Families trek to unsafe wells as taps run dry in drought-hit Zimbabwe

Screenshot_2020-01-29 Families trek to unsafe wells as taps run dry in drought-hit Zimbabwe
A man pumps water from a borehole to feed his wilting crops as the region deals with a prolonged drought in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, January 17, 2020. Picture taken January 17, 2020. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe,  – In Zimbabwe’s second city Bulawayo, Abraham Kavalanjila and his two sons give up waiting for the water to come back on and trek out into the maize fields to draw on an open well.

They know it is risky drinking untreated water from a borehole used by so many other people. “We have no option. This water is dangerous as you can see, just check,” says Kavalanjila, pointing to a pile of human waste nearby.

City authorities say they have had to shut down water supplies for 96 hours a week – more than half the time, often in two-day blocks – to cope with a sharp fall in reservoir levels caused by the country’s worst drought in years.

The shortages have exacerbated an economic crisis marked by shortages of foreign exchange, fuel, medicines and power that has triggered protests and political unrest.

Kavalanjila says the cut-offs often go on for longer than scheduled in his Luveve township.

He carries the well water home in buckets and containers then his wife Rumbidzai boils it before using it for bathing, flushing toilets and, sometimes, cooking.

“At times you see there will be little organisms in the water and even when you are bathing you feel your body itching,” Rumbidzai told Reuters in the local Ndebele language while her nine-year-old son had a bath to get ready for school.

“So if you boil the water it gets better.

DELAYED DAM

Bulawayo city has decommissioned two of its dams after water fell below pumping levels, according to the city’s director of engineering services Simelani Dube.

The remaining four dams have an average capacity of 35% and falling, he added. “We are projecting that in the next three to four weeks we might lose the third dam. It’s currently sitting above 10% in terms of capacity.”

Authorities say the long-term answer is for Bulawayo to build a new dam 100km (60 miles) away to draw water direct from the Zambezi River.

But the project, first mooted in 1912 by white colonists and finally started in 2004 is still is only a third complete.

Cassian Mugomezi, a sprightly 84-year old pensioner who has lived in the Luveve township for more than five decades, said the water cuts were some of the worst he could remember.

“If it does not rain this year I don’t know what we are going to do,” he said.

Like Kavalanjila, he has had to rely on open wells and other privately-run projects. A nearby church pumps out clean water through its own borehole. Today, though, it is shut down in one of the city’s regular power cuts that can last up for 18 hours.

 

 

 

http://news.trust.org/item/20200127062548-grn4d/

 

World Court orders Myanmar to protect Rohingya from acts of genocide

Rohingya
Rohingya refugees take part in a prayer as they gather to mark the second anniversary of the exodus at the Kutupalong camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, August 25, 2019. REUTERS/Rafiqur Rahman/File photo

THE HAGUE/COX’S BAZAAR, Bangladesh, – The International Court of Justice on Thursday ordered Myanmar to take urgent measures to protect its Rohingya population from genocide, a ruling cheered by refugees as their first major legal victory since being forced from their homes.

A lawsuit launched by Gambia in November at the United Nations’ highest body for disputes between states accuses Myanmar of genocide against Rohingya in violation of a 1948 convention.

The court’s final decision could take years, and Thursday’s ruling dealt only with Gambia’s request for preliminary measures. But in a unanimous ruling by the 17-judge panel, the court said the Rohingya face an ongoing threat and Myanmar must act to protect them.

Myanmar must “take all measures within its power to prevent all acts” prohibited under the 1948 Genocide Convention, and report back within four months, presiding Judge Abdulqawi Yusuf said, reading out a summary of the judgment.

Myanmar must use its influence over its military and other armed groups to prevent violence against the Rohingya “intended to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”.

Rohingya activists, who had come from all over the world to the Hague, reacted with joy to the unanimous ruling which also explicitly recognised their ethnic minority as a protected group under the Genocide Convention.

