Conservationists Call for Enforcement Powers to Crack Down on Ivory Gangs

LONDON � Global delegates and campaigners are gathering in Geneva this week for a meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, known as CITES. The trade in ivory is high on the agenda as poaching continues to hit elephant populations across parts of Africa. Campaigners want tougher enforcement of regulations to tackle organized criminal gangs behind the trade.

The United Nations estimates the illegal wildlife trade is worth $23 billion per year, with much of that value coming from ivory.

Asia, and especially China, is by far the biggest market.

The London-based Environmental Investigation Agency spent three years infiltrating one of the major smuggling syndicates shipping ivory from east African ports. Investigators identified the southern Chinese town of Shuidong as the major hub for poached ivory, they say 80 percent of ivory destined for China passes through the town.

[Shuidong] has emerged as probably the biggest hub in the world for the illegal trade of ivory tusks. We first came across the footprints of this group in Tanzania in 2014. The country has lost half its elephants in five years, the biggest loss in Africa, said Julian Newman, the agency’s campaign director.

As Tanzania began to clamp down on smuggling, the gangs moved to Mozambique. Investigators secretly recorded one of the traffickers, named as “Xie”, describing the trade through the Mozambican port of Pemba.

Xie boasted that he is able to move anything through Pemba. He said all the authorities there have been bought off and the customs clearance agent, the customs also gets a share of the money.

Newman said smugglers are operating with impunity.

There were a few cases where they had some tusks seized. But they were never arrested. And they saw these seizures as a business expense, said Newman.

Earlier this month, $10 million-worth of ivory was seized in Hong Kong. China plans to ban the trade by the end of 2017.

But John Sellar, former chief enforcement officer at CITES, told VOA via Skype there is too much focus on the trade and not enough on the criminals involved.

There is speculation involved here, there is undoubtedly money-laundering to my mind. This is a much more complex issue. Organized criminal networks are now major players in all forms or many forms of wildlife trafficking. And you need to bring an organized law enforcement response to that, said Sellar.

Without that enforcement, campaigners warn the poaching of ivory will likely continue, until the criminal networks are investigated and broken down.

Source: Voice of America

Our children are our future

Tata Madiba once said: Our children are the rock on which our future will be built, our greatest asset as a nation. They will be the leaders of our country, the creators of our national wealth who care for and protect our people. (3 June 1995).Today, C…

IFC And WFP Collaborate To Finance Smallholder Farmers In Rwanda And Tanzania

WASHINGTON, DC � The International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP) are launching smallholder farmer financing programs with the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) to improve food security among vulnerable people in Rwanda and Tanzania.

The initiatives with KCB Bank Rwanda Limited and CRDB Bank PLC in Tanzania are part of the Farm to Market Alliance, a multi-stakeholder platform established in 2016, of which IFC and WFP are global members, to create agriculture value chains that secure sizeable local and international demand for produce from smallholder farmers. The Alliance is designed to create systemic change in markets through a holistic approach to smallholder development. This approach, which is sustainable and commercially viable, benefits individual farmers and broadens the global supply base of agricultural produce to meet increasing demand.

Smallholder farmers produce most of the world’s food, but they form the majority of people living in poverty and often have food security challenges themselves, said David Beasley, WFP Executive Director. We want to help them get better access to markets so they build more demand for their products, thus making a long-term impact on the economic future for them and their families. But WFP can’t do it alone, and that’s why we are grateful for our collaboration with others through the Farm to Market Alliance.”

Agribusiness drives many African economies and creates the most jobs on the continent, said IFC CEO Philippe Le Houerou. Through the Farm to Market Alliance, IFC is creating new markets�by connecting smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa directly with buyers. The result: improved productivity and higher living standards for people in rural areas.

IFC, joined by GAFSP, will provide advisory services in the form of capacity building activities to improve the professionalism of smallholder farmer cooperatives in the area of financial management and governance as well as agronomy and input use training.

About IFC

IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, is the largest global development institution focused on the private sector in emerging markets. Working with 2,000 businesses worldwide, we use our six decades of experience to create opportunity where it’s needed most. In FY16, our long-term investments in developing countries rose to nearly $19 billion, leveraging our capital, expertise and influence to help the private sector end extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity.

About GAFSP

The Global Agriculture and Food Security Program is a multilateral mechanism to assist in the implementation of pledges made by the global community to support country-led investment plans. The GAFSP Private Sector Window (PSW) plays a catalytic role by supporting private sector investment projects and promoting sustainable agriculture in developing countries. GAFSP aims to improve the livelihoods of SMEs and small hold farmers through sustainable solutions to improve access to finance and reduce risks in agriculture. GAFSP is funded by six donors including Australia, the Netherlands, Canada, Japan, United Kingdom through DFID, and the United States.

About WFP

WFP is the world’s largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide, delivering food assistance in emergencies and working with communities to improve nutrition and build resilience. Each year, WFP assists some 80 million people in around 80 countries. WFP’s deep field presence, vast experience in smallholder farmer engagement and public-private partnerships are used to roll out programmes that connect smallholder farmers to formal markets.

About the Farm to Market Alliance

The Farm to Market Alliance seeks to transform food crop markets through the active and long-term engagement of smallholder farmers, multiplying returns for all stakeholders in the supply chain. The Alliance is a consortium of eight leading Agri-focused organisations [AGRA, Bayer, Grow Africa, IFC, Rabobank, Syngenta, UN World Food Programme and Yara] combining specific expertise and skills to enable smallholder farmers to access global markets. The commitment of the Alliance is to empower 1.5 million farmers in developing countries, generating over USD750 million of aggregated annual purchasing demand.

Source: World Food Programme

First Somali-American State Lawmaker Says US Is Welcoming, Despite Islamophobia

WASHINGTON � In 2016, Ilhan Omar made history when she was elected to Minnesota’s House of Representatives, becoming the first Somali-American to win a state office in the United States.

Omar had humble beginnings, as her family was uprooted from her home country as a child during Somalia’s civil war in the 1990s. She came to America as a teenager after spending time in a refugee camp in Kenya.

Last year when she entered the Democratic primary race against an incumbent of more than 40 years, few gave her a chance. But door-to-door campaigning and outreach to young voters helped Omar increase turnout in the district by 35 percent and win an upset victory. Her general election victory in November made international headlines and inspired young girls around the world.

Speaking to VOA in our Washington office, Omar said her story shows what is possible in the United States, but also the need for protecting American ideals in the face of rising xenophobia and anti-immigrant rhetoric. This transcript has been lightly edited to improve flow and clarity.

Salem Solomon: So there’s a lot of rhetoric in America in relation to accepting refugees and immigrants. President Donald Trump … he’s making an effort to decrease the number of refugees entering into this country. Do you believe your story and the story of somebody in Minnesota shows the value of accepting refugees? And if someone would say they believe refugees are a drain or even a threat to American society, what’s your response to that?

Ilhan Omar: I think we forget that for a really long time, this country has been a place that has welcomed many refugees who have made it home and have tremendously contributed to this country. And so it is not just about the successful story of the Somalis in the U.S., but of the Hmong and others who have come here and who have made this country their home and we know how much they’re contributing to the societies that they live in.

And it’s unfortunate. This is a country that often has rhetoric that is about acceptance and now we are turning our backs on the most vulnerable people in the world. And most of the countries that are currently on the Muslim ban, we know that most of the conflicts that are happening in those countries and the reason people are fleeing their country has to do with America’s quest on democracy … There is an involvement of our government in those conflicts in those countries, and we can’t go and start a fire and say that we can’t save the people who are inside.

Solomon: There’s a lot of rhetoric around Islamophobia. Do you still believe that this is a country that welcomes people who are fleeing from different kinds of oppression? Do you still believe this is a country that welcomes people, despite the rise of Islamophobia and Islamophobic rhetoric?

Omar: Yeah, I really do. I believe in the ideals of America, in liberty, justice and the pursuit of happiness. And I believe that this is a country that is founded on those ideals, and there are a lot of people in this country that still believe in those ideals and there are a lot of people that go out of their way to make America a welcoming place for others. In just my own neighborhood, you can’t go one block without seeing a sign that says, you know, everyone’s welcome here, refugees are welcome here, I love my Muslim neighbors, and so there is truly this spirit of generosity and compassion and openness that still exists.

But what we are seeing right now is that there are people who … have forgotten what the identity of their country is supposed to be. And they’ve forgotten what those ideals are supposed to be, and so many of us don’t recognize those people. We’re trying to make sure that they are waking to their senses, and that they realize that they are in the wrong and their fear is misplaced.

Solomon: Speaking of another form of fear in your community … measles. There are anti-vaccine campaigners that are specifically targeting your Somali constituents, going so far as translating some of the documentaries into Somali, so they can penetrate people (and convince them not to get vaccinated for measles). What are the efforts that you are putting forward to address this issue?

Omar: We’ve had multiple community meetings to have a conversation about where the fear is coming from, where the misinformation is coming from, and how could we infuse actual facts into that process. We are in a very oral community and word of mouth is very much trusted. It’s our most common source of information and so we’re trying to equip a lot of different people with proper truthful information and actual facts so that they can have conversations with their neighbors and their family members … I sought funding for that and we secured $5 million in this year’s budget to make sure that we are able to do some nature of education in regards to measles and other infectious diseases.

Solomon: What type of efforts are you implementing to address or avert young Somalis who might be misinformed and are susceptible to extremist ideologies? (Editor’s note: Dozens of Somali-Americans have gone to Syria or to Somalia over the past decade to join militant groups such as Islamic State or al-Shabab.)

Omar: I think it’s really important that we sort of step away and we think about what causes people to radicalize in this particular political climate that we’re living in, and really have an honest conversation about our politics and the politics of the United States and what our foreign policy has been … We know that a lot of these young people feel pretty angry and upset, and avenues don’t exist for them to have a discussion about what’s happening with them.

We know that when people are civically engaged, when they understand what their rights are, when they understand that in a democracy you can challenge governments, you can challenge policymakers and you can … actually, shape and form future policy, I think it changes the perception that a lot of young people have about where power is. And that isolation and that powerlessness that makes them vulnerable to being radicalized I think goes away. So for me, it’s making sure that people understand that they have a lot more tools in their toolbox, as citizens and as people who can be a productive member of their society.

Source: Voice of America