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The World Bank: Floating on the Nigerian Palm Oil Mess

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By Pradyut Hande:

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank Group met for its Annual meeting that spanned over three days; October 5-8. The highly anticipated meeting involving the crème de la crème of global economists, analysts and policy formulators alike resulted in fruitful discussions revolving around currently germane issues such as currency wars, trade imbalances, policy formulation shortcomings and other miscellaneous factors impeding the swift socio-economic progression in “troubled states”; most notably in the Black Continent.

Africa for long has been a major recipient and consequent beneficiary of the World Bank’s loans that have gone a long way in charting a course towards the establishment of a more self-reliant, self-sustaining and socio-economically stable future. Nigeria is one such nation that has greatly benefited from the World Bank’s unstinting efforts and commitment to usher in a paradigm shift with regards to its once crippled economy. The Bank’s loans for predominantly plantation agriculture have been humanitarian and economic triumphs. Thus, in a development that ought to have caused a palpable degree of disappointment and consternation in equal measure, especially amongst the Nigerian top brass, there was no discussion regarding the matter of the Nigerian palm oil industry.

After years of political instability, implementation of myopic economic policies and gross mismanagement of foreign exchange reserves; the African nation of Nigeria has embarked on a slow albeit steady course of economic development over the past decade. Presently growing at a respectable GDP rate of 3.9%, the Nigerian economy continues to exude latent vibrancy and abundant promise. However, the economy is grossly over dependent on the capital intensive petroleum sector that contributes less than 25% to the GDP despite generating 95% of its foreign exchange revenues. The agricultural sector that contributes about 33% to the GDP has failed to come to grips with the ever burgeoning domestic demand and consequently, Nigeria is forced to import many of its food products.

Set in this background, the World Bank had undertaken a long term agricultural sector lending program with the objective to aid many of the sub-Saharan states increase agricultural output in order to cater to a continually increasing populace and reduce dependence on imports. Nigeria in particular has turned out to become a significant beneficiary of the World Bank’s program. Consequently, its embattled palm oil industry that was dying a gradual death at the end of the last century has scripted a remarkable turnaround over the last decade. Both small scale and large scale land owners have utilized the World Bank’s loans to judiciously invest in Higher Yielding Varieties (HYV) of seeds, more efficient production and harvesting techniques. Nigeria is one of the largest producers of palm oil in the world; after Indonesia and Malaysia.

The World Bank has always stood by and suitably acted along its basic tenet; i.e. providing low interest loans from rich nations to fund development projects in developing nations. However, off late the Bank, under the leadership of Robert Zoellick, has been accused of wavering from its “mission of poverty alleviation” and instead channelising its energies and resources to accomplish “fashionable political and social objectives”. The Bank’s decision to turn its back on the agricultural sector lending program is bound to have adverse ramifications for the Nigerian economy. Many quarters believe that the Bank has pulled the plug on the program after being grossly misguided and proselytized by environmental groups who claim that palm oil production in Nigeria results in deforestation.

One would be naïve if one were to say that the scourge of human-activity induced and accelerated deforestation does not plague Nigeria. But the problem remains predominantly in the North of the country (on account of climatic vagaries and an over reliance on firewood for fuel) while the palm oil plantations lie in the South. Concomitantly, the Bank has failed to grasp the fact that by cutting off the monetary support to the program, the ensuing drop in palm oil production may only exacerbate the problem of deforestation as a “fuel starved” population resorts to cutting down more trees to “fuel” their needs. Also, it will cause a domestic production deficit that will adversely impact the nation’s nutritional requirements. Palm oil is a vital source of vitamins and calories and assumes ever greater nutritional significance in a developing nation like Nigeria. The World Bank’s decision will also render thousands of low-skilled Nigerian workers unemployed — a portent that does not augur well for a nation that is already grappling with high levels of unemployment. The Bank has also conveniently overlooked the glaring fact that the reduction in palm oil production will only increase Nigeria’s dependence on its already burdened petroleum industry.

The aforementioned are the potential ramifications of the World Bank’s contentious decision to cease its agricultural lending to Nigeria in the face of vociferous concerns raised by environmentalist factions regarding escalating deforestation. This is not to say that environmental concerns ought not to be taken cognizance of while tackling mass poverty alleviation; but these concerns over time certainly impede the entire process; ultimately rendering long term efforts futile. Some may argue that the World Bank’s focus appears to have wavered for a bit. However, even a solitary momentary lapse or purported change in focus can prove to be detrimental to the interests of the developing world at large.

The writer is a Correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz and a business student with wide ranging interests. He strives to address myriad issues of national and global consequence.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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