U.N. Criticised for Link-up with Saudi Prince MBS

Jamal Kahshoggi, a US-based journalist who frequently criticised the Saudi government, was killed while visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where he was collecting papers for his wedding. Courtesy: POMED/CC by 2.0

By James Reinl
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 4 2019 – The United Nations is under growing pressure to scrap an event it is co-hosting with the private foundation of Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammad bin Salman, who has been linked to the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

On Tuesday, Sunjeev Bery, director of Freedom Forward, became the latest leader of a campaign group to press the U.N. to cancel the Sept. 23 event, saying it would help repair bin Salman’s reputation over the Khashoggi murder. 

The event, known as the Misk-OSGEY Youth Forum, is a partnership between the U.N.’s youth envoy, Jayathma Wickramanayake, and the Misk Foundation, a culture and education foundation chaired by bin Salman, who is better known as MBS.

“No one — especially not the U.N. — should be partnering with MBS or his personal Misk Foundation,” Bery told IPS.

“Saudi Arabia’s brutal crown prince is responsible for the deaths of thousands of Yemeni children. His thugs imprisoned leading women’s rights activists and murdered Jamal Khashoggi.”

Kenneth Roth, the director of Human Rights Watch, a campaign group, last week accused the world body of helping to “whitewash” MBS’s record; Mandeep Tiwana, from Civicus, a rights group, called the event “disturbing”.

 

The U.N. youth envoy’s office declined to comment on the row. U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the world body had repeatedly issued “very strong statements … calling for accountability” in Khashoggi’s killing.

The Misk-OSGEY Youth Forum will take place in New York only 10 days before the first anniversary of Khashoggi’s murder on Oct. 2 last year, when Saudi government agents killed and dismembered the journalist inside the country’s consulate in Istanbul.

The CIA later determined that MBS had personally ordered the hit. Saudi officials, who initially said Khashoggi had left the consulate alive, now say the journalist was killed in a rogue operation that did not involve MBS.

Saudi Arabia’s mission to the U.N. did not answer requests for comment from IPS.

The four-hour workshop for 300 young people at the New York Public Library will occur on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly and promote green themes, corporate responsibility and other aspects of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) agenda.

It will feature Alexandra Cousteau, an environmentalist and granddaughter of French explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau; and Bart Houlahan, an entrepreneur who promotes sustainable business practices.

Other speakers include Andrew Corbett, an expert on entrepreneurship at Babson College, Paul Polman, former CEO of consumer goods firm Unilever, and Ann Rosenberg, an author and U.N. technology expert.

Dr. Reem Bint Mansour Al-Saud, a Saudi princess and an envoy to U.N. headquarters in New York, who advocates for empowering women and development in the Gulf kingdom, will also speak at the workshop.

Khashoggi, a United States-based journalist who frequently criticised the Saudi government, was killed while visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where he was collecting papers for his wedding.

U.N. expert Agnes Callamard issued a report in June that described the assassination as a “deliberate, premeditated execution,” and called for MBS and other Saudi officials to be probed.

The Misk-OSGEY Youth Forum comes after years of tensions between the U.N. and Riyadh over the war in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia is leading a military coalition against the country’s Houthi rebels. 

The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people and caused led to a major humanitarian crisis. 

“The crown prince and his violent government must be held accountable for their human rights crimes,” said Bery, who advocates for the U.S. to cut ties with Saudi Arabia and other authoritarian regimes.

“Instead, misguided U.N. staff are absurdly giving the crown prince a public relations platform as he attempts to wipe away the blood of so many dead Yemeni children.”

They Call it Multistakeholderism. Where Does That Leave the UN?

The United Nations headquarters showcasing the Sustainable Development summit, September 2015. The essayist, an expert in governance and democracy, bemoans the growing participation of multinational corporations in UN system forums. Credit: CIA PAK/UN PHOTO

By Harris Gleckman
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 4 2019 – Global governance is slipping away from the United Nations.

