hunger and povertyPresident Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe announced that the government has committed itself to end hunger and poverty in the country by expanding and improving its agricultural strategies. The president made this announcement at a United Pre-Food Systems Summit Dialogue hosted by the president of Malawi. Zimbabwe was one of many African countries that receive representation at the Summit.

Hunger in Zimbabwe

In the past two decades, farmers in Zimbabwe have struggled to feed the entire nation. In 2014, Africa Renewal reported that 2001 was “the last time Zimbabwe produced enough maize to meet its needs.” The reason for the lack of substantial produce is a deficit of financial support for the agriculture system in the country.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only heightened the inconsistency of agricultural produce. This is prevalent in the recovery of agriculture as a result of improved control of COVID-19 cases in the country. Food inflation during May 2021 was at 179% and records determined that prices were at a 0% to 20% decrease, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Progress Toward Ending Hunger

While the agriculture industry in Zimbabwe may be on the mend since the pandemic, there is still work that needs to occur. For example, 2021’s Global Report on Food Crises has found that there has been no recent progress toward the goal of reaching “zero hunger” in the world by 2030.

This is one of the motivating factors behind President Mnangagwa’s decision to end hunger and poverty in Zimbabwe. He claims that Zimbabwe’s best strategy requires that “institutions of higher learning must be roped in to offer innovation that climate-proofs the vital agriculture sector,” as the Zimbabwe Chronicle reported.

Higher-learning institutions can provide farmers and agricultural members with the knowledge of how to better cultivate the food they need. The institutions can also give resources for financial assistance, equipment access, lessons on nutrition and strengthening strategies within Zimbabwe’s food systems. With this strategy, the president believes that the agriculture system in Zimbabwe will be able to grow.

Boosting Zimbabwe’s Economy

As evidence suggests, the growth of agriculture and food systems in Zimbabwe is the key to boosting the entire economy. President Mnangagwa explains that “the present economic blueprint” and the country’s agriculture and food systems development plans “situates the agriculture sector as having a critical role in the overall development and growth of the economy.” He says further, “This is anchored on food and nutrition security, import substitution, exports generation, employment creation and the raising of household incomes.”

The positive development of agriculture in Zimbabwe is the key to ending hunger and poverty throughout the country. Agriculture provides citizens with food security and boosts the economy with exports, sales and employment. Thus, if the president’s plan falls into place as described, it could bring about a positive change for Zimbabwe, contributing to reduced global hunger and poverty.

– Riley Prillwitz
Photo: pixabay

Build Back Better World Initiative
Congress has been negotiating the size and scope of a domestic infrastructure bill for most of Joe Biden’s presidency. Still, action is necessary to further infrastructure abroad. The U.S. and its allies in the G7 recognize this need and have launched the Build Back Better World Initiative (B3W) to address global infrastructure challenges. A closer look at the initiative provides insight into the state of infrastructure in low and middle-income countries around the world.

The Infrastructure Gap

Infrastructure connects people and goods, which allows economies to scale and grow. From highways, ports, bridges, railways, pipelines, sewage systems and more, infrastructure projects are vital for transport, communication, energy and health. Infrastructure projects are the foundation of economic development and are vital to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including universal access to water and electricity. 

Infrastructure projects are also important for developing nations because the projects can be a major source of employment, spurring economic growth and allowing workers to gain new skills. The White House currently estimates that the infrastructure needed in low and middle-income countries globally totals more than $40 trillion.

Infrastructure gaps are significant because the gaps hinder economic growth. According to World Bank research, “Every 10% increase in infrastructure provision increases [economic] output by approximately 1% in the long term.” In other words, spending on infrastructure grows an economy. Further, as environmental challenges continue to threaten nations around the world, the World Bank says that even small investments in climate-resilient infrastructure can save trillions of dollars in recovery efforts.

The Build Back Better World Initiative

Partnering with G7 nations, the U.S. launched the B3W to alleviate some of the problems associated with infrastructure gaps. The White House will look toward not only its allies but the private sector for hundreds of billions of dollars in funding for infrastructure investment. The administration says that it will leverage partnerships with the private sector because “status quo funding and financing approaches are inadequate” to meet the size of these challenges. 

