Inter Press Service » Environment http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Sat, 18 Feb 2017 11:06:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.15 Alternative Mining Indaba Makes Its Voice Heardhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/alternative-mining-indaba-makes-its-voice-heard/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=alternative-mining-indaba-makes-its-voice-heard http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/alternative-mining-indaba-makes-its-voice-heard/#comments Sat, 18 Feb 2017 04:00:11 +0000 Mark Olalde http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149007 A delegate from the Alternative Mining Indaba dances during a protest march on Feb. 8, 2017. About 450 representatives of civil society mining-affected communities attended the conference in Cape Town. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

A delegate from the Alternative Mining Indaba dances during a protest march on Feb. 8, 2017. About 450 representatives of civil society mining-affected communities attended the conference in Cape Town. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

By Mark Olalde
CAPE TOWN, South Africa, Feb 18 2017 (IPS)

“Comrades, we have arrived. This cherry is eight years awaited. We have made it to this place,” Bishop Jo Seoka told the crowd, pausing to allow for the whistles and cheers.

Seoka, the chairman of a South African NGO called the Bench Marks Foundation, presided over the crowd of protesters that was busy verbally releasing years of frustration at the continent’s mining industry. The protest on Feb. 8 was part of the Alternative Mining Indaba (AMI) held in Cape Town.“We want transparency, we want accountability and, most importantly, we want participation of the people affected by mining." --Mandla Hadebe

The annual gathering brings together residents of mining-affected communities and civil society representatives to discuss common problems caused by the mining industry in Africa. On its third and final day, the AMI took to the streets to deliver its declaration of demands to industry and government representatives.

While police temporarily blocked the march from reaching the convention center hosting the Mining Indaba, the industry’s counterpart to the AMI, protesters were angry after years of having their side of the story largely ignored.

They marched up to the line of police and private security guarding the doors to the conference hall and demanded to speak with members of the Mining Indaba.

“As citizens and representations (sic) citizen-organisations we wish to express our willingness to work with African governments and other stakeholders in the quest to harness the continent’s vast extractive resources to underpin Africa’s socio-economic transformation and the [Africa Mining Vision] lays a foundation for this,” the declaration stated.

“I very much appreciate the willingness to engage in dialogue, and I think this is the first step towards establishing a common vision,” Tom Butler, CEO of the International Council on Mining & Metals, told the crowd before signing receipt of the declaration and handing it over for the managing director of the Mining Indaba to also sign.

Alternative Mining Indaba participants dance and sing struggle songs during their march on Feb. 8, 2017. Individual countries have begun holding their own alternative indabas, with South Africa’s first country-specific conference held this year in Johannesburg. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

Alternative Mining Indaba participants dance and sing struggle songs during their march on Feb. 8, 2017. Individual countries have begun holding their own alternative indabas, with South Africa’s first country-specific conference held this year in Johannesburg. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

While Butler came to the AMI to give a presentation on the mining industry’s behalf, few other members of government or the industry made an attempt to engage with the AMI. The Mining Indaba’s Twitter account even blocked some AMI delegates who took to social media to air their grievances.

The official Mining Indaba is a place for mining ministers, CEOs of mining houses and other industry representatives to network and strike deals. During the event, South Africa and Japan, for example, signed a bilateral agreement to boost collaboration along the mining value chain.

“This Indaba has affirmed South Africa’s status as a preferred investment destination,” Mosebenzi Zwane, the country’s minerals minister, said in a statement following the event. “As government, we are heartened by this and recommit to ensuring the necessary regulatory and policy certainty to attract even more investment into our country.”

In his opening address at the Mining Indaba, Zwane also announced that the draft of the new Mining Charter, a document guiding the country’s mining industry, would be published in March.

The AMI, however, was born as a community-level response to the fact that such decisions are usually made without consulting those most impacted by mining.

“They are going to find this huddled mass of people,” Mandla Hadebe, one of the event organizers, said of the protest’s goals in the first year. Only 40 delegates were present.

An Alternative Mining Indaba delegate from Swaziland sings protest songs. There was a feeling of triumph among the delegates after achieving even a degree of acknowledgement from industry representatives. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

An Alternative Mining Indaba delegate from Swaziland sings protest songs. There was a feeling of triumph among the delegates after achieving even a degree of acknowledgement from industry representatives. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

In its eighth year, the AMI has grown to about 450 participants representing 43 countries. Delegates came from across Africa – from Egypt to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Malawi – as well as the rest of the world – from Cambodia to Bolivia and Australia – to share their stories.

“It just shows that our struggles are common and that we’ve decided to unite for a common purpose,” Hadebe said of the growth. “We want transparency, we want accountability and, most importantly, we want participation of the people affected by mining.”

A number of panels dedicated to community voices gave activists a platform to share their stories and methods of resistance. Translators in the various conference rooms translated among English, French and Portuguese, a necessity as well as a tacit nod to the ever-present effects of the same colonialism that brought mining.

“What we heard first were promises,” a woman from Peru recounted. “Thirty years passed, and now I call the second part of this process ‘the lies.’”

“We are trying to build a critical mass that is angry enough to oppose irresponsible mining,” a delegate from Kenya explained.

Some panels addressed specific issues facing Africa’s extractive industry. One discussion explained the need to move away from indirect taxes toward direct ones focused on mining houses. The presenter, a member of Tax Justice Network-Africa, said that an increase in government audits had led to a surge in tax revenue since 2009, a rare success story.

Another panel dealt with the realities of impending job loss due to widespread mechanization, while others took on the need for governments to strike better deals with international corporations.

Side events provided forums for more nuanced learning on topics such as the corruption involved with mining on communal land. At the showing of a documentary following South African land rights activist Mbhekiseni Mavuso, delegates from other countries such as Sierra Leone compared and contrasted their own forced relocations.

Mavuso said, “We are regarded as people who do not count. We have now become what we call ‘victims of development,’ and so that is also making us to become victims of democracy. We are fighting, so let us all stand up and fight.”

Occasionally, delegates took to the microphone to lament continued talk with minimal action. Much of the AMI focused on the Africa Mining Vision, a document produced by the African Union. While its goal is to make mining beneficial for all Africans, the document is a high-level policy discussion lacking a direct connection to affected communities.

The three-day conference has outgrown its ability to delve deeply into every issue impacting the represented countries, so delegates have taken the idea to their home nations. In the past year, Madagascar, Angola, Swaziland and others held their first country-specific alternative indabas.

Only a week before the AMI, South Africa hosted its first such conference in Johannesburg.

Despite many delegates expressing feelings of helplessness or anger, the march to the Mining Indaba provided a temporary sense of victory.

After finally obtaining some level of acknowledgment from industry representatives, the AMI participants danced and took selfies outside the Mining Indaba, far from the townships and rural villages adjacent to mines.

As the delegates boarded busses to depart the event, the vehicles shook from stomping and singing, and some protesters leaned out the windows to shout their last parting sentiments on behalf of mining-affected communities around the country and the continent.

*Mark Olalde’s mining reporting is financially supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, the Fund for Environmental Journalism and the Fund for Investigative Journalism.

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Expansion of Renewable Energies in Mexico Has Victims, Toohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/expansion-of-renewable-energies-in-mexico-has-victims/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=expansion-of-renewable-energies-in-mexico-has-victims http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/expansion-of-renewable-energies-in-mexico-has-victims/#comments Fri, 17 Feb 2017 22:34:19 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149013 In Mexico, wind farms spark controversy due to complaints of unfair treatment, land dispossession, lack of free, prior and informed consent and exclusion from the electricity generated. In the photo, wind turbines frame the horizon of the northern city of Zacatecas. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

In Mexico, wind farms spark controversy due to complaints of unfair treatment, land dispossession, lack of free, prior and informed consent and exclusion from the electricity generated. In the photo, wind turbines frame the horizon of the northern city of Zacatecas. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
KIMBILÁ, Mexico, Feb 17 2017 (IPS)

The growing number of wind and solar power projects in the southern Mexican state of Yucatán are part of a positive change in Mexico’s energy mix. But affected communities do not see it in the same way, due to the fact that they are not informed or consulted, and because of how the phenomenon changes their lives.

“We have no information. We have some doubts, some people say it’s good and some say it’s bad. We have heard what is said in other states,” small farmer Luis Miguel, a Mayan Indian, told IPS.

He lives in Kimbilá, a town in the municipality of Izmal, which is the site of an up-to-now failed private wind power venture that has been blocked by opposition from the area’s 3,600 inhabitants and in particular from the ejido or communal land where the wind farm was to be installed.“There is a lack of information going to the communities, who don’t know the scope of the contracts; (the companies and authorities) don’t explain to them the problems that are going to arise. Conflicts are generated, and manipulation is used to get the permits. Social engineering is used to divide the communities.” -- Romel González

“We fear that they will damage our crops,” said Miguel, whose father is one of the 573 members of the Kimbilá ejido, located in the Yucatán Peninsula, 1,350 km southeast of Mexico City.

The questioned project, run by the Spanish company Elecnor, includes the installation of 50 wind turbines with a capacity of 159 MW per year.

The company installed an anemometric tower in 2014, but the local population, who grow maize and garden vegetables, raise small livestock and produce honey for a living, did not find out about the project until January 2016.

Since then, the ejido has held two assemblies and cancelled another, without reaching an agreement to approve a 25-year lease on the lands needed for the wind farm.

Meanwhile, in February 2016, the members of the ejido filed a complaint against the Procuraduría Agraria – the federal agency in charge of protecting rural land – accusing it of defending the interests of the company by promoting community assemblies that were against the law.

The wind farm is to have an operating life of 30 years, including the preparatory phase, construction and operation, and it needs 77 hectares of the 5,000 in the ejido.

The company offered between five and 970 dollars per hectare, depending on the utility of the land for a wind farm, a proposition that caused unrest among the ejido members. It would also give them 1.3 per cent of the turnover for the power generated. But the electricity would not be used to meet local demand.

“We haven’t been given any information. This is not in the best interests of those who work the land. They are going to destroy the vegetation and 30 years is a long time,” beekeeper Victoriano Canmex told IPS.
This indigenous member of the ejido expressed his concern over the potential harm to the bees, “because new roadswould be opened with heavy machinery. They said that they would relocate the apiaries but they know nothing about beekeeping. It’s not fair, we are going to be left with nothing,” he said.

Canmex, who has eight apiaries,checks the beehives twice a week, together with four of his six children. He collects about 25 30-kg barrels of honey, which ends up on European tables. Yucatan honey is highly appreciated in the world, for its quality and organic nature.

Luis Miguel, a Mayan farmer from Kimbilá, in the southeastern state of Yucatán, Mexico, fears that the installation of a wind farm in his community will damage local crops of corn and vegetables.  Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Luis Miguel, a Mayan farmer from Kimbilá, in the southeastern state of Yucatán, Mexico, fears that the installation of a wind farm in his community will damage local crops of corn and vegetables. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Yucatán, part of the ancient Mayan empire, where a large part of the population is still indigenous, has become a new energy frontier in Mexico, due to its great potential in wind and solar power.

This state adopted the goal of using 9.3 per cent non-conventional renewable energies by 2018. In Yucatán, the incorporation per year of new generation capacity should total 1,408 MW by 2030.

Leaving out the big hydropower plants, other renewable sources account for just eight per cent of the electricity produced in Mexico. According to official figures, in December 2016, hydropower had an installed capacity of 12,092 MW, geothermal 873 MW, wind power 699 MW, and photovoltaic solar power, six MW.

According to the Mexican Wind Energy Association, which represents the industry, in Mexico there are at least 31 wind farms located in nine states, with a total installed capacity of 3,527 MW of clean energy for the northeast, west, south and southeast regions of this country of 122 million people.

Besides the lack of information, and of free, prior and informed consent, as the law and international conventions require, indigenous people complain about impacts on migratory birds, rise in temperatures in areas with solar panels and water pollution caused by leaks from wind towers.

For Romel González, a member of the non-governmental Regional Indigenous and Popular Council of Xpujil, a town in the neighboring state of Campeche, the process of energy development has legal loopholes that have to do with superficial contracts and environmental impact studies.

“There is a lack of information for the communities, who don’t know the scope of the contracts; (the companies and authorities) don’t explain to them the problems that are going to arise. Conflicts are generated, and manipulation is used to get the permits. Social engineering is used to divide the communities,” González told IPS.

He said that in the region, there are “previously untapped” natural resources that are attracting attention from those interested in stripping the communities of these resources.

The state is experiencing a clean energy boom, with plans for five solar plants, with a total capacity of 536 MW, and five wind farms, with a combined capacity of 256 MW. The concessions for the projects, which are to operate until 2030, have already been awarded to local and foreign companies.

In the first national power generation auction organised by the government in March 2016, four wind power and five solar power projects won, while in the second one, the following September, two new wind projects were chosen.

The change in the electricity mix is based on Mexico’s energy reform, in force since August 2014, which opened the industry to national and international private capital.

Local authorities project that by 2018, wind power generation will amount to 6,099 MW, including 478 from Yucatán, with the total increasing two years later to 12,823 MW, including 2,227 MW from this state.

Yucatán will draw a projected 52 million dollars in investment to this end in 2017 and 1.58 billion in 2018.

The Electricity Industry Law, in effect since 2014, stipulates that each project requires a social impact assessment. But opponents of the wind power projects have no knowledge of any assessment carried out in the state, while there is only evidence of two public consultations with affected communities, in the case of two wind farms.

“The electricity will not be for us and we don’t know what will happen later (once the wind farm is installed). That is why we have our doubts,” said Miguel.

People in Yucatán do not want to replicate the “Oaxaca model”. That is the southern state which has the largest number of wind farms, which have drawn many accusations of unfair treatment, land dispossession and lack of free, prior and informed consent.

“The authorities want to do this by all means, they are just trying to get these projects approved,” said Canmex.

González criticised the government for failing to require assessments. “We have asked for them and the government has responded that there aren’t any. The community response to the projects will depend on their level of awareness and social organisation. Some communities will react too late, when the project is already underway,” he said.

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Improved Cookstoves Boost Health and Forest Cover in the Himalayashttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/improved-cookstoves-boost-health-and-forest-cover-in-the-himalayas/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=improved-cookstoves-boost-health-and-forest-cover-in-the-himalayas http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/improved-cookstoves-boost-health-and-forest-cover-in-the-himalayas/#comments Fri, 17 Feb 2017 11:13:23 +0000 Athar Parvaiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148986 Women and children are the primary victims of indoor air pollution in poor, rural areas of India. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

Women and children are the primary victims of indoor air pollution in poor, rural areas of India. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

By Athar Parvaiz
DARJEELING, India, Feb 17 2017 (IPS)

Mountain communities in the Himalayan region are almost entirely dependent on forests for firewood even though this practice has been identified as one of the most significant causes of forest decline and a major source of indoor air pollution.

Improper burning of fuels such as firewood in confined spaces releases a range of dangerous  air pollutants, whereas collection of firewood and cooking on traditional stoves consumes a lot of time, especially for women.

The WHO estimates that around 4.3 million people die globally each year from diseases attributable to indoor air pollution. Women and children are said to be at far greater risk of suffering the impacts of indoor pollution since they spend longer hours at home.

