Sawantwadi’s Traditional Handmade Toys Struggle for Survival

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Arts

Shashikant Rane with his wooden fruits. Credit: Rina Mukherji/IPS

Shashikant Rane with his wooden fruits. Credit: Rina Mukherji/IPS

PUNE, Jun 14 2024 (IPS) – Sawantwadi in Maharashtra, on the western coast of India, bordering Goa, has always been known for its wooden toys. A picturesque town amid hills and lush greenery, Sawantwadi retains an old-world charm to this day.  The regal Sawantwadi Palace holds pride of place, with colleges, schools, and temples cloistered around the periphery of the lake, which was once an extension of the royal grounds.  In the centre of the town is the Ubha Bazaar, or Hanging Market, which houses rows of shops selling the iconic wooden toys that are a hallmark of Sawantwadi.


The wooden toys of Sawantwadi are a legacy that the previous rulers nurtured, and they reflect the spirit of the area. Generations of children in Maharashtra and Goa have grown up playing with the life-like depictions of fruits, people, and the pull-along toys that were a necessary part of growing up. But today, these painstakingly carved, hand-made toys made of Pongamia and mango wood are struggling for survival. The once-bustling hilltop market in downtown Sawantwadi, known as Ubha Bazaar (Hanging Market), is now a ghost of what it once was. The artisan families who manufactured and sold these toys from their workshops-cum-homes are now reduced to a handful.

So, what caused the busy hands of these artisans to fall silent?

By the looks of it, several factors are responsible.

Female musicians in concert. Credit: Rina Mukherji/IPS

Female musicians in concert. Credit: Rina Mukherji/IPS

Backgrounder

Unlike the cheap machine-made toys that flood the market today, toys are a traditional craft in India, commanding a hoary lineage from the era of the Indus Valley civilization. Like many other centers in India, Sawantwadi always boasted gifted artisans capable of painstakingly breathing life into wood and carving out an array of life-like figures inspired by everyday life. Over the decades, the life-like depiction of fruits and vegetables was always been a specialty of Sawantwadi craftsmen. Of course, there were other toys too, for every age group of children: pull-along toys for toddlers, kitchen sets for little girls, bullock carts and other vehicles for bigger children, as well as spoons, cutters, and ladles used in the kitchen. What always made these toys stand out was the environment-friendly techniques and colors that were used to produce them.

Toy-making in Sawantwadi had its origins in the arrival of  Telangana Brahmins in the 17th century, who visited the kingdom to take part in religious debates with the then ruler, Khem Sawant II, who was extremely well-versed in Hindu religious scriptures and philosophy. The Chitrali artisans who arrived with the Brahmins brought the craft of toy-making and ganjifa (playing cards) to Sawantwadi.

Ideally suited to the greenery and scenic landscape of Sawantwadi, toy-making here made use of Pongamia and mango wood, which thrived in the thick forests here. The wood used for the toys would be collected in the summer and, after being washed and dried, left out to get thoroughly soaked during the entire monsoon. After thorough drying, they would be carved as per the desired shape. Once the toys were carved out, they would be covered with five layers of earth and left aside for a certain period of time. The lathe would then be used in this stage to impart the desired shape and finish. They would be painted with a powdery mixture made of tamarind and other seeds once dusted off and smoothed with sandpaper. After applying several coats of paint, a coat of lacquer and natural gum would add the finishing touches.  To this day, the lacquer used in Sawantwadi toys is their special feature. It is durable and never fades or chips away, no matter how roughly the toys are used. When toy-making was on the verge of fading out at one point in time, the local royal family gave it an impetus in the early 1970s. Primarily responsible for this shot in the arm were the Queen, Maharani Satvashila Devi and her husband, the reigning king, Rajesaheb Khem Sawant VI, Lt Colonel Shivram Sawant Bhonsale. The reigning royal family also set up a workshop to make hand-painted ganjifa cards at the palace, which is functional to this day.

