Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Switching crops could help soften climate change threat to food

Agriculture must adapt quickly in order to meet the challenges of climate change. Studying what needs to be done might not cut it, as food production is already seeing big decreases.

A new report says that farmers in the regions prone to drought must diversify their crops. The report authors recommend changing to cowpea and lentils, and growing less corn. Maize suffers greatly with little rain, while the varieties of beans can still grow without much of it. 

From Reuters Alert Net, we read of more recommendations from this new policy brief.
Yields of the world's three biggest crops in terms of calories provided will decrease in many poorer countries as temperatures rise and rainfall becomes more unpredictable, according to a policy brief from the CGIAR Research Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).
By 2050, climate change could cause yield declines of 13 percent for irrigated wheat crops and 15 percent for irrigated rice in developing countries, the study warns. In Africa, farmers of maize - which is not well-suited to higher temperatures - could lose 10 to 20 percent of their yields, it adds.
Feeding livestock with maize and grain will also become more expensive, and fish availability will be increasingly limited, warns the analysis, which studied the potential effects of climate change on 22 of the world’s most important commodities, as well as water, forestry and agroforestry.
“The problems that climate change produces in the fields will be tackled in industrialised countries. It is the smallholder farmers in Africa and South Asia and the urban poor who spend too much of their wages on food - these are the people who will have less to eat in the near future unless we adapt at a much faster pace,” Robert Zougmoré, CCAFS programme leader for West Africa, said in a statement
Hardier crops, including cassava, yam, barley, cowpea, millet and lentils, could fill the expected food gaps for poor communities, says the research.
Millet and lentils, for example, are highly nutritious and can withstand harsher growing conditions. Yet they are "not a bullet-proof adaptation option since certain climate stresses can reduce their yields as well", the brief notes.
"Ecosystem changes due to climate change may spawn shifts in the intensity of pests and diseases, including potato blight and beetles, that will further limit food production. Indeed, even if crops could withstand increased temperatures and decreased rainfall, their yields could drop because of these scourges,” said CCAFS scientist Philip Thornton, who authored the study.
Plant breeders are working to develop new crop varieties that are especially tolerant of heat, drought, flooding, salinity and crop diseases. But this effort is time-consuming, expensive and requires robust predictions of how growing conditions will change in different parts of the world in the next few decades, the research says.
Another problem lies in convincing people to switch from cultivating and eating a food staple such as maize to something new like cowpea - often described as "the poor man’s meat". "This cultural challenge is another facet of climate change adaptation that should get as much attention as plant breeding," the brief urges.

FAO chief calls for a sheriff to curb "land grabs"

More attention is being paid to "land grabs" by the highest levels of the United Nations. The head of the Food and Agriculture Organization says it is time to put some laws in place to curb the practice.

Large global investors are grabbing up large swaths of farm-able land in Africa and Asia. Often the governments that allow this to happen are corrupt and just do it for the money. The practice decreases the amount of land used in growing food for local consumption even further. Many experts feel that land grabs are one of the leading factors causing food insecurity of poor nations.

From the Guardian. writer Mark Tran recorded the FAO director general's comments.  
José Graziano da Silva, the FAO's director general, conceded it was not possible to stop large investors buying land, but said deals in poor countries needed to be brought under control.
"I don't see that it's possible to stop it. They are private investors," said Graziano da Silva in a telephone interview. "We do not have the tools and instruments to stop big companies buying land. Land acquisitions are a reality. We can't wish them away, but we have to find a proper way of limiting them. It appears to be like the wild west and we need a sheriff and law in place."
Large land deals have accelerated since the surge in food prices in 2007-08, prompting companies and sovereign wealth funds to take steps to guarantee food supplies. But, four to five years on, in Africa only 10-15% of land is actually being developed, claimed Graziano da Silva. Some of these investments have involved the loss of jobs, as labour intensive farming is replaced by mechanised farming or some degree of loss of tenure rights.
Oxfam said the global land rush is out of control and urged the World Bank to freeze its investments in large-scale land acquisitions to send a strong signal to global investors to stop.
Graziano da Silva, who was in charge of Brazil's widely praised "zero hunger" programme, expressed his frustration at the slow pace of creating a global governance structure to deal with land grabs, food security and similar problems. In 2008, the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, created a high-level task force on food security on which Graziano Da Silva serves as vice-chairman.

As for the perennial debate on the respective merits of large- and small-scale farming, the FAO boss said Africa had room for both, adding that Brazil had managed it.
"In some areas of Africa – Mozambique and South Africa – there is scope for large farms, but this approach is only valid for some grains, where the entire cycle is mechanical," he said. "But this is not suitable for fruits, vegetables or many other local products. Cassava has nothing to do with mechanised agriculture and efficiency does not mean big scale. It's the way you combine crops, the use of water you have available. In Africa today, efficiency means better seeds rather than big tractors. The two models have been there forever in agriculture. Sometimes big-scale will provide exports, but local markets are based on small-scale agriculture."

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

New health survey finds large gap in depression between rich and poor

Another new survey shows the increased health risks for people living in poverty. Not only do the poor have an increased risk of medical problems they can also be psychological. The latest survey finds a large gap in depression between those in poverty and those who are well off.   

From the U.S. News and World Report, writer Danielle Kurtzleben unpacks the latest survey.
Of the illnesses tracked in a Gallup report on the data, depression has the greatest gap between those in poverty and not in poverty. Nearly 31 percent of adults who lived below the poverty line in 2011 said they had been diagnosed with depression at some point, almost twice as high as the rate for those not in poverty — 15.8 percent. The share of adults in poverty with asthma (17.1 percent) or obesity (31.8 percent) was also roughly 6 percentage points higher in each case than the share of adults not in poverty. The study also showed that diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart attacks were slightly more likely to afflict those in poverty than those who are not.
"It was interesting to see that depression appears to disproportionately affect those in poverty more than other chronic conditions — and to see the extent of the difference," says Elizabeth Mendes, deputy managing editor at Gallup, in an email to U.S. News.
While that finding is striking, the Gallup report points out that the causal relationship between depression and poverty — not to mention the other diseases listed in the study — is complicated. Depression can be associated with other chronic illnesses, and depression can both lead to and result from poverty. In addition, outside factors could contribute to any of these problems.
One outside factor is health habits. Smoking was far more prevalent among adults in poverty, 33 percent of whom said they were smokers, compared to 19.9 percent of those not in poverty.

