Monday, November 30, 2009

Calling the WTO to action, again

Before the World Trade Organization meetings began, a coalition of 100 developing nations called on the powers that be to agree to a new world trade pact. The coalition wants the WTO negotiators to pass a world trade deal by 2010, but previous deadlines have come and gone without any action.

From this AFP article that is hosted at Google News, we found out more about the coalition's statement, and who they believe is standing in the way.

Launched in the Qatari capital in 2001, the Doha Round aims at lifting developing countries out of poverty by striking an accord that will cut agriculture subsidies and tariffs on industrial goods.

However, negotiations have been dogged by disagreements on how much major trading blocs such as the United States and the European Union should reduce aid to their farmers and the extent to which developing countries such as India, China and South Africa should lower tariffs on industrial products.

"There is urgent need to translate political statements into concrete engagements in Geneva in order to accomplish the shared objective of concluding the Round in 2010," said the statement issued after a meeting between G20 ministers.

Without naming names, Brazil's Foreign Minister Celso Amorim pointed in particular to "one country which is stopping us from moving forward."

However, another Latin American diplomat was more explicit, saying: "We clearly lack an explicit position from one of the most important members of the negotiations. We are of course talking about the United States."

He added that the WTO ministerial meeting "should pressure" Barack Obama's administration to take a deeper engagement on trade talks.

Poverty levels for school districts in Oregon

The U.S. Census Bureau recently released statistics that measured poverty for the nation's school districts. For the state of Oregon, the census figures show that rural areas of the state have the highest levels of poor children. Meanwhile, the Portland metro area and other towns had lower levels of the poor.

From The Oregonian, writer Betsy Hammond breaks down the numbers. Oregon Live also has this file that lists poverty levels for all of Oregon's schools.

Statewide, the lowest rates are in Lake Oswego, Sherwood, Corbett and West Linn-Wilsonville. Six percent or fewer of school-age children in those districts live in households below the poverty level, the bureau reported this month.

On the flip side are Woodburn, nearly every school district in southeast Oregon's Harney County, the Powers school district in southwest Oregon and the Three Rivers school district around Grants Pass. One-quarter to one-third of all school-age children in those areas live below the poverty line, defined as income of $22,050 a year for a family of four.

Schools face a much greater challenge getting students to read and do math at grade level in high-poverty communities. A federal report released last week showed that a student who attends a school serving mainly low-income and working-class students is about 12 times more likely to attend a chronically low-performing school than a student whose school serves mostly moderate- or high-income students.

"Whenever you are dealing with students at risk, you have issues," said Peter Maluk, director of federal programs for the Three Rivers district. "We see more and more needy families, and we need to be sensitive to helping them and giving their kids a solid education."

Maluk's district won competitive federal grants to help serve homeless students and to offer after-school academic and enrichment programs. He said he is proud of the results Three Rivers has achieved teaching low-income students.

When schools do a good job, they can be the best place for children from poor families, said Holly Pruett, executive director of Stand for Children in Oregon.

"For children living in poverty, schools are the essential lifeline to the skills and the inspiration to be able to succeed in life," she said.

Fish farming project in Kenya unveiled

Kenya's government has started a new project to introduce the work of fish farming to people who need jobs. The government plans on building several ponds and training people in raising fish so the people can eventually sell them in market for income.

From the New Nation, we read more details about the project.

The ambitious project worth over Sh1 billion is also projected to create about 120,000 new jobs.

The Ministry of Fisheries Development will oversee construction of 200 fish ponds in 140 constituencies.

Funded through the economic stimulus programme, each of the constituencies will receive Sh8 million for the project.

Fisheries minister Paul Otuoma last week launched the first of 20 ponds in Gatundu South, Central Province.

“The traditional fish sources are no longer dependable to meet the rising demand in the country,” said the minister during the function.

According the minister, statistics indicate that in 1999 the country harvested 1.2 million tonnes of Nile Perch variety though stocks have dwindled to 300 metric tonnes.

Agricultural developments bring 2.3 million out of poverty each year

A new study brings us very good news about the impact on agricultural research. Farming investment in sub-Saharan Africa brings around 2.3 million of the region's residents out of poverty each year.

Innovation and technology can do a lot, but the reports authors say that other developments are needed. Improvements in access to credit, and access to the same fertilizer and seeds that the Western World uses can help bring more people in Sub-Saharan Africa out of poverty.

From the Walta Information Center, we read more about the study on how agricultural research can help.

The study, authored by Drs. Arega Alene and Ousmane Coulibaly of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), finds that payoffs from agricultural research are impressive with an estimated aggregate rate of return of 55 per cent.

However, the researchers say that the actual impacts are not large enough to offset the poverty-increasing effects of population growth and environmental degradation in the region.

The study which has been published in the Food Policy journal further demonstrates that doubling investments in agricultural research and development in SSA from the current $650 million will reduce poverty by two percentage point annually.

“However, this would not be realized without a more efficient extension, credit, and input supply systems,” says Alene.

The researchers also established that agricultural research had contributed significantly to productivity growth in SSA. Highest returns to agricultural research were found in Ghana, Cameroon, Nigeria and Ethiopia, and were attributable to sustained national research investments with modest research capacity, long-term Consultative Group of International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) operations, and regional technology spillovers.

International agricultural research conducted by the CGIAR contributed about 56 per cent of the total poverty reduction impact in the region.

According to the study, in view of the significant long-term research investments and demonstrated successes in the region, the poverty reduction that is due to IITA research within the CGIAR ranges from half to one million poor people annually.

The WTO meets in Geneva

The World Trade Organization always seems to bring trouble wherever it goes. This time the streets of Geneva had protests that local police had to clear away with tear gas.

The protesters opinions on why they hate the WTO are as varied as the nations that represent it. Some protest the inaction of the WTO, while others blame the WTO on making things even more unequal between the rich and the poor.

The WTO trade ministers will meet now through Wednesday. They plan to talk about the steep drop in world trade that has happened along with the global economic recession.

From this Associated Press article that we found at Newsday, writer Bradley S. Klapper summarises what is on the WTO agenda this week.

As the World Trade Organization started its first ministerial conference in four years, a familiar debate was taking place among ministers and Cabinet members from over 100 countries. They are scheduled through Wednesday to discuss efforts to stabilize and rejuvenate commerce in the face of increased protectionism, unemployment and exporting of jobs.

Security was high near the Geneva conference venue, after police over the weekend fired tear gas and rubber bullets at violent demonstrators who burned cars and broke shop windows in the city center. Geneva police arrested 14 people.

Much more serious clashes have occurred at previous meetings of trade chiefs, but the coming session lacks the specific goals of conferences that sought to conclude or advance a new global trade deal. The last so-called ministerial — a summit gathering all member countries' trade representatives — was held in Hong Kong in 2005, and came after contentious gatherings in Cancun, Mexico, two years earlier and Seattle in 1999.

The WTO called the meeting of its 153 members to examine major issues at a time when global exports are falling at the fastest rate since the Great Depression and the organization's long-sought Doha liberalization round is limping into its ninth year.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Perhaps energy access should have been a MDG

Ahead of the climate change conference next week in Copenhagen, the United Nations Development Programme put together a study that shows access to electricity around the globe.

For most of the world, people are lucky to have access to power for just a couple of hours a day, if at all. But improved access to power in the under-developed world could improve the health, income and the environment around those in poverty.

From the IPS, writer Rajiv Fernando examines the report from the UNDP.

The report finds that the disparity is particularly pronounced in developing and least developed countries such as Burundi, Liberia and Chad, where 97 percent of people don't have access to electricity.

Normally, this kind of data would not have been made widely available, especially since the anti-poverty U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) do not specifically highlight a need for energy access.

The primary motivation behind the study was to create a 'catch-all' document for the array of energy access data available from developing countries, which has yet to be made accessible in a single publication.

There were many contributors to the report, including Minoru Takada, head of the Sustainable Energy Programme, Environment and Energy Group for UNDP. He is the originator of the concept of the publication and directed its development over a period of two years.

For energy access to be expanded in poor countries, there also has to be a political will by developed nations to help spread the technology for energy sustainability, the authors say.

