Inter Press Service » Labour http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Tue, 02 Sep 2014 11:29:38 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 OPINION: Africans’ Land Rights at Risk as New Agricultural Trend Sweeps Continenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-africans-land-rights-at-risk-as-new-agricultural-trend-sweeps-continent/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-africans-land-rights-at-risk-as-new-agricultural-trend-sweeps-continent http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-africans-land-rights-at-risk-as-new-agricultural-trend-sweeps-continent/#comments Mon, 01 Sep 2014 10:55:28 +0000 Janah Ncube http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136444 An irrigated field in Kakamas, South Africa. Due to weak land tenure found in many African countries, large land transfers place local communities at significant risk of dispossession or expropriation. Credit: Patrick Burnett/IPS

An irrigated field in Kakamas, South Africa. Due to weak land tenure found in many African countries, large land transfers place local communities at significant risk of dispossession or expropriation. Credit: Patrick Burnett/IPS

By Janah Ncube
NAIROBI, Sep 1 2014 (IPS)

Agriculture in Africa is in urgent need of investment. Nearly 550 million people there are dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods, while half of the total population on the continent live in rural areas.

The adoption of a framework called the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Program (CAADP) by Africa’s leaders in 2003 confirmed that agriculture is crucial to the continent’s development prospects. African governments recently reiterated this commitment at the Malabo Summit in Guinea during June of this year.The need for private sector investment in Africa is manifest, but the quality of those inflows of capital is vital if it is to enhance the livelihoods of millions of food producers in Africa.

After decades of underinvestment, African governments are now looking for new ways to mobilise funding for the sector and to deliver new technology and skills to farmers. Private sector actors are also looking for opportunities within emerging markets in Africa.

Large-scale public-private partnerships (PPPs) are an emerging trend across the continent. These so called ‘mega’ PPPs are agreements between national governments, aid donors, investors and multinational companies to develop large fertile tracts of land found near to strategic infrastructure such as roads and ports.

Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Ghana and Burkina Faso all host this type of scheme. Several African countries have signed up to global initiatives such as the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, supported by the rich, industrialised economies of the G8; and GROW Africa, a PPP initiative supported by the World Economic Forum.

For governments, these arrangements offer the illusion of increased capital and technology, production and productivity gains, and foreign exchange earnings.

But as Oxfam reveals, mega-PPPs present a moral hazard with serious downsides, especially for those living in areas pegged for investment.

In particular, the land rights of local communities are at risk. Within just five countries hosting mega-PPPs, the combined amount of land in target area for investment is larger than France or Ukraine.

While not all of this land will go to investors, governments have earmarked over 1.25 million hectares for transfer. This is equal to the entire amount of land in agricultural production in Zambia or Senegal.

Due to weak land tenure found in many African countries, this land transfer places local communities at significant risk of dispossession or expropriation.

These arrangements also threaten to worsen inequality, which is already severe in African countries, according to international measurements. Mega-PPP investments are likely be delivered by – and focus on – richer, well connected companies or wealthier farmers, bypassing those who need support the most. More land will also be placed into the hands of larger players further reducing the amount available for small-scale producers.

The ability of small and medium sized enterprises to benefit from these arrangements is also in doubt. The size of just four multinational seed and agro-chemical companies partnering with a mega-PPP in Tanzania have an annual turnover of 100 billion dollars – that’s triple the size of Tanzania’s economy.

These asymmetries of power could lead to anti-competitive behaviour and squeeze out smaller local and national companies from emerging domestic markets. Larger companies may also gain influence over government policies that perpetuate their control.

These types of partnership also carry serious environmental risks. An example of this is the development of large irrigation schemes for new plantations. They can reduce water availability for other users, such as local communities, smaller farmers and important other rural groups like pastoralists.

The need for private sector investment in Africa is manifest, but the quality of those inflows of capital is vital if it is to enhance the livelihoods of millions of food producers in Africa. The current mega-PPP model is unproven and risky, especially for smallholder farmers and the poor.

At the very heart of the agenda to enhance rural livelihoods and eradicate deep-seated poverty in rural areas should be a clear commitment towards approaches that are pro-smallholder, pro-women and can develop local and regional markets. The protection of land rights for local communities is also – and equally – paramount.

Oxfam’s experience of working with smallholder farmers shows that private sector investment in staple food crops, and the development of rural infrastructure such as storage facilities, combined with public sector investment in support services such as agricultural research and development, extension services and subsidies for seeds and credit, can kick-start the rural economy.

Robust regulation is also vital, to ensure that private sector investment can ‘do no harm’ and also ‘do more good’ by targeting the areas of the rural economy that can have the most impact on poverty reduction. African governments should put themselves at the forefront of this vision for agriculture.

These represent tried and tested policies towards rural development in other contexts. This approach, rather than one that subsidises the entrance of large players into African agriculture, would truly represent a new alliance to benefit all.

Janah Ncube is Oxfam’s Pan Africa Director based in Nairobi, Kenya. @JanahNcube

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Growing Calls for Reforms of El Salvador’s Privatised Pension Systemhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/growing-calls-for-reforms-of-el-salvadors-privatised-pension-system/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=growing-calls-for-reforms-of-el-salvadors-privatised-pension-system http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/growing-calls-for-reforms-of-el-salvadors-privatised-pension-system/#comments Fri, 29 Aug 2014 18:24:22 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136420 Manuel Campos, a 56-year-old taxi driver, is not covered by either the public or private pension system in El Salvador. His only hope is that his children will support him in his old age. Credit: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

Manuel Campos, a 56-year-old taxi driver, is not covered by either the public or private pension system in El Salvador. His only hope is that his children will support him in his old age. Credit: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN SALVADOR, Aug 29 2014 (IPS)

Two of the promises made 16 years ago when El Salvador’s pension system was privatised have failed to materialise: There was no expansion of social security coverage and no improvement in pensions. Now pressure is growing for a reform of the system.

Although 20-year-old Kevin Alexis Cuéllar is one of the 2.7 million people enrolled in the private Pensions Savings System (SAP), he has no coverage.

Cuéllar, who is self-employed and does not have steady work, told IPS that he does not pay into the private account which will supposedly provide his pension when he retires. Men in El Salvador retire at the age of 60 and women at 55.

The system established in 1998 has run up against the reality of employment conditions in this Central American nation of 6.2 million people.

A 2013 report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) found that 65.7 percent of the economically active population works in the informal economy. Based on statistics from 2011, that is equivalent to 1,269,000 people.

Cuéllar operates a sound system at business events promoting brand awareness. Forced to drop out of school to work before finishing the eight years of basic education, it will not be easy for him to find formal employment in this country, which has no specific plans to reduce the size of the informal sector.

The situation worries him. “The time will come when I won’t be able to work, because of old age or sickness, and we’ll be left without a pension,” he told IPS.

That fear is shared by the tens of thousands of families who have no social security coverage.“It was clearly the business deal of the century, the right to a pension was commodified, to the benefit of financial groups.” -. Trade unionist Francisco García

Expanding coverage “is one of the pending challenges” of the private system, María Elena Rivera, a researcher at the Guillermo Manuel Ungo Foundation (FundaUngo), told IPS.

Although 2.7 million people are enrolled in the private pension scheme, only 653,257 are active contributors, according to figures from July. The rest are not formally employed.

That means only one out of four people of working age are active contributors to the private pension savings scheme, Rivera said.

The government of rightwing president Armando Calderón dismantled the public social security system in 1998 and created the private pensions scheme, in the midst of a wave of privatisations sweeping Latin America.

Under the new scheme, contributions from workers and employers generate a payment of 13 percent of the monthly salary that goes into the employees’ individual accounts.

These individual savings will produce, after 25 years of contributions, the money that will pay the pensions of workers once they reach retirement age.

Other Latin American countries like Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Mexico and Peru also privatised their pension systems.

Participation in the SAP was mandatory for workers under the age of 36. Their individual accounts are run by pension fund administrators (AFP).

Men over 55 and women over 50 had to stay in the public system, which is to disappear as that generation gradually retires and passes away.

In the public pay-as-you-go system, all workers pay into the same fund, which is financed on the basis of solidarity between generations.

Those who were between the ages of 36 and 50 in 1998 could choose between the public or private systems.

“It was clearly the business deal of the century, the right to a pension was commodified, to the benefit of financial groups,” the secretary of the Workers’ Union of the National Institute for Public Employees’ Pensions (SITINPEP), Francisco García, told IPS.

The union wants to return to a mixed system, with the state controlling the pension system, and the AFPs as optional.

The government of leftwing President Salvador Sánchez Cerén, in office since June, said the private system has failed. But it has not given any indication of what reforms it will push through in the next few months – although it has ruled out a return to a public social security system.

In July, SAP had just under 7.5 billion dollars in accumulated contributions. Those funds were initially to be invested in El Salvador’s stock market, and the yield would go into the employee’s account.

Investing the funds in the stock market was also supposed to help drive the country’s productive development, by giving a boost to key sectors of the economy, generating more formal sector jobs and making it possible to expand coverage. In addition, the pensions would be improved.

The minimum retirement and disability pension is 207 dollars a month.

But the local stock market is too small to help productive enterprises get off the ground, analysts say, and formal employment did not receive the expected boost, nor did pensions grow.

Manuel Campos, a 56-year-old taxi driver, who is not enrolled in either the public or private pension systems, only hopes that once he is too old to work, or if he falls ill, his three children will help support him.
“If I didn’t have that hope, maybe I would have to do what so many people are doing today: beg on the streets,” Campos told IPS while waiting for customers on a street in San Salvador.

In another part of the capital, 40-year-old Sandra Escobar is preparing lunch that she will sell at noon in the business where she works as a cook: a small tin shack on the side of the road.

“My idea is to save up, little by little, to have something for my old age. But it’s hard,” said Escobar, while cooking beef in a frying pan.

When most of the younger workers opted for the private system in 1998, the government assumed the burden of the underfinanced public system, which according to the latest data, from 2012, was around 420 million dollars a year.

That is the amount needed to pay the pensions of the employees who stayed in the public system: 100,247 as of October 2012, according to a document from the Salvadoran Association of Pension Fund Administrators (ASAFONDOS), which represents the two AFPs.

In 2006, the legislature approved the Fideicomiso de Obligaciones Previsionales (pension trust fund), through which the AFPs are legally obligated to invest part of the funds in bonds issued by the state, and thus obtain the resources for paying pensions.

But these bonds have low returns, 1.4 percent a year, not enough to significantly increase the pensions of workers. Legally, El Salvador’s AFPs cannot invest in the international stock market, where they would obtain higher returns.

IPS was unable to obtain an interview with the president of ASAFONDOS, René Novellino. But a report he published in 2013 proposed approving a gradual opening up of the system, with clear limits and strong oversight, to investment in international stock markets, among other measures.

FundaUngo is calling for a national dialogue, so all of the sectors can set forth proposals for reforming the system.

In the meantime, soundman Kevin Cuéllar, cook Sandra Escobar and taxi driver Manuel Campos continue to face the reality of informal employment, with no prospects for receiving a pension when they reach retirement age.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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OPINION: Building a Sustainable Future – The Compact Between Business and Societyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-building-a-sustainable-future-the-compact-between-business-and-society/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-building-a-sustainable-future-the-compact-between-business-and-society http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-building-a-sustainable-future-the-compact-between-business-and-society/#comments Wed, 27 Aug 2014 11:29:21 +0000 Georg Kell http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136366 By Georg Kell
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 27 2014 (IPS)

Can we envision a day when a critical mass of companies is investing in a better world? Where business is delivering value for the long-term – not just financially, but also socially, environmentally and ethically? Over a decade ago, it was hard to imagine, but we can now say with confidence that a global movement is underway.

By the late 1990s, the need for action was unmistakable. In many ways, it appeared the rest of the world did not figure into the growth and opportunity associated with massive increases in international investment and trade. It was this fragile state of the union between business and society that led the U.N. secretary-general to propose that business and the United Nations jointly initiate a “global compact of shared values and principles, to give a human face to the global market.”This year, business will have an enormous opportunity to “make good” on its commitment to society as governments and the United Nations work to define a set of global sustainable development goals by 2015.

From 40 companies that came together at our launch in 2000, the UN Global Compact has grown to 8,000 business signatories from 140 countries – representing approximately 50 million employees, nearly every industry sector and size, and hailing equally from developed and developing countries.

Each participant has committed to respect and support human rights, ensure decent workplace conditions, safeguard and restore the environment, and enact good corporate governance – and then is reporting publicly on progress. An additional 4,000 civil society signatories play important roles, including holding companies accountable for their commitments and partnering with business on common causes.

We now have 100 country networks that are convening like-minded companies and facilitating action on the ground, embedding universal principles and responsible business practices. Networks serve an essential role in rooting global norms, issue platforms and campaigns within a national context, and provide an important base to jump-start local action and awareness.

It is clear that companies around the world are increasingly putting sustainability on their agendas. The reality is that environmental, social and governance challenges affect the bottom-line. Market disturbances, social unrest and ecological devastation have real impacts on business vis-à-vis supply chains, capital flows and employee productivity.

We also live in a world of hyper-transparency, with people now more empowered than ever to hold governments and the private sector accountable for their actions. There has been a fundamental shift as companies come to realise that it is no longer enough to mitigate risk, but that they are expected to contribute positively to the communities in which they operate.

Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

More persuasive than the risks are the opportunities that come with going global. As economic growth has migrated East and South, more companies are moving from being resource takers, to market builders.

Now, when faced with complex issues – extreme poverty, lack of education, gender inequality, environmental degradation – responsible companies see themselves as equal stakeholders for the long run, knowing that they cannot thrive in societies that fail. This has encouraged business to collaborate and co-invest in solutions that produce shared value for business and society.

There is also a growing interdependency between business and society. Business is expected to do more in areas that used to be the exclusive domain of the public sector – from health and education, to community investment and environmental stewardship. In fact, five out of six CEOs believe that business should play a leading role in addressing global priority issues. This is extremely encouraging.

While we have seen a great deal of progress, there is much work to be done. Companies everywhere are called on to do more of what is sustainable and put an end to what is not. We need corporate sustainability to be in the DNA of business culture and operations. The priority is to reach those who have yet to act, and especially those actively opposing change.

To reach full scale, economic incentive structures must be realigned so that sustainability is valued. Governments must create enabling environments for business and incentivise responsible practices. Financial markets must move beyond the short-term, where long-term returns become the overarching criteria for investment decisions. We need clear signals that good environmental, social and governance performance by business is supported and profitable.

