Information and stories about Africa.

Heroin Use in Seychelles
In 2019, the Republic of Seychelles had the world’s worst reported heroin usage rate per capita. About 10% of the working-age population, between 5,000 and 6,000 people, had an addiction to heroin. The archipelago’s total population in 2019 was only 94,000. Seychelles’ opioid use rates have also consistently been among the world’s highest rates. These have continued to rise during the COVID-19 pandemic. Heroin use in Seychelles continues to be an epidemic, but some are implementing measures to combat it.

Why Seychelles is Suffering a Heroin Epidemic

Seychelles is a developing country in the Indian Ocean that includes more than 100 islands. The nature of Seychelles’ borders makes it difficult for law enforcement to intercept heroin arriving primarily from Afghanistan. Even during the pandemic, while lockdown measures were in place, the drug market continued to flourish in Seychelles with steady imports of illicit drugs as other markets struggled.

Heroin is so abundant that the cost of a line has dropped from about 1,000 Seychellois rupees to about 30 rupees. By 2020, the typical salary in Seychelles was $420 or approximately 5,400 rupees. With about 40% of the country’s population living in poverty, heroin has become an affordable option for drug users. People living in poverty are also more likely to use drugs like heroin and engage in drug-related crime than people who are financially better off. Additionally, impoverished people who are drug addicts tend to lack access to the addiction services and other forms of support they need to recover.

By 2011, the number of heroin users was about 1,200. The alarming and quickly rising number of users prompted the government to engage in a war on drugs. The war involved implementing strict enforcement on drug traffickers and addicts alike. However, the increase in users over the years accompanying the significant drop in the cost of heroin shows the ineffectiveness of cracking down on addicts. As a result, the government of Seychelles shifted its focus to drug prevention and rehabilitation.

Efforts to Curtail Heroin Use in Seychelles

In 2020, Seychelles’ government invested 75 million Seychellois rupees toward prevention and rehabilitation, nearly ten times what it invested in 2016. The Agency for the Prevention of Drug Abuse and Rehabilitation (APDAR) also emerged in 2017. Enrolled in its programs are more than 2,000 people, 68% of whom have gainful employment. The agency offers a high- and low-threshold program for addicts.

People who participate in the high-threshold program receive in-patient care and go through detoxification. Those registered for the low-threshold program primarily learn harm reduction strategies designed to reduce drug abuse’s negative impacts. APDAR also engages in prevention efforts, demand reduction and aftercare programs. In 2018, the agency designed a national plan to deal with heroin use in Seychelles. Included in the plan is a rehabilitation village offering residency to drug users and their families which began construction in 2020.

Seychelles has a notable lack of NGOs to provide support to people dealing with drug addiction. In 2012, an NGO called CARE launched a drug abuse education and awareness campaign targeting youths. Young people make up a large proportion of Seychelle’s heroin users. Therefore, education informing youths of the dangers of heroin is necessary to reduce the number of future addicts.

Stopping the Heroin Epidemic

The pandemic certainly has not helped to reduce heroin use in Seychelles. However, with complex and well-funded prevention and rehabilitation programs in place, heroin addicts and their families can get the help they need. Relapse is always a possibility for users as getting and staying clean is a difficult thing to achieve. However, with time, Seychelles can bring the number of users down to what it was in 2011, and then reduce the number even further.

– Nate Ritchie
Photo: Flickr

Higher Education in South Africa
Higher education can be the catalyst to reshape a struggling economy, lessen the unemployment rate and ultimately reduce poverty. Along with the country’s staggering poverty rate of 55.5%, higher education in South Africa is rife with inequalities lingering from Apartheid and the Bantu Education Act. These historical inequities have sparked student-led protests and movements to eliminate financial and cultural constraints in the education system.

Educational Disparities Remain Post-Apartheid

Earning the title as the most unequal country in the world, according to the World Bank, South Africa faces many challenges to recover from its Apartheid past. The racial disparities in education are apparent long before a student reaches higher education in South Africa. In 2018, nearly half of black and “colored” (biracial) South Africans did not complete secondary school, while more than 80% of white South Africans did.

Of the black students that completed secondary school, only 4.3% enrolled in a higher education institution and as of 2020, only 4.1% have a degree. The World Bank found that if the household head achieved some higher education in South Africa, the risk of poverty reduced by about 30% compared to household heads with no schooling. With the nation’s racially oppressive history, access to inclusive and affordable education is a key component for black South Africans to find a way out of poverty.

Educational Barriers

The Bantu Education Act of 1953 segregated schools by race and the lesser-known Extension of University Act of 1959 prohibited non-whites from attending formerly “open” universities.

White supremacy ideology exists in many top universities. While many black students enroll in these universities they struggle to find belonging. A documentary by Stellenbosch University students, “Luister,” which means “listen” in Afrikaans, examines 32 students’ experiences with racism and the absence of helpful provisions for a diverse, multilingual body of students.

