Strategic Weekly Analysis

11 May 2011 FDI Team

Vol. 2, № 16.

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From the Editor’s Desk                          

Dear FDI supporters,                                                                                                                                                                                                  

This issue of the Strategic Weekly Analysis includes an article prepared by the Global Food and Water Crises Research Programme that considers Australia’s recent involvement in a Global Seed Bank. Another article which the programme considers is the new aid projects in poverty stricken Sierra Leone.

Our Northern Australia Research Programme investigates the development of an Algae-culture plant in Karratha, to provide energy to the region. Similarly the Indian Ocean Programme examines the implications of the   assassination of Osama bin Laden on US-Pakistan relations, a matter which will be subject to further consideration as events unfold.

In the coming weeks a number of Strategic Analysis Papers will be issued.  One will investigate the implications of India’s growing population and its food, water and energy security. Other Strategic Analysis Papers from the Global Food and Water Crises Research Programme will investigate the merits of desalination as a means of overcoming water shortages, while another paper yet to be published this month will consider the untapped potential of urban rain run-off in providing water to large urban centres.  

This week Future Directions International has distributed a new Landmark study to key decision makers across Australia. That study, titled Afghanistan: The Old-New Geopolitical Blackhole, is a joint initiative undertaken with Curtin University. It brings together the findings from the Strategic Flashlight Forum, held in Perth in 2010. We thank Curtin University for the assistance provided in putting this useful publication together.

Major General John Hartley AO (Retd)

Institute Director and CEO

Future Directions International

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Merits in Australia’s Support of Svalbard Global Seed Vault

Background

Australia has recently put its first seeds into the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. This programme is not widely known. There are some, however, who question the true motives of the global seed bank and the significance it has for Australia.  

Comment

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault was built by the Norwegian Government on the island of Spitsbergen. The secure seed bank officially opened in 2008 and has already accumulated more than 250 million individual seeds. The seeds being collected hold the genetic material of a plant and can be preserved and remain viable for hundreds of years. The nuclear bomb-proof vault was developed to ensure the protection of crop diversity, plant breeding and research in the event of large scale regional or global catastrophic disaster, whether man-made or natural.

It is argued that the vault is a precautionary measure; however, seeds are already being protected in seed banks all around the world. We must acknowledge that security has been breached in some of those seed banks. For example, Afghani and Iraqi seed banks have been looted in the past, which reflects the vulnerability of some establishments. Some have argued that increasing the security measures at existing vaults is sufficient and would remove the need for a new vault. These concerns have drawn increasing scrutiny from the media as to the possible motives underlying the project.

The ten multi-national corporations that have invested in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, including Monsanto, Syngenta, DuPont/Pioneer Hi-Bred and the Rockefeller Foundation, control 49 per cent of the global seed market and heavily invest in Genetically Modified (GM) technology. What is interesting is that Monsanto has the rights to the Genetic Use Restriction Technology, which creates patented commercial seeds. Some observers have questioned whether this project is a way for these multi-national corporations to encourage the spread of patented GM seeds through the world’s agricultural industries. The seed bank is accumulating samples of seeds that will be resistant to environmental conditions such as drought and high salt concentrations; so the question is, are these companies looking to genetically modify seeds to be able to cope with the changing environment.

Grain, a non-profit organisation that supports small farmers in their fight for community based and controlled food systems, argues that this project is taking seed varieties that are unique to some local communities and making them unavailable. This claim that it has given people ‘a false sense of security in a world where the crop diversity present in the farmers' fields continues to be eroded and destroyed at an ever-increasing rate’. Cary Folwer, executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust states: ‘Crop diversity will soon prove to be our most potent and indispensable resource for addressing climate change, water and energy supply constraints, and for meeting the food needs of a growing population’.

Yet, regardless of the accusations of underlying motives, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault has the potential to protect one of the world’s most important resources from the unknown. That is why Australia and more than a hundred other countries are considering it as a viable option in the fight against the looming food crises.

Catherine Anderson

Research Intern

FDI Global Food and Water Crises Research Programme

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Community-Based Social and Food Support Project in Sierra Leone

Background

Post-conflict Sierra Leone is shaped by a high rate of youth unemployment and widespread poverty, especially in urban settlements and in the north of the country. The decade-long conflict also resulted in the destruction of infrastructure and farmland. When the price of rice increased rapidly in 2008, an estimated 200,000 people – the majority of them young and unemployed – faced the bitter reality of life in extreme poverty. Although the price of rice has started to decline, many families are still affected by the prolonged period of high prices. Hence, in March 2011, a community project was introduced in response to the social and food crises, to enhance Sierra Leone’s sustainable future. 

