Tuesday, 24 January 2012

POVERTY: Analysis: Agriculture in a changing environment

JOHANNESBURG, 24 January 2012 (IRIN)

 Photo: Jaspreet Kindra/IRIN

Cows release huge amounts of warming methane every year- Agriculture has been seen either as a cause or victim of global warming at the UN climate change talks over the past few years - something that has thwarted efforts to attract the investment it needs, say scientists.
Some at the talks see a more dominant role for agriculture - an emitter of major greenhouses gases such as nitrous oxide and methane - in reducing global warming. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates agricultural emissions account for 13.5 percent of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions.
At the same time, poor countries want more money and better technology to help farmers adapt to the impact of climate change such as frequent droughts, flooding and increased salinity.
“It is really a bad split for agriculture,” said John Beddington, the UK’s chief scientific adviser, and one of the authors of a paper calling for a more integrated approach, combining mitigation and adaptation efforts.
The paper, published in the current edition of Science with contributions from several scientists, calls for a better understanding of agricultural practices with the aim of delivering multiple benefits - reducing emissions, helping agriculture to adapt, and using limited resources (like water) efficiently.
One model to emulate could be Denmark, where one of the world’s strictest agriculture control systems is in place - including, for example, the use of environmentally friendly practices such as substituting pig slurry (pig waste and water) for artificial fertilizers. The country has managed not only to reduce emissions from agriculture by 28 percent but also increase productivity.
This kind of win-win agriculture would attract more funding from a wider range of sources, said Beddington.
Climate change’s impact is likely to be greatest in low and middle-income tropical regions, where pressure will mount to produce more food because of population and income growth, says agricultural economist Christopher Barrett, who teaches at Cornell University. The global focus, therefore, has to be on helping agriculture in those regions adapt, and not just produce more or reduce emissions. “And that agenda needs to encompass post-harvest storage, distribution and transformation.”
Despite growing support for an integrated approach to agriculture encompassing adaptation and mitigation efforts, policy actions have been slow to materialize in most countries and at the UN climate change talks, the paper says.
A first step, say the scientists, is to get commonly agreed definitions of concepts like “climate-smart agriculture” and “sustainable intensification”, which integrate the two approaches.
The authors of the paper include ecologist Bob Scholes of South Africa’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research; Mohammad Asaduzzaman, research director of the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies; and Judi Wakhungu, executive director of the African Centre for Technology Studies in Kenya.

The “climate-smart” concept as developed by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) advocates practices which generate both adaptation and mitigation benefits such as the efficient use of organic fertilizers; the development of efficient seed systems which produce crops naturally resilient to climatic shifts; the harvesting of water for irrigation; the production of biogas from livestock manure; and greater reliance on forage from maize crops to feed animals.
Such initiatives would not only improve food production but also reduce harmful gas emissions, says FAO.
About 70 percent of agriculture-related emissions are associated with the manufacture and use of nitrogen-based fertilizers -in large part through the emission of nitrous oxide - according to a 2011 review by the UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).
The livestock sector generates 65 percent of human-related nitrous oxide, which has 296 times the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of carbon dioxide. Most of this comes from manure.
Belching cows, goats and sheep emit 80 million tons of methane into the atmosphere every year. Though methane remains in the atmosphere for a short time (9-15 years), it has 23 times the GWP of carbon dioxide. Irrigated rice farming is another major source of methane emissions.
Soil carbon sequestration
But the “climate-smart” concept was given another interpretation at the Durban climate change talks in December: The World Bank announced it had launched a “climate-smart agriculture” pilot project in Kenya. The project (which is still running) aims to get small farmers to adopt agricultural practices such as low-tillage, which trap carbon in the soil in such a way that it is not re-emitted into the atmosphere (soil carbon sequestration). The carbon is then sold as credits in carbon markets.
Think-tanks like the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), and scientists at BBSRC, point out that sustainable agriculture can increase the sequestration of carbon in the soil but it is difficult and costly to measure.
IATP’s senior policy analyst, Steve Suppan, said the very high transaction costs of converting Kenyan farmers’ work into carbon credits would be better spent on more rapidly adapting Kenya’s agriculture to climate change.
“Because the project's transaction costs are nearly half of the project budget, the main project co-benefit is not for the farmers but for the carbon accounting methodology that the Bank wishes to sell globally.”
Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu, Africa’s chief negotiator at the climate talks, who had been lobbying for a stronger presence for agriculture in the adaptation track, said they wanted predictable funds for agriculture, and not from shaky carbon markets, which in this case - for credits based on soil carbon sequestration - did not exist. “Our farmers will also be told to grow certain crops which sequester more carbon rather than what the farmers need, compromising their security.”
NGOs like ActionAid warn of the possibility of “soil grabs” in developing countries by big business to offset their emissions. Mitigation cannot be the predominant objective of any project aimed at benefiting agriculture, said ActionAid’s Harjeet Singh.
“Mitigation projects in agriculture need to begin in industrialized agriculture and land-clearing for agribusiness. The agro-ecological techniques of climate-smart agriculture should be deployed for adaptation, not in the service of carbon derivatives markets,” said Suppan.
Beddington said linking “climate smart agricultural practices” with carbon markets was “unfortunate”. The Science paper he co-authored calls for unpacking the term in such a way that addresses concerns that it might be giving more weight to agriculture’s role in reducing emissions, rather than focusing on improving production and ways to adapt.
Leslie Lipper, a senior environmental economist with FAO, said soil carbon sequestration is one example of an integrated approach but she was not against sourcing finance from carbon markets. “Identifying, crediting and financing mitigation co-benefits that can be generated from improving agricultural systems offers the potential to open a new and additional source of finance to help meet the investment gap” in agriculture.

