Khadaffi: Born to confuse

Khadaffi cartoon

Just to start with: how the hell do we spell his name?

Kaddafi (ANP)
Kadhafi (AFP, Le Monde)
Khaddafi (Parool, VRT)
Gaddafi (Reuters, BBC)
Qadhafi (Wikipedia)
Qadaffi (ABC News)
el-Qaddafi (NY Times)
Kadhafi (NOS, Volkskrant)
Kadafi (LA Times, Trouw)
Gadhafi (AP, Canadian Press Stylebook ,Huffington Post)
Ghadaffi (Spits)
Gadaffi (Telegraaf, Nederlands Dagblad)
Khadaffi (Algemeen Dagblad)
Al Gathafi (his official website)
Al Qaddafi (further down his official website)
Algathafi (A few pages further on his official website)
Al-Gathafi (also on his official website)

I'll just call him "Mulazim Awwal Mu’ammar Muhammad Abu Minyar al-Qadhafi", or "Mu" for short.

Cartoon courtesy Toonpool

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"Inside Job", a must see documentary

On the way back from India, I watched the documentary Inside Job, which tells the story of the global financial meltdown of 2008. Through a series of interviews, knitted together like a thriller, it shows the different issues directly or indirectly related to the burst of the bubble, leading up to a domino-like collapse of the financial pyramid scheme the US government had tolerated to exist.

In a nutshell, loan sharks were encouraged to approve mortgages (even worse, "to chase people aggressively to take a mortgage), for people who had no collateral, nor any means to pay off the mortgage.
As it was an easy way to make a quick buck (for the banks, the bank reps, etc..), these mortgages were issued on a massive scale, even though everyone knew these loans were going to fail. And once a mortgage failed, there'd be no way for a bank to get something of value against the loan failure, as there was not collateral.

That was the basis: a bubble-loan. Or even worse: a bubble everyone concerned, knew would burst. But banks were happy: on paper, they issued loads of loans, cash was flowing, turn-over peaked. Bank reps got commissions on the loans, and the economy got a (short-term) boost.

The banks concerned where AAA-rated giants, so when they were selling those mortgages amongst each other, nobody asked any questions. Worse, those banks invented a financial scheme, valued as first class investments, where they insured themselves against the losses of the loans, and traded that insurance amongst each other, as real values, again on a massive scale.
In short: they were betting on a horse to win and at the same time, they were betting on the same horse to loose. But there was no real horse. Everyone just pretended.

The US treasury and US oversight mechanisms knew what was going on, were warned about the bubble, but did not want to regulate the whole pyramid scheme, as it involved that much money, they feared regulation would break the speed of the economic revival. So bankers were left to do as they pleased.

Of course, the bubble burst, and the whole pyramid scheme collapsed in no time, pulling down all foreign investors in those banks, and causing the first real international financial meltdown. As a consequence millions of people around the world lost their job as all of a sudden, the economy was left with no liquidity and companies had to close their business. Banks went out of business, and many people lost their savings, real savings.

This is not a happy-happy movie. I can not believe how it is possible for a government to allow the financial industry to free-wheel, purely for the short-term gain of the economy, knowing on forehand that it would only be a few years before it collapsed.

On top of that, it is impossible for me to imagine how such a large part of the US economy could have been based on "void". On something which was not real, had no real value. But then again, we are talking about the same government that allowed the Internet bubble to be built in the late 90's, collapsing in 2000.

Worse is the realization that because of the US' greed for easy money, the rest of the world suffered. It is not only the greed, but the deeply instilled financial and economic individualism pulling everyone in for a quick buck. The documentary has a short sideline about the academici, who knew what was going on, but did not say anything... Simply because there was a revolving door mechanism where economic experts from different universities were consultants for the banks involved, and paid high fees to write academic papers glorifying the bubble itself.

And to top it all off, many people who sat at the core of the 2008 meltdown, are still in power, either in corporations, or in the current Obama government.

Fast food, Fast money, Fast wars,... As they say.. "only in the US!"...

