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Posts Tagged ‘WFP’

Zimbabwe: Hunger looms

Posted by African Press International on September 7, 2013

MASVINGO,  – Revesai Moyo, 80, a smallholder farmer in Zimbabwe’s Zimuto District, is one of the 2.2 million people – a quarter of the rural population – expected t o lack sufficient food between October and the next harvest in March 2014, according to the World Food Programme (WFP).

Year after year, Moyo plants maize, groundnuts and beans, and does “not harvest much even when the rains are good”.

“This last season was a total write-off as the rains stopped just before the maize was to mature,” she told IRIN. She lives in a region considered “unsuitable for crop production” due to poor soils and “highly erratic” rainfall.

In a 3 September statement, WFP Country Director Sory Ouane said, “Many districts, particularly in the south, harvested very little and people are already trying to stretch out their dwindling food stocks.”

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS), the aggregate cereal harvest in 2013 was about 27 percent below the average of the previous five years.

The WFP statement attributed the current high levels of food insecurity “to various factors including adverse weather conditions, the unavailability and high cost of agricultural inputs such as seeds and fertilizers, and projected high cereal prices due to the poor maize harvest.”

The reasons widespread hunger continues to be an almost annual problem in Zimbabwe are more complex.

Poverty, growing conditions

Zimbabwe has five natural regions, each with varying suitability for growing crops. The drought-prone provinces of the south and west, such as Masvingo and the South and North Matabeleland provinces, are ranked as the most unsuitable areas for crop production.

Matebeleland South and parts of Masvingo provinces experience food deficits on an almost annual basis and are among the poorest in the country.

But a May report by the University of Zimbabwe’s Institute of Environmental Studies – Understanding Poverty, Promoting Wellbeing and Sustainable Development – found that across the country 95 percent of the rural population was poor and, of that number, more than two-thirds were “very poor”.

Zimbabwe’s rural impoverishment was not helped by cuts in support to black farmers starting in the 1990s after the government agreed to rein in spending and introduced market-oriented reforms in line with the World Bank’s Structural Adjustment Programmes. According to the University of Zimbabwe report, poverty was further exacerbated by drought, food shortages, hyperinflation and the HIV epidemic, and then by a loss of donor support in the wake of the country’s 2000 fast-track land redistribution programme.

The land reform programme saw 11 million hectares of white-owned farmland – in prime agricultural regions – acquired for redistribution to the landless. A recent book, Zimbabwe Takes Back Its Land, argues this redistribution improved the lives of thousands of smallholder farmers and their families, but those working redistributed land still lack title deeds and face a variety of challenges.

In areas such as Beit Bridge in Matabeleland South, which is prone to dry spells and drought, conditions remain grim. District Administrator Simon Muleya told IRIN rain-fed agriculture in the area “just won’t work.” He said the water table was high, which meant irrigation could potentially help farmers, but this required investment and the “money is just not there”.

On a national level, the amount of irrigated lands has fallen since the fast-track land reform programme, Conrade Zawe, of the Department of Irrigation, told The Herald, a state-owned daily. “Around 2000, we had 250,000 hectares of land under irrigation, and hectarage fell down drastically over the years, but through the rehabilitation processes that the government has introduced, about 135,000 hectares is [currently] being irrigated.”

Tastes dictate crops

Crops continue to fail in areas like Beit Bridge partly because of local people’s attachment to maize, despite its unsuitability to the climate. The government and donors have tried to change diets in marginal areas such as Beit Bridge, but have not made much headway.

Muleya said, “The Ministry of Agriculture has tried to encourage people to grow small grains [such as sorghum and millet] because we do not get enough rain, but there is resistance. People prefer maize meal over the traditional sorghum and millet and other small grains.”

FAO assistant representative David Mfote told IRIN that people had acquired a taste for maize – introduced to by Europeans in the 16th century – which is fashioned into ‘sadza’, a thick porridge. “They say it tastes better,” he said.

During the 2010/2011 season, the government and FAO launched a small grains pilot project in marginal areas, including Matabeleland South, that helped farmers grow the grains and linked them to the markets, but it was brought to an end in 2012 because of lack of donor support.

Grains such as sorghum were also favourites of quelea birds, which, according to Mfote, forced farmers to guard their fields the whole day.

