Saturday, November 15, 2008
As millions of Zimbabweans fight a daily battle against hunger, malnutrition and disease, and as the need for humanitarian assistance daily grows, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) said this week it has been forced to cut its life-saving food rations.
The UN has predicted that up to 5 million people will face starvation as soon as January, because of widespread food shortages and the devastating effect of the crash of the local currency. The government, in a shocking act of cruelty, only partially lifted a ban on crucial foreign aid recently and the trickle of food aid that has returned to the country means countless numbers of men, women and children have already died from lack of food. The true number of deaths may never be known.
The food crisis is affecting all sectors of life, and even boarding schools across the country have been forced to shut their doors early because there is no food to give students. Schools were scheduled to shut down for the festive season in early December but authorities at some boarding schools last Friday ordered all Form one, two, three and five students out of school, citing the overwhelming food crisis. Only students writing their ‘O’ and ‘A’ level examinations have remained, but it unclear what they are being fed, if they are being fed at all.
The lives of countless more people now hang in the balance after the WFP announced on Tuesday that it is facing a serious funding crisis and it has already been forced to reduce its aid.
“WFP still requires US$140 million to fund its operations in Zimbabwe until the end of March 2009 - with a shortfall of approximately 145,000 tons of food, including 110,000 metric tons of cereals and 35,000 metric tons of other food commodities,” the agency said in an update detailing its first month of large-scale distributions in October.
A WFP spokesman, Richard Lee explained on Wednesday that there is “currently no food in the pipeline for distributions in January and February”, a period when the food crisis is set to reach its peak and when almost half the population will need urgent food assistance. The WFP said it aims in November to distribute around 46,000 tons of food to more than 3.3 million people under the “vulnerable group” feeding programme and around 600,000 under the safety net programmes, but the organisation said it will not be able to provide every beneficiary with a full food basket. The November cereal ration has been cut from 12 kilograms to 10 kilograms per person per month and the pulse ration from 1.8 kilograms to one kilogram for all “vulnerable group” beneficiaries and for people receiving take-home rations under the safety net programmes.
“These cuts will allow WFP to stretch its available resources as far as possible but they will leave greater numbers more malnourished and more susceptible to disease,” Lee explained, saying the group is very concerned by the numbers that will be left hungry. He added that the group is confident it can “reach and provide aid for the predicted numbers of Zimbabweans next year” but said this will depend of receiving sufficient donations to make up the current shortfall.
Friday, November 14, 2008
FOREWORD TO SEASONS OF HUNGER
by Stephen Devereux, Bapu Vaitla and Samuel Hauenstein Swan
foreword by Robert Chambers
Of all the dimensions of rural deprivation, the most neglected is seasonality. Vulnerability, sickness, powerlessness, exploitation, material poverty, under- and malnutrition, wages, prices,
incomes…these are recognised, researched and written about, But among them again and again seasonality is overlooked and left out.
Yet seasonality manifests in all these other dimensions and in how they interlock. This is almost universal for poor people, but especially so in the rural tropics. There, during the rains, poor people are repeatedly oppressed and screwed down by a cruel combination of lack of food, lack of money, high food prices, physical hardship, hard work vital for survival, debilitating sicknesses such as diarrhoeas and malaria, and isolation and lack of access to services. It is then that they are materially most poor, most vulnerable, most powerless, most exploited, most isolated, and most short of food. It is then these dimensions most tightly interlock and reinforce each other. It
is then that poor people suffer most and are most vulnerable to becoming poorer.
It is also when they are most invisible. Integrated seasonal poverty is matched and mirrored by integrated professional ignorance.Professionals anyway focus on their own specialised disciplinary concerns and miss linkages with those of others. This is compounded when all professions overlook seasonality. They do not see the stark and cyclical reality of the seasons when deprivations collide and hit poor people simultaneously. So research, reports and recommendations repeatedly omit the seasonal dimension. Papers published on rural poverty in the tropics often never mention it. I have never once read or heard it in the speech of a policy-maker. It is simply missing from most professionals’ and policy-makers’ mental maps.
The reasons are not far to seek. We development professionals are season-proofed - insulated and protected by our housing, air conditioning, fans and heaters, clothing, urban facilities, incomes, food supplies, protection from infection, and access to health services. Often we gain impressions most from rural elites, but as this book points out, while seasonality is bad for the poor it can be good for the rich. We are also season-blind – we travel least at the bad times during the rains and before the harvest, and when we do, stick more than ever to tarmac and places close to town. Except in full-blown famines, we rarely encounter or perceive the regular seasonal hardship, hunger and starvation of remoter poor people. Cyclical seasonal hunger is quiet and hidden. When the rains are over, the harvest in, and people are through the worst,
urban-based professionals travel again and venture further afield. Their impressions are then formed at the best times, missing the worst.