This year, business will have an enormous opportunity to “make good” on its commitment to society as governments and the United Nations work to define a set of global sustainable development goals by 2015. This post-2015 agenda has the power to spur action by all key actors, with the private sector having a huge role.

These goals and targets could result in a framework for businesses to measure their own sustainability progress and help them establish corporate goals aligned with global priorities. This opportunity is significant to create value for business as well as the public good.

What will the future look like? The pieces are in place to achieve a new era of sustainability. The good news is that enlightened companies – which comprise major portions of the global marketplace – have shown that they are willing to be part of the solution and are moving ahead. Decisions by business leaders to pursue sustainability can make all of the difference. We can move from incremental to transformative impact, showing that responsible business is a force for good.

Georg Kell is executive director of the United Nations Global Compact, the world’s largest voluntary corporate sustainability initiative.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Amid Crisis, Puerto Rico’s Retirees Face Uncertain Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/amid-crisis-puerto-ricos-retirees-face-uncertain-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=amid-crisis-puerto-ricos-retirees-face-uncertain-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/amid-crisis-puerto-ricos-retirees-face-uncertain-future/#comments Wed, 27 Aug 2014 11:02:49 +0000 Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136354 Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the U.S. Its relationship with the United States has been denounced as colonial by both the independence and pro-statehood movements. Credit: Arturo de la Barrera/cc by 2.0

Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the U.S. Its relationship with the United States has been denounced as colonial by both the independence and pro-statehood movements. Credit: Arturo de la Barrera/cc by 2.0

By Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero
SAN JUAN, Aug 27 2014 (IPS)

A feeling of insecurity has overtaken broad sectors of Puerto Rican society as the economy worsens, public sector debt spirals out of control, and the island’s creditworthiness is put in doubt.

To tackle this economic crisis, the administration of governor Alejandro Garcia-Padilla has adopted a number of measures that have been extremely unpopular with civil society and labour unions."Capital is on the offensive all over the world. But in Puerto Rico it's worse because it is a colony of the United States." -- Retired telephone company worker Guillermo De La Paz

Retirees have been particularly affected. In 2013, the government passed Law 160, which drastically changed the retirement system of public employees. It puts an end to the previous retirement system, established by Law 447 of 1951, under which every public sector worker was entitled to a full pension after 30 years of service, regardless of age.

But Law 160 changes that. The size of monthly pension payments is no longer guaranteed, and employees must work more years in order to get full benefits.

“The retirement system has been compromised,” said labour attorney Cesar Rosado-Ramos in a position paper for the Working People’s Party (PPT).

“It is unheard of, abusive and unjust that people with 30 years of service now have to keep working for four, five, 10 or even 15 additional years in order to receive a full pension. This means the working class will have to spend a lifetime working and if you survive you get a miserable retirement plan.”

The PPT was formed in 2009 by current and former members of the Movement Toward Socialism and the Socialist Front. Its first electoral participation was in the 2012 general elections but it did not get enough votes to elect any candidate.

Public school teachers were spared from Law 160. They sued and last April the PR Supreme Court ruled key parts of the law unconstitutional because they violated teachers’ contracts. Thus the teachers’ retirement was saved, but the court ruling upheld other parts of the law that reduce their Christmas bonuses, summer pay and medical benefits.

“The retirement age of public employees has been raised and their [retirement] benefits have been reduced to poverty level,” economist Martha Quiñones told IPS.

Ramón Marrero, an emergency doctor who works in the city of Cayey, was forced to continue working just when he was due for retirement. He was going to retire after 18 years of work, but with the new law he has to stay on for three more years to get a full pension.

“One has life projects for when retirement comes. When all of a sudden the date for retirement is postponed, all of these projects and plans are turned upside down,” said Marrero, who commutes to work from the nearby town of Cidra.

Quiñones, who teaches at the University of Puerto Rico, pointed out that private sector workers and pensioners are also in for a raw deal. “Many of those private pensions are tied to Puerto Rico government bonds, which have recently been downgraded by Moody’s and Standard and Poor. When the value of these bonds is affected, pensions are reduced.”

Many public sector retirees are politically active, not only defending their benefits and pension plans from the ever present threat of privatisation, but also protesting the government’s neoliberal austerity policies, which affect all of society.

“The local ruling class seeks to reverse the gains and livelihoods of workers to what they used to be in a bygone era,” said labour activist Jose Rivera-Rivera, president of the retirees chapter of the UTIER labour union.

“In order for the neoliberal system to establish its superiority it must erase the last two centuries of labor struggle and solidarity. It’s the new stage of capitalism, they want us to start from zero.”

“Capital is on the offensive all over the world. But in Puerto Rico it’s worse because it is a colony of the United States,” retired telephone company worker Guillermo De La Paz told IPS. “Here the exploiters can experiment in ways they cannot do in a sovereign country.”

Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the U.S. Its relationship with the United States has been denounced as colonial by both the independence and pro-statehood movements.

The Puerto Rico Telephone Company was public until it was privatised by then governor Pedro Rosselló in 1998. Privatisation opponents paralysed the island in a two-day general strike in July of that year, but to no avail.

“For the rich there is no crisis,” said De La Paz. “I mean, we’ve got [billionaire] Henry Paulson urging rich people to come here to avoid taxes.”

Rivera-Rivera believes that in order to get Puerto Rico out of its economic crisis and protect retirement benefits, the government could start by taxing the rich.

“Our government is supposedly in crisis because it cannot pay its debt, but the previous administration [Governor Luis Fortuño, 2009-2012] practically eliminated the fiscal responsibility of major corporations and rich people in its 2009 tax reform. It wasn’t justified, they were already enjoying major tax breaks.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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World Bank Urged to Rethink Reforms to Business-Friendliness Reporthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/world-bank-urged-to-rethink-reforms-to-business-friendliness-report/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-bank-urged-to-rethink-reforms-to-business-friendliness-report http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/world-bank-urged-to-rethink-reforms-to-business-friendliness-report/#comments Tue, 26 Aug 2014 21:20:33 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136361 Workers arrive early in the morning at the One World Apparel factory in Port-au-Prince to assemble garments for export from Haiti. Credit: Ansel Herz/IPS

Workers arrive early in the morning at the One World Apparel factory in Port-au-Prince to assemble garments for export from Haiti. Credit: Ansel Herz/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Aug 26 2014 (IPS)

Civil society groups from several continents are stepping up a campaign urging the World Bank to strengthen a series of changes currently being made to a major annual report on countries’ business-friendliness.

The World Bank is in the final stages of a years-long update to its Doing Business report, one of the Washington-based development institution’s most influential analyses yet one that has also become increasingly controversial. Critics now say the first round of changes, slated to go into effect in October, don’t go far enough."It’s a public relations exercise but with reasonably solid metrics behind it, and it’s the joining of these two things that makes Doing Business valuable in the policy world.” -- Scott Morris of the Center for Global Development

On Monday, a coalition of 18 development groups, watchdog organisations and trade unions called on the World Bank Group to take “urgent action” to implement “significant changes” to the Doing Business reforms. In particular, they are asking the bank to adhere more closely to detailed recommendations made last year by a bank-commissioned external review panel chaired by Trevor Manuel, a former planning and finance minister for South Africa.

“It looks like the flaws found by the Independent Panel chaired by Trevor Manuel will be ignored and its recommendations are nowhere close to being implemented,” Aldo Caliari, director of the Rethinking Bretton Woods Project at the Center of Concern, a Catholic think tank here, told IPS. “This is in spite of a wide chorus of civil society organisations and shareholders that supported them.”

While the World Bank’s mission is to fight global poverty, Caliari and others dispute whether the Doing Business report’s metrics are pertinent to poor communities. Others say they can be outright detrimental.

Both civil society investigations and the Manuel commission have suggested “how little relevance the areas and indicators have to the reforms that matter to small and medium companies in developing countries,” Caliari says. “They seem far more oriented to support operations of large transnationals in those countries.”

Such concerns stem from the outsized influence that the Doing Business report has built up, particularly in the developing world, since it was introduced in 2003. Reportedly, the report is used by some 85 percent of global policymakers.

The core of the report remains a simple aggregated ranking of countries, known as the Ease of Doing Business index. While based on a complex series of business-friendliness metrics, the high profile of the index results has inevitably led governments to compete among one another to raise their country’s ranking and, hopefully, strengthen foreign investment.

Yet a direct effect of this competition, critics say, is governments being pushed to adhere to a uniform set of policy recommendations. These include lowering taxes and wages and weakening overall industry regulation, thus potentially endangering the poor.

“[T]he report’s role is to inform policy, not to outline a normative position, which the rankings do,” the 18 groups wrote to World Bank Group President Jim Kim at the end of July. “Doing Business needs to become better aligned with moves towards greater country-owned and led development and an appreciation of the importance of a country’s circumstances, stage of development and political choices.”

In its report last June, the Manuel commission likewise urged the bank to drop the ranking system entirely, noting that this constituted “the most important decision the Bank faces with regard to the Doing Business report.”

Maintained but reformed

In response, the bank is reforming the methodology behind its ranking calculations. In part, this includes broadening its analysis to use data from two cities in most countries, rather than just one.

More broadly, the new calculations will constitute an effort simultaneously to continue to offer a relative score for each country but also to decrease the importance of the specific ranking.

“This approach will provide users with additional information by showing the relative distances between economies in the ranking tables,” an announcement on the changes stated in April. (The bank was unable to provide additional comment by this story’s deadline.)

“By highlighting where economies’ scores are close, the new approach will reduce the importance of difference in rankings,” the announcement continues. “And by revealing where distances between scores are relatively greater, it will give credit to governments that are reforming but not yet seeing changes in rankings.”

Some development scholars have pushed against the Manuel commission’s recommendations on the index, defending the need for the bank to maintain its aggregate rankings in some form.

“The Doing Business report isn’t a research exercise – it’s a policymaking tool. Because of the rankings it has a unique value, particularly for those countries that have a long way to go on economic reform,” Scott Morris, a senior associate at the Center for Global Development, a think tank here, told IPS after the Manuel commission’s report was published.

“Internally, it gives government officials something simple and targeted to latch onto, much more than a 500-page report would do. It’s a public relations exercise but with reasonably solid metrics behind it, and it’s the joining of these two things that makes Doing Business valuable in the policy world.”

Decent jobs created?

Yet others warn that the rankings themselves continue to be problematic, even in their new form.

The reforms are “not satisfactory, as the rankings will continue to influence the policy agenda of many developing countries despite their methodological flaws,” Tiago Stichelmans, a policy and networking analyst at the European Network on Debt and Development, told IPS in an e-mail.

“The problem of the rankings is the fact that they are based on regulatory measures in a single city (which is due to become two cities) for every country and are therefore irrelevant to many communities. The rankings also have a bias in favour of deregulatory measures that have limited impact on development.”

Of course, many would support the idea of tracking country-by-country policies aimed at encouraging industry to help bolster development metrics. But Stichelmans says this would require major changes, including a move away from the report’s current focus on reforms to the business environment.

“A shift from promoting low tax rates and labour deregulation to taxes paid, decent jobs created and [small and medium enterprises] supported would be a step in the right direction,” he says.

Ideas from NGOs have included indicators on corruption and human rights due diligence, Stichelmans continues, “but this must be accompanied by a drastic overhaul.”

For now, some of the newly announced changes are expected to be incorporated into the Doing Business report for 2015, slated to be released in late October. Other reforms, including some yet to be announced, will be introduced in future reports.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Bangladeshi Girls Seek Equal Opportunityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/bangladeshi-girls-seek-equal-opportunity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bangladeshi-girls-seek-equal-opportunity http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/bangladeshi-girls-seek-equal-opportunity/#comments Mon, 25 Aug 2014 04:08:07 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136315 Adolescent girls in Bangladesh’s Mymensingh district meet once a week to discuss their rights. Here they talk about sanitation and personal hygiene. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Adolescent girls in Bangladesh’s Mymensingh district meet once a week to discuss their rights. Here they talk about sanitation and personal hygiene. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Naimul Haq
RANGPUR, Bangladesh, Aug 25 2014 (IPS)

Until five years ago, Shima Aktar, a student in Gajaghanta village in the Rangpur district of Bangladesh, about 370 km northwest of the capital Dhaka, was leading a normal life. But when her father decided that it was time for her to conform to purdah, a religious practice of female seclusion, things changed.

The young girl, now 16 years old, says her father pulled her out of school at the age of 11 and began to lay plans for her marriage to an older man “for her own protection” he said.

Born to a hardline Muslim family, pretty, shy Shima might have taken these changes in stride – were it not for the support of a local youth advocacy group.

Called ‘Kishori Abhijan’, meaning ‘Empowering Adolescents’, the project is a brainchild of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and educates young people on a range of issues, from gender roles, sex discrimination and early marriage, to reproductive health, personal hygiene and preventing child labour.

“The absence of political will, conceptual clarity, appropriate institutional arrangements and allocation of adequate resources are challenges to the achievement of substantive equality between women and men […].” -- Shireen Huq, founding member of Naripokkho, a leading women's rights NGO
Now that she knows her rights, Shima is fighting hard to assert them, joining a veritable army of young women around this country of 160 million who are determined to change traditional views about gender.

Besides the Empowering Adolescents initiative, other grassroots schemes to educate communities on the rights of women include groups that practice interactive popular theatre (IPT), designed to address social issues at a local level.

Using a mix of popular folk tales and traditional songs and dancing, the actors perform for their parents, local officials and other influential community members, determined to have their voices heard by breaking out of the box.

The Centre for Mass Education in Science (CMES), an NGO working in a remote part of the Rangpur district, recently put on a public performance to illustrate the need to abolish the dowry system, and boost female participation in the public workforce.

Thousands of women here live under the shadow of dowry-related violence. The Hong Kong-based Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) reported some years ago that the practice of dowry leads to torture, acid attacks and sometimes even murder and suicide.

The year 2011 saw 330 deaths of women in dowry-related violence. The previous year 137 women were killed for the same reason, according to the largest women’s rights NGO, Bangladesh Mahila Parishad. The NGO also reported 439 cases of dowry-related violence in 2013.

Very often, women are either killed or commit suicide when they are unable to pay the full price of the dowry.

Mohammed Rashed of CMES believes that educating people as to the impacts of traditional practices and ideas can stem such unnecessary tragedies.

“By involving parents, teachers, community and religious leaders and government officials in awareness campaigns we have been able to bring positive changes,” he told IPS.

Already, efforts to spread awareness are bearing fruit. According to UNICEF, some 600,000 adolescents around the country, 60 percent of them girls, are now educated on issues like the legal marriage age of boys and girls, as well as the importance of education and family planning, as a direct result of grassroots advocacy.

