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Kuli KuliKuli Kuli is a company that sells products made from the moringa tree, a superfood that is high in vitamins, antioxidants, plant proteins, anti-inflammatory properties and has twice the nutrient value of kale. The company’s products consist of energy bars, tea shots and a variety of powders and smoothie mixes.

Kuli Kuli: Identifying a Need

Lisa Curtis developed a heart for those living in extreme poverty while serving briefly as a regional youth coordinator for the United Nations. This led her to volunteer for the Peace Corps in 2010 at age 22, which sent her to work at a community clinic in rural Nigeria. While there, she was introduced to a locally-grown energy source, moringa, and was impressed by both its healing properties and nutritional punch. She quickly saw how a moringa market could address not only the malnutrition issues of the people and villages she worked with but also provide business opportunities for local farmers.

Empowering Women Farmers

Moringa has restorative powers for the human body but it turns out that it also has potential for sustainable economic growth. Kuli Kuli addresses these needs simultaneously by working with small but high-quality farmers and establishing supply chains to foster economic growth and nutritional security in West Africa. Notably, most of the farmers that the company works with are women. In 2020, the company sourced moringa from over 2,400 farmers across 13 countries, with the largest group being African women. The company generated $5.2 million for these farmers and helped to plant and preserve over 24,600,000 moringa trees.

Not only does the company help these farms to scale up their businesses but it also provides training to increase the quality of their products and local use of the plant. Moringa is invaluable for farmers. It requires little water, provides restorative properties for the soil and overall is fairly easy to grow, especially in rural regions where the soil is untainted by industrial areas. The company founder’s ambitious vision seeks to eliminate gender inequality, income inequality, global malnutrition and extreme poverty.

Creating a New Market in Moringa

Since its launch in 2014, Kuli Kuli has dominated the market on moringa products. Though moringa grows naturally in parts of Asia, Africa and South America, the company was the first to introduce the superfood to the United States’ wellness market. By 2020, the company was selling products in 11,000 stores nationwide. According to Curtis, the company has averaged 100% growth every year. Some years do even better, as demonstrated by 2017’s Series A financing, which tripled its retail business, and 2019’s $5 million Series B financing deal with Griffith Foods and Kellogg. With this most recent investment, Kuli Kuli plans to expand into moringa ingredient products. Certainly, Griffith Foods’ 30-country chain is quite a catch for the young wellness startup.

Kuli Kuli’s success demonstrates the power of developing new markets in developing countries that expand into developed ones. Not only is the company empowering rural farmers and fighting malnutrition and extreme poverty in developing countries but moringa products are fast climbing the list of top green wellness supplements in the United States. By noticing this virtually untapped international market and being quick to capitalize on it, the company found itself supplying more than half of the U.S. retail moringa market by 2020, a mere six years after its startup.

– Andria Pressel
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in GhanaGhana has a population of 30.4 million people, and over 100,000 of these people are homeless on any given night. Though most of the population does have access to safe, affordable housing, not every Ghanaian does. Here are five facts about homelessness in Ghana.

5 Facts About Homelessness in Ghana

  1. Around 39% of Ghana’s urban population lives in slums. This equates to roughly 5.5 million people. Poor households and domestic violence victims are at higher risk for homelessness. In urban areas, single women with children are also at risk for homelessness. Obtaining ownership of a house can be difficult for some women because in matrilineal tribes when a man dies, there are limits for women regarding inheritance of spousal property.
  2. In urban areas, there is a shortage of housing. These shortages are caused by a lack of adequate financing, costly building materials and delays in getting permits to build. It is also challenging to gain access to urban land in order to build there. There are not enough governmental rental properties available, and those that do exist are mostly inhabited by government workers.
  3. COVID-19 has made things worse. Many homeless Ghanaians cannot comply with lockdown orders, and do not always have access to masks, gloves and hand sanitizers. Their previous jobs of carrying shoppers’ wares or helping to load passengers became obsolete during the pandemic. Some volunteers are helping to distribute food and water to the homeless, though others argue that the government should distribute raw ingredients and money instead of cooked food.
  4. Housing policies and programs are being implemented. One such project is the Tema-Ashaiman Slum Upgrading Facility (TAMSUF). This project aims to upgrade slums, develop low-cost housing and facilitate urban development projects. TAMSUF completed its first housing project in 2011, which involved constructing a building that contained 31 dwelling units and 15 commercial shops. In addition, it also involved a commercial toilet and bath facility. TAMSUF also constructed a sanitation facility containing six bathrooms, which can hold 12 people. Similarly, The Ghana Federation of the Urban Poor Fund (G-FUND) seeks to grant homeless Ghanaians access to funds in order to provide for themselves. Created in 2010, this fund provides low-income households in Ghana with credit for housing and business development. This funding also improves infrastructure.
  5. The Urban Poor Fund International is working to improve living conditions. UPFI has built over 60,000 houses and improved 3,000 dwelling units in various countries. Examples of their projects include a community-led waste management initiative and also a housing construction in Amui Dzor, Ashaiman, in Ghana. The Amui Dzor housing project has housed 36 families and provided many dwelling units, bathrooms and rental stores since its creation in 2009. One of the project’s most famous sponsors was the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Many of Ghana’s homeless require help from the government and housing projects to get back on their feet. Efficient rental control laws and housing for low-income individuals are just some of the many policies that can help lower or diminish rates of homelessness in Ghana.