“That is something we have been fighting for a long time: to be recognised as humans the same as everyone else,” Yasmin Ullah, a Canada-based Rohingya activist said. Majority Buddhist Myanmar generally refuses to describe the Muslim Rohingya as an ethnic group and refers to them as Bangladeshi migrants.

Myanmar’s ministry of foreign affairs said in a statement late on Thursday it “takes note” of the decision.

“The unsubstantiated condemnation of Myanmar by some human rights actors has presented a distorted picture of the situation in Rakhine and affected Myanmar’s bilateral relations with several countries”, it added.

More than 730,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar after a military-led crackdown in 2017, and were forced into squalid camps across the border in Bangladesh. U.N. investigators concluded that the military campaign had been executed with “genocidal intent”.

In camps in Bangladesh where they have fled, Rohingya refugees hovered over mobile phones to watch the judgment.

“For the first time, we have got some justice,” said Mohammed Nur, 34. “This is a big achievement for the entire Rohingya community.”

 

 

 

http://news.trust.org/item/20200123093823-gfm4x/

Domain sale could do ‘irreparable harm’ to millions of charities, NGOs warn

Screenshot_2020-01-23 Domain sale could do 'irreparable harm' to millions of charities, NGOs warn
Archive Photo: A man stands at a computer terminal at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos January 29, 2010. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

DAVOS, – Top NGOs including Greenpeace and Amnesty International called for the $1.1 billion sale of the .org internet domain to a private company to be blocked on Wednesday, saying it could do “irreparable harm”.

Registrations for the millions of nonprofits whose websites end in .org are overseen by the Internet Society (ISOC), but in November the U.S. nonprofit announced it was selling control to a year-old private equity firm called Ethos Capital.

Since then, hundreds of organisations have objected, worried that Ethos will raise registration and renewal prices, cut back on infrastructure and security spending, or make deals to sell sensitive data or allow censorship or surveillance.

On Wednesday, the directors of 10 leading NGOs published an open letter at the World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting in Davos urging ISOC and ICANN, the internet’s governing authority, to stop the sale, to stop the sale.

“Should the governance and stewardship of .ORG end up under the control of private or other actors that could lead to financial or other barriers that would irreparably harm global civil society,” the letter read.

Brett Solomon, executive director of digital rights group Access Now, said the sale risked pricing smaller organisations off the internet. But he said that was “really just a symptom of a broader issue around control”.

“The entity that is responsible for the stewardship of the Public Interest Registry has access to everything,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

“They have a capacity to take somebody off the .org domain, which means they can censor, they can monitor, they can deny.

“And all these issues are very, very important for organizations who are challenging governments and are challenging powerful interests.”

ICANN, which has the power to veto the deal, did not respond to a request for comment.

The Internet Society said in a joint statement with Ethos that the company had committed to limiting any cost increase to an annual average of 10%.

It said agreements in place with ICANN contained strict limitations to prevent a domain registry from regulating content or selling information about registered organisations.

Concerns about the sale have also been raised by the United Nations special rapporteurs for freedom of expression, assembly and association and a group of U.S. lawmakers including presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren.

“Certain public goods should never be for sale,” Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

“We don’t auction off the town square. Similarly, ICANN shouldn’t approve the sale of .ORG, which is the essential haven where civic groups gather the world over.”

 

 

http://news.trust.org/item/20200122160437-mnqzb/

 

Lipstick to learning: Canada’s indigenous women using businesses to end violence

Screenshot_2020-01-23 Lipstick to learning Canada's indigenous women using businesses to end violence
Jenn Harper, founder of the indigenous women’s social enterprise ‘Cheekbone Beauty’, poses for a photo in Toronto, Canada on 16 January 2020. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Belinda Goldsmith

TORONTO, – When Jenn Harper dreamed of a young native Canadian girl in lip gloss she knew she had found a way to help her community.

The dream in 2015 prompted her to set up Cheekbone Beauty from her kitchen, a cosmetics brand with products named after successful North American indigenous women that gives 10% of profits to a fund to help educate children on reserves.

