A Pakistani Farmer is Using Technology to Stop Agricultural Exploitation

Credit: IPS

By Rabiya Jaffery
AMMAN, Jordan, Dec 21 2020 – Anas Shaikh is a Pakistani farmer on a mission to bring solutions to the many difficulties small and medium-scale farmer’s face in making a sustainable living.

One of the main challenges he observed has been the difficulties for farmers to sell their produce at the right time to avoid post-harvest waste and at prices that were not exploitative due to the large number of middlemen and corporations that are now involved in the agricultural supply chain.

“The agriculture community everywhere but especially in developing countries is loaded with so many difficulties, despite the crucial role farmer’s play in the economy and food security of their countries,” says George Stacey, an analyst working with Norvergence, an environmental advocacy NGO.

“There are a lot of problems contributing to this but one of the biggest is that farmers are exploited and not paid what they deserve for their produce.” Just across the border, in India, tens of thousands of farmers are currently protesting against three new agricultural laws that aim to deregulate Indian agriculture.

Even though the laws say farmers will still have price assurances, but the language is vague, and farmers are nervous about losing government support and having to sell directly to large companies. Farmers are particularly worried that they will not be able to sell their produce and go into debt.

Already, across the region, the increasing number of intermediaries, such as wholesalers and processors – as supply chains become more monopsonistic and monopolistic due to the growing influence and presence of large global companies in markets – continue to lower the returns earned by small scale farmers.

In addition the lack of road and rail connectivity and limited accessible storage or warehouse infrastructures in Pakistan and India also further increase the need to rely on middlemen.

“Lower returns continue to exploit farmers and push many further into poverty,” says Stacey. “This also impacts the quality of produce that is grown as farmers are no longer able to access many resources such as good quality of pesticides.”

Shaikh is now on a mission to use technology to find solutions to the biggest challenges small local farmers face.

He has recently founded Peepu, an easy-to-use mobile application that cuts down on the several middlemen and the time that it takes to sell agricultural products by facilitating direct transactions between farmers and traders.

Shaikh points out that the app’s simplistic interface has been designed to ensure accessibility, keeping into consideration that the target users may not all be tech-savvy.

“I have worked in the field as a small farmer and I know farmers. This is why the app has been deliberately designed in a fashion that the farmers will find it easy to use,” says Shaikh.

Peepu was launched earlier this year on Google Play in March, and is being used by more than 700 Pakistani farmers and aims to expand further in the coming months.

“Farmers are able to sell their products at the earliest possible time and at a competitive price,” says Shaikh.

“What we are trying to do is use the technology to shift the power of negotiations back to small farmers and also allow them the possibility to conduct business with anyone, regardless, without the limitations imposed by geographical proximity.”

Currently, agriculture is one of South Asia’s biggest employers. Nearly 70 percent of the region’s population is employed in agriculture and the majority of people in the region live in rural communities.

And technology, such as Peepu, can drastically help answer many of the difficulties farmers face that also have long-term social and economic impacts.

For instance, a shorter chain of intermediaries can also potentially diminish the post-harvest losses generated due to the degradation in the quality and quantity of the crop products through the stages of the supply chain from harvest to consumer use.

“Farmers directly selling to traders in a way that isn’t exploitative and without the many middlemen involved, also provides a pragmatic solution to the utilization of unavoidable post-harvest food waste which isn’t just beneficial to farmers but also important in reducing food waste and, thus, improving food security,” says Shaikh.

Several reports, such as by The World Bank, warns that ensuring food security in South Asia, as its population continues to exponentially expand, will be one of the main challenges for the region to address in the coming years.

The region is currently home to more than 1.8 billion people — with the majority living in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh — and has been the fastest-growing region for half a decade. The population of the region is expected to further increase by 40 percent by 2050, according to the UN.

And many experts agree that addressing food insecurity is going to be amongst the top policy agendas to ensure stability in what is the most populous and amongst the poorest regions of the world.

“Food availability and accessibility can be increased by increasing production, improving distribution, and reducing the losses. And the reduction of post-harvest food losses is a critical component of ensuring future global food security,” says Hina Kamal, PhD research scholar at Future Food Beacon Program, University of Nottingham.

