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Govt offers support for miraa farmers

The government has assured miraa (khat) farmers in Meru of support in looking for alternative markets, two years after the crop was banned in some European Union countries.

“We are putting in funds this financial year and I want to tell farmers that right from the top, we are looking at the miraa question with a lot of seriousness,” said Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Willy Bett.

Mr Bett was responding to a question by Meru’s Nominated MCA Julius Kirinya at the ongoing Third Annual Devolution Conference.

The CS said the government is committed to saving the source of livelihood for thousands of farmers. Miraa is the main economic mainstay of farmers especially in Nyambene area.

“We will also look at alternative and additional crops to plant that will ensure so that as markets become more difficult for miraa, the community who have been depending on it don’t suffer,” he said.

Mr Bett asked the National Assembly to fast-track making amendments in a Bill that seeks to make miraa a schedule crop.

“We think the Bill will be assented to soon. We longer want miraa to be viewed as a drug but as crop that helps the community get revenue,” he said.

A ban on the commodity by the United Kingdom took effect on June 24, 2014.

VALUE FOR PRODUCE

In February last year, President Uhuru Kenyatta said he was aware of the tribulations the farmers were undergoing and promised his government would look for new markets for the commodity to help farmers get value for their produce.

Meru Governor Peter Munya, who has been vocal on the miraa issue, has several times urged the national government to have the World Trade Organisation resolve the matter as a trade dispute between Kenya and the European Union.

The crop is an important cultural crop in Meru County particularly for the Igembe and Tigania areas.

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KENYAN RESEARCHER DEVELOPS 'AGRO-WEATHER PLATFORM' TO HELP FARMERS

by Peter Mutai NAIROBI (Xinhua) — A Kenyan has developed an innovative virtual agro-weather advisory platform that is aimed at providing timely, relevant and usable climate and weather information to farmers in East African region.

The virtual platform for Agro-Weather Advisory Services (Pawa-Farm) is an innovative idea that combines various Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) tools to provide farmers with latest information on climate and weather.

“The idea is modeled with a projected climate and weather conditions to enable farmers make informed decisions and improve farm management practices under conditions of climate risk,” Sam Owilly, the organizations founder told Xinhua in an interview on Thursday.

The platform is an integrated approach that includes corresponding agricultural advice with the solutions to what the farmers need to do in the wake of climate change effects in their farming activity.

“We are process weather information that is relevant to farmer’s needs from the Kenya Meteorology Department (KMD) and simplify it for them to understand easily and act,” said Owilly, the winner of the world’s first Climate Information Prize.

The information is then conveyed through mobile phones given that mobile phone penetration in communities in Kenya is 98 percent.

This revolutionary mobile phone technology is best for dissemination of information through Short Message Services (SMS).

This new idea is set to start its pilot operations in Makueni, Eastern Kenya in three months, a region that is badly affected by the ravaging climate change leading to shortage of food and pastures for livestock by relaying information on agronomic advisories.

“We want to work as an intermediary between KMD, agricultural experts and consumers and will start with 5,000 farmers,” Owilly, a climate change and program management specialist on food security noted.

He said that the project will then roll out to 800,000 farmers in the next three years and finally one million farmers in the whole of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan in the next five years.

Owilly revealed that the organization plans to make climate change information relevant to influence farmer’s production since they have been left at the mercy of consuming technical laded terms as weathermen transmit the information in the past.

The new model is set to empower farmers resist weather vulnerability and make them resilient and capable of setting their own destiny.

“Instead of using terms that are well understood with the experts on weather, we intend to give specific locations and the duration of the episode in question,” he added.

Owilly said that the information relayed by KMD regularly on weather trends are good information but do not help the consumers due to their technicality that requires translation that is often lacking.

Owilly who holds a Masters Degree in climate change and is also pursuing a Philosophy Degree in climate change observed that climate smart agriculture cannot succeed in the absence of smart information that is tailored to the consumers in simplified language they understand better.