New drought resistant seed to be distributed in Zimbabwe

Predictions are for more dry conditions for the upcoming planting season in Zimbabwe. The country has suffered many poor harvests in a row due to low rainfall. With all of the
successive small harvests,  Zimbabwe is now producing less food than it eats.

After a long debate over using genetically modified seeds, the lack of food as prompted action in Zimbabwe.  A new drought resistant seed for corn will be distributed this year. Farmers say that it is about time, but worry if will be cheap enough to afford.

From Reuters Alert Net, writer Madalitso Mwando describes the seed.
The Scientific and Industrial Research and Development Centre (SIRDC), in partnership with the University of Zimbabwe and Biotechnology Research Institute (BRI) has developed a drought-resistant variety of maize seed called Sirdamaize 113.
Farmers have had to wait between 150 and 180 days before harvesting their traditional maize crop, but the centre says the new seed takes only 136 days to mature.
Thomas Ndlovu, a smallholder farmer in Nyamandlovu, some 60 km (38 miles) from Bulawayo, said the new seed was welcome news, as he has lost his crop because of successive poor rains.
“This is what we have always asked for,” Ndlovu said. “My only hope is that this seed variety is affordable to us. We have for some time now been buying seed maize outside the country because the locally produced type is expensive.”
SIRDC says research into drought-resistant maize began more than a decade ago and has cost around $200,000. The centre’s current research forms part of a policy on food and nutrition security adopted by government early this year.
Already, more maize hybrids are being tested across the country as farmers prepare for the planting season.
This fresh commitment to scientific research could just a significant help in a country where smallholder farmers, who produce up to 70 percent of the country’s food, continue to face severe challenges from lack of farming inputs, absence of irrigation schemes and poor weather-forecasting techniques.

Africa's Silicon Valley in the heart of Sub-Sahara

To find the African version of Silicon Valley, you don't go to its richest nation in South Africa. Instead, you head to the heart to the Sub-Sahara in Kenya. The nation that still has quite a bit of poverty now has over 6 million broadband connections and 18 million internet users.

For more on how this internet expansion happened we read this article from the Guardian and writer David Smith.
Kenyans enjoy faster broadband connections than their counterparts in Africa's economic powerhouse, South Africa. And the government plans to build a $7bn (£4.36bn), 5,000-acre technology city that is already being branded Africa's "Silicon Savannah".
How did Kenya – a nation that still has its share of poverty and ethnic conflict – get here? "It started as a joke," said Dr Bitange Ndemo permanent secretary at the information and communications ministry. "We said we wanted to beat South Africa – and we did it."
For years Ndemo, a workaholic whose typical day runs from 5.30am to 11pm, found himself bogged down in talks with other African countries about linking to an undersea fibre optic cable that would bring high-speed internet access to millions of people.
"I did a calculation: we were spending more on hotel rooms discussing it than laying the cable," the 52-year-old recalled. "So we broke away and went it alone. South Africa thought we were joking. We didn't know anything about cables; I stayed up overnight reading about it on the internet."
That was 2007, Ndemo said, and two years later Kenya landed the cable in record time.
Since then the country has gone from fewer than 6,000 broadband connections to 6m, and from fewer than 3m internet users to 18m.
In Ndemo's grand vision, technology is not an optional luxury but rather central to 21st century education, development, economic growth – and ending Africa's reliance on foreign aid. He has ambitions for "e-learning" in schools across Kenya. "After the cable landed, we gave unlimited capacity to all the universities.
"Access enables us to become more innovative. Broadband allows people to build things you never thought of. Four or five years ago you could not put the words 'Kenya', 'innovation' and 'research' in the same sentence. Now it is starting to happen."

Monday, October 29, 2012

Audio: An American single parent in Poverty

WBEZ in Chicago has this great profile on a single mother living below the poverty line. Children born to single mothers are four times likely to live in poverty. In this story, the single parent Sarah reveals how sometimes minimum wage work doesn't pay when you need to pay for daycare. In part two, we learn of how juggling the many government programs can seem like a full time job in itself.

The next big development goal: child labor

The United Nations may have found its next big development project, ending child labor. The U.N. will unveil plans today to eliminate child labor by 2020. A new study by the U.N. shows that child labor will not decrease in the developing countries that are now seeing economic growth. The report predicts that there will still be 190 million child laborers in 2020 if nothing is done.

From the Guardian, writer Randeep Ramesh talks about the new development goal.
A UN report – to be launched on Monday morning by the UN's special envoy on education, the former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown – warns that unless the issue is tackled, the internationally agreed millennium development goal that all children should complete primary school by 2015 will not be achieved. Child labour, the UN says, "exacerbates the risk of being out of school. In India, non-attendance rates for child labourers are twice the level for children not involved in child labour."

The research says the "sheer scale of child labour is not widely recognised". About 60 million under-17-year-olds are involved in global agriculture. Mining, it says, is a "magnet" for child labour, with children as young as six digging shafts and scuttling around mounds of rock with little more than a hammer and chisel. Around half of the workforce in Afghanistan's brick kilns is aged under 14. In Ethiopia almost 60% of children work.

Multinational companies also come under fire. The report points out that in China, underage labour recruited by networks of agents from poor rural areas "has been found in factories supplying companies such as Apple, Samsung and Google".

It also chides industry for failing in the past to keep its side of the bargain in tackling the problem. US chocolate companies, the UN notes, had promised to educate all children in areas where it grew cocoa in west Africa – a commitment that would cost the industry $75m or 0.1% of annual sales. Instead it spent about $20m over eight years and reached just 4% of children in cocoa-growing communities in Ivory Coast and 30% in Ghana.

The UN says that the first step would be to make education compulsory for all children – and perhaps go as far as paying families to send their children to school, an approach that has worked in Brazil. This would mean that by 2015 an extra $13bn in funding would be needed.

