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A follow up post to the one below, also from the Food First blog.  A little long, but well worth it.

Africans Face Competing Visions of Agricultural Development at Critical Juncture
Posted May 20th, 2010 by rjonasse
By Richard Jonasse, Food First

Aid Collage

A contest of competing visions over the future of Agriculture is playing out across Sub-Saharan Africa. Farmers’ organizations are lining up against an aid regime that threatens to swamp smallholders with purported “solutions” to which these farmers have not assented and do not desire.

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Great politicized poetry from Pambazuka News on aid, development and media coverage of Africa.  Thanks Maggie!

You don’t even have to read.  Just LISTEN!

http://www.pambazuka.org/media/PZ0011.mp3

Post by Gina del Tito, Dickinson College

I sat somewhat nervously in the empty Great Room, with a million thoughts swirling round in my mind, none of them really having to do with issues of development aid in Africa. They mostly had to do with the fact the it was ten minutes to seven o’clock, the time of the film showing, and there were only three people in the room: myself, the filmmaker and one other student. What was I thinking, trying to host an event on the first day of classes for the spring semester at Dickinson College, with a student body of only 2200 some students to begin with?

Clammy with sweat, I began to pace, and think about all of the people I had texted, emailed, threatened and sent facebook messages to. But I should not have been so worried. Like any average college student, everyone (nearly 100) streamed in, five minutes before the beginning of our presentation.

When I presented filmmaker Tim Klein and looked out at the packed room, I did not see faces of students I had specifically asked to come, it was people from all different disciplines and social circles. All there to try and gain some insight into the question so many of us, even non-development specialists, are asking: “What are we doing here?”

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Post by Kristen Hewitt, Intern for the Afghan Women’s Writing Project and student at The Salt Institute for Documentary Studies

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Credit: Kathleen Rafiq

Art can be a powerful activist tool. As a poet and aspiring documentarian, I‘ve come to see that a single voice telling the story of a life changing, emotional experience can be enough to spark of compassion—to move people to act.

The Afghan Women’s Writing Project was created to give women in Afghanistan a direct voice in the world, unfiltered by male relatives or the media. Volunteer writing teachers from the US hold classes online, and help the women to develop their voices by writing stories and poetry in English. The women then upload their work, parts of which are published on a blog.  These women document their hopes, fears, struggles, and victories, opening a window for readers on what women’s lives were like growing up under the Taliban, and what they feel about conditions in their country now.

The project is about fostering good will and understanding between the Afghan women and their readers. It is both an opportunity to empower these women, and for readers to gain perspective on Afghanistan, thus forging a link between America and Afghanistan.

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Decades of research leave little doubt about the vital role of women in global development. While women often bear poverty’s heaviest burdens, focused investment in that portion of the population has proved a near-surefire way to build healthier, better educated, more prosperous communities. Last month, the Global Resources and Opportunities for Women to Thrive Act (GROWTH Act, S.1425) was introduced in the Senate. This legislation is an exciting opportunity to ensure that US foreign assistance and development efforts adequately (and smartly) invest in the power of women in the developing world.

Though women comprise a disproportionate percentage of the world’s extremely poor, studies have demonstrated that women who are given extra income are more likely than men to invest it in their children, improving the family’s health, lowering child mortality and malnutrition rates, and boosting education rates. Women’s successes in the microfinance industry over the last 30-40 years have been breathtaking as well. The GROWTH Act proposes much wider administrative and financial support for such initiatives, including microenterprise, improved land and property rights for women, more access to formal employment, skills trainings, and focused investments from trade (the latter four components have been widely absent from general microfinance initiatives).

