Inflammation and stories on land

land grabbing
Natives of Ethiopia’s Omo River Valley are having their way of life threatened by state-run land grabbing projects designed to develop the area. The valley consists of the traditional lands of the Bodi tribe, which is being forced into government-run villages. These natives have no one to help them; the government’s wants only destroy their land.

Much of the development is being allocated to state-run sugar plantations. In the last 15 months, most of the tribe’s traditional lands have been wiped out. The repercussions of the government’s move will likely affect more than just the 7,000 members of the Bodi tribe.

The development consists of the construction of not only sugar plantations, but a large dam within the Omo River basin. The construction of the dam is projected to be the most devastating of the government projects. It will take the majority of the water present in the river basin with the potential to affect over 500,000 Ethiopians.

No social impact studies were done prior to the implementation of the project, the consent of the tribes occupying the river valley was not obtained and absolutely no one has received any type of compensation for the hardship endured by the forced relocation.

The dam, named Gibe III, will be responsible for adjusting river flows to aid commercial agriculture in the valley. Some believe that this will cause a severe shortage within neighboring bodies of water.

Lake Turkana is situated nearby and is expected to experience a severe drop in its water level. Some are expecting the further development of sugar plantations to result in a water level drop of 16 to 22 meters.

Due to the project’s controversial nature, it has failed to receive funding from many institutions outside of Ethiopia. The World Bank, African Development Bank and the European Investment Bank all decided not to fund the project. However, China’s Industrial and Commercial Bank (ICBC) has come through to provide funds.

Sadly, the development of the Omo River Valley is just a footnote in the long list of human rights abuses the Ethiopian government has inflicted upon its people. The government routinely makes a sham out of its “democracy” with one party winning elections time and time again despite the presence of other political parties.

Criticism of the government is routinely punished. Many journalists have been tossed in jail for simply highlighting government abuses. One journalist, Eskinder Nega, received an 18 year jail sentence for criticizing the government. There are also frequent crackdowns against the Muslim minority who have peacefully protested for the freedom to worship.

There does not seem to be much the average Ethiopian can do to evade the impact of this land grabbing development project. Barring intervention by diplomatic forces outside, the Chinese-backed development project will go on as planned and thousands of innocents will suffer for it.

– Zachary Lindberg

Sources: The Huffington Post, Human Rights Watch
Photo: Any Uak Media

Kathputli Colony
The Kathputli Colony is home to artists, musicians, performers, magicians and poets. It is, however, not home to adequate sanitation facilities, a sufficient water supply or a healthy environment for children.

The Delhi Development Authority (DDA), in partnership with Raheja Developers, a private firm, wants to develop the colony in West Delhi. The DDA sees the colony as a future home for apartment blocks, some of which will be sold to the residents at a reduced rate and others which will be offered at the market price to those who can afford it.

During the construction period, the DDA plans to move Kathputli residents to a transit camp and later rehabilitate them back into the multi-story apartment buildings that will replace their modest homes.

Due to population increases, building vertically will be the most efficient way to accommodate everyone. However, some Kathputli members are fearful that after moving away from their village, they will not be able to come back.

From Kathputli’s population of about 20,000, the government will move 2,800. The DDA chose candidates based on a survey done by a private firm in 2011 which indicated that 2,754 families deserved a place in the redeveloped Kathputli Colony. Those families will be moved to the transit camps and relocated back to the redeveloped colony.

Residents conducted their own survey and put the number of families at 3,200 because they were unhappy at the way the initial survey was conducted. Nonetheless, none of the residents, even those on the DDA’s original list, are prepared to move. Furthermore, representatives from the colony have demanded that a 15-square-yard plot be given to each resident to use how he or she pleases.
The representatives have insisted that if residents are able to develop their own plots from scratch, the true essence of Kathputli Colony will not only remain intact, but the infrastructure will become more developed. Though the Kathputli Colony is seen as a slum by many outsiders, the residents keep the colony alive with their art as well as music and, further, plan to continue their self-sustaining colony without government intervention.

