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Sunday, July 26, 2009

"A Breakthrough in the Fight against Hunger"

Jeff Sachs seems relatively pleased and cautiously optimistic:

A breakthrough in the fight against hunger, by Jeffrey D Sachs, Commentary, Project Syndicate: The G-8’s $20bn initiative on smallholder agriculture, launched at the group’s recent summit in L’Aquila, Italy, is a potentially historic breakthrough in the fight against hunger and extreme poverty. With serious management of the new funds, food production in Africa will soar.

Indeed, the new initiative, combined with others in health, education, and infrastructure, could be the greatest step so far toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals, the internationally agreed effort to reduce extreme poverty, disease, and hunger by half by 2015. ... One cornerstone of the project was “smallholder farmers”, meaning peasant farm families in Africa, Latin America, and Asia – working farms of around one hectare (2.5 acres) or less. These are some of the poorest households in the world, and, ironically, some of the hungriest as well, despite being food producers.

They are hungry because they lack the ability to buy high-yield seeds, fertiliser, irrigation equipment, and other tools needed to increase productivity. As a result, their output is meagre and insufficient for their subsistence. ...

The Millennium Project recommended a big increase in global funding for this purpose. ... Now the key is to make this effort work. The lessons of history are clear. ... Not only will food yields rise in the short term, but farm households will use their higher incomes and better health to accumulate all sorts of assets: cash balances, soil nutrients, farm animals, and their children’s health and education. ...

A consensus has now been reached on the need to assist smallholders, but obstacles remain. Perhaps the main risk is that the “aid bureaucracies” now trip over each other to try to get their hands on the $20bn, so that much of it gets taken up by meetings, expert consultations, overhead, reports, and further meetings. ...

If donor governments really want results, they should take the money out of the hands of thirty or more separate aid bureaucracies and pool it in one or two places, the most logical being the World Bank in Washington and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) in Rome. ...

Governments in hunger-stricken regions, especially Africa, would then submit national action plans... An independent expert panel would review the national plans to verify their scientific and managerial coherence. Assuming that a plan passes muster, the money to support it would quickly be disbursed. Afterward, each national programme would be monitored, audited, and evaluated.

This approach is straightforward, efficient, accountable, and scientifically sound. Two major recent success stories in aid have used this approach... Both have ... paved the way to a new more efficient and scientifically sound method of development assistance.

Not surprisingly, many UN agencies and aid agencies in rich countries fight this approach. ... The bureaucracies must be bypassed to get help to where it is needed: in the soil tilled by the world’s poorest farm families.

On developmental assistance more generally, let me add this from Murat Iyigun:

Easterly's Had It for a Long Time. How about you?: Bill Easterly's critique of Paul Collier's book in the latest issue of the Boston Review is right on. For me, things get especially pertinent when he has this to say about the half-baked empiricist turned interventionist development economist:

"Given that Collier’s evidence base collapses when subject to scrutiny, it is all the more disturbing that his policy recommendations are remarkably interventionist. Collier tells bottom-billion societies that are recovering from civil war that they must accept international “peacekeepers” (a nice euphemism to help us forget that these are soldiers who kill people), whose deployment is decided by the Western powers... Even more outlandish, Western powers will use military force to pass judgment on elections. If the West decides that a country’s election is free and fair, then the West will invade that country if its military subsequently overthrows the government. If the West decides that an incumbent stole an election, then the West will withdraw the anti-coup guarantee, lending Western encouragement to a coup. As Collier nonchalantly notes, “an incumbent who stole an election would face a heightened risk of a coup."

No doubt, Collier makes himself an easy target with such recommendations. Who can disagree with Easterly when he declares "If being a professional skeptic means putting a large burden of the proof on those who want to invade poor countries, run people's societies for them, and deny poor people their own democratic rights, I plead twice guilty." I certainly don't, as long as your definition of Western 'democratic rights' are not my Eastern 'theocratic infringements'.

But let's not go there. The real question is whether development economists are comfortable with more benign non-military interventions by the West based on econometric evidence that Easterly currently approves of. I'll join their ranks if and when they aren't.

If Bill Easterly responds to Jeff Sachs or Murat Iyigun, and I can imagine he might, I will post an update.

    Posted by on Sunday, July 26, 2009 at 03:56 PM in Development, Economics | Permalink  Comments (23)


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