nigerian wheat_opt
The recent slowdown in Nigeria’s grain trade holds tremendous implications for food security in the Sahel. Nigeria supplies almost half of the region’s cereal and is the most important market for farmers, herders, and traders from surrounding areas.

The communities most at risk from the rise in food insecurity are located in southeastern and central Niger, northern Nigeria, and northern Benin. Chad is usually highly dependent on the grain supplies from Nigeria, but a very strong 2012 harvest has somewhat insulated the country from the current crisis.

In the hardest-hit areas, staple grains like maize and millet, are selling at prices even higher than those seen during the 2012 regional food crisis. For example, a 100kg bag of maize now sells for $9 more than at the same time last year.  This trend is particularly worrisome as prices are only expected to increase during Ramadan in the month of July.

The increase in food prices are devastating in a region where many of the poorest families will spend up to 80% of their household income on market food. Nigeria’s production is so critical to these markets that despite the fact most Sahelian countries saw an increase in maize and millet, the decrease in Nigerian supply offset three-quarters of the regional gain.

The factors behind the current grain shortage are complex, but three major facets can be distinguished. The first is last year’s widespread flooding. Many of the farmers have not been able to recover their fields and crops from the damage.

The second major factor is the popularity of cash crops. Many farmers are switching from staple crops to cash crops, not generally sold in the regional food markets. In fact, the production of millet, a major staple grain, has decreased by 13% from the five-year average.

In addition to the previous two factors, the rise of Boko Haram has greatly disrupted Nigerian agriculture. The violent extremist group has forced an estimated 65% of farmers in northeastern Nigeria to flee their homes and fields. The violence has also discouraged traders from engaging in traditional trade routes and markets.

Experts say aid to Nigeria must be increased to combat the growing food security crisis. Nigeria receives millions of dollars in aid every year, but the amounts are far less than what is received by its neighbors. Given Nigeria’s key position within the food market of the region, aid priorities should be reassessed to insure the current agricultural slowdown does not worsen to a widespread food crisis.

Lauren Brown

Sources: ISN, World Bank
Photo: Kansas Agricultural Network

The House of Representatives is considering a bill that would reform the Food for Peace Act, which currently requires all agricultural commodities (i.e. food) in programs administered under the Act to be produced in the United States. The proposed Food Aid Reform Act amends the Food for Peace Act, but what does that mean for us here in the U.S.? Are we going to lose valuable American jobs by purchasing agricultural commodities abroad?

The Food for Peace Act is the bill that governs how we respond to emergency and nonemergency situations in other countries by providing food aid in times of need. Currently, the Act requires that all agricultural commodities be purchased in and exported from the United States to the target country, say, Country X. The reason this is a problem requiring a potential reform to this process is because of the high premium we pay for food in the U.S. versus the cost of the same food in Country X. That is, food may actually be much cheaper if purchased in Country X or a neighboring country.

Not only may food in Country X be cheaper, the cost of transporting food to Country X is astronomically higher as an international export than it potentially would be to transport it domestically. Especially if American food is being transported across oceans to arrive in Country X, the cost to both the taxpayer’s wallet and the environment are quite high in comparison to food being purchased a mere hundreds of miles or less away from the target area.

The Food Aid Reform Act changes the wording of the Food for Peace Act to allow agricultural commodities to be purchased in Country X or a neighbor of Country X to avoid the costs associated with purchase and export of American goods. Not only that, the Reform Act functions as an investment in the local economy of Country X, so that it may no longer need American food aid in the future. In that sense, this investment becomes an investment in our future.

Though there is an argument that we may lose a minimal number of jobs in the process of downsizing the rate at which we ship our food abroad for relief-type situations, the reform of our food aid system allows an investment in our future economy. By helping our friends across borders, we build future markets for American consumer goods. By the numbers, most countries to which we have offered aid have since developed consumer markets which, in turn, purchase goods from us. So, if the ethical argument isn’t convincing enough, consider the future of the American economy in reaching out to your local congressperson on these important issues. Your voice matters.