The focus for projects is four distinct areas, including climate, health, digital technology and gender equity. The aim is to reach all around the world with different partners, but, USAID and other U.S. development groups will take leading roles. However, there is still an understanding that local needs will be a priority, as “infrastructure that is developed in partnership with those whom it benefits will last longer and generate more development impact.” 

The Biden administration has stressed the importance of good governance in foreign assistance and has already noted the importance of using B3W as a way to encourage full transparency with monitoring tools, common contracts and metrics for evaluation.

The Build Back Better World Initiative and US Interest

Foreign assistance supports U.S. strategic interests, which is why Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economics Daleep Singh has indicated support for the initiative. In recent years, especially when the U.S. has taken a step back from foreign affairs, China has accelerated spending on global infrastructure with the Belt and Road Initiative. 

However, Singh indicates that the point of the initiative is not to inflame hostilities or work as an anti-China group but rather to provide an alternative to Belt and Road financing. The goal is to “rally countries around a positive agenda that projects our shared values.” B3W supports U.S. interests by providing an alternative and showing that the U.S. is once again ready and willing to be a good partner for the world.

With Congress working on a domestic infrastructure package, it is important to not lose sight of the critical needs for sustained and significant investment in infrastructure around the world. Infrastructure projects connect the world, making it safer and healthier. Funding infrastructure around the world as part of the Build Back Better World Initiative aligns with U.S. strategic interests. Hopefully, this initiative will encourage bridging gaps and becoming a more connected world.

– Alex Muckenfuss
Photo: Flickr

Kounkuey Design InitiativeKounkuey Design Initiative (KDI) is a nonprofit founded in 2006 by Harvard graduates who sought to combat “poverty, environmental degradation and social isolation.” The inquiry directed the focus of the graduates to Nairobi, Kenya, the birthplace of KDI co-founder, Arthur Adeya. Working with residents of an informal settlement called the Kibera slum, the graduates had an opportunity to put their skills to use in a community impacted by poverty, environmental destruction and social inequalities. While engaging with the realities of the slum, KDI was able to create a community model where the voices of Kibera residents contribute to the design process. By involving the voices of the community, KDI brought the definition of Kounkuey to life. After all, the Thai concept of Kounkuey means “to get to know something intimately.” KDI looked to address the common problem of flooding in Kibera, among other issues.

Flooding in Kibera Slum

According to UN-Habitat, Kenya’s Kibera slum is the second-largest informal settlement in Africa. The estimated population in the almost 555 acres of informal housing ranges from 350,000 to one million people. The high population density coupled with “unplanned and crowded” housing as well as inadequate infrastructure makes the Kibera slum extremely vulnerable to flooding as a result of drainage issues.

The World Bank Group reports that Kenya is highly vulnerable to “climate hazards” such as drought and floods, “which cause economic losses estimated at 3% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). Poverty and poor infrastructure are the major reasons why floods are extremely devastating in the Kibera slum. Since women and children are more vulnerable to the impacts of poverty, flooding in the Kibera slum impacts them significantly by destroying women’s kiosks and exposing children to water-borne diseases.

The poverty in the Kibera slum makes it more difficult for the dwellers to cope with flooding. Most of the residents survive on just $1 a day. The high unemployment rate in Nairobi makes it difficult for those trying to secure jobs in order to survive. According to a 2012 survey, 50% of the population experienced unemployment. Floods have major economic consequences, and for people already living in poverty, the impacts of floods exacerbate poor living conditions.

A survey conducted in the Kibera slum highlighted that half of the respondents’ homes were flooded in the 2015 rainy season. In May 2021, four people died near the Kibera slum due to flooding. The flooding has become increasingly dangerous, but for residents of the dense Kibera slum, moving to higher ground is easier said than done.

