aranzazú Dobantón, who is working and studying film, told Tierramérica.

Four years ago, she uploaded her profile on Couchsurfing, an international platform that puts people willing to host foreign visitors in touch with would-be travellers. The exchange involves no money: just sharing a roof, and the experience.

The local group has 5,000 registered users.

“So far I have hosted about 15 people from different parts of the world, many of them from Denmark, and also from Mexico, the Philippines, France, and a Turkish person who lived in Germany,” Dobantón said.

As the hostess, she sets the conditions. She and the potential guest correspond by e-mail, and once the visitor is in Buenos Aires they meet first in a public place.

“The visitors are very willing. Sometimes I cook for them, sometimes they prepare the food. They realise it’s not easy to look after guests when I’m working. But they are ordinary people, with the same concerns that I have, although the reality of where they live is different,” she said.

The visitors later write on the website about how they felt staying at her home, and these comments encourage other people to make the same trip – or not. Dobantón, in turn, can use the network to stay at someone’s home when she wants to travel. So far she has only tried out the system in neighbouring Uruguay.

Collaborative consumption is growing so big in the United States that the brokerage and financial services firm ConvergEx wrote an article claiming it could have “catastrophic” ripple effects on the economy.

Carpooling has grown the most in Argentina. With the aim of saving money and cutting down on pollution and traffic congestion, a number of platforms exist to connect people willing to share a car, the journey and the expenses.

“Vayamos juntos” and “En Camello” are two of the Argentine networks where interested parties publish their offer or requirements for point-to-point journeys. Some just want to share rides from home to work, while others wish to travel from one province to another, or go to a concert or football match.

In other countries, like Mexico, there are different forms of shared transport, such as multi-user cars which provide access to a vehicle when needed for an hourly rate, or a monthly or annual subscription. As with public bicycles, cars are picked up in one parking lot and left in another.

In Argentina, each of the options already has thousands of registered users.

This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

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Sustainable Technologies Safeguard the Soil in Cuba http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/08/sustainable-technologies-safeguard-the-soil-in-cuba/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sustainable-technologies-safeguard-the-soil-in-cuba http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/08/sustainable-technologies-safeguard-the-soil-in-cuba/#comments Tue, 20 Aug 2013 12:49:22 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=126661 The furrows are hard to make out in fields of the Finca de Semillas, a farm on Havana’s outskirts, because its administrators, Esmilda Sánchez and Raúl Aguilar, protect every centimetre of soil with mulch. “This technique has done the most to boost our yields,” said Sánchez, one of 1,200 farmers who have benefited from a […]

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Esmilda Sánchez picks string beans on the Finca de Semillas farm. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Esmilda Sánchez picks string beans on the Finca de Semillas farm. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
HAVANA, Aug 20 2013 (IPS)

The furrows are hard to make out in fields of the Finca de Semillas, a farm on Havana’s outskirts, because its administrators, Esmilda Sánchez and Raúl Aguilar, protect every centimetre of soil with mulch.

“This technique has done the most to boost our yields,” said Sánchez, one of 1,200 farmers who have benefited from a pilot project for the improvement and conservation of soil, water, and forestland in order to adapt to climate change. “The earth holds the humidity, something that is very much needed in our area, which is affected by drought,” she added.

The project, which has been coordinated since 2010 by the state Soil Institute, includes the planting of forest areas on farms, appropriate mechanisation strategies, a search for new sources of water, no-till farming, live barriers, mulch, and bioproducts.

“Because we didn’t know better, we used to plant without taking into account the direction of the slope, and without creating barriers,” said Aguilar, an ex-welder who has been working for the last eight years on this 30-hectare parcel of land, which belongs to the 26 de Julio Basic Unit of Cooperative Production, a state cooperative. “So the rain washed away all of the nutrients from the soil.”

The farm is part of the Polígono Nacional, which covers 2,015 hectares, including the 26 de Julio coop and the Monumental state farm, in the Havana municipality of Guanabacoa. It involves some 400 farmers.

This was the first of the 35 pilot farms scattered throughout the country as part of the project, which is supported by the United Nations Development Programme.

“Through each one of these, the principles of sustainable land management are spread in practice,” Dagoberto Rodríguez, the director general of the Soil Institute, told IPS.

