News: When Green goes Commercial: the new colonization of Africa

More than a century after the last “scramble for Africa”, when European powers fought to colonise the continent, there is a new stampede into one of the world’s biggest areas of uncultivated terrain.

Last year, by one estimate, the government of Mozambique received bids from foreign investors to buy 110,000 square kilometres of land, more than an eighth of the entire country.

In neighbouring Tanzania, a Swedish company, is bidding for 50,000 hectares on the banks of a lake in the Rufiji province. And that is just one example.

Why? A rush from European companies to grow biofuel.(Full)

It begs to think if agrable land can not be used for better purposes. Using the same two examples: Tanzania has more than 40 percent of the population in chronic food-deficit regions where irregular rainfall causes recurring food shortages. Mozambique has 660,000 vulnerable people in need food assistance, and suffers from yearly flooding displacing hundreds of thousands of people.

More about biofuel on The Road.

Source: International Aid Workers Today
Picture courtesy Robert Maas/WFP

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Rumble: The plane with the shortest life, crashed before its first take-off

Those of you frequently reading this blog, know I am a frequent traveller. There were times, I averaged 40 flights a month. That is why I frequently post stuff about planes, airports and air travel in general...

As an aidworker, I often fly "bush planes", "special charters", or at least fly in areas where ummm... air travel might not be as strictly controlled as it should be. I gave some examples in The Road's short story "Italians, the art of flying and the laws of probability".

However, this story, beats all odds:

Back in November last year, a brand new Airbus A340-600 from Etihad left the Airbus factory hanger in Toulouse, France. It had never flown before, and was being tested by its crew, who were to pick up the plane for its final testing. According to a friend, here is what happened:

The crew of nine taxied out to the run-up area. They took all four engines to takeoff power with a virtually an empty aircraft. This was their first mistake as they obviously didn't read the run-up manuals and had no clue just how light an empty Airbus really is.

No chocks were set, not that it would have mattered at that power setting. Even the brakes would not hold at full power.

As it turns out, the takeoff warning horn was blaring away in the cockpit because the aircraft computers thought they were trying to takeoff but the flaps, slats etc.. had not been configured properly.

Then one of the crew decided to pull the 'Ground Sense' circuit breaker to silence the alarms. This fooled the aircraft into thinking it was in the air. That was the crew's last mistake: as soon as they did that, the computers automatically released all the brakes and set the aircraft rocketing forward. There was no time to stop and no one smart enough to throttle back the engines from their max power setting. So the rest is as you see it below: the plane, still with zero airmiles on its counter, propelled onto a concrete wall, and broke into pieces.

I can not imagine how the telephone call from the pilot to his boss must have sounded like: "Eh, boss, remember the new A340 we were supposed to pick up from the factory? Eh.. do you think we could get another one?"

It really makes me wonder if flying is a science, a craft or an art!

etihad crash
etihad crash
etihad crash

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News:Tegucigalpa air crash

Remember a previous post The World's 10 most dangerous landing strips"? Remember how to those landing strips I added to the list, as I had experienced them as "more than scary"?

Tegucigalpa in Honduras was definitive "my top favourite": coming in between mountains, a final approach skimming just a few meters above a small hill, just before diving onto a runway which seems almost tucked away in a valley. Each time, it amazed me we could actually pull the brakes in time, without tumbling off the end of the runway... It surely seemed to take all of the pilot's skills. Have a look again at the video on this post, and you will understand...

Today Tegucigalpa airport seemed to have proven its sad reputation as "one of the world's most dangerous landing strips" as a TACA flight overshot the runway.(Full)

taca crash Tegucigalpa

Picture courtesy AFP/BBC

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News: Bush on Global Food Crisis: "Indians eat too much"

George W. Bush, in a press conference in Missouri on May 2, touched the subject of the soaring global food prices (taken from the official transcript):

"Worldwide there is increasing demand. There turns out to be prosperity in developing world, which is good. It's going to be good for you because you'll be selling products into countries - big countries perhaps - and it's hard to sell products into countries that aren't prosperous. In other words, the more prosperous the world is, the more opportunity there is.

