Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Beninese Bush in 360 Degrees

If you haven't heard of Confluence Project, check it out. It's a website that hosts entries from all over the world from people who have visited and documented one of the globe's confluence points (where a line of lattitude and longitude intersect).
The small country of Benin happens to have 9 confluence points, most of which were recently documented by my PCV friend Jim Rybarski. "Confluence Hunting" can be a tricky task when you're trailblazing in Africa bush, and documenting Benin involved some failed attempts for a couple sights. Problems include unexpected bodies of water, unreliable roads, unknown terrain, and trying to convince local motorcycle taxis to do the unreasonable (take you into the bush) for a reasonable price. Here is an index of Benin's confluence points.

One of the points happens to be not 40 km (as the crow flies) from my own Benin town, Nikki. You can get a 360 degree idea of the place here as well as get a synopsis of the couple attempts to locate the point. While I didn't personally make it to the point, I accompanied Jim in his first attempt, which on the day was eventually given up after a decent ammount of meandering in the bush and realizing reaching the target would mean walking in uncharted terrain at least 10km.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Global Food Crisis & African Food Security

For over a year now we’ve been hearing quite a bit about the global food crisis. Though much eclipsed now by attention to the international financial crisis, it remains one of the most pressing global issues today. The problem is that the world is reaching the limits of its capacity to feed itself, and the problem is most dire in Africa.

This is somewhat ironic, given Africa’s vast land resources, however a number of causes render this the reality: the short-sighted trade policies of the more developed nations, but also the paranoid export restrictions of many developing nations, climate changes, commodity speculation, rising fuel prices, and the diversion of important crops (notably corn) into bio-fuels.

Aside from redressing these causes (all very much political in nature), all experts on the matter agree that more energy and funding needs to be put into improving the productivity of the developing world’s farmers, especially “Africa’s 400 million small farmers and their families in Africa who are most vulnerable to hunger,” which represent “80% of the hungry in Africa” (Catherine Bertunini & Dan Glickman). Also very political, this requires that all aid programs increase their focus and funding on agriculture research and development to get to the rural farmer more agricultural inputs (enhanced grains, fertilizers, etc), better equipment and methods, and better access to markets. In a recent Foreign Affairs article, Bertunini and Glickman site that U.S. agriculture aid to Africa has dropped off 85% since the 1980s (at which point the 1970’s global food crisis seemed to be resolved).

On the ground, the global food crisis is expressed by the issue of food security, which has three core elements: the physical availability of food, the physical and economic access to food, and food utilization, all of which must be fulfilled simultaneously and continually for a household or community to have food security. While a healthy productivity is key to the world’s level of food security, in recently in West Africa the food security rub has been price, as high grain prices and general inflation is making it more a more difficult for households to feed themselves. This is the case even when the country itself is producing enough grains to feed its population (as is the case for many West African countries).

Redressing food security really implies a holistic strategy that encompasses many sectors. The Mali government, along w/ other West African countries, has been trying to weave market-based food security into its overall economic growth strategy. Donors and NGOs operating in Mali are also working food security into their programs, and recently USAID allocated quite a bit of money to Mali for food security projects. A small portion of this fundsing is going to Peace Corps Mali, whose nature and mission is in many ways is uniquely positioned to intimately understand and deal with food security issues that rural Malian community face. In the next four years the program will taking a multi-sectoral approach to the food security problem with such goals as the creation of Food Security Community Comities, encouraging the agricultural exploitation using new techniques, the creation of agricultural cooperatives, and assistance in natural resource management.

More reading on Global Food Crisis and Food Security:

Monday, October 12, 2009

Investing in West Africa

An interesting article from the West African Trade Hub.