Inter Press Service » Labour http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Sun, 21 Sep 2014 12:38:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 New Fund to Build on “Unprecedented Convergence” Around Land Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/new-fund-to-build-on-unprecedented-convergence-around-land-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-fund-to-build-on-unprecedented-convergence-around-land-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/new-fund-to-build-on-unprecedented-convergence-around-land-rights/#comments Thu, 18 Sep 2014 23:53:18 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136732 Paraguayan Indians fight to enforce collective ownership of their land at the Inter-American Court. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

Paraguayan Indians fight to enforce collective ownership of their land at the Inter-American Court. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Sep 18 2014 (IPS)

Starting next year, a new grant-making initiative will aim to fill what organisers say has been a longstanding gap in international coordination and funding around the recognition of community land rights.

The project could provide major financial and technical support to indigenous groups and forest communities struggling to solidify their claims to traditional lands. Proponents say substantive action around land tenure would reduce growing levels of conflict around extractives projects and land development, and provide a potent new tool in the fight against global climate change.“Yes, the forests and other non-industrialised land hold value. But we must also value the rights of those who inhabit these areas and are stewards of the natural resources they contain." -- Victoria Tauli-Corpuz

The new body, the International Land and Forest Tenure Facility, is being spearheaded by the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), a Washington-based coalition, though the fund will be an independent institution. The Swedish government is expected to formally announce the project’s initial funding, some 15 million dollars, at next week’s U.N. climate summit in New York.

“The lack of clear rights to own and use land affects the livelihoods of millions of forest-dwellers and has also encouraged widespread illegal logging and forest loss,” Charlotte Petri Gornitzka, the director general of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, said Wednesday.

“Establishing clear and secure community land rights will enable sustainable economic development, lessen the impacts of climate change and is a prerequisite for much needed sustainable investments.”

As Gornitzka indicates, recent research has found that lands under strong community oversight experience far lower rates of deforestation than those controlled by either government or private sector entities. In turn, intact forests can have a huge dampening effect on spiking emissions of carbon dioxide.

This is a potential that supporters think they can now use to foster broader action on longstanding concerns around land tenure.

Governments claim three-quarters

National governments and international agencies and mechanisms have paid some important attention to tenure-related concerns. But not only have these slowed in recent years, development groups say such efforts have not been adequately comprehensive.

“There is today an unprecedented convergence of demand and support for this issue, from governments, private investors and local people. But there remains no dedicated instrument for supporting community land rights,” Andy White, RRI’s coordinator, told IPS.

“The World Bank, the United Nations and others dabble in this issue, yet there has been no central focus to mobilise, coordinate or facilitate the sharing of lessons. And, importantly, there’s been no entity to dedicate project financing in a strategic manner.”

According to a study released Wednesday by RRI and Tebtebba, an indigenous rights group based in the Philippines, initiatives around land tenure by donors and multilaterals have generally been too narrowly tailored. While the World Bank has been a primary multilateral actor on the issue, for instance, over the past decade the bank’s land tenure programmes have devoted just six percent of funding to establishing community forest rights.

“Much of the historical and existing donor support for securing tenure has focused on individual rights, urban areas, and agricultural lands, and is inadequate to meet the current demand from multiple stakeholders for secure community tenure,” the report states.

“[T]he amount of capital invested in implementing community tenure reform initiatives must be increased, and more targeted and strategic instruments established.”

As of last year, indigenous and local communities had some kind of control over around 513 million hectares of forests. Yet governments continue to administer or claim ownership over nearly three-quarters of the world’s forests, particularly in poor and middle-income countries.

From 2002 to 2013, 24 new legal provisions were put in place to strengthen some form of community control over forests, according to RRI. Yet just six of these have been passed since 2008, and those put in place recently have been relatively weaker.

Advocates say recent global trends, coupled with a lack of major action from international players, have simply been too much for many developing countries to resist moving aggressively to exploit available natural resources.

“Yes, the forests and other non-industrialised land hold value,” Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on indigenous peoples and a member of the advisory group for the International Land and Forest Tenure Facility, said in a statement.

“But we must also value the rights of those who inhabit these areas and are stewards of the natural resources they contain. Failure to do so has resulted in much of the local conflict plaguing economic development today.”

Unmapped and contested

Experts say the majority of the world’s rural lands remain both unmapped and contested. Thus, the formalisation of land tenure requires not only political will but also significant funding.

While new technologies have made the painstaking process of mapping community lands cheaper and more accessible, clarifying indigenous rights in India and Indonesia could cost upwards of 500 million dollars each, according to new data.

Until it is fully up and running by the end of 2015, the new International Land and Forest Tenure Facility will operate on the Swedish grant, with funding from other governments in the works. That will allow the group to start up a half-dozen pilot projects, likely in Indonesia, Cameroon, Peru and Colombia, to begin early next year.

Each of these countries is facing major threats to its forests. Peru, for instance, has leased out nearly two-thirds of its Amazonian forests for oil and gas exploration – concessions that overlap with at least 70 percent of the country’s indigenous communities.

“If we don’t address this issue we’ll continue to bump into conflicts every time we want to extract resources or develop land,” RRI’s White says.

“This has been a problem simmering on the back burner for decades, but now it’s reached the point that the penetration of global capital into remote rural areas to secure the commodities we all need has reached a point where conflict is breaking out all over.”

The private sector will also play an important role in the International land and Forest Tenure Facility, with key multinational companies sitting on its advisory board. But at the outset, corporate money will not be funding the operation.

Rather, White says, companies will help in the shaping of new business models.

“The private sector is driving much of this damage today, but these companies are also facing tremendous reputational and financial risks if they invest in places with poor land rights,” he says.

“That growing recognition by private investors is one of the most important shifts taking place today. Companies cannot meet their own growth projections as well as their social and environmental pledges if they don’t proactively engage around clarifying local land rights.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Can ‘Womenomics’ Stem the Feminisation of Poverty in Japan?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/can-womenomics-stem-the-feminisation-of-poverty-in-japan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=can-womenomics-stem-the-feminisation-of-poverty-in-japan http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/can-womenomics-stem-the-feminisation-of-poverty-in-japan/#comments Thu, 18 Sep 2014 18:32:24 +0000 Suvendrini Kakuchi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136724 Women now comprise the majority of the poor and old in Japan, the world’s third largest economy and fastest-aging society. Credit: S. H. isado/CC BY-ND 2.0

Women now comprise the majority of the poor and old in Japan, the world’s third largest economy and fastest-aging society. Credit: S. H. isado/CC BY-ND 2.0

By Suvendrini Kakuchi
TOKYO, Sep 18 2014 (IPS)

Fifty-four-year-old Marlyn Maeda, an unmarried freelance writer living in Tokyo who never held a permanent job, is now watching her dream of aging independently go up in smoke.

“I work four jobs and barely survive,” said the writer, who disclosed only her penname to IPS. Her monthly income after writing articles, working at a call centre, selling cosmetics five days a week and working one night at a bar hovers at close to 1,600 dollars.

Maeda belongs to the burgeoning ranks of the poor in Japan, a country that saw its poverty rate pass the 16-percent mark in 2013 as a result of more than two decades of sluggish growth that has led to lower salaries and the cutting of permanent jobs among this population of 127.3 million people.

She also represents an alarming trend: rising poverty among women, who now comprise the majority of the poor and old in Japan, the world’s third-largest economy and fastest-aging society.

“We have women who are desperate. Because they do not hold secure jobs, they endure searing problems such as domestic violence or workplace harassment." -- Akiko Suzuki, of the non-profit ‘Inclusive Net’
Indeed, Maeda points out her pay is now a low 50 dollars per article, down from the heady era of the 80s and 90s when she earned at least three times that rate.

Japan defines the poverty threshold as those earning less than 10,000 dollars per year. The elderly and part-timers fall into this category, and Maeda’s hard-earned income, which places her slightly above the official poverty line, nonetheless keeps her on her toes, barely able to cover her most basic needs.

“When the call centre cut my working days to three a week in June, and payment for freelancers [dropped], I became really worried about my future. If I fall sick and cannot work, I will just have to live on the streets,” Maeda asserted.

After paying her rent, taxes and health insurance, she admits to being so hard-pressed that she sometimes borrows from her aging parents in order to survive.

Maeda’s story, which echoes the experience of so many women in Japan today, flies in the face of government efforts to empower women and improve their economic participation.

In fact, a sweeping package of reforms introduced earlier this year by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was met with skepticism from gender experts and advocates, who are disheartened by the myriad social and economic barriers facing women.

Dubbed ‘Womenomics’ in line with Abe’s economic reform policies – based on anti-deflation and GDP-growth measures that earned the label ‘Abenomics’ in early 2013 – the move calls for several changes that will pave the way for Japanese women, long discriminated in the work place, to gain new terms including equal salaries as their male counterparts, longer periods of childcare leave and promotions.

Given the fact that 60 percent of employed women leave their jobs when starting a family, Abe has promised to tackle key barriers, including increasing the number of daycare slots for children by 20,000, and upping the number of after-school programmes by 300,000 by 2020.

