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An increasingly important ­late-comer

18. November 2019 - 14:17
Historian Kiran Klaus Patel assesses why EU rose from humble beginnings to the dominant alliance in Europe

Patel is a professor at the University of Maastricht. His book “Projekt Europa” was published in German by C.H. Beck last year. Cambridge University Press is preparing an English translation that is scheduled to appear in April 2020.

Let’s take a brief look at the three myths Patel deconstructs. As he shows, the EU did serve a peace-building function, but it did not play an important role in reconciling the war-torn continent immediately after 1945. At the time, many different international organisations were established to promote peace. The first precursor of what is now the EU, the European Community for Coal and Steel, was only started a decade later, and it had a mere six members: West Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. The same countries started two other communities in 1957, pooling their policymaking on nuclear technology (Euratom) and establishing a common market (European Economic Community). Only by the end of the 1950s, were the three communities merged, and Euratom was long believed to be the most important component. In the 1990, the European Community become the EU.

In regard to peacebuilding, the community was actually somewhat ambivalent in its early years, according to Patel. On the upside, it reinforced trust and cooperation among its members, tying them closer together and turning Germany and France, the former enemies, into close allies. On the downside, the Soviet Union and its allies considered it a reinforcement of the western block. In the early 1980s, by contrast, the EU insisted on maintaining trade relations with the Soviet block and thus mitigated to some extent Washington’s re-escalation of the Cold War.

In Patel’s eyes, the EU only really became a major peacemaker in the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union by offering perspectives to Eastern European countries. EU enlargement proved very important in ensuring peaceful transitions.

In regard to economic affairs, Patel does not deny that the European Community was always useful, but he argues convincingly that it was not a driver of growth in the early years. In his assessment, economies were expanding fast due to opportunities provided by post-war reconstruction and the introduction of new technologies. National governments, however, used the European Community to manage difficult transitions. For example, joint agricultural subsidies cushioned off rural change, slowing down the pace at which smallholder farming was becoming unviable. In a similar sense, inner-community migration, especially from southern Italy to industrialised cities in northern member countries, reduced social tensions and helped employers cope with labour-market bottlenecks.

As for making the EU a world power, Patel not only elaborates how this aspiration was always tampered by pragmatism, but also shows that the USA was generally supportive of its allies’ regional integration for geostrategic reasons. Washington may sometimes have found “Brussels” to be a difficult partner during the Cold War, but its stabilising impact on Western Europe was most valuable. Donald Trump is the first US president to speak of the EU with open resentment.

Over time, the EU became a powerful player in trade affairs with an increasing influence in other policy fields. In regard to official development assistance (ODA), for example, it has long been making a difference. A large share of member countries’ funding is channelled through the EU. While they still pursue international-development policies of their own, their joint funding makes the EU an additional force to be reckoned with. As Patel notes, moreover, the EU contributed a lot to changing the rhetoric from one of colonial dominance in the 1950s to eye-level partnership by the turn of the millennium. Rhetoric has a bearing on policymaking even if the latter typically does not fulfil every promise.

In some policy fields, however, the EU is still basically a non-entity. The most striking example is military affairs. NATO is quite obviously much more important. What Patel fails to point out, however, is that EU members’ position within NATO is certainly strengthened because their leaders are familiar with one another, are used to coordinating action among one another and are more likely to consider joint interests rather than narrowly focused national interests as in the past.

What made the EU strong

It is important to understand, of course, why a six-member community of West European countries evolved into the dominant supranational organisation in Europe, becoming a global model for regional integration. According to Patel, the EU and its precursors differed from other international organisations in several important ways:

  • They were not merely intergovernmental entities, but had strong supranational components which concerned administration, legislation and judicial matters. There were joint commissions that administered the joint policies, and they were later merged into a single commission. Moreover, there was binding joint legislation that all member countries had to implement. A joint court of law ensured that this happened. In other words, the member countries pooled sovereignty and that made their community especially effective.
  • The EU and its precursors played a crucial role in economic policymaking. Building the common market, which in the long term proved to be the most important initiative, meant that market- relevant regulations had to be coordinated. Such regulations have an immediate bearing on people’s lives. Accordingly, major industries, lobby groups and trade unions paid close attention. This community increasingly mattered in citizens’ eyes.

For these reasons, the late-comer among international organisations increasingly overshadowed competitors. The European Free Trade Organisation, in particular, proved a less coherent and weaker initiative, so Britain, Ireland and Denmark switched sides in the early 1970s. Since then, ever more countries have joined the EU. In spite of many crises and the British referendum decision to leave, it has proven surprisingly resilient.

Patel’s book explains why. It elaborates how the EC started in the 1950s and grew into the EU by the mid-1990s. It does not discuss more recent crises. Brexit, refugees and sovereign debt do not figure. Nonetheless, the author’s insights help to understand what the EU is today, and why it has proven so resilient. The most important point is that it serves members’ interests. Another is that its institutional setup and decisionmaking processes are flexible enough to rise to challenges. Indeed, Patel shows, that the EU’s history is best understood as a series of successful responses to crises rather than as the implementation of a rigid master plan.

The EU is a complex and multi-layered supranational organisation in which national governments still play decisive roles. It makes many things easier for them. Patel expresses the evidence-based hope that the EU is not about to disintegrate, but more likely to evolve into an even more important supranational organisation. As in the past, he expects such a development to be marked by fuzzy compromises and sudden innovations rather than to be guided by strict principles.

Patel, K. K., 2018: Projekt Europa. München: C.H. Beck.
English translation (“Project Europe”) forthcoming in 2020 and scheduled for April: Cambridge University Press.

Kategorien: english

Disappointment in EU leaders

13. November 2019 - 14:53
European policymakers contributed to creating Libya’s security chaos

Several EU member countries – especially Britain and France – played leading roles in bringing about the UN Security Council decision to impose a no-fly-zone over Libya in March 2011. The Security Council argued that this measure would stop Muammar al-Gaddafi, the dictator, from cracking down with full military force on the popular uprising against him. Western members of the Security Council endorsed that decision, though Germany abstained together with Russia, China and Brazil.

In view of Gaddafi preparing to repress any kind of opposition brutally, European leaders like President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain insisted the UN had to live up to R2P, its “responsibility to protect” people from harm in civil wars. With a Security Council mandate, NATO then took action. Atypically, the US administration let European partners lead the mission.

Today, Mohamed Khaifah Elakrout, a retired Libyan diplomat, says that “the majority of the Libyan elite accepted the western intervention as they believe that the ousting of the long-standing dictator was impossible without an external intervention”. He adds that they misconceived the consequences of Gaddafi’s overthrow and did not expect extended civil strife.

However, many Libyans now think that the intervention intentionally exceeded its R2P mandate by actively supporting the rebels instead of merely blocking Gaddafi’s air force. They think military action was designed to topple him in the pursuit of foreign interests. Yet others opposed the NATO-led intervention of 2011 right from the start.

There is widespread consensus, however, that the international community in general and western powers in particular failed in terms of R2P. The reason was that, after Gaddafi’s death, their support for a political transition remained inadequate. They let the country slide into civil war.

It is true, of course, that EU members contributed to bringing about the Libyan National Agreement in 2015. However, this agreement neither settled all important questions nor ensured effective implementation.

According to Ahmed Almugassaby, a Libyan journalist, EU members must bear some of the blame. He says that local polarisation in Libya was linked to different EU countries having different priorities. “Contradictory influences led to a flawed agreement in 2015”, he says. Moreover, it has become increasingly clear that Italy and France have different agendas in Libya and form alliances with local players accordingly. In other words, Libyans must suffer because the EU is not united in foreign affairs. As for Libyan politicians, Almugassaby accuses them of not serving the public interest in this context, but opportunistically siding with European partners. 

Kategorien: english

Defining relationship

13. November 2019 - 14:43
Why Libyans have mixed feelings about the EU

On the southern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, most Libyans used to rate highly what was happening on the northern shores. They considered EU countries to be models of prosperous and well-organised societies that enable people to live good lives. In the 20th century, thousands of Libyan students attended European universities, and what they told their compatriots reinforced the EU’s good reputation.

At the same time, many other Libyans have a rather bad impression of the EU. In their eyes, some of its member countries – especially Britain, France and Italy – have contributed to the security chaos the country is currently suffering. After all, a NATO intervention led by European governments facilitated the downfall of Muamar al-Gaddafi’s regime in 2011 (see box). Security has never been resorted. For almost a decade, competing militias have been fighting over Libyan territory. Erratic fighting can erupt anywhere at any time.

Some armed groups, moreover, are involved in the people smuggling industry. Large numbers of Africans want to migrate to Europe. Many are from sub-Saharan Africa, others are from Arab countries. As Libya has become a transit country, ever more Libyans want to move to Europe themselves.

High hopes

Everywhere in North Africa, people take great interest in European affairs. Masses would like to prosper in a democratic society – and that has been true for a long time. Obviously, such inclinations cannot be expressed freely under dictatorial rule. The revolutions of the Arab Spring revealed oppressed people’s desires.

At the time, Libya, Egypt and Tunisia got rid of autocratic leaders. It fits the pattern that popular uprisings have this year toppled authoritarian regimes in Algeria and Sudan. The painful backlash in Egypt, the security chaos in Libya and the brutal civil war in Syria must not distract from the fact that people long for freedom. We are aware of the EU’s long history of preaching democratic principles. Now we find its track record of supporting democracy disappointing.

Gaddafi, the strongman who ruled Libya from 1969 to 2011, did his best to convey a sense of national unity and to foster hostility towards the west. Many Libyans, however, disagreed. Mohamed Omar, a retired engineer, says: “Gaddafi was delivering a false message; Libyans did not see the EU as an enemy.”

As a young man, Omar studied mechanical engineering in Germany. He reports that he was “amazed by the well-organised and advanced lifestyle”. At the time, he hoped Libya would one day become like that. In his eyes, the country has lost a lot of time. He would like to see it better connected to the EU and blames the current state of affairs on “Gaddafi’s stupid ideas and disabling civil strife”.

Many other people see European governments at fault – at least partially. Shying away from deploying boots on the ground, they left a violence-torn country to its fate.