Sawantwadi Palace grounds. Credit: Rina Mukherji/IPS

Sawantwadi Palace grounds. Credit: Rina Mukherji/IPS

Difficulties in Procuring Inputs

Historically, Sawantwadi was a vassal state of the mighty Maratha empire. When the British defeated the Marathas, Sawantwadi continued to exist as a small principality with a benign ruler during the British Raj.  The erstwhile British Resident’s home in downtown Sawantwadi, at a stone’s throw from the Palace, testifies to those bygone days. The early years of the 20th century saw Sawantwadi thrive in matters of education and culture, with the rulers also making efforts to nurture traditional crafts and artisans.

In recent times, however, deforestation has made it difficult to get adequate supplies of pangara (Pongamia) wood, while mango is not suitable for products that need the lathe machine.  Artisans have now turned to Acacia, Shivan (Gmelina Arborea) and Glyricidea, compromising on the quality of the toys.  Glyricidea has particularly emerged as a favorite, notwithstanding its being environmentally unsound and causing rats to overrun homes.

Lack of skilled artisans

The painstaking nature of the job, the difficulties in procuring wood and other inputs, and an uncertain market that cannot guarantee earnings in keeping with the efforts put in have resulted in many skilled artisans moving out of the industry and opting for employment elsewhere.  Industrialization in the neighboring districts has also been a big draw, while government initiatives to train young artisans in wood carving have been lackadaisical at best.

Very few can carve wood now, unlike in the past. So, instead of carving out a toy, the prevailing trend is to fill up sawdust into ready moulds. This also helps keep costs low and is not labour-intensive.  Shashikant Rane, one of the very few remaining master craftsmen in Sawantwadi, who the government approached about opening a Hastkala (handicrafts) Kendra (centre), tells me, “I entered the profession in the early 1960s, thanks to my father, who had received special training from Abha Gawde, a well-known master in the craft. Traditional toy-making requires a great deal of patience, starting with the procurement of the right wood. You procure the wood in May but cannot work on it until a few months later. In these times of quick turnarounds and massive profits, few are willing to put in the effort,” he points out.

Rane has been training 30 youngsters in the craft every year at his modest workshop-cum-home and is a much sought-after craftsman for prominent projects all over India. Referring to the government’s lackadaisical approach to training artisans, Rane tells me,  “The Minister-In-Charge had identified the venue for setting up the Hastkala Kendra and spoken to me about his vision at length.  But it is over a year now, and the plan still awaits finalization.”

Unfair Competition and Dwindling Demand

There are other factors, too. Cheap Chinese machine-made toys have also made consumers move away from these beautiful, hand-carved toys, which, owing to rising input costs, sell at higher rates. One also perceives a change in taste. P D Kanekar and Company, a prominent seller of toys in Sawantwadi, has moved to manufacture non-traditional toys in recent years.  Ankita Kanekar, from the Kanekar family, tells me, “Pangara (Pongamia) wood was always used to make life-like fruits and vegetables in the past. But no one is interested in playing with those now, unlike the previous generation.  Pangara trees are only available in a few villages now. Besides, a single set takes around one and a half months to be made. The work is painstaking and exacting, and the return is very little. There are very few good artisans practicing the trade.”

She also blames the current transport infrastructure for dwindling sales. “Earlier, the road links from Mumbai and Pune passed through Sawantwadi. But the highways now skirt our town.”

Changing tastes are evident when one browses through the shops today. Imitations of machine-made toys hold pride of place as compared to the artistic depictions of musicians, vegetable -sellers, or fishermen in traditional attire. It is tough to spot a bunch of bananas or betelnuts either.

Lack of government support is another major factor.

The active support of the ruling royal family had bolstered the toy industry in the previous century. This kind of support is no longer forthcoming. The lack of a strong toymakers’ cooperative or guild is also partly to blame. “There is no unity among the various people in the trade to negotiate in one voice with the authorities and demand guarantees or protective subsidies,” rues a prominent toymaker, requesting anonymity.

Consequently, Sawantwadi toys were devoid of geographic identification (GI) until now.