Another target is to increase women’s share of leadership positions to 30 percent by that same year.

Writing about the scheme in the Wall Street Journal last September, Abe claimed the government growth plan could spur a two-percent increase in productivity over the middle to long term, which in turn could lead to an average two-percent increase in inflation-adjusted GDP over a 10-year period.

“We have set the goal of boosting women’s workforce participation from the current 68 percent to 73 percent by the year 2020,” Abe wrote, adding, “Japanese women earn, on average, 30.2 percent less than men (compared with 20.1 percent in the U.S. and just 0.2 percent in the Philippines). We must bridge this equality gap.”

But for experts like Hiroko Inokuma, a gender researcher focusing on the challenges facing working mothers, this is a “tall order”, especially in the light of “growing job insecurity, which is already leading to dismal poverty figures among women.”

Indeed, the numbers paint a grim picture: one in three women between the ages of 20 and 64 years of age and living alone are living in poverty, according to the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research (NIPSSR), a leading Tokyo-based think tank.

Among married women, the poverty figure is 11 percent and counts mostly older women whose husbands have died. Almost 50 percent of divorced women have also been identified as grappling with poverty.

In addition, the poverty rate was 31.6 percent among surveyed working women, compared to 25.1 percent among men.

Health and Welfare Ministry statistics indicate that Japan is now registering record poverty levels; the year 2010 saw the highest number of welfare recipients in the last several decades, with 2.09 million people, or 16 percent of the population, requiring government assistance.

Against this backdrop, Akiko Suzuki, of the non-profit ‘Inclusive Net’, which supports the homeless, explained to IPS that Abe’s proposed changes and targets are highly illusive.

“After years of working with low-income people, I link the increase in females grappling with poverty to the rising number of part-time or contract jobs that are replacing full-time positions in companies,” she said.

The nursing industry, for instance, employs the highest number of part-time employees in Japan, of which 90.5 percent are women.

Inclusive Net reports that women currently comprise 20 percent of the average 3,000 people per month actively seeking support for their economic woes, up from less than 10 percent three years ago.

“We have women who are desperate. Because they do not hold secure jobs, they endure searing problems such as domestic violence or workplace harassment,” said Suzuki.

Japan has 20 million temporary workers, accounting for 40 percent of its workforce. Females comprise 63 percent of those holding jobs that pay less than 38 percent of a full-time worker’s salary.

Aya Abe, poverty researcher at the NIPSSR, told IPS that poverty among women has been a perennial problem in Japanese society, where they traditionally play second fiddle to men.

“For decades women have managed to get by despite earning less because they had earning husbands or lived with their parents. They also lived frugally. The recent poverty trend can then be related to less women getting married or being stuck in low-paid, part-time or contract work,” she stated.

A highlight of the prime minister’s gender empowerment proposals is the plan to remove a sacred tax benefit for husbands that also protects their working spouses who earn less than 10,000 dollars annually.

The tax was introduced in 1961 when Japan was composed of mostly single-income households led by male breadwinners under the life-term employment system.

Proponents say discarding the tax benefit will encourage women to work full-time while others argue this could increase women’s vulnerability by stripping them of a crucial social safety net.

While the political debate rages on, hundreds of thousands of Japanese women are struggling to make it through these dark days, with no sign of a silver lining. According to experts like Suzuki, “An aging population and unstable jobs means the feminisation of poverty is here to stay.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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U.N. Pushes Climate-Smart Agriculture – But Are the Farmers Willing to Change?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-n-pushes-climate-smart-agriculture-but-are-the-farmers-willing-to-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-pushes-climate-smart-agriculture-but-are-the-farmers-willing-to-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-n-pushes-climate-smart-agriculture-but-are-the-farmers-willing-to-change/#comments Wed, 17 Sep 2014 19:09:22 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136702 In India, most farmers are smallholders or landless peasants who will need to adapt to 'Climate-Smart Agriculture' in order to survive changing weather patterns. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

In India, most farmers are smallholders or landless peasants who will need to adapt to 'Climate-Smart Agriculture' in order to survive changing weather patterns. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
KARNAL, India, Sep 17 2014 (IPS)

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to make a strong pitch to world political leaders at the U.N. Climate Summit in New York on Sep. 23 to accept new emissions targets and their timelines.

Launching the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA) represents yet another concerted attempt to meet the world’s 60-percent higher food requirement over the next 35 years, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

The Alliance will come not a day too soon. The latest Asian Development Bank report says that if no action is taken to prevent the earth heating up by two degree Celsius by 2030, South Asia – one of the most vulnerable regions to climate change and home to 1.5 billion people, a third of whom still live in poverty – will see its annual economy shrink by up to 1.8 percent every year by 2050 and up to 8.8 percent by 2100.

“Today climate holds nine out of ten cards determining whether all your labour will come to naught or whether a farmer will reap some harvest.” -- Iswar Dayal, a farmer in Birnarayana village in Haryana state
The CSA alliance aims to enable 500 million farmers worldwide to practice climate-smart agriculture, thereby increasing agricultural productivity and incomes, strengthening the resilience of food systems and farmers’ livelihoods and curbing the emission of greenhouse gases related to agriculture.

India, home to one of the largest populations of food insecure people in the world, recognises the impending challenge, and the need to adapt. The national budget of July 2014 set up the farmers’ ‘National Adaptation Fund’, worth 16.5 million dollars.

Given that 49 percent of India’s total farmland is irrigated, experts fear the ripple of effects of climate change on the vast, hungry rural population.

Spurred on by organisations and government incentives to switch to a different mode of agriculture, some rural communities are already inventing a workable mix of traditional and modern farming methods, including reviving local seeds, multi-cropping and smart water usage.

Various agriculture research organisations have also been urging farmer communities to move into CSA.

CSA: Embraced by some, shunned by others

In Taraori village in the Karnal district of India’s northern Haryana state, 42-year-old Manoj Kumar Munjal, farming 20 hectares, is a convert to climate-smart techniques. And he has good reason.

Scientists project that average temperatures in this northern belt are expected to increase by as much as five degrees Celsius by 2080.

The main crops in Haryana are wheat, rice and maize, with many farmers also dedicated to dairy and vegetables. Of these, wheat is particularly vulnerable to heat stress at critical stages of its growth.

A recent study projects that climate change could reduce wheat yields in India by between six and 23 percent by 2050, and between 15 and 25 percent by 2080.

Haryana has been sliding in food grain production and ranked 6th among Indian states in 2012-13. This bodes badly for the entire country’s food security, as Haryana’s wheat comprises a major part of India’s Public Distribution System (PDS), which allocates highly subsidised grain to the poor.

Some 25 million people live in the state of Haryana alone. Of the 16.5 million who dwell in rural areas, 11.64 percent live below the poverty line.

Munjal, a university graduate, had to take over the farm with his brother when his father suffered a paralytic stroke, but has since changed the way his father grew crops.

Farming the climate-smart way, Munjal’s crop mix includes four acres of maize that need only a fifth of the water that rice consumes.

He opts for direct seeding instead of sapling transplantation, which involves high labour costs and a week of standing water to survive, in addition to being vulnerable to floods and strong winds due to a weak root system.

Munjal’s new methods, moreover, give shorter-cycle harvests and vegetables are grown as a third annual crop, translating into higher income for the farmer.

Trained by CGIAR’s Research Programme on Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT), Munjal also uses technology like the laser land leveler, which produces exceptionally flat farmland, and thus ensures equitable distribution and lower consumption of water.

Other tools like the Leaf Colour Chart and GreenSeeker help Munjal assess the exact fertiliser needs of his crops. Text and voice messages received on his mobile phone about weather forecasts help him to time sowing and irrigation to perfection.

Around 10,000 farmers have adopted climate smart practices in 27 villages in Karnal, according to M L Jat, a cropping systems agronomist with CIMMYT.

They, however, account for a low 20-40 percent of total farmers here.

Making the global local

As global policy negotiations pick up with the upcoming Climate Summit and the 20th session of the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP 20) in Lima, Peru, scheduled for December 2014, there appears to be a growing gap between negotiators’ sense of urgency and actual on-the-ground implementation of CSA.

In Taraori village, home to over 1,000 farmers, where climate-smart agriculture was introduced over four years ago, conversion is slow with only 900 acres, out of a total of 2,400 acres of farmland, utilising such practices.

Forty-year-old Vinod Kumar Choudhary tells IPS that “the challenge in inducting farmers” into new models of agriculture, is that the older generation has no faith in the new system, preferring “to stick to tried and tested methods practiced for generations.”

“Any technology introduction must be [accompanied by] a behaviour change, which is slow,” adds Surabhi Mittal, an agricultural economist with CIMMYT.

While water and labour are still available, albeit for an increasingly high price, traditional farmers here say they will continue on as they have before.

The younger crowd believes this mindset needs to change.

