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Obama ends Kenya visit

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Nairobi: US President Barack Obama left Kenya on Sunday afternoon after a three-day visit, his first as president to the country of his father’s birth.

Obama left Kenya for Ethiopia, the second stop of his tour, where he will attend bilateral meetings with Ethiopian and African Union leaders, Xinhua reported.

During his visit, the US president opened the 6th Global Entrepreneurship Summit, and held bilateral talks with Kenyan officials.

In his speech on Sunday to Kenyans, Obama praised the country for its regional leadership and said it was headed for a bigger global role.

“Kenya’s future is filled with hope. You are poised for a bigger role in the world,” he said.

Obama said the US government was grateful for the role Kenya has played in the African Union Mission in Somalia that was stabilizing the Horn of Africa country.

He said the US will stand by Kenya in combating the threat posed by terrorists.

(IANS)

 

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Did You Hear about the New Species of Spiders Named After Leonardo DiCaprio, Bernie Sanders and Barrack Obama?

The new species of spiders have been named in honor of leaders and artists who promoted sensible approaches for a better world

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Did you hear about the Bernie Sanders spider? (representational image) Pixabay

Vermont, September 30, 2017 : What if we tell you that a team of researchers has recognized and named 15 new species of spiders in the Caribbean after your favorite stars like Leonardo DiCaprio, Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders?

Not in Hollywood, Washington, DC or Vermont – but you might now be able to catch a glimpse of Spintharus davidattenboroughi, S. barackobamai, S, michelleobamaae, S. berniesandersi, S. davidbowiei along with S. leonardodicaprioi on the Caribbean islands and some other southern spots.

Ingi Agnarsson, expert of spiders and professor of biology at University of Vermont, who led the new study revealed the rationale behind the undergraduate study and on choosing the intriguing names. “(We) wanted to honor people who stood up for both human rights and warned about climate change—leaders and artists who promoted sensible approaches for a better world”, he said.

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The Smiley-Faced Spider

Popularly recognized as a global hotspot for biodiversity, there continues to be several species in the Caribbean that are outside the spectrum of research and study. This includes the ‘smiley faced’ spider in the genus Spintharus- named for a smiley face pattern on their abdomens.

Previously recognized as one widespread species, researchers from the UVM discovered that there exist many more endemic species within the genus, 15 of which have been recognized in the research.

These samples were collected from Florida, South Carolina, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Jamaica, Mexico, the Lesser Antilles and Columbia.

Each team member got to decide names for the new species of spiders. Alongside naming them after friends and family members, many species have been named after distinguished figures.

“We all named the Bernie Sanders spider together,” said Lily Sargeant, one of the students who worked on the project. “We all have tremendous respect for Bernie. He presents a feeling of hope.”

Some of the other names include,

Spintharus davidbowiei

Named after the great artist David Bowie, who passed away in 2016. His music will continue to inspire generations and the authors decided to honor his legacy by naming a spider in his name.

Spintharus barackobamai

Named after the widely popular, and largely loved, former President of the United States Barack Obama. The authors love him for his statesmanship and humanitarianism, and named the spider species after him, to honor their president and his devoted service.

Spintharus michelleobamaae

Named in honor of the Former First Lady of the United States for her poise, confidence and elegance, her fight for human rights and for always striving to uphold the principles of justice, fairness and equality for all.

Spintharus davidattenboroughi

The authors of the research also named a species of spiders after the naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough, to recognize and celebrate his efforts to educate people of the wonders of the natural world and sowing a seed of caring for nature in humanity.

The study has been published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.

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WeFarm- a Farmer to Farmer Digital Network – is Helping Farmers in remote villages of Kenya

WeFarm helps connect farmers via Text Messages

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A farmer herds his cattle at sunset near Kisumu, Kenya, Feb. 2, 2008.
A farmer herds his cattle at sunset near Kisumu, Kenya, Feb. 2, 2008. VOA

When she woke up one morning in February, Catherine Kagendo realized that one of her cows could not stand.

“It was lying on its side, had lost its appetite and was breathing heavily,” she told Reuters from her farm in Meru, in eastern Kenya.

With her husband, she decided to turn to WeFarm, a text-based network of small-scale farmers, for help.

Within an hour, their text — “one of my lactating cows cannot stand” — generated a flurry of suggestions, from “feed your cow with minerals rich in calcium” to “make sure the cow shed is clean and well-drained so the animals don’t slip.”

“I realized our cow had milk fever, so gave it calcium-rich feed and it was standing again within hours,” Kagendo explained.

She is one of many Kenyan small-scale farmers who lack good information — mostly due to a lack of internet access — on how to manage problems from dry spells to diseases, local farm experts say.

As a result, such farmers often lose their harvest or animals, they said.

