Saturday, January 31, 2009

Japan pledges 17 billion in aid

During the World Economic Forum in Davos, Japan's Prime Minister Taro Aso announced more aid for Asia. PM Aso pledges 17 billion dollars to help stimulate the economy in thecontinent.

IPS has the details of the speech that the prime minister made at the forum.

Aso said in a televised speech that the package from the world’s second largest economy would be provided as Official Development Assistance (ODA) for meeting challenges posed by the global economic crisis.

The offer represents a 20 percent increase in ODA to be implemented over a three-year period. Japan had slipped to fifth place from being the number one provider of overseas aid after former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi set in motion a plan in 2006 to reduce foreign aid by 2 - 4 percent every year until the budget was balanced by 2011.

Aso’s announcement augments other proposed measures that include an economic stimulus package of two percent of Japan’s GDP, a proposed loan of 100 billion dollars to the International Monetary Fund and the establishment of a fund to recapitalise banks in developing countries and reform internal financial institutions.

Aso ended his speech with one of his favourite quotes from the French philospher Alain, "Pessimism comes from our passions, optimism from the will."

Japan has a major role to play in world affairs at this critical moment, said Osamu Sakashita, deputy cabinet secretary for public relations, at a briefing in Tokyo on Friday.

Politicians rather than bankers are taking centre stage this year at Davos (Jan. 28 - Feb. 1), according to Sakashita. The theme of the meet ‘Shaping the Post-Crisis World’ where the world’s economy, poverty, climate change, and financial business are being discussed is revealing enough, according to him.

Friday, January 30, 2009

World Economic Forum told to not forget poor

Attendees to the World Economic Forum have been told not to forget the poor. The message came from United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and others.

This Associated Press article that we found at New Jersey dot com, gives us the details of today's events at the forum

"Last year, we gathered here to declare 2008 the year of the bottom billion," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said. "These are the poorest people who live on less than a dollar a day, who are vulnerable to every shock that comes."

"As we struggle to cover these and other challenges we must not waiver in our commitment to the poorest of the poor. We must stand by those who are most vulnerable."

It was an appeal repeated throughout the third day of the elite gathering of 2,500 business and political leaders in this well-heeled mountain resort.

The global meltdown has already sapped the developed world of some of its generosity: forecasts calculate a precipitous drop in international investments in poor and developing nations, while charities are resizing their own operations as donations drop.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said lending to emerging countries would drop from $1 trillion two years ago to $150 billion next year. "This is a breach of the promise of global prosperity," Brown exhorted.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is proposing a U.N. Economic Council out of the ashes of this crisis, similar to the U.N. Security Council formed after the destruction of World War II, said the rights of the poor must be enshrined in the new economic order.

Human traffickers lead Myanmar minority into death trap

One of the developing stories over the last couple of days is a brutal forced drownings by the hands of the Thai military.

As background, a minority from Myanmar named the Rohingyas have fled the country as the Muslim minority is not recognized by the Buddhist nation. Many flee to Bangladesh.

How this relates to poverty is the human trafficking aspect. Traffickers prey on the people promising them jobs and a good life if they leave to another country. After paying the traffickers they are put in rickety boats and have to brave the ocean.

So a group of these Rohingyas were turned away by the Thai military, beaten, and sent out to sea, where as many as 550 of them drowned.

This Reuters article provides more details, from writer Nizam Ahmed.

Mohammad Iqbal was one of a 250-strong group of stateless Rohingya who left Bangladesh a month ago in a rickety wooden boat, lured by agents promising a job in Malaysia.

More than 550 Rohingya, a Muslim minority group in pre-dominantly Buddhist Myanmar, are feared to have drowned in the last two months after being towed out to sea by the Thai military.

The Thai army has admitted cutting them loose, but said they had food and water and denied the engines were sabotaged.

A group of 78 Rohingya are now in Thai police custody while another boatload of 193 washed up on Indonesia's Aceh coast.

Many such as Iqbal have been lured by human traffickers offering them jobs in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore.

"They (traffickers) take 30,000 taka (about $450) or more from each individual looking for a life in Malaysia or neighbouring countries," Iqbal's mother Nurun said.

"But not many could afford this. Those who did are cheated by the traffickers, like being dropped on unknown shores," she said.

The lucky ones have found work in Bangladesh, on fishing boats or rickshaws. Others have taken to chopping wood in forests and some others have taken to petty crime.

Related Video

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Zimbabwe abandons its currency

The runaway inflation in Zimbabwe has forced it's government to abandon their currency. Now residents will use currencies from other countries instead. Many shop owners were already not accepting the Zimbabwe currency anyway.

Rapid inflation made the Zimbabwe currency worthless. The countries central bank recently slashed 10 zeros from their notes to make it more manageable. They did that after introducing a $100 trillion dollar note.

An update on all that is going on in Zimbabwe comes from the BBC.

Until now only licensed businesses could accept foreign currencies, although it was common practice.

The country is also facing an deepening humanitarian crisis as well.

A cholera outbreak has killed over 3,000 people according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

And the World Food Programme (WFP) has revised up the number of people it says need food aid.

It now says seven million Zimbabweans are in need of food aid, up from 5.1 million in June.

WFP regional spokesman Richard Lee said the situation had deteriorated rapidly.

"The economic situation has worsened more dramatically than we had anticipated," he told AFP.

"The agency is being forced to halve the cereal rations given to hungry Zimbabweans so that all the people in need can receive aid."

The country is in the grip of world-record hyperinflation which has left the Zimbabwean dollar virtually worthless - 231m% in July 2008, the most recent figure released.

Teachers, doctors and civil servants have gone on strike complaining that their salaries - which equal trillions of Zimbabwean dollars - are not even enough to catch the bus to work each day.

Finding long term fixes to the increase in need

With needs increasing in this poor economy, social service leaders say that long term solutions are needed to provide for everyone. Especially with more and more people asking for food from food banks, or help with heating bills and so on.

A story from Kansas' Ottawa Herald examines the struggle that these organizations have to help the growing number of people.

While many advocates agree prevention is key to combatting poverty at its root sources, that isn’t always possible for smaller charity service organizations like churches, said Lisa Davis, coordinator of the Kansas Statewide Homeless Coalition.

“Rural areas can lack specialized services, especially for serious or complicated problems such as mental illness, and it does not make economic sense to replicate programs found in urban areas,” Davis said.

Based on national demographic data, an estimated 3,400 people in rural Kansas are without permanent housing on any given night and may be living in cars, with other families or camping out, she said.

“Unfortunately, the local police and jails can end up being the ones that deal with the homeless in these areas,” Davis said.

Davis points to a transitional housing program in Paola that has been successful in combatting its local poverty issues. That’s because it has been able to not only provide a place for families to go but to help them tackle their problems once they get there.

When Jay Preston first had a vision to help the struggling families in Miami County, the former pastor knew he needed a fresh approach, rather than duplicating the services that were already in the area but were not helping families cope in the long-term.

He also knew that too often church and charities could provide only short-term assistance. In some cases, they turned families away because their moral compasses did not align with the families’ social situations, he said.

“A lot of people, especially in rural areas, feel judged by church services. Sometimes churches earn that bad reputation, unfortunately,” said Preston, who experienced a bout of homelessnees after dropping out of college in the late 1970s while facing drug and alcohol addiction.

The transitional housing at My Father’s House in Paola, an eastern Kansas city of 5,000, has been in operation only since 2006. But it is already providing housing for up to 42 people and needy families. It has also always had a waiting list of dozens of applications in Linn and Miami counties, which have a combined population of about 40,000.

“Nobody in town even knew there was a need around here,” Preston said. “The assumption was that we’d bring homeless folks from downtown Kansas City here.”

Though families can live at the transitional housing for up to two years, it generally takes only nine to 12 months for a family to get back on its feet, thanks to the extensive case management, counseling, mentoring, budgeting and other life skills offered in the transitional housing communities by case workers and counselors, Preston said.

Preston said he’s been working for the last few years to find ways to partner with other organizations in neighboring counties to develop and implement the self-sufficiency models without creating new non-profits and “reinventing the wheel.”

“We know there is more need than resources, and so the change is needed to be more effective so we can meet more needs,” he said. “Preventing homelessness is much cheaper than continuing to pump money into providing services for the chronically homeless.”

