December 8, 2007

Conspicuous perversion

Organic foods and goods are for the rich and fat.

Conspicuous environmentalism for the over-indulged, with Brobdingnagian *environmental footprints*.

I know I've made this point before, but I'm going to keep making it, because "dumb" is one of my pet hates, and when "dumb" and "environmentalism" are linked my (lady-like) fury is roused.
"Malawi hovered for years at the brink of famine. After a disastrous corn harvest in 2005, almost five million of its 13 million people needed emergency food aid.

But this year, a nation that has perennially extended a begging bowl to the world is instead feeding its hungry neighbors. It is selling more corn to the World Food Program of the United Nations than any other country in southern Africa and is exporting hundreds of thousands of tons of corn to Zimbabwe.

Farmers explain Malawi’s extraordinary turnaround — one with broad implications for hunger-fighting methods across Africa — with one word: fertilizer.

Over the past 20 years, the World Bank and some rich nations Malawi depends on for aid have periodically pressed this small, landlocked country to adhere to free market policies and cut back or eliminate fertilizer subsidies, even as the United States and Europe extensively subsidized their own farmers. But after the 2005 harvest, the worst in a decade, Bingu wa Mutharika, Malawi’s newly elected president, decided to follow what the West practiced, not what it preached.

Stung by the humiliation of pleading for charity, he led the way to reinstating and deepening fertilizer subsidies despite a skeptical reception from the United States and Britain. Malawi’s soil, like that across sub-Saharan Africa, is gravely depleted, and many, if not most, of its farmers are too poor to afford fertilizer at market prices.

Here in Malawi, deep fertilizer subsidies and lesser ones for seed, abetted by good rains, helped farmers produce record-breaking corn harvests in 2006 and 2007.

The rest of the world is fed because of the use of good seed and inorganic fertilizer, full stop,” said Stephen Carr, who has lived in Malawi since 1989, when he retired as the World Bank’s principal agriculturalist in sub-Saharan Africa. “This technology has not been used in most of Africa. The only way you can help farmers gain access to it is to give it away free or subsidize it heavily."

Estimates show that corn production in Malawi rose to 2.7 million metric tons in 2006 and 3.4 million in 2007 from 1.2 million in 2005.

Ending famine, simply by ignoring the experts ...


  1. Anonymous9:46 PM

    " Ending famine, simply by ignoring the experts..."

    Way to go! Good on 'em

  2. It beggars belief that fertilizer has never been used in Africa Kath.

    Can you believe that after, ooh, aah, two whole years of fertilizer subsidies in Malawi, with stunning results, the West are getting all antzy about the gov't there having no plan to end the subsidies?

    Foooking, foooking idiot hypocrites!!!

    Think: trillions in subsidies to Western farmers; trillions of whollops of fertilizer used in the well fed and food exporter West, and we have never bothered to think about GIVing fertilizer to Africa???!!! We are now objecting to *market distortions* created by the Malawi gov't subsidizing a bit of fertilzer???!!!

    *'scuse me - going to go bash head against wall now*

  3. Good post, Caz.

    Not sure, however, about the link you're drawing between 'dumb' and 'environmentalism'.

    Seems to me that it's 'dumb' and 'economic dogmatism', as the push against subsidies by the World Bank etc. is a tenet of free-marketeer orthodoxy.

    If there's also an environmentalist component to this, then maybe its a trifecta of stupidity at play here.

    The stupidity of the economic orthodoxy is in supposing that principles that are okay for developed countries ought also to be de rigeur for under-developed ones.

    Like when a few years ago PNG's regional partners were pressing for free market principles to be imposed on PNG's telecom infrastructure.

    This, in a country where 'remote' is FOOOKING REMOTE!

    We in Australia were among those who pressured PNG to introduce free market principles, forgetting that state oversight and subsidisation of our telecom network was essential during our development phase.

    Idiots? Foooking oath!!

  4. Indeed, indeed, Jacob.

    You have caught me out conflating a number of matters, which in my head are crystal clear, but which I was too tired and emotional to elucidate for my gentle readers.

    First up: can you BELIEVE that Africa has never been GIVEN fertilzer??!!

    Forget Sir Bob and Bandaide, forget massive food drops, forget charity - GIVE THEM FERTILIZER!

    Trillions of dollars on food-aid!!!!

    Can you believe how DUMB this is?

    Can you believe no one ever TOLD us?

    It's a crime against humanity alright, but not for the reasons Sir Bob and his ilk would tell us.

    Secondly - my weird conflating of points - the uber-fashion in the West is for "going organic". A perverse and dumb trend that none of us can actually afford. Organic, except for the ill who genuinely require it for proven medical reasons, is a throw back to pre-industrial times, and is a devastatingly poor use of land, water, and an abuse of animals.

    It's a big fat indulgent lie, in other words.

    "Going organic" is very much related to the environmental movement, and has oddly come to the fore with global warming, even though it's the worst possible trend for both the wider environment and for global warming.

  5. Yes I recall you did an interesting post a little while ago on the 'organic' fad.

    Look, I dearly wish it were possible for us to 'return' to some rustic, bucolic idyll -- notwithstanding such a thing exists largely in some people's heads anyway -- but the reality is that putting food on people's tables equitably and sustainably will be the challenge in the 1st century of our brave new millenium.

    By the way, I might have added to my previous rant that people in 'remote' areas of Australia (we have none in Victoria) are to this day very skittish about perceived erosion of 'community service obligations' in their telecom services.

    Don't recall whether these special pleaders took exception to their government's pressuring of PNG to do away with theirs.

  6. The biggest mistake - possibly the only mistake - that Sol and his three amigos made with Australia and Telstra was to ignore our politics and our culture Jacob.

    Our country, being big and empty, was founded on community obligation principles - think a single rate postage stamp, and the telco services.

    It's ingrained in our very psyches.

    Sol and his pals thought they could come in with jackboots and ignore our history. They still think this is just a hick little country and we're too stoopid to know how to do anything.