“Today climate holds nine out of ten cards determining whether all your labour will come to naught or whether a farmer will reap some harvest,” says 48-year-old Iswar Dayal, a farmer in Birnarayana village, also in Haryana state, which is a major producer of India’s scented Basmati rice, exported mostly to the Middle East.

“Climate change and international dollar swings [are] the two most unpredictable entities deciding our fate in recent years,” Dayal tells IPS.

Therefore Dayal runs two buses, in addition to overseeing seven hectares of farmland that he owns jointly with his brother. Of his two high-school-aged sons, he plans to include the older one, Kusal, in the farm’s management while the younger one, he hopes, will get admission into a foreign university.

“If he gets into one, our life is made,” Dayal says.

From among the 60 families in Dayal’s village of Birnarayana, “only 15 percent of the younger generation are agreeable to continuing with agriculture as their main livelihood,” Dayal tells IPS. “The rest wish to migrate in search of white-collar jobs with assured income.”

India is one of the largest agrarian economies in the world. The farm sector contributed approximately 11 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) during 2012-2013.

Even though seven out of 10 people – or 833 million of a population of 1.21 billion – depend directly or indirectly on agriculture for a livelihood, the growth rate for the sector was just 1.7 percent in 2012-2013. In comparison, the service sector grew at a rate of 6.6 percent, according to the ministry of agriculture.

The 2011 census found that the number of cultivators across India fell significant over the last decade, from 127 million in 2001 to 118 million at the time of the census. The number of agricultural labourers, however, rose rapidly between 2001 and 2011, from 106 million to 144 million.

The number of small and marginal farmers, who own on average 0.38 to 1.40 hectares of land and constitute 85 percent of Indian farmers – also rose by two percent between 2005 and 2010.

Unless binding international agreements on carbon emissions come into effect almost immediately, India will be saddled with a disaster of almost unimaginable proportions, as the millions of people who eke out a living on tiny plots of earth find their lifeline slipping away from them.

And in the meantime, the country will need to scale up its efforts to ensure that climate-smart agriculture becomes more than just a modernity embraced by the youth and takes root in farming communities all over this vast nation.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Tackling Climate Change and Promoting Development: A “Win-Win”http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/tackling-climate-change-and-promoting-development-a-win-win/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tackling-climate-change-and-promoting-development-a-win-win http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/tackling-climate-change-and-promoting-development-a-win-win/#comments Wed, 17 Sep 2014 14:23:28 +0000 Joel Jaeger http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136682 The cost of solar energy has fallen by 90 percent in the last half dozen years. Credit: UN Photo/Pasqual Gorriz

The cost of solar energy has fallen by 90 percent in the last half dozen years. Credit: UN Photo/Pasqual Gorriz

By Joel Jaeger
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 17 2014 (IPS)

A widespread perception exists that developing countries must make a choice between tackling climate change and fighting poverty. This assumption is incorrect, according to the authors of a new report on green growth.

The New Climate Economy (NCE) report was launched on Tuesday at the United Nations by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, which is chaired by former Mexican President Felipe Calderón."Reforms will entail costs and trade-offs, and will often require governments to deal with difficult problems of political economy, distribution and governance.” -- Milan Brahmbhatt of WRI

“The report sends a clear message to government and private sector leaders: we can improve the economy and tackle climate change at the same time,” said Calderón.

“Future economic growth does not have to copy the high carbon path that has been observed so far,” he added.

Focusing on the global aggregate rather than individual countries, the NCE report charts the path that the world economy must take over the next 15 years. To improve the lives of the poor and lower carbon emissions to a safe level, a vast transformation must be made. But here is the surprise: it will cost much less than expected.

In a business-as-usual scenario, the world will invest about 89 trillion dollars in urban, agricultural and energy infrastructure over the next 15 years, the report predicts.

On the other hand, a low-carbon path would require 94 trillion dollars over the next 15 years, and its benefits in reducing resource scarcity and improving basic liveability would more than make up for the difference.

The window of opportunity will not stay open for long, however.

“If we don’t take action in the coming years it will be every day more expensive and more difficult to shift towards the low carbon economy at the global level,” Calderón said.

Jeremy Oppenheim, global programme director for the NCE report, explained the details.

The commission’s work focuses on three systems: cities, land use and energy. In each case, the implementation of greener policies can also lead to greater development.

In terms of urban systems, “our main focus has been how to drive to higher productivity in cities through improved transport systems,” Oppenheim said. Economic gains can be achieved “through improved urban form by having cities that are denser and that are essentially better places to live.”

Urban sprawl is the enemy when it comes to environmentally-friendly city design. For example, Barcelona and Atlanta both have about five million people, but Barcelona fits into 162 square kilometres, while Atlanta is spread across 4,280 square kilometres. As a result, Atlanta emits more than 10 times more CO2 per person than Barcelona.

Efficient cities generally deliver improved economic and environmental performance.

Low-income countries must “get the infrastructure right the first time so they urbanise in a high productivity way,” Oppenheim told IPS.

Moving on to agriculture, Oppenheim said that “we think that it is possible to increase yields by more than one percent a year.”

The NCE report states that “restoring just 12% of the world’s degraded agricultural land could feed 200 million people by 2030, while also strengthening climate resilience and reducing emissions.”

Reducing deforestation also has wide benefits to the economic system and to agricultural productivity, as well as the obvious climate benefits.

The report recommends that world leaders halt deforestation of natural forests by 2030 and restore at least 500 million hectares of degraded forests and agricultural lands.

As for the third system to be reformed, energy, the biggest economic and environmental opportunity will come from a shift away from the widespread use of coal. Coal is not as economically efficient as once thought, especially since the health problems caused by coal pollution reduce national incomes by an average of four percent per year.

The report’s authors recommend a halt to the creation of new coal plants immediately in the developed world and by 2025 in middle-income countries. Natural gas may serve as a stopgap for a short period of time, but it too must eventually give way to low-carbon energy sources.

Transforming so much energy infrastructure may be more economical than expected.

“We are stunned by the progress that has been made in renewable energy,” Oppenheim said. “The cost of solar has come down by 90 percent in the last half dozen years.”

If the price of solar energy continues its downward tumble, it will soon be cheaper than fossil fuels, leading to a natural shift in investment even without government intervention.

Governments will have to make a number of significant decisions to facilitate the change, however.

Currently, the market for energy is distorted by government subsidies. According to the report, governments around the world subsidise fossil fuels for an estimated 600 billion dollars, but only subsidise clean energy for 100 billion.

Lord Nicholas Stern, co-chair of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, says that “those subsidies have to go.”

“They’re giving the wrong signals. They’re encouraging the use of polluting fossils fuels. They’re subsidising damage.”

Governments need to set up “strong, predictable and rising carbon prices,” according to Stern.

With clarity on carbon prices, incentives to pollute would decrease and investors would put their money towards low-carbon options.

Although the NCE report may be the most optimistic document on climate change to come out of the U.N. in years, the authors do realise that their recommendations may be difficult to follow.

Milan Brahmbhatt, a senior fellow at the World Resources Institute and one of the authors of the NCE report, told IPS that “there is no simple reform formula or agenda that will work for all countries.”

“The report focuses specifically on ‘win-win’ reforms to strengthen growth, poverty reduction and improvements in well-being, which also help tackle climate risk,” Brahmbhatt said. “‘Win-wins’ are not necessarily ‘easy wins’ though. Reforms will entail costs and trade-offs, and will often require governments to deal with difficult problems of political economy, distribution and governance.”

The report’s launch was strategically timed one week before the secretary-general’s climate summit, which will convene an unprecedented number of world leaders to make public pledges on national climate change mitigation efforts. Ban Ki-moon hopes the summit will generate the necessary political will for a binding climate change agreement to be negotiated in Paris next year.

A binding agreement in Paris would give countries the confidence to pursue strong national climate policies, knowing that they are not the only ones doing so, and could give assistance to developing countries that are more vulnerable to climate change but less responsible for it, according to Stern.

While the NCE report only covers the next 15 years, 2030 will not signal the end of efforts to tackle climate change. “Beyond 2030 net global emissions will need to fall further towards near zero or below in the second half of the century,” the report says.

It may not cover everything, but the NCE report reassures worried leaders of the enormous potential for green growth. The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, an independent initiative created by Colombia, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Norway, South Korea, Sweden and the United Kingdom, plans to directly share its report with world leaders in an upcoming consultation period.

Felipe Calderón believes that the report’s optimistic and practical message will help it make a big splash.

“With this report we now have a set of tools that global leaders can use to foster the growth that we all need while reducing the climate risks that we all face,” he said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at joelmjaeger@gmail.com

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Will the Upcoming Climate Summit Be Another Talkathon?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/will-the-upcoming-climate-summit-be-another-talkathon/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=will-the-upcoming-climate-summit-be-another-talkathon http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/will-the-upcoming-climate-summit-be-another-talkathon/#comments Wed, 17 Sep 2014 13:35:44 +0000 Meenakshi Raman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136679 Climate defenders line the entrance to the National Stadium in Warsaw where the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP19 was held last October. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Climate defenders line the entrance to the National Stadium in Warsaw where the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP19 was held last October. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Meenakshi Raman
PENANG, Sep 17 2014 (IPS)

As the United Nations hosts a Climate Summit Sep. 23, the lingering question is whether the meeting of world leaders will wind up as another talk fest.