Disgusting. The only good thing that came out of it, is that internationally, the US is getting more and more resistance. A dynamic that Bush started in 2003, while invading Iraq, continues: nations are starting to realize that the "US way" is not the way to go, and move back to their own ground, economically, financially, culturally...

And that is a good thing for the equilibrium of the world.

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Cartoon: Khadaffi's political system

Khaddafi cartoon

Cartoon courtesy The Dry Bones Blog

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Libya: American Neo-con see opportunities for a new war. (Iiiie-haa..)

Neocons and Khadaffi cartoon

In a distinct echo of the tactics they pursued to encourage U.S. intervention in the Balkans and Iraq, a familiar clutch of neo-conservatives appealed Friday for the United States and NATO to "immediately" prepare military action to help bring down the regime of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and end the violence that is believed to have killed well over a thousand people in the past week.

The appeal, which came in the form of a letter signed by 40 policy analysts, including more than a dozen former senior officials who served under President George W. Bush, was organized and released by the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI), a two-year-old neo-conservative group that is widely seen as the successor to the more-famous – or infamous – Project for the New American Century (PNAC). (Source)

Amongst the co-signees was former Bush Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, in more moderate circles better known for his distinguishly short stint as the president of the Worldbank. While that nomination disgusted anyone with a sound mind, we all danced on his ashes when Old Pal Paul had to resign after it became clear he abused his position to give his girlfriend a highly paid job (within the same poverty-fighting organisation).

Article discovered via Aid News. Cartoon (slightly modified) by Jim Morin, discovered via The English Blog

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Musing on India - Part 4:
Faces of Punjab

Here are some people we met in Punjab, each with their own story on how they were coping with the changing climate:

faces of Punjab India

Gurbachan Singh is the village chief of Bhoda, a town which was flooded in the middle of last year. He told us the story of how they got 24 hours notice a flood was coming in, how they evacuated the villagers and constructed an emergency dam with sand bags.

faces of Punjab India

Mohamed is a dairy farmer who migrated from the north. Last year, his house and that of his neighbours got flooded, and they moved to a new location. He told us of his difficulties to find feed for his animals.

faces of Punjab India

Dilbar Singh (R) and his neighbour Paramjit Singh (L) explained how new hybrid seeds helped them to cope with the changing rainy season. Paramjit was planting poplar trees so he could harvest the timber as an extra income.

faces of Punjab India

Dr. R.P.Singh works at the Punjab Agricultural University where they have an active breeding programme, selecting varieties of wheat which need less water, yield more and can grow over a shorter period.

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Food prices are at a record high again.

International food commodity prices

The warning lights came on several months ago, and now we are at a point where the basic food commodity prices are at a new record high.

Prices on the international markets are even beating the prices of the 2008 food crisis, which caused severe unrest in many countries:

FAO International food commodity prices

For more details, check out the FAO World Food Situation page

While the record food prices have not hit the mainstream news, it is worthwhile considering that in the past centuries, many revolutions were rooted in the lack of food availability. Now relate that to the current turmoil in Libya, Egypt, Tunesia, Bahrain and Yemen. There seems to be a strong link between the food prices and the current civil unrest. In most cases, it was even predicted.

I think 2011 will be a tough year. But the situation is not hopeless. The Economist just published an article "What is causing food prices to soar and what can be done about it?", in which they highlight the importance of non-profit/non-commercial agricultural research, something which has come dear to our heart, here on The Road (read my earlier article "Cutting agricultural aid research or how to dig your own grave")

Check the latest articles about food prices on Humanitarian News, and get updates via a customized RSS feed.

More articles on The Road about the international food crisis

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After Tunesia, Egypt and Libya, is the US next?

Wisconsin protests


The battle against Republican attempts to undermine trade union rights is spreading with Democratic lawmakers fleeing the state of Indiana in a bid to block anti-union legislation, and workers' rights protests swelling in the US Midwest.
Thousands of protesters have occupied the state Capitol in Wisconsin for eight days now in an attempt to block a bill that would strip public employees of most of their collective bargaining rights.