Light at the End of a Tunnel

As I write this, toymakers are jubilant about a GI tag having been granted to Sawantwadi wooden toys on March 30, 2024. This opens up a new vista for them. Toymakers like PD Kanekar have already taken to selling their toys online. “ We started selling online during the pandemic when everything shut down,” Ankita Kanekar tells me. The Kanekars sell through the DirectCreate platform to buyers all over India. Otherwise, sales are made to wholesalers based in Goa, who, in turn, sell to those traveling to India. This is because “international courier services are not yet developed from Sawantwadi. ”

Even so, with Goa’s newly-opened MOPA airport just 15–16 km away, international tourists often come down to Sawantwadi to buy these iconic toys.

One could well say that the GI tag and the inclusivity it bestows on these beautiful handcrafted toys are a good beginning. However, a lot more needs to be done if these toys are to capture the attention of a global market. Improving the courier services as well as government subsidies to the makers could go a long way here.

IPS UN Bureau Report

IPS UN Bureau, IPS UN Bureau Report, India

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Small Island Nations Demand Urgent Global Action at SIDS4 Conference

Caribbean Climate Wire, Civil Society, Climate Action, Climate Change, Climate Change Finance, Climate Change Justice, Conservation, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Editors’ Choice, Environment, Featured, Headlines, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Latin America & the Caribbean, PACIFIC COMMUNITY, Pacific Community Climate Wire, Small Island Developing States, Sustainable Development Goals, TerraViva United Nations, Trade & Investment

Conferences

The once-in-a-decade SIDS Conference opened in Antigua and Barbuda today, with a clear message: the world already knows the challenges that SIDS face—now it’s time for action.

King Charles III of Britain addresses the opening ceremony of the Fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States, May 27, 2024. Credit: Alison Kentish/IPS

King Charles III of Britain addresses the opening ceremony of the Fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States, May 27, 2024. Credit: Alison Kentish/IPS

ANTIGUA, May 27 2024 (IPS) – “This year has been the hottest in history in practically every corner of the globe, foretelling severe impacts on our ecosystems and starkly underscoring the urgency of our predicament. We are gathered here not merely to reiterate our challenges, but to demand and enact solutions,” declared Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Brown at the opening of the Fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States on May 27.


The world’s 39 small island developing states are meeting on the Caribbean island this week. It is a pivotal, once-a-decade meeting for small states that contribute little to global warming, but are disproportionately impacted by climate change. The Caribbean leader reminded the world that SIDS are being forced to survive crises that they did not create.

“The scales of equity and justice are unevenly balanced against us. The large-scale polluters whose CO2 emissions have fuelled these catastrophic climate changes bear a responsibility—an obligation of compensation to aid in our quest to build resilience,” he said.

“The Global North must honor its commitments, including the pivotal pledge of one hundred billion dollars in climate financing to assist with adaptation and mitigation as well as the effective capitalization and operationalization of the loss and damage fund. These are imperative investments in humanity, in justice, and in the equitable future of humanity.”

Urgent Support Needed from the International Community

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres told the gathering that the previous ten years have presented significant challenges to SIDS and hindered development. These include extreme weather events and the COVID-19 pandemic. He says SIDS, islands that are “exceptionally beautiful, exceptionally resilient, but exceptionally vulnerable,” need urgent support from the international community, led by the nations that are both responsible for the challenges they face and have the capacity to deal with them.

“The idea that an entire island state could become collateral damage for profiteering by the fossil fuel industry, or competition between major economies, is simply obscene,” the Secretary General said, adding, “Small Island Developing States have every right and reason to insist that developed economies fulfill their pledge to double adaptation financing by 2025. And we must hold them to this commitment as a bare minimum. Many SIDS desperately need adaptation measures to protect agriculture, fisheries, water resources and infrastructure from extreme climate impacts you did virtually nothing to create.”

Antigua and Barbuda Agenda for SIDS (ABAS)

The theme for SIDS4 is Charting the Course Toward Resilient Prosperity and the small islands have been praised for collective action in the face of crippling crises. Their voices were crucial to the establishment of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement.

Out of this conference will come the Antigua and Barbuda Agenda for SIDS (ABAS). President of the UN General Assembly, Dennis Francis, says that programme of action will guide SIDS on a path to resilience and prosperity for the next decade.

