Inter Press Service » Labour http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 24 Oct 2014 09:26:11 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Central Asia Hurting as Russia’s Ruble Sinkshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/central-asia-hurting-as-russias-ruble-sinks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=central-asia-hurting-as-russias-ruble-sinks http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/central-asia-hurting-as-russias-ruble-sinks/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 16:35:04 +0000 David Trilling and Timur Toktonaliev http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137344 By David Trilling and Timur Toktonaliev
BISHKEK, Oct 23 2014 (EurasiaNet)

Pensioner Jyparkul Karaseyitova says she cannot afford meat anymore. At her local bazaar in Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek, the price for beef has jumped nine percent in the last six weeks. And she is not alone feeling the pain of rising inflation.

Butcher Aigul Shalpykova says her sales have fallen 40 percent in the last month. “If I usually sell 400 kilos of meat every month, in September I sold only 250 kilos,” she complained.On Oct. 20 a “large player” also sold about 600 million dollars, which kept the tenge stable at about 181/dollar. Observers believe the “large player” is a state-run company with ample reserves, but are mystified that the Central Bank refuses to comment and concerned that the interventions appear to be growing.

A sharp decline in the value of Russia’s ruble since early September is rippling across Central Asia, where economies are dependent on transfers from workers in Russia, and on imports too. As local currencies follow the ruble downward, the costs of imported essentials rise, reminding Central Asians just how dependent they are on their former colonial master.

The ruble is down 20 percent against the dollar since the start of the year, in part due to Western sanctions on Moscow for its role in the Ukraine crisis. The fall accelerated in September as the price of oil – Russia’s main export – dropped to four-year lows. The feeble ruble has helped push down currencies around the region, sometimes by double-digit figures.

In Bishkek, food prices have increased by 20 to 25 percent over the past 12 months, says Zaynidin Jumaliev, the chief for Kyrgyzstan’s northern regions at the Economics Ministry, who partially blames the rising cost of Russian-sourced fuel.

In Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, remittances from the millions of workers in Russia have started to fall. In recent years, these cash transfers have contributed the equivalent of about 30 percent to Kyrgyzstan’s economy and about 50 percent to Tajikistan’s. As the ruble depreciates, however, it purchases fewer dollars to send home.

Transfers contracted in value during the first quarter of 2014 for the first time since 2009, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development said last month, “primarily due” to the downturn in Russia. The EBRD added that any further drop “may significantly dampen consumer demand.”

“A weaker ruble weighs on [foreign] workers’ salaries […] which brings some pain to these countries,” said Oleg Kouzmin, Russia and CIS economist at Renaissance Capital in Moscow.

This month the International Monetary Fund said it expects consumer prices in Kyrgyzstan to grow eight percent in 2014 and 8.9 percent in 2015, compared with 6.6 percent last year. Kazakhstan and Tajikistan should see similar increases. A Dushanbe resident says he went on vacation for three weeks in July and when he returned food prices were approximately 10 percent higher. In Uzbekistan, the IMF said it expects inflation “will likely remain in the double digits.”

The one country unlikely to feel the pressure is Turkmenistan, which is sheltered from the market’s moods because it sells its chief export – natural gas – to China at a fixed price.

One factor that could sharply and suddenly affect the rest of the region is a policy shift at Russia’s Central Bank, which has already spent over 50 billion dollars this year defending the ruble. Some, like former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, have condemned efforts to prop up the currency, arguing that a weaker ruble is good for exports.

The tumbling ruble and the drop in the price of oil have helped steer Kazakhstan’s economy into a cul-de-sac, slowing growth projections, forcing officials to recalculate the budget, and suggesting the tenge is overvalued. The National Bank already devalued the currency by 19 percent in February.

On Oct. 21, National Bank Chairman Kairat Kelimbetov urged Kazakhs not to worry about another devaluation, but investors grumble that he said the same thing less than a month before February’s devaluation.

Another devaluation would send a distress signal to investors, says one Almaty banker. Astana “lost a fair bit of credibility last time,” the banker said on condition of anonymity, fearing new legislation designed to combat panic selling.

“They need to be much more careful about how they handle expectations going forward. And that is affecting how things are happening this time. People seem to be a lot more dollarised compared to a year ago and more hesitant to hold large tenge balances.”

“My personal position?” the banker added. “I’m not holding tenge.”

Meanwhile, a mystery investor has been propping up the tenge by selling hundreds of millions of dollars a day, according to Halyk Finance in Almaty. On Oct. 21 “a larger player, again offsetting the intraday trend, sold about 650 million dollars,” Halyk said in a note to investors.

On Oct. 20 a “large player” also sold about 600 million dollars, which kept the tenge stable at about 181/dollar. Observers believe the “large player” is a state-run company with ample reserves, but are mystified that the Central Bank refuses to comment and concerned that the interventions appear to be growing.

In Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, central banks have dipped into limited reserves to ease their currencies’ slides. Nevertheless, the Kyrgyz som has fallen by 12 percent against the dollar this year, the Tajik somoni by about 5 percent. The World Bank said this month it expects the somoni to sink further.

Renaissance Capital’s Kouzmin cautions against the bank interventions in Central Asia, which use up reserves and widen trade deficits. “It makes sense for the national banks of these countries to let currencies depreciate to some extent to keep national competitiveness,” he told EurasiaNet.org.

Overall, the slowdown in Russia has long-term effects on Central Asia. “Portfolio investors look at the region as a whole. If you’re a CIS fund, the news on Russia has been bad and has caused the withdrawal of funds” from the region, said Dominic Lewenz of Visor Capital, an investment bank in Almaty. “So the trouble in Russia has hit things here.”

GDP growth projections have fallen markedly across the region, but nowhere near the levels seen during the 2008-2009 financial crisis. Everything, it seems, depends on Ukraine. Any worsening scenario there would have “far-reaching implications” for the region, possibly on food security, according to the EBRD.

Back at the bazaar in Bishkek, Orunbay Jolchuev was forced this month to increase by 15 percent what he charges for flour. But at least sales have not been affected. “We all need flour, we all need to eat bread, macaroni, dough,” Jolchuev said. “It’s not something people can cut back even if it becomes too expensive.”

Editor’s note:  David Trilling is EurasiaNet’s Central Asia editor. Timur Toktonaliev is a Bishkek-based reporter. This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/central-asia-hurting-as-russias-ruble-sinks/feed/ 0
Añelo, from Forgotten Town to Capital of Argentina’s Shale Fuel Boomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/anelo-from-forgotten-town-to-capital-of-argentinas-shale-fuel-boom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=anelo-from-forgotten-town-to-capital-of-argentinas-shale-fuel-boom http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/anelo-from-forgotten-town-to-capital-of-argentinas-shale-fuel-boom/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 16:01:56 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137341 The main street of Añelo, a remote town in Argentina’s southern Patagonia region which is set to become the country’s shale oil capital. In 15 years the population will have climbed to 25,000, 10 times what it was just two years ago. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The main street of Añelo, a remote town in Argentina’s southern Patagonia region which is set to become the country’s shale oil capital. In 15 years the population will have climbed to 25,000, 10 times what it was just two years ago. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
AÑELO, Argentina, Oct 23 2014 (IPS)

This small town in southern Argentina is nearly a century old, but the unconventional fossil fuel boom is forcing it to basically start over, from scratch. The wave of outsiders drawn by the shale fuel fever has pushed the town to its limits, while the plan to turn it into a “sustainable city of the future” is still only on paper.

The motto of this small town in the province of Neuquén is upbeat and premonitory: “The future found its place.”

But for now the town’s roads, most of which are unpaved and throw up clouds of dust from the heavy traffic of trucks and luxury cars driven by oil company executives, contradict that slogan.

“Many eyes around the world are on Añelo, but unfortunately we don’t have a good showcase, to put us on display,” the director of the town’s health centre, Rubén Bautista, told IPS.

“We are living on top of black gold, they take riches out of our soil, but they leave practically nothing to the local population,” added the doctor who, along with three other colleagues, covers the health needs of a population that doubled, from 2,500 to 5,000, in just two years.According to conservative projections, Añelo will have a population of 25,000 in 15 years, including people directly employed by the oil industry, indirect workers, and their families, who have begun to pour into the new mecca for Argentina’s energy self-sufficiency plans.

Añelo, a bleak town on the banks of the Neuquén river surrounded by fruit trees, goats and vineyards, is the town closest to the Loma Campana shale oil field, which is being worked by Argentina’s state oil company YPF and the U.S.-based Chevron.

It is only eight km from the oil field, which is part of new riches that hold out the biggest promise for revenue to fuel the country’s development: Vaca Muerta, a 30,000-sq km geological reserve that is rich in shale oil and gas and has made this country the second in the world after the United States in production of unconventional fossil fuels.

But the black gold is not shining yet in Añelo – which means forgotten place in the Mapuche indigenous language – located some 100 km north of Neuquén, the provincial capital.

The health centre, which refers serious cases to hospitals in the provincial capital, has just two ambulances, while 117 companies from across the planet are setting up shop in and around the town.

According to conservative projections, Añelo will have a population of 25,000 in 15 years, including people directly employed by the oil industry, indirect workers, and their families, who have begun to pour into the new mecca for Argentina’s energy self-sufficiency plans.

“They are people who come to Añelo with the idea of finding a better future…thinking about what unconventional fossil fuels could mean in their lives,” YPF Neuquén’s communications manager, Federico Calífano, told IPS.

YPF alone has 720 employees in the area. The workers come from nearby towns as well as other provinces, and from abroad, brought in by international companies in the construction, chemistry, hotel, transportation and services industries.

The town’s only hotel is full, and camps spring up on any flat area, with containers turned into comfortable temporary lodgings for the workers. Rent for a small apartment is five times what people pay in the most expensive neighbourhoods in Buenos Aires.

“We are building a city from scratch,” Añelo Mayor Darío Díaz told IPS, although he pointed out that even before the shale boom the town was “a strategic waypoint.”

YPF has been exploiting unconventional fossil fuels in the region since the 1980s, but “when their work was done they would leave,” Díaz explained. “This is much more intensive; there will be a lot of work over the next 30 years.”

“The town has infrastructure for around 2,500 inhabitants. It is too small now given the new demand for basic services like water, electricity, roads, and dust emission,” the province’s environment secretary, Ricardo Esquivel, told IPS.

The sound of hammering and pounding is constant. Two workers, who make the 120-km commute back and forth every day from Cipolletti, in the neighbouring province of Río Negro, are working on a new sidewalk. “It’s spectacular.There’s a lot of work here for everyone. More people are needed. The problem is housing,” construction worker Esteban Aries told IPS.

The YPF Foundation carried out an “urban footprint” study which gave rise to the Añelo Local Development Plan. The plan has the support of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and its Emerging Sustainable Cities Initiative.

Carried out together with the local and provincial governments, the plan outlines different growth scenarios with the aim of assessing the risks and vulnerabilities of the area.

It addresses, among other aspects, “what surface area the city should have, how the urban planning process should start, what the diagram should look like, what services are needed – what Añelo is going to need today and in two, three, or five years,” Calífano said.

YPF reported that the work had already begun, including an expansion of the sanitation system, construction of homes for doctors, and a vocational training centre, linked to the needs of the oil industry. Primary healthcare clinics were set up in two trailer trucks – although Dr. Bautista said that’s not enough.

The economic growth has brought heavy traffic. The government is planning a two-lane highway to Vaca Muerta, on the so-called “oil route”, to keep the trucks out of the town.

“The steadily growing number of accidents is overwhelming,” Bautista said. The average has increased from 10 traffic and work-related accidents a month two years ago to 17 today.

“You have to keep in mind that most of the activity has been going on for a year,” said Pablo Bizzotto, YPF’s regional manager of unconventional fuels in Loma Campana, where some 20 wells are drilled every month, which has driven production up from 3,000 to 21,000 barrels per day of oil.

“There are things that we will obviously work out together with the authorities, as we go. This is all very new,” he said.

Agricultural engineer Eduardo Tomada left everything behind in Buenos Aires and invested his savings to open up a restaurant in Añelo, which is now packed with workers.

His cook, local resident Norma Olate, said she was happy because she’s earning more. But she nostalgically remembers when her town was “practically a sand dune.”

Development has brought work, “but also bad things,” the 60-year-old Olate told IPS. “There have been armed robberies, which we didn’t see here before.”

Olate, who has young, single daughters, said she is also worried about “the invasion of men.”

“So many men!” she said, laughing. “I’m not interested anymore, but the girls…there are guys who come and deceive them, a lot of them end up pregnant….that’s bad for the town too.”

Provincial lawmaker Raúl Dobrusín of the opposition Popular Unity party denounced the rise in prostitution, drug trafficking and use, alcoholism and corruption.

“We say the only things modernised in Añelo were the casino and the brothel,” he said ironically.

Dobrusín complained about the government’s lack of “planning” and “control” over these and other problems, such as real estate speculation and prices that are now unaffordable for many people in the town.

Nevertheless, for Mayor Díaz the balance is positive. “We have to take advantage of this opportunity for Añelo to develop as a town and improve the living standards of our people. What worries me is whether we will make the necessary investments quickly enough,” he said.

The province is preparing a “strategic development plan” for Añelo, along with nearby “oil micro-cities”, which will include the construction of an industrial park, schools, hospitals, roads and housing, and increased security.

“We’re not going to build an oil camp in Añelo without a city,” the mayor summed up.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/anelo-from-forgotten-town-to-capital-of-argentinas-shale-fuel-boom/feed/ 0
U.S. Revisiting “Broken” Workplace Chemicals Regulation Processhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/u-s-revisiting-broken-workplace-chemicals-regulation-process/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-revisiting-broken-workplace-chemicals-regulation-process http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/u-s-revisiting-broken-workplace-chemicals-regulation-process/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 01:05:25 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137309 Of the tens of thousands of chemicals thought to be in regular use in the United States today, the government’s main labour regulator oversees fewer than 500. Credit: Bigstock

Of the tens of thousands of chemicals thought to be in regular use in the United States today, the government’s main labour regulator oversees fewer than 500. Credit: Bigstock

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Oct 22 2014 (IPS)

The U.S. government will soon begin receiving public suggestions on how federal regulators should update their oversight of toxic chemicals in the workplace.

