West Africa has the highest levels of energy poverty in the world. The shortage of electricity has been a big barrier to the economic development and people’s wellbeing in Africa.

Tony Elumelu, a Nigerian-born business leader and philanthropist, makes the call for ending energy poverty in Africa and takes action to alleviate it.

Ranking 26th on the Forbes Lists of Africa’s 50 Richest in 2014, Tony Elumelu is one of Africa’s most revered business leaders. As the Chairman of Heirs Holdings, the United Bank for Africa (UBA) and Transnational Corporation of Nigeria (Transcorp), Elumelu fortune’s is estimated at $1 billion.

Approaching the latter period of his business career, Elumelu makes more effort on philanthropy. After retiring from UBA in July 2010, he founded the Tony Elumelu Foundation, intending to foster Africa’s economy by enhancing the competitiveness of the African private sector.

At the same time, Tony Elumelu has also been a significant member of many non-profit organizations, such as World Economic Forum’s Regional Agenda Council on Africa, the Nigeria Leadership Initiative and the Infant Jesus Academy in Delta State, Nigeria.

On 30 June 2015, Elumelu participated in African Energy Leaders Group (AELG) Summit. It was launched by Côte d’Ivoire President Alassane Ouattara in Abidjan with top-level political and business leaders, intended to make concrete plans for sustainable energy access in Africa.

According to Ivorian Prime Minister Daniel Kablan Duncan, in order to expedite the implementation of sustainable projects, the West African sub-group of the AELG intends to gather public and private sectors to mobilize finance. As a co-founder of AELG, Elumelu pledged to donate $150,000 over the next three years for its secretarial work.

Elumelu previously contributed to the fight against energy poverty before the Summit. In 2013, Tony Elumelu pledged to contribute $2.5 billion in President Barack Obama’s Power Africa Initiative to support Africa’s power sector.

During the same year, Transcorp, where Elumelu served as Chairman, acquired the 600 MW Ughelli plant in Delta State. It is one of Nigeria’s largest gas-powered generating plants and will generate 1,000 MW by the end of 2015.

The discussion between Transcorp and General Electric has been ongoing, and Transcorp is likely to add another 1,000 MW soon after they reach the first quota.

“Providing access to electricity for schools, hospitals, businesses and industries is the single most impactful intervention that can be made to transform the continent,” said Elumelu during the Summit. “It has tremendous implications for job creation, health, food security, education, technological advancement and overall economic development.”

Shengyu Wang

Sources: Forbes, Sustainable Energy for All
Photo: Forbes


In central and northern Côte d’Ivoire, cashew nut farming has drastically improved the lives of small scale farmers.

Since the 1960s, cashew farming has replaced other popular West African cash-crops like cocoa beans, rubber and cotton since cashews generate a much larger profit. Local farmers say that their farms are where “money grows on trees,” according to How We Made It in Africa.

“These farmers don’t grow cocoa like elsewhere in the country. Cashew nut is the only cash crop they can rely on all-year-round. So, it is understandable that they would refer to their orchards in this way,” explained Ga Kone of the Conseil du Coton et de l’Anacarde, the Council of Cotton and Cashew (CCA), in an interview with Africa Renewal.

In 2014, Côte d’Ivoire was responsible for the production of 550,000 tons of raw cashews, or 22% of the total global production of cashews. At the end of the 2015 harvesting season, experts expect that Côte d’Ivoire will produce 600,000 tons.

CCA, the cashew farmer’s marketing board made up of government representatives, farmers and bankers, estimates that Côte d’Ivoire’s annual production has grown at a rate of 11% per year. A combination of factors have enabled Côte d’Ivoire’s recent success. The hardiness of the trees and the increase in global demand for cashews are two main reasons.

Cashews were initially introduced to Côte d’Ivoire and West Africa in the early 1960s to prevent desertification and soil erosion. The evergreen tropical trees can grow up to 12 meters high and are able to survive in harsh weather and soil conditions. Environmentalists often recommend cashew trees for reforestation programs, and the trees were planted to create protected forest areas.

