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Coding in Ethiopia

Ethiopia is primarily an agricultural country, with more than 80 percent of its citizens living in rural areas. More than 108.4 million people call Ethiopia home, making it Africa’s second-largest nation in terms of population. However, other production areas have become major players in Ethiopia’s economy. As of 2017, Ethiopia had an estimated gross domestic product of $200.6 billion with the main product coming from other sources than agriculture.

Today, 1.2 million Ethiopians have access to fixed telephone lines, while 62.6 million own cell phones. The country broadcasts six public TV stations and 10 public radio shows nationally. 2016 data showed that over 15 million Ethiopians have internet access. While 15 percent of the population may not seem significant, it is a sharp increase in comparison to the mere one percent of the population with Internet access just two years prior.

Coding in Ethiopia: One Girl’s Success Story

Despite its technologically-limited environment, young tech-savvy Ethiopians are beginning to forge their own destiny and pave the way for further technological improvements. One such pioneer is teenager Betelhem Dessie. At only 19, Dessie has spent the last three years traveling Ethiopia and teaching more than 20,000 young people how to code and patenting a few new software programs along the way.

On her website, Dessie recounts some of the major milestones she’s achieved as it relates to coding in Ethiopia:

  • 2006 – she got her first computer
  • 2011- she presented her projects to government officials at age 11
  • 2013-she co-founded a company, EBAGD, whose goals were to modernize Ethiopia’s education sector by converting Ethiopian textbooks into audio and visual materials for the students.
  • 2014-Dessie started the “codeacademy” of Bahir Dar University and taught in the STEM center at the university.

United States Collaboration

Her impressive accomplishments continue today. More recently, Dessie has teamed up with the “Girls Can Code” initiative—a U.S. Embassy implemented a project that focuses on encouraging girls to study STEM. According to Dessie, “Girls Can Code” will “empower and inspire young girls to increase their performance and pursue STEM education.”

In 2016, Dessie helped train 40 girls from public and governmental schools in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia how to code over the course of nine months. During those nine months, Dessie helped her students develop a number of programs and projects. One major project was a website where students can, according to Dessie, “practice the previous National examinations like SAT prep sites would do.” This allows students to take practice tests “anywhere, anytime.” In 2018, UNESCO expanded a similar project by the same name to include all 10 regions in Ghana, helping to make technology accessible to more Africans than ever before.

With the continuation of programs like “Girls Can Code” and the ambition of young coders everywhere, access to technology will give girls opportunities to participate in STEM, thereby closing the technology gender gap in developing countries. Increased STEM participation will only serve to aid struggling nations in becoming globally competitive by boosting their education systems and helping them become more connected to the world in the 21st century.

– Haley Hiday
Photo: Flickr

Growth in the Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic, a Caribbean nation of 10.77 million people, shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti and is primarily known for its beautiful beaches and resorts. With a 13.5 percent youth unemployment rate in the country, these resorts provide necessary jobs, economic stimulation and growth in the Dominican Republic. Despite the recent negative media attention, the growth of resorts shows no sign of stopping. Four new resorts opening in late 2019 and 2020 will continue adding to the burgeoning tourist industry, increasing numbers of workers in the service sector and establish mutually beneficial U.S. and Dominican exchanges.

The Pillar of Tourism

According to the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service, the tourism industry is one of the “four pillars” of the Dominican economy. It forms 7.9 percent of the economy. Growth in the Dominican Republic focuses on projects encouraging tourists to spend more money. There are already 65 such projects approved by the Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism for 2019.

Speedy development will continue the trend of success in the tourism sector. The Dominican Republic Association for Hotels and Tourism statistics for 2018 displayed a 6.2 percent increase in the sector, which now makes up 20 percent of Caribbean trips. There was also a six percent increase in hotel rooms, and people filled 77 percent of total rooms. Overall, the industry reaped immense revenues of $7.2 billion in 2017. Tourism’s success contributes to GDP growth. The University of Denver predicts $89.54 billion in 2019, and GDP rising to $161.4 billion by 2030.

