US, Russia Energy Officials to Meet, Discuss Natural Gas

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry will meet Russia’s energy minister next week in Washington, a person familiar with the situation said Friday, as the two countries compete to supply global markets with natural gas and crude.

Perry will meet Russia’s Energy Minister Alexander Novak on Tuesday, in the context of the World Gas Conference in Washington, the source said.

Meetings between top energy officials from Russia and the United States, two of the world’s largest oil and gas producers, have been rare in recent years.

Relations between Moscow and Washington have cooled over Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and as the Trump administration blames the Russian government for cyber attacks that targeted the U.S. power grid over the last two years.

The two countries are competing to sell natural gas to Europe. Russia’s Gazprom, the European Union’s biggest gas supplier, and several Western energy companies hope to open Nord Stream 2, a pipeline to bring Russian gas under the Baltic Sea to Germany.

The United States, meanwhile, has begun some sales of liquefied natural gas, or LNG, to Poland and Lithuania, though LNG shipments can be more expensive than gas sent via pipeline.

The United States says the advantage of its LNG is dependability and stable pricing.

The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump opposes the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, as did the administration of former President Barack Obama. Washington believes that the pipeline would give Russia, which has at times frozen deliveries to parts of Europe over pricing disputes, more power over the region.

The meeting comes as U.S. national security adviser John Bolton plans to visit Moscow next week to prepare for a possible meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Perry and Novak will also likely talk about oil markets. On Friday, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries agreed in Vienna to raise oil output by a modest amount after consumers had called for producers to curb rising fuel prices.

Russia, which is not an OPEC member, began cooperating last year with the group for the first time, holding back production to support global oil prices. Before the Vienna OPEC meeting, Novak said Moscow would propose a gradual increase in output from oil-producing countries, starting in July.


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Trump Threatens 20 Percent Tariff on EU Cars

U.S. President Donald Trump is threatening to impose a 20 percent tariff on vehicles assembled in the European Union and shipped to the United States, in retaliation for European tariffs on American imports.

On Friday, the day new EU tariffs went into effect, Trump tweeted, “…if these Tariffs and Barriers are not soon broken down and removed, we will be placing a 20% Tariff on all of their cars coming into the U.S. Build them here!”

Auto industry experts say such tariffs could negatively impact the U.S. economy, as well as Europe’s.

“It’s really a tangle; it’s not a simple question” of cars being made in one place and sold in another, Kasper Peters, communications manager of ACEA, the European Automobile Manufacturers Association, said Friday in an interview with VOA.

In March, ACEA Secretary General Erik Jonnaert noted the impact European carmakers with plants in the United States have on local economies. “EU manufacturers do not only import vehicles into the U.S. They also have a major manufacturing footprint there, providing significant local employment and generating tax revenue,” Jonnaert said in a statement.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said earlier this week that his department plans to wrap up by July or August an investigation into whether imported cars and car parts are a threat to national security. But Daniel Price, a former senior economic adviser to President George W. Bush, told The Washington Post that Trump’s threat of new tariffs “short-circuited the … process and conclusively undercut the stated national security rationale of that investigation.”

The new EU tariffs enacted Friday apply to billions of dollars’ worth of American goods — including jeans, bourbon and motorcycles.

The action is the latest response to Trump’s decision to tax imported steel and aluminum.

The U.S. is scheduled to start taxing more than $30 billion in Chinese imports in two weeks.

Like the EU, China has promised to retaliate immediately, putting the world’s two largest economies at odds. 

A U.S. Chamber of Commerce senior vice president, John Murphy, was cited by the Associated Press as saying he estimates that $75 billion in U.S. products could be subjected to new foreign tariffs by the end of the first week of July.

Separately, a spokesman for China’s Commerce Ministry said, “The U.S. is abusing the tariff methods and starting trade wars all around the world.”

“Clarity [is] still lacking about how far things will ultimately go between [the] U.S. and China and the potential ripple effect for world trade,” said financial analyst Mike van Dulken.

During his presidential campaign, Trump promised to apply tariffs, saying countries around the world had been exploiting the U.S.

A former White House trade adviser says Trump “has been so belligerent that it becomes almost impossible for democratically elected leaders — or even a non-democratic leader like [Chinese President] Xi Jinping — to appear to kowtow and give in.”

Phillip Levy, a senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, said, “The president has made it very hard for other countries to give him what he wants.”