A senior agricultural department official, who declined to be named, told IRIN that, in the absence of irrigation, the solution in the Beit Bridge region would be livestock farming. “Even if they [the local communities] change to sorghum or millet, rainfall is so erratic in places like Beit Bridge that even those small grains may not survive the heat, so they should focus on their cattle and goats which they can sell to buy food,” he said.

im/go/rz source http://www.irinnews,org

 

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Flooding in Chad. Use of technology to warn of disasters is increasing

Posted by African Press International on August 19, 2013

Flooding in Chad. Use of technology to warn of disasters is increasing

DAKAR,  – Mobile phone, geographic information systems (GIS), Twitter and other technologies are increasingly being used to warn communities of potential crises and inform them how to prepare, and to help governments and aid agencies predict how emergencies may unfold.

IRIN looks at some of the ways these innovations are transforming early warning and preparedness.

Market monitoring

Aid agencies are increasingly using mobile phones to monitor and analyse market data in remote areas. Buyers, traders or other informants communicate information about food availability, the functioning of local markets, and food prices to agencies like the World Food Programme (WFP) using SMS.

These programmes are used all over the world, including in Kenya, northern Mali, Niger, Somalia and Tanzania. Agencies then use this data to inform programming – cash vouchers may be provided in markets with high availability and high prices, for instance, and food assistance may be provided in areas of low availability.

Health early warning messages

Many organizations now use mobile phones to help prevent health emergencies. For instance, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in West Africa, Oxfam and other agencies say they send out periodic health information related to HIV/AIDS, malaria, reproductive health, hygiene and other issues to raise awareness among phone users.

A recent survey of the impact of these health messages by IFRC in Sierra Leone found that 90 percent of people who received such messages changed their behaviours in a positive way.

“When it comes to mitigating crises, we obviously need to be more proactive, not reactive, and this technology really helps us with that,” said Moustapha Diallo, IFRC spokesperson in Dakar, Senegal.

In April 2013, to pre-empt a cholera outbreak in Sierra Leone during this year’s rainy season (in 2012 the country suffered its worst cholera outbreakin 15 years), IFRC set up an SMS system called the Trilogy Emergency Relief Application (TERA), which can send vital information to more than 36,000 people in a single area in less than one hour.

“We’ve been able to reach more than a million people this way, which is more than we could have reached using other methods,” Diallo said. “I think that all humanitarian organizations are now aware of the value of using such technology, and that it will really change the direction that we go in the future.”

Community early warning

Advanced notice of an impending natural disaster can give people a valuable, and often life-saving, head start when it comes to reaching safety.

In Malawi, communities living along the banks of the Katchisa-Linthipe River, a high-risk flood zone, worked with Italian NGO COOPI (‘Cooperazione Internazionale’), with funding from the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office’s disaster preparedness programme (DIPECHO), to monitor water levels. The measurements were sent to communities downstream via mobile phone. If water levels start to rise, people have time to prepare for possible flooding.

Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Save the Children and IFRC have also sent out “blast messages” to warn people of impending threats, such as high flood risk, imminent storms or disease outbreaks in Haiti, Kenya Madagascar, Niger, and other countries.

Speeding up delivery

According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), a pilot programme of Action Aid and infoasaid in Kenya last year showed that sending advance text messages to aid recipients about pending deliveries cut down distribution time from three hours to 30 minutes.

Similarly, IFRC says they were able to reach more people in a shorter amount of time in Nigeria when distributing mosquito nets just by sending out text messages beforehand.

Geo-hazard mapping

WFP has partnered with NGOs, UN agencies and governments around the world to map vegetation, crop coverage, market locations and water sources in areas that are prone to natural disasters, using technologies such as satellite imagery, spatial analysis and GIS.

Many governments have also begun creating geo-hazard maps, which identify areas that are prone to natural disasters, such as flash floods, soil erosion or landslides. When a natural disaster occurs, these same technologies can be used to map out where roads have been destroyed or washed away, and to pinpoint the location of victims.

CRS first started using this system during the 2010 earthquake in Haiti to map out destroyed homes, track the construction of 10,500 transitional structures and calculate piles of rubble. It has since expanded the program to Madagascar, the Central Africa Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and plans to reach 30 other emergency-prone countries over the next 18 months.

In West Africa, IFRC, along with the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Change Centre, has been using weather forecasts from the African Centre of Meteorological Application for Development to create easy-to-read maps, which allow field offices in risk zones to preposition supplies and quickly deploy teams in the event of a disaster.

Monitoring payments to indicate vulnerability

Mobile cash transfers to vulnerable people are now routinely used by WFP and its partners, both in and before crises. By collecting data on recipients, these cash programmes can also be used to signal impending crises.

