Inter Press Service » Natural Resources News and Views from the Global South Sat, 30 Apr 2016 16:24:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 West Papuans Turn to Africa for Support in Freedom Bid Sat, 30 Apr 2016 06:30:44 +0000 Catherine Wilson Former President of Ghana, John Kufuor, voiced his support for West Papuan political aspirations during a meeting with West Papuan indigenous leader, Benny Wenda, at Ghana's 59th Independence celebrations in March this year. Credit: Benny Wenda

Former President of Ghana, John Kufuor, voiced his support for West Papuan political aspirations during a meeting with West Papuan indigenous leader, Benny Wenda, at Ghana's 59th Independence celebrations in March this year. Credit: Benny Wenda

By Catherine Wilson
CANBERRA, Australia, Apr 30 2016 (IPS)

For more than half a century, the indigenous people of West Papua, located on the western side of the island of New Guinea, who are related to the Melanesians of the southwest Pacific Islands, have waged a resistance to governance by Indonesia and a relentless campaign for self-determination.

But despite regular bloodshed and reports of systematic human rights abuses by national security forces, which have taken an estimated half a million West Papuan lives, the international community has remained mostly unwilling to take concerted action in support of their plight.

Now Benny Wenda, a West Papuan independence leader who has lived in exile in the United Kingdom since 2003, is driving a mission to build the support of African states. Following a visit to Senegal in 2010 and two visits to South Africa last year, Wenda was welcomed at the 59th Independence anniversary celebrations in Ghana in March this year.

“There has been widespread attention and further pan-African solidarity for West Papua renewed following my diplomatic visits to these African countries, both at parliamentary and grassroots levels,” Wenda told IPS.

In Ghana, Wenda met with political and church leaders, including former Presidents, Jerry John Rawlings and John Kufuor.

‘We are honoured to fight for your people. We share a similar history. It is no surprise to me that you had support from Ghana at the UN in 1969 and that we accepted West Papuan refugees in the 1980s,’ Jerry John Rawlings said to the Ghanaian media.

The alliance which Wenda is forging is based on a sense of shared historical experience.

“Africa is the motherland to all people and we Melanesians feel this strongly….our affinity primarily lies in our shared ancestral heritage, but also in our recent history because Africa has also suffered the brutalities of colonialism,” Wenda said.

Following decolonisation of the Dutch East Indies, Indonesia gained independence in 1949, but there was disagreement between the Netherlands and Indonesia about the fate of Dutch New Guinea, which the former was preparing for self-determination. A United Nations supervised referendum on its political future, named the ‘Act of Free Choice,’ was held in 1969, but less than 1 per cent of the region’s population was selected to vote by Indonesia, guaranteeing an outcome for integration, rather than independence.

At the time, Ghana and more than a dozen other African states were the only United Nations members to reject the flawed ballot.

During Wenda’s visit to South Africa last February, other leaders, such as Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela’s grandson, Chief Nkosi Zwelivelile ‘Mandla’ Mandela MP, added their solidarity.

‘I’m shocked to learn that West Papua is still not free. I call on the United Nations and all the relevant bodies, please, do what is right, as they know, for West Papua,’ Tutu said in a public statement.

The momentum continued when the Nigeria-based non-government organisation, Pan African Consciousness Renaissance, held a pro-West Papua demonstration outside the Indonesian Embassy in Lagos in April 2015.

Indonesia’s refusal to recognise secessionist aspirations in its far-flung troubled region is often attributed not only to concerns about national unity, but the immense mineral wealth of copper, gold, oil and natural gas which flows to the state from ‘West Papua’, the umbrella term widely used for the two Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua.

Since coming to power in 2014 populist Indonesian President, Joko Widodo, has vowed to increase inclusive development in the region and called on security forces to refrain from abusive measures, but the suffering of West Papuans continues. In May last year, there were reports of 264 activists arrested by police ahead of planned peaceful protests. Twelve Papuans were shot by security forces in Karubaga in the central highlands in July, while in August three people were abducted and tortured by police in the Papuan capital, Jayapura, and two shot dead outside the Catholic Church in Timika.

West Papua’s political fate stands in contrast to that of East Timor at the end of last century. East Timor, a Portuguese colony militarily annexed by Indonesia in 1975, gained Independence in 2002. The positive result of an independence referendum in 1999 was widely accepted and further supported by a multi-national peacekeeping force when ensuing violence instigated by anti-independence forces threatened to derail the process.

But in the political climate of the 1960s, Wenda says “West Papua was effectively handed over to Indonesia to try and appease a Soviet friendly Indonesian government….our fate was left ignored for the sake of cold war politics.” Now Indonesia staunchly defends its right of sovereignty over the provinces.

In the immediate region, West Papua has obtained some support from Pacific Island countries, such as the Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu which have voiced concerns about human rights violations at the United Nations.

And last year the Melanesian Spearhead Group, a sub-regional intergovernmental organisation, granted observer status to the United Liberation Movement for West Papua coalition. However, Indonesia, a significant trade partner in the Pacific Islands region, was awarded associate membership, giving it an influential platform within the organisation.

“Luhut Pandjaitan’s [Indonesia’s Presidential Chief of Staff] recent visit to Fiji suggests that Indonesia is continuing its efforts to dissuade Pacific states from supporting West Papua and is willing to allocate significant diplomatic and economic resources to the objective,” Dr Richard Chauvel at the University of Melbourne’s Asia Institute commented to IPS.

In contrast to Indonesia’s Pacific Island neighbours, Dr Chauvel continued, “African states mostly do not have significant trade, investment, diplomatic and strategic interests with Indonesia and do not have to weigh these interests against support for the West Papuan cause at the UN or elsewhere.”

How influential south-south solidarity by African leaders will be on West Papua’s bid for freedom hinges on whether championing words translate into action. In the meantime, Benny Wenda’s campaign continues.


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World Farmers’ Organisation Meeting Eyes New Markets, Fresh Investment Fri, 29 Apr 2016 13:52:52 +0000 Friday Phiri 0 UN Predicts 40 Percent Water Shortfall by 2030 Thu, 28 Apr 2016 19:04:20 +0000 Thalif Deen The pastoralists of Ethiopia’s Somali region are forced to move constantly in search of pasture and watering holes for their animals. Credit: William Lloyd-George/IPS

The pastoralists of Ethiopia’s Somali region are forced to move constantly in search of pasture and watering holes for their animals. Credit: William Lloyd-George/IPS

By Thalif Deen

Ten presidents and prime ministers from around the world will work together to resolve the growing global water crisis amid warnings that the world may face a 40 percent shortfall in water availability by 2030.

The figures continue to be staggering:  despite improvements, at least 663 million still do not have access to safe drinking water.

And projecting into the future, the United Nations says an estimated 1.8 billion people – out of a total world population of over 7 billion – will live in countries or regions with water scarcities.

The crisis has been aggravated by several factors, including climate change (triggering droughts) and military conflicts (where water is being used as a weapon of war in several war zones, including Iraq, Yemen and Syria).

The High Level Panel on Water, announced jointly by the the United Nations and World Bank last week. is expected to mobilise financial resources and scale up investments for increased water supplies. It will be co-chaired by President Ameenah Gurib of Mauritius and President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico. The other eight world leaders on the panel include: Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister of Australia; Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh; János Áder, President of Hungary; Abdullah Ensour, Prime Minister of Jordan; Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands; Jacob Zuma, President of South Africa; Macky Sall, President of Senegal; and Emomali Rahmon, President of Tajikistan.

At a UN panel discussion last week, UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson of Sweden said water lies at the nexus between sustainable development and climate action.

"If the water service fee is beyond a household’s ability to pay, it is a human rights violation.” -- Darcey O’Callaghan, Food and Water Watch.

Referring to the two extremes in weather patterns– droughts on the one hand and floods on the other – Eliasson said one of his colleagues who visited Pakistan after a huge flood, remarked: “Too much water and not a drop to drink.”

When world leaders held a summit meeting last September to adopt the UN’s post-2015 development agenda, they also approved 17 SDGs, including the elimination of extreme poverty and hunger and the provision of safe drinking water to every single individual in the world – by a targeted date of 2030.

But will this target be reached by the 15 year deadline?

Sanjay Wijesekera, Associate Director, Programmes, and Chief of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene at the UN children’s agency UNICEF, told IPS: “As we enter the SDG era, there is no doubt that the goal to get ‘safely managed’ water to every single person on earth within the next 15 years is going to be a challenge. What we have learned from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is that water cannot be successfully tackled in isolation.”

He said water safety is compromised every day from poor sanitation, which is widespread in many countries around the world, particularly in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Currently, nearly two billion people worldwide are estimated to be drinking water which may be faecally contaminated.

As a result, UNICEF and others working on access to safe water, will have to redouble their efforts on improving people’s access to and use of toilets, and especially to end open defecation.

“As we address water, sanitation and hygiene, we must also take into account climate change. Droughts, floods, and extreme weather conditions all have an effect on the availability and the safety of water,” said Wijesekera.

He also pointed out that some 160 million children under-5 live in areas at high risk of drought, while around half a billion live in flood zones.

Asked how best the water crisis can be resolved, Darcey O’Callaghan, International Policy Director at Food and Water Watch, told IPS the global water crisis must be addressed in two primary ways.

“First, we must provide clean, safe, sufficient water to all people because water is a human right. Affordability is a key component of meeting this need. Second, we must protect water sustainability by not overdrawing watersheds beyond their natural recharge rate.”

“If we allow water sources to run dry, then we lose the ability to protect people’s human rights. So clearly, we must address these two components in tandem,” she said.

To keep water affordable, she pointed out, it must be managed by a public entity, not a private, for-profit one. Allowing corporations to control access to water (described as “water privatization”) has failed communities around the globe, resulting in poor service, higher rates and degraded water quality.

Corporations like Veolia and Suez — and their subsidiaries around the world—are seeking to profit off of managing local water systems, she said, pointing out that financial institutions like the World Bank and regional development banks often place conditions on loans to developing countries that require these systems to be privatized.

“But this is a recipe for disaster. Profits should not be the priority when it comes to providing water and sanitation services to people”, said O’Callaghan.

Asked if the public should pay for water, she said there is no longer any question that water and sanitation are both human rights. What the public pays for is water infrastructure upkeep and the cost of running water through the networks that deliver this resource to our homes, schools, businesses and government institutions.

“The UN has established guidelines for water affordability –three percent of household income—and these guidelines protect the human right to water. If the water service fee is beyond a household’s ability to pay, it is a human rights violation.”

One approach that has shown promise are public-public partnerships (PPPs). In contrast to privatization, which puts public needs into the hands of profit-seeking corporations, PPPs bring together public officials, workers and communities to provide better service for all users more efficiently.

PUPs allow two or more public water utilities or non-governmental organizations to join forces and leverage their shared capacities. PPPs allow multiple public utilities to pool resources, buying power and technical expertise, she said.

The benefits of scale and shared resources can deliver higher public efficiencies and lower costs. These public partnerships, whether domestic or international, improve and promote public delivery of water through sharing best practices, said O’Callaghan.

The writer can be contacted at

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Opinion: Increasing Productivity Key to Revive Growth and Support Sustainable Development in Asia and the Pacific Thu, 28 Apr 2016 12:37:28 +0000 Shamshad Akhtar The author is an Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of ESCAP. She has been the UN’s Sherpa for the G20 and previously served as Governor of the Central Bank of Pakistan and Vice President of the MENA Region of the World Bank. The full Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific 2016 may be downloaded free of charge at]]> Shamshad Akhtar

Shamshad Akhtar

By Shamshad Akhtar
BANGKOK, Thailand , Apr 28 2016 (IPS)

The Asia-Pacific region’s successful achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development needs to be driven by broad-based productivity gains and rebalancing of economies towards domestic and regional demand. This is the main message of the Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific 2016, published today by the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. Such a strategy will not only underpin the revival of robust and resilient economic growth, but also improve the quality of growth by making it more inclusive and sustainable.