Governor Scott Walker insists he is unbowed by the protest -- which reached a peak of 65,000 people on Saturday -- but the bill's passage was stalled by 14 Democratic state senators who fled to Illinois Thursday to deny the necessary legislative quorum. (Source)

The state capital occupied for over a week, mass protests, lawmakers fleeing the state, governing bodies remaining unbowed... Hmm... does that not make it a bit of a mix between Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain and Libya?

But contrary to the latter, the Wisconsin protests hardly got any international press. Just imagine things were different and the press would pay more attention. Let's play sarcastic for a while here. In the form of news bulletins.

AFP: After two weeks of mass protests in Wisconsin, the governor turned over control of the state to the federal government. President Obama is quoted as saying, before he flushed, "Right, more shit on my lap, that is juuust the thing I needed at this moment!".

Reuters: In a decisive action, President Obama is said to have given the order to "shoot the protesters". In an act of sudden lucidity, the White House called Cheney, asking for the telephone number of Blackwater. Since Iraq, that company had changed names fifteen times already, and their telephone numbers got lost between all other post-Bush files which were muffled away.

Al Jazeera: In the mean time, all foreign and domestic press was banned from the state. As the Blackwater helicopters (part of a new multi billion dollar contract) circled around the Wisconsin capital, the commanding officer asked Obama, if indeed, they could shoot. Obama said "Yes we can!".

Al Jazeera: (which obtained exclusive footage from Wikileaks) aired the shooting ten minutes later. It showed Blackwater operatives shooting unarmed people, saying -quote- "Hey this is better than a turkey shoot". "Here, eat this, bastard" and "Yeah, I can see it is a pen he is holding, but let's pretend it is an RPG, like in the Baghdad times, and nuke the bastard".

Al Jazeera: UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon read a statement on live UN TV (Yes, it exists, but nobody watches it, and the Serbs hijack the channel at night to broadcast porn): "We find this situation totally unacceptable. This is a violation of basic human lights, showing a cleal dislespect for individuality, democlacy and civilization. We can not accept UN staff folced to pay for palking tickets in New Yolk City!.. (later it was clear someone gave him the wrong speech).

Google: Google went undercover, and using a dial-up line to a free Internet service in the Netherlands (as all US Internet were cut), they showed mobile phone footage of protests spreading to Utah, North Dakota and South Dakota. And also Mexico and Venezuela. But that was on the rising oil prices)

Al Jazeera: Three hours after the turkey shoot, Obama came on national television with the following statement: "In a clear breakdown of communications.." (crowd shouts "Yes we can!") "I gave the order to shoot pictures of the demonstrators" (crowd shouts "Yes we can!") "..An order which was misunderstood as to shoot the demonstrators with bullets" (crowd shouts "Yes we can!"). "I take full responsibility for the casualties" (crowd shouts..) "..and have decided to hand over the power of the nation to vice president "Hilary -La Bitch- Clinton", while I take my family for a short vacation to Hawaii."

Al Jazeera: Violent protests spread all over the country, including Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. People are seen smashing windows of cars (seems later, it was footage from a documentary "One day in LA South"), massive civil disruptions (Was old footage from the Katarina floods), and missile launches (the average space shuttle launch attempts). Nothing really happened, as the public was too busy hamstering food from the local McDonald's and Wendy's, and watching the play-offs.

Al Jazeera: Four days later, the government blamed the Russians and Iran for the instability. The army took over control officially, and handed it over to twenty rich industrialists (who always had control over the country anyway), with the instructions "Blow me another economic bubble, like the one with the prime mortgage".

MNBC: One month later, aired an exclusive interview with Obama, now living in the village "Toeternietoe" in North Kenya. Obama proudly showed his wife working in the garden and his kids attending the local school. He stated "I have always felt like a Kenyan, and now I am a Kenyan. Next year, I will run in the elections for village chief (crowd shouts "Yes we can!")."

Three months later, Ushahidi arrived on the spot, asking "Crowdsourced information gathering, anyone?"


Next on The Road: The Weather.

Picture courtesy De Wereld Morgen

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Musing on India - Part 3: Four sisters

Indian girl

Indian girl

Indian girl

Indian girl

I ended my previous post with the phrase "False beauty is only skin deep..."
Likewise, true beauty is endless...

