Inter Press Service » Projects http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Sat, 27 Aug 2016 16:06:01 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.12 Ships Bring Your Coffee, Snack and TV Set, But Also Pests and Diseaseshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/ships-bring-your-coffee-snack-and-tv-set-but-also-pests-and-diseases/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ships-bring-your-coffee-snack-and-tv-set-but-also-pests-and-diseases http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/ships-bring-your-coffee-snack-and-tv-set-but-also-pests-and-diseases/#comments Tue, 23 Aug 2016 13:22:26 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146649 Containers pile up in the Italian port of Salerno. Photo: FAO

Containers pile up in the Italian port of Salerno. Photo: FAO

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Aug 23 2016 (IPS)

“Every evening, millions of people all over the world will settle into their armchairs to watch some TV after a hard day at work. Many will have a snack or something to drink…

… That TV probably arrived in a containership; the grain that made the bread in that sandwich came in a bulk carrier; the coffee probably came by sea, too. Even the electricity powering the TV set and lighting up the room was probably generated using fuel that came in a giant oil tanker.”

This is what the International Maritime Organisation (IMO)  wants everybody to keep in mind ahead of this year’s World Maritime Day. “The truth is, shipping affects us all… No matter where you may be in the world, if you look around you, you are almost certain to see something that either has been or will be transported by sea, whether in the form of raw materials, components or the finished article.”

Yet few people have any idea just how much they rely on shipping. For the vast majority, shipping is out of sight and out of mind, IMO comments. “This is a story that needs to be told… And this is why the theme that has been chosen for the World Maritime Day 2016 is “Shipping: indispensable to the world.” The Day is marked every year on 29 September.


Over 80 Per Cent of Global Trade Carried by Sea

Some $1.1 trillion worth of agricultural products are traded internationally each year. Photo: FAO

Some $1.1 trillion worth of agricultural products are traded internationally each year. Photo: FAO

Meanwhile, another UN organisation–the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), informs that around 80 per cent of global trade by volume and over 70 per cent of global trade by value are carried by sea and are handled by ports worldwide.

These shares are even higher in the case of most developing countries, says UNCTAD.

“There are more than 50,000 merchant ships trading internationally, transporting every kind of cargo. The world fleet is registered in over 150 nations and manned by more than a million seafarers of virtually every nationality.”

A Floating Threat

All this is fine. But as another major United Nations organisation also reminds that not all is great about sea-born trade. See what happens.

A Floating Threat: Sea Containers Spread Pests and Diseases’  is the title of an information note issued on August 17 by the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

FAO highlights  that that while oil spills garner much public attention and anguish, the so-called “biological spills” represent a greater long-term threat and do not have the same high public profile. And gives some good examples.

“It was an exotic fungus that wiped out billions of American chestnut trees in the early 20th century, dramatically altering the landscape and ecosystem, while today the emerald ash borer – another pest that hitch-hiked along global trade routes to new habitats – threatens to do the same with a valuable tree long used by humans to make tool handles, guitars and office furniture.”

FAO explains that perhaps the biggest “biological spill” of all was when a fungus-like eukaryotic microorganism called Phytophthora infestans – the name of the genus comes from Greek for “plant destroyer” – sailed from the Americas to Belgium. Within months it arrived in Ireland, triggering a potato blight that led to famine, death and mass migration.

“The list goes on and on. A relative of the toxic cane toad that has run rampant in Australia recently disembarked from a container carrying freight to Madagascar, a biodiversity hotspot, and the ability of females to lay up to 40,000 eggs a year make it a catastrophic threat for local lemurs and birds, while also threatening the habitat of a host of animals and plants.”

In Rome, FAO informs, municipal authorities are ramping up their annual campaign against the tiger mosquito, an invasive species that arrived by ship in Albania in the 1970s. Aedes albopictus, famous for its aggressive biting, is now prolific across Italy and global warming will make swathes of northern Europe ripe for colonisation.

“This is why the nations of the world came together some six decades ago to establish the  International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) as a means to help stem the spread of plant pests and diseases across borders boundaries via international trade and to protect farmers, foresters, biodiversity, the environment, and consumers.”

“The crop losses and control costs triggered by exotic pests amount to a hefty tax on food, fibre and forage production,” says Craig Fedchock, coordinator of the FAO-based IPPC Secretariat. “All told, fruit flies, beetles, fungi and their kin reduce global crop yields by between 20 and 40 per cent.”

Credit: IMO

Credit: IMO

Trade as a Vector, Containers as a Vehicle

Invasive species arrive in new habitats through various channels, but shipping, is the main one, FAO reports.

“And shipping today means sea containers: Globally, around 527 million sea container trips are made each year – China alone deals with over 133 million sea containers annually. It is not only their cargo, but the steel contraptions themselves, that can serve as vectors for the spread of exotic species capable of wreaking ecological and agricultural havoc.”

For example, an analysis of 116,701 empty sea containers arriving in New Zealand over the past five years showed that one in 10 was contaminated on the outside, twice the rate of interior contamination.

“Unwelcome pests included the gypsy moth, the Giant African snail, Argentine ants and the brown marmorated stink bug, each of which threaten crops, forests and urban environments. Soil residues, meanwhile, can contain the seeds of invasive plants, nematodes and plant pathogens,” FAO informs.

“Inspection records from the United States, Australia, China and New Zealand indicate that thousands of organisms from a wide range of taxa are being moved unintentionally with sea containers,” the study’s lead scientist, Eckehard Brockerhoff of the New Zealand Forest Research Institute, told a recent meeting at FAO of the Commission on Phytosanitary Measures (CPM), IPPC’s governing body.

These phytosanitary (the health of plants) measures are intended to ensure that imported plants are free of specified pests.

Here, FAO warns that damage exceeds well beyond agriculture and human health issues. Invasive species can cause clogged waterways and power plant shutdowns.

Biological invasions inflict damages amounting to around five per cent of annual global economic activity, equivalent to about a decade’s worth of natural disasters, according to one study, Brockerhoff said, adding that factoring in harder-to-measure impacts may double that.

Around 90 per cent of world trade is carried by sea today, with vast panoply of differing logistics, making agreement on an inspection method elusive. Some 12 million containers entered the U.S. last year, using no fewer than 77 ports of entry.

“Moreover, many cargoes quickly move inland to enter just-in-time supply chains. That’s how the dreaded brown marmorated stink bug – which chews quickly through high-value fruit and crops – began its European tour a few years ago in Zurich.”

This animal actively prefers steel nooks and crannies for long-distance travel, and once established likes to set up winter hibernation niches inside people’s houses.

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The Time is Ripe to Act against Droughthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-time-is-ripe-to-act-against-drought/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-time-is-ripe-to-act-against-drought http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-time-is-ripe-to-act-against-drought/#comments Thu, 18 Aug 2016 14:13:32 +0000 Monique Barbut http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146601

The author is the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which co-organized with the Namibian government the Africa Drought Conference on 15-19 August in Windhoek. This Op-Ed is based on Barbut’s opening speech to the Conference High –level Segment.

By Monique Barbut
WINDHOEK, Aug 18 2016 (IPS)

Let us start with some good news.  Sort of.  The strongest El Niño in 35 years is coming to an end. [1]

In 2015/2016 this “El Niño effect” led to drought in over 20 countries [2].  There were scorching temperatures, water shortages and flooding around the world.  Worst hit were eastern and southern Africa[3]

Monique Barbut

Monique Barbut

To understand what that means for people, you just have to look at the numbers about food insecurity[4].  32 million people in southern Africa were affected by food insecurity as a result.  Across Africa, 1 million children required treatment for severe acute malnutrition.

And though the worst of the drought is coming to an end, predictions are high (at about 75%) that La-Nina will arrive later in 2016. La Nina – El Niño’s opposite number – is known for the flooding it brings.

There may not be much relief for policy makers and people across Africa before the end of the year.

But then, if will be over, we can breathe again.  We can go back to business as usual – right?

Well…if you will allow me…for Albert Einstein…one of the definitions of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.

Going back to business as usual fits this definition of insanity very well.

  • We know the next El Niño droughts are likely to return regularly.  Probably as often as every two to seven years.
  • We know that the extent and severity of droughts will increase.  This is because of climate change and unsustainable land use.   Scientists have estimated that the fraction of the land’s surface regularly experiencing drought conditions is predicted to increase from less than 5 percent today to more than 30 percent by the 2090s[5].
  • We know we will miss our targets on water scarcity (6.4, 6.5 and 6.6) under the sustainable development goals[6].
  • We know poor people, who tend to be wholly dependent on natural resources like water and land to provide for their families, will suffer.

Unless we change our approach, when drought comes and the rains fail, the future of the 400 million African farmers who rely on rain fed subsistence agriculture, for example, is put in jeopardy.

Rain-fed agriculture accounts for more than 95 percent of farmed land in sub-Saharan Africa. And water scarcity alone could cost some regions 6 percent of their Gross Domestic Product.

Unless we change our approach, people are going to be increasingly forced to decide whether to ride out a drought disaster and then rebuild.  Or simply leave.

It is a form of madness that we force our people to make these difficult choices.

 

Especially if the cycle of drought disaster and recovery could be broken. 

Progress is starting to happen. Mexico, Brazil, Vietnam and Morocco, to name just a few countries, are now implementing drought plans with a strong emphasis on risk mitigation and preparedness.

And in the areas where land has been restored in Central and Eastern Tigray in Ethiopia, ecosystems and people seem to have fared better in recent El Nino related droughts than areas where no restoration has been undertaken.

But because by 2050, one in four people – up to 2.5 billion people – will be living in a country at risk of water scarcity, more needs to be done. Everywhere.  We must prepare better and manage drought risks proactively.

Africa has already done a lot[7] but needs to stay on its toes.

UNCCD is proposing three important pillars for your consideration.

 

Firstly, Early Warning Systems. 

Declaring a drought too late can have a devastating impact on lives and livelihoods. Yet when you declare a drought, it can often be very subjective and highly political.

Africa would benefit from an effective Early Warning System (EWS) in all countries. The system would need good data and – equally important – local and traditional knowledge. It would guide you by providing timely information that you can use to reduce risks and to better prepare for an effective response.

 

Secondly, vulnerability and risk assessment.

Of course, no amount of early warning will work without action to protect the most vulnerable.

Some people and some systems are more vulnerable to drought as a result of social, economic, and environmental factors. So it is important to combine better forecasts with detailed knowledge on how landscapes and societies respond to a lack of rain.

Which communities and ecosystems are most at risk? Why are important sectors like agriculture, energy, tourism, health vulnerable?

Then turn that knowledge into early intervention.

We can assure it would be highly cost effective.  Before the cost of a single late response is reached, you can “overreact” up to six times.

In Niger and Mozambique for example, the cost of an early intervention and resilience building efforts would lead to a cost reduction of 375 million US dollars in Mozambique and 844 million US dollars in Niger when compared to late humanitarian response to drought.[8]

 

Finally, drought risk mitigation measures.

We can identify measures to address these risks head on.  There are things that can be done at a very practical level to reduce drought risk, which if started right away, can deliver real and tangible benefits to your communities.

African countries could consider the development of sustainable irrigation schemes for crops and livestock or water harvesting schemes or the recycling and reuse of water. They can explore the cultivation of more drought tolerant crops, expand crop insurance schemes and establish alternative livelihoods that can provide income in drought-prone areas.

Investing in improved land management, for example, can improve on-farm water security by between 70 and 100%[9].

This would result in higher yields and more food security.   In Zimbabwe, water harvesting combined with conservation agriculture increased farmers gross margins by 4 to 7 times and increased returns on labour by 2 to 3 times. [10]

This is the type of proactive drought risk management, which could save lives and the livelihoods of millions of people, is something that we all should aspire to.

 

The Africa Drought Conference is a rare window of opportunity.

An opportunity for the continent to recognize that the traditional approach of “responding” to drought is no longer viable. It has proved to be ineffective far too often. Instead, Africa could lead a proactive drought revolution.

By investing in early warning systems and addressing their vulnerabilities head on, well-planned and coordinated drought action will have a positive ripple effect across sectors and across borders.

Nelson Mandela once said, “We must use time wisely and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right”.

The time is ripe. Taking proactive action against drought is the right thing to do.

 

Footnotes

[1] http://media.bom.gov.au/releases/267/el-nino-ends-as-tropical-pacific-ocean-returns-to-neutral/

[2] List compiled from: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/may/22/southern-africa-worst-global-food-crisis-25-years and https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/may/30/el-nino-is-over-but-it-leaves-nearly-100-million-people-short-of-food.

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/may/22/africa-worst-famine-since-1985-looms-for-50-million

[4] https://docs.unocha.org/sites/dms/Documents/OCHA_ElNino_Overview_13Apr2016.pdf

[5]  WMO( 2011): Towards a Compendium on National Drought Policy, p. 9.

[6] https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg6

[7] i.e. The Sahel and Sahara Observatory (OSS), IGAD’s Drought Resilience Sustainability Initiative (IDDRSI), the Southern Africa Development Community – Community Climate Service Center (SADC-CSC) or the African Drought Risk and Development Network (ADDN).

[8] Department for international development : The Economics of Early Response and Resilience Series, https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/226255/TEERR_Two_Pager_July_22.pdf

[9] Bossio, Deborah et al( 2010): Managing water by managing land: Addressing land degradation to improve water productivity and rural livelihoods, p. 540.

[10] Winterbottom, R. (et al.): Improving Land and Water Management. Working Paper, Installment 4 of Creating a Sustainable Food Future. World Resources Institute, 2013, p. 18.

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Humanitarian Crises: Business Called to Take a Leadhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/humanitarian-crises-business-called-to-take-a-lead/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=humanitarian-crises-business-called-to-take-a-lead http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/humanitarian-crises-business-called-to-take-a-lead/#comments Wed, 17 Aug 2016 17:03:43 +0000 IKEA Foundation http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146592 Courtesy of IKEA Foundation

Courtesy of IKEA Foundation

By IKEA Foundation
LEIDEN, The Netherlands, Aug 17 2016 (IPS)

With more than 65 million people forced to flee their homes due to violence and armed conflicts, this year’s Wold Humanitarian Day on August 19 will call on all governments and social sectors to work together to tackle this unprecedented human crisis.

The IKEA Foundation believes that businesses and foundations have an important role to play in strengthening the global response to refugee crises worldwide.

On this, Per Heggenes, CEO of the IKEA Foundation, says: “The corporate sector must come together to support those caught up in one of the biggest displacements of people in history. It’s not just up to governments and aid agencies. Businesses also have a responsibility to respond in their own way.”

“Financial support, through giving grants to organisations working directly with refugees, is certainly one way they can help. But we believe businesses have much more to offer. Their expertise and ability to innovate can help make life better for refugees, and they can use their influence to galvanise others to help,” Heggenes adds.

 

Focus on Innovation and Creativity

The Foundation supports refugee children and their families around the world through the UN Refugees agency (UNHCR) and other leading international organisations. The IKEA business makes good use of its creativity and problem-solving skills to find practical ways to help refugees.

Together with social enterprise Better Shelter and UNHCR, the Foundation has created a flat-pack shelter, which is safer and more durable than a tent.

UNHCR has already ordered thousands of shelters to house refugee families in Greece, Iraq, Serbia, Chad and Djibouti. The shelter will be on show at Insecurities:Tracing Displacement and Shelter, an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York from 1 October 2016 to 22 January 2017.

“This is a great example of how IKEA’s democratic design principles—of making good design available to the many people—have also influenced innovation in the humanitarian sector,” says Heggenes.

“The shelters are helping people who have been forced to flee their homes to live a better everyday life while in displacement.”

 

Build Unlikely Collaborations

The IKEA Foundation also recently teamed up with Amsterdam-based design platform What Design Can Do and UNHCR to harness the creative power of the design community.

The What Design Can Do Refugee Challenge called on designers and creative thinkers to come up with new concepts to make life better for refugee families living in urban areas.

The challenge attracted more than 600 entries, with the five winners announced on 1 July. Winners received 10,000 euro and expert support to develop their ideas.

