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African business, politics and lifestyle
from Commodity Corner:
More than a billion people go hungry each day -- about the same number as did in the late 1950s. That's both a "tragedy on a grand scale" and an "astounding success," according to a new report called "Millions Fed," produced by the International Food Policy Research Institute and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
While the absolute number of hungry people is the same as it was 40 years ago, the proportion is dramatically smaller -- one in six today, compared to one in three then, the report said. It illustrates 20 successful case studies where progress has been made in the fight against hunger.
Some solutions come from science: new varieties of wheat, rice, beans, maize, cassava, millet and sorghum. Others deal with markets, government policies, or the environment.
Two farmers from the Sahel region of Africa, oft plagued by drought and famine, visited Washington last month to talk about solutions they found close to home -- one of the success stories trumpeted in "Millions Fed."
Almost 30 years ago, farmers in Burkina Faso experimented with a traditional technique called "zai," digging pits in their plots and adding manure to improve soils before the rainy season, resulting in dramatically better yields.
"There was a long period of drought in my village," Yacouba Sawadogo told reporters. "Many people left because their life was very, very difficult. But I decided to stay," he said, explaining how he taught others the technique.
In Niger, farmers manage trees on their land to prevent erosion, improve yields, and provide livestock fodder. Before, women had to walk 6 miles to get firewood, but now they have enough for themselves and to sell to others, said Sakina Mati, who coordinates tree projects in six villages.
The projects have improved 13 million acres of farmland and fed 3 million people, said Oxfam America, a development group that works with the farmers.
It's food for thought as rich nations ramp up efforts to help small farmers grow more food in poor countries. "In our approach toward solutions and programs, we really need to listen as well as talk," said Gawain Kripke of Oxfam.
"Solutions don't always come from us."
PHOTO CREDIT: Yacouba Sawadogo on his farm in Burkina Faso /Courtesy of Oxfam America
Is the soaring gold price a ticket to a better life for struggling freelance miners in Burkina Faso?The impoverished West African country is trying to revive its gold mining industry, spurred by the global financial crisis and the need to reduce the economy’s dependence on cotton.Near the village of Mogen in northeastern Burkina Faso, artisanal miners are engaged in a dangerous hunt for gold in hand-dug pits.Landslips kill miners almost every year, although mostly during the rainy season. When it’s dry, children help sift the soil in search of the nuggets that pay for food and school fees.On a good day, a miner will unearth around five milligrams of gold, which earns about $10. But often they come up empty.Jeremi Nacanabo, who helps run an association of informal gold miners, told Reuters Africa Journal: “We don’t have the technology to take out the gold. Right now we’re working in a traditional way, which creates enormous problems and causes many accidents.”But gold mining in Burkina Faso is experiencing a revival after a halt in the late 1990s caused by poor management and inadequate capital.Analysts say poor prices for cotton, the country’s main export, have rekindled interest in mining. The financial crisis is tempting investors to buy low-risk assets such as gold, which is now selling for about $1,000 per ounce.Burkina Faso revised its mining codes in 2003 to attract foreign investors with tax breaks.The goal is to join the ranks of Africa’s top producers — South Africa, Ghana and Mali — within the next three years.In the dusty northeast of the country, the Taparko-Somita mine, which is run by theCanadian-listed, Russian-controlled company High River Gold, is the first of four gold mines that have begun operating in the past two years.Together they produced 5.5 tonnes in 2008 and they are heading for more than that this year. The government takes a 10 percent free stake in each mine.Local miners, who once worked for themselves, are finding jobs with the mining companies. They earn a salary, work in safer conditions and are given training.But even with the recent gold rush, Burkina Faso is still struggling to revive its economy and provide basic services for its 13 million people.Of course everyone can’t be part of the gold mining revival, but global demand for Burkina Faso’s natural resources could at least provide some trickle-down benefit for the economy.
Sudath Perera has every reason to be content. He started up his textiles factory outside the Kenyan capital Nairobi nine years ago; today, he employs 1500 workers and turns over between 18 and 20 million U.S. dollars a year.
“We are contributing to the local economy by creating employment,” he says. “And indirectly there are a lot of local suppliers also relying on us.”
Something isn’t sitting quite right at this year’s fantastic, dust-filled pan-African FESPACO film festival.
For a start, it’s less “pan-African” than it might be: of 19 feature films competing for the shiny statue of Princess Yennenga riding her golden stallion — Africa’s very own Oscar — only one is from east Africa and none from Nigeria, whose video industry is third only to Hollywood and India’s Bollywood. By far the majority are from French-speaking countries.