Monday, March 31, 2008

[Press Release] Aid agencies warn more than 2 million people risk being cut off from assistance without more funding for vital Sudan aid flights

from World Vision

Long-term funds urgently needed as conflict and coming rains leave many areas accessible only by air

Darfur, Sudan, March 28, 2008—Fourteen international aid agencies have warned that vital assistance to millions of people across Sudan will soon be put in jeopardy unless there is renewed commitment to provide long-term funding for humanitarian flights in the country.

With violent conflict continuing in Darfur and heavy annual rains due to fall in southern Sudan, which will leave vast areas submerged and impassable, aid agencies now rely more than ever on the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) to help them deliver assistance to many of the most inaccessible, insecure and poverty-stricken areas of Sudan.

In Darfur alone, the 14 agencies together assist over 2 million people in areas currently only reachable by air, as roads are too insecure—yet the air service is struggling for long-term funds. Hundreds of thousands more people in other parts of Sudan trying to recover from years of war, including the south of the country and disputed areas such as Abyei, are also only accessible by air.

While the agencies expressed relief at today's announcement that new donor funding will enable UNHAS to continue flying for one more month, they warned the reprieve is only short-term. The World Food Program, which runs the UNHAS service, recently warned the flights could close within weeks due to a lack of funds. Donors have now pledged enough to maintain the service during April—but nothing further is yet confirmed and its future is still uncertain. The agencies called on the international community to follow up and provide further funding as soon as possible.

"Much of our work meeting the enormous humanitarian and development needs across Sudan would not be possible without these flights. While we are relieved that donors have provided this new short-term support, we are greatly concerned that such an essential service still only has funding secured for four more weeks. A service upon which millions of people depend should not have to fear for its future every month," the agencies said.

In Darfur, the ongoing conflict has left more than 4 million people in need of assistance yet aid agencies are finding it more difficult than ever to reach them, due to almost daily hijackings of vehicles delivering humanitarian aid and targeted attacks on aid workers. The UNHAS flights are the only safe way for aid workers to reach many areas—particularly those outside the major towns, in areas where the humanitarian needs are often greatest. When fighting in West Darfur last month forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes empty-handed, the UNHAS flights were the only way most aid agencies could reach the area.

Oxfam said more than half of the 400,000 people it assists across Darfur can only be accessed by air because the roads are too unsafe. CARE warned that delivery of food and other vital assistance to 300,000 people in South and West Darfur is reliant on air transport.

"There is no doubt that if these flights were forced to end or scale down, given the ongoing violence we could not continue to operate much of our work in Darfur," warned Oxfam.

Many other parts of Sudan are slowly trying to recover from decades of civil war that left 2 million people dead and 4 million displaced. A shortage of roads and infrastructure, sporadic outbreaks of new fighting and heavy seasonal rainfall all mean flying is often the only way to access areas.

"If the peace agreement is to hold then the enormous development needs must be met. Yet for months at a time, vast areas are flooded and completely impassable. Without the humanitarian air service to fly aid in, there is no way the needs of these areas could be met," agencies said.

Actionaid Tasks Citizens On Poverty

from All Africa

By Segun Awofadeji

ActionAid Nigeria (AAN), an NGO committed to poverty eradication through various community-based initiatives has launched a framework for institutional change with a view to changing the psych, perspective and attitude of Nigerians towards public belongings.

The agenda tagged Coalition for Change (C4C) is geared towards the coalition of civil societies for monitoring and ensuring accountability and justifiable utilisation of the over U.S. $1billion under Virtual Poverty Fund (VPF) to be invested in Millennium Development Goals (MDG) projects in Nigeria.

Speaking at the launching of the project which attracted people and NGOs from all walks of life in Gombe state, the Country Director of ActionAid Nigeria, Dr. Otive Igbuzor said, as watchdogs, they would be obliged to ensure that the budgeted fund made the real impact on the lives of the targeted beneficiaries.

According to him, the poor and vulnerable that constituted over 50.4 per cent of the country's population that go to bed on empty stomach, the 10.4 million of school-age children that could not go to school because of poverty, people living with HIV/AIDS but have no access to Anti-Retroviral drugs, high infant mortality rate from preventable diseases and the over 800 out of 100,000 women who die annually from pregnancy related complication due to inadequate obstetric services must be provided with an equal opportunities which the coalition is determined to institutionalise.

Igbuzor added that ActionAid Nigeria was concerned in active partnership with Nigerians from all works of life for fighting against corruption, lack of probity in the award of governments' contracts and abandonment of projects littering in the country as well as non-involvement of the people in development process.

The Director explained that, "the monitoring of the VPF otherwise called debt relief gains was not the only primary responsibilities of the coalition but also the entire Nigerians' to aid in attainment of the MDGs goals".

He stressed that, Action Aid Nigeria was concerned in active partnership for fighting against corruption, lack of probity in the award of government's contracts and abandonment of projects littering in the country and non-involvement of the people in development process.

In his speech, the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Alhaji Abubakar Sule Bage, said Gombe State had more reasons than most states in the country to welcome the new initiatives in developments, saying "the state is relatively young and therefore, has a larger appetite for development".

Bage stressed that; it was for this reason that the state was pleased with the initiative by the Coalitions for Change and its members and working hard for the even development in the state.

He challenged civil society organisations that partner in the C4C project to provide honest, constructive and timely feedbacks on the range of interventions funded under the debt relief initiatives which the ActionAid is determined to ensure.

Millennium Challenge Corporation Invests in African Infrastructure to Fight Rural Poverty

from Voice of America

By Cole Mallard
Washington, DC

Helping the poor earn a living is one of the goals of the effort to increase investment in Africa’s infrastructure. Experts say the continent is ready.

Carol Hessler is the managing director for infrastructure and the environment for the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), a US government organization that so far has invested in Benin, Cape Verde, Ghana, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mali, Morocco, Mozambique and Tanzania for a total of $3.8 billion. In this third of a five-part series, she told Voice of America’s Cole Mallard the MCC, established almost four years ago, is an innovative, “radically transformative” approach to US foreign aid. Countries receiving it must meet three qualifications. Their governments must: 1) rule justly, 2) invest in people, and 3) support economic freedom.

Hessler says the African countries know that poor infrastructure “drives up the cost of doing business.” She says infrastructure is seen as critical in fighting poverty because it creates access to employment, markets, schools, health facilities, and local, regional and international trade.


Hessler says African governments accepting MCC assistance must put together their own program and provide their own dedicated funding to maintain the new infrastructures for their “expected life, so they won’t be shortened by the next rainy season that washes out a road.”

She says it’s hard to measure success so far because the MCC is fairly new and many of the agreements have just been completed. She says it takes “time to have a measurable impact…because you have to do the detailed designs, the feasibility studies and…the environmental impact assessments.” She says construction has not yet begun on major infrastructure projects in Africa, but the MCC is committed to providing millions of dollars for infrastructure development in Africa.


Hessler says a major challenge to infrastructure investment is understanding the need for time to design the projects well and have mechanisms in place to maintain them. She says people “need to understand that just because a shovel isn’t in the ground doesn’t mean that we aren’t working feverishly…. “The biggest challenge is explaining to people that building it correctly and [sustainably] is in the interest of poverty alleviation and economic growth.”

Bankers Committee to Establish Micro Credit Fund

from All Africa

By Amaka Ifeakandu

In furtherance of effort to ensure steady flow of funds in the Small and Medium scale Enterprises (SMEs), particularly micro enterprises, the Bankers' Committee is set to establish micro credit fund (MCF) of N20 billion.

A guideline released by the Development Finance Department of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) said that the fund is projected to grow to N100 billion by the year 2010.

In addition to this, it said banks are expected to continue to support SMEs while the CBN, in collaboration with the fiscal authorities would work out other necessary incentives to make SME lending more attractive to banks.

The major objective of the MCF according to the guideline was to complement the poverty and small and micro credit interventions by government at all levels as well as the activities of the microfinance banks in supplying a large but cheap source of finance to the small and micro entrepreneurs.

It further stated that the move to set up the fund was to ensure a wider and equitable distribution of credit around the country to deserving entrepreneurs by allowing state governments to engage in wholesale borrowing from the banks and on-lend to the entrepreneurs in their respective states.

Other reasons why the Bankers' Committee planned to establish MCF was to motivate the state and local governments to comply with the requirements of the microfinance policy and regulatory framework that they devote at least one percent of their annual budgets to microfinance.

It said that the fund would start operations with the balance of the Small and Medium Enterprises Equity Investment Scheme (SMEEIS) funds which was put at N20.3 billion as at December 2007 and subsequently contributions would be made by each bank to make the fund up to N100 billion by the end of 2010.

To access the fund, the guideline said that the states would have to put in place appropriate institutional arrangement for disbursing and recovering the amount to be accessed which shall be confirmed by the CBN.

Apart from the States showing commitment to supporting small and micro enterprises through setting aside a counterpart fund equal to the amount of the loan being sought, it need to set up a monitoring mechanism to ensure efficient utilization of the fund.

It further stated that state governments are expected to render periodic returns to the CBN on the operation of the funds as required.

In situation where the state governments were unable to exhaust the fund set aside by the banks in any year, micro finance banks and non governmental organisation micro finance institutions might borrow from the fund for on lending to small and micro enterprises.

VP proposes five ways to ease poverty

from the Inquirer

By Cynthia Balana

MANILA, Philippines -- Vice President Noli de Castro has proposed a five-point strategy to remove the country from economic and social uncertainties.