More Rooms, More Jobs

New resorts will extend the tourism industry’s prosperity by increasing the amount of occupied rooms and the jobs required to service visitors. The World Bank reported that the Dominican labor force was 4,952,136 workers in 2018, up from 3,911,218 only eight years before. Service sector workers made up 61.4 percent in 2017, illustrating the prominent role tourism and related industries play for the growth of the Dominican Republic. Here are four vacation spots heating up employment progress in late 2019 and 2020:

Grand Fiesta Americana Punta Cana Los Corales: This resort, owned by the Mexican Company Posadas, will have 558 rooms and various amenities necessitating more staff. The Director-General of Posadas, José Carlos Azcárraga, expressed hopes that the new resort will aid one of the fastest-growing Caribbean economies. The Dominican president visited the cornerstone to show his support. The resort opens in late 2019.

Hyatt Ziva Cap Cana: This American-owned Playa Hotels and Resorts brand also had a groundbreaking ceremony attended by the Dominican president. There will be 750 rooms requiring staff attention, alongside the various dining and fitness services provided. It opens in November 2019.

Club Med Michès Playa Esmeralda: This newest edition to Club Med’s resort collection will be an eco-friendly environment with four separate “villages” for new employees to manage. In an email to The Borgen Project, Club Med stated it will hire more than 440 Dominicans and help lead vocational training for approximately 1,000 locals to extend the resort’s positive impact. It opens in November 2019.

Dreams Resorts and Spas in El Macao: AMResorts, a subsidiary of the American-owned Apple Leisure Group, will have 500 rooms for the staff to manage. Bars, pools and a litany of eateries will require service sector employees as well. It opens in 2020.

A Vacation for Two

The development of new resorts is mutually beneficial for both the U.S. and the Dominican Republic. The island nation’s tourism is highly dependent on American visitors, who formed 33.85 percent of guests in 2013. The Dominican Embassy reported that individual tourists spent $1,055 on average in the same year. Americans received a pleasant vacation in exchange for growth in the Dominican Republic.

Two of the above resorts are branded by American companies as well. Their earnings not only benefit the Dominican economy but also benefit the American economy. Resort companies are part of a larger exchange where 53 percent of 2017 Dominican trade was with the U.S.. The Canadian Trade Commissioner Service found that the Dominican Republic imported 42 percent of its goods from the U.S. in the same year.

Unfortunately, the four new resorts will not solve all of the Dominican Republic’s problems. Poverty remains high at 30.5 percent, although it has dropped from 41.2 percent in 2013. However, new resorts contribute to this decrease by providing employment opportunities in one of the nation’s most lucrative sectors.

– Sean Galli
Photo: Flickr

What You Need to Know about Fair Trade
Imagine being in the local supermarket, perhaps in the coffee aisle. There is an abundance of options, from decaf to french vanilla and everything in between. Some of the choices have a special seal marked “Fairtrade.” But what does that mean? Here are the facts to know about Fair Trade.

What is Fair Trade?

One fact to know about Fair Trade is the difference between Fair Trade and Fairtrade. Fair Trade is a set of social, economic and environmental standards for companies and the farmers and workers who grow the food millions enjoy each day. Fairtrade, on the other hand, is a trademarked labeling initiative that certifies a product has met the agreed Fair Trade criteria.

For farmers and workers, standards include the protection of workers’ rights and the environment. For companies, they include the payment of the Fairtrade Minimum Price and an additional Fairtrade Premium. This premium can be used to invest in business or community projects of the community’s choice.

How does Fair Trade combat poverty?

The Fair Trade argument is that the poor are being paid less than fair prices for their products in the free market trading system. The Fairtrade foundation states that its goal is to “empower marginalized producers to become economically stable and self-sufficient and to promote sustainable development, gender equality, and environmental protection.”

Offering decent prices for products can help support jobs and improve living conditions for producers, their families and the local businesses they buy from. It can also divert young men from involvement in militias. The intention is that this will ultimately decrease conflict levels in impoverished nations.

While not all poor states are volatile, data indicates that violent conflict contributes to poverty in a number of ways. It can cause damage to infrastructure, break up communities and contribute to increased unemployment and forced displacement of peoples.

