Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Citizens Call to Action against Ebola

As the Ebola virus becomes an overwhelming human catastrophe affecting public health, social institutions and economic well-being in Africa, we stand in solidarity with our fellow citizens in the countries victimized by this deadly disease.
We also thank and salute the local and international health workers who are risking their lives daily, intervening on the ground to eradicate the scourge of Ebola, often without access to gloves and other protective supplies.
We acknowledge and applaud the decision of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) health ministers to call for the lifting of travel bans to Ebola affected countries, which are hampering the fight against Ebola and restricting the arrival of essential expertise and equipment, as well as fuel to provide electricity, medications to treat other deadly diseases such as malaria and food to prevent famine.
In the name and interest of our common humanity, we are collectively launching this urgent Citizens' Call to Action.
We call on our respective Heads of State and Government to avoid full embargo against Ebola-affected states. While we understand the legitimate concerns for the protection of their population, we remind African leaders of their obligation to pan-African solidarity and the global community of their humanitarian obligations in emergencies. We urge the following immediate actions:
Ensure that the flow of essential assistance can reach those in need, while maintaining economic activity necessary for sustaining life in cities and villages, by
•          Authorizing and implementing the local recommendations issued by the World Health Organization (WHO)
•          Acknowledging the impossibility of quarantining entire nations and instead establish much-needed economic and humanitarian corridors of access - essential life-lines - both within the affected countries and between countries.
We call on African opinion leaders – including artists, athletes, filmmakers, writers, journalists, academics – to initiate or to actively take part in public information campaigns on prevention and transmission of the Ebola. These can happen via road-shows, film screenings, theatrical pieces, discussion groups, and the distribution of messages via cellphone networks. And we call upon global opinion leaders to add their talents and voices in support.
We call on the broad private sector, the pharmaceutical industry, and the research community, in particular, to fund, facilitate and make immediately available access to all known methods of prevention and treatment of this menacing threat to our global well-being.
Join the call by signing the petition at
Signed on August 31, 2014
-       Olusegun Obasanjo, Former President, Federal Republic of Nigeria
-       Benjamin Mkapa, Former President Tanzania
-       Mrs Graca Machel, President of the Foundation for Community Development
-       Bineta Diop , Special Envoy for Women, Peace and Security, African Union
-       Youssou N’Dour, Singer
-       Ali Mufuruki, InfoTech Investment Group
-       Kandeh Yumkella, Chairman of UN-Energy and former Director-General
-       Zainab Bangura, Special Representative of UN Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict
-       Ashih Thakkar, Founder, MARA Group
-       AKON, Singer
-       Frannie Leautier, Founder, Mkoba Group
-       Wendy Luhabe, Africa Chairperson, Cartier Foundation for Women Entrepreneurs
-       Dele Olojede, Journalist, Pulitzer Prize Winner
-       Amadou Mahtar Ba, Executive Chairman, Co Founder AllAfrica Global Media
-       Akere Muna, Presiding Officer, AU Economic, Social and Cultural Council
-       Mamadou Toure, Founder, Africa 2.0
-       Thelma Awori, chair Institute for Social Transformation, former UNDP Director
-       Angelle Kwemo, Founder & Chair Believe in Africa
-       Linus Gitahi, CEO Nation Media Group
-       Prof. Ousmane Kane, Harvard University
-       Ebrima Sall, Executive Secretary CODESRIA
-       Slim Othmani. CEO, NCA-Rouiba, Chairman Algeria Business Council.
-       Prof. Souleymane Bachir Diagne, Columbia University
-       Prof. Alioune Sall, Director, African Futures Institute, South Africa ,
-       Prof. Mamadou Diouf, Columbia University
-       Trevor Ncube, Deputy Executive Chair, Mail&Guardian
-       Omar Ben Yedder, Director IC Publications
-       Nicolas Pompigne-Mognard, Founder and CEO, APO (African Press Organization)
-       Oulimata Sarr, Country Coordinator, IFC Advisory Services
-       Férial Haffajee, Editor In Chief, City Press
-       Zyad Limam, Director Afrique Magazine
-       Aminata Forna, Professor of Creative Writing and award-winning author
-       Mahen Bonetti, Founder & Executive Director of African Film Festival, Inc.
-       Fatou Wurie, Activist
-       Aliou Goloko, CEO Goal Communication
-       Reed Kramer, CEO, AllAfrica Global Media
-       Aly Leno, Président Union des Journalistes Culturels et Animateurs de Guinée )
-       Tidiane Soumah, PDG Todoane World Music
-       Dr Tendai Mhizha, CEO Integra Africa
-       Samba Bathily, PDG ADS
-       Prof. Cheikh Ibrahima Niang, UCAD
-       Prof. Penda Mbow, UCAD
-       Prof. Anyang' Nyong'o, former minister, Kenya
-       Dr Tami Hultman, CEO AllAfrica Foundation
-       Soyata Maiga, Special Rapporteur on Women Human Rights in Africa
-       Harriette Williams Bright, Femmes Africa Solidarité
-       Isham Elgar Olympic and World Champion
-       Younes Maamar CEO Eone Investments
-       Prof. Fatima Harrak, President CODESRIA, Mohamed V Souissi, University.
-       Prof. Kwadwo Ansah Koram, Director Noguchi Institute for  Medical Research, University of Ghana, Legon
-       Prof. Adam Habib, Vice Chancellor, University of Witwatersrand
-       Prof. Olive Shisana, CEO, Human Sciences Research Council
-       Prof. Suren Pilley, University of Western Cape
Distributed by APO (African Press Organization) on behalf of the Citizens Call to Action against Ebola.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Accountability 'key to achieving Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals'

