Inter Press Service » Trade & Investment http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Wed, 01 Apr 2015 14:38:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 Opinion: Brazil at the Crossroadshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-brazil-at-the-crossroads/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-brazil-at-the-crossroads http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-brazil-at-the-crossroads/#comments Wed, 01 Apr 2015 06:45:17 +0000 Fernando Cardim de Carvalho http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139936

In this column, Fernando Cardim de Carvalho, economist and professor at the Federal University of Río de Janeiro, looks at the political and economic context within which newly re-elected President Dilma Rousseff is operating and argues that Brazil is living through a very dangerous period, with neither the government nor the parliamentary opposition led by leaders that the population trusts.

By Fernando Cardim de Carvalho
RIO DE JANEIRO, Apr 1 2015 (IPS)

Even moderately well-informed analysts knew that the Brazilian economy was in dire straits as President Dilma Rousseff initiated her second term in office in January.

Unlike her predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011), Rousseff had not the same luck with the situation of the international economy. But also, unlike Lula, Rousseff showed herself a poor saleswoman for Brazilian goods and an even poorer manager of domestic economic policy.

Fernando Cardim de Carvalho

Fernando Cardim de Carvalho

There was a strong suspicion that economic policy, especially in the last two years of her first term, had been conducted in ad hoc ways and that serious adjustments would be needed to steer the economy back to working condition anyway. Still, the situation seemed to be even worse than most analysts feared.

More surprising, however, is to find out that Brazilian politics is also in dire straits. Caught off guard by the Petrobras corruption scandal, federal authorities, beginning with Rousseff herself, seemed to become paralysed by the rapid fall in public support, completely losing the power of initiative and creating a dangerous political vacuum in the country.

It is a vacuum rather than a political threat because the opposition seems to be as lost as the president. The political right, never very fond of democratic institutions any way, seemed to be more interested in making the president “bleed” – as stated by Senator (and former vice-presidential candidate) Aloysio Nunes Ferreira, of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party – than with fighting for political hegemony.

Economic problems were certainly fostered by the quality of economic policy-making in the second half of Rousseff’s first term. The realisation that tailwinds created by the Chinese demand for raw materials were no longer blowing led the government to implement a series of measures to stimulate the economy that turned out to be largely useless.

It was not “heterodoxy” that characterised the policy, it was uninformed wishful thinking. A plethora of measures were taken in isolation, without any apparent unifying strategy behind them, distributed mostly as “gifts” from the federal government (which later contributed to the public perception that corruption became a system of government). “Brazil is living through a very dangerous period right now. Neither the government, nor the parliamentary opposition are led by leaders the population trusts”

Plagued by semi-structural exchange rate problems, whereby Brazilian producers lose competitiveness in the face of imported goods in domestic markets and of other sellers in international markets, the federal administration tried to deal with them piecemeal, mostly through instruments like tax reductions or changes in tax rates.

Obsessed with car production, the government burned resources trying to stimulate production (only to meet increasing resistance of other countries to import them, most notably Argentina), again without any strategy thinking about how these newly-produced automobiles would be used in polluted and traffic-jammed Brazilian cities.

The federal government was not deficient only in terms of strategic thinking but also in terms of home caretaking: all available evidence points to the high probability that tax reductions and other similar measures were decided without any calculation of costs, lost fiscal revenues, and so on.

Anti-cyclical macroeconomic policy in late 2008 relied to a large extent on the expansion of consumption expenditures fuelled by increasing household indebtedness. The increase in non-performing loans and income stagnation made this option more and more unsustainable. Investment, in contrast, public and private, repeatedly frustrated expectations.

Unable to finance badly needed infrastructure investments, the government showed itself to be extraordinarily slow in devising appropriate strategies to attract private investors to implement them. Apparently lost in their own inability to define a way out of the mess, the government “muddled through” situations where more forceful definitions were required, as was the case of electric power.

The list of failures or of situations where the government showed inability to lead is long and well known. What was surprising to some extent was to find out that all evidence suggests that the government itself was unaware of what was going on.

Winning re-election by a narrow margin, President Rousseff, characteristically after a long period of hesitation, decided to take a 180-degree turn, asking a known orthodox and fiscal conservative economist to head an empowered Ministry of Finance, surprising even her supporters who seemed to be perplexed by the need to defend policies that they hotly denounced when presented by opposition politicians.

This picture would be difficult enough to manage without the Petrobras scandal. But Petrobras is not only the largest company in the country, it is practically a symbol of the nationality. Besides, energy was supposed to be Rousseff’s area of expertise and she was in fact responsible for the company’s policies for a while, as Minister of Mines and Power.

An increasingly loud murmur of a possible impeachment of the president led her to equivocal political decisions, beginning with the definition of her cabinet, widely considered to be particularly low quality, and alienating not only her major party in government, the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, but even the majority of her own Workers’ Party.

The result of such initiatives was illustrated by the twin public demonstrations of Mar. 13 and 15.

On Mar. 13, nominal supporters of Rousseff marched through the streets of most of the largest cities in the country. Speaking to the press, most of the leaders of the march (Lula did not participate) declared conditional support for Rousseff – that is, conditional on the firing of the Minister of Finance and change of newly announced austerity policies.

On Mar. 15, an even larger crowd marched in the same cities declaring unconditional opposition to the president.

Brazil is living through a very dangerous period right now. Neither the government, nor the parliamentary opposition are led by leaders the population trusts. The president is slow and generally equivocal when making fateful decisions. The right-wing opposition seemed to be more interested in enjoying the possibility of enacting a “third” ballot to obtain at least a moral condemnation of the president.

This would be bad enough for a country that has just celebrated thirty years of civilian government. When the economy adds its own heavy problems to the political vacuum, it is impossible not to fear the future. (END/IPS COLUMNIST  SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

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U.N. Water Report Not “Doom And Gloom”, Says Authorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/u-n-water-report-not-doom-and-gloom-says-author/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-water-report-not-doom-and-gloom-says-author http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/u-n-water-report-not-doom-and-gloom-says-author/#comments Tue, 31 Mar 2015 21:51:41 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139975 By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 31 2015 (IPS)

The lead author of a United Nations water report has spoken out about media depictions of his findings, denying the report lays out a “doom and gloom” scenario.

The United Nations World Water Development Report 2015, released on Mar. 20 in conjunction with World Water Day, lays out a number of troubling findings.

The report predicts a world water shortage of 40 percent by 2050, largely due to a forecasted 55-percent rise in water demand, spurred by increased industrial demands.

It is estimated 20 percent of the world’s aquifers are over-exploited, and that shortages may lead to increased local conflicts over access to water. Water problems may also mean increased inequality and barriers to sustainable development.

Despite the grim outlook, the report’s lead author, Richard Connor, laid out a different picture at the U.N. headquarters in New York Monday.

“Most of the media attention [on the report] has focused on one message, a bit of a doom and gloom message, that there is a looming global water crisis,” Connor told a U.N. press briefing.

“The report is not a gloom doom report. It has a road map to avoid this global water deficit.”

Connor conceded, “[If] we don’t change how we do things, we will be in trouble,” but found many positives in the report.

Much of the report focuses on how institutional and policy frameworks can, and must, protect and promote water security.

“The fact is there is enough water available to meet the world’s growing needs, but not without dramatically changing the way water is used, managed and shared,” the report stated.

“The global water crisis is one of governance, much more than of resource availability, and this is where the bulk of the action is required in order to achieve a water secure world.”

Technology to improve water sanitation, recycling and efficiency is outlined as a major pathway to ensuring water security, to ensure water is used and reused as effectively as possible.

Rainwater harvesting, wastewater reuse, and more effective water storage facilities to safeguard against the effects of climate change are also detailed as important areas for investment.

On a government level, financing for water projects is also envisioned as a key component in a water secure future.

“The benefits of investments in water greatly outweigh the costs,” Connor said.

Also speaking at the briefing was Bianca Jimenez, director of hydrology for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

She too called the report “positive,” but stressed that swift action was needed to avoid catastrophic water shortages.

“This calls for greater determination from all stakeholders involved, to take responsibility and take initiative in this crucial moment,” Jimenez said.

The U.N. is currently reviewing progress made in the implementation of the International Decade of Action ‘Water For Life’, which ran from 2005 to 2015.

Follow Josh Butler on Twitter at @JoshButler

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A “Year of Eye-Catching Steps Forward” for Renewable Energyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/a-year-of-eye-catching-steps-forward-for-renewable-energy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-year-of-eye-catching-steps-forward-for-renewable-energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/a-year-of-eye-catching-steps-forward-for-renewable-energy/#comments Tue, 31 Mar 2015 13:00:07 +0000 Sean Buchanan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139953 Driven by solar and wind, world investments in renewable energy leapt in 2014. Photo credit: Jürgen from Sandesneben, Germany/Licensed under CC BY 2.0

Driven by solar and wind, world investments in renewable energy leapt in 2014. Photo credit: Jürgen from Sandesneben, Germany/Licensed under CC BY 2.0

By Sean Buchanan
ROME, Mar 31 2015 (IPS)

Driven by solar and wind, world investments in renewable energy reversed a two-year dip last year, brushing aside the challenge from sharply lower oil prices and registering a 17 percent leap over the previous year to stand at 270 billion dollars.

These investments helped see an additional 103Gw of generating capacity – roughly that of all U.S. nuclear plants combined –around the world, making 2014 the best year ever for newly-installed capacity, according to the 9th annual “Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investments” report from the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) released Mar. 31.

Prepared by the Frankfurt School-UNEP Collaborating Centre and Bloomberg New Energy Finance, the report says that a continuing sharp decline in technology costs – particularly in solar but also in wind – means that every dollar invested in renewable energy bought significantly more generating capacity in 2014."Climate-friendly energy technologies are now an indispensable component of the global energy mix and their importance will only increase as markets mature, technology prices continue to fall and the need to rein in carbon emissions becomes ever more urgent" – Achim Steiner, Executive Director of UNEP

In what was called “a year of eye-catching steps forward for renewable energy”, the report notes that wind, solar, biomass and waste-to-power, geothermal, small hydro and marine power contributed an estimated 9.1 percent of world electricity generation in 2014, up from 8.5 percent in 2013.

This, says the report, means that the world’s electricity systems emitted 1.3 gigatonnes of CO2 – roughly twice the emissions of the world’s airline industry – less than it would have if that 9.1 percent had been produced by the same fossil-dominated mix generating the other 90.9 percent of world power.

“Once again in 2014, renewables made up nearly half of the net power capacity added worldwide,” said Achim Steiner, Executive Director of UNEP. “These climate-friendly energy technologies are now an indispensable component of the global energy mix and their importance will only increase as markets mature, technology prices continue to fall and the need to rein in carbon emissions becomes ever more urgent.”

China saw by far the biggest renewable energy investments last year – a record 83.3 billion dollars, up 39 percent from 2013. The United States was second at 38.3 billion dollars, up seven percent on the year (although below its all-time high reached in 2011). Third came Japan at 35.7 billion dollars, 10 percent higher than in 2013 and its biggest total ever.

According to the report, a prominent feature of 2014 was the rapid expansion of renewables into new markets in developing countries, where investments jumped 36 percent to 131.3 billion dollars. China with 83.3 billion, Brazil (7.6 billion), India (7.4 billion) and South Africa (5.5 billion) were all in the top 10 investing countries, while more than one billion dollars was invested in Indonesia, Chile, Mexico, Kenya and Turkey.

Although 2014 was said to be a turnaround year for renewables after two years of shrinkage, multiple challenges remain in the form of policy uncertainty, structural issues in the electricity system and even the very nature of wind and solar generation which are dependent on breeze and sunlight.

Another challenge, says the report, is the impact of the more than 50 percent collapse in oil prices in the second half of last year.  However, according to Udo Steffens, President of the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, the price of oil is only likely to dampen investor confidence in parts of the sector, such as solar in oil-exporting countries and biofuels in most parts of the world.

“Oil and renewables do not directly compete for power investment dollars,” said Steffens. “Wind and solar sectors should be able to carry on flourishing, particularly if they continue to cut costs per MWh. Their long-term story is just more convincing.”

Of greater concern is the erosion of investor confidence caused by increasing uncertainty surrounding government support policies for renewables.

“Europe was the first mover in clean energy, but it is still in a process of restructuring those early support mechanisms,” according to Michael Liebreich, Chairman of the Advisory Board for Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “In the United Kingdom and Germany we are seeing a move away from feed-in tariffs and green certificates, towards reverse auctions and subsidy caps, aimed at capping the cost of the transition to consumers.

“Southern Europe is still almost a no-go area for investors because of retroactive policy changes, most recently those affecting solar farms in Italy. In the United States there is uncertainty over the future of the Production Tax Credit for wind, but costs are now so low that the sector is more insulated than in the past. Meanwhile the rooftop solar sector is becoming unstoppable.”

A media release announcing publication of the UNEP report said that if the positive investment trends of 2014 are to continue, “it is increasingly clear that major electricity market reforms will be needed of the sort that Germany is now attempting with its Energiewende [energy transition].”

The structural challenges to be overcome are not simple,” it added, “but are of the sort that have only arisen because of the very success of renewables and their over two trillion dollars of investment mobilised since 2004.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Nicaragua’s Future Canal a Threat to the Environmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/nicaraguas-future-canal-a-threat-to-the-environment/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nicaraguas-future-canal-a-threat-to-the-environment http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/nicaraguas-future-canal-a-threat-to-the-environment/#comments Tue, 31 Mar 2015 07:45:01 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139956 Executives of the Chinese company HKDN and members of the Nicaraguan Grand Interoceanic Canal Commission, behind a large banner on Dec. 22, 2014, in the Pacific coastal town of Brito Rivas, during the ceremony marking the formal start of the gigantic project that will cut clean across the country. Credit: Mario Moncada/IPS

Executives of the Chinese company HKDN and members of the Nicaraguan Grand Interoceanic Canal Commission, behind a large banner on Dec. 22, 2014, in the Pacific coastal town of Brito Rivas, during the ceremony marking the formal start of the gigantic project that will cut clean across the country. Credit: Mario Moncada/IPS

By José Adán Silva
MANAGUA, Mar 31 2015 (IPS)

The new interoceanic canal being built in Nicaragua has brought good and bad news for the scientific community: new species and archeological sites have been found and knowledge of the local ecosystems has grown, but the project poses a huge threat to the environment.

