Ethical Development
With the ease and opportunity of the globalized market, it is typically advantageous for companies to outsource their production to developing countries where labor is cheap. This incentivizes manufacturers in these countries to cut their production costs as much as possible in order to maintain an edge over their competitors, which they often accomplish by slashing wages and overlooking workplace safety regulations. Described as a “race to the bottom,” this competitive dynamic forces manufacturers to constantly degrade their standards of production and places a crushing burden on workers, which impedes the ethical development of many poor countries globally.

Ethical Apparel Africa

Ethical Apparel Africa (EAA) offers an alternative to this race to the bottom by presenting a responsible model of outsourced production. EAA is an apparel manufacturing and sourcing company that currently partners with five factories in Benin and Ghana. It provides partner factories with expert guidance to improve the quality, capacity and efficiency of their production process. It also connects the partner factories with clients by persuading overseas companies to outsource their manufacturing needs to West Africa.

This operation is lucrative as the EAA facilitated roughly $5 million in exports in 2021 and the EAA expects to hit $7 million in 2022. In return for this boost in output, their partner factories reinvest their profits into the community by creating jobs, paying livable wages and offering generous employee benefits.

Job Creation

As of October 2021, EAA has created more than 1,000 local jobs and aims to create 4,000 more by 2027. On average, workers in the jobs make around four times their prior income and the workers also receive numerous employee benefits ranging from nursing care and subsidized transport to performance bonuses and free lunches. The free lunches are particularly impactful as only 33% of surveyed workers ate three square meals a day before working at EAA.

As part of its approach to ethical development, EAA is also committed to employing women, who make up around 70% of its workforce. Thanks in large part to the “race to the bottom” and its effects on exploitative workplace practices, the International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that roughly 25 million people around the world are subject to forced labor. The practices disproportionately affect women and women make up 71% of forced laborers. Beyond the obvious moral objections to this modern slavery, promoting gender equality in employment is key for the region’s sustainable growth. Research shows that it equates with greater productivity, higher levels of economic resilience and more equitable distribution of incomes.

Why Africa?

There are several reasons why West Africa is a solid economic investment, and EAA’s model of ethical development shows how to utilize these advantages rather than exploit them.

  1. Duty-Free Access to the U.S. and Europe – Since the implementation of the African Growth and Opportunity Act in 2000, Africa has had duty-free access to the U.S. market, which gives it a 15% to 30% advantage in shipping costs over other foreign exporters. Africa also has duty-free access to the EU market thanks to its Everything But Arms initiative, through which it receives a similar edge over most other exporters.
  2. Strong Workforce – Africa will likely experience massive population growth over the next several decades. With the population expected to double by 2050, labor will be abundantly available. By investing in the region now, EAA is building long-term relationships with the emerging powerhouse of Africa’s workforce.
  3. Raw Material Potential – West Africa is the sixth largest regional producer of cotton in the world and exports more than four times as much cotton as East Africa. However, it currently exports 95% of this cotton in its raw form. Manufacturers including the EAA have the opportunity to invest in spinning and weaving capacities in order to boost this export value and redistribute it within the region.
  4. Longevity – Ghana has a long history of economic and political stability, which ensures the dependable utilization of any economic value that EAA generates. The West African middle class is also growing rapidly, which represents a promising supply of human capital and a potential consumer market.

These reasons mean that West Africa will likely become a major producer of international goods in the next several decades. EAA’s work in West Africa provides a model of equitable production that can help manage this expected growth in a responsible manner. By guaranteeing satisfactory wages and working conditions, their manufacturers are alleviating poverty and laying the groundwork for the region’s ethical development.

Jack Leist
Photo: Flickr

Food Vulnerability in West AfricaAt the beginning of 2022, the United Nations reported a near 3% increase in extreme poverty in West Africa due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Evidence shows that while worldwide regulations are beginning to loosen, the pandemic continues to impact food resources for West Africans. More than 25 million people in West Africa are currently struggling to meet their basic food needs. At the same time, financial strategies and partnerships aim to combat the exacerbated poverty and food vulnerability in West Africa.

West Africa and COVID-19

The World Health Organization (WHO) reported in January 2022 that 30 African countries detected the highly contagious Omicron variant and 42 African countries detected the Delta variant. West Africa has accumulated about 10.2 million COVID-19 cases and Africa, in general, notes a fully vaccinated population of only 10%. Starting in the early days of the pandemic, West African nations responded to COVID-19 through lockdowns, traveling restrictions and curfews.

