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Push and Pull Strategy in East AfricaDeveloped by Kenya’s International Center of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE), the ‘Push-Pull’ strategy may sound like something from Dr. Dolittle, but it is actually an effective technique for increasing crop productivity without relying on expensive and damaging fertilizers and pesticides.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization reports that a quarter of the under-nourished global population lives in sub-Saharan Africa. Many of these people are small-scale farmers, so most methods to increase their productivity would lead to massive gains in the fight against global hunger.

The ‘Push-Pull’ strategy is a technique that utilizes intercropping to increase yields by improving soil quality and protecting against pests. The concept is simple. Two of the primary threats to crops in sub-Saharan Africa are stemborers and Striga weeds. Stemborers are a type of moth that lay their eggs inside the stems of crop plants. This pest has been known to destroy up to 80% of small farmers’ crop yields. The other main concern for farmers in the region is the Striga weed. This weed is parasitic and stunts crop growth, which can mean a loss of 30-100% of yields.

The combination of these two threats alone can lead to $7 billion annually in damages from lost crops. Rather, though, than turn to expensive pesticides and herbicides to neutralize these threats, ‘Push-Pull’ focuses on more sustainable methods. In order to reduce damage from stemborers, repellant plants are interspersed within the primary crop. One such example is the plant desmodium, the presence of which discourages stemborers from the crop. Additionally, a plant that attracts the pests, such as Napier grass, is planted in a border around the field. Thus, the stemborers are simultaneously repelled from the actual crop while being attracted to the border. Along with serving to deter stemborers, desmodium also has the added benefit of producing a substance that interferes with the germination of Striga seeds, effectively eliminating this weed from crop fields.

Benefits of the ‘Push-Pull’ technique go beyond those of just natural pesticide and herbicide. Desmodium, being a cover crop, can be plowed back into the soil after harvest, raising the nutrient content of the soil. Meanwhile, Napier grass can serve as a feed crop for livestock as well as assisting in erosion control via its root system.

To date, more than 50,000 East African farmers have implemented the ‘Push-Pull’ system. Remarkably, this change has resulted in triple-the-average maize yields of previous practices. ICIPE plans to expand the practice throughout sub-Saharan Africa, educating and training farmers to take advantage of this revolutionary technique.

– David Wilson

Sources: Push-Pull, Food Security, Christian Science Monitor
Photo: Flickr

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Charles Kenny, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, speaks with confident optimism about the state of the world. In his new book, Getting Better: Why Global Development Is Succeeding—And How We Can Improve the World Even More, he describes the shocking range and depth of development success and  prosperity growth, even in the poorest parts of the world. His answer to those questions? The world is getting a lot better—especially if you are a kid.

Of the UN’s eight Millennium Development Goals, three are dedicated to children: eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, and reducing child-mortality rates by two-thirds. According to Kenny, we are not only on track with those goals, but we are exceeding them.

“If I were writing the book today, I would be more positive,” he says. “What has become clear is that the African continent, sub-Saharan Africa in particular, is having one of its best decades ever. In a four- or five-year period, for example, Senegal reduced child mortality by two-fifths. It’s a big drop. We’ve halved the number of African children who are going to die before their fifth birthday.”

Although many parts of the world are still suffering, Kenny offers both sympathy and hope. Even in war-torn regions like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, and Burundi, what he calls “green shoots” are sprouting: child mortality is declining rapidly, neonatal care is improving, and vaccination programs are putting down stronger communal roots. By all accounts, the development glass is half full.

How are children receiving better care in the midst of violence and poverty? The best answer, he says, is not public health programs—it is parents. A report by a UK-based health advocacy organization, the BMJ Group, emphasizes the role of active aid recipients or “demand-side” initiative, such as women’s groups and community health promotion. A new vaccine camp or school is no good unless parents use it to promote their children’s well-being.

At the end of the day, Kenny says, we all have an obligation to invest in development efforts. “I think the world is getting better. It means that actually—yeah, sorry—we have a moral responsibility.”

