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Uganda’s Youth Discover the Beauty in Farming

jeu, 09/18/2014 - 09:28
Before she entered the Miss Uganda beauty contest, 24-year-old Fiona Nassaka was a farmer. “You grow your lettuce, you go and supply it to any market like Capital Shoppers [a Kampala supermarket] and you get your money at the end of the month,” says the young beauty queen who is also not afraid to get […]

OPINION: Fighting ISIS and the Morning After

jeu, 09/18/2014 - 09:14

Protesters in Ahrar Square in the Iraqi city of Mosul, January 2013. Credit: Beriwan Welat/IPS

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Sep 18 2014 (IPS)

As the wobbly anti-ISIS coalition is being formed with American prodding, the Obama administration should take a strategic look at the future of the Arab world beyond the threat posed by the self-declared Islamic State. Otherwise, the United States would be unprepared to deal with the unintended chaos.

Driven by ideological hubris, the Bush administration on the eve of the Iraq war rejected any suggestions that the war could destabilise the whole region and rock the foundations of the Arab nation-state system.Invading Iraq was a “dumb” war. Chasing after ISIS in the Iraqi/Syrian desert without a clear vision of the endgame could result in something far worse.

That system, which was mostly created under the colonial Sykes-Picot treaty of 1916, is now being severely stressed. The Obama administration should avoid repeating the tragic mistake of its predecessor. While trying to halt the advance of ISIS by focused airstrikes, and regardless of the coalition’s effectiveness in “degrading” and “defeating” ISIS, President Obama should instruct his senior policymakers to explore possible architectures that could emerge from the ashes of Sykes-Picot.

The stresses and fault lines we are witnessing in the region today could easily lead to implosions tomorrow. Rightly or wrongly, Washington would be blamed for the ensuing mayhem.

As Secretary of State John Kerry shuttles between countries chasing the elusive coalition to fight ISIS, the administration seems to be unclear even about terminology. Is it a war or a multifaceted counter-terrorism strategy against ISIS? Whatever it’s called, if this strategy fails to eradicate the Islamic State and its Caliphate, is there a “Plan B” in the making?

Briefing senior policymakers on the eve of the Iraq war, I pointed out the possible unintended consequences of the invasion. George Tenet, former CIA director, alludes to several of these briefings in his book, “At the Center of the Storm.”

One of the briefings discussed the possibility that the Iraq invasion could fundamentally unsettle the 100-year old Arab nation-state system. National identity politics, which heretofore has been managed and manipulated by autocratic regimes—tribal, dynastic, monarchical, and presidential—could unravel if the Bush administration failed to anticipate what could happen following Saddam’s demise.

The artificiality of much of those states and their boundaries would come unhinged under the pressures of the invasion and the unleashing of internal forces that have been dormant. National loyalties would be replaced by religious and sectarian affiliations, and the Shia-Sunni disputes that go back to the 7th century would once again rise to the surface albeit with more violence and bloodshed.

The briefings also emphasised Iraq’s central Islamic dilemma. While for many Sunni Muslims Baghdad represents the golden age of Islam more than 1,200 years ago, Iraq is also the cradle of Shia Islam.

Najaf and Karbala in southern Iraq are sacred for the Shia world because it was there where the fourth Caliph Ali’s son Hussein was “martyred” and buried. Iran, as the self-proclaimed voice of Shia Islam all over the world, is deeply embedded in Iraq and will always demand a central role in the future of Iraq.

Bush administration senior policymakers ignored these warnings, arguing Iraqis and other Muslim Arabs would view American and coalition forces as “liberators” and, once the dictator fell, would work together in a spirit of tolerance, inclusion, and compromise. This view, unfortunately, was grounded in the neocons’ imagined ideological perception of the region. As we now know, it was utterly ignorant of ground truths and the social fabric of the different Arab Islamic societies.

Many Bush White House and Defense Department policymakers generally dismissed briefings that focused on the “morning after.” It’s safe to say they cared less about the post-Saddam Middle East than about toppling the dictator.

The region still suffers from those disastrous policies.

ISIS did not emerge in a vacuum, and its transnational ideology, warped as it may be, seems to appeal to Arabs and Muslims who have become disenchanted with the existing political order in Arab lands.

Many citizens view their states as fiefdoms of the ruling elites with no genuine respect for individual rights, personal freedoms, and human dignity. The “securitisation” of politics has alienated many young Arabs and is driving them toward extremism.

If the borders between Syria and Iraq are erased by the transnational “Caliphate,” what will become of the borders of Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and Iraq? Is the Obama administration ready to pick up the pieces when these nation-states disintegrate?

These are the critical questions the Bush administration should have pondered and answered before they invaded Iraq. They are the same questions the Obama administration should ponder and answer before unleashing American air power over the skies of the Levant.

Invading Iraq was a “dumb” war. Chasing after ISIS in the Iraqi/Syrian desert without a clear vision of the endgame could result in something far worse.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service.

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OPINION: Sleepwalking Towards Nuclear War

jeu, 09/18/2014 - 07:27

In this column, Helge Luras, founder and director of the Centre for International and Strategic Analysis (SISA) based in Oslo, Norway, argues that up until now, NATO has not challenged another nuclear armed entity and has thus survived its own political-military escalation tendency. But in the case of Russia, the erroneous Western perception of self could cause a catastrophic and total war.

By Helge Luras
OSLO, Sep 18 2014 (IPS)

New military measures to deter what NATO perceives to be a direct threat from Russia were adopted at the alliance’s Heads of State meeting in Wales (Sep. 4-5). A few days earlier, President Barack Obama made promises in Estonia that the three tiny Baltic NATO member states would “never stand alone”. 

Since early 2014, Russia has done practically all that Western leaders have warned President Vladimir Putin in advance not to do. Crimea was occupied and annexed. Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine were encouraged and given practical support. Later, Russian personnel and equipment came more and more openly into conflict with Ukrainian forces.

Helge Luras

But the West’s warnings to Russia did not stop there. Already several months ago, establishment figures and the media began to associate events in Ukraine directly with the situation in the Baltics and in Poland. NATO has responded to the Russian offensive against Ukraine, a non-NATO country, by shifting military resources towards the areas of NATO that it claims, but only by conjecture, are threatened by Russia.

But did anyone at the NATO summit warn that the alliance might create a self-fulfilling prophecy? Did anyone have the foresight to consider how tensions between Russian speakers and Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians might increase as a result of the hyperbole of the Russian threat? One should not assume hostile intentions in today’s ethnically-charged world without good reason.

That some Western minds consider themselves, and by extension NATO, to be an idealistic force for peace, human rights and democracy, is beyond dispute. But the reality is that NATO countries – that is, the West – represent the world’s most powerful military force, both conventional and nuclear.

Up to now, NATO has not challenged another nuclear armed entity and therefore has survived its own political-military escalation tendency. But in the case of Russia, the erroneous Western perception of self could cause a catastrophic and total war.

Since the Cold War, the West has swallowed up a large area formerly under the influence, if not outright control, of Soviet Russia. The hegemonic mind saw this as just natural and of no business to an anachronism like Russia.“The problem is that Russian and NATO leaders are not drunken poets pathetically fighting with untrained fists at a literary reception. They may act so, but are in fact front men of substantive and institutional systems that can wipe out all human civilisation in a short time”

The future of humanity when expansion started in the 1990s was a Western future: liberal, democratic and free-market. Spheres of influence were the hallmark of others, exemplified by “reactionary” and authoritarian forces like Russia under Putin. Western influence is in another category – it is natural if not God-given.

In Russia, there is a clear and evolving bias in news reporting which the West characterises as “propaganda”. In the West, there is less need to instruct the media directly, there is a reverse bias due to cultural indoctrination. Evidently the West is a keeper of the right values. There is no cause and effect. Evil just pops up. All things Russian are bad, deceitful, not to be trusted. But in Russia this feeds an undeniable paranoia in the psyche.

The West has retained one “acceptable” bogeyman in the atmosphere of religious tolerance that creates such cognitive dissonance as it struggles to come to grips with core tenets of original (radical) Islam. The Western “liberal mind” has at least one cultural object left to legitimately hate: Russian political culture and the strong man it produces.

The problem is that Russian and NATO leaders are not drunken poets pathetically fighting with untrained fists at a literary reception. They may act so, but are in fact front men of substantive and institutional systems that can wipe out all human civilisation in a short time.

Western leaders undoubtedly perceive that their power is waning. No more state-building in faraway countries for us. The end of omnipotence, indeed of paradigm, is obviously traumatic and difficult to consider with a cool mind. But the diminution of Western political power occurs with no corresponding weakness in pure military muscle.

This leaves the temptation of a “Mad Man Doctrine”. If you can convince your opponent that you are willing to react disproportionately to what is at stake for you, he will fear you beyond the otherwise sensible. Everyone treats a mad man with caution.

In Ukraine, there is more at stake for Russia than for the West. Therefore Russia, as it has also shown, will not give up or allow itself or its allies to lose. In the Baltic countries, there is also more at stake for Russia than for the United States and for most other NATO countries as well.

For, in the post-Cold War, Russia has no ideology beyond nationalism. Its most ambitious claims, even if unopposed, would come to a halt at the geographical outer limits of the ethnic Russian nation.

This is not to say that Russian nationalism could not become a factor of instability beyond Ukraine. Trouble is latent. The partly Russian-populated Baltic countries are now in NATO, and NATO is an institutionalised form of the Mad Man Doctrine. The danger of miscalculating the reaction for NATO as well as for Russia is therefore significant.

Little suggests that the West understand how risky the games in progress really are. NATO and Russia are nuclear powers. Sensible leaders on both sides understood as much during the Cold War. Nuclear powers must not go to war with each other. If at all, the conflicts must remain by proxy. Such insights must be rediscovered today.

NATO should concentrate on finding a way to downplay the conflict with Russia, compromise on Ukraine, and not follow what the United States seem intent on doing; escalating, increasing defence spending across the bloc, sending more troops to the Baltic countries. Appeasement, if the starting point is dumb-headed NATO-expansionism, can be a virtue as well as a vice.

Military means are already at play in the conflict between NATO and Russia. Some call for even more. Before pushing Russia further in the direction they claim not to want – ethnic expansionism – politicians in the West must remember that nuclear arms are the last weapons in the arsenal of both.

Luckily, Putin seems quite sane, with superior rationality to many of his Western counterparts. The irresponsible comparison between Putin and Hitler is therefore wrong in many respects, but not least because Hitler never had the bomb. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Nuclear Deal with Iran Likely to Enhance U.S. Regional Leverage

mer, 09/17/2014 - 20:05

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Sep 18 2014 (IPS)

A successful agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme could significantly enhance U.S. leverage and influence throughout the Greater Middle East, according to a new report signed by 31 former senior U.S. foreign-policy officials and regional experts and released here Wednesday.

The 115-page report, “Iran and Its Neighbors: Regional Implications for U.S. Policy of a Nuclear Agreement,” argues that a nuclear accord would open the way towards co-operation between the two countries on key areas of mutual concern, including stabilising both Iraq and Afghanistan and even facilitating a political settlement to the bloody civil war in Syria.The study comes amidst what its authors called a “tectonic shift” in the Middle East triggered in major part by the military successes of the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant (ISIL).

“A comprehensive nuclear agreement would enable the United States to perceive [regional] priorities without every lens being colored by that single issue,” according to the report, the latest in a series published the last several years by the New York-based Iran Project, which has sponsored high-level informal exchanges with Iran since it was founded in 2002.

“If the leaders of the United States and Iran are prepared to take on their domestic political opponents’ opposition to the agreement now taking shape, then their governments can turn to the broader agenda of regional issues,” concluded the report, whose signatories included former U.S. National Security Advisers Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft, as well as more than a dozen former top-ranking diplomats,

Conversely, failure to reach an accord between Iran and the so-called P5+1 (the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China plus Germany) could result in “Iran’s eventual acquisition of a nuclear weapons, a greatly reduced chance of defeating major threats elsewhere in the region, and even war,” the study warned.

