New Agricultural Data Tool Can Help Fight the Growing Food Crisis in Africa

Gro Intelligence launches the first publicly available interactive tool on key agricultural commodities for 49 African countries

NEW YORK, May 19, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — During the United Nations Security Council’s session on Conflict and Global Food Security, Gro Intelligence’s CEO, Sara Menker, spoke about the growing global food crisis, its disproportionate impact on lower-income countries, and the policy actions that can be taken by governments around the world to mitigate these effects. As part of a broader response to this crisis, Gro Intelligence is launching the Food Security Tracker for Africa, the first-of-its-kind, interactive tool that makes real-time agricultural data on 49 out of 54 African countries publicly available in one location. With The Rockefeller Foundation’s support, this information will make it easier for countries around the world to navigate the unprecedented challenges connected to the current global food crisis.

New Agricultural Data Tool Can Help Fight the Growing Food Crisis in Africa

The Food Security Tracker for Africa provides free access to real-time data about the supply and demand of major crops, including corn, soy, wheat, and rice for African countries. By combining data on drought, crop conditions, prices, supply and demand all in one place, users will be able to develop more effective solutions and emergency response plans to the growing shortages of key agricultural commodities across the continent.

Environmental, economic, and political shocks have caused rising food prices and created shortages of major crop staples worldwide. At the same time, companies across the global agricultural supply chain face significant blind spots, donors are unable to accurately direct funds, and governments are left scrambling for alternative sources of supply without the necessary full knowledge of where it is needed most. In response, Gro is collaborating with The Rockefeller Foundation to give the public greater access to critical data, which will help fill the gaps in accurate supply and demand coverage for major crops in Africa.

“The world must act now to respond to the global food emergency and alleviate the human suffering and global instability it is causing,” said Dr. Rajiv J. Shah, President of The Rockefeller Foundation. “Gro Intelligence’s powerful new tool gives global leaders the data they need to not only respond to the crisis in the short term, but also lay the groundwork for a more stable, sustainable food system over the long term.”

Understanding the Impact of the Global Food Crisis

Even before the war in Ukraine, the World Food Programme (WFP) estimated 810 million people did not have enough to eat. According to recent data from the International Monetary Fund, poor country households spend up to 60% of their budgets on food, compared to just 10% for the average household in advanced economies. Unable to weather the shock of rising food prices, lower-income countries are also being asked to pay out more than $300 billion in interest payments and debt repayments while many global organizations focused on food security are facing significant funding shortages – as Ms. Menker and Dr. Shah explained in a recent New York Times op-ed

“By combining cutting-edge technology and humanitarian relief efforts and leveraging the private sector for public use, our collaboration with The Rockefeller Foundation will help strengthen food security initiatives, address inequities, and build a sustainable world for all,” said Ms. Menker. “With this new tool, governments, companies, and humanitarian organizations will be better equipped to anticipate food shortages, direct relief, and improve strategic planning in response to the unprecedented level of supply and demand shocks that have caused global food insecurity.”

Leveraging the Power of the Gro Platform

“To create a more comprehensive picture, the Gro team, which includes both domain experts and technologists, leveraged our platform and the scaling power of our machine-learning models to quickly and accurately provide needed data,” said Will Osnato, Senior Research Analyst at Gro Intelligence. “With support from The Rockefeller Foundation, we will offer agricultural balance sheets that denote supply and demand of corn, soy, wheat, and rice for the next year. In addition, the tool has been tested and reviewed by our analyst team and methodologies are made available to fully encompass the transparency and objectivity of our platform.”

In addition to real-time supply and demand data, this tool makes useful metrics for 49 out of 54 African countries publicly available for the first time, including:

  • Gro’s Production Forecast – Production estimates are calculated using Gro’s machine learning-based yield forecasts, which incorporate real-time environmental data and historical production data to predict available supply.
  • Gro’s Stocks-to-Use Ratio – A country’s reserves of a specific crop is an indicator of food security. A stocks-to-use ratio shows the relationship between stocks and usage. Gro’s Stocks-to-Use Ratio is calculated as total food calorie stocks at the end of the marketing year – a period of one year designated to production analysis of a specific commodity. This number is then divided by total food calorie demand (domestic consumption + exports) across the four crops in the selected region. It is highly correlated to prices over the season.
  • Cropland-Weighted Gro Drought Index (GDI) – The proprietary Gro Drought Index is the world’s first high resolution global agricultural drought index. The GDI measures drought severity on a scale from “0” (no drought) to “5” (exceptional drought). The index is global, offering data on the continent, country, state, and district level and updates weekly on the interactive tool and daily on the Gro platform. The values shown on the tool are weighted by cropland area at the district level for each country.
  • Crop-Area Weighted Vegetative Health Index (NDVI) – NDVI is a key satellite-based indicator of plant health, used to forecast crop production, supply, and price. Lower NDVI signals lower levels of production.
  • Prices – Price series were selected based on Free-on-board (FOB) export prices from the largest import supplier for the selected country. If the country is not a significant importer, then representative global prices were selected.

For more information visit the Food Security Tracker for Africa here or contact Gro Intelligence at support@gro-intelligence.com.

About Gro Intelligence
Gro Intelligence works with companies, financial institutions, humanitarian organizations, and governments to forecast risks to food security that may result in food or hunger crises. Our food security platform serves as a single source of truth and an early warning hub that provides up-to-date information, insights, and analysis across the value chain. The platform predicts future trends and promotes proactive, evidence-based decision-making to improve our partners’ food security. See more on our work with the public sector here.

About The Rockefeller Foundation
The Rockefeller Foundation is a pioneering philanthropy built on collaborative partnerships at the frontiers of science, technology, and innovation to enable individuals, families, and communities to flourish. We work to promote the well-being of humanity and make opportunity universal. Our focus is on scaling renewable energy for all, stimulating economic mobility, and ensuring equitable access to healthy and nutritious food. For more information, sign up for our newsletter at rockefellerfoundation.org and follow us on Twitter @RockefellerFdn.

Photo – https://mma.prnewswire.com/media/1821577/Agricultural_Data_Tool.jpg

Centrient Pharmaceuticals announces its achievement of a significant milestone in the clean production of antibiotics

Being the first company to publicly announce 100% PNEC compliance for its entire oral antibiotics product range

Rijswijk, The Netherlands, May 19, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) —

Summary

  • Centrient Pharmaceuticals reached a significant milestone in the clean production of its antibiotics, with the lowest environmental impact and minimizing the potential contribution to antimicrobial resistance
  • The company is the first to publicly announce that Its entire supply chain of oral antibiotics – including its own and supplier manufacturing sites – is fully compliant with the stringent Predicted No Effect Concentration (PNEC) discharge targets set by the AMR Industry Alliance
  • This achievement demonstrates Centrient Pharmaceuticals’ commitment and leadership in the responsible production of antibiotics.

Centrient Pharmaceuticals announces 100% compliance with the stringent Predicted No Effect Concentration (PNEC) discharge targets set by the AMR Industry Alliance for clean manufacturing of its full oral antibiotics product range. This standard covers both Centrient’s sites and its suppliers’ sites. This achievement positions the company as a frontrunner in the industry with the delivery of responsibly-produced antibiotics, which minimize the possible contribution to antimicrobial resistance.

The PNEC discharge target is the concentration of an antibiotic in water at which there is unlikely to be a risk of adverse environmental effects or of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) developing. These scientific, risk-based targets were developed by the AMR Industry Alliance and cover around 120 active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) used in antibiotic manufacturing. Each individual antibiotic has a corresponding PNEC value, published in the AMR Industry Alliance table of Recommended PNECs for Risk Assessments (updated periodically).

High concentrations of antibiotic residues in factory wastewater can create hotspots of resistant bacteria which may lead to AMR. While manufacturing is just one of the contributors to the emergence of AMR in the environment, its impact cannot be overlooked. AMR is a major threat to global public health as well as to the healthcare industry. Many standard medical procedures such as organ transplants, chemotherapy, and surgeries such as caesarean sections become much more dangerous without effective antibiotics to prevent and treat infections. Antibiotics are the cornerstone of our modern healthcare system, and complying with PNEC standards enables manufacturers to ensure supply of these critically important medicines does not contribute to the risk of AMR.

