Rising above the Hate Online – Indian Muslim Women Speak Out

Indian member of parliament and actor, Nusrat Jahan has also been targeted.

By Mariya Salim
NEW DELHI, India, Oct 23 2020 – When a minority woman with an opinion doesn’t comply with stereotypes, she is targeted with online hate, says award-winning journalist and senior editor at The Wire, Arfa Khanum Sherwani in an exclusive interview with Inter Press Service.

Sherwani has been at the receiving end of online violence and hate, including rape and death threats, like her other women journalist counterparts, because she questions policies and performance of the present Indian government. What makes her experience of facing gendered and sexist online abuse different is the added layer of her identity: that of being a Muslim.

“The right-wing in India, like everywhere else in the world, likes to put certain communities in boxes. Muslim women are supposed to dress a certain way, speak a certain language or perhaps not speak at all. As a Muslim woman, with an opinion who does not fit their imaginary stereotypes, they use violence against me online,” Sherwani says. “When the trolls question my journalism, they make sure to question my religion and make the majority community look at my work through the lens of my religion alone to discredit my work.”

Arfa Khanum Sherwani, award-winning journalist and editor, finds her religion highlighted in online hate campaigns.

In 2018, five Special Rapporteurs of the United Nations urged India to urgently provide protection to author and journalist Rana Ayyub, who had been a target of an online hate campaign which included calls for her to be “gang-raped and murdered”. During the online assault, her contact details were made public, and there were references to her “Muslim faith”.

India has an ever-growing percentage of internet users and the various social media platforms act as a window for India’s marginalised communities to be able to express their opinions, seek an audience and build community.

Where on the one hand the internet has enabled participation in the public sphere with greater ease for marginalised groups, the increasing amount of online hate and violence, especially against women from these communities, has left them feeling vulnerable and, in many situations, threatened with physical harm.

The violence exacerbates when those with an opinion online identify themselves as women from a religious, racial or ethnic minority, or the LGBTQIA community.

In India, the increasing Islamophobia and violence against its largest religious minority, Muslims, is mirrored in the virtual spaces as well. Women from the Muslim community are targeted explicitly with slurs and sexist abuse, directed towards their religious identity.

Nabiya Khan, a 24-year-old Muslim poet and activist, is threatened online for her headscarf and Muslim identity than for her activism.

Nabiya Khan, a 24-year-old Muslim poet and activist, endured threats online.

“Some call me Jahil Jihadan (meaning illiterate terrorist, with the word terrorist here having an Islamic connotation), others ask me to remove my headscarf and then speak up against any kind of social injustice. I am often asked to go to Pakistan accompanied by rape threats of the most vile kind.”

It is not only those who are on the platforms who are targets. The spreading of false news narratives against minorities, mostly religious and caste oppressed minorities like Muslims, Christians and Dalits has often led to women from these communities, even if far removed from these platforms, at the receiving end of real-life harm.

Sexual violence against women is a tool to humiliate and punish the broader community and strip it of its honour and integrity.

In 2013, for instance, a fake video depicting Hindu boys being brutally killed by a Muslim mob, posted on the Facebook page of a Minister from a right-wing party, went viral. The post led to massive communal riots in Muzaffarnagar, in Uttar Pradesh during which scores of women from the Muslim community were raped.

Seven years later there has not been a single conviction in any of the reported cases.

The video was removed. However, it had stayed on the platform long enough for Muslim women in a village in rural India to experience irreparable harm.

A post written by Nabiya after she received rape and death threats on Facebook.

International human rights organisations, like the United Nations, have also taken cognisance of the growing vitriol online, with the office of the Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues, Dr Fernand de Varennes having made “hate speech, social media and minorities” a thematic priority at the start of his mandate.

De Varennes, in an interview with IPS, was particularly concerned about the effect of hate speech on minority women.

“To reduce what is occurring online as strictly only a matter of gender, exacerbated and normalised by hate speech in social media, is to hide the significant role of religion and caste which contribute to the specific continuing and even increasing stigmatisation of minority women,” he said.

He added that raising awareness of the extent to which hate speech had become a mainly minority issue had become one of his main tasks for this year.