The report comes as negotiations over a comprehensive nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 are set to formally resume in New York Thursday, as diplomats from around the world gather for the opening of the U.N. General Assembly, which will be addressed by both Presidents Barack Obama and Hassan Rouhani, among other world leaders, next week.

The parties have set a Nov. 24 deadline, exactly one year after they signed a Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) in Geneva that eased some economic sanctions against Tehran in exchange for its freezing or rolling back key elements of its nuclear programme.

While the two sides have reportedly agreed in principle on a number of important issues, there remain large gaps between them, particularly with respect to proposed limits on the size of Iran’s uranium-enrichment programme and their duration.

The study also comes amidst what its authors called a “tectonic shift” in the Middle East triggered in major part by the military successes of the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant (ISIL), a development that has been greeted by virtually all of the region’s regimes, as well as the U.S. — which is trying to patch together an international coalition against the Sunni extremist group — as a major threat.

“The rise of ISIS has reinforced Iran’s role in support of the government in Iraq and raises the possibility of U.S.-Iran cooperation in stabilizing Iraq even before a nuclear agreement is signed,” according to the report which nonetheless stressed that any agreement should impose “severe restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities… [to reduce] the risks that Iran could acquire nuclear weapons.”

Still, the thrust of the report, which includes individual essays by recognised experts on Iran’s relations with seven of its neighbours, focuses on how Washington’s interests in the region could be enhanced by “parallel and even joint U.S. and Iran actions” after an agreement is reached.

Such co-operation would most probably begin in dealing with ISIL in Iraq whose government is supported by both Washington and Tehran.

Indeed, as noted by Paul Pillar, a former top CIA Middle East analyst, both countries have recently taken a number of parallel steps in Iraq, notably by encouraging the removal of Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki and by taking separate military actions – U.S. airstrikes and Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) advisers — to help break ISIL’s months-long siege of the town of Amerli.

“There’s ample potential here for more communication on a source of very high concern to both of us,” Pillar said at the report’s release at the Wilson Center here. “[The Iranians] see the sources of instability in Iraq; they see it is not in their interest to have unending instability [there].”

A second area of mutual interest is Afghanistan, from which U.S. and NATO troops are steadily withdrawing amidst growing concerns about the ability of government’s security forces to hold the Taliban at bay.

While it is no secret that the U.S. and Iran worked closely together in forging the government and constitution that were adopted after coalition forces ousted the Taliban in late 2001, noted Barnett Rubin, an Afghanistan expert who after the 9/11 attacks served in senior positions at the State Department and later the U.N., “what’s not as well known is that the IRGC worked closely on the ground with the CIA and U.S. Special Forces” during that campaign.

With political tensions over recent election results between the two main presidential candidates and their supporters on the rise, according to Rubin, some co-operation between Iran and the U.S. is likely to be “very important” to ensure political stability.

“A nuclear agreement would open the way for a diplomatic and political process that would make it possible to retain some of the important gains we have made in Afghanistan over the past 13 years,” he said.

As for Syria, Iran, as one of President Bashar Al-Assad’s two main foreign backers, must be included in any efforts to achieve a political settlement, according to the report. Until now, it has been invited to participate only as an observer, largely due to U.S. and Saudi opposition.

“The Iranians are not wedded to …the continuation of the Baathist regime,” said Frank Wisner, who served as ambassador to Egypt and India, among other senior posts in his career. In talks with Iranian officials he said he had been struck by “the degree to which they feel themselves over-stretched,” particularly now that they are more involved in Iraq.

The report anticipates considerable resistance by key U.S. regional allies to any rapprochement with Iran that could follow a nuclear agreement, particularly from Israel, which has been outspoken in its opposition to any accord that would permit Iran to continue enriching uranium.

“It goes without saying that this is of primordial importance to Israel,” noted Thomas Pickering, who has co-chaired the Iran Project and served as U.S. ambassador to Israel and the U.N., among other top diplomatic posts.

Washington must make it clear to Israel and its supporters here that an agreement “would certainly improve prospects for tranquillity in the region” and that it would be a “serious mistake” for Israel to attack Iran, as it has threatened to do, while an agreement is in force, he said.

Washington must also take great pains to reassure Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-led Gulf states that a nuclear agreement will not come at their expense, according to the report.

“Such reassurance might require a period of increased U.S. military support and a defined U.S. presence (such as the maintenance of bases in the smaller Gulf States and of military and intelligence cooperation with the GCC (Gulf Co-operation Council) states),” the report said.

“Riyadh would be willing to explore a reduction of tensions with Tehran if the Saudis were more confident of their American ally,” the report said.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.comHe can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Latin America at a Climate Crossroads

mer, 09/17/2014 - 15:41

Turbines at WindWatt Nevis Limited. In most countries of the region, the abundance of renewable resources creates an opportunity to increase reliance on domestic energy sources rather than imported oil and gas. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Susan McDade
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 17 2014 (IPS)

World leaders gathered at the Climate Change Summit during the United Nations General Assembly on Sep. 23 will have a crucial opportunity to mobilise political will and advance solutions to climate change.

They will also need to address its closely connected challenges of increasing access to sustainable energy as a key tool to secure and advance gains in the social, economic and environmental realms.Cities need to be at the heart of the solution. This is particularly important for Latin America and the Caribbean, which is the most urbanised developing region on the planet.

This is more important than ever for Latin America and the Caribbean. Even though the region is responsible for a relatively low share of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, 12 percent, according to U.N. figures, it will be one of the most severely affected by temperature spikes, according a World Bank Report.

For the Caribbean region in particular, reliance on imported fuels challenges balance of payments stability and increases the vulnerability of key ecosystems that underpin important productive sectors, including tourism.

And the region faces new challenges. Demand for electricity is expected to double by 2030, as per capita income rises and countries become increasingly industrialised—and urban.

Although the region has a clean electricity matrix, with nearly 60 percent generated from hydroelectric resources, the share of fossil fuel-based generation has increased substantially in the past 10 years, mainly from natural gas.

Now is the time for governments and private sector to invest in sustainable energy alternatives—not only to encourage growth while reducing GHG emissions, but also to ensure access to clean energy to around 24 million people who still live in the dark.

Importantly, 68 million Latin Americans continue using firewood for cooking, which leads to severe health problems especially for women and their young children, entrenching cycles of poverty and contributing to local environmental degradation, including deforestation.

Cities also need to be at the heart of the solution. This is particularly important for Latin America and the Caribbean, which is the most urbanised developing region on the planet.

Urbanisation rates have jumped from 68 percent in 1980 to 80 percent in 2012. By 2050, 90 percent of the population will be living in cities. This brings about a different set of energy challenges, in particular related to transport and public services.

Therefore, the question is whether the region will tap its vast potential of renewable resources to meet this demand or will turn towards increased fossil fuel generation.

In this context, energy policies that focus not only on the economic growth but also on the long-term social and environmental benefits will be essential to shape the region’s future.

Consequently, in addition to reduced CO2 emissions, the region should favour renewables. Why? Latin America and the Caribbean are a biodiversity superpower, according to a UNDP report.

On the one hand, this vast natural capital can be severely affected by climate change. Climate variability also destabilises agricultural systems and production that are key to supporting economic growth in the region.

But on the other hand, if properly managed, it could actually help adapt to climate change and increase resilience.

Also, in most countries, the abundance of renewable resources creates an opportunity to increase reliance on domestic energy sources rather than imported oil and gas, thereby decreasing vulnerability to foreign exchange shocks linked to prices changes in world markets.

In this context, countries have already been spearheading innovative policies. Several countries in the region produce biofuel in a sustainable way. For example, Brazil’s ethanol programme for automobiles is considered one of the most effective in the world.

Investing in access to energy is transformational. It means lighting for schools, functioning health clinics, pumps for water and sanitation, cleaner indoor air, faster food processing and more income-generating opportunities.

It also entails liberating women and girls from time-consuming tasks, such as collecting fuel, pounding grain and hauling water, freeing time for education and paid work.

The U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) is working with countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to boost access to sustainable energy and reduce fossil fuel dependency.

In Nicaragua, for example, nearly 50,000 people from eight rural communities gained access to electricity following the inauguration of a new 300 kilowatt micro-hydropower plant in 2012.

This was a joint partnership between national and local governments, UNDP and the Swiss and Norwegian governments, which improved lives and transformed the energy sector.

In addition to spurring a new legislation to promote electricity generation based on renewable resources, micro enterprises have been emerging and jobs have been created—for both men and women.

Universal access to modern energy services is achievable by 2030—and Latin America and the Caribbean are already moving towards that direction. This will encourage development and transform lives.

In a Nicaraguan community that is no longer in the dark, Maribel Ubeda, a mother of three, said her children are the ones most benefitting from the recent access to energy: “Now they can use the internet and discover the world beyond our community.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Pushes Climate-Smart Agriculture – But Are the Farmers Willing to Change?

mer, 09/17/2014 - 15:09

In India, most farmers are smallholders or landless peasants who will need to adapt to 'Climate-Smart Agriculture' in order to survive changing weather patterns. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
KARNAL, India, Sep 17 2014 (IPS)

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to make a strong pitch to world political leaders at the U.N. Climate Summit in New York on Sep. 23 to accept new emissions targets and their timelines.

Launching the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA) represents yet another concerted attempt to meet the world’s 60-percent higher food requirement over the next 35 years, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

The Alliance will come not a day too soon. The latest Asian Development Bank report says that if no action is taken to prevent the earth heating up by two degree Celsius by 2030, South Asia – one of the most vulnerable regions to climate change and home to 1.5 billion people, a third of whom still live in poverty – will see its annual economy shrink by up to 1.8 percent every year by 2050 and up to 8.8 percent by 2100.

“Today climate holds nine out of ten cards determining whether all your labour will come to naught or whether a farmer will reap some harvest.” -- Iswar Dayal, a farmer in Birnarayana village in Haryana state
The CSA alliance aims to enable 500 million farmers worldwide to practice climate-smart agriculture, thereby increasing agricultural productivity and incomes, strengthening the resilience of food systems and farmers’ livelihoods and curbing the emission of greenhouse gases related to agriculture.

India, home to one of the largest populations of food insecure people in the world, recognises the impending challenge, and the need to adapt. The national budget of July 2014 set up the farmers’ ‘National Adaptation Fund’, worth 16.5 million dollars.

Given that 49 percent of India’s total farmland is irrigated, experts fear the ripple of effects of climate change on the vast, hungry rural population.

Spurred on by organisations and government incentives to switch to a different mode of agriculture, some rural communities are already inventing a workable mix of traditional and modern farming methods, including reviving local seeds, multi-cropping and smart water usage.

Various agriculture research organisations have also been urging farmer communities to move into CSA.

CSA: Embraced by some, shunned by others

In Taraori village in the Karnal district of India’s northern Haryana state, 42-year-old Manoj Kumar Munjal, farming 20 hectares, is a convert to climate-smart techniques. And he has good reason.

Scientists project that average temperatures in this northern belt are expected to increase by as much as five degrees Celsius by 2080.

The main crops in Haryana are wheat, rice and maize, with many farmers also dedicated to dairy and vegetables. Of these, wheat is particularly vulnerable to heat stress at critical stages of its growth.

A recent study projects that climate change could reduce wheat yields in India by between six and 23 percent by 2050, and between 15 and 25 percent by 2080.

Haryana has been sliding in food grain production and ranked 6th among Indian states in 2012-13. This bodes badly for the entire country’s food security, as Haryana’s wheat comprises a major part of India’s Public Distribution System (PDS), which allocates highly subsidised grain to the poor.