“Sustainable intensification”
In agriculture, the term “sustainable intensification” as defined by FAO, refers to an increase in production either by using more inputs such as labour, land, time , fertilizer, feed or cash; or the maintenance of production at a certain level with the effective use of smaller amounts of fertilizer, or mixed cropping in smaller fields.

“Sustainable intensification”, said Scholes, focused more on increasing production not by physical expansion but the efficient use of inputs.
The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change has called for views on agriculture within the climate change context to be submitted to its Subsidiary Body for Science and Technological Advice by 5 March 2012.

MALNUTRITION: NIGER: Thousands of villages hit by severe food shortages

NIAMEY, 24 January 2012 (IRIN)

 Photo: Boureima Balima/IRIN
Pounding millet in the village of Boukanda, 50km west of Niamey, capital of Niger

 Nearly half Niger’s population does not have enough to eat and the government says it is facing a grain shortfall of 692,501 tons, following another severe drought across the Sahel.
The government says it needs 3.8 million tons of cereals to feed six million people spread across 6,981 villages, equating to 49.4 percent of the affected zones.
In a survey conducted in November 2011, the government’s Early Warning System projected the 2011-2012 “winter” gross cereal production for millet, sorghum, rice, wheat and fonio (one of West Africa’s most ancient cereals) at 3.8 million tons - 27 percent down on 2010-2011. Grain production last season was about 3.2 million tons.
The Early Warning System, which monitors and forecasts food security needs, has identified three major areas as reporting deficits: Tillabéry in the west; Agadez in the north; and Diffa in the east; with respective shortfalls of 164,146 tons, 123,576 tons, and 68,115 tons.
Boukanda, a village with a population of 1,000 about 50km west of the capital Niamey, is typical of many food insecure villages which have been largely abandoned by their younger residents.
"The able-bodied and young people of the village preferred to leave for big cities or abroad. They have little to do here,” Adamou Talba, the marabout (religions teacher) of Boukanda, said.
Only a few “wealthier” families pound sorghum instead of millet, the main staple of the village. These people still have small supplies but they will not last long.
"There's just a little bit in the granary," said Balkissa Adamou, a villager.
Boukanda village chief Seyni Seydou said the rains ended just when the plants needed water, and grasshoppers and other insects finished off the crops.
"In our village, some people have been left with just seven bundles [of grain], whereas previously nearly 700 could be harvested," he added. The Early Warning System puts Boukanda’s food deficit at 90 percent.