Migration worries

The refugee crisis is compounding the problems. It bears repetition that increasingly Libyans themselves want to leave for Europe. In the lack of visas, there are no safe routes. Moreover, Libyans who follow European media tend to see the coverage distorted. Libyans are normally depicted as perpetrators of crimes, not as people living in danger of violence. European leaders want refugees to stay in Libya, but they blame our people when foreigners are mistreated and abused here. Do European media not understand that Libyan statehood is extremely fragile? That, in itself, causes suffering.

Sajida is a six-year-old girl with a rare blood disorder. She required a bone marrow transplant. This kind of treatment is not available in Libya. Therefore, her father wanted to take her to Europe for proper treatment. “I applied several times for visas but all my applications were refused,” he reports. “I think they were afraid that I wouldn’t be able to afford the treatment costs.”

In 2016, he decided to sail to Europe with his daughter in a small rubber boat. After 33 hours, an Italian coast guard vessel found them and took them to Sicily. The girl got the lifesaving treatment.

Others are not so lucky and do not survive their attempt to cross the Mediterranean in inadequate ships. Nonetheless, people increasingly want to leave Libya in order to escape violence and lawlessness. They hope to get asylum in Europe but have no safe way to get there.

The irony of the matter is that, in European history, Libya was seen as the gateway to Africa. Now Africans see it as the gateway to Europe. Though the EU and the Gaddafi regime considered one another to be adversaries, they actually cooperated on several issues, including monitoring and restricting illegal migration.

In the chaos following his downfall, no authority has been able to assume the role of being an effective governmental partner for the EU. Libya is now a transit country with porous borders and ineffective state agencies.

Zuhier Abusrewil, a Libyan journalist who specialises in migration issues, says that “Libyans in general understand the rights of Africans who seek to escape to Europe looking for a better life.” In that sense, they do not share European worries.

Migration has considerable downsides, however, as the journalist points out: “Libya has been negatively affected because it largely relies on foreign workers.” Today, however, foreigners no longer want to stay in Libya. Now there is a shortage of workers, and wages are increasing.

The worst problem, however, is organised crime. The revenues of people smuggling amount to hundreds of millions of euros. Local gangs have teamed up with armed militias in Libya as well as mafia cliques from Italy and Malta.

The power vacuum that resulted from the NATO intervention has thus not only undermined security, it has also given rise to a lucrative illegal industry. Daily life in Libya is nowhere close to the EU standards that people hoped for when Gaddafi fell. This disparity now defines Libyans’ idea of Europe.

Moutaz Ali is a journalist and lives in Tripoli, Libya.

Walid Ali is his brother and a researcher with a master’s degree in international relations.

Kategorien: english

“Swimming against the tide”

12. November 2019 - 14:21
Bangladeshi scholar Saleemul Huq assesses the role of the EU in international climate talks

In what sense is the EU important in climate talks?
It is extremely important because it is a block of rich nations which are still willing to be ambitious. By contrast, the USA under President Donald Trump is abandoning the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. His administration is now arguably the most corrupt government in the world. It has entirely sold out to the special interests of fossil fuel industries. The governments of other important countries, such as Japan, Australia and even Canada, have not declared intentions to quit the Paris Agreement, but they really aren’t doing much to live up to the promises made in Paris. The EU is thus the only block of prosperous nations that developing countries can still rely on in climate negotiations, and without its proactive stance in past talks, we would never have got the Paris Agreement. We must not forget, moreover, that the prosperous nations emit much more greenhouse gases than least-developed countries do. It is therefore good that the EU, as a big group of countries, is still committed to climate action.

European environmentalists find its action unconvincing however.
Yes, and they have a point. We should acknowledge, of course, that it is difficult to achieve consensus in a supranational orga­nisation with so many members. At the same time, there is an irritating ambivalence. Germany, for example, tends to be a leader internationally when it comes to spelling out ambitions, but your country is currently lagging behind the targets your own government set. Let’s hope you will speed up climate protection and not begin to lower the ambitions. The international community really needs to aim much higher. The climate crisis is escalating faster than even some of the most worried scientists predicted, but policymakers are not responding to the growing danger. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has evidently failed. In its context, we keep patting one another on the shoulder for all too moderate aspirations. At the same time, extreme weather keeps having worse impacts – from wildfires in California to drought in the Sahel region and the devastating typhoons, cyclones and hurricanes that build up over all three oceans. The multinational system is not working.

What do you want Europe to do in this setting?
At this point, I no longer expect much of governments. What I find inspiring is the energy and dynamism of protest movements like the school strikes or Extinction Rebellion. The young people understand that their future is at risk, and they are taking the lead. Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager, inspired millions of her peers to rally for climate protection. It adds force to their protests that they are skipping lessons and thus breaking rules. This international movement started in Sweden, spread to other European countries and is now mobilising young people everywhere. This is the spirit we need. We need global action to rise to global problems, and global solidarity must be the foundation. Nation states on their own cannot rise to the climate challenges. As governments tend to respond to public opinion, however, protests may yet make a difference, egging them on to more effective cooperation.

Is it a coincidence that both the school strikes and Extinction Rebellion started in Europe?
No, it is not. First of all, the young people want their governments to rise to the challenges and fulfil environmental promises made in the past. That is the same in the USA, where the young generation is demanding a Green New Deal. It also matters that international media are still dominated by institutions like the BBC, CNN or Deutsche Welle. They are based in prosperous nations and define what is considered important around the world. However, they really only take into account what is happening in their own world regions. Teenagers in Dhaka, our capital city, are just as worried about global heating as members of their age group are in Europe, but they cannot get the kind of attention that Greta got in Stockholm. The international media are only interested in our countries when we suffer disasters. They do not cover the legitimate policy demands we raise. Al Jazeera is different. It does not run the same headlines. The good news, how­ever, is that the climate protests we have been witnessing for about a year now are indeed international.

You say the multilateral system is not working. How do you assess the Sustainable Development Goals, which, by the way, EU members endorsed?
I think the SDGs are valuable. They are not legally binding, so they are only soft law, but they do reorient policymakers’ attention to crucial issues. Our prime minister, Sheikh Hasina Wajed, for example, keeps referring to them as a yardstick. She is also a UN champion, promoting the water SDG at an international level. It is crucially important, moreover, that the SDGs are a truly global agenda and not just something developing countries are supposed to finally take care of. That was what was irritating about the Millennium Development Goals. The SDGs emphasise global efforts, and that we need that, cannot be stated too often. My impression is that we are all swimming against the tide, but we have to keep on fighting. Perhaps we can still make a difference, and in that context, the SDGs are a resource.

Soft law is not enough for rising to global challenges though. We need binding commitments. Do you see the EU as a model for supranational governance?
As far as I can tell, various regional organisations are copying the EU approach to trade issues, establishing free trade areas, customs unions et cetera. How effective those organisations are, varies from region to region. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is more dynamic than the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), which has been hampered by India and Pakistan always being at loggerheads. However, not even ASEAN is doing anything to stop the human-rights offences against the Muslim minority in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, and Bangladesh must take care of the refugees on its own. So no, I don’t see supranational governance evolving according to the EU model.

Unlike most other regional organisations, the EU has powerful joint institutions, including an administrative body, a law court and a parliament. It has indeed pooled sovereignty. Is that desirable?
Yes, I think it is. I have lived in Britain with my family for two decades. We have dual citizenship. We very much appreciated the growing sense of a European identity which is increasingly supplementing many people’s national identity. The Erasmus programme which allows students to spend a semester at a university in another EU member country is wonderful in this regard. My son went to Spain. It is interesting to note, moreover, that many Britons now appreciate their European identity more than they ever did in the past. Before the Brexit referendum, the European flag was hardly ever seen in the United Kingdom. Now, “remainers” are displaying it all the time. That said, Brexit has proven incredibly disruptive and it has been distracting people from more urgent matters, especially the climate crisis.

But doesn’t the British government insist it will not trim down environmental standards?
That is what it says, but the deregulation agenda it is pursuing speaks a different language. The Brexiteers pretend that British industries will become more competitive once they are basically allowed to do whatever they want. Environmental regulations obviously limit that freedom. More generally speaking, I find it striking that climate denial is common among right-wing populists everywhere, and that is true of many Brexiteers too. It is quite evident that powerful fossil industries are supporting this trend. We know now that Exxon scientists accurately predicted how the climate crisis would evolve in the 1980s, so the top management must have known too. Nonetheless, fossil industries have always fought determined climate action and they still are doing so.

So they are running the show?
Well, apart from mass climate protests, there is another bright light: private-sector investors are now shying away from coal. Only governments worried about voters in coal-mining regions still invest in that sector. Who knows: if mass rallies manage to raise more awareness internationally yet, that may stop too.

Saleemul Huq is the director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) at Independent University, Bangladesh (IUB) in Dhaka. He is also a senior fellow at the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development.

Kategorien: english

Engulfed by the lake

12. November 2019 - 12:12
Fishermen on Zambia’s Lake Kariba are drowning in growing numbers

Early this month, in the latest instance of a series of tragic accidents, two fishermen drowned on Lake Kariba after a massive wave, driven by furious winds, hit their fishing rig and caused it to capsize. Two other fishermen on the rig survived. Last month, five fishermen drowned on Lake Kariba in separate incidents. In general, the rate of deaths by drowning for fishermen on the lake has been rising steadily in recent years.

The incident in early November followed a sadly familiar course: In the wee hours of the morning, a massive storm built up on the lake and overwhelmed the fishing vessels moored there.

The latest victims were based in Siavonga District on Lake Kariba’s northern shore. The lake, which lies along the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, is among the world’s largest man-made lakes by volume. The men had been fishing for kapenta, a type of sardine.

Drowning has become an increasing concern in other coastal regions as well. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), drowning is the third leading cause of unintentional injury-related deaths worldwide. In 2015, there were an estimated 360,000 annual drowning deaths worldwide.

The deaths, while tragic in themselves, also cast a cloud on the region’s economic future. After tourism, fishing is the second most important source of employment in the Siavonga district. In Zambia, fish is an important component of food security, with Lake Kariba accounting for 70 % of fish protein, according to the Fisheries Department.

Climate change is a likely cause of the series of drownings, since vessels that previously were seaworthy have proved no match for more powerful storms.  Missing upgrades to the vessels may also be an issue. “I suspect that the fishing rig sunk because most of these rigs have mechanical challenges,” said Felix Kanyembo, a Siavonga fish monger.

Accordingly, local authorities have called for tighter construction standards and other security measures to protect the lives of fishermen on the lake.