– Ayesha Asad
Photo: Flickr

Last Mile HealthLiberia borders Sierra Leone, Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire and the Atlantic Ocean. The West-African nation was established as a settlement by freed American slaves in 1820. Despite gaining independence in 1847, the country suffered from years of instability brought on by the military coup of 1980. Civil war broke out in Liberia in 1986 and endured until late 2003. With 14 years of civil war devastating both the population and the economy, Liberia, now home to nearly five million immigrant and indigenous peoples, has shifted its focus towards recovery. Many efforts acknowledge the inadequacies of healthcare in Liberia, one of them being Last Mile Health.

Founded by Liberian civil war survivors and American healthcare workers in 2007, Last Mile Health is a nonprofit organization dedicated to rebuilding healthcare in Liberia by creating a stronger, more resilient public health infrastructure within both urban and remote regions of the country. To date, Last Mile Health is responsible for a plethora of noteworthy improvements in healthcare and health outcomes in Liberia.

Healthcare in the Past

Between 1986 and 2003, 80% of healthcare clinics across Liberia closed their doors as a result of looting, destruction and the exodus of healthcare workers. Only 168 physicians remained in Liberia, predominantly in the capital city of Monrovia. Medical training systems stood on the verge of collapse. Today, nearly 1.2 million people throughout Liberia live more than an hour’s walk from the nearest healthcare facility.

Lack of access to quality healthcare in Liberia has resulted in poor health outcomes for Liberians. Alongside suffering from one of the world’s worst maternal and under-5 mortality rates, malaria, diarrhea, HIV/AIDS and other preventable and treatable illnesses are amongst the leading causes of death and disease in Liberia. A mere 39% of children under two in Liberia have received their recommended vaccinations.

Bringing Care to Patients

Last Mile Health builds community-based primary health systems within Liberia to bring healthcare to the poorest and hardest-to-reach regions. In 2012, Last Mile Health piloted a community health worker program in the Konobo District of Liberia that resulted in an unprecedented 100% coverage of the district by healthcare personnel. This pilot program has since been replicated, extending primary healthcare in Liberia to 1.2 million people.

Training Healthcare Workers

In 2017, Last Mile Health launched the Community Health Academy to strengthen the clinical skills of community health workers in Liberia. The Community Health Academy provides training to health care leaders to help them build resilient and effective public health infrastructure. As of 2019, more than 16,000 healthcare personnel from around the world have enrolled in the academy’s courses.

Improving Health Outcomes

In 2010, Last Mile Health launched Liberia’s first rural, public HIV/AIDS treatment program. The program exists in over 19 of Liberia’s public clinics.

By increasing access to and quality of healthcare in Liberia, Last Mile Health has increased the number of children receiving malaria, pneumonia and diarrhea treatment by over 40%, resulting in a significant reduction in under-5 mortality rates and improvement in child health outcomes. Maternal health outcomes have improved as more women can access skilled birth attendants and facilities for delivery and maternal care.

Increasing Average Life Expectancy

The average life expectancy for Liberians continues to increase each year as healthcare in Liberia rebuilds and recovers. By linking community healthcare workers with nurses, doctors and midwives at community clinics and equipping workers with the knowledge and skills that they need, Last Mile Health continues to fulfill its mission of bringing life-saving care to people in even the most remote areas of the country.

Last Mile Health promises a future in which no patient is out of reach from quality healthcare in Liberia. In the years to come, the nonprofit organization intends to expand its reach within Liberia and across Africa.