Introducing a new charity to help schools and buld wells in togo

We learned of a new not for profit charity that aims to build schools and wells in West Africa. Leaping Stone was started by Natalie Huberman and her husband Robert, after a visit to the West African nation of Togo broke her heart and moved her to help.

More information on the non profit can be found at their website Leaping Stone Org, Natalie also runs a blog on the site and there are links to make donations.

We discovered the charity through this write up in the Chico News Review by Robert Speer.

Only when they visited West Africa, though, did Natalie Huberman discover the cause she now says she will be pursuing for the rest of her life. “It hit me like a ton of bricks” is how she describes the moment when she understood her new purpose. “It wasn’t until I got to West Africa that my heart was slammed.”

The result, many months later, is a new international philanthropic organization, LeapingStone, based in Chico and with her as president.

Huberman had witnessed poverty before, but nowhere had she seen it in tandem with such desire for better lives. Unlike the Mentawai, who though poor were happy and wanted to preserve their traditional way of life by avoiding modern society, the people of West Africa craved development.

The group’s mission is simple enough: “Providing quality, sustainable primary education for girls and boys in West Africa.” Huberman has no intention of stopping at Dédéké. She wants to build schools throughout West Africa—and put in water wells, too.

She’s been in touch with Ron Reed, the Chico attorney who is personally funding a project to dig some 40 wells in Tanzania and, just as important, set up a system that trains and pays for workers to maintain the wells. Huberman says she hopes to work with him in the future.

She and her board members, aware that building classrooms is pointless if the buildings aren’t maintained, have incorporated similar sustainability efforts in their proposal.

Their immediate goal is to have the buildings up by the end of this year. With Dédéké residents providing much of the labor, construction will cost $30,000 to $40,000, “not that much, really,” as Huberman says. In an effort to acquaint Chicoans with her project and drum up donations, she gave a slide presentation during the King Day ceremony on Jan. 18 at Trinity United Methodist Church, and she continues to talk to various groups to enlist their support.

It’s a big job. She says she spends at least four hours a day on it. Her husband, she says, is very supportive, though she likes to joke that it’s all his fault, since he was the person who led her to explore such places as West Africa.

Fair Trade pottery cooperatives in Rwanda

A great column found in All Africa today tells the story of a pottery cooperative in a little known area of Rwanda.

The writer, Irine Nambi begins the story by talking about a shopping trip to find pottery for her house. Having trouble finding any, she was told to head to Kacyiru where she found a cooperative of pottery makers.

In Nambi's story, she explains how much it improved the lives of the crafters.

The product of their labour was evident all around. The potters were organised in cooperatives and as I moved from one co-op to another, I could not help but marvel at the possibility of moulding clay into such beautiful products.

There is a wide range of products, including, household decoration items in the form of animals, flower vases, cooking pots and cooking stoves among others.

Everything was very good to look at, and the effort and dedication to this activity is unquestionable. I could not help but wonder what difference this engagement was making in the lives of these potters and their dependants.

"Ever since we decided to engage in this activity, life has never been the same. Initially many of us were very poor but today we earn monthly salaries," Jean Paul Rugemangabo, President of their cooperative said.

Salima Mukantwari, aged 44 and a mother of six is also a member of this cooperative and attests to the fact that this activity has changed her life completely.

"I would never have been able to meet the basic needs of life, if it was not for my skills in pottery. Today, my children are healthy and in school," she narrates.


He also advises that Rwandans can kick out poverty if they struggle to earn income out of what they are good at adding that, it is the only way everyone can contribute to the country's development.

Supporting organisations have also boosted these cooperatives. The Canadian Embassy for example funded the construction of their premises while the Ministry of Local government has supported them financially.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Oregon state report on poverty

A new report on poverty in the state of Oregon shows that 13 percent of the states population lives below the federal poverty line. The survey was conducted by Oregon Housing and Community Services and the Community Action Partnership of Oregon.

The unveiling press conference took place at the Oregon state capital, KPTV has a story on the the reports findings. The link to the full story has a county by county breakdown of poverty measures in Oregon.

The new report brings together data on the number of people experiencing poverty with information about the difficult choices low-income families face and indicators that can drive increases in poverty.

OHCS developed a Basic Family Budget for each county to provide insight into what families really need to make ends meet, from childcare to food to transportation. The county summaries also present recent data about job and population growth, housing and energy costs, and homelessness.

The report pulls together data from the US Census, Oregon Department of Revenue, Oregon Department of Human Services, Oregon Employment Department and a variety of federal and independent studies to paint a picture of poverty in Oregon.

# Among the report's key findings: In 2007, poverty affected 13 percent of Oregonians.
# African American and Native Americans were twice as likely to live in poverty as their White and Asian neighbors.
# One of five Oregonians with disabilities lived in poverty.
# Inability to afford rent was the most frequently cited cause of homelessness in the state.

The report is available on the department's website at

Eating on 3 dollars a day

Earlier we introduced you to a couple that tried eating on one dollar a day, now another couple are trying 3 dollars a day. They picked 3 dollars because it is the amount a couple would have with food stamps in their state.

Eve Ross and Justin Shearer have been donating all the money they save on food to a local food bank.

The couple have been blogging about their experience at 3 Justin

The weekly paper Columbia Free Times sent writer Eva Moore over to have a meal with them.

Curious about their own food spending and hoping to donate more money to food charities, Ross and her partner Justin Shearer embarked on a project they’re calling $3 Bill. Each of them is eating for $3 a day — roughly the amount offered to food stamp recipients in South Carolina. That’s $94 per person for the month of January. They’ve donated $564, the difference between January’s expenses and their usual monthly food expenditures, to local food bank Harvest Hope.

It’s been an intense month. The first surprise is just how much time they’ve spent cooking, not to mention cleaning, calculating and writing.

For this story, Shearer and Ross made dinner for a Free Times photographer and writer, with each of them giving up part of their daily budget to feed their guests.

Dinner was in two courses: first, a thick, tasty carrot soup made with pork broth, fresh ginger, and curry powder, served with homemade white bread.

Next, Shearer served what he called Lowcountry Pork Tacos: Boston butt cooked with beans, onions, peppers and chile spices, then fluffed with an immersion blender to the consistency of barbecue hash. He made flour tortillas from a prepared tortilla mix.

“I have a very important question to ask,” Shearer said as he served the tacos. “Do you want cheese or sour cream? You can’t have both. You get one-sixteenth of a cup.”

Dinner came in at 97 cents per couple. Everyone drank water.

But they’ve had some trials. The hardest day, Ross says, was when her church held a potluck as part of an event she wanted to attend. “I just didn’t have my s#!t together. I hadn’t planned in advance, because I was going to go straight there, and I didn’t bring anything.” People offered her food, but because she hadn’t contributed anything, she didn’t feel right eating the shared food.

“I just felt awful, because I really felt excluded from the community by choice. It sucked. But I could just imagine someone really not having the money to participate in something like that,” she says. “You just never know why people aren’t there.”

World unemployment could rise by 40 million

The United Nations labor agency says that the global credit crisis could make another 40 million people unemployed. That would put the number of unemployed to it's highest level in a decade. Bringing the total number to somewhere between 210 million and 230 million.

In this Associated Press article that we found in the International Herald Tribune, we are told what effects this will have on the working poor in the world.

If the worst case scenario materializes, around 200 million more people would become working poor — unable to earn more than $2 per person a day.

In this outlook, the total number of working poor would be 812 million, or 26.8 percent of the world's work force, the report said, using poverty estimates by the World Bank.

In 2007, some 609.5 million were working poor — 20.6 percent of the world's work force at the time.

In addition to fiscal and monetary interventions, the world economy also needs creative measures improving the social situation of workers, the report said.

"There is a need to focus measures on vulnerable groups in the labor market, such as youth and women, who are most likely to be pushed into poverty and find themselves trapped there for many years," it said.

Discussion on developing nations at the World Economic Forum

The World Economic Forum is going on now in Davos, Switzerland. Once a year really rich people and some heads of state gather to talk about global economics and to do some skiing. We have been waiting until we found a story about developing nations until we covered it here.

Developing nations are accumulating 1 trillion dollars of debt. Many nations are seeing investment dry up due to the world credit crisis. While some nations are wondering why they even bother being integrated in the world market, if it means that they will just follow the US into recession, each time.

