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Saving the World Starts in Africa
Posted: 28 October 2008 06:19 AM   [ Ignore ]
Total Posts:  1567
Joined  2006-09-25


Mega-Further Reading List

Two goldmines from africa—the first is a look at no-tech innovations:


The second is specific to one farming project in Kenya:


“How much solar power does it take to feed the world?”—great Treehugger post:

“The Sahara Forest Project” - Re-Greening the African Continent w/Solar:

Forward-thinking and/or Shit-scared Japanese Gov’t Offering Subsidies for Citizen Solar:

On the Afrigadget tip—solar powered, camel-transported freezer units:

Fighting back the Sahara desert with tree-walls:

African Soil Project—rehabilitating african farmland

The “E-Waste” problem—pollution or potential resource?

Africa’s got a plastic bag problem—we should be shipping them microbes ASAP, that’s a resoure, not a problem:

“South Africa pioneers new solar tech”

Economist map of african regions most affected by climate change:

HIPPO Rollers—everyone in the US should use these, too:

The Future is Mud: Earth architecture skillz

The Lighting Africa Project:

In Sub-Saharan Africa, over 500 million people presently lack modern energy, with rural electricity access rates as low as 2%. Among the poor, lighting is often the most expensive item among their energy uses, typically accounting for 10-15% of total household income. Yet, while consuming a large share of scarce income, fuel-based lighting provides little in return.

Africa and Sustainability:

n a society where the work being done by every electron is compared carefully to the sweat-of-brow alternative, it’s interesting to review what tech gadgetry is accepted. And, what is not. This is particularly so when one realizes that there are a billion Africans to support, with only 4 percent of the world’s electricity supply. So, what is appropriate; cell phones seem to be, as nearly every African that wants one has one.

Posted: 28 October 2008 10:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
Total Posts:  1567
Joined  2006-09-25

I’m not suggesting we’re going to solve human conflict.

I am saying that if we can work with them to build a sustainable community model—something that can recover quickly from attacks, communicate with other local communities and the rest of the world, rebuild infrastructure with low-tech / low-cost solutions...then we can help reduce these causualties.  I’m not making any suggestions about curing the disease, just healing way faster and easier.

In terms of “curing the disease” though I still agree with Ghandi:

This list grew from Gandhi’s search for the roots of violence. He called these acts of passive violence. Preventing these is the best way to prevent oneself or one’s society from reaching a point of violence.

* Wealth without work
* Pleasure without conscience
* Knowledge without character
* Commerce without morality
* Science without humanity
* Worship without sacrifice
* Politics without principle


Posted: 28 October 2008 01:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
Total Posts:  48
Joined  2008-06-06

The thing that no one seems to understand is that every region that is submerged in conflict, that is put backwards several years for the sole purpose of strip mining it’s resources, is another region that could of contributed to the overall betterment of humanity. We can talk all the bullshit about globalization we want, but we are all in this together and the old barriers of nation and race are growing thinner and thinner compared to the bonds of commonality.

Africa has proven more than willing to innovate. There isn’t a shortage of brainpower or ideas, just of follow-through. I’ve learned more in the past two months trying to get my shit together than I have in all the years before this passively sitting on the computer and learning.

A few studies have been done on using Terra Preta in Kenya to restore topsoil:

In Africa, population growth and the degradation of cropland are also on a collision course. Rattan Lal, an internationally noted agronomist at Ohio State University’s School of Natural Resources, has made the first estimate of yield losses due to soil erosion for the continent. Lal concluded that soil erosion and other forms of land degradation have reduced Africa’s grain harvest by 8 million tons, or roughly 8 percent. Further, he expects the loss to climb to 16 million tons by 2020 if soil erosion continues unabated.63

Among the countries experiencing unusually heavy soil losses are Nigeria, Rwanda, and Zimbabwe. Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, is suffering from extreme gully erosion. Lal reports gullies 5-10 meters deep and 10-100 meters wide. In January 2001, Alhaji Sanni Daura, Nigeria’s Minister of Environment, announced that the country was losing some 500 square kilometers of cropland to desertification each year. Daura is concerned that unless this desert encroachment can be reversed, Nigeria may soon face severe food shortages.64

On the northern edge of the Sahara, Algeria is also faced with the desertification of cropland. In December 2000, the agriculture ministry announced a four-year plan to halt the advancing desertification that they fear will soon threaten the fertile northern areas of the country. The plan is to convert the southernmost 20 percent of its grainland into tree crops, including fruit and olive orchards and vineyards. The government hopes that this barrier of permanent vegetation will halt the northward march of the Sahara. Out of desperation, Algeria, a country already dependent on imports for 40 percent of its grain, is willing to convert one fifth of its grain-producing land to tree crops in an attempt to protect the remaining four fifths.65

In East Africa, governments are facing a similar situation. Countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia are experiencing land degradation and cropland abandonment. Kenya’s 1950 population of 6 million has increased to 31 million, putting unsustainable pressure on local forests, rangelands, and croplands. During the severe drought of 2000, the Masai, in an act of desperation, drove their cattle into Nairobi to feed on the grass in well-watered parks and residential lawns.66 The failure of Africa’s governments to address the soil erosion threat effectively is depleting Africa’s most essential natural capital—its soil. The next generation of farmers in Africa must try to feed not the 800 million people of today, but the projected 2 billion in the year 2025—and with far less topsoil.67