Others in the region see the problem entirely differently. Local folklore holds that ‘Nyami Nyami’ or ‘Water Spirits’ are causing fishermen to drown on the lake. According to African mythology, ‘Nyami Nyami,’ the River god who lives in Lake Kariba, is a serpent-like creature about three metres wide.

Some members of the local Tonga tribe who witnessed the construction of the Kariba dam wall in the 1950s add a further interpretation. They say the River god is married and that the building of Kariba dam wall separated him from his wife. To the tribesmen, the recent series of drownings is nothing more than the River god’s revenge.

Moses Haambote, a Siavonga resident, is one who believes this interpretation. Locals usually consult elders and perform rituals before going out on the lake, he notes. “If you ignore their guidance, you embark on a trip at your own risk,” he adds.


Derrick Silimina is a freelance journalist based in Lusaka, Zambia. He focuses on Zambian agriculture and sustainability issues.

Kategorien: english

Low and high-tech applications

7. November 2019 - 11:25
VENRO study shows chances and limits of digital instruments in development aid

Digital technology facilitate access to knowledge and give scope to political and economic engagement. They thus offer opportunities for improving the conditions many people live in. Moreover, digital applications can improve the efficiency, design, outreach and transparency of development efforts. Therefore, many NGOs are relying on such options.

One of the advantages is that not everyone involved in a project has to be at the same place at the same time. Data can be collected locally for evaluation anywhere else in the world. It has become easier to offer sustained schooling to Syrian children in Jordanian refugee camps or to children in Argentina’s remote areas. One app can even help refugees struggling with depressive and post-traumatic disorders wherever they may be. This app is available in several languages free of charge (see

The VENRO report provides an overview of various pilot projects as well as of the state of digitalisation in general. They range from low-tech (radio or SMS-based) to medium-tech (based on smartphones, tablets and social media) to high-tech instruments (such as the linking of smartphones, satellites and digital maps or the use of drones). What fits best in which context differs from case to case. The latest technology is not always the best choice. Established services such as text messaging often have higher impacts.

A prime example of a useful low-tech instrument is M-Pesa, the mobile-payment system many people in Africa depend on. It enables them to carry out financial transactions by text message and has become a driver of economic growth and social development.

According to the VENRO study, many technologies are still at an early stage, but could offer new approaches for rising to challenges in the future. For example, drones might serve to deliver pharmaceuticals to inaccessible regions. They could also be used to monitor deforestation and illegal action in general.

On the upside, digitalisation can thus be an important contribution to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (see Hackmann and Messner in the Tribune section of D+C/E+Z e-Paper 2019/11). At the same time, it poses new challenges for NGOs. The monopoly positions of multinational corporations such as Google or Facebook, insufficient regulatory frameworks and reckless profit maximisation may thwart development. Innovative methods of communication do not automatically bring about fairness or sustainability, nor do they necessarily deepen democracy. The flip side of the coin is manipulation, surveillance, censorship, intimidation and disinformation (see Focus section in D+C/E+Z e-Paper 2019/09).

The digital divide itself remains a major challenge. According to the VENRO authors, about half of the world population still has no access to the internet, and the people concerned tend to be marginalised in social and economic terms. They are the main target groups for developmental NGOs. It is worrisome, moreover, that many questions concerning the protection of personal data remain unresolved.


VENRO: Tech for Good. Möglichkeiten und Grenzen digitaler Instrumente in der Entwicklungszusammenarbeit von Nichtregierungsorganisationen (“Tech for good. Chances and limits of digital instruments in the development cooperation of non-governmental organisations” – only in German).

Kategorien: english

German farming technology for Ethiopian vocational schools

7. November 2019 - 10:38
The education sector plays a key role in advancing Ethiopia’s economic development

Ethiopia is a multi-ethnic country that is home to 100 million people and has incredible potential in the fields of agriculture, industry and tourism. In recent years, the country’s economy has seen some of the strongest growth in the world.

It is a nation with breathtaking landscapes, its own script and a history that stretches back thousands of years. Not without reason is Ethiopia called the “cradle of humanity”. The country was already inhabited about 3 million years ago, as proven by a skeleton discovered in 1974: “Lucy” is now housed in the National Museum in Addis Ababa. Coffee, an important export product, originated in Ethiopia, while other agricultural products include cereals and cut flowers. Agriculture is the cornerstone of the economy, accounting for more than 40 per cent of GDP and about 85 per cent of exports.

The education sector plays a key role in advancing the country’s economic development and creating opportunities for its growing population. Since the 1960s, KfW Development Bank has been committed to improving vocational schools and teacher training – including in the agricultural sector – and has provided more than EUR 1 billion to date. Problems that stand in the way of increased productivity: a low level of mechanisation, defective agricultural machinery and spare parts that are difficult to procure. In many places, there are no mechanics who can maintain and repair the machinery. In 2019, KfW Development Bank will provide EUR 8 million to twelve agricultural vocational schools to equip them with tractors and other “medium technology level” machinery on behalf of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). Teachers and students are trained in operation, maintenance and repair. To this end, a training cooperation was agreed with the German agricultural machinery manufacturer Claas, which supplies the necessary machinery including spare parts and – as the only company in the country – operates a training centre with twelve mobile workshops.

Samrawit Kiros Haylu has been working as a teacher at the Wukro Agricultural College since October 2018. She holds a bachelor’s degree in agricultural engineering and was one of the first to benefit from the practical training after the tractors arrived. What exactly does her job involve? “I work as a driving instructor – this of course also includes driving with auxiliary equipment like a plough. But I’m also responsible for repairs and maintenance, along with instruction in safety and theory.” About half of the almost 800 students and about 40 per cent of the teaching staff are women. And what is it like for male students to be taught mechanics and tractor driving by a woman? “When we have the opportunity as women to prove ourselves in a job, we are very tough and conscientious. A good prerequisite for successful instruction,” Samrawit says.

KfW, 2019: Africa – continent of opportunity.

Kategorien: english

Removing the chains

6. November 2019 - 12:19
A documentary film shows that respect for the mentally ill leads to de-demonisation

“Who among you is in chains?” asks Pastor Tankpari Guitanga, addressing the people who have come to his mobile consultation hours in Piéla in north-eastern Burkina Faso. A few people step forward or are led out of the waiting area by their relatives. They are wearing thick, rusty chains on their wrists or ankles that are locked with padlocks. Guitanga and his assistants saw the chains off in a literal act of liberation that often comes after years or even decades of confinement. The scene is captured in the documentary film “La maladie du démon” (“The demon disease”).

German filmmaker Lilith Kugler shows the fate that people with mental illnesses or epilepsy suffer in Burkina Faso. In the West African country, there are nine psychiatrists and about 100 psychiatrically trained nurses for 17 million residents. They all work in larger cities. In rural areas, relatives care for the affected people themselves or deliver them to prayer centres or traditional centres for the mentally ill.

In Burkina Faso, mental illnesses and epilepsy are thought to be caused by demons (see also Samir Abi in D+C/E+Z e-Paper 2019/06, Focus section) and are considered untreatable and, what’s more, contagious. For that reason, people are afraid of those who are afflicted. They lock them away, beat them, chain them up or just leave them to fend for themselves – even in the centres. In the film, a pastor who runs a prayer centre justifies these inhumane measures as follows: “Without chains, they will run away or kill themselves.” Medication is generally rejected. The pastor also says: “You just need to believe in God. Everything else is unimportant.”

In the worst cases, Guitanga explained at a podium discussion following the film’s German premiere in September, mentally ill people are even murdered. The reasons are fear and ignorance: “It is the incorrect interpretation of the disease that kills.” Guitanga founded the aid organisation Yenfaabima in order to educate people about mental and neurological illnesses and help those who are affected. In the beginning, Guitanga and Timothée Tindano, a psychiatric nurse, offered consultation hours once a month in Piéla. The dates were announced over the radio and attendance was huge. A treatment building was completed in 2017, and Tindano began working for Yenfaabima full time in March of this year. The work is being financed by donations that come in large part from Germany.

The treatment is based on administering medication. Tindano provides a diagnosis and prescribes drugs. Yenfaabima employees also ensure that the medications are taken regularly and advise patients and their families. Nevertheless, the film makes clear that local pharmacies have only two drugs on hand to treat psychosis and epileptic seizures. That is a problem that Guitanga is trying to solve: “We would like to import more medications and are making good progress towards that goal.”

Heinz Weiß, the head of the department of psychosomatic medicine at the Robert Bosch hospital in Stuttgart, pointed out at the podium discussion that prescribing medication is not enough: “You have to talk to the patients and their families.” Yenfaabima is trying to have these conversations, and the reintegration of sufferers into the community is one of their most important aims. According to Weiß, the work should also be integrated into the local health-care system. However, he does not see creating more psychiatric wards in hospitals as a solution. He says that’s because “placing people there is not much better than sending them into the nearest forest”.

“The demon disease” is being shown for educational purposes in Burkina Faso and Côte d’Ivoire. “The film has returned to the place it came from,” says filmmaker Kugler. “It creates an opportunity to talk about this issue and gives people hope.”


The German organisation “Friends of Yenfaabima”:

Documentary film “The demon disease”:

Kategorien: english

Why central banks should pay attention to environmental haza

6. November 2019 - 11:15
Policymakers must take potentially devastating impacts of the climate crisis into account

In one sense, however, climate damage in California is probably more telling than climate damage in Mozambique or Bangladesh. California is the paradigm of the American dream and of American success. Hollywood is in California, and so is Silicon Valley. This is where masses of people have migrated there in the hope of finding opportunity.

Today, however, the mood in California is gloomy. Don’t take my word for it; check out what Farhad Manjoo, a California-based journalist wrote about it in the New York Times under the headline “It’s the end of California as we know it”. If that is not convincing, you might want to read about what the doctor writes about evacuating a hospital full of patients because of an approaching wildfire, and having to ask a woman giving birth to a child whether she thinks she’ll make it in a few minutes or whether it would be safer to move her out to an ambulance.

No, this is not the kind of drama we expect to happen in one of the most advanced regions of the most powerful nation on earth. Normally, only people in less privileged areas face such existential threats and such a need to improvise. And yes, it matters that many Californians had to do without electric power recently for days on end. The utilities switched off the connections to reduce fire risks.

Trends often appear in California very early. Extreme weather is becoming more frequent. Storms, droughts and floods cause damages and increase risks of wildfires, landslides or collapsing infrastructure. All of this goes along with considerable costs. This is the new normal.