It is most likely that it could go that way. The problem is that developed countries are pressuring developing countries to indicate their pledges for emissions reductions post-2020 under the Paris deal which is currently under negotiation, without any indication of whether they will provide any finance or enable technology transfer – which are current commitments under the Convention.Asking developing countries to undertake more commitments without any financial resources or technology transfer is not only contrary to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change but is also immoral.

What is worse is that many developed countries – especially the U.S. and its allies – are delaying making their contributions to the Green Climate Fund (GCF).

The GCF was launched in 2011 and it was agreed in Cancun, Mexico in 2010 that developed countries will mobilise 100 billion dollars per year by 2020.

The GCF has yet to receive any funds that can be disbursed to developing countries to undertake their climate actions.

Worse, there is a grave reluctance to indicate the size and scale of the resources that will be put into the GCF for its initial capitalisation. Only Germany so far has indicated that it is willing to contribute one billion dollars to the Fund. Others have been deafeningly silent.

The G77 and China, had in Bonn, Germany in June, called for at least 15 billion dollars to be put into the GCF as its initial capital. The Climate Summit must focus on this to get developed countries to announce their finance commitments to the Fund.

If it does not, the UNFCCC meeting in Lima will be in jeopardy, as this is an existing obligation of developed countries that must be met latest by November.

This is the most important issue in confidence building to enable developing countries to meet their adaptation and mitigation needs. Otherwise, without real concrete and finance commitments, the New York summit will be meaningless.

Asking developing countries to undertake more commitments without any financial resources or technology transfer is not only contrary to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change but is also immoral.

In Cancun, many developing countries already indicated what they were willing to do in terms of emissions reductions for the pre-2020 time frame and many of them had conditioned those actions on the promise of finance and technology transfer.

Despite this, the GCF remains empty and no technology transfer has really been delivered.

The other issue is whether developed countries will raise their targets for emissions reductions, as currently, their pledges are very low.
In 2012 in Doha, Qatar, developed countries that are in the Kyoto Protocol (such as the European Union, Norway, Australia, New Zealand. Switzerland and others but not including the U.S., Canada and Japan) agreed to re-visit the commitments they made for a second commitment period from 2013-2020.

The total emissions that they had agreed to was a reduction of only 17 percent by 2020 for developed countries, compared to 1990 levels. This was viewed by developing countries as very low, given that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had in their 4th Assessment Report referred to a range of 25-40 percent emissions reductions by 2020 compared to 1990 levels for developed countries.

It was agreed in Doha that the developed countries in the Kyoto Protocol (KP) would revisit their ambition by 2014. Hence, whether this will be realised in Lima remains to be seen. So whatever announcements are made in New York will not amount to much if the cuts do not amount to at least 40 percent reductions by 2020 on the part of developed countries.

Developed countries that are not in the Kyoto Protocol such as the United States, Canada and Japan were urged to do comparable efforts in emissions reductions as those in the KP.

It is not likely at all that these countries will raise their ambition level at all, given that both Japan and Canada announced that they will actually increase their emission levels from what they had announced previously in Cancun!

For the U.S., the emission reduction pledge that they put forth is very low, amounting to only a reduction of about three percent by 2020 compared to 1990 levels. For the world’s biggest historic emitter, this is doing too little, too late.

It is against this backdrop that the elements for a new agreement which is to take effect post-2020 is to be finalised in Lima, with a draft negotiating text to be ready early next year.

If the pre-2020 ambition is very low both in terms of the emission reductions of developed countries and the lack of resources in the GCF, the basis for the 2015 agreement will be seriously jeopardised.

Without any leadership shown by developed countries, developing countries will be reluctant to undertake more ambitious action. Hence, the race to the bottom in climate action is real.

If the Climate Summit does not address the failure of developed countries to meet their existing obligations which were agreed to under the UNFCCC, it will indeed turn into a mere talkshop that attempts to provide a smokescreen for inaction on their part.

Another lingering question: Can the private sector, which is expected to play a key role in the summit, be trusted on climate change?

It is the private sector in the first place that got us into this climate mess. Big corporations cannot be trusted to bring about the real changes that are needed as there will be much green-washing.

Companies are profit-seeking and they would only engage in activities that will bring them profits. There are huge lobbies in the climate arena who are pushing false approaches such as trading in carbon and other market mechanisms and instruments through which they seek to make more profits.

For example, there is a big push for ‘ Climate Smart Agriculture” with big corporations and the World Bank in the forefront.

There is no definition yet on what is ‘climate smart’ and there are grave concerns from civil society and farmers movements that such policies being pushed by big corporations who are in the frontline of controversial genetic engineering, industrial chemicals and carbon markets.

Many criticise the CSA approach which does not exclude any practices—which means that GMOs, pesticides, and fertilisers, so long as they contribute to soil carbon sequestration, would be permissible and even encouraged.

Such approaches not only contribute to environmental and social problems but they also also undermine one of the most important social benefits of agroecology: reducing farmers’ dependence on external inputs. Yet CSA is touted as a positive initiative at the New York Summit – a clear cut case of green-washing.

Real solutions in agriculture are those which are sustainable and based on agroecology in the hands of small farmers and communities- not in the hands of the big corporations who were responsible for much of the emissions in industrial agriculture.

The same can be said about the Sustainable Energy for All – with big corporations driving the agenda – where the interests of those who really are deprived of energy access will not be prioritised.

This is because the emphasis is on centralised modern energy systems that are expensive and not affordable to those who need them the most undermines the very objective it is set to serve in term of ensuring universal access to modern energy services.

If these initiatives are touted as ‘solutions’ to climate change, then we are in big trouble – for they are not the real kind of solutions needed.

A lot is being said about creating enabling environments in developing countries to attract private investments.

It is for developing countries to put in place their national climate plans and in that context, gauge which private sector can play a role, in what sector and how to do so, including the involvement of small and medium entrepreneurs, including farmers, fisherfolk, indigenous peoples etc.

But developed countries are pushing the interests of their big corporations in the name of attracting new types of green foreign investments. Such approaches are new conditionalities.

Any role of the private sector is only supplemental and cannot be a substitute for the provision of real financial resources and technology transfer to developing countries to undertake their action. This clearly cannot be classified as climate finance.

Developed country governments in passing on the responsibility for addressing climate change to the private sector are abdicating the commitments that they have under the climate change Convention. This is irresponsible and reprehensible.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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For These Asylum Seekers, the Journey Ends Where it Beganhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/for-these-asylum-seekers-the-journey-ends-where-it-began/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=for-these-asylum-seekers-the-journey-ends-where-it-began http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/for-these-asylum-seekers-the-journey-ends-where-it-began/#comments Tue, 16 Sep 2014 07:25:30 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136641 Afghan migrants wait patiently for the smugglers who will take them to Iran. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Afghan migrants wait patiently for the smugglers who will take them to Iran. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
ZARANJ, Afghanistan, Sep 16 2014 (IPS)

“Of course I’m scared, but what else can I possibly do?” asks Ahmed, a middle-aged man seated on the carpeted floor of a hotel located on the southern edge of Afghanistan. He is bound for Iran, but he still has no idea when or how he’ll cross the border.

In his early 40s, Ahmed looks 15 years older than his real age. He says he has no means of feeding his seven children back in his hometown of Bamiyan, 130 km northwest of Kabul. Being illiterate poses yet another major hurdle to earning money and supporting his family.

“We’re all starving back home,” Ahmed tells IPS from his position on the floor where he will rest until the smugglers finally show up. It won’t be too long now, he says.

"We were going to Tehran but were caught in Iranshahr - 1,500 km southeast of the Persian capital. The police beat us with batons and cables, all over our bodies, before taking us back to the border by bus." -- Abdul Khalil, a 22-year-old Afghan migrant
“They never spend more than two days here,” notes Hassan, the innkeeper, who prefers not to disclose his full name. He is well versed in the details of Ahmed’s impending journey, since he is the one who mediates between his ‘guests’ and the smugglers who – for a sizeable fee – facilitate the trip across the border.

“They’ll be taken in the back of a pickup all the way down to Pakistan. From there they have to walk through the desert for a full day until they reach the Iranian border. Many don’t even make it there,” Hasan tells IPS.

Ahmed is just another customer at another one of many similar establishments scattered around Zaranj’s main square, 800 km southwest of Kabul. This is the capital of Afghanistan’s remote Nimruz province, the only one that shares borders with both Iran and Pakistan.

Also called ‘Map Square’, due to a giant map of Afghanistan hanging atop a huge pedestal, Zaranj is the last stop before a journey, which, in the best-case scenario, will be remembered as a nightmare.

Every day, thousands of Afghans put their lives in the hands of mafias that offer them an escape route from a country still in turmoil 13 years after the U.S. invasion in 2001.

