Inter Press ServiceEconomy & Trade – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Tue, 17 Oct 2017 16:18:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.2 Women: Major Drivers & Beneficiaries of Poverty Eradicationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/women-major-drivers-beneficiaries-poverty-eradication/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-major-drivers-beneficiaries-poverty-eradication http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/women-major-drivers-beneficiaries-poverty-eradication/#respond Tue, 17 Oct 2017 13:54:28 +0000 Lakshmi Puri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152549 Lakshmi Puri is Assistant Secretary-General & Deputy Executive Director of UN Women

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Lakshmi Puri is Assistant Secretary-General & Deputy Executive Director of UN Women

By Lakshmi Puri
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 17 2017 (IPS)

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the declaration of 17 October as the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty by the United Nations General Assembly. Under the theme “Answering the Call of October 17 to end poverty: A path toward peaceful and inclusive societies,” this year’s commemoration reminds us of the importance of inequality, dignity, solidarity and equal voice in the fight to end poverty everywhere.

Enabling Policy Environments · Equal Participation of Rural Women in Decision-making. Credit: UN Women/Gangajit Singh Chandok

Equally, the fight to end poverty is also a call to arms against gender-based discrimination and violence that has led to an increase in the feminization of poverty in both developed and developing countries, as well as in rural and urban areas. Moreover, gender-based discrimination and violence have also thwarted well intentioned attempts to make poverty history once and for all.

The symbiosis between SDGs on poverty eradication & gender equality

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948, states that everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services.

The General Assembly resolution entitled “Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”, (2030 Agenda) declared that eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions, including extreme poverty, is one of the greatest global challenges and priorities and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development.

Sustainable Development Goal 1 (SDG 1) vows to eradicate extreme poverty everywhere by 2030, reduce the proportion of women, men and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions by half, provide social protection coverage including social protection floors for the poor. It also sets out the need for everyone to have access, ownership and control over productive resources and essential services.

The trinity of women and girls’ economic empowerment, autonomy and rights must be linked, horizontally and vertically, to the realization of SDG 5 on achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls and its nine targets. Sustainably and irreversibly eradicating poverty requires all poverty reduction and development strategies, policies and measures to make SDG 5 their lodestar and to cultivate an enabler and beneficiary symbiosis between SDG1 and 5.

Poverty link with other SDGs and women’s and girls’ empowerment

The 2030 Agenda also recognizes that realizing gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls will make a crucial contribution to the progress made across all goals and targets, along with the gender-responsive implementation of the entire Agenda. In turn, the role that each SDG plays in gender-responsive poverty reduction action is of critical importance for the empowerment of women and girls.

Attacking multidimensional poverty of women and girls means addressing the poverty linked gender gaps and deficits in education (SDG 4), in water, sanitation and hygiene (SDG 6), in food security and sustainable agriculture (SDG 2), in sustainable energy (SDG 7), in housing, safe public spaces and transport (SDG 11), and in information and communication technologies (ICT) and other technologies (SDG 5b).

Providing access to comprehensive healthcare services (SDG 3) and ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SDG 5.6) is fundamental to both poverty eradication and gender equality and women’s empowerment. Child marriage, maternal mortality, women’s lack of control over their bodies and on childbearing, including through their lack of access to information and contraception, swells the ranks of the poor and that over generations.

Women’s burden of care work and poverty eradication

Poverty eradication is about enabling women to have income security, sustainable livelihoods, access to decent work, and full and productive employment (SDG 8). It is about valuing, reducing, and redistributing unpaid care and domestic work, and the provision of infrastructure and social protection as targeted in SDG 5.4, which otherwise creates and perpetuates time and other types of poverty for women and girls and deprives them of other opportunities.

Care work for the family and the community is essential to human life and to the social and economic foundations of all economies. It enables the “productive” economy to function as it supports the well-being of the workforce, children, older persons and people with disabilities, and subsidizes the monetized economy.

Women’s unpaid work contributes $10 trillion per year globally, or 13 per cent of global GDP, according to the High-level Panel for Women’s Economic Empowerment. Hence, we need to implement a gender-responsive approach to fashioning a new quality, paid care economy as we tackle the poverty, jobs, economic growth and inequality crisis and nexus.

SDG 5 targets on violence and leadership in decision making

We must prevent and effectively respond to all forms of violence and harmful practices against women and girls in all spaces (SDG 51 and 5.2), and help the more poor and vulnerable among them to escape the dual trap of poverty and sexual and gender-based violence, exploitation and trafficking. Their voices, participation and leadership in governance, from the grassroots level to the highest levels in political, public and economic life, as well as in the cultural and social spheres, as accounted for in SDG 5.4, are critical and proven to be effective in poverty reduction.

Challenges to overcome

Despite global economic growth and a reduction in poverty over the last 30 years, evidence indicates that about 2.1 billion people are still living in poverty, with 700 million living in extreme poverty. Even in countries where poverty has been reduced, pervasive inequalities remain between rural and urban areas, between regions, between ethnic groups, and between men and women.

These inequalities and inter-sectionalities are reflected in the struggles of women and girls who face multiple forms of discrimination and disadvantage over and above that of poverty and gender. Structural barriers and discriminatory social norms continue to constrain women’s decision-making power and political participation in households and communities. Furthermore, poor women and girls face compounded challenges due to physical and mental disability.

Gender disparities in poverty are also rooted in inequalities in access to economic resources, participation in the formal economy and labour force (only 50 per cent), income disparities including the gender wage gap, and assets and social protection gaps. Women-headed households and their families risk falling into poverty, depleting their assets in response to shocks and engaging in distress sales of labour to meet immediate subsistence needs.

Women’s lower incomes and limited access to other resources such as land, credit, and assets can reduce their bargaining power within a household. As such, women experience a restricted ability to exercise their preferences in the gender division of unpaid/paid labor, the allocation of household income and their ability to exit harmful relationships is also impeded. Thus, promoting women’s economic empowerment can foster a more gender-equitable and gender-responsive pattern of economic development and be a panacea for poverty.

The risk factors of migration, conflict, and natural disasters

As the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants highlights, experiences of multidimensional poverty can influence people’s propensity to migrate, from rural to urban or developing to developed contexts. It can also be a root cause of conflict due to unequal distribution and access to resources. In 2015, the number of international migrants surpassed 244 million, growing at a rate faster than the world’s population.

Women account for at least half the world’s migrants affected by the push factor of poverty and pull factor of a better, gender equal future. Women and girls account for 60 per cent of refugees escaping violence, climate change, natural disasters and the resulting dislocation, violence and poverty.

Macroeconomic policies are important instruments as they can create an enabling environment and help reduce deprivations and conditions of poverty. Public investments in social care infrastructure, for instance, can be a self-sustaining way of creating more productive employment opportunities for women. Investments in basic physical infrastructure and transport services can enhance the productivity of women’s informal enterprises.

Social protection & poverty eradication

Social protection policies play a critical role in reducing poverty and inequality, supporting economic growth and increasing gender equality. The impact of social protection on reducing feminized poverty by increasing women’s household income is well documented.

Many informal workers are women who may interrupt paid employment to take care of children, elderly parents, and sick relatives, thereby compromising their access to social protection and 40 per cent of employed women lack maternity benefits.

Well-designed social protection schemes can narrow gender gaps in poverty rates, enhance women’s access to personal income and provide a lifeline for families. Social protection measures that countries have taken include universal health coverage, non-contributory pensions, maternity and parental leave, basic income security for children and public works programmes.

The way forward to a gender equal, poverty free world

A truly transformative, gender responsive development and poverty eradication agenda can drive change on systemic issues and structural causes of poverty and discrimination, including unequal gender relations, social exclusion and multiple forms of discrimination and marginalization.

In this equitable and people-centered development framework, empowering and fully tapping into the talent and potential of half of humanity that is systematically marginalized from the benefits of development, is critical.

In this context, Governments and stakeholders should ensure a gender perspective is included while undertaking value chain, delivery of public services and social protection impact analyses to inform the design and implementation of poverty eradication policies and programmes.

Also, women’s access to financing and investment opportunities, tools of trade, business development, and training to increase the share of trade and procurement from women’s enterprises, including micro, small and medium, cooperatives and self-help groups in both the public and private sectors, are critical entry points to grant women equal opportunities and allow them to reach their full potential.

Other specific gender-responsive poverty eradication efforts include:
• Increasing women’s access to and control over economic opportunities, resources and services;
• Increasing women’s economic, social and political leadership at all levels, including through women’s organizations and collectives;
• Promoting gender-responsive macroeconomic policies that support the creation of full and productive employment opportunities and decent work for women;
• Expanding fiscal space and generating sufficient resources to invest in gender equality and women’s empowerment by increasing public investments in physical and social care infrastructure, including water and sanitation infrastructure and renewable energy sources, as time well as – and energy-saving infrastructure and technology;
• Expanding or reprioritizing public expenditures to provide gender-responsive social protection for women and men throughout the life cycle;
• Ensuring that national laws contain provisions for core labour standards, including minimum wages and secure labour contracts, worker benefits and labour rights for workers in informal employment, and ending workplace discrimination on the basis of gender, ethnic background, migration status or disability;
• Adopting laws and regulatory frameworks to reduce and redistribute unpaid care and domestic work for women through measures such as care leave policies, care insurance schemes, flexible workplace practices for work-life balance, decent work hours and cash transfers or child support grants paid to the primary caregiver;
• Adopting measures that recognize, reduce and redistribute the contribution of unpaid care and domestic work to the national economy through the implementation of time-use surveys and the adoption of satellite accounts;
• Protecting the rights to collective bargaining and freedom of association to enable women workers, especially informal workers, to organize and to join unions and workers’ cooperatives;

Overall, poverty eradication would only be possible if women’s human rights and fundamental freedoms are strongly upheld with universality, indivisibility and interconnections of economic, social, cultural and labour rights framing women’s economic empowerment and women’s work in all contexts.

Therefore, advancing women’s economic rights, freedom from violence and harassment, granting equal opportunities for recruitment, retention and promotion in employment and transforming the negative and harmful norms that limit women’s access to and condition of work and income generating opportunities, are crucial to the elimination of poverty.

Mahatma Gandhi spoke about how poverty is the worst form of violence, that it robs human beings of their essential dignity, self-respect and human rights and how it is one of the products of the cruelties and injustices of our social system.

For most of the poor who are women and girls, this violence, cruelty and injustice is both a product of, and reinforces the injustice of gender inequality, discrimination and violence against women and girls. To root out poverty we must root out gender injustice in all its forms. A planet 50/50 by 2030 will also ensure a sustainable, prosperous and peaceful planet without poverty.

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New Villages Bloom in the Shadow of a Mountain’s Wrathhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/new-villages-bloom-shadow-mountains-wrath/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-villages-bloom-shadow-mountains-wrath http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/new-villages-bloom-shadow-mountains-wrath/#respond Tue, 17 Oct 2017 12:46:50 +0000 Kafil Yamin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152545 Repeated volcanic eruptions of Mount Sinabung since 2010 have displaced thousands of people, leaving villages around the mountain deserted, with volcanic ash, lava and mud covering the soil, trees and empty houses. No one knows when the eruptions will cease. Some displaced people have formed new settlements; others live in temporary houses or refugee camps. […]

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A woman works in her vegetable patch at the foot of Mount Sinabung, North Sumatra, Indonesia. Credit: Kafil Yamin/IPS

A woman works in her vegetable patch at the foot of Mount Sinabung, North Sumatra, Indonesia. Credit: Kafil Yamin/IPS

By Kafil Yamin
MEDAN, Indonesia , Oct 17 2017 (IPS)

Repeated volcanic eruptions of Mount Sinabung since 2010 have displaced thousands of people, leaving villages around the mountain deserted, with volcanic ash, lava and mud covering the soil, trees and empty houses.

No one knows when the eruptions will cease. Some displaced people have formed new settlements; others live in temporary houses or refugee camps.Mount Sinabung is one of 130 active volcanoes in Indonesia, an archipelago vulnerable to seismic upheavals because of its location on the ‘Ring of Fire’, a horseshoe-shaped belt of tectonic plate boundaries that fringes the Pacific basin.

