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UN: Critical food programmes in North Korea can’t wait for ‘diplomatic progress’

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North Korea’s humanitarian situation remains dire, with widespread chronic food insecurity and malnutrition, the United Nations emergency food relief agency has warned, urging greater and sustained funding for its aid operations there.

According to Herve Verhoosel, a spokesperson for the World Food Programme (WFP), the UN agency is staring at a massive 73 per cent shortfall in funding for 2018, hurting critical programmes such as nutritional support for children.

“We must not wait for diplomatic progress to alleviate the suffering of millions of people – funds are urgently needed now,” said Mr. Verhoosel.

“Any donation we receive today will take at least six months to reach the people who need it, due to the time it takes to purchase and transport food.”

Diplomatic efforts continue to build confidence and denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.

A lack of funding risks reversing small gains in nutrition for mothers and children, made over the past four years, on the back of concerted efforts by humanitarians. Limited funding has also resulted in the suspension of operations to build resilience among disaster-hit and vulnerable communities.

WFP needs $15.2 million over the next five months to avoid further cuts to programmes which help feed around 650,000 women and children each month.

Across the country, which is officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), more than 10 million people – almost 40 per cent of the population – are undernourished and in need of support, with one in five children stunted due to chronic malnutrition.

The country is also vulnerable to natural disasters, such as drought and flooding, which affect agricultural production and livelihoods.

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Brazil and Argentina preparing new Latin American currency to ‘reduce reliance on US dollar’

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Image source: ndtv.com

The governments of Brazil and Argentina are making plans to create a new currency for Latin America, called the Sur (“south” in English), according to a report in the Financial Times.

Other countries in the region will be invited to use the currency.

Their goal is to “boost regional trade and reduce reliance on the US dollar”, the newspaper noted, citing government officials.

Argentina’s Economic Minister Sergio Massa told the Financial Times that the South American nations will soon “start studying the parameters needed for a common currency, which includes everything from fiscal issues to the size of the economy and the role of central banks”.

Brazil has the largest economy in Latin America, and Argentina has the third biggest (after Mexico).

Argentina-based Spanish economist Alfredo Serrano Manc, who directs a think tank dedicated to regional integration, the Latin American Strategic Center of Geopolitics (CELAG), told the Financial Times that “the path is to find mechanisms which substitute the dependence on the dollar”.

He added that now is the moment, given that “there are many governments that are ideologically similar”, with left-wing leaders across Latin America.

During his electoral campaign, Lula had floated the possibility of creating a regional currency for trade.

At a rally in May 2022, the Workers’ Party leader had said, “We are going to create a currency in Latin America, because we can’t keep depending on the dollar”.

Lula revealed that it would be called the Sur. He added that it would not be based on the euro model, and that countries could maintain their sovereign domestic currency. Instead, the plan would be to use the Sur for regional trade, Lula said.

After Lula won the October 2022 election, Ecuador’s left-wing politician and economist Andrés Arauz published a blueprint for a “new regional financial architecture” for Latin America.

Arauz said the plan would be to revive regional institutions like the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Banco del Sur (Bank of the South), and to create a Banco Central del Sur (Central Bank of the South) to oversee the new currency.

The goal is “to harmonize the payment systems of” the countries that make up UNASUR in order “to carry out inter-bank transfers to any bank inside of the region in real time and from a cellphone”, he wrote.

Today, Argentina is trapped in $44 billion of debt with the US-dominated International Monetary Fund (IMF). This dollar-denominated foreign debt has led to a constant drain of foreign currency out of Argentina, fueling high levels of inflation.

Argentina’s President Alberto Fernández visited China and Russia in February 2022, seeking alternatives to the US-dominated financial system, and joining Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Argentina has also applied to join the extended BRICS+ bloc, with Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. Buenos Aires attended the group’s 2022 summits at Beijing’s invitation.

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Burkina Faso: Former colony orders French troops to leave

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A soldier from Burkina Faso stands guard along the border with Mali and Niger during a military operation against terrorist suspects.(file photo) © Michele Cattani

Burkina Faso has demanded the withdrawal of French troops stationed on the territory of the West African nation, local media reported, citing a government decision. Relations between Paris and its former colony have been on a downward spiral for months now, with the local population blaming France for their security problems.

Agence d’Information du Burkina (AIB) reported that the government of Burkina Faso had suspended a 2018 agreement with France, which regulated the deployment of its service members in the country. Paris now has one month to remove its soldiers, the agency said.

France currently has 400 troops in the African country, who are stationed there as part of efforts to combat Islamist terrorist groups in the region.

In November 2022, French President Emmanuel Macron officially announced the end of anti-insurgent ‘Operation Barkhane’ in the Sahel region, which has been largely viewed as a failure. In doing so, France also vowed to “reduce the exposure and visibility of [its] military forces in Africa.”

The Sahel is a region in northern Africa that includes Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, and a number of other neighboring countries.

Paris ended another military mission in neighboring Mali last August after relations went sour, with the government calling France’s military involvement “not satisfactory.”

Hundreds of people protested in the Burkina Faso’ capital Ouagadougou against the French military presence, chanting anti-French slogans.

Mohamed Sinon, one of the main leaders of the collective that called the demonstration, said it was to show support for junta leader Traore and the security forces fighting jihadists. “We are a pan-African movement and we want cooperation between Burkina Faso and Russia, but also the strengthening of friendship and of cooperation with Guinea and Mali,” he added.

Protesters carried huge posters showing the presidents of Mali and Guinea — both of whom also came to power in coups — as well as Russian President Vladimir Putin.