By Ochieng' Ogodo


[NAIROBI] Accountability framework will be key in achieving the Post-2015 the Sustainable Development Goals that will replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), stakeholders say. 

The stakeholders that met at the United Nations Conference Centre in Addis Ababa this month (21-23 August) are saying that should be based on a set of core principles, accompanied by bold goals and targets and a plan on the means of implementation.

The stakeholders from the African Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) spectrum, the media, the international CSOs as well as government representatives met to deliberate and propose measures for ensuring an accountability framework for the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

The forum, proposed key elements for an accountability framework, which is expected to feed into the Secretary-General’s report to the General Assembly in September.

Ambassador Marjon Kamara, Liberia’s Permanent Representative to the UN, who chaired the meeting underscored the importance of statistics in determining an accountability framework. She called calling for “concerted action, genuine commitment, and empowerment of African society, including youth, women, faith-based organisations, as well as the business community”.

AU Commissioner for Economic Affairs, Anthony Maruping, stated that Africa was not starting from the scratch when it comes to accountability mechanisms since the continent had experiences with other regional, sub-regional, national accountability frameworks, such as the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM)”.

The ECA’s Deputy Executive Secretary, Abdalla Hamdok, stated that the objective of the consultative meeting gave participants’ “wide-encompassing deliberations [needed] to identify key elements to build an accountability architecture for the post-2015 development agenda that is aligned from the global to continental to national levels”.

Eugene Owusu, UN Resident Coordinator, UNDP/Ethiopia advised participants to play a role in “demanding real accountability for one billion people, emphasising participatory mechanisms, in which it is possible for the people to hold their leaders accountable”.

Amina Mohammed, Special Advisor to the Secretary-General on Post-2015 Development Planning told the participants that there was a significant momentum for this new agenda that comes with a high political mandate. She stressed the importance of crafting an accountability framework that is “fit for purpose” for the Africa region.

Participants unanimously agreed that an accountability framework for the Post-2015 and the Sustainable Development Goals, which will replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015, should be based on a set of core principles, accompanied by bold goals and targets and a plan on the means of implementation. 

They emphasised the need for an accountability framework to be implementable across the broad spectrum of society in a “bottom-up and people centered” approach. The participants also called for country-level commitments to action skilfully led by a multi-stakeholder partnership represented by public, private, civil society and citizen interests.

The forum also talked of the need for a strong culture of reporting, based on accurate and timely data – making a case for evidence-based accountability to provide the basis for measuring progress and also mobilise citizens and civil society to hold institutions and partners accountable towards their commitments.

Ochieng’ Ogodo is a Nairobi-based journalist whose works have been published in various parts of the world including Africa, the US and Europe. He is the English-speaking Africa and Middle East region winner for the 2008 Reuters-IUCN Media Awards for Excellence in Environmental Reporting. He is the chairman of the Kenya Environment and Science Journalists Association. He can be reached at ochiengogodo@yahoo.com, ochiengogodo@hotmail.com or ochiengogodo@gmail.com

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Consumers want renewable energy, 'governments ignoring them'

By Paul Brown

Consumers worldwide increasingly want renewable energy sources to provide their electricity, yet many governments are ignoring them by continuing to exploit fossil fuels.

LONDON, 26 August, 2014 − Public support for renewable energies across the world continues to grow, particularly in more advanced economies − with solar power being especially popular.

At the same time, the policies of the governments in most of these richer countries do not mirror public opinion as many continue to develop fossil fuels, which do not command such popular support.

An example is the UK, where the government wants to exploit gas reserves by the controversial method of fracking – fracturing rock to allow the gas to reach the ground surface. The Conservative government is also promising to cut down on subsidies for onshore wind farms and to build nuclear power stations.