The “disease of the mind”, he says, that constitutes hate speech may pile up, with misogynist attacks against minority women finding fertile grounds to propagate, since it becomes “more acceptable” for some to spew hatred against women who belong to supposedly “despised minorities”.

The intersectionality of online violence against women needs, therefore, to be acknowledged.

Nusrat Jehan, an actor and Indian Member of Parliament, has received online threats and violence for her career and personal choices both from within and outside the community.

“I keep on getting judgements, fatwas, death threats, etc. from religious extremist groups,” says Nusrat, a public representative. She had to seek additional personal security while in the UK after receiving online threats for posing as a Hindu Goddess on her Instagram page in September this year.

“I do not pay heed to the trolls and their judgments. Yes, there need to be stricter laws for account creation etc. on these platforms, but whatever be the rules and laws, things won’t change until mindsets change,” she adds.

Social media companies need to take the violence faced by women on their platforms more seriously and proactively block and take down harmful content.

Reports by some CSOs have brought to light how “Facebook lacks clear user hate speech reporting mechanisms for Indian caste-oppressed minorities” and how despite a year-long advocacy with the company, nothing changed at their front.

The experience of many women, from marginalised communities, concerning the reporting of hate online on these platforms, whether Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, has been far from satisfactory. Many of the women have had their accounts taken down for revealing the identities of their abusers.

India does not have laws specifically dedicated to dealing with online violence against women, let alone those that are specific to women from religious and caste oppressed minorities.

Experts point out that what is needed is the implementation of existing cyber laws in India rather than the introduction of new ones.

Khanum points out that she has little trust in the law enforcement mechanisms and therefore refrains from reporting it to the authorities. One of the factors of this mistrust is her fear that, because she is Muslim, her concerns will not be treated seriously. What concerns her is the impunity – where a great deal of hate directed towards her comes from the verified social media handles of people in positions of power, political and otherwise.

The writer is a Fellow at IPS UN Bureau

 


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Budgeting for a Better Future, for Every Child

A child is weighed at a ‘posyandu’ (community-level health post) in Sidorejo village, Central Java province, Indonesia. Credit: UNICEF/UNI350112/Ijazah

By Joanne Bosworth and Jennifer Asman
NEW YORK, Oct 23 2020 – 2020 has not turned out as planned. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact populations around the world, governments have been forced to take a fresh look at their spending and how to meet additional costs of pandemic response as they expect a fall in revenue. Budget information has become even more critical.

Critical knowledge

When it comes to children, it is important to have a detailed view of spending in key areas like health, education, social protection and water and sanitation. Without this, it is difficult to know what services are supported or how money has been spent.

Although total spending on health has increased in many countries as part of the COVID-19 response, in many cases, funding for essential basic services like routine immunization has been cut, increasing the risk to children’s lives.

Access to quality budget information has enabled UNICEF to keep advocating for and supporting governments by avoiding cuts to essential investments in children’s futures. Here are a few examples:

Myanmar: When the Government of Myanmar was developing a supplementary budget for its COVID-19 response, UNICEF used the budget information on health, education and social protection presented to parliament, to make the case for protecting and expanding spending on critical programmes.

By reviewing proposed allocations and prioritizing immunization, social welfare and safe and healthy school environments, we developed an analysis that was instrumental in increasing the government’s budget in all three sectors by $176 million by mid-year.

Tunisia: After the collapse of global oil prices, the Tunisian government reduced fuel subsidies. Using information on funding for these subsidies, UNICEF demonstrated that child grants would bring greater benefit to poor children. In line with this analysis, the government also launched temporary cash transfers for at least 623,000 families with children.

Somaliland: Through the UN Joint Programme on Local Governance and Decentralized Service Delivery, UNICEF supports the use of “community scorecards” in Somaliland to monitor decentralized services such as water and sanitation, and the maintenance of community health and education infrastructure.

Communities provide real time SMS feedback to elected officials, strengthening oversight, which in turn can help inform better budget planning.

Suaafi Mahamed Abdi, 15, cleans his hands at an EU-funded, UNICEF-supported water point in Tog-wajaale, Somaliland. The clean and sustainable water system is the town’s first ever and provides clean water for 70,000 people. Credit: UNICEF/UN0300832/Knowles-Coursin

The economic fallout of COVID-19

As the pandemic continues, the impact on children is increasingly evident. As a result of disrupted schooling, according to the World Bank, children stand to lose the equivalent of $872 of their future earnings per year— a global loss of over $10 trillion.

