Information and stories about Africa.

Tilapiana

Scientists predict fish such as tilapia will become extinct in 30 to 40 years due to non-sustainable fishing methods. Because of this, marine stock is over-exploited by 80 percent. Tilapiana, an organization dedicated to ending poverty in fishing communities, works to provide these communities funds, resources and training to maintain the fishing industry.

Billions of people living in developing communities rely on fishing for their livelihood and sustenance. With the challenges associated with the fishing industry, fish farmers face many difficulties that either prevent them from fishing or destroys their farm altogether. Fish is the primary source of protein in many developing communities based in coastal regions, and the availability of fish has decreased in recent years due to negative effects on the environment, causing poverty to increase.

Tilapiana, which is based out of Utah, was started in 2010 by Justin King and Andrew Stewart, with the goal of providing resources to those living at the base of the pyramid-those who live with the least financial, environmental and social sustainability. Tiapiana uses business models to help fish farms make up for the lack of sustainability with their position in the fishing industry. They have created the Tilapiana Fish Farm, which trains and empowers entrepreneurs to sustain their business and help bridge the nutritional gap many face.

Tilapiana Fish Farms follow a traditional franchise model. They provide fish farmers with the tools, supplies and resources needed to successfully run a fish farm. This initiative, Profit in a Pond, has successfully helped many farmers escape poverty, transcend the fishing industry and provide a healthy life for them and their families.

King and Stewart base their efforts in communities in Africa, primarily in Ghana. After graduating from Brigham Young University with an MBA in social environment, King decided to apply his degree to helping end poverty around the world, concluding the best way to do so was to help alleviate fish farmers in developing communities.

Recently, the organization was rated by Matador Network as one of the top 50 nonprofit organizations making a difference. In an interview with The Digital Universe, the founders of Tilapiana spoke about the startup of the company, saying it took several months of meeting with business leaders, being trained by fish farmers in effective fishing techniques and building relationships with citizens in Ghana.

Julia Hettiger

Sources: BYU, Tilapiana, Deseret News
Photo: Flickr

GMOs

“Genetically modified organism,” or GMO, is a popular term rampant in mainstream Western food culture. Being critiqued for being unhealthy and harmful to the human body, GMOs have gotten a bad reputation.

Many companies like Chipotle, 365 (Whole Foods store brand) products, and Annie’s products pride themselves in earning a non-GMO sticker from the Non-GMO Project, certifying that they have gone through the motions to avoid GMOs in their food.

However, although sometimes controversial in Western culture, GMOs are transforming the agriculture platform all over Africa. GMOs serve as an efficient tool to use when farming.

In all forms of farming, GMOs serve as a way to curb diseases from reaching crops and increase the number of crops grown. An organism developed in laboratories helps poor farmers to not only be efficient but to earn more money for their families.

However, putting the economic advantages of farming with GMOs aside, many are against GMOs because of the potential health problems they present for the human body.

Due to obesity, a lack of government oversight and harm to the environment, many are against the integration of GMOs in agriculture. Others have also accused those who have patented GMOs (like Monsanto) of only pushing them forward so they can make a profit.

A positive is that it helps to defend crops who are potential candidates for diseases. According to AAAS, GMOs “pose no greater risk than the same foods made from crops modified by conventional plant breeding techniques.” But many, like the Non-GMO Project and Responsible Technology, suggest otherwise.

According to some, the use of GMOs can put money into the pockets of poor farmers, which, in turn, helps to eliminate extreme poverty. Their ability to provide food for those in their region would also help people who are not farmers. They would be able to provide food at a lesser cost.

However, should the overall health of people be sacrificed so they can eat consistently? Is the push for GMOs to be used really for the benefit of the poor farmers or the companies who have patents on them?

Perhaps GMOs should be used until those in extreme poverty have the ability to purchase crops that are less damaging to their long term health.

The debate over the use of GMOs on those in extreme poverty will continue to develop.

