Inter Press Service » Reframing Rio http://www.ipsnews.net Journalism and Communication for Global Change Mon, 21 Apr 2014 05:36:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.3 OP-ED: The World Bank’s Waste of Energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/world-banks-waste-energy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-banks-waste-energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/world-banks-waste-energy/#comments Thu, 10 Apr 2014 17:31:23 +0000 Janet Redman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133566 The World Bank’s job is to fight poverty. Key to lifting people out of poverty is access to reliable modern energy. It makes sense. Kids do better in school when they can study at night. Microbusiness owners earn more if they can keep their shops open after sundown. And when women and children don’t have […]

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By Janet Redman
WASHINGTON, Apr 10 2014 (IPS)

The World Bank’s job is to fight poverty. Key to lifting people out of poverty is access to reliable modern energy. It makes sense.

Kids do better in school when they can study at night. Microbusiness owners earn more if they can keep their shops open after sundown. And when women and children don’t have to gather wood for cooking they’re healthier and have more time for other activities.The programme seems to be more about erecting scaffolding around the crumbling CDM than about getting renewable energy to impoverished families.

What doesn’t make sense is using a failed scheme — like carbon trading — to pay for it.

Carbon trading was developed as a way for industry to comply with laws limiting their greenhouse gas emissions more cheaply. Companies that can’t or won’t meet carbon caps can purchase surplus allowances from others that have kept pollution below legal limits.

The U.N. established an international system called the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) to make it even cheaper for businesses in rich countries to meet carbon regulations by paying for clean energy projects in developing nations. Purchasing these offsets through the CDM was promoted as a new way to provide financing to poorer countries.

But the poorest countries most in need of climate and development money generally don’t benefit from the CDM.

First, they often don’t have large industrial or fossil fuel-based energy sectors that generate significant volumes of carbon pollution. Also, it takes enormous time and effort to verify project plans, register with the CDM, and validate that emissions have been cut, making it impractical for investors to finance small projects that only generate a low number of carbon credits.

That was the case even before the CDM “essentially collapsed,” in the words of a U.N.-commissioned report on its future. Weak emissions targets and the economic downturn in wealthy nations had resulted in a 99-percent decline in the price paid for offsets between 2008 and 2013.

cdm graphThere was also evidence that the scheme’s largest projects actually increased greenhouse gas emissions. Add on the tax scandals, fraud, Interpol investigations, and human rights violations, and the scheme had fallen into disarray.

Ci-Dev to the rescue?

Given this record of failure, it’s odd that the World Bank is spending scarce donor resources to convince the world’s poorest countries to buy into the CDM. But that’s exactly what the Bank’s Carbon Initiative for Development (Ci-Dev) proposes to do.

Ci-Dev was launched in 2013 to increase energy access in “least developed” (LDCs) and African countries by funding projects that use clean and efficient technologies through “emission reduction-based performance payments” — in other words, by purchasing carbon credits from them.

But the programme seems to be more about erecting scaffolding around the crumbling CDM than about getting renewable energy to impoverished families.

The Bank lists the following as the initiative’s goals: extending the scope of the CDM in poor countries; demonstrating that carbon credit sales are part of a successful business model; developing “suppressed demand” accounting for LDCs to inflate their emissions baselines to earn more credits; and influencing future carbon market mechanisms so that LDCs get a greater share of the financing.

The Ci-Dev has one programme — the readiness fund — to build countries’ capacities to engage with the carbon market and to experiment with new methods for fast-tracking small-scale CDM projects. It channels millions of dollars into helping create offsets for which there are few buyers.

The initiative has a second programme — the carbon fund — to pay for carbon credits that are eventually produced but don’t sell on the market.

The Bank says it is prioritising support for community and household-level technologies like biogas, rooftop solar, and micro-hydro power. But it will also fund projects in “underrepresented” sectors such as waste management.

Because there’s no clear definition of what types of technologies it can and can’t fund, the Ci-Dev could end up financing electricity from natural gas and other controversial sources of “lower carbon” power.

A better approach

Regardless of technology, it’s irresponsible of the World Bank to spend development dollars on building carbon trading infrastructure in low-income countries for offset projects that have diminishing demand, and whose financial success is linked to a failing international market.

A better approach would be to directly build governance, operational, and financing capacity in the least developed countries for renewable energy infrastructure, alongside providing grant and concessional financing for distributed solar, wind, and small-scale hydropower projects.

The private sector can play a critical role, but the most important businesses to engage are small and medium-sized enterprises that provide mini- and off-grid services to the rural poor.

The paltry climate finance and development assistance being provided by wealthy countries should be spent on what people actually need. Women, children, and small business owners desperately need reliable energy that’s affordable and clean.

It’s a shame that the World Bank is wasting so much time, money, and energy on constructing a market that has little worth and attracts few investors.

Janet Redman is the director of the Climate Policy Program at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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Biofortified Beans to Fight ‘Hidden Hunger’ in Rwanda http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/biofortified-beans-fight-hidden-hunger-rwanda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=biofortified-beans-fight-hidden-hunger-rwanda http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/biofortified-beans-fight-hidden-hunger-rwanda/#comments Sun, 06 Apr 2014 16:36:24 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133453 Joane Nkuliye considers herself an activist. She is part of a select group of farmers producing biofortified crops on a commercial scale in Rwanda.  Nkuliye owns 25 hectares in Nyagatare district, Eastern Province, two hours away from the capital, Kigali. She was awarded land by the government and moved there in 2000, with plans of […]

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Joane Nkuliye, a rural entrepreneur from Rwanda’s Eastern Province, grows biofortified beans on a commercial scale. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Joane Nkuliye, a rural entrepreneur from Rwanda’s Eastern Province, grows biofortified beans on a commercial scale. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabiola Ortiz
KIGALI, Apr 6 2014 (IPS)

Joane Nkuliye considers herself an activist. She is part of a select group of farmers producing biofortified crops on a commercial scale in Rwanda. 

Nkuliye owns 25 hectares in Nyagatare district, Eastern Province, two hours away from the capital, Kigali. She was awarded land by the government and moved there in 2000, with plans of rearing cattle. But she soon realised that growing food would be more profitable and have a greater impact on the local community as many of the kids in the area suffered from Kwashiorkor, a type of malnutrition caused by lack of protein.

“I have a passion for farming. We are being subsidised because very few people are doing commercial farming,” the entrepreneur, who is married with five children and has been farming for over 10 years, told IPS.

Biofortification on a Global Scale

Every second person in the world dies from malnutrition. In order to fight the so-called hidden hunger — a chronic lack of vitamins and minerals — biofortification aims to increase nutrition and yields simultaneously.

HarvestPlus is part of the CGIAR Consortium research programme on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH), which helps realise the potential of agricultural development to deliver gender-equitable health and nutritional benefits to the poor.

The HarvestPlus programme is coordinated by the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture and the International Food Policy Research Institute. It has nine target countries: Nigeria, Zambia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. Brazil has also begun introducing biofortified crops.

The director of HarvestPlus, Howarth Bouis, told IPS that the goal was to reach 15 million households worldwide by 2018 and ensure that they were growing and eating biofortified crops such as cassava, maize, orange sweet potato, pearl millet, pumpkin and beans.

“It is always a challenge but it’s much easier than it was before, because we have the crops already. Years ago I had to say we wouldn’t have [made an] impact in less than 10 years. Now things are coming out and it has been easier to raise money,” Bouis said.

Four years ago, she was contacted by the NGO HarvestPlus, which is part of a CGIAR Consortium research programme on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health. The NGO is considered a leader in the global effort to improve nutrition and public health by developing crops and distributing seeds of staple foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals.

HarvestPlus provided Nkuliye with seeds, packaging, outlets for distribution and know-how. Now she grows biofortified beans on 11 of her 50 hectares of land.

“After harvesting beans I grow maize as an intercrop. I also grow sweet bananas, pineapples and papaya. I harvest 15 tonnes of food; I talk in terms of tonnes and not kilos,” she smiled.

Nkuliye was invited by HarvestPlus to speak at the Second Global Conference on Biofortification held in Kigali from Mar. 31 to Apr. 2, which was a gathering of scientists, policymakers and stakeholders.

Rwanda has ventured into a new agricultural era as it boosts its food production and enhances the nutrition level of the crops grown here.

In this Central African nation where 44 percent of the country’s 12 million people suffer from malnutrition and micronutrient deficiency, biofortified foods, like beans, are seen as a solution to reducing “hidden hunger” — a chronic lack of vitamins and minerals.

One in every three Rwandans is anaemic, and this percentage is higher in women and children. An estimated 38 percent of children under five and 17 percent of women suffer from iron deficiency here. This, according to Lister Tiwirai Katsvairo, the HarvestPlus country manager for the biofortification project, is high compared to other countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

Biofortified beans have high nutritional levels and provide up to 45 percent of daily iron needs, which is 14 percent more than commonly-grown bean varieties.

They also have an extra advantage as they have proved to produce high yields, are resistant to viruses, and are heat and drought tolerant.

Now, one third of Rwanda’s 1.9 million households grow and consume nutritious crops thanks to an initiative promoted by HarvestPlus in collaboration with the Rwandan government. The HarvestPlus strategy is “feeding the brain to make a difference,” Katsvairo said.

The national government, which has been working in partnership with HarvestPlus since 2010, sees nutrition as a serious concern. According to Rwanda’s Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources Agnes Kalibata, five government ministers are working cooperatively to address nutrition issues here.

She said that biofortified crops ensured that poor people, smallholder farmers and their families received nutrients in their diets. Around 80 percent of Rwanda’s rural population rely on agriculture for their livelihoods.

“Beans in Rwanda are our staple food, they are traditional. You cannot eat a meal without them. Beans that are biofortified have the main protein that will reach everybody, they are the main source of food,” she said.

Katsvairo explained that Rwanda has 10 different varieties of biofortified beans and that Rwandan diets comprise 200 grams of beans per person a day.

“Our farmers and population cannot afford meat on a daily basis. In a situation like this we need to find a crop that can provide nutrients and is acceptable to the community. We don’t want to change diets,” Katsvairo told IPS.

The ideologist and geneticist who led the Green Revolution in India is an advocate of what he calls “biohappiness”. Mankombu Sambasivan Swaminathan became famous for the Green Revolution that increased food production and turned India into a sustainable food producer.

“I am an enthusiast of biofortification. It is the best way to add nutrients like iron, zinc and vitamin A. In the case of biofortification it is a win-win situation,” he told IPS.

According to Swaminathan, who has been described by the United Nations Environment Programme as “the Father of Economic Ecology”, the concept of food security has grown and evolved into nutritious security.

“We found it is not enough to give calories, it is important to have proteins and micronutrients.”

Swaminathan says it is also a way of attacking silent hunger — hunger caused by extreme poverty.

“It fortifies in a biological matter and not in chemical matter, that is why I call it biohappiness,” said the first winner of the World Food Prize in 1987. He  has also been acclaimed by TIME magazine as one of the 20 most influential Asians of the 20th century.

According to Katsvairo, Rwanda has become an example to other sub-Saharan countries as the issue of nutrition is now part of public strategic policy here.

“Rwanda is still at the implementation stage but it is way ahead of other African countries,” confirmed Katsvairo.

Meanwhile, Nkuliye aims to expand her farm over the next few years and increase her crop of biofortified beans.

“I wanted to improve people’s lives. My husband is proud of me but I feel I haven’t done enough yet,” she said. Currently, she employes 20 women and 10 men on a permanent basis and hires temporary workers during planting and harvesting.

She first started her business with a three-year bank loan of five million Rwandan Francs (7,700 dollars). Now, she has applied for 20 million Rwandan Francs (30,800 dollars).

“I want to buy more land, at least 100 hectares. What I am producing is not enough for the market,” Nkuliye explained. While she harvests tonnes of produce to sell to the local market, she says it is not enough as demand is growing.

But she is proud that she has been able to feed her community.

“I have fed people with nutritious beans, I changed their lives and I have also changed mine. We have a culture of sharing meals and give our workers eight kilos of biofortified food to take to their families,” she said.

Fabíola Ortiz was invited by HarvestPlus and Embrapa-Brazil to travel to Rwanda.

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Tanzania’s Farming Cooperatives Struggle to Bear Fruit http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/tanzanias-farming-cooperatives-struggle-bear-fruit/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tanzanias-farming-cooperatives-struggle-bear-fruit http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/tanzanias-farming-cooperatives-struggle-bear-fruit/#comments Fri, 04 Apr 2014 10:32:27 +0000 Adam Bemma http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133419 John Daffi climbs to the top of a hill overlooking a scenic Rift Valley wall and the Ngorongoro forest, where wildlife migrates between the world famous Ngorongoro crater and Tanzania’s Lake Manyara. Daffi, 59, looks down upon his family’s farm below and reminisces about the time his father first brought him here as a boy. […]

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John Daffi on his piece of land that is part of a cooperative that began in 1963 in Upper Kitete. However, recent attempts by the government to revive cooperatives have been a failure. Credit: Adam Bemma/IPS

John Daffi on his piece of land that is part of a cooperative that began in 1963 in Upper Kitete. However, recent attempts by the government to revive cooperatives have been a failure. Credit: Adam Bemma/IPS

By Adam Bemma
ARUSHA, Tanzania, Apr 4 2014 (IPS)

John Daffi climbs to the top of a hill overlooking a scenic Rift Valley wall and the Ngorongoro forest, where wildlife migrates between the world famous Ngorongoro crater and Tanzania’s Lake Manyara. Daffi, 59, looks down upon his family’s farm below and reminisces about the time his father first brought him here as a boy.

“Upper Kitete was a model farming village set up by the government of Tanzania. My father received a call while he was in Arusha from his brother in Karatu telling him to apply. We were selected as one of the first 100 families,” Daffi told IPS.

In 1962, British agriculturalist Antony Ellman came to Tanzania and from 1963 to 1966 helped establish the Upper Kitete Cooperative Society on 2,630 hectares located in the Karatu district of northern Tanzania, about 160 kilometres from the city of Arusha.“Even though the population has increased, the land hasn’t. Every inch of it is cultivated.” -- farmer, John Daffi

“It was a very exciting time as Tanzania just received independence and it was a real opportunity for aspiring farmers to have access to great land,” Ellman told IPS.

Daffi’s father, Lucas, relocated his family from Mbulu village in Manyara region to Kitete village in Arusha region. The villagers selected began a social experiment, and distinguished themselves from other nearby villages with the name Upper Kitete.