How should Asia-Pacific policymakers go about implementing such a strategy? Approaches by developing Asia-Pacific economies that are tilted more towards reliance on export-led economic recovery will be ineffective under the current circumstances. Despite extraordinary measures, global aggregate demand remains weak and China’s economic expansion is moderating. The impact of further loosening of monetary policy is also likely to remain muted, and is not advisable. The key reason is a confluence of macroeconomic risks that are clouding the economic outlook, such as low commodity prices affecting resource-dependent economies, volatility in exchange rates, as well as growing private household and corporate debt, the impact of which is likely to be complicated by the ambiguous path of interest rate increases to be pursued by the United States.

The contribution of export-led economic growth to overall development of economies, supported by low interest rates and rising private debt, seems to have plateaued, with economic growth in developing Asia-Pacific economies in 2016 and 2017 forecast to marginally increase to 4.8% and 5% respectively from an estimated 4.6% in 2015. This is considerably below the average of 9.4% in the pre-crisis period of 2005-2007.

Along with the economic slowdown, progress in poverty reduction is slowing, inequalities are rising and prospects of decent employment are weakening. At the same time, rapid urbanization and a rising middle class are posing complex economic, social, and environmental and governance challenges. Such conditions can undermine the significant development successes of the region in recent decades, making it more difficult to deal with the unfinished development agenda, such as lifting 639 million people out of poverty. Had inequality not increased, approximately 200 million more people could have been lifted out of poverty in the three most populous countries of the region alone.

To overcome these challenges, revive the region’s economic dynamism and effectively pursue the 2030 Agenda, policymakers are advised to use all available policy levers, including countercyclical fiscal policy and supportive social protection measures, which critically calls for raising domestic resources. Such interventions would not only support domestic demand but also strengthen the foundations for future productivity-led growth by targeting areas such as: labour quality, including knowledge, skills, and health of the workforce; innovation through trade, investment and R&D; adequate infrastructure in transport, energy and ICT; and access to finance, especially by SMEs.

Fiscal measures, underpinning such initiatives, should be accompanied by sustained reforms towards efficient and fair tax systems which deliver the necessary revenues for the required investment in sustainable development

Sustained increases in domestic demand will also require steady growth in real wages. This requires linking labour productivity more closely to wage levels. Strengthening the enabling environment for collective bargaining is one necessary component in the policy arsenal of governments, with the enforcement of minimum wages as another important policy tool.

After increasing significantly over the last few decades, productivity growth has declined in recent years. This is worrying not only because wage growth has lagged behind productivity growth, but also because wage growth ultimately depends on productivity growth. Specifically, compared to the period 2000-2007, annual growth of total factor productivity has declined by more than 65% in developing countries of the region, averaging only 0.96% per year between 2008 and 2014; labour productivity growth has declined by 30%, reaching just 3.9% in 2013.

The recently-adopted Sustainable Development Goals provide an entry point to strengthen productivity. For instance, raising agricultural productivity and thus lifting rural households income must be the center of the focus to end poverty (Goal 1), to end hunger and achieve food security (Goal 2). This is because agriculture accounts for one in four workers in the region and more than half of the region’s people live in rural areas. Efforts to eradicate poverty and increase agricultural productivity would also foster development of the rural sector and encourage industrialization (Goal 9).

Higher levels of productivity in agriculture will also free-up labour, which would be available to work in the non-agricultural sector. It is therefore imperative to consider a broader development strategy that moves towards full and productive employment (Goal 8) to accommodate the “agricultural push” of labour. This will require mechanisms to provide, particularly those with low skills, access to quality education and lifelong learning (Goal 4).The need to provide quality education cannot be overemphasized in view of the skills bias of modern technology, which reduces the pace of absorption of unskilled labour released from the agricultural sector.

Thus, whereas the Goals will contribute to strengthening productivity, importantly, strengthening productivity will also contribute to the success of a number of the Goals, creating a virtuous cycle between sustainable development, productivity and economic growth.


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G-77 Should Adopt South-South Climate Change Program of Action: Ambassador Djoghlaf Tue, 26 Apr 2016 18:53:36 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands The beauty of the Paris agreement is that it’s a universal agreement, unlike the Kyoto protocol, said Ambassador Djoghlaf. Credit: Ahmed Djoghlaf.

The beauty of the Paris agreement is that it’s a universal agreement, unlike the Kyoto protocol, said Ambassador Djoghlaf. Credit: Ahmed Djoghlaf.

By Lyndal Rowlands

The 134 members of the Group of 77 and China (G-77) made their mark on the Paris Climate Change Agreement and should now adopt a program of action to implement it, Ambassador Ahmed Djoghlaf told IPS in a recent interview.

Djoghlaf, of Algeria, was co-chair of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP), together with Daniel Reifsnyder, of the United States, a position which allowed him to “witness very closely” the negotiation of the Paris Agreement.

“As the co-chair of the preparatory committee I can tell you that the G-77 has been a major actor during the  negotiation and a major player for the success of the Paris conference,” said Djoghlaf.

Djoghlaf said that the Group of 77 and China made its mark on the Paris agreement by mobilising a diverse range of countries and sub-groups, to “defend the collective interests of the developing countries.”

The group helped to find balance in the agreement “between mitigation issues that are important for developed countries and adaptation issues that are very close to the heart of the developing countries,” said Djoghlaf.

He also said that the group fought for equity, response measures, loss and damage as well as means of implementation, including financing, capacity building and transfer of technology.

“Those that are suffering the most nowadays are those that have less contributed to climate change crisis and they are using their own limited financial resources to address them, to adapt, to adjust to the consequences created by others,” he said.

Program of Action in Marrakech

“I hope that the G-77 through the leadership of Thailand will be able to take the lead and submit to its partners at the next conference of the parties in Marrakech a draft work program on capacity building for the implementation of the Paris agreement,” said Djoghlaf.

The 22nd meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP22) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will be held in Marrakech, Morocco, from 7 to 18 Nov. 2016.

Djoghlaf said the program should address North-South as well as South-South capacity building, which is needed to ensure that developing countries can implement their commitments including on issues related to the finalisation of their nationally determined contributions and preparation of their future contributions.

“It would be important for the developing countries to be able to identify their own capacity building needs and let others do it for them. It will be also important to have a framework to coordinate the South-South cooperation on climate change similar to the Caracas Plan of Action on South-South Cooperation or the Buenos Aires Plan of Action on economic and technical cooperation among developing countries,” he said.

Quoting Victor Hugo Djoghlaf said that “not a single army in the world can stop an idea whose time has come, I do believe when it comes to South-South cooperation on climate change it’s an idea whose time has come also.”

“Within the G-77, the diverse group, you have emerging countries that are now leaders in renewable energy and the energy of tomorrow and the they have I think a responsibility to share their experience and to allow other countries from the same region and the same group to benefit from their experience,” he said.

"It is crystal clear that the Paris agreement will enter into force well before the original expected date of 2020. The clock is ticking and we cannot afford any delay” -- Ambassador Ahmed Djoghlaf

“I also believe that time has come for the G-77 to initiate it’s own program of action on climate change,” he said.

Djoghlaf said that developing countries need capacity building to ensure that they can continue to participate fully in the implementation of the Paris Climate Change Agreement.

Unlike developed countries, which “have fully-fledged ministries dealing with climate change,” he said, “In the South there is not a single country that has a Minister of Climate Change.”

He spoke about how during the negotiations of the Paris agreement many countries of the South had only one focal point and yet sometimes there were 15 meetings taking place at the same time and the meetings also often continued into the night.

It can be difficult for this focal point “to be able to understand and to participate, let alone be heard” when there is a “proliferation of simultaneous meetings,” he said.

Djoghlaf said that countries of the South could help address this disparity by establishing national committees, which include representatives from a number of different ministries.

“There’s not a single sector of activities which is not nowadays affected by the negative impact of climate change,” said Djoghlaf.

“All the sectors need to be engaged and we will succeed to win the battle of climate change when all these ministers, economic ministers and social ministers, will be fully integrating climate change in their planning and in their decision making processes,” he said.

Djoghlaf acknowledged it’s not easy for ministers in developing countries to engage because they have other urgent priorities. “They tend not to see the importance of the impact of climate change because they believe that this is not a priority for them,” he said. Yet there is often evidence that supports a more cross-cutting approach. For example, said Djoghlaf, World Health Organization research, which shows that 7 million people die from air pollution every year, demonstrates that climate change should also be a priority for health ministries.

The beauty of the Paris agreement

Djoghlaf said that the beauty of the Paris agreement is that it’s a universal agreement, unlike the Kyoto protocol. The Paris agreement is “very balanced” and should last for years to come because it takes into in to consideration the evolving capacities and the evolving responsibilities of countries, he said.

“We need a North-South and a South-South global climate solidarity,” said Djoghlaf.

“Without judging the past, who is responsible now, and who is responsible tomorrow, and who is responsible yesterday, I think we are all in the same boat, we are all in the same planet and we have to contribute based on our capacity,” he said.

He described the success of the signing ceremony held here Friday, where in total 175 countries signed and 15 countries deposited their instruments of ratification as “unprecedented”. “This has never happened before,” he said, referring to the developing countries, which also ratified the agreement. “It is a resounding political message and a demonstration of leadership,” he said. “It is crystal clear that the Paris agreement will enter into force well before the original expected date of 2020. The clock is ticking and we cannot afford any delay.”

Djoghlaf also said that he was not concerned about upcoming changes to the United States domestic political situation.

“When you are a party to the Paris agreement you can’t withdraw before three years after its entry into force. In addition I do believe that this historical agreement is in the long term interest of all Parties including the United States of America” he said.

“I believe that this Paris agreement is in the long term strategic interests of every country,” in part because eventually fossil fuel energy is going to disappear.

Investment in renewable energy was six times higher in 2015 than in 2014, he added.

“We tend to ignore the tremendous impact and signal the Paris agreement has already been providing to the business community,” he said.

Another part of the Paris agreement which Djoghlaf is happy about is what he describes as a “fully-fledged article on public awareness and education.”

“It’s to ensure that each and every citizen of the world, in particular the developing countries, are fully aware about the consequences of the climate change and the need for each of us as an individual to make our contribution to address the climate change,” he said.

“There is a need also to educate the people of the world of the need to have a sustainable lifestyle this throw away society can not continue to exist forever and we need to establish a sustainable pattern of production and consumption,” said Djoghlaf.

However Djoghlaf, who was the Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, said that he was concerned that the negotiations in 2015 didn’t adequately reflect the importance of ecosystems and biodiversity.

“Healthy biodiversity and healthy ecosystems have a major role to play to combat climate change,” said Djoghlaf, adding that 30 percent of carbon dioxide is absorbed by forests and 30 percent by oceans.

“For each breath that we have we owe it to the forests, but also to the ocean, also wetlands have a major contribution to make, the peat lands have a major contribution to make, the land itself, the fertile soil of course has a major contribution to play, so biodiversity is part and parcel of the climate global response,” he said.

