Posts in "International development"

Dump maths? Sounds like a race to the bottom

10X Investments called on South Africa’s Department of Basic Education this week to reconsider the “potentially catastrophic proposal” to remove mathematics as a pass requirement in the education system.

“Just when you thought we needed to raise our game in terms of maths literacy, the national education department starts a consultation on lowering the standards,” the asset manager said in a statement.

The education department confirmed earlier in the week that it had started a consultation on proposed amendments to pass requirements for pupils in grades 1 to 9, which would see mathematics removed as a compulsory pass requirement.

10X – which is disrupting the asset management sector by offering simple, low cost, index tracking products as alternatives to the confusing and expensive array of choices available in what has been described as “the most profitable sector ever” – warned this proposal risked exacerbating a number of simmering crises in the country.

“South Africa already has an unemployment crisis, a pensions crisis, a growing crisis of confidence in the education system,” it said.

“Basic mathematics is an essential building block in many of the sectors that are driving the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution. To fulfil the promise of this revolution, which is to use new technology to leapfrog many in the developed world, young people need to be given the tools essential to mastery of the technology. Without maths it is hard to imagine how this is possible,” the 10X statement continued.

“The world economy is becoming increasingly science-orientated, with less complex pursuits at risk of automation. Those countries that fall behind in maths will fall behind in global growth and global competitiveness. Those who lack maths skills immediately close the door on many future career choices.

“Besides, maths is not simply about mastering numeric skills. A maths pass is a certificate in problem solving, in logical thinking, in systematic thinking, in applied thinking, in deductive reasoning, in discipline, in application.

“These skills are not only essential for success in many careers, they are key to making good life choices. From balancing the household budget to choosing a pension provider who does not take the lion’s share of your savings, basic skills of reasoning are important.

“The future already looks bleak for thousands of graduates who are unable to find work.
“It looks bleak for the working population too. According to National Treasury only 6% of the population will have accumulated enough money to retire comfortably.

“Who will create jobs and opportunities for these young people? Who will support these old people? It is hard to imagine how having more graduates with lower competencies will help anyone.

“By improving results by merely dropping standards the Department of Education will be equipping a generation of South Africans with nothing but false hope.”
10X called on the Department of Basic Education to reconsider the proposal.

“Let’s avoid a race to the bottom,” the statement added.

Education crisis ‘the civil rights struggle of the day’

#FeesMustFall protests South Africa October 2016

Respected African elder statesman Jakaya Kikwete told the World Economic Forum’s Africa meetings in Durban that the education crisis in Africa was today’s civil rights struggle, and called on leaders in the developed and developing worlds to act urgently.

Tanzania’s former president was speaking in his capacity as Special Envoy for the Education Commission, a global body convened in September 2015 to address the crisis in education in low to middle-income countries.

The commission called a briefing of journalists gathered for the WEF Africa 2017 meetings in May to announce a “breakthrough” international finance facility for education, which it called “an essential step to ensure the Sustainable Development Goal of an inclusive and quality education for all is met by 2030”.

The commission was convened by a number of concerned world leaders, from the director-general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) to the prime minister of Norway and the president of Chile and many others.

Jakaya Kikwete

Kikwete said this august body had put together a team of 27 commissioners from around the world to tackle the crisis. These experts in knowledge and education and other relevant fields include eight Africans, all of whom pack a power punch globally, including Kikwete himself, as well as Graca Machel, Zimbabwe’s Strive Masiyiwa and Nigeria’s Aliko Dangote.

The commission’s preliminary findings confirmed that the world is facing alarming education crisis that is significantly more pronounced in the lower and middle income countries. Kikwete noted that this meant all of Africa since the continent had no high income countries.

The commission found that education standards in these countries lagged high income countries by as much as 70 years.

Kikwete, who has recently completed a research tour of an initial 14 African countries, said there are 100 million youngsters out of school in Africa of a global total of 263 million. At current projections, he added, that figure would have grown to 130 million by 2030.

And, for those who did start school, he said, completion rates were low, with too many dropouts at all levels of education.

As things improved in other countries, they seemed to get worse in Africa, Kikwete said. It hardly bears thinking about what the numbers would be by 2050 “when two billion jobs will have been replaced by automation”.

He talked to the dual problem of limited resources not being used wisely. As an example of what could be done with limited funds Kikwete mentioned Tunisia and Vietnam, countries with similar GDP per capita but where learning outcomes are dramatically different. Where a learning outcome in Tunisia averaged 64 percent, in Vietnam it was 96 percent.

WEF’s Maxwell Hall, Jakaya Kikwete and Caroline Kende-Robb

The chief adviser to the commission, Caroline Kende-Robb, told the briefing that the problem was magnified by changes in the aid world. As the education crisis had become more pronounced education’s share of aid had declined.

Kikwete said the commission was calling for an “unprecedented intervention” into this “grave” situation to facilitate a catch-up with high income countries.

The commission is calling for a compact between high and low income countries where developing countries commit to a plan of action to improve education outcomes, and developed countries commit to supporting them in this.

The big news at WEF was that the commission plans to create a fund of $10 billion annually as an international financing facility for education to support the aims of this compact.

When journalists asked how this proposal would be different from other grand development plans that had failed to transform things on the ground, Kende-Robb said this was not just about handing money out but rather a partnership.

She told Call Off the Search after the briefing that funding would be linked very closely to specific outcomes that would be measured on the ground. The obvious, such as pass rates and attendance at school (by teachers as well as pupils), would be accompanied by other measures of things like willingness to innovate and adopt modern practices.

The proposed fund would be used to provide grants as well as to provide loan guarantees and to subsidise interest payments. But it is early days yet and journalists seeking detail about implementation of the proposal, which the commission will be taking to the upcoming G20 summit in Germany in July, were disappointed.

