Saturday, March 24, 2018

Cash not food aid

In Somalia’s 2011 famine 260,000  perished.

This time, the drought has been even harsher. Three seasons of rains have failed, instead of two. But none of Mohamed’s other children have died - and the overall death toll, although unknown, is far lower. The United Nations has documented just over 1,000 deaths, mostly from drinking dirty water.

Why the difference in death tolls?

aid agencies are shifting from giving out food to cash - a less wasteful form of aid that donors such as Canada, Europe and Australia have embraced.

Christopher Barrett, an expert on food aid at Cornell University, is one of many scholars, politicians and aid agencies demanding reform, explained, “A conservative estimate is that we sacrifice roughly 40,000 children’s lives annually because of antiquated food aid policies.” Sourcing food aid in the United States is expensive and wasteful, said Barrett, who oversaw a study that found buying grain close to an emergency was half the price and 14 weeks faster. Arguments that food aid supported U.S. farmers or mariners were largely false, he said.

In 2011, a few donors gave out cash in Somalia, but the World Food Programme only gave out food. It was often hijacked by warlords or pirates, or rotted under tarpaulins as trucks sat at roadblocks. Starving families had to trek for days through the desert to reach distribution points. Their route became so littered with children’s corpses it was called “the Road of Death”. 

Now, more than 70 percent of WFP aid in Somalia is cash, much of it distributed via mobile phones. More than 50 other charities are also giving out cash to spend as people want: milk, medicine, food or school fees. Cash has many advantages over food aid if markets are functioning. It’s invisible, so less likely to be stolen.  Coopi uses a system that requires a PIN to withdraw money. It’s mobile so families can move or stay put. WFP said it gave out $134 million directly to Somali families to spend at local shops last year. Some charities place no restrictions on the cash; others, like WFP, stipulate it can only be spent at certain shops with registered shopkeepers.

In Somalia, cash aid means 80 cents in every $1 goes directly to the family, rather than 60 cents from food aid, said Calum McLean, the cash expert at the European Union’s humanitarian aid department. Aid groups have been experimenting with cash for two decades but McLean says the idea took off five years ago as the Syrian civil war propelled millions of refugees into countries with solid banking systems. Donors have adapted. Six years ago, five percent of the EU’s humanitarian aid budget was cash distributions. Today, it is more than a third. Most of the initial cost lies in setting up the database and the distribution system. After that, adding more recipients is cheap, McLean said. Amounts can be easily adjusted depending on the level of need or funding. “Cash distributions also becomes cheaper the larger scale you do it,” he said.

Most U.S. international food assistance is delivered by USAID’s Food for Peace Office, which had a budget of $3.6 billion in 2017. Just under half those funds came through U.S. Farm Bill Title II appropriations, which stipulate that most food must be bought from American farmers. The U.S. Cargo Preference Act requires that half of this be shipped on U.S.-flagged vessels. Despite these restrictions, Food for Peace increased cash and voucher programmes from 3 percent of the budget in 2011 to 20 percent last year.

Cash won’t work everywhere. In South Sudan, where famine briefly hit two counties last year, the civil war shut markets, forcing aid agencies to bring in food by plane and truck. Sending cash to areas hit by earthquakes would drive up prices. But in a drought, where livelihoods have collapsed but infrastructure is intact, cash transfers are ideal, experts say. But if there’s no clean water or health service available, then refugees can’t spend money buying water or medicine.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Give women rights

Women account for nearly half of the world’s smallholder farmers and produce 70% of Africa’s food. Yet, less than 20% of land in the world is owned by women and over 65% of land in Kenya is governed by customary laws that discriminate against women, limiting their land and property rights.

This means that women farmers have to access land through either their husbands or sons. Sometimes these male family members move to the cities leaving women behind to tend the land – land they have no right to own, use as collateral or sell the output without consent from the men.

Research shows that if women had the same access to productive resources as men, they would increase the yields of farms by 20%-30% and reduce hunger by up to 17%. In addition, women plough back profits to their households, therefore alleviating poverty from the bottom up.