Kamal is working with sustainable food companies to research approaches to recycling and reutilizing food waste into functional products.

“Reduction and recycling of food waste is the only possible holistic approach towards achieving sustainability for future foods”

Studies have also established the importance of policies that address securing food availability that considers the context and impacts of climate change on agriculture.

A report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), for example, states that while climate change and rising temperatures will affect food production across Asia differently, the most food insecure populations are likely to be in South Asia.

Kamal points out that the urgency of tackling food insecurity issues can led governments of developing countries to launch short term and fast tracked initiatives, without proper co-ordination resulting in slower progress and economic inefficiencies.

“This can be reversed if there is better activation of opportunities and co-ordination amongst research institutes, research and development centers, universities and private and public enterprises and ministries,” she adds. “It is innovation that, after all. increases the scope and number of emerging technological process, logistics, marketing and operating costs.”

Peepu is currently involved with the National Incubation Center (NIC) in Karachi, Pakistan’s economic center, and is seeking funding from external investors.

“While technology can be and exploitative force, it also offers a potential for small farmers to get some of their power back and have more control over how and to who they sell their crops,” says Stacey.

“It doesn’t solve the many problems small farmers experience but it can be a tool to navigate through the challenges until better policies come along that protect them.”

 


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Phytosciences Ghana Executes Strategic Partnership With Darko Law Firm

ACCRA, Ghana, Dec. 21, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Phytosciences Ghana Consultants Limited, a cannabis consulting firm, and subsidiary of the Phytosciences GmbH, has announced it will be retaining Darko Law Firm to oversee the regulatory and licensing aspect of Phytosciences Ghana's service offerings.

"Darko Law Firm will be our legal advisors providing regulatory and licensing assistance to any client wishing to work with cannabis in Ghana and has already proven vital in helping us achieve our goals of establishing a safely regulated medicinal cannabis market," said Dr. Pritesh Kumar, the Managing Director of Phytosciences GmBH.

Darko Law Firm has its corporate office located in Achimota, Accra, which was the deciding factor for Phytosciences Ghana in this partnership, as the company has established a strong presence in Ghana. Darko Law Firm is a highly regarded firm providing a comprehensive range of legal services for domestic and international clients. Darko Law Firm offers a wide range of corporate legal services including government relations.

"At Phytosciences, one of our main objectives is to advocate for legislation that ensures safe, regulated, and credible standards of all aspects of the cultivation, processing, quality control, and distribution of medical cannabis," said Dr. Pritesh Kumar. "Darko Law Firm's expertise will help us continue to shape the regulatory framework for Ghana and form strategic partnerships that will benefit local and foreign companies. The institutional knowledge Darko Law Firm provides has already proven vital in helping us achieve our initial goals and begin establishing a safely regulated medicinal cannabis market."

"During the interim time as Chief Operating Officer for Phytosciences Ghana, Darko Law Firm has established relationships with the team and has seen first–hand the diligence they bring to establishing a market where cannabis–derived medicines are safe and accessible to those who need it," said Eric Okyere Darko, founding partner of Darko Law Firm. "Everyone at Darko Law Firm is excited to begin this next phase of growth and see the transformative social and economic impact a healthy cannabis industry could have for Ghana."

The Ghana practice of Darko Law Firm offers a wide range of legal services including general litigation, debt collection, government relations, family law, and immigration law. Okyere Darko earned his Bachelor's degree at the University of Ghana and a Barrister–at–Law Degree from the Ghana School of Law. He then relocated to the United States where he earned a master's degree in Library and Information Science at the Long Island University in New York and a master's degree in Law and Letters (LL.M) at Fordham University School of Law specializing in international business and trade law.

Okyere Darko is a member of the New York State Bar Association; New York County Bar Association; American Bar Association; American Immigration Lawyers Association; New York County Lawyers Association; Association of Ghanaian Lawyers in America and Ghana Bar Association.

