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Archive for May 13th, 2013

Iraq: Across the board, women are suffering more now than they used to do

Posted by African Press International on May 13, 2013

DUBAI,  – In the 1980s, the UN says, Iraqi women enjoyed more basic rights than other women in the region. But years of dictatorship, sanctions and conflict, including the US-led invasion one decade ago, led to deterioration in women’s status.

“Across the board, women are suffering more [than they used to],” said Sudipto Mukerjee, deputy head of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in Iraq.

Despite steps taken towards gender equality since 1990, Iraqi women today do not have equal educational or employment opportunities, and too many are subjected to gender-based violence

Due to years of war and political instability, 10 percent of households are headed by women, most of them widowed, but many of them divorced, separated or caring for sick spouses.

“They represent one of the most vulnerable segments of the population and are generally more exposed to poverty and food insecurity as a result of lower overall income levels,” the UN said in a March 2013 fact-sheet.


According to the Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) conducted by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the government, the ratio of girls to boys in primary school rose from 0.88 in 2006 to 0.94 in 2011; in secondary school, the ratio rose from 0.75 in 2006 to 0.85 in 2011. According to IRIN calculations, the enrolment of girls is growing at a faster rate than that of boys.

However, had Iraq progressed at the same rate as other countries in the region, according to UNICEF, it would have already reached 100 percent enrolment for both boys and girls in primary schools – achieving the third Millennium Development Goal of eliminating gender disparity in education.

According to Iraq Knowledge Network (IKN) survey of 2011, 28.2 percent of women 12 years or older are illiterate, more than double the male rate of 13 percent. Young women – those aged 15 to 24 – living in rural areas are even less educated; one-third of them are illiterate.


Similar inequality can be seen in the labour force.

According to the IKN survey, only 14 percent of women are working or actively seeking work, compared to 73 percent of men. Those who are employed are mostly working in the agricultural sector, and women with a diploma have a harder time finding jobs: 68 percent of women with a bachelor’s degree are unemployed.

The representation of women in parliament increased from 13 percent in 1990 to 27 percent in 2006, meeting the one-quarter female representation quota imposed in 2005, but this is still far below the national target of half.

Physical safety

Women’s health concerns have seen some gains. The percentage of births attended by skilled personnel has risen significantly in the last decade. And the maternal mortality rate – which at 84 per 100,000 births in 2006 was the highest in the region – appears to have dropped significantly, to 24 per 100,000 in 2011, according to the World Health Organization.

Still, domestic violence, honour killings, female genital mutilation (FGM) and human trafficking remain threats to many Iraqi women and girls. In the northern autonomous Kurdistan region, 42.8 percent of women have experienced FGM, according to the 2011 MICS.

In 2011, nearly half of girls aged 10 to 14 were exposed to violence at least once by a family member, and nearly half of married women were exposed to at least one form of spousal violence, mostly emotional, but also physical and sexual, according to a survey by the government and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).

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Food security in Iraq has improved in the last decade – Less dependent on rations

Posted by African Press International on May 13, 2013

BAGHDAD/DUBAI,  – Food security in Iraq has improved in the last decade, as the American-led invasion brought an end to sanctions and a resumption of open relations between Iraq and t he rest of the world. 

Historically, Iraq’s vulnerability to food insecurity has been largely due to barriers to international trade – caused by two decades of wars and sanctions – which hindered the export of oil and import of food commodities. These barriers also affected Iraq’s ability to modernize the agricultural sector and employ new technologies; local production could not meet the country’s growing food needs.As such, even during the worst years of sectarian violence in the last decade, access to food improved on average, compared to the years under sanctions.

Recent history

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in 1980, just four percent of Iraqis were undernourished or “food deprived”, meaning they consumed less than the minimum energy requirement, which in Iraq is currently estimated at 1,726 kilocalories per person per day. Despite years of war with Iran in the 1980s, agricultural subsidies and food imports from the US and Europe helped keep the level of food deprivation low.