With support from BNPB, the Indonesian acronym for the National Agency for Disaster Management, the local government has resettled 347 families in three housing complexes in Siosar area, Karo regency, with each family getting a 500 square meter plot for farming. They grow vegetables, breed animals, and operate shops and services. Social, cultural and economic life have blossomed.

Since 2015, following a major eruption, Siosar farmers have sent their harvest to Kabanjahe, the capital of Karo Regency. Potatoes, carrots, cabbages, oranges and coffee beans are on the market, helping stimulate economic growth of 4.5 percent of the North Sumatra province.

But the 2016 eruption devastated the staggering economy. At least 53,000 hectares of farmland was destroyed by volcanic ash and mud. The harvest failed throughout the entire district. Of 17 sub-districts, 14 were severely affected. The head of the local Agriculture Office, Munarta Ginting, urged the farmers to shift to tubers, which were more resilient to volcanic ash.

The farmers refused to give up. They started all over again late last year. BNPB sent seeds, fertilizers and consultants to help.

“After emergency management measures come social and economic recovery measures, which look farther ahead but are no less challenging,” said Agus Wibowo, director of the Social-Economic Division of BNPB.

“We aid victims to overcome the calamity, start a better life, restore social and economic enterprises, and more importantly, restore confidence for the future,” Agus added.

Mount Sinabung is one of 130 active volcanoes in Indonesia, an archipelago vulnerable to seismic upheavals because of its location on the ‘Ring of Fire’, a horseshoe-shaped belt of tectonic plate boundaries that fringes the Pacific basin.

In the first week of October, life in Siosar has returned to normal, with farmers harvesting potatoes, cabbages, carrots and chilies, despite lower production due to lack of rainfall.

Several farmers have enjoyed large harvests. Berdi Sembiring grew nine tons of potatoes on his 500 meter square farm, which is good for the dry season.

“I sold my potatoes for 48 million rupiah (4,000 dollars) – not bad,” said Sembiring with a big smile.

BNPB also encourages the refugees not to rely solely on farming and raw products. “We encourage people to develop new business opportunities, such as food industry, mechanics and manufacturing,” said Agus Wibowo, who sent a team of business consultants to train the wives of farmers.

Now, with potato chip processing machines from BNPB, Siosar has started producing chips branded Top Potato. But challenges remain in turning a profit.

“One of the shortcomings is the unstable rate of production. Four groups of farmer wives take turns using one processing machine. Each group has its own production capacity,” said Nurjanahah, a business consultant for the potato chip manufacturing.

“Uncompetitive quality and big diminution from raw potatoes to final potato chip is another challenge to deal with. Four kilograms of potatoes produce only 600 grams of chips,” she added.

“The potato chip has yet to be a professional product until we solve all these shortcomings,” Nurjanah told IPS.

BNPB provided four processing machines for groups of farmer wives in Siosar, beyond the Rp590 billion fund it created for the Mount Sinabung disaster, according to Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, head of BNPB’s Center of Data and Information.

Basic mechanics is another alternative to diversify from agriculture. For one thing, the sector has yet to have competitors in the new settlements. For another, the area is in urgent need of such services, considering the absence of public transportation. Personal minivans and motorcycles are the backbone of village transportation.

Basmadi Kapri Peranginangin returned to his village after living for a year in a refugee camp. He grew potatoes and other vegetables, but just as he finished planting, Mount Sinabung erupted again and his newly-replanted farm – part of the area’s most vulnerable ‘red zone’ – was ruined.

Peranginangin decided to go to Siosar and shift to the motorcycle repair business, but lacked the funds to buy tools and build a workshop. Then he heard about a training program for displaced people jointly sponsored by the International Labor Organisation (ILO), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the UN Development Program and BNPB.

After one month of training, he received a set of equipment to repair motorcycles. And with his new knowledge, including administration and financial management, he started a motorcycle repair business in July 2016. Now he earns Rp3,5 million a month on average.

When social and economic life blooms, so does art and culture. On October 1, the new community celebrated its one-year anniversary with an art and music show.

Biri Pelawi, a local religious leader, said in his opening remarks, “Siosar land is God’s promised land for us. Sigarang-garang, our former village, is the departing spot. One year in refugee camps is our training period. God’s plan for us is here. He kept His plan secretly.”

“Now we live safe with no fear of Mount Sinabung eruption. God has sent us to safer place to carry on,” he said.

On that very day, Mount Siabung erupted again, spewing volcanic ash as high as four kilometers, but this time, no one was affected and the celebration continued as planned.

“We don’t have to worry anymore. We live in a safe place,” said Mesti Ginting, one of the celebration organizers.

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International Day of Rural Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/international-day-rural-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=international-day-rural-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/international-day-rural-women/#respond Mon, 16 Oct 2017 20:57:49 +0000 Michel Mordasini http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152524
Michel Mordasini, is Vice President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development - IFAD

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Michel Mordasini, is Vice President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development - IFAD

By Michel Mordasini
ROME, Oct 16 2017 (IPS)

On this International Day of Rural Women, the world celebrates women and girls in rural areas and the critical role they play in enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security and eradicating rural poverty.

Michel Mordasini. Credit: IFAD

To increase the impact of IFAD-supported projects on gender equality and to strengthen women’s empowerment in poor rural areas, our approach is centered on three pillars, which are the strategic objectives of our Policy on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment:

First, we promote economic empowerment to enable rural women and men to have equal opportunities to participate in, and benefit from, profitable economic activities. To do this, we need to ensure that women have equal access to land and other productive resources and inputs, to knowledge, financial services and markets, and to income-generation opportunities.

Second, we enable women and men to have equal voice and influence in rural institutions and organizations. To this end, we support women’s self-organization in women’s groups and their participation in farmer organizations, water user associations, cooperatives and many other rural institutions. We set quotas for women’s representation and train women in leadership.

Third, we strive to promote a more equitable balance in workloads and in the sharing of economic and social benefits between women and men. Infrastructure development, and access to water, energy, roads and transport all contribute to reducing women’s burden of work, thus enabling them to take on economic activities and decision-making roles.

At IFAD, we celebrate the 2017 International Day of Rural Women by honouring the best-performing project in each region that empowers women and addresses gender inequalities. The Gender Award was established to recognize the efforts and achievements of IFAD-supported projects in meeting the strategic objectives of IFAD’s Policy on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment. The Award gives visibility to those projects that have successfully reduced rural women’s workload, given them a voice and created opportunities for economic empowerment. While selecting the winning projects, we also evaluate the strategic guidance provided by the project management unit and the achievements of gender focal points. We pay particular attention to innovative and gender transformative approaches that address underlying inequalities.

This year the Gender Awards go to the following projects:

The Char Development and Settlement Project – Phase IV in Bangladesh. The project is improving livelihoods for poor people living on newly accreted coastal islands known locally as chars. It uses a combined approach to development, which includes infrastructure works, forestry, water supplies, provision of health and sanitation, management of land and agriculture, securing women’s and men’s access to land and addressing social norms such as child marriage.

The Agricultural Value Chain Development Project in the Mountain Zones of Al-Haouz Province in Morocco. The project is supporting smallholder farmers and livestock producers, and promoting the development of value chains for olives, apples and lamb. With access to subsidies and credit, women have formed professional teams and associations, and cooperatives for income-generation.

The Building Rural Entrepreneurial Capacities: Trust and Opportunity Programme in Colombia. The programme is helping rural communities to recover from conflict. It is improving living conditions, income and employment for small farmers, indigenous groups, Afro-Latino communities, young people, families who have been forcibly displaced and households headed by women in post-conflict rural areas.

The Rural Markets Promotion Programme in Mozambique. The programme is enabling small-scale farmers to increase their incomes and helping them to market their surpluses. Women are learning to read and write, and benefiting from community-based financial services. The programme has achieved transformative changes, including greater involvement of men in activities related to nutrition.

The Poverty Reduction Project in Aftout South and Karakorum – Phase II in Mauritania. The project is improving the income and living conditions of poor rural households in M’Bout, Kankossa and Ould-Yengé. With a female gender officer and an actionable gender strategy, the project has invested in information dissemination and sensitization on gender equality and equitable workloads, and the importance of healthcare and sanitation, water supplies and access to markets.

Let me congratulate the winners. IFAD President and staff look forward to welcoming them to Rome on 29-30 November for the award ceremony and a learning event.

The hundreds of thousands of poor households targeted in these five projects have made considerable progress in reducing rural poverty and empowering women. Let us continue to ensure that poor rural communities and individuals – particularly women, indigenous peoples and young people – become part of a rural transformation that drives overall sustainable development and leaves no one behind. IFAD aims to achieve real transformative gender impact. And to do this, we need to address the deep roots of gender inequality – prevailing social norms, entrenched attitudes and behaviours, and social systems.

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Can the Kenyan Lion Kick High Enough to Be the South Korean Tiger of Africa?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/can-kenyan-lion-kick-high-enough-south-korean-tiger-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=can-kenyan-lion-kick-high-enough-south-korean-tiger-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/can-kenyan-lion-kick-high-enough-south-korean-tiger-africa/#respond Mon, 16 Oct 2017 11:52:14 +0000 Mary Kawar and Siddharth Chatterjee http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152505 Dr Mary Kawar is Country Director of the ILO for Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. Follow her on twitter: @mary_kawar

Mr Siddharth Chatterjee is the UN Resident Coordinator to Kenya. Follow him on twitter: @sidchat1

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Taekwondo a Korean martial art also practiced in Kenya. Credit: Capital FM

By Mary Kawar and Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 16 2017 (IPS)

In 1953 South Korea emerged from the ravages of a debilitating war, yet the total gross domestic product in nominal terms has surged 31,000 fold since 1953.

Consider this: in 1950 the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita of South Korea was US$ 876 and Kenya’s was US$ 947. In 2016, the GDP per capita of South Korea rose to US$ 27,539 and Kenya’s to US$ 1,455.

South Korea over the past four decades has demonstrated incredible economic growth and global integration to become a high-tech industrialized economy. In the 1960s, GDP per capita was comparable with levels in the poorer countries of Africa and Asia. In 2004, South Korea joined the trillion-dollar club of world economies.

In South Korea the Gini coefficient is 0.30 (extent of inequality) whereas in Kenya it is much higher at 0.45. Despite posting some of the highest GDP growth rates globally, countries in Africa continue to have the worst poverty and unemployment rates, with Kenya being one of those countries where the gap between rich and poor is widening.

While the majority of these Kenyans are occupied in the agricultural industry, technology advances and the rising prominence of the service industry is threatening to render many of these superfluous unless urgent shifts in growth models are undertaken to create quality jobs.

Lessons from economic structural transformation abound especially from the Asian tigers. Once an agricultural country like Kenya, South Korea spent much of the 20th century driving modern technologies and is now regarded as one of Asia’s most advanced economies. Among the focus areas for the country were facilitating industrialization, high household savings rates, high literacy rates and low fertility rates.

What South Korea achieved was fast economic growth underpinned by a strong industrial base that led to full employment and higher real wages. When the 1997 financial crisis threatened employment and welfare of its citizens in 1997, the country engaged in ambitious structural adjustment that introduced social protection measures for workers, the unemployed and poor people, in addition to reigniting the drivers of growth.

The international experience suggests that, for a given increase in the labor force, GDP growth should be at least double that rate to prevent unemployment from rising, and even higher if unemployment is to be reduced. With Kenya’s labor force growing at 3 percent corresponding to one million youth entering the job market each year, GDP should keep growing at 6 percent.

But this may not be enough as there is a lot of slack in the labor market to be absorbed. Kenya has one of the highest informal sector employment rates in the continent. With about three out of four workers employed in casual jobs whose key features include unpredictable incomes, poor working conditions and low productivity.

According to the latest data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), employment in the informal economy has grown much faster than in the formal economy, rising by nearly 4 million versus 60,000 since 2009, with the corresponding share of the formal economy in total employment shrinking to 17 percent from 19 percent.

Income inequality remains a challenge in Kenya, with the highest 10 percent earning almost 15 times higher than the lowest 10 percent, which is double of that in South Korea.

