Environment


Today is 15 October 2009 and Blog Action Day 09 is here! Blog Action day sees bloggers around the world write blogs on an issue that affects humanity and this year the theme is CLIMATE CHANGE

I thought I would add a twist to it by looking at climate change and poverty as I strongly believe that these two go hand in hand in the parts of the world where my work is based.

On the whole the people I work with in East Africa are in rural areas and live off the land. This means that they rely on the land for food and financial security. In a typical village with a woodland and river streams, the trees and land will provide building materials for shelter, fuel and the river will provide water and fish. The trees are cut down both for fuel but also to make charcoal that is sold on mostly to city and town dwellers. They also rely on the land to provide recreation and entertainment!

How I hear you ask, well for a start they grow all the ingredients for fruit juice and alcohol, and again trees and animal hides are used in the making of music instruments. There are no cinemas, theatres, Supermarkets, there is no electricity and they cannot turn a tap on for water. This is their lot!

The other type community I work with are slum dwellers. These are mostly folk that have left the sort of life I have described above to try their luck in the city! They live in the most appalling environment you can imagine and I would argue that the folk in rural setting have a much better quality of life than the slum dwellers. Their environment is littered with plastic bags, stagnant water that attracts malaria causing mosquitoes, they may have electricity but this is unreliable and expensive and therefore the most popular fuel here is charcoal and paraffin. They often cook in the same room they sleep in.

The activities of both these communities are bound to have an impact on climate change through land degradation and activists have started to take action to get folk in these communities to change their ways.

On my last visit to Uganda in May this year I met a coffee  grower whose family have grown coffee for 50 years! His entire crop is being threatened by a virus called coffee wilt, the same virus affects banana trees. This is a real threat to his livelihood. Coffee trees need shelter from the harsh African sun and this shelter  is provided by the banana trees. The same land is used to grow vegetables such as beans, carrots and potatoes in a system called inter cropping.  This means that the household has food security and income from coffee.

One morning old man Hassan had a visit from a government official who requested that he gives up part of his land to plant pine trees in order to help the environment. The pine trees would be provided for free and there maybe a cash incentive too! Old Man Hassan said NO and I asked him why?

I have two daughters due to go to university and that has been possible because of coffee and they are about to cost me more in fees and maintenance for  pre=”for “>whislt at university over the next 4 years. How will afford to keep them at University if I cut down the coffee trees and plant Pine instead? furthermore, how will we as a family feed ourselves if we give over the land to Pine growing?

I could see his reasoning, there is no welfare state to take care of his basic needs, he has  no hope of accessing AID to help him directly with his priorities as he sees them, should he care about planting more trees for the sake of the environment?

I have recently written about the effects of plastic bags on poverty in the developing world and you can read about that here.

Plastic bags are also the route cause of sewer blockages and this is leads to stagnant water in city slums that attract mosquitoes. Our reaction here in the developed world has been to send mosquito nets. In this CNN report Ozwald Boateng and his colleague Hassan Kimbugwe ask why not get rid of the sewers that provide a breeding ground for mosquitoes?

Mbuya slum, Kampala Uganda

These slum dwellers have found ways of earning an income and cleaning up the environment at the same time. A project in Burkinafaso sees women collecting plastics bags from their streets and making handbags out of them, whilst the women in Uganda make beads out of paper . These projects are very exciting from the point of view that they provide income for the women but also provide a means of recycling both paper and plastic in countries where recycling is not part of the fabric.

They are some tough questions that remain, one that springs to mind

Can we realistically protect the environment and lift folk out of poverty at the same time?

Route N2 Madagascar

We here in the west are demanding more recyclable materials such as Sisal and as we can’t grow them the developing world is growing them for us. But did you know that this may involve cutting down forests or woodlands?

laundry Antisarabe Madagascar

As usual if you have a view or thoughts on any of the issues raised here please share them

Advertisements

The debate to save the environment continues all over the world, folk. An item that many of us have used for years and perhaps continue to use without due regard is the plastic bag.

