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Archive for July 8th, 2013

Africa’s green revolution

Posted by African Press International on July 8, 2013

Traditionally marginalized groups, such as women, may benefit from the use of new agricultural technologies…

NAIROBI, – Civil society groups are taking on the policies of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), which promotes the use of genetically modified (GM) crops and Green Revolution technologies.

They argue that GM and Green Revolution practices – those aimed at increasing developing countries’ crop yields through specific innovations – will, in the long run, be detrimental to ecosystems across the continent. Earlier this month, a coalition of almost 60 civil society groups across Africa came out to protest AGRA ahead of the G8 Summit in London.

“Green Revolution technologies benefit relatively few farmers, often at the expense of the majority. These technologies produce concentration of land ownership, increasing economies of scale (production has to be at a large scale to get into and stay in markets), and a declining number of food-producing households in a context of limited other livelihood options,” they said in a letter sent to AGRA’s president, Jane Karuku.

They also believe that the intellectual property of many plant types may be transferred to large multinational corporations as part of Green Revolution practices.

“Private ownership of knowledge and material resources (for example, seed and genetic materials) means the flow of royalties out of Africa into the hands of multinational corporations,” they said.

Technology for the needy

AGRA was founded in 2006 through a partnership between the Rockefeller Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It works with smallholder farmers across the continent by giving them microfinance loans, hybrid seeds and fertilizers to increase their crop yields. In this way, AGRA hopes to alleviate hunger and poverty across the continent.

The Green Revolution
A period from the 1940s until the 1970s when, through the use of new technologies such as irrigation, improved seed, fertilizers and pesticides, as well as an economic environment that supported industrial agriculture, a massive increase in agriculture output in developing countries (particularly in Asia) occurred. Norman Borlaug, who won the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize for improving agricultural technologies, is widely considered as the “Father of the Green Revolution”, and is often credited with saving a billion lives through his innovations.

“There are millions of skilled farmers in Africa who simply need the tools,” said Sir Gordon Conway, a scientist and author of One Billion Hungry: Can We Feed the World?, speaking by video message at an agriculture conference in Nairobi. In his book, he argues that both microcredits – to help smallholder farmers – and macro-investment are needed for farmers to benefit from Green Revolution technologies.

He believes traditionally marginalized groups – such as women, youth and ethnic minorities – will benefit from the use of new agricultural technologies targeted at smallholders, and that the total number of hungry will be drastically reduced. For example, Conway calculates that by ensuring female farmers have access to the same productive resources as men, the number of undernourished people globally could be reduced by 100 to 150 million.

“If we are going to feed some 9 billion people by 2050 and do that in environmentally sustainable ways and in the face of climate change, then we are going to need access to the very best that modern science can offer,” said Peter Hazell, a leading agriculture expert who has worked with the World Bank and International Food Policy Research Institute. “All technologies have risks (e.g., cell phones may cause brain cancer) but as these things go, GM crops seem to be doing rather well.”

Debt and expense

But civil society groups disagree. “AGRA aims to move farmers in exactly the wrong direction, by encouraging them to take on debt in order to use more agrochemicals and corporate hybrid seeds,” Teresa Anderson of the Gaia Foundation told IRIN.

“For many years, NGOs across Africa have worked with farmers to encourage them to stop using fertilizers and pesticides, and to improve their soil health, their ecosystems, their seed diversity and their food sovereignty. AGRA is undoing a decade of agro-ecological progress in Africa by getting farmers into debt and back on the agribusiness treadmill,” she said.

“World over, the same companies that own the seeds also own the chemicals; it is a mafia-like cartel that has proven to be ruthless towards poor small-scale farmers”

Genetically modified crops are allowed to be used commercially in only three countries in Africa – Egypt, Burkina Faso and South Africa – according to Gareth Jones of the African Centre for Biosafety. Of these countries, only South Africa uses them extensively. Jones believes it is a mistake to think their model could be replicated elsewhere across the continent.

“The legacies of colonialism and then apartheid left South Africa with a well-resourced and supported white commercial farming sector, many of whom (including maize, cotton and soya farmers) cultivate on large pieces of land, using modern inputs,” he told IRIN via email. “Projects to get smallholder farmers in South Africa to grow GM seed such as in the Makhathini Flats, though much heralded by the biotechnology industry at the time, have been largely unsuccessful.”

