Daily Archives: August 4, 2017

SOUTH AFRICAN POLICE PROBES CASE OF OFFICERS WATCHING AS UBER DRIVER IS ATTACKED

PRETORIA, The South African Police Service says it is is investigating an incident in which its members are seen watching as an Uber driver was being attacked at the Mall of Africa shopping complex in Midrand, Johannesburg, on Sunday.A video recording,...

Deputy Minister Bongani Mkongi addresses Sisters Keepers charity event, 5 Aug

Sister's Keeper is a women empowerment platform created to motivate, encourage and support women in personal growth, and strengthening one another, not forgetting responsible fathers and men that protect women by holding hands and saying "Not in our na...

Mind the gap: Why Zimbabwean researchers need to work with farmers

Maize seed in drought-prone regions of Zimbabwe should by now come with a government health warning: Planting can seriously damage your well-being.

That's because although maize delivers like a champion under the right conditions, it's highly vulnerable to water stress. If the rains come too late, or even too early, the crop is a write-off.

Tariro Moyo knows this from bitter experience. A communal farmer in Gwanda, in southern Zimbabwe, she has continued to plant maize despite her yields decreasing with each bad season.

Last year, I watched all my maize crop wilting and dying due to drought, she told IRIN. I [had] used all my money to buy maize seed and fertiliser in anticipation of a good harvest.

Gwanda is in Matabeleland, a region hit by successive poor harvests linked to one of the strongest El NiAo events on record. Deep rural poverty and a lack of access to financing means farmers here are forced to rely on rain-fed production and cannot afford irrigation systems.

Climate change will mean still dryer conditions for Zimbabwe. Given that scenario, the challenge for the government and research bodies is how to develop and promote alternative crops that offer farmers some resilience.

Resistance to change

Drought-tolerant small grains such as finger millet, pearl, and sorghum were the traditional foods in Zimbabwe long before maize became the dominant crop across southern Africa more than a century ago.

But reviving them means overcoming significant challenges. The reason maize won out is because it is much higher yielding, requires less labour, and its outer husk provides good protection from birds and other pests.

A powerful agro-industry markets maize meal as the cornerstone of Zimbabwe's food culture and family life. Millet and sorghum are available on supermarket shelves, but they represent much more of a niche market.

Very few people buy small grains as compared to maize, said Moyo, explaining the major production downside: The amount of time spent and labour needed to prepare these small grains is too much for me. Besides my husband, I have no one to help with farming work as all my children are away.

Kizito Mazvimavi, the executive director for the International Crop Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics, countered: There is need for labour in any farming activity.

But even though his organisation promotes small grains, he acknowledged that the technology for processing them is limited and not readily available in many rural areas � an additional problem that makes uptake harder still.

Moyo said she was not opposed to small grains if they made economic sense, especially given the lottery that maize production has become.

If they improve my livelihood and, with the necessary tools and equipment, can be the best for me, I cannot continue to put money into waste, she concluded.

Research to the rescue?

This is the gap that researchers and the government need to fill, argues Shepherd Siziba, chair of the Agricultural Economics and Extension Department at the University of Zimbabwe.

Not enough is being done to ensure the relevant research is being understood and acted upon by farmers in the field like Moyo, Siziba told IRIN.

Theses are being done at universities and literature on climate change generated, but what is missing is the intensive interaction between policy, research, and farmers, he added.

Noah Kutukwa of Oxfam Zimbabwe believes the government needs to play a more active role.

Farmers continue to grow maize where it's not working, he said. Though the adoption of small grains has improved, uptake has been slow.

Even though small grains are seen as a critical component of adaptation to climate change, there is no effective support to champion production.

One simple example: The government continues to distribute maize seed as a drought recovery measure in arid regions instead of more appropriate small grains.

There is a need for deliberate efforts through availing small grains seed, creation of markets for the crops, and providing appropriate technology to lessen the time spent and labour needed for the production of small grains, said Kutukwa.

The explainers

The vital link in that chain between the research and production should be the government's agriculture extension workers.

They are supposed to provide farmers with information on best practice, including climate change adaptation techniques. But in the face of Zimbabwe's decade-long economic crisis, they have been starved of funding.

Ideally, there should be one extension worker for a maximum of 300 farmers, according to Donald Mbangani, an agribusiness specialist at the Agriculture and Extension Services Department. In reality, each officer has double that caseload � and no transport is provided.

There are also few training and refresher courses available to equip the officers with the skills they need, let alone the necessary equipment, from laptops to motorbikes.

If Zimbabwe seriously wants to build resilience to climate change, what is really needed is to strengthen the research, extension [worker], and farmer linkage, said Mbangani.

This, he said, would mean that as new crop varieties and farming technologies are developed, there is collaboration at the research trial stage with the farmer and agriculture extension workers involved.

The urgency of the reforms is underlined by the successive poor harvests Zimbabweans have endured. At the peak of the 2017 lean season, 4.1 million people were estimated to be food-insecure because of El NiAo-induced drought.

Zimbabwe's food relief programmes are already underfunded, and now there are threats by President Donald Trump's administration to cut US aid to Zimbabwe, including programmes designed to reduce the effects of climate change.

The country could be running out of time to get its crop strategy right.

Source: IRIN

Prey to Violence, Vulnerable Nigerian Women Struggle on Italian Streets

CASTEL VOLTURNO, ITALY � Italian outreach workers say there has been a significant shift in the migration pattern from Africa with many more young Nigerian women coming. And they add that many, if not most, of the young Nigerians arriving on Italian shores know they will be expected to engage in sex work.