Additionally, free trade boosts economic sectors, thereby creating more jobs and a source of stable increased wages. As developed countries move their operations into developing countries, new opportunities open for local workers. An increase in the general standard of living reduces hunger and increases food production. Overall, a higher income makes education more accessible, increases literacy, increases life expectancy and reduces infant mortality rates.

Fair Trade focuses on the exchange between individuals and companies. Fair Trade supply chains utilize direct partnerships that take into account the needs of individual communities. Often times, cross border supply chains strengthen ties between two or more nations. By bringing people together in mutually beneficial trade pacts and policies, Free Trade can contribute to a sense of peace in war-torn areas. Through cultural exchange, there is a rare absence of marginalization in this type of commerce.

What are the disadvantages to know about Fair Trade practices?

Although the Fair Trade movement has good intentions, it also has a few disadvantages.

Fairtrade targets farmers and producers who are financially secure enough to pay certification, inspection and marketing fees, which are necessary to ensure compliance with government regulations. Thus, the poorest farmers who would benefit most from Fairtrade certification are often excluded.

Fairtrade minimum prices and wages ensure fair payment of farmers. However, farmers for non-certified products are left at a considerable disadvantage. When prices fall in the world market, it is the non-Fairtrade certified farmers who suffer. That being said, prices in stores are not monitored by the Fairtrade Foundation. Thus, the producers receive only a small piece of the revenue from retail mark-ups.

Conversely, research conducted by various groups such as CODER, the Natural Resource Institute and Brazilian based BSD Consulting has shown positive impacts of Fair Trade practices around the globe. In Colombia for instance, a 2014 study by CODER assessed the impact of Fairtrade for banana farmers in small producer organizations and workers on plantations. The study concluded that Fairtrade, with the support of other organizations, contributed to a revival of the banana sector in Colombia and increased respect for human and labor rights. Other studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of Fairtrade on worker empowerment in Ecuadorian flower plantations and the benefits of Fairtrade orange juice for Brazilian smallholder farmers.

Here are the facts to know about Fair Trade that can help consumers make informed decisions in their daily lives. Many everyday food items like coffee, chocolate, fruit and nuts offer Fairtrade certified options in local grocery stores. Change is already happening in the Congo where Fairtrade certified gourmet coffee is sourced from war-torn regions. Companies such as Tropical Wholefoods have begun to sell Fairtrade certified dried apricots from northern Pakistan. Just an extra minute in the grocery aisle and a few extra cents to choose Fairtrade can make a big difference.

-GiGi Hogan
Photo: Flickr

Living Conditions in MauritiusMauritius is a beautiful island nation located in the Indian Ocean, just off the coast of Southern Africa. Long-renowned for its beautiful beaches, Mauritius celebrates a vibrant history and complex mix of cultures. Vestiges of Portuguese, French and British control and long periods of labor migration left clear marks on the current society. Recent decades have been transformative for the country, starting with its independence in 1968. To grasp a better idea about how life evolved on the island, keep reading to learn 10 facts about living conditions in Mauritius.