The new information-gathering process, which began last week and will continue for the next six months, could result in the first major overhaul of related regulations in more than four decades. Of the tens of thousands of chemicals thought to be in regular use in the United States today, the government’s main labour regulator oversees fewer than 500."Many workers are currently being exposed to levels of chemicals that are legal but not safe … The process through which OSHA issues new exposure limits or updates old ones is broken.” -- OSHA chief David Michaels

“New chemicals are being introduced into worksites every year, and we are struggling to keep pace with the potential hazards,” David Michaels, the top official at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), an office within the Labour Department, told journalists while unveiling the new request for information.

“As a result, 40 years after the creation of OSHA, thousands of American workers are still becoming ill and dying from exposure to hazardous chemicals.”

The agency is now in the early stages of what could be a landmark attempt to expand this oversight. While the current move applies solely to workers, if successful it could mark a new phase for U.S. chemicals regulation in general – long criticised for having essentially ceded control to the chemicals industry.

The key laws on chemical safety in the United States date back to the 1970s, and are almost universally seen as so weak as to be nearly worthless. Yet while momentum among lawmakers to update these laws has picked up recently, the replacement proposals have been fiercely derided by public health and environmental groups.

Now, the chemicals industry suggests that it supports OSHA’s plan to revisit its regulatory regime, though sector has ardently fought stricter regulation in the past. Indeed, one its main lobby groups intimates that current efforts are already successful.

“We share OSHA’s commitment to protect the safety of workers and to keep regulatory programs up-to-date,” a spokesperson for the American Chemistry Council, a trade association, told IPS. “Our companies have reduced their recordable injury and illness incidence rates by 80 percent since 1990.”

Yet the spokesperson also warned against government overreach.

“As the administration moves forward,” he noted, “we urge them to continue to engage stakeholders and to pursue a clear, workable approach that will focus on workplace exposures that represent a significant risk of harm and that will yield the greatest safety benefits.”

Dangerously outdated

In regulating hazardous chemicals that workers come in contact with while on the job, the crux of OSHA’s oversight mechanism is a list of what are known as permissible exposure limits (PELs). These set caps on the amount of specific airborne chemicals – for instance, formaldehyde, asbestos or lead – beyond which would be considered unhealthy.

Understandably, these figures are haggled over by public health experts, labour representatives and business owners. However, far more concerning than the specifics of the PELs is how difficult – indeed, near impossible – it has been to add new compounds to this list.

As OSHA’s Michaels noted, of the tens of thousands of chemicals in regular use in the United States today, the agency’s PELs number only around 500 compounds. Further, this list has seen almost no change since it was created in 1971, with updates or additions for only some 30 chemicals.

“Many of these PELs are dangerously out of date and do not adequately protect workers,” Michaels stated.

“As a result, many workers are currently being exposed to levels of chemicals that are legal but not safe … The process through which OSHA issues new exposure limits or updates old ones is broken.”

Any major rewrite of OSHA’s chemicals oversight could have an inordinate impact on marginalised communities across the United States. Immigrants, racial minorities and the poor are all overrepresented in a spectrum of sectors that tend to see the highest use of hazardous chemicals.

Further, while U.S. labour regulations for the most part do not extend overseas, including at U.S.-owned ventures in other counties, significant regulatory changes in Washington could have important knock-on effects throughout certain sectors.

“This process does have the potential to improve working conditions abroad,” Matt Shudtz, the acting executive director at the Center for Progressive Reform, a watchdog group here, told IPS.

“Many multinational companies have safety departments. So if they have a plant in the United States where they’re addressing these hazards, they could choose to apply that same principle across the board.”

A spokesperson for OSHA likewise told IPS: “Hopefully the updated PELs will encourage employers all over the world to protect their workers from chemical hazards.”

Selective enforcement

Shudtz’s office is strongly supporting the new moves from OSHA as well as an eventual expansion of the agency’s PELs. But he also notes that a new rulemaking process is not the only way to deal with the current problem.

The legislation that governs OSHA gives it the power to write regulations for specific hazards. But this process is significantly constrained by a requirement, from the early 1990s, that the agency engage in a cost-benefit analysis for any regulatory action.

Such an approach has been a top priority for U.S. businesses and industry, and is reflected in the warning from the American Chemistry Council quoted at the beginning of this article.

But Shudtz and others point to a “catchall” provision, called the General Duty Clause, that allows OSHA to cite a company for hazardous behaviour if there exists both general industry agreement that the behaviour is dangerous and an obvious alternative.

“In the chemicals industry there are consensus-based standards that a lot of employers follow because they protect workers fairly well. And in general, those standards are more up to date than OSHA’s,” Shudtz says.

“The General Duty Clause says that OSHA can use those consensus standards as the basis for its enforcement. Unfortunately, they rarely take that opportunity.”

This is likely due to limited resources, as companies can challenge negative citations and thus drag out the process significantly and expensively. Yet Shudtz says that strong but selective enforcement under the General Duty Claus could achieve an important goal.

“If OSHA were to choose a chemical where there’s widespread exposure and a clear standard that could be applied, and engage in a few enforcement cases and really stick to their guns,” he says, “that would send an important message to other employers that they ought to be abiding by stricter standards.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/u-s-revisiting-broken-workplace-chemicals-regulation-process/feed/ 0
OPINION: Innovation Needed to Help Family Farms Thrivehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-innovation-needed-to-help-family-farms-thrive/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-innovation-needed-to-help-family-farms-thrive http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-innovation-needed-to-help-family-farms-thrive/#comments Sun, 19 Oct 2014 21:52:09 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137264 Peruvian peasant women working on the family plot of land near the village of Padre Rumi in the Andean department of Huancavelica. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

Peruvian peasant women working on the family plot of land near the village of Padre Rumi in the Andean department of Huancavelica. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
ROME, Oct 19 2014 (IPS)

Family farms have been contributing to food security and nutrition for centuries, if not millennia. But with changing demand for food as well as increasingly scarce natural resources and growing demographic pressures, family farms will need to innovate rapidly to thrive.

Meanwhile, sustainable rural development depends crucially on the viability and success of family farming. With family farms declining in size by ownership and often in operation as well, improving living standards in the countryside has become increasingly difficult over the decades.They are the stewards of the world’s agricultural resources and the source of more than four-fifths of the world’s food supply, but many are poor and food-insecure themselves.

Agricultural land use is increasingly constrained by the availability of arable land for cultivation as other land use demands increase. Addressing sustainable rural development involves economic and social considerations as well as ecological and resource constraints.

More than half a billion family farms worldwide form the backbone of agriculture in most countries. Although family farms account for more than nine out of 10 farms in the world, they have considerably less farm land. They are the stewards of the world’s agricultural resources and the source of more than four-fifths of the world’s food supply, but many are poor and food-insecure themselves.

Innovation challenge

Family farms are very diverse, and innovation systems must take this diversity into account. While some large farms are run as family operations, the main challenge for innovation is to reach smallholder family farms. Innovation strategies must, of course, consider family farms’ agro-ecological and socio-economic conditions.

Public efforts to promote agricultural innovation for small and medium-sized family farms should ensure that agricultural research, advisory services, market institutions and infrastructure are inclusive. Applied agricultural research for crops, livestock species and management practices should consider the challenges faced by family farms. A supportive environment for producer and other rural community-based organisations can thus help promote innovation.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

The challenges facing agriculture and the institutional environment for agricultural innovation are more complex than ever. Effective innovation systems and initiatives must recognise and address this complexity. Agricultural innovation strategies should focus not only on increasing yields and net real incomes, but also on conserving natural resources, and other objectives.

An innovation system must consider all stakeholders. Therefore, it must take account of the complex contemporary policy and institutional environment for agriculture and the range of stakeholders engaged in decision-making, often with conflicting interests and priorities, thus requiring appropriate government involvement.

Public investments in agricultural R&D as well as extension and advisory services should be increased to emphasise sustainable intensification, raising yields and closing labour productivity gaps. Agricultural research and advisory services should therefore seek to raise productivity, improve sustainability, lower food prices, reduce poverty, etc.

R&D should focus on sustainable intensification, continuing to expand the production frontier in sustainable ways, working systemically and incorporating both traditional and other informal knowledge. Extension and advisory services should focus on closing yield gaps and raising the labour productivity of small and medium-sized farmers.

Partnering with producer organisations can help ensure that R&D and extension services are both inclusive and responsive to farmers’ needs.

Institutional innovation

All family farmers need an enabling environment for innovation, including developmental governance, growth-oriented macroeconomic conditions, legal and regulatory regimes favourable to family farms, affordable risk management tools and improved market infrastructure.

Improved access to local or wider markets for inputs and outputs, including through government procurement from family farmers, can provide strong incentives for innovation, but farmers in remote areas and other marginalised groups often face formidable barriers.

In addition, sustainable agricultural practices often have high start-up costs and long pay-off periods. Hence, farmers need appropriate incentives to provide needed environmental services. Effective local institutions, including farmer organisations, combined with social protection programmes, can help overcome these barriers.

The capacity to innovate in family farming must be supported at various levels and in different spheres. Individual innovation capacity and capabilities must be developed through education, training and extension. Incentives can create the needed networks and linkages to enable farmers, researchers and others to share information and to work towards common objectives.

Effective and inclusive producer organisations, such as cooperatives, can be crucial in supporting innovation by their members. Producer organistions can help their members better access markets and innovate and also ensure a voice for family farms in policy-making.

Innovation is not merely technical or economic, but often requires institutional, systemic and social dimensions as well. Such a holistic view of and approach to innovation can be crucial to inclusion, efficacy and success.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations released The State of Food and Agriculture: Innovation in Family Farming on Oct. 16.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-innovation-needed-to-help-family-farms-thrive/feed/ 0
OPINION: The Survivorshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-the-survivors/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-survivors http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-the-survivors/#comments Fri, 17 Oct 2014 15:19:03 +0000 Yury Fedotov http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137243

Yury Fedotov is Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime

By Yury Fedotov
VIENNA, Oct 17 2014 (IPS)

Oct. 18 is the EU’s Anti-Trafficking Day, as well as the United Kingdom’s Anti-Slavery Day. These events offer a good opportunity to talk about human trafficking within Europe’s borders, but we should not forget that there are victims and survivors all over the world.

People like Grace, not her real name, who grew up in a large family in Western Nigeria. On leaving high school her uncle lured Grace to Lagos with false promises that her education would continue. But instead of libraries and lessons, this young Nigerian girl was forced to wear suggestive clothing and work long hours in her uncle’s beer parlour. She was pressured into sleeping with any customer willing to pay. Her aunt kept the money.

Courtesy of UNODC

Courtesy of UNODC

Those who are trafficked, like Grace, are often destitute, alone and afraid. In the face of exploitation and constant abuse it is difficult to summon the courage to flee. Fortunately, she had access to a radio and overheard a show on human trafficking.

One of the interviewees, a staff member for the African Centre for Advocacy and Human Development, encouraged anyone needing help to contact the centre. Grace realised there might be a way out.

Grace approached the centre after running away from her aunt and uncle. She was given a medical examination, as well as a place to sleep and counselling. The centre later sponsored her training as a seamstress, and later, with support, she was able to open a shop to sell her clothes. Grace had successfully taken the long journey from victim to human trafficking survivor.

Although Grace’s cruel experiences are individual to her, they are sadly not unique. In its publication, Hear Their Story, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) highlights numerous stories of children and young people forced to sell themselves, and their labour.

UNODC’s human trafficking report found that 136 different nationalities detected in 118 countries between 2007 and 2010, making this a truly global crime.

Around 27 per cent of those trafficked are children forced into numerous sordid occupations, including petty crime, begging and the sex trade. 55-60 per cent of individuals trafficked globally are women. If the figure for women is added to those for young girls, it becomes 75 per cent.

The majority of these women are coerced into the sex trade; many others find themselves working as domestic servants or forced labour. There is also a commonly held myth that men are not trafficked. This is untrue. Men are also exploited for forced labour and can suffer extreme forms of abuse.

To counter this crime that shreds both dignity and human rights, there is a need to work constantly at the grassroots level. We have to be present where the traffickers are committing their gross crimes, and where victims can be helped to make the transition to a new life.

Countries also need to ratify and adopt the Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime and its protocol on human trafficking. The Convention creates a legal framework for mutual legal assistance and other means of tackling organised crime. But what is really needed is comprehensive data, meaning better reporting from countries, and proper funding.

In 2011, the UN Voluntary Trust Fund for human trafficking managed by UNODC, and which has a special emphasis on children, provided grants to 11 organisations working at the ground level. Thanks to their work, children and young adults, such as Grace, have been supported. But more funds are needed to provide legal support and advice, treatment for physical abuse, safe houses, additional life skills, as well as schooling and training.

Grace’s life changed when she heard a radio story that helped her become a survivor. On the EU’s Anti-Trafficking Day and the UK’s Anti-Slavery Day, we have to ensure that other victims find their voices, and when they escape or are freed, we are waiting to offer much needed protection.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-the-survivors/feed/ 1
Civil Society in Cuba Finds More Space Under the Reformshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/civil-society-in-cuba-finds-more-space-under-the-reforms/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civil-society-in-cuba-finds-more-space-under-the-reforms http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/civil-society-in-cuba-finds-more-space-under-the-reforms/#comments Wed, 15 Oct 2014 01:25:21 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137201 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/civil-society-in-cuba-finds-more-space-under-the-reforms/feed/ 2 Ahead of Myanmar Trip, Obama Urged to Demand Extractives Transparencyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/ahead-of-myanmar-trip-obama-urged-to-demand-extractives-transparency/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ahead-of-myanmar-trip-obama-urged-to-demand-extractives-transparency http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/ahead-of-myanmar-trip-obama-urged-to-demand-extractives-transparency/#comments Wed, 15 Oct 2014 00:33:47 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137175 Myanmar now has three years in which to put in place a series of transparency standards and publicly report on government extractives revenues, payments from mining and drilling companies, and related issues. Credit: Bigstock

Myanmar now has three years in which to put in place a series of transparency standards and publicly report on government extractives revenues, payments from mining and drilling companies, and related issues. Credit: Bigstock

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Oct 15 2014 (IPS)

Lawmakers here are urging President Barack Obama to put transparency in the extractives sector at the centre of an upcoming trip to Myanmar.