Harper is one of a rising number of indigenous women in Canada setting up businesses that aim to have a positive social impact, with many focused on aboriginal women who have faced shocking levels of violence for decades.

She said she set out to build a social enterprise that would inspire aboriginal youth, particularly girls, among whom suicide rates are up to six times higher than non-indigenous youth.

“I am using lipstick as a platform to raise awareness about what is still happening to indigenous young people,” Harper, 43, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview, wearing a hot pink lipstick from her Warrior Women range.

“We want to change indigenous youth by showing them they are worthy and (should) not feel shame about their history.”

Harper said her drive was personal. Her grandmother Emily Paul was one of about 150,000 indigenous children taken from their families between the 1840s and 1990s and put in residential schools to assimilate them in Euro-Canadian culture.

She described how her family, like many others, had never dealt with the impact of the government policy that ripped apart families, causing addiction and abuse issues, which in turn led to trans-generational trauma.

Harper said she ended up battling alcohol problems for years until she finally became sober in 2014. Her brother killed himself at the age of 32 about four years ago.

HOPE FOR YOUTH

She said her brother’s support for her setting up a business to provide hope to indigenous youth gave her to courage to quit her job in sales last year to focus on Cheekbone Beauty that she runs from a home office, ensuring all products are Eco-friendly.

Last year she appeared on “Dragon’s Den”, the national TV show where entrepreneurs pitch to investors, and in 2018 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invited her to join a round table of female entrepreneurs.

“Getting sober and setting up my business I realised how important it was to share my story with other indigenous women and help others transform,” said Harper, a mother of two from St Catharines in the Niagara region of the province of Ontario.

 

 

http://news.trust.org/item/20200117141752-jubir/

Millions go hungry in wealthy Canada – and some die young as a result

Screenshot_2020-01-20 Millions go hungry in wealthy Canada - and some die young as a result
ARCHIVE PHOTO: Homeless men eat hot dogs handed out from a soup kitchen handed out in a vacant lot in downtown Vancouver, November 22, 2001. REUTERS/Andy Clark

ROME, – Canadians who cannot afford regular meals are more likely to die early, according to a study released on Monday, showing that people are dying from hunger even in wealthy countries.

The study of more than half a million Canadian adults found that hunger was linked to raised mortality from all causes of death except cancer.

But infectious diseases, unintentional injuries and suicide were twice as likely to kill those who faced severe problems finding enough food as those who do not, said the paper, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

“It’s like we found third-world causes in a first-world country,” lead author Fei Men, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“Food insecure people in Canada are facing problems like infections and drug poisoning that we would expect people from developing countries to be facing,” he said.

“The results are pretty striking to us as well. In the developed world such as Canada, food insecurity can still cause deaths,” Men added.

More than 4 million people in Canada struggle to get enough to eat, official data show, a problem that ranges from running out of food or skipping meals to compromising on quantity and quality.

Not having enough to eat leads to both “material deprivation and psychological distress” which in turn results in chronic inflammation and malnutrition, it said.
They are also less able to manage chronic conditions, Men said in a phone interview.

“(If they have) diabetes, they are more likely to not adhere to their treatment and drugs so it might have much bigger and harmful effect on them.”

A 2019 study looking at the relationship between hunger and mortality among U.S. adults also found similar that not having enough food was linked to deaths from all causes.

Globally, more than 2 billion people lack access to adequate healthy food, putting them at risk of health problems, including 8% of people in North America or Europe, according to the latest data from the United Nations.

Researchers in the Canada study looked at data on more than half a million adults, of whom more than 25,000 died before the average age of 82.

The findings show public health efforts to prevent and treat diseases and injuries should take into account people’s access to adequate food, the authors said.

 

 

http://news.trust.org/item/20200120044112-xwvna/

Nigeria’s child development crisis is a tragedy. Here’s how we can end it

Najia child
Computer lessons in Lagos. A national emergency response is needed to get all Nigeria’s children into quality schooling. Photograph: Cavan Images/Alamy

If you want a window on the condition of children in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, there is no better vantage point than the Katanga health centre in the impoverished northern state of Jigawa.

