Finalist-PhilBlogAwards 2010

Finalist-PhilBlogAwards 2010
Finalist for society, politics, history blogs



Wednesday, March 28, 2012



Erle Frayne D. Argonza

Seaweeds, sponges, and sea urchins are species that abound in the Philippines and elsewhere in Asia. Add corals and more, and you’d have a long list of marine species that can serve medical and related purposes.

Biotech has reached maturity in Asia, and its applications had revolutionized crop production and forestry production. Biotech likewise has applications for marine products which, through bioprospecting and acceptable bio-mining methods, can truly be eco-sustaining at the same time as they benefit the larger human population.

This early, however, problems are already being encountered in unregulated prospecting and mining of biological species. Coupling bioprospecting in the Asia-Pacific should be policy frameworks and enforcement across the region, which the likes of the ASEAN can lead in institutionalization. Otherwise, the continent might lose too many of its rare species to greedy pirates from the Big Business, pirates that have silently been collecting, culturing, and patenting the same rare species.

Below is a fitting report about the subject.

[Philippines, 25 March 2012]


Asia-Pacific may benefit from marine bio-prospecting

Ruci Mafi Botei

2 March 2012

Miguel Costa Leal

[FIJI] Indo-Pacific nations stand to make millions of dollars from medical applications of resources from marine invertebrates such as sponges and soft corals, researchers say.

But they warn that better regulation of such resources is needed to ensure they are used sustainably.

Substances generated by some marine invertebrates have the potential to be used in drugs to treat diseases like cancer, and exploration for these resources is expected to rise in response to escalating demands for such drugs, said Miguel Costa Leal, biologist at the University of Aveiro in Portugal and lead author of a study in PLoS One (20 January).

"The global market for marine-derived drugs was around US$4.8 billion in 2011 and is forecast to reach US$8.6 billion by 2016," he told SciDev.Net.

"Worldwide, nations are generally aware of such interest. But adequate management guidelines addressing bioprospecting are still missing in most countries."

The study said that the Pacific Ocean accounts for most new marine natural products discovered over the past two decades – and for nearly two-thirds of all such products identified so far.

Leal said there is clear potential for marine invertebrates to contribute to the development of drugs that address a range of diseases such as cancers, microbial infections, inflammation, malaria and tuberculosis.

But he called for better regulations to govern bio-prospectors and marine systems, to ensure such resources are adequately protected.

A keen debate on the governance of marine resources is expected at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in Brazil in June, where oceans are a key theme.

The draft negotiating document for Rio+20 stresses the importance of "equitable sharing of marine and ocean resources" and calls for an urgent start on negotiating an agreement under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea "that would address the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction".

In the Pacific, there are also calls for wealth from marine resources to be shared with indigenous communities.

"The chemical resources of the marine environment remain underdeveloped, in particular in the vast Pacific region," said Eric Clua, co-ordinator of the Coral Reef Initiatives for the Pacific at the Secretariat of the Pacific Community.

"Indigenous peoples' traditional knowledge of plants and their medicinal uses has long been a source for modern medicine," Clua said, adding that they have "often seen little or no benefit from the commercialisation of medicines originating from their traditional knowledge".

Link to full study in PLoS ONE [925kB]

Link to SciDev.Net's Spotlight on Ocean science for sustainable development

Tuesday, March 27, 2012



Erle Frayne D. Argonza

Breastfeeding by a healthy mother can yield enormous health and adaptability benefits for the fragile infant. However, an AIDS infected mother is a different story altogether, in that breastfeeding brings HIV harm directly to the infant.

Researchers are therefore challenged to innovate on a nipple device that can cut the infant infection by the mother’s HIV/AIDS condition. Time seems running out on the project, as 400,000 babies are infected with HIV across the planet every year.

A very interesting news about the subject is shown below.

[Philippines, 17 March 2012]


Nipple device could deliver drugs to babies

Karen McColl

27 February 2012

A simple nipple shield could help breastfeeding mothers cut the risk of HIV infection from breast milk, say researchers.

Nipple shields are often used by mothers who have difficulty breastfeeding, and a modified version of the shield has been developed by a team of young engineers with a view to reducing mother-to-child HIV transmission.

The tip contains a removable insert, which can be impregnated with a microbicide designed to inactivate the HIV virus. The drug would be flushed out by breast milk as the baby feeds.

More recently, the team has been exploring whether a similar device could deliver antiretroviral drugs to breastfeeding babies, in light of changing advice from the WHO. The WHO now recommends that babies born to HIV-positive mothers be breastfed and simultaneously receive antiretroviral drugs, unless conditions are safe for formula feeding.

Globally, about 400,000 children a year are infected with HIV, nearly all acquiring the virus from their mothers. The risk of transmission is significantly increased by breastfeeding.