Whether it is in managing the Internet, where the UN’s governing structure offers only an advisory role for governments; or climate change, where the most exciting actions are now corporate-led partnerships outside the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change; or the Gates Foundation-sponsored Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance, which is in a tug of war with the World Health Assembly on who sets health policy in developing countries, the institutional basis for global decision-making is changing.

Where nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) were once the largest nonstate entities attending UN system meetings, transnational corporations have become the biggest players. They participate in well-attended public-private partnership sessions at the UN Conference on Trade and Development, the Human Rights Council and the High-Level Political Forum, the key body for following up on the Sustainable Development Goals.

The latest institutional foray is a World Economic Forum-UN partnership agreement. Under this arrangement, senior UN leaders are invited at national, regional and international levels to interact with forum members, many of whom are actually causing the global problems that the UN system is tasked to fix, such as climate change.

These developments are part of a new global governance approach, one in which a team of corporate executives, leaders of civil society organizations (CSOs) , officials from governments and the UN system, academics and other players take on the governance of a specific international challenge.

In the economic, social and environmental fields, this governance arrangement is called multistakeholderism, as each new global decision-maker is said to represent a “stakeholder” in an issue. In practice, these governance arrangements can have a role equal to or greater than the one held by the intergovernmental body officially assigned to address a universal problem.

These experiments in a new form of global governance and the 2010 report on the Global Redesign Initiative by the World Economic Forum run counter to efforts to enhance a sense of democracy as part of global decision-making.

Corporate executives — not leaders of small- and medium-size enterprises, nor microenterprises — are central to these groups and public-private partnerships. Yet these bodies have their own internal governance and constituencies; as a result, they redraft global principles that were agreed on by governments to meet their own, often business-focused, concerns.

The selected government officials, those considered sympathetic to the goals of multistakeholders, sit on the board as only one of the decision-makers. At the same time, the other players are elevated to a role in global governance without any democratic basis for their participation.

This dynamic is quite different from the one prevalent during the conferences of the 1990s, when civil society organizations, farm and labor organizations, educators, scientists, women and businesses gathered to provide diversified voices to governments, which alone led international decision-making.

UN public-private partnerships tend to worsen changes in the relationship between the intergovernmental process and UN secretariat staff members, who act as the administrative arm of a UN entity.

Where once the secretary-general and the heads of UN specialized agencies and programs saw themselves — and were seen by UN member governments — as governed by a specific intergovernmental body, now the secretariats act more autonomously. They strike up relationships with multiplayer bodies like the World Economic Forum and corporations without intergovernmental oversight.

A result of the increase in institutional ties between the UN and senior corporate executives is that civil society organizations, educators, scientists, women and other social communities have less ability to influence the behavior of the UN bodies and the intergovernmental process.

The weakening tie is driven both by outside factors and internal realities. The pressures on the UN system are significant. There is the cumulative effect, for example, of more than 30 years of flat or negative regular budget growth of the UN.

As an extension of President Trump’s effort to deconstruct the domestic regulatory state in the United States, his administration is also striving to deconstruct the UN system.

Internally, the secretariats perceive that taking relatively autonomous actions is one way to deliver on their generic assignments and to offset the underfunded regular budget by reaching out to potential corporate donors.

This increased autonomy is often reflected in more willingness to accept invitations to join a multistakeholder group to “represent” the UN and governments or to invite major corporations to join a secretariat-led multiparty group. These new links can allow corporations to assert that they are working with the UN — albeit without intergovernmental oversight.

They can also influence a UN secretariat to frame solutions to global problems in ways that are sensitive to their corporate constituency but not necessarily focused on government expectations or the need for leading the world toward systemic reforms.

Of course, the interests of corporations vary. For some consumer-oriented businesses, their increased role in UN operations is a chance to secure a role in creating a global sustainability market for a specific product or service.

For other multinationals, particularly those affiliated with the World Economic Forum, it is an opportunity, after the shocks of the 2008 financial crisis, to re-legitimate the globalized market in the minds of international and national elites.