– Erin Logan

Sources: The Guardian, Non-GMO Project, AAAS, Huffington Post, UC Berkley, Responsible Technology,
Photo: The Guardian

entrepreneurs_in_africa
Economic development in Africa has been progressing at tremendous speeds over the last two decades, opening even the most rural entrepreneurs of the continent the chance to succeed in their endeavours. A number of nonprofits have made it their mission to help entrepreneurs in Africa succeed.

African Entrepreneur Collective (AEC)

Established in Rwanda in 2012, AEC now supports over 100 entrepreneurs as they develop and grow their businesses. Though many organizations focus on the initial establishment of new businesses, the AEC provides on-going support and consultation to fledgling entrepreneurs and helps them grow their businesses over time. The African Entrepreneur Collective has tailored their focus to a number of areas: business development, African Innovation Prize for students, low-cost funding, tech and SPRING, focused on innovations for girls.

The organization stated, “In order to create more jobs in Africa, we find the people who are already creating jobs, and help them do it better.”

Self Help Africa

Self Help Africa has been working for 30 years to help farmers in nine countries transition from subsistence farming to farming as a means of income. Self Help’s mission is to strengthen agricultural systems, improve access to goods and services and provide rural communities with market opportunities. In 2014 alone, the organization assisted 290,000 smallholder farmers and had 1.8 million beneficiaries. Some recently highlighted activities by the organization include hosting beekeeping training for a rural Ugandan village, funding a dress-making business in Tanzania and helping a goat farmer in Uganda expand his breeding stock.

WomensTrust

WomensTrust is a New Hampshire-based organization working to empower women in Ghana to break the cycle of poverty and build better lives for themselves and those around them. The organization focuses on three main aspects: microlending for business expansion, education and healthcare. To date, the organization has served over 2,300 clients and supplied more than $400,000 in loans to Ghanese women.

Gina Lehner

Sources: Women’s Trust, Self Help Africa, African Entrerpreneur Collective
Photo: The Renegade Times

africas_food_crisisGenetically modified organisms, or GMOs, are often touted as the solution to Africa’s food crisis. However, some argue that the solution has been there all along, in the form of native plants.

A 2010 study recently highlighted in Nature found that, in most cases, indigenous plants contained much higher concentrations of key nutrients, such as vitamins A and C, than non-native varieties. In the case of the native Moringa tree, its leaves pack three times more vitamin A than carrots and seven times more vitamin C than oranges.

While some modified non-native crops do contain much higher percentages of certain nutrients, such as the well-known “Golden Rice” which was created to combat vitamin A deficiency, the harsh climate in much of Africa makes growing non-native crops much more challenging. In addition to having considerable nutritional content, indigenous crops are hardier and faster growing than their exotic counterparts.

With predictions of global climate change causing weather patterns to become more erratic, with sudden rains and long periods of drought, native plants that have spent thousands of years adapting to Africa’s already intense climate could offer a much more reliable food source in the face of such dramatic changes. “Most of the traditional varieties are ready for harvest much faster than non-native crops, so they could be promising options if the rainy seasons become more erratic—one of the predicted outcomes of global warming,” wrote Cernansky, author of the Nature article.

Despite their advantages, native crops make up only a tiny fraction of total agricultural sales. In Kenya, native plants only account for roughly 6 percent of the market, despite the country seeing a 25 percent increase in the land area dedicated to native plants from 2011 to 2013. Much of the lag is due to poor or unreliable infrastructure restricting access to market opportunities. According to Lusike Wasilwa, assistant director of horticulture at Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organisation, more research is needed to address the issues of production, storage and marketing of native plants.

While it is clear that native plants will not be able to solve Africa’s food crisis overnight, they may offer a cheap and elegant solution in the future.

Gina Lehner

Sources: SciDev.net, Mother Jones
Photo: SciDev.net

African_Farmers
Recent progress in Africa’s agriculture sector faces a number of potential threats according to Dr. Agnes Kalibata, the president of Alliance for the Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). Kalibata, formerly the Rwandan Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources, cites global climate change as African agriculture’s biggest threat if it’s not met with increases in further investment.

