Creative Commons

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Conditional cash-transfer programs for Africa

Conditional cash–transfer (CCT) has been hailed as Brazil’s most progressive and successful social protection or anti poverty program. Cash transfer is conditional on a household – typically those with children and young family members – using health, education or other services that policymakers consider of public interest.

The number of people who benefit from these program in the developing countries is large and growing, making CCT a valued tool for fighting poverty. In Brazil CCT covers approximately 12 a relatively modest budgets (less than 0.5% of GDP). Indonesia is currently working to replace an unconditional cash transfer program currently reaching 19 million households with a CCT program.

CCT is becoming fashionable and Africa is not being left behind. In 2008, Ghana launched CCT though its Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP). The program aims to reach one-sixth of the extreme poor within five years. The National Poverty Eradication Programm (NAPEP), with funds from the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative, has launched Nigeria’s In Care of the Poor (COPE). COPE provides cash transfers to extremely poor and vulnerable households, on condition that adult members attend training sessions, keep their children in school and utilize health services.

In 2007, the government of Sierra Leone launched a pilot cash transfer programme, the Social Safety Net (SSN), which targets the elderly with no other means of support.

In Mali, a pilot CCT program was launched in Mopti and Kayes, two regions in Mali with the lowest school enrollment, with support from UNICEF. Modeled on Brazil’s CCT, poor households receive $ 10 a month on condition that children attend school a least 80 % of the school year.

In the case of Brazil, with effective targeting, CCT has been effective in addressing structural poverty. Most importantly, CCT can provide a veritable windfall in human development where basic social services are available but demand is weak.

Developing national conditional cash–transfer programs will pose a number of challenges in African countries where poverty is so widespread, state capacity to deliver basic social service is low and heavily dependent on foreign aid.

A more cautious approach is therefore necessary for Africa. More modest programs that target early childhood education, maternal and child health among poor households would yield the highest human development dividends.

Considerable resources, institutional as well as human capacity, will be needed for targeting beneficiaries as well as building the capacity for program delivery. These investments must be balanced with sustained commitment to sustained investments in expansion of high quality education and health services.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Protected Areas have failed to protect Africa's Wildlife

Protected areas in Eastern Africa like Maasai Mara, Amboseli and the Serengeti have seen populations of large mammals decline according to a study published online in Biological Conservation.

Ian Craigie and colleagues from Cambridge University, London Zoological Society, UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre and Royal Society for the protection of Birds, created a multi–species index of change.

The index revealed on average about 60 % decline in population abundance in protected areas between 1970 and 2005. The results show that although protected areas (parks and national reserves) are the cornerstone of national and global biodiversity conservation, they have generally failed to prevent widespread loss of Africa’s large mammal populations.

Protected areas, especially in Eastern Africa are visited by thousands of tourists drawn by charismatic wildlife species including lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhino. The continued decline of these mammals will undoubtedly have huge economic implications as a result of decline in tourism

The authors suggest that the observed decline has multiple causes including over–hunting and habitat conversion, both driven by rapid population growth and the commensurate increase in resource consumption.

It is interesting that in the Craigie study, climate change (especially precipitation), did not explain the observed patterns of decline in wildlife population abundance. Statistically, I find this implausible. On the contrary, the most recent and notable widespread wildlife deaths in Kenya’s Amboseli National Park have been attributed to prolonged drought.

Moreover, a recent study by J. Ogutu published in the Journal of Zoology showed that wildlife population declines coincided with habitat deterioration due to desiccation attributable to rising temperatures and recurrent severe droughts. I am surprised that the Ian Craigie and his colleagues did not cite this paper.

It is not clear whether the authors paid attention to the fact that existing protected areas are becoming increasing isolated and hence unlikely to provide the full range of habitat resources necessary for the maintenance of viable populations of large mammals.

The authors make reference to local scale ecological and anthropogenic interactions occurring in individual protected areas but it is unclear from the paper how this might explain regional variation in decline patterns, especially between Eastern and Southern Africa.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Training the next generation of African farmers is imperative

A South African farmers’ group, Agri SA, has received invitation from several African countries, including Egypt, Zambia, DR Congo, Sudan and Mozambique, to invest in agriculture to produce export crops.

According to Agri SA, Sudan has made land available in the upper Nile Delta, where they focus on sugar production. Egypt is inviting more South African farmers to go and start growing fruits. Mozambique, they are offering us land to grow sugarcane for biofuels. Zambia was also offering land for growing maize.

The heart these land deals Congo’s plan to improve food security by allowing South African farmers to lease land for up to 105 years to grow maize, soya beans as well as for poultry and dairy, will be one of the biggest land agreements on the continent

China is keen to explore agreements over joint investment ventures with Agri SA in agriculture on the African continent. China wants to create a market for their chemicals and equipment manufacturing.

Potential financiers for infrastructure are also seeking commitment of the South African farmers that they will invest in some African countries before they release funds to invest in roads, dams and energy.

The white South Africans are providing technical capacity while China is bringing the machinery and the infrastructure. This is interesting! Where are local African farmers? What can we learn from this?

Its is clear that white South African farmers have what African farmers lack; technical know how for modern agriculture.

I think Africa must invest in the education of the next generation of farmers and equip them with the knowledge and technical skills. Investment in extension services, farm inputs and access to micro credit is certainly not adequate.

See full story in Reuters July 9, 2010

Monday, July 5, 2010

The impact of China's rising consumption on greenhouse gas emissions

China has embarked on most rigorous national energy efficiency campaign on the planet. Beijing has dictated stringent efficiency standards for lighting and gas mileage for cars.

In the last three years, China has decommissioned more than a thousand older coal-fired power plants that used technology of the sort still common in the United States. China has also surpassed the rest of the world as the biggest investor in solar panels and wind turbines.