Data from the Government of India’s 2011 Census shows that 142 million rural households in the country depend entirely on fuels such as firewood and cow dung for cooking.

Despite heavy subsidies by successive federal governments in New Delhi since 1985 to make cleaner fuels like LPG available to the poor, millions of households still struggle to make the necessary payments for cleaner energy, which compels them to opt for traditional and more harmful substances.

This has prompted environmental organisations like Bangalore-based Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment (ATREE) to help mountain communities minimise the health and environmental risks involved in using firewood for cooking in confined places.

IPS spoke with the Regional Director of ATREE for northeast India, Sarala Khaling, who oversees the Improved Cooking Stoves (ICS) project being run by the organisation in Darjeeling, Himalayas. Excerpts from the interview follow.

The Improved Cooking Stove (ICS) keeps this kitchen in India’s Himalaya region smoke-free. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

The Improved Cooking Stove (ICS) keeps this kitchen in India’s Himalaya region smoke-free. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

IPS: What prompted you to start the ICS programme in the Darjeeling Himalayan region?    

Sarala Khaling: In many remote forest regions of Darjeeling we conducted a survey and found out that people rely on firewood because it is the only cheap source in comparison to LPG, kerosene and electricity. Our survey result found that around Singhalila National Park and Senchal Wildlife Sanctuary, the mean fuel wood consumption was found to be 23.56 kgs per household per day.

Therefore, we thought of providing technological support to these people for minimizing forest degradation and indoor pollution which is hazardous to human health and contributes to global warming as well. That is how we started replacing the traditional cooking stoves with the improved cooking stoves, which consume far less fuel wood besides reducing the pollution.

IPS: How many ICS have you installed so far?  

SK: Till now ATREE has installed 668 units of ICS in different villages of Darjeeling. After the installation of ICS, we conducted another survey and the results showed reduction of fuel wood consumption by 40 to 50 per cent and also saved 10 to 15 minutes of time while cooking apart from keeping the kitchens free of smoke and air pollution.

We have trained more than 200 community members and have selected “ICS Promoters” from these so that we can set up a micro-enterprise on this. There are eight models of ICS for different target groups such as those cooking for family, cooking for livestock and commercial models that cater to hostels, hotels and schools.

IPS: When did the project begin? 

SK: We have been working on efficient energy since 2012. This technology was adopted from the adjacent area of Nepal, from the Ilam district. All the models we have adopted are from the Nepalese organization Namsaling Community Development Centre, Ilam. This is because of the cultural as well as climatic similarities of the region. Kitchen and adoption of the type of “chulah” or stove has a lot to do with culture. And unless the models are made appropriate to the local culture, communities will not accept such technologies.

IPS: Who are the beneficiaries?

SK: Beneficiaries are local communities from 30 villages we work in as these people are entirely dependent on the fuel wood and live in the forest fringes.

IPS: What are the health benefits of using ICS? For example, what can be the health benefits for women and children? 

SK: Women spend the most time in the kitchen, which means young children who are dependent on the mothers also spend a large part of their time in the kitchen. The smokeless environment in the kitchen definitely must be having a positive effect on health, especially respiratory conditions. Also the kitchen is cleaner and so are the utensils. And then using less fuel wood means women spend lesser time collecting them thus saving themselves the drudgery.

IPS: What is the feedback from the beneficiaries? 

SK: The feedback has been positive from people who have adopted this technology. They say that ICS takes less fuel wood and it gives them a lot of comfort to cook in a smoke free environment. Women told us that their kitchens are looking cleaner as so also the utensils.

IPS: How much it costs to have a clean stove? And can a household get it on its own? 

SK:  It costs around INR 2500 (37 dollars) to make a stove. ATREE supports only the labour charges for making a unit. Of course we support all the training, mobilising, monitoring and outreach and extension. Yes, there are many houses outside of our project sites who have also adopted this technology. The material used for making the clean stove is made locally like bricks, cow dung, salt, molasses and some pieces of iron.

IPS: Since you say that you are training local people to make these stoves, do you have any target how many households you want to cover in a certain time-period? 

SK:  We are looking to provide 1200 units to as many households. But, depending on the uptake, we will scale up. Our main objective is to make this sustainable and not something that is handed out as free. Our model is to select community members and train them.

We want these trained community members become resource persons and organise themselves into a micro-enterprise of ICS promoters. We want these people to sell their skills to more and more villages because we believe people will pay to make and adopt this technology. We are noticing that this has already started happening.

IPS: Have you provided this technology to any hostels, hotels etc?

SK: Yes, government schools who have the midday meal systems have also adopted this. There are about half a dozen schools which are using ICS and we are mobilizing more to adopt this technology.

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Energy Access Builds Inclusive Economies and Resilient Communitieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/energy-access-builds-inclusive-economies-and-resilient-communities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=energy-access-builds-inclusive-economies-and-resilient-communities http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/energy-access-builds-inclusive-economies-and-resilient-communities/#comments Thu, 16 Feb 2017 11:34:56 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148974 More girls in rural Bihar, India are going to school after mini-grid-powered household lights give mothers and children two extra hours of evening work and study time. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

More girls in rural Bihar, India are going to school after mini-grid-powered household lights give mothers and children two extra hours of evening work and study time. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
NEW DELHI, Feb 16 2017 (IPS)

Jaipal Hembrum runs three one-man home enterprises – a bicycle repair shop, a tiny food stall and a tailoring unit in Kautuka, a remote village in eastern India. Sewing recycled clothes into mattresses late into the evening, the 38-year-old father of three girls says two light bulbs fed by a solar power system have changed his life.

Given the trajectory of development India is currently pursuing, energy access for its rural population could bring dramatic economic improvement. Yet 237 million people — a fifth of its 1.3 billion people, many of them in remote villages with few livelihood options — do not have any access to it.The challenge India faces is how to meet its energy requirements while also meeting its emission reduction commitment to the global climate deal.

The Delhi-based research organisation Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) stipulates that if even half of households deemed electrified through the national power grid are not receiving the guaranteed six hours uninterrupted supply, the number of people who are electricity-poor in India totals 650 million.

In this scenario, renewable energy-based mini-grids, particularly in remote villages, are considered the best option to manage local household and commercial energy demand efficiently by generating power at the source of consumption.

This is being proven true by the Rockefeller Foundation’s Smart Power for Rural Development (SPRD) initiative in two of India’s poorest states, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, where 16 and 36 percent of households respectively are electrified. In India, 55 percent rural households have energy access, often of unreliable quality.

Started in 2014, the SPRD project has helped set up close to 100 mini-grid plants, covering the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and lately, in Jharkhand too. According to Rockefeller Foundation sources, these plants are serving a customer base of around 38,000 people. Over 6,500 households are benefitting, along with 3,800 shops and businesses, and over 120 institutions, telecom towers and micro-enterprises.

Over 2014 – 2017, the Rockefeller Foundation aims to make a difference to 1,000 energy-poor villages in India, benefitting around a million rural people. For this effort, the Foundation has committed 75 million dollars, partnering and funding Smart Power India (SPI) a new entity designed to work closely with a wide range of stakeholders who help scale-up the market for off-grid energy.

Jaipal Hembrum stitches old clothes mattresses in the evening by the light of a solar-powered bulb. The 50 dollars a day he earns is kept aside for schooling and marriages of his three daughters. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Jaipal Hembrum stitches old clothes mattresses in the evening by the light of a solar-powered bulb. The 50 dollars a day he earns is kept aside for schooling and marriages of his three daughters. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

What can mini-grids can do? Plenty

A recent evaluation of the mini-grids’ impact on communities they serve in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh already show a broad range of economic, social and environmental benefits.

Entrepreneurship and new businesses have grown, with 70 percent existing micro-businesses reporting increased number of costumers after connecting to the mini-grids and 80 percent planned to expand.

Nine in 10 household users said their children’s daily study time has increased by two hours since they got the lights. Women said they had increased mobility after dark and theft cases had fallen. Use of kerosene and diesel has fallen dramatically — to virtually zero, according to Khanna.

Micro-businesses like cyber cafes, fuel stations, mobile and fan repair shops, banks, schools and hospitals are the fastest growing commercial customer section of mini-grids constructed under Smart Power India.

In Shivpura village of Uttar Pradesh, where TARA Urja, a small energy service company (ESCO), started providing reliable electricity from a 30-KW solar plant, Sandeep Jaiswal set up a water purification processor in 2015. In just over a month he was rushing 1,200 litres of water on his new mini-truck to 40 customers. TARA, also a social business incubator, has financially supported Jaiswal with 530 dollars, in return for a one-year contract to source electricity from TARA.

Smart Power India supports the development of rural micro-enterprises through loans, community engagement and partnerships with larger companies with rural value chains, for instance, city malls that source vegetables from rural farms.

India confronts a demographic youth ‘bulge’ with 64 percent in the working age group in 2020, requiring 10 million new jobs every year in the coming decade. Using green mini-grids to create rural livelihoods can also reduce urban migration.

Innovating a business model that propels construction of mini-grids

Mini-grids are a decentralized system providing a renewable energy-based electricity generator with a capacity of 10 kilowatts or more, with a target consumer group it supplies through a stand-alone distribution network.

The sustainability of private companies in the rural power supply sector depends on generating sufficient revenue long-term. To make it profitable for smaller-scale ESCOs to bring electricity to rural parts of the developing world, the Smart Power model ensures fast-growing sectors with significant energy needs such as telecom towers in rural areas, to provide steady revenue. In return, the ESCOs provide contractual guarantee of reliable power supply to the towers.

“There is an opportunity to catalyze the telecommunication and off-grid energy sectors. Currently cell phone towers in rural areas are often powered by expensive diesel generators and companies are looking for cheaper alternatives, thereby creating the possibility for a strong anchor,” says Ashvin Dayal, Managing Director, Asia, of the Rockefeller Foundation.

Telecom towers — by becoming the ‘anchor’ customers – help make ESCOs bankable. They then can expand supply into rural household lighting and local enterprises.

Government figures say 2 billion litres of diesel is annually consumed by the 350,000  existing telecom towers in India, including those in remote rural regions. The challenge India faces is how to meet its energy requirements without compromising environmental sustainability, while meeting its emission reduction commitment to the global climate deal.

Solar power cost per unit has fallen in India to 0.045 cents, which makes it increasingly feasible to shift to renewable powered mini-grids, saving substantial subsidies spent on fossil fuels. The government in 2016 decided to construct 10,000 mini-grids in the next five years of 500 megawatt (MW) capacity, but this is clearly not enough, say experts.

India has a potential for 748,990 MW of solar power. Fourteen states, including Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, receive irradiance above the annual global average of 5 kilowatt-hours per square meter per day.

Around the world, approximately 1.3 billion people lack access to reliable and affordable means of electricity without which, growing their incomes, improving food security and health, educating children, accessing key information services becomes a major challenge. Energy access is critical to achieving several UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

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Worst Drought in Decades Drives Food Price Spike in East Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/worst-drought-in-decades-drives-food-price-spike-in-east-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=worst-drought-in-decades-drives-food-price-spike-in-east-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/worst-drought-in-decades-drives-food-price-spike-in-east-africa/#comments Wed, 15 Feb 2017 15:55:45 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148953 Farmers in the Horn of Africa need urgent support to recover from consecutive lost harvests and to keep their livestock healthy and productive. Photo: FAO/Simon Maina

Farmers in the Horn of Africa need urgent support to recover from consecutive lost harvests and to keep their livestock healthy and productive. Photo: FAO/Simon Maina

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Feb 15 2017 (IPS)

The most severe drought in decades, which has struck parts of Ethiopia and is exacerbated by a particularly strong El Niño effect, has led to successive failed harvests and widespread livestock deaths in some areas, and humanitarian needs have tripled since the beginning of 2015, the United Nations warns.

East Africa’s ongoing drought has sharply curbed harvests and driven up the prices of cereals and other staple foods to unusually high levels, posing a heavy burden to households and special risks for pastoralists in the region, the United Nations food and agricultural agency on Feb. 14 warned.

“Sharply increasing prices are severely constraining food access for large numbers of households with alarming consequences in terms of food insecurity,” said Mario Zappacosta, a senior economist for the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Local prices of maize, sorghum and other cereals are near or at record levels in swathes of Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania, according to the latest Food Price Monitoring and Analysis Bulletin (FPMA).

Poor livestock body conditions due to pasture and water shortages and forcible culls mean animals command lower prices, leaving pastoralists with even less income to purchase basic foodstuffs, FAO adds, while providing some examples:

Somalia’s maize and sorghum harvests are estimated to be 75 per cent down from their usual level. In Tanzania, maize prices in Arusha, Tanzania, have almost doubled since early 2016.

Drought is pushing up food prices in Uganda. Photo: FAO

Drought is pushing up food prices in Uganda. Photo: FAO


In South Sudan, food prices are now two to four times above their levels of a year earlier, while in Kenya, maize prices are up by around 30 per cent.

Beans now cost 40 per cent more in Kenya than a year earlier, while in Uganda, the prices of beans and cassava flour are both about 25 per cent higher than a year ago in the capital city, Kampala.

Pastoral Areas Face Harsher Conditions

Drought-affected pastoral areas in the region face even harsher conditions, the UN specialised agency reports. In Somalia, goat prices have fallen up to 60 per cent compared to a year ago, while in pastoralist areas of Kenya the prices of goats declined by up to 30 per cent over the last 12 months.

Shortages of pasture and water caused livestock deaths and reduced body mass, prompting herders to sell animals while they can, as is also occurring in drought-wracked southern Ethiopia, FAO reports. This also pushes up the price of milk, which is, for instance, up 40 per cent on the year in Somalia’s Gedo region.

According to the Rome-based agency, Ethiopia is responding to a drought emergency, triggered by one of the strongest El Niño events on record.

Humanitarian needs have tripled since the beginning of 2015 as the drought continues to have devastating effects on the lives and livelihoods of farmers and pastoralists — causing successive crop failures and widespread livestock deaths, it reports.

Food insecurity and malnutrition rates are alarming with some 10.2 million people in need of food assistance.

FAO also reports that one-quarter of all districts in Ethiopia are officially classified as facing a food security and nutrition crisis — 435 000 children are suffering severe acute malnutrition and 1.7 million children, pregnant and lactating women are experiencing moderate acute malnutrition.

Livelihood Crisis

More than 80 per cent of people in Ethiopia rely on agriculture and livestock as their primary source of food and income, however, the frequency of droughts over the years has left many communities particularly vulnerable.

Significant production losses, by up to 50-90 percent in some areas, have severely diminished households’ food security and purchasing power, forcing many to sell their remaining agricultural assets and abandon their livelihoods.

Pastoralists in Ethiopia carry butchered meat home. Photo: FAO

Pastoralists in Ethiopia carry butchered meat home. Photo: FAO


Estimates in early 2016 by Ethiopia’s Bureau of Agriculture indicate that some 7.5 million farmers and herders need immediate agricultural support to produce staple crops like maize, sorghum, teff, wheat, and root crops, and livestock feed to keep their animals healthy and resume production.

Hundreds of thousands of livestock have already died and the animals that remain are becoming weaker and thinner due to poor grazing resources, feed shortages and limited water availability, leading to sharp declines in milk and meat production.

