As Climate Change Pummels Agriculture, Irrigation Offers the Best Protection

A farmer waters her plot at the Tjankwa Irrigation Scheme, in Plumtree District, 100km west of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS.

By Busani Bafana
BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, Dec 19 2018 (IPS)

The changing climate and extreme weather events are affecting agricultural productivity in Africa to such an extent that a panel of experts are urging governments to prioritise and invest in irrigation to ensure food security.

Increased heat spells, coupled with flash flooding and frequent droughts, are making farming impossible and unprofitable as many African smallholder farmers rely on rain-fed agriculture.

Irrigation development can increase food security while extending the growing season, securing more income and jobs, said the Malabo Montpellier Panel, a group of international experts guiding policy to boost food and nutrition security in Africa.

Irrigation the best investment

In a study launched this week, the Malabo Montpellier Panel said Africa has the potential to irrigate 47 million hectares. This can boost agricultural productivity, improve livelihoods and accelerate economic growth.

“A number of economies in Africa depend on agriculture,” said Ousmane Badiane, Malabo Montpellier Panel co-chair and Africa director for the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). “That is why water control and irrigation are important to reduce poverty and to eradicate hunger across Africa.”

About 20 percent of cultivated land worldwide is irrigated and this contributes to about 40 percent of total food output, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

Africa is one of the regions in the world with the highest number of people who are hungry. It also has the lowest crop yields in the world as only six percent of cultivated land is irrigated on the continent, compared to 14 percent in Latin America and 37 percent in Asia.

“Irrigation must be made a priority in Africa because it works,” Badiane told IPS. “Once you commit to irrigation as a high-level priority, you put into place the institution mechanisms to deliver that effectively within government but in partnership with private sector and local communities.”

In 2014, 54 African governments signed the Malabo Declaration committing to halve the number of people in poverty by 2025. They sought to do this through agriculture growth that creates job opportunities for young people and women.

A study, Water-Wise: Smart Irrigation Strategies for Africa found that irrigated crops can double yields compared to rain-fed yields on the continent.

Furthermore, the economic benefits of expanding areas under irrigation would be double the costs of rain-fed agriculture under climate change.

Greater levels of irrigation have led to better and longer harvests, higher incomes and better prospects for farmers in Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, Morocco, Niger and South Africa.

These six countries are success models for either having the largest irrigated areas or for achieving the fastest growth in expanding irrigation agriculture. For example, Ethiopia increased the area under irrigation by almost 52 percent between 2002 and 2014, achieving the fastest growth in irrigation in Africa. Morocco has nearly 20 percent of its arable land currently equipped for irrigation.

A member of the 8-hectare Tjankwa Irrigation Scheme, in Plumtree District, 100km west of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS.

Success in the crop yields

In Zimbabwe, FAO has implemented a 6.8 million dollar Smallholder Irrigation Programme (SIP) programme in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development (MAMID) funded by European Union (EU) to improve income, food and nutrition security of communal farmers involved in small-scale irrigation. The programme has seen the rehabilitation of 40 irrigation schemes has benefitted 2,000 households in Manicaland and Matabeleland South Province.

Smallholder farmers in Matabeleland South Province are benefitting from irrigation schemes, which have allowed them to increase productivity even during droughts.

Landelani Ndlovu, a member of the 8-hectare Tjankwa Irrigation Scheme, says she earns 400 dollars from growing vegetables under a community irrigation project that started in 2012.

“Irrigation has helped us produce more vegetables and crops and to increase our income which we would not do if we relied on the seasonal farming when we have rain,” Ndlovu said.

In West Africa, Patience Koku, who farms with a pivot irrigation system, tells IPS, “the importance of irrigation in increasing grain yields cannot be over emphasised.”

“We are currently able to grow two crop cycles a year, meaning we double our output annually. In addition to this our grain yields are always higher in our irrigated crop. Corn cobs fill up completely to the tip, translating in higher yields,” Koku said.

Filling the funding gaps

“The profitability of irrigation is proven and in most cases there are high rates of return,” said Badiane. “A commitment was made by African leaders in Maputo in 2003 for countries to allocate 10 percent of their national budgets for agriculture. If they did so, a fraction of that could fund the 47 million hectares of irrigation. The funding gap for irrigation is huge because the potential is large.”

Badiane said by making irrigation a high-level priority, African governments can attract private sector investment and innovation and facilitate the uptake of technologies in growing agriculture to drive economic growth. Improved regulations for safe and sustainable use of water are also a driving factor in promoting irrigation development.

Irrigation allows farmers to produce crops over extended periods, particularly in areas where there is one rainy, Badiane said, noting that there was a business case for investing in irrigation as a way to pull farmers out of poverty while securing food and income.

Expanding what works

Badiane said irrigation development will help deliver on the food security and nutrition targets under the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and the Malabo Declaration. A critical factor was getting the buy-in of decision makers at the highest level of government who need proof that irrigation works.