While the government of Myanmar has recently engaged in a series of bilateral and multilateral pledges to make its lucrative but highly opaque mining and oil and gas industries more transparent, advocates increasingly warn that officials are failing to keep these promises."The real heart of the issue for civil society in Burma is the details of these contracts. They also want to start talking about the tremendous amount of money the Burmese government makes off of these oil and gas deals, and how most of that doesn’t benefit the people of Burma.” -- Jennifer Quigley

The U.S. government has been a key sponsor in facilitating these pledges, and many now see President Obama’s visit, slated for next month, as an important opportunity to prompt legal change in Myanmar, also known as Burma. Myanmar officials are currently revising related legislation, although little is known about these secretive talks.

Supporters say reforms, particularly around public information on extractives deals and revenues, could help to ensure that Myanmar’s significant natural resources wealth is used for development rather than simply enriching businesses close to the regime.

“Despite commitments to transparency and good governance, decision-making over the management of Burma’s national resources remains largely hidden from public scrutiny … the gap between the Burmese government’s promises and its delivery is widening,” 16 members of the U.S. Congress warned President Obama in a letter sent Tuesday.

“We therefore urge you, during your visit to Burma, to call on the Burmese government to ensure provisions on transparency and accountability are incorporated into revised laws, regulations and policies governing the extractives sector, and negotiated into new contracts and licenses.”

The letter, a copy of which was seen by IPS, includes backing from both Republicans and Democrats. Last year, the United States initiated a partnership between the Myanmar extractives industry and the Group of 8 (G8) rich countries, which could offer Obama additional leverage in demanding new transparency measures.

The lawmakers’ call comes not only a month ahead of President Obama’s planned trip to Myanmar (his second), but also as a global summit on extractives transparency begins in the country’s capital, Naypyidaw. The two-day meeting of the Extractives Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), which promotes guidelines that are currently followed by 46 countries, comes just three months after Myanmar became one of the EITI’s newest candidate countries.

Under these guidelines, Myanmar now has three years in which to put in place a series of transparency standards and publicly report on government extractives revenues, payments from mining and drilling companies, and related issues.

Just a month after its EITI candidature was accepted, Myanmar signed several dozen contracts with domestic and international oil and gas companies. Yet according to Tuesday’s letter, the terms of those contracts remain secret, as are ongoing revisions to policies overseeing the extractives sector.

“The laws and regulations governing the extractive industries are currently being revised behind closed doors, with no public consultation,” the lawmakers state.

“Drafts of the first of these new pieces of legislation contain no provisions on public disclosure of data and do not reflect any of the promises of greater transparency made by the government through the EITI process.”

Beneficial owners

The contracts signed in August were for 36 oil and gas blocks, both on land and offshore, auctioned off to 46 local and global companies over the past year. While the details of those contracts remain under wraps, until recently almost nothing was known even of these companies’ owners.

Around the country’s EITI application, an international watchdog group called Global Witness began focusing on what’s known as ultimate beneficial ownership – information on who, ultimately, controls and benefits from a company’s activities. In June, the group had such information on the companies involved in just three of the blocks.

Yet after requesting information directly from the companies, Global Witness last week reported that many more companies had come forward with these details. The companies were also asked whether any of their beneficial owners were politically powerful individuals in Myanmar.

“In total, 28 companies have now participated in Global Witness’ ownership review, and we have been provided with full beneficial ownership details of all partners in 17 oil and gas blocks,” the group says in a new report, published Friday. “This shows that businesses can and will provide such information if they have an incentive, such as protection of their reputation, to do so.”

Global Witness says the information remains unverified and that a “hard core” of 18 companies continue to refuse to provide any information. Still, the group says this corporate response has already set a surprising international example.

“Not only is this significant locally, but it puts Myanmar in the unlikely position of setting a global precedent on transparency, as it’s the first time anywhere in the world that companies have systematically declared their ultimate ownership,” Juman Kubba, an analyst at Global Witness, told IPS.

“Our findings show that companies can reveal their owners if they’re pushed to do so. It’s now up to the Myanmar government with the support of the U.S. and other backers to make that push so that all oil, gas and mining company ownership in the country is public.”

Outside the framework

Still, some worry that the recent corporate disclosure wasn’t actually carried out through the EITI framework, thus suggesting that the government’s transparency pledges remain weak. They also dispute whether beneficial ownership is of foremost importance in the Myanmar context.

“This disclosure is incredibly important on the global scale, but when it comes to Burma the real concern has never been about ownership but rather about conflict related to resources,” Jennifer Quigley, the president of the U.S. Campaign for Burma, an advocacy group, told IPS.

“This wasn’t done through the EITI in this instance, and the real heart of the issue for civil society in Burma is the details of these contracts. They also want to start talking about the tremendous amount of money the Burmese government makes off of these oil and gas deals, and how most of that doesn’t benefit the people of Burma.”

Quigley says that Myanmar’s government has long been comfortable making pledges it has no intention of keeping, and she see little prospect of that changing in the near term. Still, she says the United States has linked itself so closely to extractives transparency in Myanmar that President Obama will need to broach the subject during his trip next month.

“This is really an area in which the U.S. has married itself to the Burmese government,” she says. “So they need to be paying more attention to the fact that the Burmese government isn’t living up to its EITI promises.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/ahead-of-myanmar-trip-obama-urged-to-demand-extractives-transparency/feed/ 0
Vanuatu Puts Indigenous Rights First in Land Reformhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/vanuatu-puts-indigenous-rights-first-in-land-reform/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=vanuatu-puts-indigenous-rights-first-in-land-reform http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/vanuatu-puts-indigenous-rights-first-in-land-reform/#comments Tue, 14 Oct 2014 11:01:10 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137160 Customary land remains a vital source of food security, cash incomes and social wellbeing in Pacific Island countries, such as Vanuatu, where formal employment is only 20 percent. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Customary land remains a vital source of food security, cash incomes and social wellbeing in Pacific Island countries, such as Vanuatu, where formal employment is only 20 percent. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
PORT VILA, Oct 14 2014 (IPS)

Stemming widespread corruption in the leasing of customary land to investors is the aim of bold land reform, introduced this year in the Southwest Pacific Island state of Vanuatu, which puts the rights of traditional landowners above the discretionary powers of politicians.

Less than one hour from the capital, Port Vila, is the village of Mangaliliu, one of many across this sprawling nation of 82 islands and more than 247,000 people where livelihoods centre on agriculture and fishing.

Here, villagers are battling the loss of their traditional land due to a lease negotiated without their consent.

“We thought the tourism business or selling our land would give us work and employ a lot of our people, but now we realise we made a mistake." -- Mangaliliu’s Chief Mormor
“Somebody from another village leased one piece of our land to an investor. I tried to stop him. When he started bulldozing the land, I went with my people and took palm leaves, which we use as a sign of [something that is] taboo [forbidden]. We hung them all along the road and the case is now in court,” Mangaliliu’s Chief Mormor recounted.

Pristine coastlines and sea views on the country’s main island of Efate have attracted foreign investors interested in property and tourism development and now an estimated 56.5 percent of coastal land on the island has been leased for periods up to 75 years.

More than 80 percent of land in Vanuatu is customary, with ownership held by extended families, who are custodians for the next generation. Rights of use for farming or commercial enterprises are decided by group consensus, as are proposals on leasing to other parties. The importance of land to the culture, identity, food security and social wellbeing of Pacific Islanders is reflected in most national laws, which only allow the lease – not sale – of customary land.

Yet today with the penetration of the cash economy land has also become a source of windfalls to villagers and politicians alike.

“People have learned that if they sell [lease] one piece of land they can buy a car, satellite dish or speedboat,” Mormor said. “It can take many years to save this sort of money, so it is just like a miracle if you sell land.”

However under group custodianship conflict can quickly arise if, for example, “I have a brother who sells a piece of land and doesn’t ask permission of me or my sister, or my children, or my sister’s children,” he added.

In the past, the lands minister could personally decide on disputed leases. The World Bank’s Justice for the Poor programme reports that 21.4 percent of all new leases since the country’s independence in 1980 have been signed under this provision. Last year alleged improper land dealings accounted for almost two-thirds of lawsuits against the government.

Now, the ambitions of land reform by indigenous leader Ralph Regenvanu, who was appointed lands minister in 2013, have become a reality.

In December last year new laws were passed making it mandatory that all members of customary landowner groups give their prior informed consent to any leases over their land. Potential investors must apply to a land management planning committee for approval to conduct negotiations with custom owners. Two customary institutions, Nakamals and Custom Area Land Tribunals, will decide the outcome of disputes, rather than the courts.

According to Regenvanu, investor confidence will increase because now when “you get a lease you can be assured that it was gained lawfully.” But he also believes that the economic and social security which land provides to his people will be strengthened.

Steve Namali of the Vanuatu National Council of Chiefs in Port Vila commented that, while consultation on the reforms had not been conducted nationwide, he believed they would help address the fraudulence of land deals in the past.

With adult literacy in the province estimated at 27.6 percent, the greater thoroughness of the approval process should also improve local awareness of the ramifications of entering into land agreements. For example, reclaiming land on a lease expiry often requires compensation to the lessee for developments, even though many villagers do not have the financial means to reimburse an investor the value of a tourist resort or luxury home.

Local communities often “don’t understand what is going to happen in the long term” and that most likely “at the end of a lease, it [land] will never come back to traditional tenure,” Joel Simo of the Melanesian Indigenous Land Defence Alliance (MILDA), a regional civil society landowner solidarity network, said in Port Vila.

“There is now a process in place that has to be followed and it will stop individuals going and doing their own thing,” he said. “It has been a good change for Vanuatu, especially because of this land boom and people selling land left, right and centre.”

International investors from Australia, Europe and Asia have largely driven growth in the real estate market, along with the nation’s tax haven status. In 2012, foreign direct investment (FDI) amounted to 37.7 million dollars or 4.8 percent of GDP, but Mormor claims local people have seen few benefits.

“We thought the tourism business or selling our land would give us work and employ a lot of our people, but now we realise we made a mistake,” he said.

Despite average GDP growth of four percent over the past decade, with a high of 8.5 percent in 2006, an estimated 40 percent of people have incomes below the poverty line.

“I think people want development, but what type of development and in whose interests?” Simo queried. He believes protecting indigenous landownership makes sense when the traditional economy, which includes subsistence and smallholder agriculture, is the biggest employer in Melanesia.

In comparison, “many [formal sector] jobs available involve cheap labour and that only gets people into more poverty,” he said. Formal employment in Vanuatu is only 20 percent and the average local wage is 316 dollars per month. So, he continued, “If you don’t have a job, you fall back to the land,” which is the only safety net.

Mormor now wants to retain his land for community-driven projects, such as fish farming and coconut oil production. He is happy that the new laws will help protect the land for his children, but also admits the more thorough land registration and approval process, if he engages with development partners, will take much longer than in the past.

“I could be dead when these projects start,” he laughs.

While Vanuatu’s new laws are popular, it remains to be seen how well they work, and if they eliminate political cronyism.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/vanuatu-puts-indigenous-rights-first-in-land-reform/feed/ 0
Curbing the Illegal Wildlife Trade Crucial to Preserving Biodiversityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/curbing-the-illegal-wildlife-trade-crucial-to-preserving-biodiversity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=curbing-the-illegal-wildlife-trade-crucial-to-preserving-biodiversity http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/curbing-the-illegal-wildlife-trade-crucial-to-preserving-biodiversity/#comments Mon, 13 Oct 2014 12:00:18 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137138 South Africa’s white rhinoceros recovered from near-extinction thanks to intense conservation efforts. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

South Africa’s white rhinoceros recovered from near-extinction thanks to intense conservation efforts. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

By Stella Paul
PYEONGCHANG, Republic of Korea, Oct 13 2014 (IPS)

For over five years, 33-year-old Maheshwar Basumatary, a member of the indigenous Bodo community, made a living by killing wild animals in the protected forests of the Manas National Park, a tiger reserve, elephant sanctuary and UNESCO World Heritage Site that lies on the India-Bhutan border.

Then one morning in 2005, Basumatary walked into a police check-post and surrendered his gun. Since then, the young man has been spending his time taking care of abandoned and orphaned rhino and leopard cubs.

Employed by a local conservation organisation called the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), part of the Wildlife Trust of India, Basumatary is today a symbol of wildlife conservation.

Engaging locals like Basumatary into wildlife protection and conservation is an effective way to curb wildlife crimes such as poaching, smuggling and the illegal sale of animal parts, according to Maheshwar Dhakal, an ecologist with Nepal’s ministry of environment and soil conservation.

“[Law enforcement personnel] must have proper arms. They must also have tools to collect evidence, and records. They need transportation and mobile communication to act quickly and aptly. Without this, despite arrests, there will be no convictions because of a lack of evidence." -- Maheshwar Dhakal, an ecologist with Nepal’s ministry of environment and soil conservation
On the sidelines of the ongoing 12th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 12) in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Dhakal told IPS that poverty and the prospect of higher earnings often drive locals to commit or abet wildlife crime.

Thus efforts should be made to combine conservation with income generation, so locals can be gainfully employed in efforts to protect and preserve biodiversity.

“Conservation efforts must also create livelihood opportunities within the local community,” he added.