“Now we are including alternatives for addressing every type of soil, water and forest problem in the country. We also cover different the forms of production,” he added, referring to cooperatives, state farms, and farms run by individuals to whom unproductive state land has been distributed.

Every agricultural unit receives training, technical assistance, and supplies, oriented towards solving the specific problems it faces. At the same time, these units are becoming a reference point for the rest of the rural community where they are located.

The Cuban archipelago was not blessed with fertile land. According to Soil Institute data, only 28 percent of Cuba’s soil is highly productive for agriculture. Of the rest, 50 percent is in the fourth category of productivity, one of the lowest, Rodríguez said.

The country’s main limiting factors are salinity, erosion, poor drainage, low fertility, natural compaction, acidity, very low organic material content, poor retention of humidity, and desertification, according to the National Office of Statistics and Information.

Also, centuries of agriculture have affected Cuba’s soil, where the economy depended on sugarcane monoculture until the early 21st century. In fact, the agroecological and conservationist movement is only a little over 20 years old here.

Heavy rains and lengthy droughts are eroding Cuba’s land, Rodríguez said. Both are more and more frequent and will intensify with the advance of climate change. For example, a hurricane can drop half of a given area’s annual rainfall in 24 hours, he said.

The technologies established by the Soil Institute to prevent rill erosion – pits or paths caused by water flow – are not effective against the precipitation that is being received by areas such as the basin of the River Cauto, which flows through the eastern provinces of Granma and Santiago de Cuba.

The entire coast and southern plains of Cuba are threatened by coastal flooding and the consequent salinisation of soil.

Based on Soil Institute figures, by 2050 the average salinity of that area, now estimated at five (according to the way soil salinity is measured), will have risen to seven if the effects of global warming are not mitigated, said Rodríguez.

In that case, large expanses of farmland would be lost, and many tracts would have to be planted with crops that are tolerant of the new conditions, he said. Hence the importance of promoting comprehensive management of all natural resources involved in agriculture, he stressed.

“The main problem was a lack of knowledge among farmers about techniques for improving and conserving soil, water, and forests,” said Raimundo Suárez, an engineer who works with the Polígono Nacional. He told IPS that promoting new practices was easier among non-traditional farmers.

“Mentalities have changed with the results obtained,” Suárez said. “The most direct benefit obtained has been a reduction in costs by weight and increased yields and income,” he said.

At Finca de Semillas, plantain, sweet potato, and papaya crops used to yield 7.1, 6, and 5.8 tons per hectare, respectively. Today, Sánchez and Aguilar harvest 10.2 tons of plantain, 8.2 of sweet potato, and 18.4 of papaya per hectare.

For 17 years, Leonardo Cardoso has been heading Las Estrellas, a parcel of land that belongs to the state farm Monumental, part of the Polígono. His fruit production, such as mango, guava, loquat and avocado, and his lumber trees depend on rain, his only source of water, he told IPS.

Two priorities on the farm, located on a high slope, are preventing soil from washing away and making maximum use of rainwater. For this purpose, the two farmers he oversees take measures such as creating barriers to erosion made of plants or rocks, or using organic material and earthworm humus.

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Ecological Cuban Recipes Boost Sustainable Agriculture http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/08/ecological-cuban-recipes-boost-sustainable-agriculture/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ecological-cuban-recipes-boost-sustainable-agriculture http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/08/ecological-cuban-recipes-boost-sustainable-agriculture/#comments Mon, 19 Aug 2013 12:26:14 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=126590 Vilda Figueroa and her husband, José Lama, live in Marianao on the outskirts of Havana, where they share hundreds of recipes based on Cuban-grown foods and sun-drying, along with other ecological food preservation methods. “We figured that there were lots of easy ways to preserve vegetables and condiments for when they were out of season,” […]

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In 2012, the Community Food Preservation Project won the Triple Corona, the highest prize awarded by the National Urban Agriculture Group. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

In 2012, the Community Food Preservation Project won the Triple Corona, the highest prize awarded by the National Urban Agriculture Group. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
HAVANA, Aug 19 2013 (IPS)

Vilda Figueroa and her husband, José Lama, live in Marianao on the outskirts of Havana, where they share hundreds of recipes based on Cuban-grown foods and sun-drying, along with other ecological food preservation methods.

