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Monkeypox: How it Spreads, Who’s at Risk – Here’s What You Need to Know

Monkeypox is not a new disease, and in some African countries, it is endemic. However, the international outbreak which began in May 2022, has prompted the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare a global health emergency. Here are some of the important things to know about monkeypox.

What is Monkeypox?

Monkeypox got its name in 1958 when it was detected in several laboratory apes. It is a zoonotic viral disease, which means it can be transmitted from animals to humans. It can also pass from human to human.

Human monkeypox was first identified in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in a 9-month-old boy, in a region where smallpox (a close relative) had been eliminated in 1968.

Symptoms are similar to those seen, in the past, in smallpox patients, but it is clinically less severe (smallpox was eradicated worldwide in 1980). In 2003, the first Monkeypox outbreak outside Africa was reported in the United States and was linked to contact with infected pet prairie dogs.

Despite the name, most of the animals susceptible to contracting the disease, and then infecting people, are rodents, such as Gambian giant rats, dormice, or tree squirrels.

Where is it typically found?

Monkeypox is mostly found in the rain forests of central and western Africa, where animals that can carry the virus are native, and the disease is endemic. In these countries, it is increasingly appearing in urban areas.

On occasion, it can also be found elsewhere, in people who could have been infected after visiting these countries.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms usually include fever, severe headache, muscle aches, back pain, low energy, swollen lymph nodes, and skin rashes or lesions.

The rash usually begins on the first or third day of the onset of fever. The lesions may be flat or slightly raised, filled with clear or yellowish fluid, then crust over, dry up, and fall off.

The number of lesions varies, from a few to several thousand. The rash tends to appear on the face, the palms of the hands, and the soles of the feet. They can also be found in the mouth, genitals, and eyes.

Can people die from monkeypox?

In most cases, the symptoms of Monkeypox go away on their own within a few weeks but, in between three and six per cent of cases reported in countries where it is endemic, it can lead to medical complications and even death. New-born babies, children, and people with immune system deficiencies may be at risk of more severe symptoms and death from the disease.

In severe cases, symptoms include skin infections, pneumonia, confusion, and eye infections that can lead to vision loss.

Many of the fatal cases are children or people who may have other health conditions.

How is monkeypox transmitted from animals to humans?

The virus can be spread to people when they come into physical contact with infected animals, which include rodents and primates.

The risk of contracting it from animals can be reduced by avoiding unprotected contact with wild animals, especially those that are sick or dead (including contact with their flesh and blood).

It is crucial to stress that any food containing meat or animal parts should be cooked, especially in countries where Monkeypox is endemic.

How is it spread from person to person?

The virus is spread through physical contact with someone who has symptoms. Rashes, body fluids (such as fluids, pus, or blood from skin lesions), and scabs are particularly infectious.

Ulcers, lesions or sores can also be infectious since the virus can be spread through saliva. Contact with objects that have been in contact with the infected person – such as clothing, bedding, towels – or objects such as eating utensils can also represent a source of infection.

People who have the disease are contagious while they have symptoms (usually within the first two to four weeks). It is not clear whether or not people who are asymptomatic can transmit the disease.

Who is at risk of getting it?

Anyone who comes into physical contact with someone with symptoms or an infected animal is at increased risk of infection.

Those who live with infected people have a high risk of infection. Health workers, by the very nature of their job, are at risk of exposure.

Children are often more likely to have severe symptoms than teens and adults.

The virus can also be transmitted from a pregnant woman to the foetus through the placenta, or through contact of an infected parent with the child, during or after delivery, through skin-to-skin contact.

How can I protect myself and others?

You can reduce the risk of contagion by limiting contact with people who suspect they have the disease or are confirmed cases.

A smallpox vaccine was recently developed and approved in 2019 for use in preventing Monkeypox but it is not yet widely available

Those who live with infected people should encourage them to self-isolate and, if possible, cover any breaks in the skin (for example, by wearing clothing over the rash).

It is important to wear a face mask when in close proximity to the infected person, especially if they are coughing or have mouth sores, and when touching the clothing or bedding of an infected person. Avoid skin-to-skin contact by wearing disposable gloves.

Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, especially after coming into contact with the infected person, with their clothing (including sheets and towels), or touching other items or surfaces (such as utensils or dishes) that may have come into contact with rashes or respiratory secretions.

Clean and disinfect any contaminated surfaces and dispose of contaminated waste (such as dressings) properly, and wash the infected person’s clothing, towels, sheets, and eating utensils with warm water and detergent.

What should I do if I suspect that I have been infected?

If you think your symptoms might be related to Monkeypox, or if you have had close contact with someone who has these symptoms, or suspects that there is a possibility of being infected, notifies your doctor immediately.

If possible, isolate yourself and avoid close contact with other people. Wash your hands frequently and follow the steps listed above to protect others from contagion. Your doctor, or other health professionals, should take a sample for testing so you can get the right care.

Symptoms usually last two to four weeks and go away on their own without treatment.

Is there a vaccine?

There are several vaccines, developed for the prevention of smallpox that also provide some protection.

A smallpox vaccine (MVA-BN, also known as Imvamune, Imvanex, or Jynneos) was recently developed and approved in 2019 for use in preventing Monkeypox but it is not yet widely available.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is working with the manufacturer of the vaccine to improve access to it. People who have been vaccinated against smallpox in the past will also have some protection.

Is there any treatment?

Symptoms often go away on their own without the need for treatment. It is important to care for the rash by letting it dry if possible or covering it with a moist bandage if necessary to protect the area.

Avoid touching any eye or mouth sores. Mouthwashes and eye drops can be used as long as products containing cortisone are avoided.

For severe cases, an antiviral agent is known as tecovirimat, which was developed for smallpox, and was licensed by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) for Monkeypox in 2022, based on data in animal and human studies. It is not yet widely available.

What do we know about the current outbreak?

In May 2022, cases were reported in more than 10 countries in non-endemic areas. Additional cases are being investigated. You can find the latest information on case numbers from the WHO here.

As of May 2022, there is no clear link between reported cases and travel from endemic countries, and no link to infected animals.

Studies are also underway in affected countries to determine the source of infection for each identified case and to provide medical care and limit further spread.

The WHO is working with all affected countries to improve surveillance and provide guidance on how to stop the spread and how to care for those who are infected.

Is there a risk that it will turn into a bigger outbreak?

Monkeypox is generally not considered highly contagious because it requires close physical contact with someone who is contagious (for example, skin-to-skin). The risk to the public is low.

However, the WHO is responding to this outbreak as a high priority to prevent further spread; for many years Monkeypox has been considered a priority pathogen. Identifying how the virus is spreading and protecting more people from becoming infected is a priority for the UN agency

Raising awareness of this new situation will help stop further transmission.

Is monkeypox a sexually transmitted infection?

The condition can be spread from one person to another through close physical contact, including sexual contact. However, it is currently unknown whether it can be spread through sexual transmission (for example, through semen or vaginal fluids). However, direct skin-to-skin contact with lesions during sexual activities can spread the virus.

Rashes can sometimes appear on the genitals and in the mouth, which probably contributes to transmission during sexual contact. Therefore, mouth-to-skin contact could cause transmission when there are lesions in one of these parts.

The rashes can also resemble some sexually transmitted diseases, such as herpes and syphilis. This may explain why several of the cases in the current outbreak have been identified among men seeking care at sexual health clinics.

The risk of becoming infected is not limited to sexually active people or men who have sex with men. Anyone who has close physical contact with someone who is contagious is at risk.

WHO response to stigmatizing messages circulating online?

Messages that stigmatize certain groups of people around this outbreak have been circulating: the WHO has made it clear that this is unacceptable.

Anyone who has close physical contact of any kind with someone with Monkeypox is at risk, regardless of who they are, what they do, who they choose to have sex with or any other factor.

The WHO points out that it is inadmissible to stigmatize people because of a disease.

Anyone who has been infected, or who is helping care for people who are unwell, should be supported: stigma is likely to only make things worse and slow efforts to end the outbreak.