Progress on infant mortality will be set back by between five and 15 years; and deaths from malaria are predicted to go back to pre-2000 levels with children-under-5 accounting for 70% of them. An additional 150 million children could be pushed into poverty.

We need urgent efforts to ensure children are protected from this long-term economic impact. This means ensuring vital social spending, and that funds are used effectively to help children and their families cope with and adapt to these new economic conditions.

Challenges in budget transparency have existed since before the pandemic. The 2019 Open Budget Survey examined sector budget transparency in education and health budgets in 28 countries.

While almost half of those countries provided complete information on spending objectives and how much funding was allocated to specific programmes, most provided partial information. A majority provided no information on how spending was distributed across different districts or provinces.

Essential to recovery

As the Myanmar, Tunisia and Somaliland examples show, improved budget transparency is not only central to an inclusive recovery but also encourages governments and partners to come together to identify more effective ways to achieve policy outcomes.

It is vital to monitoring spending, improving efficiency and ensuring resources are used effectively. This is particularly important now that many governments are making adjustments to spending plans or using emergency provisions where new programmes need not go through normal budget processes or controls. Making detailed, accurate and easy-to-understand spending plans transparent means citizens can monitor progress and highlight problems early on.

Building a resilient future

We are living in unprecedented times where every national and local government is forced to adapt and learn. Clear data on budgets, reprioritization and implementation of budgets will help us understand the impact of spending decisions on children’s lives.

UNICEF continues to work with governments and partners including the International Budget Partnership: to promote more open and transparent budgets, build this knowledge into longer term recovery programmes and improve the resilience of systems and services for the future.

 


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COMMENTARY: The Sinatra Doctrine Confronts a Global Consensus

The next U.S. administration could restore faith in its ability to learn from its mistakes if, in cooperation with the global community, it can create robust new systems of public health protection and economic regeneration inclusive of all its communities and all nations

A photo-collage. Credit: Peter Costantini.

By Peter Costantini
SEATTLE, Oct 23 2020 – By late September, the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States had claimed 200,000 lives. That’s equivalent to a slightly higher toll than the 418,500 United States deaths in World War II, adjusted for relative population and duration. [See note below.]

With four percent of the world’s population, the U.S. has suffered 20 percent of global COVID-19 deaths.

Tragically, most of these deaths need never have happened. They were caused primarily by the public-health equivalent of friendly fire: massive malpractice and deception by the Donald Trump administration. A Columbia University study in May estimated that over four-fifths of those deaths could have been avoided if emergency measures had been invoked nationally just two weeks earlier in March.

With four percent of the world’s population, the U.S. has suffered 20 percent of global COVID-19 deaths. Tragically, most of these deaths need never have happened. They were caused primarily by the public-health equivalent of friendly fire: massive malpractice and deception by the Donald Trump administration

Contrary to political posturing, there was never a trade-off between saving lives and saving the economy. Passively accepting mass deaths has not worked to restart economic activity. Instead, opening up too much too fast has fanned the viral flames in many areas, forcing the re-shuttering of businesses and stalling incipient recoveries.

As much of the world recognized months ago, the fastest and most effective way to restart the economy is to aggressively control the pandemic. As Federal Reserve Bank chairman Jerome Powell, a Trump appointee, told Congress: “’The path forward for the economy is extraordinarily uncertain and will depend in large part on our success in containing the virus.”

The problem was not that Trump failed to lead. Had he simply left the management of the crisis to competent public health authorities, the country would be in a much better place. Instead, despite his awareness of the dangers of COVID-19, his demagogic helmsmanship steered the country 180 degrees off course on a perilous bearing.

The President’s white nationalism and “America First” rhetoric have mutated into an exceptionally dimwitted strain of American exceptionalism. Call it the Sinatra Doctrine: Trump did it his way. Consequently, many borders are closed to U.S. travelers. His Republican régime is now scorned by much of the world as a rabble of incompetent, racist, corrupt bullies whose hubris has turned the richest and most powerful empire in history into a rogue government stewing in its own juices. Many in Trump’s flock have elevated the freedom to not wear facemasks into a cause nearly as sacred as their right to open-carry assault rifles into legislative chambers.

