New Internationalist - October 2010
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Micro-dosing could end famine
16 OCTOBER WORLD FOOD DAY
Niger, the world’s poorest country, has been struck by famine once again. Half of its 14 million population is currently going hungry. The landlocked country in West Africa had already suffered widespread famine in 2005; it has a chronic problem of not being able to produce enough food for its rapidly growing population. Inadequate rainfall during the 2009 growing season led to lamentable cereal and fodder harvests, worsening the situation of many farmers who were unable to feed their families during the off-season.
Luckily, some farmers have found a way to reduce the drought’s impact on their food supplies. Seydou and his wife Zaina are farmers in Bokki village, southeast of Niger’s capital Niamey. Seydou harvested enough millet last year to see him and the 12 members of his family through the hunger crisis. He achieved this thanks to a simple technology called ‘fertilizer micro-dosing’, promoted over the last decade by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and its partners throughout the drought-stricken Sahel region of Africa.
Using a bottle cap, the farmer applies tiny amounts of fertilizer, about a sixth of the quantity normally applied on grain crops in Europe, directly to the plant roots. Due to the boost it gives to the otherwise nutrient-poor soils, this increases millet grain yields in Niger by an average of 55 per cent.
Since using this precise and economical method, Seydou has almost tripled his harvests and increased his family’s nutrition and wealth. When he started micro-dosing in 2000, he had only two sheep; but today he has 20 sheep, 20 goats, two cows and 10 donkeys.
‘If only a quarter of Niger’s farmers had practised fertilizer micro-dosing in 2009, the food shortfall could have been redressed at less than half the cost of the food aid delivered this year,’ reveals Dr Jupiter Ndjeunga, ICRISAT’s economist in Niger. ‘This equates to a saving of over $60 million.’
However, the number of farmers using micro-dosing is limited because most farmers are poor, earning less than a dollar a day, and unable to afford the cost of fertilizer ($34 a bag). Excited about the technology’s potential, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) are addressing the financing problem by developing an inventory credit system called ‘warrantage’. In this scheme, farmers receive a loan in exchange for depositing some of their harvested grain into a community store.
By investing in poor farmers’ access to simple new technologies, the hunger crises in Niger and other drought-affected countries could be averted in the future. On World Food Day, ICRISAT is calling for the global community to put proven agricultural research such as micro-dosing into action, and develop rural credit systems to lessen the impact of famine and alleviate poverty in Niger and the rest of the developing world.
12 ● New Internationalist ● OCTOBER 2010
A symbolic act
A year on from new US hate-crime legislation, how have things changed for the LGBT community?
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Before October 2009, there was no federal hate crime protection for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in the US. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr Hate Crimes Prevention Act, usually referred to as the Matthew Shepard Act, expanded existing hate-crime legislation to include crimes motivated by the victim’s gender, sexual orientation or gender identity. Sexual orientation ranks third in motivation for hate crimes, after race and religion.
Statistics gathered by the US Department of Justice show that in 2008, almost one in five (17.7 per cent) reported hate-crime offences were motivated by sexual orientation and gender identity. The total number of hate crimes is unknown, because official numbers are considered to be vast underestimates (9,160 such incidents were identified by the FBI in 2008).
So has the Act had any effect? Mark Potok, of the Alabama-based civil rights organization Southern Poverty Law Center, says the legislation probably hasn’t significantly affected the number or type of hate-crime prosecutions in the US, because the vast majority of criminal cases are prosecuted as state, not federal, crimes.
He does, however, believe that it is of great symbolic importance. ‘It tells all Americans that their government takes these kinds of criminal acts seriously, and it also empowers the federal government to act even if the local authorities, for whatever reason, are unable or unwilling to do so,’ he explains. By raising awareness of hate crimes, the Act also encourages victims to report attacks and sends a message to state prosecutors to prosecute them appropriately.
The Act is named after two victims of hate crime. Matthew Shepard, a student at Wyoming University, was tortured and brutally murdered in October 1998 because of his homosexuality. James Byrd Jr, an African-American, was lynched in Texas by three white supremacists that same year.
On the web www.newint.org Housing the urban poor Jeremy Seabrook meets Mohammad Kamal Uddin, who has worked tirelessly for two decades to transform people’s lives in Bangladesh.
I first met Kamal Uddin 20 years ago. At that time, the NGO of which he is director, ARBAN (the Association for the Realization of Basic Needs), was working on a programme of literacy and numeracy for women in the poorest areas of Dhaka. We visited 25 or 30 slum settlements, mostly self-build bamboo and wood huts around polluted ponds or on low-lying marshy ground. This was government land, occupied by the poor, but controlled by powerful individuals who took a toll, or rent, from the people. Many were paying over half their monthly income to these unofficial landlords.
This was the beginning of a scheme in which garment-workers, maidservants, rickshaw drivers, construction workers, vendors and labourers would accompany ARBAN on a journey towards its most recent venture – the building of multi-storey apartments for the working poor. In the process, the lives of the people have been transformed: they acquired new skills, their livelihoods were enhanced by co-operative working, microcredit and social education, and their savings used to acquire land, on which the first block of flats has now reached its full six storeys in Mirpur in the north of Dhaka.
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Contact the agenda team on: firstname.lastname@example.org
New Internationalist ● OCTOBER 2010 ● 13