During the Philippine Development Forum (PDF) in Pampanga recently, De Castro said the truth behind the Philippine economic and social condition was "not in black and white but in shades of gray."

Among the first things to be done, he said, was to ask development planners to refocus some of the country's programs away from welfare activities and toward sustainable income generation.

"While welfare-type programs are effective in addressing short-term problems, we could not rely on them to provide the building blocks for long-run improvement in the living conditions of the poor," he said.

Instituting mechanisms to address the reality of globalization and its impact on food prices was also necessary.

De Castro explained that in 2007, world prices were up by 75 percent from 2000. Since food is the biggest item in the consumption basket of the poor, he said, any increase in food prices will surely affect their standard of living.

A third proposal involved preserving the country's economic gains and ensuring there is no backsliding.

De Castro noted that in the previous PDF, the improvements in the local economy were highlighted due to the strong fiscal performance. He said reforms in revenue generation and government expenditures have been instrumental in promoting macroeconomic stability.

"We have passed the first hurdle. Let us not be lulled into complacency in managing our fiscal sector," he said.

De Castro also called for greater accountability and transparency in governance, including a new procurement law and government accounting system to be adopted by all development agencies.

Lastly, De Castro called on development planners to work meaningfully with all sectors to strengthen their commitment to eradicate poverty and pursue genuine development.

In this regard, he called for adherence to the Paris Declaration on aid effectiveness adopted in 2005.

He said the declaration stressed the need for “ownership” by the government of development projects; “alignment” of the country's systems and procedures; and “harmonization” of the work of development agencies in support of the country's priorities.

"The Philippines has been a strong proponent of the principles of the said Paris Declaration. The Philippine Development Forum clearly proves this," De Castro said.

"With the Philippine Development Plan as the platform to harmonize and coordinate efforts to address key challenges and support shared priorities among government, development agencies, civil society, and the business sector, we actually see the principles and commitments in the Paris Declaration put into best practice," he added.

Economic ideas Sachs appeal

from the Economist

From The Economist print edition

IF GILBERT AND SULLIVAN were looking for the very model of a modern intellectual, they would surely pick Jeffrey Sachs. He is so “right on” that when Time magazine featured him in its global list of people who influence the world, his profile was written by Bono, a rock singer. His job titles—director of the Earth Institute and special adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General on the Millennium Development Goals—seem almost tailor-made to get up the noses of conservatives.

Nor is Mr Sachs lacking in ambition. His previous book was called “The End of Poverty”. Now he has moved on to tackle a wide range of other challenges facing the planet, from climate change through to disease eradication. His goals include stabilisation of the world's population, a move to sustainable energy use and “a new approach to global problem solving”.

If the above makes Mr Sachs sound like an impractical dreamer, that would be rather unfair. This densely written book is packed with statistics and carefully worded arguments. Nor is the author a left-wing ideologue. He recognises that the private sector and market-based solutions have a vital role to play. He cites, for example, the success achieved by public-private sector initiatives in tackling acid rain and chlorofluorocarbon emissions.

On population control, he makes the good (if counter-intuitive) point that improvements in infant mortality are an important part of the solution. When families know that more of their children will survive into adulthood, they have fewer kids. Reduced fertility in turn leads to improved living standards and, eventually, by cutting the numbers of idle and impoverished young men, reduces the potential for conflict and terrorism. As he remarks, this makes the Bush administration's negative attitude towards family planning even more difficult to understand.

Courageously, Mr Sachs does not ignore costs. He reckons the bill for tackling the issues he raises will come to a total of 2.4% of rich-world economic output (about one year's growth). That seems a reasonable price to pay, provided of course that you are not paying it. Indeed, the book's rather jaunty tone plays down some of the hard choices that will need to be made if the world's problems are to be tackled. On climate change, Mr Sachs is very enthusiastic about carbon capture and sequestration, a technology that is unproven on a large scale and will be difficult to adapt to existing power plants. One must also doubt whether all the world's cars could really be converted into gas-electric hybrids by 2026, as he suggests.

This brings us to the main problem with the book: it is unremittingly worthy and expects other people to be so too. When the author writes that a post-Kyoto agreement on climate change “should include all actors, not just the rich ones, and not just the rich ones who are willing to reduce emissions”, one wonders how many real people would vote for that. Similarly, he says blithely that “in order to combat poverty and inequality, it is also essential to combat racism and intolerance.”

If everyone in the world were as reasonable as Mr Sachs, his solutions would be easy to implement. However, if everyone were that reasonable, there would not be so many problems in the first place.

Study: 60% of Israel's poor are ultra-Orthodox and Arabs

from Haaretz

By Moti Bassok , Haaretz Correspondent

Some 60 percent of Israelis living below the poverty line come from the ultra-Orthodox or Israeli-Arab sectors, according to a report to be released by the Bank of Israel on Wednesday.

These sectors have seen a steady rate of worsening poverty, despite recent improvements in the Israeli economy, the report says.

The report also examines the effects of reductions in National Insurance Institute stipends in recent years, as well as the subsequent entry of higher numbers of ultra-Orthodox into the workplace. According to the report, the rising emploment rates has in fact led some within the community to benefit from growth in the Israeli economy.

As opposed to the ultra-Orthodox community, the Israeli Arab sector has not experienced any significant economic improvement over the past decade. This, despite the fact that cuts to welfare stipends have resulted in a higher percentage of Israeli Arab women entering the workforce, according to the report.

The report also surmises that the likelihood of an Israeli Arab finding employment has dropped over the last decade.

Joint Efforts Bring Hope to Thousands of Slum Dwellers

from All Africa

The Nation (Nairobi)

By Walter Menya

The new sparkling and spacious blocks of new classrooms and toilets at Kudho Primary school in Kisumu East district, justifies the 26 years that pupils and teachers have had to wait for better learning facilities.

Since the school was established in 1982, pupils have been learning in dilapidated and crammed classrooms, coupled with a problem of few or no desks at all.

"It was a tattered school with more pupils than the classrooms could carry," says Mrs Benter Nyapuoth, the headteacher.

But recently, the school that serves a pupil population of over 1,000 mainly from the sprawling Obunga slums, has emerged from the jammed classrooms to more spacious ones, thanks to the Kenya Slum Upgrading Programme (KENSUP).

In addition, a modern early childhood development unit with a capacity of 60 pupils, has also been completed under the programme.

She adds that the school has also recorded an upsurge in enrolment of pupils, who previously walked to far off schools in other estates in the town.

Fast track the achievement

When the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Housing that runs Kensup, Mr Tirop Kosgey, visited the school last month, the joy was there for all to see, as the pupils composed songs in his honour and the team that accompanied him.

Kensup began in early 2004 through a partnership between the government and the UN-Habitat, to improve the social and physical infrastructure in the informal settlements within Kisumu, Nairobi, Mavoko and Mombasa, in its first phase, but was expected to cover other towns in the latter stages.

The purpose for starting Kensup, says Mr Kosgey, was to fasttrack the achievement of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), of poverty alleviation and improved access to basic services by the year 2020.

During the inauguration of Kensup, President Kibaki said the programme was meant to improve access to shelter, water and sanitation, education, health, security and employment to an estimated population of over six million who live in the informal settlements.

It is this programme that the Kisumu Town Clerk, Rashid Mwakiwiwi, says has placed the town on the firm path to development and provision of thousands of job opportunities to the over 5000 unemployed youths.

At the Airport Community Dispensary, in Kogony ward of Kisumu Town Constituency, a short distance off Kisumu-Busia highway, Mr Kosgey was taken around a modern health facility built by funds from Kensup, through the Kisumu municipal council.

The facility is now in its second phase, that has seen a perimeter fence put up round it. Before Kensup came in, the facility had a single building and patients were forced to sit outside in the open, as they waited for their turns.

This is now set to change, following the construction of a new building with separate paediatrics and maternity wings. In addition, the dispensary has also benefited from new toilets from the programme.

Additional medical staff

At the moment, the facility serves only sections of Kisumu Town West constituency, but will be able to serve a larger part of the town upon the completion of the new building and additional medical staff.

In the Manyatta slums, Magadi Primary School has also received a boost of more classrooms. The school is now able to accommodate the surging pupil population since the introduction of Free Primary Education (FPE) programme.

In the same estate, a new market is under construction. According to Mr Kosgey, the completion of Manyatta market was slowed down by the political unrest that hit the lakeside town recently.

Documents from Kisumu municipal council, the implementing agency of Kensup projects, indicate that the market is 80 per cent complete and traders, who were relocated from the site to pave way for the construction, will be back soon.

"When completed, the facility will boost the livelihoods of people living and working in the informal settlements," said the PS during the tour.

In the expansive Nyalenda slums, an access road is under construction. Sections of the slum, that become impassable when it rains, have been targeted by the upgrade.

The national coordinator of Kensup, Ms Leah Muraguri, said that 12 projects have been earmarked in the informal settlements of Kisumu Town.

"The Government has allocated Sh49 million during the 2007/08 financial year to improve social and physical amenities in Kisumu Town," said Ms Muraguri.

Three projects have so far been completed, while five are at various stages, said Mr Kosgey. The remaining four projects have been delayed by "tendering technicalities".

At the moment, 60 per cent of Kisumu's population lives in the informal settlements, with a prevalence of absolute poverty standing at 48 per cent.