As Dr. Joseph Varon, chief medical officer of a Texas hospital, put it: “I’m pretty much fighting two wars: a war against COVID and a war against stupidity. And the problem is that the first I have some hope about winning. But the second one is becoming more and more difficult to treat.”

With minimally competent leadership and international cooperation, however, the U.S. could have dramatically diminished the catastrophe. But it would have required the Trump administration and Senate Republican leadership to learn from countries that have taken the most effective public health and economic paths, and to share the advances made here. The U.S. government would have had to join the global fight to protect vulnerable communities and economies, rather than C-suites and share prices.

A tentative consensus is emerging in much of the world that the best way to keep families and firms safe and solvent and to rekindle economic growth is to confront the pandemic early and systematically with all the resources and resolve that would be mustered for a military conflict.

This approach requires complementary policies: a comprehensive public health model that integrates massive testing and contact tracing, combined with an approach to economic relief and recovery that marshals the fiscal resources necessary to preempt mass unemployment by covering payrolls before workers are laid off. These measures mutually reinforce each other: strong early health interventions make it possible to quash the pandemic rapidly and allow the economy to begin reopening sooner, while effective economic relief for afflicted families relieves the desperation to get back to work that has led to premature restarts, resulting in renewed outbreaks.

These models, however, are based on multilateralism in the world and inclusivity within the country, both alien to Trumpism. Excluding millions of “essential workers” and vulnerable families in marginalized communities at home, and billions of people in poorer countries with underfunded public health systems, risks undercutting those remedies and allowing the pandemic to continue ravaging humanity.

 

Public health

The public-health piece of this global model has been crystalized by former World Bank president Jim Young Kim, a veteran of campaigns against cholera in Haiti and Ebola in West Africa.

Kim argued that stopping COVID-19 requires orchestrating “[f]ive elements, five weapons: social distancing, contact tracing, testing, isolation, and treatment.” With this model, countries including South Korea, Singapore, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Australia and Germany have “gained control over the virus.” These countries have recognized that the novel coronavirus “is sneaky, nasty and durable – and that it has to be hunted down” using “large teams of public-health workers … on a war footing.”

This approach incorporates the insights of the battles against SARS, MERS and other previous epidemics.

While China initially tried to cover up the epidemic, it soon made an about-face and contributed significantly to global efforts. The WHO made some questionable judgements, but has continued to play a key role, providing international coordination and assistance to countries that need it.

The Trump administration, for its part, failed to learn from China’s early denials, which it praised. Many months later, it continues to deny the seriousness of the pandemic, with fatal consequences.

Trump has initiated U.S. withdrawal from the WHO, which would deprive the organization of its biggest source of financing. He has rejected international cooperation on developing vaccines, and pressured government agencies to approve a U.S. vaccine before the U.S. presidential election.

Prior to the crisis, the Trump administration had cut two-thirds of U.S. public health staff based in China, and disbanded the National Security Council directorate charged with pandemic response.

When the pandemic hit, Trump failed to scale up testing and contact tracing to track down recently exposed people. He abdicated his powers to accelerate and coordinate production of tests, personal protective equipment, and medical equipment. Instead, his boondoggles such as Project Airbridge enriched medical supply companies while failing to deliver supplies to hard-hit states.

Trump’s political gyrations have produced a CT scan of the internal weaknesses of U.S. health and social services. The absence of federal standards have fragmented requirements for mask-wearing and social distancing into a patchwork of disparate state regulations. Reflecting the deep inequalities in American society, low-wage workers in “essential” industries, communities of color, immigrants and prisoners have suffered disproportionately.

Inclusivity, though, is not simply an imperative of a just society, but also a necessity for defeating a pandemic: the more groups excluded, the larger the sacrificial population in which the virus can regenerate itself.

Unpayable bills for tens of thousands of dollars that some patients have received for their treatment highlight the country’s lack of universal health insurance and affordable medical care, shortcomings almost unknown in other wealthy countries. Containing COVID-19 is much harder when many working and unemployed people can’t afford to pay for testing and treatment.

Nevertheless, the Republican machine has continued trashing protections for all these groups. It is poised to extirpate what’s left of the Affordable Care Act, and has hamstrung occupational safety and health agencies. It has turned the process for developing a vaccine into a private-sector, America Only horse race.