Today's International Herald Tribune devoted a story to the developing countries concerns at the forum.

Some 48 mining projects in the Republic of Congo are "in various stages of abandonment," South Africa's Finance Minister Trevor Manuel cited as an example.

Turkish businessman Ferit F. Sahenk cited studies showing that private investment flows into emerging markets will drop significantly this year.

"It is not only unemployment. It is not only poverty. If this crisis goes longer, it will lead around the world to a social crisis that we should be keeping in mind," he said.

World Bank managing director Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said the discussions at Davos were too focused on rich countries.

"This crisis is not just about finance," she said. "It is about people and in many of these developing countries there are millions and millions of people who are at the bottom end of the scale."

She urged participants at Davos to explore the World Bank president's suggestion that 0.7 percent of the stimulus packages being discussed by industrialized nations be used to help developing nations.

German assistance pledge to Bangladesh

German Foreign Secretary Reinhard Silberberg made pledges of continued aid to help meet the Millennium Development Goals during a recent visit to Bangladesh. Secretary Silberberg also pledged to continue aid to Bangladesh despite the current financial credit crisis.

Bangladeshi newspaper The Daily Star made record of the visit and pledge.

Silberberg who had one and a-half-hour discussions on trade, investment, aid and cooperation in international arena said, “We will keep high level of assistance and increase step by step as we promised as part of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) policy and this is a commitment that we will not put into dark.”

Germany has so far provided 4.4 billion euros (5.8 billion dollars) as direct assistance or indirect multilateral aid contributions to help combat poverty, protect human rights and achieve economic development.

On German investment in Bangladesh, he said the investment is made by private companies adding, “What we can do we can talk about to improve the framework for foreign investment.” He, however, said, “I think something could be done for further improvement of environment for foreign investment.”

About bilateral trade, he said Bangladesh has been enjoying trade surplus with Germany and EU, saying, “We have positive trend in bilateral trade and we favour a lot of Bangladeshi exports.”

Germany is the second-largest export destination for Bangladesh after the United States. The annual trade volume between the two countries is set to reach about 2 billion euros, with Bangladesh enjoying a trade surplus of more than 1.3 billion euros annually.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Mexicans are sending less money home

For the first time since these stats have been kept, the Central Bank of Mexico says less money is being sent back from Mexican migrants.

Mexicans sent back $25 billion, down from $26 billion the year before. Bank officials say this means that the country will follow the US into recession.

From the Christian Science Monitor, Sara Miller Llana fills us in on how that effects the economy and people in poverty in Mexico.

But the break in the trend is significant, say economists. Less cash coming to low-income families who then spend it on goods and services, will mean more frugal spending, which will in turn be a further drag on the Mexican economy this year. And it will impact millions of families whose entire incomes depend on the dollars sent from men and women working as construction workers, lettuce pickers, and housekeepers from California to New York.

"This translates into social pressure," says Heliodoro Gil Corona, an economist at the School of Economists in the Mexican state of Michoacán. "It means a lack of employment. It means a lack of income. It even means more crime and insecurity."

Mexico's economy is in much better shape than in previous global economic downturns. While GDP is expected to remain stagnant or shrink here this year, in the past, when the US was in a recession, the economy south of the border quickly followed.

Even though Mexico sends up to 80 percent of its exports to the US and Canada, it has been cushioned somewhat by having corrected macroeconomic imbalances, such a fiscal deficit, external deficit, and high inflation, says Alfredo Coutino, a senior economist for Latin America at Moody's

But a drop in remittances, which represent the largest source of foreign income in Mexico after oil exports, is a worrisome trend – one that economists expect will trend further downward this year.

The poorest Mexicans are not the most affected – those in extreme poverty do not tend to be economic migrants. Rather the decline in remittances touches those families another rung up the economic ladder, those who depend on money to build better homes, buy books for their children and medicine for their elders.

Nations begin to barter for food

We are beginning to see the effects of the global credit crunch is having on nations securing food.

Experts have been telling us for a while that credit drying up will make it harder for underdeveloped nations to obtain credit to buy food. They have warned of the damages this could have for world trade. This also raises prices for locally grown food.

Now some countries have begun to admit that they are bartering for food staples. Javier Bias from the Financial Times lists some of the countries who have fessed up to bartering.

In a striking example of how the global financial crisis and high food prices have strained the finances of poor and middle-income nations, countries including Russia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Morocco say they have signed or are discussing inter-government and barter deals to import commodities from rice to vegetable oil.
The countries have not disclosed the value of any deals, and some have refused even to confirm their existence. Officials estimated that they ranged from $5m for smaller contracts to more than $500m for the biggest.

Josette Sheeran, head of the United Nations’ World Food Programme, said senior government officials, including heads of state, had told the WFP they were facing “difficulties” obtaining credit to purchase food. “This could be a big problem,” she told the Financial Times.

Last week, Malaysia’s commodities minister, Datuk Peter Chin Fah Kui, said Kuala Lumpur had already signed a barter deal swapping palm oil for fertilizer and machinery with North Korea, Cuba and Russia. He said Malaysia was talking to Morocco, Jordan, Syria and Iran about other barter deals.

“[Bartering] could be used for contracts with other countries that do not have the cash,” Mr Chin told the local press. “We can set the conditions for them to supply us with the raw materials that we need.”

Thailand, the world’s largest exporter of rice, is discussing barter deals with Middle Eastern countries, including Iran. The Philippines, the world’s largest importer of rice, has secured rice needs for this year through a diplomatic agreement with Hanoi.

Spain pledges a billion euros in food aid

One more item to report from the food security summit that recently concluded in Spain.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriquez Zapatero says his country will provide 1 billion euros over the next five years to boost food security thought the world. This will help Spain meet the goal of 0.7% of the countries gross domestic product being used for poverty fighting aid.

We love the quotes that Prime Minister Zapatero made in announcing the pledge, Spanish newspaper Easy Bourse has the quotes.

"A total of EUR1 billion will go during this period towards the nations which are the most vulnerable and most affected by the global food security crisis," he added at the end of a two-day conference on food security.

The funding is part of Spain's aim to raise the amount of development aid it provides to 0.7% of its GDP by 2012, despite facing its sharpest economic contraction in decades amid the global financial crisis, he said.

"The crisis here will be temporary. In countries lashed by hunger and extreme poverty, the crisis, the more radical crisis which puts at risk that which is most needed, is a form of life, a life of subsistence," Zapatero said.

Spain will also push for the creation of a new global partnership to better co-ordinate the fight against hunger that will be made up of donor nations, aid agencies, food producers and unions, and will be headed by the U.N., he said.

Ban said the food crisis had brought the total number of hungry people in the world to "an intolerable 1 billion" and he warned the situation could get worse unless more is done to tackle the problem.

While food prices have since dropped, they remain volatile.
The world's richest nations agreed to provide 0.7% of their output in development aid by 2015 as part of the U.N. Millennium Development Goals, a series of targets aimed at reducing poverty and living standards around the globe, but so far only a handful have met this target.

UN summit on food security closes

The United Nations food security summit in Madrid has drawn to a close. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon finished the summit with a speech that asked the world to do more to help the hungry.

Instead of focusing on the Secretary General's comments, our snippet from the BBC story includes reaction from the civic world on the summit. Also, it includes a remark that Jeffrey Sachs made at the conference. David Loyn of the BBC filed this story on the close of the summit.

The most dramatic intervention at the conference was from the UN poverty adviser Professor Jeffrey Sachs, who said that when the finance minister of Kenya phoned him to ask for $80m (£57m) to help Kenya's farmers this year he said "spend the money" in the faith that it would be covered by the World Bank.

This prioritisation of food and hunger is quite new, and has been welcomed by campaign groups like the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP), who have recently mobilised millions of people for their cause.

But the co-chair of the movement, Sylvia Borren, said that the international response in Madrid is still lacking urgency.

"It is a consultation and coalition-forming process, but if you look at the plans it will be another year before it gets off the paper, out of the talks into real action.

"What we are concerned about are people who are starving today - women who say to us 'I have to choose which child to feed'."
The amounts of money now being talked about are large - $5bn extra for food aid, and $10bn extra on helping farmers in Africa plant more productive crops.

But they are dwarfed by the trillions now committed to saving the banking system in the developed world.

