Friday, December 28, 2007


Here is another of my favorite stories. I like this type of story because it concerns young people taking the lead and taking charge in making the world a better place.

FORGE Founder & Executive Director Kjerstin Erickson grew up working in community service. She has worked as a peer educator, a mentor for troubled youth, a liaison for the deaf, a representative of the California Youth Council, a Chair of her County’s Youth Volunteer Corps, and a program participant of Tomorrow’s Leaders Today.

As a junior in high school, Kjerstin traveled with her family to Kenya for a photo safari. The glaring lack of basic resources inspired Kjerstin to focus her humanitarian efforts on Africa.

In 2001, Kjerstin entered Stanford and began pursuit of a degree in Public Policy and African Studies.

In July of 2003, FORGE Founder and Executive Director Kjerstin Erickson was one of eleven Stanford University students to travel to Botswana to work in the Dukwi Refugee Camp as a pilot project for the World Refugee Academy. Touched and inspired by the refugees she met from all across the African continent, Kjerstin came to see refugees as a neglected solution to many of the issues that plague sub-Saharan Africa.

Immediately following her summer as a leader of the World Refugee Academy Pilot project, Kjerstin embarked on the SS Universe Explorer to circumnavigate the globe through the study abroad program, Semester at Sea. Tanzania was one of the nine countries on the Semester at Sea Fall 2003 itinerary and, after developing a passion for refugee issues in Botswana, Kjerstin wanted to provide an opportunity for other Semester at Sea students to do the same. Since safaris were the only trip options offered by Semester at Sea, Kjerstin organized a trip for students to visit a refugee camp. Under her leadership, a group of 18 students traveled to the town of Kigoma on the western boarder of Tanzania. There, they met with refugees, orphans, health officials, and local aid workers in an attempt to understand the capacity of non-governmental institutions to affect change in a foreign environment.

When they returned to the ship, this group of 18 students committed themselves to raising awareness about refugee issues. Soon, the shipboard community was abuzz and inspired. Their passion and desire to contribute was palpable. Not wanting to see such incredible energy to go waste, Kjerstin set out to create a mechanism to harness this potential. Given her previous experience working in refugee camps, Kjerstin recognized that a similar organization could be created on a much larger scale.

Thus, the idea for FORGE began to develop. Applications were put out, and, after a lengthy interview and decision process, the pioneering 25 members of the first FORGE team were selected.

It soon became clear that FORGE was something special. After creating their own micro-service projects, raising over $80,000 USD, and meeting with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Rudd Lubbers, it was obvious that the FORGE team members were more than average college students - they were ambassadors to the world.

As FORGE grew in numbers, so it grew in impact. Now going into its fourth year of operation, FORGE has brought 100 ‘Project Facilitators’ to Africa, served communities of over 70,000 refugees, and implemented more than 60 community development projects. And FORGE is still young.

In 2008, FORGE is embarking on a new project model that transfers Project Facilitator responsibilities directly into the hands of refugee leaders within the communities where FORGE works. From 2008 forwards, all FORGE projects will be designed and implemented by the communities themselves. FORGE is confident that this model will bring a new level of impact and provide an even stronger foundation for the future prosperity of the African continent.

Forge also has a Newsletter and you can subscribe here .


One of FORGE’s program is a very successful microfinance program. Below is how FORGE describes how this program got started.

The FORGE Micro-Finance Program

The FORGE Micro-Finance Program represents FORGE’s Microfinance division. In its first year of existence, it has provided loans to 112 individuals, allowing them to transform their lives through economic self-sufficiency.

The FORGE Micro-Finance Program is very different from traditional microfinance initiatives. Instead of simply giving and recollecting loans, the FORGE Micro-Finance Program ensures that all of its loan recipients are fully prepared to start a small business. Before receiving their loan, all loan recipients must go through a two month training process. The educational curriculum was developed in conjunction with highly experienced academics and is taught by FORGE’s exceptionally talented and well-trained refugee staff. The curriculum focuses on entrepreneurship, business principles, accounting skills, all specially-tailored to the African refugee small business setting.

With hundreds of new loans in the works for 2007, the positive impact of the FORGE Micro-Finance Program is expanding quickly. The FORGE Micro-Finance Program, led by International Relations Director Esther Chou (FORGE Meheba ’05), Communications Director Nayeli Vivanco (FORGE Meheba ’06), and Operations Director Pete D’Aleo (FORGE Meheba ’06), is on the rise.

The FORGE Micro-Finance Program began when Esther Chou, a FORGE Meheba 2005 veteran, returned to Zambia in late 2005 in order to investigate the best ways to implement an entrepreneurship & micro-finance initiative in Meheba. From Zambia, Esther worked closely with Nayeli Vivanco and Pete D’Aleo to design business skills curriculum and a loan model that best suited the community of Meheba. Their work was guided by the expertise and support of Northeastern University Executive Professor Dennis Shaughnessy.

Upon arriving in Meheba, Nayeli & Pete immediately got to work with Esther, to build a the FORGE Micro-Finance Program office and select a staff. Over the next few weeks, the three directors carefully trained the staff and opened the institute to enrollment.

The FORGE Micro-Finance Program’s students and loan-seekers proved to be a huge success. The FORGE Micro-Finance Program’s loan repayment rate stands at 94%.

Currently, all three FORGE Micro-Finance Program directors are refining the FORGE Micro-Finance Program model, marketing the program, and raising the funds necessary to expand classes and loans further into the future. For more information on the FORGE Micro-Finance Program please click here .

Hopefully, FORGE’s story will inspire all of those who have an interest in making the world a better place.