– Haley Sklut

Overfull and varying widely in accommodation, Syrian refugee camps have become an international crisis. The United Nations has made the largest humanitarian appeal for aid ever at $5 billion to relieve the situation but has received less than $2 billion to date. Some 2.2 million refugees are currently scattered across Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt while more Syrians are fleeing war at an alarming pace. Estimates say more than 3 million refugees will be in those areas by January.

Such numbers are startling given the Syrian population before the onset of war was only  22.5 million. Lebanon, for example, has no official camps despite having more than a million refugees in its borders and does not allow the building of permanent refugee structures. Those who can afford it rent apartments or rooms in the cities at an exorbitant rate while others share the homes of sympathetic civilians or even inhabit abandoned buildings in depressed areas. In the northeast region, an average of 17 people per household are packed together according to a study conducted by Doctors Without Borders last year.

Water, food and healthcare are rationed out slowly and insufficiently, with less to go around as numbers rise. Employment for refugees was around 20% last year in Lebanon, and the economies of Iraq, Turkey and Jordan are in little better position to provide opportunities for such a rapid influx of labor.

Dependency on humanitarian aid is heightened and the desperation of the situation has many refugees working for extremely low wages in poor conditions and engaging in child labor. Economic and physical insecurity in Jordan’s Zataari camp has led parents to arrange hurried marriages for their teenage daughters as young as 14. Matchmakers recruit young girls for Saudi husbands but often end up as prostitutes or victims of “pleasure marriages” where the suitor divorces them after consummation.

Though some of Syria’s displaced persons find bourgeois  housing in Cairo or end up in one of Turkey’s refugee camps that consist of metal trailers with access to satellite T.V. and air conditioning, most see basic necessities and sanitation as luxuries. The Domiz camp in Iraq is made up primarily of tents and has 45,000 residents despite being designed for just 30,000. In just two weeks between August and September, more than 1,500 people were treated for upper respiratory infections there by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Security is also an issue in these camps with reports of rape, theft, kidnapping and murder being common. In the Zataari camp, Jordan security forces restrict entry but lack the manpower to adequately police the camp’s 120,000 residents. Other camps in Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey reportedly funnel arms and recruits back into Syria. In Lebanon, crime has increased by 30% and increased tensions between Hezbollah and Sunni refugees may be behind the recent bombing of the Iranian embassy in Beirut.

Syria’s bordering nations are gradually increasing restrictions for entering refugees. Lebanon and Turkey are both planning to relocate some people to camps they wish to build within Syria’s insecure borders. Only about 25% of Syria’s refugees are actually in camps now, the rest are trying to survive by their own means. There are also an additional 3.8 million who are internally displaced.

Despite their faults, the refugee camps provide essential support and the need for more camps is evident, but where they can be built and how they will be funded is not so clear.

– Tyson Watkins

Sources: Medecins Sans Frontieres, World Health Organization, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees: Syrian Arab Republic,
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees: Moving Refugees, The Guardian, Integrated Regional Information Networks, BBC, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees: Syrian Regional Response Plan, Aljazeera, The Daily Star United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees: Stories from Syrian Refugees, The New York Review of Books
Photo: NPR

South America is a continent rich with natural resources, beautiful forests, and comfortable climates. However, the continent isn’t living up to its vast potential, with most of the continent’s inhabitants pulling in less than 12,000 USDs per year. Despite popular belief, the majority of South America’s problems reside in the rural areas, as opposed to urban cities and landscapes.

The prevailing belief that because 70 percent of its inhabitants are urban, and that excessive urban slums are visible at all times, South America’s poverty is urban.Yet, poverty actually has a more profound effect on the rural dwellers.

The indigenous farmers of South America are often considered to be the poorest people in the country. This immediately triggers concerns; if the civilians who produce food languish in extreme poverty, what does that say about the overall distribution of food throughout the continent?

Rural poverty in the region is mainly associated with lack of access to and unequal distribution of productive land, and inadequate access to information and productive assets for smallholder farmers. In rural areas, poor people also face the consequences of geographic isolation and limited public investment in education, health services and housing. Market-oriented policies adopted by governments during recent years have led to a decrease in investments in rural areas, contributing to an increase in rural poverty.

