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Archive for September 28th, 2012

Experts say good quality nuts will fetch good prices for farmers

Posted by African Press International on September 28, 2012

Experts say good quality nuts will fetch good prices for farmers

KWALE,  – Kenya’s ailing cashew sector, which provides a livelihood of sorts to 60,000 farmers, is set for a boost.

Under a project involving the government, research scientists, processors and producers, aging trees will be replaced, farmers educated, credit made more available and market access improved.

The Nut Processors Association of Kenya projects cashew output could quadruple from the current 10,000 tons a year by 2015.

Partners in the initiative include the Ministry of Agriculture, the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, the Africa Cashew Alliance and the Cashew Growers Association.

The scheme involves distributing 180,000 seedlings every year for the next five years, training producers to better manage their harvested nuts, and forming farmers’ associations to facilitate better access to credit for inputs.

Farmers ‘desperate’

“Thirty years ago, cashew farmers had money because the business then was very lucrative,” Harold Mwamburi, told IRIN at his 56-tree orchard in Coast Province, where cashews constitute the leading cash crop.

The sector’s contribution to Kenya’s GDP has shrunk from four percent in the early 1980s to one percent today. In 1992, production was worth more than $35 million; in 2010 it was less than $3 million.

“Cashew nut farmers are now some of the poorest people here in Coast Province, unable to even buy enough food for their families. The government forgot about cashew farmers for a long time,” Mwamburi said.

He explained that many farmers had no direct access to processing plants or competitive markets, and, as result, sold their harvests to middlemen for around half the market price of 68 Kenyan shillings (US$0.8) per kilo.

“They pay very little because they know as a farmer you are desperate,” he said.

Farmers say they were dealt a further blow in 2009 when the government banned the export of raw nuts, a move purportedly aimed at boosting domestic processing, value addition and job creation.

Photo: Kenneth Odiwuor/IRIN
Access to quality seedlings, experts say, will improve farmers’ yields

Farmers complained that the ban limited their access to market and that the National Cereals and Produce Board was never given the planned funds needed to buy directly from farmers and cut out the unscrupulous middlemen.

Some farmers have begun to chop down the trees. “[Farmers] are abandoning cashew farming because we are being taken for a ride. [The] trees in my farm that only give shade and no money,” Peter Mwashigodi, a farmer in Kwale District, told IRIN.

Cautious optimism

Mwashigodi gave a cautious welcome to the new push by the government to revitalize the sector. “If it will make us better economically than we are now, then it is a good thing, because it is what we have always wanted.”

Speaking to IRIN about the initiative, Romano Kiome, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, said, “We want to ensure farmers produce quality nuts and get value for farming cashews as a cash crop through improved linkage to markets.”

“By forming associations, farmers will be able to bargain for better prices for what they produce,” Charles Muigai, head of the Nut Processor Association of Kenya, said.

“We are training farmers on how to properly manage the crops to improve yields and also ensure they meet international market standards. We strive to improve the quality of the seedlings as well,” William Mwinga, a technical officer at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, told IRIN.

“Cashew is one crop that needs very little attention because it is just a tree. All it needs is weeding and spraying against disease and with good rains, [and] it can give very good yields,” he said.

While a well-tended cashew tree can yield 30kg per harvest, age and poor management means many Kenyan trees only produce 5kg.




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Army commander seeks solution to Masisi crisis – militias have been implicated in the massacres of hundreds of people

Posted by African Press International on September 28, 2012

Rival ethnic militias have been implicated in the massacres of hundreds of people in Masisi territory (file photo)

GOMA,  – Authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) say they are trying to arrange for the assembly and disarmament of rival ethnic militias implicated in the massacres of hundreds of people in Masisi territory in the eastern province of North Kivu.

Congolese army spokesman Lt-Col Olivier Hamuli told IRIN that following a visit to Masisi in September, the commander of the DRC’s land forces, Gen Amisi Tango Fort, called on the militias to ‘regroup’ and disarm. Regrouping refers to the assembly of combatants in specific locations where they can be monitored prior to disarmament.

Since May, the UN has documented more than 45 attacks by militias or armed groups on some 30 villages and towns in the Ufamandu area of Masisi.

“Some of the attacks have been carried out by the Raïa Mutomboki and others by the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), at times in coalition with the armed group Nyatura,” the UN stated on August 29. “This has resulted in serious human rights violations including civilian massacres.”

The FDLR is a Rwandan rebel group, while the Raïa Mutomboki, which means ‘angry citizens’, is a multi-tribal Congolese alliance, and the Nyatura is a Congolese Hutu group.

“Proclaiming to protect local populations against the predominantly Hutu FDLR, the Raïa Mutomboki are targeting civilians of Hutu ethnicity whom they consider to be foreigners and allies of the FDLR. In turn, the FDLR retaliate against civilian populations they believe to be associated with Raïa Mutomboki,” an August statement by the UN Human Rights Office said.