All eyes will be on Germany in July but in the meantime the commission will continue its work closer to home. The next step is a methodologies workshop Nairobi in May, where delegates from across Africa will go into detail, Kikwete said, identifying challenges as well as solutions and how to cost them.

Whatever the outcome of these meetings on the continent and abroad, Kikwete said, dealing with this crisis was everyone’s concern. If the education crisis in low and middle income countries was not tackled, he said, by 2050 there would be a “huge surge” of migrants from the affected countries.

“Everybody has an obligation to support these countries … the effects will touch all of us.”

If you can’t stand the heat get off the fence

The Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition covered air, land and marine research during the three-month voyage PHOTO Balz Abplanalp

It was hard to ignore the heat (or the irony) on Monday as a group of scientists told occupants in a sweltering hall on a quayside at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town that they hoped evidence gathered during a three month circumnavigation of Antarctica would “prove convincing to those politicians who have been sitting on the fence” about climate change.

David Walton, ACE chief scientist: ‘Here is some more compelling evidence that we are destroying our planet’

David Walton, the chief scientist, told the first workshop on results from the recently completed Antarctic circumnavigation expedition (ACE) that he was “hopeful that here is some more compelling evidence that we are destroying our planet but that there are some mitigating things we can do to save our future”.

ACE is the first project of the Swiss Polar Institute, a newly created entity founded by EPFL, the Swiss Institute of Forest, Snow and Landscape research WSL, ETHZ, the University of Bern and Editions Paulsen.

It set out with a diverse range of scientists from all around the world on board with a holistic mission to study the Antarctic and the Southern Ocean.

Frederik Paulsen, polar explorer and president of the ACE Foundation, reminded everyone in the sweltering room that a better understanding of Antarctica was critical, not just for its preservation, but for the whole (over-heating) planet.

The philanthropist, who is widely credited for having made the expedition possible, said the poles are affected by climate change more than any other region on Earth yet played a central role in regulating the world’s climate.

PHOTO Balz Abplanalp

A total of 22 projects covering terrestrial, marine and atmospheric disciplines were completed during the expedition that pushed science beyond cultural and geographical borders and advanced the tech frontier.

It is very early days still in terms of understanding and being able to act on findings from the voyage. In fact, when the Russian research vessel Akademik Treshnikov sailed into Cape Town last week, marking the end of the three-month long voyage, it was merely “the end of the beginning”, according to Walton.

“The next stage will last another two to three years, making the best of what we have learnt … the real work has just begun.”

Frederik Paulsen, polar explorer, president of the ACE Foundation and philanthropist is widely credited with making the expedition happen

Paulsen confirmed this and added (with a wry smile) that this could be seen as a dream for any researcher since it meant they could start asking for grants for the next 10 years.

The good news spreads well beyond the researchers from 73 institutes and 22 countries involved because all the data collected, the physical samples even, will be made available widely.

Walton said the plan had always been to spread the network of ACE as widely as possible. Research publications as well as all the data, even the samples where possible, will be available on an open access basis.

“All of this is part of a belief that things like this are going to be important only if they make their findings and data as widely available as possible.”

He said none of the country operators had ever tried something as big or holistic as this expedition, which had been bigger than any of the national programmes. The mission that involved polar institutes from seven countries and covered air, land and marine research, seems to have set out from the start to smash silo thinking and break down barriers.

Now, he said, they must get to work “to make sure the data we get is properly calibrated and controlled and its accessibility is organised in an efficient manner”.

Paulsen agreed, saying that only by joining forces could the different countries succeed in gaining a better understanding of the region, which was “not only desirable but crucial”.

“There is still much to be done.”

Polar expedition ends in steaming hot Cape Town

Cape Town, March 19

After a night of very high winds that reportedly saw Cape Town harbour temporarily closed on Saturday the Russian research vessel Akademik Treshnikov sailed into a still and steaming Cape Town on Sunday, marking the end of the Antarctic circumnavigation expedition (ACE).

The vessel departed from Cape Town three months ago with 50 scientists from around the world aboard on an intensive multi-disciplinary research mission.

Early information about the results suggests a wide variety of findings. The skeptics’ fears will be confirmed, for example, in evidence of micro-plastic pollution in even the most remote places. However, there is hope too, for example, in the discovery of pockets of air that is cleaner than the purest man-made environments, “white rooms” in laboratories.

The first results will be released on Monday when the Swiss Polar Institute runs a mini conference of presentations by scientists at a pavilion set up alongside the vessel at Jetty 2 at the V & A Waterfront. Attendance at the conference is by invitation only but a pavilion showcasing some of the work will be open to the public on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Excitement about the findings from the groundbreaking research trip, which included a total of nearly 150 scientists representing 73 scientific institutions over the three months, goes well beyond the scientific community. The expedition included a wide and diverse group of skills and experience. It was the first time such a wide range of disciplines – from biology to climatology to oceanography – had worked together to enhance understanding of Antarctica.

Also, according to information from the Swiss Polar Institute, a better understanding of the continent is critical, not just for its preservation, but for the whole planet. The poles, which play a key role in regulating the world’s climate, are affected by climate change more than any other region on Earth.

The scientists filmed and took samples under ice shelves and as deep as 3000m, completed 3D mapping of some of the 12 island groups they visited, and took the first ice cores from others. They took 18,968 individual samples of any sort on their 30,720km journey, which was completed over three stages.

Will the jury still be out once polar results are in?

Cape Town, March 14

There has been a sense for some time now that climate change denialists are living on borrowed time … one suspects the clock will tick with new intensity once the results of the Antarctic circumnavigation expedition (ACE) are released starting on Monday March 20.

The Swiss Polar Institute announced on Friday that scientists would be releasing preliminary results of the three-month expedition on Monday at a pavilion at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town.

