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Archive for July 2011

Who’s poor and who isn’t – the flawed $1.25 formula

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The $1.25 a day poverty line is neither realistic nor is it any use to governments of less industrialised countries. It is time this ‘global poverty line’ is rejected.

An early stage shanty settlement of rural labourers, in Maharashtra, western India

Once again a major international thinktank has released a ‘big picture’ prognosis about global poverty. Once again the $1.25 a day line has been used to confirm that in developing countries, poverty is on the retreat and that the current model of economics is working for the poor by yanking them over that troublesome dollar line.

This time, the thinktank is the Brookings Institution, USA. Here’s their bottomline. Most of the poverty reduction we have seen in the last decade has happened because of the economic growth in China and India, where, until the end of the 20th century, a large number of the world’s poor lived. That growth in Asia not being matched by similar growth in Africa is the reason, Brookings has explained, for Nigeria heading towards being home to the largest population of poor by 2015, more so even than India. Poverty will be an African problem, according to Brookings.

As many other high-profile thinktanks have done over the years, Brookings has proferred its poverty prognostications [pdf] based on a few givens in the world of macroeconomics. One is that $1.25 a day, the World Bank’s revision of its own dollar-a-day definition which is now of some vintage, is the most reliable way to set a global poverty line. Two is that economic growth has brought many people in developing countries out of poverty and will continue to do so. Three is that the kind of growth that we have witnessed (and participated in) in China is the best anti-poverty solution to be found.

A vegetable vendor pushes his cart over a bridge across the river Ganga, near Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, India

Based on these ‘givens’, which I shall turn to in a moment, the world’s development specialists and macroeconomists who measure poverty have lately been waxing enthusiastic about the prospect of providing all poor people in the world cash supplements, which they are sure will bring them out of poverty. The cost, they say, is relatively quite small, at about $66 billion. This cash transfer, to each and every poor person, will cost less now than it would have done only five years ago, they have said.

Well, yes and no. All programmes, even ones that distribute cash to people, cost money to run. If you have to distribute on a regular basis enough money to enough poor people at the rate of more than $1.25 a day, that distribution itself is going to be huge and enormously complicated, and of course quie expensive too. Faced with this question, they do have a ready answer, which goes something like this: recent advances in biometric identification technologies—such as fingerprint and iris scanning—have greatly expanded the promise of implementing large-scale welfare programs in poor countries. No doubt, the technology is there and it has been proven to work. However we who work in the field know well that a gizmo in the hand is not exactly worth a meal on the table, so to speak.

That’s the nuts-and-bolts part of the proposal to buy our way out of poverty. A far more troublesome set of questions concerns the ‘givens’ this whole idea is based on. Let’s look again at $1.25 a day to start with. In most developing countries, this is in mid-2011 equivalent to about a litre of petrol. It will buy about three kilos of rice in some countries, pay for two autorickshaw commutes in others, or buy 10-15 litres of water in some cities (this year on World Water Day the UN said that “Someone living in an informal settlement in Nairobi pays 5 to 7 times more for a litre of water than an average North American citizen”).

Built-up shanties along a Mumbai highway, leading to suburbs bristling with expensive new high-rise residential blocks.

That daily line also works out to $37.50 (EUR 26.25) a month. What can an individual buy with that much for a month? Can she buy shelter which does not leak when it rains, can she buy baby food for her children and medicines for her aging parents? Can she pay for schoolfees? Can she afford even a kilowatt hour of electric power a day with that money? Can she stock her kitchen with the cereal, fresh vegetable and lentils her family needs? Never mind $1.25 a day – can she do this on $2 a day in Cairo, Mumbai, Rio de Janeiro or Nairobi?

I can’t see a ‘yes’ answer to any of those questions, anywhere. Next, on what basis do the thinktanks and multilateral lending banks (World Bank, IMF) continue to say that economic growth removes poverty? They use variations of the GDP-divided-by-population formula, and ask th macroeconomists to make the appropriate adjustments for income categories and rural-urban distribution. The trouble is, the real world of poverty doesn’t function the way these models and formulae do. Economic growth has meant the continuing and deepening inequality of income. The ‘richer’ a country gets based on GDP, the more unequal the distribution of the money amongst its people. That’s the very reason the ‘advanced’ economies of Western Europe and North America put in place social safety nets (whose very much poorer cousins are the cash transfer programmes in vogue nowadays).

The truth is plainer and far more visible. There is no let-up in poverty, not in the numbers of poor, and not in how far under the poverty line they are. Any other view may be well-intentioned but misguided. [Thanks to From Poverty To Power, the blog by Duncan Green of Oxfam, for mentioning the Brookings report.]

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Written by makanaka

July 31, 2011 at 01:24

Choose real food

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Written by makanaka

July 29, 2011 at 20:19

Emergency meeting to aid Horn of Africa

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A meeting was organised on 25 July 2011 by the Food and Agriculture Organisatioon (FAO) to finalise an immediate twin-track programme designed to avert an imminent humanitarian catastrophe and build long-term food security in the Horn of Africa. The number of Somalis in need of humanitarian assistance has increased from 2.4 to 3.7 million in the last six months.