“We figured that there were lots of easy ways to preserve vegetables and condiments for when they were out of season,” said Lama, who, along with his wife, began searching for these types of alternatives in 1996. “That’s why we began experimenting with the principle of not adding anything artificial,” he told IPS.

They began sun-drying root vegetables such as cassava, sweet potato and taro (malanga), and making all-natural homemade pickles using cucumbers, peppers and mixed vegetables, and founded the Community Food Preservation Project (Proyecto Comunitario Conservación de Alimentos, PCCA).

Better known as the “Vilda and Pepe project”, this experience aims to provide training for producers with small gardens and the public in general in using sustainable, natural, low-input food-processing technologies, with the goal of promoting a healthy lifestyle based on strong social participation.

Through the publication of dozens of articles and pamphlets, and by means of national and international talks and workshops, this couple and the project’s network of volunteer promoters share recipes and preservation methods to make better use of the variety of root and green vegetables and aromatic plants that are grown in Cuba.

“We want this knowledge to reach the entire country, including producers and vendors, as a contribution to agriculture and family budgets,” Lama said.

This initiative, based in the municipality of Marianao, is linked to the urban and suburban agriculture network of small farms and gardens, a programme coordinated by the state Alejandro de Humboldt Institute of Basic Research in Tropical Agriculture.

Figueroa and Lama are working on one of the least-addressed aspects of food security and food sovereignty. Their recipes, based on endemic foods, seek to transform the nutritional habits of the local population by including new foods that are more sustainable and that are based on the island’s agricultural production.

Their natural food preservation techniques, including sun-drying and pickling, demonstrate to families and diverse producers many ways of using vegetables, aromatic plants, and tubers, instead of throwing them out.

The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) reported that in the second half of 2012, the region was affected by higher global food prices, which drove up prices for local consumers.

However, the Updated Economic Overview of Latin America and the Caribbean 2012, published by ECLAC in April, predicted a drop in food prices for this year.

In the case of Cuba, the high percentage of income that families spend on food will drop if the country manages to boost agricultural production – one of the main challenges for the reforms implemented by the Raúl Castro government since 2008, with the goal of reducing imports.

The PCCA is using different channels to make people aware of how to sterilise containers for pickling; how to sun-dry oregano, basil, marjoram, rosemary, parsley and celery; and how to preserve fruits and vegetables, to conserve the nutritional value.

At their locale, they have an exhibition of dozens of multicoloured bottles of preserves, books, CDs and tapes of radio and television programmes. They also have a website, a classroom, a vertical garden, and their own publishing house for getting the word out.

The two activists have written a total of 22 books. Two of them, “Cocina cubana con sabor” (Cuban Cooking with Flavour), featuring 760 recipes, and “Manual de conservación de alimentos y condimentos por secado solar” (Manual for Preserving Foods and Condiments with Sun-Drying) received Best in the World prizes for their 2010 and 2011 editions in the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards contest.

Figueroa and Lama launched and hosted the TV cooking programme “Con sabor” (With Flavour) for over five years. And they now have a weekly Saturday programme on Havana Radio station.

“Thanks to the workshops (organised by the project), I learned how to sun-dry different condiments and I diversified my production,” Elso Morales, who has a small snack food business, told IPS. “They showed me how to make croquettes and other foods from cassava so that I would have a greater variety of snacks to sell at my kiosk.”

Now the PCCA coordinators are working on a book called “La yuca, un alimento sostenible” (Cassava, a Sustainable Food), showing different ways to prepare this tuber, which was brought to the Cuban archipelago nearly 500 years ago by indigenous people from what is today Venezuela.

In the authors’ opinion, Cubans are not very creative when it comes to cooking cassava.

“Casabe — an indigenous recipe for tortillas made out of grated cassave — has almost disappeared, and is made in very few regions in the country,” Figueroa told IPS.

“The book includes ways of using rock-hard cassava, which we tend to throw away,” she said.

“We have made flan with cassava milk, and pizzas, muffins and cakes with cassava flour that we process ourselves,” she added.