But WeFarm, a farmers’ network launched in Kenya in 2014 and more recently expanded to Uganda and Peru, allows people to ask a question by text message and receive advice from their peers.

The service, whose Scottish co-founder Kenny Ewan describes it as “the internet for people with no internet,” is free to use and only requires a mobile phone.

Farmers text questions to a local number, and WeFarm transmits the message to users with similar interests in the area, tapping into their knowledge.

“We want farmers to get answers to their problems without needing to access the internet, so the information is available to all,” said Mwinyi Bwika, head of marketing at WeFarm.

Although the platform also exists online, over 95 percent of users choose to use it offline, he said.

Information gap

Kagendo said that when her animals were ill or her maize crops too dry, she used to have to hire an extension officer to help solve the problem.

“But we had to pay a fee ranging from 500 to 2,000 Kenyan shillings ($5-$20), and most of the time the officer didn’t even explain their diagnosis,” she said.

That cut into her family’s income and left them no better able to understand the diseases facing their cattle and their crops.

“We cannot even afford a smartphone to go online, so finding credible information was near impossible,” she said.

According to Bwika, small-scale farmers often lack the information they need because of a lack of cash — most live on less than a dollar a day — as well as poor internet connection and low literacy levels.

“Ewan realized that farmers living just a few miles from each other were facing the same challenges, but with no way to communicate about them. So, he created a platform to connect them,” Bwika said.

Joseph Kinyua, another farmer from Meru who grows vegetables, said he spends at least 30 minutes per day using WeFarm.

“It’s taught me anything from using pest control traps to ensuring that my sprinklers don’t put out too much water,” he said. “And I know the methods are proven and tested by other farmers.”

The knowledge has helped improve the quality of the kale he grows, he said, enough that “I can now sell a kilo at the market at 70 shillings [$0.70] compared to 50 [$0.50] previously.”

Preventing problems

While the platform might receive dozens of replies to a question, it only sends out to the user a selection of answers judged correct, Bwika said.

But it uses the questions and advice received to help track disease outbreaks or extreme weather spells, and shares those insights with governments and non-governmental organizations, Bwika said.

“In doing so, we hope to prevent disease outbreaks and track problems before they occur,” he said.

Not everyone shares this optimism, however.

Mary Nkatha, a farmer from Meru, said she found it hard to implement some of the recommendations she received from WeFarm without the practical guidance of an expert.

“If I am told to inject my cow with something, how do I make sure I do it in the right place? And where do I find the equipment?” she asked.

Fredrick Ochido, a Kenya-based consultant on dairy farming, also worries that the platform may be entrenching farmers’ poor use of technology, rather than helping them keep up with new trends.

The WeFarm platform has over 100,000 current users in Kenya, Uganda and Peru, and its operators hopes to reach one million farmers in the next year. They also aim to expand the effort to other countries, including Tanzania. (VOA)

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Movies at Toronto International Film Festival will increase audience’s excitement, raise debates on burning issues

Many of the films at Toronto International Film Festival will talk about relevant topics like equality in Hollywood, politics in Washington

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Sally Hawkins, left, and Octavia Spencer in a scene from
Sally Hawkins, left, and Octavia Spencer in a scene from "The Shape of Water." The movie premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival. VOA
  • “The Battle of the sexes” starring Emma Stone and Steve Carell talks about issue of gender equality- in both pay disparity and directing opportunity
  • It’s a great thing for the filmmakers to have what is usually a pretty film-oriented, film-loving audience
  • The filmmakers say they are expecting a variety of opinions in any one audience at Toronto International Film Festival

New York, USA, September 7, 2017: Few institutions in cinema can match the teeming, overwhelming Toronto International Film Festival as a conversation-starting force. It simply has a lot of movies worth talking about.

And this year, many of the films that will parade down at Toronto International Film Festival’s red carpets will hope to shift the dialogue not just in terms of awards buzz, but in other directions, too: equality in Hollywood; politics in Washington; even about nature of the movies, themselves. At TIFF, expect debate.

That’s what the filmmakers behind “The Battle of the Sexes,” one of the anticipated films heading to Toronto International Film Festival in the coming days, are hoping for. After the festival opens today with another tennis movie, the rivalry drama “Borg/McEnroe,” at Toronto International Film Festival with Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (the directing duo who helmed 2006’s “Little Miss Sunshine”) will premiere their drama about the 1973 showdown between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs.

The movie, starring Emma Stone and Steve Carell, holds obvious parallels for a movie industry with its own issues of gender equality, in both pay disparity and directing opportunity. For others, it will recall issues that dominated last year’s U.S. presidential campaign. But “Battle of the Sexes” may surprise moviegoers in its broad sympathies on both sides of the net.