Between 64 and 84 percent of adolescents interviewed by the Dhaka-based NGO Unnayan Onneshan claimed that dowry practice had decreased in their communities since 2010.

Policies driven by demands to increase girls’ education have also enabled a much higher rate of female participation in schools.

In 1994 the government introduced the Female Secondary School Stipend Programme – funded by the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Norwegian government – that offered adolescent girls a small amount of money every six months to stay in school.

Although urban and rural disparities still exist, the average primary school enrollment rate for girls is now as high as 97 percent, one of the highest in the developing world.

The field of reproductive health and rights has also witnessed improvements. The presence of skilled birth attendants in rural areas has increased from less than five percent in the early 90s to 23 percent today, while contraceptive use among women has dramatically increased from a mere eight percent in 1975 to about 62 percent in 2011.

Despite these achievements, girls still lag behind their male counterparts throughout much of the country.

Child mortality, for instance, remains much higher among females than males, with 16 deaths per 1,000 live births for boys and 20 deaths per 1,000 live births for girls, according to a 2010 study by Unnayan Onneshan.

World Bank data from 2010 shows that 57 percent of women participate in the labour force, while men show a much higher rate of employment, at 88 percent.

Shireen Huq, a leading women’s rights activist, told IPS, “Despite the impressive gains, women and girls continue to be discriminated [against]. The result manifests in the unacceptably high number of maternal deaths [and] the dropout rate for girls in secondary schools.”

A 2013 ministry of health report found the maternal mortality rate (MMR) to be 170 deaths per 100,000 live births, down from 574 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1990.

Meanwhile, some 66 percent of girls in Bangladesh are married before their 18th birthday, giving the country one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world.

Huq, a founding member of Naripokkho, a leading NGO on the rights of women, also said, “The absence of political will, conceptual clarity, appropriate institutional arrangements and allocation of adequate resources are challenges to the achievement of substantive equality between women and men […].”

Experts believe it is important to involve women at every level of decision-making, including in Union Councils (UC) – the smallest administrative units in Bangladesh – which could enhance women’s participation in public life.

Some 67 percent of respondents to a survey conducted by UNICEF in 2010 felt that female members of the UCs should be given more representation and power to make decisions for their communities.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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When Land Restoration Works Hand in Hand with Poverty Eradicationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/when-land-restoration-works-hand-in-hand-with-poverty-eradication/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=when-land-restoration-works-hand-in-hand-with-poverty-eradication http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/when-land-restoration-works-hand-in-hand-with-poverty-eradication/#comments Mon, 25 Aug 2014 02:53:42 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136297 Villagers in the Medak District of southern India’s Telengana state are helping to revive degraded farmland. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Villagers in the Medak District of southern India’s Telengana state are helping to revive degraded farmland. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
SANGAREDDY, India, Aug 25 2014 (IPS)

Tugging at the root of a thorny shrub known as ‘juliflora’, which now dots the village of Chirmiyala in the Medak District of southern India’s Telangana state, a 28-year-old farmer named Ailamma Arutta tells IPS, “This is a curse that destroyed my land.”

The deciduous shrub, whose scientific name is prosopis juliflora and belongs to the mesquite family, is not native to southern India. The local government introduced it in the 1950s and 1960s to prevent desertification in this region where the average annual rainfall is about 680 mm.

Decades later, the invasive plant has become a menace to farmers in the area, making it impossible to cultivate the land. This is partly due to juliflora’s ability to put out roots deep inside the earth – up to 175 feet in some places – in search of water.

Desperate farmers, who number some 5.5 million in the region, are now uprooting the shrubs as part of a government-sponsored scheme to make the land fertile once more.

In India, of the 417 million acres of land under cultivation, a whopping 296 million acres are degraded. Some 200 million people are dependent on this degraded land for their sustenance. -- Indian Council for Agricultural Research
“The last time we grew anything on the land was about seven years ago, before this [shrub] started spreading all over it,” says Arutta, who is paid about three dollars a day for his work and looks forward eagerly to begin cultivating rice once more.

The operation provides employment while simultaneously laying the groundwork for future food security, and revitalising a degraded area.

Villagers employed by the scheme also perform duties such as removing stones and pebbles from the land, tilling the soil, de-silting ponds and lakes, and collecting fresh mud from waterholes and tanks to apply to the tilled land.

With funds provided through the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), a nationwide programme that provides 100-day jobs to poor villagers during the non-farming season, locals are also building check dams on streams and rivulets, and digging percolation tanks to recharge the groundwater table.

Though small in scope, the scheme is highlighting the threat posed by desertification and its impact on the poorest communities in a country where 25 percent of the rural population (roughly 216.5 million people) lives below the poverty line, earning some 27 rupees (0.44 dollars) a day.

In Telangana there are 1.1 million small and marginal farmers who own less than five acres of land. With 54 percent of the state’s land degraded, these farmers fear for their future.

A global problem from an Indian perspective

According to Venkat Ravinder, an assistant director for the MGNREGA programme in Medak district, land degradation is the main environmental problem for farmers in the region.

Recurring drought and erratic rainfall have played havoc on groundwater tables (in some areas water levels have fallen five to 20 metres below ground level), making the surface of the soil unhealthy and dry.

Also, abundant growth of juliflora has increased the level of acidity in the topsoil, making it difficult for farmers to ensure plentiful yields of crops like rice, cotton and chili.

“Due to the high level of land degradation, over 2,000 acres of land have been lying fallow here,” Ravinder, who is overlooking the land restoration process in 125 villages of the district, told IPS.

“Our aim is to make this fallow land cultivable. So, we are clearing it of the harmful vegetation, and through silt application we are increasing the fertility and water-holding capacity of the soil,” he explained.

Globally, 1.2 billion people are directly affected by land degradation, which causes an annual loss of 42 billion dollars, according to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

In India, of the 417 million acres of land under cultivation, a whopping 296 million acres are degraded, according to the Indian Council for Agricultural Research. Some 200 million people are dependent on this degraded land for their sustenance.

About 296 million acres of Indian farmland are degraded. Some 200 million people are dependent on this land for their sustenance. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

About 296 million acres of Indian farmland are degraded. Some 200 million people are dependent on this land for their sustenance. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Having set 2013 as a global deadline to end land degradation, the UNCCD says governments around the world should prioritise land restoration, given that such a massive population depends on unyielding and unhealthy soil.

“Landscape approaches to degraded land restoration are key in drylands to enhance livelihoods and address environmentally forced migrations,” Luc Gnacadja, former executive secretary of the UNCCD, told IPS.

According to the Indian minister for the environment and forests, Prakash Javadekar, this is an achievable goal. He says his own government is determined to be “land degradation neutral” by 2030.

Speaking on the occasion of the World Day to Combat Desertification (WDCD) earlier this year in New Delhi, the minister said that the problem of degradation, desertification and the creation of wastelands were major challenges impacting livelihoods.

Reiterating the government’s stated goal of scaling up efforts to eradicate poverty, under the leadership of newly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Javadekar stressed that various government agencies should work together on a common implementation strategy regarding desertification, including the departments of water resources, land resources, forests, and climate change and agriculture.

With agriculture accounting for 70 percent of India’s economy, such moves are urgently required, experts say.

Land degradation, poverty and migration: A vicious cycle

Thirty-year-old Arutta Somaya, a farmer from a small village in Telangana state, says his four-acre plot of farmland has become infested with juliflora, and is now virtually uncultivable.

With few options open to him, and a family of four to feed, Somaya left home in 2010 in search of work and for three years travelled to states like Maharasthra in the north, and Odisha in the east, working as a daily migrant labourer.

Today, he is back home and cultivating his land, which was cleared and restored under the land development programme.

Somaya tells IPS that several of his neighbours and friends are also considering returning home as they can earn a livelihood again.

“Before returning home, I was digging bore holes. We had to work for over 15 hours a day. It was very difficult. Now I don’t have to do that again,” adds the farmer, who is planting rice and napier grass, a fast-growing, commercially viable crop that is used as cattle fodder.

Hundreds of other seasonal migrants will be able to return home if the land development programme continues, says Subash Reddy, director of Smaran, a Hyderabad-based non-profit that promotes soil and water conservation.

He also believes the scheme could be more successful if the government roped in community organisations, especially those that work for the welfare of migrants.

“In India, at least 15 million people migrate each year from villages to the cities,” he told IPS. “How many of them are aware of what schemes the government is introducing at home?

“There are several NGOs that work closely with migrant workers,” Reddy added. “These organisations could be instrumental in informing the workers about land restoration [programmes] and also help them return home in time to avail themselves [of the benefits].”

According to the UNCCD, rampant land degradation could cause a collapse of food production, which would see global food prices “skyrocket”. Also, continued desertification, land degradation and drought could cause rampant migration and displacement of millions.

India is poised to set an example to a global problem – it just needs to find the political will to do so.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Innovation Offers Hope in Sri Lanka’s Poverty-Stricken Northhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/innovation-offers-hope-in-sri-lankas-poverty-stricken-north/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=innovation-offers-hope-in-sri-lankas-poverty-stricken-north http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/innovation-offers-hope-in-sri-lankas-poverty-stricken-north/#comments Sun, 24 Aug 2014 03:33:00 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136293 In Sri Lanka’s poverty-stricken Northern Province, residents say they must stretch the few resources they have in order to survive. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

In Sri Lanka’s poverty-stricken Northern Province, residents say they must stretch the few resources they have in order to survive. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
ODDUSUDDAN, Sri Lanka, Aug 24 2014 (IPS)

In this dust bowl of a village deep inside Sri Lanka’s former conflict zone, locals will sometimes ask visitors to rub their palms on the ground and watch their skin immediately take on a dark bronze hue, proof of the fertility of the soil.

Village lore in Oddusuddan, located in the Mullaitivu district, some 338 km north of the capital Colombo, has it that the land is so fertile, anything will grow here. But Mashewari Vellupillai, a 53-year-old single mother, knows that rich farmland alone is not enough to ensure a viable future.

Thirty years of civil war in the Northern Province, where the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were defeated by government forces in May 2009, are not easily forgotten, and five years of peace have not yet resulted in prosperity for many residents in this former battleground.

“You have to do things on your own otherwise there will be no money." -- Velupillai Selvarathnam, a former lorry driver from Mullaitivu
Schemes to provide relief and employment opportunities for civilians and rehabilitated combatants are few and far between, and several villagers tell IPS that survival here is dependent on creative thinking to make the most of the few income generation options available.

At least 30 percent of the population in the province derives their income from agriculture or related areas, and a 10-month-old drought is wrecking havoc on farmers who tend to focus on a single crop at a time.

After taking a 50,000-rupee (384-dollar) financial hit following a failed harvest last year, Vellupillai has diversified the two-acre plot that surrounds her half-built house and planted everything from onions and bananas to cassava, aubergines and tobacco.

In addition, she has leased out her two acres of paddy land, and hires workers intermittently to see to its harvest.

Vellupilla’s most profitable crop is tobacco; a single, good-quality leaf fetches about 10 rupees (0.77 dollars), giving her an income of about 10,000 rupees (about 76 dollars) monthly.

“I can’t take a chance by depending on one source of income, I have to be sure that I have alternatives,” she tells IPS, citing cases of villagers here falling victim to a buyers’ market, as was the case in 2011 when most Oddusuddan residents grew aubergines and were forced to part with their yields for dirt cheap prices as buyers from Vavuniya Town, 60 km south, manipulated the market.

Over 400,000 people like Vellupillai have returned to the north after fleeing the last days of fighting between armed forces and the LTTE.

Since then, the government has poured over three billion dollars into massive infrastructure projects in the region, including rail-links, new roads and electrification schemes.

But despite such impressive figures, life in general remains hard. Poverty is rampant according to the latest government figures released for the first quarter of this year.

Four of the five districts that make up the province recorded rates higher than the national figure of 6.7 percent.

Three of them – Kilinochchi, Mannar and Mullaittivu – recorded poverty rates of 12.7 percent, 20.1 percent and 28.8 percent respectively, according to the latest government poverty head count released in April. Experts say this comes as no surprise, since these districts were hit hardest by the war, and are suffering the worst of its long-term impacts.

Unemployment also remains above national levels. There are no official figures for full unemployment rates in the Northern Province, but in the two districts where figures are available – Kilinochchi at 9.3 percent and Mannar at 8.1 percent – they were over twice the national rate of four percent.

Economists working in the region feel that unemployment could be as high 30 percent in some parts of the province.

A dearth of proper housing adds to the troubles of the north, with only 41,000 out of a required 143,000 houses being handed over to returning residents, while some 10,500 homes are still under construction.

According to UN Habitat, initial funding was for 83,000 units, including those already built, but no funds are available for the remaining 60,000 homes.

“Those who can make the situation work for them, or use what they have in them […] will fare better,” Sellamuththu Srinivasan, the additional district secretary for the Kilinochchi District, told IPS.

That is precisely what Velupillai Selvarathnam, a former lorry driver from Mullaitivu, has done.

Since the war’s end, he rents a small vehicle and commutes between Colombo and his hometown, covering a distance of over 300 km each week to bring ready-made garments from the capital to his small shop close to the town of Puthukkudiyiruppu.

“I can make a 25,000-rupee profit [about 192 dollars] every month,” he told IPS.

That is good money, especially if it is constant in a district that is one of the poorest five in the country and where the average monthly income is less than 4,000 rupees (about 30 dollars).

Selvarathnam, who has a deep scar on the side of his chest running down to his abdomen caused by a shell injury, tells IPS, “You have to do things on your own otherwise there will be no money.” His next aim is to travel to India to purchase garments in bulk, so that he can cut down on costs even more.

Like him, Velvarasa Sithadevi, another resident of Oddusudan has her hands full. She has to take care of a 25-year-old son who suffers from shellshock and a husband who is yet to recover from his wartime injuries.

When the family received a 25,000-rupee (192-dollar) grant from the U.N. Refugee Agency upon returning to their home village in 2011, Sithadevi invested the money in setting up a small shop. “We live in the back room, that is enough for us,” she told IPS.

Sithadevi is a good cook, and sells food products in her roadside shop. “It is a good business, especially when there are people working on roads and other construction [sites],” she stated, adding that she makes about 4,000 rupees (30 dollars) a day.

But for every single individual success story, there are thousands of others unable to break out of the suffocating cycle of poverty in the region.

Public official Srinivasan said that if assistance were to increase, the overall situation would improve. That, however, is unlikely to happen any time soon.