For instance, if many recipients are suddenly in need of more cash immediately after a transfer, or if many begin defaulting on micro-loans, aid organizations know to look for underlying causes.

jl/aj/rz source http://www.irinnews.org

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Is the future of food aid threatened?

Posted by African Press International on August 2, 2013

International funding for non-emergency food aid programmes likely to fall

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Declining food aid to Africa
  • Trend towards cash, vouchers instead of food aid
  • Food aid too slow in natural disasters
  • Easier to get funding for food aid than food security

JOHANNESBURG,  – By the end of the next decade food security could deteriorate in some of the world’s poorest countries, according to a recent global forecast by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

By 2023 the number of food-insecure people is likely to increase by nearly 23 percent to 868 million (at a slightly faster rate than projected population growth of 16 percent), said USDA’s Economic Research Service which focused on 76 low- and middle-income countries classified by the World Bank as being on food aid, experiencing food insecurity, or as having experienced it.

In countries most likely to see a significant rise in the number of food-insecure people, such as Malawi and Uganda, the production and import of food will not be able to keep pace with population growth.

Despite improvements over the years, sub-Saharan Africa is projected to remain the most food-insecure region in the world.

In the past decade global food aid, including the amount making its way to sub-Saharan Africa, has been on a downward trend. Only 2.5 million tons reached sub-Saharan Africa in 2011, whereas during the decade as a whole it ranged from just under three million tons to just over 5 million tons, according to USDA, citing World Food Programme (WFP) data.

The face of food aid has also begun to change. In the past decade, “food aid” has begun to evolve into “food assistance”, which includes help provided in the form of cash and vouchers for people in need. This can save millions of dollars in transportation and storage costs.

By 2015, WFP, the world’s largest food aid agency, expects almost a third of its assistance programmes to be delivered in the form of cash, vouchers and new kinds of “digital food” through smartcards and e-vouchers delivered by SMS. Between 2008 and 2011, the number of WFP cash and voucher projects increased from five in 2008 to 51 in 2011. In that year WFP set aside US$208 million for distributions using cash or vouchers, but still spent over one billion dollars on food.

IRIN asked some of the world’s leading experts to speculate on the future of food aid.

Crises that drive the need for food aid are either man-made (conflicts, economies in crisis) or natural events (droughts, floods, earthquakes) or a complex mix of both, which might test people’s resilience and make them chronically dependent on assistance. People need different kinds of aid in different situations. If food is not available in a flooded area, actual food supplies are the answer. In the case of chronic shortages, experts suggest cash or vouchers, integrated into a broader social protection system, might be the answer.

Threats over the coming decade

By 2023, food security will worsen in
Malawi
Chad
Uganda
Source: ERS-USDA

Christopher Barrett, a food aid expert who teaches at Cornell University in the USA, said: “The big threats over the coming decade are the ones we already face: conflict first and foremost, a variety of natural disasters, and major macroeconomic disruptions. The climate scientists don’t talk seriously of change over the course of a decade.”

Food aid expert Daniel Maxwell, a professor at Tufts University’s Feinstein International Center, agrees the drivers of crisis will not change substantially. “I suspect that we will continue to see the kinds of protracted crises that we have come to see over the past decade that are a combination of both `natural’ and man-made causes… but with a strong element of weak or failed governance, and these may be in countries with perfectly capable governments, but just in marginalized parts of those countries.”

Eric Munoz, senior policy adviser with Oxfam America, said he would add food price volatility to the mix: A changing climate, causing disruptions in “production in major exporting countries and damaging crops in fragile agriculture markets will add to this volatility”.

More cash transfers

Escalating costs of transporting food, lower quantities of surplus production to dispense as food aid, and the complex nature of crises have forced more donors to widen their choice of response from exclusive food aid to cash transfers and vouchers.

Countries that will remain food insecure by 2023
Central Africa Republic
Democratic Republic of Congo
Eritrea
Burundi
Somalia
Zambia
Afghanistan
North Korea
Yemen
Source: ERS-USDA

“Non-emergency food aid as we have known it will disappear but the core functions will continue, both because growing demands for emergency response will gobble up the modest international food assistance budgets available, and because school feeding, maternal and child health and nutrition programs, smallholder development, and other programs will get absorbed within the broader development programs that donors fund,” said Barrett in an email.