“ The next ten years will be critical in making sustained concrete progress on the SIDS agenda – and we must make full use of this opportunity to supercharge our efforts around sustainability,” he said.

The SIDS4 conference grounds in Antigua and Barbuda will be a flurry of activity over the next four days. Apart from plenaries, there are over 170 side events hosted by youth, civil society organizations, non-governmental organizations, and universities, covering a range of issues from renewable energy to climate financing.

They have been reminded by Prime Minister Gaston Browne that this is a crucial juncture in the history of small island developing states, where “actions, or failure to act, will dictate the fate of SIDS and the legacy left for future generations.”

IPS UN Bureau Report

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Landlocked Developing Countries Conference to Address Development

Conferences, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Global, Headlines, Sustainable Development Goals, TerraViva United Nations, Trade & Investment

Conferences

Third UN Conference of Landlocked Developing Countries will be an opportunity to address the issues these countries face.

Third UN Conference of Landlocked Developing Countries will be an opportunity to address the issues these countries face.

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 6 2024 (IPS) – Landlocked developing countries need greater support from the international community so that they are no longer left behind when it comes to progressing with the SDGs, says the UN High Representative of the Least Developed Countries.


The Third UN Conference of Landlocked Developing Countries (LLDC3) is set to be hosted in Kigali, Rwanda, in June. A preparatory committee for the conference has been established and convened its first meeting on Monday. 

The overarching theme of the conference, “Driving Progress through Partnerships,” is expected to highlight the importance of support from the global community in enabling LLDCs to meet their potential and achieve the SDGs. The conference invites the participation of multiple stakeholders, including heads of state and government, the private sector, and civil society. Several senior leaders in the UN system, including Secretary-General António Guterres, are expected to attend the LLDC3 Conference.

Thirty-two countries are classified as LLDCs, 17 of which are also classified as Least Developed Countries (LDCs). Sixteen are in Africa, and the remaining are located across Asia, Europe, and South America. This year will mark the first time that the LLDC Conference will be hosted in Africa.

Rabab Fatima, Under Secretary-General and High Representative of the Office for the Least Developed Countries, and the Secretary-General of the LLDC3 Conference, remarked that this conference would be a “once-in-a-decade opportunity” for the global community to address the needs of the LLDCs in order to “ensure that nobody is left behind.”

“The 32 landlocked developing countries are grappling with unique challenges due to their geographical and structural constraints and lack of integration into world trade and global value chains. Their situation has been further exacerbated by the lingering effects of the pandemic, climate change, and conflict,” she said.

The lack of direct access to coastal ports means that LLDCs rely on transit countries to connect them with international markets. This can lead to high trade costs and delays in the movement of goods. In other cases, many of the LLDCs’ transit neighbors are also developing countries with their own economic challenges. According to Fatima, the average cargo travel time for LLDCs was twelve days, compared to seven days for transit countries.

As a result of the slow progress in development, twenty-eight percent of people in LLDCs live in poverty. At least a third of the people are at a high risk of or already live with some form of debt distress, and fifty-eight percent of people deal with moderate to severe food insecurity.

Enkhbold Vorshilov, Permanent Representative of Mongolia to the UN, noted that the conference would be a “critical juncture” for the LLDCs. He also serves as the co-chair of the preparatory committee along with the Permanent Representative of Austria. He added, “Despite our varied cultural and economic structures, we share common challenges that impede our development and economic growth.”

The Preparatory Committee will negotiate the details of the conference’s outcome document, which has been prepared to “encapsulate the challenges and aspirations of the LLDCs,” according to Gladys Mokhawa, Permanent Representative for Botswana and the Chair of the Global Group of Landlocked Developing Countries. Mokhawa expressed that the document has so far received general support from member states and that the final draft would be comprehensive and committed to addressing the challenges that LLDCs face “that align with their specific needs and aspirations.”

“A vision is clear: to transform the geographical challenges and to ensure that our landlocked status is nothing more than a detail of geography,” she said. “We believe that our collective efforts can and will make a difference.”

“Our goal is not merely to draft a document but to build positive, genuine partnerships that will empower landlocked developing countries to overcome their challenges and achieve sustainable prosperity,” said Vorshilov. He added that, along with support from neighboring transit countries, cooperation from development partners and financial institutions would be important to mobilize the resources needed to support the LLDCs.