It does not need to be so. Steps can be taken by governments to reassert leadership in managing globalization and mitigating global environmental crises. These could include a clear definition of conflict of interests to guide secretariats when they partner with a specific enterprise; an intergovernmental review of multistakeholders’ plans to ensure they follow UN goals; and improving intergovernmental oversight of the entire UN system through regular meetings of the heads of all intergovernmental bodies.

With the advent of many players involved in decision-making and international public-private partnerships, the secretariats are increasingly semiautonomous from their intergovernmental body, reaching out to one constituency, the international business community, thus marginalizing their overall roles with other global constituencies.

These developments undermine a public view that democracy — one country-one vote with all of its exceptions — will be the guiding global governance principles today and in the future.

The post They Call it Multistakeholderism. Where Does That Leave the UN? appeared first on PassBlue.

Women in Politics: Adornments and Witches

By Jan Lundius
STOCKHOLM / ROME, Sep 4 2019 – Some world leaders try to prove their alpha male status by presenting attractive and submissive wives as tokens won in virile scrambles with other potent stags. A recent example of such puerile machismo was exposed in a twitter battle between the Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro and his French equivalent Emmanuel Macron. Since taking office in January, Mr Bolsonaro has railed against what he considered to be foreign meddling in Brazilian environmental politics. Wild fires raging in the Amazonian rain forest have generally been blamed on a rampant deforestation said to be endorsed by Bolsonaro´s regime. Emmanuel Macron tweeted a photo of burning Amazonian forestland with the comment: ”Our house is burning. Literally.” Bolsonaro reacted immediately and accused Macron of supporting an international alliance intending to take control over Amazonia while treating Brazil like a ”colony”. Bolsonaro twittered:

    We cannot accept French President Macron´s improper and wanton attacks on the Amazon, nor can we accept that he disguises his intentions. 1

Some days later, Bolsonaro expressed approval of a Facebook-posting by one of his supporters. It presented an unflattering photo of France´s First Lady, mocking her appearance and comparing her unfavourably to Brazil’s First Lady. The post declared: ”Now you understand why Macron is persecuting Bolsonaro” indicating that Brigitte Macron is not as attractive as Michelle Bolsonaro, who is 28 years younger than Brigitte. Emmanuel Macron is 24 years younger than his wife and in the opinion of chauvinist males this makes him less macho than Jair Bolsonaro who has a wife that is 27 years younger than him. Bolsonaro replied to his Facebook fan: ”Do not humilate the guy, ha, ha,” while Macron retorted by stating that Bolsonaro had been ”extremely disrespectful” to his wife, adding that:

    It’s sad, it’s sad first of all for him and for Brazilians. Brazilian women are probably feeling ashamed of their president. Since I have a lot of esteem and respect for the people of Brazil, I hope they will very soon have a president who is up to the job. 2

Unfortunately, I doubt that Bolsonaro´s fans had been offended by their president´s behaviour. It is common, not only in Brazil, that people confuse competent leadership with displays of masculinity. A macho man may in political propaganda be depicted as a guarantee for strength and security, while female leaders may, due to their gender, be presented as less determined and accordingly unfit for the presidency, defined as the most masculine institution of all.

The recent U.S. presidential election was by many viewed as a battle between manhood and femininity, where opponents to Hillary either judged her as a proponent of ”feminine traits” making her weak and unfit for office, or as a menacing ”mannish”, maybe even lesbian lady who threatened male dominance and masculinity.

The mix-up of masculinity with politics means that women candidates to influential positions often are forced to navigate an assumed ”masculine deficit” of strength and dedication by excessively exhibit willpower, vigour and toughness, displaying ”hawkish” attitudes, while downplaying their roles as mothers and/or wives, altering their vocabulary and lower the tone of their voices. This while female partners of male contenders are expected to display beauty and youthfulness, as well as an unquestionable loyalty to the virile men they ”belong” to.