But when the UN leveled sanctions against Iraq in August 1990, and US government credits for agricultural exports to Iraq ceased, Iraq – almost completely dependent on imports for its food needs – saw food deprivation rise to 15 percent by 1996, according to FAO. Throughout the 1990s, food deprivation continued to climb, reaching a peak of close to one-third of the population in the late 90s, by some counts.

Humanitarian food supplies delivered through the UN’s Oil-for-Food Programme, initiated in 1995, helped ease the strain, but during the early to mid-2000s, the Public Distribution System (PDS) – the government’s subsidy scheme created in 1991 – remained “by far the single most important food source in the diet” for the poor and food insecure population, according to a 2006 report by the government and the World Food Programme (WFP).


Food deprivation levels began to fall just before the turn of the century, and the decline increased with the toppling of former president Saddam Hussein, which saw Iraq regain the ability to import freely. In the last decade, the country has experienced a “huge transformation”, as one observer put it.

In 2003, months after the invasion, a WFP survey found that 11 percent of the population lacked secure access to food, a large drop from the high of the 1990s.

While food insecurity was found to have risen slightly, to 15.4 percent, in a 2005 WFP-government survey, it fell right back down shortly afterwards.

Joint government-UN analysis of 2007 survey data found that 7.1 percent of the population was food deprived; this dropped to 5.7 percent in 2011, according to the Iraq Knowledge Network (IKN) survey.

The government credits an improvement in security, economic growth and increased humanitarian aid.


Whereas aid workers estimated 60 percent of the population was food aid-reliant during Hussein’s reign, the PDS is now essential only to the poor.

Sa’ad al-Shimary, a government employee from Baghdad, said his family used to be dependent on the PDS. “I don’t even need the food supplies we get from the ration card now,” he said. “I can buy good quality food from the markets, as everything is available now.”

But while the value of the PDS basket has diminished for most Iraqis (it now represents only 8 percent of the total cash value of food expenditures), it remains a major source of wheat and rice for 72 percent and 64 percent of households respectively, according to the 2011 IKN survey. (Iraq’s PDS is the largest in the world, according to the US Agency for International Development, providing virtually free basic food rations to any Iraqi; as such, it is not only utilized by the poor.)

The PDS is the source of more than one-third of Iraqis’ calorie consumption, and more than half of the poor’s consumption.

And at 35 percent, food continues to comprise the highest proportion of Iraqi household expenditures. Nearly one-quarter of IKN respondents said they used coping strategies to eat enough in 2011. In addition to the 5.7 percent of Iraqis now considered to be undernourished, an additional 14 percent would become undernourished if the PDS did not exist, according to the IKN.


While the percentage of children under five who are underweight nearly halved from 15.9 percent in 2000 to 8.5 percent in 2011, according to the Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS), conducted by the government and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), chronic and acute malnutrition indicators look less positive.

The percentage of children under five who are moderately or severely stunted (too short for their age) or wasted (underweight for their height) both increased – if only slightly – over the same period, a “worrying” trend, aid workers said, given the long-term impacts of malnutrition on mental development.

According to UNICEF, one out of every four Iraqi children suffers from stunted growth. High levels of chronic and acute malnutrition are a sign that mothers and children do not have access to quality food. While access to food has improved, stunting and wasting are difficult trends to reverse in a short period of time. As such, it may take years before improved access to food reflects in malnutrition rates across the board.

Impact of violence

Although the last decade has seen overall gains in food security, the sectarian violence of 2006-2007 did have a negative impact. For example, a WFP report based on 2007 data found that levels of food deprivation differed by area: in Diyala Governorate, one of the most volatile during the conflict, 51 percent of the population was deprived of food, while in the northern autonomous Kurdistan region, largely spared the consequences of the invasion, just one percent of the population suffered from food deprivation.