He also believes more countries which used to rely on food assistance will “develop their own effective safety-net programs (whether through employment guarantee schemes, conditional or unconditional cash transfers, unemployment or agricultural insurance, etc.)”.

In countries with weak governance, international food assistance could end up playing the role of a social safety-net, said Maxwell, but not very well “unless integrated into national programs – and there will continue to be political tensions about whether to do that or not. In these places, future genuine humanitarian emergencies are likely to be driven by combinations of factors: The Somalia famine was blamed on a bad drought, and indeed there was a bad drought, but there was also a concomitant food price spike, ongoing conflict, and a highly politicized crisis of access. In other places, rapid onset natural disasters will probably not be major arenas for food aid (it is just too slow) and will be replaced by cash or other interventions.”

WTO rules hamper food security?

Food insecure countries’ reliance on “markets, and thus on local and regional suppliers, will continue to grow,” said Barrett. This could happen especially if a World Trade Organization (WTO) agreement is reached in the next 10 years, he said.

The WTO Doha Development Round of negotiations (begun in 2001) on a new agreement that could help reduce the number of poor people in developing countries, has been in stop-start mode for some years.

The talks are aimed at reducing global barriers to market access, including for agricultural produce. Olivier de Schutter, the UN Human Rights Council’s special rapporteur on the right to food, believes current WTO rules are hampering poor countries’ efforts to become food secure.

Timely food aid interventions save lives, “but protracted relief interventions (such as those widely implemented by WFP in many countries) are a distorted way of maintaining food assistance in circumstances where it is no longer necessary or adequate,” said José Luis Vivero Pol, an anti-hunger activist with Université Catholique de Louvain in an email. “But food aid is a good business for many companies and international institutions,” and he expects that to continue. Funds, he wrote, flow “easier and faster [for] food aid than for food security for resilience”.

New donors?

Will the traditional donors remain? Will the US, the world’s largest food aid donor, be able to finally reform its food aid system which is designed to benefit its farmers and transport sector? President Barack Obama’s efforts to end the link between supporting US farmers and international food aid by removing food aid programmes from the US Farm Bill and placing them under “foreign assistance”, among other radical reforms, were rejected in June.

Barrett is optimistic. “Food aid reform in the US is inevitable. The only question is timing. Within a decade I think it a virtual certainty that we will see the US programs moved out from under the Farm Bill and agricultural authorization/appropriations process in the Congress. US international food assistance will get bundled within broader foreign assistance budgeting and programming, and the `buy American’ provisions will be substantially relaxed.”

Maxwell agrees: “We’ve already seen a major rise in the procurement of food for aid in affected countries or neighbouring countries (local and regional purchase). This will no doubt continue.”

Oxfam’s Munoz reckons there will be “greater interest” from emerging economies in providing assistance. “The recent renegotiation of the Food Aid Convention seemed to recognize this with some creative thinking about twinning arrangements – food from one country paired with funding from other countries to cover expenses like shipping and handling.” Recently a new Food Assistance Convention replaced the Food Aid Convention of 1999, which expired in 2002 but was repeatedly extended.

Activist Pol feels “food assistance is another means to exert foreign influence.” Emerging powers like Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa “will soon become food aid suppliers… The main problem is that some of them do not trust the UN institutions to do it, but they do not yet have the national infrastructure to do it by themselves…

“Pure altruism is far from being the main motivation for many countries, although it is true that there is a huge difference between the US and Europe. Europe is more altruistic, and they have influenced others regarding local purchases (a European invention) and social protection (permanent and temporary).”

He also sees more private companies and philanthropic foundations joining the “[food assistance] club, but they will use others’ logistical capabilities (such as USAID).”

jk/cb source http://www.irinnews.org

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Some Donors stopped all development funding in Guinea-Bissau following the 12 April 2012 coup d’état

Posted by African Press International on May 15, 2013

BISSAU/DAKAR,  – The World Food Programme (WFP) has not received the money it needs to run basic nutrition and food security schemes in Guinea-Bissau, leaving projects in jeopardy or at a standstill. 

The organization needs US$7 million immediately to cover its food security and nutrition programme targeting 278,000 people for 2013; and a further $8 million to extend the project through 2014. The project involves school-feeding, preventing moderate and acute malnutrition, and boosting rice production, and was supposed to start in February this year.

WFP head of programmes Fatimata Sow-Sidibé told IRIN the money is lacking because traditional donors suspended all development cooperation following the April 2012 coup.