The only way to eliminate this risk is not to breastfeed, but formula feeding is often unsafe, expensive and impractical, especially in developing countries, where formula-fed babies face a higher risk of malnutrition, diarrhoea and other infections. This is particularly the case in Sub-Saharan Africa, where more than 90 per cent of mothers infected with HIV live.

A project to develop the modified shield, called JustMilk, was launched at the International Development Design Summit in 2008. The researchers say it may also be possible to produce inserts containing other medications or nutritional supplements.

The project has attracted much attention, including a US$100,000 Grand Challenges Exploration research grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2009.

But Stephen Gerrard, a JustMilk researcher at the University of Cambridge in United Kingdom said more research is needed.

"We have to prove without a doubt that if this device is used by a mother, the volume of milk consumed does not change," he said.

Gerrard told SciDev.Net that trials to test this principle are expected to take place within the next year.

"I'm optimistic that we can do good with this device once we are sure that it does not impede breastfeeding and would not create any stigma," he added.

Andrew Tomkins, at the Institute of Child Health in London, said: "The potential problem with a nipple shield device will be making sure that the dose is adequate for the baby."

Monday, March 26, 2012



Erle Frayne D. Argonza

Crispin Maslog from the Philippines has been advocating for a 2nd Green Revolution for Asia. I wonder what fellow development stakeholders think about this afterthought.

The Green Revolution was waged beginning in the 1960s, with no less than Philippine technocrats and industry players praising the UN-led initiative to high praises. The International Rice Research Institute was founded in Laguna, Philippines in 1964, and the rice science maturation is history.

Couples of decades later, could we ever say that the explosion in agricultural production which the term ‘green revolution’ ever redeem the shirtless folks from hunger? That wave of agricultural explosion immensely damaged the top soil of many developing countries, damage that is almost irreversible at this juncture. There was hardly any discernable association of the ‘green’ in that crop revolution to ecological balance that the term connotes today.

So what’s your take about this 2nd Green Revolution for the world’s most populous continent?

[Philippines, 15 March 2012]


Asia–Pacific Analysis: Launching a second Green Revolution

Crispin Maslog

23 February 2012

Feeding South-East Asia's rapidly growing population requires a second Green Revolution, says Crispin Maslog.

The Day of Seven Billion was proclaimed by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) on 31 October 2011 as a historic milestone — the day the world's population reached seven billion people. And the world is on a steep growth curve for the rest of this century.

More than half (3.8 billion) of the population are Asians. Although South-East Asia comprises only 0.6 billion, it is growing fast — by almost 200 per cent between 1950 and 2000 — and is set to grow by another 50 per cent by 2050. [1]

One of the most critical challenges facing a world with a population of seven billion is how to feed the roughly three billion people living below the poverty line in the slums of developing countries.

A 'perfect storm'

Scientists have warned that in the next 50 years, the world will consume twice as much food as it has since the beginning of agriculture 10,000 years ago. [2] This is a startling statistic.

But thinking beyond food security to other crises facing the planet, the prospects look even more daunting. Asian agricultural scientist William D. Dar, director-general of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), spoke last month of a coming "perfect storm". [3]

This will be triggered by food shortages resulting from the population explosion, and aggravated by a combination of climate change (leading to warming temperatures and weather extremes including droughts and floods), land degradation, loss of biodiversity and increasing demand for energy.

To meet the challenge of feeding the half-billion or so poor people in South-East Asia and the Pacific, Dar and other agricultural scientists, including International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) director-general Robert Zeigler, have called for a second Green Revolution.

The first Green Revolution, led in Asia by IRRI in the 1960s and 1970s, prevented a predicted famine. Much of its success was due to the technological development of crops, such as semi-dwarf rice variety IR8, also known as the 'miracle rice' that produced 10 times the yield of traditional rice.

But despite its success, the Green Revolution had its share of critics. There were mistakes and side effects. Lessons must be learned if the countries of South-East Asia and the Pacific are to benefit from a second Green Revolution.

A greener revolution

The Green Revolution was criticised for focusing on a few high-yielding varieties that depend on irrigation, chemical fertilisers and pesticides. These practices harmed the environment and affected both agricultural and wild biodiversity.

It also meant that farmers began to rely on just a few crop species. In India, for example, there were about 30,000 rice varieties before the Green Revolution. Today there are around 10 — the most productive types.

Mono-cropping has left the three staple crops of the Green Revolution — rice, maize and wheat — vulnerable to plant diseases that cannot be controlled by agrochemicals. It also led to concerns about the permanent loss of valuable genetic traits bred into traditional varieties over thousands of years.

To avoid repeating these mistakes, a second Green Revolution should include more than the staple crops that fed the world from the 1950s to the 1980s, and embrace dryland farming to grow crops such as sorghum, cassava and beans.