– Alana Castle
Photo: Flickr

Drones in AfricaThe mission of Zipline, a company started in 2014 and based in San Francisco, is to “provide every human on Earth with instant access to vital medical supplies.” To accomplish this goal, the company has created a drone delivery service where drones in Africa distribute lifesaving medical supplies to remote clinics in Ghana and Rwanda. More recently Zipline has expanded to other locations across the globe, including the U.S.

Poverty in Rwanda and Ghana

Rwanda is a rural East African country that relies heavily on farming. Although the country has made improvements in recent years, the 1994 Rwandan genocide damaged the economy and forced many people into poverty, particularly women. As of 2015, 39% of the population lived below the poverty line and Rwanda was ranked 208th out of 228 countries in terms of GDP per capita. On top of this, Rwanda only has 0.13 physicians per 1,000 people, which is insufficient to meet health care needs according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Ghana, located in West Africa, has fewer economic problems than neighboring countries in the region. However, debt, high costs of electricity and a lack of a stable domestic revenue continue to pose a threat to the economy. The GDP per capita was $4,700 as of 2017, with 24.2% of the population living below the poverty line. Although Ghana has a higher ratio of physicians per 1,000 people than Rwanda, with 0.18 physicians, it still falls below the WHO recommendation of at least 2.3 physicians per 1,000.

Benefits of Drone Delivery Services

On-demand delivery, such as drone delivery services, are typically only available to wealthy nations. However, Zipline evens the playing field by ensuring that those living in poorer and more remote regions also have access to the medical supplies they need. Zipline has made over 37,000 deliveries. In Rwanda, the drones provide deliveries across the country, bypassing the problems of dangerous routes, traffic and vehicle breakdowns, speeding up delivery and therefore minimizing waste. Additionally, Zipline’s drones in Africa do not use gasoline but, instead, on battery power.

Drone Delivery Services and COVID-19

Zipline’s services have been especially crucial during the COVID-19 response. Zipline has partnered with various nonprofit organizations (NGOs) and governments to complement traditional means of delivery of medical supplies on an international scale. This has helped to keep delivery drivers at home and minimize face-to-face interactions. As there are advances in treatments for COVID-19, delivery by drones in Africa has the potential to provide access to the vulnerable populations who are most at risk. At the same time, it can help vulnerable people stay at home by delivering medications directly to them or to nearby clinics, minimizing travel and reducing the chance of exposure. Zipline distribution centers have the capability to make thousands of deliveries a week across 8,000 square miles. Doctors and clinics simply use an app to order the supplies they need, receiving the supplies in 15 to 20 minutes. The drones are equipped for any weather conditions.

New means of providing medical equipment are helping to ensure that the world’s poor have access to the supplies they need. A company called Zipline has been using drones to deliver medical supplies to Africa, specifically in Rwanda and Ghana. During the COVID-19 pandemic, drones have been crucial in providing people and clinics with the medical supplies they need.

Elizabeth Davis
Photo: Flickr

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

Clean Energy in Ghana

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

Access to Smartphones

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

Technologies Boosting Agriculture

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

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

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

Future for Technology in West Africa

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

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

– Jade Follette
Photo: Flickr

Health Care in Ghana

The West African nation of Ghana is a vibrant country filled with natural beauty and rich culture. However, like many of its neighbors in sub-Saharan Africa, Ghana suffers from a high poverty rate and lack of access to adequate health care. In fact, according to the Ghana Statistical Service, 23 percent of the total population lives in poverty and approximately 2.4 million Ghanaians are living in “extreme poverty.” That being said, many organizations and groups — both national and global — are working to improve health care in Ghana.

Malaria in Ghana

A disease transmitted through the bites of infected mosquitoes, malaria is a common concern throughout much of West Africa, including Ghana where it is the number one cause of death. In fact, according to the WHO’s most recent World Malaria Report, nearly 4.4 million confirmed malaria cases were reported in Ghana in 2018 — accounting for approximately 15 percent of the country’s total population.

All that in mind, many NGOs, as well as international government leaders, have taken up the mantle to eliminate malaria in Ghana. This includes leadership from the United States under the President’s Malaria Initiative or PMI which lays out comprehensive plans for Ghana to achieve its goal of successfully combating malaria.