Prudent policymaking would try to reduce the risks, but as I explained last week, the economic modelling that normally guides policymaking does not take realistic account of increasing climate problems. The lack of determined action contributes to a general sense of uncertainty that makes investors shy away from long-term real-economy commitments. Other issues, including trade wars and the advent of artificial intelligence, add to the sense of uncertainty, but in my eyes the relevance of the climate crisis is vastly underestimated in this context.

The scenario is as bizarre as it is dangerous. On the one hand, policymakers systematically underestimate the risks we are facing, on the other, they tend to believe that the public is unwilling to accept any stringent policies that might reduce the risk. As a consequence, uncertainty keeps increasing, making it ever harder to calculate the probable future costs and revenues of any real-economy investment.

Left to themselves, market forces cannot sort things out. Market transactions do not take into account the interests of the two parties concerned. Considerations apart from what benefits them do not figure. Side effects and costs that affect other people are not taken into account. The market does not pay attention to the natural environment.

Therefore, government action is needed to restore confidence. Policymakers must respond to real dangers, setting the parameters that guide markets towards sustainability. That means that they must pass laws, regulate sectors and invest in climate appropriate infrastructure. Given the urgency of global heating and currently spectacularly low interest rates, there is no serious reason why they should keep shying away from deficit spending for purposes of climate protection. Debt-financed climate protection makes sense. A balanced budget, by contrast, does nothing to reduce the serious environmental hazards we are facing.

It is peculiar, that this debate has hardly taken off. The Green New Deal that some progressive Democrats are proposing in the USA makes sense. In general, however, governments still largely shy away from the determined action needed. Some central bankers have begun discussing the topic however. It is no coincidence, of course, and some of them have also been spelling out that governments should spend more to stimulate economies in view of low interest rates and sluggish private-sector investment activity.

Christine Lagarde, the new president of the European Central Bank, has already said that she thinks that monetary policy should respond to climate risks. One option could be buying government bonds issued in order to finance climate friendly investments. What the ECB will do under her leadership remains to be seen.

Most likely, Lagarde will face opposition within the ECB system. Jens Weidmann, the president of Germany’s Bundesbank and member the ECB’s decision-making, has already warned that monetary policy should not be overburdened. “Our mandate is price stability, and the implementation of our monetary policy must respect the principle of market neutrality,” Weidmann has said. “And there could be conflicting goals as soon as monetary policy dictates that you need to step on the brake and reduce the purchase of bonds.”

I’m not sure that Weidmann is really prioritising the right thing. There can be no monetary stability without environmental stability. The idea that fighting inflation will be more important than fighting climate change in the next few years is absurd. German economists have been obsessed with inflation risks for more than a decade, but actual inflation is still below the ECB target of two percent. At the same time, economies around the world are held back by investors’ deep sense of uncertainty. Climate research, however, is deeply worrisome. We reported on dramatic findings here and here and here. I could easily add more links. We do not know what the financial implications will be, but we know they will matter very much.

Inflation may actually prove quite painful in a way most German economists are not taking into account, however. If grain harvests fail simultaneously in several world regions, food prices will rise fast and dramatically. Developing countries will feel the worst pain, but the impacts may well be awful in rich countries as well. Monetary policy, however, will not be of any help.

When Lagarde took office on 1 November, environmentalists rallied in front of the ECB and demanded climate action. Many of them were teenagers. They understand that environmental sustainability is actually more important than – and a precondition of – price stability. It is true of course, that the impacts of the climate crisis are not as obvious in Europe yet as they are in California. Waiting for them to become that obvious would be irresponsible.


Kategorien: english

No place for the Twa

5. November 2019 - 13:58
Burundi’s smallest ethnic group fights for a voice

Minani is a Mutwa (the singular of Twa) from Cibari in the northern province of Muyinga. He lives with his wife and six children in a hut that consists of only one room. “When it rains, it rains in,” Minani says. “We have no fertile land to farm; we live from pottery but it is increasingly difficult to find clay.”

Karorero from Buganda in Cibitoke Province in the west of the country has a different problem. He can find plenty of clay but struggles to find buyers for his pottery. He says the Hutus and Tutsis today use modern household and kitchen utensils and have stopped buying the housewares that the Twa make. Twa are now forced to work as hired hands on other people’s land. Minani and Karorero both feel that their ethnic group is being discriminated against.

Burundi’s constitution of 2018 formally recognises the Twa and requires that they be represented in the National Assembly by three co-opted deputies. Co-option is based on lists of proposed candidates submitted by Twa organisations in the various regions of the country. UNIPROBA (Unissons-nous pour la Promotion des Batwa) is one of those organisations. However, it rejects co-option and fights instead for fair representation for the Twa across Burundi’s institutional landscape.

Libérate Nicayenzi, a member of UNIPROBA and representative of the Twa on Burundi’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, says: “For various institutions, the constitution prescribes that Hutus and Tutsis should be represented on a 60-40 basis. So where do we fit in? How does that prescription square with Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights’?”

Emmanuel Nengo, who is also a member of UNIPROBA, stresses that discrimination is only one of the Twa’s problems; many more stem from poverty. Children are not sent to school, for instance, or they are taken out of school early because they are needed at home to make pots. They also lack school materials. According to Nengo, development is out of the question if people have no land to farm, no proper housing and no education.

Nicayenzi points out that the Twa should also do some soul-searching themselves. She appeals to all Twa parents to cast off old conventions and send their children to school. Even the government would like more cooperation from the aboriginal inhabitants. A local official from Muyinga complains: “When a philanthropist builds houses for the Twa to raise their standard of living, they immediately sell the roofing sheets.”

Mireille Kanyange is a journalist and reporter for Radio Isanganiro in Burundi.

Kategorien: english

Agriculture without emissions

5. November 2019 - 12:03
Political will is the most important driver of climate-neutral agriculture

According to the IAASTD (International Assessment of Agriculture Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development), the food sector, including all its upstream and downstream industries, generates up to 37 % of global greenhouse-gas emissions. A significant share of methane and nitrous oxide emissions, 44 % and 82 % respectively, results from agriculture.

It is very difficult to make reliable calculations in this sector. For the purpose of this essay, however, precise figures are not essential. What matters is the general outlook.

On the one hand, enormous quantities of carbon can potentially be sequestered by photosynthesis and by organic matter in the soil. This phenomenon is called “negative emissions”. On the other, such emissions can be released again at any time as “positive emissions” through harvesting, ploughing, deforestation, fertilisers and digestion.

Some farming practices maximise negative emissions in the long run. That is desirable and it also distinguishes industrial from climate-friendly cultivation.

Humus-rich soil and forests can endure for centuries. They are permanent CO2 sinks. Among others, this mechanism should be used to gain the time needed to reduce to zero the emissions of the entire world economy (see also Katja Dombrowski’s essay on the IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land in D+C/E+Z e-Paper 2019/09, Monitor).

The conversion of forests and natural areas into arable land currently causes most of agriculture’s greenhouse-gas emissions. In second place are methane emissions from cattle farming and wet rice cultivation. In crop cultivation, the most important emissions result from the production and use of mineral nitrogen fertiliser.

Organic fertiliser matters too. When used to boost plant growth, excrements generate negative emissions, since they ensure the plants’ nutrient supply and enrich the soil with organic matter. If the fertiliser is used, however, it emits greenhouse gases through volatilisation, erosion and decomposition.

The following basic guidelines are important for limiting emissions caused by land-use changes:

  • As many forests and other ecosystems as possible must continue to serve as carbon sinks and fulfil other vital functions. Accordingly, existing fields must not only be farmed in a more sustainable way. Their productivity must be maximised as well.
  • Arable land is used to grow either food for people or animal fodder and raw materials for bioenergy. Ever more land is being used for that latter purposes. Since the global population is increasing, we must not allow human meat consumption to grow without limit. Otherwise, the climate will take more harm.

The demand for greater agricultural productivity does not mean that more and more inputs are needed. Indeed, inputs can and must be reduced. The following goals and principles should guide the sustainable reorientation of agriculture:

  1. It is possible and necessary to provide everyone with an adequate supply of healthy food.
  2. Negative emissions must be increased (humus, leguminous crops, agroforestry).
  3. Nutrient cycles must be closed and synergies used.
  4. Climate justice demands better growth opportunities for African agriculture – and that means the international community needs to allow fertiliser budgets for them and reduce mineral fertilisers in the other parts of the world.
  5. Appropriate technical, institutional and social innovations to sustainably improve efficiency in agriculture.

Crop cultivation and land use

Let’s start with nitrogen. It is, after water, the most important driver of plant growth, which is why ever more mineral fertiliser is being used. The problem is that both its production and application generate considerable emissions. The use of nitrogen fertiliser could be cut in half if:

  • its application were targeted,
  • good manure management were practised and
  • leguminous crops, which capture nitrogen from the atmosphere, figured more prominently in crop rotation.

Leguminous crops are so-called “protein plants”, including peas, beans, soybeans, peanuts and clover, as well as many other varieties of shrub, tree and algae. They are an important part of the solution. These plants carry bacteria inside their root nodules (rhizobia), which allow them to fix atmospheric nitrogen. They cover their own nitrogen requirements, with positive consequences for successive cultures or mixed cultures. If this natural mechanism were employed more extensively, significant quantities of nitrogen could be generated. That means negative emissions. There are synergies in regard to soil quality and nutrition moreover. Protein plants are part of a healthy diet, and the inclusion of these cultivars in crop rotation reduces the incidence of plant diseases and pests. Proper soil management can improve natural soil fertility and stimulate humus formation. It is important to grow legumes and use vegetable biomass as mulch.

Depressingly, the use of mineral fertiliser is increasing around the world. Africa is the big exception. Per hectare, only a tiny fraction of the global average is applied in this continent. The main reasons are high prices and low accessibility. Most African countries import mineral fertiliser and hardly produce any themselves. For this reason, and because of high transportation costs, fertiliser is much more expensive in Africa than elsewhere. Generally speaking, African smallholders cannot afford mineral fertiliser – at least not beyond the tiny, state-subsidised amounts.

At this point in time, however, it is still difficult to imagine the increase in productivity that Africa urgently needs happening without further application of mineral fertiliser. African agriculture needs access to affordable mineral fertiliser if it is to boost its productivity. Application elsewhere must be reduced accordingly if the generation of additional greenhouse-gas emissions is to be avoided.