It also, however, increases demand. So, for example, just as an interesting thought for you, there are 350 million people in India who are classified as middle class. That's bigger than America. Their middle class is larger than our entire population. And when you start getting wealth, you start demanding better nutrition and better food. And so demand is high, and that causes the price to go up. (Full)

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News: Aid Shame

A report called “No One to Turn To,” released by U.K. charity Save the Children, highlights the sexual abuse by humanitarian aid workers and UN peacekeepers in impoverished, war-torn countries.

The report is based on 38 focus group discussions with a total of 341 people living in chronic emergencies in Ivory Coast, Southern Sudan and Haiti, and meetings with 30 humanitarian, peace and security professionals.

The interviews revealed instances of rape, child prostitution, pornography, indecent sexual assault and trafficking of children for sex.

Allegations and investigations into UN peacekeepers’ sexual abuse of international children and teenagers have been circulating for more than a decade, beginning with U.N. soldiers in Cambodia in the 1990s. (Full)

Even though the report is only a fragmentary snapshot, does not distinguish between "factual" and "hear-say" observation, and is a partial repeat of earlier reports (which I quoted before on the Road), abuse of any kind can not be highlighted enough, in the hope consequent repressive and preventive action is taken.

The report should take credit that it also highlighted the internal figures from "Save the Children", the organisation who published the report, noting that allegations of sexual abuse by its own staff went up from 11 in 2006 to 15 in 2007.

The full report, you find here.

UN Secretary-General Ban-ki Moon promised a UN probe into the abuse. (Full)

Source: International Aidworkers Today
Picture courtesy Council of Europe

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News: US presidential candidates united in support of Darfur


There don't seem to be many issues that the US presidential candidates Clinton, Obama and McCain agree upon, but one which caught my eye: their stand against Sudan and the genocide in Darfur.

Extract from their statement:
After more than five years of genocide, the Sudanese government and its proxies continue to commit atrocities against civilians in Darfur. This is unacceptable to the American people and to the world community.

We deplore all violence against the people of Darfur. There can be no doubt that the Sudanese government is chiefly responsible for the violence and is able to end it. We condemn the Sudanese government’s consistent efforts to undermine peace and security, including its repeated attacks against its own people and the multiple barriers it has put up to the swift and effective deployment of the United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force. We further condemn the Sudanese government’s refusal to adhere to the terms of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the conflict in southern Sudan. (Full)

More posts on the Road about Darfur

Picture courtesy Save Darfur

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Picture of the day: Survivor

china earthquake survival

A quake survivor tries to make the most of what is left of his home in Yinghua, China. The earthquake on May 12th killed 65,000 people and left 5 million homeless.

More Pictures of the Day on The Road.

Picture courtesy Oded Balilty (AP/Times)

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Picture of the day: Violence in South Africa.

South Africa violence

Violence in South Africa's townships against foreign nationals has claimed 42 lives and displaced 22,000 people. (Full)
The incidents are mapped at United for Africa.

More "Pictures of the Day" on the Road.

Picture courtesy Joao Silva (The New York Times)

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News: Bangladesh trees to stop cyclones and floods

Bangladesh's poorOver 49.8% of Bangladesh's 144 million people live below the poverty line. 84% live off less than US$2/day. 41.3% live off less than 1 US$1/day. With those demographic poverty figures, not much is needed to push Bangladesh's poor over the edge.

Natural calamities, such as floods, tropical cyclones, and tidal bores occur almost Sundarbansevery year. Most parts of Bangladesh are less than 12 metres (39 ft) above sea level. If the sea level would rise by one metre (3ft), it is believed 50% of the land would be flooded. No wonder the yearly cyclone season is a season of despair and disaster for many Bangladeshis.

Last summer the country was hit by two major floods while Cyclone Sidr tore through its coastal districts in November, killing Sundarbans forestat least 5,000 people and leaving tens of millions homeless and desperately short of food. Environmentalists said the Sundarbans, the world's largest mangrove forest, stood as a "green bastion" against the cyclone. If it were not for the Sundarbans, the death toll would have been much higher.

The government of Bangladesh has now decided to plant 100 million trees to increase the effectiveness of the "natural fence" against frequent floods and cyclones. (Full)

Pictures courtesy NASA, Abdul Mannan (WFP) and Banglapedia

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Rumble: Internet is older than we think - the evidence

Early Internet

I came across this post on Shoutwire, a social bookmarking site. The post seems to be published 733,130 days ago. According to my calculations, this must have been around year 0, the year Christ was born...
This must be the proof the Internet is older than we think.