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Africa

Looming health crisis in Horn of Africa as food insecurity worsens- WHO

WHO is scaling up its operations in eastern Africa as the region faces acute food insecurity caused by conflict, extreme weather events – including the worst drought in 40 years – induced by climate change, rising international food and fuel prices and the impact of the pandemic.

Over 80 million people in the eastern African region are food insecure and resorting to desperate measures to feed themselves and their families. Acute malnutrition is high, especially among children.

While the clear priority is to prevent people from starving, we must simultaneously strengthen our health response to prevent disease and save lives

As malnutrition increases, the health needs in the region are mounting, especially among children, and clean water is becoming scarce. As people leave their homes in search of food, they can no longer access health services, and become more at risk from disease outbreaks.

“The cost of inaction is high,” said Dr Ibrahima Socé Fall, WHO Assistant Director-General for Emergency Response.  “While the clear priority is to prevent people from starving, we must simultaneously strengthen our health response to prevent disease and save lives. Even one life lost from a vaccine-preventable disease, diarrhoea, or medical complications from malnutrition in today’s world is one life too many.”

Dr Fall was speaking in Nairobi where WHO convened a two-day meeting [26-27 June 2022] to plan its response across the seven countries affected by the health emergency – Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda – and coordinate with other UN agencies and partners.

WHO’s emergency response is focused on ensuring affected populations can access essential health services, treating sick children with severe malnutrition, and preventing, detecting and responding to infectious disease outbreaks.

WHO is setting up a hub in Nairobi, from where it will coordinate the response and organize the delivery of life-saving medical supplies to where they are needed most.  These supplies include medicines, vaccines, as well the medicines and equipment needed to treat children who are severely malnourished. Other than providing these critical supplies, WHO is working with ministries of health in the affected countries to set up robust disease surveillance systems to be able to quickly detect and respond to disease outbreaks.

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Africa

AFRICA: Worst food crisis hits West Africa in a decade- Organisation says

Eleven major international organizations are sending an alert: West African countries are being hit by the worst food crisis in a decade. 27 million people are going hungry and according to these humanitarian groups, 11 million more are at risk if nothing is done by this June.

“This is 40 percent more than the number we had last year at the same time, at the same period and this is four times more than the numbers we used to see ten years ago, says Assalama Dawalack Sidi, Oxfam, regional director for West and Central Africa, so this is why we really want to call on donors’ attention, on governments’ attention because we know that there are so many other crises here and there but this crisis do deserve to be visible”.

Their report says drought and worsening floods have reduced the food sources as well as regional conflicts and the war in Ukraine.

“Six out of the 12 countries where Oxfam operates in West Africa import their wheat from Ukraine or Russia, and because of this crisis in Ukraine this is no more possible. And if they cannot import wheat, that means it is creating a shortage in the food available in the countries and therefore increasing the prices and making it very difficult for people to afford food“, explains Assalama Dawalack Sidi.

This appeal was made just before a virtual conference on the food and nutrition crisis in the Sahel and Lake Chad between the European Union, the Sahel and West Africa Club, and the Global Network Against Food Crises.

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Africa

ANNOUNCEMENT: AFRIK Ultimate Hero Search to Start Audition July 1- August 30, 2022- Organiser

AUHS organiser has announced that the online audition will start in July and run through August 30, 2022.

The announcement was made recently during a briefing held in Lagos, by the convener, movie producer, and host of the new TV reality show, Thompson Ukeki.

Arrangements have been made for the premiere of AFRIK Ultimate Hero Search (AUHS), an initiative of a Nigerian movie producer, Thompson Ukeki, which aims to create a platform for multi-tasking Nigerian youths to hone their cooking skills and showcase African dishes and culinary culture.

According to him,  AUHS online audition will start in July and run through August 30, 2022. The show will commence on September 1 and end on September 30, 2022. The online audition will take place in all the state capitals across the country, including Enugu, Oyo, Lagos, Ogun, Ekiti, Abuja, Ondo, Edo, Kaduna, Rivers, Benue, Delta, Imo, Uyo, Jos, C/River, Anambra, Kwara, Ebonyi, Osun and Katsina States.

