Inter Press Service » Trade & Investment Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 22 Aug 2014 14:39:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Cuba Sees Its Future in Mariel Port, Hand in Hand with Brazil Fri, 22 Aug 2014 13:16:51 +0000 Patricia Grogg The container terminal administrative building in the port of the Mariel special economic development zone in Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The container terminal administrative building in the port of the Mariel special economic development zone in Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Aug 22 2014 (IPS)

The Mariel special economic development zone, the biggest construction project undertaken in decades in Cuba, emerged thanks to financial support from Brazil, which was based on political goodwill, a strategy of integration, and business vision.

“Cuba would not have been able to undertake this project from a technical or economic point of view,” economist Esteban Morales told IPS. He added that the geographic setting makes the development zone strategic in terms of trade, industry and services in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Brazil financed the construction of the container terminal and the remodeling of the port of Mariel, which is equipped with state-of-the-art technology to handle cargo from Post-Panamax container ships that will begin to arrive when the expansion of the Panama Canal is completed in December 2015.

Post-Panamax refers to vessels that do not fit in the current Panama Canal, such as the supertankers and the largest modern container and passenger ships.

The port, 45 km west of Havana, is located along the route of the main maritime transport flows in the Western hemisphere, and experts say it will be the largest industrial port in the Caribbean in terms of both size and volume of activity.

Construction of the terminal, in the heart of the 465 sq km special economic development zone, has included highways connecting the Mariel port with the rest of the country, a railway network, and communication infrastructure, and the port will offer a variety of services.

In the special zone, currently under construction, there will be productive, trade, agricultural, port, logistical, training, recreational, tourist, real estate, and technological development and innovation activities, in installations that include merchandise distribution centres and industrial parks.

The special zone is divided into eight sectors, to be developed in stages. The first involves telecommunications and a modern technology park where pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms will operate – two sectors which will be given priority in Mariel, along with renewable energies, agriculture and food, among others.

The Cuban government is currently studying the approval of 23 projects from Europe, Asia and the Americas for Mariel, in the chemical, construction materials, logistics and equipment rental industries.

The terminal was inaugurated on Jan. 27, and during its first six months of operation it received 57 ships and some 15,000 containers – small numbers compared to the terminal’s warehouse capacity of 822,000 containers. Post-Panamax vessels can carry up to 12,600 containers, three times more than Panamax ships.

Another economist, Pedro Monreal, estimates that the cost per container will be cut in half.

The lower costs, he said, will improve the competitiveness of Brazil’s manufactured goods, to cite one example. Mariel, where a free trade zone will also operate, could become a platform for production and export by the companies, even for supplying Brazil’s domestic market.

Heavy machinery prepares the terrain for a railway that will form part of the new infrastructure linked to the special development zone in the port of Mariel – the biggest project undertaken in Cuba in decades: Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Heavy machinery prepares the terrain for a railway that will form part of the new infrastructure linked to the special development zone in the port of Mariel – the biggest project undertaken in Cuba in decades: Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Although Decree Law 313, which created the special economic development zone, was passed in September 2013, the remodeling of Mariel began three years ago, led by a joint venture formed in February 2010 by the Compañía de Obras e Infraestructura, a subsidiary of the private Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht, and Quality Cuba SA.

The container terminal is run by Global Ports Management Limited of Singapore, one of the world’s biggest container terminal operators, which has been working with the Cuban firm Almacenes Universales S.A, which is the owner and user of the terminal, and responsible for oversight of its efficient use.

The relationship between Cuba and Brazil is a longstanding one. Former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2010) did not hide his sympathies for the Cuban revolution, and has visited this country a number of times, first as a trade unionist and political party leader, and then as a president and former president.

Two packages of agreements signed in 2008 and 2010 between Lula and Cuban President Raúl Castro marked their interest in strengthening bilateral ties, an effort continued by current Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.

When she attended the inauguration of the terminal, Rousseff said the project would take 802 million dollars in the first stage, plus 290 million for the second stage. The first of Brazil’s loans was initially to go towards construction of the road, but the local government decided to start with the port.

The credit was granted by Brazil’s National Bank of Economic and Social Development (BNDES). Havana provided 15 percent of the investment needed for the work.

“Cuba is a priority for our government, and Brazil is important to Havana,” the director general of the Brazilian Agency for the Promotion of Exports and Investments (APEX-Brazil), Hipólito Rocha, told IPS.

APEX-Brazil was created by Lula and Castro to promote joint business ventures with Cuba, the rest of the Caribbean and Central America.

Odebrecht is the most important company involved in Mariel, but diplomatic sources told IPS that a total of around 400 Brazilian companies are taking part in the project. “Between our countries there is affinity, political will, an interest in integration, but business matters are also important,” Rocha said.

He added that Cuba strictly lives up to its financial commitments with Brazil, and said bilateral relations “are solid, sustainable and bring benefits to our country as well.”

Analyst Arturo López-Levy said Brazil’s involvement in the Mariel project was decisive not only because of the investment. The political scientist, who lives in the United States, says the Brazilian government is sending a message to Washington and the European Union and other emerging powers that it backs the transformations underway in Cuba.

The presidents of China, Xi Jinping, and Russia, Vladimir Putin, also sent out signals when they visited Cuba in July, indicating their interest in expanding cooperation with Havana.

The two presidents stopped over in Cuba when they travelled to the sixth summit of the BRICS group (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), held Jul. 14-16 in Brazil.

The strengthening of ties promises greater access to the Chinese and Russian markets, attraction of investment in areas of common interest like the pharmaceutical and energy industries, and cooperation for the modernisation of strategic areas in defence, ports and telecommunications, López-Levy told IPS.

With respect to the possible interest of U.S. businesses in getting a foothold in the special economic development zone, and to an increase in pressure for the lifting of the five-decade U.S. embargo, the analyst said “the Cuban market awakens very limited interest in the United States.”

However, he said it was “clear” that U.S. investors are becoming more interested, especially Cuban-Americans.

“In order for this motivation to turn into political pressure against the embargo, the Cuban economy has to give out clear signs of recovery and of the government’s willingness, in key areas, to adopt a mixed economy with transparent guarantees for investors and export capacity,” he said.

Rocha has a somewhat different opinion.

“The embargo is going to collapse under its own weight,” he said. “Business will knock it down.”

It was seen as symbolic that the first ship that docked in the Mariel port after it began to operate brought food for Cuba from the United States – cash-only imports, which were authorised by the U.S. Congress in 2000.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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In Saving a Forest, Kenyans Find a Better Quality of Life Wed, 20 Aug 2014 07:23:24 +0000 Peter Kahare People restoring section of depleted forest in Kasigau, in south eastern Kenya. Courtesy: Wildlife Works

People restoring section of depleted forest in Kasigau, in south eastern Kenya. Courtesy: Wildlife Works

By Peter Kahare
KASIGAU, Kenya, Aug 20 2014 (IPS)

When Mercy Ngaruiya first settled in Kasigau in south eastern Kenya a decade ago, she found a depleted forest that was the result of years of tree felling and bush clearing.

“This region was literally burning. There were no trees on my farm when I moved here, the area was so dry and people were cutting down trees and burning bushes for their livelihood,” Ngaruiya, a community leader in Kasigau, told IPS.

Back then, she says, poverty and unemployment levels were high, there was limited supply of fresh water, and education and health services were poor.

Mike Korchinsky, the president of Wildlife Works, a Reduced Emission from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) project development and management company, remembers it all too well.

“When I came here, you could hear the sounds of axes as people constantly cut trees. Cutting down trees is doubly alarming because you have an immediate emission when the carbon that has been stored in the forest for centuries is released into the atmosphere, and then there is nothing to sequester the carbon that is being produced by human activities,” Korchinsky told IPS.

Tucked between Tsavo east and Tsavo west in Voi district, 150 kilometres northwest of Mombasa, Kenya’s coastal city, Kasigau region is slowly rising from the ashes as its green economy flourishes. This region of almost 100,000 people is beginning to grow as the Kasigau Corridor REDD+ project, implemented in 2004 through Wildlife Works, slowly bears fruit.

“Things are changing now since my fellow villagers agreed to embrace environmental conservation. The environment is continuing to improve,” Ngaruiya said.

The open canopy along the Kasigau corridor is now regenerating and the REDD+ project is empowering thousands of residents here to abandon forest destruction and embrace new, sustainable livelihoods.

The green and vibrant section of Kasigau forest following conservation efforts and the successful implementation of a REDD+ project. Courtesy: Wildlife Works

The green and vibrant section of Kasigau forest following conservation efforts and the successful implementation of a REDD+ project. Courtesy: Wildlife Works

Currently, the Kasigau REDD+ project generates over one million dollars annually through the sale of carbon, at about eight dollars per tonne, on the African Carbon Exchange.

One third of the revenue goes towards project development and is reinvested in income-generating green initiatives like manufacturing clothes (which are sold locally and internationally), agroforestry, and artificial charcoal production, among other activities.

A portion of the profit is also distributed directly to the land owners here.

“We no longer need to cut trees now for charcoal, we use biogas and eco-friendly charcoal made from pruned leaves. We cook while conserving trees,” resident Nicoleta Mwende told IPS.

Chief Pascal Kizaka is the administrator of Kasigau location. He told IPS that the REDD+ project has had real and direct solutions for poverty alleviation.

“Besides conservation, part of the profits has enabled construction of 20 modern classrooms in local schools, bursaries for over 1,800 pupils, a health centre and an industry — hence improving our standards of living,” Kizaka said.

The Kasigau project is the first verified REDD+ project in Kenya where communities living in the area are earning money from conserving their natural resources.

Trading in carbon credits is still in a nascent stage in Kenya.

But according to Alfred Gichu, the forestry climate change specialist at Kenya Forest Service, a state corporation that conserves and manages forests, the future of carbon credits trade in Kenya is bright.

There are 16 active, registered carbon credits projects and 26 others are in the process of being registered.

“Of the 26, 19 are energy-based, like the Geothermal Development Company, and seven involve reforestation projects,” Gichu told IPS. The expansive Mau forest in Kenya’s Rift Valley is a key target by the government for the carbon credits trade, he added.

When it comes to forests conservation, Kenya is one of the countries where policies have led to success according to “Deforestation Success Stories 2013” a report by the Tropical Forest and Climate Initiative.

The report cites the Kasigau Corridor REDD+ project as a major success story, noting that by late 2012, revenues generated from the sale of voluntary carbon credits from the project had reached 1.2 million dollars.

According to a UNEP’s 2013 “Emissions Gap” report, promotion of tree planting on farms, schools and other public institutions; prohibiting harvesting of trees in public forests; and awareness creation by both the government and private conservationists are some of the policy measures in Kenya that have boosted forest cover.

But there are also challenges that hinder development of REDD+ projects here.

Moses Kimani, the director of the African Carbon Exchange, cites lack of expertise and finances as some of the major challenges hindering development of carbon credits trade.

“Besides poor policies and weak legislative framework, many carbon credits projects in Kenya and Africa lack the much-needed expertise and finance,” Kimani told IPS.

During last year’s United Nations climate change conference in Poland, participants agreed on a framework for REDD+ and pledged 280 million dollars in financing.

But environmentalists lament a lack of clear mechanisms to enable these adaptation funds to trickle down and reach local communities.

John Maina, an environmental conservationist, says that Kenyans running these projects were losing out to traders after selling carbon at throwaway prices due to low level of understanding.

“The government, civil society sector and NGOs should work together to strengthen regulations and sensitise Kenyans on carbon projects and how they can access financing,” Maina told IPS.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

The writer can be contacted at

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Mining Firms in Peru Mount Legal Offensive Against Inspection Tax Thu, 14 Aug 2014 01:10:35 +0000 Milagros Salazar Children playing next to mine tailings in Morococha, a mining town in the central Peruvian department or region of Junín. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

Children playing next to mine tailings in Morococha, a mining town in the central Peruvian department or region of Junín. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

By Milagros Salazar
LIMA, Aug 14 2014 (IPS)

The leading mining companies in Peru have brought a rash of lawsuits to fight an increase in the tax they pay to cover the costs of inspections and oversight of their potentially environmentally damaging activities.

The lawsuits have come one after another. As of Aug. 7, 14 mining companies had filed legal injunctions in different courts to fight the “Aporte por Regulación” (APR – Regulation Contribution) that they are charged, Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal told IPS.

The legal action targets different institutions in the executive branch, including the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, the Ministry of Economy and Finance, the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Energy and Mines, and OEFA, Peru’s environmental oversight agency, which collects the APR.

Javier Velarde, the general manager of the Yanacocha mining company, told IPS that a total of 26 mining corporations, including his firm – the largest gold producer in Latin America – have brought legal action against the APR.

Yanacocha is a joint venture owned by the U.S.-based Newmont Mining Corporation and the Peruvian company Buenaventura.

The National Society of Mining, Oil and Energy, which represents the leading companies in the industry, also brought action against the APR, arguing that it is unconstitutional.

At the same time, four companies opened administrative proceedings with the Commission for the Elimination of Bureaucratic Barriers of the National Institute for Defence of Competition and Protection of Intellectual Property (INDECOPI).

The companies argue that the APR amounts to a “confiscation”.

One of the companies that turned to INDECOPI is the Peruvian firm Caudalosa, which in 2010 caused a major spill of toxic waste from a tailings dam, poisoning the rivers that provide water to the people of Huancavelica in central Peru, one of the poorest departments (regions) in the country.

