Information and stories about Africa.


Energy Poverty Key in Healthcare DeprivationAccording to this year’s “Poor People’s Energy Outlook,” published by the NGO Practical Action, more than 1 billion people have been left with inadequate medical care because of energy poverty. The report cites such circumstances as emergency surgeries performed in the dark, lack of proper sterilization of supplies, and health centers being unable to store temperature-regulated vaccines.

The report states that over half of all health centers throughout India have no access to electricity – these centers are responsible for the health care of over 580 million people. The situation is similar throughout sub-Saharan Africa, where nearly 255 million people are serviced by healthcare facilities that lack power.

The report also highlights that even if health facilities do have access to electricity, it can be unreliable and frequently cause blackouts. In Kenya, only 25% of facilities have consistent energy services, making it extremely difficult for staff to aid patients at night, and putting emergency patients and mothers giving birth and their babies at risk. The Kenyan centers experience blackouts on an average of 6 times per month. “It can also lead to wasted vaccines, blood and medicines that require constant storage temperatures,” the report says.

Although the Sustainable Energy for All initiative (SE4All), sponsored by the UN, has pushed energy access for all people by 2030, the report warns that health and education should be the top priority, not simply energy development and efficiency. The report states that the program has put too much emphasis on energy “mostly on domestic use and access for enterprise,” ignoring the critical needs of huge numbers of medical facilities and clinics.

The report also addresses the need for consistent energy access in schools, and asserts that over 291 million children throughout developing countries attend schools with no access to electricity.

The report suggests that attaining numbers on poor people’s access to energy will be much more efficient than examining solely large-scale energy development, and has proposed a new system for doing so with World Bank and UN cooperation.

Christina Kindlon

Source: The Guardian
Photo: Belinda Otas

Poaching Poverty
Ambassadors from nearly 180 countries convened at the Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora Conference in Bangkok last week to discuss new ways to stop poaching and other illegal hunting practices. Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa believes that the international community should do more to fight poverty and that addressing poverty will help lessen the frequency of poaching.

The Minister Molewa and many of her colleagues believe that poverty is the main reason that people turn to poaching for their income. Many animal’s pelts or horns can bring in a hefty bit of change that can make all the difference to families living in extreme poverty. Hopefully, as the fight against poverty continues, there will be less poaching around the world. Southern Africa is the region that has been experiencing the greatest problem with illegal hunting and is currently moving forward in their efforts to fight the trafficking of illegal animals and animal products with many Asian countries such as China and Vietnam, where large markets exist for illegal animal products.

So, while fighting poaching by itself may only work to protect the endangered animals of the world, fighting severe poverty may one day remove the incentive for poaching, thus helping the impoverished communities and the animals as well.

– Kevin Sullivan

Source: Times Live
Photo: WHO ZOO

10 Ways to Help Poor Farmers and Their CommunitiesFood is one of the most basic human rights and needs: without adequate, nutritious food, people are unable to work and, in some cases, live. Almost a billion people in the world today are chronically undernourished, and many more are food insecure, meaning that they do not know where their next meal will come from. About three-quarters of those in Africa that live off of $1 a day are subsistence farmers. Helping subsistence farmers grow more food is key to lifting rural communities out of poverty. The following are some of the methods the Millennium Villages Project uses to help poor farmers, in its pursuit of the Millennium Development Goals in Africa. Here are 10 ways to help poor farmers.

10 Ways to Help Poor Farmers and Their Communities

1) Protect and preserve the natural environment: Without a healthy natural environment where native flora and fauna live productively, long-term sustainable agricultural practices will fail. Farms must be developed in conjunction and cooperation with local ecology, not at its expense.

2) Implement community – specific programs: Every region has unique characteristics and therefore unique needs. Individualized programs that meet the needs of specific regions are more likely to succeed. This is the approach used by the Millennium Villages Project.

3) Teach and implement sustainable farming techniques: Farming techniques such as agroforestry, organic agriculture, and permaculture are more sustainable and practical on a small, rural scale. Poor farmers need to learn about these techniques and have access to the resources they need in order to implement them.