Given that they have vast indigenous knowledge of local plant species, this helps them provide a wide variety of nutritious food for their family, therefore curbing malnutrition at a household level. This means that by limiting women’s rights to land and other assets, we are denying ourselves the opportunity to increase food production, reduce hunger and limit malnutrition. Most societies remain predominantly patriarchal and women are consistently marginalised due to societal norms. To create change, we need bottom-up solutions that bring both women and men together to come up with solutions. Legislation alone is not enough to change society’s views on women’s property rights.

SA's wealth figures

Credit Suisse estimated that the total net wealth of South African adults amounted to US$0.8 trillion, or R9.5 trillion, in 2017. While broadly speaking the distribution is similar to the world as a whole, the large majority of South Africans (68%) was estimated to fall into the lowest wealth category. These are people with assets of less than US$10,000, or R117,000 at the current exchange rate. The report estimated that the median wealth in South Africa was at US$5,186 (or R60,900), well below the US$10,000 cut-off.
At the other end of the scale, 58,000 South Africans, or 0.2% of the population, were identified as dollar millionaires, while 84,000 would belong to the top 1% of global wealth holders.

Financial services firm Allianz, using data from national accounts, estimates in their Global Wealth Report 2017 that the richest 10% of South Africans owned more than 70% of net financial assets. For comparison, the average of the 53 countries included in the study was 53%.

The bigger the gap between the mean and the median, the more unequally wealth in a country is distributed. In South Africa, the mean wealth figure was six times the median – the maximum figure reached at the national level for any of the countries studied. For comparison, the average in the 53 countries studied was 2.5.

The Gini coefficient for incomes in South Africa was reported as 0.7 (where 0 is total equality, and 1 is total inequality), whereas for wealth it was 0.95. (The most equal societies tend to have income coefficients of around 0.25.) These figures show wealth is even more concentrated among the rich than income in South Africa.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Robots are Coming

Within less than two decades it will be cheaper to operate robots in US factories than hire workers in Africa, a new report warns.
Falling automation costs are predicted to cause job losses as manufacturers return to richer economies.
It has been suggested that poorer countries will not as be affected by automation because they have less money to invest in it.
"Our research shows that this is overly optimistic. Currently the cost of operating robots in furniture manufacturing is still higher than labour, but this will not be the case within 15 years", Dirk Willem te Velde, director of the Supporting Economic Transformation programme at ODI, said in a statement. 
ODI's report, Digitalisation and the Future of Manufacturing in Africa, found that in furniture manufacturing, the cost of operating robots and 3D printers in the US will be cheaper than Kenyan wages by 2034. In Ethiopia, ODI predicts robotic automation will be cheaper than Ethiopian workers between 2038 and 2042.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Oil Pollution

 Amnesty International says Shell and Eni have failed to properly address serious oil spills in the Niger Delta region, worsening an already serious environmental crisis. The organization said the companies were "taking weeks to respond to reports of spills and publishing misleading information about the cause of and severity of the spills, which may result in communities not receiving compensation."

Oil spills in the Niger Delta region have brought misery to locals for many years. The valuable resource which was supposed to be a blessing for their communities has now become a curse.

Tammy Williams also lives in the oil region. She accuses international oil companies of not being considerate of the indigenous population and causing massive pollution in the area.

James Awani, an indigenous resident of Ogoniland — a region which was impacted by a reported 2,976 oil spills between 1976 and 1991 — told DW how the spills have affected his livelihood:
 "You go to our farm and see that oil has destroyed many things. We cannot farm again, so we are very hungry."
Aniko Briggs, an environmental activist in the Niger Delta region, says  "My organization also collects data: we physically go into the areas of spills. We have documentation going back almost 20 years of different spills across the Niger Delta River state Bayelsa and Delta State. From this we can show very clearly that it does not just take weeks but sometimes months for the oil company to respond to reports of spills. If you look at the fact that the pipes were laid almost 60 years ago — those pipes are still underground — they were laid at a time when the technology we have today was not in existence where you can very quickly detect a spill."

