For Tanzanian Farmers, Grain Harvest Is in the Bag

Maize farmers are preparing as the harvest season approaches in Tanzania’s Kondoa District.  The weather has been good and most farmers here expect bumper yields.

Amina Hussein, a mother of four in Mnenia village, is testing a new way to store her harvest.

 

“In the past, we used to store our produce in normal bags, we would buy them three times a year because we faced the risk of losing harvests to pest infestation,” Hussein said.  “But since the introduction of this new technology, using the hermetic storage bags, we are not incurring huge costs anymore to buy chemicals to preserve the maize.”

 

The bags keep grain dry and fresh, and keep bugs and mold out.

 

Amina, who is the chairperson of a local farmers’ association, says she used to spend precious cash on pesticides to preserve her maize.  The new bags cut that cost.

 

Grain Losses

 

About 85 percent of Tanzania’s population lives in rural areas and relies on agriculture for a living.  Small-hold farmers constitute the majority of the population.

 

Here, post-harvest losses are a major concern, especially for grains, which form the base for nutrition and income for Tanzania’s rural communities.

 

Tanzania’s Ministry of Agriculture estimates that small farmers lose between 15 percent and 40 percent of their harvests each year to mold, mildew, bugs, rats and other causes, says Eliabu Philemon Ndossi, a senior program officer at the ministry.

 

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 1.3 billion tons of food go to waste globally every year.  That’s about a third of the food produced for human consumption around the world.

 

And post-harvest loss reduces the income of small-hold farmers by 15 percent.

 

Food Security

 

Researchers from the University of Zurich and their partners are looking to cut those losses.  Their project in Tanzania is looking at ways to help farmers keep more of their grain.

 

It’s a collaborative effort bringing together government agencies, businesses and international development organizations.

 

More than 1,000 small-scale farmers in two regions in central Tanzania are involved in the project, which in part uses air-tight and water-tight storage bags instead of normal plastic or cloth bags.

 

The study is conducted within a larger project that Swiss development agency Helvetas runs to help increase farm income.

 

But reducing losses is more than an issue of farmers’ income, says Rakesh Munankami, a project manager at Helvetas.

 

“If we can reduce post-harvest loss, there wouldn’t be any problem with the food security.  This study is important because we would like to see what’s the impact at the broader level, how does it affect the price volatility of the crop as well as how does it affect the food security of the smallholder farmers,” he said.

 

And the study has proven a success.  Initial findings show that improved on-farm storage sharply cut the number of food insecure households, said Michael Brander, one of the lead researchers from the University of Zurich.

 

“We are now one year into the study and the most astonishing finding so far is that we see that the number of people that go hungry has reduced by one third,” he said.  “That’s especially astonishing because the intervention has worked very fast.”

 

Munanakami says he thinks the results can be replicated elsewhere.  And the project’s partners hope that will encourage policy makers and aid organizations focus on preventing harvest losses.

 


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Intel CEO Resigns After Probe Into Relationship With Employee

Intel Corp Chief Executive Brian Krzanich resigned on Thursday after a probe found his consensual relationship with an employee violated company policy.

The head of the largest U.S. chipmaker is the latest in a line of powerful men in business and politics to lose their jobs or resign over relationships viewed as inappropriate, a phenomenon highlighted by the #MeToo movement.

“An ongoing investigation by internal and external counsel has confirmed a violation of Intel’s non-fraternization policy, which applies to all managers,” Intel said in a statement.

The board named Chief Financial Officer Robert Swan as interim CEO and said it has begun a search for a permanent CEO, including both internal and external candidates.

Intel declined to give any further information about the probe. Intel shares fell 1.5 percent in early trade.

Wall Street took Krzanich’s unexpected departure in stride.

“Although we respect Krzanich’s efforts in redirecting Intel’s strategy from a computer-centric to a data-centric company, we view Intel as a process-driven company with a deep bench of CEO candidates that can continue to drive the corporate strategy,” said Kevin Cassidy, an analyst at Stifel.

Krzanich, 58, was appointed Intel CEO in May 2013, and was in charge of moving the company’s focus to growing data centers from personal computers. Intel shares more than doubled during his tenure.