“The great participation in the Refugee Challenge showed that people in the design community really want to use their skills to create better everyday lives for refugee children and families,” says Jonathan Spampinato, Head of Communications at the IKEA Foundation.

“Our role was to create a platform for them to showcase their ideas and provide funding to develop the best concepts. We believe that other professional communities may be equally motivated and that leading businesses can activate this desire to help.”

Courtesy of IKEA Foundation

Courtesy of IKEA Foundation

 

How Products Can Make a Difference

As well as looking for innovative design solutions, the Foundation provides financial support and donates IKEA products to partner organisations working in humanitarian crises.

“We’re really proud of how we are able to support our partners in times of disasters and conflict,” says Jonathan Spampinato. “On World Humanitarian Day, we’d like to say a huge thank you to our humanitarian partners, especially to their staff and volunteers who work on the frontline in emergencies.”

To support refugee children and families living in Iraq, the Foundation has donated 400,000 mattresses, quilts and blankets to UNHCR over three years.

Since 2013, it has also been donating IKEA children’s products to UNICEF for its Early Childhood Development Kits, which support the well-being of children, including those affected by conflicts and emergencies.

Earlier this year, the Foundation gave grants worth a total of 9.4 million euro to Save the Children and Médicins Sans Frontières. The money is supporting children and families affected by the Syrian conflict, in Syria and neighbouring countries.

It will pay for healthcare, education and child protection and help strengthen local organisations working within Syria. Moreover, the Foundation partnered up with War Child to provide quality education to 10,000 Syrian and Sudanese refugee children through the Can’t Wait to Learn e-learning programme.

 

Support Frontline Efforts

Using a similar approach, the IKEA Foundation is supporting a three-year programme run by Oxfam to strengthen local humanitarian organisations in Bangladesh and Uganda. The 7.3 million euro grant, which was announced at the World Humanitarian Summit in May, marks a major shift in the way the international community views emergency response.

Per Heggenes said: “With vast numbers of people on the move due to conflict and disaster, there’s a lot of pressure on the humanitarian system. Local organisations are often best placed to provide immediate assistance because they are on the ground and understand the community and culture. We’re funding this programme because we believe that strengthening local actors will improve the humanitarian system as a whole, and help it work more efficiently.”

 

Engaging Customers and Co-workers

Another way businesses can help is by mobilising their staff and customers to support refugees. In 2014-15, IKEA and the IKEA Foundation ran a campaign called Brighter Lives for Refugees. For every lamp or bulb sold in IKEA stores during the three campaign periods, the IKEA Foundation donated 1 euro to UNHCR.

Per Heggenes said: “We’re delighted with the way IKEA co-workers got behind the campaign, and promoted it to customers in their stores. In total, we raised 30.8 million euro to bring light and renewable energy to refugee camps in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.:

As well as raising a lot of money, I think the campaign shows how businesses can be a powerful force for good by engaging all their audiences in this important issue,” Per Heggenes concluded.

*This article has been provided by IKEA Foundation as part of an agreement with IPS.

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Arable Lands Lost at Unprecedented Rate: 33,000 Hectares… a Day!http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/arable-land-lost-at-unprecedented-rate-33000-hectares-a-day/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=arable-land-lost-at-unprecedented-rate-33000-hectares-a-day http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/arable-land-lost-at-unprecedented-rate-33000-hectares-a-day/#comments Tue, 16 Aug 2016 17:50:46 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146571 Desert, drought advancing. Photo UNEP

Desert, drought advancing. Photo UNEP

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Aug 16 2016 (IPS)

Humankind is a witness every single day to a new, unprecedented challenge. One of them is the very fact that the world’s arable lands are being lost at 30 to 35 times the historical rate. Each year, 12 million hectares are lost. That means 33,000 hectares a day!

Moreover, scientists have estimated that the fraction of land surface area experiencing drought conditions has grown from 10-15 per cent in the early 1970s to more than 30 per cent by early 2000, and these figures are expected to increase in the foreseeable future.

While drought is happening everywhere, Africa appears as the most impacted continent by its effects. According to the Bonn-based United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), two-thirds of African lands are now either desert or dry-lands.

The challenge is enormous for this second largest continent on Earth, which is home to 1.2 billion inhabitants in 54 countries and which has been the most impacted region by the 2015/2016 weather event known as El-Niño.

Daniel Tsegai

Daniel Tsegai

IPS interviewed Daniel Tsegai, Programme Officer at UNCCD, which has co-organised with the Namibian government the Africa Drought Conference on August 15-19 in Windhoek.

“Globally, drought is becoming more severe, more frequent, increasing in duration and spatial extent and its impact is increasing, including massive human displacement and migration. The current drought is an evidence. African countries are severely affected,” Tsegai clarifies.

The African Drought Conference focus has been put on the so-called “drought resilience.”

IPS asks Tsegai what is this all about? “Drought resilience is simply defined as the capacity of a country to survive consecutive droughts and be able to recover to pre-drought conditions,” he explains.

“To begin with there are four aspects of Drought: Meteorological (weather), Hydrological (surface water), Agricultural (farming) and socioeconomic (effects on humans) droughts.”

 

The Five Big “Lacks”

Asked for the major challenges ahead when it comes to working on drought resilience in Africa, Tsegai tells IPS that these are mainly:

a) Lack of adequate data base such as weather, water resources (ground and surface water), soil moisture as well as past drought incidences and impacts;

b) Poor coordination among various relevant sectors and stakeholders in a country and between countries in a region;

c) Low level of capacity to implement drought risk mitigation measures (especially at local level);

d)    Insufficient political will to implement national drought policies, and

e) Economics of drought preparedness is not well investigated, achieving a better understanding of the economic benefits of preparing for drought before drought strikes is beneficial.

As for the objectives of the UNCCD, Tsegai explains that they are to seek to improve land productivity, to restore (or preserve) land, to establish more efficient water usage and improve the living conditions of those populations affected by drought and desertification.

According to Tsegai, some of the strategies that can be adopted to build drought resilience include:

First: a paradigm shift on the way we deal with drought. We will need to change the way we think about drought.

“Drought is not any longer a one time off event or even a ‘crisis’. It is going to be more frequent, severe and longer duration. It is a constant ‘risk’, he tells IPS.

“Thus, we need to move away from being reactive to proactive; from crisis management approach to risk management; from a piecemeal approach to a more coordinated/integrated approach. Treating drought as a crisis means dealing with the symptoms of drought and not the root causes,” Tsegai explains.

“In short, developing national drought based on the principles of risk reduction is the way forward.”

Second: Strengthening Drought Monitoring and early warning systems (both for drought and the impacts);

Third: Assessing vulnerability of drought in the country (Drought risk profiling on whom is likely to be affected, why? Which region and what will be the impacts?);

Fourth: Carrying out practical drought risk mitigation measures including the development of sustainable irrigation schemes for crops and livestock, monitoring and measuring water supply and uses, boasting the recycling and reuse of water and waste-water, exploring the potential of growing more drought tolerant crops and expanding crop insurance.

 

The Five Big Options

Asked what is expected outcome of the African Drought Conference, Tsegai answers:

  1.  To come up with a Common Strategy document at Africa level, a strategy that strengthens African drought preparedness that can be implemented and further shared at country level.
  1. To lead to the development of integrated national drought policies aimed at building more drought resilient societies based on the sustainable use and management of natural resources (land / soil, forest, biodiversity, water, energy, etc.).
  1. Countries are expected to come up with binding Drought Protocol- to adopt Windhoek Declaration for African countries-, which would be presented at the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment next year and expected to be endorsed at the African Union summit.
  1. With this in mind, the outcomes of the conference will be brought to the attention of the African Union for the collective African heads of states and governments’ endorsements, and
  1. It is further expected that the conference will strengthen partnerships and cooperation (South-South) to support the development of new and the improvement of existing national policies and strategies on drought management.

 

Droughts, The “Costliest” Disasters

It has been estimated that droughts are the world’s costliest natural disasters and affect more people than any other form of natural disaster, Tsegai tells IPS.

Race against time in drought-ravaged Southern Africa to ensure 23 million people receive farming support | Photo: FAO

Race against time in drought-ravaged Southern Africa to ensure 23 million people receive farming support | Photo: FAO

“Droughts are considered to be the most far-reaching of all natural disasters, causing short and long-term economic and ecological losses as well as significant spiralling secondary and tertiary impacts.”

To reduce societal vulnerability to droughts, a paradigm shift of drought management approaches is required to overcome the prevailing structures of reactive, post-hazard management and move towards proactive, risk based approaches of disaster management, he stresses.

“Risk based drought management is, however, multifaceted and requires the involvement of a variety of stakeholders, and, from a drought management policy perspective, capacities in diverse ministries and national institutions are needed.”

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One Humanity? Millions of Children Tortured, Smuggled, Abused, Enslavedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/one-humanity-millions-of-children-tortured-smuggled-abused-enslaved/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=one-humanity-millions-of-children-tortured-smuggled-abused-enslaved http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/one-humanity-millions-of-children-tortured-smuggled-abused-enslaved/#comments Tue, 16 Aug 2016 11:19:24 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146555 A boy carrying his belongings in a large cloth bag over his shoulder is among people walking on railway tracks to cross from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia into Serbia. Photo: UNICEF/NYHQ2015-2203/Georgiev

A boy carrying his belongins in a large cloth bag over his shoulder is among people walking on railway tracks to cross from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia into Serbia. Photo: UNICEF/NYHQ2015-2203/Georgiev

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Aug 16 2016 (IPS)

Children are being smuggled, sexually abused, maimed, killed for their vital organs, recruited as soldiers or otherwise enslaved. Not only: 69 million children under five will die from mostly preventable causes, 167 million will live in poverty, and 263 million are out of school. And 750 million women will have been married as children by 2030.

These are just some of the dramatic figures that the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) and other UN and international bodies released few weeks ahead of the World Humanitarian Day (WHD) marked every year on August 19.

Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary general, summarized the world future generation situation: “Children continue to be tortured, maimed, imprisoned, starved, sexually abused and killed in armed conflict.”

A boy holds a large piece of exploded artillery shell, which landed in the village of Al Mahjar, a suburb of Sana’a, the capital of Yemen. Photo: UNICEF/Mohamed Hamoud

A boy holds a large piece of exploded artillery shell, which landed in the village of Al Mahjar, a suburb of Sana’a, the capital of Yemen. Photo: UNICEF/Mohamed Hamoud

“In places such as Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen, children suffer through a living hell,” the UN chief said as he opened the Security Council’s debate on children and armed conflict on August 2.

Meanwhile, the future of humankind continues to be bleak, “unless the world focuses more on the plight of its most disadvantaged children,” alerts a United Nations report.

“Denying hundreds of millions of children a fair chance in life does more than threaten their futures – by fuelling inter-generational cycles of disadvantage, it imperils the future of their societies,” on 28 June said UNICEF Executive Director, Anthony Lake, on the release of The State of the World’s Children, the agency’s annual flagship report.

“We have a choice: Invest in these children now or allow our world to become still more unequal and divided.”

The UNICEF report notes that significant progress has been made in saving children’s lives, getting children into school and lifting people out of poverty. But this progress has been neither even nor fair, the report flags. “The poorest children are twice as likely to die before their fifth birthday and to be chronically malnourished than the richest.”

Across much of South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, children born to mothers with no education are almost three times more likely to die before they are five than those born to mothers with a secondary education, says UNICEF’s report. And “Girls from the poorest households are twice as likely to marry as children than girls from the wealthiest households.”

Worst in Sub-Saharan Africa

Nowhere is the outlook grimmer than in sub-Saharan Africa, where at least 247 million children – or 2 in 3 – live in multidimensional poverty, deprived of what they need to survive and develop, and where nearly 60 per cent of 20- to 24-year-olds from the poorest fifth of the population have had less than four years of schooling, the report warns.

At current trends, the report projects, by 2030, sub-Saharan Africa will account for nearly half of the 69 million children who will die before their fifth birthday from mostly preventable causes; more than half of the 60 million children of primary school age who will still be out of school; and 9 out of 10 children living in extreme poverty.  her twin

The UNICEF report goes on to warn that about 124 million children today do not go to primary- and lower-secondary school, and almost two in five who do finish primary school have not learned how to read, write or do simple arithmetic.

Youth, The Other Lost Generation

Meanwhile, there is another lost generation—the youth. “Today, over 70 million youth are looking for jobs while nearly 160 million are working, yet living in poverty. These figures embody a massive waste of potential and a threat to social cohesion,” on August 12 wrote Azita Berar Awad, Director of Employment Policy Department at the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

More than half a billion children live in areas with extremely high flood occurrence, 160 million live in high drought severity areas. Of the 530 million children in the flood-prone zones, some 300 million live in countries where more than half the population lives in poverty – on less than $3.10 a day. Photo: UNICEF.

More than half a billion children live in areas with extremely high flood occurrence, 160 million live in high drought severity areas. Of the 530 million children in the flood-prone zones, some 300 million live in countries where more than half the population lives in poverty – on less than $3.10 a day. Photo: UNICEF.

“Youth unemployment and decent work deficits depreciate human capital and have a significant negative influence on health, happiness, anti-social behaviour, and socio-political stability. They impact the present and future well-being of our societies,” she added.

Moreover, Berar stressed, conditions in youth labour markets are changing constantly and rapidly, so are the profiles and aspirations of young women and men who are entering the labour force every day.

“For most, expectations of decent work are not only about earning an income and making a livelihood. Youth see decent work as the cornerstone of their life project, the catalyst for their integration into society, and the pathway to their participation into the broader social and political arena.”

Anyway, this year’s WHD follows on one of the most pivotal moments in the history of humanitarian action: the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), which was held on May 23-24 May in Istanbul.

The WHS main objective was to mobilise world leaders to declare their collective support for the new Agenda for Humanity and commit to bold action to reduce suffering and deliver better for the millions of people in need of humanitarian assistance.

But while succeeding in attracting world’s attention to the current humanitarian emergency, the Istanbul Summit failed to mobilise the urgently needed funds to alleviate the sufferance of up to 160 million people and growing: as little and affordable 21 billion dollars.

Now, the WHD 2016 will continue communications around the Istanbul World Humanitarian Summit. For instance, the #ShareHumanity campaign, which kicked off last year on 19 August, beginning a global countdown to drive awareness for the WHS.

“Impossible Choices”

Previously, the campaign ‘Impossible Choices’ was launched In April this year with a call to world leaders to attend the Summit and to ‘Commit to Action’.  The launch of final phase of this UN vast campaign coincides with the WHD on 19 August and will run up until the UN secretary-general presents the Wold Humanitarian Summit Report at the UN General Assembly in September.

Following on this ‘Impossible Choices’ campaign earlier this year, the WHD digital campaign ‘The World You’d Rather’ will launch on 19 August.

Featuring a quiz based on the popular game ‘Would you rather’, the digital campaign will bring to light the very real scenarios faced by people in crisis. After being confronted with challenging choices, users will be able to share a personalised graphic on social media, tweet their world leader and learn about the Agenda for Humanity.

But while the UN starves to raise awareness among political decision-makers and mobilise humanity to take speedy, bold actions to alleviate, end and hopefully prevent the on-going, unprecedented human sufferance, world’s biggest powers continue to spend over 1,7 trillion dollars a year on weapons production and trade.

One Humanity? Yes. But whose? And for Whom?

This story is part of special IPS coverage of World Humanitarian Day on August 19.

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War on Climate Terror (II): Fleeing Disasters, Escaping Drought, Migratinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/war-on-climate-terror-ii-fleeing-disasters-escaping-drought-migrating/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=war-on-climate-terror-ii-fleeing-disasters-escaping-drought-migrating http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/war-on-climate-terror-ii-fleeing-disasters-escaping-drought-migrating/#comments Thu, 11 Aug 2016 16:13:57 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146520 Young, new arrivals from Sudan’s Darfur region endure a sandstorm in the border town of Bamina, eastern Chad. Rainfall in this region has been in decline since 1950. This, coupled with deforestation, has had a devastating effect on the environment. Credit: ©UNHCR/H.Caux

Young, new arrivals from Sudan’s Darfur region endure a sandstorm in the border town of Bamina, eastern Chad. Rainfall in this region has been in decline since 1950. This, coupled with deforestation, has had a devastating effect on the environment. Credit: ©UNHCR/H.Caux

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Aug 11 2016 (IPS)

“No one can deny the terrible similarities between those running from the threat of guns and those fleeing creeping desertification, water shortages, floods and hurricanes.”

