UN Agriculture Official Links Aid to Farmers, Drop in Poverty, Migration
Training young farmers to turn agriculture into a business is key to eradicating poverty and curbing economic migration, the new president of the U.N. agricultural development agency said Wednesday.
Three-quarters of the world’s poorest people live in rural areas, predominantly in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, and many rely on farming to survive, according to the United Nations.
Countries need to provide them with better equipment and infrastructure to carry out world leaders’ ambitious plan to end poverty and hunger by 2030, according to Gilbert Houngbo, head of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).
“To unleash the business spirit in smallholder women and men [farmers] is critical,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Greater government investment needs to go hand in hand with educational schemes and private-sector partnerships aimed at broadening young people’s skills and prospects, he said.
He suggested, for example, that training schemes could help tomato growers become producers of tomato sauce.
Drawing on his experience
Although Houngbo has previously held senior roles at big international bodies, he said it was growing up in a small village in a rural area of Togo, one of the world’s poorest countries, that best prepared him for his new job.
“I know how it feels, not being able to increase the yield, as at the end of the season, when you have your crop, you cannot bring it to the market because you there is no rural road,” he said.
Houngbo said that helping young people from villages like his own fulfill their potential at home would make them less inclined to migrate to rich countries.
“I believe that a carefully thought out youth employment program in the rural activities is part of the solution when it comes to economic migration,” he said.
Houngbo, who was prime minister of Togo from 2008 to 2012, was appointed president of IFAD on Tuesday evening.
He beat seven other candidates to take the helm of the Rome-based agency, which provides investments supporting rural people in developing countries.
China Moves Into Cuba as Venezuela Fades, Trump Looms
From buses and trucks to a $500 million golf resort, China is deepening its business footprint in Cuba, helping the fellow Communist-run state survive a crisis in oil-benefactor Venezuela and insulate against a possible rollback of U.S. detente.
Cuban imports from China reached a record $1.9 billion in 2015, nearly 60 percent above the annual average of the previous decade, and were at $1.8 billion in 2016 as the flow of oil and cash slowed from Venezuela because of economic and political turmoil in the South American country.
China’s growing presence gives its companies a head start over U.S. competitors in Cuba’s opening market. It could leave the island less exposed to the chance U.S. President Donald Trump will clamp down on travel to Cuba and tighten trade restrictions loosened by his predecessor, Barack Obama.
China may double down in Cuba
A deterioration in U.S.-China relations under Trump could also lead Beijing to dig in deeper in Cuba, some analysts say.
“If and when the Trump administration increases pressure on China … China may decide to double down on its expanding footprint in the United States’ neighborhood,” said Ted Piccone, a Latin America analyst at the Brookings Institution think tank.
China, the world’s second-largest economy, sells goods to Cuba on soft credit terms. It is Cuba’s largest creditor and debt is regularly restructured, though amounts and terms are considered state secrets.
While Cuba does not publish investment data, the state press has been abuzz with news of Chinese projects lately, covering infrastructure, telecoms, tourism and electronics.
Yutong buses, Sinotruk trucks, YTO tractors, Geely cars, Haier domestic appliances and other products are prominent in Cuba, where the main U.S. products on display are cars dating back to the 1950s, thanks to the ongoing economic embargo.
Wi-Fi hot spots a big draw
Cubans flock every day to hundreds of Huawei-supplied Wi-Fi hot spots, and the firm is now helping to wire the first homes.
“Business is really booming, more than we could have ever imagined,” said the manager of a shipping company that brings in Chinese machinery and transport equipment and who asked not to be identified.
The Foreign Ministry in Beijing described China and Cuba as “good comrades, brothers and partners,” and said the relations “were not influenced by any third party,” when asked whether U.S. policy was encouraging China to deepen its presence.
“We are happy to see that recently countries around the world are all expanding cooperation with Cuba. I think this shows that all countries have consistent expectations about Cuba’s vast potential for development,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters.
The U.S. State Department and White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Over the past two decades, China has become a major player in Latin America and the Caribbean, second only to the United States in investment flows and diplomatic clout.