The meeting was attended by Ministers and senior representatives from FAO’s 191 Member Countries, other UN agencies and international and non-governmental organizations. The food crisis in the Horn of Africa, triggered by drought, conflict and high food prices, is affecting more than 12 million people, with two regions of southern Somalia suffering from famine.

The emergency meeting recognized that “if this crisis is not quickly contained and reversed, it could grow rapidly into a humanitarian disaster affecting many parts of the greater Horn of Africa region and that it is of paramount importance that we address the needs of the people affected and the livelihood systems upon which they depend for survival”.

Emergency meeting agenda and background information
Overview of the food crisis in the Horn of Africa
More stories on the Horn of Africa

The food crisis in the Horn of Africa is escalating, with 12 million people in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Uganda requiring emergency assistance. Photo: FAO

Famine in Somalia has killed tens of thousands of people in recent months and could grow even worse unless urgent action is taken, the FAO warned on Wednesday. FAO has appealed for $120 million for response to the drought in the Horn of Africa to provide agricultural emergency assistance.

“We must avert a human tragedy of vast proportions. And much as food assistance is needed now, we also have to scale up investments in sustainable immediate and medium-term interventions that help farmers and their families to protect their assets and continue to produce food,” said the FAO. In a special report the FAO-managed Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit for Somalia and the Famine Early Warning Systems Network officially declared a state of famine in two regions of southern Somalia, Bakool and Lower Shabelle. The report warns that in the next one or two months famine will become widespread throughout southern Somalia.

Together with ongoing crises in the rest of the country, the number of Somalis in need of humanitarian assistance has increased from 2.4 million to 3.7 million in the last 6 months.  Altogether, around 12 million people in the Horn of Africa are currently in need of emergency assistance.

The number of Somalis in need of humanitarian assistance has increased from 2.4 to 3.7 million in the last six months. Photo: FAO/Ami Vital

Related Links:

Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit – Somalia
Famine Early Warning System Network
East and Central Africa – Disaster reduction
FAO Somalia
FAO and emergencies
Global Information and Early Warning System

Contacts:

Erwin Northoff, Media Relations (Rome)
(+39) 06 570 53105
(+39) 348 25 23 616
erwin.northoff@fao.org

Frank Nyakairu, Somalia Communications Consultant
(+254) 20 400000
(+254) 729 867 698 (cell)
frank.nyakairu@fao.org

Shannon Miskelly, Regional Communications (FAO Nairobi)
(+254) 733 400 022 (cell)
shannon.miskelly@fao.org

Written by makanaka

July 26, 2011 at 18:30

Heatwave blisters eastern USA, drought parches southern USA

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20110727 – The National Drought Mitigation Centre at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln has catalogued the consequences, using media reports, government analyses and contributions from the public, said The Economist in its report on the US drought and heatwave. In ‘Drought in the South: Bone-dry – Drought has blanketed nearly a third of the lower 48‘ the weekly said: “There are wildfires in the south-west and water restrictions in the south-east. Fields are scrubby and fallow, and in some counties the ground is riddled with deep cracks. Farmers are struggling to produce crops, and ranchers are worried about watering their cattle. As their losses mount, crop prices have risen.”

Drought-wracked landscape in the southern USA. Photo: The Sydney Morning Herald/Jason South

According to a report from the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, wheat was selling at more than $8 a bushel at the beginning of the summer, compared with an average annual price of $5.25 last year. Still, Texas farmers will bring in only an estimated $274m this year; the average for the past five years was more than twice as high.

Meteorologists say it is impossible to explain fully how these things happen. In 2010 the westward slopping of cooler water across the tropical Pacific, a phenomenon called La Niña, made itself felt on weather around the world. That La Niña is now over, according to scientists, but the patterns of atmospheric circulation that were associated with it are persisting, which could account for some of the drought. There is also the problem of man-made climate change, which is expected to intensify both droughts and floods.

In recent years, the Colorado River has become less reliable, said the Scientific American. Since 1999, abnormally low precipitation totals and hot and dry conditions have brought reservoir water levels close to record lows. The multiyear drought, the most severe since documentation began more than 100 years ago, has put the water supply in the thirsty Southwest in jeopardy.

Graphic: The Economist

This year, heavy snowpack and spring precipitation have brought the region some relief by partially refilling the reservoirs. But while National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research shows that snowmelt runoff into the upper basin hasn’t been this high since 1986, the southern end of the Colorado River continues to stop shy of the Sea of Cortez, where it used to run until the late 1990s.

The paradox is that this season stands in such stark contrast to the past 11 years of drought, highlighting the types of variability that climate change can wreak on the hydrological cycle. The Bureau of Reclamation released the first of three interim reports last month as part of its broader Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study. The report is designed to provide an outlook on the next “highly uncertain” 50 years (until 2060) of the river’s life. Authors wrote that in the nearly quarter-million-square-mile Colorado River Basin, “climate change, record drought, population increases and environmental needs” are likely to make water supplies ever scarcer.

NASA’s Earth Observatory has said that by July 2011, Texas and New Mexico had completed the driest six-month period on record. Average rain between January and June was more than eight inches (203 millimeters) below average in Texas and 3.5 inches (89 millimeters) below average in New Mexico. Record warm temperatures also persisted in Texas between April and June. The lack of rain and the warm temperatures added up to exceptional drought.