Extreme weather in rural Sri Lanka

With a "Super Storm" hitting the Eastern US right now, its a good time for a reminder of how hard extreme weather hits the poor. Throughout the weekend friends of ours who live in the Eastern US we sharing pictures of empty store shelves. The stores were emptied because people had the money to clear out all of their merchandise. They had the means to be prepared for the storm. Hurricanes that do hit our shores often hit the poorer countries of the Caribbean first.

A story we read today about rural Sri Lanka shows quite the opposite. Many families do not have the means to protect themselves from the storm. The only means they have of generating income through the crops they grow, often gets wiped out by floods and droughts. Writer Amantha Perera of the Inter Press Service interviews one family that had two years worth of income wiped out.
Gamhevage Dayananda, a farmer from the remote village of Pansalgolla in Sri Lanka’s north-central Polonnaruwa district, can attest to this reality, as he and his fellow farmers struggle to survive alternating periods of drought and flooding. 
Unexpectedly heavy rains in February 2011 forced engineers to open the sluice gates of large irrigation tanks in the area, flooding hectare upon hectare of farmland, including Dayananda’s modest plot.
He lost his entire rice harvest, no small setback for his family of four who depend on this crop for their very survival.
This year, Dayananda found himself facing another crisis when drought destroyed his crop and put him at risk of falling deeper into debt.
“One season it’s all rain, next it’s all sun,” Dayananda told IPS. “There is nothing in moderation, it is all in extremes.”
The trend of extreme weather events alternating year after year is unlikely to change, according to W L Sumathipala, former head of the climate change unit at the Ministry of Environment, adding that Sri Lanka is at the receiving end of changing climate patterns. 
Last year’s annual report for the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) noted, “Climate-related emergencies, such as those linked to drought, floods, and storms, expose the poor and most vulnerable to hazards that have lasting consequences for the health, livelihoods, and well-being of people who have the least capacity to cope with and mitigate the effects of natural disasters.”
Currently about 8.9 percent of this South Asian island nation’s 21 million people live below the poverty line.
Of these, according to Abha Joshi-Ghani, head of the World Bank’s Urban Development and Local Government Unit, “the poor in urban areas are likely to be affected more by the changing climate patterns. They are the most vulnerable because they live in sensitive areas, on precarious land where no one else will settle.”
The British-based charity Homeless International estimates that 12 percent of Sri Lanka’s urban population of about three million can be found in slums.
Defence and Urban Development Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa was recently quoted as saying that shanty dwellers in the capital Colombo can be found “mostly on government lands”.
“Many of them are on the reservations set aside around the lakes, canals, roadways, and railway tracks,” he added.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Enabling the poor to deal with their problems: the Family Independence Initiative

One person that has received a lot of acclaim for fighting poverty in America does so without any set outcomes.  Maurice Lim Miller's Family Independence Initiative simple gives the families cash and a computer. They then cooperate with other families in the program to work together to climb out poverty. Families will share daycare, appliances or transportation to help each other out.

Lim Miller's method reminds us of Brazil's Bolsa Familia program, where families are simply given a bit of money and are entrusted to make the best decisions with it.

From the Guardian, writer Mary O'Hara has this profile.

In a nutshell, Lim Miller explains, FII challenges the conventional notion of "needs-based" poverty interventions and the stereotype that low-income families are not capable and rely on outside guidance. To this end, the organisation recruits small groups of struggling low-income families in poorer communities (they must know one another already) and incentivises them to work together to improve their circumstances. Regardless of any state benefits they receive, each family is given a computer and a modest stipend – no more than $500 (£312) per quarter – in return for documenting and reporting any progress they make by working with the other families.
These small steps, says Lim Miller, can be anything from learning leadership skills to increasing savings, to pooling resources for childcare so that parents can get out to work. But whatever form it takes, the point is that there are no professionals on the ground stipulating what their goals should be, or instructing on how to reach them.
The idea, Lim Miller stresses, is that low-income households are steered away from dependency on welfare programmes, which, he says, "no matter how well meaning are disempowering". It is taken for granted that the families "will spend the money much more efficiently", he adds, if it is simply handed over and left up to them. He says the guiding principle is that people from poor backgrounds are neither the "victims" they are often portrayed as by people on the left, or "lazy" and undeserving as they are frequently labelled by the right. "Just like anyone else, these families want some control and choice in their lives."
The project, which Lim Miller acknowledges was a bold experiment when it launched with a small cohort of families in Oakland almost a decade ago, has grown steadily. There are now more than 350 families participating in Boston, San Francisco and Oakland with further expansion planned, including an online social networking hub. "In the first two years [of the project] in Oakland, incomes jumped among the group by 27%. Savings were up by 300%. Nine out of the 23 families had bought homes," he says. The latest data from the initiative shows considerable progress in San Francisco and Boston with average incomes up.
Lim Miller talks too of a "ripple effect" within communities. "People can see that somebody achieved something … Expectations change." The perception people have of their life chances is critical, he argues. "If you are in a community where no one is getting ahead, what does that do [to you]?"
The participants are not families in crisis but those trying to get a foot on the social mobility ladder. "I've been working with low-income families for over 20 years. These are families who are trying, who want to get out [of poverty] but are stuck," he explains.

Slave descendents in Mali still without freedom

Slavery still exists in the northern regions of Mali. While many still serve directly for their masters there are also other decendannts of slaves that don't have full human rights. The descendants of slaves could live on their own, but are still considered their masters property. The masters could take them or their belongings anytime they feel like it.