About Phytosciences Ghana

Phytosciences Ghana Solutions limited is a branch of PhytoSciences Consultants GmBH, a global consulting firm with a vast resource base of proprietary knowledge, methodologies, and experience. They provide clients access to an international network of scientists and subject matter experts. PhytoSciences Ghana also offers access to its global knowledge management system, a proprietary network that provides start–up cannabis companies and regulators strategic support in developing, strategizing, and executing commercial and policy objectives. PhytoSciences Ghana is helping develop a viable framework for legislative change and offers tailored solutions to local companies so they can strategically maneuver the market as it emerges.

PR Contact

Kathleen Gonzales

kathleen@elevated–pr.com


Uganda’s School Plan for Refugee Children Could Become a Global Template

A parent helps his children to go through work received in the study kits distributed by Education Cannot Wait (ECW) implementing partners in Uganda. ECW allocated $1 million in emergency funds to its education partners in Uganda to ensure that refugee children still continued schooling despite the nationwide coronavirus lockdown. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

A parent helps his children to go through work received in the study kits distributed by Education Cannot Wait (ECW) implementing partners in Uganda. ECW allocated $1 million in emergency funds to its education partners in Uganda to ensure that refugee children still continued schooling despite the nationwide coronavirus lockdown. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

By Wambi Michael
KAMPALA/KIKUBE/RWAMWANJA, Uganda , Dec 21 2020 – Thirteen-year-old Wita Kasanganjo is a pupil at Maratatu Primary School in the Kyangwali Refugee Settlement based in Uganda’s Hoima district. But last month, when Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni ordered the re-opening of schools for the first time since the mid-March nationwide closure, Kasanganjo was not part of the returning group of students. The government, in a cautious lifting of coronavirus lockdown restrictions, has allowed only pupils who are part of the final year or candidate classes to return to their schooling.    

“Not being in class for all this time is not fun. I miss my friends at school and my teachers too,” Kasanganjo tells IPS, saying that she looks forward to the day when the government allows all children to return to school. Kasanganjo has lived as a refugee in Uganda since 2015 when she and her mother fled from armed conflict in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo’s Ituri province.

During the coronavirus lockdown and subsequent school closures, close to 15 million girls and boys, including children living in refugee settlements across this East African nation, were affected. And while pupils in their final years of school, estimated at 1.2 million, returned last month, more than 13 million remain at home, with some still unable to access learning materials.

The most vulnerable among these children include refugee children like Kasanganjo. According to international charity, Save the Children, Uganda hosts the largest number of refugees on the continent.

The numbers are sobering. According to the NGO, 57 percent of refugee children in Uganda are out of school, in some cases for several years. “Even for those who are able to attend school, the quality of education is severely compromised by a shortage of classrooms, teachers and materials. Class sizes average more than 150 children, with some squeezing in 250 children or more,” according to Save the Children Uganda.

Kasanganjo is one of the fortunate ones. She was enrolled in Uganda’s Primary Education under the Education Response Plan for Refugees and Host Communities in Uganda (ERP), facilitated by Education Cannot Wait (ECW).

The plan, the first of its kind globally, was launched two years ago by the Ugandan government together with local and international humanitarian and development partners. “It targets children and youth in 12 refugee-hosting districts in Uganda where more than half a million children are currently out of learning and out of school,” according to UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency.

ECW, the first global fund dedicated to education in emergencies and protracted crises, provided the impetus to develop the three and a half year ERP and supports its implementation with a $33 million seed funding allocation. ECW is urgently appealing to new and current donors to step up and cover the full $389 million expected cost of the ERP. So far, an additional $93 million has been mobilised.

While other refugee children may not be attending school during the lockdown, Kasanganjo is able to continue learning from home as she has been supplied with reading material distributed by the ERP partners working in Kyangwali Refugee Settlement.

When the COVID-19 pandemic erupted, ECW immediately released additional funds through its first emergency response funding window for its partners to quickly set up relevant remote learning solutions and safe and protective learning environments, and to raise awareness of barrier gestures for children and youth and their communities to prevent the spread of the virus.

“In times of crisis, support to continuous learning opportunities is crucial to help protect vulnerable girls and boys who face high risks of permanently dropping out in case of a prolonged interruption to their education. Girls are particularly at risk of child marriage and early pregnancies,” said Yasmine Sherif, director of ECW. “In the face of COVID-19, rapid emergency interventions have been key to protect refugee children and youth and other vulnerable and marginalised girls and boys from an uncertain future and to preserve the gains of ECW’s longer-term multi-year investments in quality education outcomes.”