Some 25 million people live in the state of Haryana alone. Of the 16.5 million who dwell in rural areas, 11.64 percent live below the poverty line.

Munjal, a university graduate, had to take over the farm with his brother when his father suffered a paralytic stroke, but has since changed the way his father grew crops.

Farming the climate-smart way, Munjal’s crop mix includes four acres of maize that need only a fifth of the water that rice consumes.

He opts for direct seeding instead of sapling transplantation, which involves high labour costs and a week of standing water to survive, in addition to being vulnerable to floods and strong winds due to a weak root system.

Munjal’s new methods, moreover, give shorter-cycle harvests and vegetables are grown as a third annual crop, translating into higher income for the farmer.

Trained by CGIAR’s Research Programme on Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT), Munjal also uses technology like the laser land leveler, which produces exceptionally flat farmland, and thus ensures equitable distribution and lower consumption of water.

Other tools like the Leaf Colour Chart and GreenSeeker help Munjal assess the exact fertiliser needs of his crops. Text and voice messages received on his mobile phone about weather forecasts help him to time sowing and irrigation to perfection.

Around 10,000 farmers have adopted climate smart practices in 27 villages in Karnal, according to M L Jat, a cropping systems agronomist with CIMMYT.

They, however, account for a low 20-40 percent of total farmers here.

Making the global local

As global policy negotiations pick up with the upcoming Climate Summit and the 20th session of the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP 20) in Lima, Peru, scheduled for December 2014, there appears to be a growing gap between negotiators’ sense of urgency and actual on-the-ground implementation of CSA.

In Taraori village, home to over 1,000 farmers, where climate-smart agriculture was introduced over four years ago, conversion is slow with only 900 acres, out of a total of 2,400 acres of farmland, utilising such practices.

Forty-year-old Vinod Kumar Choudhary tells IPS that “the challenge in inducting farmers” into new models of agriculture, is that the older generation has no faith in the new system, preferring “to stick to tried and tested methods practiced for generations.”

“Any technology introduction must be [accompanied by] a behaviour change, which is slow,” adds Surabhi Mittal, an agricultural economist with CIMMYT.

While water and labour are still available, albeit for an increasingly high price, traditional farmers here say they will continue on as they have before.

The younger crowd believes this mindset needs to change.

“Today climate holds nine out of ten cards determining whether all your labour will come to naught or whether a farmer will reap some harvest,” says 48-year-old Iswar Dayal, a farmer in Birnarayana village, also in Haryana state, which is a major producer of India’s scented Basmati rice, exported mostly to the Middle East.

“Climate change and international dollar swings [are] the two most unpredictable entities deciding our fate in recent years,” Dayal tells IPS.

Therefore Dayal runs two buses, in addition to overseeing seven hectares of farmland that he owns jointly with his brother. Of his two high-school-aged sons, he plans to include the older one, Kusal, in the farm’s management while the younger one, he hopes, will get admission into a foreign university.

“If he gets into one, our life is made,” Dayal says.

From among the 60 families in Dayal’s village of Birnarayana, “only 15 percent of the younger generation are agreeable to continuing with agriculture as their main livelihood,” Dayal tells IPS. “The rest wish to migrate in search of white-collar jobs with assured income.”

India is one of the largest agrarian economies in the world. The farm sector contributed approximately 11 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) during 2012-2013.

Even though seven out of 10 people – or 833 million of a population of 1.21 billion – depend directly or indirectly on agriculture for a livelihood, the growth rate for the sector was just 1.7 percent in 2012-2013. In comparison, the service sector grew at a rate of 6.6 percent, according to the ministry of agriculture.

The 2011 census found that the number of cultivators across India fell significant over the last decade, from 127 million in 2001 to 118 million at the time of the census. The number of agricultural labourers, however, rose rapidly between 2001 and 2011, from 106 million to 144 million.

The number of small and marginal farmers, who own on average 0.38 to 1.40 hectares of land and constitute 85 percent of Indian farmers – also rose by two percent between 2005 and 2010.

Unless binding international agreements on carbon emissions come into effect almost immediately, India will be saddled with a disaster of almost unimaginable proportions, as the millions of people who eke out a living on tiny plots of earth find their lifeline slipping away from them.

And in the meantime, the country will need to scale up its efforts to ensure that climate-smart agriculture becomes more than just a modernity embraced by the youth and takes root in farming communities all over this vast nation.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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As Uganda Heats Up, Pests and Disease Flourish to Attack its Top Export Crop

mer, 09/17/2014 - 14:34

Farmer Sera Nafungo picking coffee berries in Bukalasi, eastern Uganda. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

By Prossy Nandudu
KAMPALA, Sep 17 2014 (IPS)

When Abudu Zikusoka was a small boy his father would bring people to their home in Ndesse village in Central Uganda’s Mukono district. He would watch as they packed the family’s harvested coffee into sacks and then loaded it onto their bicycles.

“I used to see one of them giving daddy money from which he took out some coins to give my sister,” Zikusoka tells IPS.

“When my brother started going to school, daddy continued with the practice until one day I asked my sister where she was taking the money,” he remembers. 

His sister explained that the money was meant for school fees that had to be paid at the beginning of each term. This is why Zikusoka decided to embrace coffee farming after his father gave him a half hectare piece of land when he married in 2005 — he wanted to be able to support his family too.

On his piece of land, also in Ndesse village, Zikusoka was able to plant coffee trees and crops such as bananas, cassava and maize which became the main source of income for his family. Thanks to the profit from his farming Zikusoka was also able to buy an additional hectare of land.

Coffee is Uganda’s single-largest export earner. This East African nation is the largest exporter of coffee on the continent as Ethiopia consumes more than half of what it produces.

The Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) estimates that 85 percent of all coffee produced in Uganda is mostly from smallholder farmers, the majority of whom own fields ranging from 0.5 to 2.5 hectares. The sector employs 3.5 million people.

A Ugandan coffee grower poses beside his crop. Coffee is grown by at least half a million smallholder farmers, 90 percent of whom own fields ranging from 0.5 to 2.5 hectares. The sector employs 3.5 million people. Credit: Will Boase/IPS

But now it seems as if the good times are at risk from a changing climate.

“The yields are so poor, they are affected by diseases and pests almost all the time and when the rain takes a long to come, it becomes hard… The worst is that we were hit by the coffee wilt last year and I lost everything,” Zikusoka says in frustration.

“I haven’t been able to harvest much coffee like it was in 2006 when I had just started focusing on coffee as a commercial crop,” Zikusoka explains.

He is one of the many farmers who have recently been affected the black coffee twig borer and coffee wilt diseases in Mukono district, one of Uganda’s commercial coffee-growing districts. Wilt first attacked Uganda’s Robusta coffee in 1993 and has destroyed over 12 million plants since then. However, it is believed this figure is underreported.

“Before the coffee wilt attacked my crop, I used to earn between 700 to 1,000 dollars in a good season but the remaining trees [not affected by the wilt] have earned me only 250 dollars, and now I don’t know if I will be able to earn more,” he adds.

Zikusoka has come to the National Coffee Research Institute (NaCORI) in Kituuza, Mukono district, to find out if he can access the improved varieties developed here that are resistant coffee diseases, which have now become tolerant to high temperatures.

Last month, when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report was released in Kampala, Uganda’s capital, scientists noted that incidences of pests and diseases have appeared to have increased here because of climate change.

According to Dr. Africano Kangire from NaCORI, it appears that the warmer than usual weather is creating a breeding ground for pests and disease. The report attributes the rise in temperature to increased global warming, fuelled mainly by human activities such as clearing forests for settlement and charcoal burning, among others, which has seen increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

“High temperatures provide favourable conditions for the breeding of pests and diseases, which are affecting coffee production. We have seen incidences where diseases like malaria are now rampant in the highlands which weren’t the case before, although this is for the medical professional to elucidate,” says Kangire.

According to Kangire, Uganda’s temperatures have been erratic and increasing over the years. He says if temperatures hit the two degrees Celsius level, as predicted, it could render Robusta coffee cultivation in Uganda’s lowlands very difficult while limiting it to few locations in the much cooler highlands.

He further explains that coffee leaf rust disease, which has long been known to affect coffee at altitudes lower than 1,400m above sea level, has now surfaced at 1,800m above sea level. This, he explains, is evidence of rising temperatures in the country, since logic shows that the higher you go, the cooler it becomes.

Coffee beans, freshly picked and ready for drying near Paidha town, Zombo District in northern Uganda. The country is Africa’s biggest producer of coffee, ahead of Ethiopia. Credit: Will Boase/IPS

He adds that the coffee berry disease, which is known to affect Arabica coffee, has also shifted to higher altitudes to attack crop cultivated 1,800m above sea level — it previously only appeared at 1,600m above sea level.

Dr. Revocatus Twinomuhangi, is one of the scientists who contributed to the IPCC report and is also the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) country engagement leader and a lecturer at Makerere University Centre for Climate Change Research and Innovations.

“We are witnessing a shift in production of crops such as coffee, tea, maize for example coffee was mainly for highland areas but because people have cut down trees and cleared part of the highlands for cultivation the crop failing and if the temperature could rise to even 1.5 degrees Celsius there will be dramatic shift from highlands to low lands like the central regions in Uganda,” he tells IPS.

However, the latest UCDA report shows that Uganda’s July coffee exports earned the country revenue of 37.9 million dollars up from June’s value of 31.04 million.

According to the managing director of UDCA, Henry Ngabirano, the authority has succeeded in recording some profits from the coffee sector despite the presence of coffee wilt diseases.

“We are getting clonal coffee varieties resistant to the wilt because these were the most-affected while Arabic coffee, which was less affected, has remained at 10 percent production.

“So the 10 percent Arabic and the other percentage of clonal coffee are keeping us in the market but we are confident that since researchers ad government have taken it up, we shall be able to adjust to effects of climate change,” Ngabirano tells IPS.

While scientists at NaCORI are breeding improved coffee varieties, which include those resistant to coffee wilt, Paul Isabirye, assistant commissioner from the Department of Meteorology cautions that temperatures could have risen since the IPCC report was issued.

He points out that rain is now falling at the wrong times, and the coffee beans have less time to mature.

“If the coffee beans face a lot of sunshine and less rain, the beans will continue to be smaller and of lower yields,” he tells IPS.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

This is part of series sponsored by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN).

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Pushing for Cities to Take Lead on Climate Change

mer, 09/17/2014 - 14:19

Smog over Cairo. Former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg and OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria reaffirmed their commitment Sep. 17 “to support international cities’ efforts to lead in the global fight against climate change”. Credit: Wikipedia

By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, Sep 17 2014 (IPS)

If former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg had used the Vélib’ – Paris’ public bicycle sharing system – to arrive at the headquarters of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development here Wednesday, he might have sent a stronger message about the need for cities to be “empowered to take the lead in combating climate change”.

Yet, despite arriving by car, Bloomberg, the United Nations Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change, spoke persuasively about how efficient environmental policies at local level can lead to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

A key step is to make populations more aware of the issues by sending the right message, so that voters can make informed decisions, Bloomberg said during an open “discussion” with OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría.

For example, if people saw an image of a baby on television with “two or three cigarettes dangling out of his or her mouth” and understood that as a symbol of the polluted air that they were breathing in their city, or the air that their children would breathe, the message would hit home, said Bloomberg, the founder and principal owner of the international media company that bears his name.If people saw an image of a baby on television with ‘two or three cigarettes dangling out of his or her mouth’ and understood that as a symbol of the polluted air that they were breathing in their city, or the air that their children would breathe, the message would hit home – Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York

“People will understand the issue, they will understand how it affects them … and what they can do about it,” he said, adding that such understanding will affect their political choices.

At the meeting, Bloomberg and Gurría “reaffirmed their commitment to support international cities’ efforts to lead in the global fight against climate change” and urged governments to adopt policies to achieve this.