The corporations that have brought court action include foreign firms like Cerro Verde, a subsidiary of the U.S.-based Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc, and two subsidiaries of the Anglo-Swiss multinational Glencore Xstrata.

The Peruvian companies include Casapalca, which is facing several lawsuits for environmental, labour and safety violations, and Volcan, which has been fined on a number of occasions for causing environmental damage.

“Companies are getting bolder and bolder,” in a political context where efforts are being made to reduce “bureaucratic hurdles” to investment, Deputy Minister of Environmental Management José de Echave told IPS.

Delia Morales, left, and Sandra Rossi, officials at OEFA, Peru's environmental oversight agency, reviewing the legal injunctions presented by mining companies. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

Delia Morales, left, and Sandra Rossi, officials at OEFA, Peru’s environmental oversight agency, reviewing the legal injunctions presented by mining companies. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

In July, Congress approved a package of measures introduced by the government of President Ollanta Humala to boost private sector investment by simplifying environmental requirements and streamlining bureaucratic procedures, due to the slowdown in the economy triggered by declining demand for raw materials.

Peru is the world’s fifth-largest producer of gold, second of silver, third of copper, zinc and tin, and fourth of lead. Mining accounts for nine percent of the country’s GDP, 60 percent of exports, 21 percent of private investment and 30 percent of income tax. It also provides mining companies with billions of dollars in profits.

“We are defending ourselves and we are sure that we will demonstrate that the measure has sound legal standing,” Minister Pulgar-Vidal told IPS, after confirming that the judiciary had already thrown out one of the lawsuits, filed by Antapaccay, a subsidiary of Glencore Xstrata.

The inspection tax was originally created in 2000 to finance the regulatory agencies. It was established at the time that the contribution would not exceed one percent of a company’s annual earnings after taxes, OEFA officials explained.

But in December, the government decreed that the contribution would be reduced to 0.15 percent of annual sales in 2014 and 2015, and to 0.13 percent in 2016.

The president of the OEFA board of directors, Hugo Gómez, said that if one percent was not a “confiscation” then a smaller contribution was even less so.

But Yanacocha’s Velarde argued that the decree that set the amount of the contribution was tacked onto the original law, which it distorted, because the amount “far exceeds the cost of activities of monitoring and oversight.”

At stake in this legal battle is not only money but also the Independence of environmental oversight activities.

Before OEFA took over the environmental monitoring of the mining industry in 2010, the task was in the hands of the Supervisory Body for Investment in Energy and Mining, which charged a “mining tariff”.

The tariff was calculated according to what the Supervisory Body specifically spent for each company inspected: days of work for the inspector, costs of lab testing of samples, and other expenses for services. The companies were billed directly for the cost of the inspections, OEFA director of supervision, Delia Morales, told IPS.

The tariff system was inherited by OEFA, but in December 2013, a percentage for the APR was set, which brought in more money.

From nearly 400,000 dollars, which the regulatory body took in with the mining tariff in 2013, the total went up to nine million dollars under the APR in the first half of this year alone.
OEFA estimates that it will bring in some 15 million dollars this year for oversight of the mining industry alone. Up to mid-2013, it had collected 17 million dollars for monitoring and inspection of three sectors: fossil fuels, mining and electricity.

IPS learned that in its court injunction against the APR, Xstrata Las Bambas, which also belongs to Glencore Xstrata, argued that with the new APR it ended up paying 36 times more than what it paid with the mining tariff.

OEFA official Sandra Rossi told IPS that technical calculations were made to set the amount of the APR because the way the mining tariff was determined “limited oversight.”

“It was an outdated system” that did not make it possible to carry out technical work and prevention efforts to inform communities of what impacts the extractive industry activities could have, Morales said.

The manager of Yanacocha said he did agree that mining companies should finance oversight activities. But he argued that they should be charged in relation to “the real costs” and should not have to finance other activities that are not directly related to monitoring and inspection.

But Iván Lanegra, a specialist in environmental policy questions and a former deputy minister of intercultural issues, told IPS that “environmental oversight is not limited to specific monitoring of a given company. It is broader than that. What was created was not an OEFA for each company, but an overall oversight and inspection structure.”

In his view, “It’s fair for the companies that receive significant benefits” to pay for the oversight, because they carry out activities that pose serious environmental risks. Lanegra said it would not be right for the expense to be financed with the taxes paid by all Peruvians.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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What’s More Important, the War on AIDS or Just War? Wed, 13 Aug 2014 07:20:13 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida and Mercedes Sayagues The budgets of many African countries reflect greater interest in arms deals than in managing the deadly HIV epidemic. Credit: Thomas Martinez/IPS

The budgets of many African countries reflect greater interest in arms deals than in managing the deadly HIV epidemic. Credit: Thomas Martinez/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida and Mercedes Sayagues

They say there is a war on and its target is the deadly human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).   

This war runs worldwide but its main battleground is sub-Saharan Africa, where seven out of 10 HIV positive persons in the world live – 24.7 million in 2013. The region suffered up to 1.3 million AIDS-related deaths in the same year, according to the United Nations.

A ragtag army is fighting the war on AIDS. Sometimes it is comprised of well-dressed aid officials sitting in conference rooms allocating funds. At other times, it deploys shabby foot soldiers – community healthcare workers and AIDS activists – into desolate rural areas with no running water, let alone antiretroviral therapy.

With many competing health problems, funding for AIDS is a growing concern. Yet a look at the defence of budgets of several countries plagued by HIV portrays a startling picture of governments’ priorities, with huge military expenditures belying the argument that the key obstacle to winning the war against AIDS is money.

Nigeria's Military Budget Dwarfs AIDS Budget
With an HIV prevalence of three percent, Nigeria has the second largest number of people living with HIV in Africa – 3.4 million in 2012, according to UNAIDS.

Government’s response to the epidemic picked up last year but is still woefully inadequate. Many people are not accessing the treatment and care services they need, or at a steep price. Out of pocket expenditure for HIV and AIDS services accounts for 14 percent of household income, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund.
Nigeria has US$600 million for AIDS until 2015, with donors shelling out 75 percent. This is an improvement: government provided only seven percent of total AIDS funding in 2010, compared to 25 percent now.
This year, the government is expected to allocate 373 million dollars to HIV programmes and 470 million in 2015, to meet the target of contributing half of AIDS financing needs.
But it remains to be seen if this will be done. Nigeria has many competing health priorities, and the recent Ebola fever outbreak will require extra funding and urgency.
Meanwhile, the proposed defence budget for 2014 awarded 830 million dollars to the Nigerian army, 440 million to its navy, and 460 million dollars to the air force.
In total, the country has allocated 2.1 billion dollars to defence this year, according to the Nigerian Budget Office.
This includes 32 million dollars for two offshore patrol vessels purchased from China, and 11.2 million dollars for the procurement of six Mi-35M attack helicopters, according to DefenceWeb.

And, as the 2015 deadline for the United Nations Millennium Development Goals looms large – with donor countries tightening their purse strings – health experts worry about financing for HIV prevention and AIDS treatment after 2015.

New funding for AIDS in low- and middle-incoming countries fell three percent from 2012 to 8.1 billion dollars in 2013, says a joint report by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) released in June.

Five of the 14 major donor governments – the U.S., Canada, Italy, Japan and the Netherlands – decreased AIDS spending last year.

And yet, while governments claim to be too cash-strapped to fight the AIDS war, funding for other wars seems much more forthcoming.

Spending on arms and on AIDS

Africa will need to do more with less to manage AIDS, concludes a 2013 UNAIDS report entitled Smart Investments.

In Kenya, a funding shortfall is expected soon, since the World Bank’s 115 million-dollar ‘Total War on HIV/AIDS’ project expired last month.

Meanwhile, the country’s defence budget is expected to grow from 4.3 billion dollars in 2012-2014 to 5.5 billion dollars by 2018, as the country stocks up on helicopters, drones and border surveillance equipment, according to the news portal DefenceWeb.

True, Kenya is under attack from Al-Shabaab terrorists. Still, five out of 10 pregnant Kenyan women living with HIV do not get ARVs to protect their babies.

Mozambique’s fighter jets

In Mozambique, a dearth of funding puts the country’s recent military expenditures into a harsh light.

Daniel Kertesz, the World Health Organization representative in Mozambique, told IPS the country’s six-year health program has a 200 million dollar finance gap per year.

Mozambique being very poor, it is difficult to see how the country – with 1.6 million infected people, the world’s eighth burden – will meet its domestic commitments.

“Today, Mozambique spends between 30 and 35 dollars per person per year on health. WHO recommends a minimum of 55-60 per person per year,” Kertesz said.

The same week, the government announced it had fixed eight military fighter jets, which it had discarded 15 years ago, in Romania, and is receiving three Embraer Tucano military aircraft from Brazil for free, with the understanding that purchase of three  fighter jets will follow.

According to a 2014 report by the Economic Intelligence Unit, Mozambique’s spending on state security is expected to rise sharply, partly owing to the acquisition, by the ministry of defence, of 24 fishing trawlers and six patrol and interceptor ships at the cost of 300 million dollars – equal to half the 2014 national health budget of 635.8 million dollars.

 The same week the refurbished fighter jets landed at Maputo airport, the press reported that the main hospital in Mozambique’s north-western and coal-rich Tete province went for five days without water.

Indeed, the country’s public health system is in such dire straits that the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) meets 90 percent of the health ministry’s annual AIDS budget.

Military Spending in Africa
Angola spent 8.4 percent of its 69 billion dollar budget on defence and just 5.3 percent on health in 2013.
In 2013, Morocco’s military expenses of 3.4 billion dwarfed its health budget of just over 1.4 billion dollars.
South Sudan spent one percent of its GDP on health and 9.1 percent on military and defence in 2012.

“The state budget for social programmes is not increasing at the same level as military, defence and security spending,” Jorge Matine, a researcher at Mozambique’s Centre for Public Integrity (CIP), told IPS.

“We have been pushing for accountability around the acquisition of commercial and military ships for millions of dollars,” he said.

A coalition of NGOs has requested the government to explain “its decision to spend that money without authorisation from Parliament when the country is experiencing severe shortages of personnel and supplies in the health sector,” Matine explained.

The coalition argues that, if defence spending remained as it was in 2011, the country would save 70 million dollars, which could buy 1,400 ambulances (11 per district, when many districts have only one or two) or import 21 percent more medicines.

A similar pattern unfolds across the continent where, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), military spending reached an estimated 44.4 billion dollars in 2013, an 8.3 percent increase from the previous year. In Angola and Algeria, high oil revenues fuel the buying spree.

The South Africa-based Ceasefire Campaign reported recently that arms deals with private companies are also on the rise in Africa, with governments expected to sign deals with global defence companies totalling roughly 20 billion dollars over the next decade.

Credit: Marshall Patstanza and Nqabomzi Bikitsha/IPS

Credit: Marshall Patstanza and Nqabomzi Bikitsha/IPS

Failing Abuja 

At the same time, the 2001 Abuja Declaration, whose signatories committed to allocating at least 15 percent of gross domestic product to health, has “barely become a reality”, Vuyiseka Dubula, general-secretary of the South Africa-based Treatment Action Campaign, told IPS.

 “Regardless of our calls, very few countries have even come close to 12 percent, including some of the richer African countries such as South Africa and Nigeria,” Dubula said.

Between 2000-2005, she added, “almost 400,000 people died from AIDS in South Africa; during that same period we spent so much money on arms we don’t need, and one wonders whether that was a responsible [use] of public resources.”

Mozambique is a sad example of Abuja failure. Back in 2001, Mozambique’s health budget represented 14 percent of the total state budget, tailing the Abuja target. It declined to a low of seven percent in 2011 and clawed to eight percent since.

“Financing mirrors the priorities of the government,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Ethiopia’s minister of foreign affairs and former minister of health, told IPS. “We have seen that in countries that had the political will to turn around their health sectors, they upscale finance and really invest in the health sector.”

If this is true, the budgets of many African countries reflect greater interest in arms deals than in managing the deadly HIV epidemic.

Edited by: Mercedes Sayagues

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What Do the World Bank and IMF Have to Do With the Ukraine Conflict? Tue, 12 Aug 2014 13:26:25 +0000 Frederic Mousseau Typical agricultural landscape of Ukraine, Kherson Oblast. Credit: Dobrych (Flickr)/CC-BY-SA-2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Typical agricultural landscape of Ukraine, Kherson Oblast. Credit: Dobrych (Flickr)/CC-BY-SA-2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

By Frederic Mousseau
OAKLAND, United States, Aug 12 2014 (IPS)

Mostly unreported as the Ukraine conflict captures headlines, international financing has played a significant role in the current conflict in Ukraine.

In late 2013, conflict between pro-European Union (EU) and pro-Russian Ukrainians escalated to violent levels, leading to the departure of President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014 and prompting the greatest East-West confrontation since the Cold War.

Frédéric Mousseau

Frédéric Mousseau

A major factor in the crisis that led to deadly protests and eventually Yanukovych’s removal from office was his rejection of an EU association agreement that would have further opened trade and integrated Ukraine with the European Union. The agreement was tied to a 17 billion dollars loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Instead, Yanukovych chose a Russian aid package worth 15 billion dollars plus a 33 percent discount on Russian natural gas.

The relationship with international financial institutions changed swiftly under the pro-EU government put in place at the end of February 2014 which went for the multi-million dollar IMF package in May 2014.