“The next option is to attract private sector investment […]. We are talking with companies in the south, there is some progress, but we need more companies to come in,” he stressed.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Caregiving Exacerbates the Burden for Women in Cubahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/caregiving-exacerbates-the-burden-for-women-in-cuba/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=caregiving-exacerbates-the-burden-for-women-in-cuba http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/caregiving-exacerbates-the-burden-for-women-in-cuba/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 19:46:05 +0000 Patricia Grogg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136246 Women buying food at a farmers market in the Playa neighbourhood of Havana. More than 98 percent of the unpaid domestic work and family care in Cuban homes falls to women. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Women buying food at a farmers market in the Playa neighbourhood of Havana. More than 98 percent of the unpaid domestic work and family care in Cuban homes falls to women. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Aug 20 2014 (IPS)

Hortensia Ramírez feels like she needs more hands to care for her 78-year-old mother, who suffers from arteriosclerosis, do the housework, and make homemade baked goods which she sells to support her family.

She starts her day at 6:00 AM, putting the sheets that her mother wet during the nighttime to soak, before preparing the dough for the pastries and making lunch for her two sons; one works in computers and the other is in secondary school.

“Two years ago I quit my job as a nurse because my mother couldn’t be alone, and although I have a brother who helps with the expenses, I provide the day-to-day care,” the 57-year-old, who separated from her second partner shortly before her mother started to need round-the-clock care, told IPS.

“Since then my life has been reduced to taking care of her, but it’s more and more complicated to put food on the table and to get her medication – and don’t even mention disposable diapers on my limited income…Well, let’s just say I end my day exhausted.”

Like the majority of middle-aged Cuban women, Ramírez feels the burden of domestic responsibilities and family care, exacerbated by economic hardship after more than 20 years of crisis in this socialist country.

The burden of caretaking traditionally falls to women, which sustains gender inequalities and makes women vulnerable to the reforms undertaken by the government of Raúl Castro since 2008, aimed at boosting productivity and the efficiency of the economy, but without parallel wage hikes.

The reduction of the number of boarding schools where students combine learning with agricultural work in rural areas, the closure of workplace cafeterias, and cutbacks in the budget for social assistance have left families on their own in areas where they used to receive support from the state, and which affect, above all, the female half of the population of 11.2 million.

“The state is passing part of the burden of caregiving and healthcare and education to families, but economic development should take into account the contributions made by families,” economist Teresa Lara told IPS.

If no one cooks, takes care of the collective hygiene, helps children with homework or cares for older adults and the ill, then the workforce won’t grow, the expert said.

Cuban women in the labour market

- In Cuba there are 6,976,100 people of working age, and the active population amounts to 5,086,000. Of the 3,326,200 women of working age, 1,906,200 have remunerated work.

- Women who work in the public sector are mainly concentrated in services, where they total 1,071,400.

- Over 31,000 Cuban women belong to cooperatives, 175,500 work in the private sector, and of this group, 73,300 are self-employed.

- And of the 1,854,753 homemakers, 92 percent are women.

- Of the 67,664 unemployed women in the country, 19,360 were heads of households.

Sources: Statistical Yearbook 2013 of the National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI) and Census on Population and Housing 2012

But these tasks, which almost always fall to women, remain invisible and unpaid.

Cuban women dedicate 71 percent of their working hours to unpaid domestic work, according to the only Time Use Survey published until now, carried out in 2002 by the National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI).

The study, whose results remain valid today according to experts, found that for every 100 hours of work by men, women worked 120, many of them multitasking – cooking, cleaning, washing and caring for children.

Based on those tendencies, Lara estimates that unremunerated domestic work and caregiving would be equivalent to 20 percent of GDP – a larger proportion than manufacturing.

And that percentage could be even higher today given the complexity of daily life in Cuba, the economist said.

Without laundries, dry cleaning services, industries that produce precooked foods or other services that ease domestic tasks at affordable prices, Cuban families have to redouble their efforts to meet household needs.

To that is added the rundown conditions of homes for the elderly and public daycare centres and the reduction of the state budget for social assistance, from 656 million dollars in 2008 to 262 million in 2013, according to the national statistics office (ONEI).

Women often end up stuck in lower level jobs, or dropping out of the job market altogether, because of the burden of caretaking for children, the ill or the elderly, on top of the other household duties.

Many women find it hard to cope financially with the burden of caregiving, in a country where the average monthly salary is 20 dollars a month while the minimum amount that a family needs is three times that, even with subsidised prices for some food items and services.

ONEI statistics show that the female unemployment rate rose from two percent in 2008 to 3.5 percent in 2013, parallel to the drastic pruning of the government payroll, which could soon bring the number of people left without a job up to one million.

Although the number of areas where private enterprise or self-employment is permitted was expanded, they do not guarantee social security coverage. Nor do they tap into the expertise accumulated by women, who make up over 65 percent of the professional and technical workforce in this Caribbean island nation.

Sociologist Magela Romero says that burdening women with the social role of caretaker buttresses the unequal power relations between the genders, with economic, emotional, psychological and sexual consequences for women.

A qualitative study of 80 women from Havana carried out by the university professor in 2010, which IPS saw, concluded that a number of those interviewed were caught up in an endless cycle of caregiving: after they completed their studies they spent the rest of their lives raising children and taking care of parents, parents-in-law, grandparents, grandchildren, spouses and other family members.

This situation is especially complex in a country with an aging demographic, where 18 percent of the population is over 60 and 40 percent of households include someone over that age.

Adriana Díaz, an accountant, was only able to work in her profession for less than a decade.

“First my kids were born, and I raised them. Then I got divorced and I went back to work for four years, which were the best years of my life. But when my mother fell seriously ill, I quit again,” the 54-year-old told IPS.

Nearly nine years taking care of her mother round the clock left Díaz with a bad back and cardiovascular problems. Besides the fact that she is entirely dependent on her children, who moved abroad.

Social researcher María del Carmen Zabala says the gender gaps in employment that are a by-product of the fact that the responsibility for caregiving falls almost exclusively on women require policies that specifically address women, in line with the changes currently underway in the country.

Citing the rise in the proportion of female-headed households to 45 percent, according to the 2012 Census on Population and Housing, Zabala said specific policies targeting these families are needed, because they are especially vulnerable.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Karachi Residents Trapped Between Armed Assassins and Private Bodyguardshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/karachi-residents-trapped-between-armed-assassins-and-private-bodyguards/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=karachi-residents-trapped-between-armed-assassins-and-private-bodyguards http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/karachi-residents-trapped-between-armed-assassins-and-private-bodyguards/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 17:49:33 +0000 Zofeen Ebrahim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136237 Some 300,000 private security guards are registered in Pakistan, with anywhere from 70,000 to 75,000 in the Sindh province alone. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Some 300,000 private security guards are registered in Pakistan, with anywhere from 70,000 to 75,000 in the Sindh province alone. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

By Zofeen Ebrahim
KARACHI, Aug 20 2014 (IPS)

With a rise in sectarian killings, extortion, drug peddling, kidnappings and land grabbing, Pakistan’s sprawling port city of Karachi, home to some 20 million people, has become a hotbed of crime.

Fearing that they may soon bear the brunt of this lawlessness, the city’s elite – often the target of kidnapping for ransom – has begun hiring personal bodyguards and moving through the streets in armoured or bombproof vehicles.

The result, experts say, is an increasingly dangerous city, where trigger-happy thugs operate with impunity, while an understaffed police force struggles to keep tabs on rampant crime.

A recent study carried out by the Sindh Province police indicates that the available strength of the police force in Karachi is just 26,847, of which 8,541 are deployed to protect individuals and sensitive installations like the port, airport and oil terminal, among others.

Some 3,102 policemen are assigned to investigation. Only 14,433 policemen, working on back-to-back shifts of 12 hours each, are responsible for maintaining law and order, and protecting the lives and properties of ordinary Karachi residents.

That works out to just one policeman per 1,524 people in a city that clocked 40,848 crimes (with 2,700 people killed) in 2013, making it one of the most dangerous places in the world.

“There is blatant misuse of police in Karachi because of the persistent VIP culture that keeps officers from working in their respective police stations,” said Jameel Yusuf, former chief of the Citizens-Police Liaison Committee (CPLC), an organisation working closely with Karachi’s police force and the provincial government.

A dearth of state security coupled with a burgeoning demand for protection over the last two decades has created a huge market for private security companies.

Colonel Nisar Sarwar, former chairman of the All Pakistan Security Agencies Association (APSAA), told IPS there are currently approximately 300,000 registered private security guards in Pakistan, with anywhere from 70,000 to 75,000 in the Sindh province alone. Some 50,000 of these guards are based in Karachi, capital of the Sindh.

Of the 1,500 security agencies in the country, 300 are members of APSAA, but Sarwar said there were countless other private groups, complete with sophisticated weapons, that provide security to individual families.

Affluent consumers are willing to pay handsomely for their own safety. Various Pakistan media have reported that armouring and bulletproofing a 4X4 vehicle costs between 30,000 and 45,000 dollars.

A new bulletproof armoured vehicle costs some 150,000-170,000 dollars on the international market according to Pakistan Today, a princely sum in a country where 60.19 percent of the population lives on less than two dollars a day.

Despite a recent crackdown on crime – including the launch last September of a joint operation to cleanse the city of criminals, led by a paramilitary force called the Sindh Rangers – residents continue to be skeptical of official law enforcement.

CPLC Chief Ahmed Chinoy told IPS there has been a “50-percent reduction in various crimes” over the last year.

But Sarwar, who now heads Delta Security Management, one of the first security agencies set up back in 1988, said many wealthy families and individuals are continuously turning to private companies to protect them.

Former Inspector General of Police (IGP) for the Sindh province, Mushtaq Shah (2011-2012), echoed his claim, calling the demand “immense”.

“There are some 20,000 banks in the city, as well as consulates, businessmen, factories […],” he told IPS. “How can we protect these without private security?”

Politicisation of crime

Profiles of alleged criminals provided by the police portray a disturbing picture of the politicisation of crime in Karachi.

Former police chief Shahid Hayat Khan told IPS that criminality and politics go hand in hand here.

“They are complementing each other. Different political parties use criminals to [do their bidding]. There are a few who belong to different political parties, but most are from criminal gangs who have gotten into extortion, or the narco-business.

“Then there are a few who are from religious militant groups. And sometimes militant groups are inter-linked with the narco-business,” Khan added.

Private guards have been roped into this matrix, with security personnel themselves being implicated in several bank heists.

Others blame the escalation in crime on political interference in the police department.

“Give the police chief a three-year term [with] complete authority to steer his team, of course with due accountability, and see the difference,” Shah stated.

Frustrated with political involvement in the affairs of the police department, he himself remained in his post for just one year, from 2011 to 2012. He alleged that whichever government is in power appoints its preferred man as the “top cop” in order to sidestep certain legal regulations.

Given the dismal police-civilian ratio, CPLC’s former chief, Yusuf, believes that outsourcing certain tasks to private agencies will bring about a safer climate.

“The burden on the police will lessen if area-patrolling, protecting sensitive installations, and VIP duties can be carried out by private companies,” Yusuf said, adding that this would be cheaper than recruiting more personnel into the existing force.

It would also achieve the twin goal of providing employment and training for educated young people who have joined the ranks of Karachi’s jobless, he added.

Currently, he said, the average private security guard is “just a slightly more sophisticated ‘chowkidar’ (watchman) in uniform. He is undertrained, under-supervised and underpaid.”

According to APSAA’s Sarwar, guards are paid anywhere from 11,000 rupees (about 110 dollars, the minimum monthly wage as set by the government for a skilled worker) to 45,000 rupees (about 450 dollars) for armed guards. Two-thirds of their pay goes directly to the agency as a commission.

“They hardly receive any training,” Shah said, “and their weapons, if they are licensed to carry them, are outmoded. Some of them double up as peons, taking files from one desk to another and bringing meals to the office staff.”

APSAA runs two training institutes, one in Karachi and the other in the eastern city of Lahore in the Punjab province, which offer new recruits a three-day programme during which retired army personnel instruct them in basic self-defence and assembling of weapons.

Still, experts like Sarwar believe that trainings will be inadequate unless guards are equipped with the necessary weapons to deal with the militarism that grips Karachi’s streets.

“The agencies are not permitted to provide their guards with automatic weapons, and they are only allowed to fire in defence or if they are fired upon first,” he informed IPS.

“I am personally not in favour of weapons, but if a client requires an armed guard, the agencies should be permitted to equip some of their workforce with something more than single-shot pistols and shotguns,” he stressed. “Today, even robbers use Kalashnikovs and private security personnel cannot compete with their sophisticated weapons.”

According to GunPolicy.org, hosted by the Sydney School of Public Health, Pakistani civilians hold a combined total of 18 million guns, accounting for both licenced and illicit weapons.

For the last two years, APSAA has been demanding that the interior ministry be given license to carry weapons that will enable them to protect vulnerable institutions like banks.

While the debate rages on, ordinary Karachi residents must navigate a city that is armed to the teeth, and place their hopes on a struggling police force.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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U.S. Urged to Put Development Aid over Border Securityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/u-s-urged-to-put-development-aid-over-border-security/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-urged-to-put-development-aid-over-border-security http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/u-s-urged-to-put-development-aid-over-border-security/#comments Fri, 15 Aug 2014 15:24:28 +0000 Julia Hotz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136144 By Julia Hotz
WASHINGTON, Aug 15 2014 (IPS)

When U.S lawmakers departed Washington for a month-long recess, they left behind a simmering debate over what to do about the tens of thousands of Central American children and adults that continue to cross the U.S. southern border.

Many potential solutions have been tabled as to how the federal government should handle the unprecedented influx. Yet these strategies, which include two proposals pending in Congress, are built on starkly differing views over why these migrants are leaving their homes in the first place.

“The question is simple,” Manuel Orozco, a senior fellow at the Inter-American Dialogue, a think tank here, told IPS. “Are people migrating because of security and opportunity, or are people migrating from danger and violence?”

Many in the Latino community are disappointed by U.S. President Barack Obama's failure to push through comprehensive immigration reform. Credit: Valeria Fernandez/IPS

Many in the Latino community are disappointed by U.S. President Barack Obama’s failure to push through comprehensive immigration reform. Credit: Valeria Fernandez/IPS

Orzoco’s field research, released this week, seems to point to the latter.

“[I]ntentional homicides emerge as a more powerful driver of international migration than human development,” his report notes, cautioning that “migrants are primarily coming from some of the most populous violent municipalities in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.”

“They’re actually, for the most part, escaping for fear for their life,” he says, clarifying that these threats apply to both minors and adults in Central America.

Yet despite the fact that Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras – collectively known as the Northern Triangle – produce higher homicide rates than war zones such as Afghanistan or Iraq, some U.S. lawmakers doubt that this phenomenon is responsible for recent months’ mass Central American migration.