The dangers of plastic bags on ocean life are well document but some folk may not be aware of how plastic bags contribute to poverty in Africa and other developing countries.

How, I hear you ask? Well imagine this, in developed countries when we think about assets, to most of us it’s the homes we own, valuable jewellery etc in some developing countries especially in rural areas, their assets are goats, cows, sheep and other live stock. These are what people trade to send children to school, buy anti malaria tablets etc.

Most African countries do not have the means to recycle plastic bags; in addition some folk are not yet aware of the dangers of carelessly discarding plastic bags.

Imagine therefore if you will a situation where a family wakes up and their prized goat is dead because it swallowed a plastic bag that was carelessly disposed of! I have seen this with my own eyes and the despair in people’s eyes when they realised what had happened

Some African governments such as the Ugandan government have realised the effect of plastic bags on the environment and outlawed them in 2007 and incredibly whilst in some circles this was welcomed there was outrage in others.

Some amongst you may donate clothing to send out to Africa, like plastic bags there are no facilities to recycle nylon and other artificial fabrics; these too end up on agricultural land causing untold damage. Please therefore bear this mind, next time you donate an item of clothing to be sent out to Africa.

There is one thing that doesn’t make sense even to me, African women weave the most amazing baskets, which are environmentally friendly, and are free unlike the plastic bags, why then do folk out there chose to use plastic bags instead?

It is the final day of the G8 meeting in L’Aquila Italy. The issue for discussion as I understand it is help for African farmers and reduction in Food AID to Africa and the overall aim is bring about food security and reduce poverty.

I am encouraged by proposals to increase grain storage, irrigation projects, availability of seeds and fertilisers as way forward to reducing world hunger and extreme poverty. This is all great stuff, but I can’t help but wonder how it will work out in practice

We know about farmer’s subsidies here in Europe and the US and we also know that there is an over production of food most of which ends up as FOOD AID in Africa.

We agree that in emergency situations this is necessary. What is questionable is whether this food actually gets to those that need it. You will recall the case of the Canadian Peas?
In addition Food Aid/dumping as it is called in some circles kills local industry remember the case of the Zambian farmer?

W e also know that some parts of Africa have too much food whilst others don’t. Do we know how we can get this food from parts of Africa that actually need this food?

What about the extreme weather conditions, floods, lack of rain leading to poor soil condition etc not to mention diseases that affect the plants such as the banana and coffee wilt in sub-Saharan Africa? How do we tackle climate change? One thing for sure those in the developing world appear to be the worst hit by extreme weather conditions leading to disease, loss of shelter, food security amongst other things.
These are all big issues that will require the commitment of all stakeholders in order to effect change.

My wish list,
• I would like to see initiatives that work directly with individuals on the ground
• I would like to see more skills sharing with people in the developing world, they understand their environment much more than we will ever do
• I would like to see a system that enables African farmers to sell their food to other African countries that can’t grow enough. This might be achieved through increased food storage facilities as well as grain storage
• I would like to see a reduction in Food Aid from Developed countries as I believe that food could be provided from parts of Africa that have too much food. That would give those countries the incentive to grow more food, create jobs etc

Your thoughts please?

Strange question you might think  and like my friend Margs you would probably think I have lost the plot, her answer to this question was “I would make a beef Casserole”!!

But when Helen Kongai a woman  in a remote African village in Easterrn Uganda it literary changed her life.  Helen’s story is typical of a lot of women that escaped the war in nothern Uganda, with her husband, mother and son dead, Helen  faced a bleak life until the charity SEND A COW came to her rescue by giving her a cow.

I listened to Helen’s story on BBC Radio 4 with great interest. her story should give some comfort to those who support the charity SEND   A COW as they can hear first hand the impact of their contributions on other’s lives. The reason this story interests me is two fold, I am a great believer in “giving people the tools to face day to day challenges” or helping them help themselves out of poverty.

Helen said something that resoanted with me: in certain parts of Africa women are still treated as personal property of men. This might mean   when the husband dies  the woman’s  place in society may die with that man or that as in Helen’s case she loses her material possesions since her inlaws may not regonise her as a person in her own right.

