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Price hikes, exports and hunger.

In the wake of rising commodity prices, there’s been quite a bit of talk in the newspapers and blogosphere arguing both sides of the debate. While most of the attention focuses on the negative impact food prices have on the poor, Tim Wiggins, at ODI argues that rising commodity prices can provide an export boon for low-income countries.

Let’s consider five countries: Burkina Faso; Ghana; Indonesia; Kenya; and Nicaragua; then see the likely impact through changes in the value of their trade in 10 of the most commonly traded items – maize, rice, wheat; palm oil; tea, coffee, cocoa; sugar; cotton, and rubber.

When you look at the data and it is clear that all five countries get a large boost to their export revenues – by around 20% in two cases, by 40% in another two, and by more than 100% in Burkina Faso – the latter thanks to it being so heavily dependent on cotton, the price of which has risen dramatically over the past six months.

The argument here is sensible and should be taken into consideration by those seeing the price rises as negative alone. However, this school of thought tends to ignore the real problems of vulnerability created by price hikes.

His solution for those negatively affected by the price rises mirrors others in the same school of thought: target countries with high rates of hunger that are also net importers of cereals.

The problem with this sort of thinking is that it looks at food security as a problem of food production. Today, increasing proportions of the worlds hungry are located in countries without food defecits. In 2008, India was the world’s second largest producer of both wheat and rice. Yet in the same year, it was also home to the world’s largest number of undernourished people.

Likewise, Chad, which only has a 2% food deficit is currently seeing Global Acute Malnutrition rates of 27% in its western provinces.

Food is an issue primarily about distribution. Focusing on deficit producers or net importers alone will hardly be sufficient to address the problem posed by price hikes. To assume that food-deficit countries is to ignore intra-country inequality: generally regarded as a bad move.

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Guide to the Sudan Referendum

On your way to a fundraising dinner for George Clooney’s satellite project? Or perhaps hoping to seduce impressionable hipsters at a Snow Patrol concert for Sudan?  Maybe you’re a  gun-toting preacher hell-bent on saving Sudanese orphans…

In any case, you need the right kind of background on the Sudan referendum. Thankfully, the work has already been done for you! The Royal African Society has an excellent guide to the Sudan Referendum here.

English saves the day

Martin Davidson, the British Council’s CEO recently wrote a piece in The Guardian, arguing for the potential english language education has to improve governance in a post-referendum Sudan.

English language training is not a “quick fix” for Sudan’s problems but it can encourage development, is relatively cheap and most importantly, sustainable, underpinning other capacity building projects.

Likewise, he argues that English could provide the crucial bridge to keep relations between North and South Sudan smooth. One of his justifications:

In Sudan, there are currently three national armies and two police forces that the British Council is working with. When we asked them what their greatest need was, their responses were unanimous: “English.”

Mind you, little thought is given to the idea that perhaps these Army representatives simply know what to ask donors for. Identifying a donor’s specialty as your “greatest need” is hardly a phenonmenon in the aid world. Of course, it deserves no attention that these security services, plagued with mutinies, unstable salaries, food shortages and disease would identify English as their greatest need.

The call for English as a unifier/ development catalyst mirrors a lot of the talk we heard about Rwanda several years back when the RPF reversed forty years of post-colonial Francophonie by making English the national language. A similar justification of bridge-building was employed here. But the focus was on integrating with East Africa (and perhaps sending a ‘f**k off’ to France). It’s been hoped that an Anglophone population would likewise attract more FDI, much akin to what Davidson argues for the case of English in Sudan.

Rather than open opportunity, the switch to English has created an even greater stratification and inefficiencies in education. When I was last there in 2009, teachers who spoke no English taught nonetheless taught in the language (reading verbatim from textbooks) to an audience of students who were expected to pick up the pace, many of which had never been exposed to the language. Now, the beneficiaries of the switch to English are still urban populations (many of which were born in Uganda or the children of returnees) who already had the lions’ share of the RPF’s pro-urban policies. Education in the rural areas is still predominantly Francophone, even if the official language is English, meaning that rural migrants to urban areas are generally SOL when it comes to job opportunities.

Mind you, this happened in Rwanda, a monolingual darling of the aid community which hardly faces the constraints a new South Sudan might in a few days time. English Education is useful, but if its not provided everywhere, could very well stratifying already unequal societies.

Mossad spy vultures

picture courtesy of animatedviews.com

Saudi Police recently picked up a vulture accused of being a spy for Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency.
This is not the first time Mossad has been accused of conscripting from the Animal Kingdom. Egyptian investigators did not rule out an Israeli role in the December shark attacks.

This brings to mind the goat arrests in Nigeria and DRC. I think we have a common culprit.

Hat-tip to Matthew Rosenblum for the article.

Development, Paternalism and Many-handed gods

It’s hardly a secret that international politics and development suffers from a degree of paternalism. But it would seem that we’ve come a long way from what was acceptable not but a few decades ago. 

I picked up a book about two years ago about a village during the vietnam war written by a USAID refugee officer stationed there. Consequently, I forgot about it and  first cracked it open about ten minutes ago. I noticed that the forward was written by then presidential candidate, Eugene McCarthy. A liberal, anti-war candidate and a fan of international co-operation (keep that in mind as you read the following).

He blessed it with a poem….

We will take our corrugated steel
out of the land of thatched huts

We will take our tanks
out of the land of the water buffalo.

We will take our napalm and flame throwers
out of the land that scarcely knows
the use of matches.