4) Build and maintain soil productivity: Healthy soil is the foundation of a healthy farm and leads to increased crop yields. Rebuilding soil after intensive cultivation is necessary to maintain soil productivity. Essential soil nutrients can be replenished through techniques such as fertilization, composting, inter-planting, and crop and field rotation.

5) Sustainable water access: A consistent water source is necessary for growing crops and for human survival. Rainwater harvesting systems and wells can provide water to a community, while drip irrigation systems give farmers access to water for their crops.

6) Increase sustainable crop production: Increasing crop yields is important to improving food security and fighting undernourishment. Farmers need access to high-quality seeds of appropriate crops, as well as information about planting, growing, harvesting, and crop management.

7) Economic organization: Farmers need a way to connect with customers in nearby communities in order to sell their products. Additionally, small-scale farmers can benefit from farmer cooperatives, wherein all the farmers in a community combine their resources in order to receive a better price for their crops. Aid organizations need to invest in the infrastructure and education necessary to create viable economic systems for farmers.

8) Supplement programs for newborns and their mothers: Even with an adequate food supply, pregnant and nursing mothers and their young children have unique nutritional needs. They need more protein, folate, calcium, and iron, as well as more calories.

9) End subsidies to wealthy US farmers: One Oxfam study showed that ending subsidies to wealthy US cotton farmers would do more to help Africa’s poor than the amount of aid they receive now. Farm subsidies drive down the prices of US-grown crops, making it impossible for small-scale farmers abroad to compete.

10) Improve food security: This means making sure that everyone in the community, including farmers, consistently has adequate calories and nutrition. Food security can be improved in many ways, including building food storage facilities, providing access to fuel-efficient cookstoves, and sourcing food locally, just to name a few.

Kat Henrichs

Sources: Borgen Project

Conservation Groups Investigate Google Ivory AdvertisementsThe Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) claimed this week that the Internet giant Google has over 10,000 advertisements for ivory products on its Japanese shopping site. The EIA has written to Google asking them to remove the ivory advertisements, but so far nothing has been done.

The EIA made the announcement this week at the 16th annual Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) held in Bangkok. Other conservation groups, including the International Fund for Animal Welfare, have recently uncovered illegal sales of ivory and other wildlife products on websites such as eBay. The anonymity of Internet-based sales services has clearly fueled the increase in international commerce of illegal animal goods.

Google’s ivory advertisements are a matter of extreme concern for several reasons. First, ivory comes from African elephants, which are internationally recognized endangered species. According to The Guardian, the vast majority of African forest elephants, whose population once numbered 5 million, have been poached for their ivory-containing tusks. The population of this endangered species is two-thirds what it was a decade ago. Should this trend continue, the African forest elephant will potentially become extinct within the next decade.

Of secondary importance is Google’s hypocrisy in the matter. The generally progressive and environmentally conscious company has so far failed to act to remove the ivory advertisements. Company policy states, “Ads for products obtained from endangered or threatened species are not allowed on Google.” Yet, the ads are still up and running, fueling demand for products that threaten the existence of one of the world’s most vulnerable creatures.

– Kat Henrichs

Sources: BBC News, Huffington Post
Photo: World Wildlife Fund

What Would an HIV Cure Mean for the World's Poor?On March 3rd, doctors announced that they had “functionally cured” a Mississippi child born with HIV of the virus. A functional cure means that a patient has tested negative for the virus. In this case, the child no longer needs HIV medication and is very unlikely to pass the virus on to others.

Doctors have already achieved a 98-99% success rate in the US in preventing the passage of HIV from pregnant mothers to their newborn children. This is accomplished through aggressive retroviral drug treatment during pregnancy and continued treatment of the newborn after birth.

In the United States, about 0.3% of the population, or 1.1 million people, is living with HIV/AIDS. In sub-Saharan Africa, nearly 5% of the population is living with HIV/AIDS. That’s 22.5 million people: the combined population of Iowa and New York states.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the virus is particularly widespread among women and children. There, 387,500 children under the age of 14 were receiving anti-HIV drug treatment in 2010. The number of children who needed treatment but weren’t receiving it was estimated to be about 2 million. While African HIV infection rates have been dropping over the last decade as a result of better health care and education, the virus remains an epidemic.