There are grounds for optimism, as Kenya seeks to move from being a regional leader to local innovator. In August 2016, Kenya hosted the Sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD), which was the first on African soil. Kenya is also developing policy and institutional reforms to increase export through better trade logistics and greater regional integration.

Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) and Korean Agency for Technology and Standards (KATS) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to boost standardization activities between the two countries. Credit: Citizen TV


In addition, Kenya’s internet prices are low at half of even lower than those in neighboring countries. Innovations in mobile phone-based banking and related technological platforms have resulted in more financial inclusion that has reached 75 percent of the population. A large population of educated youth is already employed in these areas that have high job creation potential.

Kenya’s policies will need to consider the effects of technological innovations on the labor market and their socioeconomic impact. Household incomes improve when the largest number of people get involved in technology-based productive work. Even agriculture needs to be high-tech and include agro-processing.

Underlying this is the ability of the education and training system to adapt and promote the creation of a sustainable and inclusive economy. Kenya’s policies will therefore need to assess the effects of technological innovations on the labor market and their socioeconomic impact.

Kenya is moving ahead on education with its more than 1000 post-secondary institutions, 22 public and more than 30 private universities that produce the largest numbers of highly trained and skilled persons in the East African Community.

However, Kenya has substantial disparities in access to education. According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, children in capital city Nairobi have about 15 times more access to secondary education than those living in Turkana, one of the poorest counties.

In addition to education, that increases employability on the labor supply side but does not in itself create jobs, more emphasis should be given to policies that increase labor demand. With an increasing youthful population, Kenya faces a window of demographic opportunity not only numerically.

Today’s youth are more educated than their parents and are “waiting in the wings”, not yet active but ready and willing to do so. But for this to happen and thus reduce youth and educated unemployment, there is a need to ensure that there are enough opportunities for them to participate actively in the economy and society.

Unfortunately, about 43 percent of Kenya’s youth are currently either unemployed or working yet living in poverty. Not unrelated to the few employment opportunities at home, many job seekers emigrate. The International Organization of Migration (IOM) reports for Kenya a skilled emigration rate of 35 per cent reaching 51 percent among health professionals. These rates are among the highest in the world. A continued lack of decent work opportunities as a result of insufficient or misapplied investments can perpetuate, if not increase, emigration and lead to an erosion of the basic social contract underlying democratic societies.

Still within the area of labor markets, good governance is critical for linking employment growth to decent employment creation. A recent meeting on the Future of Work organized by the Ministry of Labour, the Kenya Federation of Employers and the Kenya Federation of Trade unions in collaboration with the International Labour Organization discussed the implications for the 4th industrial revolution and its impact on Kenya. The discussion confirmed that laws, policies and institutions can be improved through social dialogue that would also include the informal sector.

For women, access to family planning and maternal health services – as well as education for girls is the best bet for improved economic opportunity. Global data shows that the highest benefits from reducing unintended pregnancies would accrue to the poorest countries, with GDP increases ranging from one to eight percent by 2035. There are few interventions that would give as wide-reaching impacts.

Finally, Kenya would need to address the rural/urban divide. Urban population growth is naturally fueled from growth in the population already living in cities but in Kenya, more than in many other African countries, urban growth comes from significant internal migration. This suggests that the country side is becoming increasingly less attractive. The share of population living in slums remains high at 55 percent with no discernible decline since 1990.

In conclusion, increases in real wages and decent employment creation will remain elusive as long as growth is not inclusive while educated job seekers are not employed in sectors that require new skills. The shifting population of Kenya provides many opportunities for growth. With a median age of 18, investing in Kenya’s youth would reap a demographic dividend. Key investments have to be in education and skills, empowerment of women and girls, a Marshal plan of employment and equity. These would help accelerate Kenya’ march to prosperity and help end poverty.

When this happens, Kenya will increase its ability to introduce more comprehensive and effective social protection policies that would add to the income security provided by decent employment. And unlike South Korea, Kenya should not wait to do so after a financial crisis.

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Hunger in Africa, Land of Plentyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/hunger-africa-land-plenty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=hunger-africa-land-plenty http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/hunger-africa-land-plenty/#comments Sat, 14 Oct 2017 23:45:22 +0000 Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152493 Anis Chowdhury, a former professor of economics at the University of Western Sydney, held senior United Nations positions during 2008–2015 in New York and Bangkok. Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

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A tea farmer in Nyeri County, central Kenya contemplates what to do after his crop was damaged by severe weather patterns. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 14 2017 (IPS)

Globally, 108 million people faced food crises in 2016, compared to about 80 million in 2015 – an increase of 35%, according to the 2017 Global Report on Food Crises. Another 123 million people were ‘stressed’, contributing to around 230 million such food insecure people in 2016, of whom 72% were in Africa.

The highest hunger levels are in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) according to the Global Hunger Index 2016. The number of ‘undernourished’ or hungry people in Africa increased from about 182 million in the early 1990s to around 233 million in 2016 according to the FAO, while the global number declined from about a billion to approximately 795 million.

This is a cruel irony as many countries in Africa have the highest proportion of potential arable land. According to a 2012 FAO report, for African sub-regions except North Africa, between 21% and 37% of their land area face few climate, soil or terrain constraints to rain-fed crop production.

Why hunger?
Observers typically blame higher population growth, natural calamities and conflicts for hunger on the continent. And since Africa was transformed from a net food exporter into a net food importer in the 1980s despite its vast agricultural potential, international food price hikes have also contributed to African hunger.

The international sovereign debt crises of the 1980s forced many African countries to the stabilization and structural adjustment programmes (SAPs) of the Bretton Woods institutions. Between 1980 and 2007, Africa’s total net food imports grew at an average of 3.4% per year in real terms. Imports of basic foodstuffs, especially cereals, have risen sharply.

One casualty of SAPs was public investment. African countries were told that they need not invest in agriculture as imports would be cheaper. . Tragically, while Africa deindustrialized thanks to the SAPs, food security also suffered.

In 1980, Africa’s agricultural investments were comparable to those in Latin America and Caribbean (LAC). But while LAC agricultural investment increased 2.6 fold between 1980 and 2007, it increased by much less in Africa. Meanwhile, agricultural investments in Asia went from three to eight times more than in Africa as African government investments in agricultural research remained paltry.

Thus, African agricultural productivity has not only suffered, but also African agriculture remains less resilient to climate change and extreme weather conditions. Africa is now comparable to Haiti where food agriculture was destroyed by subsidized food imports from the US and Europe, as admitted by President Clinton after Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake.

Lost decades
SAP advocates promised that private investment and exports would soon follow cuts in public investment, thus paying for imports. But the ostensibly short-term pain of adjustment did not bring the anticipated long-term gains of growth and prosperity. Now, it is admitted that ‘neoliberalism’ was ‘oversold’, causing the 1980s and 1990s to become ‘lost decades’ for Africa.

Thanks to such programmes, even in different guises such as the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs), Africa became the only continent to see a massive increase in poverty by the end of the 20th century. And despite the minerals-led growth boom for a dozen years (2002-2014) during the 15 years of the Millennium Development Goals, nearly half the continent’s population now lives in poverty.

The World Bank’s Poverty in Rising Africa shows that the number of Africans in extreme poverty increased by more than 100 million between 1990 and 2012 to about 330 million. It projects that “the world’s extreme poor will be increasingly concentrated in Africa”.

Land grabs
Despite its potential, vast tracts of arable land remain idle, due to decades of official neglect of agriculture. More recently, international financial institutions and many donors have been advocating large-scale foreign investment. A World Bank report notes the growing demand for farmland, especially following the 2007-2008 food price hikes. Approximately 56 million hectares worth of large-scale farmland deals were announced in 2009, compared to less than four million hectares yearly before 2008. More than 70% of these deals involved Africa.

In most such deals, local community concerns are often ignored to benefit big investors and their allies in government. For example, Feronia Inc – a company based in Canada and owned by the development finance institutions of various European governments – controls 120,000 hectares of oil palm plantations in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Advocates of large-scale land acquisitions claim that such deals have positive impacts, e.g., generating jobs locally and improving access to infrastructure. However, loss of community access to land and other natural resources, increased conflicts over livelihoods and greater inequality are among some common adverse consequences.

Most such deals involve land already cleared, with varied, but nonetheless considerable socioeconomic and environmental implications. Local agrarian populations have often been dispossessed with little consultation or adequate compensation, as in Tanzania, when Swedish-based Agro EcoEnergy acquired 20,000 hectares for a sugarcane plantation and ethanol production.

Land grabbing by foreign companies for commercial farming in Africa is threatening smallholder agricultural productivity, vital for reducing poverty and hunger on the continent. In the process, they have been marginalizing local communities, particularly ‘indigenous’ populations, and compromising food security.

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

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Land Settlement Empowers: Bangladesh Sets an Examplehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/land-settlement-empowers-bangladesh-sets-example/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=land-settlement-empowers-bangladesh-sets-example http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/land-settlement-empowers-bangladesh-sets-example/#respond Fri, 13 Oct 2017 08:26:15 +0000 Shahiduzzaman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152459 History was made for 400 landless families in the remote char lands of Noakhali district. On 4th October, they all received land titles from the government for which they had waited for over two decades. In Bangladesh, as in other countries, the title is a permanent legal ownership document. Over a thousand people, including the […]

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Afrusa Begum and Shafiul Alam receiving land title from Deputy Commissioner Md Mahbubul Alam Talukder

By Shahiduzzaman
Maijdee, Noakhali (Bangladesh), Oct 13 2017 (IPS)

History was made for 400 landless families in the remote char lands of Noakhali district. On 4th October, they all received land titles from the government for which they had waited for over two decades. In Bangladesh, as in other countries, the title is a permanent legal ownership document.

Over a thousand people, including the landless families, children, friends and neighbours, gathered under a big colourful ‘pandal’ (marquee) near Saddam Bazar of Nolerchar. It was a sunny but very hot day, with temperatures between 37 to 39 degrees Celsius. Everybody was sweating in the sweltering heat but it didn’t matter because this was a day for celebration, a day they had waited for a very long time.

At noon when the top district official, Deputy Commissioner Md. Mahbubul Alam Talukder arrived, everyone gave him and the accompanying officials a warm welcome by standing up and clapping. Soon the officials began announcing names of the beneficiaries of land titles. The very first ones to be called were Afrusa Begum (68) and her husband Shafiul Alam (72).

They both looked frail and older than their real age. They walked slowly to the dais to receive the land title from DC Talukdar. Both of them broke down, saying they had waited for 25 years for this day and never thought that they would get the land title in their lifetime. They are now free from uncertainty and no one can uproot them from their land again. Other recipients of land titles, Rima Akther, Md. Shamim, Panna Begum and Md. Asraf were all overjoyed and could not hold back their tears.

landlees families are waiting in a colourful pandal.


Panna Begum and Md. Asraf came with their one-month-old baby girl Noor Jahan Begum. Panna said, “Our life was horrible and full of tension. Never, ever settled down peacefully, moving all the time. Today I am so happy I can’t express it in words. I can only say that my daughter will take her first step on our own land and grow up with a secure life. We are saluting the government and the people who helped us.”

Officials of the Char Development and Settlement Project Phase IV (CDSP IV) helped to make their dreams come true. The project introduced processes to improve the position of women in regard to land rights. A wife’s name is now written first in the legal document. As a result, she is legally entitled to 50 percent of the land.

This strengthens her position in the family and in many decision-making processes. Also, if the husband abuses his wife or there is evidence of any illegal actions on his part, legal action can now result in him losing his share of the land.

DC Talukder addressing the land title recipients said, “The government is very much pro people and has come to your door to address your issues. Today is one of its best examples shown by concerned officials of the district who have come to you to hand over the land titles properly. We hope you will now build a future with happy families without any fear and further complication.”

He warned not to undermine the rights of women on the land. “If we receive any allegation in this regard then the government will take serious measures to protect women rights,” the Deputy Commissioner said.

The CDSP IV project started in March 2011 and is co-financed by the Government of Bangladesh, the Government of the Netherlands, and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). The 89.2-million-dollar project has focused on the development of five new chars of Noakhali district and those adjacent to Meghna river. The chars are: Char Nangulia, Noler Char, Caring Char, Urir Char and Char Ziauddin. These encompass around 30,000 hectares of char land, with an estimated population of 155,000 persons in 28,000 households.