The cooperative movement pre-dates independence. Professor Amon Z. Mattee, from Tanzania’s Sokoine University of Agriculture, told IPS that the prosperity of cooperatives in the 1960s made the government want to create a level playing field for all.

“Coops started in the 1930s for some of the cash crops like coffee and cotton and for many years up to the time of independence in 1961. They were really member-based and offered excellent services in terms of research, extension, inputs, profitable markets and even social services like education for members’ children,” Mattee said.

Tanzania’s founding President ‘Mwalimu [Teacher]‘ Julius Nyerere started the village settlement programme where farmers were encouraged to work cooperatively hoping they would prosper economically. Eighteen months after independence in 1963, the Upper Kitete Cooperative Society was born and it continues to this day.

“The soil was so fertile. We began farming cereal crops like wheat and barley. Now we’re much smaller scale and farm mainly maize and beans, our staple crops,” Daffi said.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), Tanzania remains primarily a rural country with an agriculture-based economy that employs the majority of the national labour force. Its economy is still highly dependent on predominantly rain-fed agriculture that contributes an estimated 30 percent to the GDP and accounts for 64 percent of all export earnings.

Its main traditional export crops are coffee, cashews, cotton, sugar, tobacco, tea, sisal and spices from Zanzibar. Maize is the main food crop alongside sorghum, millet, rice, wheat, beans, cassava, bananas and potatoes, according to the FAO.

“For the first 10 years Upper Kitete was on an upward path. People worked together willingly and life was improving for everyone. They continually had better yields, built bigger homes and the services improved as a result,” Ellman said.

In 1974, the dream faded as Nyerere forced reluctant Tanzanians from urban and rural areas to move into villages causing environmental and organisational strain to existing villages like Upper Kitete. At this time, its population ballooned from 210 to 1,200 residents.

A 2001 study by academics Rock Rohde and Thea Hilhorst called ‘A Profile of environmental change in the Lake Manyara Basin, Tanzania’ examines the stress put on the land due to government directives.

“Ujamaa [Nyerere’s brand of socialism] aimed to move the entire Tanzanian rural population into cooperative villages and achieved this under ‘Operation Vijijini’ when land was redistributed and several million peasants and pastoralists resettled in new, more compact villages, often under duress. [It] had a profound social and economic effect, especially on the highlands of Karatu where wealthy commercial farmers were deprived of their land holdings,” the study states.

Since then, Daffi has witnessed the land at Upper Kitete become scarce as it was divided into smaller portions for the growing community. This village of 500 people in 1963 is now a town of nearly 5,000. Now, the cooperative produces much less than it previously did because it has less land.

“Even though the population has increased, the land hasn’t. Every inch of it is cultivated,” Daffi said.

Mattee researches farmers’ organisations in Tanzania. He said recent attempts by the government to revive cooperatives, like the 1997 Cooperative Development Policy, were a failure.

“The government has since the 1990s tried to revive the cooperative sector by introducing new policies, but the coops were already too weak and farmers had completely lost faith in them,” Mattee said.

Ellman reflects on his time at Upper Kitete with great nostalgia. But he realises they face the problem all remaining agricultural cooperatives in Tanzania face — a lack of unity and insufficient resources to support the fast-growing population.

“I keep in touch with many people at Upper Kitete and I visited again in 2012. They’ve asked me to record its history,” Ellman said. “It’s been difficult. With such a dense population they need to adopt more intensive forms of land use and even diversify out of agriculture. Tanzanians are resourceful people. They can do it.”

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Africa’s Youth Not Lured by Unglamorous Farming http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/africas-youth-yet-lured-unglamorous-farming/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africas-youth-yet-lured-unglamorous-farming http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/africas-youth-yet-lured-unglamorous-farming/#comments Wed, 02 Apr 2014 10:10:17 +0000 Matthew Newsome http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133366 Ketsela Negatu is the son of an Ethiopian goat farmer living close to the country’s capital, Addis Ababa, who refuses to follow in his father’s footsteps. The 19-year-old has negative perceptions about the family profession after seeing the dim prospects a farming livelihood has offered his father.  “I will go to the city and try […]

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A farmer in Woliyta area of Ethiopia. Concern is growing that not enough is being done to engage Africa’s youth - it’s largest workforce - in food production Credit: Ed McKenna/IPS

A farmer in Woliyta area of Ethiopia. Concern is growing that not enough is being done to engage Africa’s youth - it’s largest workforce - in food production Credit: Ed McKenna/IPS

By Matthew Newsome
TUNIS/ADDIS ABABA, Apr 2 2014 (IPS)

Ketsela Negatu is the son of an Ethiopian goat farmer living close to the country’s capital, Addis Ababa, who refuses to follow in his father’s footsteps. The 19-year-old has negative perceptions about the family profession after seeing the dim prospects a farming livelihood has offered his father. 

“I will go to the city and try and find work. I don’t know what I will do but I want to find a job that pays more money so I can live a good life,” he told IPS."We will also lose the young who want to be connected and communicate via phones and the Internet if these needs [for reliable power] are not met.” -- Cheikh Ly, secretary of the FAO regional conference

But Ketsela’s thinking is just like that of other young people on the continent as poor financial returns and unglamorous prospects of Africa’s rural economy are spurring young people to leave the fields and migrate to urban centres.

And concern is growing that not enough is being done to engage Africa’s largest workforce – its youth – in food production as they are key to safeguarding food security on the continent, eliminating hunger and accessing global food markets.

“There is not enough stimulus for young people to participate in agriculture in African countries. The young farmers need good prices for good products, otherwise we will lose them to the urban areas. Why should they do the hard work and stay poor,” Gebremedhine Birega, Ethiopian representative of the NGO East and South African Food Security Network told IPS.

The share of youth in Africa’s labour force is the highest in the world with approximately 35 percent in sub-Saharan Africa and 40 percent in North Africa, compared to 30 percent in India, 25 percent in China and 20 percent in Europe. World Bank projections indicate that 60 percent of the world’s labour force growth will be in Africa between 2010 and 2050.

Although economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa is expected to reach 6.3 percent in 2014, well above the global average, agricultural leaders at the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) regional conference held in Tunisa from Mar. 24 to 29 agreed that prodigious growth is not translating fast enough into employment for Africa’s youth.

Gerda Verburg, chairperson of the Committee on World Food Security, told IPS that increased commercialisation of agriculture will harness unemployed youth in rural Africa and create a productive and profitable agricultural sector. It will thus bolster food security and create decent income and employment opportunities for young people.

“We have to try and reverse the rural mentality that says farming is a last option. To prevent this loss of labour we need to look at how to improve the financial prospects of those who work in the agricultural sector.

“Private sector finance and agri-industries are helping to modernise agriculture by creating value adding chains that will pay a farmer more for his labour than the local market,” she said.

Economic growth on the continent, and the changing dietary trends of Africa’s emerging middle class, are also providing attractive and lucrative value chains for young agricultural producers to participate in, FAO director general José Graziano da Silva told IPS.

“There are emerging markets such as aquaculture where we are seeing good potential for growth. More investment in these growing markets will provide greater opportunities for youth employment,” he said.

Greater electrification of rural Africa is also expected to help retain the youth population in the countryside and satisfy an aspiration for a modern lifestyle that features telecommunication and Internet connectivity. Currently, less than 10 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s rural households have access to electricity.

Cheikh Ly, secretary of the FAO regional conference, told IPS that a major contributing factor behind the decision taken by young people to migrate to urban areas was the lack of electricity in rural Africa.

“Electrification is a key need for Africa’s rural economy. Modern agricultural production is not possible without reliable access to power. We will also lose the young who want to be connected and communicate via phones and the Internet if these needs are not met,” he told IPS.

Greater investment in African agriculture seemed a fait accompli when African leaders met in Maputo, Mozambique in 2003 to commit a minimum of 10 percent of their national budgets to agriculture and to lifting agricultural growth to six percent of GDP per annum by 2008.

However, of Africa’s 54 countries, only nine – Ghana, Burkina Faso, Malawi, Mali, Ethiopia, Niger, Senegal, Cape Verde and Guinea - managed to uphold these commitments.

Low investment is causing low productivity and thwarting Africa’s agricultural sector, which employs close to 60 percent of Africa’s labour force but accounts for only 25 percent of the continent’s GDP. A deficit of political willpower from African leaders is delaying agricultural expansion on the continent, says Action Aid International’s David Adama.

“Empty words won’t feed empty stomachs. African governments must follow through on their promises and provide more money for agriculture and ensure it is better targeted to help the millions of smallholder farmers who make up most of their citizens and produce most of Africa’s food,” he told IPS.

The potential for the lucrative engagement of Africa’s youth in agriculture should be within grasp. Africa boasts over 50 percent of the world’s fertile and unused land, while foreign investment in African agriculture is expected to exceed 45 billion dollars in 2020, according to World Bank statistics.

However, Africa’s youth are yet to feel the pull of any new “agricultural renaissance” on the continent.

“I would stay and work in the countryside but only if things got better here; unless they do, I will leave for the city and see if there is something better,” Ketsela said.

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OP-ED: Europe’s Commitment to Africa’s Children is Still Needed http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/op-ed-europes-commitment-africas-children-still-needed/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=op-ed-europes-commitment-africas-children-still-needed http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/op-ed-europes-commitment-africas-children-still-needed/#comments Tue, 01 Apr 2014 11:29:26 +0000 Philippe Cori http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133342 
Philippe Cori, director of the United Nations Children’s Fund’s (UNICEF) European Union Partnership Office in Brussels, says over the last decades, development assistance from partners like the EU and its member states has been critical to expanding and improving the quality of basic social services, especially for the poorest and most marginalised children.

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UNICEF says in many parts of the African continent children are living beyond their fifth birthday, more children are going to school and more children are better equipped for the challenges of the 21st century. Pictured here are students at Motshane Primary School, Mbabane, Swaziland. Credit: Mantoe Phakathi/IPS

UNICEF says in many parts of the African continent children are living beyond their fifth birthday, more children are going to school and more children are better equipped for the challenges of the 21st century. Pictured here are students at Motshane Primary School, Mbabane, Swaziland. Credit: Mantoe Phakathi/IPS

By Philippe Cori
BRUSSELS, Apr 1 2014 (IPS)

As African and European leaders meet in Brussels this week under the theme of “Investing in People, Prosperity and Peace”, it is clear Africa’s greatest natural resource, its children, must be centre stage. 

Between 2010 and 2025, the child population of sub-Saharan Africa will rise by 130 million, making it the youngest continent in the world. By 2050, one in every three births and almost one in every three children under 18 will be in Africa.

Yet for this youth dividend to be the driver of Africa’s prosperity, it is critical that all of the continent’s children have the right foundations to be able to participate as well as benefit.

This means equitable access to basic quality social services in health and education, especially early childhood care as well as access to safe water, sanitation, good nutrition and protection from abuse, violence and exploitation.

A lot of the focus is now on how business can be a critical driver in the continent’s transformation.  And there is no doubt that new economic investment is yielding results, stimulating growth and new opportunities.

But it is also clear for Africa to ultimately benefit from these economic investments, it still needs a development focused partnership that builds the foundation of a strong, fair and equitable society for its youngest citizens.

In many parts of the African continent, life for millions of children is changing for the good. Along with the new investments in infrastructure, the rapid changes in access to mobile technology and an increase in economic growth, the good news is more children are living beyond their fifth birthday, more children are going to school and more children are better equipped for the challenges of the 21st century.

Philippe Cori, director of the United Nations Children’s Fund’s European Union Partnership Office in Brussels, says in many parts of the African continent, life for millions of children is changing for the good. Courtesy: UNICEF

Philippe Cori, director of the United Nations Children’s Fund’s European Union Partnership Office in Brussels, says in many parts of the African continent, life for millions of children is changing for the good. Courtesy: UNICEF

As Europe’s own experience demonstrates, investments in early childhood care, good nutrition, a quality public health system and safety nets to protect the most vulnerable,  are the foundations that lead to stable, inclusive and prosperous societies.

Over the last decades, development assistance from partners like the European Union and its member states has been critical to expanding and improving the quality of basic social services, especially for the poorest and most marginalised children. The success can be measured in concrete results, including a drop in child mortality by 45 percent between 1990 and 2012 and an increase in primary school enrolment among others.

We also know there is much more to be done. At least one in three children under five in Africa are stunted and over half of the world’s out-of-school children live in Africa (33 million).

Preventable disease like pneumonia, malaria and diarrhoea still account for 40 percent of all under five deaths. Hundreds of millions remain without access to safe water and adequate sanitation. Poverty pushes families to migrate, affecting children directly: whether they are left behind, migrating with parents or alone, they are increasingly exposed to vulnerabilities, including child trafficking — its darkest facet.

And we also know that economic growth, trade and business alone cannot translate Africa’s youth dividend into the dynamic asset it could and should be. Investments in human security, strong public institutions and equitable access to basic social services will remain vital to stability and our shared global prosperity.

Europe’s commitment to Africa’s children, especially the poorest, is still needed. Not just because it makes good business sense as it can help make sure there is a financial return on economic investments.

Not just because it will lead to less chances of conflict, insecurity and displacement. Not just because it makes sense for our shared humanity and our shared global future. But ultimately because Europe is and can make a difference by giving every Africa child the opportunity to reach their potential, to determine their own future and write their own story.

Philippe Cori is the director of UNICEF’s EU Partnership Office in Brussels which is managing UNICEF’s relations and partnership with the European Institutions with a view to influence and contribute to EU policies particularly in key areas such as nutrition, health, education, protection, gender, disability, poverty eradication and humanitarian assistance. This partnership aims at mobilising and leveraging quality resources for the realisation of children’s rights everywhere and especially the most disadvantaged.

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Sahel Food Crisis Overshadowed by Regional Conflict http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/sahel-food-crisis-overshadowed-regional-conflict/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sahel-food-crisis-overshadowed-regional-conflict http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/sahel-food-crisis-overshadowed-regional-conflict/#comments Fri, 28 Mar 2014 21:55:38 +0000 Matthew Newsome http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133290 Still not enough is being done to improve the food emergency in Africa’s Sahel Region as conflict and instability continue to exacerbate any response towards aiding a region where one in eight people suffer from food insecurity. “The main problem we have is that food is not reaching conflict areas such as Central African Republic […]

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In 2012 recurring droughts destroyed most harvests in the Sahel. This year feeding chronically hungry people in the Sahel has been compromised by regional conflict that has created almost one million refugees. Credit:Kristin Palitza/IPS

In 2012 recurring droughts destroyed most harvests in the Sahel. This year feeding chronically hungry people in the Sahel has been compromised by regional conflict that has created almost one million refugees. Credit:Kristin Palitza/IPS

By Matthew Newsome
TUNIS, Mar 28 2014 (IPS)

Still not enough is being done to improve the food emergency in Africa’s Sahel Region as conflict and instability continue to exacerbate any response towards aiding a region where one in eight people suffer from food insecurity.