Thanks to recent financing in the form of development aid, agriculture insurance and foreign direct investment (FDI), many African farmers have developed the means to overcome the formidable climatic and economic conditions that threaten food access for hundreds of millions of people. But Kalibata says that without sustained investment, Africa’s food needs, which are set to triple by 2050, could prove unattainable.

“[Climate change] is eroding the momentum we had gained in terms of getting farmers to use improved seeds and buy fertilizers,” said Kalibata. “If a farmer puts his small savings into seeds and fertilizers and loses the whole crop, that’s the end of his whole career … Farmers are getting less rain, it’s more irregular and it’s beginning to affect their production and undermine the investment they are making.”

In a policy paper presented at the development finance summit in Addis Ababa earlier this month, AGRA estimated that the value of African agricultural output could increase from $280 billion to $800 billion by 2030. In order for the sector that employs around two-thirds of Africa’s population to realize this possibility, potential investment needs to be substantially increased and diversified.

One such opportunity for American investment comes in the form of agriculture insurance, which people and countries are increasingly relying upon to withstand conditions out of their control, such as natural hazards and climate-related disasters. Because agriculture is a high-variable venture, particularly in the harsh environments of sub-Saharan Africa, farmers are often left without the means of recovering lost investments or repaying debts associated with past loans. Insurance coverage enables those farmers to participate in riskier but more lucrative activities, like diversified harvests or mechanization.

Investment in African agriculture comes with economic and moral implications that reach deeper than the immediacy of food insecurity. Access to reliable sources of food is essential for countries in the early stages of economic development and, once established, can empower people and countries to achieve previously unattainable levels of security and self-determination.

“Agriculture is everyone’s business: national independence depends on its development because it enables us to escape the scourge of food insecurity that undermines our sovereignty and fosters sedition,” writes The New Partnership for Africa’s Development CEO Ibrahim Assane Mayaki in the United Nations’ Africa outlook. “[It] is the sector offering the greatest potential for poverty and inequality reduction, as it provides sources of productivity from which the most disadvantaged people working in the sector should benefit.”

The Food for Peace Reform and Electrify Africa Acts introduced earlier this year mark a number of Congressmen’s sustained efforts to make African development a focus of U.S. foreign policy. But in order for Africa to meet its future agricultural needs, investors and donor organizations will need to take further steps to establish infrastructure, mechanization and resistance to climate-related challenges. Those investments in food security could help to deliver increased opportunities for the African and American economies alike.

Zach VeShancey

Sources: The Guardian, AGRA, United Nations
Photo: Flickr

HIV/AIDSThe World Health Organization lists HIV/AIDs as one of the major health issues to plague the world today. The disease so far has claimed over 39 million casualties and approximately the same number of affected patients.

The viral infection has been notoriously associated with poverty; 70% of the cases arise from the Sub-Saharan African region, which remains one of the poorest areas in the world to date. The issue in its particular prevalence in the poorer regions is not a direct socioeconomic correlation. Rather, it is a manifestation of the lack of access to diagnostic and therapeutic facilities.

HIV, or Human Immunodeficiency virus, is a retrovirus that is the causative agent for AIDs: Acquired Immune Deficiency syndrome. The disease is infectious, that is it spread from person to person through contact with blood serum. As of yet, the disease remains untreatable. The only effective course of action as of yet is antiretroviral therapy, which slows the spread of the virus.

To maximize the rate of success in treatment, as well as implement effective preventative measures for the infection, timely diagnosis of the disease is vital. The diagnosis involves a test that screens the blood of the patient. In response to the virus in the bloodstream, antibodies are created against the foreign viral DNA in the body. These antibodies are then analyzed through enzymatic assays.

The process of diagnosis can be inaccessible in some areas, as well as time-consuming. In many developing countries, the most effective means of diagnosis and testing is Point of Care testing. Point of Care testing provides for faster diagnostic techniques, which can be administered anywhere. These tests are also generally less invasive and expensive.