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Harvesting Rainwater to Weather Drought in Northeast Argentina Mon, 25 Apr 2016 07:52:29 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet Jésica Garay, a young mother who is studying to become a teacher, gets water from the family tank built next to her humble home in the rural municipality of Corzuela in the northeast Argentine province of Chaco. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Jésica Garay, a young mother who is studying to become a teacher, gets water from the family tank built next to her humble home in the rural municipality of Corzuela in the northeast Argentine province of Chaco. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
CORZUELA, Argentina, Apr 25 2016 (IPS)

In a semiarid region in the northeast Argentine province of Chaco, small farmers have adopted a simple technique to ensure a steady water supply during times of drought: they harvest the rain and store it in tanks, as part of a climate change adaptation project.

It’s raining in Corzuela, a rural municipality of 10,000 inhabitants located 260 km from Resistencia, the provincial capital, and the muddy local roads are sometimes impassable.

But it isn’t always like this in this Argentine region where, as local farmer Juan Ramón Espinoza puts it, “when it doesn’t rain there is no rain at all, and when it does rain, it rains too much.”

“There have always been water shortages, but things are getting worse every year,” he told IPS. “There are seasons when four or five months go by without a single drop of water falling.”“I used to bring water from the public well. My husband would go with a pony carrying a water container and bring water for the tank we have back there. But other times we would have to go and buy water, and sometimes I even had to forget about buying meat so I could pay for the water.” -- Olga Ramírez

The local residents of Corzuela blame the increasingly severe droughts on deforestation, a consequence of the spread of monoculture crops in this area since the turn of the century.

“They started to invade us with soy plantations,” Espinoza said. “There’s a lot of deforestation. They come and use their bulldozers to knock everything down, on 4,000 or 5,000 hectares. They don’t leave a single tree standing.”

This is compounded by the global effects of climate change, which has led to longer, more intense droughts.

The result is that local peasant farmers don’t have water for drinking, washing, cooking or irrigating their vegetable gardens.

“We would lose half a day going back and forth, filling tanks and containers with water for washing, cooking and bathing,” recalled Graciela Rodríguez, a mother of 11 children who often helped her hauling water.

“Now if you’re in your house and you need water, you go and get some, in your own house,” she told IPS happily, explaining that she uses the extra time she now has to cook bread, clean the house and take care of her grandchildren.

The solution was to build tanks to collect and store rainwater. But the local peasant farmers had neither the funds nor the technology to implement the system.

Today, joined together in associations, the local residents receive funds and other assistance from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), through the Global Environment Facility’s (GEF) Small Grants Programme (SGP).

The project is carried out locally with technical assistance from the National Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA) for the construction of tanks using cement, bricks, sand, steel and stones, and from the National Institute of Industrial Technology (INTI), for training in safety and hygiene.

“This project helps solve a very pressing local problem: water scarcity in the region,” said SGP technician María Eugenia Combi. “The solution is to take advantage of whatever rainfall there is to harvest and store water, for times when it is scarce.”

Local small farmer José Ramón Espinoza stands next to a recently constructed community tank for harvesting rainwater, which will enable a group of families to weather the recurrent drought in Corzuela, a rural municipality in the northeast Argentine province of Chaco. The underground tank was provided by GEF’s Small Grants Programme. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Local small farmer José Ramón Espinoza stands next to a recently constructed community tank for harvesting rainwater, which will enable a group of families to weather the recurrent drought in Corzuela, a rural municipality in the northeast Argentine province of Chaco. The underground tank was provided by GEF’s Small Grants Programme. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The first project was carried out in this area from 2013 to 2015, when five community water tanks were built, serving 38 families. A second project began in March this year, to build another eight community tanks and 30 single-household tanks.

The technology is simple and low-cost. The roofs of the “ranchos” or poor rural dwellings are adapted with the installation of rain gutters to catch the water, which flows into 16,000-litre family tanks or 52,000-litre community tanks.

“Once the beneficiaries are trained to build the tanks, they can go out and build them in every house,” Combi told IPS.

Traditionally the main source of water for human and agricultural consumption – small-scale livestock production and small gardens – in this region has been family wells.

But as Gabriela Faggi, an INTA technical adviser to the programme, explained to IPS, besides the drought that has reduced ground-water levels, many wells have high sodium levels and are contaminated with arsenic, and in extreme cases the water cannot even be used for watering livestock or gardens, which has exacerbated the region’s food supply problems.

The new year-round availability of water has now helped alleviate that problem as well.

“I used to bring water from the public well,” said another Corzuela resident, Olga Ramírez. “My husband would go with a pony carrying a water container and bring water for the tank we have back there. But other times we would have to go and buy water, and sometimes I even had to forget about buying meat so I could pay for the water.”

The local farmers depend on subsistence farming, growing traditional crops like sweet potatoes, cassava, pumpkin and corn, and raising small livestock.

“It’s a big help for the animals,” said Ramírez. “We use the stored rainwater for washing, cooking, drinking yerba mate (a traditional herbal infusion consumed in the Rio de la Plata region), watering our chickens and other animals and the garden – for everything.”

“Now that we have this tank we can even waste water,” said Jésica Garay, a young mother who is studying to be a teacher. “We even use it to water the garden. Before, we only had enough for drinking and bathing.

“We don’t have to worry anymore about not being able to eat something, in order to buy water,” she said.

The SGP, active in 120 countries, emerged in 1992 as a way to demonstrate that small-scale community initiatives can have a positive impact on global environmental problems. The maximum grant amount per project is 50,000 dollars.

“What we are aiming at are local actions with a global impact,” the head of the programme in Argentina, Francisco Lopez Sastre, told IPS. “That is, small solutions to global environmental problems like climate change.”

He said the promotion of vegetable gardens, which complement the water tank programme “will boost consumption of fruit and vegetables, which is very low among local families due to the high cost.

“This can improve the household economy and bolster the inclusion of healthy foods, which will result in better health and food sovereignty.”

The SGP is currently carrying out another 13 projects in Chaco, for which it has provided a combined total of 537,000 dollars in grants.

Two of them involve water supply for human consumption in rural communities, complemented by agroecological gardens.

The province, which has a population of one million people, has the highest poverty level in this country of 43 million, according to independent studies. In Chaco, more than 57 percent of the population lives in poverty, and 17 percent in extreme poverty.

It is also the region with the second-largest proportion of indigenous people. Population density is 10.6 inhabitants per square km, below the national average of 14.4.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Developing Countries Take Lead at Climate Change Agreement Signing Fri, 22 Apr 2016 19:40:13 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands The UN General Assembly hall during the record-breaking signing of the Paris Climate Change Agreement. UN Photo/Mark Garten

The UN General Assembly hall during the record-breaking signing of the Paris Climate Change Agreement. UN Photo/Mark Garten

By Lyndal Rowlands

An unprecedented 175 countries signed the Paris Climate Change Agreement here Friday, with 15 developing countries taking the lead by also ratifying the treaty.

The Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Somalia, Palestine, Barbados, Belize, Fiji, Grenada, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Samoa, Tuvalu, the Maldives, Saint Lucia and Mauritius all deposited their instruments of ratification at the signing ceremony, meaning that their governments have already agreed to be legally bound by the terms of the treaty.

Speaking at the opening of the signing ceremony UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon welcomed the record-breaking number of signatures for an international treaty on a single day but reminded the governments present that “records are also being broken outside.”

“Records are also being broken outside. Record global temperatures. Record ice loss. Record carbon levels in the atmosphere.” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.
“Record global temperatures.  Record ice loss.  Record carbon levels in the atmosphere,” said Ban.

Ban urged all countries to have their governments ratify the agreement at the national level as soon as possible.

“The window for keeping global temperature rise well below two degrees Celsius, let alone 1.5 degrees, is rapidly closing,” he said.

In order for the Paris agreement to enter into force it must first be ratified by 55 countries representing 55 percent of global emissions.

The 15 developing countries who deposited their ratifications Friday only represent a tiny portion of global emissions but include many of the countries likely to bear the greatest burden of climate change.

For the treaty to move ahead it is important that some of the world’s top emitters ratify as soon as possible. However unlike in the past, the world’s top emitters now include developing countries, including China, India, Brazil and Indonesia. For these countries, addressing climate change can also help other serious environmental problems including air pollution, deforestation and loss of biodiversity.

According to the World Health Organization air pollution causes millions of deaths every year.

“Air pollution is killing people every day,” Deborah Seligsohn, a researcher specializing in air pollution in China and India at the University of California at San Diego told IPS.

“Countries commitments on climate change will help with air pollution but will be insufficient to reduce air pollution to the levels that we are accustomed to in the West,” she said, adding that not all measures to reduce air pollution necessarily contribute to addressing climate change.

Sunil Dahiya, a Climate & Energy Campaigner with Greenpeace India told IPS that “pollution control measures for power plants, a shift to renewables, more public transport and cleaner fuels as well as eco-agriculture, would not only clean up the air but also reduce our emissions.”

Brazil and India have also found their way into the list of top emitters in part due to deforestation. Peat and forest fires in Indonesia, exacerbated by last year’s severe El Nino, contributed to a spike in global carbon emissions. However while these environmental problems occur in developing countries, the global community also has a responsibility to help address them.

While both developed and developing countries have responsibilities to reduce their emissions, David Waskow, Director of the International Climate Action Initiative at the World Resources Institute (WRI) said that an equitable approach among countries must take into account several factors.

“Questions of equity are threaded through out” the Paris agreement and that these take into account the respective capabilities of countries and their different national circumstances, said Waskow.

Heather Coleman Climate Change Manager at Oxfam America said that the conversation around equity shifted during negotiations in Paris.

“We moved away from talking about rich versus poor countries and the conversation started really evolving around poor versus rich people around the world,” said Coleman.

According to Oxfam’s research, the richest 10 percent of the world’s population are responsible for over half of the global emissions, said Coleman.

“Putting the burden on rich people around the world is where we need to be moving,” she said.

The WRI has developed a climate data explorer which compares countries not only on their commitments, but also their historic emissions and emissions per person, two areas where developed countries tend to far exceed developing countries.

One area that developed countries are still expected to take the lead is in climate finance said Waskow. Finance commitments will see richer countries help poorer countries to reduce their emissions. Financing could potentially help countries like Brazil and Indonesia address mass deforestation while a new Southern Climate Partnership Incubator launched at the UN Thursday will help facilitate the exchange of ideas between developing countries to tackle climate change.

Financing should also help vulnerable countries to better prepare for and adapt to the impacts of climate change, however Coleman told IPS that the Paris agreement lacks a specific commitment to adaptation financing, and that this omission should be addressed this year.

Despite the records broken at the signing ceremony here Friday Coleman also said it was important to remember that the national commitments made by countries are still “nowhere near enough” to avoid catastrophic climate change.

“We really need to look towards a two degree goal but we need to stretch to 1.5 if we are going to see many vulnerable communities (continue) their very existence,” she said.

Some of the communities most vulnerable to climate change include small island countries and indigenous communities.

For island countries, already threatened by increasingly severe and frequent cyclones and rising sea levels, coral bleaching is a new imminent threat likely to effect the economies which rely on coral reef tourism.

Indigenous communities are also losing their homes to deforestation and have become targets for violence because of their work defending the world’s natural resources.

According to Global Witness at least two people are killed each week for defending forests and other natural resources from destruction, and 40 percent of the victims are indigenous.

However although forests owned by Indigenous people contain approximately 37.7 billion tons of carbon, Indigenous people have largely been left out of national climate plans.

Only 21 countries referred to the involvement of indigenous people in their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) submitted as part of the Paris agreement, Mina Setra an Indigenous Dayak Leader from Indonesia said at an event at the Ford Foundation ahead of the signing ceremony.