In 2011, some 35 percent of Afghanistan’s population of 30.55 million people lived below the poverty line, a situation that has barely improved today. The official unemployment rate stood at seven percent that same year, but the International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that this number could be much higher.

Thus it comes as no surprise that Afghanistan is, after Syria and Russia, the source country for the largest number of asylum seekers worldwide.

A recent report by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) found that in 2013 alone, some 38,700 Afghans requested refugee status, accounting for 6.5 percent of the global total of asylum seekers.

Of the many destinations, Turkey remains by far the most popular, with 8,700 Afghan refugees requesting asylum last year.

Other industrialised countries like Sweden, Austria and Germany also attract a good share of Afghans in search of a better life, but the proximity of Iran, coupled with a shared language, makes it a far more sensible choice.

What many migrants find across the border, however, is a far cry from the warm embrace of a kindly neighbour.

Point “zero”

There are less than two kilometres between Map Square and the official border crossing with Iran. It’s obviously not the way out for Ahmed, but it might well be his route back.

Right next to the bridge over the Helmand River, the “no man’s land” between the two countries, lies “zero” point. It’s the place where all Afghans coming from the other side, either deported or on a voluntary basis, are told to register in.

At five in the evening, their number almost reaches 500.

Afghan migrants walk back home after being deported from Iran. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Afghan migrants walk back home after being deported from Iran. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

“Only today we have registered 259 deportees and 211 who came voluntarily,” Mirwais Arab, team leader of the Directorate for Refugees and Returnees at the “zero” point, explains to IPS.

“Among all these we can only address the most immediate needs of 65; we give them food and shelter for the first night and a small amount of money so that they can go back home,” adds the government official.

Given the number restrictions, and the limited assistance available, the majority of migrants keep walking once they have registered in. This is not an occasional drip but a steady stream of exhausted men. The sense of defeat is overwhelming.

Many of them, like the Khalil brothers, aged 21 and 22, are very young. They tell IPS that they reached Iran six days ago, via Pakistan, after a long journey across the desert.

Like many others, they had to pay a high protection fee to a Taliban-affiliated group to ensure they could pass unharmed. Their return journey to Afghanistan was not much easier:

“We were going to Tehran but were caught in Iranshahr – 1,500 km southeast of the Persian capital. The police beat us with batons and cables, all over our bodies, before taking us back to the border by bus,” recalls Abdul, the elder of the two, speaking to IPS on the hard shoulder of the road at Zaranj’s southern entrance.

The Arifis’ story is even more dramatic. After reaching Zaranj from Kunduz, located on the northernmost edge of Afghanistan, they crossed the border illegally. They were five in all, but one of them, a seven-year-old, has not yet made it back.

Fifteen-year-old Ziaud furnishes IPS with the details of his family’s ordeal:

“When we were arrested by the Iranian police, they dragged my brother Mohammed and myself into one car, and my parents into another one. That’s when our little brother disappeared,” says the teenaged migrant.

“My father is going to try to go back today to get him,” he adds, still in a state of shock.

Najibullah Haideri, head of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Nimruz, tells IPS that Iran deports an average of 600 men and 200 families on a monthly basis.

Meanwhile, Ahmadullah Noorzai, head of the UNHCR office in Zaranj, tells IPS that the wave of deportations started six years ago.

In a report released in 2013, Human Rights Watch pointed out that Afghans, by far the largest expatriate population in Iran, are subjected to a host of abuses by both state and private actors, which violate Iran’s obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention and endanger some one million Afghans recognised as refugees, as well as scores of others who have fled the war-torn country.

The NGO claimed that “thousands of Afghan nationals, who are in Iran’s prisons for crimes ranging from theft to murder and drug trafficking, are regularly denied the right to access lawyers.”

According to HRW, hundreds of Afghan migrants are believed to have been executed in recent years without any notification to Afghan consular officials.

“Getting a visa to Iran costs about 85,000 Afghanis (around 1,150 euros),” the manager of another hotel in Zaranj, who prefers to remain anonymous, explains to IPS.

“Prices for an illegal entry start at 25,000 (around 330 euros), but it always depends on the final destination. The most expensive are Tehran, Esfahan and Mashad – Iran’s largest cities. Migrants pay only when they reach their final destination so they’ll try again and again until they make it, or until they get killed,” adds the innkeeper.

Just behind him, Hamidullah, 43, and his son Sameem, 17, wait their turn to access a better life. Chances are, they’ll be back at this border crossing before too long.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Rattled by Russian Expansionism, Tashkent Looks Easthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/rattled-by-russian-expansionism-tashkent-looks-east/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rattled-by-russian-expansionism-tashkent-looks-east http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/rattled-by-russian-expansionism-tashkent-looks-east/#comments Sat, 13 Sep 2014 13:25:53 +0000 Joanna Lillis http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136612 By Joanna Lillis
TASHKENT, Sep 13 2014 (EurasiaNet)

Russia’s aggressive actions toward Ukraine are vexing Central Asian states.

First, officials in Kazakhstan were chagrined to hear comments by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who, during a recent town-hall-style meeting with university students, appeared to denigrate Kazakhstani statehood. Now, Uzbek leaders are showing signs of displeasure with Moscow.“Tashkent is deeply concerned about the potency of Russian media and disinformation campaigns, as well as the potential political vulnerability of the status of millions of Uzbek [labor] migrants in Russia." -- Alexander Cooley

Insular Uzbekistan has long viewed Russia with a wary eye: it has kept its distance from Moscow-led regional bodies and has shown no interest in joining the Eurasian Economic Union, Putin’s pet project to reassert Kremlin influence across the former Soviet Union.

The rhetoric currently coming out of Tashkent suggests that the conflict playing out in Ukraine has unsettled President Islam Karimov’s administration, and is prompting Uzbek officials to consider new steps to distance themselves further from the Kremlin.

During Independence Day celebrations on Sep. 1, Karimov pointedly denounced the tyranny of the Soviet past – and effectively thumbed his nose at Moscow. The “totalitarian” Soviet period, Karimov said, was a time of “oppressive injustice” and “humiliation and affront, when our national values, traditions, and customs were trampled upon.”

Karimov was harking back to the past, but given the battles raging in southeastern Ukraine, and with Putin making no secret of his ambition to expand Russia’s sway over former Soviet territory, the remarks were a clear sally at the Kremlin.

Karimov did not name Ukraine, but spoke of the need to prevent the escalation of conflicts into full-blown warfare in the current “alarming situation.” In comments clearly aimed at Russia, he went on to call for sovereignty and borders to be respected, and the use of force rejected.

Like other post-Soviet states, Tashkent has struggled to formulate a response to the Ukraine conflict, in large part because the Karimov administration finds neither side appealing. On one hand, Tashkent is leery of Kremlin expansionism; on the other, the dictatorial Karimov is no fan of popular uprisings, such as that embodied in the Euromaidan movement.

Analysts say Uzbek President Islam Karimov is clearly apprehensive about the Kremlin’s capacity to use soft power to undermine his long rule if he fails to toe Russia’s line. Credit: Agência Brasil/cc by 3.0

Analysts say Uzbek President Islam Karimov is clearly apprehensive about the Kremlin’s capacity to use soft power to undermine his long rule if he fails to toe Russia’s line. Credit: Agência Brasil/cc by 3.0

Ukraine “has raised grave concerns [for Uzbekistan], precisely because each side has given the [Karimov] regime something to fear,” Alexander Cooley, a professor at New York’s Barnard College who specialises in Central Asian affairs, told EurasiaNet.org.

Until recently, Karimov’s government may have viewed Euromaidanist Ukraine as representing the larger threat to Uzbekistan’s status quo. But attitudes in Tashkent may be shifting.

“[The] revolutionary change of power seen in Ukraine is something that Uzbek authorities under President Karimov have been tirelessly working to prevent in their country by effectively rooting out any potential pockets of political dissent,” Lilit Gevorgyan, a regional analyst at IHS Global Insight, told EurasiaNet.org.

“It is hard to see Uzbekistan cheering for the popular uprising in Ukraine,” she added – but “they are still likely to be critical, albeit not openly, of Russia’s meddling in Ukraine.”

What Karimov is clearly apprehensive about is the Kremlin’s capacity to use soft power to undermine his long rule if he fails to toe Russia’s line, suggested Cooley.

“Tashkent is deeply concerned about the potency of Russian media and disinformation campaigns, as well as the potential political vulnerability of the status of millions of Uzbek [labour] migrants in Russia,” said Cooley. “They could be a lever for Moscow to bring Uzbekistan further in line with its position.”

Uzbekistan could face a destabilising social crisis if Russia opted to expel Uzbek guest workers. Uzbekistan’s economy would be ill-equipped to absorb such a vast number of returning workers.

Russia’s assertion of a right to defend Russian-speakers abroad is also viewed with trepidation in Tashkent, David Dalton, Uzbekistan analyst at the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit, told EurasiaNet.org.

“As with the other Central Asian countries that have a Russian minority, the Uzbek leadership, already wary of Russia’s ambitions in the area, will have viewed with great alarm Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine on the pretext of protecting Russian-speakers,” he said.

