Hungry for change

A real eye-opener of an article in the Observer this week on food poverty. Various sidebars to the main article gave details of some typical meals for children in various third-world countries (including Nigeria, Zambia, India and Haiti), set out as food-magazine recipes.

For example, here’s what eight year-old Asquo Edem of Lagos eats as his only meal of the day, on a good day (on a bad day, he has no food at all and cries himself to sleep):

Plantain, pepper and bones
Serves 1 child
Cost: 15p

half a thin slice of plantain and fried pepper
leftover bones and fat (free from butcher)
palm nut oil

Slice the plantain and pepper as thin as possible. Heat oil, fry the plantain and pepper, bones and any fat. Serve hot with weak tea and powdered milk.

The Zambian child’s supper consisted basically of cereal and ash.

The article itself gives broader background information about the problem of food poverty:

You need protein and fats to survive. But in most sub-Saharan countries and much of poorer America and Asia the protein and oils part of the diet is around 20 per cent – not the 40 or 50 per cent it ought to be. Even in the most meat-heavy supper in our survey – eaten by a street family in Port-au-Prince, Haiti – 14 people shared just 330 grams of goat. And so tonight 800 million people will go to bed chronically under-fed: 200 million of them are children.

Even in comparatively rich countries like India and Nigeria, almost fifty per cent of under-fives are “so malnourished that their growth is stunted”, and “200 million children across the world are suffering from chronic or acute malnutrition”.

The article then goes on to look at the underlying causes of this widespread malnutrition across the world:

All the problems of the settled malnourished – as opposed to those displaced by war or disaster – can be traced back, quite simply, to poverty. But the causes of that are complex, and often quite new.

Here are some of these causes, as outlined by the article:

1. Trade liberalisation

I’ve generally been in favour of free trade, but it did make me pause when I read this:

…the liberalised trade rules forced on Cambodia as part of the deal to let it join the WTO has meant opening its borders to rice imports. These have poured in from Vietnam, where cooperative farming produces much cheaper rice. The price of rice in Cambodia collapsed.

And hence the Cambodian family to whom this journalist spoke is broken up (as the father goes of to Phnom Penh to try to earn some money in the building trade) and their eight-year old son given nothing to eat for his supper other than a lump of rice the size of his (under-sized) fist. The writer argues that this is typical of small farmers around the world who now find “their fragile worlds upset by economic forces far beyond their control”.

2. Western agricultural subsidies

This is the bit that made me angry. The more I think about it, the more I believe that the Common Agricultural Policy and the equivalent subsidies to farmers in North America are just plain evil.

I mean, where to begin? With the “€2-a-day cow”, with European cows each receiving more in government handouts than over a billion people have to live on each day? As the article continues:

Adding to the injury, that cow’s excess milk is then dumped abroad – an operation the EU also subsidises. As a result, small dairy farmers in countries as far apart as Jamaica and India have been put out of business.

Or perhaps we could consider European sugar, where subsidies and market restrictions benefiting producers of EU sugar – declared illegal by the WTO in April, but with no action yet in response from the EU – are estimated to have caused damage to (for example) Mozambiquan sugar producers amounting to one-third of the value of the aid that the EU annually contributes to that country.

The G8 meeting this year promised an additional $48 billion in aid to Africa by 2010, but this is dwarfed by the effect that an end to agricultural export subsidies and Western import duties on third world goods would have: earning Africa alone $269 billion per year.

Attempts to improve this situation are being held up by wrangles between the EU and the US, “neither of whom will budge on subsidy reform unless the other does”.

3. Western aid

As we’ve seen, the G8 meeting promised Africa additional aid, but did little or nothing to improve the trading position of poor nations. But quite apart from fostering a dependency culture and making it impossible for people to earn money by selling produce to rich nations, aid can be counter-productive for poor nations:

The arrival of sacks of foreign grain and rice in a famine-hit country has many effects beyond feeding the starving. For a start it can result in a drop in the market price of the same products – good news initially for the hungry, but potentially catastrophic over a few months.