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No Turning Back in the Global Fight Against Climate Change Fri, 22 Apr 2016 06:38:06 +0000 Marcia Bernicat Photo: Ambreblends

Photo: Ambreblends

By Marcia Bernicat
Apr 22 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

As people around the globe observe Earth Day today, world leaders are making history at the United Nations in New York. Over 100 countries will sign the Paris Agreement on climate change, representing their commitment to join it formally. This marks a turning point in the story of our planet and may set a record for the largest number of signers to an international agreement in a single day. Moreover, last month, President Obama announced with President Xi Jinping that our two countries will sign the Paris Agreement today and formally join this year. We are confident other countries will do so too, with the intention of bringing this historic and ambitious agreement into force as quickly as possible.

A greener future is already in sight. Leaders of countries and cities are adapting and innovating away from fossil fuels and business owners are investing in a clean energy economy. The United States is moving forward in its commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions 26-28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025. We are doing this through the strongest fuel economy standards in our history, through our twenty-fold increase in solar generation since 2009, and through proposed rules on everything from energy conservation standards for appliances to reduction in emissions of methane-rich gas from municipal solid waste landfills.

My home state, New Jersey, has undertaken ambitious programmes tackling climate change and promoting renewable energy. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has introduced the Sustainable Jersey programme to aid cities and towns in going green, saving money, and taking the steps necessary to ensure long-term quality of life. Sustainable Jersey provides guidance and financial incentives in support of the programme. The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities’ Clean Energy Programme encourages homeowners, businesses, and municipalities to incorporate clean energy into their lives. The Clean Energy Programme has received the 2016 Sustained Excellence Award from the United States Environmental Protection Agency for 15 years of success in promoting clean energy use.

While we are taking significant climate action domestically, the United States is also focused on international cooperation to address this global challenge. Our $500 million contribution last month to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) – the first tranche of the $3 billion U.S. pledge to the GCF – will help developing countries reduce carbon emissions and prepare for climate impacts, while also advancing our commitment to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals – another major landmark agreement the world came together around last year.

One of the most successful environmental agreements of all time is the Montreal Protocol, which is phasing out ozone depleting substances globally. It set the ozone layer on a path to recovery and prevented tens of millions of cases of skin cancer among other health, environmental, and economic benefits. Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) – which replace many of the ozone-depleting substances – do not harm the ozone layer, but they are greenhouse gases that in some cases can be thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide. The United States is working with partners to adopt an HFC phase-down amendment to the Montreal Protocol this year that could avoid half a degree Celsius of warming by the end of the century.

We also need international cooperation to change how we transport ourselves and goods. The aviation sector represents two percent of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions. The International Civil Aviation Organisation is aiming to achieve carbon neutral growth for international aviation by 2020. The United States is committed to reaching an agreement on a global market-based measure that will help move the airline sector toward this ambitious goal.

Bangladesh, located at the confluence of the Ganges, the Brahmaputra, and the Meghna rivers, is uniquely vulnerable to climate change. The 600 kilometre coastal zone faces considerable challenges: flooding, erosion, rising sea levels, and cyclonic storm surges. Bangladesh has risen to this challenge. From the establishment of the Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan of 2009 and Climate Change Trust Fund to the continued dedication of over six percent of the annual budget to climate change adaptation, Bangladesh has been on the leading edge of environmental policy. For all of these reasons, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was awarded the United Nations’ Champion of the Earth award for Policy Leadership last September.

This Earth Day – with the signing of the Paris Agreement – is truly a cause for hope. It is also a reminder of our shared commitment to combat climate change. We must all seize upon the momentum from Paris to build a clean energy future for ourselves and our children and grandchildren.

The writer is the U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Soil and Pulses: Symbiosis for Life Thu, 21 Apr 2016 15:41:52 +0000 Valentina Gasbarri Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Valentina Gasbarri
ROME, Apr 21 2016 (IPS)

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in partnership with Biodiversity International and the Permanent Mission of Italy to the UN (Rome based UN agencies) jointly organized a seminar on “Soils and pulses: symbiosis for life”, providing a platform to stakeholders, including governments, research organizations, civil society and the private sector, to deliberate increased pulses production and consumption and its relation to higher productivity and fertility of soils. 2016 is the International Year of Pulses as declared by the United General

During the International Year of Soils in 2015, FAO drew attention to the key benefits of healthy soils, including its important role in food production. The Milan EXPO 2015 also highlighted the need to ensure healthy, safe and sufficient food for all. Important interconnections emerge: the key role of healthy soils and pulses to address future global food security and environmental challenges as well as to contribute to balanced and healthy diets.

“The International Year of Pulses can be a valuable opportunity to reflect not only on the high nutritional values of pulses but also to broaden the discussion to the consequences of pulses consumption for economic, social and human-well at the heart of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda”, said Andrea Olivero, Italian Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Food and Forestry Policies who addressed the seminar.

Since millennia farmers have been aware of the significance and potential impact of pulses for human nutrition and agricultural systems. Pulses were cited for their role of nourishing people during the Roman Empire in the Rerum Rusticarum (37 BC) as well as in some recipes of the Native American cuisine. Today, pulses represent a major source of protein in many developing countries, especially among the poorer sections of the population who rely on vegetable sources for their protein and energy requirements. Pulses play an important role in the nutritional security of a large number of people. Pulses offer significant nutritional and health advantages due to their protein and essential amino acid contents as well as being a source of complex carbohydrates and several vitamins and minerals.

Additionally, in view of the biological nitrogen fixation capacity most of leguminous species, pulses and legumes are important components of a healthy diet, said Francesco Branca, Director of the Department of Nutrition for Health and Development at the World Health Organization (WHO). Both WHO and FAO recommend that people eat at least 400 g of fruit and vegetables per day. This is equivalent to consuming about 25 g of dietary fibre per day. Pulses are also functional to prevent obesity and type 2 diabetes, to reduce the risk of heart diseases, blood pressure and certain types of cancers.

“In India, initiatives to enhance lentil consumption played a crucial role in the treatment of anaemia among children” said Mahmoud Solh, Director General of the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA).

Big opportunities are offered by the multidimensional relationship between pulses and soils, as paramount components of food security: nutrient-poor soils, as a non-renewable resource, are indeed unable to produce healthy food with all necessary micronutrient for a healthy person. Soils are under threat. 33% of land (of total land worldwide) is moderately to highly degraded due to the erosion, salinization and, compaction, acidification and chemical pollution of soils.

Agriculture is critical to meet the challenges posed by hunger and malnutrition. A sustainable management of the world’s agricultural soils and sustainable production have become imperative for reversing the trend of soil degradation to ensure current and future global food security. Olivero pointed out that “pulses are sustainable, resilient and soil-friendly, feeding the soil biology and increasing microbial activity. Growing pulse crops in rotation with other crops enables the soil environment to support flourishing of these large, diverse populations of soil organisms”.

Michele Pisante, from Italy’s Council for Agriculture Research and Agrarian Economics (CREA), noted experiments showing that rotating legumes with grain crops could save up to 88 kilograms of nitrogen per hectare in Europe, where fertilizer use is high by international standards. There has been a sharp global reduction in pulse production compared to cereals since 1962, and reversing that would lead to virtuous outcomes including lower carbon costs per unit of glucose, Pisante noted.

Paola De Santis, a researcher at Bioversity International, showcased the organization’s research in Uganda, China and other countries on improving bean seed quality to enhance productivity as well as genetic diversity of key pulses varieties, which can be leveraged to boost plant resistance to diseases and pests.

Pulses are an economic asset in the agricultural sector. They offer farmers higher profit margins than cereal grains and can thus play an important role in helping reduce rural poverty at the local, regional and international levels. In particular, the role of smallholders as custodians of traditions and cultural practices deserves a special attention at a time when food systems and supply chains are increasingly intertwined, said Wafaa El-Khoury, a specialist at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). Without interventions, productivity enhancing skills
may be more available to larger farm enterprises, pushing family farmers onto marginal lands, she added.


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Opinion: Unnoticed, We Are Close to Destruction of Our Planet Thu, 21 Apr 2016 07:45:25 +0000 Roberto Savio By Roberto Savio
ROME, Apr 21 2016 (IPS)

On the 17th of April, Italians were called to vote in a national referendum, on the extension of licenses to extract petrol and gas from the seas. The government, the media and those in the economic circles, all took a position against the referendum, claiming that 2000 jobs were at a stake. The proponents of the referendum (among them five regions), lost. Italy is following a consistent trend, after the Summit on Climate Change (Paris December 2015), in which all countries (Italy included) took a solemn engagement to reduce emissions.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

Two weeks after the Summit, the British Prime Minister took the initiative to extend the licenses to extract coal, explaining that 10.000 jobs were at stake. Then it was India’s turn, to declare that licenses for coal powered stations would be increased, as the development of the country comes before protection of the environment.

On this, the Polish government declared that it had no intentions to reduce the use of Polish coal, in the short term. Then Hungary made a similar statement about its use of fossil energy.

Meanwhile, no significant initiative for emission’s control has been announced after Paris. And all the Republican candidates have announced that, once installed in the White House, they will declare null and void the agreements reached in Paris, where Obama played a crucial role. In fact, several Republican initiatives are seeking Supreme Court cancellation of measures taken by the administration to limit pollutions. And with different accents, all the xenophobe and right wing parties which are emerging everywhere in Europe, have indicated that they do not consider the Paris agreement as a priority in their agenda.

The main criticism of the scientific community, on the Paris agreements, was that while the accepted goal was to limit the increase of the global temperature to 2 degrees, compared with that of the beginning of the industrial revolution (while accepting that 1.5 degrees would have been an adequate target), in reality the sum total of all individual targets freely established by the countries, was coming to at least 3.5 degrees.

The idea was that with further negotiations, the target of 2 degrees would finally emerge, also thanks to new technologies. Now, an equally crucial flaw is emerging. No control of implementation of the agreement will take place before 2030. Until then, each country is responsible for implementing its target, and also for checking the implementation of its commitment.

It would have been interesting to see a similar philosophy, adopted on tax levels. Every citizen could decide how much tax he or she pledges to pay, and be responsible until 2030 to check that this engagement or commitment is met. Then only in 2030, mechanisms of verification would fall in place. And those mechanisms would bear no enforcements or penalties. They would only indicate public shaming of those who did not keep their engagements.

Of course, the fact that industrialized countries, like Italy and United Kingdom, far from reducing sources of pollution, is not a good example for developing countries, who are now coming into industrialization, and have to limit their emissions because since early 19th century industrialized countries have been polluting the world.

In fact, subsidies to the fossil industries, according to the World Bank, run now at 88 billion dollars per year. According to a report from the Overseas Development Institute G20 countries spend more than twice of what the top 20 private companies are spending on finding new reserves of oil, gas and coal, and do so with public money. Meanwhile, the Fund for helping underdeveloped countries to adopt new technologies, established at 100 billion in Paris, has yet to be completed. Of course a check up is due by 2030.

Well, every week we receive alarming data on how the climate is deteriorating much faster than we thought. I am not talking about the uninterrupted news on natural catastrophes. I am talking about the alarming cries by the scientific community from all over the world.

The National Centre for Climate Restoration from Australia has published a sort of summary about all those calls, in an alarming report by Prof. Kevin Andersen of the UK Tyndall Centre for Climate Change in which it says:

…According to new data released by the US National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration, measurements taken at the Marina Loa Observatory in Hawaii show that carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration jumped by 3.08 parts per million (ppm) during 2015, the largest year-to- year increase in 56 years of research. 2015 was the fourth consecutive year that CO2 grew more than 2ppm.Scientist say that they are shocked and stunned by the “unprecedented NASA temperature figures for February 2016, which are 1.65”C higher than the beginning of the nineteen century and around 1.9”C warmer than the pre-industrial level…..