This image shows the impact of drought on plants throughout Texas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. Made with data from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on the Terra satellite, the image compares plant growth between June 26 and July 11, 2011, with average conditions for the period. The image [left] is dominated by brown, showing that plants were growing less than average throughout Texas and New Mexico. The image supports an assessment by the U.S. Drought Monitor, which states that 94 percent of the range and pastureland in Texas was in poor or very poor condition in June 2011. In Oklahoma, 78 percent of range and pastureland was in poor condition.

Though drought is not a disaster that strikes all at once, it is nonetheless a devastating event that can cause death, disease, and loss of money and property. For these reasons, drought is termed the creeping disaster. So far farmers in Texas have lost 30 percent or more of their crops and pasture in 2011. The loss led the U.S. Department of Agriculture to declare a natural disaster in 213 Texas counties and additional counties in Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. The declaration qualifies farmers in these regions for low-interest loans to cover their losses.

20110724 – This temperature chart by state explains the heat gripping southern and eastern USA. The heat wave enveloping the Eastern Seaboard brought punishing record temperatures to the Washington region Friday, sending scores of people to emergency rooms with heat-related illnesses and closing down outdoor events. The combination of heat and humidity produced a heat index in Washington of 121 degrees, the highest since July 1980.

Unhealthy levels of heat and humidity are encompassing much of the eastern half of the US, according to NOAA’s National Weather Service, as a persistent heat wave continues its grip on the central US while expanding into the East. According to NOAA’s National Weather Service, approximately 132 million people in the United States are under a heat alert (Excessive Heat Warning or Watch or Heat Advisory) as of Friday morning.

Temperatures in the 90s to near 100 degrees will feel as hot as 115 degrees or higher when factoring in the high humidity. Record high temperatures are likely to be set in some locations — adding to the more than 1000 records that have been set or tied so far this month.

More than 4000 daily high temperature records were tied or broken in June, mostly east of the Rockies, and there were 159 reports of the record hottest temperature for June and 42 reports of all-time record hottest temperature ever. Drought intensified across parts of the Southwest to Southeast. While the southern Plains’ 1950s drought of record is unsurpassed in terms of duration, the current drought in parts of Texas is more intense than the 1950s drought when measured by the Palmer Hydrological Drought Index. While blanketing the southern U.S. with hot and dry weather, a upper level high pressure system effectively blocked any Gulf of Mexico moisture from feeding into the area. Meanwhile, the upper-level low pressure trough in the Northwest attributed to the cool, wet anomalies in the region.

Right now, the Examiner has said, approximately 29 percent of the country is experiencing some level of drought. About 12 percent of the US is experiencing “exceptional drought”, which is the highest level of drought. The combination of very little rain and scorching heat over much of the nation has been absolutely devastating. Many areas have been dealing with high temperatures in the 90s and the low triple digits for weeks.

The US Drought Monitor has said that the drought conditions across the Southern Great Plains persisted, and worsened across most areas, with localized improvements due to isolated rain events. AHPS precipitation estimates in excess of 5 inches prompted the improvement across southeastern Texas while sparse rainfall just east of El Paso also allowed for minor improvement. The rest of the southern Great Plains experienced continued hot (2 – 8 degrees F above normal) and dry weather.

Exception drought (D4) coverage was expanded in coverage across portions of Texas, including Erath, Hood, Somervell, Comanche, Jim Wells, and Duval counties. Additional expansion and intensification of the less severe drought conditions was included in the latest analysis across central Texas. Range and pastureland across Texas and Oklahoma continued to deteriorate. Across Texas, 94% of the range and pastureland was described as being in poor or very poor condition. This is a record weekly value, although measurement sof this kind only extend back to 1995. Across Oklahoma, 78% of the range and pastureland described as poor or very poor, tied for the fifth highest percentage (August 6, 2006). The rest of August 2006 saw statewide poor and very poor conditions expand to over 80% of all range and pasturelands.

The carefully constructed mirage of the ‘green economy’

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Not a week goes by nowadays without one high-profile institution or high-powered interest group directing us all to be part of the ‘new, green economy’. That’s where the next jobs are, where innovation is, where the next wave of financing is headed, where the best social entrepreneurship lies. There are the big inter-governmental organisations telling us this: United Nations Environment Program, UNCTAD, OECD, International Energy Agency, the big international lending agencies like the World Bank and Asian Development Bank. There are big think-tanks telling us the same thing – backed up by hefty new reports that are boring to read but whose plethora of whiz-bang charts are colourful. There are big companies, multinationals and those amongst the Fortune 500, also evangelising the new green economy and patting themselves on the back for being clean and green and so very responsible.

Artisanal blacksmith and his family, Maharashtra, India

What on earth are they all talking about? Does it have to do with us average, salaried, harassed, commuting, tax-paying types who are struggling with food inflation and fuel cost hikes and mortgages and loans that break our backs? Are they talking to our governments and our municipalities, who are worried about their budgets and their projects and their jobs too?