Food Vulnerability in West Africa

Many food production systems in West Africa are already facing issues regarding their reliability and affordability. A 2020 report from Nature Food found that rural farming regions in West Africa have unreliable food storage means and many West Africans rely on their daily income to pay for food.

COVID-19 has likely increased food prices for West African regions as access to markets, implementations of lockdowns and trading restrictions reduce food access for West African families. Nature Food reports that prices in food imports for cereals and rice for West African regions have risen by 11% to 17%.

Schools in West Africa account for a significant amount of household food supplies by providing food for nearly 7 million West African school children through school feeding programs. Due to the pandemic, school closures strain the already minimal access to food for children in low-income families while increasing food vulnerability in West Africa.

West African Food Investments and Partnerships

Multiple international organizations are pledging significant funding to support West African efforts to address COVID-19. While efforts in aiding food vulnerability are short-term, the commitments open the doors for governments to increase agriculture investments with positive long-term effects.

In April 2020, the African Development Bank pledged $10 billion in support of African economies and to protect against issues such as food vulnerability in West Africa amid the pandemic. This creates a possibility for improvements in West Africa’s financial stability through the strengthening of public-private partnerships.

Financial Inclusion and Mobile Money

Other developments include financial inclusion through mobile money services (MM). MM is a progressive method toward handling finances that allow rural and urban regions in West Africa to have efficient access to financial services and the ability to receive payments via mobile phone.

A 2020 Wilson Center report indicates that MM services saw an increase from 34% to 43% from 2011 to 2017 throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Furthermore, adults in the region using MM doubled from 12% to 21% from 2011 to 2017 in comparison to the steady number of adults using other financial institutions. However, the progression of financial inclusion through mobile money came to a halt when the pandemic hit.

In response, multiple reforms and policies are in place to continue financial inclusion progress. Central banks encourage digital payments to curb the spread of COVID-19 while keeping banks up and running. Countries ranging from Ghana to Liberia have increased access to MM accounts without extra fees or documentation for transactions reaching a set amount. Regarding low-income homes or families in poverty, West African governments have mobilized direct cash transfer programs to lessen the weakening economic effects of COVID-19 lockdowns.

With partnerships and financial strategies to address West Africa’s food and financial issues amid the pandemic, efforts will continue to improve the lives of low-income households.

Michelanie Allcock
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

Global Opioid Crisis
Political pundits and policymakers have acknowledged the severity of the U.S. opioid crisis. However, there is also a drug that is quietly wreaking havoc on developing nations. Many have touted tramadol as a safer alternative to other opioids. However, it has instead fostered addiction in the poorest nations and bankrolled terrorists. Authorities fear that the drug’s growing popularity may even destabilize entire regions, causing the global opioid crisis.

Is Tramadol Safe?

At first glance, it is not clear how tramadol is fueling the global opioid crisisIn 2021, the National Institute of Health (NIH) released a study declaring that tramadol has “a low potential for abuse” and has a significantly lower rate of nonmedical use than comparator opioids.

In addition, the World Health Organization (WHO) Expert Committee on Drug Dependence has reviewed the drug several times. It recommended against regulation in its most recent report. The main reasons are its concerns that regulation may hinder access to the drug in developing nations.

However, a closer look at the drug and its effect on the developing world demonstrates clearly how tramadol is fueling the global opioid crisisTramadol is an opioid that medical professionals use to treat moderate to severe pain. It may cause nausea, dizziness, constipation, headaches, respiratory depression and even death.

Tramadol and the Global Opioid Crisis

Despite its presentation as a safe alternative to opioids such as Vicodin, there are plentiful examples of how tramadol is fueling the global opioid crisis:

  1. The illicit market for tramadol is booming. Grünenthal, a German company, originally manufactured the drug for medicinal purposes. However, inadequate access to medicine in the developing world allowed the illicit market to blossom. Lower prices and immediate access to illicit painkillers relieved the shortcomings of poor health care structures, as UNODC reported. Most of these drugs are coming from India. Pill factories have been meeting the demand for tramadol pills by shipping them across the planet in illegal amounts. The demand for these drugs and the absence of regulation keep such illicit trade profitable. U.S. law enforcement has estimated that its seizures of tramadol tablets leaving India in the 2017-2018 period exceeded 1 billion.
  2. Tramadol addiction is rampant in West Africa. According to the UNODC report, “opioids and their nonmedical use have reached an alarming state in West Africa.” The report collected data from Ghana, Burkina Faso, Benin, Niger and Togo. Tramadol seized in West Africa in 2017 accounted for 77% of the tramadol seized globally. It also acknowledged that non-medical use of tramadol is ubiquitous in Niger, where it is the narcotic people are most familiar with. The number of narcotics seized in Nigeria nearly doubled from 53 to 92 tons between 2016 to 2017. The report showed that overall, tramadol is the most popular opioid as it accounts for 91% of all pharmaceutical opioids seized in West Africa in 2017.
  3. The UNODC report on tramadol in West Africa highlighted one of the most sinister aspects of how tramadol is fueling the global opioid crisis. The report stated that “it cannot be denied…that there may be a link between tramadol trafficking and terrorist groups.” The report cited examples of Al Qaeda prompting its followers to trade tramadol to finance its terrorist operations as well as Boko Haram fighters depending on the drug before attacks. The statistics support these claims. According to CSIS, law enforcement intercepted $75 million worth of tramadol heading to the Islamic State group from India in 2017. Authorities also confiscated another 600,000 tablets bound for Boko Haram and found 3 million in a truck in Niger. In May 2017, authorities seized 37 million pills in Italy. Isis had bought them and intended to sell them for profit.

Tramadol Trouble Shooting

Despite the growing problem, many have paid attention. For instance, UNODC met in July 2019 to discuss its West Africa report. Representatives from West Africa, India, the European Union (EU), Interpol and WHO were a few of the guests that attended the meeting to discuss how tramadol is fueling the global opioid crisis.

Not only are organizations, nations and individuals paying attention, but they are also actively strategizing to mitigate the crisis. The meeting highlighted the need for international cooperation and increased law enforcement. Lastly, there was great emphasis on the need for uniform regulation of the pharmaceuticals, in hopes that cooperation would crush the illicit market while meeting demand.

– Richard Vieira
Photo: Unsplash

USAID Helps Prevent War
Case studies throughout history depict the ill effects rendered to countries entangled in perpetual war. Examples from the last two centuries include Germany’s hyperinflation post-World War I and the infrastructural and economic problems in Rwanda and Sierra Leone post-civil war. History shows that war is a direct cause of poverty in many countries. In turn, poverty is indirectly responsible for factors such as starvation and the inability to control diseases. Due to its current period of fierce conflicts, West Africa experiences the drastic effects of war and accompanying poverty. If West Africa desires to alleviate poverty while fostering economic, infrastructural and developmental growth, it must find ways to both prevent war and maintain peace. Thankfully, some organizations are working to do just that. Here is how USAID helps prevent war in West Africa.

USAID in West Africa

USAID intervenes in West African conflicts with its Regional Peace and Development Program, established in September 2016. Importantly, the program works to avert war by bolstering the political integrity and honesty of West African regimes, while simultaneously holding them accountable. It does this by collaborating with regional and state institutions as well as providing training, research and other educational outreaches.

One segment of this program is Partnerships for Peace (P4P), which educates citizens on the roots of violence. Another branch within the Regional Peace and Development Program is Voices for Peace (V4P), which counters violent extremism by promoting human rights through education and media outlets. Both initiatives are successful examples of how USAID helps prevent war in West Africa.

Partnerships for Peace (P4P)

P4P is oriented towards strengthening West Africa’s ability to counter violent extremism. It primarily focuses on the countries of Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad and Mauritania. In total, it allocates $21.9 million to these nations to counter violent extremism.

To limit radical extremism, P4P developed the Regional Counter to Violent Extremism Lexicon. This lexicon, which has undergone translation into six African languages, provides appropriate terminology for local contexts, being sensitive to cultural, religious and ethnic diversity. Moreover, P4P uses its funding to counter violence by supporting regional anti-extremist organizations. It also provides grants to implement initiatives and programs addressing violent extremism. By funding civil organizations and promulgating anti-extremist educational doctrines, P4P has deterred conflict in West Africa.

Voices for Peace (V4P)

V4P prevents war by promoting good governance and social cohesion. With its budget of $31.5 million, the organization discourages the escalation to conflict by targeting at-risk youth, women and marginalized groups. V4P connects these vulnerable populations with media platforms, respected leaders, institutions and networks to spread awareness. Specifically, they discuss the ill effects of war and the widespread death and poverty stemming from it.