The Kibera Public Space Projects and Floods

The Kounkuey Design Initiative started the Kibera Public Space Projects in 2006, aiming to build spaces that could meet the residents’ social and economic needs. There are about 12 projects, including a project that involves constructing bridges over rivers prone to flooding. Not only are the 12 projects vital for protecting people from the impacts of flooding but the projects also protect the socio-economic well-being of the residents of Kibera.

The Kibera Public Space Projects hope to reduce the fatal impacts of flooding, among other goals. The projects involve a series of goals that aim to bring the community together, create efficient drainage and improve social conditions. For instance, some public spaces incorporate “gardens and playgrounds with sanitary blocks, laundry spaces and educational facilities.”

The Kounkuey Design Initiatives addresses flooding in Kibera slum while fostering social inclusion. Using creative design-oriented solutions, KDI addresses issues impacting impoverished areas. The innovative efforts of KDI contribute to overall poverty reduction in Kenya.

– Frank Odhiambo
Photo: Flickr

Female Genital Mutilation in the Central African Republic
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines female genital mutilation (FGM) as “all procedures involving partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” FGM has no health benefits, and in fact, it can lead to extreme health complications. This includes severe bleeding, problems urinating, cysts and infections as well as complications in childbirth and the added risk of newborn deaths. More than 200 million girls and women alive today have experienced mutilation in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. About three million girls per year are at risk of undergoing FGM before their 15th birthday without interventions to combat the prevalence of FGM. Female genital mutilation is a common practice in the Central African Republic.

The Prevalence of FGM in the Central African Republic

FGM is widespread in the Central African Republic. The average portion of women undergoing FGM in the Central African Republic is 24% but can range from 3%-53% depending on the province, according to UNICEF. Of those cut, 52% of girls underwent the procedure between the ages of 10 and 14.

The Orchid Project’s Work to End FGM

The Orchid Project is an NGO that focuses on ending FGM throughout the world. It does this by “catalyzing the global movement to end female genital cutting,” particularly by advocating among global leaders and governments to make sure that the elimination of FGM is a priority. The Orchid Project has a goal of eliminating all FGM by 2030. The project spreads awareness of the dangers of FGM through its website.

The Murua Girl Child Education Program

The Murua Girl Child Education Program is an organization that raises awareness of child rights and promotes children’s protection from harmful practices like FGM. Seleyian Partoip, the program’s founder and director, gave a speech at the International Conference on Population Development in Nairobi, Kenya. She says, “Every time I speak about FGC [female genital cutting], I speak as a survivor of the practice… My daughter will never speak as a survivor.” The program’s vision is to preserve, promote and protect cultural practices while stopping harmful traditions. It does this by reaching out to schools and communities and educating them on the dangers of harmful practices like FGM, while also teaching people about proper hygiene, their bodies and their rights. The program is based in Kenya but also reaches out to youth in other African countries.

28 Too Many’s Work to End FGM

28 Too Many is an organization that spreads awareness of female genital mutilation in the Central African Republic and other African countries. “The more we talk the better . . . [b]ut to fully eradicate FGM we need to have the authorities on our side enforcing the law,” said Marguerite Ramadan, president of the Central African Republic Committee of the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices. 

Female genital mutilation is prevalent in the Central African Republic, but, the Orchid Project, the Murua Girl Child Education Program and others are working to end it. With the right education, outreach and awareness, communities will abandon the practice of female genital mutilation. Thanks to donations, these organizations can continue working toward their goal of eliminating the practice of female genital mutilation by 2030.

Neve Walker
Photo: Flickr

Child Poverty in Romania
Romania, an Eastern European country bordering Ukraine and Hungary, is infamous for its struggles with children’s rights. A quarter of the nation lives below the poverty line, and furthermore, almost one-third of all children in Romania live below the poverty line. The rate of child poverty in Romania is one of the highest in the whole European Union.

The Problem of Childhood Poverty in Romania

Romania has one of the highest poverty rates in Europe, and the issue of child poverty there is especially pressing. According to The Independent, child poverty in Romania has worsened in recent years due to three main reasons: “a higher rate of unemployment, a wider gap between rural and urban areas in terms of investment, education, and employment opportunities, and a general descending economic trend after the 2008 financial crisis.” Though the number of working children has decreased in recent years, still 1% of children must work, doing jobs like begging, washing car windows or working as brickmakers. Some families sell their children to mafias who recruit them to join gangs or sex traffick them in Romania or in other European countries.

