Inter Press ServiceAfrica – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Mon, 26 Jun 2017 16:34:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8 UN Response Teams Underfunded as Costs Hit Staggering $23.5 Billionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/un-response-teams-underfunded-costs-hit-staggering-23-5-billion/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-response-teams-underfunded-costs-hit-staggering-23-5-billion http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/un-response-teams-underfunded-costs-hit-staggering-23-5-billion/#respond Fri, 23 Jun 2017 05:24:11 +0000 Roshni Majumdar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151009 UN response teams that help the most vulnerable people in the world are still largely underfunded, a new status report has revealed. The funding available to the teams is no match for the record number of people—141 million—who need assistance today. Newer and protracted conflicts have raised the bar of funding requirements to a staggering […]

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A wide view of a briefing on the humanitarian affairs segment (scheduled to take place in Geneva, 21 to 23 June) of the 2017 session of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias

By Roshni Majumdar
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 23 2017 (IPS)

UN response teams that help the most vulnerable people in the world are still largely underfunded, a new status report has revealed.

The funding available to the teams is no match for the record number of people—141 million—who need assistance today.

Newer and protracted conflicts have raised the bar of funding requirements to a staggering 23.5 billion dollars. International donors, since the launch of Humanitarian Appeal in 2016 by the UN and its partners, have contributed to a total of 6.2 billion dollars.

The lack of funding is especially worrying as many countries have seen a resurgence in violent conflicts – for instance, rapid escalation of fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s central Kasai province. Many others are threatened by natural disasters, such as the drought in Kenya, or flooding in Peru. Still others, almost 20 million people, are at risk in countries at the brink of a famine, such as northeastern Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen.

However, teams have worked hard to reach people, and have provided crucial assistance to many. The numbers, although small in comparison to the people who need aid, is worthy of recognition to the commitment of the UN Humanitarian Appeal. Some 5.8 million people in war-torn Yemen, and 3 million people in famine-struck South Sudan have, for instance, received life-saving assistance.

“Funding to response plans is a high-impact investment as they are prioritized on the basis of thorough needs assessment and analysis. Supporting the plans also provides the most neutral and impartial aid,” said Stephen O’Brien, the Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator.

The report highlights the pressing need for financial aid to support people across 37 countries, and urges donors to step up their contributions.

“With generous donor support, humanitarian partners have swiftly scaled up to deliver record levels of life-saving assistance in challenging and often dangerous environments. Donors have invested in these efforts but we are in a race against time. People’s lives and well-being depend on increasing our collective support,” said O’Brien.

The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) brings together Member States, United Nations entities, humanitarian and development partners, private sectors and affected communities at the Humanitarian Affairs Segment (HAS) to discuss urgent humanitarian issues each year in June. The event this year runs from 21st until 23rd June

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No Wall for Ethiopia, Rather an Open Door—Even for Its Enemyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/no-wall-ethiopia-rather-open-door-even-enemy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-wall-ethiopia-rather-open-door-even-enemy http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/no-wall-ethiopia-rather-open-door-even-enemy/#respond Thu, 22 Jun 2017 00:01:37 +0000 James Jeffrey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150998 It’s one thing to read about the exodus of souls flowing out of Eritrea, it’s quite another to look into the tired eyes, surrounded by dust and grime, of a 14-year-old Eritrean girl who’s just arrived on the Ethiopian side of the shared border. She is carrying a scruffy plastic bag. Inside are a few […]

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Ethiopia's refugee population now exceeds 800,000—the highest number in Africa, and the 6th largest globally.

Eritrean teenagers and young men, aged from 16 to 20, waiting at the Badme entry point to be moved to the screening registration center. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

By James Jeffrey
ADINBRIED, Ethiopia, Jun 22 2017 (IPS)

It’s one thing to read about the exodus of souls flowing out of Eritrea, it’s quite another to look into the tired eyes, surrounded by dust and grime, of a 14-year-old Eritrean girl who’s just arrived on the Ethiopian side of the shared border.

She is carrying a scruffy plastic bag. Inside are a few clothes, an orange beaker, and a small torch whose batteries have nearly run out.“We are the same people, we share the same blood, even the same grandfathers.” --Estifanos Gebremedhin, head of the legal and protection department for Ethiopia’s Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs

With her are four men, two women and five younger children, all of whom crossed the Eritrea-Ethiopia border the night before. Ethiopian soldiers found them and took them to the town of Adinbried.

The compound of simple government buildings where they were dropped off constitutes a so-called entry point, one of 12 along the border. It marks the beginning of the bureaucratic and logistical conveyor belt to assign asylum status to those arriving, before finally moving them to one of four refugee camps designated for Eritreans in Ethiopia’s Tigray region.

“It took us four days traveling from Asmara,” a 31-year-man among the group says about their trek from the Eritrean capital, about 80 kilometres north of the border. “We travelled for 10 hours each night, sleeping in the desert during the day.”

In February 2017, 3,367 Eritrean refugees arrived in Ethiopia, according to the Ethiopian Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA). There are around 165,000 Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers in Ethiopia, according to the UN refugee agency.

Ethiopia’s open-door policy is in marked contrast to the strategies of migrant reduction increasingly being adopted in many Western societies.

And its stance is all the more striking due to the Eritrean and Ethiopian governments forever accusing the one of plotting against the other amid an atmosphere of mutual loathing.

But it appears the Ethiopian government is willing to treat ordinary Eritreans differently.

“We differentiate between the government and its people,” says ARRA’s Estifanos Gebremedhin. “We are the same people, we share the same blood, even the same grandfathers.”

Before Eritrea gained independence, it was Ethiopia’s most northern region. On both sides of today’s border many people still share the same language—Tigrinya—as well as Orthodox religion and cultural traditions.

Shimelba was the first Eritrean refugee camp to open in 2004. It now houses more than 6,000 refugees. About 60 percent of its population come from the Kunama ethnic group, one of nine in Eritrea, and historically the most marginalised.

“I have no interest in going to other countries,” says Nagazeuelle, a Kunama who has been in Ethiopia for 17 years. “I need my country. We had rich and fertile land, but the government took it. We weren’t an educated people, so they picked on us. I am an example of the first refugees from Eritrea, but now people from all nine ethnic groups are coming.”

Discussion among refugees in Shimelba camp of governmental atrocities ranges from accusations of genocide against the Kunama, including mass poisonings, to government officials shopping at markets and then shooting stall owners due to disagreements over prices.

“The world has forgotten us, apart from the U.S., Canada and Ethiopia,” says Haile, an Eritrean in his fifties who has been a refugee for five years. He says his father and brother died in prison. “What is happening is beyond language, it is a deep crisis—so why is the international community silent?”

Ethiopia's refugee population now exceeds 800,000—the highest number in Africa, and the 6th largest globally.

Eritrean soldiers—now deserters—arriving at the Adinbried entry point. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

There are some, however, who argue the situation in Eritrea isn’t as bad as claimed. A UN report last year accusing Eritrea’s leadership of crimes against humanity has received criticism for being one-sided, failing to acknowledge Eritrea’s progress with the likes of providing healthcare and education, and thereby entrenching a skewed negative perspective dominant in policy circles and Western media.

“It is real, nothing is exaggerated,” says Dawit, a Shimelba resident of eight years. “We have the victims of rape, torture and imprisonment in our camp who can testify.”

About 50 kilometres south of Shimelba is Hitsats, the newest and largest of the four camps with 11,000 refugees, of whom about 80 percent are under 35 years of age.

“In Sudan there are more problems, we can sleep peacefully here,” says 32-year-old Ariam, who came to Hitsat four years ago with her two children after spending four years in a refugee camp in neighbouring Sudan.

Refugees say the Eritrean military launches missions into Sudan to capture refugees who have fled.

Ethiopia also hosts refugees from a plethora of other strife-torn countries. Its refugee population now exceeds 800,000—the highest number in Africa, and the 6th largest globally.

“Ethiopia strongly believes that generous hosting of refugees will be good for regional relationships down the road,” says  Jennifer Riggan, an associate professor of International Studies at Arcadia University in the US, and analyst of Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia.

Others point out how there is also an increasing amount of money involved with refugees. The likes of the UK and Europe are providing Ethiopia with financial incentives to keep refugees within its borders—similar to the approach taken with Turkey—so they don’t continue beyond Africa.

Meanwhile, despite the apparent welcome given to Eritrean refugees, frictions remain.

“People recognise the shared culture and ethnic background, and that helps for many things, but there’s still distrust because of the 30-year-war [for independence],” says Milena Belloni, an anthropologist who is currently writing a book about Eritrean refugees. “There’s a double narrative.”

While both sides talk of the other as brothers, she explains, historically Eritreans have looked down on Tigrayans—based on them working as migrant labourers in Eritrea during its heyday as a semi-industrialised Italian colony—while Tigrayans viewed Eritreans as arrogant and aloof.

Either way, Ethiopia appears to be looking to better assimilate refugees by embracing the 2016 Leaders’ Summit on Refugees—pushed by former U.S. President Barack Obama—that called for better integration and education, employment and residency opportunities for refugees wherever they land around the world.

“Ethiopia’s response is to manage the gate, and figure out how it can benefit from these inevitable flows of people,” Riggan says. “I definitely think Ethiopia’s approach is the wiser and more realistic one.”

About 10 miles north of Adinbried the military forces of Ethiopia and Eritrea straddle the border, eying each other suspiciously through binoculars overlooking derelict military emplacements that serve as grim reminders of a former two-year war and ongoing fraught relations between the two countries.

In 1998 Eritrea invaded the small and inconsequential-looking border town of Badme before pushing south to occupy the rest of Ethiopia’s Yirga Triangle, claiming it was historically Eritrean land.

Ethiopia eventually regained the land but the fighting cost both countries thousands of lives, billions of dollars desperately needed elsewhere in such poor and financially strapped countries, and sowed rancour and disagreement festering ever since.

Because despite the internationally brokered peace settlement that followed the 2000 ceasefire ruling Badme return to Eritrea, Ethiopia still occupies it—the government felt the Ethiopian public wouldn’t tolerate the concession of a now iconic town responsible for so many lost Ethiopian lives—and the rest of the Yirga Triangle jutting defiantly into Eritrea.

While Badme hasn’t changed much since those days—it remains a dusty, ramshackle town—it too is involved in current Eritrean migration.

“I crossed after hearing they were about to round people up for the military,” says 20-year-old Gebre at the entry point on the edge of Badme. “I wasn’t going to go through that—you’re hungry, there’s no salary, you’re not doing anything to help your country; you’re just serving officials.”

With Gebre are another 14 males ranging in age from 16 to 20 who crossed to avoid military service, as well as two mothers who crossed with two young children each.

“Life was getting worse, I had no work to earn money to feed my children,” says 34-year-old mother-of-four Samrawit, who left two older children in Eritrea.

She travelled with 22-year-old mother-of-two Yordanos, having met her at the Eritrean town of Barentua, about 50 kilometres north of the border, and the rendezvous point with their smuggler.

Neither knows how much the smuggler earned for driving them to the border and helping them across: payment was organised by their husbands living in Switzerland and Holland.

“I would like to make sure coming here is worth it before my elder two children come,” Samrawit says.

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Sexual Violence Fuels Vicious Recruitment Cycle in Congolese Militiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/sexual-violence-fuels-vicious-recruitment-cycle-congolese-militia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sexual-violence-fuels-vicious-recruitment-cycle-congolese-militia http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/sexual-violence-fuels-vicious-recruitment-cycle-congolese-militia/#respond Tue, 20 Jun 2017 20:00:45 +0000 Roshni Majumdar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150988 In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the active recruitment of young girls by armed militias has produced disastrous effects—facing social stigma when they’re freed, many girls find their way back to these violent groups and rejoin them. Half of the girls, employed as what are called “operation units”, are sexually assaulted by soldiers. Among […]

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While measures such as the Child Protection Code brought back 46,000 children from armed groups, only seven percent of those freed were girl soldiers

Former soldiers who have returned to school successfully in Congo. Credit: Child Soldiers International

By Roshni Majumdar
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 20 2017 (IPS)

In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the active recruitment of young girls by armed militias has produced disastrous effects—facing social stigma when they’re freed, many girls find their way back to these violent groups and rejoin them.

Half of the girls, employed as what are called “operation units”, are sexually assaulted by soldiers. Among these violent defensive militias in DRC, also known as Mai Mai, girls accounted for up to 40 percent of all underage soldiers.

On the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, celebrated June 19 and commemorated three years ago by the UN, Child Soldiers International (CSI) released an important report outlining the aftermath of this violence.

“I left [to join the Mai Mai] after they raped my mother in front of all of us, even my father. I felt shame, pity, anger. One day I decided to take up arms to avenge my mother,” a former girl soldier, who is 19, explained.

Most of the girls, who were interviewed in early 2016, were abducted by groups such as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), M23, and the Lord’s Resistance Army.

At a young age, the girls often endured sexual violence, which became a routine event.

“Sometimes I didn’t even know the name of the man who abused me at night,” said a 16-year-old girl. “I wanted to escape but saw what they did to those who tried… I was too scared.”

While measures such as the Child Protection Code of 2009 brought back 46,000 children from armed groups, only seven percent of those freed were girls.