This book is a powerful corrective. It brings a new perspective and proposals for action that are new in their scope and focus. It shows how central seasonality is to the creation and deepening of
deprivation. The case is made, irrefutably, that seasonal hunger is the father of famine and that famine cannot be stopped unless seasonal hunger is stopped.
What is so shocking is the evidence of how policies have made it worse. In earlier decades, in many countries, with parastatal marketing boards, people in remote areas were entitled and able to buy seed and sell crops at fixed prices which did not vary by season. With enforced liberalisation and the abolition of the boards, the poor people in those areas, and elsewhere, lost that protection and were once again exposed to cruel seasonal fluctuations in prices. The market did not serve them. It exposed them. Liberalisation made poor people poorer, and created conditions for famines in bad years.
The situation cries out for action. Drawing on their experience and research, Devereux, Vaitla and Swan show what has to be done. They bring together proposals for a raft of workable measures for social protection. Agricultural livelihood development is basic. Social protection measures include: nutritional and food security surveillance; community-based management of acute malnutrition, and home-based care; cash and food transfers; seasonal employment programmes; social pensions; child growth promotion; and crop insurance schemes. And these are costed. The question becomes not whether they can be afforded but whether if governments, lenders and donors who are serious about poverty can conceivably not afford them.
To end seasonal hunger, rights and power are crucial. This is shown by India’s employment guarantee schemes. Poor people must have rights to make demands. There must be an enforceable right to food. The persuasive argument put forward is for a “fundamental transformation in the political obligations around hunger”.
This book is a wake up call. After Seasons of Hunger, things should never be the same again. It should be required reading for all development professionals – political leaders, officials, those who work in governments, aid agencies and NGOs, academics, researchers, teachers, local leaders and others –all who are committed to the fight against poverty. For all those who share that commitment, it is a ‘must’. Let us in future always find ‘seasonality’ in books, articles and reports on poverty. In committees, meetings and reviews of policy and practice, and in research, let there always be someone who asks and presses the question: “And what about seasonality?” Let that crucial, pervasive, cross cutting dimension never again be overlooked or ignored. To achieve that, we have to start with ourselves, our own perceptions and priorities. To make poverty history, we have to make seasonal blindness history.
The development community has a huge, historic opportunity. It is precisely because seasonal deprivation has been so neglected that it now presents such immense and wide-ranging scope for attacking poverty. Any development professional serious about poverty has now, more than ever, to be serious about seasonality. May the right to food be recognised. May the measures advocated here be adopted. And so let us banish the hidden obscenity of quiet seasonal starvation from our world and make seasonal hunger history.
Seasons of Hunger shows how.
29 May 2008 Robert Chambers
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Preliminary reports of the state agriculture department said that moisture stress had been noticed in about 15,036 hectares, mostly cultivated in high land areas.
However, sources claimed that over 50 per cent of crop had already withered due to lack of rain and irrigation facility.
The district experienced less precipitation this year except in August-September. In October there was a meagre 27.40 mm rainfall against 177 mm last year causing moisture stress, official reports said.
Normal rainfall was essential in October for bumper kharif crop.
Last year, there was 1298.19 mm rainfall against noraml rainfall of 1275.29 mm in the district.
Altogether 22.35 lakh hectares had been covered for paddy cultivation in the district and the yield was 7,83,368 metric tonnes.
The department had set the target to produce 7,85,795 metric tonnes of paddy this year, the sources said, adding if the present situation continued for a week more, the yield would drastically reduce.
The blocks facing moisture stress included Rangeilunda, Sanakhemundi, Digapahandi, Kukudakhandi, Bhanjanagar, Chikiti, Patrapur, Ganjam, Chhatrapur, Buguda, Jagannathprasad, Khallikote and Belaguntha.
Monday, November 3, 2008
23 October 2008 - A public agitation in any area inevitably leads to disturbances of routine activities. This can be difficult enough for adults, who must cope with changes to their employment routines, scheduling purchases for their homes, etc. But for children, the uncertainties and resulting losses can be even more harsh, as routines are particularly important to them. In long-draw-out agitations, the negative impacts can be especially severe, cutting off access to schooling, and in the process closing the door on many opportunities in the future.
In the politics surrounding Nandigram, the impact of the events on children has been completely ignored. In view of this, Child Rights and You (CRY), and its dynamic team of seven youth volunteers drawn from Kolkata, Gandhinagar ad Hyderabad, embarked on a unique survey of the children of Nandigram to assess the impact of the disturbances that began there in January 2007, in particular during the three months immediately thereafter. Their report, while motivated by a special concern for the affected children, has tried to be as objective as possible in assessing human rights with special reference to the rights of the child.
This is the first status report of its kind on child victims of the proposed industrialisation of Nandigram, and the resultant displacement caused by forcible land acquisition. Case histories of affected children, and conditions of the schools in the area point out how the rights of the childred have been ignored or violated. The media and the public have focussed constantly on political issues and on human rights violations directly linked to these political issues. Mental health conditions, as well as schooling and living conditions of the children in the aftermath of the violence on March 14 have received far less attention - if any - in the press.
