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Two films on social struggle: Egypt’s unfinished revolution, Kenya’s ‘unga’ revolution

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Although Hosni Mubarak was forced to step down in February 2011, the uprisings in Egypt continue. While the uniting rallying cry may have been against dictatorship, the struggle in Egypt that took headlines across the world in early 2011 reflected deeper social, political, and economic problems. The key demands of the revolution have still not been met. The continuation of military rule and the promise of more neoliberal economic policies lead many to believe it will be a long battle.

Protesters in Egypt are hopeful, however, as people all over the world revolt against an economic system that benefits the few at the expense of the many. This short documentary looks at the economic factors that led to the revolution, the reality of living under military rule, and brings up questions over the legitimacy of the current elections.

Rising prices and inflation in Kenya prompted the creation of a movement led by a grassroots civil society group, Bunge la Mwananchi, or The People’s Parliament. It staged demonstrations throughout the year to pressurise the Kenyan government to bring down the price of unga, or maize flour. IRIN’s latest film, ‘Kenya’s Unga Revolution’, follows one of Bunge la Mwananchi’s activists, Emily Kwamboka, as she takes to the streets to demand change in the lives of ordinary Kenyans.

Throughout 2011, Kenyans have faced the strain of rising food and fuel prices. According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, late and erratic rainfall led to an estimated 3.75 million people across the country becoming food-insecure. The World Bank’s Food Price Watch report states that the price of maize rose by 43 percent globally between September 2010 and September 2011.

IRIN’s latest film, ‘Kenya’s Unga Revolution‘, follows one of Bunge la Mwananchi’s activists, Emily Kwamboka, as she takes to the streets to demand change in the lives of ordinary Kenyans. “It’s high time people wake up. We need masses in this struggle. This is a fight that can’t be fought by just one or two people,” she told IRIN. Particularly affected were those living in Kenya’s urban areas, especially slum-dwellers. “Things have become so expensive, people are not even able to buy vegetables,” said Joash Otieno, a resident of Mathare, one of Nairobi’s slums. “Those who live in Mathare and other slums earn very low incomes,” he added.

The rising prices and inflation prompted the creation of a movement led by a grassroots civil society group, Bunge la Mwananchi, or The People’s Parliament. It staged demonstrations throughout the year to pressurize the Kenyan government to bring down the price of unga, or maize flour, from Ksh120 (US$1.40) a kilo, to KSh30 ($0.34).

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Economic impacts of Pakistan floods

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A flooded Thatta suburb, Pakistan. Photo © Jaspreet Kindra/IRIN

A flooded Thatta suburb, Pakistan. Photo © Jaspreet Kindra/IRIN

For hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis forced by the floods to abandon their homes, food is a primary concern. IRIN news reports that some families have gone days without a meal. Frances Kennedy, a World Food Programme (WFP) spokesperson, told IRIN: “We are very concerned about the nutritional situation. About 2.8 million people have been reached, but there are others in need. Camps are crowded and people are sleeping on sides of the roads.” WFP has been supplying “dry rations” (family rations for a month), made up of wheat flour fortified with vitamins and minerals, cooking oil and high-energy biscuits.

“This allows us to reach more people, more quickly… These distributions are at different points across the flood zone – both in camps and other locations identified through our assessments and where partners have been able to set up distribution sites,” Marcus Prior, a WFP spokesman, told IRIN. Currently about 4.8 million people are without shelter, “although we believe this may have gone up considerably with the latest developments in Sindh,” said Maurizio Giuliano, a spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The immediate impact on the population is truly staggering — 20 million people affected with 8 million in need of water, food, and shelter; 1,500 to 2,000 killed; 4 million left homeless; and 15 million displaced. The devastation has hit virtually all sectors of the economy. The Pakistan government estimates total economic damage to be near $15 billion, or about 10 percent of GDP. Damage to infrastructure alone (roads, power plants, telecommunications, dams and irrigation systems, and schools and health clinics) amounts to around $10 billion.