The FAO Ethiopia El Niño Response Plan aims to assist 1.8 million vulnerable pastoralists, agro pastoralists and smallholder farmers in 2016.

To achieve this, the UN food and agriculture will prioritize agricultural production support in order to reduce the food gap, livestock interventions to protect the livelihood assets of pastoralists and agro pastoralists, and activities to enhance the resilience of affected communities through coordinated response.

As part of the emergency response, FAO has been providing planting materials to help seed- and food-insecure households in the worst affected regions plant in the belg and meher seasons.

In an effort to preserve livestock, it has been distributing multi-nutrient blocks in pastoral and agro-pastoral areas to strengthen livestock and bolster the resilience of the cooperatives that produce them.

Survival animal feed is also being provided to help farmers produce fodder and improve access to water for livestock. Herds across the country have also benefited from vaccination and treatment campaigns to address their increasing vulnerability as a result of drought.

In Ethiopia’s Somali Region, FAO is enhancing the financial stability of drought-affected households through the purchase of weak sheep and goats for immediate, local slaughter – and providing the meat – rich in protein – to nutritionally vulnerable drought-affected families.

The intervention will help reduce stress on available feed, enable households to focus their resources on their remaining productive animals, and invest in productive assets.

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Ravaging Drought Deepens in Kenyahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/ravaging-drought-deepens-in-kenya/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ravaging-drought-deepens-in-kenya http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/ravaging-drought-deepens-in-kenya/#comments Mon, 13 Feb 2017 11:41:37 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148928 At least one million children in Kenya are in dire need of food aid due to drought. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

At least one million children in Kenya are in dire need of food aid due to drought. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Feb 13 2017 (IPS)

Experts warn that Kenya is in the grip of the worst drought in recent history as government estimates show the number of people who are acutely food insecure has risen to 2.7 million, up from two million in January.

This has necessitated the government to declare the crisis a national disaster as large parts of the country continue to succumb to the ravaging drought.The drought is putting 11 million people in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia in urgent need of aid.

At least 11,000 livestock across the country are facing imminent death due to lack of water and pasture, this is according to the National Drought Management Authority.

The drought management authority issued further warnings to the effect that pastoral communities could lose up to 90 percent of their livestock by April.

But children are still the most affected, with official government reports showing that an estimated one million children in 23 of the country’s 47 counties are in dire need of food aid.

“The prevalence of acute malnutrition in Baringo, Mandera, Marsabit and Turkana counties in Northern Kenya where the drought is most severe is estimated at 25 percent,” Mary Naliaka, a pediatrics nurse with the Ministry of Health, told IPS.

“This is alarming because at least 45 percent of deaths among children under five years of age is caused by nutrition related issues.”

Too hungry to play, hundreds of starving children in Tiaty Constituency of Baringo County instead sit by the fire, watching the pot boil, in the hope that it is only a matter of minutes before their next meal.

Unbeknownst to them, the food cooking inside the pot is no ordinary supper. It is actually a toxic combination of wild fruits and tubers mixed with dirty water, as surrounding rivers have all run dry.

Tiaty sits some 297 kilometers from the capital Nairobi and the ongoing dry spell is not a unique scenario.

Neighbouring Elgeyo Marakwet and Turkana County are among the counties spread across this East African nation where food security reports show that thousands are feeling the impact of desertification, climate change and rainfall shortage.

“In most of these counties, mothers are feeding their children wild fruits and tubers. They boil them for at least 12 hours, believing that this will remove the poison they carry,” Hilda Mukui, an agriculturalist and soil conservationist, told IPS.

Teresa Lokwee, a mother of eight children, all of them under the age of 12, who lives in Tiaty, explains that the boiling pot is a symbol of hope. “When our children see that there is something cooking, the hope that they will soon enjoy a meal keeps them going.”

Mukui, who was head of agriculture within the Ministry of Agriculture and worked in most of the affected counties for more than two decades, says that rainfall deficit, shortage of water and unusually high temperatures is the scenario that characterizes 23 out of the 47 counties in Kenya.

The situation is so dire that in Baringo County alone, 10 schools and 19 Early Childhood Development Schools are empty as children join other family members in search of water.

“Sometimes once you leave in the morning to search for water, you return home in the evening,” Lokwee told IPS.

In other affected counties, especially in Western Kenya, communities have resorted to eating insects such as termites which were previously taboo.

Though these unconventional eating habits are a respite for starving households, experts warn that this is a ticking time bomb since the country lacks an insect-inclusive legislation and key regulatory instruments.

In the Kenya Bureau of Standards, which assesses quality and safety of goods and services, insects are labeled as impure and to be avoided.

But if predictions by the Ministry of Water and Irrigation are anything to go by, the worst is yet to come as the country watches the onset of what experts like Mukui call a crisis after the failure of both the long and short rains.

“We are now facing severe effects of desertification because we are cutting down more trees than we can plant,” she explains.

She added that Vision 2030 – the country’s development blueprint – calls for the planting of at least one billion trees before 2030 to combat the effects of climate change, but the campaign has been a non-starter.

Mukui told IPS it is no wonder that at least 10 million people are food insecure, with two million of them facing starvation.

The drought is region-wide. On Feb. 10, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said the drought is putting 11 million people in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia in urgent need of aid.

According to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which works in countries such as Kenya buckling under the weight of desertification, land degradation and severe drought, the number of people living on degraded agricultural land is on the rise.

Agriculture is the mainstay of the economy, with at least 45 percent of government revenue being derived from this sector.

Mukui says it is consequently alarming that at least 10 million of the estimated 44 million Kenyans live in degraded agricultural areas, accounting for an estimated 40 percent of the country’s rural community.

Other statistics by UNCCD show that though arid and semi-arid lands constitute about 80 percent of the country’s total land mass and are home to at least 35 percent of the country’s population, areas that were once fertile for agriculture are slowly becoming dry and unproductive.

A survey by the Kenya Forest Service has revealed that not only is the country’s forest cover at seven percent, which is less than the ten percent global standard, an estimated 25 percent of the Mau Forest Complex – Kenya’s largest water catchment area – has been lost due to human activity.

Within this context, UNCCD is working with various stakeholders in Kenya to ensure that at least five million hectares of degraded land is restored. According to Executive Secretary Monique Barbut, there is a need to ensure that “in the next decade, the country is not losing more land than what it is restoring.”

“Land issues must become a central focus since land is a resource with the largest untapped opportunities,” she said.

Research has shown that the state of land impacts heavily on the effectiveness of policies to address poverty and hunger.

Restoring forest cover in Kenya is key. Since 1975, official government statistics show that the country has suffered 11 droughts – and the 12th is currently looming.

The cost implications that the country continues to suffer can no longer be ignored. UNCCD estimates that the annual cost of land degradation in Kenya is at least five percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product. And addressing land degradation can earn the country four dollars for every one dollar spent in land restoration efforts.

Barbut has, however, commended the country’s efforts to address desertification caused by both human activity and the adverse effects of climate change, particularly through practical and sustainable legislation.

Mukui says that UNCCD works through a country-specific National Action Programme which Kenya already has in place. “What we need is better coordination and concerted efforts among the many stakeholders involved, government, communities, donors and the civil society, just to name a few,” she said.

Efforts to enhance the country’s capacity to combat desertification by the UNCCD include providing financial and technical resources to promote management of local natural resources, improving food security and partnering with local communities to build sustainable land use plans.

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Argentina’s Never-ending Environmental Disasterhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/argentinas-never-ending-environmental-disaster/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=argentinas-never-ending-environmental-disaster http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/argentinas-never-ending-environmental-disaster/#comments Sat, 11 Feb 2017 00:10:09 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148909 A view of Buenos Aires from the point where the Riachuelo flows into the Rio de la Plata. To the left can be seen the famous Boca Juniors stadium. Chronicles from 200 years ago were already talking about the pollution in the river. Credit: Courtesy of FARN

A view of Buenos Aires from the point where the Riachuelo flows into the Rio de la Plata. To the left can be seen the famous Boca Juniors stadium. Chronicles from 200 years ago were already talking about the pollution in the river. Credit: Courtesy of FARN

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Feb 11 2017 (IPS)

Is it possible to spend 5.2 billion dollars to clean up a river which is just 64-km-long and get practically no results? Argentina is showing that it is.

As the government admitted to the Supreme Court of Justice in late 2016, that is the amount of public funds earmarked since July 2008 for the clean-up of the 64-km Matanzas-Riachuelo river, which has been identified as one of the worst cases of industrial pollution in the world.

The river cuts across 14 municipalities as it runs from the western Buenos Aires working-class suburb of La Matanza to the picturesque neighbourhood of La Boca, where it flows into the Río de la Plata or River Plate.“It’s true that Acumar has never done a good job. But this past year was the most disastrous. So much so that the president of the body did not even appear at the hearing before the Supreme Court.” -- Andrés Nápoli

However, the situation remains practically unchanged since the mid-19th century, when chronicles of the time described the “rotten” state of the river. Today an estimated eight million people live in the river basin, facing a serious health and environmental emergency.

“The Riachuelo river is still serving the function of drainage for the economic and human activities in the city of Buenos Aires and a large part of the Greater Buenos Aires, as it has for the last 200 years,” says a more than 200 page report seen by IPS, which the Matanza Riachuelo Basin Authority (Acumar), the official body in charge of the clean-up, submitted to the Supreme Court on Nov. 30, 2016.

“It’s not just highly polluted, but it continues to be contaminated,” said the document, which added that 90,000 tons per year of heavy metals and other harmful substances are currently dumped into the river..

In the Spanish colonial era, sheep and mule meat salting factories were built along its banks, along with tanneries that processed cow leather. Dumping waste into the river became a common practice that turned it into a veritable open sewer, which continued with more modern industries like petrochemical plants and the meat-packing industry.

In the last few decades, official promises to clean up the Riachuelo have abounded. The one perhaps best remembered by Argentines was made by María Julia Alsogaray, environment minister under then President Carlos Menem (1989-1999), who announced that they would do it in just 1,000 days. An enthusiastic Menem said that when they were finished, he would swim in the Riachuelo.

In the end, the river remained a health threat, Menem decided not to swim, to protect his health, and Alsogaray ended up in prison for corruption.

It seemed that this story could begin to change in July 2008. Or that was what the Argentine environmentalist community thought, unanimously describing as “historic” the Supreme Court ruling that ordered national, provincial, and Buenos Aires authorities to clean up the Riachuelo.

The decision was based on an article added to the constitution in 1994, which guarantees all inhabitants in the country a “healthy environment” to live in.

However, the scant progress made so far was crudely exposed during a Nov. 30, 2016 hearing before the Supreme Court.

Thousands of poor families living along the Riachuelo en Buenos Aires face serious environmental and health threats. In 2008, the Supreme Court ordered the government to relocate them, but only 3,147 of the promised 17,771 housing units have been built so far. Credit: Courtesy of FARN

Thousands of poor families living along the Riachuelo en Buenos Aires face serious environmental and health threats. In 2008, the Supreme Court ordered the government to relocate them, but only 3,147 of the promised 17,771 housing units have been built so far. Credit: Courtesy of FARN

That day Supreme Court president Ricardo Lorenzetti, an expert in ecology designated Goodwill Ambassador for Environmental Justice last year by the Organisation of American States (OAS), did not try to hide his disgust.

During the hearing, Gabriela Seijo, director of operations in Acumar, said that, for example, so far only 3,147 of 17,771 housing units which were to be built to relocate the families most exposed to the pollution have been completed. “If we keep up this pace, we will finish in 2036,” she said.

Faced with this scenario, Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development Sergio Bergman tried to blame the governments of the late Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007), who was president when Acumar was created, and his widow and successor Cristina Fernández (2007-2015), who was president when the Court issued the ruling.

“The situation that we found was terrible. Not just because the Riachuelo was degraded and polluted to the same extent as, or worse than, when the judgment was handed down, but also because the body in charge of cleaning it up, Acumar, was not in a position to comply with the court order,“ Bergman told the Court.

However, the government of President Mauricio Macri, in office since December 2015, and Bergman himself have been in the administration for over a year and have not yet made progress towards the goals set for Acumar, which has 900 employees, many of whom were hired in 2016.

It was reported that 34,759 inspections in factories have been carried out and 57 plants have been closed down, but all of them temporarily, with no significant impacts on the environment.

According to figures provided by Acumar, there are currently six million people living in the basin, at least 10 per cent of them in some 60 slums and shantytowns.

“It’s true that Acumar has never done a good job. But this past year was the most disastrous. So much so that the president of the body did not even appear at the hearing before the Supreme Court,” lawyer Andrés Nápoli, head of the Environment and Natural Resources Foundation (FARN), one of the five non-governmental organisations appointed by the Supreme Court to monitor compliance with the ruling, told IPS.

Indeed, Torti did not appear at the hearing in November and, a few days after the poor presentations given by other officials, he resigned.

Macri named as his replacement lawmaker Gladys González of the governing centre-right coalition Cambiemos, who has no background in environmental affairs.

Nápoli said that, after the hearing, he asked Acumar to explain how the 5.2 billion dollars were spent, adding that if the answer was not satisfactory, he would file a lawsuit demanding an investigation into possible corruption.

“They have only cleaned up the riverbanks a little and removed many of the boats that had sunk decades ago,” diplomat Raúl Estrada Oyuela, a member of the Association of La Boca, the neighbourhood where the Riachuelo runs into the Rio de la Plata, told IPS.

“But there is a lack of will to tackle the main problem, which is the pollution of the water, soil and air, because that would mean affecting the interests of the industries, which of course would have to make important investments if they were forced to switch to a clean production system,” said Estrada, who is internationally known in environmental issues and who was president of the committee which in 1997 produced the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.

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IFAD 2017 – It’s Women’s Turn in Rural Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/ifad-2017-its-womens-turn-in-rural-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ifad-2017-its-womens-turn-in-rural-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/ifad-2017-its-womens-turn-in-rural-development/#comments Mon, 06 Feb 2017 11:04:47 +0000 Mario Osava and Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148827 Josefina Stubbs, candidate for president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). Credit: Courtesy of Josefina Stubbs

Josefina Stubbs, candidate for president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). Credit: Courtesy of Josefina Stubbs

By Mario Osava and Baher Kamal
BRASILIA, Feb 6 2017 (IPS)

Josefina Stubbs, from the Dominican Republic, may become the first woman to preside over the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), which is dedicated to eradicating rural poverty.

IFAD is a United Nations agency created in 1977 to invest in poor farmers in developing countries, who represent three-quarters of the world’s poor and undernourished.

Stubbs has accumulated 35 years of rural development experience, most recently in IFAD, as Regional Director of the Latin America and the Caribbean Division (2008-2014) and later as Associate Vice-President of the Strategy and Knowledge Department, before being nominated for president of IFAD by her country.

She holds a BA in Psychology and Master’s degrees in Sociology, Political Science and International Development, and has also worked for Oxfam and the World Bank.

The elections will take place on Feb. 14-15 during the IFAD annual meeting at the agency’s Rome headquarters. In her favour, Stubbs led, as vice president, the process of designing the agency’s Strategic Framework 2016-2025, besides her in-depth knowledge of how IFAD functions.