After the 1997 financial crash in East Asia, Japan and America shipped huge amounts of their own farmers’ subsided rice into Indonesia, where the collapse of a government food subsidy scheme was causing shortages in rural areas. But this glut of foreign rice destroyed the market for local producers, and put tens of thousands of farmers and distributors out of business. Indonesia, once a rice exporter, is now a rice importer – to the benefit of US and Japanese farmers.

So what’s to be done? Well, as the article points out, there have been some positive changes in recent years. China saw a 49 per cent drop in underweight infants during the 1990s, and Mexico a 46 per cent reduction in the same period. The reasons for this are disputed, but the opening of these countries to global markets seems to have been part of the process.

It does seem that the situation at the moment is the worst of all worlds: poor nations are forced to open up their markets to Western imports (often of subsidised produce being dumped at a loss), while tariffs continue to hamper attempts for poor nations to export produce and other goods back into rich nations (US tariffs on imports from Bangladesh average out at 14%).

So perhaps there is something to be said for what the likes of Oxfam call “pro-poor trade”: deliberately tilting the balance of trade rules back in the direction of poor nations, rather than insisting on a supposedly “level” playing field.

The article concludes that there is no simple answer to this problem. Even though there is enough food in the world to feed everybody, the idea that this is simply a problem of supply is “impossibly idealistic”. Nor is vegetarianism a solution, despite the suggestion that too much food is currently fed to livestock. One analyst quoted in the article argues that “Vegetarianism may be OK for kids in the very best conditions, but I can’t see that it’s a good thing for the poorest”. And population growth and climate change could make matters significantly worse over the next few years.

However, one Oxfam worker pointed out that there are still things we can do to alleviate hunger:

“It’s as simple as a mother in Bangladesh selling the bananas from the trees behind her home. Her children need to eat them, because they badly need the potassium and the vitamin B6. But she has to pay the money-lender back for the cash she borrowed when her son was in hospital. Don’t tell me that sorting out Bangladesh’s macro problems – the debt, the trade issues, the bad aid and the corruption – won’t help that family.”

This special feature on food poverty was followed by an article on British eating habits, illustrated by photographs of the popular beat combo Girls Aloud! having a badly-staged food fight.

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

40 Responses to Hungry for change

  1. Atwood says:

    A friend of my brother works in the El Salvadorian embassy and they just finished the big CAFTA “free trade” agreement with the US. He was lobbying hard for it with the US government and they got victory. I put “free trade” in quotes not because I am against it, but because as he explained, it wasn’t really “free trade” (as in the kind of trade Indiana has with Massachusetts, or Scotland with London), but “differently managed trade” with significantly more liberalized rules.
    But of course those rules do not include liberalizing the entry of sugar to the US, which is the Dominican Republic’s big export.
    That said, it goes back to the slogan that epitomizes the wrong way to make decisions to me: “Think Globally, Act Locally.” (Or “Think in simplistic cliches, then torment your neighbor with them.”) Agricultural subsidies appear to be such an egregious case I’d agree with you. But I’m very cautious anytime I’m being asked to screw my neighbor (i.e. local farmers) to achieve a global good. I KNOW my neighbor is being screwed, but who knows if the global good will pan out?
    So yeah, I generally agree with your comments on agricultural subsidies but very cautiously.

  2. Atwood says:

    A friend of my brother works in the El Salvadorian embassy and they just finished the big CAFTA “free trade” agreement with the US. He was lobbying hard for it with the US government and they got victory. I put “free trade” in quotes not because I am against it, but because as he explained, it wasn’t really “free trade” (as in the kind of trade Indiana has with Massachusetts, or Scotland with London), but “differently managed trade” with significantly more liberalized rules.
    But of course those rules do not include liberalizing the entry of sugar to the US, which is the Dominican Republic’s big export.
    That said, it goes back to the slogan that epitomizes the wrong way to make decisions to me: “Think Globally, Act Locally.” (Or “Think in simplistic cliches, then torment your neighbor with them.”) Agricultural subsidies appear to be such an egregious case I’d agree with you. But I’m very cautious anytime I’m being asked to screw my neighbor (i.e. local farmers) to achieve a global good. I KNOW my neighbor is being screwed, but who knows if the global good will pan out?
    So yeah, I generally agree with your comments on agricultural subsidies but very cautiously.

