Thursday, 4 May 2017

Desertification in the Sahel

The Sahel region spreads across several countries in North Africa. The situation is that the Sahara desert is expanding South at a rapid rate. What are the causes and consequences of deforestation in the Sahel?

Why is Desertification Occurring?

Desertification in the Sahel is occurring at such a rapid rate due to a combination of both human and environmental factors. Climate change means that temperatures are rising and weather is becoming unpredictable. Combined with pressures on the land and resources by nomadic people of the Sahel means that the desert is moving forward.

Deforestation and overgrazing by nomadic communities remove vegetation at an alarming rate. Many of the Berber people inhabiting the Sahel do not realise the long term effects of overgrazing, and are dependent upon their livestock as this is their only livelihood. In addition, trees are removed for firewood - their many source of energy for cooking, heat and light. In fact, firewood supplies approximately 80% of energy for the people of the Sahel.

What are the Consequences of Deforestation and Overgrazing?

Yet removal of vegetation puts even more pressure on the land. Without tree roots in place to hold soil together, it is rapidly being blown away leaving land baron and infertile.

What are the additional Pressures on the Sahel?

In addition, there is an increasing population, putting more and more pressure on the land and it's resources.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Comic Relief on FGM: Stop cutting our girls

FGM: Stop cutting our Girls

Comic Relief bravely and successfully raises the issue of Female Genital Mutilation in their BBC documentary (live last Wednesday at 10pm and now available on BBC iPlayer).  Zawe Ashton investigates FGM abroad and in the UK. Hard-hitting documentary 'Stop cutting our Girls' highlights the fact that millions of women are at risk of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Please note that some of this documentary is unpleasant and the subject material may not be for the feint hearted.

Shocking Statistics about FGM

Comic Relief's documentary reveals some shocking statistics, including the fact that 130000 UK have survived FGM and that over 3 million women worldwide are at risk of FGM. Several UK survivors of FGM were brave enough to raise awareness in this documentary and share their stories.The reality of FGM is that it leaves both physical and emotional scars. Girls are at risk of bleeding and infection. Many survivors of FGM not be able to have children in the future.

The Problem with Discussing FGM and Raising Awareness

Many people either don't know what FGM is. The removal of the female genitalia is abuse. Of those who know what FGM is, many do not  fully understand it or do not realise how widespread the problem is, particularly in the African subcontinent.

Many people do not talk about FGM as it is still a taboo subject. Zawe Ashton experiences the difficulty in discussing these issues when she visits an FGM workshop in a school in East London. How can FGM be discussed when the students are not really aware of female body parts?

Trying to Prevent FGM

The Comic Relief special speaks to the UK Border Forces who explain the vigilance needed during what is referred to as 'Cutting Season'.  Border Force agents were stopping people at the airport to both raise awareness and challenge those who could potentially be taking girls to be 'cut'.

Despite raising awareness in the UK, there are many parts of Africa where FGM is seen as a tradition that should be continued through generations. Even where FGM is illegal, there is evidence of it taking place illegally. Zawe Ashton bravely interviews a woman in Kenya who is a 'cutter' and reveals that it is seen as a business.

The 'backlash' against girls who are anti-FGM in parts of Africa needs to be tackled to solve the problem of FGM. Education needs to take place at a grass roots level. The World Health Organisation has conducted an international response, with a WHO resolution to eliminate FGM.

 Image: @BBC

Stop Cutting Our Girls, FGM

Monday, 16 February 2015

When is Fairtrade Fortnight 2015?

When is Fairtrade Fortnight?

Fair trade Fortnight 2015 is 23rd February - 8th March. Why is Fairtrade important, and what do campaigners aim to change?

Fair Trade Fortnight 2015

Why is Fairtrade Important?

Many commodities (raw materials) are grown or farmed in LEDC's (Less Economically Developed Countries), yet the ones who profit are usually the trans-national corporatios of the MEDC's (More Economically Developed Countries). Doesn't really seem fair, does it? Especially when many producers are living in poverty, while the business owners are living in luxury in the developed world.

Often, the problem is related to a lack of initial resurces and facilities. For example, Ethiopian coffee farmers work long hours for little pay to grow and farm coffee beans. But they do not grid it due to a lack of grinding facilities. This is where the real money can be made, but it is made by the larger companies of the developed world who have the capital to resource their businesses.

