Latest Developments, November 17

In the latest news and analysis…

Mali’s land rush
The Guardian reports on a new study that found foreign investment in Mali’s arable land, much of which has been worked for generations by farmers with no formal ownership rights, increased by 60 percent from 2009 to 2010.
“The bulk of these land deals – covering an area the report says could sustain more than half a million small farmers – were negotiated by just 22 foreign agri-investors. Less than 5% of west Africa’s largest country is arable.

The report levels significant blame on the World Bank, which it says has ‘shaped the economic, fiscal and legal environment of Mali in a way that favours the acquisition of vast tracks of fertile lands by few private interests instead of bringing solutions to the widespread poverty and hunger plaguing the country’.”

Zambia doubles up on miners
The Centre for Trade Policy and Development has welcomed the Zambian government’s proposal to double royalty rates on mining companies to six percent.
“Our analysis of the mining sector’s tax payments, its contribution to employment and supporting backward and forward linkages to local supply chains reveals that these are not commensurate to the levels of incentives and concessions that the government currently gives to the industry. The cost structure of most of the mining entities is weighted to promote shifting of profits outside the country through such schemes as transfer pricing, use of derivatives and thin capitalization,” according to CTPD’s Savior Mwambwa.

Air battle
Reuters reports that Nigeria is fining two British airlines for overcharging on flights between the two countries, claiming flights from the UK to nearby Ghana are considerably cheaper.
“’We are charging British Airways $135-million and Virgin Atlantic $100-million for abuse of a dominant position, fixing prices, abusing fuel surcharges and taking advantage of passengers,’ said Harold Demuren, director-general of Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).
‘We have been investigating for the last six months. Lagos to London has the highest route yield in the world. Our market is open for exploration, not exploitation.’”

Generic pressures
The Inter Press Service reports that even though there are international mechanisms – such as the Agreement on Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and Public Health laid out in the Doha Declaration of 2001 – that theoretically enable poor countries to prioritize public health over intellectual property rights, important obstacles to generic treatments persist.
“Surprisingly, very few developing countries, including South Africa, have amended their Patent Acts to make use of the possibilities the Doha Declaration provided – mainly due to international pressure from the pharmaceutical industry, the United States and European Union, where many of the world’s patented drugs are manufactured, health experts argue.”

Green economics
The International Institute for Environment and Development’s Kate Munro says green economics has yet to “leap the chasm that divides it from mainstream economic thinking” but it is gaining political traction in “developing” countries.
“However as the [New Forests Company] project in Uganda illustrates, the wide range of activities that can fly the green flag currently includes development projects with major negative social impacts. Such cases risk leaving popular audiences in developing countries unconvinced that green economics really can provide solutions to the problems they face, such as poverty, inequity and a lack of social justice.”

Understanding the Western brain
Saleemul Huq of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development at the Independent University, Bangladesh has some tips on how the Climate Vulnerable Forum should present its message if it wants to get the attention of policy makers in rich countries.
“The most important factor is the high level political strategy and messaging. Firstly, it is time to stop repeating that we are the most vulnerable and not responsible for the emissions that cause climate change. While this remains true, it is not new (we have repeated it ad nauseum) and so attracts no media attention. Nor does it find resonance among the developed countries, as they find the accusatory tone unpalatable. It is therefore time to drop the tone of “victimhood” and move on to a more positive message as follows:
Even though we are the most vulnerable and lowest emitters, we are nevertheless prepared to do what we can to reduce our own emissions of Green House Gases (GHGs) because every ton of carbon dioxide, regardless of whether it is produced in Bangladesh, China, or USA, causes the same amount of climate change. Therefore, reducing a ton of carbon dioxide contributes as much to the solution, whether it is done in Bangladesh, China or USA. We, as most vulnerable countries, are prepared to do our best to reduce our emissions and encourage and recommend other to do all they can do as well, whether or not there is any global agreement.”

Journalistic imperialism
Freelance journalist Stanley Kwenda writes about the experience of filming his own documentary for Al Jazeera after years of working as a fixer for foreign journalists telling stories about his native Zimbabwe even if they had “little or no knowledge of the local landscape or culture.”
“Africa’s story has often been about crises, about war, poverty and hunger but Al Jazeera has established a means through which other stories about Africa can be showcased. Those stories may be about Africa’s problems too, but in telling them ourselves it shows that we understand them and can work to find our own solutions.”

Hunger numbers
Oxfam’s Richard King writes about the dodginess of global hunger estimates and the Food and Agriculture Organization’s ongoing attempts to come up with way to get more reliable numbers.
“But all this will take time to overhaul, and will likely still result in indicators that are more suited to measuring recent chronic food insecurity rather than current acute hunger. For that, we may have to turn to more subjective indicators, such as those in the Gallup World Poll surveys recently analysed by [the International Food Policy Research Institute], in which people were asked: ‘Have there been times in the past 12 months when you did not have enough money to buy the food that you or your family needed?’ (yes or no). This is an imperfect alternative, not least because ‘food’ and ‘need’ are more abstract than counting calories and are likely to be interpreted differently depending on respondents’ location.”

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