USAID helps prevent war through V4P by promoting democratic values, human rights and good governance. The organization widely disseminates these values by targeting the media, educational institutions and radio talk shows. Significantly, the organization’s humanitarian message, which has undergone translation into 30 languages and 93 radio stations convey, has reached diverse groups. Consequently, USAID’s V4P ably empowers the marginalized while inspiring civic action in citizens across West Africa.

Hope for the Future

USAID’s efforts have played a critical role in successfully delivering West Africa from its tumultuous past. Now, the organization assists in guiding West Africa towards a lasting peace that will allow the region to escape poverty and establish sound governance. For the sake of both international security and poverty alleviation, the international community ought to take a similar course in supporting programs that aid West Africa’s anti-violence organizations.

– Jacob Crosley
Photo: Flickr

Shark Conservation Alleviates Poverty
In the past 50 years, global shark and ray populations have declined by more than 70%. The drop is largely due to the high demand for shark fin soup and medicinal shark products. Shark hunting provides a major source of income for people around the world, especially in places like West Africa where dwindling fish populations limit other fishing opportunities. However, shark hunting poses a threat to humans and aquatic ecosystems by causing imbalances in the food chain. Shark conservation alleviates poverty by preserving marine ecosystems that people rely on for food, medicine and income.

Socioeconomic Impacts

Shark and ray products play significant roles in West African economies, particularly when it comes to trade. Fishermen kill more than 100 million sharks every year. In West Africa, fishermen commonly pursue shark hunting because commercial fish populations are becoming scarce. The loss of sharks further disrupts the food chain by limiting the number of apex predators. As a result, big fish consume smaller fish that might otherwise be the targets of commercial fishermen.

Shark products are expensive, high-protein alternatives to traditional fish, but diminishing shark populations has greater ecological implications. In the long term, many ecosystems will not be able to survive without sharks, causing the communities that rely on those ecosystems to suffer. Therefore, shark conservation can alleviate poverty by maintaining a steady food supply chain for communities around the world.

Local Shark Monitoring and Management Versus Legislation

In Liberia, more than 30,000 people rely on fishing as a main source of income. Fish also account for about two-thirds of the country’s animal protein consumption. Therefore, preserving aquatic ecosystems, in part by protecting sharks, is essential to Liberia’s economy and health. Methods of shark conservation include shark monitoring and sustainable fishing management.

The National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority started an initiative in 2019 to monitor and collect data on fishing and shark populations in Liberia. A 2014 pledge that Liberia made with 12 other West African nations to conserve shark and ray populations inspired the initiative. According to a trial program, Liberian waters are home to 19 shark species that all fall under the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of threatened species. Critics of the initiative worry that data collection will not be enough to preserve shark populations. Legislative action may be necessary to make a lasting impact on shark conservation.

Recent Efforts in Shark Conservation

A group of representatives from 12 West African countries held a workshop in Senegal in 2017 to discuss the implementation of international trade regulations to protect sharks and rays. The 2016 listing of endangered shark species from Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) inspired the workshop. An Appendix II listing dictates that shark products from the selected species undergo legal and sustainable trade, without damage to wild shark populations. The Senegalese government led the workshop alongside Humane Society International and The Pew Charitable Trusts. Environmental officials, experts and fisheries also partook in the conversation. Following the 17th CITES conference in September 2016, eight West African countries co-sponsored at least one of the proposals to protect sharks and rays.

Conservation To Save Lives

Sharks play a vital role in West Africa’s ecosystems, economies and societies. Unsustainable shark hunting can severely disrupt marine life and food supply chains, which humans and animals rely on to survive. Shark conservation can alleviate poverty by preserving aquatic ecosystems and the natural resources they have to offer.

– Cleo Hudson
Photo: Pxfuel

Guinea-Bissau
Guinea
-Bissau, a West African country bordering the Atlantic Ocean, is known for cashew nut farming, which amounts to “90% of the country’s exports,” serving as “a main source of income for an estimated two-thirds of the country’s households.” However, almost 70% of the country’s population lives in poverty.  Among the issues of poverty that plague Guinea-Bissau is food insecurity, low educational attainment and inadequate healthcare. The World Food Programme (WFP), in particular, supports Guinea-Bissau by tackling several issues through humanitarian aid and support.