And it should harness South-East Asia's vast upland, rain-fed agricultural areas, not just the irrigated lowlands at the centre of food production decades ago. About 70 per cent of the land area of South-East Asia is rain-fed, and most of its poor people live in these areas.

Harnessing science

Agricultural science and technologies developed over the decades can contribute to the success of a second Green Revolution. The challenge is to increase production using less water, nutrients and land, and with lower environmental impact.

But food security also requires crops that can withstand extreme weather. For example, IRRI has developed a rice variety that can survive two weeks of complete submergence in water, and recently released to farmers in Bangladesh two drought-tolerant rice varieties, BRRI dhan56 and BRRI dhan57. [4]

And ICRISAT has developed and tested innovations in crop, soil and water management that can help farmers better adapt to the impacts of climate change. For example, it has shown that adapting the germplasm of sorghum — the dietary staple of more than 500 million people in rain-fed areas — can help maintain crop yields in warmer temperatures.

Scientific innovations are here to be harnessed to head off the looming 'perfect storm'. What is needed is the political will — from governments, foundations and international agencies — to jump-start a second, greener Green Revolution in the uplands.

Crispin Maslog

Crispin Maslog is a Manila-based consultant for the Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication. A former journalist, professor and environmental activist, he worked for the Press Foundation of Asia and the International Rice Research Institute.


[1] Hayes, A. C. and Zhao, Z. Population prospects in East and Southeast Asia. (East Asia Forum, 2012)
[2] International Service for the Acquistion of Agri-Biotech Applications. Brief 43-2011: Executive Summary. Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2011.
[3] Dar, W. D. Weathering the perfect storm. (Disaster Management Times, 2012).
[4] Dobermann, A. Blueprint for a greener revolution. Rice Today 10, 18–21 (2011)

Friday, March 23, 2012



Erle Frayne D. Argonza

India is gearing up to become a science superpower. Millions of youth are being urged to take up science careers, and there’s sufficient reason to forecast the success of this expectation.

Federal institutions have already allotted no less than US $8B for science R&D to bring science to the next level. Do note that at this juncture, certain industrial sectors have already matured in their science & technology components, to wit: automotives, metallurgy, chemicals, biotech, nuclear tech, rocketry, castings & forgings, heavy equipment, transport, and more.

Asia already outpaced the West’s technology cutting edge in 2007 yet, thanks to relentless efforts in S&T research & development. India is among the core contributors to the Asian surge in science & technology, just to stress the point a bit.

All power to Indian science!

[Philippines, 13 March 2012]


Challenges facing India's bid for science 'superpower' status

Source: Science

27 February 2012

India is well-placed to push ahead with its bid to become a scientific powerhouse — but there are hurdles ahead if the dream is to be fully realised, according to an article published in Science.

During India's Cold War alliance with the former Soviet Union, Western sanctions forced researchers to grow their own civilian nuclear power industry and space programme.

Following a landmark civilian nuclear deal with the United States in 2008, India shook off its sanction era limitations, and has invested heavily to enable other disciplines to mimic its stellar achievements in rocketry and nuclear science.

Last month Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced that R&D expenditure would nearly triple — from US$3 billion last year to US$8 billion by 2017 — and that the private sector would receive incentives to add to that investment.

The government has also established a National Science and Engineering Research Board, modelled on the US National Science Foundation, which is expected to fund its first competitive grants this year.

But obstacles remain, including the challenge of navigating India's complex bureaucracy.

"Even the best of intentions can disappear without a trace in the quicksands of officialdom," says Padmanabhan Balaram, director of the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore.

Many universities have also been slow to benefit from the extra available cash, because of poor facilities, limited opportunities for younger academics, and issues with corruption.

Rather than upgrade India's universities, the government has — somewhat controversially — chosen to expand the education and research system on an unprecedented scale.

New institutes of scientific education and research have been created, and millions of high school students are to receive one-off grants to encourage them to consider careers in science.

To further boost capacity, the government is also setting up fellowship programmes to persuade Indian graduates not to follow the well-worn path of a stint in an overseas laboratory — and to entice those living abroad to come home.

"There's a concerted movement to bring people back," says Savita Ayyar, head of the research development office at the National Centre for Biological Sciences.

"Now we're able to create an environment and mechanisms for postdocs to stay here."

And as India's economy roars, while Western economies struggle, the current trickle of returning scientists could turn into a flood.

Link to full article in Science

Monday, March 19, 2012



Erle Frayne D. Argonza

Can plants coming from the cotton species suffice to build buildings?

Here’s one for the great news: kenaf, which belongs to the cotton plant, had successfully been demonstrated to serve as construction material. Mixed with sand and clay, the fibrous plant works wonders for places where it is in abundance.

The appropriate technology has become a wave in Burkina Faso, as it is also used to make paper. As the report below shows, “They developed a kenaf composite material that is cheaper and stronger than ordinary building materials, and provides excellent insulation in the hot climate, as well as blocking out sound.”

