Turning subsistence farmers into market suppliers in Africa

image
Despite agriculture being a major source of income in Africa, smallholder farmers face many challenges. Photo: Benoit Almeras-Martino/UNDP DRC

As I sat down for my first dinner in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), after a bit more than one year since my last visit, I suddenly remembered that something is very wrong with food prices here. How can a simple margarita pizza with only cheese, tomato, oil and flour, be USD 20? How can local fish be USD 30? Admittedly I did not eat in the cheapest local restaurant, yet the prices are 4 to 5 times more expensive in comparison to similar dishes in Addis Ababa, where I live. Indeed, food in the DRC is at least twice as expensive as the average world food price for basic commodities. Why is that? A combination of poor farmer productivity, lack of infrastructure and a difficult business environment, mean that the cost of producing goods and taking them to markets is high, and imports are often more readily available or cheaper than local products. In 2008, Bralima, one of DRC’s leading brewers, sourced 16% of its rice from outside the country, due to its inability to source it from the local market. With 80 million ha of arable land and 90 percent of it not cultivated, DRC offers huge untapped... Read more

At UNDP, innovation for development

image
The Council of Cattle Holders in Kazakhstan is using new technologies to revive traditional nomadic pasture management. Photo: UNDP in Kazakhstan

On June 19, in a building of the US Senate, our UNDP Washington Representation Office participated in an Innovation Fair organized by the UN Foundation. The event was a timely success as development organizations must seek to innovate to meet stakeholders’ expectations in a fast-changing environment. Among our partners, for example, USAID runs a Global Development Lab, UNICEF works with Silicon Valley’s technology start-ups and the US Global Development Council recently proposed new social impact funds and cash-on-delivery models. UNDP has inherited a solid tradition of game-changing ideas such as the Human Development Index and continues to leverage technical, social and managerial innovation throughout its programs and operations. In Sierra Leone, Yemen and the Democratic Republic of Congo, UNDP employs pioneering biometric voter registration techniques like fingerprint and eye scan, unique and unchangeable traits of a person, to prevent fraud and build trust in fair elections. Using mobile phone messaging, Tanzanian voters check their electoral registration status and polling station location whilst in Papua New Guinea and the Philippines, text messages provide tsunami and earthquake warning. On a global level, taking advantage of internet and mobile phone technologies, UNDP is polling people’s opinions (more than 2 million so far) to vote... Read more

A sole woman at the negotiating table for peace

image
SHADIA MARHABAN SPEAKS TO REPORTERS AFTER PARTICIPATING IN A CLOSED, MEETING OF THE SECURITY COUNCIL ON THE ROLE OF WOMEN IN MEDIATION AND CONFLICT RESOLUTION. PHOTO: UN

Almost ten years ago, I was part of a peace process that produced an agreement to end a 30-year bloody conflict between the Government of the Republic of Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM). Then and now, women are rarely seen in this peace negotiation arena. They are not perceived as adequately prepared for tackling "tough" issues like peace and security. Despite recent international obligations to include women in peace processes, reality has not kept pace with rhetoric. My own presence, as a lone woman among "tough" men, who had been at the helm of the struggle for independence for decades, was unique. As a woman, and a mother of two children, I did not push to go to Helsinki for the peace talks, since it meant leaving my two small children. But as fate would have it, the official negotiators were arrested on the way to the airport and exiled to prison. By default, I then became formally part of the negotiations, as I was a field expert. I was treated with respect by the top leadership. I presented myself not as a woman on the team, but rather as a field expert whose expertise was important to the... Read more

How can we promote peace and development at the same time?

image
A woman greets members of the Technical Support Committee of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework in Mugunga IDP camp near Goma, DR Congo. Photo: Sylvain Liechti/UN

The 2014 Global Peace Index, which was released last week, revealed that the world has become less peaceful every year since 2008. It also showed that the global economic impact of violence is USD 9.8 trillion – or 11.3 percent of global GDP. While many developing countries have made tremendous progress in reducing poverty over the last decade, these are depressing numbers. However, they reiterate that peace and stability – and the prevention of violent conflict — are inherently tied to sustainable development. A less peaceful world is a much more challenging place to fight inequality and want. Countries experiencing repeated cycles of violence face poverty at significantly higher rates. People in unstable and conflict-affected countries are more than twice as likely to be under-nourished as those in other developing countries; and children in conflict zones are more than three times less likely to be able to attend school, and twice as likely to die before the age of five. Nine out of 10 countries with the lowest human development index have experienced conflict within the past 20 years. We must double down on efforts to mitigate risk and prevent the loss of development investment when conflict strikes. Success today depends... Read more