In other words, the use of mineral fertiliser must be rationed on a global level. The redistribution in Africa’s favour is essential – not least because its population is growing fast. Agricultural productivity must keep up. To strike the balance, the global north and many emerging markets must reduce their dependence on mineral fertiliser. Nitrogen pricing would serve that purposes by making fertiliser more expensive. Such a policy could help drive a shift to more leguminous crop cultivation, mulching and the application of organic fertiliser with animal excrements (including manure). Another relevant resource would be pretreated wastewater from municipal utilities. It contains nitrogen and phosphates. The point is that humanity needs approaches that cut across many sectors in order to close nutrient cycles and to use synergies.

More fruits and nuts

According to Pablo Tittonell, a professor of agro-ecology, people today are producing 40 % more grains than are actually needed to feed humanity in a safe and healthy way. It is certainly important to store grain reserves in case of emergencies, but 40 % of the total annual need is obviously too much. Therefore, the share of cereal cultivation could be scaled back in favour of other, more diverse crops.

Tittonell also says that humanity could get along with half of its current cattle population without suffering nutritional harm. Indeed, diets would actually become healthier. Make no mistake: this proposal does not apply to African smallholders who often depend on their few animals in order to operate. What is at stake is the industrial-scale feedlots in the EU, Latin America and elsewhere. They generate an excess of emissions and facilitate the overconsumption that harms the health of masses of consumers.

In order to feed people a healthier diet, Tittonell argues that more fruits and nuts would be more beneficial than expanding industrial beef production. A change in land use in this direction would also mean that the trees and shrubs that nuts and fruit grow on would capture carbon emissions. Essentially, this solution is very simple. A large share of the current grazing land for cattle must be planted with trees and shrubs. That would drastically reduce methane emissions and sequester CO2.

Such a transformation will take time. Above all, it will require prudent policymaking and effective awareness raising. Policy tools and incentives must be designed in such a way that this transformation will pave its own way. By contrast, prohibition and appeals to personal renunciation tend to backfire.

Wet rice cultivation is a very important area of food production. Because of its methane emissions, it is also relevant to the climate. One possibility of reducing emissions is more efficient cultivation that incorporates azolla (an aquatic fern and leguminous crop) and fish production in flooded rice fields. In addition, emissions can be reduced through rice or root intensification, with higher yields being achieved with fewer seeds. The methane output per kilogramme of rice can thereby be reduced. At the moment, scientists are working hard on researching varieties with lower methane outputs.

The soil as a carbon sink

Soil management is a core aspect of making agriculture climate-neutral. In addition to decreasing reliance on mineral fertiliser, slurry must no longer be applied without straw. Instead, it should be applied as manure. That would reduce emissions as well as run-off. The goal is to create fertile, humus-rich arable land that is rich in organic matter and the associated soil life. Such soil is also a carbon sink. An important policy instrument to achieve this goal is site-specific livestock farming. The acceptable number of animals must be linked to the size of the landholding, so the land can be fertilised without problem. Such policy interventions will make meat more expensive.

Organically saturated soil should also not be ploughed, because ploughing can release trapped carbon. Furthermore, soil should always be protected from wind and weather so that it does not dry out and is not eroded. Conservation agriculture (CA) fulfils all of these conditions. CA is already widespread in the US and Latin America, although it is carried out there in combination with the herbicide glyphosate. Weeds are the major challenge of the CA approach, since in no-till farming they can no longer be ploughed under. Nonetheless, the use of glyphosate is not necessary as practices in Africa show. The disadvantage of CA is that it is more labour- and knowledge-intensive than using the plough. This problem could be solved, however, with the help of technical innovations and education.

Closing nutrient cycles

Emission-free agriculture requires the use of treated municipal wastewater and other cross-sector approaches that impact non-agrarian practices. Using it to promote plant growth closes nutrient cycles.

Comprehensive approaches will often have societal dimensions. For example, in the Sahel region, herders could cooperate with crop farmers. Crop farmers could use animal manure and herders could graze their animals on crop residues. Such win-win constellations were once established by traditions, but those traditions have been abandoned. They should be reintroduced.

All of these climate-protection measures create positive synergies (for other locally adapted opportunities see article on climate-smart agriculture by Michaela Schaller in D+C/E+Z e-Paper 2017/11, Tribune).

Together with an effective policy framework and a willingness in society to embark on something new, this kind of transformation is feasible worldwide. Achieving it would mean climate neutrality or even additional negative emissions in the agricultural sector. At the same time, it would facilitate the production of adequate amounts of healthy food.

What is missing is the political will

Political will and public awareness are the most important drivers of climate-neutral agriculture. The preconditions for bringing about a shift in the private sector are effective incentives, well-designed taxes and the redistribution of subsidies, for instance from land subsidies for agriculture to payments for environmental services. The private sector has to be part of the transformation. It must innovate, and those innovations must be geared toward sustainability.

The global north, which is largely responsible for bringing about climate change so far, must pay for the lion’s share of agrarian reform. The more it creates opportunities for people living in rural areas of the global south, the more beneficial it will be. Life in the countryside would once again offer prospects for the future – and that effectively addresses the causes of migration.


Info on IAASTD (International Assessment of Agriculture Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development):

Pablo Tittonell’s TED talk “Feeding the world with agro-ecology”:

Susanne Neubert is an agricultural economist and ecologist. She directs the Centre for Rural Development (SLE) at Humboldt University Berlin. On 1 November 2019, she joined the team of contributors preparing a flagship report on climate change and land on behalf of the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU).

Kategorien: english

How the climate crisis is slowing down the world economy

5. November 2019 - 11:19
Global environmental change is a cause of investors’ much bemoaned uncertainty

Paul Krugman, the economist, Nobel laureate and New York Times columnist, has picked up a new habit. He now keeps reiterating that uncertainty is hurting economies around the world. His core argument relates to trade disputes. As no one knows how things will evolve, investment activities are slowing down. Business leaders who depend on open borders are afraid that their business plans cannot work out, but the same is true of business leaders who would benefit from protectionism. He argued so here and again here.

Krugman’s argument is certainly valid. Other causes of uncertainty include the unresolved Brexit drama or the rise of artificial intelligence, as Krugman and other economists often point out. What they only rarely mention is the climate crisis. I am sure it plays a huge role.

We have been witnessing inadequate investments in the real economy for over a decade, starting with the financial crisis of 2008. Interest rates are low in all major economies because savings exceed the demand for loans. The background is that businesses usually need loans for investing. If they don’t invest, they don’t go into debt, and that means we get a savings glut with low interest rates.

The climate crisis is certainly one of the underlying reasons. Energy is essential for basically every industry. It is increasingly clear, however, that fossil fuels must be phased out. What will happen is most uncertain because policymakers so far have not taken the necessary decisions. The international community still pretends basically that business can and will go on as usual. Responsible business leaders who ponder long-term investments, however, know that the energy system is set to change at some point in the not-too-distant future. They also know that this will require determined political action, but they cannot tell what form it will take. Accordingly, they cannot be blamed for dithering.

As the climate crisis escalates, moreover, the uncertainties related to it increase too. This is something else smart investors are aware of. What does it mean for food production that pollinators are becoming ever rarer? How will wildfires affect real estate prices in California? What if China or some other large market suddenly bans cars powered by petrol or diesel?

Climate deniers cast doubt on science, but I am sure that many investors do not believe them. And the climate deniers are even wrong when they say that the studies they do not like are alarmist. Unfortunately, the opposite is true. Climate researchers are keen on building and protecting their academic reputations. Therefore they want to appear to be sober and rational. They definitely prefer making conservative forecasts to alarmist ones. The truth is that we are feeling the impacts of global heating earlier and with greater force than most climate scientists expected.

Economics is the field of science which is perhaps the least aware of climate challenges. Nicholas Stern of the London School of Economics and Naomi Oreskes of Harvard University spelled out why in New York Times.

Let me briefly summarise the main points:

  • If economists take climate issues into account at all, they rely on the forecasts of climate scientists which, as just argued above, tend to be conservative.
  • Economists need numbers they can use in their models. Climate science, however, often does not offer sufficiently precise figures. The result is that even environmentally-aware economists do not include the changing climate in their models. They are afraid that someone might accuse them of “making things up”. Rather than run that risk, they consciously construct models that leave out important, but not precisely quantifiable issues. The models are distorted, therefore, and support a wrong feeling of security.
  • This tendency is becoming increasingly problematic. The more the environment changes, the more  distorted the models become. Things like rainfall, sunshine, wind et cetera. used to vary a bit from year to year, but basically stayed the same on average. That meant that economic models did not have to take account of them, because they were basically “stationary”, as the technical jargon has it. Stationarity, however, has already become a victim of the climate crisis.
  • Compounding these problems, tipping points are likely to further accelerate global heating. Risks are set to cascade faster and faster. Obviously, that makes them even more difficult to model. At the same time, the impacts are likely to prove even more important. Economists’ models are becoming ever more inadequate.

Diminished faith in forecasts

Anyone who wants to make long-term investments in the real economy normally takes into account leading institutes’ economic forecasts. So you might now think that the climate crisis cannot be hurting investment much since the forecasts do not really take it into account. I am sure that this is not so. Let me explain:

  • For one thing, trust in economic forecasts has decreased dramatically in the past decade. One reason is that so few economists predicted the financial crisis in 2008.
  • For another, entrepreneurs, just like scientists and other human beings, are not entirely rational creatures. Their gut feelings matter very much, and some business media, including for example the Financial Times or The Economist, have never downplayed climate change. Smart observers have known for at least two decades that conventional economic forecasts are incomplete and that environmental change is a real threat.
  • Moreover, debate on the validity of our understanding of growth has gained momentum in recent years. Natural disasters cause massive harm, but they also drive economic growth to the extent that they trigger additional spending. GDP statistics basically count monetary transactions, but the loss of buildings, infrastructure and natural resources do not figure. Clever investors are aware of these things and worry about them.

As a matter of fact, leading central bankers have been pointing out that the climate crisis is real for some time. Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, is a prominent example. Private-sector managers tend to pay attention to people like him. Christine Lagarde, the new president of the European Central Bank and former managing director of the International Monetary Fund, similarly says that monetary policy must take climate issues into account. No, these things do not feature in the modeling yet, but yes, they matter very much.