For any country I travel thru,
no mountain view can take my breath away,
no river descent leaves me gasping,
no dew-dripping leaves can grab my heart,
as does the glister in a child's eyes,
the curl of a child's smile,
and endless echoing sound
of its laughter
and song.

Children are the true joy,
the true future.
The only purity we have left.

Here are four sisters, daughters of Mohammed, a dairy farmer in Punjab. He has forty buffaloes. But he would sell them all, he said, if that could give his daughters a good education, and a job in the city.

But luck was not with him. Nor with his girls. They did not get the opportunity to go to school, limiting their options in the future.

How the crib in which you were born, decides what you can become in life.

Maybe one of these girls could have been a doctor. Maybe one would have become a famous poet or a singer, or a politician, or a peacemaker. Maybe one would have invented a new drug that eradicated malaria. If only they'd have the chance to go to school.

(to be continued...)

PS: While I was publishing this post, Latika's theme played through my mind. (mp3 - 4 Mb)

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Musing on India - Part 2
All that glitters is not gold

Indian bangles

All that glisters is not gold;
Often have you heard that told:
Many a man his life hath sold
But my outside to behold:
Gilded tombs do worms enfold.
Had you been as wise as bold,
Young in limbs, in judgement old
Your answer had not been inscroll'd
Fare you well, your suit is cold.

From "The Merchant of Venice"
by W.Shakespeare

90% of what is to know about a country, you will pick up within the first minute you leave the airport. You will understand 90% of what there is to know about a hotel, within the first minute after you walk through the entrance.

"Mmmmm", says Raj as she looks up the grey facade of the "Nagpal Regency". I agree with her, and we walk in together. Kinda of marble floor. Glitters for the evening's wedding. Staff in uniform. Apparently they don't have any booking for us, but have spare rooms. Which I'd like to see first.

Shady people walk out of the elevator as we're going up. Thin foam mattresses lay against a wall on the third floor, with spotted and torn covers. The floor is covered with a filthy sheet.

The room the receptionist shows us, has no window, the bathroom is as spotless as a Delhi dark alley way, and it looks like the bed covers were white in the 18th century. Which might also be the time they were last changed, according to the spots on it. It does not look like sheets are changed after guests check out.

"Excellent, thank you very much", I say with an acid smile, and walk out as fast as I can.

"And?", my travel companions ask. "Rented by the hour", I answer, as we drive to the next hotel. "Friends Regency" looks much better. And smells better too.

Two days later, we are editing the last videos, as the car is waiting to drive us back to Delhi, an eight hours nighttime ordeal. And as a true storm engulfs Ludhiana into a dark doomsday feeling...

Dust kicks up as high as the fourth floor, while we try to cut the last video scenes. Around us, it looks like heaven got invaded by hell. Lightning crashes around us. Pieces of corrugated metal, cardboard and other undefined flying objects are kicked up by the wind, and battered down by the thick screen of rain.

Inches above us, on the hotel's roof, the huge publicity billboards collapse under the high winds, and a dozen people run around, trying to keep the boards from flying off. All on the roof just above our head.

Those are the times where one has to switch into "Ommmmm"-mode, abstracting one's self from surrounding's reality and concentrate on the task at hand. You do your work step by step, and forget about the rest. There is not much you can do about the storm, the junk on the roof, and the nightly drive.

Even though, for a moment, curiosity got the better of me, and I sneak around the corner to see what's up on the roof. And discover that most of the hotel personnel seems to live on tiny shacks on the roof. Shacks which have all but collapsed in the wind. The empty wine bottles are still neatly stacked in the corner.

False beauty is only skin deep.

(to be continued...)

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Why it is important to improve your English...

So what are you zinking about? Hilarious.

Thanks to Jan for the link.

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Picture of the day: Libya - The last glimpses of a dictatorship?

Saif Gaddafi

This deserves a "Picture of the Day" nomination: Saif Gaddafi, son of the infamous Libyan ruler (still is, at the moment of writing), raises a warning finger against his "fellow citizens".. "Bad people, bad bad bad people. You have been naughty. Do you think you can raise against my daddy and me? And daddy has soooo done his best to take of you"...

