Women’s Issues in West AfricaMany different factors undermine women’s public health issues and political power in West Africa. Many of these factors, such as gender inequality, weak economic capacity and gender-based violence disproportionately affect women in the region more than men. Gender-based social stratifications have resulted in a disparity in the benefits women receive when compared to their male counterparts, and this undermines their social status and power as well. Here is more information concerning women’s issues in West Africa.

Women’s Issues in West Africa

While certain factors do continue to impede upon the growth of women’s social status in the region, the region has made some small steps regarding women’s roles in society. The West African countries of Sierra Leone, Cabo Verde, Mauritania, Ghana, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Burkina Faso and Senegal have recently been able to close the gender gap in primary school enrollment, making early childhood education more accessible to young girls within the region. Senegal has made even more progress in terms of women’s rights with increased representation in its parliament. The number of female parliament members has almost doubled in the past few years, which is a particularly good start in giving more political power to women in the West African region. Women’s equal political participation still remains a challenge in the majority of these countries, but following in the steps of Senegal could make for increased inclusion of women in politics throughout the region. Even though such changes will take time, the progress that Senegal has made has provided women with more representation for the time being.

Women’s Issues in the Workplace

Women in West Africa face issues in the workforce within the region as well. Struggles with infrastructure and fully-functional public services in the region push women into more domestic and care work. In the West African region, women spend approximately six times more than men on unpaid care work, which typically involves household tasks and caring for children and the elderly. This disparity leads to economic and social issues for women in West Africa. Since their work is unpaid, they often have little to no economic mobility and are instead reliant on members of the family that work for pay, and this lack of economic status pushes them further down in societal ranks. These two combined make for even more difficulties in addressing the issues that specifically affect women in West Africa.

With economic inequality disproportionately affecting women in West Africa, it is important to emphasize not only the issues at hand but also the ways in which people can change them for the better. The economy does not always legitimately count the household and family-centered work that women in West Africa typically perform because people deem it to be an informal sector of work where workers do not earn wages. In some cases, women will contribute substantial amounts of labor in the agricultural sector but lack access to credit and markets, making attaining a profit and higher economic status difficult once again.

Moving forward, people must put development policies into place and carry them out properly in order to engage women in the workforce in a way that will count in the formal economic sector. It may be in the best interest of women in West Africa for their countries to adopt the same sorts of policies that countries like Tanzania and Uganda have already proved successful. These countries along with several others have adopted a tool called gender budgeting which analyzes government spending and its impacts on gender and age subgroups. The goal of using this tool is to better understand where economic disparities arise and adjusting the government’s spending choices to alleviate adverse effects.

Child Marriages in West Africa

Aside from economic disparities affecting women in West Africa, another problem has arisen concerning the younger population. Previously, arranged marriages adversely affected young girls because little to no policies were in place protecting their rights. This practice is particularly salient in the West African region, where the rates of child marriage are more than double the world average.

Now, all West African countries are signatories of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human Rights and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, the African Youth Charter and finally the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. These show commitment to national campaigns looking to end child marriage and protect the rights of young girls, creating a great step in the direction of progress. Now that some legal loopholes have closed, new cultural customs must also put the rights of young girls and women first, therefore elevating their status and importance in greater society.

The Future for Women’s Issues in West Africa

Women in West Africa are not simply accepting these issues as unchangeable but are instead taking stances to improve their lives. The development of women’s organizations in West Africa has helped spark attention and change in certain areas thanks to the collective efforts of these women. From grassroots campaigns to highly professional and organized non-governmental organizations, these organizations have focuses ranging from specific women’s rights to even broader agendas. For many, the idea of gender equality in the region is at the forefront of its mission.

While all of these organizations tackle different issues and call for a response from the public in varying ways, each organization gives refuge for women to join together and learn about their rights. These organizations act as a support structure for women in West Africa and help to provide them with the resources to better themselves socially, economically and politically. By joining together, these women are creating unstoppable numbers that are currently pressuring political and structural change to rectify the issues women in West Africa face every day. With their perseverance and dedication, they will continue empowering women for generations to come and bring resolve to the issues that have adversely affected women in the region for decades.