He was recently credited with containing the fallout from the disclosure of some security flaws in the company’s chips that could allow hackers to steal data from computers, although his sale of some Intel stock before the flaws were disclosed to investors attracted some criticism.

“There are no new payments as part of his departure,” a source familiar with the company told Reuters.

Temporary replacement Swan has been Intel’s CFO since October 2016 and previously spent nine years as CFO of eBay Inc.

Intel on Thursday raised its second-quarter revenue and profit forecast, saying it expects quarterly revenue of about $16.9 billion and adjusted profit of about 99 cents per share, up from a previous forecast of $16.3 billion in revenue and adjusted earnings per share of 85 cents.

Analysts on average were expecting revenue of $16.29 billion and adjusted profit of 85 cents per share.


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Lawmakers Grill Commerce Secretary Over Escalating Trade Battles

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross faced tough questions during a Senate hearing Wednesday on the Trump administration’s tariff proposals and actions. Senators on both sides of the aisle criticized the administration’s rollout of proposed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. VOA’s Elizabeth Cherneff has more on the fallout from Washington.


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China: ‘Capricious’ Trade Tactics Will Hurt US Workers

China’s commerce ministry on Thursday accused the United States of being “capricious” over bilateral trade issues and warned that the interests of U.S. workers and farmers ultimately will be hurt by Washington’s penchant for brandishing “big sticks.”

Previous trade negotiations with the United States had been constructive, but because the U.S. government is being unpredictable and challenging, Beijing has had to respond in a strong manner, commerce ministry spokesman Gao Feng said in a regular briefing in Beijing.

President Donald Trump threatened Monday to hit $200 billion of Chinese imports with 10 percent tariffs if Beijing retaliates against his previous announcement to target $50 billion in imports. The United States has alleged that China is stealing U.S. intellectual property, a charge denied by Beijing.

Washington’s accusations of forced tech transfers are a distortion of reality, and China is fully prepared to respond with “quantitative” and “qualitative” tools if the U.S. releases a new list of tariffs, Gao said.

Markets worried

“It is deeply regrettable that the U.S. has been capricious, escalated the tensions, and provoked a trade war,” he said. “The U.S. is accustomed to holding ‘big sticks’ for negotiations, but this approach does not apply to China.”

Financial markets are worried about an open trade conflict between the world’s two biggest economies after three rounds of high-level talks since early May failed to reach a compromise on U.S. complaints over Chinese practices and a $375 billion trade deficit with China.

A Sino-U.S. trade war could disrupt global supply chains for the tech and auto industries, sectors heavily reliant on outsourced components, and derail world growth.

“It will not be easy for the U.S. to identify $200 billion worth of Chinese imports that it can levy tariffs on without hurting U.S. companies and/or consumers, given the strong involvement of U.S. companies in a large share of China’s exports to the U.S.,” British forecaster Oxford Economics said in a recent note.

​‘Cannot be soft’

China said it will impose additional tariffs on 659 U.S. goods, with duties on 545 of them to kick in July 6, after Trump said Washington will impose tariffs on $50 billion of Chinese products.

The U.S. goods affected July 6 include soybeans, fruit, meat products such as pork, autos, as well as marine products.

Beijing has yet to announce an activation date for its tariffs on the remaining 114 U.S. products, which include crude oil, coal and a range of refined fuel products.

“We cannot be soft with Trump. He is using his ‘irrationality’ as a tactic and he is trying to confuse us,” said Chen Fengying, an economics expert at state-backed China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations. “But if we could accomplish some of the things that he wants us to do, such as IP, market reforms, he’d be helping us. Of course there are risks, those would depend on how we handle those reforms.”

Dow-listed firms

China could hit back at U.S. firms listed on the Dow Jones Industrial Average if Trump keeps exacerbating tensions with China over trade, state-controlled Chinese tabloid The Global Times said Thursday.

The Dow, which counts Boeing, Apple and Nike among its constituents, ended down 0.17 percent Wednesday. The 30-stock share index has declined 0.25 percent year-to-date.

“U.S. unilateral protection measures will ultimately harm the interests of U.S. companies, workers, and farmers,” Gao told reporters.

