Southern Africa_Food
Particular regions of southern Africa are currently grappling with food crises caused by record-setting droughts. On top of this, a new crop-eater is singling out these vulnerable areas. In doing so, the crop-eater’s presence causes concern for a new food crisis in southern Africa.

The pest is called a “fall armyworm,” though it is far more caterpillar-like than that of a worm. The first report of an infestation came from South Africa’s agricultural department in early February, when they noted its arrival and unfamiliarity.

The fall armyworm does not originate in Africa and is instead proven to come from the Americas. Experts believe the invasion may have arrived on ships of maize imported from the Americas during the El Nino between 2015 and 2016. The same El Nino jumpstarted the droughts that southern Africa is still currently wrestling through.

Farmers have likened the infestation of this new, strange pest to “one of the 10 plagues in the Bible […] It’s widespread and seems to be spreading rapidly.”

Indeed, there are several problems caused by the fall armyworm that may induce a new food crisis in southern Africa.

The Dangers

  1. While the fall armyworm feeds off of a variety of crops, such as cotton, soybean and tobacco, it is primarily targeting southern Africa’s primary food staple — maize.
  2. An armyworm-infested crop is not noticeable until it’s too late. The pest conceals itself from farmers by digging straight into the stem of the maize. Up to three-quarters of the crop can be destroyed without visibility.
  3. The worm has spread to six countries in eight weeks. The armyworms eventually develop into moths that are capable of traveling long distances. Each moth can lay up to 2,000 eggs, and each egg has a rapid life cycle.
  4. The fall armyworms are invading right on the heels of a horrific drought. A food crisis in southern Africa on top of an already-existing food shortage could be catastrophic.

Currently, the fall armyworm has traveled to South Africa, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, Namibia and Mozambique. New reports are currently developing in Nigeria and Ghana. Unfortunately, the Americas—where the fall armyworm originates—first reported infestations in 1957 and have still been unable to find solutions to eradicate them. They are considered second only to the red locusts in terms of the amount of damage they are able to inflict.

The most farmers can do now is try to control the invasion through pesticides and careful watch for larva in the leaves of their crops.

In the meantime, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization is holding an emergency meeting on this matter later this week in Zimbabwe.

Brenna Yowell

Photo: Flickr

Top Diseases in Lesotho
Lesotho is a small landlocked country in Southern Africa. The country, with a population of 2.1 million, suffers from high rates of poverty with more than 50% of the population living below the income poverty line of $1.25 a day. The majority (72%) of the population lives in rural areas far away from services, like healthcare.

Many people in Lesotho thus face barriers to accessing healthcare because of the cost of traveling to distant healthcare facilities. A shortage of skilled health workers only adds to this problem.

Lesotho has one of the highest mortality rates in Southern Africa and an average life expectancy of only 49 years. These are the top diseases in Lesotho:

  • HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis: Lesotho has the third-highest HIV infection rate in the world, with almost 23% of adults aged 15-49 affected and more than 9,000 AIDS-related deaths in 2014. Of the people infected with HIV, 80% are also infected with tuberculosis.
  • Lower respiratory infections: Lower respiratory infections like pneumonia affect many people in Lesotho. Lower respiratory infections result in an annual mortality rate of 120 deaths per 100,000 people. One of the main causes of these infections is household air pollution from solid fuels used for cooking and heat.
  • Diarrheal Diseases: Lack of access to clean water and adequate sanitation contributes to high rates of diarrheal diseases. While diarrheal diseases do not necessarily cause many deaths, they contribute greatly to the overall disease burden in the country.
  • Non-communicable diseases: Like many other countries in Africa, Lesotho has seen a spike in cases of non-communicable diseases in recent years. This rise is due to various lifestyle risk factors like smoking, alcohol consumption, high blood pressure and obesity. The most common non-communicable diseases are cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and cancer. In 2014, non-communicable diseases accounted for 27 % of total deaths.

While most of the top diseases in Lesotho are infectious diseases, lifestyle diseases are increasingly contributing to the overall disease burden of the country.

Helena Jacobs

Photo: Flickr

Will Teaching Mandarin in School Help Students in Africa?
This year, countries in Africa are introducing Mandarin Chinese to the curriculum in public schools. There has been much uproar and criticism regarding these actions due to Africa’s already insufficient education system. It is believed that adding Mandarin in school curriculum not only takes away from the children’s core educational objectives but also detracts from the issue concerning the extinction of indigenous languages.

