Agriculture

Yes to Industrial Agriculture in Tanzania

Agrisol, an American agriculture company, is considering investing $100 million in purchasing and developing 325,000 acres of farmland in Tanzania.  This development has raised the ire of the Sierra Club, an environmental group that is concerned with the impact on the smallholder farmers that will be displaced by project and Read more…

Agriculture

Wal-Mart (Does Not) Come to India

There is a fierce debate going on right now in India about a new piece of legislation that that will allow multi-national corporations to operate as joint ventures in the country, owning up to 51%.  And a week ago, the Indian government backtracked and announced that it would not pass Read more…

Agriculture

Trust and the Invisible Hand in Agriculture

The following is a guest post from Mark Brown, an agriculture value chains specialist with Engineers Without Borders Canada working in Ghana.  The post originally appeared on EWB’s blog, Untapped Markets. Market Facilitation is about fostering new relationships between businesses in agriculture. In sub-Saharan Africa much of the business that Read more…

Agriculture

Fewer Farms, Bigger Farms

Right now, the world is in the midst of a food crisis.  Some might contend that we never fully recovered from the food crisis of 2008, but what is certain is that food prices are rising.  The reason for the spike is open for debate, but some combination of a Read more…

Agriculture

A Lesson about Statistics in Development from David Simon

David Simon, the creator of the greatest television show ever made, The Wire, is interviewed by Bill Moyers in Guernica magazine.  The topics vary, but one particular answer to a question about the relevance of "facts" in understanding the nature of a problem - or the progress and impact of the solution - resonated with me.

One of the themes of The Wire really was that statistics will always lie. Statistics can be made to say anything. You show me anything that depicts institutional progress in America: school test scores, crime stats, arrest reports, anything that a politician can run on, anything that somebody can get a promotion on, and as soon as you invent that statistical category, fifty people in that institution will be at work trying to figure out a way to make it look as if progress is actually occurring when actually no progress is. I mean, our entire economic structure fell behind the idea that these mortgage-backed securities were actually valuable, and they had absolutely no value. They were toxic. And yet they were being traded and being hurled about, because somebody could make some short-term profit. In the same way that a police commissioner or a deputy commissioner can get promoted, and a major can become a colonel, and an assistant school superintendent can become a school superintendent, if they make it look like the kids are learning and that they’re solving crime. That was a front-row seat for me as a reporter, getting to figure out how once they got done with them the crime stats actually didn’t represent anything.
I have not spent long in the world of development, but I have had a chance to understand the mechanics of this world.  I believe that my own project-  one that has taken an innovative market facilitation approach to agriculture economic development - is making the right moves.  But through conversations with career development workers who have been part of the system for a long time and have seen how the sausage is made at the highest levels, I have found that the same principle largely holds true in the world of aid and development. Typically, the way it works is that governments allot a certain amount of money to be used for development in countries chosen based on the strategic interest of the donor in the country and the broader region.  Aid is often used as a carrot to gain leverage in a country.  For food aid (much is which is necessary in certain cases), developing countries serve as a repository for food surpluses from the donor country.  The other day someone told me that a certain affluent Asian country (not China) is obligated to purchase rice from other countries as part of a WTO agreement.  This country is self-sufficient in rice and is an exporter itself, and the rice farmers in that country would be very angry if imported rice from other countries was brought in and sold to consumers.  So this country buys rice from other countries, as part of its obligation, and then ships it to developing nations, flooding the local market with cheap, low-cost rice.  In doing so, the local rice farmers become uncompetitive serving the domestic market, and are forced to sell at a loss or switch to another crop.  As the cycle continues, these recipient nations become more dependent on foreign food aid, as opposed to moving in the direction of self-sufficiency.  In addition, the local consumers gain a taste for imported rice, which may or may not be readily available or even well-adapted to local growing conditions.  The end result?  Dependency. (more…)