An app for impending drought?

Fostering and harnessing innovative technologies could significantly reduce the negative impacts from climate change, including drought, water scarcity and food insecurity in African countries.

According to the United Nations (UNCCD) by 2025, 1.8 billion people will experience absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world will be living under water-stressed conditions. By 2050, the demand for water is expected to increase by 50 percent.

Drought caused as a result of climate change, a complex global phenomenon with significant and pervasive socio-economic and environmental impacts, is causing more deaths and displacing more people than any other natural disaster.

According to UNCCD, adopting smart tech strategies would help Africa to address the drought challenges in many ways, depending on the action strategy and the technology and its application. For example, implementing early warning systems and new technologies by metrological agencies, use of cell phones to share climate information with local communities, the creation of climate maps and deployment of drones to collect climate data. For herders and pastoralists in the African drylands, for example, smart techs/mobile applications would help increase the security of pastoral zones by guiding them to the nearest water resources so as to ensure year-round access to grazing and water.

Speaking at a G7 Agriculture Ministers meeting on Oct. 14, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva noted that some 75 countries mainly in Africa … do not have the capacity to translate the weather data, including longer-term forecasts, data into information for farmers. “There is an urgent need to take the data which is available globally and to translate it to the ground level,” he said.

[IPS]

Promise for a HIV vaccine

Researchers at the University of Maryland and Duke University (UMD) have designed a novel protein-sugar vaccine candidate that, in an animal model, stimulated an immune response against sugars that form a protective shield around HIV. The molecule could one day become part of a successful HIV vaccine.

“An obstacle to creating an effective HIV vaccine is the difficulty of getting the immune system to generate antibodies against the sugar shield of multiple HIV strains,” said Lai-Xi Wang, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UMD. “Our method addresses this problem by designing a vaccine component that mimics a protein-sugar part of this shield.”

Wang and collaborators designed a vaccine candidate using an HIV protein fragment linked to a sugar group. When injected into rabbits, the vaccine candidate stimulated antibody responses against the sugar shield in four different HIV strains. The results were published in the journal Cell Chemical Biology on October 26, 2017.

[Read full University of Maryland article]

Why do nations invest in international aid? Ask Norway. And China.

Norwegian aid and Chinese aid pursue widely different strategies. While Norway provides substantial funding for budget support and funds civil society organizations, China offers a combination of grants and concessional loans and prioritizes infrastructure development in poor countries.

Given its size and lack of military might, Norway has actively tried to promote the virtues of the Nordic model — a peaceful, rule-based, globalized and prosperous world. It has done this through offering a generous amount of aid, consistently giving away more than 1 percent of its Gross National Income. Such acts of generosity give Norway a seat at the table usually reserved for the bigger players in peace processes or efforts to promote development and reduce poverty around the world.

With China, little distinction is made between grants and loans, and it does not offer detailed information about aid disbursements at country level. In turn, it expects poor countries to offer access to such natural resources as oil, minerals, and agricultural products, which China needs for its own development. China’s approach is characterized by pragmatism. It does not believe in offering aid conditioned on improving local governance or combating corruption. Unlike Western donors, China controls the implementation process by bypassing the public administration of recipient countries, and awards contracts to Chinese companies.

[Washington Post]

Young people driving social change

Finding new ways to get young people excited about reducing food scarcity, and to improve access to decent and affordable housing are just some of the challenges that teams of young people from around the world tried to address as participants in the BeChangeMaker (BCM) initiative developed by the HP Foundation and WorldSkills International. Read about three such teams:

  • Team Sci-Kid Hub from Mexico designed a training program to help teachers make science lessons more exciting.
  • Team Terracotta from Indonesia developed a training program to support rice farmers and address food scarcity in Indonesia by improving the quality of rice crop yields.
  • Team T-Chan from Mexico created a business that offers decent jobs to lower-income people, so they can support themselves and build their own houses.

The three winning teams will have access to funding and training opportunities with business incubators and accelerators in their own countries so they can continue to refine their solutions.

“Getting young people excited about social entrepreneurship, and seeing it as a viable career option, is key to driving positive social change,” said Debby McIsaac, Executive Director of the HP Foundation. “Through BeChangeMaker, these inspiring young people have harnessed their skills and talents to help make life better for others by creating real-world solutions to some of society’s toughest issues.”

The HP Foundation’s free online skills training program, HP LIFE, was a key resource for the participants. HP LIFE offers access to 27 courses in seven languages, including courses on social entrepreneurship and design thinking, which help users develop the knowledge and skills they need to start, grow, and run successful businesses.

[SocialEarth]

Reducing youth unemployment in South Africa

South Africa is faced with a crisis of high and rising youth unemployment. Throughout the country, only 1 in 3 young people of working age is employed. This distressing statistic not only plays out through the limited earnings potential and future prospects of these youth, but also emerges within stymied business growth and unsustainable pressure on governmental social programs. The solution will take action from a variety of sectors and actors in order to turn the tide. According to a report funded by The Rockefeller Foundation:

  1. Throughout their lives, youth within South Africa are put at an employment disadvantage due to inadequate education and recruiting systems. Despite an estimated 500,000 entry-level vacancies throughout the country, young people often lack the necessary problem-solving skills, business acumen, technological savvy, and communication skills needed for the workplace.
  2. In order to place more youth in jobs, sectors can bring their unique skills to bear while complementing one another’s efforts: … training providers can focus more on skills, including job-readiness skills, that are directly demanded by employers and work with these employers for placement; and funders can strategically deploy grants to such programs and collaboratives.
  3. Youth who participate in demand-driven training programs and are then hired into jobs become valuable staff in short order: the youth were more motivated to perform well and assimilated quickly to the work environment.