Cheap and competitive as a material, the appro-tech can become a wave of the future that will help to solve housing problems across the globe.

[Philippines, 12 March 2012]


Kenaf-based building material shows promise

Fatouma Sophie Ouattara

28 February 2012

[OUAGADOUGOU, BURKINA FASO] Researchers from Burkina Faso and France have developed a low-cost construction material made of clay and sand mixed with fibres from the kenaf plant.

Kenaf is member of the cotton family, and its fibres are already widely used in Burkina Faso to make bags and ropes, as well as other products typically made from wood, like paper.

Jacob Sanou, of the Farako-Ba research station of Bobo-Dioulasso, in Burkina Faso, says he was inspired to try using kenaf to make building materials by the flax plant, which Europeans have used in a wide range of products including clothing, paper and industrial products.

Sanou joined forces with two specialists in composite materials based in France — Philippe Blanchart, from the National School of Industrial Ceramics at the University of Limoges, and Moussa Gomina, a Burkinabé researcher at the University of Caen.

They developed a kenaf composite material that is cheaper and stronger than ordinary building materials, and provides excellent insulation in the hot climate, as well as blocking out sound.

The team studied kenaf farming practices and found that the plant has no detrimental effect on soil quality, and even without fertiliser, average yields are around four tonnes per hectare, making it a potentially valuable and environmentally sustainable crop.

The work paves the way for rural farming communities to build comfortable, affordable homes for themselves and their families without damaging the environment, Sanou told SciDev.Net.

"Our study suggests that kenaf has good potential as a building material," he said, adding that more research is needed to determine its commercial viability.

Burkina Faso's minister in charge of scientific research and innovation, Gnissa Konaté, said the work is of considerable interest to the government, which has recently prioritised the building sector and eco-materials under its latest research policy.

Konaté added that the country's climate poses challenges for conventional building materials.

"Construction with cement is not adapted to the warm climatic conditions of Burkina Faso," he said.

"Cement stores heat, so buildings which are made from this material consume more energy due to their reliance on air conditioners. Combining kenaf with local clay was an unexpected success, which the authorities are willing to seize in order to stir up the building sector in Burkina Faso."

Further laboratory studies will be carried out at the University of Ougadougou and civil engineering colleges, says Sadou.

Saturday, March 17, 2012



Erle Frayne D. Argonza

Bad news for the development stakeholders!

African science researchers are having a hard time sustaining their professional careers. These are not just ordinary run of the mill researchers or those pretenders out there, but PhD degree holders.

The situation calls for greater linkage between universities and end-users in the noblesse continent. In the Asian experience, end users (notably industry users) provide huge endowment funds, research funds and scholarships to universities, such as my country the Philippines has shown so far; in return, end users absorb the top-of-the-line graduates of top universities.

I guess it’s a question of the level of institutionalization of science in any one context that defines the degree of professional security of its career scientists. Africa’s sciences are still in their take-off through growth stages, while those of emerging markets’ are already in their maturity phase.

Let’s hope for the best in the coming maturation of science in Africa. It may take a bit of time, but good examples are already popping up in key urban centers across the continent.

[Philippines, 11 March 2012]


African researchers 'struggle' to establish careers

Mićo Tatalović

28 February 2012

[LONDON] African universities need to better support early career researchers if they are to build a thriving research environment and boost the continent's overall number of PhD-qualified staff, according to a joint report by the British Academy and the Association of Commonwealth Universities launched yesterday (27 February).

Many African science graduates struggle to establish careers after leaving university as they do not receive enough assistance to define their research agendas and develop professionally, says the report, Foundations for the Future: Supporting the Early Careers of African Researchers.

Instead, post-doctorate graduates working as 'junior lecturers' in African universities are often overloaded with teaching and administrative duties, and have to pursue research and writing academic papers in their spare time.

To counter this, the report urges senior academics to encourage research by younger colleagues and to mentor them on collaborations, publishing and preparing funding applications.

It is essential that science be recognised as an "intergenerational endeavour", the report's author, Jonathan Harle, told SciDev.Net:

"One thing which is absolutely critical is … trying to find ways in which senior academics can be encouraged, enabled and incentivised to nurture [the early career researchers]," he said.

The report builds on the Nairobi Process, a series of actions and initiatives developed to improve UK-Africa research collaborations in the humanities and social sciences, which is being coordinated by the British Academy and the ACU.

Its recommendations are the product of consultations with African and British academics across a wide range of fields, said Graham Furniss, chair of the British Academy's Africa Panel.

"The analysis and the mechanisms proposed are, we think, very relevant to STEM [science, technology, engineering and medicine] subjects and we would welcome further discussion on how the UK could strengthen support across the board to early career scholars," he said.