A pavilion showcasing some of the work will be open to the public

A showcase of some of the work will be open to the public on Tuesday March 21 and Wednesday 22 at the ACE pavilion on Jetty 2 in front of the Table Bay Hotel at the V&A Waterfront.

Many a heart will sink at the idea of evidence being found of the dreaded micro-plastic pollution in even the most remote places around Antarctica. News of air that is cleaner than in the purest man-made environments, “white rooms” in laboratories, will give a reason to breath out.

The groundbreaking research trip, which included a total of nearly 150 scientists representing 73 scientific institutions, ends when the Russian research vessel Akademik Treshnikov sails into Cape Town harbour on the morning of Sunday March 19.

The scientists filmed and took samples under ice shelves and as deep as 3,000m, completed 3D mapping of some of the 12 island groups they visited and took the first ice cores from others. They took 18,968 individual samples of any sort on their 30,720km journey, which was completed over three stages.

The expedition included a diverse group of scientists from around the world, the first time such a wide range of disciplines – From biology to climatology to oceanography – had worked together to enhance understanding of Antarctica.

The Swiss Polar Institute said a better understanding of the continent is critical, not just for its preservation, but for the whole planet.

The poles, which play a key role in regulating the world’s climate, are affected by climate change more than any other region on Earth.

Antarctica is rare on earth in that it has never been affected by war and remains protected from many of the causes thereof.

The Antarctic Treaty, which has signed by countries that represent about 80 percent of the world’s population, has ensured that this has continued and will continue for the foreseeable future.

According to the Antarctic Treaty, the first version of which came into effect in 1961, the continent is dedicated to peaceful scientific investigation.

Exploration for oil and other minerals is banned under the agreement, which also pledges to keep Antarctica demilitarised and nuclear free.

 

Lessons in life as Antarctic expedition departs

David Walton says he was appointed chief of the polar expedition at the one meeting he missed

December 21 2016

Rather than delivering a science class, David Walton, chief scientist on the Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition (ACE), shared a few life lessons with the VIP crowd gathered at the Table Bay harbour for the expedition’s send-off.

First, Walton said, he had learned during his 50-odd years in science that one should be wary of invitations that appeared on the surface to have no significance.

As a case in point he talked about what appeared to be an invitation to lunch that turned into his being chief scientist on a three-month expedition to the South Pole.

A second lesson he shared with the gathered scientists and diplomats – including South African Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor and Krystyna Marty Lang, Switzerland’s Deputy Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs – was that one should attend every meeting.

It was at the one technical meeting that he missed that he was elected head scientist, he said.

The 50 scientists on board the Russian vessel Akademik Treshnikov will be sharing a lot more life lessons and plenty of science during the groundbreaking scientific expedition, which is set to dramatically expand mankind’s knowledge about this key region.

Scientist Julia Schmale hopes to find answers and raise new questions

One of those scientists, Julia Schmale from the Paul Scherrer Institute, told the farewell reception that one of the very exciting aspects of this expedition was that it encompassed such a variety of disciplines

She said scientists would have a lot of time to get to know each other and each others’ work and, crucially, “to explore the linkages between the work”.

The Swiss-funded ACE is composed of 22 projects, bringing together research teams from six continents. They focus on different areas of study, all fundamental for a better understanding of Antarctica’s ecosystems.

Schmale had earlier reminded those gathered to see the boat off how much times had changed by reading out an advertisement said to have been placed by early polar explorer Ernest Shackleton in The Times of London on December 29, 1913: “Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.”

Shackleton, who led three British expeditions to the Antarctic, was one of the principal figures of the period known as the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.

The scientists aboard the Akademik Treshnikov might well become known as the ones who started the Second Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.

Naledi Pandor, South African Minister of Science and Technology, wished the expedition success on behalf of the country and the continent

“Scientists and explorers pick the challenges of their time,” Schmale said.

There are different goals and measures of success, too. In the words of Schmale, success will be measured by coming back with some answers; great success by coming back with many more questions.

ACE is the first project of the Swiss Polar Institute, a newly created public-private partnership that aims to enhance international relations and collaboration between countries on Antarctica. It also hopes to spark the interest of a new generation of young scientists and explorers in polar research.

– African News Agency (ANA)

Young Africa Works: Making farming sexy

A beautiful, noisy thunder shower greeted delegates arriving in Kigali, Rwanda, for the Mastercard Foundation’s second annual Young Africa Works Summit in late February 2017, shattering expectations of cracked skin and dry taps after a terrible year of drought in many parts of Africa .

The trip from the airport to the Marriott Hotel, where the summit took place, gave an indication that many more expectations would be shattered.

One hoped the 300 delegates at the summit would still take serious note of the various warnings about being water wise but, as for other old expectations, they might as well have been flushed away. New stereotypes are being  minted by the day in Africa, with its burgeoning population of young people and blossoming cultures of innovation and entrepreneurship.

Looking for a ‘killer app’ to link agriculture and youth unemployment

Opening the conference Rwanda’s Minister of Youth and ICT Jean Philbert Nsengimana, pictured, put his faith in the agricultural sector to solve the mounting problem of youth unemployment … even as he used hi-tech lingo to describe the problems facing Africa.

He said finding a solution that combined Africa’s demographic dividend with its agricultural promise would be like creating a “killer app”.

This is a man with an MBA in IT management and a master’s degree in software engineering, yet he said he had no doubt that the agricultural sector was best placed to solve the problem of how to put a burgeoning young population to work in a sustainable and meaningful way.

He said when he thought of agriculture on the continent he was struck by the appalling paradox of problems and opportunities existing side by side.

The summit will hear much about this paradox, of Africa’s bountiful potential, an abundance of fertile land, long growing seasons and large young labour force, among other things, in such conflict with the reality of starvation and poverty.

“This is the time for change,” the minister said. “This is the time we say no to this unending paradox of problems living side by side with solutions.”