From the Guardian, writer Mark Tran talks to a few activists who are working to restore rights to the slaves in Mali.
"The slave population is already defenceless; it will become even more so as the conflict intensifies. We are like the straw that will be trampled underfoot when elephants fight," said Ibrahim Ag Idbaltanat, an activist who received the Anti-Slavery International award in London last Wednesday.
Slavery was formally abolished in Mali in the 1960s, after the country gained independence from France. However, although slavery is not allowed under the constitution, there is no anti-slavery law and descent-based slavery through the maternal bloodline still exists in northern regions.
People descended from slaves remain the "property" of their "masters", either living with them and serving them directly, or living separately but remaining under their control.
In 2006, Ag Idbaltanat set up the anti-slavery group Temedt, which means "solidarity" in the Tamasheq language of the north. Temedt says slavery is still practised in the far north between Berber-descended Tuareg nomads and darker-skinned Bella or black Tamasheq people.
The descendants of slaves – 200,000 of whom are under direct control of their masters – face threats from all sides because of the current conflict, said Ag Idbaltanat, himself a descendant of slaves.
"We are under suspicion from both the government and the rebels," he said. "Old scores are being settled and anti-slavery activists who have created a lot of enemies feel the threat of violence. We challenged the state and slave owners so now we face threats as there are slave masters among the rebel groups."
Ag Idbaltanat said the first cases of punishment under sharia law by Islamists were imposed on slave descendants, while former masters took advantage of the breakdown of order to recapture slaves they had lost.
"They can act with impunity – 18 children of slaves were kidnapped recently by traditional masters of their families," said Ag Idbaltanat. "Before the rebellion, we had 17 anti-slavery cases before the courts in the north, but the courts are no longer there."
 He described as dire conditions in his hometown of Menaka, which was captured by the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, a Tuareg rebel group, in January. Public services have been shut down, schools are closed, there is no drinking water as there is no electricity for the filtration system, and people now have to fetch unclean water from natural basins in the desert.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

U.S. Catholics want more of a focus on helping the poor

A new survey shows that a majority of Catholics think that the church should focus more on helping the poor than on abortion. This was probably widely reported yesterday, but we wanted to make sure to mention it at our blog. We are pretty excited about this news because we feel that this should be the greatest concern not only for the church but for the whole world.

The U.S. Catholic Bishops instead focus on abortion, and no matter what you might feel about this issue, let's face facts... Roe vs Wade is not going to be overturned anytime soon. The history of three pro-life Presidents since the legalization of abortion should be proof enough. No, Romney won't be able to overturn it, unless the entire Supreme Court retires during his presidency.

The church should instead focus more on something that could immediately impact lives, something that even non-Christians would support, something that is mandated by Scripture.

From Reuters Alert Net, writer Mary Wisniewski tells us more about the survey results.
The 2012 American Values Survey finding on Catholics goes against the focus of many U.S. Catholic bishops, who have stressed the church's ban on abortion and artificial contraception in their public policy statements.
The poll found that 60 percent of Catholics want a greater focus on social justice issues rather than abortion, while 31 percent support the opposite approach.
The divide was true even among Catholics who attend church once a week or more, a group often considered more socially conservative. A slim majority of this group, 51 percent, thought the church should focus more on social justice issues.
"The survey confirms that there is no such thing as the 'Catholic vote,'" said Robert P. Jones, chief executive of the institute and co-author of the report. The survey included more than 3,000 respondents. "There are a number of critical divisions among Catholics, including an important divide between 'social justice' and `right to life' Catholics."

“Brain Gain” educated professionals begin to stay home in poor nations

For many years the poor countries were unable to keep any educated residents from leaving for better opportunity. This "brain drain" further crippled the economies of the poor nations, as the educated would take their knowledge and earnings elsewhere. This trend is beginning to reverse and it will be great news for the fortunes of poor nations.

The "brain gain" trend is being helped by the recent global recession as the educated are finding economic opportunity dwindling in rich nations. As these people return home, their return has a ripple effect on the rest of their homeland.

The Christian Science Monitor has a great look at this new trend called "brain gain". A summary of their story is made on the video below. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

A life-long struggle against poverty

The struggle against poverty can be decades long for some. Even looking to friends and family can be of no help, because they might be just as deep into poverty.

From All Africa, comes this profile of one woman who has struggled with poverty all of her life.
In a tiny six-by-six feet single roomed house in Githurai, Nairobi lives 52-year-old divorcee Teresiah Wairimu, with her five children.
Food, shelter and clothing have become a luxury she can barely afford.
A few dirty dishes lie scattered around the poorly lit room that has been subdivided into a kitchen, a living room and a bedroom.
Wairimu, who has danced with poverty most of her life, knows too well what it means to live from hand to mouth.
"We only eat when there is money because I cannot afford the upkeep. Meals here are not a guarantee and we make do with what we have," she tells Capital FM News.
Her back has become accustomed to the rigid and torturous panels of wood that form the support base of her bed.
Even though she has tried to improvise a thicker mattress by sticking old rugs and sacks to the old one, back pains have become the order of the day.
"When people give you help they tell you not to go back to them; in fact they stop picking up my calls because they think that I am asking for money," she says with a tinge of sadness.

Helping herders in Kenya to survive drought

Meteorologists are forecasting more drought like conditions for Kenya and Eastern Africa again next year. Many people who live there have not recovered from the last one in 2011. In the efforts to help withstand the next drought, an NGO has found one solution can be found with the sheep and cattle herders in the region.

From the Guardian, writer Peter Guest tells us about the effort to help pastoralists.

"If they could get the business component, poverty is not a word you could use in Turkana," says Desterius Mulama, financial officer for Cezam and Associates, a Kenyan firm working with the US African Development Foundation (USADF) to improve food security.
Mulama moved to Turkana a year ago to work on the project. He is amazed at the scale of the herds in the region. "There is one old man who has 3,000 camels and 10,000 goats, but he walks barefoot," Mulama says. "If he sold just half of them, he would be a millionaire."
A government census put the number of goats in the county at around 5 million, with 1.5 million cattle. All across Turkana, herders carrying crooks pick their way through acacia trees, guiding huge flocks.
In many cases pastoralists still view animals as wealth and, even when the pasture dries up and there is no water, they will not sell them. The animals die and people starve. Building sustainable trading structures and introducing pastoralists to the cash economy should, Mulama hopes, ease them out of cycles of drought and food insecurity. "For pastoralists, our biggest challenge is to educate them on holding capacity," Mulama says. "Why should I hold 1,000 goats when I can only feed 100?"
Traders from Nairobi are starting to visit the markets in Turkana. Under Mulama's guidance, and with seed funding from USADF, the district livestock marketing council now has offices and computer equipment, and its staff have been trained in bookkeeping and other management disciplines so they will be able to build better commercial links with the rest of the country. A recent sale of 1,000 head of goats for export has raised hopes that the model may work.