South Africa has 11 official languages, yet many universities use English as the primary language for instruction. A myriad of students faces frustrations because they are ill-prepared to learn in an environment where their studies are not taught in their primary language. The Minister of Higher Education, Blade Nzimande, developed a language policy to promote multilingualism and provide access to the linguistic needs of each university’s students.

The Digital Divide

The COVID-19 pandemic forced higher education in South Africa to move to remote learning. While more South Africans below the poverty level are attending universities at greater frequency, a large percentage do not have access to the internet or digital devices in their households. This relatively new form of disparity is digital inequality and the pandemic has exacerbated the issue for students. As of 2019, a study estimated that only 10.4% of South African homes have access to the internet.

In addition, a 2020 survey report found that only 60% of students own a laptop. More than half of the students reported not having a quiet place to study. Students who received funding through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), a program for students below the poverty line, were disproportionately affected. Therefore, 90% of students claimed that the only device they own is a smartphone.

Student Protests

The deadly Soweto Uprising of 1976, which protested Afrikaans as the language of instruction in South African schools, was the first of many student-led movements to raise awareness of the inequalities in education.

Since then, students have continued to demand that higher education in South Africa be affordable, accessible and decolonized. In 2015, the Rhodes Must Fall movement at The University of Cape Town was a campaign for the removal of a Cecil Rhodes statue, a figure symbolic of South Africa’s Apartheid past and the colonization that prevails in the university.

The Fees Must Fall Movement

In the same year, the Fees Must Fall movement ignited when the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg declared a tuition increase of more than 10% for the following year, along with other institutions expected to follow suit. The movement was successful because former president Jacob Zuma decided to eliminate tuition increases in 2016, according to Global Citizen.

The movement reignited that same year when The Commission of Inquiry into Higher Education and Training asserted that fees would continue in 2017. President Zuma announced that education would be free through NSFAS to those whose annual household income was less than R350,000 ($22,456).

In 2019, students protested against historical debt, the cost of tuition that NSFAS does not pay for, as well as the “missing middle” class that do not qualify for aid but cannot afford tuition.

The Wits Asinamali Movement

The latest movement in 2021, Wits Asinamali, which translates to “we do not have money,” occurred when minister Blade Nzimande announced that due to a decrease in funding first-year students could not benefit from NSFAS. Many students with historical debt were unable to register as well.

The students managed to raise R4 million to aid those who cannot afford tuition at Witwatersrand University and the university allowed those with historical debt to still register for classes.

Despite the low enrollment of black students, higher education in South Africa has failed to meet the needs of the expanding prospect of new students. However, students are holding policymakers and universities accountable by demanding that their education be affordable, accessible and inclusive. Countless students have been met with adversity, but they have made strides in advocating for a more equitable higher education system.

– Amy Helmendach
Photo: Flickr

Child Displacement
Child displacement impacts children across all sectors and nations. As of 2020, more than 33 million children are living in forced displacement. This includes 11.8 million child refugees, 1.3 million asylum-seeking children, 20.4 million children displaced within their own country and 2.9 million children living in internal displacement as a result of natural disasters. Here is some information about child displacement in developing nations.

The Types of Child Displacement

A few types of child displacement exist. These include:

  • Internal Displacement: According to the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, the definition of an internally displaced individual is “persons or groups of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters and who have not crossed an internationally recognized border.”
  • Displacement on a Large Scale: An example of this is the Palestinian exodus in 1948 which resulted in the displacement of more than 750,000 people.
  • Separation From Family: This type of displacement uniquely relates to children in developing nations. When children are working away from family, they are susceptible to kidnapping, human trafficking and violence. For example, there are 10.1 million child laborers in India and one child is declared missing every 8 minutes.

Cognitive Harm

A study that Child Development published tested executive functions, which are the higher-order cognitive skills needed for decision making and complex thought, among Syrian refugees. The study found that the burden of house poverty affected displaced children’s working memory. This has a long-term impact on the ability to succeed in school and make correct decisions. These findings align and have a serious impact on the refugee crisis in Syria where 45% of Syrian refugees are children with more than a third without access to education.

Child Labor and Violence

Children comprise 25% of all human trafficking victims and are at higher risk for forced labor. After displacement, they can experience separation from family and traffickers can force them to work in fields such as agriculture, domestic services or factories. To date, an estimated 168 million children are in forced labor and more than 50% complete dangerous work.

Children who do not have access to safe and regular migration pathways often turn to irregular and dangerous routes, which further puts them at risk for violence and exploitation. According to the U.N., “around 1,600 migrant children between 2016 and 2018 were reported dead or missing, an average of almost one a day.”

A Lack of Data on Child Displacement

There is simply not enough data on child displacement which translates to inadequate information on the causes and long-term effects. For example, only 20% of countries with data on conflict-related internally displaced persons (IDP) break the statistics down by age.