This means, according to Prof. Michael Mann “we have no carbon budget left for the 1.5 degrees target and the opportunity for holding the 2 degrees is rapidly fading unless the world starts cutting emissions rapidly and right now. The current el Niño conditions have contributed to the record figures, but compared to previous big El Niños, we are experimenting blowout temperatures.” For a glimpse into what lies in our future, we have only to look at Venezuela, where now public offices work three days per week to cut water and power usage.

Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute of Climate Change Research says “In 2012, the US National Academy of Science analyzed in detail how a major drought in Syria – from 2007 to 2010 – was a crucial factor in the civll war that began in 2011. More than a million people left their farms to go to crowded and unprepared cities, where they were inspired by the Arab Spring to rise against a dictatorial regime which was not providing any help.

Journalist Baher Kamal, who is the Inter Press Service IPS Advisor for Africa and Middle, East did publish a two part series on the impact of Climate Change on the Middle East and North of Africa region, which makes clear the region, could become largely uninhabitable by the year 2040. Just to give an example, the Nile could lose up to 80% of its flow. Bahrain, Kuwait, Lebanon, Palestine, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates are all at very high risk. But so are also Algeria, Iraq, Jordan Libya, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen.

Dr. Moslem Shathout, deputy chairman of the Arab Union for Astronomy and Space, considers that Arab North African countries are the most affected, by large, by the climate change impact.

In other words, we have to expect a mass of displaced people, on the shores of the Mediterranean, and therefore of Europe. The category of climate refugees does not exist in any legislation.

While it is a fact that Europe’s population was 24% at the beginning of the nineteen-century, it will be 4% at the end of the present one. Europe will lose 40 million people that will need to be replaced by immigrants, to keep productivity and pensions running.

The arrival of 1.3 million people, two thirds young and educated, has created a massive political crisis, and the unravelling of Europe.

The climate refugees will be of all ages, and many from the agricultural sector, the most conservative and uneducated in the Arab world.

Do Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and British Prime Minister David Cameron – who for electoral reasons play the chord of a few lost jobs from the fossil industry – have any idea on how to face this imminent future?

Probably not, but they do not care. This problem will not be during their tenure. So climate change is not in the political agenda as a very top priority. And media follows events, not processes, so no cries of alarm; yet, from one to the next, a continuation of disasters lead to catastrophes…

When, everybody will realize as the saying goes, God pardons, man does sometimes, but nature never.


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OPINION: Breaking the Grip of Rimbunan Hijau over Papua New Guinea Wed, 20 Apr 2016 16:35:26 +0000 Frederic Mousseau Frederic Mousseau, Policy Director of the Oakland Institute. ]]>

Frederic Mousseau, Policy Director of the Oakland Institute.

By Frederic Mousseau
OAKLAND, Apr 20 2016 (IPS)

James Sze Yuan Lau and Ivan Su Chiu Lu must be extremely busy men. Together, they are listed as directors of some 30 companies involved in various activities and services related to logging or agribusiness in Papua New Guinea (PNG). The former is the managing director of Rimbunan Hijau (RH) PNG and son-in-law of RH’s founder Tiong Hiew King; the latter is executive director of RH PNG Ltd.. All but two of these 30 companies have the same registered address at 479 Kennedy Road, in the national capital, Port Moresby–the headquarter of the RH group in the country.

Frederic Mousseau

Frederic Mousseau

Their ability to magically fit into a relatively small office space on Kennedy Road is not the only puzzling fact about the subsidiaries of the Malaysian group, Rimbunan Hijau. Out of the 30 above mentioned companies, 16 subsidiaries that are directly involved in logging or agribusiness have one other thing in common. According to their financial records , they don’t make a profit. Most of them have been working at a loss for over a decade. During the 12 years for which financial records were available to the Oakland Institute’s researchers, all together, the subsidiaries declared an average loss of about US$ 9 million every year.

How the group – the largest logging operator in PNG – manages to operate at a loss for so many years, and yet still remains in business? If it were unprofitable to log and export timber from PNG, why would these companies continue their operations? These are some of the critical questions raised in a report released in February 2016, The Great Timber Heist: The Logging Industry in Papua New Guinea, by the Oakland Institute. The report exposed massive tax evasion and financial misreporting by foreign logging companies, allegedly resulting in non-payment of hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes.

Recovering tax revenue would be certainly welcomed by PNG given the acute budget crisis the country has been facing in recent months. Yet, it is unclear whether the government of PNG will decide to take action following these revelations. After all, despite the promises made by the Prime Minister, still no action has been taken two and a half years after the damning report on recent land leases, produced by the Commission of Inquiry (CoI), which identified all sorts of malpractices and irregularities and concluded that most leases were illegal.

A first step for any government would be to start monitoring the declared sale prices of exported timber. PNG prices are much lower than those of other exporters of tropical timber (nearly 50% cheaper in 2014), which suggests that logging companies undervalue their exports and therefore their profits. But the recent statements by the Forest Minister in denial of the findings of the report, and given the well-documented deficiencies of the PNG Forest Authority, there is little hope of decisive action by this agency.

Another level of action is the enforcement of tax compliance by the Internal Revenue Commission (IRC), the government agency in charge of tax collection. However, although many RH companies are conveniently located at the same address, it may prove difficult for tax auditors to ascertain the extent of their wrongdoings. The Group has been built as a complex and opaque financial structure: almost all RH holding companies–the parent companies of those operating in PNG–are located in tax havens, primarily the British Virgin Islands, known for facilitating illicit financial flows.

Moreover, the use of multiple subsidiaries in logging operations makes auditing even more complex to conduct. For instance, in one single project in West Pomio, Gilford Ltd.’s records indicate financial transactions with 16 other RH subsidiary companies. This interrelation facilitates transfer pricing as companies of the same group can charge each other an artificially high price for goods, equipment, and services, thereby increasing the sister company’s operational expenses, and artificially reducing their profits. This interrelation would require investigators to not just focus on individual logging companies but to extend their audits to the larger RH Group. But who would they go after?

RH is controlled by Tiong Hiew King, one of Malaysia’s richest men. Although logging is the core business of the group – ‘Rimbunan Hijau’ ironically means ‘forever green’ in Malay, his empire covers a multitude of sectors, and all continents from fisheries in New Zealand, timber in Siberia, to Chinese speaking newspapers in California. RH’s grip over PNG goes far beyond the forests, as it is present across all sectors of the economy. The company’s most recent investment in the capital Port Moresby is a project known as Vision City, which contains the largest shopping mall in the Pacific Islands region and is expected to be expanded to include an office tower block, service apartments, a hotel and convention centre. It also owns the National, the largest of the two daily newspapers in PNG, an airline, Tropicair, as well as shipping and logistics companies.

Whereas the group appears as PNG’s superpower, citizens are left powerless. As documented in 2013 Oakland Institute’s report and film, logging in PNG hides a multilayered tragedy of daylight robbery, whereby local communities are being deprived of their resources and their rights, with the complicity of their own government. RH has often been accused in the past of connections within the political elite in the country and of involvement in corruption and violence in relation to its logging operations. In a number of occasions, local police forces have been used to intimidate and arrest local landowners opposed to logging and land grabbing by RH subsidiaries.

A single corporate group, RH, thus materializes the betrayal of the unique constitutional protections that PNG citizens are supposed to enjoy. The 1975 Constitution guaranteed people’s land rights and upheld national sovereignty, self-reliance, and the preservation of natural resources as key principles for the country. It called on the State “to control major enterprises engaged in the exploitation of natural resources.” Ironically, today a major enterprise has turned the statement around and appears to be controlling the state and the country’s natural resources. Will Papua New Guineans eventually decide to put the things back in place?


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Arsenic Threat Looms Large in India: Well Switching Provides the Way Forward Wed, 20 Apr 2016 13:16:20 +0000 Chander Kumar Singh Assistant Professor, Department of Regional Water Studies, TERI University ]]>

Assistant Professor, Department of Regional Water Studies, TERI University

By Chander Kumar Singh
TERI University, New Delhi, India, Apr 20 2016 (IPS)

An Indian Govt. Parliamentary Committee on Estimates on “Occurrence of High Arsenic (As) content in Groundwater” in December, 2014 stated that more than 70 million people in 96 districts in India is under threat due to As occurrence in groundwater.

Chander Kumar Singh

Chander Kumar Singh

A new finding suggests that it’s not only Indo-Gangetic plain that is under serious threat of As contamination in groundwater in India. An ongoing study funded by PEER Science grant from USAID and National Academy of Sciences, USA in collaboration with Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University, New York and TERI University, New Delhi tested 12790 handpumps/tubewells in 180 villages in Indus Basin of Punjab, India using field test kits. Out of these 25% of wells were found to be having As and Nitrate concentrations above WHO standards, while 8% of samples were found to be high in terms of fluoride. These results were attached on the handpumps/tubewells in the form of metal placards depicting whether it’s safe or unsafe for drinking.

The groundwater contaminations with respect to geogenic contaminants specifically As is spatially heterogeneous and is confined to specific regions. Based on studies conducted elsewhere in South Asia, chronic exposure to As at levels encountered in groundwater of Punjab is likely to have markedly increased mortality due to cardiovascular disease and cancers of the liver, bladder, and lungs. It has also been linked to infant mortality and impaired intellectual and motor function in children.

Chronic excess intake of F, more than the WHO standards (1.5 mg/L), can cause severe dental and skeletal fluorosis which might lead to bilateral lameness and stiffness of gait. Excess intake of NO3 can result in blue baby syndrome which is frequently observed in Punjab.

The most effective policy intervention and mitigation to reduce the health risks of chronic As, F and NO3 exposure is to avoid the source of exposure, in this case unsafe hand pumps, and switch to either safe wells. Our ongoing work in Bihar funded by International Growth Centre and some other studies have shown that if the households are made aware of the hand pumps/tube wells testing results, along with health implications of As in drinking water, leads to a substantial portion of households to switch to a nearby low-As well, markedly reducing exposure to As. However socio-cultural barriers are found to prohibiting well sharing within the communities. This is clearly an undesirable situation that needs to be and can be remedied. The main obstacle to well-switching and exposure reduction for millions of villagers is therefore lack of information: the vast majority of wells have never been tested.

There is presently, however, no organizational structure in India to deploy field kits at scale and with the necessary level of quality control, nor is there sufficient scientific understanding of the mechanisms controlling As levels in groundwater to determine where the deployment of such kits should be prioritized.

Testing wells for As provides information that is not substitutable. Because the distribution of Asincidence in groundwater is difficult to predict, and varies greatly even over small distances, the safety of a well cannot be predicted without a test. A well that meets guidelines for As in drinking water may be found in the immediate neighbourhood of a very unsafe well. Nor is there an easy way to design wells to be both safe and affordable: within shallow ( 100 m) aquifers tapped by most private wells, there is no systematic and predictable relationship between and As and well depth. At the same time, precisely because As contamination varies greatly over small distances, well tests make available an effective way to avoid exposure, namely by switching to a nearby safe well.

If the findings compliment the ongoing finding of the Bihar study then this mechanism can be replicated in most of the South-South East Asian nations which are facing this crisis. A thorough study recently conducted in Bangladesh has shown that if the member switches to a safe well then he would increase his earning by 9% (Pitt et al., 2012). Reducing exposure could therefore also increase economic growth in India for decades to come. Our findings from a different region in India, suggests that approximately 40% of the population is willing to switch to safe wells if they are informed and educated about their well status and potential health impacts of As and F consumption through groundwater.