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Liberia’s Digital Bridge Project benefited from Members of the Nigeria Diaspora

This article is taken from the a press release dated April 27, 2007 issued by Sockets Works Global and can be found at: this link . The Digital Bridge Project is a wonderful example of how Africans can utilize each other and their resources to benefit one another.


The Digital Bridge Project, which aims to close the digital divide in Liberian universities, made its public debut on Friday, April 27th at the main campus of the University of Liberia when President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf inaugurated the state-of-the-art SocketWorks Limited (SocketWorks) computer laboratory.

Said President Johnson Sirleaf, ‘The digital center is as a result of hard work, partnership and dedication on the part of a lot of people. It is my belief that ICT can help Liberia leap frog in its efforts of poverty reduction and accelerate our transition into a prosperous nation.’

Completed in less than four months, the laboratory includes 200 computers with access to a university intranet, research databases, and a VSAT internet connection. SocketWorks’ CEO Aloy Chife unveiled the facility and demonstrated its capabilities as students amassed outside waiting for entrance. He detailed how students can now register for courses, get assignments, and pay fees online, as well as have access to the same libraries and research facilities as students in the United States. Previously, University of Liberia students had a small library of books over 20years old; now they have instant access to the digital archives of the Library of Congress and MIT. Research databases now housed within the University include some 3 million volumes.

“Our aim for the multi-media PC laboratory at the University of Liberia (the “Liberia DigitalBridge” project) is to partner with Liberia to accelerate its transition to a knowledge-based society in which the currency of exchange is information,” Chife said of the project. “And while some would argue that improvements in higher education should not outweigh more basic development needs like roads, water, and infrastructure, the University of Liberia students have higher expectations of themselves and their government,” continued Chife. The launch demonstration was completed with two live lectures delivered from the University of Maryland in the United States. This “distance learning” capability is a key part of building the capacity of the University of Liberia, and is facilitated by WorldSpace. When Chife told the guests that Liberian students would now have access to the same quality of education as students at MIT, the room broke out in spontaneous applause.

SocketWorks was founded by Dr. Aloy Chife in 2002 upon his disengagement from Apple Computers, Inc, where he was a Director and Business Chief Information Officer. SocketWorks Limited is a software and outsourcing company that aims to provide packaged ICT solutions to its clients. In the education market, it has developed proprietary software (trademarked CollegePortal) which helps universities automate their processes (e.g. student admissions and registration, course selection, course management, exam management, and facility management)that are currently done manually, and also provides internet access that would not otherwise be available. Dr. Chife, like many of SocketWorks’ officers, is part of the Nigerian Diaspora. SocketWorks utilizes a business model to transform universities in developing countries and does this through student subscription fees. Universities stuck in a paper age are brought into the21st century through IT, hardware, software and at times, infrastructure solutions. Administrators are connected to teachers, teachers to students, students to information, and parents to the universities. The program costs the participating universities nothing to implement and the schools get an on-going revenue stream to upgrade their ICT program from the student subscription fees. The program started in Nigeria and now has contracts at 52 Nigerian universities. In Nigeria, students pay as little at $25.00 per year. The first successful export of the model was to Sierra Leone. These services are making an enormous difference in Nigeria and across Africa in countries that otherwise have no ICT systems. From a one-man shop, SocketWorks has grown to become an employer of over 300 people in Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Uganda, and its products impact the lives of thousands of African Students. It is also expanding operations in Asia and is expected to be up and running in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka by April. Its institutional investors and shareholders include the World Bank (IFC) and Zenith Bank Plc (the largest Bank in Nigeria). In post-conflict Liberia, where students cannot absorb a fee increase for education, SocketWorks is self-funding the initial investment and seeking support from the World Bank to subsidize the student subscription fees. This is the first time SocketWorks is changing its business model to accommodate donor subsidies. SocketWorks has trained a local staff to manage the Liberian facility and administer the data, drawing their personnel from students in the University of Liberia system. And although four months seems a short time to reconstruct and renovate the building for computer facility(including a generator, air conditioning, and a VSAT link), design and install the hardware and software package, train the staff, and digitize the records of all 19,000 University of Liberia students, faculty, and staff, SocketWorks felt that the short time frame for implementation proves their commitment to providing world-class solutions to institutions of higher education in Africa. When the official inauguration of the facility was completed by President Sirleaf, she left the facility and spoke with the hundreds of students waiting to gain access. “This facility is for you,” she said. “Be sure that you take care of it, and protect it, because it is your education and your future.” The computer lab was then flooded with eager students


More information on both the Digital Bridge Institute and SocketWorks can be found at the links below.



Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A new Green Revolution for Africa?

article is taken from the web site of GRAIN an international non-governmental organisation (NGO) which promotes the sustainable management and use of agricultural biodiversity based on people's control over genetic resources and local knowledge. It is a long read, but the information is well worth knowing. The footnotes may be found at the original site, whose link is at the end of this post.

For some time now, there's been talk of a new Green Revolution for Africa – because "Africa missed the first Green Revolution" or because "the first Green Revolution missed Africa". Now a new project, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), is trying to put the concept into operation. This paper aims to describe what a Green Revolution really signifies, why such projects haven't worked before and why AGRA won't work either, in order to help people trying to take positions at the local, national and regional levels.

Proponents of the Green Revolution call it a strategy to fight hunger in the world – bringing together international scientific research and the widespread dissemination of so called improved plant varieties in developing countries. The model was put forward in the 1950s by the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations as a way to thwart the menace of the "red revolution": the expansion of communism in poor countries. Starting in Mexico, the Philippines and India, the new varieties of wheat, rice and maize quickly spread through the tropics to replace farmers' varieties. But these varieties only produced the desired 'high yielding' results if there was irrigation, mechanisation, and plenty of chemical fertilisers (the real key) and pesticides.