Decision makers do not take innovation lightly because they know the cost of failure is extremely high, said Badiane, adding that scaling up irrigation development will aid agricultural transformation.

Africa, in particular, will require nothing short of a complete water transformation,” says Nathanial Matthews, Programme Director at the Global Resilience Partnership a partnership of public and private organisations that work together to build a resilient, “sustainable and prosperous future for vulnerable people and places”.

He urged Africa to transform its water use by scaling up traditional practices, deploying new technologies and improving governance.

“Taking action is urgent, with 95 pe cent of the continent relying on rain-fed agriculture and 25 countries already experiencing widespread hunger, poverty and under nutrition,” Matthews told IPS.

Of Cockroaches and Humans

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Dec 19 2018 (IPS)

Rita Levi-Montalcini, the Italian Nobel laureate honoured for her work in neurobiology, once gave a splendid conference with the title “The imperfect brain”. There she explained that man has a brain that is not used completely, while the reverse is true for the cockroach. In the growing fog that envelops the planet and its inhabitants, looking at things from the point of view of a cockroach would probably give us a new perspective. Also because the cockroach survived the atomic bomb in Nagasaki, it is 300 million years old, and it is distributed around the planet in over 4,000 species. All things that give it a great advantage over man.

Roberto Savio

Obviously, both are part of the animal kingdom. But man does things that other animals do not. For example, torture. Man has a level of consciousness and intelligence that no other animal possesses. But he does not, for example, learn from mistakes, which all other animals do. Today, 70 years after its adoption, we are celebrating the Declaration of Human Rights, but we are recreating all the conditions that led to the Second World War, so much so that we talk about the “New Thirties”.

We have returned to waving the well-known flags of “In the name of God” and “In the name of the nation”, flags under which millions of people died.

We have been questioning ourselves about the climate since the 1992 Rio de Janeiro Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). Rio de Janeiro gave rise to the Kyoto Protocol for the control of climate change which, despite its good intentions, has had negligible results. Finally, after years of negotiations, we managed to convene the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 21) in Paris in 2015, with the participation of all the world’s countries.

For it to happen, every country was left free to set its own goals for reducing carbon monoxide emissions and responsible for monitoring their application. (Just think what would happen if we left citizens the same rules for their taxes). We now know that the result of the commitments made in Paris is leading to a 3.6°C increase in the planet’s temperature. Since 1992, the work of climate scientists has been to calculate how far the temperature can rise from the days of the Industrial Revolution without causing too much damage. The consensus is 1.5°C, and that at more than two degrees the consequences of heating become irreversible and escape man’s control. For example, the permafrost of Siberia would melt, releasing a quantity of methane, an element 25 times more harmful than carbon monoxide. And the Paris agreement does not include methane, which is already massively produced by livestock farms, planes, ships and much more.

Long before the Rio Conference, in 1988, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) had created the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which brought together the climate scientists of 90 countries to present reports on the state of the climate. These reports have progressively identified human activity as responsible for the increase in temperature, obviously with the opposition of the fossil, oil and coal sectors.

But the figures speak clearly. CO2 emissions have continued to increase, even after the Paris Conference. And the latest report of the 2018 “emissions gap report” sounds a brutal alarm: at the current rate, we need to triple efforts to stay within the famous 1.5 degree mark, because we will get there within the next 12 years. Only 57 countries are on the correct path.

Now we have entered into the realm of myth. That of indefinite development, in which science and the market will be the saviours of the planet. The Trump administration has even presented a report to the annual Conference of the Parties (COP) defending fossil fuels, with the support of producer countries (Russia, Saudi Arabia, etc.). As for science, there is no doubt that it is playing a positive role. But science has become a market variable. If its findings are not used, they count for little. And history shows us that the free market uses them only if they can give immediate profits and do not create conflict with the sources of profit already in use. An easy example is that of the automotive industry.

Without the progressively introduced regulations, we would have cars that are much inferior to those of today if we were to increase their safety and efficiency, and reduce their pollution. And the myth of the efficiency of the free market, which has been left without checks and controls since the fall of the Berlin Wall, has created some winners, but many losers, who wear yellow jackets and bring revolt to Paris. To keep to the theme, total subsidies to the fossil industries currently amount to 250 billion dollars a year, while those in the renewables sector now stand at 120 billion… and the Joint Research Centre (JRC), the European Commission’s science and knowledge service, has calculated that inaction on climate change will cost Europe 240 billion euro a year, with southern Europe as the major victim.