In a hut that passes for a nutrition clinic, a group of 25 women wait with their children. Tiny bodies bearing the hallmarks of acute malnutrition – distended stomachs and twig-thin limbs – are lifted into a weighing harness and their arms measured to check for signs of wasting. Ali, who has just reached his first birthday, weighs only 5kg – the average age of a two-month-old in the UK. His mother is 14.

Sitting under a tree in the forecourt, another severely malnourished child is gasping for breath. Nayo, who is seven months, has the telltale symptoms of severe pneumonia – a collapsed rib cage, deep cough and fever. He desperately needs antibiotics and medical oxygen. The clinic has neither. “I’m worried for his life, there is nowhere to go for help,” his mother tells me.

Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy and a global energy-exporting superpower. It is endowed with vast natural resources. But the country is rooted near the foot of the World Bank’s global league table for human capital – a composite measure capturing the health, education and nutritional status of children.

Five years ago Nigeria’s leaders joined the rest of the world in embracing the 2030 sustainable development goals. They include targets to end preventable child and maternal deaths, eradicate malnutrition and give all children a quality education. Almost half of Nigeria’s 200 million population is under 15, and achieving these goals would catalyse the dynamic and inclusive growth needed to create jobs.

Unfortunately, Nigeria is either treading water or sinking like a stone on all the key 2030 indicators for child development. More than 800,000 children lose their lives each year, mainly to preventable diseases such as malaria, pneumonia and diarrhoea. Over the past decade, the country’s share of global under-five deaths doubled – to 16% of the total – and continues to rise.

Malnutrition is endemic. Almost half of Nigeria’s children are stunted by nutritional deprivation, with devastating consequences for health and cognitive development. About 2 million face life-threatening malnutrition. Vaccination against killer diseases is critical for malnourished children. But millions of children in Nigeria have not been immunised.

More than 10 million children aged 5–14 years are out of school – more than in any other country – even though education is nominally free and compulsory. Most of those in school are getting a fifth-rate education after years of underinvestment. Children with eight years of schooling typically have learning skills equivalent to four years of primary education.

There are also deep fractures linked to inequalities in wealth, region and gender. Children born into the poorest 20% of families are eight times more likely to succumb to fatal illness. Young girls, especially those in the northern states, are far more likely to be forced into early marriage. Almost one in five girls are married by the age of 15, according to Unicef.

Nigeria’s child development crisis is a tragedy for the country. Over the next three decades the population will double, making Nigeria the world’s third most populous country. By 2050 almost one in every 10 children born in the world will be Nigerian. Sheer weight of numbers dictates that the fate of Nigeria’s children will shape the world’s development.

So what can be done to break the malaise?

First, Nigeria urgently needs to convert economic wealth into human capital, starting with investment in children. Current revenue collection levels are among the lowest in the world, holding back vital public spending in areas such as health and education. Changing this picture will require a broader and deeper tax base, with strengthened royalty collection from oil companies.

The federal government has passed some encouraging legislation on education and public health. But at 0.6% of GDP, Nigeria’s health spending is comparable to countries such as Yemen and Afghanistan. The result is clinics like the one in Jigawa, without trained health workers, medicines and vital equipment.

Second, a national emergency response is needed to get all children into quality schooling. Unlocking the potential of Nigeria’s children would transform the country.

That won’t be possible without a third component for change – a concerted drive to combat the deep inequalities facing girls and women. It is surely time for Nigeria’s politicians, as well religious and traditional leaders, to push for an end to child marriage – a practice that violates human rights, destroys opportunity and perpetuates poverty.