An excellent series to watch on the reality of life for producers in LEDC's in Blood, Sweat and Luxuries. A group of British students visit developing counries including a coffee farm in Ethiopia and a Gold Mine in Ghana.

What do Fairtrade Campaigners want to change?

Fair trade is important because it is about giving a fair wage and reinvesting money into the communities of LEDC countries. This could be on education, heathcare and infrastrucutre.

In addition, it is about policy change to support LEDC's. MEDC governments subsidise farmers and local producers. Otherwise, their own farmers would be out jobs, because their prices would be undercut by the produce of LEDC's which is cheaper. Quite often, tarrifs make it more difficult and expensive for LEDC's to trade in MEDC's. It almost seems like the rich get richer and thee poor get poorer. SO policy change is also at the heart of fair trade campaigning.

The UK government do help traders to import from certain LEDC's. For example, when I imported from Rwanda through Kigali Crafts, goods were duty exempt.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Safari Murders - A review of the True Stories Documentary on Mass Murder in the CAR

Safari, Witchcraft and Murder

On 26th November, More 4 released the documentary entitled 'Safari, Witchcraft and Murder', a documentary about a Mass Murder on Safari Company land in the Central African Republic. 3 days after discovering dead bodies in central Africa, British worker David Simpson was suspected of a Mass Murder that he says he did not commit. The documentary caused quite a stir on Twitter, being criticised as ignorant and racist.

David Simpson Discovered 13 dead Bodies in the Central African Republic

David Simpson found 13 bodies in the Central African Republic, after previously warning miners not to use their Safari company owned land for sifting for gold.  He initially found 5 bodies on the Safari company land. He called the CAR police immediately. When he smelt the strong stench, he immediately knew that there were more bodies in the area. But this led police to presume that he had done the killings, as he knew so much about the situation. David Simpson spent almost 5 months in an African prison, before being brought back home to Yorkshire.

Still to this day, no-one has been bought to justice for these murders. Human Rights watch conducted an investigation into the massacres which has concluded that the murders were likely to have been caused by the Ugandan rebel group the Lords Resistance Army.

Why did Safari, Witchcraft and Murder cause such a stir?

It seems that despite proclaiming his innocence, David Simpson did not present himself in the most positive light on the documentary. He commented that it was strage being 'the only white face in a sea of darkness' and consequently got accused of being racist. He played on African notions of witchcraft by threatening the miners on the land using three fake skulls, prior to the murders. Some would say that no wonder he was accused.

The director also received some criticism, as many viewers said that the documentary was too one sided. After all, no police or witnesses from the Central African republic featured in the documentary.

The Issues Raised - Politics, Land Ownership and Unrest in Central Africa

The issues raised by the discussions stemming from this documentary are vast. Indeed, the corruption of the CA justice system has been discussed. Yet, this is not the UK or the US - what did they expect? CSI? It is important not to generalise, but to explore why the justice systems in such countries are the way that they are. This is bound and intertwined in the complexities of African politics.

The issues of land ownership were also raised by this documentary. The gold miners were told not to tresspass on Safari company land. Who did the company purchase the land from? The government? If so, who did the government get the land from? Also, to what extent is Western involvement in building infrastructure and working in conservation helpful to African nations? Are jobs created, or is it just interferring? The issues raised are clearly too complex to be discussed in a single documentary.

David Simpson returns to the CAR - A Positive Ending?

Despite the way that David Simpson came across on camera, his heart seems to be in the right place. David returned to the Central African Republic in 2012 to continue to work for the Safari company. He said that he didn't want to be another person who gave up on Africa.

Monday, 15 April 2013

The Amazonian Rainforest and Nature’s Cash Flows

Economic Threats to the Amazon Rainforest

The Amazonian rainforest is one of the richest ecosystems in biodiversity and provides the world with a wide range of ecosystem services, such as climate regulation, hydrological services, fire protection, pollination, timber and non-timber forest products and recreation. However, Amazonian rainforests are facing some economics driven threats: cattle ranching and increasing plantations of soy and palm. The increased international demand for soybean based products has opened the door of profitability to the Latin American production. The cost: to increase the crop area, they need to reduce the forest size. Not to mention that parts of Amazonian rainforest could be auctioned to international oil companies. (Source: )