The consequence of this effort has indeed been an increase in yields for specific crops and in specific countries – at least for their irrigated, fertile and flat land areas. For example, under the programme, India increased its wheat production ten-fold and its rice production three-fold. Norman Borlaug, regarded as one of the fathers of the Green Revolution, went on to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his contributions.

But beyond the yield gains, there were many costs – economic, agricultural and social. The use of large amounts of water, fertilisers and chemical pesticides impoverished soils, leaving them less fertile and highly polluted. Local biodiversity was drastically reduced, bringing farmers under the dependence of pesticide manufacturers and outside seed suppliers. The profound cultural and economic changes wrought by the Green Revolution produced a massive rural exodus, and, with it, a profound loss of traditional knowledge and skills. For most farmers, any early profits were soon converted into debts, with many farmers, unable to repay their debts, taking their own lives.

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Why was the first Green Revolution ignored by the Africans?

Between 1960 and 1970, Africa was busy managing its newly acquired independence, and had not been incorporated into the design of the initial Green Revolution projects. Family farming was still the norm in Africa, and formal research was carried out by the agricultural research systems of the colonial powers. In French-speaking African countries, the French agricultural research institutes, such as IRAT, ORSTOM and CIRAD[2] were very active. These institutions gave priority to cash crops for export to the North: coffee and cocoa in Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire; cotton in the north of Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali and Chad; groundnuts in Senegal; and palm oil in southern Benin. Often, the colonial powers had to use force to eject the farmers off their land and impose their varieties and agricultural systems. Even after independence, local food crops continued to be marginalised by scientific research for a decade or so.

Then, research institutes such as the IITA (International Institute for Tropical Agriculture in Nigeria) and ICRISAT (International Crops Research Institute for the Semi Arid Tropics, Mali) parachuted into Africa to develop Green Revolution-style programmes for some of the continent's food crops. But they did not take into account the realities on the ground and few of these "improved varieties" were accepted by African farmers and consumers. The Green Revolution is based on a scientific reductionism, which has resulted in monocultures, the use of chemical inputs (such as fertilisers and pesticides) and inappropriate mechanisation. This is alien to Africa's peasant farming systems which pursues a more holistic approach to agriculture in which crops are combined with livestock, organic manure is used, soils are looked after, and there is a deep respect for the wider environment.

The CGIAR has spent a good half of its budget on Africa in the last few decades, but the Green Revolution has never taken root. Now, with an influx of dollars from Bill Gates, Rockefeller and other United States donors, many of the same organisations that led the first effort are going to try again. They are calling themselves the 'Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa', AGRA for short, and they are in the process of putting their new plan into motion.

AGRA: training for what?

AGRA says its main objective is to help Africa to increase productivity for a number of major food crops – much like what was envisioned with the initial Green Revolution programmes.[3] And once again, this is supposed to be done through Western-style plant breeding at the national agricultural research institutes. The difference being that this time a new crop of plant breeders will be trained in Africa itself, as opposed to being trained at universities in the North – though Cornell University, the central institution of the early Green Revolution programmes, will be there to oversee the training.

In January 2008, a first set of agricultural breeders in West and Central Africa will start their training at the University of Ghana, where the new the West African Centre for Crop Improvement (WACCI) will be based. Students will work on maize, cassava, sorghum, millet, tomatoes, cowpeas and other plants important to the African diet. This project is funded to the tune of US$ 4.9 million (more than 24 billion CFA francs) from AGRA. It seeks to train 40 students for a period of 5 years, starting in January 2008, with 8 students enrolled each year. Likewise, the University of Kwazulu-Natal in South Africa, home to the Rockefeller Foundation's African Centre for Crop Improvement (ACCI), will train 120 breeders over the next ten years through an AGRA grant of US$ 8.1 million.

Not only will the plant breeders be trained in technology, but they will also be taught to lobby. At a recent meeting of maize breeders from Southern and Eastern Africa, governments were urged to fast-track permits for growing new varieties of crops. Or in the words of Jane Ininda, programme officer with AGRA, "To be able to make new improved varieties available to farmers to increase their yields and improve their standards of living, countries must put in place regulatory systems that can quickly test and allow an influx of new commercial varieties."[4] AGRA is using its considerable political power to convince African governments to put in place policies and systems that will ensure the smooth running of agribusiness.[5] The consequences of fast tracking seeds on to the market mean that plants are not adequately tested in local conditions. The farmer is therefore taking the all risks of crop failure whereas the company is assured of a quick financial return.

Agro-dealers: the shortest route to the farmers

In addition to training, another bottleneck to the successful establishment of the Green Revolution, as perceived by AGRA, is getting the new seeds to farmers. The solution proposed by AGRA is to build an infrastructure that facilitates the development of private seed companies. This is something that the Rockefeller Foundation and the World Bank have been trying to do for some time now, with little success.

One of AGRA's first steps is therefore to set up networks of "agro-dealers", to sell seeds, pesticides and fertilisers. AGRA has already hired a US NGO called Citizens' Network for Foreign Affairs to carry out this work in Kenya, Tanzania and Malawi. So far this US NGO has received around $14 million in grants – by far the largest recipient of AGRA funds to date. To supply the dealers, AGRA's donors are also funding private seed companies. The Rockefeller Foundation is a leading investor in African Agricultural Capital, a venture capital investment fund that invests in and partly controls several small African seed companies, which are also supported by AGRA.[6] AGRA will certainly try to help develop markets with small farmers, which have so far been limited by the stubborn resilience of traditional seed systems that have always supplied African farmers with high-quality, affordable, locally adapted and culturally acceptable seeds.