Here, too, there has been change. While in 2007, insecurity had a huge bearing on food security, the food insecure today are traditionally vulnerable groups – the illiterate, the unemployed, the displaced and female-headed households.

Iraq also faces new challenges to its food security, according to Edward Kallon, WFP’s director in Iraq, including rising global food prices, poverty, climate change, desertification and drought.

For more, check out this UN fact-sheet on food security and this presentation by UNICEF comparing the child indicators in Iraq over the last three to five decades. The bulk of statistics come from WFP/government surveys in 2003, 2005 and 2007; and UNICEF/government surveys in 2000, 2006 and 2011. This 2010 report on food deprivation analyzes 2007 data collected in a survey by the government and the World Bank, just as this 2012 report analyzes food security data from the 2011 IKN survey. The FAO has its own figures on food deprivation. The government has also tracked statistics on underweight children fr om 1991 through 2009.


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DRC: Conflict for Coffee?

Posted by African Press International on May 13, 2013

GOMA,  – Entrepreneur Gilbert Makelele wants armed groups in his part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to wake up and smell the coffee.

“You should tell the population to grow coffee, as it’s the best way for them to make money,” he told a militia member during a recent visit to the town of Kalonge, where he and his fellow cooperative members have planted a nursery for coffee seedlings.The Kivu Cooperative of Coffee Planters and Traders (CPNCK), which Makelele founded five years ago, has planted six of these nurseries in the Kalonge-Pinga-Mweso triangle, a hotbed of militia activity.

“If the young men in this area knew how much they could earn with coffee, they would not be interested in joining militias,” Makelele told IRIN.

“A paradise for coffee”

Coffee, a traditional export crop, was virtually abandoned across much of North Kivu in the past 30 years. DRC’s production shrank from 110,000 metric tons in the late 1980s to about 50,000 metric tons in 2009, according to the DRC’s national coffee office.

CPNCK says it is giving away half a million arabica seedlings to help relaunch coffee’s cultivation.

Many people in the Kalonge area, including members of armed groups, appear to be interested in planting coffee. The militiaman told IRIN he would like to plant the crop on his ancestral land of more than 100 hectares, but that he would first have to raise US$1,000 to pay the land registry for title deeds.

Uncertainty about land titles and the involvement of Congolese and foreign armed groups are just some of the problems local farmers will face if they decide to take Makelele’s advice. Planting coffee is a long-term investment, prices have been volatile and the market is not as reliable as that for food crops.

Nevertheless, the crop has paid off for neighbouring Uganda and Rwanda, which have increased their production in recent years. The crop is Uganda’s single most important export, and coffee and tea together account for nearly half of Rwanda’s exports.

The recent history of coffee prices could also deter would-be planters: The New York market price for mild arabica, currently slightly above the inflation-adjusted average for the past decade, has fluctuated by more than 300 percent since 2003, and has trended downwards since the late 1970s.

But coffee’s promoters argue that increasing demand in middle-income countries, plus the possibility that climate change could lead to the spread of diseases in coffee plants, point to higher prices in future – and bright prospects for Kivu coffee.

Additionally, the temperate climate in the Kivu region’s hills is thought to be protection against coffee rust, the most devastating disease affecting arabica. Partly for this reason, World Coffee Research describes the area as “a paradise for coffee”.

This optimism has helped to persuade several NGOs – including Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Oxfam, the Eastern Congo Initiative and the Fairtrade organization Twin – to launch coffee projects in the Kivu provinces.

Twin has helped a South Kivu co-operative, Sopacdi, replant coffee and improve yields, quality and post-harvest processing, enabling its 3,500 members to become the first producers in Kivu to achieve organic and Fairtrade certification.

Income potential

Sopacdi has publicized the job opportunities it has provided to ex-combatants. A number of them work at a mechanized washing centre – paid for by Twin and employing 161 people – where the coffee berries are depulped and dried.