Inspired by the fascinating properties of Terra Preta de Indio, biochar was identified as a soil amendment that has the potential to revolutionize concepts of soil management. While “discovered” may not be the right word, as biochar or bio-char (also called charcoal or biomass-derived black carbon, in the context of agricultural application sometimes called agrichar or agri-char, which we do not adopt due to the wider applicability of biochar for environmental management beyond agriculture) has been used in traditional agricultural practices as well as in modern horticulture, never before has evidence been accumulating that demonstrates so convincingly that biochar has very specific and unique properties that make it stand out among the opportunities for sustainable soil management.

The benefits of biochar rest on two pillars:
1- The extremely high affinity of nutrients to biochar (adsorption)
2- The extremely high persistence of biochar (stability)
(beneficial effects of biochar on both soil microbial functions and soil water availability are highly likely but not yet sufficiently quantified to be effectively managed)

These two properties (which are truly extraordinary - see details below) can be used effectively to address some of the most urgent environmental problems of our time:
1- Soil degradation and food insecurity
2- Water pollution by agro-chemicals
3- Climate change
Biochar is not a silver bullet that will solve environmental problems without a much wider and far reaching strategy. But it can provide an important tool that contributes to a comprehensive approach that must include policy guidance.

“Soils with biochar additions are typically more fertile, produce more and better crops for a longer period of time.”


Biochar was added to agricultural fields of soils along a degradation gradient which resulted from different lengths of continuous maize cultivation. We address the question at what stage of soil degradation are biochar applications the most effective. Results indicate that applications in the most degraded sites increase yields the most. Increases could not solely explained by better plant nutrition, suggesting effects related to improved water availability, soil penetrability or microbial dynamics. The results showed doubling of crop yield in the highly degraded soils from about 3 to about 6 tons/ha maize grain yield (Kimetu et al., 2008). In consecutive years, no biochar was applied and preliminary results indicate that yields do not decrease with biochar, in contrast to fields where green manures were added.

Oh man, I just read that brainsturbator post. Kick ass man.


As long as you don’t quit or die, you don’t fail.

Whatever doesn’t work 100 percent of the time needs to be fine tuned, if it can’t be fine tuned then it needs to be dropped

Posted: 28 October 2008 04:04 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
Total Posts:  111
Joined  2007-11-01

Yeah you probably saw the recent UN Food Programme study reporting that organics could feed Africa since their output is showing better results than monoculture farming.... my friend at http://familyfarmdefenders.org did his Ph.D. in Zimbabwe on this very topic—using indigenous technical knowledge. 

This stuff is great but there also has to be a structural perspective—i.e. these micro-tech projects are dependent on the military industrial complex.

It’s nice that the U.S. military is using solar panels....but the Nazis were environmentalists as well.

So consider http://familyfarmdefenders.org—they sent a crew to Mexico in solidarity with the Oaxaca activists imprisoned in defense of their farms against neoliberalism.

the most important technology is just seed-saving, which, is threatened by the WTO, Cargill, etc. based right here in Minnesota.

I’ll post my op-ed on this issue:

———————————————————————————————————————— Cargill: Our taxes, global destruction

Minnetonka-based Cargill is often noted as the world’s largest private corporation, with reported annual sales of over $50 billion and operations at any given time in an average of 70 countries. The “Lake Office” of Cargill is a 63-room replica of a French chateau; the chairman’s office is part of what was once the chateau’s master-bedroom suite.

A family empire, the Cargills and the MacMillans control about 85 percent of the stock. Not only the largest grain trader in the world, with over 20 percent of the market, Cargill dominates another 12 sectors, including destructive speculative finance, according to “Invisible Giant: Cargill and its Transnational Strategies,” by Brewster Kneen.

Taking advantage of the capitalist speculative collapse of 1873, Cargill quickly bought up grain elevators. After vast cooperation with the state-sponsored railroad robber barons, central grain terminals averaged extremely high annual returns on investments of 30 to 40 percent between 1883 and 1889. Cargill hired a Chase Bank vice president to secretly help the corporation through the Depression, writes Dan Morgan in “Merchants of Grain.”

“There are only a few processing firms,” and “these firms receive a disproportionate share of the economic benefits from the food system,” states William D. Heffernan, professor of rural sociology at the University of Missouri. Details of Cargill’s price manipulations at the expense of farmers worldwide was documented in the classic study, “Food First: Beyond the Myth of Scarcity” by Frances Moore Lappe and Joseph Collins. They report that Cargill has had a history of receiving elite government price information that should be told to U.S. farmers.

That secrecy, along with tax-subsidized market control, enables Cargill to buy from U.S. farmers at extremely low prices and then sell abroad to nations pressured under the same destructive elite corporate control. See the Institute for Food and Development Policy’s Web Site at http://www.foodfirst.org.