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Mauritius

  1. Mauritius was once a country with high fertility rates, averaging about 6.2 children per woman in 1963. A drastic decline in fertility rates took place, dropping to only 3.2 children per woman in 1972. This shift comes as a result of higher education levels, later marriages and the use of effective family planning methods for women. This is especially important for the island nation, as space and resources are limited.
  2. Mauritius has no indigenous populations, as years of labor migration and European colonialism created a unique ethnic mix. Two-thirds of the current population is Indo-Mauritian due to a great influx of indentured Indians in the 1800s, who eventually settled permanently on the island. Creole, Sino-Mauritian and Franco-Mauritian make up the remaining one-third of the population. However, it is important to note that Mauritius did not include a question on its national census about ethnicity since 1972.
  3.  The population density in Mauritius is one of the highest in the world, with 40.8 percent of the population living in urban environments. The greatest density is in and around Port Louis, the nation’s capital, with a population of 149,000 people living in the city proper alone.
  4. Close to the entire population of Mauritius has access to an improved drinking water source. In urban populations, 99.9 percent of the population has clean water access. There is a negligible difference in rural populations, with 99.8 percent of people accessing clean water. This is essential for the health and protection of populations from common waterborne diseases, like cholera and dysentery.
  5. In 2012, the government allocated 4.8 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) to health care. For this reason, an effective public health care system is in place, boasting high medical care standards. The government committed to prevent a user cost at the point of delivery, meaning that quality health care and services are distributed equally throughout the country regardless of socioeconomic status or geographical location.
  6. Non-communicable diseases accounted for 86 percent of the mortality rate in 2012, the most prevalent being cardiovascular diseases. This contrasts with communicable diseases, like measles and hepatitis, which accounted for 8 percent of all mortality in that same year.
  7. Since gaining its independence in 1968, the island’s economy underwent a drastic transformation. The once low-income and agriculture-based economy is now diversified and growing, relying heavily on sugar, tourism and textiles, among other sectors. The GDP is now $13.33 billion. Agriculture accounts for 4 percent, industry 21.8 percent and services 74.1 percent. Government policies focused strongly on stimulating the economy, mainly by modernizing infrastructure and serving as the gateway for investment into the African continent.
  8. Currently, 8 percent of the 1.36 million Mauritian total population is living below the poverty line. Less than 1 percent of the population is living on $1 a day or less, meaning that extreme poverty is close to non-existent. In the hopes to fully eradicate poverty, the government has implemented the Mauritius Marshall Plan Against Poverty which works with poor communities to give greater access to education, health, and social protection measures.
  9. Many environmental issues threaten the island nation, including but not limited to water pollution, soil erosion and endangerment of wildlife. Main sources of water pollution include sewage and agricultural chemicals, while soil erosion is mainly due to deforestation. In the hopes to combat negative outcomes, the government created and published the Mauritius Environment Outlook Report. It recognizes the importance of environmental issues and acknowledges its integral link to the pursuit of sustainable development in the country.
  10. In 2017, the education sector received 5 percent of GDP. Approximately 93.2 percent of the population over the age of 15 can read and write. Gender disparities do exist, as 95.4 percent of males and 91 percent of females are considered literate. Unfortunately, this disparity persists in the job market as well: female unemployment is high and women are commonly overlooked for positions in upper-tier jobs.

The island continues to prioritize health, education and boosting its economy, all of which are essential for the improvement of living conditions in Mauritius. With positive momentum building since its independence in the 1960s, the country propelled itself into a stable and productive future.

Natalie Abdou
Photo: Pixabay

Worker Remittances and Poverty in the Arab World
The Arab world has one of the highest proportions of migrant to local workers in the world, with over 32 million migrant workers in the Arab states in 2015 alone. In addition, the region has one of the largest diasporas in the world. This means that many skilled workers are emigrating to wealthier countries and sending money home via remittances. But what do remittances in the Arab World mean for the region and its inhabitants?

Brain Drain vs. Gain

In Lebanon and Jordan, unskilled labor is provided by growing numbers of refugees and foreign workers, totaling over five million in 2015. However, as more foreign workers enter the country, growing numbers of high-skilled Lebanese and Jordanian nationals are emigrating. This often occurs when opportunities are limited, when unemployment is high and economic growth slows. The phenomenon is dubbed ‘brain drain’ as opposed to ‘brain gain’, whereby an increasing stock of human capital boosts economies. A drain occurs while poor countries lose their most high-skilled workers and wealthier countries in turn gain these educated professionals.

Remittances in the Arab World

These expatriates commonly work to improve their own living situations while also helping to support their friends and families. This is where remittances come into play. As defined by the Migration Data Portal, remittances are financial or in-kind transfers made by migrants to friends and relatives in their communities of origin. Remittances often exceed official development aid.  They are also frequently more effective in alleviating poverty. In 2014 alone, the Arab states remitted more than $109 billion, largely from the United States followed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

There is no denying that remittances can be a strong driving force for the socioeconomic stability of many Arab countries. But not all the influences are positive. Some experts argue that remittances can actually hurt the development of recipient countries. Their arguments cite potential negative effects of labor mobility and over-reliance on remittances. They emphasize that this can create dependency which undermines recipients’ incentive to find work. All this means an overall slowing of economic growth and a perpetuation of current socioeconomic status.

