Thursday, December 27, 2007

The "browning" of Africa - is China or India being colonial?

This article appeared in the New Straits Times of Kuala Lumpur, today.........and worth a read by many players interested in development issues.

OPINION: East is the way to go for Africa’s students
27 December, 2007

More and more Africans are turning to China and India to acquire technological skills and know-how in a tectonic shift that some analysts feel may well have shattering implications, writes G. PASCAL ZACHARY

FORGET Massachusetts Institute of technology. Hello, Tsing Hua University. For Clothilde Tingiri, a hot young programmer at Rwanda’s top software company, dreams of Beijing, not Cambridge, animate her ambitions. Desperate for more education, this autumn she plans to attend graduate school for computer science — in China, not America.The Chinese are no strangers to Rwanda. Near Tingiri’s office, Rwanda’s largest telecoms company, Rwandatel, is installing new wireless telephony equipment made by Huawei of Shenzen. Africa boasts the world’s fastest-growing market for wireless telephony, and Huawei — with offices in 14 African countries — is running away with the business, sending scores of engineers into the bush to bring a new generation of low-cost technology to some of the planet’s poorest people.Motivated by profit and market share rather than philanthropy, Huawei is outpacing American and European rivals through lower prices, faster action, and a greater willingness to work in difficult environments.

According to Chris Lundh, the American chief of Rwandatel, “That’s the way things work in Africa now. The Chinese do it all.”Well, not quite. Across sub-Saharan Africa, engineers from India — armed with appropriate technologies honed in their home market — are also making their mark. India supplies Africa with computer-education courses, the most reliable water pumps, low-cost rice-milling equipment, and dozens of other technologies.

The sudden influx of Chinese and Indian technologies represents the “browning” of African technology, which has long been the domain of "white” Americans and Europeans who want to apply their saving hand to African problems.“It is a tectonic shift to the East with shattering implications,” says Calestous Juma, a Kenyan professor at Harvard University who advises the African Union on technology policy.One big change is in education. There are roughly 2,000 African students in China, most of whom are pursuing engineering and science courses. According to Juma, that number is expected to double over the next two years, making China “Africa’s leading destination for science and engineering education".

The “browning” of technology in Africa is only in its infancy, but the shift is likely to accelerate.

Chinese and Indian engineers hail from places that have much more in common with nitty-gritty Africa than comfortable Silicon Valley or Cambridge. Africa also offers a testing ground for Asian-designed technologies that are not yet ready for North American or European markets.

A good example is a solar-powered cooking stove from India, which has experimented with such stoves for decades. Wood-burning stoves are responsible for much of Africa’s deforestation, and, in many African cities, where wood is the commonest and most widely used cooking fuel, its price is soaring. The Indian stove is clearly a work-in-progress; it is too bulky and not durable enough to survive the rigours of an African village. But with India’s vast internal market, many designers have an incentive to improve it. How many designers in America or Europe can say the same?

Of course, technology transfer from China and India could be a mere smokescreen for a new “brown imperialism” aimed at exploiting African oil, food, and minerals.

In recent years, China’s government alone has invested billions of dollars in African infrastructure and resource extraction, such as oil exploration ventures in Sudan, raising speculation that a new scramble for Africa is under way. But Africans genuinely need foreign technology, and the Chinese, in particular, are pushing hard — even flamboyantly — to fill the gap.

This year, Nigeria’s government bought a Chinese-made satellite, and even paid the Chinese to launch it into space in May. China was so eager to provide space technology to Africa’s most populous country that it beat out 21 other bidders for a contract worth US$300 million (RM1.05 billion). China’s technology inroads are usually less dramatic, but no less telling.

In African medicine, Chinese herbs and pharmaceuticals are quietly gaining share. For example, the Chinese-made anti-malarial drug artesunate has become part of the standard treatment within just a few years.

Likewise, Chinese mastery over ultra-small, cheap “micro-hydro” dams, which can generate tiny amounts of electricity from mere trickles of water, appeals to power-short, river-rich Africans. Tens of thousands of micro-hydro systems operate in China, and nearly none in Africa.

American do-gooders like Nicholas Negroponte, with his US$100 laptop, have identified the right problem: Africa is way behind technologically and rapid leap-frogging is possible. But Chinese and Indian scientists argue that Africa can benefit from a changing of the technological guard.

They may be right. — Project Syndicate

G. Pascal Zachary is the author of Diversity Advantage: Multicultural Identity in the New World Economy and a fellow of The German Marshall Fund.

This should be a wake up for many to actually open their eyes to Africa. It is a vast market, and from an agricultural viewpoint, Australia has a lot to offer - but are we?

Recently an ABC reporter from Darwin spent some time in East Africa reporting on rural issues under a scholarship from the Crawford Fund. Can we do more? What are the opportunities to both do more and also gain a long term benefit?