 – Herman Watson
Sources: The Borgen Project, GovTrack.US, ONE,
Photo: The Telegraph

Opium is a narcotic, or an opioid. It is a white liquid made from the poppy plant, and is smoked in order to create euphoria. This is an addicting drug that can lead to physical dependence. Myanmar is the second-largest opium producer in the world. Myanmar, also known as Burma or the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, is located in Southeast Asia, and is bordered by China, India, Laos, Bangladesh, and Thailand. In a region known as “Southeast Asia’s Golden Triangle” at the borders of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar, is notorious for its abundance of drugs and opium production through multiple poppy fields. This is one of the world’s primary sources of heroin, and the Myanmar government wishes to eliminate this opium production. Myanmar has been fighting opium within its borders for years, with little success. However, a new opium elimination program was recently created in order to tackle opium.

There was a peace initiative recently implemented in Shan State, which is the eastern part of Myanmar, which may end up helping the eradication of opium and poppies. The country manager of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime in Myanmar, or UNODC, Jason Eligh, detailed the plan to reporters. Basically, the plan is to help farmers wean themselves off of poppy in areas that are rebel-controlled. This will be done in order to gain trust and to help those opium producers find other ways to succeed, without having to turn to illegal means. The first step of this plan is to let survey staff enter Shan State, which grows 90% of the country’s poppies.

The plan was created under a partnership between the government of Myanmar and the military of Myanmar. Over the past few years, the growth rate of the poppy plant has increased, despite governmental attempts to lower it. Therefore, a new strategy was necessary in order to fight the growth of this plant. The government of Myanmar has partnered with the Restoration Council of Shan State, or RCSS, which has wanted independence for the past half century, but recently signed a ceasefire with the government in 2011. There are peace talks occurring at this time, and included in those peace talks is a promise to help farmers that are in poverty to have alternative development programmes, which would bring them away from the cultivation of poppy plants, or the temptation to grow them.

The plan to turn farmers to development programmes will occur from 2014 to 2017, and it is a multimillion dollar promise. The overall aim will be to help the infrastructure of Myanmar, as well as improve health and education. Still, a main component of the plan is crop substitution of the poppy plants, in order to raise citizens out of poverty and out of criminal activity. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, wishes to make Myanmar drug free by 2015. The Minister of Home Affairs, Lt-Gen Ko Ko, said that alternative development is the solution to the drug culture in Myanmar, and asked for international support, as well as international donors in order to help fund the project.

Overall, the situation in Myanmar is stressful and still a bit tense, but if this plan is enacted properly, it is entirely possible that there will be less or no opium production in Myanmar, and many farmers will be raised out of poverty and criminal activity.

– Corina Balsamo

Sources: The Jakarta Globe, IRIN News, DVB
Photo: The Telegraph

Can someone really be wrong when he or she decides to give to charity? There is no concrete answer, but sometimes certain types of giving can do more overall good than others.

Eric Friedman, an actuary and philanthropist, argues that there is a right and wrong way to give, and many people are doing it wrong. Today’s generation of givers prefers to become more deeply involved in their philanthropy, for example, by mentoring young people, creating a foundation, or asking to learn exactly what good their money did when they donated to an organization. While this philanthropic trend is positive, Friedman claims that people still need to be smarter when it comes to giving by focusing on these three areas:

  1. Consider global problems and weigh them against your personal priorities. Maybe you feel drawn to give your income to a group that is close to your heart, such as your college or a sports team. First, though, consider how far your money will go with those organizations compared to how many homeless or hungry people you could help with that same money. It’s certainly not that personal causes don’t matter, but your donation may not make as much of an impact as it would for other global causes.
  2. Do some research to find out which charities have the most effective philanthropic programs. Friedman suggests using websites such as and, both of which help donors find the charities that give you the most bang for your buck, enabling you to help the most people possible.
  3. Investigate the organization to which you’re giving before donating. Only 35% of donors do any research about the charity to which they give their money, and just 9% do more than two hours of research about the organization. Donating money is an investment that people should not take lightly, and knowing exactly what the charity stands for and how they plan to solve problems is half the battle.

If Friedman is correct, this type of smart giving could make a much more significant impact when it comes to issues like global poverty and world hunger.

– Katie Brockman

Sources: TIME, Give Well, Giving What We Can
Photo: WPFD

Live Below the Line
The Global Poverty Project challenges people around the world to change their perspective on global poverty by signing up to live on £1 per day for five days.