“With 30 contestants and six local chefs as judges, the show will be viewed all over Nigeria through Dstv, Gotv and Startimes channels with contestants from different backgrounds living together, undergoing rigorous training daily and carrying out tasks,” he said.

Ukeki said the show was aimed at promoting cultural decency, enlightening Nigerian youths and encouraging them to focus on their dreams and aspirations.

He noted that one of the objectives of the reality show is to improve the wellbeing of the average Nigerian youth, help to build capacity for multi-talented Nigerians.

He said, “This show is targeted at youths who are multi-talented, but not sure of their cooking skills direction. It will also enable them to gain access to what the society has denied them in terms of religion, ethnicity, responsibilities, family pride and life balancing effect.

”AFRIK Ultimate Hero Search makes a strong statement, showing that the world can be properly entertained without an iota of nudity and promiscuity, which have characterised our recent reality shows.”

“In the history of every nation, there are times when products and brands like this come up. First when I was accosted, I was very reluctant to support this programme, knowing very well that we abuse brands, and for me, anything Nigerian is my project.

“I would like to say that we the organisers of this programme have made history at a time when we are talking of the worrisome state of morals, morale and the upbringing of our youth in a country like Nigeria. The AFRIK  Hero Ultimate Search is a wakeup call and an indication that there is hope for this country.

“There is also the saying that some men like women a lot. Any man who does not like women cannot get a good wife. Because to get a good wife, you must know who is a woman. So for me, AUHS is a unique brand that has come to tell us that when others are developing programmes that show nudity among others,  we  are here to bring the best out of our youths.’

”I know that this is just meant to be a very fantastic event, a fantastic show. Which is going to bring you the real house hands as this course is going to encourage a lot of youths.

“And if you have not started at all, you begin to find yourself learning to do something. This is a very lovely initiative.

Let us believe in our African food and cultural heritage. The New reality TV show, AUHS, is to promote our cultural heritage and decency values.”

To be part of the historic event; Kindly log on to: https://www.africultimateherosearch.com

Registration is Free

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Africa

DRC refugees deported for looting food at refugee camp in Zimbabwe

The Zimbabwean government deported about 70 refugees back to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in violation of international humanitarian law, the United States Embassy in Harare said.

Officials rounded up 80 refugees who were alleged to have looted food rations from the Tongorara Refugee Camp’s warehouse and put them in a Harare prison. Ten were found not guilty and the rest were deported according to Todayng.

“In August (last year) the government removed approximately 80 refugees accused of looting a food supply warehouse from Tongogara Refugee Camp and placed them in detention in Harare.

“The government forcibly returned approximately 70 of these refugees to the DRC in violation of international law, according to an international organisation,” the US Embassy said in its recently released 2021 Human Rights Report on Zimbabwe.

Established in 1984, the Tongogara Refugee Camp, near Chipinge, has a capacity of 15 000 refugees. Many use it as a transit zone as they escape into South Africa.

The DRC rejected some of the alleged thieving refugees only for them to be returned to Zimbabwe and put in prisons.

“DRC authorities rejected approximately 15 of these, whom the government then placed in detention facilities in Harare,” the report stated.

It was also noted in the report that despite a strict “encampment policy” that requires refugees to stay at the camp, some moved into the two major cities, Harare and Bulawayo.

“At year’s end, approximately 850 refugees lived in urban areas, including Harare and Bulawayo and more than 6 500 Mozambican asylum seekers lived among host communities along the porous border with Mozambique,” the report stated, adding that a substantive number of refugees were in Zimbabwean prisons.

Since legally, refugees in Zimbabwe should be in camps, employment opportunities in the outside world are non-existent. As such, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other partners provide camp residents employment opportunities, including banana farming, livestock production and soap production.

The report noted that many refugees were unwilling to return to their home countries voluntarily. Therefore, resettlement was the only viable solution.

However, Zimbabwe does not allow resettlement for refugees and pushes for their repatriation instead.

“While the government did not accept refugees from foreign countries for resettlement, it facilitated the voluntary repatriation of refugees to their home countries by recognising the Voluntary Repatriation Declaration Form as a valid document for travel purposes,” the report stated.