Data disaggregation by age, sex and origin are essential as it will inform policymakers in the regions most directly impacted by child displacement on how severe the issue is. This will allow them to begin to construct resources to support all children. For example, children who cross borders may not receive services such as education and health care because the statistics regarding how many children are out of school and the long-lasting impact on child displacement are insufficient.

The Global Refugee Compact

In December 2018, the U.N. General Assembly adopted the Global Refugee Compact. This is an international agreement amongst nonprofits, the private sector and international organizations to provide objectives to better include refugees in national systems, societies and economies and provide equal opportunity for them to contribute to communities. Through updated guidelines, the U.N. and partner organizations can craft effective modern solutions.

One of the unique features is the digital platform where partners and practitioners can share effective techniques, or Good Practices, to allow others to implement them in another location. The platform also builds a repository of overcoming humanitarian crises through good work that can be studied and implemented across a multitude of sectors.

There are various good practices targeting child displacement shared on the platform. For example, The BrightBox Initiative by the Simbi Foundation began in Uganda in July 2019 with the goal “to enhance access to education for students in UNHCR refugee settlements.” It transforms shipping containers into solar-powered classrooms to“provide access to literacy resources for a community of 6,000 simultaneous learners.” These types of resources are essential as Uganda hosts the largest number of refugees in Africa at about 1.5 million. Additionally, 60% of them are children.

Child displacement across the world exists for various humanitarian issues all rooted in poverty and are detrimental to the well-being of the world’s most vulnerable population. However, through large-scale global action, the world can address the causes of child displacement and begin crafting effective solutions.

– Imaan Chaudry
Photo: Flickr

Let Our Girls Succeed
As Kenya moves closer to its goal of becoming an upper-middle-income country, many girls still lack educational opportunities, leading to gender disparities as the country develops. Girls living in urban slums and “arid and semi-arid lands” (ASALs) are particularly at risk of poverty. To address these issues, U.K. Aid developed a program, which will run from May 2017 to March 2023, called Wasichana Wetu Wafaulu, Swahili for “let our girls succeed,” as part of the Girls’ Education Challenge.

The Let Our Girls Succeed Program

The Education Development Trust has implemented the Let Our Girls Succeed program in “eight counties in [ASALs] and urban slums” in Kenya. The program targets 72,000 marginalized primary school girls, providing assistance for them to finish their current level of education with optimal outcomes and advance to the next phase of learning. The program builds on the original Wasichana Wote Wasome program, meaning “let all girls learn,” which began in 2013. The Let All Girls Learn program aimed to improve “enrolment, retention, attendance and learning.” Overall, the Let All Girls Learn program saw success, benefiting 88,921 girls.

Program Methodologies

The program uses several methods to help girls succeed:

  • Let Our Girls Succeed Considers Girls in All Contexts: The program addresses the needs of girls on an individual level as well as the needs of the girl in her household, in her school and within the community. Intervention at each of these levels allows for “a holistic approach” to confront issues acting as barriers to the girl’s success.
  • In-School Coaching for Teachers: The average primary school class size in Kenya is around 40 pupils. With this large class size, it is imperative that Education Development Trust offers gender-sensitive training to teachers so that they can teach in a way that supports girls, ensuring they feel comfortable and confident enough to return to class. As such, “more than 2,300” educators have received training on improved methodology and models, including gender inclusivity skills.
  • The Deployment of Community Health Workers to the Girls’ Homes: The Ministry of Health sends community health workers to households to talk to girls and their families about the importance of school. From 2013-2017, these workers made more than 15,000 visits to homes, leading to a rising rate of girls’ enrollment. In 2020, during the school closures due to COVID-19, community health workers were “the only education point of contact” for most marginalized girls in Kenya.
  • Community Education and Involvement: The program appeals to community leaders by seeking their involvement in girls’ education. The previous project saw success in this regard. At the beginning of the Let All Girls Learn project, 43% of community leaders did not agree that “vulnerable girls in [the] community should attend school.” At the end of the project, only 16% disagreed.
  • Implementing Catch-Up Centers: The centers allow girls who have dropped out of school to come back and catch up to their classmates. Rasol dropped out of school due to pregnancy but is now attending the catch-up center so she can re-enroll in primary school. The center focuses on girls aged 10-15 mostly. Typically, girls spend between six and 12 months in catch-up centers. By 2019, the center saw more than 650 girls attending these classes.
  • Cash Transfer Program Aids Underserved Households: More than 3,200 “households have received monthly cash transfers” to allow households to secure their basic needs and fund the costs of girls’ education.
  • Alternative Pathways: Let Our Girls Succeed pushes girls to attend secondary school or TVET (technical and vocational education and training) after primary school. Fatuma and her sister finished primary school in 2018, both with the prospect of attending secondary school. However, Fatuma’s parents could only afford the cost of one girl’s education. Fatuma’s sister attended secondary school and Fatuma chose to attend a TVET center to complete a dressmaking course. However, her parents still could not afford these costs. The program gave her a bursary for this course as well as “a start-up kit to enable her to start a business.” The program has given bursaries to more than 3,700 girls for secondary school and vocational training.