Preliminary reports by the British consulting firm Environmental Resources Management (ERM) revealed the existence of previously unknown species in the area of the new canal that will link the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. The study was commissioned by Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development (HKND Group), the Chinese company building the canal.

Among other findings, the study, “Nicaragua’s Grand Canal”, presented Nov. 20 in Nicaragua by Alberto Vega, the consultancy’s representative in the country, found two new species of amphibians in the Punta Gorda river basin along Nicaragua’s southern Caribbean coast.

The two new kinds of frogs have not yet been fully studied, said Vega, who also reported 213 newly discovered archaeological sites, and provided an assessment of the state of the environment along the future canal route.

The aim of the study was to document the main biological communities along the route and in adjacent areas, and to indicate the species and habitats in need of specific conservation measures in order to identify opportunities to prevent, mitigate and/or compensate for the canal’s potential impacts.

The 278-km waterway, which includes a 105-km stretch across Lake Cocibolca, will be up to 520 metres wide and 30 metres deep. Work began in December 2014 and the canal is expected to be completed by late 2019, at a cost of over 50 billion dollars.

The environmental impact study will be ready in late April, Telémaco Talavera, the spokesman for the presidential Nicaraguan Grand Interoceanic Canal Commission, told Tierramérica.

“The studies are carried out with cutting-edge technology by an international firm that is a leader in this area, ERM, with a team of experts from around the world who were hired to provide an exhaustive report on the environmental impact and the mitigation measures,” he said.

Three farmers study the route for the interoceanic canal on a map of Nicaragua, which the Chinese firm HKND Group presented in the southern city of Rivas during one of the meetings that the consortium has organised around the country with people who will be affected by the mega-project. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

Three farmers study the route for the interoceanic canal on a map of Nicaragua, which the Chinese firm HKND Group presented in the southern city of Rivas during one of the meetings that the consortium has organised around the country with people who will be affected by the mega-project. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

Víctor Campos, assistant director of the Humboldt Centre, told Tierramérica that HKND’s preliminary documents reveal that the canal will cause serious damage to the environment and poses a particular threat to Lake Cocibolca.

The 8,624-sq-km lake is the second biggest source of freshwater in Latin America, after Venezuela’s Lake Maracaibo.

Campos pointed out that HKND itself has recognised that the route that was finally chosen for the canal will affect internationally protected nature reserves home to at least 40 endangered species of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians.

The route will impact part of the Cerro Silva Nature Reserve and the Indio Maiz biological reserve, both of which form part of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor (CBM), where there are endangered species like scarlet and great green macaws, golden eagles, tapirs, jaguars, spider monkeys, anteaters and black lizards.

Along with the Bosawas and Wawashan reserves, Indio Maíz and Cerro Silva host 13 percent of the world’s biodiversity and approximately 90 percent of the country’s flora and fauna.

This tropical Central American country of 6.1 million people has Pacific and Caribbean coastlines and 130,000 sq km of lowlands, plains and lakes. There have been several previous attempts to use Lake Cocibolca to create a trade route between the two oceans.

The Cocibolca Group, made up of a dozen environmental organisations in Nicaragua, has warned of potential damage by excavation on indigenous land in the CBM, on the country’s southeast Caribbean coast.

One site that would be affected is Booby Cay, surrounded by coral reefs and recognised by Birdlife International as an important natural habitat of birds, sea turtles and fish.

Studies by the Cocibolca Group say that dredging with heavy machinery, the construction of ports, the removal of thousands of tons of sediment from the lake bottom, and the use of explosives to blast through rock would have an impact on the habitat of sea turtles that nest on Nicaragua’s southwest Pacific coast.

Map of Nicaragua with the six possible routes for the Grand Canal. The one that was selected was number four, marked in green. Credit: Courtesy of ERM

Map of Nicaragua with the six possible routes for the Grand Canal. The one that was selected was number four, marked in green. Credit: Courtesy of ERM

The selected route, the fourth of the six that were considered, will run into the Pacific at Brito, 130 km west of Managua. A deepwater port will be built where there is now a beach that serves as a nesting ground for sea turtles.

ERM’s Talavera rejects the “apocalyptic visions” of the environmental damage that could be caused by the new waterway. But he did acknowledge that there will be an impact, “which will be focalised and will serve to revert possible damage and the already confirmed damage caused by deforestation and pollution along the canal route.”

The route will run through nature reserves, areas included on the Ramsar Convention list of wetlands of international importance, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) biosphere reserves, and water basins.

According to Talavera, besides the national environmental authorities, HKND consulted institutions like the Ramsar Convention, UNESCO, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Birdlife International, “with regard to the feasibility of mitigating and offsetting the possible impacts.”

The canal is opposed by environmental organisations and affected communities, some of which have filed a complaint with the Inter-american Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

In an IACHR hearing on Mar. 16, Mónica López, an activist with the Cocibolca Group, complained that Nicaragua had granted HKND control over the lake and its surrounding areas, including 16 watersheds and 15 protected areas, where 25 percent of the country’s rainforest is concentrated.

López told Tierramérica that construction of the canal will also lead to “the forced displacement of more than 100,000 people.”

In addition, she criticised “the granting to the Chinese company of total control over natural resources that have nothing to do with the route but which according to the HKND will be of use to the project, without regard to the rights of Nicaraguans.”

The 2013 law for the construction of the Grand Interoceanic Canal stipulates that the state must guarantee the concessionaire “access to and navigation rights to rivers, lakes, oceans and other bodies of water within Nicaragua and its territorial waters, and the right to extend, expand, dredge, divert or reduce these bodies of water.”

The state also gives up the right to sue the investors in national or international courts for any damage caused to the environment during the study, construction and operation of the waterway.

In the IACHR hearing in Washington, representatives of the government, as well as Talavera, rejected the allegations of the environmentalists, which they blamed on “political interests” while arguing that the project is “environmentally friendly”.

They also repeated the main argument for the construction of the canal: that it will give a major boost to economic growth and will enable Nicaragua, where 42 percent of the population is poor, to leave behind its status as the second-poorest country in the hemisphere, after Haiti.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: Cuba and the European Union – The Thaw Beginshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-cuba-and-the-european-union-the-thaw-begins/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-cuba-and-the-european-union-the-thaw-begins http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-cuba-and-the-european-union-the-thaw-begins/#comments Tue, 31 Mar 2015 06:46:40 +0000 Joaquin Roy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139934

In this column, Joaquín Roy, Jean Monnet Professor of European Integration and Director of the European Union Centre at the University of Miami, looks at the geopolitical context within which the normalisation of relations between the European Union and Cuba is likely to place following the recent visit to Cuba of the Representative for Foreign Affairs of the European Union, Federica Mogherini, and the scheduled visit of French President François Hollande in May.

By Joaquín Roy
MADRID, Mar 31 2015 (IPS)

The visit to Cuba of Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy on Mar. 23-24, and the forthcoming visit in May planned by French President François Hollande, have fast-tracked the agenda of relations between the European Union and Cuba.

The sudden announcement of normalisation of diplomatic ties between the United States and Cuba in December last year set the context for the rapprochement between Brussels and Havana.

Joaquín Roy

Joaquín Roy

At the time, negotiations were already under way on a bilateral ‘Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement’; after years of confrontation, the European Union was prepared to abandon the “common position” imposed by Brussels on the Fidel Castro regime in 1996.

While Washington’s stance was that the persistence of a strictly Marxist regime deserved the imposition of conditions for ending its embargo, the European Union and a consensus of its governments held to the policy of so-called “constructive engagement”. EU member states continued to relate to Cuba on an individual basis according to their special historical links, economic interests and a range of views on human rights.

After a number of tensions were overcome, in 2014 Brussels decided to adopt a pragmatic programme that would lead to a cooperation agreement similar to those signed between the European Union and every other country and bloc in Latin America and the Caribbean.

For many years E.U. relations with Cuba were mainly represented by initiatives led by Spain, which veered from spearheading the imposition of demands on Havana, especially at critical times during right-wing People’s Party (PP) governments, to pursuing an incentives strategy under the left-wing Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE).“While Washington’s stance was that the persistence of a strictly Marxist regime deserved the imposition of conditions for ending its embargo, the European Union and a consensus of its governments held to the policy of so-called ‘constructive engagement’ [with Cuba]”

The process even came to be sarcastically called a “Hispanic-Spanish issue”.  In this context, a number of European states behaved according to their own convenience, with no essential change in the overall scenario.

Cuba avoided dealing with the broader European community, opting instead a for country-by-country approach. But the world was changing, and the real value of Europe’s stock in Cuba fell.

Then it was the right time for Brussels to seize the day and take advantage of the circumstances to negotiate with Cuba, with an open agenda that would include dismantling the “common position”.

After discrete exchanges, both sides decided to sit down for talks. Surprisingly, Cuba was open to a process without which the common position would be eliminated, as had been its strong traditional demand.

Spain itself was facing a delicate internal situation and needed to seek stability on other fronts. Consolidation of its relations with Latin America depended on juggling the claims and expectations of different domestic ideological groupings. Moreover, the vote of the Latin American bloc was vitally important for Spain’s candidature to the U.N. Security Council, a consideration that counselled extreme caution on the part of Madrid.

In the new era, it is hard to predict what role Spain will play in the Cuban transition, but in principle it has remarkable potential, and not just because of the weight of history and the contemporary importance of the “special relationship” between the two countries.

It is relevant to note that U.S. influence on Cuba’s own national identity has not been limited to imposing its hegemonic power. A hefty dose of the “American way of life” has become an essential part of the Cuban being.

The “enemy” was never the United States per se, but its concrete policies of harassment. The ease with which Cuban exiles of different epochs and different social backgrounds fit into U.S. society shows the naturalness of this curious relationship. Normalisation of relations will help reinforce the link.

European interests would do well to take note because the rebirth of the natural relationship between the United States and Cuba will provide strong competition to the relative advantage that European interests have so far achieved, and could significantly reduce it.

The outcome of competition from U.S. economic and political power in Cuba vis-á-vis renewed European operations will depend to a large extent on the nature and intensity of Washington’s renewed involvement with the island. Europe could maintain its relative advantage if the Cuban authorities themselves, or the surviving embargo restrictions, however moderated, set limits to U.S. activity.

It is worth emphasising that European activities in Cuba will continue to be limited, within E.U. institutional structures as well as on the pragmatic agendas of its member countries, as long as the U.S. embargo lasts. Restrictions on trade and investments continue to affect full freedom of movement by European companies in Cuba itself, as well as their transnational alliances in the rest of the world where U.S. interests are dominant.

As a result, even in a relatively open relationship, the real possibilities for a European advantage remain largely speculative, and may even decline, especially in the area of trade and investments.

The key factor in this uncertainty is a legacy of more than half a century of the absence of relations, which have not been ”normal” during this period yet which aspire to become so in the future. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Translated by Valerie Dee – Edited by Phil Harris    

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

* Joaquin Roy can be contacted at jroy@miami.edu

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Opinion: Crisis Resolution and International Debt Workout Mechanismshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-crisis-resolution-and-international-debt-workout-mechanisms/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-crisis-resolution-and-international-debt-workout-mechanisms http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-crisis-resolution-and-international-debt-workout-mechanisms/#comments Mon, 30 Mar 2015 08:34:01 +0000 Yilmaz Akyuz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139924

In this column, Yilmaz Akyüz, chief economist at the South Centre in Geneva, looks at the role of international debt workout mechanisms in debt restructuring initiatives and argues, inter alia, that while the role of the IMF in crisis management and resolution is incontrovertible, it cannot be placed at the centre of these debt workout mechanisms because its members represent both debtors and creditors.

By Yilmaz Akyuz
GENEVA, Mar 30 2015 (IPS)

Debt restructuring is a component of crisis management and resolution, and needs to be treated in the context of the current economic conjuncture and vulnerabilities.

International debt workout mechanisms are not just about debt reduction, but include interim arrangements to provide relief to debtors, including temporary hold on debt payments and financing.

They should address liquidity as well as solvency crises but the difference is not always clear. Most start as liquidity crises and can lead to insolvency if not resolved quickly.

Yilmaz Akyuz

Yilmaz Akyuz

Liquidity crises also inflict serious social and economic damages as seen in the past two decades even when they do not entail sovereign defaults.

International mechanisms should apply to crises caused by external private debt as well as sovereign debt. Private external borrowing is often the reason for liquidity crises. Governments end up socialising private debt. They need mechanisms that facilitate resolution of crises caused by private borrowing.

Only one of the last eight major crises in emerging and developing economies was due to internationally-issued sovereign debt (Argentina). Mexican and Russian crises were due to locally-issued public debt; in Asia (Thailand, Korea and Indonesia) external debt was private; in Brazilian and Turkish crises too, private (bank) debt played a key role alongside some problems in the domestic public debt market.

We have had no major new crisis in the South with systemic implications for over a decade thanks to highly favourable global liquidity conditions and risk appetite, both before and after the Lehman Brothers bank collapse in 2008, due to policies in major advanced economies, notably the United States.

But this period, notably the past six years, has also seen considerable build-up of fragility and vulnerability to liquidity and solvency crises in many developing countries."There are problems with standard crisis intervention: austerity can make debt even less payable; creditor bailouts create moral hazard and promote imprudent lending, and transform commercial debt into official debt, thereby making it more difficult to restructure”

Sovereign international debt problems may emerge in the so-called ‘frontier economies’ usually dependent on official lending. Many of them have gone into bond markets in recent years, taking advantage of exceptional global liquidity conditions and risk appetite. There are several first-time Eurobond issuers in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere.

In emerging economies, internationally-issued public debt as percentage of gross domestic product has declined significantly since the early 2000s. Much of the external debt of these economies is now under local law and in local currency.

However, there are numerous cases of build-up of private external debt in the foreign exchange markets issued under foreign law since 2008. Many of them may face contingent liabilities and are vulnerable to liquidity crises.