He said the two sides are to negotiate on issues around the manufacturing and service industries “in the near future.”

War of words

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, who views China as a hostile economic and military power, said Tuesday that Beijing had more to lose from a trade war.

“Jobs for the Chinese are just as precious as those for the Americans,” Zha Daojiong, professor of international political economy at the School of International Studies at Peking University, told Reuters in an email. “It will be wise for the two sides to come back to the negotiation table, abide by a temporary agreement and turn down the rhetoric.”

China imported $129.89 billion of U.S. goods last year, while the United States purchased $505.47 billion of Chinese products, according to U.S. data.


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Instagram Announces Video Expansion

Social media app Instagram announced Wednesday that it would be increasing its time limit for videos posted on its platform from one minute to 10 minutes, as part of a general expansion of the app’s video capabilities.

The photo-sharing app also announced it would be launching a stand-alone app called IGTV to host these long-form videos. The app will be available this week, according to technology website, The Verge.

“When you watch longer video, you need a different context,” Instagram co-founder and CEO Kevin Systrom told The Verge. “We really wanted to separate those two, so you could choose which adventure you wanted to go down.”

The longer videos will also be available through a tab in the original Instagram application. Accounts with wide audiences will be able to post videos of up to an hour.

The update comes as Instagram, which Facebook bought in 2012 for $1 billion — is looking to compete with fellow video platform YouTube for young users.

Google bought YouTube in 2006 for $1.65 billion. Since then, the video-sharing website has ballooned to a user base of 1.8 billion, becoming a platform for aspiring content creators looking to strike it big.

Systrom told The Associated Press he hoped his app would gain similar success with the IGTV update. At a release event for the app Wednesday, the company announced IGTV now had over 1 billion users.

The IGTV app will function similar to television. Videos will begin playing as soon as the user opens the app and will fill be full-screen vertically — contrasting with YouTube, which requires users to turn their phones horizontally for full-screen capabilities.

Facebook announced Tuesday it would be launching a series of interactive shows on its own video outlet, Facebook Watch.


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New Credit Rating Speaks of Vietnam’s Complicated Makeover

A decent rating from Fitch this month has Vietnam riding high on the small victory, despite some of the less favorable economic trends connected to this first-of-its-kind rating.

The state monopoly Vietnam Electricity, or EVN, clinched a “BB” score June 6 from Fitch Ratings, which until then had never officially assessed the credit of a non-financial company owned by the Hanoi government. That prompted a cross-section of officials in the southeast Asian country to gush about the promise in store for one of the world’s fastest-growing economies.

“This positive rating enables EVN to issue international bonds, diversify our financing sources, and reassure domestic and foreign institutional investors,” said Dinh Quang Tri, the acting CEO of EVN. “We are now on a stronger footing to deliver more reliable electricity to Vietnam.”

The ebullience, however, is tempered by two questions: Will this be enough for investors to trust EVN? And how much should government become involved in business?

Renewable energy

EVN underscores the mixed sentiments that analysts express about Vietnam, a communist country transitioning to capitalism. The fact that the government runs EVN contributed to Fitch’s confidence in its report card.

“We believe the company can secure adequate funding in light of its position as an entity closely linked to the sovereign,” it said in a media release.

Yet businesses want even more promises from the government. Vietnam has spent years courting investment in renewable power, for example, but with limited success. That is in part because businesses that generate wind, solar, and other alternative energy sources can sell it only to EVN, and they are afraid of losing money if the company does not buy their electricity.

For renewables, “there is no provision for any form of government guarantee, assurance, or support to enhance the creditworthiness of EVN as the sole off-taker/purchaser,” corporate law firm Baker McKenzie said in a September report.

State vs. free market

Some would like to see more government involvement in general, especially to bail out companies in trouble. Others would like to see less involvement, as evidenced in the push for Vietnam to privatize further by selling stakes in its many state-owned enterprises. The country has not settled on a balance between the free market and the government.

Hanoi used to give iron-clad pledges that it would pay up in case of default at one of its state firms or public works projects. The government is doing that less often now because it is moving away from a centrally-planned economy, as well as reducing its sovereign debt.