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Building the Future Enterprise by Enterprise in Rural Peru http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/08/building-the-future-enterprise-by-enterprise-in-rural-peru/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=building-the-future-enterprise-by-enterprise-in-rural-peru http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/08/building-the-future-enterprise-by-enterprise-in-rural-peru/#comments Thu, 15 Aug 2013 23:32:34 +0000 Milagros Salazar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=126555 Women and young people are central players in dozens of small businesses and environmental protection plans that are changing the lives of poor rural families in the Andes highlands of southern Peru. The initiatives are financed by the government programme Sierra Sur and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). In her colourful traditional indigenous […]

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Yolanda Chaucayaqui shows the scale model of what her town, Yanaquihua, will look like. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

Yolanda Chaucayaqui shows the scale model of what her town, Yanaquihua, will look like. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

By Milagros Salazar
QUEQUEÑA, Peru , Aug 15 2013 (IPS)

Women and young people are central players in dozens of small businesses and environmental protection plans that are changing the lives of poor rural families in the Andes highlands of southern Peru.

The initiatives are financed by the government programme Sierra Sur and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

In her colourful traditional indigenous outfit, Yolanda Chaucayaqui shows a grey scale model that reflects what things were like until recently in her town, Yanaquihua, where deforestation and informal sector mining reigned.

Then she smiles as she shows another, brightly-coloured, scale model, which reflects the future she dreams of: avocado orchards kept green with a drip irrigation system, a water tank – and no mining.

“We want our town to be free of all of these negative things, and we are working to forge the way to a different kind of future,” she tells IPS.

Chaucayaqui rode seven hours in a cart from Yanaquihua to Quequeña, a smaller town in the region of Arequipa where hundreds of campesinos or peasant farmers took part in the last Sierra Sur/IFAD projects fair, on Aug. 3.

The fair was attended by IFAD president Kanayo Nwanze from Nigeria, who told IPS that he was pleased with the advances made, and especially with the strong presence of women.

Peru has been working with the specialised United Nations agency for 20 years, fomenting the creation of small enterprises that improve the lives of poor rural families.

Some 18,000 families have benefited from the second phase of the Sierra Sur programme in the regions of Apurímac, Arequipa, Cuzco, Puno, Moquegua and Tacna.

Of that total, 48 percent of the participants were women committed to business and natural resource management plans, who have managed to join the financial system by opening savings accounts, José Vilcherrez, the head of project evaluation and monitoring for Sierra Sur II, tells IPS.

In these southern regions, 550 business plans are being carried out, each one involving around 20 men and women. On average, 80 percent of each business is financed by the government programme, with loans from IFAD, while the remaining 20 percent comes from the community.“These women win a new space in their families, respect from their husbands and their kids. They start to be listened to.” -- José Vilcherrez

Each project is chosen through a transparent selection process in fairs like the one held in Quequeña, by the local fund allotment committee, made up of residents and authorities from the participating villages and towns.

The businesses are diverse, and women participate in almost all of the activities, from livestock-raising and pasture improvement to bakeries, dairy products, textiles and craft-making.

“These women win a new space in their families, respect from their husbands and their kids. They start to be listened to,” says Vilcherrez, who is evaluating the impact of Sierra Sur on the female population, to determine how support from the programme can be improved.

Women have asked for more information, in order to gain access to new areas of business activity, and to learn about their rights, the expert explained.

Nelly Roxana Cheña presides over a group of local craftswomen in the region of Puno. Thanks to her involvement in Sierra Sur, she discovered her talent for knitting and began to earn money to pay for schooling for her children.

“We have never appreciated our talents,” she tells IPS. “But thanks to the training, we rise at four in the morning, we get our housework done, and we work hard, to pull ahead. We want to continue to receive training,” she enthuses, surrounded by her fellow knitters and balls of yarn and wool caps.

Cheña says the women in her town are actively involved in protecting the environment. There are 127 natural resource management plans in the southern regions, where families are carrying out activities to preserve and administer water sources and soil. The best projects are rewarded with funds from the programme.

“We want to contribute to the recovery of our villages,” says Rosemary Quispe, from Cuzco region. “We want to live in nice, neat houses while preserving the natural resources for ourselves and the next generations,” adds the 19-year-old, one of the many young people taking part in the Sierra Sur projects.

Since late 2012, IFAD has been encouraging youth participation in rural areas of Brazil, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Peru, providing financial and technical support through the Young Rural Entrepreneurs programme.