The Force of the Diaspora

The link between remittances in the Arab world and poverty is clear. Brain drain perpetuates and high amounts of remittance inflow and outflow persist if living conditions remain unchanged. Policymakers are therefore focusing efforts on enticing emigrants to return to their countries of origin. By strengthening ties with migrant networks, and implementing strategies like entrepreneurial start-up incentives and talent plans, the initial negative effects of brain drain could be curbed.

Overall, though brain drain and remittances can seem to hurt development in the short-term, if policies can draw high-skilled workers back, contributions to long-term economic development can erase these negative aspects altogether. Young populations that have emigrated to more developed countries acquire education and valuable experience that is essential to promote entrepreneurship in their home countries. Moreover, their experiences in advanced democracies can bolster their contribution to improved governance in their countries of origin. The Arab world’s greatest untapped potential is its diaspora, and it could be the key to a more prosperous future, if only it can be harnessed.

Natalie Marie Abdou
Photo: Flickr

New Industries UgandaThe Ugandan government recently announced the decision to draft a new national policy that will aid the country’s economic growth and assist in the creation of new industries in Uganda. Such development could draw more investment into the country and bolster the nation as a whole, and the silk industry might be the best way to achieve economic prosperity.

A New National Industrial Policy

In 2008, Uganda’s parliament passed the National Industrial Policy to combat the country’s slow economic growth. The policy was highly anticipated as it aimed to transform the structure of the country as a whole rather than just one specific industry. The National Industrial Policy was not only meant to lead to the creation of new industries in Uganda but it also to lead to the cooperation of the state by providing a plan of action.

Fast forward 10 years and many Ugandan citizens are disappointed with the policy’s impact. By 2018, only 30 percent of the policy has been realized. The main reason for this underachievement is the fact that the policy was not properly implemented. The plan and prediction were that GDP in Uganda would grow to 30 percent, but between 2008 and 2017, it only grew by 18.5 percent. The new policy seeks to rectify this situation by making investment easier, increasing funding to the industrial sector and strengthening existing laws that help industrial development.

Focus on Industrialization

Many economists and politicians believe that industrialization is a key component in lifting countries out of poverty and into a modern, industrial economy. The far-reaching goal of industrialization is to change the system, and such widespread aims can help lead to nationwide development.

One aim of the new industrial policy is the silk industry. Due to the high demand for silk, Uganda is looking to farm silkworms in a process called sericulture to produce more silk. Many hope to expand the silk industry through this new policy. China and India are the ultimate silk producers at this moment, but both are currently experiencing declines. Estimates state that Uganda could make almost $94 million and create up to 50,000 jobs every year in the silk industry; time will tell if such potential can be realized.

The Ugandan government is set to put in about $102 million into this endeavor over the course of five years with the hopes of making about $340 million. While the new national policy seeks the creation of new industries in Uganda, the silk industry has existed in the country before and had been implemented in the 2008 National Industrial Policy. Uganda has grown and produced silk since the 1920s and had had silkworm farms up until the late 1990s. Now, the nation seeks to revitalize the product and its process.

What’s Next?

While this new national policy has yet to be implemented in the Ugandan government, there is still the hope that this policy will create more domestic growth within the nation. It is necessary to wait and see the effects of the policy since the same problems that the 2008 policy faced could still exist. The effects are unknown, but now there is hope that the creation of new industries in Uganda is the start that the country needs.

Isabella Niemeyer
Photo: Flickr

sustainable agriculture in ghana
Ghana is a small country located in West Africa along the Guinea Bay. The country is rich in natural resources, especially oil and gold, but nearly 45 percent of the country’s population is employed in the agricultural sector and agriculture makes up 18 percent of Ghana’s gross domestic product (GDP).