Condition of schools in Nandigram
Schooling in Nandigram has understandably been affected by the disturbances. Classes are not held regularly. Science practicals are held in the open grounds, while policemen occupy the laboratories. Police camped themselves in Gokulnagar High School after March 14, a government-aided school, and the only high school in Nandigram. The situation in this school is the most pathetic of all. The police pollute the environment by cooking their food here, and do not clean up properly afterward, leading to accumulation of garbage. The toilets, which too the police use, are not properly cleaned; this has created a stench making it difficult for the children to sit in the classrooms. There is also a water crisis, as the police use a lot of water for bathing, washing and so on. Letters sent out to the administration including the Chief Minister and the Home Minister asking for the police to be removed were not responded to.
Moreover, the constant presence of the police on the premises and even the sports grounds keep the children in a constant state of fear and tension. The students do not hold any grudge against the policemen, as they understand that the policemen must follow orders but they still find it hard to come to terms with the situation. The policemen try to maintain a friendly relationship with the students, but in vain. Grades of top rankers have declined after the tragedy. A few students were forced to leave Gokulnagar High School because their results in the annual examinations had been below par. They could not study for the examinations. Students from Gangra, one of the worst affected areas, are particularly vulnerable and many of them have stopped attending schools.
Schooling in Nandigram has understandably been affected by the disturbances. Classes are not held regularly. Science practicals are held in the open grounds, while policemen occupy the laboratories.
The student register of Maheshpur High School shows a student-strength of around 770. It is a government-aided school, part of the funds coming from Sarva Siskha Abhiyan. Students can take the Madhyamik (Clss X) board exams from this school. Every year, about 50 students appear for the public exam, said the headmaster (but this could not be verified, as he declined to show the team his register). During the team's visit, a disruptive crowd was present on the premises that refused to budge. The team members spoke to the headmaster, three teachers and some students. The annual school examinations scheduled to begin on March 14 had to be postponed twice as a result of the incidents on that day. Though the headmaster had arranged to announce the postponement in neighbouring villages, many students could not take the exams for fear, nervousness and tension in the entire area.
Bikash Mondal, 10, and his sister Pompa Mondal, 8 studying in Class V and Class III respectively at Sonachura Prathamik Vidyalaya lost their father Bharat Mondal. Bharat is one of the first casualties of the struggle - on the night intervening 6 and 7 January he was killed, allegedly by a group of CPM cadres who also killed Biswajit Maiti, Bhudeb Mondal, Sk. Salim, and Bishnu Maiti. Pompa, who went back to regular school from May, 2007, is so confused that she does not remember whether she has taken her annual examinations or not. When asked about her father's death, she clams up at once and grows tense and quiet.
She did not witness her father's death and was not allowed to see his corpse before his cremation. But his loss seems to have affected her deeply. She has not been able to cope with the shock four months after the tragedy. Each time she thinks of him or hears about him, she chokes up and turns mute. Some incidents between January and February last year have been wiped out from her memory.
Her brother Bikash says that the sound of gunfire and bombings were so disturbing that his family was forced to spend many nights in the open fields. He resumed schooling some time after his father's death. His performance in his exams, he said, was not good because of the terror. (He used the word santrash to speak of terror.) In his opinion, the CPM was responsible for the bombings and the firing adding that these party cadres, and their supporters made no secret of their political affiliations. When asked about his father's death, he began to cry. His father worked as a hired farm labour. The family owns very little land. Even at this tender age, he has begun to worry about providing for his mother, sister and grandmother, now that his father is no more. He wants to study well, he says, adding that though the situation is under control, there is tension in the air.
Shivaprasad Mondal, 16, lives in Gangra and studies at Gokulnagar High School in Class XII. His brother Ramchandra is a leader in the Bhumi Uchchhed Protirodh Committee (BUPC â€“ Committee for Resistance to Eviction from Homeland) formed on January 5. He was close to a CPM leader Joyshokor Pyke and took shelter in his house during the worst violence. The CPM men alleged that Shivaprasad was informing the BUPC about their actions, as his brother was a BUPC leader. The CPM men followed him around as a strategy to place pressure on his older brother by threatening Shivaprasad. He informed the school's Head Master and Managing Committee but they could not do anything.
He had to take exams by staying at friends' homes close to the school. Months later, he still takes a detour because he is scared of encountering CPM cadres on the direct route through Tekkhali Bagan. He said that of the former batch of around 169 students who cleared the Class XI exams, 50-60 do not attend school any more. Besides, as the police were camping on the school premises, the students are facing space problems and are not able to study properly.