Mr Mwakiwiwi and Ms Muraguri, however, said that this is set to change before the year 2020, when Kensup winds up its operations.

Adequate social amenities

"We have a duty as a partner of Kensup to rid the town of slums through the provision of adequate social amenities and infrastructure," Mr Mwakiwiwi said.

"The 12 projects in the first phase will be completed by the end of the current financial year," said Ms Muraguri.

She, at the same time, assured the residents of the town that they will not be moved to new areas, to pave way for construction of new houses in the coming phases.

"Construction of critical infrastructure is vital in Kisumu, but we have no plans for a decanting site because there is enough land to develop better housing for Kisumu residents," she said.

Ms Muraguri says she is so far satisfied with the work "except that the projects were delayed by the post-election violence."

In addition, Mr Mwakiwiwi says that the hawkers' menace within the town centre, will soon be a thing of the past, after the completion of Manyatta market among others, that are in the offing with support from Kensup.

Experts call for a global fund to combat neglected tropical diseases

from Medical News

An international team of tropical disease control experts has urged the global health and development community, and particularly the G8 leaders, to establish a new financing mechanism to combat the neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) of poverty.

A "Global Fund to Fight Neglected Tropical Diseases," say Professor Hotez (Sabin Vaccine Institute and George Washington University, Washington, DC, USA) and colleagues, would "satisfy an urgent need to support NTD control and elimination." Their argument is published in the March 26th issue of the open-access journal PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases.

The NTDs, such as intestinal worms, schistosomiasis, elephantiasis, and river blindness, represent the most common infections of the world's poorest-the bottom billion. They are a major reason, say the authors, why the world's poorest people cannot escape a vicious, downward spiral of poverty.

Fortunately, they say, "we are now in a unique position to control or eliminate some of the highest burden NTDs through integrated use of donated drugs." The mass administration of such drugs just once a year has been the cornerstone of global projects aimed at tackling several of the NTDs, and the launch of a dedicated fund to scale up these activities would be "one of the most cost-effective and urgently needed approaches for sustainable poverty reduction."

A blueprint for such a funding mechanism already exists: the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, established in 2002, has attracted $4.7 billion in financing for these three diseases. Professor Hotez and colleagues argue that the mandate of this fund could easily be expanded to include the NTDs.

Thus a new fund for NTDs could be established that uses a similar mechanism to that of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Countries burdened by NTDs would apply to the new fund for financing for NTD control efforts, and an expert board (supported by the expertise of the World Health Organization) could vet the applications.

"An important next step," say the authors, "would be to address global NTD control at the annual G8 leaders summit." The summit will be held in Hokkaido Toyako, Japan, later this year. "While gathered in Japan, the development community needs a robust discussion about the importance of the NTDs as global health, educational, and economic threats."

The G8 summit, they say, presents an opportunity for G8 leaders to consider earmarking specific funds for NTD control. "A comparatively modest amount of funds-in the range of $2 billion in total over 5 years-should be deposited and earmarked for treatment programs targeting the poorest populations in the poorest countries."

The proposal to establish a "Global Fund to Fight Neglected Tropical Diseases" is co-authored by Professor David Molyneux (Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, UK), Professor Alan Fenwick (Schistosomiasis Control Initiative, Imperial College London, UK), Dr Lorenzo Savioli (Director, Department of Neglected Tropical Diseases, World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland), and Professor Tsutomu Takeuchi (Department of Tropical Medicine and Parasitology, Keio University, Tokyo, Japan).

Middle class Long Islanders turning to food pantries

from Newsday


These days, food pantries aren't just for the jobless or homeless.

Tapping such free resources has turned into a survival tactic for some working members of the middle class as they struggle with an economy that has put them in a bind.

A father of three, Bill makes more than $70,000 a year. But after his mortgage rate reset in October, hiking his payments from $3,300 to $4,300, he began going to his church's food pantry.

"I sat here at home and argued with my wife about who's going," said Bill, a Nassau County employee who asked not to be identified further. "I tried to go to work that day. ... It's very embarrassing.

"Here I'm making a decent salary. I'm a professional, but I can't even feed my kids."

More and more working Long Islanders are straining to put groceries on the table as many essentials -- milk and bread, fuel oil, gasoline and health care premiums -- have climbed faster than the Consumer Price Index. In some cases, they're people daunted by the steep rise in property taxes or payments on their adjustable-rate mortgages.

These new hard times have turned some past donors into today's receivers of charity. The number of people seeking help is up even as donations are down. Food collected from restaurants and supermarkets by the Mineola-based Island Harvest dropped from 7 million pounds in 2006 to 6.5 million last year, and the agency has started pressing more farmers to help fill the hole.

While no agency keeps statistics for food pantries across Long Island, some operators find they're facing double the number of clients from a year ago.

"We're seeing folks that may own a home, who may be working two or three jobs, but are not able to cover all the costs that they've incurred," said Gwen O'Shea, president of the Health and Welfare Council of Long Island, a social services advocacy group.

The Long Island Council of Churches, which shut down its Riverhead pantry one day in January because it was empty, finds people arriving in more desperate straits. "The big growth is not in the suddenly unemployed," said its executive director, the Rev. Thomas Goodhue. "The big growth is in the employed who can't make ends meet and the retirees who can't make ends meet."

Their last resort

Nonprofit officials and directors of church social ministries interviewed said they know of people who cry before walking into pantries. Or they drive round and round the block, building up the nerve to go in. Few of the working people who've come to rely on the pantries wanted their last names revealed.

Anne, 37, a single mother of two who said she is a salaried "middle-income" legal assistant, said she began seeking help from St. Frances de Chantal Roman Catholic Church in Wantagh less than two years ago, when her 3.5 percent pay increase was outpaced by gas hikes and rent on her two-bedroom apartment. Her ex-husband had stopped paying child support.

One day, she said, she didn't have a dime toward diapers for her daughter. That's when her resolve not to ask for charity broke.

"It was horrible," she recalled. "I felt like my world had crashed, but I had to do what I could to support the children. There were weeks when I didn't have any money."

Lately, Anne's been part of Single Moms on Long Island, a support group that also arranges activities for children. And she's found a Web site listing places where kids eat free -- which is how she arranged for her son to celebrate his birthday earlier this month, at Friendly's.

Priced out for help

Nonprofit officials said the long-term solution is moving people off emergency food and onto government programs, such as the food stamp program and HEAP, the government Home Energy Assistance Program that helps pay for oil.

But many of the middle class make too much to qualify for such programs.

"They come in here for immediate emergency resources, but the reality is where are they going to be in another six months?" Health and Welfare Council's O'Shea said. "The picture is not good."

Officials at Bay Shore-based Pronto, a social services agency, have noticed an increase in clients with college degrees, white-collar jobs or higher salaries -- economic refugees of foreclosures, gas prices and oil bills.

One of them is Edward Mott of Bay Shore, a Long Island Power Authority grounds foreman who is on disability after a 5,000-pound cherry tree fell on him. His wife works two jobs and her earnings, with his disability benefits, don't cover the $2,600 monthly mortgage and cost of groceries.

"We bring in over $40,000, and we still can't afford to give our daughter what she needs for school," said Mott, 50. "To survive on Long Island these days, you have to make at least $1,000 a week. Otherwise, you have no business being here anymore."

Struggling to make it

Taking charity can feel lousy, some food pantry customers said. "It's not the best feeling in the world, especially for someone who's working," said Laura, 37, who every once in a while takes a jar of peanut butter or jelly from the food pantry at the Hampton Bays nonprofit where she works as a secretary.

By comparison, she said, her parents never asked for free food, no matter how desperate they were when business at their gas station went dead in winter. "My parents would have a can of soup, and we would split that to eat," she said.

Laura's plight worsened six months ago, when she and her husband separated and she was left with their four children, including a daughter who has severe scoliosis and is on a 24-hour feeding tube. Laura wants to refinance her 6-year-old mortgage, but the subprime collapse and falling property values have made it hard to get a new loan.

Now she's trying to meet a $1,863 monthly payment with her salary, child support and the benefits for her disabled daughter. "It's really sad," she said. "You're working on Long Island and it's hard to make it out here. ...

"I'm looking for a philanthropist to come in and save me," she said, laughing.

Anne, the single mom, cringes when she thinks of going to the church for help -- but that very help has kept her world from collapsing.

Growth will help poverty in Pacific, says AusAID

from the Sydney Morning Herald

Jonathan Pearlman Foreign Affairs Correspondent

AUSTRALIA'S 15 neighbours in the Pacific face daunting challenges to overcome alarming levels of poverty and some smaller states have uncertain futures, a report by AusAID says.

The report, which looks at social and economic conditions in 14 countries in the Pacific plus East Timor, says the region faces serious challenges including rising sea levels, epidemics of malaria, diabetes and HIV and surging oil prices. But it says long-term growth is possible and areas such as transport and aviation have begun to improve.

"Many [of the countries] face growing health problems, increasing environmental threats (including climate change), high levels of joblessness and poverty, and population pressures," the report says. "Without higher, sustained economic growth these challenges will not be effectively addressed … Some of the poorest countries - PNG, Timor Leste and Solomon Islands - have the highest mountains to climb."