When Côte d’Ivoire first began to produce cashews, the country only generated around 300 tons of cashews annually, and production remained at this rate for around 30 years. In 2002, production reached 100,000 tons.

“The growth is more than impressive. It’s astounding. We’ve never seen a country grow its production in the way Côte d’Ivoire has over the past decade,” said Jim Fitzpatrick, a cashew expert, to Reuters last year.

Despite the country’s cashew-driven economic boom, Côte d’Ivoire still has room for even greater improvement and the potential to generate much more income. The processing of raw cashews enables farmers to sell the cashews for a significantly higher price. Côte d’Ivoire currently only processes 40,000 tons of cashews locally, while it has the potential to process 65,000 tons.

African countries produce 45% of the total global production of cashews, or 1.2 million tons each year. Only 10% of this production is processed locally, says the African Cashew Initiative, which is funded by the German government, private companies and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. If Côte d’Ivoire begins to process its cashews, there is the potential to increase profit by $127 million—if it processes 100,000 tons by 2020.

Currently, the processing that does occur is rudimentary; it usually is simply sorting whole nuts and broken nuts and then placing them into separate sacks for export.

If this West African nation begins to process all of its cashew nuts and then export them, the economic potential is immense. A study by CCA found that for every 100,000 tons of processing the country implements, 12,300 factory jobs and 10,000 other jobs will be created.

Many regions of Côte d’Ivoire remain entrenched in harsh poverty. In the Zanzan District in the northeastern region of the country, the poverty level is among the highest in the country. Six out of 10 people live below the poverty line—they cannot afford a daily kilogram of rice while 75% do not have access to sanitary drinking water.

Côte d’Ivoire has experienced incredible economic stimulation with its recent cashew boom—by committing to process its cashews locally, the country has the potential to alleviate regions still entrenched in poverty.

– Margaret Anderson

Sources: How We Made It in Africa, Reuters, African Cashew Alliance
Photo: African Business Magazine

full_belly_projectIt turns out that one man’s trash may actually be able to be used to create his own treasure.

While on a mission to create an agricultural tool for villagers in West Africa, social entrepreneur Jock Brandis discovered that utilizing locally available material scraps could be the answer to affordable, sustainable development in impoverished nations.

It all started with the radical development of a peanut sheller.

Peanuts are seen throughout Western Africa as a solution to problems of malnutrition, as they provide ample protein. While they are planted heavily in the region, it takes a lot of work to shell these nuts. During a visit to Mali in the early 2000’s, Brandis noticed villagers spending all day shelling peanuts, doing tedious work that kept them sore and made their fingers bleed. While he promised the village women that he would send them a sheller, he realized upon his return to the United States that small-scale nut shellers had never been successfully created.

Rather than evading the issue, Brandis addressed it by developing his own Universal Nut Sheller for use in small villages in developing countries. According to VICE, Brandis adapted a Bulgarian design to be able to use scraps and local materials to create shellers so the design could be manufactured at a local level. There are several versions of the sheller in use in dozens of countries around the world.

Farmers can buy the sheller design for $28, which includes instructions and concrete molds for simple manufacturing. Local developers supervise construction, ensuring that the products are being created in the way that is best for the specific village. Bradis’s model depends on strong relationships with the locals to distribute and vary the design based on community-articulated needs.

Brandis’s sheller gets seven hours of work done in less than half an hour. The sheller allows villagers to shell mass amounts of peanuts at once, saving ample time and energy for workers. This transforms members of the village who used to spend their days shelling peanuts into business people, saving them time and money while also providing nutritional benefits to the surrounding area.