Things didn’t get much better at home. The girls were often shunned by their families, and blamed for their status as victims as of sexual assault.

“Not two days goes by without neighbours making us feel we have known men,” a 14-year-old girl said. “We are not allowed to associate with their daughters.”

Facing a lack of aid or counseling, many went back to the groups. They long to speak with their families, and go to school, the report says. Instead, they are turned away. This injures their psyche, and can lead to low self-esteem. More has to be done, Sandra Olsson, the programme manager at CSI, told IPS.

“Community reintegration and tackling the stigma and rejection these girls face needs to be at the centre of reintegration programmes for these girls. We hope that our research and recommendations will help the DRC government develop girl specific reintegration strategies,” she said.

The report, she told IPS, hopes to raise awareness, provide long term assistance to the girls, and finally, end sexual violence in conflicts.

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Achieving Universal Health Coverage (UHC) in Kenya through Innovative Financinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/achieving-universal-health-coverage-uhc-kenya-innovative-financing/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=achieving-universal-health-coverage-uhc-kenya-innovative-financing http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/achieving-universal-health-coverage-uhc-kenya-innovative-financing/#respond Mon, 19 Jun 2017 15:56:55 +0000 Siddharth Chatterjee http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150956 Siddharth Chatterjee is the UN Resident Coordinator to Kenya.

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Achieving Universal Health Coverage (UHC) in Kenya through Innovative Financing

Right to health as enshrined in the Constitution of Kenya 2010 and; contribution to economic development as envisioned in Vision 2030. Credit: JACARANDA HEALTH

By Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, Jun 19 2017 (IPS)

Every year, one million Kenyans are driven below the poverty line by healthcare-related expenditures. Poverty predisposes them to disease and slows all aspects of growth in the economy.

Poor health hobbles economic growth. Noble Laureate in Economics Robert Fogel noted in 1993 that better diets, clothing, housing and quality healthcare all play an important role in generating economic growth. Strengthening healthcare systems to increase access to affordable, appropriate and quality health services in any country is a prerequisite for long-term development and structural transformation.

Africa accounts for a quarter of the world’s disease burden but has less than 5 per cent of the world’s doctors. The continent lags far behind in basic healthcare coverage for services such as immunization, water and sanitation, and family planning. Kenya is no exception.

The new Kenyan Constitution devolved responsibility for primary and secondary healthcare services to the newly demarcated 47 counties, leaving the national government to focus on policy and research.

Kenya’s health financing envelope is progressing gradually but falls short of the 2001 Abuja Declaration, in which nations committed to allocating 15 per cent of their national budget to the health sector. In fact, Kenya is outperformed by some of its neighbours in the national budget allocation to health sector. In fiscal year 2014/15, Uganda allocated 8 per cent of its national budget to the health sector compared to Kenya’s 4 per cent.

Kenya’s allocation has been increasing every fiscal year, rising for instance from about US$178.8 million (Ksh 15.2 billion) in 2001/02 to US$382.2 million (Ksh 34.4 billion) in 2008/09 based on exchange rate then. In the current fiscal year, Kenya allocated around US$597 million (Ksh 60.9 billion) for healthcare services compared to US$591.2 million (Ksh 60.3 billion) for fiscal year 2016/17. This is projected to increase in the medium term to US$606.9 million (Ksh 61.9 billion) and US$614.7 million (Ksh 62.7 billion) for 2018/19 and 2019/20, respectively.

The challenges confronting the health sector range from the spread of non-communicable diseases to inadequate funding of health interventions. The devolution of healthcare services, coupled with the Bill of Rights, elicits huge funding demands, making the sustainability of gains made so far in the sector more complex.

In 2015, the international community formally enshrined UHC in Agenda 2030, the Sustainable Development Goals, which will guide development efforts through 2030.

Partnering with mobile phone service providers and charging a small fee for targeted healthcare initiatives can generate the necessary resources to support Universal Health Coverage in the country.

Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages. Credit: UNDP

In its Vision 2030, Kenya committed to becoming a competitive and prosperous nation with a high quality of life for all its citizens by 2030. Investing in a quality health delivery system is enshrined in the Vision, an area in which the government has made considerable progress.

Revamping the national health insurance scheme to comprise everyone capable of paying premiums, rather than only those in formal employment has shifted the burden of healthcare costs from the individual to the collective by raising more money for healthcare services.

Nevertheless, four out of every five Kenyans have no access to medical insurance. That is why Kenya needs to adopt more innovative ways of financing its healthcare system.

The 2014 World Bank Group’s Kenya Public Expenditure Review considers the private sector a lead in local healthcare markets. This is because it owns 60 per cent of all primary healthcare facilities, while 40 per cent are government-run. Leveraging this strategic position of the private sector, public-private partnerships (PPP) can be institutionalized for financing UHC in Kenya.

One such case in point is the strong PPP established in 2015 by six private sector companies (Philips, Merck Sharp & Dohme-MSD, GlaxoSmithKline-GSK, Safaricom, Kenya Health Care Federation and Huawei) to improve maternal health in historically marginalized counties. This initiative – targeting Mandera, Marsabit, Migori, Isiolo, Lamu and Wajir and spearheaded by the Government of Kenya and the UN – has yielded positive health outcomes. Similar approaches can be adopted for the health system at both national and county levels.

Kenya is known for developing innovative home-grown solutions to challenges. It can easily move towards a cashless economy, which will be critical for driving Kenya’s socio-economic transformation agenda.

For instance, M-pesa was conceived to address the challenge of rural banking but it has also provided a platform for M-health, the use of mobile devices to support the practice of medicine and public health.

Kenya can institute targeted taxation as an innovative financing policy to complement existing financing mechanisms. Partnering with mobile phone service providers and charging a small fee for targeted healthcare initiatives can generate the necessary resources to support UHC in the country.

An estimated US$122.5 million (Ksh 12.5 billion) is transacted daily in the form of mobile money transactions. By contributing roughly one percent on a graduated scale, Kenya can easily raise US$ 1.2 million (Ksh 125 million) daily to finance UHC.

For example UNITAID, an International Drug Purchase Facility for AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria is supported mainly (70%) through the airline ticket tax. The airline solidarity contribution is an innovative attempt to gain the benefits of a global tax. Kenya can do the same by charging a small tax at its international airports and border crossings for a ring fenced public health account.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, “All roads should lead to universal health coverage.” Credit: UN/DANIEL JOHNSON

There is no one-size-fits-all health financing solution. And Kenya must continuously adapt in the face of rapid technological changes.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the new WHO Director-General has said that, “all roads should lead to universal health coverage.” With its technological prowess, a hotspot for innovation, incredible entrepreneurial spirit and enterprise, Kenya must be at the vanguard on the road to universal health care in Africa.

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Africa: Drought and Jobless, Hopeless Youth, Fertile Grounds for Extremismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/africa-drought-jobless-hopeless-youth-fertile-grounds-extremism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africa-drought-jobless-hopeless-youth-fertile-grounds-extremism http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/africa-drought-jobless-hopeless-youth-fertile-grounds-extremism/#respond Mon, 19 Jun 2017 06:27:56 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150944 This story is part of special IPS coverage of the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought, observed on June 17.

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Africa’s growing challenge of rural youth unemployment that is driving distress migration and radicalisation of disillusioned young men

“The on-going drought in the Horn of Africa is widespread, triggering a regional humanitarian crisis with food insecurity skyrocketing, particularly among livestock-owning communities, and devastating livelihoods” - FAO. Credit: FAO

By IPS World Desk
ROME/OUAGADOUGOU, Jun 19 2017 (IPS)

Ignoring the plight of jobless young people in sub-Saharan Africa is a recipe for political instability and global insecurity, warned a high-level symposium of Africa’s interior, environment and foreign affairs ministers in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

The high-level symposium, which was held ahead of this year’s World Day to Combat Desertification (WDCD) marked on June 17, stressed that Africa’s heavy reliance on the natural resource base for livelihoods is a challenge, and its mismanagement increases household risks and amplifies the vulnerability of millions of people.

This was the first time high-ranking officials drawn from Africa’s foreign affairs, environment and interior ministries met jointly to find solutions to Africa’s growing challenge of rural youth unemployment that is driving distress migration and radicalisation of disillusioned young men.“Frustrations will boil over with more migration and more conflict over a shrivelling resource base.” Monique Barbut

Participating ministers called for support to create land-based jobs in the rural areas to ward off the temptation for the most disillusioned to take up alternative but dangerous sources of income.

They called for the identification of sites where tenure or access to land rights can be secured and provided to vulnerable at-risk-groups.

The high-ranking officials also called for partnerships to create 2 million secure land-based jobs through rehabilitation of 10 million hectares of degraded land.

As well, they called for investment in rural infrastructure, rehabilitation tools and skills development and prioritisation of job creation in unstable and insecure areas.

The symposium examined the threats connected to sustainability, stability and security, namely, conflicts linked to access to degrading natural resources, instability due to unemployment of rural youth and insecurity and the risk of the radicalization triggered by social and economic marginalization and exposure to extremist groups.

Africa’s growing challenge of rural youth unemployment that is driving distress migration and radicalisation of disillusioned young men

A young person helps out in his family farm in Gitaramaka village, Karusi Province, Burundi. Today’s generation of young people aged 15 to 24 is the largest in history. Governments around the world face the challenge of providing young people with jobs and opportunities that safeguard their futures. Credit: ©IFAD/Susan Beccio

Drought, Unemployment and Hopelessness, Fertile Grounds for Extremism

Presidents Roch Marc Christian Kaboré of Burkina Faso, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita of Mali and Mahammadou Issoufou of Niger stressed that drought, food insecurity, water scarcity, unemployment, hopelessness about the future and poverty are fertile grounds for extremism, and a sign of insecurity, instability and unsustainability.

Two days earlier, more than 400 civil society representatives from African participated in their World Day observance, also in Ouagadougou, and organised by Spong, a local non-governmental organisation, to prepare for the International Summit of Non-State Actors titled, Desertif’actions 2017, to be held on 27 and 28 June 2017 in Strasbourg, France, which will be dedicated to land degradation and climate change, bringing together 300 stakeholders from 50 countries.

The outcomes of the Strasbourg Summit will be presented to the 13th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) to be held in Ordos, China, in September 2017, and the 23rd session of the Conference of Parties to the Climate Change Convention.

“Frustrations Will Boil over with More Migration and More Conflict”

According to Monique Barbut, UNCCD Executive Secretary, more than 375 million young people will enter Africa’s job market over the next 15 years, of whom 200 million be living in the rural areas.

Africa’s growing challenge of rural youth unemployment that is driving distress migration and radicalisation of disillusioned young men

FAO makes massive strides in famine prevention programme in Somalia. Credit: FAO

“Millions of rural young people face an uncertain future due to the lack of decent rural jobs and continuous loss of livelihoods due to land degradation and falling yields…Frustrations will boil over with more migration and more conflict over a shrivelling resource base.”

The challenge is bigger than just a matter of a million young African’s attempting to make the move towards Europe over the course of a year, she said, adding that the UK Ministry of Defence estimates up to 60 million Africans are at risk of distressed migration as a result of land degradation and desertification pressures in the next two decades.

“Imagine what could happen if each of you committed to rehabilitate 100,000 hectares of land in your respective countries… If young people in Africa were given the chance to bring that natural capital back to life and into production… With the right type of investments in land, rural infrastructure and skills development, the future in your region can be bright.”

During the celebrations, Barbut announced the two winners of the prestigious Land for Life Award: Practical Action Sudan/UNEP from South Sudan; Watershed Organization Trust from India.

The Land for Life China award was given to Ms Yingzhen Pan, Director General of National Bureau to Combat Desertification, China.

The winners show that restoration of degraded land can halt distress migration that is driven by unproductive land resources, Barbut said. “Families and communities are transformed and become more resilient towards climate change when job opportunities are created.”

The 1st African Action Summit by Heads of State and Government held in Marrakesh in 2016 launched the Sustainability, Stability and Security initiative – the 3S Initiative – with a commitment to speed up the restoration and rehabilitation of degraded lands as a means to create jobs for rural youth.

According to Batio Bassiere, Minister of Environment, Green Economy and Climate Change, Burkina Faso, his country, on average, loses 360,000 hectares of land to degradation every year, with significant impacts on 85 per cent of the population that lives off agriculture and pastoral activities.

As stated in the theme of the World Day to Combat Desertification, Our Land, Our Home, Our Future must be preserved against all forms of degradation or desertification, said the minister.

Burkina Faso is now among the 110 countries that to-date have committed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal target of land degradation neutrality by 2030, he said.

The UN Convention to Combat Desertification

The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) is the only legally binding international agreement on land issues. It promotes good land stewardship, and its 196 Parties aim, through partnerships, to implement the Convention and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

According to UNCCD, the end goal is to protect our land, from over-use and drought, so it can continue to provide us all with food, water and energy.

“By sustainably managing land and striving to achieve land degradation neutrality, now and in the future, we will reduce the impact of climate change, avoid conflict over natural resources and help communities to thrive.”