 

 

 

 

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/jan/15/nigerias-child-development-crisis-is-a-tragedy-heres-how-we-can-end-it

Women step forward in push to nurture African climate scientists

Screenshot_2020-01-14 Women step forward in push to nurture African climate scientists
Women farmers tend their fields at the Tjankwa Irrigation Scheme in Plumtree District, 100km west of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, September 18, 2014. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Busani Bafana

BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, As a child, Kenyan meteorologist Saumu Shaka helped out on her parents’ small farm growing maize and pigeon pea – and learned how the weather can hold food producers hostage.

“Looking back, the yield has declined over the years,” said Shaka, 28, who works with the Kenya Meteorological Department.

A decade ago, her parents would get 25 sacks of maize from their six hectares in Taita Taveta County, southeast of Nairobi.

Today that has dwindled to five bags at most, because of erratic rainfall that can also spur crop-destroying pests.

As climate change fuels extreme weather and threatens harvests, Africa needs more scientific expertise to help small-scale farmers adapt, especially women who tend to be hit worst, said Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, director of Nairobi-based group African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD).

According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), women represent nearly half of farmers in Africa and produce up to 80% of basic food crops.

They are also largely responsible for preparing, storing and processing food.

But in many cases, the FAO says, they have limited rights, mobility and access to resources, information and decision-making power, making them more vulnerable and less able to adapt to climate change impacts than men.

“This means women’s continued under-representation in climate change research is no longer acceptable,” said Kamau-Rutenberg, noting that few have opportunities in science education.

AWARD is leading the One Planet Fellowship, a new initiative that will train 630 African and European scientists to use a gender lens to help African smallholders adapt to climate shifts, unusually offering Africans the opportunity to serve as mentors.

Under-investment in African scientific research capacity means “we still don’t even know the specific ways climate change will manifest … in Africa,” said Kamau-Rutenberg.

In September, the three-year career development programme welcomed its first cohort of 45 fellows from Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria, Zambia, Malawi, Benin, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Togo, Mali, Ethiopia and Burkina Faso – over half of them female.

The aim is to “set an example and dispel the myth that there are no African women scientists ready to step into leadership”, Kamau-Rutenberg added.

AWARD collaborates on the initiative, worth nearly $20 million, with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, France’s BNP Paribas Foundation and Agropolis Fondation, the European Union and Canada’s International Development Research Centre.

‘FIRSTHAND EXPERIENCE’

As one of the inaugural fellows, Shaka is seeking home-grown solutions to the challenges faced by farmers like her parents, who are battling to grow enough food on a warming planet.

Her research focuses on cost-effective “climate-smart” agribusiness techniques to help young people boost jobs and food security, which she will promote on social media platforms.

African scientists “have firsthand experience and solutions that are practical and applicable to their societal set-ups within their individual countries”, she said.

Women scientists, moreover, are better able to understand the specific challenges in designing community-tailored solutions to help fellow women, said the senior meteorologist.

Droughts and floods, for example, impose a health burden on women, who have to walk long distances in search of water and stay alert to the risk of waterborne diseases, she noted.

Pamela Afokpe, 27, an AWARD fellow from Benin, said “in-continent” experts could relate to the needs of African farmers more easily.

Afokpe, a vegetable breeder with East-West Seed International, is working to get more farmers growing indigenous leafy vegetables in West and Central Africa by helping them access high-yielding varieties resistant to pests and diseases.

Up to now, a limited number of African experts have contributed to the landmark scientific assessments published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which synthesises research and guides policymakers.

Out of 91 lead authors of the 2018 IPCC special report on limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, only eight were from Africa, as were just a tenth of the 783 contributing authors.

South Africa’s Debra Roberts, co-chair of a working group for the IPCC ongoing sixth scientific assessment report and the first female co-chair from Africa, said the panel’s work showed tackling climate change required all of society to respond.

“Women have different lived experiences and views on the problems and solutions,” she said.

“We need to hear those voices if we are to be able to identify context-relevant solutions from the scientific literature. There is no one-size-fits-all,” she added.

Over the IPCC’s three decades of operation, there have only been three female co-chairs, two of them on the current report, she noted. “We have a long way to go still,” Roberts told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview.