The ability to shell peanuts at the appropriate time to keep them fresh also allows them to market their crops more appropriately, which helps them each generate more revenue in the long run. Such help brings subsistence farmers from living day-by-day based on their jobs shelling to having the potential for economic prosperity. As quoted by NPR, Professor Rick Brandenburg said says “the price can double if you can get them to the market at the right time. It allows them to market their crop when the price is right.”

Brandis says he has seen the sheller raise the incomes and the quality of life of many villagers. A study at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill showed that village income rose up to 20 percent after introduction of the sheller.

The development philosophy spurred the creation of The Full Belly Project, which designs various agricultural technology improvements and gives instructions on how to use locally available materials and scraps to make these inventions function to help the villagers improve their situations. The nonprofit organization strives to use innovative and simple agricultural technology to help impoverished people expand their economic possibilities. It works to provide small villagers the tools to go beyond meeting basic needs and instead go on to sell their goods to others and eventually create economic prosperity for themselves.

The Full Belly Project has various ongoing projects to promote similar styles of development. The nonprofit organization has developed technology to transform garbage into building material and solar water pumps. It is also working on technology to repurpose cleaning waste from luxury hotels into new bars of soap for small villagers using its cold-soap press.

The organization has a long-term goal of using this philosophy to revolutionize the way development occurs in impoverished communities. By facilitating local manufacturing and distribution, Brandis hopes that the Full Belly Project changes the way of international development work.

– Arin Kerstein

Sources: Encore, Full Belly Project, Star News Online, Vice
Photo: Peace Corps

The buzz surrounding Ebola started to die down after an update declaring a ten-month low of a reported nine cases, and as transcontinental infection was scarce. Although newer and flashier news stories have taken over, and Ebola started to disappear from the public eye, Ebola may be making a harsh comeback in coming months. With the onset of the rainy season in West Africa, new challenges arise in controlling the Ebola outbreak.

Since the ten-month low, transmission intensity and geographical span have increased despite rigorous efforts to control the disease. The main challenges have been identifying sources and community engagement, where there is still widespread resistance to the efforts. Officials are not largely concerned with the rainy season bringing increased transmission rates and more reported cases, but are concerned with the complications in their efforts at combating the disease.

The rainy season in West Africa brings with it higher prevalence of diseases, such as Malaria, that induce similar symptoms to Ebola. As more people exhibit these symptoms, more people need to be treated as though they may have the Ebola virus, meaning that more people will need to be tested for it. The rain also creates concern over infrastructure and travel, which could hinder efforts in the fight against Ebola.

Many experts in the field had hoped for and urged efforts to get the Ebola outbreaks under control before the rainy season began, and it seemed feasible to do so. The recent increases in transmission come as a disappointment and as a source of well-founded worry. While the public may have shifted gears and moved on from Ebola, health-care workers are shifting gears to be even more vigilant and intense to find those last strains of transmission. The World Health Organization has faced new challenges in the fight against Ebola, and will prevail through the challenges that the rainy season brings.

Even more fear arises from the fact that after reports of low transmission, and as the countries largely affected by the outbreak started to regain normalcy, many international actors backed out of the area. With new causes for concern and a need for increased testing coming with the rainy season, the foreign aid and international health workers are needed again, and soon.

Ebola infections are still more concentrated and more under control than at the start of the outbreak in December 2013, and with the new rainy season perhaps the increased testing will finally bring the last of the transmission chains to light.

– Emma Dowd

Sources: Sierra Leone Times, CIDRAP, UN
Photo: Mirror

Sierra Leone
For some students in Sierra Leone’s capital of Freetown, the nine months of not attending school were agonizing. These last months were filled with uncertainty about their communities as well as their own futures. Fortunately, with a sharp decline in reported cases of Ebola, Sierra Leone’s government has decided to reopen the nation’s schools, giving Sierra Leone’s 1.8 million children a safe environment where they can learn.

Ebola has claimed the lives of over 3,400 people in Sierra Leone and more than 10,500 throughout regions of West Africa. The effects on families have been devastating; at least 8,600 children have lost one or both parents to the virus.