The PNEC values are increasingly being recognized as the standard for antibiotic discharge concentrations in water and are expanding beyond Alliance companies and their supply chains. For example, tenders in the UK and Germany (health insurer AOK) include a specific reference to the PNEC discharge targets. Also, companies assessed externally by organizations such as the Access to Medicine Foundation will have public exposure for their performance on PNECs.

As a strong advocate for sustainable manufacturing, Centrient Pharmaceuticals became a founding board member of the AMR Industry Alliance in 2017, working with partners to raise awareness and deliver solutions to the AMR issue. Since then, the company’s own journey to reaching full compliance has included establishing state-of-the-art wastewater treatment facilities at all their sites worldwide and developing tests for measuring antibiotic activity in wastewater streams, leading to a fully clean and PNEC-compliant supply chain.

We are proud to be the first in our industry to publicly announce PNEC compliance for our oral antibiotics product supply chain.

At Centrient Pharmaceuticals, our commitment to Sustainability is in our DNA – we ensure that the way in which we produce pharmaceuticals has the lowest environmental impact and does not contribute to AMR. We are proud of our PureActives® enzymatic low-carbon technology, ISO 14001 certification of all our sites, and Board positions at the Pharmaceutical Supply Chain Initiative and AMR Industry Alliance.

We will continue to work with customers, suppliers, industry and government decision-makers across the value chain to make the supply and buying of antibiotics sustainable to curb AMR.”, says Rex Clements, CEO at Centrient Pharmaceuticals.

Read our whitepaper ‘Manufacturing sustainable antibiotics for the future’ here.

About Centrient Pharmaceuticals

Centrient Pharmaceuticals is the global leader in the production and commercialisation of sustainable antibiotics, next-generation statins, and anti-fungals. We produce and sell intermediates, active pharmaceutical ingredients and finished dosage forms.

We stand proudly at the centre of modern healthcare, as a maker of essential and life-saving medicines. With our commitment to Quality, Reliability and Sustainability at the heart of everything we do, our over 2,200 employees work continuously to meet our customers’ needs. We work towards a sustainable future by actively participating in the fight against antimicrobial resistance.

Founded 150 years ago as the ‘Nederlandsche Gist- en Spiritusfabriek’, our company was known as Gist Brocades and more recently DSM Sinochem Pharmaceuticals. Headquartered in Rijswijk (Netherlands), we have production facilities and sales offices in China, India, the Netherlands, Spain, the United States and Mexico. Centrient Pharmaceuticals is wholly owned by Bain Capital Private Equity, a leading global private investment firm.

For more information please visit www.centrient.com or contact Centrient Pharmaceuticals Corporate Communications, Alice Beijersbergen, Director Branding & Communications. E-Mail: alice.beijersbergen@centrient.com.
About the AMR Industry Alliance

The AMR Industry Alliance was formed in 2017. With approximately 100 life sciences companies and trade associations, it represents nearly one-third of the volume of sales and the majority of all novel products. Members have committed to report on activities they are undertaking in the areas of research & science, access to antibiotics and appropriate use of these, as well as responsible environmental manufacturing to tackle the rapid spread of antimicrobial resistance. If AMR remains unchecked, the annual death toll could climb from 700,000 each year to 10 million by 2050 and the economic impacts could be on par with those of the 2008 financial crisis. The AMR Industry Alliance ensures that signatories collectively deliver on the specific commitments made in the Industry Declaration on AMR and the Roadmap for Progress on Combating AMR and measures progress made in the fight against AMR.
Forward-looking statements

This press release may contain forward-looking statements with respect to Centrient Pharmaceuticals’ future financial performance and position. Such statements are based on current expectations, estimates and projections of Centrient and information currently available to the company. Centrient cautions readers that such statements involve certain risks and uncertainties that are difficult to predict and therefore it should be understood that many factors can cause actual performance and position to differ materially from these statements. Centrient has no obligation to update the statements contained in this press release, unless required by law. The English language version of the press release is governing.

Alice Beijersbergen
Centrient Pharmaceuticals
+31 (6) 823 579 56
alice.beijersbergen@centrient.com

Global Fishing Watch welcomes partnership with Benin to combat illegal fishing

Collaboration on open data and technology to bolster maritime surveillance in West Africa

London, United Kingdom, May 18, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — LONDON, May 19, 2022 – A new partnership agreement between Benin and Global Fishing Watch aims to strengthen monitoring, control and surveillance of fishing activities within the waters of the West African State.