In its 40 years of experience, IFAD has earmarked 18.4 billion dollars for rural development projects that have benefited a total of 464 million persons. And the Fund’s soft loans and donations mobilised far greater sums contributed by governments and other national sources, as co-financing.

Boosting the crop yields of small farmers, protecting the environment, training poor peasant farmers, and empowering young people and women will be her priorities if she is elected president of IFAD.

She described her ideas and plans in this interview with IPS during her visit to Brasilia in the first week of February.

IPS: What direction and priorities will you adopt as president of IFAD if you are elected?

JOSEFINA STUBBS: I will dedicate myself to working with the governments of the IFAD member countries, in particular with low- and middle- income countries, so they can advance towards fulfilling the Agenda 2030 in the rural sector and achieving Sustainable Development, with two goals: food security and poverty reduction. Implementing the Agenda 2030 in the countryside, supporting women and young people, and protecting the environment will be vital for the future of the rural sector.

This requires increasing agricultural and non-farm productivity, to produce more and better, in order to supply a continually growing population, while stimulating small-scale farming to create more employment, services and income. A vibrant rural sector is needed to keep people in the countryside, especially the young.

We have to support women more strongly in the productive area, and in the processing of agricultural products as well, encouraging the creation of companies to amplify the benefits. This way new inclusive production chains are generated, and their active involvement in the market is bolstered. Organising farmers is key to boosting the volumes of production and trade, and to improving the quality standards of the products which reach increasingly demanding consumers.

Public policies are the umbrella under which IFAD can work more closely with governments. One example is Brazil, where we work with the national, state and municipal governments in policies to expand markets and transfer technologies. IFAD’s activities in Brazil were limited eight years ago, but now we have agreements with all nine states of Brazil’s Northeast region, providing financial support and technical assistance. This is an experience that should be strengthened and taken to other countries.

IPS: And is any region going to be given priority, Africa for example?

JS: IFAD’s priority lies where the rural poor are, training them and governments in the search for solutions. In Africa we have provided many resources and we have to keep doing so. The African economy is strongly tied to the rural sector, both because of the employment and because the urban and peri-urban markets demand more quality food. Africa has IFAD’s support because of its poverty rate, but so do Asian countries such as India, Vietnam, and Cambodia.

IPS: For the first time, three women are running for the presidency of IFAD. Researchers say that resources achieve more efficient results against poverty and hunger if they are given to women. What should IFAD do for rural women, who make up over 60 per cent of the agricultural workforce in regions of the South and are victims of inequality?

JS: Governments must be encouraged to ensure a greater presence of women in all of the activities financed by the Fund. But we must do it in an innovative way, breaking down traditional barriers to women’s access to public and private goods, loans, technology and the markets. We need to create new instruments specifically adapted to women’s lives, their needs, so that they can be useful to them. It is absolutely urgent to increase the participation of women and their role in the decision-making process about the investments that are made in their communities, and for them to be active subjects in the implementation of these investments.

IPS: But technical and scientific development has gone into large-scale agricultural production. Would it be suitable for poor women in rural areas?

JS: In agriculture, Brazil has demonstrated coexistence between large-scale and small-scale farmers. It already has new machinery for small-scale producers, such as tractors and harvesters, as well as irrigation. The progress made by the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa) in improving the crops of small farmers is extraordinary. Brazil has developed important technologies for other countries. It has also made headway with productive infrastructure in communities. An example is machinery and refrigerated trucks for goat’s milk, suited for narrow roads. We need technologies adapted to small farms.

Food security depends on small-scale producers. In Africa 60 per cent of the basic food basket of the middle-class comes from local small-scale farmers. If we don’t increase this production, we lose the opportunity to promote food security in these countries. This has been proven. In the Dominican Republic, 80 per cent of basic products come from small-scale producers.

Increasing national productive capacity brings more benefits than spending on imports. It is a battle won which we have to make visible.

IPS: Does the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) share this view?

JS: The work of the three agencies based in Rome – IFAD, FAO and the World Food Programme (WFP) – must create synergy. They have a key role in supporting governments in meeting the goals of Agenda 2030 in the rural sector. With the specific mission of each agency, we must increase our impact – in investment for the rural poor through IFAD, by strengthening national and global policies that facilitate the achievement of food security and poverty reduction with the work carried out by FAO, and by reinforcinge the humanitarian responses in the rural sector, with the WPF has been doing for decades.

IPS: With regard to the environment, how can IFAD and small-scale farmers contribute to protecting nature and the climate?

JS: Climate change issues and the adequate management of environmental resources have to be seen in a broader perspective in the rural sector. I will keep defending ‘climate-smart agriculture’ with eco-friendly practices that also generate income. But in addition, we have to pay attention to the management of environmental resources such as water, energy, tourism, or agro-forestry, which also generate economic and environmental benefits for the rural and urban sectors. We must seek to empower communities, particularly indigenous communities, so they become effective and efficient managers of natural resources.

IPS: Water is another growing environmental problem.

JS: First of all, we have to safeguard our basins, reforest, preserve. Then we have to change the irrigation systems, replace flood irrigation with new techniques. Sometimes the solution is simple. Rainwater collection, such as in the Northeast of Brazil, is an example. Coming up with solutions implies listening to the local population, not imposing approaches to development that are not what people need.

IPS: How will IFAD keep up or accelerate poverty reduction, with the goal of eradicating it by 2030?

JS: By the deadline set for the Millennium Development Goals, one billion people had been lifted out of poverty. Now the challenge is to keep them afloat, but we still have one billion poor people in the world. We have to sustain our achievements and expand the results. We have to combine conditional cash transfer programmes with an increase in productivity, support for small-scale producers in their production and services companies, support for the expansion of access to technologies as an instrument to expand the benefits of development. We have to create a rural sector where the youth see a future and want to stay.

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New, Aggressive Rust Imperils Wheat Crops in Europe, Africa, Asiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/new-aggressive-rust-imperils-wheat-crops-in-europe-africa-asia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-aggressive-rust-imperils-wheat-crops-in-europe-africa-asia http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/new-aggressive-rust-imperils-wheat-crops-in-europe-africa-asia/#comments Sun, 05 Feb 2017 05:30:52 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148814 A woman farmer working in a wheat field in rural Nepal. Photo: FAO/Saliendra Kharel

A woman farmer working in a wheat field in rural Nepal. Photo: FAO/Saliendra Kharel

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Feb 5 2017 (IPS)

Wheat rust, a family of fungal diseases that can cause crop losses of up to 100 per cent in untreated susceptible wheat, is making further advances in Europe, Africa and Asia, according to two new studies produced by scientists in collaboration with the United Nations.

The reports, highlighted in the journal Nature following their publication by Aarhus University and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), show the emergence of new races of both yellow rust and stem rust in various regions of the world in 2016, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) informs.

At the same time, well-known existing rust races have spread to new countries, the studies confirm, underlining the need for early detection and action to limit major damage to wheat production, particularly in the Mediterranean basin.

“These new, aggressive rust races have emerged at the same time that we’re working with international partners to help countries combat the existing ones, so we have to be swift and thorough in the way we approach this,” said FAO Plant Pathologist Fazil Dusunceli.

Wheat is a source of food and livelihoods for over 1 billion people in developing countries, according to the UN body. Northern and Eastern Africa, the Near East, and West, Central and South Asia – which are all vulnerable to rust diseases − alone account for some 37 per cent of global wheat production.

“Preliminary assessments are worrisome, but it is still unclear what the full impact of these new races will be on different wheat varieties in the affected regions,” said Dusunceli, adding that this is what research institutions across these regions will need to further investigate in the coming months.

“It’s more important than ever that specialists from international institutions and wheat producing countries work together to stop these diseases in their tracks − that involves continuous surveillance, sharing data and building emergency response plans to protect their farmers and those in neighboring countries.”

Wheat experts examine a research plot near Izmir, Turkey, affected by wheat yellow rust. Photo: FAO/Fazil Dusunceli

Wheat experts examine a research plot near Izmir, Turkey, affected by wheat yellow rust. Photo: FAO/Fazil Dusunceli

Wheat rusts spread rapidly over long distances by wind, FAO says, adding that if not detected and treated on time, they can turn a healthy looking crop, only weeks away from harvest, into a tangle of yellow leaves, black stems and shrivelled grains.

Fungicides can help to limit damage, but early detection and rapid action are crucial. So are integrated management strategies in the long run.

Mediterranean, Most Affected

On the Italian island of Sicily, a new race of the stem rust pathogen − called TTTTF − hit several thousand hectares of durum wheat in 2016, causing the largest stem rust outbreak that Europe has seen in decades, FAO reports. Experience with similar races suggests that bread wheat varieties may also be susceptible to the new strain.

In addition, farmers in the mainland Italy, Morocco and some Scandinavian countries are battling a yet-to-be-named race of yellow rust, while Ethiopia and Uzbekistan fights outbreaks of yellow rust AF2012.

FAO also notes that TTTTF is the most recently identified race of stem rust. Without proper control, researchers caution, it could soon spread over long distances along the Mediterranean basin and the Adriatic coast.

According to the UN agency, various countries across Africa, Central Asia and Europe, meanwhile, have been battling new strains of yellow rust never before been seen in their fields.

Italy, Morocco and four Scandinavian countries have seen the emergence of an entirely new, yet-to-be-named race of yellow rust. Notably, the new race was most prevalent in Morocco and Sicily, where yellow rust until recently was considered insignificant.

Preliminary analysis suggests the new race is related to a family of strains that are aggressive and better adapted to higher temperatures than most others.

Photo: FAO/Fazil Dusunceli

Photo: FAO/Fazil Dusunceli

Wheat farmers in Ethiopia and Uzbekistan, at the same time, have been fighting outbreaks of yellow rust AF2012, another race, which reared its head in both countries in 2016 and struck a major blow to Ethiopian wheat production in particular.

AF2012 was previously only found in Afghanistan, before appearing in the Horn of Africa country last year, where it affected tens of thousands of hectares of wheat, FAO adds.

To offer support, the UN body, in collaboration with its partners, is stepping up its efforts in training rust experts from affected countries to boost their ability to detect and manage these emerging wheat rust races.

As New Races Emerge, Old Ones Continue to Spread

The already established Warrior(-) race of yellow rust −which came onto scientists’ radars in Northern Europe and Turkey a few years ago − continued its aerial march in 2016 and is now widely present in Europe and West Asia, it reports.

The Digalu (TIFTTF) race of stem rust continues to devastate wheat in Ethiopia, while the most well-known race of stem rust – the highly potent Ug99 – is now present in 13 countries.

“Having spread in a northward trend from East Africa to the Middle East, Ug99 has the potential to affect many wheat varieties grown worldwide as it keeps producing new variants. Most recently, it has been detected in Egypt, one of the Middle East’s most important wheat producers.”

The findings of the Aarhus study build on training sessions conducted in 2016 in collaboration between the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), Aarhus university, CIMMYT and FAO.

The training, which will be repeated this year, allows rust experts to strengthen their surveillance and management skills, coupled with surveys and collection of rust samples for tests and analysis by Aarhus University. The recently established Regional Cereal Rust Research in Izmir, Turkey, will host the training.

These efforts have been part of FAO’s four-year global wheat rust program, which facilitates regional collaborations and offers support to individual countries eager to boost their surveillance capacity.

It also helps countries act swiftly to control outbreaks before they turn into epidemics and cause major damage to food security. But further research, particularly into breeding resistant varieties, and national response

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Want to Prevent Stroke, Diabetes, Cancer? Get Moving… Now!http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/want-to-prevent-stroke-diabetes-cancer-get-moving-now/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=want-to-prevent-stroke-diabetes-cancer-get-moving-now http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/want-to-prevent-stroke-diabetes-cancer-get-moving-now/#comments Thu, 02 Feb 2017 13:23:02 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148782 Worldwide, 81 per cent of school-aged children are not active enough. Photo: WHO

Worldwide, 81 per cent of school-aged children are not active enough. Photo: WHO

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Feb 2 2017 (IPS)

Tired, lazy, bored, laying down long hours watching TV or seated checking your email? Wrong. And dangerous: not enough exercise contributes to cancer, diabetes, depression and other non-communicable diseases.

The warning is bold and comes from the United Nations top health organisation, which is urging people to get up and get active.

And the risks of inactivity are expanding alarmingly: according to a new document by the World Health Organization (WHO), less and less people are active in many countries – with nearly a quarter of all adults and more than 80 per cent of adolescents being too sedentary.

WHO’s Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of NCDs [Non-Communicable Diseases] 2013-2020 recommends that inactive people start with “small amounts of physical activity” and then gradually increase duration, frequency and intensity over time.

“Physical activity can be any activity –not just sport– that uses energy… from playing and doing household chores to gardening and dancing… Any activity, be it for work, to walk or cycle to and from places, or as part of leisure time, has a health benefit,” according to the Geneva-based UN agency.

Not really sure? See these 10 facts that the United Nations top health agency has prepared:

Fact 1: Physical Activity Reduces Risk of Disease

Physical activity reduces the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke, diabetes, hypertension, various types of cancer including colon cancer and breast cancer, as well as depression.

Physical activity is also fundamental to energy balance and weight control. Globally, about 23 per cent of adults and 81 per cent of school-going adolescents are not active enough. Generally, women and girls are less active than men and boys, and older adults are less active than younger adults.

Photo: WHO/A Loke

Photo: WHO/A Loke

Fact 2: It Helps to Maintain a Healthy Body

People who are physically active:

* improve their muscular and cardio-respiratory fitness;
* improve their bone and functional health;
* have lower rates of coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, cancer (including colon and breast cancer), and depression;
* have a lower risk of falling and of hip or vertebral fractures; and
* are more likely to maintain their weight.

Fact 3: It Is Not the Same as Sport

Physical activity is any bodily movement produced by the skeletal muscles that uses energy. This includes sports, exercise, and other activities such as playing, walking, household chores, gardening, and dancing.

Any activity, be it for work, to walk or cycle to and from places, or as part of leisure time, has a health benefit.

Fact 4: Moderate, Vigorous Physical Activity Bring Benefits

Intensity refers to the rate at which the activity is being performed. It can be thought of as how hard a person works to do an activity. The intensity of different forms of physical activity varies between people.

Depending on an individual’s relative level of fitness, examples of moderate physical activity could include: brisk walking, dancing, or household chores.

Examples of vigorous physical activity could be: running, fast cycling, fast swimming, or moving heavy loads.

Fact 5: 60 Minutes a Day for People 5–17 Years Old

People aged 5–17 should have at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily. More than 60 minutes of physical activity a day brings additional health benefits.

Photo: WHO/S Volkov

Photo: WHO/S Volkov


Fact 6: 150 Minutes a Week for People 18–64 Years Old

Adults aged 18–64 should do at least 150 minutes of moderately intense physical activity each week, or at least 75 minutes of vigorous activity throughout the week, or an equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous activity.

In order to be beneficial for cardio-respiratory health, all activity should be performed in bouts of at least 10 minutes duration.