UNICEF official reports said, “The Ebola epidemic has hit schoolchildren and teachers heavily. Preliminary results of a school needs assessment survey by the Government suggest that 181 teachers and 945 students died of Ebola virus disease, while 597 teachers and 609 students contracted the disease but survived.”

With major districts not having reported a new case in over 21 days and only 9 confirmed cases as of April 12, school-aged children are returning to classrooms in Sierra Leone amidst these positive indicators. Many schools opened their doors on April 13 and though the number of returning pupils is small, school officials expect numbers to grow as parents’ fears of infection subside and more people become aware of the precautions that are being taken.

With the help of UNICEF, Sierra Leone’s government has put into place the necessary precautions for avoiding the deadly Ebola virus. The first few days of school were spent learning about Ebola and other basic hygiene practices. Teachers and students are also being advised to avoid close, bodily contact and each morning as students arrive on campuses, their temperate is taken with a digital thermometer.

UNICEF reports, “UNICEF has supplied 24,300 handwashing stations to reduce the chances of infections. UNICEF has also trained 9,000 schoolteachers in Ebola prevention, safety guidelines and psycho-social support.”

Not attending school has had a variety of impacts on school-age children in Sierra Leone. Many students who returned to classes last week have forgotten a lot of material previously learned and teachers have spent a lot of time reviewing. Other students did not attend schools at all due to their responsibilities at home or working to support their families. However, UNICEF and Sierra Leone’s government has worked together to reduce these effects by providing radios and 41 radio stations that broadcast daily educational programs.

Not only are Sierra Leone schools pushing for the return of its students before the outbreak, but also for the enrollment of some 233,000 primary-school-age children who have never attended school. With the hope of boosting enrollment, Sierra Leone’s government has announced that it will pay school fees for the next two years.

Children throughout Sierra Leone are excited for the former glories of school to return, like playing games with one another and greeting their friends, but they are thankful that they are finally able to learn and dream about their futures again.

Candice Hughes

Sources: BBC, The Guardian, UNICEF, WHO
Photo: Flickr

The stigma of having contracted the Ebola virus has created public health and development issues for regions most deeply stricken by the virus. Doctors and patients alike who fought the virus have now become public educators to doubly continue the fight against Ebola and the accompanying stigma.

In the media, those who contracted Ebola have been portrayed as guilty of the disease, as if it were their decision. Guilt and blame have surrounded the mass fear of Ebola.

It takes an immense amount of strength to survive Ebola and to move back into a life that has drastically changed. For some survivors, this means returning to an empty home or even discovering that they are homeless. The stigma of surviving Ebola comes at a cost. This cost is termed “Post-Ebola Syndrome.” This syndrome is the mental and physical effect of surviving the disease and returning to society. In many cases, this has developed into Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Some survivors have been removed from their homes because of the fear that they are not fully cleared of the virus. Certificates are issued to patients in clinics and hospitals who survive the disease, but these certificates are not enough for some fearful community members. There have been reports where those who are known to have contracted Ebola have been removed from buses. Also, communities have ostracized health workers who treat Ebola victims.

Doctors and patients who survive play a critical role in treatment, clinical assistance and public awareness. Survivors are able to provide their antibodies to help other patients fight the disease. Also, doctors who return to the field are able to provide their insight on treating the disease. Doctors and patients alike show to the public and other patients that while Ebola is deadly, it is not a guaranteed death sentence. Survivors represent the importance of seeking clinical treatment and monitoring.

In order to fight the stigma, some medical organizations, such as Doctors Without Borders, accompany survivors when they return home. Doctors Without Borders volunteers educate the community on Ebola and explain that those who survive have a very low chance of transmitting the disease to others. They answer any questions that the community has in hopes of encouraging others to spread awareness and accept members of their community. In addition, a Doctors Without Borders treatment center in Monrovia, Liberia, is run by seven doctors who all once had Ebola. This makes patients hopeful for themselves and encourages a greater understanding of the disease.