The report also highlighted that there was prolonged detention for undocumented migrants, who are often mistreated by other prisoners.

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Africa

Most Africa’s public health issues linked to climate change- WHO

More than half of the 2 121 public health events recorded in the past two decades in Africa were climate-related, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said in a new report to mark World Health Day.

Natural disasters had also spiked dramatically since 2010, with 70% of all-natural disasters occurring between 2017 and 2021 according to Today.ng

Floods were the most frequent, accounting for 33% of all reported natural disasters.

By definition, public health events were ones that represented an immediate threat to human health and required prompt action, and not limited to disease outbreaks and the spread of infectious diseases.

“The analysis found that of the 2 121 public health events recorded in the African region between 2001 and 2021, 56% were climate-related. The region is witnessing an increase in climate-linked emergencies, with 25% more climate-related events recorded between 2011 and 2021 compared with the previous decade,” the report stated.

Various United Nations agencies, global think tanks, and aid givers had since incorporated climate change awareness and mitigation in its programmes as the world, particularly Africa, was feeling the effects of global warming.

Part of the message being conveyed was that African governments should prioritize human well-being in all key decisions, stop new fossil fuel explorations and subsidies, tax polluters and implement WHO air quality guidelines.

Climate change-related issues had also become a political campaign rallying point.

On Wednesday, Malawi’s President Lazarus Chakwera donated 10 000 kilograms of maize flour to the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma), to mark his 67th birthday in the country.

Dodma will then distribute to flood victims in various camps in the Southern Region of Malawi.

“While the president is thankful for the gift of life, he is mindful of the many Malawians whose lives have been disrupted by recent natural disasters, and this donation is his expression of solidarity with them and commitment to alleviating their suffering,” said presidential press secretary Anthony Kasunda in a statement.

Because of climate change, “the entire foundation of good health is in jeopardy with increasingly severe climatic events”, WHO said.

According to the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), southern Africa was one of the most affected parts of the world, with reoccurring natural disasters such as flooding.

As such, WHO noted that waterborne diseases were on the rise.

“The WHO analysis found that water-borne diseases accounted for 40% of the climate-related health emergencies over the past two decades. In Africa, diarrhoeal diseases are the third leading cause of disease and death in children under five. A significant proportion of these deaths is preventable through safe drinking water, adequate sanitation, and hygiene,” the organisation said.

The WHO analysis revealed that vector-borne diseases, notably yellow fever, accounted for 28% of the climate-related health emergencies, while zoonotic diseases, specifically Congo-Crimean hemorrhagic fever, were the third most prevalent. Congo-Crimean hemorrhagic fever is a viral disease transmitted to people from ticks and livestock and had an outbreak fatality rate of up to 40%.

 

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AfricaFoodHealth

WFP Partners Government of Japan to support DRC refugees in Angola

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) welcomes a contribution of US$ 293,000 from the Government of Japan to support resilience building activities for refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) residing in Lunda Norte province.

Japan has been one of the main donors to our refugee assistance operation and has already contributed US$ 875,000 between 2019 and 2021

“The Japanese government is firmly committed to promoting the humanitarian-development nexus and helping rebuild self-reliance opportunities for refugees,” said Maruhashi Jiro, Ambassador of Japan to Angola. “The proposed livelihood activities will also contribute to social cohesion through the involvement of host communities in asset creation.”

The contribution from Japan will support 125 refugee families (around 500 people) with food assistance for six months whilst providing them access to agricultural inputs (tools and seeds) and training opportunities on modern farm technologies, animal husbandry, and post-harvest management. The selection of families and necessary assessments are starting in April 2022, while the trainings coupled with food distributions are scheduled to start in July.

“Japan has been one of the main donors for our refugee assistance operation and has already contributed US$ 875,000 between 2019 and 2021,” said José Ferrão, Head of WFP Office in Angola. “This new contribution will allow WFP to start building a path to self-sufficiency for our beneficiaries, since our eventual goal in Lovua settlement is not just to help refugees meet their basic food requirements, but also to assist them in restoring their livelihoods.”