The report, which was written by AusAID and guided by 10 business and political leaders from across the region, will be launched today in Vanuatu by the parliamentary secretaries for the Pacific, Duncan Kerr, and international development assistance, Bob McMullan. It says smaller economies are stagnating and economic growth across the region last year was less than 4 per cent of GDP - almost half the rate for developing countries. But the future outlook is "positive" and includes expected growth this year of 4.5 per cent.

The Government will use the report to support development in the Pacific states - a commitment outlined earlier this month in its Port Moresby Declaration. Mr Kerr said the report was grounds for "cautious optimism" and showed improvements were possible.

The report says five states have developed a tourism industry - Fiji, Samoa, Cook Islands, Vanuatu and Palau - and two have benefited from the high prices of oil, copper and gold - Papua New Guinea and East Timor.

Children's voices heard at COHSOD in the Caribbean

from Caribbean Net News

GEORGETOWN, Guyana: The voices of Caribbean children were heard loudly earlier this month at the official opening of the 2nd Special Session on Children of the CARICOM Council of Human and Social Development (COHSOD).

The meeting, attended by Ministers from CARICOM member states, was called to assess progress made since the 1st special COHSOD meeting in 2002 on those areas that especially affect children: Early Childhood Development, Child Protection, HIV and AIDS, and Infant and Maternal Mortality.

According to UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, Nils Kastberg, the timing of this COHSOD session is especially significant as “we are at a crossroads - just past halfway to 2015”, the target date set for the realization of the Millennium Development Goals.

According to Kastberg, children in the Caribbean region face a multitude of growing challenges. The region has the world’s highest rate of homicides among 15-17 year olds, with boys six times more likely to be victims than girls; girls are often the victims of sexual violence, partly contributing to Latin America and the Caribbean having the world’s second highest teenage pregnancy rate; the region also presents the highest rate of global gun crime – 42 per cent of the world’s homicides. While progress has been made in some key areas including education, it is clear much more needs to be done if the region is to achieve the MDGs.

To focus the attention of the visiting delegations on the issues that matter to children themselves, Monday’s opening session was addressed by young people from the Caribbean. Organised by UNICEF, child delegates from Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and Suriname read a joint statement calling on all CARICOM states not just to talk, but to make the necessary changes to support the region’s children.

“We experience injustices such as sexual, physical and verbal abuse, unavailability of good quality and affordable education, and the stifling of our voices,” they told the delegates. "Children have the right to be heard.”

The youth statement called upon Ministers not to just shut their eyes, close their hearts and hope young people will go away.

“We may be powerless now,” they said, “but in a few years we’ll be the ones sitting in your seats and making the decisions. Give us a foundation that you would be proud of. Let us be the change you want to see in the world … We demand from you a Caribbean that is safe, one that provides us the right environment in which we can grow up and reach our full potential in whatever areas we choose, a Caribbean that can contribute to a world that is fit for us – your children.”

As Jobs Vanish, Food Stamp Use Is at Record Pace

from the New York Times


Driven by a painful mix of layoffs and rising food and fuel prices, the number of Americans receiving food stamps is projected to reach 28 million in the coming year, the highest level since the aid program began in the 1960s.

The number of recipients, who must have near-poverty incomes to qualify for benefits averaging $100 a month per family member, has fluctuated over the years along with economic conditions, eligibility rules, enlistment drives and natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, which led to a spike in the South.

But recent rises in many states appear to be resulting mainly from the economic slowdown, officials and experts say, as well as inflation in prices of basic goods that leave more families feeling pinched. Citing expected growth in unemployment, the Congressional Budget Office this month projected a continued increase in the monthly number of recipients in the next fiscal year, starting Oct. 1 — to 28 million, up from 27.8 million in 2008, and 26.5 million in 2007.

The percentage of Americans receiving food stamps was higher after a recession in the 1990s, but actual numbers are expected to be higher this year.

Federal benefit costs are projected to rise to $36 billion in the 2009 fiscal year from $34 billion this year.

“People sign up for food stamps when they lose their jobs, or their wages go down because their hours are cut,” said Stacy Dean, director of food stamp policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, who noted that 14 states saw their rolls reach record numbers by last December.

One example is Michigan, where one in eight residents now receives food stamps. “Our caseload has more than doubled since 2000, and we’re at an all-time record level,” said Maureen Sorbet, spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Human Services.

The climb in food stamp recipients there has been relentless, through economic upturns and downturns, reflecting a steady loss of industrial jobs that has pushed recipient levels to new highs in Ohio and Illinois as well.

“We’ve had poverty here for a good while,” Ms. Sorbet said. Contributing to the rise, she added, Michigan, like many other states, has also worked to make more low-end workers aware of their eligibility, and a switch from coupons to electronic debit cards has reduced the stigma.

Some states have experienced more recent surges. From December 2006 to December 2007, more than 40 states saw recipient numbers rise, and in several — Arizona, Florida, Maryland, Nevada, North Dakota and Rhode Island — the one-year growth was 10 percent or more.

In Rhode Island, the number of recipients climbed by 18 percent over the last two years, to more than 84,000 as of February, or about 8.4 percent of the population. This is the highest total in the last dozen years or more, said Bob McDonough, the state’s administrator of family and adult services, and reflects both a strong enlistment effort and an upward creep in unemployment.

In New York, a program to promote enrollment increased food stamp rolls earlier in the decade, but the current climb in applications appears in part to reflect economic hardship, said Michael Hayes, spokesman for the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance. The additional 67,000 clients added from July 2007 to January of this year brought total recipients to 1.86 million, about one in 10 New Yorkers.

Nutrition and poverty experts praise food stamps as a vital safety net that helped eliminate the severe malnutrition seen in the country as recently as the 1960s. But they also express concern about what they called the gradual erosion of their value.

Food stamps are an entitlement program, with eligibility guidelines set by Congress and the federal government paying for benefits while states pay most administrative costs.

Eligibility is determined by a complex formula, but basically recipients must have few assets and incomes below 130 percent of the poverty line, or less than $27,560 for a family of four.

As a share of the national population, food stamp use was highest in 1994, after several years of poor economic growth, with an average of 27.5 million recipients per month from a lower total of residents. The numbers plummeted in the late 1990s as the economy grew and legal immigrants and certain others were excluded.

But access by legal immigrants has been partly restored and, in the current decade, the federal and state governments have used advertising and other measures to inform people of their eligibility and have often simplified application procedures.

Because they spend a higher share of their incomes on basic needs like food and fuel, low-income Americans have been hit hard by soaring gasoline and heating costs and jumps in the prices of staples like milk, eggs and bread.

At the same time, average family incomes among the bottom fifth of the population have been stagnant or have declined in recent years at levels around $15,500, said Jared Bernstein, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington.

The benefit levels, which can amount to many hundreds of dollars for families with several children, are adjusted each June according to the price of a bare-bones “thrifty food plan,” as calculated by the Department of Agriculture. Because food prices have risen by about 5 percent this year, benefit levels will rise similarly in June — months after the increase in costs for consumers.

Advocates worry more about the small but steady decline in real benefits since 1996, when the “standard deduction” for living costs, which is subtracted from family income to determine eligibility and benefit levels, was frozen. If that deduction had continued to rise with inflation, the average mother with two children would be receiving an additional $37 a month, according to the private Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Both houses of Congress have passed bills that would index the deduction to the cost of living, but the measures are part of broader agriculture bills that appear unlikely to pass this year because of disagreements with the White House over farm policy.

Another important federal nutrition program known as WIC, for women, infants and children, is struggling with rising prices of milk and cheese, and growing enrollment.

The program, for households with incomes no higher than 185 percent of the federal poverty level, provides healthy food and nutrition counseling to 8.5 million pregnant women, and children through the age of 4. WIC is not an entitlement like food stamps, and for the fiscal year starting in October, Congress may have to approve a large increase over its current budget of $6 billion if states are to avoid waiting lists for needy mothers and babies.

[Comment] Worrying omens in poverty fight

from the Toronto Star

Carol Goar

The cracks are starting to show.

Since last fall's provincial election, anti-poverty groups have stood together, bound by their belief that Premier Dalton McGuinty's commitment to set firm poverty-reduction targets and an explicit timetable was better than piecemeal promises.

But last week's disappointing budget strained that solidarity to the breaking point.

"People on social assistance are still unable to pay the rent and purchase necessary food," said Val Hyman of the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition, an alliance of 20 religious organizations. "Once again the poor are asked to wait."

"In a province as prosperous as Ontario, no one should work yet still live in poverty," said Karen Dick of the Workers' Action Centre, complaining that a minimum wage of $8.75 an hour is not enough to survive on, let alone support a family.

The 25-in-5 Network, made up of more than 100 community groups, took a more patient stance. "It's reassuring to see the government has responded to the calls for poverty reduction with some concrete initiatives," said John Campey of Toronto's social planning council. "But we will be expecting a lot more in the 2009 budget."

It was a polite divergence.

All three organizations gave McGuinty credit for the positive measures in the budget – $100 million to repair social housing, $135 million to provide dental care to low-income children, $32 million for school nutrition programs and a cost-of-living increase in social assistance payments next November – and all still support the development of a comprehensive poverty-reduction strategy.

But the faith leaders called Tuesday's poverty initiatives a "minimal down payment" on McGuinty's election pledge. The community activists treated them as "good harbingers" of what is to come.

Behind these carefully chosen words lie deep passions.

In one camp are the absolutists, who see no justification for chronic poverty in a wealthy society. They believe it is morally wrong to neglect the needs of those who cannot afford food, shelter or a decent standard of living. For them, targets and timetables are no substitute for tangible improvements in people's lives.