Read about an innovative program in South Africa, Code for Change

New book highlights sustainable success stories

A new book from Columbia University Press offers social sector organizations a how-to guide on applying new and creative methods to solve complex problems.

Design Thinking for the Greater Good tells 10 stories of the struggles and successes of organizations from across the world working in industries from healthcare to agriculture that have applied design thinking, a human-centered approach to problem solving, in order to truly understand the problems they wanted to solve, generate testable ideas and develop solutions for vulnerable groups who actually adopted them.

One of the 10 stories in the book shows how the Sustainable Modernization of Traditional Agriculture program (MasAgro) was able to launch a solution that helped smallholder farmers in Mexico adopt new sustainable agriculture methods. The authors conclude that MasAgro made innovation safe by relying on respected community leaders and innovation networks that develop, test and adapt agricultural methods and innovations that visibly outperform alternative agricultural practices.

[MasAgro]

India’s children deserve a solid foundation

India has made remarkable progress towards universalizing primary education, but learning outcomes are poor. Current efforts to address poor learning outcomes focus on improving primary education but ignore the preschool years. But, the preschool years are one of the most powerful levers to address this challenge.

The ages from 3-5 are particularly important as this is when a child learns critical pre-literacy and pre-numeracy skills that are essential for a child’s readiness to enter primary school.

The impact of good early education is disproportionately high for children from low-income households.

86% of children from low-income families – who constitute 70% of urban India – attend affordable private schools (APSs). These families invest ~6% of their income per child on private preschools despite the availability of free public options because they believe them to be of better quality. Unfortunately, APSs use a rote based approach and learning outcomes are as poor as in Government schools (e.g. in Class 1, 78% cannot read 3 simple 3-letter words) but little effort is invested in improving APSs.              [Alliance]

Read about an innovative private pre-school system developed in Bangalore, Building Blocks India

The Digital Gender Gap

In sub-Saharan Africa, nearly 45 percent fewer women than men have internet access. Improving women’s access to Information and Communications technology (ICT) represents a major opportunity, both from a business perspective and as a development imperative.

Industry research estimates that every 10 percent increase in access to broadband is correlated with a 1.38 percent growth in GDP for developing countries, and bringing 600 million additional women and girls online could boost global GDP by up to $13- 18 billion USD.

Significant effort has been made to understand how to close this gender gap. Barriers range in nature from highly concrete, such as electricity and network coverage, to far more subjective barriers like social and cultural norms.

Mobile network providers and governments with an interest in the electrification of low-and middle income countries (LMICs) are best suited to handle the infrastructure issues of electrification and network coverage. However, NGOs with a deeper understanding of gender issues and companies who are dedicated to better understanding the female market across LMICs have a role to play in understanding the cultural barriers to access.

[Connected Health Quarterly]

On China banning foreign waste

For many years China has been the largest global importer of many types of recyclable materials, last year importing 7.3m metric tonnes of waste plastics from developed countries including the UK, the EU, the US and Japan.

However, in July 2017, China announced big changes in the quality control placed on imported materials, notifying the World Trade Organisation that it will ban imports of 24 categories of recyclables and solid waste by the end of the year. The impact of this will be far-reaching.

China is the dominant market for recycled plastic. There are concerns that much of the waste that China currently imports, especially the lower grade materials, will have nowhere else to go. So what will happen to the plastic these countries collect through household recycling systems once the Chinese refuse to accept it? Alternatives include:
– Plastics collected for recycling could go to energy recovery (incineration). They are, after all, a fossil-fuel based material and burn extremely well – so on a positive note, they could generate electricity and improve energy self-sufficiency.
– They could also go to landfill (not ideal). Alternatively, materials could be stored until new markets are found. This also  brings problems, however – there have been hundreds of fires at sites where recyclable materials are stored.

The current situation offers us an opportunity to find new solutions to our waste problem, increase the proportion of recycled plastic in our own manufactured products, improve the quality of recovered materials and to use recycled material in new ways.

[Scientific American]

African agricultural transformation strategy

The African Development Bank (AfDB) has developed a new initiative called the Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT) initiative, which includes 25 African countries that have confirmed their readiness to help transform their agriculture.

TAAT is designed to eliminate the current massive importation of food and transform its economies by targeting agriculture as a major source of economic diversification and wealth, as well as a powerful engine for job creation. The initiative should result in almost 513 million tons of additional food production and lift nearly 250 million Africans out of poverty by 2025.

The commodities value chains to benefit from this initiative are rice, cassava, pearl millet, sorghum, groundnut, cowpea, livestock, maize, soya bean, yam, cocoa, coffee, cashew, oil palm, horticulture, beans, wheat and fish.

“TAAT …brings together global players in agriculture, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, the World Bank, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, World Food Programme, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, Rockefeller Foundation and national and regional agricultural research systems, ” said AfDB President, Akinwumi Adesina, at a TAAT side event at the 2017 World Food Prize in Des Moines, Iowa.

Adesina explained that TAAT would help break down decades of national boundary-focused seed release systems. Seed companies will have regional business investments, not just national ones, he said. “That will be revolutionary and will open up regional seed industries and markets.”

The African Development Bank, World Bank, AGRA, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation intend to mobilize US $1 billion to help scale up technologies across Africa.

[African Development Bank]