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An article from BBC Media Action in Myanmar Making a World Debate Local which explores the view of ordinary people in Myanmar about the current changes in the country.

The changes over the past eight months in Myanmar seem to mostly manifest themselves in the form of new apartment blocks, shopping malls, extra cars of the roads and meetings about the change.

“What is really changing for ordinary people?”

This article discusses an event in the World Economic Forum where recordings by BBC Media Action researchers were put to members of the government, NLD and Mizzima.

Here is an extract from the article with some of those voices and those questions:

“If we work, then we eat”

….A motor-cycle taxi driver in Rangoon … said that Burma’s much celebrated economic transformation has had no positive effect yet on his own daily life.

“For people like us, there is no change,” he said. “No change because if we work today, then we eat today.”

The government representative on the panel was challenged by questions on issues of corruption, lack of investment in rural communities and energy supply. A day labourer, for example, asked,”Myanmar doesn’t get enough electricity so why do you sell [energy] to our neighbours? When will Myanmar get electricity?”

A woman who runs a flower stall in Htauk Kyat Market on the outskirts of Rangoon also took the chance to urge government ministers to find out what was really going on in the country.

“In order to help people who really suffer,” she said. “The country minister should come down, check and analyse every quarter (of the township). They should share the feeling of what is happening in the quarter.”

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A series of photos on Betel Nut from Dawei in the south of Myanmar. Betel is popular in Myanmar and is chewed as a stimulant. The production of Betel is an important source of livelihood for farmers in the Dawei area.

rolling betel

The ingredients of Betel

Betel ready to eat

While the revolution appears to have had immediate effect in generating enthusiasm for democracy, it does not seem to have triggered the same kind of immediate broader change in rural areas. However, equality and freedom for rural women is being negotiated through careful development strategies in the long-term. According to Lindsey Jones of ACDI-VOCA, “the two key factors that I’ve seen contribute to creating change in the rural areas are education and income-generating opportunities for women.”

Indeed, revolution is not the only way to create change. Improved education, training programmes and initiatives to encourage participation may not be dramatic, but they are proof that whatever the political attempts to exclude women, rural women are gaining more opportunities slowly and surely.”

Read the full article at: Think Africa Press.

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An article I wrote on urban gardening in Egypt has been published by UNDP in a report on Green Economy in Action.

The article is included demonstrating examples of “agriculture demonstrating practical, concrete, and on the ground green economy country experience”, with the aspiration that this will “provide information and knowledge for policy and decision makers and practitioners on the positive implications of greening some priority sectors, including job creation, resource efficiency, and generally contribution to sustainable development”.

I think this is a testament to the wonderful projects that the featured organisations are working on in Cairo. The growth of urban gardening is an interesting phenomenon. It was inspiring to see what can be created on the rooftops of a busy city such as Cairo and the positive effects that these gardens can have for food security, the environment and communities.

The link to the report can be found here (see pages 23-24 for the article).

For more information about the featured projects see: Schaduf; Thousand Gardens in Africa; Permaculture Egypt and Nawaya.

Back in 2009 I produced a research paper and policy analysis on gender equality while working for the Luxembourg Government in Northern Nicaragua. Having recently set-up this blog, I would like to use this space to share the results of this research.

The project I was working with focused on encouraging socioeconomic development through tourism, using community and participatory processes. These processes involved setting up committees in both departments and municipals across Northern Nicaragua. These committees were responsible for building development plans for their region, as such setting the aims, aspirations and means for this development. The committees were also responsible for administration of some aspects of the project’s funds, such as spending on departmental infrastructure and selection of beneficiaries for a micro-credit scheme.

The report I produced analysed the project data, looking both at its employees and committee members, to assess the extent to which gender equality was part of this development process. The full report is available (in Spanish) at the end of this post. However, I would like to point out here, a few interesting highlights.

1. Although the participants in the project’s committees were largely made up of equal numbers of men and women,  it became apparent that men were more likely to take on leadership roles within these committees and in most cases the Presidents of the committees were men.

2. Although men and women participated equally in the training provided by the project, men dominated the courses on business management, while women were the main recipients in the courses on cooking. The demonstrated a gendered approach, based on traditional roles in Nicaragua.

3. Despite a policy which encouraged the hiring of women, two-thirds of consultants contracted by the project were men.

4. Women involved in the project pointed out a higher sense of self-esteem from being involved in the project, which translated into their home life.

5. Women also pointed out that it was harder for women to participate due to issues such as childcare, the responsibility for which primarily fell on them.

The recommendations made by this study, included:

1. Better monitoring of gender issues within project operations;

2. Provision of daycare and other facilities to allow women with children to more easily participate;

3. Taking an approach which attempts to counter gender stereotypes in the roles that women assume within the project.

Full study available to download, in Spanish, shortly.

I have recently published a piece which I wanted to share on the growing trend of rooftop gardening in Cairo. The article was published by Think Africa Press and focuses on the ideas of grassroots groups to create food security and stronger communities through small neighbourhood gardens. The interviewees were all interesting people, with insightful ideas to share and strong initiatives which made for a very interesting article. The full article can be read at Think Africa Press. Republished by Green Africa Directory.