Making education work: The governance conundrum

image
Globally, 123 million youth (aged 15 to 24) lack basic reading and writing skills; 61 percent of them are young women. Photo: UNDP/Pakistan

Pakistan is one of the few countries that spend just around two percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) on education. The actual development expenditure on education is another problem- on average, 82 percent of allocated funds are used on non-developmental items. In Pakistan, as in most developing countries, the impact of education investments is usually discussed in very simplistic terms. The measure of performance and the subsequent outcomes are seldom questioned. Good governance—setting up performance benchmarks, systems of monitoring and accountability, and budgeting and distribution formulae can considerably improve institutional effectiveness and results in the education system. Tracking expenditure and ensuring responsible spending are essential. So is the process through which budgets are prepared and distributed across different geographic areas. Is there a formula that accounts for education poverty? That guides resource allocation to different districts? An example from district Dera Bugti illustrates the severity of education inequality across the country. The district’s net enrolment ratio stands at 12 percent, survival rate and literacy rate are 9 percent and 16 percent, respectively. The highest corresponding figures in the country are of Islamabad, which are 76 percent and 89 percent. There are also gender-based disparities. The gender parity index for primary education in... Read more

Why women matter for peace

image
Women and girls are uniquely and disproportionately affected by armed conflict and disaster. Photo: Benoit Almeras-Martino/UNDP DRC

"It is now more dangerous to be a woman than to be a soldier in modern wars." These are not the words of a woman who has faced the violence and ferocity of conflict, but words of Major General Patrick Cammaert, who served as the Deputy Force Commander of the United Nations Mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo. The nature of modern conflicts has changed: almost 90 percent of casualties are civilian, of which the most vulnerable are women. As witnesses and victims to conflict, they are overlooked as participants to peace processes. They are too often sidelined in dialogues and negotiations on peace and security, arenas still seen by much of the world as the domain of men, with the association of guns, money and power. What is often disregarded is how much women know about conflict, and therefore how much they can contribute to peace. Women experience war differently than men. They are victims of sexual violence, often used as a systematic tool of war, which has lasting impact on their lives and the lives of their families and communities long after the war is over. Women can bring new understanding of a conflict, and with it,... Read more

Why troublemakers should work together: Ten thoughts on innovation and gender equality

image
UNDP is fostering innovation to address complex problems in a new way. Photo: UNDP in Europe and CIS.

Pushing innovation and working for gender equality are a natural fit. Both necessitate the combination of causing trouble, looking at internal mechanisms, and working with non-traditional partners. Moreover, both have transformational potential. Inspired by UNDP’s current innovation agenda, we formulated some principles on innovation and gender equality. Our aim is not just to marry gender equality and innovation but to further bolster UNDP’s Guiding Principles for the Innovation Community. These 10 thoughts can hopefully provide meaningful food for thought when designing innovation initiatives around the world. 1. Start with your partners It’s been our experience that those most affected by society’s problems are often the ones who have the innovative solutions at hand. It is our job to unearth, enable and scale them. However, innovations, like everything else, are not gender-neutral. Who designs the latest gadget, website, or citizen feedback mechanism also plays a role in who will use it. Ensuring equal numbers of men and women are with us at the design table will help ensure everyone’s voice is heard. 2. What’s the bottleneck? A key component of finding innovative solutions is figuring out the problem, and then trying to find out the root causes. To do this, we must get out of... Read more

Can there be sustainable development without gender equality?

image
Young mothers get health care education at a UNDP-sponsored clinic in Hakha Township, Chin State, Myanmar. Photo: Tom Cheatham for UNDP

Whenever we analyze a development strategy, the inevitable question arises:  Should the approach to gender equality be comprehensive across all sectors or should it be a separate issue and agenda? Experience tells us that both approaches are desirable: A concrete goal for gender equality as well as fundamental indicators and targets that require creation of gender policies. These policies should contain specific measures to address half of the population's need for education, health care, access to land and energy, etc. To date, this has been the most common approach across various UN groups, reaffirming the idea that a comprehensive and transformative approach is urgently needed in order to address structural barriers to gender equality and to lay a solid foundation for the future. The key now is to draw lessons learned from the experience of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and strengthen the tools that advanced gender equality in the desired areas. But what has been achieved by the MDGs with regard to gender equality? The answer is mixed: Gender parity has been achieved in primary education, but only 2 of 130 countries have achieved this goal at all levels of education. Progress has been made in access to employment. Globally, 40... Read more

Consumption and well-being: What are we missing?