Hardly a short, simply-worded statement could so sharply describe the ignored human drama of millions of victims of man-made wars, violence, poverty and disasters like the one spelled out by the authoritative voice of Prof. Dr. Konrad Osterwalder, the former rector of United Nations University, a global think tank and postgraduate teaching organisation headquartered in Japan.

But while widespread violence and climate catastrophes are common to all continents and countries, there is an overwhelming consensus among experts, scientific community and international specialised organisations that Africa is the most impacted region by them.

Only second to Asia, both extension and population wise, Africa is on the one hand home to nearly half of some 40 on-going armed conflicts. On the other, this continent made of 54 states and 1,2 billion inhabitants, is the most hit region by all sorts of consequences of growing climate change—to which by the way it is the least originator.

Key Facts

The cause-effect relationship between climate and massive population movement is already an indisputable fact. See what world specialised organisations say:

1. – Droughts combined with population growth, a lack of sustainable land and water management, natural disasters, political conflicts and tensions and other factors have resulted in massive population movements across Africa, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reports.

Somali refugees flee flooding in Dadaab, Kenya. The Dadaab refugee camps are situated in areas prone to both drought and flooding, making life for the refugees and delivery of assistance by UNHCR challenging. Credit:©UNHCR/B.Bannon

Somali refugees flee flooding in Dadaab, Kenya. The Dadaab refugee camps are situated in areas prone to both drought and flooding, making life for the refugees and delivery of assistance by UNHCR challenging. Credit:©UNHCR/B.Bannon

Displacement in Africa is the result of a multitude of causes including struggles for political power, communal violence, disputes over land, floods, storms and other such natural hazards, it adds. More than half of the world’s fragile states are in sub-Saharan Africa, and some of these states have the largest numbers of internally displaced persons (IDPs).

“Africa has more countries affected by displacement than any other continent or region, and was home to more than 15 million internally displaced persons in 2015.”

In short, “the relationship between displacement and the environment is well established in Africa. People leave places with slow-onset environmental degradation, such as drought and desertification and continue to flee rapid on-set environmental emergencies such as tropical storms and flash floods,” says Saidou Hamani, Regional Coordinator for Disasters and Conflict sub-programme, UNEP Regional Office for Africa.

2. – According to the 2016 Global Report on Internal Displacement, there were 27.8 million new displacements in 127 countries during 2015, roughly the equivalent of the populations of New York City, London, Paris and Cairo combined; of the total, 8.6 million were associated with conflicts and violence in 28 countries, while 19.2 million were associated with disasters in 113 countries.

Famine refugees in East Africa are caught in a dust storm. Photo credit: flickr/Oxfam International

Famine refugees in East Africa are caught in a dust storm. Photo credit: flickr/Oxfam International

The growing intensity of meteorological disasters due to climate change, coupled with the effects of environmental degradation is likely to continue being a factor behind human displacement.

The International Organization of Migration (IOM) predicts there will be 200 million environmentally-displaced people by the year 2050 with major effects on countries of origin, transit countries, as well as receiving countries.

Individuals and communities displaced by disasters and climate change and those displaced by conflicts often experience similar trauma and deprivation. They may have protection needs and vulnerabilities comparable to those whose displacement is provoked by armed violence or human rights abuses. “Climate change is expected to further exacerbate the stress that fragile states are already facing.”“Africa has more countries affected by displacement than any other continent or region, and was home to more than 15 million internally displaced persons in 2015” - UNEP

In Africa, environmental degradation and food insecurity are related to floods and other factors such as diminishing pasture for cattle as well as water, firewood and other natural resource scarcities, says IOM. Such factors contribute to displacement, resulting in increasing competition for scarce resources, which also contributes to armed conflict, particularly between pastoralists and sedentary communities.

This is especially pronounced in the Sahel (Lake Chad Basin), Sudan, South Sudan, Djibouti, Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya, all of which have large pastoralist populations who migrate according to seasonal patterns and climatic variations.

Future forecasts vary from 25 million to 1 billion environmental migrants by 2050, moving either within their countries or across borders, on a permanent or temporary basis, with 200 million being the most widely cited estimate. This figure equals the current estimate of international migrants worldwide.

3. – “Changes in the regional climate are impacting issues linked to the availability of natural resources essential to livelihoods in the region, as well as food insecurity. Along with important social, economic and political factors, this can lead to migration, conflict or a combination of the two,” according to Livelihood Security Climate Change, Migration and Conflict in the Sahel.

4. – It is evident that gradual and sudden environmental changes are already resulting in substantial population movements, the UN Refugee agency (UNHCR) reports.

“The number of storms, droughts and floods has increased threefold over the last 30 years with devastating effects on vulnerable communities, particularly in the developing world.”

“Climate change and the environment have a big impact on the lives of millions of forcibly uprooted people around the world.”

Many of them rely on the environment for survival, particularly during emergencies – for food, shelter, energy, fire and warmth, medicine, agriculture, income-generation activities and more, adds UNHCR.

“Unsustainable use of natural resources can lead to environmental degradation, with lasting impacts on natural resources and on the well-being of the displaced and host communities. Additionally, competition over scarce natural resources, such as firewood, water and grazing land, can lead to friction.”

5. – Gradual changes in the environment tend to have an even greater impact on the movement of people than extreme events. For instance, over the last thirty years, twice as many people have been affected by droughts as by storms (1.6 billion compared with approx. 718m),according to the International Disaster Database.

In 2008, 20 million persons have been displaced by extreme weather events, compared to 4.6 million internally displaced by conflict and violence over the same period.

6. – Disasters and climate change are a growing concern. Since 2009, an estimated one person every second has been displaced by a disaster, with an average of 22.5 million people displaced by climate or weather-related events since 2008, according to the International Displacement Monitoring Centre www.internal-displacement.org report. (IDMC 2015).

7. – The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the UN’s science advisory board, projects an increase in the number of displaced over the course of this century. The majority of the people of concern to UNHCR are concentrated in the most vulnerable areas around the world.

Climate change will force people into increasing poverty and displacement, exacerbating the factors that lead to conflict, rendering both the humanitarian needs and responses in such situations even more complex.

Now two key related events are scheduled to take place in the coming days: Africa Drought Conference in Windhoek, Namibia, August 15-19, and the World Humanitarian Day, August 19.

Will this growing, unstoppable human drama deserve the attention of world politicians or at least of the mainstream

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Native Plants Boost Local Diets in El Salvadorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/native-plants-boost-local-diets-in-el-salvador/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=native-plants-boost-local-diets-in-el-salvador http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/native-plants-boost-local-diets-in-el-salvador/#comments Tue, 09 Aug 2016 18:04:19 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146483 Juana Morales is cooking pupusas – thick tortillas with different kinds of fillings. Hers, however, are not made with corn tortillas, but with ojushte, a highly nutritional seed whose consumption is being promoted in the small town of San Isidro in western El Salvador. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Juana Morales is cooking pupusas – thick tortillas with different kinds of fillings. Hers, however, are not made with corn tortillas, but with ojushte, a highly nutritional seed whose consumption is being promoted in the small town of San Isidro in western El Salvador. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN ISIDRO, El Salvador, Aug 9 2016 (IPS)

Juana Morales is cooking one of the most popular dishes in El Salvador: pupusas, corn tortillas with different fillings. But hers are unique: they are not made with the traditional corn tortillas, but use Maya nuts, a highly nutritional seed that has fallen out of use but whose consumption is being encouraged in rural communities.

“I cook something with ojushte almost every day – pupusas, tamales (seasoned meat packed in cornmeal dough and wrapped and steamed in corn husks) orlittle cakes; it’s an excellent food,” the 65-year-old Salvadoran woman told IPS, standing in her kitchen in San Isidro, a small town of 3,000 people in the municipality of Izalco in the western department of Sonsonate.

Pupusas are made with thick tortillas and filled with beans, cheese, vegetables or pork.“In the communities there are families who don’t have enough to eat, malnourished children, poorly-fed adults, and we can’t just sit back and do nothing.” -- Ana Morales

Juana Morales has easy access to ojushte (Brosimum alicastrum) because her daughter Ana Morales is the leading local advocate of the nutritional properties of the seed in San Isidro, thanks to the work carried out by a local organisation.

Maná Ojushte is a women’s collective that emerged in San Isidro and began to promote the Maya nut tree and its seeds in 2010, an initiative that received a major boost in 2014 when it began to receive support from the Initiative Fund for the Americas El Salvador (FIAES), a U.S.-Salvadoran environmental conservation organisation.

The seeds of the Ojushte or Maya nut tree are beginning to be used in San Isidro and other communities in this Central American nation as an alternative source of nutrients for rural families, as part of projects designed to fight the impacts of climate change.

Still rare, the tree is found in the Salvadoran countryside, and in pre-Hispanic times it formed an important part of the diet of indigenous peoples throughout Central America and Mexico, said Ana Morales, the head of Maná Ojushte.

The seeds, she explained, contain high levels of protein, iron, zinc, vitamins, folic acid, calcium, fiber and tryptophan, an amino acid, which makes them an excellent addition to the family diet.

“It’s compared to soy, but it has the advantage of being gluten-free and low in fat,” Ana Morales told IPS.

Support from FIAES forms part of the conservation plans for the Apaneca Lamatepec Biosphere Reserve, which covers more than 132,000 hectares in 23 municipalities in the western Salvadoran departments of Ahuachapán, Santa Ana and Sonsonate.

“With the work in the reserve, we have tried to link cultural aspects with the health and nutrition of local communities, and revive consumption of this seed, which was part of our ancestral heritage,” FIAES territorial coordinator Silvia Flores told IPS.

Maná Ojushte, run by a core group of 10 women, sells Maya nuts, toasted, ground and packaged in quarter and half kilo bags.

The ground toasted seeds can be used to make beverages or can be added to any dish, like rice or soup, as a nutritional complement. They can also be used to make dough, for tamales, bread or tortillas. And the cooked nuts themselves can be added to raw dishes.

Some 20 families harvest the seeds from farms around the community where trees have been found. They sell them to the group for 20 to 50 cents of a dollar per half kilo, depending on whether the seed is brought in with or without the shell.

Ana Morales, head of Maná Ojushte, in the area where the Maya nuts are dried and shelled, to be ground and sold, in San Isidro in the municipality of Izalco in the western Salvadoran department of Sonsonate. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Ana Morales, head of Maná Ojushte, in the area where the Maya nuts are dried and shelled, to be ground and sold, in San Isidro in the municipality of Izalco in the western Salvadoran department of Sonsonate. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Each family, Ana Morales explained, gathers some 150 kilos per season, between January and June. This represents an additional source of income at a time when work is scarce in the countryside and climate change is jeopardising staple food crops like corn and beans.

“The arrangement is that I buy the nuts from them, but they have to include them in their diet,” she said.

Maná Ojushte sells 70 percent of what it produces and the remaining 30 percent is distributed free to the community, for meals in the local school, to the elderly and to pregnant women.

The ultimate aim is to teach families about the benefits of the Maya nut, and help them understand that there is a highly nutritional, easily accessible food source in their community.

“In the communities there are families who don’t have enough to eat, malnourished children, poorly-fed adults, and we can’t just sit back and do nothing,” said Morales.

In 2014, 14 percent of children five and under suffered from chronic malnutrition, according to that year’s National Health Survey, which provides the latest available statistics. That is higher than the Latin American average, which stood at 11.6 percent in 2015, according to the World Health Organisation.

“My family and I love Maya nuts,” Iris Gutiérrez, a 49-year-old local resident, told IPS. “I learned to make little cakes and soup, or I just serve the nuts boiled, with salt and lemon, like a salad.”

Gutiérrez buys buns and sells them in the village. But her aim, she said, is to learn to make bread with ojushte flour and sell it.

“One day that dream will come true,” she said.

She added that she goes to farms around the village to harvest the nuts and adds them to her family’s diet, collecting firewood along the way to cook them.

“If we gather two pounds (nearly one kilo), we add them to corn and the tortillas are more nutritious and our food stretches farther,” said Gutiérrez, a mother of two and the head of her household of six people, which also includes other relatives.

Similar initiatives

Meanwhile, in the municipalities of Candelaria de la Frontera and Texistepeque, in the eastern department of Santa Ana, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is backing a similar effort, but involving a spice called chaya, rather than ojushte.

Chaya (Cnidoscolus chayamansa), a bush native to Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, was also used by the ancient Mayans in the pre-Columbian era.

As in the case of ojushte, the promotion of chaya emerged as part of environmental conservation plans aimed at combating the impacts of climate change.

“Local communities had to look for a nutritional alternative that would improve the diet but would also be resistant to climate change, and we found that chaya is one of the most beneficial plants,” Rosemarie Rivas, a specialist in nutrition at the FAO office in El Salvador, told IPS.

Besides chaya bushes, FAO has distributed 26,000 fruit trees, as well as 8,000 moringa trees (Moringa oleifera), also known as the drumstrick or horseradish tree, whose leaves are also highly nutritious.

Another part of the project will be the creation of 250 family gardens to boost local food production capacity.

Efforts to encourage consumption of ojushte, chaya, moringa and other locally grown plants can make a difference when it comes to lowering malnutrition rates in rural areas, Rivas said.

She stressed, however, that boosting nutrition is not only about eating healthy foods, but involves other variables as well, such as the population’s overall health, which is influenced, for example, by factors such as the availability of sanitation and clean water.

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War on Climate Terror (I): Deserts Bury Two Thirds of African Landshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/war-on-climate-terror-i-deserts-bury-two-thirds-of-african-lands/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=war-on-climate-terror-i-deserts-bury-two-thirds-of-african-lands http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/war-on-climate-terror-i-deserts-bury-two-thirds-of-african-lands/#comments Tue, 09 Aug 2016 15:21:35 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146481 "No one can deny the terrible similarities between those running from the threat of guns and those fleeing creeping desertification, water shortages, floods and hurricanes," Konrad Osterwalder, the United Nations University. Photo: UNCCD

"No one can deny the terrible similarities between those running from the threat of guns and those fleeing creeping desertification, water shortages, floods and hurricanes," Konrad Osterwalder, the United Nations University. Photo: UNCCD

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Aug 9 2016 (IPS)

Two-thirds of the African continent is already desert or dry-lands. But while this vast extension of the second largest continent on Earth after Asia is “vital” for agriculture and food production, nearly three-fourths of it is estimated to be degraded to varying degrees.

This shocking diagnosis illustrating the current situation of this continent of over 30 million km², home to 1,2 billion human beings living in 54 countries, comes from the top world body dealing with desertification.

In fact, in its report “Addressing desertification, land degradation and drought in Africa”, the Bonn-based UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) explains that the continent is affected by frequent and severe droughts, which have been particularly severe in recent years in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel.

“Poverty and difficult socio-economic conditions are widespread, and as a result many people are dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods,” it says.

On this, another UN agency has once more warned, “With only a few weeks before land preparation begins for the next main cropping season, some 23 million people in Southern Africa urgently need support to produce enough food to feed themselves and thus avoid being dependent on humanitarian assistance until mid 2018.”

The Rome-based UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) on 28 July alerted against what it called “race against time in drought-ravaged Southern Africa to ensure 23 million people receive farming support.” As little as just 109 million dollars are urgently required for the provision of seeds and other agricultural inputs and services.

Two billion hectares of land are badly degraded as a result of desertification. Credit: Bigstock/IPS

Two billion hectares of land are badly degraded as a result of desertification. Credit: Bigstock/IPS

FAO reports that its prepared response plan aims to ensure that seeds, fertilisers, tools, and other inputs and services, including livestock support, are provided to smallholder farmers, agro-pastoralists and pastoralists to cope with the devastating impact of an El Niño-induced drought in the region.