Fact 7: Adults Aged 65 and Above

The main recommendations for adults and older adults are the same. In addition, older adults with poor mobility should do physical activity to enhance balance and prevent falls 3 or more days per week.
When older adults cannot do the recommended amount of physical activity due to health conditions, they should be as physically active as their abilities and conditions allow.

Fact 8: All Healthy Adults Need to Be Physically Active

Unless specific medical conditions indicate the contrary, WHO’s recommendations apply to all people – irrespective of gender, race, ethnicity, or income level.

These recommendations also apply to individuals with chronic non-communicable conditions, not related to mobility, such as hypertension or diabetes. Adults with disabilities should also follow WHO’s recommendations.

Fact 9: Some Physical Activity Is Better than None

Inactive people should start with small amounts of physical activity and gradually increase duration, frequency, and intensity over time. Inactive adults, older adults, and those with disease limitations will have added health benefits when they become more active.

Pregnant women, postpartum women, and persons with cardiac conditions may need to take extra precautions and seek medical advice before striving to achieve the recommended levels of physical activity.

Fact 10: Supportive Environments, Communities Help People Be Physically Active

Urban and environmental policies have huge potential to increase levels of physical activity. These policies should ensure that:

* walking, cycling and other forms of active transportation are accessible and safe for all;
* labour and workplace policies encourage physical activity;
* schools have safe spaces and facilities for students to spend their free time actively; and
* sports and recreation facilities provide opportunities for everyone to be physically active.

Still there? Get up! Move… now!

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How a Spring Revival Scheme in India’s Sikkim Is Defeating Droughtshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/how-a-spring-revival-scheme-in-indias-sikkim-is-defeating-droughts/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-a-spring-revival-scheme-in-indias-sikkim-is-defeating-droughts http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/how-a-spring-revival-scheme-in-indias-sikkim-is-defeating-droughts/#comments Wed, 01 Feb 2017 13:48:07 +0000 Athar Parvaiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148759 Women are always hit hardest by water scarcity as they have to travel longer distances to fetch water, which increases their workload and compromises their ability to perform other essential and livelihood functions. Credit: Pem Norbhu

Women are always hit hardest by water scarcity as they have to travel longer distances to fetch water, which increases their workload and compromises their ability to perform other essential and livelihood functions. Credit: Pem Norbhu

By Athar Parvaiz
GANGTOK, India, Feb 1 2017 (IPS)

Bina Sharma, a member of the Melli Dhara Gram Panchayat Unit in the southern part of India’s northeastern Himalayan state of Sikkim, is a relieved woman.

For the past three years, Sharma said, she has received hardly any complaints from villagers about water disputes.Before the village’s water crisis subsided, students of the local Nelligumpa Secondary School had to regularly take two litres of water from their homes to the school.

“Until a few years back, our springs were staying almost dry for five months from December to April. During those months I often used to get complaints from the villagers against their fellow villagers as they would fight for water,” Sharma told IPS.

People in most parts of the mountainous Sikkim, and those in other mountainous areas across the region, use spring water for their personal consumption, kitchen gardens, farms, cattle and poultry. According to Sikkim First, an economic and political journal, about 80 per cent of Sikkim’s rural households depend on springs for drinking water and irrigation.

From experts in Gangtok to laymen in the far-off villages, everyone agrees that erratic rains and frequent droughts have resulted in the drying up of springs in many parts of the state, especially in south. Some say that the problem became worse after the 2011 earthquake in Sikkim.

Many studies, including the IPCC’s 5th Assessment Report, have reported changes in precipitation and temperature in the Himalayan region in recent years, but the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) says there is a major need for more research on Himalayan precipitation processes, as most studies have excluded the Himalayan region due to the region’s extreme, complex topography and lack of adequate rain-gauge data.

Adapting to changes, the Sikkim way

Thankfully, Sharma said, the water security scheme of Sikkim’s rural development department for recharging the springs “seems to be working in our village” since it was started in 2012. “We get water all year round now,” she said.

According to the people and the government officials in Sikkim, hundreds of springs and the lakes in Sikkim have been drying up, especially from November to May in recent years. This has compelled the government to think of a scheme to revive the drying springs and lakes by artificially recharging the springs.

The brain behind devising this innovative scheme is Sandeep Thambe, an Indian Forest Service officer with a mechanical engineering background who has also carried out extensive research on water and environmental issues in Sikkim and is currently a professor at the Indian Institute of Forest Management (IIMF), Bhopal.

Hari Maya Pradhan, a woman who lives alone in her home in Melli Dhara, said that she had decided to give up rearing poultry and cattle as a livelihood option because she had to endure so many hardships to access water. “But now I feel a lot better after the villagers worked hard and dug up the ponds [which help in recharging the springs],” Pradhan, who has two cows and a small poultry unit, told IPS.

Before the village’s water crisis subsided, students of the local Nelligumpa Secondary School had to regularly take two litres of water from their homes to the school.

“Many times we protested and were preparing to take all our students to Gangtok to stage a protest demonstration. But our woes got automatically addressed when our springs started producing water in the dry season as well,” said Norbhu Tshering, the school in-charge.

Connected to nature    

In almost all parts of Sikkim, people directly connect plastic pipes to the small springs spread above their habitations to avail the natural water supply. But in the south and western parts of Sikkim, getting water from the springs all through the season has become impossible for more than a decade.

In 2009, this prompted Tambe, who then served in the Sikkim government’s Rural Development Department, to start the Dhara Vikas (or Spring Development) programme for reviving and maintaining the drying springs and lakes particularly in southern and western parts of the state.

The scheme was later launched under the centrally sponsored Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), with technical support from other government agencies and organisations like WWF (India) and People’s Science Institute Dehradun.

According to Tambe, the core thrust of Dhara Vikas is to catch the surface runoff water and use it to recharge groundwater sources after identifying the specific recharge areas of springs accurately through scientific methods by digging staggered contour trenches and percolation pits.

“With increasing population, degrading health of watersheds and impacts of climate change, the lean period discharge of these springs is rapidly declining,” Tambe said, adding that artificial recharging has thankfully shown encouraging results.

He said that less than 15 per cent of the rainwater, as has been estimated in various studies, is able to percolate down to recharge the springs, while the remaining flows down as runoff often causing floods.

“Hence, a need was felt to enhance the contribution of that rainwater in ground water recharge, thereby contributing to rural water security,” Tambe told IPS.

Women, Tambe said, are always hit hardest by water scarcity as they have to travel longer distances to fetch water, which increases their workload and compromises their ability to perform other essential and livelihood functions. Reduced access to water, he said, also impacts health, hygiene, and sanitation.

Sarika Pradhan of Sikkim’s Rural Development Department said that 51 springs and four lakes in 20 drought-prone Gram Panchayats of Sikkim have been revived so far as the rural development department has mapped 704 springs in the village spring atlas, which provides information about all the mapped springs.

Her colleague, Subash Dhakal, said that trenches and percolation pits have been dug over an area of 637 hectares under MGNREGA for reviving these springs and lakes with an average cost of 250,000 rupees (USD 3,787) per spring.

*Research for this story was supported by a grant through The Forum of Environmental Journalists in India (FEJI) in collaboration with the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment (ATREE) Media Fellowships in Environmental Conservation, 2016.

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Kenyans Turn to Wild Fruits and Insects as Drought Loomshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/kenyans-turn-to-wild-fruits-and-insects-as-drought-looms/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kenyans-turn-to-wild-fruits-and-insects-as-drought-looms http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/kenyans-turn-to-wild-fruits-and-insects-as-drought-looms/#comments Tue, 31 Jan 2017 12:10:53 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148735 Once fertile agricultural land in Kenya is being degraded by encroachment and the effects of climate change. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Once fertile agricultural land in Kenya is being degraded by encroachment and the effects of climate change. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Jan 31 2017 (IPS)

Too hungry to play, hundreds of starving children in Tiaty Constituency of Baringo County instead sit by the fire, watching the pot boil, in the hope that it is only a matter of minutes before their next meal.

Unbeknownst to them, the food cooking inside the pot is no ordinary supper. It is actually a toxic combination of wild fruits and tubers mixed with dirty water, as surrounding rivers have all run dry.“We are now facing severe effects of desertification because we are cutting down more trees than we can plant." --Hilda Mukui

Tiaty sits some 297 kilometers from the capital Nairobi and the ongoing dry spell is not a unique scenario.

Neighbouring Elgeyo Marakwet and Turkana County are among the counties spread across this East African nation where food security reports show that thousands are feeling the impact of desertification, climate change and rainfall shortage.

“In most of these counties, mothers are feeding their children wild fruits and tubers. They boil them for at least 12 hours, believing that this will remove the poison they carry,” Hilda Mukui, an agriculturalist and soil conservationist, told IPS.

Teresa Lokwee, a mother of eight children, all of them under the age of 12, who lives in Tiaty, explains that the boiling pot is a symbol of hope. “When our children see that there is something cooking, the hope that they will soon enjoy a meal keeps them going.”

Mukui, who was head of agriculture within the Ministry of Agriculture and worked in most of the affected counties for more than two decades, says that rainfall deficit, shortage of water and unusually high temperatures is the scenario that characterizes 23 out of the 47 counties in Kenya.

The situation is so dire that in Baringo County alone, 10 schools and 19 Early Childhood Development Schools are empty as children join other family members in search of water.

“Sometimes once you leave in the morning to search for water, you return home in the evening,” Lokwee told IPS.

In other affected counties, especially in Western Kenya, communities have resorted to eating insects such as termites which were previously taboo.

Though these unconventional eating habits are a respite for starving households, experts warn that this is a ticking time bomb since the country lacks an insect-inclusive legislation and key regulatory instruments.

In the Kenya Bureau of Standards, which assesses quality and safety of goods and services, insects are labeled as impure and to be avoided.

But if predictions by the Ministry of Water and Irrigation are anything to go by, the worst is yet to come as the country watches the onset of what experts like Mukui call a crisis after the failure of both the long and short rains.

“We are now facing severe effects of desertification because we are cutting down more trees than we can plant,” she explains.

She added that Vision 2030 – the country’s development blueprint – calls for the planting of at least one billion trees before 2030 to combat the effects of climate change, but the campaign has been a non-starter.

Mukui told IPS it is no wonder that at least 10 million people are food insecure, with two million of them facing starvation.

According to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which works in countries such as Kenya buckling under the weight of desertification, land degradation and severe drought, the number of people living on degraded agricultural land is on the rise.

Agriculture is the mainstay of the economy, with at least 45 percent of government revenue being derived from this sector.

Mukui says it is consequently alarming that at least 10 million of the estimated 44 million Kenyans live in degraded agricultural areas, accounting for an estimated 40 percent of the country’s rural community.

Other statistics by UNCCD show that though arid and semi-arid lands constitute about 80 percent of the country’s total land mass and are home to at least 35 percent of the country’s population, areas that were once fertile for agriculture are slowly becoming dry and unproductive.

A survey by the Kenya Forest Service has revealed that not only is the country’s forest cover at seven percent, which is less than the ten percent global standard, an estimated 25 percent of the Mau Forest Complex – Kenya’s largest water catchment area – has been lost due to human activity.

Within this context, UNCCD is working with various stakeholders in Kenya to ensure that at least five million hectares of degraded land is restored. According to Executive Secretary Monique Barbut, there is a need to ensure that “in the next decade, the country is not losing more land than what it is restoring.”

“Land issues must become a central focus since land is a resource with the largest untapped opportunities,” she said.

Research has shown that the state of land impacts heavily on the effectiveness of policies to address poverty and hunger.

Restoring forest cover in Kenya is key. Since 1975, official government statistics show that the country has suffered 11 droughts – and the 12th is currently looming.

The cost implications that the country continues to suffer can no longer be ignored. UNCCD estimates that the annual cost of land degradation in Kenya is at least five percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product. And addressing land degradation can earn the country four dollars for every one dollar spent in land restoration efforts.

Barbut has, however, commended the country’s efforts to address desertification caused by both human activity and the adverse effects of climate change, particularly through practical and sustainable legislation.

Mukui says that UNCCD works through a country-specific National Action Programme which Kenya already has in place. “What we need is better coordination and concerted efforts among the many stakeholders involved, government, communities, donors and the civil society, just to name a few,” she said.

Efforts to enhance the country’s capacity to combat desertification by the UNCCD include providing financial and technical resources to promote management of local natural resources, improving food security and partnering with local communities to build sustainable land use plans.

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Riverbank Populations Displaced by Dams in Brazil Miss Old Way of Lifehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/riverbank-populations-displaced-by-dams-in-brazil-miss-old-way-of-life/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=riverbank-populations-displaced-by-dams-in-brazil-miss-old-way-of-life http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/riverbank-populations-displaced-by-dams-in-brazil-miss-old-way-of-life/#comments Sun, 29 Jan 2017 00:43:15 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148703 A boat under repair on the shore of the Sobradinho reservoir, which has a low water level due to the five years of drought which has plagued the semi arid interior of Northeastern Brazil. Bushes submerged by the dammed-up waters of the São Francisco river since the 1970s can be glimpsed. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A boat under repair on the shore of the Sobradinho reservoir, which has a low water level due to the five years of drought which has plagued the semi arid interior of Northeastern Brazil. Bushes submerged by the dammed-up waters of the São Francisco river since the 1970s can be glimpsed. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
SENTO SE, Brazil, Jan 29 2017 (IPS)

“Now we have internet and TV. Before, we didn’t even have electricity, but it was better,” said Lourival de Barros, one of the people displaced by the hydropower plants which have mushroomed aorund Brazil, mainly since the 1970s.

Barros was evicted from his home in Sento Sé towards the end of 1976. The town of 7,000 people was submerged under the waters of the Sobradinho reservoir just over a year later.

Three other towns, Casa Nova, Pilão Arcado and Remanso, also disappeared under water, along with dozens of riverside villages, in the state of Bahía in Northeastern Brazil.

In total, 72,000 people were displaced, according to social organisations, or 59,265 according to the company responsible for the project, the São Francisco Hydroelectric Company (CHESF).

The sacrifice was made for the sake of the country’s energy requirements and for the development of what was described by government leaders of the time, during the 1964-1985 military dictatorship, as an “irrelevant” region, marked by widespread illiteracy, a “subsistence economy,” and “primitive,” isolated people afraid of change.

To relocate the population of Santo Sé, a new city with the same name was built, with better houses, including indoor bathrooms and services such as electricity and sewage. But “we lost much more”, said Barros, a 70-year-old retired fisherman and small farmer with eight children, nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

“We had many fish in the river. In the reservoir at first we could fish 100 kg a day, but the fish declinednin the last 10 to 15 years, and now it’s hard to catch even 10 kg, just enough to feed the family,” he told IPS.

“There were 2,000 fishers and it was the livelihood of all of us. Today, there are at best 50 who are able to live off fishing,” even though 9,000 are registered in the trade association, many of them just to receive the unemployment payments during the spawning period when fishing is banned, he said. “They need it,” he added.

Barros laments that the fish native to the area have disappeared, while other Amazon species were introduced in the artificial lake, including one, the pavón (Cichla ocellaris), which eats all the others.