CDTD cooking class

Somali refugees attending a cooking class that will enable them to secure better jobs and earn higher wages

I’ve had the luck to witness the results of such initiatives in Kenya, and am now very much a believer in the power of women in development. I spent several months in early 2008 interning at the Centre for Domestic Training and Development, an organization led by an inspiring Kenyan woman to help other impoverished women thrive. Edith Murogo, the Centre’s founder, is a wife and mother who recognized a problem in her community and began working to solve it, raising money slowly to establish and expand her organization. Today she is one of the most well-known and respected social entrepreneurs in Kenya.

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Yesterday, I barely managed to squeeze into the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on “The Case for Foreign Aid Reform: Foreign Aid and Development in a New Era.”

The room was packed with young people, and spectators overflowed into the hallway. Senator Robert Menendez jokingly asked Dr. Jeffrey Sachs if he had invited his university classes to attend. As pleased as I was that the Senator noticed our presence, I couldn’t shake the feeling that he misunderstood our reason for being there—we may be interning on the Hill or for advocacy organizations in D.C. this summer, but we are also voters, taxpayers, and activists. We packed into the SFRC hearing like sardines because we are interested, informed, engaged, and passionate about politics, not for extra credit.

The truth is, older generations still fail to take young people seriously. It’s the fault of both sides; Menendez needs to realize the significance of young people’s presence at that hearing, and we students need to make more calls, write more letters, cast more votes, attend more meetings, and raise our voices outside Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and the blog world.  The social networking sites our parents hate may serve as a valuable tool to connect us with the rest of the world, but affiliating with groups or causes is nothing more than mere affiliation if we don’t use that network to act. As more and more of us study abroad and gain first-hand perspectives on the world’s challenges, we’re exposed to innovative and collaborative approaches to global development and security. Young people packed the SFRC hearing because we want to know whether our government—the country with the richest economy in the world—is pulling its weight and supporting these solutions.

Wednesday’s SFRC hearing was designed to address this question:  Are U.S. foreign assistance programs working?

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Somewhat unexpectedly for many Africans, America’s first African American president offered the continent rather tough love in his first official visit. Amidst the usual political fluff, President Obama’s recent speech, delivered in Ghana this Saturday, contained some very pointed comments, including a controversial assertion that the time to blame colonization and Western exploitation for Africa’s problems has ended.

While the development crisis in Africa can be difficult to talk about in the United States, no matter how well-informed, traveled, or racially-sensitive one might be, President Obama leveraged his African background to tell Africans point-blank that their problems stem from weak government structures, traditions of corruption and nepotism, and the people’s failure to insist upon accountability. Though I personally feel that colonial policies and institutions have plenty to do with modern African instability, corruption, and ethnic conflict, I’m pleased to hear Obama demanding more of Africans—especially young Africans. Such demands from John McCain or Hillary Clinton could not have held the same weight.

Obama’s controversial statements have, somewhat predictably, inspired bickering and finger-pointing on countless internet forums. I can’t help but feel that something has been lost amid these arguments. In all likelihood, Obama is more acutely aware of the historical injustices Africa has suffered than any of his predecessors. His speech in Accra was not meant to deny these, but to signal that the time has come for Africa to move forward. Unending arguments about historical responsibility aside, Africa and the West should be able to agree on one point: African development solutions must come from Africans from here on out.

As I learned while living in Kenya last year, African artists, entrepreneurs, and civil society organizations are ready for that responsibility. The question then becomes, “How do we empower these solutions?”

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Hi all,

My name is Matt Podolin. I’m a senior at Wesleyan University, majoring in government, history, and economics. I have spent time in East Africa studying health and development and am excited to start sharing these ideas through the AID blog.

The UN Climate Change Conference kicked off in Poland on Dec 1st. This may seem like something for AID’s environment folks, but climate change can have a huge impact on development issues. The effects of climate change are felt quite severely by those who can least afford it: farmers with small plots of land for whom changes in the weather can have serious consequences.

However, there is potential good news at the intersection of global efforts to combat climate change and development. An article by Busani Bufana on allafrica.com discusses the potential to use carbon trading to support the income of African farmers. Carbon trading places caps on the amount of carbon that can be emitted, and those who want to pollute in excess of the caps are able to buy credits to offset their carbon emissions.