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Safeguarding Precious Crop Genes in Trust for Humanityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/safeguarding-precious-crop-genes-trust-humanity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=safeguarding-precious-crop-genes-trust-humanity http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/safeguarding-precious-crop-genes-trust-humanity/#respond Mon, 19 Jun 2017 00:01:55 +0000 Ini Ekott http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150937 A genetic resource centre run by the Nigeria-based International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) has banked thousands of crop varieties for disaster relief and research, holds the world’s largest and most diverse collection of cowpeas, and contains some of Africa’s rarest insect species. In times of crises when farmers lose their seeds, the genetic resource […]

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A genetic resource centre run by the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) has banked thousands of crop varieties

The governor of Borno State, Kashim Shettima; Deputy Director General, Partnerships for Delivery at IITA, Kenton Dashiell; and IITA Ambassador and Former President of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo during the donation of 35,930 kilograms of seeds to Borno State government in Maiduguri. Credit: Ini Ekott/IPS

By Ini Ekott
ABUJA, Nigeria, Jun 19 2017 (IPS)

A genetic resource centre run by the Nigeria-based International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) has banked thousands of crop varieties for disaster relief and research, holds the world’s largest and most diverse collection of cowpeas, and contains some of Africa’s rarest insect species.

In times of crises when farmers lose their seeds, the genetic resource centre – which the institute calls genebank – provides new seeds that are multiplied and given to farmers. Researchers can also pick from the bank preferred traits they incorporate into breeding programmes.Since plant and animal genetic resources are the foundation of sustainable agriculture and global food security, conserving crop varieties helps prevent “genetic erosion.”

For a continent plagued by perennial food shortages, and a world rapidly losing its genetic resources, the genebank is a precious gift, and its contents are kept in trust for humanity.

“The IITA genebank is one of the most precious resource centres to Africa, in particular, and the world at large. I see it as the pride of Africa,” said Michael Abberton, the head of the IITA’s genetic resource centre.

Since plant and animal genetic resources are the foundation of sustainable agriculture and global food security, conserving crop varieties helps prevent “genetic erosion”, said Abberton, referring to the tendency of losing varieties either as a result of the development of new varieties or disasters.

The IITA’s conservation activities started in the mid-1970s with the establishment of a genebank to help in crop improvement. That bank was later upgraded to provide seeds for people affected by flood, fire, wars, and other disasters.

The genebank currently holds over 28,000 accessions of plant material, called germplasm, of Africa’s major food crops – maize, plantain, cassava, cowpea, banana, yam, soybean, and bambara nut.

The bank has some 15,122 unique samples of cowpeas that come from 88 countries, close to half of global cowpea diversity. Seed samples of IITA’s cowpea collections stored since 1978 are still viable.

The crops’ germplasms are held in trust on behalf of humanity under the auspices of the United Nations, and distributed without restriction for use in research for food and agriculture, the institute says.

Abberton said depending on the species of a product, and its reproductive and dissemination biology, collections are either stored in the field, or in the seed or in-vitro genebanks. All crops producing orthodox seeds are maintained at optimal water content and low temperatures of 5 ºC in short term, and -20 ºC in long term.

At the research level, crops’ traits such as seed colour, resistance to pest and diseases, height of plant, sweetness or others can all be harnessed from the genebank.

The IITA was the first centre to contribute to the new Svalbard Global Seed Vault project, built by the Norwegian government as a service to the global community. The facility is funded by the Rome-based NGO Global Crop Diversity Trust.

In 2008, twenty-one boxes of IITA germplasm samples, part of a first installment, arrived in Oslo to go to the isolated Norwegian archipelago in time for its Feb. 26 opening. In 2009, another shipment was made.

Seeds samples sent to Svalbard Global Seed Vault were large sample of cowpea (also known as black-eyed pea), wild vigna, soybean, maize and bambara.

The IITA genebank based in Nigeria also plays a vital role as a reservoir for response to disaster. It did so on May 22 when the institute donated 35,930 kilograms of seeds to Nigeria’s Borno state government to cushion an eight-year humanitarian crisis caused by the Islamist group Boko Haram.

Borno, in northeastern Nigeria, has been the epicentre of Boko Haram violence. The group is responsible for the deaths of more than 20,000 people and the displacement of more than 2 million – a majority of them farmers.

The seeds donated to Borno government included improved varieties of cowpea, soybean, maize, millet, sorghum, and rice.

They were adapted to the climate of the region with some being extra-early, early, and intermediate, maturing, IITA’s deputy director general for partnerships for delivery, Kenton Dashiell, explained.

“They are also high yielding and resistant to the major pests and diseases, and other biotic and abiotic constraints in the region,” he said.

Former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, who as an IITA ambassador made the presentation on behalf of the institute, described the donation as the most meaningful gift ever given to the people of Borno.

Abberton, the head of the genetic resource centre, told IPS the donations to Borno state would not have been possible if not for the genebank that helped the institute in conserving the seeds.

“So, the genebank is a life wire for the IITA and humanity,” he said. He added that the IITA was committed to alleviating hunger and poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa.

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Africa Could Help Feed the World – If Its Fertile Land Doesn’t Vanishhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/africa-help-feed-world-fertile-land-doesnt-vanish/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africa-help-feed-world-fertile-land-doesnt-vanish http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/africa-help-feed-world-fertile-land-doesnt-vanish/#respond Fri, 16 Jun 2017 21:59:48 +0000 Younouss Youn http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150931 The 23rd World Day to Combat Desertification was celebrated in Burkina Faso’s capital of Ouagadougou on June 15 with a call to create two million jobs and restore 10 million hectares of degraded land. Three African heads of state took part in the celebrations: Ibrahim Boubacar Kéita from Mali, Mahamadou Issoufou from Niger and Roch […]

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The President of Burkina Faso Roch Kaboré spoke on behalf of his peers Ibrahim Boubacar Kéita of Mali and Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger at the celebration of the World Day to Combat Desertification, June 2017. Credit: Younouss Youn/IPS

The President of Burkina Faso Roch Kaboré spoke on behalf of his peers Ibrahim Boubacar Kéita of Mali and Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger at the celebration of the World Day to Combat Desertification, June 2017. Credit: Younouss Youn/IPS

By Younouss Youn
OUAGADOUGOU, Jun 16 2017 (IPS)

The 23rd World Day to Combat Desertification was celebrated in Burkina Faso’s capital of Ouagadougou on June 15 with a call to create two million jobs and restore 10 million hectares of degraded land.

Three African heads of state took part in the celebrations: Ibrahim Boubacar Kéita from Mali, Mahamadou Issoufou from Niger and Roch Kaboré from Burkina Faso. The Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) Monique Barbut also attended the event.Two-thirds of the African continent is desert or drylands, and nearly 75 percent of agricultural land is estimated to be degraded to varying degrees.

According to the UNCCD, two-thirds of the African continent is desert or drylands. This land is vital for agriculture and food production, but nearly 75 percent is estimated to be degraded to varying degrees.

The region is also affected by frequent and severe droughts, which have been particularly devastating in recent years in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel.

“Degraded lands is not an inevitable fate. Restoration is still possible. However, what will be more difficult is to feed 10 billion human beings in 30 years. The only place where there are still lands to do that is Africa. We need these lands to feed the whole planet. Therefore restoring lands is assuring food security for the whole planet,” said Barbut.

The high-level meeting that gathered 400 experts from around the world ended in the Call from Ouagadougou, urging citizens and governments to tackle desertification by restoring ten million hectares of land and by creating two million green jobs for youth, women and migrants.

“By 2050, the African population will double to two billion people,” Barbut noted. “I fear that as the population depends up to 80 percent on natural resources for their livelihoods, those resources will vanish given the great pressure on them.”

She added that young people emerging from this demographic growth will need decent jobs.

“In the next 15 years, 375 million young people will be entering the job market in Africa. Two hundred million of them will live in rural areas and 60 million will be obliged to leave those areas because of the pressure on natural resources.”

According to UNCCD, it is critical to enact policies that enable young people to own and rehabilitate degraded land, as there are nearly 500 million hectares of once fertile agricultural land that have been abandoned.

Talking specifically about Burkina Faso, which hosted the celebration, Batio Nestor Bassiere, the minister in charge of environmental issues, said, “From 2002 to 2013, 5.16 million hectares, 19 percent of the country’s territory, has been degraded by desertification.”

The situation is similar in most African countries. That’s why “it’s nonsense to sit and watch that happening without acting, given that the means for action are available,” said Barbut.

The Call from Ouagadougou comes from a common willingness to save the planet and Africa particularly from desertification. Gathered to discuss the topic “Our land, our house, our future,” linked to the fulfillment of the 3S Initiative (sustainability, stability, and security in Africa), the Call from Ouagadougou also invites African countries to create conditions for the development of new job opportunities by targeting the places where the access to land can be reinforced and land rights secured for vulnerable populations.

Development partners and other actors have also been called on to give their contributions. They were invited to help African countries to invest in rural infrastructure, land restoration, and the development of skills in chosen areas and among those facing migration and social risks.

For that, the UN agency in charge of the fight against desertification and its partners can rely on the firm support of the three heads of state who came for this 23rd World Day to Combat Desertification.

The President of Burkina Faso Roch Kaboré let the audience know that they are all “engaged to promote regional and global partnerships to find funds for investment in lands restoration and long term land management, wherever they will have opportunities to speak.”

Representing the African Union, Ahmed Elmekaa, Director, African Union/SAFGRAD, said drawing attention to the resolutions of desertification, land degradation and drought and on climate change are at the top of the African Union’s environmental agenda.

Taking advantage of the celebration, the national authorities gave the name of the very first executive secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, Hama Arba Diallo, to a street of the capital Ouagadougou. Experts from many countries also had the opportunity to visit sites showing the experience of Burkina Faso in combating desertification.

At a dinner ceremony held immediately following the closure of the ceremony, the UNCCD announced the winners of the Land for Life Award, Practical Action Sudan/UNEP from Sudan; Watershed Organization Trust from India. The Land for Life China award was given to Yingzhen Pan, Director General of National Bureau to Combat Desertification, China.

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Drought Pushes 1 in 3 Somalis to a Hunger Knife-Edgehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/drought-pushes-1-3-somalis-hunger-knife-edge/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=drought-pushes-1-3-somalis-hunger-knife-edge http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/drought-pushes-1-3-somalis-hunger-knife-edge/#respond Thu, 15 Jun 2017 17:55:16 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150897 This story is part of special IPS coverage of the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought, observed on June 17.

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FAO massive famine-prevention campaign in Somalia--12 million animals treated so far against livestock diseases and illness. Credit: FAO

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jun 15 2017 (IPS)

Another famine in former European colonies in Africa and another time in its Eastern region, with Ethiopia and Somalia among the major victims of drought and made-made climate disasters mainly caused by US and European multinational business.

While an estimated 7.8 million people are food insecure in Ethiopia, where drought has dented crop and pasture output in southern regions, in the specific case of Somalia, the United Nations reports that 3.2 million people—that’s one third of its estimated 11 million inhabitants, are now on a ‘hunger knife-edge.’

Meanwhile, more than six million people are affected, of whom only about three million have been reached with food rations.

Key Numbers

· Animals provided with life-sustaining care so far: 12.3 million

· People supported by those animals: 1.8 million pastoralists

· Approximate cost of each FAO treatment per animal: $0.40

· Cost to a pastoralist to replace one dead animal: $40

· Cumulative value of prevented livestock losses so far: $492 million

SOURCE: FAO

“The humanitarian crisis has deteriorated more rapidly than was originally projected,” the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia, Raisedon Zenenga, few weeks ago told the Council in New York.

People Are Dying. Survivor, Forced to Migrate

“People are dying and need protection, particularly women and children, as drought conditions force them to migrate from rural areas to town, and as sexual violence increases in displacement camps.”

Worldwide, land degradation, severe droughts and advancing desertification are set to force populations to flee their homes and migrate.

Over the next few decades, worldwide, close to 135 million people are at risk of being permanently displaced by desertification and land degradation, says Monique Barbut, executive secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

“If they don’t migrate, the young and unemployed are also at more risk of falling victim to extremist groups that exploit and recruit the disillusioned and vulnerable, “ added Barbut in her message on the occasion of this year’s World Day to Combat Desertification (WDCD) marked on June 17.

They are missing out on the opportunity to benefit from increasing global demand and wider sustained economic growth. In fact, the economic losses they suffer and growing inequalities they perceive means many people feel they are being left behind, Barbut said.

“They look for a route out. Migration is well-trodden path. People have always migrated, on a temporary basis, to survive when times are tough. The ambitious often chose to move for a better job and a brighter future.”

Famine-prevention: The livestock protection campaign is vital for vulnerable pastoralists who rely on their animals to survive. Credit: FAO

One in every five youth, aged 15-24 years, for example is willing to migrate to another country, she noted, adding that youth in poorer countries are even more willing to migrate for a chance to lift themselves out of poverty.

“It is becoming clear though that the element of hope and choice in migration is increasingly missing. Once, migration was temporary or ambitious. Now, it is often permanent and distressed.”

Saving Animals Saves Human Lives, Livelihoods

In parallel, concerned United Nations agencies have been strongly mobilised to help mitigate the new famine facing African countries. One of them, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), has been pushing forward with a massive campaign that has so far treated more than 12 million animals in less than three months.

The objective is to protect the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of families who rely on their livestock’s meat and milk for survival. By mid-July, the UN specialised body will have reached 22 million animals, benefiting over 3 million people.

