Sunday, July 31, 2011

Drought is nothing new

Socialist Banner adapted this from here .

No rainfall has hit some places in months. Hundreds of dead bodies can be found on the roads every day; this suggests that people, particularly the young, are abandoned to their fate. The Horn of African is experiencing a great tragedy. However, it should be noted that the cycle of violence in the region and ongoing conflicts have destroyed the infrastructure, thereby exacerbating the impact of the drought. The tragedy is human-made rather than an outcome of natural causes. It is mostly attributable to ongoing wars waged over artificial disputes.

The political systems of Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia that remain as legacies of colonial times, and the colonial relations between African nations and Western powers including the US, had in the past reserved their budgets for arms purchase, leaving people to live in abject conditions and suffer from malnutrition and lack of healthcare and infrastructure. Imagine countries where Kalashnikovs are sold freely in markets, but you would not be able to find decent food in the same markets. It is almost impossible to convince Somalia, currently suffering a severe civil war, to reserve funds for construction of infrastructure rather than the purchase of arms.

Drought and food shortages are not new in the Horn of Africa. The people in this region constantly experience such crises. There have been more than 50 food and drought crises in the region since 1984. It should be recalled that the amount of monies spent once the crisis broke out is far more than the funds needed to prevent such a crisis. It is easy to blame the political administrations for their failure to take prior measures despite already being aware of the causes and repercussions of the drought, but this is the reality.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Locals pay the ex-pat price

Luanda, Angola, is the world’s most expensive city in the world for expatriates. The survey’s designed for companies who want to do business in other countries, and need to factor in the costs of sending staff there. It measures things like the rent of a three-bedroom villa in an adequately secure environment, the cost of sending a child to an international school and the price of a meal in a good restaurant. The figures that inform the report would be completely alien to most of Luanda’s residents, who live below the poverty datum line. At an astonishing third in the world, is N’Djamena, the dusty Chadian capital, followed by Gabon’s Libreville at 12th place, Niger’s Niamey at 23rd. Johannesburg comes in at a distant 131st in the world, while Cape Town is only 158th.

Clearly, the costs outlined in the survey are about scarcity rather than quality. The top African cities in the list manage to combine severe poverty with extensive resource wealth, primarily through oil. As a result of this poverty, housing good enough for foreign marketing managers and their families is in short supply, allowing landlords to simply obey the laws of economics and jack the prices up as high as they possibly can go. Coupled with this is the fact that the types of corporations that operate in these oil-rich environments are multinationals extracting billions of dollars of local resources. When you’re dealing with figures this big, it becomes almost irrelevant whether their employees live in houses that cost R9,000 or $90,000 a month.

As foreign expatriates and the money which underpins them push prices of top end goods and services, so the local elites – who eat in the same restaurants and compete for the same properties – are forced to spend more and more. And to spend, they must earn. As elite salaries rise, so the inequality gap between the vast majority of the country and the few who have made it to the top gets wider and wider. In Luanda, it’s not unusual to see Porsche’s whiz through sprawling shanty towns, their drivers on their way to a top hotel for a R1,000 meal while onlookers ponder how to feed their families on the R10 they earned that day.

Top Ten most expensive African cities for expatriates

Luanda, Angola
N’Djamena, Chad
Libreville, Gabon
Niamey, Niger
Victoria, Seychelles
Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso
Djibouti, Djibouti
Lagos, Nigeria
Dakar, Senegal

From here

The Great Land Grab Continued

Land, farm, food—some of the few things that all societies hold sacrosanct, yet also some of the hottest commodities in financial markets. Land is up for grabs across Africa.

The International Land Coalition, an NGO alliance, says “the new scramble for Africa” is taking place today on a far more complex political and environmental terrain. One modern aspect to the new scramble is the expanding market in biofuel crops, which have been blamed for undermining and displacing traditional food crops—not to mention their role in creating water scarcity, global climate change and population pressures.