Announcing a 3.5 billion dollars aid programme on May 22, World Bank president Jim Yong Kim lauded the Ukrainian authorities for developing a comprehensive programme of reforms, and their commitment to carry it out with support from the World Bank Group. He failed to mention the neo-liberal conditions imposed by the Bank to lend money, including that the government limit its own power by removing restrictions that hinder competition and limiting the role of state control in economic activities. “The stakes around Ukraine's vast agricultural sector, the world’s third largest exporter of corn and fifth largest exporter of wheat, constitute a critical factor that has been overlooked. With ample fields of fertile black soil that allow for high production volumes of grains, Ukraine is the breadbasket of Europe”

The rush to provide new aid packages to the country with the new government aligned with the neo-liberal agenda was a reward from both institutions.

The East-West competition over Ukraine, however, is about the control of natural resources, including uranium and other minerals, as well as geopolitical issues such as Ukraine’s membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

The stakes around Ukraine’s vast agricultural sector, the world’s third largest exporter of corn and fifth largest exporter of wheat, constitute a critical factor that has been overlooked. With ample fields of fertile black soil that allow for high production volumes of grains, Ukraine is the breadbasket of Europe.

In the last decade, the agricultural sector has been characterised by a growing concentration of production within very large agricultural holdings that use large-scale intensive farming systems. Not surprisingly, the presence of foreign corporations in the agricultural sector and the size of agro-holdings are both growing quickly, with more than 1.6 million hectares signed over to foreign companies for agricultural purposes in recent years.

Now the goal is to set policies that will benefit Western corporations. Whereas Ukraine does not allow the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in agriculture, Article 404 of the EU agreement, which relates to agriculture, includes a clause that has generally gone unnoticed: both parties will cooperate to extend the use of biotechnologies.

Given the struggle for resources in Ukraine and the influx of foreign investors in the agriculture sector, an important question is whether the results of the programme will benefit Ukraine and its farmers by securing their property rights or pave the way for corporations to more easily access property and land.

By encouraging reforms such as the deregulation of seed and fertiliser markets, the country’s agricultural sector is being forced open to foreign corporations such as Dupont and Monsanto.

The Bank’s activities and its loan and reform programmes in Ukraine seem to be working toward the expansion of large industrial holdings in Ukrainian agriculture owned by foreign entities.

Amid the current turmoil, the World Bank and the IMF are now pushing for more reforms to improve the business climate and increase private investment. In March 2014, the former prime minister ad interim, Arsenij Yatsenyuk, welcomed strict and painful structural reforms as part of the 17 billion dollars IMF loan package, dismissing the need to negotiate any terms.

The IMF austerity reforms will affect monetary and exchange rate policies, the financial sector, fiscal policies, the energy sector, governance, and the business climate.

The loan is also a precondition for the release of further financial support from the European Union and the United States. If fully adopted, the reforms may lead to significant price increases of essential consumer goods, a 47 to 66 percent increase in personal income tax rates, and a 50 percent increase in gas bills. These measures, it is feared, will have a devastating social impact, resulting in a collapse of the standard of living and dramatic increases in poverty.

Although Ukraine started implementing pro-business reforms under president Yanukovych through the Ukraine Investment Climate Advisory Services Project and by streamlining trade and property transfer procedures, his ambition to mould the country to the World Bank and IMFs standards was not reflected in other realms of policy and his allegiance to Russia eventually led to his removal from office.

Following the installation of a pro-West government, there has been an acceleration of structural adjustment led by the international institutions along with an increase in foreign investment, aimed at further expansion of large-scale acquisitions of agricultural land by foreign companies and further corporatisation of agriculture in the country.

The experience of structural adjustment programmes around the developing world foretells that it will increase foreign control of the Ukrainian economy as well as increase poverty and inequality. As Western powers get ready to impose sanctions on Russia for its transgressions in Ukraine, it remains unclear how programmes and conditionalities imposed by the World Bank will improve the lives of Ukrainians and build a sustainable economic future.

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Zimbabwe’s ‘Casualisation of Labour’ Leads to a New Form of Exploitation Tue, 12 Aug 2014 08:08:25 +0000 Michelle Chifamba Casual workers in Zimbabwe usually work for long hours without safety clothing. Labour unions say that many employees are hiring people as casual staff to avoid providing benefits. Credit: Michelle Chifamba/IPS

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

By Michelle Chifamba
HARARE, Aug 12 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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Zimbabwean Women Breathe New Life into Private Transport Sector Fri, 08 Aug 2014 08:30:31 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo Taxi driver Jesca Machingura is one of the few women who has been involved in the industry for 15 years. With the income she earns she has been able to send her daughter to university in South Africa. Courtesy: Jeffrey Moyo

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

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Aug 8 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

Now she says her fortunes have turned around.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ashley Muzenda, a hairdresser, agrees.

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

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

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

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

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

The writer can be contacted at:

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Women Warriors Take Environmental Protection into Their Own Hands Fri, 08 Aug 2014 06:32:25 +0000 Amantha Perera Indian activist Suryamani Bhagat has been fighting state officials in the eastern state of Jharkhand to protect tribal people’s forest rights. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Indian activist Suryamani Bhagat has been fighting state officials in the eastern state of Jharkhand to protect tribal people’s forest rights. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
BALI, Aug 8 2014 (IPS)

Aleta Baun, an Indonesian environmental activist known in her community as Mama Aleta, has a penchant for wearing a colourful scarf on her head, but not for cosmetic reasons.

The colours of the cloth, she says, represent the hues of the forests that are the lifeblood of her Mollo people living in West Timor, part of Indonesia’s East Nusa Tenggara province.

“The forest is the life of my people, the trees are like the pores in our skin, the water is like the blood that flows through us…the forest is the mother of my tribe,” Aleta told IPS.

“If I were a man, I would have been arrested and thrown in jail by now. Because we women stand together, police are reluctant to act like that.” -- Suryamani Bhagat, founder of the Torang tribal rights and cultural centre
The winner of the 2013 Goldman Environmental Prize, she represents an expanding international movement against environmental destruction helmed by humble, often poor, rural and tribal women.

For many years, Aleta has been at the forefront of her tribe’s efforts to stop mining companies destroying the forests of the Mutis Mountains that hug the western part of the island of Timor.

The Mollo people have long existed in harmony with these sacred forests, living off the fertile land and harvesting from plants the dye they use for weaving – a skill that local women have cultivated over centuries.

Starting in the 1980s, corporations seeking to extract marble from the rich region acquired permits from local officials, and began a period of mining and deforestation that caused landslides and rampant pollution of West Timor’s rivers, which have their headwaters in the Mutis Mountains.

The villagers living downstream bore the brunt of these operations, which they said represented an assault on their way of life.

So Mama Aleta, along with three other indigenous Mollo women, started traveling by foot from one remote village to the next, educating people about the environmental impacts of mining.

During one of these trips in 2006, Aleta was assaulted and stabbed by a group of thugs who waylaid her. But the incident did not sway her commitment.

“I felt they were raping my land, I could not just stand aside and watch that happen,” she told IPS.

The movement culminated in a peaceful ‘occupation’ of the contested mountain, with Aleta leading some 150 women to sit silently on and around the mining site and weave traditional cloth in protest of the destruction.

“We wanted to tell the companies that what they were doing was like taking our clothes off, they were making the forest naked by [cutting down] its trees,” she said.

A year later, the mining groups were forced to cease their operations at four sites within Mollo territory, and finally give up on the enterprise altogether.


Indigenous women from the Indonesian island of Lombok make traditional handicrafts using supplies from the forest. Amantha Perera/IPS

Indigenous women from the Indonesian island of Lombok make traditional handicrafts using supplies from the forest. Amantha Perera/IPS

Increasingly, women like Aleta are taking a front seat in community action campaigns in Asia, Africa and Latin America aimed at safeguarding the environment.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) estimates that women comprise one of the most vulnerable populations to the fallout from extreme weather events.

In addition, small-scale female farmers (who number some 560 million worldwide) produce between 45 and 80 percent of the world’s food, while rural women, primarily in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, spend an estimated 200 million hours per day fetching water, according to UN Women. Any change in their climate, experts say, will be acutely felt.

According to Lorena Aguilar, senior gender advisor with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), in some parts of rural India women spend 30 percent of their time looking for water. “Their role and the environment they live in have a symbiotic connection,” she said.

Ordinary mothers accomplish extraordinary feats

In the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand, Suryamani Bhagat, founder of the Torang tribal rights and cultural center, is working with women in her village of Kotari to protect the state’s precious forests.

Working under the umbrella of the Jharkhand Save the Forest Movement (known locally as Jharkhand Jangal Bachao Andolan), Bhagat initially brought together 15 adivasi women to protest attempts by a state-appointed forest official to plant commercially viable timber that had no biodiversity or consumption value for the villagers who live off the land.

The women then went to the local police station – accompanied by children, men and elders from the village – and began to pluck and eat the fruit from guava trees in the compound, announcing to the officers on duty that they wanted only trees that could provide for the villagers.

On another occasion, when police showed up to arrest women leaders in the community, including Bhagat, they announced they would go voluntarily – provided the police also arrested their children and livestock, who needed the women to care for them. Once again, the police retreated.

Now the women patrol the forest, ensuring that no one cuts more wood than is deemed necessary.

Bhagat believes that her gender works to her advantage in this rural community in Jharkhand’s Ranchi district.

“If I were a man, I would have been arrested and thrown in jail by now,” she told IPS. “Because we women stand together, police are reluctant to act like that.”

Over 7,000 km away, in the Pacific island state of Papua New Guinea, Ursula Rakova is adding strength to the women-led movement by working to protect her native Carteret Atoll from the devastating impacts of climate change.

The tiny islands that comprise this atoll have a collective land area of 0.6 square kilometers, with a maximum elevation of 1.5 metres above sea level.

For nearly 20 years, locals here have battled a rising sea that has contaminated ground water supplies, washed away homes and made agriculture virtually untenable.

The National Tidal Centre at the Australian government’s bureau of meteorology has been unwilling to provide long-term projections for the atoll’s future, but various media outlets report that the islands could be completely submerged as early as 2015.

In 2006, at the request of a local council of elders, Rakova left a paid job in the neighbouring Bougainville Island and returned to her native Carteret, where she helped found Tulele Peisa, an NGO dedicated to planning and implementing a voluntary relocation plan for residents in the face of government inaction.

The organisation advocates for the rights of indigenous islanders, and seeks economic alternatives and social protections for families and individuals forced to flee their sinking land.

“It is my island, my people, we will not give up on them,” Rakova told IPS. “It is our way of life that is going under the sea.”

All three women are ordinary mothers, who have taken extraordinary steps to make sure that their children have a better world to live in, and that outsiders, who have no sense of their culture or traditions, do not dictate their lives.

Of course this is nothing new. Michael Mazgaonkar, an India-based coordinator and advisor for the Global Greengrants Fund (GGF), told IPS that women have always played an integral role in environmental protection.

What is new is their increasing prominence on the global stage as fearless advocates, defenders and caretakers.

“The expanding role of women as climate leaders has been gradual,” Mazgaonkar stated. “In some cases they have been thrust forward, because they had no choice but to take action, and in others they have volunteered to play a leadership role.”

While the outcome of many of these campaigns hangs in the balance, one thing is for certain, he said: that the world “will continue to see their role becoming more pronounced.”

GFF Executive Director Terry Odendahl believes that “men are doing equally important work” but added: “historically women and their roles have been undervalued. We need to create the space for their voices to be heard.”

“If we raise women’s choices,” she said, “We can improve this dire environmental predicament we are faced with.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Will Obama’s “New Africa” Deliver on Its Promises? Thu, 07 Aug 2014 15:08:08 +0000 Julia Hotz President Barack Obama takes the stage to deliver remarks at the U.S.-Africa Business Forum held at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel during the U.S. Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C., Aug. 5, 2014. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Barack Obama takes the stage to deliver remarks at the U.S.-Africa Business Forum held at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel during the U.S. Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C., Aug. 5, 2014. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

By Julia Hotz
WASHINGTON, Aug 7 2014 (IPS)

As the three-day U.S- Africa Leaders Summit here drew to a close Wednesday, experts across the private, public and non-profit sectors continued to debate the opportunities and obstacles posed by the U.S’ expanding business partnership with Africa.

Speaking Tuesday regarding the 17 billion dollars pledged toward African business development, U.S President Obama declared his determination to be a “good,” “equal” and “long term” partner for Africa’s success.“African leaders are asking for US investment, while Africans are asking for jobs…this disconnect hasn’t completely been dealt with.” -- Gregory Adams

“We cannot lose sight of the new Africa that’s emerging,” Obama said Tuesday, announcing new private partnerships, as well as a reaffirmed commitment to improving infrastructure, expanding trade, and providing educational opportunities for young entrepreneurs.

While such business advances most directly benefit actors in the U.S. private sector, non-profits expressed similarly qualified enthusiasm about the summit’s promise of increased economic engagement with Africa.

“What the summit has offered is an opportunity for the United States is to see Africa as a land of opportunity,” Gregory Adams, director of aid effectiveness at Oxfam America, a development organisation here, told IPS.

Adams also said the proceedings have helped move U.S.-African relations more “from patronage to partnership,” and have facilitated “good” and “direct” exchanges between civil society actors and leaders from both the United States and Africa.

But he warned that not all African voices were heard during the three-day proceedings, and that an “important distinction” between the diverse economic interests of Africans has yet to be established.