ENERGY PRIORITIES

Women also need to be involved in the practical design of climate solutions, such as expanding off-grid solar power and clean cooking, which can reduce drudgery and minimise health issues linked pollution, said agricultural experts.

As forest loss and climate change make resources scarcer, women have to go longer distances to gather fuel-wood, which puts additional pressure on their time, health and personal security, said Katrin Glatzel, a research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute in Dakar, Senegal.

In Mali, a public-private partnership has provided 1.6 million people with more efficient stoves, reducing pollution by half compared to a traditional three-stone fire, she noted.

Glatzel said it was important to include and empower female scientists and farmers in the switch to cleaner, modern energy, so that their concerns could be addressed.

A 2019 survey by charity Practical Action in rural Togo found women prioritised energy for pumping drinking water and processing crops, while men favoured mobile-phone charging and heating water for washing, she noted.

In northern Benin, meanwhile, a solar-powered drip irrigation system means a cooperative of 45 women now fetches water one or twice a week rather than daily, she added.

Bringing women on board with technological innovation for rural energy services is key “to ensure that end products meet their needs and those of their families”, she said.

 

 

 

http://news.trust.org/item/20200113072646-hrp53/

Ivory Coast pledges trafficking crackdown as 137 child victims are rescued

Screenshot_2020-01-14 Ivory Coast pledges trafficking crackdown as 137 child victims are rescued
A child rescued by police from captivity, with strike marks on his back, bathes at the Hajj transit camp in Kaduna, Nigeria September 28, 2019. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

DAKAR,  Ivory Coast police on Monday vowed to ramp up efforts to stop child trafficking after rescuing 137 children from forced labour and sex work in the first major operation in several years.

Police surrounded the southeastern town of Aboisso for 48 hours last week and searched vehicles, cocoa plantations and nearby villages for children who were being forced to work or transported for purposes of trafficking, the government said.

The victims ranged in age from six to 17 and came from the nearby West African countries of Nigeria, Benin, Ghana and Togo, according to a statement.

Twelve traffickers were also arrested.

“We are going to multiply this kind of operation,” police superintendent Zaka Luc told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The operation, code-named “Bia III”, was the first since at least 2017 and followed the launch six months ago of a new national action plan against child labour, said Luc, deputy director in the anti-trafficking division.

The government said it hoped to “send a strong signal” to traffickers by raiding Aboisso, a hot spot.

Ivory Coast, the world’s top cocoa producer, introduced its first national plan to end child labour in 2012, but the problem remains widespread in poor farming communities.

An estimated 890,000 children work in the cocoa sector, some for their parents and some trafficked from abroad, according to a 2018 report by anti-slavery organisation Walk Free Foundation.

Children are also trafficked to Ivory Coast for other types of work, such as mining and domestic servitude. Among the victims rescued last week were at least six Nigerian girls being trafficked for prostitution, said police.

The rescued children were placed in the care of a charity in Aboisso while investigations are under way to find their parents, the government said.

“Ivory Coast’s image is tarnished by child trafficking,” said Kouadio Yeboue Marcellin, deputy police chief in Aboisso.

“We are appealing to all parents. A child’s place is at school and not on plantations,” he said in a statement.

The number of police operations will depend on available funding, said Luc. This one was financed by the office of First Lady Dominique Ouattara, who has championed the cause.

The new action plan was praised by some cocoa industry executives last year for taking a wide-reaching approach to tackling the issue, including through investing in education and empowering women.

 

 

 

 

http://news.trust.org/item/20200113151823-3341s/

 

Traditional crops puff hopes for climate resilience in Kenya

Screenshot_2020-01-09 Traditional crops puff hopes for climate resilience in Kenya
Workers wash millet to prepare it for popping in Embu, Kenya, September 9, 2019. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Wesley Langat

EMBU, Kenya,  Two years ago, Michael Gichangi launched a business he hopes will help his rural community better cope with climate change stresses: making puffed cereal from climate-hardy traditional grains.