One of the staff at the washing centre, former rebel Habamungu Engavashapa, told IRIN he was happy with civilian life because he was able to spend nights in a house rather than in the forest.

Another ex-combatant, Abdul Mahagi, said Sopacdi had trained him as a machinist and given him a contract; he said he was beginning to see a way to organize his life.

Other workers at the washing centre, however, complained that their salaries, about $60 a month, were barely enough to live on.

The main opportunities that coffee co-operatives are likely to provide for ex-combatants in the short term would be to clear land and plant seedlings.

CPNCK has been employing 50 ex-combatants on these tasks at a rate of $1 a day, much less than they would earn in artisanal mining, but not insignificant in most of the villages, says Jean-Baptiste Musbyimana, an agricultural journalist based in Goma.

The returns could be more enticing for ex-combatants and smallholder farmers who are able to grow coffee for themselves.

For information on the profitability of coffee versus that of alternative crops, IRIN consulted Franck Muke, an agronomist who has studied coffee production in DRC and in Brazil; Xavier Phemba, CRS’s agricultural project co-ordinator in Goma; and Sandra Kavira, an agronomist working for the International Fertilizer Development Centre.

Their data suggest returns from a hectare of 2,500 coffee trees could be two to three times as high as the returns from a hectare of maize or beans, assuming an absence of mineral fertilizers and only limited use of organic fertilizers.

Jean-Baptiste Musabyimana, of the Federation of Agricultural Producer Organizations of Congo (FOPAC), which does not promote coffee, said coffee is regarded as having several advantages over other crops, including the potential for intercropping with bananas, beans or legumes, which provide organic waste and additional profits from the same acreage.

Once the trees have been planted, coffee also requires less labour than annual crops and is less likely to be stolen.

“Armed groups won’t cut off the berries and eat them,” coffee plantation owner Eric Kulage told IRIN. “And the workers don’t want the berries either, whereas when they are harvesting maize they always solicit some bags.”

Coffee’s major disadvantage is the cost of planting and the fact that the trees cannot be harvested for the first three years and do not reach their full potential for five to eight years. Muke estimated costs of planting 2,500 trees per hectare, and pruning for three non-productive years, at $850 to $950. These costs, and the risks involved, limit the acreage farmers will be willing to devote to the crop.

Helping DRC compete

A significant limitation to DRC’s coffee industry is the lack of mechanized washing stations, which cut down on waste and help maintain product consistency. Washing stations are the norm in Uganda and Rwanda, but there are hardly any in Kivu, where producers depulp the berries by hand or sell the wet berries to merchants from Uganda and Rwanda.

Aid agencies are planning to install several washing stations at sites close to large population centres and to Lake Kivu. But Muke says this could be a mistake, as the lakeside areas have higher humidity, which is thought to promote coffee rust.

There could be social advantages to promoting a perennial crop in areas further from Lake Kivu, like Kalonge Pinga and Mweso, where many young men see joining an armed group as their most viable livelihood option.

“If they have a perennial crop to look after, they will want to settle down,” suggested CPNCK’s Makelele.

But a major obstacle to promoting agriculture in areas where militias recruit is, of course, insecurity. Although armed groups are unlikely to steal coffee berries, they might try to steal bulk loads of dried coffee from washing stations.

Plantation owner Kulage commented that, in his experience, armed groups had not succeeded in stealing and marketing large coffee harvests in recent years. He suggested that security forces might be deployed to protect washing stations during the limited periods when bulk loads of dried coffee are left there.

Oxfam’s co-ordinator for North Kivu, Tariq Riebl, doubted whether any donor would accept the risk of building a washing station in a place like Kalonge. He noted that 90,000 seedlings had recently been stolen from a CPNCK nursery near Kalonge.

“If you mention that to donors, they won’t want to hear anything more,” he said.

But Makelele argues that the theft was not a problem because the co-op was going to give the seedlings away anyway.

“I am very happy about it,” he told IRIN. “It shows that people want to plant coffee.”

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