Economy vs Environment: The Tough choice of Governments

Governments of countries in the Amazonian region find in agriculture, cattle ranching and mining an opportunity to improve economic development. It is understandable. They face difficult choices: on one side, the preservation of a local natural resource that has a global impact and, on the other, the continuity of economic policies, the generation of employment and the improvement of economic conditions for poorest populations. However, at this point, if we choose development over preservation we could be sacrificing the long term for the short term (Source: 

The Impact on Ecosystems

Amongst the long term costs there are the destruction of tropical ecosystems, the reduction of biodiversity and, due to the reduction of the natural capital in the ecosystem, the flow of ecosystem services (the services we, as humans, enjoy from ecosystems without making any effort) is altered impairing as well, among others, the climate control functions these forests have. The stock of CO2 trapped in these forests is extremely relevant to control the climate change problem and, at this moment, there is no way to completely value such a huge service and the potential damage (Beukering B et al, 2007).
We are facing a situation in which ecosystems (forests, coral reefs...) are competing with other economic activities. However, these economic activities put clear numbers on the table: a soy producing company can tell you clearly how much money it expects to generate as a cash flow. Nevertheless, most of environmental services that we need and enjoy don’t have a value yet. They are not easy to put into dollars or British pounds, and some of the methodologies used to approach a monetary value are still controversial within the scientific community. The mistake some policymakers make is to think because the numbers are not there, these natural resources simply don’t have any value at all and they are not generating any positive impact. 

REDD Projects

There are projects such as REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries). The general objective of this program is to generate financial incentives to preserve the stock of carbon in the forests, reduce emissions from forested lands in developing countries and invest in low carbon paths. Put it simply, this is a way in which richer economies pay to developing economies to preserve natural resources and generate local sustainable projects at the same time. The point is that besides important cuts in carbon emissions from developed countries, developing countries can engage in REDD programs. The outcome could not be very good if these activities were substitutes. If we want to achieve climate change targets, we have to work in both fronts (Source:
However, the challenge is to generate sustainable activities with cash flows positive enough to compete with those that put ecosystems in risk. Additionally, to keep up with the increasing global consumption, if we don’t want to endanger our remaining ecosystems, we must increase productivity: strategies and technologies must be developed to multiply the production per hectare or even reduce the consumption of fossil fuels and some other land intensive products such as beef to reasonable and sustainable levels.
It is a difficult task, but it is one that must be done if we want to generate real and permanent incentives to preserve our remaining natural capital (most of it in developing countries). REDD is just one example, but most of the diverse strategies are inspired, similarly, on the idea that we can have economic growth and sustainability at the same time: that we don’t have to fall in the irony of giving away the planet to eradicate poverty.  

Beukering P et al,(2007) “Keeping the Amazon forests standing: a matter of values” WWF Available from

Thursday, 28 February 2013

The Threat of Terrorism in Kenya, and the Kenyan presence of US Troops

This week, York based student Lottie May gives her insight into the threat of terrorism in Kenya, and reflects on why there is still sometimes a presence of US troops.

The Threat of Terrorism in Kenya

The threat of terrorism hangs heavy over Kenya- worrying the local Kenyan communities, as their economy is dependent upon the wealth that tourism brings. The slightest piece of bad news deters travellers from the UK. When speaking to the hotel manager he confirmed that his bookings are down by 60%, impacts of this resort to him having to let staff go. With employment rates at a low, for some their only chance of employment is with the hotel. I built up a friendship with one of the waiters through my frequent visits to Watamu. However, this year I returned to find that he, along with many others, had lost his job. When getting into contact with him again, I found that he has travelled to Sudan in search for work. Once earning a decent salary, he will send the money home to his family. This is a common occurrence in countries like Kenya or the African Continent, showing the sacrifices families must make to get by.

A prominent threat that has been recognized worldwide is the threat from Somali terrorists and Pirates, again contributing greatly to Kenya’s economy. This affected my family and I directly, with the possibility that we weren’t able to travel to Watamu with it being so close to the boarder of the restricted area in which the government had issued. This was the same year when fireworks were banned for New Year celebrations; seen to act as a hazard with the terrorist attacks in Nairobi at the time. Although the threats of Somalia terrorists and Pirates have undoubtedly decreased, you can see the country now taking serious precautions to prevent any potential threat within vulnerable areas.