“Saving animals saves human lives and livelihoods. When animals are weakened by drought, they stop producing milk or die which means people go hungry and families are pushed out of self-reliance,” said Richard Trenchard, FAO Representative in Somalia.

Worsening drought conditions have left hundreds of thousands of Somalis facing severe food and water shortages. Credit: OCHA Somalia

Around 3.2 million people in Somalia are on a hunger knife-edge, the agency reports, adding that the majority live in rural areas and livestock such as goats, camels, sheep and cattle are their main source of food and income.

“What we have heard again and again from displaced people in camps is that when they lost their animals, everything collapsed. It is a steep, long climb for them to get back on their feet again. We have stepped up our response to reach families before that happens,” added Trenchard. “Livelihoods are their best defence against famine”.

In Somalia, 6.7 million people face acute hunger as threat of famine persists, according to a FAO new assessment.

The UN agency is deploying 150 veterinary teams across Somalia to treat goats and sheep as well as cattle and camels – up to 270,000 animals each day. The teams are made up of local Somali veterinary professionals.

Simple, Cost-Effective Care

Livestock badly weakened by the lack of feed and water are highly susceptible to illnesses and parasites but are too weak to withstand vaccination, the specialised organisation reports.

As part of an integrated response program to improve the conditions of livestock, animals are treated with multivitamin boosters, medicines that kill off internal and external parasites, deworming, and other treatments to fight respiratory infections.

The simple and cost-effective care being provided by the FAO vet teams is reinforcing animals’ coping capacity and keeping them alive and productive. (See Key Numbers Box).

Meanwhile, through its Famine Prevention and Drought Response Plan, the UN specialised body is delivering large-scale, strategic combinations of assistance to prevent famine in Somalia.

In addition to livestock treatments, this includes giving rural families cash for food purchases, helping communities rehabilitate agricultural infrastructure, and providing farmers with vouchers for locally-sourced seeds along with tractor services that reduce their labour burden.

Any serious reaction from Africa’s former colonisers?

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The High Price of Desertification: 23 Hectares of Land a Minutehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/the-high-price-of-desertification-23-hectares-of-land-a-minute/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-high-price-of-desertification-23-hectares-of-land-a-minute http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/the-high-price-of-desertification-23-hectares-of-land-a-minute/#respond Thu, 15 Jun 2017 12:28:53 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150885 This story is part of special IPS coverage of the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought, observed on June 17.

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12 million hectares of arable land are lost to drought and desertification annually, while 1.5 billion people are affected in over 100 countries

Farmer Margaret Gauti Mpofu adds manure to her vegetable crops in a field on the outskirts of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Busani Bafana
BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, Jun 15 2017 (IPS)

Urban farmer Margaret Gauti Mpofu would do anything to protect the productivity of her land. Healthy soil means she is assured of harvest and enough food and income to look after her family.

Each morning, Mpofu, 54, treks to her 5,000-square-metre plot in Hyde Park, about 20 km west of the city of Bulawayo. With a 20-litre plastic bucket filled with cow manure in hand, Mpofu expertly scoops the compost and sprinkles a handful besides thriving leaf vegetables and onions planted in rows across the length of the field, which is irrigated with treated waste water.Mpofu’s act of feeding the land is minuscule in fighting the big problem of land degradation. But replicated by many farmers on a large scale, it can restore the productivity of arable land.

“I should not be doing this,” Mpofu tells IPS pointing to furrows on her field left by floodwater running down the slope during irrigation. “The soil is losing fertility each time we irrigate because the water flows fast, taking valuable topsoil with it. I have to constantly add manure to improve fertility in the soil and this also improves my yields.”

Mpofu’s act of feeding the land is minuscule in fighting the big problem of land degradation. But replicated by many farmers on a large scale, it can restore the productivity of arable land, today threatened by desertification and degradation.

While desertification does include the encroachment of sand dunes on productive land, unsustainable farming practices such as slash and burn methods in land clearing, incorrect irrigation, water erosion, overgrazing – which removes grass cover and erodes topsoil – as well as climate change are also major contributors to desertification.

Desertification is on the march.  Many people are going hungry because degraded lands affects agriculture, a key source of livelihood and food in much of Africa. More than 2.6 billion people live off agriculture in the world. More than half of agricultural land is affected by soil degradation, according to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

It gets worse. The UN body says 12 million hectares of arable land, enough to grow 20 tonnes of grain, are lost to drought and desertification annually, while 1.5 billion people are affected in over 100 countries. Halting land degradation has become an urgent global imperative.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that by 2030 Africa will lose two-thirds of its arable land if the march of desertification — the spread of arid, desert-like areas of land — is not stopped.

Deserting homes thanks to desertification

Though not new, desertification has serious economic and development implications, especially for Africa. The economic costs of desertification and land degradation are estimated at 490 billion dollars per year, but sustainable land management can help generate up to 1.4 trillion dollars of economic benefits, says the UNCCD, which this year marks the 2017 World Day to Combat Desertification under the theme, “The land is our home, our future.”

This year the WDCD is focusing on the link between land degradation and migration and how local communities can build resilience to several development challenges through sustainable management practices.

The number of international migrants worldwide has grown from 222 million in 2010 to 244 million in 2015, according to the United Nations. The UNCCD says behind these numbers are links between migration and development challenges, in particular, the consequences of environmental degradation, political instability, food insecurity and poverty.

“Migration is high on the political agenda all over the world as some rural communities feel left behind and others flee their lands,” Monique Barbut, UNCCD Executive Secretary, said in a public statement ahead of the global observation of the WDCD.

“The problem [of migration] signals a growing sense of hopelessness due to the lack of choice or loss of livelihoods. And yet productive land is a timeless tool for creating wealth. This year, let us engage in a campaign to re-invest in rural lands and unleash their massive job-creating potential, from Burkina Faso, Chile and China, to Italy, Mexico, Ukraine and St. Lucia.”

Barbut said more than 100 of the 169 countries affected by desertification or drought are setting national targets to curb a runaway land degradation by the year 2030.

“Investing in the land will create local jobs and give households and communities a fighting chance to live, which will, in turn, strengthen national security and our future prospects for sustainability,” said Barbut.

The 17th of June was designated by the United Nations as the World Day to Combat Desertification to raise public awareness about the challenges of desertification, land degradation and drought and to promote the implementation of the UNCCD in countries experiencing serious drought and desertification, particularly in Africa.

Loss of land , loss of livelihoods

The 1992 Rio Earth Summit identified desertification together with climate change and biodiversity loss as the greatest challenges to sustainable development. The UNCCD was established to galvanize global efforts to maintain and restore land and soil productivity while mitigating the effects of droughts in the semi-arid and dry sub humid areas where some 2 billion people depend on the ecosystem there.

In May 2017, a high-level event on Land Degradation, Desertification and Drought held at the UN headquarters and organized by the Permanent Mission of Qatar, Iceland and Namibia together with the office of the President of the General Assembly underlined Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) as a catalyst in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals.

Sustainable Development Goal 15 emphasizes the protection, restoration and promotion of sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainable forest management, combating desertification, halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.

“More than half of the world’s agricultural land is affected by soil degradation, and the deterioration of dry lands has led to the desertification of 3.6 billion hectares of land,” Ambassador Peter Thomson, President of the General Assembly, told the high level meeting, citing the drought and famine which affected millions of people across Africa.

Last year, many countries in Southern Africa declared a drought disaster. The Southern Africa Development Community launched a 2.4-billion-dollar food and humanitarian aid appeal for 40 million people affected by a drought that was the worst in more than 30 years.

With food demand expected to grow by 50 percent to 2030, there will be greater demand for land, leading to even more deforestation and environmental degradation if global action is not taken to restore the productivity of degraded lands.

The UNCCD is promoting a land degradation neutral world by 2030. It has set the Target 15.3 to combat desertification, restore degraded land and soil, including land affected by desertification, drought and floods, and strive to achieve a land degradation-neutral world.

Achieving SDG target 15.3 would empower women and girls who mostly bear the brunt of desertification, land degradation and drought, and also contribute to ending poverty and ensuring food security, said the Group of Friends on Land Degradation, Desertification and Drought co-chaired by Ambassador Einar Gunnarsson of Iceland and Ambassador Neville Gertze of Namibia.

Land is finite but restoring it is not

The world cannot grow new land but there is good news. Degraded land can be restored.  Burkina Faso, which is hosting the official global events to mark the 2017 WDCD, has shown the way.

The West African nation, one of the early signatories to the UNCCD, has since the early 1980s been rehabilitating degraded land by building on our traditional techniques such as the Zaï and  adopting new techniques that work such as farmer managed natural regeneration.

“We are hosting the global observance on 17 June because we want to show the world, what we have achieved and is possible in order to inspire everyone into action,” Batio Bassiere, Burkina Faso’s Minister of Environment, Green Economy and Climate Change, said in a statement.

Innovative farmer Yacouba Sawadogo from northwestern Burkina Faso is credited with using an old practice known as ‘zai’ in which holes are dug into hard ground and filled with compost where seeds are planted.  During the rainy season the holes catch water and retain moisture and nutrients for the seeds during the dry season.

Within 30 years, Sawadogo has turned a degraded area into a 15-hectare forest with several tree species in a country where overgrazing and over-farming had led to soil erosion and drying.

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Heavy Toll of Disrupted Farming, Higher Prices and Displaced Livelihoodshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/heavy-toll-of-disrupted-farming-higher-prices-and-displaced-livelihoods/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=heavy-toll-of-disrupted-farming-higher-prices-and-displaced-livelihoods http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/heavy-toll-of-disrupted-farming-higher-prices-and-displaced-livelihoods/#respond Mon, 12 Jun 2017 16:09:45 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150849 Large agricultural harvests in some regions of the world are buoying global food supply conditions, but protracted fighting and unrest are increasing the ranks of the displaced and hungry elsewhere, according to a United Nations new report. Some 37 countries, 28 of which are in Africa, require external assistance for food, according to the new […]

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Pastoralists in Somalia. Actions to promote food security can help crisis-prevention, mitigate its impacts and promote post-crisis recovery and healing. Credit: FAO

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Jun 12 2017 (IPS)

Large agricultural harvests in some regions of the world are buoying global food supply conditions, but protracted fighting and unrest are increasing the ranks of the displaced and hungry elsewhere, according to a United Nations new report.

Some 37 countries, 28 of which are in Africa, require external assistance for food, according to the new edition of Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)’s Crop Prospects and Food Situation report.

Civil conflict continues to be a main driver of severe food insecurity, having triggered famine conditions in South Sudan and put populations in Yemen and northern Nigeria at high risk of localised famine, it informs, adding that adverse weather conditions are exacerbating the threat of famine in Somalia.

Refugees from civil strife in countries such as Iraq, Syria and Central African Republic are putting additional pressure on local food supplies in host communities, the report notes, while providing detailed information the following situation in a group of countries.

Some 5.5 million people are estimated to be severely food insecure in South Sudan, where maize and sorghum prices are now four times higher than in April 2016.

In Somalia, about 3.2 million people are in need of food and agricultural emergency assistance, while in Yemen the figure is as high as 17 million.

In northern Nigeria, disruption caused by the conflict has left 7.1 million people facing acute food insecurity in the affected areas, with even more deemed to be in less dire but still “stressed” conditions.

The 37 countries currently in need of external food assistance are Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea, Haiti, Iraq, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Myanmar, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Swaziland, Syria, Uganda, Yemen and Zimbabwe.

A homestead in Al Hudaydah, once an important food-producing part of Yemen and now at risk of famine. Credit: FAO

A homestead in Al Hudaydah, once an important food-producing part of Yemen and now at risk of famine. Credit: FAO



Southern Africa Rebounds, East Africa Parched

While worldwide cereal output is near record levels, production outcomes are mixed across the globe. South America is expected to post strong increases, led by Brazil and Argentina, according to the new report.

Regional production in Southern Africa is expected to jump by almost 45 per cent compared to 2016 when crops were affected by El Niño, with record maize harvests forecast in South Africa and Zambia, FAO reports.

This should help reducing food insecurity in several countries such as Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland and Zimbabwe.

The overall food supply situation in the Sahel region is also satisfactory after two consecutive years of bumper crops, the report notes.

East Africa, however, has suffered from insufficient rainfall at the start of the 2017 season, fall armyworm infestations and local conflicts, adds the report.

“As a result, a record 26.5 million people in the sub-region are estimated to be in need of humanitarian assistance, and the situation could be aggravated further in the coming months as the lean season peaks. An estimated 7.8 million people are food insecure in Ethiopia, where drought has dented crop and pasture output in southern regions.”

Moreover, the UN specialised agency informs that cereal domestic prices reached exceptionally high levels in May, with the local cost of maize jumping by as much as 65 per cent this year in parts of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, the report noted.

A severe drought in Sri Lanka, followed by heavy rains and local flooding in late May, will likely reduce the country’s paddy production by nearly a third compared to the average; a joint FAO/World Food Programme (WFP) Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission was fielded in March 2017 to assess the drought impact and the results are expected to be released next week.

Cereal output in the 54 Low-Income Food-Deficit Countries is set to rise by 1.3 per cent this year to 480 million tonnes, due to a strong performance in India and the rebound in Southern African countries, according to FAO’s forecasts.