So where does Al Gore stand with his claim to have invented Internet? Or would Al be as old as Christ? Maybe Al is nobody else but JC, "the man"? Cool! Would that make "global warming", a "divine warning", like one of the prophecy thingies those dudes make? Who needs scientific evidence, hey?
Ah.. the revelations, the signs, the unbearable lightness of insights...

Ok, dear listeners, that concludes our programme of "The Nutcase" for today.

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Rumble: Recruiting in the 21st century

Many bloggers like myself use Feedjit widgets to monitor and track traffic on their blog.

This morning, I was reading the Feedjit blog and found this recruitment ad:

Feedjit is Hiring -- February 27th, 2008

We’re hiring!! Feedjit is based in Seattle in Pioneer Square - home of the worlds best coffee shops. We’re interested in chatting to Rock-Star ModPerl (2.0) developers and Ubuntu/Debian ops folks with cluster management experience.The encrypted string below is derived from an email address. If you can crack it, send an email to the address with your resume and we’d love to chat over coffee!


Clue: The salt is ‘aa’ and the username matches ^[a-z0-9]{4}$

Reminds me of 2003, when we recruited out of our old Al Quoz office in Dubai, "where the streets have no name"... We would explain interviewees only once how to get to our office. If they don't find it, or did not make it on time, they could not work for us...
Actually it was an effective method to make the first selection. Candidates who really wanted to find us, could... as long as they were a bit creative and had a good brain (first selection). Those who really cared to work with us, would ensure they arrived half an hour in advance, and would not underestimate the challenge of finding our office (second selection).

That probably contributed why we had such a great team in Dubai:

Our dubai team end 2005

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Recommended: The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Excuse me, sir, but may I be of assistance? Ah, I see I have alarmed you. Do not be frightened by my beard: I am a lover of America.

Thus starts the monologue of "Changez", the principle character in "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" by Mohsin Hamid.
Seated at dusk at a Lahore cafe, Changez tells his story to a stranger, an American. A story of a Pakistani who studied in the US, found work in a prestigious company, met a girl and became singled out after 9/11. Gradually he starts question his path of life and how different he was from the people around him, in a Western country.

The story is told with a light, almost frivolous, sometimes ironical English, jumping between the subjects of love, culture, religion, prejudices and the war on terror. Despite the weight of the topics, the story remains so light it almost starts to resonate with irony or sarcasm without giving away any hint of the faith both Changez and his American acquaintance will face towards the end of the book.

Very well written and highly recommended!

You can find this book and more of my favorites in my library.
More recommended books from The Road.

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News: Ugandan UN Peace Keepers accused of selling arms in Somalia

Ugandan peace keepers in SomaliaA report by the UN monitoring group on the Somali arms embargo says Ugandan peacekeepers in Somalia have been selling arms to insurgents.

It cites one incident in which a group of Ugandan soldiers allegedly received $80,000 for a transaction. Some peacekeepers are accused of setting up an arms trading network through translators. The soldiers received a wish-list of weapons from arms dealers and the weapons were then supplied from stores of equipment seized from insurgents. The monitoring group says the weapons find their way back to the insurgent group they were captured from in the first place.

The Ugandan army has already dismissed the accusations as "absolutely ridiculous." (Full)

More posts on The Road about UN Peace Keeping operations.

Source: International Aidworkers Today
Picture courtesy
Gambia News Community

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News: UN Peace Keepers muffle negative inspection report

I wrote before about the BBC and the Human Rights Watch reports on abuse by UN peace keepers in Congo, smuggling gold and drugs out of the country in exchange for weapons they gave to the rebels.

The UN decided that "in the absence of corroborative evidence" its investigators "could not substantiate the allegation" that Pakistani peacekeepers supplied weapons or ammunition to the militia.

The New York Times just published an article by Matthias Basanisi, the UN's deputy chief investigator in Congo at that time. He reveals nothing short but an orchestrated cover-up of the scandal:

I was the investigator in charge of the United Nations team that in 2006 looked into allegations of abuses by Pakistani peacekeepers in Congo and found them credible. But the investigation was taken away from my team after we resisted what we saw as attempts to influence the outcome. My fellow team members and I were appalled to see that the oversight office’s final report was little short of a whitewash.