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India Joins Countries Announcing Retaliatory Tariffs on US Products

Retaliating against the Trump administration’s tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, India has raised duties on 29 U.S. goods worth about $240 million.

New Delhi made the announcement Thursday after Washington ignored its request to be exempted from the tariffs because its exports were tiny compared to others, such as China and the European Union. India accounts for about 2 percent of American imports of steel and aluminum, or $1.5 billion in sales.

India is the latest country to hit back against U.S. President Donald Trump’s tariff increases on steel and aluminum imports.

Among the items on which India will impose higher tariffs are agricultural products such as almonds, apples, walnuts, chickpeas and lentils, as well as some stainless steel products. India is the world’s biggest buyer of U.S. almonds and among the biggest importers of apples. The new tariffs will go into effect August 4.

New Delhi imposed the retaliatory tariffs amid worries that the U.S. might target India’s more significant exports, such as pharmaceuticals.

“It is an appropriate signal,” said Rajiv Kumar of the government’s policy research organization, NITI Aayog. “I am hopeful that all this will die down.”

Although the Indian levies on American products are small compared with those involved in the U.S.-China spat, the trade friction between the two democracies signals discord and uncertainty at a time when they are developing a closer strategic partnership.

India is among the countries named by Trump as following trade practices unfair to the U.S.

Speaking at the Group of Seven summit in Canada earlier this month, he said, “This isn’t just G-7. I mean, we have India, where some of the tariffs are 100 percent. A hundred percent. And we charge nothing. We can’t do that.”

Trump has repeatedly said India imposes a punitive import duty on Harley-Davidson motorcycles whereas the U.S. has much lower duties on motorcycles imported from India. His complaint prompted New Delhi to cut the import duty from 75 percent to 50 percent on high-end bikes earlier this year.

For the time being, India has kept high-end motorcycles off the list of items selected for higher tariffs.

The U.S. tariffs and counter-tariffs are “opening a Pandora’s box whereby countries will impose, retaliate, somebody will act, somebody will react. This is going to be a process that will pull everybody down,” said economist Ram Upendra Das, who heads the Center for Regional Trade in New Delhi, a research organization of India’s Commerce Ministry. He calls it “a race to the bottom.”

A trade deficit in New Delhi’s favor of about $30 billion in their annual bilateral trade of approximately $125 billion has long been an irritant for Washington. India is on the Trump administration list of countries with which it had a large deficit.

Officials from New Delhi and Washington are expected to hold trade talks next week to try to bridge their differences.

But amid growing fears that the rising wave of protectionism signaled by the U.S. tariffs threatens emerging economies like India, economists are confident that the trade disputes will be short-lived. “It has to get corrected. We will have to see how long it takes,” said economist Das.


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Kentucky Governor Downplays Effect of EU Tariffs on Bourbon

In comments at odds with his home state’s whiskey distillers, Kentucky’s Republican governor is downplaying fears that the European Union’s retaliatory tariffs could disrupt the booming market for the Bluegrass state’s iconic bourbon industry.

“There’s always the potential for some type of impact, but I don’t think it will be a tremendous impact,” Governor Matt Bevin said when asked about tariffs during a TV interview this week with Bloomberg.

Bevin, a regular at bourbon industry events celebrating new or expanded facilities, called the tariffs that took effect Friday a “money grab” by the EU, but sounded confident that Kentucky bourbon will expand its share of the vast European whiskey market.

“Europeans are still going to drink more bourbon this year than they did last year; they’re just going to pay more for it because their government is going to take some of it,” he said this week during an interview on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”

Bevin referred to Europe as a “small portion” of the bourbon market, but the Kentucky Distillers’ Association said EU countries accounted for nearly $200 million of the more than $450 million in total exports of Kentucky bourbon and other distilled spirits in 2017.

Kentucky whiskey exports to EU countries have grown more than 10 percent annually in the past five years, said the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, which represents dozens of distillers, large and small. Kentucky whiskey exports overall rose by a whopping 23 percent last year, it said.

The governor’s comments downplaying the effect of tariffs stood in stark contrast to the distillers’ group, which warned that duties on American whiskey would have a “significant impact” on investment and employment in the state’s $8.5 billion bourbon sector.

“As we have said for the past few months, there are no winners in a trade war, only casualties and consequences,” the Kentucky Distillers’ Association said in its statement, which was released shortly after Bevin’s comments but did not directly refer to the governor.