Between 1985 and 1992, the legal entity called Cargill received $800.4 million in tax subsidies via the Export Enhancement Program, a continuation of the infamous “Food for Peace” policy, writes Kneen. Promoted by Hubert H. Humphrey and instituted as PL 480, food became a Cold War tool, i.e. “for Peace.” If we can induce people to “become dependent on us for food,” then “what is a more powerful weapon than food and fiber?” Humphrey declared, according to “Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies” by Noam Chomsky.

Actually, most of the nation recipients of tax-subsidized Cargill food dumping were, and are, net exporters of food already — policies imposed by colonial trading patterns. The food (for Peace) has been bought cheaply by neocolonial regimes, and then sold at a huge discount on the local market — in Somalia, for example, at one-sixth of the local prices. Many examples of these misguided policies can be found in “Betraying the National Interest: How US Foreign AID Threatens Global Security by Undermining the Political and Economic Stability of the Third World,” by Frances Moore Lappe, et al.

Cargill’s undercutting wipes out the local farmers’ self-reliance, while the revenues (going to the elite) are tied to required purchases of U.S. weapons, writes Chomsky, citing “The Soft War” by Tom Barry, 1988. But the main beneficiary of “Food for Peace” has been Cargill. Keen writes, “From 1954 to 1963, just for storing and transporting P.L. 480 commodities, the heavily subsidized giant Cargill made $1 billion.”

Indian lawyer N.J. Nanjundaswamy reports that a Cargill motto is, “One who controls the seed, controls the farmer, and one who controls the food trade, controls the nation.” Yudof’s recently stated support of federal foreign policy Title XII is another public promotion of the University of Minnesota-Cargill partnership’s raiding of sustainable agricultural cultures.

Cargill is such a damaging threat that in Dec. 1992, 500,000 peasants marched against corporate-controlled trade, and the irate farmers ransacked Cargill’s operations. Fifty people were arrested at the partially completed — and subsequently destroyed — seed-processing plant in Bellary, India. In 1996, 1,000 Indian farmers gathered at Cargill’s office and destroyed Cargill’s records. For more, see http://www.endgame.org/directory.html.

Cargill has been doing bio-piracy, stealing traditional products. For instance, it used Basmati, a rice from India, as its trade name, and the company continues to be one of the main promoters of corporate-driven intellectual property rights. The U.S. Trade Act, Special 301 Clause, allows the United States to take unilateral action against any country that does not open its market to U.S. corporations.

The United States, for example, has threatened to use trade sanctions against Thailand for its attempt to protect biodiversity. A bill that has been before parliament in India and promoted by Cargill, “takes away all the farmers’ rights, which they have enjoyed for generations — they will no longer be able to produce new varieties of seed or trade seed amongst themselves,” writes Nanjundaswamy.

The research center, Rural Advancement Foundation International, found that “fifteen African states, among them some of the poorest countries in the world, are under pressure to sign away the right of more than 20 million small-holder farmers to save and exchange crop seed. The decision to abandon Africa’s 12,000-year tradition of seed-saving will be finalized at a meeting in the Central African Republic. The 15 governments have been told to adopt draconian intellectual property legislation for plant varieties in order to conform to a provision in the World Trade Organization.”

Cargill, with extensive funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development, is also destroying the world’s largest wetland — the Pantanal, in South America — in order to dredge a channel that’s designed for convoys of up to 16 soybean- and soymeal-carrying barges, according to the Institute on Food and Development Policy.

Cargill has been on the Council of Economic Priorities’ list of worst environmental offenders. Mother Jones magazine and Earth Island Journal report that Cargill is responsible for 2,000 OSHA violations, a 40,000-gallon spill of phosphoric solution into Florida’s Alafia River, poor air pollution compliance and record-high releases of toxic waste.

With help from the Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy, located at http://www.poclad.org, states have recently begun to respond to citizen pressure and revoke corporate charters. The assets of Cargill should be revoked, allowing the citizens of the United States to give farmers the benefits of fair trade instead of Cargill’s secretive policy of tax-subsidized global destruction.

Posted: 28 October 2008 04:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
Total Posts:  1567
Joined  2006-09-25

Drew, do you believe techonology can be inherently tainted by it’s source, or do tools exist independently of their creators intentions and beliefs?

I often wonder about that...usually connected to all the medical knowledge “gained” from concentration camps.

Posted: 28 October 2008 05:53 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
Total Posts:  111
Joined  2007-11-01

The tools are a product of left-brain dominance and right-hand dominance which starts with female chimps using spears to stop male chimp rape in exchange for meat.  Most of the worlds’ farmers are still female people of color but this started as lunar-based horticulture using a philosophy of consciousness being in control, without any intention or tool in use.  Think of MUSIC—who’s in control when we listen?  What tool is used when we listen?  There is no source to listening....The most important thing in farming is the lunar cycle—so right now is the new moon in synch with ovulation.  Does this change your behavior?  It should.  Diwali is based on this secret.... of lunar resonance with pure consciousness through electromagnetic healing energy.  The technology is therefore part of a deeper trajectory of asymmetry between left-hand carbon-based molecules and right-brain dominance (ecology lunar-based matrifocal healing) and right-hand dominance tools and left-brain dominance changing carbon into right-hand silicon molecules (crystallized solar-based reality).  Logically the latter is dependent on being a subset of the former—so the trajectory of right-hand dominant technology is driven by the “original sin” of defense against male rape psychological denial of female formless awareness (pure consciousness being in control), based on the mistaken control of nature through predation.  Photosynthesis is actually as much based on the water cycle with birds singing to enable plants to absorb nutrients from the stomata resonated with the morning dew....Only pure consciousness can balance both the lunar and solar cycle yet technology is based on the solar cycle while the lunar cycle relies on pure consciousness as it’s source of energy.