But the women have little idea how harsh their living conditions will be and how long it will take for them to pay off the debts they owe the traffickers who recruited them and got them to Italy.

Few of them break free from the work, according to Appiah, a 37-year-old Ghanaian migrant. I know of four women in the last few years, he says forlornly. Two of them had been working for years and managed to pay back what they owed the traffickers; the other two were young and fled to Germany.

For the last few years Appiah has been working for an Italian charity in Castel Volturno, a decaying seaside town north of Naples that's become home to thousands of his fellow countrymen and migrant women from Nigeria. Another charity in the area says that since 2010 about one hundred Nigerian women have sought its help to break free from sex work.

Italian and European authorities estimate as many as 16,000 Nigerian women, some as young as 16 or 17-years-old, have been trafficked into Italy in the past two years by Nigerian racketeers and crime gangs, the most notorious a syndicate known as Black Axe.

The number of unaccompanied Nigerian women sailing to Italy from Libya has risen each year from 1,454 in 2014 to more than 11,000 last year and the International Organization for Migration estimates as many as 80 percent of them work once they arrive as street prostitutes for traffickers often in brutal conditions and for little pay.

Like the Italian authorities, IOM argues the Nigerian women are forced unwillingly into prostitution, tricked by traffickers, who charge the women as much as 35,000 euros for the trip to Europe. The traffickers terrify the women into submission, using violence, voodoo religious rites and threats to harm the women's families back in Nigeria, say authorities.

Threat of violence

But the picture is more complicated, according to charity workers and migrants themselves, who suspect most of the Nigerian women who've arrived in the past two years � and the ones setting out now to complete a highly dangerous journey through strife-torn Niger and Libya � were not tricked by unscrupulous recruiters but knew they'd be engaged in sex work in Italy.

They say the women, most in their teens or early twenties, don't understand how harsh their conditions will be and how vulnerable they will be, prey to violence and manipulation in a culture they struggle to understand. Breaking free isn't easy � the voodoo blood oaths traffickers make them take back in Nigeria weigh heavily on many of the women, the threat of violence is ever present and some fear their families will be harmed.

The reality is that some of them, I would say most of them, know they will be involved in prostitution, says Pescara-based Fabio Sorgoni, an official with the Italian charity On the Road, which helps prostitutes get out of sex work. Some of them think they'll be working in factories or cleaning. But a large proportion of them know they're coming to do sex work, he adds.

Anti-migrant rage

With anti-migrant rage mounting in Italy and populist parties demanding tough action to halt the record influx of asylum-seekers, charity and outreach workers fear speaking too openly about the motives and backgrounds of the Nigerian women arriving in Italy. They don't want to erode what's left of public compassion for asylum-seekers.

The pattern has changed a lot, says Maureen, a Nigerian migrant who arrived in Italy 20 years ago, starting life here as a housemaid. Working her way through school, she's now a case officer for the charity Associazione Jerry Masslo.

A few years ago, yes, the women were duped by the traffickers' and expected ordinary jobs. But those days are overthe position has changed. Partly so, she says, because of the effectiveness of outreach programs in Nigeria warning women of the dangers.

She says many of the recently arrived Nigerian women were sex workers before in Nigeria. Some families, often mothers, sisters and aunts urge them to make the trip, arguing it'll just be for a few months and then they'll be rich, she explains.

Motivated by poverty

Poverty and the lack of job opportunities in Nigeria led them into sex work in the first place, she argues. And they don't understand how bad it will be for them in Italy, she says.

Says Sorgoni: The women don't understand 35,000 euros is lot of money. When they get here they have to stay on the streets for 14 hours a day and they get something like five or 10 euros for sex. They then realize they'll have to be on the streets for years � forced to go with everyone, forced to have sex without a condom because many clients here demand that.

He adds: Many are very young, they come from rural areas and are unschooled. They don't understand their own bodies or the infections they can get and they think all they have to do is pray, or ward off sickness with voodoo rites.

In Castel Volturno, local doctors say nearly a quarter of the Nigerian women they treat have sexually transmitted diseases. They fear they'll be arrested when they arrive at the hospital, says Dr. Beniamino Schiavone, director of Clinica Pineta Grande, a cutting-edge private hospital the government subsidizes to provide care for migrants in the area. So they wait until their problem is terribly serious.

Source: Voice of America

WHO: Nearly 900,000 Children in Nigeria Receive Anti-malaria Drugs

GENEVA � The World Health Organization reports it has provided anti-malaria drugs to nearly 900,000 children in areas in northeast Nigeria formerly held by Boko Haram militants.

The effort is part of a new strategy to tackle malaria, a major killer of children younger than 5 years old. The director of WHO's Global Malaria Program, Pedro Alonso, tells VOA the agency has completed the first round of an emergency approach to stop the disease.

Alonso estimates about 10,000 lives will be saved by providing anti-malaria drugs to the same 900,000 children every month until November, when the period of high transmission will be over.

He says the drug clears the parasites that might already have invaded a child's system and provides protection for three to four weeks.

"By repeating this operation to the same children every month over the next four or five months, which is the high transmission area," Alonso said, "we may potentially � unfortunately, it will not be perfect and therefore we will not be able to stop all deaths � but, we should be able to have a massive impact in terms of prevention of disease and death in that specific population group, which is the highest risk group and where mortality concentrates."

WHO estimates there are more than 8,000 cases of malaria every week, including seven deaths, among northeastern Nigeria's population of 3.7 million people. There are an estimated 1.1 million children aged three months to five years in the region.

Source: Voice of America