Mohsin S. Khan, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, and Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council of the United States, have written about the economic impact of the Pakistan floods. They say that agriculture, which represents 25 percent of the Pakistan economy and provides employment to 50 percent of the workforce, was extremely hard hit. At least 30 percent of the cotton crop has washed away, which is bound to devastate the textile industry, the mainstay of Pakistani manufacturing and exports. Adding to this is the loss of wheat, rice, and maize crops, and about 10 million head of livestock. Altogether agricultural production this year could fall by as much as 15 percent. Even next year’s production is likely to show a further decline because the spring wheat crop that needs to be planted in October–December this year will not be possible.

While Khyber-Pakhtunkwa is inundated with water, there is very little that is safe to drink. Photo © Abdul Majeed Goraya/IRIN

While Khyber-Pakhtunkwa is inundated with water, there is very little that is safe to drink. Photo © Abdul Majeed Goraya/IRIN

“The overall growth of real GDP, which prior to the floods was projected to be in the 3 to 4 percent range for 2010, will now turn negative,” say Khan and Nawaz. “Estimates of the fall in real GDP are in the 2 to 5 percent range, although it is conceivable that the decline could be far greater as more information on the losses of both physical assets and production becomes available.”

“Reconstruction activity could provide some boost to the growth rate, but it is likely that any positive effects will only show up in 2011 and beyond, and even then it may not be sufficient to bring the growth rate back to the 2009 level of 4 percent for several years. Inflation, which is already in double digits, will rise with the increase in food prices and the destruction of the food supply distribution networks. Furthermore, the government will need to finance the reconstruction effort, and absent sufficient foreign assistance and the inability to divert domestic revenues toward reconstruction, the increased expenditures will necessarily widen the fiscal deficit.”

“The floods have dealt Pakistan a severe body blow while it was still reeling from the economic crisis, political infighting, and the war against terror. The diversion of resources and attention to the flood relief and reconstruction work will undoubtedly affect social spending and the drive against the Pakistani Taliban, whose fighters have been dislocated from their tribal bases in the Northwest Frontier region and have taken the war back into the Pakistani hinterland.”

Food production and grain trade, May 2010

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Vendors in Mapusa, Goa

Vendors in Mapusa, Goa. The middle basket contains 'nachne', local millet

This is to be a monthly posting from now on. It will for a start draw on three main sources of global analysis: the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the International Grains Council, and the US Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. Extracts from the three major sources run below, but this is to be placed in global context by the food production and supply situation in two of our neighbours in South Asia, Nepal and Afghanistan. There is hunger and displacement in Pakistan and Sri Lanka too, and I’ll update this posting with relevant reports. Also contrast the global views with the announcement from the US Department of Agriculture, which comes at the end of the list of extracts.

[1] “Nominal prices, in US dollar terms, of staple food commodities, mainly rice and wheat, have generally declined from the 2008 peak but remain significantly above their pre-2008 food-crisis levels in several countries. The price impact on overall food consumption of the vulnerable population is still expected to be substantial. Prices of rice have been increasing in India since the second half of 2008 and currently are above their levels of a year ago 5 percent in Chennai to 42 percent in Patna.”
“Retail prices of rice have also been rising since late 2009 in Bangladesh, the Philippines, Pakistan and Myanmar. In exporting countries such as Thailand and Viet Nam, rice prices (in local currencies) have declined since January 2010 due to strong international demand. Prices of wheat in India and Pakistan have also been rising steadily since October 2008. Recent increases are attributed to concerns over the unfavourable harvests of the current 2010 Rabi season. In Afghanistan, prices of wheat have been coming down since the 2009 bumper harvest in the country.” From FAO Crop Prospects and Food Situation May 2010

[2] “The forecast of world wheat production is increased by 2m. tons, to 660m. (676m.). World wheat consumption is forecast to grow by 1%, to a record 654m. tons, unchanged from last month. The forecast of global stocks is raised by 2m. tons, to a nine-year high of 201m. (195m.), with much of the increase in China and India.”
“World rice production in 2009/10 is estimated to decline for the first time in seven years, by 1%, to 442m. tons, mostly reflecting a reduced main crop in India. At 442m. tons, rice consumption will expand by 1%, in line with the global population trend. Inventories in China are expected to rise, but those in India and the five leading exporters are forecast to decrease. World trade in calendar 2010 is projected to recover by 5%, to 29.9m. tons, underpinned by larger shipments to Far East Asian markets.” From International Grains Council Grain Market Report 2010 May