To perceive strong women leaders as imbued with ”manly” traits appears to be quite common. The future Israeli prime minister Golda Meir wrote in her memoris that when she in 1956 became foreign minister in Ben-Gurion´s government a story – which as far as I know, is all it was – went the rounds of Israel to the effect that Ben-Gurion described me as ‘the only man’ in his cabinet. What amused me about it was that obviously he (or whoever invented the story) thought that this was the greatest compliment that could be paid to a woman. I very much doubt that any man would have been flattered if I had said about him that he was the only woman in the government! 3

However, such statements did not mean that Meir was a feminist. In 1973, she told Oriana Fallaci: ”Those nuts that burn their bras and walk around all disheveled and hate men? They’re crazy. Crazy.” 4 Golda Meir was often called The Iron Lady, as the strong-willed and outspoken Otto von Bismarck, who in his lifetime was considered to be the epitome of Prussian manhood was called The Iron Chancellor. British prime minster Margaret Thatcher was also labelled The Iron Lady. She has been described as uniting a ”dual nature of masculine and feminine imagery” 5 radiating ”feminine” housekeeping qualities, combined with aspects of a hard, masculine warrior and leader.

Contrary to what is generally the case of male leaders, women´s qualities tend to be connected with their dress and looks. Mrs. Thatcher kept her hair swept back from her face, giving her hairdo the impression of a helmet. She wore earrings and a necklace of pearls – not any frivolous diamonds, often wore gloves and almost always carried with her a black, square handbag, thus creating the image of a decisive and serious woman, not sexy or glamorous, but self-assured and effective. An appearance that occasionally created fear and insecurity among male opponents, like the French president Jaques Chirac who once famously exclaimed: ”What more does this housewife want from me? My balls on a tray?”, or Labour politician Tony Banks who in 1997 in a sexist manner described Thatcher as behaving ”with all the sensitivity of a sex-starved boa constrictor.”

A woman who through her manner and dress does not emit feelings of control and self-assurance, but adaptability, submission and accessibility may not be taken seriously and thus not be accepted as a leader. This might be the reason to why several strong and influential women leaders seem to cultivate a persona that does not make them appear as excessively feminine or sexy. The powerful Indian prime minster Indira Gandhi once declared:

    I do not behave like a woman. The ”lack of sex” in me partly accounts for this. When I think of how other women behave, I realise that it is the lack of sex and with it a lack of woman’s wiles, on which most men base their views on me. 6

This reminds of the image Angela Merkel appears to cultivate – a political style transmitting a sharp sense of power, a scientist´s strict devotion to data projecting effectiveness and leadership qualities. Vogue has described the German chancellor as a short matronly woman […] wearing her signature black trousers and sensible walking shoes. 7

The same article characterised Merkel as a courageous and strong woman, for example by describing a meeting with Vladimir Putin in 2007 when the Russian president had allowed his huge Labrador to enter the room, well aware that the German chancellor since her early childhood is traumatized by dogs after having been severely mauled by one of them.

    Her aides were furious with the Russian, but she was not. ´I understand why he has to do this,´ she said, ´to prove he’s a man. He’s afraid of his own weakness.´ What Putin and other alpha-male politicians often miss is that Angela Merkel may be afraid of dogs, but she is not afraid of men. 8

It may be denied that male and female roles remain an important part of human power games, though I assume Merkel was right about Putin´s behaviour – it was based on fear. Fear of losing a mask of a virile masculinity, something which also is apparent in the ridiculous discourses of male leaders like Bolsonaro and Trump, who brag about their beautiful and submissive wives, whom they display as hunting trophies conquered in competition with other alpha males.

At the same time they show contempt for female adversaries. Jair Bolsonero told a female congress woman: “I’m not going to rape you, because you’re very ugly”. Appalling misogynist language is also a trademark of Donald Trump who labels leaders like Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, Meghan Markle and Mette Fredriksen as ”nasty” women, calls his one-time aide Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth ”that dog”, the actress Rosie O´Donell a ”pig”, and famously stated that when Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly critizised him she had ”blood coming out of her wherever” and that the political commentator Mika Brzezinski was ”bleeding badly from a face lift”. Unfortunately, these are just a few examples of a misogynist stance that still is evident within a global political discourse that deny women the right of being respected as equals to men. Several world leaders present their female partners as adornments to their power display, at the same time as they fear and attack female opponents, accusing them of having transgressed traditional boundaries of ”womanhood” to become ”hags and witches” who constitute a threat to male dominance.