Tariffs will drive up the price of Kentucky whiskey in EU markets where customers have plenty of spirits to choose from.

If a trade war breaks out, bourbon wouldn’t be the state’s biggest casualty, said University of Kentucky economics professor Ken Troske.

Kentucky’s auto parts sector could be hit hard, since many of its products are shipped to auto assembly plants in Canada and Mexico, he said Friday. Many of those vehicles are sent to the U.S. for sale. “Kentucky is a big, big player in that,” Troske said.

As for the bourbon sector, he said: “I don’t think tariffs are going to slow the growth down that much.”

The EU’s tariff action comes in response to Republican President Donald Trump’s decision to slap tariffs on European steel and aluminum. Its retaliatory move targets other American goods including Harley Davidson bikes, cranberries, peanut butter and playing cards.

Kentucky produces about 95 percent of the world’s bourbon, with such brands as Jim Beam, Evan Williams, Wild Turkey, Maker’s Mark, Woodford Reserve and Four Roses. The industry supplies about 17,500 Kentucky jobs, according to the Kentucky Distillers’ Association.

The industry is in the midst of a building boom, with more than $1.1 billion in projects planned, under way or completed in the past five years, it said. The construction includes expanded production facilities and new tourism centers.

Bevin, who routinely lavishes praise on Trump, said this week that the back-and-forth trade actions reflect “a certain amount of posturing that’s going on. It’s part of the negotiation process.” The governor said the EU has more to lose in a trade dispute.

“If they want to play this game with the United States, ultimately they’re going to lose,” he said during the Bloomberg interview. “So I don’t see that this will have long-term implications on trade between the EU and the U.S. I really don’t, but especially as it relates to bourbon. People in Europe still love bourbon, they’re still going to buy it and the European Union will just make money off it.”

Other trade disputes

Bevin’s downplaying of tariffs ran counter to comments by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican who said during a recent speech in Louisville that tariffs “will not be good for the economy” and expressed hope that “we pull back from the brink.”

American spirits makers are being targeted for duties in other trade disputes. Mexico imposed tariffs on U.S. whiskey in response to Trump administration duties on Mexican steel and aluminum, while other countries including China and Canada are taking aim at American spirits.

Wall Street has been closely monitoring threats of a trade war. Vivien Azer, an analyst at Cowen & Co., said in a recent note that tariffs could affect a “notable piece” of international sales for Kentucky-based Brown-Forman Corp. The producer of such brands as Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey and Woodford Reserve tried to hedge against tariff-related price increases by stockpiling inventories overseas.

Small and mid-sized distilleries often don’t have the financial wherewithal to stockpile supplies. But even for the biggest distillers, stockpiling offers “only a short-term fix, as there’s only so much excess inventory” they could ship, Azer said.

But if the trade dispute drags on, “we would generally expect the tariff impact to subside over time as pricing and consumer purchase behavior adjusts,” Azer wrote.


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OPEC Agrees to Increase Oil Production

OPEC ministers agreed Friday to increase oil output, a move that could ease supply fears and lower world prices, but uncertainties remain about the durability of the outcome.

The agreement theoretically sees OPEC raising crude oil production by a million barrels a day, but analysts say the output will be quite a bit less because some member states have production constraints.

Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Khalid al-Falih confirmed as much to reporters at the Vienna OPEC meeting.

“We know that not all 24 countries can produce above their targets, and which is the reason the cut has increased from 1.8 to 2.8 [million barrels per day],” he said. “So what the actual volumes are released into the market is going probably to be less than a million, but the nominal figure we’re talking about is a million barrels.”

While the production increase is small compared to OPEC’s overall output, the cartel’s decision to boost supplies is a first since 2017, when it started withholding oil to prop up faltering prices. But strong oil demand this year has given a big boost to prices — sparking calls by consumers for more output.

That sentiment was echoed by U.S. President Donald Trump, who tweeted Friday that he hoped OPEC would increase output substantially.

But it’s unclear just how effective OPEC’s decision will be in lowering prices in the longer term. U.S. investment bank Jeffries Group was reported as saying the supply boost could help offset declining production and exports by Venezuela and Iran, but it also would leave spare supply capacity at its lowest level in decades. Possible Chinese tariffs against U.S. oil imports, as part of an escalating trade war, is another uncertainty.