I wonder what that green stuff is, coming out of his head? Is that the steaming realization that maybe, many many years ago, the interest of the people, a nation and an individual got de-prioritized, and maybe, many many years ago, things started to go?

When would the point be, the point where a ruler mixes up his own interests and those of a nation? When is the corner turned and a ruler starts walking into an endless tunnel of self-preservation, where any measure is justified "for the good of the nation", even if one has to shoot his own citizens, or starve them,...

Picture courtesy Al Jazeera's live blog on Libya

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Musing on India - Part 1


Most of the time, I feel inspired when I come back from my field trips. Especially the previous trips to Kenya, Mali, Ghana and Burkina Faso have been inspiring. I had the privilege to talk to dozens of farmers on practical techniques they adopted to cope with the changing environment.

In Africa, most of these stories were encouraging, positive, with a "rolling up our sleeves"-attitude. Not so for my India trip. Not much of that "rolling up our sleeves", and me not feeling invigorated.

I realize I only saw a small part of India, and my views are just snapshots, fragmented and highly subjective. Even though it was my third or fourth trip, the time I spent there was nothing but a mini-flash of the whole picture which India represents.

Map India

We flew into Hyderabad, where I gave training sessions about social media on the ICRISAT campus, an oasis of calm and peace in a hectic Hyderabad. I loved that part of the trip. Truly inspiring to see the other side of the "food chain": the nonprofit agricultural research.

Then we flew to Delhi, drove to Punjab for interviews with farmers, drove back to Delhi, flew to Bihar for more farmer interviews, and flew back to Delhi.

Man on Indian market

Much of my impressions are the same as those I retained after my visits ten years ago: hectically busy on the streets, people wherever you look, cars honking endlessly and purposely, smoking chimneys wherever you look, smog, dirt almost everywhere.
I don't think I saw a single river which was not filled with crap. I don't think I stood at any point where I could say "this is rural". High-tension electricity poles, mobile phone towers and factories about everywhere.

Punjab farmer

Luckily, it was winter, and the temperatures were low to moderate. In Delhi and Punjab, a mist-slash-smog hung over the cities. While we did the interviews with farmers in Punjab, against the bright green wheat fields, topped with a white misty sky, I thought I could be standing in a field back home in Belgium, during spring. Not much of a difference at first glance. At least not on the surface.

But there are things on the surface and then there are things below the surface.

(to be continued...)

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Google: Don't be evil...

Found this in my "to be published" folder.
Can't but still publish it.

Via MParent77772

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More precious than gold:
Preserving biodiversity at the genebank

ICRISAT genebank

Germplasm collection”, “allele diversity”, “Crop registers”, might sound like mystic academic terms to you. Likewise for me, I could hardly link them into the discussion about climate change and food security…. Until I visited the genebank on the ICRISAT campus near Hyderabad in India.

The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) is a non-profit organization conducting agricultural research for development in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. ICRISAT is part of a consortium of similar agricultural research centers supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).
…and they have a bank. Not to store money or gold, but to safeguard something much more precious: the genetic material – or “germplasm”- of 119,000 “accessions” -or varieties- of sorghum, pearl millet and six other types of small millets, chickpea, pigeonpea and groundnut, collected from 144 countries.

“Genetic diversity is key to the future”
Over thousands of years, different food crops have evolved into zillions of different varieties, either grown as a cultivated crop, or flourishing in the wild. Each variety differs from the next in the way it naturally adapted its genetic code to the environment it grows in: how it deals with drought or a high soil salinity, how it built up resistance to certain pests. Many differ in their yield, size, leaves or roots.

But, as Bob Dylan sung: “Times are a-changing”. Farmers now often concentrate on monocultures, or grow only a selection of high yielding crops. Commercial companies have been “successful” in promoting certain varieties, which farmers adopted quickly, and –thanks to globalization- were spread widely. Understandably so, as “the world needs to produce more food”. However, all of this became nefast for the bio-diversity: Today, the rate in which traditional seed varieties disappear, is higher than ever.
This stands in stark contrast with the demand for more and specialized seed varieties, adapted to the ever changing weather patterns. If the genetic biodiversity disappears, where will we find the seed varieties helping farmers to cope with future environmental changes?