Land deals do carry the racial baggage of imperial history. Land reform has also been a continual struggle since independence within many African countries. It has too often yielded policies that deepen existing patterns of segregation and inequality and encourage the displacement of farming communities that lack formal landholder status. That’s in part because land is a critical bargaining chip for political leaders who are courting foreign capital after years of failed development and agrarian reform initiatives. As ILC explains, “these acquisitions sit well with the new thinking among African political leaders frustrated by patronising aid dependency and keen to forge relationships of trade with the developed world.” But if parceling out prime real estate helps governments capture new investment, the land itself and its traditional stewards are withering away.
Ecologically, the ILC says, “There is limited or no capacity in these countries to control or deter pollution of the air, soils, and groundwater by the heavy chemicals likely to be used in these ventures. Such pollution will add to the burdens of poor environmental health that rural populations already bear in many of these countries.” The use of aggressive industrial farming methods and genetically modified crops may further destabilize rural communities, since “many of these countries lack the capacity to effectively police the type of large-scale technological production envisaged over the large areas of land involved.
Despite promises of building new infrastructure and encouraging trade, the commodification of land portends the destruction of more sustainable, small-scale agriculture. “What they are bringing is what is required for industrial farming in large-scale plantations,” Oakland Institute Policy Director Frederic Mousseau. “Small-scale farmers in Ethiopia aren’t going to suddenly learn to drive a tractor and ride a tractor. It’s really about buying land in Africa.”

The Oakland Institute, which monitors global agricultural trends, suggests that transnational land grabs in Africa—including Ethiopia, Mali, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, Tanzania and South Sudan—are setting up a repeat of the 2007-2008 food-price crisis, which was fueled by a blend of financial, political and environmental factors. “We see really vertical integration and control of the markets by investors who will be able to both influence prices and also decide on what the production will be,” warns Mousseau. “We have the food chain, which is pervasively and quite rapidly in recent years being under the control of financial groups. Multinational investors bank on humanitarian rhetoric by wrapping their land deals in the banner of “trade not aid.” But the land bubble in many ways poses greater danger than did the U.S. real estate boom: at stake are the fates of indigenous communities.

Michelin, the massive tire corporation rolled into Nigeria’s Iguobazuwa Forest Reserve a few years ago and just one thing stood in the path of the plans to set up a rubber plantation: the communities that lived there. With cruel precision, the communities that got in the way were uprooted and displaced, their farmland devastated. The bulldozers of the French conglomerate Michelin sowed the ground for “increased hunger, malnutrition, poverty and forced migration, as food became harder to find or produce,” as documented by Friends of the Earth International

“It was as if there was no reason to live again,” recalled a local woman. “Now, no land, no farm, no food.”

Taken from here

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Why Hunger?

With one billion people going to bed hungry every day and about the same number obese the geography of hunger presents inherent contradictions. Pictures and videos roll out rapidly from drought-stricken Horn of Africa, breaking our hearts as we see children so malnourished and clinging to helpless mothers. The pictures of dead cattle complete the scenes that scream nothing but hopelessness. At the other end of the spectrum we see obese folks in rich nations struggling to hook on their double belts around their bulges.

Why are we so hungry? Why is it that unless the photos of the dead and the dying appear in the media, some African governments keep mute and do nothing about these tragedies? How come that when they do anything at all it is often just begging for aid? But the hunger in the Horn of Africa did not just happen. Reports say that there has been rain failure over the past three years and the people in those areas have been gradually reduced to a state of helplessness while no one paid attention. Some are said to have been displaced from rich ancestral lands and were forced to live in parched lands where they had no coping mechanisms and support.

Is it beyond government and institutions in the drought-stricken areas to find better ways of water management, including rain harvesting and irrigation, that would help the affected people cope and flourish? How about tested agro-ecological cultivation methods that small-scale farmers have used to great impact in parched parts of Africa, including the Tigray region of Ethiopia? Is it impossible for governments to provide basic infrastructure that would help move food from areas with good rainfall to areas that are deprived? An example is what we hear is the situation in Uganda. The north eastern part of the country is currently faced with drought and crop failures while the western part is lush, green and with bountiful harvests. The situation was the same in Zambia in 2004 when one region had food shortages while things were normal in other areas.

The food business seeks to pile up profits and not to eliminate hunger. In fact the more hungry we are, the more profit they make. It can thus be suggested that food merchants are glad to entrench hunger and keep populations dependent on their products. For many years this has been seen as the principal objective of food aid. For example, donors who insist on in-kind aid see food aid as a way to dump their surplus production on needy countries, by extension expanding the market for those products. Food aid is not free food. Apart from emergency food aid that is largely free, others like programme aid and project aid (including things like school feeding projects) are paid for by the recipient nations. It is interesting to note that as a rule 75 percent of food aid from the US must be bought, processed, transported and distributed by US companies. It is also interesting to note that only four companies control over 80 percent of the transport and delivery of food aid in the world. The transaction costs, including the costly transportation, take over 60 percent of emergency food aid costs. Food aid was a principal foreign policy tool. Till date it remains conditional and is often tied with demands for prescribed economic reforms. Hunger is a great tool for the subjugation of peoples, distortion of local food production and the building of dependency. It is a shame that African governments keep extending the beggar’s bowl rather than taking steps to fight the scourge.