Shivprasad does not support either the BUPC or the CPM. He is caught up in a political fray between two organisations and this is hampering his studies and depriving him of a home. He is forced to move from one friend's house to another's in order to ensure his safety and schooling. He admits that this has taken a toll on his health and his studies. Even today, when tensions have decreased, he is scared to move freely in his own area. This has restricted his movement and his freedom.
Eight-year-old Abhijit Maiti is the kid brother of Biswajit Maiti, 12, who was killed on 7 January. His mother is still in shock over her son's death. The child could not tell us anything about his brother's death, as it had not registered in his mind. He could not understand the questions the team asked him, was very nervous and said that his brother continues to haunt him at night. The shock of his brother's sudden death and the tension in the area has taken a heavy toll on the tender mind of this eight-year-old boy. He has problems understanding things and situations.
Sushanta Pal, 12, is an eyewitness to the sequence of events that took place on 14 March last year, culminating in the police firing on villagers. He has stopped going to his high school in Sonachura after that day. He recalls his parents tell him on the night of 13 March, that the police would try to enter Nandigram the following day. During the Gouranga Pooja, he was right near the ditch on the Nandigram side of the bridge, as he lives near Talpatti Khal. While the pooja was on amidst huge crowds, he saw about 45 cars carrying policemen draw up on the Khejuri side of the bridge. They ordered the crowds to disperse for their own safety. When the crowds paid no heed to the warnings and went on with the pooja, the police fired rubber bullets and teargas into the crowd followed by random firing, injuring many.
He claims to have seen five people die. Along with some of his friends, he ran away from the Tekkhali Bridge. None of them were hurt in the police firing but once the police crossed over from Khejuri into Nandigram they did not spare even the children. He saw the police grab a child from its mother and kill the little one. Till this day, he says cannot bear the bright sun as his eyes begin to burn because of the teargas the police used that day. He left school. He feels mentally disturbed with the incessant noise of bombing and gunfire from Khejuri that takes away his attention from studies. He cannot sleep properly at night. Along with the men in the family, he keeps watch at nights even now.
He has chosen not to attend school anymore firstly because the school authorities refuse to take responsibility if and when any violence takes place; secondly, because he has taken on the responsibility of his five sisters and one brother. He hardly meets his brother who studies in a boarding school in Khejuri because they are scared to cross the bridge. Though he could not prove his claim, he insisted that the policemen were wearing chappals which real police would never do and could recognise some CPM cadres among them in police uniform.
The vocabulary of these children now has words like shilpo (industrialisation), santrash (terror) and proshashon (administration). Six-year-old Mamoni Bai knows the word shilpo, but to her it means displacement and land-grabbing. Proshashon is synonymous with the police and santrash the children understand as something dangerous. Most of these words have negative implications for them.
The CRY team of volunteers - Chiranjib Paul, Nikita Jhunjhunwalla, Oishik Bagchi, Priyanka Mukherjee, Poulomi Saha, Ramanika Nandy, Rohan Saha and Sukanya Bhaumik - were appalled by what they uncovered during the survey. Every rule on child rights has been violated with impunity as if it does not exist. The report, says the team, "is our immediate response addressing the urgency of the situation and the demands that need to be met."
The volunteers have no political affiliations and the survey was solely aimed at detecting violations of the human rights of children in the area. Their report has taken several months to be compiled, but despite this, it is revealing. Moreover, the impact on children is universal and timeless. The scars will remain, the nightmares will continue and the child victims' understanding of industrialisation will have been warped forever by the conflicts in which they and their families have been caught up. ⊕
Shoma Chatterji Dr Shoma Chatterji is a freelance writer based in Kolkata, and a member of NWMI. She is the author of 16 books, including 'Kali - The Goddess of Kolkota' and 'Gender and Conflict'.
Saturday, November 1, 2008
Organizers: South Asia Watch on Trade, Economics & Environment (SAWTEE), Nepal;
Consumer Unity & Trust Society (CUTS) ‐International, India; and Oxfam (novib), The Netherlands
We, the participants of the South Asian Civil Society Forum on Food Security, view that the Triple 'F' Global Crises—Fuel, Food and Financial—have been affecting the global economy as well as posing a range of complex challenges for South Asian countries in the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), including the goal of halving the number of poor and hunger, and the "SAARC Development Goals".
We note that the global fuel prices have fallen significantly of late but there is no assurance that prices will stabilize, and will not adversely affect the food security situation in South Asia. We believe that while the rise in food prices will continue to adversely affect the region and to create further challenges in the form of widespread poverty and food insecurity, the worsening global financial crisis threatens to perpetuate food insecurity, by, inter alia, diverting the attention of international donor agencies and governments from the agenda of food security.
We recognize that South Asian governments have taken the food security issue seriously but it is high time for them to initiate effective collaborative actions for addressing the food security concerns from the human rights perspective, both nationally and regionally, and redesign their policies on agriculture, food security and trade.