The reports we submitted to the office’s senior management in 2006 included credible information from witnesses confirming illegal deals between Pakistani peacekeepers and warlords from the Front for National Integration, an ethnic militia group notorious for its cruelty even in such a brutal war. We found corroborative information that senior officers of the Pakistani contingent secretly returned seized weapons to two warlords in exchange for gold, and that the Pakistani peacekeepers tipped off two warlords about plans by the United Nations peacekeeping force and the Congolese Army to arrest them.

And yet, much of the evidence we uncovered was excluded from the final report released last summer, including corroboration from the warlords themselves. (Full)

I wonder what is worse now: Trading weapons with warring fractions you are supposed to protect the people from, in exchange for gold and drugs you smuggle out of the country. Or covering up the inspection report revealing this abuse?

Source: The Gstaad Project, International Aidworkers Today

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News: Saudi Arabia becomes major UN donor

The UN appealed for US$755 million to cover the high costs of food and fuel which have risen dramatically since June 2007, hampering the world's most vulnerable nations in the global food crisis.

31 countries responded in donating a collective US$460 million. Saudi Arabia now close the gap with a US$500 million donation.

The half-billion dollar contribution puts the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia at the forefront of the large-scale, high-level, multilateral UN action by the global community. (Full)

Picture courtesy Tom Haskell/WFP

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News: Tough hurricane season coming up.

Hurricane Florence 1988

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the approaching 2008 Atlantic hurricane season is likely to be above normal, with 16 named storms and up to five major hurricanes.
NOAA attributed the above-average outlook to the lingering affects of La Nina. The agency has urged residents of hurricane-prone areas to be prepared for the season, which begins on June 1 and will run until 30 November. (Full)

Atlantic-born hurricanes threaten the Caribbean, Central America, Southern US and Northern Latin America every year. In 2007, there were 17 named storms, of which hurricanes Dean, Felix and Noel, and tropical storm Olga wrecked the most havoc.

Picture courtesy ThinkQuest NYC

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News: Humanitarian airlift to China

The boys and girls from the UN Humanitarian Response Depot (UNHRD) have been busy the past weeks.

There were several airlifts of relief goods into Myanmar, and since a week, relief agencies requested for the shipment of humanitarian goods to China, in support of the earthquake disaster.

Yesterday and last night, an Airbus 310 from Skycargo (Emirates Airlines) was loaded with relief goods from the Italian Civil Protection. Contrary to the normal practices, the plane was parked on the civilian side of Brindisi airport, so all goods had to be trucked to other side of the airport. All stuff is fixed on special pallets before being weighed and loaded onto the plane.

Humanitarian airlift from Brindisi UNHRD to China Earthquake zone
Humanitarian airlift from Brindisi UNHRD to China Earthquake zone
Humanitarian airlift from Brindisi UNHRD to China Earthquake zone
Humanitarian airlift from Brindisi UNHRD to China Earthquake zone
Humanitarian airlift from Brindisi UNHRD to China Earthquake zone
Humanitarian airlift from Brindisi UNHRD to China Earthquake zone
Humanitarian airlift from Brindisi UNHRD to China Earthquake zone
Humanitarian airlift from Brindisi UNHRD to China Earthquake zone

The cargo consisted of family tents and a full field hospital from the Italian Civil Protection, one of the agencies that stores their goods at the UNHRD depots in Brindisi.

The loading crew was ready at 2 am and the plane took off a few hours later. Next stop: China earthquake zone.

Pictures courtesy Lucien Jaggi (WFP/UNHRD)

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News: Humanitarian airlift to Myanmar

I am back in Brindisi.

I am sure you have seen the news of humanitarian relief goods being flown into Myanmar to assist with the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis. I bet all of that footage was on the Myanmar side...
Those first relief flights actually all originated from here, from the UN Humanitarian Response Depot in Brindisi.

Here are some pictures from the first relief flights into Myanmar on May 10th. This particular flight had cargo from OCHA and Irish Aid, containing water purification units, moskito nets, blankets, kitchen sets, tarpaulins and water storage containers.

Relief flight from UNHRD Brindisi to Myanmar on May 10th 2008
Relief flight from UNHRD Brindisi to Myanmar on May 10th 2008
Relief flight from UNHRD Brindisi to Myanmar on May 10th 2008

View the picture slide show of this airlift.