Instead, sceptics attribute the inflow of tens of thousands of migrants to President Barack Obama’s immigration policies.

For these lawmakers, then, the answer is more security at the southern border.

Indeed, this is precisely what the Republican-led House of Representatives has prioritised in its current bill worth some 700 million dollars, more than half of which would be allocated to tighten security along the southern U.S. border. The remainder would be used to accelerate deportations.

President Obama has said he would veto the bill, calling it “extreme” and “unworkable”.

Orzoco, too, considers the security-focused approach to be “myopic”. Instead, he and others say that lawmakers must focus on increasing assistance to Central America – dealing directly with the poverty and violence that appear to be spurring much of the recent influx.

“It’s good not to look just under security lines, and that we invest in real economic development while also addressing the security situation,” Adriana Beltran, a senior associate at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a watchdog group here, told IPS.

1.3 percent

U.S. aid to Central America has historically been weak. In 2013, the region received just 1.3 percent of U.S. foreign assistance, according to a new fact sheet from the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition (USGLC), a Washington-based network of businesses and NGOs.

But the White House has put forward a proposal that would bolster Central American assistance by some 300 million dollars. Larry Knowles, a consultant with the USGLC, informed IPS of the bill’s relative breakdown.

While one third of this aid would go towards improving governance standards, including fiscal and judicial reform, another third would go towards economic development, and the remainder would be earmarked for crime-prevention efforts, youth-at-risk programmes and reintegration initiatives.

The fate of that bill remains unclear, however, as it is unlikely to pass the House of Representatives. Unlike the Senate, the House has not declared Central America’s internal strife worthy of “emergency aid appropriations”.

Still, the general thrust has received significant applause in certain quarters. The Inter-American Dialogue’s Orzoco is enthusiastic, suggesting the assistance could be used to improve Central America’s education, strengthen its labour force’s skills, and aid small businesses.

“There needs to be a much more inclusive strategy to address all of these problems,” Orzoco said.

Such analysis is also supported by Oscar Calvo-Gonzalez, chief economist for Central America at the World Bank, though he cautions that violence is “one of the many causes that drive people to move.”

Calvo-Gonzalez says that municipal-level programmes that can help the situation.

“Crime is a highly localised phenomenon, so you want to have highly localised intervention,” Calvo-Gonzales told IPS.

Economic growth in Central America must be shared, Calvo-Gonzalez emphasises, citing high inequality and “limited opportunities for advancement” as his primary concerns.

“Central America stands out as poverty has not declined consistently,” he says, “though [poverty in] the rest of Latin America has declined, Central America’s poverty is stagnant.”

He says the World Bank has been working in Central America to mobilise additional tax revenues and build the capacity of domestic governments in the region.

WOLA’s Beltran echoed the effectiveness of such a localised approach, calling in particular for greater investment in violence prevention.

“There is evidence of programmes working at the community level to address youth violence and security,” she says, citing a 40 percent  reduction in Honduras’ Santa Tecla as one such example. “Social services, the police, the church and other local bodies can come together to find a solution.”

Shared responsibility

For the Inter-American Dialogue’s Orzoco, fixing such problems is beyond the domain of the Northern Triangle and its governments. “These issues require responsibility of both Central American governments and the United States’ government,” he says.

Orzoco justifies strengthened U.S. development assistance for the region by first pointing to the shortcomings of Central American efforts, listing an ongoing lack of legislation and inadequate initiatives to “prevent the continuing outflow of kids” as examples.

“Central American governments, so far, have not been very accountable,” he says.

Orzoco also says the U.S. government has generally refused to share responsibility for Central America’s problems, despite Washington’s history of economic and political hegemony and interventions in the region. He points, for instance, to a “complete neglect” of organised crime.

“What organised crime has done is create an ecosystem of irregular economic activity that presents itself as a profitable one, given the context of property,” Orzoco says.

Other analysts have gone further, suggesting that the United States has contributed to the region’s growth in organised crime through its “war on drugs” and fostering of influential gangs in U.S. prisons.

But Orzoco cautions that despite the United States’ qualified intention to assist Central America, some lawmakers may be doing so for political purposes – a factor that will only continuing to strengthen as the November elections here draw closer.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at hotzj@union.edu

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Tajikistan Struggles to Stem Rise of Jihadi Recruitshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/tajikistan-struggles-to-stem-rise-of-jihadi-recruits/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tajikistan-struggles-to-stem-rise-of-jihadi-recruits http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/tajikistan-struggles-to-stem-rise-of-jihadi-recruits/#comments Wed, 13 Aug 2014 19:48:14 +0000 EurasiaNet Correspondents http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136111 Tajik men board a flight from Dushanbe to Russia in June 2013. Many of the Tajik militant jihadis fighting in Syria either fly through Russia on their way to the conflict or are recruited while they are migrant workers in Moscow, from where they eventually travel to Turkey before crossing the border into Syria. Credit: David Trilling/EurasiaNet

Tajik men board a flight from Dushanbe to Russia in June 2013. Many of the Tajik militant jihadis fighting in Syria either fly through Russia on their way to the conflict or are recruited while they are migrant workers in Moscow, from where they eventually travel to Turkey before crossing the border into Syria. Credit: David Trilling/EurasiaNet

By EurasiaNet Correspondents
DUSHANBE, Aug 13 2014 (EurasiaNet)

Before he became a jihadist, Odiljon Pulatov would travel each year from Tajikistan to Moscow to earn money as a construction worker.

“The money I made was enough to sustain my family. But the last time I went there, I met different people, Tajiks and other [Central Asians]. They persuaded me that jihad is a must for every Muslim,” Pulatov told EurasiaNet.org.“We both have a dream to go to Syria and participate in the war." -- Abubakr

Pulatov, a father of four, traveled from Russia to Syria, via Turkey. Once there, over the course of two weeks, Uzbek speakers like himself indoctrinated him, emphasising the importance of jihad.

“Jihad is conducted for an idea, so that you can be closer to Allah,” explained Pulatov, 29.

Pulatov found conditions in Syria harsh, though, and in July he accepted a Tajik government amnesty, returned home and confessed. Now he is back in Spitamen District in northern Tajikistan, building a home for his family. Authorities made Pulatov accessible to various media outlets, including EurasiaNet.org, in an apparent effort to highlight the amnesty.

Madjid Aliev, a police investigator in Spitamen, says Pulatov remains under investigation. “But we are sure he won’t have any issues. That’s why he has not been detained,” Aliev said.

According to the Interior Ministry, almost 200 Tajiks are fighting in Syria. Aliev, the investigator, said officials were negotiating with others who are in Syria, offering a safety guarantee as an enticement for them to return home.

Along with the amnesty, parliament this summer toughened penalties for Tajik citizens who participate in armed conflicts abroad. But, critics say, such punishment is not a deterrent and the government’s response to the rising threat of homegrown jihadis is ineffective.

“I don’t think that this law on punishing participants will resolve the problem and stop Tajiks from participating. There’s a need to take preventive measures, so that we’re not fighting the consequences, but the reasons [men travel to Syria to fight],” said Dushanbe-based religious affairs expert Faridun Hodizoda.

A lack of work is one of those reasons, contends Hodizoda. Unemployment in Tajikistan is so high that over a million Tajiks work abroad: most, like Pulatov, find work in Russia. That number constitutes approximately half of Tajikistan’s working-age males.

In Russia, labour migrants are widely distrusted and subjected to various forms of harassment, including frequent police shakedowns. The difficulties prompt some to turn to Islam for solace.

At home, Tajikistan’s notoriously corrupt government does little to create jobs. And when it comes to religious affairs, officials tend to crack down on moderate expressions of Islam, harassing members of the Islamic opposition and banning children from attending mosques.

Tajiks in Russia – who are often young men with rudimentary educations and few prospects – are an important source of recruits for Jihadist causes.

“Being a gastarbeiter [migrant labourer] is not an easy thing, there’s a lot of humiliation. But recruiters speak to the gastarbeiters kindly. They provide moral support,” Hodizoda explained, adding that money is also a temptation. “When our citizens are told what they will be doing there [in Syria] and that they will be paid 3,000 dollars and treated well, of course they agree. In Russia, they earn 500-600 dollars a month.”

Tajik officials frequently assert that young Tajik men who go to Syria are, in effect, mercenaries, driven to fight by the allure of a substantial payday. But Pulatov says he was not promised a cent. “When we were recruited, no one said we would be paid,” he said.

Another potential fighter, who introduced himself as Abubakr, 23, communicated with EurasiaNet.org from Russia through a social network. Abubakr, who is from Kulyab, said he is working in Moscow with his father and brother, but he is also in touch with a Chechen friend he met online. “We both have a dream to go to Syria and participate in the war,” he said.

“We weren’t promised any money. How can one talk about money when our [Muslim] sisters and children are being killed there. I [communicated] with Tajiks who are there now, and they tell me sometimes they starve, sometimes there’s no place to sleep, but they are fighting infidels,” Abubakr said via Odnoklassniki – which has been blocked in Tajikistan since mid-July, by some accounts because radicals use it as a recruiting tool.

Abubakr believes that Muslims who criticise jihad do not understand their faith. “My mother is also trying to persuade me [not to fight], but there’s a lot she doesn’t understand about [jihad],” he said.

Officials try to use reason to appeal to vulnerable young men, according to the head of the Fatwa Department at the state-run Muftiate, Jamoliddin Homushev.

“It is said that paradise is beneath your mother’s feet and that by insulting her no one gets to paradise. In Syria, an inter-ethnic fight is going on, like it was in the 1990s in Tajikistan. They [the Syrians] should solve their own problems without external interference,” Homushev told EurasiaNet.org.

Such explanations do not seem to convince many young Tajik Muslims, who do not feel their government listens to their concerns. Others feel the authorities exaggerate the extent of radicalism in the country in order to target the opposition Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT).

Embattled IRPT leader Muhiddin Kabiri told EurasiaNet.org that authoritarianism, the government campaign against Islam and poverty drive young men into the arms of radicals. “They do not have an opportunity to improve their lives at home,” Kabiri said, referring to young Tajiks.

“We still have time to fix the situation, reform the law so young people feel their rights, including religious, are respected. […] So they realise there is no need to take up arms,” he said. “But the government is failing to address their concerns.”

This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

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Gender Equality Gains Traction with Pacific Island Leadershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/gender-equality-gains-traction-with-pacific-island-leaders/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gender-equality-gains-traction-with-pacific-island-leaders http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/gender-equality-gains-traction-with-pacific-island-leaders/#comments Wed, 13 Aug 2014 11:35:59 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136042 Progress on gender equality in the Pacific Islands is gaining momentum following a pledge by political leaders. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Progress on gender equality in the Pacific Islands is gaining momentum following a pledge by political leaders. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
SYDNEY, Aug 13 2014 (IPS)

A pledge by political leaders two years ago to accelerate efforts toward closing the gender gap in the Pacific Islands has been boosted with the announcement that three women will take the helm of the regional intergovernmental organisation, the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, headquartered in Suva, Fiji.

At this year’s Pacific Islands Forum leaders’ summit in Palau, former Papua New Guinean diplomat and World Bank official, Dame Meg Taylor, was named the new secretary-general, taking over this year from the outgoing Tuiloma Neroni Slade. Taylor, who will hold the post for three years, joins two female deputy secretaries-generals, Cristelle Pratt and Andie Fong Toy.

The appointment is a significant breakthrough for women in the upper echelons of governance. According to Pratt, the Pacific Leaders Gender Equality Declaration made at the 2012 leaders’ summit in the Cook Islands has galvanised leadership action on the issue.

“A positive change has been the indirect creation of a peer review process on gender at the highest level,” Pratt told IPS, adding that gender equality is “slowly gaining traction at the central policy making level”, as high up as the prime minister’s office in some Forum countries.

Raising the status of women in the Pacific Islands is an immense challenge, given that the region has the lowest level of female political representation in the world at three percent, compared to the global average of 20 percent.

Furthermore, violence against women is endemic and they are poorly represented in formal employment. Papua New Guinea (PNG) has a gender inequality index of 0.617 and Tonga 0.462, in contrast to the most gender equal nation of Norway at 0.065.

The declaration is a sign of greater recognition by the male political elite of the critical role women have to play in achieving better human development outcomes across the region.

National leaders have committed to reforms, such as adopting enabling measures for women’s participation in governance and decision-making at all levels, improving their access to employment and better pay, and supporting female entrepreneurs with financial services and training. They have also promised to deliver improved legislative protection against gender-based violence and support services to women who have suffered abuse.

“What is significant about the declaration is that leaders have taken it on board as a priority and I believe our leader took it seriously and followed it through with a law change in Samoa,” Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, Samoa’s minister of justice and veteran female parliamentarian, told IPS.

Last year a law was passed in Samoa reserving 10 percent, or five of a total of 49 seats in parliament for women.

“It is a significant step in that it provides a ‘floor’ as opposed to a ‘ceiling’ and there will never be less than five women in any future parliament,” she continued. “It is important that women are in parliament to be seen and heard and to serve as evidence that it can be done.”

Women’s low political representation ranges from two percent in the Solomon Islands to 8.7 percent in Kiribati, with no female political representation at all in the Federated States of Micronesia and Vanuatu, with populations of 103,000 and 247,000 respectively.

Contributing factors include entrenched expectations of a woman’s place in the domestic sphere, low endorsement from political parties and the greater difficulties women have in accessing funding and resources for election campaigning.

There has been incremental progress in other countries with last year witnessing the first female elected into the parliament of Nauru -the smallest state in the South Pacific – in three decades, and three women winning seats in the Cook Islands national election this July.

Women’s participation in local level governance received a boost in Tuvalu after the government passed a law requiring female representation in local councils. Blandine Boulekone, president of the Vanuatu National Council of Women, noted that women gained five of a total of 17 seats in the Municipal Elections held in the capital, Port Vila, in January.

Gender parity in education, necessary for improving women’s status in all areas of life, has, according to national statistics, been achieved in most Pacific Island states, except PNG, Tonga and Solomon Islands, with girls outperforming boys at the secondary level in Samoa and Fiji.

Nevertheless, the Pacific Islands Forum reported last year that “higher education for young women does not necessarily lead to better employment outcomes due to gender barriers in labour markets”, with most countries reporting less than 50 percent of women in non-agricultural waged jobs.

Last year Samoa passed legislation against sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace, while similar draft legislation is being developed in Kiribati, Vanuatu and Tonga.