Comment

This project is estimated to cost about $2.81 billion over 16 months. It was organised by Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Energy and Water Resource (MEWR) in partnership with its National Commission for Social Action (NaCSA). Together with the World Bank, the project is sponsored by the Japan Social Development Fund. The establishment of this project indicates the commitment of MEWR and the NaCSA to fulfilment of the government’s agenda to develop sustainable agriculture and to improve living standards in Sierra Leone.

This community project is divided into “cash for work” and “food for work” schemes, covering the poorest communities in the northern part of the country along the Seli River area, especially the Tonkolili Province. This is one of the poorest regions in the nation, where residents are living on less than $1 per day.[1] The project will target at 1,200 households, which have a food security risk. Participating households are selected by the NaCSA in collaboration with village leaders.[2] Under the scheme, 1,200 workers will work for food over a six-month period and 500 community-selected at-risk labourers will be paid in cash.

The hope is that this will result in the stabilisation and strengthening of the social and economic security in the region. The project includes components such as short-term emergency support, livelihood sub-projects, development of social accountability mechanisms, and the use of participatory monitoring and evaluation systems. The project’s key focuses are to restore agricultural sustainability and develop the fishing sector. It will build up to 400 kilometres of food trails, to give remote communities access to markets and, most importantly, to spread health and education services to vulnerable residents, such as unemployed youths, women and disabled people.

Past “food for work” and “cash for work” community projects in other parts of Sierra Leone and other developing countries around the world, have shown overall agricultural, social and economic benefits in the  participating areas. From the social aspect, the projects encourage people to work together for the future of their community, by building and fixing roads and bridges or extending rice fields, to receive about 6.6 kilograms of rice per day.

However, there have been reported problems which should be considered carefully, to avoid recurrence in future projects. For example, in Ethiopia, workers received a huge amount of food every fortnight. Unfortunately, the majority of workers did not have the needed infrastructure to store that amount of food. In other instances, there were projects in which workers were chosen who had other employment opportunities or where it did not help young unskilled workers to find better employment.

“Food for work” and “cash for work” programmes will certainly develop social and economic security in developing countries like Sierra Leone. However, if they are to be effective in the long-term, they need to provide perspective, permanent employment and post-development activities.

Alain Nellen

Research Intern

FDI Global Food and Water Crises Research Programme

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The Pilbara: “The Saudi Arabia of Algal Fuels”

Background

The development of an industrial Algae-culture plant in Karratha has the potential to supply the Pilbara with a new source of energy to placate the massive demand from the resources sector. The new industry could go some way to mitigating projected ecological concerns in the region and broaden the economic profile. 

Comment

Karratha, in Western Australia’s Pilbara region, has the potential according to Greg Bafalis, Chief Executive of Aurora Algae to become the “Saudi Arabia of algal fuels”. In early May, Aurora, after a global search, completed a deal to produce what could potentially be the world’s largest algal biofuel operation when completed in 2013.

The development of biofuel technology has been spurred on by the increased need for a multitude of sources to satisfy the world’s higher energy demand and increasing costs. Climate change and carbon emissions have decreased the attractiveness of conventional hydrocarbon sources.

Research and innovation in the biofuel industry suggest that it constitutes a viable alternative. Corn, sugar and other, so-called primary biofuels, are not, however, a complete remedy for fossil fuel reliance. Primary biofuels are water and land intensive; they have also contributed to a recent global spike in food prices, a contributing factor to civil unrest in the developing world.

Algae fuel is not subject to these problems and has the potential to solve the sustainability challenges facing the biofuel industry. The production process involves producing algae in artificial ponds, using sea or waste water. Algae growth is advanced by the addition of ammonia, nitrogen and carbon. The algae becomes thicker and then is harvested and dried; the biomass can be used for livestock feed, while the oil may be used for biodiesel, green diesel, green gasoline and green jet fuel.

The Pilbara has the capability to benefit from the algae industry, with its large areas of marginalised land in the region’s hinterland. Unlike the experimental Royalties for Regions-Moringa Shrub biodiesel project, algae has a high yield and can be produced up to 100 times faster than primary biofuels. The environmental concerns produced by the Pilbara’s chief industry, mining, may be mitigated by algae production. Algae consume carbon dioxide and produces oxygen through photosynthesis. Further, production does not require clean water, thus providing a use for grey water from mine operations.

Algae fuel production is in its infancy. To reach commercialisation, significant capital investment and research is required. The state and federal governments must continue to promote algal fuels in the region, to prepare for the post-peak oil world, while simultaneously diversifying the regional economic profile and helping to meet the huge energy demands of the Pilbara.

Liam McHugh

Strategic Analyst

FDI Northern Australia and Energy Security Research Programmes

[email protected]

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Pakistan: Implications of Osama bin Laden’s Assassination

Background

The political fallout in the wake of the US covert operation on 2 May to assassinate Osama Bin Laden, has further exacerbated the already strained bilateral relations. Pakistan faces rising domestic anger and disapproval of its relations with the United States. However, given that the US and Pakistan are strategically reliant on each other, it is likely that, despite the existing tension, bilateral relations will continue more or less as they have.