It has been considered out of character for Africa to incorporate Mandarin into the curriculum because the nation’s official languages or languages that are more commonly spoken across the world are prioritized. However, considering the power and influence of China, this can be an advantage for students in Africa. This year, countries such as South Africa, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Kenya are incorporating more Chinese culture and language courses into their curricula in different levels of education.

China has served as a huge influence on these changes in Africa in terms of funding and support. The biggest barrier that Africa faces in implementing the new course into the curriculum is a lack of trained and certified teachers to meet the demand. China has been creating Confucius Institutes all over Africa — currently, there are as many as 46 Confucius Institutes across the continent.

These institutes provide language learning courses to train teachers in Mandarin to help accommodate the students in Africa. China has also gone as far as urging the government for the language’s inclusion in public schools as well as providing volunteer teachers to help with the transition.

Although China is enthusiastic about these new changes, many in Africa are very upset and concerned about the potential outcome. South Africa is particularly upset about the recent addition of Mandarin to the curriculum. It is believed by some that adding a difficult language to the previously debilitated South African education system will only make matters worse because the system is overwhelmed enough as it is. The addition of Mandarin to the system could come at the expense of the students in Africa learning other primary languages such as English, French, Arabic and Kiswahili.

On top of that, Africans have begun to fear the extinction of their national indigenous languages. The San, an older indigenous group that inhabits Southern Africa, has influenced the dialects of African language, though some of the San languages have gone extinct.

Of the 6,000 languages spoken across the world, about 2000 of them are spoken in Africa alone. However, the most commonly spoken languages in Africa are English and French — a sign of colonization, another fear that resides in the hearts of Africans. The South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (SADTU) feels that teaching Mandarin in school is equivalent to a form of colonization and imperialism, for which they will not allow.

The South African government, as well as other countries, feels that learning Mandarin would result in a greater number of professional opportunities for Africans. The outcome could be higher-paying jobs as interpreters or translators with Chinese companies.

Beijing has become a serious partner in trade and commerce. As of 2013, Africa’s business with China brought in a staggering $166 billion for the continent with factors such as infrastructural investments and tourism. Hence, it is believed that students in Africa can not only better enable Africa to communicate with a key trading partner, but it also allows for students in poorer conditions to make better lives for themselves by learning Mandarin.

Whether or not it is best for students in Africa to add Mandarin in school curricula is still up for debate. It could be an empowering language for the students to learn, however, at the expense of drifting away from their culture or potentially hindering their ability to learn other languages. Only time will tell if the benefits outweigh the losses.

Kayla Mehl

Photo: Flickr

Mobile Banking in Southern Africa
The World Food Programme (WFP) is unveiling a new initiative to make mobile banking in southern Africa more accessible.

The World Food Programme is a humanitarian agency dedicated to fighting hunger worldwide. They work to provide food both during and after emergencies and international conflict. For the former, they provide the necessary sustenance where it is needed by victims of war, disaster, and such. Once the conflict has passed, the WFP continues to provide food to help communities rebuild themselves. However, their work extends beyond just providing people with access to nutrition.

In the case of their newest initiative, the WFP will also be providing money transfers and mobile banking in southern Africa. The cash-based transfers will allow people in eight countries to more easily access the money they have to tap into local markets. Increasing cash availability and access in developing countries have been shown to allow local economies to flourish. A study by the WFP showed that for every U.S. dollar made available boosted the local economy by up to $1.95.

In their 2015 Annual Letter, Bill and Melinda Gates argued that mobile banking in developing countries will revolutionize the way in which the global poor raise themselves out of poverty. The poor, Gates explained, not only lack money but when they do have it, they often lack the means to access it. Now, mobile phones are changing the way they do business.

Between the marginal costs of digital transactions and the fact that more than 70% of adults in many countries have mobile phones now, mobile banking in southern Africa can be highly profitable. This provides incentives for companies to get in on the ground floor of these services, where competition between them will no doubt foster faster innovation and better technologies to address the challenges unique to global poverty.

The WFP has had success with mobile banking in the past. Recently, they unveiled a similar, pilot program in Ghana.

In an interview with the WFP, Adams Inusah, a farmer, said, “I like receiving money through my mobile phone because I can go and cash the exact amount I need for food and save the rest to buy seeds for my farm.”

Both the World Food Programme and the Gates Foundation believe that mobile banking in developing countries will pave the way for stronger economic growth and prosperity.

Sabrina Santos

Photo: Flickr