Privatizing power in Nigeria

Nigeria sits upon the seventh largest deposit of oil in the world. Still, getting enough power to the people is a daily problem, with blackouts being an everyday occurrence. Nigeria only generates one tenth of the power that South Africa does, while having a bigger population.

So the Nigerian government is beginning an ambitions plan to privatize all of their power concerns. This brings with it another wave of worries and criticism. Power oligarchs that have gotten rich off of government contracts are in the front of the bidding process. Many of these same oligarchs have no expertise in power. Despite the concerns, Nigeria might have to proceed with them.

From Reuters Alert Net, writer Joe Brock tells us more.

As with Russia in its 1992-1994 sell off of state assets, it is entrenched political and business elites who look set to win much of Nigeria's power sector, even while Western aid agencies are backing the process with tens of millions of dollars.
The government announced preferred bidders for 10 power distribution firms this week and has approved bids for five power plants, a major step forward. But already the companies who lost out and labour unions have said the process was fraudulent and the results to be scrapped.
The wealthy figures behind the consortia bidding already control vast stakes in Nigeria's economy and political machine, and many of the assets only had one approved bidder each. It is often felt that since the oligarchs have such sway in Nigeria, it is better to have them in the process rather than outside it.
In past Nigerian privatisation efforts, unqualified bidders and political wrangling caused years of legal battles and delays after assets were awarded. Sometimes funds were diverted to people who failed to revive the firms and left debts unpaid.

The Power Holding Company of Nigeria is being sold as six generation firms and 11 distribution companies. A contract for transmission has been given to Canadian firm Manitoba Hydro.
Among the figures angling for a slice of privatised power is billionaire businessman Emeka Offor. His company Chrome Group is the highest bidder for firms in the capital Abuja and Enugu.
Offor made his fortune from government contracts, especially under military dictator Sani Abacha in 1990s.
Between 1999 and 2002, Chrome Group worked on a $100 million contract for maintenance on Nigeria's Port Harcourt oil refineries, in Africa's biggest oil industry. They have operated at just 30 percent capacity since, and the state oil firm has said the work was not done properly.
"The turnaround maintenance was successfully completed and duly handed over to Port Harcourt Refining Company," Chrome Group spokeswoman Val Oji wrote in an email, with the relevant completion certificates attached, when asked about it.
Global Witness, a UK-based watchdog, investigated Offor's Seychelles-registered oil firm Starcrest in February. It said it won an oil block in 2006, then within months signed Swiss firm Addax on as 'technical partner' for a $35 million fee.
That deal left Starcrest with a big minority stake, and Addax, the firm with the expertise to produce the oil, paid a $55 million signature bonus. Offor told the NGO that Nigeria's financial crimes commission had cleared Starcrest of wrongdoing.
The deal resembles arrangements common in Nigeria, in which a company r un by a local oligarch 'partners' with a foreign firm with the know how, and takes a cut.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Muhammad Yunus brings microcredit to Scotland

Muhammad Yunus is one of this blogger's biggest heroes. But it has been a while since we have linked to any news about him... so lets put a stop to that right now.

Yunus is in Scotland this week to begin a new school at Caledonian University to study poverty fighting efforts. This will coincide with the launch of a new Grammen Bank branch in Glasgow. Yunus' Grammen Bank is spreading its microcredit efforts throughout the developed world. Still, there is some debate on whether it would work in richer nations.

BBC reporter Gillian Sharpe takes a look at the new branch of Grammen Bank.

In her corner office, Glasgow Caledonian University Principal Prof Pamela Gillies is explaining how she sees the possibilities offered by the bank.
"I think this is going to be one of the biggest public health interventions in Scotland since the banning of smoking in public places," she says.
"It is an idea that crosses cultures and economic boundaries and gives control and responsibility for the health and well-being of their everyday lives back to the poorest people in society."

There's a transformation of another kind taking place in the Provanmill area of Glasgow.
At three or four tables people have come to a lunch club run by local women. There is lentil soup, as well as a roll and sausage on offer, a chance to chat and a couple of games of bingo - all for a couple of pounds.
The women - all volunteers - who run this place are part of a self-reliance group facilitated by the Church of Scotland.
Each member contributes a small amount of money each week which goes to buy ingredients for the following week.
One of those involved is Jake Crawley, whose dream is to set up her own laundry and create herself a job.
The ultimate aim of this project is to help her do that - there are potential premises in the church where the lunch club is run.
Since they set up about 18 months ago, the women have driven the lunch club forward by their own efforts.
Now they are getting together costings with a view to setting up the laundry as a business.
For that they will need some kind of micro loan and Ms Crawley says she will need help to ease her off benefits and hopefully into her own business.
"Myself, I would rather move on," she comments. "Get our laundry set up and I create myself a job, because that's what I want to do - not because a job centre or work programme is forcing me to do jobs."

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A grant program for businesswomen in Ghana

A little good news today, from the African success story of Ghana. Even with the economy performing well, Ghana still struggles with an education gap between men and women. This gap makes it difficult for women to earn a meaningful wage later on in life.

The education charity Camfed has teamed up with Mastercard to give women a kick-start. Women who were educated by Camfed can apply for grants from Mastercard Foundation to invest in their own businesses.

From the Guardian, writer Afua Hirsch describes the program.