An external financial crisis often involves interruption of a country’s access to international financial markets, a sudden stop in capital inflows, exit of foreign investors from deposit, bond and equity markets and capital flight by residents. Reserves become depleted and currency and asset markets come under stress. Governments are often too late in recognising the gravity of the situation.

International Monetary Fund (IMF) lending is typically designed to bail out creditors to keep debtors current on their obligations to creditors, and to avoid exchange restrictions and maintain the capital account open.

The IMF imposes austerity on the debtor, expecting that it would make debt payable and sustainable and bring back private creditors. It has little leverage on creditors.

There are problems with standard crisis intervention: austerity can make debt even less payable; creditor bailouts create moral hazard and promote imprudent lending, and transform commercial debt into official debt, thereby making it more difficult to restructure; and risks are created for the financial integrity of the IMF.

Many of these problems were recognised after the Asian crisis of the 1990s, giving rise to the sovereign debt restructuring mechanism, originally designed very much along the lines advocated by the U.N. Conference on Trade and development (UNCTAD) throughout the 1980s and 1990s (though without due acknowledgement).

However, it was opposed by the United States and international financial markets and could not elicit strong support from debtor developing countries, notably in Latin America. It was first diluted and then abandoned.

The matter has come back to the attention of the international community with the Eurozone crisis and then with vulture-fund holdouts in Argentinian debt restructuring.

After pouring money into Argentina and Greece, whose debt turned out to be unpayable, the IMF has proposed a new framework to “limit the risk that Fund resources will simply be used to bail out private creditors” and to involve private creditors in crisis resolution. If debt sustainability looks uncertain, the IMF would require re-profiling (rollovers and maturity extension) before lending. This is left to negotiations between the debtor and the creditors.

However, there is no guarantee that this can bring a timely and orderly re-profiling. If no agreement is reached and the IMF does not lend without re-profiling, then it would effectively be telling the debtor to default. But it makes no proposal to protect the debtor against litigation and asset grab by creditors.

There is thus a need for statutory re-profiling involving temporary debt standstills and exchange controls. The decision should be taken by the country concerned and sanctioned by an internationally recognised independent body to impose stay on litigation.

Sanctioning standstills should automatically grant seniority to new loans, to be used for current account financing, not to pay creditors or finance capital outflows.

If financial meltdown is prevented through standstills and exchange controls, stay is imposed on litigation, adequate financing is provided and contractual provisions are improved, the likelihood of reaching a negotiated debt workout would be very high.

The role of the IMF in crisis management and resolution is incontrovertible. However, the IMF cannot be placed at the centre of international debt workout mechanisms. Even after a fundamental reform, the IMF board cannot act as a sanctioning body and arbitrator because of conflict of interest; its members represent debtors and creditors.

The United Nations successfully played an important role in crisis resolution in several instances in the past.

The Compensatory Financing Facility – introduced in the early 1960s to enable developing countries facing liquidity problems due to temporary shortfalls in primary export earnings to draw on the Fund beyond their normal drawing rights at concessional terms – resulted from a U.N. initiative.

A recent example concerns Iraq’s debt. After the occupation of Iraq and collapse of the Saddam Hussein regime, the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution to implement stay on the enforcement of creditor rights to use litigation to collect unpaid sovereign debt.

This was engineered by the very same country, the United States, which now denies a role to the United Nations in debt and finance on the grounds that it lacks competence on such matters, which mainly belong to the IMF and the World Bank.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

* This article is partly based on South Centre Research Paper 60 by Yilmaz Akyüz titled Internationalisation of Finance and Changing Vulnerabilities in Emerging and Developing Economies.

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Afghanistan’s Economic Recovery: A New Horizon for South-South Partnerships?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/afghanistans-economic-recovery-a-new-horizon-for-south-south-partnerships/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=afghanistans-economic-recovery-a-new-horizon-for-south-south-partnerships http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/afghanistans-economic-recovery-a-new-horizon-for-south-south-partnerships/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 14:39:08 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139889 The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has invested 1.2 billion dollars in Afghanistan for roads, railways, and airport projects. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has invested 1.2 billion dollars in Afghanistan for roads, railways, and airport projects. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 27 2015 (IPS)

First the centre of the silk route, then the epicenter of bloody conflicts, Afghanistan’s history can be charted through many diverse chapters, the most recent of which opened with the election of President Ashraf Ghani in September 2014.

Having inherited a country pockmarked with the scars of over a decade of occupation by U.S. troops – including one million unemployed youth and a flourishing opium trade – the former finance minister has entered the ring at a low point for his country.

“Our goal is to become a transit country for transport, power transmissions, gas pipelines and fiber optics.” -- Ashraf Ghani, president of Afghanistan
Afghanistan ranks near the bottom of Transparency International’s most recent Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), tailed only by North Korea, Somalia and Sudan.

A full 36 percent of its population of 30.5 million people lives in poverty, while spillover pressures from war-torn neighbours like Pakistan threaten to plunge this land-locked nation back into the throes of religious extremism.

But under this sheen of distress, the seeds of Afghanistan’s future are slumbering: vast metal and mineral deposits, ample water resources and huge tracts of farmland have investors casting keen eyes from all directions.

Citing an internal Pentagon memo in 2010, the New York Times referred to Afghanistan as the “Saudi Arabia of Lithium”, an essential ingredient in the production of batteries and related goods.

The country is poised to become the world’s largest producer of copper and iron in the next decade. According to some estimates, untapped mineral reserves could amount to about a trillion dollars.

Perhaps more importantly Afghanistan’s landmass represents prime geopolitical real estate, acting as the gateway between Asia and Europe. As the government begins the slow process of re-building a nation from the scraps of war, it is looking first and foremost to its immediate neighbours, for the hand of friendship and mutual economic benefit.

Regional integration 

Speaking of his development plans at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) Thursday, Ghani emphasised the role that the Caucasus, as well as Pakistan and China, can play in the country’s transformation.

“In the next 25 years, Asia is going to become the world’s largest continental economy,” Ghani stressed. “What happened in the U.S. in 1869 when the continental railroad was integrated is very likely to happen in Asia in the next 25 years. Without Afghanistan, Central Asia, South Asia, East Asia and West Asia will not be connected.

“Our goal is to become a transit country,” he said, “for transport, power transmissions, gas pipelines and fiber optics.”

Ghani added that the bulk of what Afghanistan hopes to produce in the coming decade would be heavy stuff, requiring a robust rail network in order to create economies of scale.

“In three years, we hope to be reaching Europe within five days. So the Caspian is really becoming central to our economy […] In three years, we could have 70 percent of our imports and exports via the Caspian,” he claimed.

Roads, too, will be vital to the country’s revival, and here the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has already begun laying the groundwork. Just last month the financial institution and the Afghan government signed grant agreements worth 130 million dollars, “[To] finance a new road link that will open up an east-west trade corridor with Tajikistan and beyond.”

Thomas Panella, ADB’s country director for Afghanistan, told IPS, “ADB-funded projects in transport and energy infrastructure promote regional economic cooperation through increased connectivity. To date under the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) programme, 2.6 billion dollars have been invested in transport, trade, and energy projects, of which 15 are ongoing and 10 have been completed.

“In the transport sector,” he added, “six projects are ongoing and eight projects have been completed, including the 75-km railway project connecting Hairatan bordering Uzbekistan and Mazar-e-Sharif of Afghanistan.”

Afghanistan’s transport sector accounted for 22 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) during the U.S. occupation, a contribution driven primarily by the presence of foreign troops.

Now the sector has slumped, but financial assistance from the likes of the ADB is likely to set it back on track. At last count, on Dec. 31, 2013, the development bank had sunk 1.9 billion dollars into efforts to construct or upgrade some 1,500 km of regional and national roads, and a further 31 million to revamp four regional airports in Afghanistan, which have since seen a two-fold increase in usage.

In total, the ADB has approved 3.9 billion dollars in loans, grants, and technical assistance for Afghanistan since 2002. Panella also said the bank allocated 335.18 million dollars in Asian Development Fund (ADF) resources to Afghanistan for 2014, and 167.59 million dollars annually for 2015 and 2016.

China too has stepped up to the plate – having already acquired a stake in one of the country’s most critical copper mines and invested in the oil sector – promising 330 million dollars in aid and grants, which Ghani said he intends to use exclusively to beef up infrastructure and “improve feasibility.”

Both India and China, the former through private companies and the latter through state-owned corporations, have made “significant” contributions to the fledgling economy, Ghani said, adding that the Gulf states and Azerbaijan also form part of the ‘consortium approach’ that he has adopted as Afghanistan’s roadmap out of the doldrums.

‘A very neoliberal idea’

But in an environment that until very recently could only be described as a war economy, with a poor track record of sharing wealth equally – be it aid, or private contracts – the road through the forest of extractive initiatives and mega-infrastructure projects promises to be a bumpy one.

According to Anand Gopal, an expert on Afghan politics and award-winning author of ‘No Good Men Among the Living’, “There is a widespread notion that only a very powerful fraction of the local elite and international community benefitted from the [flow] of foreign aid.”

“If you go to look at schools,” he told IPS, “or into clinics that were funded by the international community, you can see these institutions are in a state of disrepair, you can see that local warlords have taken a cut, have even been empowered by this aid, which helped them build a base of support.”

Although the aid flow has now dried up, the system that allowed it to be siphoned off to line the pockets of strongmen and political elites will not be easily dismantled.

“The mindset here is not oriented towards communities, it’s oriented towards development of private industries and private contractors,” Gopal stated.

“When you have a state that is unable to raise its own revenue and is utterly reliant on foreign aid to make these projects viable […] the straightforward thing to do would be to nationalise natural resources and use them as a base of revenue to develop the economy, the expertise of local communities and the endogenous ability of the Afghan state to survive.”

Instead what happens is that this tremendous potential falls off into hands of contracts to the Chinese and others. “It’s a very neoliberal idea,” he added, “to privatise everything and hope that the benefits will trickle down.

“But as we’ve seen all over the world, it doesn’t trickle down. In fact, the people who are supposed to be helped aren’t the ones to get help and a lot of other people get enriched in the process.”

Indeed, attempts to stimulate growth and close the wealth gap by pouring money into the extractives sector or large-scale development – particularly in formerly conflict-ridden countries – has had disastrous consequences worldwide, from Papua New Guinea, to Colombia, to Chad.

Rather than reducing poverty and empowering local communities, mining and infrastructure projects have impoverished indigenous people, fueled gender-based violence, and paved the way for the concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands.

A far more meaningful approach, Gopal suggested, would be to directly fund local communities in ways that don’t immediately give rise to an army of middlemen.

It remains to be seen how the country’s plans to shake off the cloak of foreign occupation and decades of instability will unfold. But it is clear that Afghanistan is fast becoming the new playground – and possibly the next battleground – of emerging players in the global economy.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Indonesian President Unyielding on Death Penaltyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/indonesian-president-unyielding-on-death-penalty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indonesian-president-unyielding-on-death-penalty http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/indonesian-president-unyielding-on-death-penalty/#comments Thu, 26 Mar 2015 00:38:53 +0000 Sandra Siagian http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139870 Indonesian President Joko Widodo during a rally on Election Day on Jul. 9, 2014, at Proklamasi Monument Park in Jakarta. Human rights groups have condemned the country’s seventh president for his “backwards” stance on capital punishment. Credit: Sandra Siagian/IPS

Indonesian President Joko Widodo during a rally on Election Day on Jul. 9, 2014, at Proklamasi Monument Park in Jakarta. Human rights groups have condemned the country’s seventh president for his “backwards” stance on capital punishment. Credit: Sandra Siagian/IPS

By Sandra Siagian
JAKARTA, Mar 26 2015 (IPS)

When Indonesia’s law and human rights minister visited one of the country’s prisons in December last year, he met a Nigerian convict on death row for drug trafficking, who performed songs for him before leaving him with a parting gift.

“He sang […] beautifully,” Yasonna Laoly, the human rights minister, tells IPS. “He first quoted from the Bible before he gave me a souvenir when I left – it was a painting, a beautiful one.”

“There are no statistics of a deterrent effect with the death penalty. Jokowi is using the death penalty […] to prove to his critics that he is firm." -- Haris Azhar, coordinator of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras)
A month ago, at one of the weekly Christian services held at his ministry in the capital, Jakarta, a pastor came up to the minister to plea for some prisoners facing the death penalty.

She brought up the Nigerian man Laoly had met last year, stressing that he had reformed, converted to Christianity and become a good person.

“She asked me, ‘Why can’t you help?’,” explains the minister, who has also received an album of songs from the Nigerian death row inmate.

“I told her that, psychologically, it bothers me, but I have to face the case,” Laoly tells IPS, adding that he “does not believe in capital punishment”.

“I spoke to the Attorney General [H.M. Prasetyo], who was with me when I visited him and he just replied: ‘This is the law of the country and we have a policy’.”

The government of this archipelago nation of 250 million people has a no-tolerance policy when it comes to drug trafficking and smuggling, and has no qualms about using the death penalty for such offenses.

Just after midnight on Jan. 18, six drug convicts were executed by firing squad, the first imposition of capital punishment since President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo took office last October.

Another 10 drug convicts – citizens of Australia, France, Brazil, the Philippines, Ghana, Nigeria and Indonesia – are slated to be executed next, following their transfer to the island prison of Nusakambangan.

Prior to Widodo’s presidential election victory last year, capital punishment in the archipelago had declined. Four people were executed in 2013 after a five-year hiatus and no capital sentences were carried out by the state in 2014.

Still, there are currently 138 people – one-third of them foreigners – on death row, primarily for drug-related offenses. The government claims its hard-line stance has to do with the growing drug menace in Indonesia – at present, 45 percent of drugs in Southeast Asia flow through this country, making it the largest drug market in the region.

Citing statistics from the country’s National Narcotics Board (BNN), Troels Vester, country manager of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) put the number of drug users at 5.6 million this year.

Government statistics further indicate that drug abuse kills off some 40 Indonesians every day, a figure hotly disputed by local rights groups.