Philippines announces 1.4 million jobs created

The Philippines government has announced that they have created 1.4 million jobs through their anti-poverty efforts. The National Anti-Poverty Commission made that announcement today, while introducing an upcoming forum.

From the Philippines, ABS CBN News received the figures.

The government's anti-hunger program has created job opportunities for nearly 1.4 million unemployed and underemployed poor Filipinos, according to the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC).

NAPC Secretary Domingo Panganiban said new jobs were created through the expansion of microfinance services, the construction and maintenance of farm infrastructure, coconut intercropping and aggressive rice seeds subsidy, and skills training programs nationwide.

"The creation of jobs for hungry folk is among the primary objectives of the Accelerated Hunger Mitigation Program (AHMP) and we are pleased to say that our efforts to ensure jobs for the poor have been successful," he said.

NAPC Assistant Secretary Dolores de Quiros Castillo said the government's microfinance program had already created over a million new jobs for the poor as of July last year and another 292,372 poor Filipinos were trained for higher paying jobs through the government's various skills training programs.

Some 38,507 rural workers, meanwhile, found new earning opportunities through the Coconut Intercropping Program of the Department of Agriculture while 10,761 were hired for irrigation project and another 26,326 Filipinos were put to work on roadside maintenance projects.

The figures were based on the 2008 AHMP accomplishment report that was submitted by the National Nutrition Council to the NAPC.

Discussing the Swaziland government budget

Swaziland's government is working on a new budget. Non governmental groups who work to fight poverty in the nation are telling the government what they would like to see included to help the poor.

A coalition of NGO's would like to see measures that will help the incomes of the poor to help grow the economy in the country. The Swazi Observer recently attended a meeting to discuss the budget, and received the comments of an economist that works for NGO's.

Coordinating Assembly of Non-Governmental organisations (CANGO) Economist Thembinkosi Dlamini said poverty manifests itself in the lack of equal opportunities to access basic needs like employment, food, income and wealth, and as such, the budget needs to address this.

Speaking during a pre-budget dialogue hosted by the organisation in conjunction with the Council of Swaziland Churches, he said government's increase of the elderly grant from E300 to E500 per quarter was a positive move in this regard.

He also said the allocation of E15 million to the Children's Unit was an indication of government being committed towards advancing, fulfilling and protecting children's rights while the allocation of E45 million to revamp the agriculture sector as a direct outcome of the Agricultural Summit held in 2007 was a major milestone.

"But where is the money?" he wondered.

Meanwhile, Dlamini noted that macroeconomic stability and accelerated economic growth was based on broader participation while empowering the poor to generate income and reduce inequalities.

He said as set out in the Poverty Reduction Strategy Action Plan (PRSAP), its pillars included fair distribution of the benefits of growth through fiscal policy, human capital development, improving the quality of life of the poor and improving governance and strengthening institutions.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Half of the world's people have access to microcredit

A new survey says that half of the world's people now have access to micro credit. Great news, but the group who conducted the survey warns the global economic crisis could slow the growth to more people.

Writer Peter Apps from the Guardian gives us the results of the survey.

The Microcredit Summit Campaign said its survey of micro-lenders showed more than 106 million of the very poorest received loans in 2007, helping them to set up and expand their businesses, reaching a target set in 1997 when fewer than 8 million were benefiting.

Assuming each recipient was supporting four family members, that would mean some half a billion were being reached -- roughly half the nearly one billion people classed as living on less than $1.25 a day.

"You can be a beggar, you can be a prostitute -- there is still a way out of poverty," Ingrid Munro, founder of Kenyan microcredit organisation Jamii Bora, told a conference call.

Jamii Bora started in 1999 with loans to 50 beggars but now reaches 200,000 members. It has provided mortgages to help build a town of 2000 houses and 3000 business spaces.

"We are doing subprime lending but we are doing it right," said Munro.
Beginning in the 1970s, microcredit has gained ground dramatically in recent years. Pionee Bangladeshi micro-finance institution Grameen Bank and its founder Muhammad Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.

"There are still many people we are not reaching," said Yunus. "We cannot stop now."
The campaign's new target is to reach 175 million recipients by 2015 and move the income level of 100 million families above one dollar a day.

World must double food production by 2050 says the FAO

The meeting in Spain on world hunger has begun. The headlines of the first day belong to the head of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization. Jacques Diouf claims that mass starvation will begin if the world doesn't double food production by 2050.

Many leaders attending the meeting are lamenting the fact the food insecurity is not a priority. Other issues such as AIDS or climate change have taken precedence.

The new US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was not present at the meetings, but gave a speech to the conference that she recorded in Washington DC.

The AFP has more on Diouf's comments at the world hunger conference.

The food crisis pushed another 40 million people into hunger in 2008, Jacques Diouf said here at the start of a two-day international conference on food security.

That brought the global number of undernourished people to 973 million last year out of a total population of around 6.5 billion, he said.

"We face the challenge now of not only ensuring food for the 973 million who are currently hungry, but also ensuring there is food for nine billion people in 2050. We will need to double global food production by 2050," he said.

But Diouf warned the global economic crisis was already undermining efforts to tackle food insecurity as it was making it harder for farmers to get loans to buy materials and new equipment that would boost yields.

"The current economic situation does not make our task easier," he said.

The fall in prices for certain food staples from last year's highs could also discourage farmers from sowing crops, adding to the difficulty in meeting FAO's goal to halve the number of people who live in hunger by 2015, he said.

IMF cautions Africa on their economic future

Economic policymakers in Africa were cautioned by the International Monetary Fund on what lies ahead for the continent due to the world economic slowdown.

Among some of the things the IMF said...

The threat of inflation may be coming due to the food and fuel price spikes that occurred last year. That is especially dangerous for those that are close to the poverty line, the inflation could drop more and more people in the continent into poverty.

Also, the IMF warned that prices of imports will be higher, and aid may not be available to offset the price increases of imports.

From the South African Newspaper the Mail and Guardian, we hear more from the IMF.

While economic growth in the countries of sub-Saharan Africa has been "surprisingly resilient" in the face of the latest shocks hitting the global economy, the IMF cautioned that there is no guarantee that things will not change.

According to Antoinette Monsio Sayeh, director of the IMF's African Department, the risks to growth in sub-Saharan Africa are quite obvious: the food and fuel price shock has put pressure on inflation and external balances.

But she warned that the deepening global financial turmoil had put a brake on global growth, giving rise to the potential for lower commodity prices for Africa's exports and reduced capital flows to Africa.

"As a result, growth in Africa could slow as well," she warned, adding that if the clouds on the horizon develop into a storm, policymakers -– including governments and central banks –- must be prepared to respond.

The IMF said the current severe external challenges come when, for the first time since the 1970s, a large number of countries in sub-Saharan Africa are enjoying persistently high rates of growth in per capita income.

Sustaining and even accelerating the high growth momentum —- and extending it to low-growth countries -— is now critical for the region.

A microcredit success story from Nepal

A unique story from a newspaper in Nepal gives us another micro-credit success. It tells us of Parbati Karki, who has a successful milk selling business thanks to a micro-credit loan. Again, we see overwhelming success for the lender in this article as well, as 99.93 percent of their loans are payed back.

Prithvi Man Shrestha of the Kantipur Online gives us the good news story from Kathmandu.

Parbati Karki, 27, had purchased a Jersey cow five years ago by obtaining a small loan of Rs. 5,000 from Mahila Sahayogi Sahakari Sanstha (MSSS), a micro-credit provider.

She now sells 18 litres of milk daily from her two cows and earns about Rs. 400. She has been able to erect a new house by putting together her income from the milk business and her husband's earnings.

Thanu Karki, 30, said she purchased jewellery from the savings she made by rearing goats. She had also borrowed Rs. 5,000 from the micro-finance institution to start her enterprise. Mina Karki had a hard time managing her household expenses on the small salary her husband earned by working as a peon at Saraswoti Campus, Kathmandu. Now, she is earning money herself by rearing cows and growing vegetables. The women of the village said they had to depend on others for even small personal expenses. Now they are capable of earning enough money not only their personal expenses but also to contributed the household expenses.

The borrowers do not have to offer their property as collateral to get credit from the micro-credit institution. The employees of the micro-finance institution come to their doorsteps to provide them credit.

They have formed a women's group which is mainly responsible for taking decisions regarding who should be given credit as per their earlier performance regarding the best utilisation of the fund.