Camfed – which has provided funding for more than 66,000 children to attend primary and secondary school in Ghana since 1998 – believes it has found a way to supplement the poor quality education on offer in state-run schools. In 2002 it created a Ghana "Cama network" of Camfed alumni, which brings together young women who have graduated with its support.
Cama members are able to access skills training on financial literacy, business, leadership and life skills through the network's twice-monthly meetings. And since last year, those who complete training are eligible for "innovation bursaries" – a Camfed/Mastercard Foundation collaboration that offers small grants to female entrepreneurs to kickstart their businesses, together with work experience in relevant industries. Since the first nine bursaries were awarded in Ghana last September, six women have launched businesses, and all are turning a profit, says Camfed.
In Fuo, a rural suburb of Tamale, the capital of Ghana's northern region and one of the poorest parts of the country, 31-year-old Balchesu Iddrisu has turned her husband's family compound into a small food processing hub. Outside are mounds of rice, which she has employed a local elderly woman to sift, removing stones.
A room inside the building contains piles of wheat, soya and maize, which Iddrisu blends with milk creamer and groundnuts to make her own recipe for "weenie mix" – breakfast porridge. Iddrisu sells more than 1,200 units of weenie mix a month – at about £1 a bag – and she has begun approaching large supermarket chains and hospitals to buy in bulk. By buying her ingredients directly from local farmers, she says she has cut out middle men and is able to influence the quality of producers' crops.
"I am very happy with the way my business is going," Iddrisu says. "It helps me and my family a lot. I didn't even know I could reach this level, with people working under me and creating jobs in my community. In 10 years' time I believe that I will have my own factory, and I will be training many people to become entrepreneurs."

Chelsea Clinton's work for affordable medicine in Nigeria

Chelsea Clinton is getting involved in her parents Clinton Health Initiative to help prevent diarrhea in Nigeria. Dehydration is a rampant problem in undeveloped areas and very few of the people who live there have access to treatments.

From Reuters Alert Net, writer Julie Steenhuysen interviewed Clinton about the Initiatives’ effort in Nigeria.

"It is unconscionable that in the 21st century, children still die of diarrhea," Clinton told Reuters in an exclusive interview by phone from Abuja, Nigeria.
The ORS and zinc work in Nigeria is in coordination with the Clinton Health Access Initiative or CHAI, on whose board Clinton serves. She has stepped up her public role in the family's global philanthropic efforts and in July took a six-day tour of Africa with her father, who founded the William J. Clinton Foundation in 2001.
The goal of the initiative in Nigeria is to help drive down the cost of high-quality ORS and zinc treatments and increase awareness for them, said Clinton, currently a doctoral candidate in international relations at the University of Oxford.
Currently, fewer than 2 percent of children in Nigeria have access to the World Health Organization-recommended treatment. Increasing the number of children with access to the therapy to 80 percent by 2015 would help prevent an estimated 220,000 deaths in Nigeria.
"I would like to see us make real, measurable progress here in Nigeria and in the other countries where we are working on ORS zinc," said Clinton, including Uganda and parts of India, as part of the Clinton Health Access Initiative's new push to improve access to essential medicines for children.
"For me, it's not complicated. We know what works and we should be doing more of it. And when we don't know what works, we should be innovating and spending time and energy on designing these solutions to solve problems that haven't been solved yet," said Clinton.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

70 million people forced away from homes

 The International Red Cross has a new report that takes a look at the forced migration throughout the world. The Red Cross has found that over 70 million people have been forced away from their homes because of armed conflict or disaster.

From the Guardian, writer Mark Tran unpacks the report.
The World Disasters Report 2012 said most forced migrants are displaced for the long term or are permanently dispossessed, requiring governments and humanitarian agencies to adopt more flexible approaches to migration and integration. The cost to the international community of forced migration is at least $8bn (£4.9bn) a year, according to the report.
"The nature of forced displacement is much more unpredictable than in the past and much more complex," said Professor Roger Zetter, the report's editor. "The headline figure of 70 million – one in every 100 people – is significant in itself. It refers not just to people displaced by general conflict but to those displaced by disaster and by development itself – the hidden losers of resettlement projects and increasingly of land grabs."
The report highlights how forced migration has become increasingly "urbanised" as cities and urban areas become the main destinations for refugees, internally displaced people (IDPs), and those affected by disasters and conflicts. That marks a change from the 1980s and 1990s, when displacement was synonymous with camps. Now, about half of the world's estimated 10.5 million refugees and at least 13 million IDPs are thought to live in urban areas.
"The mere mention of the term 'refugees' invokes images of tents and camps in most people's minds, but our new report may get us to think differently as we have noted marked movements of refugees into cities. This is not a new trend, but it is one that is increasing," said Barry Armstrong, British Red Cross disaster response manager. "The situation in Syria and surrounding countries is a case in point, but there are many other places where people have left home to escape violence."
In the past decade, cities and towns in Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Kenya, Yemen and Haiti have absorbed large numbers of people fleeing conflict or disaster. In Sudan, the 40-year civil war that culminated in the declaration of South Sudan's independence last year contributed to massive urbanisation – despite the absence of industry and commerce.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

U. S. candidates avoid talk about poverty

One thing has been missing during this U.S. Presidential campaign... any talk about lifting the poor out of poverty.

Both the candidates have ignored the issue because they are not trying to earn the votes of those in poverty. Instead they have focused on the issues important to the middle class, single professionals, and senior citizens.

Still the plight of the poor is one of this nation’s biggest tragedies. Without any candidate talking about it, it will be very hard to get any action to improve this issue.

The only bright spot we could find is from the advocacy organization Circle of Protection. They asked for each candidate to record a video that outlines their platform for poverty issues.  You can view each of the videos at this link.