Marta Tufet, International Activities Adviser at the Wellcome Trust, called for the active involvement of vice chancellors and rectors in the creation of better mentoring programmes in Africa.

She warned that without the support of university leaders to enable researchers to carry out their own work, little progress could be expected.

Kenyan Chege Githiora, from the African Studies Centre at the School of Oriental and African Studies, United Kingdom, welcomed the report but told SciDev.Net that capacity-building of university administrators and librarians is equally important.

"These are the people who actually keep the universities running so if you don't have their support you cannot do your research," Githiora said. "My experience with [African universities] is that a lot of hindrances young African scholars encounter have to do with university administration and governance."

Wednesday, March 14, 2012



Erle Frayne D. Argonza

Democratization has been among the core issues that have been brewing in the World Bank and its sister agency the International Monetary Fund or IMF. These banks were for a long time dominated by the G7 wealthiest countries, whose chief exec posts also came from the G7 bank circles: American for the World Bank, French for IMF.

Behaving for so many decades as footstools of financial cartels, both banks’ fundamental legitimacy is being questioned across various quarters. Compounding the legitimacy question is the expanding economic power of emerging markets that will overtake the G7 one after the other from this year till 2025.

Emerging markets’ power is changing the rugs down under our feet, changing the rules of the game, and revealing what countries are the breadwinners of the global economy today. Both the World Bank and IMF are perceived as bad banks that are anti-moral in their dealings, clobbering sovereign states just because they are poor or have lost the leverage to call it even in the negotiating tables (e.g. Greece, Ireland).

So what’s your take of the so-called democratization of the World Bank?

[Philippines, 09 March 2012]


Caroline Anstey on the World Bank’s drive to ‘democratize development’

After serving as World Bank chief of staff and vice president for external affairs, Caroline Anstey assumed one of three managing director positions at the agency on Sept. 19, 2011. Photo by: European Union

The World Bank is at a crossroad — and that goes beyond the matter of leadership.

In the coming weeks, a successor will be found for outgoing President Robert Zoellick, under whose leadership the bank has increased its transparency and focus on results, boosted its funding and anti-corruption drive, and elevated a record number of women and developing country nationals to senior posts.

Caroline Anstey was among those who moved up the bank’s hierarchy under Zoellick. After serving as World Bank chief of staff and vice president for external affairs, she assumed one of three managing director positions at the agency on Sept. 19, 2011. The former BBC producer is in charge of the bank’s modernization drive and has special oversight on gender issues.

The World Bank is not the “only game in town” anymore, Anstey said in a recent conversation with Devex, acknowledging the emergence of new donors in the public, private and nonprofit realms. But it remains an “important catalyst for investment” from the private sector and other sources.

“And unlike many of the so-called vertical funds, which may support a single sector like education or health,” she said, “the bank’s support isn’t earmarked so countries can match it more closely to their own development priorities.”

Infrastructure remains the bank’s “core business,” accounting for 40 percent of total bank assistance, according to Anstey; investment in agriculture and safety nets has risen in recent years.

So what does the future hold for the World Bank?

Developing countries will play a larger role, Anstey said, and the bank will be more decentralized and “location-neutral,” to connect better with clients. Eventually, there’ll be less lending to middle-income countries and a greater focus on open knowledge — what bank officials call “democratizing development.” The World Bank, as Anstey sees it, will be a “global connector and development collective.”

We caught up with Anstey days before Zoellick publicly announced he would step down at the end of his first term on June 30.

Can the bank still ensure that the International Development Association can deliver aid to the poorest countries in the face of planned scale backs to its budget?

Well, in December 2010, we raised a record IDA appropriation of $49 billion — the largest in our history — and this despite the financial difficulties many of our donor countries are experiencing. So, there’s been no contraction in funding yet.

But, increasingly, development funding is going to rely on a new compact between traditional and new donors. And many of those new donors are emerging markets which have benefited from bank support in the past and now want to give back. So, for the last IDA replenishment, China, for example, prepaid $2 billion of IDA monies back into the fund, allowing others to benefit. And we also had a number of countries join which had never donated before. We are also looking at ways that we can move IDA to greater self-sufficiency, so we are not so dependent on triennial replenishments.

All that said, IDA continues to produce impressive results: 13 million lives saved over the last 10 years, 310 million children immunized, access to water and sanitation for 177 million people, nutritional supplements provided to 98 million children, and better education for more than 100 million children each year.

How, in your view, is investment by BRIC countries [Brazil, Russia, India and China] in Africa and Latin America changing the nature of development finance?

It’s broadening it, and broadening options for developing countries, and that’s healthy. The worst thing development agencies or donor countries could do is say to these countries, “We only want you to take our finance and our investment,” and, “Oops, sorry, but our economies are in a mess now, so we really need to pull some of our investments out; but just wait around ‘till we’re back on our feet.”