Pratt also claims there has been good progress with “the enactment of domestic violence legislation in Palau, Samoa, Tonga, Kiribati and Solomon Islands.” Last year domestic violence also became a criminal offence in PNG following the passing of the Family Protection Bill.

Sixty to 75 percent of women in the region experience family and intimate partner violence. Their vulnerability is exacerbated by early marriage, the practice of ‘bride price’, low levels of financial independence and women’s inadequate access to justice systems.

However, Shamima Ali, coordinator of the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre, commented, “As practitioners on the ground, we can say that while all these policies and legislations look great on paper, the implementation is another matter.”

“One also needs to invest financially to ensure new legislation and policies are effective.”

Fiji has had a domestic violence decree since 2009, but Ali said, “While most magistrates and judges deal well and follow the new decrees, there are many who still display traditional entrenched views regarding rape and domestic violence and often injustice is meted out to survivors, particularly for ‘sex crimes’.”

Law enforcement is a great challenge, too, especially in rural communities.

“Women, girls and children in rural and maritime areas have little recourse to justice for crimes of violence committed against them due to lack of police presence and resources in these areas,” she said.

Pratt agrees that the road to real change in the lives of ordinary Pacific women is a long one.

“The declaration is still new and there is a need for more awareness, advocacy and accountability toward meeting the goals,” she emphasised.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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IFC Warned of Systemic Safeguards Failures in Hondurashttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/ifc-warned-of-systemic-safeguards-failures-in-honduras/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ifc-warned-of-systemic-safeguards-failures-in-honduras http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/ifc-warned-of-systemic-safeguards-failures-in-honduras/#comments Wed, 13 Aug 2014 00:34:01 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136085 By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Aug 13 2014 (IPS)

For the second time this year, an internal auditor has criticised the World Bank’s private sector investment agency over dealings in Honduras, and is warning that similar problems are likely being experienced elsewhere.

The investigation found that the bank’s private sector investment agency, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), took on a significant stake in a Honduran bank but undertook “insufficient measures” to assess that institution’s own investments. These included at least one company involved in a deadly land dispute.“The philosophy of the World Bank is to ‘end poverty’, but what has happened in this process has been the opposite.” -- La Plataforma Agraria de Honduras

The auditor, known as the Compliance Advisor/Ombudsman (CAO), also levels a broader critique of the IFC’s investments in third-party groups such as the Honduran bank. When dealing with these “financial intermediaries”, the CAO warns, financial considerations appear to be receiving far more attention from officials than the environmental and social policies meant to safeguard local communities.

“IFC acquired an equity stake in a commercial bank with significant exposure to high risk sectors and clients, but which lacked capacity to implement IFC’s environmental and social requirements,” the CAO states in a report released Monday.

“The absence of an environmental and social review process that was commensurate to risk meant that key decision makers … were not presented with an adequate assessment of the risks that were attached to this investment.”

The report focuses on a 2011 IFC investment, worth 70 million dollars, in Banco Ficohsa, Honduras’s third-largest bank. CAO found that important information was withheld between IFC offices over the extent of business between Banco Ficohsa and Corporacion Dinant, an agribusiness company that for years has been accused of waging a violent campaign to expand its palm oil plantations in the country’s Aguan Valley.

In January, CAO issued critical findings on a separate IFC investment in Dinant, from 2009, worth 30 million dollars. Dinant is owned by Miguel Facusse Barjum, one of the wealthiest businessmen in the country and reportedly a backer of the 2009 military coup that ousted a pro-reform president.

Over the past half-decade, more than 100 people have reportedly been killed in the Aguan Valley in clashes between Dinant security personnel and local cooperatives.

IFC has put on hold the Dinant deal and enacted a plan aimed at ameliorating the situation. The new report does not find evidence that the Banco Ficohsa deal was aimed at funnelling additional funds to Dinant, but CAO researchers suggest that the effect was the same.

“[W]aiving a key financial covenant and then taking an equity position in Ficohsa … facilitated a significant ongoing flow of capital to Dinant, outside the framework of its environmental and social standards,” the report states.

Local civil society groups say the effect has been devastating.

“The philosophy of the World Bank is to ‘end poverty’, but what has happened in this process has been the opposite,” La Plataforma Agraria de Honduras, a Honduran network, told IPS in Spanish.

“Instead, we’ve seen greater wealth for corporations and transnational landowners and greater poverty for the poor, who have been driven from their lands. And although the previous CAO report was very critical, the World Bank has continued to finance Dinant through Ficohsa.”

Beneath the intermediaries

In a formal response also released Monday, the IFC does not dispute the CAO findings. But it does suggest that they are no longer relevant, following changes put in place in part in response to the January CAO report on Dinant.

New procedures, for instance, will now allow for additional oversight visits to “medium risk clients”. Multiple new processes will also aim to close information gaps of the type that led to the Ficohsa revelations, including the creation of a new vice-president-level position to focus on “risk and sustainability”.

“Under this new structure, [environmental and social] risk will receive the same weight and attention as financial and reputation risk,” two IFC vice-presidents wrote in a letter to CAO.

Yet the remarkably critical CAO report has already added momentum to an ongoing campaign to convince the World Bank Group to reform the IFC’s dealings with financial intermediaries such as Banco Ficohsa. Such deals have become increasingly important to the IFC’s portfolio over the past decade, but they have traditionally offered far less oversight for the agency.

In such projects, the IFC requires the intermediary to set up a system aimed at ensuring that stringent environmental and social safeguards are met. But analysis of the effects of this system on the ground is left to the intermediary.

“This issue has been questioned in many cases – where a financial intermediary is the one doing the disbursements and the IFC is completely separate and doesn’t know what’s going on,” Carla Garcia Zendejas, a programme director at the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), a Washington-based watchdog group, told IPS.

“That’s the case here. Even if you have a system in place to assess these risks, if you’re not doing that properly the whole system is worthless.”

Systemic reassessment

The CAO has repeatedly questioned the IFC’s policies on investments in financial intermediaries (a broad investigation can be found here). This time, the investigators are clear that the Honduras situation is likely not an isolated incident.

“[T]he shortcomings identified in this investigation … are indicative of a system of support to [financial intermediaries] which does not support IFC’s higher level environmental and social commitments,” CAO states.

“CAO’s findings raise concerns that IFC has, through its banking investments, an unanalyzed and unquantified exposure to projects with potential significant adverse environmental and social impacts.”

The auditor warns that, under current disclosure mechanisms, “this exposure is also effectively secret”, and calls for a “reassessment” of the agency’s management of social and environmental risk in its dealings with financial institutions.

Rights advocates note that similar concerns are cropping up in IFC investments in financial intermediaries elsewhere.

“One of this report’s main findings is that there is a breakdown in the IFC’s systems approach to [financial intermediaries], especially in risk categorization,” Jelson Garcia, of the Bank Information Center (BIC), a watchdog group here, told IPS in an e-mailed statement. “This … links to recent cases in Myanmar and India as yet another example of the IFC needing to take stringent and urgent reforms of its financial markets lending approach.”

Advocacy groups say a primary concern is the IFC’s institutional culture, which they say prioritises the volume of loans disbursed over their quality. BIC, CIEL and others are now calling on World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim to order the preparation of a reform plan in time for the next big World Bank Group meetings, in October.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Youth Suicides Sound Alarm Across the Pacifichttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/youth-suicides-sound-alarm-across-the-pacific/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=youth-suicides-sound-alarm-across-the-pacific http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/youth-suicides-sound-alarm-across-the-pacific/#comments Tue, 12 Aug 2014 15:50:23 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136071 Children sit outside an informal housing settlement in Vanuatu. Experts say a lack of economic opportunities is contributing to a wave of youth suicides in the Pacific Islands. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Children sit outside an informal housing settlement in Vanuatu. Experts say a lack of economic opportunities is contributing to a wave of youth suicides in the Pacific Islands. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
SYDNEY, Aug 12 2014 (IPS)

Suicide rates in the Pacific Islands are some of the highest in the world and have reached up to 30 per 100,000 in countries such as Samoa, Guam and Micronesia, double the global average, with youth rates even higher.

On International Youth Day, which this year focuses on ‘Youth and Mental Health’, young Pacific Islanders have highlighted the profound social and economic challenges they face in a rapidly changing world.

“Youths committing suicide seem to get younger and younger by the year,” Lionel Rogers of the Fiji-based advocacy and support group, Youth Champs for Mental Health, told IPS. “Stressors contributing to the growing trends of suicide are unemployment, social and cultural expectations, family and relationship problems, bullying, violence and abuse.”

“Many youths refuse to seek assistance from medical professionals due to the stigma associated with suicide and mental health. This along with our culture of silence has driven them further away and forced them to suppress their emotions.” -- Lionel Rogers of the Fiji-based Youth Champs for Mental Health
The Pacific Islands has an escalating youth population, with 54 percent of people in the region now aged below 24 years and those aged 15-29 years are at the greatest risk of taking their lives, according to the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC).

Tarusila Bradburgh, coordinator of the Pacific Youth Council, believes that “the burden of multiple issues that affect young people in the Pacific Islands is enormous and many are not well-equipped to cope.”

A decade ago there were an estimated 331,000 annual suicides in the region, accounting for 38 percent of the world total.

Anne Rauch, organisational development advisor for the Fiji Alliance for Mental Health said, “There is […] significant under-reporting of suicide deaths. On outer islands and remote areas the body is buried before an autopsy can be performed. There is a lot of family shame about suicide so doctors will sometimes sympathetically report the causes of death.”

In 2012, there were 160 reported suicides in Fiji with the majority under 25 years of age, but accurate statistics are not available.

Under-funded and under-resourced mental health services are struggling to address the issue, with suicide representing 2.5 percent of the disease burden in the Western Pacific region, nearly double the rate of 1.4 percent worldwide.

According to a 2008 report by the non-governmental organisation Foundation of the Peoples of the South Pacific International, a significant root cause of young people taking their lives is intergenerational conflict as modern lifestyles based on individual freedom and independence challenge centuries of conformism to traditional Pacific communal social hierarchies and conventions of behaviour.

In the tiny central South Pacific territory of Tokelau, located north of Samoa, a national health department report claims a significant factor in youth suicide is relationship breakdowns, including those between parents and children.

There were 40 attempted suicides in the territory, which has a population of 1,500, during a 25-year period ending in 2004, with 83 percent of fatalities involving people under 25 years, and physical punishment of youth by their elders contributing to 67 percent.

Rauch added, “There are an increasing number of young people [committing] suicide because of poor examination results and failure to reach the academic standards expected by parents.”

An equal challenge facing the vast majority of Pacific youth is poor prospects of employment and fulfilment of aspirations generated by exposure to affluent global lifestyles through the digital and mass media.

In the small economies of most Pacific developing island states, high population growth of up to 2.4 percent is far outpacing job creation, thus greater access to education for many is not translating into better chances of gaining paid employment.

In the southwest Pacific Island state of Papua New Guinea, there are an estimated 80,000 school leavers each year, but only 10,000 will secure formal jobs. Youth unemployment is an estimated 45 percent in the neighbouring Solomon Islands.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warns that “denial of economic and social opportunities leads to frustrated young people” and “the result can be a high incidence of self-harm” with “the loss of the productive potential of a large section of the adult population.”

According to SPC, actions to combat the tragic fallout of youth suicide for families, communities and a generation that has an important role to play in the region’s future should include measures to reduce the social stigma of mental illness and build the capacity of youth-friendly health and counselling services.

“Many youths refuse to seek assistance from medical professionals due to the stigma associated with suicide and mental health,” Rogers said. “This along with our culture of silence has driven them further away and forced them to suppress their emotions.”

Bradburgh advocates for all stakeholders, including communities and churches, to actively promote greater public understanding of mental illness, while governments need to invest in better mental health and outreach services.

“The more we openly discuss the issues in safe places and forums, the more knowledgeable we will be and better prepared to address the issue of suicide,” she said.

(END)

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Zimbabwe’s ‘Casualisation of Labour’ Leads to a New Form of Exploitationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/zimbabwes-casualisation-of-labour-leads-to-a-new-form-of-exploitation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zimbabwes-casualisation-of-labour-leads-to-a-new-form-of-exploitation http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/zimbabwes-casualisation-of-labour-leads-to-a-new-form-of-exploitation/#comments Tue, 12 Aug 2014 08:08:25 +0000 Michelle Chifamba http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136055 Casual workers in Zimbabwe usually work for long hours without safety clothing. Labour unions say that many employees are hiring people as casual staff to avoid providing benefits. Credit: Michelle Chifamba/IPS

Casual workers in Zimbabwe usually work for long hours without safety clothing. Labour unions say that many employees are hiring people as casual staff to avoid providing benefits. Credit: Michelle Chifamba/IPS

By Michelle Chifamba
HARARE, Aug 12 2014 (IPS)

Ethel Maziriri, 27, holds an Honours Degree in Social Work from the University of Zimbabwe, but instead of working in her chosen profession, she works as a cashier in one of the country’s leading clothing retail company. And it’s not by choice.

Maziriri, who graduated in 2010, has been employed as a casual worker at the store for the past 12 months.

In a country that is reeling from a liquidity crisis and a crumbling economy, company closures and downsizing have forced many into unemployment here.

She earns 80 dollars each fortnight, for working 10-hour days. But the working conditions are less than ideal.

Maziriri told IPS that most of the workers at the company are causal workers, employed on temporary contracts for six weeks at a time. She says that as contract workers they have to be very cautious to avoid their contracts being terminated prematurely without any wages or benefits.

“At work one has to be very cautious because if money or clothes go missing in the shop, everyone on the shift will have to pay for the damages and have their contracts terminated,” Maziriri said.

But she’s more concerned about earning money rather than the unfair working conditions here.

“I do not think it is necessary for a contract worker to join a labour union and I do not have any money for subscriptions to pay the union. I treasure my job and if am dismissed I will just go home and wait until I get another one,” she said.

But the Federation of Food and Allied Workers Union of Zimbabwe (FFWUZ), a union which represents more than 50,000 members in the food processing industry, says the “casualisation of labour” is leading to a new form of exploitation here.

“A new form of labour exploitation has erupted as employers prefer to hire short-term contract workers to escape from the costs incurred by permanent workers,” Gift Maoneka, FFWUZ paralegal officer, told IPS.

He said that since January, more than six companies have retrenched and that most industries were retrenching at least 450 workers a week.

“Most of the companies are abusing the retrenchment board in doing away with permanent workers and the law does not provide an appeal against retrenchment,” Maoneka said.

FFWUZ says that Zimbabwe’s crumbling economy and lack of investment has forced companies to downsize and retrench workers. Many are doing away with formal employment, according to FFWUZ, and are instead offering contracts to workers as a way of avoiding providing benefits such as medical aid, funeral policies and pensions.