  3. Atwood says:

    A friend of my brother works in the El Salvadorian embassy and they just finished the big CAFTA “free trade” agreement with the US. He was lobbying hard for it with the US government and they got victory. I put “free trade” in quotes not because I am against it, but because as he explained, it wasn’t really “free trade” (as in the kind of trade Indiana has with Massachusetts, or Scotland with London), but “differently managed trade” with significantly more liberalized rules.
    But of course those rules do not include liberalizing the entry of sugar to the US, which is the Dominican Republic’s big export.
    That said, it goes back to the slogan that epitomizes the wrong way to make decisions to me: “Think Globally, Act Locally.” (Or “Think in simplistic cliches, then torment your neighbor with them.”) Agricultural subsidies appear to be such an egregious case I’d agree with you. But I’m very cautious anytime I’m being asked to screw my neighbor (i.e. local farmers) to achieve a global good. I KNOW my neighbor is being screwed, but who knows if the global good will pan out?
    So yeah, I generally agree with your comments on agricultural subsidies but very cautiously.

  4. Atwood says:

    A friend of my brother works in the El Salvadorian embassy and they just finished the big CAFTA “free trade” agreement with the US. He was lobbying hard for it with the US government and they got victory. I put “free trade” in quotes not because I am against it, but because as he explained, it wasn’t really “free trade” (as in the kind of trade Indiana has with Massachusetts, or Scotland with London), but “differently managed trade” with significantly more liberalized rules.
    But of course those rules do not include liberalizing the entry of sugar to the US, which is the Dominican Republic’s big export.
    That said, it goes back to the slogan that epitomizes the wrong way to make decisions to me: “Think Globally, Act Locally.” (Or “Think in simplistic cliches, then torment your neighbor with them.”) Agricultural subsidies appear to be such an egregious case I’d agree with you. But I’m very cautious anytime I’m being asked to screw my neighbor (i.e. local farmers) to achieve a global good. I KNOW my neighbor is being screwed, but who knows if the global good will pan out?
    So yeah, I generally agree with your comments on agricultural subsidies but very cautiously.

  5. Craig says:

    One obvious way we “act locally” is through support of child sponsorship schemes. I sponsor via Compassion – http://www.compassion.com/. They are committed to spreading the gospel as well as relieving poverty.
    God has generously blessed us in the west. It is right to enjoy our wealth, but we must also share with those in need…

  6. Craig says:

    One obvious way we “act locally” is through support of child sponsorship schemes. I sponsor via Compassion – http://www.compassion.com/. They are committed to spreading the gospel as well as relieving poverty.
    God has generously blessed us in the west. It is right to enjoy our wealth, but we must also share with those in need…

  7. Craig says:

    One obvious way we “act locally” is through support of child sponsorship schemes. I sponsor via Compassion – http://www.compassion.com/. They are committed to spreading the gospel as well as relieving poverty.
    God has generously blessed us in the west. It is right to enjoy our wealth, but we must also share with those in need…

  8. Craig says:

    One obvious way we “act locally” is through support of child sponsorship schemes. I sponsor via Compassion – http://www.compassion.com/. They are committed to spreading the gospel as well as relieving poverty.
    God has generously blessed us in the west. It is right to enjoy our wealth, but we must also share with those in need…

  9. Rick Ritchie says:

    I don’t think “free trade” as such is to blame for much of this. Too many of the examples have the word “subsidy” in them somewhere. Or involve trade between countries where people really don’t have freedom.
    Getting rid of trade barriers means little in those cases where there is no freedom within the country being traded with.
    Many of these things are examples of gross injustice. I’d just like to see the blame, where it is spoken of, placed more carefully.
    It would be kind of nice to see somebody choosing their deregulation targets where they would tend to help the little guy, though. That would be the best of all worlds (this side of the eschaton).

