Sophi.io Wins at WAN-IFRA Digital Media Awards Worldwide 2021

TORONTO, Dec. 01, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Sophi.io, The Globe and Mail's artificial intelligence–based automation, optimization and prediction engine, won WAN–IFRA's 2021 Digital Media Awards Worldwide award in the Best Paid Media Strategy category for Sophi Dynamic Paywall, its real–time, personalized paywall engine that analyses both content characteristics and user behaviour to determine when to ask a reader for money or an email address, and when to leave them alone.

The judges unanimously selected Sophi Dynamic Paywall as the winner, with one judge commenting: "What Globe and Mail did is state of the art and what I appreciate most is that they permanently tested against the old paywall so those results are really, really sustainable."

The World Association of News Publishers (WAN–IFRA)'s Digital Media Awards Worldwide is the news media industry's global digital media competition. The worldwide winners are selected from the winners of the regional Digital Media Awards in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, North America and South Asia, which together provide news publishers with regular showcases for best–practice innovation in digital publishing worldwide. The awards recognize and celebrate the best of digital media.

"Sophi Dynamic Paywall has been crucial to driving reader revenue at The Globe and Mail," said Phillip Crawley, Publisher and CEO of The Globe and Mail. "I look forward to sharing more stories about how Sophi's other customers are seeing great results with our AI–powered technology."

Sophi is an artificial–intelligence system that helps publishers identify their most valuable content and leverage it to achieve key business goals. The Sophi suite of tools also consists of Sophi Site Automation which autonomously curates content across all of a publisher's digital properties and Sophi Content Paywall which uses complex natural language processing models to analyze every piece of content and select articles to put in front of or behind a hard paywall, maximizing the value of both the subscription revenue opportunity and the advertising revenue for publishers.

Publishers on five continents now use Sophi's AI and ML technology to power paywall decisions, website automation and print automation.

About Sophi.io

Sophi.io (https://www.sophi.io) was developed by The Globe and Mail to help content publishers make important strategic and tactical decisions. It is a suite of AI–powered tools that includes Sophi Site Automation and Sophi for Paywalls. Sophi is designed to improve the metrics that matter most to your business, such as subscriber retention and acquisition, engagement, recency, frequency and volume. Sophi also powers automated laydown of print and ePaper publishing.


Luxury Portfolio International Releases State of Luxury Real Estate Report 2022

Number of Luxury Real Estate Sellers Increases Globally; Some Buyers Expressing FOMO (Strong Fear of Missing Out); Sustainability "Critically Important' Among Affluent Buyers Worldwide

Latest Report Comprises Data from Top 1–5% Bracket Surveyed Across 20 Countries, Representing an Affluent Population of Almost 32 Million Households

NEW YORK, Dec. 01, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Luxury Portfolio International (LPI), the world's premier network of luxury residential real estate brokerages, is pleased to share the results of its 2022 State of Luxury Real Estate Report (SOLRE). The study comprises data from individuals in the top 1% to 5% income bracket across 20 countries, and touches on a broad range of topics crucial to the global luxury residential real estate market.

Most notably, the LPI report reveals a continuation of dominating home purchasing–related trends that began during Q3 2020 and continued throughout all of 2021, showing that demand for luxury real estate remains high; price increases expected to continue; supply remains lower than demand; time–on–the–market for luxury single–family homes often continues to "last just hours"; and sustainability is "Critically Important' (66 percent) when considering future home purchases.

The study also shows an increase in the number of affluent sellers of residential real estate worldwide; that among luxury homes buyers, the majority (74 percent) shared strong feelings of a personal economic confidence and still 75 percent are significantly concerned that their discretionary spending power could be tested soon.

And while 2022 is expected to continue at a fast pace, there are signs that the luxury residential real estate market will be increasingly stabilizing, a crucial step to avoid complications for a long–term, super–heated market.