Rural women are among the poorest of the poor. They suffer the consequences of internal conflicts, migration of men both within and outside their country, and structural adjustments.

Rural poverty in the South Cone, or southern part of South America, is deepest among indigenous peoples such as the Mapuches in southern Chile and some 15 ethnic groups in Argentina.

South America  has all of the tools of becoming a continent full of greatness. However, the urban and rural populations are struggling, despite a bevy of natural resources. Poor governance, internal conflicts, and extreme migration have been holding South America back for generations.

Like Africa, South America will always have promise because of the natural resources it boats.  Also in accordance with Africa, South America has been held back from displaying its true potential by governments that cut corners to make all of the money it can. By not investing in the people, specifically in farmers, the countries in South America will consider to struggle from one day to another.

– Zachary Wright

Sources: Rural Poverty PortalMaps of WorldAnekiIPS News
Photo: MercoPress

Oxfam is an international confederation of organizations that aims to eradicate poverty in countries all over the globe. Oxfam’s most recent effort, entitled Behind the Brands, urges the world’s largest food and beverage companies to consider the social and environmental impact of their actions. The companies targeted include Coca-Cola, Betty Crocker, Oreo, Pepsi, Trident, Minute Maid, Cheerios and Mazola. According to Raymond Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America, fewer than 500 companies control 70% of the major decisions in the food system including prices, quality standards and investments in technology. This process allows CEOs to extract wealth from the company while the lower levels of the hierarchy, including farmers and women, face most of the hardships and risks. Given this relationship, it is no surprise that 80% of the world’s hungry live in rural areas.

Oxfam has utilized petitions and social media campaigns to call attention to the wrongdoings of the world’s largest food and beverage companies, who have a lot to lose in our increasingly conscientious world. In a survey by Cone Communications, nine of ten consumers said that they would boycott brands that partake in “irresponsible behavior” and this trend has been depicted within the brand preferences of consumers within the last year.

As a result of Oxfam’s efforts, Coca-Cola has agreed to address the main issue of Oxfam’s report entitled, “Nothing Sweet About It.” The report highlights the tendency of the world’s largest sugar supply chains to “land grab.” These sugar companies are forcing poor communities across the globe off their land without just compensation or prior consultation in order to gain more land for sugar plantations. In order to tackle this issue, Coca-Cola has committed to disclose the top three countries and suppliers of its cane sugar conduct, publish human rights assessments and engage with suppliers in order to ensure that the community’s concerns are attended to.

Nestle, another large food and beverage provider, has also addressed Oxfam’s complaints regarding women in the cocoa supply chain. Often times, women in third world nations farm the cocoa that is consumed across the globe; however, they never receive any compensation or income for their work. Nestle has agreed to explore how the company can more positively affect women by incorporating gender indicators into the company’s framework and supporting women’s farmer associations.

The efforts by the aforementioned companies depicts how the food and beverage industries have become more socially conscientious; however, many other large businesses have yet to respond to Oxfam’s urges. By utilizing social media and contacting the companies listed on Oxfam’s Behind The Brands proposal, we can encourage social responsibility and help farmers all across the globe.

– Lienna Feleke-Eshete

Sources: Oxfam, Nestle, Global Post
Photo: The Guardian

As the migration of people from rural areas to cities intensifies, the number of people living in slums are growing exponentially. According to the U.N.’s Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, there are currently more than 200,000 slums, shanty towns and informal settlements around the world. Prior even to the global economic crisis of 2008, nearly a third of all city dwellers lived in slums. This number continues to grow dramatically; there will be one billion more people living in slums within the next twenty years.

One of the primary concerns facing the astonishing proportion of the global population living in impoverished slum communities is food security. Given this, farming within slum communities offers huge benefits. Being able to produce food not only makes slum populations less dependent on government and NGO subsidies and aid but makes them less vulnerable to the fluctuating prices of the global food market. Further, small-scale urban farming provides occupational and entrepreneurial opportunities, often to women who would otherwise have none.

Urban farming can also improve health by supplying healthier food options which would otherwise be too expensive to eat. Finally, urban farming enhances climate change resilience by reducing the environmental costs of mass agricultural production and distribution.