Appeals for help
Concerned by the current situation, Cheick Boureima Abdou Daoud, a citizen of Niger, donated 3,000 tons of cereal to the relief effort. "I want to kick-start action so that other citizens of Niger, who can afford it, can also help those in need,” he said.
While previous governments tended to avoid admitting to food crises, the current government is different: In August 2011, it asked for 100 billion francs CFA (about US$198 million) in donor aid.
President Mahamadou Issoufou, addressing the UN General Assembly in September 2011, said: “Knowing that we would have a very large deficit this harvest crop, we decided... to alert the international community. I would like, at this highest level of this forum, to renew once more our appeal to help Niger.”
Donors have pledged help, and the UN has launched a Consolidated Appeals Process (CAP) for $229 million.
"The CAP aims to provide humanitarian aid and to strengthen the resilience of millions of men, women and vulnerable children," said Guido Cornale, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) representative in Niger who is also acting humanitarian coordinator in the country.

POVERTY: New Zealand: Poverty trap set at birth - study

Simon Collins Jan 18, 2012

Wealth-gap problems are growing.
Photo / Thinkstock Wealth-gap problems are growing. Photo / Thinkstock

New Zealand researchers have put hard numbers to the adage that success breeds success - and failure breeds failure.
A long-term study of 1265 children born in Christchurch in 1977 has found that those whose families were poor in their first 10 years of life earned about $20,000 a year less by the age of 30 than those who grew up in rich families.
Those from poor families were more likely to leave school without qualifications, have babies before they were 20, commit crimes, go on welfare and have addiction and other mental health problems in adulthood.
Most of these effects were explained by factors which tended to vary in line with family incomes, such as parents' education, addictions, criminality and marital conflict and breakup, and the children's own intelligence.
But study director Professor David Fergusson said the effects of childhood income on later educational and career achievement persisted even after allowing for all other factors.
"So in a sense success or failure drives educational and economic success or failure, but the things that drive behavioural outcomes are not so much income and are more familial and personal," he said.
"It could be that competent, bright families transmit their skills to their children and also earn higher incomes.
"It could also be that being bred in a high-income family provides children with role models and resources for both educational achievement and career success."
Deputy Prime Minister Bill English and Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia are setting up a ministerial committee on poverty under the Maori Party's post-election agreement with the National Party.
The study results are reported in a newsletter published by Children's Commissioner Dr Russell Wills, who has said that attacking child poverty should be the first of seven goals in an "action plan" arising out of a Government paper on vulnerable children.
The newsletter also reports a Social Development Ministry finding that in 2010, 26 per cent of children lived in "poor" families earning under 60 per cent of the net median income after housing costs - down from a peak of 30 per cent of children in 2001, but still roughly double the proportion in poverty during the 1980s when the children in the Christchurch study were growing up.
Professor Fergusson said children being born in poor families today might face even worse outcomes than their parents born in the 1970s and 80s because of the greater disparity in earnings.
The study asked detailed questions about people's lives which also enabled the researchers to diagnose whether they had depression, anxiety disorder, drug or alcohol addictions or anti-social behaviour.
On average, those from poor families had slightly more of these disorders than those from rich families.
Professor Fergusson said the study showed that income inequality and behavioural issues, such as parents' addictions, both had to be tackled to fix social problems.
"For example, increasing the income of substance-using parents may be counter-productive since it will give them more access to purchasing alcohol or drugs," he said.
A spokesman for Mr English said the poverty committee would focus on "providing opportunity through things like education and jobs and ensuring we are getting the best results from the hundreds of millions of dollars already being spent on social service delivery".
Almost 40 per cent of those in the poorest fifth of families left school without qualifications, compared with fewer than 10 per cent of those in the richest fifth.
A third of those from the poor families but fewer than a tenth of those from rich families fell pregnant, or got someone pregnant, before they were 20.
A third of those from poor families, but only a sixth from rich families, committed a violent or property crime between the ages of 18 and 30.
20 per cent of those from poor families, but only 4 per cent from rich families, spent some time on welfare before they were 30.
Those from poor families earned an average of just under $40,000 a year by age 30, while those from rich families averaged $60,000.