With a proposed FY 2019 budget of $26 million, the PMI will ramp up its malaria control interventions including the distribution of vital commodities to the most at-risk citizens. For instance, the PMI aims to ensure that intermittent preventative treatment of pregnant women (IPTp) is more readily accessible for Ghanaian women. Progress has been made, too, as net use of IPTp by pregnant Ghanaian women has risen from 43 percent to 50 percent since 2016. This is just one example of the many ways in which PMI is positively contributing to the reduction and elimination of malaria in Ghana.

National Health Care System

National leaders are also doing their part to positively impact health care in Ghana. In 2003, the government made a huge step toward universal health coverage for its citizens by launching the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS). As of 2017, the percentage of the population enrolled in the scheme declined to 35 percent from 41 percent two years prior. However, 73 percent of those enrolled renewed their membership and “persons below the age of 18 years and the informal sector workers had significantly higher numbers of enrolment than any other member group,” according to the Global Health Research and Policy.

It is difficult to truly understand Ghana’s health issues without considering firsthand perspectives. In an interview with The Borgen Project, Dr. Enoch Darko, an emergency medicine physician who graduated from the University of Ghana Medical School, commented on some of the health issues that have plagued Ghana in recent decades. “A lot of problems that most third world countries, including Ghana, deal with are parasitic diseases such as malaria and gastroenteritis. Though health issues like diabetes and hypertension still remain in countries around the world, and even the United States, the difference is that some diseases that have been eradicated in Western countries still remain in countries like Ghana,” Darko said. “Many people in Ghana simply do not see a doctor for routine checkups like in the United States. Rather, most people will only go to see a doctor when they are feeling sick. As a result, lesser symptoms may go unchecked, thus contributing to the prevalence and spread of disease and infection. Combined with the fact that many Ghanaians in rural communities may not have sufficient money to afford treatment or medicine, this becomes a cycle for poor or sick Ghanaians.”

That said, it is hoped that with continued support from international players as well as government intervention, the country can continue to make strides in addressing health care for its citizens.

Ethan Marchetti
Photo: Flickr

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Haley Saffren
Photo: Flickr

African CropsGlobally, there are about 7,000 domesticated crops. But, today, just four crops–rice, wheat, soybean and maize–account for two-thirds of the consumed calories worldwide. These crops are incredibly nutrient-hungry and added to the common practice of mono-cropping, which has led to the degradation of a third of the Earth’s soil. It is estimated that the global population in 2050 will increase to 10 billion; food production will have to likewise increase by 50 percent to avoid mass hunger. Many scientists think that previously ignored African crops, aptly nicknamed “orphan crops,” are the answer to preventing the oncoming crisis.

4 Wildly Underrated African Crops

  1. Moringa Trees – Also known as the drumstick tree, Moringa trees are a fast-growing species whose leaves, roots, flowers and seeds can all be used for a variety of purposes including as a dietary supplement, water purifier and food. Eight species of it are native to Eastern African countries and it is also endemic to Southeast Asia. Although completely obscure to most Westerners, it is considered by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to be one of the most economically valuable African crops. The Moringa’s tiny leaves are incredibly nutritious, being filled with antioxidants, iron, vitamin B6 and more, and are generally ground into powders or packed into capsules to serve as a natural dietary supplement. Its seed pods, which can be consumed both raw or cooked, are also exceptionally high in vitamin C: just one cup of them provides 157 percent of the daily requirement. The seed pods can also be processed into a sweet, non-drying oil.
  2. Bambara Murukku – Ranked as the third most important legume of Africa after peanuts and cowpea, the Bambara is grown mostly by subsistence farmers in semi-arid Africa, thus making it known as a poor man’s crop. Its nuts, which are rich in carbohydrates and protein, can be eaten boiled or roasted or ground into a powder to make flour for usage in bread and cakes. Additionally, Bambara groundnut does not require fertilization as it is self nitrogen-fixing, making it an ideal crop for nutrient-poor areas. Furthermore, the plant is drought-tolerant, making it an ideal crop in the face of climate change.
  3. Teff – A staple crop of Ethiopia and Eritrea, teff makes up two-thirds of those residents’ protein intake. Resembling a skinny wheat stalk, its tiny, thin grains are used for making bread and porridges and its straw is often utilized as a construction material for reinforcing mud walls. It comes in a variety of colors, with the white grains considered the most prized and the red grains fetching the lowest price. The demand for teff has been the fastest-growing of all the African crops in this article in recent years with exports rising by 7 to 10 percent annually. This has been largely due to the media hailing it as the next super grain as well as an apt gluten-free flour option. The export of injera, the Ethiopian pancake made out of teff flour, has also enjoyed an upward trend in recent years. Ethiopian companies, such as Mama Fresh, regularly fly their injera overseas to eager customers.
  4. Okra – Although it is disputed whether okra has originated from either West Africa or Southeast Asia, it is generally agreed that it is one of the most important African crops. Grown mainly for their pods and leaves, its fibers can also be used as a construction material, for handicrafts such as baskets or as a kindling fuel. The plant is incredibly adaptable and resilient and can thrive in just about any condition and climate. High in vitamins A and C, iron and calcium but low in calories, the okra has much potential in Western markets as diet food. It has, until recently, been all but unknown outside of its native land. More research and experimentation needs to be conducted on it to unlock its full potential. Currently, researchers are investigating its possibility of being used as a commercial oilseed and medicinal mucilage.