Then the worst that could happen to the climate happened: it became no longer a problem of survival of the planet, but a political confrontation. Trump withdrew from the Paris agreement for three reasons: i) to undo what his predecessor Barack Obama had done, which is one of Trump’s automatic reflexes; ii) to satisfy the North American fossil world, which runs from unemployed miners to the billionaires of the fossil sector like the Koch brothers, who invested (their declaration) 900 million dollars in the last US presidential elections – a good example of democracy in a country where corporations have the same rights as citizens); and iii) to oppose any international agreement because America must play its role of great power without being harnessed into any multilateral agreement. And his world echoes him: the new Brazilian foreign minister, Ernesto Araújo, has declared that “climate change has been used to increase the regulatory power of states over the economy, and the power of international institutions over nations and their population, as well as slowing economic growth in democratic capitalist countries, and promoting the growth of China.”

And here, by mechanical logic, the battle against climate change has become a thing of the left (as have peace, solidarity and social justice). It is the thesis by which Trump withdraws from the Paris agreements and has declared that he does not believe the three reports of his administration on climate change, including one of 1,700 pages. And since he has become a specialist in putting Draculas to administer the various blood banks that for him represent the various administrations inherited from Obama, the administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is opening national parks and protected areas to the exploitation of fossil companies, just like newly-elected Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro declares he wants to open the Amazon to deforestation and the production of soy.

Moreover, this is the common thread that connects us with two other major events of December 2018 – the United Nations conferences in Katowice, Poland (on climate change), and Marrakech, Morocco (on migration). These, along with the revolt of the “yellow jackets” in France, mean that this month will go down in history as the date on which the international system formally entered into crisis and the revolt of the excluded can no longer be ignored, with Trump as a central protagonist.

The Marrakech conference was about adopting a document of principles on migration, for coordinated action, with respect for the human rights of migrants. It ended up leaving every state to establish its own policy. It was a non-binding document, which was not even signed. In Marrakech, the United States revolted, issuing a statement which, among others, stated: “We believe the Compact [Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration] and the process that led to its adoption, including the New York Declaration [for Refugees and Migrants], represent an effort by the United Nations to advance global governance at the expense of the sovereign right of States to manage their immigration systems in accordance with their national laws, policies, and interests.”

This was enough for the quick formation of a coalition of sovereignists, xenophobes and populists who boycotted the agreement. After Austria, here come Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Croatia, Switzerland and Trump’s allies, such as Israel, Australia and Chile. And it is here that migration, like the climate, becomes something that is of the left… and the Belgian government loses the far-right party of Flemish autonomy and is forced to redo its coalition, because it decides to participate in the Marrakech conference. And Germany and Italy pass the buck to their parliaments. All this over a non-binding document of principles!

What is apparently incomprehensible is that a serious debate about migration continues to be avoided. The great phenomena of migration, like that of Syria, were caused by international intervention to change the regime, without even thinking about the aftermath of invading. Obviously there are those who flee from poverty, and not only from conflicts. But this distinction is becoming increasingly blurred. According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), every two seconds one person is expelled from their territory due to conflict and persecution: the result is an unprecedented total of 68.5 million migrants in the world. Of these, 24.5 million are refugees, and more than half are under the age of 18. The number of authoritarian states has been on the increase over the last 10 years, and those fleeing from them has also been increasing, also for political reasons. But those who flee for ethnic, religious or political reasons are refugees (and not economic migrants, who have no rights). And there are 10 million people (like the Rohingya in Myanmar) who are denied nationality, and do not have access to basic rights, such as education, health and freedom of movement: they do not legally exist.

And now comes a new category that does not exist legally: that of environmental refugees who, according to the European Union number 258 million people, forced to leave their homes for climatic reasons. But this is a whole new and difficult discussion. While it is clear who are the victims of a hurricane or an earthquake, it is more difficult in the case of desertification. Let’s think about the case of island countries like the Maldives where an increase of just one metre in sea level would be enough for them to disappear physically. You can send an immigrant who comes to another country to escape hunger back to Senegal for example, but where do you send back people who no longer have their country?

One of the laws of physics is that of communicating vessels. Africa will double its population in a few decades. Nigeria alone will grow to 400 million inhabitants. Sixty percent of Africans are under 25, compared with 32 percent for North Americans, and 27 percent for Europeans. According to the United Nations, Europe will need at least twenty million immigrants to maintain its pension system and its competitiveness. Even Japan, which has always struggled to keep its identity and ethnic and cultural purity intact, is opening its doors without fanfare in the face of the aging of its citizens.

European statistics are public, but ignored. In Italy, immigrants totalling five million out of a population of 60.6 million have produced 130 billion euro, 8.9 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, an amount larger than the GDPs of Hungary, Slovakia and Croatia. And Italy now has seven births against 11 deaths. In the last five years, 570,000 new businesses out of six million have been created by immigrants in Italy, and the complaint of entrepreneurs, especially in agriculture, is that an Italian workforce cannot be found.