On my visit to town, I walked past a local church. What was brought to my attention was the people entering the church were being scanned for weapons. It is clear from this that, although very minimal, the locals are doing their best to protect themselves and their communities. However it is difficult not to notice that the resources that they have for security aren’t a fraction of the security surrounding and protecting my hotel. It seems that the life of a Western is more valuable than that of a local Kenyan? Incidentally, something that is an on going concern and threat of the Kenyan peoples daily life, these frequent terrorist attacks in Mombasa are so rarely heard of back home- is that because no Western people have been killed?

The presence of US Troops in Kenya

One of the most constant aspects of my holiday to Watamu is the people, with the same individuals return each year. However to my surprise I’m sharing the resort with 15 US troops. Stationed here until May; I had some initial concerns about their reason for being here, particularly with Kenya’s increasing rate of terrorist attacks. 

Photography - Lottie May (all rights reserved)

After speaking to them it was pleasing to note their role here is one of education and welfare support. The US has invested heavily to develop the local Kenyan people’s understanding of enhanced farming techniques (fish farms), improving their environmental and social awareness. These all aim to help build strong, stable relations within the country to gain peaceful communities. In the long term this works to grow a sense of self-sufficiency amongst the Kenyan people, striving for a more independent country. This proactive strategy not only improves the way of life for the people, but also makes them less susceptible to the influence of radical fundamentalists who prey of dissatisfaction and encourage violent behavior. When speaking with the Lieutenant it is clear that are doing as much as they can to put things right and essentially avoiding any unnecessary conflict taking innocent lives.

Photography - Lottie May (all rights reserved)

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Kenya Diary - Reflections on Watumu by Lottie May

York based student Lottie May spends every Christmas in Watumu, just North of Mombasa. She has kindly shared some thoughts with us. Enjoy her fantastic insight to this amazing country.

Reflecting on tourism - What is the 'real' Africa?

It’s hard to remember the last Christmas I spent at home; the typical English Christmas isn’t familiar to me that’s for sure. Instead when December comes around my family and I set off to Watamu, Kenya – a small village 2 hours north of Mombasa and 1 hour south of the Somali border. Undoubtedly we wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, first visiting the continent 7 years ago, we are drawn back every single year. So December 2012 it’s no different; once again we settle back into our usual resort, apply the sun tan lotion and get comfy on the sun beds. 

All you can see is the serine white beaches and the clear blue Indian Ocean reaching for miles. The deserted surroundings allow the faint whistle of the breeze and the crashing of the waves to ring in our ears as we doze in and out of our sleep.

The break and drastic change from the normal hectic lifestyle back in England, makes it extremely easy to get into this daily pattern, wasting away the days one by one. I can’t fault people for doing that, as long as they understand that sitting in a resort, is far from the ‘real’ Africa. You can’t say you have been to Africa until you venture from the haven of tourism, characterized by the stereotypical holiday privileges, which are expected by holidaymakers. The built up hotels, running water and food at hand all come unnaturally in this country and stepping out into the local villages strongly initiate this realization.

Photography - Lottie May (all rights reserved)

Kenyan Culture and the great Sense of Community

The contrast between environments when simply walking beyond the exit of the hotel still amazes me. When first visiting Africa I remember it being very overwhelming. This is down to the main fact that you can’t walk for more than 5 yards without being approached by someone. However despite the slight irritation of this, the majority means no harm, only there to greet you or maybe try to sell you something hoping to make small profit. This is common within the African culture with all the communities being so tightly intertwined, showing a genuine sense of compassion for one another. This is not only displayed when simply walking down the dusty African lanes, but also through organizations set up to help individuals in the communities. 

Visiting the Rainbow Orphanage

One of these organizations in which I regularly visit is the Rainbow Orphanage, run by an American woman called Linda who sold all her worldly possessions to build this orphanage. The facilities are very basic with no electricity and the children are squeezed into bunked dorms. They have so little but are so happy and grateful. Rainbow orphanage is full to the seams and Linda often has the difficult task of turning away small children who are left overnight waiting at the gate. Many of the children have AIDS – an epidemic in this part of Africa affecting 1 in 4 people. Linda draws her inspiration from her religious beliefs; indeed this is the value base, which guides the behavior within the orphanage. I feel so humble watching these small children sing grateful thanks for the food they have been given for the day – a bit of rice and some dried goat. Then I return to my hotel and face the buffet of luxurious foods that their minds could not even imagine.