But the Asian giant was reluctant to invest in Cuba because of the poor business climate and fear of losing opportunities in the United States, according to Asian diplomats in Havana.
That began to change after Obama moved to normalize relations two years ago and Cuba sweetened investment rules, sparking new interest among U.S. businesses and competitors around the world.
China was well-placed because the local government preferred doing business with long-term friends offering ample credit to work with state-run firms.
In return, Cuba has shared contacts and knowledge about the region, and taught hundreds of Chinese translators Spanish.
A report on the government’s official Cubadebate media website last month said the two countries agreed to strengthen cooperation in renewable energy and industry, with 18 Chinese firms taking part in a three-day meeting in Havana.
Computer assembly plant opens
Plans for several projects were signed, including a joint venture with Haier to establish a renewable energy research and development facility, the report said.
A few weeks earlier, Cuba opened its first computer assembly plant with Haier with an annual capacity of 120,000 laptops and tablets, state media reported.
Other projects include pharmaceuticals, vehicle production, a container terminal in eastern Santiago de Cuba, backed by a $120 million Chinese development loan, and Beijing Enterprises Holdings Ltd. venture for a $460 million golf resort just east of Havana.
Shanghai Electric is providing funds and equipment for a series of bioelectricity plants attached to sugar mills.
Venezuela Prosecutors Raid Odebrecht Offices in Bribe Probe
Venezuelan authorities raided the Caracas offices of Odebrecht on Tuesday, as prosecutors deepened a probe into the Brazilian construction firm that has admitted paying some $98 million in bribes to obtain government contracts in Venezuela.
“The investigation is aimed at clarifying the situation and determining if the projects for which this company was contracted were completed,” the prosecutor’s office said in a statement.
Odebrecht and affiliated petrochemical company Braskem in December pleaded guilty in a U.S. court to violating American foreign bribery laws by paying off officials to help secure lucrative construction contracts in 12 countries.
According to the plea bargain agreement, Odebrecht and representatives paid some $98 million in bribes to government officials and intermediaries in Venezuela between 2006 and 2015 – the highest amount outside Brazil.
President Nicolas Maduro has said that those responsible should be punished, but his critics say his government has been slow to respond to the scandal.
The country’s top prosecutor said in January that authorities were seeking the arrest of a person involved in the case, without disclosing the person’s identity.
Could Restoring Latin America’s Cloud Forests Boost Hydropower?
The mist-enshrouded cloud forest canopies dotting the mountains of Latin America have been degraded by encroaching cities and farms, but convincing hydropower operators to pay for their restoration could increase water flows and boost energy security, analysts say.
Research done for the Cloud Forest Blue Energy Mechanism, an early-stage project being incubated by the Global Innovation Lab for Climate Finance, indicates that restoring high-altitude cloud forests raises the quantity and quality of water flowing to hydropower plants, stabilizing supplies and cutting maintenance costs by reducing sediment.
“With climate change increasing, it’s all the more important to try to see how there might be a win-win situation here… to have [forest] restoration and improved energy security,” said Angela Falconer, senior analyst at the Climate Policy Initiative (CPI), which oversees the lab.
Given it could take several years for the benefits of protecting cloud forests to trickle down to hydropower operators, the project – proposed by green groups Conservation International and The Nature Conservancy – envisages finding first-stage funding from commercial lenders, donors or impact investors.
“In the long term, the hope is you could make the real financial case that there is a very good positive return on the investment in terms of the increase in energy security and availability, that will be able to pay back the initial investment,” said Falconer.
Later on, the project – which is looking at cloud forests in countries including Mexico, Panama, Colombia and Brazil – hopes to convince hydropower operators and large energy users such as mining companies to invest in the restoration and conservation of cloud forests.
While cloud forests can be found as low as 400 meters (1,300 ft) above sea level in wet, tropical mountainous areas, this project plans to assess areas found between 1,200 and 3,500 meters above sea level.
The International Energy Agency estimates that hydropower provides 16 percent of the world’s energy and 85 percent of global renewable electricity. But Latin America’s biggest country Brazil relies on hydro-electricity for 75 percent of its power, and Colombia for more than 70 percent.
Leonardo Sáenz, director of eco-hydrology at Conservation International, said his organization had identified around 200 dams that could potentially benefit from improving the state of cloud forests across Latin America.
“Conventionally we look at generation only in terms of transmission lines, dam walls – these engineering things – but we forget the source watershed, particularly when it comes to cloud forests which are very important,” he said.
Severe droughts have affected hydropower generation in some countries. But Sáenz explained that high-elevation cloud forests upstream of hydropower dams will likely be able to withstand rising temperatures as the planet warms because they will benefit from increased moisture in the atmosphere.
“Having cloud forest back in the system helps to increase resilience to the potential hydrological impact of climate change,” said Sáenz.
Around 65 percent of Latin America’s original cloud forest – equivalent to 105 million hectares (259.5 million acres) – has already been lost, he estimated. Urban sprawl around cities such as Bogota, Quito and San Jose is partly to blame, together with forest-clearing for activities like agriculture and mining.
Gauging the enthusiasm of hydropower users to pay for ecosystem services is a crucial part of the scheme, said CPI’s Falconer. A pilot could be launched by the end of the year bringing together interested investors and organizations working to restore cloud forest, she added.
“It’s about proving the case for potential commercial investors to come on board,” she said.
Small US Company Bucks a Trend, Adding Manufacturing Jobs
A rising tide of automation, trade problems and lagging growth in productivity has slashed millions of jobs from the U.S. manufacturing sector. At the same time, a small factory in Northbridge, Massachusetts, has been hiring, expanding and exporting.
Riverdale Mills hopes to grow further by making unusual products and building a strong workforce.
Riverdale makes materials that have revolutionized lobster fishing with unique processes and materials. The company applied lessons from fishing to making security fences, including some that protect borders.
After welding, the wire metal mesh is dunked in a vat filled with tons of molten zinc at a historic building about an hour west of Boston. It’s just one part of a complex process used to make many kinds of rust-resistant products.
That process combines skilled people and high-tech innovation. It’s helping the company find new markets for updated products, and means while other factories are laying off workers, Riverdale’s Dennis Meola is training new employees.
“We have an experienced operator training a new individual,” Meola said. “We started a new person today, as a matter of fact.”
Riverdale CEO Jim Knott says the company is growing, in part because he sells nearly half of his products overseas. Knott says he needs more than just machines to keep customers happy here and abroad.
“The key to being successful, both globally and in a domestic market, you have to have skilled or trained employees who are capable of making a leadership product that is better than what other people are making throughout the world,” he said.
On a recent visit to Riverdale, technicians were upgrading computers and other equipment that helps to run a huge machine that makes hundreds of welds at once. More automation is the reason that U.S. manufacturers produce as much as ever, with ever fewer people.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor Tom Kochan says automation and international trade has cut one-third of U.S. manufacturing jobs since 1980. He says American employers mistakenly think of labor only as a cost to be minimized, not an asset.
“Anytime some new form of technology comes along that they think they can replace that worker with technology, they tend to move in that direction,” Kochan said. “Often what that does is it over-invests in technology and under-invests in worker skills, and they end up still being the high cost producer.”
MIT research scientist Andrew McAfee says the U.S. education system is turning out workers with the skills “we needed 50 years ago.” He says a more modern approach is needed to boost productivity and prosperity.
“We need to be encouraging creativity,” he said. “I think we need to be encouraging not just the ability to solve problems, but the ability to figure out what problem we should go chase down next. Technology is still lousy at that.”
McAfee says people eventually will adapt to the changing work environment, much as their ancestors did when the U.S. economy shifted from farming to manufacturing. It was a wrenching transition that began around the time when the building that now houses Riverdale Mills produced bayonets for the Union Army in the U.S. Civil War.
One-Man Chocolate Factory Flourishes
Americans shower their loved ones with gifts on Valentine’s Day, with chocolate candy being the most popular gift-giving item, according to a recent National Retail Federation survey. The organization estimates consumers will spend $1.7 million on chocolates this year. That keeps Ben Rasmussen, who creates award-winning chocolates, especially busy. VOA’s June Soh visited his one-man chocolate factory in the Virginia suburbs. Carol Pearson narrates her report.
Peugeot Buys Iconic Indian Car Brand
French car manufacturer Peugeot has bought India’s most iconic car brand from its maker Hindustan Motors in a deal that signifies the passing of an era in India’s motoring history.
Over the weekend, the C.K. Birla Group that owns Hindustan Motors said it had signed an agreement with Peugeot SA to sell the Ambassador for 800 million rupees ($12 million).
The hulking Ambassador sedan remained largely unchanged for more than five decades, ferrying India’s elite, including prime ministers, visiting heads of states and celebrities. It was a throwback to an era when India’s policy of economic self-sufficiency meant domestically produced cars were the norm.
First manufactured in 1948, the Ambassador was the only luxury car available in India till the mid-1980s. By the early 1990s, economic reforms had opened India’s doors to many small car manufacturers.
Hindustan Motors stopped making Ambassadors in 2014 after about 2,200 cars were sold in 2013.
Fondly referred to as the “Amby,” the Ambassador was modeled after the British Morris Oxford III. Its lumbering shape, often compared to a bowler hat on wheels, was suited for India’s pot-holed roads and rugged terrain. But poor gas mileage and a lack of luxury features led a rising Indian middle class to aspire to own cheaper, newer models that were easier to maneuver in crowded cities.
Displaced by Japanese and Korean cars, the sturdy Ambassadors were relegated to use by taxi services and government departments. But even that has changed with the Indian government switching to smaller, swifter cars than the bulbous Ambassador.
It is unclear what exactly the French car maker plans to do with the Ambassador brand.
Peugeot pulled out of India after a joint-venture effort in the 1990s collapsed. Last month it signed an agreement with Birla to return to the fast-growing market, saying it will invest $107 million in a Hindustan Motors manufacturing facility in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
That deal includes hiking manufacturing capacity to 100,000 vehicles a year, to take advantage of the rapid growth in India, where car sales expanded 7 percent to 2.96 million cars last year.
IMF: Trump’s Plans Could Boost US Economy, Endanger Global Advances
International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde voiced optimism Sunday that U.S. President Donald Trump’s planned tax cuts and construction spending would boost the American economy, but said they could cause trouble for the economies around the globe.
Lagarde, speaking at the World Government Summit in Dubai, said, “From the little we know, and I will insist on the little we know, because this is really work in progress… but from the little we hear, we have reasons to be optimistic about economic growth in the United States.”
Major U.S. stock indexes are near record highs, with the new U.S. leader promising to unveil a “phenomenal” tax cut plan in the next two to three weeks, while also pledging to launch $1 trillion in major infrastructure spending to fix the country’s deteriorating roads and bridges and expand airports. But both measures would need approval by Congress, where the controlling Republican lawmakers have voiced skepticism about any changes that would add to the country’s nearly $20 trillion in long-term debt.
But Lagarde warned that advances by the U.S. economy, the world’s largest, could hurt economies elsewhere because of the strength of the dollar against other currencies and expected action by the U.S. central bank, the Federal Reserve, to gradually boost its benchmark interest rate to keep the American economy from overheating.
She said U.S. gains are good, but that “the more worrying news, if you will, is that it will have consequences on the rest of the world, and we are seeing it.” She said the Fed’s tightening of monetary policy “will be difficult on the global economy and for which economies will have to prepare.”
The IMF last month boosted its U.S. growth estimate a tenth of a point this year to 2.3 percent, and four-tenths of a point to 2.5 percent for 2018. The IMF predicted an increase in global growth to 3.4 percent in 2017 and and 3.6 percent in 2018, up from the 2016 figure of 3.1 percent.
Trump has already revoked U.S. participation in the planned 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade in favor of American deals with individual countries.
Lagarde, however, continued to promote globalization of the world economy, while acknowledging its negative aspects, which Trump says has cost U.S. manufacturing workers their jobs as their employers moved operations overseas in search of cheaper labor.
“We have been saying globalization is great, international trade is great — and it is,” Lagarde said. “But we have not looked at those who were badly, negatively impacted.”