For more details read “In Search of the Miraculous” by Ouspensky on Gurdjieff.  Read it in conjunction with Charles Luks’ “Taoist Yoga:  Alchemy and Immortality.” Read both of the three times and then compare them to realize that they reinforce each other and then practice Taoist Yoga using the small universe c.d. from http://springforestqigong.com—which again is based on complementary opposites, as described above.

For example one of my coworkers is, according to Gurdjieff’s scheme, between a Number 2 and Number 1 person.  He’s in denial about pure consciousness and therefore does not know how to make electromagnetic energy.  I’m sitting in full-lotus and there’s a well-endowed female to his left side, but behind a wall.  I say, see watch this.  I point towards him and my neck stops pulsating—no vagus nerve pineal gland electromagnetic energy shooting out.  I swivel my chair maybe 30 degrees and since there’s a well-endowed female on the other side of the wall, my vagus nerve immediately pulsates rapidly.  He says, “it’s on both sides.” I explain more.  He says, “Doesn’t that hurt?” and then the vagus nerve creates the mutual climax and all this tension is released from my back.  I say no, it releases the tension. 

And then as I point back to him, after the second climax is building with the female—sure enough he starts receiving the energy.  Why?  Because now he’s out of denial (his personality) and his essence is revealed (his number 1 status with his self-awareness or electromagnetic energy stuck in his lower chakra).  So I say to him, see you’re just like the ladies.  And he tries to make excuses but he can’t. 

So then he has me start charging up the other workers.  He’s kind of playing around with it, not knowing how to deal with the truth.  Still in denial, yet knowing there’s nothing he can do, etc. 

What I do about it?  Just keep sitting in full-lotus, transforming the energy—because I am not doing anything.  There’s no intention, no technology—just the complementary opposite harmonics resonating from female formless awareness.

Posted: 23 November 2008 10:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
Total Posts:  283
Joined  2007-05-11

Rich countries launch great land grab to safeguard food supply
Published on 23-11-2008

Rich governments and corporations are triggering alarm for the poor as they buy up the rights to millions of hectares of agricultural land in developing countries in an effort to secure their own long-term food supplies.

The head of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, Jacques Diouf, has warned that the controversial rise in land deals could create a form of “neo-colonialism”, with poor states producing food for the rich at the expense of their own hungry people.

Rising food prices have already set off a second “scramble for Africa”. This week, the South Korean firm Daewoo Logistics announced plans to buy a 99-year lease on a million hectares in Madagascar. Its aim is to grow 5m tonnes of corn a year by 2023, and produce palm oil from a further lease of 120,000 hectares (296,000 acres), relying on a largely South African workforce. Production would be mainly earmarked for South Korea, which wants to lessen dependence on imports.

“These deals can be purely commercial ventures on one level, but sitting behind it is often a food security imperative backed by a government,” said Carl Atkin, a consultant at Bidwells Agribusiness, a Cambridge firm helping to arrange some of the big international land deals.

Madagascar’s government said that an environmental impact assessment would have to be carried out before the Daewoo deal could be approved, but it welcomed the investment. The massive lease is the largest so far in an accelerating number of land deals that have been arranged since the surge in food prices late last year.

“In the context of arable land sales, this is unprecedented,” Atkin said. “We’re used to seeing 100,000-hectare sales. This is more than 10 times as much.”

At a food security summit in Rome, in June, there was agreement to channel more investment and development aid to African farmers to help them respond to higher prices by producing more. But governments and corporations in some cash-rich but land-poor states, mostly in the Middle East, have opted not to wait for world markets to respond and are trying to guarantee their own long-term access to food by buying up land in poorer countries.

According to diplomats, the Saudi Binladin Group is planning an investment in Indonesia to grow basmati rice, while tens of thousands of hectares in Pakistan have been sold to Abu Dhabi investors.

Arab investors, including the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development, have also bought direct stakes in Sudanese agriculture. The president of the UEA, Khalifa bin Zayed, has said his country was considering large-scale agricultural projects in Kazakhstan to ensure a stable food supply.

Even China, which has plenty of land but is now getting short of water as it pursues breakneck industrialisation, has begun to explore land deals in south-east Asia. Laos, meanwhile, has signed away between 2m-3m hectares, or 15% of its viable farmland. Libya has secured 250,000 hectares of Ukrainian farmland, and Egypt is believed to want similar access. Kuwait and Qatar have been chasing deals for prime tracts of Cambodia rice fields.

Eager buyers generally have been welcomed by sellers in developing world governments desperate for capital in a recession. Madagascar’s land reform minister said revenue would go to infrastructure and development in flood-prone areas.