“Farmers must be able to plant by October and failure to do so will result in another reduced harvest in March 2017, severely affecting food and nutrition security and livelihoods in the region.”

Desperate Situation

Africa’s near, medium-term future looks any thing but bright–by 2020, between 75 and 250 million people in Africa are projected to be exposed to increased water stress due to climate change. Also by 2020, in some African countries, yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50 per cent.“The continent is affected by frequent and severe droughts, which have been particularly severe in recent years in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel” -- UNCCD

The situation is so dire that the African Union (AU) along with the UNCCD and other partners, have organised the Africa Drought Conference in Windhoek, Namibia.

The conference, which is expected to bring together around 700 participants, on August 15-19 will focus on ways to halt and continue to prevent the rapid advance of the desert in the continent. Specifically, participants will concentrate their attention on mitigating the impacts of droughts and the development of national drought policies.

This event comes at an opportune time, as East and Southern Africa suffer from the worst recorded drought in the past 50 years, induced by El Niño.

Namibia appears as one of the most appropriate venues for such an event for several reasons, one of them being the fact that it was ranked 51 out of 120 countries by the 2014 Global Hunger Index, which measures the levels of hunger in the world’s countries.

While Namibia has improved, this ranking still indicates “a serious food problem,” says the UN Development Programme (UNDP). Critical water shortages are impacting harvests and the livestock industry in the agricultural sector, which sustains about 70 per cent of the Namibian population.

“Continued episodes of drought threaten to unravel the gains made in poverty alleviation, and thus drought is an issue that needs collective response.” In 2015 drought reduced Namibia’s national crop yields to 46 per cent below the sixteen-year average, and as a result, around 370,316 people are estimated to be vulnerable to Hunger in Namibia, UNDP reports.

Here, the three top UN agencies dealing with food—FAO, the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP), informed in their joint World Report on The State of Food Insecurity 2015, that 42.7 per cent of Namibian population was undernourished.

Looking beyond Namibia’s borders, humanitarian and development bodies estimate that over 52 million people are food insecure in East and Southern African Countries, and that number could increase. Alarmingly four of the 15 South African Development Community member states have already declared national drought disaster with 2 additional countries having declared partial emergencies.

Namibian Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila, reminded “Water resources play a defining role in economic development between and across sectors. Investment in water security is not only a matter of protecting society from specific water risks; it is an investment in enabling economic growth.”

This desperate situation pushed FAO to talk about a race against time in drought-ravaged Southern Africa to ensure 23 million people receive farming support. “Widespread crop failure has exacerbated chronic malnutrition in the region.”

With only a few weeks before land preparation begins for the next main cropping season, some 23 million people in Southern Africa urgently need support to produce enough food to feed themselves and thus avoid being dependent on humanitarian assistance until mid 2018, FAO on 28 July said.

Worst Drought in 35 Years

Two consecutive seasons of droughts, including the worst in 35 years that occurred this year, have particularly hit vulnerable families in rural areas, as prices of maize and other staple foods have risen, it added.

“The result is that almost 40 million people in the region are expected to face food insecurity by the peak of the coming lean season in early 2017. All countries in Southern Africa are affected.”

On this, David Phiri, FAO’s Sub-regional Coordinator for Southern Africa, warned, “The high levels of unemployment and sluggish economies, means that the main way people are able to access food is through what they themselves produce. Assisting them to do this will provide lifesaving support in a region where at least 70 per cent of people rely on agriculture for their livelihoods.”

FAO project in Mauritania is a text book case on halting desertification in Africa. Photo: FAO

FAO project in Mauritania is a text book case on halting desertification in Africa. Photo: FAO

Moreover, widespread crop failure has exacerbated chronic malnutrition in the region. More than 640,000 drought-related livestock deaths have been reported in Botswana, Swaziland, South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe alone due to lack of pasture, lack of water and disease outbreaks.

FAO urges investments that equip communities with the ability to produce drought-tolerant seed and fodder, along with climate-smart agriculture technologies like conservation agriculture. The aim is to enable rural families to build resilience and prepare for future shocks, especially that more challenges are still to come.

“El Niño’s counter-phenomenon, La Niña, is likely to occur later this year and while it could bring good rains that are positive for agriculture, measures must be taken to mitigate the risk of floods which could destroy standing crops and threaten livestock, including making them more vulnerable to disease.”

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African Farmers Can Feed the World, If Only…http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/african-farmers-can-feed-the-world-if-only/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=african-farmers-can-feed-the-world-if-only http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/african-farmers-can-feed-the-world-if-only/#comments Mon, 08 Aug 2016 14:29:24 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146449 Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) is an approach that helps to guide actions needed to transform and reorient agricultural systems to effectively support development and ensure food security in a changing climate. Photo: FAO

Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) is an approach that helps to guide actions needed to transform and reorient agricultural systems to effectively support development and ensure food security in a changing climate. Photo: FAO

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Aug 8 2016 (IPS)

Can African farmers feed the world?. Apparently the answer is “yes.” Bold as it may sound, this statement is based on specific facts: Africa is home to 60-65 per cent of the world’s uncultivated arable land and 10 per cent of renewable freshwater resources, and it has registered a 160 per cent increase in agricultural output over the past 30 years.

This data was provided in July this year by the NEPAD (New Partnership for Africa’s Development), which is the technical body of the African Union (AU), and it reminds that the global population continues to soar, to approach around 10 billion by 2050.

“We’ll need to boost agricultural production by at least 70 per cent,” the Rome-based United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) consequently alerted.

NEPAD goes further and states that, given Africa’s share of the global population is forecast to rise from 15 per cent to 25 per cent, there’s a mounting appreciation that farmers on the second-largest continent –after Asia– will have to play a key role if this boom is to be managed successfully.

“We can and would be happy to feed the world,” said Raajeev Bopiah, general manager of the East Usambara Tea company, which produces over 4 million kilograms of tea a year on its 5,000 acres of land in Tanzania, NEPAD tells. “We just need the knowledge and the funding.”

Roadblocks

Through a new global video and poster contest, FAO is asked the world's children to help it highlight how climate change is making the task of feeding a growing world population all the more challenging - and what we can all do, together, to meet that challenge. Image: FAO

Through a new global video and poster contest, FAO is asked the world’s children to help it highlight how climate change is making the task of feeding a growing world population all the more challenging – and what we can all do, together, to meet that challenge. Image: FAO

There are a number of hurdles to boosting the fortunes of Africa’s farmers, says the NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency (NEPAD Agency), which is the AU implementing body that facilitates and coordinates the development of the continent-wide programmes and projects, mobilises resources and engages world’s institutions, regional economic communities and member states.

“One of the biggest obstacles is the messy system of tariffs and inflexible border policies that govern relations between many of the continent’s 55 states. Only 13 countries offer visa-free or visa-on-arrival entry to all Africans, according to this year’s Africa Visa Openness Report.

Businesses in landlocked nations in particular complain that shifting their produce across frontiers to ports is such a fraught exercise that they often incur huge losses in the process, the technical bit of the African Union reminds.

“Transportation in Africa is so hard. It’s expensive and sometimes risky,” NEPAD quoted Ahmad Ibrahim of African Alligator, a mostly Ugandan firm that started off hauling carpets and elevators before moving into the sesame and peanut trade. Ibrahim says border waits “can be long, and goods perish.”

Regional economic bodies like the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have enjoyed some success in harmonising customs forms and improving at least a few cross-border transport links, but many say they don’t go far enough, says NEPAD in its report titled “African farmers say they can feed the world and we might soon need them” .

“Within their own states too, governments have exhibited a tendency to inadvertently stymie trade. Tanzania’s inconsistent tax regime, for example, has bounced farmers from one tax bracket to another. Those charged with balancing the books say it’s hard to plan far in advance for fear of finding oneself on the hook for unexpectedly high bills.”"African farmers say they can feed the world and we might soon need them” - NEPAD

“There’s no guarantee that it will remain constant for a long time, and that hurts. You can’t plan long-term when new taxes are imposed without taking into consideration what is affordable and what isn’t,” NEPAD quoted Raajeev.

Shoddy infrastructure also haunts large swathes of the continent. The transport network in northern Tanzania is so poor that Bopiah’s tea-producing company is severely limited in the weight of goods it can haul on the 70km journey to the port at Tanga on the Indian Ocean.

“You can’t transport more than four tons in a truck on mud roads-as opposed to the 20 tons I could do on proper roads. It’s costing me five times more!” Bopiah said.

In the most egregious recent example of the pitfalls of overwhelmed harbour facilities, at least 10 ships carrying 450,000 tons of emergency wheat for drought-stricken parts of Ethiopia earlier this year were kept waiting out at sea for weeks because the port at Djibouti couldn’t cope with the volume of incoming cargo, NEPAD reports.

And FAO adds that a shortage of silos and an erratic power supply also forces many food producers to turn to expensive diesel-fuelled generators in order to fire their water pumps and greenhouses. Some 30 per cent of all food produced across the world is lost to spoilage or waste.

A lack of adequate storage means “the continent loses food worth 4 billion dollars annually as post-harvest loss,” says Richard Munang, a senior official at the UN’s Environment Program. “Inefficiencies along Africa’s agro-value chains are the basis of food problems.”

By upgrading and expanding facilities, while also boosting low electricity output, Africa could fast become food self-sufficient, just to start with.

Beyond infrastructure issues, corruption continues to undermine the hard work of small landholders and large agribusinesses alike. For companies that must haul their wares long distances or navigate bribe-happy transport hubs, it all cuts deep into their bottom line.

Farmers also face limited funding opportunities. Most countries on the continent lack agricultural banks and commercial banks tend to see agriculture as an overly risky bet. “They think the gestation period is just too long,” Bopiah said.

“For example, if you want to plant a certain crop, it could take five years for it to start paying itself back.”

Deprived of access to proper loans, many farmers are unable to buy some of the tools or chemicals that might enable them to boost their yields. In a continent where wheat yields can be as low as 1-1.5 tons per hectare (in comparison to 3 or 4 tons elsewhere), these limitations are intensely problematic.

As far as leading African agronomists are concerned, Africa is playing a desperate game of catch-up, according to the technical body of the African Union.

“We don’t have the time [that] developing countries had in the 60s. Today in Africa, not only do you have to produce better, but in a globalised world, you have to sell better too,” said Ousmane Badiane, Africa Director at the Washington D.C-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), NEPAD reported.

“With a quarter of people in Sub-Saharan Africa currently going hungry, the stakes are desperately high, and states will have to deploy the full arsenal of modern tools if they’re to feed not only themselves but booming populations elsewhere.”

Now there is an additional huge hurdle challenging the capacity and willingness of African farmers to feed the world: a monster called climate change.

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Pan African Parliament Endorses Ban on FGMhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/pan-african-parliament-endorses-ban-on-fgm/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pan-african-parliament-endorses-ban-on-fgm http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/pan-african-parliament-endorses-ban-on-fgm/#comments Sat, 06 Aug 2016 18:14:05 +0000 Desmond Latham http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146419 Female genital mutilation (FGM) traditional surgeon in Kapchorwa, Uganda speaking to a reporter. The women in this area are being trained by the civil society organisation REACH in how to educate people to stop the practice. Credit: Joshua Kyalimpa/IPS

Female genital mutilation (FGM) traditional surgeon in Kapchorwa, Uganda speaking to a reporter. The women in this area are being trained by the civil society organisation REACH in how to educate people to stop the practice. Credit: Joshua Kyalimpa/IPS

By Desmond Latham
JOHANNESBURG, Aug 6 2016 (IPS)

After years of wrangling and debates among African leaders, the movement to end female genital mutilation (FGM) is gaining real momentum, with a new action plan signed this week by Pan African Parliament (PAP) representatives and the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) to end FGM as well as underage marriage.

The UNFPA has already trained over 100,000 health workers to deal specifically with aiding victims of FGM, while tens of thousands of traditional leaders have also signed pledges against the practice.

The agreement followed a PAP Women’s Caucus meeting with UNFPA representatives in Johannesburg on July 29-30.

Kicking off the meeting, PAP President Roger Dang said, “PAP is determined to help and be part of stakeholders to come up with solutions to this practice. This is in line with the mandate of PAP to defend and promote gender balance and people living with disability.”

The PAP is the legislative organ of the African Union, and has up to 250 members representing the 50 AU Member States.

In some African countries, girls as young as eleven and twelve are forced to marry much older men. This has led to an increase in serious health problems, including cervical cancer and a host of social problems.

UNFPA East and Southern Africa Deputy Regional Director Justine Coulson said if the current trend continues, the number of girls under 15 who had babies would rise by a million – from two to three million.

“If we do nothing, in the next decade over 14 million girls under 18 years will be married every year,” she said.

There are believed to be at least seven million child brides in Southern Africa alone. While underage marriage and childbirth is a major health risk, the Pan African Parliament UNFPA workshop also heard how FGM had led to an increased likelihood girls and women would be exposed to sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS.

The cause of this can be traced back to contaminated cutting instruments, hemorrhages requiring blood transfusions, and injurious sexual intercourse causing vaginal tearing and lesions.

Globally, an estimated 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone some form of FGM. In Africa, FGM is practiced in at least 26 of 43 African countries, with prevalence rates ranging from 98 percent in Somalia to 5 percent in Zaire.

The buy-in of African political leadership is crucial if this latest move is to succeed, with up to 140 million women and girls in sub-Saharan Africa who’ve been forced to submit to the practice of cutting their genitals. The aim is to influence people on the ground as well as effect legislation banning the practice.

The procedure intentionally alters or injures a girl or woman’s organs for non-medical reasons. There are no health benefits in the process and it can cause severe bleeding, problems urinating, cysts, infections and a host of childbirth complications.

There are four types of genital mutilation. Type 1 is a clitoridectomy which is where the clitoris is cut out. Type 2 is known as excision which is the totally removal of the clitoris and inner folds of the vulva. Type 3 is infibulation, which is the tightening of a a vaginal opening while, Type 4 is all other harmful procedures which includes piercing, cauterising, scraping and stitching the vagina.

The PAP also agreed to work with the UNFPA in seeking to overturn the practice of marrying off children under the age of sixteen.

In June, the UNFPA worked with Southern African Development Community Parliamentary Forum representatives at a meeting in Swaziland which voted through a Model Law on eradicating child marriage.

Coulson said moves such as these seen in SADC are beginning to show tangible results.

“Girls and women of Africa need your support to end female genital mutilation. We need to act now. All it requires is our engagement, passion and dedication to uphold the human rights of women and girls,” she told attendees at the workshop.

Now the PAP has setup a working group which will oversee the moves towards a similar law. The areas of priority include laws and legislation, engaging the community, mobilising resources, advocacy and implementing the plan at regional and national levels.

Dang also called on men to step up and join the fight against FGM, saying, “We have double responsibility to defend girls against this human rights violation.”

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Right to Education Still Elusive for Native People in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/right-to-education-still-elusive-for-native-people-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=right-to-education-still-elusive-for-native-people-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/right-to-education-still-elusive-for-native-people-in-latin-america/#comments Thu, 04 Aug 2016 23:40:34 +0000 Orlando Milesi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146399 Indigenous schoolchildren standing in front of the Miskhamayu school in an isolated part of Bolivia’s Andes highlands. Many students walk 12 km or more every day, along steep roads and trails from their remote villages, to get to school. Credit: Marisabel Bellido/IPS

Indigenous schoolchildren standing in front of the Miskhamayu school in an isolated part of Bolivia’s Andes highlands. Many students walk 12 km or more every day, along steep roads and trails from their remote villages, to get to school. Credit: Marisabel Bellido/IPS

By Orlando Milesi
SANTIAGO, Aug 4 2016 (IPS)

Education, the most powerful instrument in the struggle against exclusion and discrimination, is still elusive for indigenous people in Latin America who remain the most disadvantaged segment of the population despite their wide presence in the region.