"First, both at the national and global levels, there's a lack of real political commitment," Takada told IPS. "We really need political commitments at the national and global levels to tackle the energy poverty challenge within a specific timeframe. To help on making political commitment, which is my second point, we need to rectify a wrong perception that universal access to modern energy at the household level can explode greenhouse gas emissions."

According to Takada, not only is the contribution of universal access to modern energy at the household level – both electricity and modern cooking fuels – to global CO2 emissions negligible but also, will, most likely, end up promoting low carbon pathways.

Video: the story of Savita

The Guardian presents this story from Save The Children about another preventable death of a child in India. Savita died of diarrhea at the age of two.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

US/Britain call for investigation on Ethiopian aid money

The US and Britain are calling for an investigation over how Ethiopia handles aid money. There have been accusations that Ethiopia has politicized who benefits from the aid money.

From this Daily Nation article that we found at All Africa, writer Argaw Ashine tells us more about the allegation and receives quotes from both sides.

A week ago, Ethiopia's main opposition group, the Forum for Democratic Dialogue accused the government of using its access to foreign-funded, anti-poverty programmes to gain support for the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front.

Ethiopia scheduled a general election for May 2010.

"We are very much concerned about it," Mr Karl Wycoff, United Sates deputy assistant secretary of state, told reporters in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

Ethiopian authorities denied the allegation. Mr Mitiku Kassa Minister for disaster and emergency told the Nation his government was trying to investigate the issue however the allegation is 'baseless'. "We are always doing our humanitarian work regardless of any discrimination" Mr Mitiku said.

Land grabs in Ethiopia

A chunk of land the size of Nebraska has been sold off in Ethiopia in recent years. The government there is leasing farm land to wealthier nations, who hope to use the land to help feed their own people.

Critics of the fast selling say that the land should be used to feed hungry Ethiopians, meanwhile those who apologize for the land grabs hope it will help feed a booming population world wide.

From the Washington Post comes this video that summaries the entire story.

Also from the Washington Post writer Stephanie McCrummen recieves arguments from both sides of the debate.

The scale and pace of the land scramble have alarmed policymakers and others concerned about the implications for food security in countries such as Ethiopia, where officials recently appealed for food aid for about 6 million people as drought devastates parts of East Africa. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is in the midst of a food security summit in Rome, where some of the 62 heads of state attending are to discuss a code of conduct to govern land deals, which are being struck with little public input.

"These contracts are pretty thin; no safeguards are being introduced," said David Hallam, a deputy director at the FAO. "You see statements from ministers where they're basically promising everything with no controls, no conditions."

The harshest critics of the practice conjure images of poor Africans starving as food is hauled off to rich countries. Some express concern that decades of industrial farming will leave good land spoiled even as local populations surge. And skeptics also say the political contexts cannot be ignored.

"We don't trust this government," said Merera Gudina, a leading opposition figure here who accuses Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of using the land policy to hold on to power. "We are afraid this government is buying diplomatic support by giving away land."

But many experts are cautiously hopeful, saying that big agribusiness could feed millions by industrializing agriculture in countries such as Ethiopia, where about 80 percent of its 75 million people are farmers who plow their fields with oxen.

"If these deals are negotiated well, I tell you, it will change the dynamics of the food economy in this country," said Mafa Chipeta, the FAO's representative in Ethiopia, dismissing the worst-case scenarios. "I can't believe Ethiopia or any other government would allow their country to be used like an empty womb. The human spirit would not allow it."

Monday, November 23, 2009

The origin of Bread for the World

The Rev. Arthur Simon began the organization Bread for the World when he saw something over and over again at his church, people going hungry. Rev. Simon is traveling to promote a new book on the formation of Bread for the World. His stop over the weekend in Allentown, Pennsylvania caught the attention of the local paper the Morning Call. Writer Christopher Baxter asked Rev. Simon about the organization's origin.

'People were running out of food, that was the most common,'' Simon told a crowd gathered Sunday for church service at Luther Crest, an Allentown retirement community. ''But I found the harder we worked at it, the further behind we got.''

Out of the pain and suffering came Bread for the World, which 35 years later has become one of the country's leading citizens advocacy groups, boasting more than 60,000 members nationally united by a common mission to prevent people from going hungry.

Simon's message, delivered as a call-to-action sermon to lobby Congress for better hunger and poverty prevention, comes as more Americans struggle amid the economic downturn to put food on the table.

According to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics released this month, about 49 million people, or 14.6 percent of U.S. households, were ''food insecure'' at some time during the past year, the most since tracking began in 1995.

The department defines ''food insecure'' as those without access to enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle.

''I hope it's a short-term crisis, and we've got to deal with that,'' said Simon, 79, brother of the late Sen. Paul Simon of Illinois. ''I think it will improve with the economy, but meanwhile we have to take some meaningful action.''

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Video: What is poverty? from Compassion International

The following video speaks to the loss of hope that those in severe poverty feel. The video comes from Compassion International.

A couple of new scientific studies on the poor in the US

The following article serves as a good reminder that what the press and sometime ourselves calls poverty in the US is really just being poor. A story on a couple of scientific studies examine what impact the income transfer policies of the US have on its recipients.

From the Science Centric, comes this summary of the studies published by Wiley-Blackwell.

Almost all Americans already live far above subsistence poverty, most because of their earnings, and the rest because of government transfer programs. This decline in material poverty is obscured by weaknesses in how the official U.S. poverty measure counts income. Based on the official U.S. poverty measure, in 2007, the poverty rate for American families was 12.5 percent, about the same as it was in 1968.

What is now called poverty is really 'income inequality.' Many families earning too much to be considered victims of poverty but who lack the 'human capital,' education, training, and family support systems to provide a stable economic future for their children. In an effort to properly measure poverty levels and brainstorm long-term solutions to the issue, three socioeconomic experts and researchers joined in a call and response format debate in a recent issue of Policy Studies Journal.

In their article, 'Income Transfers Alone Won't Eradicate Poverty,' Douglas J. Besharov J.D. and Douglas M. Call of the University of Maryland, claim that government-issued cash transfers to families in need do little in the long-term to help lift people out of poverty. Besharov and Call claim that although government intervention is often required to reduce income inequality and provide social assistance, it cannot be accomplished through income transfers alone. The authors argue that, although income transfers have a role to play in lessening the impact of material deprivation, real progress in raising incomes will require building the human capital of the economically disadvantaged. This means both increasing the earnings capacity of lower-income workers and reducing the number of female-headed families.

In his response to Besharov's and Call's article on income transfers, 'Measuring Poverty and Assessing the Role of Income Transfers in Contemporary Anti-Poverty Policy: Comments on Besharov and Call,' Robert D. Plotnick analyses the current economic and political trade-offs among different types of income support programs. Plotnick, says, 'The current poverty measurement approach in the U.S. has shortcomings that give us a misleading view of the level and trend in poverty, but absolute poverty statistics still provide useful, relevant information.' He focuses on the central theme to the debate: how best to reduce poverty among working age families with children.

"Land Grabs"

One of the topics that came up during this past week's World Food Summit was the "land grabs" taking place in Africa. Lybia's Muammar Gaddafi accused rich nations of buying up large tracts of farm land for use to feed their own countries.

From IPS, writer Paul Virgo looks into the debate that started last week.

The U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the summit's host, said it is estimated that up to 20 million hectares of African land have been acquired by foreign interests in the last three years.

States such as Saudi Arabia and China started to look for farmland abroad after a spike in the price of staples such as wheat and rice in 2007-08, prompting fears that smallholder farmers may be displaced from their territories, worsening the situation in countries already suffering grave food insecurity.

The rise in food prices and the financial crisis have driven more than 100 million people into the ranks of the hungry this year, to take their number beyond the one-billion mark for the first time, the FAO says. So it is perhaps understandable that hostility to foreign land purchases in Africa remains high.

"Our leaders (in Africa) are selling all our land," Huguette Akplogan Dossa, coordinator of the African Network on the Right to Food, told IPS. "Selling national land is not a good thing. They have to think about what is good for the people. If they come to buy our lands for production, take it to their countries, transform it and sell it back to us very expensively, it is another form of colonialism. We have to ban it."

