Thursday, October 02, 2014

African Palm Oil: Peasants Pay The Price

Cultivation of oil palm is expanding rapidly around the world. These new monoculture plantations mean the destruction of rainforests, labour exploitation and brutal land grabbing.
Oil palms can only be cultivated profitably in an equatorial belt occupied by by peasants and indigenous peoples and the tropical forests they depend on. Thus the story of the expansion of oil palm plantations across Asia, Latin America and now Africa is also a story about the often violent displacement of these peoples and the destruction of their forests and farms.
Over the past fifteen years, foreign companies have signed over 60 deals covering nearly 4 million hectares in central and western Africa for the development of oil palm plantations.
Previous attempts at industrial cultivation of oil palm in Africa have largely failed and production has remained in the hands of small-scale producers, the majority of them women. The renewed interest in Africa is a reminder that the aggressive expansion of oil palm is not simply about land. It is about a larger struggle over food systems and models of development.
Will African palm oil be produced by African peasants or multinational corporations? Will palms be grown on mixed farms and semi-wild palm groves – or will peasants be driven out to make way for large scale, industrial plantations?

from here

► Read the report

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Ripping off the Patient

The president of the Zambia Medical Association Dr Munjajati recently revealed that the current health delivery system in the country cannot protect patients seeking private medical attention from flagrant overcharging. His remarks tend to highlight the fact that Zambia has a two-tier health system within public hospitals. Fee-paying hospital wards were introduced in 1980 by the UNIP government of Dr Kaunda. Those with enough money could be hospitalized in fee-paying wards in order to receive proper medical treatment .

The reluctance of the current Patriotic Front government to boldly check and regulate the operations of privately-owned hospitals and clinics is because to do so would be against the government’s policy of economic liberalization. Private health care is encouraged in the belief that an increased role for entrepreneurs and competition in the delivery of healthcare will result in a more efficient and effective healthcare system. Thus the search for financial gain determines the quality of healthcare systems. But the values of free enterprises and the economic benefits that may flow from a more efficient healthcare system can only be achieved at the cost of other and more important values – including a concern for fairness, the dignity of people and community-centred ethics that places people before profits.
Caring or looking after the sick is a calling of special dignity and importance. The striking nurses were dismissed by the Labour Minister in 2013 on the allegation that they had failed to uphold the oath of allegiance they swore when they graduated from Health College – to serve others out of compassion. To go on strike for reasons of salary increments was anathema to the values that guide governments and their civil servants. This is the oath to serve the people out of love and compassion, without regard to the standard of prevailing salaries and poor conditions of service. In that case, by the same standard, it would be the task of every government to make access to healthcare as free as possible. But they don’t.
There are relatively small amounts of legislation regulating the operations of health facilities compared to laws governing health personnel. The existing legislation regulating the operations of both private and public health hospitals was introduced by President Michael Sata when he was minister of health. In 2002 the MMD government went on to introduce consultation and medical fees in both public hospitals and clinics. Economic liberalisation entailed the acceptance of the lurid fact that free health care and education was a cost to the government. Hospitals, schools and colleges were de-centralised under health and education boards.
Under the system of private healthcare, the opportunities for ripping off patients seems endless. There is nothing in place to regulate the prices that are charged by service providers and hence the price differences in goods and services from one private health provider to another. Grading of private health facilities does not exist on the ground due to the salient professional ethic surrounding medicine. Due to the prevalence of HIV/AIDS and the mystery surrounding the disease and its causes, Zambia has seen a proliferation of traditional herbal therapies and traditional healers. It is not illegal in Zambia today to sell and advertise traditional herbal medicines that have not even undergone a laboratory scrutiny.
The introduction of free male circumcision in public hospitals emphasises that lack of a regulatory framework. The public health system exists in a state of corruption. Private surgeries are stocked with medicines siphoned from public hospitals. There is no treatment protocol and this results in over-servicing; a private doctor will prescribe ten supplementary drugs for the sake of advertising his business. Most private hospitals are under the control of lay managers whose primary interest is to make a profit. Thus under the system of private health care doctors promote profit-producing drugs, surgeries and tests. Medical treatments and counselling that lack profit potential are discouraged. The commercialization of private healthcare has led to the abandonment of human virtues that are essential for a community - caring for old people, compassion and charity, especially for the less privileged members of the community.
The zeal and altruism that is displayed by doctors and nurses in their primary concern for the alleviation of pain and sickness has been hijacked by the profit motive. Indeed the prevailing ideology says that political states or governments have a duty to protect the interests of the citizenry, through providing them with law, security and healthcare. But the provision of healthcare under capitalism is hamstrung by the principle of free enterprise with its competition and profit. The income and wealth disparities between the working and capitalist classes translate themselves into standardized economic, political and social programmes. The vision of free healthcare, and other services cannot obtain under a capitalist state. It is only in socialist society that health care will be characterized by its capacity to serve the good of every member of society. The sense of responsibility by those engaging in providing free medical care will demonstrate the individual and social virtues necessary for the wellbeing of a classless, moneyless and stateless society – socialism.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Questions Re US Response To Ebola Outbreak In Liberia

On September 16, President Obama announced a multimillion-dollar U.S. response to the spreading contagion. Obama's announcement comes on the heels of growing international impatience with what critics have called the U.S. government's "infuriatingly" slow response to the outbreak.
Assistance efforts have already stoked controversy, with a noticeable privilege of care being afforded to foreign healthcare workers over Africans.