We welcome the outcome of the 15th SAARC Summit that was concluded this August in Colombo, Sri Lanka. The main Declaration of the Summit and a separate "Colombo Statement on Food Security" indicate that SAARC Member States are willing to make concerted efforts for addressing the food insecurity challenges facing the region.
Taking note of these developments and supporting the willingness of the Member States to devise and implement "people-centered short- to medium-term Regional Strategy and Collaborative Projects" for ensuring food security in the region, as well as the decisions made for the operationalization of the SAARC Food Bank, and the drawing up of SAARC Agriculture Perspective 2020, we met to discuss various food security issues ahead of the Meeting of the SAARC Agriculture Ministers to be held in New Delhi on 5─6 November 2008.
Based on the deliberations and discussions made at the forum, we came up with the following recommendations (some of which are cross-cutting) on different thematic areas, which we consider to be important for SAARC Member States to integrate into their regional strategies, collaborative actions and projects, and Agriculture Perspective 2020.
*SAARC Food Bank*
In order to effectively and efficiently operationalize the Food Bank:
• Make an institutional arrangement for periodic estimations of food demand; and undertake measures to increase the storage capacity of the Member States.
• Relax the withdrawal conditions and the replenishment requirements of the bank by taking into account the national capacity of the Member States.
• Set up a Central Information System (e.g., websites for real time data sharing); and form a SAARC Food Security Monitoring Committee, including civil society representatives, and also task this committee with the role of: making arrangements for a regional mapping of vulnerable regions and populations, as well as preparing a vulnerability calendar for the effective distribution of food and response systems. Such regional food mapping can also guide the concerned authorities to establish community food centres which are needed mainly to enhance access to food in remote and inaccessible areas.
• Set up a Negotiation Committee for price determination and a Dispute Settlement Mechanism to resolve disputes concerned with the bank's operationalization.
• Agree to authorize Parliamentary Committees of the Member States to look into its operational issues for wider political support and cooperation, as well as contribute ideas for the effective operationalization of the bank.
• Work out detailed procurement modalities in addition to ensuring timely, localized and transparent procurement as well as rationalization of procurement prices. Ensure that public-private partnership be an integral part of the procurement modality.
• Utilize the SAARC Development Fund to facilitate the procurement process.
• Make distribution systems responsive to regional and seasonal food insecurity, as well as non-political and non-partisan.
*Production and Productivity*
• Promote the exchange and testing of varieties/seeds within the region keeping in consideration the similarities and diversities of agro-ecological zones. Bilateral and regional contracts and agreements between and among the Member States should be implemented to facilitate the access to and exchange of varieties/seeds, which is currently being restricted in the region in view of the emerging concerns relating to Access and Benefit Sharing and Intellectual Property Right (IPR) Regimes.
• In this regard, establish a "SAARC Seed Bank", linking it with "national seed banks" (the creation of which is also important) as well as "community seed banks" (which are already under implementation in several countries of the region) so that it ensures an effective long-term mechanism of production, exchange and use of community- and environment-friendly quality seeds that are in the domain of public and private sector organizations as well as farmers. The bank will also contribute to agriculture research (breeding) and promote the sharing of seeds and technologies that are critical for developing new varieties/seeds and promoting the conservation of agricultural biodiversity.
• Promote the cost-effective intensification of agriculture and invest sufficiently in agriculture research, extension and infrastructure for, among others, strengthening crop diversification and management techniques; arresting soil degradation (e.g., salination); and strengthening effective post-harvest loss management.
• Implement collaborative projects to encourage farmer-to-farmer exchange as well as partnership activities with scientists, breeders and other private sector groups (such as through participatory plan breeding projects).
*Bioenergy and climate change*
• Establish a Technical Working Group to:
o undertake a stocktaking exercise of bioenergy technologies and research capacities with a focus on technologies that are not competing with the use of food production.
o prioritize and adapt available technologies for pilot projects on bioenergy, building on experiences and strengths of the SAARC Member States.
o develop short- and long-term research priorities for regional collaboration on the development and dissemination of bioenergy technologies, with a possibility of adding liquid biofuels in the long-term perspective.
• Invest in research and development projects to identify and adopt cost-effective technologies needed for mitigation of climate change effects on food security and agriculture, and develop regulatory policy frameworks that can help mitigate and adapt to climate change, including an early warning system.
• Establish a South Asian Climate Change Fund to also support activities in response to intensifying climate change impacts on food security and agriculture.
• Develop a regional agenda to advocate the reduction of subsidies, tariffs and other distortive trade measures on liquid biofuels in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries through the World Trade Organization (WTO).
• Lobby for time-bound commitments and actions from developed countries for transferring energy-efficient, low-carbon technologies to South Asian countries through the Clean Development Mechanism.
*Trade and Biotechnology*
• Make time-bound commitments and actions in the area of transit and trade facilitation, and harmonize customs rules and regulations as well as product standards and quality (such as sanitary and phytosanitary, and technical standards) with adequate institutional arrangements for facilitating food procurement and trade.