Rural Child Poverty

Today, child poverty is the worst in rural areas of Romania, where 45% of the population lives. Most rural Romanians are impoverished subsistence farmers, leading to their children growing up in poverty-stricken conditions. Access to education and proper medical facilities is not as available as it is in cities. Many rural Romanians cannot pay for medical services, which has resulted in a severe lack of doctors in the countryside. In addition, the country decreased its education budget because of dire economic conditions, which led to a shortage of teachers. Furthermore, 400,000 children are not attending school.

Solutions

Several organizations have been working in Romania with the main goal of promoting the rights of children to the government in order to alleviate childhood poverty. The National Council of Students represents all the country’s students by defending students’ rights and lobbying for a reformed educational system. Another organization, the Children’s Board, comprises children of different ages from all over the country. It strives to create a governance that protects children of all ethnicities and backgrounds.

These organizations work to keep children’s voices heard in different capacities, a pressing task considering the treatment of children during Romania’s communist days. Four of the leading child protection organizations joined to produce the “Child Rights Now! Romania” report. The report details how child rights have improved since the end of communism and the execution of Romanian communist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu in 1989. The report also points out issues to fix in order to improve child rights and decrease poverty levels, plus several tangible solutions.

More organizations are addressing child poverty in Romania than ever before. Under Ceaușescu’s regime, Romanian children living in poverty had no rights. Hopefully now, with the help of various advocacy organizations working with the government, improvements will alleviate child poverty in Romania.

– Allie Degner
Photo: Flickr

Schools for Africa InitiativeImplemented in 2004, the Schools for Africa initiative is a unified effort among organizations such as UNICEF, the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the Hamburg Society. The program specifically aims to improve access to education for the most marginalized and disadvantaged children in Africa as a means of promoting social and economic mobility through learning. Schools for Africa helps Africa advance by increasing access to “quality education in 21 countries across Africa.” Since education reduces poverty, the Schools for Africa initiative provides benefits that are far-reaching.

Supporting Education in Africa

The education initiative prioritizes fundamental elements of educational standards and accessibility in countries such as Angola, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Guinea-Bissau, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa and Zimbabwe by funding improvements to the existing education system. Specifically, the initiative aims to construct and restore almost 1,000 schools. Furthermore, the initiative prioritizes training 100,000 teachers and supplying educational resources to schools.

The initiative also ensures clean drinking water for children and gender-separate bathrooms for students. Schools for Africa prioritizes the education of vulnerable students such as orphans, girls and extremely impoverished children. The program knocks down barriers to education, such as scarcity of economic resources, and helps lessen economic gaps throughout Africa.

Other Supporters of Schools for Africa

Organizations such as the Delta Kappa Gamma Society International have supported the Schools for Africa initiative, spreading awareness about the importance of education for children and fundraising for the cause. The Society views its contribution to the program as a critical step in fostering an inclusive and safe atmosphere for children who are particularly vulnerable, such as impoverished children and those without parents.

In 2008, the UNICEF Office for Croatia joined the Schools for Africa program, prioritizing educational improvement in Croatia by working with “kindergartens, schools and centers for education all over Croatia.” Croatia also aims to improve educational access across Africa. The UNICEF Office for Croatia and Croatian communities garnered more than six million Croatian kunas “for the education of children in Rwanda, Ethiopia and Burkina Faso.”

Education for Poverty Reduction

In many African countries, natural disasters, insufficient infrastructure and a lack of professional training for teaching staff contribute to low school attendance for many children. For example, only a third of the teaching staff in Madagascar have adequate training. Furthermore, the Madagascan school attendance rate is exceptionally low in contrast to more developed countries. Now more than ever, it is important to acknowledge the economic inequity that correlates with low school attendance. Supporting the Schools for Africa initiative shows a commitment to reducing poverty in Africa since education and poverty are interlinked.