In February 2022, WFP assisted nearly 7,000 refugees with general food distributions providing maize meal, pulses, vegetable oil and salt. WFP recognizes the pressing need to reduce their dependence on food assistance and has been working with Government and partners to engage refugees in food production and promote opportunities for their increased self-reliance.

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Agriculture

UN programme’s new phase to target countries in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific to empowering rural women

Four United Nations agencies today announced the forthcoming launch of a new phase of a joint programme that aims to secure rural women’s livelihoods, rights and resilience to advance sustainable development.

The ‘Joint Programme: Accelerating Progress Towards Rural Women’s Economic Empowerment’ (JP RWEE) is a partnership between the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality, UN Women, and the three Rome-based agencies, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP). The programme which began in 2014 seeks to expand its funding base and further scale up to additional countries.

This new five-year phase of the programme will initially focus on Nepal, Niger, the Pacific Islands, Tanzania and Tunisia, thanks to the generous support of Norway and Sweden who have committed approximately US $25 million towards the programme.

“This partnership builds on previous success and demonstrates the impact of combining expertise to achieve significant results for rural women. These results include increased agricultural productivity, economic autonomy, and leadership roles. We are grateful to Norway and Sweden for the opportunity to scale up the programme in both existing and new countries, keeping the rights and needs of rural women firmly at the centre,” said Sima Bahous, UN Women, Executive Director.

This programme has shown that rural women are key agents for achieving the transformational economic, environmental and social changes required for sustainable development

Rural women face structural barriers including discriminatory policies, legislation and social norms which hinder their access to services, resources and opportunities. They carry the disproportionate share of unpaid care and domestic work and are often excluded from participation and leadership in rural public life.

“This programme with its holistic approach is a great vehicle to improve rural women’s livelihoods. Lessons learned from the first phase show that it is crucial to secure funding from the onset of the programme and we encourage other donors to join us in this important effort to empower rural women,” said  Astrid T. Tveteraas, Head of Section for Food, Department for Climate and Environment, Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation.

“This programme has shown that rural women are key agents for achieving the transformational economic, environmental and social changes required for sustainable development. Sweden is pleased to support the second phase in new countries. Equally, Sweden is eager to support approaches and lessons from the programme that can push the overall global development of women’s economic empowerment further,” said Lotta Sylwander, Lead Policy Specialist Gender, Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.

The programme builds on the comparative advantages and strengths of FAO, IFAD, UN Women and WFP to address the multi-faceted dimensions of rural women’s economic empowerment, which includes access to opportunities, resources and services, including land, credit and technology. The programme works with national governments to advance policy change, with local government to ensure policy implementation, and with local communities and households to tackle unequal power dynamics and discriminatory social norms in order to achieve deep rooted and lasting change.

The first phase of the programme was implemented in Ethiopia, Guatemala, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Nepal, Niger and Rwanda from 2014 to 2021 and reached approximately 80,000 rural women. The participants achieved, on average, an 82 percent increase in agricultural production, generated over US $3,600,000 from on-farm and off-farm sales and almost US $2 million through savings and loan schemes. Programme results also showed greater economic autonomy for rural women, more gender equitable household relations and increased numbers of women in leadership positions.

The new phase of the Programme will be formally launched at a side event during the 66th Session on the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) on March 23rd, 2022.

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Agrictech

Rural women embrace agroecology to overcome social and environmental hurdles in Africa

Around a third of the world’s food is produced by smallholder farmers on less than two hectares of land. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the percentage is much larger, with some 60 percent of the population engaged as smallholder farmers in food production and processing. At least half of these farmers are women, who specialise in seeding, weeding, transplanting, harvesting, post-harvest work, processing, marketing and, in some areas, land preparation.

This year’s International Women’s Day recognized the contributions of women and girl leaders and change-makers around the world who are fighting for sustainability in the face of the ongoing climate crisis. Despite their crucial role in agrifood systems, women are faced with enormous challenges, including exclusion from decision-making, denial of essential productive resources such as land, water, credit, information, and technologies, and disregard for their deep knowledge of local contexts. In addition, they are disproportionately affected by climate and weather-related disasters, constituting 80 percent of people displaced by climate change.