With 75 percent of luxury home buyers choosing their next home with environmental sustainability headlining a broad range of findings from a study of the world's affluent households by Luxury Portfolio International (LPI), 2021 ends as one of the most robust luxury residential real estate markets in history.

"After a record–breaking year in luxury real estate, we anticipate that some balance will be restored to the market," said Mickey Alam Khan, President of LPI. "It is important to view the luxury market over a trajectory of several years, noting that half of 2020 was in paralysis due to the pandemic. The red–hot market that began in the latter part of 2020 continued into 2021 and will continue a positive trajectory into 2022. The difference will be that there will be more luxury sellers in 2022 than in 2021, and while there will be fewer actual luxury buyers, it is still a seller's market. The pandemic madness that drove us to an over–heated market is being normalized. Demand will remain strong, and a healthy, new normal in luxury real estate will start to take hold in 2022."

Sustainability, according to the study, is now a major differentiator in luxury homes, and buyers are willing to pay a premium to have features and amenities that better prepare them for the future. 75 percent of those surveyed noted choosing their next home with sustainability in mind, with an unprecedented 90 percent noting "yes" as to factoring sustainability in relation to a Next Chapter in Life home search. According to the study, a "Next Chapter in Life" home search pertains to those moving to be closer to family, because of their children's education, a career move, and other mitigating factors.

People interested in sustainability as a major factor of their home purchase are 71 percent more likely to view the purchase as a legacy home that will be passed on to their heirs. Further, as interest in sustainability grows, the quality of the buyer improves for the benefit of the seller, in that this buyer wants to transact sooner and for a relatively higher budget.

FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out is the feeling of anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on social media. With a year at home and headlines touting the hot market, FOMO has become a significant concern for 26 percent of luxury buyers. FOMO manifests in different ways, first as a true "missed the boat" moment where prices extend beyond reach. A second concern "" equally impactful "" is arranging finances for major purchases.

While COVID–19 remains a significant concern, the study revealed that the market has already accounted for much of its effects. This compared to last year when the top trend in luxury real estate was finding a home that would accommodate the family that works from home.

That said, according to the study, working from home, is wearing on a substantial percentage of luxury home buyers. The Study revealed that 27 percent of luxury buyers cited working from home as a "significant concern.' Remote work and the associated frustration and stress of being home continues to play a significant role in the purchase decision process.

Buyers concerned about de–stressing their work–from–home environment noted diversions such as entertainment at home, night life nearby, and relaxation–inducing amenities like a spa/hot tub, a specialty cocktail scale, and specialty rooms for media and gaming.

Additional key findings from the research include:

  • Globally, the affluent class remains highly interested in purchasing residential real estate at any price, with a 33 percent increase year–over–year. There is no doubt that 2021 will end with a backlog of buyers, setting up 2022 as another strong year for luxury real estate.
  • Over 14 million affluent households remain interested in buying a residence, of which 6.4 million are in the luxury category. An additional 1.2 million luxury homeowners have found an interest in selling in the next 3 years, up 32 percent from last year. Record valuations no doubt play a key role in this decision.
  • Working together, these factors indicate global price stabilization and market normalization is in store for 2022 and beyond. What once appeared to be a wide chasm between the number of potential buyers and sellers (10.3MM buyers and 4.0MM sellers) is moving appropriately towards equilibrium (6.4MM buyers and 5.2MM sellers).
  • The global trend for residential real estate demand will continue to grow in 2022. The percentage of individuals in the market to purchase residential real estate by the end of 2022 increased from 19 percent in 2021 to 39 percent in 2022 in Europe, and from 30 percent in 2021 to 37 percent in 2022 in Asia/Pacific. 46 percent of those surveyed from the Middle East, specifically consumers from Saudi Arabia and the UAE have the greatest interest in acquiring residential real estate, as those individuals continue to diversify their holdings. North America shows modest growth from 21 percent in 2021 to 25 percent in 2022.
  • Luxury homeowners are coming around to selling. With new construction experiencing delays due to the challenges with goods and services, there is a consistent interest in existing homes. However, owners were not necessarily in the market to sell last year, and consequently the lack of inventory has been a significant price driver in most luxury markets. Now, it seems that luxury owners are convinced that the iron is hot and their interest in selling has increased by more than double (to 28 percent from 11 percent). In fact, 71 percent of owners believe their home value will increase this year, creating a strong incentive to sell. The average luxury homeowner expects an increase of approximately 4""5 percent compared to 3""4 percent last year.
  • Psychologically it remains a seller's market. In practice, we can expect a more balanced ratio of buyers and sellers in the years to come. As affluent consumers participate in the residential market, luxury–residence seekers are down 58 percent in 2021 (from 34 percent to 20 percent of the total affluent), while conversely, in this delicate balancing act, the number of luxury sellers is on the rise by 26 percent (up to 16 percent from 13 percent of the total affluent).
  • While the flight to suburbia has been a major COVID headline, the research reveals that city–center luxury residential real estate is alive–and–well. Over half of luxury buyers worldwide (55 percent) expect to buy their next residence in a city and 77 percent will be within commuting range. Notably, Asia–Pacific luxury buyers are significantly more likely to buy in the city center than their global counterparts.
  • Single–family home popularity surges beyond North America. The research revealed that the popularity of single–family homes is growing on a global scale, with 40 percent of Europe/Middle East buyers and 29 percent of Asia–Pacific buyers seeking the luxury of additional space and privacy. Year on year, demand for this type of housing is increasing as, collectively, shared living spaces are becoming less attractive to the luxury buyer. North America remains the top driver for demand of this type of residence.
  • A new class of entry–level luxury buyer enters the market. Across the full spectrum of affluent consumers, there is greater interest in purchasing real estate under $1 million. This signals a resurgence of upper–middle class buyers who delayed in purchasing due to the pandemic, or who are now willing and able to acquire. Consequently, this is creating an increase in the number of entry–level luxury buyers, up to 44 percent from 39 percent in the USD 1–1.9 million range. This democratic luxury–for–the–many effect is most pronounced in North America and less so in Asia Pacific and Europe/Middle East, where the wealthy class tends to skew toward relatively small groups of people with very high concentrations of wealth.

For additional information, and access to the report, click here: State of Luxury Real Estate 2022.

ABOUT LUXURY PORTFOLIO INTERNATIONAL (LPI)
Luxury Portfolio International (luxuryportfolio.com) is the leading network of the world's premier luxury real estate brokerages and their top agents, offering unparalleled marketing and intelligence services across the globe. It is the luxury arm of Leading Real Estate Companies of the World the global network of top independent real estate firms, with 550 companies and 150,000 sales associates in 70 countries. Last year, network members participated in over 1.3 million global transactions. LPI attracts a global audience of visitors from over 200 countries/territories every month and markets more than 50,000 luxury homes annually. Well Connected.

Source: Luxury Portfolio International

A photo accompanying this announcement is available at https://www.globenewswire.com/NewsRoom/AttachmentNg/cc7a46a4–e6fd–43f9–91e6–834f31b75e8e

A PDF is available at http://ml.globenewswire.com/Resource/Download/3c08ae81–d703–4faf–8ea2–dc5c9c70ed7e


Call It ‘Old’, ‘Contemporary’, ‘Modern’ or Whatever: It Is Slavery

Slavery has evolved and manifested itself in different ways throughout history. Today some traditional forms of slavery still persist in their earlier forms, while others have been transformed into new ones

Teenage girls harvest tomatoes on a farm in the state of Sinaloa, in northern Mexico. Credit: Courtesy of Sinaloa Institute for Adult Education

By Baher Kamal
MADRID, Dec 1 2021 – No matter what it is called — it is the abhorrent daily life of a billion enslaved humans.  The real number of “modern” slaves is understandably unknown. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that more than 40 million people worldwide are victims of modern slavery.

Although modern slavery is not defined in law, it is used as an umbrella term covering practices such as forced labour, debt bondage, forced marriage, and human trafficking, it says.