Under the memorandum of understanding, Global Fishing Watch will provide technical support, including fisheries analysis, capacity building and training on its vessel monitoring tools. To track its fishing fleet, Benin is establishing a vessel monitoring system, or VMS, and has formally agreed to share its data via the Global Fishing Watch map—the first African nation to commit to making its fishing fleet publicly visible.

Benin recently hosted in the large port city of Cotonou the first workshop under the new partnership, bringing together participants from Global Fishing Watch and various government agencies to develop actions to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and advance collaboration through open and shared data.

“We are committed to eradicating illegal fishing from our waters and taking all action necessary to secure sustainable fisheries,” said the Honorable Gaston Cossi Dossouhoui, Minister for Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Benin. “Through our partnership with Global Fishing Watch, we can strengthen our ability to monitor fishing activity, enforce the law and demonstrate our commitment to transparency in support of a blue economy. We encourage other African States to join us in this initiative to rid our waters of illicit activity.”

Captain (Navy) Fernand Maxime Ahoyo, Maritime Prefect of Benin added, “Global Fishing Watch’s tools will reinforce Benin’s actions to protect its maritime area.” Captain Ahoyo also acknowledged support from the non-profit organization, EcoBenin in facilitating engagement between the government of Benin and Global Fishing Watch.

“Greater transparency in fishing activity is an effective and cost-efficient means of driving more compliant behavior at sea. It allows law-abiding fishers to be rewarded, while those with missing information can be investigated and enforcement action more targeted,” said Dame Mboup, Global Fishing Watch’s program manager for West and Central Africa. “Violations by unauthorized vessels are prevalent off West Africa’s coast; Benin is demonstrating leadership in using cutting-edge technology and open data to combat illegal fishing.”

Persistent IUU fishing represents a considerable challenge for Benin and other coastal States in the Gulf of Guinea—a vast and diverse region spanning approximately 3,500 miles (5,633 kilometers) of coastline from Senegal to Angola. IUU fishing accounts for nearly 40 percent of all the fish caught in West Africa and threatens the ability of the region’s developing countries to maximize the use of their ocean resources.

In addition to the partnership with Benin, Global Fishing Watch has signed letters of intent with Cameroon, Gabon, Guinea, Mauritania and Senegal to strengthen collaboration on governance tools, capacity transfer and analysis. The Regional Fisheries Commission for the Gulf of Guinea and the Sub-regional Fisheries Commission have also expressed their interest in joining Global Fishing Watch’s vision for greater fisheries transparency, recognizing that regional cooperation and information sharing is needed to combat IUU fishing.

“West African countries rely on fish as a vital source of protein, income and employment for nearly 7 million people. But this region has seen its fish stocks decline drastically,” added Dame Mboup. “Regional collaboration is critical to eliminate IUU fishing and restore fish populations. Global Fishing Watch is excited to support a growing number of West African States working together to share fishing data and harness technology to safeguard their marine resources and promote economic security.”

Countries in the Gulf of Guinea recently stepped up the fight against IUU fishing and related crimes. Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria and Togo, through the Fisheries Committee for the West Central Gulf of Guinea (FCWC)—an intergovernmental organization that promotes regional cooperation in fisheries management—launched the Regional Monitoring, Control and Surveillance Center to monitor fishing and related activities in the Gulf of Guinea.

In support of regional efforts to combat IUU fishing, Global Fishing Watch and the international nonprofit, TM-Tracking launched a pilot project with Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Senegal and the FCWC to provide authorities with satellite tracking data, analysis and training needed to assess a fishing vessel’s recent operations and compliance risk. The collaboration will harness a new tool called vessel viewer, which was developed by the two organizations and provides vital information on a vessel’s identity, fishing activity, port visits and transshipments to help assess the need for inspection and port access.

With support from the Bloomberg Philanthropies, Moore Foundation, OAK Foundation and Oceans 5, Global Fishing Watch is committed to working with States to publicly share their vessel monitoring data and make its analytical tools and innovative technologies available to help enhance maritime surveillance.