Unless if we safeguard our existing seed varieties for the wide range of crops the world grows, we will no longer have the genetic material to re-generate seeds adapted to the future climate changes.

And that is where genebanks come in. Genebanks like the one I was standing in this morning, at ICRISAT.

Read my full post on the CCAFS blog.

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About Super Chickpeas and Silent Heroes

ICRISAT researcher in test field

During my past visits to Kenya, Ghana, Mali and Burkina Faso, one common streak always came up when talking to farmers about climate adaptation techniques: they were all actively using new seed varieties for their different crops.

I had not really questioned where those seed varieties came from. I saw them in the shops of commercial seed traders, so I asked no more. A bit like a child does not ask where Santa comes from. A long and complex process of seed selection and breeding remained hidden for me.

A visit to ICRISAT, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics near Hyderabad in India, changed all of that. I discovered the world’s headquarter for the agriculture research on five crops: sorghum, pearl millet, chickpea, pigeonpea and groundnut. And I discovered the link between chickpeas, chickpea heroes and the war against hunger.

Food diets, malnutrition and chickpeas
Sufficient food, but also a balanced food intake are key to battle malnutrition. Often the world’s attention goes to staple foods like rice, maize or wheat. We often forget it takes other crops too, to make a balanced diet, in a global fight against hunger.

Chickpeas is one of those crops, and an important one, as they make up for more than 20 percent of the world pulse production. Chickpeas contain 22-25% proteins, and 2-3 times more iron and zinc than wheat. Chickpea protein quality is better than other pulses. …

So understandably, agricultural researchers, like Dr. Pooran M.Gaur, a principal scientist and chickpea breeder at ICRISAT, make continuous efforts to develop new chickpea varieties, adapted to fast changing environmental conditions. “Super Chickpeas”, as it were. Bred by –what I would not hesitate to call - “super scientists”, in the quiet isolation of agricultural research centers. (...)

Read my full post on the CCAFS blog

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"Changement" by Sodre Ousmane and Isaka Belem

When we were in Ouahiqouya, a town in the Northern region of Burkina Faso last December, I saw Sodre Ousmane presenting a radio programme on the farmer's radio "La Voix du Paysan" (The voice of the farmer).

During the programme, Sodre sung along with one of the songs on the radio, and I got enchanted by his melodic voice. Afterwards, I asked him if he could do a song for us, which we would then use as background music for our video testimonials about farmers adapting to the climate change challenges.

Sodre asked what he should sing about, and I suggested "Change" (or "Changement" in French). He sat down with Isaka Belem, and improvised a song, right there on the spot, about the impact of "Change", in the weather, the political climate, the economy...

The song, the authenticity, and "couleur locale" of the melody took us all by surprise.

Meanwhile, we have used the song as a background for one of our testimonial videos, but I also wanted to show the song by itself.

So here is Sodre Ousmane with Isaka Belem on strings. Enjoy!

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Wanted: a government for Belgium...

belgian politics

Today, we broke a new world record. Belgium now beats Iraq's record as the country without a new government for the longest period of time since a general election: 249 days. (Source)

Seems the international community cares more than the Belgians themselves. Voices from abroad say we might need an international mediator like ex-Finnish president Ahtisaari to help us out of the impasse... Guess that puts Belgium on the same level as Kosovo...

Cartoon courtesy Toonpool

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Back from India

Delhi Red Fort

Thirteen interviews with farmers in Punjab and Bihar, and two training sessions on social media in Hyderabad later, I am back in Belgium. Now the sprint starts to edit about 18 videos - the rest from West Africa, and the one from the India trip - in three weeks time. About 500 pictures need to be sorted, selected and edited, and several stories need to be written.

And my car broke down again, this morning.

Life can be challenging sometimes, but that's what we like about it, no?

Can't wait to share some of my findings from the India trip. Stay tuned.

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