The Schools for Africa Initiative is now able to reach more than 30 million children. The efforts of the initiative ensure that children possess the skills and knowledge to advance and prosper in their lives ahead. Through education, children are empowered and cycles of poverty are broken.

– Kristen Quinonez
Photo: Flickr

Nurses in the Solomon IslandsThe Solomon Islands has just two doctors for every 10,000 people. The doctor shortage makes nurses particularly essential, especially as the country faces frequent natural disasters and disease outbreaks. However, nurses are also in short supply. Furthermore, in a country with a 12% poverty rate as of 2013, nurses do not receive proper pay and care. Nurses in the Solomon Islands have faced even more difficulties than usual during the COVID-19 pandemic, but new training programs are helping to remedy the shortage.

Nurse Strikes and Protests

Nurses are the primary healthcare providers in the Solomon Islands, but despite this, they consistently struggle with pay allowances rightfully due to them. The Solomon Islands Nurses Association has issued strikes multiple times over the past five years. In 2016, nurses went on strike for “multi-allowances and special duty allowances” that remained unpaid from 2013. The association extended the strike multiple times as nurses fought to receive the outstanding allowances. Eventually, the strike ended when the government agreed to review and listen to nurses’ demands.

In 2018, nurses found that many of the demands from a Memorandum of Agreement signed in 2007 remained unmet. It called for public service to pay for transportation, housing and posting and for the government to review five other claims. Eleven years later, those demands remained unmet and nurses issued a 28-day strike notice.

In 2019, the nurses again faced a similar situation. The government had agreed on a payment plan the previous year that would provide the nurses with their incentives at the beginning of 2019. A month into the year, the payment did not come through as agreed upon. Once again, the Solomon Islands Nurses Association issued a 28-day strike notice.

Most recently, in October 2020, nurses working in Honiara, the country’s capital and a COVID-19 emergency zone, threatened to strike if they did not receive allowance pay for working on the front lines. The nurses initiated sit-in protests, but when those were overlooked, they went on strike without government approval.

Strike Repercussions

As a result of the unauthorized strike, the government suspended the Solomon Island Nurses Association as a trade union. The government recognized its inability to pay the nurses but did not believe the strike was in Solomon Islanders’ best interests. However, since the suspension, the government has taken action to address the nurse shortage by improving training programs for nurses.

Supervised Practice Program

In March 2021, 180 registered nurses graduated from the Solomon Islands National University and Pacific Adventist University in Papua New Guinea and Atoifi. The graduates have begun a year-long internship with the newly implemented Supervised Practice Program. The Supervised Practice Program ensures nurses are fully registered before employment, focusing on areas of nursing that need improvement in the Solomon Islands.

The graduates are monitored and tested in attendance and timeliness, nursing ethics, code of conduct adherence and dedication. The Supervised Practice Program will help ensure that the Solomon Islands employs qualified and properly trained nurses. With this program, the government aims to improve healthcare and show support for nurses.

Long-Term Benefits of More Nurses

A lack of proper healthcare not only leads to poor health and a shorter lifespan but can also impact people’s ability to work and earn money, ultimately lowering household income and increasing poverty. People living in poverty are already at high risk of poor health because of limited access to healthcare services, a lack of nutritious food and unhealthy living environments. With increased access to qualified nurses, the people of the Solomon Islands will be able to improve their health and reduce poverty as productive citizens who can contribute to the economy.

The pandemic highlights the essential role of nurses, and as such, it is imperative to value, support and prioritize nurses. With progress for nurses in the Solomon Islands, quality healthcare will be more easily accessible to citizens, helping to reduce disease, death and poverty.

Delaney Gilmore
Photo: Flickr

Food Sovereignty
Food insecurity is abundant on Native American reservations, with the lack of grocery stores and affordable fresh foods leading to high rates of diabetes, heart disease and obesity. As of 2018, a quarter of Native Americans lacked access to nutritious foods. When COVID-19 hit, the more than two-hour round trips to get food were often fruitless, as panic-induced buying emptied store shelves. Some tribes are now taking matters into their own hands. Today, solutions to the problem are starting to emerge with a variety of tribal and intertribal efforts exploring food sovereignty.