“Achieving sustainable and equitable management of fisheries is critical,” said Melissa Wright, Vibrant Oceans Initiative Lead at Bloomberg Philanthropies. “Fisheries support the health and well-being of coastal communities, and Bloomberg Philanthropies is excited for the opportunity to expand the number of organizations that make fishing information available and accessible to governments, civil society and the public. This is an important step in the fight against illegal fishing – a problem that requires all hands on deck.”

Global Fishing Watch is an international nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing ocean governance through increased transparency of human activity at sea. By creating and publicly sharing map visualizations, data and analysis tools, we aim to enable scientific research and transform the way our ocean is managed. We believe human activity at sea should be public knowledge in order to safeguard the global ocean for the common good of all. 

Attachment

Sarah Bladen
Global Fishing Watch
+44 79 20333832
sarah@globalfishingwatch.org

Advance Local is New Sophi.io Customer

TORONTO, May 18, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Advance Local, one of the largest media groups in the United States operating 10 leading news and information organizations and reaching 55 million people monthly, has quadrupled their subscription goal using Sophi Content Paywall Engine. Faced with advertising pressures exacerbated by the Coronavirus, Advance Local increased subscription conversions 45% using Sophi.io, an AI-powered automation, optimization and prediction platform developed by The Globe and Mail. Their success with Sophi has also earned them a spot as a finalist in the Digiday Media Awards, announced this week.

Neil Katz, Chief Customer Officer at Advance Local, said, “We wanted to see how much farther Sophi could take us, so we tested Sophi Content Paywall on one of our largest sites. The results were transformative. We were hoping for a 10% lift in conversion rate and Sophi delivered four times that result. We’re continuing to roll out Sophi solutions across more of our sites as we speak.”

Advance started using Sophi Content Paywall Engine on one of its largest sites, cleveland.com, to get better insights into the value of their content and fuel their new subscription business. The technology uses advanced natural language processing (NLP) to analyze every piece of content and select which articles to put behind a paywall. It picks only those articles where the subscription revenue opportunity outweighs the advertising revenue forgone.

During an experiment where Advance could see how Sophi performed side by side with their existing paywall, Sophi presented roughly the same amount of paywalls and generated a 45% lift in the total conversion rate, while also uncovering pockets of content that editors didn’t anticipate would generate subscriptions.

John Hassell, Senior Vice President and Editorial Director at Advance Local, said, “We wanted to see if Sophi’s content paywall could increase subscriber acquisition by 10% and it blew that goal out of the water. We’re feeling good about the platform and the way it is showing us just how valuable our editorial content is to our audience.”

Advance Local is also a finalist in the Digiday Media Awards, in the category of Best Subscription or Membership Product, for their work using Sophi Content Paywall Engine.

“Advance Local is an incredibly innovative organization that we’ve watched push the boundaries and we’re very excited to be working with them,” said Mike O’Neill, Co-Founder and CEO of Sophi.io. “We’re seeing great value come from the content paywall they’ve implemented and we’re excited to introduce some other cutting edge technology into this very strong brand.”

About Advance Local

Advance Local (www.advancelocal.com) is one of the largest media groups in the United States. It operates 10 leading news and information organizations and reaches 55 million people monthly across multiple platforms with its high-quality journalism. They are dedicated to unrivaled local journalism that improves the lives of millions of people.

About Sophi.io

Sophi.io (https://www.sophi.io) was developed by The Globe and Mail to help content publishers make important strategic and tactical decisions. It is a suite of AI and ML-powered automation, optimization and prediction solutions that include Sophi Site Automation, Sophi for Paywalls and Sophi for First Party Data. Sophi also powers one-click automated laydown of template-free print publishing. Sophi is designed to improve the metrics that matter most to your business, such as subscriber retention and acquisition, engagement, recency, frequency and volume.

Contact Us

Jamie Rubenovitch
Head of Marketing, Sophi.io
The Globe and Mail        
jrubenovitch@globeandmail.com
416-585-3355

China’s Illegal Rosewood Trade with Mali Under Scrutiny

A cursory Google search for “rosewood furniture China” brings up plenty of sites selling the luxury item, but most buyers are likely unaware that their treasured table or chair could be the product of a rampant illegal trade in the protected tree species — one which is decimating forests in West Africa, facilitating elephant poaching, and even aiding jihadi groups.