Donate to the Myanmar Cyclone Nargis victims

Pictures courtesy Fulvio Pirato (UNHRD/WFP)

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Rumble: Race for the Cure

Run for the Cure Rome

Last Sunday, we participated in Rome's Race for the Cure, an advocacy and fundraising walk/run for the benefit of breast cancer research.
Despite the rain and wind (which cleared up the moment the walk finished), I would guess over 10,000 people showed up!

Tnx to "E" for the picture.

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News: Cutting agricultural aid research or how to dig your own grave...

food handout bangladesh

Giving people fish or teaching them to fish?

A few years back, I had a meeting with Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Ruler of Dubai, Prime Minister and Vice President of the UAE.
I told him of the humanitarian work we did. He listened attentively, and kept a silence after my explanation. Then he said candidly: "You know, you are giving people fish, instead of teaching them how to fish. Give a person a fish and he will eat for a day, teach him how to fish and he will have food for the rest of his life!"

food aidI was quick to respond: "Your Highness, when people are starving, they are not interested in being taught how to fish. If we give them fishlings for their pond, they will eat it, rather using them for breeding. Our organisation gives people the fish, so they are not starving anymore, and have the energy to be taught how to fish, and to fish themselves. Other organisations we work closely with, teach them how to fish, how to breed fishlings. After that, others come in and teach them not to overfish their pond, or even to market their excess harvest, set up funding mechanisms to sell their harvest beyond their own village. We all work hand in hand, each of us has its own role."

How true are we to our aid commitments?

This was then. But at this moment, there is a growing concern and dissatisfaction in the aid world. How well have we done in the past decades. Have we really followed our own reasonings and explanations..? Or were they mere justifications for our own existence?

The global food crisis hitting the poorest people first, is an objective proof we - the international aid community - have not done well enough. Have we - all of us - not concentrated too much on giving people fish, rather than teaching them how to be independent from foreign aid? How much of it could have been avoided? How can we learn from our lessons?

While the international focus is on the global food crisis, it is the right time to highlight the importance of not only concentrating on short term solutions. Short term solutions for hunger are like drops of water on a hot plate. Let's give people fish, but also concentrate on "teaching them how to fish".

In the context of the global food crisis, this means concentrating not only on emergency food aid, but also on achieving sustainable food security and reducing poverty in developing countries through non-for-profit and transparent scientific research in the fields of agriculture, forestry, fisheries, policy, and environment.
I explicitly exclude the agricultural research done by the likes of Monsanto and Cargill, international commercial giants who only aim at increasing their profit margin, often to the detriment of the farmers in poorer countries.

Let's rather have a look at the benevolent work of organisations like the CGIAR, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research.

Agricultural aid research, a proven success.

The CGIAR has a proven success track record (Source):

food aid- Successful biological control of the cassava mealybug and green mite, both devastating pests of a root crop that is vital for food security in sub-Saharan Africa. The economic benefits of this work are estimated at more than $4 billion.
- Increasing smallholder dairy production in Kenya improving childhood nutrition while generating jobs. This award-winning project with smallholder dairies has contributed up to 80 percent of the milk products sold in the country.
food aid- New rice varieties for Africa, which combine the high yields of Asian rice with African rice’s resistance to local pests and diseases. Currently sown on 200,000 hectares in upland areas, they are helping reduce national rice import bills and generating higher incomes in rural communities.
- An agroforestry system called “fertilizer tree fallows,” which renews soil fertility in Southern Africa, adopted by than 66,000 farmers in Zambia.
- Widespread adoption of resource-conserving “zero-till” technology in the vital rice-wheat systems of South Asia. Employed by close to a half million farmers on more than 3.2 million hectares, this technology has generated benefits estimated at US$147 million through higher crop yields, lower production costs and savings in water and energy.
food aid- A flood-tolerant version of a rice variety grown on six million hectares in Bangladesh. The new variety enables farmers to obtain yields two to three times those of the non-tolerant version under prolonged submergence of rice crops, a situation that will become more common as a result of climate change.
- A new method for detecting and reducing by 100% aflatoxin, a deadly poison that infects crops, making them unfit for local consumption or export benefiting farmers throughout sub-Saharan Africa.
- More than 50 varieties of recently developed drought-tolerant maize varieties being grown on a total of about one million hectares across eastern and southern Africa
- A simple methodology for integrating agriculture with aquaculture to bolster income and food supplies in areas of southern Africa where the agricultural labor force has been devastated by HIV/AIDS, doubling the income of 1,200 households in Malawi.
- Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera....