Coca, rice, cassava, peanuts, and bananas are some of the top agricultural products grown in Ghana. Coca is one of the country’s popular exports, alongside oil, gold and timber. Despite being resource-rich, Ghana’s economy has been contracting. Its current growth is around negative 6 percent. Countries and organizations around the world, alongside Ghana’s government and people, have recognized this problem and are currently promoting sustainable agriculture in Ghana so that they can carve a brighter future for this recovering African nation.

Feed the Future Program

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has chosen Ghana, specifically Northern Ghana, as one of its focus nations for its Feed the Future Program. USAID reports that the majority of farmers in this part of the country own small farms that are often less than five acres. Much of this land is covered in pour soil. Due to climate change and the inherent climate of the region, rain is unpredictable.

These challenges mean that malnutrition is high amongst the population. USAID’s Feed the Future Program aims to increase the productivity of these farms that mainly produce corn, rice and soybeans and promote sustainable agriculture in Ghana. Since 2012, Feed the Future has helped supply 156 thousand producers with better farming equipment and educate them on sustainable farming techniques. These techniques have led to the alleviation of some of the malnutrition and poverty issues. They also earned the farmers a total of $40 million and $16 million in private investment.

Governments Role in Sustainable Agriculture in Ghana

This private investment is important to the government’s idea for the future of sustainable agriculture in Ghana. The Ghanaian Times reports that the government of Ghana recognizes the United Nation’s latest report about the future of food security. The government wants to do its part on the world stage and at home by promoting sustainable agriculture in Ghana.

Ghana’s Shared Growth and Development Agenda mention a few ways in which the country plans to do this. The government works with organizations such as the USAID and many programs based in Africa, such as the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program. Sustainable agriculture in Ghana is seen as a way to strengthen food security, alleviate poverty in the country and promote private sector growth.

Trax Ghana

Trax Ghana is a small nongovernmental organization that promotes sustainable agriculture in Ghana for all of the reasons mentioned above. Like the USAID Feed the Future Program, Trax Ghana operates mainly in Northern Ghana. It promotes the nitty-gritty of sustainable agriculture. It teaches farmers about the importance of soil management and how to construct proper animal pens. The organization also promote gender equality, teach business skills and farming skills to both women and men for over 25 years, since the organization was founded.

Attacking the issue of poverty from multiple fronts and with multiple allies, the future of sustainable agriculture in Ghana looks bright. Ghana’s government is in collaboration with USAID to set up the Ghana Comprehensive Agriculture Project to increase private sector investment into the agriculture sector. It will take time and there will probably be some setbacks, but with so many people dedicated the practicing and promoting the practice of sustainable agriculture, the country has a good chance of succeeding.

– Nicholas DeMarco

Photo: Flickr

Sustainable Agriculture in Mauritania
Mauritania is a rather large country in western Africa that has abundant natural resources like iron, oil and natural gas. Unfortunately, water and arable land are not at the top of the list. Nearly two-thirds of the nation is desert. Despite the lack of water, nearly half of the nations 3.8 million people make a living from livestock and cereal grain farming. Sustainable agriculture in Mauritania is essential to put this land to its best use and help the rapidly urbanizing population economically.

Promoting Sustainable Agriculture in Mauritania

According to the FAO, the amount of food produced domestically in Mauritania each year only meets one-third of the country’s food needs, leaving the other 70 percent to be imported from other countries. The FAO has been working to increase crop output by promoting and supporting agriculture farming in Mauritania. One such program is the Integrated Production and Pest Managment Program (the IPPM) in Africa.

This program covers nine other countries in West Africa. Since its inception in 2001 as part of the United Nations new millennium programs, the program has reached over 180,000 farmers, 6,800 in Mauritania. In Mauritania, the IPPM program focuses on simple farming techniques to increase both the quantity and quality of the crop yield each year.

These techniques include teaching farmers how to chose the best seeds to plant along with the optimum distance to plant the seeds from one another. The program also educates farmers about the best use of fertilizers and pesticides. Overuse of these chemicals can pollute the already small water supply and harm the crops. The program also teaches good marketing practices to help with crop sales.