In the other camp are the pragmatists, who are willing to work with the government to achieve incremental progress. They consider it a breakthrough that McGuinty has agreed to produce a detailed poverty-reduction plan by year-end. For them, measurable goals and fixed deadlines are the best assurance of action.

The two groups have clashed before, most publicly on Toronto's 2005-06 task force on income security for working-age adults. But they buried their differences during last fall's election campaign and kept them out of sight until last week.

Now that the fissure is visible, it will require a huge effort to keep it from widening.

McGuinty gambled last fall, when he offered to set clear poverty-reduction benchmarks within a year, that the economic storm clouds gathering on Ontario's horizon wouldn't worsen. They have.

The 25-in-5 Network, as its name implies, anticipated that the government would embrace its call to reduce poverty by 25 per cent over five years. That now appears highly improbable. Its members are restive, worried, unsure what to do.

These forces will come to a head in nine months' time, when Deb Matthews, who heads the cabinet committee drafting the anti-poverty plan, converts McGuinty's pleasing rhetoric into quantifiable objectives.

By then, the economy is likely to be in a full slump. Social assistance costs will be rising. Health-care costs, which already consume 42 cents out of every tax dollar, will be growing. Revenues will be stagnant or shrinking.

That will leave McGuinty with five unenviable choices:

Set very modest poverty-reduction targets.

Stretch out his timeline.

Give up the notion of balancing the budget in the short term.

Raise taxes.

Or admit he can't keep his commitment to the poor.

Despite the economic storm signals, the majority of low-income advocates are still counting on the premier to deliver an ambitious, well-funded poverty-reduction strategy.

But the consensus is fragile and fraying.

Africa needs stronger parliaments to monitor aid

from Reuters

By Daniel Flynn

DAKAR (Reuters) - Britain and other Western donors need to spend money on strengthening African parliaments to ensure they can hold governments to account for how aid is being spent, a group of British MPs said on Monday.

The cross-party delegation, which toured four African countries, said that foreign aid may have weakened Africa's democracies by making governments less accountable to their elected national legislatures.

"Historically, donors have tended to work over and around parliaments rather than with them," read the 69-page report from the Africa All Party Parliamentary Group.

"Aid ... strengthens recipient governments and risks making them more accountable to donors and less accountable to their people," it said, concluding that civil society groups often usurped parliament's role as a financial watchdog.

The report cited research by the Overseas Development Institute which found that donors, including Britain's Department for International Development (DFID) and the World Bank, were partly responsible for Africa's weak parliaments.

It urged donors to earmark more funds for strengthening parliaments, which often lacked the staff and facilities to monitor state expenditure and whose elected members were often poorly paid and motivated.

The study cited complaints from parliaments in Zambia, Tanzania and Malawi that they were unable to approve their own budgets and so were beholden to the executive.

"African parliaments have the potential to provide a safeguard to ensure that foreign aid is used to relieve poverty and promote economic development," said the report.

Only two of Africa's 53 states have enjoyed uninterrupted multiparty democracy since independence: Botswana and Mauritius. "Big Man" government by powerful presidential figures, sometimes swept to power by coups or fraudulent elections, was common for decades in post-colonial Africa.

Parliaments have made strides forward in recent years, however, as one-party states have disappeared. Legislators in Nigeria, Zambia and Malawi were able to block efforts to enable third terms for presidents, the report noted.

Many assemblies, though, remained shackled by constitutional limits. Often they lacked the power to reform legislation presented by the government and could only accept or reject it.

The report urged donors to work with African legislators to strengthen their role in monitoring the executive, and to focus on medium-term reforms, not just short-term funding exigencies.

The group also noted the rising importance on Chinese aid in Africa and warned that the Asian giant was unlikely to become major actor in strengthening parliaments.

To overcome a lack of research into how African parliaments work, the group urged DFID to publish studies on where it had carried out parliamentary strengthening work. It called on the agency to make an annual report to every recipient country's parliament on aid programmes.

Actionaid Tasks Citizens On Poverty

from All Africa

Segun Awofadeji

ActionAid Nigeria (AAN), an NGO committed to poverty eradication through various community-based initiatives has launched a framework for institutional change with a view to changing the psych, perspective and attitude of Nigerians towards public belongings.

The agenda tagged Coalition for Change (C4C) is geared towards the coalition of civil societies for monitoring and ensuring accountability and justifiable utilisation of the over U.S. $1billion under Virtual Poverty Fund (VPF) to be invested in Millennium Development Goals (MDG) projects in Nigeria.

Speaking at the launching of the project which attracted people and NGOs from all walks of life in Gombe state, the Country Director of ActionAid Nigeria, Dr. Otive Igbuzor said, as watchdogs, they would be obliged to ensure that the budgeted fund made the real impact on the lives of the targeted beneficiaries.

According to him, the poor and vulnerable that constituted over 50.4 per cent of the country's population that go to bed on empty stomach, the 10.4 million of school-age children that could not go to school because of poverty, people living with HIV/AIDS but have no access to Anti-Retroviral drugs, high infant mortality rate from preventable diseases and the over 800 out of 100,000 women who die annually from pregnancy related complication due to inadequate obstetric services must be provided with an equal opportunities which the coalition is determined to institutionalise.

Igbuzor added that ActionAid Nigeria was concerned in active partnership with Nigerians from all works of life for fighting against corruption, lack of probity in the award of governments' contracts and abandonment of projects littering in the country as well as non-involvement of the people in development process.

The Director explained that, "the monitoring of the VPF otherwise called debt relief gains was not the only primary responsibilities of the coalition but also the entire Nigerians' to aid in attainment of the MDGs goals".

He stressed that, Action Aid Nigeria was concerned in active partnership for fighting against corruption, lack of probity in the award of government's contracts and abandonment of projects littering in the country and non-involvement of the people in development process.

In his speech, the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Alhaji Abubakar Sule Bage, said Gombe State had more reasons than most states in the country to welcome the new initiatives in developments, saying "the state is relatively young and therefore, has a larger appetite for development".

Bage stressed that; it was for this reason that the state was pleased with the initiative by the Coalitions for Change and its members and working hard for the even development in the state.

He challenged civil society organisations that partner in the C4C project to provide honest, constructive and timely feedbacks on the range of interventions funded under the debt relief initiatives which the ActionAid is determined to ensure.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Interview with Gelber Prize winner Paul Collier

from the Globe and Mail


LONDON — "I think that economists have a responsibility to write in such a way to be read by ordinary people and by political leaders," the bearded and bespectacled Oxford professor says, in a quiet and careful tone, from his home in France. "So I wrote a book that's very readable."

That may not sound like a humble claim, but then Paul Collier has very clearly been read by a lot of people lately. His book, The Bottom Billion, argues plainly and often rudely that a dramatic change is needed in the way we deal with the world's poorest nations. It stands out from the pile of angry manifestos written by former aid-agency gurus during the past year for one important reason: It has become part of our language.

In January, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon declared that 2008 should be "the year of the bottom billion," citing Mr. Collier's ideas, and then invited him to spend a day lecturing to the members of the UN Security Council. In the weeks that followed, he was invited by the cabinets of Britain, Norway, the Netherlands and Japan to deliver seminars in foreign aid.

On Tuesday in Toronto, Mr. Collier will be presented with the $60,000 Lionel Gelber Prize, the top honour in non-fiction book writing. While this prize has often gone to books that are elegantly written (Eric Hobsbawm's Age of Extremes) or meticulously researched (Steve Coll's Ghost Wars), in this case the judges have plainly gone for sheer clout: Wherever you find yourself these days, somebody seems to be citing Paul Collier.

He is part of a new class of expert: The embittered veteran of the foreign-aid industry bent on denouncing his former colleagues. As a former head of the World Bank's development-research arm, he developed a reputation for putting noses out of joint. It was he who showed, with his characteristic statistical zeal, that 38 per cent of Africa's earnings were stored in overseas bank accounts, and that 40 per cent of military expenditures in Africa were paid from foreign aid.

Most contentiously, he argued that a majority of aid money from countries such as Canada was going not to the very poor, who needed the help, but to the middle-income countries such as India and Brazil, which very much didn't.

Thus the title of this much-read book. The billion poorest people in the world — 70 per cent of whom live in Africa — are a completely different group from the four billion who are merely very poor, he argues. In "places such as Haiti, Bolivia, the Central Asian countries, Laos, Cambodia, Yemen, Burma and North Korea," the 58 least-wealthy countries, life expectancy is only 50 years, compared with 67 for merely poor countries; among the poorest, one in seven children dies by the age of 5, compared with one in 50.

Most alarming is that while the world's poor countries have seen a massive escape from poverty during the past 40 years, the 58 poorest have seen just the opposite. For the four billion merely poor people, half of whom live in India and China, the past generation has been one of dramatic improvement in every area — health, nutrition, incomes, longevity, living standards, purchasing power, housing, employment. But while these countries have been growing by 4 per cent every year, the countries of the "bottom billion" have seen actual declines every year since 1980, leaving them poorer than they were in 1970.

Almost a decade ago, Mr. Collier began arguing that countries such as Canada should shift all of their aid, trade and development efforts to these poorest countries. He won that argument, for the most part. His goal now is to convince governments that it's still worth making some sacrifices to bail out these dire countries, that doing so is not impossible, even after a dozen Marshall Plans of money have been dumped into their economies since the Second World War with no effect.