A street food vendor walks past a sign, warning residents against taking drugs, outside of the Russian consulate in South Jakarta. Indonesia imposes harsh penalties, including capital punishment, for drug-related crimes. Credit: Sandra Siagian/IPS

A street food vendor walks past a sign, warning residents against taking drugs, outside of the Russian consulate in South Jakarta. Indonesia imposes harsh penalties, including capital punishment, for drug-related crimes. Credit: Sandra Siagian/IPS

Officials say that rampant drug use also fuels a demand for medical and health services, putting undue pressure on the government to expend public resources on treatment and counseling, HIV testing, and anti-retroviral therapy for those people living with HIV/AIDS.

But the United Nations says that the use of the death penalty will not necessary reduce Indonesia’s drug woes, and has urged the country to stopper the practice of capital punishment in line with international law.

Earlier this month some 40 human rights groups from around the world dispatched a letter to the Indonesian president, reminding him, “Executions are against Article 28(a) of the Indonesian Constitution, which guarantees everyone’s right to life.”

The letter further stated, “They are also in breach of Indonesia’s international legal obligations under Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which recognises every human being’s inherent right to life.”

Such efforts have so far failed to sway the president, or stay the country’s harsh hand of justice.

Ignoring international pressure

Widodo has also rejected political bids for clemency, including entreaties from foreign governments to spare the lives of their citizens; five of the six drug convicts executed in January were foreigners.

In January, King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands personally requested Widodo to pardon Dutch national Ang Kiem Soe – convicted of being involved in a scheme to produce 15,000 ecstasy pills a day – but Widodo was unmoved.

Brazil and the Netherlands recalled their ambassadors from Jakarta after their nationals were executed in January, while Australia has been campaigning furiously to save two of its own citizens, with the country’s foreign minister, Julie Bishop, attempting an eleventh-hour prisoner swap, which was rejected.

Widodo has met all such efforts with a simple answer: there will be “no compromise” on the issue.

Human rights advocates like Amnesty International have slammed the Indonesian president’s “backwards” stance on capital punishment, accusing him of manipulating data to support his decisions.

“He says that 40 to 50 people are dying every day from drugs, but where is that figure coming from?” asks Haris Azhar, coordinator of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), adding that the president’s actions came as a surprise as he never shared his views on capital punishment during his campaign.

“The hospitals, doctors and the health ministry aren’t giving us data. These figures are from the anti-drugs body BNN, but they have never been proven,” Azhar adds.

Other activists like Hendardi, head of the Setara Institute, believe the president is using the death penalty to protect his image and regain public support following criticism over his government’s weak performance in law enforcement.

“There are no statistics of a deterrent effect with the death penalty,” the human rights defender tells IPS. “Jokowi [a popular nickname for the president] is using the death penalty […] to prove to his critics that he is firm. I think he is trying to gain back popularity as the death penalty is still favoured among Indonesians.”

While there has been no comprehensive nationwide poll to assess public opinion on, or popular support for, capital punishment, surveys conducted by the media suggest that some 75 percent of the population is in favour of death sentences, primarily for terrorism, corruption and narcotics charges.

Death sentences are typically carried out by a firing squad comprised of 12 people, who shoot from a range of five to 10 metres. Prisoners are given the choice of standing or sitting, as well as whether to have their eyes covered by a blindfold, or their face concealed by a hood.

Inmates are generally informed of their fate just 72 hours prior to execution, a practice that has been blasted by human rights groups.

While the human rights minister admits that the death penalty may not solve all the country’s drug problems, he believes that a firm policy is the first step to preventing millions from falling “into ruin” at the hands of narcotics.

UNODC estimates that there are 110,000 heroin addicts and 1.2 million users of crystalline methamphetamine in Indonesia. But experts like Azhar feel the problem cannot be ‘executed away’. Instead, the Kontras coordinator suggests the country adopt a humane approach to law enforcement.

According to Amnesty International, some “140 countries have now abolished the death penalty. Indonesia has the opportunity to become the 141st country.” However, if the president’s resolve remains unchanged, this is unlikely to happen in the near future.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Pacific Islanders Say Climate Finance “Essential” for Paris Agreementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/pacific-islanders-say-climate-finance-essential-for-paris-agreement/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pacific-islanders-say-climate-finance-essential-for-paris-agreement http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/pacific-islanders-say-climate-finance-essential-for-paris-agreement/#comments Tue, 24 Mar 2015 21:56:35 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139854 Natural disasters and climate change, including sea level rise, are already impacting many coastal communities in Pacific Island countries, such as the Solomon Islands. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Natural disasters and climate change, including sea level rise, are already impacting many coastal communities in Pacific Island countries, such as the Solomon Islands. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
CANBERRA, Australia , Mar 24 2015 (IPS)

As Pacific Islanders contemplate the scale of devastation wrought by Cyclone Pam this month across four Pacific Island states, including Vanuatu, leaders in the region are calling with renewed urgency for global action on climate finance, which they say is vital for building climate resilience and arresting development losses.

In a recent public statement, the Marshall Islands’ president, Christopher Loeak, said, “The world’s best scientists, and what we see daily with our own eyes, all tell us that without urgent and transformative action by the big polluters to reduce emissions and help us to build resilience, we are headed for a world of constant climate catastrophe.”

“Like other small vulnerable countries, we have experienced great difficulty in accessing the big multilateral funds. The Green Climate Fund must avoid the mistakes of the past and place a premium on projects that deliver direct benefits to local communities." -- Tony de Brum, minister of foreign affairs for the Republic of the Marshall Islands
Progress on the delivery of climate funding pledges by the international community could also decide outcomes at the United Nations Climate Change Conference to be held in Paris in December, they say.

“It is reassuring to see many countries, including some very generous developing countries, step forward with promises to capitalise the Green Climate Fund. But we need a much better sense of how governments plan to ramp up their climate finance over the coming years to ensure the Copenhagen promise of 100 billion dollars per year by 2020 is fulfilled,” Tony de Brum, minister of foreign affairs for the Republic of the Marshall Islands, told IPS.

“Without this assurance, success in Paris will be very difficult to achieve.”

The Pacific Islands are home to about 10 million people in 22 island states and territories with 35 percent living below the poverty line. The impacts of climate change could cost the region up to 12.7 percent of annual gross domestic product (GDP) by the end of this century, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) estimates.

The Pacific Islands contribute a negligible 0.03 percent to global greenhouse gas emissions, yet are the first to suffer the worst impacts of global warming. Regional leaders have been vocal about the climate injustice their Small Island Developing States (SIDS) confront with industrialised nations, the largest carbon emitters, yet to implement policies that would limit global temperature rise to the threshold of two degrees Celsius.

In the Marshall Islands, where more than 52,000 people live on 34 small islands and atolls in the North Pacific, sea-level rise and natural disasters are jeopardising communities mainly concentrated on low-lying coastal areas.

“Climate disasters in the last year chewed up more than five percent of national GDP and that figure continues to rise. We are working to improve and mainstream adaptation into our national planning, but emergencies continue to set us back,” the Marshall Islands’ Foreign Minister said.

The nation experienced a severe drought in 2013 and last year massive tidal surges, which caused extensive flooding of coastal villages and left hundreds of people homeless.

“Like other small vulnerable countries, we have experienced great difficulty in accessing the big multilateral funds. The Green Climate Fund must avoid the mistakes of the past and place a premium on projects that deliver direct benefits to local communities,” de Brum continued.

Priorities in the Marshall Islands include coastal restoration and reinforcement, climate resilient infrastructure and protection of freshwater lenses.

Bilateral aid is also important with SIDS receiving the highest climate adaptation-related aid per capita from OECD countries in 2010-11. The Oceanic region received two percent of OECD provided adaptation aid, which totalled 8.8 billion dollars.

Sixty percent of OECD aid in general to the Pacific Islands comes from Australia with other major donors including New Zealand, France, the United States and Japan. But in December, the Australian government announced far-reaching cuts to the foreign aid budget of 3.7 billion dollars over the next four years, which is likely to impact climate aid in the region.

Funding aimed at developing local climate change expertise and institutional capacity is vital to safeguarding the survival and autonomy of their countries, islanders say.

“We do not need more consultants’ reports and feasibility studies. What we need is to build our local capacity to tackle the climate challenge and keep that capacity here,” de Brum emphasised.

In the tiny Central Pacific nation of Kiribati, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson expressed concern that “local capacity is limited”, a problem that is “addressed through the provision of technical assistance through consultants who just come and then leave without properly training our own people.”

Kiribati, comprising 33 low-lying atolls with a population of just over 108,000, could witness a maximum sea level rise of 0.6 metres and an increase in surface air temperature of 2.9 degrees Celsius by 2090, according to the Pacific Climate Change Science Program.

The country is experiencing higher tides every year, but can ill afford shoreline erosion with a population density in some areas of 15,000 people per square kilometre. The island of Tarawa, the location of the capital, is an average 450 metres wide with no option of moving settlements inland.

As long-term habitation is threatened, climate funding will, in the future, have to address population displacement, according to the Kiribati Ministry of Foreign Affairs:

“Climate induced relocation and forced migration is inevitable for Kiribati and planning is already underway. Aid needs to put some focus on this issue, but is mostly left behind only due to the fact that it is a future need and there are more visible needs here and now.”

Ahead of talks in Paris, the Marshall Islands believes successfully tackling climate change requires working together for everyone’s survival. “If climate finance under the Paris Agreement falls off a cliff, so will our response to the climate challenge,” de Brum declared.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Multi-Drug Resistance Adds to Tuberculosis Epidemic in Papua New Guineahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/multi-drug-resistance-adds-to-tuberculosis-epidemic-in-papua-new-guinea/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=multi-drug-resistance-adds-to-tuberculosis-epidemic-in-papua-new-guinea http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/multi-drug-resistance-adds-to-tuberculosis-epidemic-in-papua-new-guinea/#comments Mon, 23 Mar 2015 22:33:08 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139840 In Papua New Guinea, most people live in rural areas with poor access to health services, increasing the challenges of fighting infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

In Papua New Guinea, most people live in rural areas with poor access to health services, increasing the challenges of fighting infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
CANBERRA, Australia, Mar 23 2015 (IPS)

Rising multi-drug resistance in patients suffering from tuberculosis, a debilitating infectious lung disease which mainly impacts the developing world, has led to a public health emergency in the southwest Pacific Island state of Papua New Guinea, according to state officials.

While efforts to combat the disease worldwide have produced results, with the global death rate dropping by 45 percent since 1990, the annual number of new cases in Papua New Guinea has risen from 16,000 to 30,000 over the past five years.

“The biggest barrier for the moment is cultural beliefs about the causes of diseases [...]. The first source of help [for many patients] is witchdoctors and local remedies." -- Louis Samiak, chairman of public health at the School of Medicine and Health Services at the University of Papua New Guinea
On World Tuberculosis (TB) Day, observed on Mar. 24, the country’s health experts spoke out about the challenges they face in tackling a disease that thrives in communities struggling against hardship and inadequate access to information and basic services.

“The biggest barrier for the moment is cultural beliefs about the causes of diseases. TB is a disease with long incubation and the first source of help [for many patients] is witchdoctors and local remedies. When patients present late [at health facilities] with advanced disease, it is difficult to treat,” Louis Samiak, chairman of public health at the School of Medicine and Health Services at the University of Papua New Guinea, told IPS.

Disease symptoms include fever, chest pains, fatigue, weight loss and cough, frequently with sputum and blood, which results in the airborne spread of bacteria.

The illness transmits quickly in overcrowded impoverished settlements and in Papua New Guinea, where sanitation coverage is only 19 percent and less than half the population have access to clean water, it is the leading cause of hospital deaths.

In rural villages of Kikori District in the southern Gulf Province the TB incidence rate is an alarming 1,290 per 100,000 people, according to the Papua New Guinea Institute of Medical Research. The national prevalence is 541 cases per 100,000 people, compared to the global average of 126.

The campaign to halt the epidemic in Gulf Province is supported by the international medical non-governmental organisation Doctors Without Borders (MSF). Operating from the main town of Kerema, MSF has since last year diagnosed an average of 50 new TB cases every month, inlcuding patients as young as 10 months.

Adults aged 15-54 years are mainly afflicted, but youth account for about 28 percent of cases in PNG, while pulmonary TB and TB meningitis contribute to malnutrition and mortality in children.

One mother took her ill six-year-old child to Kerema General Hospital in an arduous journey from her mountain village, which took three hours by boat and two by truck.

“In the beginning, the mother did not understand what TB is, why the child needs treatment every day for long periods and why she has to be away from her village. It took two months to gain her acceptance of the treatment and for her to prepare for living away from the village,” a spokesperson for MSF in Papua New Guinea recounted to IPS.

“But the child is now receiving treatment every day with signs of improvement.”

Threatening disease control efforts is increasing resistance in patients to the strong first-line drugs, isoniazid and rifampicin. Common practice of patients stopping medication as soon as they feel better and not fully completing treatment is the main cause of multi-drug resistant TB in the country, Suparat Phuanukoonnon of the Institute of Medical Research told IPS.

When treatment is interrupted, the lower level of medication consumed fails to eradicate all the bacteria, which then develop resistance in the patient’s body.

In 2013, 4.5 percent of diagnosed TB cases in the country were multi-drug resistant, a significant increase from 1.9 percent in 2010. Drug resistant TB is rising in the rural Western and Gulf Provinces and the capital, Port Moresby, where more than half the population live in squatter settlements.

The impact on development is acute, with 75 percent of people with TB worldwide of working age.

“TB can affect all or any part of the human body. It, therefore, affects the whole person and reduces their ability to be productive to society or their community,” University of Papua New Guinea’s Samiak said.

While sufferers face rising healthcare expenses, the inability to work reduces their incomes. Poverty is perpetuated in the next generation when the disease affects both parents, forcing children to withdraw from school in order to care and provide for the family.

Papua New Guinea is the most populous Pacific Island nation with a population of seven million. But there are immense logistical challenges to fighting infectious diseases in the country, with more than 85 percent living in rural areas with poor, if any, access to roads and readily available transport to urban centres and health facilities.

A further hindrance is insufficient healthcare professionals with less than one doctor and 5.3 nurses per 10,000 people and a decline in the country’s health services since 2002, according to a report last year by the National Research Institute.