But this figure of 40 million sounds very far away from being accurate. Why? For instance, ILO cites forced marriage as one of the key components of modern slavery. However, there are 800 million child-girls forced to be married.

ILO also includes child forced labour as another key component of slavery. But the UN estimates that there are 160 million children victims of child forced labour.

In fact, the very same world organisation states that more than 150 million children are subject to child labour, accounting for almost one in ten children around the world.

Let alone the number of victims of smuggling and trafficking in human beings who are exploited and recruited as child-soldiers in armed conflicts hitting several developing countries.

 

One billion slaves

Consequently, only these two figures combined raise the number of ‘modern slaves’ to nearly one billion.

According to the UN, slavery essentially refers to situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, deception, and/or abuse of power.

Marking the 2021 International Day for the Abolition of Slavery on 2 December, the world body says that slavery is not merely a historical relic.

Coincidently, the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery marks the date of the adoption, by the UN General Assembly, of the United Nations Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others on 2 December 1949.

The focus of this Day is on eradicating contemporary forms of slavery, such as trafficking in persons, sexual exploitation, the worst forms of child labour, forced marriage, and the forced recruitment of children for use in armed conflict, the UN remarks.

 

Main Forms of Modern Slavery

Slavery has evolved and manifested itself in different ways throughout history. Today some traditional forms of slavery still persist in their earlier forms, while others have been transformed into new ones, according to the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery.

“The UN human rights bodies have documented the persistence of old forms of slavery that are embedded in traditional beliefs and customs. These forms of slavery are the result of long-standing discrimination against the most vulnerable groups in societies, such as those regarded as being of low caste, tribal minorities and indigenous peoples.”

Forced labour

Alongside traditional forms of forced labour, such as bonded labour and debt bondage there now exist more contemporary forms of forced labour, such as migrant workers, who have been trafficked for economic exploitation of every kind in the world economy: work in domestic servitude, the construction industry, the food and garment industry, the agricultural sector and in forced prostitution.

Child labour

Globally, one in ten children works. The majority of the child labour that occurs today is for economic exploitation. That goes against the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which recognises “the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education, or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.”

All this in addition to children pushed into begging by criminal groups, just as an example.

Trafficking

According to the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children, trafficking in persons means the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion for the purpose of exploitation.

Prostitution, servitude, removal of organs…

“Exploitation includes prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs. The consent of the person trafficked for exploitation is irrelevant and if the trafficked person is a child, it is a crime even without the use of force.”

And there is an unquantified number of victims of debt-slavery, which is more widely spread in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

In view of the above, there would be many more slavery victims than the official estimates.

Global Solutions Needed for Pandemics, So All Can Live in Dignity

In the face of COVID-19 pandemic it was necessary to find global solutions to achieving sustainable development. Credit: APDA

By Cecilia Russell
Johannesburg, South Africa, Dec 1 2021 – COVID-19 highlighted significant gaps in the world’s ability to deal with pandemics, and it’s crucial these are addressed to mitigate the impacts of future global health problems, Masato Kanda, Japan’s Vice Minister of Finance for International Affairs, told a recent online meeting of parliamentarians.

The meeting with the theme ‘Nairobi Commitments Follow-up under COVID-19’ heard that the gaps were serious and significantly affected and in the future, would impact the world’s ability to respond to pandemics.

“These gaps include insufficient coordination, information sharing amongst multilateral and bilateral agencies, limited the collaboration between financial and health policymakers, inadequate finance to both effectively prevent or prepare for future pandemics,” Kanda said. He elaborated that governance, financing of the current global health system, including development, manufacturing, procurement and delivery of vaccines and medical equipment needed urgent attention.

Japan had energetically participated in recent discussions at the G20 meeting in Italy. Kanda noted that without proper and integrated governance reform, the world would again “end up with fragmented, inappropriate and uncoordinated responses.”