Here are a few answers from working class Asia. Let’s start with restating a couple of trendlines. One, the era of growth in the West is over. Growth is Asia is what is keeping the MNCs and their investors and bankers and consultants interested, and this means China and India (also Brazil, Russia, South Africa, Indonesia). Two, the environmental consciousness which began in the 1970s to spread quickly in the West led to many good laws being framed and passed. These were responses to the industrial and services growth in the Western economies. As globalisation took hold, people in less industrialised countries – ordinary citizens – saw what had happened in the West and learnt from their experiences with industrialisation. Green movements took root all over Asia and South America, protests were common, confrontations just as much, and global capital found itself being questioned again, even more fiercely.

These are the two major trends. The forces of production want to move much further into what used to be the ‘developing’ world, but want to meet much less resistance. That’s why they appeal to the consumer minds of China, India and the other target countries – you need jobs, homes, nice cars, big TVs, cool vacations, credit, aspirations, and lifestyle is what the messages say, whether they’re from telecom companies or condominium salesmen. But it’s hard to market all this stuff – real stuff, virtual stuff – to people who are still struggling to make ends meet.

This was after all the old 'green economy'. A late 19th century painting in a maritime museum near Mumbai, India

That’s where the ‘new, green economy’ tagline and its earnest-sounding philosophy comes in. “The main challenges to jump-starting the shift to a green economy lie in how to further improve these techniques, adapt them to specific local and sectoral needs, scale up the applications so as to bring down significantly their costs, and provide incentives and mechanisms that will facilitate their diffusion and knowledge-sharing,” said one of these recent reports. Look at the text which contains all the right buzzwords – ‘scale up’, ‘jump-start’, ‘applications’ (that’s a favourite), ‘knowledge-sharing’, ‘local’.

This makes the ‘old economy’ sound good but changes nothing substantial on the ground, or on the factory shopfloor or for the tens of thousands of little manufacturing units that do small piecework jobs for the bigger corporations up the chain. The world’s business philosophy has changed drastically even without the impact of environment and energy. To drive home this point, it has been a long time since we heard anything like ‘industrial relations’, and that alone should tell us how far the dominance of capital has reached, when labour, whose organisation gave the West its stellar growth rates in the 1960s and 1970s, has now become all but ignored. This is because the dominant interests associated with capital have insisted, successfully for investors and for pliant governments, that the manufacturing firms break loose from the industrial relations moorings they had established. The restructuring of firms to emphasise leaner and meaner forms of competition – as the ruthless management gurus and greedy consulting agencies instructed – was in line with market pressures that are viewed by the powers-that-be as crucial to the revitalisation of the economy.

Read their greenwash carefully and the control levers are revealed. “Further innovation and scaling up are also needed to drive down unit costs. Technologies will need to be ‘transferred’ and made accessible, since most innovation takes place in the developed countries and private corporations in those countries are the main owners of the intellectual property rights covering most green technologies.” So says ‘World Economic and Social Survey 2011: The Great Green Technological Transformation’ (UNESCO, Department of Economic and Social Affairs). Rights and access are built in from the start, as you can see.

And yet it is this very system of production, of the arrangement of capital and of the effort to weaken working regulations that is now talking about the ‘green economy’. Why do they even imagine we should believe them? They are the ones who have remained locked into the fossil fuel economy and who have partnered the enormous influence of the finance markets, who have followed every micro-second of the way the dictates of capital flows and what the market investors want in their endless quest for greater profits in ever-shorter cycles of production. For the major business of the world, ‘green economy’ is yet another route to super-profits and the consolidation of both forces of production and masses of consumers. The difference between now and the 1970s is that today they are able to successfully enlist the apparently authoritative inter-governmental organisations with their armies of economists and social scientists and engineers, to support this new profiteering. Only now, the cost is planetary.

Visualising livestock geography

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One of the major limitations in livestock sector planning, policy development and analysis is the paucity of reliable and accessible information on the distribution, abundance and use of livestock. With the objective of redressing this shortfall, the Animal Production and Health Division of FAO has developed a global livestock information system (GLIS) in which geo-referenced data on livestock numbers and production are collated and standardized, and made available to the general public through the FAO website.

Where gaps exist in the available data, or the level of spatial detail is insufficient, livestock numbers are predicted from empirical relationships between livestock densities and environmental, demographic and climatic variables in similar agro-ecological zones.

[Reference: FAO. 2007. Gridded livestock of the world 2007, by G.R.W. Wint and T.P. Robinson. Rome, pp 131, Environmental Research Group, Oxford, and FAO Animal Production and Health Division]

The spatial nature of these livestock data facilitates analyses that include: estimating livestock production; mapping disease risk and estimating the impact of disease on livestock production; estimating environmental risks associated with livestock due, for example, to land degradation or nutrient loading; and exploring the complex interrelationships between people, livestock and the environment in which they cohabit.

It is through quantitative analyses such as these that the impact of technical interventions can be estimated and assessed. Also, by incorporating these data into appropriate models and decision-making tools, it is possible to evaluate the impact of livestock-sector development policies, so that informed recommendations for policy adjustments can be made.

The components of the information system thus created include: a global network of providers of data on livestock and subnational boundaries; an Oracle database in which these data are stored, managed and processed; and a system for predicting livestock distributions based on environmental and other data, resulting in the Gridded Livestock of the World (GLW) initiative: modelled distributions of the major livestock species (cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, pigs and poultry) have now been produced, at a spatial resolution of three minutes of arc (approximately 5 km). These data are freely available through the GLW website1, through an interactive web application known as the Global Livestock Production and Health Atlas (GLiPHA)2, and through the FAO GeoNetwork data repository.

