Food Experts in Uganda Say They Want Farmers’ Opinions Before Introducing Innovations

As climate change continues to hit farmers because of erratic weather conditions, researchers believe there is a need to not only improve agricultural innovation but seek farmers’ opinions before introducing new farming methods.

Hadijah Naigaga has been a banana farmer for over 10 years. With Uganda experiencing erratic rainfall in some parts of the country and prolonged dry seasons, Naigaga says her garden was not spared. 

She says there used to be huge banana plantations but they have collapsed. First, we had a prolonged dry spell and the plantation dried up, she says. Then, the rain was so heavy and the trees fell down. I had calculated that I would make a profit of between $3 and $6. But you realize that where you calculated $6, you have nothing. The trees are gone, she says.  

Antonio Querido, the Food and Agriculture Organization representative in Uganda, says in order to have better production, nutrition, environment and life, there’s a need to transform agri-food systems. That would ensure that everyone has access to enough affordable, safe and nutritious food to lead an active and healthy life. According to the FAO, 690 million people suffer from hunger worldwide and that number has increased due to the coronavirus pandemic.   

However, Querido said the agri-food systems are also contributing to climate change and that calls for better ways in the long term to produce safe and nutritious food. 

“We need to invest more in research and development, to make farming more technology-advanced. We need innovation in digital agriculture to improve literacy rates among women. Because these can only go a long way in reducing hunger,” Querido said. 

Ambrose Agona, the director general of the National Agricultural and Research Organization, says that while Uganda is considered a food basket for the Eastern African region, the question now is on the quality of food.   

He says to ensure farmers grow quality of food, researchers need to talk with farmers, who often apply indigenous methods to raising crops.

“So, for instance, you’re talking about adaptation maybe to climate change. They have, for instance, certain crops, sorghum, finger millet, ground nuts, pigeon peas. They have been actually drought tolerant. But now, the farmers will be saying, if this newly improved variety is actually tolerant to climate change, how does it compare to ours,” Agona said. 

According to the FAO, $40 to $50 billion must be invested worldwide to end hunger by 2030. 

In Uganda, efforts are focused on training farmers and improving methods to produce information that leads to early warning systems to help them plan and anticipate the impacts of climate change. 

That would be in addition to supporting post-harvest management and collective marketing to drive economic success and reduce poverty among farmers.    

 

 

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UN Chief Calls for Stronger Steps to Combat World Hunger

Marking World Food Day, the United Nations is warning the fight against world hunger is being lost and calling for action to improve food security for the world’s most vulnerable people.

In his message marking World Food Day (Oct. 16), United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres called for vigorous action and investments in strengthening local food systems.

His message comes as nearly a billion people globally do not have enough to eat. The United Nations warns hunger is on the rise, driven globally by conflict, displacement, climate change, and the economic impacts of COVID-19.  Among those most at risk, it says, are refugees and those forcibly displaced within their countries by conflict.

The U.N. acknowledges its goal of eliminating world hunger by 2030 will likely not be met.  

Guterres says almost 40% of the world’s population, 3 billion people, cannot afford a healthy diet. That, he says, is causing undernourishment, in the form of both malnutrition and obesity, to proliferate globally.

“The pandemic has left an additional 140 million people unable to access the food they need.  At the same time, the way we produce, consume and waste food is taking a heavy toll on our planet.  It is putting historic pressure on our natural resources, climate and natural environment—and costing us trillions of dollars a year,” Guterres said. 

World Food Day marks the anniversary of the founding of the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization, which was established on October 16, 1945, in Quebec, Canada.  FAO Senior Program Officer in Geneva Patrick Jacqueson says more than 150 countries hold special events every year in observance of the day. 

He says this year’s theme calls for the transformation of agri-food systems to provide enough affordable and nutritious food to people everywhere.

“With an ever-growing population, expected to reach 10 billion by 2050, we need to feed the world and nurture the planet.  It is not just about responding to emergencies, it is about building longer-term resilience and changing how we produce and consume food,” Jacqueson said.

The FAO recommends development of diverse agricultural systems, which, it says, are more adaptable to climate change and other shocks.

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Pro-Military Protests Rock Sudan as Political Crisis Deepens

Thousands of military-aligned demonstrators gathered in front of the presidential palace in Khartoum on Saturday, chanting “down with the government of hunger” as Sudan grapples with the biggest political crisis in its two-year transition.

Military and civilian groups have been sharing power in the east African country in an uneasy alliance since the toppling of long-standing President Omar al-Bashir in 2019.

But following a failed coup attempt in September attributed to forces loyal to Bashir, military leaders have been demanding reforms to the so-called Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) coalition and to the civilian cabinet.

Civilian leaders, however, have accused them of aiming for a power grab.