Projects such as SEND A COW or ETHNIC SUPPLIES LTDgive such women a sense of identity, the right to be who they want to be, a chance to earn an income using their skills and best of all diginity. 

Helen was given a voice and a chance to share her story and in her own words and incredibly she does not ask for more AID. Helen is currently touring UK farms and is sharing her skills on sustainable farming in the light of increased climate change

If you would like to change people’s lives, the way that Helen’s life was changed please get in touch http://www.ethnicsupplies.co.uk/contact/

There is no doubt that these are tough times folk and I find myself in a reflectived mood today. The wet weather here in Maidstone Kent, from where I am writing this from has not helped.

The G20 nations are due to meet in London next week and I understand that on their agenda are questions how to tackle the current economic down turn that has left many folk workless as well as homeless.

It was reported on the news this morning that this upcoming meeting has aroused some raw emotions from environmentalists, campaigners for more jobs, as well as those who blame the financial institutions for the current economic situations. And to that end several demonstrations are underway as folk strive to get their voices heard by the powers that be.

An hour ago, I was engaged in a conversation by a fellow guest here at the Ramada Hotel in Kent. After the initial general questions the converasation soon turned to the upcoming G20 meeting. She is especially interested in all issues to do with the envrionment, I must confess, apart from religion, this is a topic that I would rather not get drawn into. I find it emotive and frankly I don’t know much about it.

For instance this lady wnated to know from me if it is ok to buy peas and Mange tout brought into the UK from Kenya? She informed me that the folk in her network and family believe that the process by which the peas and Mange tout get here is bad for the environment. But she doesn’t agree with them since the production method is mostly by hand or hand held tools, which in her mind offsets any carbon emmissions.

I on the other hand believe that farmers in the developing world should have access to as many markets as possible as their best hope out of poverty is the ability to trade. This is not only sustainable but it ensures that other than waiting for handouts they are helping themselves out of poverty. The question then becomes one of which is more important, the climate, employment or justice?

This lady wanted and answer from me! We spoke at length about  AID to African countries. 

In particular Food AID.   Africa as a  continent made up of some of the poorest countries on earth most of which are dependent on all types of AID from donor countries. Some of  this AID doesn’t make sense at all when put in the context of ending poverty, climate change and human rights

This is a strange thing for me to say, you might think. But hear me out if you will. Some parts of Africa have got an awful lot of food much more than folk can consume whilst others have none at all.

 Imagine  this , what if some of this food was shipped to parts of the continent that need it as oppossed to flying peas, Maize, sugar etc form the USA to Somalia, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia etc? What impact would that have on climate change and poverty amongst African farmers?

The twist in the tale here is that AID in the form FOOD AID doesn’t always get to the people that need it. Here is an example of what I am talking about http://ethnicsupplies.blogspot.com/2008/09/food-distribution-in-uganda.html#links

Don’t get me wrong I am not against helping disadvantaged folk in the world. I am however concerned that this is sometimes done without due regard, and consequently a culture of dependency results. This happens in West too especially in the Housing provision area. This giving of FOOD AID can kill off local farmers markets completely.

Second clothing was the other topic for discusion. What about the second hand clothing charities send to out, the lady asked me? Sadly this too kills off local produce like cotton as demand for such textiles dies off, and as far as the environment is concerned, most developing countries may lack the technology to process artificial fabrics like Nylon, when they come to the end of their useful life!

I have seen goats/cows that have died as a result of eating these artificial fabrics as well as plastic bags. The sad thing about this is that where these goats and cows are all the assets folk have to sell to pay for children’s health care an education!!

As we parted company she asked if I have ever considered being  a Politician,. The answer came very quickly NO. I don’t mind working alongside politicians but I would not want to join them.

Thniking about the G20 generally and the issues at stake, the failure of the economy has no doubt hit the poorest the hardest regardless of where in the world they are, the sad thing as articulated by the Brazilian President this week, the current situation was not credited by developing countries.