But at the same time, it is important that investment is in the interests of the country and the local people. So, for investment and purchases of land for agriculture, for example, we’ve advocated for guidelines around so-called “land grabs,” so that local peoples’ needs are met. We’ve encouraged countries to sign up to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative and the private sector to subscribe to the Equator Principles to help regulate and make investment more transparent.

At the same time, there is a lot for developing countries to learn and gain from each other [through] what have come to be called South-South interactions: Indian railways in Africa, Brazil’s conditional cash transfer system in the Middle East, Columbia’s approach to urban transport — now exported to many parts of the world: The bank can help connect and catalyze that learning and those interactions.

So, yes, we should work to help ensure that local peoples get the safeguards they need. But let’s not just condemn this investment.

Are you concerned that the bank will find it harder to set norms and standards in development finance when countries can go to other sources that may not include social and environmental safeguards?

I think I answered that above. But perhaps I can expand a little: We have now launched a new lending instrument — only the third in the bank’s history — called P4R, or Program for Results. It joins investment lending and budget support as the main vehicles for bank support.

But the key thing about P4R is that disbursement is linked to results — so no money flows until the development results have been verified. But equally important, P4R, is also about strengthening countries’ own systems for environmental safeguards, procurement, fiduciary standards. We will help countries build those systems and assess them.

This means bank lending will no longer just be about the money we lend to individual projects, but about the systems we help build with our country partners. And this can help raise standards and safeguards, and boost transparency.

Is the World Bank now just another agency? And what must it do to retain the ideal of a global cooperative?

Well, you would expect me to say no, and I won’t surprise you. Owned by 187 countries, our workforce includes people from 170 different nationalities. Working out of more than 150 offices worldwide, with 41 percent of our staff now based in country offices, I don’t think we are just another agency.

For starters, we are global — many agencies or regional development banks aren’t, and this hampers their ability to cross-fertilize development experience. And second, we don’t earmark funds, so countries can work with us to design their priorities and we don’t have to say, “Well sorry, we can only lend for the health sector,” or, “We can only lend if all the procurement goes to a European firm, or if Chinese workers do the construction.”

And we are a cooperative in other ways. There are very few votes on our board; projects and programs are supported through a process of consensus across our 187 members. We tend not to split along traditional political lines, such as is more common at the U.N., for example. And when we need to raise capital, as we did recently, we see subscriptions across our membership.

Doesn’t climate change present the bank with an ideal opportunity to become a global cooperative of countries causing warming and those impacted by that?

Yes, I think the bank can play a key role. Not on the negotiations — that’s the province of the UNFCCC [United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] — but on climate finance. While the international community is talking about creating a green fund, we already have one up and running.

Our Climate Investment Funds — some $6.5 billion — are leveraging investments by 8-to-1 and, as a result, generating more than $40 billion in clean investment. That’s the leverage story I was talking about earlier. And that money has gone to support renewables, solar investments, green transportation and other investments.

We can do much more of this and in supporting green growth. Where the cooperative comes into play is interesting. Our developing country shareholders don’t want climate support to come at the expense of development finance; they are also suspicious of a northern agenda that wants them to get right out of coal even though coal may be their only resource. Donors, like Europe and the U.S., want investment in renewables; some want restrictions on coal, but they also want investments in green growth.

There is room here for the bank to help bring all sides together. An environment agenda can get very political; a development agenda which incorporates green growth can be an easier forum to reach practical consensus.

Does the bank need to be recapitalized to ensure it has the resources to deliver on its agenda?

We literally just had the first general capital increase in 20 years, so the answer is no, not now. But obviously, we pay close attention to our capital base, lending ability and pricing.

Many contributors have talked about the need for major governance reforms, covering both the leadership and quota share. Do you see that as an essential element?

We just had a major voice reform of voting power at our board. This took developing countries to a 47 percent voting share, with a commitment to move to parity over time. Voice reforms will come up again in three years. We also just added an extra seat at our board for Africa.

One question that has been discussed is whether voting power should be linked in some way to IDA contributions, and how — if you reach 50-50 for developed and developing countries — you manage if developing countries become developed. Would you have to keep tinkering with the percentages?

I do see some possible changes: At the moment, Europe has eight out of 25 seats at the board. I think that could be consolidated into a single European seat. Last year, the board approved a new process for selection of the president. That’s the prerogative of the shareholders. They, not management, decide.

That said, over time, I do think you will and should see an opening up of both the bank and the fund to leaders from across the world, especially developing countries. But let’s remember, too, that leadership is also about the ideas that the senior management team builds upon. Significantly, we’ve just had the first ever bank chief economist from a developing country: Justin Lin from China. That’s not only a healthy development, but it’s appropriate given changing economic weights in the world.

Does the bank’s future lie as a crisis response agency, a development bank or a financial institution?