Considering that there are approximately one million tube wells/hand pumps in Punjab and 28 people are dependent on each of the well; (population of Punjab, 28 million) and half of them turnout to be unsafe in terms of As/F and nitrate when informed 37% of people dependent on each well switch to safe well (result from ongoing study in Bihar) will alone cause lowering of exposure to a population of 5.5 million.


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Developing countries left out of global tax decisions Tue, 19 Apr 2016 06:02:44 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands Global tax rules mean companies pay taxes where their headquarters are located not in the countries where they operate. Credit: Thembi Mutch/IPS

Global tax rules mean companies pay taxes where their headquarters are located not in the countries where they operate. Credit: Thembi Mutch/IPS

By Lyndal Rowlands
Apr 19 2016 (IPS)

Over one hundred developing countries continue to be left out of global tax cooperation negotiations despite leaks such as the Panama papers showing the high cost of tax avoidance.

“Rich countries (get) together in a closed room and decide on what they call global tax rules,” Tove Maria Ryding a civil society representative on the Financing for Development (FfD) Group told journalists here Monday.

The current process which is coordinated by the 34 member Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is “extremely undemocratic,” said Ryding, who is also tax justice coordinator at the European Network on Debt and Development (Eurodad).

The Group of 77 and China, which represents 134 UN member states has “repeatedly called” for the UN to have a greater role in global tax cooperation. It argues that this would “(strengthen) international cooperation in tax matters,” and “allow all member States, including developing countries, to have an equal say on issues related to tax matters.”

However this proposal was rejected at the UN’s important 2015 summit on Financing for Development leaving the OECD with continued control over global tax matters.

Ryding says that the rules which continue to be written by the OECD disadvantage developing countries. For example, she said, when a company operates in more than one country, the OECD rules decide that the taxes should mainly be paid in the country where the company has its headquarters. This advantages OECD countries, she said, where headquarters are normally located, and disadvantages developing countries where companies perform substantial parts of their operations.

Ryding said that developing countries were being asked to follow these rules despite not being given a chance to participate in making them.

After the UN Financing for Development summit in 2015 she said that the OECD “adopted almost 2000 pages of new decisions on what they call global tax rules.”

Developing countries are often left out of these meetings, or when they are asked to participate they are charged an expensive bill, said Ryding. By comparison all UN members already had representation at the United Nations, she said, so participating in these talks within the UN would be less costly.

She said that World Bank President Jim Yong Kim suggestion, reportedly made last week, that a UN tax body would be funded by aid money was incorrect.

Ryding spoke during a press conference at the beginning of a three-day follow-up to last year’s Financing for Development conference.

Other development financing issues being discussed during the follow-up include developing country debt and changes to aid money given by developed countries.

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A World Drowning in Oil Mon, 18 Apr 2016 12:37:16 +0000 N Chandra Mohan By N Chandra Mohan
DOHA, Qatar, Apr 18 2016 (IPS)

Thanks to tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, major oil producers couldn’t come to an agreement in Doha to freeze their output to January levels to raise oil prices. The current low oil prices have a lot to do with the grim outlook for global economic growth while supply is growing. China, the second largest economy in the world, is slowing down. Not surprisingly, global oil demand is much lower at 94.8 million barrels a day vis-à-vis supply of 96.3 million barrels a day in the first quarter of 2016 according to the International Energy Agency.

N Chandra Mohan

N Chandra Mohan

Low prices are no doubt hurting producers like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE and Qatar, forcing them to run huge deficits as their oil revenues shrink while expenditures keep mounting. Iran, which is just free from US sanctions, too, wants to sell as much as possible to modernise its economy. Paradoxically, these talks to curb rather than cut output have failed when major oil producers are pumping as much oil as possible. Saudi Arabia, for instance, produced 10.2 million barrels a day in March, close to previous record highs. How then can prices start rising again?

For such reasons, a freeze – even if it did materialise — is unlikely to have made much of an impact in getting prices back up again. The current levels of Brent crude at $40 a barrel reflect excess supply. The global oil market is nervous that Saudi Arabia’s tension with Iran for dominance in West Asia can get out of hand. Geopolitical tensions in Syria, Libya and Iraq are also fast-escalating. Although prices can spike upwards, they are kept low by excess supply as demand is declining due to weaker global growth. But with lower US shale oil production, supply and demand may balance later this year.

Instead of a freeze, an excess supply situation normally ought to signal to dominant producers like Saudi Arabia or the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to cut production to avoid a build-up of stock and ensure higher prices. But this is exactly what they have chosen not to do for geopolitical reasons. One year ago, Ali Ali-Naimi, Saudi’s oil minister asked “Why should we cut production?” on the sidelights of a climate conference in Lima. The Saudis resistance to lowering oil output is to squeeze out high cost producers and rivals like shale oil producers in the US and Iran.

The House of Saud and allies like Kuwait and the UAE were ready for prices even as low as even $20 a barrel. There is no doubt that low prices adversely affect the economics of oil extraction from shale. The US is now self-sufficient for its energy requirements and has emerged as a major swing producer in the global oil market. But in recent months, there are signs that shale producers in that country are experiencing a boom-bust cycle and the decks are being cleared for a decline in shale oil production. The Saudis expect higher prices to reflect such factors on the ground.

Saudi Arabia’s compulsions of late have changed due to rapidly dwindling coffers and losing out in 9 out of 15 key markets where it sold oil from 2013 to 2015 according to Financial Times. Its share of China’s imports thus has dropped from 19.4 per cent to 15.4 per cent over this period. Today, the Saudis prefer oil prices in the range of $60 to $80 a barrel to encourage demand and discourage supplies from high cost non-OPEC producers. But the contradiction is that they are now stepping up than cutting production to shore up their budgets and contributing to the persistence of global excess supply.

All of this ensures Brent crude prices that are no different from 2015. In any case, a production freeze can only succeed if all the major oil producers, including Iran, agree to do so. Iran, for its part, did not participate in this meeting in Doha. When both oil producers pump up more and more oil, how will prices rise? Saudi Arabia needs oil at $95.8 a barrel for its budget to balance. Iran needs oil at $70.4 a barrel according to the International Monetary Fund. The yawning gap between the current Brent crude and fiscal break-even prices is the difference between reality and unrealistic budgetary hopes.

If global oil prices remain depressed, the Gulf economies need to envision a future beyond oil. as we have written earlier. This is bad news for the millions of expatriate workers from South Asian countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal who work in these economies. If the oil revenue-financed boom is over, many of them will be forced to return home. Already there are signs that remittances are declining. A world drowning in oil spells the end of the Gulf dream as major economies register slower growth in the rest of this year and beyond.


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Timor-Leste Brings Maritime Dispute with Australia to United Nations Thu, 14 Apr 2016 02:28:18 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands A view of the sea from the Timorese island of Atauro. Credit: Lyndal Rowlands / IPS

A view of the sea from the Timorese island of Atauro. Credit: Lyndal Rowlands / IPS

By Lyndal Rowlands

Timor-Leste which won independence from Indonesia in 1999 is now engaged in a new struggle with Australia over rights to oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea.

Former Timorese Prime Minister and independence leader “Kay Rala” Xanana Gusmao met with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon here Wednesday to discuss his country’s plans to use the compulsory conciliation provisions under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea to settle Timor-Leste’s maritime boundary dispute with Australia.

“We fought a long struggle for 24 years for our independence and for sovereignty over our land, now we are in a new struggle to secure sovereign rights over our seas,” Gusmao told journalists after his meeting with Ban.

Gusmao said that Timor-Leste could not take Australia to the international courts because two-months before Timor-Leste gained independence Australia withdrew from the relevant binding jurisdiction. “They did this because they knew they were wrong,” he said.

Gusmao said that Australia took advantage of Timor-Leste’s vulnerability as a young and inexperienced nation to enter into an unfair agreement over the maritime boundaries between the two countries.

The boundaries have a significant impact on the half-island nation’s economy due to revenues from oil and gas reserves in the disputed area.

The Timorese government uses the money raised from oil and gas revenues to provide essential services to its young population. Sixty percent of Timor-Leste’s 1.2 million people are aged under 25 years of age and the country continues to struggle on key development indicators, including hunger. According to the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, malnutrition is major concern for Timor-Leste with 44.7 percent of children under five years old underweight.

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Focusing on Future of Food: What’s Next for Global Agricultural Research? Mon, 11 Apr 2016 17:27:53 +0000 Kwesi Atta-Krah Kwesi Atta-Krah is the Director of the CGIAR Research Program on Integrated Systems for the Humid Tropics (Humidtropics) – a program led by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA).]]>

Kwesi Atta-Krah is the Director of the CGIAR Research Program on Integrated Systems for the Humid Tropics (Humidtropics) – a program led by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA).

By Kwesi Atta-Krah

Food security scientists from around the globe gathered in Johannesburg last week with one objective: to work towards the transformation of agriculture as engine for growth in developing regions of the world. The gathering was also an opportunity to examine what farmers need to prosper in the face of social and environmental challenges.

Kwesi Atta-Krah

Kwesi Atta-Krah

The Third Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development (GCARD3) was the culmination of a two-year consultation process with national and regional stakeholders, and a chance to set a new agenda for today’s agricultural research, to ensure it meets the challenges of development for tomorrow.

A major theme running throughout the conference has been ensuring that “no one is left behind” in the unfolding agricultural revolution, and that research remains “future-focused”. We know that sudden shocks such as natural disasters and pest outbreaks can cripple agricultural production – just look at the impact El Niño-induced drought is having on farmers across southern Africa.

We therefore need to be investing in forward-thinking programs that will help communities prepare for such events. However this should not be just a case of researchers thinking for communities, but also of supporting communities to engage in the process of designing desired futures taking into account climate change and other scenarios.

In Africa alone, CGIAR’s global network of research centers is already working on a number of programs to make this happen. For example, a project is under way in Nigeria to map flooding patterns to guide decision-making on future flood response. It will also identify flood capture and storage solutions for flood-recession agriculture and dry-season farming.

Improving access to climate information is also going to be critical, to help farmers maintain their yields in the face of erratic weather patterns. In collaboration with AGRHYMET and the National Meteorological Services of several countries (such as Madagascar, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Tanzania), CGIAR is channelling climate information directly into farmers’ hands across Africa.

By combining traditional and scientific knowledge, locally specific forecasts are tailored to meet farmers’ needs and delivered via mobile phone and radio broadcasts. Farmers benefit from tailored information about what to plant, when to plant, when to fertilise and when to harvest, and are trained in how to interpret and apply the forecasts to their day-to-day farming.

Another overwhelmingly supported take away from the conference was the need to change our mindsets and recognise the yet untapped potential of youth for realising agricultural development, and also providing employment to themselves and others. Two dynamic young speakers (from the Young Professionals for Agricultural Development (YPARD) and Makolobane Farmers Enterprises) urged the audience to stop referring to youth as “leaders of tomorrow” and recognise their role as “leaders of today”.

When one stops to consider that Africa has some 200 million youth in need of employment, and Africa’s food and beverage markets have the potential to be worth US$1 trillion by 2030 – it is an obvious action point to equip young people with the skills they need to participate in this growing market.

Significant investment in training and equipment is required, to make local production, processing and marketing of these foods an attractive choice for young entrepreneurs. In her speech, the young Managing Director of Makolobane Farmers Enterprises, Dimakatso Sekhoto, highlighted the need for more young people to be able to access finance to support their businesses.