Digging our own grave.

All good news. Except that the focus on emergency food aid seems to have drawn worldwide attention - and funding - away from long term agricultural research. Proof of the matter is that while U.S. President George W. Bush recently ordered up $200 million in emergency food aid, with a follow-up of another $755 million, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is cutting as much as 75% of their funding to the CGIAR (See Science Magazine). USAID's support to the CGIAR in 2006 was $56 million or about 12% of the CGIAR’s core budget.

And USAID is not the only one to blame. Look at this graph illustrating the worldwide trend of foreign aid (which excludes relief aid - as the graph would then look even worse!) going up, versus the downward trend of in agricultural aid.

foreign aid versus agricultural aid

Here is another interesting graph, comparing the annual budget of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), one of the CGIAR's research centers, and the global rice stock pile volume, using the latter as a measure for consumption versus demand on rice. Now is there not a strange correlation to be noticed? This can not be coincidence.

rice research versus stockpiling

How a small bug illustrates a worldwide problem

Talking about the IRRI, here is an example of how, by cutting back transparent and not-for-profit agricultural research is as bad as digging one's own grave:

food aidThe brown plant hopper, an insect no bigger than a gnat, is multiplying by the billions and chewing through rice paddies in East Asia, threatening the diets of many poor people. China, the world’s biggest rice producer, announced on May 7 that it was struggling to control the rapid spread of the insects there. A plant hopper outbreak can destroy 20 percent of a harvest.

The damage to rice crops, occurring at a time of scarcity and high prices, could have been prevented. Researchers at the International Rice Research Institute say that they know how to create rice varieties resistant to the insects but that budget cuts have prevented them from doing so. (Full)

Learning from the past

In the 1960s, population growth was far outrunning food production, threatening famine in many poor countries. Wealthier nations joined forces with the poor countries to improve crop yields. Yields soared, and by the 1980s, the threat of starvation had receded in most of the world. With Europe and the United States offering their farmers heavy subsidies that encouraged production, grain became abundant worldwide, and prices fell.

Many poor countries, instead of developing their own agriculture, turned to the world market to buy cheap rice and wheat. In 1986, Agriculture Secretary John Block called the idea of developing countries feeding themselves “an anachronism from a bygone era,” saying they should "just buy American". (Full)

And this attitude got the world into the mess it is in today: a demand (the world population) outgrowing the supply (food production)... The below graph clearly illustrates this trend (the food production - in purple- is represented by the total production of grain in the world).


Bottomline. And how you can help.

We need to push the international community for long-term agricultural research aiming solely at making developing countries food self-sufficient, without any commercial interests at heart, if we want to resolve this food crisis and avoid it from ever happening again.

Here is one way how you can help: sign the petition urging USAID to maintain its support for the CGIAR's food research centers.

Maybe, just maybe, we will be in time to turn this food crisis, into an opportunity, and really teach people how to fish, rather than just giving them fish to eat. Maybe, just maybe queues for food hand-outs in developing countries could be a thing of a past.

rice queues philippines

More articles on The Road about the global food crisis

With thanks to "the other E" for the inspiration!
Graphs courtesy New York Times and
Pictures courtesy Luis Liwanag (The New York Times), EPA (Al Jazeera), Crispin Hughes (WFP), CGIAR and Pavel Rahman (AP Photo)

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News: From Cyclone Sidr to Cyclone Nargis - an aidworker's perspective

Cyclone victims

An aidworker from Oxfam explains how the immediate effect of the cyclone devastation is only the beginning of misery for those affected.
Those on the ground (in Myanmar) are estimating that at least 100,000 people were killed by the storm. The numbers are devastating, each one of them painfully reminding me what a difference an investment into disaster preparedness and early warning systems — like those that have been implemented in Bangladesh — could have made for the families in Myanmar.

Surface water that people are used to drinking is likely to be contaminated not only by dead bodies and livestock carcasses, but also human and animal waste spread by floodwaters and overflowing latrines. The weather forecast for this week predicts more heavy rain, and even a new storm approaching the cyclone-affected area. With people’s resistance to disease already weakened after days of living in overcrowded conditions without food and proper roofs over their heads, the children and elderly are likely to be among the worst affected.