“We hold a meeting of the group every fortnight,” said Sita K.C. who is the acting group chief. “The regular group meetings have established a strong bond among the women here.”

Farming in Uganda, most are unable to afford what we can

An article in All Africa today, provides more proof on why improving farming in the underdeveloped world is perhaps the most important aid we can do. A survey shows very high percentages of farmers in Uganda do not use the same tools to help their crops as in the developed world. And are in fact, far behind the world's average.

Improved seeds, fertilizer and other "inputs" could greatly improve yields for farmers. Many of whom are too poor to even afford these things and can only grow enough crops to feed their families, hopefully for the whole year.

A stat relieved in the survey said that a Ugandan farmer needs four acres to match the same output as one acre in the developed world. This is pretty much what Jeffrey Sachs was talking about in his most recent commentary. In it, he talked about how the improved inputs have helped to feed Asia, but still needs to be done elsewhere.

On to the survey now, Joshua Kato of Uganda's New Vision provides the findings.

USING improved agriculture inputs is one of the best ways of modernising agriculture. However, more than 95% of Ugandan farmers do not use improved agriculture inputs, according to a survey, Gender Disaggregated Data for Agriculture.

The survey found out that 75.5% of farmers were not using improved seeds. It was also found out that 85% were not using hybrid seeds, while 93.1% were not using herbicides.

The survey further revealed that 91.9% were not using fungicides, while 83.4% were not using pesticides. It further discovered that 94.5% were not using improved animal feeds, while 75.2% were not using veterinary drugs.

The figures look similar with almost all classes of farmers, including the elderly, the married and single. Among adult farmers who use inputs, it was established that the main source of inputs are shops and local vendors, at 50% for male farmers and 48% for female farmers.

Other sources include agriculture officers at 11% and 13% for males and females respectively, veterinary officers at 9.4% and 9.6% for males and females respectively, markets at 16.6% and 15% for male and female farmers respectively.

Agriculture researchers/ the National Agricultural Research Organisation only provide 3.7% and 3.8% inputs for male and female farmers respectively. Other sources are cooperative societies at an average 2%.

According to the survey, there are several reasons why farmers do not use farm inputs. The majority of them said they lacked knowledge about the input, while others said the inputs were too expensive or not available.

About 34% said they lacked knowledge about improved seeds while 29.2% said the seeds were too expensive. A similar number said the seeds were not available.

About 43% said they lacked knowledge about hybrid seeds, while 30.2% said the seeds were too expensive, yet 28.2% said the seeds were not available. The percentages are almost similar with artificial insemination, fungicides, pesticides, animal feeds and veterinary drugs.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

One Million Nicaraguans emigrate to Costa Rica

Trying to escape poverty and a lack of jods in Nicaragua, over a million people have emigrated to Costa Rica to find a job. The numbers are according to the International Organization for Migration. Around 250,000 people from Nicaragua now live in Costa Rica permanently. Many return to their home country after their temporary job ends.

We found the story on the emigration from the Costa Rica's Daily News

With a population of 5.6 million inhabitants - more than half of them under 18 - with an annual growth of 2.7 percent, Nicaragua, the second-poorest country in the Americas, "is facing a tremendous challenge to overcome its poverty," IOM spokesman Jean-Philippe Chauzy said Friday in Geneva.

That challenge, he said, particularly affects women, since a quarter of Nicaraguan households are headed by women.

The spokesman cited Capt. Lenin Flores, head of a busy post on the Nicaragua-Costa Rica border, who said that the Nicaraguan emigrants "are not criminals," but people "risking everything to find work and a better life," even though they do it without the required documents.

Chauzy also pointed to the case of 18-year-old Juanita, who traveled a long, hard road to cross the border illegally with her husband and children, and said that "wages are low and we have two kids, we just can't manage that way."

In the last 30 years, Nicaraguan emigration has been spurred by natural disasters, political conflicts and economic hardship.

Costa Rica, meanwhile, has become a magnet for people without professional qualifications thanks to the abundant job market in sectors less attractive to the native population - above all in agriculture, construction and domestic service.

The food price crisis of 2008, what to do next?

The United Nations high level task force on the food crisis is about to have another meeting. UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon and Spain's prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero will host the meeting in Madrid on January 26th.

An article on IRIN breaks down the issues that surround the meeting.

As food inflation shot to almost 60 percent in Ethiopia in 2008, the beneficiaries of a safety net programme offering cash to build resilience to face shocks opted for food.

The rising prices "may have reduced the hoped-for long-term impacts of the programme [to help people become more resilient and break the cycle of dependence on food aid]" said John Hoddinott, a senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

The global food price crisis that led to nearly a billion malnourished people in 2008 is not over, said David Nabarro, coordinator of the UN Secretary-General's High-Level Task Force on the Global Food Security Crisis. "Food systems in many countries are not working for poor people."

The economic slowdown has exacerbated the situation. "It means both developed and developing countries have even less funds to invest in social protection programmes to help people become more resilient [and prevent them falling into the poverty trap]."

In its most recent report the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said the food price crisis had pushed another 40 million into hunger in 2008, bringing the global number of undernourished people closer to a billion.

Food is not going to get cheaper soon; prices of major cereals have fallen by over 50 percent from their peak earlier in 2008 but are still high compared to previous years, said FAO's State of Food Insecurity in the World 2008.

The purchasing power of cash transfers in Ethiopia had been steadily eroded by escalating food prices since the beginning of the Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP) in 2005, and then spiked in 2008, according to a new joint crop and food security assessment report by FAO and the World Food Programme (WFP). The number of PSNP participants opting for cash transfers dropped from 74 percent in 2005 to 48 percent in 2008.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Malawi receives loan to help with the world economic downturn

Malawi has received a loan from the International Monetary Fund. The loan comes from a reserve of funds that is doled out when a country is effected by economic events beyond it's control, like the world depression going on now.

This IRIN article that we found from Reuters details the loan and why the nation needed it.

Malawi - one of the world's poorest countries, but which is also enjoying one of the world's highest growth rates - was hit hard by high fuel and fertiliser costs that reduced its import cover to about five weeks in September 2008.

This was despite being "buttressed by the seasonal concentration of tobacco proceeds [a major foreign currency earner] in April-September," said the IMF Request for a One Year Exogenous Shocks Facility Arrangement Staff Report, published on 21 January.

On 3 December 2008 the IMF approved a one-year US$77.1 million loan, of which US$51.4 million was available immediately.

Although world oil prices have dropped sharply with the onset of a global economic downturn, "the negative effects of the earlier price hikes will persist over the next few months, because current imports of oil and fertilisers were contracted at earlier high prices," Takatoshi Kato, the IMF's deputy managing director and acting chair, said in a statement.

The ESF was modified in November 2008, making it easier for low-income countries to access the facility. Repayments begin five and half years after the money has been disbursed and the loan has to be repaid in 10 years at an interest rate of 0.5 percent.

Victor Mbewe, Malawi's Reserve Bank Governor, said in the capital, Lilongwe, on 19 December that although the global financial market crisis was unlikely to directly affect Malawi, it would "manifest itself in a reduced demand for our exports in the coming year [2009], which will in turn affect the country's economic growth and poverty reduction efforts."

Poverty simulation for teachers in Des Moines

A poverty simulation was held in the Des Moines, Iowa area to help teachers see the realities of poverty in the community. The simulation focused on what teachers can do to help poor students in their classroom. This only grows in importance as the economy continues to be weak.

From the Des Moines Register, reporter Dave Dolmage shows us the extent of poverty in West Des Moines.

Andréa Boyd, the principal at Phenix Elementary School in West Des Moines, is no stranger to poverty. Located in the Valley Junction area of West Des Moines, more than half the students at Phenix qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

After going through a training course, Boyd wanted to bring the poverty simulation program to her school to help teachers and other administrators understand how poverty affects students, and how teachers can minimize its effects.

"We do it for people to have awareness, but with the economy everyone is aware," Boyd said. "It's a call to action, to see what we can do to help students and families."

Boyd works with Mary Stilwell, the family services coordinator at Phenix, to ensure that the district is doing what it can to help meet the needs of students. Stilwell works to find donations of clothing, and even helps some families find apartments. Boyd said it's easier for family members to talk to Stilwell, rather than speaking to the principal.