After two infected American missionaries were administered Zmapp, a life-saving experimental drug, controversy exploded when reports emerged that Doctors Without Borders had previously decided not to administer it to the Sierra Leonean doctor Sheik Umar Khan, who succumbed to Ebola after helping to lead the country's fight against the disease. The World Health Organization similarly refused to evacuate the prominent Sierra Leonean doctor Olivet Buck, who later died of the disease as well.

The Pentagon provoked its own controversy when it announced plans to deploy a $22 million, 25-bed U.S. military field hospital—reportedly for foreign health workers only.
One particular component of the latest assistance package promises to be controversial as well: namely, the deployment of 3,000 U.S. troops to Liberia, where the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) will establish a joint command operations base to serve as a logistics and training center for medical responders. see earlier post here

Few would oppose a robust U.S. response to the Ebola crisis, but the militarized nature of the White House plan comes in the context of a broader U.S.-led militarization of the region. The soldiers in Liberia, after all, will not be the only American troops on the African continent. In the six years of AFRICOM's existence, the U.S. military has steadily and quietly been building its presence on the continent through drone bases and partnerships with local militaries.

The U.S. operation in Liberia warrants many questions. Will military contractors be used in the construction of facilities and execution of programs? Will the U.S.-built treatment centers be temporary or permanent? Will the treatment centers double as research labs? What is the timeline for exiting the country? And perhaps most significantly for the long term, will the Liberian operation base serve as a staging ground for non-Ebola related military operations?
The use of the U.S. military in this operation should raise red flags for the American public as well. After all, if the military truly is the governmental institution best equipped to handle this outbreak, it speaks worlds about the neglect of civilian programs at home as well as abroad.

whole article here

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Predatory Agricultural-Industrial Complex In Africa

Controlling seed means controlling food production. Africans must choose how they farm. They must not become perpetually indebted to a predatory, profit-driven agricultural-industrial complex.

In order to address Africa’s poor agricultural productivity international players are intent on criminalising traditional seed saving practices. This thrust is directed by a triumvirate of corporate interests, actively assisted by first world governments and front organisations parading as non-governmental organisations.

Africa lies at the frontier of international agricultural intervention for several reasons. Firstly the continent lags badly in agricultural productivity. This is largely due to poor investment and agricultural support.
Secondly, Africa has more unexploited arable land than any other continent. Africa’s vast area, inadequate historical investment or support into agricultural development makes it an attractive investment destination for speculators and development alike.
Thirdly Africa’s population is set increase from its present 1.1 billion to 2.4 billion by 2050. Because of endemic food insecurity, agricultural development is a moral and economic obligation for both the African and the international community.

These facts have resulted in a new rush to assist Africa to help itself. However this assistance is motivated by often conflicting aims and consequences. While speculators seek to cash in on opportunities, philanthropy and development are not neutral either.
Africa has a history of exploitation. It continues to haemorrhage money, losing tens of millions of dollars daily in illicit flows. Speculation, aid and assistance are seldom unconditional.
This is borne out by the recent drive to impose an unsuitable, first-world intellectual property regime on the sale and trade of seed. This will worsen this problem by firmly placing control of the agricultural supply chain into corporate hands, further disempowering the smallholder farmer community.

Western agencies have long portrayed subsistence farming as inefficient, not just in terms of productivity but primarily because of its failure to contribute to capital flows. This sector circulates very little money through the agricultural supply chain, even when farmers are food secure. This lack of financial clout renders the sector profoundly vulnerable.
It is incorrect to portray smallholder farming as inefficient and unsuitable. In fact it is more conducive to community and regional food security than large-scale industrialised agricultural production methods.
This was underlined by a World Bank and UN expert report which explained how food security relies on a “multifunctionary” approach to agricultural production. Farming is about more than only producing food; it is also about culture, medicinal plants, the maintenance of ecological integrity, self-sufficiency, governance, public participation and inclusion.