Panna begum and her one year old daughter Noor Jahan Begum.


The local people said that in all respects CDSP IV is a blessing for them. Since 1994, when the project started, unrest in char lands has reduced and land grabbers have left the area.

The dispute over char lands in this area has gone on for more than half a century. It is government property and the landless people should have priority to get land allotments but this was not always upheld. Groups of land grabbers, power brokers and musclemen in collaboration with some local corrupt officials controlled the char lands illegally for decades.

Several violent incidents happened between the landless people and land grabbers. Many people lost their lives and assets, and women were often violated by the land grabbers who treated the landless people as slaves.

Bazlul Karim, Deputy Leader of the CDSP IV, described how hard it was to settle the landless people, particularly to counter and free the land from grabbers and power brokers. He said, those people brought under permanent settlement have now risen above the poverty line.

“Nowadays, you will not find any really poor people within 300 square kilometers of the project areas. Because, in addition to land title, the beneficiaries are also receiving a package of support services including credit and healthcare facilities,” said Karim.

“The most challenging aspects were developing the char lands for habitat by constructing enclosures, embankment, culverts, sluice gates and roads to connect remote areas. It has also ensured pure drinking water to people by setting up hundreds of tubewells around the project area and helped prepare the land for cultivation. Now settlers are getting four times more crops than before. On the other hand, massive planting has been undertaken in the char lands. So, it has become real green fields to enjoy,” the deputy leader said.

Panna Begum and Md. Asraf.


The Land Settlement Adviser of the project Md. Rezaul Karim said, “Since CDSP’s launch in 1994 all along it has been a tough job to settle the many issues around land titles. Anyway, we have successfully completed Phase I to III. Now Phase IV (CDSP IV) is ongoing, where IFAD came forward with huge support to carry out the activities of the project. This Phase has targeted distribution of land titles to 14,000 people by the year 2018. The progress is quite good. To date 11,538 families have received their land titles, so we have enough time to achieve the set target.”

The char lands are formed from sedimentation of the Meghan river. On an average annually 1.1 billion tons of sediment is carried down by the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna (GBM) river system, the largest sediment load in any river system in the world. Much of it forms the raw mass for new developing land in the coastal areas, the ‘chars’, as it is known in Bangla language.

A study conducted by the Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU) said about 1 million people are directly affected by riverbank erosion each year and landlessness in these areas could be as high as 70 percent. Affected people are frequently forced to settle in more disaster-prone areas where displacement can occur several times. On an average each household studied was displaced 4.46 times.

This scenario is prevalent in the CDSP IV area. It is estimated that each year 26,000 people lose their land through Meghna river erosion. It has been observed that the river eroded families from the adjacent areas are migrating into the new char for shelter and livelihooda. The families are mostly from the other coastal chars and offshore islands who have lost their land due to erosion.

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Strengthening Youth Potential and the Prospects for a Better Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/strengthening-youth-potential-prospects-better-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=strengthening-youth-potential-prospects-better-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/strengthening-youth-potential-prospects-better-future/#respond Thu, 12 Oct 2017 12:47:44 +0000 Bandar Hajjar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152440 Dr. Bandar M. H. Hajjar is President of the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) Group

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Bandar M. H. Hajjar, President of the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) Group - Strengthening Youth Potential and the Prospects for a Better Future

The United Nations estimates that by 2030, the youth population will be 1.3 billion globally. Credit: Mahmuddun Rashed Manik/IPS

By Bandar Hajjar
JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia, Oct 12 2017 (IPS)

Investing in youth by developing their potential through education, job creation and instilling the values that advance the cause of humanity is the most daunting, yet promising challenge facing world leaders.

The challenges our society faces today cannot be divorced from those faced by the youth. Recently, the international community agreed on implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. We must keep in mind that the relevance of each of the SDG goals to the youth must constantly remain a top priority.

A United Nations report, titled Youth Population Trends and Sustainable Development, estimated that as of 2015, there were 1.2 billion youth in the world, aged 15-24. This figure will increase by 7 percent by 2030, raising the youth population to 1.3 billion globally.

According to UN data, the youth population will grow by 15 percent in Jordan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia and by 42 percent in Africa by 2030.

Dr. Bandar M. H. Hajjar is President of the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) Group

Dr. Bandar M. H. Hajjar

These major changes in youth population bring tremendous opportunities for economic growth.  It can help emerging economies develop their manufacturing potential and create markets that can help drive the global economy. Yet, lack of proper planning and investment in the youth can be catastrophic, as we have seen in some countries at the beginning of this decade. The world is still grappling with these challenges.

Still, I remain optimistic. Earlier this year, the Islamic Development Bank chose “Youth Economic Empowerment” as a theme for its 2017 Annual Meeting in Jeddah. That meeting brought together youth delegates from the 57 IDB member countries to brainstorm and determine their priorities. The Youth Summit, the first of its kind in the Muslim World, convened talented youth already making a difference in education, entrepreneurship and social mobilization. Here at the IDB, it has been decided by top management to integrate youth initiatives in projects. Drawing on the IDB’s 10-Year Strategic Framework, the President’s 5-Year Programme includes key components related to youth development.

Harnessing the potential of the global youth population to become an asset in their own societies is of paramount importance. With the right policies and strategies, the youth can stay in their home countries to contribute to their economies, rather than seek an uncertain future, crossing borders only to end up in the hands of criminals.

Islam holds youth in high esteem, calls upon them to be active members in society by contributing to socio-economic development. The youth population is one of the strengths of OIC countries if the critical challenges facing this population are addressed. According to a report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), OIC countries will remain to have the largest share of young population. In 2050, 15.9% of the population in OIC countries are projected to be 15-24 years old. This could result in OIC countries having a solid position in terms of their younger population.

While the youth population can offer great opportunities for OIC countries, neglecting their development issues can threaten socio-economic development and lead to massive youth migration to countries that offer them better life prospects, resulting in a brain drain of OIC countries.
The ILO’s ILO report on the World Employment and Social Outlook for Youth, 2016 estimated that the global youth unemployment rate is expected to reach 13.1 per cent in 2016, rising by half a million to reach 71 million. For the most part, their condition is abysmal, with high unemployment rates and widespread poverty. If the issue of youth migration is to be addressed, it will require efforts and an overarching agenda for youth development in OIC countries by multiple partners, including governments, development institutions, policymakers, economists, civil society agencies and the youth themselves.

The UN World Report (2013) states that “young migrants constitute a relatively large proportion of the overall migrant population”. The high number of youth migrant population can be explained by the “Push-Pull-Facilitation” model proposed by SESRIC (2014).  Push factors are problems and difficulties that compel young people to leave their home country or region, while pull factors are features that attract young people to the country of destination, and facilitation factors are the dynamics that enable the immigration process from the home country to the country of destination. SESRIC (2015) reports that “One of the major push factors is the lack of inclusion of OIC youth in society”, in addition to factors such as unemployment, poor working conditions, lack of political stability, the rise of extremism, poor governance, corruption, poverty and lack of freedom. The main pull factors the report highlights include higher income, better employment prospects, higher living standards, freedom and political stability. Facilitation factors are forces such as globalization, internationalization of professions and advances in information and communication technology, which has led to an increase in young people mobility, as well as easier access to information about education, employment and living opportunities abroad.

In harnessing the potential of youth in OIC countries, I believe that we must consider the push factors by undertaking two critical  objectives: (i) Productive and economically empowered youth who contribute to the development of their societies/communities; and (ii) Engaged and responsible youth who embody and embrace leadership. To achieve these objectives, we need to address the following four strategic pillars: Education, Employment, Entrepreneurship and Effective Engagement:

 

  1. Education: Education is a key pillar in addressing youth migration. Education is about making the most important investment in human capital to increase the productive capacity of a nation. Quality education generates both immediate and long-term benefits to society. It gives the youth effective skills for employment, or for becoming entrepreneurs, improving living standards and personal and mental health and promoting peace and stability.

 

  1. Employment: Youth unemployment is one of the main push factors forcing young people from OIC countries to migrate in search for a better life. This issue has grown in prominence on the global development agenda. To achieve job growth for the youth, it is essential to strengthen existing industries and develop new, competitive ones. Enhancing trade stimulates the economy, requiring member countries to provide their youth with appropriate vocational skills to seize the job opportunities thus created.

 

  1. Entrepreneurship: Youth entrepreneurship has the potential to integrate youth into the labor market and combat poverty. This in turn will reduce youth unemployment and lead to additional socio-economic outcomes. Islamic microfinance supports the youth’s entrepreneurial endeavors by financing their income-generating activities in proportion to their capacity as business partners. Islamic microfinance institutions support economic empowerment, providing access to credit as well as business opportunities to youth through access to markets, information and technology. They play an important catalyst role in creating startups and in SME growth.

 

  1. Effective Engagement: In addition to becoming economically empowered, the youth of OIC countries should be effectively engaged. First, they should seek to be informed and consulted about decisions affecting their socio-economic well-being, made in their communities. Second, they should be able to take positive and constructive action to influence changes potentially affecting them.

 

The main aim of these pillars is to instill in the minds of the youth such useful character traits as leadership, volunteerism, civic engagement and skill development for lifelong learning and advocacy. This sense of empowerment will create a strong bond between the youth and their communities, eliminating the need to migrate in search for better lives.

In addition to the four strategic pillars above, the following points may be worth considering as key success factors:

  1. Strengthening cooperation with other Multilateral Development Banks and regional institutions to create platforms for learning about youth development issues.
  2. Consulting the youth and allowing their perspective and experience to be included as a part of a high-level, strategic dialogue. This will ensure that initiatives, projects and programmes will take into consideration the youth dimension (including the perspectives of women, the disabled and marginalized youth).
  3. Involving youth in designing, implementing and evaluating youth-related projects and programmes. Platforms to support this role for youth have to be established and maintained.

In conclusion, I share the popular adage that today’s youth are tomorrow’s leaders. Islam regards youth as a blessing, and holds them in high esteem. While the youth population can offer great opportunities for OIC countries, neglecting their development issues can threaten socio-economic development and lead to massive youth migration to countries that offer them better life prospects, resulting in a brain drain of OIC countries.

Addressing youth migration in OIC countries is an enormous undertaking. Therefore. I suggest that we adopt a focused, yet comprehensive approach in order to increase the impact and capability of interventions so that the youth in OIC countries can look forward to a more promising future and contribute positively to their countries’ well-being.

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

 

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Transforming Agriculture in Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/transforming-agriculture-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=transforming-agriculture-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/transforming-agriculture-africa/#comments Thu, 12 Oct 2017 11:48:24 +0000 Akinwumi Adesina http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152432 Dr. Akinwumi A. Adesina is President of the African Development Bank

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World Food Day - Transforming African Agriculture - World Food Day - Farmer in a field on the outskirts of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Farmer in a field on the outskirts of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Akinwumi Adesina
ABIDJAN, Côte d'Ivoire, Oct 12 2017 (IPS)

The African rural world is one I know well. I grew out of rural poverty myself and went to a rural school without electricity and lived in a village where we had to walk for kilometers to find water. We had to study after dark with candles or kerosene lanterns. By God’s grace, I made it out of poverty to where I am today. But for tens of millions of those in similar situations, especially in rural Africa, the outcomes are not like mine. For most, the potential has simply been wasted.

Some 60% of Africans live in rural areas. Such areas are dependent overwhelmingly on agriculture for livelihoods. The key to improving the quality of life in rural areas is therefore to transform agriculture. But the low productivity of farming, the poor state of rural infrastructure, digital exclusion and poor access to modern tools and agronomic information make the quality of life very low in these areas.

Unfortunately not much has changed since I was at my rural school. Economic opportunities are even shrinking for many, with high poverty levels, leading to the repeated inheritance of poverty. As a result, rural youths are discouraged, disempowered and vulnerable to recruitment by terrorists who find decimated rural areas ideal for their activities.

We must pay particular attention to three factors: extreme rural poverty, high rates of unemployment among youths and environmental degradation – what I refer to as the “triangle of disaster”. Wherever these three factors are found, civil conflicts and terrorism take root, destroying people’s ability to work farms and access food markets.