image
“The consumption boom” is concentrated in the upper echelons of society. Photo: Mauricio Martínez/ UNDP in El Salvador

Slavoj Zizek tells a joke that was popular in Eastern Europe in the sixties. A man enters a grocery store and yells, “Surely you don’t have any soap, right?” The shopkeeper replied halfheartedly: “No, sir, we’re the shop with no toilet paper; the shop with no soap is further ahead.” In Latin America, something similar is happening in discussions on progress and development, and we usually think we are the society that is “missing something”, or is “incomplete”. We are interested in exploring the particularities of what’s desperately needed, the necessary data that will enable us to better visualize our unsustainable pattern of consumption. In other words, to examine the aspects of multidimensional poverty that we still have not been able to define. A couple of weeks ago, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean published new data on consumption, spending and borrowing. The initial findings are as follows: “The consumption boom” is concentrated in the upper echelons of society. The richest 20 percent of Latin Americans accounted for roughly 50 percent of all household spending. The poorest 20 percent accounted for about 7 percent of total household spending. Furthermore, the findings show a transition in the nature of spending.... Read more

Square pegs, round holes, and the importance of asking the right questions

image
A third of Bangladesh’s population is below the age of 25, and yet we know little about their expectations from elected representatives. Photo: UNDP in Bangladesh

Of course, I know what the word innovation means but, as a relatively new recruit to UNDP, I am curious about what it means for the organization. For the past year, I’ve been leading a project seeking to strengthen parliamentary democracy in Bangladesh and  wondered: Which innovation could we possibly devise that would redefine how effective parliaments are in a country? Just a few hours into an innovation workshop in Bangladesh, I realized I had been coming at this all wrong. The innovation our work with the parliament needs isn’t about tweaking existing programmes or devising new ones -it is about how we are defining the problem! The way we have been designing solutions to problems we perceived the citizens of Bangladesh were experiencing was flawed because we weren’t really asking them what the problem was in the first place. Instead of doing what we’ve been doing last year and the year before that eg. counting the amount of people being trained, of male/female participants and of public hearings held, we need to go back to the drawing board. Sure, we’ll do all the counting needed,  but we will also organize ‘itch workshops’  to find out what matters to citizens including... Read more

Land and property governance – a matter of development and human rights

image
Access to land for women is a key development issue. Photo: Prashanth Vishwanathan/ UNDP India

Although more than 115 nations recognize, in their legal frameworks, women’s equal rights to property and inheritance, in many countries women continue to face discrimination when it comes to land and property rights, Land plays a critical economic, environmental, social, cultural and political role in the development of states and people. Control of land and related natural resources is linked to power and identity, and can be a source of conflict and crisis. Land and natural resource management also lie at the core of ensuring environmental sustainability, including the maintenance of ecosystems and biodiversity. For indigenous and tribal communities, access to land and the protection of their traditional tenure practices are critical to their existence and identity. Failed land policies can also cause massive migration of workers from rural to urban areas. Having access to land and security of tenure provides a gateway to a range of economic, social, civil and political rights. Hence, when people, in particular indigenous communities, women, the rural poor or urban slum dwellers achieve secure access to land or property, they can start to enjoy a greater sense of economic security, improve their livelihoods, but importantly also, gain capacity, interest and influence in decision-making. We have... Read more

Measuring human progress in the 21st Century

image
Workers at the at Santo Nino dumpsite in Tacloban, Philippines, six months after Haiyan. Photo: Lesley Wright/UNDP Philippines

Few, if any, statistical constructs have had a greater influence on the modern world than Gross Domestic Product (GDP). And 2014 marks the eightieth anniversary of its creation. As every economist knows, GDP summarizes total economic activity. It was developed by Simon Kuznets, a Russian-American economist and statistician, as a way to better understand the American economy during the great depression. Not only was Kuznets a brilliant economist (he went on to win the Nobel Prize in 1971), he was also an astute judge of humanity, or at least the potential for people to misuse numbers: when he introduced GDP to the US Congress he warned specifically against using it as a measure of wellbeing: “the welfare of a nation can”, he wrote, “scarcely be inferred from a measurement of national income”. And this is because, as hopefully every economist also knows, it is easy to construct examples of undesirable social or environmental phenomena (crime sprees, oil slicks or hurricanes for instance) that can generate both an increase in GDP and a decrease in wellbeing. But despite Kuznets’s warnings, in both the US and many other countries, the pursuit of economic growth and a rising GDP quickly became a dominant mantra... Read more

Public service isn't simple, but it matters

image
Armenia established its first National Disaster Observatory for the systematic collection, analysis and interpretation of disaster data. Photo: UNDP Armenia