Building capacities of the youth in the area of business skills, entrepreneurship, leadership and personal development came across from a number of young people attending GCARD3 as essential support factors. For example, training to write business plans, so that young people are able to go to banks and ask for loans, backed up with the appropriate paperwork and planning, will be a critical step towards this.

It is encouraging that several initiatives are springing up aimed at supporting the “Youth in Agriculture” mission. Examples are the YPARD initiative being implemented by the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR), in various countries around the world. In 2012, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Ibadan, Nigeria, also launched the IITA Youth Agripreneurs (IYA) initiative.

The program is aimed at exposing young people to the opportunities inherent in agriculture for job creation and employment, and encouraging them to explore the various channels that are open to business in agriculture. These include areas such as the specialization and production of quality seeds; value addition through processing; fisheries and brood stock production; marketing and use of ICT in agribusiness.

At IITA, we are investing heavily in this kind of preparation for young “agripreneurs” to enter the market. The IYA initiative has now been replicated in five other countries: Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and Zambia. Many more countries are on the horizon.

In DRC, for example, the IITA-Kalambo Youth Agripreneurs (IKYA), a group of young and enterprising graduates engaged in agribusiness, aim to build agribusiness enterprises for themselves and serve as a model to other youth. Formally launched in April 2014 as an offshoot of IYA, the group has a current membership of 32 young “Business Builders”, aged between 25-32 years old from different backgrounds.

The activities of the group cut across the value chains of different crops including cassava, maize, beans and soybeans. The group has engaged in different profitable agriculture business enterprises, including production and sales of agricultural commodities and vegetables, such as agro-processing of cassava and maize, production of high-quality maize flour and cassava flour and starch, as well as fisheries.

Aiming to increase their incomes, the young and enterprising members of IKYA have also increased their business opportunities by going into value-addition activities through the development and marketing of nutritious cassava-soybean agro-foods products, aimed at improving the nutritional diversity of household diets.

In addition to this type of program, several CGIAR centers now have business incubation platforms that develop efficient manufacturing methods that can be replicated by the private sector. One new business incubation hub in Uganda – Afri Banana Products Ltd – has nurtured 39 entrepreneurs; commercialized six technologies and helped generate employment for over 420 people.

New technologies are being tested, that reduce the drudgery of agro-processing and improve efficiency, such as a mechanical sheller that can shell 18 times more groundnuts in one hour than hand shelling, and processors that can turn cassava peels into high quality animal feed. The Business Incubation Platform (BIP) of IITA in Nigeria has set up mini plants for the production of key agricultural inputs, as models for private sector engagement.

A key product from the IITA BIP is aflasafeTM for addressing the problem of aflatoxin contamination in grain and other crops. The aflasafeTM plant produces up to 40 tons of aflasafeTM a day and the BIP’s main goal is to get interested parties to invest in plant construction and laboratories all over Africa.

The GCARD process is designed to make sure that the scientists working on solutions to feed the world are listening to the needs of farmers, and other stakeholders on the ground. The national consultations have given CGIAR research centers around the world a refreshed plan of action for the countries in which they work.

Priorities such as preparing for future risks and consciously leveraging the potential of youth to catalyse agribusiness are going to be two important steps paving the way through the next decade of agricultural research. We are excited to move forward with this new era, towards a world were healthy, sustainable diets are provided for all.


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A Promising Start for a High Seas Treaty Sat, 09 Apr 2016 20:45:36 +0000 Elizabeth Wilson Elizabeth Wilson is the director of international ocean policy at The Pew Charitable Trusts.]]>

Elizabeth Wilson is the director of international ocean policy at The Pew Charitable Trusts.

By Elizabeth Wilson

Delegates from 83 countries came together at the United Nations from March 28 to April 8 for the first in a series of landmark meetings on ocean protection. This Preparatory Committee will help forge an agreement to determine how nations move forward to protect the high seas—the 64 percent of the ocean that belongs to everyone but is governed by no one.

The high seas—which begin beyond each country’s exclusive economic zone, 200 miles from shore—were once thought to be devoid of life. But science has now shown that they’re full of diverse species, from highly migratory sharks and turtles to the smallest microscopic organisms that help build the base of ocean food webs.

As yet, no cohesive management structure exists: While regional fisheries management organizations can set rules for fishing, the International Maritime Organization can do the same for shipping, and the International Seabed Authority controls mining, there’s no way for them to all work together.

And that’s why this U.N. meeting was so important.

While there are four core parts of the proposed agreement, two provisions are particularly important: the creation of marine protected areas and reserves on the high seas, and the development of environmental impact assessments for high seas activities.

High seas marine protected areas are increasingly important. Science has demonstrated that these types of protections—and in particular, large-scale, fully protected reserves—are critical for protecting biodiversity, rebuilding fish stocks, and building resilience to climate change. But to date only 2 percent of the ocean is fully protected—the majority within exclusive economic zones.

The U.N. has adopted a Sustainable Development Goal for the ocean that calls on countries to protect 10 percent of the ocean by 2020. But even that might not be enough. New science suggests that 30 percent of the world’s ocean needs to be set aside. Such a level of protection would be nearly impossible in practice without including the high seas.

The good news is that during the Preparatory Committee meeting, many representatives spoke in favor of a new global regime to implement high seas marine protected areas—evidence that the momentum for such action is growing.

Delegates also floated fresh ideas for effective environmental impact assessments. For example, while we have scientific studies on many of the factors affecting the marine environment, new and emerging activities on the high seas could affect biodiversity in the future. The world community must find a way to evaluate the impact of any activities before they’re allowed to occur.

It’s encouraging that this meeting fostered robust discussions, active participation, and a high level of interest from governments and from intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations. All regions of the world—including small islands and landlocked states—had a seat at the table.

This is just the beginning of the conversation. At the end of August, the same group will come together for the second of its four meetings. By the end of next year, the preparatory meetings will be over—and moving forward with an agreement will be in the U.N. General Assembly’s court to consider. If the momentum that has brought us this far continues, the assembly could fully adopt a treaty by 2020.

The meetings that concluded April 8 offer real hope that strong language will be developed on marine protected areas, including marine reserves, and environmental impact assessments. The high seas, and the biodiversity within them, require no less.


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Turning to Agriculture Fri, 08 Apr 2016 05:45:44 +0000 Moyiga Nduru A woman weeds a sesame crop field in South Sudan's Eastern Equatoria state. Credit: Charlton Doki/IPS

A woman weeds a sesame crop field in South Sudan's Eastern Equatoria state. Credit: Charlton Doki/IPS

By Moyiga Nduru
JUBA, South Sudan, Apr 8 2016 (IPS)

Facing an unprecedented economic crisis, South Sudan — the newest nation of the world — has urged its 12 million inhabitants to turn to agriculture instead of depending on declining oil revenues.

Before the fall of oil prices below $30 a barrel in the international market, oil-rich South Sudan used to import virtually all of its basic requirements from overseas.

Chicken came from Brazil. Tomatoes, onions, maize flour, cooking oil, dairy products and beans are still being imported from neighbouring Uganda. China and Dubai export a variety of goods such as soft drinks, smart phones as well as construction materials.

All of this is unsustainable and worries the government. South Sudan has ignored agriculture since it achieved its independence in July 2011. Up to 75 per cent of the country’s land area is suitable for farming.

“South Sudan has virgin land. Yet we import most of our food from neighbouring countries,” finance minister, David Deng Athorbei, complained during a meeting organised in the national capital Juba recently to address the deteriorating economic situation in the country.

Every year, South Sudan spends between US$200-300 million on food imports, according to estimates for 2013 provided by the Abidjan-based African Development Bank (AFDB).

“South Sudan currently imports as much as 50 per cent of its needs, including 40 per cent of its cereals from neighbouring countries, particularly Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia”, according to AFDB.

During the first two years of independence, the country was producing nearly 245,000 barrels of crude oil per day, raking in billions of dollars in revenue annually. As a result, the elite saw no value in labour-intensive activity like farming.

That is now changing. A drop in the oil output, a decline in global oil prices and the devastating conflict in South Sudan, as well as an acute scarcity of hard currency have triggered shortages of goods in the market.

South Sudan, which currently produces 165,000 barrel of crude oil per day, depends on oil revenue for nearly 98 per cent of the total government budget.

“We must diversify. We should not depend on one commodity — oil. We have gold in Kapoeta (on the border with Kenya). We have cattle,” said Gabriel Alak, a senior official of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) on a popular programme, Face the Nation, on the state-owned South Sudan Television recently.

Campaigners are now focusing on food production to mitigate the impact of a devastating conflict that erupted in Juba in December 2013. The violence spread quickly to oil-producing states of Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile.

The fighting has left hundreds of thousands of people in need of humanitarian assistance.

At the height of the oil boom, South Sudanese businesspeople had directed their energy toward trade, ignoring agriculture.

“The business of trade is over. We now need to embark on the business of production. We have to change our ways of doing business. Let’s start with agriculture,” Athorbei advised.

In April 2015, President Salva Kiir donated 1,000 tractors to farmers around the country. He also set up the country’s first food security council headed by himself.

“I am determined to end hunger and malnutrition in the Republic of South Sudan,” Kiir said during the launch of the tractors in Juba.

“We have vast fertile lands, abundant water and climate suitable for production of wide variety of food and cash crops but the country still faces enormous challenges which prevent it from realising its full potential,” he said.

“Experts estimate that up to 300,000 metric tonnes of fish could be harvested on a sustainable basis from its share at the River Nile swamps and tributaries,” Kiir disclosed.

South Sudan produces some food crops, but the food is rotting in the bush due to poor road network to transport the commodities to the market.

Athorbei said he would set aside some money in the financial year 2015/2016 to boost agriculture. He did not say how much he would allocate.

With South Sudan joining the East African Community (EAC) on 2 March 2016, Juba hopes to invite farmers across the region to till the country’s vast lands. “This will cut transport costs and reduce food prices,” vice-president James Wani Igga told a parliamentary caucus of the ruling SPLM in Juba on March 10, 2016.

EAC comprises Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and now South Sudan, with a combined population of more than 157 million.

As South Sudan works out plan to fix agriculture, prices have continued to spiral beyond the reach of the poor. The crisis has prompted parliament to urge government to reduce inflation to mitigate the sufferings of ordinary persons.

“There is urgent need to mobilise up to US $20 million for the importation of food commodities and medicines within a period of one month. The food commodities shall be sold through established consumer cooperative network,” the chairperson for the committee for economy, development and finance in parliament, Goc Makuach Mayol, said in a 14-page report on March 7, 2016.

The parliament has also called for a probe into a US$70 million, which was disbursed by an agency known as “financial auction” to commercial banks and forex bureaux with instructions by the central bank to allocate 50 per cent for importing food commodities, 30 per cent for industrial inputs and 20 per cent for school fees and medical treatment overseas.

The parliament did not indicate when the money was disbursed. But it has demanded for a record showing how the money was spent.


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Global Guidelines on Land Tenure Making Headway in Latin America Wed, 06 Apr 2016 23:04:11 +0000 Marianela Jarroud A meeting to discuss the restoration of land in Colombia to rural victims of the half-century armed conflict – a situation that the voluntary guidelines on land tenure can help solve. Credit: Helda Martínez/IPS

A meeting to discuss the restoration of land in Colombia to rural victims of the half-century armed conflict – a situation that the voluntary guidelines on land tenure can help solve. Credit: Helda Martínez/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Apr 6 2016 (IPS)

Voluntary guidelines on land tenure adopted by the international community to combat the growing concentration of land ownership and improve secure access to land have begun to make headway in Latin America, a region that is a leader in the fight against hunger and that is taking firm steps towards achieving food security.