Their pledge ties in with the former mayor’s current role: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed Bloomberg as a special envoy in January to assist him in “consultations with mayors and related key stakeholders in order to raise political will and mobilise action among cities as part of his long-term strategy to advance efforts on climate change”.

This assistance includes “bringing concrete solutions” to the 2014 Climate Summit that the UN Secretary-General will host in New York on Sep. 23.

However, many non-governmental organisations regard this Summit as a gathering where world leaders will once again be “fiddling with flimsy pledges instead of committing to binding carbon reductions”, according to environmental group Friends of the Earth.

“A parade of leaders trying to make themselves look good does not bring us any closer to the real action we need to address the climate crisis. This one-day Summit will not deliver any substantial action in the fight against climate change,” said Dipti Bhatnagar, climate justice and energy coordinator for Friends of the Earth International (FoEI).

“World leaders are falling far short of delivering what we need to truly tackle climate change in a just way. Their flimsy non-binding pledges in New York will do little to improve their track record. What we urgently need are equitable and binding carbon reductions, not flimsy voluntary ones,” she said in a statement.

Friends of the Earth will join with thousands of protesters on Sep. 21 to march in New York, Paris, London and several other cities around the world to “demand climate justice, standing with climate and dirty energy-affected communities worldwide”, the group said.

Some of the cities where the demonstrations will occur have already taken steps to reduce emissions and improve the quality of life for residents, as Bloomberg pointed out in Paris. But political awareness needs to be heightened so that special interest groups are not the ones imposing directions, the former mayor said.

Over three consecutive terms as mayor of New York, where he reportedly spent 268 million dollars of his own money on election campaigns, Bloomberg set up schemes to make New York “greener”, including recycling food waste and aiming at converting organic waste to biogas.

For Bloomberg and Gurría, cities are a” crucial part of efforts to slow climate change” because urban areas produce more than two-thirds of the world’s carbon emissions. The share of the global population living in cities is also set to increase to 70 percent, or 6.4 billion people, by 2050 from the current roughly 50 percent, says the OECD.

“Cities have the potential to make a great difference in the global effort to confront climate change: they account for more than 70 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and two-thirds of the world’s energy use today,” according to Bloomberg and Gurría.

“Mayors have, within their authorities, many ways to reduce emissions, change the way energy is consumed, and prepare for the impacts of climate change,” they added.

Both men called on world leaders gathering at the UN Climate Summit to “look for ways to help their cities accelerate their progress and empower them to do even more.”

“We are all aware of the immense scale of the global challenge presented by climate change,” Gurría said. “It is no longer simply an environmental issue. It is an economic and a social issue. It is vital to our quality of life and to the life of our fragile earth. Action is becoming ever-more urgent.”

The OECD and Bloomberg Philanthropies also issued a “Policy Perspectives” document Wednesday that recommends measures for enabling cities to fight global warming. The recommendations include actively involving the private sector because “green” policies cannot be separated from economic growth, according to Gurría.

He said that various sectors needed to work together to “enable real progress in reaching international climate goals and a meaningful, global agreement next year in Paris,” where the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference will take place.

Friends of the Earth and many other NGOs remain unconvinced, however, of the commitment by wealthy nations such as those that are members of the OECD. The group said that the positions of developed countries’ leaders “are increasingly driven by the narrow economic and financial interests of wealthy elites, the fossil fuel industry and multinational corporations.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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U.N. Launches Ambitious Humanitarian Plan for Gaza

mer, 09/17/2014 - 12:07

Palestinian families take shelter at an UNRWA school in Gaza City, after evacuating their homes in the northern Gaza Strip, July 2014. UNRWA has now launched a humanitarian reconstruction programme. Credit: Shareef Sarhan/UNRWA Archives

By Mel Frykberg
RAMALLAH, West Bank, Sep 17 2014 (IPS)

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees has launched an ambitious recovery plan for Gaza following the 50-day devastating war between Hamas and Israel which has left the coastal territory decimated.

However, the successful implementation of this plan requires enormous international funding as well as a long-term ceasefire to enable the lifting of the joint Israeli-Egyptian blockade of the territory.

“We are working on a 24-month plan aimed at 70 percent of Gaza’s population who are refugees but this will only be possible if the blockade is lifted and construction materials and other goods are allowed into Gaza,” Chris Gunness, spokesman for the UN Relief and Welfare Agency (UNRWA), told IPS.

“Taxpayers are being asked once again to fund the reconstruction of Gaza and at this point there are no security guarantees, so a permanent ceasefire is essential if we are not to return to the repetitive cycle of destruction and then reconstruction,” Gunness said.“If Gaza is to recover and Gazans are to have any hope for the future, it is vital that the international community intervenes to help those Gazan civilians who have and continue to pay the highest price” – Chris Gunness, UNRWA spokesman

The attack on Gaza, euphemistically code-named “Operation Protective Edge” by the Israelis, now stands as the most severe military campaign against Gaza since Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories in 1967.

“The devastation caused this time is unprecedented in recent memory. Parts of Gaza resemble an earthquake zone with 29 km of damaged infrastructure,” said Gunness.

Following the ceasefire, the Palestinian death toll stood at 2,130 and more than 11,000 injured.

Over 18,000 housing units were destroyed, four hospitals and five clinics were closed due to severe damage, while 17 of Gaza’s 32 hospitals and 45 of 97 its primary health clinics were substantially damaged. Reconstruction is estimated to cost over 7 billion dollars.

According to UNRWA, 22 schools were completely destroyed and 118 damaged during Israeli bombardments, while many higher education facilities were damaged.

Some 110,000 displaced Gazans remain in UN emergency shelters or with host families, according to UNRWA.

The reconstruction of shelters alone will cost over 380 million dollars, 270 million of which relates to Palestinian refugees.

According to the Palestinian Federation of Industries, 419 businesses and workshops were damaged, with 129 completely destroyed.

“We have a two-year plan in place which addresses the spectrum of Palestinian needs. Currently we have 300 engineers on the ground in Gaza assessing reconstruction needs,” Gunness told IPS.

Palestinian boy inspecting the remains of a house which was destroyed during an air strike in Central Bureij refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, July 2014. Credit: Shareef Sarhan/UNRWA Archives

UNRWA’s strategic approach has been divided into the relief period, the early recovery period and the recovery period of up to four months following the cessation of hostilities.

“The relief period, which will continue for the next four months, involves urgent humanitarian intervention including providing shelter, food and medical needs for displaced Gazans,” said the UNTWA spokesman.

“The early recovery period will continue for the next year and will address the critical needs of the population such as repairing damage to environmental infrastructure, restoring UNRWA facilities and supplementary assistance for livelihood provisioning.

“The recovery period will last for two years and will focus on the impact of the conflict through a sustainable livelihoods programme promoting self-sufficiency and completing the transition of UNRWA emergency and extended-stay shelters back to intended use and full operational capacity.”

One thrust of UNRWA’s programme will focus on protection, gender and disability. The increased numbers of female-headed households and households with disabled men is having an impact on unemployment patterns.

“Women are the primary caregivers and are closely linked to homes and the psychological trauma being exhibited by children. Furthermore, there have already been signs of increased gender-based violence,” explained Gunness.

“We want to focus on raising awareness of domestic violence, how to deal with violence in the home and building healthy and equal relationships through our gender empowerment programme.”

The UN agency will also address food distribution by providing minimum caloric requirements through basic food commodities, including bread, corned beef or tuna, dairy products and fresh vegetables. Non-food items provided include hygiene kits and water tanks for 42,000 families.

Emergency repairs to shelters are also being undertaken with 70 percent more homes destroyed or damaged than during the 2008-2009 hostilities. Emergency cash assistance for refugee families to meet a range of basic needs is also being distributed.

“Due to the enormous damage done to hospitals and health facilities, UNRWA has so far established 22 health points to provide basic health services to the sick and wounded, and health teams have been deployed to monitor key health issues,” noted Gunness.

The psychological impact of the war is another area that concerns UNRWA.  “There isn’t a person in Gaza who hasn’t been affected by the war. In consultation with UNRWA’s Community Health Programme, we have hired additional counsellors and youth coordinators who will provide a range of services to groups and individuals.”

“If Gaza is to recover and Gazans are to have any hope for the future,” said Gunness, “it is vital that the international community intervenes to help those Gazan civilians who have and continue to pay the highest price.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Tackling Climate Change and Promoting Development: A “Win-Win”

mer, 09/17/2014 - 10:23

The cost of solar energy has fallen by 90 percent in the last half dozen years. Credit: UN Photo/Pasqual Gorriz

By Joel Jaeger
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 17 2014 (IPS)

A widespread perception exists that developing countries must make a choice between tackling climate change and fighting poverty. This assumption is incorrect, according to the authors of a new report on green growth.

The New Climate Economy (NCE) report was launched on Tuesday at the United Nations by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, which is chaired by former Mexican President Felipe Calderón."Reforms will entail costs and trade-offs, and will often require governments to deal with difficult problems of political economy, distribution and governance.” -- Milan Brahmbhatt of WRI

“The report sends a clear message to government and private sector leaders: we can improve the economy and tackle climate change at the same time,” said Calderón.

“Future economic growth does not have to copy the high carbon path that has been observed so far,” he added.

Focusing on the global aggregate rather than individual countries, the NCE report charts the path that the world economy must take over the next 15 years. To improve the lives of the poor and lower carbon emissions to a safe level, a vast transformation must be made. But here is the surprise: it will cost much less than expected.

In a business-as-usual scenario, the world will invest about 89 trillion dollars in urban, agricultural and energy infrastructure over the next 15 years, the report predicts.

On the other hand, a low-carbon path would require 94 trillion dollars over the next 15 years, and its benefits in reducing resource scarcity and improving basic liveability would more than make up for the difference.

The window of opportunity will not stay open for long, however.

“If we don’t take action in the coming years it will be every day more expensive and more difficult to shift towards the low carbon economy at the global level,” Calderón said.

Jeremy Oppenheim, global programme director for the NCE report, explained the details.

The commission’s work focuses on three systems: cities, land use and energy. In each case, the implementation of greener policies can also lead to greater development.

In terms of urban systems, “our main focus has been how to drive to higher productivity in cities through improved transport systems,” Oppenheim said. Economic gains can be achieved “through improved urban form by having cities that are denser and that are essentially better places to live.”

Urban sprawl is the enemy when it comes to environmentally-friendly city design. For example, Barcelona and Atlanta both have about five million people, but Barcelona fits into 162 square kilometres, while Atlanta is spread across 4,280 square kilometres. As a result, Atlanta emits more than 10 times more CO2 per person than Barcelona.

Efficient cities generally deliver improved economic and environmental performance.

Low-income countries must “get the infrastructure right the first time so they urbanise in a high productivity way,” Oppenheim told IPS.

Moving on to agriculture, Oppenheim said that “we think that it is possible to increase yields by more than one percent a year.”

The NCE report states that “restoring just 12% of the world’s degraded agricultural land could feed 200 million people by 2030, while also strengthening climate resilience and reducing emissions.”

Reducing deforestation also has wide benefits to the economic system and to agricultural productivity, as well as the obvious climate benefits.

The report recommends that world leaders halt deforestation of natural forests by 2030 and restore at least 500 million hectares of degraded forests and agricultural lands.

As for the third system to be reformed, energy, the biggest economic and environmental opportunity will come from a shift away from the widespread use of coal. Coal is not as economically efficient as once thought, especially since the health problems caused by coal pollution reduce national incomes by an average of four percent per year.

The report’s authors recommend a halt to the creation of new coal plants immediately in the developed world and by 2025 in middle-income countries. Natural gas may serve as a stopgap for a short period of time, but it too must eventually give way to low-carbon energy sources.

Transforming so much energy infrastructure may be more economical than expected.