  10. Rick Ritchie says:

    I don’t think “free trade” as such is to blame for much of this. Too many of the examples have the word “subsidy” in them somewhere. Or involve trade between countries where people really don’t have freedom.
    Getting rid of trade barriers means little in those cases where there is no freedom within the country being traded with.
    Many of these things are examples of gross injustice. I’d just like to see the blame, where it is spoken of, placed more carefully.
    It would be kind of nice to see somebody choosing their deregulation targets where they would tend to help the little guy, though. That would be the best of all worlds (this side of the eschaton).

  11. Rick Ritchie says:

    I don’t think “free trade” as such is to blame for much of this. Too many of the examples have the word “subsidy” in them somewhere. Or involve trade between countries where people really don’t have freedom.
    Getting rid of trade barriers means little in those cases where there is no freedom within the country being traded with.
    Many of these things are examples of gross injustice. I’d just like to see the blame, where it is spoken of, placed more carefully.
    It would be kind of nice to see somebody choosing their deregulation targets where they would tend to help the little guy, though. That would be the best of all worlds (this side of the eschaton).

  12. Rick Ritchie says:

    I don’t think “free trade” as such is to blame for much of this. Too many of the examples have the word “subsidy” in them somewhere. Or involve trade between countries where people really don’t have freedom.
    Getting rid of trade barriers means little in those cases where there is no freedom within the country being traded with.
    Many of these things are examples of gross injustice. I’d just like to see the blame, where it is spoken of, placed more carefully.
    It would be kind of nice to see somebody choosing their deregulation targets where they would tend to help the little guy, though. That would be the best of all worlds (this side of the eschaton).

  13. John H says:

    Rick: you’ll notice I devoted the least space to “free trade” of the causes mentioned in the article, because I share your scepticism as to how much free trade per se is to blame. One-sided “liberalisation” seems to be the problem – i.e. where poor nations are able to compete, you keep the tariffs and subsidies in force, and where they are unable to compete, you force them to open their markets to your own goods.
    Chris: I know what you mean about there being a personal element if you know a number of farmers personally. I don’t want to see British farmers suffer the same treatment that befell the industrial working class in this country in the 1980s, say – adjustments that may have been necessary and ultimately beneficial, but were carried out in a brutal manner that caused great hardship. But at the moment there doesn’t seem to be even the slightest commitment to move in the right direction, on either side of the Atlantic (grandstanding statements about the CAP from Tony Blair – I actually typed “Bliar” there, quite unconsciously! – notwithstanding).

  14. John H says:

    Rick: you’ll notice I devoted the least space to “free trade” of the causes mentioned in the article, because I share your scepticism as to how much free trade per se is to blame. One-sided “liberalisation” seems to be the problem – i.e. where poor nations are able to compete, you keep the tariffs and subsidies in force, and where they are unable to compete, you force them to open their markets to your own goods.
    Chris: I know what you mean about there being a personal element if you know a number of farmers personally. I don’t want to see British farmers suffer the same treatment that befell the industrial working class in this country in the 1980s, say – adjustments that may have been necessary and ultimately beneficial, but were carried out in a brutal manner that caused great hardship. But at the moment there doesn’t seem to be even the slightest commitment to move in the right direction, on either side of the Atlantic (grandstanding statements about the CAP from Tony Blair – I actually typed “Bliar” there, quite unconsciously! – notwithstanding).

  15. John H says:

    Rick: you’ll notice I devoted the least space to “free trade” of the causes mentioned in the article, because I share your scepticism as to how much free trade per se is to blame. One-sided “liberalisation” seems to be the problem – i.e. where poor nations are able to compete, you keep the tariffs and subsidies in force, and where they are unable to compete, you force them to open their markets to your own goods.
    Chris: I know what you mean about there being a personal element if you know a number of farmers personally. I don’t want to see British farmers suffer the same treatment that befell the industrial working class in this country in the 1980s, say – adjustments that may have been necessary and ultimately beneficial, but were carried out in a brutal manner that caused great hardship. But at the moment there doesn’t seem to be even the slightest commitment to move in the right direction, on either side of the Atlantic (grandstanding statements about the CAP from Tony Blair – I actually typed “Bliar” there, quite unconsciously! – notwithstanding).