Adapted from here

Africa can feed not just itself but the world. This is the claim made by Kanayo Nwanze, the president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (Ifad), a specialised agency of the UN. Nwanze argues that Africa is facing the fallout of decades of neglecting agriculture, a fault that lies with African governments and aid donors. Nwanze drew a sharp contrast between Gansu province, in northwest China, and parts of Africa that cannot feed itself. He said like many parts of the world, Gansu suffers from frequent drought, limited water for irrigation and severe soil erosion. Yet despite the weather and the harsh environment, the farmers in the Gansu programme area are feeding themselves.

"It has a very harsh environment, it has only 300 millimetres of rain annually, compared to parts of the Sahel which gets 400-600 millimetres, but the government has invested in roads and electricity. We found a community willing to transform their lives by harvesting rainwater, using biogas, terracing mountain slopes. There are crops for livestock, they are growing vegetables, wheat and maize, and generating income that allows them to build resilience." He explained. The Ifad president says Africa could easily increase the use of fertilisers without making a dent on the environment, because current usage is so low. And he cites the potential to increase irrigation – only about 7% of land in the whole of Africa is irrigated, compared with more than 30% of land in Asia – and the scope for farmers to use improved seed varieties that would dramatically boost productivity. "The potential is huge," said Nwanze. "With a little investment, Africa can feed itself and it has the potential to feed the world."

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

talk and yawn

“Abolishing poverty from the face of the Earth” that has become the stock slogan for the politician.

Over the years, special summits held with the customary fanfare have taken the pledge to accomplish this noble objective. Diplomats and experts have wined and dined in exotic locations in between expressions of profound concern for the deprived of the world. The tragedy is that the paper promises and solutions thrown up at these special summits have gone the way of all similar pious platitudes. Thrown into the waste basket, sacrificed at the altar of economic reality. The rich nations of the world, after having made ‘solemn’ promises in international forums to ‘eradicate poverty’, actually take economic measures that are expressly directed towards undermining the economies of the poor nations around the world.

According to one study some years ago, if world cotton prices were not depressed as a result of subsidies, the number of people living in poverty in the African nation of Burkina Faso could be cut in half within six years. Subsidies accounted for about one third of the $35,000 average annual income of the US cotton farmer, the per capita income in Burkina Faso was less than $1 a day.

The World Trade Organization continues its merry-go-rounds of global trade talks. Meanwhile, the developed countries continue with their march aimed at their economic prosperity through means, fair or foul, and that at the expense of the world’s poor. The poor nations of the world are invariably left out in the cold

How about calling off the charade of global conferences and using the money to subsidise at least some of the poor for a change?

Adapted from here

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The African Spring

Across North Africa protesters have toppled some of the most ruthless and well-resourced political strongmen on the planet. In sub-Saharan Africa, many are asking: will the Arab Spring spread south? Many insist that African societies are so fragmented along ethnic, sectarian and regional lines that it would be impossible today for a Tahrir Square ; instead, they believe, an outcome like Libya’s civil war or the messy departure of Yemen’s president is more likely.

Yet many of the underlying realities are the same. As food and fuel prices rise, inflation is driving millions of Africans below the poverty line just when the world’s economists and politicians have been preaching that growth will benefit all. Across the world, as growth has spread and accelerated, so has inequality. It is clear that growth is often not enough to guarantee stable, cohesive societies. Rather than create a rising tide that lifts all boats, it can actually increase inequality in a society. Steady economic growth and urbanization, combined with high levels of youth unemployment and conspicuous consumption on the part of the corrupt ruling elite, create a situation in which growth exacerbates political volatility instead of quelling it. Growth is taking place in a continent where the capacity to create jobs in the formal sector has been woefully inadequate; and elites have mastered the manipulation of ethnic, linguistic, religious and regional differences to maintain their grip on power. Their rule has turned systemic inequalities and, more important, perceptions of inequality, into potent triggers for violence. Growing economic inequality animated much of what was at stake in the various Arab uprisings, and it will play a major role in shaping African politics.

The "middle class" remains a tiny sliver of the population in most African countries largely dependent on state patronage for its survival. Africa’s middle class has grown in recent years, but its members are politically and economically vulnerable and their lives can be overturned by the whims of elites.