The benefits of small-scale farming in slums are potentially massive. But urban agriculture also faces a number of challenges. Contaminated soil from the rampant pollution omnipresent in slums is often an issue. There can also be a total lack of available land. Cramped conditions contribute to a lack of sunlight. Water availability and quality can also be limited.

Given these limitations, how does one farm in a slum? Here are four real-world slum farming operations:

1. “Farm-in-a-sack” projects, Nairobi: One project, begun by the Italian organizations Cooperazione Internazionale (COOPI,) doles out seedlings to families in Nairobi’s Mathare slum. COOPI brought in rural agricultural experts to educate community groups on how to farm vegetables in slums and handed out one sack and 43 seedlings to each family participating in the project. The vegetables are ready within a few weeks and the plants can be harvested multiple times over the course of a year. Not only do the newly minted urban farmers gain additional nutrients, any surplus can be sold for a profit. Similar projects in Nairobi’s Kibera slum also see great success. According to Map Kibera Trust, sack farming increases weekly household income by at least $5 per week and adds two to three meals a week-massive gains in a slum notorious for its crushing impoverishment.

2. Harnessing technology to farm in Neza-Chalco-Itza, Mexico City: The Neza-Chalco-Itza slum in Mexico City is the largest in the world with an estimated four million people. Thus, creative food solutions are crucial to the livelihood of the people living there. To that end, ANADEGES, a group of 20 autonomous NGOs in Mexico, developed and orchestrated a project that aims to help people develop their own capacity to produce organic food from their backyards, patios, and rooftops. Utilizing discarded containers and readily available waste matter, the project has been successful in designing innovative ways for people to grow their own food.

3. Urban agriculture in Bamenda, Cameroon: With a population of more than 900,000 and high food prices, life is not easy for slum dwellers in Bamenda. However, an estimated 5,000 residents have turned to farming in order to supplement their diets and incomes. They utilize backyards, empty lots, roadsides, abandoned corridors and any other available land space to grow tomatoes, cabbages, onions, okra, hot pepper, ginger, and maize. In the words of Richard, a driver by profession who uses farming for food an additional income, “it’s a good experience because it is from the slums that we manage and feed ourselves. And then we feed the other town dwellers.” Finding water for the crops is the major challenge in Bamenda, requiring traveling great distances to retrieve it from swamp areas. The challenge to collect water, however, is well worth it, as Richard says, because farming “is where we earn our own living.”

4. Kibera Youth Reform Organic Farm, Nairobi, Kenya: At an estimated one million residents, Nairobi’s Kibera is considered the largest slum in Africa. In 2008, it had erupted in clashes in the wake of Kenya’s flawed presidential elections which intensified the slum’s already dire food insecurity. Concerned, Su Kahumbu, the managing director of one of Kenya’s pioneer organic produce companies, revolutionized a solution. Working with a group of young, unemployed reformed criminals interested in farming the slum, Kahumbu cleared a half-acre rectangle patch of land that had been piled three feet high with garbage and human waste. Her brother laid down irrigation pipes linked to a water tank and the group added vegetable scrap compost to the plot. Within months, Kenya’s first organic slum farm was producing multiple crops and soon turning a profit, demonstrating its sustainability.

– Kelley Calkins

Sources: Agfax, CNN, International Business Times, IPS, Journey to Forever, World Watch Institute, The Guardian
Photo: World Watch

In western Africa, an entirely new generation has risen out of sand, tents, and mud blocks. Though born into this kingdom of sand and pumped water wells, home lies miles away with the vast Atlantic Ocean for these life-long refugees.

In the most barren regions of western Algeria, five refugee camps collectively called the Polisario Front were established in the mid-1970s in response to land disputes spanning two decades of armed conflicts. Home to 150,000 Sahrawis, the current state of the camps themselves has received scarce media attention.

The Sahrawis tribes in West Africa have lived in the Polisario camps bereft of a stable home country since the 1970s. After 37 years of laying in wait to return to their homeland in the West Sahara, the Sahrawis remain involved with the longest-running conflict involving displaced persons.

The dispute involves a strip of land called West Sahara in northern Africa. When Spanish colonial forces withdrew power from the area in 1976, the Moroccan government immediately seized control of the densely Sahrawi-populated land.

