The Human Consciousness Now...Our World in the Midst of Becoming...to What? Observe, contemplate Now.
Women organise themselves into small collectives, to better bargain and trade their produce. Credit: Helen Keller International
- Women in Bangladesh are carving healthier, wealthier futures for themselves and their children â and they have chicken eggs and pineapples to thank.
Since 2009, the non-profit group Helen Keller International has overseen programmes in the eastern Bangladesh region of Chittagong, mentoring women in agriculture to produce food not only for their own families, but also to sell at market.
Kathy Spahn, president of HKI, said one-fifth of homes in Chittagong are considered hungry, while half the children are stunted and one-third are underweight due to poor nutrition. In the area HKI works, around 75 percent of people survive on just 12 dollars a month.
âThe area is stigmatised and has little access to health services,â Spahn said at an event this week organised by Women Advancing Microfinance New York.
âWeâre teaching women to grow nutritious fruit and vegetables, raise chickens for meat and eggs, and grow enough to sell at markets for extra money.â
The programme, âMaking Markets Work For Women,â or M2W2, gives both initial start-up capital and ongoing guidance. Women in Chittagong, who may have previously been viewed solely as homemakers, are given tools to grow nutrient-rich crops like spinach and carrots to feed their own families, as well as more lucrative crops like pineapple and maize to sell.
Chickens are raised, eggs are eaten and sold, ginger and turmeric are harvested and refined and packaged using supplied machinery; and women who never before had any control over family finances are suddenly bringing in their own income to pay for education and healthcare.
Helen Keller International – named for its founder, the inspirational deaf and blind author and activist â traditionally focused on sight and blindness projects, but today focuses on a broader gamut of health and nutrition issues, including blindness caused by Vitamin A deficiency. The group now runs 180 programmes in more than 20 Asian and African countries.
âHKI has been working in Bangladesh since 1978, doing work on nutritional blindness. Doing nutrition surveillance there, we saw the deeper pockets of Vitamin A deficiency,â Spahn told IPS.
Safa Subha and three-year-old Rahat rely on Oxfam aid for food to fight malnutrition after having been accustomed to living on a diet of bread and tea. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS
- Extensive damage to Gazaâs environment as a result of the Israeli blockade and its devastating military campaign against the coastal territory during last yearâs war from July to August, is negatively affecting the health of Gazans, especially their food security.
âWe were living on bread and tea and my five children were badly malnourished as my husband and I couldnât afford proper food,â Safa Subha, 37, from Beit Lahiya told IPS.
âMy children were suffering from liver problems, anaemia and weak bones. It was only after I received regular food vouchers from Oxfam and was able to purchase eggs and yoghurt that my children are now healthier.
âBut it is still a struggle as I have to ration out the food and my doctor has warned me to keep giving the children these foods to prevent the malnutrition returning,â said Safa.
According to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), in several communities, lack of dietary diversity was highlighted as an issue of concern, particularly for children and pregnant and lactating women, due to the lack of large-scale food assistance programmes and the high prices of fresh food and red meat.
Before the war, Safaâs husband Ashraf worked as a farmer, renting a piece of land on which he grew produce that he then sold.
âMy husband used to earn about NIS 300 per week (about 75 dollars) from farming. After the land became too dangerous to farm, because of Israeli military fire and much of it destroyed in Israeli bombings, my husband tried to earn some money renting a taxi,â said Safa.
However, Ashrafâs attempts to support his family as a taxi driver did not provide sufficient income for their survival.
âHe can only use the taxi a couple of days a week because it doesnât belong to him and he often doesnât have money to buy fuel because it is so expensive and Israel only allows limited amounts of fuel into Gaza because of the blockade,â said Safa.
With Mar. 3 designated as World Wildlife Day, Bradnee Chambers, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Environment Programmeâs Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, examines the problem of wildlife crime from the angle of asking what the individual citizen can do to help fight to save our living natural heritage.
Dead addax (white antelope) hunted by soldiers in Chad â âWe should not underestimate the seriousness of wildlife crimeâ. Credit: John Newby/SCF
- It is no exaggeration to say that we are facing a âwildlife crisisâ, and it is a crisis exacerbated by human activities, not least criminal ones.
Whatever our definition of wildlife crime, it is big business. In terms of annual turn-over it is up there narcotics, arms and human trafficking â and the proceeds run into billions of dollars each year, helping to finance criminal gangs and rebel organisations waging civil wars.
With seven billion people on the planet, it is tempting to shrug oneâs shoulders and ask âWhat difference can any one individual make?â Â Such an attitude means that we are in danger of repeating the âtragedy of the commonsâ â everyone making seemingly rational decisions in their own immediate interests â but this is a short-sighted approach that undermines the common good and ultimately sows the seeds of its own downfall.
Haidee Swanby is a researcher with the African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB), a non-profit organisation based in Johannesburg, South Africa. The ACBâs work is centred on dismantling structural inequities in food and agriculture systems in Africa and directed towards the attainment of food sovereignty. Mariann Bassey Orovwuje is a lawyer, as well as an environmental, human and food rights advocate. She is Programme Manager for the Food Sovereignty Programme for Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) and Coordinator of Friends of the Earth Africaâs Food Sovereignty Programme Campaign.
âThere is no doubt that African small-scale producers need much greater support in their efforts, but GM seeds which are designed for large-scale industrial production have no place in smallholder systemsâ. Credit: La Via Campesina/2007/Creative Commons
- The most persistent myth about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is that they are necessary to feed a growing global population.
Highly effective marketing campaigns have drilled it into our heads that GMOs will produce more food on less land in an environmentally friendly manner. The mantra has been repeated so often that it is considered to be truth.
Now this mantra has come to Africa, sung by the United States administration and multinational corporations like Monsanto, seeking to open new markets for a product that has been rejected by so many others around the globe.
Bamboo nursery in Africa. There is debate over whether commercially-grown bamboo could help reverse the effects of deforestation and land degradation that has spread harm across the African continent. Credit: EcoPlanet Bamboo
- Deforestation is haunting the African continent as industrial growth paves over public commons and puts more hectares intoÂ private hands.
According to the Environmental News Network, a web-based resource, Africa loses forest cover equal to the size of Switzerland every year, or approximately 41 000 square kilometres.
Tobacco pickers carry leaves to one of the sheds where they are cured on the Rosario plantation in San Juan y MartÃnez, in Vuelta Abajo, a western Cuban region famous for producing premium cigars. Credit: Jorge Luis BaÃ±os/IPS
- âWe have to wait and see,â âThere isnât a lot of talk about it,â are the responses from tobacco workers in this rural area in western Cuba when asked about the prospect of an opening of the U.S. market to Cuban cigars.
âIf the company sells more, I think they would pay us better,â said Berta Borrego, who has been hanging and sorting tobacco leaves for over 30 years in San Juan y MartÃnez in the province of Pinar del RÃo, 180 km west of Havana.
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is the executive director of UN Women
A women-led village council in rural Bangladesh prepares a âsocial mapâ of the local community. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS
- This weekend, at the invitation of President Michelle Bachelet and myself, women leaders from across the world are meeting in Santiago de Chile. We will applaud their achievements. We will remind ourselves of their contributions. And we will chart a way forward to correct the historical record. History has not been fair to women â but then, women usually didnât write it.