In total, ECW allocated $1 million in emergency funds to its education partners in Uganda. This includes $475,000 implemented by UNHCR and $525,000 implemented by Save the Children as part of a consortium of civil society organisations, including War Child Holland and ZOA Uganda. The consortium distributed 38,000 home learning kits and more than 900 solar-powered radios that were given to some of the poorest households to ensure children in refugee hosting communities were able to listen to lessons over the radio. The funding also supported classes to be conducted over local radio stations. 

“I have I read all the reading materials and answer all the questions. Sometimes I have challenges because I cannot get ready answers, but my mother allows me to visit some of my friends in the community so that we can do the work together. That has really worked for me,” says Kasanganjo.

Geatano Apamaku, a radio manager at Radio Pacis in Uganda’s West Nile region – which lies along the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where Uganda’s largest concentration of refugees, numbering 750,000, are based – believes that radio classes are more effective compared to distributing the study material and having students learn by themselves.

“We have had children call in asking teachers questions. I think this was more effective because most refugee parents are illiterate. So, they could not help their children learn,” Apamaku tells IPS. 

Dugale Severy, a teacher and refugee from South Sudan who lives and teaches in the Nyumanzi Refugee Settlement in Adjumani District, tells IPS that without education programmes for refugee children, many would never have entered a classroom after fleeing their countries. And despite the COVID-19 lockdown, he says that South Sudanese refugee children are receiving a good education.

“Because you cannot learn when you are hearing gunshots. Just like you cannot teach at your best when you are hearing bombshells. I pray that this type of education is extended to other refugee children all over the world,” explains Dugale.

Uganda’s National Commissioner for Basic and Primary Education Dr. Cleophus Mugenyi tells IPS that without funding from ECW, children in refugee settlements would not have been able to continue their education.

“It would be horrible. The children would be denied the right to education, and you know that education is a basic human right for all and it is important for everyone to make the most of their lives. So, children in refugee settlements deserve education, too,” says Mugenyi.

According to Mugenyi, funding from ECW has benefitted refugees and their host communities to improve learning facilities, construct classrooms and pit latrines, and train teachers, among others.

In fact, ECW reports that the primary gross enrolment ratio for refugee children improved from 53 percent in 2017 to 75 percent in 2019, following the Fund’s support to the ERP.

Despite this progress, more is needed as refugees are faced with precarious situations.

“Our appeal to partners is to continue mobilising resources towards this kind of education because from Uganda’s perspective, we have demonstrated that the Education Response Plan for Refugees and Host Communities in Uganda can help children to access education,” says Mugenyi.

But Uganda has done more for refugees than most countries by granting them access to land and services, freedom of movement, and the right to work. According to Save the Children, the Ugandan government has shown “global leadership in refugee policy and how we respond to refugee crises”.

According to the NGO, what happens in Uganda will determine an international framework for the refugee crisis.

“Uganda and the ERP is a test case for the willingness of the international community to back their commitments with practical actions, and ensure that the responsibility of responding to the refugee crisis is shared fairly,” Save the Children states

ECW is appealing to public and private donors to urgently mobilise $400 million globally. With these resources, ECW will continue to fund emergency education support during the COVID-19 pandemic and in other sudden onset crises, and help develop and roll out multi-year response plans for refugees and other children and youth in a total of 25 protracted crises around the globe.   

Meanwhile Gladys Nayema, just like Kasanganjo, is one of the many girls who will continue their home learning. “Some of our colleagues were happy when the schools were closed. They thought it was an early holiday. I didn’t. I have continued to learn from those materials from Save the Children and the government. I urge other boys and girls to read them because they are useful,” she tells IPS.

 


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The Impact of COVID-19 on Child Marriage and Other Gender-Based Violence

By Saeda Bilkis Bani
DHAKA, Bangladesh, Dec 21 2020 – I recently visited rural areas of Bangladesh amid the COVID-19 pandemic and returned to Dhaka with a new understanding of the impact that COVID-19 is having on child marriage, a harmful practice that is a global challenge. The fundamental shift that I saw was that child marriage, which has typically been encouraged by struggling parents, is now being encouraged by struggling girls. This worrisome trend underscores a new burden of the pandemic on the poor.