Climate information prize has brought to fore a new thinking, an innovative way of facilitating not only sustainable development but a resilient one as well.

Of the 115 submissions, only 13 made it to the top of the list.

The contestants were invited to pitch their ideas to the judging panel to make their case on the viability of their idea.

The Wazo Prize is the first prize of its kind to be introduced in Africa and it award cash prizes for innovative solutions using climate information to help the vulnerable.

Winning models will put poor individuals and households in control and enable them to access the information they need in order to better tackle climate uncertainty and risk.

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Brexit would threaten brand protection for Scotch whisky, warns David Cameron

SCOTCH whisky, Arbroath smokies, Stornoway black pudding, Cornish pasties, and a host of other British products would lose their protected status if the UK left the European Union, David Cameron has claimed.

The Prime Minister’s warning came as Barack Obama arrived in Britain for his last presidential visit when he is expected to give a ringing endorsement to the Remain campaign; much to the annoyance of Brexiteers like Ukip leader Nigel Farage, who has urged him to “butt out”.

The claim about the threat to British foodstuff’s protected status is the latest in a long line of warnings about the potential of Brexit from the annual loss of £4300 per household and an increased terror threat to hundreds of foreign football players losing the right to play in the UK and the cost of chocolate bars rising.

Read more: Scotch whisky tax cut ‘has boosted sales in UK’ following years of decline

The Brexit threat to foods’ protected status came in an article Mr Cameron penned for the Gloucestershire Citizen when he claimed: “If we leave the EU and our farmers have to operate under World Trade Organisation rules, things would be very different…Protected status enjoyed across Europe by our unique products such as Gloucestershire cider…will be lost.”

The EU’s protected food name scheme highlights 73 regional and traditional foods across the UK whose authenticity and origin is guaranteed.

Under this system, a named food or drink registered at a European level is given legal protection against imitation throughout the Brussels bloc of 28 member states.

Herald Scotland:

Last night, David Frost, chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association, said: “The EU is a big help in protecting the geographical indication Scotch Whisky.

“The EU sets the rules for the legal protection of Scotch Whisky within Europe and seeks to have it recognised in trade agreements with other countries. This would be put at risk if Britain were to leave the EU,” he added.

However, industry sources suggested the PM had “overstated” the case, noting how the EU could still decide to protect products in countries outwith the EU as is the case currently with Mexican tequila.

Herald Scotland:

Meantime, Gordon Brown, the former Prime Minister, made another intervention into the EU debate, saying: “I intend to make the positive, principled, patriotic case with all the passion I can for Britain being part of the European Union.”

Read more: Cameron ‘should resign if UK votes for Brexit’ says poll

In a speech at the Royal Society in London, the Scot said the “Britain I know and love” had made the biggest impact for good on the world, not by walking away but by engaging with our neighbours.

He added: “This is the Britain that on economic energy and environmental reforms, on dealing with tax avoidance and on improving security, should be leading Europe, not leaving it.”

Read more: Whisky Galore! remake to close 70th Edinburgh International Film Festival

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Steel industry worried it will be ‘collateral damage’ of EU’s China policy

European steel is worried that the EU will grant China Market Economy Status, sacrificing the industry in return for billions of Chinese investment to revive the bloc’s sluggish economy.

China is ‘dumping’ huge amounts of steel at artificially low prices on global market, worsening the steel crisis that threatens thousands of jobs across the EU.

The country makes about 400 million more tonnes of steel than it needs every year. The EU has seen a 120% surge in Chinese imports since 2013. 7,000 steelworkers have lost their jobs across Europe since the autumn, according to EUROFER, the European Steel association. Since 2008, more than 85,000 jobs have been cut.

The European Commission announced plans last month to speed up trade defence cases against cheap imports from China and urged member states to stop blocking measures that could set higher duties against dumped and subsidised products.

But that is not enough, steelworkers say. They fear the EU will grant China market economy status (MES) at the end of the year as it desperately seeks to secure Chinese cash for its €315 billion flagship investment plan, which aims to kick-start growth in the region.