"She fulfills a very valuable role, and I think sometimes it's easier for families to go and talk to her," Boyd said of Stilwell.

About to graduate from Iowa State University, Whitney Wilson of West Des Moines is a student teacher who attended the poverty seminar. "It really opened my eyes and helped me see things that I might not have otherwise noticed," Wilson said.

The concept of a family services coordinator at a school was new to us, we wonder if other poor districts have something similar?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

WTO still hopes for more trade talks

The leader of the World Trade Organization recently shared what he hopes to see in the new year. The WTO Director Pascal Lamy said he wants to renew the Doha round of free trade talks. Lamy says the economic slowdown has really hurt trade between nations, and that increased trade could help developing countries.

From the Hindustan Times, this Reuters article recorded Lamy's remarks that he made while in the UK.

The Doha round was launched in late 2001 to boost world trade and help developing countries export their way out of poverty, but agreement has proved elusive.

The G20 group of rich and emerging nations called in November for an outline deal by the end of 2008 to help counter the economic crisis.

But last month Lamy decided political differences were still to wide to invite ministers to Geneva to seek a breakthrough.

In his speech on Thursday he praised Britain's support for the negotiations and Prime Minister Gordon Brown's leadership.

"It is this leadership that we are counting on to ensure that the coming G20 summit in April here in London will result in a recommitment to conclude the negotiations this year," said Lamy, who also met Brown on Thursday.

Lamy said the crisis made it more urgent to reform the global trading system to help developing countries.

"There is no doubt that this crisis will have profound and possibly prolonged effects on developing countries, the least developed among them in particular, whose recent good economic performance has been largely driven by external factors," he said.

Gates Foundation grants money to fight polio

Rotary International has been raising money for years to battle polio. Today Rotary received a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to help their cause. The grant is $255 million dollars, one of the largest the foundation has ever made.

The World Health Organization wanted to totally stop Polio in the year 2000. In over 30 years they have spent 6 billion dollars trying to eradicate the disease in the under developed world.

From the Los Angeles Times, Mary Engel details the fight to stop what's left of the Polio.

The number of countries in which the virus is still endemic has dropped since 1988 from more than 125 to four -- Nigeria, India, Pakistan and, to a lesser extent, Afghanistan. These four countries accounted for 1,488 of the 1,625 polio cases reported in 2008.

Fifteen other countries in Africa and Asia that once had eliminated the disease reported a total of 137 cases after the virus was reintroduced by travelers or immigrants.

Dr. Bruce Aylward, director of the WHO polio eradication program, estimated that it would cost $2 billion to stamp out the last traces of the virus in areas where wars, natural disasters, difficult terrain, extreme poverty and political interference have kept it stubbornly entrenched.

Without eradication, the virus will continue to find unprotected children, said Dr. Stephen L. Cochi of the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Should nations eventually tire of funding mass vaccination campaigns, mathematical models have shown that infections would quickly soar to 200,000 a year.

"The very point of eradication is to go that last mile, or the disease comes roaring back," Cochi said.

Polio is caused by a highly infectious virus that invades the nervous system. Most of those infected do not become ill, but one in 200 develop an irreversible paralysis, usually in the legs, that can set in within hours of infection. Of these, 5% to 10% can survive only with a ventilator because their breathing muscles become paralyzed.

"Slumdog Millionaire" premieres in Mumbai

While the film receives more nominations for awards, "Slumdog Millionaire" recently premiered in the city it was filmed. The film even found it's way into controversy in Mumbai, as people from the slums depicted in the film staged a protest.

In this Associated Press article, writer Erika Kinetz documents the protest. Our snippet comes from the Contra Costa Times.

The joy wasn't felt by some, however, as about two dozen slum residents protested the film outside Kapoor's Mumbai home saying the title of the movie was an insult.

"I am poor, but don't call me slumdog," said Rekha Dhamji, 18. "I don't want to be referred to as a dog."

Other protesters held up banners reading "Poverty For Sale" and "I am not a dog."

Nicholas Almeida, a social activist who organized the protest, said he planned to file a lawsuit Friday to get the film's name changed.

"Slumdog Millionaire" tells the story of Jamal Malik, a poor youth who becomes the champion of India's "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" television program as he searches for his lost love.

On Wednesday the cast and director spoke to the media in New Delhi about the film, and the controversy it has sparked.

"The film is going to be a terrific inspiration to kids around India. It's a feel-good film, a film of hope," said Kapoor, who grew up in a Mumbai slum.

He dismissed claims that the word "slumdog" was offensive. "Children from the slums are actually called much worse names."

A quarter of Bulgarians live on the edge of poverty

Bulgaria has one of the highest inflation rates in the European Union. The rising prices without any rising wages push more and more Bulgarians into poverty. For example, the prices of food stuffs in the country has gone up 7.6 percent, while rent and household has gone up 20 percent.

More facts and figures are presented in this story from Sofia Echo.

In 2008, the cost of life in Bulgaria has gone up by 14 per cent, which is the highest rise registered over the past eight years, Sega daily reported on January 22 2009 citing data provided by the Institute for Trade Union and Social Research (ITUSR).

One four-member household needs 1895 leva a month to cover basic expenses for food, utilities, clothing, education and short holidays. This would roughly make 474 leva a person. Sega daily cited national statistics indicating that only 15.2 per cent of Bulgarian families live with more than 450 a person monthly allowance.

To physically survive, one person needs 185 leva, according to ITUSR. National Statistical Institute released data showing that by November 2008, 22 per cent of Bulgarian households live below that minimum.

“At the beginning of 2008, food prices increased as a direct result from the tendencies on the food exchange market, later the gas prices increased,” Lyuben Tomev from ITUSR said as quoted by Sega daily. Although Tomev said he expected prices to rise slower, “the inflation would remain way above the EU average."

Eurostat research, cited by the newspaper, showed that in 2008, inflation rate in Bulgaria was 12 per cent, which has placed the country second in the category of intensive cost of life increased. First was Latvia with annual inflation rate of 15.3 per cent. In comparison, the average inflation rate in the EU is 3.7 per cent.

Another factor affecting the living standard in Bulgaria is the salary. The country occupies the bottom with minimal wage floor of 112 euro (218 leva). Usual expenses for a child vary from 261 leva to 445 leva.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Video: Poverty in Mississippi

Commentary on hunger from Jeffrey Sachs

The latest commentary from Jeffrey Sachs is about growing more food and feeding people. Again, Dr Sachs makes an appeal for more funding to provide seeds and fertilizer for small farmers. We found his latest commentary in the Guatemala Times.

Today's world hunger crisis is unprecedentedly severe and requires urgent measures. Nearly one billion people are trapped in chronic hunger - perhaps 100 million more than two years ago. Spain is taking global leadership in combating hunger by inviting world leaders to Madrid in late January to move beyond words to action. With Spain's leadership and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's partnership, several donor governments are proposing to pool their financial resources so that the world's poorest farmers can grow more food and escape the poverty trap.

The benefits of some donor help can be remarkable. Peasant farmers in Africa, Haiti, and other impoverished regions currently plant their crops without the benefit of high-yield seed varieties and fertilizers. The result is a grain yield (for example, maize) that is roughly one-third less than what could be achieved with better farm inputs. African farmers produce roughly one ton of grain per hectare, compared with more than four tons per hectare in China, where farmers use fertilizers heavily.

African farmers know that they need fertilizer; they just can't afford it. With donor help, they can. Not only do these farmers then feed their families, but they also can begin to earn market income and to save for the future. By building up savings over a few years, the farmers eventually become creditworthy, or have enough cash to purchase vitally necessary inputs on their own.

There is now widespread agreement on the need for increased donor financing for small farmers (those with two hectares or less of land, or impoverished pastoralists), which is especially urgent in Africa. The UN Secretary General led a steering group last year that determined that African agriculture needs around $8 billion per year in donor financing - roughly four times the current total - with a heavy emphasis on improved seeds, fertilizer, irrigation systems, and extension training.

In addition to direct help for small farms, donors should provide more help for the research and development needed to identify new high-yielding seed varieties, especially to breed plants that can withstand temporary flooding, excess nitrogen, salty soils, crop pests, and other challenges to sustainable food production. Helping the poor with today's technologies, while investing in future improved technologies, is the optimum division of labor.