Meanwhile, in French-speaking Africa, AGRA is funding national agricultural research in Mali through research activities conducted at the Institute of Rural Economy (IER) on maize, sorghum and rice. An amount of US$ 555,000 (nearly three billion CFA francs) has been awarded to IER from 2007 to 2010, and a sum of US$ 208,000 (more than a billion CFA francs) has been awarded to the Faso Kaba organisation for the dissemination of improved varieties[7].

The logic here is staggering. The idea is to fund public breeders to develop new varieties (as the private sector does not want to do this), to fund private companies to sell these to farmers, and to provide credit to farmers for the purchase of these seeds (because otherwise they cannot pay for them). AGRA is all about creating an effective demand for its own product, prescribing a model of development that is not able to survive on its own.

Kenya – AGRA in practice.

Farmers in Western Kenya have been receiving 6000 Kenyan shillings (Sh), US$ 92, in vouchers from the government which enables them to buy seeds, fertiliser, and pesticides. The government also provides extension services to oversee the correct use of these inputs. The money has come from AGRA who have provided US$ 4.5 million (Sh 294 million). A group called Agricultural Market Development Trust (Agmark), is implementing the programme and the plan is to expand it to 30 districts in Kenya.[8] The Sasakawa Global 2000 programme, a precurser to AGRA, initially worked with individual farmers. Farmers however were not very consistent in paying back loans or acquiring inputs and it is estimated that 60% of new agro-dealer businesses did not survive. To solve this problem and create group pressure, it was decided to only work with farmers as groups, and this approach is now common for these programmes. In each village there is a programme coordinator who is paid five bags of maize by each farmer and the coordinator collectively sells the bags and uses the money to buy inputs for the next season.[9] According to AGRA this makes the project sustainable. But in reality the only sustainable part of this project is that it ensures the agrodealer has a consistent market. [10]

Meanwhile, the farmer has little choice. This system gives farmers little freedom to decide what they want to plant and when they want to plant it, they cannot use the knowledge they have accumulated over years, they cannot respond to weather changes and other changes in their environment. Once the donors stop subsidising, farmers will be left with an impoverished soil and no seed. The old Green Revolution game continues.

Towards the industrialisation of Africa's agriculture

Whether it is the new Green Revolution or the old, the first losers are farmers, especially small farmers. AGRA sets out to replace the seeds that African farmers have carefully developed for their farms and cultures, with varieties suited to industrial monocultures. Such seeds will pave the way for the industrialisation of African food crops, opening the door to large agribusiness to come in and dominate.

IITA, for instance, one of AGRA's main partners, has already changed the focus of its work from peasant farming to the development of the industrial production and processing of cassava, perhaps the region's most important staple crop. Speaking to one of Nigeria's daily newspapers, IITA's Director of Research and Development explained that "there is a need to encourage farmers to go on large-scale farming instead of subsistence agriculture."[11]

The problem, at least for the IITA, is that their varieties have never really been suited to small-scale farming. IITA may have always portrayed its development of varieties resistant to Cassava Mosaic Virus (CMD) as a big success, but in practice farmers have generally preferred their local varieties. One recent survey of Ugandan farmers, found that more than three-quarters of those surveyed who were growing IITA varieties said that they were not superior to local varieties.[12] Another study of farmers in Ghana said that farmers there were not growing IITA varieties because they were prioritising "agronomic considerations" – meaning yield, eating quality, etc. In Benin, where farmers grow over 350 local varieties of cassava, only 13% of farmers grow IITA varieties. In Kenya and Tanzania, few farmers grow IITA varieties, despite the heavily-funded USAID programmes to promote them, and Tanzanian farmers report that they don't see any difference in CMD resistance between the local and IITA varieties. Even in IITA's home base of Nigeria, the local varieties dominate.[13]

What is most disturbing about IITA's new push to industrial cassava production and processing – funded by the Nigerian government, Shell Oil, USAID, the Rockefeller Foundation, and certainly AGRA in the near future – is that its success depends on reducing the market price for cassava, which is currently seen as too high to make it attractive as an export crop for transnational food and agrofuel corporations. In other words, the current cassava market works quite well – farmers get paid a decent price for supplying high-quality cassava to local food markets, where the need is greatest. It only doesn't work for big agribusiness, which, as far as farming goes, can't compete with the small-scale farmers, and, as far as the markets go, can't access cheap cassava because it refuses to pay the price that Nigerian consumers will. Here is a stark example of what African farmers can expect from the new Green Revolution.

Co-opting NGOs and farmers organisations

AGRA and its partners are creating other problems for Africa as well, by co-opting NGOs to help create the markets it needs. The money enticement is very real and the public relations is effective and deceptive. The potential is there for AGRA to generate divisions between NGOs, CSOs and farmers groups all working for sustainable agriculture, as the level of analysis of the impact of such a top-down agenda differs. For example, in Africa most NGOs that promote agriculture that is sustainable and farmer-led, have taken a stand against GM crops because of its obvious negative impact on farmers in Africa. Yet AGRA is as big a threat to farmers as are GM crops. But AGRA's approach is more insidious and the pot of money is very large. Therefore there is a risk that organisations working with farmers that previously stood united against GMOs, may now work with AGRA. Such NGO collaboration has already started happening. In Kenya, for example, SACRED Africa, a member of the sustainable agriculture network, is managing field trials for AGRA.[14] In another example in Kenya, StrigAway maize, a variety patented by BASF, one of the biggest agrochemical companies in the world is brought to farmers by an impressive marketing system, which co-opts public institutions, NGOs and farmer associations. StrigAway maize, a herbicide resistant seed created by mutagenesis breeding, holds many risks for farmers. To ensure compliance, farmers have to be trained and closely monitored and this is done by NGOs. The African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) negotiates with the seed companies and public institutions on behalf of BASF, initially providing free seed to open up markets. It works through a network of 12 NGOs and 4 farmer associations to market the technology on behalf of BASF and to train and monitor farmers. [15]

No GMOs?