At global level, according to William Swing, former director-general of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), although immigrants account for only 3.5 percent of the world’s population, they produce nine percent of the world’s GDP. But this is not what people believe. According to a survey by the European Union on the myths and reality of immigration, Italians believe that immigrants account for 20 percent of the population while the figure is actually 10 percent. They believe that 50 percent are Muslims while they are really 30 percent, and that 30 percent are Christians while they are 60 percent. They also believe that 30 percent of them are unemployed while the figure is 10 percent, not far from the national average.

These Italian myths are actually shared by the whole of Europe, and with Trump by the United States. Fox News, Trump’s television arm, now refers to immigrants as “invaders”, and Trump wants to erect the most expensive wall in history, after the Great Wall of Chinese, to keep out criminals and drug traffickers.

And here comes the central theme of this article, which is too short to deal with issues that are apparently unrelated to each other in an effective way. Who elected the Trumps, the Salvinis, the Orbans, the Bolsonaros, and who sees peace and the fight against climate change as leftist positions, international cooperation as a plot in favour of the Chinese and immigrants as invaders? Well, the Catalan nations where a far-right party, born from nothing, won 400,000 votes can be very useful for understanding the revolt of the “yellow jackets” in France.

In Andalusia, the arrival of Vox has messed up all the cards. It took votes from the electorate of the right-wing parties, the Popular Party and Ciudadanos. After 23 years of governing the region, the PSOE, the Social Democrats, has lost control. How did it happen? In order of importance, the arguments of the voters were: 1) Vox fights against immigrants, who are an invasion;2) the party fights corruption, which is instead widespread in traditional parties; 3) it wants a strong government, because with the struggle for the independence of Catalonia Spain is becoming dismembered; and 4) why should a Spaniard go hungry, or be evicted for not paying rent, when food and a roof are being given to arriving immigrants? There was a heavy female vote, despite the anti-gay statements and anti-feminist slogans such as WOMEN IN THE HOME.

Now the place where Vox took more votes than any other party is the town of El Ejido, in the province of Almeria, which has become the nursery of Spain. It has a population of 86,000, of whom one-third are foreigners and one in five is Moroccan. These work in the nurseries surrounding the town, in precarious conditions and exploited. Unemployment is lower than the Spanish average. The town has no library, and a total of 600 newspapers a day are sold. It is evident that immigrants, many of them not registered, do a job that Spaniards do not want to do. If one-third of the population was to leave, that would be the end of prosperity. And who employs immigrants, at 41 euro for eight hours of work (35 for those who are not registered)? They are Spanish citizens. The situation is identical for immigrants in the south of Italy, exploited by local farmers who say that they manage to survive with cheap labour. Otherwise, they would have to shut down.

In other words, immigration has become a myth. America first has become Spain First, Italy First, and so on. The mayor of Almeria sums the situation up: Vox is the voice of anger.

How was this anger reached? It was not born today, but has been created over three decades. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, the threat of communism has disappeared, social concerns have fallen, and the market has replaced man as the central element of society. Spending that is not immediately productive (health, education, assistance for the elderly) has been progressively decreased. The rich, because they are productive, receive a progressive reduction in taxation, unlike the poor.

Globalisation has led the rich to become richer, and the poor poorer; it has delocalised businesses and reduced the purchasing power of the middle class, while finance has grown in a world of its own, free from business. The class of craftsmen/women and small traders is disappearing, if it has not already disappeared, devoured by the likes of IKEA and supermarkets. Cities become increasingly important, and the countryside increasingly empty and poor. A farmer’s product is sold to intermediaries for one-quarter of the final price. Where voters once identified themselves with a factory, with a trade union, with a community of peers, today they are atomised in a vacuum without incentives. And because, after the end of the Soviet Union, the new ethics is to become as rich as possible (today 80 people possess the same wealth as 2.3 million people) and the value of individual competition is increasing the frustration of the losers. Finally, the financial crisis of 2008.

The arrival of the Fourth Industrial Revolution with technological development, which is eliminating technology that has not been updated from the market, creates a situation of fear and insecurity; the losers no longer feel represented in politics, which seen at the service of the elites and in the hands of a self-referential, corrupt political class, which is directed to satisfying above all the world of the city, the elites, the system. Institutions are perceived as serving the system, and the same fate awaits international institutions, the European Union and the United Nations. Anti-politics is born, and the wave is ridden by parties born largely after the 2008 financial crisis. The struggle of anti-politics against politics becomes stronger than the division between right and left.

This struggle leads, for example, to Brexit, where cities vote to remain in the European Union and the countryside to leave, something that was repeated recently in the Polish elections. It is the same policy of fear and redemption of the losers that led to the power of Trump, who lost in the cities, in the rich states, and won among the poor, in the rural world, in the world of closed factories and abandoned mines, among voters motivated by rancour, anger and fear. In all small cities, the phenomenon is the same. An investigation in Montauban, one of the most active towns in the “yellow jackets” revolt with less than 60,000 inhabitants, found that there were 27 butchers before the arrival of Carrefour. There are four left. The same happened with greengrocers, with many clothing stores and craft workshops after the arrival of supermarkets. In all, around 900 shops had closed down. Respected citizens considered middle-class suddenly found themselves marginalised and ignored.