As well as detailing various components of the GLIS, this publication explains how livestock distributions were determined, and presents a series of regional and global maps showing where the major ruminant and monogastric species are concentrated. Spatial livestock data can be used in a multitude of ways. Various examples are given of how these and other datasets can be combined and utilized in a number of applications, including estimates of livestock biomass, carrying capacity, population projections, production and offtake, production-consumption balances, environmental impact and disease risk in the rapidly expanding field of livestock geography.

Informed livestock-sector policy development and planning requires reliable and accessible information about the distribution and abundance of livestock. To that end, and in collaboration with the Environmental Research Group Oxford (ERGO), FAO has developed the “Gridded livestock of the world” spatial database: the first standardized global, subnational resolution maps of the major agricultural livestock species. These livestock data are now freely available for downloading via this FAO page.

Food, climate, conflict – all that caused the Horn of Africa refugee crisis

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New arrivals from Somalia waiting to be registered at Dagehaley camp, in Dadaab. Photo: Kate Holt/IRIN

IRIN News has reported that about 1,300 Somalis are arriving at the Dadaab refugee camps in northeast Kenya every day. The help they are seeking – refuge from a severe drought and the effects of years of conflict – is being handed out as fast as possible. But in a camp complex that has already been stretched well beyond its limits, the new arrivals need more assistance than can be provided. The nutritional state of older children, as well as under fives, is of concern, but the local Kenyan population is faring little better.

“The number has skyrocketed,” a registration expert with the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, told IRIN. The official said UNHCR had had to hire more employees, who now work in shifts, to accommodate the rush. The three Dadaab refugee camps – Dagahaley, Ifo and Hagadera – were originally meant to cater for 90,000 refugees, but housed at least 380,000 people, according to UNHCR. Despite the overcrowding, the government of Kenya has yet to allow people to move into a fourth camp, known as Ifo II, which stands empty.

“Water systems, latrines and healthcare facilities are ready to use but are standing idle,” Oxfam said in a statement. Oxfam reported that 60,000 new arrivals were living in basic tents outside the camp boundaries, with limited access to clean water or latrines, risking an outbreak of disease. Those living in these informal settlements are some of the worst-off. In the settlements on the outskirts of Dagahaley camp, 17.5 percent of children between six months and almost five years old are severely malnourished, three times the emergency level, according to Caroline Abu-Sada, a research unit coordinator with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

Newly arrived Somali refugees waiting to be registered at Dagahaley camp, Dadaab in Kenya. Photo: Al Jazeera/EPA

The lack of water in the outskirts was a real concern. Refugees are only able to obtain up to three litres of water a day, 80 percent less than they need according to the Sphere Standards, which are already based on emergency situations. Some are only receiving 500ml for drinking, bathing, washing clothes, and everything else. By comparison, in North America and Japan most people use 350l a day, according to the World Water Council. Water is now being trucked to the camp outskirts by MSF and CARE, but there were previously only 48 taps for 20,000 people. Abu-Sada said diarrhoea was already rampant, along with skin rashes and respiratory infections.

More than 11 million people are estimated to be in need of humanitarian aid across the region, a UN News report has said. Almost 500,000 children in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya are suffering from imminent, life-threatening severe malnutrition. In addition, over 1.6 million children under the age of five are acutely malnourished, according to UNICEF.

In addition to the thousands of people from Somalia seeking refuge in Ethiopia and Kenya, millions more are living on the brink of extreme poverty and hunger, suffering the consequences of failed rains and the impact of climate change, said the agency. UNICEF has appealed for $31.8 million to ramp up assistance to the Horn of Africa over the next three months, especially for children, who are suffering the brunt of the crisis. It says the most urgent needs include therapeutic feeding, vitamin supplementation, water and sanitation services, child protection measures and immunization.

In Geneva, two UN human rights experts appealed to the global community to take “concerted and urgent” measures to assist the millions who are suffering in the region, warning of large-scale starvation if international intervention is not forthcoming. Shamsul Bari, the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia, noted that drastically increasing food prices and continuing conflict and insecurity have caused a huge displacement of the population, with thousands of Somalis fleeing to Ethiopia, Kenya, and Djibouti every day. Bari, who last week visited Somalia and Kenya, said the situation was markedly worse than in March, when he had expressed concerns over the slow response of the humanitarian community to the situation.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, said the international community should be prepared for more such droughts. “This crisis looks like a natural calamity, but it is in part manufactured,” De Schutter said, adding that climate change will result in such events being more frequent. He called for, among other measures, emergency food reserves in strategic positions, and better preparedness for drought, for which Governments must be held to account.

“With a rate of child malnutrition above 30 per cent in many regions of these countries, the failure of the international community to act would result in major violations of the right to food,” De Schutter said. “International law imposes on States in a position to help that they do so immediately, where lives are at stake.”