What would an HIV cure mean for the world’s poor? Being able to cure babies and children of the virus, as well as stopping the spread of HIV from mothers to children, would eliminate the majority of new cases in sub-Saharan Africa. Curing newborns of HIV worldwide would mean a significant decrease in infant and child mortality, and healthier and easier lives for families. It would also eliminate the need for a lifetime of costly anti-viral drugs for those children cured.

– Kat Henrichs

Sources: Guardian, Avert, CDC

Why Resilience in the Sahel is CrucialResilience is the ability of a family or community to survive shocks without going into financial ruin or facing hunger. In the case of the Sahel region in Africa, the shock that they must face every few years is drought. After three droughts in seven years, it becomes harder and harder for the citizens of the region to return to normalcy each time. Some of the consequences of these disasters are parents having to pull their children out of school, downgrades in the quality and amount of food they eat and going into debt. Resilience in the Sahel is a necessary part of solving these problems.

The key principle of resilience is to implement structures in the community that will last. There are no quick solutions because temporary cures will not stand up to the scrutiny of traumas over many years. Resilience in the Sahel will not only have to find a way to survive the drought this year but for the next decades to come in order to be truly successful.

As of now, there are two main interventions that organizations attempt to implement. The first, increased agriculture production, consists of assisting the farmers in the area to produce more and better quality stock from what they have. Unfortunately, this tactic only helps the large and medium farmers to stay afloat and not the rest of the community. The second tactic, social safety nets, is believed to help more of the marginalized people in a community. Social safety nets are finances provided to a single household that is in need to get them enough nutritious food.

In order for resilience in the Sahel to work, there needs to be a long commitment to the region. A five-year plan will be insufficient. Ten to twenty years are necessary to implement all of the best tactics and to make sure that they actually help the community to recover enough that they escape from the cycle of shock and bankruptcy.

 – Sean Morales

Source: The Guardian

US AID Says Ghana's Fishing Industry is Rapidly Depleting Supply
At the third National Fisheries Governance Dialogue, the Mission Director for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Cheryl Anderson, revealed that Ghana’s unsustainable fishing industry is on the verge of collapse after its peak catch has dwindled significantly within the last 10 years. Just 10 years ago, the country’s fishermen were able to bring in 120,000 metric tons of fish, while today the peak catch is at a mere 30,000 metric tons.

The country’s artisanal fisherman contributes nearly 70 percent of the country’s fish supply, and fish is a main dietary staple in many households throughout Ghana, with nearly 60 percent of citizens citing fish as their main source of protein. Because of this, USAID says it is of the utmost importance to reverse unsustainable fishing practices and mitigate for what damage has already been done to the supply.

The Coastal and Fisheries Initiative, financially sponsored by US AID, is working to come up with a system that will include more efficient management of fisheries and that would allow for swift action and changed policies. The talks will include input from “Members of Parliament, traditional leaders, district chief executives, fisheries stakeholders, international consultants, chairman and officials of Fisheries Commission and World Bank representatives.”

Anderson said that US AID hopes the measures to be taken will prevent Ghana from falling into economic disarray and hunger crisis, as other countries who relied so heavily on the fishing industry have done in the past.

The Minister for Fisheries and Aquaculture Development for Ghana admitted that the country had not used its fishing resources efficiently, with many fishing communities still poverty-ridden, but said that the administration was ready and willing to consider new methods for encouraging sustainable practices in Ghana’s fishing industry.

Christina Kindlon

Source: GhanaWeb

Africa Solidarity Trust Fund
On February 25, the Republic of Equatorial Guinea helped bring Africa one step closer to food security by donating $30 million, the very first contribution, to the Africa Solidarity Trust Fund. Originated during the April 2012 regional conference of the Food and Agriculture Organization in the Republic of the Congo, the goal of the trust fund is to assemble resources and funds from the wealthiest African countries and use them to strengthen and support food security efforts across the continent.

The $30 million donations was made during an official ceremony at the third annual Africa-South America Summit in Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea. FAO Director Jose Graziano da Silva, who attended the ceremony, commended the country’s commitment to ending hunger in Africa. FAO African regional representative Maria Semedo invited other African countries to lend financial support commenting that “This generous contribution by Equatorial Guinea helps transform political will to end hunger into concrete action.”