Even once the floodwaters recede, they will leave behind a fertile breeding ground for flies and mosquitoes — bringing with them deadly threats like malaria and dengue fever (dengue season in Myanmar runs from May to October, the country had a major outbreak only last year). And I haven’t even begun to think about the psychological and emotional trauma that the storm has left behind. (Full)

Picture courtesy New York Times.

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Picture of the day: Desertification


Desertification is the degradation of land into arid (desert) areas. Caused primarily by human activities and climatic variations, desertification is on the move. We loose fertile land and nature's biodiversity at an alarming rate.

The Sahara is expanding south at an average rate of 30 miles per year. In Nigeria desertification overtakes about 1,355 square miles (3,510 km²) of land per year. More than 80% of Afghanistan's land is subject to soil erosion and desertification. In Kazakhstan, nearly half of the cropland turned intow wasteland since 1980. (Source)

More "Pictures of the Day" on the Road.

Picture courtesy Reuters (Der Spiegel)

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News: US politics, commercial interests, war and humanitarian aid. A dangerous mix.

US president Bush recently laid out a detailed budget request for $70 billion.

It includes $45.1 billion for combat operations for the war efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, $3.7 billion to help expand the Afghan forces and $2 billion for Iraqi troops.
Also included are $2.2 billion for projected increased fuel costs for military and intelligence operations and $2.6 billion to transport and maintain Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles (MRAP) used for US forces in Iraq.
This will bring the total allocation for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to more than $800 billion.

Oh, and the budget request also covers $770 million in additional food aid donations, including food vouchers, seeds and purchases in the developing world. (Full)

Oh, and the Bush administration also slipped a controversial ingredient into the $770 million aid package, adding language that would promote the use of genetically modified crops (GMO) in food-deprived countries... (Full)

Picture courtesy

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News: US immigration - sense or senseless?

Pictures this:
Him: Domenico Salerno, a carefree Italian with a recent law degree from a Roman university, in love with:

Her: Caitlin Cooper, from Virginia (US), raised across the road from George Washington’s home

Their romance: sparked by a 2006 meeting in a supermarket in Rome, Domenico frequently visited Caitlin in Alexandria, Va., where he was welcomed like a favorite son by the parents and neighbors of his girlfriend.

Them: on April 29, when Mr. Salerno, presented his passport at Washington Dulles International Airport, a Customs and Border Protection agent refused to let him into the US. And after hours of questioning, agents would not let him travel back to Rome, either. On the contrary, he was sent to a rural Virginia jail where he remained for more than 10 days, locked up without charges or legal recourse.
The authorities said they (mis-)understood Mr. Salerno's English and thought he was seeking asylum (from Italy eh?). (Full story)

Regular readers from The Road know I have a bone to pick with the US Homeland Security and immigration policies, since The Day I Got Deported from the US and witnessed the horror first hand on The Day the Groom Got Deported from the US...

With thanks to Elizabeth who flagged this story to me.
Picture courtesy Chris Warde-Jones (New York Times)

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News: Myanmar - begging to aid or forcing to aid?

Myanmar Cyclone Nargis victim

From the UN press briefing in Geneva on May 13:
The UN Secretary-General registered his deep concern —and immense frustration— at the unacceptably slow response to the grave humanitarian crisis in Myanmar. They were at a critical point, and unless more aid got into the country —very quickly— the people faced an outbreak of infectious diseases that could dwarf today’s crisis. The Secretary_General called, in the most strenuous terms, on the Government of Myanmar to put its people’s lives first. It must do all that it could to prevent this disaster from becoming even more serious.

From the same briefing:
Rupert Colville of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, responding to a question on the fact that it was strange that the Human Rights Council would be holding a Special Session on the global food crisis, but not on the current situation in Myanmar, said (..) there had been discussion to some extent on the possibility of talking about Myanmar, but the Council had a very full programme, including the Universal Periodic Review, so it was a pretty packed schedule at the moment and it would be difficult to fit (the issue of Myanmar human rights) in.

What do we read in this? Is the international community "begging to aid"? But not "forcing to aid" by stating more explicitely that a regime denying its citizens the "right to sufficient and effective aid" is a violation of human rights? Up to what level is this morally and ethically acceptable?

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Picture courtesy AP (New York Times)

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