“We are stunned by the progress that has been made in renewable energy,” Oppenheim said. “The cost of solar has come down by 90 percent in the last half dozen years.”

If the price of solar energy continues its downward tumble, it will soon be cheaper than fossil fuels, leading to a natural shift in investment even without government intervention.

Governments will have to make a number of significant decisions to facilitate the change, however.

Currently, the market for energy is distorted by government subsidies. According to the report, governments around the world subsidise fossil fuels for an estimated 600 billion dollars, but only subsidise clean energy for 100 billion.

Lord Nicholas Stern, co-chair of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, says that “those subsidies have to go.”

“They’re giving the wrong signals. They’re encouraging the use of polluting fossils fuels. They’re subsidising damage.”

Governments need to set up “strong, predictable and rising carbon prices,” according to Stern.

With clarity on carbon prices, incentives to pollute would decrease and investors would put their money towards low-carbon options.

Although the NCE report may be the most optimistic document on climate change to come out of the U.N. in years, the authors do realise that their recommendations may be difficult to follow.

Milan Brahmbhatt, a senior fellow at the World Resources Institute and one of the authors of the NCE report, told IPS that “there is no simple reform formula or agenda that will work for all countries.”

“The report focuses specifically on ‘win-win’ reforms to strengthen growth, poverty reduction and improvements in well-being, which also help tackle climate risk,” Brahmbhatt said. “‘Win-wins’ are not necessarily ‘easy wins’ though. Reforms will entail costs and trade-offs, and will often require governments to deal with difficult problems of political economy, distribution and governance.”

The report’s launch was strategically timed one week before the secretary-general’s climate summit, which will convene an unprecedented number of world leaders to make public pledges on national climate change mitigation efforts. Ban Ki-moon hopes the summit will generate the necessary political will for a binding climate change agreement to be negotiated in Paris next year.

A binding agreement in Paris would give countries the confidence to pursue strong national climate policies, knowing that they are not the only ones doing so, and could give assistance to developing countries that are more vulnerable to climate change but less responsible for it, according to Stern.

While the NCE report only covers the next 15 years, 2030 will not signal the end of efforts to tackle climate change. “Beyond 2030 net global emissions will need to fall further towards near zero or below in the second half of the century,” the report says.

It may not cover everything, but the NCE report reassures worried leaders of the enormous potential for green growth. The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, an independent initiative created by Colombia, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Norway, South Korea, Sweden and the United Kingdom, plans to directly share its report with world leaders in an upcoming consultation period.

Felipe Calderón believes that the report’s optimistic and practical message will help it make a big splash.

“With this report we now have a set of tools that global leaders can use to foster the growth that we all need while reducing the climate risks that we all face,” he said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at joelmjaeger@gmail.com

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Will the Upcoming Climate Summit Be Another Talkathon?

mer, 09/17/2014 - 09:35

Climate defenders line the entrance to the National Stadium in Warsaw where the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP19 was held last October. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Meenakshi Raman
PENANG, Sep 17 2014 (IPS)

As the United Nations hosts a Climate Summit Sep. 23, the lingering question is whether the meeting of world leaders will wind up as another talk fest.

It is most likely that it could go that way. The problem is that developed countries are pressuring developing countries to indicate their pledges for emissions reductions post-2020 under the Paris deal which is currently under negotiation, without any indication of whether they will provide any finance or enable technology transfer – which are current commitments under the Convention.Asking developing countries to undertake more commitments without any financial resources or technology transfer is not only contrary to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change but is also immoral.

What is worse is that many developed countries – especially the U.S. and its allies – are delaying making their contributions to the Green Climate Fund (GCF).

The GCF was launched in 2011 and it was agreed in Cancun, Mexico in 2010 that developed countries will mobilise 100 billion dollars per year by 2020.

The GCF has yet to receive any funds that can be disbursed to developing countries to undertake their climate actions.

Worse, there is a grave reluctance to indicate the size and scale of the resources that will be put into the GCF for its initial capitalisation. Only Germany so far has indicated that it is willing to contribute one billion dollars to the Fund. Others have been deafeningly silent.

The G77 and China, had in Bonn, Germany in June, called for at least 15 billion dollars to be put into the GCF as its initial capital. The Climate Summit must focus on this to get developed countries to announce their finance commitments to the Fund.

If it does not, the UNFCCC meeting in Lima will be in jeopardy, as this is an existing obligation of developed countries that must be met latest by November.

This is the most important issue in confidence building to enable developing countries to meet their adaptation and mitigation needs. Otherwise, without real concrete and finance commitments, the New York summit will be meaningless.

Asking developing countries to undertake more commitments without any financial resources or technology transfer is not only contrary to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change but is also immoral.

In Cancun, many developing countries already indicated what they were willing to do in terms of emissions reductions for the pre-2020 time frame and many of them had conditioned those actions on the promise of finance and technology transfer.

Despite this, the GCF remains empty and no technology transfer has really been delivered.

The other issue is whether developed countries will raise their targets for emissions reductions, as currently, their pledges are very low.
In 2012 in Doha, Qatar, developed countries that are in the Kyoto Protocol (such as the European Union, Norway, Australia, New Zealand. Switzerland and others but not including the U.S., Canada and Japan) agreed to re-visit the commitments they made for a second commitment period from 2013-2020.

The total emissions that they had agreed to was a reduction of only 17 percent by 2020 for developed countries, compared to 1990 levels. This was viewed by developing countries as very low, given that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had in their 4th Assessment Report referred to a range of 25-40 percent emissions reductions by 2020 compared to 1990 levels for developed countries.

It was agreed in Doha that the developed countries in the Kyoto Protocol (KP) would revisit their ambition by 2014. Hence, whether this will be realised in Lima remains to be seen. So whatever announcements are made in New York will not amount to much if the cuts do not amount to at least 40 percent reductions by 2020 on the part of developed countries.

Developed countries that are not in the Kyoto Protocol such as the United States, Canada and Japan were urged to do comparable efforts in emissions reductions as those in the KP.

It is not likely at all that these countries will raise their ambition level at all, given that both Japan and Canada announced that they will actually increase their emission levels from what they had announced previously in Cancun!

For the U.S., the emission reduction pledge that they put forth is very low, amounting to only a reduction of about three percent by 2020 compared to 1990 levels. For the world’s biggest historic emitter, this is doing too little, too late.

It is against this backdrop that the elements for a new agreement which is to take effect post-2020 is to be finalised in Lima, with a draft negotiating text to be ready early next year.

If the pre-2020 ambition is very low both in terms of the emission reductions of developed countries and the lack of resources in the GCF, the basis for the 2015 agreement will be seriously jeopardised.

Without any leadership shown by developed countries, developing countries will be reluctant to undertake more ambitious action. Hence, the race to the bottom in climate action is real.

If the Climate Summit does not address the failure of developed countries to meet their existing obligations which were agreed to under the UNFCCC, it will indeed turn into a mere talkshop that attempts to provide a smokescreen for inaction on their part.

Another lingering question: Can the private sector, which is expected to play a key role in the summit, be trusted on climate change?

It is the private sector in the first place that got us into this climate mess. Big corporations cannot be trusted to bring about the real changes that are needed as there will be much green-washing.

Companies are profit-seeking and they would only engage in activities that will bring them profits. There are huge lobbies in the climate arena who are pushing false approaches such as trading in carbon and other market mechanisms and instruments through which they seek to make more profits.

For example, there is a big push for ‘ Climate Smart Agriculture” with big corporations and the World Bank in the forefront.

There is no definition yet on what is ‘climate smart’ and there are grave concerns from civil society and farmers movements that such policies being pushed by big corporations who are in the frontline of controversial genetic engineering, industrial chemicals and carbon markets.

Many criticise the CSA approach which does not exclude any practices—which means that GMOs, pesticides, and fertilisers, so long as they contribute to soil carbon sequestration, would be permissible and even encouraged.

Such approaches not only contribute to environmental and social problems but they also also undermine one of the most important social benefits of agroecology: reducing farmers’ dependence on external inputs. Yet CSA is touted as a positive initiative at the New York Summit – a clear cut case of green-washing.

Real solutions in agriculture are those which are sustainable and based on agroecology in the hands of small farmers and communities- not in the hands of the big corporations who were responsible for much of the emissions in industrial agriculture.

The same can be said about the Sustainable Energy for All – with big corporations driving the agenda – where the interests of those who really are deprived of energy access will not be prioritised.

This is because the emphasis is on centralised modern energy systems that are expensive and not affordable to those who need them the most undermines the very objective it is set to serve in term of ensuring universal access to modern energy services.

If these initiatives are touted as ‘solutions’ to climate change, then we are in big trouble – for they are not the real kind of solutions needed.

A lot is being said about creating enabling environments in developing countries to attract private investments.

It is for developing countries to put in place their national climate plans and in that context, gauge which private sector can play a role, in what sector and how to do so, including the involvement of small and medium entrepreneurs, including farmers, fisherfolk, indigenous peoples etc.

But developed countries are pushing the interests of their big corporations in the name of attracting new types of green foreign investments. Such approaches are new conditionalities.

Any role of the private sector is only supplemental and cannot be a substitute for the provision of real financial resources and technology transfer to developing countries to undertake their action. This clearly cannot be classified as climate finance.

Developed country governments in passing on the responsibility for addressing climate change to the private sector are abdicating the commitments that they have under the climate change Convention. This is irresponsible and reprehensible.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: A Climate Summit to Spark Action

mer, 09/17/2014 - 09:00

Ban Ki-moon is Secretary General of the United Nations.

By Ban Ki-moon
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 17 2014 (IPS)

On Sep. 23, I have invited world leaders from government, business, finance and civil society to a Climate Summit in New York so they can show the world how they will advance action on climate change and move towards a meaningful universal new agreement next year at the December climate negotiations in Paris.

This is the time for decisive global action. I have been pleased to see climate change rise on the political agenda and in the consciousness of people worldwide. But I remain alarmed that governments and businesses have still failed to act at the pace and scale needed.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

But I sense a change in the air. The opportunity for a more realistic dialogue and partnership has arrived. Ever more heads of government and business leaders are prepared to invest political and financial capital in the solutions we need. They understand that climate change is an issue for all people, all businesses, all governments. They recognise that we can avert the risks if we take determined action now.

I am convening the Climate Summit more than a year before governments head to Paris to give everyone a platform to raise their level of ambition. Because it is not a negotiation, the Summit is a chance for every participant to showcase bold actions and initiatives instead of waiting to see what others will do.

An unprecedented number of heads of state and government will attend the Summit. But it is not just for presidents and prime ministers. We have long realised that while governments have a vital role to play, action is needed from all sectors of society.

That is why I have invited leaders from business, finance and civil society to make bold announcements and forge new partnerships that will support the transformative change the world needs to cut emissions and strengthen resilience to climate impacts.

The sooner we act on climate change, the less it will cost us in lost lives and damaged economies. Economists are also showing that new technological advances and better policies that put a price on pollution mean that moving to a low-carbon economy is not only affordable, but can spur economic growth by creating jobs and business opportunities.

All countries stand to benefit from climate action – cleaner, healthier air; more productive, climate-resilient agriculture; well-managed forests for water and energy security; and better designed, more livable urban areas.

Instead of asking if we can afford to act, we should be asking what is stopping us, who is stopping us, and why? Let us join forces to push back against sceptics and entrenched interests. Let us support the scientists, economists, entrepreneurs and investors who can persuade government leaders and policy-makers that now is the time for climate action. Change is in the air. Solutions exist. The race is on. It’s time to lead.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service. 

U.S. Ground Troops Possible in Anti-ISIS Battle

mer, 09/17/2014 - 08:28

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Credit: DoD/public domain

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Sep 17 2014 (IPS)

U.S. combat troops may be deployed against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) if the strategy announced by President Barack Obama last week fails to make substantial progress against the radical Sunni group, Washington’s top military officer warned here Tuesday.