Community leaders in Masisi welcomed Amisi’s visit to the territory, which seems to have raised hopes that the Nyatura, and perhaps the Raïa Mutomboki, could be integrated in the armed forces.

“It’s good to see the army is doing something… We’ve heard, although it’s not confirmed, that the Nyatura group has already been integrated into the army,” said Innocent Kibindi, an administrator in the Rubaya area in southern Masisi.

However, FARDC’s Hamuli told IRIN that the militias were not eligible for recruitment by the national army, which is intended only for civilians, aged 18 to 25, who had attended school for at least six years, did not have a criminal record and had not already taken up arms. The message for the armed groups, he stressed, was to regroup and lay down their arms.

No classic integration

He added that “there will not be a classic integration of armed groups as in the past when PARECO [‘Patriotes résistants congolais’] and the CNDP [‘Congrès national pour la défense du people’] joined the army. That integration programme closed last year”.

Hamuli’s statement could, however, leave room for army deserters who have joined militias returning to the ranks. Sadiki Murenge, a self-styled ‘lieutenant-colonel’ of the Nyatura, told IRIN that his militia consisted of soldiers who had deserted their units to defend their families from the Raïa Mutomboki, adding that Nyatura fighters had been integrated in September, but Raïa Mutomboki had either not been invited to join the army or had refused to do so.

Photo: Phil Moore/IRIN
A camp for internally displaced persons in Masisi

Rather than integrating with the Congolese army, some armed groups might ally with it, as they often have in the past. Analysts say since a mutiny broke out in the army in April, giving rise to M23, Kinshasa has been in need of allies and could turn to the militias.

“There have been several informal agreements in the past between the Congolese army and the Raïa Mutomboki against the FDLR in Shabunda Territory [in South Kivu Province] and perhaps also in Walikale [North Kivu]. This is often the case between the Congolese army and militia groups,” central Africa analyst Thierry Vircoulon of the International Crisis Group told IRIN.

Commenting on the rumours of integration initiatives, Christophe Beau, coordinator of the North Kivu protection cluster, a grouping of humanitarian agencies concerned with civilian protection, said that peace initiatives should always be welcomed, but cautioned that if there were further integrations of armed groups, these should not preclude prosecution of those guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Residents of Rubaya denied claims that the Nyatura had been involved in civilian massacres, and said they were just protecting their community.


Sources at the UN peacekeeping mission to the Congo, MONUSCO, told IRIN that the violence in southern Masisi had subsided since August. However, Kibindi in Rubaya said security incidents were still occurring  and that the area remains unsafe for people to return.

The protection cluster wrote to MONUSCO in August asking for peacekeepers to be redeployed to two locations in southern Masisi – Remeka and Katoyi – from which they withdrew in July after attacks by the Raïa Mutomboki. Witnesses to those attacks told IRIN there had been fewer than 50 peacekeepers at Katoyi when the settlement was attacked by several militiamen, who forced a whole battalion of the Congolese army to abandon the site.




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New urgency to rethink dam projects: Allow the Zambezi to flood naturally

Posted by African Press International on September 28, 2012

Allow the Zambezi to flood naturally

JOHANNESBURG,  – The massive hydropower dams built on the Zambezi River, the largest river system in Southern Africa, not only supply power to major economies in the region but also help mitigate annual floods. But as electricity demands grow and rising global temperatures affect rainfall patterns, the dams will be unable to meet energy needs or control floods, warns a new study.

The study, A Risky Trip for Southern African Hydro, was conducted for the NGO, International Rivers by Richard Beilfuss, a hydrologist and environmentalist who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Engineering in the US and the University of Eduardo Mondlane in Mozambique. Beilfuss says the region – and the rest of Africa as well – must reconsider the construction of massive hydropower dams and rethink their use as a flood management tool, especially as floods are expected to worsen with climate change.

“Large dams are being built or proposed, typically without analysis of the risks from hydrological variability that are already a hallmark of African weather patterns, much less the medium- and long-term impacts expected from climate change,” Beilfuss noted in the report. “Likewise, ecosystem services are rarely given much weight in the energy-planning process.”

Extreme floods expected

The report uses the Zambezi basin as a case study to inform governments planning to establish new hydropower plants.

Assessing climate change impact studies conducted on the Zambezi River Basin, Beilfuss said the Zambezi is expected to experience “drier and more prolonged drought periods”. Over the next century, rainfall is expected to decrease by between 10 and 15 percent over the basin, according to several studies cited by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. There will be a significant reduction in the amount of water flowing through the river system, affecting all eight countries it passes through. The water that feeds the river is expected to decrease by between 26 percent and 40 percent in another four decades, the study observed.