From NPR, we learn of another organization trying to get the candidates to talk about poverty.
Melissa Boteach heads Half in Ten, a campaign by progressive groups to cut poverty in half in 10 years.
"The problem is that when politicians talk about jobs, they don't talk about how they're going to reach the most vulnerable people who have been out of work for the longest time," she says.
Her group and other anti-poverty advocates are so frustrated by the candidates' lack of attention to the topic, they've launched a Twitter campaign with the hashtag "#talkpoverty." They're trying to get someone to ask the presidential candidates in the debates what they would do to reduce childhood poverty in their first 100 days. So far, they've had no luck.
"When you don't talk about something, it's hard to build the political will to implement it," says Boteach.
 Anti-poverty advocates say they're especially disappointed because they think Obama has a very good record to run on. They credit him with keeping millions of additional people out of poverty during the recession with stimulus spending on things such as expanded tax credits for low-income families, unemployment insurance and food stamps. And they note that his health care law will extend Medicaid coverage to millions of additional poor people.
But Republicans say one only has to look at the high poverty rate to see that Obama's approach has not worked.
"If someone's in poverty, what do you do about it?" asks Kevin Hassett, an economist with the American Enterprise Institute and a Romney adviser. "What you do is you fix the economy."
Hassett says Obama's plan is largely to expand government aid, but he says it's this spending that's helping to keep the poor in poverty.
"We've got people in poverty that can't find a job [and] that have to rely upon the government safety net, which should be there to protect them," he says. "But the reason they have to rely on the government safety net is that we have a president that hasn't thought, 'Geez, you know, being the highest corporate tax place on Earth is a bad idea.' "

Monday, October 15, 2012

Another food crisis predicted for 2013

Some dire warnings came out today about the world food supply. The United Nations is predicting that if current conditions keep up, we could see a major collapse. The crisis could be similar to what was seen in 2008 when food prices sparked riots around the globe.

From the Guardian, John Vidal unleashes the grim news.
"We've not been producing as much as we are consuming. That is why stocks are being run down. Supplies are now very tight across the world and reserves are at a very low level, leaving no room for unexpected events next year," said Abdolreza Abbassian, a senior economist with the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). With food consumption exceeding the amount grown for six of the past 11 years, countries have run down reserves from an average of 107 days of consumption 10 years ago to under 74 days recently.
Prices of main food crops such as wheat and maize are now close to those that sparked riots in 25 countries in 2008. FAO figures released this week suggest that 870 million people are malnourished and the food crisis is growing in the Middle East and Africa. Wheat production this year is expected to be 5.2% below 2011, with yields of most other crops, except rice, also falling, says the UN.
The figures come as one of the world's leading environmentalists issued a warning that the global food supply system could collapse at any point, leaving hundreds of millions more people hungry, sparking widespread riots and bringing down governments. In a shocking new assessment of the prospects of meeting food needs, Lester Brown, president of the Earth policy research centre in Washington, says that the climate is no longer reliable and the demands for food are growing so fast that a breakdown is inevitable, unless urgent action is taken.
"Food shortages undermined earlier civilisations. We are on the same path. Each country is now fending for itself. The world is living one year to the next," he writes in a new book.
According to Brown, we are seeing the start of a food supply breakdown with a dash by speculators to "grab" millions of square miles of cheap farmland, the doubling of international food prices in a decade, and the dramatic rundown of countries' food reserves.

Congo criticized on human rights record

The plight of the poor cannot be improved as long as the government over them has no regard for human rights. That is essentially the situation now in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Recent elections that brought the current leadership to power were widely corrupt. There are also reports of many killings, rapes and more against the citizens in the northern provinces of the Congo.

Despite all the turmoil a summit of heads of state is taking place there. A coalition of French speaking nations is conducting meetings at the capital of Congo. Leaders attending the summit are openly criticizing the Congo government but still we wonder if it is enough. The nation ranks last worldwide in measures of health, education, and wealth.

From Reuters Alert Net writers Jonny Hogg and Elizabeth Pineau are covering the summit.

"Democracy is not a lesson. Democracy is a right, and for those in power it is a responsibility," French President Francois Hollande told reporters after a meeting with civil society group leaders in Kinshasa.
Hollande is the star invitee to this year's Francophonie summit - the first to be held in central Africa - but cast a pall over preparations last week by calling Congo's rights record "totally unacceptable".
Representatives from more than 70 French-speaking countries have arrived in Kinshasa for the 14th Francophonie summit which runs until Oct 14, with Congo's M23 rebellion and the Islamist takeover of northern Mali topping the agenda.
At the summit's opening ceremony Hollande greeted Kabila with the briefest of handshakes while warmly embracing Abdou Diouf, the former Senegalese president and current secretary general of the Francophonie.
Members of Hollande's entourage said Hollande had earlier met privately with Kabila for a "frank and direct" discussion about human rights that lasted 30 minutes.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Indonesia overrides all patents for HIV drugs

Indonesia has made a ground breaking step that will help improve access to cheap drugs for people with HIV. The Indonesian government has voided all patents for ARV drugs that people with HIV need to prolong their lives. This will allow companies to make generic forms of the drug that can be available at a low cost. Activists hope that other countries will follow suit to further expand access to the drugs.

From the Guardian, reporter Sarah Boseley details this at her Global Health blog.
The "government use" order was made on 3 September, but with no fanfare and, as yet, no public outcry from the pharmaceutical giants which, in the past, used to defend their patents volubly and aggressively – through the courts as well as diplomatic back-channels. Times have changed somewhat, with much greater public awareness of the toll of treatable diseases and the high price of medicines in developing countries. The biggest fights now are in India, where Big Pharma is battling to preserve its patents, arguing that India's thriving generic companies will sell not just to the poor but to the whole world.
But what has happened in Indonesia is remarkable for its scale. It appears that the government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has decided to license the entire slate of medicines its population needs against HIV. It already had an order from 2007 for three older HIV drugs (efavirenz, lamivudine and nevirapine), but the new decree states specifically that this is "no longer sufficient".
The drug patents belong to Merck, GSK, Bristol Myers Squibb, Abbott and Gilead. The drugs include Glaxo's Abacavir and Abbott's Kaletra, which are both useful combinations, as well as Gilead's tenofovir (Viread), which treats hepatitis B as well as being the mainstay of the new prevention treatment for people whose partners are HIV positive. The order says the companies will receive a 0.5% royalty.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

New report says Africa could grow a lot more wheat

There is enough land in Africa to grow more than enough food for all of its people, but what they grow in reality is far behind their potential. A new study released today focuses on wheat production in Africa. The study claims that Africa is only growing 10 to 25 percent of its potential.

This echos what OXFAM said last week about Africa, but their report focused on how the land is misused by land grabs or investment speculators. A good proportion of farm-able land in Africa sits empty while a foreign investor holds onto it. Some land that is being farmed is not human consumption of food but for cars instead with Ethanol.