According to the public attitudes report published this month by the British government’s Department of Energy and Climate Change, 36% of the population supports the plan to build new nuclear stations, and only 24% support shale gas extraction by fracking.

Widespread support

In contrast, 79% of the public is in favour of renewable energies to provide electricity. The UK has plentiful renewable energy and is exploiting several different types. Solar panels are the most popular form, with 82% of the public supporting their widespread use on the roofs of private houses and, more recently, solar farms in fields in the countryside.

Other high scores for renewables were offshore wind (72% in favour), onshore wind (67%), wave and tidal (73%), and biomass (60%) − even though all need public subsidy to compete with fossil fuels.

Despite the government’s public support for nuclear, there has been no start on a new station because a subsidy offered by the government is being investigated as potentially illegal under European Union competition legislation. Fracking is still at the exploratory stage and requires years of investment before any power could be produced.

Massive growth

Meanwhile, renewables keep on growing. In the first three months of this year, they produced nearly one-fifth of the UK’s electricity. Renewable energy generation was 43% higher than a year previously, showing the massive growth in the industry.

Both onshore and offshore wind farms are growing quickly, with the UK now having the largest offshore wind industry in the world.

The electricity output from renewables this year was boosted by high rainfall in Scotland, helping the country’s hydropower stations to produce more power, and windy conditions over the whole of the UK improving wind power output.
Field of dreams: a community-owned solar farm near Oxford, UK
Image: Neil Maw/Westmill Solar Co-operative via Wikimedia Commons

The British government’s response to these successes has been a policy to reduce the subsidies for both wind and solar power, as improving technology and mass production lower unit costs, while increasing Treasury support for nuclear power and fracking.

Germany has a similar public support for fossil-free energy – with 69% of consumers agreeing that the subsidies are needed to switch electricity generation to renewables. Unlike in Britain, all nuclear stations in Germany are being closed because of public demand, and fracking is unlikely to be considered.

This is partly because 380,000 Germans already work in the renewable energy sector and its development is credited with helping Germany through the recent recession by creating manufacturing and maintenance jobs.

Attitudes in the US to climate change and renewables have also changed in recent years, despite a barrage of propaganda from the fossil fuel industry attempting to cast doubt on the scientists’ predictions of global warming. The public supports renewable energies, irrespective of their views on global warming.

Actively concerned

The Yale Project on Climate Change Communication reports that 18% of Americans are alarmed by climate change and its effect on their country, and 33% are actively concerned. This is in contrast to 11% who are doubtful that climate change is man-made, and a very vocal 7% who believe it is a hoax or conspiracy got up by scientists and journalists.

Dr Anthony Leiserowitz, the director of the Yale project, said “Whatever people’s view on whether climate change was man-made or not, all sectors agreed that there should be support for alternative energies. Subsidies for more fuel efficient and solar had wide public support. This cut across voters of all parties and no party.”

Even in Australia, where the government has repudiated all efforts to combat climate change, 70% of the public support renewable energies.

In the developing world, public knowledge of renewable energies is less, and so is the support − although solar power is popular.

In India, where power cuts are a major headache for businesses, a recent poll showed that 50% of Indians want more renewable energy, and particularly solar power, believing it will help them get a more consistent electricity supply. – Climate News Network

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Urban agriculture on the rise in Kenya, experts say

By Ochieng' Ogodo


[NAIROBI] The expansion of urban centers has seen significant new trends in their land use in Kenya over the last few decades. Traditional practice has been that most urban land is taken up by buildings; commercial and administrative, social amenities, residential quarters, the road infrastructure, among many other physical service lines.
But Nancy Karanja, Professor of Soil Science, and a lecturer at Nairobi University, says putting parts of the urban land into agricultural use in Nairobi and many other Kenyan urban centers is on the rise despite the absence of a policy on this.
“There is a lot of urban agriculture taking place. Urban centers have been growing rapidly covering agricultural land and whereas that has been the case people hardly abandon their agricultural practices,” she observes.
The Ministry of Agriculture data indicates that urban farming can play a crucial role towards improved livelihoods of the urban poor, since urban farmers cultivate a wide range of crops and rear large number of livestock with substantial yields.
In Nairobi, for instance, farmers cultivate crops like kale (sukumi wiki), tomatoes, beans, cowpeas, maize, Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, arrow roots and bananas among many others.
The ministry estimates that up to a quarter million of chicken are reared within Nairobi and also about 45,000 goats and sheep; that 50,000 bags of maize and 15,000 bags of beans are being produced annually in the capital city.
According to Karanja who is also the director of Urban Harvest Programme of the International Potato Center in Nairobi, both crops ― especially vegetables ― and livestock farming has become integral component of urban lifestyle in major towns in the country.
Pic by Ochieng' Ogodo
 “Livestock follow human beings in Africa and people move with indigenous knowledge on their keeping. It is part of their survival kit,” she says.
A lot of people keep poultry that includes hens, turkey, gees, rabbits, goats and pigs. Not many keep cattle, especially in low income high density areas. In the populated low income residential estates like Kayole and Ruai, people keep them but grazing is out of town in the open fields.
In Nairobi’s affluent areas, Karanja says, there are many animals including cattle on zero-grazing system.  Conservative figures show that about 42 million litres of milk are produced annually. In economic terms this translates to milk alone generating KSh. 800 million if sold at Ksh. 20 per litre. 
But the scenic Rift Valley’s Nakuru town, and with a population of about 300,000 people, is a showcase of where both in the low and high income brackets animals are kept.
  “They keep livestock for survival and commercial reasons,” says Karanja,
Mary Njenga, a research officer says most urban farmers do both crop and livestock production. “They like having both of them.” The most common livestock, she states, is the hen which is considered part of culture.  But even most important for the low income urban family it is both a source of nutrition and income. 