Through television, they basically see programmes from cities and a world that is changing in which they have no future. Is it any wonder that this turns into resentment towards the system and those who belong to it? Le Monde has published a table on salaries, which shows that those in a higher intellectual profession earn an average of 2,732 euro a month, which falls to 1,672 for farmers, artisans and traders, but plunges to 1,203 for those in precarious activities. And the “yellow jackets” revolt was triggered by a 10 euro cent increase in the tax on diesel fuel. One of the demonstrators’ slogans was: ‘Macron fears the end of the world, we fear the end of the month’.

Now, to remain in France, Macron has failed to understand that for the losers rational analysis of efficiency increases their estrangement. Life is above all a human fact, and no one is concerned with this aspect any longer. Schumpeter’s model – that the efficiency of the market creates a process of economy that grows thanks to the market’s capacity for creative destruction – is for the losers proof that the system is made only for the winners, and that neither they nor their children will ever have the ability to escape the situation in which they have come to find themselves through no fault of their own. The ‘Yellow Jackets’ movement has been very successful, because many categories feel ignored. When frustration increases with the passing of the years, of governments, and is reduced only to an economic problem of subsidies, the passage to violence, from dignity that is awakened, is unstoppable. And those who present themselves as “the man of providence”, capable of listening and understanding, opening fights against corruption, for the restoration of law, for traditional society, for the world in which everything went well – from the old independent Britain to the great factories and steel mills of the United States – will have unshakable support. In reality, there was once a social contract, also regulated by intermediary forces such as trade unions, by a sense of hope and collective identity, such as being a worker or a railwayman. This sense of community has disappeared, almost all places of aggregation have disappeared, such as clubs or dance halls, replaced today by the halls of supermarkets and discos, to which only young people have access.

It would also be necessary to open a chapter on the impact of technology, with internet and social media, which instead of leading to greater communication, have led to a self-referential and narcissistic world, where each one organises their own virtual world, escapes from real society, creating aggregations among peers and no longer dialogue with others. Another instrument that is felt as exclusion for generational reasons. Even though the revolt of the ‘Yellow Jackets’ was made possible by Facebook, which brought together hundreds of thousands of people aggregated against the common enemy: the system, which ignored and marginalised them. However, it should be clear that robotisation and artificial intelligence will put more people on the margins of society than immigration ever will, with new priests of the system, technicians who will manage the world of artificial intelligence.

It is thus now clear that without social justice, we will not go far. Macron who lifts taxes from the rich to attract investments to France lives in a world that is different from that of most of its citizens. And above all, in a world of numbers and Excel tables. A world in which “men of providence” will lead us inexorably towards a war. Exploiting fear and injustice works politically for obtaining votes. The battles of the losers of globalisation have been opened by social movements, by the World Social Forum. But who uses them is not the left, which with Tony Blair’s ‘third way’ thought it could ride the wave of globalisation, when it only managed to lose its base: the battle of the losers is used by right that is not ideological but of the gut.

Creating a new social pact as existed before the fall of the Berlin Wall is not easy. Money – which is no longer there – is necessary. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) tells us that world debt exceeds 182 trillion dollars. In just one year, it has increased by 18 trillion dollars. Since the 2007 crisis, it has increased by 60 percent. We are all living on credit, and Macron, who now would like to use social justice to restore peace, has no funds to do so.

Moreover, as always in a world that has lost its compass, the money would be there. Every year, countries’ tax authorities collect 150 billion dollars less than they could because of tax havens that could easily be outlawed in a very short time. It is always the same: if we could introduce social justice as the first objective, it would be easy, even on a global scale. The United States, for example, spent the absurd sum of 5.9 trillion dollars in military operations and armaments after the attack on the Twin Towers. In 2017, 1.719 billion dollars were spent on armaments worldwide, a figure never before reached in history. And if military expenses could be considered necessary by some, I do not see who defends the spending for corruption: in the last year, according to the United Nations, this amounted to one trillion dollars, and the money stolen in governments another 2.6 trillion. Another proof of the efficiency of the free market!

And now let’s go back to our cockroach. According to scientists, we are heading towards the sixth crisis of extinction of the animal and plant kingdom. Extinction is a natural phenomenon, affecting one to five species each year. But scientists estimate that the current rate is at least a thousand times higher, with dozens of species every day. It is believed that by the middle of the century at least 30 percent of existing species will have disappeared.

Obviously, the cockroach is not one of these. It is estimated that a building in New York has at least 36,000 cockroaches.