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Murder of UN Investigator Puts Congo Under Mounting Pressurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/murder-of-un-investigator-puts-congo-under-mounting-pressure/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=murder-of-un-investigator-puts-congo-under-mounting-pressure http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/murder-of-un-investigator-puts-congo-under-mounting-pressure/#respond Wed, 07 Jun 2017 08:33:01 +0000 Linda Flood http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150789 The United Nations is stepping up pressure on Congo to ascertain the reasons for the brutal murder of Swedish Zaida Catalán who was investigating human rights abuses in the country. “The latest news is that the inquiry will continue” says Carl Skau, Sweden’s ambassador to the UN. In mid-March, Zaida Catalán and Michael Sharp, a […]

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By Linda Flood
NEW YORK, Jun 7 2017 (IPS)

The United Nations is stepping up pressure on Congo to ascertain the reasons for the brutal murder of Swedish Zaida Catalán who was investigating human rights abuses in the country. “The latest news is that the inquiry will continue” says Carl Skau, Sweden’s ambassador to the UN.

In mid-March, Zaida Catalán and Michael Sharp, a U.S. citizen, were in the Kasi-province of Congo on mission for the UN. Together with interpreter Betu Tshintela, they were investigating crimes against international humanitarian law and human rights as part of the UN Security Council’s sanctions against Congo-Kinshasa, when they were abducted and murdered.

Human rights groups have expressed their suspicion that the perpetrators could be found among Congolese army soldiers.

A week ago, information came from Congo that the murder investigation had been closed as they had two suspects. But now, according to UN ambassador Carl Skau, word is that the investigation will continue.

So those arrested were not the guilty ones?

“That I can not answer. But we have been very careful in our demand that the full inquiry is completed, and we don’t feel we are there yet”.

Carl Skau explains that there are three different inquiries. The first is the ongoing murder investigation that the US, Sweden and Congo are working on, in which the US and Sweden are working closely together.

The second is a UN appointed board of inquiry that is made up partially of former UN staff that are experts on security issues. They are to collect information in order to map the precise run of events, but also to draw conclusions on what lessons can be learned.

The third started last week as Sweden, through its position on the Security Council, requested additional backing for the ongoing investigations.

“We have requested that the General Secretary takes a closer look, but the legal aspects are not straightforward. Our position is that we need to find out what happened, make sure the guilty are tried for their crime, and of course we do all we can to avoid similar situations in the future.”

According to an article in the New York Times, Zaida Catalán and her colleague had received inadequate training for a mission in a dangerous situation. The newspaper reported that Zaida Catalán and Michael Sharp travelled to no-go zones and moved around without UN escorts.

This description has been refuted by both the UN and the families of both Catalán and Sharp.

Is there a revision of the situation of other UN investigators on mission in dangerous areas?

”I take for granted that that is the case. The UN has been rigorously involved from day one”. Carl Skau adds, “and there are most certainly lessons to be learned to make sure this kind of thing doesn’t happen again.”

Translation: Ravi Dar

 This story was originally published by Arbetet Global

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Women Small-Holder Farmers, Key Drivers for Sustainable Productionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/women-small-holder-farmers-key-drivers-for-sustainable-production/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-small-holder-farmers-key-drivers-for-sustainable-production http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/women-small-holder-farmers-key-drivers-for-sustainable-production/#comments Mon, 05 Jun 2017 12:09:14 +0000 Sally Nyakanyanga http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150742 The shouts can be heard from a distance as one approaches Domboshawa, 30 kilometres northeast of the Zimbabwean capital, Harare. Tokupai madomasi! Tokupai mbambaira! Do you want tomatoes or sweet potatoes? Mune marii? How much do you have? Scores of women and children carrying bundles of vegetables, sacks of sweet potatoes and containers full of […]

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Through the Productive Assets Creation Programme (PAC), WFP in Zimbabwe supported 95,000 people in 2016 through the rehabilitation or creation of community assets, such as water harvesting systems. Photo courtesy of WFP.

Through the Productive Assets Creation Programme (PAC), WFP in Zimbabwe supported 95,000 people in 2016 through the rehabilitation or creation of community assets, such as water harvesting systems. Photo courtesy of WFP.

By Sally Nyakanyanga
HARARE, Jun 5 2017 (IPS)

The shouts can be heard from a distance as one approaches Domboshawa, 30 kilometres northeast of the Zimbabwean capital, Harare.

Tokupai madomasi! Tokupai mbambaira! Do you want tomatoes or sweet potatoes? Mune marii? How much do you have? Scores of women and children carrying bundles of vegetables, sacks of sweet potatoes and containers full of farming produce shout above the din of moving vehicles, trying to sell their produce for a meagre profit."Households and communities have been engaged to promote non–oppressive practices, recognising the importance of role sharing.” --Ali Said Yesuf, FAO Chief Technical Advisor

Tsitsi Machingauta, 32, has a two-hectare farm in the area. She decries the numerous problems faced by smallholder farmers, which range from produce rotting in the fields due to the heavy downpours the country experienced this year, to a poor road network that restricts their access to markets.

“Even when supermarket chains come to buy our produce, they pay very little because we do not have the bargaining power. Because of the poor returns, we struggle to make a living, let alone to send our children to school,” Machingauta told IPS.

Machingauta, who is the founder and director of Women’s Farming Syndicate, an organization that supports women smallholder farmers in Domboshaw), explains how the lack of skills to make use of technology and limited time for training for women – compounded by climate change – has worsened the plight of women in the area.

According to the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development (MWAGCD), in Zimbabwe, women make up 70 percent of the rural population and 86 percent of women are involved in farming. Of the smallholder farmers who benefited from the government’s land reform program, only 18 percent are female; for commercial land, women constitute just 12 percent.

A study by the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce (2016) on Women Agribusiness Entrepreneurs revealed that fewer women smallholder farmers meet the banking sector’s stringent borrowing requirements, and women are more likely to operate informally.

According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) report on Small Holders and Family Farmers, if women farmers had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20-30 percent, lifting 100-150 million people out of hunger.

Ali Said Yesuf, FAO Chief Technical Advisor, told IPS that in an effort to address these challenges, the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) funded 72 million dollars to implement the Livelihood and Food Security Program (LFSP) to increase agricultural productivity and incomes, improve food and nutrition security, and reduce poverty in rural Zimbabwe.

“LFSP will actively address the specific constraints that smallholder farmers, particularly women, face in raising the productivity of their farms and participating in markets,” says Yesuf. The project covers eight districts in Zimbabwe.

The interventions take into account time constraints, which are as a result of women’s numerous domestic responsibilities. The LFSP promotes labour-saving technologies such as mechanised conservation agriculture, mechanised groundnut shellers, mechanised water abstraction technologies and more efficient wood stoves.

Yesuf said extension services and trainings have been carried out close to homes to avoid disruptions of women’s routines.

“Value chains such as poultry – broilers and indigenous chickens – and groundnuts that are perceived to be dominated by women are also given preference.  This allows women to have some control over incomes that are derived,” Yesuf told IPS.

He said the LFSP would also ensure the following:

  • Women’s participation in decision-making, i.e. membership on committees such as Rural District Councils (RDCs), Internal Savings And Lending (ISALs), commodity associations, lead farmers
  • Household decision-making by working with women and men to integrate gender relations within the household
  • Increasing women’s knowledge about markets

The LFSP has employed the Gender Action Learning Systems (GALS) approach which provides safe spaces for communities to integrate decision-making and power relations.

“Through this, households and communities have been engaged to promote non–oppressive practices, recognising the importance of role sharing,” Yesuf told IPS.

As women are known for good saving practices, the LFSP has enhanced and built on such initiatives through the Internal Savings and Lending (ISALs) through training and capacity development and introduction of income-generating activities.

Women in the Midlands Province have transformed their lives through the Extension and Training for Rural Agriculture (EXTRA) project, a three-year project under LFSP. Vavariro ISALs in the Midlands Province is one such group whose members’ lives have been transformed.

“We started by contributing small amounts of money – as little as three dollars per person,” said Virginia Gomana, a Vavariro group member.

“Now we have ventured into big projects that we never thought we could do, such as goat rearing and market gardening, and this has enabled us to own our own homes. Vavariro has also become a platform where we are able exchange ideas, strengthen our skills,” she said.

Yesuf said that financial institutions have also been tapped to better support the needs of these women.

“Women are accessing loans from Micro-Finance Institutions (MFI) through the group methodology where there is group collateral and guarantorship,” he said.

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Business Unusual: Valuing Water for a Sustainable Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/business-unusual-valuing-water-for-a-sustainable-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=business-unusual-valuing-water-for-a-sustainable-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/business-unusual-valuing-water-for-a-sustainable-future/#respond Tue, 30 May 2017 22:02:35 +0000 Paula Fray http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150664 Valuing water is more than simply assigning costs to a scare resource – it is an essential step for transforming water governance to meet the needs of a prosperous future. This was a recurring view from participants at the first regional discussion on water organised in South Africa as part of the High Level Panel […]

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Recurrent drought in Namibia, Southern Africa has undermined food security and farmers’ livelihoods. Credit: Campbell Easton/IPS

Recurrent drought in Namibia, Southern Africa has undermined food security and farmers’ livelihoods. Credit: Campbell Easton/IPS

By Paula Fray
JOHANNESBURG, May 30 2017 (IPS)

Valuing water is more than simply assigning costs to a scare resource – it is an essential step for transforming water governance to meet the needs of a prosperous future.

This was a recurring view from participants at the first regional discussion on water organised in South Africa as part of the High Level Panel on Water (HLPW) dialogues.“There is an opportunity to meet the immediate needs within the SDGs and then to organise for the 10-billion world - not just to survive but also be prosperous.” --Dhesigen Naidoo

The May 30 meeting was attended by more than 100 representatives from a range of sectors including water, agribusiness, utilities and community groups from across the region, as well as representatives from around the globe.

Dr Patrick Vincent Verkooijen, World Bank special advisor, said their research had shown that if “there is no change in the way we manage water, then (global) economic growth will drop by 6 percent.”

Global Water Partnership chairperson Dr Oyun Sanjaasuren, a former Minister of Environment in Mongolia, stressed that the issue was not just about valuing water as a commodity but about water governance. “We have to recognise that water is valuable; it is not a free commodity. If we do business as usual then by 2025 the number of people who are affected by water scarcity will rise from 1.7 to 5 billion.”

This is the first of five regional discussions on valuing water initiated by the HLPW, which is made up of 11 sitting heads of state and government. The meetings will collate comments on draft principles of water ahead of an HLPW meeting in August.

CEO of the Water Research Commission, Dhesigen Naidoo, said the HLPW and its activities had “significantly” raised the global dialogue on water.

“But we must make sure we are having the right conversation. What is missing is the view of tomorrow. If we are simply talking about meeting the minimum requirements, then we are missing the opportunity to completely transform … in both our attitude to water and the way we manage water,” said Naidoo.

He noted that Africa would be the most populous continent in the world by 2050, with an expected 50 megacities.

“Only three of these 50 megacities exist at the moment. We can create water-wise cities right from the start,” he added.

This includes rethinking “how we use water, how we recycle water and what water we use”. For example, Naidoo questioned the efficacy of using quality potable water to flush toilets.

The costing of water was an ongoing issue, but participants also warned that the question of cost needed to be raised against the “point where price is an inhibitor to your basic right to water”.

The intersectional nature of water was stressed – hence the need for political engagement at the highest level.

Participants at the High Level Panel on Water in Johannesburg add their comments to the principles for water. Credit: Paula Fray/IPS

Participants at the High Level Panel on Water in Johannesburg add their comments to the principles for water. Credit: Paula Fray/IPS

The May 30 discussion in Ekurhuleni near Johannesburg included ministers and deputy ministers from Water and Sanitation, Public Works and Energy.

“The vision and aspiration for water is the 17 SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals] and these make clear that the world must transform the way it manages it water – it needs political head engagement as well as other key public, private and civil society stakeholders,” said Verkooijen.

“Success for the HLPW can be only be determined when it motivates transformational action. Secondly, success is determined by whether it can support mobilisation and advocacy for transformational finance and implementation.”

Various initiatives are already in place, including developing principles on valuing water which were discussed in South Africa.

“Valuing water is not a new concept. The challenge is to explicitly value water in its competing uses. Proper valuation simply provides a clearer picture of the trade-offs involved,” said Verkooijen,

Faith Muthambi, South African Minister of Public Service and Administration – standing in place of Water Minister Nomvula Mokonyane – reminded participants that South Africa’s constitution declared access to water as a human right. “The right to clean water is therefore an obligation for government to ensure access for people.

“We want to see water priced for sustainability,” she said. “Water infrastructure is very important as a solution. We need partnerships to close the gap between water demand and supply by 2030.”

Her colleague, Deputy Minister of Energy Thembisile Majola, noted that the energy sector was a bulk user of water.  “How do we improve our technology so that they use less water?” she asked, stressing the symbiotic relationship “We use water to create energy and we need energy to get water to where it needs to go.”

Delegates at the conference came from 14 of the 15 SADC countries, with only Seychelles not represented.

Dr Kenneth Msibi, SADC Water Division, a transboundary water policy expert, said the SADC was trying to unlock the potential for water as a catalyst for development.

“We cannot move forward if we think of it as business as usual,” he stressed.