“Everyone wants to earn more and live well. If you just tell people, ‘Go save the animals’, it’s not going to work. But if you find a way to incentivize protecting [of] wildlife, they will certainly join the force,” said Dhakal, adding that his own country is moving rapidly towards a ‘zero poaching’ status.

Poaching – a global problem

Poaching and the illegal wildlife trade are a universal menace that has been causing severe threats including possible extinction of species, economic losses, as well as loss of livelihood across the world.

According to the recently released Global Biodiversity Outlook 4 (GBO-4), the latest progress report of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the current annual illegal wildlife trade stands at some 200 billion dollars annually.

The illicit enterprise is also thriving in Asia, touching some 19 billion dollars per year according to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)’s Wildlife Enforcement Network.

Law enforcements agencies regularly confiscate smuggled products and consignments of skins and other body parts of animals including crocodiles, snakes, tigers, elephants and rhinos. The killing of tigers and rhinos is a specific concern in the region, with both creatures facing the impending risk of extinction.

One of the biggest killing fields for poachers is the Kaziranga National Park (KNP) in India’s northeastern Assam state, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to two-thirds of the world’s remaining Great One-horned Rhinoceroses. In addition, the park boasts the highest density of tigers globally, and was officially designated as a tiger reserve in 2006.

The 185-square-mile park had 2,553 rhinos in 2013. However, 126 rhinos have been killed here in the past 13 years, with 21 slaughtered in 2013 alone, according to the state’s Environment and Forest Minister Rakibul Hussain.

Illegal trade spawns conflict, disease

There is also a direct link between the illegal wildlife trade and political conflicts across the world, says a joint report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and INTERPOL, which puts the exact volume of the illegal trade at 213 billion dollars annually.

Much of this money “is helping finance criminal, militia and terrorist groups and threatening the security and sustainable development of many nations,” the report states.

According to the report, several militia groups in central and western Africa are involved in the illegal trade of animals and timber. These groups profit hugely from the trade, including through the sale of ivory, making between four and 12.2 million dollars each year.

Another report published this past February by Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs in UK, also pointed to the example of the extremist Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), which has been reported to harvest tusks from elephants in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and barter with Sudanese soldiers or poachers for guns and ammunition.

But the trouble does not end there.

Maadjou Bah is part of a COP-12 delegation from the West African country of Guinea, where an Ebola outbreak in December 2013 has since spread to the neighbouring countries of Liberia and Sierra Leone, killing at least 4,300 people to date.

Bah told IPS that illegal hunting and trade in wildlife species increases the possibility of the Ebola virus spreading to other countries. Though the government of Guinea has designated 30 percent of its forests as ‘protected’, the borders are porous, with trafficking and trade posing a continuous threat.

Besides primates, fruit bats are known to be natural carriers of the Ebola virus, and since trade in bats forms part of the illegal global chain of wildlife trade, it is possible that Ebola could travel outside the borders where it is current wreaking havoc, according to Anne-Helene Prieur Richard, executive director of the Paris-based biodiversity research institute ‘Diversitas’.

“We don’t know this for sure since there is a knowledge gap. But certainly the risk is there,” she told IPS.

Using the law

Continued poaching is largely the result of slow law enforcement, according to Braullio Ferreira de Souza Dias, executive secretary of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity.

“Enforcement has to be a priority for government[s],” he told IPS.

This can be accomplished by, among other methods, providing law enforcement personnel with the skills and equipment they need to crack down on illegal activity. Forest guards, for instance, should be properly equipped – technically and financially – to prevent crime.”

“There is a need for capacity building in the law enforcement units,” Dhakal explained. “But that doesn’t just mean attending workshops and trainings. It means weapons, tools and technologies.

“They must have proper arms. They must also have tools to collect evidence, and records. They need transportation and mobile communication to act quickly and aptly. Without this, despite arrests, there will be no convictions because of a lack of evidence,” he said.

This is especially crucial in trans-boundary forests, where a lack of proper fencing allows poachers to move freely between countries.

Sometimes, the solutions are simpler.

“For example,” Dias stated, “Nepal has forged partnerships between the government and local communities. But what motivated the [people] to go out [of their way] to find time to prevent poaching? It’s that 50 percent of all earnings in Nepal’s national parks are directed towards local communities. [Officials] convinced them that if the poaching doesn’t stop then it would mean fewer visitors and lesser earnings,” he asserted.

A look at the country’s recent increase in the number of tigers and rhinos are proof of its successful conservation efforts: in the 1970s, Nepal had only a hundred tigers left in the wild. Today there are 200 and the country is aiming to double the number by 2020.

Similarly, the number of rhinos, which was a paltry 100 in the 1960s, is now 535. “We have recruited local youths as intelligence units who collect information on the movement of poachers. It works,” reveals Dhakal.

Experts say that ending demand globally is crucial to halting poaching and illegal trade. For this, collective action at the international level must be given top priority.

Dhakal, who is also the main spokesperson for the South Asian Wildlife Enforcement Network (SAWEN), told IPS that the network has roped in several governments in the region, along with organisations like the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and INTERPOL.

Gaurav Gogoi, a member of the Indian parliament, says that governments can also cooperate at a bilateral level. “In the markets of Vietnam a single gram of rhino horn powder fetches up to [approximately 3,000 dollars],” he explained, adding that he is involved in lobbying events to push Vietnam to ban all products made of rhino horns in order to curb poaching elsewhere, including the Indian state of Assam.

“If you have poaching, it’s because there is someone out there who wants to buy those products. We have to address that,” Dias said.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/curbing-the-illegal-wildlife-trade-crucial-to-preserving-biodiversity/feed/ 1
New Trains, New Hopes, Old Anguishhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/new-trains-new-hopes-old-anguish/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-trains-new-hopes-old-anguish http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/new-trains-new-hopes-old-anguish/#comments Sat, 11 Oct 2014 13:18:26 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137115 Youth ride on a southbound train on the newly laid northern rail track near Mankulam in the northern Kilinochchi District. Built in 1914 with the final aim of linking Sri Lanka with southern India, operations on the line ceased in 1990 before recommencing in late 2013. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Youth ride on a southbound train on the newly laid northern rail track near Mankulam in the northern Kilinochchi District. Built in 1914 with the final aim of linking Sri Lanka with southern India, operations on the line ceased in 1990 before recommencing in late 2013. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
JAFFNA, Sri Lanka, Oct 11 2014 (IPS)

The kids of Kodikaman, a dusty village straddling the newly laid railway line in Sri Lanka’s northern Jaffna District, enjoy a special treat these days.

For hours on end, they wait expectantly at the edge of the rails for a track construction engine to pass by; when it nears, they rush to place metal coins on the track and when the trundling vehicle has passed, they run back gleefully to pick up the disfigured money.

This little ritual is just one of many signs that the new line, re-laid here after 24 years, is a big deal all over the Vanni, the northern region of Sri Lanka that bore the brunt of the country’s three-decade-old conflict that ended in May 2009.

Playful children run to the train track in the village of Kodikaman to collect their coins, which they had placed on the rails to be flattened by passing construction engines. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Playful children run to the train track in the village of Kodikaman to collect their coins, which they had placed on the rails to be flattened by passing construction engines. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The last train that plied the line through Kodikaman, some 380 km north of the capital, Colombo, ran on the night of Jun. 13, 1990, when the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) attacked the popular Yal Devi (Jaffna Princess) express.

The Yal Devi had previously been attacked in 1985, also by the Tigers, resulting in reduced train service throughout Sri Lanka’s northern province for almost an entire generation.

So when the first trains to enter the Vanni in over two decades did so in September 2013, school children came out in hordes just to catch a glimpse of the carriages passing through Kilinochichi, the town that was, for over a decade, the Tigers’ de-facto economic and administrative nerve centre.

Workers put the final touches on the main railway station in the northern Sri Lankan town of Jaffna, days before its scheduled opening on Oct. 13. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Workers put the final touches on the main railway station in the northern Sri Lankan town of Jaffna, days before its scheduled opening on Oct. 13. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

“The entire public here is waiting for this dream to come true,” said S L Gupta, project director for IRCON, the government-owned Indian company – a subsidiary of Indian Railways – that is reconstructing 252 km of train links in the Vanni at a cost of 800 million dollars.

The project got off the ground in February 2011 and large sections have already been completed. Trains now ply up to Madhu Road on the northwestern line and up to Pallai, about 17 km south of Jaffna, on the northern line.

On Oct. 13, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa will officially declare open the track all the way to Jaffna.

Mine warning signs keep visitors off the cleared jungle path where the northern railway once ran, near the village of Murukandhi, in the Kilinochchi District of Sri Lanka’s Northern Province. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Mine warning signs keep visitors off the cleared jungle path where the northern railway once ran, near the village of Murukandhi, in the Kilinochchi District of Sri Lanka’s Northern Province. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

“It will be momentous,” Gupta asserted.

Vadevil Jayakumar, a native of Kilinochchi, agrees with this assessment. He takes the train weekly with his wife, his sister and his young niece.

“It’s cheap, it’s convenient and faster than the bus,” Jayakumar told IPS, riding on the footrest of one of the carriages, his sister and niece occupying the open door at the other end of the train car.

Indeed, a ticket from Colombo all the way up to the Vanni – covering a distance of some 264 km – costs just 180 rupees (about 1.25 dollars). But the novelty of the trains, many say, ends there.

“Very few take the train, they prefer the bus still,” said Nesarathnam Praveen, the 23-year-old stationmaster of the Madhu Road terminus. He says the bulk of his commuters pass through here only when there are festivals at the famous Madhu Church, which attracts thousands from in and outside the province.

On ordinary days, he confesses, this little station lies mostly empty.

Even on the Yal Devi, returning from Colombo on a stifling October afternoon, the bulk of the passengers are government military personnel returning to their posts up north.

A man sleeps in a virtually empty train car as it travels between Kilinochchi and Pallai. The bulk of the passengers on this train, hailing from the capital Colombo, were returning military personnel. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man sleeps in a virtually empty train car as it travels between Kilinochchi and Pallai. The bulk of the passengers on this train, hailing from the capital Colombo, were returning military personnel. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Part of the problem, passengers say, is that trains here don’t run as regularly as they do elsewhere in the country. In fact, the most frequent carriers on the northwestern line are former road buses that have been converted into rail-friendly vehicles that move in pairs along the track.

Trains can’t outstrip poverty

Despite their multi-million-dollar price tag, the new rail links are yet to provide the spark needed to jumpstart the Vanni economy, still in the doldrums despite five years of peace and a massive reconstruction effort in the Northern Province exceeding three billion dollars.

A man on a bicycle watches the Yal Devi pass by near the northern town of Kilinochchi. Despite mega development projects, poverty is still rampant in the region and the bicycle remains one of the main modes of transport. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man on a bicycle watches the Yal Devi pass by near the northern town of Kilinochchi. Despite mega development projects, poverty is still rampant in the region and the bicycle remains one of the main modes of transport. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Poverty is rampant in the region. The poverty headcount in the Mullaitivu District is a national high of 28.8 percent, almost six times the national average of 6.7 percent and 20 times that of the 1.4 percent recorded in the Colombo District.

Other districts in the north are not faring much better: Kilinochchi has a poverty rate of 12.7 percent, Mannar 20.1 percent and Jaffna 8.3 percent.

Only Vavuniya, the southern-most of the five northern districts and the gateway to the rest of the country, is performing well, with a poverty ratio of 3.4 percent.

Unemployment rates follow a similar trend, with Kilinochchi recording a rate of 7.9 percent, nearly double the national average of 4.4 percent, while all districts other than Vavuniya recorded rates higher than the national benchmark.

The primary reason for this, experts say, has been slow job creation. Fishing and agriculture constitute the bulk of the Vanni’s economic activity, but policies aimed at creating markets and bringing in buyers are rare.

Private sector involvement, while on the rise, has not been able to breathe life into an economy repeatedly amputated by the conflict.

Economists blame  a lopsided policy framework, that has poured millions into large infrastructure development without paying adequate attention to revitalising local income generation, for the chronic poverty in the north on

Anushka Wijesinha, economist and policy advisor at the Colombo-based think-tank Institute of Policy Studies, told IPS that if transporting bulk cargo by rail is made cheaper, goods from the Vanni could achieve a more attractive price.

But for the northern railway to become a real purveyor of economic success, more attention, more incentives and more funds need to be directed to the medium- and small-scale Vanni entrepreneur.

“The new transport [line] can certainly boost economic connectivity of businesses in Jaffna and Mannar,” Wijesinha said. “But enterprise policies must focus on helping to grow indigenous businesses in these regions. Otherwise the enhanced connectivity might benefit businesses coming from outside into these regions more than it helps businesses that are already struggling to grow.”

 

“Policies that improve the business climate, access to finance, technology and business skills will be key,” Wijesinha concluded.

Economist Muttukrishna Sarvananthan, who specialises in the northern economy, told IPS that before the conflict erupted, the northern region brought in the highest per-region revenue to the Railways Department. This was likely due to the fact that the Northern Line was the longest in the country, with 83 station stops.

Sarvananthan, who heads the Point Pedro Institute of Development in Jaffna, emphasised that the government needs to come up with an integrated plan to capitalise on cheaper costs made possible by the railway.

“The Government should incentivise private businesses to set up warehouses adjoining the main railway stations in order to spur cargo trade via railroads,” he stated.

“The re-opening of the rail line to the Northern Province provides healthy competition to road transport services, both cargo and passenger, thereby reducing the transport costs to passengers and businesses alike.

“The resulting reduction in the transaction costs of businesses is likely to benefit consumers by the reduction in prices of consumer goods and services,” he concluded.