“Casual workers endure years of work with no terminal benefits, pensions, medical aid for them and their families,” Maoneka said.

Maoneka pointed out that while employees were “putting workers on short contracts,” the jobs were in fact “permanent of nature.”

The latest annual Human Development Report by the United Nations Development Programme points out that across the world formal employment lacks social, legal or regulatory protection.

According to the report, nearly half the world’s workers are in vulnerable employment, trapped in insecure jobs usually outside the jurisdiction of labour legislation and social protection.

According to FFWUZ, many casual workers here are afraid to join labour unions for fear of being victimised and hence continue to have their rights infringed, through lack of knowledge and representation.

“But many employees who do not join labour unions for fear of being victimised by their employers have their rights infringed — being made to work long hours at lower wages,”  Maoneka added. He added that many did not have legal protection.

Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa in his budget statement in December, 2013 said that government was reviewing the labour law to make the hiring of employees easier.

“The minister responsible for labour should seriously consider amendments to the Labour Act that relates work to productivity. It is also necessary that we introduce in our labour laws flexibility in the hiring of workers, as well as alignment of wage adjustments to labour productivity,” Chinamasa said during the 2013 to 2014 budget announcement.  

The current Labour Relations Act makes dismissals and retrenchments a slow process as employees have to go through a number of hearings. The hearings start at company level and a dissatisfied party can appeal to labour courts.  

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions maintains that workers in Zimbabwe have no rights when faced with retrenchment, and this creates a situation where they can be manipulated by their employers.

Meanwhile, FFWUZ points out that the few people employed by foreign Chinese employers are also being subjected to unlawful working conditions, but lack the knowledge on how to deal with the matter of exploitation and unfair dismissal.

“Foreigners take advantage of the language barrier when we engage them on discussing labour laws and unfair dismissal of their employees. Non-provision of protective clothing, total disregard of labour laws are some of the matters that affect most employees,” Maoneka said.

For Gareth Makaripe, who is casually employed at a Chinese-owned bakery in Msasa industrial area in Harare, the conditions of services are dehumanising.

“These people are slave masters and they use fear to intimidate workers. We are forced to work over night without proper bakery clothing — no gloves, boots or overalls — and people are mocked on petty issues,” Makaripe told IPS.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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Minimum Wage, Minimum Costhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/minimum-wage-minimum-cost/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=minimum-wage-minimum-cost http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/minimum-wage-minimum-cost/#comments Mon, 11 Aug 2014 00:44:36 +0000 Peter Costantini http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136038 A rally to raise the minimum wage in Herald Square, Manhattan, Oct. 24, 2013. Credit: The All-Nite Images/cc by 2.0

A rally to raise the minimum wage in Herald Square, Manhattan, Oct. 24, 2013. Credit: The All-Nite Images/cc by 2.0

By Peter Costantini
SEATTLE, Aug 11 2014 (IPS)

In 1958, when New York State was considering raising its minimum wage, merchants complained that their profit margins were so small that they would have to cut their work forces or go out of business.  In 2014 in Seattle at hearings on a proposed minimum wage increase, some businesses voiced the same fears.

A national minimum wage was established in the United States in 1938.  Since then, Congress has increased it every few years, although since 1968 it has fallen far behind inflation and productivity growth.  By 2015, over half of the states and many localities will have raised local minimum wages above the federal level.

Graphic: Peter Costantini

Graphic: Peter Costantini

Each time such raises are proposed, bitter debates break out over the potential effects.  Somehow, though, economic devastation has been repeatedly averted.

What actually happens when the minimum wage increases moderately is that total expenses across all industries go up a tiny amount, usually less than one percent.  So the wage hike has little or no effect on the great majority of businesses.  The higher costs are absorbed mainly through tiny price increases, reductions in turnover and increases in productivity.

Historically, the yearly average for recent local minimum wage increases has been 16.7 percent.  But some have been far higher.  For example, in 1950 the national minimum wage jumped 87.5 percent from 40 to 75 cents. And in 2004, the city of Santa Fe, New Mexico, raised its minimum from 5.15 to 8.50 dollars, a 65 percent increase.

Even after Santa Fe’s big raise, the average resulting cost increase for all businesses was around one percent.  For restaurants, it was a little above three percent. [More]

The small impact of raising the wage floor may be surprising to those unfamiliar with the historical record.  But the accounting is straightforward.  Nationally, only 4.3 percent of all workers earn the federal minimum wage or lower; perhaps two or three times that number would have their wages lifted by a moderate minimum wage hike.

The average raise will be somewhere around half of the difference between old and new minimums, because most affected wages will fall somewhere in between.  As a result, the total growth in payroll is small for most businesses.  And payroll, in turn, averages only about one-sixth of gross revenues for all industries nationally. [More]

Because total cost increases for most businesses are minimal and can be covered by other adjustments, moderate minimum wage raises’ effects on low-wage employment have been close to zero.  This is the broad consensus of two decades of rigorous empirical studies at national, state and local levels.

Crunching the numbers for a small business

To get a concrete sense of how raising the wage floor plays out, a little arithmetic goes a long way. Let’s take a hypothetical example of a big raise of 50 percent in one year, from 10 to 15 dollars.

We’ll zoom in from macro to micro and crunch some simplified numbers for a typical small business that employs 24 workers. Six of them make below or equal to the new minimum: one each makes 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15 dollars. The other 18 employees make an average wage of 20 dollars, and all workers work 2,000 hours per year. The total payroll of this company is 20 percent of its gross revenues and its profits are 5 percent.

The average pre-increase wage of the five workers getting a raise is 12 dollars per hour, 10 dollars through 14 dollars divided by five, and their average raise is 3 dollars. This computes to a 25 percent - not 50 percent - average raise for the five covered workers. For the total payroll, this represents an increase of 3.45 percent.

The total impact of a minimum wage increase of 50 percent on this hypothetical business, then, is to raise its total expenses 0.69 percent of gross revenues, or less than one percent.

Nationally across all industries, the proportion of payroll to gross revenues is smaller, 16.8 percent rather than 20 percent. And most yearly minimum wage increases have been far less than 50 percent – an average of 16.7 percent yearly for local ordinances – probably putting the percentage of affected workers closer to 10 percent than 25 percent. Rounding up, for a 20.0 percent nominal minimum increase to 12 dollars for the same sample payroll, the average for the two workers receiving raises will be 14.3 percent, yielding a rise in total payroll of 0.69 percent and in total expenses of 0.14 percent of gross revenues.

If we factor a ripple effect into our 50 percent-raise example, spillover wages that keep at least a 0.25 dollar differential between the new levels - 15 dollars, 15.25, 15.50, etc. - would raise the total payroll increase from 3.23 percent to 4.43 percent, and the total increase in business expenses over revenues from 0.69 to 0.89 percent of gross revenues. Applying a 0.50 dollar ripple differential to a 20 percent minimum wage increase for the same data, the total payroll increase would be 1.15 percent and the total expenses increase would be 0.23 percent of revenues.

A comprehensive study of state minimum wage increases in the U.S. found “no detectable employment losses from the kind of minimum wage increases we have seen in the United States”, including for the accommodations and food services sector.  Two recent meta-studies of the past two decades of research, and examinations of increases in cities including Santa Fe, San Francisco and San Jose, also found no discernable negative effects on employment for low-wage workers.

As Harvard economist Richard Freeman put it, “The debate is over whether modest minimum wage increases have ‘no’ employment effect, modest positive effects, or small negative effects.  It is not about whether or not there are large negative effects.”

A letter to the President and Congress signed by 600 economists in support of raising the national minimum wage to 10.10 dollars cited “the weight of evidence now showing that increases in the minimum wage have had little or no negative effect on the employment of minimum-wage workers”.

Even The Economist, the influential British neoliberal magazine, recently observed: “No-one who has studied the effects of Britain’s minimum wage now thinks it has raised unemployment.” [More]

In worst cases where an employer cannot adjust to payroll increases with price increases or efficiencies, the response will more likely be to reduce hours slightly than to cut jobs, because of the costs and disruption of layoffs.  However, any increase in wages large enough to prompt a reduction in hours would likely be big enough that the paychecks of workers receiving it would still come out ahead.

In many low-wage jobs, hours already fluctuate from week to week, workers frequently change jobs voluntarily or involuntarily, jobs come and go, and businesses start up and fold.  For low-wage workers already facing this instability, higher total yearly pay nearly always trumps any loss of yearly hours.  In fact, working fewer hours leaves more time for family, training or other work.[More]

Minimum wage increases do tend to compress the lower part of the pay scale.  Those who were making around the old minimum will now be making nearly the same as those who were making near the new minimum.  The differences between the lower rungs of the wage ladder will be diminished, which may prompt changes in business processes and work relationships.

In this situation, most businesses maintain some hierarchy, with the new minimum pushing up the wage levels just above it by small amounts.  But this “ripple effect” adds only a little to total payroll costs.  One study found that a 2004 increase of 19.4 percent in the Florida state minimum caused an average cost increase for businesses, from both mandated raises and ripple effects, of less than one-half of 1 percent of sales revenues. [More]

Only one sector has significantly higher concentrations of low-wage workers and a larger proportion of payroll expenses: accommodations and food services.  It is not a major part of the economy in most places: nationally it accounts for 2.2 percent of sales and 3.6 percent of payroll.  In these industries, 29.4 percent of workers are paid within 10 percent of the minimum wage.  The rule of thumb for restaurant payroll is about one-third of total revenues, twice the overall proportion.

Even for hotels and restaurants, however, the rises in operating costs are still covered mainly by modest price increases and significant reductions in turnover.  Many businesses in this sector have enough flexibility to raise prices without reducing revenues, especially when competitors face the same wage increases. [More]

In all sectors, low-wage workers tend to have high turnover rates, sometimes more than 100 percent annually.  Minimum wage increases often help trim personnel expenses related to firing and hiring by reducing workforce turnover and absenteeism.  Businesses may also gain from better-paid and more secure workers becoming more productive.

Businesses can also compensate for payroll growth through reductions in benefits or training, and improvements in work processes or automation.  Some employers may also accept a small reduction in profits until the wage increases are absorbed.

Even given these multiple channels for adjustment, there are often small businesses who find it hard to cover a minimum wage increase.  In recognition of this, most local minimum wage laws either exempt smaller firms and non-profits or phase in increases more slowly for them. [More]

In the broader economy as well, raising the wage floor may have positive effects.  Increased spending prompted by higher wages can stimulate growth in low-wage workers’ neighbourhoods.

Rising minimum wages also often reduce government spending on poverty programmes. Contributions to unemployment insurance, Social Security and Medicare rise with higher incomes.  Any positive or negative effects, though, will tend to be small-scale relative to the overall economy. [More]

In an era of secular stagnation and political stalemate, minimum wage increases offer an effective, politically popular, and positively motivating way to reduce income inequality from the bottom up, without reducing low-wage employment.

An expanded version of this article with footnotes and references can be found here. Part one of the series can be found here

Download of zip file with example spreadsheets

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

 

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For Disenfranchised Haitian Islanders, Tourism Signals a Paradise Losthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/for-disenfranchised-haitian-islanders-tourism-signals-a-paradise-lost/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=for-disenfranchised-haitian-islanders-tourism-signals-a-paradise-lost http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/for-disenfranchised-haitian-islanders-tourism-signals-a-paradise-lost/#comments Fri, 08 Aug 2014 16:12:27 +0000 Judith Scherr http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136010 Homes like these in the village of Madam Bernard, Ile à Vache, Haiti, might be removed to make way for tourist development or islanders removed from other areas might be relocated here. Credit: Judith Scherr/IPS

Homes like these in the village of Madam Bernard, Ile à Vache, Haiti, might be removed to make way for tourist development or islanders removed from other areas might be relocated here. Credit: Judith Scherr/IPS

By Judith Scherr
ILE À VACHE, Haiti, Aug 8 2014 (IPS)

Calm waters lap the shore beneath stately coconut palms. Mango trees display their bounty alongside mangrove forests. Goats graze peacefully on hillsides.

Ile à Vache is “the Caribbean’s last treasure island,” says Haiti’s Ministry of Tourism. Just 10.5 km off Haiti’s southwest coast, the 13 by 3.2 km haven is, the ministry continues, “unpaved, unplugged, unspoiled and unlike anywhere else,” and “singular for its complete absence of roads and cars.”“After three successive demonstrations, they sent police to terrorise the people of Ile à Vache." -- Alexis Kenold

These words were written, however, before mangroves were cleared for an international airport, coconut palms were bulldozed for a road, a bay was dredged for yachts and some 40 police officers came with weapons and three all-terrain vehicles to quell protests.

Islanders, estimated at between 14,000 and 20,000, are angry at their exclusion from the government decision-making process that has opened the island for investment in an international airport, hotels, villas, a golf course, and an underwater museum — investments that place residents’ futures in limbo.

“The project came to the island by surprise,” Alexis Kenold, a 40-year-old father of five, told IPS. “The government hadn’t talked to us about it. They want to kick us out in favour of those who would profit from tourist development.”

On May 10, 2013, President Michel Martelly decreed that the island was a “public utility,” zoned for tourism.

“The decree says that no inhabitant of the island owns his land and that the state can do whatever it wants with it,” said Kenold, a member of Konbit Peyizan Ilavach, Farmers Organization of Ile à Vache, formed to oppose the project.

Minister of Tourism Stephanie Villedrouin Balmir, who declined an interview for this story, has said that no more than five percent of the islanders will be displaced, that they will be relocated, not removed from the island, and that they will be compensated for their losses.

But involuntary relocation is unacceptable to the islanders, who have held several large demonstrations since December demanding retraction of the decree.

The government reacted to the protests by beefing up police forces and throwing KOPI Vice President Jean Matulnes Lamy into the National Penitentiary, Kenold said. Officials say Lamy is detained on charges unrelated to the protests, but activists say his imprisonment is political.

“After three successive demonstrations, they sent police to terrorise the people of Ile à Vache,”
Kenold said, charging that when he was away from home police ransacked his house and took money he’d saved for his children’s school fees.

He said they’ve harassed and beat others, and now islanders live in fear of the police. Before the demonstrations, there were just three or four police on the peaceful island, he said.

A spate of planned investment projects on Ile à Vache, Haiti has placed residents’ future in limbo. Credit: Judith Scherr/IPS

A spate of planned investment projects on Ile à Vache, Haiti has placed residents’ future in limbo. Credit: Judith Scherr/IPS

Islanders say they don’t oppose tourism – they might benefit by getting electricity, potable water and government services. But they don’t want to be moved from their five-room homes with spacious yards for trees, gardens and animals, to crowd into two rooms up against neighbours.