“We have some promises [from donors],” said Sow-Sidibé, “but the programme was supposed to start in February and we have no resources to buy the food we need.”

Traditional donors more or less stopped all development funding in Guinea-Bissau following the 12 April 2012 coup d’état, leaving infrastructure projects and basic services at a standstill across the country, but humanitarian funding was supposedly untouched. LINK The problem for WFP is that their project spans development and emergency activities and thus is not just eligible for humanitarian funding.

The African Development Bank also suspended its funding for rural agricultural development projects, following the coup. The cuts “are having a direct impact on food security in Guinea-Bissau, where we already have severe cereal deficits due to inadequate local production,” said a civil servant in the Ministry of Agriculture who preferred anonymity.

Food insecurity in Guinea-Bissau is driven mainly by an inability of people to access food because prices are beyond their reach. Most Bissau Guineans rely on imported rice as they grow mainly cash crops (cashews) and not grains.

Food prices have risen year on year since 2008 (imported rice is currently U$1.20 per kg), and the most recent countryside hunger assessment (2011) cited high prices as the biggest barrier for vulnerable households to access food.

The coup put off a planned countrywide food security assessment in 2012 but a rapid assessment in the regions of Biombo, Oio and Quinara in June 2012 revealed one in five people were food insecure (regions in the east were not included in the survey). Some 65 percent of households at the time had under one month’s supply of food stocks and more people were resigned to further indebtedness, selling animals and producing wine from the cashew fruit, to get by.

Cashew crisis

People’s ability to buy food has been severely hampered by a crisis in the cashew industry: 80-95 percent of Bissau-Guineans depend on cashew sales to purchase food as well as meet other household expenses. Terms of trade for cashews have been deteriorating since 2011: In a good year 1kg of rice can be roughly exchanged for 1kg of cashews; this shifted to 1.5kg of cashews to buy 1kg of rice in 2012, and to 2kgs of cashews for 1kg of rice in 2013, according to Ministry of Agriculture and WFP research. “Everything here is linked to cashews,” said Sow-Sidibé.

The poor terms of trade are linked to a poor 2012 cashew crop, and plummeting cashew prices following the coup (from 80 US cents per kg in May 2012 to 50 US cents one month later), and also linked to low fixed prices on international markets.

Cashew farmers are further stymied by exorbitant petrol prices (US$1.50 per litre) which makes it increasingly expensive for them to get their crop to market.

Ongoing projects

WFP continues to run food assistance programmes where it can. In two districts in Gabu, eastern Guinea-Bissau (Mancadndje Dara, Madina Madinga), and in two districts of Bafata (Djabicunda and Sare Biro), the organization helps villagers improve their farming techniques to boost rice production, including giving them improved seeds and helping them rent animals to get their crops to market. It also helps villagers grow market gardens to improve their food diversity and boost household income.

Mutaro Indjai, head of the village committee of rice producers in Saucunda village in Gabu, told IRIN: “This project helped us improve our production to last through four months, whereas before we only produced enough for one month.”

If the project comes to an end, they will continue to use improved techniques of production, but they would lack the seeds needed to plant next year. “We won’t have access to improved seeds, nor to the animals we need to speed up planting and to help us transport our harvest to nearby villages,” he told IRIN.

Nutrition

Nutrition programmes have also been affected. WFP pushes food diversity, given that feeding practices are a key component of high chronic malnutrition levels in Guinea-Bissau.

The organization tries to push a more varied diet (than the starch-dominated fare given to most infants) including fish soup, peas, carrots, tomatoes, and millet-based cereal. They also support local NGOs to make regular visits to health centres and villages on vaccination days to talk about how to prepare nutrient-rich meals for infants made out of corn flour, peanut powder, bean powder, oil and sugar, among others. Programmes target children in their first 1,000 days of life.

Some 17 percent of children under-five are underweight, and 27 percent are stunted due to inadequate nutrition, according to a December 2012 UNICEF-Ministry of Health nutrition survey.

Hunger specialists fear chronic malnutrition levels will rise if prevention is not stepped up.

UNICEF supports the Ministry of Health to set up nutrition treatment centres; provides therapeutic food for severely malnourished children; and helped update the government’s strategy to manage acute malnutrition, in February 2013. “Lack of funding, very few partners in nutrition, and limited human resources trained in nutrition” are the major challenges facing UNICEF, said Victor Suhfube Ngongalah, head of child survival there. UNICEF needs US$750,000 to implement its projects in 2013 and 2014.