The statement by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, delivered during testimony before a key Congressional committee, suggested for the first time that the administration may substantially broaden military operations in Iraq beyond air strikes and advising Iraqi and Kurdish forces far from the front lines.As long as Saudi Arabia and Iran do not make common cause, any coalition to combat Islamist fanatics will be half-hearted at best and unrooted in the region at worst." -- Amb. Chas Freeman (ret.)

“If we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraqi troops on attacks against specific targets, I will recommend that to the president,” Dempsey told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“At this point, his [Obama’s] stated policy is we will not have U.S. ground forces in direct combat,” he said. “But he has told me as well to come back to him on a case-by-case basis.”

Dempsey’s remarks, which came as Congress appeared poised to approve a pending 500-million-dollar request to train and equip Syrian rebels committed to fighting ISIS, as well as the government of President Bashar al-Assad, appeared certain to fuel doubts about Obama’s plans, particularly given his promise last week that U.S. forces “will not have a combat mission.”

“We will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq,” he declared in last week’s nationally televised speech in which he also pledged to build an international coalition, including NATO and key regional and Sunni-led Arab states, to fight ISIS forces in both Iraq and Syria.

While Secretary of State John Kerry has since gathered public endorsements for the administration’s strategy to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS, notably at a meeting of Arab states in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, last week and from a larger group of nations in Paris Sunday, scepticism over the strength and effectiveness of such a coalition appears to have deepened.

Although Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and France appear committed to provide some air support to anti-ISIS operations, several key allies, including Britain, have remained non-committal about their willingness to help with military operations.

Turkey, whose army is the largest and most potent in the region and whose porous borders with ISIS-controlled regions in eastern Syria have been fully exploited by the group, has been particularly disappointing to officials here.

Despite repeated appeals, for example, Ankara has reportedly refused to permit U.S. military aircraft to use its strategically located Incirlik air base for carrying out anything but humanitarian missions in or over Iraq, insisting that any direct involvement in the campaign against ISIS would jeopardise the lives of dozens of Turkish diplomats seized by the group at Ankara’s consulate in Aleppo earlier this year.

Critics of Washington’s strategy are also concerned that Kerry may have reduced the chances for co-operation with another potentially key anti-ISIS ally – Iran – which he explicitly excluded from participation in any international coalition due to its support for Assad and its alleged status as a “state sponsor of terror”.

While Kerry Monday said Washington remained open to “communicating” with Tehran — which, along among the regional powers, has provided arms and advisers to both Kurdish and Iraqi forces — about its efforts against ISIS, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who earlier this month reportedly authorised limited co-operation over ISIS, ridiculed the notion, insisting that it was Iran who had rebuffed Washington.

But Kerry’s exclusion of Iran from the anti-ISIS coalition, according to experts here, was motivated primarily by threats by Saudi Arabia and the UAE to drop out if Tehran were included – a reflection not only of the ongoing Sunni-Shi’a conflict in the region, especially in the Syrian civil war, but also of the difficulty Washington faces in persuading governments with widely differing interests to unite behind a common cause.

“Leaving Iran out of the collective effort to contain and eventually destroy ISIS, especially after what happened in Amerli [a town whose siege by ISIS was eventually broken by a combination of U.S. airpower and Iranian-backed militias and Iraqi troops], defies logic and sanity and cannot be explained away by anyone in Iran,” noted Farideh Farhi, an Iran specialist at the University of Hawaii.

“It suggests to many [in Iran] that the fear of legitimising Iran’s role in regional security continues to be a driving force in U.S. foreign policy,” she told IPS in an email exchange.

Indeed, the success of Obama’s strategy may well depend less on U.S. military power than on his ability to reconcile and reassure key regional actors, including Iran.

“To have any hope of success, America’s do-it-yourself approach needs to be replaced with an effort to facilitate co-operation between the region’s great Muslim powers,” according to Amb. Chas Freeman (ret.), who served as Washington’s chief envoy to Riyadh during the first Gulf War.

“… As long as Saudi Arabia and Iran do not make common cause, any coalition to combat Islamist fanatics will be half-hearted at best and unrooted in the region at worst,” he told IPS.

Despite these difficult diplomatic challenges faced by Obama, most of the scepticism here revolves around his military strategy, particularly its reliance on air power and the absence of effective ground forces that can take and hold territory, especially in predominantly Sunni areas of both western and north-central Iraq and eastern Syria.

While U.S. officials believe that Kurdish peshmerga forces and the Iraqi army – with Iranian-backed Shi’a militias – can, with U.S. and allied air support, roll back most of ISIS’s more-recent gains in Iraq, it will take far more time to wrest control of areas, including cities like Fallujah and Ramadi, which the group has effectively governed for months.

Obama announced last week that he was sending nearly 500 more military personnel to Iraq, bringing the total U.S. presence there to around 1,600 troops, most of whom are to serve as trainers and advisers both for the peshmerga and the Iraqi army.

According to Dempsey, however, these troops have not yet been authorised to accompany local forces into combat or even to act as spotters for U.S. aircraft.

As for Syria, Washington plans to train and equip some 5,000 members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a fractious coalition of “moderate” fighters who have been increasingly squeezed and marginalised by both pro-government forces and ISIS and who have often allied themselves with other Islamist groups, including Jabhat al-Nusra, an Al Qaeda affiliate.

It will take at least eight months, however, before that force can take the field, according to Dempsey and Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel. Even then, they said, such a force will be unable “to turn the tide” of battle. Dempsey’s said he hoped that Sunni-led Arab countries would provide special operations forces to support the FSA, although none has yet indicated a willingness to do so.

Hawks, such as Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, have argued that these plans are insufficient to destroy ISIS in either country.

Some neo-conservative defence analysts, such as Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations and Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute, have called for as many as 25,000 U.S. ground troops, including thousands of Special Forces units to work with “moderate” Sunni forces, to be deployed to both countries in order to prevail. They have also warned against any co-operation with either Iran or Assad in the fight against ISIS.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.comHe can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Organic Farmers Cultivate Rural Success in Samoa

mer, 09/17/2014 - 06:20

Coconut oil producers in Samoa are benefitting from a scheme to connect local organic farmers with the international market. Credit: Matias Dutto/CC-BY-ND-2.0

By Catherine Wilson
SALELOLOGA, Samoa , Sep 17 2014 (IPS)

Rural farming families in Samoa, a small island developing state in the central South Pacific Ocean, are reaping the rewards of supplying produce to the international organic market with the help of a local women’s business organisation.

“In Samoa, we are a very blessed nation, most people have their own piece of land and we have the sea,” Kalais-Jade Stanley, programme manager for Women in Business Development Inc (WIBDI), a Samoan non-government organisation dedicated to developing village economies, told IPS.

With the resources to grow food and the social safety net provided by traditional kinship obligations, people rarely go hungry. According to the World Bank, Samoa has one of the lowest food hardship rates in the region at 1.1 percent, compared to 4.5 percent in Fiji and 26.5 percent in Papua New Guinea.

Women in Business Development Inc (WIBDI) is working with 1,200 farming families and 600 certified organic farmers across the country, generating local incomes totalling more than 253,800 dollars per year.
But Stanley says many rural families experience a lack of economic opportunity, such as “not being able to access markets” and being “unaware of what they could potentially access” to make their livelihoods more resilient.

In Gataivai, a village of 1,400 people on Savaii, the largest island in Samoa, Faaolasa Toilolo Sione has worked the land for 40 years. Here approximately one quarter of the country’s population of 190,372 support themselves mainly by subsistence and smallholder agriculture.

In the island’s rich volcanic soil Sione grows taro, yams, bananas, cocoa and coconuts. He sells these crops at a market in the nearby town of Salelologa and from a stall located on the roadside in front of his home.

But his livelihood significantly prospered after he began working with WIBDI in 2012 to produce certified organic virgin coconut oil for international buyers.

Now Sione employs four to five workers in the organic oil-processing site on his farm, which is adding value to his coconut harvest. He produces 80 buckets, each 19 litres, of coconut oil per month, which brings in a monthly income of about 12,000 tala (5,076 dollars).

“Organic farming is not easy, but there are a lot of benefits,” Sione said. “I have more knowledge about good farming practices and a regular weekly income, which helps send the children to school and support my extended family.”

He has also purchased water tanks for the family and a new truck to transport produce. Transportation can be a major challenge for farmers. Those who don’t own vehicles frequently rely on public bus services to take their wares to buyers across the island or in the capital.

An estimated 68 percent of Samoan households are engaged in agriculture and WIBDI, which understands rural vulnerability to environmental extremes and economic barriers in the Pacific Islands, wants to see many more achieve Sione’s success.

Samoa’s economy is limited by the geographical challenges of being a small island state situated far from main markets. Located in a tropical climate zone and near the Pacific Ring of Fire, the country is also highly exposed to natural disasters.

Multiple shocks in the past 20 years, including numerous severe cyclones since the 1990s, an earthquake and tsunami in 2009, the 2008 global financial crisis and the destructive taro leaf blight pest took their toll on the agricultural sector. As a result, its contribution to the economy almost halved from 19 percent to 10 percent in the decade ending in 2009.

According to a government report prepared for the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS), “Raising the quality of life for all in all sectors of the economy remains the most significant challenge” for the small Polynesian state of Samoa.

WIBDI, which aims to be part of the solution, is working with 1,200 farming families and 600 certified organic farmers across the country, generating local incomes totalling more than 600,000 tala (253,800 dollars) per year.

Their hands-on approach includes providing on-going training every month to fresh produce gardeners and coconut oil producers, and conducting regular farm visits to help growers address any problems in their agricultural practice. The Ministry of Agriculture also supports organic farmers with advice on the best practices of managing land and soil without using chemicals.

WIBDI, which is organically certified by the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture in Australia, further acts as a link between small local producers and the global organics market, which has the potential to provide huge benefits: the global organic food market alone is estimated at more than 50 billion dollars.

“Our biggest success story would be our work with Body Shop International,” Stanley claimed. “Last year was the first year that we were able to meet demand. We sent just over 30 tonnes [to the Body Shop], which was amazing for our farmers with whom we have a fair trade relationship.”

The Samoan NGO is the international brand’s sole global supplier of certified organic virgin coconut oil, which is used in more than 60 countries and 30 different skincare products. WIBDI also exports organic dried bananas to New Zealand.

International partners are selected carefully to ensure that they are supporting not only the product, but the mission to help local rural families.

“Sharing similar values is very important to us because that helps the process of getting the farmers to where they would like to be,” Stanley said.

In contrast, the domestic market is growing slowly. Working to generate greater local support and interest in the nutritional benefits of organic fruit and vegetables, WIBDI arranges weekly deliveries direct from farmers to local customers, including about 16 local hotels and restaurants.

But for Sione on Savaii Island, in addition to monetary gains, there is also a long-term inter-generational benefit of organic farming, which requires that farming land is free of chemicals and pesticides.

“I will have healthy soil for passing my farm on to the next generation, for the future livelihood of my family,” he emphasised.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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World’s Most Unequal Region Sets Example in Fight Against Hunger

mar, 09/16/2014 - 20:44
Latin America and the Caribbean, the world’s most unequal region, has made the greatest progress towards improving food security and has become the region with the largest number of countries to have reached the first Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving the proportion of undernourished people. However, social and geographic inequalities persist in the region, […]

The Good – and the Bad – News on World Hunger

mar, 09/16/2014 - 20:30

To meet the challenge of feeding the world’s 805 million hungry people, this year’s State of Food Insecurity report calls for the creation of an ‘enabling environment’. Credit: FAO/Giulio Napolitano

By Phil Harris
ROME, Sep 17 2014 (IPS)

The number of hungry people in the world has declined by over 100 million in the last decade and over 200 million since 1990-92, but 805 million people around the world still go hungry every day, according to the latest UN estimates.