“The guidelines are an absolutely political document, which helps even out the playing field,” promoting dialogue and negotiation, said Sergio Gómez, a consultant with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) regional office, in the Chilean capital.

“The dynamics of the land market and the concentration of land ownership and land-grabbing by foreign interests had gotten out of control, and the FAO addressed this because if these things are not kept within reasonable limits, food security is jeopardised,” he told IPS.

The Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security can only be understood in relation to the existing levels of land concentration and land-grabbing, he said.“The land tenure situation today is unprecedented, because it is happening at a very particular moment, when the food crisis that applies heavy pressure to natural resources is compounded by an energy crisis and a financial crisis.” -- Sergio Gómez

According to a FAO studied carried out in 17 countries in this region, land-grabbing has increased significantly since the turn of the century.

In this region, the concentration of land ownership and land-grabbing are at their strongest in Argentina and Brazil, followed by the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Chile, Colombia, Nicaragua and Uruguay.

These problems are at a mid- to high level of intensity in Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay and Peru, while they are less present in the countries of Central America and the English-speaking Caribbean.

“The land tenure situation today is unprecedented, because it is happening at a very particular moment, when the food crisis that applies heavy pressure to natural resources is compounded by an energy crisis and a financial crisis,” Gómez said.

“All of this leads to unprecedented pressure with regard to the land question,” he said.

The Guidelines, approved in 2012 by the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) – described as the foremost inclusive international and intergovernmental platform for all stakeholders to work together to ensure food security and nutrition for all – are aimed at serving as a reference point for and providing orientation to improve the governance of land tenure, fisheries and forests.

“The Guidelines are a negotiating tool in an area where there are no clear formulas, but where, in a wide range of situations, the affected groups have to sit down and dialogue, to seek agreements,” Gómez said.

The document establishes 10 rules that the different actors must accept before engaging in dialogue. They are called implementation principles, and are obligatory and designed to provide orientation for this kind of discussion.

They range from respect for human dignity and existing laws to gender equality and transparency.

All of the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean have signed the accord, and although it is not binding, “it is understood that there is a willingness to comply,” Gómez said.

Three approaches

But the guidelines are just now starting to be applied in the region.

Concrete experiences in three countries – Guatemala, Colombia and Chile – represent three different approaches.

In Guatemala, the initiative emerged from a request from the government, which in 2013 asked the FAO to provide support and technical assistance to strengthen the country’s agricultural institutions.

“What we did in Guatemala is the most significant thing we have done in the region,” said Gómez.

The land issue, fraught with conflict and inequality, is a major problem in that Central American country of 15.8 million people, where nearly 54 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and 42 percent are indigenous.

In rural areas in Guatemala, the poverty rate climbs to 75 percent, and six out of 10 people living in poverty are considered extremely poor.

This Mapuche couple, Luis Aillapán and his wife Catalina Marileo, were tried and convicted under an anti-terrorism law for protesting the construction of a road across their land, which violated their land rights. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

This Mapuche couple, Luis Aillapán and his wife Catalina Marileo, were tried and convicted under an anti-terrorism law for protesting the construction of a road across their land, which violated their land rights. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

In terms of land ownership, two percent of farmers own 57 percent of the land, while 92 percent own just 22 percent.

As a result of the progress made, 80 percent of the aspects tackled in discussions in the country were incorporated in the 2014 national agrarian policy plan.

But the 2015 political crisis brought the process to a halt, although the FAO hopes to get things moving again.

In Colombia, meanwhile, land questions are at the heart of the armed conflict that has shaken the country for over half a century, and resolving this problem is essential to achieving peace, and to ensuring compliance with a preliminary agreement on justice and reparations reached Dec. 15 in the peace talks between the government and the FARC insurgents in Havana.

An estimated 6.6 million hectares – roughly 15 percent of Colombia’s farmland – were stolen or abandoned when the families were forcibly displaced since the early 1990s. Today, 77 percent of the land in the conflict-torn country of 48 million people is in the hands of 13 percent of owners, while just 3.6 percent own a full 30 percent of the land.

“In Colombia, land is a hot issue, and it is key to the peace agreement” expected to arise from the peace talks in the Cuban capital, Gómez said.

He added that the authorities “have passed a few laws to restore land to people who were forced off it, who number in the tens of thousands. But now we’re entering another phase, based on a project for cooperation with the European Union, as part of the peace process.”

On the road to implementation of the Guidelines, the FAO has discussed holding regional workshops and has stressed the need for local involvement.

Nury Martínez, a leader of FENSUAGRO, the largest agricultural workers union in Colombia, which has contributed to the process aimed at implementing the Guidelines, said some of the points included in the Guidelines “are very important to us as peasant farmers…and are tools of struggle.”

But to use a tool it is necessary to be familiar with it. With that aim, the Food Sovereignty Alliance drew up a popular manual on the Guidelines, “aimed at helping people understand them better and enabling peasant farmers and indigenous people to make them their own,” Martínez, who is also a regional leader of the international peasant movement Vía Campesina, told IPS from Bogotá.

In Chile, meanwhile, the FAO has worked in the southern region of La Araucanía, where the Mapuche indigenous people have long been fighting for their right to land.

In the South American country of 17.6 million people, forestry companies own 2.8 million hectares of land, with just two corporations owning 1.8 million hectares.

José Aylwin, co-director of the Citizen Observatory, a Chilean NGO, told IPS that in Chile, “there is no other case, except private conservation projects, of such heavy concentration of land in so few hands.”

He added that the context surrounding the conflict in southern Chile “is that of a people who lived and owned that land and the natural resources, and a state and private interests that came in later and stripped the Mapuche people of a large part of their territory.”

Despite the polarisation of groups in the area, the FAO managed to bring together 67 people, including Mapuche and business community leaders, in May 2015.

Aylwin said these talks demonstrated “the timeliness of the Guidelines” with respect to conflicts generated by the concentration of land in the hands of the forest industry.

“The conflicts in La Araucanía do no one any good; solutions are needed, and the Guidelines provide essential orientation,” he said.

Despite the difficulties, Gómez predicted that the Guidelines would increasingly be applied in the region. “So although we feel distressed that faster progress isn’t being made, we’ll have Guidelines for several decades.”

With additional reporting by Constanza Viera in Bogotá.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Balancing Economic Potential of Marine and Social Life Mon, 04 Apr 2016 04:36:38 +0000 Munyaradzi Makoni Fisherfolk catches snoek (Thyrsites atun) a relatively fast-growing, schooling fish found near the sea bottom and occasionally near the surface. Snoek stock levels are considered to be fully fished and no overfishing is taking place in South Africa.  Photo Credit: Mark Chipps/WWF

Fisherfolk catches snoek (Thyrsites atun) a relatively fast-growing, schooling fish found near the sea bottom and occasionally near the surface. Snoek stock levels are considered to be fully fished and no overfishing is taking place in South Africa. Photo Credit: Mark Chipps/WWF

By Munyaradzi Makoni
CAPE TOWN, South Africa, Apr 4 2016 (IPS)

When Africa’s oldest protected marine area, Tsitsikamma — the largest in the world, incorporating 80 km of rocky coastline, bustling with marine life, much of it endangered — was opened as a pilot for public fishing on December 15, 2015, there was a big outcry.

Tsitsikamma is declared to help restore South Africa’s heavily exploited fish stocks.
A group of conservation activists, the Friends of the Tsitsikamma Association, say they have not been properly consulted.

Marine scientists feel the move by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) would “open up the heart” of a protected area to exploitation. Community fisher folk started threatening tourist safety if fishing rights are not granted in the hope the DEA would open up parts of the Tsitsikamma to permit-quota fishing.

Edna Molewa, minister of the DEA, had issued regulations on the rezoning of Tsitsikamma Marine Protected Area in November 2015 unbanning restrictions for residents within a 8 km radius to fish.

The decision was reversed with a court order in January this year. The protests and court decision have highlighted need for proper consultation on the often contentious issue of balancing.

As both parties seek an amicable solution, Molewa published draft notices and regulations in the government gazette to declare a network of 22 new proposed marine protected areas (MPAs) on February 9.

The proposed areas are part of the Operation Phakisa Initiative, a programme launched in October 2014, to maximise the enormous economic potential of oceans while preserving them. It has become a battle to balance economic and social needs.

Molewa said the declaration aims to create approximately 70 000 square kms of marine protected areas, bringing our ocean protection within the South African Exclusive Economic Zone to more than 5 per cent.

Less than 0.5 per cent of South Africa’s ocean ecosystems are formally protected as compared to approximately 8 per cent of terrestrial protected areas such as the Kruger National Park and Table Mountain National Park, she said, adding that “this network will represent the full spectrum of biodiversity, secure ocean benefits and provide important reference areas to understand and manage change in our oceans.”

According to Molewa, the new MPAs will secure protection of marine habitats like reefs, mangroves and coastal wetlands which are required to help protect coastal communities from the results of storm surges, rising sea-levels and extreme weather.

“Offshore (further area into the ocean), these MPAs will protect vulnerable habitats and secure spawning grounds for various marine species, therefore helping to sustain fisheries and ensure long-term benefits important to food and job security,” she elaborated.

The DEA has given the public 90 days to comment on the proposed areas.

According to a South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) report, sixty-four of 136 (47 per cent) marine and coastal habitat types are threatened, with 17 per cent of all critically endangered. Fifty-four, that is 40 per cent marine and coastal habitat types, are not represented at all in South Africa’s MPA network.

Most of these unprotected habitat types are offshore, reflecting the fact that almost all of South Africa’s existing MPAs extend only a short distance from the shore.

Only 9 per cent of coastal and inshore habitat types are well protected. Most coastal habitat types are moderately protected, reflecting the fact that in many MPAs there is insufficient protection from fishing.

“There is poor awareness of the role of MPAs in biodiversity conservation, fisheries management, climate change adaptation and delivery of socio-economic benefits,” the report noted.

Fishing is a key driver of change in marine and coastal ecosystems. “Key challenges include overexploited resources, substantial and unmanaged bycatch in some sectors, incidental seabird mortalities, habitat damage, concerns around food supply for other species and other ecosystem impacts of fishing,” the report said.

Poaching continues to threaten marine biodiversity, resource sustainability and the livelihoods of legitimate fishers.

Theresa Frantz, head of environmental programmes, World Wildlife Foundation South Africa (WWF-SA) supported the gazetting of the new MPAs as this was an important tool protecting fish areas.

“It’s an important tool that allows fish to reproduce,” Frantz said adding that fish like squid, at certain times of the year, congregate in a particular area to breed and grow.

She said such time area closures were allowed under the South African law.
“Each area has a reason for protection, it could be the fish in that area is unique or the bottom of that ocean has unique features that you won’t find somewhere therefore, biodiversity has to be protected,” Frantz told IPS.

The key is you protect different areas, she said. Citing the case of Tsitsikamma, where fisher folk could be affected by new regulations, she said the issue was made delicate by the fact that, the area had proved useful in rebuilding some line fish stocks in South Africa.

Frantz said when Tsitsikamma was declared there was then no public participation as there is now. “There was no inclusive consultative process before declaring, the gazetting of areas would allow that publication protection,” she said.

Yet another expert, WWF’s Samantha Petersen who developed and managed the organisation’s Responsible Fisheries Programme since its inception in February 2007, told IPS that South Africa consumes 312 million tons of sea food annually, hundreds of people were employed by the marine industry, but as the population grows the capacity of oceans cannot change to meet the demands of our society. “Once the special species from the oceans are gone we cannot recreate them,” she said.


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