However, the FAO and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) are reluctant to stigmatise a possible source of capital, given that a long-running decline in agricultural investment is perhaps the main reason why so many people in rural areas of developing countries struggle to feed themselves.

"It is the wrong language to call them land grabs. They are investments in farmland like investments in oil exploration," Kanayo Nwanze, head of IFAD, told a news conference. "The fact there are distortions does not suggest this should be banned."

FAO and IFAD admit that the acquisitions, which continued to be called 'land grabs' in summit papers despite Nwanze's objections, have had negative impacts in some cases. But they insist foreign investment can also help smallholders gain access to the resources they need to haul themselves out of poverty. So they are holding consultations on an international code of conduct to encourage positive forms of foreign agricultural investment and discourage bad practices.

"What strikes me is the heterogeneity of these situations. It appears superficially that all of these so-called land grabs are similar; it's big foreign companies pushing smallholders off the land, and indeed some of them do look like that," IFAD Assistant President Kevin Cleaver told IPS.

"But others are much more similar to old private investments in sugar, rubber and tea that actually put money into a country, developed an area that was underdeveloped, and helped smallholders," Cleaver said. "My point is not to give a message about whether it is good or bad. I know for certain that the situation is highly heterogeneous. My suspicion is that there are horrible cases of grotesque exploitation and there are other cases of useful private investment."

The challenge to feed the world

With the world's population due to rise by a third by 2050, even more people will be hungry in addition to the 1 billion people who are hungry now. Further complicating the immediate need is the steady rise of food prices back to the highs of last year.

From the Economist comes this examination of the problem and some warnings of what to avoid.

It may be too late to avoid another bout of price rises. Despite a global recession and the largest grain harvest on record in 2008, food prices are heading up again. Still, countries have a brief window of opportunity in which to set long-term policy goals without being distracted by panic measures. They need to do two things: invest in the productive capacity of agriculture and improve the operation of food markets.

Governments have done one but not the other. Over the past year investment has risen faster than anyone expected. But distrust of markets and a reaction against farm trade are growing. Unless governments restrain those impulses, they will undermine the gains from rising investment.

For most of the past 25 years, investment in agriculture has declined relentlessly. In 2005 most developing countries were investing only around 5% of public revenues in farming. The share of Western aid going to agriculture fell by around three-quarters between 1980 and 2006. This disinvestment laid waste to productivity. During the Green Revolution of the 1960s, staple-crop yields were rising by 3-6% a year. Now they are rising by only 1-2% a year; in poor countries, yields are flat.

Fortunately, the food-price spike of 2007-08 shocked governments out of their quarter-century of neglect. The World Bank and many rich countries have doubled the money they put into poor countries’ farming. In the poor countries themselves, agriculture has gone from being a sideshow for the government—something the minister of agriculture does—into its main event, which everyone needs to worry about. This is as it should be: farming is far and away the single most important economic activity in most poor places.

There is, however, a danger inherent in all this government activity: the temptation of self-reliance. The food-price rise of 2007-08 made all countries worry about “food security”—quite rightly. But over the past year “food security” (ensuring everyone has enough to eat) has shaded into “food self-sufficiency” (growing it all yourself). Self-sufficiency has become a common policy goal in many countries (see article).

In itself, self-sufficiency is not bad. If poor countries have a comparative advantage in producing their own food, they should do so (and that will often be the case). The problem is that the new rhetoric of self-sufficiency coincides with a growing distrust of markets and trade. Grain importers no longer trust world markets to supply their needs. “Land grabbers” are snapping up land abroad to use for food production. Everywhere, governments are more involved in farming through input subsidies. In these conditions self-sufficiency could easily sprout protective walls.

Friday, November 20, 2009

New UNICEF study on preventable diseases in the third world

A new study from UNICEF has prompted a rash of stories about preventable diseases that kill children in the under-developed world. While most of the world focuses it's attention on eradicating AIDS, diseases such as diarrhea and pneumonia kill millions of children a year in the under-developed world.

Our snippet comes from Yahoo News, which we found as we signed into our e-mail this morning. We were somewhat surprised that they would put this story on their front page instead a celebrity piece. Associated Press writer Margie Mason gives us some statistics from UNICEF.

Diarrhea doesn't make headlines. Nor does pneumonia. AIDS and malaria tend to get most of the attention.

Yet even though cheap tools could prevent and cure both diseases, they kill an estimated 3.5 million kids under 5 each a year globally — more than HIV and malaria combined.

"They have been neglected, because donor or partnership mechanisms shifted their emphasis to HIV and AIDS and other issues," said Dr. Tesfaye Shiferaw, a UNICEF official in Africa. "These age-old traditional killers remain with us. The ones dying are the children of the poor."

Global spending on maternal, newborn and child health was about $3.5 billion in 2006, according to a report by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. That same year, nearly $9 billion was devoted to HIV and AIDS, according to UNAIDS.

Pneumonia is the biggest killer of children under 5, claiming more then 2 million lives annually or about 20 percent of all child deaths. AIDS, in contrast, accounts for about 2 percent.

If identified early, pneumonia can be treated with inexpensive antibiotics. Yet UNICEF and the World Health Organization estimate less than 20 percent of those sickened receive the drugs.

A vaccine has been available since 2000 but has not yet reached many children in developing countries. The GAVI Alliance, a global partnership, hopes to introduce it to 42 countries by 2015.

Diarrheal diseases, such as cholera and rotavirus, kill 1.5 million kids each year, most under 2 years old. The children die from dehydration, weakened immune systems and malnutrition. Often they get sick from drinking dirty water.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

We guess Senegal will have to export instead

The rice harvest is booming in Senegal... but no one there wants to eat it. After the food crisis of last year, Senegal decided to produce more rice. The problem is, the tastes of the public still prefer the rice imported from Asia.

It's an example of the public's preference running counter to the efforts to increase local food production to protect against future food price shocks.

From this AFP article that we found at Google News, writer Laurence Boutreux tries to answer why the Senegalese prefer foreign rice.

But the Senegalese, who serve rice with so many meals, said no thanks. Why? That's where it gets sticky.

Explanations range from taste to social standing to the legacy of colonialism. Whatever the reason, the government is now figuring out how to promote locally grown rice and hopes to import none of the staple by 2012.

It seems they may have a hard time achieving that goal. Last year, over three quarters of the 800,000 tonnes of rice consumed by the Senegalese was imported from Asia.

The impetus for change came from the food crisis, which had sent prices of imported rice soaring. Senegal has since been pushing locally grown rice to rely less on agricultural imports, but despite good crops, much remains unsold.

According to the latest official estimates -- disputed by some producers -- the rice harvest will be at 508,481 tonnes for 2009, up 25 percent compared to 2008.

The figures have prompted a promise from Senegal's agriculture minister that the country "will not import a single kernel of rice in 2012".

But what if no one eats it?

One expert blamed the problem on the legacy of colonialism.

"It dates back to the colonisation," said Wore Gana Seck, the head of the commission for durable development and environment at Senegal's economic and social council.

"Before the Senegalese ate millet and sorghum, but the French imposed a monoculture of peanuts on farmers and imported broken rice from their other colony Indochina for the Senegalese to eat," she says.

Increase in poor children attending New Jersey Schools

US Census Bureau data released yesterday shows the percentages of poor children in the nation's school districts. For most parts of the US the percentages of poor children increased from 2007 to 2008.

From the Press of Atlantic City, we find this story that examines the school districts in the New Jersey area. Writer Diane D’Amico begins her story by introducing us to an area school principal.

Gladys Lauriello didn’t realize her family was poor when she went to school in Wildwood. But now, as Lauriello works as principal in the same building where she attended class, she recognizes the signs of poverty that characterized her youth.

She wasn’t surprised to learn that U.S. Census Bureau data released Wednesday show that 36 percent of school-age children in Wildwood live in poverty. That’s the highest percentage among school districts in New Jersey.

“It’s probably a low estimate, frankly,” said Lauriello, the Wildwood High School principal.

New Jersey annually ranks at or near the top among the states in household income. But it has some of the poorest school districts in the country, according to The Press of Atlantic City analysis of the census poverty data. And area school districts, including Atlantic City, Pleasantville, Vineland and Bridgeton, number among the nation’s worst in terms of percent or number of children age 5 to 17 living in poverty.