I don’t think you can put these in three tidy boxes. That’s much too cut and dried. If the last few years have shown anything, it is that the financial system has been linked to crisis. And development is also about insulating economies from financial and other crises.

Indeed, increasingly, development is about managing volatility. So no development bank is going to say, “We only do crises,” or, “We do development but we won’t lend money.”

Where the bank will go increasingly is into the business of development solutions rather than plain vanilla lending. So, take some of the more interesting work we are doing: crop and weather insurance, regional insurance against hurricanes and earthquakes, exploring local currency bond markets, early warning disaster management systems, solar-driven urban transport systems.

Personally, I think the most interesting work we are doing, and a large part of the bank’s future, is in “democratizing development,” taking our knowledge, data, projects and putting them all online — in real time — and developing systems where citizens and project beneficiaries can not only comment on project success, but can participate in their own development.

This is already happening. The penetration of mobile phones in Africa means SMS messaging systems can begin to collect citizen feedback: “The textbooks didn’t arrive,” “The children aren’t being immunized,” “The road is crumbling from poor construction and corruption.”

But even more than that, transparent and accountable development can tap new development ideas and solutions. And transparent government can help keep a check on corruption and make for better policy. So, the bank is now working with governments to open up their own data, draft freedom of information legislation, make budgets and procurement transparent.

That’s a very different bank, doing very different things from 1944. It’s also a bank where 50 percent of senior management positions are held by women. Again, very different from 1944.

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Monday, March 12, 2012



Erle Frayne D. Argonza

Good news for global citizens: Sweden is expanding its funding of NGO operations across the globe. This is in far contrast to the USA which has constricted funding for aid, funding that includes NGO partners across the globe as conduits for the same.

A short list of international NGO partners that serve as block fund recipients is shown in the news below. The likes of Oxfam and Save the Children are very actively engaged in Asia inclusive of my beloved Philippines which, thanks partly to the aid interventions of the North, is now a middle-income country and creditor economy.

Development stakeholders and civic professionals who may wish to enter social development as a new field of expertise are advised to co-partner with Swedish NGO partners.

[Philippines, 08 March 2012]


Sweden unveils 2012 aid budget for NGOs


Sweden has allocated more than 1.6 billion Swedish kronor ($243.8 million) to support the humanitarian and development projects led by local civil society organizations such as Save the Children and the umbrella group Forum Syd.

This year’s allocation includes 1.5 billion Swedish kronor for programs of Swedish nongovernmental organizations in development countries, 68 million Swedish kronor to raise awareness of Swedish aid and development initiatives, and some 26 million Swedish kronor to support reforms in Eastern Europe.

Aside from Save the Children and Forum Syd, the budget will be shared by SCC, Diakonia, Swedish Church, the Swedish Mission Council, Plan Sweden, PMU Inter Life, LO/TCO, Naturskyddsföreningen, SHIA, Afrikagrupperna, WWF Sweden, Oxfam, RFSU, Swedish Committee for Afghanistan, HIV/AIDS Alliance and Ibis.

See the top global development employers in Sweden, read more development aid news online, and subscribe to The Development Newswire to receive top international development headlines from the world’s leading donors, news sources and opinion leaders — emailed to you FREE every business day.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012



Erle Frayne D. Argonza

The US Congress has cut down budgetary allocations for foreign aid, an act that had caused chagrin on many developmentalist circles across the globe. The bad thing about the allergic congressional aid constriction is that even health research & aid funding for poor countries is also shrinking.


News has come out openly about the voting patterns regarding the subject. It has turned into a bi-partisan pattern, which contrasts to the 20th century pattern whereby Republicans were the exclusive bulwark of anti-foreign aid discourse and action.

For those who aren’t familiar with foreign policy frames in America, the term for that allergy to anything foreign and the drive to focus budgets exclusively on domestic affairs is called Isolationism. Republicans are the most afflicted with that “anything foreign is Bogey Man” fanaticism which explicates the predominance of Isolationism in the US Congress’ House of Representatives.

The trouble with Barak Obama is that he lacks a definitive foreign policy frame. He is perceived as having endorse the whole basket of foreign policy initiatives to Sec. Hillary Clinton who exhibits a definitive foreign policy frame: Wilsonian. That framework posits that America’s negotiations in the diplomacy field must be guided largely by the negotiating country’s observance of civil rights.

Wilsonian frame is largely concentrated in the US Department of State, whereas Isolationism’s bulwark is the US Congress. Neo-Conservatism, dominant during the Bush eras, is largely concentrated in the Defense & Intelligence agencies. Nationalism, a hallmark of trade policies in diplomacy, is concentrated in the Department of Trade.

Isolationism’s zealous return means that all other foreign policy frames are lameduck, and that spells trouble for the development stakeholders across the globe as a whole.

[Philippines, 07 March 2012]



Will Congress 'starve' the 2013 foreign aid budget?