This investment pays off wonderfully, with research centers such as the International Rice Research Institute and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre providing the high-yield seeds and innovative farming strategies that together triggered the Asian Green Revolution. These centers are not household names, but they deserve to be. Their scientific breakthroughs have helped to feed the world, and we'll need more of them.

Video: Once stable, now seeking aid

"The missing MDG"

A Nobel prize winner says that energy development should have been included in the Millennium Development Goals. Rajendra Pachauri, who heads the United Nations climate panel, says that getting energy to the poor is holding back the fight against poverty.

Matthias Williams, who writes for Reuters received the remarks from Pachauri.

Pachauri, whose panel shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore, said meeting the poor's energy needs should have been listed as a Millennium Development Goal (MDG) when the issue was debated at a key development summit more than six years ago.

"As a result of the insistence by some country governments, and in fact particularly just one country government, the whole sector of energy was dropped from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)," Pachauri said at a seminar in New Delhi.

"Today energy remains the missing MDG."

Energy was discussed at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002, Pachauri said, though he did not elaborate on which countries blocked its inclusion.

"Without the provision of adequate and appropriate supply of energy ... we would be falling far short of what is desired and what we need to achieve in eliminating poverty across rural areas across the world," Pachauri said.

There are 1.6 billion people without electricity in the world, which impacts their health, education and ability to work, Pachauri said.

I bet you that the one country is the U.S...

Tanzania's asks for Chinese help for a farming bank

It seems as though Tanzania has good relations with China. The President of Tanzania, Jakaya Kikwete recently toured China. While there, he was able to get the Chinese to help fund an $11 million dollar convention center.

Now, on a recent meeting with the Chinesse ambasodor for the country President Kikwete asks for funding for an agricultual bank to help small farmers.

The Citizen Reporter details the negotiations.

President Jakaya Kikwete has asked the Chinese government to assist in the setting up of an agricultural bank as a joint venture between the two countries.

He said the bank would play a vital role in revolutionazing agriculture regarded as the backbone of Tanzania's economy.

He said the bank would enable Tanzanian farmers boost productivity, thus improve food security and to fight poverty.

"It is agriculture which will redeem us. We need loans for our farmers," he said.

President Kikwete made the appeal at the State House in Dar es Salaam on Monday when he met the Chinese ambassador to Tanzania, Mr Liu Xinsheng.

Ambassador Xinsheng promised to forward the request to Beijing, fully aware that such an institution would enable farmers overcome poverty.


During the talks, Mr Xinsheng presented President Kikwete with architectural drawing of the proposed Julius Nyerere Convention Centre to be built in Dar es Salaam.

Agreement for a grant for the centre was signed in May last year when President Kikwete toured China.

Construction of the centre is expected to cost $11 million (about Sh15.07 billion).

It does have us curious as to why President Kikwete set up a convention center first, then works for an agricultural bank. It seems like farming should be a bigger priority.

A development project to help mendong crafters in Indonesia

Indonesia has this type of grass called mendong, that grows in swamps and is great for making hand woven mats. Some people have been pulled out of poverty thanks to the craft. First, they sold the mats to tourists, now thanks to the internet, the mats are sold worldwide.

The problem with mendong is that it created a lot of waste in the mat making process. About a quarter of the mendong plant becomes waste, so much of it began to me thrown out that it became an environmental issue. But, a group of students found something that could be done with the waste.

From this story in the Jakarta Post, Yuli Tri Suwarni explains how the students helped the crafters clean up.

After examining the piles of waste during a study tour of Manonjaya, Tasikmalaya, a group of students from the Langlabuana University in Bandung expressed concern over the issue. They estimated that each district produces 3 tons of mendong waste.

A lecturer from the University’s technical school, Rosad Ma’ali Hadi, noticed the students’ interest in researching ways to transform the waste into something useful.

Rosad, assisted by a number of students from the technical school, researched the possibilities of turning the waste into something useful.

After they found out that the fiber structure of mendong is similar to that of pineapple and banana stems, which are used to produce boutique paper, a product that is highly sought after thanks to the current “go green” movement, they gathered information from paper craftsmen and manufacturers.

Rosad received a grant of Rp 2 million (about US$180) from his university for initial research

“We used it for trials to turn mendong waste into fancy paper by using simple equipment,” Rosad said.

Realizing its great potential, the group wanted to equip the communities in Tasikmalaya with the technology. Funding however remained a big obstacle.

“We later joined a competition organized by the Senada-United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through a business innovation funds program, supported by the Economics and Research and Technology ministries,” Rosad said.

Senada-USAID grant technical adviser Herry Kameswara said the simple technology applied by the Langlabuana University students was one of 40 business innovations that received part of a total of $1 million in grants for the development of business innovations in Indonesia.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Emancipated teen tries to break out of poverty

An Omaha TV station profiled young Chissa Sheppard. The teen emancipated herself from her family in an attempt to break free from poverty. Sheppard at 17 years old receives assistance to finish her high school education, and is also taking nursing classes.

However, Sheppard leaves nine younger siblings behind with her mother. Sheppard often had to stay home to take care of the children. She feels the emancipation gives her the opportunity to get an education. Sheppard currently lives with a cousin.

MSNBC picked up the story from Omaha's KETV.

“Poverty is impacting everything she does and every decision she makes and I think it really says a lot that she has made high school and this training program a priority for her,” said Tobi Mathouser, Partnership Program coordinator at Omaha’s Goodwill Industries.

Shepard is part of the program which pays her and other high school dropouts to go to school, train for a job and plan for a career.

She chose to attend training to be a nursing assistant through Caregiver Support Services at 36th and Dodge streets.

Mathouser said Goodwill’s mission is to remove barriers that prevent people from finding employment. In Shepard’s case, poverty is a barrier.

“Chissa is a very strong individual struggling with homelessness,” said Mathouser.

According to data from the nonprofit child advocacy group Voices For Children, 52-percent of African-American Children in Nebraska live in poverty.

Shepard will spend a month in class learning how to care for patients and administer medication.

She said the $12-an-hour job that will result from the training will help her decide whether she wants to be a doctor when she grows up. This week she’ll start attending classes to get her high school diploma. She’s already paid the fees necessary to take college entrance exams.

Uganda applauds the WFP plan to buy more crops

The World Food Programme plans to expand its food crop buying program this year. The new program called "Purchase for Progress" will buy directly from small farmers. The experimental aid program recently received a big grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to get it started.

From the Ugandan Newspaper The Daily Monitor, Dorothy Nakaweesi explains the effect that "Purchase for Progress" could have on the country.

Traditionally WFP has been buying only maize and beans from Uganda. Last year, the programme purchased maize and beans worth close to $34 million (Shs64.4 billion). However, in the next three years, it’s planning to double its spending by buying more than $100 million (Shs190 billion) worth of food annually. “WFP will buy other staple foods such as millet, sorghum, sesame and cassava products besides maize and beans,” Country Director of WFP, Stanlake Samkange, recently said.

Buying food directly from small-scale farmers, especially at high prices, helps improve the quality of life for the poorest people. Recently the agency begun buying food through the warehouse receipt system in a bid to increase direct assistance to small-scale farmers and support the government’s poverty eradication efforts.

President of Uganda National Farmers Federation Frank Tumwebaze, in an interview with Daily Monitor said; “We are glad for WFP’s initiative. It is going to give the farmers a guaranteed market.” He said given the high prices of food, which dramatically shot up last year, many farmers embarked on an extensive increase in their acreages which means there will be sufficient food for consumption and sale.

Mr Tumwesigye however said the challenge farmers are facing is the changing weather pattern which is not reliable. “Because of the weather changes, farmers may not guarantee good yields and this may - in some seasons - lead to low supplies,” Mr Tumweisigye said. He urged the government to come up with a disaster management programme so that when the weather becomes hostile, farmers are assured of assistance especially in terms of emergency seeds.

Meanwhile, WFP last year bought food worth $53million in Uganda and spent $14 million on local commercial transporters. Mr Samkange said local transporters moved about 90 per cent of this food mostly to destinations in Uganda, but also to Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi and the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. “Last year was most challenging but most rewarding,” Mr Samkange added. “Conflicts coupled with failed harvests caused reduced agricultural production in the region. This led to a severe scarcity of food and doubling of the prices of maize and beans.”