Hannah Easley
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts about Poverty in GuineaGuinea is a small, impoverished West African country that has been featured in the news due to the 2015 Ebola outbreak. The virus strained the nation’s already struggling economy. Despite this, the disease did not affect the average life expectancy. Still, Guinea faces many issues that are harmful to life expectancy. Here are nine facts about life expectancy in Guinea that reflect these concerns.

9 Facts about Life Expectancy in Guinea

  1. The average life expectancy is only 59.8 years with 59.4 for men and 60.4 for women. Guinea ranks about average when compared with its West African neighbors. For instance, Sierra Leone is among the lowest at only 54 years in 2017, while Ghana is among the highest at 63 years. 
  2. Guinea’s life expectancy has increased steadily over time since 1960 with a slight dip in the early 2000s. Despite the fatal impact of Ebola on individuals and communities, the virus did not affect the course of growth for the average life expectancy in Guinea. 
  3. The country has extremely high infant and maternal mortality rates. In 2015, the maternal mortality rate was one of the worst in the world with 549 deaths per 100,000 live births. The infant mortality rate was 60.3 per 1,000 live births in 2016.
  4. About 55 percent of Guinea’s citizens live below the poverty line. This is thought to be due to the prolonged political instability since the nation’s founding in 1974. Furthermore, while 90 percent of the country’s exports come from mining, few such jobs are available; Guinea employs only 2.5 percent in this sector. 
  5. Approximately 24.4 percent of children face chronic malnourishment due to widespread poverty. During the 2018-19 school year, The World Food Programme provided hot school meals to 131,895 children in 896 schools in addition to take-home rations to 12,155 girls who are in their final year of school.
  6. About 14 million people in Guinea experience year-round transmissions of malaria and 25 percent of hospitalizations among children under 5 can be attributed to the disease. USAID support through the President’s Malaria Initiative aims to reduce the malaria mortality rate by 50 percent in Guinea as well as other sub-Saharan African countries. 
  7. Only half of the country’s population has access to public health care services. Access to health services (under 30 minutes) is 38.9 percent with a rate of use of 18.6 percent. This makes Guinea especially vulnerable to pandemics such as the recent Ebola virus. A major hurdle for the country will be expanding health coverage nationwide by strengthening the delivery of such services.
  8. In rural regions, 142 out of every thousand children die each year. This is because rural regions in particular lack clean water, access to health services and a proper sanitation system. Of those living below the poverty line, 80 percent live in rural areas. U.N. and NGO assistance makes up 26.9 percent of all expenditure on health
  9. USAID’s Health Finance and Governance project is working with Guinea’s Ministry of Health to improve transparency and accountability in the delivery of health services. Such methods include better responses to crises such as the 2015 Ebola outbreak. 

These nine facts about life expectancy in Guinea reflect that the nation still has much to improve on before life expectancy reaches the levels seen in western countries. To reduce high mortality rates from tropical diseases such as malaria, better access to health care is a must. Fortunately, some of the funding from the President’s Malaria Initiative is tackling some of these issues.

– Caleb Steven Carr
Photo: Flickr

Facts About Life Expectancy in Senegal

The Republic of Senegal is a country on the West African coast bordered by Mauritania, Mali, Gambia and Guinea-Bissau. Around 46.7 percent of Senegal’s 15.85 million residents live in poverty. Today, life expectancy at birth in Senegal is 67.45 years, representing a significant improvement from 39.24 years in 1970 and 59.7 years in 2000. Many factors contribute to a country’s life expectancy rate including the quality and access to health care, employment, income, education, clean water, hygiene, nutrition, lifestyle and crime rates. Keep reading to learn more about the top eight facts about life expectancy in Senegal.