UNDP Administrator Helen Clark really did the organization proud during her visit to Singapore recently. She clearly and crisply outlined to the World Cities Summit why the work of the Global Centre for Public Service Excellence (GCPSE) matters. So what’s our message? It is this: If there is still anyone who is searching for simple blueprints, handy toolkits, easy answers or quick fixes to the challenges public service faces everywhere, forget it. It’s just too complex. But don’t give up just yet! We might know a few other things, too. First, we know that if your top politicians and top officials don’t collaborate, nothing is going to happen. So sort that out.  Second, before you start on about how the public service has to do this or that, ask yourself, why are they going to bother? What’s in it for them? Are they strongly motivated? Recall, too, that public service is much more than just “delivery.” The legitimacy on which government depends is in no small measure the outcome of trust in public service. So public administration has a profound importance. Citizens' perceptions of ethics in public service shape satisfaction with services, trust in governmental institutions, and citizens' attitudes to politics... Read more

Development at the crossroads: reflections from the Arab Region

image
Syrian refugees in Zaatari camp in the village of Zaatari, Jordan. photo: UNDP

Recent years have seen dramatic changes in the Arab region and two aspects in particular are important for the region’s relationship with issues of development finance.  First, the expanding role of the region itself as a provider of official development assistance (ODA), with the Arab Gulf countries providing more than $3 billion to countries around the world each year - Saudi Arabia alone provided over $100 billion to almost 90 countries since the 1970s. While the volume of Arab ODA has attracted attention, important issues for the future will be a growing focus by Arab partners on development effectiveness, alignment with post-2015 priorities like sustainable access to energy and water, and applying social and environmental quality standards to manage risks in recipient countries.  Furthermore, while most Arab ODA has operated through bilateral cooperation channels and Arab multilateral platforms in the past, there are benefits to connectivity with other Southern donors. The centre of gravity in the global economy is shifting East at speed, and this means shifting lines of development cooperation as well.  Strategic alliances between Asian and Arab donors could be a powerful force for the common goal of supporting new development solutions in Africa, with both Arab and Asian... Read more

How can mega-cities innovate to reduce traffic congestion?

image
Infrastructure can't keep up as the number of cars on the streets of Dhaka increase at breakneck speed, slowing traffic to a crawl. Photo: Mohammad Asad/UNDP

How do the 15 million residents of the Bangladeshi capital get to work? ‘Slowly’ is the answer. It’s common for a short commute across Dhaka (let’s say 7km) to take longer than an hour through perpetually gridlocked traffic. Transport is a big problem for anyone who needs to move about in this mega-city and it affects all residents, rich and poor alike, stealing their time and exposing them to unnecessary pollution and stress every day. Dhaka’s now infamous traffic jams have been equated to a loss of US $3.86 billion in productivity each year. That’s 3.3 percent of the 2012 GDP!  So we thought we at UNDP should look into doing something about it. Now we’re avid (sometimes fanatical) supporters of public transport and cycling here at UNDP. In fact in the last few years, cycling’s caught on massively among young people! So the solution to us was clear: let’s install bus and bike lanes. Easy, job’s done, we can all go home! Right? WRONG! If that’s all it took to fix Dhaka’s choked transport system it would have been done long ago. Literally billions of dollars are being poured into transport infrastructure, but we had a feeling something might have... Read more

How can we ‘walk the talk’ towards sustainable energy for all

image
UNDP and other sister UN agencies in Jamaica are using solar power for a green energy environment. Photo: UNDP Jamaica

Jamaica is an inefficient user of electricity, according to a recent Worldwatch Institute’s report. High energy costs, including electricity at $0.42 per kilowatt-hour, are increasingly becoming a burden for Jamaicans, directly affecting the country’s development. Jamaican citizens as well as the Government, are demanding and encouraging lower energy costs through new alliances with businesses and institutions to implement energy conservation measures while boosting the use of alternative energy sources. We’re in this together. UNDP has supported the Government’s Energy Policy roadmap 2009-2030 to transform the sector through energy efficiency and diversification. It commits to a minimum target of 30 percent renewable energy in its portfolio by 2030, in line with the UN Secretary General’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative.  We have also supported the National Energy Action Plan to improve energy efficiency and conservation. Energy affects us all, including our own UNDP bills. In line with what we preach, our office decided to “walk the talk” and pursue a clean energy path. This included applying a ‘cool roof’ technology in our UNDP Kingston office. Nearly 464 square metres of metal sheet roof were treated to cool down office temperatures by 5-10 degrees—greatly reducing the use of air conditioning. Additionally, over 600... Read more