– John Mahon
Source: Christianity Today, NIH, The Lancet
Photo: Flickr

What Oxfam Asked of Obama
As President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama prepared for their trip to Senegal, South Africa, and Tanzania, Oxfam created a list of issues President Obama and African leaders should focus on. The main theme of this to-do list was to transform African institutions into models of transparency and accountability specifically when it comes to resources.Fe

Raymond C. Offenheiser, President of Oxfam America said, “Now it’s time for the President to help Africa realize its full potential by investing directly in local governments and citizens, helping to increase transparency of budgets, extractive industry revenues, and tax systems for governments.”

Extracting resources – and billions

Over the next decade over $1 trillion in natural resources will be extracted from the African continent. Africa currently exports more that four times the amount of aid the continent receives each year. But the money from exports is not being used to build roads, schools and hospitals for the African people. Booming extractives industries often cause suffering to the African people. Many have lost access to agricultural land and several have not even received adequate compensation when they were forced off their lands.

The Resource Curse

 Millions of Africans live on less than $2 a day. How can this be when there is an immense amount of resources in Africa? This resource curse has led to immense amounts of environmental damage and human rights abuses.

Offenheiser urges the President, “Tell your African counterparts to work to increase transparency in their budgets. Open payments from oil and mining companies to the light of transparency. Give African citizens knowledge about revenues from oil and mining companies. Let those citizens decide how to put their money to work for their own futures-let them claim their rights and fight for their own development.”

Lead by Example

 If America expects African institutions to be transparent and accountable than it must be transparent and accountable as well. Offenheiser explains, “President Obama should publicly announce when his own administration will release US government aid data, setting a ton on institutional transparency. As one of the largest aid donors in the world, The United States shouldn’t be one of the least transparent.”

Feed the Future

Offenheiser stresses the importance of agriculture in Africa. “The President’s Feed the Future initiative recognizes the central role that agriculture can play in driving economic growth and poverty reduction, but initiatives like the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, which promote private sector investment in select African countries, must not distract from badly needed development aid to this critical sector. The President must address legitimate concerns raised by civil society organizations about this initiative.”

– Catherine Ulrich

Source: Oxfam, All Africa
Photo: Huffington Post

3 Places Where Climate Change Threatens to Push People into Poverty
According to The World Bank, climate change threatens to push people into poverty, rolling back “decades of progress” in developing countries and even developed countries. The effects of this would be catastrophic, especially in the world’s poor, particularly in the following areas of the world.

3 Places Where Climate Change Threatens to Push People into Poverty

  1. Sub-Saharan Africa: In less than twenty years, 40% of the land used to grow maize in sub-Saharan African will be unable to grow crops because of lack of water and extreme heat. In addition, the current minimal amount of crops in Southern Africa is likely to affect the production and cultivation of other natural resources. Being one of China’s largest contributors of natural resources, a decrease in the amount of natural resources would mean an increase in the price of goods produced from natural resources.
  2. India: It’s likely that with increasing temperatures India’s monsoon season could be affected. A rise in temperature would increase floods pushing rural populations into overpopulated cities where poverty is already high. Tensions between Pakistan and India are already high and a natural disaster, which creates a high level of displaced citizens, is likely to increase that tension.
  3. Thailand: Another impact of the sea-level rise would be the flooding of important capital cities such as Bangkok. By 2030, if the Earth continues to warm at its current pace, The World Bank projects that increased cyclones and rises in sea levels could completely inundate Bangkok. Destroying homes, commerce and pushing people into rural areas without compensation for the loss of their homes or businesses.

To help aid countries that are threatened by the ill effects of climate change, The World Bank has pledged to increase funding for the prevention of these dangers by $100 billion. However, many criticize this increase as being insufficient citing that New York alone has committed $20 billion to just one city after Hurricane Sandy.

– Pete Grapentien

Sources: Counter Currents, Huffington Post
Photo: Oxfam

Good News for the Meningitis Belt
Meningitis is an infectious disease that causes the swelling of the protective membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord. The symptoms involve severe headache, stiffness of the neck and sensitivity to light. In 2009, 88,000 people in Sub-Saharan African were infected with meningitis and more than 5,000 died. To alleviate this problem, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has helped develop MenAfriVac.