The poor are assaulted daily by the symbols of rising inequality: glitzy malls filled with status enhancing designer goods that cost 10 times the monthly minimum wage. Globalization has changed the aspirations of the poor, and their expectations will follow. The Arab Spring occurred at a moment when economic development had outpaced political development in much of the region; ossified political systems no longer satisfied a population yearning for modern freedoms.

By 2025, sub-Saharan Africa will be home to a quarter of the world’s people under the age of 24, and their anger is growing. For Africa’s youth, many of them educated and unemployed, the future seemingly holds no hope under the current arrangement. The idea of revolution has arrived, among the minority of youth with access to social media but also among the masses.

Adapted from here

Saturday, July 23, 2011


In Madagascar, one in two inhabitants is food insecure. This proportion rises to 68% in the South of the country.

It is currently importing annually 100,000 to 150,000 tons of rice. Yet the system of intensive rice cultivation, a pure Malagasy invention, allows to double, triple or even quadruple yields.

Fishing agreements that Madagascar has entered into with the European Union or with Asian companies are reminiscent of the treaties that colonial empires signed with their colonies in the 19th century.

"Legally or not, the seas are looted while fishing could be an engine of development for the island. The fact that industrial fleets come to fish without quotas, in the context of depleting marine resources, should be impermissible in the 21st century." said United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

malawi's unrest

In April, the British ambassador to Malawi described the country’s President Mutharika as autocratic, saying governance in the country was deteriorating as rights violations increased. On Wednesday, thousands of Malawians took to the streets of several cities to demonstate against the government, defying a court injunction declaring the protests illegal as well as a presidential warning “not to be inspired by events in Egypt”. Private radio and television stations were banned from covering the protests.

A journalist in Malawi said that thousands of people took part in the marches in the capital, Lilongwe. The journalist, who asked to remain anonymous for her own safety described how “The impact of this demonstration on Bingu's government is that now the people of Malawi have realised the power of the masses. For several hours they took charge of the streets in Blantyre, Lilongwe and Mzuzu, chanting, looting, and in some areas causing havoc and the authorities were helpless.”

At least two people have reportedly been shot dead by security forces.

The protests were a response to Mutharika’s increasingly autocratic governing style, which has seen restrictions placed on press freedom, intolerance of criticismnand the expulsion from the ruling party of the country’s vice-president Joyce Banda. Mutharika declared “Before you start faulting me for being intolerant because I have sacked Joyce Banda from DPP , fault God for sacking Lucifer from heaven.”

The country, already one of the world’s poorest, is experiencing a severe fuel shortage, with rises in the cost of goods and transport.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Post-apartheid class struggle

Many wonder if the Arab Spring will reach Africa, but what people should really be watching is the spread of strikes across the continent in response to rising costs, inequality, and government dissatisfaction. Problems like rising food and fuel costs, economic inequality, and dissatisfaction with government taxes and other policies are driving workers to shut down businesses and take to the streets. Strikes in Uganda by traders and taxi drivers (teachers have since threatened to strike as well). Nigerian workers are preparing a national strike over a non-implemented minimum wage increase ( although a last-minute promise by governors to pay the wage may avert the strike.)

South Africa is also facing major strikes.

According to the Naledi Research Paper on the Living Wage, presented to the Cosatu central committee last month, the top 10% of earners receive about 94 times more than the bottom 10%. The poorest 10% share R1.1bn between them while the richest 10% share R381bn, 51% of the total.

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) is being calculated does not accurately reflect the full cost of living faced by workers.

“The costs attributed to transportation, healthcare and administered prices to items such as electricity and food are understated in terms of their weighting in the CPI calculation,” said Karl Cloete, deputy general secretary of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa).not taking into account administered price increases, which were affecting workers heavily. He said that for the past five years, there has been serious price increases on essential services which had heavily affected the buying power of ordinary workers.

John Appolis, national policy coordinator at the Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers Union, said the cost of living had been on the increase and the inflation rate failed to reflect this reality. “It is not a true reflection of the living experience by our members. Most of the CPI baskets are skewed, underrated and understated,” he said. According to Appolis, CPI is therefore a weak measure of how much workers spend on ensuring their families are able to survive, and should not be used as a proxy of any kind.“Our members are productive every day and we have spent time explaining that to the public. But in return, they get paid peanuts while executive directors are rewarded with huge salaries. What are those executives doing? They come and check balance sheets and go play golf the whole day and at the end cream up all the wealth. We don’t buy the argument that our members are not productive,” said Appolis.