Guinea Bissau is ranked 176 out of 187 countries assessed in the UN Development Programme’s Human Development Report. Political instability has also marred development. Since 1994 no elected president in Guinea-Bissau has finished his mandate.

aj/dab/cb  source http://www.irinnews.org

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WFP needs money to run basic nutrition and food security schemes in Guinea-Bissau

Posted by African Press International on May 14, 2013

Farmers in Bafata preparing the land to plant rice seedlings (file photo)

BISSAU/DAKAR,  – The World Food Programme (WFP) has not received the money it needs to run basic nutrition and food security schemes in Guinea-Bissau, leaving projects in jeopardy or at a standstill.

The organization needs US$7 million immediately to cover its food security and nutrition programme targeting 278,000 people for 2013; and a further $8 million to extend the project through 2014. The project involves school-feeding, preventing moderate and acute malnutrition, and boosting rice production, and was supposed to start in February this year.

WFP head of programmes Fatimata Sow-Sidibé told IRIN the money is lacking because traditional donors suspended all development cooperation following the April 2012 coup.

“We have some promises [from donors],” said Sow-Sidibé, “but the programme was supposed to start in February and we have no resources to buy the food we need.”

Traditional donors more or less stopped all development funding in Guinea-Bissau following the 12 April 2012 coup d’état, leaving infrastructure projects and basic services at a standstill across the country, but humanitarian funding was supposedly untouched. LINK The problem for WFP is that their project spans development and emergency activities and thus is not just eligible for humanitarian funding.

The African Development Bank also suspended its funding for rural agricultural development projects, following the coup. The cuts “are having a direct impact on food security in Guinea-Bissau, where we already have severe cereal deficits due to inadequate local production,” said a civil servant in the Ministry of Agriculture who preferred anonymity.

Food insecurity in Guinea-Bissau is driven mainly by an inability of people to access food because prices are beyond their reach. Most Bissau Guineans rely on imported rice as they grow mainly cash crops (cashews) and not grains.

Food prices have risen year on year since 2008 (imported rice is currently U$1.20 per kg), and the most recent countryside hunger assessment (2011) cited high prices as the biggest barrier for vulnerable households to access food.

The coup put off a planned countrywide food security assessment in 2012 but a rapid assessment in the regions of Biombo, Oio and Quinara in June 2012 revealed one in five people were food insecure (regions in the east were not included in the survey). Some 65 percent of households at the time had under one month’s supply of food stocks and more people were resigned to further indebtedness, selling animals and producing wine from the cashew fruit, to get by.

Cashew crisis

People’s ability to buy food has been severely hampered by a crisis in the cashew industry: 80-95 percent of Bissau-Guineans depend on cashew sales to purchase food as well as meet other household expenses. Terms of trade for cashews have been deteriorating since 2011: In a good year 1kg of rice can be roughly exchanged for 1kg of cashews; this shifted to 1.5kg of cashews to buy 1kg of rice in 2012, and to 2kgs of cashews for 1kg of rice in 2013, according to Ministry of Agriculture and WFP research. “Everything here is linked to cashews,” said Sow-Sidibé.

The poor terms of trade are linked to a poor 2012 cashew crop, and plummeting cashew prices following the coup (from 80 US cents per kg in May 2012 to 50 US cents one month later), and also linked to low fixed prices on international markets.

Cashew farmers are further stymied by exorbitant petrol prices (US$1.50 per litre) which makes it increasingly expensive for them to get their crop to market.

Ongoing projects

WFP continues to run food assistance programmes where it can. In two districts in Gabu, eastern Guinea-Bissau (Mancadndje Dara, Madina Madinga), and in two districts of Bafata (Djabicunda and Sare Biro), the organization helps villagers improve their farming techniques to boost rice production, including giving them improved seeds and helping them rent animals to get their crops to market. It also helps villagers grow market gardens to improve their food diversity and boost household income.

Mutaro Indjai, head of the village committee of rice producers in Saucunda village in Gabu, told IRIN: “This project helped us improve our production to last through four months, whereas before we only produced enough for one month.”

If the project comes to an end, they will continue to use improved techniques of production, but they would lack the seeds needed to plant next year. “We won’t have access to improved seeds, nor to the animals we need to speed up planting and to help us transport our harvest to nearby villages,” he told IRIN.

Nutrition

Nutrition programmes have also been affected. WFP pushes food diversity, given that feeding practices are a key component of high chronic malnutrition levels in Guinea-Bissau.