According to a report by the German Institute of Global and Area Studies, Africa contributes little to worldwide carbon emissions in terms of technical sources (cars, energy production, etc.), releasing less carbon then Germany. However, the continent is losing its forests to agriculture and other infrastructure projects at a rate of over one percent per year. To help stop the deforestation and to support the livelihood of those potentially affected by climate change, African farmers could be paid for generating carbon credits when they utilize environmentally friendly farming practices or help conserve local forests.

While this is good news from an environmental standpoint, it is also potentially a good thing for people-centered development. These farmers could receive a consistent yearly income for maintaining their forests and environmentally-friendly farming techniques.  This income would not be dependent on changes in weather or factors such as crop disease, though the value of the protected forests would depend on the global market price for the carbon credits.  According to the World Agroforestry Centre, “in most areas studied, the various ventures prompting  deforestation rarely generated more than $5 for every ton of carbon they released and frequently returned far less than US $1. Meanwhile, European buyers are currently paying 23 euros—about US $35—for an offset tied to a one-ton reduction in carbon.”

Despite this potential, Africa is currently excluded from the EU Emission Trading Scheme, and agriculture and forestry protection are not being considered as sources of carbon reduction.  Sindiso Ngwenya, Secretary General of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), points out that “more than four billion people in developing countries around the world who live off agriculture are excluded from this trade and Africa should use this trade to invest in food security which is under threat.”  Thus, this week’s conference in Poland is an ideal opportunity to push for greater involvement of small landowners in the global carbon cap and trade decision-making processes.

There are downsides to such a plan. It might be hard for small landowners to access the carbon trading market, and many need to use forests, which are often held in common, for firewood and other purposes. Changes in farming techniques can be expensive, modify crop yields, or impractical in implementation. Carbon credits could also lead to purchases of large tracts of land, with individual households and small-scale farmers being pushed off plots they have owned or farmed for generations. Any such program would also need to ensure that farmers are able to receive readily available information about the program, as well as adequate prices for their carbon credits. It is crucial that as wider programs for carbon credits are beind developed that those who actually live on the land are incorporated as part of the discussion and that new policies be grounded in their real life experiences. This participatory process can be difficult when decisions are made at international conferences in Poland, far away from the poor individuals and families they will affect.

Bafana further states that the global market for carbon credits has grown to 30 billion in 2007, a figure two and a half times the value of average annual aid to Africa. A program aimed at increasing income-generation for small landowners could bring a substantial amount of grassroots investment to the region. Eric Bettelheim, Executive Chairman of UK-based Sustainable Forestry Management, estimates that the “potential annual payment from African agriculture could be around $10 billion from the sale of 500,000 metric tonnes of carbon at $20 per metric tonne.”

While “trade not aid” is not a new concept in development, the carbon trading market is, and it may have the potential to align the interests of small farmers and environmentalists, securing a consistent livelihood for farmers while slowing global warming.

Hey all!

My name is Sahar Durali and I’m a new blogger for Americans for Informed Democracy’s Global Development Program. I’m finishing my last year at Penn State University, where I study History and Political Science and am looking forward to writing about and discussing global development issues with you! Anyhow, I wanted to call all of your attention to the worsening situation in Congo.

A few weeks ago, I read a BBC opinion poll asking readers what can be done to stabilize the crisis-ridden Democratic Republic of Congo and if current UN peacekeeping efforts are enough. Though there were a few responses from South Africa and Nigeria, comments predominantly streamed from the US, Canada and Europe. Many expressed outraged at the prospect of more aid committed to what they saw as a politically-inept, chronically war-ravaged continent of Africa. More than one responder listed recolonization as the only way forward for a continent “clearly incapable of governing itself.”

Yet, many fail to understand the complexity of Western aid relations in Africa.