A military-aligned faction of the FFC, including armed groups that rebelled against Bashir, called for Saturday’s protests.

Ahead of the demonstrations, members of an unidentified armed group removed security barriers around government buildings and prevented the police and security forces from going about their work, Khartoum State Governor Ayman Khalid said in a statement.

At the root of the conflict are disputes on issues of justice, military restructuring, and the dismantling of the financial apparatus of Bashir’s regime, analysts say.

In a speech on Friday, civilian Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok presented a roadmap out of the crisis and warned that not finding a resolution would throw the country’s future “to the wind.”

Pro-civilian groups have called for protests on Thursday.

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US Cautious Over Claims Key IS African Leader Is Dead

Claims from Nigeria that the leader of one of the fastest-growing Islamic State terror group affiliates is dead are being met with extreme caution in the United States.

Officials at the White House, Pentagon and State Department said Friday they were aware of accounts that Islamic State West Africa Province leader Abu Musab al-Barnawi had been killed, but some said it was too early to say anything for sure.

“We are aware of the reports but note that unconfirmed reports in the past have proven unfounded,” one senior administration official told VOA on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the situation.

“That said, ISIS-West Africa remains a threat to peace and stability in the region,” the official added, using another acronym for the terror group.

Nigeria’s chief of defense staff, General Lucky Irabor, first announced the death of al-Barnawi at a news conference in Lagos on Thursday.”

I can authoritatively confirm to you that Abu Musab is dead,” Irabor said, offering no other details.

Some media outlets suggested al-Barnawi had been killed in clashes with rival factions, but such claims could not be independently verified.

Al-Barnawi is the son of Mohammed Yusuf, who founded the rival terror group, Boko Haram. In 2016, when most of Boko Haram split with Islamic State, al-Barnawi was appointed the leader of the faction that remained loyal.

The U.S. named al-Barnawi a “specially designated global terrorist” in 2018, citing the risk he posed to U.S. national security.

For years, al-Barnawi’s IS West Africa had been battling Boko Haram for supremacy in Nigeria and the Lake Chad region. But al-Barnawi’s group seemed to finally gain the upper hand in May when its forces surrounded Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau following a battle in the Sambisa Forest.

According to accounts posted online by IS and later confirmed by Nigerian and U.S. officials, Shekau, who, like al-Barnawi, was reported dead multiple times, eventually blew himself up rather than be taken alive.

According to U.S. military officials, Shekau’s death has since led to a rapid expansion for IS West Africa.

“ISWA (IS West Africa) has pretty much consolidated the vast majority of Boko Haram fighters,” one official told VOA, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence.

As a result, IS West Africa’s ranks have grown substantially, from about 2,500-3,000 fighters to about 5,000 fighters.

Intelligence from United Nations member states has also warned of IS West Africa’s growing ambitions.

A report by a U.N. sanctions monitoring team in July said the group was “expected to seek to extend its area of operations towards Maiduguri, Nigeria.”

The report further warned that IS West Africa was increasingly targeting “foreign interests” on the border with Niger.

 

More recent intelligence suggests that in some ways, al-Barnawi’s group is succeeding.

IS West Africa “is now a large and very capable presence,” the coordinator of the U.N. sanctions monitoring team, Edmund Fitton-Brown, told a security conference in Doha, Qatar, Tuesday.

“(It) also has a, as it were, a spoke or side affiliate known as IS Greater Sahara, which is active to the west broadly in the Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali border area,” he said. 

 

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Sudan’s Prime Minister Presents Road Map Out of Crisis

Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok on Friday unveiled a road map to end what he described as the country’s “worst and most dangerous” political crisis in its two-year transition. 

Since a coup attempt in late September, Sudan’s military and civilian power-sharing partners have been locked in a war of words, with military leaders demanding the reform of the Cabinet and ruling coalition. Civilian politicians accused the military of aiming for a power grab. 

“The coup attempt opened the door for discord, and for all the hidden disputes and accusations from all sides, and in this way we are throwing the future of our country and people and revolution to the wind,” Hamdok said in a speech. 

Sudan’s military and a coalition of civilian political parties have ruled under a power-sharing agreement since the removal of former President Omar al-Bashir in 2019. Bashir loyalists are accused of executing the failed coup attempt. 

Hamdok described the current conflict as not between the military and civilians but between those who believe in a transition toward democracy and civilian leadership and those who do not. 

“I am not neutral or a mediator in this conflict. My clear and firm position is complete alignment to the civilian democratic transition,” he said. 

Nevertheless, he said he had spoken to both sides and presented them with a road map that called for the end of escalation and one-sided decision-making and a return to a functioning government. 

He emphasized the importance of the formation of a transitional legislature, reform of the military, and the expansion of the base for political participation. 