The Ebola virus cases have significantly decreased from 600 weekly cases in November, to 30 weekly cases in April. While even one case is a critical concern, public efforts to re-integrate those formerly living with the disease are also important for communities.

– Courteney Leinonen

Sources: Action Aid, BBC, Doctors without Borders 1, Doctors Without Borders 2, Doctors Without Borders 3, Doctors Without Borders 4
Photo: Flickr

West Africa EbolaWest Africa is experiencing the first decrease in Ebola cases in three weeks, recording 128 new cases between Feb. 8 and Feb. 15, according to the World Health Organization. However, dwindling funds, a long rainy season and improper burials are making it difficult to control the disease.

The current Ebola epidemic began a year ago in Guinea and spread throughout West Africa. Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are the worst-affected countries but are also seeing steady decreases in Ebola case numbers since the beginning of the year.

Guinea recorded 52 new Ebola cases in the week of Feb. 8. In August and September 2014, Liberia experienced over 300 new Ebola cases per week; during the week of Feb. 8, Liberia recorded only two new confirmed cases. Sierra Leone now holds the highest infection rate, experiencing up to 248 new Ebola cases per week; however, in January, the numbers declined to 118. During the week of Feb. 8, Sierra Leone confirmed 74 new cases, 54 of which were in Sierra Leone’s capital of Freetown.

The life-threatening disease has caused other problems throughout West Africa. Farming and food production has slowed, numerous roads have been closed, bans have been put on travel and families have been displaced or torn apart.

Experts blame ignorance and fear for contributing to the disease’s rapid spread in West Africa in the worst outbreak on record. There have also been violent attacks on healthcare facilities and workers despite large-scale education campaigns.

However, the decline in cases is already bringing positive effects. President Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone announced in January that the country was lifting the travel restrictions it had implemented in an effort to contain the virus.

West Africa’s year-long Ebola outbreak has now killed over 9,365 people from among 23,218 cases recorded, mainly in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

One challenge has risen from seemingly good news: funding. Officials say that international financial support has also decreased with the number of Ebola cases. Officials say that $1.5 billion is needed to combat the disease for the next six months, and so far only $482 million has been pledged.

Alaina Grote

Sources: New York Times, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Photo: Flickr

A premium skin-care company called Alaffia empowers local people in Togo by handcrafting beauty products prepared from Certified Fair Trade shea butter. Better yet, all of the sales from Alaffia’s beauty products contribute to the livelihood of West African communities.

Alaffia offers creams, soaps, lotions and hair-care products made from the indigenous shea tree. Alaffia operates at a local level, employing women in need and enabling youth to stay in school to complete their educations.

This company is essential to West African women because they have difficulty obtaining employment since they are oftentimes not able to access education. Exclusion from the workforce leaves them vulnerable and often unable to support their families. Alaffia directly employs around 500 women in co-ops throughout Togo to cultivate shea by hand. These women are compensated with fair wages for their work and they bring unique knowledge and handcrafting skills to the job.

The company was founded by Togolese native Olowo-n’djo Tchala in 2004 after he realized the need to combat gender inequality and poverty. Alaffia was founded on Tchala’s belief that everyone deserves equality, empowerment and beauty.

Furthermore, Alaffia uses its profits to sponsor philanthropic projects in Togo. One such project is called “Bicycles for Education,” which provides disadvantaged students with bikes to get to and from school. So far, it has helped more than 6,300 students in Togo. Alaffia donates metal roofs, seats, and school supplies to rural schools through its “School Supplies and Repairs” project to create a functional learning environment for youth.

Alaffia has also provided over 3,200 pregnant women with pre- and post-natal care, and has funded the planting of 25,000 trees to combat climate change.