It found the availability of basic drugs in health clinics has fallen by 10 percent and visits from doctors dropped by 42 percent in the past decade. Despite rapid population growth, the number of patients seeking medical help per day has decreased by 19 percent.

Resources also need to be directed toward public education following a medical research institute survey of 1,034 people in the Central, Madang and Eastern Highlands Provinces, which showed the majority to be unaware of TB, its causes, and treatment.

Phuanukoonnon explained, “Prior to the Global Fund grant for TB [eradication] in PNG in 2007, it was a neglected disease in terms of political commitment and proper funding for the control programme.”

Limited health services are stretched as it is and, while TB information is available at health centres, overworked staff members still have little time for advocacy.

Any educational approach should address “how people receive and process information and believe the information enough to take action”, which requires that “health communication should be relevant to local contexts,” she continued.

Resources to assail the epidemic have been boosted, with the Global Fund announcing last month a further 18 million dollars of funding to fight TB in Papua New Guinea over the next three years.

Samiak said that financial resources could be well spent developing in-country laboratory facilities and staff training, so that TB test results are processed more efficiently and patient follow up and treatment expedited.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Gates Foundation Slammed for Plan to Privatise African Seed Marketshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/gates-foundation-slammed-for-plan-to-privatise-african-seed-markets/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gates-foundation-slammed-for-plan-to-privatise-african-seed-markets http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/gates-foundation-slammed-for-plan-to-privatise-african-seed-markets/#comments Mon, 23 Mar 2015 21:59:52 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139838 By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 23 2015 (IPS)

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) has been attacked by activists over alleged support of a plan to privatise African agricultural markets.

United Kingdom social justice organisation Global Justice Now levelled the claims at the Gates Foundation and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) on Monday, saying the two agencies were holding a “secret meeting” in London to promote a plan to help companies sell seeds in Africa, that will cut out small farmers.

“This morning in response food justice campaigners have held a demonstration outside the offices of the BMGF in London, with placards calling on the foundation to ‘free the seeds’ and handing out packets of open-pollinated seeds as a symbol of the alternative to the corporate model promoted by USAID and BMGF,” Global Justice Now said in a release.

“A papier mâché piñata representing the commercial control of seed systems was smashed by the protesters, with thousands of seeds inside being spilled over the steps of the entrance to the BMGF.”

Global Justice Now said the London meeting was in response to a study by Monitor-Deloitte, commissioned by USAID and the Gates Foundation, which examined how corporate seed producers could better penetrate African markets.

“For generations, small farmers have been able to save and swap seeds. This vital practice enables farmers to keep a wide range of seeds which helps maintain biodiversity and helps them to adapt to climate change and protect from plant disease,” Global Justice Now food sovereignty campaigner Heidi Chow wrote in a blog post on their website.

“However, this system of seed saving is under threat by corporations who want to take more control over seeds.”

The group claims such “corporate-produced hybrid seeds” bring higher harvests in initial years, but later show unpredictable growth patterns.

“This means that instead of saving seeds from their own crops, farmers who use hybrid seeds become completely dependent on the seed companies that sell them,” the blog post continued.

“Often the seeds are sold in packages with chemical fertiliser and pesticides which can lead to spiralling debt as well as damaging the environment and causing health problems.”

Chow called the plan “another form of colonialism” for forcing African farmers to depend on corporate interests for their continued survival.

“We need to ensure that the control of seeds and other agricultural resources stay firmly in the hands of small farmers who feed the majority of the population in Africa rather than allowing big agribusiness to dominate even more aspects of the food system.”

Ali-Masmadi Jehu-Appiah, Chair of Food Sovereignty Ghana, also expressed concern over the power that corporate interests would hold over farmers.

Activists worldwide are using the Twitter hashtag #FreeTheSeeds to protest the meeting and the plan.

Follow Josh Butler on Twitter @JoshButler

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Salvadoran Maquila Plants Use Gang Members to Break Unionshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/salvadoran-maquila-plants-use-gang-members-to-break-unions/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=salvadoran-maquila-plants-use-gang-members-to-break-unions http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/salvadoran-maquila-plants-use-gang-members-to-break-unions/#comments Mon, 23 Mar 2015 21:01:05 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139836 Factory workers make sportswear for a U.S. brand at a maquila plant in the San Bartolo free trade zone in the city of Ilopango in eastern El Salvador. The factory employs 350 workers on each eight-hour shift, 80 percent of them women, who earn minimum wage. Credit: Edgar Romero/IPS

Factory workers make sportswear for a U.S. brand at a maquila plant in the San Bartolo free trade zone in the city of Ilopango in eastern El Salvador. The factory employs 350 workers on each eight-hour shift, 80 percent of them women, who earn minimum wage. Credit: Edgar Romero/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN SALVADOR, Mar 23 2015 (IPS)

Textile companies that make clothing for transnational brands in El Salvador are accused of forging alliances with gang members to make death threats against workers and break up their unions, according to employees who talked to IPS and to international organisations.

Workers at maquila or maquiladora plants – which import materials and equipment duty-free for assembly or manufacturing for re-export – speaking on condition of anonymity said that since 2012 the threats have escalated, as part of the generalised climate of violence in this Central American country.

“They would call me on the phone and tell me to quit the union, to stop being a trouble-maker,” one worker at the LD El Salvador company in the San Marcos free trade zone, a complex of factories to the south of the Salvadoran capital, told IPS.

She has worked as a sewing machine operator since 2004 and belongs to the Sindicato de la Industria Textil Salvadoreña (SITS) textile industry union. Some 780 people work for LD El Salvador, a Korean company that produces garments for the firms Náutica and Walmart.

“They told me they were homeboys (gang members) and that if I didn’t quit the union my body would show up hanging from one of the trees outside the company,” she said.“They would call me on the phone and tell me to quit the union, to stop being a trouble-maker. They said they were homeboys (gang members) and that if I didn’t quit the union my body would show up hanging from one of the trees outside the company,” -- A worker at the LD El Salvador company

She added that LD executives hired gang members to make sure the threats directly reached the workers who belong to SITS, on the factory premises.

The warnings have had a chilling effect, because only 60 of the 155 workers affiliated with the union are still members, she said. Many quit, scared of falling victim to the young gangs, organised crime groups known in Central America as “maras”, which are responsible for a large part of the murders every day in this impoverished country.

El Salvador, population 6.3 million, is one of the most violent countries in the world. In 2014 there were 3,912 murders – a rate of 63 homicides per 100,000 population, compared to a Latin American average of 29 and a global average of 6.2.

“They would call me and say my body would be found in a black bag if I didn’t leave the union….since these were the first calls that we were receiving, I was really nervous and worried,” another worker who is still in SITS told IPS.

The textile maquiladora plants operate in the country’s 17 free trade zones, where companies are given tax breaks and other incentives, and do not pay tariffs on imported inputs. The clients are international brands like Nike, Puma or Adidas.

In 2014, the industry employed over 74,000 people, the great majority of them women, who represent 12 percent of the 636,000 jobs in the private sector. Its exports amounted to 2.4 billion dollars, half of El Salvador’s total sales abroad, according to industry statistics.

Since the maquiladora boom began in the 1990s, the factories have been criticised for inhumane treatment and violations of the labour rights of workers.

“One of the most widely violated rights is the right to unionise,” the secretary of organisation of the Federación Sindical de El Salvador trade union federation, Reynaldo Ortiz, told IPS.

“And now they’re using death threats to try to break up the unions,” he said.

In January, two U.S. groups, the Center for Global Workers’ Rights at Penn State University and the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), published “Unholy Alliances: How Employers in El Salvador’s Garment Industry Collude with a Corrupt Labor Federation, Company Unions and Violent Gangs to Suppress Workers’ Rights”.

The report cited specific cases of intimidation of trade unionists by gang members.

“These threats pose particular concern and have an especially chilling effect on freedom of association, both because of the country’s long history of murders of union activists and because Salvadoran society generally is plagued by gang violence,” says the 46-page document.

According to the report, several incidents occurred in January 2013 to workers at F&D, a company from Taiwan, which is also in the San Marcos free trade zone.

On one occasion two F&D managers, accompanied by a gang member, approached a number of workers who were talking outside the factory and visibly identified to the gang member the employees who were union leaders.

One of the LD workers said the participation of the maras is so blatant that during a November 2013 meeting of trade unionists with gang members, held to explain the workers’ struggles and problems, some of the gang members showed up with company managers.

In January 2014 Juan Carlos Sánchez, one of the employees who took part in that meeting, was killed in murky circumstances, the LD worker said.

She added that although they filed reports with the attorney general’s office, the investigation went nowhere.

IPS was unable to obtain comments from representatives of F&D or LD with regard to these issues. Nor did anyone at the Labour Ministry respond to requests for interviews on the matter.

Another case of threats involved activists with the Sindicato de Trabajadores y Trabajadoras, Sastres, Costureras y Similares (Sitrasacosi) textile workers union, active in companies that include the Nemtex textile plant on the west side of San Salvador.

“Armed men would wait in cars outside the factory when people were going off shift; they never said anything, it was more like intimidation, psychological pressure,” said a member of the union.

She said that in February a leader of the union, who works in Nemtex, received death threats from gang members who visited his home. In late February he fled to the United States.

The Sitrasacosi activist said the management and business owners dislike the unions and are trying to avoid collective bargaining agreements.

She said the Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Empresa Confecciones Gama, another textile workers union, had been negotiating a collective bargaining agreement with the company, which would have been the first reached in the maquila textile industry.

But the company suddenly shut down in June 2011, leaving more than 270 workers without jobs.

“They preferred to close the factory rather than sign a collective bargaining agreement…in their view it would have set a bad precedent,” the Sitrasacosi member added.

She said that thanks to the efforts of the International Union League for Brand Responsibility, which lobbies for the labour rights of workers who make products for multinational brands around the world, in December 2012 the owners of Gama paid indemnification for the closure.

Other labour and human rights continue to be violated by maquila textile plants, Carmen Urquilla, with the Concertación por un Empleo Digno para las Mujeres women’s labour rights organisation, told IPS.

For example, there are companies that keep the social security payments they dock from the workers’ pay – a phenomenon that continues to occur, she said, although on a smaller scale than in years past.

Forced labour is also widespread in the maquilas, added Urquilla, where the women have to work 12 hours a day to meet the high production targets set for them.

They are not paid for the extra hours they work, but merely receive a 10-dollar bonus for meeting their target, she said. Minimum wage in the maquila textile plants is 210 dollars a month.

“It’s heavy work, a lot of women suffer disabilities for life, because of skeletal and muscle injuries in the shoulders or legs; some people can’t even dress themselves on their own,” Urquilla said.

A maquila worker who asked that the company she works for not be named told IPS that her target is 1,110 pairs of shirt sleeves in 10 hours.

“It’s really exhausting work,” she said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Four Fast Facts to Debunk Myths About Rural Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/four-fast-facts-to-debunk-myths-about-rural-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=four-fast-facts-to-debunk-myths-about-rural-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/four-fast-facts-to-debunk-myths-about-rural-women/#comments Mon, 23 Mar 2015 16:34:01 +0000 Jacqui Ashby and Jennifer Twyman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139827 With adequate extension support, women farmers can increase productivity and food security in Africa. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

With adequate extension support, women farmers can increase productivity and food security in Africa. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Jacqui Ashby and Jennifer Twyman
PARIS, Mar 23 2015 (IPS)

We are lucky to live in a country that has long since abandoned the image of the damsel in distress. Even Disney princesses now save themselves and send unsuitable “saviours” packing. But despite the great strides being made in gender equality, we are still failing rural women, particularly women farmers.

We are failing them by using incomplete and inadequate data to describe their situation, and neglecting to empower them to improve it. As a consequence, we are all losing out on the wealth of knowledge this demographic can bring to boosting food supplies in a changing climate, which is a major concern for everyone on this planet.The millions of poor farmers, both men and women, all over the developing world have an untapped wealth of knowledge that we are going to need if we are to successfully tackle the greatest challenge of our time: safeguarding our food supply in the face of climate change.

Whilst it is true that women farmers have less access to training, land, and inputs than their male counterparts, we need to debunk a few myths that have long been cited as fact, that are a bad basis for policy decision-making.

New research, drawing on work done by IFPRI and others, presented in Paris this week by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security will start this process – here are four fast facts that can serve food for thought.

  1. Rural women have more access to land than we think

For decades the same data has done the rounds, claiming that women own as little as 2 per cent of land. While this may be the case in some regions, these statistics are outdated and are answering the wrong questions. For example, much of this data is derived from comparing land owned by male-headed households with that owned by female-headed households. Yet, even if the man holds the license for the land, the woman may well have access to and use part of this land.

Therefore a better question to ask, and a new set of data now being collected is, how much control does the woman have over how land is used and the resultant income? How much of the land does she have access to? What farming decisions is she making? There is plenty of evidence to support the fact that women play a significant role in agricultural production. This role needs to be recognised so that women receive better access to agricultural resources, inputs and services

  1. Rural women are not more vulnerable to climate change because they are women

We need to look beyond gender to determine the root causes of why individuals and communities are more vulnerable to climate change. We have found many other contributing factors, such as gender norms, social class, education, and wealth can leave people at risk.

Are more women falling into this trap because they don’t have control over important resources and can’t make advantageous choices when they farm? If so, how can we change that? We must tackle these bigger problems that hinder both men and women in different ways, and not simply blame unequal vulnerability to climate risks and shocks on gender.

  1. Rural women do not automatically make better stewards of natural resources

Yes, rural women are largely responsible for collecting water and firewood, as well as a great deal of farm work. But the idea that this immediately makes them better stewards of natural resources is false. In fact, the evidence is conflicting. One study showed that out of 13 empirical studies, women were less likely to adopt climate-smart technologies in eight of them.

Yet in East Africa, research has shown women were more likely than, or just as likely as men to adopt climate-smart practices. Why is this? Because women do not have a single, unified interest. Decisions to adopt practices that will preserve natural resources depend a lot on social class, and the incentives given, whether they are made by women or men. So we need more precise targeting based on gender and social class.