The Live Below the Line campaign began in Australia in 2010 when anti-poverty campaigner Richard Fleming lived for three weeks on the amount the World Bank defined as the extreme poverty line—the equivalent of U.S. $1.25 per day.

The campaign made its way to the U.K. in 2011, where it raised over £100,000 in its first year.  Live Below the Line has proven to be a powerful advocacy tool in addition to a fundraiser, as it forces participants to consider the real implications of living in impoverished conditions.

In 2013, over 6,000 people stepped up to the challenge of living on less than one Euro per day. This is good news, because the campaign’s managers have pointed out that getting people directly engaged in the campaign makes them more likely to continue campaigning or to take action in the future.

Beyond individuals, charities can also sign up to participate in the Live Below the Line challenge. In 2013, partners ranged from large organizations, like Save the Children, to smaller ones, like Positive Women, a group that aims to empower African women.

The Global Poverty Project is the same organization that launched the Global Citizens Music Festival, the End of Polio Campaign, and 1.4 Billion Reasons. The organization has worked tirelessly towards its vision of “a world without extreme poverty within a generation.”

By working to increase active participation along with general awareness, the Global Poverty Project shows its commitment to making a viable, positive difference in the fight against global poverty.

– Alexandra Bruschi

Source: Third Sector, Global Poverty Project
Photo: Style Quotidien

poverty in uganda
Poverty in Uganda remains a pressing issue. About 67 percent of Ugandans are either poor or highly vulnerable to poverty according to the 2012 expenditure review for Uganda by the Directorate of Social Protection in the gender ministry.


Top Facts on Poverty in Uganda


Based on an analysis of the 1989-90 Household Budget Survey, the poverty assessment for Uganda was divided along two lines. The first category of poverty was defined by a level that represented the spending needed for a daily consumption of 2,200 calories in addition to some non-food spending. Ugandans falling below this line were categorized as “poor.” The second level of poverty was set at a line that represented the bare minimum for adequate food intake. Those who fell below even that line were labeled the “poorest.” According to these definitions, 55 percent of Ugandans are considered poor. The rest of that 67 percent of at-risk or poor Ugandans fall somewhere in the core “poorest” category.

Ninety-two percent of the poor live in rural areas even though 89 percent of the population is actually classified as rural. Not only is poverty more widespread in rural areas, it is also more severe. Thus, poverty-related indicators – including household size, dependency ratio and illiteracy – are higher for rural Uganda.

Because of poverty in Uganda, life expectancy for men and women is one of the lowest in the world at an average of 59 years. AIDS has become a key contributor to death and illness amongst young children, consistently driving the infant and child mortality rate higher. Malaria has been found to be the primary killer among adults admitted to hospitals. Additionally, diarrhea, pneumonia and anemia are almost as prevalent as AIDS as reported causes of death. With a per-capita income of under $170, Uganda is regarded as one of the most impoverished countries in the world. These grim facts are a testament of the destruction brought about by the political turmoil and economic decline characteristics of over ten years of despotic leadership.

Uganda’s small revenue has made it extremely difficult to directly target its impoverished human capital. Nevertheless, social protection mechanisms are central to uplifting the poor and allowing them to achieve full productivity potential. Recognizing this, the government has attempted to re-prioritize its expenditures in favor of the social sectors and rural infrastructure. Some newer areas of focus include government development of family planning programs and promotion of literacy and education. Yet, development of social indicators is still lagging, particularly for rural women who work longer hours than men.

Despite the seemingly enormous magnitude of poverty in Uganda, some economic progress has occurred in recent years. For example, the government has implemented a far-reaching economic reform agenda that has transformed Uganda into one of the most liberal economies of Sub-Saharan Africa. This entails the liberalization of the exchange and trade regime, the endorsement of a new investment code and the liberalization of the agricultural market. With these factors in play, the government is readying the way for future economic growth. In fact, aggregate real per capital GDP actually grew substantially between 1987 and 1991 whereas previously it had been in steady decline.

It is true that the economic situation in Uganda  still seems bleak and poverty remains rampant. Yet, as indicated by past examples, economic reform coupled with increased focus on social affairs can bring increased hope for the poor of Uganda.