My question then is , Where do we go from here on issues, climate change, worklesseness and justice? Have you got a viw either way if so please share it.

Will the G20 meeting have answers to these issues?

These were the questions put to a panel made up of Kate Allen from Amnesty International, Andy Atkins from Friends of the Earth and Barbara Crowtherfrom the Fairtrade Foundation last Saturday( 28 February 2009) night in Woking Surrey.

These are all important issues that face us all but perhaps more so folk in the developing world. My take on this is poor people suffer the worst human indignity known to man, live in the most appalling environments, (if you have been to shanty towns  South Africa you may know what I am talking about) and pay the most for services and goods. The question is what can be done to correct all this?

In terms of fairtrade, I must agree that a lot has been done to highlight the plight of developing country producers and having met one of them on Friday 27 Feb 2009, I realised how important it is to have someone that advocates for these folk. you can read more about that farmer here .

The question I had for Barbara, was “why is it that cotton is certified as a FT product but the textile out of the cotton isn’t” another was “why can’t value be added to Coffee for instance at the country of origin so that the farmers can earn more and those governments can collect more by way of tax revenue? Credit where credit is due, Barbara acknowledged that the FT foundation could do more work in this area and that they have started looking at it especially in South Africa.

Human rights, I must admit Kate’s job can’t be easy and possibly takes her and her colleagues in some of the msot dangerous places one earth. My interest in this area is premised on property rights for women. In my view women are very important to the economic development of African economies in particular,  but the lack of property rights especially agricultural land and housing rights lives them and their children vulnerable to abuse an potentially a life time of poverty.  Kate’s job cannot be easy in this area in particular especially as in some part of the world women are still perceived as the personal property of the man and over the last two years I have met an awful lot of women in that situation, without a voice or anything to call their own. How do we change this? One way would be an increase of formal education for women.

Andy had a sense of urgency about him that left you in no doubt that if we don’t do anything about climate change today then we are heading for some tough and frightening times ahead.  He called for the World Trade Organisation rules to be re written and with emphasis on social and environmental consideration as well as for business to behave more sensibly. He made an interesting note too, it appears the recession has had the impact of reduced emissions as factories have closed. But how are those people that used to work in the factories managing financially.

Do you feel like we are in a Catch22 here? I certainly  do  and have more questions on this matter

Can climate change /environmental degradation be avoided altogether? How easy would that be? Can the poor afford to care about the environment? these are not easy questions and I certainly do not have the answers to them.

When I lived in Uganda and worked in a town called Jinja I used to drive through a forest that seemed to go on for ever before I got my destination, and one could hardly see beyond  a few yards for the thickness of the forest. I went back to Uganda in August 2008 and had the chance to head east and drove through the same  forest.

http://www.ugandatourism.org/Mabira%20Forest.php

I was surprised at what I saw, most of the trees had been cleared and some of the land was  being used for food growing, another reason the trees had disappeared I was told was people cutting them down for fire wood and charcoal. Although folk here could use solar energy as opposed to cutting down an entire forest they do not have the means  to tap into such technology.

What they do is entirely reasonable as far as they concerned, they are using whatever is available in their environment to stay alive, earn a living etc.  We here in the west may not have such concerns but the actions of these folk may have implications for us. It therefore appears to me that one way forward would be to work with such folk and help them develop technology that would help them use what is in their environment without damaging  it.

Travelling further east towards the town of Jinja at the source of the River Nile and you find remnants of what was the Owen falls dam a source of hydro electricity, but with water levels so low, not enough electricity can be generated, to export to neighbouring countries such as Tanzania and Kenya, consequently power outages are very common in most towns in Uganda.

Imagine if you will a barber who would earn more money cutting hair with an electrical trimmer as opposed to a pair of scissors. It is Saturday when he can expect to make the most money but at 12 noon there is a power cut for 4 hours!  The poor chap has no access to a power generator as he can’t afford one, but a another barber down the road whose shop is located inside a 5 Star Hotel has no such problems as the Hotel has a power generator.

What are you are views

Is there a time to be Fair? Is climate change more urgent than global poverty or human rights?