The percentage of impoverished children increased in 70 percent of area school districts from 2007 to 2008. The number of children in poverty grew by 9 percent in Atlantic and Cape May counties and by 16 percent in Ocean County. The number in poverty increased by 5 percent statewide. The percentage of impoverished schoolchildren increased in two-thirds of districts statewide last year, although a number of them grew by less than a percentage point.

In terms of the percentage of children in poverty, Atlantic City and Bridgeton rank among the worst 10 percent of districts in the nation and Wildwood is in the worst 3 percent. Thirty-two New Jersey districts rank among the 10 percent nationwide with the highest number of impoverished children. Those include Bridgeton, Millville and Pleasantville from this area. Atlantic City and Vineland rank in the worst 5 percent.

Video: a sad tale from India's slums

In this video from the Guardian, we see the story of Surma, who lost her son to an easily preventable disease. Parmesh died of diarrhea, but it is not an isolated case. The deaths of children in India's slums have doubled in recent years.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The failure of the World Food Summit

The three day World Food Summit has now concluded in Rome. According to all anti-hunger advocates it was a failure.

A couple of reasons are given for why the summit failed to come up with funding goals or a deadline for ending hunger. Some point to the lack of any ability of the UN's Food and Agricultural Organization to bully developed nations into action. Others say it's a lack of interest by any elected officials of the developed world over people starving to death.

From the IPS, writer Paul Virgo gives us the analysis.

At best it reflects the limits of the U.N. and its flagship body in the fight against hunger, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), activists say.

At worst, they say it shows wealthy countries’ leaders lack the political will to really to put their backs into solving a problem that - no matter how unjust and scandalous, in a world with more than enough to feed everyone - generally does not directly affect the voters who put them into office.

Either way it is probably bad news for the 1.02 billion people, almost one sixth of the global population, who go to bed every night with empty stomachs.

FAO Director General Jacques Diouf tried to make the best of it Monday after the approval of a toothless declaration.

He pointed out consensus had been achieved on the need to end the long- running decline in agricultural investment, which is one of the major reasons many people in rural areas of developing countries struggle to feed themselves.

But, Diouf admitted "regret" that countries had failed to commit themselves to wiping out hunger by 2025 and that developed nations had not agreed to allocate 44 billion dollars in aid to agriculture per year.

That figure sounds like an awful lot of money, but it was not such an ambitious target if one considers other ways money is spent.

The summit was skipped by all but one of the leaders of countries in the Group of Eight leading world economic powers - Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, who only had to take a short drive from his office to reach the FAO’s headquarters.

The G8 pledged to devote 20 million dollars to agricultural aid over the next three years at the L’Aquila summit in July. So some believe the no-shows here imply they want to implement their food security policies via G8 organs or other bodies, such as the World Bank, which has frequently been accused of infringing national sovereignty by trying to promote models of development imported from the West that are not appropriate in poorer countries.

"The absence of the G8 leaders is a clear message that the rich countries are still trying to impose their policies on poor countries," said Sergio Marelli, head of the association of Italian non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

"Agro-food policies and management of resources for their implementation can only be the competence of the specialised United Nations agencies, above all the FAO and the International Fund for Agricultural Development, and should not be handed to the World Bank," Marelli said. "We believe assigning the World Bank the role of policy-maker would mean giving it back to the institution that has the greatest responsibility for the current food crisis."

Aborigine poverty in Australia compared to torture

A leader of Amnesty International spoke out about aborigine poverty in Australia. Irene Khan compared the poverty to torture and called on Australia's government to end what she called "discriminatory" practices.

From the Sydney Morning Herald, this AAP story recorded Khan's comments.

The poverty experienced by many Aborigines is as morally reprehensible as torture and must be eradicated, Amnesty International secretary-general Irene Khan says.

In Australia for a week-long visit, Ms Khan has also called on the Rudd government to end the discriminatory measures of the Northern Territory intervention into remote indigenous communities.

They were "stigmatising and disempowering an already marginalised people", she said.

Ms Khan visited Aboriginal homeland communities in central Australia before addressing the National Press Club in Canberra on Wednesday.

The poverty she saw northeast of Alice Springs reminded her of a third world country, she said in a statement.

"That indigenous peoples experience human rights violations on a continent of such privilege is not merely disheartening, it is morally outrageous," she said.

"The moral imperative to eradicate such poverty is no less an imperative on government than to eliminate torture."

Ms Khan, the first woman, first Asian and first Muslim to head the world's largest human rights organisation, also blasted federal Labor for continuing the former Howard government's interventionist policies.

She was particularly scathing of the compulsory quarantining of welfare payments and suggested there was a "real risk" Labor could squander an opportunity to change direction.

"The blunt force of the intervention's heavy-handed one-size-fits-all approach cannot deliver the desired results," Ms Khan said.

"The government will not secure the long-term protection of women and children unless there is an integrated human rights solution that empowers peoples and engages them to take responsibility for the solutions."

The Racial Discrimination Act was suspended in the Northern Territory to allow the intervention's more controversial measures to be introduced.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin has vowed to reinstate the act and will introduce the relevant legislation into federal parliament within days.

But Ms Khan warned Labor needed to do so "in line with Australia's international obligations not to discriminate against indigenous peoples".

Poverty cause of war according to Afghanistan's residents

Further proof that the fight in Afghanistan should not be waged by soldiers but by humanitarians and social businesspeople comes from Oxfam today. While people in the West believe the cause of the war in Afghanistan is the Taliban, a survey shows that most of Afghanistan's residents believe that poverty is it's cause.

From Reuters, writer Jonathon Burch details the survey from Oxfam.

After three decades of war, Afghanistan remains one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world. It is also one of the most corrupt. Unemployment stands at 40 percent and more than half the country live below the poverty line.

On top of that, violence is at its highest levels since U.S.-backed Afghan forces toppled the Taliban in late 2001.

The report, based on a survey of more than 700 ordinary Afghans by British charity Oxfam and several local aid groups, found that 70 percent of people questioned viewed poverty and unemployment as the main drivers of the conflict.

Nearly half of those surveyed said corruption and the ineffectiveness of their government were the main reasons for the continued fighting, while 36 percent said the Taliban insurgency was to blame.

The 704 respondents from around the country were allowed to give multiple answers on reasons for the conflict.

There are some 110,000 foreign soldiers in Afghanistan, 68,000 of them American, trying to quell a strengthening Taliban insurgency that has spread to previously peaceful areas.

U.S. President Barack Obama is in the final stages of deciding whether to send up to 40,000 more U.S. troops.

But ordinary Afghans are frustrated at the slow pace of development, endemic corruption and the inability of Afghan and international security forces to stop the violence.

Instead, one of the poorest nations in the world will soon see more American soldiers coming into the country. So our question is, how do soldiers fight poverty? Most likely by killing those who live in it.

New survey on child exploitation in the UK

A UK children's charity has conducted a study that says there needs to give more help given to sexually exploited children. But the results were not all bad, the charity Barnado's is encouraged by the steps that are beginning to be made in fighting the problem.

The survey also finds that the criminals who exploit and traffic children are becoming more sophisticated in their efforts.

From the UK's Huddersfield Examiner, writer Nick Lavigueur gives us the survey for us.

Based on a survey of Barnardo’s 21 specialist sexual exploitation services, the report revealed around 80% of local authorities did not have any specialist work for sexually exploited children and young people.

The report also revealed more than 1,000 children had been referred to Barnardo’s after being sexually exploited over the course of last year (2007/8).

Barnados also revealed that of the 609 sexually exploited children and young people they are currently working with, 90 appear to have been trafficked within the UK – approximately one in six.

Recent research carried out in Yorkshire also identified children as young as 11 and 12 were being sexually exploited.

Barnardo’s Chief Executive Martin Narey said: “We don’t know the true extent of this problem, but we do know, however hidden from the public eye it might be, it affects many thousands of children.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Rich Nation vs Poor Nation again at Food Summit

Again the fight between wealthy and poor nations is seen at an international summit. The battle is taking center stage again this week at the UN's World Food Summit taking place in Rome.