Recently, a Canadian company MedMira has utilized these useful aspects of Point of Care testing to introduce a diagnostic tool for HIV/AIDS. The device, called Reveal G4 Rapid HIV-1 Antibody Test, is currently in the process of premarket approval by the Food and Drug Administration for sales in the United States.

The device uses the Rapid Vertical Flow Technology platform to detect the HIV-type 1 virus. Unlike traditional lab tests, however, it can detect the exposure to the HIV virus within three minutes. The test involves mixing the sample from the patient—typically a blood drop taken with the auto-pipette provided—with a provided buffer solution.

The resulting solution is then poured on the provided “cartridge.” The cartridge contains a membrane, which is composed of peptide chains specifically designed to bind with HIV antibodies. A colloidal solution of gold and proteins then helps to visualize the presence or absence of the antibodies.

The effectiveness of the test is made more significant due to the fact that the test results are simplified. The results of the assay do not require special training to interpret. In the event of positive exposure to the HIV virus, the test cartridge shoes a red line and a parallel dot. In the event of negative results, only the vertical line is visible. The test is also useful in its versatility of viable samples: it can test whole blood, plasma, as well as serum.

The product is estimated to be cost-efficient as well to make it more accessible for developing countries, and favorable for Western consumers. The method of Point of Care testing here, as with other such techniques, has the issue of providing adequate technical assistance to healthcare providers. However, it is important to note that no rapid screening test provides delivers 100% sensitivity and specificity.

The Reveal G4 Rapid HIV-1 Antibody Test remains a promising new tool in the provision of diagnostic—and consequentially preventative—healthcare facilities for HIV/AIDS.

– Atifah Safi

Sources: WHO, The Chronicle Herald, MedMira 1, MedMira 2, Lab Tests Online
Photo: Sense & Sustainability

africa
Often the recipient of international aid, Africa and poverty go hand in hand—the continent is home to 19 of the 23 poorest countries on earth. International agencies and many countries assert that developing Africa will lift millions out of poverty by slowing population growth and bringing the continent up to par economically with the rest of the world.

What is often overlooked is the infrastructure needed to make international aid effective. The American economy is strong because there is a reliable source of power. Businesses can be open eight hours a day without hesitation. The dependability is almost second nature.

But for the countries of Sub-Saharan Africa, the power grid is undependable.

South Africa, which has the biggest power infrastructure in the region at 44 gigawatts, imposes blackouts, or “load shedding,” to cope with the power demand. The continent’s biggest economy, Nigeria, has only six gigawatts for 170 million people. In comparison, the United States has over 1,000 gigawatts for its 320 million citizens.

Most of the businesses only get power four hours a day from the national grid. Many run on private generators. In a recent interview with The New York Times, Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari lamented that the lack of energy security is “the biggest drag on the economy.”

Other areas of Sub-Saharan Africa are in worse shape. Encompassing 630 million people, 85 percent of Africa does not have access to any type of power infrastructure. The World Bank estimates the region loses 2.1 percent of annual GDP due to the unreliable power.

Yet there is opportunity here. As climate change becomes more evident, and carbon dependent infrastructures of the developed world give way to renewable ones, Africa can become a testing ground to prove that economies that run on renewables are not only sustainable but prosperous.

Since 2000, there have been efforts to bring reliable power to Africa. Two years ago, President Obama launched “Power Africa,” a $7 billion initiative aimed at bringing power infrastructure to the continent. China and some European countries, as well as private companies, have financed solar, wind and hydropower projects in numerous countries.

Kenya is in the process of building a massive wind farm. When completed in 2017, the Lake Turkana 310-megawatt project will supply 17 percent of Kenya’s power. The European Investment Bank and the African Development Bank financed the project. Kenya is already laying the groundwork for a 400-megawatt wind farm.

Last year, hip-hop artist Akon launched the Akon Lighting Africa initiative. The initiative focuses on bringing solar power to those who do not have it. But rather than simply installing solar technology, Akon implemented Solar Academy. The school teaches individuals how to install and maintain solar panels.