1 https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-08-27/macron-hits-back-at-bolsonaro-over-post-about-his-wife/11451166
2 Ibid.
3 Quoted in Hall Jamieson, Kathleen (1995) Beyond the Double Bind: Women and Leadership. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 128.
4 Fallaci, Oriana /1973) ”Golda Meir: On Being a Woman,” Ms.Magazine, April.
5 Webster, Wendy (1990) Not a Man to Match Her. London:The Women´s Press, p. 73.
6 Jayakar, Pupul (1992) Indira Gandhi: A biography. New Dehli: Penguin Books, p. 479.
7 Marton, Kati (2017) “How Angela Merkel Became the Most Powerful Woman in the World,” Vogue, July 18.
8 Ibid.

Jan Lundius holds a PhD. on History of Religion from Lund University and has served as a development expert, researcher and advisor at SIDA, UNESCO, FAO and other international organisations.

Achieving Global Consensus on How to Slow Down Loss of Land

India’s minister for environment, forests and climate change, Prakash Javadekar (left), said he would be happy if CoP 14 could achieve consensus on such difficult issues as drought management and land tenure. Courtesy: Ranjit Devraj

By Ranjit Devraj
NEW DELHI, Sep 4 2019 – Expectations are high, perhaps too high, as the 14th Conference of the Parties (CoP 14) of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), now into the third day of its two-week session, is being held outside the smog-filled Indian capital of New Delhi.

At the inauguration on Monday, India’s minister for environment, forests and climate change, Prakash Javadekar, soon after ceremonies to mark his taking over as president of the Convention for the next two years, said he would be happy if CoP 14 could achieve consensus on such difficult issues as drought management and land tenure.

Other issues on the agenda of CoP14, themed ‘Restore land, Sustain future’ and located in Greater Noida, in northern Uttar Pradesh state, include negotiations over consumption and production flows that have a bearing on agriculture and urbanisation, restoration of ecosystems and dealing with climate change.

According to Ibrahim Thiaw, executive secretary of the Convention, CoP14 negotiations would be guided by, its own scientific papers as well as the Special Report on Climate Change and Land of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released in August.

The IPCC report covered interlinked, overlapping issues that are at the core of CoP14 deliberations — climate, change, desertification, and degradation, sustainable land management, food security and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems.

“Sustainable land management can contribute to reducing the negative impacts of multiple stressors, including climate change, on ecosystems and societies,” the IPCC report said. It also identified land use change as the largest driver of biodiversity loss and as having the greatest impact on the environment.

Javadekar said he saw hope in the fact that of the 196 parties to the Convention 122, including some of the most populous like Brazil, China, India, Nigeria, Russia and South Africa have agreed to make the U.N. Sustainable Development Goal of achieving land degradation neutrality (LDN) targets by 2030 as national objectives.

But the difficulty of seeing results on the ground can be gauged from India’s own difficult situation. Nearly 30 percent of India’s 328 million hectares, supporting 1.3 billion people, has become degraded through deforestation, over-cultivation, soil-erosion and wetland depletion, according to a satellite survey conducted in 2016 by the Indian Space Research Organisation.

A study, conducted last year by The Energy and Resource Institute (TERI), an independent think-tank based in New Delhi, estimates India’s losses from land degradation and change in land use to be worth 47 billion dollars in 2014—2015.

The question before CoP14 is how participating countries can slow down loss of land and along with it biodiversity threatening to impact 3.2 billion people across the world. “Three out of every four hectares have been altered from their natural states and the productivity of one every four hectares of land has been declining,” according to UNCCD.