"My argument is that this is a moment where both altruism and enlightened self-interest are aligned, in the long-term sense: If we don't get serious about getting the bottom billion to catch up, if they continue to diverge, then we're building a social nightmare for our children. Let's stop making symbolic gestures and do something that works, that's effective."

This is where the controversy begins. Mr. Collier pitched his book, in part deliberately, against one that also came out last year by former World Bank colleague William Easterly. That book, The White Man's Burden, argues that decades of foreign aid have not only done nothing, but have actually hurt countries and kept them in poverty.

There's a lot of truth to this: When tides of foreign money wash into a poor country, the effect is basically the same as an oil windfall: It drives up the currency, swamps the productive economy and can leave the whole country poorer.

On this basis, Mr. Easterly argued for an end to virtually all foreign aid. He found himself at odds with another development veteran, economist and UN adviser Jeffrey Sachs, whose The End of Poverty argued that African poverty could be alleviated immediately with a shock program of large-scale aid combined with trade reforms.

Mr. Collier avoids the excesses of both those figures. A protégé of his former boss, Joseph Stiglitz, he is among a group of economic liberals who are able to see the damage done by globalization and misguided aid policies, while realizing that the solutions nevertheless lie in global trade, open economies, intelligent aid and foreign intervention.

He shows very clearly that foreign aid, if spent wisely (especially on infrastructure and skills), can help: Not only does aid reverse capital-fight outflows in poor countries, but to a dramatic degree it attracts foreign investment and creates economic growth — in that sense, it is the precise opposite of oil.

But most interesting are his proposals for trade. For these poorest African countries, he advocates not a complete free-trade liberalization (which worked wonders for India and China, but damaged economies and hurt livelihoods in Africa), nor a return to protectionism, state ownership and tariffs (which has proved devastating in the poorest countries), but instead a program of "protection from Asia": Western countries would give preferential treatment to exports from Africa, making them duty-free, while placing tariffs on Asian imports. The United States has done this with garment exports, and just this limited policy caused Africa's garment industry to expand sevenfold.

"I'm much more optimistic about the prospects now than when I finished the book two years ago," Mr. Collier says while packing for a trip to speak with Al Gore in Oxford before his trip to Toronto. "I think these poorest governments, these societies, have learned from failure, and people are understanding that good approaches are possible. And in the West, we're building up a critical mass of voters who've read my book, and politicians will have to listen to them."

Africa achieves marginal economic growth in 2007

from Afriquenligne

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia - Africa registered a marginally better economic growth performance in 2007, but the continent is still far from achieving the necessary momentum to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by the target date of 2015, according to UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), Abdoulie Janneh.

Africa's current growth rates need to increase to over 7 percent annually in order to meet the MDGs, but the possibility of worldwide recession was a threat to the continent's performance, Janneh said here Wednesday.

Opening the 27th meeting of the Committee of Experts of the Joint African Union (AU)/ECA Conference of Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, Janneh said in 2007, Africa's economic growth performance was 5.8 percent, compared to 5.7 percent of the previous year.

In addition, 25 countries achieved a growth rate of over 5 percent in 2007 while another 14 grew at over 3 percent.

The ECA will next Wednesday launch the Economic Report on Africa (ERA) 2008 during the first session of the Joint Annual Meetings of the AU/ECA conferences of finance, planning, and economy ministers in Addis Ababa.

ERA is the key instrument through which African economic performance is tracked and assessed by the ECA and the AU Commission.

One of the main goals of the report is to identify policy challenges that African countries face and to suggest practical solutions.

"If the strong growth in other developing countries is affected by troubling economic conditions in developed countries, this may adversely affect African economies because a good part of their recent growth has come from commodity exports to emerging economies," Janneh pointed out.

Another worry is that growth in Africa has not generated the quantity and quality of jobs that would help reduce poverty.

According to analysts here, that was partly because the growth derives from capital-intensive extractive sectors and there has been very little value-added to export products.

Suggesting that Africa needed innovative thinking to tackle the persistence of poverty, Janneh said that in most countries efforts to address the scourge were concentrated on the economic and social spheres.

"Yet, there is strong evidence to show that enabling the poor to use the law to protect and advance their rights as citizens and economic actors is an important element in the fight against poverty," he said.

The experts' meeting and the forthcoming ministerial conference are being held under the theme, 'Meeting Africa's New Challenges in the 21st Century'.

Africa's challenges include the effects of climate change, rising food and oil prices as well as how to strike the right balance between current food and energy needs on one hand, and potential future benefits from increased production on the other hand.

Meanwhile, AU's Commissioner for Economic Affairs, Maxwell Mkwezalamba, has urged the experts to come up with options for African countries to absorb the adverse impact of rising food and energy prices, and exploit the opportunities that they present to the continent.

"The challenge facing the continent is how to promote sustainable growth and ensure employment creation," he said, explaining that the world food shortage cannot be taken as a temporary phenomenon or a simple supply and demand dilemma.

Mkwezalamba explained that a number of complex and interrelated forces were behind food shortage, while agricultural production -- connected to climate trends, declining water tables and fluctuations in the energy market -- remained vulnerable to various shocks.

The AU/ECA joint conference of ministers will be held in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, from 31 March to 2 April 2008, along with celebration of the 50th anniversary of the ECA.

FAS tackles international epidemics

from the Johns Hopkins News Letter

By Colin Ray

Four public health experts from around the world gathered in the Glass Pavilion on Wednesday to present their own work on global epidemics and to tout the need for continued dialogue and action on AIDS and malaria as part of the Foreign Affairs Symposium (FAS).

Randall Packard presented first on the prevalence of malaria and the challenges in combating globally. The focus of his presentation was the feasibility of eradicating malaria. Packard is the William H. Welch Professor of History of Medicine at the School of Public Health and specializes in the social history of health and disease in Africa as well as the history of international health.

"Malaria breeds in conditions of poverty, warfare, social dislocation, deteriorating health services and disease that remain a part of daily life in much of Africa," he said.

"Conditions in Africa make it unlikely we can completely eradicate malaria. Getting it under control is possible. Not a very optimistic viewpoint, but it leaves us open to discuss what can be done."

He cited increases in funding and better technologies, such as pesticidal bed nettings, as changes that have been and will continue to be important in fighting the disease.

Nizam Ahmed, the director of the HIV/AIDS program and South Asia program advisor of Save the Children, a non-governmental organization, presented on the successes of fighting AIDS in Bangladesh. Save the Children's aggressive education and prevention efforts have kept AIDS in check in Bangladesh, a country surrounded by nations with high HIV/AIDS prevalence.

"The problem was identified in a timely manner, recognized bygovernment and action has been facilitated by NGOs," he said in explaining the success of his program.

Save the Children has taken a multi-faceted approach in fighting the disease, covering everything from mass media advertising to creating awareness to getting religious leaders on board with "declaring war on HIV/AIDS," Ahmed said.

"We are trying to utilize our experiences, but we still have a long way to go," he said. "This is an exciting opportunity for a national program to bring issue into the light for young people, and to pass on experiences. We all need to show our support and express our commitment for the next generation that we are going to have to live with."

The penultimate presenter was Donald Henderson of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Center for Biosecurity. Henderson spearheaded a task force with the United States government in the 1960s who, with cooperation from the Soviet Union and other countries, helped publicly eradicate smallpox. He stressed, however, that the work is not done yet.

"The Soviet Union's bioweapons program amassed over twenty tons of smallpox, and with the breakup of the U.S.S.R., the 50,000 workers in the program were cut off and dispersed. The fact that this smallpox is unaccounted for is a still a major concern," he said.

Nicole Cheetham, the director of the International Division of Advocates for Youth, presented on the challenges her group faces in helping adolescents make responsible, informed reproductive health choices.

"Our group's motto is 'rights, respect and responsibility.' Young people should have the right to information and contraceptives, the respect of others regardless of their lifestyle and the responsibility to make good decisions," she said.

Her group focuses not only on health issues but also in fighting homophobia and the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS. She called on students to take action in supporting science-based reproductive health education.

Biggest killer of Indian kids: poverty, ignorance

from IBN Live

New Delhi: Over 6,000 children under the age of six die in our country everyday from hunger and malnutrition even though India claims to have the world's largest initiative for children under six but still ranks 94th out of 118 countries on the Global Hunger Index.

But why India's children dying of hunger when the country's food grain production is at an all time high.

Jaharunnissah is making her way to her son's grave. She lost her only son to hunger about two months ago. Four-year-old Khusbuddin was nothing but skin and bones and weighed a mere six-and-a-half kgs at the time of his death. His mother says there was never enough to eat.

"Woh kuposhan ka shikar tha usko main doodh dava poora nahin kar paati thi paise ke kaaran is vajay se uski maut ho gayi (He was malnourished. I could not give him milk and medicines due to lack of money. So he died)," Jaharunnissah laments.

Abandoned by her husband, Jaharunnissah is trying to stitch her life together. She has a daughter and an ailing mother to take care of but after an entire day's work of embroidering sarees she is paid a meager Rs 10-15. The poverty is just a constant reminder of the son she lost.

"Aaj agar mere bachhe ka ilaaj ho jaata to mera bachha bach jaata is baat ka mujhe dard rehta hain ki paise na hone ke kaaran aaj maine apne bachhe ko kho diya (I had money my son would have got the treatment and he would have been still alive. I feel very sad that I lost my son)," Jaharunnissah, trying to control her tears, says.