Professor Keizo Takemi, MP and Chair of Asian Forum of Parliamentarians on Population and Development (AFPPD), opened the session with a reminder that discussions at the forum and beyond would need to look at the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which had caused “prolonged and devastating changes to our daily lives”.

He said a face-to-face meeting in Tokyo was planned for February 2022 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the AFPPD and APDA.

Counting the cost of the pandemic, he noted it had an “unprecedented impact on many areas, such as education, global workforce, food systems, public health and individual decision making on childbearing.”

In terms of health, it has impacted the delivery of sexual and reproductive health services, and these needed to form the agenda for discussions in the future.

Yoko Kamikawa, MP and Former Minister of Justice, Chair of Japan Parliamentarians Forum for Population (JPFP), said at the 40th anniversary next year she hoped parliamentarians could look at the “steps the Asian parliamentarians had taken in the past and discuss how to build a society where all people can live their lives with dignity.”

Parliamentarians play a crucial role in the delivery of the SDGs, she said.

“To achieve sustainable development, we need to go beyond the nation-state and establish a new set of standards and rules that will allow us to live humanely on this planet and that will benefit human society as a whole. And this is precisely why it is critically important for parliamentarians who legislate on behalf of its citizens to further efforts in cooperation,” Kamikawa said.

As AFPPD and APDA prepare for their 40th anniversary Parliamentarians heard about challenges the world faces to meet the ICPD25 commitments. Credit: APDA

Björn Andersson, Regional Director of UNFPA APRO stated that the ICPD25 Nairobi summit brought together 8000 delegates from 170 countries and territories. It emphasized the importance of universal access to health care. Nobody at the Nairobi summit could have anticipated the impact of COVID-19.

“Over the last 18 months, health systems have been stretched to the brink. And we have noted a decrease in investments in routine health services in favour of procurement and delivery of COVID-19 supplies,” he said.

This has had a significant impact on communities. For example, over the past 18 months, there have been changes in patterns of health-seeking behaviour of many people, including pregnant women, who were fearful of leaving their houses and coming into contact with COVID-19 in health facilities.

“This has had a negative impact on maternal mortality. It is clear that more public funding for health is needed alongside innovative strategies that leverage resources to work more effectively without further increasing out-of-pocket costs for individuals and households,” Andersson said.

Parliamentarians had a critical role in achieving universal access to Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights as part of universal health coverage (UHC).

“In light of the COVID 19 pandemic and its impacts. It is more important than ever to increase public funding for health be strategic and targeted investments to achieve and sustain the health-related Sustainable Development Goals. Well-functioning delivery of quality health care and essential services cannot be compromised even in the context of the COVID 19 pandemic.”

Dr Takeshi Kasai, WHO Regional Director for Western Pacific, agreed that a global solution was critical to counter public health emergencies.

“COVID-19 made it clear that the health, the economy, the broader social well-being are inextricably linked,” he said. “The second lesson was the global health (issues) needed a global solution, and for that, effective multilateral mechanisms and institutions are needed.”

While nobody expected effective vaccines to be developed as quickly as they were, the challenges with COVAX meeting its mandate of ensuring equitable access to vaccines was concerning.

“Unless every country is protected, no country is safe,” he said.

It was critically important for the world to prepare as it moved toward a 4th wave of the pandemic, and the key to this was effective multilateral mechanisms.

  • The online meeting was organised by: Asian Forum for Parliamentarians on Population and Development (AFPPD); Japan Parliamentarians Federation for Population (JPFP) and Asian Population and Development Association (APDA). The event was supported by The Japan Trust Fund (JTF) and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

 


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Inequality is Set to Kill Millions – “We Have to Fight it Together.”

The UN commemorated World Aids Day on 30 November. Credit: UNAIDS

By Winnie Byanyima
GENEVA, Dec 1 2021 – This week I called out to the world to warn them that inequalities are making us all unsafe. I noted starkly our new analysis that we face millions of additional AIDS deaths – 7.7 million in the next decade alone – as well continued devastation from pandemics, unless leaders address the inequalities which drive them. We have to treat this threat as an emergency, as a red alert.