8 Facts About Life Expectancy in Senegal

  1. Despite decades of political stability and economic growth, Senegal is ranked 164th out of 189 countries in terms of human development. Poverty, while decreasing, remains high with 54.4 percent of the population experiencing multidimensional poverty. The World Bank funds programs in Senegal to reduce poverty and increase human development. This work includes the Stormwater Management and Climate Change Adaptation project which delivered piped water access for 206,000 people and improved sanitation services for 82,000 others. Additionally, the West Africa Agricultural Productivity Program helps cultivate 14 climate-smart crops in the area.
  2. Senegal’s unemployment rate has substantially decreased from 10.54 percent in 2010 to 6.46 percent in 2018. This is a positive trend; however, 63.2 percent of workers remain in poverty at $3.10 per day showing that employment does not always guarantee financial stability. To help the most vulnerable 300,000 households, Senegal has established a national social safety net program to help the extremely poor afford education, food, medical assistance and more.
  3. The maternal mortality rate continues to decrease each year in Senegal. In 2015, there were 315 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births compared to 540 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1990. Maternal health has improved thanks to the efforts of many NGOs as well as the national government. Of note, USAID has spearheaded community health programs and launched 1,652 community surveillance committees that provide personalized follow-up care to pregnant women and newborns. In 2015, trained community health workers provided vital care to 18,336 babies and conducted postnatal visits for 54,530 mothers.
  4. From 2007 to 2017, neonatal disorder deaths decreased by 20.7 percent. This is great progress, however, neonatal disorder deaths are still the number one cause of death for children under the age of 5 in Senegal. The World Health Organization (WHO) provides technical and financial support to establish community-based newborn care, including Kangaroo Mother Care programs. This low-cost and low-tech intervention has reduced the risk of death for preterm and low-birth-weight babies by 40 percent and illness by 60 percent. With financial help from UNICEF, 116 health workers have been trained in 22 health centers and seven hospitals. The long-term goal is to have Kangaroo Care introduced to 1,000 health centers across Senegal.
  5. Senegal has been lauded as an African leader in the fight against malnutrition. Notably, from 2000 to 2016, undernutrition declined by 56 percent. Improvements in the health sector, making crops more nutrition-sensitive and helping increase crop yields have been major contributors to recent nutrition success. 
  6. Despite progress, hunger is still a major issue in northern Senegal. Successive droughts have left over a quarter of a million people food insecure. In the district of Podor, rains have decreased by 66 percent from 2016 to 2017. Action Against Hunger is working to keep cattle, which is the main sustenance source for thousands of shepherds, from dying in the drought by funding new drinking troughs. This will benefit 800 families in Podor. Action Against Hunger also covers monthly basic food expenses for 2,150 vulnerable households to prevent further increases in acute malnutrition.
  7. There is a high risk of waterborne diseases in Senegal. Diarrheal diseases are the third leading cause of death. The Senegalese Ministry of Health has recently adopted the WHO diarrhea treatment policy of zinc supplementation and improved oral rehydration therapy. This is a life-saving policy that is taking effect around the country.
  8. Around 41 percent of children aged 6-11 in Senegal are not in school. The largest percentages of out-of-school children are the poorest quintile and rural areas. To increase school enrollment, the government and USAID are making efforts to increase access to school facilities in rural areas and support poorer families with cash transfers through the social safety net. USAID is working to ensure that all Senegalese children, especially girls and those in vulnerable situations, receive 10 years of quality education. The agency has built schools, supported teacher training, increased supplies of books and access to the internet and increased opportunities for out-of-school young people. Since 2007, 46 middle schools and 30 water points have been built and equipped.

These eight facts about life expectancy in Senegal have shown that the combined efforts of nonprofits and the Government of Senegal are making real progress on many fronts that contribute to life expectancy. These efforts must continue and intensify to reduce poverty and increase life expectancy in Senegal.

– Camryn Lemke
Photo: Flickr

Technology in West AfricaThroughout history, new technology has always been one of the key factors in driving both the economy as a whole, as well as a specific economic sector. New inventions drive new innovations, and as a result, significant advancements are made. Now, technology is driving agriculture in West Africa as well, with both new and familiar ideas paving the way forward. Here are some of the most notable technologies and advancements pushing agricultural expansion in West African countries like Ghana, Senegal, and Nigeria.

Clean Energy in Ghana

One of the keys to most modern technology involves energy: sustainable energy, of course, being among the most ideal (and often cheapest) options. Solar power is making electricity available for more and more West Africans every day. There is also a massive project in the works to create a solar power facility in Ghana. Composed of 630,000 photovoltaic modules, the Nzema Solar Power Station will bring electricity to the homes of more than 100,000 Ghanaians. With this clean energy, new technologies that push agriculture and other economic sectors forward can be powered.