Shokuri Abdullai like most mothers in Bisle feeds her family boiled maize in the Somali region's Shinile zone (Ethiopia). Photo: Jaspreet Kindra/IRIN

Al Jazeera has reported that Kenya has agreed to open a new camp near its Somalia border to cope with the influx of refugees fleeing the region’s worst drought in 60 years. The lfo II camp in Dabaab will open its doors to 80,000 refugees within 10 days, the Kenyan government said. Prime Minister Raila Odinga agreed to the opening to the new camp, after visiting Dadaab’s three existing camps where an estimated 380,000 refugees are now living at facilities intended to cope with a population of 90,000 people.

A spokesman for the charity Save the Children, said “more children have died in Dadaab in the first four months of the year than all of last year”. Many Somali refugees at the camp have travelled through harsh conditions with little food or water, and no humanitarian assistance, often abandoning members of their family who have died or are so weak to travel. Al Jazeera’s Azad Essa, who reported from the Dabaab camp, said, “Over the past month, around 20,000 have made their way to Dadaab, many of them through similar means”.

Dadaab’s existing camps were set up in 1991 to host refugees fleeing war in Somalia. Between 40,000 and 60,000 are thought to be living outside the boundaries of the complex – existing as refugees beyond the current scope and control of the UN. Somalis have been fleeing from war for years now, but the drought, affecting 12 million people across the Horn of Africa, has brought the threat of a new humanitarian catastrophe to the region, with many people also seeking refuge in Ethiopia. Al Jazeera has more on the refugee crisis in the Horn of Africa here.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs  (OCHA) has provided a ‘snapshot’ of the humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa country:
* 2.85 million Somalis require urgent aid – that’s one in three people
* At least one in three children are malnourished in parts of southern Somalia
* More than 460 Somali children have died in nutrition centres in Somalia between January and May this year
* Malnutrition rates among new arrivals in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya range between 30 and 40 percent
* As of late June, 60,200 Somalis were registered in Kenya this year — a more than 100 percent increase compared with the same period last year
* Life expectancy is 50.4 years, according to the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP)
* Women dying in childbirth: 1,000 per 100,000 live births reported, according to UNICEF
* One in 10 Somali children dies before their first birthday
* Primary school enrolment rate is 23 percent
* Average HIV prevalence level estimated at 0.5 percent of the population aged 15 to 49
* Percentage of people with access to safe, clean water: 29 percent

(Sources: OCHA, UNICEF, UNDP)

It is not just Somalis who are suffering, Euronews has reported. Famine is affecting all countries in the Horn of Africa. Now 11 million people need help to survive the food shortages. In Habaswein in the far north of Kenya there has been no rain for a year. Many animals have died. Others have been taken further north in search of water. Only women, children and the elderly remain in the village.

Like many others, Fatuma Ahmed depends on rations of maize, beans and oil provided by aid agencies and the government. She said: “I have no husband. I’m raising my children alone. We had some animals but they’ve all died. Now we’re depending on aid from charities. What I’m cooking now is the only meal my family will eat today.” In the village of Fini, farmers try to move a dying cow into the shade. The animal will only last a few days. This is not the first time this area has been hit by drought, but according to villagers like Mori Omar, it has never been this bad.

“I’ve never experienced anything like this. I’m 56 years old, but I look more like 80 because of many years of not having enough food. During the droughts, there’s no meat or milk,” she said. There is a growing consensus that climate change is to blame for the driest period in 60 years. The UN says droughts are becoming more frequent – before they used to be every five or 10 years, now it is every two.

IRIN News has a report, ‘Somalis living from drought to drought’, on the perilous state of food availability in Bisle, the Somali region. Every day, 500g of boiled wheat is divided up between two adults, four children, a calf, a goat and a donkey in the Farah household. It is the only food they have had after rains failed for the past two seasons. The 15kg sack of wheat is provided to about 1,200 people in the Bisle area, which has four settlements, under the government-run Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP) as payment for work, such as digging water holes.

“It is boiled wheat for breakfast and for the main meal – we don’t have anything else – no milk, no meat, no vegetables, no oil,” says Maria Farah, the mother. Not surprisingly, two of her children are severely malnourished. The calf and goat that share their “ari” – a collapsible egg-shaped hut made of sticks and covered with sheeting – are emaciated. It is too hot for them outside, in temperatures that soar beyond 40 degrees Celsius. There is no water in their settlement, about 54km north of Dire Dawa town in the Somali region, one of the worst hit by drought in Ethiopia. More than a million people have been affected.

The cost of India’s urban land grab

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This is one of two related articles written by me and published by Infochange India.The full article is here.

Transplanting paddy in the rice fields of North Goa, in monsoon 2011

If the Government of India is, during the finalisation of the Twelfth Plan (2012-17) direction for agriculture and food, deciding to favour production over rural livelihood needs, then it must recognise clearly the internal land grab that India’s farm households are experiencing. The protests in western Uttar Pradesh by farmers’ groups typify the scale of the diversion of farmland for real estate development or industrial use. In the last four years the Bahujan Samaj Party of Uttar Pradesh has approved a number of projects like the Yamuna Expressway which has been allotted to a private company, JP Infratech Ltd, which holds a contract that includes the right to construct apart from the right to collect tolls for 36 years.