Between May 2020 and March 2022, China imported from Mali 220,000 trees’ worth —148,000 tons — of a type of rosewood known as kosso despite a ban on its harvest and trade in the troubled West Africa nation, a report released Wednesday by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) found.

The dark wood is used to make expensive antique-style furniture. It is so popular in China, where it is known as “hongmu,” or “red wood,” that some 90% of the world’s exports end up there, according to Haibing Ma, EIA’s Asia policy specialist. Vietnam is also a key buyer of the wood.

“Rosewood is a species traditionally and culturally valued by the Chinese, so there’s almost like an insatiable demand there,” he told VOA.

From 2017-22, China imported half a million kosso trees, worth about $220 million, from Mali, the agency found, with Ma noting that the trade “has already caused tremendous negative ecological, economic and social impacts in the sourcing countries.”

Rosewood used to be sourced mainly from Southeast Asia, but with those forests now over-logged, Chinese traders have turned to West Africa, notably Mali, a chronically unstable nation that has suffered two coups since 2020 and is battling a jihadi insurgency.

Mali regulations and trade

Mali had declared a rosewood harvesting ban in 2020, but that was lifted the next year. Since then, a “log export ban” has been in effect, but exports to China have continued, EIA investigators found, estimating that more than 5,500 shipping containers of kosso were exported to China from May 2020 to March 2022

Most of the logging is occurring in protected areas such as forest reserves, in violation of Mali’s forest code.

According to the EIA report, both the illegal trade in kosso and an export monopoly granted to Générale Industrie du Bois SARL, a company run by a Malian entrepreneur, allegedly rely on “deeply entrenched corruption” that includes using invalid permits to ship the wood. EIA investigators also learned of civil servants receiving bribes to ignore logging and trafficking, the report said.

Trucks move the logs from Bamako, Mali’s capital, to the port of Dakar in Senegal. From there, they are shipped to China.

Emailed requests for comment to the Chinese Embassy in Bamako and to Mamadou Gackou, secretary-general of Mali’s Ministry of Environment, Sanitation and Sustainable Development, went unanswered.

Rosewood, ivory and jihadis

Rosewood trafficking is also a conduit for the smuggling of other goods, EIA found. Illegal ivory, including some from Mali’s nearly annihilated Gourma desert elephant, has been found inside the logs.

“It appears that the Chinese trader known locally as ‘Frank’ and his business partner, who carry out the largest rosewood trading operation in the country, have also been involved in ivory smuggling between Mali and China, starting in 2017 until at least 2020,” the report said. As of a couple of months ago, when EIA investigators spoke to Frank’s businesses partners, “they were still busy figuring out how to get a maximum of the kosso logs they had in the depot out of the country,” said Raphael Edou, Africa Program Manager at EIA.

Jihadis in Mali are using the timber trafficking issue as a means of propaganda, saying only they can stop the logging of the country’s precious forests, the EIA found.

“Supporters of the rebels have exploited the forest crisis and the frustration among the population in the Southern provinces as a way to promote their cause. They frequently allege that only the strict discipline of the jihadist can put an end to the rosewood crisis and the circles of grand corruption it has fueled,” the report said.

Responses to the logging problem

Beijing, Ma notes, has stipulated that all its foreign investment under its Belt and Road Initiative “should stick to the principle and the directions laid out in the Paris Agreement,” and that President Xi Jinping has stressed “China and Africa cooperation will never be at the cost of the interests of African people.”

The country must now walk the talk and stop the export of illegal timber from Mali, Ma said, adding, “As a responsible great power, China should make efforts to clean up these trade lines.”

China has taken action to stop logging in Gabon, where Chinese companies were linked to the illegal trafficking of timber in 2019. At that time, Beijing signed an agreement with the West African state to help fight illegal logging and develop forest management in Gabon. Since the two countries began cooperating, Gabon has seen a dramatic fall in illegal logging, according to Lee White, Gabon’s minister of water, forests, the sea and environment, as reported by the South China Morning Post.

Asked about what would happen to the loggers if the rosewood trade was shut down, EIA’s Edou said that they usually come from neighboring countries and that Malian communities resent their presence.