Public anxiety mounted in recent years as Vietnam approached its debt ceiling of 65 percent of gross domestic product, though the country has made progress in reining in the debt.

That means EVN must tread lightly. Now that the power company has a Fitch Rating, it is eyeing international bonds to borrow money from investors around the world.

Going through this financing process is “helping EVN benefit from the discipline that comes with access to capital markets,” said Jordan Schwartz, who is the director of the World Bank group overseeing infrastructure, guarantees, and public-private partnerships.

The World Bank gave EVN funds and technical assistance to prepare for the Fitch assessment. Its credit rating shows how tightly EVN’s fate correlates with that of the government. Electricity prices, for example, will have to increase for the utility to make profits and improve its rating. Big increases, however, require approval from Hanoi, which also wants to keep power affordable for citizens.

The correlation is even blunter in Fitch’s analysis. The overall credit rating for Vietnam’s government itself also is BB. If that improves, so could the score for EVN, Fitch said, “provided EVN’s linkages with the state do not deteriorate significantly.”


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European Business Lobby Presses China to Stop Dragging Feet on Reform

As the United States and China teeter on the brink of an all out trade war and tit-for-tat tariffs loom, a European businesses lobby is urging Beijing to stop dragging its feet on reforms and using unfair trade policies to pamper Chinese companies.

 

Each year, foreign trade groups in China roll out a laundry list of concerns about market access, regulatory hurdles and other policies that tilt the playing field in the world’s second largest economy.

 

This year, for the first time ever, the European Chamber of Commerce’s annual survey of the business climate found that 61 percent of its 532 company members saw their Chinese counterparts as equally or more innovative.

Increased spending on research and development, targeted acquisitions of foreign high-tech firms and growing demand for innovative products from consumers were helping driving that shift, the chamber said.

 

The high response is significant. Policies linked to innovation and competition are a key part of the intensifying US — China trade debate and concerns of foreign companies operating here.

 

European Chamber President Mats Harborn said that as Chinese companies become stronger and more competitive, it is time for Beijing to “remove the training wheels.”

 

“It’s time for China to lift or reduce the pampering of its own enterprises and expose them to even more open and fair competition for them to develop into the champions that China wants them to be,” Harborn said.

 

Currently, Chinese companies account for 115 of the Fortune 500 list of global enterprises. The Chinese government claims that of the world’s 260 “unicorns” — start up companies valued at more than a billion dollars — more than 160 are from China.

Since Chinese President Xi Jinping delivered an address at the World Economic Forum in Davos early last year, China has repeatedly pledged to further open up the country’s economy.

 

According to the group’s survey of its members 52 % said that the government’s promises of opening up had yet to be realized. And looking forward, 46 percent said they thought the number of regulatory obstacles would increase over the next five years.

 

Harborn said that time is running out for China and 2018 has to be the year that it delivers on its promises.

 

“Dragging the feet on delivering on promises that have been made in China will cause reactions around the world,” Harborn said.

 

The United States response to that has led to reactions such as the $50 billion, and more recently $200 billion, in possible tariffs that Washington could levy on Chinese goods.

 

“We don’t agree with that action but it is the result of what we have warned about earlier,” he said.

Washington and European companies alike have long voiced concern about trade policies in China that protect domestic companies and State Owned Enterprises through subsidies, regulatory barriers and unequal treatment.

 

The Trump administration has alleged that Beijing is stealing American intellectual property and forcing technology transfers. Beijing denies that is the case.

 

Still, the European chamber’s survey found that about one in five of its companies “felt compelled to hand over technology in exchange for market access,” despite Chinese government assurances to the contrary.

 

According to the survey, 19 percent said they felt compelled to transfer technology.

Harborn said that while the percentage may seem small, the value it represents is much larger. Numbers were even higher among companies in the aerospace and aviation sector (36 percent), civil engineering and construction (33 percent) and automakers (27 percent).

 

“And no foreign company going to Europe has to even consider the issue of giving up technology for market access,” Harborn said.

 

Reciprocal treatment is a key concern from companies in China, regardless of whether they are from Europe and America. It is also a key aim of Washington’s trade dispute with Beijing and effort to make trade fairer.