A village in the tribal regions of Navsari district, Gujarat, off the Mumbai-Ahmedabad highway and its 'ribbon' land development

Along this 165-km eight-lane “super highway” a “hi-tech city” has been planned. This will include industrial parks, residential colonies, shopping malls, professional colleges, schools, hospitals and urban services centres. Currently estimated as a Rs 9,500 crore project this “hi-tech” city will, when complete to plan, occupy 43,000 hectares of land that is currently under cultivation by the residents of 1,191 villages. This very large land grab alone will remove the potential to harvest about 100,000 tonnes of foodgrain a year — an amount that can fulfil the cereal needs of all of urban Haryana for five weeks.

There are 533 urban centres with populations of between 1 million and 50,000 — this is apart from the metropolises. The drive to encourage the faster urbanisation of these 533 towns and cities has already taken an unknown amount of farmland out of cultivation. There is an estimate that in the last decade — to a large degree a consequence of the relentless expansion of the National Capital Region — Uttar Pradesh has lost about 6 million hectares of farmland. The expansion of the NCR and its satellite developments is unparalleled in modern India, but it is the biggest example of the land grab that is taking place in all urban areas in India.

A stack of crop residue in Satara district, Maharashtra. This biomass is increasingly being diverted from traditional uses and towards energy

Estimates based on fieldwork and the use of longitudinal spatial mapping based on satellite imagery show that for every acre of cultivable land that is built upon or used for urban purposes, over five years an additional four cultivable acres turns fallow and is quickly converted to non-agricultural use. How much has India lost in 2010? How much has it lost from 2001 to 2010? There are no best guesses, no reliable estimates, there is not even experimental methodology to apply to the chief crop-growing regions and their expanding settlements. Yet the macroeconomic models being produced for the central government and planning agencies promise ever-increasing yields from a plateau of cultivated land area. One of them is wrong and the evidence on the ground — and from the protests by farmers of Bhatta Parsaul village in Greater Noida — points to the error being in the models.

Will these errors be corrected before March 2012, when the Eleventh Plan ends? Will the social costs of real food inflation be counted, and will actual retail food inflation in India’s tier two and tier three cities be recognised and its underlying causes made public? At this point, all the answers are likely to be negative. The Government of India, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Food Processing, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (Department of Commerce), the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and central and state planning agencies now speak the same language — the message is that most of the growth in agriculture in future will come not from foodgrains, but from sectors such as horticulture, dairying and fisheries, where the produce is perishable, and where even greater attention needs to be paid to the logistics of transporting produce from the farm to the consumer, with minimum spoilage. Urban and urbanising markets and the structural change in nutrition being demanded by a section of the country’s population form the focus.

[This is one of two related articles written by me and published by Infochange India.The full article is here.]

Why India’s ‘growth’ focus is ignoring the food access question

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This is one of two related articles written by me and published by Infochange India. The full article is here.

Waiting for the bus in Satara district, Maharashtra

How much food will India need to grow to feed our population in 2011-12? How much in 2013-14? Will we need to import wheat and rice or will we be self-sufficient? Do we know the environmental cost of this self-sufficiency? Are we willing to bear it? These are the questions that the Government of India, its ministries and its planning agencies must find answers to before the start of the Twelfth Five Year Plan period, which is 2012-17.

The foodgrains view from mid-2011 is one of relative comfort — 235 million tonnes is the estimate (including 94 mt rice and 84 mt wheat).

From this position, the Government of India has a set of six broad-brush objectives. These it wants its ministries and departments, connected directly and as adjunct to food and its provision, to internalise. It wants state governments to shape policy to support these objectives, which are:
* Target at least 4% growth for agriculture. Cereals are on target for 1.5% to 2% growth. India should concentrate more on other foods, and on animal husbandry and fisheries where feasible.
* Land and water are the critical constraints. Technology must focus on land productivity and water use efficiency.

On what was formerly farm land in Thane district, Maharashtra, residential condominiums are being quickly built

* Farmers need better functioning markets for both outputs and inputs. Also, better rural infrastructure, including storage and food processing.
* States must act to modify the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Act/Rules (exclude horticulture), modernise land records and enable properly recorded land lease markets.
* The Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY) has helped convergence and innovation and gives state governments flexibility. This must be expanded in the Twelfth Plan.
* The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) should be redesigned to increase contribution to land productivity and rain-fed agriculture. Similarly, the Forest Rights Act (FRA) has potential to improve forest economies and tribal societies. But convergence with the National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM) is required for strengthening rural livelihoods.

Are these objectives reasonable? Are they equitable and will they encourage an agriculture that is ecologically sustainable in India? From a resources use perspective, the government is right to point out certain constraints (land and water) and administrative improvements (land records, using NREGA labour for farm needs). The direction to provide better infrastructure in India’s rural districts, the better to link farmers to markets with, has been stated in every single Five Year Plan for the last five plan periods, and has been repeated in every single plan review and even more often in the Economic Surveys which accompany the annual budgets. (Under the Bharat Nirman programme, this need has to an extent been met, but the beneficiaries are as likely industry and land developers as they are cultivators.)

A 'basti' in Satara district, Maharashtra, whose residents provide both agricultural and construction site labour

Protecting livelihoods in agriculture, cultivation and from use of forest produce is not, however, a central aim for food and agriculture in the Twelfth Plan. This omission, surprising from the social equity point of view, is taking place because the central government has before it three points it is trying to make sense of, and to decide the best way to tackle. In brief, these three points are: there is a “structural change” taking place in nutrition (more consumption of dairy and meat); there are world factors influencing foodgrain production, consumption and use in India; there are indications that agriculture’s share of GDP is today edging higher than it was five years ago, and that per capita agricultural income is increasing faster than overall per capita income.