“According to our investigation, most of the forest communities in Mali have suffered and not benefited from the rosewood crisis. … Timber is commonly stolen from the communities’ forest area. Local leaders have raised on multiple occasions the problem: Others make money, they pay the price,” he said. Local residents end up losing their forests and receiving no money for the wood. Some communities even patrol their forests in hopes of catching the loggers themselves.

The EIA’s investigation comes as the secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), described as “an international agreement between governments” that aims to protect the survival of species traded globally, is deliberating a regional trade ban. In March, in response to West African countries’ request, a CITES meeting gave states until April 27 to demonstrate their exports were legal or declare a zero-export quota. If they failed to do so, they would face a trade suspension.

“The CITES secretariat is analyzing all information received. … It’s expected this will be completed by the end of this month,” CITES spokesperson David Whitbourn told VOA in an email response.

“When the analysis is complete, a recommendation to suspend commercial trade for Pterocarpus erinaceus (Rosewood) will be set in place for those Parties that have not responded or have not provided a satisfactory justification,” he added.

Source: Voice of America

Somalia Releases Nearly $10M Seized from UAE Plane Four Years Ago

The Somali government has released $9.6 million it seized from a United Arab Emirates plane in Mogadishu four years ago, a step aimed at mending relations that have been stuck at a low point ever since.

“The money has been released and it is on its way to the Emirates,” Somali Deputy Information Minister Abdirahman Yusuf Al-Adala told VOA Somali.

Other reliable government sources said Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble, leading a delegation, flew to Dubai Wednesday to deliver the money in person.

The money was returned three days after Somali lawmakers elected a new president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, replacing Roble’s political foe, Mohammed Abdullahi Mohamed. The new president has been sworn in but has not yet taken control of the government and it appears Roble acted independently.

A dramatic incident

The money was seized in April 2018, when Somalia’s National Intelligence and Security Agency seized three suitcases at Mogadishu’s international airport from a Boeing 737/700 operated by the UAE’s Royal Jet Airline. The suitcases contained $9.6 million in cash.

Several Somali security officials told VOA at the time they seized the money because it was illegal and was intended to disrupt the country’s security.

Ambassador Mohammed Ahmed Othman Al Hammadi, UAE envoy to Mogadishu at the time, denied the accusation. “The money is for the ministry of defense. It’s for the salary of the Somali soldiers,” he told VOA.

After the incident, diplomatic relations between Somalia and the UAE plunged to their lowest point in history, prompting the UAE to immediately end a military training mission in Somalia. It also closed a military facility and the Sheikh Zayed Hospital in Mogadishu.

Before the incidents, tension between the countries was already rising. In March 2018, Somalia’s lower house of parliament banned a UAE state-owned ports operator, DP World, from the Horn of Africa country, declaring it “a threat to Somalia’s sovereignty, independence and unity.”

Since then, the two countries have frequently exchanged angry political rhetoric.

The tensions were at their highest during the drawn-out process of Somalia’s elections, which were marred by disputes at all levels of government and a controversy over the president’s legitimacy.

After President Mohamed’s four-year term in office expired on February 8, 2021, Somali lawmakers passed a motion to extend his term by another two years.

However, an Emirati Foreign Ministry statement called President Mohamed’s government as an interim administration.

The president accused the UAE of interfering in Somalia’s internal affairs, instigating political divisions and attempting to upset the nation’s stability.

PM Apologized for Seizure

In April of this year, Prime Minister Roble offered a public apology for the 2018 seizure of the UAE money, pledging that the cash, which has been in the Central Bank of Somalia, will be returned.

“We want to accept that we were wrong and seek forgiveness from our brothers [UAE]. We are two brothers and whatever has happened, let us look forward,” Roble said in a video posted on Facebook.

In a statement, Emirati the Foreign Ministry thanked Roble for his “initiative” to settle the dispute over Somalia’s seizure of Emirati aircraft and the $9.6 million in cash.

Outgoing President Mohamed ordered the central bank governor not to release the money. But it appears Mohamed’s order was ignored.

Days after Roble’s apology, the UAE, seeking a turn-around in relations with Somalia, sent tons of aid to Somalia to help the sub-Saharan country as it tries to cope with a severe drought.