At the launch of AGRA, its promoters were quick to point out that AGRA would not use genetically modified (GM) crops. Well, for now. At the third general meeting of collaborators of AGRA's programme on “Biotech, Breeding and Seed systems for African Crops”, a number of presentations of research and trials of GM crops were included.[16] It is therefore difficult to take seriously the claim that AGRA is not about GM seeds. Every single funder behind AGRA, Rockefeller and Gates included, are already pushing GM technology into Africa. But they have realised that the AGRA initiative would be easier to promote without including GM crops or seeds. The strategy is undoubtedly to bring it in later, once the programme is established and farmers have already switched to new seeds. Furthermore, most countries in Africa still do not have biosafety legislation in place, so it does not make sense to focus on GM crops now, but rather on harmonising policies, making sure approval times for crops are faster and building the infrastructure to ensure the rapid introduction of GM crops.

Undermining food sovereignty

The vast majority of Africans consume what they produce, despite international trade. Africa is characterised by its cultural diversity, which makes up its wealth. By ignoring the first Green Revolution, Africans have demonstrated to the world that they have understood that this revolution would kill their cultural diversity and their agriculture. In view of all that has been said, there are large contradictions between the model promoted by AGRA and the vision of food sovereignty for Africa. Over time, the African farmers have created a rich and dynamic agriculture which was gravely wounded by the continent's history over the last few centuries and, now, by the domineering multinationals and their allies to extract the remaining resources and knowledge. Programmes such as AGRA, and other so-called "technical" programmes, that ignore the social, economic and political realities of Africa, are unable to make a positive contribution. If African farmers are organised, if they rediscover and value their cultures and their knowledge, this is where Africa will have its real strength for change.

With climate change and the advance of the desert on the continent, it is appropriate to think about food sovereignty. Diverse agro-ecological practices exist in all African countries, but are not always known due to the oral nature of the cultures, which is common across the continent. To provide an alternative to AGRA, it is important to promote these local agro-ecological practices, and to work with farmers to improve them, at the local, national and regional level. At stake is the survival of future generations.


BOX: The other AGRA: Sasakawa Global 2000

Sasakawa Global (SG) 2000, is a project funded by the Nippon Foundation and led by Norman Borlaug and has been operational since the 1990s. It mainly works through governments, using government extension services and by influencing policies. SG 2000 assists with credit for hybrid seeds, fertilisers and pesticides. The project has been praised for higher yields in good rainfall years (as long as the credit is made available) but this industrialisation of agriculture has also been deeply criticised for creating dependency on foreign imports of seed and fertiliser, its reliance on mechanisation which requires land consolidation. In Africa, as in Asia, the Green Revolution has forced many farmers off the land as it has a high social, environmental and financial cost.[17] .

Ethiopia: feeding the hungry?

In the 1990s, Norman Borlaug and Jimmy Carter visited Ethiopia and convinced the government to support the introduction of hybrid seeds and fertilisers, and to liberalise the markets. This was done with the support of Sasakawa Global 2000, and there followed a decade of global initiatives supporting agricultural production, though this was coupled with the withdrawal of state support for agriculture. Under pressure from international lenders and aid donors, the government deregulated the seed sector and grain markets and left it to the private sector. With the bumper harvest in 2001, the markets could not cope and prices collapsed.[18] Ethiopia was dumped into yet another famine despite increasing national agricultural production and farmers were left in debt and many lost their land.

Ghana: forcing farmers into bankruptcy

The SG 2000 project in Ghana also proved not to be sustainable. At the beginning, the Ghanaian government provided the services of its extension officers to manage the delivery of inputs, pesticides and seeds and they also collected loans from the farmers. The credit was provided by SG 2000. Yields went up, in some cases three times the national average, but maize yields only increased by 26%. Of course farmers had to forego their own seed and cropping systems.

Supporting this approach of privatisation of agricultural inputs and markets, structural reforms were implemented in Ghana in the 1980’s and in 1989 the parastatal Ghana Seed Company was closed and national seed policy called for the development of a private seed sector. Markets and credit were liberalised with interest rates going up to 40%. The SG 2000 project was ready to take off. However, as soon as the project was scaled-up (it moved beyond just being a demonstration project) only 44% of the farmers were able to repay their loans. The Ghana Development Bank was then persuaded to give loans to 20 000 farmers. Still the recovery of loans from farmers was only 45%. After this, it was decided that government extension officers should not be responsible for loan recovery or input distribution. SG 2000 initiated the development of a network of private seed producers and input dealers and scaled down the project. Monsanto became involved in promoting conservation tillage and of course Roundup Ready use.