Paired with the Meningitis Vaccine Project, a nonprofit organization, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has assisted in developing this new vaccine which costs less than 50 cents per dose. The vaccine is manufactured by the Serum Institute of India and has dramatically reduced deaths from the disease in many countries in the “meningitis belt” – a region of Sub-Saharan African where cases of meningitis are very high.

The most significant development in the MenAfriVac vaccine is the ability to store the drug. MenAfriVac can be stored at a temperature of 40 degrees Celsius for up to four days before use. This, paired with its low cost, has made the vaccine extremely effective in treating meningitis in the parts of the world that suffer the most from the disease.

In addition, the vaccine can be used to immunize infants. Immunizing children with MenAfriVac represents a huge development against the spread and contraction of meningitis in Sub-Saharan Africa.

– Pete Grapentien

Sources: News24,   WHO
Photo: Meningitis Vaccine Project

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Over the past ten years, the poverty rate in Africa has declined by 1% each year which is an impressive figure by World Bank standards.  In the past three years, 9 million people have been lifted out of extreme poverty which is defined as living on US$ 1.25 a day or less. Africa, as a continent, is boasting impressive economic growth rates which have led to the rapid decline in absolute poverty levels. The World Bank has placed Africa at the core of its strategy to end poverty and increase prosperity among nations. According to World Bank president Jim Yong Kim, Africa’s economic growth has played a major role in the reduction of poverty. However, African nations are complex, varied, and full of a wide range of development opportunities. Sub-Saharan Africa is one of the success stories in the arena of global development. In 1993, sub-Saharan Africa was posting barely a 1% growth rate and had some of the highest levels of poverty in the world. By 2012, the region had a 4.7% growth rate and was home to 10 of the fastest growing countries in the world. Part of the success is attributed to the strong economic policies African nations have put into place such as those in Zambia. The World Bank will continue to partner with African nations to serve the world’s poor and help lift nations out of poverty. Though there is much success, Africa is still home to nations with poverty rates higher than 60%. Progress in those nations is slower, but equally as important. Strategy in the future will include a commitment to nations rebuilding after conflict. Jim Yong Kim believes history is being made and eradicating poverty in Africa is within reach. – Amanda Kloeppel

Source: Times of Zambia

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Happy Mother’s Day?  Well, maybe not in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which was recently named the worst place to be a mom according to a report done by Save the Children. The DRC took the unwanted ranking from Niger and for the first time in the 14 years since the report has been published, sub-Saharan Africa took up the bottom ten places.

The London-based charity’s “State of the World’s Mothers” report compared 176 countries in terms of maternal health, child mortality, education and levels of women’s income and political status.  The results were staggering and showed massive gaps in maternal health. A woman or girl in the DRC has a 1 in 3o chance of dying from maternal causes, including childbirth, whereas a women in Finland faces a 1 in 12,200 risk. The report cited the poor health of mothers as well as low access to health care  as possible causes for the high rates of infant mortality in sub-Saharan Africa.

Save the Children is calling for an investment to close the gap. They cite the need for nations to invest in mothers and children and to provide better and more accessible maternal care.  Women must have access to education and political standing as well as high quality health and child care.

Much progress is being made in developing countries and sub-Saharan Africa; the study pointed to four life-saving products that could drastically change the current state of affairs. Those four products are:

1. Corticosteroid injections to women in preterm labor.

2. Resuscitation devices to save babies who do not breathe at birth.

3. Chlorhexidine cord cleansing to prevent umbilical cord infections.

4. Injectable antibiotics to treat newborn sepsis and pneumonia.

Simple devices and measures like these have the potential to give mothers and infants in countries like the DRC a better chance at a full, healthy life.  It is time to continue the progress being made and even the odds for mothers in the DRC and all across sub-Saharan Africa.

– Amanda Kloeppel

Source: Global Post

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The GDP, growth, and income derivatives of sub-Saharan African nations help to inform NGO’s in both the structure and deployment of a well targeted policy of development. However, what if the data linking economic indicators and development in Africa were both statistically flawed and misleading? Surprisingly, there is an increasing body of evidence showing that much of the economic numbers currently being reported to aid and development organizations are in fact fictional, and that little is actually known about the income generation of many African nations.