Akinwumi Adesina

We must invest urgently and heavily in Africa’s rural areas and turn them from zones of economic misery to zones of economic prosperity. In particular, we must create jobs and stable societies in order to disrupt terrorist recruitment campaigns that are taking root in these rural areas. So, we must connect economic, food, and climate security together to have a chance of economic prosperity.

We need to jumpstart the transformation of the agricultural sector. The African Development Bank is leading the way by investing $24 billion in agriculture in the next ten years.

In doing so, the Bank wants to encourage agriculture to move away from giving the appearance of a development sector for managing poverty and subsistence to an industrialised food planting and processing business for creating wealth for the owners and decent jobs for the workforce.

Africa imports $35 billion of food net annually, expected to rise to $110 billion by 2025, if current trends continue. Meanwhile, by growing what we do not consume and consuming what we do not grow, Africa is decimating its rural areas, exporting its jobs, eroding the incomes of its farmers, and losing its youth through voluntary migration to Europe and elsewhere.

Imagine what $35 billion per year will do if Africa feeds itself: It is enough to provide 100% electricity in Africa. And $110 billion savings  per year in food imports is enough to close all infrastructure deficits in Africa.

We must pay particular attention to three factors: extreme rural poverty, high rates of unemployment among youths and environmental degradation - what I refer to as the "triangle of disaster". Wherever these three factors are found, civil conflicts and terrorism take root, destroying people's ability to work farms and access food markets.
So we must think differently. Africa produces 75% of cocoa but receives only 2% of the $100 billion a year chocolate markets. The price of cocoa may decline, but never the price of chocolates. The price of cotton may fall, but never the price of garments and apparels. In 2014 Africa earned just £1.5 billion from exports of coffee. Yet Germany, a leading processor, earned nearly double that from re-exports.

This is also because the EU imposes a 7.5% tariff charge on roasted coffee but exempts non-decaffeinated green coffee. As a result, most of Africa’s coffee exports to the EU are unroasted green coffee beans sold as an unimproved commodity, but European manufacturers reap the rewards.

To transform its rural economies Africa must embark on agricultural industrialization and add value to all its agricultural commodities. Governments, while persuading developed countries to change their import priorities for agricultural products, should provide incentives to food and agribusiness companies to locate in rural areas.

We must get youths into agriculture and see it as a profitable business venture not a sign of lacking ambition. That’s why the Bank has rolled out its ENABLE youth program to develop a new generation of young commercial farmers and agribusiness entrepreneurs. Our goal is to develop 10,000 such young agricultural entrepreneurs per country in the next ten years. In 2016, the bank provided $700 million to support this program in 8 countries and we’ve got requests now from 33 countries.

This is part of the African Development Bank’s larger programme: Jobs for Youth in Africa, with the goal of creating 25 million jobs within 10 years, and a focus on agriculture and ICT. We are investing in skills development in computer sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics to prepare the youths for the jobs of the future.

We know the technologies exist to transform African agriculture. But they remain, for the most part, on the shelves. I have always remembered what Norman Borlaug said: “take it to the farmers”. To achieve this, the African Development Bank and the CGIAR has developed the Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT) – a new initiative to scale up appropriate agricultural technologies from the CGIAR and national systems, all across Africa. The Bank and its partners plan to invest $800 million in the initiative.

The food and agribusiness sector is projected to grow from $330 billion today to $1 trillion by 2030, and there will also be 2 billion people looking for food and clothing. African enterprises and investors need to convert this opportunity and unlock this potential for Africa and Africans.

This is the transformation formula: agriculture allied with industry, manufacturing and processing capability equals strong and sustainable economic development, which creates wealth throughout the economy.

Africa can feed itself – and Africa must feed itself. And when it does, it will be able to feed the world. In this way today’s African farmers will contribute to feeding the world tomorrow. That is why the African Development Bank set “Feeding Africa” as one of its most important High 5 priorities.

It’s the Bank’s recipe for agricultural transformation of Africa, and we will not stop until we achieve it.

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

 

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Biotechnology Part of the Solution to Africa’s Food Insecurity, Scientists Sayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/biotechnology-part-solution-africas-food-insecurity-scientists-say/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=biotechnology-part-solution-africas-food-insecurity-scientists-say http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/biotechnology-part-solution-africas-food-insecurity-scientists-say/#comments Thu, 12 Oct 2017 10:23:21 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152431 A growing number of African countries are increasingly becoming food insecure as delayed and insufficient rainfall, as well as crop damaging pests such as the ongoing outbreak of the fall armyworm, cause the most severe maize crisis in the last decade. Experts have warned that as weather patterns become even more erratic and important crops […]

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

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

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Oct 12 2017 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The IMF and Climate Change: Three Things Christine Lagarde Can Do to Cement Her Legacy on Climatehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/imf-climate-change-three-things-christine-lagarde-can-cement-legacy-climate/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=imf-climate-change-three-things-christine-lagarde-can-cement-legacy-climate http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/imf-climate-change-three-things-christine-lagarde-can-cement-legacy-climate/#respond Wed, 11 Oct 2017 18:51:41 +0000 Leonardo Martinez-Diaz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152426 The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and climate change do not often appear in the same headline together. Indeed, environmental issues have been, at most, peripheral to the Fund’s core functions. But now economists inside and outside the IMF are beginning to understand that climate change has significant implications for national and regional economies, and so […]

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

2. Formally Incorporate Climate Change Into Policy Dialogue

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

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

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

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

 

3. Treat Expenditures on Climate Resilience as Investments

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

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

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

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

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World Bank Must Stop Encouraging Harmful Tax Competitionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/world-bank-must-stop-encouraging-harmful-tax-competition-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-bank-must-stop-encouraging-harmful-tax-competition-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/world-bank-must-stop-encouraging-harmful-tax-competition-2/#comments Tue, 10 Oct 2017 18:29:38 +0000 Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152413 Anis Chowdhury, a former professor of economics at the University of Western Sydney, held senior United Nations positions during 2008–2015 in New York and Bangkok. Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How to Eradicate Rural Poverty, End Urban Malnutrition – A New Approachhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/eradicate-rural-poverty-end-urban-malnutrition-new-approach/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=eradicate-rural-poverty-end-urban-malnutrition-new-approach http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/eradicate-rural-poverty-end-urban-malnutrition-new-approach/#respond Mon, 09 Oct 2017 06:40:57 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152386 Population growth, increasing urbanisation, modern technologies, and climate change are transforming the world at a fast pace. But what direction are these transformations headed in? Are they benefitting the poor and the food insecure? And will the food systems of the future be able to feed and employ the millions of young people poised to […]

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

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Oct 9 2017 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harvesting sunflowers in Pakistan. Credit: FAO

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

Catalytic Role of Small Cities, Towns

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

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

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

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

A Clear Wake-Up Call

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

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

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

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

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

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

1.75 Billion People Survive on Less than 3.10 Dollars a Day

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

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

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

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

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

Enormous Untapped Potential

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Small-Scale Producers

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

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

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

Agro-Industry Already Important

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Alternative Financing Strategies to Boost Small Businesses in Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/alternative-financing-strategies-boost-small-businesses-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=alternative-financing-strategies-boost-small-businesses-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/alternative-financing-strategies-boost-small-businesses-africa/#respond Thu, 05 Oct 2017 12:38:20 +0000 Franck Kuwonu http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152365 A few years ago, more than half a century after the concept was first proposed, the government of Côte d’Ivoire completed construction of the Henri Konan Bédié Bridge, a span over the Ébrié Lagoon linking the north and south of Abidjan, the country’s main city. The project became a reality after the government received development […]

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

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

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

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

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

Economic backbone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Potential

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Partnership and innovation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ghana Aims to Regain Top Spot in Cocoa Productionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/ghana-aims-regain-top-spot-cocoa-production/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ghana-aims-regain-top-spot-cocoa-production http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/ghana-aims-regain-top-spot-cocoa-production/#comments Thu, 05 Oct 2017 12:03:16 +0000 Kwaku Botwe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152368 Ghana is home to the world’s favourite cocoa beans. They’re bigger in size, have a higher butter content and superior flavour – all qualities which make Ghana’s cocoa the world standard against which all cocoa is measured. But while cocoa used to be the biggest foreign exchange earner for the West African country, contributing about […]

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

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

By Kwaku Botwe
ACCRA, Oct 5 2017 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

Exchanging Golden Pods for Golden Nuggets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guaranteed Pricing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cocoa Processing

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

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

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

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

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

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Why American Overseas Aid Should Focus on SDGs?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/american-overseas-aid-focus-sdgs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=american-overseas-aid-focus-sdgs http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/american-overseas-aid-focus-sdgs/#respond Wed, 04 Oct 2017 14:59:39 +0000 Bjorn Lomborg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152347 Bjorn Lomborg is director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center and a visiting professor at the Copenhagen Business School.

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Bjorn Lomborg is director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center and a visiting professor at the Copenhagen Business School.

By Bjorn Lomborg
PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC, Oct 4 2017 (IPS)

The average American believes the US spends a whopping third of its federal budget on foreign aid. Consequently, a majority of people think that too much is spent on foreign aid. That is one reason US President Donald J. Trump, who has campaigned on putting the needs of Americans first, has proposed deep cuts to foreign aid in his 2018 budget.

The problem is, this common understanding is very wrong. US foreign aid in 2017 will cost $41.9 billion out of a total federal budget of $4.15 trillion or one percent. When informed of this, support for cutting aid halves, while support for increasing the budget more than doubles. The aid budget should be maintained. And the far more important question should instead be addressed: how do we get the most possible out of this spending?

We can look to recent history for reassuring evidence that US aid spending can achieve a great deal. A recent Brookings study revealed that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – the development agenda set by the US and others for the first fifteen years of this century – were more successful than anybody knew.

From 2000, the world agreed on 18 key undertakings, including halving the proportion of people in poverty, halving the proportion of people going hungry, and cutting child mortality by two-thirds.

The study concludes, “especially on matters of life and death, 2015 outcomes were not on track to happen anyhow”. The MDGs ensured that more money went to the most important areas. Improvements sped up. At least 21 million more people are alive today as a result.

This tells us that the simple MDG approach worked; the U.S. and other, smaller donors helped save a number of lives equivalent to the entire population of Florida. We know more today than ever before about how to create meaningful change with each dollar spent. More transparency should be encouraged to reassure taxpayers about how money is spent.

When the MDGs were being replaced in 2015 with a new development agenda called the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), my think-tank Copenhagen Consensus commissioned economists from around the world to analyze development priorities as they were proposed. The results are a body of work revealing what one aid dollar can achieve if spent in different ways.

I would be the first to argue that the SDGs are problematic: the simple 18 MDG targets were replaced with an impossibly long list of 169 targets. That’s just silly.

Targets such as the development of tools to monitor sustainable tourism or teaching the “knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development” don’t deserve priority when malnourishment claims at least 1.4 million children’s lives annually, 1.2 billion people live in extreme poverty, and 2.6 billion lack clean drinking water and sanitation.

But our research conclusively showed that among this list, there are 19 incredibly powerful development targets. If USAID focuses more on the most effective targets, the public could be reassured that every dollar is achieving the most possible.

The reduction of childhood malnutrition does deserve funds. Evidence for Copenhagen Consensus showed that every dollar spent providing better nutrition for 68 million children would produce over $40 in long-term social benefits.

Malaria, too, deserves attention. A single case can be averted for as little as $11. We don’t just stop one persons suffering; we save a community from lost economic productivity. Our economists estimated that reducing the incidence of malaria by 50% would generate a 35-fold return in benefits to society.

Tuberculosis is a disease that has been overlooked and under-funded. Despite being the world’s biggest infectious killer, in 2015 it received just 3.4 per cent of development assistance for health. Reducing TB deaths by 90 per cent would result in 1.3 million fewer deaths. In economic terms, this would bring benefits worth $43 for every dollar spent.

Among the myriad of well-meaning environmental targets, our research shows that protecting coral reefs deserves prioritization. In addition to biodiversity benefits, healthy reefs increase fish stocks, benefitting fishermen and tourism.