The Structure of Reservations

Federal government mismanagement of native lands is a major underlying cause of food insecurity. Through the federal trust doctrine, the U.S. government owns and manages native lands and assets. This means that reservation residents are not usually the owners of homes. This makes it impossible to mortgage property to start a business on a reservation. Federal land ownership hinders harnessing natural resources and developing the land. On-reservation development projects must go through 49 steps, spread across four government agencies before approval. In contrast, off-reservation projects require only four steps and this difference extends wait time from a couple of months to years.

These factors, in addition to low population density and poverty, cause companies to avoid investing in reservations. Tribal leaders or entrepreneurs are able to start farms. However, the leaders often lack the complementary infrastructures needed to get their products on grocery store shelves. As such, produce and meats often leave the reservation for services such as grading, freezing and packaging. By the time the products make it back to the reservation, the produce is less fresh and marked-up due to travel.

The Disruption of Traditional Diets

The lack of infrastructure and government restrictions on hunting and gathering create food insecurity on many reservations. The Pine Ridge Reservation imports 95% of foods and everyday necessities while the Menominee Reservation, the largest reservation east of the Mississippi River, has only one grocery store.

Due to the situation, some families’ only option is to seek government assistance. In 2015, 24% of Native families participated in the SNAP program, formerly known as the Food Stamps Program. This is almost twice as much involvement as that of the general population. Furthermore, nearly a fifth of all Native children participated in the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) free or reduced school lunches at the same time.

These programs, while important to feeding the hungry, do not conform with traditional diets. In 2014, the USDA’s Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations only allocated roughly $1 per meal. These meals are high in processed sugars and carbohydrates and lacking in fresh produce. This leads to high rates of health problems on reservations. For example, 42% of Native Americans struggle with obesity, and 20% of Navajo adults have diabetes, the third-highest rate in the world, below only Nauru and Mauritius.

Reclaiming Traditional Diets

In 2018, the Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin established the Department of Agriculture and Food Systems (DAFS). Embracing their traditional culture and diets, the Menominee move toward food sovereignty by hunting, fishing, gathering, tree tapping and farming.

DAFS Director Gary Besaw told The Borgen Project that the Menominee Tribe has a long history of agriculture. Archaeological evidence shows that the Menominee gardened through the last ice age. To do so, the Menominee used advanced techniques like raised-bed farming and biochar to improve soil quality. The tribe has reclaimed producing squash, maple syrup and corn, with hopes of growing orchards in the near future.

Nature and Intertribal Efforts

Prior to reservation life, the Menominee had access to fishing over much of the Great Lakes and their river systems. The current location of the Menominee Tribe’s reservation lacks this access. This makes it difficult to obtain enough fish without depleting the local resources.

Besaw stressed the importance of intertribal commerce and collaboration since each Tribal Nation has access to different food and lands. Besaw informed The Borgen Project that “re-establishing intertribal trade and commerce allows not only for economic growth in a sustainable green industry but also allows us to obtain healthy traditional foods.” Both products and skills move between tribes. The Menominee work with neighboring tribes and organic farms to grow food, manually dealing with weeds, pests and invasive species.

One of the Menominee Tribe’s partners, the Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin, worked with the Intertribal Agriculture Council to form the Mobile Farmer’s Market. This organization connects Native Americans across the United States with produce grown and harvested by Native Americans. Additionally, the Mobile Farmer’s Market hosts workshops to facilitate the spread of traditional skills.

In February 2019, a workshop occurred on the Menominee Reservation, teaching farming, seed keeping and healthy diets. According to Besaw, Menominee County has the highest rate of diabetes and heart disease in Wisconsin. The move toward food sovereignty and traditional diets has had a positive impact on the community’s health. To supplement these healthier diets, the Menominee Tribe is also conducting early-stage diagnosis and tracing family trees to see who has a genetic predisposition to diabetes.