Retired fisherman and farmer 70-year-old Lourival de Barros, in his house in the town of Sento Sé, which he received as compensation for the loss of his nice house and other property in the old town, which was submerged by the Sobradinho dam four decades ago, whichburied a lifestyle that he still misses. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Retired fisherman and farmer 70-year-old Lourival de Barros, in his house in the town of Sento Sé, which he received as compensation for the loss of his nice house and other property in the old town, which was submerged by the Sobradinho dam four decades ago, whichburied a lifestyle that he still misses. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

He also complains that his family used to have five plots of land where they grew crops and he owned a mill to make manioc flour, for which they did not receive any compensation. “We lost everything,” he said.

Many flooded properties or assets have still not been compensated, said Adzamara Amaral, author of the book “Memories of a submerged city,” written in 2012 as the thesis for her journalism degree at the University of the State of Bahía.

Her own family is still fighting in court for compensation for 15,000 hectares registered as property of her grandfather, which was in her family for three centuries and included three houses and fruit orchards.

The new town built for the relocated population was deprived of its “riverine” spirit, as in the case of other “rebuilt” towns.

Also lost, besides the fish, was the traditional riverbank farming during the dry season, when water levels were down and crops were planted next to the river on the nutrient-rich soil replenished each year by the seasonal floods.

Large harvests of corn and beans were planted between April and October. “That is why the São Francisco river is known as the ‘Brazilian Nile,’ Amaral told IPS.

With the dam, the water flooded rocky areas or parts of the Caatinga – the semi-arid ecosystem exclusive to the Northeast – and modified the annual changes in the low and high water levels in the river, putting an end to dry season farming.

Relocation to the new Sento Sé, population 41,000 today, accentuated the isolation of the local inhabitants, among other reasons because the distance doubled with respect to Juazeiro, a city of 220,000 people, which is the economic and educational hub of the northern part of Bahía.

Gildalio da Gama (L), municipal secretary of environment up to December, and boat repairman João Reis on the banks of the resevoir in Sento Sé, where the inhabitants of the old town were resettled with almost no compensation, displaced by the Sobradinho hydropower plant on the São Francisco river in Northeastern Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Gildalio da Gama (L), municipal secretary of environment up to December, and boat repairman João Reis on the banks of the resevoir in Sento Sé, where the inhabitants of the old town were resettled with almost no compensation, displaced by the Sobradinho hydropower plant on the São Francisco river in Northeastern Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Now the town is 196 km away, 50 of which are along a dirt road filled with potholes that makes transportation difficult. That is the reason the irrigation agriculture company Fruitmag which employed 1,800 workers, pulled out of Sento Sé, arguing that the jolting of the trucks damaged the grapes.

“Paving the road is key to the development of the municipality, as is offering technical and university courses, which would prevent the exodus of young people, which has been reducing the local population in recent years,” said Amaral.

The new location of the town on the banks of the lake was meant to keep it near the shore even during the dry season, she said. But many people believe that the then mayor decided on the location so it would be near his farm.

Now, the shore of the Sobradinho reservoir has retreated some 600 metres from Santo Sé, after five years of drought.

“There are places where the water ebbs up to 10 km, like in Quixaba, a nearby town,” said João Reis, a 65-year-old metal worker from São Paulo, who worked for years in CHESF.

He has lived for 33 years in Sento Sé, his parents’ hometown, and he currently repairs boats in the São Francisco river. He says that with its fertile lands and marble and precious stone deposits, the municipality has “a great potential to prosper.”

One of eight wind farms built near Sento Sé due to the strong winds on the plateaus surrounding the town in Northeast Brazil, whose population was paradoxically displaced in the 1970s to build the biggest hydropower plant in the region.  Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

One of eight wind farms built near Sento Sé due to the strong winds on the plateaus surrounding the town in Northeast Brazil, whose population was paradoxically displaced in the 1970s to build the biggest hydropower plant in the region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

To overcome its isolation, his colleague Djalma Vitorino, a boat specialist, proposes setting up a ferry service between Sento Sé and Remanso, another relocated town, on the other side of the reservoir. About 25 km or “an hour and a half of navigation” separate the two towns.

“They have a good hospital there where we can take our sick people,” as an alternative to Juazeiro, which is more than three hours away by road, Vitorino told IPS.

Built between 1973 and 1979 on the São Francisco river, the Sobradinho hydropower plant has the capacity to generate 1,050 MW, thanks to its reservoir of 34,000 cubic metres that covers 4,214 square km, the biggest in surface area and the third in water volume in Brazil.

In addition to the generation of electric power, accumulating so much water also gives it the functions of regulating the flow, optimising the operation of seven hydropower plants built downstream, and supplying water for the irrigation of crops in the surrounding area.

Its social impacts stood out because a highly populated area was flooded, in the 1970s, when the country was governed by an authoritarian military regime and environmental legislation was just starting to be developed. Moreover, social movements were weak or nonexistent.

To flood that much land, Sobradinho required the expropriation of 26,000 properties.

CHESF shelled out very low sums in the few cases of compensation it paid, mostly because “the local people did not have official title deeds or did not know how much their property was worth,” said 47-year-old Gildalio da Gama, who until December was secretary of environment in Sento Sé.

“Any money was a lot for people who always handled little money,” da Gama, who is now a primary school teacher on an island where his parents live, 150 km from the town, told IPS:

His grandfather was not compensated for his land because CHESF did not recognise the submitted documentation, he said.

New hydropower plants, such as Itaparica, inaugurated in 1988, downstream on the São Francisco river, meet the regulations, because of the pressure of environmentalists and social organisations. But forced displacement continues, generating noisier conflicts than in the past.

Protests have grown even more against hydropower plants in the Amazon rainforest, particularly the one in Belo Monte, a huge power plant with a capacity of 11,233 MW, inaugurated on May 2016.

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Farmer Field Schools Help Women Lead on Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/farmer-field-schools-help-women-lead-on-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=farmer-field-schools-help-women-lead-on-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/farmer-field-schools-help-women-lead-on-climate-change/#comments Fri, 27 Jan 2017 11:35:15 +0000 Sally Nyakanyanga http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148696 Mercy Ssekide from Uganda’s Mabende District working together with her husband on their farm. Credit: FAO

Mercy Ssekide from Uganda’s Mabende District working together with her husband on their farm. Credit: FAO

By Sally Nyakanyanga
KAMPALA, Uganda, Jan 27 2017 (IPS)

Discussions around climate change have largely ignored how men and women are affected by climate change differently, instead choosing to highlight the extreme and unpredictable weather patterns or decreases in agricultural productivity.

Women constitute 56 percent of Ugandan farmers and provide more than 70 percent of agricultural production, nutrition and food security at the household level, according to the Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET). However, despite the fact that women do most of the farm work, they only own 16 percent of the arable land in the country.Cognizant of women’s labour burden and time poverty, FAO ensures that all project activities are gender inclusive and participatory.

Stella Tereka, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) focal person on gender and climate change, says that discriminatory cultural practices that tend to favor men have limited women’s ownership and control over key productive resources in the country — a factor also exacerbating women’s vulnerability to climate change.

“The intensive labour burdens on women, especially the unpaid care work in the household, has resulted in women having less time to practice the learning, knowledge and skills gained from groups in their farming activities,” Tereka told IPS.

Winnie Masiko, the gender and climate change negotiator for Uganda at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), noted the lack of clear guidelines to incorporate gender in climate change projects.

“We need to develop a Gender and Climate Change Strategic Plan,” says Masiko.

The Ugandan Land Policy of 2013 grants women and men equal rights to own and co-own land, but this is not always the reality on the ground. Masiko says initiatives should focus on addressing embedded structural imbalances in order to bridge the gender gap, understand women and men’s varying needs, and pave the way for effective adaptation to climate change.

Edidah Ampaire, coordinator for Uganda’s Policy Action for Climate Change Adaptation project, says that women’s rights and contributions are extremely constrained, especially in rural areas, and that little is being done by government particularly through policy to address the imbalance.

“Gender inequalities are rife in farming communities, putting women at a disadvantage,” says Ampaire.

Tereka stressed that promoting gender equality is at the core of FAO programmes and the U.N. agency has made deliberate efforts to ensure the inclusion of women in all their programs.

“It’s imperative that women get empowered and take part in decision-making at all levels – this way we can see them contributing effectively to the development of their family and nations,” Tereka said.

Through the Farmer’s Field School (FFS) methodology, “commonly known as schools without walls”, FAO has enabled both men and women with a common goal to receive training, share ideas, learn from each other through observation and experimentation in their own context. On average the FFS have about 60 percent women farmers participating.

Proscovia Nakibuye, a cattle farmer in Nakasongola district, said the FFS has taught her effective strategies to cope with climate change. “We have been taught good livestock keeping and to plant pastures,” says Nakibuye.

“Farmer Field School offers space for hands-on group learning, enhancing skills for critical analysis and improved decision making by local people,” Tereka explained. “FFS activities are field-based, and include experimentation to solve problems, reflecting a specific local context.

“Participants learn how to improve their agronomic skills through experimenting, observing, analysing and replicating on their own fields, contributing to improved production and livelihoods, The FFS process enhances individual, household and community empowerment and social cohesion.”

Nakibuye and her husband are seeing major changes both in their household and farming activities. “Before, my children were not going to school but now through increased sales of milk, I can afford a decent education for my children,” she said.

FAO has also utilized the Gender Action Learning Systems (GALS) – a community based tool that enables women and men to plan the future they want and take action against barriers, including societal norms that inhibit gender equality and justice.

Mercy Ssekide, a farmer in Mubende District, joined the Balyejjusa FFS. “If you don’t cooperate with your family, the farming won’t be successful – that’s why I had to encourage my husband to join the FFS in order for us to work as a team,” she says.

“We are trained and encouraged to work hard to handle climate change and in order to meet our household needs. During off season we grow tomatoes and earn some money as locals and traders come and buy from us,” says Mercy’s husband.

Together, as a family, they have diversified and ventured into poultry, goat and pig rearing, and kitchen gardening. The Ssekide family are now deciding as a team on the use of their income — and are able to afford giving their two children a university education.

FAO, with funding from European Union, is implementing the Global Climate Change Project in the central cattle corridor in the districts of Luwero, Nakasangola, Nakaseke, Mubende , Sembabule and Kiboga.

Cognizant of women’s labour burden and time poverty, FAO ensures that all project activities are gender inclusive and participatory – particularly adjusting meeting/learning time to ensure women are involved and benefit from the skills and knowledge on climate smart agriculture.

Tereka believes that with an increasingly unpredictable climate, skills development in climate smart agriculture is critical. She urged the Ugandan government to revamp its agricultural extension system to be more gender-responsive, in order for farmers – especially women to – effectively put to good use the inputs being distributed by government under Operation Wealth Creation.

The FFS methodology is now being implemented in 90 countries with 4 million farmers across the globe having improved their skills and adjusted positively to the effects of climate change.

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“Serious Retreats” In Indigenous Rights Protection, Says UN Rapporteurhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/serious-retreats-in-indigenous-rights-protection-says-un-rapporteur/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=serious-retreats-in-indigenous-rights-protection-says-un-rapporteur http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/serious-retreats-in-indigenous-rights-protection-says-un-rapporteur/#comments Thu, 26 Jan 2017 20:28:26 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148686 Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten.

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten.

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 26 2017 (IPS)

As the 10-year anniversary for the Declaration on Indigenous Rights approaches, UN indigenous rights activists came together to assess the many challenges that still remain on the ground.

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted in 2007, is the first of its kind to recognise and highlight the importance of indigenous rights.

“The UN Declaration is a declaration that contains the collective nature of the rights of indigenous peoples. (It) is meant to bring about remedies to kinds of historical and current injustices that indigenous people suffer,” said UN Special Rapporteur Victoria Tauli-Corpuz during a press briefing on 26 January.

Though it is not legally binding, the declaration guarantees indigenous groups rights to self-determination, land, and to live free from any kind of discrimination.

However, Tauli-Corpuz noted that there are “serious retreats” in the implementation of indigenous rights, including the threat of tribal land being taken away by extractive industries.

U.S. President Donald Trump has recently announced plans to green light the controversial Dakota Access (DAPL) and Keystone XL (KXL) pipelines, projects previously halted by President Barack Obama due to concerns for the environment and lack of consultations with Native American groups.

Issues around DAPL even reached the halls of the United Nations, prompting Tauli-Corpuz to call on the U.S. government, in accordance with its commitment to implement the Declaration, to consult with indigenous groups who were denied access to information and excluded from the planning processes.

She reiterated this call, stating: “It’s regrettable that now in spite of those demands that have not yet been met…that kind of decision has to be again consulted with the indigenous peoples themselves because at the end of the day, they are the ones who will be directly affected.”

Special rapporteurs are independent experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council – they are not UN staff.

Though the Department of the Army announced that it has begun an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the $3.8 billion project, critics say that plans for DAPL were initially fast tracked as the U.S. Corps of Engineers did not adequately assess the potential for oil spills or its impact on the environment.

According to federal data, pipeline spills are fairly common, increasing the risk of water contamination. Between 2010 and 2013, there were almost 2000 incidents of leaks, amounting to an average of 1.6 incidents per day. Oil extraction, transport and combustion also accelerate emissions of methane and carbon into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming and climate change.

In response to President Trump’s executive orders to continue the construction of DAPL, Chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe David Archambault II said: “We are not opposed to energy independence. We are opposed to reckless and politically motivated development projects, like DAPL, that ignore our treaty rights and risk our water.

“Creating a second Flint does not make America great again,” he added referring to the town in Michigan where drinking water is still contaminated with lead.

Friends of the Earth’s President Erich Pica said that the decisions reflect President Trump’s disregard for the “millions of Americans who fought to protect our land, water, sacred cultural sites and climate from dangerous pipelines.”

Tauli-Corpuz also criticised a proposed North Dakota bill that would legalise accidentally running over protestors standing on the road, introduced in response to DAPL protestors blocking roadways.

“This law…is really not consistent at all with international human rights law…how can you justify running over or violently treating a protestor when every person has the right to protest?” she said, adding that indigenous people are simply protecting the rights to their lands.

Tauli-Corpuz stressed the need for countries to incorporate the UN Declaration into national plans and legislation in order to ensure indigenous rights.

“My message is for indigenous peoples to continue to assert and claim their rights as enshrined in the UN Declaration, but also to call in the States to really fulfill their obligation to comply and implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” Tauli-Corpuz stated.

“What we need to do now is to really use this 10th year of the celebration of the UN Declaration to further strengthen dialogue,” she said.

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Can Africa Slay Its Financial Hydra?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/can-africa-slay-its-financial-hydra/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=can-africa-slay-its-financial-hydra http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/can-africa-slay-its-financial-hydra/#comments Thu, 26 Jan 2017 11:23:49 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148677 Curbing illicit financial flows will free finances for development projects like the provision of safe drinking water. A man collecting water at a government-funded borehole in Southern Zimbabwe. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Curbing illicit financial flows will free finances for development projects like the provision of safe drinking water. A man collecting water at a government-funded borehole in Southern Zimbabwe. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Busani Bafana
BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, Jan 26 2017 (IPS)

Thanks to growing investor interest, increasing respect for democratic reforms, and its vast food production potential, the Africa Rising narrative is only getting better.