On 9 March, the FAO Regional Office for Africa paid special tribute to African rural and indigenous women and their contribution to climate action and sustainable agrifood systems transformation through an interactive online dialogue with leaders from the African Women’s Collaborative for Healthy Food Systems and ENDA Pronat. The virtual celebration highlighted how rural and indigenous women are actively promoting healthy food systems through agroecology, regenerative approaches, and indigenous foodways.

Challenges to women producers in Zambia and Uganda

In the Central Province of Zambia, interviews by the African Women’s Collaborative for Healthy Food Systems revealed that many women had no control over the land they use for farming, which belongs to their spouse or relatives. “We have land, but to use it for farming, I have to seek permission from my husband, who decides on the type of crops to grow and how to use the proceeds from our sales,” said Universe Mafuta Mazaba. Restina Mumba, a Petauke-based farmer. She said how hard it has been for her to acquire land from the traditional leaders: “The chiefs should help us not only to access land but also give us certificates for our land, so that our children can also benefit from it. This is the time to advocate for our rights. We want to be independent to grow food that has nutritional value.”

The virtual celebration highlighted how rural and indigenous women are actively promoting healthy food systems through agroecology, regenerative approaches, and indigenous foodways

In Uganda, female small-scale farmers are facing growing competition for land. Nagitta Rose, a 57-year-old farmer in the Mityana district was once a prominent farmer whose produce was enough to feed the entire community. Unfortunately, her husband was involved in a motorcycle accident, which left him bedridden and unable to protect their land. Since then, their 5-acre farm has been facing different claims of ownership. With no title deed and formal proof of ownership, Nagitta is at a loss to defend the land from encroachers.

Limited access to financial resources and credit exacerbates the challenges faced by these women, who are often excluded from land entitlement schemes and may have difficulties understanding lending policies due to reduced access to education. To further complicate their situation, rural and indigenous women are confronted with unreliable seed storage facilities, which represents a threat to food security in the local communities, since much of the food produced comes from their seeds.

Resilience through agroecology

Notwithstanding the financial, legal, environmental and technical obstacles posed, rural women farmers continue to show admirable tenacity. A key ally in empowering these women to continue working the land is agroecology. Agroecological approaches include diversification of crops, conservation tillage, green manures, organic compost, biological pest control and rainwater harvesting.

In Zimbabwe, for example, women have been using traditional knowledge passed down from their ancestors to control pests and diseases without having to depend on chemical pesticides. Nyengeterai Munyani, a vibrant farmer in her 70s, has seven hectares of land on which she grows small grain crops. To preserve her crops and control pests, she makes use of a variety of organic methods: “I use leaves from paw trees, which I crush while they are fresh and mix with water. I spray my crops with this solution and that deals with the pests and diseases. There are also indigenous trees like mutsviri and mutovhoti whose barks we burn and sprinkle the ashes on our crops.” In the Masvingo province, producer Gogo Mumvuri also practices diversified farming and organic methods of pest and disease control to lessen environmental impact. “When I plant different crops on the same piece of land at the same time, it reduces pests. I also use bark from trees in our area like the mukonde tree, whose ashes get rid of pests,” she said.

The adoption of agroecology has also united local communities by providing sharing and learning opportunities for rural women farmers. In the Shashe region of Mashava, Zimbabwe, Vongai Mudzingwa, a 48-year-old seed custodian, explained how agroecology reduced her farming workload, improved her social life, and united her community: “When planting and harvesting, we call our neighbours and work together as a team. This has fostered unity among us. We are now united because we make use of mushandirapamwe.” Mushandirapamwe is a Shona word that loosely translates to working together as one, and it is a very common practice among women seed custodians in Shashe. “Thanks to agroecology, we even have free time on our hands. As women seed custodians, we formed a stokvel (club) where we meet every Thursday to share agroecology farming ideas and exchange seeds, as well as other kitchen equipment and groceries we buy with money we get from selling our farm produce,” she added.

African rural and indigenous women remain undeterred in their commitment to the practice of agroecology and continue to play crucial roles in maintaining healthy food systems.