Using a $1,000 machine he bought, he pops millet – a drought-tolerant grain, but one not as widely eaten as staple maize – and turns it into a popular snack.

Over the last two years he has sold about $1,500 worth of the popped grain, and is the first in the district to have one of the machines, he said.

“I started popping millet to produce very delicious snacks, by mixing it with groundnuts, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon powder and simsim (sesame) oil”, he said.

The combination has won particular approval from students looking for an after-school snack, he said, and is now sold at the local Embu market.

As many households in sub-Saharan Afria struggle with poverty and food insecurity, climate change is hitting harvests and making life even harder.

But finding new markets for hardy grains that can better stand up to extreme weather and changing pests, and produce a reliable harvest, can help, agricultural scientists say.

Gichangi’s effort began when he joined a women-led agribusiness group in his village and started buying and selling traditional cereals such as millet, sorghum and green gram, all more drought-resilient alternatives to maize.

Previously, maize dominated farming in the area – but that dominance is gradually declining as weather extremes linked to climate change make getting a harvest more difficult, he and others said.

Patrick Maundu, an ethnobotanist at the National Museums of Kenya and an honorary fellow with Bioversity International, an organisation that promotes agricultural biodiversity, said millet is a traditional Kenyan crop – just one that, over the years, lost ground to maize.

The change came as a result of the intense promotion of maize production by governments, research groups and multinational companies selling products in Africa, he said.

“Millet is well adapted to dry parts of Africa but has been neglected because of … key policies focused on maize, taking over indigenous cereals,” he said in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

But in the recent years, wilder weather linked to climate change and the high cost of farm inputs – which farmers can struggle to pay if harvests fail – has made maize farming less reliable, particularly for small-scale farmers like those in Embu, Maundu said.

That has pushed many farmers to diversify back into drought-resistant traditional crops.

The amount of farm acreage planted with maize in Kenya has fallen by about a quarter in recent years, according to data from Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture.

Still, finding a ready market for crops like millet – and getting people to resume eating them – can be a challenge.

Gichangi, an entrepreneur and millet farmer, said he realised that the key to making the new crops pay was adding value to what was harvested – hence the popping machine.

MORE JOBS, MORE RESILIENCE?

The puffed millet, besides being tasty, has boosted employment opportunities in Embu and helped reduce food waste because it can be stored longer, he said.

Stella Gathaka 30, who formerly worked as a food vendor, is now one of four workers at Gichangi’s small factory.

She said that, besides earning a salary, her new job allows her children to eat the millet snacks, which are more nutritious than their previous snack of sweet wheat biscuits.

These days, “I’m very knowledgeable on the importance of millet as a nutritious crop,” she said.

Daniel Kirori, operations director at DK Engineering Ltd., which assembles the popping machines, said his company had sold about 15 of them so far to women’s groups and other entrepreneurs around Kenya.

According to a 2017 United Nations report on the state of food security and nutrition, climate change pressures, from worsening droughts to floods, heatwaves and storms, are a key reason about 800 million people still lack access to enough food.

Liz Young, a senior researcher with the International Food Policy Research Institute noted in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation that Africa’s farmers urgently need help to adapt to the threats and grow enough to feed the continent’s rising population.

Producing more millet and other traditional hardy crops, and finding ways to process them to produce more income, is one way of doing that, Young said.

Emily Wawira, a small-scale millet farmer in Embu who sells her produce to Gichangi, said she sells 10 to 20 sacks of grain each year, each weighing 90 kilos, and earns $25 to $30 per sack.

That income “is enough to pay school fees,” she said – and an improvement on her former loss-making maize farming.

Gichangi’s millet snacks are slowly gaining ground on traditional favourites such as sugary wheat biscuits, his sales team said.

“It wasn’t easy popularising the products,” admitted Lucy Njeru, one of Gichangi’s saleswomen – though free samples helped.

Now, however, Gichangi has partnered with four local schools and an agricultural show to offer his healthier snacks.