Access to Smartphones

Tied closely with the push for energy is the advancement of the smartphone across West Africa. Smartphone ownership has increased to around 30-35 percent in Ghana, Senegal and Nigeria. Smartphones are an absolutely integral driving force for agriculture and technology in West Africa. With access to a smartphone and the internet, farmers can gain easier and more convenient access to information about local markets and upcoming weather forecasts, improving their ability to adapt to shifts in both the environment and the economy. Not only that, but smartphones also allow farmers to purchase insurance and get other financial services, such as banking.

Technologies Boosting Agriculture

In Nigeria, one company named Hello Tractor is making use of the increased spread of smartphones by creating an app designed for renting and sharing tractors with farmers. Farmers can use the app to communicate with nearby owners of tractors, and schedule bookings for the usage of those tractors on specific days. This reduces the barrier of entry to farming as a profession, and as a result is a massive boon to the agricultural sector. With West African companies such as Hello Tractor innovating upon smartphone technology and the Internet of Things, technology in West Africa is once again driving agriculture.

There are also other technologies which may be potentially transformative to agriculture in West Africa. The more recent advancements in 3D printing may offer another pathway to increase efficiency. In West African companies with less intricate transportation infrastructure, 3D printing offers a cheaper way to obtain farming tools by producing them yourself rather than paying expensive shipping fees. In Nigeria, there is a permanent set-up dedicated to manufacturing replacement parts for local industries in order to provide them more efficiently and at a lower cost. The market for this is expanding as well, as there are U.S firms investing in this technology in the region. The installment also offers training programs for local workers so that they can learn the skills necessary to operate such technology.

Another potential, yet controversial advancement is in the sector of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). In Ghana particularly, cowpea is a crop prized for its energizing properties, eaten traditionally by farmers before working in the field. However, the crop is dying faster each year due to insects. GMOs could offer one potential path to solving this issue and stabilizing cowpea for West African farmers. Though scientists are still in widespread debate about the safety and usability of genetically modified cowpeas in particular, the technology could regardless offer another potential path to advancement for the West African agricultural sector.

Future for Technology in West Africa

Ultimately, the most important and consistent technology for the future of agriculture in West Africa is found in information technology. Smartphone presence becoming more widespread allows access to market data, weather data, financial services, and even access to rental services like those of Hello Tractor. Western Sydney University is also working on a mobile application specifically streamlined for usage by farmers, providing access to many of these services all in one app.

Overall, it is clear to see that technology is driving agriculture in West Africa. With all of these new advancements, it is reasonable to expect West Africa to continue pushing its agricultural sector forward. With solar power expansion, 3D printing, smartphone access, and rental services like Hello Tractor, the informational landscape of West Africa will be transformed significantly over the next several years.

– Jade Follette
Photo: Flickr

Technological consumer base in West AfricaThe whole of Africa is known for being an incredibly poor continent. While improvements have been made in certain aspects of life that have provided citizens with better and easier lives in some regions, Africa is still in need of advances that work towards lessening poverty throughout this vast nation. The growing technological consumer base in West Africa, particularly the digital economy and mobile outreach, is becoming a very big deal.

When it comes to technological advances in smaller countries or regions of countries, some nations are way ahead of others. This is largely due to the fact that certain countries have more money than others to invest in these advancements. Even though money may be limited, some areas have found ways to achieve technological improvements.

The technological consumer base in West Africa has experienced a major increase in users in only a decade. Subscribers for the mobile economy of West Africa have reached 47 percent, up from 27 percent ten years ago. These advancements have created new opportunities for government, various industries, start-up businesses, and more. A conference held in April 2018 addressing West Africa’s digital revolution in the last ten years revealed two major factors that contributed to this new digital age: people and technology. People are the ones who rely on, create, and consume technology in increasing numbers while technology and technological advancements continue to broaden their impact the more they are improved upon. The conference was devoted to these two factors in an attempt to bring continued support for integrating mobile and digital technology into society in these regions and bolstering the new growing base of users.