Source: Voice of America

Nigeria’s LGBTQ Community Fights Restrictive Cross-Dressing Bill

Dressed in rainbow-colored vests, members of the LGBTQ community marched in a risky demonstration in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, to protest a bill introduced by lawmakers in Nigeria’s lower house of parliament last month seeking to ban cross-dressing.

The new measure calls for a punishment of six months in jail or a fine of about $1,200 for cross-dressers.

A mob chattered as a transgender woman was beaten and stripped in Lagos weeks after the bill was introduced.

This is an outcome LGBTQ activists feared and the reason they say they’re fighting back. Kayode Ani is a chair at the Queer Union for Economic and Social Transformation, or QUEST9ja.

What laws like this do is that they basically encourage people to take violence into their own hands, just as we had after the SSMPA was passed — individuals forming vigilantes and going into people’s homes because they suspect that they’re queer, beat them, murder them.”

The cross-dressing bill is an expanded version of Nigeria’s 2013 Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act that punishes gay sex with up to 14 years in prison.

The bill would allow comedians to cross-dress for entertainment purposes, but activists say it will worsen the existing violence against nonbinary or transgender people.

Nigerian transgender woman Empress Cookie says she’s been the victim of many horrible incidents. She recalls one experience with a mob in Abuja two years ago.

“They started stripping me naked, and they were, like, ‘See you’re even wearing a female’s pants.’ I was emotionally traumatized. I was drained. At a point, I was like, lifeless.”

Public displays like holding hands by sexual minority groups are outlawed in many African countries where authorities often cite religious and moral reasons.

Nigerian religious groups that support the same-sex marriage ban also now support the bill restricting cross-dressing.

“We don’t know man and man. God didn’t create Adam and Adam or Adam and Steve, God created Adam and Eve,” said Archbishop John Praise, deputy president of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria.

The cross-dressing bill will undergo several readings in parliament and be debated before it is passed and forwarded to President Muhammadu Buhari for approval.

Many LGBTQ advocates like Empress Cookie are hoping the president doesn’t sign it.

Source: Voice of America

Relatives of Nigeria Train Attack Victims Oppose Resumption of Railway Service

Families of people kidnapped from a train in Nigeria’s Kaduna state two months ago are protesting a decision by authorities to resume service on the railway next week.

Officials of the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) said trains would begin running between the capital, Abuja, and Kaduna city again on Monday.

Relatives of kidnapped victims met Thursday morning to protest the planned resumption of train service on the Kaduna-Abuja line.

Authorities suspended service indefinitely on March 28, the day armed men blew up tracks in Kaduna and attacked a train. Nine people were killed during the attack and scores are still missing.

During Thursday’s protest, the spokesperson of the group, Abdulfatai Jimoh, said at least 61 people were believed to be held captive, including Jimoh’s wife.

He said the government has been insensitive to the families’ plight.

“Our relatives kidnapped are still in captivity and we want them to be freed first before they can start thinking of that,” he said. “We want the NRC management and the Ministry of Transportation to put adequate security measures in place to guarantee the safety of passengers before train services can resume. These are the minimum conditions we require from them.”

Idahat Yusuf’s two sisters, both in their 50s, are also among the abducted passengers. She does not understand why the NRC would restart train service.

“It’s a national pain, it’s not only the families’ pain, so why would they choose to move on like that?” she asked.

The NRC said the decision to resume operations was not a sign of insensitivity to the situation and said efforts to have the captives released were continuing.

Security experts said negotiations have been deadlocked since the kidnappers demanded that authorities release members of their gang in exchange for the abductees.

Jimoh said the families have been given few details about the talks.

“We have information from government sources that discussions are ongoing with the abductors,” he said. “We just don’t know the extent or how far they have gone in these negotiations.”

The kidnappers have freed only three abductees, including a pregnant woman who told local news organizations that she was freed out of pity.

Northern Nigeria has seen a wave of kidnappings for ransom over the past 18 months.

This week, police arrested 31 people on charges of abducting students from a school in Kaduna state last year. Authorities also recovered 61 firearms, 376 rounds of ammunition, 22 cartridges and $5,000 cash.

Source: Voice of America