Kenyan women on top

Africans rising: from left, Brian Bosire, Laetitia Mukungu, Rita Kimani, Jean Bosco Nzeyimana and Pilirani Khoza

(As one has become accustomed …) Kenya stood proud at the Mastercard Foundation’s Young Africa Works Summit with two of the East African country’s leading young entrepreneurs, both of them women, hosting the youth keynote address.

Rita Kimani, founder of FarmDrive, and Laetitia Mukungu, founder of the Africa Rabbit Centre, co-hosted a panel of three young people doing great things in the agricultural sector on the continent.

Making farming sexy and feeding a continent

The conference really did live up to its promise of putting young people centre stage.

The potential of a “Green Revolution”, which has been talked about since the Seventies, shows fresh promise with a growing and increasingly innovative new generation of young farmers, most of whom consider themselves professionals despite the sector’s reputation as a depository for people who have not made it elsewhere.

That there is shame associated with any part of food production in Africa is a scandal in itself.

It is widely agreed that the real shame is that Africa, with most of the world’s arable land and a large and growing workforce, spends $35 billion a year importing food. That is the real crisis that the next generation of agriculturalists is under pressure to solve. It is good news for the young people themselves, they say, that they are also chiseling away at the sector’s bad reputation.

Farming already has the weight of critical importance on its side. It is widely seen as the sector with the most potential to defuse Africa’s ticking timebomb of a booming population and a growing unemployment crisis.

Africa has a young workforce in an ageing world, with an estimated 226 million people between the ages of 15 and 24. More than 70 percent of those youngsters are believed to live on less than $2 a day, most of them relying on vulnerable or unpaid employment for their survival.

According to information from the Mastercard Foundation, the agriculture sector is set to create an additional 8 million stable jobs by 2020, a figure that could be significantly increased through increased investment in education, infrastructure, technology and various other support services.

An important shot in the arm is being delivered as scores of young entrepreneurs begin to make headlines as they build healthy and exciting businesses by applying cutting edge innovations and new technologies in a sector known until recently as the most old-fashioned and anti-tech, even some might say ancient.

And here is a little about just two of them:

Jean Bosco Nzeyimana and his organically fuelled revolution

Recycling municipal waste might not seem glamorous at all but it was thanks to turning waste into a clean burning fuel that Rwandan Jean Bosco Nzeyimana, pictured, was flown to America to appear on stage alongside Barack Obama and Mark Zuckerberg, among other things.

Nzeyimana was one of the young African farmers firing things up at the Mastercard Foundation’s Young Africa Works summit in Kigali in late February 2017, with stories about using innovative ways to earn a good living off the land.

As a member of a panel during the keynote session the 23-year-old talked about more idyllic times when his parents’ small piece of land would provide such a bountiful harvest that they would recruit all the young people of the valley to help at harvest time.

One thing he remembers not liking about this time, however, was that the farming tools were so important to his parents that they were kept in their bedroom. In the eyes of the young Jean Bosco, the last of seven children, they got to “sleep” in Mum and Dad’s bedroom, something he would have liked.

That was nothing, though, compared with the pain and difficulty caused to Nzeyimana and his family as the harvests got smaller each year as climate change and poor farming methods took their toll.

He said he doesn’t blame his parents but he didn’t like the way the older generation was practising farming. He said it was clear they were not able to adjust to the changing climate.

While this was happening he was doing well at school but coming to realise that his parents would not be able to fund any further education.

As he was watching his family’s lifestyle becoming harder to maintain, Nzeyimana said, he “became very competitive at school” in the hope of winning government support to attend university. This he did and he now holds a bachelors degree in business administration from the University of Rwanda.

Then, he said, he was determined to show his parents that what he had learned at university could be put to good use.

“I wanted to see if what I had learned at school could make the family more stable,” he said.

This was the motivation behind starting Habona, a company that processes waste into affordable and environmentally friendly fuels such as biogas and biomass briquettes.

The briquette, made of compressed organic matter, is a clean burning fuel with high energy efficiency. The company processes waste for a large community, including a refugee camp, and produces a sustainable replacement to wood charcoal, which is easy to light and can burn longer than charcoal.

Nzeyimana has been named Rwanda’s top young entrepreneur and an India-Africa Young Visionary as well as being awarded the African Innovation Prize. He was selected as the 2015 Mandela Washington Fellow through the flagship programme of the U.S. president for Young African Leaders.

As a fellow, this young Rwandan, the first in his family to study at university, did intensive training in leadership, business and entrepreneurship at Northwestern University in Chicago as well as environmental and green energy studies at the University of Wisconsin. And now, he told African News Agency, he has dreams of doing an MBA at one of the “big schools”, by which he said he meant Stanford, Oxford, Harvard, Yale and the like.

The glamour of awards and international training aside, Nzeyimana’s business has created 30 permanent jobs and provides another 40 temporary jobs every month.

It provides cost-effective, renewable energy sources to households, businesses, schools, farmers and government, extremely beneficial in the face of Rwanda’s severe energy crisis. The company also produces bio-fertilizer for farmers and consultancy and maintenance services regarding integrated waste management and energy solutions.

“It is two and a half years since we started and we are very proud of the impact we have made,” said the soft-spoken young man, who is also fueling the revolution that some of his peers describe as “making farming sexy”.

Laetitia Mukungu, making healthy, affordable food fashionable

While feeding a nation might not be dripping in the cool factor, being ahead of the curve of food trends in hip restaurants definitely has a big helping of it. Laetitia Mukungu, founder of Kenya’s Africa Rabbit Centre, now has this claim to fame.

Mukungu – who was co-host of the youth keynote address at the Mastercard Foundation’s Young Africa Works summit, which wrapped up on Friday – reported the good news at the summit that Nairobi’s famous Carnivore Restaurant, a popular haunt of tourists and locals, would soon be stocking her products.