Referring to an ongoing blockade of the country’s main port in the east of the country by protesting tribesmen, Hamdok described their grievances as legitimate while asking that they reopen the flow of trade. He also said an international donors’ conference to benefit the region was being organized. 

Civilian politicians have accused the military of being behind the blockade, which it denies. 

Political groups aligned with the military have called for protests in the Sudanese capital Khartoum on Saturday. Groups advocating for civilian rule have called for protests on October 21.

 

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South Sudan Activists Say Phones Were Compromised Ahead of Planned Protests 

Political activists in South Sudan say mobile phone carrier Zain South Sudan illegally disrupted their telephone service, crippling their communications ahead of a planned anti-government protest. 

People’s Coalition on Civil Action Coalition member Rajab Muhandis said that when activists tried to access their WhatsApp messages on August 29 — the eve of the planned protest in Juba — they received messages saying their numbers were registered to other phones. 

Zain South Sudan denies the accusation of duplicating sim cards. 

But activists say the move made it impossible for them to communicate with one another. 

“Zain duplicated the sim cards of members of the coalition and those numbers were then activated on telephones and they were used,” Muhandis told VOA’s South Sudan in Focus. 

“Since then, those numbers are active and if you communicate to these lines, the messages go through, indicating they are being used in telephones and there is no other company that could duplicate these numbers except Zain,” Muhandis said. 

The protest fizzled amid what activists say was an intentional internet outage and warnings from security officials of serious consequences against organizers if the demonstration happened. 

Activists say the phone company was part of a government-led effort to crack down on them and to deter the planned protests. 

Coalition member Joseph Akol Makeer said he realized his sim card was compromised when he received a text saying his phone had been registered to a different device. 

“What Zain company has done is unethical, unprofessional, criminal and endangers people’s lives,” he said. “Those who were in that contact were compromised and already the state has contacted some of them because they were sending me messages which were going to the state.” 

When Makeer tried calling his own number from a different phone, he said the call went through but not to his phone. 

The activists said they are planning legal action against Zain South Sudan. 

Wilson Ladu, technical director for Zain South Sudan, said the company does not tap users’ communications. 

“Our subscribers, their lines are protected, in fact we at Zain, we don’t tap,” Ladu told South Sudan in Focus. “We don’t have that right to tap and technically you cannot have the same number duplicated because it has the address. You cannot have two addresses.” 

The company has not received a complaint from activists, Ladu said. 

Juba residents told Reuters that the night before the planned protests that mobile data was unavailable on the network of South African mobile operator MTN Group, and the following day it was also halted on the Zain Group. 

Alp Toker, director of NetBlocks, a London-based group that monitors internet disruptions, said it detected “significant disruption to internet service in South Sudan beginning Sunday evening, including to leading cellular networks.” 

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In NE Nigeria, Cuts to Food Rations Loom as UN Agency Runs Out of Cash

The World Food Program warns it will be forced to cut food rations for half-a-million people suffering from acute hunger in northeast Nigeria unless it receives urgently needed funding.

Millions of people in Nigeria’s crisis-ridden Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states are suffering from years of conflict and insecurity and the socio-economic fallout from COVID-19.

The WFP says 4.4 million people are facing acute hunger. It warns it will have to start cutting food rations for half-a-million men, women, and children in a matter of weeks unless it gets an immediate infusion of $55 million.

WFP spokesman Tomson Phiri says hunger is peaking now as the country emerges from the so-called lean season. That is the period between June and August when food stocks are at their lowest.  

He says attacks by armed groups are heightening insecurity in the region and discouraging people from working their land.

“The states in the north are largely agrarian in nature. They rely on agriculture to survive and when you have insecurity, they are unable to farm. They are unable to rear livestock. And this is sort of fueling the food insecurity situation,” he said.

Phiri siaid the WFP is providing food assistance to 1.9 million Nigerians. He said 800,000 of them are facing food emergency levels that are just one step from famine.

“Although famine has not been confirmed, the suffering of the people is quite immense. We are concerned as the World Food Program as over one million children are malnourished in the northeast and…a lot of people have been displaced. These are people who have been displaced multiple times. So, people are really, really knocking on the door of starvation,” Phiri said.

To sustain its humanitarian lifesaving operations in northeast Nigeria until March, the WFP urgently requires $197 million. As of now, WFP officials say they only have received $6 million.

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Pandemic’s Economic Impact in Kenya Has Driven Some to Illegal Fishing

Kenyan authorities say the economic losses caused by COVID are driving more people to fish illegally. Poaching has tripled since last year and caused the daily catch to drop from an estimated 600 tons to 200 tons, according to Kenya’s Maritime Fisheries Research Institute. As a result, the Coast Guard has been deployed to protect lakes from poachers. Victoria Amunga reports from Naivasha.

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