Sudan is trying to attract investors for almost 900,000 hectares of its land, and the Ethiopian prime minister, Meles Zenawi, has been courting would-be Saudi investors.

“If this was a negotiation between equals, it could be a good thing. It could bring investment, stable prices and predictability to the market,” said Duncan Green, Oxfam’s head of research. “But the problem is, [in] this scramble for soil I don’t see any place for the small farmers.”

Alex Evans, at the Centre on International Cooperation, at New York University, said: “The small farmers are losing out already. People without solid title are likely to be turfed off the land.”

Details of land deals have been kept secret so it is unknown whether they have built-in safeguards for local populations.

Steve Wiggins, a rural development expert at the Overseas Development Institute, said: “There are very few economies of scale in most agriculture above the level of family farm because managing [the] labour is extremely difficult.” Investors might also have to contend with hostility. “If I was a political-risk adviser to [investors] I’d say ‘you are taking a very big risk’. Land is an extremely sensitive thing. This could go horribly wrong if you don’t learn the lessons of history.”


Posted: 24 November 2008 06:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
Total Posts:  1567
Joined  2006-09-25

yeeeeeeeeowch.  Thanks for the heads-up on this piece, I missed that.

Posted: 25 November 2008 08:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
Total Posts:  1567
Joined  2006-09-25


Will the next Einstein come from Africa? If Neil Turok gets his wish the answer will be a resounding yes. When he’s not pondering the origin of the universe, Turok is setting up mathematical science institutes across Africa. Ivan Semeniuk caught up with him at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Canada to find out how Turok plans to change not only who does physics, but how physics is done

NEIL Turok may not be a visitor from another dimension, but he could certainly play one on TV. With an other-worldly energy, he evinces the gentle curiosity of an outsider accustomed to crossing barriers. When he walks into a room, the dust of three continents trails behind him.

Turok is a theoretical physicist and cosmologist whose journey has taken him from his South African homeland to some of the world’s most renowned scientific institutions, including Fermilab, Princeton and Cambridge. Now, at 50, Turok finds himself in starting anew once again, taking the reins of what may be the most ambitious intellectual experiment on Earth.

Like Turok, the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics seems strangely out of place in Waterloo, Ontario, a university town 90 minutes’ drive from cosmopolitan Toronto. Unlike other institutions of this type, Perimeter is not in an alluring geographic location, is not under the umbrella of a major university, and does not benefit from a rich history of former faculty with the pedigree of an Einstein or a Dirac. Nevertheless, it has attracted some of the biggest names and brightest newcomers in physics today. And now it has Turok, who took over last month as executive director.

“It’s quite surreal to find a place like this in a small town,” Turok tells me when I meet him at Perimeter during his first week on the job. The location is not accidental. Waterloo is home to Research in Motion, the high-tech company behind the Blackberry. The company’s charismatic founder, Mike Lazaridis, was pondering what to do with $100 million of his personal fortune when he made a wonderfully eccentric decision to create a world-class facility for theoretical physics, one not beholden to a larger institution and therefore flexible enough to take intellectual risks. The original donation has since been augmented by personal and public funds. Not since the Medici hired Galileo has there been anything quite like it.

All of this suits Turok who, like Lazaridis, is no stranger to going against the grain. As a scientist he is best known, along with collaborator Paul Steinhardt of Princeton University, for conceiving the “ekpyrotic universe”, which re-imagines the big bang as a collision between two branes - constructs of string theory - in a higher-dimensional space. According to the theory, the collisions occur again and again, producing a cyclic universe.

More prosaically, Turok challenged the global development status quo by creating the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS). Located in a converted hotel in Cape Town, AIMS recruits students from across Africa for an intensive nine-month mathematics course. Students are taught by top international lecturers, and by the end are qualified for advanced programmes abroad.

At first, Turok says, the project generated widespread scepticism. Critics didn’t think that students would rise above the remedial level. Now the project has been recognised by the African Union, and this year earned Turok a $100,000 TED, at the Technology Entertainment and Design conference.

TED prizewinners are asked to make a wish before the resourceful TED community; Turok’s wish was for the next Einstein to come out of Africa. The AIMS experience provided him with a glimpse of a vast talent pool of gifted mathematicians, physicists and engineers around the globe who need only the right opportunity to flourish and contribute. “This field is entirely driven by brilliant individuals,” says Turok. “We need to catch these people.”

The idea that Africa should be seen not as a perpetually despondent continent, but as the largest single repository of untapped human potential in the world, is a vision that owes much to Turok’s parents. Both were anti-apartheid activists and members of the African National Congress when Turok was growing up in Johannesburg in the 1960s. After falling foul of the government, the family was forced to flee South Africa with their three children, including Neil, the youngest. During the long exile, Turok grew increasingly fascinated with maths and physics, which he taught at a remote mission school in the tiny nation of Lesotho before heading to Cambridge for university.

His experiences with the young African students left a deep impression on him. “It was amazing to see how the light bulbs went on for these children in a village with no electricity or running water, and no career options,” he recalls.

Turok’s parents eventually returned to South Africa where his father remains a member of Parliament. It was his father who encouraged Neil to create AIMS.