  1. Gender sensitive programming and policymaking is not just about helping women succeed

We all have a lot to gain from making food security, climate change innovation and gender-sensitive policies. The millions of poor farmers, both men and women, all over the developing world have an untapped wealth of knowledge that we are going to need if we are to successfully tackle the greatest challenge of our time: safeguarding our food supply in the face of climate change.

A key to successful innovation is understanding the user’s perspective. In Malawi, for example, rural women have been involved in designing a range of labour saving agri-processing tools. As they will be the primary users of such technologies, having their input is vital to ensure a viable end product.

In Nicaragua, women have been found to have completely different concerns from men when it comes to adapting to climate change, as they manage household food production, rather than growing cash crops like male farmers. Hearing these concerns and responding to them will result in more secure livelihoods, food availability and nutrition.

We hope that researchers will be encouraged to undertake the challenge of collecting better data about rural women and learning about their perspectives. By getting a clearer picture of their situation, we can equip them with what they need to farm successfully under climate change, not just for themselves, and their families, but to benefit us all.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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High-Tech to the Rescue of Southern Africa’s Smallholder Farmershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/high-tech-to-the-rescue-of-southern-africas-smallholder-farmers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=high-tech-to-the-rescue-of-southern-africas-smallholder-farmers http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/high-tech-to-the-rescue-of-southern-africas-smallholder-farmers/#comments Sun, 22 Mar 2015 12:50:44 +0000 Kwame Buist http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139810 The Dube AgriZone facility currently incorporates 16 hectares of greenhouses, making it the largest climate-controlled growing area under glass in Africa. Credit: FAO

The Dube AgriZone facility currently incorporates 16 hectares of greenhouses, making it the largest climate-controlled growing area under glass in Africa. Credit: FAO

By Kwame Buist
DURBAN, South Africa, Mar 22 2015 (IPS)

Agriculture is the major employer and a backbone of the economies of Southern Africa.

However, the rural areas that support an agriculture-based livelihood system for the majority of the nearly 270 million people living in the region are typically fragile and there is wide variability in the development challenges facing the countries of the region.

The agricultural sector is dominated by crop production, although the share of livestock production and other agriculture practices have been increasing.Chronic and acute food insecurity remain major risks and Southern Africa still faces enormous challenges in trying to transform and commercialise its largely small holder-based agricultural systems through accelerated integration into competitive markets in a rapidly globalising world

Chronic and acute food insecurity remain major risks and Southern Africa still faces enormous challenges in trying to transform and commercialise its largely smallholder-based agricultural systems through accelerated integration into competitive markets in a rapidly globalising world.

These and other challenges facing the sector were the focus of a three-day meeting (Mar. 10-12) in Durban of management and experts from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which ended with a call to prioritise broad-based partnerships and build synergies to provide countries with effective and efficient support in the agriculture sector.

In an annual event designed to provide a platform for discussion and exchange of information on best practices and the general performance of FAO programmes in the region, David Phiri, FAO Sub-Regional Coordinator for Southern Africa, reiterated the importance of different sectors working together.

“Achieving food and nutrition security in Southern Africa is a challenge far too great for any government or FAO to overcome alone,” he said. “As well as the governments of developing and developed countries, the civil society, private sector and international development agencies must be involved. Above all, the people themselves need to be empowered to manage their own development.”

Building on what works

As one example of the best practices under the scrutiny of the meeting, participants took part in a field visit to the Dube AgriZone facility – a high-tech agricultural development initiative pioneered by the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Government.

The facility aims to stimulate the growth of KwaZulu-Natal’s perishables sector and aims to achieve improved agricultural yields, consistent quality, year-round production and improved management of disease and pests.

The facility – strategically located 30 km north of the important coastal city of Durban – currently incorporates 16 hectares of greenhouses, making it the largest climate-controlled growing area under glass in Africa.

Its primary focus is on the production of short shelf-life vegetables and cut flowers which require immediate post-harvest airlifting and supply to both domestic and export markets.

In addition to its greenhouses, the facility offers dedicated post-harvest packing houses, a central packing and distribution centre, a nursery and the Dube AgriLab, a sophisticated plant tissue culture laboratory.

Dube AgriZone is an eco-friendly facility, adopting a range of ‘green’ initiatives to offset its environmental impact, including rainwater harvesting, use of solar energy, on-site waste management, and the growth of indigenous plants for rehabilitation efforts.

Dube AgriZone provides growers with the potential to achieve improved agricultural yields, consistency of produce quality, close management of disease and pest infestation and year-round crop production with a view to improved sustainability and enhanced agricultural competitiveness.

“I could never have been able put up such a facility and produce at the current scale were it not for this innovative AgriZone,” said Derrick Baird, owner of Qutom Farms, which currently produces 150,000 cucumbers in the glass greenhouse leased from Dube AgriZone.

“This high-tech facility with all the necessary facilities – including transportation and freight – has allowed us to concentrate on producing cucumbers at much lower costs than in other locations where we had previously tried.”

The partnership between the provincial government and the private sector behind the facility was hailed as an example of a success story that could offer valuable lessons to others across Southern Africa.

“There is plenty we can learn from this facility and perhaps one of the more important ones is on forming partnerships and alliances,” said Tobias Takavarasha, FAO Representative in South Africa.

“We need to build on what is working by adopting and adapting technologies to the local situation, and then scaling them upwards and outwards to achieve even better results,” he added.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Development and Taxes, a Vital Piece of the Post-2015 Puzzlehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/development-and-taxes-a-vital-piece-of-the-post-2015-puzzle/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=development-and-taxes-a-vital-piece-of-the-post-2015-puzzle http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/development-and-taxes-a-vital-piece-of-the-post-2015-puzzle/#comments Fri, 20 Mar 2015 22:07:30 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139795 A fairer more cooperative global tax structure is needed to help achieve Post-2015 development goals. Credit: Eoghan OLionnain CC by SA 2.0 License https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/.

A fairer more cooperative global tax structure is needed to help achieve Post-2015 development goals. Credit: Eoghan OLionnain CC by SA 2.0 License https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/.

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 20 2015 (IPS)

Public funds are vitally important to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), making corporate tax avoidance trends a pressing issue for post-2015 Financing for Development discussions.

A draft agenda circulated this week for the Financing for Development (FfD) post-2015 Development Conference to be held in Addis Ababa in July places domestic public finances as a key action agenda item.“This is no longer an issue about developing countries versus rich countries. I think you have to get beyond geography and start thinking about this as a battle between wealthy elites and everybody else.” -- Nicholas Shaxson

The agenda acknowledges the need for greater tax cooperation considering “there are limits to how much governments can individually increase revenues in our interconnected world”.

Over 130 countries, represented by the Group of 77 (G-77), called for greater international tax cooperation to be included on the agenda, in recognition of the increasingly central role of tax systems in development.

These calls come in light of the Luxembourg Leaks and Swiss Leaks, which have revealed in recent months how some of the world’s biggest multinational corporations avoid paying billions of dollars of taxes through deals with ‘tax havens’ in wealthy countries.

Two reports out this week, from Oxfam and the Tax Justice Network, both look at the impacts of corporate tax avoidance on global inequality.

Catherine Olier, Oxfam’s European Union policy advisor, told IPS, “Corporate tax avoidance is actually a very important issue for developing countries because according to the International Monetary Fund, the poor countries are more reliant on corporate tax than rich countries.”

Olier said that considerable funds are needed to make the SDGs possible.

“If we look at what’s currently on the table in terms of Official Development Assistance (‘international aid’) or even leveraging money from the private sector, this is never going to be enough to finance the SDGs,” she said.

“Tax is definitely going to be the most sustainable and the most important source of financing,” Olier said.

Oxfam’s report called on European institutions, especially the European Commission, to “analyse the negative impacts one member state’s tax system can have on other European and developing countries, and provide public recommendations for change.”

Nicholas Shaxson from the Tax Justice Network told IPS that tax havens are predominantly wealthier countries, but that they negatively impact both rich and poor countries.

“This is no longer an issue about developing countries versus rich countries. I think you have to get beyond geography and start thinking about this as a battle between wealthy elites and everybody else,” he said. “That’s where the battle line is, that’s where the dividing line is.”

He added that corporate taxes were particularly important to developing countries, in part because it was more difficult to leverage tax revenue from a poorer constituency.

“In pure justice terms, in terms of a large wealthy multinational extracting natural resources or making profits in a developing country and not paying tax, I think that nearly everyone in the world would agree in their gut that there’s something wrong with that situation,” Shaxson said.

Shaxson is the author of the Tax Justice Network’s (TJN) report: Ten Reasons to Defend the Corporation Tax, published earlier this week.

The report argues that trillions of dollars of public spending is at risk, and that if current trends continue, corporate headline taxes will reach zero in the next two to three decades.

Meanwhile, Oxfam reported in January that the “combined wealth of the richest 1 percent will overtake that of the other 99 percent of people next year [2016] unless the current trend of rising inequality is checked.”

Oxfam is calling for a Ministerial Roundtable to be held at the FfD Conference to help facilitate the establishment of a U.N. inter-governmental body on tax cooperation.

Olier told IPS that while developing countries have expressed support for greater tax cooperation, there has so far been less support from Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member countries, including European countries and the United States.

Follow Lyndal Rowlands on Twitter @LyndalRowlands

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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World’s Richest One Percent Undermine Fight Against Economic Inequalitieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/worlds-richest-one-percent-undermine-fight-against-economic-inequalities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=worlds-richest-one-percent-undermine-fight-against-economic-inequalities http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/worlds-richest-one-percent-undermine-fight-against-economic-inequalities/#comments Thu, 19 Mar 2015 13:34:28 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139765 Farmers with the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) protest the concentration of land ownership in Brazil, during a Feb. 21 demonstration in support of the occupation of part of the Agropecuaria Santa Mônica estate, 150 km from Brasilia. Credit: Courtesy of the MST

Farmers with the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) protest the concentration of land ownership in Brazil, during a Feb. 21 demonstration in support of the occupation of part of the Agropecuaria Santa Mônica estate, 150 km from Brasilia. Credit: Courtesy of the MST

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 19 2015 (IPS)

The growing economic inequalities between rich and poor – and the lopsided concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the world’s one percent – are undermining international efforts to fight global poverty, environmental degradation and social injustice, according to a civil society alliance.

Comprising ActionAid, Greenpeace, Oxfam and Civicus, the group of widely-known non-governmental organisations (NGO) and global charities warn about the widening gap and imbalance of power between the world’s richest and the rest of the population, which they say, is “warping the rules and policies that affect society, creating a vicious circle of ever growing and harmful undue influence.”"Inequality is about more than economics and growth – it is now at such high levels that we risk a return to the oligarchy of the gilded age. " -- Ben Phillips of ActionAid

The group identifies a list of key concerns – including tax avoidance, wealth inequality and lack of access to healthcare – as being unduly influenced by the world’s wealthiest one percent.

In a statement released Thursday, on the eve of the World Social Forum (WSF) scheduled to take place in Tunis Mar. 24-28, the group argues the concentration of wealth and power is now a critical and binding factor that must be challenged “if we are to create lasting solutions to poverty and climate change.”

The statement – signed by the chief executives of the four organisations – says: “We cannot rely on technological fixes. We cannot rely on the market. And we cannot rely on the global elites. We need to help strengthen the power of the people to challenge the people with power.”

“Securing a just and sustainable world means challenging the power of the one percent,” the group says.

The signatories include Adriano Campolina of ActionAid, Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah of Civicus, Kumi Naidoo of Greenpeace and Winnie Byanyima of Oxfam.

Asked about the impact of economic inequalities on the implementation of the U.N.’s highly touted Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Ben Phillips, campaigns and policy director at ActionAid International, told IPS economic inequalities have meant that in many countries progress on poverty reduction has been much slower than it would have been if growth had been more equal.

For example, he said, Zambia has moved from being a poor country (officially) to being (officially) middle income. Yet during that time the absolute number of poor people has increased.

India’s persistently high child malnutrition rate and South Africa’s persistently high mortality rate are functions of an insufficient focus on inequality, he added.

Papua New Guinea has the highest growth in the world this year and won’t meet any MDG, because the proceeds of growth are so unequally shared, he pointed out.

Speaking on behalf of the civil society alliance, Phillips said inequality has also been the great blind spot of the MDGs – even when countries have met the MDGs they have often done so in a way that has left behind the poorest people – so goals like reducing maternal and infant mortality have been met in several countries in ways that have left those at the bottom of the pile with little or no improvement.

The four signatories say: “We will work together with others to tackle the root causes of inequality. We will press governments to tackle tax dodging, ensure progressive taxes, provide universal free public health and education services, support workers’ bargaining power, and narrow the gap between rich and poor. We will together champion international cooperation to avoid a race to the bottom.”

The statement also says that global efforts to end poverty and marginalisation, advance women’s rights, defend the environment, protect human rights, and promote fair and dignified employment are all being undermined as a consequence of the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few.

“Decisions are being shaped in the narrow interests of the richest, at the expense of the people as a whole,” it says.

“The economic, ecological and human rights crises we face are intertwined and reinforcing. The influence of the one percent has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished,” the group warns.

“Faced with this challenge, we need to go beyond tinkering, and address the structural causes of inequality: we cannot rely on technological fixes – there is no app for this; we cannot rely on the market – unchecked it will worsen inequality and climate change; and we cannot rely on the global elites – left alone they will continue to reinforce the structures and approaches that have led to where we are”.

People’s mobilisation and active citizenship are crucial to change the power inequalities that are leading to worsening rights violations and inequality, the group says.

However, in all regions of the world, the more people mobilise to defend their rights, the more the civic and political space is being curtailed by repressive action defending the privileged.

“We therefore pledge to work together locally, nationally and internationally, alongside others, to uphold and defend universal human rights and protect civil society space. A more equal society that values everyone depends on citizens holding the powerful to account.”

Phillips told IPS even the U.N.’s proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to be approved at a summit meeting of world leaders in September, will not be achievable if economic inequalities continue.

As leading economist Andy Sumner of King’s College, London has demonstrated, “we find in our number-crunching that poverty can only be ended if inequality falls.” Additionally, healthy, liveable societies depend on government action to limit inequality.

It is also a question of voice, and power. In the words of Harry Belafonte, a Hollywood celebrity and political activist: “The concentration of money in the hands of a small group is the most dangerous thing that happened to civilization.”

Or as Jeff Sachs, a widely respected development expert and professor at Columbia University, has noted: “Corporations write the rules, pay the politicians, sometimes illegally and sometimes, via what is called legal, which is financing their campaigns or massive lobbying. This has got completely out of control and is leading to the breakdown of modern democracy.”

Phillips said tackling inequality is core to progress on tackling poverty – both because extreme and growing economic inequality will undermine poverty reduction and because the warping of power towards the one percent is shifting the focus of governments away from their citizens and towards corporations.

“Inequality is about more than economics and growth – it is now at such high levels that we risk a return to the oligarchy of the gilded age. We need to shift power away from the one percent and towards the rest of society, to prevent all decisions being made in the narrow interests of a privileged few,” he declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Banana Workers’ Strike Highlights Abuses by Corporations in Costa Ricahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/banana-workers-strike-highlights-abuses-by-corporations-in-costa-rica/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=banana-workers-strike-highlights-abuses-by-corporations-in-costa-rica http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/banana-workers-strike-highlights-abuses-by-corporations-in-costa-rica/#comments Wed, 18 Mar 2015 20:00:31 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139738 Workers on strike at the Sixaola plantation in Costa Rica’s Caribbean region rest after sharing a pot of beans, while they wait for news from the leaders of their trade union about the conflict with the transnational corporation Fresh Del Monte . Credit: Fabián Hernández Mena/IPS

Workers on strike at the Sixaola plantation in Costa Rica’s Caribbean region rest after sharing a pot of beans, while they wait for news from the leaders of their trade union about the conflict with the transnational corporation Fresh Del Monte. Credit: Fabián Hernández Mena/IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Mar 18 2015 (IPS)

A strike that has brought activity to a halt since January on three major banana plantations on Costa Rica’s southern Caribbean coast, along the border with Panama, has highlighted the abuses in a sector in the hands of transnational corporations and has forced the governments of both countries to intervene.

More than 300 labourers, almost all of them indigenous Panamanians working on plantations for a branch of the U.S. corporation Fresh Del Monte, have been on strike since Jan. 16 to protest harassment of trade unionists, changes in schedules and working conditions, delayed payment of wages and dismissals considered illegal.

“The company laid us off on Dec. 31 and when it rehired us on Jan. 3 it said we were new workers and that any modification of the work applied to us. But according to legal precedent, to be considered a new worker at least a month has to go by,” Federico Abrego, one of the striking workers from Panama, told Tierramérica by phone from the area.

Abrego and most of the more than 300 workers on strike on the Sixaola plantations 1, 2 and 3 belong to the Ngöbe and Bugle indigenous groups, who live in a self-governed indigenous county in Panama across the border from Costa Rica, where many go to find work.

Between 70 and 90 percent of Panama’s 417,000 indigenous people live in poverty, according to a 2014 United Nations report.

Observers say the latest conflict between workers and Fresh Del Monte in the Caribbean municipality of Talamanca, 250 km southeast of San José, is the result of decades of accumulation of land on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, mainly by large foreign banana producers, but in recent years by pineapple growers as well.

Talamanca is in the second-to-last place among the country’s 81 municipalities in the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Human Development Index. Most of Talamanca’s population is indigenous, and banana and plantain plantations cover 37 percent of the territory.

“The plantations that are on strike belong to Corbana (Corporación Bananera Nacional) and are leased to Fresh Del Monte,” lawmaker Gerardo Vargas, who represents the Caribbean coastal province of Limón, told Tierramérica. “Two years ago there was a big strike over the subhuman conditions, poor wages and immigration problems and a union was founded.”

“In December the contract with Corbana expired, and when they renewed it, the company did something that infringed the rules: they set up a new union, dismissed all of the workers, and only hired back those who were in the new union. The new conflict broke out as a result,” said Vargas, of the left-wing Broad Front coalition.

Corbana was created by the government and the owners of banana plantations to bolster production and trade. In the past it also produced bananas on land that it now leases to companies that basically use the property as their own.

“The concentration of land in Limón is getting dangerous,” warned the legislator from the banana-producing province. “Today hundreds and hundreds of families have to sell their land to become hired labour.”

Abrego is a classic example of these plantation workers. The 53-year-old Gnöbe Indian has been working on banana plantations in Costa Rica since 1993. He now lives with his wife and eight children, half of whom are still of school age, in a house that belongs to the Banana Development Corporation (Bandeco), a branch of Fresh Del Monte.

“My fellow strikers ask me about the food and tell me the same thing my family tells me at home: that they don’t have anything to eat while we’re waiting to be rehired,” said Abrego, the leader of the trade union at the Sixaola 3 plantation.

A burnt vehicle that workers on strike at a Sixaola banana plantation in Costa Rica’s Caribbean coastal region say was set on fire as part of the violent actions against them carried out in reprisal by banana-growing companies. Credit: Fabián Hernández Mena/IPS

A burnt vehicle that workers on strike at a Sixaola banana plantation in Costa Rica’s Caribbean coastal region say was set on fire as part of the violent actions against them carried out in reprisal by banana-growing companies. Credit: Fabián Hernández Mena/IPS

“I’m trying to get by without an income, with what I can scrounge up. But there are guys with small children who are having a harder time,” he said with a heavy heart, before explaining that the striking workers prepared communal meals to survive.

An estimated 95 percent of the strikers are indigenous people from Panama. “We’re on this side (of the border) for work,” said Abrego, a legal resident in Costa Rica. “We didn’t come here to steal or to take the bread out of anyone’s mouth. It’s rare to see a Costa Rican working on a banana plantation.”

The strike escalated when banana workers from Panama blocked traffic for a number of hours on the bridge over the Sixaola river, which connects Costa Rica and Panama, on Feb. 20-21.

The roadblock and the fact that the strike is being held by Panamanians on a Costa Rican plantation forced both governments to establish a negotiating table after an agreement reached on Feb. 27, which is to deliver its recommendations in a month.

Taking part in the talks are representatives of Bandeco, the local branch of the Sitepp (Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Empresa Pública y Privada) trade union, Costa Rica’s Ministry of Labour and Social Security, and Panama’s Ministry of Labour.

Besides the creation of the binational commission and its report, the agreement included “the company’s promise to immediately rehire 64 workers and to not evict the dismissed workers from their homes,” Costa Rica’s Deputy Minister of Labour Harold Villegas told Tierramérica.

The plantations in Costa Rica’s Caribbean coastal region are the scenario of frequent conflicts between workers and the big banana companies, and the current strike on the Sixaola plantations is just one example. In 2013, Sitepp held a strike to protest poor working conditions and the complaints are piling up in the Ministry of Labour.

In May 2014, an inspection by the ministry revealed a number of violations of the country’s labour laws and ordered the companies to redress them.

For example, according to the report by the national inspection office, “on occasion, company officials use different forms of intimidation against the workers, either through verbal abuse or shouting or practices of labour harassment.”

“After these denunciations were made, they set up a union, tailored to the needs of the company,” the president of Sitepp, Luis Serrano, told Tierramérica. “Through that union they were trying to take over the negotiation of the collective bargaining agreement that expired in December. They launched a campaign against us and started to give benefits to the union in alliance with the company, which they created.”

The union leaders complain that despite the binational agreement, they have not yet received food support from the institutions, although the 64 workers covered by the accord were rehired.

A large proportion of the banana industry is in the hands of transnational corporations. Besides Fresh Del Monte, there are branches of other U.S. firms like Chiquita Brands, which controls 24 percent of the country’s banana exports, or the Dole Food Company.

The banana industry carries a heavy weight in the country, especially the Caribbean coastal region. According to statistics from Corbana, it employs 6.2 percent of Costa Rica’s workforce and 77 percent of all workers in the Caribbean region.

The industry represents seven percent of the country’s exports, and last year it brought in 900 million dollars.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Why Investors Should Think Twice before Investing in Coal in India – Part 1http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/why-investors-should-think-twice-before-investing-in-coal-in-india-part-1/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=why-investors-should-think-twice-before-investing-in-coal-in-india-part-1 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/why-investors-should-think-twice-before-investing-in-coal-in-india-part-1/#comments Wed, 18 Mar 2015 11:47:44 +0000 Chaitanya Kumar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139724 Indian coal workers. India announced in November last year that it plans to double coal production to a whopping 1 billion tonnes per annum before the end of this decade, a feat that is going to be highly improbable to pull off. Photo credit: Jaipal Singh/EPA

Indian coal workers. India announced in November last year that it plans to double coal production to a whopping 1 billion tonnes per annum before the end of this decade, a feat that is going to be highly improbable to pull off. Photo credit: Jaipal Singh/EPA

By Chaitanya Kumar
NEW DELHI, Mar 18 2015 (IPS)

India’s Government under Narendra Modi is in overdrive mode to please businesses and investments in the country. The much aggrandised ‘Make in India’ campaign launched in September 2014 is a clarion call for spurring investments into manufacturing and services in India and all eyes have turned to the power sector which is expected to undergo dramatic shifts.

Piyush Goyal, India’s power minister, announced in November last year that he plans to double coal production in India to a whopping 1 billion tonnes per annum before the end of this decade, a feat that is going to be highly improbable to pull off.

In an effort to enhance production, the Indian government has started a process of auctioning coal blocks, which were de-allocated by the country’s Supreme Court as a result of the coal scam that hit the country in 2012 (and resulted in notional losses of 30 billion dollars to India’s exchequer).

With domestic miners already having shown an aggressive interest in bidding at the first auction last month, a total of 204 coal blocks are set to be auctioned over the next 12 months. The first 32 auctioned blocks have yielded more than 35 billion dollars, exceeding the nominal losses from the coal scam.“[Indian] Prime Minister Modi has made it clear that he does not intend to give into … pressure [to take further action on climate change and rethink its energy options] from any nation but he also cannot afford the ignominy of being singled out as a country that is blocking progressive climate action in Paris”

Coupled with the auctions is the disinvestment of Coal India Limited (CIL), the world’s largest coal mining company. A 10 percent stake sale in early February resulted in a mixed bag response. Another state owned firm, LIC India, lapped up 50 percent of the stocks alongside a couple of international investment funds and a few Indian firms. The move generated 3.6 billion dollars in revenues for the government.

The auctions and the disinvestment of CIL can provide short-term reprieve to India’s energy and fiscal deficit woes, but there are four reasons why investors and the government should be really wary of investing in coal for the long run (10-15 years). The following are the first two.

Unburnable carbon

The reality that a large proportion of coal and other fossil fuels should be left in the ground is rapidly becoming clear to big business and governments around the world. By signing on to a global agreement that pledges to limit the rise in the earth’s surface temperature to 2 degrees Celsius, India along with other major carbon emitters have effectively signalled the imminent decline in the use of fossil fuels in order to avoid the worst impacts of global warming.

To achieve this much needed and agreed upon limit on temperature rise, 82 percent of known global coal reserves should remain unextracted. This roughly translates into 66 percent of known coal reserves in India and China that should be left in the ground, according to a study published in the reputed journal Nature.

These stranded assets, or unburnable carbon, is what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the scientific body that informs climate policy around the world, also highlighted in its recent report on climate change mitigation.

This new reality is unravelling quicker than expected and gaining credence from the most unlikely of places. Even the International Energy Agency (IEA), which has faced consistent criticism in underplaying the role of renewable energy in favour of nuclear and fossil fuels, stated recently that “no more than one-third of proven reserves of fossil fuels can be consumed prior to 2050 if the world is to achieve the 2 degrees C goal”.

IEA’s Chief Economist Fatih Birol warned that “we need to change our way of consuming energy within the next three or four years,” because, otherwise, “in 2017, all of the emissions that allow us to stay under 2°C will be locked in.”

Coal is fast losing the rug under its feet. Nick Nuttall, the spokesman for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) said of divestment: “We support divestment as it sends a signal to companies, especially coal companies, that the age of ‘burn what you like, when you like’ cannot continue.

This proposition will be contested fiercely by the Indian government as much as by any fossil fuel company, but as nations – under pressure – prepare to deliver a strong global climate agreement at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Paris in December, long-term investments in coal in this rapidly growing economy will stand on very thin ice.

Even U.S. President Barack Obama’s statements during his recent visit to India suggest diplomatic pressure on India to take further action on climate change and rethink its energy options for the immediate future.

Prime Minister Modi has made it clear that he does not intend to give into such pressure from any nation but he also cannot afford the ignominy of being singled out as a country that is blocking progressive climate action in Paris.

Thermal coal reaches retirement age – it’s time for renewable energy

A new report from Goldman Sachs starts with this gem of a sentence:  “Just as a worker celebrating their 65th birthday can settle into a more sedate lifestyle while they look back on past achievements, we argue that thermal coal has reached its retirement age.”

The latest data reveal that coal consumption is declining in many parts of the world, including across Europe as a whole, the United States and now, surprisingly, even China registered a small but historic decline in its coal consumption last year. The retirement of dirty coal plants in developed economies is set to cement this trend in the coming few years.

The most recent blow comes from the world’s largest sovereign fund, as Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG), worth 850 billion dollars, announced that it had dumped 40 major coal mining companies from its portfolio on environmental and climate grounds.

Besides the climate concern, economics is increasingly in favour of alternative sources of energy, such as wind and solar.

In 2014, we saw a precipitous drop in the cost of solar energy in India. Bidding prices came down as low as 6.5 rupees a unit, a 61 percent drop over the last three years, compared with the average unit price of conventional energy like coal at around 5.5 rupees a unit.

Coupled with dramatic drops in costs of solar equipment such as panels, alongside operational, capital and maintenance costs, the path is clearly open for solar to achieve grid parity by 2017.

Meanwhile, onshore wind has in fact become the cheapest way to generate electricity in the world, laying the claims of cheap coal to rest. A report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), an intergovernmental research organisation, has laid bare the facts.

According to the report, the levelised cost of energy or LCOE (that is, all costs considered except externalities like subsidies or environmental impacts) for solar and wind already makes them highly competitive with fossil fuel-based electricity.

The oft cited issues of high capital costs and intermittency notwithstanding, prices of small-scale residential rooftop solar systems also dropped in the range of 40-65 percent between 2008 and 2014 in Europe and the United States.

What does this mean for coal in India? If the above numbers are any measure of the future of the energy sector, heavy investments in coal beyond this decade would be economic suicide.

Coal plants once established have a lifetime of at least 30 years and given the market volatility for coal, owing to rising costs of mining and uncertain fuel supply agreements, greater prices for end consumers is inevitable.

Many pundits in India appreciate this reality and the government has given the right indicators on its pursuit of renewable energy. With a target of 165 GW, India has set an ambitious goal of adding 60 percent to its total current capacity from just solar and wind by 2022.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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

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Women Turn Drought into a Lesson on Sustainabilityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/women-turn-drought-into-a-lesson-on-sustainability/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-turn-drought-into-a-lesson-on-sustainability http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/women-turn-drought-into-a-lesson-on-sustainability/#comments Tue, 17 Mar 2015 19:35:16 +0000 Zofeen Ebrahim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139719 Women in Pakistan fare worse than all their neighbours in terms of resilience to climate change. Credit: Ali Mansoor/IPS

Women in Pakistan fare worse than all their neighbours in terms of resilience to climate change. Credit: Ali Mansoor/IPS

By Zofeen Ebrahim
KARACHI, Mar 17 2015 (IPS)

When a group of women in the remote village of Sadhuraks in Pakistan’s Thar Desert, some 800 km from the port city of Karachi, were asked if they would want to be born a woman in their next life, the answer from each was a resounding ‘no’.

They have every reason to be unhappy with their gender, mostly because of the unequal division of labour between men and women in this vast and arid region that forms a natural boundary between India and Pakistan.

"South Asian countries need to realise the tremendous capacity for leadership women have in planning for and responding to disasters." -- David Line, managing editor of The Economist Intelligence Unit
“A woman’s work is never done,” one woman says.

“She works in the fields as well as the home, fetches water, eats less,” adds another.

Others say women are compelled to perform manual labour even while pregnant, and some lament they cannot take care of themselves, with so many others to look after.

While this mantra rings true for millions of impoverished women around the world, it takes on a whole new meaning in Tharparkar, one of 23 districts that comprise Pakistan’s Sindh Province, which has been ranked by the World Food Programme (WFP) as the most food insecure region of the country.

But a scheme to include women in adaptation and mitigation efforts is gaining ground in this drought-struck region, where the simple act of moving from one day to the next has become a life-and-death struggle for many.

Over 500 infant deaths were reported last year, the third consecutive drought year for the region. Malnutrition and hunger are rampant, while thousands of families cannot find water.

In its 2013 report, the State of Food Security, the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) listed Tharparkar as the region with the country’s highest caloric deficit, a by-product of what it labels a “chronic” food crisis, prompted by climate change.

Of the 1.5 million people spread out over 2,300 villages in an area spanning 22,000 square km, the women are bearing the brunt of this slow and recurring disaster.

Tanveer Arif who heads the NGO Society for Conservation and Protection of Environment (SCOPE) tells IPS that women not only have to look after the children, they are also forced to fill a labour gap caused by an exodus of men migrating to urban areas in search of jobs.

With their husbands gone, women must also tend to the livestock, fetch water from distant sources when their household wells run dry, care for the elderly, and keep up the tradition of subsistence farming – a near impossible task in a drought-prone region that is primed to become hotter and drier by 2030, according to the Pakistan Meteorological Department.

The promise of harder times ahead has been a wakeup call for local communities and policymakers alike that building resilience is the only defense against a rising death toll.

Women here are painfully aware that they need to learn how to store surplus food, identify drought-resilient crops and wean themselves off agriculture as a sole means of survival, thinking that has been borne out in recent studies on the region.

Conservation brings empowerment

The answer presented itself in the form of a small, thorny tree called the mukul myrrh, which produces a gum resin that is widely used for a range of cosmetic and medicinal purposes, known here as guggal.

Until recently, the plant was close to extinction, and sparked conservation efforts to keep the species alive in the face of ruthless extraction – 40 kg of the gum resin fetches anything from 196 to 392 dollars.

Today, those very efforts are doubling up as adaptation and resiliency strategies among the women of Tharparkar.

Women often bare the brunt of natural disasters since they are responsible for the upkeep of the household and the wellbeing of their families. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Women often bare the brunt of natural disasters since they are responsible for the upkeep of the household and the wellbeing of their families. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

It began in 2013, when SCOPE launched a project with support from the Scottish government to involve women in conservation. Today, some 2,000 women across Tharparkar are growing guggal gum trees; it has brought nutrition, a better income and food security to all their families.

“For the first time in so many years, we did not migrate […] in search of a livelihood,” 35-year-old Resham Wirdho, a mother of seven, tells IPS over the phone from Sadhuraks.

She says her family gets 100 rupees (about 0.98 dollars) from the NGO for every plant she raises successfully. With 500 plants on her one-acre plot of land, she makes about 49 dollars each month. Combining this with her husband’s earnings of about 68 dollars a month as a farmhand, they no longer have to worry where the next meal will come from.

They used some of their excess income to plant crops in their backyard. “This year for the first time, instead of feeding my children dried vegetables, I fed them fresh ones,” she says enthusiastically.

For the past year, they have not had to buy groceries on credit from the village store. They are also able to send the eldest of their seven kids to college.

Women in Pakistan’s drought-struck Tharparkar District are shouldering the burden of a long dry spell that is wreaking havoc across the desert region. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Women in Pakistan’s drought-struck Tharparkar District are shouldering the burden of a long dry spell that is wreaking havoc across the desert region. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Wirdho says it is a gift that keeps on giving. In the next three years, each of the trees they planted will fetch at least five dollars, amounting to net earnings of 2,450 dollars – a princely sum for families in this area who typically earn between 78 and 98 dollars monthly.

And finally, the balance of power between Wirdho and her husband is shifting. “He is more respectful and not only helps me water and take care of the plants, but with the housework as well – something he never did before,” she confesses.

Lessons from Pakistan for South Asia

The success of a single scheme in a Pakistani desert holds seeds of knowledge for the entire region, where experts have long been pushing for a gendered approach to sustainable development.

With 2015 poised to be a watershed year – including several scheduled international conferences on climate change, many believe the time is ripe to reduce women’s vulnerability by including them in planning and policies.

Such a move is badly needed in South Asia, home to 1.6 billion people, where women comprise the majority of the roughly 660 million people living on less than 1.25 dollars a day. They also account for 50 percent of the agricultural labour force, thus are susceptible to changes in climate and ecosystems.

The region is highly prone to natural disasters, and with the population projected to hit 2.2 billion by 2050 experts fear the outcome of even minor natural disasters on the most vulnerable sectors of society, such as the women.

A recent report by The Economist’s Intelligence Unit (EIU), ‘The South Asia Women’s Resilience Index’, concluded, “South Asian countries largely fail to consider the rights of women to be included in their disaster risk reduction (DRR) and resilience-building efforts.”

Using Japan – with a per capita relief budget 200 times that of India, Pakistan or Bangladesh – as a benchmark, the index measured women’s vulnerability to natural calamities, economic shifts and conflict.

A bold indictment of women’s voices going unheard, the report put Pakistan last on the index, lower than Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

On all four categories considered by the EIU in measuring women’s resiliency – economic, infrastructural, institutional and social – Pakistan scored near the bottom. On indicators such as relief budgets and women’s access to employment and finance, it lagged behind all its neighbours.

According to David Line, managing editor of The Economist Intelligence Unit, “South Asian countries need to realise the tremendous capacity for leadership women have in planning for and responding to disasters. They are at the ‘front line’ and have intimate knowledge of their communities. Wider recognition of this could greatly reduce disaster risk and improve the resilience of these communities.”

And if further proof is needed, just talk to the women of Tharparkar.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Caribbean Community Climate-Smarting Fisheries, But Slowlyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/caribbean-community-climate-smarting-fisheries-but-slowly/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=caribbean-community-climate-smarting-fisheries-but-slowly http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/caribbean-community-climate-smarting-fisheries-but-slowly/#comments Tue, 17 Mar 2015 14:08:07 +0000 Zadie Neufville http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139705 Vendors at the fish market in Belize. Courtesy of the Fisheries Department Belize City, Belize.

Vendors at the fish market in Belize. Courtesy of the Fisheries Department Belize City, Belize.

By Zadie Neufville
KINGSTON, Mar 17 2015 (IPS)

Caribbean nations have begun work on a plan to ‘climate smart’ the region’s fisheries as part of overall efforts to secure food supplies.

The concept is in keeping with plans by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) to improve the “integration of agriculture and climate readiness” as the region prepares to deal with the impacts of climate change and the increasing demand for food.“With the projections, we're looking at almost total loss of our corals. For us in the Caribbean our reefs are important, not from the perspective of tourism, but from the perspective of livelihoods when you consider fisheries." -- Dr. Orville Grey

Olu Ajayi, CTA’s senior programme coordinator, told IPS in an email that climate-smarting the region’s aquatic resources will “enable the sector to continue to contribute to sustainable development, while reducing the vulnerability associated with the negative impacts of climate change”.

“Climate-smart fisheries require improving efficiency in the use of natural resources to produce fish, maintaining the resilience of aquatic systems and the communities that rely on them,” he noted.

The fisheries sector of the Caribbean Community is an important source of livelihoods and sustenance for the estimated 182,000 people who directly depend on these resources. In recent years, fishermen across the region have reported fewer and smaller fish in their nets and scientists believe these are signs of the times, not just the result of over-exploitation and habitat degradation.

“We believe the signs of climate change are already affecting our vital fisheries sector in the increase in seaweed events causing the loss of access to fishing grounds and increased frequency of coral bleaching events,” Peter A. Murray, Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) Secretariat’s Programme Manager, Fisheries Management and Development, told IPS.

Listing some of the predicted changes, including climatic variations that promote the spread of invasive species, as well as increased salination, Murray noted that climate change is also expected to impact traditional species and contribute to coastal erosion due to more frequent and devastating hurricanes.

In fact, the secretariat’s Deputy Executive Director Susan Singh Renton told reporters at the Caribbean Week of Agriculture last November that warmer seas could also push larger species to the north, making them less available to regional fishers. CRFM is the Caricom organisation charged with the promotion of responsible use of regional fisheries.

Two weeks after launching its Climate Smart Agriculture project at the 13th celebration of Caribbean Week of Agriculture in Paramaribo, Suriname in November 2014, the CTA began development of several initiatives. The programmes, they said would help the region to “tackle the impact of agriculture on small-scale producers” – among them small-scale fishers and fish farmers – in a way that will facilitate the construction of “resilient agricultural systems”.

The project came on the heels of the announcement of a Caribbean Community Common Fisheries Policy (CCCFP) and the CRFM Climate Change Action Plan. These are two of several proposals by Community organisations to monitor and regulate capture fisheries as well as implement common goals and rules on the adaptation, management, and conservation of the resources.

Ajayi pointed out that since 2010, the CTA has been working closely with regional agencies including the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (5Cs) and the CRFM to implement the Regional Framework for Achieving Development Resilience to Climate Change.

Timely, since some of the species most fished and traded by the region’s fishermen are already under pressure from over-exploitation, degraded habitats and pollution. The Queen Conch, the Caribbean Spiny Lobster, the Nassau Grouper and the Parrotfish are among a growing list of species under closer scrutiny for tougher regulations on their capture and trade. Climate change is expected to make the problems worse.

“The support is aimed at developing common regional policy platforms and advocating regional policy initiatives in regional and global forums; strengthening national capacities through training and other supports and conducting comparative analyses of issues on a regional and sub-regional basis,” Ajayi said.

Scientists agree that there is need for immediate action. Technical officer in Jamaica’s Climate Change Division, Dr. Orville Grey, told reporters recently at the Jamaica Observer’s weekly exchange: “If you look at what is happening with sea surface temperatures, you’ll see that we are losing our corals through the warming of the oceans.”

He continued, “With the projections, we’re looking at almost total loss of our corals. For us in the Caribbean our reefs are important, not from the perspective of tourism, but from the perspective of livelihoods when you consider fisheries”.

Murray pointed out that because the marine resources are shared, it is important that the Caribbean Community work together to implement supporting policies and agreements.

He noted, “The region has an action plan to address climate change in fisheries, but to be fully ready it has to be taken aboard by all stakeholders.”

There are also efforts to empower fisherfolk to access and share information that will enable them to participate in policy development at the local and regional levels. But fisherfolk are still not ready.

Mitchell Lay, coordinator of the Caribbean Network of Fisherfolk Organisations (CNFO), said, however, climate smarting is on the group’s agenda for 2015

Both governments and NGOs have upped their activities to protect the resources. But while the former has been slow to act at the national and regional levels, environmentalists are upping the ante by seeking protection for several species that are seen to be in need of protection.

Two years ago, U.S.-based WildEarth Guardian petitioned to have the Queen Conch listed as threatened or endangered under U.S. law. For Caribbean nations like the Turks and Caicos Islands, the Bahamas, Jamaica and Belize that depend on economically important species like conch and lobster, the ability to trade is critical to the local economies.

On Nov. 3, 2014 the NOAA denied the petition, but many believe regional trade of these species is on borrowed time, particularly as the effects of climate change grows.

“The CRFM Action Plan seeks to work towards a regional society and economy that is resilient to a changing climate and enhanced through comprehensive disaster management and sustainable use of aquatic resources,” Murray said.

He pointed to the five objectives of the plan, which among other things include actions to mainstream climate change adaptation into the sustainable development agendas of member states, and promoting actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and employing renewable and clean energy sources. Historically, however, the region has been slow to enact Community policies.

Key to successful climate smarting is the participation of the fisherfolk who have been the beneficiaries of several CTA-sponsored programmes to help them access information; assist them to become more efficient; and to enable them to engage in policy development at the local and regional levels.

The next steps are dependent on the implementation of relevant and necessary policies and the strengthening the legislation. Until then, fisherfolk and supporting institutions continue to wait.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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