Food Insecurity and COVID-19

According to Besaw, the COVID-19 pandemic illuminated the level of dependency that his tribe has on the federal government for food. The food boxes that the USDA provided were a lifesaver, though sometimes compromising his tribe’s goal of growing food indigenously, without GMOs and pesticides.

Across the country, many tribes have realized this as well. In Minnesota, the Dream of Wild Health intertribal nonprofit organization is working to distribute food to food-insecure Native Americans living in the Twin Cities. The organization owns a 30-acre pollinator farm outside of the Twin Cities and produces pesticide- and GMO-free produce.

Throughout the Dream of Wild Health’s history, the organization has received heirloom seeds from around North America. In 2019, it started to identify the seeds and return them to its community of origin, benefitting in-state and out-of-state tribes. According to another seed-saving organization, Indigenous Seed Keepers Network, the demand for seeds has increased around 4,900% during COVID-19, as Native Americans strive toward food sovereignty during these challenging times.

With many tribes and intertribal organizations around to help Native Americans attain food sovereignty, prospects are growing across North America. Not only are traditions returning but traditions are also making their way between and outside of tribes. As these efforts continue with success, it is time the U.S. government steps up to give tribes the support they need in a way that will not jeopardize their health further.

Riley Behlke
Photo: Flickr

AI Helps India Combat COVID-19When COVID-19 struck globally, India, like other nations worldwide, experienced a high volume of citizens infected with the coronavirus. By the end of May 2020, more than 150,000 Indian people tested positive for COVID-19. As a result, the country’s leaders not only wanted to curb the rising numbers of COVID-19 cases but also wanted to address misinformation. To combat the COVID-19 “infodemic,” the Indian government needed a tool that could provide regularly updated COVID-19 guidance to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 throughout the country. For instance, MyGov Saathi shows how AI helps India combat COVID-19.

MyGov Saathi

The Indian government’s Digital India Corporation (MyGov) aimed to provide 1.3 billion people with a reliable artificial intelligence tool that provides factual and helpful guidance on COVID-19. By collaborating with Accenture and Microsoft, MyGov quickly developed an “AI-powered virtual agent” called MyGov Saathi, which means “companion” in the Hindi language. The AI tool was launched on April 24, 2020, and possesses similar abilities to Microsoft’s Power Virtual Agent and Azure.

“Self4Society” Webpage

MyGov Saathi is accessible on the Indian government’s “self4society” website where it is embedded. By managing communications automatically, more human capital is available to address “urgent and complex situations” that require human skill. Moreover, the artificial intelligence tool is able to provide “fact sheets, information on government initiatives, professional and medical advice and alerts and lists of myth busters” to address misinformation. Through MyGov Saathi, AI helps India combat COVID-19.

Extending its Reach

At first, the artificial intelligence agent only operated in English. Now, however, it communicates and offers information in Hindi and other local languages to extend its reach. In January 2021, MyGov Saathi had approximately 250,000 monthly users. The daily interactions on the platform range from hundreds to thousands. On average, over a 16-day period, MyGov Saathi has close to 600,000 “total active sessions.” AI helps India combat COVID-19 by providing individuals with speedy and valuable information to guide them through the pandemic.

COVID-19 WhatsApp Support Counter

Haptik, an artificial intelligence firm, created the MyGov Corona Helpdesk in March 2020. The “WhatsApp chatbot” operates 24/7 to answer COVID-19 questions and combat misinformation. The chatbot has capabilities such as:

  • A symptom checker and probable diagnosis function
  • Providing guidelines to prevent COVID-19 transmission
  •  Sharing up-to-date information from the Ministry of Health
  • Dispelling COVID-19 myths and misinformation
  • Sharing the contact details of the official COVID-19 hotline

By January 2021, the MyGov Corona Helpdesk served more than 25 million people and answered more than 36 million pandemic-related questions. These statistics show how AI helps India combat COVID-19.

MyGov Saathi’s Future Updates

Currently, the MyGov Saathi artificial intelligence agent only interacts with persons through a list of options. However, the country plans to update the software to “evolve from the menu model to engage in actual intuitive conversations with users.”