 

But as the rhetoric in the U.S.-China trade dispute has heated up, some analysts argue that the focus has shifted too heavily to reciprocal and damaging tariffs. Actions that risk hurting not only the United States and China, but the global economy as well.

 

Harborn said confrontation through tariffs is not the most efficient way to get reforms and opening up that companies have been asking China to deliver.

 

“We are afraid that when you are exerting pressure this way [through threats of tariffs] that China keeps its aces up its sleeve and is presenting what is needed to defuse the tension at the time and is not addressing the fundamental and broader issues,” Harborn said.

 

Besides, he add, reforms are not only important for foreign companies but China’s own economic development as well.


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Amazon, Buffett, JPMorgan Pick Gawande to Lead Health Firm

Amazon, JPMorgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway have picked well-known author and Harvard professor Dr. Atul Gawande to transform the health care they give their employees.

The three corporate titans said Wednesday that Gawande will lead an independent company focused on a mission they announced earlier this year: figure out ways to improve a broken and often inefficient system for delivering care.

Health care researchers have said any possible solutions produced by this new venture will be felt well beyond the estimated 1 million workers the three companies employ in the United States. Other businesses that provide employee health coverage are eager to find solutions for health care costs that often rise faster than inflation and squeeze their budgets in the process.

Berkshire Chairman and CEO Warren Buffett has described health costs as a “hungry tapeworm on the American economy.”

Leaders of the three companies have said little about how their Boston-based venture plans to tackle this problem, but they have noted that it will take time to figure out solutions, a point they emphasized again on Wednesday.

“We said at the outset that the degree of difficulty is high and success is going to require an expert’s knowledge, a beginner’s mind, and a long-term orientation,” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said in a prepared statement. “[Gawande] embodies all three, and we’re starting strong as we move forward in this challenging and worthwhile endeavor.”

Employer-sponsored insurance covers about 157 million people, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. That’s nearly half the total U.S. population and the biggest slice of the country’s patchwork health insurance market.

Neither companies nor many of their employees are happy with how the system currently works. Employers have reacted in part to rising expenses by raising deductibles and other costs, asking their workers to pay more of the bill and to shop around for better deals. Many patients, especially the sickest, struggle with that.

Gawande is surgeon and professor at both Harvard’s Medical School and its T.H. Chan School of Public Health. He said in a statement Wednesday that he has devoted his career in public health to building solutions for better care delivery, and that while the current system is broken, “better is possible.”

The consortium’s leaders have said they aren’t looking for a quick fix. JPMorgan Chase Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon said during an appearance on CNBC earlier this month that fraud in the system, high administrative costs and the overuse and underuse of some drugs are among the many complications that must be improved.

The three companies said in late January that their new venture will focus on technology that provides simplified, high-quality and transparent care.

Amazon’s participation and customer-first focus will be crucial, according to Brian Marcotte, CEO of the National Business Group on Health, a nonprofit that represents large employers.

He noted that employers already offer ways to help patients shop for care or see a doctor remotely through telemedicine. But people don’t use this technology unless they need it, so they haven’t grown comfortable with it.

That could change if they go through a well-known platform like Amazon, which could then reach into its vast trove of customer data to personalize the shopping, Marcotte said. If, for instance, you are a runner considering knee surgery, Amazon could lay out the best or common practices for your condition and maybe show that surgery isn’t your only option.

“It’s not only reaching people in the moment, it’s the possibility to reach people with relevant personalized messaging that will engage them,” Marcotte said.


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Silicon Valley-Style Coding Boot Camp Seeks to Reset Japan Inc.

Barely six months after inaugurating a tiny software-coding boot camp in a basement in Tokyo, Silicon Valley transplant Kani Munidasa stood before some of Japan’s top business leaders in February with a warning: software was threatening their future.

A Sri Lankan native with a Japanese mother and wife, Munidasa was speaking at the invitation of Nobuyuki Idei, a former chief executive of Sony.

Idei had offered to become an adviser to the boot camp, called Code Chrysalis, whose mission of bringing Japan’s software engineering up to global standards and helping its companies transform aligned with his own.

“Idei-san told me, ‘Tell it as it is; don’t sugar-coat anything. They need to hear that change has to happen,'” Munidasa said, recalling how he showed up at the executives’ meeting in a T-shirt and hoodie.