Uzbekistan does not share a border with Russia and has a relatively small ethnic Russian minority, comprising 5.5 percent of the country’s overall population of almost 29 million, but Kremlin policies still make Tashkent nervous.

The Kremlin’s muscle-flexing incentivizes Uzbekistan to boost other alliances, analysts believe. “It will emphasise Uzbekistan’s need to diversify security and economic partnerships to the greatest extent possible,” Cooley said, mainly “through growing partnership with China, as well as economic partnerships with emerging Asian powers such as South Korea, Japan and the Gulf States.”

Tilting east is more promising for Tashkent than attempting to turn westward: partly since Uzbekistan’s geopolitical importance to the West is waning as NATO withdraws from Afghanistan; and partly since many Western states consider doing business with Karimov toxic due to Uzbekistan’s poor human rights record.

Western states, especially the United States and United Kingdom, “remain constrained from increasing their engagement by political and human rights concerns, as well as the negative blowback they received from forging close security ties with Tashkent in the 2000s,” Cooley pointed out.

After 9/11, Washington wooed Uzbekistan (which sits on Afghanistan’s northern border) to open a military base – from which it was summarily ejected after criticising the killing of protesters by Uzbek security forces in Andijan in 2005.

“Uzbekistan has tended to ‘turn West’ when it finds that Russia is becoming too assertive, and then back again to Russia when pressed too strongly by the West on its poor human rights record,” said Dalton. “This could happen again this time – although with most of its gas pipelines connecting with China, and Western forces pulling out from Afghanistan this year, it is not clear what Uzbekistan could offer the West in return.”

Ultimately, China – now a major purchaser of Uzbek gas – stands to benefit from Uzbekistan’s present dilemma. Karimov’s visit to Beijing in August was “an important signal,” said Dalton, “that Uzbekistan wishes to maintain good ties with strong foreign partners, to counterbalance Russian influence.”

Editor’s note:  Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specialises in Central Asia. This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Salvadoran Farmers Stake Their Bets on Sustainable Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/salvadoran-farmers-stake-their-bets-on-sustainable-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=salvadoran-farmers-stake-their-bets-on-sustainable-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/salvadoran-farmers-stake-their-bets-on-sustainable-development/#comments Fri, 12 Sep 2014 15:54:24 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136603 Peasant farmer Brenda Arely Sánchez uses her machete to clear a blocked canal in the Cuche de Monte swamp in Jiquilisco bay on El Salvador’s Pacific coast. Sediment blocks the canals, endangering the mangrove ecosystem. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Peasant farmer Brenda Arely Sánchez uses her machete to clear a blocked canal in the Cuche de Monte swamp in Jiquilisco bay on El Salvador’s Pacific coast. Sediment blocks the canals, endangering the mangrove ecosystem. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
JIQUILISCO, El Salvador , Sep 12 2014 (IPS)

Peasant farmers from one of El Salvador’s most fragile coastal areas are implementing a model of sustainable economic growth that respects the environment and offers people education and security as keys to give the wetland region a boost.

The Mangrove Association has been carrying out the plan in the southern part of the eastern department of Usulután, in a region known as Bajo Lempa, for 14 years. A total of 86 farming and fishing communities on Jiquilisco bay are involved in the project.

The Bajo Lempa region is home to just under 148,000 people, according to the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources.

“We have worked with different actors, local groups, youth and environment committees, and park rangers to get this platform of local economic development off the ground,” Carmen Argueta, the president of the Mangrove Association, told Tierramérica.“For the first time, we peasant farmers, who are poor people, are producing improved seeds; the business used to only be for rich companies.” -- Héctor Antonio Mijango

Economic growth with a social focus, education and security are the three main focal points for the government of left-wing President Salvador Sánchez Cerén, in office since June.

And these are precisely the three elements that the communities of Bajo Lempa are focusing on in their sustainable development plan.

“Our project is in line with the government’s five-year plan, and we want it to know that this has worked for us – people can see the results,” Argueta said.

She added that they hoped to obtain government financing for some projects.

Respect and care for natural resources is essential for implementing this model of development, added the peasant farmer, who has been a rural community organiser for decades.

The 635-sq-km area around the bay is one of El Salvador’s main ecosystems, home to the majority of marine and coastal bird species in the country and the nesting grounds of four of the seven species of sea turtle, including the critically endangered hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata).

The area, peppered with mangroves, was added to the Ramsar list of wetlands of international importance in 2005. The Salvadoran state has also classified it as a protected natural area and biosphere reserve.

It is one of the parts of the country most prone to flooding during the rainy season – May through October – which means local crops and infrastructure are periodically destroyed, and human lives are even lost.

Three members of the La Maroma cooperative in El Salvador’s Bajo Lempa region care for sprouts from improved maize seeds. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Three members of the La Maroma cooperative in El Salvador’s Bajo Lempa region care for sprouts from improved maize seeds. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

To bolster economic development, some local communities have opted for diversification of agricultural production, leaving behind monoculture.

Some families have been producing pineapples and mangos, not only for their own consumption but also to bring in a cash income, however modest.

At the same time, aware of the need to protect the environment, local communities have carried out organic fertiliser projects, with the aim of gradually eliminating dependence on chemical fertilisers.

The Romero Production Centre in the village of Zamorán in the municipality of Jiquilisco produces Bokashi organic fertiliser using eggshells, ashes and other materials to provide a cheap, healthy alternative to chemical fertilisers.

In addition, the Xinachtli seed bank preserves seeds of basic grains, vegetables, forest and medicinal species since 2007. There is also a school of agriculture which promotes environmentally-friendly farming techniques.  Xinachtli is a Nauhatl word that means seed.

One of the most profitable undertakings for the small farmers grouped in six farming cooperatives is the production of certified maize seeds, which the government has acquired every year since 2011 to distribute to 400,000 farmers, as part of the Family Agriculture Plan.

Poor rural communities have thus become involved in the seed business, which was a private sector monopoly for years. An estimated 15,000 small farmers are now working in that area.

“For the first time, we peasant farmers, who are poor people, are producing improved seeds; the business used to only be for rich companies,” Héctor Antonio Mijango, a member of a cooperative in Jiquilisco, told Tierramérica, while pulling up maize sprouts from the soil, to allow the strongest to flourish.

The poverty rate in El Salvador, a country of 6.2 million people, is 34.5 percent overall, and 43.3 percent in rural areas, according to the 2013 Multiple Purpose Household Survey carried out by the general statistics and census office.

“The seed business is an important source of jobs and income for local families,” Manuel Antonio Durán, the president of the Nancuchiname Cooperative, told Tierramérica.

The cooperative, which has 8.3 sq km of land, produced 460,000 kg of improved seeds in the 2013-2014 harvest.

Aquaculture, especially shrimp farming, is another important business in the Bajo Lempa region.

“The aim is to go from artisanal shrimp farming to semi-intensive production, while respecting the environment,” the mayor of Jiquilisco, David Barahona, commented to Tierramérica. He is one of the local leaders most involved in the sustainable development plan in the area.

For weeks now El Salvador has been suffering from severe drought, and according to official estimates, some 400,000 tons of maize have been lost so far.

But the production of certified seeds in the Bajo Lempa region has not suffered the impact, thanks to irrigation systems.

The community organisers have also reached agreements with educational institutions such as the National University of El Salvador, and obtained scholarships for young people from the area. Some youngsters have completed their higher education studies and returned to the Bajo Lempa region to work.

“These are young people who weren’t involved in the wave of violence that is sweeping the country, because we have worked a great deal in prevention, with sports programmes, for example,” said Argueta.

The idea is to extend the efforts made in Bajo Lempa, which initially covered six municipalities in the area, to the entire region and put in practice the Lempa River Hydrographic Basin, involving 14 municipalities.

In August, Environment Minister Lina Pohl visited several Bajo Lempa communities to see firsthand what the communities and organisations are doing here.

“We cannot put forward ideas if we don’t first know what has been done in our country, what local people are doing, how they are organising to set forth their proposals and agendas,” the minister told Tierramérica.

The level of organisation in the area “is impressive” and is a model that could be replicated in other parts of the country,” she added.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Free Economic Zone Plan Slammed as ‘Suicide’ Pact for Taiwan Farmershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/free-economic-zone-plan-slammed-as-suicide-pact-for-taiwan-farmers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=free-economic-zone-plan-slammed-as-suicide-pact-for-taiwan-farmers http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/free-economic-zone-plan-slammed-as-suicide-pact-for-taiwan-farmers/#comments Thu, 11 Sep 2014 12:14:50 +0000 Dennis Engbarth http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136580 A worker, farmer and doctor are hanged in the “Suicide Zone” outside of Taiwan’s national legislature, in a street theater protest by student groups against government efforts to establish “Free Economy Pilot Zones” across Taiwan. Credit: Dennis Engbarth/IPS

A worker, farmer and doctor are hanged in the “Suicide Zone” outside of Taiwan’s national legislature, in a street theater protest by student groups against government efforts to establish “Free Economy Pilot Zones” across Taiwan. Credit: Dennis Engbarth/IPS

By Dennis Engbarth
TAIPEI, Sep 11 2014 (IPS)

The Taiwan government’s plan to liberalise tariff-free imports of agricultural produce from China and other countries for processing in free economic pilot zones, which will then be exported as ‘Made in Taiwan’ items, may mean suicide for Taiwanese farmers if approved by the national legislature.

The Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang or KMT) government of President Ma Ying-jeou conceived the Free Economic Pilot Zone (FEPZ) plan in 2012 as a way to urge Taiwanese investors in China to relocate value added operations back to Taiwan, through tax and other incentives.

In early 2013, the KMT government re-packaged the plan to feature components for the promotion of value-added agriculture and international medical services, among others, and submitted required changes in the legal code to implement the plan in a draft Free Economic Pilot Zone Special Act to the KMT-controlled Legislature in December 2013.

“The intention of the Ma government to lift the ban on Chinese agricultural commodities through the FEPZ special act violates his own promise in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, but dovetails with Beijing’s objective of cross-strait economic integration." -- Lai Chung-chiang, convenor of the Democratic Front Against Cross-Strait Trade in Services Agreement
The special act offers investors in FEPZs business tax exemptions, tariff-free importation of industrial or agricultural raw materials, eased entry and income tax breaks for foreign professional workers, including from China, and streamlined procedures for customs and quarantine checks, labour safety inspections and environmental impact assessments.

Social movement groups have warned that the China-friendly KMT government aims to use the FEPZ programme as a back door to realise full deregulation of trade between Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China, and avoid the need for legislative ratification of trade pacts after the Sunflower citizen and student occupation movement in March derailed a controversial service trade pact between the two governments.

Lai Chung-chiang, convenor of the Democratic Front Against Cross-Strait Trade in Services Agreement, observed that the Sunflower movement spurred the formation of a consensus in Taiwan that the Legislature should enact a law strictly governing the negotiation of cross-strait agreements before reviewing the ‘trade in services’ agreement or other pacts with China.

Fearing indefinite delays in future China trade deals, the Ma government tried to ram a first reading of the draft FEPZ special act through the national legislature’s economic affairs committee in two extraordinary sessions in July and August, but opposition lawmakers blocked this push.

Lai told IPS that the core of the FEPZ concept is to arbitrarily grant tariff-free entry for raw materials and products from all countries into Taiwan’s six main seaports and its major international airport in order to display Taiwan’s interest to enter the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and other regional free trade pacts.

Instead, this act will sell out Taiwan’s economic future, warned Lai, adding, “Our major trade partners will have no reason to engage in negotiations with us to further open their markets as our government will have surrendered all of our bargaining chips even before talks begin.”

“The intention of the Ma government to lift the ban on Chinese agricultural commodities through the FEPZ special act violates his own promise in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, but dovetails with Beijing’s objective of cross-strait economic integration,” Lai added.

Despite a high-powered advertising campaign, the Taiwan public is not visibly enthusiastic about the FEPZ plan. Nearly 63 percent of respondents in a poll carried out by the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)’s Public Survey Center in June said they were worried about the scheme’s impact on Taiwan’s economy.

Labour organisations are leery of further liberalisation of foreign workers, including white-collar professionals from China, while medical and educational organisations object to plans to offer health and educational tourism programmes that would spur the commodification of public services.

Raw deal for local farmers

Made in Taiwan?

“As a Taiwanese farmer, I oppose the use of the ‘Made in Taiwan’ label, for which Taiwan farmers worked so hard, to endorse products made with Chinese raw materials,” Wu Chia-ling, a farmer working with the Yilan Organic Rice Workshop, told IPS.

Tsai Pei-hui, convenor of the Taiwan Rural Front, also said that the FEPZ “value-added agriculture” programme would damage Taiwan’s reputation by “contributing to the exploitation of farmers around the region and the world.”

“Growers of tea in China and Vietnam, coffee in Latin America and cocoa in Africa should not just be workers producing agricultural raw materials for purchase at low prices for processing abroad,” Tsai said, adding that Taiwan has ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and should not follow in the footsteps of countries that have engaged in exploitative agricultural practices.
However, the most controversial segment is a so-called value-added agriculture plan promoted by Council of Agriculture Minister Chen Pao-chi.

Chen Chi-chung, a professor at the National Chung Hsing University Agricultural Policy Center, stated, “Taiwan may become the first producer of agricultural goods that will permit agricultural produce from all over the world, including China, to be used for processing in its own factories free of tariffs or business taxes.”

Article 42 of the draft special act would fully lift the current ban on import from China of 2,186 types of raw materials, including 830 types of agricultural commodities, while Article 38 would exempt FEPZ enterprises from tariffs, cargo levies and business income taxes. Article 41 would exempt most such commodities from customs or health inspections.

Moreover, makers of processed agricultural goods or foods exported from FEPZs will be able to attach ‘Made in Taiwan’ labels to their products.

Rural Life Experimental Farm Director Liao Chih-heng told IPS that instead of helping farmers cope with the unfair competition from producers in China due to state subsidies and lower labour and environmental costs, the Ma government is inviting such unfair competition into our home market.

Tai Chen-yao, a farmer of squash and lemons in Kaohsiung City in southern Taiwan, told IPS, “If Taiwan sells processed Chinese agricultural goods as Made in Taiwan, food processors as well as farmers will be hurt since there will be no way to guarantee the safety or quality of raw material and thus the food safety for consumers of such products.”

Su Chih-fen, Yunlin County Mayor for the opposition DPP, echoed these sentiments, telling IPS that a rising share of Taiwan farmers, including youth who are returning to the countryside, are absorbing new knowledge and creating innovative agricultural products that can out-compete imports, which may be cheaper but have higher food safety risks.

The value-added agriculture plan would deprive this emerging cohort of new style farmers of access to export markets and divert resources away from assisting the majority of farmers to upgrade, said Su, who is mayor of Taiwan’s agricultural capital.

Agriculture accounted for 1.7 percent of Taiwan’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2013. Primary sector workers in agriculture, forestry, fishing and livestock accounted for nearly five percent of Taiwan’s 10.97-million-strong workforce or 544,000 persons as of May 2014.

Su further warned that the government’s plan would effectively punish farmers who kept their roots in Taiwan and have worked to upgrade and grow high quality produce.

In the wake of such widespread criticism, the official National Development Commission (NDC) has announced modifications including dropping the provision that 10 percent of agriculture value-added goods made with raw materials from China could be sold on the domestic market.

However, Chen Chi-chung declared that the changes, along with the NDC’s claim that processed foods made in the FEPZ using imported materials from China or other low-cost suppliers would not enter or affect Taiwan’s domestic market, were deceptive semantics.

Using imported raw agriculture materials, such as tea or peanuts, to make processed food products in Taiwan will surely reduce the demand for domestic agricultural products and thus the income of Taiwan farmers, said Chen.

According to the Council of Agriculture’s statistics, average annual income for a farm household in 2012 was about 33,200 dollars; however, the net income from farming activities was only 7,200 dollars.

KMT Legislative Caucus Convenor Fei Hung-tai told IPS that the majority KMT caucus aims to actively promote passage of the FEPZ statute during the upcoming session.

Noting that civil society organisations and opposition parties have called for the elimination of Articles 38, 41, 42 and other provisions harmful to the interests of Taiwan farmers, workers and public services, Lai told IPS, “If the KMT pushes passage of this act, it will have to either have to accept major concessions in the final content of the bill or face an intense backlash in civil society and public opinion.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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OPINION: Testing Time for Tourismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-testing-time-for-tourism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-testing-time-for-tourism http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-testing-time-for-tourism/#comments Mon, 08 Sep 2014 17:21:22 +0000 Lakshman Ratnapala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136538

Lakshman Ratnapala is Emeritus President & CEO of Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA).

By Lakshman Ratnapala
SAN FRANCISO, Sep 8 2014 (IPS)

It is testing time for global tourism. The ongoing political conflicts across North Africa, compounded by military action in the Middle East, Ukraine and Afghanistan, and the spread of the Ebola virus disease in West Africa have put to the test the ability of international tourism to continue to grow amidst crises.

If past performance is an indication of future results, the answer would be “yes, global tourism can and will meet the challenges of growth” as it has shown during periods of war and pestilence in the past.Around 4.7 million jobs were created worldwide as a result of travel and tourism activity last year, meaning that the sector now supports 266 million people in employment -- that is one in 11 jobs on the planet.

“Not so,” say some observers. In fact, the truth depends on what happens from here on as the winter season travelers from the source markets of Europe and North America flock to sunny climes elsewhere.

First, let’s look at past performance. Last year, 2013, was a banner year for tourism, when for the first time, over one billion tourists travelled the world. However, the real success of tourism lies not in the numbers of tourist arrivals but in the earnings generated by tourism for the national exchequer. By this measure too, last year was a success.