And they worry about the island’s fragile ecology.

“The forest is the lungs of the island,” Kenold said. “It’s like they want to sacrifice the heart and the lungs of the island to put in an international airport.”

There’s concern as well for the waters surrounding the island. They “began dredging a pristine bay known as Madam Bernard without an assessment of the environmental impact on marine ecosystems,” Jessica Hsu of the NGO Other Worlds and radio host Jean Claudy Aristil said in a joint presentation at a July Innovators in Coastal Tourism symposium in Grenada.

The project has already impacted some islanders economically. School director Dracen Jean Louienel told IPS that people had used the mangroves that were cut down for the airport to produce charcoal.

“That was how people made their living,” he said, “This destroyed their livelihood.” And building the road removed coconut trees on which other families depended, he said.

Louienel said, moreover, promises of work have not been fulfilled. “People signed up to work on the road, but few were hired,” Louienel said.

Some islanders, however, have profited from the project and support it. Standing in the clearing where the airport is to be built, Gilbert Joseph called the project “a wonderful thing.” Joseph works as a security guard there at night and sells beverages to the construction workers during the day.

Clausel Ilmo, whose son is working as a translator for the Dominican road-building company, also likes the project. He pointed out that where it once took hours to walk to distant parts of the island, one now can go quickly on the road by motorbike.

Father Guy Carter Guerrier, a Catholic priest, did not join the militant protests. Still, he has concerns. “To me, developing the island could be a beautiful project,” he said. “The problem is, the government didn’t include the people here. They even passed over the church. They left everybody out.”

Up the hill from Guerrier’s church, Sr. Flora Blanchette, a French-Canadian Franciscan nun who’s run an orphanage on the island since 1981, shared her hopes and concerns.

New roads can help people access health care, schools and food, she said, but the fruit trees that nourish the children should be protected.

“What I’m hoping is that they bring the essentials for people living on the island,” she said, “that they truly bring development for all the social classes to benefit.”

In Costa Rica, the whole population has benefited from tourism, Elizabeth Becker, author of “Overbooked: the Global Business of Travel and Tourism” told IPS by phone. There, locals have input into development, she said.

Implemented correctly, Haiti could greatly benefit from the booming tourism market, she added.

However, “bottom-up tourism is the best way to do ecotourism,” Becker said. “People should not be losing their property rights in order to have tourism. People should instead have … a voice in what kind of tourism they want.”

Cambodia’s tourist development provides a cautionary tale, she said. The government took away people’s property rights and parks protections and did not consult locals before installing hotels and airports.

In Cambodia, “all that great money that supposedly comes from tourism doesn’t land in local hands,” she said. “It either lands with the elite or with foreigners.”

Haiti’s Ministry of Tourism emphasises environmentalism. The Ile à Vache “project objective is to develop sustainable tourism based on the practices of ecotourism,” an online ministry slideshow says. But islanders say the government hasn’t demonstrated care for the environment.

Documents also say the government will undertake a “social improvements programme.” It has recently dug new wells, built a community centre, installed outdoor solar lights, and distributed rice and fishing equipment.

But Kenold says it was only “after the population rose up, that they came with a few grains of rice to appease the anger of the people.”

“I’m not against tourist development, but it’s the way they’re going about it,” Kenold said, adding that people are open to dialogue with government officials, but only after the decree is retracted, Lamy is released from prison and police are removed from the island.

“After lifting the decree that would disposes the inhabitants,” he said, “they can come with their projects and we will come with ours.”

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at judithscherr@gmail.com

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Zimbabwean Women Breathe New Life into Private Transport Sectorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/zimbabwean-women-breathe-new-life-into-private-transport-sector/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zimbabwean-women-breathe-new-life-into-private-transport-sector http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/zimbabwean-women-breathe-new-life-into-private-transport-sector/#comments Fri, 08 Aug 2014 08:30:31 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135997 Taxi driver Jesca Machingura is one of the few women who has been involved in the industry for 15 years. With the income she earns she has been able to send her daughter to university in South Africa. Courtesy: Jeffrey Moyo

Taxi driver Jesca Machingura is one of the few women who has been involved in the industry for 15 years. With the income she earns she has been able to send her daughter to university in South Africa. Courtesy: Jeffrey Moyo

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Aug 8 2014 (IPS)

Mavis Gotora from Mabvuku high-density suburb, in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, walks up and down, as she persuades one passer-by after another to board the private taxi cab she drives.

But eight years ago when she first started in this industry things weren’t so easy for her. “I had to fight hard [and was] competing against verbally-abusive male taxi drivers who envied how I easily got clients,” she tells IPS.

“The male taxi drivers who felt challenged by my presence on the streets where we scrounged for clients would call me all sorts of names, at times labelling me a whore. But I remained unbreakable as I fought my way through to live on in the industry,” says Gotora.

Gotora says eight years ago she was unemployed and had no other option except to try taxi driving.

“Most women scramble for jobs as hairdressers and as vendors on street pavements. But hit hard with joblessness, I said let me try taxi driving after I had obtained a driver’s licence in 2005,” explains Gotora.

Now she says her fortunes have turned around.  

“I’m now a proud owner of a housing stand, with my new home at foundation level. I also bought my own car, which is still being shipped from Japan, which I’m going to convert into a taxi and [start my own business],” adds Gotora.

But she is not the only woman who has turned to the transport sector looking for a job.

According to the Female Drivers Association of Harare (FEDAH), an independent organisation of women drivers, there are currently 3,200 women drivers in public transport countrywide, with 22,5 percent of these driving private taxis cabs. 

FEDAH chairperson Lynette Muzondiwa attributed the presence of women in what was formerly a male-dominated job to the harsh economic conditions in this southern African nation.

“For over a decade the Zimbabwean economy has been shrinking, leaving many people including women out of employment and consequently forcing women to turn to any jobs even those dominated by men. That is why today other women have turned to driving taxis,” Muzondiwa tells IPS.

Surveys conducted by FEDAH from 2007 to 2013 shows that the number of female taxi drivers has been steadily rising.

In 2007 and 2008 approximately 110 women nationwide became taxi drivers. Currently there are 720.

Tinashe Murwira, a 30-year-old female taxi driver, says the job offers quick returns to both owners and drivers.

“As taxi drivers, we are obliged to meet a weekly target of 250 dollars, which is submitted to the taxi owner and whatever remains is the driver’s commission and this is unlike the little moneys women vendors make daily on the streets,” Murwira tells IPS.

But she agrees with Gotora that its not always an easy environment for women to work in.

“We have to outdo each other on the streets as private taxi drivers, mostly against our male counterparts begrudging us for being more appealing to customers than them.

“On the other hand some of our unscrupulous clients at times pester us for sexual favours,” Murwira says.

But Murwira said she used to make about 25 dollars a week selling sweets and mobile phone recharge cards. But now her earnings have increased.

“Each week I make about 400 dollars, out of which I take 250 dollars to surrender to my employer, meaning every week I often carry home 150 dollars, adding to 600 dollars in monthly earnings,” says Murwira.

Taxi owners like Nkosana Dlamini from Harare say there are still few women drivers here.

“Women are quite rare in terms of being taxi drivers. In business you have to introduce newness always for a business to survive. The taxi business is a money-spinning venture where you have to entrust your resources on trustworthy characters, and women drivers fit easily into that bracket,” Dlamini tells IPS.

“Women again are not reckless drivers unlike their male counterparts,” he adds, adding that passengers feel safer with women drivers.

Ashley Muzenda, a hairdresser, agrees.

“I feel safer being driven by women taxi drivers than male drivers as women are responsible drivers. Male drivers often drive dangerously, eluding traffic cops while they also use foul language against passengers and often double as criminals,” Muzenda tells IPS.

Meanwhile, in 2013 Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Transport started training young women drivers for employment in the public transport sector.

For Gotora and many other female drivers here, with government behind them, better days may be looming.

“I feel hey-days are approaching, with government backing women’s survival efforts in the driving industry,” Gotora says.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

The writer can be contacted at: moyojeffrey@gmail.com

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Going Back to the Farm in Cubahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/going-back-to-the-farm-in-cuba/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=going-back-to-the-farm-in-cuba http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/going-back-to-the-farm-in-cuba/#comments Thu, 07 Aug 2014 18:17:12 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135990 Hortensia Martínez, who along with her husband Guillermo García decided to dedicate herself to farming on the La China farm on the outskirts of Havana, after a long career as a mechanical engineer. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Hortensia Martínez, who along with her husband Guillermo García decided to dedicate herself to farming on the La China farm on the outskirts of Havana, after a long career as a mechanical engineer. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
HAVANA, Aug 7 2014 (IPS)

Scattered houses amidst small fields of vegetables and other crops line the road to the La China farm on the outskirts of the Cuban capital. This is where Hortensia Martínez works – a mechanical engineer who has been called crazy by many for deciding to become a small farmer.

“Our story isn’t common,” Martínez, 48, told Tierramérica at the entrance to the six-hectare farm that was granted “in usufruct” to her husband Guillermo García in May 2009 in Punta Brava, in the municipality of La Lisa, a semi-urban suburb west of Havana.

Since Cuba adopted economic reforms in 2008, land has begun to be granted to people “in usufruct”, to stimulate agriculture.

From one edge of La China, scrubland can be seen stretching all the way to the horizon. In 2013, according to official figures, 1,046,100 of the 6,342,400 arable hectares in this Caribbean island nation were idle.

A scarcity of people not only interested in farming but who also have the skills and resources to produce more food is one of the hurdles to making headway towards the goal set as part of the broader economic reforms that put a priority on the agricultural sector in a country in dire need of boosting production and reducing food prices.

Among the factors standing in the way of improvements in agriculture are realities that are rarely talked about, such as the rural exodus decades ago, which left the Cuban countryside much emptier.

Of the country’s 11.2 million inhabitants, just 2.5 million now live in rural areas, according to 2013 data from the National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI).

Although half of the rural population is female, women do not generally work the land themselves directly, due to a culture of sexism and machismo. To begin to change that, the authorities have stepped up strategies aimed at drawing more women into the rural workforce, although it is widely recognized that progress in that direction has been slow.

In April there were a total of 65,993 women in the country’s farming cooperatives – not a major increase from 64,063 in February 2011.“My experience, from driving around the countryside for many years, has shown me that there is little social activity, and that life is full of limitations and unmet needs. With what they earn, farmers cannot cover their basic needs.” -- Agroecologist Fernando Funes-Monzote

The Cuban population is irreversibly ageing, and is doing so fast. It is estimated that by 2025, people over 60 will make up 30 percent of the population.

“The farm was a way to return to our roots,” said Martínez who, like his wife, comes from a farming family in Granma, 730 km east of Havana.

For decades, farmers proudly hung on their walls the university degrees earned by their children, who gained broad access to tuition-free education after the 1959 revolution.

But the newly educated generations migrated to the cities to work in their new professions.

And in the 1980s the idea was that it was cheaper to import food than to develop the agricultural sector, thanks to the subsidised trade with the now defunct Soviet Union. The collapse of the socialist bloc in 1989 tipped the Cuban economy over the edge, into a crisis that has dragged on to this day.

One of the results of the crisis was that professionals began to earn less than those who produced goods with their work.

“We joined the agricultural workforce to support our family,” Martínez said, explaining that both his and his wife’s nephews and nieces work on the farm with them.

“Now we eat healthier food and we are earning more money,” he said. The family raises rabbits, lambs, pigs and 18 species of birds. They also grow fruit and vegetables.

In La China, there is a large shed for rabbits, several corrals, and even a ‘ranchón’, the name given in Cuba to a traditional open-side palm-thatched wooden structure that serves as a social space, decorated with hanging flower pots.

But “we still don’t have a house here yet. I wish they would approve that,” lamented Martínez, who every day makes the five-km trek back and forth to the farm, where she leaves a guard on duty at night.

Decree-law 259, passed in 2008, stipulated that people could apply for idle land to farm in usufruct for an extendable period of 10 years. But it was not until 2012 that decree-law 300 was approved, allowing people to also build homes on the land.

“The red tape surrounding that is really bad,” Martínez complained.

Bureaucracy is a chronic problem in Cuba’s agricultural sector, which is tightly controlled by the state, even the portion that is in private hands.

During a Jul. 5 parliamentary session it was reported that the Agriculture Ministry staff and its provincial and municipal delegations were being cut 41 percent, as part of economic adjustments and an attempt to reduce bureaucracy.

Of the land farmed in Cuba today, 26.6 percent is in private hands, 21.7 percent has been granted in usufruct, and the rest is state-owned or belongs to cooperatives.

“It’s really hard to return to the countryside if you don’t have the know-how, skills and economic resources,” said 44-year-old Mireya Ramírez (no relation), who left her job in computers to take charge of the family farm when her father-in-law injured his hand.

Until five years ago, she told Tierramérica, she knew nothing about farming, even though she lived ever since she got married on the Los Solos farm in Campo Florida, another area on the outskirts of Havana.

“If the land is far away, you need transportation to get there,” she said. “Producing at some scale requires a significant investment of capital. For me it was hard to juggle the capital to diversify production, even though I received a farm that was already up and running.”

But “I finally have a level of liquidity that I never had before,” she said with a smile on her face.

The authorities also opened up lines of microcredit for farmers, and stores selling some farming tools and seeds, while increasing the prices paid by the government for agricultural products (farmers must sell a majority of their production to the state). In addition, tourist establishments are now allowed to directly purchase from farmers.

But farmers and experts told Tierramérica that the measures have fallen short.

“Policies must be broader and more generous, ranging from more credit for buying seeds and baby animals to facilities to rent or buy vehicles and buy houses, sheds, corrals and access roads to fields,” journalist Roberto Molina said in an interactive online conversation organised by Tierramérica in Cuba.

The faces of Cuba’s farmers vary depending on how far from the cities they are and the level of economic development of each province.

On the outskirts of the capital and in the western provinces like Mayabeque, Artemisa and Matanzas, there are prosperous farming families with cars and comfortable homes.

But in the mountains and other remote parts of the country many people live in bohíos – dirt-floored wooden shacks typical of poorer parts of the Cuban countryside – with pit latrines and no electricity or running water.

“My experience, from driving around the countryside for many years, has shown me that there is little social activity, and that life is full of limitations and unmet needs. With what they earn, farmers cannot cover their basic needs,” agroecologist Fernando Funes-Monzote told Tierrámerica.

The 43-year-old professional has also started running a farm with his family: the Finca Marta in Artemisa, the province adjacent to Havana.
This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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