“Unless we value the water, our ecosystems are going to degrade and cost so much more,” said Dr Sanjaasuren.

“We’re living on a planet with a population size that is growing rapidly. We will have more and more water tensions,” said Naidoo.

“There is an opportunity to first organise to meet the immediate needs within the SDGs and then to organise for the 10-billion world – not just to survive but also be prosperous.”

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Africa Drives Global Action Against Mercury Usehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/africa-drives-global-action-against-mercury-use/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africa-drives-global-action-against-mercury-use http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/africa-drives-global-action-against-mercury-use/#comments Tue, 30 May 2017 10:56:02 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150646 With a new international treaty, an increasing number of African countries are committing to phasing out mercury, a significant health and environmental hazard. Research has shown that maternal exposure to mercury from contaminated fish can cause learning disabilities in developing babies. When inhaled, mercury vapor can also affect the central nervous system, impair mental capacity […]

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Olubunmi Olusanya of the Federal Ministry of Environment, Nigeria is keen on phasing out mercury-added products. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Olubunmi Olusanya of the Federal Ministry of Environment, Nigeria is keen on phasing out mercury-added products. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, May 30 2017 (IPS)

With a new international treaty, an increasing number of African countries are committing to phasing out mercury, a significant health and environmental hazard.

Research has shown that maternal exposure to mercury from contaminated fish can cause learning disabilities in developing babies. When inhaled, mercury vapor can also affect the central nervous system, impair mental capacity and, depending on levels of exposure, even lead to death."The ripple effect of using mercury is very costly in both human health and harm to the environment.” --Olubunmi Olusanya

“Despite the danger that mercury poses, it is still widely used, especially in Africa, and this is of great concern,” says Olubunmi Olusanya of the Federal Ministry of Environment, Nigeria.

He told IPS that “While Africa does not manufacture mercury added products, the continent is a leading importer of mercury. The ripple effect of using mercury is very costly in both human health and harm to the environment.”

It is within this context that the Zero Mercury Working Group recently held a series of meetings in Nairobi, Kenya to address phasing out of mercury.

The Zero Mercury Working Group is an international coalition of over 95 public interest environmental and health non-governmental organizations from more than 50 countries around the world, with several NGO members coming from African countries.

“Phasing out mercury will mean replacing mercury added products such as thermometers, thermostats and batteries with alternatives, but it also means reducing and ultimately eliminating the use of mercury in artisanal and small-scale gold mining,” explains Elena Lymberidi-Settimo, International Co-coordinator of the Zero Mercury Working Group.

According to the Zero Mercury Working Group, artisanal and small scale gold mining (ASGM)  is a complex global development issue. It uses and releases substantial amounts of mercury in mineral processing, usually in highly unsafe and environmentally hazardous conditions.

Haji Rehani, a Senior Programme Officer at the Agenda for Environment and Response Development in Tanzania, who works closely with artisanal and small scale gold mining communities, says, “This kind of mining is the largest demand sector for mercury globally.”

He says that mercury is used to bind the gold to form an amalgam, which helps separate it from the rock, sand and other materials. The amalgam is then heated to vaporize the mercury, exposing miners and contaminating the environment while leaving the gold behind.

“There is a need to engage as many stakeholders as possible from the miners all the way to governments,” he advises.

He told IPS that African governments have shown the greatest worldwide commitment to addressing mercury as a health hazard and to ultimately phase it out.

Rehani says that this commitment has been demonstrated through Africa’s active involvement in the adoption of the Minamata Convention on mercury in October 2013, when 128 countries signed on.

“This legally binding agreement was developed and adopted to protect human life and environment from mercury emissions. It has clear time-bound targets for phasing out the manufacture, export or import of a number of mercury added products specified in the Convention,” he expounds.

At the moment, 52 countries have ratified the Convention, marking a significant milestone since the Convention requires at least 50 countries to ratify in order for the treaty to enter into force.

The Convention will therefore come into effect in the next 90 days. This further reinforces the significance of the zero mercury conference, which provided a platform for cross-country knowledge sharing towards reducing and eventually eliminating the use of mercury in all sectors.

Desiree Narvaez of the UN Environment Chemicals and Health Branch explained the need for stakeholders to have a platform to address mercury as a global health and environment issue, noting that such platforms are essential for governments to understand the devastating impact of mercury use.

Of the 52 countries, Africa is ahead of every other continent with 19 countries ratifying the Convention.

Anne Lillian Nakafeero from Uganda’s National Environment Management Authority. Credt: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Anne Lillian Nakafeero from Uganda’s National Environment Management Authority. Credt: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

The Zero Mercury Working Group has major ongoing intervention projects in, for instance, Nigeria and Mauritius, focusing on phasing out mercury added products by 2020 as stipulated in the Minamata Convention.

Other Zero Mercury projects are also in countries such as Ghana and Tanzania where the main focus has been reducing and eventually eliminating the use of mercury in artisanal and small scale gold mining.

These projects are also keen on protecting vulnerable populations, and specifically women and children.

Experts at the conference reiterated the fact that the use of mercury in artisanal and small scale gold mining continues to rise, especially in developing countries, mainly because it is considered simple and inexpensive – producing 20 to 30 percent of the world’s gold.

The Zero Mercury Working Group estimates that 15 million people in approximately 70 countries are employed in artisanal and small scale gold mining, with many exposed to mercury. Four to five million of them are vulnerable women and children.

As a result, there is a need for concerted efforts to protect such disadvantaged populations and for countries to ensure that their respective National Action Plans emphasize the protection of such vulnerable groups when implementing the Convention.

There was significant emphasis during the Nairobi conference on the need for governments to develop and implement the Convention, which contains mandatory obligations to eliminate where feasible, and otherwise minimize, the global supply and trade of mercury.

A key stakeholder during the conference and indeed in global efforts to phase out mercury is the United Nations Environment Global Mercury Partnership (UN Environment).

Within the context of the Minamata Convention the focus of the UN Environment Global Mercury Partnership has shifted to support crucial areas of the treaty.

This includes banning  a number of listed mercury added products by 2020, with the exception of a Party registering an exemption.

Reducing and ultimately eliminating the use of mercury in small scale gold mining is expected to be done progressively, with the objective achieved in about 15 years.

The meeting brought together many government officials and stakeholders in a one-day forum held on the heels of the Zero Mercury conference to develop their own road maps for phasing out mercury under the Minamata Convention by 2020.

This included 35 delegates from 31 countries, representatives of seven United Nations and intergovernmental agencies, 15 NGOs and five other delegates from academics, private sector and consultants.

It emerged from the meetings and experience sharing that there is a great need for country-specific laws to explicitly outlaw the use of mercury in products and taking voluntary steps to significantly reduce mercury in artisanal and small scale gold mining, since the treaty doesn’t specifically ban it.

For example, Uganda has signed the Minamata Convention and is in the process of developing a National Action Plan for reducing mercury in artisanal and small scale gold mining. While this will take this East African nation a step closer towards phasing out mercury, there is no legislation in place outlawing the use of mercury.

“In this regard, stakeholders must embrace as many partnerships as possible. Mercury is a cross-cutting issue and one single entity cannot address this agenda. We need the government, Civil Society Organizations, miners and others as was demonstrated during the Zero Mercury conference,” said Anne Lillian Nakafeero from the National Environment Management Authority in Uganda.

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Growing Unemployed Youth in Africa a Time Bomb, But…http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/growing-unemployed-youth-in-africa-a-time-bomb-but/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=growing-unemployed-youth-in-africa-a-time-bomb-but http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/growing-unemployed-youth-in-africa-a-time-bomb-but/#respond Mon, 29 May 2017 16:25:48 +0000 Friday Phiri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150640 There are nearly 420 million young Africans between the ages of 15 and 35 today. And it is estimated that within ten years, Africa will be home to one-fifth of all young people worldwide. These millions of young people could be a source of ingenuity and engines of productivity that could ignite a new age […]

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A panel discussion on Africa-Asia partnerships featuring AFDB Group President Akinwumi Adesina, Benin President Patrice Talon, Vice President of Cote d'Ivoire Daniel Kablan Duncan and Hellen Hai of Made in Africa Initiative. Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

A panel discussion on Africa-Asia partnerships featuring AFDB Group President Akinwumi Adesina, Benin President Patrice Talon, Vice President of Cote d'Ivoire Daniel Kablan Duncan and Hellen Hai of Made in Africa Initiative. Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

By Friday Phiri
AHMEDABAD, India, May 29 2017 (IPS)

There are nearly 420 million young Africans between the ages of 15 and 35 today. And it is estimated that within ten years, Africa will be home to one-fifth of all young people worldwide.

These millions of young people could be a source of ingenuity and engines of productivity that could ignite a new age of inclusive prosperity.“If we don’t change the labour composition of agriculture in Africa, in the next twenty years, there will be no farmers.” --AfDB President Akinwumi Adesina

But there are no guarantees. Although the continent has shown consistent economic growth in the last decade, it has failed in creating the number of quality jobs needed to absorb the 10-12 million young people entering the labour market each year.

And this, according to AfDB Vice President for Agriculture, Human and Social Development, Jennifer Blanke, is a time bomb waiting to explode.

“While the youth population is Africa’s asset, it can also easily become a liability, and this is the whole question about demographic dividends,” observes Blanke. “Let us be clear, it is only the existence of opportunity and the young person’s belief that they can access that opportunity that prevents pessimism and political unrest…inaction is not an option, young people without opportunity, and more importantly without belief in their leaders’ ability to provide opportunity are a certain source of civil unrest and we are seeing it every day.”

‘Transforming Agriculture for wealth creation in Africa’ was therefore the major theme of the 52nd AfDB Annual Meetings held in Ahmedabad, India from 22-26 May 2017.

Experts here agreed that transforming Africa’s agriculture requires a business approach that would incentivize youth who still see farming as way of life for the poor. As a result of this scenario, the average age of farmers in Africa is 60, and Akinwumi Adesina, AfDB Group President, fears that “If we don’t change the labour composition of agriculture in Africa, in the next twenty years, there will be no farmers.”

To get youth involved, Adesina believes, “We need to change the mindset about agriculture—agriculture is not a social sector, agriculture is not a way of life, it is a business.”

But the how question is crucial, and he points to finance among other incentives. “There are opportunities for youth but certain things have to be put in place to realize them, such as financing…our young people are doing amazing things with ICT—they are providing weather index insurance, extension services and a host of other things.”

For its part, the Bank has provided a roadmap for the growth of agriculture in Africa with a plan to inject nearly 2.4 billion dollars every year for 10 years to build roads, irrigation infrastructure and storage facilities to attract high-value investors.

With this kind of investment, AfDB wants to transform Agriculture into a money-making business for those involved, highlighting that Africa should position itself to benefit from the growth of agricultural food markets which are set to grow to a trillion-dollar business portfolio by 2030.

The figure is huge and appetising. But certain steps have to be taken, and one of those steps is closing the infrastructure gap.

According to Thomas Silberhorn, Germany Parliamentary State Secretary, “It is important to close the infrastructure gap on the African continent, not just somehow, but in the spirit of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development, by building sustainable infrastructure especially in the energy sector,” he said, adding that it was for this reason that his government was advocating for more support to the African Renewable Initiative of the African Union whose secretariat is hosted at the African Development Bank.

While ICT is usually seen as a sure way of getting youth involved, there is another door to young people’s hearts which agricultural policy makers and implementers have not paid attention to—the film industry.  In Africa, the movie industry is dominated by young people and is emerging as an important contributor to gross domestic product and employment in countries like Nigeria.

However, the entertainment industry–especially the film industry—too often offers unflattering narratives of agriculture and the rural life, showing that real economic opportunities are only found in big cities. Such negative portrayal perpetuates the perception that agriculture is simply a way of surviving for the poor.

To tap into the power and influence of the movie industry, and change these perceptions by projecting agriculture as a profitable and viable economic sector, AfDB brought together Nollywood (Nigerian) and Bollywood (Indian) film makers to this year’s annual meetings to chart the way forward on how to market agriculture as a lucrative business through movies.

Nigerian filmmakers Omoni Oboli and Omotola Jalade Ekeinde represented Nollywood while Rajendrakumar Mohan Raney, a director and producer, and Rekha Rana, Indian and international award-winning actress, represented Bollywood.

Oboli and Omotola pledged to do everything in their power to tell the African agricultural transformation story and change the negative perceptions, especially among young people.

“We have learnt a lot about agriculture and are ready to change the state of affairs through filmmaking,” said Oboli during the Indian Cultural Night and AfDB Impact Awards ceremony where she was a guest presenter alongside BBC’s Lerato Mbele.

As Adesina noted, with 65 percent of the world’s uncultivated land, “What Africa does with agriculture is not only important for Africa: it will shape the future of food in the world.”

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Valuing Water Beyond the Moneyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/valuing-water-beyond-the-money/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=valuing-water-beyond-the-money http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/valuing-water-beyond-the-money/#respond Mon, 29 May 2017 11:29:03 +0000 Paula Fray http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150629 Amid the worst drought in a century, South Africans are kick-starting a global consultative process to agree on the values of water in a bid to ensure more equitable use of the finite resource. On May 30, ministers, officials, civil society, business and local regional organisations will gather outside Johannesburg, South Africa, as part of […]

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The catchment area of the Katse Dam in Lesotho, which flows into South Africa. Credit: Campbell Easton/IPS

The catchment area of the Katse Dam in Lesotho, which flows into South Africa. Credit: Campbell Easton/IPS

By Paula Fray
JOHANNESBURG, May 29 2017 (IPS)

Amid the worst drought in a century, South Africans are kick-starting a global consultative process to agree on the values of water in a bid to ensure more equitable use of the finite resource.