Running in parallel to CoP14 is the 14th session of UNCCD’s committee on science and technology (CST14), a subsidiary body with stated objectives — estimating soil organic carbon lost as a result of land degradation, addressing the ‘land-drought nexus’ through land-based interventions and translating available science into policy options for participating countries.

On Tuesday, as CoP4 launched into substantive business, the participants at the CST and other subsidiary bodies began to voice real apprehensions and demands.

Bhutan representing the Asia Pacific group, highlighted the need for cooperation at all levels to disseminate and translate identified technologies and knowledge into direct benefits for local land users.

Bangladesh pointed out that LDN targets are sometimes linked to transboundary water resources and also called for mobilising additional resources for capacity building.

Colombia, speaking for the Latin America and Caribbean group, appreciated the value of research by the scientific panels, but urged introduction of improved technologies and mitigation strategies to reduce the direct impacts of drought on ecosystems, starting with soil  degradation.

Russia, on behalf of Central and Eastern Europe, mooted the establishment of technical centres in the region to support the generation of scientific evidence to prevent and manage droughts, sustainable use of forests and peatlands and monitoring of sand and dust storms.

Civil society organisations, led by the Cape Town-based Environmental Monitoring Group, were also critical of the UNCCD for putting too much emphasis on LDN and demanded optimisation of land use through practical solutions that would ensure that carbon is retained in the soil.

“Retaining carbon in the soil is of particular value to India and its neighbouring countries, which presently have the world’s greatest rainwater runoffs into the sea,” says Himanshu Thakkar, coordinator, South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP), a New Delhi based NGO, working on the water and environment sectors.

“What South Asian countries need to do urgently is to improve the rainwater harvesting so as to recharge groundwater aquifers and local water bodies in a given catchment so that water is available in the post-monsoon period that increasingly see severe droughts,” Thakkar tells IPS. “This is where governments can be supportive.”

Benefits such as preventing soil degradation and consequent landslides that have become a common feature in South India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

A study published in May said half of the area around 16 of India’s 24 major river basins is facing  droughts due to lowered soil moisture levels while at least a third of its 18 river basins has become non-resilient to vegetation droughts.

Responding to the suggestions and demands the Secretariat highlighted  recommendations to ensure mainstreaming of LDN targets in national strategies and action programmes, partnerships on science-policy to increase awareness and understanding of LDN and collaborations to assess finance and capacity development needs.

In all, the delegates, who include 90 ministers and more than 7,000 participants drawn from among government officials, civil society and the scientific community from the 197 parties will thrash out 30  decision texts and draw up action plans to strengthen land-use policies and address emerging threats such as droughts, forest fires, dust storms and forced migration.

“The agenda shows that governments have come to CoP14 ready to find solutions to many difficult, knotty and emerging policy issues,” said Thiaw at the inaugural session. The conference ends with the parties signing a ‘New Delhi Declaration’ outlining actions to meet UNCCD goals for 2018-2030.

SME’s the Main Drivers of Africa’s Food Economy

Smallholder farmers in Isiolo, Kenya sorting beans before sending them to the market in Nairobi. the latest Africa Agriculture Status Report (AASR) shows that small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are the main drivers of food economy on the African continent. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

By Isaiah Esipisu
ACCRA, Ghana/ELDORET TOWN, Kenya, Sep 4 2019 – Viola Kiptanui, a resident of Langas estate in the outskirts of Kenya’s Eldoret town, has discovered a new way of life – eating only what she knows the source – thanks to a new smallholder entrepreneurship venture.

“Given the many health problems that have emerged, there is need for one to know exactly what they are feeding their families,” said Kiptanui a mother of three children.

Within the Langas shopping centre, residents stream to a newly-established grocery called ‘iAgribizAfrica’ to buy fresh green vegetables and fruits that are grown by Uasin Gishu County’s smallholder farmers and sold directly to the grocery.

“Such entrepreneurships represent a profound turnaround from mere decades ago,” said Dr. Thomas Reardon of Michigan State University, a lead author of the latest Africa Agriculture Status Report (AASR).