Another transformative target would be universal access to contraception and family planning. At an annual cost of just $3.6 billion, allowing women control over pregnancy would mean 150,000 fewer maternal deaths and 600,000 fewer children being orphaned.

There are 19 such targets that deserve prioritization, because each dollar would do a lot to achieve a safer, healthier world – a result that leads to lasting benefits for the US.

If common belief were right and foreign aid really did swallow one-third of all federal resources, it may indeed make sense to focus more on American needs.

But in a world where a few dollars can do a world of difference, spending just one percent of the budget on aid seems a sensible investment.

When it comes to development, everyone’s goal should be the same. Rather than slashing funds for development, the United States should maintain its global leadership by focusing on the areas where every dollar achieves the most good.

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Greater Cooperation To Strengthen Taxationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/greater-cooperation-strengthen-taxation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=greater-cooperation-strengthen-taxation http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/greater-cooperation-strengthen-taxation/#respond Tue, 03 Oct 2017 10:25:09 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152323 Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

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Many tax avoidance schemes are not illegal. But just because it is not illegal does not mean it is not a form of abuse, fraud or corruption. Credit: Servaas van den Bosch/IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 3 2017 (IPS)

Since the 1950s, there has been a popular dance called the ‘limbo rock’, with the winner leaning back as much as possible to get under the bar. Many of today’s financial centres are involved in a similar game to attract customers by offering low tax rates and banking secrecy.

How Low Can You Go?
This has, in turn, forced many governments to lower direct taxes not only on income, but also on wealth. From the early 1980s, this was dignified by US President Ronald Reagan’s embrace of Professor Arthur Laffer’s curve which claimed higher savings, investments and growth with less taxes.

Following a long hiatus, Laffer is now making a comeback with the recent election of Donald Trump who has espoused a similar claim that lower taxes will lead to higher growth, lifting all American boats. It remains to be seen how President Trump will reconcile this with his promise to build and improve infrastructure in the US, which many hope will finally create the basis for the long awaited recovery following the 2008 financial crisis and the ensuing Great Recession.

With the decline of government revenue from direct taxes, especially income tax, following Laffer’s advice, many governments were forced to cut spending, often by reducing public services, raising user-fees and privatizing state-owned enterprises. Beyond a point, there seemed to be little room left for further cuts, while governments had to raise revenue to fund its functions.

Regression
This increasingly came from indirect taxes, especially on consumption, as trade taxes declined with trade liberalization. Many countries have since adopted value added taxation (VAT), touted in recent decades by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and others as the superior form of taxation: after all, once the VAT system is functioning, raising rates is relatively easy.

Instead, a progressive tax system would seek to ensure that those with more ability to do so, would pay proportionately more tax than those with less ability to do so. Instead, tax systems have become increasingly regressive, with the growing middle class bearing the main tax burden.

Meanwhile, tax competition among developing countries has not only reduced tax revenue, but also made direct taxation less progressive, while the growth of VAT has made the overall impact of taxation more regressive as the rich pay proportionately less tax with all the loopholes available to them, both nationally and abroad. Although there are many reasons for income inequality, untaxed assets have undoubtedly also increased both wealth and income inequalities at both national and international levels.

After Panama

Following the Panama revelations, most Western government leaders have pledged tough action against tax evasion and avoidance, especially by those using developing country tax havens. In the face of continued failure to deliver on the almost half-century old United Nations commitment to provide aid to developing countries equivalent to 0.7 per cent of their national incomes, then OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) chair, Erik Solheim, proposed greater tax cooperation instead.

After all, many developing countries are not devoid of financial assets, but so much has been taken out and hidden by wealthy elites in private financial institutions, especially in ‘offshore’ tax havens.

But since most using tax havens seek assets in OECD countries, the Paris-based organization has historically focused efforts on very limited matters of concern to their members. Hence, they have blocked efforts to give the UN a stronger mandate to advance international cooperation on taxation, culminating in the modest Addis Ababa Action Agenda declared at the third UN Financing for Development conference in July 2015.

As major users of such facilities themselves, many developing country elites have been conspicuously silent in the face of the Panama revelations of what they have long enabled and practiced. After all, much of what is involved is publicly considered illicit, immoral, and even ‘sinful’, even if not illegal. As Warren Buffett and the group of ‘patriotic millionaires’ in the US have noted, the rich currently pay less in tax than most of their lowest paid employees.

Reversing the slide
Many tax avoidance schemes are not illegal. But just because it is not illegal does not mean it is not a form of abuse, fraud or corruption. To tackle the corruption at the heart of the global financial system, tax havens need to be shut down, not reformed. ‘On-shoring’ such funds, without prohibiting legitimate investments abroad, will ensure that future investment income will be subject to tax as in the US and Canada.

If not compromised by influential interests benefiting from such flows, responsible governments should seek to enact policies to:
• Detect and deter cross-border tax evasion;
• Improve transparency of transnational corporations;
• Curtail trade mis-invoicing;
• Strengthen anti-money laundering laws and enforcement; and
• Eliminate anonymous shell companies.

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Making an Economic Case for Climate Actionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/making-economic-case-climate-action/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=making-economic-case-climate-action http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/making-economic-case-climate-action/#comments Mon, 02 Oct 2017 15:16:58 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152311 Having faced a year of record temperatures and devastating hurricanes, the United States stands more to lose if it doesn’t take steps to reduce the risk and impact of climate change, according to a new report. Launched by the Universal Ecological Fund, it details the costs of the U.S.’ climate inaction to the national economy […]

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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) receives the legal instruments for joining the Paris Agreement from Barack Obama, President of the United States, at a special ceremony held in Hangzhou, China. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 2 2017 (IPS)

Having faced a year of record temperatures and devastating hurricanes, the United States stands more to lose if it doesn’t take steps to reduce the risk and impact of climate change, according to a new report.

Launched by the Universal Ecological Fund, it details the costs of the U.S.’ climate inaction to the national economy and public health and urges for policies to move the country towards a sustainable future.

“It’s not about ideology, it’s about good business sense,” the former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the report’s co-author James McCarthy told IPS.

“Many people say that they will not have the discussion because they are not convinced of the science—well then, let’s just look at the economics, let’s look at what it is costing to not have that discussion,” he continued.

A Wake of Destruction

The U.S. is still reeling from an unprecedented month of three hurricanes and 76 wildfires, devastating landscapes from Puerto Rico to Washington.

Hurricane Maria alone left Puerto Rican residents without food, water, or electricity. Approximately 44 percent of the population lacks clean drinking water and just 11 out of 69 hospitals have fuel or power, pushing the island to the brink of a humanitarian crisis.

“This year was nothing like we’ve seen,” said McCarthy.

Though aid delivery is underway, the economic losses from not only Hurricane Maria, but also Hurricanes Harvey and Irma along with the wildfires that swept through the Western coast, are estimated to be the costliest weather events in U.S. history.

The report estimates a price-tag of nearly 300 billion dollars in damage, representing 70 percent of the costs of all 92 weather events in the last decade.

Since hurricane season is yet to end, more expensive and damaging storms may still be in the forecast.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Centers for Environmental Information, the number of extreme weather events that incurred at least one billion dollars in economic losses and damages have increased in the last decade by almost two and a half times.

Such losses will only rise as human-induced climate change continues, contributing to dry conditions favorable for more wildfires and warm oceans which lead to more intense storms and higher sea levels.

McCarthy, who is also an Oceanography Professor at Harvard University, told IPS that investments beyond creating hurricane-proof infrastructure are needed to counter such damage.

“Infrastructure is important, but everything we can do to reduce the intensity of these events, by slowing the rate of global warming, will make future infrastructure more likely to be effective,” he said.

An Unhealthy Dependence

Among the major drivers of climate change is the burning of fossil fuels which the U.S. continues to rely on to produce energy.

Coal, oil and natural gas—all of which are fossil fuels— currently account for over 80 percent of the primary energy generated and used in the North American nation. When such fossil fuels are burned, large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) are released to the atmosphere, contributing to rapid changes in the climate.

Though emissions regulations have reduced air pollution health damages by 35 percent, or nearly 67 billion dollars per year, burning fossil fuels still produces health costs that average 240 billion dollars every year.

If fossil fuels continue to be used, both economic losses and health costs are estimated to reach at least 360 billion dollars annually, or 55 percent of U.S.’ growth, over the next decade.

And the government won’t be footing the expensive bill, the report notes.

“Time after time, we are going to see the public bearing the costs…it becomes a personal burden for them,” McCarthy told IPS.

He highlighted the importance of the U.S. taking steps to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

“To move people, literally and figuratively, into the future to be more healthy and more sustainable and a less expensive way of doing business just makes sense,” McCarthy said.

Not only will it provide sustainable clean electricity and reduce the rate of global warming, renewable energy also can add to the economy by producing jobs.

Clean energy already employs almost 2 million workers, and doubling solar and wind generation can create another 500,000 jobs.

In order to successfully transition to a low-carbon economy, investments are essential, some of which can potentially come from taxing carbon emissions, the report states. A carbon tax aims to reduce emissions and promote a more efficient use of energy, including the transition to electric cars.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a tax on carbon emissions can potentially produce revenues of up to 200 billion dollars in the U.S. within the next decade.

The carbon tax has been a controversial policy, with some expressing concern that companies will simply shift the cost to the consumer by way of increasing the prices of gasoline and electricity.

However, McCarthy noted that the public already currently bears the burden in terms of damages from extreme weather events and unhealthy air expenses.

A Government Denial

Despite the evidence for climate change and the role of fossil fuels in driving such change, U.S. President Donald Trump has begun to unravel many essential environmental protections.

Not only did his administration announce the U.S. withdrawal from the landmark Paris Agreement, but it is currently working to dismantle the Clean Power Plan (CPP) which aims to reduce carbon pollution from power plants across the country.

The move is tied to President Trump’s repeated calls to renew investments in the coal industry, claiming that it will bring back jobs.

McCarthy said that these actions are not “borne out by the facts.”

“The notion that you will be able to return the U.S. to a coal economy—there is no evidence for that. And secondly, if you are going to create jobs, the sensible way to create them is in a forward-looking area such as renewable energy rather than the highly risky and repeated exposure of coal,” he told IPS.

In spite of a national strategy that may exacerbate climate change, McCarthy said that cities and states are taking the lead and will continue to move in the right direction regardless of bipartisan politics.

Iowa is the leading U.S. state in wind power with over 35 percent of its electricity generated from wind energy.

In Oklahoma, where U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt hails from, 25 percent of electricity comes from wind energy.

“When you look at a state like Iowa and see [their] electricity is coming from wind energy, it doesn’t say anything about the politics of Iowa—it says something about people being sensible about how they spend their money and what they invest in to get a particular product,” McCarthy said.

The U.S.’ reluctance to reduce greenhouse gas emissions not only impacts Americans, but also people around the world. Since the process of withdrawing from the Paris Agreement will take time, McCarthy expressed hope that the U.S. will change its course.

“We hope over that period of time that [President Trump] will see that this partnership has enormous value and not only what the U.S. is doing that affects the rest of the world but vice versa,” he said.

“We should find reason to join efforts with the community of nations that have recognized, much like what we try to say in this report, that if we don’t do something, these are going to be very expensive and, in some cases, life-threatening consequences of this sort of neglect,” McCarthy concluded.

The EPA is expected to release a revised version of the CPP in the coming weeks, and it is expected to be significantly weaker than the original.

Governments will be convening in Bonn, Germany for the UN’s Annual Climate Change Conference (COP23) in November to advance the implementation of the Paris Agreement. The focus will be on how to implement issues including emissions reductions, provision of finance, and technology.