Recognition of the growing need to provide greater access to quality education for indigenous people, which respects cultural differences and local native traditions, is still far from translating into real, long-term public policies, the mayor of the Chilean municipality of Tirúa, Adolfo Millabur, told IPS.

In Chile, for example, “everyone expresses a willingness, but this isn’t put into practice,” said Millabur, whose municipality, 685 km south of Santiago, is located in the region of La Araucanía, home to nearly half of the Mapuche population, the country’s largest indigenous community.

Millabur grew up in the town of El Malo, 35 km from Tirúa. He and his eight siblings would get up every weekday at 5:00 AM and walk 30 km to school, in the town of Antiquina. After a couple of hours in class, they would all set out on the long trek back home.

He doesn’t remember how he learned to read and says he had no idea how to sign a check when he became Chile’s first Mapuche mayor in 1996, at the age of 28.

The right to education is the theme of this year’s Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, celebrated Aug. 9.

Access to culturally appropriate education that recognises diversity and indigenous values and specific needs, including the necessity for native people to learn their mother tongue, is considered key to combating their vulnerability and exclusion.

According to figures from the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), 8.3 percent of the population of Latin America – 45 million of a total of 605 million people – is indigenous.

Of Bolivia’s population of 10.6 million people, 62 percent identify themselves as belonging to an indigenous community, making it the Latin American country with the largest proportion of native people, followed by Guatemala, where 41 percent of the population of 16 million identify themselves as indigenous.

Next in line is Peru, where 24 percent of the population is indigenous, and Mexico, where the proportion is 15 percent.

These are the official statistics, based on the way people self-identify in the census.

According to the 2014 study “Indigenous Peoples of Latin America”, published in Spanish by ECLAC, there are 826 distinct native groups in the region.

Two Juruna children at the school in the indigenous villaje of Paquiçamba, on the banks of the Xingú River in Brazil’s Amazon region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Two Juruna children at the school in the indigenous villaje of Paquiçamba, on the banks of the Xingú River in Brazil’s Amazon region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

At one extreme is Brazil, with indigenous people making up just 0.5 percent (900,000 people) of the population of 200 million, divided in 305 different groups, followed by Colombia (102 groups), Peru (85) and Mexico (78). At the other extreme are Costa Rica and Panama (nine indigenous peoples each), El Salvador (three) and Uruguay (two).

The Quechua, Nahua, Aymara, Maya Yucateco, Maya K’iche’ and Mapuche are the largest native groups in the region, according to the study.

Despite their large presence and strong influence in the region, the native peoples of Latin America still represent one of the most disadvantaged population groups, the ECLAC report says.

Indigenous people have not only suffered the systematic loss of their territory, with severe consequences for their well-being and way of life, but they are also the population group facing the highest poverty levels and the most marked inequality.

In this scenario, the right to education is essential to the full enjoyment of human and collective rights, and is a powerful tool in the battle to eradicate exclusion and discrimination.

“Indigenous peoples are among the big absentees from educational policies and curriculums,” said Loreto Jara, a researcher on educational policy with the Chile NGO Educación 2020.

“They are absent as historical subjects in the curriculums themselves, but also as social actors in the participatory processes involved in designing the curriculums,” she told IPS.

While progress has been made in recent years with regard to education for Latin America’s indigenous peoples, it is a mistake to see all of the processes as similar ”just because it is easier to work in a scenario of similarity than to address diversity,” she said.

She said education for any native group “has a different dynamic than that of our school system,” which means it is necessary to incorporate, for example, intercultural teachers in schools.

Jara cited the experience of Colombia, where there are “many different ethnic groups, which vary greatly among themselves, smaller groups, which speak specific dialects and are involved in a struggle to recuperate their territory and keep their cultures alive.”

She said that in Colombia, “indigenous cultures are gaining more recognition and understanding in rural areas…and rural schools are doing a great deal to revitalise indigenous languages.”

These efforts, also aimed at stemming the migration of young people from rural areas to large cities, are seen in some parts of Mexico as well, she added.

In the Chilean region of La Araucanía, there are 845 schools that teach Mapudungun, the language of the Mapuche people, up to fourth grade of primary school.

Of these, 300 receive direct support from the Education Ministry and the rest rely on private funding, said María Díaz Coliñir, supervisor of the government’s Bilingual Intercultural Education programme.

Under Chilean law, all schools with more than 20 percent indigenous students must have bilingual intercultural education programmes that teach Mapudungun, Quechua, Aymara or Rapa Nui, depending on the region.

Although the programme does not guarantee that children learn their native languages, it does bolster their sense of identity. “A great deal of progress has been made in helping Mapuche children have a stronger sense of who they are, and strengthening their self-esteem,” Díaz Coliñir told IPS.

Jara concurred that efforts like these would have positive results for all indigenous groups in the region. “The assertion of their rights is based on language, because it represents their world view. Beneath indigenous languages lies the cultural wealth of each native group,” she said.

She said addressing the need to bring greater visibility to native peoples as social actors, teaching their history and their link to the broader history of this country, is one of the pending tasks in the area of education.

“Today people are demanding to participate in decision-making in many areas, and indigenous people are among the social actors who must be given the most attention,” Díaz Coliñir said.

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Olympic Games End Decade of Giant Mega-projects in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/olympic-games-end-decade-of-giant-mega-projects-in-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=olympic-games-end-decade-of-giant-mega-projects-in-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/olympic-games-end-decade-of-giant-mega-projects-in-brazil/#comments Wed, 03 Aug 2016 17:28:35 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146383 Modern office buildings and stores, all empty, are among the “white elephants” in the city of Itaboraí, near Rio de Janeiro, left by an aborted petrochemical and oil refinery complex in southeast Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Modern office buildings and stores, all empty, are among the “white elephants” in the city of Itaboraí, near Rio de Janeiro, left by an aborted petrochemical and oil refinery complex in southeast Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO , Aug 3 2016 (IPS)

An era of mega-events and mega-projects is coming to a close in Brazil with the Olympic Games to be hosted Aug. 5-21 by Rio de Janeiro. But the country’s taste for massive construction undertakings helped fuel the economic and political crisis that has it in its grip.

It is no mere coincidence that President Dilma Rousseff, suspended during her ongoing impeachment trial over charges of breaking budgetary regulations, will face the final vote in the Senate this same month.

Over the past decade, large-scale investment projects and public works, some not yet finished, others even abandoned, have driven the economy, triggered controversies, and fed the dreams and frustrations of Brazilians, mirroring and accelerating the rise and fall from power of the left-wing Workers’ Party (PT).

The country’s economic growth and the international prestige of then-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011) played a decisive role in the 2007 choice of Brazil as host of the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

Two years later, Rio de Janeiro was selected as the venue for the 2016 Olympic Games.

In 2007 Rio hosted the Pan American Games, which kicked off the string of sports mega-events in Brazil, including the FIFA Confederations Cup in 2013.

The wave of mega-infrastructure projects also began at the same time, in response to the needs of the energy and transportation industries, mainly for the export of mining and agricultural commodities.

Large hydropower dams, railways, ports, the paving of roads and the diversion of the São Francisco River to ease drought in the arid Northeast, as well as numerous public works in cities, formed part of the Growth Acceleration Programme (PAC), which included tax breaks and credit facilities.

Rousseff, who also belongs to the PT, succeeded Lula in the presidency after an election campaign in which she was referred to as “the mother of PAC” – an allusion to her skill in implementing and managing the programme that involved thousands of construction projects around the country, as Lula’s chief of staff.

In the oil industry, the 2006 discovery of enormous offshore petroleum deposits below a two-kilometre thick salt layer under rock, sand and deep water in the Atlantic prompted the launch of another major wave of construction, including four large refineries, two petrochemical complexes, and dozens of shipyards to produce oil drilling rigs, offshore platforms and tankers.

The two biggest refineries, in the Northeast, were cancelled in 2015, resulting in some 800 million dollars in losses. Another is partially operating.

Work on the last one – and on the petrochemical complex of which it forms part, near Rio de Janeiro – was interrupted, leaving empty a number of office buildings and hotels that were built in surrounding towns and cities to service an industrial boom and prosperity that never arrived.

The Belo Monte hydroelectric plant’s turbine room in the northern Brazilian state of Pará, under construction in 2015. The mega-project is to be finished in 2019. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Belo Monte hydroelectric plant’s turbine room in the northern Brazilian state of Pará, under construction in 2015. The mega-project is to be finished in 2019. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Most of the shipyards went under or shrunk to a minimum. In Niterói, Rio de Janeiro’s sister city, half of the 10 shipyards closed and over 80 percent of their 15,000 workers were laid off.

Possibly the house of cards of this fast-track development would have come tumbling down regardless, but several destructive factors compounded the problem and accelerated the approach of the disaster.

Oil prices plunged in 2014, simultaneously with the outbreak of the Petrobras bribery scandal that has ensnared hundreds of legislators and business executives.

In addition, the governments of Lula and Rousseff attempted to curb inflation by blocking domestic fuel price increases – another blow to the finances of Petrobras, the state oil company, which almost collapsed under the weight of so many difficulties.

The railways did not fare any better. Construction of two railroads – one private and another public – designed to cross the impoverished but fast-growing Northeast at different latitudes ground to a halt and are candidates to become white elephants due to the suspension of mining industry projects, whose output they were to transport.

As a result, the construction of a new seaport and the expansion of two others were also suspended. 

At least the hydroelectric plants are in the process of being completed. But they are suffering the ups and downs of the power industry. There are delays in the installation of power lines and electricity consumption has slumped as a result of the economic recession that broke out in 2014, expanding spare capacity and driving up losses in power generation and distribution plants.

The four largest hydropower plants, built on fragile rivers in the Amazon rainforest, are facing accusations of causing environmental damage and violating the rights of local populations: indigenous people, riverbank dwellers and fishing communities.

Belo Monte, the world’s third-largest hydroelectric dam, with a capacity to generate 11,233 MW, was accused of “ethnocidal actions” against indigenous people by the public prosecutor’s office and is facing 23 lawsuits on charges of failing to live up to legal requirements.

At the same time, it is also criticised by proponents of hydropower, because it will generate, on average, only 40 percent of its potential. With a relatively small reservoir, an alternative that was chosen to reduce the environmental impact, it will be at the mercy of the marked seasonal variations in water flow in the Xingú River, where the flow is 20 times lower in the dry season than the rainy season.

Roads have not formed part of the recent wave of mega-projects. Although they are being paved and widened, they were originally built in earlier waves of construction projects, in the 1950s and 1970s.

Brazil’s addiction to massive construction projects was probably born with the emergence of Brasilia, built in a remote, inhospitable location over 1,500 km from the biggest cities, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, in just five years, during the administration of Juscelino Kubitschek (1956-1961).

This bold feat was completed with the construction of roads running from the new capital in all directions.

But these long roads that cut across the country didn’t become paved highways, with proper bridges, until decades later.

Seen as a success story, Brasilia has prompted politicians to seek to make their mark with major construction projects, although the city was only part of the broader plan of Kubitschek, who pushed forward the development of Brazil’s steel industry by spurring the growth of the automotive industry.

The widespread belief that Brasilia was the big driver of settlement and development of the west and north of the country ignores the role played by the expansion of agriculture.

The 1964-1985 military dictatorship later fed the ambition of turning Brazil into a great power, with a nuclear programme that took three decades to build two power plants, the construction of two of the world’s five biggest hydroelectric plants, and roads to settle the Amazon.

The Trans-Amazonian highway, which was designed to cut across northern Brazil to the Colombian border but is incomplete and impassable for large stretches during the rainy season, is a symbol of failed lavish projects that helped bring down the dictatorship.

The origins of the megalomania can also be traced to the 1950 FIFA World Cup, for which the Maracana Stadium was built in Rio de Janeiro – for decades the largest in the world – holding held up to 180,000 spectators back then, more than double its current capacity.

The historic defeat that Brazil suffered at the hands of Uruguay in the final match in 1950, a devastating blow never forgotten by Brazilians, did not keep this country from hosting the 2014 World Cup, building new stadiums to suffer yet another shattering defeat, this time to Germany, which beat them 7-1 in the semi-finals.

Now, in the grip of an economic crisis expected to last for years, Brazil is unlikely to embark on new megaprojects. And the hope that they can drive development will have been dampened after so many failed projects and the heavy environmental, social and economic criticism and resistance.

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New Alliance to Shore Up Food Security Launched in Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/new-alliance-to-shore-up-food-security-launched-in-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-alliance-to-shore-up-food-security-launched-in-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/new-alliance-to-shore-up-food-security-launched-in-africa/#comments Tue, 02 Aug 2016 17:59:47 +0000 Desmond Latham http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146365 PAP officials attend the workshop for members of the Pan African Parliament and FAO to advance the Food and Nutrition Security Agenda. Credit: Desmond Latham/IPS

PAP officials attend the workshop for members of the Pan African Parliament and FAO to advance the Food and Nutrition Security Agenda. Credit: Desmond Latham/IPS

By Desmond Latham
CAPE TOWN, Aug 2 2016 (IPS)

As over 20 million sub-Saharan Africans face a shortage of food because of drought and development issues, representatives of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the Pan African Parliament (PAP) met in Johannesburg to forge a new parliamentary alliance focusing on food and nutritional security.

Monday’s meeting here came after years of planning that began on the sidelines of the Second International Conference on Nutrition organised by the FAO in late 2014.“The first port of call when there are food security issues is normally the parliament. We should be at the forefront of moving towards what is known as Zero Hunger." -- Dr. Bernadette Lahai

Speaking at the end of the day-long workshop held at the offices of the PAP, its fourth vice president was upbeat about the programme and what she called the “positive energy” shown by attendees.

“We have about 53 countries here in the PAP and the alliance is going to be big,” said Dr. Bernadette Lahai. “At a continental level, once we have launched the alliance formally, we’ll encourage regional parliaments so the whole of Africa will really come together.”

“This will be a very big voice,” she said on the sidelines of the workshop.

FAO Rome Special Co-ordinator for parliamentary alliances, Caroline Rodrigues Birkett, said her role was to ensure that parliamentarians take up food security as a central theme.

“The reason why we’re doing this is because based on the evidence that we have in the FAO, is that once you have the laws and policies on food and nutrition security in place there is a positive correlation with the improvement of the indicators of both food and security of nutrition,” she told IPS.

“Last year we facilitated the attendance of seven African parliamentarians to a Latin American and Caribbean meeting in Lima, and these seven requested us to have an interaction with parliamentarians of Africa,” she said.

A small team of officials representing Latin America and the Caribbean had traveled to Johannesburg to provide some details of their own experience working alongside the FAO in an alliance which had focused on providing food security to the hungry in South America and the island nations of the Caribbean.

These included Maria Augusta Calle of Ecuador, who told the 20-odd PAP representatives that in her experience working alongside officials from the FAO had helped eradicate hunger in much of the region.

From left to right: FAO Rome Special Co-ordinator for parliamentary alliances, Caroline Rodrigues Birkett, Maria Augusta Calle, and PAP Vice-President Dr Bernadette Lahai. Credit: Desmond Latham/IPS

From left to right: FAO Rome Special Co-ordinator for parliamentary alliances, Caroline Rodrigues Birkett, Maria Augusta Calle, and PAP Vice-President Dr Bernadette Lahai. Credit: Desmond Latham/IPS

Caribbean representative Caesar Saboto of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines was also forthright about the opportunities that existed in the developing world to deal with hunger alleviation.

“It’s the first time that I’m traveling to Africa,” he said, “and it’s not for a vacation. It’s for a very important reason. I do not want to go back to the Caribbean and I’m certain that Maria Augusta Calle does not want to go back only to say that we came to give a speech.”

Saboto delivered a short presentation where he outlined how a similar programme to the foundation envisaged by those attending the workshop had drastically reduced hunger in his country.

“In 1995, 20 percent of my country of 110,000 people were undernourished,” he said. “Over 22,000 were food vulnerable. But do you know what? Working with communities and within governments we managed to drive down that number to 5,000 in 2012 or 4.9 percent of the population. And I’m pleased to announce here for the first time, that in 2016 we are looking at a number of 3,500 or 3.2 percent,” he said to applause from the delegates.

PAP members present included representatives of sectors such as agriculture, gender, transport and justice as well as health. Questions from the floor included how well a small island nation’s processes could be used in addressing the needs of vastly larger regions in Africa.

“Any number can be divided,” said Saboto. “First you have to start off with the political will, both government and opposition must buy into the idea. If you have 20 million people you could divide them into workable groups and assign structures for management accountability and transparency,” he said.

African delegates queried the processes which the Latin American nations have used to set up structures in particular.  Dr. Lahai wanted the Latin American delegates to assist the African parliament in planning the foundation.

“Food security is not only a political issue but a developmental issue,” she told IPS in an interview.

“The first port of call when there are food security issues is normally the parliament. We should be at the forefront of moving towards what is known as Zero Hunger,” she said.

But major challenges remain. After a meeting in October last year, the FAO had contracted the PAP with a view to targeting hunger in a new alliance. The PAP is a loose grouping of African nations and members pointed out that they were unable to get nation states to support an initiative without a high-level buy in of their political leadership.

Dr. Lahai was adamant that the workshop should begin addressing issues of structure. She stressed that co-ordination between the PAP, various countries and other groupings such as Ecowas (the Economic Community of West African States) and SADC (Southern African Development Community) should be considered.

“We need a proper framework,” she said. “It’s important to engage our leaderships in this process. With that in mind, I would suggest that we learn a great deal from our visitors who’ve had a positive experience in tackling nutrition issues in Latin America.”

In an earlier presentation, FAO representative for South Africa Lewis Hove had warned that a lack of access to food and nutrition had created a situation where children whose growth had been stunted by this reality actually were in the most danger of becoming obese later in life. The seeming contradiction was borne out by statistics presented to the group showing low and middle income countries could see their benefit cost ratio climb to 16-1.

Africa’s Nutritional Scorecard published by NEPAD in late 2015 shows that around 58 million children in sub-Saharan regions under the age of five are too short for their age. A further 163 million women and children are anaemic because of a lack of nutrition.

The day ended with an appeal for further training and facilitation to be enabled by the FAO and PAP leadership. With that in mind, the upcoming meeting of Latin American and Caribbean states in Mexico was set as an initial deadline to begin the process of creating a new secretariat. It was hoped that this would prompt those involved in the PAP to push the process forward and it was agreed that a new Secretariat would be instituted to be headquartered at the PAP in South Africa.

Dr Lahai said delegates would now prepare a technical report which would then be signed off at the next round of the PAP set for Egypt later this year.

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Lessons from Germany for Latin America’s Energy Transitionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/lessons-from-germany-for-latin-americas-energy-transition/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lessons-from-germany-for-latin-americas-energy-transition http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/lessons-from-germany-for-latin-americas-energy-transition/#comments Mon, 01 Aug 2016 20:02:13 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146344 A house with solar panels on the roof in a town in North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany - a common sight in this European nation, but still rare in many countries of Latin America. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

A house with solar panels on the roof in a town in North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany - a common sight in this European nation, but still rare in many countries of Latin America. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
DÜSSELDORF, Germany, Aug 1 2016 (IPS)

Germany has been undergoing an energy transition for over 20 years, and it can offer valuable lessons to Latin America with regard to promoting renewable energy and moving towards a low-carbon economy.

Germany’s transformation formally began in 2011, based on six laws that foment alternative energies through a surcharge for suppliers, the expansion of the power grid to boost the incorporation of renewables, and cogeneration, to use energy that goes to waste in power plants that run on fossil fuels.

There are twice as many laws that bolster the generation and consumption of renewable sources worldwide as there were at the start of the century, and Latin America is no exception to this trend.

“Other countries, including those of Latin America, should probably look at Germany’s experiences and learn from both the good and the bad,” Sascha Samadi, an analyst with the German Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy, which carries out research on the energy transformation, told IPS.

The expert said that “at the start of the energy transition, everything was about how to rise up against the big energy companies that so many people hated,” while now the main driver of support for the transition is concern about climate change.

To move towards a low-carbon energy mix, “in the countries of Latin America, other aspects can be more important on the agenda, such as reducing dependence on imports or making supplies more stable,” he said.

In Germany, renewables accounted for 30 percent of the electricity produced in 2015 and this European nation is the third-largest producer of renewable energy – not including hydropower. It is third in wind energy and biodiesel and fifth in geothermal.

It is also a leader in per capita solar power, despite its relatively low amount of sunlight.

In the last decade, strides have been made in developing renewable energies in Latin America, a region highly dependent on fossil fuels, either because the countries are major producers of them, such as Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela, or because they depend on imports, like the nations of Central America or Chile.

Most countries in the region have included plans to foment the energy transition, policies to make production and consumption more efficient, and targets for the generation of renewable energy.

Reaching Germany’s goal, a low-carbon economy, requires social change and modifications in consumption patterns and industrial policies, and will force plants like the ThyssenKrupp steel mill in the city of Duisburg to replace coal with cleaner sources. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Reaching Germany’s goal, a low-carbon economy, requires social change and modifications in consumption patterns and industrial policies, and will force plants like the ThyssenKrupp steel mill in the city of Duisburg to replace coal with cleaner sources. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

For example, Mexico passed in December an energy transition law, Chile has its 2050 energy plan, and Uruguay has a 2005-2030 energy policy. This legislation includes medium to long-term goals for the generation of renewable energy, tax incentives, and other actions aimed at a cleaner energy mix.

In 2015, Brazil drew more than 7.1 billion dollars in investment in renewables – 10 percent less than the previous year; Mexico drew 4.0 billion – double the 2014 level; and Chile, 3.4 billion – an increase of 150 percent, according to the report “Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2016”.

Nations like Honduras and Uruguay also received over 500 million dollars in investment in renewables in 2015, according to the study produced by the United Nations Environment Programme Collaborating Centre for Climate and Sustainable Energy Finance at the Frankfurt School of Finance & Management.

The study reports that investment in Brazil climbed from 800 million dollars in 2004 to 7.1 billion in 2015.

Without counting the region’s leading producer, Latin America captured 1.7 billion in investment in 2004, rising to 12.8 billion in 2015. But last year’s capital flows fell from 2014 levels, due to factors such as political instability in some countries and low oil prices.

The region generates 209,419 MW of renewable energy, of which hydropower represents 171,960.

To promote a low-carbon energy mix, there is an element in which Latin America should try to emulate Germany, Sophia Schönborn, an analyst with the German multisectoral organisation on energy KlimaDiskurs.NRW e.V, told IPS.

“Germany’s transition shows the importance of bottom-up decision-making and listening to the public’s concerns. It was not imposed; society pushed for changes in the energy model,” said the expert.

In the hands of the market

Germany has reached the point where it is producing excess renewable energy. As a result, parliament revoked fixed rates for renewables as of January 2017, and created auctions for all sources of clean energy.

The reform of the renewable energy law that will go into effect at that time rewards suppliers that have the lowest prices, sets caps on energy generation, and leaves fixed rates in place only for cooperatives and small-scale producers.

Germany’s energy transition has included facilities for wind and solar power generated by cooperatives and private citizens, such as the innovative bioenergy park in Saerbeck, in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Germany’s energy transition has included facilities for wind and solar power generated by cooperatives and private citizens, such as the innovative bioenergy park in Saerbeck, in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Under the German model, citizens can generate their own electricity, and can even sell it to the grid, as part of the construction of what experts and organisations are referring to as the “energy citizenship”. But that is far from being the reality in Latin America.

The fixed rates, which included a surcharge to support suppliers of renewables, helped fuel the expansion of alternative sources in Germany.

In Latin America, countries such as Ecuador, Honduras, Panama, Peru and Uruguay use surcharges or mix them with net metering, which allows consumers who produce their own electricity to use it at any time, rather than when it is generated. The consumers only pay the difference between what they consume and what they generate.

And countries like Chile, Mexico and Peru have put in place renewable energy auctions since 2015, which have led to a drop in prices per kilowatt-hour, partly due to their vast renewable sources, according to the Global Status Report 2016 released in June by REN21, the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century.

According to experts, the recent swings are a signal to Latin America with respect to the handling of the renewable energy market, to avoid risks of over-production or excessive payments to suppliers.

Samadi stressed that “the costs of the expansion of renewables are paid by consumers in Germany.”

“This might not be a good mechanism for the countries of Latin America, where low energy prices could be important for social development and cohesion,” he said. With this in mind, he suggested taxes or special funds.

There is another lesson too. “If the huge growth in renewables was just starting now in Germany, with today’s low technological costs our overruns for generation would be lower than what we pay now.”

In his view, “the countries that start to invest heavily today in wind and solar energies will not face the same high costs as Germany, especially when the solar potential in most of Latin America is taken into account.”

Schönborn concurred, stressing the competitive costs of renewable sources. But she warned of the risk of “social division” for those who cannot generate their own energy and must buy it from the grid.

This inequality “requires intervention by the state to guarantee access,” she said.

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No Medals for Sanitation at Rio Olympicshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/no-medals-for-sanitation-at-rio-olympics/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-medals-for-sanitation-at-rio-olympics http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/no-medals-for-sanitation-at-rio-olympics/#comments Wed, 27 Jul 2016 19:24:11 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146273 Raw sewage stains in Jacarepaguá lagoon alongside the Olympic Park, where the Olympic Games are to be held August 5-21 in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro. Foul mud was to be dredged from the lagoon but this was not carried out because of funding cuts. Credit: Courtesy of Mario Moscatelli

Raw sewage stains in Jacarepaguá lagoon alongside the Olympic Park, where the Olympic Games are to be held August 5-21 in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro. Foul mud was to be dredged from the lagoon but this was not carried out because of funding cuts. Credit: Courtesy of Mario Moscatelli

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Jul 27 2016 (IPS)

The biggest frustration at the Olympic Games, to be inaugurated in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro on August 5, is the failure to meet environmental sanitation targets and promises in the city’s beaches, rivers, lakes and lagoons.

The opportunity to give a decisive push to the clean up of Rio’s emblematic Guanabara bay and its lagoons has been lost. The drive against waterborne pollution was part of the proposal which won the city the right to host the 2016 Summer Olympics.

This failure may hardly register in the awareness of residents and visitors, given the higher visibility of the urban transport projects and the revitalisation of Rio’s central district.

What happened confirms the national tradition of giving sanitation low priority on the government agenda. So far only half the Brazilian population has access to piped water, and only a small proportion of transported water is treated.

“The environment pays no taxes and neither does it vote, therefore it does not command the attention of our political leaders nor of society as a whole,” complained biologist Mario Moscatelli, a well known water issues activist in Rio de Janeiro.

The Olympic Park, which is at the heart of the Games of the XXXI Olympiad, was built on the west side of the city on the shores of Jacarepaguá lagoon, yet not even this body of water has been adequately treated. Filthy water from rivers and streams continues to flow into it all the time, Moscatelli told IPS.

Most of the foreign Olympic athletes and spectators from abroad will arrive in Rio at Antonio Carlos Jobim international airport, also known as Galeão. Planes touch down here on the edge of one of the most polluted parts of Guanabara bay, although visitors may not realise it.

The airport , on the western tip of Ilha do Governador (Governador Island), which was home to 212,754 people in 2010 according to the official census, is close to canals  taking untreated effluent and rubbish from millions of people living on the mainland, brought by rivers that are little more than open sewers.

Fundão canal can be glimpsed from the southbound highway towards the city centre. It is full of raw sewage and bad smells in spite of recent dredging, because it is still connected to the polluted Cunha canal.

Sergio Souza dos Santos stands on the jetty built by Tubiacanga fisherfolk to get their boats out into Guanabara bay, in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro. Silting now makes it impossible to bring their boats close inshore, where decades ago there was a beautiful beach. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Sergio Souza dos Santos stands on the jetty built by Tubiacanga fisherfolk to get their boats out into Guanabara bay, in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro. Silting now makes it impossible to bring their boats close inshore, where decades ago there was a beautiful beach. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Five rivers converge in the Cunha canal after crossing densely populated areas including several “favelas” (shanty towns) and industrial zones.

North of Galeao airport, the fishing village of Tubiacanga illustrates the ecological disaster in Guanabara bay, which has a surface area of 412 square kilometres and stretches from Copacabana beach in the west to Itaipu (Niterói) in the east.

At the narrowest point in the channel between Ilha do Governador and the adjacent mainland city of Duque de Caxias, “there used to be a depth of seven or eight metres; but now at low tide you can walk along with the water only chest-high,” 66-year-old Souza, who has lived in Tubiacanga for two-thirds of his life, told IPS.

Landfills, silting by rivers and rubbish tipping have all reduced the depth of the bay, he said.

“Tubiacanga is at a meeting point of dirty water from tides rising at the bay entrance, from several canals including Fundão, and from rivers. Sediments and rubbish pile up in front of our village,” where the white sandy beach has become a quagmire and rubbish dump over the past few decades, Souza complained.

Guanabara bay receives 90 tonnes daily of rubbish and 18,000 litres per second of untreated waste water, mainly via the 55 rivers and canals that flow into it, according to Sergio Ricardo de Lima, an ecologist and founder of the Bahia Viva (Living Bay) movement.

Rio’s Olympic bid announced a target of cleaning up 80 percent of the effluents reaching the bay. The actual proportion achieved was 55 percent, Sports Minister Leonardo Picciani said at a press conference with foreign journalists on July 7.

“I only believe in what I see: out of the 55 rivers in the basin, 49 have become lifeless sewers,” said Moscatelli, voicing the scepticism of environmentalists.

The 80 percent target was not realistic; completely decontaminating the bay would require 25 to 30 years and sanitation investments equivalent to six billion dollars, André Correa, environment secretary for the state of Rio de Janeiro, admitted on July 20 at the inauguration of an “eco barrier” on the river Merití, one of the polluting waterways.

Once this was a white sandy beach close to the fishing village of Tubiacanga, in Guanabara bay, near Rio de Janeiro international airport. The city’s population contributes to pollution and silting in this emblematic Brazilian bay. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Once this was a white sandy beach close to the fishing village of Tubiacanga, in Guanabara bay, near Rio de Janeiro international airport. The city’s population contributes to pollution and silting in this emblematic Brazilian bay. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The barriers are floating interconnected booms that are an emergency measure to ensure that aquatic Olympic sports can take place in some parts in the bay. Trash scooping vessels or “eco boats”  collect the floating debris that accumulates against them and send it for recycling.

Seventeen eco barriers have been promised, but these will be woefully inadequate, and in any case they should be anchored where floating garbage is most concentrated, like Tubiacanga, not close to the Guanabara bay entrance where water sports will be held, Lima complained.

The barrier in the Merití river is suitably placed, in Lima’s view, but it is “palliative action only.” The real solution is to promote selective garbage collection at source, that is, in households, shops and industries, and recycle as much solid waste as possible, as stipulated by a 2010 law.

“At present only one percent of the garbage produced in the Rio de Janeiro Metropolitan Region (which has a population of 12 million) is recycled,” Lima said.

Cleaning up Guanabara bay is a longstanding ambition. It was the goal of a project begun in 1995 that has already cost the equivalent of three billion dollars at the current exchange rate, but that has not prevented environmental deterioration of local beaches and water resources.

Eight wastewater treatment stations were built or expanded to improve water quality. However, they have always operated well below capacity, because the main drains needed to collect wastewater and deliver it to the treatment stations have never been built, according to Lima.

Pollution of the bay is exacerbated by oil spills. There is a refinery and petrochemical hub on the banks of the lagoon in Duque de Caxias; in addition, all along the Tubiacanga waterfront the bay is increasingly crisscrossed by pipes carrying crude oil, refinery subproducts and natural gas.

The effects of a large oil spill in January 2000 are still felt today. It had a direct impact on Tubiacanga and on the fish catch.

“We fisherfolk are the ones who suffer most from the consequences of pollution, and who best know the bay; but we are not listened to, we are penned in and threatened with extinction,” said Souza dos Santos, who is encouraging his four sons to take up trades other than fishing.

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Forests and Crops Make Friendly Neighbors in Costa Ricahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/forests-and-crops-grow-hand-by-hand-in-costa-rica/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=forests-and-crops-grow-hand-by-hand-in-costa-rica http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/forests-and-crops-grow-hand-by-hand-in-costa-rica/#comments Tue, 26 Jul 2016 18:55:58 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146239 Tapantí National Park lies east from the capital San José covering more than 50.000 hectares of forest, which in turn provides valuable watershed protection. Picture: Diego Arguedas Ortiz / IPS

Tapantí National Park lies east from the capital San José covering more than 50.000 hectares of forest, which in turn provides valuable watershed protection. Picture: Diego Arguedas Ortiz / IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Jul 26 2016 (IPS)

While Latin America keeps expanding its agricultural frontier by converting large areas of forest, one country, Costa Rica, has taken a different path and is now a role model for a peaceful coexistence between food production and sustainable forestry.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) flagship publication The State of the World’s Forests revealed that commercial agriculture was responsible for 70 percent of forest conversion in Latin America between 2000 and 2010.

“What FAO mentions about the rest of Latin America, clearing forests for agriculture or livestock, happened in Costa Rica during the 1970s and 1980s,” Jorge Mario Rodríguez, the director of Costa Rica’s National Fund for Forestry Finance (Fonafifo), told IPS.“Agricultural development doesn’t necessarily require the expansion of croplands; rather, it demands the coexistence with the forest and the intensification of production by improving national farmers’ productivity and competitiveness" -- Octavio Ramírez.

At its worst moment, during the 1980s, Costa Rica’s forest cover was limited to 21 to 25 percent of its land area. Now, forests account for 53 percent of the country’s 51,000 square kilometers, with almost five million inhabitants.

The country has managed to hold and even push back the advance of the agricultural frontier while strengthening its food security, according to FAO, which says that Costa Rica’s malnutrition rate is under 5 percent, something the organisation accounts as “zero hunger”.

“Here’s a learned lesson: there’s no need to chop down forests to produce more crops,” FAO Costa Rica director Octavio Ramírez told IPS.

Despite the increase in forest cover, FAO states the average value of food production per person increased by 26 percent in the period 1990–1992 to 2011–2013.

FAO attributes this change “to structural changes in the economy and the priority given to forest conservation and sustainable management” which were seized upon by Costa Rican authorities in a specific context.

“It has to do with the livestock crisis during the 1980s but also the priority given by Costa Rica to forest management,” said Ramírez, born in Nicaragua but Costa Rican by naturalisation.

In The State of the World’s Forests report, launched on July 18, FAO explains that Costa Rican forests were regarded as “land banks” that could be converted as necessary to meet agricultural needs.

“To keep the forest intact was looked upon as a synonym of laziness and unwillingness to work,” Ramírez explained.

But there were two key elements during the 1980s that led to better forest protection, the environmental economist Juan Robalino told IPS.

José Alberto Chacón weeds between bean plants on his small farm in Pacayas, on the slopes of the Irazú volcano, in Costa Rica. The terraces help control water run-off that would otherwise cause soil erosion. Picture: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

José Alberto Chacón weeds between bean plants on his small farm in Pacayas, on the slopes of the Irazú volcano, in Costa Rica. The terraces help control water run-off that would otherwise cause soil erosion. Picture: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

Meat prices plummeted while eco-tourism became a leading economic activity in the country, explained the specialist from Universidad de Costa Rica and the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center.

“This paved the way for very interesting policy-making, like the creation of the Payments for Environmental Services (PES) program,” said Robalino, one of the top experts in Costa Rican forest cover.

FAO states that a big part of Costa Rica’s success comes from PES, a financial incentive that acknowledges those ecosystem services resulting from forest conservation and management, reforestation, natural regeneration and agroforestry systems.

The program, established in 1997 and ran by Fonafifo, has a simple logic at its core: the Costa Rican state pays landowners who protect forest cover as they provide an ecosystem service.

From its launch until 2015, a total of 318 million dollars were invested in forest-related PES projects.  64 percent of the funding came from fossil fuel tax, 22 percent from World Bank credits and the remainder from other sources.

After studying PES impacts for years, Robalino explains the challenge for 2016 is to look for landowners with less incentives to protect their forests and bring them on board with the financial argument.

“The goal is to always look for those who’ll change their behavior because of the program,” Robalino stated.

Because of budget limitations, the program must decide which properties to work with, as applications exceed its capacity fivefold, according to Fonafifo director Rodríguez.

Priorities for PES funding include ecosystem services like watershed protection, carbon capture, scenic beauty and biodiversity conservation.

“Costa Rica learned that forests are worth more for their environmental services than because of their timber,” Rodríguez pointed out.

Fonafifo is now looking for new partnerships with the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock to launch a new program focused on small landowners who require more technical support, a road also favoured by FAO.

“Agricultural development doesn’t necessarily require the expansion of croplands; rather, it demands the coexistence with the forest and the intensification of production by improving national farmers’ productivity and competitiveness,” said Ramírez, FAO’s local representative.

Both FAO and local experts interviewed by IPS agreed that PES seized upon a national and international crossroads to launch a program that despite its success, is not the only cause for Costa Rica’s recovery.

“Costa Rica’s success cannot be exclusively attributed to PES since other policies, like the creation of the National Protected Areas System and its education system, also played a major role,” Rodríguez explained.

Beyond this program, the country has a longstanding environmental tradition: close to a quarter of its territory is under some type of protection, the forestry law bans forest conversion, and sports hunting, open-air metallic mining and oil exploitation are all illegal.

The country’s Constitution declares citizens’ right to a healthy environment in its article 50.

“I remember my school teacher telling us students that we had to protect the forest,” Robalino recalled.

However, Costa Rica’s forest recovery didn’t reach all ecosystems in the country and left mangroves behind. Their area has diminished in the past decades.

According to the country’s 2014 report to the Convention on Biological Diversity, mangrove coverage fell from 64.452 hectares in 1979 to 37.420 hectares in 2013, a 42 percent loss.

This ecosystem is particularly vulnerable to large monoculture plantations on the Pacific coast, where the local Environmental Administrative Tribunal denounced the disappearance of 400 hectares between 2010 and 2014, due to human-induced fire, logging and invasion.

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Fertilizer Access Grows Farmers, Food and Financehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/fertilizer-access-grows-farmers-food-and-finance/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fertilizer-access-grows-farmers-food-and-finance http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/fertilizer-access-grows-farmers-food-and-finance/#comments Tue, 26 Jul 2016 11:07:24 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146220 Smallholder farmers prosper if they have access to knowledge and use of inputs such as fertilizers and credit. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Smallholder farmers prosper if they have access to knowledge and use of inputs such as fertilizers and credit. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Busani Bafana
LOUIS TRICHARDT, South Africa, Jul 26 2016 (IPS)

Brightly coloured cans, bags of fertilizer and packets containing all types of seeds catch the eye upon entering Nancy Khorommbi’s agro dealer shop tucked at the corner of a roadside service station.

But her seeds and fertilizers have not exactly been flying off the shelves since Khorommbi opened the fledging shop six years ago. Her customers: smallholder farmers in the laid back town of Sibasa, 72 kilometers northeast of Louis Trichardt in Limpopo, one of South Africa’s provinces hard hit by drought this year. The reason for the slow business is that smallholder farmers cannot access, let alone effectively use plant-nourishing fertilizers to improve their low productivity.

“Some of the farmers who walk into my shop have never heard about fertilizers and those who have, do not know how to use them effectively,” Khorommbi told IPS said on the sidelines of a training workshop organised by the International Fertilizer Association (IFA)-supported African Fertilizer Volunteers Program (AFVP) to teach smallholders farmers and agro dealers like her about fertilizers in Limpopo.

Khorommbi, describing information as power, says fledging agro-dealer businesses are a critical link in the food production chain. Agro-dealers, who work at the village level, better understand and are more accessible to smallholder farmers, who in many cases rely on the often poorly resourced government extension service for information on improving productivity.

“Smallholder farmers can make the change in food security through better production, one of whose key elements is fertilizer,” said Khrorommbi, one of more than 100 agro-dealers in the Vhembe District of Limpopo.

An assistant checks stock in Nancy Khorommbi’s agro dealer shop in Vhembe District, Limpopo, South Africa. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

An assistant checks stock in Nancy Khorommbi’s agro dealer shop in Vhembe District, Limpopo, South Africa. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Growing knowledge, growing farmers

Noting the knowledge gap on fertilizers, the African Fertilizer and Agribusiness Partnership (AFAP), supported by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and private sector partners, launched Agribusiness Support to the Limpopo Province (ASLP) in 2015 which has trained over 100 agro-dealers in the Province.

The project promotes the development of the agro dealer hub model, where established commercial agro dealers service smaller agro dealers and agents in the rural areas, who in turn better serve smallholder farmers by putting agricultural inputs within easy reach and at reasonable cost. The AFVP aims to attract the private sector in South Africa – a net fertilizer importer – to developing the SMEs sector in the fertilizer value chain focusing on smallholder farmers and agro dealers.

Smallholder farmers hold the key to feeding Africa, including South Africa, but their productivity is stymied by poor access to inputs and even effective markets for their produce, an issue the FAO believes private and public sector partnerships can solve.

AFAP and a private company, Kynoch Fertilizer, have embarked on an entrepreneurship development program for smallholder farmers and agro dealers in the Limpopo province, one of the country’s bread baskets, in an effort to help close the ‘yield gap’ among smallholder farmers.  Smallholder farmers and agro dealers have been trained on fertilisers, soils, plant nutrients, safe storage of fertilizers, environmental safety and business management skills.

“By using more fertilisers correctly, South Africa’s smallholder farmers can grow more and nutritious food, achieve household food security, create jobs, increase incomes and boost rural development,” AFAP’s Vice-President, Prof. Richard Mkandawire, told IPS. “To grow and support SMEs in Africa is the pathway if we are to reduce hunger and poverty. The future of South Africa is about growing those rural enterprises that will support smallholder farmers and employment creation.’

In 2006, African Heads of State and Government signed the Abuja Declaration at a Fertilizer Summit in Nigeria committing to increase the use of fertilizer in Africa from the then-average 8kg per hectare to 50kg per hectare by 2015 to boost productivity. Ten years later, only a few countries have attained this goal.

Mkandawire said research has established that for every kilogram of nutrients smallholder farmers apply to their soils, they can realize up to 30kg in additional products.

Research has shown that smallholder farmers in South Africa in general do not apply optimum levels of fertilizers owing to high cost, poor access and low awareness about the benefits of providing nutrition for the soil.

Fertilizer Registrar and Director in the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forests (DAFF) in Limpopo Province Jonathan Mudzunga says smallholder farmers have structural difficulties in getting much needed fertilizers, a critical input in raising crop yields and providing business and employment creation opportunities for agro dealers.

“Commercial farmers are successful because they have access to inputs such as fertilizers and knowledge and it does not mean smallholder farmers are having challenges because they do not know how to farm but the biggest issue is knowledge and access to affordable inputs,” Mudzunga said.

Agriculturalist at Kynoch, Schalk Grobbelaar, says smallholder agricultural production in Limpopo is hampered by, amongst other things, low use of productivity-enhancing inputs such as fertilizers, seeds and crop protection products; animal feeds and veterinary medicines for livestock.

“Fertilizer increase yields. We fertilize what crops will take away and we put back into the soil but farmers lack knowledge on the balancing fertilizers according to what crops need,” said Grobbelaar.

Agriculture support is food business

The South African government is promoting SME development and growth of smallholder farmers who are key to tackling food insecurity at household level.

Despite their high contribution to economic growth and job creation, SME’s are challenged by among other factors, funding and access to finance, according to the 2015/16 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) Report. Lack of finance is a major reason for SMEs – which contribute 45 percent to South Africa’s GDP- leaving a business in addition to the poor management skills which are a result of lack of adequate training and education.

While the country produces more than enough food for all, many South Africans do not access the right amount and type of food, says a 2014 report by the Southern Africa Food Lab, an organisation promoting food security in the region.

“Poor South Africans are not able to spend money on a diverse diet. Instead the only option to facilitate satiety and alleviate hunger is to feed family members large portions of maize meal porridge that do not address nutritional needs,” according to Laura Pereira, author of the Food Lab report.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates, bemoaning underinvestment in Africa’s agriculture, said innovation from farm to market was one solution to turning the sector – employing half of the continent’s population – into a thriving business.

“African farmers need better tools to avoid disasters and grow a surplus – things like seeds that can tolerate droughts, floods, pests, and disease, affordable fertilizer that includes the right mix of nutrients to replenish the soil,” Gates said when he presented the 14th Nelson Mandela Lecture in Pretoria, South Africa last week.

Gates said farmers need to be connected to markets where they can buy inputs, sell their surplus and earn a profit and for them to reinvest in into the farm. That in turn provides on and off the farm employment opportunities and supports a range of local agribusinesses.

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Rights of Indigenous Peoples ‘Critical’ to Combat Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/rights-of-indigenous-peoples-critical-to-combat-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rights-of-indigenous-peoples-critical-to-combat-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/rights-of-indigenous-peoples-critical-to-combat-climate-change/#comments Mon, 25 Jul 2016 11:50:23 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146196 Maasai pastoralists, who participate in a farmer field school, are selling animals at a local market in Narok, Kenya. Indigenous peoples have a key role to play in addressing climate change. Credit: FAO

Maasai pastoralists, who participate in a farmer field school, are selling animals at a local market in Narok, Kenya. Indigenous peoples have a key role to play in addressing climate change. Credit: FAO

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jul 25 2016 (IPS)

No longer it is about restoring the legitimate rights of over 370 indigenous peoples spread across 70 countries worldwide, many of them living in dire situation, but now about their central, critical role in combating climate change.

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has relentlessly emphasized this new reality.

“Very few countries have so far made a clear commitment to a requirement in the Paris Climate Change Agreement that countries undertaking climate change activities should ensure the rights of indigenous peoples,” she says, while reminding of “the large number of violent deaths of people protecting their forests and rights to land in 2015 – the deadliest year for environmental defenders on record.”

“It’s a dire situation in terms of respect for the rights of indigenous peoples,” she told the participants in the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation’s Committee on Forestry (COFO) which met in the Italian capital on July 18-22.

“Indigenous peoples across the world experience the consequences of historical colonisation and invasion of their territories, and face discrimination because of their distinct cultures, identities and ways of life,” according to UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

On this, FAO stated that “Governments must do much more to provide the enabling conditions required for indigenous peoples, local communities, smallholders and their organisations to restore degraded landscapes and achieve climate change mitigation and adaptation in practice.”

Specifically, René Castro Salazar, FAO’s Assistant-Director General warned that the issue of indigenous rights to land and territories was ‘critical’ for the success of climate change initiatives.

“Unless we help indigenous peoples achieve secure land tenure and better governance, it will be very hard to achieve long-term solutions,” Castro Salazar said. “We are lagging behind, and we need to do more.”

Vast Carbon Stocks

A third of global forests are under some form of management by families, smallholders, local communities and indigenous peoples, and represent some of the most important carbon stocks in the world, FAO reported during the meeting. Government-recognised community forests alone hold an estimated 37.7 billion tonnes of carbon stock.

Agro-forestry farmers are tending to the crops in Kigoma, Tanzania. Forests are an integral part of the national agriculture policy with the aim of protecting arable land from erosion and increasing agricultural production. Credit: FAO

Agro-forestry farmers are tending to the crops in Kigoma, Tanzania. Forests are an integral part of the national agriculture policy with the aim of protecting arable land from erosion and increasing agricultural production. Credit: FAO

“Family smallholders, local communities and indigenous peoples have a key role to play in preserving these carbon stocks by reducing deforestation, managing forests sustainably and restoring tree cover as part of productive rural economies, particularly when they belong to strong producer organisations,” according to the UN agency.

In addition, an estimated 1.5 billion hectares of land hold potential for smallholder farmers to combine agriculture with trees.

“But failure to find the best way to engage with local stakeholders and align their interests with forest conservation can significantly compromise the chances of achieving carbon sequestration and mitigation targets.”

Greater Ownership

In an outcome statement issued at the close of the Rome meeting, participants urged governments to provide the enabling conditions required for local communities, indigenous peoples and local producers, “to manage larger territories, from securing and enforcing tenure rights to creating favourable business incentives and offering technical, financial and business extension services.”

They also called on global financing mechanisms, government programmes and private investors to direct investment and support towards local communities, indigenous peoples, smallholders and producer organisations.

Finally, they called for climate change initiatives “to shift towards giving greater ownership to local communities, indigenous peoples, smallholders and producer organisations and engaging them in participatory and qualitative assessment of the forest cover and trees on farms they manage.”

Livelihoods of Millions of People, Precarious

On the occasion of the Rome meeting, FAO issued a new study that helps to fill a significant knowledge gap on the presence and extent of forests and trees in the world’s drylands, where the food security and livelihoods of millions of people, already precarious, are increasingly being threatened by climate change.

The study’s preliminary findings show that trees are present with hugely varying densities on almost one-third of the world’s 6.1 billion hectares of drylands, which cover an area more than twice the size of Africa. Almost 18 per cent of this area contains forests.

An estimated 2 billion people, 90 per cent of whom are in developing countries, live in drylands. Recent studies have indicated the need to restore these areas to cope with the effects of drought, desertification and land degradation.

In particular, water availability in drylands is expected to decline further due to changes in climate and land use, the new study warns.

“Poor people living in remote rural areas will be most vulnerable to food shortages, which combined with violence and social upheaval, are already leading to forced migration in dryland regions in Africa and western Asia.”

Until now, there has been little statistically based knowledge on dryland trees –particularly those growing outside forests– despite their vital importance to humans and the environment, according to the study.

The leaves and fruit of trees are sources of food for people and fodder for animals; their wood provides fuel for cooking and heating and can be a source of income for poor households; trees protect soils, crops and animals from the sun and winds, while forests are often rich in biodiversity.

Drylands are divided into four aridity zones (see map): the dry sub-humid zone, is the least arid of the four zones and consists mostly of the Sudanian savanna, forests and grasslands in South America, the steppes of eastern Europe and southern Siberia, and the Canadian prairie.

Most dryland forests occur in this zone, as do some large irrigated, intensively farmed areas along perennial rivers; at the other extreme, the hyper-arid zone is the driest zone and it is dominated by desert – the Sahara alone accounting for 45 per cent, and the Arabian desert forming another large component.

Factbox

At a glance: some preliminary findings of the FAO Global Drylands Assessment:
• The global drylands contain 1.11 billion hectares of forest land, which is 27 per cent of the global forest area, estimated at approximately 4 billion hectares.

• Two-thirds of the drylands forest area can be defined as being dense, meaning it has closed canopies (i.e. a canopy cover greater than 40 per cent).

• The second most common land use in drylands is grassland (31 per cent), followed by forest (18 per cent) and cropland (14 per cent). The category other lands constitutes 34 per cent of the global drylands area.

• The least-arid zones have the most forest. The proportion of forest land is 51 per cent in the dry subhumid zone, 41 per cent in the semiarid zone, 7 per cent in the arid zone and 0.5 per cent in the hyperarid zone. The average crown cover density is ten times higher in the dry subhumid zone than in the hyperarid zone.

• Trees outside forests are present on 1.9 billion hectares of drylands (31 per cent of the global drylands area), if all land with more than 0 per cent crown cover is included. Thirty per cent of croplands and grasslands have at least some crown cover, as do 60 per cent of lands classified as settlements.

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Forests: To Farm or Not to Farm? This Is the Question!http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/forests-to-farm-or-not-to-farm-this-is-the-question/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=forests-to-farm-or-not-to-farm-this-is-the-question http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/forests-to-farm-or-not-to-farm-this-is-the-question/#comments Tue, 19 Jul 2016 14:31:09 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146138 Credit: FAO

Credit: FAO

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jul 19 2016 (IPS)

The dilemma is critical: on the one hand, there is an absolute need to produce more food for the world’s steadily growing population; on the other, there is pressing urgency to halt -and further revert- the increasing trend to deplete the forests, which are as necessary for human survival as it is for ensuring their dietary needs.

So what is at stake ? Forests play a major role in sustainable agricultural development through a host of channels, including: water cycle, soil conservation, carbon sequestration, natural pest control, influencing local climates and providing habitat protection for pollinators and other species.

But agriculture accounts for the lion’s share of the conversion of forests. In the tropics and subtropics large-scale commercial agriculture and local subsistence agriculture are responsible for about 40 per cent and 33 per cent of forest conversion, respectively, and the remaining 27 per cent of deforestation happens due to urban growth, infrastructure expansion and mining.

How to achieve the two vital objectives? The top United Nations organisation dealing with food and agriculture speaks loud and clear while providing specific data.

“While agriculture remains the most significant driver of global deforestation, there is an urgent need to promote more positive interactions between agriculture and forestry to build sustainable agricultural systems and improve food security, says UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

This has been the key message of the FAO flagship publication The State of the World’s Forests, presented on July 18 at the opening of the one-week Session (Rome, 18-22 July) of the FAO Committee on Forestry (COFO).

“The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, as well as the Paris Agreement on climate change, recognises that we can no longer look at food security and the management of natural resources separately,” says FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva.

“Both agreements call for a coherent and integrated approach to sustainability across all agricultural sectors and food systems. Forests and forestry have key roles to play in this regard. The key message from SOFO is clear: it is not necessary to cut down forests to produce more food,” Graziano da Silva added.

But while agriculture plays a major role in the on-going conversion of forests, FAO’s report stresses that forests serve many vital ecological functions that benefit agriculture and boost food production.

“Food security can be achieved through agricultural intensification and other measures such as social protection, rather than through expansion of agricultural areas at the expense of forests,” says Eva Müller, Director of FAO’s Forestry Policy and Resources Division.

Credit: FAO

Credit: FAO

“What we need is better cross-sectoral coordination of policies on agriculture, forestry, food and land use, better land use planning, effective legal frameworks, and stronger involvement of local communities and smallholders.”

According to Müller “Governments should provide local communities not only with secure land tenure but also with secure forest tenure rights. A farmer knows best how to manage his or her own resources but often lacks legal instruments to do so.”

How to Improve Food Security While Halting Deforestation

The fact is that well-managed forests have tremendous potential to promote food security. Besides their vital ecological contributions, FAO reports, forests contribute to rural livelihoods and poverty alleviation through income generated by engaging in the production of forest goods and environmental services.

Not only – approximately 2.4 billion people rely on wood-fuel for cooking and water sterilisation. And forest foods provide protein, minerals and vitamins to rural diets and can also serve as safety nets in periods of food scarcity.

According to The State of the World’s Forests report, since 1990, over 20 countries succeeded in improving national levels of food security while at the same time maintaining or increasing forest cover – demonstrating that it is not necessary to cut down forests to produce more food.

Twelve of these countries increased forest cover by over 10 per cent: Algeria, Chile, China, the Dominican Republic, the Gambia, Islamic Republic of Iran, Morocco, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Uruguay, Viet Nam.

“Their successes all relied on a similar set of tools: effective legal frameworks, secure land tenure, measures to regulate land-use change, policy incentives for sustainable agriculture and forestry, adequate funding, and clear definition of roles and responsibilities of governments and local communities.”

Successful Case Studies

The report cites case studies from seven countries –Chile, Costa Rica, The Gambia, Georgia, Ghana, Tunisia and Viet Nam– that illustrate the opportunities for improving food security while increasing or maintaining forest cover.

Six of these countries achieved positive change in the period 1990-2015 in two food-security indicators – the prevalence of undernourishment and the number of undernourished people – as well as increases in forest area.

Credit: FAO

Credit: FAO

The report explains as follows the case of some of these countries:

The Gambia, the only low-income country among the seven, succeeded in achieving the first goal of halving the proportion of hungry people within the same period.

Viet Nam, for example, has implemented a successful land reform to provide secure land tenure as a way of encouraging long-term investment.

This process was accompanied by a shift from state forestry to multi-stakeholder forestry with the active participation of local communities including a forest land allocation programme and forest protection contracts with local households.

The land reform was also coupled with policy instruments to increase agricultural productivity, including land tax exemptions, soft loans, export promotion, price guarantees, support for mechanisation and reductions in post-harvest losses.

In Costa Rica, deforestation reached its peak in the 1980s, mainly due to the conversion of forest cover to pastures.

The country has since reversed this trend largely due to the forest law, which now prohibits changes in land use from natural forest, and its system of Payments for Environmental Services, which provides farmers with incentives to plant trees, and supports forest conservation.

As a result, forest cover has increased to nearly 54 per cent of the country’s land area in 2015.

In Tunisia national development plans recognise the beneficial role of forests in protecting land against erosion and desertification.

There, agricultural production has increased through intensification that makes better use of existing agricultural land through irrigation, fertilisers, mechanisation, improved seeds and better farming practice. Incentives for establishing forest plantations in the country include free seedlings and compensation for the loss of agricultural income.

The key themes of the FAO Committee on Forestry session seek to respond directly to the milestone agreements of 2015 and investigate how forests and sustainable forest management can contribute to the achievement of the internationally agreed development goals.

Together with the World Forest Week, the committee considers how the full potential of forests, including forests’ contributions to livelihoods, food security, jobs, gender equality and many other global development goals including the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreements, can best be unlocked.

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Germany’s Energy Transition: The Good, the Bad and the Uglyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/germanys-energy-transition-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=germanys-energy-transition-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/germanys-energy-transition-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly/#comments Tue, 19 Jul 2016 12:19:42 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146128 In Germany, wind and solar energy coexist with energy generated by burning fossil fuels. A wind farm next to one of the electric power plants fired by lignite in the Western state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

In Germany, wind and solar energy coexist with energy generated by burning fossil fuels. A wind farm next to one of the electric power plants fired by lignite in the Western state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
COLOGNE, Germany, Jul 19 2016 (IPS)

Immerath, 90 km away from the German city of Cologne, has become a ghost town. The local church bells no longer ring and no children are seen in the streets riding their bicycles. Its former residents have even carried off their dead from its cemetery.

Expansion of Garzweiler, an open-pit lignite mine, has led to the town’s remaining residents being relocated to New Immerath, several kilometres away from the original town site, in North Rhine-Westphalia, whose biggest city is Cologne.

The fate of this small village, which in 2015 was home to 70 people, reflects the advances, retreats and contradictions of the world-renowned transition to renewable energy in Germany.

Since 2011, Germany has implemented a comprehensive energy transition policy, backed by a broad political consensus, seeking to make steps towards a low-carbon economy. This has encouraged the generation and consumption of alternative energy sources.

But so far these policies have not facilitated the release from the country’s industry based on coal and lignite, a highly polluting fossil fuel.

“The initial phases of the energy transition have been successful so far, with strong growth in renewables, broad public support for the idea of the transition and major medium and long term goals for government,” told IPS analyst Sascha Samadi of the non-governmental Wuppertal Institute, devoted to studies on energy transformation.

Renewable electricity generation accounted for 30 percent of the total of Germany’s electrical power in 2015, while lignite fuelled 24 percent, coal 18 percent, nuclear energy 14 percent, gas 8.8 percent and other sources the rest.

This European country is the third world power in renewable energies – excluding hydropower – and holds third place in wind power and biodiesel and fifth place in geothermal power.

Germany is also renowned for having the highest solar power capacity per capita in photovoltaic technology, even though its climate is not the most suitable for that purpose.

But the persistence of fossil fuels casts a shadow on this green energy matrix.

“The successful phasing out of fossil fuels entails a great deal of planning and organisation. If we do not promote renewables, we will have to import energy at some point,” Johannes Remmel, the minister for climate protection and the environment for North Rhine-Westphalia, told IPS.

Germany has nine lignite mines operating in three regions. Combined, the mines employ 16,000 people, produce 170 million tonnes of lignite a year and have combined reserves of three billion tonnes. China, Greece and Poland are other large world producers of lignite.

A part of the Garzweiler open-pit lignite mine, in North Rhine-Westphalia. One of the greatest challenges facing the energy transition in Germany is the future of this polluting fuel. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

A part of the Garzweiler open-pit lignite mine, in North Rhine-Westphalia. One of the greatest challenges facing the energy transition in Germany is the future of this polluting fuel. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Garzweiler, which is owned by the private company RWE, produces 35 million tonnes of lignite a year. From a distance it is possible to see its cut-out terraces and blackened soil, waiting for giant steel jaws to devour it and start to separate the lignite.

Lignite from this mine fuels nearby electricity generators at Frimmersdorf, Neurath, Niederaussen and Weisweiller, some of the most polluting power plants in Germany.

RWE is one of the four main power generation companies in Germany, together with E.ON, EnBW and Swedish-based Vattenfall.

Coal has an expiry date

The fate of coal is different. The government has already decided that its demise will be in 2018, when the two mines that are still currently active will cease to operate.

The Rhine watershed, comprising North Rhine-Westphalia together with other states, has traditionally been the hub of Germany’s industry. Mining and its consumers are an aftermath of that world, whose rattling is interspersed with the emergence of a decarbonized economy.

A tour of the mine and the adjoining power plant of  Ibberbüren in North Rhine-Westphalia shows the struggle between two models that still coexist.

In the mine compound, underground mouths splutter the coal that feeds the hungry plant at a pace of 157 kilowatt-hour per tonne.

In 2015 the mine produced 6.2 million tonnes of extracted coal, an amount projected to be reduced to 3.6 million tonnes this year and next, and to further drop to 2.9 million in 2018.

The mine employs 1,600 people and has a 300,000 tonne inventory which needs to be sold by 2018.

“I am a miner, and I am very much attached to my job. I speak on behalf of my co-workers. It is hard to close it down. There is a feeling of sadness, we are attending our own funeral”, told IPS the manager of the mine operator, Hubert Hüls.

Before the energy transition policy was in place, laws that promoted renewable energies had been passed in 1991 and 2000, with measures such as a special royalty fee included in electricity tariffs paid to generators that are fuelled by renewable energy sources.

The renewable energy sector invests some 20 billion dollars yearly and employs around 370.000 people.

Another measure, adopted in 2015 by the government in Berlin, sets out an auction plan for the purchase of photovoltaic solar power, but opponents have argued that large generation companies are being favoured over small ones as the successful bidder will be the one offering the lowest price.

Energy transition and climate change

Energy transition also seeks to meet Germany’s global warming mitigation commitments.

Germany has undertaken to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent in 2020 and by 95 per cent in 2015. Moreover, it has set itself the goal of increasing the share of renewable energies in the end-use power market from the current figure of 12 per cent to 60 per cent in 2050.

In the second half of the year, the German government will analyse the drafting of the 2050 Climate Action Plan, which envisages actions towards reducing by half the amount of emissions from the power sector and a fossil fuel phase-out programme.

In 2014, Germany reduced its emissions by 346 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, equivalent to 27.7 per cent of the 1990 total. However, the German Federal Agency for Environment warned that in 2015 emissions went up by six million tonnes, amounting to 0.7 per cent, reaching a total of 908 million tonnes.

Polluting gases are derived mainly from the generation and use of energy, transport and agriculture.

In 2019, the government will review the current incentives for the development of renewable energies and will seek to make adjustments aimed at fostering the sector.

Meanwhile, Germany’s last three nuclear power plants will cease operation in 2022. However, Garzweiler mine will continue to operate until 2045.

“There are technological, infrastructure, investment, political, social and innovation challenges to overcome. Recent decisions taken by the government are indicative of a lack of political will to undertake the tough decisions that are required for deep decarbonisation”, pointed out Samadi.

Companies “now try to mitigate the damage and leave the search for solutions in the hands of the (central) government. There will be fierce debate over how to expand renewable energies. The process may be slowed but not halted”, pointed out academic Heinz-J Bontrup, of the state University of Applied Sciences Gelsenkirchen.

Meanwhile, the regional government has opted to reduce the Garzweiler mine extension plan, leaving 400 million tonnes of lignite underground.

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