In the 1970s and 80s Australians were well represented in the staff of many leading institutes in Africa, but there are few now. Why?

In tropical Australia we have much to gain from interaction with Africa and South America, yet we do little to foster this type of relationship. Not being aware will be detrimental to the agriculture industries of the north.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Real Benefits from Turf

Is the great Aussie lawn an anachronistic hangover from the 20th Century, which has absolutely no place in a water challenged 21st Century? Or even as several Australian politicians have claimed that the "front lawn" has to go - for all sorts of reasons, including a need for greater suburban density.

Many pundits in Australia decry having a lawn.........afterall, it needs water, but there are some real and very tangible benefits from turf areas.

Turf and ornamentals are essential to a clean environment, are aesthetically pleasing, increase appeal and property value, provide a safe, cushioned play surface for children, and instill a sense of community and pride in our surroundings.

A recent Gallup poll showed that the top five benefits of a well-maintained lawn and landscape are:

A property that helps beautify the neighbourhood.
A place of beauty and relaxation for family, employees or visitors.

A property that reflects positively on its owner.
A comfortable place to entertain, work at or visit.
A property that has increased real estate market value.

Turf -- An Environmental Hero?

There are millions of hectares of lawns that provide environmental benefits such as:

Oxygen production. - 58 square metres of lawn provide enough oxygen for one person for an entire day.
Temperature modification.- On a block of eight average houses, front lawns have the cooling effect of 70 tonnes of air conditioning.

Noise absorption - soft surfaces including turf absorb sound and reduce noise in the environment due to the absorption of noise from vehicles, factories and parties. Hard areas - even pebble landscaping, cannot absorb noise, but tend to bounce sound around an area.

Allergy control. - Turf controls dust, in addition to pollen from plants that can cause serious health problems for some individuals.

Pollutant absorption.- Turfgrasses absorb gaseous pollutants such as carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide, converting them to oxygen.

Particulate entrapment. - Turfgrasses trap an estimated 12 million tonnes of dust and dirt released annually into the atmosphere.

Fire retardation. - Grass around buildings helps retard the spread of fire.

Water quality. - Reducing runoff, turfgrass filters the water that helps to recharge groundwater supplies. Because of its filtering capability, turf has been used for years between agricultural fields as a buffer to prevent pesticide runoff. According to a US Environmental Protection Agency's publication Healthy Lawn, Healthy Environment, "Healthy grass provides feeding ground for birds, who find it a rich source of insects, worms, and other food. Thick grass prevents soil erosion, filters contaminants from rainwater, and absorbs many types of airborne pollutants, like dust and soot. Grass is also highly efficient at converting carbon dioxide to oxygen, a process that helps clean the air."

Economic Impact

Given the number of households and lawns, the economic impact of such a large service industry is considerable. In the US alone, turfgrass as an industry is considered to well exceed the $25 billion mark. Additionally, it is estimated that more than 500,000 people make their living directly from the care and maintenance of turfgrass across the country. The sale of lawn care products is estimated to total more than $4 billion a year, which represents nearly one-third of all money spent on gardening in the country. These figures have been on the rise for the past several years and are expected to continue a steady climb. Data is similar for Australia, except much less due to our smaller population.

A Gallup poll concluded that a well-maintained lawn has real monetary value.

According to respondents, attractive lawns offer an appeal, which prompt potential homebuyers to visit the inside of the home. Another study indicated that homeowners realise a 15 percent increase in home value or selling price when the property was complemented by an attractive landscape.
Grass is perennial, so lawns are very durable investments.


Lawns provide important benefits to our environment and community. Many papers have been written on the subject and a summary of the key benefits noted follow.

Environment Benefits

Lawns assist in cooling cities and reduce the use of air conditioners
Lawns reduce the runoff of urban pollutants
Watering lawns also waters adjacent trees and shrubs

Carbon capture and thus greenhouse gas reduction

Social Benefits

Lawns provide a safe, high quality, play area for children
Lawns provide exercise opportunities to all ages (gardening is the second most popular form of exercise – walking is the first)
Lawns are a functional part of the family home
Lawns reduce noise and glare
Lawns diminish dust and disease
Low growing turf dissuades intruders
Lawns provide an exercise area for pets
Lawns provide beauty and relaxation to homeowners and the community

Economic Benefits

Lawns and gardens have a major impact of house prices
Soil moisture is necessary to reduce building cracking
As it grows your lawn is silently contributes to a healthier environment.

References: 1. “The Role of Turfgrass in Environmental Protection and Their Benefits to Humans” Dr James B. Beard and Robert L. Green2.
“Water in Lawns – During any period of tighter water restrictions, lawns should be treated the same as any other plant area"