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A Taste of India in Australia’s Hinterlandhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/taste-india-australias-hinterland/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=taste-india-australias-hinterland http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/taste-india-australias-hinterland/#respond Fri, 29 Sep 2017 14:23:16 +0000 Neena Bhandari http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152288 Julmat Khan migrated from the seaside resort town of Digha in West Bengal, India, about 14 years ago to the coastal tourist town of Broome in Western Australia. He is amongst a small proportion of international migrants to have settled in a regional town instead of Australia’s popular metropolises of Sydney and Melbourne. Only 20 […]

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Julmat Khan [center] cooking with two other migrant chefs at his Little Indian restaurant in Broome, Western Australia. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

Julmat Khan [center] cooking with two other migrant chefs at his Little Indian restaurant in Broome, Western Australia. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

By Neena Bhandari
BROOME, Western Australia, Sep 29 2017 (IPS)

Julmat Khan migrated from the seaside resort town of Digha in West Bengal, India, about 14 years ago to the coastal tourist town of Broome in Western Australia. He is amongst a small proportion of international migrants to have settled in a regional town instead of Australia’s popular metropolises of Sydney and Melbourne.

Only 20 percent of international migrants settle in regional Australia, which is home to approximately one-third of the nearly 24 million populace. Often international migrants are seen as an option of last resort for regional communities that need more people, but the Canberra-based economic and political think tank, Regional Australia Institute (RAI), believes they should be the top priority. Broome, renowned for pearling and home to the Aboriginal Yawuru people, has been a melting pot of cultures since the 1800s.

A father of three young children, Khan says, “The slow-paced lifestyle is similar to what I was used to back home and it is ideal for raising a family. My parents were farmers, but I trained as a chef. I have been running my own restaurants here, improvising on my mother and grandmother’s Bengali and Oriya cooking styles to create my own recipes.

“We grind our own spices and prepare our own paneer [Indian cottage cheese], which is a drawcard with the multicultural mix of locals and tourists. The number of visitors has been swelling with more cruise ships now sailing along the Kimberley coast, which is good for business.”

Broome, renowned for pearling and home to the Aboriginal Yawuru people, has been a melting pot of cultures since the 1800s. It has attracted migrants from Japan, China, Malaysia, Philippines, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Germany, South Africa; and in recent years from Thailand and India. Indians comprised 4.8 percent of recent arrivals (2007-2016) in Broome, which has a population of 16,222 with the median age being 33 years, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ 2016 Census.

RAI’s research, examining the latest 2016 Census data, found from 2011 to 2016, 151 regional Local Government Areas helped offset local population decline by attracting international migrants. For example, in the 2011 Census, Darwin had 45,442 people recorded as born in Australia and 19,455 born elsewhere. By 2016, the number of Australian-born locals had reduced to 44,953 and the number of overseas-born had increased to 24,961.

“By relocating to regional areas, migrants not only provide population stability and younger residents with family-building potential, they also build diversity in the local community and create new jobs. Importantly, they help fill labour shortages in both high [such as doctors and nurses] and low [workers in abattoirs and poultry plants] skilled occupations, where positions are unable to be filled by the local workforce alone,” according to RAI’s analysis.

The small, agricultural town of Nhill in the south-eastern state of Victoria, had been facing a declining working-age population. Over a five-year period, the economic impact of increased labour supply – with 160 Karen humanitarian migrants settling in the community – in terms of Gross Regional Product is estimated to be 41.5 million dollars in net present value terms, according to a joint Adult Multicultural Education Services and Deloitte Access Economics Report published in March 2015.

“Regional communities may initially attract a small settlement group. Once they start to see some success, the process can begin to ‘snowball’, with both the community and the initial migrants helping encourage others to move to the area,” according to RAI’s The Missing Migrants report.

“Shifting the settlement of international migrants however is not primarily about numbers. It is about enabling regional communities to access people with the vital skills and resources they need to ensure their future. Furthermore, it can result in much better outcomes for migrants – especially those who come from agricultural backgrounds and would much prefer to live and work in rural areas than in metropolitan cities,” the report says.

Since 2004, the Australian Government has been providing incentives to skilled visa applicants who move to regional areas. Australia’s First Assistant Secretary, Immigration and Citizenship Policy, David Wilden says, “The Government encourages all migrants to explore Australia and seek residence and employment in regional areas. We work closely with regional authorities and State and Territory Governments to develop specialised migration programs that help fill skill shortages, boost the local economy and attract migrants to regional Australia.”

“The programs developed by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection are flexible, designed to address the special circumstances of rural and regional Australia, and include concessions for regional employers,” Wilden tells IPS.

Most migrants prefer big cities because they are perceived to provide better access to education, employment and health services; and where they are more likely to find people from their cultural and linguistic backgrounds.

The RAI report says. “To be successful in attracting and retaining international migrants, regional communities must work to ensure there are sufficient employment opportunities and availability of quality services and amenities (e.g. affordable housing, education, healthcare, public transport, childcare). In the past decade, there has been a particular focus on secondary migration to regional areas. That is, of relocating international arrivals from metropolitan areas to regional ones. This has been propelled by community partnerships with local businesses and local government initiatives.”

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) offers a five-day Australian Cultural Orientation (AUSCO) program for refugees and migrants in Africa, the Middle East and North Africa, Southeast Asia, South Asia and Latin America. Funded by Australia’s Department of Social Services, the program has been delivered to over 80,000 people since its inception in 2003.

IOM’s AUSCO program manager Constanze Voelkel-Hutchison tells IPS, “AUSCO is the first step in a cultural orientation journey that continues with an onshore settlement program that starts after our clients arrive in their new home. We provide them with practical advice and information on the departure and resettlement processes.

“At the most basic level, this includes how to pack a suitcase and what to expect upon arrival in Australia. We also provide guidance on the many aspects of their settlement, including employment, education and health. Most importantly, we try to empower participants to become self-sufficient.”

But it is not always easy for international migrants to be accepted in their local regional communities. As Dr David Radford from University of South Australia’s Hawke-European Union Centre for Mobilities, Migrations and Cultural Transformations says, “International migrants, especially non-European background migrants, often also bring cultural, social and religious differences that regional communities, generally more tight-knit, traditional and conservative in nature, can find difficult to embrace.

“On the other hand, there is greater acceptance where international migrants are viewed as supporting population stability and regional growth through meeting employment needs and adding resources for the community.”

“When there are members from both long-term regional communities and international migrants, who are able to bridge and promote relationship and understanding between the two communities, this increases the opportunity for acceptance, participation, and a sense of belonging in the regional community. The reverse occurs when international migrants are not seen to contribute to regional growth and/or the inability of members of local and international migrant communities to bridge social, cultural and religious differences,” Radford tells IPS.

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Merkel’s Defeat Confirms Dismal Trend for Europehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/merkels-defeat-confirms-dismail-trend-europe/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=merkels-defeat-confirms-dismail-trend-europe http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/merkels-defeat-confirms-dismail-trend-europe/#comments Fri, 29 Sep 2017 07:40:39 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152283 Roberto Savio is co-founder of Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and its President Emeritus. He is also publisher of OtherNews.

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Roberto Savio is co-founder of Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and its President Emeritus. He is also publisher of OtherNews.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Sep 29 2017 (IPS)

Generally, media have failed to analyse why the result of German elections is the worst possible. Merkel is not a winner, but a leader now in a very fragile position, who will have to make many compromises and pay now for her mistakes. Let us make at least the most important four points of analysis.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

 

Point One: the decline of traditional parties

Now for some years, the traditional parties who have run their countries since the end of the Second World War are becoming irrelevant. The last French elections saw the practical collapse of the Socialist and Gaullist parties, with the arrival of a totally unknown candidate, Macron, who has now 60% of the seats in the Parliament. The same happened earlier in the Austrian presidential elections.

This process has now started in Germany. Merkel’s party, the CDU, had the worst performance since its creation. And its sister party, CSU (the Bavarian CDU) has lost a staggering million votes. The same has happened to the SPD, who saw the lowest approval since modern times. The two parties, who had in the last elections 67.2% of the votes, now got just 53.2%. And, as everywhere else, the missing votes went to parties who were recipients of discontent, and the desire to punish the establishment was evident. Linke, a radical left-wing party, got an additional 0.6%, by voters rejecting the increasing social inequality, and did not believe that SPD would be different from the CDU on this issue. The Green got an additional 0.5%, by those who were incensed by Merkel’s promise to increase defense costs to 2% of GDP, to please Trump. But the big winner was the AfD, an extreme right wing party, who was the conduit for people’s dissatisfaction on immigrants, on the European Union, and other nationalist and populist themes. AfD got 12.6 % of the votes, becoming the third party and with 96 members of parliament. AfD got 980.000 votes from the CDU, 470.000 from the SPD, 400.000 votes from the Linke. But, much more importantly, 1,200.000 votes from people who did not vote in the last elections. In a poll, 60% of them said that they were “disappointed with the present political situation’. At the same time the poll company Infratest Dimap, found out that 84% considered Germany’s economic situation “good”, when this was 74% four years ago, and a mere 19% eight years ago. The elections were not clearly on economy, but about immigration and the loss of German identity.

Therefore, Macron’s victory over Le Pen is not the end of the populist wave. And few doubt that if Macron loses his appeal (as it is already happening), and his fight for social reforms is stopped by mass manifestations, Le Pen would win the next elections. And the antisystem parties all over Europe did not win in the last elections, but they did not lose eithe. Now they are the needle of the balance in all Nordic countries, and can declare, like Farage , the founder of the anti-Europe party UKIP, when he lost in the last British election: it is irrelevant, our message has become part of all the political system. And Brexit was the best example that he was right…all parties in the Nordic countries had to incorporate points of the populist, especially on immigration.

It has been generally ignored that it is the middle class, the main actor in this change. Social inequality in Europe has constantly grown, and many from the middle class are impoverished or afraid. Germany is a good example. While unemployment went down with Merkel from 11% to 3.8%, those close to the poverty line went from 11% to 17% of the total. Merkel went from a public deficit of 100 billion dollars, to a surplus of 20 billion, but at the same time poverty doubled to 10%, and there are 2 million people who have two jobs to help them reach the end of the month. And the pensioners who live below the poverty line , have increased by 30%. A full 15.7% of Germans now live under the poverty line. Of these, nearly 3 million are children.

Are the fears and frustrations of the middle class only who have pushed Brexit and Trump ? The economist Homi Kharas, specialized on the middle class, considers that 43% of the world population (some 3.200 million) now form the world middle class. It grows every year by 160 million. What is common to them is that especially the lower middle class have high expectations from the government and they put economic growth before anything else. They are helped by the Internet and social media, to be aware of their rights, and of the risks. In rich countries, massive education helps awareness. In developing countries, the pressure on governments is equally strong. The best example is China. Between 2002 and 2011, there has been a strong increase in protests and loss of trust in the public institution, despite a period of economic growth. The fact is that to keep growth and social justice together, you need resources. And this a problem for the left. Its genetic message is redistribution and participation. How to do this when we are in a world of diminishing resources?

 

Point Two. The antisystem becomes an entrenched system

Bill Emmot, the ex-director of the Economist, has written: “we live in a period of political turmoil. Parties less than a year old have taken power in France and in the megalopolis of Tokyo. A party less than five years old is heading the polls in Italy. The White House is hosting a billionaire who never had any political experience. And we should add that before the crisis of 2009, no populist or xenophobe party was represented in Parliament.

We have therefore little experience on how antiparty system behaves when they are in power. But if we look at the United States, Poland and Hungary, clearly they are trying to put under control the public institutions, not because of the values of democracy that brought them to power, but a new campaign on fears and greed: globalization, immigration, automatization’s displacement of jobs, inequality, racism, and “my country first”. And the antisystem parties, who all have sent congratulatory message to the AfD, look to Putin as the political model to follow (except Poland for obvious reasons). But Urban of Hungary speaks openly of “illiberal democracy” as the main reason to combat the EU (and Poland of values of Catholicism against a secular Europe).

It is legitimate then to think that when the AfD, Le Pen, and company will come to power, (if the trend toward antisystem is not stopped), we are going to see a serious decline of democracy…also because we have Japan, India, China, Turkey, Philippines, just to name a few, who are nationalists, xenophobe and tend to project their vision, as the Russian hackers did in the last elections.