Increasing indigenous political representation: an urgent debt for our democracies

image
Indigenous communities can be adversely affected by local and global development processes, since their distinct visions, concerns and ways of life can be ignored by policy makers. Photo: UNDP in Peru

In recent times, indigenous peoples have questioned current development models and democracies in Latin America and beyond. The main tool for measuring progress remains Gross Domestic Product, which distorts the true meaning of progress and wellbeing. The damage to ecosystems and loss of biodiversity, not to mention the erosion of cultural and linguistic diversity, have all been excluded from this general assessment. What’s more, the low representation of indigenous peoples in politics and as part of our human development -- below national averages -- is a clear indication that Latin American democracies and the development model have not fully served their purpose. However, many indigenous peoples have taken steps to become more involved in current political affairs and question our societies, accusing the latter of being exclusive, racist, and unaware of their history (for example, they often deny the existence of indigenous genocide) while stifling the diversity and existence of social issues based on a different culture and world view. Paying close attention to such issues and implementing initiatives to enact real change is the challenge faced by democracies. I would like to urge the adoption of a new and rejuvenating approach to issues related to indigenous peoples and their values.... Read more

It takes a community to end violence against women

image
UNDP Serbia is working towards creating a social and institutional environment that will contribute to reducing violence against women in the country. Photo: UNDP Serbia

We are increasingly aware that preventing gender-based violence and protecting survivors requires the involvement of the entire society. Neighbors, friends and family, school systems and media professionals are all responsible for detecting, denouncing and publically condemning violence against women. An African proverb says: “It takes a village to raise a child.” To paraphrase: “It takes a community to end violence against women.” In Serbia, UN organizations supported the introduction of a multisectoral service delivery model in 21 towns and sponsored specialized training so that police, healthcare and social workers, judicial officials and civil society groups could understand their roles and better work together in assisting survivors of violence.  “A battered woman requested medical assistance for injuries several times in a local healthcare center,” explained a participant in the training. “We suspected she’d been abused by her partner, but she never admitted to it. Police intervened to stop violence on three occasions, but each time she would appeal to her right not to testify against her husband. Charges against him would be dropped and she would come back to the healthcare center soon enough.” This illustrates the institutional inability to respond to a perceived injustice and human rights violation. During the trainings,... Read more

UNDP and the Global Environment Facility: Partnership for Sustainable Development

image
Women prepare fish using a solar-powered oven as part of a project funded by GEF's Small Grants Programme. Photo: UNDP Mauritania.

Delegates from 183 countries, intergovernmental organizations and civil society organizations are meeting this week in Mexico to participate in the Fifth Assembly of the Global Environment Facility (GEF).  The GEF Assembly, the governing body of the GEF partnership, is a landmark event for the GEF, occurring every four years.  UNDP is one of the founding implementing agencies of the GEF, a partnership of governments, implementing agencies and civil society that has provided over US $12.5 billion in grants for 3,690 projects in 165 countries to address global environmental challenges.  Through its Small Grants Programme (SGP) implemented by UNDP, the GEF has also made more than 16,000 small grants directly to civil society and community-based organizations, totaling US $653.2 million.  UNDP has helped over 120 countries in the last four years alone to access more than US $1.9 billion from GEF-managed funds and associated cost sharing to address environmental challenges for sustainable development.  UNDP believes that the GEF is a critical instrument for financing sustainable development in developing countries.  UNDP’s delegation to the GEF Assembly will be advocating our belief that environmental sustainability is critical to poverty eradication, enhanced resilience and inclusive and sustainable growth. This is reflected in the areas of... Read more

The nightmare of violence against women, seen up close


There must be increased public awareness and political will and resources for preventing and ending all forms of violence against women and girls in all parts of the world. Photo: UNDP Peru

Nothing raises awareness of violence against women more than experiencing this nightmare first-hand. We always think these things happen to others, but the data indicate such situations are common, albeit in different forms and degrees of cruelty. According to data from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), one in four women in the region experiences some violence from her partner. This is also the leading cause of death worldwide for women ages 15 to 49 -- ahead of cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women, “Convention of Belem do Pará.” How much progress has been made since then? Less than one third of countries in the region (28 percent) have a specific national plan to respond to this issue, and most (78 percent) approach it tangentially in other plans or security policies. This has been shown by the analysis we carried out in 32 countries in the region, which led to the study “States' Commitment: plans and policies to eradicate violence against women in Latin America and the Caribbean.” The result of the study shows there is no clear... Read more