Mukungu gave a very convincing presentation about the Africa Rabbit Centre at the Mastercard Foundation’s first Young Africa Works summit, in Cape Town in October 2015, but the world didn’t seem quite ready for her then. A year and a bit on, the business she started as a way to help struggling rural youth and women is growing in leaps and bounds.

However, the young Kenyan told the second Young Africa Works summit in Kigali last week that farming’s bad reputation remained a concern. She said one of the biggest obstacles to young people becoming farmers was that the education system undervalued agriculture as a potential career.

Mukungu, who is currently studying Agricultural Engineering at Earth University in Costa Rica, remembered that schoolteachers would tell poor performers that they would end up as farmers when they grew up if they didn’t improve.

She has been recognised by the Anzisha Prize and Spark Kenya Changemaker and is named by many other young farmers as the reason they are looking at starting to breed rabbits.

Rabbit meat is very high in protein and low in fat, but it also ticks another important box: there is little waste. The meat is eaten, the pelts are used for clothing, the faeces are used as fertilizer and even the urine is used as pest control.

Minimising waste is another key consideration for this next generation of farmers, who are experiencing the effects of climate change in a way the generation that went before could hardly imagine.

And an almost coup …

One of Ghana’s most accomplished statesmen almost pulled off a coup on “Young Africa” at the Mastercard Foundation’s Young Africa Works summit in Kigali … but not quite.

There were no obvious signs that it was part of a carefully planned exercise but Sulley Gariba, right, senior policy adviser to the government of Ghana and the country’s High Commissioner to Canada, certainly had the element of surprise on his side (as with any well-planned coup).

Before he sprung a question (from the audience) about succession planning on one of the bright young things on stage anyone over 35 had borne the brunt of any generational finger-pointing. Until that point friendly tension between old and young at the summit had left the older folks looking a little ragged.

Later that same session, which was about how policies can better support young people to become engines of agricultural transformation, the moderator, Dr William Baah-Boateng, perhaps emboldened by Gariba’s surprise move, had pointed out to the same young gun, Ugandan Francis Arinaitwe, that he had been like him 25 years ago.

Sensing a small victory perhaps, he added: “In 25 years’ time will you be like me. What are you going to do?”

Baah-Boateng, currently a senior research fellow at the African Centre for Economic Transformation, is on a sabbatical from his position as senior lecturer in economics at the University of Ghana. As a university lecturer he had perhaps felt more keenly than others the slight turning of tables at the summit, which seems to very successfully have encouraged young people take a bigger role in setting the agenda.

To be sure, the young man in question, panelist Francis Arinaitwe, left, the parish youth chairperson for Mayuge District in Uganda, had stuck his neck out, even perhaps put his head on the block for his generation.

He had started by calling on policymakers to “leave your office … come and conduct focus groups with us on the ground”.

“It is your initiative and your responsibility to consult us on the ground!” he said firmly, adding that not all young people were educated enough to feel able to approach the offices of leadership.

It was Baah-Boateng who had come in strongly in support of the young farmer here, saying that leaders must be careful to not become armchair policymakers. In fact, except for the small challenge about succession planning, which he handled with aplomb, Arinaitwe had received nothing but encouragement from Baah-Boateng and Gariba.

The young farmer who is also spokesman for many had very specific demands and requests for policymakers. His eloquence and clarity left none in doubt that he was ready for the raised profile he was seeking for his generation.

Policies around financial access should be amended to make them simpler, affordable and friendly were his description of what was required.

He also called for action around policies about land ownership, particularly regarding equality for men and women.

There were a number of other specific suggestions but there was also a general request that seemed to speak to the more general handing over of the baton.

“It is high time you stopped thinking about us as beneficiaries,” he said.
“It is time to make us participants.

“I know you were once a youth, but that was then,” Arinaitwe said, adding that it was time that his generation gave input into the policies that affected them.

Things heat up for polar expedition from Cape

Local scene: Eliana Burki and her speedily assembled Cape Town band on-stage outside the #HouseofSwitzerland

Things were heating up at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town this weekend as 50 scientists from around the globe prepared for the groundbreaking three-month polar expedition – the Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition (ACE) – due to set off from the Mother City on Tuesday.

Young and old gathered to listen to 49 singing scientists and a celebrated “funky” Swiss horn player at the House of Switzerland exhibition on Saturday evening.

One could almost see the steam coming off the 49 young scientists as they sang a song about their time on board the Russian scientific research vessel Akademik Treshnikov.

Singing scientists: the 49 students who were selected to attend a month long maritime university in advance of the Antarctic expedition

The students from around the world had been selected to take part in the ACE Maritime University on board the vessel on its journey from Bremerhaven in Germany. Their intense course, conducted under the auspices of the Russian Geographic Society, ended when the vessel arrived in Cape Town on Thursday.

The youngsters seemed to glow as they sang to a small crowd on a luminescent evening at the V&A Waterfront. If the maritime university was an an ice-breaker of sorts for the groundbreaking Antarctic expedition, the singing scientists seemed to warm up the crowd for a performance by the celebrated Alpine Horn player Eliana Burki, who had flown in from snowy Switzerland.

Capetonian drummer Sean Drummond and Eliana Burki

Playing her own special brand of “funky” Alphorn, Burki and her speedily assembled local band delighted young and old with a combination of traditional and modern music on a stage outside the House of Switzerland.

Visitors to the House of Switzerland exhibition got a preview of how this soon-to-depart expedition will expand knowledge about the region that plays a crucial role in regulating the world’s climate.

(And of course there was chocolate, thank you Lindt, thank you Switzerland!)

ACE is made up of 22 projects to be conducted by research teams from six continents during the three-month circumnavigation of Antarctica. The 22 projects focus on different areas of study, all of which are fundamental for a better understanding of the largely unknown continent’s ecosystems.