Now Turok and his collaborators are trying to recreate the experiment by raising $30 million per year for the next five years - enough to endow 15 AIMS centres across Africa. “That’s enough to graduate 750 students per year on an ongoing basis,” says Turok. “I think that will change the face of development in Africa.”

Turok’s efforts in Africa drew the attention of Perimeter last year when Lazaridis was searching for a new director. “I wasn’t looking for a job,” Turok says, but the opportunity proved irresistible. He was excited by the possibility of working outside of the traditional academic environment, where he found the bureaucracy inhibiting to scientific progress.

Now Turok’s mission is to bring promising young theoretical physicists from around the world to Perimeter and offer them an environment in which to thrive. For Turok, it’s no surprise that many promising candidates come from less affluent countries such as Iran or Venezuela. “They had to fight,” he says. “It wasn’t easy for them to get here, and the levels of motivation are very high.”

To turn motivation into innovation, Turok believes that these physicists need a place far more freewheeling and flexible than the traditional university department has become, a crossroads where brilliant minds gather from all corners of the globe and challenge one another with new ideas. He hopes to make Perimeter a second home for leading researchers in need of a haven to work out new ideas without the distractions of academic life. Stephen Hawking is among the big names that Turok hopes to attract for an extended visit next year.

Walking through Perimeter with Turok, I notice the small details - working fireplaces, pool tables, classical music recitals - that are designed to stimulate the imagination. We slip into a small conference room to listen to a series of short talks, where the atmosphere is lively. The round table includes Lee Smolin, a founding faculty member of Perimeter and author of the controversial The Trouble with Physics. After one talk, a visiting Chinese researcher speaks emotionally about the new ideas that have inspired him while at Perimeter. Turok reacts as though he is seeing exactly what he came for.

Later, I’m sitting with Turok over coffee in his office when there’s a knock on the door. In walks Lazaridis, stopping by to greet his new executive director. Although he is no physicist, “Mike” is the personality that both conjured up Perimeter and continues to influence its character. I ask Lazaridis why he hired Turok, and his answer is immediate. I defer to my advisory panel to weigh Turok’s significant scientific contributions, he says, but what sold me was realising that Turok is a kindred spirit: “Neil’s an entrepreneur.”

Now, in Waterloo, and across Africa, Turok is preparing to change the business of theoretical physics, and change the world in the process.

Posted: 25 December 2008 05:04 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
Total Posts:  1567
Joined  2006-09-25


MALELA, Kenya: CARE, one of the world’s biggest charities, is walking away from about $45 million a year in federal funding, saying American food aid is not only plagued with inefficiencies, but may hurt some of the very poor people it aims to help.

Its decision, which has deeply divided the world of food aid, is focused on the practice of selling tons of American farm products in African countries that in some cases compete with the crops of struggling local farmers.

“If someone wants to help you, they shouldn’t do it by destroying the very thing that they’re trying to promote,” said George Odo, a CARE official who grew disillusioned with the practice while supervising the sale of American wheat and vegetable oil in Nairobi.

Under the system, the U.S. government buys the goods from American agribusiness, ships them overseas on mostly American-flagged carriers and then donates the goods to the aid groups. The groups sell the products in poor countries and use the money to fund their anti-poverty programs there.

As Congress considers a new farm bill, neither the Bush administration nor representatives are looking to undo the practice, known as “monetization.” In fact, some of the nonprofit groups say it has worked well and are pressing for sharp increases in the tonnage of American food shipped for sale and distribution to support development programs.

The Christian charity World Vision and 14 other groups say that CARE is mistaken, that the system works because it keeps hard currency in poor countries, can help prevent food price spikes in them and does not hurt their farmers.

But criticism of the practice is growing. Former President Jimmy Carter, whose Atlanta-based Carter Center uses private money to help African farmers be more productive, says a flawed food aid system has survived partly because the charities that get money from it defend it.

Agribusiness and shipping interest groups have tremendous political clout, but charitable groups are influential, too, Carter said, because “they speak from the standpoint of angels.”

“The farm bloc is powerful, but when you add these benevolent organizations, the totality of that has blocked change in the system,” said Carter, who is also a Georgia farmer.

Some charities that champion monetization bristle at such suggestions. And their allies in Congress say that maritime and agribusiness interests are essential allies for programs to aid the hungry.

“Sure it’s self-interest if staying in business to help the hungry is self-interested,” said Avram Guroff, a senior vice president at ACDI/VOCA, which ranked sixth in monetization sales last year. “We’re not lining our pockets.”

But Peter Matlon, an agricultural economist based in Nairobi and a managing director of the Rockefeller Foundation, said converting American commodities into cash for development was a case of “the tail wagging the dog,” with domestic farm policies in the United States shaping hunger-fighting methods abroad.

“The NGOs have been ignoring this evidence for years that there’s a negative impact on the prices farmers receive,” said Matlon, who is involved in a $150 million effort financed by the Rockefeller and Bill and Melinda Gates foundations to increase the productivity of African farmers.

The Government Accountability Office, the non-partisan, investigative arm of Congress, also concluded this year that the system was “inherently inefficient.”