Lesiba Seshoka, spokesperson of the National Union of Mineworkers said “The majority of our members in the mines are forced to walk distances to reach their places of work. They are not being provided with transport, live in shacks without electricity.”

Numsa’s general secretary, Irvin Jim, said “South Africa is the most unequal country in the world in terms of income, and the most concrete way to address this inequality is to close the wage gap...It is not true that capital will substantially increase employment if wages are set at a lower rate.”

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

tanzania land grab

At least 21 investors from famous US firms were in Tanzania to scout for business opportunities have acquired, among other things, land for production of food crops in East Africa’s second largest economy. Mwanaidi Maajar, Tanzania’s Ambassador to the US accompanied them.

Dr Jes Tarp, President of Aslan Global Management, LLC based in the US said that he would soon start soybeans, sunflower, wheat and barley production in Tanzania.

"Presently we have made agreements to acquire 100,000 acres of land for cash crop production in Morogoro Region," he said, noting that he has also been operating in Mozambique and Ukraine.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

CEOs making millions

The Congress of South African Trade Unions has noted with anger the report that in 2010 the median pay of executive directors of the top 40 JSE-listed companies increased by 23.3%, to R4.8 million.

The Naledi Research Paper on the Living Wage, presented to the COSATU Central Committee in June, spells out the reality. The top 10% of earners receive around 94 times more than the bottom 10%. The poorest 10% share R1.1 billion between them while the richest 10% share R381 billion, 51% of the total.

The inequality has a marked racial dimension. Whereas the African population accounts for 79.4% of the population and 76.8% of households, it only accounts for 41.2% of household income from work and social grants. In contrast the white population account for only 9.2% of the population and 12.8% of households yet receives 45.3% of household income, five times their proportion of the population.

Inequality is further aggravated by the fact that the poorest have to spend a much higher percentage of their incomes on basic essentials like food and clothing.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Like Gold, Only Better

The "town" chief of the village seemed to be in a state of shock. Sitting on the front porch of his mud and thatch home in Pujehun District in southern Sierra Leone, he struggled to find words that could explain how he had signed away the land that sustained his family and his community. He said he was coerced by his Paramount Chief, told that whether he agreed, or not, his land would still be taken and his small oil palm stand destroyed. He didn't know the name of the foreign investor nor did he know that it planned to lease up to 35,000 hectares of farmland in the area to establish massive oil palm and rubber plantations. Haltingly, he said that without his land, he might as well take his leave of the village. By that he meant that he was as good as dead.

That is a ground-level view of a land grab deal in Africa.

The World Bank estimates that around the world foreign investors acquired an area about the size of France - by long-term lease or by purchase. Farmland has become a favourite "new asset" class for private investors; "the World Bank estimates that around the world foreign investors acquired about 56 million hectares of farmland - an area about the size of France - by long-term lease or by purchase. Farmland has become "like gold, only better"

The World Bank has its own term for the new global land rush. It calls it "agro-investment". Farmers' movements, human rights, civil society, women's and environmental organisations, and many scientists - call it "land grabbing".

The World Bank has developed seven voluntary principles to make the land deals "responsible". Critics of the phenomenon say there is no way that the taking over vast areas of smallholder farmland and transforming it into giant industrial plantations and agribusiness operations can ever be "responsible". They argue that land grabs are throwing millions of farming families and indigenous peoples off their land. They say that it's not just land that's being grabbed, but also precious water resources.

The investors are hedge funds, private equity funds (that are attracting even prestigious American universities with their promises of high returns), pension funds, banks, multinational corporations, and sovereign wealth funds seeking to sow capital and grow profits. They are also Middle Eastern and Asian nations anxious to secure their own future food security in the face of climate change, with dwindling water resources and arable land. An estimated 70 per cent of the demand for farmland is in Africa, where land is cheap and traditional communal ownership makes people particularly vulnerable. Sometimes this can be done for the cost of a few gifts to traditional chiefs and grandiose promises of bringing "development". Since 2009, in the wake of the food, fuel and financial crises of 2007-2008, the rush for farmland has only accelerated. But it's impossible to know just how much more of Africa's fertile land has now been taken by investors.

In-depth research by the Oakland Institute of land deals in seven African countries found that most of the land deals lack transparency, making it almost impossible to calculate their total area. Lack of transparency is a great enabler of corruption. Yet "transparency, good governance, and a proper enabling environment" is one of the seven principles laid out by the World Bank for "responsible agro-investment". The Oakland Institute found that most of the land deals do not respect any of these principles. Conspicuously absent in the talk about the purported benefits of the land deals is serious discussion of protection of local people, human and environmental health, water resources, biodiversity, human rights, food security, and free prior informed consent of the affected communities.