The projects, which were chosen from more than 100 submissions, include mapping threatened species such as Southern Ocean whales, albatrosses and penguins, trying to understand the “calving” of a giant iceberg, and a bid to uncover the mystery of the ocean’s “false bottom”.

the Russian scientific research vessel Akademik Treshnikov

ACE is the first project of the Swiss Polar Institute, a newly created public-private partnership that aims to enhance international relations and collaboration between countries on Antarctica. It also hopes to spark the interest of a new generation of young scientists and explorers in polar research.

The expedition was initiated and sponsored by leading industrialist and philanthropist Dr Frederik Paulsen, who has a well-established track record in polar exploration.

The House of Switzerland exhibition, free to members of the public and running until Tuesday, also showcases the Swiss spirit of innovation and Switzerland’s contribution to polar research. It is set up in containers next to the Swing Bridge at the V&A Waterfront.
– African News Agency (ANA)

Spier shares cash from carbon credits with workers

The Spier team celebrates the good news

Workers at the Spier estate in Stellenbosch in South Africa’s winelands will have a little extra to spend this Christmas after the farm decided to divide a portion of cash earned via carbon credits.

Spier announced on Tuesday that it would give 27 workers a share of half of the R204,000 earned for practising regenerative farming on part of the organically certified wine farm through a climate change mitigation initiative.

“The farm has acquired the credits for sequestering 6,493 tons of carbon dioxide in its soil, which is cultivated in as natural way as possible by using regenerative farming practices like high density grazing,” says Spier Wine Farm’s livestock farm manager, Angus McIntosh.

“This is a technique that involves frequent stock rotations aimed at using livestock to mimic nature by restoring carbon and nitrogen contained in livestock and poultry urine into the soil profile.”

The conversion of grasslands and forests to crop and grazing lands across the globe has resulted in losses of soil carbon, which accumulates through photosynthesis as plants absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. When land loses its cover of natural vegetation and becomes degraded through practices such as intensive agriculture and the use of chemicals, carbon escapes into the atmosphere.

Spier’s credits were bought by a South African bank, brokered by Credible Carbon, a business that facilitates carbon trading through credits earned for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. Spier said the office of the premier of the Western Cape, Helen Zille, was among institutions that had bought credits.

Livestock farming on Spier is done using high-density rotational grazing practices alongside the vineyards. A total of 74 hectares of pastureland supports about 300 cattle, 4,500 laying hens, 1,200 broiler chickens, pigs and sheep.

“The presence of a great many animals in a confined space for a short period of time deposits enormous amounts of manure and urine on the land, leading to healthy, vigorous pasture growth without the need of fertilizer,” said McIntosh.

“No inorganic fertilisers nor grains are used as animal feed, thereby disassociating the farming practice with industrial agriculture.”

Soil samples from the livestock farm were tested over an 18-month period by a leading U.S. laboratory. “They confirm a significant and rapid enhancement of soil organic carbon over this period,” according to Credible Carbon.

Spier Sustainability Director, Heidi Newton-King, said this initiative added to the farm’s sustainability and underlined the fact that regenerative farming was not only good for the environment but made good business sense.

“We now have a sixth revenue stream from carbon credits in addition to our other five, from sales of beef, chicken, eggs, pork and lamb,” Newton-King said.

– African News Agency (ANA)

Crowd-funding: almost as old as the hills in Africa

patrickschofieldThe idea behind crowd-funding, raising many small amounts of money from a large number of people via the internet to finance a project, might not be quite as old as the hills, but in Africa it certainly has very old and deep roots.

As Patrick Schofield, pictured left, the founder of Thundafund, Africa’s most successful crowd-funding platform, reminded the audience at a session at AfricaCom, most South Africans know about stokvels, the popular, often informal community savings funds based on the very same principles.

He told the session titled “Crowd-funding: Africa’s answer to economic growth: You choose” the practice, like a village pooling resources to send a child to school, was simply a case of a community that needed or wanted something deciding to make it happen as a group.

“In Africa this is not unusual,” he said.

He went on to say that Facebook was a great example of a “sharing economy” organisation – many people collectively making something worthwhile and adding value to it.

In its many forms, crowd-funding was often the easiest way for people to get access to finance to fund a new venture.

So why the excitement now, you might wonder.

Schofield said that until about five years ago the internet just wasn’t pervasive enough for crowd-funding to be that successful. He added that the biggest factor that predicted whether or not a crowd-funding project would work was penetration of Facebook.

Also, Schofield said, it was only in the last year or so that the financial and regulatory authorities had started to consider that crowd-funding could be a significant force for development in Africa.

He told the session at AfricaCom, the telecoms, tech and ICT conference and exhibition in Cape Town, that Thundafund was the most successful fund in South Africa, having raised R8 million. He was quick to add, however, that Kickstarter, the US-based global crowdfunding platform, probably raised that in a day.

backabuddy

www.BackaBuddy.co.za

Crowd-funding comes in what he described as three “flavours” – donations (seewww.backabuddy.co.za), rewards and investment.

Donations, largely made for the benefit of charities or causes, and investments, made in return for a pre-agreed return such as share of profits, are pretty self-explanatory. Rewards, the bit in the middle, is where it gets more interesting. Here, a funder will give some money in exchange for goods, such as one of the finished products the venture promises to create.

Schofield gave a few examples here, the sweetest one being a group of people who wanted to start a cafe dedicated to chocolate. They raised money via Thundafund by offering a tiered reward system ranging from an entry level investment that secured bars of chocolate to more generous investments that meant a group of friends got locked into the cafe for a few hours to feast on chocolate.

honestchocModern systems, ancient desires, you see.