We will take our helicopters
out of the land of colored birds
and butterflies.

We will give back your villages and fields
your small and willing women.

We will leave you your small joys
and smaller troubles

We will trust you to your gods,
some blind, some many handed.

wtf.

buzzwords

Confused about the myriad of buzzwords dominating the development scene? Let the good folks at Arrested Development help you out!

Informalisation: Using ebonics in the workplace.

Structural Adjustment Programme: A programme undertaken to re-organize the World Bank office’s floor plan.

Global Commodity Chain: A decorative necklace made of manufactured goods from around the world.

Primitive Accumulation: The act of collecting rocks, spears and cave-paintings.

Flexible Labour: Employing contortionists.

Disciplining Capital, Capital Bondage or Capital Penetration: what happens in Washington DC S&M clubs.

Rights-based approach: a development tactic to disenfranchise left-handed people.

Smallholder Agriculture: Work done by farmers with tiny hands.

Dutch Disease: Fear of windmills (Courtesy Natasha Kewalramani)

Gini Coefficient: A measure of how many wishes come true in any given annum/per capita (Courtesy, Tom Oldham)

PPP: Piss Poor Performance (Courtesy, Tom Oldham)

Food Security: Putting it in a fridge (Courtesy: Javad Langeroudi)

Fats Vlad

While the link to development here is tenuous at best nearly nonexistent, I just can’t get enough of this. Cheers to Gabe Amo for the link.

What gives? The best and worst funded responses this decade.

OCHA and IRIN recently compiled a list of the best and worst funded humanitarian appeals for the decade.

Best funded appeals of the decade

  1. Lebanon Crisis 2006 (123% of US$96,520,410)
  2. Great Lakes Region and Central Africa 2003 (121% of US$115,327,113)
  3. Southern African Region Preparedness and Response Plan 2008 (111% of US$26,430,016)
  4. Kenya 2006 (105% of US$35,252,275)
  5. Timor-Leste 2006 (103% of US$24,236,207)
  6. Madagascar Flash Appeal 2008 (100% of US$18,838,643)
  7. Yemen Floods Response Plan 2008 (100% of US$5,113,261)
  8. Chad 2007 (100% of US$277,415,892)
  9. Angola 2004 (96% of US$136,020,262)
  10. Great Lakes Region 2004 (96% of US$85,461,521)

Worst funded appeals of the decade

  1. Zambia Floods Flash Appeal 2007 (12% of US$8,852,453)
  2. Zimbabwe 2004 (14% of US$90,045,002)
  3. Republic of Congo 2000 (17% of $US719,289,617)
  4. Swaziland 2002 (18% of US$11,292,618)
  5. Lesotho 2002 (20% of US$5,532,050)
  6. Zimbabwe 2002 (21% of US$50,965,458)
  7. Burkina Faso Floods Flash Appeal 2007 (21% of US$5,967,000)
  8. Somalia 2001 (22% of US$140,442,999)
  9. Zambia 2003 (22% of US$14,503,757)
  10. Philippines 2004 (23% of US$6,395,635)

What do all of the best funded appeals have in common? They all had a significant percentage of the appeal weighted in food aid. Between all 10, food aid averaged 46% of their appeals. And the worst-funded? Food aid averaged a mere 14% of each appeal (four of them didn’t even have a food aid component). What does this prove? Dumping food aid is still the most attractive response to a crisis.

Check out how food aid weights in the total 2010 humanitarian contributions here.

In London on December 1st?

Time for some shameless self promotion!

One of us will be launching a briefing at SOAS (Russel Square). Also speaking will be Hannah Roberson, a researcher at Action Against Hunger and Dr. Laura Hammond, author of This Place Will Become Home. Refugee Repatriation to Ethiopia.

We’d love to meet any Arrested Development readers (yes, all four of you) that might be in London. We’ll have free wine and copies of the briefing.

Official Flyer below:

CHAD:A Call to end decades of hunger
Wednesday 1st December6pm
Room 116
SOAS, Thornhaugh St, London WC1H0XG
 

Speakers:

Dr. Laura Hammond, Senior Lecturer (SOAS)
Samuel Haunstein Swan, Senior Policy Advisor (Action Against Hunger)
Alex Merkovic-Orenstein, Policy Mapping Officer (Action Against Hunger)
Hannah Roberson, Policy Researcher  (Action Against Hunger)
Chair: TBC

Event description:

Action Against Hunger and the Royal African Society invite you to the launch of Action Against Hunger’s report on the food crisis in Chad followed by a panel discussion.

The food crisis in the Western Sahel has reached catastrophic proportions. Yet what is most appalling is that this crisis has been allowed to continue for decades. Drought, policy failure and volatile food markets have created deep structural problems that could have been prevented and still can be tackled with appropriate interventions. Unfortunately, aid efforts have remained focused on short-term solutions. The recent scale-up of aid in the region provides the possibility of making deep, durable changes. Will international and government actors seize this opportunity to reverse the disastrous trends of the past?
 
Join Laura Hammond, Samuel Hauenstein-Swan, Alex Merkovic-Orenstein and Hannah Roberson to launch, discuss and debate the food crisis in Chad.
 
Please RSVP for all RAS events at RSVP@royalafricansociety.org

Facebook event

Royal Africa Society

In case you haven’t already seen it…

Trying to impress people at dinner parties with your vast knowledge of economic thought but haven’t actually read any of the work you want to talk about?

No readings? No problem! Here comes rap to your rescue.  Happy Friday!

(from Econ Stories)