Yet most developing countries don’t have the capacity to produce vaccines. No less a competitive capitalist than Bill Gates, Jr. argued: “We need to get most of the world vaccinated to bring the pandemic to an end. … [T]he disease will keep coming back into the developed countries if we don’t end it in the entire world.” The process of vaccine development and production, he said, involves many countries. “[T]here’s no doubt that only cooperation will get us out of this thing.”

Inclusivity, then, is indispensable domestically and internationally. And the “war footing” essential to implementing Kim’s response model requires public solidarity to override private profit.

 

Economic relief and recovery

The economic-recovery component of the global model is not just a matter of deploying better social safety nets: it’s about preventing people from falling out of the economy into those nets in the first place. And it requires scaling up responses to the magnitude of the moment.

“The coronavirus pandemic is a human tragedy of potentially biblical proportions,” emphasized former European Central Bank president Mario Draghi, and the response must be to mobilize as for a war. “The key question is not whether but how the state should put its balance sheet to good use. The priority must not only be providing basic income for those who lose their jobs. We must protect people from losing their jobs in the first place. If we do not, we will emerge from this crisis with permanently lower employment and capacity, as families and companies struggle to repair their balance sheets and rebuild net assets.”

Several European and Asian countries have adopted corresponding policies. Denmark’s approach provides a clear example. The Danish government took over the payrolls of companies harmed by the pandemic, preventing workers from being laid off, and guaranteed at least three-quarters of their salaries up to a living-wage level. For those already out of work, the plan improved and extended benefits. For businesses, the plan covered some fixed expenses and deferred taxes. The economic measures accompanied a strict public-health lockdown.

The three-month program cost slightly more per capita than the first U.S. relief package. Yet it had strong support across the whole Danish political spectrum, including from labor unions and employer associations.

Thanks to the interaction of the public health and economic measures, the country was able to reopen its economy more quickly than most of Europe and keep monthly joblessness no higher than six percent, while in the U.S. it reached 14.7 percent. The pandemic-induced drop in economic output is predicted to be a little more than half that of the whole Eurozone.

Many other European nations, including Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, France and Spain, have also implemented similar programs to keep workers on payrolls of distressed firms, as have Asian countries including South Korea and Singapore.

The U.S. economic response, by contrast, foundered on the weaknesses and fragmentation of existing safeguards, and was later dragged down by Republican stonewalling.

U.S. Federal Reserve Bank Chair Jerome Powell called the economic hit from the pandemic “without modern precedent” and cautioned that that the recovery might be slow. “Additional fiscal support could be costly,” he said in a speech, “but worth it if it helps avoid long-term economic damage and leaves us with a stronger recovery.” Former Fed Chairs Janet Yellen and Ben Bernanke have also vocally advocated for aggressive fiscal and monetary policies to revive the economy, and downplayed concerns about the deficit and debt.

Economic relief packages pumped over $3 trillion dollars into the economy and initially helped to stabilize households and firms. But rather than keeping workers employed, most of the funding went to augmenting unemployment insurance for those laid off. In the U.S., this program is administered by the states, however, resulting in a fragmented bureaucracy. Average benefits are smaller amounts and of shorter duration than in most other wealthy countries.

In the face of the pandemic, some states’ administrative machinery has been unable to handle the surge in unemployment claims. An estimated forty percent of people who applied for benefits were not receiving them in late September.

A particularly acute consequence of much unemployment in the U.S. is the loss of health insurance. Coverage is typically tied to employment, so when workers are laid off, they lose their access to health care in the middle of a pandemic.

Although Democrats in the House of Representatives have passed two versions of another major relief bill, the White House and Senate Republicans have stalemated negotiations with demands for substantial benefit cuts.

As a result, millions of low-wage workers are confronting debilitating crises: hungry children, unpayable medical bills, and looming eviction or foreclosure, sometimes leading to homelessness. Long-term unemployment is reportedly rising for those laid off or furloughed because of the pandemic. As usual in the U.S., these setbacks have hurt families of color and mothers of school-age children disproportionately.