With the help of donors, WFP was able to purchase an annual total of 109,000 tons of food from local traders and small-scale farmers. Buying food locally and using local transporters boosts Uganda’s economy. Local purchase helps WFP reach needy people faster while avoiding costs of shipping food from abroad. The agency can therefore utilise donor funds better in an era of high food and fuel prices.

More funding for anti-poverty in the Philippines

A government money package in the Philippines is expected to add 1.5 million new jobs to the country. The government added another 30 million to the already 300 million dollar fund package, similar to the economic stimulus packages here in the states.

Joel Guinto a writer for the Inquirer details the governments doings.

For the first half of 2009, the government is expected to generate as much as 1.5 million new jobs, mostly street sweepers and construction workers. With "best effort," three million new jobs could be created by the end of the year, National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) lead convenor Domingo Panganiban told reporters.

The government would need to spend P1.0 billion for every one million new jobs. This meant P3.0 billion would be spent if three million jobs were created this year under the Comprehensive Livelihood and Emergency Employment Program, Panganiban said.

"It will be a big dent to the reduction of poverty," he said.

The additional P30 billion was pooled from savings of government agencies and contributions from government-owned or-controlled corporations, he said.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Dr Martin Luther King Jr. Day

The press is buzzing with articles about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. today. So here are a couple of stories about Dr. King and the concern he had about fighting poverty.

First, a story from Ohio's News Messenger about Dr. King and the upcoming inauguration. Writer Kristina Smith Horn also touched on other ways that Dr. King's dream has gone unfulfilled.

Poverty was an issue that King often discussed, Jones said. Although he talked about the disparity between the poverty levels of blacks and whites during a 1967 speech, he also focused on the 40 million poor people of all races across the country.

"Let us be dissatisfied until slums are cast into the junk heaps of history, and every family is living in a decent sanitary home," King said during comments to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Since then, poverty levels are still high, Jones said. Instead, the gap between the wealthy and the poor is growing ever larger, he said.

In 2007, there were 7.6 million American families living in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Nearly 25 percent of blacks and 21. 5 percent of Hispanics lived in poverty in 2007, compared to eight percent of whites in poverty, according to the Census Bureau.

"As a nation, we have a long way to go to fulfill that concern," Jones said.

A commentary in the Los Angeles Daily Newsdiscusses a concept that Dr. King advocated that has been forgotten. Al Sheahen from Results re-introduces us to guaranteed income.

In his 1967 book, "Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?" the Rev. King wrote, "I am now convinced that the simplest solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income. A host of positive psychological changes inevitably will result from wide-spread economic security."

The concept of a guaranteed income is not discussed much anymore, especially in light of our current financial crisis. But it remains, as the late economist Milton Friedman always maintained, the most practical and sensible way to end poverty in America and provide economic security to all Americans.

President Obama is on the right track with his economic stimulus plan. Give the money directly to the people, not just to the big banks and corporations.

But don't stop there. Keep the stimulus coming. Every year.

Today there are more than 200 income-tested federal social programs costing more than $300 billion a year. Much of that money goes for administrative expenses, not to the needy.

Charles Murray, whose 1984 book "Losing Ground" claimed that welfare was doing more harm than good, now agrees with the Rev. King's approach. Murray calls for giving an annual cash grant of $10,000 - with no work requirements - to every adult over age 21.

John Legend's anti-poverty work

The singer John Legend has joined the growing list of celebrities involved in anti-poverty work. He calls his effort the "Show Me" campaign, based on a song he wrote about what a person can do to make the world better.

A section of his website is dedicated to raising money. The fund uses the money for mosquito nets and to help small farmers in Africa.

Stacy Brown of the Scranton Times Tribune interviewed John Legend for her story.

“We’ve already raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Mbola, Tanzania, and we’ve seen malaria incidents there going down and we’ve seen farming, which is a big source of income, going up,” Mr. Legend said. “We’ve also been able to help a number of kids go to school.”

Mr. Legend also visited the village of Bonsaaso, Ghana, to get a better understanding of the grim situation there.

He began pouring money into the cause and soliciting donations to help provide much-needed aid.

In an effort to encourage his fans and others to assist in the cause, Mr. Legend wrote a passionate letter and posted it on his Web site.

He said he was moved to visit Africa’s poor after reading “The End of Poverty,” a book by Columbia University professor Jeffrey Sachs.

“Dr. Sachs’ book and my visits to the continent convinced me that extreme poverty can be eradicated in our lifetime with a modest amount of money,” he said.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Mount Hope Project

This week the Poverty News Blog was introduced to a film maker who was inspired to use his talent to try to make a difference. Writer/director/producer, Gerry Balasta was born and raised in the Philippines. After working as an Occupation Therapist in the United States, he turned to the art of film making. His movie not only tells a tale of a life of extreme poverty, but it also tries to to improve the lives of those depicted in the film. The film has given birth to “The Mount Hope Project” a charitable group to help the people of the slum.

The film “The Mountain Thief” takes place in Payatas, a slum built on mounds of garbage in the Philippines. The residents try to make a living out of scavenging garbage for scraps of food or for stuff that they can sell. The conditions are some of the worst in the world.

From the film's website is a synopsis of the plot.

In a world of monstrous mountains of trash, Julio and his son confront their ultimate fight for survival as they seek refuge and redemption from war and hunger. Together, they navigate territorial rivalries and intense desperation among scavengers, surviving--and finding love--despite horrific living conditions. Julio, involved in a murder incident, must prove his innocence to avoid his family’s banishment and ultimate starvation.

A story of triumph over unusual circumstances, "The Mountain Thief" reveals the unimaginable realities of people living in extreme poverty, and what happens when their tenuous hold on hope and survival is threatened.

But this story is lot more than about a movie. It's also a story about the people who live amongst the garbage. The actors in the film are not from Hollywood, rather they are people who actually live in the slum. Balasta felt that the story would be best depicted by the people who face the realities everyday. As he told us in an e-mail “I just believed that if they are given the chance to act, they will best tell their own story.” So he began an acting workshop in the garbage slum.

Balasta, along with his mom, Nina Balasta, and friend Francisco Valdez helped the people of the slum learn the art of acting by setting up an acting workshop in the village. The trio prepared the building and hired help to teach the classes. They also provided meals and transportation to those attending the workshop, even sending some food back home with them.

As quoted from his website, Balasta had trouble getting anyone to attend.

The process was a long, trial and error process. At first, it was hard to get scavengers in to attend, just because they never expect anyone will hire them as actors, they all thought it was a scam.  At that time also, we didn’t have any contacts in the community and it was really hard to break in the very secluded town. Whenever I had a lead for a scavenger who’s interested, I literally had to chase them down, running with a camera on one hand, and offer to interview them and audition to be part of the workshops. I had to see them in camera and see some potential at least before I can invite them in.

Once people began to show up to the acting workshop their attendance was sporadic because of the harsh way of life. If a family emergency came up, or if their family simply didn't have enough money for the next meal, that took presidence over attending the classes. Literacy was also a challenge, some did not know enough words to keep up with the classes.

The film is now in the post production and final editing stage. Much of the filming is done, but Balasta still needs to complete the sound mix, color correction and make a master HD copy for production. Balasta is trying to raise the funds to complete the film, about 14, 000 is still needed to complete the film.

Below is the preliminary trailer:

But the filmmakers don't want to stop there. The actors in the film have many needs and they hope to fulfill those needs through charitable fund raising called the "Mount Hope Project". The website for “The Mountain Thief” has links for donations for those who appear in the film. One of the films main characters is a boy with a vision problem. Nine-year-old Richard Casa has difficulty keeping his balance when walking amongst trails through hills of garbage. The film crew hopes to raise money to provide glasses for Richard and for a surgery to improve his condition.

Another actor in the film has a son with a foot defect. The website has a description of his condition.

“Every parent is looking for the moment when their children walk, but for Randy it would mean a miracle. Junior has a club foot deformity. His ankles are rotated and because of this he is unable to walk. He needs a surgical correction. Such surgeries are very common in the western world. However, the high cost of this surgery in the Philippines, make this procedure impossible for him..”

For more information on the town, the filmmaking or the actors and their harsh living conditions, click on “The Mountain Thief” website. Gerry Balasta has joined the Poverty News Blog Facebook group, so we hope to have continuing updates on the charitable efforts of the Mount Hope Project.