But Africa’s development success story will only be complete when the continent plugs the hemorrhaging of its financial resources badly needed for its own development. Africa is losing an estimated 50 billion dollars annually through illicit financial flows (IFFs) — half of all global losses and the equivalent of Morocco’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP)."[Illicit Financial Flows] are only a tip of the iceberg. Within the paradigm of Africa's natural capital losses, part of which is in the form of IFFs, the losses are mind-boggling.” --UNEP's Richard Munang

According to the World Bank, IFFs refer to the deliberate loss of financial resources through under-invoicing, which researchers say is a blot on the ‘Africa Rising’ narrative. Worst, IFFs are depriving Africans of needed resources to access better food, education and health care. Despite a decline in the prevalence of undernourishment in Sub-Saharan Africa, the World Food Programme says the region still has the highest percentage of population going hungry, with one in four persons undernourished.

As cancerous as corruption, illicit financial flows are costing Africa big time. This is despite a continental initiative to curb them at a time Africa is making some progress on good governance, according to the seminal Mo Ibrahim Index of African Governance 2016.

Can the wings of capital flight be clipped?

A 2015 report by the High-level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows from Africa established by the African Union and United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) puts the average financial losses at between 50 billion and 148 billion dollars a year through trade mispricing. South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Mozambique and Liberia are some of the countries that have suffered most due to trade mispricing.

“IFFs significantly hamper Africa’s development and progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) considering the astronomical investments the region needs to mobilize and the declining international sources,” climate change expert and the United Nations Environment Programme’s Regional Climate Change Programme Coordinator, Richard Munang, told IPS.

Cumulatively, IFFs range from natural resources plundering and environmental crimes like illegal logging, illegal trade in wildlife, and unaccounted for and unregulated fishing (IUU) to illegal mining practices, food imports, and degraded ecosystems. Munang estimates that Africa loses up to 195 billion dollars annually of its natural capital — an amount exceeding the total annual cost Africa needs to invest in infrastructure, healthcare, education and adapting to climate change under a 2°C warming scenario.

“Reversing IFFs and other natural capital losses is an urgent imperative if the region is going to develop and achieve the SDGs,” said Munang, adding that in terms of climate resilience, for instance, it is projected that to meet adaptation costs by the 2020s, funds disbursed annually to Africa need to grow at an average rate of 10-20 percent annually from 2011 levels.

“So far, this has not been achieved. And no clear pathway exists from international sources,” Munang said. “But IFFs are only a tip of the iceberg. Within the paradigm of Africa’s natural capital losses, part of which is in the form of IFFs, the losses are mind-boggling.”

A recent study called “Financing Africa’s Post-2015 Development Agenda” shows that from 1970 to 2008, Africa lost between 854 billion and 1.8 trillion dollars in illicit financial flows — good money in bad hands.

UNECA says illicit financial flows are unrecorded capital flows derived from the proceeds of theft, bribery and other forms of corruption by government officials and criminal activities, including drug trading, racketeering, counterfeiting, contraband and terrorist financing.

In addition, proceeds of tax evasion and laundered commercial transactions are counted under IFFs. Africa is also losing much-needed money to drug trafficking, tax dodging, wildlife poaching, human trafficking and theft of minerals and oil.

Tax Inspectors without Borders (TIWB), a project launched by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in 2015, has helped collect more than 260 million dollars in additional tax revenues in eight pilot countries, indicating the potential of tightening tax audits.

Head of the TIWB Secretariat James Karanja noted that capacity-building can help companies pay their taxes, stop tax dodging and help raise domestic resources to fund government services.

According to the McKinsey Global Institute, GDP growth has averaged five percent in Africa in the last decade, consistently outperforming global economic trends. This growth has been boosted by among other factors, rapid urbanization, expanding regional markets, sound macroeconomic management and improved governance.

The Panel chaired by former South African President Thabo Mbeki also fingered large commercial corporations as culprits in IFFs, which have been fueled by corruption and weak governance. The solution, the panel said was to boost transparency in mining sector transactions and stop money laundering via banks, actions which rested on coordinated action between government, private sector and civil society.

“Illicit financial flows are a challenge to us as Africans, but clearly the solution is global. We couldn’t resolve this thing by just acting on our own as Africans,” Mbeki told the UN’s Africa Renewal magazine in a 2016 interview in New York.

For instance, Zimbabwe is currently in a financial crisis, having lost close to 2 billion dollars to illicit financial flows in 2015, according to the Reserve Bank. The figure is four times the money Zimbabwe attracted in Foreign Direct Investment in 2015 and more than half the 2016 national budget. The Global Financial Integrity Report estimates that over the last 30 years, Zimbabwe has lost a cumulative 12 billion dollars to IFFs.

“It is a grave concern. I looked at the statistics and found out that it’s a cancer that we are brewing,” Central Bank Governor John Mangudya conceded.

Is transparency the tool for slaying development’s demon?

The World Bank says curbing IFFs requires strong international cooperation and concerted action by developed and developing countries in partnership with the private sector and civil society.

IFFs pose a huge challenge to political and economic security around the world, particularly to developing countries. Corruption, organized crime, illegal exploitation of natural resources, fraud in international trade and tax evasion are as harmful as the diversion of money from public priorities, says the World Bank.

Advice on how to make tax policies more transparent — such as requiring all tax holidays to be publicly disclosed, along with names of officials involved in granting the holiday — would likely increase tax revenues collected by governments while reducing the risk of corruption and the potential for firms to abuse tax holiday provisions.

Global initiatives to limit tax evasion and stop proceeds of crime such as the the OECD/Global Forum on Taxation and the UN Conventions against Drugs, Trans-national Organized Crime and Corruption (UNODC) are yielding results. The World Bank’s Stolen Asset Recovery (StAR) programme found that of nearly 1.4 billion dollars in frozen corrupt assets in OECD countries between 2010 and 2012, less than 150 million has been recovered.

Proceeds of illicit financial flows are difficult to recover despite some high-profile cases like that of Teodorin Nguema Obiang, the son of Africa’s longest serving leader, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea. In 2014, a U.S. court ordered Teodorin to sell 30 million dollars’ worth of property believed to have been the proceeds of corruption. In 2013, 700 million in assets stolen and stashed in Switzerland by the Sani Abacha regime was returned to Nigeria.

A 2016 report by the Africa Growth Initiative at the Brookings Institution, “Foresight Africa: Top Priorities for the Continent 2017”, says good governance significantly impacts the mobilization of domestic resources such as tax revenues, as well as external financial flows such as FDI, ODA, remittances, and illicit financial flows.

The report said lowest levels of corruption and highest levels of political stability correlated with the highest tax-to-GDP ratio while “conversely, countries with low political stability scores have a relatively high ODA-to-GDP ratio. In addition, though the differences are subtle, the charts hint that more corrupt countries have higher FDI-to-GDP ratios.”

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Drought Could Cost Sri Lanka Billionshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/drought-could-cost-sri-lanka-billions/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=drought-could-cost-sri-lanka-billions http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/drought-could-cost-sri-lanka-billions/#comments Wed, 25 Jan 2017 11:00:22 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148655 In Sri Lanka’s Eastern Province, over 300,000 people are in need of transported safe water. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

In Sri Lanka’s Eastern Province, over 300,000 people are in need of transported safe water. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, Jan 25 2017 (IPS)

The warnings are stark, the instructions, for a change, clear.

Sri Lanka is heading into one of its worst droughts in recent history, and according some estimates the worst in 30 years. The reservoirs are running on empty, at 30 percent or less capacity. Only 12 percent of the island’s power generation is currently from hydropower and 85 percent comes from thermal, with a staggering 41 percent from coal.

The rains have stayed away like never before. According to a recent survey by the World Food Programme (WFP) and the government, last year’s rains were 23 percent less than the 30-year average.One of the long-term consequences that is rarely highlighted is the impact droughts have on land degradation.

Now the instructions: Use water sparingly, do not wash vehicles with pipe-borne water, do not put air conditioning below 26 C, and light bonfires in the morning if you want to protect your crops from the morning mist, a forerunner, according to local yore, of a impending drought.

“It is a very serious situation, something that we have not faced in a long time, but we are taking precautions,” said Lalith Chandarapala, the head of the Meteorological Department. It was his department that first warned of the drought when the rains failed yet again last year around September.

In fact, in 2016, there were only three days of exceptionally high rains, during mid-May, when 300 mm fell on some parts of the island. On either side of them, it was drier than usual.

The effects have been catastrophic. Of a possible 800,000 acres, only a little above 300,000 was planted with the staple rice crops during the last harvesting season due to lack of water.

“This is the lowest cultivation level experienced in Sri Lanka during the last thirty years,” the WFP-government joint survey said. It estimated that by end of December, already close to a million people were affected by the drought in 23 of the 25 districts. By the third week of January, the government’s Disaster Management Center said that over 900,000 were receiving water brought in from outside.

“Even if the country receives average rains in the months of January and February 2017, it is highly unlikely that the current drought situation will improve until March 2017,” the joint assessment warned.

Large tracts of land, like these in the Sinhapura area of Sri Lanka’s North Central Polonnaruwa Province, have been denuded by years of overuse. Credit: Sanjana Hattotuwa/IPS

Large tracts of land, like these in the Sinhapura area of Sri Lanka’s North Central Polonnaruwa Province, have been denuded by years of overuse. Credit: Sanjana Hattotuwa/IPS

The government has already slashed taxes on rice imports to fend off price hikes as well as shortages and decided to buy power on short-term agreements from private suppliers till the next rains. The additional power purchases are expected to cost the government Rs 50b.

It has also restricted water supply to areas where there is an acute shortage of safe water and ordered a survey of private wells. Millions of Sri Lankan households use dug wells for domestic consumption without any purview by any authority. Any move to curtail such use or to use these wells for public supplies will be a deeply unpopular move.

Apart from the short-term impacts of such frequent extreme weather events, experts also worry about the long term implications.

“Changing climate is an issue we have to deal with, our policies now have to reflect awareness as well as adaptation measures,” Disaster Management Minister Anura Priyadarshna Yapa said.

One of these long-term consequences that is rarely highlighted is the impact droughts have on land degradation.

The United Nations’ Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) estimates that 45 percent of the country’s rural population was living in degrading agricultural areas at the turn of the millennium, and that within a decade that population grew by a further 20 percent.

Researchers at the UNCCD headquarters warned that “when there is drought, most of the plant cover dies, which leaves the land exposed to wind erosion, and to water erosion when the rains return. In addition, long dry spells can make it difficult for the ground to soak up the rainfall, which is the source of ground water.”

A little known fact is that land degradation has serious impact on Sri Lanka’s economy. “Land degradation may be costing Sri Lanka up to about 300 million United States dollars every year. That is approximately one percent of the country’s gross domestic product,” UNCCD said in a statement to IPS.

In rural Sri Lanka, the impact of generations of land use without proper care is clear. In the southern Hambantota District, farmers who depend on water supply for cultivation have been moving deeper into forests and reserves as water availability becomes less and less reliable in more populated areas.

In the Andaraweva area in Hambantota, about 20 km from the closest town a large banana plantation has come up within what is essentially a forest reserve. The plantation which could be as large 20 acres, gains water from a tank meant to be for wildlife nearby.

The cultivators who have obtained written permission from local government officials to use the tank water, much to chagrin of wildlife officials, use five industrial level pumps powered by small tractor motors to pump the water and send it about a1km into the plantation.

The small lake is being dried out by the over use of water, forcing wildlife officials to despair over water for animals.

“We have been abusing our water resources for so long, at least now we should be more careful with it, or we would have to be really, really sorry,” head of the Hambantota Wildlife office Ajith Gunathunga said.

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Philippines Joins Space Racehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/philippines-joins-space-race/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=philippines-joins-space-race http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/philippines-joins-space-race/#comments Tue, 24 Jan 2017 11:33:18 +0000 Diana G Mendoza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148641 Filipino scientists and engineers with their Japanese counterparts look at the completed Diwata-1. Credit: Philippine Microsatellite Program

Filipino scientists and engineers with their Japanese counterparts look at the completed Diwata-1. Credit: Philippine Microsatellite Program

By Diana G Mendoza
MANILA, Jan 24 2017 (IPS)

The Philippines, a tiny developing country, has joined the colossal world of space technology, building its second microsatellite that it plans to launch late this year or in early 2018 — not to study other planets, but to monitor weather patterns and climate change to protect the country’s natural resources and improve disaster risk management.

Located in the Pacific Ring of Fire, a wide area in the Pacific Ocean with frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions that makes it the fourth most disaster-prone nation in the world, according to the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, the Philippines can now benefit from its first eye in the sky – a 50-kilogramme imaging and earth observation satellite while venturing, with baby steps, into space science.“Typhoon Haiyan was a big wake-up call. We thought hard about having remote sensing technology and scientific cameras and cable systems to help prepare for and mitigate devastation from disasters." --Joel Joseph Marciano, leader of PHL-Microsat

Diwata (a Filipino term for a mythological character meaning “fairy”), the first small satellite, has just completed over 4,000 orbits around the world. While it continues to circle the globe, its sister Diwata-2 is now being built.

The microsatellite was launched to the International Space Station (ISS) from Cape Canaveral, Florida on Mar. 23, 2016 and deployed into space from the ISS’ Japanese Experiment Module, nicknamed “Kibo,” where it was housed and calibrated, on Apr. 27, 2016.

Joel Joseph Marciano, Jr., a professor of electrical and electronics engineering at the University of the Philippines (UP), said Diwata-1 is the first microsatellite built under the Development of Philippine Scientific Earth Observation Microsatellite (PHL-Microsat) Program that aims to enhance capacity in space technology through the development of microsatellite systems.

The three-year programme, which started in 2014 and with a budget of 840 million pesos (17.1 million dollars) is supported by the Philippine Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and implemented by several departments of UP.

Marciano, the programme leader of the PHL-Microsat, said the microsatellite was a result of ruminations by scientists after storm Haiyan, called Yolanda in the Philippines and the strongest storm ever to make landfall in recorded history, flattened Tacloban City (573 kilometers southeast of Manila) and its peripheral cities and provinces on Nov. 8, 2013.

With 250-kph winds and seven-metre high storm surges, it killed more than 6,500 people, damaged more than one million homes, 33 million coconut trees, 600,000 hectares of agricultural land and more than 1,000 public structures.

“Typhoon Haiyan was a big wake-up call. We thought hard about having remote sensing technology and scientific cameras and cable systems to help prepare for and mitigate devastation from disasters,” Marciano told journalist-fellows of the recent Graciano Lopez Jaena Journalism Workshop on science journalism organized by the UP College of Mass Communications.

A man stands surrounded by the devastation wrought by Typhoon Haiyan in the city of Tacloban. Credit: Henry Donati/Department for International Development

A man stands surrounded by the devastation wrought by Typhoon Haiyan in the city of Tacloban. Credit: Henry Donati/Department for International Development

He said the Philippines is one of the 10 most biologically “mega-diverse” countries in the world, with over two million sq kms of maritime waters encompassing an important part of the “coral triangle” and thousands of species of flora and fauna. Unfortunately, it is frequented by an average of nine typhoons and 10 weaker storms that make landfall each year.