Although by now most of the economy is functioning again at some level, legislation has been proposed in Congress to create robust paycheck protections. In future downturns, its proponents say, it could serve as an “automatic stabilizer” to take the load off of unemployment insurance systems.

Facing the current resurgence of COVID-19 and the threat of future pandemics, the next U.S. administration should explore ways to implement global-consensus public health and economic measures as soon as possible. It will also have to address long-standing demands for universal health insurance, mandatory sick days, and more functional unemployment relief.

Internationally, the U.S. should quickly rejoin the World Health Organization and double its old contribution. To provide financial support for restarting the economies of developing countries, restructuring of debt could help free resources for the desperate needs left in the wake of the pandemic. Another avenue worth exploring to provide sustainable non-debt financing is the creation of Special Drawing Rights through the International Monetary Fund.

The next U.S. administration could restore faith in its ability to learn from its mistakes if, in cooperation with the global community, it can create robust new systems of public health protection and economic regeneration inclusive of all its communities and all nations.

Note: World War II lasted 45 months; the COVID-19 pandemic death toll reached 200,000 after eight months. The U.S. population in 1942 was 134,900,000; in 2020 it is 331,000,000.The average monthly toll for the U.S. in World War II was equivalent to 22,822 deaths, in proportion to the 2020 U.S. population; the pandemic monthly toll for the U.S. as of September 2020 has been 25,000 deaths.

Living with Drought: Lessons from Brazil’s Semiarid Region

without the water supply solution represented by tanks and other devices to collect the scant rainwater, the tragedies of the past would certainly be repeated in the semiarid region, which occupies most of the Brazilian Northeast and northern strips of the Southeast

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Oct 23 2020 – No one died of hunger during the worst drought in Brazil’s semiarid ecoregion, between 2011 and 2018, in sharp contrast to the past when scarce rainfall caused deaths, looting, a mass exodus to the South and bloody conflicts.

Social programmes such as Bolsa Familia (family grant), an expansion of pensions for retired peasant farmers and assistance to low-income disabled and elderly people helped the poor overcome their vulnerability in the semiarid region, where more than 27 million people live in 1,127,953 square kilometres, slightly larger than the size of Bolivia.

But without the water supply solution represented by tanks and other devices to collect the scant rainwater, the tragedies of the past would certainly be repeated in the semiarid region, which occupies most of the Brazilian Northeast and northern strips of the Southeast.

 

 

More than 1.1 million tanks that harvest rainwater from rooftops ensured human consumption. The 16,000 litres held by each tank were used up during the unusually long dry periods, but the system made the distribution of water by tanker trunks, generally carried out by the military, more efficient.

In addition, the “technologies” or different ways of storing water were disseminated to more than 200,000 families in order to ensure food production on family farms, which total 1.7 million in the semiarid region.

The distributed water infrastructure guarantees better quality food for the farmers themselves, supplies towns and cities in the country’s interior and boosts the local economy.

According to the Articulação Semiárido Brasileiro (ASA), a network of more than 3,000 organisations, including trade unions and farmers’ associations, cooperatives, non-governmental organisations and social movements, some 800,000 small farms are still in need of tanks that collect water for agricultural production in order to universalise this technology.

ASA, created in 1999, promoted the One Million Rural Water Tanks programme, which was made a public policy by the government in 2003. It then expanded the initiative into the One Land, Two Waters Programme, which incorporated rainwater harvesting for crops and livestock.

The basic principle is “coexisting with the semiarid”, instead of insisting on the old failed strategies of “combating drought”, based on the construction of large structures that do not serve the scattered rural population, who are the most affected, but rather favour the large landowners.

Coexistence is not limited to the water question, but extends to education, knowledge of local conditions, ecological forms of production, and clean sources of energy.

Can Agroecology Feed the World?

Credit: KMP in the Philippines, supported by the Agroecology Fund

By Elena L. Pasquini
ROME, Oct 23 2020 – Producing food and ensuring nutrition security, protecting the environment and restoring biodiversity, building sustainable and fair food systems: That’s the promise of agroecology.

It is a dream? Or an economically feasible model that can feed a growing world population, expected to increase by 2 billion persons in the next 30 years, reaching 9.7 billion in 2050?

“Some people have been saying: Maybe it is more sustainable or it’s more resilient, but it’s not as productive and not as economically viable. This has been [shown] to be untrue, even in Europe,” Emile Frison, member of the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems, told Degrees of Latitude.