Friday, 6 January 2012

MALNUTRITION: MYANMAR: Rice harvests lost in Kachin conflict zones

KACHIN STATE, 6 January 2012 (IRIN) -
 Photo: Contributor/IRIN
Kot Nan worries about feeding her family

The annual harvest season in Myanmar's northern Kachin State has come and gone but much of the rice crop has not been harvested or was never planted after fighting between government forces and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) erupted on 9 June 2011 after a 17-year ceasefire was broken.
Traditionally, farmers transfer their rice seedlings in June with harvests in November and December before the winter sets in.
"This year's harvest was next year's investment, but now we have nothing for the future. We will have to cross the mountains and scavenge for wild vegetables so that we will have something to eat," says Kot Nan, 35.
"When the conflict started we were planting rice but the soldiers came into our village so we couldn't plant," the mother-of-two told IRIN at the main camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) outside Laiza, a border town between Myanmar and China.
There are more than 40,000 IDPs in Kachin State, local aid groups say, including an estimated 20,000 in camps around Laiza, controlled by the political wing of the KIA, the Kachin Independence Organization.
For many Kachin families, farming is the primary source of livelihood, with rice being the main crop, along with sugar cane and corn.

Bill Davies, a researcher with Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), says the food security issue is of major concern.
"The fighting starting when they were preparing the seedlings so some of them put the seeds right into the paddy in the hope that they would grow and others planted a lot later, which decreases the yield."
Davies led a fact-finding mission for PHR in the border areas of Kachin state last September, visiting six camps and four shelters for IDPs.
The group's findings were released in a report on 30 November.
"Not being able to plant 100 percent of their fields, planting it late, and also not transplanting it at the right time were the three main problems. A lot of people are worried that they were going to have a smaller crop yield than normal," Davies said.
Sporadic fighting has also restricted travel for civilians, including those farmers who were able to plant but could not return to their fields to tend their crops.
And while there are no official figures yet on the area's overall harvest shortfall for 2011, the impact on the population is already evident.
At a relief line in one of the main refugee camps near Laiza, 24-year-old Moo Pan breastfeeds her baby girl as she waits for food rations - almost seven months after fighting first erupted.
"We were forced to leave our village and we can't go back because government forces have taken over our houses and land," she said.
Compounding matters are reports that the Burmese army is regularly pillaging food and supplies from civilians in the area, a key finding of the PHR study.
With local supplies diminishing and the ability of local aid groups to provide assistance on the decline, the situation on the ground underscores the importance of further outside aid.
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW) at the end of December, the tens of thousands now displaced are in "great need of humanitarian assistance".

 Photo: Contributor/IRIN 
Workers tend a field near an IDP camp in central Kachin to supply food for the displaced

But getting into the most-affected areas will only be the first step, Marcus Prior, spokesman for World Food Programme (WFP) Asia, told IRIN on 5 January.
"Even with improved access, WFP will need funding to provide the kind of assistance we think may be necessary in Kachin," he explained.
"Our operations across the country are facing significant shortfalls - right now WFP only has funds to guarantee food deliveries into February."
The UN food agency is able to reach about 15,000 of the displaced in Kachin State, but hopes that following a recent humanitarian convoy across the conflict line, the next convoy will include WFP food, Marcus said.

POVERTY: SOUTHERN AFRICA: Floods leave Angolan returnees stranded

JOHANNESBURG, 6 January 2012 (IRIN) -

 Photo: Tomas de Mul/IRIN
The Zambezi is prone to flooding annually
Several thousand Angolan returnees from the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are stranded by floods in northeastern Angola. They are among the first casualties of what promises to be a very wet rainy season in parts of southern Africa.
“At least 50,000 people - 24,000 of them returnees - in 10 villages in Uige Province [northeastern Angola near border with DRC] have been affected by the flooding, rains and hailstorms in the past four months,” said Antonio Maiandi, head of the Evangelical Reformed Church of Angola, which has been trying to help those affected. The rainy season here tends to be longer than elsewhere in Angola.
“It is still pouring hard. At least 1,142 houses have been destroyed by the rains. Each family with shelter is now hosting other families,” said Maiandi, adding that the returnees, who had sought refuge from the civil war in Angola which ended in 2002, were putting enormous pressure on locals, and organizations such as his.
“The local population who are mostly farmers have been severely affected. Their cassava [staple food in Angola] and groundnut crops have been destroyed, so there is not enough food to go round.”
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) restarted formal repatriation of Angolans in November 2011 after logistical and other problems forced the process to stop in 2007. DRC is home to some 80,000 Angolans refugees, according to UNHCR.
The new return initiative comes after a UNHCR survey in 2010 found that 43,000 wanted to return home, and following a tripartite agreement between Angola, DRC and UNHCR (signed in June 2011), around 20,000 people signed up for help to return. The agreement came about after years of tense relations between the two countries: Angolan and Congolese nationals have been expelled from the two countries regularly.
Each family with shelter is now hosting other families
“The local population is extremely poor and unable to support the returnees,” and “people are still coming in every day,” said Maiandi.
UNHCR in Angola told IRIN they took a break in December 2011 and would resume formal repatriation on 17 January, but did not have an update on the number of people who had already arrived.
According to aid workers, increasing instability in the DRC following the recent disputed elections could be prompting more people to leave.
Maiandi said the returnees had not received adequate support from the authorities and church organizations had limited resources.
Meteorologists for the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have predicted normal to above normal rains for most of the region from January to March 2012 largely because of the continuing effects of the 2011 La Niña event. Thousands of people in the region were displaced and scores killed in early 2011 as a result of heavy rains and flooding associated with La Niña.