The document is intended to serve as a guideline for the LLDCs for the next decade and will touch on several areas of interest. In addition to addressing transport and trade, it will focus on emerging issues, such as science, technology, and innovation, and improving capacity and resilience against issues arising from climate change.

Earlier meetings, including the first meeting of the committee, have seen delegations express solidarity with the LLDCs and support for the agenda of the upcoming conference. Ambassador Stavros Lambrinidis, Permanent Representative of the European Union Delegation to the UN, stated that the development challenges call for “more efficient allocation of financial resources on the path toward the SDGs” and that an “essential element” of their partnership would be the development of connections and transport corridors for the benefit of all peoples.

Speaking on behalf of the Africa Group, Ambassador Marc Hermanne Araba of Benin noted that Africa has faced the brunt of the challenges faced by the LLDCs and their neighboring transit countries. He added that the present moment was an opportunity to “chart a transformative agenda for the LLDCs,” and therefore it is important for the global community to reaffirm its’ commitment to address the LLDCs’ challenges together to “ensure that these countries are not left behind.”.

Fatima welcomed the media as a “key partner,” through which the voices of LLDCs would have a platform, and to bridge the gap between the conference and those communities who will be most affected by the outcomes by sharing their perspectives.

IPS UN Bureau Report

 

New Era: Unlocking Africa’s Agriculture Potential Through CGIAR TAAT Model

Africa, Biodiversity, Civil Society, Climate Change, COP28, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Food and Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition, Food Sustainability, Headlines, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, Population, Poverty & SDGs, Sustainable Development Goals, TerraViva United Nations, Trade & Investment

Food and Agriculture

Transforming food systems is key to solving food insecurity on the African continent. A powerful and unified effort is needed to ensure food systems are transformed to be robust enough to support the population. Credit: Joyce Chimbi/IPS

Transforming food systems is key to solving food insecurity on the African continent. A powerful and unified effort is needed to ensure food systems are transformed to be robust enough to support the population. Credit: Joyce Chimbi/IPS

NAIROBI, Jan 16 2024 (IPS) – As hunger and food insecurity deepen, Africa is confronting an unprecedented food crisis. Estimates show that nearly 282 million people on the continent, or 20 percent of the population, are undernourished. Numerous challenges across the African continent threaten the race to achieve food security; research and innovative strategies are urgently needed to transform current systems as they are inadequate to address the food crisis.


Transforming food systems is key. A powerful and unified effort is needed to equip food systems to advance human and planetary health to their full potential. This was the message as CGIAR entered a new era under the leadership of Dr Ismahane Elouafi, the Executive Managing Director. Named one of the most influential Africans of 2023, she continues to stress the need to use science and innovation to unlock Africa’s potential to meet its food needs.

Dr Ismahane Elouafi, the CGIAR’s newly appointed Executive Managing Director. Credit: FAO

Dr Ismahane Elouafi, the CGIAR’s newly appointed Executive Managing Director. Credit: FAO

During her inaugural field visit to an IITA center in Ibadan, Nigeria, alongside Dr Simeon Ehui, IITA’s Director General and CGIAR Regional Director for Continental Africa, she oversaw extensive discussions on transforming food systems and leveraging science and technology.

“At COP28 in Dubai, UAE, there was high-level recognition and a wonderful spotlight on science and innovation. CGIAR has an opportunity to represent science and innovation at large, representing the whole community at large. We can cut down poverty and stop malnutrition, and we have the tools—we just need to bring them to the farmers,” she said.

CGIAR continues to create linkages between agricultural and tech stakeholders, emphasizing digital innovation for agricultural development. CGIAR-IITA explores leveraging ICTs to tackle agricultural challenges, boost productivity, ensure sustainability, and enhance food security, featuring presentations, discussions, workshops, and networking across sectors.

There was a significant focus on the CGIAR TAAT model as a tool to use technology to address Africa’s worsening food crisis. TAAT Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT) is a key flagship programme of the African Development Bank’s Feed Africa strategy for 2016 to 2025.