In Schofield’s words, successful crowd-funding projects could “range from the sublime to the ridiculous”. Whether or not the chocolate project strikes you as sublime or ridiculous depends on how dedicated you are to chocolate. For more information on the campaign and the business see www.thundafund.com/honestchocolate.

Other slightly more serious sides of crowd-funding are reducing waste and de-risking investments.

Schofield told the AfricaCom session that getting buy-in and investment from potential customers tested the market. Once it was known that a market existed, evidenced by financial commitment, it was far less likely that products would be made and never be sold. It is fairly obvious that this de-risks further investment too.

In an environment where traditional financing criteria, such as a banking track record and property ownership, are often irrelevant, crowd-funding allows the ideas of young, often unbankable innovators to get to market.

There is a social impact too, Schofield said, because this was redistributing opportunity. But, unlike the Robin Hood system of taking from the rich to give to the poor, crowd-funding made it possible for different people to get involved in the means of production. Now there’s an old idea worth reviving.

– African News Agency (ANA)

The future: watching you from dashboard

dotcomsessionWatching demos by MTN and Huawei at the Africa.com conference in Cape Town this week was a wake-up call for at least one person in deep denial about the arrival of the future being some way off.

These demos suggested that the future is here and most of us are already actively in it. (Readers terrified about the perceived dangers of Big Brother-style surveillance might want to look away now.)

The two companies are showcasing objects that are connected to each other using Narrow Band Internet of Things (NB-IoT), a low power, wide area technology that can connect objects to the Internet of Things more efficiently as a result of a stronger and more penetrative signal.

MTN said in a statement: “Connecting these devices to the internet by means of a mobile network is where NB-IoT comes into its own.”

MTN and Huawei have signed an agreement to allow their collaboration “to happen at an exponential rate as both organisations are committed to an all connected Africa”.

Michael Ma

Huawei’s Michael Ma

Michael Ma, president of Huawei Cloud Core product line, said: “We are very pleased to announce our strategic co-operation with MTN in the IoT field … We look forward to a continuing close relationship with MTN to bring more IoT services to Africa.”

MTN and Huawei are showcasing a smart refrigerator, User-Based Insurance (UBI) and a smart water metering solution at the conference at the Cape Town International Convention Centre. Small sensors in these “things” (fridge, car, water meter) deliver data about their performance.

alpheus-mangale

MTN’s Alpheus Mangale

Alpheus Mangale, MTN South Africa’s chief enterprise business officer, said: “We are pleased and excited by the enabling role we are playing to usher an era of enhanced connectivity in Africa through the strategic partnerships we enter into and through the investments we have made in our expansive network infrastructure across the continent.

“The IoT market is expected to grow exponentially in the next few years, and MTN plans to be at the forefront of this digital revolution. We hope to enable how governments, enterprises and industries work,” he added.

The global IoT market is widely expected to be worth trillions of dollars by 2020, with 450 million cellular IoT connections in Africa alone.

Huawei and MTN plan to deploy this technology commercially next year, but people might be surprised to know how much some of it is already in action in everyday environments.

Like many other drivers, I am sure, I happily carry the gizmo/sensor/whatsit sent by my insurance company in my car, “keeping an eye on me” [chuckle] wherever I go.

It never really made me feel that I was under surveillance. That is just too much sci-fi, I thought. But then I attended a Huawei-MTN demo at Africa.com.

UBI allows insurance companies to access information collected by sensors connected via wifi, including location, driving behaviour and vehicle running.

cotcam-copy

Cot-cam: It is not just Teddy that will be keeping an eye on baby in the Smart Home

Using big data technology to analyse and score driving behaviour, the insurer can adjust and optimise their offering for each driver. Good driving can be rewarded, and risky or dangerous driving can be “identified”, in the words of MTN. (I think they mean punished).

As I said earlier, this all seemed like so much mumbo jumbo to me until I saw the demo at Africa.com.

Some information relayed by the sensors in a car was obvious, such as time, distance and routes taken. Less obvious and significantly more revealing were examples of less than optimal driving, such as speeding or hazardous cornering, that were recorded and transmitted. We were shown the very sections of road where the infractions occurred.

This is great news for those excellent drivers who prefer to pay a premium directly related to the risk they represent, but less exciting to those individuals who like to sneak into the crowd sometimes and pay average bills.

It is hard, however, to imagine a downside to the smart water metering solution, which enables the automated collection of utility meter data over the cellular network.

africadotcomhall

Africa.com attracts exhibitors and delegates from all over the world

Powered by the NB IoT technology developed by Huawei, smart water metering helps to cut the cost of manual meter reading as well as sending early warnings about leaks and other inefficiencies that otherwise might continue for years.

The smart refrigerator solution enables remote monitoring of fridges to help with stock control as well as electronic issues or even user issues, such as a door being left open, or maybe it was the seal on the door that was faulty.

africadotcomhall2Electronic inventory control and cold chain management have many more benefits for businesses, from manufacturers to bar owners, than ensuring a perfectly chilled beverage after a long journey, however well or badly one drives, although that is a good selling point.

– African News Agency (ANA)

 

A chic and shiny future

Building a house Africa-style: one step at a time

breestrbuilding   Innovation is required in the financial services sector in Africa to provide funding products for households who build their own homes bit by bit. Either way, it will continue to happen, says the head of the Centre for Affordable Housing Finance in Africa.

Kecia Rust told a panel at the African Real Estate and Infrastructure Summit in Cape Town that this style of construction was evident in cities across Africa.

Travel around the continent, she said, and you would see building projects at various stages of completion. In many cases, some sections would already be in use, while parts were still under construction and others appeared to have been put on hold.

ctbuildingRust, who is director and founder of the Centre for Affordable Housing Finance in Africa, said incremental building was so popular because, for many people, it was the only option.

Addressing a panel discussion entitled Making African Cities of Tomorrow Inclusive she said there were lots of models of incremental building across the continent, but few financial products designed to serve this market.