The Makhathini Flats project, which started to grow cotton in 2002, ended after just five years. High loan repayments on the seed and poor climate meant that smallholders were unable to afford to grow the crop. “There is no reason to believe that the introduction of GM seeds would have different results in the rest of the continent,” Jones said. He accuses initiatives such as AGRA of spurring the push for greater use of genetically modified crops on the continent.

In September 2012, over 350 civil society organizations wrote a statementprotesting AGRA’s agricultural approaches.

“We are concerned that as a result of the AGRA seed program, the rich pool of African indigenous seed varieties will become the property of corporate seed companies, displacing and reducing farmers’ access to indigenous varieties, and locking them into an expensive high-input agricultural system,” they said. Signatories included the African Biodiversity Network, the African Centre for Biosafety, Kenya Biotechnology Coalition, Participatory Ecological Land Use Management, and ActionAid Tanzania and Uganda.

These groups cite a 2009 study by the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development, conducted with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), UN Environmental Programme, World Bank and others, which concluded that industrial agriculture is not likely to be majorly beneficial in mitigating hunger and poverty.

Patents or people?

In 2009, the three largest seed companies controlled more than a third of the global seeds market, according to a 2011 study commissioned by the Commission on Genetic Modification.

…but the push for greater use of genetically modified crops is facing opposition

Under most current legal frameworks, farmers growing patented seeds are not allowed to use the seeds naturally produced from their crops.  Large firms such as Monsanto routinely sue farmers who propagate their patented crops.

“World over, the same companies that own the seeds also own the chemicals; it is a mafia-like cartel that has proven to be ruthless towards poor small-scale farmers,” Ruth Nyambura of the African Biodiversity Network told IRIN.

But Karuku, AGRA’s president, insists the organization tries to collaborate with local partners to develop new breeds of seed. In Kenya, she said, they work with the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, which then owns the patents to the seeds, not large multinational corporations.

She also pointed to growing populations and said that scarcity of land meant that African farmers needed to increase the productivity of their crops. With 239 million undernourished people in Africa, according to the FAO’s State of Food Insecurity in the World 2012, she said there is a need for strong action. “If we don’t do anything, it will be way more than that,” she said. “We should be worried.”

“Nobody forces farmers to grow GM crops, so if they prove less profitable than the alternatives, farmers will simply stop growing them,” noted Hazell. “Farmers have been able to reduce the use of pesticides on many GM crops with significant environmental and health benefits.”

aps/am/rz source

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The Recovery of Traumatized Restaurant Bears in the FOUR PAWS Bear Sanctuary, Kosovo

Posted by African Press International on July 8, 2013

Biologists and animal keepers are currently helping the brave bears to settle in at their new home.

South Africa, 5 July 2013 – All of the thirteen restaurant bears that were rescued from the very poor conditions where they were living, by the international animal protection organisation FOUR PAWS, are doing well. They are recovering slowly from their physical wounds and traumatizing past in the adaption enclosure of the FOUR PAWS BEAR SANCTUARY Prishtina in Kosovo, which measures several hundred square meters. Here, they can feel the grass under their paws for the first time, dip into the pool, dig, play and move around freely.

For the past few weeks, the biologists and animal keepers of the organisation have been working intensively with the traumatised bears in the BEAR SANCTUARY  to help them adjust to their new living conditions.  Several times a day, they provide them with substantial food and keep their search for food varied by hiding treats in the enclosure. Biologists are carefully observing their behaviour, to identify the individual characteristics and needs of every bear. “We are glad, that all our bears are on the road to recovery,” explains FOUR PAWS project leader Carsten Hertwig. “Their coats are shining again, they have a healthy appetite and they are bathing regularly and playing.”

All thirteen bears were kept under extremely poor conditions. For many years they were living in cages which were far too small, at restaurants. An emergency rescue team from the animal protection organisation rescued and transferred them in March and May 2013 to the FOUR PAWS BEAR SANCTUARY with the help of the Kosovo Ministry of Environment, the police and the KFOR. Most of the bears were malnourished and some had bite injuries from other bears, which they were forced to share a confined and insufferable living space with. Bear Stivi has even gone blind because of very painful wounds in his eyes. Furthermore, some of the bears show massive behavioral disorders, caused by their inappropriate living conditions before their rescue. “Ari, Kassandra and blind Stivi, for example, are running up and down the same short distance path for many hours a day”, says Carsten Hertwig. “From our experience some bears discard these stereotypes rather fast, whereas others continue with them for months or even years.”