To end AIDS, we need to act with far more urgency to tackle these inequalities. And it’s not just AIDS. All pandemics take root in, and widen, the fissures of society. The world’s failure to address marginalization and unequal power is also driving the COVID crisis and leaving us unprepared for the pandemics of tomorrow. We need all leaders to work boldly and together to tackle the inequalities which endanger us all.

To tackle inequalities requires leaders to take these courageous steps:

    ● Support community-led and people-centred infrastructure
    ● Ensure equitable access to medicines, vaccines and health technologies
    ● Strengthen human rights, to build trust and tackle pandemics
    ● Elevate essential workers and provide them with the resources and tools they need
    ● Ensure people-centred data systems that highlight inequalities.

At the United Nations General Assembly High-Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS in June this year, member states adopted a bold new plan to end the AIDS epidemic, including new targets for 2025.

We are seeing around the world examples of the transformative impact of tackling inequalities – with some people and some countries making progress against AIDS that many had believed impossible. These prove that it can be done, and guide us in what we need to take to scale worldwide to end AIDS.

On my recent visit to Senegal, I saw the power of leadership in driving down new HIV infections. In Dakar I met with the inspirational Mariama Ba Thiam, a peer educator at a harm reduction programme for people who inject drugs.

The programme helps them protect their health and to secure economic independence. Mariama’s approach works because it starts by considering the whole person, connecting the medical with the social. It rejects the failed punitive and stigmatizing approaches taken by so many, and it instead respects the dignity of every person.

It succeeds because it involves frontline communities in service provision and in leadership, and because it recognizes that access to the treatments grounded in the best science is a human right and a public good. We know what success looks like, and it looks like Mariama. Thousands of Mariamas worldwide have shown the way by walking it.

But in too many cases we are not only not moving fast enough to end the inequalities which drive pandemics, and are moving in the wrong direction – tech monopolies instead of tech sharing, donor withdrawal instead of global solidarity, austerity instead of investment, clampdowns on marginalised communities instead of repeals of outdated laws.

Six in seven new HIV infections among adolescents in sub-Saharan Africa are occurring among girls. Gay men and other men who have sex with men, sex workers, and people who use drugs face 25-35 greater risk of acquiring HIV worldwide.

Progress in AIDS, which was already off track, is now under even greater strain as the Covid crisis continues to rage, disrupting HIV prevention and treatment services, schooling, violence-prevention programmes, and more. Harm reduction services for people who use drugs were disrupted in nearly two thirds (65%) of 130 countries surveyed in 2020.

We have reached a fork in the road. The choice for leaders to make on inequalities is between bold action and half-measures. The data is clear: it is being too gradual that is the unaffordable choice.

Leaders need to turn this moment of crisis into a moment of transformation. Ending these inequalities fast is what needs to be reflected in every leader’s policy programme and every country’s budget.

If we take on the inequalities which hold back progress, we can deliver on the promise to end AIDS by 2030. It is in our hands. But if we don’t act to end inequalities, we will all pay the price.

Inequalities kill. Every minute that passes, we are losing a precious life to AIDS, and widening inequality is putting us ever more in danger. We don’t have time.

Winnie Byanyima is Executive Director of UNAIDS and Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations

 


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What Will it Take to Turn Farmers Toward Climate-Resilient Superfood Millet?

Supermarkets stock both millet and sorghum products, but these are often ignored. Now research has shown the crops have health benefits and are climate resilient. Credit: Ignatius Banda/IPS

By Ignatius Banda
Bulawayo, ZIMBABWE , Dec 1 2021 – Millet could be Africa’s silver bullet for combating anaemia – and apart from health benefits, it is climate-resilient.

Research led by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) says millet, long resisted by some of Africa’s smallholders, effectively combating anaemia.