Looking Ahead

The Let our Girls Succeed program plays a crucial role in providing a pathway for marginalized girls in Kenya to gain an education so that they can lift themselves out of poverty. With an education, girls are more likely to have access to higher-paying jobs, gaining the ability to support themselves and their families.

– Amy Helmendach
Photo: Flickr

solar farms on brownfields
Brownfields are areas of land that are vacant due to contamination. In recent years, solar firms have built hundreds of solar farms on brownfields to utilize the empty space. Brownfields are often located near low-income communities that lack affordable access to power. Installing solar farms on brownfields promotes environmental sustainability and can provide cheap, clean power access to local communities.

Jobs and Access to Power

Building solar farms on brownfields can create jobs and transform abandoned land into an economic and environmental asset for low-income communities. Both site owners and local communities have saved millions in energy costs from transforming brownfields into hotspots of renewable energy, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Affordable access to electricity can help alleviate “energy poverty” in low-income communities that surround brownfields. Energy poverty is the phenomenon in which people experiencing poverty have the least access to power. Therefore, they are more likely to remain impoverished, according to the World Bank. Installing solar farms in brownfields could help provide electricity to the 1.1 billion people worldwide who lack access to it. Transforming brownfields into solar farms is a sustainable method of providing affordable energy to low-income communities.

Land Reuse and Protection

Installing solar farms on brownfields often involves land restoration, reuse and protection, which all serve nearby communities. For example, solar panels can sit atop a landfill without digging into the ground and damaging the land’s foundation, creating unwanted pathways for stormwater or puncturing the top of the landfill. Solar panels can also have a design that complements the pre-existing materials on the brownfield, like mill tailings, without further damaging or contaminating the land. Additionally, solar firms often avoid disrupting the soil as much as they can by mindfully designing, installing and operating their solar farms. Transforming brownfields into solar farms is a non-disruptive, and often even protective, method of utilizing vacant land while simultaneously providing clean, affordable energy to low-income communities.

Benefits of Sustainable Energy

Brownfields can offer solar power as a main source of energy to low-income communities, and renewable energy has a variety of social benefits. For one, renewable energy can be less expensive than non-renewable energy, especially when it comes from a local source. It can also minimize low-income families’ reliance on public utilities to provide them with energy. Solar energy is a reliable source of power that essentially will not run out. Renewable energy also reduces pollution, which creates a healthier environment, especially in places with brownfields and ample contamination. A healthier environment can often lead to a healthier population, both mentally and physically. Additionally, solar farms require people to build, operate and maintain the equipment. Therefore, building solar farms on brownfields can employ people in surrounding communities and help them support their families while also preserving the environment.

Creating solar farms out of brownfields has social, economic and environmental benefits. Countries around the world can utilize vacant, contaminated land to preserve the environment and help lift low-income communities out of poverty. Turning brownfields into “brightfields” could be the next great step in reducing energy poverty.

– Cleo Hudson
Photo: Flickr

HIV/AIDS in Africa
The HIV/AIDS epidemic remains a significant public health problem in southern Africa. In the last decade, infections have drastically dropped while awareness of HIV status and availability of treatment has increased. This progress aligns with the UNAIDS 90-90-90 goal. Meeting this goal means that at least 90% of people with HIV are aware of their status, 90% are receiving antiretroviral drug treatments and 90% are virally suppressed. Viral suppression means that the virus will not negatively affect a person and that that person will not be able to transmit it to another person. Some of the most HIV-afflicted countries in Africa have met and even exceeded the 90-90-90 goals. Eswatini has the highest HIV prevalence in the world today at 26.8%. It has reached 95% in all categories and is on its way to reducing new infections.

HIV/AIDS and Conflicts

Despite recent progress, international aid has been focusing on HIV/AIDS less and less, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic has become a more imminent global threat. Sub-Saharan Africa still has the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in the world. It is also one of the most conflict-ridden regions in the world.

HIV/AIDS has a history of destabilizing political and social institutions in countries and leaving them vulnerable to violent conflict. The International Crisis Group estimated that one in seven civil servants, including government employees, teachers and the armed forces in South Africa were HIV-positive in 1998.

How Does HIV/AIDS Affect Civil Servants in Africa?