The OPEC meeting was marked by disagreement, with Iran’s minister reportedly storming out of a meeting on Thursday. Iran opposed the output increase, while Russia and Saudi Arabia were for it. But Iran’s oil minister, Bijan Zanganeh, told reporters the ministers had agreed to a compromise.

He said they agreed to manage the market so Iran didn’t face difficulties and not to send the wrong signals to the international market.

Experts, however, believe the output increase will not benefit Iran, because the country is already exporting close to its maximum capacity. And the expected drop in oil prices will actually mean lower Iranian oil revenue.


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Europe to Impose New Tariffs on US Goods

The European Union is set to impose tariffs Friday on billions of dollars worth of American goods — including jeans, bourbon and motorcycles.

The action is the latest retaliation against U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to slap import tariffs on steel and aluminum from around the globe.

The U.S. is scheduled to start taxing more than $30 billion in Chinese imports in two weeks.

China has promised an immediate retaliation, a measure that would put the world’s two largest economies at odds.  

John Murphy, a U.S. Chamber of Commerce senior vice president, estimates that $75 billion in U.S. products could be subjected to new foreign tariffs by the end of July.

“The U.S. is abusing the tariff methods and starting trade wars all around the world.” said a spokesman for China’s Commerce Ministry.

“Clarity (is) still lacking about how far things will ultimately go between (the) U.S. and China and the potential ripple effect for world trade,” said financial analyst Mike van Dulken.

During his presidential campaign, Trump promised to apply tariffs because he said countries around the world had been exploiting the U.S.

The European stock market was bracing itself in the face of the new tariffs .  

In early Friday trading London’s FTSE 100 index of major blue-chip firms rose 0.2 percent to 7,571.78 points (compared with Thursday’s closing level.)

In the eurozone, Frankfurt’s DAX 30 was unchanged at 12,507.72, while the Paris CAC 40 gained almost 0.3 percent to 5,330.5 points.

But that could all change after the reality of the tariffs takes hold.

“We’ve never seen anything like this,” at least not since the Great Depression, said Syracuse University economist Mary Lovely.

A former White House trade advisor says Trump “has been so belligerent that it becomes almost impossible for democratically elected leaders – or even a non-democratic leader like (Chinese President) Xi Jinping – to appear to kowtow and give in.”  Phillip Levy, a senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, said, “The president has made it very hard for other countries to give him what he wants.”


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Turkey Joins Nations Placing New Tariffs on US Products

Turkey announced Thursday that it would impose tariffs on $1.8 billion worth of U.S. goods in retaliation for U.S. President Donald Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.

The World Trade Organization said the new Turkish tariffs would amount to $266.5 million on products including cars, coal, paper, rice and tobacco.

Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci said in a statement that Turkey would not allow itself “to be wrongly blamed for America’s economic challenges.”

He continued, “We are part of the solution, not the problem.”

On Wednesday, the EU announced that it had compiled a list of U.S. products on which it would begin charging import duties of 25 percent, a move that could escalate into a full-blown trade war, especially if U.S. President Donald Trump follows through with his threat to impose tariffs on European cars.

“We did not want to be in this position. However, the unilateral and unjustified decision of the U.S. to impose steel and aluminum tariffs on the EU means that we are left with no other choice,” EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said in a statement.

The commission, which manages the daily business of the EU, adopted a law that places duties on $3.2 billion worth of U.S. goods, including aluminum and steel products, agricultural products, bourbon and motorcycles.

Malmstrom said that the EU response was consistent with World Trade Organization rules and that the tariffs would be lifted if the U.S. rescinded its metal tariffs, which amount to $7.41 billion.

Trump slapped tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum on the EU, Canada and Mexico, which went into effect at the beginning of June.

Canada said it would impose retaliatory tariffs on $12.5 billion worth of U.S. products on July 1.

Mexico imposed tariffs two weeks ago on a range of U.S. products, including steel, pork and bourbon.


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UN: 40M in US Live in Poverty

A report by the U.N. special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights finds 40 million people in the United States live in poverty, 18.5 million live in extreme poverty and more than 5 million live in conditions of absolute poverty. 

Special Rapporteur Philip Alston called the United States the most unequal society in the developed world. He said U.S. policies benefit the rich and exacerbate the plight of the poor.