• Promote intra-regional trade in farm products by de-listing some of the farm products from the negative list under the Agreement on South Asian Free Trade Area in a phase-wise manner or on a trial basis, and remove para-tariff and non-tariff barriers to agriculture trade. This is also essential to strengthen the procurement mechanism required for the effective operationalization of the SAARC Food Bank.
• Protect small and marginal farmers from cheap subsidized imports but at the same time, also develop strategies to boost farm exports from the region.
• Agree not to apply food export restraints to the Member States.
• Make commitments to institutionalize the process of the involvement and participation of non-state actors in trade negotiations at the national, regional and international levels, and while signing trade agreements, including trans-regional bilateral trade agreements, do not agree to conditions that adversely affect the food security interest of the region.
• Develop Regional Framework/Guidelines on the application of biotechnology as well as bio-safety measures so as to ensure that the outcomes are community- and environment friendly.
• Develop Regional Framework/Guidelines on Genetically Modified Organisms, keeping in consideration the interests of both consumers and producers, as well as the implications for the environment and the natural resource base.
• Work in unison to ensure that global negotiations in agriculture and related issues such as intellectual property rights (IPRs) are made supportive of the agricultural development thrust of SAARC countries and demand that they be allowed to exercise the right to protect their agricultural sector through, for example, the Special Safeguard Mechanism being negotiated at the WTO.
*Agricultural Biodiversity and Intellectual Property Rights*
• Promote community-based biodiversity management (CBM) systems and practices for the protection of farmers' rights to seeds, genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge, and for the strengthening of tripartite partnership among the public, private and community actors and agencies.
• Recognize and implement programmes and projects such as Participatory Plant Breeding, Community Seed Banks, Community Biodiversity Registers, Home-gardens, and Value Addition and Marketing, including of neglected and underutilized species.
• Create a Regional Network of community seed banks so as to facilitate the exchange and use of seeds in the region.
• Form a Regional Intellectual Property Expert Committee to look into the IPR affairs and issues, and develop a Regional IPR Policy, taking into account the national capacity of developing and least-developed Member countries.
• Develop common positions on IPR issues for negotiations at the international forums such as at the level of the WTO and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), taking into account the interest of both developing and least-developed Member countries.
• Develop Regional Framework/Guidelines on "Plant Variety Protection" and "Access and Benefit Sharing" Regimes to ensure an effective implementation of farmers' rights over farmers' varieties as well as IPR-protected varieties so as to bring into implementation effective domestic (sui generis) regimes to safeguard farmers from the onslaught of IPRs. Such regional framework must take into account the provisions of relevant international instruments—such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture—and importantly, the special and differential treatment of the least-developed countries (LDCs) at the WTO.
• Make institutional arrangements and implement collaborative projects to assess the potential of benefiting from the geographical indication (GI) registration of agriculture products, for example, by undertaking economic and export feasibility research and studies on potential products of the region.
*Role of SAARC Observers, and International Actors and Agencies*
• Observer nations should develop strategic community-centered action plans to support regional strategies and collaborative projects of SAARC, as well as the drawing up and implementation of Agriculture Perspective 2020, and also to provide concrete support to the effective operationalization of the Food Bank and the early warning system.
• More coordinated efforts should be made by developed countries, the United Nations High Level Task Force on Global Food Crisis, and institutions such as the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the World Bank and the WTO for financial, logistical and technical support, and technology transfer.
• Support for trade-related infrastructure, particularly to deal with sanitary and phytosanitary and technical barriers to trade, for increased farm exports from SAARC, as well as for favourable market access opportunities, including meaningful and beneficial duty-free and quota-free facilities for the LDCs, must be an integral part of their programmes and packages.
• The global financial crisis should not be used as an excuse for bilateral and multilateral donors and developed countries to withdraw commitments on the assistance required for food security.
*ABOUT THE ORGANIZERS*
*SAWTEE (South Asia Watch on Trade, Economics & Environment)* is a regional network that operates through its secretariat in Kathmandu and 11 member institutions from five South Asian countries, namely Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The overall objective of SAWTEE is to build the capacity of concerned stakeholders in South Asia in the context of liberalization and globalization. SAWTEE's network institutions in five South Asian countries are: Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers' Association (BELA), Dhaka, and Unnayan Shamannay, Dhaka in Bangladesh; Citizen consumer and civic Action Group (CAG), Chennai, Consumer Unity & Trust Society (CUTS), Jaipur, and Development Research and Action Group (DRAG), New Delhi in India; Society for Legal and Environmental Analysis and Development Research (LEADERS), Kathmandu, and Forum for Protection of Public Interest (Pro Public), Kathmandu in Nepal; Journalists for Democracy and Human Rights (JDHR), Islamabad, and Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), Islamabad in Pakistan; and Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), Colombo, and Law & Society Trust (LST), Colombo in Sri Lanka (www.sawtee.org).