If no such integrated plans are made, a familiar refrain will echo in the Vanni, with a large infrastructure project leaving a poverty-stricken community in awe, but in reality no better off than they were before.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/new-trains-new-hopes-old-anguish/feed/ 4
Youth Employment Critical to Sustainable Development in Pacific Islandshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/youth-employment-critical-to-sustainable-development-in-pacific-islands/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=youth-employment-critical-to-sustainable-development-in-pacific-islands http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/youth-employment-critical-to-sustainable-development-in-pacific-islands/#comments Thu, 09 Oct 2014 05:54:01 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137077 In Samoa two in three young people make a living in the informal economy, including selling food items in market areas and bus stops in the capital, Apia. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

In Samoa two in three young people make a living in the informal economy, including selling food items in market areas and bus stops in the capital, Apia. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
APIA, Oct 9 2014 (IPS)

The size of the youth population in the Pacific Islands is double the global average with 54 percent aged below 24 years, creating enormous challenges for slow-growing small island economies unable to create jobs fast enough.

Generating employment opportunities for tens of thousands of school leavers is now an urgent issue on the Pacific’s post-2015 development agenda. Otherwise a poor landscape of opportunity could jeopardise the potential of a generation whose public and economic participation is vital to progressing sustainable development in the region.

Youth unemployment is estimated at 23 percent in the Pacific Islands region, rising to 46 percent in the Solomon Islands and 62 percent in the Marshall Islands, compared to the global average of 12.6 percent.

"[Institutions] are still bringing out lawyers when there is a desperate need here for electricians and plumbers, and at the university they are producing hundreds of students with commerce degrees, but that is a market adequately filled." -- Jennifer Fruean, chair of the National Youth Council in Samoa
“Youth unemployment in this country is critical and one of our highest priorities,” Jennifer Fruean, chair of the National Youth Council in Samoa, a South Pacific Island developing state located northeast of Fiji, told IPS.

Approximately one quarter of Samoa’s population of 190,372 is employed and economically active and youth account for about half of the remaining unemployed, according to government statistics.

“In the villages, I think that is where most of the youth are static, but there is also a very noticeable shift with urbanisation that is causing a number of youth to come to Apia and they are becoming idle,” she continued.

Lack of sufficient job creation is affecting both young people who lack adequate education, as well as those who possess qualifications and experience. The only route for many of the latter is emigration to larger economies, such as New Zealand, Australia and the United States.

With 76 percent of those with a tertiary education leaving, the country is experiencing a ‘brain drain’ and 44.7 percent of private sector employers are experiencing skills shortages, reports the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

Samoa’s economy, dependent on agriculture, fisheries, tourism and remittances, has been severely impacted in the last 20 years by natural disasters. In 2012 Cyclone Evan devastated infrastructure and crops resulting in economic losses equal to 30 percent of GDP.

The global financial crisis also led to widespread formal sector job cuts in Samoa with waged employment declining from 28,179 in 2006 to 23,365 in 2011 and private sector jobs falling from 16,921 in 2007 to 12,711 in 2010.

Only one-quarter to one-third of Pacific Islanders finishing school are likely to secure formal sector employment, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). This leaves a high proportion of an estimated more than 5,000 school leavers each year vulnerable to exclusion in Samoa, where formal sector employment is around 30 percent.

The social impacts of high teenage pregnancies and a low secondary school completion rate, with an estimated 35 percent of this age group in Samoa not in education, are also aggravating factors.

Fruean believes the main reason is the inability of families to pay school fees and suggests the government’s introduction last year of fee-free secondary education will help improve the final year retention rate of 48 percent.

But there are also questions about the quality and relevance of education for employment demand.

Institutions “are still bringing out lawyers when there is a desperate need here for electricians and plumbers, and at the university they are producing hundreds of students with commerce degrees, but that is a market adequately filled,” Fruean explained.

Somaya Moll, business, investment and technology expert with the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), advocates private sector development, which “basically enables people to take charge of their own lives [by giving] them the tools to do so.”

“Self-sufficiency, ownership and accountability are important and it is proven to work,” she told IPS during the United Nations Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) recently held in Samoa’s capital, Apia.

The small size of Pacific islands and their populations is a drawback for ‘economies of scale’, keeping costs of production high. But Moll said introducing entrepreneurship awareness into school curriculums and encouraging financial institutions to consider the creditworthiness of young people could improve the business environment.

The informal economy, which accounts for up to 70 percent of economic activity in the Pacific Islands and Caribbean regions, is a potential growth area, say regional experts.

“It has always been an important source of sustainability [in the Caribbean],” Dessima Williams from Grenada and UNIDO Senior Policy Advisor said during an interview at the U.N. SIDS conference.

“And what has happened recently is that as the formal sector has crashed, more and more other people are entering the informal sector” as are “young people coming out of college who are finding no jobs in the formal sector,” Williams added.

Fruean sees the same potential in Samoa where two-thirds of young people are making a living through informal activities.

“There is so much potential in the informal and agricultural sectors and we encourage the unemployed youth to become economically active in these sectors”, for example, through organic farming or creative production. The cultural and creative industries in the Pacific are reportedly growing at about seven percent per year.

Also “the solution of co-operatives is coming back because the cost of production is so high. A lot of young people [in the Caribbean] are producing music all together, or somebody is writing it and somebody is mixing it, so it is sustainable,” Williams said.

But if the informal sector is to play a role in sustainable and decent job creation, training, skills, working conditions, value addition and production standards need to be improved, she continued. Low productive subsistence activities also need to be up-scaled and developed with greater market orientation and potential for export explored, where feasible. In the agricultural sector alone, which accounts for two thirds of the workforce, only one quarter of production is for the market with the remainder for domestic consumption.

Many young people in the informal sector don’t have experience of budgeting and managing their money, and this is an important area of awareness that needs to be addressed, too, according to the Samoan National Youth Council.

Efforts to galvanise the potential of Pacific Islander youth must be expanded to prevent increased poverty and inequality in the next generation and the social fallout of disaffection when aspirations for productive lives are not fulfilled.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/youth-employment-critical-to-sustainable-development-in-pacific-islands/feed/ 0
Most Nations Reducing Worst Forms of Child Labourhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/most-nations-reducing-worst-forms-of-child-labour/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=most-nations-reducing-worst-forms-of-child-labour http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/most-nations-reducing-worst-forms-of-child-labour/#comments Wed, 08 Oct 2014 00:27:27 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137061 Children such as these are used as smugglers across the India-Bangladesh border. Credit: Sujoy Dhar/IPS

Children such as these are used as smugglers across the India-Bangladesh border. Credit: Sujoy Dhar/IPS

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Oct 8 2014 (IPS)

Most of the world’s governments are taking measures to reduce the worst and most hazardous forms of child labour, according to a major report released here Tuesday by the U.S. Labour Department.

In its annual assessment of progress toward eliminating that kind of exploitation, the 958-page report found that roughly half of the 140-some countries and foreign territories covered by the report had made what it called “moderate” advances in the field.“I’m talking about children who carry huge loads on their backs and wield machetes on farms…who scavenge in garbage dumps and crawl in underground mine shafts." -- U.S. Labour Secretary Thomas Perez

Thirteen countries – most of them in Latin America — were found to have made “significant” progress in eliminating the worst forms of child labour during 2013 compared to the year before.

But another 13 nations and territories, notably the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Uzbekistan, and Venezuela, were found to have made none at all.

“This report shines a light on children around the globe who are being robbed of their futures, who spend their days and often their nights engaged in some of the most gruelling work imaginable,” said U.S. Labour Secretary Thomas Perez, at the release of the ‘2013 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor’.

“I’m talking about children who carry huge loads on their backs and wield machetes on farms…who scavenge in garbage dumps and crawl in underground mine shafts searching for precious minerals from which someone else will profit,” he said. “Children with munitions strapped to their bodies, pressed into service as combatants in armed conflicts; children who are victims of trafficking or commercial sexual exploitation.”

The report, which consists mainly of specific profiles of the child labour situation and what national governments are doing about it in specific countries and territories that benefit under the U.S. Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) or other trade-boosting programmes, such as the Andean Trade Preference Act or the African Growth and Opportunities Act, has been mandated by Congress since 2002. The report also recommends steps governments can take to improve the situation.

It gains widespread praise from labour and child-welfare activist groups that use it as a way to raise public consciousness and as a source of pressure on foreign governments to do more to eliminate it.

While the Labour Department itself cannot take punitive action against unresponsive governments, the report can influence actions by other U.S. agencies, such as the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative that can, for example, reduce or eliminate trade benefits in cases of serious violations of international labour conventions.

“Overall, this report has been a fantastic tool for the advocacy community,” said Reid Maki of the Child Labor Coalition (CLC), which includes more than two dozen labour, church, consumer, and human rights groups. “It gives us something to measure progress each year and allows countries to compare their performance with others.”

“I think the report is a tremendous achievement,” Brian Campbell of the Washington-based International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) told IPS. He praised, in particular, its treatment of Uzbekistan, whose government has long been criticised for forcing school students to take part in the cotton harvest.

“They demonstrated a lot of courage …by making very clear that not only have children been taken out of school, but also that the whole system is based on forced labour by the government,” he said. “The challenge will be for the other U.S. government agencies to take on this analysis – including the Customs Service which is required to ban imports produced by forced labour.”

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) defines the “worst forms of child labour” as all forms of slavery, such as debt bondage, child trafficking, and forced recruitment of children in armed conflicts; the use of children for prostitution or pornography; their use of illicit activities, such as the production or trafficking of drugs; and “hazardous work” which, in turn is defined as any that “jeopardises the physical, mental or moral well-being” of a child.

According to ILO statistics, the number of children engaged in the worst forms of child labour or whose age is below the minimum prescribed by national law has fallen from about 246 million in 2000 to 168 million in 2012. The latter figure still accounts for roughly one in every 10 children from five to 18 years old worldwide.

The number of children engaged in “hazardous work” halved – from 170 million to 85 million – over the same period, according to the ILO.

The report divided countries into those where advances in eliminating the worst forms of child labour were “significant”, “moderate”, “minimal”, and none. Progress was assessed according to a number of criteria, including the enactment of laws, efforts at enforcement and co-ordination, the adoption of specific policies, and the implementation of social programmes designed to eliminate the problem, and encourage children to remain in school.

The 13 countries whose progress was deemed “significant” included Albania, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cote d’Ivoire, Ecuador, El Salvador, Peru, the Philippines, South Africa, Tunisia, and Uganda.

The CLC’s Maki, who also serves as the director of child labour advocacy at the National Consumers League, called the list “very encouraging.” “Most of these countries have had a lot of child labour problems in the past,” he told IPS.

He noted that “steady progress” had been made over the last several years, in particular. Since 2011, he said, the number of countries that had made “significant” progress had grown from two to 13, while the number with “moderate” advances had likewise increased from 47 to 72.

Conversely, the number of countries and territories with “minimal” or “no” progress has fallen from 82 to 50 – 20 of which were small islands, such as Anguilla, Barbados, Tonga, Tuvalu, and the Falkland/Malvinas Islands with small populations, Maki pointed out.

Besides the DRC, Eritrea, Uzbekistan, and Venezuela, the more-significant laggards in the “minimal” category included Algeria, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Mozambique, Serbia, South Sudan, Uruguay, Yemen, and Zimbabwe.

One weakness of the report, according to ILRF’s Campbell was its failure to address how the private sector – including powerful multinational corporations — contributes to the worst forms of child labour.

“In the Malawi section, for example, the reports focuses at length what the government has done, but it doesn’t address the contract system of production of tobacco, as implemented by U.S. tobacco companies and their subsidiaries, which is a root cause of the child labour problem there,” he said.

“It’s largely because the Labour Department views its Congressional mandate as very limited; i.e., only what the governments are doing,” he said. “I think they could interpret the scope of the report to include other issues, such as the business practices of companies and how they also contribute to the problem.”

But Maki was more reserved. “If you expand the scope of the report to the business world,” he said, “you might muddy things enough to let the governments off the hook.”

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.comHe can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/most-nations-reducing-worst-forms-of-child-labour/feed/ 0
Synthetic Biology Could Open a Whole New Can of Wormshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/synthetic-biology-could-open-a-whole-new-can-of-worms/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=synthetic-biology-could-open-a-whole-new-can-of-worms http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/synthetic-biology-could-open-a-whole-new-can-of-worms/#comments Tue, 07 Oct 2014 17:48:42 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137042 In addition to its prized value as an ingredient in high-end perfumes, the vetiver plant has important conservation benefits, preventing soil erosion and helping maintain water quality. Credit: treesftf/cc by 2.0

In addition to its prized value as an ingredient in high-end perfumes, the vetiver plant has important conservation benefits, preventing soil erosion and helping maintain water quality. Credit: treesftf/cc by 2.0

By Desmond Brown
PYEONGCHANG, Republic of Korea, Oct 7 2014 (IPS)

Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, is the world’s leading producer of vetiver. In the southwest of the country, vetiver production is hard to ignore.

Driving into Les Cayes, the largest town in the south, one is greeted by fields of vetiver on either side of the road. The same is true if driving from Les Cayes to Port Salut. Steep hillsides of the green grass line many of the ridges between the two towns.Synthetic biology differs from conventional genetic engineering in its technique, scale, and its use of novel and synthetic genetic sequences – raising new risks to biodiversity.

Haitian vetiver is highly regarded among perfumers, and it is a key ingredient in some of the finest and most expensive perfumes in the world.

However, struggling Haitians who farm this product could be dealt another harsh blow with the introduction of a new industry – synthetic biology. Although still undefined, synthetic biology can be described as ‘extreme genetic engineering,’ and refers broadly to the use of computer-assisted, biological engineering to design and construct new synthetic biological parts, devices and systems, and to redesign existing biological organisms.

“In countries like Haiti there are high-value agricultural exports that form a significant part of the economy, and those high-value low-volume goods are slated to be created by companies like Evolva and could replace the truly natural products,” Dana Perls, food and technology campaigner with the civil society group Friends of the Earth U.S., told IPS.

“Evolva is creating synthetic biology flavours and fragrances which could be offered at a much cheaper price and would ultimately remove the need for different farmers of flavours and fragrances.”

Haiti’s vetiver crop is processed by 10 distillers, but it provides jobs for some 27,000 farming families in the southwest. For these farmers, the vetiver plant has important conservation benefits, preventing soil erosion, and helping maintain water quality.