  1. The disease affects the productivity of the military and its ability to respond to armed conflicts. In 2003, the Zimbabwe Human Development Report estimated that the Zimbabwe Defense Forces had an HIV prevalence rate of 55%. With such a high rate of illness, the military has high training and recruitment costs, as soldiers get sick and are unable to work. In addition to this, HIV can transmit through sexual contact. It disproportionately affects younger populations which typically make up the bulk of the armed forces.
  2. The HIV/AIDS epidemic breaks down political institutions by limiting their capacity to govern. According to former president Robert Mugabe in 2001, AIDS had a significant presence in his cabinet, killing three of his cabinet ministers in the span of a few years and infecting many more. The disease wipes out workers essential to the function of a state, like policymakers, police officers and judicial employees.
  3. HIV/AIDS threatens the quality and accessibility of education. A UNICEF report found that more than 30% of educators in Malawi were HIV positive. If children cannot receive a quality primary education, they are less likely to receive secondary education and start professional careers. Instead, crime may open up opportunities for security that education could not provide. With increased antiretroviral use and awareness of the disease, HIV rates and deaths among educators have likely dropped along with overall rates in the last decade.

Civil Servants

The impact of HIV/AIDS on civil servants in Africa has been immense. The disease affects vulnerable populations such as gay men, sex workers and young women disproportionately. However, it has also affected those who work as civil servants. Civil servants are integral to the functioning of governments. Without them, countries are vulnerable to conflict and violence. Furthermore, HIV/AIDS prolongs conflict in countries already experiencing it.

While there are many other causes of violent conflict, the breakdown of political and social institutions fueled by HIV/AIDS only exacerbates conflict. War can also be a vector for the further spread of the disease. According to UNHCR, both consensual and non-consensual sexual encounters happen more often during the conflict. Rape has been a weapon of war in conflicts in Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Liberia in recent years and has likely contributed to the spread of HIV.

Solutions

Combating HIV and AIDS is a very important step in stabilizing economic, political and social structures across Africa. USAID programs like PEPFAR have had a significant role in combating HIV and AIDS. PEPFAR has invested nearly $100 billion in the global AIDS response in various ways. Most notably, it has provided 18.96 million people with much-needed antiretroviral treatment.

PEPFAR also aids in prevention care. For example, it has supported more than 27 million voluntary medical male circumcisions as well as testing services for 63.4 million people. In 2012, there was a government campaign in Zimbabwe to promote circumcision, in which at least 10 members of parliament participated.

These campaigns and USAID programs have had tangible results. In 2013, a study by the South African National Defense Forces showed an 8.5% HIV prevalence rate among its soldiers, much lower than the 19% prevalence in the general population. Given the successes in decreasing HIV/AIDS infections across Africa, perhaps economic, political and social stability is to follow.

– Emma Tkacz
Photo: Flickr

Nigerian Women's Health
In a 2021 Brookings Institution report, Dr. Damaris Parsitau proposed that African women and girls remain at the forefront of recovery efforts from the COVID-19 pandemic. In explaining why, the Kenyan professor of religion demonstrated that African females bear the brunt of the pandemic’s disasters, making up more than 60% of Africa’s health care workforce and essential services workforce. According to the report, this disproportionately high percentage of females reaches just more than 90% in some countries, such as Egypt. Women in African countries face not only an increased risk of death from COVID-19 but also poor working conditions, low pay and lack of voice due to androcentric leadership. The conditions that African women experienced during the pandemic raise questions surrounding African women’s health more broadly. Here is some information about how the Health Aid for All Initiative (HAFAI) is promoting women’s health at a holistic level for Nigerian women.

About the Health Aid for All Initiative

Health Aid for All promotes Nigerian women’s health in two different ways: by promoting women’s education concerning menstrual health and working to reduce maternal and infant mortality via disease control, immunization against common childhood diseases and population management. Dr. Ugochi Ohajuruka founded Health Aid for All on Valentine’s Day 2006. Today, she runs the executive operations of the nonprofit as its CEO.

About Dr. Ugochi Ohajuruka

Dr. Ohajuruka holds a B.Sc in Microbiology from the University of Ibadan; Ibadan claims its status since it is the capital of Oyo State in southwestern Nigeria. She also holds a bachelor of medicine (MBBS) and a master’s in public health from the University of Liverpool in northwestern England. In the English educational system, a bachelor of medicine is equivalent to the MD doctoral designation in the United States. To further qualify Ohajuruka’s expertise, she also took a course on international women’s health and human rights from Stanford University and studied leadership and management in health at the University of Washington in the United States.

The Origins of Health Aid for All

The Health Aid for All Initiative began in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, and was fully registered as a nonprofit via the Integrated Tax Office of the Federal Inland Revenue Service on June 12, 2015. The organization also holds an office in the Bronx, New York.

Ohajuruka founded HAFAI to address the cognitive, interpersonal and structural problems that girls’ menstruation raises in Nigeria. Nigerian girls suffer from misconceptions concerning menstruation and have little bodily freedom during their menstrual cycles. In addition, the lack of proper menstrual products means that girls miss school for long periods of time, which affects the quality of life for the country as a whole. There is also an environmental impact, as the pads used (up to 11,000 in one lifetime) are not biodegradable or environmentally friendly.