He said the policies of President Donald Trump’s administration stigmatize the poor by insisting those receiving government benefits are capable of working and that benefits, such as food stamps, should be cut back significantly. He said the government’s suggestions that people on welfare are lazy and do not want to work misrepresent the facts.

“The statistics that are available show that the great majority of people who, for example, are on Medicaid are either working in full-time work — around half of them — or they are in school or they are giving full-time care to others,” Alston said.

He said 7 percent of people were not working.

Worst of the West

In his report, which will be delivered Friday to the U.N. Human Rights Council, Alston noted the United States had the highest rate of income inequality among Western countries, with the top 1 percent of the population owning more than 38 percent of total wealth. He said the Trump administration’s $1.5 trillion in tax cuts would overwhelmingly benefit the wealthy and would worsen the situation of the poor.

The U.N. investigator told VOA that at the completion of each of his country fact-finding missions, he issues what he calls an end-of mission statement. That, he said, gives some governments the opportunity to immediately respond.

“The U.S. chose not to do that, and since then there has not been any official response to either that end-of-mission statement or to the final report, which has now been out for a couple of weeks,” he said.

As is common practice, after Alston formally presents his report to the Human Rights Council, the concerned country has a right of reply. Though the United States has withdrawn as a member of the council, it still has the right to respond to the report as an observer country.


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India, Top Buyer of US Almonds, Hits Back With Higher Duties

India, the world’s biggest buyer of U.S. almonds, raised import duties on the commodity by 20 percent, a government order said, joining the European Union and China in retaliating against President Donald Trump’s tariff hikes on steel and aluminum.

New Delhi, incensed by Washington’s refusal to exempt it from the new tariffs, also imposed a 120 percent duty on the import of walnuts in the strongest action yet against the United States.

The move to increase tariffs from Aug. 4 will also cover a slew of other farm, steel and iron products.

It came a day after the European Union said it would begin charging 25 percent import duties on a range of U.S. products on Friday, in response to the new U.S. tariffs.

India is by far the largest buyer of U.S. almonds, purchasing over half of all U.S. almond shipments in 2017. A kilogram of shelled almonds will attract duty of as much as 120 rupees ($1.76) instead of the current 100 rupees, the Commerce Ministry said.

Last month, New Delhi sought an exemption from the new U.S. tariffs, saying its steel and aluminum exports were small in relation to other suppliers. But its request was ignored, prompting India to launch a complaint against the United States at the World Trade Organization.

“India’s tariff retaliation is within the discipline of trade tariffs of the World Trade Organization,” said steel secretary Aruna Sharma.

Trade differences between India and the United States have been rising since U.S. President Donald Trump took office. Bilateral trade rose to $115 billion in 2016, but the Trump administration wants to reduce its $31 billion deficit with India, and is pressing New Delhi to ease trade barriers.

Earlier this year, Trump called out India for its duties on Harley-Davidson motorbikes, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi agreed to cut the import duty to 50 percent from 75 percent for the high-end bikes.

But that has not satisfied Trump, who pointed to zero duties for Indian bikes sold in the United States and said he would push for a “reciprocal tax” against countries, including U.S. allies, that levy tariffs on American products.

In the tariff rates issued late on Wednesday, the commerce ministry named some varieties of almonds, apples, chickpeas, lentils, walnuts and artemia that would carry higher import taxes. Most of these are purchased from the United States.

Walnuts have gone from 100 percent duty to 120 percent, the government note said.

India also raised duties on some grades of iron and steel products. In May it had given a list of products to the WTO that it said could incur higher tariffs.

An official from the steel ministry said at the time that the new tariffs were intended to show displeasure at the U.S. action.

“It is an appropriate signal. I am hopeful that all of this (trade war) will die down. In my view this is not in the interest of the global economy,” said Rajiv Kumar, vice chairman of the Indian government’s policy thinktank Niti Aayog.

Rising trade tensions between the United States and some major economies have threatened to derail global growth.

Officials from India and the United States are expected to hold talks on June 26-27 to discuss trade issues, local daily Times of India reported on Thursday citing Press Trust of India.

The U.S. Commerce Department on Wednesday announced a preliminary finding that imports of large-diameter welded pipe from China, India, South Korea and Turkey were subsidized by those countries, and said it was imposing preliminary duties that could top 500 percent.

In a separate trade dispute, Trump threatened on 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 accused China of stealing U.S. intellectual property, a charge Beijing denies. ($1 = 68.1700 Indian rupees)

 


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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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