We must look at the youth’s decline in participation in politics as a new phenomenon extremely worrying. The priorities in budget allocations go increasingly to the older generations, which vote. It is important to note that the large majority of young people do not vote for the antisystem parties, but abstain. If young people did vote, we would not have Brexit and Trump. In the German elections, only 10% of those between 18 and 24 voted for AfD: all other age groups did so, and we must go to the oldest age group, those over 70 years to see a decline, to just 7% of the vote . But 69 per cent of the oldest voted for CDU and SPD, against 41% of the youngest. So, the theory that young people are moving to the right is a myth. They prefer to abstain…but the problem remains. Their abstention is helping both the system to stay, and the antisystem to win. But take Italy for example, run by a centre left party, the PD. They have just approved an incentive for youth unemployment (close to 30%), after giving 30 billion dollars to bail out four regional banks. The antisystem M5S, which is now heading the polls, has made the fight against the financial system a priority. If you were young, educated and unemployed, what would be your choice?

 

Point Three: German elections are a disaster for Europe

The appeal of an integrated Europe has been on the wane for a while. It became fashionable to present the European institutions as a bunch of unaccountable bureaucrats, out of touch with reality, intent on discussing the size of tomatoes. In fact, it is the Council of Ministers, formed by representative of the States, who take the decisions: EU can only implement them. But it becomes politically convenient to go back from Brussels and present decisions, especially those unpopular, as a diktat imposed on your country. This, of course, is just one of the many reasons for the decline of Europe as a political project. But is useful to remember this game, because it shows the irresponsibility of the political class. There was never a real unity behind the European project. Every country looked only for dividends, and now, not even for that (as the example of Poland and Hungary, very large recipients show). So, where is Europe heading?

There are in fact three visions of Europe. One is the vision of Juncker, the head of the EU. It calls for strengthening the European institutions, and reinforcing the social goals, until now left behind the economic and commercial priorities. It’s not that Juncker is a progressive: he just realizes without doing that, the anti-European parties will have an easier life. His view is of strengthening Europe as a super national entity, with the states conceding more power, for better functioning. Then there is the vision of Macron, who goes in the same direction, but from a country that has always jealously defended its national sovereignty. Yet he realizes that in this competitive world, no European country can go far, and a strong Europe is therefore necessary. Then there is Merkel’s Europe, which is basically toward a federation of countries, where decisions are taken by the states, (with Germany as the strongest), with the EU implementing them. Since Macron came to power, he has been championing the revival of the French-German entente, which is necessary for a viable Europe. Macron and the south of Europe have been asking for socialization of European revenues, so as to sustain the weakest and have a common growth, creating a European Monetary Fund to overcome crisis, a super minister of finance and economy, a common European defence and several social measures to give back faith to the European losers in Europe.

Well, this is exactly what Germany has vetoed every time. Germans do not want to share their revenues with losers. In this debate, there is a strong religious and moral argument: the protestant ethic against catholic culture of easy pardon. Greece was the field to affirm the doctrine of ordo liberalism, the German view of economics, where easy-going and lack of discipline must be punished. This was also a warning to other countries, like Italy, Spain and Portugal. The result of sanctions on Greece, which was just 4% of the European economy, is that after seven years there is at least 20% unemployment, a loss of 25% of the Greek economy, a reduction of the pensions of nearly 40%, and 20% of the population under poverty line. It should not be forgotten that a large component of the bail out loans went first to the banks (mainly German), to pay the large credits they had with the broken Greek state, and not to the citizens. And that now airports and ports are under German administration.

The face of this imposition of austerity, which is a very important component of the anti-European wind, had the face of the implacable and crippled minister of Finance, Schauble. But there was no doubt that he was pro Europe, even if of a Europe based on the German model. But now he has moved to be the President of the Parliament, to leave his place to the chairman of the FPD, the liberal party, Christian Lindner, who is an avowed anti-European. FDP is against the euro, wants Greece out of the Euro, wants a strong policy on refugees: in other words, he is much on the right. Merkel, the extremely prudent Chancellor , will certainly not be able to meet the expectations of Macron and Juncker. Europe will again be on standby. Italy will be probably run by a young PRime Minister (from the antisystem M5S) a totally untested 31 year old, who has announced that he would like to leave the Euro, and limit Brussels power. The tide against Europe has not been stopped at all, contrary to media enthusiasm.

 

Point Four: Merkel’s responsibilities

There is no doubt that the massive immigration of one million of Syrians, has given a strong weapon to Afd, and the liberals, to help them gain power. But time will prove that it was a wise decision, greeted by the German economy. Statistics show that Immigrants are model citizens, pay their taxes, and bring a net benefit to the country who receives them. Of course, we see only the story of criminals and rapists, that xenophobe parties use with success, because in difficult times to find a scapegoat is easy and convenient. But Merkel just rode the German idiosyncrasy, without doing any statist’s effort to mobilize citizens to a vision. She knows that the secret dream of Germans is to be a Swiss: no participation in the world (other than business), no experiments, no risks. She has become the embodiment of that idiosyncrasy – she is glad to be called Mutti, the mother. Other than the immigrants, she took only another risk, which was to abandon nuclear, after the disaster of Fukushima. Therefore, she did nothing to raise the awareness of the citizens on their European responsibilities. She shielded them from any sacrifice for being Europeans, refused any request by the EU, the IMF and the Wold Bank to spend the huge surplus that Germany made with intra-European trade. Her position was: we will keep the money we made with our hard work. And Schauble was just her instrument. Now, as a result of her odd coalition government she will ask the European Central Bank post for a German hawk, Jedemans, from the Bank of Germany: a good company to Christian Lindner. Dark days are coming for Europe; Merkel is the best illustration of the difference between the Germany of Bonn, run by idealist and committed politicians, with the Germany of Berlin, who is just a selfish entity, without vision. And after spending 100 billion a year, for 20 years, East Germany remains hopelessly behind, and it is where AfD took his largest share of votes.

On the night after the elections, the candidate for SPD, Martin Shultz, said looking into her eyes: Mrs Merkel, you are the great loser. You are the one responsible for the victory of AfD. Let us hope that willingly or not, Mutti will be also the one responsible for the end of the European dream.

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Mercury Mining Awaits International Control in Mexicohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/mercury-mining-awaits-international-control-mexico/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mercury-mining-awaits-international-control-mexico http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/mercury-mining-awaits-international-control-mexico/#respond Tue, 26 Sep 2017 19:30:22 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152208 For environmentalist Patricia Ruiz the only word that comes to mind is “devastating,” when describing the situation of mercury mining in her home state of Querétaro in central Mexico. “There are a large number of pits (from which the mercury is extracted), and there are the tailing ponds containing mining waste, all of which drains […]

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Artisanal gold mining in Latin America uses mercury, a practice that should be modified in countries that have ratified the international Minamata Convention for the control of this toxic metal. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Artisanal gold mining in Latin America uses mercury, a practice that should be modified in countries that have ratified the international Minamata Convention for the control of this toxic metal. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Sep 26 2017 (IPS)

For environmentalist Patricia Ruiz the only word that comes to mind is “devastating,” when describing the situation of mercury mining in her home state of Querétaro in central Mexico.

“There are a large number of pits (from which the mercury is extracted), and there are the tailing ponds containing mining waste, all of which drains into the rivers. These are people who don’t have other options, they risk their health, their family genetics. There are many people involved, who have no alternative employment,” said Ruiz, the founder of the Sierra Gorda Ecological Group.

Her non-governmental organisation is dedicated to protecting the 383,567-hectare Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve, which is home to a rich ecosystem as well as100,000 people, distributed in five municipalities and 638 communities.

Querétaro and the northern state of Zacatecas have become major producers of mercury, the extraction of which is mainly in private hands and practiced without a license. The mercury is mostly exported to countries such as Bolivia and Colombia, where it is used mainly in the artisanal mining of gold.

The rise in production in Mexico was a consequence of export bans in the United States and the European Union since 2011, which prompted Mexico to step in to fill the gap.

Replacing mercury in artisanal mining is a challenge that Mexico is now facing in order to comply with the Minamata Convention, which entered into force on Aug. 16, and which will celebrate its first meeting of the Conference of the Parties in Geneva from Sept. 24-29.

The treaty prohibits new mercury mines and stipulates the phasing out of existing mines, the reduction of mercury use in a number of products and processes, the promotion of measures to curb emissions into the atmosphere and seepage into the soil and water, the regulation of artisanal and small-scale gold mining and proper management of contaminated sites.

The “Mexican Mercury Market Report”, produced in 2011 by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, estimated that there are nearly 27 million tonnes of mercury waste accumulated in mines and the chlor-alkali industry.

Primary mercury mines account for 43 percent of these deposits – some 11.75 million tons – while the secondary production of old deposits of mine waste or tailings in Zacatecas contribute another 14.9 million, and the chlor-alkali industry accounts for 240,000 tonnes in two plants.

A report by the governmental National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change (INECC), obtained by IPS, shows that eight of Mexico’s 31 states have mercury mines that feed the national trade in dental fillings, lamps and raw materials for artisanal gold mining, as well as the increasing exports.

Some 300 artisanal mercury mines operate in Querétaro, while extraction from tailings ponds is attractive due the value of amalgamated silver. Mercury mining in Querétaro is concentrated in three municipalities.

In that state, two regions, with a total of nine mining districts, contain mercury. Between 1995 and 2016, the state government supported three projects with potential mercury deposits.

In Zacatecas, four of 17 mining regions have mercury and six of 116 mining projects involve mercury exploration and exploitation.

Artisanal gold mining is active in 10 states, and more than 3,000 people work in this activity.

Mercury is obtained from cinnabar ore, which is crushed and fed into a furnace or kiln to be heated, generating toxic mercury vapor with toxic properties.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the main effect of exposure to fish and seafood contaminated by mercury in fetuses and infants is impaired neurological development. Mercury, which has
neurotoxic characteristics, accumulates in the body.

In Latin America, Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru and Uruguay have already ratified the Convention. But only Brazil has submitted its report to the secretariat of the mercury control treaty, as only nine other countries around the world and the European Union have done.

Measures to curb the production of mercury in other countries have turned Mexico into the second largest supplier in the world, after Indonesia. In July this country exported 75 tons to Bolivia and 9.55 to Chile, while sporadic sales were reported to Argentina, Colombia, Cuba, Nicaragua, Panama and Paraguay.

In 2016, Bolivia was also the top destination, with 193 tons, while Colombia imported 41.5, even though it had banned the use of mercury in artisanal mining in 2013.

The coordinator of the non-governmental Center for Analysis and Action on Toxics and their Alternatives (CAATA), Fernando Bejarano, said that Mexico saw the upturn in mercury mining coming and did not take action.

“This is a social problem linked to poverty and we must treat it according to that perspective, and not only as an environmental issue. But there is no clear multisectoral approach. In the coming years production may grow even further,” the expert told IPS.

In his view, “Mexico lacks a clear policy on the handling of hazardous substances and people continue to be exposed to them.”

A report by the Federal Attorney General’s Office of Environmental Protection (Profepa), to which IPS had access, states that mining is carried out with no environmental damage mitigation or prevention of health effects.

Mines, the report adds, lack the infrastructure to prevent polluting emissions from the furnaces, and there is inadequate management of mining waste, which pollute water and soil.

Their “2015 studies on air quality and its impact in the central region of Mexico”, obtained by IPS, which assessed emissions from 83 mines, concluded that there is a risk of toxicity for workers in the mining area of Querétaro and the surrounding population, where it found high concentrations of the mineral.

INECC this year detected high concentrations of mercury in the basement of a shopping center in Zacatecas, where products for sale are stored.

For activist Patricia Ruiz, winner of at least five prizes in ecology, Mexico should work on a plan based on people´s needs.

“The semi-desert (of the region) offers possibilities. It can provide employment for many years and the mines would be shut down. It requires financial resources to be able to pay temporary employment and cover the pits,” she said.

Mexico, which anticipates designing a plan of action to modify artisanal gold mining, will have to adapt its legal framework to the Minamata Convention. It has already identified four sites and 15 communities contaminated with mercury.

“The state and municipal actors must be informed about the risks. There must be an orderly plan of transition. It is a national responsibility, we should not just wait for international resources to come,” Bejarano said.

In Geneva, CAATA and other NGOs will determine the presence of mercury in body creams from places such as Quéretaro.

Mexico is waiting for approval by the Global Environment Facility to finance a seven million dollar environmental risk reduction initiative in mining in Querétaro. At the end of the year, the government will complete an assessment of the country’s situation in this regard.

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