I am therefore absolutely convinced that environmental uncertainty has been a drain on the global economy for at least a decade. The international community expected the climate summit in Copenhagen to conclude a global agreement in 2009, but the summit failed. Prudent investors must have taken note. No doubt, this kind of uncertainty has been driving the much bemoaned short-term thinking in the business community and a preference for financial-sector investments over real-economy investments.

This is a problem the private sector cannot sort out by itself. I plan to return to the topic soon.  

Kategorien: english

Policy recommendations

30. Oktober 2019 - 11:17
Rural revitalisation is essential for transforming rural areas, not only in Africa

As IFPRI spells out in the recent “2019 global food policy report”, it is possible not only to end hunger and malnutrition, but also to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and to protect the climate. It will take evidence-based action geared to rural revitalisation in all world regions. Relevant steps include:

  • Adopt a “rurbanomics” approach. This means appreciating the interlinkedness of rural and urban economies and grasping the opportunities that arise from it. Rurbanomics does not simply concern the relations of rural areas with mega-cities. Small and mid-sized cities matter very much.
  • Transform agri-food systems to benefit both rural and urban areas. Agriculture must be seen as a business enterprise that can nutritiously, safely and sustainably feed all.
  • Scale up agricultural productivity and invest in the rural non-farm economy to create wage-earning opportunities, particularly for disadvantaged population groups, including the poor, women and youth.
  • Improve living conditions in rural areas, by providing better access to social protection, boosting basic services and supporting a healthier and more climate-resilient environment.
  • Reform rural governance to improve accountability. Policy outcomes depend on well-funded budgets, capable staff and transparency. (sf/ob)

International Food Policy Research Institute: 2019 Global food policy report.


Kategorien: english


30. Oktober 2019 - 10:20
Revitalising rural areas means improving infrastructure and boosting people’s opportunities

The deadlines to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris climate goals draw ever closer. The ambitious imperative of the SDGs is to “leave no one behind”. The implication is that we must urgently revitalise rural areas, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Now is the time for a dramatic, system-wide transformation to make rural areas more productive, more sustainable, more climate-resilient, healthier and more attractive places to live.

Around the world, rural areas benefit less from economic growth than cities. Rural people make up to 45 % of the world population, but bear a disproportionate burden of poverty, malnutrition and poor quality of life. South of the Sahara, poverty and malnutrition are relatively high – and that is especially true in rural areas.

The global poverty rate is 17 % in rural areas, but only seven percent in urban areas. Rural people comprise 70 % of the world’s extremely poor. In sub-Saharan countries, 82 % of the extreme poor live in rural areas. Rural areas lag behind urban areas in reducing rates of child stunting (low height for age). They often lack basic infrastructure und services. Consider, for example, education, health care, roads, water, sanitation and hygiene. At the same time, rural areas are exposed to ever more pollution while natural resources are dwindling fast. The climate crisis is exacerbating the challenges.

Today, African countries are working on the revitalisation of rural areas. They want to sustain and accelerate progress.

African opportunities

One opportunity is rapid urbanisation. Small and mid-sized towns matter in particular. To meet rising urban demand, agricultural production must increase, and that means better livelihoods for farmers and those involved in agribusinesses.

Several countries – Ethiopia, Kenya and Niger, for example – have scaled up investments in irrigation. The benefits include longer growing seasons, more scope for crop diversity and the mitigation of weather risks.

Some countries, including Ethiopia, Mali and Morocco, have increased agricultural mechanisation, enhancing productivity along the supply chain. This approach improves the business environment, by fostering domestic machinery businesses, facilitating investments in human resource-development and triggering interest in research.

Growing urban food demand offers opportunities too. In Senegal, new processing technologies have fuelled a rapid expansion in small firms. They specialise in ready-to-cook and ready-to-eat millet products. Many new employment opportunities are thus emerging in the agri-food system’s off-farm segments.

In Nigeria, 45 % of all food spoils due to a lack of refrigeration. The potential for solar-powered cold stations has been recognised and is already being tapped.

To take advantage of the opportunities from urbanisation we need to strengthen the interconnectedness between rural and urban areas. High-quality roads and electricity are critical to bringing food commodities from farm regions to urban markets. From 2012 to 2016, African governments have been investing an average $ 30 billion in infrastructure annually. Private investments in solar power have surged. This technology can drive refrigeration and rural enterprises. Multilateral institutions are aware of infrastructure needs and promoting investments in both the public and private sectors.

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) can make a difference. Thanks to digitalisation many of the institutional, physical and technological obstacles can now be overcome faster and at lower cost than previously assumed. The price for mobile internet, for example, has dropped by almost one third in Africa in the past four years.

ICT is relevant for smallholder farmers who want access to financial services. Mobile money applications are spreading from country to country. Penetration rates are high in many countries, including Kenya, Mali and Senegal. More generally speaking, rural finance must improve – from banking to insurance.

Famers who want to diversify must be empowered to finance investments. In Nigeria, innovative start-ups are mobilising potential investors in crowdsourcing models. In numerous countries, mobile-based hiring services for machinery, tools and related inputs have been introduced. Such innovations make sense and should be scaled up. The impact on women and youth deserves particular consideration.

Learning from others’ experiences

African countries are working collectively to sustain and accelerate progress. In 2018, African leaders launched the Africa Agriculture Transformation Scorecard and the Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP) Biennial Review. Both tools serve accountability. Moreover, 49 countries signed the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, which will create a single African market for goods and services, along with free movement of businesspeople and investments and the elimination of import duties.

One essential driver of rural revitalisation is “rurbanomics”. This approach emphasises the interrelatedness and interdependency of rural and urban economies. The point is that urban growth creates rural opportunities. Rural and urban areas must be partners, and rural areas can do much more than produce commodities. They should be seen both:

  • as launching points for national, regional and global value chains and
  • as providers of indispensable environmental services.

Indeed, rural revitalisation goes far beyond agriculture (see box). It includes the development of non-farm opportunities. Accordingly, cutting-edge technology and innovation are linchpins of rural growth.

There is ample evidence from around the world that rural revitalisation can dramatically improve rural residents’ lives. One example was South Korea’s Saemaul Undong (New Village Movement) initiative in 1970. Investments in irrigation, agricultural inputs, electrification and transport and related efforts led to farm households’ income increasing fivefold within a decade. They caught up with urban counterparts. More recently, in Bangladesh, investments to improve rural roads reduced extreme poverty by three to six percent while boosting enrolment in secondary school for both boys and girls.

Rural governance must also be revitalised. Local governments should be held accountable for the delivery of high-quality services. China chose this approach when it announced a new strategy in 2018 to close the growing rural-urban income gap. The goal is to improve the quality of rural life.

Obviously, ICT can prove useful in this context. Widespread access to mobile phones can help otherwise disconnected citizens to get involved in public affairs or business.

The rurbanomics approach, moreover, has health dimensions. Obesity is increasingly haunting developing countries, but consumer preferences are changing too, especially in cities. Rural farmers could shift to more nutritious and high-value foods, such as fruits, vegetables and animal-sourced foods. Scientific and technological innovations would help retain the value of these nutritious products throughout the supply chain.

Shenggen Fan is the director general of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

Ousmane Badiane is IFPRI’s Africa director.

Kategorien: english

Paradigm shift: focus on investments in Africa

30. Oktober 2019 - 9:52
With the initiative “Compact with Africa”, BMZ aims to support Africa's economic potential

Sub-Saharan Africa shows robust economic growth of 3 per cent on average; Ethiopia, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Rwanda are even higher than 7 per cent. The population is also growing rapidly: Africa’s population will double by 2050. The continent will have the largest labour supply in the world by 2035. 20 million new jobs will be needed every year. To actively address the challenges, the countries of the African Union adopted Agenda 2063 in 2015.

This is the starting point for our cooperation: we must help our African partners to better leverage economic potential and create more jobs. The private sector can and must make a much bigger contribution to sustainable development. Against this background, the German Federal Government is now increasingly focusing on improving overall investment conditions. This was also the aim of the Compact-with-Africa initiative launched under the German G20 presidency in 2017. In “compacts” between individual African countries, international organisations (World Bank Group, African Development Bank, IMF) and bilateral partners, all participants coordinate concrete measures to mobilise local private-sector investment.

The Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) also established a new cooperation model to implement Agenda 2063 of the African Union: the reform partnerships. Under these partnerships, we strengthen the principle of personal accountability and ask for more reforms and personal contributions from our partners. The first pilot projects are underway in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Tunisia. In Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, the reform partnership focuses on the private sector’s expansion of renewable energy and energy efficiency; in the reform partnership with Tunisia, cooperation focuses on the financial and banking sectors. Since 2017, the BMZ has supported the implementation of the first three reform partnerships with additional funds totalling around EUR 800 million. Three other reform partnerships with Ethiopia, Senegal and Morocco are set to be finalised by the end of 2019. The new “Special Initiative Training and Employment” and the Development Investment Fund also support private investments with EUR 1 billion.

First successes: reform partnership in Tunisia

In Tunisia, the reform partnerships have triggered important reforms in the financial and banking sectors. For example, the anti-corruption authority was expanded and the state credit guarantee fund was reformed to enable more investment in reliable overall conditions.

Dr Stefan Oswald is Head of Directorate-General 2, Marshall Plan with Africa; displacement and migration.

KfW, 2019: Africa – continent of opportunity.

Kategorien: english

Cooperation with Africa has never been this exciting!

30. Oktober 2019 - 9:14
Africa has many resources and opportunities, says Helmut Gauges, head of the head of KfW’s Africa Division

Which three challenges do you see for Africa that KfW also has to deal with?

At first glance, the challenges are very similar to those of other continents and developing countries. The biggest problem in Africa is poor governance, dysfunctional government administrative structures and widespread corruption.

The second serious challenge is inadequate infrastructure in all areas. The inadequacies are much greater than on all other continents – they span education and health systems, but also transport systems and energy and water supply. For example, it is more expensive and takes longer to transport goods from one side of Africa to the other than from China to Africa.

The third major challenge is the rapidly growing population that continues to grow. Africa has a very young population structure, combined with the risk of high youth unemployment and lack of opportunities.

I would also like to mention a fourth challenge, which is perhaps not yet quite as visible: we are all talking about climate change, about an increase of two degrees in the global average – this poses a particular challenge for Africa, because there is no resilience or capacity to deal with the consequences of the change. This means that droughts in parts of Africa will continue to increase, while severe weather events will increase in other areas and ultimately the food supply will dwindle. Take the example of Mozambique, which has already been hit hard by two cyclones this year. Incidentally, malaria has also returned to the country with the floods.