Poor nations attending the summit are criticizing agricultural practices of the rich nations. While the rich nations are fighting any concrete deadlines or new funding levels for hunger.

From this story on the summit that we found at the New York Times, writer Neil MacFarquhar describes the battle.

In the hard-fought negotiations over a draft declaration from the three-day talks, richer nations succeeded in removing a goal to end world hunger by 2025 and declined to commit to increasing agricultural aid to nearly 20 percent of all international development aid, where it peaked in 1980 before gradually falling.

Instead, the draft declaration restated the United Nations target of halving world hunger by 2015 and said that eradicating hunger should come “at the earliest possible date.” Diplomats from wealthier countries argued that creating a deadline for eradicating hunger was unrealistic, according to officials involved in the negotiations. The United Nations estimates that the number of people facing hunger around the world rose to more than one billion this year.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations had hoped the meeting would set an agriculture aid target of $44 billion annually toward helping farmers in poorer countries. To meet demand by 2050, agriculture output needs to grow by 70 percent, the organization said.

The draft declaration instead commits to “substantially increase” agriculture aid. Leaders of industrialized nations meeting in Italy last July agreed to spend more than $22 billion on agriculture aid over the next three years, but not all of that constitutes new aid, and the nations have been slow to figure out how it might be distributed.

The Rome conference was prompted by a sharp rise in the price of basic commodities like rice and wheat that incited food riots in many countries in 2008, a crisis that Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, warned could easily be repeated.

The pope decried the “greed which causes speculation to rear its head even in the marketing of cereals, as if food were to be treated just like any other commodity.” Rising demand, weather and supply shocks, and not speculation alone, are considered to be at the root of the food crisis.

Hunger protests planned in Pakistan

Protest are planned throughout Pakistan this weekend give voice to rampant food insecurity in the country. 60 million Pakistanis struggle to put food on the table. Global Call to Action Against Poverty will organize the rallies.

A government subsidy program to provide low cost bread to people has many concerns over corruption. The massive subsidies continue even while the government faces bankruptcy. To help avoid a collapse, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have promised aid to Pakistan.

For more on the suspect subsidy program, we go to this IPS article written by Zofeen Ebrahim.

Even an initiative such as ‘sasti roti’ (cheap unleavened bread) being provided by the provincial government of Punjab is suspect. Questions are being asked about its sustainability on the one hand and, on the other, why it cannot be extended to provinces like Sindh.

Haris Gazdar, a Karachi-based economist, said: "We must know who is paying for it. Is it the government, farmers through lower procurement rate or other provinces through forced up market prices due to reduced supply from (largely farming) Punjab?"

"It is coming out from our own (provincial) budget. We are slashing down our non-developmental budget and the administrative expenditure significantly," said Sajjad Ahmed Bhutta, district coordination officer in Lahore, capital of the Punjab.

"Out of 5,000 tandoors (clay ovens) in Lahore, 3,200 are registered with the government’s scheme to sell the rotis at fixed rates,’’ said Bahadur Khan, president of the Nanbai (leavened bread-makers) Association of Lahore. The scheme has also been introduced in other big cities of the province including Rawalpindi, Faisalabad, Muzaffargarh, Sargodha, Liah, Dera Ghazi Khan, Bhakkar and a few others.

For its part the government is providing these tandoor shops with flour at a subsidised rate of Rs 250 (three US dollars) per kg when the same is selling in retail shops at Rs 333 (four dollars) per kg.

"But this solution can't go on indefinitely without fixing the local production problem which is in the hands of big feudals," said Najma Sadeque, a senior journalist and development expert. "It also means there was no major physical wheat shortage in the first place.’’

Many believe that it was the food crisis more than terrorism or anything else that proved to be former president Pervez Musharraf’s undoing at the February elections where irate voters trounced the party that backed him.

Musharraf appeared aware of the brewing crisis and, during the last two years of his nearly nine years in power, resorted to dishing out massive subsidies on wheat and other staples that economists say the country is still paying for.

Musharraf’s successor, President Asif Ali Zardari, is now trying his best to convince Pakistanis that his government is capable of steering the country out of the mess - mainly by seeking a bailout worth 10 billion dollars and stave off bankruptcy.

UK aid money to Nigeria sees sharp increase in a decade

The UK's assistance to Nigeria has skyrocketed in the past 10 years. Starting at 15 million pounds in 1999, it is now at 120 million in 2009. The figures are according to the Department for International Development.

From the Daily Champion story that we found at All Africa, we read more about the funding levels.

It said the aid would rise to 140 million pounds in 2010, adding that the gesture was in recognition of Nigeria's poverty reduction challenge and reform efforts.

It said the DFID was delighted to be participating in the launch of a joint country partnership strategy with other agencies as it would ensure that international assistance was focused on the right priorities.

It stated that the initiative would also allow development partners to co-ordinate more effectively with the National Planning Commission to avoid duplication of efforts and increase the impact of the assistance.

The assistance, the statement said, would ensure that Nigeria utilised its own resources more efficiently and effectively to achieve the MDGs.

New health alliance to fight the "other" diseases

A new alliance has gathered to fight non-communicable disease in the under-developed world. This new health alliance includes organizations from the US, India and China. Health issues such as tobacco use, and pollution kill 11.5 million people per year.

From this AFP article that we found at Google News, we read more about the new alliance and what it plans to combat.

The Global Alliance for Chronic Disease, which brings together institutions managing an estimated 80 percent of all public health research funding worldwide, announced its first targets for action in a statement this week.

The alliance said it would seek to reduce hypertension, tobacco use and the indoor pollution caused by the types of cooking stoves used in many developing countries.

The group, founded last year by organizations from the United States, China, India, Canada, Britain and Australia, said the three priorities were chosen because they contribute to one in five deaths worldwide each year.

The targets were selected during the organization's inaugural scientific summit, held in November in New Delhi, India.

According to the World Health Organization, which belongs to the group's board, chronic non-communicable diseases (CNCDs) were responsible for some 60 percent of the 58 million deaths worldwide recorded in 2006.

The number of deaths caused by CNCDs is twice the combined total of deaths from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, maternal and peri-natal conditions and nutritional deficiencies, according to the alliance.

"The health impact and socio-economic cost of CNCDs is enormous and rising, upending efforts to combat poverty," the group said in a statement.

Monday, November 16, 2009

More Americans struggling with hunger

The number of Americans who struggled to put food on the table increased again last year. One in Seven American families struggled with hunger according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This is the highest percentage since the USDA began the survey.

Many hunger and anti-poverty advocates were not surprised by the higher numbers given the economic recession.

From this Associated Press story that we found at Oregon Live, we read more stats from the survey as well as some quotes from the head of the USDA.

That's 14.6 percent of U.S. households, or about 49 million people. The numbers are a significant increase from 2007, when 11.1 percent of U.S. households suffered from what USDA classifies as "food insecurity" -- not having enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the numbers could be higher in 2009 because of the global economic slowdown.

"This report suggests its time for America to get very serious about food security and hunger," Vilsack told reporters during a conference call.

The USDA said Monday that 5.7 percent of those who struggled for food experienced "very low food security," meaning household members reduced their food intake.

The numbers dovetail with dire economic conditions for many Americans. And they may not take the full measure of America's current struggles with hunger: Vilsack and the report's lead author, Mark Nord with USDA's economic research service, both emphasized that the numbers reflected the situation in 2008 and that the economy's continued troubles in 2009 would likely mean higher numbers next year.

The report also showed an increasing number of children in the United States are suffering food insecurity. In 2008, 16.7 million children were classified as food insecure, 4.3 million more than in 2007.

Mo Ibrahim says some African states are not viable

African Mobile Phone tycoon Mo Ibrahim spoke at a two day conference promoting good corruption free government in the African continent. Ibrahim says that governments need to integrate or else their states would perish. Ibrahim urged conference attenders ask if their leaders are really serious about solving problems.

From Reuters writer Katrina Manson attended the conference and gives us some quotes from Ibrahim's speech.

"Some of our countries, and I'm really sorry to say this, are just not viable," the Sudanese mobile phone tycoon said.