On May 30, ministers, officials, civil society, business and local regional organisations will gather outside Johannesburg, South Africa, as part of a high-level consultation on water called the “Valuing Water Initiative”.“The distribution of water has always been a point of advocacy in relation to the land transformation debate. [There can be] no land reform without water reform.” --Herschelle Milford

The High Level Panel on Water – first convened by the World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim and then UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon – consists of 11 sitting Heads of State and Government and one Special Adviser, to provide the leadership required to “champion a comprehensive, inclusive and collaborative way of developing and managing water resources, and improving water and sanitation related services”.

The HLPW’s core focus is to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all, Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6, as well as to contribute to the achievement of the other SDGs that rely on the development and management of water resources.

The members of the panel are Heads of State from Australia, Bangladesh, Hungary, Jordan, Mauritius (co-chair), Mexico (co-chair), Netherlands, Peru, Senegal, South Africa, and Tajikistan.

The South African consultation takes place on May 30, followed by consultations in Mexico, Senegal, Tajikistan and Bangladesh ahead of a global presentation at the Stockholm World Water Week in August 2017.

Global Water Partnership’s (GWP) executive secretary Rudolph Cleveringa explained that, as the first in a series of consultations, the South Africa meeting was expected to “set the tone and pace”.

“South Africa is extremely committed to the water agenda. South Africa went from an Apartheid policy-driven water policy to a human rights approach. We are very keen to see the country lead not only from a South Africa view but also from a southern Africa perspective,” said Cleveringa.

When she presented her budget speech to South Africa’s Parliament on May 26, Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane – acknowledging her participation on the HLPW –  said “water knows no boundaries and water can be a social, security and economic catalyst, both nationally and internationally”

Announcing that South Africa, in partnership with GWP and working together with the African Ministers Council on Water (AMCOW), was hosting the regional consultations, Mokonyane said the initiative would “support countries to enhance job creation through investments in water infrastructure and industrialisation”.

On the table will be the draft principles that note “making all the values of water explicit gives recognition and a voice to dimensions that are easily overlooked. This is more than a cost-benefit analysis and is necessary to make collective decisions and trade-offs. It is important to lead towards sustainable solutions that overcome inequalities and strengthen institutions and infrastructure.”

The meeting takes place as the Western Cape province of South Africa has been declared a disaster area as a result of the drought which has seen dam levels drop to crisis levels. The City recently said its feeder dam levels were at 20.7 percent, with only 10.7 percent left for consumption.

According to the minister, it is the “worst drought in the last 100 years and the severest for the Western Cape in the last 104 years.

“This drought has not only affected South Africa, but also the rest of the world because of global warming, climate change,” she said, adding that it would take at least two to three years for the Western Cape to recover.

Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille said the city would increase emergency water schemes in the coming months with programmes such as drilling boreholes and exploring desalinisation.

In a recent speech, De Lille emphasised the need for public-private partnerships.

“We need to be innovative and diversify our financing mechanisms and these efforts will require partnership with the private sector,” De Lille was quoted as saying.

The city council has introduced Level 4 restrictions – one level below emergency level.

Western Cape-based Surplus People Project CEO Herschelle Milford, whose organisation works to support agrarian transformation, said that the city had blamed migration as a reason for the water crisis in Cape Town.

“However, the biggest consumers of water is industry, then agriculture and then households,” she noted. This called for dialogue on how water could be shared equitably among all its users, noted Milford.

“The water crisis is a discussion point in the context of large-scale commercial farmers using irrigation with limited recourse amongst land and agrarian activists,” said Milford.

Water was much more than simply about access: “The distribution of water has always been a point of advocacy in relation to the land transformation debate. [There can be] no land reform without water reform.”

Cleveringa said the discussions were being generated from very high international dialogues to discussions at the local level. To this end, the draft principles offer a range of perspectives on how water can be valued.

Not only will the South African dialogue include a host of ministers but regional input will be provided by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Executive Secretary Dr Stergomena Lawrence Tax, as well as various organisations such as Dr Oyun Sanjaasuren, Chair of the Global Water Partnership; and Dr Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank.

SADC head of water Phera Ramoeli said water valuation was a critical component of water resources management as it allowed “policy and planning across all the developmental spectrum”.

“The SADC region has 15 Shared Watercourses which accounts for over 70 percent of all the available renewable water resources in the region. If they are properly managed and adequately funded they will ensure the continued availability of these resources for the current and future generations for the various needs and uses that water is put to,” he said, noting that water was present in a large number of value chains including agro-processing, mineral processing, pharmaceuticals, energy production, even health.

“Valuing water is important as it will ensure that water resources management, development, conservation and monitoring receives an appropriate share of the national budget,” he added.

The water principles being discussed also emphasise the collaborative process to build water champions and ownership at all levels that allows users to meet all 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals.

“We are moving away from valuing water in its fiscal interpretation only. We’re not just looking at it in terms of how much does water cost but going beyond this utilitarian approach. The Bellagio principles demonstrate that there is more than just a utilitarian approach to water and we hope that these consultations will draw out those discussions,” said Cleveringa.

“The value of water is basically about making choices,” he said, adding that this called for “not just a cross-sectoral approach but also all of society input into valuing water”.

It is in this discussion that the high level panels aim to provide leadership to champion a “comprehensive, inclusive, and collaborative way of developing and managing water resources, and improving water and sanitation related services”.

The dialogues need to generate an open debate on the values of water as well as get regional input to the Bellagio principles.

Over half of the consultations are happening in non-OECD settings that are being led by the global South.

“This sets the right tone for buy-in at multiple levels,” said Cleveringa.

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Time To Focus On ‘Hidden Hunger’http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/time-to-focus-on-hidden-hunger/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=time-to-focus-on-hidden-hunger http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/time-to-focus-on-hidden-hunger/#respond Fri, 26 May 2017 16:13:05 +0000 Bev Postma http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150605 Bev Postma is the CEO of HarvestPlus. She has 25 years of experience as a policy expert in international food systems, nutrition and food security.

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Children, Kafue, Zambia. Credit: Brian Moonga/IPS

By Bev Postma
WASHINGTON DC, May 26 2017 (IPS)

As World Hunger Day May 28 approaches, it is time for us all to redouble our efforts to reach the goal of Zero Hunger by prioritizing the battle against micronutrient deficiency. If the international community pulls together this year to incorporate proven solutions such as biofortifying crops into the UN framework for sustainable development, we could reduce malnutrition on a truly global scale.

Previous UN-led efforts, including the Millennium Development Goals, and the current Sustainable Development Goals set targets for countries to lift themselves out of poverty and hunger. With the support of multiple UN initiatives and partners, the number of undernourished people in developing countries has decreased by nearly half since 1990. This is encouraging.

However, one-third of the world’s population continues to suffer from ‘hidden hunger,’ caused by a lack of essential vitamins and minerals. Even if people have enough calories to eat, they can still suffer from ‘hidden hunger’ if their only food options do not contain the necessary micronutrients.

Zinc, vitamin A and iron are three of the more important micronutrients for health, according to the World Health Organization. Each of these nutrients play a critical role in normal body functions. A diet lacking in these nutrients presents a major threat to human health, potentially causing stunting, decreased cognitive ability, diarrheal disease, auto-immune deficiency, blindness and early child mortality. Around 375,000 children go blind each year as a result of a lack of vitamin A; and zinc deficiency causes 450,000 deaths annually.

More than 2 billion people suffer from hidden hunger globally, and there is a ripple effect that has consequences for the entire population. The World Bank estimates that in Pakistan malnutrition costs the country $7.6 billion, or 3 percent of its GDP annually. Likewise, the African Union estimates that Rwanda loses more than 11 percent of its GDP due to child undernutrition alone.

Countries with high levels of malnutrition must contend with these cumulative effects of high healthcare costs and lost productivity wherever they are in the world.

There are a number of solutions to address micronutrient deficiency, but crop biofortification can reach communities where traditional supplementation and food fortification potentially cannot. Growing more nutritious versions of everyday food crops is a simple, sustainable and cost-effective solution that does not place any undue burden on farmers. These biofortified crops are also widely accepted by consumers, as extensive research is done to ensure the crops look and taste similar to the traditional varieties.

HarvestPlus has spent the past 14 years working with leading research institutes to prove that biofortified crops, which contain greater quantities of vitamin A, iron and zinc than standard varieties, can reach communities that need them.

In India, iron-biofortified pearl millet provides children with 70 percent of daily iron requirements. More than a million Indian farmers have embraced the more nutritious variety, which is also high yielding and drought tolerant, providing farmers with a more stable income while simultaneously bolstering their family’s nutrition.

A study of iron-deficient women between the ages of 18 and 27 in Rwanda proved that eating biofortified beans high in iron reversed iron deficiency in just four-and-a-half months. In a region plagued by hot weather and drought, iron beans present the added benefit of being high yielding, drought resistant and heat tolerant.

Countries across the world are already embracing the science of biofortification. The government of Zambia launched a campaign to get schools to grow and feed their students vitamin A-biofortified orange maize, while Brazil is distributing biofortified crops to schools through its states’ school feeding programs.

In Uganda, five iron-rich bean varieties were released last year as part of the government’s strategy to tackle malnutrition and reduce anemia, especially in children and expectant mothers. These countries, among many others, have chosen to implement a proven, cost-effective solution to address micronutrient deficiency and they are relying on international organizations like the United Nations to provide additional support.

Earlier this year, HarvestPlus made a public commitment to work with UN agencies and member states to be part of the decade of action on nutrition. In line with our commitment, we are calling on all governments and institutions to help us scale up the introduction of biofortified foods by bridging the gap that exists between agriculture and nutrition.

If we can work with the UN, national governments and farming communities to encourage the adoption of this breakthrough innovation, we can help lift one billion people out of poverty and hidden hunger just by providing access to a diverse and nutritious diet.

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Formalising Informal Trade – Good for African Women?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/formalising-informal-trade-good-for-african-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=formalising-informal-trade-good-for-african-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/formalising-informal-trade-good-for-african-women/#respond Fri, 26 May 2017 10:25:40 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150602 Women constitute the largest share of informal traders in Africa–about 70 per cent in Southern Africa and more than half in other parts of this vast continent made up of 54 states, home to over 1,200 billion people. Informal cross-border trading, in which transactions are not compliant with local tax and other rules, accounts for […]

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Rural women sell mango and sweet potato jam at the food processing shop in Bantantinnting, Senegal. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By IPS World Desk
ROME, May 26 2017 (IPS)

Women constitute the largest share of informal traders in Africa–about 70 per cent in Southern Africa and more than half in other parts of this vast continent made up of 54 states, home to over 1,200 billion people.

Informal cross-border trading, in which transactions are not compliant with local tax and other rules, accounts for a large share – between 20 and a hefty 70 per cent– of employment in sub-Saharan Africa, says a new United Nations specialised report.

Africa’s vast but informal cross-border trade can contribute to improving livelihoods and increasing regional integration across the continent, according to the new report Formalization of informal trade in Africa.

Putting it on a regular footing can lift sustainable prosperity and markedly improve prospects for women, adds the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) report, which was released on 25 May coinciding with Africa Day.

“It is about harnessing rather than suppressing informal trade, it says, adding that which around half of all intra-African cross-border trade is classified as informal, indicating its large if officially invisible role.“

Simplifying the requirements for a business license, offering incentives to tax payers, and tackling official corruption are among the recommendations aimed to cut informal trade among African countries and boost economic prosperity, particularly for women, the study recommends.

Proactive policies that recognise such activity, tapping its potential with the aim of steering it towards proper regulatory status, are to be preferred over heavy-handed approaches to eradicate or seek rents from entrepreneurs, according to the UN specialised agency.

“Informal cross-border trade, often agricultural, is the result of poor access to government offices, a lack of administrative skills and improper understanding of import and custom-tax laws.

One of the main groups that would be affected by formalization is women, who constitute the largest share of informal traders – about 70 per cent in Southern Africa and more than half in other parts, says the report.

“Facilitating formalization is the only viable policy option for Africa’s transformation agenda to realize its objectives,” said Suffyan Koroma, FAO senior economist and lead author of the report.

The new report was presented at a conference in Kigali, Rwanda, which held as part of on-going FAO-supported work in the country, along with UN Women and other development partners, aimed at enabling women to benefit more from agri-food chains, a project geared to allowing women small traders access useful information as well as start-up capital.

Machakos District, Kenya - Kweka farmers group members display how seeds are stored between harvest and the next planting season to ensure food production will continue. Credit: FAO/Christena Dowsett

Machakos District, Kenya – Kweka farmers group members display how seeds are stored between harvest and the next planting season to ensure food production will continue. Credit: FAO/Christena Dowsett


The UN leading specialised agency in the fields of food and agriculture also reported that local agricultural produce and livestock account for two-thirds of Rwanda’s exports, most of which are informally traded, with the bulk going to neighbouring countries, notably the Democratic Republic of Congo. Rwanda encourages informal small traders to form cooperatives as a step towards regularisation.