Presenting their annual joint report on the State of Food Insecurity in the World, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), international Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and World Food Programme (WFP) said that while the latest hunger figures indicate that the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving the proportion of undernourished people by 2015 is within reach, this will only be possible “if appropriate and immediate efforts are stepped up.”

These efforts include the necessary “political commitment … well informed by sound understanding of national challenges, relevant policy options, broad participation and lessons from other experiences.”"We cannot celebrate yet because we must still reach 805 million people without enough food for a healthy and productive life" – WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin

Introducing this year’s report, FAO Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva said that the figures indicate that a “world without hunger is possible in our lifetime.”

The three Rome-based UN agencies noted that while there has been significant progress overall, some regions are still lagging behind: sub-Saharan Africa, where more than one in four people remain chronically undernourished, and Asia, where the majority of the world’s hungry – 520 million people – live.

In Oceania there has been a modest improvement in percentage terms (down 1.7 percent from 14 percent two years ago) but an increase in the number of hungry people. Latin America and the Caribbean have made most progress in increasing food security.

However, WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin warned that “we cannot celebrate yet because we must still reach 805 million people without enough food for a healthy and productive life.”

Calling for what they called an ‘enabling environment’, the agencies stressed that “food insecurity and malnutrition are complex problems that cannot be solved by one sector or stakeholder alone, but need to be tackled in a coordinated way.” In this regard, they called on governments to work closely with the private sector and civil society.

According to the report, the ‘enabling environment’ should be based on an integrated approach that includes public and private investments to increase agricultural productivity; access to land, services, technologies and markets; and measures to promote rural development and social protection for the most vulnerable, including strengthening their resilience to conflicts and natural disasters.

Speaking at the presentation of the report, the WFP Executive Director referred in particular to the current outbreak of Ebola in the West African countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea which, she said, “is an unprecedented health emergency which is rapidly becoming a major food crisis.”

“You cannot isolate people without addressing the food and nutrition challenges of those who need assistance,” she added, noting that the populations in these countries are not harvesting or planting according to their regular seasonal requirements while the crisis rages.

“This is rapidly becoming a food crisis that is potentially affecting 1.3 million people today, with an unknown number of how many will be affected in the future.”

“We cannot let the unprecedented level of humanitarian crisis undermine our efforts to progress even further, to reach our planet’s most vulnerable people and to end hunger in our lifetimes.”

The State of Food Insecurity report will be part of discussions at the Second International Conference on Nutrition to be held in Rome from 19-21 November, jointly organised by FAO and the World Health Organization (WHO).

This high-level intergovernmental meeting will seek a renewed political commitment at global level to combat malnutrition with the overall goal of improving diets and raising nutrition levels.

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Against All the Odds: Maternity and Mortality in Afghanistan

mar, 09/16/2014 - 15:09

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) says Afghanistan is “one of the riskiest places to be a pregnant woman or a young child”. Credit: DVIDSHUB/CC-BY-2.0

By Karlos Zurutuza
KABUL, Sep 16 2014 (IPS)

Nasrin Mohamadi, a mother of four, has promised herself never to set foot in an Afghan public hospital again. After her first experience in a maternity ward, she has lost all faith in the state’s healthcare system.

“The doctors said that I had not fully dilated yet so they told me to wait in the corridor. I had to sit on the floor with some others as there wasn’t a single chair,” Mohamadi tells IPS, recalling her experience at Mazar-e Sharif hospital, 425 km northwest of Kabul.

“They finally took me into the room where three other women were waiting with their legs wide open while people came in and out. They kept me like that for an hour until I delivered without [an] anaesthetic, and not even a single towel to clean my baby or myself,” adds the 32-year-old.

“Immediately afterwards the doctors told me to leave as there were more women queuing in the corridor.”

“Many rural health clinics are dysfunctional, as qualified health staff have left the insecure areas, and the supply of reliable drugs and medical materials is irregular or non-existent." -- Doctors Without Borders (MSF)
Even after she left the hospital, Mohamadi’s ordeal was far from over. The doctors told her not to wash herself for ten days after the delivery, and as a result her stitches got infected.

“I paid between 600 and 800 dollars to give birth to my other three children after that; it was money well invested,” she says.

This is a steep price to pay in a country where the average daily income is under three dollars, and 75 percent of the population live in rural areas without easy access to health facilities.

Many women have no other option than to rely on public services, and the result speaks volumes about Afghanistan’s commitment to maternal health: some 460 deaths per 100,000 live births give the country one of the four worst maternal mortality ratios (MMR) in the world outside of sub-Saharan Africa.

While this represents a significant decline from a peak of 1,600 deaths per 100,000 births in 2002, far too many women are still dying during pregnancy and childbirth, according to the United Nations.

In 2013 alone, 4,200 Afghan women lost their lives while giving birth.

The lack of specialised medical attention during pregnancy or delivery for a great bulk of Afghan women is partly responsible. Few have access to health centres because these are only reachable in urban areas. The lack of both security and proper roads forces many women to deliver at home.

This does not bode well for the 6.5 million women of reproductive age around the country, particularly since Afghanistan only has 3,500 midwives, according to the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA)’s latest State of the World’s Midwifery report.

This means that the existing workforce of midwives meets only 23 percent of women’s needs. The situation is poised to worsen: UNFPA estimates that midwifery services in the country “will need to respond to 1.6 million pregnancies per annum by 2030, 73 percent of these in rural settings.”

Even women with access to top-level urban facilities, such as the Kabul-based Malalai Maternity Hospital, are not guaranteed safety and comfort.

For instance, Sultani*, a mother of four, tells IPS she is far from satisfied with her experience.

“I gave birth through caesarean section to my four children in this hospital but the doctors who attended to me were unskilled,” she remarks bluntly. “A majority of them had only completed three years of medical [school].

“On a scale of one to 10, I can only give Malalai a four,” she concludes.

Sultani’s opinion may be specific to her own experience, but it finds echo in various reports and studies of the country’s health system. A 2013 activity report by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) labeled Afghanistan “one of the riskiest places to be a pregnant woman or a young child” due to a lack of skilled female medical staff.

“Private clinics are unaffordable for most Afghans and many public hospitals are understaffed and overburdened,” reports the organisation, which runs four hospitals across the country.

“Many rural health clinics are dysfunctional, as qualified health staff have left the insecure areas, and the supply of reliable drugs and medical materials is irregular or non-existent,” continues the report.

This is a sobering analysis of a country that will need to configure its health system to cover “at least 117.8 million antenatal visits, 20.3 million births and 81.3 million post-partum/postnatal visits between 2012 and 2030”, according to UNFPA.

Given that contraceptive use is still scarce, reaching only 22 percent of reproductive-age women, large families continue to be the norm. Afghan women give birth to an average of six children, a practice fuelled by a cultural obsession with bearing at least one son, who will in turn care for his parents in their old age.

A lack of information about birth spacing means mothers seldom have time to fully recover between deliveries, causing a range of health issues for the mother and a lack of milk for the newborn child.

Findings from a 2013 survey conducted by the Afghan Ministry of Public Health indicate that only 58 percent of children below six months were exclusively breastfed.

Still, this is an improvement from a decade ago and represents small but hopeful changes in the arena of women and children’s health. The same government survey found, for instance, that “stunting among children has decreased by nearly 20 percent from 60.5 percent in 2004 to 40.9 percent in 2013.”

Dr. Nilofar Sultani, who practices at the Malalai Maternity Hospital, tells IPS that medical assistance in Afghanistan has improved “significantly” over the last ten years.

“There are more health centres, and [they are] far better equipped. The number of skilled doctors has also grown,” explains Sultani, a gynaecologist.

But the most important change, she says, has been in women’s attitude towards medical care. “Before, very few women would come to the hospitals but today, the majority of women come forward on their own. They’re slowly losing their fear [of] doctors,” notes Sultani, adding that health centres are among the very few places where Afghan women can feel at ease without the presence of a man.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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OPINION: Free Scotland, Nuclear-Free Scotland

mar, 09/16/2014 - 14:26

The blue and white Saltire flag of Scotland flutters next to the Union Jack during the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Credit: Vicky Brock/cc by 2.0

By Phil Harris
ROME, Sep 16 2014 (IPS)

After a two-year referendum campaign, Scots are finally voting Thursday on whether their country will regain its independence after more than 300 years of “marriage” with England.

It is still uncertain whether those in favour will win the day, but whichever way the wind blows, things are unlikely to be the same – and not just in terms of political relations between London and Edinburgh.If an independent Scotland were actually to abolish nuclear weapons from its territory, the government of what remains of today’s United Kingdom would be forced to look elsewhere for places in which to host its sea-based nuclear warheads – and this will be no easy task.

One bone of contention between Scots and their “cousins” to the south of Hadrian’s Wall – built by the Romans to protect their conquests in what is now England and, according to Emperor Hadrian’s biographer, “to separate the Romans from the barbarians” to the north – is the presence on Scottish territory of part of the United Kingdom’s nuclear arsenal.

The Scottish National Party (SNP), which supports an independent and non-nuclear Scotland, wants Scotland to become a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the European Union, but rejects nuclear weapons.

The United Kingdom currently has four Vanguard class submarines armed with nuclear-tipped Trident missiles based at Gare Loch on the west coast of Scotland, ostensibly there for the purpose of deterrence – but that was back in the days of the Cold War.

If an independent Scotland were actually to abolish nuclear weapons from its territory, the government of what remains of today’s United Kingdom would be forced to look elsewhere for places in which to host its sea-based nuclear warheads – and this will be no easy task.

The search would be on for another deep-water port or ports, and the UK government has already said that other potential locations in England are unacceptable because they are too close to populated areas – although that has not stopped it from placing some of its nuclear submarines and their deadly cargo  not far from Glasgow since 1969.

In any case, if those in favour of Scottish independence win, just the possibility that Scotland might even begin to consider the abolition of nuclear arms would oblige the UK government to give the nature of its commitment to nuclear weapons a major rethink.

The same would be true even if those in favour of remaining part of the United Kingdom win because there would still be a not insignificant number of Scots against nuclear weapons.

Either scenario indicates that Scotland could come to play a significant role in discussions on nuclear disarmament although, clearly, this role would be all the more important as an independent nation participating in NATO, following in the footsteps of NATO member countries like Canada, Lithuania and Norway which do not allow nuclear weapons on their territory.

And what could come of NATO initiatives such as that taken at its summit in Wales earlier this month to create a new 4,000 strong rapid reaction force for initial deployment in the Baltics?

As Nobel Peace Laureate Maired Maguire has said, that “is a dangerous path for us all to be forced down, and could well lead to a third world war if not stopped. What is needed now are cool heads and people of wisdom and not more guns, more weapons, more war.”

An independent Scotland could raise its voice in favour of prohibiting nuclear weapons at the global level and add to the lobby against the threats posed by the irresponsible arms brandishing of NATO.

Representatives of the SNP have said that they are ready to take an active part in humanitarian initiatives on nuclear weapons and support negotiations on an international treaty to prohibit – and not just limit the proliferation of – nuclear weapons, even without the participation of states in possession of such weapons.

What justification would then remain for these states?

Meanwhile, as Scots go to vote in their independence referendum, there is another aspect of the nuclear issue that the UK government still has to come to terms with – nuclear energy.

Scotland used to be home to six nuclear power stations. Four were closed between 1990 and 2004, but two still remain – the Hunterston B power station in North Ayrshire and the Torness power station in East Lothian – both of which are run by EDF Energy, a company with its headquarters in London.

A YouGov public opinion poll in 2013 showed that Scots are twice as likely to favour wind power over nuclear or shale gas. Over six in 10 (62 percent) people in Scotland said they would support large-scale wind projects in their local area, well more than double the number who said they would be in favour of shale gas (24 percent) and almost twice as many as for nuclear facilities (32 percent).