CARE and Catholic Relief - who rank first and second in money raised through monetization - say they recover only 70 to 80 percent of what the United States paid for the commodities and shipping.

But while Catholic Relief Services and Save the Children, which ranked fifth last year in such sales, agree with CARE that the system is inefficient, they also say they will not stop converting American food into money unless Congress replaces the lost revenues with cash. They help a lot of poor people with the money, they say.

The experiences of Walter Otieno, a grizzled Kenyan farmer in mud-stained pants, illustrate the paradoxes of paying for rural development through sales of American farm goods.

Over the years, he had watched four of his 12 children die of measles, which is more often fatal for the malnourished. He has had difficulty growing enough to feed his family. “My children were skinny and their skin was dull,” he said.

Then last year he began growing a small patch of sunflowers on a hill sloping down to Lake Victoria with help from a program that CARE finances through the sale of American farm goods here.

A CARE extension worker, Rosemary Ogala, has taught him and dozens of farmers in his group where to buy sunflower seed, when to plant it, how to space the rows and when to harvest.

CARE has also connected them to a ready market: the Kenyan company Bidco Oil Refineries, whose managers say they could more than quintuple the amount of sunflower seed they buy from Kenyan farmers to process into vegetable oil.

The profit Otieno earned from the crop rescued his family from dire poverty. Now, with his new earnings, he plays with his sons and daughters, plump on eggs and milk, at the family’s general store, a tiny shack stocked with goods financed by the sunflower sales. “Our lives have changed,” he said.

The question is whether small-scale sunflower farmers like Otieno would have done better if nonprofit groups had not sold tons of American crude soybean oil, a competing product, to the same Kenyan company that purchased Otieno’s meager crop. CARE and some other experts say the answer is a clear yes.

In 2003, Bidco bought almost 9,000 metric tons of crude soybean oil sold to the United States by Bunge, the agribusiness giant. Altogether that year, Bunge sold the United States 15,180 metric tons of oil for resale by the nonprofits in Kenya.

American law requires aid groups to establish that such sales will not discourage production by local farmers, but some critics say it is a conflict of interest to ask nonprofit groups to select experts to make this determination.

In this case, the nonprofit organizations hired a consultant who advised them in 2003 that they could safely sell up to 38,000 metric tons of vegetable oil in Kenya, which mostly depends on imports. That amount, about 10 percent of the country’s consumption, was “negligible,” he said.

But Odo of CARE disagreed, saying in a memo that “the truth is that the subsidized importation from the U.S. reduces the growth in the local market.”

Ultimately, CARE’s decision to phase out such sales evolved from a senior manager’s change of heart. Daniel Maxwell, a professor of nutrition at Tufts University, was a food security adviser for CARE in Nairobi who saw sales of American food as an imperfect, but useful way to raise money.

He knew firsthand, however, how risky it was to manage projects financed in fluctuating commodities markets. When prices sank, CARE had too little money and was sometimes forced to lay off workers.

Maxwell also strongly suspected that buyers offered too little for the farm goods, knowing they were dealing with aid workers who were novices in commodities trading.

As he and Christopher Barrett, an agricultural economist at Cornell University, researched a book, “Food Aid After Fifty Years,” his doubts deepened.

“Not only was it a pain the neck,” he said, “but there were potentially serious knock on effects that would be damaging to farmers and trade.”

In 2004, Maxwell and Barrett made the case against the practice at CARE headquarters in Atlanta. They recalled that the senior vice president, Patrick Carey, who has since died, cautioned them that leaving the system would be like “an act of partial suicide” for the nonprofits.

Posted: 25 December 2008 05:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
Total Posts:  1567
Joined  2006-09-25

Nonetheless, by 2009 CARE will end almost all of its participation in such projects across the developing world. It will try to raise money to replace the lost revenues from philanthropies and other donors, and by making its own aid programs profitable.

One of those programs could be seen in action one recent afternoon in the Kenyan village of Poche. CARE has helped local women bypass local middlemen to sell pineapples at better prices in big supermarkets in Nairobi, 10 hours away by road.

One woman, Doreen Amimo, a 52-year-old grandmother, has seen her weekly earnings rise to $18 from $11. She can now afford to feed and clothe an orphaned niece and nephew.

“And I never lack sugar in the house,” she said, “and we can have tea and milk every morning!”

These farmers are selling their fruit to a small company, Vegcare, that CARE and a Kenyan company started with an investment of $170,000 in 2005. Vegcare advises farmers on how to grow pineapples that meet supermarket standards, buys them and trucks them to a wholesaler in Nairobi that supplies Nakumatt, a Kenyan supermarket chain.

CARE’s idea is that a profitable business is more likely than a charitable venture to survive when foreign aid runs out. CARE managers here say they hope its renunciation of most of the money from commodity sales will free it to candidly address the flaws in the American strategy to combat world hunger.

“What’s happened to humanitarian organizations over the years is that a lot of us have become contractors on behalf of the government,” said Odo of CARE. “That’s sad but true. It compromised our ability to speak up when things went wrong.”

Posted: 26 December 2008 08:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
Total Posts:  283
Joined  2007-05-11
thirtyseven - 25 December 2008 05:05 PM

One of those programs could be seen in action one recent afternoon in the Kenyan village of Poche. CARE has helped local women bypass local middlemen to sell pineapples at better prices in big supermarkets in Nairobi, 10 hours away by road.