Several institutions have emerged to drive the improvement of African food production . . . .
  . . . The most obvious risk is the direct intervention of the world’s largest seed companies. While these powerful entities purportedly wish to assist, they have applied constant pressure to impose this restrictive intellectual property regime.
South Africa has been a springboard for this intervention into sub-Saharan Africa. Its own seed market is effectively controlled by the world’s two biggest seed companies, Monsanto and DuPont’s Pioneer. Because of their investment into seed research and genetic material – for instance Monsanto purchased Malawi’s national seed company, while Pioneer recently acquired South Africa’s last large seed company Pannar in 2011 – they maintain tight control of their investments through intellectual property regimes.
These companies also sell genetically modified (GM) seed and agricultural chemicals. While both AGRA and the Gates Foundation have supported GM technology as a real solution to food security, the IAASTD report downplayed any significant potential. Experts feel GM is a technical response to broader, more systemic problems like poor infrastructure and concentrated supply chains.

Grassroots opposition has emerged as it is felt that UPOV 91 will effectively outlaw traditional seed saving and sharing. A statement drafted by more than 75 representative national and regional agricultural organisations strongly objects to the ARIPO protocol and calls for its withdrawal.
Despite this, powerful vested interests remain fixated on securing control of African agricultural production through force, artifice and stealth. This is directly counter to the principle that equality of fair opportunity be afforded to both innovators and those who develop and rely on traditional seed exchange.

Using first world mechanisms to perpetuate the colonial model is by definition neo-colonial.
Controlling seed means controlling food production. Africans must choose how they farm. They cannot be allowed to become perpetually indebted to a predatory agricultural-industrial complex.

full article here

Friday, September 26, 2014

Public-Private Partnerships - Who Has The Upper hand?

A seat at the table? Ensuring smallholder farmers are heard in Public-private partnerships

(Note from the editors: The report contains land grab allegations in the Malawi section, involving African Development Bank and EU funding)

Governments and NGOs are increasingly partnering with the private sector to tackle global hunger and poverty. A seat at the table? Ensuring Smallholder farmers are heard in Public-private partnerships, a study of agricultural PPPs in Ghana, Malawi and Kenya, identifies examples of PPPs failing to engage effectively with smallholder farmers.  This can lead to partnerships that miss or ignore smallholder farmers’ priorities or in the worst case scenario, actually aggravate local social and economic disparities and exacerbate poverty

The report asks governments, donors and companies to go further to ensure that smallholder farmers are given the opportunity, space and information to play an active role in the design and development of agricultural PPPs – should they wish to participate in them.

Who Gains From 3,000 US Troops In Ebola Affected African Regions?

Demilitarising Epidemic Diseases In Africa

President Obama has responded to the Ebola crisis in Africa by sending 3,000 military personnel to the affected region. The real beneficiary of this militarised messianism is, in fact, the military-industrial complex back in the US.

The international system has long become inured to the relentless hiccup of African insecurity malaise. Major clichés and few strong allegories conjure up the spasms of this ongoing malaise to the point of oversimplifying the field of African security. A cascade of crises encapsulated by patterns of sociopolitical ‘fragility’, ‘failure’, and ‘vulnerabilities’ has been plying the continent’s security environment with regards to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the Ebola outbreak in West and Central Africa, as well as the hydra of terrorism and bout of violent conflicts. To be sure, the continent as a surrogate ideological battleground between Western democracies and a soviet-centric security dilemma has been put to rest. Noticeably today, a post 9-11 terror-centric security messianism has been perking up on Washington’s foreign policy chariot wheels in Africa. This security messianism is characterized by an insulated minimalist engagement riding on a missionary rhetorical commitment to African security.

Not surprisingly, the continent is broadly painted under a missionary diplomatic utopia that promises to terminate the ills of Africa. Putting aside some headier geopolitical matters, President Bush in July 2005, with an evangelical tone, made the confession that the U.S. ‘seek[s] progress in Africa because conscience demands it.’ Binding tightly moral imperatives with security concerns, Bush exited the White House cementing his signature legacy as the AIDS president. He left behind a strong savoury trademark of his long-standing gig to defeating the tides of malaria and AIDS on the continent. By the time he left the world stage, President Bush had increased aid to the continent by more than 640 percent. In humanitarian aid, the continent was the beneficiary of more than $5 billion a year. The $46 billion President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) was instrumental for at least 2 million people who received antiretroviral drugs.