“African leaders are asking for U.S. investment, while Africans are asking for jobs…this disconnect hasn’t completely been dealt with,” Adams told IPS, noting how “tremendous” economic growth does not necessarily translate to job creation.

More intensive effort to listen

Adding that representatives from Africa’s local and small business have historically been absent from large-scale conversations about U.S-African engagement, Adams explained that “if we’re truly moving from patronage to partnership,… we’re going to need a more intensive effort to listen to variety of African voices…and do more to engage with civil society and local African businesses.”

In a plea to examine just how “demand-driven” the announced investments to Africa are, Adams also called for there to be “follow-through” on such pledges, saying that “all of these commitments are coming fast and furious, so it’s hard to keep track of them and determine what’s real and what’s not.”

Such commitments were premiered within the three-day U.S-Africa Leaders Summit, in which delegations from more than 50 African countries – including more than 40 heads of state – came to Washington to discuss security, trade, infrastructure, and governance with U.S. President Obama and other top U.S. government officials.

Announced last year during U.S President Obama’s visit to Africa, the joint African leaders summit is the first in U.S. history, and has marked a major effort to play catch-up with the EU and China, where governments have previously used summits with Africa as a platform to expand economic partnerships and strengthen diplomatic ties.

While civil society groups participated in the proceedings, the summit’s centrepiece came Tuesday with the U.S-Africa Business Forum, which featured pledges by U.S. government officials, World Bank leaders and CEOs of major U.S. companies – including General Electric, Coca Cola, Walmart, Marriot, and  Mastercard – to provide aid to a variety of sectors in Africa

Special emphasis was given to Obama’s Power Africa programme, which has mobilised 12 billion dollars from both the public and private sector to an initiative that will provide 600 million Africans with a reliable electricity supply.

Ben Leo, director of Rethinking U.S. Development Policy at the Centre for Global Development (CGD), a think tank here, claimed that the Power Africa initiative is a key pre-cursor for business development in the region, explaining how the promise to provide electricity across Africa may even save the otherwise-neglected small businesses.

“If some of these commitments under the Power Africa initiative are effective in addressing both access to power and reliability to power, there will be significant benefits for [Africa’s] small and medium enterprises,” Leo told IPS.

Yet the Atlantic Council, a think tank here, believes that despite the promising nature of Power Africa, the region still lacks adequate infrastructure, and suffers from profound geographic disadvantages.

Most data-driven investors in the world”

In a report released Wednesday, the Atlantic Council cited these two factors, along with the need for more market data and stronger policy implementation, as obstacles plaguing business development in sub-Saharan Africa.

“Although these are obstacles that affect everyone, the U.S. is the most frustrated with the lack of data… [because] they are the most data-driven investors in the world,” Diana Layfield, CEO of Africa Operations at Standard Chartered Bank, said at the report’s premiere.

But through harnessing innovation, a virtue that CGD’s Leo dubs as one of “America’s core strengths,” the Atlantic Council is optimistic about the opportunity for increased investment in sub-Saharan Africa.

From using satellite imagery to identify local traffic patterns, to issuing SMS surveys to learn about consumer preferences, private companies have been using technology as means to obtain basic information about consumer behaviour, which, the report says, is otherwise unavailable from public sector sources.

Yet for Oxfam’s Adams, such tech innovations miss a crucial point.

“I think we’re really skipping a step as a country if we’re not looking ahead to 30 years from now and asking if all this investment is a flash in the pan, or if  it’s going to lead to the emergence of  local businesses that will lead to job creation,” Adams told IPS.

Stressing that the U.S. is “incredibly non-transparent” and rarely “tell[s] countries the details of their own aid,” Adams concluded that “there is a lot more that the U.S. government needs to do if it actually wants to support Africa.”

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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Tech Entrepreneur Encourages Rwanda’s Young Women to Venture into ICT Thu, 07 Aug 2014 10:13:53 +0000 Aimable Twahirwa Akaliza Keza Gara is the founder and managing director of Shaking Sun, a multimedia business specialising in website development, graphic design and computer animation in Rwanda. She is one of the few women in the ICT sector. Credit: Orphelie Thalmas/IPS

Akaliza Keza Gara is the founder and managing director of Shaking Sun, a multimedia business specialising in website development, graphic design and computer animation in Rwanda. She is one of the few women in the ICT sector. Credit: Orphelie Thalmas/IPS

By Aimable Twahirwa
KIGALI, Aug 7 2014 (IPS)

Akaliza Keza Gara is only 27, but she’s achieved much for women in Rwanda’s technology sector in just a short space of time.

She is the founder and managing director of Shaking Sun, a multimedia business specialising in website development, graphic design and computer animation.

She has a list of accolades to her name, including being one of four Rwandan women entrepreneurs recognised in 2012 for their exceptional efforts in Information Communication Technology (ICT) by the International Telecommunication Union, and being appointed as a member of the 4Afrika advisory council for Microsoft this year."There is currently a growing need to nudge young Rwandan girls into being innovative, especially in the area of technology." -- Nancy Sibo, student

But Gara considers her main achievement as being part of a team of animators who worked on African Tales, the first ever cartoon series produced in Rwanda.

“Seeing my name in the credits [of the cartoon series] was a big moment for me and I am so thankful I had that opportunity,” she tells IPS.

As a university graduate in multimedia technology, Gara is convinced that since women are consumers of ICT, it is important that they are also a part of the developers of technology so they can ensure that there are more diverse products available that appeal to both genders.

However, Gara notes that there are a limited number of Rwandan women in the ICT industry.

“But there is  still hope that newer developments in the field of IT can now [see] women [working] alongside men,” she says.

There are no clear figures about the total number of women in the IT industry here. The blueprint for this Central African nation’s second phase of economic development emphasises transforming itself  from an agrarian to knowledge-based economy in order to achieve middle-income status by 2020.

A 2012 report by the United Nations Broadband Commission for Digital Development, praised Rwanda for laying a 2,500-km national fibre optic cable in order to provide broadband internet for all.

Rwanda  has been ranked seventh in Africa and 80th in the global ranking among countries that have embarked on boosting broadband affordability and uptake.

While the country has been developing national action plans on ICT since 2001, it is only recently that the need for women’s participation in the sector has been magnified.

Gara is among a group of young women entrepreneurs here who are promoting an initiative called “Girls In ICT Rwanda”, which was launched last year to encourage more girls and women to embrace the field.

The project provides grants to young women to implement and market their ICT projects. Money is allocated based on the innovation aspect for each project.

Goldon Kalema, a senior technologist in charge of e-government services coordination in the Rwanda’s Ministry of Youth and ICT, tells IPS that the initiative aims to promote and encourage the deployment and utilisation of ICTs.

“The skills development area is designated to be among the key five focus areas identified to fuel continued growth, ” he says.

In 2012, a knowledge and technology lab — known more commonly as KLab — was established as the first-ever ICT innovation centre in the country to bring innovators together and give them the resources they need to explore their ideas, learn from each other, and develop innovative technology.

However, young women still remain intimidated by the technology sector because of the stereotype that it was a male-dominated field.

“If women are part of and can make up a huge part of the market for ICT products, they can also enjoy the available opportunities alongside men in the ICT industry from both developer and end-user perspective,” Gara points out.

Gara believes that there is also a need to ensure that young women acquire relevant skills. “Girls In ICT Rwanda” also organises events for female students here, giving them an opportunity to showcase their ICT skills and meet role models.

It has led to the introduction of a wide variety of training courses that are provide free of charge and are intended especially for young women

“This training has been vital in helping a number of beneficiaries acquire new skills, which lead to new and interesting jobs,” Gara says.

Nancy Sibo, a young student in the faculty of Agricultural Engineering at the University of Rwanda, is winner of a contest called Ms. Geek Rwanda.

The competition, which is hosted by “Girls In ICT Rwanda” and is open to female university students who have come up with their own technology innovations, is in its first year.

Sibo developed a mobile application that allows farmers to find out in real time the nearest area where they can get access to veterinary services and artificial insemination.

“There is currently a growing need to nudge young Rwandan girls into being innovative, especially in the area of technology … and promoting the girl effect approach for the sustainable development of the nation,” Sibo tells IPS.

Meanwhile, Gara is doing just that with cartoons.

She is currently in the process of setting up an animation studio to create cartoons and films targeting African children.

“My commitment is to encourage more girls and women to join the ICT sector, but I also get the feeling that by establishing an animation studio this will showcase my innovations to help Rwandan children, by creating characters and settings that they can relate to and stories to entertain and inspire them,” she explains.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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OPINION: Toward an Inclusive TPP Trade Pact Wed, 06 Aug 2014 16:55:34 +0000 Dr. Harsha Vardhana Singh By Dr. Harsha Vardhana Singh
NEW YORK, Aug 6 2014 (IPS)

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations have been hitting headlines recently, but not for all the right reasons.

The media provides an incomplete picture of its implications, focusing mainly on its process and pre-occupations of the main parties to the negotiations. These negotiations, including the most recent meetings that took place in Ottawa, Canada, in July 2014, have been criticised by Canadian and international media for being veiled in secrecy.It is important that these negotiations do not create systems which are exclusionary, fragmenting and adversely affecting overall economic opportunities.

There have been, however, leaks and statements which show the broad contours of the ongoing talks covering the large number of subject areas which aim to develop a “21st century” trade and investment regime.

There is little attention, if any, to the adverse market conditions that the TPP will generate, for countries not part of these negotiations; countries which are significantly contributing to the prosperity of those who are negotiating TPP.

The TPP is a proposed regional free trade agreement (FTA) being negotiated by 12 countries in the Asia-Pacific region, namely Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam (contrast this with 160 members of World Trade Organisation).

The TPP nations together account for about one-third of world trade and foreign direct investment. Thus, there is a larger interconnected world outside the coverage of TPP which is economically crucial for all concerned. It is important that these negotiations do not create systems which are exclusionary, fragmenting and adversely affecting overall economic opportunities.

Today’s trade negotiations focus significantly on issues commonly referred to as non-tariff barriers. These include standards which specify requirements for products to be sold in specific markets.

These standards could have a larger general impact, such as environment or social standards, or have product-specific effects such as specifications for cars, electric gadgets, textiles and clothing, fruits, etc. The focus of TPP negotiations suggests that there is a strong possibility for markets and economic opportunities to get fragmented.

That would create major difficulties for all. This can be prevented through specific steps to create inclusive systems, which are essential in our increasingly inter-dependent world.

In the next five to seven years, the rapid growth of middle class in regions outside the TPP and global links between trade and sustainable development could create significant potential conflicts without inclusive systems.

Photo by Jamie Levine

Photo by Jamie Levine

Just recently, I was in Beijing, China for a workshop that discussed the Implications of TPP for China and India in detail. At the event, co-organised by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD) and the China Society for WTO Studies (CWTO), I made two strong recommendations for India, China and even other developing nations: (i) that these countries should upgrade their capacities for policies and meeting evolving standards, so that their access to major markets could continue without significant problems, and (ii) that non-TPP countries should combine forces to push for the development of more inclusive trade systems, and suggest ways of doing so.

However, the main action to develop inclusive systems within TPP has to be from those negotiating the agreement, so as to maintain substantive and effective linkages with the rest of the world.

While some additional countries may join the TPP, whenever concluded, others which may find it more difficult to do so would nonetheless be important parts of a trading system providing opportunities for sustained prosperity for all economies. Restraining their effective participation would mean restraining the positive potential of the system as a whole.

Various countries are in different stages of preparedness with respect to higher standards likely to arise from TPP. In late 2013, South Korea announced its interest in joining in TPP. There is a strong debate in China on whether or not to join TPP.

In Brazil, parts of the private sector seem open to joining this new mega-FTA, while the government appears to be reticent about it. In India, the policy makers have begun a process of upgrading domestic capacities, but it is very unlikely that India would be able to join an agreement such as TPP, for several years.

All African economies are outside the process of any of the mega-FTAs such as TPP. Their state of preparation is in general much less than the larger economies of other continents. In some instances, there is a view that TPP may not be concluded, so why worry about it!

However, progress in TPP negotiations is continuing, though at less than the desired pace of participants. It is expected to pick up in the months ahead.

Recognising the advent of the contours of a new trade regime in large parts of the global markets, China is already moving ahead with policy reform to better equip itself for a world of new trade and investment regulations.

This will help consolidate its existing position as an important hub of global value chains and its desire to move forward in the value chain to produce higher value items with state-of-art technologies. Interestingly, this preparation for a post-TPP world enmeshes well with its next stage of domestic reform.

However, even a relatively advanced developing nation such as China would find it difficult to have market access post-TPP unless the agreement incorporates an inclusive system. This task would be much more difficult for lesser developed nations. The content of standards under TPP is likely to be high, and lead to considerable cost escalation for exports of several developing nations.

In TPP, these would likely reflect standards prevailing in the U.S.; simultaneously with TPP we have the Trans-Atlantic Trade and investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations between EU and the US which have an important focus on standards. The results of TPP cannot be too different from that of TTIP in this regard.

Studies have shown that impediments to market access by standards are recognised by even exporters from the U.S. and the EU to each other’s market. Similarly, in a recent discussion of Korean emission standards for automobiles, U.S. Ford Motor Company argued that Korea’s standards and related system would raise cost by 7,000 dollars for each Ford Explorer vehicle.

Given that trade and investment play an important role in their growth performance, losing access to TPP and TTIP countries, which together account for about half of world trade, would be highly damaging for India, China or other non-member countries.