There is notice from Capitol Hill regarding President Barack Obama’s 2013 foreign aid budget request: It is unlikely to be fully funded.

Senators heard U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday (Feb. 28) as she testified before the Senate Appropriations subcommittee and Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Clinton was making the case for the $51.6 billion budget request for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development. But Democrat Sen. Patrick Leahy from Vermont, who also sits as chairman of the subcommittee, told Clinton it is going to be “difficult” to get a bill through this year, the Washington Post reports.

Clinton spoke of five budget priorities, including support for the democratic transitions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the $770 million Middle East and North Africa Incentive Fund. She also made note of America needing to maintain power in the Pacific by building stronger networks and relationships in the region.

In addition, the secretary discussed using diplomacy and development to create American jobs. She said America needs to make strategic investments today to meet its foreign policy goals in the future.

The budget request is likely to face opposition from lawmakers in coming months. While foreign aid is commensurate to the country’s national security and international interests — as history can prove in Colombia and South Korea — it has been a “frequent target” of budget-cutting lawmakers, notes The Foreign Policy Initiative.

Democrat Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts agrees. He said there are no global “Grover Norquists” pushing a pledge not to slash the State Department budget, nor millions of AARP seniors rallying to protect America’s investments overseas.

In an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal, Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said there is nothing “fiscally conservative” in starving the foreign policy budget today to spend a trillion dollars years later in armed conflict. He said all foreign policy initiatives and foreign aid programs account for only one-tenth of America’s annual military expenditure.

“We’ve got a tax code that spans more than 72,000 pages and a federal budget of $3.8 trillion — surely we can find enough tax loopholes to close and wasteful spending to cut in order to preserve the $57 billion required for our global investment,” Kerry said.

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Monday, March 05, 2012



Erle Frayne D. Argonza

Industrialization is the crux of Vietnam’s development agenda. This is the signal being beaconed by the first industrial competitiveness report of the same country.

Among the high-growth economies of East Asia, Vietnam’s growth has been truly remarkable. Vietnam’s policy makers have hinged their growth goals on physical economy frameworks as a way to growth and income redistribution, rendering it as a model for social markets that began their development trajectories from old mode socialism.

There is no reason that Cambodia and Laos shouldn’t follow the footsteps of Vietnam. May I add Nepal which, for some time after the overthrow of the ancien regime of monarchy there, has been governed by popularly elected socialist parties.

Below is an update report on the report from the UNIDO media center.

[Philippines, 29 February 2012]


Viet Nam’s first Industrial Competitiveness Report launched

HANOI, 13 December 2011 - The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the Ministry of Industry and Trade today launched the 2011 Viet Nam Industrial Competitiveness Report.

The report will contribute to the existing policy debate in Viet Nam by providing a conceptual framework for understanding the drivers of industrial competitiveness, positioning Vietnamese industries in the international context, identifying industrial bottlenecks that can be addressed by policy, and presenting specific recommendations for the leaders of the country.

The report makes the case that industrialization is at the core of Viet Nam’s economic growth. This is in line with empirical and historical evidence which shows that a fast-growing economy needs a vibrant industrial sector. Boosting the manufacturing sector is likely to be even more important in the future if Viet Nam is to create more wealth and employment.

The report argues that structural change towards certain strategic technology intensive sectors can speed up the industrialization process, thus providing the right conditions for sustained growth.

The Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade, Le Duong Quang, said that “the 2011 Viet Nam Industrial Competitiveness Report will be deemed a useful document which supports policymakers in the formulation of industrial and trade policies that meet the requirements of the realities of the new stage in Viet Nam’s industrial development”.

He emphasized two major issues of concern highlighted in the report: the evaluation of the role of trade liberalization in recent years for economic and productive restructuring, and the need for a re-formulation of industrial policy and strategies to take account of national priorities, as well as of global threats and opportunities. The release of the report is timely as it raises important policy implications, said Le Duong Quang.

UNIDO Managing Director, Wilfried Luetkenhorst, pointed out that “industrial competitiveness is not – or at least not entirely – determined solely by a country’s factor endowment. Competitive advantages can be created”. He added that the report advocated this idea by arguing that Viet Nam needed to move up into technologically more sophisticated and higher value added activities.

The 2011 Viet Nam Industrial Competitiveness Report is a collaborative product between the Ministry of Industry and Trade and UNIDO in the context of the One UN funded programme “Building National Capacity in Industrial Diagnosis and Trade Competitiveness Analysis”.

The report was prepared by UNIDO staff and the Industrial Competitiveness Group, an inter-ministerial working group consisting of young professionals trained by UNIDO. It also benefited from the inputs and supervision of an Advisory Board composed of high-level senior government officials and advisors.

For further information, please contact:

Patrick Gilabert
UNIDO Representative
Viet Nam Country Office
Tel: +844-38 22 44 90