There are many examples throughout the world now, either at individual farms or at [the] community level or even at [the] regional level, where agroecological practices have been implemented and are showing their potential from … different points of view, including the economic point of view,” he said.

Since 2016, the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh has been the largest-scale example of how agroecology can be applied to increase yields and improve the economic condition of farmers. Zero Budget Natural Farming involves 500,000 peasants in the practice of community-based natural farming: no synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, preservation of the health of the soil, landscape regeneration, biodiverse productions, intense training of farmers, and the involvement of communities.

The Government of Andhra Pradesh aims to cover 6 million farmers by 2024 and the entire cultivable area of 8 million hectares by 2026. The programme was implemented because of the high rate of farmers’ debt, which has been linked to high suicide rates. More than a quarter of a million farmers have committed suicide in India in the last two decades. The strict measures adopted to prevent the spread of the coronavirus are exacerbating the suffering of farmers crippled by debt.

“India as a whole is a place where there have been hundreds of thousands of farmer suicides, farmers’ deaths … In the circle of purchasing expensive inputs and having crop failure, many hundreds of thousands of farmers have committed suicide over the years: there [has] been a lot of migration from the rural areas into the urban areas,” Daniel Moss, Executive Director of the Agroecology Fund, told Degrees of Latitude.

In an attempt to find solutions for sustaining their land and growing food more safely, thereby promoting their own good and that of consumers, “constituency organizations, primarily of women that have been very concerned about health and nutrition and farming issues” have pressured the Andhra Pradesh government to find a solution, Moss explained.

The ambition of “Zero Budget” is to end farmers’ heavy indebtment by dramatically reducing production costs, as well as not relying on credit and purchased chemical inputs. According to Frison, a study of the initiative has shown that productivity was 20 percent higher in agroecological farms than in farms using conventional agriculture techniques, industrial synthetic fertilizers, and pesticides. The agroecological farms also economically performed 50 percent better because of the lower costs of production and the capacity to sell at higher prices on the market, due to consumers’ recognition of the better quality of the products. A survey of 97 Zero Budget farmers reported increased yield, seed diversity, product quality, household food autonomy, income, and health, along with reduced farm expenses and credit needs.

However, India is not the only example of agroecology scalability. The Association of Organic Movement Federation of Kyrgyzstan – BiokG – is developing a network of organic “aymaks,” or groups of farmers. The project, supported by the Agroecology Fund, is based on collaboration among farmers to “develop a system of self-assessment of organic farms production quality, productivity and income generation, as well as their development related to organic agriculture technologies introducing, with respect to national traditions and heritage,” AGF explained. It started locally, at the village level, but expanded into a nation-wide network and could potentially spread to neighbouring countries. “That’s the idea of what we call [the] agroecology movement: there’s a lot of evidence and learning that may happen in one place [that can ripple…],” Moss said.

The lock-down has shown that supplying the urban population is also a challenge, particularly in times of crisis. Providing food from local producers, however, proved to have worked during the harsh months of the pandemic, even in a country where the confinement measures have been very strict, like the Philippines. However, also in the ordinary life of a city, agroecology seems to be able to reach consumers, thereby offering an alternative. In Nairobi, for example, there has been a whole re-introduction of traditional green leafy vegetables that were lacking in the supermarkets.

Mexico and West Africa – namely, Senegal – are among those places that seem encouraging for the advancement of agroecological practices. What’s key is to support civil society organizations in working together and putting pressure on the government, as there are often good practices that are not implemented, according to the director of the Agroecology Fund, which undertook a workshop specifically in Andhra Pradesh to understand how the government implemented the model investing hundreds of millions in training programmes to support agroecology.

“We believe very strongly in the power of the co-generation and possibly of moving things forward together,” Moss said. “We fund coalitions of organizations because we know that agroecology is that kind of field that really requires interdisciplinary solutions.” From nutritional aspects to farmers’ income, from the involvement of consumer organizations and policymakers, to power decentralization and the engagement of local decision-makers, agroecology is a model that requires collaboration and knowledge sharing.