Food Insecurity and Education

In Guinea-Bissau specifically, the WFP focuses its efforts on supplying “nutritional support” to roughly 96,000 citizens. Data indicates that about a quarter of Guinea-Bissau’s population endures chronic malnutrition. Therefore, in specific, the WFP’s nutrition programs work on combating malnutrition among children younger than 5 as well as “pregnant and nursing women.”

On top of food and nutrition support, the WFP also focuses on education in Guinea-Bissau. In 2014, the overall literacy rates of young citizens aged 15-24 in Guinea-Bissau stood at just 60%. A specific strategy the WFP employs to tackle both food insecurity and low educational attainment rates are supplying meals to more than 173,000 school students to encourage students to attend school. Furthermore, “take-home food rations for female students” aim to “encourage girls to attend and remain in school” since rates of school completion for girls are disproportionately low. The hope is for the WFP to assist the Guinean government in taking over this school feeding program.

In order to strengthen the long-term food security of Guinea-Bissau, the WFP is helping rural people gain access to “social services and markets.” In addition, on June 24, 2021, the WFP provided “agricultural tools and seeds” to about 120 female farmers for the purpose of growing food in their local communities. For short-term food security, the WFP delivered 80 million tons of rice across villages in Guinea-Bissau.

COVID-19 in Guinea Bissau

The WFP is also assisting Guinea-Bissau to better manage the COVID-19 crisis within the country. By October 1, 2021, Guinea-Bissau reported more than 6,000 COVID-19 cases and 140 deaths. As a low-income country with a GDP per capita of just $727, the nation does not have adequate funding or resources for resilient and effective healthcare facilities as well as a strong and efficient COVID-19 response.

The WFP supports Guinea-Bissau with supply chain management of essential COVID-19 resources such as “personal protective equipment, medical equipment, medicines and hospital lab supplies” and delivers these resources to health facilities across the country.

Looking Ahead

Guinea-Bissau faces significant challenges regarding poverty, food insecurity education and healthcare, among other issues. Through how WFP continuously supports Guinea-Bissau, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic, conditions in the country can improve. With both long-term and short-term humanitarian efforts, hope exists for the people of Guinea-Bissau to rise out of poverty as resilient, empowered and productive individuals.

– Makena Roberts
Photo: Flickr

Marburg Virus in West Africa
Africa is a continent comprising of diseases and illnesses that affect many people’s lives. Notable examples of such ailments include HIV, malaria, Ebola and even COVID-19, impacting the lives of many impoverished communities of Africa. Now, a recent report of the Marburg virus in West Africa is starting to raise concern and officials from the World Health Organization (WHO) are scrambling to address the situation before it intensifies.

The Background

In August 2021, health officials from Guinea confirmed the first case of the Marburg virus disease in a deceased West African man. The patient, who started to develop the illness in late July 2021, went to a local clinic to seek treatment, where he displayed high fever, abdominal pain and external bleeding around his teeth. The man died less than two weeks later in the town of Guéckédou in Southern Guinea, which is in the same region where the Ebola virus broke out in 2014 and 2021.

What is the Marburg Virus?

Marburg is a type of virus that comes from the same family as Ebola and causes hemorrhagic fever in the individual who contracts it. Anyone infected is prone to experiencing internal bleeding, which affects vessels, organs and the body’s ability to regulate itself. Because of the severity of the damage, Marburg virus disease is extremely dangerous with an average case mortality rate of around 50%. In past outbreaks, fatality rates reached as high as 88%. The last noted presence of the virus was in 2008 with the last major outbreak occurring in 2005 in Angola.

Though Marburg has the potential to be very deadly, viruses that cause hemorrhagic fever are rare and are usually limited to areas with specific animals that host the viruses. In 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that fruit bats carry the virus, meaning that a human can only become infected through prolonged exposure in caves or similar habitats. However, once the virus infects one person, the Marburg virus is easily transmittable through direct contact with another individual. The timeline in which a person will start to display symptoms can be anywhere between two and 21 days after infection Although only a single case was confirmed so far, the WHO found the need to declare an outbreak in West Africa due to how easily the Marburg virus can spread.

What are Health Officials Doing?