Marriage before the age of 18 is a fundamental violation of human rights. Yet UNICEF reported in April that the number of girls married in childhood stands at 12 million per year worldwide.

According to the United Nations Population Fund’s State of the World Population 2020 report, COVID-19 threatens to make even that stunning number worse. The agency estimates that COVID-19 will disrupt efforts to end child marriage, potentially resulting in an additional 13 million child marriages taking place between 2020 and 2030 that could otherwise have been averted.

The challenge is not only the disease but the response to the disease – especially the impact of school closings, which have been in effect nationally since March. The transition from in-school to online learning can easily seem like a mechanical one, but it creates new challenges for remote and poor communities.

Saeda Bilkis Bani

What I witnessed in visiting rural communities was girls totally bored and home-bound by school closings. They typically lack Internet access, television, and smartphones. Analog phones are the only readily available means of communication, and too often the parents are not able to maintain any sort of schooling at home.

The girls are home-bound because, unlike the boys, they are generally forbidden by their parents from leaving the home unnecessarily. School closings thus become confining as well as limiting.

All too often the girls whom I saw had a glazed look in their eyes. They saw no future for themselves. Without school, they were deprived of possibilities. The daily effect was crushing. The only escape was child marriage.

The shift to girls pursuing child marriage instead of their parents is a devastating one that could drive the numbers even higher. It could limit the prospects and potential of girls worldwide.

School closings also affect boys, but boys have more to do. They are freer, more mobile, outside more. In some areas, that may increase child labor, drug addiction, and gambling, but boys are not confined as girls are.

The situation is also different in urban areas, where there is greater access to the Internet, television, and smartphones. Internet access has its own liabilities, but it is available for educational purposes.

For girls and women, the response to COVID-19 has other implications, too. Lockdowns have left many men out of work and, therefore, at home during the day, often making demands of one kind or another. The burden on women – to prepare more food, do more cleaning, maintain the home life – only increases. Financial stress creates domestic stress, and the potential for violence grows, especially as husbands demand more money from wives’ families – a major cause of domestic violence.

BRAC is working to prevent child marriages and other forms of violence against women and children and to defend victims of such violence. BRAC’s Community Empowerment Programme supports Polli Shomaj, the community-based women’s groups that are active in 54 out of 64 districts in Bangladesh in combating gender-based violence. BRAC also operates 410 Legal Aid Clinics, whose cases typically involve gender-based violence. But for prevention to be maximized a cultural shift is needed.

Men and women are equal in Bangladesh’s Constitution and law, but not in its culture. And with 3 million cases backlogged in the court system, the law has limited effect.

Bringing about that cultural shift requires economic empowerment alongside social empowerment for girls and women. It requires life skills for negotiation, partnering in decision-making, and goal setting, among other things. It necessitates occupational skills training to enable girls and women to connect with the job market and to earn their own income. It also requires microfinance so that women can get loans, and mentoring so that women can see a future that they can impact.

Fortunately, BRAC has those tools in place. BRAC Microfinance has 7.1 million clients, 87% of whom are women. BRAC’s Skills Development Programme has equipped 84,581 people with training and knowledge needed for employment, and 83% of those learners – 50% of whom are women – secured jobs after graduation. Together these tools create a comprehensive package that can enable girls and women to see a vibrant future and escape gender-based violence.

But the scale of the problem is greater still. According to a 2015 survey by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics and the United Nations Population Fund, more than 70 percent of married women or girls in Bangladesh have faced some form of intimate partner abuse; about half of whom say their partners have physically assaulted them. And the problem is global.

COVID-19 has revealed that girls and women need to be able to see a future of opportunity for themselves. In combating COVID-19, the world must awaken to this revelation. COVID-19 should now become the catalyst for the world to make possible a future of opportunity for girls and women – a future without gender-based violence.

The author is a Programme Manager in the Community Empowerment Programme at BRAC, one of the largest nongovernmental organizations in the world.

 


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