Programs Working With Government Support

It is not only outside actors that are promoting sustainable agriculture in Mauritania. The government has been helping as well. A report by the Guardian from 2012 explains the government’s new approach since 2011. The plan includes new irrigation techniques, the promotion of new crops, such as rice, and the training of college students in sustainable agriculture techniques through subsidies.

Data from the World Bank in 2013, showed that the program was slowly succeeding; however, too little water was still the biggest issue. The World Bank and the government of Mauritania are still working towards those goals by building off of the natural resources available. According to the CIA, a majority of the economy and foreign investment in Mauritania involves oil and minerals.

A Work In Progress

Data is not easy to find on the success of these programs after 2016. What can be noted, though, is that programs run by the FAO and other international organizations are still fighting for sustainable agriculture in Mauritania. They have been able to sustain using money from mining and oil that is coming in each year.

While these are certainly not the cleanest ways for a government to make money, it is a reliable way for the foreseeable future. The government has already proven that it is willing to spend this money on its people. Hopefully, the government will continue to invest in its people and sustainable agriculture in Mauritania.

Nick DeMarco
Photo: Flickr

Three Challenges of the Sustainable Development GoalsProposed in 2012 and officially adopted in January 2016, the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) replaced the Millennium Development Goals to set the priorities of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and to lead concrete actions on the ground. The goals call for the elimination of poverty and hunger by 2030, along with fifteen other targets concerning health, education, gender equality, sanitation, economic equality and climate change.

Some of the challenges encountered while trying to implement the 17 goals by 2030 include slower economic growth, long-lasting corruption and inequality, unfavorable demographics in various forms and widespread epidemics, but there are three surprising challenges of the Sustainable Development Goals that could be easily overlooked, yet require immediate attention.

Data Deprivation

Big data could only be of use if they are collected intelligently and interpreted meaningfully. If it is not known how many people are impoverished or which groups are the most vulnerable to economic adversity, it is not possible to act effectively against poverty. Furthermore, it would not be possible to know how much progress is made over time and, more importantly, which policies worked. This is not the most obvious challenge of the Sustainable Development Goals, yet a surprisingly large one. Proof for this is the statement of the director of the World Bank’s Innovation Labs, Aleem Walji, wrote in 2015 that out of the 155 countries that the World Bank observed and monitored, half of the countries lacked recent poverty estimates.

According to the IMF’s General Data Dissemination System, at least two data points are required within a decade-long interval to give poverty estimates every 3 to 5 years. A World Bank study conducted in 2015 noted that 57 countries out of 155 had less than two data points from 2002 to 2011, another 20 had two data points within one decade that are separated by more than five years, rendering the data inadequate for poverty estimates.

The lack of reliable poverty data makes it impossible for countries to design and implement appropriate policies. Nigeria, among other African countries severely deprived of timely data, represents the dramatic case, since this country was pronounced as the largest economy of the continent only by calculating its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) with inadequate information, revealing that decades of policy-making was based on outdated data.

What to prioritize?

The SDGs contain as many as 17 main issues to be addressed, and which ones should governments respectively prioritize could be a tough question. While prioritizing certain SDGs help with other SDGs as well- for example, decreasing poverty could have a positive impact on the good health and well-being of citizens- certain SDGs could be conflicted by their nature. The most notable potential trade-off exists between the second goal, which is ending world hunger, and the 15th goal, which calls for sustainable management of forest land and other terrestrial resources.

As Africa’s population continues to grow, the continent will be in need of safe food sources, wood, and other natural resources more than ever. Agricultural expansion, however, with its high demand for water and land, could potentially invade forest areas and lead to soil degradation, posing significant challenges to the SDGs.

Fortunately, there are strategies that governments could adapt to at least curb the potentially harmful aspects of agriculture: looking for and employing advanced agricultural technology that increases sustainability, ensuring funding as well as sound legal frames to protect small-scale farmers and to ward off harmful agricultural practices, utilizing agricultural growth by ensuring that it not only produces food but also job opportunities as well.

Who is held accountable?