*CUTS (Consumer Unity & Trust Society)* was a small voluntary group of concerned citizens operating out of a garage on a zero budget in 1983. Currently, it operates out of five programme centres and five resource centres— six in India: three in Jaipur, one in Kolkata, and one each in Chittorgarh and Delhi; two in Africa: Lusaka, Zambia and Nairobi, Kenya; one in London, the UK and one in Hanoi, Vietnam, with a staff strength of over 85. CUTS' work is divided into six programme areas: Consumer Protection; International Trade and Development; Competition, Investment and Economic Regulation; Human Development; and Consumer Safety. Over 353 individuals and 300 organisations are its members. The organisation is accredited to UNCTAD and UNCSD. CUTS also works with several national, regional and international organisations, such as Consumers International (CI); ICTSD; SAWTEE; the Consumer Coordination Council (CCC) of India, etc. It also serves on several policy-making bodies of the Government of India (www.cuts-international.org).
*The Nederlandse Organisatie voor Internationale Bijstand, or Oxfam Novib*for short, was set up on 23 March 1956. Prince Bernard was its first chairman. Oxfam Novib, a member of Oxfam International, is fighting for a just world without poverty. Together with people, organisations, businesses and governments. Through projects and lobby. Locally and internationally. Because poverty and injustice are global problems. They are about unjust economic and political relationships (www.oxfamnovib.nl).
Probably the most toxic aspect of the current conflict in North Kivu is that, as in Iraq and Sudan and other countries, the protection civilians get from violence often depends on which ethnic group they belong to.
The FARDC - the national army - has fled Goma, unable to stem the advance of Laurent Nkunda's National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP). The UN peacekeeping mission is desperately calling for more resources, and in the past has been accused of failing to protect civilians.
In this security vacuum, leaders such as Nkunda are able to play on the grievances of their communities to recruit militias, even if their real motivations are about controlling mines and trade. Nkunda says he is fighting because of the abuses his people, the Tutsi, have suffered.
The Tutsi do have legitimate grievances, notably they have been the victims of a number of pogroms in the 1990s. But they certainly do not have the monopoly on suffering in North Kivu. To cite one example, the Mbuti Pygmies, an indigenous people in the Kivus and Ituri, has no militia to protect it; it has been targeted by armed groups, and subjected to massive human rights violations - torture, displacement and the rape of women and children.
The grievances of the Tutsi cannot justify the abuses committed by the CNDP: it has used rape on a massive scale as a tool to terrorise civilian populations, and mass graves of civilians have been found by MONUC, the UN mission in the DRC, in areas recently vacated by the rebel group. More recently, the group has been using refugee camps to launch attacks, in clear contravention of international law.
UN forces are well placed to provide security in North Kivu, because what is desperately needed is a security force that is perceived as neutral. It clearly needs strengthening, but the international political will to do so appears to be weak.
In response to a French proposal earlier this week to send additional European Union troops, British Foreign Office Minister Mark Malloch-Brown said, "we cannot rule out an additional deployment ... but I think it is too early to say that is necessary ... and whether it would arrive in time is also questionable". It's too early, but it may also be too late; a classic piece of diplomatic equivocation, and the result is likely to be that nothing is done.
Faced with another human catastrophe, we are yet again throwing up our hands in powerlessness. It is imperative that the EU approve the French proposal, and send troops to North Kivu within days; it was for this kind of situation, after all, that EU battle groups were proposed in the first place. Even if they arrive too late to protect Goma, there is no reason to assume that Nkunda will stop there.
However in the long term, the only way to stop these conflicts from re-occurring will be by addressing their root causes. There has been a succession of peace agreements between Nkunda's forces, other armed groups and the DRC government.
But, like so many peace agreements, these have only addressed the visible part of the conflict iceberg; the immediate violence. What is needed is for the government to address grievances over illegal land seizures, by establishing a transparent judicial process to review claims. Economic opportunities must be improved by loosening the grip of the militias on import/export income and mines.
The Congolese army needs to become a professional, impartial force that provides security to all communities, including the most vulnerable, by integrating the various militias. In so doing, the militia brigades must be broken up and dispersed, otherwise they carry on waging the same wars in different uniforms.
Finally, and most importantly, the Rwandan and DRC governments need to stop using proxy militias to fight for control over North Kivu and its resources; if they fail to do this, they risk an inflammation of the conflict that may finally destabilize Rwanda and cause the Balkanisation of the DRC.
Children eat bread and porridge at a camp for displaced people 12 kilometers north of Goma in Congo.
A rebel spokesman said they were keeping to a cease-fire so aid can reach displaced Congolese.
Babou Amane, deputy spokesman for the National Congress for the Defense of the People, said rebel forces had retreated to about 9 miles (15 kilometers) north of the city of Goma to create a "humanitarian corridor."