Long known as a “monozukuri” – or manufacturing – powerhouse, Japan is in danger of getting left behind as artificial intelligence, robotics, and machine learning sweep through industries from cars to banking, Idei and others say.

Japanese companies have traditionally treated software as a means to cut costs rather than add value, and code-writers as second-class citizens. Entry-level software engineers in Japan make about $40,000 on average – less than half their U.S. counterparts.

Programs like Code Chrysalis are trying to change that by injecting Silicon Valley training methods into Japan’s slow-to-change corporate culture.

Coding, “soft skills” like public speaking and even physical fitness are all on the agenda. Since Code Chrysalis opened last July, a dozen students have graduated from its 12-week course, with six more in the pipeline. The camp currently accepts up to eight applicants per session.

For the students, the benefits are clear: their salaries increased by an average of nearly 80 percent after graduation, according to Code Chrysalis.

Japanese companies are desperate for skilled developers, with top IT recruiter Computer Futures seeing 2.3 job openings for every applicant so far this year, and most positions being filled by foreigners.

Educators and industry leaders hope programs such as Code Chrysalis will be transformative for Japan.

“Even if the numbers are small, I think (Code Chrysalis) can have a big impact,” Idei told Reuters, noting that Japan had focused too much on “physical goods” in the post-Internet age.

“The United States has Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon,” said Idei, now CEO of his consultancy, Quantum Leaps. “China’s got Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent. Japan doesn’t have a single platform company. That’s the No. 1 difference.”

A textbook problem

Japan’s English-language education, notoriously focused on standardised testing, has hindered the development of good programmers, industry insiders say.

Without a good grasp of the language, programmers are always a step behind, waiting for translations to access cutting-edge tools and methods.

Toyota is making English the common language for the 1,000 software engineers it plans to employ at a new automated-driving unit launching in Tokyo next month.

James Kuffner, CEO of the unit, Toyota Research Institute-Advanced Development (TRI-AD), said Japan’s computer science education was also overly based on textbook learning.

Recalling the “horrible and boring” lectures he sat through at the prestigious University of Tokyo as a post-doctoral research fellow in 1999, Kuffner said the classes did little to prepare students for the real world. Coding boot camps are a step in the right direction, he said.

“I want to figure out a way to fix the education system because it’s also important for our company,” said Kuffner, who still serves as an adjunct associate professor at Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute. “I would love to make a university where (everything) you did was project-based.”

Rebooting the system

Munidasa and his co-founder, Yan Fan, tailored their course around project-based learning, teaching exclusively in English.

Just one other English-language coding boot camp exists in Japan, run by French chain Le Wagon since late 2016, with 75 graduates so far. That program, which costs 790,000 yen ($7,200) for a nine-week course, targets beginners looking for a job in software development, who want to freelance, or who are launching their own start-ups.

“The positioning is very different because we work with beginners to bring them to a junior-developer level,” said Paul Gaumer, co-founder of Le Wagon Japan.

Munidasa and Fan’s program, which is aimed at higher-level training, has so far rejected nearly 80 percent of applicants, some of whom couldn’t meet the English requirement. To help, they added a four-week English-communication course.

During Code Chrysalis’ 1.03 million yen ($9,390), full-time course, students learn to become “full-stack” engineers, covering servers, user interfaces, and everything in between.

Beyond coding, they get unconventional instruction: voice training from an opera singer, squats challenges, and assignments requiring intense teamwork.

Baby steps

Code Chrysalis has already caught the attention of some big Japanese firms, including information technology giant NTT Data.

Its applied software engineering centre is using Code Chrysalis for part of its training and has placed an engineer in the current cohort.

“Our customers are increasingly looking for faster and cheaper software development, and we need to be able to meet those demands,” said human resources manager Kotaro Kimura.

Masataka Shintoku, an engineer in NTT Data’s sales and planning group who found Code Chrysalis on his own and graduated in March, says he’s already putting his new skills to work.

“I’m now able to create an app on my own and show prospective clients what we can do,” he said.