The next strategy in this experiment was to use social pressure and a new credit scheme was designed, working with farmers associations, rather than individual farmers. An evaluation of the project concludes that the focus was too narrow, focusing only on maize, and the project was unable to adjust to changing markets and government policies. For example farmers were not presented with a range of options and the recommended use of fertiliser was the same for everyone. Another common problem with this kind of approach to farming is that farmers produce a glut of one crop, in this case maize, which they cannot sell or have to sell below cost. When conservation tillage was introduced by Monsanto, the use of herbicide pushed the costs of inputs up to US$ 120 per hectare, forcing farmers to borrow with an interest rate of 30 - 40%. [19] Once SG 2000 stopped providing credit, the use of fertilisers by farmers dropped, and the project ceased. The evaluation concludes that the project was insensitive to "smallholders' resource endowment and risk capacity". SG 2000 spent US$20 million over 17 years in Ghana. The project in Ghana ended in 2003 but the focus is now on Ethiopia, Nigeria, Mali and Uganda.


A new Green Revolution for Africa?


Monday, December 17, 2007

AFROAMERICA XXI - Helping Afro-Latinos

It is a shame that even in this day and age many people, including members of the African Diaspora, are unaware of the Afro-Latinos that have lived in Mexico, Central and South America for centuries. AfroAmerica XXI is trying to change that.

According to its web site:

“Afroamerica XXI has increased the visibility of the African Diaspora from Latin America when there were only a few organizations who worked in favor of this population. Never the less, we continue to generate great changes in our communities.

“With more that 180 Afro-Latin American organizations and politician members, and with its partners in North America and Europe. Afroamerica XXI, recognize itself as a Black Nation, with an important roll to Africa and its Diaspora regardless of one’s religion, language origin place and gender.

“With our acquired experience, the continuous strengthening of our leaders, and the creation of new and innovative programs, we hope to improve the lives of Afro-Latin Americans with your continue support.”

With regard to improving the lives of Afro-Latinos, Afroamerica XXI’s web site continues:

“Afroamerica XXI is a participatory, non-hierarchical coalition/process through which African descendant communities [a] have defined their goals for the next century, [b] have a Action Plan (Plan de Acción) to attain these results [c] collectively fight the problems of racial discrimination, marginalization and exclusion [d] advocate for their interests nationally and internationally and, [e] form links and support one another.”


“In response to the continued lack of investment, economic marginalization and human rights violations, Afro-Latin American leaders in Spanish speaking countries have developed AFROAMERICA XXI. This is a regional process existing in thirteen (13) countries in Latin America. AFROAMERICA XXI began in 1995 as a result of a study in nine countries (Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela) conducted by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). The study found that African Descendants from Latin America (Afro-Latinos) are faced with racism, tend to live in isolated, extremely poor communities, receive the least governmental services and are functionally ‘invisible’. This is because few of their countrymen – and even fewer people around the world – acknowledge their existence.

Every leader present began an Afroamerica XXI in their respective countries. As a result you can see different chapters of Afroamerica XXI around Latin America. Every chapter is independent with different structures but a shared mission.

Afroamerica XXI is forged by NGOs and politically elected Afro-Latin American leaders represent their communities. The specificity of this strategy is based on its cultural roots. The action plan by the next generation [1998 – 2021] is tailored to suit the present circumstances, cultural strengths, the assets, and current limitations of Afro-Latin Americans.”

Afroamerica XXI is a participatory, non-hierarchical coalition/process through which African descendant communities:

[a] have defined their goals for the next century,
[b] have a Action Plan (Plan de Acción) to attain these results
[c] collectively fight the problems of racial discrimination, marginalization and exclusion [d] advocate for their interests nationally and internationally and, [e] form links and support one another.

You can go to the Afroamerica XXI web site and see what all that they do at Afroamerica XXI, but I have posted just one piece of information that illustrates what can be found there. The following is an excerpt from the information that can be found on Afro-Venezuelans at the Afroamerica XXI web site.

The following information was taken from the Poverty Alleviation Program for Minority Communities in Latin America: Communities of African Ancestry in Latin America-History, Population, Contributions, & Social Attitudes, Social and Economic Conditions. This was realized by members of and organizations of AFROAMERICA XXI

Approximate Total Population 22,803,000
Total Ethnic Groups 4
Approximate Afro-Peruvian Population 2,280,300
Location -Maracaibo
-Zulia State
-Distrito Federal
Languages Spanish


Population and its distribution

Venezuelan racial ideology is layered in a series of myths about the racial make-up of the country as well as the nature of race relations. Venezuela's domestic and international image is of a country living in racial harmony, made up of mostly Mestizos (Indigenous/European mix) whose culture also includes influences from Africa.

In the mid-1800's, nearly 70 percent of the population of Venezuela was "Pardo", or "persons of African descent". This fact was recognized by Simón Bolivar in the Congress of Angostura in 1819:

Tengamos presente que nuestro pueblo no es europeo, ni el americano del norte; que más bién es un compuesto de Africa y América que una emanación de la Europa.

Economic Profile

The urban Afro-Venezuelans who completed a secondary and technical or university education are employed in the formal sector and constitute a small middle class (in terms of values, but in economic terms they are in the lower income segments). They tend to choose the professions more favorably disposed to hiring Blacks. Skilled jobs held by Blacks are typically in government services such as teaching and nursing or social work, all of which employ an important number of Blacks, women in particular.

Nevertheless, Blacks appear to be excluded from management positions. They are not represented in equal proportions in the upper echelons. Such is the case with the teaching profession, in which the majority of teachers in the unions are Black, but there are very few Black professionals in the upper ranks of the Ministry of Education. Blacks are not represented in the upper ranks of the military services, diplomatic corps, or the Catholic church. Among the majority of Blacks, unemployment is reportedly very high, particularly among adolescents.

Where image is important, such as in banks, in reception areas or in airplanes as flight attendants, Black women do not find employment opportunities. According to Dr. Juan de Dios Martinez of Zulia University, there are perhaps between 7 and 15 Black secretaries in the State of Zulia, where he estimates that 66 percent of the total population is Black.