From custard apples to bread trees, there are hundreds more other under-utilized crops in both Africa and around the world. The status quo of the global diet is far too dependent on a mere handful of plants. In order to prepare for and feed the ever-growing population of this planet, people must become more open and adventurous in various culinary tastes by incorporating these orphan crops into daily meals.

– Linda Yan
Photo: Flickr

Building Schools Using Recycled Plastics
Education in Cote d’Ivoire continues to be a major challenge in the country which has had a literacy rate of 53.02 percent among 15 to 24-year-olds as of 2014. In fact, more than 2 million children are out of school due to a lack of infrastructure. Classrooms are often full beyond capacity with more than 100 students. Fortunately, West Africa is building schools using recycled plastics as a ground-breaking initiative to change the status quo.

The Fighting Women

Abidjan, a city in Cote d’Ivoire, produces about 288 tons of plastic waste every day. The country recycles only 5 percent of the waste, and when it is, it is usually women that do so informally. These women recover the waste and use it to make money.

A women’s group called The Fighting Women makes a living from collecting plastic and selling it for recycling. However, The Fighting Women is now a part of a project that will not only clean up the environment but will also help improve education. The Fighting Women is an organization of 200 women that collect plastic. A woman named Mariam Coulibaly runs the organization and she has been collecting trash for 20 years. Coulibaly’s organizational skills are what made the project possible. The plastic that these women collect go into bricks in order to build schools.

Conceptos Plasticos

UNICEF in Cote d’Ivoire has partnered with Conceptos Plasticos, a for-profit plastic recycling Colombian company that will turn plastic to bricks and build schools for children. This project will help reduce the issue of overcrowded classrooms and give children the opportunity to attend school.

In 2018, the first African recycled plastic classroom emerged in Gonzagueville. It only took five days to build this classroom as opposed to the nine months it would take to build traditional classrooms. In addition, within the first year, two small farming villages, Sakassou and Divo, constructed nine demonstration classrooms. These new classrooms included bricks that are cheaper and lighter than traditional ones, and also last longer.

Before the new plastic classrooms, children would go to school in traditional mud-brick and wood buildings. The mud-brick would erode from the sun and rain, and require repairs constantly. However, the newly built plastic classrooms are way better and longer-lasting. The classrooms are fire retardant and stay cool in warm weather. In addition, the classrooms are waterproof, have excellent insulation and can fight off the heavy wind. UNICEF and Conceptos Plasticos are planning to build 500 classrooms for more than 25,000 children with the most urgent need in the next two years.

Further Success of the Project

On July 29, 2019, a plastic converting factory opened in Cote d’Ivoire, which is also the first of its kind. This factory produces easy to assemble, durable and low-cost bricks others can use to build classrooms. The factory will solve a lot of major education challenges that children in West Africa face. According to UNICEF, kindergarteners from poor areas will be able to join classrooms with less than 100 students for the first time. Once the factory is fully functioning, it will recycle 9,600 tons of plastic waste a year and provide a source of income for women that collect trash. Moreover, there are plans to expand this project to other countries where there is a high percentage of children that are out of school.

Now, children are able to sit comfortably in classes that were once too overcrowded. This project of building schools using recycled plastics has not only constructed classrooms, but it has also reduced plastic waste in the environment. Although there is still a large number of children out of schools, this innovative project to help build schools in West Africa has been tremendously successful and has impacted the lives of many women and children.

Merna Ibrahim
Photo: Flickr

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

Agricultural Productivity and Diversification Project

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

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

Improving the Business Environment

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

Economic Diversification

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

Rate of Progress in Benin

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

– Lucas Schmidt
Photo: Flickr