It is the last trend, as seen by the central government although not by smallholder farmers and marginal cultivators, which is being taken as proof that new approaches to agriculture are delivering income benefits. The new approaches revolve heavily around the provision of infrastructure that aids modern terminal markets, agri-logistics, cold supply chains, integrated farm to retail companies, agricultural commodity traders, private warehousing service providers, export-oriented food processing units, contract farming operations which are linked to branded processed food, and exporters of cereals, fruits and vegetables. It is here that the growth in agricultural GDP is taking place and it is here that the rise in per capita agricultural income is being recorded. The central government will fight shy of a real cost-real price district analysis of agricultural investment and income because it will reveal the huge structural imbalances that are forming — that is why a national outlook artificially disaggregated into states becomes far more comfortable to defend.

[This is one of two related articles written by me and published by Infochange India. The full article is here.]

Six months of peak for the FAO food index

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Since 2011 January, the FAO food price index components have recorded some of their highest monthly readings. Sugar touched a peak in January (420.2) and February (418.2), oils reached highs in February (279.3) and January (277.7), cereals reached highs in April (265.4) and May (261.3), meat touched a peak in June (180.4) and in April (180.4).

The consolidated food price index has been within 6 points (2.5%) of the February peak (237.7) for all the months of 2011. In June 2011 the index is less than 4 points off the February peak.

FAO’s Food Price Index rose one percent to 234 points in June 2011 – 39 percent higher than in June 2010 and four percent below its all-time high of 238 points in February of this year. The FAO Cereal Price index averaged 259 points in June, down one percent from May but 71 percent higher than in June 2010. Improved weather conditions in Europe and the announced lifting of the Russian Federation’s export ban contributed to the price drop.

However the maize market remained tight because of low 2010 supplies and continued wet conditions in the United States. Prices of rice were mostly up in June, reflecting strong import demand and uncertainty over export prices in Thailand, the world’s largest rice exporter. The FAO Sugar Price Index rose 14 percent from May to June, reaching 359 points, 15 percent below its January record. Production in Brazil, the world’s biggest sugar producer, is forecast to fall below last year’s level. The FAO Dairy price Index averaged 232 points in June, virtually unchanged from 231 points in May. The FAO Meat Price Index averaged 180, marginally up from May with poultry meat rising three percent and climbing to a new record, while pig meat prices declined somewhat.

Following two consecutive revisions to the US crops and planting prospects for 2011, FAO’s latest forecast for world cereal production in 2011/2012 stands at nearly 2 313 million tonnes, 3.3 percent higher than last year and 11 million tonnes above FAO’s last forecast on 22 June. World cereal utilization in 2011/2012 is forecast to grow 1.4 percent from 2010/2011, reaching 2 307 million tonnes, just five million tonnes under forecast production. World cereal stocks at the close of the crop season in 2012 are now expected to stand  six million tonnes above their opening levels.  While wheat and rice inventories are expected to become more comfortable, coarse grains stocks, especially maize, would remain tight.

The FAO Food Price Index (FFPI) averaged 234 points in June 2011, 1 percent higher than in May and 39 percent higher than in June 2010. The FFPI hit its all time high of 238 points in February. A strong rise in international sugar prices was behind much of the increase in the June value of the index. International dairy prices rose slightly in June, while meat prices were stable. Of all the major cereals, prices of wheat fell most and rice increased. Among the oils and fats, prices of soybean oil were steady but palm oil weakened.

[Detailed data available from FAO here.]

The FAO Cereal Price Index averaged 259 points in June, down 1 percent from May but 71 percent higher than in June 2010. Improved weather conditions in Europe and the announced lifting of the export ban by the Russian Federation (from July) depressed wheat prices. However, maize markets were supported by tight old crop (2010) supplies and continued wet conditions in the United States. Prices of rice were mostly up in June, reflecting strong import demand and uncertainty over export prices in Thailand, the world largest rice exporter.

The FAO Oils/Fats Price Index averaged 257 points in June, down marginally from May. Continued production uncertainties and expectation of stronger world import demand sustained soybean oil prices. By contrast, palm oil prices eased further, reflecting improved supply prospects and ample export availabilities in Southeast Asia. The FAO Dairy Price Index averaged 232 points in June, virtually unchanged from 231 points in May. This was the result of diverging price movements, with prices of skim milk powder and casein up by 5 percent, whole milk powder down by 3 percent, while prices of butter and cheese remained stable.

The FAO Meat Price Index averaged 180 points, marginally up from May. Poultry meat prices experienced a 3 percent rise, breaking a new record, while pig meat prices declined somewhat. Prices of bovine and ovine meat were subject to modest increases, from already high levels. The FAO Sugar Price Index averaged 359 points in June, up 14 percent from May and only 15 percent below its January record. The price strength reflects  dynamic short-term demand against tight exportable availabilities, notably in Brazil, the world’s largest sugar producer where production is forecast to fall below last year’s level.