Rural economies which depend upon agriculture or fishing are depressed. Difficulties in land titling and access to credit exacerbate circumstances, and many Blacks move into the cities to find work. The informal sector economy among Afro-Venezuelans consists of production and sale of foodstuffs, particularly traditional sweets and sweet breads, and casual day labour. A new presence in Venezuela's workforce are undocumented Black immigrants from Caribbean nations as Trinidad and Tobago, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti. In Caracas, there is a strong presence of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Colombia.

T[o]urism and its Impact on Barlovento

Blacks from the area say they have a difficult time benefiting from job opportunities in the industry. By the end of 1980, many tourism projects were completed in Miranda, around the city of Higuerote, and towards the other coastal areas. With the establishment of resorts, a variety of artificial waterways were created, diverting water from several rivers and causing stagnation in some natural bodies of water. Water treatment plants have not kept pace with tourism, which resulted in several beaches being contaminated with waste.

Tourism is seen by Black townships as a threat to their way of life because there are no economic benefits from servicing tourists, who use very little local food supplies or other local commodities. Local residents do suffer from its negative impact: housing has become scarcer in Higuerote and more expensive for local residents; there is a greater flow of drugs; delinquency has increased; teenage pregnancy rose; there is growing prostitution by both sexes; and an increase in sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. Youths are lured into these activities by the promise of easy money.

There is a pressing need for the Afro-Venezuelan community to develop its own tourism options. The pattern of tourism promoted for Barlovento by the Chambers of Commerce consists of packaged tours for foreigners, who are taken to condominium-style facilities and to specific locations for entertainment and shopping. This leaves very little opportunity for small businesses to access the tourist and creates very few spin-offs for the local economy.


The national health delivery system reaches the Black Communities in the same manner as other rural communities in the most prosperous states. Those that are closest to the largest cities or are parish capitals have a small hospital or clinic or are the site for a health ambulatory service. At least one doctor is on hand. Often these doctors are doing their required period of social service, and there is also a nurse. Villages that are more distant appear to have a dispensary operated by a nurse with a supply line to the nearest parish hospital.

The entire health system suffers from supply problems, the distant villages and the housing groups in rural areas being more severely affected. The most disadvantaged population groups are the caserios (small settlements) which are too small to have services and are located in areas of difficult access.
Residents must attend hospital facilities in Caracas. Health workers rarely want to enter these barrios, particularly those known to have gang shoot-outs. All of them have some Black populations.

Children suffer from fevers, diarrhea, and other common diseases. Among adults, high blood pressure and its attendant complications are the biggest health threat, but most of those diagnosed are under regular treatment. The rural folk we met were older than the national life expectancy age. The self-profiles of the Black Communities described their situation as healthier than the national average.

Relative poverty

Venezuela's most recent poverty map is based on the census of 1990. Poverty rankings are based on unsatisfied basic needs and were made for the states and for municipalities. The methodology employed was designed by ECLAC. This methodology measures structural poverty but does not measure changes in the income levels of the homes, thus it does not capture the new poor or the depth of chronic poverty caused by a recessive economy.

The observations made by the mission and the information gathered from communities, although insufficient, suggest that while small rural towns do not show evidence of as much structural poverty, the drop in purchasing power of the bolivar and the lack of economic opportunities has deepened the level of poverty of Black families in the last five years. Comments made by informants also lead to the observation that they have reached the end of their reserves, and that communal assistance to each other will no longer be a possibility. The custom of giving away produce from the conuco and later receiving an equivalent when in need will soon be a thing of the past. According to rural residents in Zulia, what little there is will have to be used or sold in order to meet household's basic cash needs.


Political representation

Until the 1980s, Blacks have undertaken no political development as a group because of the prevailing societal and political attitudes that there are no separate racial or ethnic groups in Venezuela. Consequently, no pressure groups have evolved to advocate for Black interests. Afro-Venezuelans vote, join political parties, risk their lives in political debate and disturbances, and participate in the political process as part of groups representing trade unions, farmers, and educators, rather than as a separate group focused on Black interests. As a result, there is little evidence of a strong Black presence in Venezuelan politics.

Afroamerica XXI is in Spanish and English.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


On December 3, 2007 AfricaFiles circulated an article that Africa News had published on November 30, 2007. The article is about the wide distribution of the music album "Nous sommes les Tam-tams (We are the Drums)" [which is also the name of the lead song.

According to Africa News:

"Thirty-seven musicians from across Africa have partnered with the UN to produce an 11-title musical album to sensitise Africans on HIV/AIDS, poverty, gender inequalities, illiteracy and conflicts. According to a statement from the UNDP office in Bamako, Mali, Thursday, the tracks sung in 18 African languages carry very clear messages on the issues. Five of the songs were on the prevention against the HIV infection, the need to break the silence on AIDS, to fight stigmatisation and discrimination around it as well as to promote human rights. The leading song "Nous sommes les Tam-tams (We are the Drums)" calls on individuals and institutions to get involved in efforts to ensure an "AIDS-free generation" by 2015 and to fight against poverty and hunger. Other songs advocate education for all girls, equal rights and opportunities for women.

"The album, as well as a video clip of the top song, has been freely distributed to radio and TV stations in 52 countries in Africa. The album was jointly produced by the UNDP, the United Nations Office of Sports for Development and Peace (UNOSDP), the UN Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the United Nations' Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Millennium Campaign. The album was produced by Africa Fête, a Dakar-based Pan-African label led by Mamadou Konté, who died shortly before the completion of the project.

"Both the Olympus Company and the International Association of Athletics Federations provided the financial support for the initiative, launched in 2003- 2004 following meetings in Dakar, Senegal, on the relevance of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in Africa. Seventeen singers, including legendary saxophonist Manu Dibango, recorded the song "Nous sommes les Tam-tams (We are the Drums)". It was arranged by Boncana Maïga. The singers include Achien'g Abura (Kenya), Mahmoud Ahmed (Ethiopia), Didier Awa di (Senegal), Chiwoniso (Zimbabwe), Manu Dibango (Cameroon), Jaojoby Eusebe (Madagascar), Coumba Gawlo Seck (Senegal), Salif Keïta (Mali ) and Angélique Kidjo (Benin). Others are Habib Koité (Mali), Ismaë Lô (Senegal), Baaba Maal (Senegal), Malouma (Mauritania), Cheb Mami (Algeria), Meiway (Côte d'Ivoire), Yves Ndjock (Cameroon), Youssou N'Dour (Senegal), Koffi Olomidé (DRC) and Saintrick (Congo)."

In 2004, UNDP issued the following Press Release concerning the then upcoming album:

"Monrovia, 18 October 2004—Eighteen top musicians from all over Africa have combined forces in response to the appeal launched by the United NationsDevelopment Programme (UNDP) to compose and perform a song aimed at involving every member of society in the fight against poverty and HIV/AIDS. Thesong, launched simultaneously in African countries on 18 October and entitled " Weare the drums", is part of the "Africa 2015" initiative, the aim of which is to accelerate attainment of the "Millennium Development Goals" (MDGs).

“Under the leadership of Boncana Maiga (Mali), the singers Achien’g Abura (Kenya), Mahmoud Ahmed (Ethiopia), Didier Awadi (Senegal), Chiwoniso (Zimbabwe), Jaojoby Eusebe (Madagascar), Coumba Gawlo Seck (Senegal), Salif Keita (Mali), AngéliqueKidjo (Benin), Habib Koité (Mali), Ismaël Lô (Senegal), Baaba Maal (Senegal), ChebMami (Algeria), Malouma (Mauritania), Meiway (Ivory Coast), Koffi Olomidé (Democratic Republic of Congo), Saintrick (Congo) and Youssou N’Dour (Senegal) recorded the song in Dakar and Paris with Manu Dibango (Cameroon) on saxophone and Yves Ndjock (Cameroon) on guitar. The original music was composed by Manu Dibango and Yves Ndjock, and arranged by Boncana Maiga and Manu Dibango. Work on the project was coordinated by Africa Fête, a label of musical production, under the guidance of Mamadou Konté.

“The lyrics, sung by Youssou N’Dour, invite people to stop being "victims of poverty, victims of hunger", and to take individual responsibility to halt the spread of HIV/AIDS so that the 2015 generation will not be affected by the disease. The artists calls on each person in Africa to "act as a tam-tam drum", passing the message on to those who have not yet heard it. The song marks a new stage in the commitment of artists and other celebrities involved in the "Africa 2015" initiative launched by UNDP in conjunctionwith the various United Nations agencies.

The MDGs were adopted in 2000 by all the governments at the UN; they cover eight major commitments to be achieved by 2015, including halving poverty in the world, halting the spread of HIV/AIDS, and ensuring that all children have access to full primary education.

"‘Unless a special effort is made, Africa will not be able to attain the Goals before 2145, whereas the rest of the international community is talking about 2015. The presence of these artists…shows that this is not inevitable as far as Africa is concerned, and that there is a commitment to turning the situation around. A commitment at the level of each man and woman in Africa, and a commitment on the part of the international community’, said Djibril Diallo, Director of UNDP's Communications Office.

"’For once we're doing something together, to make our work as artists much more noble," explained Baaba Maal, a Senegalese singer and UNDP Youth Emissary. "We decided that after the song, over the next thirteen years, we want to make use of every possibility available to us to pass on these messages.: record the songs together first, then, if necessary, go to primary schools, secondary schools and barracks, to meet young people, parents, the authorities …’

“The song is the first step in the involvement of these African artists in the Africa 2015 initiative; it is to be followed by an album that will include, in addition to a rap version of the "We are the drums" in both English and French, about a dozen individual songs in conjunction with other major artists involved in the project. The titles will be inspired by the MDGs themselves. "This album will include both experienced performers and new talent", said Mamadou Konté, the director of Africa Fête.

“Nowhere else in the world is attainment of the Goals so important and so urgent as it is in Africa. Life expectancy, per capita income and the level of education have plummeted in many African countries, and a number of fatal diseases are far from being under control. Every other person in the sub-Sahara region of Africa lives on less than one US dollar a day. Of the 40 million carriers of the HIV/AIDS virus in the world, about 30 million are African. Currently, communities in Africa are barely able to cope with the 11 millionchildren orphaned by HIV/AIDS – by 2015, the number will have risen to 40 million.

“The "Africa 2015" initiative, launched by UNDP two years ago, focuses firstly on poverty and HIV/AIDS. It is a wide-ranging, pan-African movement that seeks to mobilise the energy that exists in Africa to intensify the efforts being made and to give rise to new initiatives. In addition to support from singers, it has also received backingfrom Africa's sportsmen and -women.’

“‘Through a net work of news organizations and Blogs, hopefully, the wider African community [on the Continent and in the Diaspora] will be made aware of "Nous sommes les Tam-tams (We are the Drums)’"

Now that you know that the album is out there, ask your radio and television stations to air it for the public to see and hear.

Information for this Blog post was found at the following locations.


Africa News

U.N. Press Release in 2004