A few kilometers away, in another village near Varanasi, six-year-old Shamim is also battling malnutrition. Unlike other kids his age, he is neither playful nor talkative.

He has the symbolic bloated belly (Kwashiorkor) and a weak immune system that has led to further problems.

"Isko TB aur gurde mein kharabi hai. Haath per fool jata hai, saas phul jata hai (He is suffering from TB and his liver is also damaged. His hands and feet are swollen and he also complains of breathlessness)," Zohra, Shamim's mother, says.

Shamim's father Khursheed is a skilled handloom weaver but with the handloom industry in decline, he has been reduced to a casual laborer. Embroidering sarees is just not enough to make ends meet.

"Din bhar riyaz karenge toh 50 rupaye mil jaata hai usske upar nahi milta. aur ghar mein kharcha hai 150 ka toh usske baad karja hota hai, bhookmari hota hai, yehi saab hota hai, dawa nahi mil sakta hai, pehenne ko kapda nahi milta hai(We toil the entire day and get Rs 50 but our expenses are Rs 150 per day. So we have to take loan. Even after that we face hunger and cannot buy medicines. We don't even have proper cloths)," Khursheed says,

Zohra is aware that her son is malnourished and needs special care. But there's little she can do to follow the doctor's orders.

"Bataya hai machli hai, anda hai, dudh hai, yeh sab usko khilayen. Yeh sab toh hai hi nahi toh kaha se khilaye, roti toh hai hi nahi toh yeh sab kaha se laate (We have been advised to give him fish, egg and milk, But we can't buy these food items. We don't even have chapatis so how can we get such expensive food)," Zohra says.

Millions like Shamim fight hunger everyday. There has been almost no change in the country's malnutrition rates over the last decade.

The second National Family Health Survey conducted in 1998-1999 showed that 47 per cent children were undernourished.

And in 2005-06, the third National Family Health Survey shows pretty much the same results at 46 per cent.

Lalitpur in Uttar Pradesh is one district where about 60 per cent children are malnourished. In the last nine months, in Talbahat block alone, 183 cases were reported, out of which 116 were severe.

Local doctors say the biggest challenge is convincing parents that their children are undernourished.

"Pata hi nai hai unko. Yahan aake unko samjhaya jata hai ki bachcha bahut hi zyada weak hai. Apko yahan treatment dene ki zaroorat hai. Admit kijiye. Bahut convince karke unhen yahan admit karna padta hai (They are not at all aware that there children are malnourished. We have to convince them to admit their children and start the treatment)." Shilpi Sahariya, a Nutrition Counselor at a Community Health Centre, says.

Hargovind is bringing up his three children all by himself. He lost his wife Sudha, to kidney failure.

After their fourth child, Sudha had become extremely weak and anemic. Soon after she died, their youngest child, Anil was also fighting to survive.

"Anil teen saal ka bachha tha hamare yahana aur 5.8kg weight tha uska Grade 4 malnourished tha saath mein infection bhi thi acute gastritis tha jiski vajah se jo bhi khana dete the usko digest nahin ho paata tha (Anil was three-year-old and weighed just 5.8 kgs. He was Grade 4 malnourished and was also suffering from acute gastritis and so could not digest anything)," Shilpi explains.

"Agar maa na marti toh bachcha bhi nahin mar sakat. Matlab matai toh matai hoti hai, matai paal leti hai, baap nahin paal pata hai. Baap kahe nahin paal paata hai ki dekho agar ghar baithe toh bachchon ko ka khilaye? Aur bhi teen bachcha hai. Unko kya khilaye? (If his mother had not died he too would have not died. A mother can bring up a child but not a father. If the father sits at home and looks after the children how can he earn and feed them? I have three more children)," Hargovind says.

Three-year-old Anil was one of the 2 million children that die of hunger in our country every year. His family didn't even realize he was malnourished until he fell sick and was taken to the hospital.

In fact most rural families are unaware of the symptoms of malnutrition and by the time doctors convince them of treatment, sometimes it's just too late.

And at other times, there are simply no medical facilities. Primary Health Centres (PHC) in many places are understaffed and almost non-functional.

"PHC mein rehne ke liye doctors ko staff milna chahiye, ward boy hona chahiye, sweeper hona chahiye, nurses honi chahiye kuch bhi nahin hain doctors ko field visit ke liye vehicle hona chahiye main yahan pe apna personal vehicle use karta hoon yeh field mein jaana ho to sochta hoon ki petrol kharch bhi milega ki nahin (In a PHC there should be adequate staff. A ward boy, sweeper, and nurse should be there for a doctor to work properly. Here there is no vehicle for field visit. I use my personal vehicle for it and have to think if I would be reimbursed the petrol bill or not), " a doctor at Primary Health Centre in Hingora, who didn't wished to be identified, reveals.

Doctors from reputed institutes don't often choose to work in such centres and those who do are soon de-motivated.

"Paanch mahine mujhe tankha nahin mili without salary paanch mahine se main kaise yahan kaam kar raha hoon kaise ghar se arrange kar raha hoon paise yeh bhi bahut problem hain (I have not received my salary for the past five months. For the last five months I have been arranging money from my home but that is also getting very difficult now)," he says.

"Jab mujhe kuch nahin mil raha hain main yahan dhoop mein baitha rehta hoon light nahin hain hospital ke andar definitely mera chodhne ka man karega finally phir kya hoga bina doctor ke ya phir kisi ko attach karenge ek din do din ke liye patient pareshaan hoga. Final to jo patient hain garib aadmi hain usko face karna hoga (I am not getting the salary but still I come and sit under the sun. There is no electricity connection in the hospital. So definitely I would want to leave the job. After that a temporary appointment for a few days will be made. But finally it will the poor patient who will have to face the consequences)," he says.

Abject poverty, lack of basic health care facilities and poor health of rural women are all killing India's children. The country has consistently let down children like Shamim and today our malnutrition rates are even worse than Sub Saharan Africa.

Only poor can understand poverty in true sense: Rahul Gandhi

from the Thaindian

Bangalore, Mar 29 (ANI): On the final day of his five-day tour of Karnataka, Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi said that he was sensitive towards poverty, saying that to fully understand it one has to be poor.

“I’m sensitive to poverty. I try and understand poverty. But to fully understand poverty, you have to face poverty,” Rahul Gandhi told a press conference here.

It may be recalled that during his entire Orissa and Karnataka, Rahul Gandhi has visited tribals, dalits and people from the poor section of the society to understand the problem of poverty.

Talking about the 600 billion rupees farm loan waiver scheme of the Central Government, he said, “We are a country of a billion people with a large number of poor people. We are growing very fast, but we need to take the poor people along. The loan waiver is a step in that direction.”

Commenting on the critics of the UPA Government’s move, Rahul Gandhi said: “When poor farmers get a loan waiver, why do we say it is not economically viable? We don’t say the same in case of industrialisation. Why this silence. Start viewing poor people with the same frame. Be fair!”

Throughout his Orissa and Karnataka tour Rahul Gandhi has been asking young people to take up leadership and join politics.

When asked as to how he will facilitate young people to enter politics, he said, “there is a systemic problem. No one tracks their members.”

Pointing to the real issue of not being in touch with party members and thus not being able to evaluate their performance, the Congress general secretary said, “The systemic answer to it is that there should be a performance based evaluation and the doors should be open to the young people.”

“It’s important that more and more young people are given responsibilities and are involved in politics. The more young people, the better it is!” he added.

Answering a question on how to improve the delivery system in the country, Rahul Gandhi said, “When you have governments that are fighting among themselves, which Karnataka till recently was facing, it is bound to result in poor service delivery.”

Senior congress leaders, including former Chief Ministers SM Krishna and Veerappa Moily, Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee president Mallikharjuna M kharge and other leaders were present during his tour. (ANI)

The sting of poverty

from the Boston Globe

What bees and dented cars can teach about what it means to be poor - and the flaws of economics

By Drake Bennett

IMAGINE GETTING A bee sting; then imagine getting six more. You are now in a position to think about what it means to be poor, according to Charles Karelis, a philosopher and former president of Colgate University.

In the community of people dedicated to analyzing poverty, one of the sharpest debates is over why some poor people act in ways that ensure their continued indigence. Compared with the middle class or the wealthy, the poor are disproportionately likely to drop out of school, to have children while in their teens, to abuse drugs, to commit crimes, to not save when extra money comes their way, to not work.

To an economist, this is irrational behavior. It might make sense for a wealthy person to quit his job, or to eschew education or develop a costly drug habit. But a poor person, having little money, would seem to have the strongest incentive to subscribe to the Puritan work ethic, since each dollar earned would be worth more to him than to someone higher on the income scale. Social conservatives have tended to argue that poor people lack the smarts or willpower to make the right choices. Social liberals have countered by blaming racial prejudice and the crippling conditions of the ghetto for denying the poor any choice in their fate. Neoconservatives have argued that antipoverty programs themselves are to blame for essentially bribing people to stay poor.

Karelis, a professor at George Washington University, has a simpler but far more radical argument to make: traditional economics just doesn't apply to the poor. When we're poor, Karelis argues, our economic worldview is shaped by deprivation, and we see the world around us not in terms of goods to be consumed but as problems to be alleviated. This is where the bee stings come in: A person with one bee sting is highly motivated to get it treated. But a person with multiple bee stings does not have much incentive to get one sting treated, because the others will still throb. The more of a painful or undesirable thing one has (i.e. the poorer one is) the less likely one is to do anything about any one problem. Poverty is less a matter of having few goods than having lots of problems.