“We have the technology, and all hands are on deck to ensure that no one sleeps hungry. There are severe food insecurities on the continent today, deepening rural poverty and malnutrition. We have the capacity to achieve food security,” Ehui emphasized.

IITA’s Dr Kenton Dashiell spoke about TAAT in the context of strategic discussions around policy and government engagement. Emphasizing the need for the government, private sector, and other key stakeholders to create effective and efficient food systems transformation paths. As a major continent-wide initiative designed to boost agricultural productivity across the continent by rapidly delivering proven technologies to millions of farmers, TAAT can deliver a food-secure continent.

Elouafi stressed the need to ensure that technology is in the hands of farmers. in line with TAAT, which aims to double crop, livestock, and fish productivity by expanding access to productivity-increasing technologies to more than 40 million smallholder farmers across Africa by 2025. In addition, TAAT seeks to generate an additional 120 million metric tons.

IITA’s Bernard Vanlauwe spoke about sustainable intensification with the aim of increasing production and improving the livelihoods of smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. Farmers are increasingly dealing with higher temperatures and shorter rainy seasons, affecting the production of staple foods such as maize. Further stressing the need for improved crop varieties to meet Africa’s pressing food insecurities.

Elouafi stressed that the needs are great, in particular, eliminating extreme poverty, ending hunger and malnutrition, turning Africa into a net food exporter, and positioning Africa at the top of the agricultural value chains. She emphasized the need to leverage progress made thus far, building on the commitments of Dakar 1, the 1st Summit of the World’s Regions on Food Security held in Dakar in January 2010, where representatives and associations of regional governments from the five continents noted that the commitments made at the World Food Summit in 2002 had had little effect and that the food crisis had only worsened.

Elouafi said the UN Food System Summit in 2021 and the 2023 Dakar 2 Summit, with an emphasis on building sustainable food systems and aligning government resources, development partners, and private sector financing to unleash Africa’s food production potential, were important meetings to build on. The commitments made at these high-level meetings had already created a pathway towards ending hunger, food insecurity, and malnutrition and transforming food systems to meet the most pressing food needs today.

It is estimated that Africa’s agricultural output could increase from USD 280 billion per year to USD 1 trillion by 2030. The visit and ensuing discussions highlighted how investing in raising agricultural productivity, supporting infrastructure, and climate-smart agricultural systems, with private sector investments, government support, and resources from multinational financial institutions, all along the food value chain, can help turn Africa into a breadbasket for the world. Private sector actors will be particularly urged to commit to the development of critical value chains.

IPS UN Bureau Report

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Skyrocketing Inflation Puts Food Security in Pakistan at Risk

Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Food Security and Nutrition, Headlines, Humanitarian Emergencies, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations, Trade & Investment

Economy & Trade

Jamaat-i-Islami party stage protest in Peshawar against price-hikes. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Jamaat-i-Islami party stage protest in Peshawar against price-hikes. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN, Sep 26 2023 (IPS) – “We are under extreme stress about skyrocketing prices of essential edible commodities and the cost of gas and electricity. The situation is becoming worse because every day. We must pay more for wheat flour, sugar, tea, milk, oil, etc.,” Azizullah Khan, a civil servant, says.


Khan draws a monthly salary of 30,000 rupees (USD100), but the cost of living is increasing daily, making it hard for his family of eight to survive.

The electricity bill for August was 20,000 rupees (USD67), and two-thirds of his salary went into paying that, while the remaining 10,000 rupees (USD33) is meant to pay for gas and other family expenses, which, he says, is next to impossible.

“Now, we are seriously thinking of selling the small house we inherited from our parents because we have to repay loans to the shopkeepers and pay the school fees of three children,” says Khan, 30. He lives on the outskirts of Peshawar, the provincial capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, one of Pakistan’s four provinces.

Pakistan’s leading economy and business analyst, Khurram Hussain, told IPS that the country has been seeing relentless and unending pressure on the exchange rate and price levels for more than two and a half years.

“The present bout of exchange rate volatility began in May 2021 and has continued unabated since then,” Hussain says. The dollar had from around 150 rupees to the dollar to about 300 to the dollar, he says.