Not in Africa to help

The World Bank Group has been promoting direct foreign investment in Africa, and enabling the farmland rush. Its private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation, with its Foreign Investment Advisory Service and its program to Remove Administrative Barriers to Investment, has been working - often behind the scenes - to ensure that African countries reform their land laws and fiscal regimes to make them attractive to foreign investors. The World Bank Group has funded almost identical investment promotion agencies - "one-stop-shops" - in countries across the continent. It places people in strategic government ministries - even presidential offices - as private sector advisors. The investment promotion agencies are developing and advertising a veritable smorgasbord of incentives not just to attract foreign investment in farmland but also to ensure maximum profits to investors. These include extremely generous tax holidays for 10 or even 30 years, zero per cent duty on imports, and easy access to very large tracts of land, sometimes over 100,000 hectares. Investors may pay just a couple of dollars per hectare per year for the land, and in Mali, sometimes no land rent at all. The Sierra Leone Investment and Export Promotion Agency, boasts about the extremely low labour rates and flexible labour laws in the country and about other privileges it accords investors - 100 per cent foreign ownership in all sectors, full repatriation of profits, dividends and royalties, no limits on expatriate employees. African governments are also encouraged by the World Bank Group to outdo each other when it comes to protecting investors. Each year, it grades African on investor protection in its "Doing Business" report cards, praising countries that move up in the rankings in what an IFC official admits is a "horse race". It is a race to the bottom.

This means that low-income and food-deficit African countries, some still struggling to rebuild after long conflicts, such as Sierra Leone and Liberia, find themselves competing with each other to offer foreign investors ever sweeter deals on their arable land, so desperately needed for local food production. The investment promotion agencies quote figures for the vast amounts of "uncultivated" or under-utilised" land in their countries, often without offering any recent land use studies to back up these figures or a thought for the millions of people who depend on that land for their livelihoods. Nor do they take into consideration the crucial importance of small family farms, which employ more than half the people and produce 80 per cent of the food on the continent. Smallholder farms tend to be extremely biodiverse, involving fallow periods to protect and restore soils and water resources.

As the Oakland Institute research shows, many of the land deals are for enormous plantations of palm oil and sugarcane for agrofuels, or for the production of cut flowers and a handful of staple crops - all for export. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation has just released a new report for agriculture, called "Save and Grow". It states unequivocally that the industrial agricultural model of the Green Revolution, involving monocultures, high-yielding commercial crop varieties, heavy use of agrochemicals and mechanisation and irrigation, has "degraded fertile land and depleted groundwater, provoked pest upsurges, eroded biodiversity, and polluted air, soil and water." It finds that agro-ecological agriculture that emphasises conservation of soil and water resources and reduced use of agrochemicals can "enable low-income farm families in developing countries - some 2.5 billion people - to maximise yields and invest the savings in their health and education." Yet it is the unsustainable industrial agricultural model being promoted by many African governments, donor agencies and foreign investors.

African farmers do need support. They desperately need decent roads and access to consumers, processing equipment to add value to their own diverse farm produce, storage and drying facilities to prevent post-harvest losses, and basic amenities such as schools and health centres and water wells to improve rural lives, so that farming communities can thrive. But foreign investors are not in business to provide any of these things. They are not in Africa to help impoverished African farmers improve their own farms, or to combat hunger. They are far more likely to destroy the family farm in Africa and aggravate hunger, all in the name of economies of scale, a global corporate food chain, and profits. The speculators, bankers and investors who had a hand in inflating food prices and bringing the global economy to its knees are now consolidating control of global food production and of land.

From here

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Free at Last?

The Republic of South Sudan was declared an independent nation in the capital, Juba. The new national flag was raised, the church bells rang out and the countdown clock flashed "free at last."

Almost the size of the state of Texas or of France it has only 100 miles of paved roads. Oil-rich South Sudan has an adult illiteracy rate of 85 percent, and about half of its 8 million people live on less than $1 a day. Nearly one in five people are chronically hungry. Only about a third of the population has access to safe drinking water. As many as nine militia groups operate in active rebellion against th new state. Military tensions with the north have heightened in recent weeks with clashes in the northern border state of Southern Kordofan between Sudan's army and troops loyal to South Sudan's army forcing more than 73,000 people to flee their homes since June 5. Sudan's army seized the main town in the disputed border area of Abyei on May 21, driving more than 100,000 members of the Ngok Dinka ethnic group, who consider themselves southerners, from their homes.