"We need scale and we need that now -- not tomorrow, the next year or the year after."

Several overlapping regional groupings throughout the continent are trying to knit their economies closer together, but the pace and extent of integration is slower than hoped.

"Intra-African trade is 4-5 percent of our international trade. Why? This is unacceptable, unviable, and people need to stand up and say this," Ibrahim said.

"Who are we to think that we can have 53 tiny little countries and be ready to compete with China, India, Europe, the Americans? It is a fallacy."

The $5 million Ibrahim Prize, which has previously been awarded to outgoing presidents Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique and Festus Mogae of Botswana, was not awarded this year.

Judges led by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said although there were some credible candidates, they would not make an award. They did not explain why.

Push for new "green" jobs not helping the poor

A new study finds that the new "green" jobs are not going to the poor. A leading think tank shows that the US Obama administration push to create green jobs is not helping poor or minority Americans.

As one of the features of the stimulus package that the US government released earlier this year, 200 million dollars was to be spent in creating "green" jobs or jobs that will help the environment. The authors of the study looked to see if the 200 million dollars helped the lives of the poor in the US.

From IPS, Haider Rizvi reveals the report's details.

"The communities of colour are hardest hit [by joblessness]," said Terry Keleher, who co-authored the report, "Green Equity Toolkit: Standards and strategies for advancing race, gender and economic equality in the green economy".

"They can benefit from the emerging green economy. But that is not happening," he told IPS.

The report, released this week by the Oakland, California-based Applied Research Center, says that a vast majority of green jobs are being filled by white men, even though there is no scarcity of talent among people of colour and women of all ethnicities.

According to Keleher's findings, which he concluded in collaboration with his colleague Yvonne Liu, African Americans and Latinos comprise less than 30 percent of those employed in green industries and economies.

"Gender disparities are even starker," said Liu, who found that African American women are employed in only 1.5 percent of the energy sector workforce. The numbers are even worse as far as Asian and Latino women are concerned. Their share in jobs stands at 1.0 and 0.7 percent, respectively.

The term "green economy" refers to businesses that care about environmental protection, energy efficiency, preservation of biodiversity, community self-reliance, and sustainable development.

Both Keleher and Liu argue that the Obama administration should continue its quest for economic recovery and the efforts to promote a green economy. But, they insist that such efforts are not likely to produce positive results if millions of jobless people from minority communities are not offered equal opportunities.

Farming yes, but beekeeping too

We often talk about small-farming as a means of poverty alleviation. In addition to growing grains, an article we found today talks about beekeeping in Zimbabwe being used as a means for generating income.

Zimbabwe was once known as a honey making haven. In recent years however, many of the tress that bees built their hives upon have been chopped down.

From All Africa writer Shingai Jena describes this project to help train beekeepers in Zimbabwe. Jena also spells out the profits that can come from a good harvest of honey.

The idea of beekeeping as a means of alleviating poverty was conceived as way back as 1992 when the country was implementing the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme when Zimbabwe was hit by drought.

In order to overcome effects of the devastating drought, some concerned individuals who included Women's Affairs, Gender and Community Development Minister Olivia Muchena founded the Zimbabwe Farmers Development Trust with the view to identify low cost projects of alleviating poverty and agreed on beekeeping.

ZDFT executive director, Tichasiyana Mapondera, said beekeeping was agreed on because of its minimum funding requirements since it uses readily available natural resources such as land, trees and the bees.

At inception, the project targeted small-scale farmers as well as rural communities in and around the Hurungwe district of Mashonaland West province as a pilot project.

To date it has been launched in more than 25 districts in the country.

However, withdrawal of support by the W.K. Kellogg foundation which provided funding for producing modern beekeeping materials has hampered progress as plans were underway to spread the project to other parts of the country.

"We urgently need a US$100 000 cash injection to facilitate further training programmes and remuneration of staff who train and manufacture beekeeping equipment," said Mapondera.

The funding required is small compared to the profits that farmers generate per year from honey production.

With raw honey going for up to US$2 per kilogramme, a small-scale farmer with an average of 100 modern Kenyan top bar hives which produce at least 30 kilogrammes each of raw honey and are harvested four times a year, earns at least US$6 000 per quarter.

In Buhera, there are more than 300 communal farmers involved in beekeeping who, when harvests are good, produce up to 1, 2 tonnes per quarter, which translates into a gross total of income of US$1 million a year.

With such impressive figures, words such as destitute and unemployed would cease to exist in the Zimbabwean vocubulary.

Taking into consideration that workers in the country are earning on average US$150 per month, rural folk would not find any reason to envy their relatives in urban areas who toil the whole month to get paid.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Professor to give away half of future earnings

An ethics professor from Oxford says he will give away 1 million dollars in future earnings to fight global poverty. The give away will be over half of his future salary.

From the Daily Mail, we hear from Dr Tory Ord on his reasons for doing this.

Dr Toby Ord, an academic at Oxford University, will give up 10 per cent of his annual salary, plus any yearly earnings above £20,000 for the rest of his career.

He calculated he should earn about £1.5 million and said he realised that if he was to continue living modestly he would be able to give away £1 million of this to help others.

Today's launch of his Giving What We Can society will encourage others to do the same, he said.

Dr Ord, a 30-year-old research associate at Oxford's Future of Humanity Institute, said: 'Life on my current income is very good.

'If I spent the extra money on myself I could go on holiday more often, get an iPhone, eat out at expensive restaurants. It would be nice, but not all that much better.

'So I have a choice between greatly improving the lives of tens of thousands of people or adding a few extras to my life. Put like that, it is an easy choice.

'Once you get used to the idea, it is actually not much of a burden.

Read more:

"the poor cannot eat promises."

Aid organizations and even some arm's of the United Nations are expressing frustration over another missed opportunity. Next week, the World Food Summit will take place at the UN, but the aid groups say that not much action is likely. Most of the heads of state from the G-8 will not attend the meeting. Also, pledges might be made from the summit, but they are unlikely to include new measures or money.

The Food and Agriculture Organization has started an online petition for people to sign to show the summit that the world wants action, to take a look go to

From the IPS, writer Paul Virgo surveys the frustration.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is holding the summit to give fresh impetus to the fight against hunger, a scourge it says now affects over a billion people - almost a sixth of the global population.

United States President Barack Obama is not expected to attend the event, which will run from Monday to Wednesday at the FAO's Rome headquarters, and so far Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is the only leader of a G8 country to confirm his presence.

"It's a tragedy that the world leaders are not going to attend the summit," Daniel Berman of health and humanitarian assistance NGO Medecins sans Frontieres told a news conference.

Many experts are also concerned that, as often happens at such meetings, after lots of fine talk there will be little that ties nations down to taking action at the end of the summit. Indeed, the first such food summit in 1996 set the goal of reducing hunger by half from around then 825 million sufferers at that time by 2015, but instead the world has moved in the opposite direction.

"We may get more good declarations, but what is the substance behind it? I doubt there will be specific financial commitments next week," Markus Giger of the University of Bern's Centre for Development and Environment tells IPS.

"The number of hungry and malnourished people is rising. Countries must do more. We are far from reaching our targets. It's unacceptable."

A draft of the summit declaration contains little that was not stated by the G8 group of the world's leading economic powers at the L'Aquila summit in July.

In L'Aquila the G8 promised to "act with the scale and urgency needed to achieve sustainable global food security", among other things by reducing trade distortions in negotiations at the World Trade Organisation and mobilising 20 billion dollars over the next three years for sustainable agriculture in developing countries.

But diplomatic sources told Reuters news agency that less than a quarter of that eye-catching figure will actually be fresh cash.

"The declaration is just a rehash of old platitudes," said Francisco Sarmento, the food rights coordinator of ActionAid. "It says hunger will be halved by 2015 but fails to commit any new resources to achieve this or provide any way of holding governments to account...Unfortunately the poor cannot eat promises."

Interview with Eugene Cho of One Day's Wages

This video helps to promote the efforts of Eugene Cho, who started One Day's Wages. The website encourages people to donate one day of their year's wages to fight extreme global poverty.

In this CBS News video, Shira Lazar conducts the interview with Cho.