In an interview with Think Progress, Akon said this empowers people through education while building Africa into an economy that can compete on a global level. He would like the initiative to expand to all of Africa by 2020.

The International Energy Agency wants renewable energy to account for half of Sub-Saharan Africa’s power supply by 2040—an ambitious goal but achievable. With international investment, Africa can build a sustainable power grid while expanding economically, benefiting the millions still living in poverty today.

– Kevin Meyers

Sources: Business Insider, Clean Technica, New York Times, Think Progress
Photo: New York Times

Mobile_Schools
Although Kenya’s education system has improved over the past decade, many students are still left behind. One million Kenyan children are currently out of school, and while that number has steadily decreased in recent years, it still places Kenya at ninth in the world for out of school children. Even if a child does complete primary school, the quality of education is often insufficient for retaining necessary skills, a glaring flaw best illustrated with the statistics surrounding illiteracy in Kenya. Among men ages 15 to 29 who have completed six years of primary school, 6 percent are illiterate and another 26 percent are only semi-literate. For women of the same age group with the same level of education, the problem is even worse: 9 percent are illiterate, and 30 percent are semi-literate.

Marginalized children, particularly poor girls from rural areas, have still not benefited from improvements in Kenya’s school system. For example, almost all children from wealthy families in the capital, Nairobi, attend school, but in the North East region, only 55 percent of poor girls and 43 percent of poor boys attend school. This is partly due to the fact that the indirect cost of secondary education typically exceeds the monthly income of many families in rural areas.

Adeso, a Nairobi based development charity, is currently working to bring education to those who may have never had the chance to set foot in a classroom. The organization focuses on the idea that in order to improve the quality of life across Africa, development must come primarily from within Africa. Adeso works on development in four main areas. They aim to educate young people and equip them with necessary life skills, provide humanitarian aid where people lack food security, water, and sanitation, strengthen local economies, and influence local and international government policies.

Adeso runs a mobile school program in rural areas of Kenya that brings learning to nomadic students, usually girls, whose families have to relocate frequently in order to survive. They plan the school calendar around the weather patterns. Most formal learning is scheduled for rainy seasons when children do not have to balance labor demands and are more likely to stay in one place. The schools will travel with students as far as possible to allow them to continue their education.

The mobile school program was launched in February 2014, but funds are expected to run out by 2016. Adeso hopes to continue the program, but faces many obstacles, from political insecurity to poor infrastructure, to a pervasive belief in many areas that girls should not be educated. Adeso is still working towards securing more funding in order to extend the program. However, should the mobile schools close, the organization hopes that students have benefited from further education and can pass on what they have learned to their communities.

Jane Harkness

Sources: Adeso 1, Adeso 2, Adeso 3, Huffington Post, UNESCO
Photo: Miss Tourism Kenya

presidents_malaria_initiative
In 2005, George Bush launched the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) to work towards eradicating malaria across 15 high-risk African countries.

By acting quickly and efficiently, PMI has helped to reduce malaria mortality by 50 percent since 2005. Over 6 million people are alive today – without the influence of PMI, they would have died from malaria.

Since its creation, PMI has expanded and has helped hundreds of millions of people by core preventative strategies: providing people in high-risk zones with durable and insecticide-treated mosquito nets, antimalarial treatment options, fast-acting diagnostics, indoor anti-mosquito spray and prevention options for pregnant women.

Malaria is a disease carried by mosquitoes, which bite and infect people, leaving them ill with fevers, chills and symptoms associated with the flu. If the disease is not treated, people are at risk of death. In 2013, 198 million cases of malaria were reported, and of those, half a million people died. Many of these deaths were children under the age of 5.

The World Health Organization estimates that 106 countries and 3.4 billion people are at risk of malaria infection.

Mali is an example of where PMI has contributed to improving the quality of life of citizens through malaria treatment. The entire population of Mali is at risk of contracting malaria with 90 percent of citizens living in the central and southern regions where the disease is endemic.