The report, released on Sept. 3 on the sidelines of the Africa Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) in Accra, Ghana shows that entrepreneurs from small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are the main drivers of the food economy on the African continent.

According to the 220-page document compiled by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), 64 percent of total food consumed on the continent is sourced from SMEs, with only 16 percent coming from larger enterprises, and the remaining 20 percent being grown and eaten by farming households.

“There has been a ‘Quiet Revolution’ in agrifood private sector value chains linking small farmers to burgeoning urban markets and growing towns in Africa. This has spurred farmers’ participation in food and farm input markets,” said Reardon during a media briefing prior to the launch of the report.

These SMEs, often women-led, include food processors, wholesalers, and retailers, and they provide a range of services, from transport and logistics to the sale of inputs such as fertilisers and seed to farmers – says the report.

According to Rodgers Kirwa, a 27-year-old farmer and founder of iAgribizAfrica, there is a growing demand for food whose origin can be traced. 

“I started this business in 2018 and so far, I have 40 smallholder farmers within my network,” he told IPS at the AGRF in Ghana.

The 40 farmers were all recruited and registered by the young entrepreneur, and at some point supported for farm inputs on credit in case of a pressing need.

“The idea is to have farmers we know very well, so that we can monitor what they are growing, advice them on farm inputs, and monitor how they are using them for the safety of our customers,” said Kirwa.

Besides the entrepreneurship, Kirwa is a member of another online platform known as ‘Mkulima Young’ (young farmer) which was started with 10 partners, among them three young agronomists, two marketers, and social media enthusiasts. The platform now has 30,000 subscribers from Kenya and Uganda, mostly seeking information about farming enterprises. It is from this platform that farmers get answers to all their questions.   

“SMEs are the biggest investors in building markets for farmers in Africa today, and will likely remain so for the next 10 to 20 years,” said Dr. Agnes Kalibata, President of AGRA in a statement. “They are not a ‘missing middle,’ as is thought, but the ‘hidden middle,’ ready for support and investment to thrive further. Today, we bring them out into the light.”

Contrary to common belief, the report shows that large enterprises play a relatively minor role in directly supporting small-scale farmers, and the food value chain in Africa.

“We live in a global market,” Kalibata said. “Our job today is to ensure that these SMEs are grounded enough to provide the right kind of support to family farms; and to be competitive so that they can survive and thrive in an increasingly interconnected and global market,” she said noting that the smallholder entrepreneurs’ success will determine the future of agriculture and food security on the African continent.

However, according to Reardon, there are challenges. “The journey has taken off, but not flying in its full potential,” said the lead researcher. “We need sound policies that will support these SMEs, good infrastructure and capacity building for them,” he said.

So far, governments that have invested in this have already registered a positive impact.

In Ghana, for example, the government has subsidised the cost of fertilisers by 50 percent, an intervention programme that has been in place since 2008 when the country ran into a food crisis due to poor yields, according to Dr. Owusu Afriyie Akoto, the country’s Minister of Food and Agriculture. “This has been a huge success, and farmers have more than enough produce from their farms at the moment,” he told journalists at the AGRF.

According to Vanessa Adams, Vice President of Country Support and Delivery at AGRA, there is need to use appropriate technologies and available food systems to ensure that what is produced is sold at the right time.

“Bumper harvests are fantastic, but not after market crushes,” she said.

Sri Lanka Faces Major Challenges on UN’s 2030 Development Agenda

By Ganga Tilakaratna, Deshal de Mel and Zhengian Huang
BANGKOK, Thailand, Sep 4 2019 – On the road to sustainable development, Sri Lanka provides an interesting case study. Having overcome a three-decade domestic conflict, Sri Lanka has begun its transformation towards a sustainable and resilient society. The extreme poverty rate ($1.90 a day) dropped to 0.8 per cent in 2016. The unemployment rate is below 5 per cent since 2010.

Free education and health policies have resulted in high youth literacy rates (98.7 per cent) and high life expectancy (75 years). Measured by its index of human development, Sri Lanka is a high achiever.