Ultimately, the most suitable action that the emerging developing economies (China, India, Brazil and others) can take at this point, would be to pool their collective energies together to press for conditions which ensure that the emerging international trade system works better for all countries, including those not part of the large free trade agreements such as TPP and TTIP.

Such synergies would be useful even for up-gradation of domestic capacities, working together with co-ordinated and cooperative programmes.

Common efforts are crucial for developing inclusive systems because each of these countries on its own will make little impact for changing the evolving regulatory regimes. A more formalised collective response would empower them to press the negotiating nations to develop more inclusive, rather than exclusionary, systems.

Dr. Singh has been with IISD as a senior fellow since October 1, 2013 and provides advice and support to the Institute’s work in China, and on multilateral trading systems.Before joining IISD, Singh served as deputy director-general at the World Trade Organisation from October 2005 to September 2013.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp


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Asia Looks to Innovation to Achieve Sustainability Wed, 06 Aug 2014 14:46:03 +0000 Neena Bhandari Asia-Pacific will account for approximately 46 percent of annual installed solar PV capacity by 2015. Credit: Coralie Tripier/IPS

Asia-Pacific will account for approximately 46 percent of annual installed solar PV capacity by 2015. Credit: Coralie Tripier/IPS

By Neena Bhandari
SYDNEY, Aug 6 2014 (IPS)

Innovation in the fields of renewable energy, food production, water conservation, education and health will be crucial for the developing economies of Asia to meet the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The 17 SDGs, which will succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that are slated to expire in 2015, are aimed at fostering economic growth, environmental protection and ending poverty by 2030.

“As economic growth rises in Asia, more concentration is going into value addition and innovation is the principle vehicle for that,” Director-General of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Dr. Francis Gurry tells IPS.

The Asian Development Outlook (ADO) Supplement, released late July, maintains the ADB’s April forecast of 6.2 percent growth in 2014 and 6.4 percent in 2015 for the region’s 45 developing economies.

“Many Asian countries have already become surprising contenders, for instance, China has emerged as one of the main innovators in sectors like drones, civil aviation, biotechnology and telecommunications." -- Bruno Lanvin, executive director of INSEAD Global Indices
“Clearly, there is a priority to make innovation work for sustainable development in these economies,” Gurry says.

Leading innovation performers in Asia include Japan, South Korea and Singapore, with China rapidly climbing up. Malaysia tops the middle-income countries’ category for innovation performance.

Amongst the other large Asian countries, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam have the potential to move up the ladder of innovation, according to the Global Innovation Index (GII) 2014.

Co-author of the GII and executive director of INSEAD Global Indices, Bruno Lanvin, says, “It is a good sign that innovation is taking a front seat in the design and hopefully the implementation of the SDGs.

“Many Asian countries have already become surprising contenders, for instance, China has emerged as one of the main innovators in sectors like drones, civil aviation, biotechnology and telecommunications,” he tells IPS.

However, Lanvin warns that in these countries with large populations, “if innovation doesn’t translate into improving the lives of its people, it is failing somehow.”

Given the region’s dichotomies such as rapid urbanisation with large rural agricultural populations and extreme vulnerabilities to climate change with growing resource intensities, experts say that innovation must occur right across the economy, if it is to meet the SDGs.

For instance, slum populations in the developing world mushroomed from 650 million in 1990 to 863 million in 2012. More than half of these slum dwellers reside in Asia.

This situation is set to worsen, with Asia home to 56 percent of the world’s biggest cities, including seven of the top 10 ‘megacities’, defined as urban centres with over 10 million residents.

“Our attention has to be on the ‘bottom of pyramid’ populations, both urban and rural, and innovations in technology and systems design have to cater to that segment,” New Delhi-based Zeenat Niazi,vice president of Development Alternatives Group and co-chair of Climate Action Network South Asia (CANSA), tells IPS.

“The challenges will be to reach to the geographically spread-out populations with informal and inconsistent income streams; and attract the private sector to partner with governments and community groups to invest in sustainable growth,” she added.

The Asian region is today fast becoming the hot bed of innovation on and off the field. Lanvin cites Tata’s Nano car in India as a good example of localised, affordable innovation, which Asia is going to need.

In his opinion, in the next decade the Nano will be regarded a success in terms of adapting manufactured equipment to specific conditions and bringing down the cost of production.

But he says, “If you want to be a successful innovator in the Asian region, you have to be a very large company like Tata or Huawei. If Asian countries could give themselves the means to allow successful small enterprises to bring innovation to the market, we would see a lot of frugal, path breaking innovation, especially in the field of renewable energy.”

Indeed, renewable energy is the Holy Grail in Asia and countries in the region will need to invest significantly in renewable energy technologies to meet the urgency of the climate change challenge – for instance, Asia-Pacific countries absorbed 80 percent of the 366 billion dollars in damages caused by climate change in 2011, and many countries in the region are poised to absorb major food and energy shocks as a result of extreme weather patterns in the coming decade.

A new analysis by the market research company Frost & Sullivan entitled ‘Global Solar Power Markets’ estimates that the world solar photovoltaic (PV) market will be worth 137.02 billion dollars in 2020.

This year, global solar PV demand is dominated by the Asia-Pacific, which will account for approximately 46 percent of annual installed solar PV capacity. China, Japan, India and Australia will continue to be the top four countries driving regional demand.

With panel prices coming down drastically, Asian manufacturers are now looking at value chain integration and technical efficiencies to differentiate their products from other suppliers in the market, the analysis adds.

Increasing scarcity of water will also drive innovation in sustainable irrigation, water filtration and water recycling techniques.

“In Asia and the Pacific, where almost two billion people live on less than 2.50 dollars a day, innovation is essential for identifying solutions to persistent development challenges,” Caitlin Wiesen, manager of the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) regional centre in Bangkok, tells IPS.

To help countries achieve development goals, the UNDP has put in place a system for rapid prototyping and testing of potential solutions. Currently, it is testing 16 new ideas across Asia and the Pacific.

One such prototype is being tested in Bhutan. Jigme Dorji, acting head of the Poverty and MDG Unit at UNDP-Bhutan, is working with U.S.-based Emerson College’s Engagement Lab, local techies and youth leaders to generate the content and develop an outreach strategy to maximise youth participation in a game that would engage all the stakeholders in a constructive dialogue about youth unemployment.

“We will evaluate the results of these prototypes and assist countries in turning the successful ones so they can achieve impact at scale,” Wiesen adds.

China, Vietnam, India, Malaysia and Thailand, are demonstrating rising levels of innovation because of improvements in institutional frameworks, a skilled labour force with expanded tertiary education, better innovation infrastructure, a deeper integration with global credit investment and trade markets, and a sophisticated business community – even though progress on these dimensions is not uniform across their economies, according to the GII report.

Many successful Asians, working as entrepreneurs with major global corporations and universities, are beginning to return to their home countries to nurture the next wave of innovations and create local jobs.

Adam Bumpus, assistant professor of Environment, Innovation and Development at the University of Melbourne, says, “There are a number of initiatives that are directly contributing to SDGs by increasingly linking countries in research and technology development. For example, the University of Melbourne is working on initiatives that link Australia, China, India and the U.S. on innovation and climate change.”

“Secondly, there are opportunities to piggyback sustainable development initiatives by using existing technology in new innovative ways. In the Pacific we have been looking at the role of mobile phones for sustainable development priorities like climate change,” Bumpus tells IPS.

 Edited by Kanya D’Almeida


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Chile Taps Solar Thermal Energy with Latin America’s First Plant Tue, 05 Aug 2014 18:37:38 +0000 Marianela Jarroud Model of the Concentración Solar de Potencia de Cerro Dominador plant being built in the northern Chilean region of Antofagasta, which will begin to produce solar thermal energy in 2017. Credit: Abengoa Chile

Model of the Concentración Solar de Potencia de Cerro Dominador plant being built in the northern Chilean region of Antofagasta, which will begin to produce solar thermal energy in 2017. Credit: Abengoa Chile

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Aug 5 2014 (IPS)

With the first solar thermal power plant in Latin America, Chile hopes to begin to alleviate its energy crisis, which threatens to further drive up the high cost of electricity and to hinder the growth of investment, especially in the mining industry.

“We have a structural problem, which is that energy in Chile is very costly, and this not only represents a hurdle for economic growth but also hurts the poor,” government spokesman Álvaro Elizalde told Tierramérica.

This means, he added, “that we have to simultaneously increase the energy supply to bring down prices while promoting non-conventional renewable energy (NCRE) sources.”

The Spanish company Abengoa Solar, which has been operating in Chile since 1987, won the public tender in January to develop a solar tower plant with 110 MW capacity and 17.5 hours of thermal energy storage in molten salt.

The Concentración Solar de Potencia de Cerro Dominador plant, which began to be built in May by the company’s local subsidiary, Abengoa Solar Chile, is to come online in 2017 and will have a useful life of 30 years.

The plant will cost one billion dollars to build, and an additional 750,000 dollars will go towards the construction of a photovoltaic solar plant that will double the power generated to 210 MW, spokespersons for the company in Chile told Tierramérica.

Abengoa will receive direct subsidies from the Chilean government and the European Union, as well as financing from the Inter-American Development Bank, the German development bank KFW, the Clean Technology Fund and the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives.

The plant is being installed in the municipality of María Elena, in the region of Antofagasta, 1,340 km north of Santiago in the Atacama desert, the most arid part of the planet, where the sun shines year-round.

The first solar thermal power plant in Latin America is being built in the Atacama desert in northern Chile, an area that has one of the highest levels of solar radiation in the world. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The first solar thermal power plant in Latin America is being built in the Atacama desert in northern Chile, an area that has one of the highest levels of solar radiation in the world. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Instead of solar panels, the plant will use 10,600 huge mirrors – heliostats – that span 140 square metres and follow the sun by means of a dual-axis tracking system that will reflect solar rays and heat to a 243-metre tower which will bear a resemblance to Sauron’s tower in the Lord of the Rings movies.

To achieve continuous on demand 24/7 electricity production, the plant will have a thermal energy system designed and developed by the Spanish firm. The heat will be transferred to molten salt, which is used at night to drive 110-MW steam-powered turbines.

The plant will thus offer clean energy 24 hours a day, which is key in Antofagasta, where the constantly growing mining industry already absorbs 90 percent of the power supply in the production of mainly copper."Thermal solar plants are capable of generating and storing energy, and in practice that means they can operate around the clock for most of the year, solely based on energy from the sun.” -- Professor Roberto Román

The company’s spokespersons also say the plant will prevent the emission of 643,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually, equivalent to the emissions of 357,000 vehicles circulating for one year. It should also fully cover the residential sector’s demand for energy in the region.

University of Chile Professor Roberto Román, an expert in NCRE, told Tierramérica that solar thermal energy has several advantages over other NCRE sources, and over photovoltaic systems.

He said thermal solar plants “are capable of generating and storing energy, and in practice, that means they can operate around the clock for most of the year, solely based on energy from the sun.”

In addition, “the power generation from these plants can be combined with other fuels, such as natural gas, to ensure 100 percent accessibility. That means the electricity needed can be generated according to demand, whenever it is needed,” he said.

“If these plants operate only with solar energy they produce zero emissions,” he added, while pointing out that it is a technology that is still being developed “which means there is space for research, development and innovation.

“This is what Spain has been doing over the last 20 years, and what I dream we will be capable of doing ourselves – harnessing the marvelous sunshine that is so abundant. There is enough sunshine here to supply all of Chile several times over,” Román said.

This South American country of 17.6 million people has 18,278 MW of gross installed capacity. Of that total, 74 percent is in the Sistema Interconectado Central (the central grid), 25 percent in the Sistema Interconectado Norte Grande (the northern grid), and the rest in medium-sized grids in the southern regions of Aysén and Magallanes.

Chile imports 97 percent of the fossil fuels that it needs. Hydropower makes up 40 percent of the energy mix, which is dependent on highly polluting fossil fuels that drive thermal power stations, for the rest.

This country’s shortage of energy sources has made the cost of electricity per megawatt/hour (MWh) in Chile one of the highest in Latin America: over 160 dollars, compared to 55 dollars in Peru, 40 in Colombia and 10 in Argentina.
Since she took office again in March, socialist President Michelle Bachelet has reiterated her commitment to developing NCRE sources: wind, geothermal, solar thermal and solar photovoltaic. The government’s target is for 20 percent of the country’s electricity to come from clean energy sources by 2025.

Solar power would appear to be the main focus of energy development in Chile over the next few years, as outlined in the “energy agenda” announced by the president on May 15.

In May, the government approved 43 projects for NCRE development, with the participation of local and international companies, all of them in northern Chile and most of them involving solar photovoltaic power plants.

They would generate a combined total of 2,261 MW a year, which would increase the country’s gross installed capacity by 12.3 percent, when they all come online.

Román cautioned that, in the case of solar thermal energy, “there are still many things that must be worked out, such as how the materials and elements will behave in the aggressive desert climate and how serious and complicated the question of dust and cleaning of the mirrors will be.”

He said this, added to other problems such as water scarcity in the desert, “drive the investment up to two or four times the cost of installing solar photovoltaic plants.”

But, he stressed, solar thermal plants produce “two or three times as much power, which means the real difference in the cost of the energy is not that big.

“Because of all this, I see it as a fantastic option,” Román said. “We should jump on the bandwagon of research and development in this area, with collaboration from other countries of course, and take our place in the field of technological development.”

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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Cameroon Wants the World to Wake Up to the Smell of its Coffee Tue, 05 Aug 2014 04:26:53 +0000 Ngala Killian Chimtom Coffee beans, freshly picked and ready for drying. Credit: Will Boase/IPS

Coffee beans, freshly picked and ready for drying. Credit: Will Boase/IPS

By Ngala Killian Chimtom
KOUOPTOMO, Cameroon, Aug 5 2014 (IPS)

Issah Mounde Nsangou combs his 6.5-hectare Kouoptomo coffee plantation in Cameroon’s West Region, pulling up unwanted weeds and clipping off parasitic plants. For the 50-year-old farmer, the health of his coffee plants are of prime importance.

“I have to prune the farm to make it neat. This will obviously yield good gains,” he tells IPS. Kouoptomo is traditionally a coffee farming village, but like other production basins in this Central African country, production has been on a continuous decline.

Twenty years ago, Nsangou would harvest about 4.8 tonnes (about 80 bags) of coffee from the land. Not anymore.

“Last year, I did not even harvest up to 20 bags,” he says.Coffee contributes about six percent to the country’s GNP and constitutes a lifeline for some 400,000 farmers. The current efforts are intended to raise production to about 120,000 tonnes by 2015.

Coffee production in Cameroon has been plummeting over the years, falling by 56 percent in 2013, with farmers harvesting a mere 16,142 tonnes. It was a dramatic decline from the over 38,000 tonnes harvested the previous year. But the 2012 harvest only represents a third of the 1986 harvest of 140,000 tonnes, according to the Interprofessional Council for the Cocoa and Coffee (CICC) in Cameroon.

Omer Maledy Gaetan, executive secretary of CICC here, points out that Cameroon used to be one of the biggest coffee producers in the world.

“In 1980, we were ranked the 8th [as a] world coffee producer. In 1992, when we liberalised the sector, Cameroon was ranked 12th in the world. Today, we are ranked as 30th,” he tells IPS.

The reasons for the downward trend are many and varied. According to Gaetan, the costs of inputs like fertilisers spiked in the wake of the government’s decision to eliminate subsidies and price protections for the sector in the 1990s.

The increased costs of production, coupled with low market prices at the time, discouraged farmers, many of whom turned to food crop cultivation instead.

“Without fertilisers, insecticides, fungicides and sprayers, it was hard for many farmers to sustain their farms,” Nsangou says.

In addition, farmers complain that erratic rainfall and the absence of technical advice from extension services have combined to hampered the sector.

Still, many are returning to their farms, despite the setbacks.

Issah Mounde Nsangou’s son helps him to weed his Kouoptomo coffee plantation in Cameroon’s West Region. Cameroon is now looking to revive the once-thriving sector. Credit: Ngala Killian Chimtom/IPS

Issah Mounde Nsangou’s son helps him to weed his Kouoptomo coffee plantation in Cameroon’s West Region. Cameroon is now looking to revive the once-thriving sector. Credit: Ngala Killian Chimtom/IPS

A Ray of Hope

With world demand for coffee rising by about three percent every year, Cameroon is now looking to revive the once-thriving sector. The CICC has launched a project known as “New Generation”, which to attract youths into a sector currently sustained by ageing farmers and ageing farms.

Gaetan explains that “New Generation is a programme for youths. In this programme, we introduce 200 young people every year, and we give them support over three years. From next year, we will be having 600 young people every year. That gives me hope that we will re-launch this sector. It is necessary not only to renew the farms, but also to bring in fresh blood into the sector.”

In February the European Union and Cameroon signed a 30-million euro agreement to boost coffee production here, as part of the “Coffee Sector Re-Start Emergency Plan”. Gaetan says the six-year project that begins this year “aims to get the sector out of its misery, and will involve supporting farmers in a variety of ways.”

He says the objective is to create 3,600 hectares of coffee plantations in six years.

“We will supply farmers with everything they need, except labour,” he says.

”We will supply them with inputs necessary to create plantations; from setting up the nursery to setting up the infrastructure to control post-harvest losses.”

He says the first three years will focus on creating 2,200 hectares of coffee plantations in the production basins of the Upper-Nyong in East Region; Moungo, along the coast; and Noun in West Region.

According to the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Essimi Menye coffee remains a key crop that could contribute to Cameroon’s planned development by 2035.

It contributes about six percent to the country’s GNP and constitutes a lifeline for some 400,000 farmers. He says the current efforts are intended to raise production to about 120,000 tonnes by 2015.

Still, current efforts to boost production may not adequately benefit farmers if added value is not brought into the sector. The CCIC says only five percent of Cameroon’s coffee is transformed locally, thereby depriving farmers of a significant mark-up in income.

“Value-addition is the best thing that can happen to coffee farmers and the coffee sector,” Peter Fonguh Minnang, marketing director of the North West Cooperative Association — a farmer’s cooperative involved in coffee marketing, tells IPS.

“If we can transform our coffee, the farm-gate price will automatically go up, because if a kilogram of parchment sells for CFA 500 [about one dollar], we will be paying the farmer at least CFA 1500 [about three dollars] for the same parchment when [value is added],” he explains.

Justifying why it is necessary for Cameroonians to renew their faith in the coffee sector, Gaetan recently told journalists in Yaounde that “all the data and analyses confirm that the future of the global coffee industry is rather promising.”

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

The writer can be contacted at:

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Africa Activists Urge Obama to Act on Extractive Industries Law Tue, 05 Aug 2014 00:50:47 +0000 Jim Lobe Artisanal diamond miners at work in the alluvial diamond mines around the eastern town of Koidu, Sierra Leone. Credit: Tommy Trenchard/IPS

Artisanal diamond miners at work in the alluvial diamond mines around the eastern town of Koidu, Sierra Leone. Credit: Tommy Trenchard/IPS

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Aug 5 2014 (IPS)

As the three-day U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit got underway here Monday, anti-corruption activists urged President Barack Obama to prod a key U.S. agency to issue long-awaited regulations requiring oil, gas, and mining companies to publish all payments they make in countries where they operate.

“The companies need to be held accountable, and we would ask President Obama to also support us in this message,” said Ali Idrissa, the national co-ordinator of Publiez Ce Que Vous Payez (Publish What You Pay, or PWYP), in Niger, a country rich in uranium and iron deposits.Anti-corruption activists are losing patience with what they see as pressure by the extractive industries to prevent the emergence of tough new disclosure requirements.

“We need to look at the entire production chain of these extractive industries; we need to continue putting pressure on this industry …so we can fight poverty and corruption and ensure we have a better development,” he added.

Idrissa, one of scores of African activists who have descended on Washington for this week’s unprecedented gathering, was speaking at a forum sponsored by the Open Society Foundations (OSF), Global Witness, Human Rights Watch, and Oxfam America, among other groups, on civil society efforts to promote government and corporate transparency and accountability on the continent.

The activists, whose numbers are dwarfed by the size of official government delegations, most of which are led by heads of state, as well as U.S. and African corporate chiefs eager to explore business prospects, nonetheless claimed at least part of the spotlight Monday.

At what was billed as a “Civil Society Forum Global Town Hall” meeting at the National Academy of Sciences, both Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry echoed Idrissa’s concerns in general remarks.

“Widespread corruption is an affront to the dignity of your people and direct threat to each of your nations,” Biden declared. “It stifles economic growth and scares away investment and siphons off resources that should be used to lift people out of poverty.”

Kerry also stressed the importance of “transparency and accountability” not only in attracting more investment but also in “creat(ing) a more competitive marketplace, one where ideas and products are judged by the market and their merits, and not by a backroom deal or a bribe.”

While their words gained applause, it was clear from the OSF forum that anti-corruption activists are losing patience with what they see as pressure by the extractive industries to prevent the emergence of tough new disclosure requirements from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the federal agency that regulates U.S. stock and related markets.

At issue is section 1504 of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, an anti-corruption provision that requires all extractive companies listed on U.S. stock exchanges to publish each year all payments they make to the U.S. and foreign governments in the countries where they operate.

According to the legislation, which is designed to counter the so-called “resource curse” that afflict many developing countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, taxes, royalties, fees, production entitlements and bonuses should all be reported down to the project level.

Eight of the world’s 10 largest mining companies and 29 of the 32 largest active international oil companies would be covered by the Act, which requires the SEC to develop specific regulations to implement its intent.

After nearly two years of consultations with businesses, activists, and other interested parties, the SEC issued draft regulations, but they were immediately challenged in a lawsuit filed by the American Petroleum Institute (API), a lobby group that represents the powerful oil and gas industry here.

The SEC has since reported that it does not plan to resume the rule-making process until March, 2015, a source of considerable frustration for the anti-corruption activists.

In the meantime, the European Union (EU), whose member countries have historically shown much less willingness than Washington to enact legislation to deter bribery and corruption by its companies operating abroad, has adopted and begun to enforce its own tough disclosure measures that go beyond the energy and mining industries to include timber companies as well.

“Until 2000, corruption and bribery by European [companies] was not only legal; it was tax-deductible,” Mo Ibrahim, a Sudanese-British telecommunications entrepreneur and prominent philanthropist for good governance in Africa, told the OSF Forum. “The United States, which has been a leading light on corruption, is now dragging its feet. Do you have a backbone, or what?”

He echoed the concerns of an open letter sent to Obama and signed by the heads of the national chapters of PWYP, an OSF-backed international anti-corruption group, in Guinea, Niger, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Chad, Ghana, and Nigeria, on the eve of this week’s Summit.

“It has been more than four years since you signed the Dodd-Frank Act, section 1504 of which obliges all U.S. listed extractive companies to publish the payments they make,” the letter, which was also signed by the African representatives on the PWYP global steering committee. “The law will yield crucial data that can help us hold our governments to account, but it has yet to come into effect.

“We ask you to urge the SEC for a swift publication of the rules governing section 1504 to ensure that they are in line with recent EU legislation and the emerging global standard for extractive transparency,” it said, adding that more also needs to be done to strengthen multilateral rules on taxation and creating a public registry of corporate beneficial ownership information as other critical parts of the anti-corruption struggle in Africa.

Harmonising the SEC regulations with those of the EU is particularly critical, according to Simon Taylor, co-founder and director of London-based Global Witness. “If the SEC gets it wrong, we will then have a double standard,” he noted, suggesting that some European companies could move to the U.S. if the latter’s requirements are less stringent.

API and other critics of the section 1504 have argued that strict rules will put U.S. companies at a disadvantage in bidding for mining or drilling rights, especially vis-à-vis China whose trade investment in Africa, particularly in the continent’s extractive resources, have exploded over the past decade and now far exceeds the U.S.

Beijing has failed so far to join the 12-year-old Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), an Oslo-based international organisation that promotes transparency and currently includes 44 governments, as well as extractive companies, civil-society groups, international development banks, and institutional investors.

But Ibrahim said it was “not acceptable for Europeans or Americans to say, ‘We want to be moral and ethical, but we can’t until this guy’” joins. “China is learning; it can understand and can change. They’re trying to find their feet [in Africa].”

George Soros, the billionaire philanthropist who created OSF, as well as a number of other foundations, said it was important to get China on board because “otherwise they are the spoilers. It is so important that I think we have to be willing to reconsider the whole structure of the [EITI which] they consider [to be] a post-colonial invention.

“They have to be involved in the creation of the system that they will abide by. That’s where civil society in Africa can be influential,” he added.

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

Edited by: Kitty Stapp


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Did Argentina Default or Not? It’s More Than Semantics Mon, 04 Aug 2014 20:48:05 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet Argentine President Cristina Fernández addressing supporters in a courtyard in the government palace on Jul. 31, after giving a speech to the nation to explain the country’s debt payment situation. Credit: Casa Rosada

Argentine President Cristina Fernández addressing supporters in a courtyard in the government palace on Jul. 31, after giving a speech to the nation to explain the country’s debt payment situation. Credit: Casa Rosada

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Aug 4 2014 (IPS)

Argentina’s supposed “default”, an unprecedented case in the history of world capitalism, sets a legal, political and financial precedent that indicates the need for concrete measures regarding the fine line between legal, ethical business activities and criminal usury.

In the debate, the orthodox financial sectors say Argentina’s failure to comply with U.S. Judge Thomas Griesa’s ruling means it has once again defaulted, while others argue that it has actually honoured its commitments and made its payments, and the fact that the funds have not reached the creditors is not the government’s fault.

“Preventing someone from paying is not default,” said President Cristina Fernández in a Jul. 31 nationally televised address, after a meeting with the so-called vulture funds – opportunistic investors who purchase the debt of heavily indebted countries at pennies to the dollar and then vigorously pursue full repayment in court – which failed to come up with a solution to the conflict.

“Now they invented a new term: ‘selective default’. It doesn’t exist. Preventing someone from taking our payments is not default. I told them they would have to invent a new word,” she said with irony.

At a Jul. 30 meeting in New York with Argentine officials, the mediator named by the U.S. court, Daniel Pollack, rejected Argentina’s offer to restructure the debt in the hands of “holdout” creditors – those who did not agree to the 2005 or 2010 debt swaps.

Since Argentina defaulted on nearly 100 billion dollars in debt in late 2001, during the worst economic crisis in the country’s history, 92.4 percent of the bonds have been restructured at a deep discount, with lower interest rates and at longer terms.

But a group of hedge funds that refused to participate in the two debt restructurings sued for full payment of 1.3 billion dollars in Argentine bonds in federal court in New York.

The offer made by Argentina in the Jul. 30 negotiations was for the holdouts to restructure their debt in conditions similar to those accepted earlier by the vast majority of creditors – under late president Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007) in 2005, and under his successor and widow Fernández in 2010.

Jul. 30 was the deadline to pay 539 million dollars in interest due on the discount bonds.

The Fernández administration had deposited the funds with the bond trustee, the Bank of New York Mellon (BoNY Mellon). But Judge Griesa blocked the payments to the bondholders because the Argentine government ignored his order to also pay the hedge funds.

”Unfortunately, no agreement was reached and the Republic of Argentina will imminently be in default,” Pollack said after the meeting in New York. “Default is not a mere ‘technical’ condition, but rather a real and painful event that will hurt real people.”

In an Aug. 1 court hearing, Argentina’s representatives unsuccessfully demanded that Pollack be removed as mediator, because of his remarks.

Some credit rating agencies lowered the rating on Argentina’s foreign currency bonds to “selective default”, while the judge avoided using that term in the Aug. 1 hearing but said it was clear that there had been no payments.

Argentine Economy Minister Axel Kicillof said “Argentina is not in default, because it has already paid. The bondholders did not pick up their payments because of a ban put in place by Judge Griesa.

“They talk about technical default, selective default — some have called it Griesa default, Griefault. No one knows what to call it because it is new, because it doesn’t exist, because no one would have thought that a judge could come along, and say – after the payment – ‘I’m going to order the banks to not meet their contracts.’ ”

Alejandro Drucaroff, a lawyer who specialises in banks and finance, pointed out to IPS that the debt swaps accepted by the vast majority of creditors “involved major discounts of capital and interest and very long terms for repayment.” But he also stressed that Argentina has punctually met all of its payments.

Some of the holdouts – the 7.6 percent of the creditors, who refused to accept the swaps that offered about 35 cents on the dollar – sold their bonds to hedge funds, two of which later sued in federal court in New York for full payment of 1.3 billion dollars in bonds, roughly one percent of the total debt.

The vulture funds acquired the bonds in 2008 at 20 to 30 percent of their nominal value.

In 2012 Judge Griesa ordered Argentina to pay the bonds at full-face value, plus interest and fees – some 1.5 billion dollars.

On Jun. 16, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal by the Argentine government, thus upholding the earlier ruling, which banned Argentina from making payments on the restructured debt unless it also paid the holdouts.

“That ban, which has no legal basis and goes beyond the judge’s legal authority, has no practical effect because Argentina met its payments anyway,” Drucaroff said.

But after BoNY Mellon was “warned” by Griesa that transferring the money to bondholders would violate his ruling, the bank held on to the funds.

“Griesa does not have the authority to keep Argentina from paying its debts to third parties not involved in the trial. Nor does he have authority over funds that aren’t from the U.S. – he can’t embargo them,” Drucaroff argued.

“There is no default; what this is, is an absolutely unprecedented legal situation,” the lawyer added.

“BoNY should be held accountable by the 92.4 percent of creditors and by Argentina for failing to comply with its function,” he said. “It could argue that it acted the way it did because it could be found guilty of contempt of court as a result of Griesa’s ruling – and in my opinion, in that case Griesa would also be responsible for preventing the money from reaching the creditors.”

According to University of Buenos Aires economist Fernanda Vallejos, the wording in the contracts makes it clear that a default would only occur “if Argentina didn’t pay.”

“However, the country not only has the will and the capacity to pay, but it has already paid and will continue to do so,” she added.

That, in her view, is independent of the credit rating agencies, “which in their eagerness to pave the way for the vulture funds to do business, because of the payment of default insurance, invent terms like ‘selective default’, which have nothing to do with reality or with Argentina’s financial solvency.”

The problem, the Argentine government says, are not the 1.5 billion dollars that the judge and the plaintiff are demanding payment of, but the fact that the debt would skyrocket if the bondholders that accepted a discount sued for repayment at full value as well.

The government said the debt could climb as high as 500 billion dollars in that case, which would throw the country back into a crisis similar to the one that triggered the 2001 default in the first place.

Political analyst Alejandro Horowicz said: “A plunge in our foreign reserves of that magnitude would not only affect international trade but would make the fixed exchange rate impossible to control and hence the rest of the reserves would face the same fate and would end up fleeing in a vain attempt to curb the stampede in the price of the dollar.”

Vallejo warned that the U.S. court ruling discouraged any process of debt restructuring by favouring “a small minority who represent the most savage face of international financial capital.”

“Who would accept a restructuring like Argentina’s if by bringing legal action in the courts of any country you can get that level of returns and repayment at full face value?” she asked.

The economist said an international regulatory framework is needed “that would preserve debt restructuring processes and put limits on the complete deregulation of the financial markets which trod roughshod over states and subjugate people.”

Vulture funds are already under scrutiny from governments and international bodies, among which there is a growing consensus that they should be reined in.

Nearly all of them “were involved in the latest international financial crisis [which broke out in 2008] by means of a range of speculative maneuvers that in many cases were actually illegal,” Drucaroff said.

“In theory a large part of the ‘formal’ financial system rejects them and sees them as running counter to business ‘ethics’. But no concrete step has been taken to curtail their activities which, to a large extent, are carried out through tax havens,” he said.

An area in which the question of whether Argentina defaulted or not is just one tip of the iceberg.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Zimbabwe’s Food Entrepreneurs Cash in on a Failing Economy Mon, 04 Aug 2014 09:32:36 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo 
While most industries in Zimbabwe are shutting down, the food business continues to thrive. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

While most industries in Zimbabwe are shutting down, the food business continues to thrive. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Aug 4 2014 (IPS)

Millicent Gananda, 34, and her two children enjoy their food at a roadside restaurant in downtown Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, before they dash into the supermarket next door.

“I can only afford to [buy what is on this] list after almost three months [of saving] because life is hard these days,” Gananda tells IPS as she later emerges laden with groceries to take home.

Gananda, a teacher at a government school, says she can’t afford anything except basic foodstuffs for her family amid a failing economy in this southern African nation.

Gananda is not the only one here solely able to purchase just food these days.

“Feeding my family has become priority number one as times become tougher and tougher here,” Adious Matutu, a married man and father of five from Zimbabwe’s Gweru town in the Midlands Province, 277 kms west of Harare, tells IPS.

Shupikai Chipunza owns an informal grocery shop in Harare. And while may others are being affected by the economic downturn, her business is doing well.

“I take home over 1,300 dollars daily in sales as people buy groceries from my shop here. It is a trend that has gone up this year because people are concentrating on feeding themselves, setting aside other needs that have nothing to do with keeping them alive,” Chipunza tells IPS.

As hundreds of industries shut down across Zimbabwe, there has been an increase in the number of food outlets that are opening.

A 2013 National Social Security Authority Harare Regional Employer Closures and Registrations Report for July 2011 to July 2013 says 711 companies in Harare closed down during this time, rendering 8,336 individuals jobless.

But statistics released this year by the Indigenous Food Processors Association, an independent organisation made up of local Zimbabwean food entrepreneurs, show that 70 food shops, either supermarkets or retail stores, are opening monthly nationwide.

This appears to be an increase from last year. According to statistics released by the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZimStat) in 2013, 26 food outlets, including both formal and informal restaurants and grocery stores, opened every three months, countrywide.

The Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries, an organisation which develops and monitors business activities here, admitted earlier this year that industries were in a comatose state — save for the food business.

Clothing supermarket chain, Greatermans, shut down operations on Jun. 30, paving the way for South Africa’s giant food supermarket, Pick ’n Pay. American fast food chain KFC reopened in Zimbabwe this year after seven years of absence. KFC turned its back on this southern African nation at the height of the economic crisis in 2007.

Economists say the current situation is a result of survival.

“Although people are saving so hard the little money they are getting amid the worsening liquidity crunch here, it is towards food that they now channel that hard-earned money,” independent economist Kingston Nyakurukwa tells IPS.

An average urban Zimbabwean family of six earns about 564 dollars monthly, according to the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ).

“[It] is giving an advantage to the food business community here and as more and more people direct their little earnings towards merely putting food on their tables, it renders business opportunities to entrepreneurs who are now daily shifting focus to dealing in food items,” adds Nyakurukwa.

A senior government official from the country’s Ministry of Finance told IPS on the condition of anonymity: “Economic hardships are taking toll on ordinary people, resulting in them becoming more willing to part with a few dollars on food in order for them to just live on, resulting in the swift growth of food business here.”

Meanwhile, food entrepreneurs like 37-year-old Agnes Madzore are smiling all the way to the bank.

“My restaurant here is giving me more money than the clothing shops that I operate,” Madzore tells IPS, adding that her restaurant makes 285 dollars a day.

And Chipunza says her venture continues to thrive against all odds.

“With more people opting to focus on feeding themselves ahead of all other priorities here despite our country experiencing serious economic challenges, ventures in food businesses are paying back indeed,” she says.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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Analysis: Ten Reasons for Saying ‘No’ to the North Over Trade Sun, 03 Aug 2014 19:09:16 +0000 Ravi Kanth Devarakonda and Phil Harris By Ravi Kanth Devarakonda and Phil Harris
GENEVA/ROME, Aug 3 2014 (IPS)

India’s decisive stand last week not to adopt the protocol of amendment of the trade facilitation agreement (TFA) unless credible rules were in place for the development issues of the South was met with  “astonishment” and “dismay” by trade diplomats from the North, who described New Delhi’s as “hostage-taking” and “suicidal”. 

It obviously came as something of a shock for representatives of Northern interests that any party should have the brass neck to place the interests of its constituents on the negotiating table.

After all, why should such banal issues as food security and poverty get in the way of a trade agenda heavily weighted in favour of the industrialised countries?New Delhi was demanding nothing more than credible global trade rules to ensure that “development,” including the challenges of poverty, in the countries of the South take precedence over the cut-throat mercantile business interests of the transnational corporations in the North

In fact, it was India’s firm stand for permanent guarantees for public stockholding programmes for food security that turned this trade agenda upside down at the World Trade Organization (WTO) last week, putting paid to the adoption of the protocol of amendment for implementation of the contested TFA for the time being.

India and the United States failed Thursday at the WTO to reach agreement on construction of a legally binding decision on a “permanent peace clause” that would further strengthen what was decided for public distribution programmes for food security in developing countries at the ninth ministerial meeting in Bali, Indonesia, last year.

The Bali decision on food security was one of the nine non-binding best endeavour outcomes agreed by trade ministers on agriculture and development.

For industrialised and leading economic tigers in the developing world, the TFA – which would harmonise customs procedures in the developing world on a par with the industrialised countries – is a major mechanism for market access into the developing and poorest countries.

The failure to reach agreement came during a closed-door meeting between India and the United States organised by WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo in an attempt to break the impasse between the world’s two largest democracies.

New Delhi was demanding nothing more than credible global trade rules to ensure that “development,” including the challenges of poverty, in the countries of the South take precedence over the cut-throat mercantile business interests of the transnational corporations in the North.

Trade diplomats from several developing and poorest countries in Africa, South America, and Asia say India’s “uncompromising” stance will force countries of the North to return to the negotiating table to address the neglected issues in the Bali package concerning agriculture and development.

These issues are at the heart of unfinished business in the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) negotiations, the current round of trade negotiations aimed at further liberalising trade.

“It is important to keep the battle alive and India has ensured that the big boys cannot simply walk away with the trade facilitation agreement (TFA) without addressing the concerns on food security and other major issues,” one African official said.

The industrialised countries and some rising economic tigers in the developing world are unhappy that they cannot now take home the TFA without addressing the problem raised by India and other developmental issues in the Doha Development Agenda negotiations.

Many developing and poor countries in Africa and elsewhere were opposed to the TFA but they were “arm-twisted” and “muzzled” by the leading super powers over the last three months. African countries, for example, were forced to change their stand after pressure from the United States, the European Union and other countries.

The TFA was sold on false promises that it would add anywhere up 1 trillion dollars to the world economy. During the Bali meeting last year, the Economist of London, for example, gave two different estimates – 64 billion dollars and 400 billion dollars – as gains from the TFA, while the International Chamber of Commerce gave an astronomical figure of 1 trillion dollars without any rational basis.

“Those predicted gains [from TFA] evaporate when one looks at the assumptions behind them, such as the assumption that all countries in the world would gain the same amount of income from a given increase in exports,” said Timothy A. Wise and Jeronim Capaldo, two academics from the Global Environment and Development Institute at the U.S. Tufts University.

At one go, the TFA will provide market access for companies such as Apple, General Electric, Caterpillar, UPS, Pfizer, Samsung, Sony, Ericsson, e-Bay, Hyundai, Huawei and Lenova to multiply their exports to the poorest countries.

It would drive away scarce resources for addressing bread-and-butter issues in the poor countries and direct them towards creating costly trade-related infrastructure for the sake of exporters in the industrialised world.

Here are ten reasons why trade diplomats from the developing and poorest countries say India’s stand will bolster their development agenda:

1.  India’s stand on food security brings agriculture, particularly unfinished business in the DDA negotiations, back to centre-stage.

2.  The Doha trade negotiations were to have been concluded by 2005 but remain stalled because a major industrialised country put too many spanners in the negotiating wheel.

3.  Major industrialised countries have been cherry-picking issues from the DDA which are of interest to them while giving short shrift to core “developmental” issues.

4.  Issues agreed in the Doha negotiations, such as the ”July package” agreed on August 1, 2004, the Hong Kong  Ministerial Declaration of December 2005 and the un-bracketed understandings of the December 2008 Fourth Revised Draft Modalities for Agriculture, have all been pushed to the back burner because one major country does not want to live up to them.

5.  The Fourth Revised Draft Modalities for Agriculture provided an explicit footnote to enable the developing countries to continue with their public stockholding programmes for food security. That footnote was the result of sustained negotiations and a compromise solution among key WTO members such as the United States, the European Union, India, Brazil, Australia and China, but the United States refused to accept the footnote because of opposition from its powerful farm lobbies.

6.  Trade-distorting practices in cotton which are harming producers in Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali and Chad are supposed to be addressed “ambitiously”, “expeditiously” and “specifically” by the distorting countries in the North. But cotton is now being swept under carpet because a major industrialised country does not want to address the issue because of its farm programme.

7.  Trade facilitation was one of the Doha issues but not the main item of the agenda at all.  It was actually dropped from the Doha agenda in Cancun, Mexico, in 2003 and was brought back in 2004 due to pressure from the United States and the European Union. The core issues of the Doha agenda were agriculture, services and developmental flexibilities.

8.  A major industrialised country which pocketed several gains during the negotiations refuses to engage in “give-and-take” negotiations based on the above mandates and has turned the Doha Round upside down.

9.  Industrialised countries along with some developing countries have formed a coalition of countries willing to pursue what are called “plurilateral” negotiations, only to undermine the DDA negotiations which are multilateral and based on what is called a “single undertaking” (that is, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed). Currently, these countries are negotiating among themselves on services, expansion of information technology products and environmental goods even though these issues are being negotiated in the Doha Round.

10.  Delay in the adoption of protocol will pave way for a healthy debate to reinvigorate the multilateral trading system which is being undermined by those who created it in 1948. The developing and poor countries want credible and balanced multilateral trading rules to replace what was agreed over 25 years ago in order to continue their “developmental” programmes with a human face.

Herein lies the crux of the issue – are the major powers of the North prepared to go along with a global trading system that puts the interests of the majority of the world’s people before their own interests?

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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U.S. Summit Seeks to Play Catch-Up in Africa Sun, 03 Aug 2014 16:43:04 +0000 Jim Lobe The explosion in Chinese involvement with Africa is of particular concern to policy-makers here for strategic reasons. Credit: Kit Gillet/IPS

The explosion in Chinese involvement with Africa is of particular concern to policy-makers here for strategic reasons. Credit: Kit Gillet/IPS

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Aug 3 2014 (IPS)

Despite worsening crises in Ukraine, Gaza, and elsewhere in the Middle East, the administration of President Barack Obama hopes next week to focus at least some more positive attention on Africa.

The U.S.-Africa Leadership Summit, which will bring presidents, prime ministers, and other top officials of some 50 African nations here, is designed to demonstrate Washington’s continued interest in the continent, particularly in matters affecting its pocketbook.“This is really a very high-profile photo-op to better position U.S. stakeholders to compete for the continent’s natural resources." -- Emira Woods

In speeches and briefings leading up to the three-day meeting, whose centrepiece will be Tuesday’s U.S.-Africa Business Forum, U.S. officials have highlighted the economic opportunities offered by increased trade and investment in Africa.

“(W)e hope to see increased U.S. investment as one of the Summit’s key outcomes,” said Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield at the Atlantic Council Thursday in previewing the Summit whose theme is “Investing in the Next Generation”.

“When we talk about the fact that most of the world’s fastest-growing economies are in sub-Saharan Africa, we’re also seeing a burgeoning middle class of African consumers and an expanding market for U.S. direct investment. This means enormous growth opportunities for American business and new jobs for Africans and Americans,” she told the group.

Washington is being playing economic catch-up in Africa, a region where its military engagement has grown far more quickly, largely due to its efforts to counter the proliferation of radical Islamist groups in North Africa, Somalia, and the Sahel.

As noted by the Council on Foreign Relations recently, the U.S. has gone from a leading trading partner with Africa “to being far surpassed by the European Union and China.”

The EU’s trade over the last decade has more than doubled to more than 200 billion dollars last year, while China’s trade with the continent has mushroomed from some 10 billion dollars in 2000 to more than 170 billion dollars in 2013.

By contrast, U.S.-African bilateral trade has actually declined – from about 100 billion dollars in 2011 to only 60 billion dollars last year.

Most of that trade consisted of imports from Africa – mainly oil and other natural resources — while exports to the continent have largely stagnated at around 20 billion dollars annually over the past five years, despite the rapid growth of the continent’s consumer market extolled by Thomas-Greenfield and featured in a front-page analysis in the New York Times earlier this month entitled “Africans Open Fuller Wallets to the Future.”

The explosion in Chinese involvement with Africa is of particular concern to policy-makers here for strategic reasons, although they routinely go to great lengths to insist that they welcome Beijing’s commitment to promoting development in the region.

“President Obama has made clear that we welcome other nations being invested in Africa infrastructure, and, frankly, China can play a constructive role in areas like developing African infrastructure,” Benjamin Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, told reporters earlier this week.

At the same time, Obama himself offered words of warning appeared designed to resonate in some African nations that have witnessed recent protests over Chinese labour practices.

“(M)y advice to African leaders is to make sure that if, in fact, China is putting in roads and bridges, number one, that they’re hiring African workers; number two, that the roads don’t just lead from the mine, to the port, to Shanghai,” he told The Economist magazine.

All but a handful of the region’s heads of state have been invited, and most, including the presidents of the region’s two economic powerhouses, South Africa and Nigeria, are expected to attend.

Omitted were Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, the subject of U.S. diplomatic sanctions, Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir, who has been indicted for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (ICC), as well as the leaders of the Central African Republic (CAR), Eritrea, and the Western Sahara, which, despite its membership in the African Union (AU) is occupied by Morocco, a close U.S. ally.

Despite his indictment by the ICC, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta was included, in part because Nairobi is seen as a “key regional partner” of Washington’s, according to Rhodes.

Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma and Liberian President Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, the region’s only female head of state and a long-standing Washington favourite, will reportedly be staying home in order to deal with the Ebola outbreak which has killed more than 700 people in recent weeks and which U.S. officials hope will not overshadow the “good news” of African economic growth and opportunity that the Summit will spotlight.

Given his African roots, Obama’s 2008 election spurred hopes that he would give the region unprecedented attention.

During his first term, however, he spent less than one day there – in Ghana – and offered no major new initiatives, although he maintained multi-billion-dollar funding levels for – and eased restrictions on — George W. Bush’s highly popular President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). He also played a key role in securing independence for South Sudan and supporting UN and AU peacekeeping efforts across the region, especially in Somalia.

Last summer, he travelled to Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania where he unveiled his “Power Africa” programme – an initiative designed to increase access to electricity to some 20 million households and businesses in six countries by leveraging some 14 billion dollars in private investment from seven billion dollars in federal aid and guarantees.

Congress has yet to authorise the programme, and officials hope next week’s Summit will boost its prospects, as well as those for the renewal of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), a trade initiative launched under Bill Clinton that provides duty-free access for some 6,000 products from sub-Saharan Africa. It is due to expire next year.

In addition to the Business Forum, Obama will participate with the other leaders on panels at the State Department Wednesday covering investment, “peace and regional stability” and “governing for the next generation.”

The Summit will also include an all-day conference at the National Academy of Science Monday for civil-society representatives, an event that was added to the agenda in response to criticism from human-rights, development, and anti-poverty activists here who complain that the Summit is too heavily weighted toward business interests.

“There’s no doubt that this is a continent that is rising in economic terms,” said Emira Woods, an Africa specialist at the Institute for Policy Studies here. “But it’s also rising in terms of inequality and environmental damage, and these aren’t on the main agenda.

“This is really a very high-profile photo-op to better position U.S. stakeholders to compete for the continent’s natural resources, particularly in oil, gas, mining, and biofuels, without regard to the basic human needs of its people at a moment when they lack even the basics of a health-care infrastructure that can effectively halt the spread of the Ebola virus,” she told IPS.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at

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India Stands Firm on Protecting Food Security of South at WTO Fri, 01 Aug 2014 18:32:00 +0000 Ravi Kanth Devarakonda By Ravi Kanth Devarakonda
GENEVA, Aug 1 2014 (IPS)

The failure of the two major players in global trade negotiations to bridge their differences has put paid to the adoption of the protocol of amendment for implementation of the contested Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) for the time being. 

India and the United States failed Thursday at the World Trade Organization (WTO) to reach agreement on construction of a legally binding decision on a “permanent peace clause” that would further strengthen what was decided for public distribution programmes for food security in developing countries at the ninth ministerial meeting in Bali, Indonesia, last year.New Delhi made its choice clear to Azevedo: either members [of the WTO] agree to a permanent solution for food security or postpone adoption of the TFA protocol until there are credible outcomes on all issues, by the end of the year.

The Bali decision on food security was one of the nine non-binding best endeavour outcomes agreed by trade ministers on agriculture and development.

For industrialised and leading economic tigers in the developing world, the TFA – which would harmonise customs procedures in the developing world on a par with the industrialised countries – is a major mechanism for market access into the developing and poorest countries.

WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo, who had put all his energies over the last seven months into ensuring the timely adoption of the TFA protocol by July 31 as set out in the Bali ministerial declaration, was clearly upset with the failure to adopt the protocol.

“The fact we do not have a conclusion means that we are entering a new phase in our work – a phase which strikes me as being full of uncertainties,” Azevedo told the delegates at the concluding session of the General Council, which is the highest WTO decision-taking body between ministerial meetings.

The Bail ministerial declaration was adopted at the WTO’s ninth ministerial meeting in December last year. It resulted in a binding multilateral agreement on trade facilitation along with non-binding outcomes on nine other decisions raised by developing and poorest countries, including an interim solution on public distribution programmes for food security.

The developing and poorest countries remained unhappy with the Bali package even though their trade ministers endorsed the deal. The countries of the South resented what they saw as the “foster parent treatment” accorded to their concerns in agriculture and development.

While work on clearing the way for the speedy implementation of the TFA has preceded at brisk pace at the WTO over the last seven months, other issues were somewhat neglected. Several African and South American countries, as well as India, remained unhappy with the lack of progress in issues concerning agriculture and development, particularly in public distribution programmes for food security.

Last week, India fired the first salvo at the WTO by declaring that unless there are “credible” outcomes in the development dossier of the Bali package, including a permanent solution for food security, it would not join the consensus to adopt the TFA. Bolivia, Venezuela and Cuba shared India’s concerns.

Despite concerted political lobbying by leading U.S. administration officials and envoys from Western countries in New Delhi to change its stand, the Indian government informed the WTO director-general Wednesday that it wanted a substantive outcome on food security, without which it would oppose the TFA protocol.

Without bringing India and the United States into a face-to-face dialogue at the WTO, Azevedo held talks with the representatives from the world’s two largest democracies in a one-on-one format.

According to sources familiar with the WTO’s closed-door consultations, Azevedo informed India that its demand for a substantive outcome on food security would not be acceptable to members because they would not approve “re-writing” the Bali ministerial declaration.

New Delhi made its choice clear to Azevedo: either members agree to a permanent solution for food security or postpone adoption of the TFA protocol until there are credible outcomes on all issues, by the end of the year.

“India’s position remains the same,” New Delhi trade minister Nirmala Sitharaman told reporters after a meeting with the U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker Thursday.

Given the importance of TFA for U.S. business interests, Washington yielded some ground by agreeing to a compromise, but the two sides were stuck on legal aspects, particularly on how this should be adopted at the General Council.

The result Thursday was that the differences between the two led to an adjournment of the General Council without the TFA protocol.

“We have not been able to find a solution that would allow us to bridge that gap,” the WTO director-general told members.  “We tried everything we could … but it has not proved possible,” Azevedo said.

“We are absolutely sad and disappointed that a very small handful of countries were unwilling to keep their commitments from the December conference in Bali and we agree with the director-general that the failure has put this institution on very uncertain ground,” U.S. deputy trade representative Ambassador Michael Punke told reporters.

Brazil’s trade envoy Marcos Galvao suggested that it would be possible to reinvigorate the talks despite the failure Thursday. “When we come back in September, we can come forward with the Bali package and the whole work programme,” Galvao told IPS.

In New Delhi, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said “our feeling is obviously that the agreement that was reached in Bali is an agreement that importantly can provide for food security for India.”

“We do not dismiss the concerns India has about large numbers of poor people who require some sort of food assurance and subsistence level, but we believe there’s a way to provide for that that keeps faith with the WTO Bali agreement,” Kerry maintained.

Credible and permanent rules for food security are vital for developing countries to continue with their public distribution programmes to address livelihood security.

“The programme enables governments in the developing countries to put more money in the hands of the poor farmers by buying their crops at stable and higher price, and use those government purchases to feed the hungry – many of those same farm families – with free or subsidised food distributions,” said Timothy A. Wise, an academic with the Global Development and Environment Institute at the U.S. Tufts University.

Several developing and poorest countries – Zambia, Ghana, Malawi, Senegal, Kenya, Nigeria, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Botswana, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Jordan, India, and Saudi Arabia – are currently implementing food security programmes for different food articles.

The Bali package involves nine issues in addition to the TFA and they need to be addressed “on an equal footing,” Nelson Ndirangu, Kenya’s senior trade official told IPS. “I’m sympathetic to India’s stand and I agree that all issues, including a permanent solution for food security, must be addressed along with the TFA,” said Ndirangu.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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