If all four challenges are taken together, it’s easy to predict that migratory pressures will increase – if we don’t overcome these challenges.

Africa is high on the agenda – also due to the issue of migration. What does this mean for KfW Development Bank?

The migration and refugee flows that we have experienced in recent years have made it clear to politicians and society that Africa’s problems are not just problems faced by a neighbouring continent. Europe’s well-being is inextricably linked to that of our neighbour Africa. A prosperous Africa is essential to achieving sustainable growth and stability, both in Africa and in Europe. Human trafficking and illegal migration can only be overcome if there are economic prospects for young people. In this respect, one of the measures adopted by both the German Federal Government and the European Commission is to increase funding for development cooperation in Africa, and this of course also applies to KfW. As a result, we have significantly increased our FC commitments with Africa.

You have travelled to Africa many times to have a look at projects on the ground. What has made a lasting impression on you and what makes you optimistic in spite of the challenges?

When you are on site, you can see and measure the progress that’s been made. For example, you meet children who are happy they are allowed to go to school; women who can now take family planning into their own hands.

We meet mothers who have got access to safe drinking water so that their young children don’t become ill or even die from water-induced diseases. We see households with electricity – where the people who live there can now read and study in the evening. Not to mention the many young entrepreneurs that we extend loans to and who want to grow their businesses and create new jobs. These observations are underpinned by socio-economic evaluations that show significant progress in terms of life expectancy, infant mortality, school enrolment rates, growth rates and more.

The image of Africa conveyed in the media, poor and without hope, lost in wars, plagued by epidemics – is not the full picture from the ground. Sure – the positive trends just mentioned are not as newsworthy as the renewed outbreak of Ebola or a military coup...

Africa is a very, very rich continent. Africa has so many resources, for example, the potential for renewable energy – enough to supply the entire continent, but untapped to date. Africa has wind and hydropower but also solar energy – with twice as much potential as Germany. Experts estimate the capacities for solar energy at 9,000 to 11,000 gigawatts – in Sub-Saharan Africa. By way of comparison: in 2016, the region generated a total of only 122 gigawatts.

So, Africa is a rich continent and there are good reasons to be optimistic. The potential has either not yet been fully exploited or is unevenly distributed.

What new approaches is the German Federal Government pursuing and how is KfW helping to implement them?

The German Federal Government has realigned some things with its focus on Africa. The Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) has presented a Marshall Plan with Africa that addresses the above problem areas with an integrated and partnership-based approach and supports six selected “reform champions” in “reform partnerships”. In these new partnerships, reform commitments are agreed as well as substantial financial support, i.e. requirements and expectations are defined. Where we can, we finance these reform efforts both with the BMZ’s federal funds as well as with our own funds. The reforms aim to improve the overall conditions for private investments. We at KfW Development Bank support partner governments, for example, in reforming the energy sector, expanding a deposit guarantee fund to improve financing for small and medium-sized enterprises and in risk hedging for private-sector investments. We are seeing the first reform steps, for example in Tunisia, and are confident that other countries will follow suit.

Last but not least, I want to mention that we are working very hard on the development investment fund of EUR 1 billion announced by Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Africa Summit. The aim is to support European and African companies, both in the SME sector and young innovative enterprises, with their investments in Africa. Given the scale, this will trigger completely new catalysts to stimulate economic development in Africa.

Cooperation with Africa has never been this exciting!

The questions were asked by Susanne Schröder.

KfW, 2019: Africa – continent of opportunity.

Kategorien: english

Narendra Modi is a Hindu supremacist, not a reformer

28. Oktober 2019 - 12:55
The Economist is still downplaying how dangerous India’s prime minister is

International business media have been celebrating Modi as a liberaliser and reformer for many years. When he became prime minister after the general elections of 2014, they expected fast action would set free market-driven dynamism in India. Many foreign journalists fell for Modi’s campaign rhetoric. What they consistently failed to note is how deeply his populist roots are. He is, after all, the leader of the BJP, a party that belongs to a vast Hindu-supremacist network with an age-old agenda of Islamophobia.

International media liked to pretend that Modi was merely using the BJP and its vast network of supporting organisations. It did not occur to them that things were actually the other way around. Modi used business-friendly rhetoric to promote his Hindu supremacism. Five years later, observers who have been paying attention, should understand that.

In its special report, The Economist admits that Mr. Modi’s first five years in office proved “in many ways wasted opportunity”. It goes on to state that he “has seemed more intent on following another side of his character, consolidating personal control, punishing political foes and pursuing Hindu nationalist ideological goals”. Nonetheless, the author keeps reiterating the hope that Modi will finally opt for the first persona, but cannot avoid mentioning many reasons to expect the opposite. In view of the facts the report spells out, its headline “The two Modis” is misleading (

Modi propaganda

It is plainly not enough to acknowledge the many warning signs. The Economist is still downplaying many of those that were evident right from the start. For example, its only  mentions that deadly riots that marked Modi’s tenure as chief minister of Gujarat in a single sentence: “Addressing concerns raised by his failure as chief minister of Gujarat to prevent a pogrom in 2002 that left 2000 people, mostly Muslims, dead, Mr. Modi declared that sabka saath – all together – would mean sabka vikas – development for all.” Obviously, 2000 dead deserve more attention than this.

Phrasing things this  way serves Modi’s propaganda. He has always pretended that he could not do anything to stop the violence. That is absurd. He was the chief minister of the state and thus in control of its security forces. Moreover, he was a top leader of that state’s Hindu-supremacist network. The BJP is linked to the RSS, which has formal and informal ties to many other organisations that promote Hindu dominance. The RSS was originally modelled in the 1920s after Italy’s Fascists and was always driven by identity politics. Modi himself is an RSS apparatchik. If there is any political force in India that can moderate an aggressive Hindu mob, it is the RSS.

The RSS, however, has a long history of aggressive agitation. The man who murdered Mahatma Gandhi was inspired by its ideology. Some of its leaders, moreover, demanded the demolition of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya in 1992 in order to build a Ram temple in its place, and a huge Hindu mob actually tore down the mosque in December, triggering riots not only all over India, but also in Pakistan and Bangladesh.

The Economist only mentions in passing that Modi rose through the ranks of the RSS and did not get much formal education. It should have spelled out that he is not only a creation of the RSS but was long considered one of its hardliners. The RSS ideology is about Hindu grievances, about subjugation under Muslim and Christian rule and about turning India into a Hindu-dominated world power. His mindset was obviously shaped by divisive identity politics, and hate crimes have increased since he came to power.

It is true that some Hindu extremists think that Modi should have done more to promote their cause as prime minister. I find it more important that he never disowned him. Moreover, he has been preparing the grounds for more radical action in the future by tightening his party’s grip on institutions. As the author K.S. Komireddi has aptly put it, India has become a “malevolent republic” under Modi.

I am sure that his intention was always to reinforce aggressive identity politics once the economy would slow down, which is exactly what is happening now. The Economist hopes the worsening economy will make Modi rediscover his reformer instincts. I wonder why the author believes he has such instincts in the first place. I think it is much more likely that Modi, as any leader with strong autocratic leanings, wants to exploit crisis to mobilise his base by hounding minorities and reinforcing divisions in society.

Increasingly aggressive stance

As Arfa Khanum Sherwani recently argued on our website, his stance is increasingly aggressive. Downgrading Muslim-majority Kashmir from a state with a special status to a mere union territory controlled by the national government is an affront that pleases the Hindu-supremacist base. Denying Muslim people in Assam citizenship simply because they lack proper documentation serves the same purpose. Policy measures of this kind are likely to trigger violence, and riots can spread throughout the nation and its neighbouring countries fast. Anyone who expects Modi to act in a more responsible manner than he did in Gujarat plainly disregarding history.

The Economist report mentions these things and correctly expresses the worry that things may go terribly wrong. Indeed, it states that Modi’s authoritarianism “threatens many of the freedoms that make his country so successful”. It also warns that Indians would be dismayed “if he ends up breaking their democracy”. And yet the author writes that Modi “can still choose whether to continue pursuing politics as a zero-sum game, where the winner takes all, or to recognise that it is healthier for India to have a level playing field.”

The problem with that statement is that there really is nothing in Modi's track record to suggest he has any interest in a level playing field which would depend on human rights, constitutional freedoms and fair competition. As The Economist author admits, BJP leaders want to make India “Congress-free”. No, a ruling party that wants to get rid of the main opposition party is not interested in a level playing field. Bear in mind that Modi was shaped by the RSS, and it is unlikely that he can shape it in reverse to a similar extent.

Moreover, Modi’s track record does not even prove any interest in market dynamism, apart from occasionally doing the bidding of powerful industry leaders. The Economist praises the recently announced decision to cut corporate taxes in an attempt to stimulate the economy, but fails to point out that this measure cannot have a strong impact on a predominately informal economy. Informal businesses do not pay taxes after all. 

Yes, Modi did introduce something like a value-added tax in a much needed reform, but it was based on what previous governments had planned and turned out overly bureaucratic. It would be wrong to deny that he has introduced some change, but it was mostly unspectacular or even minor. Casting the little progress made as omen of much more to come is overblown. At the same time, his failures deserve more attention than The Economist pays them. His most radical economic policy, moreover, was demonetisation. Invalidating the vast majority of bank notes on short notice caused severe hardship in late 2016 and later, but it did little to thwart corruption. The Economist mentions it briefly and has nothing good to say about that “reform”.

The Economist should have delved deeper into this matter. That would have helped to convey a clearer message: One of a government intent is to display strength at any cost, but not really focusing on delivering results. There really is no reason to hope for a new reformist zeal in Delhi. Modi is a right-wing populist who resembles US President Donald Trump in many ways. The Economist is doing a good job of pointing out Trump’s many shortcomings. It should criticise Modi in an equally scathing manner.

Of the two, Modi is actually the more dangerous potential autocrat. The most important reason is that he has the support of the RSS, a decades-old, efficiently-managed cadre organisation that orchestrates a vast network of offshoots.

Komireddi, K. S., 2019: Malevolent republic. A short history of the new India. London, Hurst / Delhi, Context.


Kategorien: english

Sounding the alarm

25. Oktober 2019 - 11:29
IPCC report paints a bleak picture of the state of the world’s oceans

Sea levels are currently rising twice as fast as they did in the past century. This is due on the one hand to the large-scale melting of ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica and on the other to global heating and the associated expansion of seawater.