The organization tries to push a more varied diet (than the starch-dominated fare given to most infants) including fish soup, peas, carrots, tomatoes, and millet-based cereal. They also support local NGOs to make regular visits to health centres and villages on vaccination days to talk about how to prepare nutrient-rich meals for infants made out of corn flour, peanut powder, bean powder, oil and sugar, among others. Programmes target children in their first 1,000 days of life.

Some 17 percent of children under-five are underweight, and 27 percent are stunted due to inadequate nutrition, according to a December 2012 UNICEF-Ministry of Health nutrition survey.

Hunger specialists fear chronic malnutrition levels will rise if prevention is not stepped up.

UNICEF supports the Ministry of Health to set up nutrition treatment centres; provides therapeutic food for severely malnourished children; and helped update the government’s strategy to manage acute malnutrition, in February 2013. “Lack of funding, very few partners in nutrition, and limited human resources trained in nutrition” are the major challenges facing UNICEF, said Victor Suhfube Ngongalah, head of child survival there. UNICEF needs US$750,000 to implement its projects in 2013 and 2014.

Guinea Bissau is ranked 176 out of 187 countries assessed in the UN Development Programme’s Human Development Report. Political instability has also marred development. Since 1994 no elected president in Guinea-Bissau has finished his mandate.

aj/dab/cb source http://www.irinnews.org

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Negotiating aid delivery in Mali’s conflict zones

Posted by African Press International on April 24, 2013

BAMAKO/MOPTI/DAKAR,  – Aid agencies managed to work in northern Mali throughout its occupation by Islamist militants in 2012 and the new complications triggered by the French-led military campaign earlier this year. No single template guided their engagement.

IRIN spoke to aid staff in Mali about how they navigated access challenges in a region facing critical nutritional and health needs over the course of 2012 and 2013.What has humanitarian access looked like?

When rebel and Islamist groups first occupied northern Mali in April 2012 many international NGOs and UN agencies initially withdrew, often after having their offices, vehicles and aid supplies looted. Some relocated staff to the central region of Mopti and sent international staff down to the capital, Bamako; others shifted their programmes further south to Mopti, Douentza and Ségou.

Many agencies experienced access problems that hampered their scale of operations. Most of these were involved in longer-term development projects. For the World Food Programme (WFP) and several others, access is still a problem: “One of our top concerns is for humanitarian access to be re-established,” WFP head Sally Haydock told IRIN in March of this year. “This would allow WFP to reopen its offices in order to assist a larger caseload and for our partners to operate fully.”

However, many NGOs continued to operate in northern Mali throughout the Islamist occupation, and several significantly increased their humanitarian reach because of the crisis conditions. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Médecins du Monde (MDM), Action against Hunger (ACF), Solidarité Internationale and Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) all worked across northern regions in 2012 and 2013, and heads of each organization said their access was not significantly affected. These organizations together provided nutrition support, healthcare, and water and sanitation services to a significant proportion of the remaining population.

After the French-led military intervention, which began in January 2013, things became more problematic as there were no clear authorities in place in many northern regions, said Frank Abeille, the Mali director of Solidarité Internationale. Civic administrations are for the most part still unstaffed, and the military chain of command is often unclear.

ICRC spokesperson Wolde Saugeron, in Geneva, told IRIN, “Paradoxically, things got more complicated with the intervention, as the interlocutors started to change.”

“Now it is much more complicated with a lack of authorities in place. We negotiate access with whoever we can find,” ACF head Franck Vannetelle told IRIN.

MDM said the same of the northeastern region of Kidal, where access has been confused by power struggles among the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), the Islamic Movement of Azawad (MIA) and other groups. “We don’t know who to address access-wise, who decides what. It is confusing for everyone, including the population,” MDM Belgium’s coordinator, Sebastien Lemaire, told IRIN.

The situation has eased in recent weeks, said Saugeron, who estimated that as of April 2013, ICRC’s access is back to pre-French-intervention levels.

What were some approaches used to secure access?

After the initial occupation, some organizations re-established access by working with local partners. WFP, for example, teamed up with ACTED in the area of Ménaka and Norwegian Church Aid in Kidal, both of which connected with local NGOs. According to WFP, its food aid reached up to 150,000 people in 2012 and 2013. ICRC also worked very closely with the Malian Red Cross.