  16. John H says:

    Rick: you’ll notice I devoted the least space to “free trade” of the causes mentioned in the article, because I share your scepticism as to how much free trade per se is to blame. One-sided “liberalisation” seems to be the problem – i.e. where poor nations are able to compete, you keep the tariffs and subsidies in force, and where they are unable to compete, you force them to open their markets to your own goods.
    Chris: I know what you mean about there being a personal element if you know a number of farmers personally. I don’t want to see British farmers suffer the same treatment that befell the industrial working class in this country in the 1980s, say – adjustments that may have been necessary and ultimately beneficial, but were carried out in a brutal manner that caused great hardship. But at the moment there doesn’t seem to be even the slightest commitment to move in the right direction, on either side of the Atlantic (grandstanding statements about the CAP from Tony Blair – I actually typed “Bliar” there, quite unconsciously! – notwithstanding).

  17. Twylah says:

    John, thanks for bringing this information to us. Coming from a midwestern farming family, it’s hard to understand how they can simultaneously suffer and cause suffering elsewhere.

  18. Twylah says:

    John, thanks for bringing this information to us. Coming from a midwestern farming family, it’s hard to understand how they can simultaneously suffer and cause suffering elsewhere.

  19. Twylah says:

    John, thanks for bringing this information to us. Coming from a midwestern farming family, it’s hard to understand how they can simultaneously suffer and cause suffering elsewhere.

  20. Twylah says:

    John, thanks for bringing this information to us. Coming from a midwestern farming family, it’s hard to understand how they can simultaneously suffer and cause suffering elsewhere.

  21. Josh S says:

    Who cares if people are starving to death as long as the god of free international trade is served?

  22. Josh S says:

    Who cares if people are starving to death as long as the god of free international trade is served?

  23. Josh S says:

    Who cares if people are starving to death as long as the god of free international trade is served?

  24. Josh S says:

    Who cares if people are starving to death as long as the god of free international trade is served?

  25. Alexander Scott says:

    On an individual-action level, our church collects peanut-butter to send to Haiti. It might sound strange, but the stuff is almost nothing BUT protein/fats/oils and stays good for quite a while. And no rice farmers are harmed by its importation!

  26. Alexander Scott says:

    On an individual-action level, our church collects peanut-butter to send to Haiti. It might sound strange, but the stuff is almost nothing BUT protein/fats/oils and stays good for quite a while. And no rice farmers are harmed by its importation!

  27. Alexander Scott says:

    On an individual-action level, our church collects peanut-butter to send to Haiti. It might sound strange, but the stuff is almost nothing BUT protein/fats/oils and stays good for quite a while. And no rice farmers are harmed by its importation!

  28. Alexander Scott says:

    On an individual-action level, our church collects peanut-butter to send to Haiti. It might sound strange, but the stuff is almost nothing BUT protein/fats/oils and stays good for quite a while. And no rice farmers are harmed by its importation!

  29. John H says:

    Josh: I think if you’re going to have a capitalist world economic system – and maybe that’s a big “if”, maybe it isn’t – then it is better to do so, ultimately, on the basis of “free trade” rather than protectionism.
    The problem is not that international free trade is treated as a god not to be questioned, but that it is used as a blunt instrument with which to hit poor nations, while rich nations come out with lots of explanations as to why it’s quite impossible for them to dismantle their own barriers to competition from poorer nations.
    If we are going to go for free trade, we should be dismantling our barriers first and only then, once poorer nations are better able to compete, seeking the removal of their own barriers. In fact, the precise opposite of this is what is occurring.
    So we end up in a situation in which free trade in bananas (which is good for Europeans but bad for producers) = good, free trade in sugar (which is bad for European producers but good for third world producers) = bad.
    And (a little more tendentiously), we are told that free movement of goods and capital (from the North to the South) = good, free movement of labour (from the South to the North) = bad.