Quoted in Dawn, a newspaper in Pakistan, he noted: “It took ten years for the dollar to double in value from 75 to 150 rupees, from 2008 till 2019. It took less than two and a half years to double again from May 2021 till today.

At the same time, inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index, started to skyrocket a few months after May 2021 and has risen relentlessly until now, with a few interruptions.

Muhammad Raees, 28, a daily wager, is severely hit by the cost of living.

“One year back, the price of 20 kg wheat four was Rs1300, which has now increased to Rs3000. I don’t find work every day because the construction activities have nosedived due to cement, iron, marble, and tile prices, and most of the contractors have stopped work,” Raees, a father of two, says.

“Many times, I have thought of committing suicide, but then I think of my children and wife,” he says.

At least ten people have committed suicide in the past two months.

“They were unable to pay electricity bills. Now, the government is mulling about jacking up the gas price by 50 percent. The poor population is the worst hit,” he says.

Javid Shah, a vegetable seller in Nowshera city adjacent to Peshawar, is fed up with life. “Cost of transportation has increased, and so the prices of vegetables and, as a result, sales have declined. Many who bought 1 kg of tomatoes, lady fingers, and potatoes daily are now taking half a kg,” he says. “I have to discard rotten vegetables daily for lack of sales.”

Akram Ali, a fruit seller in a tiny shop, also constantly complains of high inflation and devaluation of rupees. Ali says his business has reached a standstill as people no longer buy fruits due to high prices.

“As a result, I am going to close shop and start the business in a hand pushcart to save on rent.”

“My two sons are going to school, but the last one and half years have been tough, and I cannot pay their fees. Both have quit schools and sit at home,” he complained.

Saleem Ahmed, a local economist, tells IPS that pulses, considered poor men’s diet, are so expensive they are out of reach of many.

“All pulses are imported in dollars, so their prices have increased. The people are struck by inflation, and they cannot buy items, like pulses, which used to be cheap,” he said.

Prices were stable until former Prime Minister Imran Khan was removed in April 2022 in a no-confidence vote at the National Assembly.

“People have been running from pillar to post for two square meals. As if inflation wasn’t enough, huge smuggling of sugar, wheat flour, pulses, oil, etc. to neighboring Afghanistan have hammered the last nail in the coffin of the poverty-stricken masses,” he said.

Ahmed says the government is taking loans from the IMF, the World Bank, and other lenders with high interest rates, impacting the cost of living.

In such a scenario, Afghan refugees living in Pakistan are jubilant over the rising Afghan economy under the Taliban, and many are weighing options to return to their country.

“In Pakistan, the US dollar is equal to 300 rupees while it is traded for 75 Afghani back home,” Muhammad Mustafa, an Afghan with a sanitary business in Peshawar, says.

Mustafa says he had sent his elder son to Kabul to search for the rented shop so he could shift his business there.

“All my family live in Kabul, and we want to be there. The time is ripe for us to shift (back) there,” he says.

Petrol is being sold at 312 rupees (USD1.5) per liter in Pakistan, while its rate was 80 Afghani (USD1.02) in Kabul.

IPS – UN Bureau, IPS UN Bureau Report,

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UN Must Reclaim Multilateral Governance from Pretenders

Civil Society, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Global, Headlines, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, TerraViva United Nations, Trade & Investment

Opinion

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Aug 24 2023 (IPS) – International governance arrangements are in trouble. Condemned as ‘dysfunctional’ by some, multilateral agreements have been discarded or ignored by the powerful except when useful to protect their interests or provide legitimacy.


Economic multilateralism under siege
Undoubtedly, many multilateral arrangements have become less appropriate. At their heart is the United Nations (UN) system, conceived in the last year of US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency and World War Two.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

The 1944 UN conference at Bretton Woods sought to build the foundations for the post-war economic order. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) would create conditions for lasting growth and stability, with the World Bank financing post-war reconstruction and post-colonial development.

