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Interesting Links

June 8, 2011

The “drug war” has failed. When will politicians wake up?

Real progress towards conflict free mining in the Congo.  From the writer of the much applauded book “Dancing in the Glory of the Monsters”

Common Market–>Monetary Union–>Political Federation. More than just a dream for the East African Community (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi).

Youth empowerment through community mapping. In Cameroon

Thinking of agriculture as a managed ecosystem

Agriculture’s main challenge for the coming decades will be to produce sufficient food and fiber for a growing global population at an acceptable environmental cost. This challenge requires an ecological approach to agriculture that is largely missing from current management and research portfolios. Crop and livestock production systems must be managed as ecosystems, with management decisions fully informed of environmental costs and benefits.

Beyond Organic vs Industrial farming. Pamela Ronald argues for keeping an open mind on agricultural methods.

Pitting farming practices against each other only prevents the transformative changes needed on our farms. Without good science and good farming, we cannot even begin to dream about establishing an ecologically balanced, biologically based system of farming and ensuring food security.



Theory and Development: Making Social Science More Relevant

June 5, 2011

The topic of my master’s thesis was on the spatial accessibility of healthy and affordable food in Bernalillo County (Albuquerque, NM). I collected a broad range of data to perform three types of analysis: physical proximity; personal mobility; and human perception. The first type of analysis required using a network analysis to find the median nearest network distance by census block group to three types of geo-coded food retail locations. The second type of analysis required the creation of a personal mobility index by census block group using five census indicators. The final type of analysis required the identification of block group clusters with different combinations of the prior two accessibility metrics, and then sending out surveys to these areas to see how perceptions of food accessibility matched up with the quantitative indicators. What I found was that there are clearly some areas which would fit the description of a “food desert”, or areas where poor accessibility adversely affects diet above and beyond cultural norms and income.

It was quite an effort and I am proud of it, but I wonder what the next step would be. My research will likely sit in the UNM library and provide nothing towards the advancement of humanity. It made me wonder how academic knowledge in general can be made useful to people on the ground.

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Interesting Links: Food/Agriculture Edition

June 2, 2011

If you’re looking for cutting edge agricultural development research, look no further than the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). I’m interested in some of their recent articles on African climate change vulnerability mappingclimate change adaptationirrigation potentialsoil fertility potential, nutrition value chains, and “Arab Spring” Economics

India’s booming economy and desire for international clout has prompted this dramatic increase in aid to Africa.

Mr Singh promised $5 billion of loans on easy terms over the next three years for Africans willing to trade with India, plus another $1 billion to pay for education, railways and peacekeeping. It is a steep rise in aid and assistance—last year India gave a mere $25m to Africa

On the flip-side, Indian hunger has only increased; 40% of the population is now malnourished  Swati Narayan analyzes the problem.

India’s experience shows that economic growth does not necessarily improve the lives of the poor, or give them more food security. Edward Carr, a development geographer, has a helpful postmodern critique of “food security” as commonly understood. He makes the case that we must incorporate societal factors (like perception, knowledge and power) into existing understandings of production and distribution:

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Oxfam’s New “Grow” Campaign

June 1, 2011

Oxfam’s “Grow” campaign has started today. Here is their report diagnosing a “broken food system” and advancing a new vision, and here is a blog post by Duncan Green nicely summarizing it, and another post by him summarizing the “killer facts” motivating the campaign. 

I for one am pretty excited that Oxfam is going in whole-hog for agricultural development and food security. They are joining the Gates Foundation as a high-profile organization that is attempting to reverse the shameful decline in research and  investment for developing country agriculture. All in one package, it is advocating reform of global trade and distribution, investment in smallholder access, productivity, and marketing, and investment in sustainable agroecology that actually mitigates resource degradation and global warming instead of causing it.

One thing that I like about their approach is that they do not advocate extreme ideological positions on things like large vs small farms, organic vs non-organic, GMO vs anti-GMO, vegetarian vs not vegetarian, local vs not local,  and public vs private research and investment. They seem to be interested in finding what works for the particular context and scaling it up, while also pressuring governments and corporations on the global scale to reform policies that are obviously detrimental.


Interesting Links

May 31, 2011

Economists have become pretty good at figuring out if a social program works or not. They have a much harder time figuring out why something works. 

Terrance Wood has a couple good posts about what the TV show “The Wire” can teach us about development. The first post is about the limit of measuring progress through statistics. The second post is about the complexity of people and how hard it is to stereotype behavior.

Did religion spark civilization? New evidence from Gobekli Tepe suggests that it did.

The construction of a massive temple by a group of foragers is evidence that organized religion could have come before the rise of agriculture and other aspects of civilization.

Is Arab democracy doomed?

The future of soil in two words: terra preta

“With eight billion people, we’re going tohave to start getting interested in soil,” he said. “We’re simply not going to be able to keep treating it like dirt.”

A very good and sobering report by Oxfamon the challenges of global food production and distribution, and potential solutions.

“How to Run the World”

May 29, 2011

Twenty-first-century diplomacy is coming to resemble that of the Middle Ages: Rising powers, multinational corporations, powerful families, humanitarians, religious radicals, universities, and mercenaries are all part of the diplomatic landscape. Technology and money, not sovereignty, determine who has authority and calls the shots. This can be a good thing if it means getting all hands on deck to manage challenges that no government or organization can tackle alone. Success in this new world of mega-diplomacy hinges on bringing the key players together-governments, businesses, and organizations-into coalitions that can quickly move global resources to solve local problems. This is not your grandfather’s diplomacy, but today’s Generation Y intuitively get it.

This is from a relatively new book by Parag Khanna, who is also the author of “The Second World”. Khanna is an exciting big picture thinker. He deals in grand sweeping narrative, weaving anecdotes, statistics, and opinion to tell his story. The main theme of this book is that the future of world governance lies not so much with institutions like the United Nations, which are hopelessly ineffectual and bureaucratic, but instead with decentralized actors-corporations, governments, NGO’s, philanthropists, civil organization etc., collaborating quickly and often ad-hoc to solve specific problems. It is relentlessly upbeat, too much so; it gives the reader a sense of blithe optimism. Also, by trying to cover so much ground, from war and terrorism to poverty and sustainability in a relatively short book, it inevitably fails to provide enough perspective or dig very deeply into the challenges of any one issue. Here is just one example.

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The Problem of “Artificial States”

May 28, 2011

There is now quite a body of literature that points to the problem of so-called “artificial states” which lack  “legitimacy”, due to the fact that they were arbitrarily and haphazardly drawn up by European colonizers in the latter part of the 19th century (in Africa’s case), with very little regard for preexisting human and political geography. Crawford Young, in his book “The African Colonial State in Historical Perspective”describes the impact that African colonialism had in a relatively short period of time in embedding either distorted or completely foreign political structures:

The colonial state in Africa lasted in most instances less than a century-a mere moment in historical time. Yet it totally reordered political space, societal hierarchies and cleavages, and modes of economic production. Its territorial grid-whose final contours congealed only in the dynamics of decolonization-determined the state units that gained sovereignty and came to form the present African polities. The logic of its persistence and reproduction was by the time of independence deeply embedded in its mechanism of internal guidance.

Pierre Englebert, in his book “State Legitimacy and Development in Africa”, explores the idea of “state legitimacy” in the context of Africa. His measure includes vertical legitimacy – the degree to which the state is responsive to the plurality of its citizens, and horizontal legitimacy – the degree to which the boundaries of the state relate to any coherent precolonial logic. He then correlates these measures to measures of good governance and development capacity. He begins his conclusion by saying:

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