The global value of the synthetic biology market reached 1.6 billion dollars in 2011and it will further grow to 10.8 billion by 2016, increasing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 45.8 percent.

Haiti’s share of worldwide vetiver exports grew from 40 percent in 2001 to over 60 percent in 2007. But in the wake of the worldwide financial crisis, Haiti has seen a sharp reduction in vetiver exports. The country, which shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, produces about 50 to 60 tonnes of vetiver annually, about 50 percent of the world’s supply.

An estimated 60,000 people in Haiti’s Les Cayes region depend on vetiver as their primary income source. The crop is grown on 10,000 hectares.

Before 2009, Haiti’s vetiver crop was valued at approximately 15-18 million dollars per year. In recent years, Haiti’s export earnings from vetiver have declined to around 10 million per year.

While biotechnology has been portrayed as a panacea for climate change and other societal ills, critics say these claims are largely unproven. Credit: Bigstock

While biotechnology has been portrayed as a panacea for climate change and other societal ills, critics say these claims are largely unproven. Credit: Bigstock

Synthetic biology differs from conventional genetic engineering in its technique, scale, and its use of novel and synthetic genetic sequences – raising new risks to biodiversity.

Friends of the Earth International is urging caution and has made several recommendations to the 12th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 12) being held here from Oct. 6-17.

“We are recommending a moratorium on the environmental release and the commercial use of synthetic biology, specifically because of the lack of international regulations and virtual lack of environmental and safety assessments anywhere in the world. We are encouraging the CBD to stand behind the precautionary approach which countries have already agreed to by being signatories to the CBD,” Perls said.

“This is a new and emerging issue and needs to be treated as such. Many of the concerns have to do with the environmental, cultural, social impacts of this new technology, including what would happen if a product like ginseng here in Korea were to be produced using synthetic biology. The impact that it would have on small famers across this country could be immense.

“It would also have a large impact on countries like Brazil where the feed stock would be grown in order to produce these synthetic biology organisms, which will churn out whatever you’ve designed it to churn out,” she added.

While biotechnology has been portrayed as a panacea for climate change and other societal ills, Friends of the Earth said the claims that genetically engineered plants and microbes can sequester more carbon in the soil and produce more fuels when processed than conventional methods have yet to be proven.

The group noted that “in the wake of these unfulfilled promises” emerges synthetic biology, a more extreme form of genetic engineering, which has also been touted as the solution to the climate crisis.

But the group said synthetic biology is not a sustainable solution to the climate crisis and has the potential to create an entirely new set of problems.

The Philippines is the world’s biggest producer and exporter of coconut oil. Twenty-five million people in a population of 100 million are directly or indirectly dependent on the coconut industry for their livelihoods and domestic food security.

Neth Dano, programme manager with the ETC Group, told IPS, “There is a lot at stake for the Philippines” on this issue because synthetic biology could potentially replace coconut oil in the global market.

“In the Philippines, coconut production is not done in a plantation way, it’s small scale. And in the structure of rural economies, in most cases the coconut producers are among the poorest ones,” Dano explained.

Dano said the CBD as the United Nations body responsible for looking at potential impacts of development on biodiversity and also primarily for conservation of biodiversity can do a lot to address the concerns over synthetic biology.

“The CBD is the only body in the United Nations that had taken up synthetic biology so far and addressed the concerns on its potential impacts on biodiversity,” Dano said.

Dano noted also that most of the commercial beginnings of synthetic biology were related to climate change.

“The earlier research and development efforts were focusing on algae that actually would produce biofuels. And biofuels were seen as a solution to address this problem of massive greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming. So it was actually presented as a solution to climate change as a mitigation strategy,” she said.

“The big oil companies invested so much in the development of biofuels from synthetically modified algae but the investments did not deliver, so now they’ve shifted their attention to low-volume high-value and this is where the lauric oils come in,” Dano added.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/synthetic-biology-could-open-a-whole-new-can-of-worms/feed/ 1
Latin America on a Dangerous Precipicehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/latin-america-on-a-dangerous-precipice/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-on-a-dangerous-precipice http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/latin-america-on-a-dangerous-precipice/#comments Thu, 02 Oct 2014 11:51:04 +0000 Diana Cariboni http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136964 A traffic jam in Jaciara, Brazil, caused by repairs to the BR-364 road. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A traffic jam in Jaciara, Brazil, caused by repairs to the BR-364 road. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Diana Cariboni
MONTEVIDEO, Oct 2 2014 (IPS)

“We could be the last Latin American and Caribbean generation living together with hunger.”

The assertion, made by Raúl Benítez, a regional officer for the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), shows one side of the coin: only 4.6 percent of the region’s population is undernourished, according to the latest figures.

By 2030, however, most of the countries in the region will face a serious risk situation due to climate change.

With almost 600 million inhabitants, Latin America and the Caribbean has a third of the world’s fresh water and more than a quarter of its medium to high potential farmland, points out a book published this year by the Inter-American Development Bank in partnership with Global Harvest Initiative, a private-sector think-tank.

It is the largest net food-exporting region, while it uses just a fraction of its agricultural potential for both consuming and exporting.

But almost a quarter of the region’s rural people still live on less than two dollars a day, and the region is prone to disasters (earthquakes, hurricanes, floods and droughts), some of them exacerbated by climate change.

Global warming poses serious challenges to the international community’s goal of eradicating poverty and hunger. Changes in rainfall patterns, soils and temperatures are already stressing agricultural systems.

Currently, more than 800 million people worldwide are at risk of hunger. Through its devastating impact on crops and livelihoods, climate change is predicted to increase that number by as much as 20 percent by 2050, according to a recent United Nations report.

Changes in temperature and rainfall patterns could lead to food price rises of between three percent and 84 percent by 2050, thereby feeding a vicious cycle of poverty and inequality.

Oxfam reports that in the more extreme scenarios, heat and water stress could reduce crop yields by 25 percent between 2030 and 2049.

Climate change is likely to impact mostly small and family farmers, who produce more than half the food in the region and have inadequate resources with which to deal with unpredictable weather.

Despite this looming threat, strategies for sustainability are far from clear. Regional drivers of growth are export-oriented commodities, and while some sectors have advanced in added value, technology and innovation, natural resources exploitation is still the key of the whole regional boom.

By 2011, raw materials and commodities accounted for 60 percent of regional exports, compared to 40 percent in 2000. At the same time, this growth of commodities exports led to a replacement of domestic manufactures by imported goods, affecting manufacturing industries in the region.

In rural areas, conflicting models of small farming and extensive monocultures based on genetically modified seeds compete for the land in a David versus Goliath fight.

In Paraguay, the fourth largest exporter of soybeans in the world, 1.6 percent of owners hold 80 percent of the agricultural land. In Guatemala, eight percent of producers own 82 percent of farmlands, while 80 percent of productive land in Colombia is in the hands of 14 percent of landowners, according to Oxfam.

Agriculture and related deforestation are major sources of greenhouse gasses (GHG) in Latin America, though other sources are growing rapidly. Brazil, for example, is joining the club of big polluters, with the burning of fossil fuels accounting for the majority of its GHG emissions in the last five years.

As the extractive industries grow, they demand more highways, railroads and ports, putting pressure on governments to avoid the so-called logistics blackout.

Energy demand is increasing too, not only from industries, but also from millions of people lifted out of poverty, and thus with larger consumption needs. The region’s energy demand for the period 2010-2017 increases at an annual rate of five percent.

The region is poised to cross a new fossil fuel frontier, when Argentina, Brazil and Mexico overcome their own political, financial and technical challenges to exploit substantial reserves of unconventional hydrocarbons, like the Argentinian Vaca Muerta geological formation or the pre-salt layer located in the Brazilian continental shelf.

It is difficult to argue that a region so rich in natural resources has no right to thrive on the demand and supply of commodities, particularly when the resulting fiscal revenues have allowed impoverished countries like Bolivia to drastically reduce extreme poverty numbers (from 38 percent in 2005 to 20 percent in 2013).

However, experts warn this path is unsustainable and climate change impacts, felt across the region, can undermine any social gain.

In Guatemala, the worst drought in 40 years is putting 1.2 million people at risk of suffering hunger in the next months. Those who suffer the worst impacts of unsustainable development models will ironically be those who contribute the least to global warming.

A recent U.N. document summarising actions for the follow-up to the programme of action adopted at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) found that only about a “third of the world’s population could be considered as having consumption profiles that contribute to emissions.”

Fewer than one billion of them have a significant impact, while “a smaller minority is responsible for an overwhelming share of the damage,” the report added.

Still, it will be the poorest people who will bear the brunt, and Latin America, dubbed ‘the next global breadbasket’, is in desperate need of strong local and global action towards the goal of achieving sustainable development in the next decade.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/latin-america-on-a-dangerous-precipice/feed/ 1
Boosting Incomes and Empowering Rural Women in Cubahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/boosting-incomes-and-empowering-rural-women-in-cuba/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=boosting-incomes-and-empowering-rural-women-in-cuba http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/boosting-incomes-and-empowering-rural-women-in-cuba/#comments Tue, 30 Sep 2014 15:54:29 +0000 Patricia Grogg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136943 A member of the Vivero Alamar Cooperative carrying ornamental plants at a nursery in a suburb of Havana. Access to employment is a problem for women in rural areas. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A member of the Vivero Alamar Cooperative carrying ornamental plants at a nursery in a suburb of Havana. Access to employment is a problem for women in rural areas. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Sep 30 2014 (IPS)

Leonor Pedroso’s sewing machine has dressed children in the Cuban town of Florida for 30 years. But it was only a few months ago that the seamstress was able to become formally self-employed.

“My husband, a small farmer, didn’t let me work outside the home,” Pedroso, 63, told IPS. “I could only sew things for neighbours or close friends, for free or really cheap. According to him, jobs weren’t for women.”

She is now one of the beneficiaries of a project funded by international development aid that helps women entrepreneurs with the aim of closing the gender gap, as part of the economic reforms underway in this socialist Caribbean island nation.

Pedroso, whose main activities were running the household and raising the couple’s four children, did not have a stable enough flow of income or the knowledge to capitalise on her skills until she took courses in business plan development and management and gender along with other female entrepreneurs.

“I stood up to my husband, to do what I like to do, and now I am setting up a business in my home, to sell what I make and to teach young girls to sew and embroider,” she said with satisfaction, while waiting for the delivery of new sewing machines for her business.“I moved to where I could find work because I couldn’t let my 12-year-old daughter go hungry. Then I learned how to sell my harvest and invest the money I earn.” -- Neysi Fernández

She is now a new member of the local Producción Animal 25 Aniversario Cooperative.

The project, carried out by ACSUR Las Segovias, a non-governmental organisation from Spain, and the local Asociación Nacional de Agricultores Pequeños (ANAP – National Association of Small Farmers), with financing from the European Union, provides training and inputs to 24 women, including farmers, craftmakers and rural leaders.

The project, whose formal title is “incorporation of rural female entrepreneurs into local socioeconomic development from a gender perspective”, has helped women who have traditionally been homemakers to generate an income. It is to be completed at the end of the year.

The women involved are in Artemisa, a province near Havana; Camagüey, a province in east-central Cuba, where Florida is located; and the eastern province of Granma.

“In the past, men were seen as the breadwinners and the owners of the land, but women have started to understand what they themselves contribute to the family economy,” Lorena Rodríguez, who works in the area of projects with ACSUR Las Segovia, told IPS.

She said “machismo” and sexism continue to stand in the way of the incorporation of rural women in the labour market.

One of the women involved in the project is Neysi Fernández who, seeking a way to make a living, moved from her hometown of Yateras in the eastern province of Guantánamo to Guanajay in the province of Artemisa, where a family member offered her a piece of land to work.

On the four hectares of land she is planting cassava, malanga (a tuber resembling a sweet potato), beans, maize and plantains.

“I moved to where I could find work because I couldn’t let my 12-year-old daughter go hungry,” the 42-year-old small farmer, who married a manual labourer four years ago, told IPS. “Then I learned how to sell my harvest and invest the money I earn.”

According to social researchers, the problem of access to remunerated work is one of the worst forms of inequality in rural areas in Cuba. Women represent 47 percent of the more than 2.8 million rural inhabitants in this country of 11.2 million people.

The work carried out by the wives and daughters of small farmers – raising livestock, tending family gardens, taking care of the home and raising children – is not recognised or remunerated, speakers said at the third review meeting of the National Action Plan held in 2013 to follow up on the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.

Only 65,993 women belong to ANAP, and they represent just 17 percent of the association’s total membership, according to figures published this year by Cuba’s daily newspaper, Granma.

Women make up 142,300 of the 1.838 million people who work in agriculture, livestock, forestry and fishing in Cuba, according to 2013 data from the national statistics office, ONEI.

The economic reforms undertaken by President Raúl Castro since 2008, with the aim of reviving the country’s flagging economy, have included the distribution of idle land under decree laws 259 of 2008, and 300 of 2012.

The objective is to boost food production in a country where 40 percent of the farmland is now in private hands, according to ONEI’s 2013 statistical yearbook.

But it is still mainly men who have the land, credits and farm machinery, and they remain a majority when it comes to decision-making in rural areas.

Given the lack of affirmative action by the state to boost female participation in rural areas, several civil society organisations and international aid agencies have been working to foster local development with a gender perspective.

With backing from the international relief and development organisation Oxfam, more than 15 women’s collective business enterprises will be operating in 10 municipalities in eastern Cuba by the end of the year. They include a flower shop, beauty salon, laundry, cheese shop, and several tire repair businesses.

With funds from the European Union, the Basque Agency for Development Cooperation and the Japanese Embassy in Cuba, the small businesses have been furnished with equipment and vehicles for transportation. In addition, the participants have taken part in workshops on self-esteem, leadership and personal growth.

According to sociologist Yohanka Valdés, the value of these projects lies in the strengthening of women’s capacity through empowerment and recognition of their rights.