Nigeria suffers a lack of proper waste management resources. These concerns motivated Ohajuruka to found the organization. According to a story from Laureate, a nonprofit organization using education to promote changed lives, Ohajuruka was working on her dissertation to complete her online MPH. While working at her local health center one day, she saw a teenage girl rushed inside the emergency room having suffered a pelvic infection that managing her cycle with feathers and other unsafe products caused. This was enough for the medical doctor to start the organization.

The Mission of Health Aid for All Initiative

HAFAI addresses women’s health holistically, targeting such important issues as maternal and child health, menstrual hygiene management and adolescent health. Concerning maternal and infant health, Nigeria is the second-largest contributor to the under-5 and maternal mortality rate in the world; daily, the West African country loses about 2,300 children 5 years old and under and 145 women of childbearing age. To combat this, Health Aid for All provides educational opportunities on safe motherhood and the reduction of infant mortality rates.

Menstrual hygiene management is an important focus of HAFAI. HAFAI provides Nigerian girls information on menstruation to counter the misconceptions that religious and cultural influences promote. In addition, the nonprofit has produced an affordable, sustainable, washable and reusable sanitary towel for young women that lasts up to three years. As of date, HAFAI has distributed more than 22,400 reusable pads and has enabled 650 women to start a pad-making business and thus earn a living. Abuja has seen a nearly 67% decrease in school absenteeism from 24% to 8%.

HAFAI has also shared success stories of individuals it has helped through its initiatives; readers can share the link to this webpage through their social media pages. The organization also has a blog by which readers can learn more about menstrual hygiene and other women’s health issues. Readers can also share links on social media to increase awareness.

The Health Aid for All Initiative has seen marked success in promoting Nigerian women’s health, which improves their quality of life, especially in education. This in turn provides hope for the reduction of poverty in the country as increased education causes fewer children to be born into poverty.

– Ozichukwu Ojukwu
Photo: Flickr

West African Cocoa Farmers
A product of cocoa, “chocolate is one of the most consumed food products” on Earth. According to Make Chocolate Fair, about “70% of the world’s cocoa comes from West Africa.” Despite chocolate’s rising global popularity, there exists an ongoing conflict that casts light on the dark side of cocoa and the plight of West African cocoa farmers.

Rising Prices of Cocoa

Market researchers forecast that the global chocolate market would grow from its $137 billion market size in 2019 to $182 billion by 2025. Cocoa prices also rose on New York’s Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) by 10% between October 2020 and October 2021.

Despite such massive growth, West African farmers may receive lower prices for their cocoa harvest in the upcoming year. In October 2020, chocolate companies were paying West African cocoa producers a price of 1,000 West African francs for a kilogram of cocoa. Today, the per kilogram “minimum guaranteed producer price” equates to 825 West African francs, amounting to just $1.45. The drop in prices could sink farmers into poverty, costing them as much as 20% of their income. The cocoa farmers, however, are taking a stand to protect their livelihoods and avoid the grips of poverty. Nations, groups and individuals are taking action to keep West African cocoa farmers out of poverty.

West African Cocoa Farmers Fight for Change

  1. Introducing a Living Income Differential (LID). In 2019, the Ivory Coast and Ghana, both of which produce more than 50% of the global cocoa output, introduced a $400 premium to the price per ton of cocoa, known as the Living Income Differential (LID). The LID aims to ensure farmers earn “a living income” by increasing payments to farmers from purchasers.
  2. Standing Up Against Exploitation with Boycotts and Strikes. In December 2020, more than 500 farming industry leaders gathered in the Ivory Coast to address chocolate giants Hershey and Mars’ alleged attempts at avoiding the $400 LID premium. Farmers are considering moving to cassava farming “if their demands are not met.” In October 2021, the National Association of Ivorian Producers (ANAPROCI), which represents more than half a million cocoa industry members in the Ivory Coast, launched a strike to demand “payment of a 17 billion CFA francs ($29.8 million) premium promised by the government to help farmers to deal with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.” In addition, ANAPROCI urges the government to create a formal apparatus to discuss issues impacting farmers. ANAPROCI President Koffi Kanga threatened, “If the government or the [Ivory Coast Cocoa and Coffee Council regulator]does not listen to us, we will block the entire sector in the next few days. We are going to prevent cocoa from reaching the ports by all means.”
  3. Pursuing Legal Avenues Against Exploitation. West African farmers are pursuing legal avenues against exploitation. A group of six men from the West African nation of Mali filed suit against Nestlé U.S.A. and Cargill, alleging that they were trafficking victims as children, working on cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast. Their complaint alleges that the chocolate companies were complicit in the slave trade in order to “keep cocoa prices low.” Though the Supreme Court found in favor of the chocolate giants in an 8-1 decision, International Rights Advocates intends to file a new lawsuit, “alleging that many decisions made by Nestlé and Cargill in the U.S. helped to pave the way for the use of child slaves in Ivory Coast.”
  4. Sierra Leone opens “its first cocoa processing factory” in October 2021. The factory will account for a quarter of the country’s yearly production of cocoa — roughly 4,000 tons of cocoa beans annually. The factory will produce a semi-finished product as opposed to the raw materials that Sierra Leone typically produces, which has the potential to increase earnings by 20%. The new facility represents an opportunity for change in the dynamics of the supply chain as critics often emphasize that raw materials sold to industrialized nations tend to reap less profit than finished products.