She said this type of mortgage product often didn’t exist because this sector was just not recognised despite its significant size.

Across Africa, she said, “most housing is being built by households themselves”.

It is clearly not efficient for each household to build their own house, but efficiency isn’t the highest ideal when options are so severely limited.

underconstructionTo serve this market, innovation was required in the finance sector, Rust said. “The opportunities for profit are huge and worth engaging with.”

An exception she mentioned was Zambian Home Loans (ZHL), which offers a building loan that is converted to a mortgage once construction of the house has been completed. ZHL, a collaboration between Investrust Bank, African Life Financial Services and Sofala Capital, specialises in building loans that are paid out in tranches according to the various building stages.

But this is a rare case. Rust added that a regulatory system that enabled this incremental process was also required.

“We need to be realistic about affordability,” she said. “We must be bold but we must also pay attention to the market.”

Massive opportunity in low-cost housing ‘being missed’

Banks and property developers in Africa were missing out on an economic opportunity by not catering to the “missing middle” of people who earn too much to qualify for state help with housing but too little to qualify for traditional financing products.

This view was put forward by various parties representing a spectrum of roleplayers at the summit.

Another message that came out of the panel discussion, Making African Cities of Tomorrow Inclusive, was that a lack of trust between the various roleplayers was a severe impediment to efforts to solve the housing crisis in many African cities.

In summary, Tim Harris, Wesgro chief executive officer, who chaired the session, described one of the problems as government and the private sector “not playing nicely”.

Albert Smuts, director of Fieldworks Design Group, which is active in regeneration projects in the Johannesburg CBD, was emphatic when he said that a “massive” opportunity was being missed in the development of low cost housing.

His fellow panelist, Mokena Makeka, the founder and principal at Makeka Design Lab, added: “We live in an age of a crisis of confidence, a crisis of imagination and a crisis of leadership.”

Good governance was critical for the private sector to have the faith required to invest, he said. But “the social compact between citizen and state is frayed”.

His experience was that the private sector didn’t want to participate in projects where government was involved, and representatives of government felt the private sector couldn’t be trusted. Makeka argued that a better social compact was needed to create more functional cities.

The inaugural African Real Estate and Infrastructure Summit, held at the Cape Town International Convention Centre, saw leading African cities showcase their urban development plans and discuss the challenges and opportunities created by rapid urbanisation on the continent.

Being run in partnership with United Cities and Local Governments Association Africa and Wesgro, the official tourism, trade and investment promotion agency for the Western Cape, the summit sought to provide “solution-driven content and insights into the world’s fastest urbanisation, as well as to address the challenges of regulatory frameworks on the African continent”.

Another week, another event, and on the eve of Africa.com, one has to wonder how many bright young things attending the conference at the CTICC from November 15-17 will be applying their minds to creating financing  solutions that fit Africa …

Making money in the wildest of ways

silverbackbyrusselfriedman

Reforesting should make life a little easier for Silverbacks, male leaders who are responsible for a troop’s safety. Photograph: Russel Friedman

Throwing the old economy-versus-environment argument into question, Wilderness Holdings on Friday reported good progress on both sides of the equation in the six months to the end of August, including a reforestation project in Rwanda and a 22 percent increase in after-tax profit.

Profit at the company, which combines ownership of safari camps with support services such as a bush airline and touring and transfer services as well as marketing, sales and reservations businesses, came in at P94 million (Botswana Pula) on revenues that were up by 19 percent at P642 million.

In its results statement the Botswana and JSE-listed ecotourism group emphasised that it had managed to build profits while maintaining a focus on environmental sustainability and partnerships with local communities.

bisatelodge

Bisate Lodge is scheduled to open in June 2017

During this financial year the company completed the largest ever private land acquisition adjacent to the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. The statement added that the land, on which the Bisate Lodge is being built (opening June 2017), was currently undergoing intensive reforestation.

“More than just a luxury lodge, the land will become the site of a visionary reforestation and re-wilding project that aims to restore endemic Albertine Rift flora and fauna,” the statement said.

A Wilderness representative told Call Off The Search: “We are extremely proud of the progress we have made with Bisate’s reforestation programme to date. It has already seen more than 5,000 indigenous trees planted in partnership with the newly-created Tuzamurane Co-operative

“One of the most exciting initiatives is that of reforesting the land in a phased approach using indigenous trees such as Hagenia, Dombeya, Neoboutonia, Hypericum and mountain bamboo.

“This will lead to a natural recolonisation of this restored forest land by endemic and indigenous bird, amphibian, insect, reptile and mammal species.”

“In terms of birds we expect as many as 15 Albertine Rift endemic species to recolonise the restored forest.”

Wilderness Holdings – which operates 45 safari camps and lodges, and 10 scheduled overland safaris in Botswana, Congo, Kenya, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe – said headline earnings per share were up 12 percent during the period under review. In line with the group’s dividend policy no shareholder payout was proposed.

Although that is not to say the spoils are not being spread around a little. The company employs about 2,600 staff from more than 20 different ethnic groups and hosts 35,000 guests from around the world each year.

rwandamountaingorillabycarolineculbert

The critically endangered Mountain Gorilla is a likely beneficiary of “re-wilding” in Rwanda. Photograph: Caroline Culbert

“We create life-changing journeys for our guests and clients and work closely with our government partners, conservation and community stakeholders and shareholders, to ensure the ongoing financial success and sustainability of our business,” Wilderness Holdings said.

“We aim to maximise the positive impact of our operations on biodiversity conservation and to build and manage our camps in the most eco-friendly way possible to minimise any negative impacts.”

Expectations for the rest of the year were relatively flat although an “increasing trend in late booking behaviour” and continued appreciation of the home currencies could mix things up a little.

– African News Agency (ANA)