Liberia's Poverty

The Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection, Madam Williameta E. Saydee-Tarr, has indicated that Liberia has over 300,000 vulnerable households that she classified as “living in extreme poverty.”
This, Minister Tarr said, includes vulnerable groups such as orphans, persons with disabilities and persons living with HIV, among others.
“The need in Liberia is much greater than the availability of resources to take the program to scale,” she said.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Expensive Africa

“We feel so hungry,” says Agatha Khasiala, a Kenyan housekeeper, grumbling about the price of meat and fish. She has recently moved in with her daughter because “the cost of everything is very high”. 

The data back her up. The World Bank publishes rough estimates of price levels in different countries, showing how far a dollar would stretch if converted into local currency. On this measure, Kenya is more expensive than Poland.

 The cost of living is generally higher in richer places, a phenomenon best explained by the economists Bela Balassa and Paul Samuelson. They distinguished between goods that can be traded internationally and many services, like hairdressing, that cannot. In rich countries, manufacturing is highly productive, allowing firms to pay high wages and still charge internationally competitive prices. Those high wages also drive up pay in services, which must compete for workers. Since productivity is low in services, high pay translates into high prices, pushing up the overall cost of living.

Among developing economies, however, the relationship between prices and prosperity is less clear-cut. Prices in Chad, for instance, are comparable to those in Malaysia, where incomes are 14 times higher. Fadi Hassan of Trinity College Dublin finds that in the poorest fifth of countries, most of them in Africa, the relationship goes into reverse: penniless places cost more than slightly richer ones. A paper in 2015 from the Centre for Global Development (CGD), an American think-tank, accounts for various factors which could explain differences in prices, including state subsidies, geography and the effects of foreign aid. Even then, African countries are puzzlingly expensive.

The relative cost of food, compared with other goods, is higher in poor countries. In Africa, the absolute cost is sometimes high, too. Nigerians would save 30% of their income if they bought their food at Indian prices, finds a recent study by the OECD, a think-tank. Meat costs more in Ghana than in America.

The CGD researchers note an interesting corollary: manufacturing wages in Africa, though low, are higher than in Asian countries at similar levels of income. African workers need more dough to buy their daily bread. If that is right, then cheaper food may boost manufacturing by making wages more competitive. From 18th-century Britain to 20th-century Asia, industrial revolutions are often preceded by agrarian ones. Poor countries must hope for a repeat.

Nigeria's Food Crisis

Global food agencies have warned against impending food shortage that could affect 3.8 million people in 16 northern states of Nigeria and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

The agencies, which include UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP), listed the 16 states as Bauchi, Benue, Gombe, Jigawa, Plateau, Niger, Kebbi, Katsina, Kaduna, Taraba, Zamfara, Sokoto, Kano, Yobe, Borno and Adamawa.

The results of the March 2018 Cadre Harmonisé (CH) analysis of food and security situation in Nigeria said that judging from the current situation in the 16 states and FCT, more than 3.8 million people might face acute food shortage if tangible efforts were not made to address the situation between June and August, the next lean period.

“More than 10 million people were analysed and over 3.8 million people need urgent attention of food, while it was projected that 5.8 million people would face extreme food and nutrition deficits. “Most of the analysed households have food stocks that may last only few months before the lean period of June to March and they need urgent attention for the situation not to get out of hand,’’ it said.

It said that household and market food stocks had been depleted in the affected areas, while the residents had no access to markets.

“Four local government areas in Yobe, two in Zamfara, two in Gombe and the central area of Kaduna may go into food crisis if the situation is not properly handled.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Cancer Business

Health officials and experts from across the planet descended on Cape Town, South Africa, on March 7 for a  conference aimed at finding a solution to one of humanity’s deadliest preventable scourges — smoking. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death, and tobacco use kills about six million people worldwide annually. British American Tobacco estimates that the global tobacco market is worth $770 billion, with cigarettes accounting for $700 billion of that.

Facing dwindling fortunes in Europe and America due to strong regulations, the tobacco industry has made Africa the new front line in its pursuit of profits.

Michael Bloomberg said, “Philip Morris International continues to aggressively market tobacco to children. They are fighting back against policies aimed at fighting smoking, including suing countries when they pass measures warning people about the dangers of tobacco.”   The continent is home to the largest youth population in the world, making it the most vulnerable to tobacco industry tactics.

Though the overall prevalence rate of smoking in Africa is still relatively low at 14%, it also demonstrates the highest growth rate in the world. In sub-Saharan Africa, consumption increased by 52% between 1980 and 2016, or 164 billion cigarettes to 250 billion. Lesotho has seen a significant spike in smoking from 15% of its population in 2004 to 54% in 2015. The authors attribute this to aggressive marketing by tobacco companies. A 2010 survey by The Lancet showed a 220% increase in cigarette consumption in Mozambique over the prior 16 years, while Nigeria’s consumption rate grew by 60%. A 2013 Preventing Tobacco Epidemic in Africa expert committee report warns that “without comprehensive tobacco prevention and control policies, it is estimated that smoking prevalence in the African region will increase by nearly 39 percent by 2030, from 15.8 percent in 2010 to 21.9 percent — the largest expected regional increase globally.”

Tobacco prevention and control are two major weaknesses for most African states. While the continent still has the fewest tobacco-related deaths in the world, 90% of its population remained unprotected by smoke-free laws in 2009. Africa is bound for an entirely avoidable health crisis if things do not change. Unfortunately, the industry has resorted to its tried and tested series of (often unethical and even patently illegal) tactics to expand and solidify their market. Like in other parts of the world, the global tobacco firms use their influence — through lobbying, litigation, and undermining of scientific evidence — to interfere with regulations and law enforcement mechanisms.

 Many African politicians and public office holders are themselves complicit in deliberately weakening or leaving unimplemented tobacco laws. Some are reputed to receive bribes or other material gratification from companies in exchange for this “service,” while others are allegedly active participants in illegal tobacco trading and tax evasion. In South Africa, the son of erstwhile President Jacob Zuma has been accused of manipulation and fraud in connection with his cigarette manufacturing business.In 2015, for example, British American Tobacco (BAT) was accused of bribing a Kenyan politician with £50,000 ($70,000) to prevent a company, which was not under its control, from providing the country with technology that could stamp out tobacco smuggling. Compared to some of BAT’s other alleged misdeeds, the Kenya scandal seems downright tame. According to whistleblowers, BAT has also exploited instability in countries such as Somalia and South Sudan to sell its products and even built a secret town in the Democratic Republic of Congo to secretly grow tobacco crops.

“Low- and middle-income countries represent over 80% of tobacco users and tobacco-related deaths, placing an increased share of tobacco-related costs on those who can least afford it,” said the report authors in a statement. The anti-tobacco activists, from the American Cancer Society and Vital Strategies, said that if African governments do not intervene,” a growing proportion of that burden will fall on countries across Africa in the future”.

Friday, March 09, 2018

Nairobi's Rich Housing Boom

 Demand for luxury penthouses in Kenya’s capital is set to rise as the super rich seek to avoid traffic jams on their way to work amid a shortage of decent housing for the majority living in slums.

Africa has the fastest growing cities in the world, with 40 percent of its one billion people in towns and cities, but most new homes target the upper class as it is easier to make a profit from high-end sales.

Kenya has the fourth highest number of wealthy individuals on the continent and is one of the top destinations for real estate investments by Africa’s super-rich.  The number of people living in Kenya worth more than $5 million will grow by 60 percent by 2022 to more than 2,000 individuals, both Kenya and foreign, boosting demand for luxury housing. Kenya is a regional hub for trade, diplomacy and security, with economic growth forecast at more than 6 percent next year and a growing middle class.

Nairobi is one of Africa’s most expensive cities for housing, with 2013 prices almost triple those of 2000, according to the World Bank. Kenya needs to build 2 million affordable city homes to meet its housing deficit and stem the growth of its sprawling slums, which are home to six out of 10 urban households, it said.