In Peru, 344 young people are involved in 28 rural enterprises, half of them in the south of the country.

“Young people have few opportunities to stay in their village, which fuels poverty and migration,” Wilder Mamani, the head of Procasur, an NGO that works in partnership with IFAD, tells IPS.

Sinthia Yucra, 21, decided to stay in her village, and is generating income for her family by raising chickens.

She lives in the village of Lucre, in Cuzco region, more than 3,000 metres above sea level, where she and nine other young people now have 1,000 hens and another 1,000 chicks. Eight of the 10 people involved in the project are women.

“This has strengthened my family and brought us closer together,” Yucra tells IPS. “I never thought our parents would support us. This is exciting. I have a lot of plans for my village.”

The group, who clarified that they don’t believe in welfare-style assistance, took out a loan to launch the small business and build the sheds. They are now being trained by Procasur technicians and plan to hire an economist, to prepare for selling their products to supermarkets.

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Haitian Farmers Lauded for Food Sovereignty Work http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/08/haitian-farmers-lauded-for-food-sovereignty-work/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=haitian-farmers-lauded-for-food-sovereignty-work http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/08/haitian-farmers-lauded-for-food-sovereignty-work/#comments Wed, 14 Aug 2013 00:05:07 +0000 Jared Metzker http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=126479 Work by the Group of 4 (G4) union of Haitian peasant organisations, along with assistance from the Dessalines Brigade –  South American peasant leaders and agroecology experts supported by La Via Campesina - has been singled out for promoting “good farming practices and advocat[ing] for peasant farmers” in Haiti. The two network organisations, it was announced Tuesday, will be […]

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Zanmi Agrikol farm/Friends of Agriculture, in Haiti's Bas-Plateau Central. Credit: Wadner Pierre/IPS

Zanmi Agrikol farm/Friends of Agriculture, in Haiti's Bas-Plateau Central. Credit: Wadner Pierre/IPS

By Jared Metzker
WASHINGTON, Aug 14 2013 (IPS)

Work by the Group of 4 (G4) union of Haitian peasant organisations, along with assistance from the Dessalines Brigade –  South American peasant leaders and agroecology experts supported by La Via Campesina - has been singled out for promoting “good farming practices and advocat[ing] for peasant farmers” in Haiti.

The two network organisations, it was announced Tuesday, will be awarded the 2013 Food Sovereignty Prize, an annual award given to groups that promote a more democratic, community-based food system.

The G4 alliance represents over a quarter-million Haitians. Its relationship with the South American peasant leadership is intended “to rebuild Haiti’s environment, promote wealth and end poverty” in that country, which continues to feel the devastating effects of the major earthquake that struck the island in 2010.

“We wanted to honour that relationship,” Charity Hicks, of the Detroit Food Justice Task Force, one of the groups behind the Food Sovereignty Prize, told IPS, referring to the partnership between G4 and Via Campesina.

Hicks’ organisation is just one member of the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance (USFSA), the group offering the award. USFSA aims to “end poverty, rebuild local food economies, and assert democratic control over the food system”, as well as to connect “local and national struggles to the international movement for food sovereignty”.

Hicks lauds the partnership between the Haitian peasant union and the South American groups as an example of food sovereignty organisations from different regions “sharing knowledge and skills, respecting ecologies and creating food democracy”.

Food democracy, she explains, refers to “bottom-up, communal and cultural approaches to deal with hunger and poverty.”

In addition, the G4 union stood out for a decision made in 2010 by one of its member groups, the Peasant Movement of Papaye, to reject a substantial donation of hybrid seeds by U.S. mega-producer Monsanto following the earthquake.

“Denying the [Monsanto] seeds represented significant opposition to what the corporate food system is doing by trying to control our food,” Lisa Griffith, of the National Family Farm Coalition, another member group of the USFSA, told IPS.

The opposition to Monsanto was especially important in the decision to award G4, Griffith says, because the Food Sovereignty Prize acts as an alternative to the World Food Prize. That annual award was given this year to, among others, Robert Fraley, a high-ranking Monsanto executive.

The World Food Prize, according to its website, is the foremost international food award, intended to reward “the achievements of individuals who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world.”

According to Hicks, however, there is reason to question the merits of the prize.