“The one thing we didn’t want to have happened was this polarizing political document,” said Dayton. “Right now, there’s enough of that in the world. We wanted to tell a more personal story and keep it from becoming too binary.”

The filmmakers say they are expecting “a variety of opinions in any one audience” at Toronto International Film Festival.

“It’s really the best way to release a film, at a festival like Telluride or Toronto,” said Faris. “It’s a great way to get the word out about a film. It’s a great thing for the filmmakers to have what is usually a pretty film-oriented, film-loving audience. It gives you hope that they’re still out there.”

Actress Priyanka Chopra, left, chats with the director and CEO of TIFF Piers Handling at the TIFF Soiree, an annual fundraiser and celebratory kick-off for the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival, at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, Sept. 6, 2017, in Toronto
Actress Priyanka Chopra, left, chats with the director and CEO of TIFF Piers Handling at the TIFF Soiree, an annual fundraiser and celebratory kick-off for the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival, at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, Sept. 6, 2017, in Toronto. VOA

The Toronto International Film Festival comes right on the heels of the Venice and Telluride festivals, but the size and scope of Toronto have long made it the centerpiece of the fall movie season. It’s where much of the coming awards season gets handicapped, debated and solidified. It’s also a significant market for new films, and this year several intriguing films — “I, Tonya,” with Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding, and “Hostiles,” a brutal Western with Christian Bale — are on the block.

But most eyes will be on the gala premieres of the fall’s biggest films at Toronto International Film Festival, including Alexander Payne’s “Downsizing,” Guillermo Del Toro’s “The Shape of Water,” George Clooney’s “Suburbicon,” and maybe the most explosive movie of the season, Darren Aronofsky’s mystery-shrouded allegorical thriller “mother!”

It can be a competitive landscape, with dozens of daily movie premieres and their respective parties, all trying to stand out. But several first-time directors may end up stealing the spotlight at Toronto International Film Festival. Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird” will sail into Toronto on waves of rave reviews from Telluride. Aaron Sorkin, arguably the top screenwriter in Hollywood for two decades, will present his directorial debut, “Molly’s Game.”

Sorkin didn’t initially anticipate he’d direct his script. But he became, he says, obsessed with the story of Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), the former elite skier who was indicted for running a high-stakes poker game in Los Angeles. It’s a potentially career-redefining movie for Sorkin — and he’s appropriately anxious.

“I’d feel the same way if we were launching it in Wyoming. I’m nervous because other than test audiences, this will be the first time people see it,” said Sorkin. “The Toronto Film Festival is a very prestigious place to debut a film, so I’m aware of the company I’m in and what’s expected in the movie. It will be up to others to decide if it delivered.”

“The Disaster Artist” poses a similar turning point for its star and director, James Franco. It’s about the making of what’s widely considered one of the worst movies ever made — the cult favorite “The Room,” by Tommy Wiseau. Franco, who plays Wiseau, considers it a new step for him as a filmmaker and says the film’s parody is laced with affection.

“The characters are outsiders. They are weirdos,” said Franco. “But everybody can relate to having a dream and trying to break into this incredibly hard business.”

The film will premiere to a surely raucous audience at a midnight screening. Franco, who first saw “The Room” with an especially excitable Vancouver audience, expects it to be the perfect debut for his film: “Canadians know how to do ‘The Room.”’

“The Disaster Artist,” which A24 will release in December, might give TIFF what “La La Land” did last year — a happily escapist movie about Hollywood. Other films will tackle less comic real-life tales, including Angelina Jolie’s searing Cambodia drama “First They Killed My Father,” the Winston Churchill biopic “Darkest Hour,” with Gary Oldman; and the documentary “The Final Year,” about the last year of Barack Obama’s administration.

Cameron Bailey, artistic director of the festival, said Trump’s presidency “was not a factor in the films we selected,” though he expects it to color the reception of many.

“Some of them will be received with the current political climate in mind,” said Bailey. “One of the things I think you learn from films like (the Watergate drama) ‘Mark Felt’ and (the Ted Kennedy drama) ‘Chappaquiddick’ and others that we have here is that the process of politics is not a pretty one. It involves a lot of conflicted motives, shall we say.”

And who better to make sense of the current political landscape than Armando Iannucci (“Veep,” “The Thick of It”), the master of rapid-fire political farce. In his second feature film, “The Death of Stalin,” he travels back to 1950s Russia only to find an expectedly timely tale of the madcap machinations of political power.

“It is bizarre, isn’t it? When I started showing it to people in January and February earlier this year, people said it resonated with Trump and Putin and fake news,” said Iannucci. “It is about autocracy. It is about what happens when democracy falls apart and one person decides everything. I’m kind of glad it does resonate now. But am I pleased?” (VOA)