Sub-Saharan African nations such as Ghana and Nigeria have raised the eyebrows of World Bank leaders and policy makers with their upward revisions of their economic outputs over the last several years. Both countries initially reported their GDPs as much lower than they actually were, with the former upwardly revising their numbers by 60% and the latter increasing theirs by 15%. These numbers – although seemingly unimportant from the outset – have huge implications in regards to economic status and aid apportionment. The net result of misleading economic indicators and development in Africa means that resources allocated to specific countries by donors may in fact be better utilized by nations with lower GDP’s, and that targeted development plans may or may not be yielding the results originally reported.

Regarding the misleading economic indicators and development in Africa, New York Times author Jeffrey Sachs noted that current Malawi leadership “broke old donor-led shibboleths by establishing new government programs to get fertilizer and high-yield seeds to impoverished peasant farmers who could not afford these inputs. Farm yields soared once nitrogen got back into the depleted soils.”

The generous aid packages deployed by well meaning NGO’s have been instrumentally important in the international development of many low-income countries. However, flawed economic indicators and development in Africa leads to a misappropriation of aid that could be better used by other “high-priority” targets requiring greater attention and economic assistance. International aid is a finite resource that carries with it equal amounts of opportunity and responsibility, and should be allocated primarily to those nations that are plagued by the loop of global poverty.

– Brian Turner

Source CNN
Photo The Guardian

The World’s Poorest Live in Sub-Saharan Africa
Global poverty dynamics have drastically changed since the 1980s. China once had the highest extreme poverty rates in the world at 80 percent, followed by India at 60 percent. These numbers have dropped from 1981 to about 10 percent in China and 30 percent in India. The “Developing World” has also seen decreases in its poverty levels by almost half over three decades.

The only region of the world that has increased its extreme poverty rate is Sub-Saharan Africa. The region experienced a slight decrease in poverty levels in 2010, but even this decrease is only three percent less than in 1980. This part of the world currently has a population where about 48 percent of the people live in extreme poverty, the highest percentage in the world.

Since 1980, global poverty has decreased from 1.9 billion people to 1.2 billion people, even with a 60 percent increase in population in third world countries. This means that 30 percent fewer people in developing countries live on less than $1.25 a day. With all of these advancements, Sub-Saharan Africa continues to struggle to reduce its poverty rates.

According to the World Bank, the main factor pulling people out of poverty is urbanization. Countries like China focused on switching from a rural to urban society in order to reduce its poverty levels by 60 percent. In 2010, about 75 percent of the world’s poor lived in rural areas. Urbanization, however, can be difficult to achieve in a region that is conflict-prone and often lacks humanitarian rights. The fact that Sub-Saharan Africa is experiencing decreases in poverty, no matter how minimal, is reason to be optimistic.

– Mary Penn

Source: WSJ
Photo: The Borgen Project

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Yesterday, the United Nation published its 2013 Human Development Report. Among the most encouraging signs of development are the percentage increases in some of the countries with the lowest Human Development Indices (HDI). Gains have been seen in every single country with complete data since 2000; no country is worse off than 13 years ago by the standards of the HDI report.

This metric measures statistics like infant mortality, per capita income growth, and school attendance in order to give an accurate picture of how a country’s development is proceeding. Some of the countries which have had notoriously low HDIs have seen “impressive” gains of more than 2% per year, including Ethiopia, Myanmar, and Liberia. Niger and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have seen these gains as well, and despite having the lowest overall scores in the world, they are “among the countries that made the greatest strides in HDI improvement since 2000.”

Although sub-Saharan Africa has the lowest average HDI of all global regions, its growth since 2000 has outpaced all but Southeast Asia. However, national and regional averages can actually make the data seem to represent realities which are more nuanced. When taking into account countries’ internal variations of human development, the rankings can look different. For example, the United States would be ranked 16th instead of 3rd. This data goes to show that our preconceptions of development can often be quite skewed. Areas where many think there is no progress being made are actually improving quite drastically, whereas countries that are seen as well-off have distinct problems in ensuring better circumstances for their poorest citizens.

Jake Simon

Source: UNDP
Photo: UNDP