As the rainy season begins here, aid workers and disaster prevention teams are closely monitoring water levels in the all-important Zambezi river, the continent's fourth largest.
The authorities have issued a flood alert after being forced to release water from the swollen Kariba Dam on the Zambezi earlier than usual in the rainy season.
The Zambezi River Authority (ZRA) which usually opens the spillway gates of Lake Kariba in the last two weeks of January was forced to open one of the gates on 3 January. It has advised people living downstream to evacuate their homes.

Zambia is in for a mixed season. Dominicano Mulenga, national coordinator of Zambia's Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit, said a plan had been drawn up to help 368,953 people likely to be affected by rain and dry spells. While northwestern and western parts of the country had seen heavy rain, southern, eastern and parts of central Zambia were likely to receive little or no rain, he said.
The water level in the Zambezi was higher than at the same time in 2011, he added. “We have had three seasons of heavy rainfall and the ground is saturated with water, making it more prone to flooding.”

Namibians, currently experiencing a heat wave, are eager for rain, said Guido van Langehove, chief of the Namibia Hydrological Services. Southern African Development Community (SADC) meteorologists have forecast normal to above normal rains for Namibia over the next three months. “It was the same forecast last year and we recorded three times the normal rain,” van Langehove pointed out.
The Caprivi Region, Namibia’s poorest area, is prone to annual flooding.
Japhet Itenge, director of Disaster Risk Management in the Office of the Prime Minister, said they were prepositioning essential commodities and relief tools as part of their contingency plans.

Lesotho has not received adequate rainfall in the past few months, a spokesman for the country’s meteorological services told IRIN. “SADC has forecast heavy rains for Lesotho in the coming weeks. We are worried it can cause early frost and destroy crops that have already been planted,” he said.
Lesotho and Namibia have food insecurity levels greater than their five-year averages due to the severe flooding experienced during the last growing season, according to FEWSNET.

The Mozambican authorities have begun to release water from the Cahora Bassa Dam on the Zambezi. People living mainly along the lower Zambezi basin and in Buzi, Save, and Pungue basins, including Beira city, are on alert.
Sofala Province in central Mozambique is currently distributing items such as bicycles, stretchers, masks, gloves, megaphones and boats, according to the Mozambique Red Cross; and members of seven local disaster risk management committees established in Beira City are cleaning the drainage system.
The National Institute of Disaster Management (INGC) is monitoring the rivers Montepuez, Licungo, Mutamba, Pungué, Buzi, Save, and Maputo, said FEWSNET. In the Zambezi and Limpopo river basins, FEWSNET warned of a near-average-to-high probability of flooding.
João Bobotela, CARE’s emergency response coordinator in Mozambique, said INGC and local authorities had been running flood simulation exercises since November 2011 to prepare communities for sudden evacuations.

Arid Botswana has not received good rains in the past few months. “We are expecting average rains which might help crops,” said a spokesman for the Botswana Meteorological Services.

More rains have been forecast for southern Malawi, where land adjacent to the River Shire, one of the most food-insecure parts of the country, is prone to flooding. Parts of the region, which has seen an outbreak of foot and mouth disease and a hike in food prices, are in crisis mode, warned FEWSNET.

South Africa
Much-needed rain has fallen in South Africa’s major maize-producing northern Free State area in the past few weeks. The government and USAID’s Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNET) say the country has adequate supplies, but global maize stocks are low, putting considerable upward price pressure on South African white maize.