Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Invest in agriculture to overcome food shortages in Africa – Kofi Annan

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

Africa can overcome its food shortages if agriculture is taken seriously and investments made into the sector, Mr. Kofi Annan has said.

The immediate past General-Secretary of the United Nations, was speaking at the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Standard Bank and Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), in Accra Wednesday March 18, 2009.

He said, “there is no doubt that if Africa were to overcome its food shortages, that we would need to take agriculture very seriously and invest substantially in agricultural development.”

The ceremony which took place at the La Palm Royal Beach Hotel, saw the signing of a partnership agreement between AGRA and Standard Bank for a US$100 million low interest loan to help assist African farmers.

Mr. Annan noted that, the agreement to help assist Africa’s small scale farmers out of poverty, signals a new way of doing business.

He indicated that until now African smallholder farmers have been struggling on their own. He said, “it is only the African farmer who swam or drowned alone without any financial assistance, no insurance and no government assistance.”

Mr. Annan also stated the fact that it is the women who mostly work to feed the population in Africa.
He was hopeful that an insurance programme would be introduced to help African farmers.

Mr. Annan said “the signing of this agreement today shows that we recognize that the global food and financial crisis is continuing to have impact on Africa’s most vulnerable - inflation, food shortages, trade imbalances, and the tightening of global credit which pose huge social, economic and political risk for this continent.”

He was optimistic that Africa can and should become self-sufficient in food production. Admitting the fact that governments cannot do it alone, he said governments and partners in the public and private sector should come together to bring the transformation that is required to develop agriculture.

Mr. Annan believes that the action initiated by Africans will bring transformation to many lives and put food on the tables of millions in Africa.

The Millennium Development Authority (MiDA) also declared its intention to participate in the partnership. Its Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Benjamin Esson Benjamin made a contribution of US$2 million to the programme.

The Chief Executive of Standard Bank, Jacko Maree said, the goal of the bank was to perform a transformational role in the continent’s agriculture in partnership with other organizations.

In addition to the US$100 million made available for lending over three years by Standard Bank, AGRA and other partners are providing US$10 million loan guarantee fund.

The fund would operate initially in Ghana, Mozambique, Tanzania and Uganda. Each country would receive US$25 million.

Lending to Africa’s smallholder farmers are considered high risk by financial institutions and this has limited credit to these farmers which has consequently affected growth of the agriculture sector on the continent.

This fund is therefore, a major boost to the development of agriculture on the continent.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Ground Floor: Who cares about e-waste in Ghana?

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

I am dedicating my column this week to the critical problem of e-waste dumping in Ghana.

There is now no doubt, that Ghana is a choice destination for dumping of e-waste from America and Europe.

Recent developments in Europe, particularly, the UK and Holland paint a very clear picture of the horror the country is confronted with.

Since I first wrote an informative article for the Daily Graphic which the newspaper published in its June 5, 2007 edition, and subsequently wrote an online version of the story drawing attention to the dangers the country could possibly be faced with in the event that we gloss over the increasing presence of health and environment threatening e-waste in Ghana, not much has happened in the country.

I have subsequently written a number of articles on the subject and still do.

Indeed, not even the media in Ghana has seen the issue as a major problem deserving of the kind of attention that it gives to some of the mundane issues we hear in the electronic media and read in the press.

The only time the media in Ghana did any coverage of the issue as it would some of the other issues of importance to it, was when a press conference was held on it or when the international media covered the issue.

Even though, I have worked for some radio stations in this country, my efforts to encourage producers and presenters to give the matter some attention did not receive any appreciable response. In one or two instances, the matter was touched but only after some other media has reported it.

As for government agencies tasked with monitoring and protecting Ghana’s environment and the health of citizens, the least said about them the better.

All the time that I have been contacted on the subject, it has been by foreign individuals, organizations or media. Most of the work and report that has been done on e-waste in Ghana, apart from those I have done and what my good friend Mike Anane has been doing, have been done by foreigners. And this leads me to ask; who cares about e-waste in Ghana?

On August 5, 2008, Greenpeace released a report on Ghana, which detailed the extent of pollution the country is exposed to due to the presence of e-waste in the country. And I found out later that, the international organization, actually followed up on my works to do their investigation.

Following that, one of the biggest publications in Germany Süddeutsche Zeitung sent down one of their editors, Michael Bitala to consult me on the subject in Ghana and he subsequently did a story which has awaken Germans to the magnitude of the problem in Ghana.

After his article, a German TV station, Proseiben flew down a crew to consult with me and did a documentary on the subject.

So far, as a journalist, I feel like a lone crusader on the subject that affects Ghana. I do feel lonely sometimes in this quest. I did not choose to, I got involved in the matter as part of my duty. I wasn’t even paid to write on the subject – I did it all as part of my regular writings on matters of local importance that have global relevance, just as I have written extensively on the global food and energy crisis, financial meltdown and the biofuels debate.

In a telephone conversation I had this morning March 6, 2009, with Dutch journalist, Weert Schenk of Volkskrant newspaper, something hit me so hard. He told me nine Ghanaians have been cited in the deadly trade of exporting e-waste from the Netherlands to Ghana.

Eight people have been arrested in the east of the country.

He told me these people have been involved in the deadly trade since 2003 or even earlier.

The eight who were arrested included three Turkish citizens and five Ghanaians, but in keeping with Dutch laws, police have not released their names to the media.

The British authorities have also arrested a man in Sussex and he has been released on bail awaiting court appearance in May 2009.

The export of e-waste from Europe is illegal and a contravention of the WEEE. The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive stipulates that Information Technology (IT) manufacturers are legally responsible for the safe disposal of their products, and are obliged to ensure all products are disposed of in an environmentally friendly manner themselves or sign up with a government-approved waste-handling firm to do it on their behalf.

These countries are acting to curtail the export of these deadly toxic chemicals into our country, and we are doing nothing about it as a country.

In an interview I had with a former deputy Minister of Environment and Rural Development, he told me specifically that there is no e-waste dumping in Ghana.

The Ghana Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has done little so far. The agency is either under-staffed or poorly resourced. The EPA told the media in April 2008 that it was setting up a committee to draft policy for handling and managing e-waste in Ghana, but nothing has happened since the announcement was made.

Each time I have called the EPA for information on the subject, they had asked me to travel to their offices before they could talk to me. This attitude simply makes nonsense of the importance of the telephone and the need to cut down on the cost of doing business.

Meanwhile, CEOs of multi-nationals and other public officials in other parts of the world would speak on the phone and answer questions on their activities.

Some Ghanaian officials would not respond to your requests for an interview even after you have fulfilled their request to send your questionnaire in advance. For months, you would not even get the courtesy of a call or an appointment.

The press office of the UK Environment Agency has been responding to my queries. An official, Scarlett Elworthy has told me the UK government is investigating specifically the dumping of e-waste in Ghana.

Our country and our people are at great risk of the dangers that e-waste poses, but there is official inaction to deal with the problem.

I formed a group on Facebook, Ghanaians Against Dumping of E-waste. Even though membership of the group is growing, most who have signed on are Ghanaians living abroad. Not many Ghanaians living at home have signed on, even though, there are lots of Ghanaians at home on Facebook.

I am doing my part, but I can’t do it all. I would however, continue to do what I have to do.

It is however time for us as a country to take decisive action to deal with this issue once and for all. Because our environment and people are in grave danger of being exposed to the cocktail of toxic chemicals that e-waste emits into the system.

The time to act is now!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

UK authorities arrest man over export of e-waste

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

Authorities in the UK have arrested a man over the export of e-waste into developing countries.

The 46-year-old man, who was not named but identified as from West Sussex is the first to be arrested as part of ongoing crackdown on the illegal export of e-waste from Britain to the developing world, the Environment Agency (EA) of the UK has said. He was arrested on February 18, 2009 and released on bail until May 5, 2009.

The EA has also said it was increasing its efforts to intercept e-waste as it leaves Britain and had prevented 33 cargo containers of electrical goods from leaving the UK in the past six months.

Investigations by Greenpeace, an environmental group and some media, including The Independent and Sky News revealed that 23,000 tonnes of computers are being dumped illegally in Africa every year from the UK, in violation of the EU Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE).

On Friday February 27, 2009, carried a story about the arrest of a container full of e-waste at the port of Amsterdam, in Holland that was ready to be shipped into Ghana.

Ghana and Nigeria have been identified as a choice destination for e-waste or electronics waste, due to weak laws and in most cases lack of enforcement of existing regulations. Local authorities in these countries are ill-equipped and in some cases ill informed on and about the issue of e-waste.

Meanwhile, the Director of Pollutions at Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of environment has told that it is time for sub-regional efforts to tackle the problem. He said the country was embarking on a clampdown of importers of unusable electronics items into the country.

E-waste is the generic name for electronic or computer wastes. These are discarded electronics devices that come into the waste stream from several sources. They include gadgets like televisions, personal computers (PCs), telephones, air conditioners, cell phones, and electronic toys.

The list can further be widened to include appliances such as lifts, refrigerators, washing machines, dryers, kitchen equipment or even air crafts.

Electronics equipment is one of the largest known sources of heavy metals, toxic materials and organic pollutants in city waste.
E-waste is known to contain dangerous chemical pollutants that are released into the atmosphere and underground water.

The modes of disposal, which include dumping old gadgets into landfills or burning in smelters, also expose the environment and humans to a cocktail of toxic chemicals and poison. These chemicals contain substances like lead, mercury and arsenic.

The cathode ray tubes (CRTs) in most computer monitors and television screens have x-ray shields that contain 4 to 8 pounds of lead, mostly embedded in glass.

Flat screen monitors that are mostly used in laptops do not contain high concentrations of lead, but most are illuminated with fluorescent lights that contain some mercury.

A PC’s central processing unit (CPU), the module containing the chip and the hard disk, typically contains toxic heavy metals such as mercury (in switches), lead (in solder on circuit boards), and cadmium (in batteries).

Plastics used to house computer equipment and cover wire cables to prevent flammability often contain polybrominated flame retardants, a class of dangerous chemicals. Studies have shown that ingesting these substances may increase the risk of cancer, liver damage, and immune system dysfunction.

Lead, mercury, cadmium, and polybrominated flame retardants are all persistent, bio-accumulative toxins (PBTs), that can create environmental and health risks when computers are manufactured, incinerated, landfilled or melted during recycling. PBTs, in particular are a dangerous class of chemicals that linger in the environment and accumulate in living tissues.

And because they increase in concentration as they move up the food chain, PBTs can reach dangerous levels in living organisms, even when released in minute quantities. PBTs are harmful to human health and the environment and have been associated with cancer, nerve damage and reproductive disorders.

Looked at individually, the chemicals contained in e-waste are a cocktail of dangerous pollutants that kill both the environment and humans slowly.

Lead, which negative effects were recognized and therefore banned from gasoline in the 1970s causes damage to the central and peripheral nervous systems, blood systems, kidney and the reproductive system in humans.

Effects of lead on the endocrine system have been observed, including the serious negative effects it has on children’s brain development. When it accumulates in the environment, it has high acute and chronic effects on plants, animals and micro-organisms.

Cadmium compounds are also toxic with a possible risk of irreversible effects on human health and accumulate in the human body, particularly the kidneys. Cadmium occurs in certain components such as SMD chip resistors, infra-red detectors, and semi-conductor chips.

Mercury on the other hand, can cause damage to various organs including the brain and kidneys as well as the fetus. More especially, the developing fetus is highly susceptible through maternal exposure to mercury.

These are only few of the chemicals used in the manufacture of electronics equipment. Other chemicals are Hexavalent Chromium which is used as a corrosion protection of untreated and galvanized steel plates and as a decorative or hardener for steel housings. Plastics including, PVC are also used. Plastics constitute about 13.8 pounds of an average computer.

The largest volume of plastics, 26% used in electronics is PVC. When PVC is burned, dioxin can be formed because it contains chlorine compounds. Barium, is a soft silvery-white metal that is used in computers in the front panel of a CRT, to protect users from radiation.

Studies have shown that short-term exposure to barium has caused brain swelling, muscle weakness, damage to the liver, heart and spleen.

Considering the health hazards of e-waste, another ubiquitous computer peripheral scrap worth mentioning is toners. The main ingredient of the black toner is a pigment commonly called, carbon black – the general term used to describe the commercial powder form of carbon.

Inhalation is the primary means of exposure, and acute exposure may lead to respiratory tract irritation.

The UK government’s action, looked at in context, should be a good sign that something practical is being done to address the issue of e-waste from the UK being dumped into developing countries.