– Grace Zhao

Source: The World BankNew VisionUNICEF
Photo: OB

Pussy Riot Picture
Pussy Riot, a Russian feminist punk-rock group that stages anonymous political anti-establishment performances in controversial places throughout Russia, is a band that is introducing political art in a way that most Russians are unfamiliar with. Until now, much of Russian art was either propagandistic or entirely apolitical; now, Pussy Riot and street art groups like it are introducing art with the purpose of political change.

Pussy Riot became famous in February 2012, when they staged a performance in their typical garb (brightly colored dresses and balaclavas) at the altar of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. The performance lasted less than one minute before three of the seven participants were dragged off the altar and arrested for “hooliganism” (similar to disorderly conduct).

The group’s performance wouldn’t have made nearly as much of an impact if it weren’t for many important factors:

  1. The ardent devotion of the Russian Orthodox Church. The church that the girls performed in is one of the oldest in Russian history. The church was destroyed in the 1930s and was not rebuilt until the 1990s. Because many Russians, particularly of the older generation, worship very devoutly because of the disallowance of religion during the Soviet Union, the performance was seen as a vulgar act motivated by “religious hatred”.
  2. The recent reelection of Vladimir Putin. The punk rock group (and other acts like it, including controversial Russian political art group VOINA, which is best known for its publicity stunt of having group sex in a biology museum) openly opposes the Russian government and accuses it for not being open, or practicing glasnost, enough. Pussy Riot asserts in many of their songs that Putin is a sexist dictator and must be forced out of government.
  3. Russia not having moved away completely from Communism. In Russia, capitalism and governmental transparency have been distant concepts for many decades. The transition from communism to capitalism and democracy in Russia is not complete. Therefore, to many citizens in Russia, governmental opposition is still not welcome, as the last time there was governmental opposition in the form of protesting in Russia, the Bolsheviks took power.

Pussy Riot’s trial gained media attention in Russia because of the enormous political and social implications of both their actions and the resulting trial. However, the leftist political group Pussy Riot is doing more than just fighting Putin’s government.

The general public in Russia is conservative leaning. Vladimir Putin, current president of Russia, is sponsored by the political party United Russia, which is Russia’s leading conservative political party. United Russia supports the neoclassical economic model, meaning it focuses on the economic activities of production, distribution and consumption. Neoclassical economics exclude all non-market activities, which is the financial antithesis of feminist economics, which shows that including non-market activities removes substantial gender biases from social order.

Excluding non-market activities from GDP analyses literally devalues the work done disproportionately by women, and when an entire half of the population’s financial contributions are significantly devalued, less money is available for social programs. This is a contributing factor as to why poverty rates generally increase in places that don’t provide equal social and professional opportunities for men and women (for example, based on Hofstede’s Power Distance Index, Bangladesh is extremely hierarchical, and over 70% of the population lives on less than $2/day. In contrast, Denmark is one of the most egalitarian nations in the world, and only 13% of that population lives below the poverty line).

Of course, with such a divisive performance, Pussy Riot turned off an abundance of people in Russia. However, what Pussy Riot is doing is slowly gaining supporters for left-leaning economic policies. When non-market activities are included in the calculations of Russia’s GDP, the numbers will be notably more accurate, meaning more money will appear, and there will be more money available to the public. This will be a long process, but undoubtedly one that will bring many in Russia out of poverty.

– Lindsey Rubinstein

Sources: Tufts University, GQ, The Guardian, The Economist, Library of Economics, Volunteer Alberta, BBC, Index Mundi

Norad 101
The Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad) has a yearly budget of just over one percent of Norway’s federal budget, approximately 27.8 billion kroner (or $4.5 billion USD). This budget of over one percent of Norway’s GDP makes Norway the biggest donor to development aid in the world. The money is used to support the agency’s goal of achieving political, economic, agricultural, and educational stability worldwide.

Brazil, the top recipient of Norad funding for the last two years due to the forestry initiative, received 400 million NOK for all five of Norad’s incentives: environment and energy, health and social services, education, economic development and trade, and good governance. The aid was most heavily concentrated for the environment/energy incentive, which received 365 million NOK.

The budget for Brazil has led to outstanding results in some of those categories. Environmentally, that money helped to reduce deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest by over 77% in the last seven years. It also helped Brazil’s economy boom, making that country the world’s sixth largest economy today.