But men have come to the conclusion that it is necessary to find a way to give animal proteins in a different, more sustainable way, and that the path to follow is to eat insects. There are cultural resistances (not in China and other countries), but they can be overcome with an appealing presentation …

And our cockroach can only desire that the bunglers of the animal kingdom, called men, get out of the way as soon as possible. The entire animal and plant kingdoms, and probably also the mineral one, are asking for this.

Certainly, without man, in the space of twenty years the planet would become ideal for nature…

Is it Time to End Cheque Book Diplomacy at the UN?

By Thalif Deen

The UN’s major donors – led by the United States – have long been accused of influence-peddling and misusing their financial clout not only to grab some of the high ranking jobs in the world body but also threaten funding cuts to push their own domestic agendas.

The Trump administration’s plan to reduce its 22% assessed contributions to the world body –- mandatory payments to the UN’s regular budget– has helped resurrect a 1985 suggestion by the late Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme who proposed a new system of financing the UN.

The Palme proposal did not renounce the existing “capacity to pay” formula, but suggested there should be a cap of 10 percent maximum for any one country.

This cap is intended to reduce the UN’s excessive dependence on funding by the US and a fistful of big donors. The spirit of the Palme proposal is to protect the UN from being unduly influenced by these donors.

According to the current formula, besides the 22% by the US, the percentage for the other major contributors include: Japan pays 9.7 %, China 7.9%, Germany 6.4%, France 4.9 %, UK 4.5%, Italy 3.7% and Russia 3.1%.

The poorest countries of the world pay 0.001% of the UN budget, whereas the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), described as the poorest of the poor, have a cap of 0.01% each

Kul Gautam, former UN Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of the UN children’s agency UNICEF, is a strong advocate of the Palme proposal and argues that if UN decision-making is to be freed from excessive vulnerability to, and even being blackmailed by the big donors, it is important for UN not to be too dependent on any single donor for its overall budget or important projects.

In an interview with IPS, he pointed out that former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was compelled to change his report on Saudi Arabia’s blatant targeting of children and civilians in its attacks in Yemen a few years ago, because of the Saudi threat of withholding its funding for the UN.

Similarly, in 2005, former Secretary-General Kofi Annan was compelled by then US President George W Bush to appoint an American Executive Director of UNICEF within 72 hours —without any serious vetting by the UNICEF Executive Board.

A clear case of influence-peddling, and “cheque book diplomacy,” said Gautam, author of the recently-released book titled “Global Citizen from Gulmi: My Journey from the Hills of Nepal to the Halls of the United Nations”.

James Paul, who served as executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum (1993-2012), told IPS that on 21 October 1985, in a speech to a General Assembly commemoration of the UN’s 40th anniversary, Olof Palme proposed that the cap on maximum assessment by any one country to the UN’s regular budget be reduced from 25% to 10%.

Palme said: “A more even distribution of the assessed contributions would better reflect the fact that this Organization is the instrument of all nations.”

The UN at that time was facing a growing financial crisis, due in large part to a growing debt by the United States; Palme was proposing an unconventional solution.

A number of countries agreed with Palme and a high-level UN reform paper took up the idea. The German government argued with Washington that the United States should pay up– or accept a lower assessment.

But US Secretary of State George Schultz rejected the idea out of hand, said Paul, author of the newly-released book titled “Of Foxes and Chickens: Oligarchy & Global Power in the UN Security Council.”

“Washington wanted to keep its financial strangle-hold. Unfortunately, many other member states preferred to maintain their own dues at a low level. Some were thought to pay less in dues to the world body than the operating cost of their delegation in New York,” he added.

In 2001, the US altered course and agreed to pay the UN most of the outstanding US debt if its regular budget dues rate was lowered to 22%, from 25%. That shift was, of course, far from the Palme idea. Outsize US financial influence continued.

“The 2001 changes are very relevant today, as yet another UN financial crisis is upon us and Washington is yet again the main culprit, said Paul”, who for many years was also an editor of the ‘Oxford Companion to Politics of the World’.

Could the distribution of dues be changed further in the direction that Palme suggested?

The process leading to the 2001 change proved that under the right circumstances other member states could be persuaded to come up with an additional share of the dues, he noted.

Martin Edwards, an Associate Professor and Director of the UN Studies Program at the School of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University, told IPS: “Given that the White House is heading us back toward arrears with its desire to ratchet US contributions down, this is an auspicious moment to propose this.”

He said the challenge would be to sell it, though, since the intent on the UN side is to diversify the portfolio and limit the influence of donors, they might not jump on it since it means foregoing future influence. (In the P-5, what other countries would be interested? Certainly not Russia and China.—the other three being the US, UK and France.)

“But, we have a relatively unexperienced US Ambassador arriving in the form of Heather Nauert, and she’s going to face competition from seasoned veteran counterparts. It would be smart to offer it to Nauert and see if she jumps on it to bring a quick win for her boss,” Edwards declared.

Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury, a former UN Under-Secretary-General, told IPS:

“For the Olof Palme proposal, I would say with pride that as the Deputy Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to UN, I had advocated publicly in 1985 and thereafter that no one Member State should be paying more than 10 percent of the UN budget.”

Even at that time, he said, the US was very strongly opposed to the idea.

“I continue to believe very earnestly in the wide-ranging positive impact of the 10 percent ceiling proposal,” declared Chowdhury.

Gautam said: “I am not in favour of the argument that because the US economy is strong right now that it should be asked or expected to pay more to the UN”.

That, he pointed out, would be contrary to the spirit of the Palme proposal.

Any shortfall caused by capping the US contribution to the UN can be easily made up by other OECD countries (Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development) and the large number of middle-income emerging economies, without putting undue burden on the worlds low-income countries and LDCs.

“Please remember that in the larger scheme of international finance, in a world economy of $77 trillion and global military budgets of $1.7 trillion per year, the totality of the UN system’s budget and expenditure for humanitarian assistance, development cooperation, peace-keeping operations, technical assistance and other essential normative functions, amount to about $48 billion per year,” he pointed out.

This is a modest amount to respond to the huge challenges that the UN is asked and expected to help tackle.

He said the total UN system-wide spending annually is less than the defense budget of India or France, and less than one month’s US spending on defense.

With similar investment, bilateral aid and national budgets of much bigger proportions could hardly achieve results comparable to what the UN and international financial institutions achieve.

Today financing for development landscape is changing rapidly. Many UN activities benefit from private sector financing and philanthropic foundations.

Many NGOs rely increasingly in cloud-sourcing and crowd-funding as well as different modalities of public-private partnerships.

Harnessing such possibilities and exploring the utilization of schemes like the Tobin Tax and resources generated from the global commons that are supposed to be the common heritage of humanity should be seriously explored to liberate the UN from the perpetual threats of arbitrary cuts by its current major donors, declared Gautam.

Paul told IPS: “Obviously, the Swedish prime minister was generally inclined towards a fiscal system that required the richest participants to pay on a progressive basis.”

That’s why his voice on this issue was so influential, because he was balancing that principle against others he considered more important – the viability of the United Nations and the protection of the UN from pressure from the largest payer.

Can the Palme concept be applied today when yet another UN financial crisis has arisen and a US administration of unprecedented hostility to global cooperation is in power?

It would be worth trying, said Paul.

And it may be an urgently-needed revision to the post-1945 arrangements and the world order that lay behind them. Other member states would have to agree to accept a larger share of the UN dues to make up for a reduction by Washington, said Paul.

“That would be most likely if the shift took place over an extended period – say over ten years. Getting a fairer share of top executive posts might be an incentive to the other UN members, as would a greater democratization of UN policy-making.”

He said complaints that national budgets are over-stretched cannot be taken seriously, since UN dues are a very small number in all national budgets from the poorest to the very richest countries. Affordability is simply not the main issue.

Washington might oppose such a change, so as to keep its financial influence intact, but the time has come for the rest of the world to stand up and defend a necessary change to strengthen an institution that they need and want.

The world has changed since 1945 and the United States can no longer pretend to be the world’s “leader.”

Adoption of the Palme proposal might be the first step towards other much-needed changes to make the UN stronger and more effective in the years to come, declared Paul.

The writer can be contacted at

Investors Turn Kenya’s Troublesome Invasive Water Hyacinth into Cheap Fuel

Water hyacinth is a weed and if not controlled on Lake Victoria, experts are concerned that the lake’s water levels might drop by 60 percent. Courtesy: CC by 2.0/Madeira Botanic Garden

By Benson Rioba
KISUMU, Kenya, Dec 19 2018 (IPS)

Currently 30 square kilometres of Lake Victoria, which stretches to approximately 375 kilometres and links Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda, is covered with the evasive water hyacinth that has paralysed transport in the area.

But scientists are harvesting and fermenting the weed, and one intrepid chemistry teacher has built a business out of it.

The presence of water hyacinth on the lake is concerning. Late last year, Margaret Kidany, one of the people involved in conserving Lake Victoria’s beaches, said the lake’s water levels might drop by 60 percent if the weed is not controlled. If it is not eliminated, it will kill the livelihoods of thousands of households that rely on the lake for an income.

However, the Centre for Innovation Science and Technology in Africa, founded by former chemistry teacher Richard Arwa, is making the best out of the invasive water hyacinth.

Funded in its start-up stages by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the innovation company, which employs six people and serves 560 households, manufactures ethanol from the weed. This is proving a cheaper source of clean fuel for many of the locals while at the same time preserving the lake.

The process they use is a simple one.

The centre hires locals to harvest the hyacinth from Lake Victoria before transporting it to their workshop for processing. Once at the workshop, the hyacinth is pretreated to remove microorganisms that might compete with the enzymes during processing.

The hyacinth is then dried and chopped into smaller pieces to reduce the surface area for efficient processing. The dried hyacinth is then mixed with water, acids and enzymes in tight closed tanks for fermentation.