“The World Food Prize represents a way for corporations to give themselves awards for the notion of using technology in order to feed the world,” she says.

Indeed, one of the many corporate sponsors behind the prize is Monsanto itself.

On the other hand, food sovereignty groups, according to Griffith, offer an important alternative to the corporate producers because they have “a much stronger understanding of what their communities want to produce and want to eat.

“These communities don’t need to be taken over by corporations who profess to know better about what [the communities] want,” Griffith says.

Hicks adds that, counter to the values of the corporate food system, food sovereignty “affirms peoples’ democratic right to food, restores their traditional relationship with food and the environment and rejects the commodification of nature.”

Constitutional aim

Along with the announcement of the G4 as the winner of this year’s award, the prize also lauded the work of three additional nominees for their work in promoting the values of food sovereignty.

The Basque Country Peasants’ Solidarity (EHNE), which was one of the groups responsible for the founding of Via Campesina, represents 6,000 members in the Basque region. It received mention for, among other things, its work with young farmers.

The National Coordination of Peasant Organisations of Mali, with around 2.5 million members, was also recognised for its advocacy work in support of democratic agricultural policies. In part due to its efforts, Hicks says Mali is now one of the first countries to have enshrined food sovereignty in its national constitution.

Finally, the Tamil Nadu Women’s Collective (TNWC) stood out for its work empowering women in the South Indian state.

“Through the [TNWC], 100,000 marginalised women are organised, many in unofficial worker unions or small collective farms, to strengthen their food sovereignty and thus their broader power,” the USFSA noted in a statement.

Following on Tuesday’s announcements, a formal awarding ceremony for the Food Sovereignty Prize will be held on October 15 at the Smithsonian Institute’s Museum of the American Indian, in New York City. Representatives of each of the four groups will be flown in and will accept modest monetary gifts on behalf of their organisations.

The venue, Hicks says, was chosen for symbolic reasons, in order to “honour indigenous communities worldwide”.

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Targeting Hard-core Urban Poverty with a Female Face http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/08/targeting-hard-core-urban-poverty-with-a-female-face/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=targeting-hard-core-urban-poverty-with-a-female-face http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/08/targeting-hard-core-urban-poverty-with-a-female-face/#comments Mon, 12 Aug 2013 15:42:51 +0000 Marcela Valente http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=126435 A new social programme launched by the Argentine government to fight hard-core poverty is providing unemployed mothers who are heads of households with education, training, work and an income. “I told my oldest kids that they have to help me now because every morning I have to go to ‘Ellas Hacen’,” said Isabel Hernández, whose […]

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Participants in Ellas Hacen share their experiences in the programme. Courtesy of Social Income with Work Programme in Morón

Participants in Ellas Hacen share their experiences in the programme. Courtesy of Social Income with Work Programme in Morón

By Marcela Valente
BUENOS AIRES, Aug 12 2013 (IPS)

A new social programme launched by the Argentine government to fight hard-core poverty is providing unemployed mothers who are heads of households with education, training, work and an income.

“I told my oldest kids that they have to help me now because every morning I have to go to ‘Ellas Hacen’,” said Isabel Hernández, whose five children range in age from six to 16.

Ellas Hacen is the name of the latest Social Income with Work Programme implemented by the Ministry of Social Development. It specifically targets low-income unemployed women with at least three children, or a disabled child, who live in the poorest neighbourhoods.

Although she is taking part in the programme, Hernández still continues to collect used clothing to dress her children or to sell at low prices in her neighbourhood. But now she only does it on the weekends, because she is busy Monday through Friday in Ellas Hacen.

Up to now Hernández, who lives in a poor section of Don Torcuato, a neighbourhood on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, has been doing odd jobs in the informal economy, while drawing the Universal Child Allowance (AUH).

The AUH is a cash transfer to parents who are unemployed or work in the informal sector of the economy. The allowance is conditional on school attendance and keeping up-to-date on vaccines and medical checkups. The programme, introduced by President Cristina Fernández in 2009, expanded the child allowance already received by formal sector workers.

The AUH currently amounts to 460 pesos (83 dollars) a month per child under 18 and 1,500 pesos (272 dollars) per disabled son or daughter of any age. Expectant mothers also receive the allowance, starting in the third month of pregnancy.