Planting seeds for a different future in Cairo.

Zero Hunger or in Spanish, Hambre Cero, is a government programme in Nicaragua designed to secure the right to food through self-sustainable production in rural areas. This programme was set up in 2007 by President Ortega and his Sandinista administration, following similar initiatives to that in Brazil. The current aim of the Nicaraguan programme is to secure 100,000 rural women with the productive parcel (bono productive) which consists of a mixture of livestock, seeds and farming materials which together allow the recipients to practice sustainable farming. The parcel is distributed to women in families with an intention of empowerment.

Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) requires government programmes to facilitate production, conservation and distribution of food. In this sense Hambre Cero falls directly within the requirements of the right to food. Yet, my own field research on this topic suggests that the right to food is not so easy to achieve.

Indeed, through interviews and other research I identified four main obstacles which hinder the implementation of the right, namely: politicisation; the character of the state; little change in access to food and the lack of an official claim’s process. It became clear that as the right to food in this instance is being administered through the state, it also takes on the many problems associated with the character of the state in Nicaragua such as political bias, corruption and inefficiency.

Furthermore, a right to food administered by the state is a difficult issue to contemplate as it turns a right on its head. A right is usually characterised as an individual entity. However, a right protected through state programme no longer has the quality of an individual guarantee, and neither does it have the empowering or assertive quality of a claim. As such the problems of understanding the right to food through Hambre Cero are complex in terms of the implementation of the programme, the character of the programme and the Article 11 right itself.

(More on my research in Nicaragua to follow).

The images from the crisis of the famine in the Horn of Africa remind us daily of the reality of hunger in our world. When faced with the images it is hard to comprehend what the role of the right to food is, and equally easy to question whether an international protection to the right to food has any purpose at all beside the reality of starvation faced by the famine’s victims.

FIAN’s Report: ‘Kenya’s Hunger Crisis – the Result of Right to Food Violations’ (http://www.fian.org/resources/documents/others/kenyas-hunger-crisis-the-result-of-right-to-food-violations) presents a deeper discussion of the context which created this situation of extreme hunger. The report reveals the myriad of issues which affect this food security situation. The explanations of the problems include factors which can be described as geographical or climatic, such as climate change and drought and others which are directly the result of human action such corruption; accountability and land tenure. This diverse range of problems from erosion of cooperative structures to investment in rural development have all contributed to famine. Indeed, it is difficult to consider the somewhat simplistic requirements of the right to food beside the complex and deep set root causes of this hunger.

The right to food, like other human rights by its nature seeks to blame and hold accountable. A human right seeks to demonstrate the state’s responsibility and how to seek redress through the state. However, when assessing responsibility for famine, while the state is clearly responsible for some elements which have caused a state of extreme hunger (such as investment in rural development or non-respect of environmental policies); responsibility cannot be attributed to the Kenyan government for low rainfall or climate change.

Looking at the right to food in this sense raises two questions:

1.      Is it useful to attribute human rights responsibility to a government for right to food issues?;

2.      And to what extent should we or could we delve into the causal factors of right to food violations to attribute blame?

Considering the first issue, it seems useful to be clear as regards the government’s responsibility in both causing and solving extreme violations of the right to food. In this instance the Kenyan government appeared to be involved in a number of issues which were key elements of the food insecurity in the region. These were both current (corruption) and historic (cooperative structures). In this sense human rights is useful in making responsibility clear and also consequentially in outlining, albeit in basic terms, the requirements of government to assure food distribution, production and conservation within their territories.

Considering the second issue, human rights solutions are more complex. Indeed, if we wished to, we could seek to attribute responsibility for climate change or other changes in environmental factors in the Kenyan region. This could look particularly to developed countries governments, industries and citizens. While it is intriguing to see how far and wide responsibility could be attributed, it appears not only to spread the blame too thin, but also appears to not be useful. While it might produce an effect in encouraging food aid to the region, or in the longer term in strengthening resolve for emission reductions, it does not offer a constructive and direct solution to present problems of hunger in Kenya.

FIAN suggests recommendations which highlight both the Kenyan’s government obligations to improve the food situation and other recommendations addressed to a vaguer group of external actors. Such an approach demonstrates that the right to food, which has been long ignored by the two main human rights organisations, can be approached through a traditional human rights activism approach of naming and shaming. In this sense, solutions to specific problems could be sought through this approach, including the possibility of  attributing state responsibility even within a complex range of causal factors.

Yet the naming and shaming approach to human rights tends to focus on specific issues at the expense of the bigger picture. This is true of civil and political rights issues and becomes even more exaggerated for economic, social and cultural rights where the causal factors are as complex as those highlighted in Kenya. An isolated approach to the problems producing a famine situation will not solve the problem of famine, which goes deep into human’s relationship with each other, their environment and their government. Rights can campaign for improved systems and accountability; but ultimately they do not offer long term solutions to fill these gaps. These must be sought through agricultural, governance and human effort.