Comment

As the US raid in Abbottabad was reportedly conducted without Pakistan’s knowledge or approval, it therefore constituted a serious violation of Pakistani sovereignty. This has compelled the Pakistani Government to initiate damage control measures, issuing public statements critical of the US. They include demands that the US withdraw the bulk of its forces from Pakistan and refrain from any further violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty, warning of serious consequences for existing defence cooperation and intelligence sharing arrangements.

To Pakistan, the US raid also demonstrated a resolve to take decisive action on sensitive high-value targets, regardless of the political consequences within the country. As reports suggested possible collusion between senior Pakistani defence officials and radical Islamist groups, there was also a growing fear about the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapon sites. This drew a prompt clarification by the Army Chief Ashtaq Pervez Kayani, who said: ‘As regards the possibility of similar hostile action against our strategic assets, the forum reaffirmed that unlike an undefended civilian compound, our strategic assets are well protected and an elaborate defensive mechanism is in place.’

Tensions continue to characterise the US-Pakistan alliance, but it is more than likely that relations will continue more or less as they are, given that both countries are strategically reliant on each other. For instance, Pakistan needs the billions of dollars of US aid to sustain its existing military expenditure and its underperforming economy. Similarly, the US needs Pakistan’s support, especially in intelligence gathering and sharing, and to counter Islamist groups operating in Pakistan and along the porous Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The US is also heavily dependent on access through Pakistan to supply its expeditionary forces in Afghanistan.

Hence, while Pakistan reacts to appease domestic public sentiment, it is likely that, for the time being, the US military may either reduce, or perhaps even cease, its drone attacks inside Pakistan out of fear of triggering a public backlash. This is partly because both governments know they are treading a delicate line regarding public opinion in Pakistan, which they fear could trigger a public backlash, in a manner reminiscent of what is currently taking place in the Middle East. Evidently, neither side would want such a scenario to occur.

Conversely, now that the US has succeeded in neutralising a key high-value target, there are fears in Pakistan that the US is positioning itself for the upcoming 2012 presidential elections, where it will seek to rapidly withdraw its troops from an unpopular war. This could leave Pakistan vulnerable to further instability and therefore worsen an already unstable situation.

Sergei DeSilva-Ranasinghe

FDI Senior Analyst

[email protected]

*****

What’s Next?

  • The 3rd Annual Border Security Conference will be held 10-11 May 2011 in Melbourne. For more: https://www.iir.com.au/bordersecurity
  • The Centre for Muslim States and Societies is holding a public lecture on The Arabs’ Third Awakening and Osama’s Passing by Professor Amin Saikal. It will be held 12 May 2011, 5-6pm in the Alexander Lecture Theatre, UWA. 
  • Edith Cowan University’s Security Research Centre is hosting a presentation on SouthAfrican Security. Speaking will be Doraval Govender from the Department of Criminology and Security Science and the University of South Africa. It will be held Monday 16 May 2011, 2-3pm at the ECU Joondalup Campus, Building 8, Room 8.211. To RSVP email Lisa McCormack on [email protected] or call 6304 5176. 
  • On 16-20 May 2011 the Wash Conference will be held in Brisbane. It will focus on water supply systems, sanitation and hygiene and is coordinated by the Water and Sanitation (WASH) Reference group in conjunction with AusAID. For information visit: https://www.watercentre.org/wash2011007A
  • The Asia Research Centre, Murdoch University, and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade are hosting a public lecture by Professor Kenneth Chern on the topic: The Japan Nuclear Crisis, International Responses. It will be held 18 May, 12.30pm in the 8th floor conference room, Exchange Plaza, Sherwood Court. To register by May 13: [email protected]
  • The seat of the African Union (AU) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia will, from 20 to 25 May 2011, host the Second Africa-India Summit Forum under the theme Enhancing partnership shared vision.

 

Any opinions or views expressed in this paper are those of the individual author, unless stated to be those of Future Directions International.

 

Published by Future Directions International Pty Ltd.

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Tel: +61 8 9486 1046 Fax: +61 8 9486 4000

E-mail Gary Kleyn: [email protected] Web: www.futuredirections.org.au



[1]  Measured by poverty scale principles: agricultural poverty, housing poverty and asset poverty.

[2] Selection is made by criteria such as the Hunger Vulnerability Index, which is used by the UN Food Programme.

 

Any opinions or views expressed in this paper are those of the individual author, unless stated to be those of Future Directions International.

Published by Future Directions International Pty Ltd.
Suite 5, 202 Hampden Road, Nedlands WA 6009, Australia.