Nhial Bol, owner and editor of the Citizen, a daily newspaper with the motto "Fighting Corruption and Dictatorship Everyday," believes the leadership of South Sudan wasn't prepared for independence when voters overwhelmingly approved it in January. What used to unite the men now running the country was their battle against the north, he said, "but they don't have one vision for the nation."

Independence is unlikely to bring great dividends to most.

Africa is a vast continent comprised of nations which because of their colonial past have different histories, just as they have variegated geographical landmarks that distinguish them. Thus African nations do not share many things in common except the forcible grouping together of tribes regardless of the interaction that existed before colonialisation. In the attempt to create nations, different ethnic groups have been split between boundaries and the expression of nationalism has therefore not been through the medium of cultural or ethnic identity. What is called nationalism comes to emphasise political allegiance to the state. Political states in Africa were mapped out by European imperialist nations under the guise of economic interests and military influence. Thus African kingdoms and empires were brutally decimated and different ethnic groups were forcibly integrated into colonial states and protectorates. Such a situation in which countries find themselves has made nation building and African unity a difficult task.

In the past when Africa didn't have artificial boundaries such as there are today, wars and hatred were not as rife. Making up nations have taken a great deal of building. There is almost no nation-state that has not had its boundaries drawn in blood. America was built on the bodies of the native population. It is a process that continues today in Africa. The effort, though, has to be ongoing. States have required the use of an education system, to standardise learning, spread a national history and a sense of shared culture. Culture resides in sets of ideas, values and practices that set out a sense of precedent, self and future possibility. Nationalism imposes the idea of the nation, complete with its inherent notions of territorial ownership and property, upon a culture, on the very self-image of the people within that culture. The idea of "the nation" functions as supreme good, beyond the physical and mechanical functionings of the state, to which any cause may appeal. It is a fantasy which can be used to cover up for problems and contradictions in the practice of the state's daily life. Its function is to legitimise both the state and class rule, and sustain a large quantity of support, through workers who identify with the ideas of nationhood and believe themselves to be the same as, and have the same interests as, their masters.

Workers of course, do not share a common interest with their masters. It does not follow that if the "national wealth" increases, or if trade increases, or even if profit increases, that higher wages will be gained by workers. It might appear that workers and employers share a common interest. In fact the interest of workers is conditioned by the interest of the employer, in exactly the same manner as hostages held by a kidnapper: unless the kidnapper/employer, demands are met, they will not allow the hostage/workers to have what they need to live. The fact that the majority of population owns little but its ability to work is evidence the working class has no common interest with the minority ruling class. When we are robbed and the robbers fight over the booty, that fight is none of our business. Wealth and power under capitalism can only be realised through legalised exploitation of some people by others. This is a complete contradiction of socialism that envisages a future society in which economic and political privileges will not exist because goods will be produced for consumption and not or sale – while racial and ethnic taboos will not prevail because there wouldn’t be political leaders nor class interests to defend.

Socialist Banner see little to celebrate in the creation of a new capitalist state.

Horn of Africa or Horn of Cornucopia

Some 60 babies are dying each day in one camp. Every 24 hours, more than 3,000 malnourished people arrive at camps already too crowded to accommodate them. The lives of half a million children are at imminent risk. And, in total, no fewer than 12 million people are fighting for their very survival. In Somalia, a quarter of whose 7.5 million people are now either internally displaced or living outside the country as refugees, according to the UN. In Southern Sudan, the world's newest country, children make up nearly half the population, and one in nine die before the age of five. For a population of around eight million, there are only 100 trained midwives, and fewer than 500 doctors. These are the dry, statistical facts of life – and, increasingly, of death – in the Horn of Africa.

This is already a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions – worse, much worse than the one that inspired Band Aid, says Louise Paterson, director of the British medical aid agency Merlin in Kenya and Somalia. "We haven't seen anything like this for decades," she told The Independent on Sunday . "Hardened aid workers are weeping at what they see."

Marixie Mercado, a Unicef spokesman, told a news briefing: "We have over two million children who are malnourished. Half a million of these children are in a life-threatening condition at this stage – a 50 per cent increase over 2009 figures. Child malnutrition rates in some camps are at least 45 per cent, three times the emergency threshold"

Dadaab camp in eastern Kenya is now the largest refugee centre in the world, some 382,000 people are crammed into a facility designed for 90,000.