Iron deficiency affects more than 1.7 billion people globally, according to the World Health Organization. Undernutrition among children has led to stunted growth and anaemia, says the WHO. The ICRISAT study authored in collaboration with other research organisations notes that governments need to bring “millets into the mainstream” if iron deficiency is adequately addressed globally.

“Although the amount of iron provided depends on the millet variety and its form of processing, the research clearly shows that millets can play a promising role in preventing and reducing high levels of iron deficiency anaemia,” said Anitha Seetha, the study’s lead author and ICRISAT senior nutritionist.

The grain has another significant benefit – and could assist developing countries bearing the brunt of climate uncertainty and devastating drought cycles. The grain is climate-resilient and could help communities saddled with health emergencies as a result of drought. The study’s findings suggest interventions that could ease pressure on already burdened public health services.

“Now that there is strong evidence of the value of millets in reducing or preventing iron deficiency anaemia, it is recommended that one major research study be undertaken on anaemia covering all the different types of millet, common varieties and all major forms of processing and cooking,” says Professor Ian Givens, a co-author of the study and Director at University of Reading’s Institute of Food, Nutrition and Health (IFNH) in the UK.

“This will provide the detail required for designing interventions needed to have a major impact on reducing anaemia globally,” he said.

For countries like Zimbabwe, where small grains have long been touted as the answer to food insecurity and nutrition concerns, the ICRISAT study’s findings could influence smallholders, such as Samukele Jamela. She farms in the arid region of Filabusi, about 120km southeast of Bulawayo.

Jamela is one of many farmers who have routinely faced empty silos because of poor rains but still insists on planting rain-fed maize (corn).

“We plant maize here. That’s what we have always done. Very few people want to eat millet or sorghum. Even the children don’t like it,” she said, explaining why her community shuns growing small grains.

The country’s agriculture ministry is aware of this sentiment.

In 2010, Zimbabwe partnered with the Food and Agriculture Organisation to promote the production, processing and marketing of small grains such as millet and sorghum, and a decade later, agriculture officials are still trying to convince smallholders to grow climate-resilient small grains.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) noted in a 2018 report titled “Barrier analysis of small grains value chain in Zimbabwe” that the country has experienced a decline in the production of small grains since the 1990s, with maize remaining the favoured crop despite successive crop failure due to poor rains.

As part of efforts to assist the country in turning the food insecurity curve, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) announced a USD67 million investment programme aimed at Zimbabwe’s smallholder farmers this November.

“Depending on the geographical area, crops such as millet in drier areas will be supported,” Jaan Keitaanranta, IFAD Eswatini and Zimbabwe country director, told IPS.

The support came just as the UN agency warned last month that African countries would see a drop in the yields of staple crops such as maize owing to rising temperatures brought by climate change.

Titled What Can Smallholder Farmers Grow in a Warmer World? the report appeals to African countries to reduce their reliance on maize in favour of small grains, noting that by 2050, maize production could drop by 77 percent in some countries bearing the brunt of climate change.

“Millets are not only healthy but target some of our biggest needs, making them a powerful solution for our diets,” said Joanna Kane-Potaka, a former ICRISAT Assistant Director-General. She is a co-author of the study and now serves as Executive Director of the Smart Food initiative.

However, local researchers say the labour-intensive nature of small grains is one of many reasons why smallholders continue shunning sorghum and millet.

“Small grains face a major challenge of low yield per hectare compared to maize; hence most farmers prefer to grow maize regardless of climate concerns,” said Keith Phiri, a senior lecturer at Lupane State University’s Department of Development Studies.

Phiri, who has led research on why smallholders in Zimbabwe’s arid regions shun small grains, said reasons included lack of knowledge of millet which “during weeding time, weeds tend to look exactly like the plant,” while consumer preferences have always favoured maize.

Among other recommendations, Phiri says the government has to shift its policy that has for years promoted maize as a cash crop, sidelining small grains.

“The need for a solution is critical, and therefore bringing millets into mainstream and government programs is highly recommended,” said Jacqueline Hughes, ICRISAT Director-General.

 


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