Looking Forward

West African cocoa farmers are continuing to take action against exploitation within the cocoa industry. Public opinion is also shifting, with a growing demand for chocolate that companies produce with social and environmental sustainability in mind. However, regardless of public opinion or the stance of industry giants, the cocoa farmers of West Africa continue to fight their way out of poverty.

– Richard J. Vieira
Photo: Flickr

Cocoa prices
From cocoa comes chocolate, a confection that needs no introduction. Approximately “70% of the world’s cocoa comes from” West African countries, namely,  the “Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon.” Of these countries, Ghana and the Ivory Coast produce the most cocoa, together accounting for more than 50% of the global cocoa output. However, projections indicate that an unstable cocoa market can cause a loss of roughly 20% of income for these West African farmers. These impacts of fluctuating cocoa prices require prompt action from companies within the cocoa industry to prevent farmers from falling into poverty.

Reasons for Unstable Cocoa Prices

According to a report by the International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) in February 2021, “anticipations of a production surplus compounded with low levels of demand” drove down cocoa prices “on the London and New York futures markets.” To take New York’s statistics, predictions determined that cocoa purchases in the form of future contracts would close at $2,438 per ton by the end of 2021 in comparison to the $2,587 price tag per ton on February 5, 2021.

The COVID-19 pandemic has a role in this outcome, with waning demand a byproduct of sudden ruptures in the hospitality sector. This, along with the decline in “out-of-home consumption” that arose from COVID-19 restrictions and the closure of businesses, led to a 10% decrease in cocoa output compared to the previous year. Even as the economy saw some restimulation, excess cocoa stocks due to the economic stall brought on by COVID-19 are not reducing dramatically, according to 12 experts that Reuters polled. Supply continues to exceed demand, impacting cocoa prices, and therefore, the income of West African farmers.

Attempting to Offset Decreases in Cocoa Prices

Lower cocoa prices exacerbate poverty, perpetuate illegal child labor and encourage a lack of proper compensation for labor that hinges on modern slavery. Deforestation also plays a hand, where a bid to sell more cocoa produce drives people to expand their land. To avoid these sorts of conditions, the Ivory Coast and Ghana introduced a $400 per ton Living Income Differential (LID) in 2019 to protect farmers from price decreases and secure a higher income for farmers. As a result, consumers became “more conservative in their buying, helping to boost stocks at origins.”

Companies such as Hershey’s and Mondelez International are accused of attempting to circumnavigate the LID, the former through as many futures exchanges as possible before contract expiration. The latter denied the allegations entirely. Mondelez International, to its credit, however, told CNBC about its commitment to investing “$400 million in sustainable cocoa sourcing program Cocoa Life.”

Other companies such as Tony’s Chocolonely notes that it pays a premium in addition to “farmgate price” when buying cocoa. To continue alleviating the impacts of fluctuating cocoa prices on farmers, in November 2021, the company vowed to increase its cocoa premium payment even further from the initial “$462 per metric ton” (26% higher than farmgate price) “to $793 per metric ton” —  a staggering 54% higher than farmgate price for the 2021-2022 period.

Head of impact at Tony’s Chocolonely, Paul Schoenmakers, accuses major chocolate companies of “turning a blind eye” to the circumstances of cocoa farmers in developing countries. Because the sector derives massive amounts of wealth from cocoa, “they’d still make massive profits every year,” Schoenmakers told CNBC, elaborating on the insignificance of the sum of premium payments in comparison to the massive profit generation.

Putting Cocoa Farmers First

Chocolate giant Mars Wrigley, the parent company of household chocolate delights such as Snickers and Twix, established the Cocoa for Generations program. The initiative actively works toward sustainability by focusing on the well-being of individuals across its entire supply chain, especially those at the grassroots, while alleviating environmental burden.

Launched in 2018, Cocoa for Generations has the support of $1 billion worth of funding from its start year of 2018 to its close in 2028. Highlights of the initiative, according to a 2020 report, include a $5 million collaborative donation with the CARE organization to help farmers facing the impacts of COVID-19.

Cocoa for Generations also helped more than 153,000 farms map their boundaries to prevent land ownership conflicts. Mars also sourced more than 50% of its cocoa from farmer groups that have Child Labor Monitoring and Remediation Systems in place within at-risk regions in Ghana and Ivory Coast. Furthermore, the program distributed about 2.4 million cocoa seeds to cocoa “farmers in 2019.”