An example of the impact of the increasing technological consumer base in West Africa occurred in 2017. To begin, 85 percent of the world’s population lives in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Large companies such as Google realize that what works for citizens in western culture may not work in the most heavily populated regions of the world. When 1GB of data can cost a consumer almost 10 percent of monthly income, better user options must be considered to grow the consumer base. Recognizing this, Google broadened the YouTube Go app to Nigeria. This app is data-friendly and allows viewers to save and watch videos offline. Google also created an app called Datally for Android which helps users conserve data. As an internet conglomerate, Google realizes that areas like West Africa are the future of the world’s growth. It focuses on ways to enable these areas to grow in a technological age and improve life for its citizens.

Organizations, such as the World Bank Group, have been promoting a digital economy in all parts of Africa. A digital economy will connect Africa’s citizens to various industries, services, information, and each other. In addition, it will provide people with a digital ID to validate their identity and help them connect to necessary government services. Citizens will also gain easier access to formal financial services including mobile money, such as e-commerce and online markets. West Africa’s most recent technological developments and increasing consumer base provide proof that these advancements are possible, they work in these regions, and they make life better for its citizens. This can influence other regions of Africa to continue developing a digital economy.

West Africa’s growing technological consumer base is a possible stepping stone to a better future for Africa as a continent. This growth of the digital economy in Africa that will give citizens much-needed resources, provide more economic opportunities, and create a better way of life.

– Haley Saffren
Photo: Flickr

Decrease Poverty in Benin

Tourism is the second-fastest-growing industry in the world, but it is an untapped resource in many countries, including Benin. Benin is a small West African country and one of the poorest in Africa, but it does have one of the best wildlife reserves in West Africa. As a result, the country has exceptional tourism potential, which can help decrease poverty in Benin. However, protecting its wildlife is essential to achieving that goal.

Benin’s Potential for Tourism

Around 40 percent of Benin’s population lives in poverty. Tourism can thus help because it does not only increase gross domestic product. According to the World Bank, Benin’s natural landscapes and cultural attractions give them an advantage by both creating jobs across a range of skill sets and opening new markets for various businesses and entrepreneurs. This helps decrease poverty in Benin by further developing the country and generating shared wealth.

However, tourism and national parks in Africa are nearly symbiotic. Poaching doesn’t just threaten wildlife, it threatens tourism. Popular tourist destinations and National Parks in Africa tend to be East African countries, such as Tanzania’s Serengeti or Botswana’s Kalahari Desert. Botswana’s tourism sector makes up 8.9 percent of the country’s job market, creating 84,000 jobs, and generating $2.52 billion in 2018. Benin has one of the highest conservation land ratios in Africa, but Benin’s Pendjari National Park is one of the last intact and richest wildlife reserves in West Africa.

The park is home to lions, elephants and leopards as well as endangered species, such as the giant pangolin, African wild dogs and the Jabiru Senegal. However, tourism in Benin accounts for only 0.7 percent of the country’s GDP, generating well below its potential at $197 million, and making up 5.6 percent of the job market. Instead, Benin’s economy relies on agriculture, accounting for 26.1 percent of the country’s GDP, although the weather in Benin can be unpredictable.

Plans to Expand Tourism

To expand economic development and decrease poverty in Benin, the Beninese government started the Government Action Program (GAP) in 2016 and passed a public-private partnership law in 2017 to attract foreign investors. The goal is to improve infrastructure, education, agriculture and tourism. Through seven major tourism projects under GAP, Benin plans to increase its tourism GDP to 10 percent by 2021. One project includes protecting and rehabilitating Pendjari Park.

In partnership with African Parks, a nongovernmental organization that manages 11 national parks and reserves in eight African countries, the Beninese government plans to double the wildlife population in Pendjari Park and increase the average six-thousand visitors to nine thousand, but the task is only possible if Benin can protect its wildlife from poachers.

Canine Heroes

Throughout West Africa, poachers kill rhinos, pangolins and elephants to smuggle to Asian and European markets. This is where canines play a vital role in combating poaching and therefore protecting wildlife, tourism and the economy to decrease poverty in Benin.