After fermentation the mixture is subjected to high temperatures (80 degrees Celsius), producing ethanol and carbon dioxide and methane as final products.

“This was part of a science congress project for secondary schools and it won accolades throughout the country and we, together with my students, decided to actualise the project,” says Arwa.

Arwa is still a chemistry teacher even though he started the institution in 2016.

He adds that they initially tried to produce beverage alcohol from the hyacinth but the project was not viable. According to Arwa, alcohol requires numerous purification processes to make it consumable. In addition the taxes on the product are high.

So it is less costly to make ethanol. Arwa says the company produces 100 litres daily.

The amount is considerable for their factory, and it is sold to 560 households in Yala in Kisumu city. Arwa tells IPS that they always run out of stock.

Lyne Ondula, a mother from Yala, in Kisumu county, is a happy customer.

“Hyacinth fuel burns slower than the usual kerosene I use and doesn’t produce smoke and soot while cooking like firewood or kerosene. To me it’s much cheaper and cleaner to use, no more coughing in my kitchen when preparing food,” she tells IPS.

Ondula says a litre of ethanol retails at 70 Kenyan shillings and lasts four days. That is in marked contrast to the higher cost of kerosene, which currently retails at a national average of 100 Kenyan shillings, and lasts only two days. She says she also used to buy charcoal which was quite expensive, retailing at 100 Kenyan shilling per a 15-kilogram tin, which only lasted hours. So now she only uses ethanol, which she pre-orders.

It is a cleaner option for this East African nation that is still heavily reliant on charcoal, kerosene and firewood as a source of energy. According to a market and policy analysis by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, while “LPG has penetrated Nairobi and higher-income households; bio-ethanol can be an attractive clean fuel for lower income households.”

Ondula’s sentiments were echoed by Sylvester Oduor, another resident from Yala in Kisumu County. He adds that ethanol fuel also produces more heat compared to charcoal when cooking.

Philip Odhiambo, energy and climate change coordinator at the WWF, says such innovations are key in harnessing the untapped opportunities of water bodies.

“There is a need to turn environmental challenges to create wealth and opportunities especially in creating jobs for our many unemployed youth,” says Odhiambo. He adds that the ethanol processing project is a viable way of managing green waste that has been a challenge in the country for a long time.

Odhiambo adds that the world is shifting towards clean, cheap energy and says there is a need to embrace creativity and tap into the energy potential of water bodies, besides the traditional sources of energy.

In addition, unlike other clean fuels, bio-ethanol can be produced domestically over time and could spur industrial growth in the sector “while delivering positive social and economic benefits,” says the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety report.

However, Arwa says accessing the initial capital of 50,000 dollars was a challenge as many financial institutions turned him away for lack of collateral. In the end he had to rely on donors like WWF to finance the project. The chemistry teacher adds that financial institutions did not have faith in the venture and were not ready to invest in the idea.

The immediate goal for the company is to expand production to 600 litres per day.

But Arwa has a five-year expansion plan that includes moving the small factory, which is about 40 kilometres away from Lake Victoria, closer to the lake to reduce costs. He hopes that once relocated, and with the support of partners, they will eventually be able to produce 10,000- 25,000 litres per day.

Arwa adds that he is looking for strategic investment partners to help in scaling up the ethanol project, reiterating that there is a huge untapped market for the product. “I usually feel bad when customers come to purchase ethanol but we turn them away. At the moment we cannot satisfy the demand,” he says.

Media Advisory: How much land is degraded globally?

By UNCCD Press Release
BONN, Germany, Dec 19 2018 (UNCCD)

The first global assessment of land degradation based on Earth observation data reported by governments will be presented and reviewed at the Seventeenth Session of the Committee for the Review of Implementation of the Convention (CRIC 17) to be held on 28-29 January 2019 in Georgetown, Guyana.

The assessment, conducted by reporting countries using a harmonized approach, shows trends in land degradation between 2000 to 2015. It is based on data gathered from 145 of the 197 countries that are party to the Convention. This is the most extensive compilation of official data on this subject since world governments agreed to tackle the problem of land degradation in 1994, and then adopted a binding agreement – the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification – in 1996.

The assessment is expected to provide the baseline for assessing progress in the reduction or reversal of land degradation globally, going forward. It will also contribute to country efforts to achieve land degradation neutrality (LDN), which is Sustainable Development Goal target 15.3.

Journalists wishing to cover the Committee meeting in January are invited to register and obtain accreditation through this online portal:

The secretariat of the UNCCD jointly with Guyana Land and Soils Commission will organize a media training for journalists on Sunday, 28 January 2019. A few Caribbean journalists who meet the required criteria will be sponsored for the training, and to cover the event. Interested journalists are reminded that the application deadline is this Friday, 21 December 2019. Detailed information is available here: