Latest Event Updates
The MDP program and the Center for African Studies invited Dr. Dereje Feyissa to UF to speak about the relatively new phenomenon of “land-grabbing” in Eastern Africa. At his talk on November 17, Dr. Feyissa gave a overview of the issue, and also gave some examples of local responses to the land-grabbing phenomenon. Here is a brief overview of Dr. Feyissa’s talk.
In Ethiopia, land the size of the country of Belgium is currently being leased out to foreign investors, including foreign governments (mostly from Asian countries) as well as private agricultural corporations. Other east African countries are also pursuing land-rental opportunities; in Madagascar, controversy over land-rental was one of the main contributing factors to that country’s recent political turmoil. Dr. Feyissa explained that although “land-grabbing” is often viewed as a form of neo-colonialism, African governments are in fact actively demanding and pursuing opportunities to lease their land to foreign investors. However, Dr. Feyissa sees several problems with this situation.
One issue is that, in many areas, the rates that foreign investors are paying for land is so minimal that they are “practically getting the land for free:” yearly rental rates in some locations are less than $2 per hectare. Secondly, although the land often appears to be empty and unused, many times there are pastoral, hunter/gatherer, or otherwise nomadic peoples that depend on this land for their livelihoods, even though they are not actively engaged in agricultural activities on this land. Another issue is that water rights, although rarely explicitly discussed, are usually included in the land-rental deals; in many cases, this has led to adverse consequences for populations living downstream of the foreign-rented land. Additionally, local people often do not benefit economically from land-rental deals, as they often lack the technical capacity to be considered for agricultural employment on this land. In some cases, laborers are even sent in from other continents, leaving little benefits of these land-rental deals (if there are even any benefits) to the local population. The underlying problem for most of these issues is that local people are very rarely consulted when making land-rental deals.
There have been some attempts at local pushback to this land-grabbing phenomenon. Political pressure on local governments has led to delays in land leasing deals in some cases, as have demonstrations, and even sometimes, armed resistance. Advocacy has been successful in some regions, although in Ethiopia, this channel has been limited because of a legal prohibition on advocacy from organizations that receive more than 10% of their funding from foreign sources. Organizations such as FAO have been attempting to assist local, smallholder farmers by increasing their technical capacity (and thus agricultural productivity), and vocally opposing large-scale, foreign-run agriculture in the region.
However, as it stands, the benefits of foreign land-renting still lie overwhelmingly with the foreign actors, with very little benefits for east African countries or their citizens. Dr. Feyissa does not see the kind of “trickle-down” effects that foreign investors often promise, and feels that conflict is likely to increase in the region if this issue is not addressed more directly in the near future.
Transmitted by mosquitos, Chikungunya is the newest viral disease in my MDP global health repertoire. Although it isn’t deadly, according to the Pan American Health Organization, Chikungunya causes joint and muscle pains that can “last for months or years and may become a cause of chronic pain and disability.” Without a vaccine or medicinal treatments, this is the latest affliction to impact Haiti. Like Tuberculosis, Malaria, and Cholera before, Chikungunya will undoubtedly provoke updates to government travel warnings, put a damper on tourism expectations, and claim most of the country’s annual sick days. Halfway through my practicum, supervisors, friends, and my entire team have come down with the symptoms. Yet, miraculously I remain unscathed and, because of a semester of meticulous preparation, so has our research.
Despite the many additional chronic pains that plague Haiti (e.g., a lack of electricity and/or water), our baseline expert panel survey on improving international scholarly exchange continues to thrive. Using a modified Delphi method, we’ve collected over 50 responses for our qualitative phase and recently launched the second component, a ranking exercise. Our goal is to release a consensus building instrument next week and have preliminary results to disseminate before our team departs to California for the annual Empowering Sustainability on Earth Conference. Already, we’re getting great cross-sectoral feedback and participation that will certainly reveal a strong priority list of service areas to improve.
In an unprecedented bout of productivity, I’ve also managed to find time for riding my GT Performer around the capital, change apartments, and complete a number of side quests for the U.S. Embassy, Comité Interministériel d’Aménagement du Territoire (CIAT), and Bibliothèque Nationale d’Haïti (BNH). My future plans include organizing an International Exchange Alumni gathering to celebrate Haiti’s global scholarly community and to visit Cap Haïtien for either a teacher training or leadership conference. Meanwhile, my latest adventure involves facilitating an archaeological effort that could reveal a lost settlement of historical significance.
In any practicum experience, there will be good days and bad days. With all the challenging aspects that come with working in Haiti, I find it’s more rewarding to focus on the positives and take each day at a time. I have to admit I’ve been extremely lucky so far this summer, but thanks to my committee, faculty, and departmental staff I was also prepared for adversity. With only a month remaining, I’m comfortable and confident that we’ll meet our objectives and take the necessary steps to ensure a brighter future for Haitians.
Avuxeni everyone! I want to share an incredible story with you all. It’s better told in person, but I’ll see what I can do here on this blog.
About a week ago, my colleague Antonieta and I traveled up north to the community of Makuleke, near the border of Zimbabwe. We are developing household livelihood surveys to administer in this community, so we wanted to properly introduce ourselves to the traditional leader, select translators to hire, and generally meet people from the community.
We were given rooms at an old B&B which had just changed hands and was on the edge of being refurbished. The rooms were basic but nice; round, thatched huts with indoor plumbing and electricity.
That day, Antonieta was pretty sick; she was bitten by a tick and had contracted African tick-bite fever, so I went off to eat lunch while she stayed to rest in the B&B.
Suddenly I heard shouting: “Alex! You have to see this! There’s a snake in the toilet!”
‘Wow!’ I thought. ‘A snake! Cool! I haven’t seen any snakes in Africa yet, that’s great, I’ll get a picture of it and if it’s not a dangerous snake we’ll find a way to scoop it out or something.’
So I follow her back to the room, get my flashlight, and shine it into the toilet. I realize that what I’m looking at is the head of a huuuge python that has slithered up through the pipes and is now trying to get out of our toilet!!
After the initial shock, I’m thinking ‘how are we going to get this out?’ Then the toilet starts flooding. The snake is stuck in the pipes and water is pouring out into the bathroom.
We decide we have to tell someone. The caretaker, Raymond, only speaks Shangaan and Portuguese. With much gesturing and an attempt of Spanish, we get him to come assess the situation. He takes one look into the toilet, and leaps back shouting “ahhhh!! Cobra!’
Now all hell’s broken loose. He starts making calls. Within 15 minutes there are at least 20 men, women and children from the village in our room, peering into the toilet, shouting, discussing, and giving their advice on how to get the snake out. Someone suggests: “let’s get the man who used to hunt snakes, because he’ll know what to do, and then we can eat it!”
They decide to club the snake over the head and pull it out of the toilet. Even with three men pulling, they can’t get the snake out. It’s stuck in the pipes. So they go outside of the hut to the external pipe, crack it open, and try to pull the snake out there. Still no luck. But now we can see that this is truly a huge snake… the thickest part is about as large as a grapefruit.
The only thing left to do is dig up the whole pipe and crack it open. They do this and start to pull the snake out. As they start to pull, everyone realizes that the snake was merely unconscious after the whack to the head, and is now awake and very angry. Everyone leaps back, shouting, as the snake writhes around, still stuck in the pipe.
Raymond rushes forward, grabs the snake by the tail and pulls it out of the pipe, running towards the courtyard, pulling this huge, 4-meter, hissing and snapping snake behind him, the men, women and children from Makuleke running and shouting and cheering and taking pictures on their phones. The drama ends when they quickly kill the snake.
In the evening, we were able to meet Chief Makuleke and other members of the traditional authority. We were welcomed very warmly and had the opportunity to introduce ourselves and our work. They apologized for the fright we received from the snake, but explained that it is well known among the elders of the community that when travelers or guests come across a snake, it is extremely good luck, and they now had all the confidence our work would be successful due to our good fortune.
With the good luck omen of the snake, we’re looking forward to starting the surveys. Next week we will be moving to Makuleke for at least three weeks to run the surveys and develop presentations to return the results of the surveys to the community. Our encounter with the snake was a humbling reminder of our surroundings, and of the potential conflicts between people and wildlife in rural South Africa.
I’ve only been in Ecuador a few weeks but I already feel like I could live and work here forever. The town I am in is surrounded by breathtaking mountains and forests (and is a short drive from the beautiful capital city), the people I live and work with are hardworking yet warm and relaxed, the food is delicious (yet slightly lacking in vegetables other than potatoes), and everyone is quick to tell me about the adventures and beautiful destinations that await me when I have time to venture outside of my host town. My mind has been in constant overdrive with nerdy thoughts related to MDP courses: “My host family’s garden (avocados, spinach, chickens, fruit trees, etc.) obviously boosts household food security and dietary diversity” “Ecuador has so many social programs; I wonder how their tax system is structured to be able to afford them?” “Is the president’s emphasis on import substitution industrialization really a good idea?”
I have spent my first few weeks visiting the eight “parishes” (like small counties) where my host organization operates, which range from posh urban centers with malls with North Face stores, to tiny villages with no public transportation and residents who speak not only Spanish but also the indigenous Kichwa language. I have also been poring over (aka nerding out over) hundreds of pages of government documents about teen pregnancy prevention programs. I was happy to read that many of the government documents mention the need for exactly the research that I am planning on doing – focus groups with adolescents to try to determine the underlying reasons for high teen pregnancy rates in the area. (Ecuador has the highest teen pregnancy rate in South America, and my host town has one of the highest rates in its region.) So far my host organization and I have been in touch with one school director who is really great – he is already really involved in reproductive health education in his school, was totally up-to-speed on the concept of focus groups (and even suggested we conduct a baseline survey after the focus groups, which I was thinking of doing anyway), and suggested that we get started the very next day. I know from my experience in the Peace Corps that it is so much more rewarding to work with counterparts who really understand and are supportive of your work, so I am so grateful and excited to work with this school director!
It’s been really interesting for me to hear people’s perspectives on Ecuador’s current president. It seems like people here either love him or hate him, but either way, everyone seems to know a lot about him and about politics in general. One of his more popular policies is a cash transfer, which gives families in the poorest wealth quintile about $30 per month, which has helped reduce poverty. He has also built several hydroelectric dams over the last few years, which has increased the number of households that have electricity. However, the president has been criticized for changing the constitution to allow him to be president for a third term (instead of just two), stifling freedom of the press, and for expelling international development agencies like USAID and others from the country. Looks like it won’t be so easy for me to get a job here after all!
Members of Cohort 4 will be leaving for their field practicums starting May 1st! Here is where they are headed:
|Name||Field Practicum Location||Host Organization||Practicum Focus|
|Beau Bryant||Washington, DC;Kampala, Uganda||International Justice Mission||Using Information Systems to Build Evaluation and Learning Capacities in NGOs|
|Samantha Davis||Paquip, Guatemala||Wuqu’ Kawoq – Maya Health Alliance||Surveys about Land Tenure and Child Stunting|
|Antonieta Eguren||South Africa (Kruger Park, Hoedspruit, Bushbuckridge)||South African Wildlife College||Situational Analysis of Bushbuckridge Communities of South Africa|
|Jeremy Lambeth||Port au Prince, Haiti||Interministerial Committee for Territorial Planning||Facilitating Scholarly Exchange and Study Abroad in Haiti|
|Liz Poulsen||Quito, Ecuador||Ministry of Health||Process Evaluation of a Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program|
|Christa Roberts||Costa Rica (multiple locations)||Cayuga Sustainable Hospitality||Monitoring and Evaluationof Eco-lodges|
|Alexandra Sprague||South Africa (Kruger Park, Hoedspruit, Bushbuckridge)||South African Wildlife College||Situational Analysis of Bushbuckridge Communities of South Africa|
Stay tuned for blog posts from the field this summer!
Aside Posted on Updated on
Tiernan Mennen, Director of Land Tenure, Human Rights, and Rule of Law at Chemonics International delivered a seminar in February about the impact of land and resource rights on development and conservation. The seminar was sponsored by the MDP program, the TCD program, and the Levin School of Law.
MDP/LAS Seminar: Dr. Robert Maguire, “Haiti and the Obama Administration’s Quest for Improved Aid Effectiveness: Promise and Perils”
Last Friday, MDP co-sponsored a seminar led by Dr. Robert Maguire, Director of the Latin American and Hemispheric Studies Program and Professor of International Affairs at the Elliot School of International Affairs at George Washington University in Washington, DC. Maguire, a graduate of the University of Florida’s Latin American Studies program, is recognized as a leading U.S. expert on Haiti, having been engaged with that country since 1974. His current involvement with Haiti focuses on issues of U.S.-Haiti policy, politics, post-disaster development, and effective policy alleviation.
During his seminar, Maguire discussed issues currently impeding foreign aid effectiveness in Haiti. He touched on the issues of corruption and transparency, discussing the tendency of aid organizations to prefer dealing directly with Haitian contractors rather than work with and through the Haitian government, for fear of corruption and inefficient use of funds. However, Maguire pointed out that leaving the Haitian government out of the equation is not a sustainable path to development, as it does not allow for the type of capacity-building that would enable government institutions to take the initiative on their own development projects in the future. Maguire also talked about the tendency for some development institutions to be too short-sighted, sometimes being overly influenced by short-term foreign policy. He also believes that many agencies allocate too much of their funding to overhead rather than to the development initiatives themselves, which has meant that many agencies have had a presence in Haiti for over 40 years, when perhaps a more sustainable goal would be to figure out how to hand over responsibility to the Haitian government and other local officials, so that development organizations are no longer needed in the country.