The Bretton Woods agreement allowed the US Federal Reserve Bank (Fed) to issue dollars, as if backed by gold. In 1971, President Richard Nixon repudiated the US’s Bretton Woods obligations. With US military and ‘soft’ power, widespread acceptance of the dollar since has effectively extended the Fed’s ‘exorbitant privilege’.

This unilateral repudiation of US commitments has been a precursor of the fate of some other multilateral arrangements. Most were US-designed, some in consultation with allies. Most key privileges of the global North – especially the US – continue, while duties and obligations are ignored if deemed inconvenient.

The International Trade Organization (ITO) was to be the third leg of the post-war multilateral economic order, later reaffirmed by the 1948 Havana Charter. Despite post-war world hegemony, the ITO was rejected by the protectionist US Congress.

The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) became the compromise substitute. Recognizing the diversity of national economic capacities and capabilities, GATT did not impose a ‘one-size-fits-all’ requirement on all participants.

But lessons from such successful flexible precedents were ignored in creating the World Trade Organization (WTO) from 1995. The WTO has imposed onerous new obligations such as the all-or-nothing ‘single commitment’ requirement and the Agreement on Trade-related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).

Overcoming marginalization
In September 2021, the UN Secretary-General (SG) issued Our Common Agenda, with new international governance proposals. Besides its new status quo bias, the proposals fall short of what is needed in terms of both scope and ambition.

Problematically, it legitimizes and seeks to consolidate already diffuse institutional responsibilities, further weakening UN inter-governmental leadership. This would legitimize international governance infiltration by multi-stakeholder partnerships run by private business interests.

The last six decades have seen often glacially slow changes to improve UN-led gradual – mainly due to the recalcitrance of the privileged and powerful. These have changed Member State and civil society participation, with mixed effects.

Fairer institutions and arrangements – agreed to after inclusive inter-governmental negotiations – have been replaced by multi-stakeholder processes. These are typically not accountable to Member States, let alone their publics.

Such biases and other problems of ostensibly multilateral processes and practices have eroded public trust and confidence in multilateralism, especially the UN system.

Multi-stakeholder processes – involving transnational corporate interests – may expedite decision-making, even implementation. But the most authoritative study so far found little evidence of net improvements, especially for the already marginalized.

New multi-stakeholder governance – without meaningful prior approval by relevant inter-governmental bodies – undoubtedly strengthens executive authority and autonomy. But such initiatives have also undermined legitimacy and public trust, with few net gains.

All too often, new multi-stakeholder arrangements with private parties have been made without Member State approval, even if retrospectively due to exigencies.
Unsurprisingly, many in developing countries have become alienated from and suspicious of those acting in the name of multilateral institutions and processes.

Hence, many in the global South have been disinclined to cooperate with the SG’s efforts to resuscitate, reinvent and repurpose undoubtedly defunct inter-governmental institutions and processes.

Way forward?
But the SG report has also made some important proposals deserving careful consideration. It is correct in recognizing the long overdue need to reform existing governance arrangements to adapt the multilateral system to current and future needs and requirements.

This reform opportunity is now at risk due to the lack of Member State support, participation and legitimacy. Inclusive consultative processes – involving state and non-state actors – must strive for broadly acceptable pragmatic solutions. These should be adopted and implemented via inter-governmental processes.

Undoubtedly, multilateralism and the UN system have experienced growing marginalization after the first Cold War ended. The UN has been slowly, but surely superseded by NATO and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), led by the G7 group of the biggest rich economies.

The UN’s second SG, Dag Hammarskjold – who had worked for the OECD’s predecessor – warned the international community, especially developing countries, of the dangers posed by the rich nations’ club. This became evident when the rich blocked and pre-empted the UN from leading on international tax cooperation.

Seeking quick fixes, ‘clever’ advisers or consultants may have persuaded the SG to embrace corporate-dominated multi-stakeholder partnerships contravening UN norms. More recent SG initiatives may suggest his frustration with the failure of that approach.

After the problematic and controversial record of such processes and events in recent years, the SG can still rise to contemporary challenges and strengthen multilateralism by changing course. By restoring the effectiveness and legitimacy of multilateralism, the UN will not only be fit, but also essential for humanity’s future.

IPS UN Bureau

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