In Tanzania, tracker dogs are used to combat poaching by finding wounded animals and tracking down poachers. Botswana has been a prime example of wildlife conservation, winning the war against poachers with their Canines for Conservation program and some of the harshest anti-poaching laws, which helped mitigate elephant losses seen in neighboring countries. Elephants from Angola, Namibia and Zambia were seen retreating to Botswana for safety, but when the government disarmed anti-poaching units in 2018, the country lost 87 elephants and five white rhinos to poachers just months later. Poaching in Botswana has been on the rise ever since, not only threatening wildlife but potentially tourism in Botswana.

One of the biggest animal welfare and conservation charities, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), helped establish the Sniffer Dog Project in Benin to help stop poaching in Benin. These dogs are trained to detect animal parts at prime smuggling locations, such as airports, border crossings and the border of protected habitats. Before IFAW, there were no established dog detection training programs in West Africa; now there are eight canine detection units.

In January 2018, African Parks, National Geographic, the Beninese Government and the Wyss Foundation—a charity dedicated to protecting natural habitats—invested $23.4 million to protect Pendjari Park. Because of the vast potential of Benin’s tourism industry, decreasing poverty in Benin lies not only in agriculture, education and technology, but its rich history, iconic landscapes and wildlife.

– Emma Uk
Photo: Google Images

 

Disabilities in Liberia

Liberia is a West African country comprised of 4.98 million people. Exact statistics about disability in Liberia are out of date but according to a UNICEF study from 1997, 16 percent of the population has a disability. Of that 16 percent, 61 percent struggle with mobility, 24 percent are visually impaired, seven percent are deaf and eight percent have an intellectual or psychosocial disability. The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), estimated in 2014 that due to the devastating civil war that ended in 2003 and the Ebola outbreak in 2014, the population of people with disabilities in Liberia is likely closer to 20 percent.

Background

People with disabilities tend to be marginalized, stigmatized and excluded from education, skills training and income-generating opportunities. Because they have a limited voice in politics and society, their issues are not included in national policies, especially in poverty reduction initiatives causing their living conditions to continue to deteriorate in a “vicious cycle”. According to SIDA, 99 percent of people with disabilities in Liberia live in extreme poverty.

Liberia is taking steps to improve the lives of those living with disabilities. In 2012, the nation signed and ratified the U.N. Conventions on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as well as other treaties that reference the rights of people with disabilities like the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. It also formed a national commission on disability and is reviewing its constitution to address the rights of people with disabilities. While the country is working to improve their rights and conditions, there is still much to be done. The lives and health of people with disabilities in Liberia can be improved in three key-ways: education, mental health and job opportunities.

Education

One important tool for lifting people out of poverty is education. The Liberian government has free and compulsory education for children but students with disabilities are often left behind. In 2009, even though an estimated 92,000 of 600,000 school-age children have disabilities, only four percent was allocated for children with disabilities. While there are schools for the visually impaired and the hearing impaired, they mostly reach a small urban population. Rural areas are lacking in resources for their students with disabilities.

There are, however, organizations working to improve access to education. AIFO-Liberia, for example, is working to ensure that people affected by leprosy can receive their educations, largely through a Community Based Rehabilitation strategy.

Mental Health

The Liberian people have been through much in the past 50 years. Approximately 40 percent of its citizens suffer from post-traumatic disorder from the civil war and there is only one practicing psychiatrist in the country. While not all people with disabilities have a mental illness, mental illness itself can become a disability. Those who have mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and depression are often stigmatized as witches.

The Carter Foundation is working to train 450 mental health professionals and create an anti-stigma campaign to improve understanding of mental illnesses. Meanwhile, AIFO-Liberia implemented a program that provides psychosocial support for those affected by the Ebola virus in addition to a destigmatizing campaign to improve mental health.

Job Opportunities

People with disabilities in Liberia are often excluded from job skills training, work, and income-generating opportunities. While the Liberian government and activists are working to put accommodation and anti-discrimination laws on the books, disability is often seen as divine retribution for a person’s misdeeds. Organizations like AIFO-Liberia have implemented a startup project that will increase job opportunities and improve social inclusiveness. Ending the social stigma, working to improve health care access and workplace accommodations, will help lift people with disabilities in Liberia out of poverty.

While the country has made great legislative strides in signing on to international commitments and in creating legislation, it still has a long way to go in improving the state of people with disabilities in Liberia. The stigma around these conditions prevents people with disabilities from having a voice and escaping extreme poverty. With the help of activists, NGO’s, and the Liberian government, the lives of people with disabilities can be improved.