However, there have only been tangible results in two of the five incentives. Brazil and developing countries like it would benefit more from being on some of the Norad plans to help countries support themselves.

For example, Norad is one of the partners in the program aimed to reinforce public financial management (PFM) systems, which are important for democratic governance and macroeconomic stability. The countries that receive PFM support are almost all African, with the exception of Nepal.

Programs like this that encourage poverty reduction and financial planning could be hugely beneficial to countries on an economic upswing like Brazil. Giving more developing countries incentives to create better PFM systems helps those countries meet the United Nations Millennium Development Goals to eradicate extreme poverty and develop a global partnership for development.

Still, Norad’s donations to Brazil have been undoubtedly influential in creating such a booming economy there. Brazil was the 22nd highest importer of Norwegian goods in 2012, which shows that consistently donating aid to developing countries is a high return of investment. Brazil and Norway have recently founded the Brazilian-Norwegian Chamber of Commerce, which aims to promote the development of commercial relationships between Brazil and Norway.

Norad’s funding for developing countries like Brazil has changed the way these countries not only trade, but also how they view government, provide healthcare, and structure education. In a limited amount of time, Norad has made invaluable changes in some of the world’s poorest populations, all for just one percent of its GDP.

– Lindsey Rubinstein

Sources: Norad, CIA, BNCC

Extreme poverty is an issue many have tried to solve. Typing  in how to solve world poverty on Google retrieves a multitude of the same results. But Policymic has provided an interesting take on innovation and the impact it can have on ending poverty. Below are the five ways Policymic believes progress can be made.

  1. Deworming: Helmiths, roundworms, whipworms, and hookworms all reside in places with over 270 million preschool children and 600 million school age children. These worms create nutritional deficiencies, which can stunt the growth of children. Polymic projects that a 20 cent pill targeting these parasites can improve a child’s future wage by nearly 20%. Clearly this is a valuable investment.
  2. Give Away Free Money: It’s simple. Walk up to a person who is suffering from poverty and hand them over money. Why? Studies show that the money handed over will create a sizeable investment return. Doing something nice like this can go a long way.
  3. Give Communities Microgrants: The investment of a microgrant, which is non-refundable, into a community can help a local economy get started. A significant amount of money can create serious development and help the citizens of a community flourish.
  4. Minimize Travel Restrictions: International citizens traveling to wealthier countries improve their developing countries economy. $400 billion were sent home from international workers in 2012. This money serves a variety of purposes and is an important source of funding.
  5. Improve Developing Countries GDP: The best way for developing countries to escape poverty is to improve their economic growth. Poverty has been cut in half due to developing countries gross domestic product being boosted six percent annually.

– William Norris

Sources: Policymic WHO

The program is known as the New Socialist Countryside, and has provided up to 2.1 million Tibetans with running water, electricity, and access to improved healthcare and education in the past 7 years. Run by planners in Beijing, the program is ostensibly aimed at raising living standards and improving the economy of Tibet, one of the poorest regions within China.

However, a recent report by Human Rights Watch suggests that the program has had a severe effect on the traditional Tibetan way of life. Says Sophie Richardson, China Director for Human Rights Watch, “…while it may be true that some Tibetans have benefitted, the majority have simply been forced to trade poor but stable livelihoods for the uncertainties of a cash economy in which they are often the weakest actors.”

Having observed the income disparity between rural and urban dwellers, the Chinese government has relocated nearly three-quarters of Tibetans to urban areas. However, upon arriving in cities, rural Tibetans can’t compete with immigrants from other regions of China, nor with educated locals who speak Mandarin. As such, large portions of the population are being moved, supposedly voluntarily, but not being given a support structure once resettled that would allow them to survive in a setting wholly foreign to their previous nomadic lifestyle.

There are many claims for the motives of the government, including protecting the ecologically fragile grasslands of the Tibetan plateau, and facilitating improved utility distribution for the population, but at the same time the thought lingers that the relocations have more to do with control of the population and improving rural incomes to avoid unrest.

120 self-immolations have taken place in Tibet in the past five years. Sadly, civil unrest is an ongoing theme in Tibet, and with governmental policies such as New Socialist Countryside, improvement is a double-edged sword.

– David Wilson

Sources: NY Times, Huffington Post