While philanthropy and environmental benefits certainly set Alaffia apart from other major beauty companies, Alaffia products are also made with unrefined ingredients and contain no synthetic fragrances or genetically modified organisms. They are vegan, gluten free and an ideal alternative line for those with sensitive skin.

These products help Africans profit from their natural resources and create sustainable goods that help our planet, empower local communities, and improve education for students.

Alaffia products can be purchased at natural and organic food stores such as Lassen’s and Whole Foods.

– Jenn Hartmann

Sources: Alaffia, Thurston Talk
Photo: Hello Beautiful

Education in Guinea
While the West African nation of Guinea combats the Ebola crisis, a host of problems threatening the nation’s welfare are being widely overlooked, including education in Guinea.

Since its independence from France in 1958, Guinea has seen high levels of political unrest, severe human rights abuses and dangerously high poverty rates. In the past five years, records indicate that 40.9 percent of Guineans are living on less than $1.25 a day, GDP per capita is $523 and the nation had one of the top 10 highest child marriage rates in the world.

Yet Guinea’s educational statistics are perhaps the greatest cause for concern. According to the World Bank, Guinea’s 2010 literacy rate stood at 25 percent for adults, 21.8 percent for young women aged 15-24 and 37.6 percent for young men of the same age group. The database defined literacy as “the percent of adults who can both read and write with understanding a short simple statement on their everyday life.”

While the World Bank does not provide literacy data for every country, Guinea’s literacy rates were the lowest of all countries recorded in 2010, the last year data was made available for Guinea.

Although the Guinean government provides free and compulsory education to students between the ages of seven and 13, many students are not taking advantage of these services.

Primary school completion rates stood at 55.1 percent and 67.8 percent for females and males respectively in 2012. Gender gaps continue to persist in the higher grades, with 32 percent of females and 41 percent of males progressing to secondary school (high school). Within the university system, males outnumber females by an almost 10:4 ratio.

As for the future, with the majority of the government’s resources being prioritized to fight Ebola, it is unclear if and when more funding will be channeled toward education.

Katrina Beedy

Sources: BBC News, WHO, World Bank G Static
Photo: Island Vulnerability

The countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone face severe economic hardships if help is not brought in and fear is not alleviated.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) met to decipher the plan to action. The plan was to offer zero-interest loans to help cover the three countries of concern, if only partially. Loans would provide relief “by around $130 million to help them meet financing gaps worth $300 million,” the Wall Street Journal reported. The IMF said the countries would need an additional $130 million to “cover the next six to nine months.”

Numbers predicted by the World Bank and IMF for next year are looking grim for economic growth in Sierra Leone, expected to drop from 11.3 percent to eight percent, growth cut more than half for Liberia to two-and-a-half percent growth and Guinea falling from three-and-a-half percent to just under two-and-a-half percent.

These predicted cuts in growth come after farmers have ceased to go into their fields, stores have closed up shop and because of fear of contracting Ebola, tourism has halted. It is predicted in Sierra Leone, there will be a one-third drop in agricultural output.

World Bank president Jim Kim responded to economic predictions pointing out that the crisis is not just about money. “The sooner we implement an effective response and decrease the level of fear of Ebola’s spread, the more we can limit the epidemic’s economic impacts.”

U.S. President Barack Obama addressed the nation September 16 concerning the Ebola outbreak and what the U.S. response would be, announcing the country will lead in the global effort of aid and will be deploying 3,000 members of the military and assist in the building of new healthcare buildings.

In addition to Obama’s pledges, the World Health Organization is asking for $1 billion to fight the spreading of the disease.

First signs of Ebola were seen in Guinea in March. The virus has now spread to Sierra Leone, Liberia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Senegal and Nigeria. The disease has taken 2,630 lives with 5,357 known infections as of September 19.

– Kori Withers

Sources: BBC, Wall Street Journal, Wall Street Journal 2, Reuters, New York Times
Photo: Flickr