But when the rains do fall, they will be more intense, triggering more extreme floods.

No major dams are currently under construction on the Zambezi, Beilfuss told IRIN, but two large dams have been proposed: Batoka Dam on the Middle Zambezi and Mphanda Nkuwa Dam on the Lower Zambezi. “Batoka is politically and financially complex because it must be a joint project between Zambia and Zimbabwe,” Beilfus said. “Mphanda is entirely within Mozambique and is in very advanced stages of preparation with a timeline for construction.”

There has been considerable opposition to Mphanda Nkuwa, which environmentalists warn could displace several thousand people. Much of the anxiety over its construction is fuelled by the experience of the Cahora Bassa Dam in Mozambique, which has been widely cited as an environmental catastrophe since its construction in the early 1970s by the former Portuguese colonial government.

“None of these projects, current or proposed, has seriously incorporated considerations of climate change into project design or operation,” noted Beilfuss.

Guido Van Langenhove, who heads Namibia’s Hydrological Services Department, agreed with the concerns raised by Beilfuss and said, “Our dams cannot handle one-in-a-hundred-year [extreme] flood events. They cannot handle the sheer volume of water that might be involved. We have to even consider how to fortify our existing structures.”


Recent floods and their impact on the existing dams offer a possible view of future disasters. In 2007, heavy rains over the Zambezi threatened the dam structure, forcing the authorities to open the sluice gates of the Cahora Bassa Dam, affecting up to half a million people [some displaced, but others had crops destroyed etc ].

''Large dams are being built or proposed, typically without analysis of the risks from hydrological variability that are already a hallmark of African weather patterns, much less the medium- and long-term impacts expected from climate change''

In a case study on the floods and cyclones that struck Mozambique that year, the Overseas Development Institute warned that the two biggest dams on the Zambezi, Cahora Bassa and Zambia’s Kariba, “do not have the spill-way capacity to cope with the very large floods that occur on the river every five to 10 years. At best, the dam operators can slow down the sudden rise in water levels by phasing the spillage of water over a period of a few days, which gives the people living downstream a little more time to evacuate their homes.”

Hydrologists in Southern Africa have been calling for a reconsideration of dam planning for years. In 2001, Bryan Davies, an ecologist and a Zambezi river expert, conducted an assessment of the Cahora Bassa and told IRIN, “one of these days there will be a cyclonic event” that the full dams would be unable to cope with.

Part of the problem is that the Zambezi River Basin in Mozambique is a naturally occurring flood plain. In the past, human habitation patterns took flooding into account. When the waters subsided, people would move in to plant in the rich soils, and shift to higher ground when the floods returned, but since the construction of Cahora Bassa, communities have settled much closer to the river, making them more vulnerable, Davies warned.

Van Langenhove, the Namibian official, said people mistakenly believe that the construction of a dam means they will safe from flooding, and so tend to settle close to dams. “Should an extreme event take place, there would be a huge disaster,” he said.

Finding alternatives

Beilfuss suggested using hydropower dams to produce electricity only and not to store flood water. “Many hydropower projects are justified on the basis of providing flood control in addition to energy generation. However, allowing for flood storage means the reservoir must be drawn down to provide flood capture space at the very time that this water is most needed to supply energy”.

The vast natural flood plains of the Zambezi should be allowed to flood while ensuring people do not settle in those areas, he said. “This will allow for regeneration of the floodplains systems for wildlife and fisheries and agriculture, and also will reduce the impact of extreme floods – which already occur in the basin as it is – on people and property.

“By removing people from flood-prone areas – in accordance with Mozambique and Zambia law, by the way – it becomes especially important to restore modest annual high flows in the basin so that people can secure their livelihoods from fisheries and agriculture,” he told IRIN by email.

Beilfuss also suggested that countries in the region improve existing hydropower capacity rather than investing in new infrastructure. “Adding new or more efficient turbines is almost always much lower-impact than building new dams.” Countries should also consider alternative sources of energy generation.

In 2011, the eight countries through which the Zambezi flows set up the Zambezi Watercourse Commission (ZAMCOM) to manage the river. Though still a new body, “ZAMCOM is a very important step forward for the integrated development and water conservation in the Zambezi River Basin,” Beifluss said. “In particular, the ZAMCOM structure offers the potential to strategically address river development, including hydropower, on a basin-wide level rather than a country-by-country level.”

Américo José Ubisse, secretary general of the Mozambique Red Cross, has been involved in flood relief operations in Mozambique for many years. He told IRIN in an email that, in the past, issues related to the “environment, climate change and their future humanitarian consequences were deeply undermined… The added value that is coming with these scientific studies must been taken into consideration. Undermining [scientific studies]… can be a big mistake, not only for the future of economic investment but also for the future of humanitarian sustainability.”




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