Anthony Sawaya, Embu County’s director of trade and chief executive of the county Investment and Development Corporation, said his office is keen to help innovators like Gichangi access markets.

The county government, for instance, is promoting local foods at nearby and international trade fair exhibitions, he said.

 

Nuns’ retreat house, built by Muslim benefactor, signifies interfaith bond

House
Scripture text adorns a wall of the monastery for the Carmel of Mary, Queen of the Universe and of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus in Zamboanga City, Philippines. Ibrahim Nuño, a Muslim civil engineer whose family has helped the community, constructed a new building for the Carmelite monastery, for free. (Charity Durano)

Zamboanga City, Philippines — A two-story retreat house built by a Muslim benefactor opened a new stream of income for a community of Carmelite nuns in the southern Philippines and is the most visible sign of long-standing ties between the nuns and their Muslim neighbors.

“Without waiting for me to finish the appeal he said that he would build it completely free,” recalled Sr. Mary Agnes Xavier Guillen of the Discalced Nuns of the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel, who meets with visitors from outside the community. She was speaking of Ibrahim Nuño, a Muslim civil engineer with roots in Zamboanga City, and whose family has helped the community of Catholic nuns in various ways. When the St. Teresa Hall next to their chapel needed urgent repairs to its roof, Guillen reached out to Nuño, who offered to construct a completely new building that was completed last year

“We have formed friendships with the Muslims through the years. They come to share their concerns, their problems and to ask for prayers,” said Guillen. She noted the common devotion of Christians and Muslims to Our Lady of the Pillar, patroness of Zamboanga City, one of the largest cities in the country. (The devotion to La Virgen del Pilar, originally brought by the Spanish colonizers in the 1700s, remains the most popular Marian devotion in the region, where she is revered as a miracle-worker and a guardian.)

“I remembered the kindness and the offer of our old friend to help if we needed anything,” said Guillen, who reached out to Nuño, president and managing director of a Luzon-based construction company known for malls, office and residential buildings.

“Carmel’s presence in Zamboanga is a witness to the value of prayer in the life of everyone, Christians or Muslims,” said Guillen.

Founded in 1956, there are 18 Carmelite nuns who make up the Carmel of Mary, Queen of the Universe and of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus in Zamboanga City. Their average age is over 60 years old, with the youngest member in her 40s. It is one of 23 monasteries of the Discalced Nuns of the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel, or OCD, in the country, seven of which are in the Mindanao region, including the one in Zamboanga City, according to the 2019 Catholic Directory of the Philippines.

For 49-year-old math teacher Ruth Guerrero, “the presence of a Carmelite monastery connotes a kind of spiritual assurance, that is, we have prayer warriors.” Guerrero, who teaches at the Jesuit-run Ateneo de Zamboanga University in the city and is a member of the formation team for first-year students, added, “whenever I happen to be around the area or pass by where their monastery is, even without entering their compound, I feel a quiet assurance of serenity.”

Guerrero still remembers how her mother offered prayers at the monastery when Guerrero took her board exams, as well as at the Shrine of Our Lady of the Pillar. “The practice has always been there since we believe that is their vocation to devote time for prayer. It’s also like we want to make sure the Lord hears us.”

The Santa Teresa House of Prayer is the second project that Nuño has done for the Carmelite community. According to Guillen, “[Nuño] has expressed to us that building it is an honored privilege for him, one that will bring blessings to him and his family.”

The impetus to initially repair and then build a new retreat house came out of a need for extra space. Guillen said that diocesan and religious priests often ask to stay at the monastery for a retreat but they have had to turn down some requests because they only had two guest rooms.

The new house of prayer means that they can accommodate more priests and members of other religious communities in its seven guest rooms. The open space ground floor can be used by Catholic schools for gatherings for their staff, faculty and students. Guillen adds that it is another source of income for their community.

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.globalsistersreport.org/news/people/nuns-retreat-house-built-muslim-benefactor-signifies-interfaith-bond