Rebel Sahrawis engaged in armed conflict against Moroccan forces for two decades until the U.N. mandated a ceasefire in 1991. Part of the referendum was to hold a vote in the Polisario Front as to whether or not the refugees would remain independent or integrate into Morocco. In 2013 there has yet to be a vote on the issue. The stall on the vote and major political action has perpetuated life in the Polisario Camps, spanning decades.

Many of the founding members of the camps were young orphans who fled the violence of the 1970s with only their lives. They have since then established schools, hospitals, and their own governing bodies. Democratic ideals, the freedom to practice any religion, as well as equality between women and men are the principles of the camps. When men went to fight in West Sahara from the 1970s to late 1980s, women were left to take on leadership roles at the camps and have since retained their independence.

Food assistance comes directly from international aid provided by organizations such the World Food Program. Food security is nearly impossible due to the barrenness of the surrounding lands. Malnutrition and anemia are rampant among the refugees due to deficiencies in iron and other essential vitamins.

Working Sahrawis have been receiving monthly stipends from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in lieu of real salaries.

Though the refugees need $130 million of international aid yearly to support all of their people, only $70 million year is given to them. Lack of U.S. efforts has been cited for the lack of attention to this area, especially in comparison to the unrest boiling in Iran, Egypt, Syria, Israel and Palestine, and the Persian Gulf.

As to the fate of the Polisario Camps, they are now the target of militant extremist groups because of their fundamentally democratic values and difference in religious views.

Al Queada has also been known to run freely in and around the area, making the camps a potential recruitment ground for terrorism, especially with the rise of a new impatient generation from the camps. However, anti-terrorist security measures were elected and put in place by the refugees and their leaders.

The refugees seem resigned to life in the camps while their leaders are pressured for a solution—one that can either end in Morrocan absorption or decades of more fighting. With foreign aid acting as their life blood, cutting off such programs could plummet the Sahrawis to the brink of annihilation.

Malika Gumpangkum

Sources: PBS, The Daily Beast, HRW

There are approximately 1.02 billion undernourished people in the world today, with hunger and malnutrition as the leading causes of death in the developing world. Yet, despite the overwhelming magnitude of this problem, global hunger can be solved. By addressing the factors behind widespread hunger – poor agricultural systems, poverty, environmental exploitation and economic crises – we can come closer to ending it. Below are just five practical ways to end global hunger.

1. Decrease the production of meat.
The intense rate at which many countries focus on producing meat has taken a serious toll on resources. Nearly 40 percent of the world’s valuable agricultural resources go towards feeding livestock. If the production of meat was reduced, those resources could go toward ending undernourishment instead.
2. Food for Life and the human responsibility. 
Food for Life is an organization committed to putting a stop to world hunger. Based on simple, yet powerful, principles of human spirit, humility and compassion, Food for Life has developed a number of programs that bring both food and education to malnourished countries.
3. Stop land grabbing. 
Wealthy countries without extensive landholdings have started seizing land in underdeveloped countries to use as allotments. This “land grabbing” prevents people living in the region from using that land to grow crops and sustain their communities, further perpetuating hunger and malnutrition in the area.
4. Small-scale farming. 
Family farmers play a vital role in the development of food sustainability. Small farmers are more likely to produce crops rich in nutrients as opposed to conventional agribusiness that grow mostly starchy crops. Organizations such as AGRA, which works towards a green revolution in Africa, focus heavily on small farmers, providing them with education, quality soils and the seeds necessary to build a prosperous farm.
5. Eliminate infant malnutrition. 
Infant malnutrition is rampant in underdeveloped countries that lack the resources and education necessary to nourish healthy children. Educating families and mothers living in these regions on proper feeding techniques and providing them with the right nutrients at every stage of the pregnancy will make a huge difference in alleviating infant malnutrition.
– Chante Owens

Sources: The Guardian, Food for Life, Living Green Magazine
Photo: Greenpeace

TAHMO network
For years, Africa has waited in vain for an agricultural revolution. Without consistent data on water availability, farmers have struggled to cope amidst the African landscape. A complete understanding of water availability is crucial for crop planning. However, the continent has never been fully equipped with the infrastructure necessary for agricultural success.