– Katharine Hanifen
Photo: Flickr

Progress in Benin
Despite a low unemployment rate of one percent and a GDP growth rate that increased from two percent to over five percent from 2015 to 2017, progress in Benin has been slow and it is still a poor country in West Africa. With more than a third of the over 11 million population living below the poverty line, it is difficult for Beninese to live without a feeling of unease. Three major reasons Benin has a rising poverty rate is because of over-reliance in Niger’s economy, the largest exporter, reluctance for Benin to modernize its own economy and climatic shocks, particularly massive floods.

Agricultural Productivity and Diversification Project

The agriculture sector employs over 70 percent of Beninese. In an effort to boost the economy, the Republic of Benin is investing in improvements in the agriculture sector. The Agricultural Productivity and Diversification Project began on March 22, 2011, with a budget of $61 million and ends on February 28, 2021. Its purpose is to repair major damage caused during Benin’s 2010 flood and improve productivity in certain export-oriented value chains, such as aquaculture, maize, rice, cashew and pineapple.

One component of this project is improving technology and restoration of productivity. The devastating flood in 2010 destroyed over 316,000 acres of cropland and 50,000 homes. The project began after the major flood and takes into account the need for drainage systems to stifle rising waters during floods. Small-scale irrigation infrastructure repair and improvement are issues that the project faces and hopes to correct in the timeframe. Climate-smart production systems are another investment that the country is developing to prevent widespread destruction to cropland when a natural disaster threatens to destroy homes and crops. The project is also set to create new jobs by investing in small and medium enterprises (SMEs), especially for youth and women.

Improving the Business Environment

Although flooding caused several Beninese people to lose their homes and cropland, there is one impediment that halts economic development: corruption. President Talon became the President of Benin in 2016 and stated in his inaugural address that he would “make the fight against corruption an ongoing and everyday struggle.” A 29 percent electricity access is another issue that prevents developmental progress in Benin, but since 2016 blackouts have reduced and electricity generation has improved significantly.

Economic Diversification

The last major impasse that prevents development in Benin is over-reliance in Nigeria, Benin’s major exporter. Current IMF Managing Director, Christine Lagarde, announced a call for economic diversification in Benin. Lagarde believes diversifying is one way to reduce the high poverty level of 36 percent. Due to the country’s economic reliance on the agricultural sector and economic conditions in Nigeria, it is difficult to grow if a recession, such as the 2017 recession in Nigeria, occurs. In her speech at the Chamber of Commerce in Cotonou, Benin, Lagarde discussed how Benin could strengthen land tenure, increase food security in rural areas and invest more in education and health, and improve transparency in the government so that outside investors would find investing in Benin appealing.

Rate of Progress in Benin

There is room for growth, though the poverty-stricken nation has had success in certain areas, such as the average life expectancy that rose from 50 years in 2000 to 62 in 2018. With the creation of the Agricultural Productivity and Diversification Project, improvements in agriculture and infrastructure are already underway. The estimated rate of urbanization is fairly high at 3.89 percent from 2015 to 2020. At this rate of progress in Benin and under the leadership of President Talon, the country will continue its headway in development so that the percentage of Beninese in poverty will gradually drop in the coming years.

– Lucas Schmidt
Photo: Flickr

Sustainable Cocoa Farming
The Hershey Company is committed to achieving its goal of 100 percent sustainable cocoa farming by 2020, investing in two programs targeting small farmers and poverty in West Africa.

Learn To Grow Cocoa

The focus of this program — launched in 2012 — is to help farmers in Ghana, Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire increase their productivity and improve their livelihoods. Currently, poverty rates in Nigeria are rising while Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire are not on target to meet the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals.

In West Africa, where about 70 percent of cocoa is grown, most cocoa farms are only about two to four hectares in size. The Learn To Grow program empowers farmers by teaching them environmental, social and sustainable agricultural practices. Through Learn To Grow, Hershey offers a three-year training program that “can lead to UTZ certification as producers of sustainable cocoa.”