A Huge Role for Women

Women trading between the border posts of Kenya and Uganda and between Rwanda and Burundi prefer to use brokers who appear to shield them from what they perceive as unprofessional behaviour of customs officials, the report notes.

Informal cross-border trade activity is largely a second-choice option taken by people in the absence of clearly defined formal alternatives, says FAO. It consists of trade in goods and services, often agricultural in nature, and in times of food crises and other shocks has proven to be more responsible than legal channels.

“Off-the-radar economic activity, not all of it involving international trade, accounts for around 40 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in Africa, higher than in Latin America or Asia.”

“The trade is rarely illegal,” the UN specialised body reports, adding that in most cases it is informal because practitioners have poor access to all the appropriate business licenses, administrative skills and knowledge of import and custom-tax laws to act otherwise.

Prey to Corruption

While such activity is an important source of household income, practitioners are often prey to corruption and their weak access to credit means their activities are rarely stable or sustainable.

Women constitute the largest share of such informal traders. In Tanzania, women dominate trade in manufactured products while men handle mostly raw or semi-processed agricultural products, whereas the opposite is the case in Cameroon, the FAO report found.

“Women and men tend to differ in which foodstuffs – fresh produce or commodity staples – they trade as well.”

Working with Catholic Relief Service, the UN agency has also organised open-door events on the Rwanda-Congo border where women cooperatives were invited to learn more about the cross-border tax regime directly from custom officials and government representatives.

“Rwanda has emerged as a model of best practice for cross border trade through its efforts to integrate the informal economy by easing trade channels for small-scale agricultural traders, “said Attaher Maiga, FAO’s Representative in Rwanda.

Key priorities to facilitate the formalisation of informal cross-border trading include the simplification of licensing requirements, tax incentives, fostering partnerships, radio, television and town-hall outreach to participants in the informal economy, and intensifying efforts to tackle official corruption, said the UN agency.

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In a “World of Plenty,” G7 Must Fight Faminehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/in-a-world-of-plenty-g7-must-fight-famine/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-a-world-of-plenty-g7-must-fight-famine http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/in-a-world-of-plenty-g7-must-fight-famine/#respond Fri, 26 May 2017 06:28:19 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150597 World leaders must step up and take action in fighting famine to prevent further catastrophic levels of hunger and deaths, said Oxfam. Ahead of the 43rd G7 summit, Oxfam urged world leaders to urgently address the issue of famine, currently affecting four countries at unprecedented levels. “Political failure has led to these crises – political […]

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A child from drought-stricken southern Somalia who survived the long journey to an aid camp in the Somali capital Mogadishu. Credit: Abdurrahman Warsameh/IPS

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

World leaders must step up and take action in fighting famine to prevent further catastrophic levels of hunger and deaths, said Oxfam.

Ahead of the 43rd G7 summit, Oxfam urged world leaders to urgently address the issue of famine, currently affecting four countries at unprecedented levels.

“Political failure has led to these crises – political leadership is needed to resolve them…the world’s most powerful leaders must now act to prevent a catastrophe happening on their watch,” said Oxfam’s Executive Director Winnie Byanyima.

“If G7 leaders were to travel to any of these four countries, they would see for themselves how life is becoming impossible for so many people: many are already dying in pain, from disease and extreme hunger,” she continued.

In northeast Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen, approximately 30 million people are severely food insecure. Of this figure, 10 million face emergency and famine conditions, more than the population of G7 member United Kingdom’s capital of London.

After descending into conflict over three years ago, famine has now been declared in two South Sudan counties and a third county is at risk if food aid is not provided.

In Somalia, conflict alongside prolonged drought – most likely exacerbated by climate change – has left almost 7 million in need of humanitarian assistance. Drought has also contributed to cholera outbreaks and displacement.

Byanyima pointed to the hypocrisy in a “world of plenty” experiencing four famines.

These widespread crises are not confined to the four countries’ borders.

According to the UN Refugee Agency, almost 2 million South Sudanese have fled to neighboring countries, including Uganda, Ethiopia, and Kenya, making it the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis. Due to the influx of South Sudanese refugees, the Bidi Bidi refugee camp in Uganda is now the largest in the world, placing a strain on local services.

Escaping hunger and conflict, Nigerians have sought refuge in the Lake Chad region which shares its borders with Cameroon, Chad, and Niger only to once again face high levels of food insecurity and disease outbreaks.

Among the guest invitees to the G7 meeting are the affected nations, including the governments of Ethiopia, Kenya, and Nigeria.

Oxfam called on the G7 countries to provide its fair share of funding. So far, they have provided 1.7 billion dollars, just under 60 percent of their fair share. Meanwhile, only 30 percent of a 6.3-billion-dollar UN appeal for all four countries has been funded. If each G7 country contributed its fair share, almost half of the appeal would be funded, Oxfam estimates.

In 2015, the G7 committed to lift 500 million people out of hunger and malnutrition. Oxfam noted that they should thus uphold their commitments and focus on crisis prevention.

However, some of the G77 nations’ actions do not bode well for accelerated action on famine.

For instance, the U.S. government has proposed significant cuts to foreign assistance, including a 30 percent decrease in funding for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The proposal also includes the elimination of Title II For Peace, a major USAID food aid program, which would mean the loss of over 1.7 billion dollars of food assistance.

Former US Foreign Disaster Assistance chief Jeremy Konyndyk noted that the cuts are “catastrophic.” “So bad I fear I’m misreading it,” he added.

International Rescue Committee’s (IRC) President David Miliband highlighted the importance of continuing U.S. foreign assistance in order to alleviate humanitarian suffering abroad and protect the interests and security of the U.S. and its allies.

“Global threats like Ebola and ISIS grow out of poverty, instability, and bad governance. Working to counteract these with a forward-leaning foreign aid policy doesn’t just mean saving lives today, but sparing the US and its allies around the world the much more difficult, expensive work of combating them tomorrow,” he stated.

President Trump also called for the elimination of the U.S. African Development Foundation which provides grants to underserved communities in Sub-Saharan Africa, and has suggested cutting funds to climate change programs such as the UN’s Green Climate Fund which aims to help vulnerable developing nations combat climate change.

Meanwhile, UK’s Prime Minister Theresa May has already abolished its climate change department.

In addition to scaling up humanitarian funding, G7 nations must commit to fund longer-term solutions that build resilience and improve food security to avoid large-scale disasters, Oxfam stated. This includes action on climate change, “no excuses,” said Oxfam.

President Trump is expected to announce whether the U.S. will remain in the Paris climate agreement after the G7 summit.

“History shows that when donors fail to act on early warnings of potential famine, the consequence can be a large-scale, devastating loss of life….now clear warnings have again been issued,” Oxfam stated.

“The international community have the power to end such failures—if they choose to—by marshaling international logistics and a humanitarian response network to work sustainably with existing local systems to prevent famine and address conflict, governance, and climate change drivers,” Oxfam concluded.

The G7 summit is hosted by Sicily, Italy and will be held from 26-27 May.

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Africa – More than Just Conflicts, Corruption, Disastershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/africa-more-than-just-conflicts-corruption-disasters/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africa-more-than-just-conflicts-corruption-disasters http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/africa-more-than-just-conflicts-corruption-disasters/#respond Thu, 25 May 2017 13:17:05 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150587 Natural and man-made disasters, armed conflicts, widespread corruption and deep social inequalities have been so far a dramatic source for most news coverage when it comes to Africa, the world’s second-largest and second-most-populous continent on Earth, which hosts 54 states spreading over 30 million square kilometres that are home to over 1.2 billion people. Nevertheless, […]

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A woman in El Fasher, North Darfur, uses a Water Roller for easily and efficiently carrying water. Credit: UN Photo/Albert Gonzalez Farran.

By IPS World Desk
ROME, May 25 2017 (IPS)

Natural and man-made disasters, armed conflicts, widespread corruption and deep social inequalities have been so far a dramatic source for most news coverage when it comes to Africa, the world’s second-largest and second-most-populous continent on Earth, which hosts 54 states spreading over 30 million square kilometres that are home to over 1.2 billion people.

Nevertheless, an often neglected fact is that this vast continent with huge natural resources –which have been systematically depleted by private –and also in cases, state-owned corporations— registered an economic growth of around 4 per cent in 2014, “creating one of the longest stretches of uninterrupted positive economic expansion in Africa’s history,” according to the United Nations.

As a result, a growing number of Africans have joined the middle class each year.

May 25 has marked Africa Day, an annual commemoration of the establishment of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) on that very same date on 1963, when 32 independent African states signed the founding charter in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. In 2002, the OAU became the African Union.

Just three weeks ahead of Africa Day, a new UN atlas charting data from 54 African countries revealed the continent’s energy potential; showing that investment in renewable energy would strengthen its economic advancement.

Credit: United Nations

Credit: United Nations

“The Atlas makes a strong case that investments in green energy infrastructure can bolster Africa’s economic development and bring it closer to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” said Juliette Biao Koudenoukpo, Director and Regional Representative of the Africa Office for the Nairobi-based UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

As such, she continued, it is an important policy guide for African governments as they strive to catalyse national development by making use of their energy resources.

The Atlas of Africa Energy Resources, released by UNEP and the African Development Bank at the World Economic Forum in Durban, South Africa, shows both the potential and the fragility of the continent’s energy resources, which are at the heart of Africa’s socio-economic development.

While Africa is richly endowed with both renewable and non-renewable energy resources, its current energy production is insufficient to meet demand, it says, adding that about a third Africa’s population still lacks access to electricity and 53 per cent of the population depends on biomass for cooking, space heating and drying.

According to UNEP, energy consumption on the continent is the lowest in the world, and per capita consumption has barely changed since 2000.

The poorest African households spend 20 times more per unit of energy than wealthy households when connected to the grid. A kettle boiled twice by a family in the United Kingdom uses five times as much electricity as a Malian uses in a year, UNEP reported.

The Big Challenges

According to the United Nations, climate change poses a significant threat to economic, social and environmental development in Africa. “There is strong evidence that warming in Africa has increased significantly over the past 50 to 100 years, with clear effects on the health, livelihoods and food security of people in Africa.”

Then comes corruption, which remains the “most daunting challenge” to good governance, sustainable economic growth, peace, stability and development in Africa, according to the international organisation.

Africa is richly endowed with energy resources, both renewable and non-renewable. The poorest African households spend 20 times more per unit of energy than wealthy households when connected to the grid. Credit: UNEP

Africa is richly endowed with energy resources, both renewable and non-renewable. The poorest African households spend 20 times more per unit of energy than wealthy households when connected to the grid. Credit: UNEP


“While corruption is a global phenomenon, the impact is felt more in poor and underdeveloped countries, where resources for development are unduly diverted into private hands, which exacerbates poverty. In many corruption perception surveys, Africa is perceived as the most corrupt region in the world, as well as the most underdeveloped and backward region…”

All this amidst the dramatic fact that Africa is also home to around half if the more than 4o conflicts worldwide, from South Sudan to Nigeria through Somalia.

The challenges posed by protracted conflicts and longstanding disputes on the African continent has been a major focus for the international community. In fact, already in 1960 the first peacekeeping operation in Africa was deployed in the Republic of the Congo to ensure the withdrawal of Belgian forces and to assist the government in maintaining law and order.

Since then thousands of peacekeepers have been deployed in nearly 30 peacekeeping operations to African countries, including Angola, Mozambique, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia and Eritrea, Burundi and Sudan, and the Central African Republic, among others.

Decolonisation, Women Advancement

Another often-neglected fact is that at the end of World War II in 1945, nearly every country in Africa was subject to colonial rule or administration. Following the founding of the UN in 1945 and its massive decolonisation effort, Africa is now virtually free from colonial rule. In 2011 South Sudan became Africa’s newest country when it gained independence from the rest of Sudan.

Meantime, it would be needed to remind that in 11 African countries, women hold close to one-third of the seats in parliaments. Rwanda has the highest proportion of women parliamentarians in the world, according to the UN. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest regional female entrepreneurial activity rate in the world, with nearly a third of businesses having some female ownership.

Africa’s Agenda 2063

An additional fact is that in January 2015 the heads of state and governments of the African Union adopted Agenda 2063, with visions and ideals aiming at serving as pillars for the continent in the foreseeable future.

“The Agenda is a strategic framework for the socio-economic transformation of the continent over the next 50 years. Its builds on, and seeks to accelerate the implementation of past and existing continental initiatives for growth and sustainable development,” according to the Africa Union (AU).

The guiding vision for Agenda 2063 is that of “An integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in international arena,” the AU states.

The seven “African Aspirations”, which were derived through a consultative process with the African Citizenry, are: a prosperous Africa, based on inclusive growth and sustainable development; an integrated continent, politically united, based on the ideals of Pan Africanism and the vision of Africa’s Renaissance, and an Africa of good governance, democracy, respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law.

Also a peaceful and Secure Africa; Africa with a strong cultural identity, common heritage, values and ethics, an Africa whose development is people driven, relying on the potential offered by people, especially its women and youth and caring for children, and an Africa as a strong, united, resilient and influential global player and partner.

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