Hydropower was the most popular energy source for large-scale projects in Scotland, with an overwhelming majority (80 percent) in favour.

So, with a strong current among Scots in favour of ‘non-nuclear’, whatever the outcome of Thursday’s referendum, London would be well-advised that the “barbarians” to its north could teach a lesson or two in a civilised approach to 21st century coexistence.

Phil Harris is Chief, IPS World Desk (English service). He can be contacted at pharris@ips.org

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Blue Halo: A Conservation Flagship, or Death Knell for Fishermen?

mar, 09/16/2014 - 13:54

Gerald Price sees a bleak future for Barbuda's fishermen under the Blue Halo initiative. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
CODRINGTON, Barbuda, Sep 16 2014 (IPS)

Local fishermen are singing the blues over a sweeping set of new ocean management regulations, signed into law by the Barbuda Council, to zone their coastal waters, strengthen fisheries management, and establish a network of marine sanctuaries.

Director of the Barbuda Research Complex John Mussington has criticised the Blue Halo initiative, not for its laudable goals, but because he believes it needs a more inclusive approach that takes into account climate change and offers fishermen an alternative.“I have been in places where there is no management, like Jamaica where I spent several years, and I can say from firsthand experience that the fishers there are extraordinarily poor and they are poor because fishing has been so badly managed that there is nothing left to catch.” -- Dr. Nancy Knowlton

“I don’t think you are going to get the cooperation of the Barbuda fishermen,” he cautioned.

“I have been involved directly in conservation efforts in Barbuda since 1983, even more so from 1991, where every single project related to conservation of the resources, particularly related to fishing, I have been involved in, so when I speak concerning this matter I am speaking on that basis,” Mussington told IPS.

The regulations establish five marine sanctuaries, collectively protecting 33 percent (139 km2) of the coastal area, to enable fish populations to rebuild and habitats to recover.

To restore the coral reefs, catching parrotfish and sea urchins has been completely prohibited, as those herbivores are critical to keeping algae levels on reefs low so coral can thrive. Barbuda is the first Caribbean island to put either of these bold and important measures in place.

But Mussington said the regulations and the initiatives which have been signed onto are not likely to work for three reasons.

“One, the science on which the initiative is based is poor and once you have poor science to start off with you cannot expect to get good results,” he said.

“The second reason why it will be challenged has to do with the local government administration which has a track record of not adhering to regulations and a lack of will and capacity with respect to enforcing regulations.

“The third issue on which this initiative is going to likely fail has to do with the engagement of stakeholders. You cannot come into a community and basically engage stakeholders in a manner which essentially results in division and sidelining of persons. Things have not worked that way,” Mussington added.

Chair of the National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC, Dr. Nancy Knowlton, disagrees. She cited a recent major report based on 90 different locations around the Caribbean which clearly shows that in places where fishing is properly managed, reefs are much healthier.

“In many of these places a big part of alternative livelihoods is in fact ocean-related tourism, and in order for that to take hold you need to have a healthy ecosystem, so I am much more optimistic about the chances for the Blue Halo to be a kind of flagship for the successful management of reefs in the Caribbean,” she told IPS.

“I have been in places where there is no management, like Jamaica where I spent several years, and I can say from firsthand experience that the fishers there are extraordinarily poor and they are poor because fishing has been so badly managed that there is nothing left to catch.”

The report, which synthesised a three-year study by 90 international experts and was issued by the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), had a spot of surprisingly good news.

According to the authors, restoring parrotfish populations and improving other management strategies, such as protection from overfishing and excessive coastal pollution, can help reefs recover and even make them more resilient to future climate change impacts.

The study also shows that some of the healthiest Caribbean coral reefs are those that harbour vigorous populations of grazing parrotfish.

These include the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in the northern Gulf of Mexico, Bermuda and Bonaire, “all of which have restricted or banned fishing practices that harm parrotfish, such as fish traps and spearfishing”.

The study is urging other countries to follow suit.

Still, according to the former president of the Antigua and Barbuda Fisherman’s Cooperative, Gerald Price, the future looks “very bleak” for Barbudan fishermen under Blue Halo.

He said the last time he checked the statistics for Barbuda, there were about 43 active fishing vessels, and each one may have three to four fishermen aboard. “What are they going to do and how are they going to make a living?” Price wondered.

“Barbuda is slightly different from Antigua in that in Antigua, our fishermen usually have an alternative. They are either a carpenter or a mason or they get work at a hotel. In Barbuda, as we understand it, they are 100 percent dependent on fishing. It’s going to be bleak, very bleak.”

Creation of the new regulations on Barbuda occurred under the umbrella of the Barbuda Blue Halo Initiative, a collaboration among the Barbuda Council, Government of Antigua & Barbuda, Barbuda Fisheries Division, Codrington Lagoon Park, and the Waitt Institute. The Waitt Institute provided all of the science, mapping, and communications, offered policy recommendations, and coordinated the overall Initiative.

“I enthusiastically applaud the measures put in place in Barbuda, particularly the protection of parrotfish and sea urchins. Protection of these vitally important herbivores is the essential first step toward the recovery of Caribbean reefs from the severe degradation they have undergone in the last 50 years,” said Jeremy Jackson, director of the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN) at the International Union of the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Also included in the regulations is a two-year fishing hiatus for Codrington Lagoon, the primary nursery ground for the lobster and finfish fisheries. The lagoon, a Ramsar wetland of international importance, is one the Caribbean’s most extensive and intact mangrove ecosystems, and home to the world’s largest breeding colony of magnificent frigate birds.

But Mussington said having the Codrington Lagoon declared as a sanctuary zone will backfire.

“The cultural significance of that lagoon, the resources which are there and the history on which it is based in terms of providing livelihood and food security for Barbudans — you would understand that making such a declaration is counterproductive,” he said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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Panama Turns to Biofortification of Crops to Build Food Security

mar, 09/16/2014 - 09:40

Vicente Castrellón proudly shows his biofortified rice crop. The 69-year-old farmer provides technical advice to other farmers participating in the Agro Nutre programme in the central Panamanian district of Olá. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabiola Ortiz
PANAMA CITY, Sep 16 2014 (IPS)

Panama is the first Latin American country to have adopted a national strategy to combat what is known as hidden hunger, with a plan aimed at eliminating micronutrient deficiencies among the most vulnerable segments of the population by means of biofortification of food crops.

The project began to get underway in 2006 and took full shape in August 2013, when the government launched the Agro Nutre Panamá programme, which coordinates the improvement of food quality among the poor, who are concentrated in rural and indigenous areas, by adding iron, vitamin A and zinc to seeds.

“We see biofortification as an inexpensive way to address the problem by means of staple foods that families consume on a daily basis,” Ismael Camargo, the coordinator of Agro Nutre, told IPS. Panama has pockets of poverty with high levels of micronutrient deficiencies, he explained.

In 2006 research began here into biofortification of maize; two years later beans were added to the programme; and in 2009 the research incorporated rice and sweet potatoes, as part of a plan that is backed by the National Secretariat of Science, Technology and Innovation.“We are producing three harvests a year, I provide technical support for other farmers. For now it’s for family consumption, but some grow more than they need and earn a little money selling the surplus." -- Vicente Castrellón

Panama’s Agricultural Research Institute and academic institutions are involved in Agro Nutre, which has the support of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the World Food Programme (WFP), and Brazil’sn governmental agricultural research agency, Embrapa.

Some 4,000 of the country’s 48,000 subsistence level or family farmers are taking part in the current phase, planting biofortified seeds.

Adding micronutrients to staple foods in the Panamanian diet became a state policy in 2009. So far, five varieties of maize, four of rice and two of beans, all of them conventionally improved and with a high protein content, have been produced experimentally and approved for release.

“The project began in rural areas, because that is where the extreme poverty is, and where farmers produce for subsistence,” food engineer Omaris Vergara of the University of Panama told IPS.

She added that in this phase, “the commercialisation of these foods is not being considered – the aim is to improve the nutritional quality of the diets of family farmers.”

According to Vergara, the biggest hurdle for the expansion and growth of Agro Nutre is the lack of research infrastructure.

“The project is focused on vulnerable populations. Academic institutions will carry out impact studies, but they haven’t yet begun to do so because the studies are very costly,” said the engineer, who sees the lack of research facilities as the weak point of the project.

According to figures from Agro Nutre, of the 3.5 million people in this Central American country, one million live in rural areas. And of the rural population, half live in poverty and 22 percent in extreme poverty.

But the worst poverty in Panama is found among the 300,000 indigenous people who live in five counties, 90 percent of whom are poor.

Beans and rice in Olá

Isidra González, a 54-year-old small farmer, had never heard of improving the nutritional quality of food with micronutrients until she and her oldest son began five years ago to plant biofortified seeds on their small plot of land in the community of Hijos de Dios in the district of Olá, which is in the central province of Coclé.

Now the 70 families in that village next to the only road in the area produce biofortified crops: beans on small plots climbing tropical lush green hills and rice on nearby floodable land.

“I think these seeds are better and produce more. They grow with just half the amount of water,” González, who has been involved in the project since the experimental phase, told IPS. “People like these crops because they have more flavour and are really good – my kids eat our rice and beans with enthusiasm, you can tell,” she added, laughing.

Vicente Castrellón, a 69-year-old local farmer, plants improved seeds and became a community trainer to help farmers in the district.

“We are producing three harvests a year, I provide technical support for other farmers. For now it’s for family consumption, but some grow more than they need and earn a little money selling the surplus,” he told IPS.

“Life here is very expensive for farmers like us,” Castrellón said in Hijos de Díos, which is 250 km from Panama City, over three hours away by car.

He added that it was not easy for the families in Olá to switch over to biofortified seeds. “It took nearly a year to get them to join Agro Nutre,” he said. “But now people are excited because for every 10 pounds that are planted, they grow 100 to 200 pounds of grains,” he added, proudly pointing to the rice plants on his plot of land.

The inclusion of the fourth crop, sweet potatoes (Imopeas batata), was a strategic move, researcher Arnulfo Gutiérrez explained.

The sweet potato, which had nearly disappeared from the Panamanian diet, is the world’s fifth-largest crop in term of production and FAO is promoting its expansion worldwide. The incorporation of sweet potatoes in Panama has the aim of boosting consumption and in 2015 two or three improved varieties are to be released.

Luis Alberto Pinto, a FAO consultant, forms part of the Agro Nutre administrative committee and is the national technical coordinator in the first two indigenous counties where improved seeds are being used, Gnäbe Bugle and Guna Yala.


“We are working in four pilot communities,” he told IPS. “In Gnäbe Bugle we are working with 129 farmers in Cerro Mosquito and Chichica, and in Guna Yala we are working with 50 farmers on islands along the Caribbean coast.

“We work in accordance with their customs and cultures, incorporating these products in a manner that can be sustained in time,” Pinto said. “Our hope is to expand the project to all of the indigenous counties.”

Besides science and production, the project requires constant lobbying of legislators and government ministries, to keep alive the political commitment to biofortification as a state policy.

Eyra Mojica, WFP representative in Panama, told IPS it now seems normal to her to walk down the corridors of parliament and visit the offices of high-level ministry officials.

“We have worked in advocacy with legislators, directors, ministers and new authorities,” she said. “The issue of food security is so complex. The WFP has become the main support for supplying information on nutrition to the authorities. There is a great deal of ignorance.”

By 2015, the WFP hopes to introduce cassava and summer squash as new biofortified crops.

“We want to have a basket of seven biofortified foods,” Mojica said. “The idea is to move forward by incorporating small groups, of women farmers for example. We are also looking into working with the school lunch programme, starting next year.”

Biofortification of staple foods with micronutrients, to reduce hidden hunger, was developed by HarvestPlus, a programme coordinated by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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