This is perhaps the most significant among the three challenges of the SDGs. All UN member states agreed in August of 2015 to endorse the SDGs, but many may have left the negotiations unsure of where accountability lies. The issues of accountability also have a complicated history, with many developing countries feeling the burden of meeting the given goals, unlike richer countries who are not obliged to support developing countries by providing needed resources or aid.

The “follow-up and review” section of the SDGs agenda is vague since the document itself does not actually contain indicators necessary for measuring progress, nor is there a systematic mechanism for tracking accountability.

Not only should governments be responsible for building the vision of development. The private sector should be accountable as well, especially since Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) are becoming an increasingly popular way of managing public resources via private means in developing countries. The private sector should aware of the impacts of their actions and policies on the planet and on global poverty.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals should not be mere talking points summoned at will. Instead, they need to lead concrete and intelligent actions that are actually impactful. Challenges of the Sustainable Development Goals are numerous, but acquiring reliable data, choosing reasonable and enforceable goals to prioritize and holding the most relevant parties accountable are challenges that the global community needs to address in the most urgent manner.

– Feng Ye
Photo: Flickr

Credit Access in Angola
As of 2016, Angola was the United States’ fourth largest African trading partner. This is primarily due to the vast oil reserves that exist within Angola’s borders. Because of the lucrative nature of oil exports, these reserves are a crutch that Angola’s economy relies heavily upon. Oil, as a commodity, has a predictive economic effect. The global economy experiences an ebb and flow that roughly mirrors oil prices. Angola, due to its heavy reliance on oil exports, is a microcosm of this pattern, meaning that its economy is at the mercy of shifting global oil prices. As of August 2, 2018, the price of a crude oil barrel was at a moderately strong $70. This is a slight boon to Angola’s economy, but will likely be short-lived as powerful global players such as the United States and China begin maneuvering to reduce their reliance on unclean energy sources.

Economic Diversification

Economic growth and longevity in Angola are reliant on sector diversification. If the nation continues to rely heavily on its oil production, then it will not be able to achieve economic stability and robustness in the coming years. Developing and growing new economic sectors often requires start-up capital in the form of investments and loans. Despite strong financial institutions, credit portfolios are limited in Angola across both the private and public sector. Increasing credit access options in Angola is key to its success as a developing nation.

A variety of institutions and initiatives exist that aim to increase credit access in Angola. Chief among them is Angola’s own governing body, the Government of the Republic of Angola (GRA). In 2015, the GRA created both new legislation and a new agency dedicated to investment and exports. Both these initiatives were established with the hope of employing start-up capital to bolster economic diversification and reduce reliance on oil in the nation.

Credit Access in Angola

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) began a program in 2014 aimed specifically at Angola’s small and medium business sectors. Credit access across these sectors is chronically low, which results in drastically reduced economic growth. USAID’s 2014 credit access program revolves around a partnership with Banco Keve, a bank headquartered in Angola’s capital, Luanda. This partnership provided the program with increased financial mobility, which allowed it to offer $4.8 million in loans to businesses lacking credit access in Angola. Ninety-six percent of these loans were utilized, and 38 percent went to women-led small- and medium-sized businesses.

Recently, credit access in Angola has received local support. This summer, the African Development Bank approved $100 million worth of credit to be received by Angola’s primary investment bank, Banco Angolano de Investimentos (BAI). This funding is to be focused on the development of a new facility dedicated to providing capital support for small and medium businesses involved in international trade. The timing of this deal is key, as banks in Angola have been facing difficulties of securing credit access dedicated to trade support for local businesses.           

Even as credit access in Angola has been buoyed by international and local support, it still faces significant challenges. Angola remains quite low on the World Bank’s 2018 Doing Business index, which reduces the potential for foreign investment. This is only compounded by steadily declining economic growth within the nation. Clearly, Angola is presented with a long road towards inclusive credit access and economic diversification. Luckily, more and more institutions and agencies are stepping in to contribute to the cause. With this growing support, Angola now wields an ever-expanding credit-based toolkit that will aid it in weathering an ever-changing global economic climate.   

Ian Greenwood
Photo: Flickr