A source close to the government clarified it was “not the severance of relations with France. The notification only concerns military cooperation agreements”.

Sources familiar with the matter told AFP that France’s preferred option would be to redeploy its forces in the south of neighbouring Niger, where nearly 2,000 French soldiers are already stationed.

French troops withdrew from Mali last year after a 2020 coup in the former French colony saw its rulers also inch closer to Russia.

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European farms mix things up to guard against food-supply shocks

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By ETHAN BILBY

‘Items in this section have limited availability due to supplier production issues,’ ‘Sorry, temporarily out of stock’ and ‘Sold out’ are all signs that became familiar as recent global upheavals exposed how precarious our food supply is.

The COVID-19 pandemic led to bare shelves in supermarkets as shipping routes were cut off. The war in Ukraine has affected the supply of essential grains.

But increased climate change stands to cause even greater disruption. Researchers say part of the solution to mitigating that risk is for farms to become more mixed through some combination of crop cultivation, livestock production and forestry, a move that would also make agriculture more sustainable. 

For Dr Sara Burbi, assistant professor at Coventry University in the UK until December 2022 and now an independent researcher, COVID-19 was a wake-up call.

‘Suddenly, we experienced first-hand what happens when value chains are not resilient to shocks and what happens when globalisation, with all its intricacies, does not work anymore,’ she said. ‘We saw highly specialised farming systems fail when they over-relied on external inputs that they had no access to.’

Climate change, according to Burbi, could provide even bigger global shocks ranging from widespread crop failures to lower yields or damage from flooding. More sustainable agriculture is essential to ensure food supplies can withstand the impact of climate change and unexpected local, national and even global crises.

Beneficial combos

During her tenure at Coventry University, Burbi coordinated the EU-funded AGROMIX project, which runs until end-October 2024.

As part of the project, pilot farms across Europe are experimenting with combining crop and livestock production in one farm (mixed farming) and with pairing farming and forestry activities (agroforestry). Poultry grazing in orchards is an example of a mixed-farming approach. The results reveal interesting synergies and promising effects, including improvements in soil health.

‘For a long time, forestry and agricultural activities have been considered at odds, as we have pushed for more and more specialised land uses,’ Burbi said. ‘This has led to loss of soil fertility and a sharp decline in biodiversity, coupled with an increased dependence on external inputs to compensate.’ 

A combined system can increase the cycling of nutrients needed in the soil for crops to grow. It can also help to regulate air and water quality, prevent land degradation and even provide biomass and food on-site for livestock.

One site in Switzerland, for instance, found that mixed farming helped keep soil quality high, while more specialised farming tended to deplete it.

AGROMIX will use 12 pilot sites and nine experimental ones, spread across three climatic zones (Atlantic, Continental and Mediterranean), to develop recommendations for farmers on combining productivity with greater sustainability and climate resilience.

Although mixed farming has been practiced for a long time, it is only recently that scientists have begun to measure biophysical data on such sites and provide real evidence to support approaches that work.

The project has found that the presence of trees on pasture has measurable benefits to animal health and welfare, especially in extreme heat when they provide a canopy of much-needed shade.

Trees and hedgerows can also offset greenhouse-gas emissions from livestock, increase the carbon sequestration capacity of the land, provide a haven for biodiversity and help prevent flooding.

The project wants to work closely with farmers, taking into account their needs and priorities.

‘Knowledge integration can empower key actors, in this case farmers, to embrace the transition to sustainable farming,’ Burbi said.

The next step will be designing agriculture systems that are totally energy independent and, as a result, even more sustainable.

Forest focus

The EU-funded MIXED project at Aarhus University in Denmark is also focused on combining mixed farming systems with agroforestry to make agriculture more efficient and resilient.

‘It’s not only about economic efficiency, but also environmental and climate efficiency,’ said Professor Tommy Dalgaard, the project coordinator. ‘Agriculture needs to be resilient to change, all kinds of change.’

Working with around 100 farmers across Europe, MIXED has created networks to study the different ways in which mixed farming and agroforestry can be used.

One focus is on the take-aways that can be gleaned from the traditional agroforestry techniques used in the Tagus Valley of Portugal, in an area known as the Montado.

‘They have these big cork oaks that are often more than 100 years old with grazing cattle below them,’ said Dalgaard. ‘In the winter, they can plough the soil and make small fields with cereal so they can harvest a winter crop and then in the dry season the cattle can be there.’

It is possible to have these green, vegetated areas because of the ancient oak trees, which create shade and sustain the water cycle.

The concern is that drought may threaten the oaks, so researchers from the project are trying to work out how best to preserve the system as well as how to adapt it to new areas.

Danish farms in the project have taken a different approach, looking at how farmers can use coppicing to create a carbon sink. Coppicing is a pruning technique that cuts trees to ground level, causing new shoots to grow rapidly from the base to form a bush.

These are then usually harvested every 10-20 years for biomass fuel, meanwhile also giving shelter and shadow to free-range, high-value livestock such as sows with piglets. Cutting the bushes to create mulch also helps to improve soil quality and avoids burning them, according to Dalgaard.

The project’s ultimate aim is to build up a European database demonstrating examples of mixed farming and agroforestry, highlighting the benefits and advising on best practices. Essentially, it is about inspiring more farmers to adopt mixed farming and agroforestry methods and supporting them in the process.

‘We need real-life examples,’ said Dalgaard. ‘We now have some concrete examples of farmers, agricultural landscapes and value chains that can report good results from having done something in a different way.’

Research in this article was funded by the EU. This article was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine.

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