“If an opportunity emerges, men are in a better position to take advantage of it because they don’t have to take care of the family,” the researcher told IPS.

Economist Dayma Echevarría says the female half of the population is at a disadvantage when it comes to the diversification of non-state activities in Cuba.

She says gender stereotypes in Cuba keep women in their role as homemakers and primary caretakers.

In one of the chapters of the book on the Cuban economy, “Miradas a la economía cubana” (Editorial Caminos, 2013), Echevarría says the lack of support services for caretakers is one of the reasons for rural women’s vulnerability when it comes to employment.

The recent process of land distribution has not translated into opportunities for boosting gender equality because it failed to foster active female participation, according to the expert.

At the same time, there are few Cuban women with the resources to set up their own businesses within the current regulatory framework.

Echevarría said Cubans were still waiting for the implementation of regulations that would enable more equitable insertion of women under the new labour conditions while incorporating a gender focus.

Cuba is in 15th place in the Global Gender Gap Report 2013, but in the subindex on economic participation and opportunity it ranks 66th out of the 153 countries studied.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/boosting-incomes-and-empowering-rural-women-in-cuba/feed/ 0
From Subsistence to Profit, Swazi Farmers Get a Helping Handhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/from-subsistence-to-profit-swazi-farmers-get-a-helping-hand/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=from-subsistence-to-profit-swazi-farmers-get-a-helping-hand http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/from-subsistence-to-profit-swazi-farmers-get-a-helping-hand/#comments Tue, 30 Sep 2014 10:17:27 +0000 Mantoe Phakathi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136938 Processing baby vegetables at Sidemane Farm. Credit: Mantoe Phakathi/IPS

Processing baby vegetables at Sidemane Farm. Credit: Mantoe Phakathi/IPS

By Mantoe Phakathi
MBABANE, Sep 30 2014 (IPS)

Men in blue overalls are offloading vegetables from trucks while their female counterparts dress and pack the fresh produce before storing it in a cold room.

When another truck drives in, the packed items are loaded and the consignment is driven away again."Production is not a problem but getting access to the market is a challenge. That’s why you’d find farmers giving away their produce for free because that is the only way they can prevent it from being spoilt.” -- Betina Edziwa

Such are the daily activities at Sidemane Farm, situated a few kilometres outside the Swazi capital of Mbabane.

“The farmers have a contract to supply me with baby vegetables throughout the year,” Themba Dlamini told IPS.

In turn, he supplies Woolworths stores in South Africa with the vegetables, a business he said was very “sensitive”. Not only does his client demand high quality vegetables, but he has to be on time when it comes to meeting deadlines.

He bought the E1.6 million business from its previous owner in 2005 and he says demand has been growing each year.

“I’m competing with other suppliers from South Africa and Kenya,” he said.

The contracted farmers are critical to the survival of his business because the 90-hectare land that is cultivated by the existing farmers is no longer enough. He needs more farmers to supply him.

With a staff of 95, Sidemane currently exports 25 tonnes of vegetables monthly, although there is a potential to expand to 40 tonnes. But for the company to meet its growing demand, it needs to train more farmers. Lack of adequate funding was a limiting factor.

“When buying the farm, I took a loan and I was not in a position to get another loan until I finish this one,” he said. “It would have been difficult to expand without additional financial support.”

Last year, Dlamini applied and got an E380,000 grant from the European Union-funded Marketing Investment Fund (MIF), an initiative under the Swaziland Agriculture Development Programme (SADP). The Ministry of Agriculture implemented the SADP while the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations provided technical assistance.

From the MIF grant, Dlamini got a mini-truck, a generator and crates in which he packs the vegetables. The truck is very useful for transporting the vegetables and reaching out to farmers for trainings.

“We experience a lot of power cuts yet we deal with perishables. The generator helps to keep the stock whenever we don’t have power,” explained Dlamini.

He is one of 47 famers and agro-processors to benefit since 2012, said MIF coordinator Betina Edziwa. The project is the boost that many farmers needed to grow their businesses and improve their livelihoods.

“It has been realised that production for farmers is not a problem but getting access to the market is a challenge,” said Edziwa. “That’s why you’d find farmers giving away their produce for free because that is the only way they can prevent it from being spoilt.”

This necessitated the need to create a funding mechanism to enable beneficiaries to buy equipment and get training to help farmers sell their products. The grants were not handed out in cash, but the farmers were given the equipment and trained in business management and marketing.

“Successful applicants were those working with smallholders or were involved in value-addition,” said Edziwa.

This is one government and development partners’ initiative to reduce poverty and food insecurity in the country, where 63 percent of the one million population lives below the poverty line, according to the 2010 Swaziland Household Income and Expenditure Survey (SHIES).

Given the high incidence of HIV/AIDS – with Swaziland leading the world at 26 percent of the productive age group – a lot of farmers took a knock.

This is the injection that many Swazi farmers needed to ensure that they are able to grow from just being subsistence to commercial agriculture, said Minister of Agriculture Moses Vilakati.

“The fund is in line with ministry’s approved strategy on diversification and commercialisation,” he said.

Although the disbursement of funds under the MIF came to an end in June, Vilakati said the ministry will establish an agribusiness section to ensure sustainability and expansion of the initiative through follow-up training, monitoring and evaluation of the enterprises and the farmers.

In a recent interview on the FAO’s website, SADP’s chief technical advisor, Nehru Essomba, said MIF is part of the broader SADP that has benefited 20,000 farmers in many other activities. One of the activities includes the rehabilitation of six dams for irrigation to support production, not only of crops but also livestock.

“We’re already helping more than 20,000 famers move from subsistence agriculture to a more sustainable high income-generating and market-led agriculture,” said Essomba.

It is a comprehensive approach in addressing the value chain, said EU Ambassador to Swaziland Nicola Bellomo on the same website. He said this programme links production, processing and marketing of the product, which is new in the country, a net importer.

“We are trying to develop a capacity and ability to export food,” said Bellomo.

And this is what Sidemane and many other famers are already doing.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/from-subsistence-to-profit-swazi-farmers-get-a-helping-hand/feed/ 0
U.S. to Create National Plan on Responsible Business Practiceshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-s-to-create-national-plan-on-responsible-business-practices/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-to-create-national-plan-on-responsible-business-practices http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-s-to-create-national-plan-on-responsible-business-practices/#comments Tue, 30 Sep 2014 00:14:55 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136936 By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Sep 30 2014 (IPS)

The United States will begin developing a national action plan on responsible business practices, following on several years of related advocacy from civil society.

The plan will detail how the United States will implement landmark U.N. guidelines outlining the responsibility of multinational businesses to respect human rights. While the United Nations has urged participating governments to draft concrete plans for putting into practice the guidelines, known as the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, thus far only three countries have done so – Denmark, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.“What we’ll expect is what we’ve seen in the past, where industry is not going to want anything that’s binding.” -- Human Rights Watch’s Arvind Ganesan

Yet on the sidelines of last week’s U.N. General Assembly, President Barack Obama for the first time announced that his administration would begin formulating such a plan.

“[W]e intend to partner with American businesses to develop a national plan to promote responsible and transparent business conduct overseas,” the president stated. “We already have laws in place; they’re significantly stronger than the laws of many other countries. But we think we can do better.”

Obama suggested that clarity around responsible business practices is good for all involved, including industry and local communities.

“Because when [companies] know there’s a rule of law, when they don’t have to pay a bribe to ship their goods or to finalise a contract, that means they’re more likely to invest, and that means more jobs and prosperity for everybody,” the president said.

A White House fact sheet noted that the plan would aim to “promote and incentivize responsible business conduct, including with respect to transparency and anticorruption.” It also stated that the plan would be “consistent” with the U.N. Guiding Principles and similar guidelines from the OECD grouping of rich countries.

Additional details on the formulation process are not yet available, though observers expect a draft next year. For now, however, advocacy groups are applauding the president’s announcement as preliminary but significant.

“This could end up being a very important step, but now we’ll be looking to see how the U.S. articulates how it expects companies to respect rights at home and abroad,” Arvind Ganesan, the director of the business and human rights programme at Human Rights Watch, told IPS.

“More importantly, we’ll be looking to see whether this process results in any teeth – mechanisms to ensure that companies act responsibly everywhere.”

Task of implementation

In 2011, the U.N. Human Rights Council unanimously backed the Guiding Principles, which are meant to apply to all countries and companies operating both domestically and internationally.

Yet thus far, formal adherence to the Guiding Principles has been only stuttering. In late June, the council called on governments to step up the process of drafting national action plans.

The United States – which endorsed the June resolution – has been a key focus for many in this process, given the overwhelming size of its economy and the number of multinational companies that it hosts.

Further, U.S. companies have stood accused of a broad spectrum of rights abuse, from extractives companies poisoning local water supplies to private security companies killing unarmed civilians. Often, of course, such problems impact most directly on poor and marginalised communities in developing countries.

The Guiding Principles mandate that governments take on the responsibility to prevent rights abuses by corporations and other third parties. States are also required to provide judicial “remedy” for any such abuse.

This is powerful language, but it remains up to governments to decide how exactly to implement the guidelines. Here, watchdog groups are less optimistic.

While Ganesan welcomes the actions by the three European countries that have developed implementation plans, he has reservations as to how substantive they are.

“Few of them have any real strength,” he says. “While they ask their companies to adopt the Guiding Principles, none of them have put together any kind of mechanism aimed at ensuring that happens.”

In the context of the U.S. announcement, then, there is a sense of caution around whether the United States will be able to put in place rules that require action from corporations.

“We are thrilled to see the United States take on this important initiative,” Sara Blackwell, a legal and policy associate with the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR), said in a statement.

Yet Blackwell notes that her office will continue to advocate for a U.S. action plan that goes beyond concerns merely around transparency and corruption.

Rather, she says, any plan needs to include “clear action on important issues such as access to effective remedy for victims of business-related human rights harms and the incorporation of human rights considerations into the U.S. federal government’s enormous influence on the marketplace through its public procurement activities.”

Voluntary initiatives

ICAR has been at the forefront of civil society engagement around the call for the development of national action plans on responsible business practice, including by the United States.

In June, the group, along with the Danish Institute for Human Rights, published a toolkit to guide government officials intent on formulating such plans. Among other points, the toolkit urges the participation of all stakeholders, including those who have been “disempowered”.

In his announcement, President Obama appeared to suggest that the drafting of a U.S. plan would rest on participation from business entities, though it is not yet clear how companies will react. (Three major industry lobby groups contacted for comment by IPS failed to respond.)

At the outset, though, rights advocates are worried by the examples coming out Europe, where governments appear to be relying on voluntary rather than rule-based initiatives.

“What we’ll expect is what we’ve seen in the past, where industry is not going to want anything that’s binding,” Human Rights Watch’s Ganesan says.

“They’ll be happy to agree to accepting human rights in rhetorical or aspirational terms, but they will not want any rules that say they must take certain actions or, for instance, risk losing government contracts. Nonetheless, there is now a real opportunity for the U.S. government to mandate certain actions – though how the administration articulates that will be a critical test.”

Meanwhile, concerns around the potential laxity of the Guiding Principles have already led to a division among rights advocates as to whether a new international mechanism is needed. In a landmark decision at the end of June, the U.N. Human Rights Council voted to begin negotiations towards a binding international treaty around transnational companies and their human rights obligations.

Yet this move remains highly controversial, even among supporters. Some are worried that the treaty idea remains unworkably broad, while others warn that the new push will divert attention from the Guiding Principles.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-s-to-create-national-plan-on-responsible-business-practices/feed/ 1
‘Youth Exodus’ Reveals Lack of Opportunitieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/youth-exodus-reveals-lack-of-opportunities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=youth-exodus-reveals-lack-of-opportunities http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/youth-exodus-reveals-lack-of-opportunities/#comments Mon, 29 Sep 2014 05:20:18 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136914 Samoan mother Siera Tifa Palemene receives financial support from her sons who emigrated to Australia and New Zealand for employment opportunities. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Samoan mother Siera Tifa Palemene receives financial support from her sons who emigrated to Australia and New Zealand for employment opportunities. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
APIA, Sep 29 2014 (IPS)

The small South Pacific island state of Samoa, located northeast of Fiji, attracts tourists with its beaches, natural beauty and relaxed pace of life, but similar to other small nations with constrained economies, it is experiencing an exodus of young people, who are unable to find jobs.

Samoa has a net migration rate of -13.4, while in neighbouring Tonga it is -15.4 and in the western Pacific island state of Micronesia it is -15.7, in contrast to the average in small island developing states (SIDS) of -1.4.

In Apia, Samoa’s capital, Siera Tifa Palemene, a fit, active woman in her late sixties, is one of many mothers to have watched her children migrate to larger economies in the region.

Palemene presides over an extensive family, with five sons and five daughters. Four of her married sons, now in their thirties, live in Australia and New Zealand, where they work in construction and building trades, such as welding.

“A lot of our people are migrating overseas to earn a living, leaving behind their parents, so there are elderly people now who have no-one living with them." -- Tala Mauala, secretary-general of the Samoa Red Cross Society
“The salaries are too low here in Samoa and my children have large families,” Palemene told IPS, emphasising that one of her sons has seven children. “My sons want their children to get a better life because over here there are not that many opportunities.”

Contraceptive prevalence in Samoa is an estimated 29 percent and the total fertility rate is 4.2, one of the highest in the region. However, while the country has a high natural population increase rate of two percent, emigration reduces population growth to 0.8 percent. Emigrants residing predominantly in Australia, New Zealand and the United States number an estimated 120,400, which nearly matches Samoa’s population of 190,372.

Twenty years after the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) held in Cairo in 1994, many small island states are still striving for sustainable economic development, equality and employment growth to match bulging youth populations.

Despite stable governance, Samoa’s economy, dependent on agriculture, tourism and international development assistance, suffers from geographic isolation from main markets. It was also impacted by the 2008 global financial crisis, an earthquake and tsunami in 2009 and Cyclone Evan in 2012, which damaged infrastructure and crops.