On the other hand, many agencies negotiated access with whomever they needed to, including, in 2012, Islamic insurgent groups like the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), Ansar Dine, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and, in 2013, the Malian, French and Chadian armies, local authorities and the MNLA.

For example, in April 2012, MSF set up a large healthcare programme in Timbuktu Region and parts of Gao Region by negotiating with all the parties to the conflict – including armed groups and, more recently, the French and Malian militaries.

“All have to be approached. We worked out a way to keep our teams in the north last year and to keep them there this year – little by little we built up our humanitarian space,” said Johanne Sekkenes, MSF head in Mali. “This is part of our work as a humanitarian agency; it’s no secret. There is no guarantee of being accepted.”

According to ACF’s Vannetelle, MUJAO in Gao never refused access. “We had to confirm our movements 24 hours in advance, and they always cleared it. There was a direct chain of command, which gave us assurance.”

How has negotiation changed?

The use of negotiation to deliver aid in rebel-controlled areas has shifted over the past 20 years. In the 1990s, UN agencies often led negotiations over humanitarian access on behalf of much of the aid community – as in Operation Lifeline Sudan. Negotiation was considered integral to putting the humanitarian principles into practice.

This changed after the 9/11 attacks on the US, according to research by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI). “Humanitarian organizations have long been pressured by states not to engage with [armed non-state actors], in part because they fear that doing so may lend them legitimacy,” said the ODI report Talking to the other side. But now these non-state actors “are often listed as terrorists in situations where humanitarian engagement is most necessary,” discouraging direct interaction.

This has marked a shift in the humanitarian culture, particularly for the UN, said one seasoned aid worker: “Now we’re more scared than we used to be… We’ve lost that culture of negotiating with rebels… It’s always been a high-risk job, but whenever we go now, we side with the government.”

For one senior UN official, who requested anonymity, the UN has no choice but to be more careful than other aid groups. “You must recognize the nature of groups like AQIM, MUJAO and Ansar Dine – who have said the UN is among their top five targets… If you are a UN employee, you’re on their target list,” he said. “That’s why we work through partners.”

But some agencies, such as MDM, fear that working with local partners could jeopardize their operations’ impartiality because it is impossible to know exactly where partners’ personnel stand without strict monitoring.

Many interviewees said training is needed on negotiating access in conflict zones, a point also made in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) 2011 report To Stay and Deliver.

Several organizations, such as ICRC, already do this. ICRC uses networking and awareness-raising to help negotiating parties gain confidence in its impartiality.

“This is something that has been developed over a long, long period of time – and it is directly related to the practical issue of having to work in conflict zones,” said Saugeron, who mentioned some agencies have approached ICRC for guidance in this area.

In Mali, rather than negotiating access directly with armed groups, many aid providers negotiated with village-level crisis committees, which included civilians and rebels, said the UN official. Access worked out through these committees largely worked, he said, in part because two of the groups in question – MUJAO and Ansar Dine – had no interest in diverting humanitarian aid. The advantage of these crisis committees is that they could work back and forth between southern and northern Mali, with multiple points of contact, he pointed out.

“What was done was the best that could have been in the circumstances,” he said.

What are the remaining security challenges?

Given tight military control following the French-led intervention, much of the north is again opening up to aid groups. But access is still limited by opportunistic banditry and criminality where there are no security forces, said a UN worker.

Banditry includes attacks on vehicles up and down the Niger river valley and along certain routes, such as the main road from Gao to Kidal. Threats also include improvised explosive devices and mines in parts of Gao. Illicit trafficking in cigarettes, drugs and other contraband are likely to pick up again.

“We have security, for the most part, in towns, and insecurity elsewhere – much like pre-conflict 2012,” noted the UN official. “We don’t want to return to how things were. We want to go beyond.”

The UN Security Council is reviewing a draft resolution to put a 12,600-strong peacekeeping mission in Mali by 1 July. If such an initiative attempts to integrate military, humanitarian and political operations, the neutrality of UN agencies could come into question.

“The nature of the mandate of DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] in Mali will be a determinant,” said Fernando Arroyo, head of OCHA in Mali. “There is wide consensus among humanitarians that it is imperative to keep humanitarian and political agendas separate, as a failure to do so could undermine the perceived impartiality that humanitarian organizations have gained so far in the north.”

On the other hand, said the UN official, integration could give humanitarians a voice at the table, which could result in better security for their programmes.

But for now, said Arroyo, aid agencies’ top priority is to getting the right people in place to restore basic services.

aj/rz source http://www.irinnews.org

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