But the AUH programme, which now benefits 3.5 million poor children and adolescents in this country of 41 million people, is little more than a palliative in the case of mothers raising several children on their own, with no other source of income and unable to find a job because of a lack of formal education and training.

Ellas Hacen was launched in the middle of this year to reach these women, estimated to number around 100,000 across the country.

The beneficiaries receive 2,000 pesos (363 dollars) a month, on top of the AUH allowance that makes sure their children stay in school.

By registering in Ellas Hacen, the women become part of the social security system and payments are made towards a future pension. In addition, they and their families have the right to medical insurance known as “obra social” – a pay-as-you-go system based on compulsory payments by both employers and employees.

Thanks to the AUH and Ellas Hacen, the Hernández family is now above the poverty line.

The latest figures from the National Statistics and Census Institute indicate that 5.4 percent of the population is living in poverty and 1.5 percent in extreme poverty. But independent sources put the figure higher. The private Catholic University, for instance, estimated the poverty rate at 15.5 percent in July.

In exchange for the new income – Hernández has already received one paycheck – the women must attend daily literacy courses and finish primary or secondary school, depending on each specific case.

The programme also provides training for jobs in urban infrastructure works in shantytowns, the installation of water pipes and tanks, house painting, trash collection and separation, and the care of green spaces.

“We are also organising workshops on gender violence, and we are going to put a strong emphasis on the question of sexual and reproductive health and the care of children,” said Diego Landechea, social-labour director of the Social Income with Work Programme in Morón, another neighbourhood on the outskirts of the capital.

Landechea told IPS that 755 women between the ages of 18 and 62 had registered for Ellas Hacen so far in that neighbourhood, and that 70 percent already receive the AUH.

The others meet different eligibility criteria. For example, over 200 of them are victims of gender violence, while 15 have at least one disabled child, he added.

The group that registered in Morón includes five illiterate women, 80 who did not complete primary school, and 190 who did not finish their secondary studies.

“They never managed to enter the labour market, for different reasons,” said Landechea.

“Without a doubt, raising several children on their own is a fundamental factor in their exclusion from the formal market,” he said, although he also mentioned a lack of formal studies or training.

A census is carried out among the women who register, and commissions are created according to the most pressing needs found.

The first priority is to finish their studies. To that end, courses are offered at different times of day, to make it possible for them to attend class. Attendance is important: if they miss more than a certain number of classes, 350 of the 2,000 pesos (363 dollars) are discounted.

Hernández told IPS that she had finished primary school, and is now starting secondary school, through the programme. She knows she’ll have to get organised, because while she’s gone, the younger children will be left in the care of her 16-year-old son.

“The first thing I did when I got the 2,000 pesos was pay 900 that I owed in the local grocery shop and give my oldest son 300 pesos so he could buy some pants,” she said, adding that the idea was to encourage her son to give her a hand.

Up to now, the Social Income with Work Programme benefited 500,000 people who learned skills and trades and joined cooperatives, where they earn 2,000 pesos a month from the state until the cooperative becomes independent.

But although the programme was not exclusively for men, it has mainly served them because it has failed to take into account specific hurdles faced by mothers who are on their own, raising at least three young children, in slum neighbourhoods.

The social programmes that began to appear after the late Néstor Kirchner (1950-2010) took office in 2003 and that were continued by his widow, President Fernández, have drawn criticism from opposition political and labour leaders.

One of them is Hugo Moyano, the head of the Confederación General del Trabajo, Argentina’s largest trade union confederation, who quipped that the programmes were “take it easy plans” rather than work plans.

Moyano, who represents the faction of the labour movement most critical of the centre-left Fernández administration, made that comment in a July rally, where he called for the elimination of income tax, which affects the middle and upper classes.

The leaders of the Confederación Nacional de Cooperativas de Trabajo (CNCT), the national confederation of workers’ cooperatives, which was created under the Social Income with Work Programme, issued a statement accusing Moyano of slander.

The CNCT pointed out that in the past few years, the programme that has now incorporated women has enabled tens of thousands of people who were out of work to receive training and improve the living conditions in their communities.

The CNCT said the new cooperative members who organised thanks initially to public subsidies are now working in areas like public works, the textile industry, carpentry, transport, gastronomy and communication.

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