Intended to complement international development aid, not replace it, the Fund will primarily support Africa-directed initiatives and programs that will improve food security and agricultural productivity. One example is the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program, which works to reduce poverty through environmentally sound agricultural and land management practices, as well as improved food supply and market access.  Its first efforts will focus on improving regional responses to recurring droughts and other environmental crises that cause food insecurity.

Founded in 1945, the Food and Agriculture Organization works to improve nutrition and standard of living in rural communities by increasing agricultural productivity. With 180 member nations, it is the largest autonomous UN agency. It is the FAO’s hope that other African countries, international organizations, and private sector establishments will follow the example set by Equatorial Guinea and donate to the fund. Working on national, regional, and community levels, the Africa Solidarity Trust Fund is bringing Africa closer to achieving food security.

– Kat Henrichs

Source: FAO
Photo: Skoll World Forum


Shanta Devarajan, a leading World Bank economist, said that while African nations are spending more on education and other community-related industries, the mismanagement of these funds is a current problem.

Devarajan’s advice? Allow the people of impoverished communities to make their own decisions regarding the spending of money. Devarajan cited that one of the benefits of putting aid money in the hands of the people would be added accountability for civil servants. He also asserts that making civil servants more accountable would decrease the misallocation of funds and improve the quality of services provided by civil servants.

Cirino Heteng, South Sudan’s Minister for Youth and Sports, conceded that including the poor in the decision-making process would help, but defended the current policy by saying that more supervision was needed. Heteng accused the current minister of education of being unaware of what the hierarchy beneath him is doing because he rarely visits the schools.

One way or the other, both sides promote the idea that the community be more involved in the allocation of funds.

South Sudan is a new official country as it seceded from Sudan in July of 2011. Problems such as the allocation of aid and hierarchical structure may therefore just be symptoms of a newly established government.

– Pete Grapentien

Source Voice of America

Microsoft Aids in African Economic Development

This month, Microsoft introduced a new program in Africa in hopes of becoming a stronger component in African economic development. According to the Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative website, “the goal [of the initiative] is to empower every African who has a great idea for a business or an application and to turn that idea into a reality which in turn can help their community, their country, or even the continent at large.”

Economically, Microsoft is looking to capitalize on the promise Africa holds and improve Africa’s global competitiveness. The Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative has four plans that it is working to accomplish by 2016:

1. Provide African youth with tens of millions of smart devices

2. Bring 1 million African SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) online

3. Help provide additional skills to 100,000 members of Africa’s current workforce

4. Help 100,000 recent graduates develop employability skills and then help 75 percent of these graduates find job placements.

Fernando de Sousa, the General Manager of Microsoft’s 4Africa Initiative, commented that Microsoft’s ultimate goal is to empower a generation. This gives insight into the motive behind Microsoft’s 4Afrika Initiative and shows how accomplishing its plans will contribute to Africa becoming more globally competitive.

In their effort to accomplish these plans, Microsoft has created a new smart device called the Huawei 4Afrika that will come fully loaded with specific applications designed just for Africa. The phone will be available in select areas at first and will be given to students attending universities, developers, and people who have never owned a smart device in order to guarantee them access to devices that are affordable and have the most advanced technology. This will give them opportunities to collaborate, connect, and have access to online venues and markets.

Efforts have also been made on the educational and small business side. Microsoft has invested in an educational platform that leverages both online and offline learning devices called Afrika Academy. They have also invested  in a pilot project with the Kenyan Ministry of Information and Communications and a Kenyan Internet service provider to improve technological access in Africa and provide low-cost, high-speed broadband. An SME Online Hub has also been created that will aggregate available services to help SMEs expand their business within their community, as well as further out.

Further, de Sousa believes that “the 4Afrika Initiative is built on the dual beliefs that technology can accelerate growth for Africa, and Africa can also accelerate technology for the world.” This works to the advantage of the entire world as technological advancement plays a key role in many aspects of life globally, including health care and living standards; making Africa more accessible makes business deals easier to conduct.

– Angela Hooks

Sources:Fight Poverty, Microsoft 4Afrika, Business Fights Poverty
Photo: Microsoft 4Afrika