Despite a rebel cease-fire declared late Wednesday, security in Congo's North Kivu province was tenuous, with many aid organizations refusing or reluctant to venture out to help the homeless, authorities said.
About 50 medical personnel from Medecins sans Frontieres can move throughout the area relatively unobstructed and supplies are getting in, said Marie-Noelle Rodrigue, the agency's local emergency coordinator.
"Security is a concern, of course," Rodrigue said from Goma, the provincial capital. "For the moment, we have not been stopped by anybody."
Thousands of displaced residents are on the move and Medecins sans Frontieres has mobile clinics dispensing water and any other needed aid, Rodrigue said late Friday.
"We're trying to move with the people," Rodrigue said. "We're setting up mobile clinics where ever they are."
There have been some isolated cases of cholera but no epidemics or other major health concerns, Rodrigue said.
"For the moment, it is still under control," the 40-year-old nurse said.
David Miliband, the foreign minister of Britain, and his French counterpart, Bernard Kouchner, were heading to Congo and neighboring Rwanda on Friday, their offices said. France holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, which is considering its options, officials have said.
In addition, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asked Alain Leroy, the undersecretary-general for peacekeeping operations, to travel to the region, the organization said.
European Union Commissioner Louis Michel was in Kinshasa, the Congolese capital, on Friday and obtained "verbal agreement" from Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Congo President Joseph Kabila to attend an emergency summit on the crisis to be held "in Nairobi [Kenya] under auspices of the United Nations," EU spokesman John Clancy said.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said it was investigating reports that some camps for displaced persons had been "forcibly emptied, looted and burned," according to a written statement.
In a written statement, the U.N. High Commissioner of Refugees spokesman Ron Redmond said Friday afternoon, "UNHCR staff in Goma this morning reported the situation calm but tense. Our office is open and our people are working, but security restrictions on movement remain tight."
He said rebels controlled Rutshuru, where UNHCR has an office. Rutshuru is 90 kilometers (56 miles) north of Goma, the provincial capital.
Redmond said the UNHCR was trying to verify "disturbing reports" from "humanitarian partners" about attacks on the camps near Rutshuru.
"We are extremely concerned about the fate of some 50,000 displaced people living in these camps, which include the UNHCR-administered sites of Dumez, Nyongera and Kasasa as well as several makeshift settlements," he said.
Rebel leader General Laurent Nkunda said Thursday that he ordered a cease-fire for his forces because he wants start work with the U.N. mission in Congo, known by its French acronym MONUC, to allow people back to their homes.
"We are respecting our cease-fire. ... We are waiting for the response [to the corridor offer] from the government and from MONUC, the U.N. forces," Nkunda said. "We want to have an agenda that we can discuss political issues with the government."
Nkunda, a Tutsi, has repeatedly blamed the Congolese government for failing to protect the Tutsi tribe from Rwandan Hutu militia in Congo. Hutu rebels have been active in the jungles of eastern Congo since Rwanda's 1994 genocide, according to the United Nations.
The United Nations estimates that during the 100 days of the genocide in Rwanda, the Hutu majority killed 800,000 Tutsis and and moderate Hutus.
The top U.S. diplomat for Africa said Friday that she was encouraged that the deadly conflict won't grow into "something that looks like genocide."
Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer spoke to CNN International by phone from Kigali, Rwanda, Congo's neighbor, where she planned to meet Saturday with Rwandan President Paul Kagame.
Frazer, who visited Thursday with Congo President Joseph Kabila, was making diplomatic rounds to deliver a U.S. message: "We understand the need for the Rwandans and the Congolese to work together to try to end the human crisis that's unfolded in North Kivu, as well as to cooperate together to address the negative forces in the eastern Congo."
One of the negative forces, she said, is the National Congress for the Defense of the People rebel force led by Nkunda, which fought government forces for four days until a cease-fire was declared late Wednesday.
Frazer said she would impress upon Kagame the need for continued cooperation between Rwanda and Kabila's government.
"Eastern Congo is very, very unstable right now. ... There have been attacks and counterattacks between rebels and the Congo military," she said.
Asked about the possible danger that the rebels could overrun Goma, Frazer said tensions seemed to be lessening.
"But I am growing confident that both President Kabila and President Kagame have been speaking to each other.
"They've exchanged envoys. ... They are engaged in the type of discussions that will be necessary to prevent such an attack on Goma as well as some type of ethnic reprisal that could lead to something that looks like genocide."
Frazer said the United States also recognizes the limitations of MONUC, whose soldiers have lent support to Congolese troops.
The United States has said for some time that they need more troops and specialized forces, even for a limited time while diplomatic measures are being pursued, she said.
On Thursday, MONUC spokesman Kevin Kennedy said U.N. troops, numbering a few hundred, were struggling to keep the peace in Goma, a city of about 1 million people, and the surrounding countryside.