Overall, MyGov Saathi and MyGov Corona Helpdesk illustrate how AI helps India combat COVID-19, showing the growing importance of technology, even in unprecedented times. Above all, this demonstrates the universe of possibilities present in seemingly impossible circumstances.

– Jannique McDonald
Photo: Flickr

disparities in Education in NigeriaNigeria has struggled with a weak education system for decades. Of the total number of children not in school worldwide, 20% of them live in Nigeria. Essentially, one in five children out of school resides in Nigeria. Girls make up a large percentage of children not in school. In Northern Nigeria, less than half of all girls actually attend school. COVID-19 has served to highlight the disparities in education in Nigeria.

COVID-19 Sheds Light on Inequalities

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of children not attending school in Nigeria stood at around 13 million. This number doubled to 36 million as schools closed and children were forced to stay home. A large portion of these children were girls. Many girls and children living in rural areas of Nigeria had difficulties accessing education during the pandemic. Even though the government implemented remote learning plans via radio and television, barriers still presented themselves.

Many students, especially those in rural areas, do not have access to electricity or technology, and therefore, could not access education at all. While more affluent families could continue connecting to education online, those without access were unable to learn for a prolonged period of time, setting them behind the rest of their classmates. While it has always been clear that disparities in education in Nigeria require improvement, the COVID-19 pandemic brought about a greater desire for change.

How Improving Education Alleviates Poverty

There is a direct link between education and poverty, indicating how improving education in Nigeria can help the economic growth of the country while helping citizens rise out of poverty. When children are educated, they develop the skills and knowledge that can help them secure well-paying jobs in the future.

Furthermore, poverty is a cycle, and, a lack of access to education perpetuates that cycle. Oftentimes, parents are unable to send their children to school due to the unaffordable secondary costs of schooling. Even when school itself is free, textbooks and uniforms warrant costs that families simply cannot afford to pay. Uneducated children are unable to break cycles of poverty, meaning the next generation will most likely continue the cycle of poverty too.

Additionally, education reduces gender equality disparities. Educated girls are able to attain financial independence, reducing poverty for themselves and their communities. Educated women are also more likely to prioritize the education of their children. According to Global Citizen, If all adults completed secondary education, 420 million people could rise above the poverty line. This is due to the fact that education increases yearly earnings by 10% with each added year of education.

Latest Grant for Improving Education in Nigeria

The international community is working to help improve Nigeria’s education system with renewed vigor due to the intensified disparities caused by the pandemic. UNICEF allocated $20 million for the 2020-2022 period to support the education of children in Nigeria during COVID-19. The goals of the grant include four components:

  1. Supporting children affected by conflict. This goal involves building 100 temporary places for learning and rebuilding or creating 100 schools. It also includes creating more “gender-responsive” hygiene amenities and “promoting inclusive and gender-responsive enrollments in 18 local government areas across three states.” Furthermore, the grant aims to provide learning resources for 500,000 students. Roughly “100,000 conflict-affected children” will receive mental support services and 500 community leaders will be educated on protecting children’s rights.
  2. Improving the government’s role in education, especially in emergencies. This includes “budgeting, planning, implementation, monitoring and reporting.”
  3. Improving teacher preparation. This entails helping 28,000 teachers gain their teaching certification. A “teacher recruitment system” will be established and teachers will receive ongoing training to learn “Teaching at the Right Level.” A proper education assessment system will help monitor progress in schools.
  4. Improving the schools’ ability to support education for children affected by conflict. This involves “establishing and developing capacities of 300 school-based management committees on gender equity and gender-based violence” and promoting inclusivity of disabled students. Education plans should be conflict-sensitive to accommodate such children.

The Road Ahead

Education and poverty strongly correlate. The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened inequality worldwide, exacerbating poverty and increasing the number of children out of school, especially in developing countries like Nigeria. To eliminate disparities in education in Nigeria, greater measures must be implemented to overcome inequalities and ensure the country’s education system is better equipped to handle unprecedented circumstances in the future. With grants from supporting organizations like UNICEF, education in Nigeria can improve.

– Alessandra Heitmann
Photo: Flickr