Farmers who meet the certification requirements will receive premium payments for their cocoa yields, providing a considerable boost in income. The program also provides greater opportunities for their communities to thrive as it, “encourages women and young cocoa farmers to take leadership roles in farmer organizations by leveraging training and knowledge sharing.”

One of the key features of the Learn To Grow Program is called CocoaLink. This is a mobile phone service that connects even the most rural farmers in West Africa. It shares practical information with these farmers, including things such as farm safety, information on good fertilization practices, pest and disease prevention, post-harvest marketing and more.

Learn To Grow also has plans to distribute 1 million higher yielding, drought and disease resistant cocoa trees to West African farmers.

Cocoa For Good

In April of 2018, The Hershey Company launched Cocoa For Good, pledging $500 million by 2030 to support farming communities. This initiative aims to help all cocoa-growing communities, with a focus on West Africa. The initiative targets four key areas:

  • Nourishing Families. People are most productive when they are healthy, and the Hershey Company provides increased access to good nutrition, enabling children to be more successful in school and adults to be more successful in their jobs. Of note, every day, 50,000 children in Ghana receive ViVi, a nut-based healthy snack, provided through the Hershey Energize Learning program.
  • Elevating Youth. Child labor is a side effect of poverty in West Africa, and children aged 14-17 are at the most risk. Hershey currently targets child labor by increasing access to educational opportunities for the most vulnerable children. So far, the company has built five schools and supported 31 education institutions.
  • Prospering Communities. The Hershey Company is investing in programs that support women farmers who make up 45 percent of the cocoa farming industry in West Africa.
  • Preserving Ecosystems. The Hershey Company encourages the use of sustainable agricultural techniques such as shade-grown cocoa farming in order to preserve the environment for future generations.

The Hershey Company recognizes its important role in the cocoa value chain and has repeatedly shown its commitment to improving sustainable cocoa farming practices, especially in West Africa.

– CJ Sternfels
Photo: Flickr

Refugee Rights in GermanyGermany is currently the most popular European destination for refugees from the Middle East and Africa. In 2016, Germany received 745,545 asylum applications, the most applications to any country in Europe that year. The reason that Germany still continues to receive a high number of asylum applications is a result of the generous refugee rights in Germany.

The overwhelming majority of refugees to Germany come from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, countries whose citizens are confronted by war and extreme poverty. As of 2016, the German government granted refugee status to 42.1 percent of applicants, subsidiary protection to 25.3 percent of applicants, and humanitarian protection (asylum) to 4 percent of applicants. Only 28.6 percent of applicants were rejected. Though this may seem large, Germany still accepted over half a million refugees in 2016.

The procedure for refugees begins at the nearest reception center, whether refugees are found already in the country are allowed in by border security. Next, their application for asylum is submitted to the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF). As their application is under review, refugees are granted a certificate of permission to reside temporarily in the Federal Republic of Germany. Throughout the application process, refugees are housed in reception facilities, where they are provided with essential items such as food, clothing, heat and healthcare. Following the application process, BAMF caseworkers interview asylum-seekers with the help of an interpreter, questioning their reason for persecution and their intended travel route. The interview is transcribed, translated into the asylum-seeker’s language and given as a copy to the asylum-seeker. Decisions for refugee status are based on these interviews and asylum-seekers are notified immediately.

Refugee rights in Germany exist for several groups of people. The three types of status asylum-seekers to Germany can receive are subsidiary protection, asylum or refugee status. Subsidiary protection is given to refugees who prove they are seriously threatened or in imminent danger in their country of origin. Those refugees receive a residence permit for one year that can be extended for two additional years. Refugees who are granted asylum status are deemed to face serious human rights violations and political persecution in their country of origin. They receive a residence permit for three years, unrestricted access to the labor market and an opportunity for a settlement permit.

Refugee status allows the most refugee rights in Germany. Persons granted refugee status receive a temporary residence permit and are granted the same rights as Germans: social welfare, child benefits, child-raising benefits, integration allowances, language courses and other forms of integration assistance.

Refugees rights in Germany are generous as asylum is a constitutional right in Germany, making it a high priority. As the number of asylum-seekers to developed countries continues to increase, it is important to look towards positive examples, such as Germany, that provide safety, protection and justice for refugees.

Christiana Lano
Photo: Flickr