FOUR PAWS is currently building a several acres  large outdoor enclosure which will be similar to the bears natural environment, at the area for all thirteen former restaurant bears. Next autumn, they will be able to move to their permanent home. “With varying landscapes within the outdoor enclosure we are going to reactivate their natural instincts.”, says Carsten Hertwig. “And we are hoping that this will help to gradually reduce their behavioral disorders.”


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A new poppy policy in Afghanistan

Posted by African Press International on July 8, 2013

Only 30 percent of Afghan’s one million drug users have access to treatment


  • High levels of drug addiction
  • Poppy eradication underfunded
  • Farmers’ needs must be understood
  • Alternative livelihood programmes generally failed

KABUL,  – Despite a surge in efforts to eradicate poppy farming, the country’s opium production is at close to record levels, prompting calls for a change in policy – from analysts, as well as farmers impoverished by attacks on their livelihood due to the current poppy policy.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC) 2012 Opium Survey found a 154 percent increase in Afghan government poppy eradication efforts in 2012, yet cultivation actually increased – up 18 percent on the previous year.

Afghanistan produces around three-quarters of the world’s heroin, recently retaining its position as the lead producer and cultivator of opium globally, according to the 2013 World Drug Report.

The latest assessment from April shows 12 out of 34 provinces expect an increase in poppy cultivation. Only in western Herat Province is cultivation expected to decrease.

Experts say these trends are worrying as the country is entering a key period in the next 18 months that will see the drawdown of the International Security Assistance Force and presidential elections to replace President Hamid Karzai.

“The potential negative ramifications of the transition on the drugs economy are alarming,” according to a report by the independent Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU) in May.

“Afghanistan cannot afford to be complacent with regards to poppy cultivation. If the Afghan government and international community fail to restructure their priorities now, poppy cultivation will only increase, contributing to the already growing war in the country.”

Yet, year after year, despite repeated calls to restructure priorities, little progress has been made.

Cultivation and local addiction

The rise of an opium-based economy is not just about exports – the country now has one of the highest levels of addiction in the world, according to UNODC country office regional representative Jean-Luc Lemahieu.

Afghanistan’s population of 30 million now has one million users – with more than 700,000, or 70 percent, having no access to drug treatment. Of particular concern is the rising number of female and child addicts.

Not only tribes and villages, but also drug-dependent districts, are sprouting up and having a domino-like effect across the country say Afghan analysts.

Qali a Zal, a predominately Uzbek district in northern Kunduz Province known for carpet weaving is just one example.

Kunduz Province, population 800,000, has more than 30,000 drug addicts according to Kunduz’s only drug treatment centre. Half come from Qali a Zal District, where women and children make up 40 percent of addicts.

At birth women rub opium oil on their babies’ navels to stop them from crying, so that the women can get on with their work undisturbed.

Due to lack of funding for a treatment centre or any existing health care services in the district, the addiction is passed from one generation to the next.

Most provincial counter-narcotics officials who spoke with IRIN point to funding as the source of the problem.

“Ask the Ministry of Counter Narcotics how much money they give each province to fight poppy eradication. Some provinces like Laghman, Nuristan and others have a budget of 17,000 Afghanis [US$300] a month. Government officials’ salaries are 10 times that,” said an Afghan official who preferred anonymity. “You can’t fight a multi-billion dollar industry without money.

“Several years ago in the south, police chiefs had limited manpower [to help cut down the poppy crop] so they were asking the `maliks’ (tribal leaders) to eradicate a portion of the poppy on their land.

“Then they would take pictures and send them back to Kabul as proof of eradication.”

For the country’s one million addicts, there are only around 90 drug treatment centres across the country, according to the Ministry of Counter-narcotics.

Most are understaffed, can only hold a small number of patients and are for short-term rehabilitation only, said Afghans.

“Only when you start offering sustainable alternative income sources and livelihood, can you start thinking about reducing illicit cultivation for those farmers that have a real choice between the legal and illegal economy”

This all means drugs merchants have little fear. “You have to have strong connections to be an opium trader,” said one trader from eastern Afghanistan who did not reveal his name for security reasons.

“Some time ago some of my friends were caught with drugs by border police. They contacted [top] officials and were released. Eradication could affect us but right now we have enough land to cultivate poppy even if the government decides to cut some areas down.”

Has eradication made things worse?