  30. John H says:

    Josh: I think if you’re going to have a capitalist world economic system – and maybe that’s a big “if”, maybe it isn’t – then it is better to do so, ultimately, on the basis of “free trade” rather than protectionism.
    The problem is not that international free trade is treated as a god not to be questioned, but that it is used as a blunt instrument with which to hit poor nations, while rich nations come out with lots of explanations as to why it’s quite impossible for them to dismantle their own barriers to competition from poorer nations.
    If we are going to go for free trade, we should be dismantling our barriers first and only then, once poorer nations are better able to compete, seeking the removal of their own barriers. In fact, the precise opposite of this is what is occurring.
    So we end up in a situation in which free trade in bananas (which is good for Europeans but bad for producers) = good, free trade in sugar (which is bad for European producers but good for third world producers) = bad.
    And (a little more tendentiously), we are told that free movement of goods and capital (from the North to the South) = good, free movement of labour (from the South to the North) = bad.

  31. John H says:

    Josh: I think if you’re going to have a capitalist world economic system – and maybe that’s a big “if”, maybe it isn’t – then it is better to do so, ultimately, on the basis of “free trade” rather than protectionism.
    The problem is not that international free trade is treated as a god not to be questioned, but that it is used as a blunt instrument with which to hit poor nations, while rich nations come out with lots of explanations as to why it’s quite impossible for them to dismantle their own barriers to competition from poorer nations.
    If we are going to go for free trade, we should be dismantling our barriers first and only then, once poorer nations are better able to compete, seeking the removal of their own barriers. In fact, the precise opposite of this is what is occurring.
    So we end up in a situation in which free trade in bananas (which is good for Europeans but bad for producers) = good, free trade in sugar (which is bad for European producers but good for third world producers) = bad.
    And (a little more tendentiously), we are told that free movement of goods and capital (from the North to the South) = good, free movement of labour (from the South to the North) = bad.

  32. John H says:

    Josh: I think if you’re going to have a capitalist world economic system – and maybe that’s a big “if”, maybe it isn’t – then it is better to do so, ultimately, on the basis of “free trade” rather than protectionism.
    The problem is not that international free trade is treated as a god not to be questioned, but that it is used as a blunt instrument with which to hit poor nations, while rich nations come out with lots of explanations as to why it’s quite impossible for them to dismantle their own barriers to competition from poorer nations.
    If we are going to go for free trade, we should be dismantling our barriers first and only then, once poorer nations are better able to compete, seeking the removal of their own barriers. In fact, the precise opposite of this is what is occurring.
    So we end up in a situation in which free trade in bananas (which is good for Europeans but bad for producers) = good, free trade in sugar (which is bad for European producers but good for third world producers) = bad.
    And (a little more tendentiously), we are told that free movement of goods and capital (from the North to the South) = good, free movement of labour (from the South to the North) = bad.

  33. Rick Ritchie says:

    John: It looks like we’re on the same page. I do see how much of what is called free trade is evil, but it usually isn’t true free trade.

  34. Rick Ritchie says:

    John: It looks like we’re on the same page. I do see how much of what is called free trade is evil, but it usually isn’t true free trade.

  35. Rick Ritchie says:

    John: It looks like we’re on the same page. I do see how much of what is called free trade is evil, but it usually isn’t true free trade.

  36. Rick Ritchie says:

    John: It looks like we’re on the same page. I do see how much of what is called free trade is evil, but it usually isn’t true free trade.

  37. Joel says:

    Judging from what I saw living in Congo (Kinshasa) for 2 years is that corrupt governments get in the way of their citizens’ economic development. Knee-jerk blame should go to them, rather than to an abstraction like free trade.

  38. Joel says:

    Judging from what I saw living in Congo (Kinshasa) for 2 years is that corrupt governments get in the way of their citizens’ economic development. Knee-jerk blame should go to them, rather than to an abstraction like free trade.

  39. Joel says:

    Judging from what I saw living in Congo (Kinshasa) for 2 years is that corrupt governments get in the way of their citizens’ economic development. Knee-jerk blame should go to them, rather than to an abstraction like free trade.

  40. Joel says:

    Judging from what I saw living in Congo (Kinshasa) for 2 years is that corrupt governments get in the way of their citizens’ economic development. Knee-jerk blame should go to them, rather than to an abstraction like free trade.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s