Regional planners have never had the data necessary to plan and invest in such infrastructure. Without adequate hydro-meteorological networks, planners have little information on water availability or weather patterns. These networks are disproportionately in North and South Africa, leaving much of central Africa in the dark. 1 in 4 existing stations in East and South Africa do not even work.

Africa lacks these networks because they are expensive (around $15,000 each). When a government has $15,000 to spend, it is often spent on matters of more urgent importance. Moreover, these networks require a skilled staff – something which is hard to find in the rural communities in which they are based.

Together, Delft University and Oregon State University (OSU) came up with a solution. Teaming up with 14 other universities and institutions, Delft and OSU started the Trans-African Hydro-Meteorological Observatory (TAHMO) network. The network will be comprised of 20,000 stations across Sub-Saharan Africa, which should be completed by 2018.

The stations require almost zero-maintenance and costs only $500. They will measure for standard variables of climate, such as temperature, humidity, radiation, wind speed, rainfall, and more. The stations will most likely be based at secondary schools, which will receive training materials and money for simple upkeep. In addition, Delft created curriculum to teach the children about the weather, climate, water and management.

The network, however, will not be cheap. The network will require $5-7 million per year and hopes to eventually be self-sustaining. Despite the efforts of international donors and governments, the network will need a lot more support.

Many companies that could utilize the data collected through the TAHMO network, are looking to partner with Delft and could eventually become monetary sponsors of the network. The network could prove beneficial for other industries, such as micro-insurance, aviation, hydropower, and navigation.

Ultimately, the stations will not only educate a generation about weather conditions, but it will also provide climate scientists with a large amount of new data, which they can incorporate into their studies. A comprehensive database of the African climate would improve food production and harvest predictions.

This could lead to smarter farming, higher crop yields, and less food scarcity. The database will be available in a variety of forms – mobile phones, radio, and television – making it easier for local farmers to anticipate poor weather conditions and protect their crops. TAHNO is committed to the open exchange of all data collected between scientists, governments, farmers and civilians.

The TAHNO database and the free exchange of information between African farmers will improve the agriculture industry in Africa and hopefully lead to greater food availability.

– Kelsey Ziomek

Sources: The Guardian, Deft University of Technology, Thomson Reuters Foundation, Inhabitat

Irrigation, known for improving crops and overall increasing capabilities of life for centuries, may have one major drawback. With an increase in water abundance through irrigation, infrastructure such as irrigation canals are proving to be havens for mosquito growth.

Recent research shows that newly constructed irrigation infrastructure in malaria prone areas can increase the risk of malaria in the local community.

Research was conducted in the northwest region of India known as Gujarat. The research project found that when irrigation infrastructure was already established in sub-districts, such as Banaskantha and Patan, the monsoon rain influx had less of a malarial increase than sub-districts with early and transitional irrigation systems.

These transitional irrigation systems, known as “low irrigated,” were found to be the most susceptible to malaria that comes after the rainy monsoon season. In comparison, “mature irrigated” areas that had established wells and canals for over thirty years, were less affected by the mosquitoes and the disease they carry.

Led by University of Michigan graduate student, Andres Baeza, the team of researchers monitored the methods and results of a large irrigation project that was set to irrigate 47 million acres of farmland.

“In these dry, fragile ecosystems, where increase in water availability from rainfall is the limiting factor for malaria transmission, irrigation infrastructure can drastically alter mosquito population abundance to levels above the threshold needed to maintain malaria transmission” according to Baeza.

Although it has been known that malaria increases and new irrigation improvements are correlated, this new research shows that the improvements to land that eventually reduce malaria may take longer than expected for farmers in malaria prevalent regions.

This is not to persuade readers that irrigation is not worth it. On the contrary, with irrigation improvements come improved farm yields, food security, better incomes and increased access to finance and healthcare. With improved farmland, malaria is deterred and over the course of a few decades will be much lower as long as farming improvements are made accordingly.

– Michael Carney

Sources: Humanosphere, Proceedings of the National Academy of the Scienes (PNAS)
Photo: The Gef