But while the Chinese authorities are dictating energy policies, the consumer appetite of a burgeoning army of middle class Chinese will undermine these efforts.

China’s 1.3 billion people are hungry for bigger cars, electricity-dependent home appliances and for more creature comforts like escalators and air-conditioned malls.

A new dimension in China’s energy use has emerged, without the guessing or anticipation by policy makers, access and use of air conditioning has been a factor in the recent spate of labor unrest at factories across the country.
The older generation of low-income migrant workers tolerated oven-hot sleeping quarters and factories. Chinese are now demanding air-conditioning at both at home and in factories.

The consequence is that China will become less energy efficient and contribute more to global warming as it gets more prosperous.

See full story in The New York Times @

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Agricultural production in East Africa: Light at the end of the tunnel

Agricultural production in Eastern Africa is at the crossroads. Persistent food shortages are now being amplified by climate change, rapid population growth, scarcity of arable land and rising food prices.

There are three critical opportunities that can help transform agriculture in East Africa into a force for economic growth. First, the East African Common Market, which came into effect on 1st July 2010, provides new incentives for agricultural production and free trade across the region. Second, advances in science and technology globally offer East Africa new tools and innovation needed for resilient agricultural production systems. Third, strengthening technical competence of East African farmers (especially women) through innovative institutional reform to support a closer integration and collaboration between universities and national agricultural research institutions. Currently, most research in agriculture is carried out in research institutions that do not teach while universities have limited access to research support.

In the larger context of promoting regional integration, there is urgent for new policies and institutional models to enable and support the alignment of research science and technology goals with agricultural development investments.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Communicating the science of climate change

The scandals over email leaks at the University of East Anglia and the dodgy data in the Fourth Assessment of Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have undermined public confidence in the scientists and how they conduct science.

An article published in Nature Vol. 466 page 7 has got scientist debating and reflecting. It is abundantly clear that is certainly not enough for scientists to lay out facts very, very clearly. Building public trust demands that scientists take seriously their role as leaders honest brokers.

The scathing attacks on scientists and the scientific basis of climate change has no doubt contributed to a vicious storm of public skepticism. There is a great deal of gaps in our current knowledge and there are many uncertainties in our models of future climate scenarios.

The premise of our call for concerted global action must not be undermined by questions about how we collect analyze and communicate the evidence. In particular, unnecessary restrictions on access data or sharing information on how the data was analyzed raise suspicion about scientific integrity and erode public confidence.

Scientists must recognize that climate change issues resonate with the general public, the business community and politicians on a variety of levels. Although facts matter, scientists must strive to engage the public in plain language and with accurate, credible and timely information whenever possible.

Public communication is important to raise public awareness and mobilize collective action. The use of the media, public lectures and policy briefs is certainly critical but not sufficient to elicit behavioral change at the scale needed to forestall dangerous climate change.

Work from social science (including the ‘diffusion of innovations theory’, ‘agent-based models’ and ‘social contagion models’) shows that a more effective way of transmitting new ideas is by influencing through near peers – a wide but homogeneous community. Public-health experts are aware and apply these ideas. I am not sure many climate scientists are exposed to these ideas.

As scientists, our knowledge and understanding of the impact of the Earth’s changing climate is not complete and will never be complete. And it does not have to be complete. The fact that scientists cannot understand fully or predict exactly the impacts of climate change could very well be our most potent argument for decisive and robust action to change how we live.

Tackling the HIV/AIDS pandemic: The opportunity is big but the labourers are few

The current issue of The Lancet has several articles on HIV/AIDS, ahead of AIDS 2010—the International AIDS Conference in to be held in Vienna, Austria between July 18 and 23.

2010 is significant because it is the year set by world leaders as the deadline for achieving universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, and care. Regrettably, we as a global collective will not meet this ambitious and imperative goal.

But there is something we can all celebrate. Advances in understanding of HIV biology and pathogenesis, and in application of that knowledge to reduce morbidity and mortality, rank among the most impressive accomplishments in medical history. Nothing, since penicillin, rivals the development of antiretroviral drugs in controlling a previously fatal infection. Today Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is potent, convenient, and typically well tolerated.

In the current issue of the Lancet, Ian Sanne and others report the findings of a randomized controlled study to compare nurses-managed and physician-managed therapy of ART in South Africa. A composite endpoint indicative of multiple aspects of ART delivery showed that nurse monitored therapy was not inferior to doctor monitored therapy. Most importantly, I think, the study reports no difference in mortality, viral failure, or immune recovery between study groups.

These findings lend support to observational data from other treatment programs reporting successful use of task shifting in HIV care, especially in resource-poor countries. Furthermore, these findings are especially critical for the expansion of ART services is urgently needed in resource-poor countries to achieve universal access expansion of universal testing and treating strategies.

The role of nurses and task shifting is even more critical from a public policy perspective when you consider that there are less than 10 physicians per 100,000 people in sub-Saharan Africa.

It is important to look at the findings of Ian Sanne et al study in context of the fact that HIV/AIDS presents a monumental challenge to health care systems in sub-Saharan Africa where people with HIV-related diseases occupy more than half of all hospital beds. Government-funded research in South Africa has suggested that, on average, HIV-positive patients stay in hospital four times longer than other patients.

Increased public investment in training and deployment of nurses in the community to deliver ART would help to ease the burden of HIV/AIDS related morbidity on Africa’s fragile and under resourced health care system.

The International AIDS Conference in Vienna 2010 should be less about bemoaning the lack of resources, dwelling on dreadful evidence of AIDS fatalities in Africa, elaborating the failures of universal access goals of United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) and more about the harnessing the enormous opportunities for doing more with less to provide relief and hope to millions of people infected or affected by HIV/AIDS.


Free sudoku by SudokuPuzz