One woman, Doreen Amimo, a 52-year-old grandmother, has seen her weekly earnings rise to $18 from $11. She can now afford to feed and clothe an orphaned niece and nephew.

Not to nitpick such an informative article, but I gotta comment on this. I know helping the grandma looks good and all, but does no one give half a thought to the “middlemen”. Sure their practice might be considered unethical in many ways, yet they were providing a service that this program decided to come and take over. Are they not responsible for taking away their income source and putting them into poverty. Not only that but it takes money away from local men that would probably be putting it right back into the local economy. It might be more efficient and better for the farmers, but is it truly better for everyone? What if one of these guys was trying to support a “niece and nephew” that are now starving to death. Changing things just because you know a better way doesn’t always produce a better outcome.

Posted: 26 December 2008 08:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
Total Posts:  1567
Joined  2006-09-25

Absolutely, the Law of Unintended Consequences cannot be repeated enough.  We’re all confused apes messing with complex systems.

Posted: 29 December 2008 07:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
Total Posts:  111
Joined  2007-11-01

My sister had just told me her colleague just got a job with CARE and my response:  I think they may work with the CIA.  So I looked into it and could find nothing after a cursory check.  After seeing this article about food aid my guess is World Vision is CIA plagued—if I recall correctly.  The thing about the “middle man” is hilarious.  Steve Pinker emphasizes this—how the “middle man” always gets trounced and how a book, “World Under Fire” or something—I’ve looked through it, Amy Chinese-American last name?  Anyway how when “democracy” capitalism spreads across the planet it creates ethnic strife because of the middle man problem.  Pinker gets his “middle man” promotional material from Thomas Sowell, a right-wing economist my dad loves (so I’ve also read Sowell quite a bit).  Sowell is an ass-kissing African-American who uses his race not to be racial, etc.  CARE is correct—when we talk about “middle men” in agribusiness we’re talking “80 billion dollar a year revenue” middle men aka CARGILL, based right here in Minnesota.  The economy is much more concentrated than people realize.  I’ve researched and posted exposes on Cargill—they rely on massive tax subsidies yet they are privately owned and are literally destroying the planet and they got started through the Freemasons, now relying on Rockefeller connections.  It’s classic conspiracy stuff and Cargill has controlled the food supply in 100 countries—stating that food is more important than oil.  It’s the secret of U.S. imperialism.

Posted: 29 December 2008 09:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
Total Posts:  215
Joined  2007-06-03


Posted: 01 January 2009 08:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
Total Posts:  1567
Joined  2006-09-25


James J. O’Donnell
Classicist; Provost, Georgetown University; Author, The Ruin of the Roman Empire


“Africa” is the short answer to this question. But it needs explanation.

Historians can’t predict black swan game-changers any better than economists can. An outbreak of plague, a nuclear holocaust, an asteroid on collision course, or just an unassassinated pinchbeck dictator at the helm of a giant military machine—any of those can have transformative effect and will always come as a surprise.

But at a macro level, it’s easier to see futures, just hard to time them. The expansion of what my colleague, the great environmental historian John McNeill, calls “the human web” to build a planet-wide network of interdependent societies is simply inevitable, but it’s taken a long time. Rome, Persia, and ancient China built a network of empires stretching from Atlantic to Pacific, but never made fruitful contact with each other and their empire-based model of “globalization” fell apart in late antique times. A religion-based model kicked in then, with Christianity and Islam taking their swings: those were surprising developments, but they only went so far.

It took until early modern times and the development of new technologies for a real “world-wide web” of societies to develop. Even then, development was Euro-centric for a very long time. Now in our time, we’ve seen one great game-changer. In the last two decades, the Euro-centric model of economic and social development has been swamped by the sudden rise of the great emerging market nations: China, India, Brazil, and many smaller ones. The great hope of my youth—that “foreign aid” would help the poor nations bootstrap themselves—has come true, sometimes to our thinly-veiled disappointment: disappointment because we suddenly find ourselves competed with for steel and oil and other resources, suddenly find our products competed with by other economies’ output, and wonder if we really wanted that game to change after all. The slump we’re in now is the inevitable second phase of that expansion of the world community, and the rise that will follow is the inevitable third—and we all hope it comes quickly.

But a great reservoir or misery and possibility awaits: Africa. Humankind’s first continent and homeland has been relegated for too long to disease, poverty, and sometimes astonishingly bad government. There is real progress in many places, but astonishing failures persist. That can’t last. The final question facing humankind’s historical development is whether we can bring the whole human family, including Africa’s billion, can all achieve together sustainable levels of health and comfort.

When will we know? That’s a scary question. One future timeline has us peaking now and subsiding, as we wrestle with the challenges we have made for ourselves, into some long period of not-quite-success, while Africa and the failed states of other continents linger in waiting for—what? Decades? Centuries? There are no guarantees about the future. But as we think about the financial crises of the present, we have to remember that what is at risk is not merely the comfort and prosperity of the rich nations but the very lives and opportunity for the poorest.

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