MES will make it far more difficult to deploy trade defence instruments to protect the industry against cheap Chinese imports.

MES in return of cash for investment

Geert Van Poelvoorde, president of EUROFER, which represents all the steel production in the EU, said yesterday (21 April) he was worried that the huge amounts of Chinese investment would influence the decision.

“We keep saying that market economy status would be devastating for the steel industry and for other industries,” he said, stressing that the industry is concerned it will be considered ‘collateral damage’ by the Commission.

EurActiv.com reported that the European Commission and China have concluded technical work allowing Beijing to start pouring up to €10 billion under the so-called Juncker Plan.

After months of talks between the two sides, the EU and Chinese authorities have agreed that Beijing will contribute to the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) via its Silk Road Fund, a public fund.

Meanwhile, the European Commission is expected to put forward a proposal on whether to grant market economy status to China by the summer. It must be agreed by EU governments and MEPs before taking effect.

Beijing argues it is due the status, which will make it much more difficult to take anti-dumping measures against cheap imports, 15 years after joining the World Trade Organisation.

However, China is fulfilling just one of the five criteria set by the EU in order to define a market economy.

“In no way China can be considered a market economy,” added Van Poelvoorde.

Speaking at the European Steel Day on Thursday (21 April), centre-right MEP Alessia Mosca said an eventual grant would have serious consequences for a number of key European sectors.

She added that the EU should be ready to cooperate with the other partners in a similar situation, such as the United States, and to come up with a common solution that should be consistent with its WTO obligation.

A number of options were presented earlier this year, but before the Commission releases the results of its impact assessment, it is difficult to have a clear picture on the way forward.

A public consultation closed on Wednesday (20 April) and the EU executive is currently analysing submissions in order to prepare a high level conference in June to test a few ideas and come up with a final proposal in July, at the earliest.

Granting China MES very unlikely under current circumstances

The issue of granting Market Economy Status to China has started belatedly and has not taken into account the wide-ranging needs of the EU. However, there is scope to rectify this and the European Parliament is playing an active role in the decision-making process, writes Alessia Maria Mosca.

EurActiv.com

Britain, France and Germany are among the countries to have asked the Commission to help the steel industry, which is suffering from an import surge from China and collapsing prices.

Nationalisation not an option

Tata Steel has blamed Chinese dumping for the sell-off of its British plants, which the government may have to nationalise.

The UK government announced on Thursday (21 April) that it is willing to take a 25% stake in any rescue of Tata Steel’s UK operations.

But Van Poelvoorde said, “We are very clear on this, in a European market economy, you cannot nationalise. When you start doing this you throw away your whole market economy principles.”

The European Commission has raised tariffs on some Chinese steel products because the prices are so low it is unfair competition for European steel.

It is investigating other Chinese steel products flooding the market, but Van Poelvoorde said he wanted the probe extended to cover all Chinese imports.

“Of course there are sectors that think that cheap steel is a solution,” he said, “but what happens if China stops exporting?”

Communist-ruled China is recognised as a market economy by Russia, Brazil, New Zealand, Switzerland and Australia, with whom Beijing has struck FTAs.

China has all the potential to become more an opportunity than a threat for the European production, Mosca told EurActiv in a recent opinion piece.

“But of prime importance is the maintenance of a mutual understanding of the commercial dynamics that cannot in any way be detrimental to European’s interests and productions,” she added.

China’s new move

On Thursday, China reportedly said it will do more to help its firms shift capacity overseas while keeping tight control on adding new capacity at home.

Reuters reported that a joint statement issued by the central bank and several other government bodies on Thursday said China would “strengthen financing support for enterprises ‘going out’”, and use loans, export credits and project financing to encourage coal and steel businesses to build capacity abroad.

“I am cautious about China’s move to shift overcapacity overseas as this doesn’t help, and just replaces exports,” said Jiang Feitao, a steel researcher with the China Academy of Social Sciences told Reuters.

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