According to the World Tourism Barometer, total export earnings generated by international tourism in 2013 were 1.4 trillion dollars. Earnings by destinations from expenditure by visitors on accommodation, food and drink, entertainment, shopping and other services and goods, amounted to 1.15 trillion.

Growth exceeded the long term trend readings five percent in real terms taking into account exchange rates and inflation. The growth rate of five percent matched the tourist arrivals rate which was also up five percent in 2013.

Apart from these receipts in the destinations, recorded as the travel credit item in the Balance of Payments,
tourism also generated export earnings through international passenger transport services rendered to non-residents. This amounted to 218 billion dollars, bringing total receipts generated by international tourism to 1.4 trillion dollars or 3.8 billion a day, on average, in 2013.

Photo courtesy of Lakshman Ratnapala

Photo courtesy of Lakshman Ratnapala

Where do we stand now? In the first four months, January to April 2014, destinations worldwide received 317 million international tourists – 14 million more than the same period last year, five percent above UNWTO long term projections. Various indicators point to a strong Northern Hemisphere summer peak season.

Over 480 million tourists were expected to travel abroad during the four months from May to August, which account on average for 41 percent of all international tourist arrivals registered in one year. According to the UNWTO Confidence Index, prospects remained positive for this period. Confidence has picked up among the private sector and improved further in Europe, the Americas and Asia.

Data on international air travel reservations from business intelligence tool ForwardKeys support this outlook with bookings for May-August up by eight percent compared to the same period last year, with intraregional and interregional travel equally strong.

The highest growth in bookings was recorded in international flight reservations from Asian source markets, followed by the Americas. The latest regional hotel data for May 2014 show a diversity in performance, but overall, a positive picture of rising demand.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the outbreak of the Ebola virus disease in West Africa a public health emergency of international concern. However, the WHO does not recommend any ban on international travel or trade.

The risk of a traveler becoming infected with the Ebola virus during a visit to the affected countries and developing the disease after returning is very low, even if the visit includes travel to areas in which cases have been reported.

Where do we go from here? In assessing the prospects for the rest of the year 2014, one has to bear in mind that most travelers who find their intended destinations in turmoil, will change their vacation or business plans and shift to alternative destinations rather than cancel their plans.

This means that the destination at issue will see a drop in arrivals, but that other destinations take up the slack, keeping the overall global arrival numbers unchanged. For instance, Egypt (-30 percent) and Thailand (-five percent) have seen their tourist arrival numbers dip sharply because of political upheavals, while other countries with similar tourism offerings have increased theirs. Sri Lanka (+27.6 percent), Japan (+27.5 percent) and Vietnam (+27.3 percent) all recorded substantial gains, up to April 2014.

In the first four months, January to April 2014, destinations worldwide received 317 million international tourists – 14 million more than the same period last year, five percent above UNWTO long term projections. For the full year 2014 international tourist arrivals are expected to increase by 4 to 4.5 percent, slightly above UNWTO’s forecast of 3.8 percent per year for the period 2010 to 2020.

According to WTTC research in conjunction with Oxford Economics, travel and tourism’s contribution to the world GDP grew for the fourth consecutive year in 2013, rising to a total of 9.5 percent of world GDP (seven trillion dollars).

Around 4.7 million jobs were created worldwide as a result of travel and tourism activity last year, meaning that the sector now supports 266 million people in employment — that is one in 11 jobs on the planet. International tourism now accounts for 29 percent of the world’s exports of services and six percent of all exports of goods and services.

As a worldwide export category, tourism ranks fifth after fuels, chemicals, food and automotive products, while ranking first in many developing countries.

The results confirm “the increasing role of the tourism sector in stimulating economic growth and contributing to international trade,” says UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai, adding that it is time to position tourism higher in the trade agenda, so as to maximise its capacity to promote trade and regional integration.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service.

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With Sewing and Sowing, Self-reliance Blooms in Central Asiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/with-sewing-and-sowing-self-reliance-blooms-in-central-asia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=with-sewing-and-sowing-self-reliance-blooms-in-central-asia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/with-sewing-and-sowing-self-reliance-blooms-in-central-asia/#comments Wed, 03 Sep 2014 06:46:24 +0000 UN Women http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136467 Chairwoman of the local community fund, Mairam Dukenbaeva, in IssykKul, Kyrgyzstan. Photo: UN Women/MalgorzataWoch

Chairwoman of the local community fund, Mairam Dukenbaeva, in IssykKul, Kyrgyzstan. Photo: UN Women/MalgorzataWoch

By UN Women
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 3 2014 (IPS)

In the small rural village of Svetlaya Polyana, not far from the city of Karakol in Issyk Kul Province, north-eastern Kyrgyzstan, there is no sewage system and 70 percent of households lack access to hot water.

But still, gardening efforts are underway. In the houses of the women members of the community fund you can see seedlings of cucumbers, tomatoes, pepper and even some flowers being prepared for planting in the soil.

There are currently 29.9 million migrants in Southeastern Europe, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the majority of which are women. -- International Organisation for Migration (IOM)
These women are taking part in one of several agricultural trainings to learn how to plan vegetable gardens, prepare the soil, find good-quality seeds, plant and care for vegetables, as well as gardening tips, recipes and more.

“We all have learned a lot. Now I know what to do to get a good harvest,” said one beneficiary. “Now I have a beautiful and eco-friendly garden, I have healthy vegetables for my family that I know how to plant myself and I do not have to buy anything more at the bazaar.”

Through collective vegetable cultivation, their harvest in 2013 garnered a profit of 48,000 Kyrgyz SOM (about 930 dollars), which was put back into community projects and to buy high-quality seeds.

The small businesses established through the programme are now generating employment in this rural area, increasing independence and boosting household income not only in summer but also during the harsh winter months, when preserved vegetables and fruit jams are sold.

“The [...] project is highly important for the development of our community,” says Jylkychy Mamytkanov, head of the municipality of Svetlaya Polyana. “Programme participants have managed to build solidarity and mutual assistance among themselves. … Moreover, the income that we have already received from selling our vegetables will allow our community to make new investments in the future, such as construction of greenhouses.”

Across Central Asia, many families and individuals living in poverty migrate in order to find work. According to the IOM, there are currently 29.9 million migrants in Southeastern Europe, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the majority of which are women. Migration provides a vital source of income, but those left behind often feel dependent and have a hard time making ends meet.

To tackle such challenges, the Central Asia Regional Migration Programme (CARMP) was created in 2010, with the second phase currently underway, until March 2015.

Jointly implemented by UN Women, the World Bank and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), with financial support from the UK Government, the programme focuses on reducing poverty by improving the livelihoods of migrant workers and their families, protecting their rights and enhancing their social and economic benefits.

The regional migration programme focuses on families from the region’s top two migrant-sending countries – Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. In 2011-2013 more than 5,324 labour migrants’ families in both countries received training, access to resources and micro-credits and became self-reliant entrepreneurs through the programme.

The RMP programme also promotes policy development, provides technical assistance and fosters regional dialogue on migration and the needs of migrant workers across Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and the Russian Federation. In those four countries, more than 520,000 migrant workers and their families have benefitted from a wide range of services, including legal assistance and education.

Dreams and designs in Tajikistan

Born in the remote district of Gonchi, northern Tajikistan, Farangis Azamova had a dream of becoming a designer, but with no means to finance university studies, the young rural woman had to find another means to realize her dreams.

With assistance from the Association of Women and Society, a long-time partner of UN Women and beneficiary of the regional migration programme, Farangis and five like-minded women established a community-based “self-help group” to sew curtains.

They took part in various seminars, learning how to set up, plan and manage a business. They rented a small place and established an atelier.

At first they sold curtains to neighbours, but with time their clientele grew. In June of 2014, her group took part in the annual traditional ‘Silk&Spices’ festival in Bukhara, eastern Uzbekistan, which brings together handicrafts from the entire Ferghana Valley.

It was an exciting opportunity for young women entrepreneurs to exchange experiences, learn to become more competitive in the labour market, take craft-master classes as well as present their handicrafts and find new buyers.

(END)

                                 This article is published under an agreement with UN Women. For more information, visit the Beijing+20 campaign websiteimage002

 

 

 

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OPINION: Africans’ Land Rights at Risk as New Agricultural Trend Sweeps Continenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-africans-land-rights-at-risk-as-new-agricultural-trend-sweeps-continent/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-africans-land-rights-at-risk-as-new-agricultural-trend-sweeps-continent http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-africans-land-rights-at-risk-as-new-agricultural-trend-sweeps-continent/#comments Mon, 01 Sep 2014 10:55:28 +0000 Janah Ncube http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136444 An irrigated field in Kakamas, South Africa. Due to weak land tenure found in many African countries, large land transfers place local communities at significant risk of dispossession or expropriation. Credit: Patrick Burnett/IPS

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

By Janah Ncube
NAIROBI, Sep 1 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maintained but reformed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Decent jobs created?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A global problem from an Indian perspective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Land degradation, poverty and migration: A vicious cycle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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

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

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Aug 20 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cuban women in the labour market

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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