To be sure, the fine apostles of HIV/AIDS policy wonk have been battling out support for access to drugs and treatment for AIDS patients. As a result of this global battle, expensive treatment and drugs for AIDS had garnered public resources and attention as well. Ironically, expensive drugs and treatment have been raining down on environments without proper hospitals, qualified medical doctors, and poorly equipped clinics. While antiretroviral drugs are available to patients, the resources to training health workers and building schools of medicine have been drying up. Tellingly, American Ebola victims from the West and Central have to be flown home to Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta for treatment. Though the much-hyped PEPFAR project christened President Bush as the healer- in- chief on African shores, the everlasting romance between militarized health foreign policy and security is hard to disconnect. As a shining jewel on President Bush’s chest, PEPFAR stands out as a corporate bonanza for US pharmaceutical corporations to harvest safe vouchers from financial manna. Oil corporations such as Mobil Oil and Chevron own a share of some HIV-medicine patents and medication. Not only had US foreign policy aid to HIV made vast profit for US firms, but it softly tied up HIV/AIDS’ industrial headquarters to oil corporations and the creation of the unified command for Africa to oversee security and conduct military operations as necessary.

Of course, the hotly touted Obama’s West African foreign policy pledged a major US military-led surge to stop the Ebola virus as a global health and national security threat. Far from throwing a monkey wrench on military expansion, such a foreign policy vision has not divorced from a militarized version of epidemic diseases. On September 16, 2014, President Obama made public his decision to establish a joint military command headquarters in Liberia by quickly dispatching 3,000 US troops to Monrovia and Senegal. The Ebola outbreak crafted its own response to the military footprint on the continent. The Obama administration pledged $ 1.26 billion to fighting against Ebola that has already claimed more than 2,800 lives in West Africa. The crisis has spurred the opportunity to hew a close look at some nichified source of security fixes in order to reinforce the post-9-11 security quandaries.

President Obama’s quick policy stand is not unprecedented. The root of the militarization of Washington foreign policy goes back to 1947 with the Cold War. The National Security Act of 1947 amends the US armed forces as intrinsically embedded with national security policy in peacetime. To be sure, demilitarizing epidemic diseases in West Africa will divert resources to building roads that lead to good hospitals and schools of medicine to train public health personnel for the continent.

  by Narcisse Jean Alcide Nana from here


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Ebola Update - Inadequate Worldwide Response

The number of Ebola cases in Liberia and Sierra Leone could reach as many as 1.4 million by January, according to new estimates by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The agency describes the current outbreak of the virus sweeping West Africa as the largest Ebola outbreak in history. It has already infected over 5,800 people, with over 3,000 of them appearing in Liberia alone. Over 2800 deaths have occurred as a result of outbreak, as already weak public health systems have been strained amidst what health experts charge has been a "totally, and lethally, inadequate." international response.

Health workers and observers have stressed that the number of cases may be vastly under-reported.
The estimates revealed Tuesday by the CDC are based on a modeling tool to project hypothetical scenarios. It found that if additional interventions to stop the outbreak are not taken and communty practices like unsafe burials continue, Sierra Leone and Liberia could see between 550,000 and 1.4 million cases by January 20, 2015, with the higher figure accounting for under-reporting of the virus.

In a more optimistic scenario, which includes a higher percentage of infected people being treated in a proper health care facility and safe burial practices occurring by December, the modeling found that the epidemic in the country could be nearly stopped by the end of January.

Ending the epidemic there, the CDC found, requires getting 70 percent of affected persons to an Ebola-treating health care facility or community setting where the virus can be contained--a fact that puts into focus the as-of-yet inadequate worldwide response to step up to the needs of the epidemic.

In an article published Tuesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, Doctors Jeremy Farrar and Peter Piot write that the epidemic "was an avoidable crisis."
"We are concerned that without a massive increase in the response, way beyond what is being planned in scale and urgency, alongside the complementary deployment of novel interventions (in particular the use of safe and effective vaccines and therapeutics), it will prove impossible to bring this epidemic under control," they write.

from here

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Ebola Agony

The current Ebola outbreak is the worst the world has ever seen, with 4,963 reported cases thus far and 2,453 deaths as of 13 September, according to WHO.

Pierre Trbovic, an anthropologist from Belgium working with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) at the ELWA Ebola Treatment Centre, one of two in the capital, Monrovia, was forced to turn patients away: He had no choice - the centre was full and could not safely admit more patients.
"The first person I had to turn away was a father who had brought in his sick daughter in the trunk of his car. He was an educated man, and he pleaded [with] me to take her, saying while he knew we couldn't save her life, we could save the rest of his family from her. At that point I had to go behind one of the tents to cry," says Trbovic.

MSF President Joanne Liu, in a speech to UN member states in Geneva on 16 September, blamed a lethargic international response for the spiralling crisis.
"Sick people are banging on the doors of MSF Ebola care centres because they do not want to infect their families and they are desperate for a safe place in which to be isolated. Tragically our teams must turn them away. All for a lack of international response," she said.

An MSF aid worker wrote  "I wake up each morning. wondering if this is really happening or if it is a horror movie. In decades of humanitarian work I have never witnessed such relentless suffering of fellow human beings or felt so completely paralyzed and utterly overwhelmed at our inability to provide anything but the most basic, and sometimes less than adequate, care."

From here