FAO rice retail prices, from FAO Crop Prospects and Food Situation May 2010

FAO rice retail prices

[3] “Global wheat supplies for 2010/11 are projected 2 percent higher with larger year-to-year beginning stocks more than offsetting lower expected production. Global 2010/11 wheat production is projected at 672.2 million tons, down 1 percent from 2009/10 and the third largest production on record if realized. Larger projected production in EU-27, South America, and the Middle East is more than offset by expected declines in FSU-12, North Africa, South Asia, China, Canada, and Australia.”
“Global coarse grain production for 2010/11 is projected at a record 1,129.8 million tons, up 2 percent from 2009/10. Most of the 27.4-million-ton increase in coarse grains production results from higher projected foreign corn production, up 19.9 million tons from 2009/10. Higher expected foreign corn area and rising yields combine with higher U.S. area to boost global corn production to a record 835.0 million tons, up 26.5 million from 2009/10. Corn production is projected higher year-to-year for China, Mexico, India, Russia, EU-27, Ukraine, and Canada.”
“Global 2010/11 rice production is projected at a record 459.7 million tons, up 17.6 million or 4 percent from 2009/10. World disappearance (consumption and residual) is projected at a record 453.4 million tons, up 10.9 million or 2 percent. Large crops are projected for most of Asia including record or near-record crops in Bangladesh, Burma, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. Additionally, large crops are forecast for the U.S., EU-27, and Nigeria.” From US Department of Agriculture, World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates, 11 May 2010

In Nepal, food supplies are running low in the western hills. An IRIN report from Kathmandu (21 May 2010) says: “Food security for more than 600,000 people in the western hills of Nepal is set to deteriorate, aid agencies warn. With already low agricultural production in the more food-insecure areas, inflation is exacerbating matters further. “A lot of villagers are opting for more desperate coping mechanisms,” Richard Ragan, country representative for the World Food Programme (WFP), told IRIN in Kathmandu. Many villagers are already reducing the number of meals they eat each day, cutting portions, or migrating to urban areas or India for work, he said. ‘In a desperate attempt to buy food, families are even selling their livestock and household assets and the out-migration [to Nepali cities and India] has increased already by 40 percent,’ Ragan said.”

Gulmohur trees in bloom, May in Maharashtra

Gulmohur trees in bloom, May in Maharashtra

In Afghanistan, farmers face a tough choice: wheat, fruit or saffron? An IRIN report from Kabul (20 May 2010) says: “Pointing to his flourishing wheat field in the western Afghan province of Herat, Abdullah says he regrets cultivating the crop. Wheat is very cheap,” he told IRIN, adding that he would hardly make 50,000 Afghanis (about US$1,050) from his two hectares. “I won’t be able to feed my family properly with this income.” Several farmers contacted by IRIN in Helmand, Kandahar and Balkh provinces had similar sentiments. Wheat is considered a strategic crop and a staple food, but imports are always required, even when there is a bumper harvest. About seven million (over 24 percent of the country’s estimated 27 million population) are food-insecure and many others are highly vulnerable to food price fluctuations, according to aid agencies.”

Here is the announcement from the US Department of Agriculture: “US farmers, ranchers and producers are poised to achieve $104.5 billion in sales – an $8 billion increase over last year and the second highest level in history.

  • The trade surplus in agriculture is now forecast to reach $28 billion, the second highest ever achieved.
  • The report comes on the heels of an historic six-month pace by U.S. agricultural exports, which shattered records with $59 billion in sales in the first half of the fiscal year and generated a 14 percent increase over the same period last year.
  • U.S. agricultural exports to China grew by nearly $3 billion during the first half of the fiscal year to $10.6 billion, making China the United States’ top market for this period. In total, exports to Asia have reached record highs, led by strong increases in China and Southeast Asia. Other outstanding country and regional customers include the European Union, Turkey, and North Africa.”