Poverty and wealth, by this logic, don't just fall along a continuum the way hot and cold or short and tall do. They are instead fundamentally different experiences, each working on the human psyche in its own way. At some point between the two, people stop thinking in terms of goods and start thinking in terms of problems, and that shift has enormous consequences. Perhaps because economists, by and large, are well-off, he suggests, they've failed to see the shift at all.

If Karelis is right, antipoverty initiatives championed all along the ideological spectrum are unlikely to work - from work requirements, time-limited benefits, and marriage and drug counseling to overhauling inner-city education and replacing ghettos with commercially vibrant mixed-income neighborhoods. It also means, Karelis argues, that at one level economists and poverty experts will have to reconsider scarcity, one of the most basic ideas in economics.

"It's Econ 101 that's to blame," Karelis says. "It's created this tired, phony debate about what causes poverty."

In challenging decades of poverty research, Karelis draws on some economic data and some sociological research. But, more than that, he makes his case as a philosopher, arguing by analogy and induction. This approach means that he remains relatively unknown, even among poverty researchers. The book in which he laid out his argument, "The Persistence of Poverty: Why the Economics of the Well-Off Can't Help the Poor," wasn't widely read when it was published last year.

A few, though, have taken notice, and are arguing that Karelis does have something important to say.

"There's not much evidence in the book, and there are a lot of bold claims, but it's great that he's making them," says Tyler Cowen, an economics professor at George Mason University. It "was a really great book, and it was totally neglected."

The economist's term for the idea Karelis takes issue with is the law of diminishing marginal utility. In brief, it means the more we have of something, the less any additional unit of that thing means to us. It undergirds, among other things, how the US government taxes people. We assume that taking $40,000 in taxes from Warren Buffett will be a lot less onerous to him than to an elementary school teacher, because he has so much more to begin with.

In many cases, Karelis says, diminishing marginal utility certainly does apply: Our seventh ice cream cone will no doubt be less pleasurable than our first. But the logic flips when we are dealing with privation rather than plenty. To understand why, he argues, we need only think about how we all deal with certain familiar situations.

If, for example, our car has several dents on it, and then we get one more, we're far less likely to get that one fixed than if the car was pristine before. If we have a sink full of dishes, the prospect of washing a few of them is much more daunting than if there are only a few in the sink to begin with. Karelis's name for goods that reduce or salve these sort of burdens is "relievers."

Karelis argues that being poor is defined by having to deal with a multitude of problems: One doesn't have enough money to pay rent or car insurance or credit card bills or day care or sometimes even food. Even if one works hard enough to pay off half of those costs, some fairly imposing ones still remain, which creates a large disincentive to bestir oneself to work at all.

"The core of the problem has not been self-discipline or a lack of opportunity," Karelis says. "My argument is that the cause of poverty has been poverty."

The upshot of this for policy makers, Karelis believes, is that they don't need to fret so much about the fragility of the work ethic among the poor. In recent decades, experts and policy makers all along the ideological spectrum have worried that the more aid the government gives the poor, the less likely they are to work to provide for themselves. David Ellwood, an economist and the dean of Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, has called this "the helping conundrum." It was this concern that drove the Clinton administration's welfare reform efforts.

But, according to Karelis, that argument is exactly backward. Reducing the number of economic hardships that the poor have to deal with actually make them more, not less, likely to work, just as repairing most of the dents on a car makes the owner more likely to fix the last couple on his own. Simply giving the poor money with no strings attached, rather than using it, as federal and state governments do now, to try to encourage specific behaviors - food stamps to make sure money doesn't get spent on drugs or non-necessities, education grants to encourage schooling, time limits on benefits to encourage recipients to look for work - would be just as effective, and with far less bureaucracy. (One federal measure Karelis particularly likes is the Earned Income Tax Credit, which, by subsidizing work, helps strengthen the "reliever" effect he identifies.)

Few economists are familiar with Karelis's work, and when it's presented to them, they tend to be skeptical of its explanatory power. If Karelis is right, we should see even more defeatist behavior than we do from the poor, says Kevin Lang, chairman of the Boston University economics department and author of "Poverty and Discrimination." Plus, he argues, there's little evidence that simply making poor people less poor increases their work ethic - and some evidence that it does the opposite. In the early 1970s, a large-scale study gave poor people in four cities a so-called "negative income tax," a no-strings-attached payment based on how little money they made. The conclusion: the aid tended to discourage work.

Karelis responds that the data from that experiment is in fact quite ambiguous, and there has been debate among economists over how to interpret the results. But ultimately, he believes, the strength of his arguments is less in how they fit with the economic work that's been done to date on poverty - much of which he is suspicious of anyway - but in how familiar they feel to all of us, rich or poor.

Small steps produce a grain of progress in Latin America

from the Miami Herald
A grain project in Ecuador reflects a new focus for the Inter-American Development Bank, which convenes this week in Miami Beach.

When insects start to yellow the leaves of the quinoa stalks that surround Alexandra Balla's hut, she makes a mixture of garlic, red pepper, and sometimes chamomile to ward them off.

It's a technique that farmers in the Ecuadorean highlands have used for generations, and one that has been kept alive by abject poverty that leaves little room for commercial pesticides or agrochemicals.

Now, Balla and about 2,800 of her neighbors are being rewarded in the international marketplace for their time-proven growing methods. These Quichua-speaking farmers are part of an Inter-American Development Bank pilot project that helps send organically grown, fair-trade quinoa -- a tiny grain packed with protein -- to markets in the United States and Europe.

If becoming part of the global food chain is new for Balla, working with small farming cooperatives is new for the IDB, which holds its annual meeting in Miami Beach this week and next. The five-day meeting will bring about 6,000 government and bank officials and representatives of the organizations they help to the Miami Beach Convention Center.

The IDB, headquartered in Washington, is better known for financing large-scale, multimillion-dollar projects in the Americas -- and that continues to be its main focus. But about two years ago, the IDB began to allow its field offices to take the lead on small-scale projects of up to $150,000. Ecuador was the guinea pig for the initiative.


Among the changes that have come to the bank under Luis Alberto Moreno, its president for the last 2 ½ years, are attention to smaller projects that focus on the environment, microfinance, and lending to private enterprises without government backing -- known as sovereign guarantees.

''We have been very successful in developing the nonsovereign side,'' Moreno said in a telephone interview. ``In 2005, we lent $600 million [in this area], and we are now at $3 billion.''

The IDB also has vowed to be more responsive to the region's needs.

For the farmers of San Vicente Ocpote, that means developing a system that pays them a premium for harvesting crops in an environmentally sustainable way.

''Many of these people need something as simple as a sanitation certificate so they can export yogurt that they are already producing,'' explained Marco Macias, a sector specialist for the IDB's Multilateral Investment Fund, which finances initiatives such as the quinoa project.

''It's a matter of $4,000 or $5,000,'' Macias said. ``Does it make sense for that decision to take place in Washington or to take three years? Now we can do it in five months, and the impact on the community is much greater.''


Since it launched the initiative, Ecuador has financed eight such grass-roots projects and has approved an additional nine. The projects include teaching communities how to skin rabbits, supplying fur for handbag makers, and helping local companies hire disabled workers.

On the quinoa project, the IDB is working through Ecuador's Corporation for the Promotion of Exports and Investments and a rural nonprofit called ERPE. The IDB's $84,000 investment is going toward creating a system to track quinoa production from field to dining table, and developing an internal quality-control system that would lower the cost of certification and encourage others to join the initiative.

Ecuador's indigenous groups have been growing quinoa for centuries, but the product hasn't always been well received, said Juan Pérez, the executive director of ERPE.

''For a long time, people called quinoa Indian food, and in the city they wouldn't eat it,'' he said. Farmers grew it for personal consumption. Those who did sell it did so at a loss.

But as international demand for the product has started to grow, the national market is taking a second look. Now, demand is making quinoa production ''one of the few avenues that farmers have to make a dignified living,'' Pérez said.

Balla will get about $38 for a 220-pound sack of organic quinoa and an additional $3 from fair-trade organizations in Europe. That's about $15 more than she would receive at the local market for traditional quinoa. In this part of the nation, where most people live on just a few hundred dollars a year, $15 makes a difference.

''I don't even try to sell at the market anymore,'' said Balla, 18, who uses the income to support her grandmother. ``They offer prices that are too low and then tell you to go away if you ask for more.''

Thousands of miles away in Athens, Ga., the owners of Inca Organic buy from ERPE and other Ecuadorean cooperatives to supply U.S. makers of gluten-free crackers and specialty pilaf products sold in Whole Foods and Wild Oats stores.


''People are starting to realize that whole grains are important for your diet and better for you,'' said Marjorie Leventry, who runs Inca Organics with her husband, Bob. ``Because quinoa is so easy to cook . . . demand is exploding.''

For the last three years, the company says, it hasn't been able to keep up with demand for Ecuadorean organic quinoa -- which its customers prize over Bolivian or Peruvian varieties. It could sell about 1,000 metric tons a year, but ERPE's production this year will be shy of 600 metric tons.

Two and a half years into this new way of doing business, Macias says that such experiences have convinced the IDB of the benefits of working small.