Kuffner said he hopes to emulate the storied Toyota Production System to create the software world’s “best process for writing bug-free software” as automated cars incorporate millions of lines of code.

“Japanese people are hard-working, very dedicated,” he said. “I have no question in my mind that with the right training they could be some of the best software engineers in the world.”


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Recycling Rubbish into Revenue, Plan Brings Hope to Women in Jordan

Sameera Al Salam folds a discarded piece of newspaper into a long strip then loops it round her finger to form a tight circle, the first stage of making the upcycled handbags, trays and bowls the Syrian refugee hopes will help her earn a living.

Al Salam, 55, was a hairdresser with a passion for “art and making things” before she fled her war-torn homeland for Irbid in northern Jordan with her family in 2012.

Now she has two teenagers and a husband left paralyzed by a stroke to support in a country where she has no automatic legal right to work, and they are three months behind on their rent.

“We were living a really happy life. I had a garden where I grew everything,” Al Salam told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “We had to leave because of the airstrikes. We were always trying to put things in front of the door to protect the children. Whenever I remember, it breaks my heart.”

Like most of the more than 655,000 Syrian refugees living in Jordan — and many Jordanians — poverty, debt and unemployment dominate the family’s existence.

Al Salam hopes her involvement in a new rubbish collection and recycling plan that aims to alleviate the poverty of both refugees and locals and bring the two communities closer will help turn things around.

The project, managed by charity Action Against Hunger, employs 1,200 people to collect and sort waste from the streets and provides temporary work permits to refugees who take part.

Nearly half the participants are female in a country where women can face cultural and family obstacles to employment, including a culture of shame around going out to work.

One in three Syrian refugee households in Jordan is headed by women and more and more are now seeking jobs in an already crowded market.

More than 80 percent of the Syrian refugees in Jordan live below the poverty line, according to Care International.

Awsaf Qaddah, a 39-year-old Syrian widow, said working as a rubbish collector initially felt like “a kind of shame,” but she now feels only pride.

“The job took me out of this atmosphere I was living in at home. Women can and should go out and work, especially with the circumstances we’re facing,” she said. “I have no husband or father or brother to help — I’m proud to do it.”

Fellow worker Berwen Misterihi, who is Jordanian, was forced to earn after her husband left her and their four children.

“Women and men would make comments about me picking up waste,” she said.

“I said to one man, ‘I’d rather work than come to you for the money’ and he apologized.”

‘Like Siblings’

The project workers were given 50-day contracts paying 12 Jordanian Dinar ($16.90) a day, plus training and social security provisions. Some of the waste was sold to scrap dealers for extra cash.

Al Salam was among a group of women who started an upcycling project, turning the waste paper and plastic they collected into objects to sell.

Action Against Hunger, which has managed the waste project since 2017 with German government funding, is now setting up a second phase focusing on equipping cooperatives and workers to continue waste processing and upcycling unaided.

“First there was a focus on breaking the culture of shame for women. Then we wanted ideas of how they could benefit from waste,” said Sajeda Saqallah, programme manager with Action Against Hunger. “Upcycling is a new concept here, so we took them to Amman to learn about it.”

Al Salam said her husband did not object to her taking part in the project. She now hopes she will get training on marketing and trademarking and win one of a number of new contracts Action Against Hunger is providing to carry on upcycling for wages.

The women in her upcycling group meet regularly and share ideas and news in a WhatsApp group.

At a workshop filled with their creations – from handbags to light shades to side tables, all made from recycled newspaper and cardboard – Sahira Zoubi, a Syrian refugee and mother of five excitedly points to the gold handbag she made.

Zoubi, who has not seen her husband since the Syrian army captured him in 2012, has made close friends through the project from both Syria and Jordan who she says are “like siblings.”

“Doing this project is so joyful because you come here and forget about your problems,” she said.

Al Salam breaks down as she tells how the project has allowed her to overcome her fears of being a refugee in a strange country.

“I never really mixed with people before this. I was afraid to go outside, I wasn’t involved in the community,” she said. “I was from a different country. I didn’t know what people were going to do to me or what they would say. Now I like to mingle.”

($1 = 0.7100 Jordanian dinars)

Travel for this story was covered by Action Against Hunger.


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