Livelihoods for most people centre on fishing, subsistence and smallholder agriculture, as well as small commercial and informal trading, with an estimated 27 percent of households striving to meet basic needs.

International migration, therefore, is an important avenue to economic fulfilment for young educated people with increased lifestyle aspirations and there are benefits for family members living in Samoa, such as remittances.

“My sons send money to help out the family; this helps pay all the household bills, such as electricity, and to send the grandchildren here to school,” Palemene said. According to the World Bank, remittances to Samoa in 2012 were an estimated 142 million dollars, or about 23 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).

As Palemene’s offspring face more expenses with their own families, remittances are becoming infrequent.

“I know they have their families to support and that life overseas is very expensive with so much to pay for, but when I need it, I call them and they give me money,” she said.

Still, Palemene, who receives a state pension of 135 tala (about 57 dollars) per month, works as a housekeeper at a guesthouse in Apia for extra income.

She supports the decision of her sons to emigrate and is keen for them to “have their own good future,” but added, “The only thing is that I worry that something might happen to them when they are so far away.”

Elderly relatives who remain in Samoa also face vulnerabilities when the social safety net traditionally provided by the younger generation in extended families is diminished.

“A lot of our people are migrating overseas to earn a living, leaving behind their parents, so there are elderly people now who have no-one living with them,” Tala Mauala, secretary-general of the Samoa Red Cross Society, observed. So, in times of natural disaster, for example, they need extra forms of community or state assistance.

There are other losses for high emigration countries such as the outward flow of educated professionals, known as the ‘brain drain’, due to the lure of higher salaries in the developed world, making it more difficult to progress much needed infrastructure and public service development. In Samoa the emigration rate of those with a tertiary education is 76.4 percent.

According to UNESCO, remittances are also primarily spent on consumption, rather than contributing to productivity, and the state’s trade deficit has grown as families in Samoa with additional disposable cash demand more imported goods.

Palemene sees her children when they pay her airfare to visit them or when they attend family events, such as weddings, in Samoa, but she doubts they will return to live permanently in the beautiful Polynesian country.

This story originally appeared in a special edition TerraViva, ‘ICPD@20: Tracking Progress, Exploring Potential for Post-2015’, published with the support of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. The contents are the independent work of reporters and authors.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/youth-exodus-reveals-lack-of-opportunities/feed/ 1
Living on a Ballpoint Pen in Kabulhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/living-on-a-ballpoint-pen-in-kabul/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=living-on-a-ballpoint-pen-in-kabul http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/living-on-a-ballpoint-pen-in-kabul/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 11:14:28 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136897 ‘Copyists’ (transcribers) on duty in downtown Kabul. Some 66 percent of Afghans are illiterate, with figures reaching 82 percent among women. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

‘Copyists’ (transcribers) on duty in downtown Kabul. Some 66 percent of Afghans are illiterate, with figures reaching 82 percent among women. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
KABUL, Sep 26 2014 (IPS)

Seventy-year-old Mohamad Arif still earns a living in the streets of Kabul. He prepares all kind of documents for those who cannot read or write – in other words, the majority of people in this country of 30.5 million people.

“I was a Colonel of the Afghan Air Force but I can barely survive with my pension. I had no other choice but to keep working so I took this up 10 years ago,” Arif tells IPS during a short break between two clients.

"People usually want me to write a letter to a relative, often someone in prison. However, most show up because they need us to fill out official forms or applications of all sorts." -- Seventy-year-old Mohamad Arif, a transcriber in Kabul
Arif says he has two sons in college, and that he only leaves his post on Fridays – the Muslim holy day. He spends the rest of the week sitting in front of the provincial government building, in downtown Kabul. That’s where he has his umbrella and his working desk, also essential tools for the rest of the transcribers lining up opposite the concrete wall that protects the government compound.

“People usually want me to write a letter to a relative, often someone in prison. However, most show up because they need us to fill out official forms or applications of all sorts,” explains the most veteran pen-worker in this street, just after his last service, which earned him 50 afghanis (0.80 dollars) for a claim over a family inheritance not yet received.

In its National Literacy Action Plan, statistics provided by the Afghan Ministry of Education speak volumes: some 66 percent of Afghans are illiterate, with figures reaching 82 percent among women.

At 32, Karim Gul is also illiterate so he’s forced to come here whenever he needs to tackle an administrative process. The problem this time is that he sold a car but he has not yet been paid.

“My parents came to Kabul from Badakhshan [a north-eastern Afghan province] when I was a child but they prevented me from going to school. They said the other children would laugh at me,” recalls this young Tajik, who thinks he is “already too old” to learn how to read and write.

Customers like him need only wait a few minutes before they’re attended to. The copyists – fifteen in total here – are experts in their trade, but probably none more so than Gulam Haydar, a 65-year-old man who has worked for decades behind the high wall.

‘Copyists’ (transcribers) in Afghanistan can earn up to one dollar for each letter or document they prepare for their illiterate customers. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

‘Copyists’ (transcribers) in Afghanistan can earn up to one dollar for each letter or document they prepare for their illiterate customers. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

“I was a civil servant until I retired eight years ago but I had to keep working to survive,” this Kabuli tells IPS. His age, he adds, does not allow him to conduct any physical work, so this alternative came as “holy salvation.”

“Prices for all of us range from 20 to 100 afghanis [0.30-1.7 dollars] depending on the request,” explains Haydar, adding that his monthly income varies accordingly. In any case, he says, the amount he receives helping his illiterate countrymen and women is “far better” than the average 203 dollars an Afghan civil servant gets monthly.

Sitting next to him, Shahab Shams nods.

“I just get enough to survive and to send my two children to school,” says this 42-year-old man, who has spent the last 13 years in his post.

“In Afghanistan there is no work for anybody. Besides, corruption is rife,” adds the copyist. “You constantly need to pay under the table for everything: to get your passport or any other official certificate; to enrol your children in school; in hospitals, in every single government building,” laments this man with a degree in engineering from the University of Kabul. It was never of any use to him.

Starting from scratch

According to a joint survey conducted by the Afghan High Office of Oversight and Anti-Corruption (HOOAC) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), half of all Afghan citizens paid a bribe in 2012 while requesting a public service.

The 2012 study said most Afghans considered corruption, together with insecurity and unemployment, to be “one of the principal challenges facing their country, ahead even of poverty, external influence and the performance of the Government.”

Interestingly enough, such surveys also reveal that corruption is increasingly being considered an admissible part of day-to-day life. About 68 percent of citizens interviewed in 2012 said it was acceptable for a civil servant to top up a low salary by accepting small bribes from service users (as opposed to 42 per cent in 2009).

Similarly, 67 percent of the Afghan citizenry considered it “sometimes acceptable” for a civil servant to be recruited on the basis of family ties and friendship networks (up from 42 percent in 2009).

Leyla Mohamad had no chance whatsoever of ever becoming a civil servant. While it is no longer strange to come across female workers in the administration, illiteracy still poses an insurmountable hurdle. From under her burka, Mohamad explains she wants to denounce an assault she suffered in broad daylight, while she was accompanied by her three children, the oldest being just 10 years old.

“Every day we hear several cases like this one,” Abdurrahman Sherzai tells IPS after filling Mohamad’s form. “Too much time was lost in the failed election process and the economy has stalled because many companies and businesses depended on government subsidies. Eventually, sheer desperation leads to attacks against the most vulnerable [members] of society,” notes Sherzai, moments after being paid for the service.

After a presidential election that took place on Apr. 5, followed by a second runoff on Jun. 14, a fraud allegation forced a full ballot recount.

However, contenders agreed to share power on Sept. 21 so Ashraf Ghani was announced as the new Afghan president with his challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, joining him in a unity government. Despite the two runoffs and the painful audit process, no results of any kind will finally be published.

It was the Afghan Education Minister himself, Ghulam Farooq Wardak, who assured IPS that “none of this would have happened” were Afghanistan a fully literate country.

“But also bear in mind that we literally started from scratch, with a 95-percent illiteracy rate only 12 years ago,” the senior official underlined from his ministerial office.

But current statistics, he claims, lead to optimism. “We’ve gone from just a million children in school 12 years ago to nearly 13 million today; from 20,000 teachers to over 200,000,” asserted Wardak, adding that 2015 “will be the year for full school [enrolment], and full literacy in Afghanistan will be a reality in 2020.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/living-on-a-ballpoint-pen-in-kabul/feed/ 0
The Changing Face of Caribbean Migrationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/the-changing-face-of-caribbean-migration/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-changing-face-of-caribbean-migration http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/the-changing-face-of-caribbean-migration/#comments Thu, 25 Sep 2014 15:21:35 +0000 Jewel Fraser http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136874 Ruth Osman, a 35-year-old Guyanese migrant living in Trinidad and Tobago, is one of thousands of women to have taken advantage of CARICOM’s migration scheme for skilled workers. Courtesy of Ruth Osman

Ruth Osman, a 35-year-old Guyanese migrant living in Trinidad and Tobago, is one of thousands of women to have taken advantage of CARICOM’s migration scheme for skilled workers. Courtesy of Ruth Osman

By Jewel Fraser
PORT OF SPAIN, Sep 25 2014 (IPS)

Ruth Osman is attractive and well-groomed in tailored slacks and a patterned blouse, topped by a soft jacket worn open. Her demeanour and polished accent belie the stereotypical view that most Caribbean nationals have of Guyanese migrants.

As a Guyanese migrant living in Trinidad, the 35-year-old is one of thousands of Guyanese to have taken the plunge over the past decade, since the free movement clause of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) regime granted skilled persons the right to move and work freely throughout the region.

According to a recent report, Trinidad and Tobago hosts 35.4 percent of migrants in the region. The United Nations’ ‘Trends in International Migrant Stock: The 2013 Revision’ states that Latin America and the Caribbean host a total migrant stock of 8.5 million people.

“Although, historically it is persons at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale in Caribbean society that have been the main movers, the CSME has to date facilitated the movement of those at the upper end, the educated elite in the region.” -- CARICOM Secretariat Report, 2010
Women make up 51.6 percent of migrants in the Caribbean, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)’s 2013 figures.

For many Guyanese, the decision to move on the strength of promises made by Caribbean Community (CARICOM) governments to facilitate free movement of skilled labour within the region has met with mixed degrees of success and, in some cases, outright harassment and even threats of deportation from the Caribbean countries to which they have migrated.

A 2013 report by the ACP Observatory on Migration states, “Guyanese migrants in Trinidad and Tobago faced unfavourable opinions in the social psyche and this could translate into tacit and other forms of discrimination.”

The report, prepared by the regional consulting firm Kairi Consultants, goes on to state that migrants from Guyana were “assumed to be menial labourers or undocumented workers.”

Guyana is one of the poorest countries in the CARICOM region, with a gross domestic product (GDP) per capita of 6,053 dollars in 2011. This stands in contrast to Trinidad and Tobago’s per-capita GDP of 29,000 dollars, according to the 2010-2011 U.N. Human Development Report (HDR).

But Osman’s background is not one of destitution. She applied for a CARICOM skills certificate in 2005, having completed a postgraduate diploma in Arts and Cultural Enterprise Management (ACEM) at the St. Augustine campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) in Trinidad.

“I considered myself an artist, which is why I came to study here [for the ACEM] and I thought it a great stepping stone in my realising that dream of being a singer, songwriter, performer […]. Trinidad seems to be, in relation to where I came from, a more fertile ground for [what] I wanted to do,” she said.

Osman has her own band and performs as a jazz singer at nightspots in Trinidad and Tobago. During the day, she works as a speechwriter for Trinidad and Tobago’s Minister of Public Utilities.

Still, she misses the support network that her parents’ substantial contacts would have provided her in Guyana, and she acknowledges that her standard of living is also probably lower than it would have been if she were back home. But, she said, the move was necessary.

Osman’s story is in line with the findings of a 2010 CARICOM Secretariat report to “assess the impact of free movement of persons and other forms of migration on member states”, which found: “Although, historically it is persons at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale in Caribbean society that have been the main movers, the CSME has to date facilitated the movement of those at the upper end, the educated elite in the region.”

Limited educational opportunities also explain the wave of migration out of Guyana, a finding borne out by the experience of Miranda La Rose, a senior reporter with one of Trinidad and Tobago’s leading newspapers, ‘Newsday’, who holds a Bachelor’s degree in political science.

“I came here with the intention of working to help fund [my daughter’s] studies,” La Rose told IPS. “I was working for a fairly good salary in Guyana. My objective [in moving to Trinidad] was to improve my children’s education.”

She said the move to Trinidad was painless, since she was granted her CARICOM skills certificate within three weeks of applying, and she has amassed a circle of friends in Trinidad that compensates for the family she left behind in Guyana.

But not all stories of migration are happy ones. Some, like Alisa Collymore, represent the pains experienced by those with limited skills and qualifications.

Collymore, who now works as a nursing assistant with a family in Trinidad, applied for a CARICOM skills certificate under the entertainer category, because she had experience in songwriting and performing in Guyana.

However, she holds no tertiary qualifications in the field and only completed her secondary school education after she became an adult.

The Trinidadian authorities declined to grant her the CARICOM skills certificate and she has to apply for a renewal of her work permit every six months.

She said, “The treatment you get [is not what you] expected […] and the hand of brotherhood is not really extended. You feel like you are an outsider.”

Nevertheless, she said, the move has brought economic benefits. As a single, divorced, mother of three, she had struggled financially in Guyana. Since moving to Trinidad, her financial situation has improved, she said.

Though some studies have found negative impacts of the free skills movement on source countries, many are finding in the CARICOM scheme a chance to start a new – and often better – life.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

This story originally appeared in a special edition TerraViva, ‘ICPD@20: Tracking Progress, Exploring Potential for Post-2015’, published with the support of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. The contents are the independent work of reporters and authors.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/the-changing-face-of-caribbean-migration/feed/ 0