“The presence of environment sensing and earth observation technology would provide a faster turn-around of information-giving and intervention,” said Marciano, who is also director of the Advanced Science and Technology Institute of the DOST.

His colleague Gay Jane Perez, a professor of the UP Institute of Environmental Science and Meteorology who is the project leader of the PHL-Micosat Remote Sensing Product Development, said one of Diwata-1’s first missions on disaster assessment were evidentiary images of the destruction caused by typhoon Haima (called Lawin in the Philippines) that struck the northern Philippines on Oct. 20, 2016.

The images, which were taken five days after the storm made landfall, provided clarity to government bodies handling the coordination of disaster relief and rehabilitation.

Perez said Diwata-1, which is barely the size of two suitcases stacked on top of each other and weighs only 50 kilograms, has special cameras that take images of the Philippines while in orbit. “The microsatellite has a unique ability while in a high vantage point to do research and to get information that complements ground monitoring,” she said. “We can translate this research product into more useful information.”

Its main parts include a high precision telescope for high resolution imaging that can be used for assessing the extent of damage during disasters; a wide field camera for observing large-scale weather patterns; and a space borne multispectral imager for monitoring bodies of water and vegetation.

Perez said resource inventory and assessment in agriculture, fisheries, forestry, mining and energy will be better. ”The microsatellite can observe meteorological events and weather updates such as typhoons and heavy rains and provide information essential to farmers and fisher folk that can help them adjust their planting and fishing methods amid changing climate conditions,” she said, adding that it can also monitor forest cover and protect cultural and historical sites and the Philippines territorial borders.

Currently in orbit with an altitude of over 400 km, Diwata-1 passes four times a day, with six minutes per pass, over the Philippines. It is expected to capture 3,600 images daily. Through its sensor, it sends images and data back to the Philippine Earth Data Resources and Observation (PEDRO) Center at the Subic Bay Freeport in Zambales province, 254 km north of Manila, its ground station.

Marciano and Perez are part of the PHL-Microsat program that includes Filipino scientists who assembled Diwata-1 in collaboration with Tohoku University and Hokkaido University, the UP and DOST’s partner universities. The all-Filipino team of scientists and engineers who designed and built Diwata-1 are now based in Japan.

Under the Philippines-Japan partnership, seven engineering students from UP and two science researchers from DOST were sent to Tohoku and Hokkaido universities to work on the microsatellite bus system and payload design while pursuing their advanced degrees.

With its first satellite blasting into space, the Philippines joins 70 other countries which, according to the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as of 2015, are operating government space agencies and are capable of human spaceflight, which is the gold standard for space programmes.

Marciano said the country’s first steps into space technology development expects to boost governance through land use, local development planning, zoning generation and revenue  through tax mapping, real property administration and tourism and infrastructure planning and monitoring in transportation and development corridors.

As it assembles Diwata-2, the Philippines also hosted for the first time in its 23‐year history the Asia-Pacific Regional Space Agency Forum in November last year. Already, Diwata-1 was cited by NASA’s Presidential Transition Binder as its poster child for small spacecraft technology.

The document that will be given to the new U.S. administration cited Diwata-1 as an example for small spacecraft technology that has many advantages of being small but powerful, adding the ease of deployment and low cost of building it.

With these initial strides, the PHL-Microsat hopes to motivate the Filipino youth to take an interest in the sciences and take advantage of this new era of space science. The UP is also introducing science journalism in its curriculum to train future journalists in understanding the sciences and to widen media writing and reporting on science.

Perez said the country’s space programme is incremental but it hopes to motivate more young people to take interest in it. “We are now training students to develop capabilities to arrive at something like Diwata-1 in the future, perhaps with their own creative and better designs.”

In addition, she said the Microsatellite Research and Instructional Facility is currently being established at the UP that will be the hub for the country’s inter-disciplinary research and development activities in space technology.

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Learning Alliances Help Climate-Smart Agricultural Practices Take Roothttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/learning-alliances-help-climate-smart-agricultural-practices-take-root/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=learning-alliances-help-climate-smart-agricultural-practices-take-root http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/learning-alliances-help-climate-smart-agricultural-practices-take-root/#comments Tue, 24 Jan 2017 09:43:22 +0000 Nteranya Sanginga and Edidah Ampaire http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148636 Nteranya Sanginga is Director General of IITA, and Edidah Ampaire is an IITA Project Coordinator based in Kampala, Uganda.]]> Smallholders in developing countries all too often do not have the resources or incentives to commit to the transformation to sustainable agriculture that scientists know is needed. Credit: IITA

Smallholders in developing countries all too often do not have the resources or incentives to commit to the transformation to sustainable agriculture that scientists know is needed. Credit: IITA

By Nteranya Sanginga and Edidah Ampaire
IBADAN, Nigeria, Jan 24 2017 (IPS)

Development advocates and professionals are very keen on harnessing the power of agriculture to promote the cause of climate change these days. And rightly so, because agriculture is both a major emitter of greenhouse gases and so a potential force for mitigation, and because billions of people will need to eat, and so adaptation is an absolute necessity.

That said, it’s actually quite hard to achieve lasting consensus on the ground. For a plethora of reasons, smallholders in developing countries all too often do not have the resources or incentives to commit to the transformation to sustainable agriculture that scientists know is needed.

However, these challenges can be faced and overcome. Doing so requires that experts listen closely to what people are saying.

The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture is highly engaged in promoting climate-sensitive farming practices and full-fledged Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA). Our experience in the field has given us the opportunity to learn why some useful adaptive techniques struggle to take hold.
Some examples from our work in Northern Uganda are noteworthy.

For example, some agroforestry initiatives and other projects geared to using perennial crops fail to achieve traction among women farmers because they do not own land. The absence of equitable tenure rights leads many women naturally to prefer annual crops that can be harvested in the short term.

Nteranya Sanginga, Director General of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). Courtesy of IITA

Nteranya Sanginga, Director General of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). Courtesy of IITA


Another issue is that while perhaps new and improved seeds have been developed to bolster adaptation to a changing climate in a given locale, it is often not the case that an adequate distribution system is in place. Farmers lament that inputs arrive too late, or that they cost too much and no credit or seed loaning system is available.

It is important to realize that what often appears as farmers’ resistance to change is a fairly well-grounded assessment of the risks and uncertainties that smallholders face. Indeed, when they see a successful technique work over time, they are usually quite interested in adopting it. But, in the absence of a steady and reliable safety net, short-term results are a requirement, which can lead to slower take-up of practices such as no-till that boost long-term soil fertility but may dent present yields.

It’s also true that culinary preferences matter. In Uganda, farmers prefer the aroma of local Sindani rice to the Nerica variety that offers improved performance in upland areas. But here, too, it turns out that Sindani is less damaged by birds, so their rationale is on solid ground. It is only through dialogue that such factors emerge.

IITA has sought to foster and tap such dialogues through its leading role in Policy Action for Climate Change Adaptation (PACCA) projects in Uganda and Tanzania, which seek to prioritize CSA practices with local stakeholders.

One of the core features of our efforts, much of which is done in partnership with the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Bioversity International and local partners, is what we call the learning alliance model. After several years of engagement, we are harvesting useful knowledge.

First, and unsurprisingly, it is essential to be reminded by farmers of what their priorities are when asked to consider a change. Yield, income, labor, cost, inputs, equipment, and appropriate farm size are all top priorities.

A set of on-farm demonstrations done in Nwoya district in 2015 allowed for more specific feedback, which we culled from a farmers’ “reflection workshop” organized earlier this year.

While farmers noted that the learning process itself represented a significant cost, due to the risk of crop theft or stray animals entering fields while they travelled long distances to reach training sessions, many CSA practices won plaudits from smallholders. These included: improved varieties, which tend to yield more, mature earlier and resist disease; row planting, which requires fewer seeds and facilitates weeding and harvesting as well as pest control; and minimum tillage, which was seen as a labor saver requiring little specialized skills.

Greater awareness of the risk of climate change would help give more balance to farmers’ concerns. Farmers are increasingly aware of depleted water sources, fewer bird species, lower water tables and other impacts of climate change, but such factors can’t be tackled by a smallholder acting alone and require collective action.

One intriguing idea, which emerged at our recent Learning Alliance reflection meeting in Tanzania, is for the government to set up an agency to address issues of climate change in the same way that special committees were set up in the past to deal with HIV/AIDS.

National platforms with that level of focus are warranted given the magnitude and full spectrum of risks posed by climate change. But the key issue is to make sure they are capillary and local.

The Learning Alliance model is promising in that regard.

Bringing together different partners drawn from policy makers, academic, research organizations, civil society, the private sector and farming communities themselves, the platform has facilitated the sharing of information, knowledge and experiences. They have retained smallholder interest, which is the gold standard for such initiatives.

And increasingly we see local participants in Learning Alliances advocate effectively for deeper plans, the kind that can win funding from international sources, allowing them to last longer and clinch the loyalty of farmers who buy in to the campaign. In short, they are embryonic institutions based on participation and, as such, a replicable approach to tackling the great challenge for climate-smart agriculture practices – sustainable implementation.

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Zambia’s Armyworm Outbreak: Is Climate Change to Blame?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/zambias-armyworm-outbreak-is-climate-change-to-blame/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zambias-armyworm-outbreak-is-climate-change-to-blame http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/zambias-armyworm-outbreak-is-climate-change-to-blame/#comments Mon, 23 Jan 2017 14:05:01 +0000 Friday Phiri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148624 Zambian farmer Surrender Hamufuba inspecting a maize plant in his field. Experts say a changing climate is bringing more crop pests to parts of Africa. Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

Zambian farmer Surrender Hamufuba inspecting a maize plant in his field. Experts say a changing climate is bringing more crop pests to parts of Africa. Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

By Friday Phiri
PEMBA, Zambia, Jan 23 2017 (IPS)

Surrender Hamufuba of Mwanamambo village in Pemba district recalls how he battled Armyworms in 2012. Fast-forward to 2016 and it is a similar story — another pest infestation on an even larger scale.

“I am not sure why, but there could be more to the increased frequency of these pest attacks, maybe weather changes,” speculates the 48-year-old farmer, who seems quite knowledgeable about climate smart agricultural fundamentals.“As temperature is projected to rise, insects like stalk borers will develop faster and this could lead to earlier population growth than expected.” --Researcher Donald Zulu

Out of the five hectares he planted, Hamufuba estimates the damage to be up to 1ha. In Pemba alone, at least 5,000 smallholders have reported some stalk borer damage in varying proportions.

Aside from the stalk borers, the Armyworm invasion has caused larger damage across the country. According to Minister of Agriculture Dora Siliya, at least 124,000 hectares of maize have been invaded, representing just under 10 percent of the 1.4 hectares of maize planted this farming season.

National Coordinator of the Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit (DMMU) Patrick Kangwa said “the pests were under control” as government bought and delivered 87,000 litres of pesticides for spraying in the affected farmers’ fields.

While farmers are being supported in every way possible to safeguard their crops in the short term, the long-term concern is the frequency — and unpredictability — of these devastating pests.

Donald Zulu, a lecturer and researcher at the Copperbelt University, says climate change may complicate the pattern of infestations.

“Outbreaks of Armyworms are highly dependent on the seasonal patterns of wind and rainfall. With global warming, the weather pattern in Africa will continue to change, which could mean more or fewer Armyworm outbreaks,” says Zulu, prescribing long-term integrated approaches built around “robust, country-wide surveillance and early warning systems” considering the devastating nature and feeding pattern of Armyworms.

Armyworms are serious migratory crop pests that feed on young maize plants, and also attack other cereal crops such as wheat, rice, sorghum, millet and most grass pastures, affecting both crop and livestock production. They feed with such devastating speed that by the time they are discovered, notable damage would already have been caused. Stalk borers on the other hand, have the habit of boring into stalks, affecting plant growth.

There are several types of Armyworms, among them the African Armyworm, which occur in Africa. While the 2012 attack was the African Armyworm, this year’s outbreak is different.

“This particular pest is the Fall Armyworm, and not the African Armyworm,” says Dr. Eliot Zitsanza, chief scientist at the International Red Locust Control Organisation for Central and Southern Africa (IRCO-CSA). “The two are closely related though. The Fall Armyworm is native to the Americas and may have been introduced to Zambia accidentally.”

Coincidentally this year, the Armyworm outbreak is occurring alongside stalk borers. Both belong to the same scientific family, called ‘Noctuidae’, of moths. From a scientific perspective, the two types of pests depend on weather for their production and growth, highlighting another importance of reliable early warning systems.

One of the most notable early warning systems uses an extensive network of pheromone traps that attract male armyworm moths using the artificial scent of mating female armyworms. The catches of Armyworm in the traps are used in combination with local weather reports to forecast armyworm outbreaks and help to alert farmers much faster to the need for control.

But with global warming causing massive weather unpredictability, is it to blame for increased incidences of pests? Professor Ken Wilson of Lancaster University, who has been studying Armyworms for 25 years, says it is very likely that over a few decades, the pattern of outbreaks has changed.

“It is very likely that climate change will affect the incidence of this pest because the armyworm is dependent on weather, so it feeds on crops and grasses that are dependent on the amount of rainfall, and the pattern of outbreaks depends very much on where rain storms occur and how frequently they occur,” Prof. Wilson told IPS, pointing out however, that the relationship is not simple as “we don’t have very good data and information to validate this hypothesis.”

As for stalk borers, just like most insects, they are directly under the control of temperature for their growth and it is the most important environmental factor influencing insect behavior, says Donald Zulu. “As temperature is projected to rise, insects like stalk borers will develop faster and this could lead to earlier population growth than expected.”

The Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) fifth assessment report confirms this strong linkage between warming and increased pest and disease. In highlighting the major risk posed by climate change to agriculture — reduction in crop productivity associated with heat and drought stress — the report cites increased pest and disease damage and flood impacts on food system infrastructure as key indicators.

Similarly, in identifying key adaptation issues and prospects, the report highlights adoption of stress-tolerant crop varieties, irrigation, and enhanced weather observation systems.

While several arguments may have emerged since the outbreak, Southern Province Agricultural Coordinator Max Choombe points to mono-cropping as a major reason, especially for the stalk borer outbreak.

“I believe mono-cropping has brought about this burden because our farmers grow maize after maize, they don’t change,” laments Dr. Choombe, insisting on the importance of crop rotation for breaking the cycle of pests.

Dr. Choombe also believes climate change is a precursor to pest infestations and does not rule out the linkage between the current outbreak and global warming. “Climate change also is a problem, is a precursor for certain pests attack and I believe the attack this season could be as a result of the extreme weather changes we have been experiencing.”

With a looming outbreak of Red Locusts as forecast by the IRCO-CSA, there could be more work ahead in identifying long-term solutions to the rising challenge of pests in a changing climate. Further, the entry into force of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, which places obligations on individual countries to contribute to a global transition to green growth, means that Zambian policy makers would have to double their efforts considering that agriculture is at the forefront of the country’s vulnerability to climate change.

But while they do, Donald Zulu strongly believes in the following premise: “It is generally agreed that the earth is warming. And temperature influences insect development and is the most important environmental factor that affects insect pests. Because of this, climate change is more likely to influence insects’ geography distribution and affect crops.”

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