For the last decade, counter-narcotics experts say Western-backed initiatives in the country have largely focused on poppy farmers.

report by researchers David M. Catarious Jr. and Alison Russella from the Center for Naval Analysis (CAN) said initiatives fail to consider the motivations and needs of the poppy farmers who are “the most vulnerable and victimized link in the opium trade”.

Instead of alleviating the pressures that drive farmers to grow poppy in the first place, eradication programmes often exacerbate poverty, and so increase farmers’ dependence on opium.

“The eradication of poppy harms our life. If the government eradicates our poppy, then they should support us and find alternative methods,” said Saeed Kazim, a farmer from Khogyni District in eastern Nangarhar Province.

“If there is no work and no job our lives will be very difficult. Everything I have in my life, I owe to poppy.”

In southern Helmand Province where widespread eradication has taken place, AREU research found that poppy famers and their families dependent on the crop often fall back on negative coping strategies to deal with the loss of income.

In 2011, the study found that households, particularly those in Marjah and Nad Ali districts, reduced both the amount and quality of the food they were eating due to the government’s eradication efforts.

Opium harvest in in Badakhshan (file photo)

The families also held off seeking important medical care, withdrew children from school and stopped paying on loans or marriage-related settlements. Some even sold their long-term productive assets making future legal income generation much harder.

Compared to 2006, poppy production in Helmand has tripled and is expected to be even higher this year.

Jorrit Kamminga, director of policy research at the International Council on Security and Development (ICOS), told IRIN that international counter-narcotics policy in Afghanistan since 2003 had resulted in what he called “sequencing problems”.

“While pushing for forced poppy crop eradication, there was no way for alternative development programmes to keep pace with eradication. In other words, farming communities that were dependent on poppy cultivation had nothing to fall back on. It explains why, in the 10 years that have passed, the problem has not gone away and in many ways has even increased in size and scope.”

Indeed, according to UNODC, poppy cultivation is not only expected to expand in areas where it already existed in 2012 but also in new areas or areas where poppy cultivation had stopped.

Window of opportunity

There is a window of opportunity for the Afghan government to start a more independent counter-narcotics policy with the end of the security transition in 2014 and reduced Western influence, said Kamminga.

The key component, essential to its success, say analysts, is that in its initial stages the model “de-links” from the programme’s overall drug control objectives.

Only later does it integrate a counter-narcotics focus in the broader policies of territorial control, institution-building, good governance and development.

“In other words, while you leave illicit poppy cultivation intact until the local government has firmly established its presence and basic services, you do not focus on crop eradication. Only when you start offering sustainable alternative income sources and livelihood, can you start thinking about reducing illicit cultivation for those farmers that have a real choice between the legal and illegal economy,” said Kamminga.

Under this putative new policy, farmers’ incomes will decline over time as opium phases out because few crops can compete with opium, but ideally people’s standard of living increases.

“If the Afghan government supports farmers they don’t need to grow poppy. If they build long-term projects in our area then the youth can help with that. But when unemployment increases, and a huge number of our youth are jobless and can no longer go to Pakistan and Iran for work because the conditions there are not good, you tell me… what should they do?” said Kazim, the farmer from Nangahar Province.

Alternative livelihood programmes

A standard approach by donors and aid agencies to reduce opium farming has been to create alternative livelihood programmes, schemes criticized by the World Bank back in 2008.

“The shift to an `alternative livelihoods’ concept was meant to encompass broader factors, including access to assets like land, water, and credit, as well as markets. But this conceptual improvement has not been translated into practice, as alternative livelihood programmes have continued to focus on discrete projects mainly involving other crops.”

Without wider development, poppy farming helps farmers survive.

“In my whole district there is no water,” said farmer Gul Khan from Charchino District of Uruzgan Province. “Farmers face difficulties from years of drought, and it is difficult to see any reconstruction from all the money distributed between government authorities; for these reasons we need to grow poppy.”

Successful projects in Afghanistan are few. Small-scale projects with international support such as replacing poppies with organic roses have often depended on continuing outside support and lacked sustainability.

Projects that have shown some degree of success, said Kamminga, share several commonalities: the possibility to cultivate crops with a high international market value, to effectively organize farmers into associations and cooperatives to increase their bargaining power vis-à-vis buyers, and a unique trait that added an increased value such as organic certification.

In Afghanistan pomegranates, almonds, saffron and some fruit production have shown market potential.

To dissuade the 1.6 million Afghans directly involved in poppy cultivation, said Kamminga, the number of beneficiary projects would need to be significantly more than the several hundred that exist today.

bm/jj/cb source


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