Due to the concern that the Marburg virus could trigger an epidemic in West Africa, the WHO is taking precautions to ensure that the virus does not spread much further. Since the discovery, Guinea has attempted to track anyone who interacted with the patient. The country is monitoring at least 172 people, ordering them to quarantine to prevent transmission. The WHO has also dispatched a team consisting of epidemiology and socio-anthropology experts, who are now on the grounds of the virus site and are assisting with the investigation of Marburg virus cases. Efforts are also going into improving cross-border surveillance. Since Guéckédou is relatively close to Sierra Leone and Liberia, the WHO is working with authorities to ensure the virus does not spread outside of Guinea.

Disease and Poverty

As it currently stands, there is no known cure for Marburg virus disease, though remedies are in development. Right now, the best way to treat someone infected with the Marburg virus is through supportive care and rehydration. Doing so will reduce the likelihood of the disease becoming fatal. With that said, this current situation in Guinea speaks volumes about the healthcare system in Africa and the specific vulnerabilities of Africa.

Africa is the most disease-prone continent in the world, yet most of its people do not have access to treatment that will help protect against these viruses. In Guinea, which is home to 13 million people, not even 4% of the nation’s population has received full vaccination against COVID-19. If people in West Africa have limited access to a globally distributed COVID-19 vaccine, the likelihood of them easily obtaining treatment for a disease like Marburg or Ebola is slight. For these reasons, officials need to prioritize addressing health inequities and improving access to healthcare in developing regions such as Africa.

– Eshaan Gandhi
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

National Learning Assessment SystemEducation quality and learning outcomes are often key to explaining income differences across countries. In sub-Saharan Africa, about 88% of primary and lower secondary school children are “not proficient in reading.” Liberia’s Ministry of Education and the U.S.-based nonprofit Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) are developing Liberia’s first National Learning Assessment System (NLAS) for the primary learning level. This assessment will help Liberia’s schools switch from a content-based curriculum to a competency-based curriculum that values learning over memorization. The assessment itself will highlight which areas students are learning least to hopefully close the learning gap.

Education’s Role in Poverty Reduction

Education is important for reducing poverty because it increases the rate of return in the economy. Improving access and quality of education ensures a greater development of skills among the population. Using education as a tool for breaking cycles of poverty, the nation’s standard of living increases, accelerating economic growth.

With education, those employed in the formal sector of the economy have the potential to earn higher wages and secure higher-paying jobs as their careers progress. Illustrating this point, every “one year of education is associated with a 10% increase in wages.” Furthermore, research finds that “primary education has a higher rate of return than secondary education.”

Education in Liberia

Emerging from a destructive period of civil unrest and the Ebola epidemic in 2015, the Liberian education system has suffered considerably. Only 44% of primary-age students currently attend school in Liberia. Of the children who attend school, only 54% complete primary education. In addition, there are no national school quality standards in Liberia. According to the Global Partnership for Education, the largest global fund dedicated to education initiatives, “resourcing at county and district levels require improvement.” With the understanding that education is the key to reducing poverty, it is imperative for Liberia’s education system to improve.

The National Learning Assessment System’s Purpose

The purpose of the NLAS is to try to maximize primary education learning by assessing areas where learners are not performing well. This will create the framework for a national standard. Further, the assessment will serve as a reference point for Liberia’s new national curriculum and help the government decide which reforms to undertake in order to produce beneficial educational outcomes.

Pilot Assessment

In a trial of the assessment with the Liberian government, the IPA reached 874 students across six Liberian counties. Students received both oral and written assesments. The healthy distribution of scores suggested that the assessment was neither too difficult nor too easy. Overall, the results found that “in the oral exam, the average sixth grader answered 36% of the questions correctly in language and 61%” in mathematics. However, in the written assessment, the average sixth grader achieved 47% in language and 40% in mathematics.

Given the fact that more than 90% of students “were over-age for their grade,” the trial illustrates that assessments should not be organized by age. Moreover, because of the significant difference in scores between the oral assessment and written assessment, students should be assessed on both types. The pilot project generally recommends written assessments as these tests are “cheaper and easier to administer” but emphasizes the importance of oral examinations to assess oral fluency.

Education as the Key to Poverty Reduction

Initiating a national learning assessment strategy is the first step toward rebuilding Liberia’s education system after years of turmoil. The assessment provides a basis for education reform according to the learning styles, literacy levels and knowledge gaps among students. More importantly, the initiative demonstrates the government’s interest in the advancement of Liberia’s youth and the hope to help disadvantaged citizens rise out of poverty.

– Annarosa Zampaglione
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