A small community that once received guaranteed income

An almost forgotten experiment proved just how much a decent income can help people's health and education. A small community in Manitoba, Canada participated in a study back in the mid-70's where every person in the town received a living wage for five years. During those years, the student in the community stayed in school longer, and the residents rarely ever had to rely on Canada's health system.

From The Vancouver Sun, writer Norma Greenaway helped to unearth the almost forgotten study.

"Once upon a time in Canada, there was a town where no one was poor."

No, this is not the opening line of some yet to be written fairy tale. It's the opening line in the summary of a new report that contains some heartening news buried in a long ago and mostly forgotten experiment that ensured all residents in a small Manitoba community were guaranteed a minimum annual income for five years in the mid-1970s.

With Canada awash in flu fears, corporate bankruptcies, rising joblessness and pension woes, the gradual unearthing of a tiny piece of 'utopian' history seems a timely reminder of the benefits of daring to dream.

So far, researcher Evelyn Forget has discovered that from 1974 through 1978, the residents of Dauphin were less likely to draw on the medical system than a control group elsewhere in the province. Dauphin's young people also stayed in high school longer. Within years of the experiment shutting down, those trend lines disappeared, Forget says.

Forget is banking on learning more about what was known as the MINCOME experiment once she gets access to about 1,800 sealed boxes, which, among other things, are jammed with personal surveys of Dauphin residents who lived the experiment.

While it lasted, about one-third of Dauphin's 10,000 poor residents got monthly cheques to boost their incomes.

The actual dollar figures from the period seem shockingly small in today's world. The formula for the guaranteed minimum income translated into incomes in 1974, for example, that ranged from $1,255 for a single person to about $4,000 for families of four or five people.

The program's costs ballooned as the 1970s progressed and inflation took off, spurred in particular by skyrocketing oil prices at the time.

Though there remains much to learn from the little-studied experiment, Forget says she's increasingly persuaded a guaranteed minimum income is a "more reasonable, more just, more efficient and cheaper way" of eliminating poverty than the current system of targeted support

Friday, November 13, 2009

A high profile donation to ACCION USA

We found this mention of a donation to ACCION USA interesting. Craigslist founder Craig Newmark is a supporter of microcredit here in the states and worldwide.

From Microfinance Focus, we read more on the donation.

ACCION USA, a pioneer and leader in U.S. microfinance that provides critical capital and financial education to small businesses, has been awarded a gift by Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, to support its person-to-person microlending activities on the Website Craigslist is a centralized network of online communities, featuring free online classified advertisements.

Mr. Newmark is a strong supporter of microfinance internationally. “ACCION USA’s work in providing microfinance to small business owners here in the United States is commendable,” said Mr. Newmark. “As a business owner myself, I understand that access to loans to grow a business is critical. I am proud to support ACCION USA’s Kiva lending program.”

According to Gina Harman, president and CEO at ACCION USA, the funds will help the organization continue its partnership with, a Website that connects entrepreneurs in need of business capital worldwide with individuals who make loans in $25 increments. Launched in June 2009, the partnership marked the first time that people could lend to entrepreneurs in the U.S. via the platform.

UN food summit next week

Next week, the United Nations hosts a food summit. Ahead of the gathering officials are preparing a statement that will be ratified by Nation's members.

The draft of the document makes promises for all nations to make combating hunger a priority. Humanitarian aid groups say that the language within the draft is not tough enough.

From this Associated Press article that is hosted at Google News, writer Ariel David took a peek at the document.

A draft declaration for next week's U.N. food summit would commit world leaders to a new hunger-fighting strategy by pledging to increase agricultural development aid to help the world's 1 billion hungry people feed themselves.

However, the draft obtained Thursday by The Associated Press does not include a 2025 deadline for eradicating hunger, a goal sought by the United Nations.

Also missing are specific money commitments, such as the $44 billion in yearly agricultural aid that the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization says will be necessary in the coming decades.

Hunger now affects a record 1.02 billion people globally — or one in six — with the financial meltdown, high food prices, drought and war blamed for recent increases, the FAO says.

Humanitarian groups said, however, that the document was weak, and that the three-day Rome summit starting Monday could fail if world leaders don't allocate new resources and come up with mechanisms to hold governments to their commitments.

Under the draft, developed countries would "commit to a crucial, decisive shift" that aims to "substantially increase the share" of aid invested in agriculture to help the world's poor become less dependent on direct food assistance.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

20 million need food aid in East Africa

20 million people in East Africa are in desperate need of food aid according to the United Nations. Drought and war have been the biggest contributing factors to the hunger.

From Reuters, writer Silvia Aloisi gives us the details of the UN report.

"The situation is very worrying due to expected crop and pasture failures from poor rains in several areas, the increase in conflicts, trade disruptions and continuing high food prices," the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said.

In its latest report on food and crop prospects (, FAO said delayed rains and dry spells often followed by floods had hurt crops and pastures in Kenya, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Uganda.

In Somalia and Sudan, poor weather has worsened a food emergency due to civil wars, with 3.6 million and 5.9 million people in need of food aid, respectively. In the case of Somalia, that is about 50 percent of the total population.

The U.N. agency is hosting a world food summit in Rome next week, hoping to win broad support for an increase in agricultural investments in poor countries to help them feed themselves.

Maize production in Kenya, east Africa's biggest economy, is expected to be 30 percent down on last year. About 3.8 million Kenyans, mainly living in pastoral and marginal agricultural areas, are in need of emergency food assistance, FAO said.

That number rises to 6.2 million people in Ethiopia, where late and erratic rains have damaged maize and sorghum crops and reduced availability of pastures in many parts of the country.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Monsanto, friend or foe?

The debate on bio-tech foods and seeds wears on. Food production must double by 2050, and the only way to do that is with genetically modified foods. However, many critics say the foods only poison us and the earth.

Reuters has this exhaustive profile on Monsanto that we found at the Independent On-line. Monsanto is a leading agriculture company that is spending lots of money on improving seeds and yields in hopes that the farmers will turn to their products.

Writer Carey Gillam began the story by talking of a visit from Monsanto's Vice President of research Rob Fraley, with his friend Dr Norman Borlaug.

The topic of Fraley's final conversation with his friend that day underscored the unfolding of a modern era of global agriculture. In this new paradigm, traditional plant breeding is giving way to the high-tech tools of rich corporations like Monsanto, which are playing an increasingly powerful role in determining how and what the world eats. It is also generating controversy, as critics continue to question the safety of biotech crops, and fear increasing control of the global food supply by giant corporations.

Still, few dispute that something needs to be done. The United Nations has said that food production must double by 2050 to meet the demand of the world's growing population and that innovative strategies are needed to combat hunger and malnutrition that already afflict more than 1 billion people.

Amid this dire outlook, St Louis, Missouri-based Monsanto - along with its biggest corporate rivals, charitable foundations, public researchers and others - is forming a loose coalition of interests instigating a second Green Revolution.

"What we do builds on what he started," Fraley said of Borlaug, who died in September at the age of 95.

Founded in 1901 as a maker of saccharine, Monsanto has undergone several evolutions of its own.

The company spends an estimated $2-million a day on agriculture research and development - more than any other company.

It employs about 400 scientists in four St Louis-area research facilities, applying an array of new technologies to plant genetics, with a goal of doubling yields in major crops, such as corn and soybeans, between now and 2030.

"If we do that successfully, it won't just be good for Monsanto, it will be good for the world," Fraley said.

As it positions itself to be a leader in advancing a global fight against hunger, Monsanto has started working with nonprofit organisations in poor nations, donating research and genetics to help needy farmers.

The moves run parallel to Monsanto's commercial sales of high-priced seeds and agricultural chemicals to farmers in wealthy nations, which has made the company a darling of Wall Street and helped it post record net sales of $11,7-billion and net income of $2,1-billion for fiscal 2009.

The US Department of Agriculture and governments around the world are encouraging Monsanto - as well as rivals DuPont, Dow Chemical, BASF and other corporate interests - to work with academics, foundations and public institutions on how to increase food production globally.

Drought-tolerant crops, particularly corn, are high on the agenda amid concerns about a changing climate. Improved wheat is also a major goal.