"This," said Antonio Guterres, the head of UNHCR "is the worst humanitarian disaster we are facing in the world."

The cycle of disaster-aid-disaster-aid,
from one crisis to the next must be broken. Henry Kissinger at the 1972 UN Food Summit and vowed to eradicate world hunger within 20 years. There is no shortage of organisations willing to try to remedy the situation. Charities launch campaigns, telling us what a donation of 20p, £1 or £100 will buy, holding back the more damning statistic that 95 percent of the money donated is eaten up in administration and infrastructure.

Under a system in which production is freed from the artificial constraints of profit, a system that has expunged the causes of war, a system that can locate people to areas less prone to flooding and drought, famine can then be a thing of the past. The UN Food and Agricultural Organisaion readily admits that the world produces more than enough to ensure "adequate food for all" (2,700 calories per person per day). In the 1970s, the World Health Organisation announced that we could feed a world population seven times its then size, and as late as 1995 admitted that Africa could feed a population six times its present size were western farming techniques to be introduced there.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

once again...hunger

The British news-paper The Independent carries the headline "Starvation Returns to the Horn of Africa", informing its readers that "families have walked for over a month through sand and searing heat in search of food, water and shelter."

Neil Thorns, Cafod's director of advocacy, who led an emergency conference on food shortages in Nairobi last week, said: "There's no rain, no crops and the livestock are dying. There is nothing on the horizon that will make any of that better, and it's almost certain it will get much, much worse. People are migrating in their tens of thousands, but there is nowhere better for them to go."

Adan Kabelo, head of Oxfam's work in Somalia, said "we are facing a terrible human catastrophe unless the world acts quickly."

Audrée Montpetit, senior humanitarian programme quality adviser at Care International explains "We've seen an increase in acute malnutrition but there's obviously a lot of water-borne disease too; that's been increasing. People accept that the worst is yet to come."

The famine looms at a time when food prices have been increasing sharply for some time – and still are. Since last May, the price of maize has more than doubled in parts of Ethiopia, and that of red sorghum has risen in Somalia by 240 per cent. Even in Kenya, white maize now costs 58 per cent more than it did a year ago. The UN's World Food Programme issued statement that "The humanitarian response in Somalia and Ethiopia in particular is hampered by large funding shortfalls...In Somalia, having started cutting ration sizes from February, WFP in May had only enough food left to feed 63 per cent of the almost one million people that WFP had planned to be feeding in May ... Because of a lack of funding, WFP in Ethiopia reduced food rations in certain areas of the country from March onwards."

This famine was well predicted. Yet again Socialist Banner views this as the inability of capitalist society to avert catastrophe because of its insistence in prioritising profit before need and in failing to implement long-term provisions. Though the relief organisations and charities are undoubtedly well meaning, they address problems for which the solution already exists. Though they have the insight to see the profit-driven market system as a cause of hunger, they err in believing they it in the interests of the hungry. Socialism could perhaps be brought about with less effort than goes into organising and running the myriad of existing aid agencies and their projects.

the african biofuel wars?

The eviction of villagers to make way for a sugar cane plantation is part of a wider land grab going on in Kenya's Tana Delta that is not only pushing people off plots they have farmed for generations, stealing their water resources and raising tribal tensions that many fear will escalate into war, but also destroying a unique wetland habitat that is home to hundreds of rare and spectacular birds. The delta, one of Kenya's last wildernesses and one of the most important bird habitats in Africa, is the flood plain of the Tana river, which flows 1,014km from Mount Kenya to the Indian Ocean.

The irony is that most of the land is being taken for allegedly environmental reasons – to allow private companies to grow water-thirsty sugar cane and jatropha for the biofuels so much in demand in the west, where green legislation, designed to ease carbon dioxide emissions, is requiring they are mixed with petrol and diesel. The delta's people are trying to fight their own government over the huge blocks of land being turned over to companies including the Canadian company, Bedford Biofuels, which was this year granted a licence by the Kenyan environmental regulator for a 10,000-hectare jatropha "pilot" project. A UK-based firm, G4 Industries Ltd, has been awarded a licence for 28,000 hectares.

"This land ownership is giving us a headache. We know there are people who have sold our land when it isn't theirs to sell. They are criminals and we will fight them, with guns and with sticks," said Ali Saidi Kichei of Ozi village, which sent a delegation to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, to demand a meeting with the Kenyan minister for lands. "We lived in paradise, in peace," he said. "Now what? No water, only salty water, land thieves and water thieves, and children with empty stomachs."