The Rwandan genocide of the 1990s left approximately one million dead. Countries around the globe recoiled in collective shame at their indifference to intervening in this bloody humanitarian crisis. Today, Rwanda is one of the United States’ staunchest allies in Africa. Surprisingly, however, Rwandan officials have been publicly denounced by the UN as exacerbating conflict through backing of Congolese rebel forces led by Laurent Nkunda, who claims to be defending ethnic Tutsis.

The New York Times reports the recent resurgent fighting has 250,000 people internally displaced and in need of immediate assistance. In some towns, up to 70 percent of women are reporting to be victim of rape and sexual assault, now recognized by UN officials as the highest in the world.

Congo is the size of Western Europe, and many call it the “fulcrum of Africa.” The conflict has the potential to destabilize much of the continent and has already drawn in neighboring Angola.

The U.S. State Department claims it aggressively pursues a policy of stability and democracy-building in Africa. But so long as the United States and other governments continue to provide support to Rwandan officials without holding them accountable for their share in the violence, the fighting in the Congo will not cease.  The unscrupulous comments of responders to the BBC poll not only overlook the devastating and lasting impacts of colonialism, but also reveal a mass ignorance regarding past and current US foreign policy in the region.

President-elect Barack Obama recently stated that resolving the Congolese conflict would be critical to a prosperous Africa. Let us hope that his administration does not fall trap to the same short-sighted policies of increased militarization of the past, but assumes collective responsibility along with other African governments to ensure progress and a process of peace that protects the political rights of the Congolese people.

I found this article from AlertNet interesting. I’m not sure if I should be depressed by it, or retain some hope that aid work can become apolitical again. I guess my feelings are clouded by my now ever-present outrage and disgust at the actions of the Bush Administration and my horror at the bloody mess in Iraq.

Judge for yourself. Is Malloch-Brown right? 

In the aftermath of Iraq and Afghanistan, aid workers have come to be seen as part of the West’s political machinery, and so have lost much of their protection, Malloch Brown warned, pointing to attacks on the United Nations and Red Cross in Iraq.

It has also become politically impossible to talk to some groups who control access to needy populations, he said. "I, and my generation, thought nothing of talking to the Khmer Rouge, the Taliban, internationally unrecognised rabble and terrorist groups to negotiate humanitarian access… Getting these leaders, even war criminals, to allow us to reach civilians did not in our minds constitute political recognition of them. In the Age of the War on Terror, such contacts have become near impossible."

At the same time, he said it was important the world should realize it had a right and responsibility to intervene in sovereign states that were committing gross abuses.

"If the old humanitarian work had an internal fault, it was in its belief that food or medicine was neutral… We cannot be neutral about suffering and rights," he said. "And we must hold the perpetrators of abuses to account."

It wasn’t dissimilar to some of the rhetoric that preceded the Iraq war. And when a young international lawyer shot back that apparent failure in Iraq might be seen to undermine that argument, Malloch Brown conceded he had a point.

"We have been dealt to the worst hand possible," he said as he shared the stage with Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Britain’s ambassador to the United Nations at the time of the war and then its envoy to post-war Baghdad.

But Iraq was also an opportunity, Malloch Brown argued, drawing a parallel between it and the aftermath of the Vietnam, when torrents of young humanitarians rushed to help in the aftermath of another unpopular war.

"For most of us each argument for the war – weapons of mass destruction, the promotion of democracy, bringing stability and freedom to Iraq and the wider region – lies shattered," he said. "That is why the argument for helping has never been stronger. At a humanitarian, as well as a political level, we need to try and fix a broken country."

In my office, we talk about Iraq frequently, and my colleagues have told me that many Bosnians are doing aid work in Iraq now. My emotions tell me I should be in Iraq, where humanitarian assistance is so desperately needed by so many, but my brain reminds me that my mere presence, as an American, would endanger the lives of everyone around me.

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