“The main problem we have is that food is not reaching conflict areas such as Central African Republic (CAR) because of insecurity. Until now, there has not been enough of a response from the international community, especially given the proportion of the disaster foreseen,” Jose Graziano da Silva, director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), told IPS at the organisation’s regional conference being held in Tunisa from Mar. 24 to 28.

Last month, the U.N. appealed for more than two billion dollars to address the needs of 20 million “food insecure” people across Africa’s Sahel, a semi-arid area beset by persistent drought and chronic food insecurity stretching from the Sahara desert in North Africa and Sudan’s Savannas in the south. It is described by the U.N. as “one of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable regions.”

Countries in the Sahel currently facing food shortages are Mali, Mauritania, the Gambia, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic (CAR), Niger, Chad and Nigeria.

New research by international NGO Action Aid highlights how Nigeria and Senegal are alarmingly unprepared to cope with a worsening food crisis.

John Abuya, head of Action Aid’s international humanitarian action and resilience team, told IPS: “Disaster preparedness structures at regional and community levels are still weak and need to be strengthened so as to provide the necessary response and resilience in case of an emergency.”

“Based on early warning signs, it is likely that the Nigerian and Senegalese governments will be overwhelmed if their food crisis escalates. Although Nigeria has a National Emergency Management Authority, its response at state level has been weak and resources have been allocated inadequately by the central government,” Abuya said.

Food insecurity in the Sahel is set to increase in 2014 by 40 percent compared to 2013 when 11.3 million people had inadequate food and required around 1.7 billion dollars in donor assistance.

Feeding chronically hungry people in the Sahel has been compromised by regional conflict that has created approximately 724,000 refugees and 495,000 internally displaced persons.

According to the latest data from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Chad’s open-door policy has resulted in it receiving 419, 000 refugees (86,000 from CAR, and 333,000 from Darfur, Sudan).

Out of the 103,000 refugees residing in Mauritania, a majority are from Mali and Western Sahara, while Burkina Faso has received 43,000 refugees from Mali since the crisis there began in 2012.

Following Mali’s military coup in March 2012, terrorists and criminal organisations exploited the country’s power vacuum and occupied the northern territory creating a huge displacement of the population. It resulted in a refugee outflow into Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Niger, and, to a lesser degree, Algeria and other countries.

Mali maintains it has the capacity to feed its people but is restricted by poor infrastructure and instability in the north.

Last year, it produced two million tonnes of cereal in addition to one million tonnes of rice.

“Mali’s problem is not agricultural, it is a logistical problem about transporting the food to people. The crisis and the instability in the north is not permitting us to use the roads safely. Therefore the food that farmers produce is restricted in its movement because of insecurity,” Issa Konda, head of Mali’s agricultural delegation attending the FAO conference, told IPS.

Despite efforts to stabilise Mali, including the deployment of a peacekeeping force and presidential elections in mid-2013, very few Malian refugees want to return due to the fragile humanitarian and security situation.

Niger’s severe food shortages due to recurrent drought have also been compounded by conflict in neighbouring countries. Half of the country’s 17 million people are without adequate food all year round, while one in 10 is unable to feed themselves for three months of the year.

Conflict in northern Mali, southern Libya, northern Nigeria and CAR has put pressure on Niger’s resources to deal with its food crisis as thousands of displaced civilians take refuge in the country due to its porous borders.

Since 2012, Malian refugees have regarded neighbouring Niger as a safe haven. According to the U.N. Refugee Agency, over 51,000 refugees (47,000 from Mali and 4,000 from Nigeria) have entered the country as a result of regional conflict.

Last year’s rainy season in Niger, which lasted from July to October, was disappointing says the country’s Minister in the President’s office for the national strategy for food security and agriculture development, Amadou Diallo.

“The situation is dire and has not been improving for several years. We are unable to meet the food demand. The problem is that demand is growing from rising population numbers and incoming refugees, in addition to terrible drought our food supply is being compromised,” he told IPS.

Niger’s refugee crisis escalated last year after neighbouring Nigeria launched a military offensive against Islamist terror group, Boko Haram, causing 10,000 people to flee northern Nigeria into south-eastern Niger and Cameroon.

Of the 25 countries listed by the U.N. as being vulnerable to becoming failed states, 13 are in the Sahel. Breaking the cycle of recurrent food crises in the region is next to impossible while there is limited security says Gerda Verburg, chairperson of the Committee on World Food Security.

“In the Sahel we have the solutions. We have the capacity. We have the willingness.  However, as long there is insecurity then food production and access to food is at risk.  There is not enough reliability and stability for us to adequately address food insecurity in the Sahel,” she told IPS.

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20 Years On – Rwanda Uses Genocide Reconciliation to Boost Economic Growth http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/rwanda-reconciles-genocide-economic-growth/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rwanda-reconciles-genocide-economic-growth http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/rwanda-reconciles-genocide-economic-growth/#comments Fri, 28 Mar 2014 12:54:02 +0000 Aimable Twahirwa http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133275 It’s almost 20 years now since Sylidio Gashirabake, a Hutu, was a perpetrator in Rwanda’s genocide. It’s also almost 20 years since his neighbour, Augustin Kabogo, a Tutsi, lost his sister and family in the violence. But today, both men work side-by-side in their joint business venture in Kirehe district in southeastern Rwanda. It is […]

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Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, is described as one of the safest and cleanest cities in Africa as the government tries attract further investment and tourism. Credit: Aimable Twahirwa/IPS

Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, is described as one of the safest and cleanest cities in Africa as the government tries attract further investment and tourism. Credit: Aimable Twahirwa/IPS

By Aimable Twahirwa
KIGALI, Mar 28 2014 (IPS)

It’s almost 20 years now since Sylidio Gashirabake, a Hutu, was a perpetrator in Rwanda’s genocide. It’s also almost 20 years since his neighbour, Augustin Kabogo, a Tutsi, lost his sister and family in the violence. But today, both men work side-by-side in their joint business venture in Kirehe district in southeastern Rwanda.

It is estimated that 800,000 minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus lost their lives in the massacre that began following the death of former President Juvenal Habyarimana, and his Burundian counterpart Cyprien Ntaryamira, when their plane was shot down over Kigali on Apr. 6, 1994.“Rwanda has a clear business environment which is providing incentives and facilities that is making our job easy to cover other neighbouring countries." -- Atul Ajela, the general manager of mattress manufacturer Dodoma

Gashirabake was released from prison in 2006 after confessing two years earlier to his crimes and revealing to Kabogo — who managed to escape the killing by hiding in a neighbouring marshland — where the remains of his family where. Though Gashirabake has always denied having any part in the death of Kabogo’s family.

“I have deliberately [confessed] so to ease my conscience from this burden, which I am unable to continue bearing after several years,” Gashirabake told IPS.

Two years ago, Kabogo forgave Gashirabake and the neighbours have been business partners ever since.

They are part of a group of 30 people involved in a swine breeding project in Kirehe district that was founded by a Japanese volunteer in 2012 and aims to reconcile victims and perpetrators of Rwanda’s genocide.

And both Gashirabake and Kabogo are convinced that in order for them to be successful, it is imperative that reconciliation in Rwanda becomes a reality. Right now, they earn around 200 dollars per month on average from the business.

Kabogo is convinced that it is no longer important whether Gashirabake killed his family or not. What is important, he says, is that Gashirabake has apologised for the crimes he committed.

“I must agree that reconciliation through poverty reduction is slowly becoming a reality 20 years after [the genocide] in Rwanda,” Kabogo told IPS.

Across the 30 districts of this central African nation there are several projects, supported by both the government and NGOs, which focus on reducing poverty.

This includes the government-funded Girinka (“May you have a cow” ) project. Founded in 2006, Girinka distributes cows to vulnerable families in remote rural areas. The project states that as of 2013, about 350,000 people have benefitted from the programme.

Because almost 90 percent of the population relying on the agriculture sector for their survival, the government has adopted a number of reforms to ensure that poor households and genocide survivors are supported.

This includes the establishment of the Government Assistance Fund for Genocide Survivors which, since its creation in 1998, has had a total budget of 117 million dollars to provide education, healthcare packages and housing for vulnerable genocide survivors.

Since it took power after defeating the genocidaire regime in July 1994, the former rebel group and current ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) has embraced major reforms, including sound economic ones.

In a World Bank report entitled “Rwanda: Rebuilding an Equitable Society – Poverty Reduction After the Genocide” showed that approximately 70 percent of the country’s 11.5 million people lived below the poverty line in 1993. Four years later, this was reduced to 53 percent.

Latest figures published in the government’s third Integrated Household Living Conditions Survey 2011 show that between 2006 and 2011 a further one million people were lifted out of poverty.

And Rwanda has been lauded by its development partners, the World Bank, European Union, and the International Monetary Fund, for these economic achievements and successful reforms.

Commercial Street avenue in Kigali’s city centre, Rwanda. New buildings are sprouting across the capital city’s skyline 20 years after the genocide. Credit: Aimable Twahirwa/IPS

Commercial Street avenue in Kigali’s city centre, Rwanda. New buildings are sprouting across the capital city’s skyline 20 years after the genocide. Credit: Aimable Twahirwa/IPS

However, there is an emerging consensus that challenges to the country’s economic growth and development remain.

Pascal Nshizirungu, a lecturer in socio-economic sciences at Kigali University, told IPS that national efforts to mobilise investment should also go hand-in-hand with closing the gap between rich and poor.

The government, through the second phase of its Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy, is investing in key development areas in order to have Rwanda reclassified as a middle income country by 2020, with a per capita income of 1,240 dollars. Currently the per capita income of Rwanda’s middle class is estimated to be 693 dollars.

The government has also been targeting foreign investment and creating incentives for investors, such as privatisation.

“Apart from political stability, the country has now an asset which other countries in the region don’t have such as infrastructure, which is attracting much more private investments,” Robert Mathu, executive director of the Rwanda’s Capital Market Authority, a government regulatory body for all stock market operations, told IPS.

“The country is looking to boost national growth and create a climate that encourages the involvement of the private sector,” Mathu said.

Rwanda’s economic growth was 4.6 percent in 2013.

“We believe that by having strong partners in the private sector, we will reduce poverty and agriculture…also it can contribute to the economic growth at the same time,” Rwandan Minister of Finance and Economic Planning Claver Gatete told IPS.

Atul Ajela, the general manager of Dodoma, a new mattress manufacturer that invested in Rwanda two years ago, believes that 20 years after the genocide, Rwanda is now a safe, and the best, place to start a business.

“Rwanda has a clear business environment which is providing incentives and facilities that is making our job easy to cover other neighbouring countries,” Ajela told IPS.

Remains of some of the over 800,000 victims of Rwanda’s genocide. Credit: Edwin Musoni/IPS

Remains of some of the over 800,000 victims of Rwanda’s genocide. Credit: Edwin Musoni/IPS

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Côte d’Ivoire’s Middle Class – Growing or Disappearing? http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/cote-divoires-middle-class-growing-disappearing/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cote-divoires-middle-class-growing-disappearing http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/cote-divoires-middle-class-growing-disappearing/#comments Thu, 27 Mar 2014 08:31:59 +0000 Marc-Andre Boisvert http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133246 “I’m middle class. Definitively,” Sonia Anoh, a young and independent 30-year-old Ivorian tells IPS. Anoh has a master’s degree, earns 1,470 dollars a month working in marketing, lives alone, owns a car and is now shopping for a home.  But while Anoh freely talks about her economic status, not many others brag so easily about […]

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A shopping mall in Côte d’Ivoire. While malls like this appeal to the upper middle class and the upper classes, several supermarkets and stores are  beginning to targeting the middle class. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

A shopping mall in Côte d’Ivoire. While malls like this appeal to the upper middle class and the upper classes, several supermarkets and stores are beginning to targeting the middle class. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

By Marc-Andre Boisvert
ABIDJAN, Mar 27 2014 (IPS)

“I’m middle class. Definitively,” Sonia Anoh, a young and independent 30-year-old Ivorian tells IPS. Anoh has a master’s degree, earns 1,470 dollars a month working in marketing, lives alone, owns a car and is now shopping for a home. 

But while Anoh freely talks about her economic status, not many others brag so easily about being middle class in this West African nation.

Defining the African “middle class” is a challenge. For the World Bank, it comprises everyone who earns between two and 20 dollars per day. It’s a range that is far too broad and while the African Development Bank uses the same income range, it emphasises the need to subdivide the middle class into two.The middle class here has become a more diverse, complex grouping that is not necessarily just comprised of civil servants anymore.

The upper middle class, by this definition, earns between 10 and 20 dollars a day, and a vulnerable lower class is one that earns between two and four dollars a day. The latter are just marginally above the poverty line of 1.5 dollars a day and can easily slip back into it.

Côte d’Ivoire used to have the strongest middle class in West Africa until it was seriously hit by the post-1980 economic meltdown and the recent post-electoral political crisis from 2010 to 2011. More than 3,000 people died in the violence that followed former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo’s refusal to concede victory to current President Allassane Ouattara. Now the Ivorian middle class represents over two million of this country’s 23 million inhabitants, according to government figures.

While Côte d’Ivoire’s middle class may have shrunk, there are signs that this economic group appears to be slowly starting to increase. But its expansion remains limited by two decades of economic problems and conflict.

According to the Moscow-based Institute for Emerging Market Studies, the African middle class will rise three times from 32 million in 2009 to 107 million by 2030 — the largest increase in the world. And with the World Bank predicting that Côte d’Ivoire’s economy will grow at a rate of 8.2 percent for 2014, there is hope that this boom will lift many more of the country’s people out of poverty.

Growing or disappearing?

“Building a strong middle class was an important preoccupation for former president Félix Houphouet-Boigny (1905-1993),” Professor Marcel Benie Kouadio, economist and dean at the Abidjan Private University Faculty tells IPS.

“At the time, [middle class] meant mostly civil servants, doctors, magistrates and other liberal workers.

“Houphouet-Boigny [implemented] several policies to transform a middle class dependent on the state into an entrepreneur class. The state fostered the middle class to invest in cocoa or palm oil plantations as a way to build a middle class that would also be able to produce goods.”