To date, the oceans have absorbed more than 90 % of the excess heat in the climate system and up to 30 % of the greenhouse gases emitted since the 1980s, the IPCC reports. However, the buffer capacities could be exhausted very soon. As the special report on the state of seas and ice sheets published in September warns, the result would be the catastrophic acceleration of changes in the global climate system.

The reduction of Arctic sea ice matters too. Ice reflects solar radiation, so a frozen Arctic Ocean is shielded from large amounts of energy input. By contrast, the open ocean can heat up considerably, preventing the formation of new sea ice. According to the IPCC, this self-reinforcing effect could make the Arctic ice free in summers by the end of this century. The scholars state that it will contribute significantly to global warming.

Tropical cyclones are set to become more damaging moreover. Many of the more than 7,000 studies that are the basis of the IPCC report predict that their average intensity and the associated precipitation will increase permanently if global temperatures rise by two degrees on average. Other extreme weather events will become more intense or happen more frequently as well.

As sea levels rise, stronger storms will further exacerbate risks of coastal flooding. Experts reckon that, by 2050, many coastal megacities will experience at least once a year the kind of flooding that previously would only happen once per century on average. The same is said of small islands. The IPCC report warns that millions of coastal people are set to lose their homes. Some island states may even become uninhabitable.

Coastal ecosystems such as mangrove forests and coral reefs normally protect the coasts from storms and erosion. However, almost half of the world’s coastal wetlands have been lost in the past 100 years. The IPCC authors view this development with concern. Compounding the problems, the loss of warm-water coral reefs will adversely affect food security and tourism. The decline in biodiversity undermines fishermen’s livelihoods. Increasing ocean acidification, sea heat waves, oxygen loss, pollution and increasingly frequent harmful algae blooms also have detrimental impacts on the diversity of species.

The higher sea levels rise, the more difficult coastal protection becomes. Many of the measures taken so far are not ambitious enough, the scholars insist. While efforts to manage the risks have been increasing, action too often remains half-hearted and inadequate. For example, marine protected areas and water management systems tend to be fragmented. Holistic solutions across sectors and administrative jurisdiction are needed.

The IPCC report still sees scope for effective coastal protection reducing the risk of flooding worldwide by half. Billions of dollars would have to be invested for that purpose. In densely built-up coastal regions, dikes and other artificial constructions are perhaps the most cost-effective measures. Elsewhere, the authors recommend ecosystem-based adaptation strategies, such as the reintroduction of mangroves and seagrass meadows. This would not only strengthen water quality and coastal biodiversity. It would contribute to climate protection because coastal ecosystems absorb carbon. Ultimately the report leaves no doubt that all mitigation measures and adaptation strategies must be implemented fast.

IPCC, 2019: Special report on the ocean and cryosphere in a changing climate.

Kategorien: english

Four wheels of Zero Budget Natural Farming

25. Oktober 2019 - 10:46
Why the government of Andhra Pradesh, a South Indian state, is promoting organic farming

Why is organic farming so important for India and other developing countries?
Our planet is facing dramatic environmental change. We are now living in the sixth mass extinction, and it is a result of human activity. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that we must urgently change land-management patterns internationally (see Katja Dombrowski in Monitor section of D+C/E+Z e-paper 2019/09).

Otherwise, average temperatures will rise more than 1.5 degrees – with dire consequences. Smallholder farmers and their families as well as landless agriculture workers are the least responsible for the climate crisis, but they face the gravest consequences. Rainfall is becoming ever more erratic. Dry spells and drought are worsening. Ground water is being depleted. Unseasonal rains and heavy storms are causes of concern too. Crop failure is becoming ever more likely. All countries therefore need solutions that ensure land is not degraded, soils are not eroded and farmers do not become distressed. One option is Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF), our form of organic farming.

What exactly is ZBNF?
ZBNF promotes poly-cropping, the simultaneous cultivation of several useful plants. “Zero budget” means that the costs for the main crop are recovered from the other crops. “Zero budget” also means that this kind of “natural farming” does not require expensive external inputs. All inputs needed are generated on the farm itself. Our regenerative agriculture with holistic land-management practices relies on the powers of nature. ZBNF was pioneered by Subhash Palekar, a charismatic rural farmers’ leader who has been advocating this for more than 20 years. It also builds on the work of many other eminent persons. The four principles – or “wheels” as we say – are:

  • Beejamrutham: microbial seed coating through cow urine and cow dung-based formulations.
  • Jeevamrutham: enhancing soil microbiome through application of an inoculum made from uncontaminated soil, cow dung, cow urine and other local ingredients.
  • Achhadana (mulching): keeping the ground covered by cover crops and crop residues all year.
  • Waaphasa: build-up of soil humus with enhanced soil porosity and soil aeration.

Pest management is important too, of course, and ZBNF uses natural resources such as cow dung, cow urine, botanical extracts et cetera. Moreover, inter-cropping and poly-cropping, including trees, also help to manage pests. We do not use synthetic chemicals at all.

But wouldn’t high-tech high-yield approaches be more profitable?
Well, we must first define what that term means. Nature is actually a very sophisticated and highly productive system. The complex networks of microbial populations below the ground are drivers of plant growth. For instance, about 25,000 kilometres of fungal hyphae are estimated to exist in a mere cubic meter of healthy soil. The hyphae have an important role in the exchange of nutrients. If chemical fertilisers and pesticides are applied, these networks are destroyed. A real high-tech approach must therefore build on a proper understanding of nature. The farmers are experimenting all the time, their knowledge is evidence-based. Hence, I see respecting their knowledge as “high tech”. The guiding question is not just how much we can grow in one season but how much longer can we have green growth in a year.

Is your method feasible on all farms?
In Andhra Pradesh, we work with all types of farms – subsistence farms, small holdings and large farms. However, most of the 572,000 farmers enrolled in our ZBNF programme are subsistence farmers or smallholders with less than 0.8 hectares. Only 11 % have more than 1.6 hectares.

Can ZBNF feed India or indeed the world?
Yes, it can. Our experience shows that ZBNF crop yields do not decline over time. Mulching with a 365-day green cover actually intensifies farming in a sustainable way. The point is to keep even rain-fed lands covered with live crops all year long. By contrast, the current industrial agriculture system has undermined food security, not least because nutrition values have dramatically declined.

Have scientists tested the validity of your approach?
Well, in my eyes, the farmers themselves are the greatest researchers. They see season for season what works and what does not. However, we have also cooperated with academic research institutes:

  • The Centre for Economic and Social Studies (CESS) in Hyderabad is conducting socio-economic impact assessments.
  • The Nairobi-based World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) is evaluating the impact of ZBNF on soil fertility, water-holding capacity, biodiversity et cetera. They are also evaluating performance and impacts.
  • Scientists from the University of Reading in the UK are studying the impacts of ZBNF on soils and crop growth.
  • The Bangalore-based think tank
  • C-STEP (Centre for the Study of Science, Technology and Policy) is assessing how ZBNF reduces water and energy consumption.
  • The Delhi-based think tank CEEW (Council on Energy, Environment and Water) is checking what ZBNF does in regard to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as well as what this approach can contribute to reducing fertiliser-subsidy expenditure.

How do you reach out to new farmers?
To fully transition to ZBNF, a village needs support for up to seven years, and individual farmers require up to five years. To spread the information, we rely on community resource persons (CRPs). These men and women have made the transition, performed particularly well and have been trained to teach others. They typically coach other farmers in neighbouring villages, where, after two to three years, new pools of CRPs can be identified. This peer-to-peer approach is very effective. What also matters is that all field officers of the State Agriculture Department are trained in ZBNF and are held responsible for supporting the CRPs.

Why is the empowerment of rural women an important dimension of ZBNF?
Women do a large share of the farm work. They till the land, rear cattle and other ruminants. They contribute labour for all farm activities, including sowing, weeding, harvesting, watering et cetera. At the same time, they are agents of change. Teaching a woman is akin to teaching a family. Any farming discourse is incomplete unless men and women of the household are involved. Women’s self-help groups, moreover, are very important for reaching out to new farms. In rural Andhra, some 7.5 million women are organised in about 730,000 self-help groups (SHGs). They can now mobilise many more people. This movement started two decades ago, basically as savings and credit groups. They are well networked and campaign for social change, health issues, livelihoods et cetera. The SHGs and their federations have become a transformative force. To a very large extent, ZBNF fits their goals, and accordingly, they have become important promotors of our approach. Many of our CRPs belong to this network. They understand the negative implications of chemical food for the health of their families and the adverse effect agrochemicals have on the soil.

Vijay Kumar Thallam is an advisor to the Department of Agriculture and Cooperation of the State Government of Andhra Pradesh and is leading the implementation of the ZBNF programme in Andhra Pradesh.

Kategorien: english

Our correspondent was found dead

24. Oktober 2019 - 15:57
We mourn the death of our Zambian colleague Humphrey Nkonde

Humphrey was deeply committed to the area he covered and took interest in its communities. He was eager to serve the public by providing information and was involved in investigative journalism.

He started to contribute to D+C in 2016, reporting on many relevant issues. His most recent article was about what reduced rainfalls mean for food security and electric-power supply.

We do not know the circumstances of his death. Given that we are based in Frankfurt, we cannot do any meaningful research. However, we gather from reports on African websites, that the police found Humphrey's body and buried him immediately. Apparently, his family members say that he died by suicide, but his colleagues and his employer, Mission Press, a Catholic outfit, are unconvinced.

We know that he was planning to attend a conference on investigative journalism in Hamburg shortly before he died. We find it bizarre that someone should take his life briefly before embarking on an important trip abroad. Humphrey had told members of our team that he was excited about the conference and eager to attend.

None of our team members has an in-depth understanding of Zambia, nor do we know Ndola. We do know, however, that in many countries, people would read a situation like this as a journalist having been murdered because he was about to reveal secrets that some powerful person or group did not want to become public. In such places, his family's suicide theory would be interpreted as a response to further threats of violence. 

It does not make sense for us to speculate about what happened to Humphrey from afar. We find it troublesome that we are living in times in which violence against journalists is increasing in many countries. As far as we can tell, Humphrey's death requires further investigation.  (E+Z/D+C)

The full list of Humphrey’s D+C contributions:

Kategorien: english