People in transit, perhaps fleeing their homes due to displacement, are even more at risk because of their weaker immune systems. Malaria is the primary cause of death in Mali, especially for children under the age of five.

Despite malaria’s omnipresence in Mali, the devastation caused by malaria has diminished since PMI’s inception in 2005. The mortality rate of children under the age of 5 has decreased by 50 percent in 2013.

PMI’s success is not limited to Mali – the Initiative has made incredible progress across Africa. It has distributed over 31 million mosquito nets, sprayed over 5 million households with insecticides (impacting 18 million people), given over 13 million antimalarial medications for pregnant women and trained over 27,000 health workers.

According to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on their website, Impatient Optimists, “Malaria is clever, resilient and capable of evading our most dependable interventions. If we aim for a malaria-free world, the global response must constantly evolve and adapt to challenges that don’t even exist yet.” The strategies that have worked in the past may not work in the future. Eradicating malaria fully will be a constantly transforming process.

In partnership with the President’s Malaria Initiative and other organizations, the Gates Foundation is committed to eradicating malaria in the future. On Impatient Optimists, the Foundation highlighted its goals broadly: “We need to expand access to prevention, diagnosis and treatment, which PMI has proven capable of doing on a massive scale. We also need to build stronger health systems and introduce new tools and strategies, an increasingly important part of PMI’s work in recent years.”

The reduction of malaria in the world so far illustrates the potential for completely eradicating malaria in the future — a goal that will save millions of lives.

– Aaron Andree

Sources: CDC, Impatient Optimists, PMI
Photo: Impatient Optimists

e-library
For centuries libraries have functioned as centers of knowledge and learning. Today, with information and communication technology (ICT) developments and ever-growing Internet access, people are turning to e-libraries as the next literacy-promotion frontier.

In partnership, Vodacom, Huawei Technologies, the Department of Basic Education and the Nelson Mandela Foundation have created an e-libraries program that will span 61 Vodacom ICT resource centers across South Africa.

This program will provide 400 tablets, courtesy of Huawei Technologies, loaded with content spanning a variety of subjects, including business and entrepreneurship, African literature and history, in addition to fictional e-books. The vast array of reading material will be available in all 11 official languages of South Africa, ensuring unbiased access.

Each resource center will be equipped with at least six tablets preloaded with e-book content that are also Web-accessible, enabling users to download materials from the Internet. Vodacom promises to supply Wi-Fi to students and members of the communities serviced by the e-library tablets.

The e-libraries initiative offers an efficient means of keeping learning materials up-to-date, as Vodacom’s Mthobeli Thengimfene explained: “We are able to continuously update the content remotely without having to go to the centers and people will be able to download the books they are interested in.”

Although South Africa ranks higher than Sub-Saharan countries for simple literacy, some 5 million South African adults’ education does not even extend to completion of the seventh grade.

In order to ensure that South Africa’s population achieves true literacy, including the ability to comprehend the meaning of written material, supplemental instruction and resources become important factors. Unfortunately, there is a shortage of these resources.

“Access to reading material is a major challenge in South Africa,” said Vodacom Group CEO, Shameel Joosub. A large number of the country’s students are unable to utilize traditional library resources or reading material, Joosub went on to explain.

However, many South Africans have access to smartphones and the savvy to engage with ICT devices. The e-library program seeks to build on this affinity to engage more people in literacy programs.

“We want to encourage learning. It’s not only about the books but it is also about forming reading clubs around each of the centers,” Thengimfene said.

The e-libraries initiative is just a small part of Vodacom’s Mobile Education Program, a seven-aspect plan that focuses on teacher-development. However, the solid partnership behind the e-libraries initiative gives it an extra edge. It is clear that all the organizations are passionate about literacy and the new equity they hope it will promote.

“Between 2015 and 2030 we do not only speak about quality education,” said Enver Surty, Deputy Minister of Basic Education, “but about quality education that is a human right and that is a public good and a public interest.”

– Emma-Claire LaSaine

Sources: IT News Africa, IT Web Africa
Photo: E-book Creators