Looking Ahead

The forces of supply and demand will reign supreme in determining cocoa prices, however, chocolate companies can show their support for impoverished West African cocoa farmers by adhering to the LID and opting to pay higher premiums in exchange for cocoa, as is this case with Tony’s Chocolonely. With more companies stepping up to support cocoa farmers amid a fluctuating market, cocoa farmers can remain out of the grips of poverty.

– Mohamed Makalou
Photo: Flickr

Iraqi Orphans
Iraq’s youth stand as one of the most vulnerable yet valuable populations in Iraq’s war-torn nation. The humanitarian crisis in the conflict-ridden country of Iraq has led to a poverty rate of 24.8% as of March 2021. One of the most tragic consequences of the conflict and violence in Iraq is the fact that, in 2012, there were almost “2.5 million Iraqi orphans.” Although these statistics stem from the time of the brutal Saddam Hussein regime, the situation regarding orphans in Iraq remains dire. Currently, Iraqi Children’s Hope indicates that there are 700,000 Iraqi orphans.

Iraqi Orphans

To put the situation in perspective, one must note that in 2020, Iraq’s age 0-14 population stood at 37.02% of the total population in contrast to 7.53% of the population in the age category of 55 and older. Just as a comparison, 18.37% of the U.S. population is in the 0-14 age range, and, in 2014, more than 34% of U.S. citizens were 50 and older. Because Iraq’s youth make up a significant portion of the population, Iraqi children stand as essential human capital amid a dwindling older generation. Yet, millions of Iraqi orphans often have no support system and no shelter, making them susceptible to the lure of trafficking and a life of crime. This fact coupled with the statistic that almost “3.2 million school-aged Iraqi children [are] out of school” means that support to Iraqi children must become a priority.

However, with Iraqi orphans in mind, three nonprofits are working to alleviate the impacts of the last 40 years of conflict.

Iraqi Children’s Hope

Iraqi Children’s Hope works directly with Iraqi orphans, “enabling them to thrive educationally and economically” to ensure a better quality of life and lessen the impacts of poverty and war. The organization “prioritize[s] orphans who cannot afford to attend private schools or pay tutoring fees” through the Children Tutoring for Success program. The program supports “orphan students in grades 1-8 through homework assistance and various other academic needs.” Iraqi Children’s Hope also focuses on food drives for widowed mothers and orphaned children. For example, during Ramadan 2021, an Islamic tradition in which families fast from sunrise to sunset, the Iraq branch distributed more than 700 food packages to orphan families and other families in need.

The Iraqi Orphan Foundation

The United Kingdom-based Iraqi Orphan Foundation emphasizes supporting vulnerable groups through forms of humanitarian aid and advancing the education of Iraqi orphaned youth. The foundation reaches children across several towns and cities in Iraq. Through its Sponsor an Orphan program that prompts individuals to donate a minimum of £20 per month per child, the Iraqi Orphan Foundation has supported more than 6,000 orphans. In 2019, the organization raised more than £560,000 in donations to support Iraqi orphans. The organization also focuses on direct food distribution for children without sponsors. For Ramadan 2021, the organization distributed “more than 400 food parcels to the families of orphans.”

The Iraqi Children Foundation (ICF)

Iraqi Children Foundation (ICF) commits to supporting at-risk Iraqi children “who are vulnerable to abuse, neglect and exploitation by criminals, traffickers and extremists.” Its scope includes orphans. One of its unique programs is the Hope Bus where volunteers transform an old bus into a lively, child-friendly classroom. Each bus provides about 50 orphans and street children “with tutoring, nutrition, [health support], social services and childhood fun.” Each child participates in the Hope Bus program for a year in preparation for a traditional school. More than 500 children have attended the Hope Bus so far. The program has provided more than 36,700 healthy meals to students and all 2020 graduates “now have their legal documents.”

ICF Street Lawyers

The ICF Street Lawyers program provides “legal protection for children” to safeguard them from traffickers, criminals and other forms of exploitation. Street Lawyers also “help children obtain legal documents required to enroll in school and access government benefits.”

Children make up 25% of all human trafficking victims. Orphans, often without protection or security, are the most vulnerable to trafficking. About 168 million children around the world end up as child laborers with 50% coerced into hazardous work that damages physical and mental well-being. Human trafficking is difficult to track as less than 0.5% of cases are reported. From May 2016 to April 2021, ICF provided “legal protection and defense” to 1,469 children.

An example of ICF’s extensive impact is the story of Ahmed. Ahmed and his widowed mother earn an income by selling milk from their cow. One day, instead of selling the milk, he shared the milk with the Hope Bus children. This type of generosity despite poverty is a testament to the impact of ICF’s work.

The impacts of Iraq’s political turmoil affect Iraqi children most severely, especially Iraqi orphans. However, there is hope as nonprofits commit to addressing the void in government efforts by supporting the nation’s children, ensuring a brighter future for the youngest generation.

– Imaan Chaudhry
Photo: Flickr