However, Sri Lanka still faces major challenges. Improving the quality and relevance of education, providing medical treatment and care facilities for the ageing population, and fighting climate disasters call for further policy support, financial mobilization and partnership strengthening.

Government initiatives to mainstream Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Sri Lanka has been incorporating the SDGs into its national policy framework. Since the endorsement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Sri Lanka has taken several momentous initiatives.

The most important one is the Sustainable Development Act in 2017, which establishes the legal framework to implement the SDGs with improved institutional and policy coherence. Under this Act, the Sustainable Development Council has been established, which formulates related national policies and guides new development projects.

From increasing investment to raising investment efficiency

Investments needed to achieve the SDGs are huge, but not beyond reach. Preliminary estimates by ESCAP suggest that Sri Lanka needs an annual additional investment of 4.4 per cent of the 2018 GDP through 2030 to provide a social protection floor (1.7 per cent), poverty gap transfers (0.2 per cent), quality education (1.6 per cent) and climate-resilient infrastructure (0.8 per cent).

Some of these investment needs have been mainstreamed into the Sri Lankan Government’s budgets. For example, the Budget 2019 focuses on:

• Quality education

    • by reforming curricula to enable the combination of Science, Technology, Engineering, Math and the Arts (STEM + A), enhancing continuous professional training for teachers, and introducing more technology in education delivery;

• Healthcare

    • services and facilities by enhancing investments in healthcare delivery, quality and infrastructure;

• Agriculture

    • by linking smallholder farmers to value chains of larger enterprises, investing in climate-proof warehousing, and enhancing natural disaster insurance for farmers;

• Climate resilience

    • by improving irrigation infrastructure quality, strengthening eco-system conservation, and expanding natural disaster insurance scheme; and

• Gender

    equality by sharing costs of maternity benefits, facilitating childcare services by businesses and schools, and encouraging participation of women on corporate boards.

Despite the Government’s initiatives, financing the SDGs remains a challenge. Relatively low level of tax revenue constrains Sri Lanka’s domestic resource mobilization.

The country’s access to concessionary finance (e.g. ODA) has declined given its elevation to middle-income status. Its export earnings and foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows have remained below potential.

Various measures have been taken to attract FDI and boost export earnings including implementation of a new National Export Strategy and easing business environment by digitalizing company registration and land registry.

In addition to these measures, improving investment efficiency is critical. ESCAP estimates that the developing Asia-Pacific countries can achieve similar levels of outputs and outcomes in health and education sectors using 30 per cent fewer resources. Among its peer countries, Sri Lanka performs well in health and education sectors; however, its investment efficiency in infrastructure could be improved.

To enhance infrastructure investment efficiency for the public sector, public financial management institutions – notably project appraisal, selection and management – need to be strengthened.

Effective coordination among different government branches for construction permits, environmental clearance and land acquisition is important, as these processes often lead to project delays.

Ensuring a steady flow of resources for operations and maintenance is a necessary condition for success. Good maintenance generates substantial savings, reducing the total lifecycle costs of infrastructure projects.

Multi-stakeholder partnerships

Raising awareness among relevant stakeholders and building capacity of relevant institutions are necessary to achieve the SDGs. Developing multi-stakeholder partnerships provide much room for improvement in Sri Lanka to fully engage the general public and the private sector. An effective mechanism is needed for collaborative engagement in SDG implementation, from policy formulation to monitoring.

Furthermore, regional cooperation is an area with great potential that has not yet fully entered the SDG discourse in Sri Lanka. Regional cooperation in South Asia and the broader Indian Ocean economy can help Sri Lanka accelerate its SDG progress in several areas, including climate change, renewable energy transition and food security.

The 2030 Agenda provides a blueprint to achieve a more sustainable future for all. Sri Lanka’s efforts in mainstreaming the SDGs into its national planning and budgeting are an interesting case for the rest of the Asia-Pacific region to learn – a country does not need to wait until it achieves economic affluence before tackling social well-being and environmental health. Developing countries should incorporate social and environmental goals into their path towards prosperity.