The Felix Houphouet-Boigny stadium and the surrounding buildings in downtown Abidjan were built during his presidency when Côte d’Ivoire was a West African economic miracle that favoured the emergence of a middle class. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPSlaudine Umuhoza a survivor of Rwanda’s genocide believes that the country has a positive and united future. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

The Felix Houphouet-Boigny stadium and the surrounding buildings in downtown Abidjan were built during his presidency when Côte d’Ivoire was a West African economic miracle that favoured the emergence of a middle class. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

Jean Coffie is a retired civil servant and an example of what Houphouet-Boigny dreamt of for the middle class. He is an entrepreneur who lives off his investments.

“My pension is not enough to live on. But I invested in hevea [rubber trees]. Income is random but I still earn more with that than from my government pension,” he tells IPS.

With this extra money, he is helping pay for his grandson’s studies in France. But Coffie is quick to point out that life for a middle class Ivorian is not what it used to be.

“At the time [during Houphouet-Boigny’s presidency], we had a lot of support to develop ourselves. University [education] and health care were more accessible. We might still be middle class but we lost all our privileges.”

Benie Kouadio agrees.

“The middle class has shrunk. Twenty years ago, teachers and doctors were middle class. Now, they can’t afford a new car. The Ivorian middle class lost its purchase power.”

A consumer class 

Purchase power is a key word. Accountants differ with economists in their understanding of the middle class; rather than analysing income, they look at disposable revenue.

Being middle class is about hitting a “sweet spot”, where people are able to spend money for things other than survival, says a report from accounting firm Ernst & Young.

Marcel Anné is the managing director of the supermarket chain Jour de Marché, which is situated in downtown Abidjan, the country’s economic capital. He has a good view of the emerging consumer class.

“Actually, this supermarket is less crowded than it used to be but this is more about changing consumer habits. This used to be [a] central [spot] for the middle class. Civil servants would buy things here and then go home,” he tells IPS.

The middle class here has become a more diverse, complex grouping that is not necessarily just comprised of civil servants anymore. The privatisation of companies, the need for qualified labour work in IT and on the new oil and gas fields have diversified this economic grouping.

So now Jour de Marché has opened “more, smaller supermarkets where the middle class live.”

And around Abidjan, the housing boom too suggests that there is a rising middle class.

Riviera Palmeraie, a former plantation where palm oil trees were cut down to make space for several small bungalows, has been one of the first major housing developments in Abidjan based on affordable units.

And now similar developments are slowly spreading across the city and beyond.

Ousmane Bah is the director of Alliance Cote d’Ivoire, one of the companies building middle class housing. His company will build the Akwaba Residence, one of many housing developments being constructed along Abidjan’s outskirts. Prices for homes start at 21,000 dollars for a two-room home and 36,100 dollars for four rooms.

“It targets mostly the young professionals starting up in life, as well as civil servants,” he tells IPS.

His project, like several others, is supported by the government and is part of an initiative to boost social housing for the middle class.

The government targets households with a revenue of less than 840 dollars per month. Buyers only need to provide a 10 percent cash deposit, and then benefit from a government-backed loan with low interest rates of 5.5 percent.

It addresses a difficult problem that seriously limits the growth of the Ivorian middle class: lack of credit.

“People are not used to buying flats here. They rent. Credit institutions are not used to provide housing loans. This is a big issue. We cannot simply build and expect people to buy,” says Bah.

Mohamed Diabaté is the first to agree.

“This is ridiculous. I wanted to get a credit for my house. It was easier to get credit to buy a goat for a Muslim holiday than having a real sustainable project. They did not even look at my file,” the 40-year-old IT specialist tells IPS.

He says even though he has a “comfortable revenue” and a steady job for 12 years, he could not obtain a home loan.

Benie Kouadio points out that “this is a clear limitation to the growth of the middle class. The middle class has no access to credit. Banks do not give loans for housing or cars any more.”

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Ethiopia’s Textile Manufacturers Benefit from Global Interest http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/ethiopias-textile-manufacturers-benefit-global-winds-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ethiopias-textile-manufacturers-benefit-global-winds-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/ethiopias-textile-manufacturers-benefit-global-winds-change/#comments Wed, 26 Mar 2014 17:07:42 +0000 James Jeffrey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133230 The sign for Salem’s directs you off a busy road in Addis Ababa, down a side street to a compound where multiple pairs of feet move up and down working treadles, and wooden shuttles flit back and forth, as Ethiopian sheumanoch — weavers — ply their trade. Seated at their looms, most appear to be making scarfs, […]

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Samson Sesete weaves a small bag at his loom in Salem’s, a small-scale Ethiopian manufacturer of scarves and bags. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Samson Sesete weaves a small bag at his loom in Salem’s, a small-scale Ethiopian manufacturer of scarves and bags. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

By James Jeffrey
ADDIS ABABA, Mar 26 2014 (IPS)

The sign for Salem’s directs you off a busy road in Addis Ababa, down a side street to a compound where multiple pairs of feet move up and down working treadles, and wooden shuttles flit back and forth, as Ethiopian sheumanoch — weavers — ply their trade.

Seated at their looms, most appear to be making scarfs, the majority of which are sold on site in a colourful shop. But a small number of scarfs are destined for shores and stores far away from Ethiopia. Ethiopia currently has 60 garment factories and 15 textile mills in operation, as the country tries to position itself as the next source country for the world’s clothing industry.

Currently, increased international interest in Ethiopia’s centuries-old textile industry is seeing some of the world’s biggest companies investing in it.

At the same time this interest is affording small-scale business like Salem’s, which employs 14 weavers, a chance to grow.

“It is a time of change, absolutely,” Salem Kassahun, the owner, tells IPS. “Now we make what our grandmothers wore but also what our daughters will wear and what the wider world wants.”

Last week she exported 700 scarfs to London-based Rose & Rose, which sells designer scarves and accessories. It was only the second shipment, but she hopes it will become a regular order.

Five years ago, there was little interest in Ethiopia’s textiles, Salem says, but during the last three years queries from overseas have increased steadily.

Larger domestic manufacturers appear to share her optimism.

More buyers are being attracted as a result of increased international attention, Fassil Tadese, chief executive of MAA Garment and Textiles Factory, tells IPS.

The MAA Garment and Textiles Factory, which is based outside Mekele, a city in northern Ethiopia, employs 1,500 workers, of which nearly 90 percent are women, and exports knitted garments to Europe and U.S.

Also, Fassil points out, manufacturers of auxiliary accessories and dyestuffs are coming, which is helping improve the local supply chain and access to materials.

Trends and events on the global stage have impacted where large international textile manufacturers set up shop. 

The collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh last April, which killed more than 1,100 people, drew worldwide attention to the poor conditions of many Asian factories.

At the same time, production costs in Asia are increasing, with salary increases easily outstripping inflation.

And election-related violence in recent months has disrupted Bangladesh’s clothing industry, the second-biggest after China. In addition, strikes by garment workers in Cambodia, another major supplier, have increased pressure on global firms.

Tesco, the world’s third-largest retailer, recently announced it expects to source more clothes from Ethiopia.

Hennes & Mauritz, popularly known as H&M, the world’s second-biggest fashion retailer, also said it sees good opportunities for producing clothing in Ethiopia and across sub-Saharan Africa.

Ethiopia currently has 60 garment factories and 15 textile mills in operation, as the country tries to position itself as the next source country for the world’s clothing industry, according to Tadesse Haile, state minister for Industry.

Ethiopia’s new role as an awakening textile giant is helped by an abundance of cotton — millions of hectares suitable for growing cotton remain untapped — and labour, thanks to a population of about 90 million, with a large proportion under the age of 30.

That this influx of foreign companies might squeeze out local manufacturers is not a concern, Fassil says. The massive textile market means there is plenty of room.

Also, he says, competition spurs efficiency and technological upgrades: “Hence we welcome investments from all over the world.”

So as international companies try diversifying from relying on Asian sourcing — H&M is one of the biggest buyers of garments from Bangladesh — Ethiopia increasingly appears to be a beneficiary.

Tesco predicts that by 2014 and 2015 it will export about 1.5 to two million dollars of products from Ethiopia, increasing to about 11 million dollars by 2016 and 2017.

At the same time, foreign companies are particularly sensitive about the need for regulated growth and ethically sound practices, so that mistakes made elsewhere in the world are not repeated.

“It really matters to us that clothes are produced in good conditions and everyone involved is treated decently,” Giles Bolton, the ethical trading director at Tesco, tells IPS.

Hence the company is engaging closely with the Ethiopian government and local business to ensure the long-term development of a well-regulated, ethical clothing industry, he adds.

An advantage in Ethiopia is many suppliers have worker unions which ensure effective dialogue between workers and employers, Anna Eriksson, a spokesperson for H&M, tells IPS.

At Salem’s the weavers appear content working away in the smart and breezy compound. But like most employees, they have concerns.

Weaving is a difficult and physically demanding job, Samson Sesete, who has been a weaver for seven years, tells IPS.

And they are paid per item, which means incomes vary, 21-year-old Teshome Onke, who began weaving at 14 in southern Ethiopia, tells IPS.

Fast weavers can earn about 2,000 birr (110 dollars) per month, he says, though their slower companions average closer to 1,500 birr (81 dollars).

And being paid for an item that is then sold for at least twice the cost appears a source of frustration.

Salem says she discusses wages with the weavers, acknowledging how they always want to be paid more.

“But then I wouldn’t be able to sell anything,” she points out.

A 25 percent mark up in price covers overheads, Salem says. A further 65 percent is the maximum profit margin that could be added, and 30 percent of this goes to the government in taxes.

Another challenge for a small business like hers is access to capital. Banks want to see collateral — colourful designs and ideas are not sufficient — and currently she doesn’t have enough.

Across the road Salem has a second compound where she wants to employ dozens more weavers to grow the business.

But currently it’s still too early to commit to expansion.

“Although we are getting plenty of interest, I’m waiting to see whether questions turn into orders,” Salem says.

And even if those orders come, she acknowledges that it will be hard work within the highly-competitive international market where order quotas must be delivered on time, every time.

“You have to strive for perfection,” Salem says. “All of us need to adapt our mindsets for the international market.”

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OP-ED: Protect Elephants and Gorillas to Sustain Our Forests http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/op-ed-protect-elephants-gorillas-sustain-forests/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=op-ed-protect-elephants-gorillas-sustain-forests http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/op-ed-protect-elephants-gorillas-sustain-forests/#comments Thu, 20 Mar 2014 08:56:07 +0000 Dr. Bradnee Chambers http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133102 With Mar. 21 designated by the United Nations as the “International Day of Forests and the Tree”, Bradnee Chambers, the executive secretary of the U.N. Environment Programme Convention on Migratory Species, explains why he sees forest and species conservation as two sides of the same coin.

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Forest elephants have been described by conservationists as gardeners of the forest. Credit: Richard Ruggiero/USFWS/CC by 2.0

Forest elephants have been described by conservationists as gardeners of the forest. Credit: Richard Ruggiero/USFWS/CC by 2.0

By Bradnee Chambers
BONN, Mar 20 2014 (IPS)

Of the endangered species listed for protection under the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) a great many are forest dwellers – West African elephants, gorillas, bats and many birds.  

And it is not simply a case of the animals depending on the forest for food and suitable habitat to breed and raise their young — the forest often depends on the animals too.

Conservationist and CMS ambassador Ian Redmond describes elephants and gorillas as “gardeners of the forest”. Elephants provide an invaluable service by uprooting trees, thereby making holes on the jungle canopy which allows light to reach plants closer to the ground and encourages their growth.Forest ecosystems, the most biodiverse of all terrestrial habitats, are often very finely balanced.

Gorillas eat fruit and the seeds pass through their digestive tract to be deposited as fertiliser. Tropical fruit bats also play an important role in the pollination of plants.

Forest ecosystems, the most biodiverse of all terrestrial habitats, are often very finely balanced. The more diverse, the more robust they are and the better they are at doing what we want – and need them – to do.

While usually many species perform the same function, the removal of a top predator, pollinator or seed disperser can set off a chain reaction, with far-reaching consequences.

A reduction in the forest’s resilience, increasing the likelihood of further species loss, can impinge on its ability to provide the ecosystem services, such as water purification and the production of oxygen upon which human well-being depends. The livelihoods of as much as a fifth of the world’s population are directly linked to forests, which also provide a home for 300 million people.

The presence (or absence) of an animal as significant as elephants can have huge effects on the character of the habitat, as has been demonstrated by comparing two similar forest landscapes in Uganda.

Douglas Sheil and Agus Salim Center for International Forestry Research, Jakarta, Indonesia found in 2004 that the patterns of succession and regeneration in Budungo forest, which has no elephants, are totally different from those in Rabongo forest. Both forests are in Uganda where there exists a large elephant population.

It has been estimated that approaching one sixth of all greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to deforestation and forest degradation.  

A similar proportion of human-generated carbon dioxide can be removed from the atmosphere by forests acting as “carbon sinks” through sequestration. Tropical forests also help to cool the planet as large quantities of water evaporate forming clouds that reflect sunlight away from the surface.

Dr. Bradnee Chambers says many endangered migratory species cannot do without forests; and the forests need the migratory species. Courtesy: Francisco Rilla / CMS

Dr. Bradnee Chambers says many endangered migratory species cannot do without forests; and the forests need the migratory species. Courtesy: Francisco Rilla / CMS

Eco-tourism is a booming business worth billions of dollars a year and wildlife watching forms a significant part of the sector. Sensitively managed, all players reap the benefits – the tourist gets the “close to nature” experience, employment opportunities are created in the local economy and the animals are seen as a valuable asset, not as an irrelevance, nuisance or a threat and therefore worth protecting.

Visitors are prepared to pay fees of 750 dollars to see the mountain gorillas of the Virunga National Park in Rwanda, where 10 groups of the reclusive animals have now been habituated to human visits. The visits are conducted under strict conditions: no more than eight tourists at any time; no noise; no approaching the animals; no litter; and, given the gorillas’ susceptibility to human diseases, no participants who are visibly ill.

During the 1990s the mountain gorilla numbers rose by 17 percent, with the greatest increase amongst those groups habituated to tourists and researchers. Without gorilla watching and the associated conservation efforts it is probable that the mountain gorilla subspecies would not have survived.

Instead it is estimated that today there might now be as many as 1,000 Mountain gorillas – still too few for the International Union for Conservation of Nature to regard them as anything more secure than critically endangered. The outlook is less rosy for the more numerous lowland gorilla subspecies, which are seeing their habitat destroyed by logging and conversion to agriculture and which are hunted for bushmeat, with some of the traumatised, orphaned young ending up in the exotic pet trade.

The baby animals certainly look appealing and generally gorillas are characterised by their gentle demeanour, but they do not stay young and cute for long. They are totally unsuited for domestication with a two-metre adult male weighing in at over 200 kgs.

Many endangered migratory species cannot do without forests; and the forests need the migratory species.

Humans need both as they contribute to a healthy environment, a benign climate, a sustainable economy and to a shared natural heritage that enriches our live in ways that cannot be expressed in monetary terms.

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Ghana’s Small Women’s Savings Groups Have Big Impact http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/ghanas-small-womens-savings-groups-big-impact/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ghanas-small-womens-savings-groups-big-impact http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/ghanas-small-womens-savings-groups-big-impact/#comments Fri, 28 Feb 2014 09:22:23 +0000 Albert Oppong-Ansah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132257 Dunwaa Soayare, 45, a smallholder farmer, widow and mother of five had the sort of economic profile that meant she was denied access to credit from Ghana’s mainstream banking institutions. She had no collateral, no bank account and found it impossible to provide three meals a day for her children, let alone ensure that they […]

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Dunwaa Soayare, 45, shows her savings book that tracks her weekly contributions to the Asong-taaba Women’s Group, a cooperative in Denugu, Upper East Region, northern Ghana. Credit: Albert Oppong-Ansah/IPS

Dunwaa Soayare, 45, shows her savings book that tracks her weekly contributions to the Asong-taaba Women’s Group, a cooperative in Denugu, Upper East Region, northern Ghana. Credit: Albert Oppong-Ansah/IPS

By Albert Oppong-Ansah
DENUGU, Ghana, Feb 28 2014 (IPS)

Dunwaa Soayare, 45, a smallholder farmer, widow and mother of five had the sort of economic profile that meant she was denied access to credit from Ghana’s mainstream banking institutions.

She had no collateral, no bank account and found it impossible to provide three meals a day for her children, let alone ensure that they stayed in school.

But after joining the Asong-taaba Women’s Group, a cooperative in Denugu, Upper East Region, northern Ghana, her life has changed dramatically. Not only has she been able to provide for her family by moving them from their mud hut into the brick house she built, she’s also been able to provide tertiary education for children and has seen two of them qualify as teachers.  “This is a small project with a big impact…even though we are poor we can save." -- Solomon Atinga, programme manager of the Presbyterian Agricultural Station at Garu Tempane

“Aside from taking care of my children’s education I have expanded my farming from half a hectare to two hectares. I now cultivate one hectare of maize, half a hectare of millet as well as half a hectare of groundnut,” she told IPS.

Soayare explained that from one hectare of land she harvests 15  bags of 84 kilograms each, which she sells for 70,000 Ghana Cedis (380 dollars) – a huge sum.

The group, which started in 2008, raised 5,000 dollars at the end of 2013 from the weekly contribution of its 25 members – almost all smallholder farmers and the breadwinners in their families.

Every Monday, the women meet under a shea tree and pay their contributions of between 50 cents to five dollars. They are allowed to apply for a loan, which many use to fund alternative businesses if their crops fail.

For Soayare it’s meant that she and her family are no longer vulnerable during the lean season. In Upper East Region the rainy season usually starts in May and ends in October. However, changes in the weather pattern now mean that the rains fall much later.

So when the rains don’t come, instead of suffering through a crop failure, Soayare borrows money from the group and makes soap and buys vegetables for resale.

“I don’t know what I would have done without this savings initiative,” Soayare said.

But Asong-taaba is one of 500 groups in the district that involve almost 12,000 people, mostly women, scattered across the Garu Tempane district in Upper East Region. These cooperatives were started under a Care International project called Enhanced Savings and Credit Association for Poverty Eradication.

Soayare and these thousands of women are living better lives thanks to the savings cooperatives.

A Ghana Statistics Services 2011 survey shows that 31 percent of households in Ghana are headed by women. Regional director of the National Population Council, Zangbalum-Bomahe Amadu, said that due to polygamous practices in northern Ghana some men refuse to take care of their children, often leaving the burden to the women.

“The situation becomes bad if the man dies…most women, who are mostly illiterate in the rural areas strive to take care of almost all the needs of their children,” he told IPS.

Musah Abubakari, deputy coordinating director of Garu Tempane district, told IPS that the cooperatives have helped reduce poverty among many families in the area.

“Most of them are engaged in different forms of economic activities. Many of them are concerned about the education of their children, so school enrolment has also increased in the last three years,” he said.

Collins Kyei Boafoh, an outreach specialist at the Agricultural Cooperative Development International/Volunteers in Overseas Cooperative Assistance (ACDI/VOCA), told IPS that the village savings and loans concept played a critical role in the livelihoods of women and was also a climate change adaptation measure.

“It is an open secret that for the past five years the savannah belt of Ghana, consisting of Northern, Upper East and Upper West regions, continue to experience low rains and long drought periods. This is not supportive of farming, which employs about 80 percent of people in the region,” he explained.

Boafoh said the women’s cooperatives are now using their funds to venture into other activities like petty trading to supplement their incomes.

“After the short farming periods, the women gather their monies in the form of community savings and offer themselves petty loans for trading, aggregation and processing. This gives them a sustained income and job security,” he said.

Boafoh suggested that the initiative must be adopted, modernised and expanded by the government as a poverty-reduction initiative in the four poorest regions in the country namely Northern, Upper East, Upper West and Central Regions.

Solomon Atinga is programme manager of the Presbyterian Agricultural Station at Garu Tempane – another Care International cooperative.

He said the initiative, which extends to about 100 communities in the district, has had a positive impact on the lives of women here. They are able to take care of their children and support their extended family members.

“In fact the living standard of the women and their families has improved tremendously,” he added.

“This is a small project with a big impact…even though we are poor, we can save. The least amount a group usually raises at the end of the year is 2,000 dollars,” he said.

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Chagos Islanders ‘Will Not Give Up’ Fight to Return Home http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/chagos-islanders-will-give-fight-return-home/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=chagos-islanders-will-give-fight-return-home http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/chagos-islanders-will-give-fight-return-home/#comments Thu, 20 Feb 2014 10:03:07 +0000 Nasseem Ackbarally http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131810 “The Marine Protected Area (MPA) created around the Chagos archipelago is a new obstacle that the British government has placed in our path to prevent us from going back to our homeland,” claims Olivier Bancoult, leader of the Chagos Refugees Group (CRG). For the past 40 years, the Chagossians have been fighting to return to […]

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The Chagossians pictured here when they visited the archipelago in 2006. Many are still fighting to return to the islands they were evicted from almost 40 years ago. Courtesy: Chagos Refugees Group (CRG).

The Chagossians pictured here when they visited the archipelago in 2006. Many are still fighting to return to the islands they were evicted from almost 40 years ago. Courtesy: Chagos Refugees Group (CRG).

By Nasseem Ackbarally
PORT LOUIS, Feb 20 2014 (IPS)

“The Marine Protected Area (MPA) created around the Chagos archipelago is a new obstacle that the British government has placed in our path to prevent us from going back to our homeland,” claims Olivier Bancoult, leader of the Chagos Refugees Group (CRG).

For the past 40 years, the Chagossians have been fighting to return to their home in Chagos archipelago, a set of 55 islets situated 1,200 km north of the Indian Ocean Island of Mauritius.

They lived there for five generations until the early 1970s when the archipelago was excised from Mauritius by the United Kingdom. The Chagossians were evicted and the archipelago now forms part of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT).

How the Chagossians lost their archipelago

The U.K., which was the colonial power in the region at the time, granted Mauritius independence in 1968, but kept control of the archipelago and evicted the Chagossians.

An island, Diego Garcia, on the archipelago was leased to the United States for 50 years as a military base.

The lease agreement between the U.K. and U.S. ends in 2016, however, it comes up for negotiation this year.
 However, the Chagossians feel that the 2010 creation of the MPA, which does not allow for human settlement on the Chagos archipelago or travel there unless one is in possession of a permit from the U.K. government, prevents their resettlement.

“We’ll not give up,” Bancoult tells IPS as he prepares for a new legal battle against the British government, which will be heard by the High Court of Justice in London on Mar. 30.

Bancoult was four when he and his mother, Rita, came to Mauritius. In 1983 he created the CRG to defend the rights of his community and over the years the organisation has staged numerous public demonstrations and hunger strikes.

The MPA covers almost 545,000 square kilometres and aims to protect the natural resources of the Chagos archipelago by implementing strict controls over fishing, habitation, damage to the environment and the killing, harming and collecting of animals.

The U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) designated the archipelago as an area that needs to be preserved “on the basis that the archipelago is one of the most precious, unpolluted, tropical ocean environments left on earth.”

A map of the Chagos archipelago which shows the proposed Marine Protected Area. Courtesy: Nasseem Ackbarally

A map of the Chagos archipelago which shows the proposed Marine Protected Area. Courtesy: Nasseem Ackbarally

Following a feasibility study in 2002, the FCO concluded that resettlement on the Chagos archipelago was unfeasible due to the islands’ low elevation and “the islands are already subject to regular overtopping events, flooding and erosion of the outer beaches.” It also said that “as global warming develops, these events are likely to increase in severity and regularity.”

However, scientists Richard Dunne and Barbara Brown, who have been working on coral reefs in the Indian Ocean for several decades, do not agree.

Dunne tells IPS that the British government has been presenting these findings to Parliament, court and the public for the last 10 years as an argument against the resettlement of the Chagossians back in their homeland.

“We now know that the feasibility study was scientifically flawed and that little reliance can be placed upon its conclusions,” he says, adding that this may be partly the reason why the FCO is undertaking a new feasibility study this year.

“The Chagos are low-lying coral islands with a mean elevation above sea-level of only about two metres. As a consequence, they are like the Maldives to the north — very susceptible to changes in mean sea-level, storms, erosion and flooding,” he says.

But Dunne sees no reason why the Chagossians cannot return to the archipelago.

“The Chagossians have lived on these islands for nearly two centuries, and on the scientific evidence that we have today, there is no reason that they should not continue there for at least the foreseeable future, by which I mean the next four or five decades.”

Bancoult believes his people can live in such an environment.

“How come Europeans, Americans and other wealthy people from elsewhere are staying for months on Diego Garcia, Peros Banhos and Solomon Islands which are part of archipelago, while Chagossians cannot live there?” he asks.

Simon Hughes, secretary of the Chagos Conservation Trust (CCT), an organisation that has been working to conserve the biodiversity and marine ecosystem of the Chagos archipelago for the last 20 years, denies the MPA was designed to keep Chagossians from returning.

“The MPA is only three years old. Neither would the MPA be a very effective tool for this purpose. Its framework can be revised to accommodate a local population if there is one in future,” he tells IPS.

“Since under the law of BIOT there is no right of abode in the territory and all visitors need a permit, the creation of a marine protected area has no direct immediate impact on the Chagossian community,” Hughes adds.

The CCT also argues that sea level rise and erosion continue to be a problem for the islands.

According to the CCT, the benefits of an MPA around the Chagos are manyfold. It says the absence of a settled human population, the strict environmental regime and the minimal footprint of the military base on Diego Garcia have enabled a high level of environmental preservation to have occurred.

“The islands, reef systems and waters around the Chagos in terms of preservation and biodiversity are among the richest on the planet and they contain about half of all the reefs of the Indian Ocean which remain in good condition,” Hughes explains.

British lawyer and lead counsel for the Chagossians, Richard Gifford, tells IPS that the Chagos is a magnificent place to live but “obviously, there are problems to address in restoring the infrastructure, the economy, the housing and the transport but the prospects are extremely positive.”

Most of the original 1,500 Chagossians have passed away. Currently, the remaining 682 are determined speak out about the MPA.

“We are working on our own resettlement plan that we will submit to the three governments involved — Mauritius, the U.K. and the U.S. — later this year,” Bancoult says.

Olivier Bancoult, leader of the Chagos Refugees Group (CRG), feel that the 2010 creation of a Marine Protected Area (MPA) created around the Chagos archipelago, prevents the resettlement of the Chagossians. Credit: Nasseem Ackbarally/IPS

Olivier Bancoult, leader of the Chagos Refugees Group (CRG), feel that the 2010 creation of a Marine Protected Area (MPA) created around the Chagos archipelago, prevents the resettlement of the Chagossians. Credit: Nasseem Ackbarally/IPS

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Iron Hell in Brazil’s Amazon Region http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/steel-industry-creates-havoc-brazils-amazon-region/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=steel-industry-creates-havoc-brazils-amazon-region http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/steel-industry-creates-havoc-brazils-amazon-region/#comments Mon, 10 Feb 2014 15:08:57 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131346 “My nephew was eight years old when he stepped in the ‘munha’ [charcoal dust] and burned his legs up to the knees,” said Angelita Alves de Oliveira from a corner of Brazil’s Amazonia that has become a deadly hazard for local people. Treatment in faraway hospitals did not save the boy’s life, because “his blood […]

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Florencio de Souza Bezerra points with his foot to a mound of dangerously inflammable charcoal dust on a roadside in Piquiá de Baixo. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Florencio de Souza Bezerra points with his foot to a mound of dangerously inflammable charcoal dust on a roadside in Piquiá de Baixo. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
PIQUIÁ DE BAIXO, Brazil, Feb 10 2014 (IPS)

“My nephew was eight years old when he stepped in the ‘munha’ [charcoal dust] and burned his legs up to the knees,” said Angelita Alves de Oliveira from a corner of Brazil’s Amazonia that has become a deadly hazard for local people.

Treatment in faraway hospitals did not save the boy’s life, because “his blood had become toxic, the doctor said,” said Oliveira, 61, who has been working as a teacher for the last 30 years. “My sister was never the same after she lost her youngest child.”

Oliveira’s own husband suffered from similar burns, as the scars on his legs show."An examination a year ago showed shadows on my lungs, and the doctor accused me of being a long-time smoker, but I have never touched a cigarette.” -- Angelita Alves de Oliveira

“Munha” is pulverised charcoal waste left over from the production of pig-iron, an intermediate in steel production. It has made the village of Piquiá de Baixo, in the Brazil’s eastern Amazon region, a tragic case study in industrial pollution.

Piquiá is a rural village in Açailandia municipality in the state of Maranhão, which grew out of workers’ camps set up in 1958 to build the Belém-Brasilia highway, a major axis of development and integration in the centre-north of Brazil, which was responsible for several environmental and social disasters.

The railway that opened in 1985 to transport iron ore from the huge mining province of Carajás sealed the fate of Açailandia as a logistics crossroads and steel industry hub. Piquiá de Baizo was hemmed in by five pig-iron plants, the railway and large mining storehouses.

Making charcoal to feed the steel furnaces was added to traditional cattle ranching, and transformed Açailandia into a focal point for deforestation and slave labour.

These blights have receded in the face of state persecution and various pressures. But pollution in Piquiá has worsened, according to the testimonies of people interviewed by IPS.

Pulverised charcoal waste is still a menace. Dryness makes it inflammable at the lightest touch. This is what cost Oliveira’s nephew his life in 1993, when few people knew how lethal the black dust was.

A family smiles for the camera from the shade of a tree. The highway separates them from the pig-iron plants that are making like impossible in their neighbourhood. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A family smiles for the camera from the shade of a tree. The highway separates them from the pig-iron plants that are making like impossible in their neighbourhood. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

People took heed and accidents have become less frequent, but they have not been eradicated. A child of seven was burned to the waist in 1999 and died three weeks later.

“I have seen cows incinerated,” said Florencio de Souza Bezerra, who used to be a small-scale farmer and is now an active member of the Piquiá Residents Community Association. He has lived in Piquiá for 10 years with his nine children and two grandchildren, in a big wooden house with a large yard.

Mounds of munha can be seen in the streets where the steel plant trucks pass, and in at least one unroofed materials storehouse that IPS was able to enter unrestricted.

But the most frequent complaint of local people is the air pollution. “Just over a year ago a girl died from iron dust in her lungs and cancer, after 15 days in intensive care,” said Bezerra.

In the village square, he points out the houses where residents have died of respiratory illnesses.

Oliveira said “an examination a year ago showed shadows on my lungs, and the doctor accused me of being a long-time smoker, but I have never touched a cigarette.” She wants to “give life and hope” to her grandchildren, who live here “exposed to pollution 24 hours a day.”

“I have lived a long time, but my grandchildren haven’t,” said Oliveira. Her house is next to the Gusa Nordeste plant, one of the five industrial units that produce pig-iron.

The situation worsened “two years ago,” she said, when the company started producing cement. Now it spreads clouds of black dust that cover everything in seconds and, some mornings, make her house invisible from the main road, only 30 metres away.

For the company this has spelled progress, as they can use blast furnace slag as an input for cement production, avoiding bulky waste and providing the local construction market with a product that formerly had to be hauled in from a long way away.

Gusa Nordeste proclaims that it is being responsible for the environment because it uses munha as a fuel, saving granulated charcoal, and utilises gas derived from pig-iron production to generate all its electrical energy needs.

But the truth, recognised by the justice system, several authorities and the industry itself, is that air, water and soil pollution have made it impossible for the people of Piquiá de Baixo to continue to live where they have been for over four decades.

A proposal to resettle the 312 families living in Piquiá de Baixo on 38 hectares of land six kilometres from its present location has been approved by the justice system and the municipal council.

In December, justice authorities ordered the expropriation of the land and valued it at the equivalent of 450,000 dollars, but the owner is demanding four times that sum, so the residents of Piquiá are still waiting.

The community has come up with its own urban project, including the designs for the houses, the school, the square, shops and churches, said Antonio Soffientini, a member of Justice on the Rails, a network of dozens of organisations supporting those affected by the Carajás mining region.

Eroded street and dilapidated houses in Piquiá de Baixo. Residents have long waited for relocation on land expropriated by the justice system. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Eroded street and dilapidated houses in Piquiá de Baixo. Residents have long waited for relocation on land expropriated by the justice system. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

In the mountain range of Serra dos Carajás, the giant mining company Vale extracts close to 110 million tonnes of iron ore a year. The ore is transported by rail 892 kilometres to the port of Ponta da Madeira in São Luis, the capital of Maranhão, to be exported.

A small proportion of the iron ore remains in Açailandia. As the supplier to the local pig-iron industry, Vale has direct responsibility for the pollution, according to Justice on the Rails.

“Vale could stop supplying ore until the industry instals filters and puts an end to the dreadful situation in Piquiá,” said Soffientini, an Italian member of the Catholic order of Comboni missionaries.

That would create an unemployment crisis in Açailandia, said Zenaldo Oliveira, Vale’s global director of logistics operations.

This steelmaking hub has already experienced a decline in activity since 2008. The 6,000 jobs it provided then have fallen to 3,500 today, according to Jarles Adelino, the president of the Açailandia metalworkers union.

The union leader complained of the high price charged by Vale for its iron ore, which amounts to half the cost of pig-iron production.

However, the declining activity is not apparent in the city of Açailandia, with its hotels filled to capacity and other signs of prosperity. Several plants in the surrounding area offer temporary work, said Adelino, and each position at a pig-iron plant generates 10 indirect jobs.

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

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Carbon-Neutral Costa Rica: A Climate Change Mirage? http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/carbon-neutral-costa-rica-climate-change-mirage/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=carbon-neutral-costa-rica-climate-change-mirage http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/carbon-neutral-costa-rica-climate-change-mirage/#comments Wed, 05 Feb 2014 06:50:05 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131203 Meeting Costa Rica’s self-imposed goal of being the first country in the world to achieve carbon neutrality by 2021 will depend on the priority given this aim by the winner of the second round of the presidential elections in April. To be carbon neutral means removing as much carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere as […]

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Cloud forest in Costa Rica. Credit: Germán Miranda/IPS

Cloud forest in Costa Rica. Credit: Germán Miranda/IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSÉ, Feb 5 2014 (IPS)

Meeting Costa Rica’s self-imposed goal of being the first country in the world to achieve carbon neutrality by 2021 will depend on the priority given this aim by the winner of the second round of the presidential elections in April.

To be carbon neutral means removing as much carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere as is emitted.

But experts are doubtful about the future of the carbon neutrality plan, which was notable by its absence from the election campaign that ended Sunday Feb. 2, when none of the candidates received the 40 percent of votes needed for a first-round win.“According to calculations we performed nine months ago, we will have an excess of 5.2 million tonnes to absorb." -- William Alpízar, head of Climate Change for MINAE

On Apr. 6, over three million voters will choose between Luis Guillermo Solís, of the opposition centre-left Citizen Action Party (PAC), who took 31 percent of the vote, and Johnny Araya of the governing centre-right National Liberation Party (PLN), who received 29 percent, according to provisional official figures.

“Studies show that the 2021 goal is not realistic. We have to take steps towards that target, but realistically we are probably talking about 2025,” Patricia Madrigal, the PAC’s environmental adviser, told IPS.

In her view, carbon neutrality should not be seen as an isolated issue, but as a guiding force for all public policies in future four-year government terms.

In 2007, Costa Rica decided to become the world pioneer in carbon neutrality, and set itself the goal of fixing as much CO2 as it emits by 2021, to commemorate the bicentennial of its independence that year.

Experts and officials consulted by IPS acknowledged that the government that takes office May 8 will face complex challenges in transport, energy, institutional organisation and agriculture in order to meet that deadline.

Besides, they say, links must be developed between the national economy and the struggle to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

“As long as the goal of carbon neutrality remains unrelated to the transport sector, which generates most CO2 emissions, it is just a slogan to raise international funding,” complained Mónica Araya, the head of Clean Costa Rica, an NGO, who was a government negotiator on climate change until mid-2013.

René Castro, the environment and energy (MINAE) minister, told IPS that plans for carbon neutrality have gone forward “75 to 80 percent.” But he also recognised that the transport sector was “notorious” for producing 42 percent of national CO2 emissions.

One priority in the move towards carbon neutrality is reduction of dependence on fossil fuels and modernising the obsolete public transport system, made up of hundreds of bus lines and a recently restored railway, linking the four major cities.

The parties of the two presidential candidates still in the race are proposing an electric railway for the capital city as well as renewing the bus and taxi fleets.

This Central American country with an area of 51,100 sq km and 4.4 million people has its strong points, too, such as a remarkable increase in forest cover, from 21 percent of its territory in 1983 to 52 percent in 2012.

This achievement was due mainly to the state programme of payment for environmental services, a local precursor to the United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (UN-REDD).

However, according to “State of the Nation 2013: Challenges for 2014-2018”, a study commissioned by the National Council of Rectors of public universities, the country’s ecological footprint grew by 43 percent between 2002 and 2012, when CO2 emissions reached 16 million tonnes.

The ecological footprint represents the biologically productive land and sea area necessary to supply the resources a human population consumes, and to absorb its waste products, including CO2.

Both parties with a chance of governing from May onward plan to reform the institutions in charge of environmental management. Currently the environmental authority is the Directorate of Climate Change, part of MINAE.

The PAC wants a supraministerial body to direct climate change action, while the PLN is proposing a national environmental strategy.

Some people within the state apparatus are also urging for renewal of institutional structures, which they say have been eroded by the imbalance between the task they are charged with and their real powers to carry it out.

“The climate change agenda must become a development agenda; it cannot be the exclusive responsibility of MINAE, which is weak and has limited resources,” William Alpízar, head of Climate Change for the ministry, told IPS.

To become carbon neutral, Costa Rica must reduce its CO2 emissions as much as possible and compensate for the remaining emissions by the CO2 absorption capacity of the new forests.

The private sector is participating in the drive through carbon neutrality certification. The Climate Change directorate has already certified eight companies and another four are being processed.

During the Warsaw Climate Change Conference or COP19 in November, Costa Rica presented a proposal for the first CO2 bank, designed to trade carbon credits between CO2-emitting companies and owners of forested lands that act as carbon sinks.

According to official estimates, Costa Rica will emit close to 21 million tonnes of carbon in 2021, and it hopes to compensate for 75 percent of this total by carbon capture in its forests, an amount practically equivalent to its current emissions.

“According to calculations we performed nine months ago, we will have an excess of 5.2 million tonnes to absorb. That is our target for reduction, and it is divided between transport, agriculture and waste,” Alpízar said.

This model has been criticised because the burden of lowering emissions is assigned to local forest cover, without proposing a real change of policy for a form of development that is fully adapted to climate change.

“In the name of carbon neutrality we have set aside everything else we need to do about climate change,” Jorge Polimeni, an environmental auditor with the Ecological Flag Foundation, which advocates a more comprehensive adaptation to the hazards of climate change, told IPS.

The study “Economic Impact of Hydrometeorological Phenomena in Costa Rica”, coordinated by researcher Roberto Flores, reported last year that between 2005 and 2011, climate change effects cost the country 710 million dollars.

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Resistance Over GMOs as South Africa Pushes Biotechnology http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/resistance-gmos-south-africa-pushes-biotechnology/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=resistance-gmos-south-africa-pushes-biotechnology http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/resistance-gmos-south-africa-pushes-biotechnology/#comments Mon, 27 Jan 2014 17:17:43 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=130807 On a family farm tucked between the rolling hills of Masopane, 40 km outside of South Africa’s capital, Pretoria, 35-year-old Sophie Mabhena is dreaming big about her crop of genetically modified (GM) maize. “This is my dream and I know that I am contributing to food security in South Africa,” she told IPS. Debate is […]

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While Sophie Mabhena may be embracing the South African government’s policy to implement biotechnology in farming by growing genetically modified maize, anti-GM experts caution that this does not necessarily lead to food security. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

While Sophie Mabhena may be embracing the South African government’s policy to implement biotechnology in farming by growing genetically modified maize, anti-GM experts caution that this does not necessarily lead to food security. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Busani Bafana
MASOPANE, South Africa, Jan 27 2014 (IPS)

On a family farm tucked between the rolling hills of Masopane, 40 km outside of South Africa’s capital, Pretoria, 35-year-old Sophie Mabhena is dreaming big about her crop of genetically modified (GM) maize.

“This is my dream and I know that I am contributing to food security in South Africa,” she told IPS.

Debate is raging here over the government’s policy to promote the cultivation of GM crops.

This month, South Africa launched a new bio-economy strategy, which the government says will boost public access to food security, better health care, jobs and environmental protection.

The new policy promotes multi-sector partnerships and increased public awareness on the benefits of biotechnology – including the use of GM crops.

Mabhena is growing GM maize on part of her family’s 385-hectare Onverwaght Farm because she says the transgenic maize has saved her 218 dollars a season in dealing with pests and weeds.

“Growing stack maize has reduced my costs in terms of pesticides and labour, but the major benefits are the good yields and income from growing this improved variety of maize,” Mabhena said from Onverwaght Farm where, this season, she expects to harvest up to seven tonnes of maize per hectare.

In-built insect resistance (Bt) maize has been grown in South Africa for the last 15 years, but not without opposition from anti-GM activists.

The benefits of GM maize that Mabhena speaks of are not shared by Haidee Swanby, research and outreach officer at the Africa Centre for Biosafety (ACB), which has been on the forefront of spirited campaigns against GM food in South Africa.

Swanby said that GM technology fits into a concentrated farming system, which requires large volumes based on economies of scale, but does not provide livelihoods or healthy, accessible food for ordinary South Africans.

“We need to take a step back and look at our food system in its entirety and decide what system is equitable, environmentally sound and will provide nutritious food for all,” Swanby told IPS.

“The system in which genetically modified organisms [GMOs] fit can’t do that. Apart from the technological failure – for example, the development of resistant and super weeds – adopting this technology leads to the concentration of power, money, land in the hands of the very few and does not necessarily lead to food security.”

Swanby said it was deeply ironic that controversial research on GM maize by Professor Gilles Eric Seralini from France’s University of Caen was ripped apart by regulators, while approvals to allow GMOs in the South African food system have been based on what she calls “un-peer reviewed science that is very scant on detail.”

A 2012 study by Seralini and his research team linked GM maize to cancer. The study has since been dismissed for failing to meet scientific standards by the European Food Safety Authority, a body responsible for reviewing the use and authorisation of GMOs.

“Very rarely do we see information on how many animals were used, for how long, what they were fed and a full analysis of the results. Why has Monsanto’s [an agricultural company and manufacturer of GM maize] research not been submitted to the same kind of scrutiny as Seralini?”

ACB’s recent report, “Africa Bullied to Grow Defective Bt Maize: The Failure of Monsanto’s MON810 Maize in South Africa”, states that Monsanto’s Bt maize failed hopelessly in South Africa as a result of massive insect resistance only 15 years after its introduction into commercial agriculture.

“Today, 24 percent of South Africans go to bed hungry … but the biotech industry has habitually used yield as an indicator of success and this is too narrow and very misleading,” Swanby said.

The ACB argues that the safety of stacking genes is a new area of science whose long-term sustainability remained questionable and states that Bt technology was approved in South Africa before regulatory authorities had the capacity to properly regulate it.

But Dr. Nompumelelo Obokoh, chief executive officer of AfricaBio, a biotechnology association based in Pretoria, told IPS that the GMO Act was passed in 1997 and before then GM crops were regulated under the Agricultural Pests Act.

“Farmers are business people. If it is so difficult or unprofitable to grow Bt maize why is almost 90 percent of our maize based on biotechnology? Surely, if South African farmers found GM maize so difficult to manage why haven’t they rushed back to the old maize varieties of the past?” asked Obokoh.

In 2011 and 2012, 2.3 million hectares and 2.9 million hectares, respectively, of GM crops were grown in South Africa by both small-scale and commercial farmers.

“Food security is a prime right and biotechnology offers one of the many available solutions,” Obokoh said. “While South Africa is without doubt food secure as a country, we still suffer from food insecurity at household level because of high costs of food and poor incomes. This is where biotechnology is complementing and not competing against conventional farming.”

Anti-GM activist and the executive director of the Institute for Responsible Technology, Jeffrey Smith, told IPS via email that bundling herbicide-tolerant GM crops with herbicide use was in conflict with farming. He cited the diversion of much-needed research dollars into development of expensive GMOs and away from more appropriate technologies

“The GMO advocates have also promoted the myth that crop productivity, by itself, can eradicate hunger,” said Smith, arguing that key international reports over the last 15 years describe how economics and distribution are more fundamental to solving this problem.

However, in November the African Science Academies urged African governments to invest heavily on biotechnology, declaring that biotechnology-enhanced tools and products can help Africa break the cycle of hunger, malnutrition and underdevelopment.

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Argentine Activists Win First Round Against Monsanto Plant http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/argentine-activists-win-first-round-monsanto-plant/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=argentine-activists-win-first-round-monsanto-plant http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/argentine-activists-win-first-round-monsanto-plant/#comments Sat, 25 Jan 2014 08:34:52 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=130764 Residents of a town in Argentina have won the first victory in their fight against biotech giant Monsanto, but they are still at battle stations, aware that winning the war is still a long way off. For four months activists in Malvinas Argentinas, a town in the central province of Cordoba, have maintained a blockade […]

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Monsanto’s plant in Malvinas Argentinas, seen from the camp set up by local protestors blocking access to the works in construction. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Monsanto’s plant in Malvinas Argentinas, seen from the camp set up by local protestors blocking access to the works in construction. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
CORDOBA, Argentina, Jan 25 2014 (IPS)

Residents of a town in Argentina have won the first victory in their fight against biotech giant Monsanto, but they are still at battle stations, aware that winning the war is still a long way off.

For four months activists in Malvinas Argentinas, a town in the central province of Cordoba, have maintained a blockade of the construction site where the U.S. transnational company is building the world’s biggest maize seed treatment plant.

In this previously peaceful town, protestors continue to camp in front of the construction site and to block access to it, even after a provincial court order this month put a halt to the works.

The campaign against the plant, led by Asamblea Malvinas Lucha por la Vida (Malvinas Assembly Fighting for Life) and other social organisations, began Sept. 18 in this town 17 kilometres from the capital of Cordoba.

Tense situations ensued, with attempts by the provincial police to disperse the demonstrators and provocations by construction union envoys, but a provincial labour court ruling on Jan. 8 upheld the activists’ cause.

“The ruling shows that the residents’ arguments are just, because they are claiming basic rights that are recognised and established in the constitution and federal legislation,” Federico Macciocchi, the lawyer representing opponents of the plant, told IPS.

The court ruled that the municipal ordinance authorising construction of the plant in this mostly working class town of 15,000 people was unconstitutional.

It ordered a halt to construction work and banned the Malvinas Argentinas municipality from authorising the construction until two legal requirements are fulfilled: carrying out an environmental impact assessment and a public hearing.

“This is a big step forward in the struggle, achieved by working together on institutional demands, along with social activism on the streets,” Matías Marizza, a member of the Malvinas Assembly, told IPS.

“This struggle has resulted in guaranteeing respect for the law,” the activist said.

The Malvinas Assembly and other organisations have decided to continue to camp out at the site and block access until the project is abandoned for good.

Monsanto replied to IPS’s request for comment with a statement that describes local activists as “extremists” who are preventing their contractors and employees from “exercising the right to work.”

The court ruling arose from a legal appeal lodged by local residents and the Club de Derecho (Cordoba Law Club), presided by Macciocchi.

The labour court has ordered an environmental impact study and a public hearing, he emphasised.

The views expressed in the public hearing will be “highly relevant,” he said, although under the General Environment Law, participants’ objections and opinions “are not binding.”

However, the law does stipulate that if the opinions of the convening authorities differ from the results of the public hearing, “they must justify them and make them public,” he said.

Now the Malvinas Assembly also wants a public consultation with a secret ballot.

Such a ballot would comply with the environmental law and “guarantee citizens’ full rights to decide on which model of local development and what kind of social and economic activities they want for their daily life, and what environmental risks they are prepared to take,” Víctor Mazzalay, another resident, told IPS.

“It is the people who should have that information and decide whether or not to accept the costs and risks involved,” said Mazzalay, a social researcher funded by the National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET) at the University of Cordoba.

“An environmental impact assessment should include a public consultation so that citizens can provide the ‘social licence’ necessary for developing any social, economic and productive activity that may affect their environment and health,” he said.

Monsanto’s statement said the company does not agree with the court ruling, but respects judicial decisions and will abide by the verdict.

The company stated that it had already conducted an environmental assessment, which is currently under review by the provincial Secretary of the Environment.

In Macciocchi’s view, the court’s ruling is definitive and “brings the legal conflict to an end.”

“The ruling arose from a legal appeal, so there is no further recourse in ordinary law,” he said.

Monsanto can still appeal to have the decision overturned by the provincial High Court (Tribunal Superior de Justicia, TSJ).

The company has already said that it will appeal. “We consider our right to build legitimate since we have complied with all legal requirements and have obtained authorization to build according to the regulations, as confirmed by the ruling of the Court of First Instance of Oct. 7, 2013,” their statement said.

However, in Macciocchi’s view “this appeal will not overturn the labour court ruling.”

“If we consider how long the TSJ takes to process an appeal, by the time there is a decision, the Malvinas municipality and the Environment Secretariat will have complied with the laws they previously violated,” he said.

According to the lawyer, the high court takes up to two and a half years for appeals lodged by individuals under sentence, and five to seven years in labour or civil cases.

“It would create a real institutional scandal if the TSJ were to deal with this case by leap-frogging all the other cases that have lain dormant in its offices for years,” he said.

The Jan. 8 ruling cannot prevent the definitive installation of the plant, which Monsanto plans should become operational during 2014.

“But if the citizens’ demonstrations against the plant and the environmental impact assessment are unfavourable to the company, Monsanto will not be able to instal the plant in Malvinas Argentinas,” Macciocchi predicted.

Mazzalay emphasised that the “substance” of the arguments of opponents to Monsanto’s plant was “the defence of the people’s right to decide on the kind of productive activities and the type of environmental risks they wish to undertake.”

The company announced it was planning to build more than 200 maize silos, and to use agrochemical products to treat the seeds. Monsanto is one of the world’s biggest manufacturers of herbicides and genetically modified seeds, and has operated in Argentina since 1956 when it established a plastics factory.

“It is frequently argued that there is a reasonable doubt that this productive activity is harmless to human health,” Mazzalay said.

In his view, “a multiplicity of scientific studies have shown negative effects on health from both seed transportation and handling of and exposure to different agrochemical products.”

“When there is a health risk related to environmental issues, reasonable doubt should bring the precautionary principle into play, that is, an activity should not be developed until it has definitely been proved to be harmless,” he said.

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Kenya’s Scorched Earth Removal of Forest’s Indigenous http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/kenyas-scorched-earth-removal-forests-indigenous/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kenyas-scorched-earth-removal-forests-indigenous http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/kenyas-scorched-earth-removal-forests-indigenous/#comments Fri, 24 Jan 2014 11:59:09 +0000 Matthew Newsome http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=130708 Kenyan government security forces are forcefully evicting thousands of people, including the indigenous Sengwer tribe, from the Embobut forest in western Kenya by burning homes and possessions in an effort to promote forest conservation, safeguard urban water access and “remove squatters”. “The Kenya Forest Guard is burning homes and belongings in the Embobut forest area. […]

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A torched Sengwer home in western Kenya’s Embobut forest. The indigenous Sengwer tribe are being forcibly removed from the area as part of the government’s attempt to preserve one of the country’s water towers. Courtesy: Justin Kenrick/Forest Peoples Programme

A torched Sengwer home in western Kenya’s Embobut forest. The indigenous Sengwer tribe are being forcibly removed from the area as part of the government’s attempt to preserve one of the country’s water towers. Courtesy: Justin Kenrick/Forest Peoples Programme

By Matthew Newsome
NAIROBI, Jan 24 2014 (IPS)

Kenyan government security forces are forcefully evicting thousands of people, including the indigenous Sengwer tribe, from the Embobut forest in western Kenya by burning homes and possessions in an effort to promote forest conservation, safeguard urban water access and “remove squatters”.

“The Kenya Forest Guard is burning homes and belongings in the Embobut forest area. They are threatening [people] with AK-47 guns. Gunfire has caused chaos as families run to hide in the mountain forest,” Yator Kiptum, a member of the Sengwer community, told IPS.

The Sengwer people, a traditional hunter-gatherer society estimated to have a population of only 15,000, have inhabited the forest area for hundreds of years and regard the Embobut forest area as their ancestral home."It is through such actions that whole cultures, languages and histories die." -- Tom Lomax, Forest Peoples Programme

International human rights organisations are condemning the Kenyan government for undermining the tribe’s constitutional entitlement to free, prior and informed consent to the evictions and for illegally breaking international agreements on conservation and human rights.

“Crucially, the constitution states that ancestral land and the land occupied by traditionally hunter-gatherer groups such as the Sengwer is ‘community land’ owned by that community. None of these legal provisions are being respected by the government of Kenya in the recent evictions of the Sengwer from Embobut forest,” Tom Lomax, a legal expert with the Forest Peoples Programme, an international NGO that promotes forest peoples’ rights, told IPS.

Despite the government declaring conservation as its reason for the community’s eviction, its actions break official commitments to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which require the state to protect and preserve traditional communities and their adaptive practices that have helped maintain the forest area.

Lomax maintains that the conservation of biodiversity or ecosystems in compliance with CBD commitments cannot justify evictions of indigenous communities by armed troops and the burning of houses.

“These evictions are unlawful under Kenya’s constitution and under its international legal commitments. The strong connection of the Sengwer to the Cherangany Hills forests [where the Embobut forest lies] means that their very physical and cultural survival as a people is at stake in these evictions,” Lomax said.

“It is through such actions that whole cultures, languages and histories die. Sengwer ancestors are buried in Embobut forest, and their sacred places and livelihoods are there. They have nowhere else to go,” he added.

However, despite protests from the Sengwer community about their forced removal, the principal secretary in the ministry of environment, water and natural resources, Richard Lesiyampe, said in a public statement on Jan. 7 that “people were moving out of the forest willingly.”

“The reason of telling people to move out of the forest was meant to conserve one of the Kenya’s water towers and no one is being forced out but are moving willingly,” he said in the statement.

Over the last 20 years regional landslides and election violence have created a large number of Internally Displaced Persons who have inundated the Embobut forest in the Cherangani Hills.

The Sengwer community have found themselves conflated with the settlers and labelled as “squatters” by the government despite an injunction secured at the High Court in Eldoret forbidding evictions until the issue of community rights to their land is settled.

The Kenyan government has pledged 400,000 shillings (about 4,600 dollars) as compensation to each evicted family. However, the Sengwer community have refused to take money in exchange for their land and burnt possessions.

The World Bank (WB) is being investigated by its own inspection panel after the Sengwer community complained in January 2013 that the WB-funded Natural Resource Management Project was responsible for redrawing the borders of the Cherangani forest reserves.

This redrawing of the borders led to the Kenyan government evicting, without consultation, community members found on the inside of the forest reserve. The government has invoked the WB redrawn boundaries to legitimise forced evictions from 2007 to 2011 and in 2013.

“While the main culprit here is the Kenyan government, the World Bank must also be held accountable. It financed a project that redrew the boundaries of the forest reserve without consulting the Sengwer,” Freddie Weyman, Africa campaigner at Survival International, told IPS.

“Some families therefore suddenly found themselves living inside the reserve and subject to eviction. This is now the seventh time authorities have torched houses in Embobut in the seven years since the project began. Can the World Bank guarantee that its loan did not facilitate these evictions?” Weyman asked.

International conservationists reject the Kenyan government’s stance that a traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle is incompatible with the goals of conservation and forest protection.

Instead, they say, environmental conservation is best achieved by supporting indigenous communities who have experience of preserving their habitat and resources.

Liz Alden Wily, research fellow at the Rights and Resources Institute, told IPS that this is a “battle between conservation and particularly the colonial inherited mode of fortress conservation where everybody has to be removed for the forest to become pristine, to modern approaches which utilise occupying communities as the conservators.

“Around Africa and the world, the latter strategy is beginning to get a grip,” she said.

“These areas are the residue left of their ancient territories. [The] Ogiek, Aakuu, or Sengwer, are people who live essentially by forest hunting, honey gathering [some have 80 hives], and some small numbers of livestock and small farms. They have a different commitment to the forest. Consider, for example an Ogiek honey gatherer, dependent on his hives. Would he burn the forest or clear the forest and lose his livelihood?” Wily said.

Since the 1970s Kenyan authorities have made repeated efforts to forcibly evict the Sengwer from the forest for resettlement in other areas.

The “Fortress Conservation” approach that involves evicting indigenous communities rather than consulting and supporting them is increasingly discredited as counterproductive.

Instead, the ‘New Conservation Paradigm’ promotes an approach to conservation that supports ancestral communities to continue protecting their forests and biodiversity.

“Rather than returning the area to ‘pristine’ forest, it actually does just the opposite as profit-making plantations and agriculture replace the biodiversity of the indigenous forest. Far from protecting ‘pristine’ forest, this approach uses ‘conservation’ as its excuse to first evict the indigenous inhabitants before destroying the indigenous forest,” Justin Kenrick from Forest Peoples Programme told IPS.

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Tanzania Struggles to End Clashes Between Farmers and Herders http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/tanzania-finds-hard-stop-farmers-herders-fighting-resources/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tanzania-finds-hard-stop-farmers-herders-fighting-resources http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/tanzania-finds-hard-stop-farmers-herders-fighting-resources/#comments Thu, 16 Jan 2014 08:05:42 +0000 Kizito Makoye http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=130300 Tanzanian authorities are finding it increasingly difficult to deal with ongoing conflicts between farmers and pastoralists as they fight over limited land and water resources in this East African nation. From Tanzania’s Coast Region to Kilimanjaro, violent and sometimes deadly clashes have been raging for decades as farmers and pastoralists scramble for resources. Most recently […]

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Clashes between farmers and pastoralists over land and water are an ongoing problem in Tanzania. Pictured here are rice farmers from Kiroka village, in Tanzania’s Morogoro Region. Credit: Kizito Makoye/IPS

Clashes between farmers and pastoralists over land and water are an ongoing problem in Tanzania. Pictured here are rice farmers from Kiroka village, in Tanzania’s Morogoro Region. Credit: Kizito Makoye/IPS

By Kizito Makoye
DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania, Jan 16 2014 (IPS)

Tanzanian authorities are finding it increasingly difficult to deal with ongoing conflicts between farmers and pastoralists as they fight over limited land and water resources in this East African nation.

From Tanzania’s Coast Region to Kilimanjaro, violent and sometimes deadly clashes have been raging for decades as farmers and pastoralists scramble for resources.

Most recently on Jan. 12, 10 people were killed in Kiteto district in central Tanzania when Maasai pastoralists allegedly invaded villages in the disputed Embroi Murtangosi forest reserve and set homes ablaze. Local farmers accused district officials of colluding with Maasai pastoralists to intimidate farmers living on the reserve in an attempt to chase them off their land.

“It’s no secret, we are being harassed because there are certain people who are getting paid to evict us from this area,” Kisioki Mesiaya, a farmer in Kiteto district told IPS.

Pastoralists, who are generally more affluent than farmers here, have been accused of influencing political decisions through bribery.

Tanzania has approximately 21 million head of cattle, the largest number in Africa after Ethiopia and Sudan. According to the ministry of livestock and fisheries development, livestock contributes to at least 30 percent of agricultural GDP.

Tanzania’s ministry for agriculture, food security and cooperatives says that small-scale farmers produce over 90 percent of the country’s food. Of the country’s 94.5 million hectares, only half – 44 million hectares – is arable land.

Tanzania’s worst conflict between pastoralists and farmers occurred in December 2000 in Kilosa district, Morogoro region, where 38 farmers were killed. Hostilities reignited in 2008 and eight people were killed, several houses set alight and livestock stolen.

Deputy speaker of the national assembly Job Ndugai accused government officials of taking sides with pastoral communities to intimidate farmers.

“Land disputes are fuelled by officials … who have been soliciting bribes in terms of money and livestock from pastoralists to evict farmers on the pretext that the land occupied by farmers is a reserved area,” Ndugai said in December from his constituency in Kongwa, in the country’s capital, Dodoma.

Kiteto district commissioner Martha Umbulla, however, dismissed this as false. “There’s nothing like that, those allegations are not true,” she told IPS.

Experts say that these resource-based conflicts are also fuelled by ethnic hatred, dwindling resources, poor land management and population growth.

Yefred Myenzi, a researcher from the Land Rights Research and Resources Institute known locally as HakiArdhi, told IPS that most of the fighting over land was the indirect result of decisions and actions taken by the state through its various agencies.

He said that the struggle for land and water was a result of lack of public awareness and knowledge of the country’s laws, inadequate participation of local people in policy and law formation, and violation of laws by district officials. Of Tanzania’s 42 million people, only 0.02 percent have traditional land ownership titles.

“We have seen the influx of investors who take swathes of land to start commercial farming ranching or mining activities, in the process triggering conflicts with local people who are evicted from their land without due process,” he added.

He blamed the existing land tenure system for sidelining pastoral communities since no land has been set aside for them.

“Although land laws require every village to have in place a land use plan, many villages are yet to implement this due to conflict,” he said.

Myenzi warned that although a conflict resolution mechanism offered hope, disputes over land are likely to persist due to corruption and a weak system of reinforcement.

Henry Mahoo, professor of agricultural engineering at Tanzania’s Sokoine University of Agriculture, told IPS that in order to resolve tensions between the two groups, a land use plan, which will clearly identify areas under pastoralists’ ownership and those controlled by farmers, should be drawn up.

“The problem [behind] these clashes is deeper than we think. All concerned parties must be involved in the negotiation process, and there must be a forum where farmers and pastoralists openly talk about their problems,” he said.

“I think these conflicts are a sign of a growing social problem. There are so many idle minds out there who can be incited to do anything,” he added.

Meshack Saidimu, a Maasai pastoralist in Mbalali, told IPS that most of the disputes occurred because the government has not set aside areas for pastoralists.

“I think we are being made scapegoats for all these problems. The Maasai are disciplined people they don’t just hurt somebody for the sake of it,” he said.

The disputes over land and water have also caused food insecurity among farmers, many of whom have been unable to harvest crops for fear of reprisals from enraged pastoralists.

“In analysing land conflicts we need to critically look at the issue. The farmers complain that pastoralists let their animals trample on their crops while searching for water and pasture but herders argue that there are paths that cattle use without causing damage to crops,” Myenzi said.

But he said a lasting solution could be found only if pastoralists and farmers respect and value each other.

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Kenya’s Excess of Policies Can’t Deal With Climate Change http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/kenyas-excess-policies-cant-deal-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kenyas-excess-policies-cant-deal-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/kenyas-excess-policies-cant-deal-climate-change/#comments Tue, 31 Dec 2013 11:43:46 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129800 Kenya is facing its greatest challenge as weather patterns are starting to significantly affect food production. And experts are blaming the low adaptive capacity of the farming sector on an excess of policy and institutional frameworks that are silent on both climate change and agriculture. Joshua Kosgei, an agricultural extension officer in Elburgon, Rift Valley […]

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The long rains stopped earlier than expected in Kenya this year and in some areas taps have run dry and rain-fed agriculture has been affected. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

The long rains stopped earlier than expected in Kenya this year and in some areas taps have run dry and rain-fed agriculture has been affected. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Dec 31 2013 (IPS)

Kenya is facing its greatest challenge as weather patterns are starting to significantly affect food production. And experts are blaming the low adaptive capacity of the farming sector on an excess of policy and institutional frameworks that are silent on both climate change and agriculture.

Joshua Kosgei, an agricultural extension officer in Elburgon, Rift Valley province, told IPS that at least 300,000 maize farmers in the province are affected by climate change as the region has become too warm for maize farming. Production of this East African nation’s staple crop is expected to fall by at least 25 percent.

The country’s food security outlook covering June to December shows that a gradual increase in maize prices is expected. “Currently, wholesale maize prices are about 10 percent above the five year average and by December, maize prices are likely to be higher,” the outlook report said.

The Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa, a regional research body, predicts that as temperatures become too high for maize production, the country’s granary will shift from the Rift Valley province to parts of lower Eastern province.

“Maize has done well in Rift Valley, but the region is receiving less and less rainfall, so maize farming must move to other regions that were hotter but are now receiving adequate rainfall,” Kosgei told IPS.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, five million out of a total eight million households in the country depend directly on agriculture. In addition, small-scale farmers here account for at least 75 percent of the total agricultural output and 70 percent of marketed agricultural produce.

Judith Gicharu, a scientist and environment expert, told IPS that “there are various options to cushion the agricultural sector and consumers from crippling effects of severe climate change, including adapting to new technologies and expanding crop varieties. But these options are not backed by policy.”

She explained that discussion on climate change as a policy issue is still new in this East African nation as the government’s first tangible commitment to climate change was in the form of a 2010 document titled the National Climate Change Response Strategy (NCCRS).

In March this year the government launched the National Climate Change Plan to operationalise the existing NCCRS, but Gicharu pointed out that it was not a policy document.

“There is no specific policy on climate change and agriculture,” she said.

According to the Ministry of Environment, Water and Natural Resources, there are at least 90 national policies and laws relevant to climate change, including the Natural Resource Information Management policy, Energy policy, and the Water Act. But Gicharu said that most of these policies had no provisions on how to address climate change.

“Reading these laws, you do not get a sense of what needs to be done to mitigate or adapt to climate change,” she said. “All of them have significant implications on the environment and climate change, but they are yet to be harmonised. All of them have competing goals and interests. So policy challenges exist within policies and also across policies.”

She said the government’s ambitious plan to place half a million hectares under modern irrigation, which is part of the Galana-Kulalu irrigation scheme in Kilifi County in southern Kenya, as a climate change adaptation method to boost production would be difficult to implement because of conflicting policies. The government also plans to place an additional 1.25 million hectares in arid and semi-arid areas of the country under irrigation.

“The National Land policy and the Water Act lack clear coordination guidelines which will certainly interfere with these kind of priority climate adaptation plans.”

Gathuru Mburu, coordinator of the African Biodiversity Network, told IPS that if the government failed to meet its financial obligation to combat climate change, other stakeholders would fill the vacuum, sometimes to the detriment of the people.

“Multinationals are behind various policies which they claim are to combat climate change, but these policies have nothing to do with climate change and are targeting to edge out vulnerable farmers. They [multinationals] intend to criminalise the informal sector, in other words, the small-scale farmers,” he said.

He was referring to a proposed seed and anti-counterfeiting law that, if passed, will require farmers to only used certified seeds.

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Africa Urged to Use Multilateral Approach to Achieve Sustainable Development http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/africa-urged-use-multilateral-approach-achieve-sustainable-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africa-urged-use-multilateral-approach-achieve-sustainable-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/africa-urged-use-multilateral-approach-achieve-sustainable-development/#comments Mon, 09 Dec 2013 10:19:17 +0000 Isaiah Esipisu http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129392 Africa can achieve sustainable development by scaling up “green economy” initiatives. What is needed is increased allocations from within national budgets supplemented by donor funding, claim experts. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) defines a green economy initiative as one that results in “improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and […]

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Irrigation near Kakamas, South Africa. Experts at the African Development Bank (AfDB) say they have witnessed irrigation systems that have been designed based on ecosystems and river basins that have later dried up. Credit: Patrick Burnett/IPS

Irrigation near Kakamas, South Africa. Experts at the African Development Bank (AfDB) say they have witnessed irrigation systems that have been designed based on ecosystems and river basins that have later dried up. Credit: Patrick Burnett/IPS

By Isaiah Esipisu
WARSAW, Dec 9 2013 (IPS)

Africa can achieve sustainable development by scaling up “green economy” initiatives. What is needed is increased allocations from within national budgets supplemented by donor funding, claim experts.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) defines a green economy initiative as one that results in “improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities.”

In its simplest expression, a green economy is low-carbon, resource efficient, and socially inclusive – according to UNEP.

And now, experts say that embracing this initiative through a concept known as “Low-Carbon Climate Resilient Development” – meaning engaging in projects that will help reduce greenhouse gas emission, help adapt to climate change while boosting income, will help Africa move towards sustainable development

“We do not need to destroy our ecosystem in order to build a road,” said Professor Anthony Nyong, who heads the Gender, Climate Change and Sustainable Development Unit at the African Development Bank (AfDB). “If you need to develop a coal power plant for example, you can come to the Africa Development Bank and propose to put up a solar power plant with a similar output as a way of addressing climate change, and that can form a case for the bank or any similar institution to pay the cost difference,” said Nyong explaining the way countries can raise funds from a bank like the one he works for.

He points out that many of the projects on the ground have not been sustainable. “We have witnessed irrigation systems that have been designed based on ecosystems and river basins that have later dried up, or are likely to dry up in the coming years,” he told IPS at the negotiations on climate change in Warsaw, Poland. “It is time to make decisions based on properly identified science.”

Nyong’s work at the AfDB is in line with the Low-Carbon Climate Resilient Development approach, which calls for governments to develop policies that will enable them to simultaneously adapt to climate change, reduce carbon emissions and contribute towards economic development.

Agriculture is one of the sectors that can be used to address the low-carbon development approach, said Tom Owiyo, a senior specialist for Agriculture and Climate Change – African Climate Policy Centre at the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa. “There is need to invest more in agriculture, so that it is not seen merely as a social engagement for the poor,” he said.

However, the low-carbon climate development concept involves all the sectors of economy including power generation, where countries are encouraged to invest in climate friendly power plants, the transport sector, the manufacturing sector, among others.

In a side event at the COP19, Henry Neufeldt, head of climate change research at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) said that the global food system emits between 9.5 and 14.7 gigatonnes of carbon into the atmosphere every year. This amounts to between 19 to 29 percent of the total greenhouse gases bothering the world today.

Yet some of the methods that can be used to reduce such emissions include minimum tillage, rotation with legumes, intercropping with legumes, growing drought tolerant crops, and use of improved storage and processing technologies.

In the livestock industry, Neufeldt advocates for increased feeding efficiency, improved rangeland management, efficient treatment of manure and improved livestock health. And if one has to grow trees, then they should be multipurpose trees.

Dr Wilbur Ottichilo, a legislator and environmental expert who is a member of Kenya’s negotiating team in Warsaw, gives an example.
“Farmers in different parts of the country are already practicing farming with minimum tillage as a way of improving soil health and sequestering carbon, and so on,” said the legislator.

 “We now have very successful projects such as “climate-smart” villages in different parts of the country, where farmers are working in groups to produce more from small pieces of land using appropriate technologies,” Ottichilo told IPS.

The “smart village” is a project implemented by the research program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) with funding from the World Bank.

Through the initiative, farmers have learnt how to keep their farms evergreen throughout the year, which makes them earn more, they are trying their hands on greenhouse farming for the first time, drip irrigation, among other techniques that have increased their food production by 60 percent,  while at the same time fighting climate change.

In the same country, the AfDB and other institutions have invested heavily in generation of electricity using geothermal plants. As well, the country is also putting up a wind driven power generation plant with funding from multilateral donors. “These are all low-carbon development projects that will cut down on emissions, increase adaptation, and at the same time generate revenue for the country,” said Ottichilo.

Merlyn Van Voore, an adaption specialist with UNEP, told an event on the sidelines of the Nov. 11-22 talks in Warsaw that, if well executed, climate-smart agriculture has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by between 1 and 4 billion tonnes by 2020“We hope the developed countries at the Warsaw conference will reach a compromise to support such adaptation, mitigation and development projects in the developing countries, and as well honor their pledges to cut their emissions for the common goal of making the world a habitable place,” said Ottichilo.

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