International Women’s Day reminds us that every day should be dedicated to recongizing and supporting women such as Universe, Restina, Nagitta, Nyengeterai, Gogo and Vongai. It reminds us that we have a critical role to play in tackling discrimination in women’s access to land and natural resources, and addressing gender gaps in rural education, training and finance. Breaking legal and cultural barriers to women’s full engagement in agrifood systems is key to achieving better production, better nutrition, a better environment, and a better life – leaving no one behind.

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Health

Extreme poverty rises in West Africa due to COVID-19 pandemic- Report

Extreme poverty in Western Africa increased by nearly 3 percent last year, according to a new report on the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 published today by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

The report, completed in partnership with the West Africa Sub-Regional Office for the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), indicates that the proportion of people in the region living with less than $1.90 a day increased from 2.3 per cent in 2020 to 2.9 per cent in 2021. The debt burdens of countries in the region have also increased in the context of slow economic recovery, shrinking fiscal space and weak resource mobilization.

The COVID-19 impact study highlights the effects of the preventive measures including border closures, movement restrictions, and the disruption of supply chains.  All these measures disrupted income-generating activities and exacerbated food price increases in the markets. The most affected are people who rely on unstable income sources such as small traders, street vendors and casual workers.

This deteriorating economic situation has adversely affected the food security and nutrition situation of women, men, and children. More than 25 million people in West Africa are unable to meet their basic food needs in the region, an increase of 34% compared to 2020. The situation is most severe in conflict-affected areas such as the Lake Chad Basin, Liptako-Gourma and the Sahel region, forcing people to sell their assets and livelihoods to meet their food needs.

“The Coronavirus health crisis has particularly annihilated the benefits gained by ECOWAS and its Member States in the fight against food insecurity and malnutrition” said Sekou SANGARE, ECOWAS Commissioner for Agriculture, Environment and Water resources.

The socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 calls for immediate and concerted actions to further strengthen people’s resilience and capacity to withstand shocks

“Even if we are happy with the governments’ response through the mitigation actions they have taken, we have to worry about the residual effects of the health and economic crisis as they are likely to continue disturbing our food systems for a long time while compromising populations access to food due to multiples factors.”

The publication of this report comes in a context marked by a fragile regional economy that is not dynamic enough to allow families to regain their pre-crisis social and economic well-being. The results of this study will enable public and private actors to provide appropriate and resolute responses to the negative impact of COVID-19 on the lives of people in West Africa.

“The socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 calls for immediate and concerted actions to further strengthen people’s resilience and capacity to withstand shocks” said Chris Nikoi, WFP’s Regional Director for West Africa.  “This report clearly shows the urgent need for Governments and partners to deliberately increase investments to strengthen and increase social protection programs, social safety-nets such as school meals, and other livelihoods-enhancing programs with particular emphasis on women and youth.”

The Director of the ECA’s West Africa Sub-Regional Office, Ngone Diop, stressed that one of the strengths of the ECOWAS-WFP-ECA partnership was to “carry out an online survey, which has mobilized nearly 8,000 survey respondents in just two editions.”

Moreover, Mrs Diop said “basing our analyses on primary, first-hand data from households directly impacted by the health crisis makes it possible to offer decision-makers at the regional and national levels with relevant and better-targeted policy options.”

Since the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020, ECOWAS and its partners have put in place various economic and financial measures to respond to the increasing needs caused by COVID-19 in the region. In close collaboration with the West African Health Organization (WAHO), ECOWAS mobilized nearly US$ 38 million in the first half of 2021 to meet the needs of the population.

The ECOWAS Member States, with the support of their technical partners including WFP, have implemented an unprecedented expansion of social protection programmes, as well as food distributions, for the most vulnerable communities. In Mali and Niger, for example, WFP, in partnership with UNICEF and with funding from the German Ministry for Economic Development and Cooperation (BMZ), is supporting 1.4 million people and helping to strengthen national social protection systems to make them more responsive to shocks and more sensitive to nutrition.

“WFP is committed to engage more with ECOWAS in enhancing coordination and facilitating experience sharing among countries, with the aim to ensure social protection systems in the region support food security and nutrition and provide resilience to shocks.” Nikoi insisted.

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