The capacity of agroecology to feed a growing population remains in question but, according to Frison, is a mere matter of profit: “The fact that we need more fertilizers and pesticides to meet the demand is misinformation being circulated by vested interests that want to continue to sell pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.”

“If we are really trying to advance agroecology as the new food system, or the way the food has to be produced, it’s our responsibility to show that it could actually feed the world population, which is growing quite quickly,” Moss added.

 


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GGGI and SEA to develop four mitigation activities generating ITMOs in energy, waste, and manufacturing

By PRESS RELEASE
SEOUL, Republic of Korea, Oct 23 2020 (IPS-Partners)

Following the cooperation agreement signed in December last year for the Mobilizing Article 6 Trading Structure (MATS) Program, the Swedish Energy Agency (SEA) and the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) have agreed to further develop four mitigation activities with the goal of completing transactions of internationally transferred mitigation outcomes (ITMOs). 75% of these activities will come from GGGI’s pipeline of bankable projects across its Members and partners. Out of the four proposed activities, two will target the energy sector in Ethiopia, one will be focused on the waste sector in Nepal, and one will focus on the manufacturing sector in Cambodia.

“GGGI is excited about this important program milestone. The MATS program will support our Member and partner countries to access international carbon finance, build regulatory frameworks and institutional capacity to increase their ambition and go beyond the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs),” explained Ms. Fenella Aouane, GGGI’s Head of Carbon Pricing Unit.

“Successful implementation of the cooperative approaches under Article 6 is a new area of focus that allows for scalable and transformative changes needed to meet the global ambitions of the Paris Agreement.”

“We are thrilled to have been able to green-light development of the first batch of Article 6 Pilot activities under the MATS program, less than one year since the program was first conceived. We hope that these pilot activities will deliver concrete results for the host countries in achieving their NDC targets, while also providing lessons for various stakeholders as the Article 6 rulemaking process continues,” said Mr. Christopher Zink, Senior Advisor at the Swedish Energy Agency. “Environmental integrity is the key focus area for Sweden when it comes to testing Article 6, including scalability, additionality, conservative baselines, attribution and the avoidance of double counting.”

Through joint collaboration, GGGI and SEA will help countries to gain access to international finance, enabling them to unlock projects, which will not only contribute to reducing additional carbon emissions but will also enhance ambition in NDCs. Furthermore, both organizations will play a key role in supporting governments in establishing frameworks, that will create the enabling environment for international trading of mitigation outcomes under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement.

The SEA-GGGI MATS Program is a pilot project aimed at catalyzing international trading of mitigation outcomes to support increasing climate ambitions. This month’s recent agreement – as part of the project progression, selecting specific mitigation activities, will aim to enable host countries to gain access to international carbon finance, unlocking projects which will generate additional emissions reductions, ultimately enabling greater ambition in NDCs. This work will add onto the $1.6 billion USD of green investment already mobilized by GGGI since 2015. Importantly, the program will also help to establish the enabling environments with the host countries to ensure sustainable transformational change by supporting them to put in place the governance frameworks required to engage in international trading, including systems and procedures to help avoid double counting and ensure environmental integrity.

About SEA
SEA supports the Swedish Government and Society as well as external actors with facts, knowledge, and analysis of supply and use of energy in Sweden. SEA provides funding for research on new and renewable energy technologies, smart grids, as well as vehicles and transport fuels. SEA also supports business development that promotes commercialisation of energy related innovations and ensures that promising cleantech solutions can be exported. Official energy statistics, and the management of instruments such as the Electricity Certificate System and the EU Emission Trading System, are part of SEA’s responsibility.

Furthermore, SEA has long been the home of Sweden’s CDM and JI program; and is now actively participating in international climate collaborations under the Paris Agreement.

About GGGI
GGGI was established as an international intergovernmental organization in 2012 at the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. Its vision is “a low-carbon, resilient world of strong, inclusive, and sustainable growth” and its mission “to support Members in the transformation of their economies into a green growth economic model”. GGGI does this through technical assistance to: reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with the Paris Agreement; create green jobs; increase access to sustainable services (such as clean affordable energy, sustainable waste management); improve air quality; sustain natural capital for adequate supply of ecosystem services; and enhance adaptation to climate change.

To learn more about GGGI, see https://www.gggi.org and follow us on Facebook, Twitter,
YouTube, and Instagram.