“Urban agricultural practice is important in meeting the dietary needs of the urban family,” says Karanja who adds that: “Most poor people in towns are having large families and it is important they keep it.”
Livestock not only accounts for 78-80 percent of the dietary needs in towns but also supplements income for producers. The practice is intense in Nairobi’s peri-urban areas like Kitengela, Wangige and Kikuyu that supplies over 70 percent of eggs for Nairobi peopled with 4 million people. 
Pic by Ochieng' Ogodo
These areas also provide lettuce, dania and spinach among other vegetables consumed at household level but also supplies the city. “The commercial aspect of it is important. For the urban farmer there is ready market. Some farmers in the suburbs of Nairobi supply other towns like Mombasa, according to Karanja.
Maize, a staple common on many families dining room is not grown in large quantities. Preference for vegetables like kales, spinach and indigenous ones like spider plant, sageti, terer (amaranatha specie), Africa night shade, managu, cowpeas and a bit beans is because they establish quickly and their demand is high.
Although agricultural practice, except for aesthetic reasons like greening of open spaces through cultivation of exotic flowers for beautification and green parks is not allowed, Karanja says urban centers chiefs are beginning to accommodate urban farming.
“Urban faming has gained wide acceptance and they will have to address their by-laws. Over half a million are doing it in Nairobi,” says Karanja, and there are those who take it as a main occupation with a value chain from production, processing and marketing.
In the informal settlements producers do not go far in search of markets and just sell in their localities. Milk from cows in the upmarket estates is also consumed within those areas. 
Marketing of urban farm products is a complex matter with scouts, brokers, middlemen and sellers. In the high density areas, the buyers are the ones who harvest and not producers; producers sell at farm gates.
Much as it creates employment, assures many of the availability of a meal on the table each passing day, environmentally it has a lot of risks and needs proper regulatory framework.
“Until recently urban agriculture was not in government policy but now there is section on agriculture and forestry,” says Njenga. 
Under the National Agriculture and Livestock Extension Programme, which among others calls for involvement at the grassroots, all other urban areas are in the loop. In fact Nairobi has a provincial livestock and fisheries office with 120 extensions officers.
Urban agriculture is not serviced and uncoordinated and it is high time the urban authorities supplied their treated water for agriculture.
Pic by Ochieng' Ogodo
“We should adopt what is happening in the west and separate grey water to use for urban agriculture. As we should harvest rain and flood waters that go to waste and put them into a dam for use in agricultural production,” says Njenga.
Currently, most people practicing urban agriculture cultivate valley bottoms, use shallow wells and boreholes to water their plants. For newly built estates, Karanja suggests, the need to separate waters taking of agriculture.
It planed well the greening of urban centers will also lead to carbon dioxide fixation thus contributing to climatic change mitigation. It will also reduce soil erosion and dust and beautification of the urban environment.
It works very well with integration of solid wastes management, especially given 70 percent of urban waste is organic which with proper technical and planning can be converted into fertilizers for use in towns and rural areas.
“This is one way of achieving ecologically sustainable cities where waste is becoming a resource,” says Karanja.
Worth noting, according to Njenga, is the increasing number of nurseries along major roads in Nairobi where tending flowers and plants supplying contractors’ needs in landscaping at building sites.

Ochieng’ Ogodo is a Nairobi based journalist whose works have been published in various parts of the world including Africa, the US and Europe. He is the English-speaking Africa and Middle East region winner for the 2008 Reuters-IUCN Media Awards for Excellence in Environmental Reporting. He is the chairman of the Kenya Environment and Science Journalists Association. He can be reached at ochiengogodo@yahoo.com, ochiengogodo@hotmail.com or ochiengogodo@gmail.com