Corn and wheat account for about 40 percent of the world's food and 25 percent of calories consumed in developing countries, and millions of people get more than half of their daily calories from corn and wheat alone, according to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation.

"We want to encourage the private sector to help shape research. These are important issues for all Americans and the world," said Roger Beachy, President Barack Obama's newly appointed director of the US National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Anti-poverty activist Robert Corad passes away

An anti-poverty activist who helped to build one of the biggest agencies for the poor was laid to rest yesterday. Robert Corad pushed policy makers in Washington and in Massachusetts to help the people that Action for Boston Community Development served.

From the Boston Globe, writer Adrian Walker attended the funeral.

Coard, who died last week at the age of 82, has been celebrated as the guiding force behind Action for Boston Community Development, the city’s largest and most influential antipoverty agency.

But Coard’s friends, allies, and admirers gathered not only to celebrate his life, but perhaps get a glimpse of the private and elusive man behind the good works.

Representative Edward Markey, who had shared a close relationship with Coard for many years, delivered a lengthy eulogy that sought to capture the scale of Coard’s influence.

He invoked Edward M. Kennedy’s famous tribute to his fallen brother, Robert: “a good and decent man who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it.’’

But he also remembered a man who struck respect, if not fear, into the elected officials he called upon to do the agency’s bidding in Washington and at the State House.

“For generations of Boston politicians . . . Ed Markey included, ABCD didn’t stand for Action for Boston Community Development; it stood for Anything Bob Coard Desires,’’ Markey said.

Nationally, Coard helped engineer legislation nearly 30 years ago requiring federal funding for community action programs, ensuring that the movement ABCD exemplifies would survive, regardless of which party was in power.

Hiding beggars

New Delhi, India is in a cleaning up process before the Commonwealth Games next summer. The city has already erected walls around the city's slums to visitors can't see them. Now, the city is rounding up beggars and hiding them in jail. However, even the New Delhi's best efforts to "clean up" gets tied up in bureaucracy.

From Australia's The Age, a reporter went for a ride in one of the clean up vans.

There are beggars aplenty in the Indian capital - an estimated 58,000 of them, according to a 2006 Office of Social Welfare survey, although many charities working with street people say that figure is laughably low.

The squad members - four plainclothes constables and a supervising inspector - do not walk more than a block before they spot the first beggars, a pair of elderly women.

The police stop, survey them, then move on. They pause to make note of a few older men squatted on a sidewalk, hands outstretched to passersby. Then some children. The police do not, however, actually arrest anyone.

The magistrate who travels in their van, poised to process the mendicants and dispatch them instantly to alms houses, sits reading newspapers and sweating in his black suit and tie.

"The judge ordered us to leave the lepers," says Const. Ashok Kokhar, as he steps around a half-dressed man exposing sores to beg for coins outside a mosque that is a huge tourist attraction.

"He doesn't want anyone contagious in the van."

They pass more old women, whom they leave in their alley.

"Anyone who looks old - 70 or 80 - we are leaving them, because what would they do in jail," Const. Usha Rani says.

Many of those who work to help Delhi's street poor say the mobile courts - and indeed the law that criminalises begging - are misguided at best and barbaric at worst.

"The person arrested is being punished for being poor, but poverty is caused by state policies," says Paramjeet Kaur, director of Ashray Adhikar Abhiyan, a shelter that provides street people with legal help.

"But instead of looking at that, or addressing real needs of people on the street, they just put them away in locked homes."

Meanwhile, the government offers no shelters that people can access without being arrested, she says.

The courts mostly detain "people who do not have the power to question or challenge why they have been picked up".

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

FAO: conditions 'ripe' for another food crisis

The Food and Agriculture Organization is warning that another food crisis could occur soon. The FAO says that food production in the under-developed world needs increase to protect those countries from sharp hikes in food prices.

From Reuters, writer Daniel Flynn attended a speech made by FAO director Jacques Diouf.

In an interview ahead of a global summit on food security in Rome next week, FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf said more aid was needed to curb the rising number of hungry people in the world, which topped 1 billion for the first time this year.

"There is a lack of priority in fighting hunger and poverty at the highest political level, not only in developed countries but in developing countries," Diouf told Reuters on Monday.

"The fundamentals that led to the crisis in 2007-2008 are almost all still there, except for oil prices," he added, citing climate change shocks like droughts in Africa, strong population growth in developing countries and use of bio-fuels.

Prices of food staples like cereals doubled in many parts of the world in 2007-2008, sparking protests and rioting.

Rich nations responded by raising output by 13 percent, but developing countries were only able to manage a 2.7 percent increase, Diouf said. Excluding China, India and Brazil, the rise in output was an anaemic 0.7 percent.

"No wonder that in those countries prices have remained very high," said Diouf, noting that food prices had barely eased from their peaks of last year in many developing nations.

Rich nations needed to raise the share of aid earmarked for agriculture to 17 percent, from 5 percent at present, to provide farmers in poor nations with irrigation, fertilizers, disease-resistant seeds, storage for their crops and roads to take them to market, Diouf said.

WHO: AIDS is leading cause of death for women

The leading cause of death for women is AIDS according to the World Health Organization. AIDS effects women aged 15 to 44 more than any other disease. The WHO also says that 15 percent of woman's deaths are from childbirth complications.

From RedOrbit, this Associated Press story contains the WHO's statement.

The WHO said that unsafe sex is the leading risk factor in developing countries for these women of childbearing age, with others including lack of access to contraceptives and iron deficiency. This was the WHO's first study of women's health around the globe.

According to the U.N. agency, one in five deaths among women throughout the world in this age group is linked to unsafe sex.

"Women who do not know how to protect themselves from such infections, or who are unable to do so, face increased risks of death or illness," the WHO said in a 91-page report. "So do those who cannot protect themselves from unwanted pregnancy or control their fertility because of lack of access to contraception."

The data was included in a report that highlights the unequal health treatment a female faces from childbirth through infancy carrying on into old age.

Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO’s chief, said that women enjoy a biological advantage because they tend to live six to eight years longer than men. However, she said that throughout the world they suffer serious disadvantages because of poverty, poorer access to health care and cultural norms that put a priority on the well being of men.

The Catch 22 of natural disasters for poor countries

Weekend events gave us another example of a poor nation who has trouble taking preventative measures against natural disasters. Instead, when the disaster happens, it spends all of it's resources cleaning up the damage. It becomes a cyclical pattern that a country is unable to stop.

El Salvador suffered severe flooding over the weekend. Downpours of rain caused giant mudslides. The death toll from the flooding now stands at 130. In addition, 7,500 people are without homes.

From the IPS, writer Edgardo Ayala explains the poor warning systems that need to be upgraded.

Environmentalist Ángel Ibarra, president of the Unidad Ecológica Salvadoreña (Salvadoran Ecological Unit, or UNES), cited a World Bank study which estimates that 90 percent of the population lives in areas at high relative risk of death from two or more natural hazards.

But Ibarra said the problem of natural disasters is magnified in the country because of the serious environmental deterioration on one hand, and the lack of policies to pull people out of poverty and social exclusion on the other.

Most of the victims of catastrophes like flooding and mudslides are poor people who live in shacks in dangerous areas along riverbanks or hillsides.

He also told IPS that El Salvador lacks adequate disaster prevention and preparedness policies. "When these problems happen, it's always as if it were the first time. We have a 'picking up the dead' policy. We only react after something happens."

So although El Salvador, located on the earthquake-prone Ring of Fire and in the path of hurricanes, frequently suffers natural disasters, followed up by reports calling for an improved early warning system and other prevention measures, the system rarely functions when it is needed.

"We also suffer from socio-environmental and institutional vulnerability," added Ibarra, pointing to the dearth of coordination between the different state agencies.

Starting last Wednesday, the weather reports were forecasting heavy rain over the weekend, and the government declared a "green alert." But the alert was not upgraded to orange until late Sunday morning, when deaths had already been reported in several parts of the country.

The national meteorological service, SNET, forecast 100 mm of rain. But late Saturday night and early Sunday morning, 355 mm fell in just four hours – a downpour even worse than the rainfall that accompanied Hurricane Mitch in 1998, when 400 mm fell in four days.