The authors admit that wheat is not a tropical plant, but maintains that it can be grown in the high elevation areas of Rwanda, Burundi and others. From Reuters Alert Net, writer Alister Doyle tells us more about why wheat is important for Africa.

The report, examining environmental conditions of 12 nations from Ethiopia to Zimbabwe, said that farmers south of the Sahara grew only 44 percent of the wheat consumed locally, meaning dependence on international markets prone to price spikes.
"Sub-Saharan Africa has extensive areas of land that are suitable for profitably producing wheat under rain-fed conditions," according to the study by the non-profit International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center.
It said countries in the region were producing only between 10 and 25 percent of the amounts that the Center's research suggested was "biologically possible and economically profitable" with a net return of $200 per hectare (2.5 acres).
The 89-page study, issued at a wheat conference in Ethiopia, said it aimed to identify ways to raise wheat production as "a hedge against food insecurity, political instability and price shocks."
"Wheat is not an African crop, it is not a tropical crop (but) many governments want to produce wheat locally instead of paying for imports," Hans-Joachim Braun, director of the Center's global wheat program, told Reuters by telephone.
The report estimated that African nations would spend about $12 billion to import 40 million tonnes of wheat in 2012, particularly for fast-growing cities. More wheat should not be grown at the expense of other more viable crops, Braun said.

New World Bank head warns of another global economic slowdown

Many countries in the under-developed world have seen economic growth over the last 10 to 15 years. The new head of the World Bank today is telling the world to keep it up and warns that the world could be headed for another economic slump.

In an interview with Bloomberg, new World Bank head Jim Yong Kim warns that a slowdown in investments could reverse all of the gains made in Africa and Latin America. Writers Sara Eisen and Andrew Joyce have this detail of the interview. 
“Our job now is to make sure the growth over the last five years that we’ve seen in Africa and Latin America is not destroyed by further worsening in the situation,” Kim said in an interview with Bloomberg Television today on a Japanese bullet train to Sendai, a city in the region hit hardest by last year’s earthquake and tsunami.
The World Bank and International Monetary Fund are holding their annual meetings in Tokyo this week as low growth in the richest economies hurts developing counterparts from China to Brazil to South Africa. Kim endorsed the IMF’s view that there is an “alarmingly high risk” of a steeper world slowdown, with a one-in-six chance of growth slipping below 2 percent.
Kim, 52, said that more than half of global growth over last five years has come from developing nations, where job creation is key.
“We’re working very actively with all our member countries to find ways to spur growth in the private sector in Africa, Latin America, everywhere,” he said.
The Washington-based lender said last week that the global economy will need to create 600 million new jobs between 2005 and 2020 to absorb young people entering the work force and spur development.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Millennium Development Goal of cutting hunger in half within reach

A new report from the United Nations says the Millennium Development Goal to halve hunger by 2015 is within reach. The U. N. says that the percentage of hungry people in the world was at 23 percent in 1990. The percentage is now down to 15 percent, for a total of 870 million people. The figures come from the new State of Food Insecurity report from the U. N.s Food and Agriculture Organization.

Reporter Claire Provost of the Guardian breaks down more figures from the report. 
"The good news … is the hunger target of MDG one is achievable," said Jomo Kwame Sundaram, assistant director general for economic and social development at the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). "There has been more progress than previously thought, and we're within striking distance."
Significantly, the figures do not show an increase in global hunger following the recent food price and economic crises. However, the report finds that from 2007 there has been "a significant slowdown" in progress, bringing hunger reduction "essentially to a halt for the developing countries as a whole". This will need to be reversed if the MDG is to be met, it says.
Tempering premature celebrations further, the report says the number of hungry people in the world "remains unacceptably high".
There are stark variations between regions. The figures put Asia and the Pacific, as well as Latin America and the Caribbean, almost on track for achieving their MDG hunger targets. Undernourishment in sub-Saharan Africa has improved less rapidly, and western Asia has seen an increase in the percentage of hungry people.
The report, launched by three UN food agencies ahead of the Committee on World Food Security meetings in Rome next week, calls for investment in smallholder farmers, "nutrition-sensitive" policies, and the creation of comprehensive social protection systems that target the poor.

New report says Somalia could be at crisis again soon

OXFAM is warning that there are some signs that Somalia could be in crisis again soon. El-Nino rains are underway and increasing hunger could plunge the country into famine just as it experienced last year.

The ongoing armed conflict with al-Shabaab has moved away from the major city of Mogadishu. The city has returrned to life and it gives false sense of improvement according to OXFAM. Their report surveyed residents of Somalia to see if they worry about meeting needs in the near future.

We believe that as long as the armed conflict continues Somalia will always be at or near a crisis state regardless the weather. The government is focusing their efforts on defeating their enemy instead of agriculture and health. Meanwhile, al-Shabaab prevents aid from entering the areas they control. Aid agencies also avoid any areas of heavy fighting for the safety of their workers. 

From Reuters Alert Net, writer Katy Migiro describes the report further.  
In a survey of over 1,800 households carried out by Oxfam in South Central Somalia and Puntland, 72 percent of respondents were worried they would not have enough to eat over the next four months and 42 percent said they were already skipping meals.
“If we don’t continue the humanitarian aid that is currently getting in, then we could actually fall off the edge of the cliff again,” said Ed Pomfret, Oxfam’s Somalia campaign manager.
Somalia was at the epicentre of a hunger crisis that devastated swathes of the Horn of Africa last year. But Pomfret said the world’s attention had now shifted to the Sahel food crisis and conflict in the Great Lakes region and the Sudans.
More aid is going into Mogadishu where the security situation has improved since African Union forces ousted the al Qaeda-affiliated militant group al Shabaab last year. It is now a bustling city where bullet-riddled houses are slowly being repaired and replaced.
But most of the aid is short term and agencies still find it difficult to work outside the capital.
Although African Union forces and the Ethiopian military have pushed al Shabaab out of most major towns – taking the militia’s last stronghold, the port city of Kismayu, last month – the countryside is still largely under al Shabaab’s control.
Aid agencies have to negotiate access with various militias on the ground on a case-by-case basis.