East Africa / Kenya / Research / Rwanda

The Guardian’s ‘Poverty Matters Blog’ matters


The Guardian newspaper, in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, hosts an interesting ‘Poverty Matters Blog’.

Food for thought by 2050
Leading scientists say meat grown in vats may be necessary to feed 9 billion people expected to be alive by middle of century
This blog posted an article two months ago on the possibility of ‘artificial meat’ feeding the world in future. Discussing the results of a major academic assessment of future global food supplies, led by John Beddington, the UK government chief scientist, this blog’s environment editor, John Vidal, quoted systems analyst Phil Thornton, a scientist with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and author of one of 21 papers published by the Royal Society on future global food security issues, on a relatively minor point in his paper (picked up broadly by the mass media somewhat to Thornton’s dismay) about two ‘wild cards’ that could transform global meat and milk production: ‘”One is artificial meat, which is made in a giant vat, and the other is nanotechnology, which is expected to become more important as a vehicle for delivering medication to livestock.”‘
> Read the whole blog post (16 August 2010) here.

Below is a sampling of more recent articles on this blog–with columnists writing on:
the current (both better and worse) levels of global hunger
the (fragile?) possibility of East Africa ‘reinventing itself’ through broadband internet connections
the World Bank president’s recent (welcome) rejection of old orthodoxies of development economics
the (ambiguous?) commitment to agricultural research at the UK Department for International Development
the (relentless) commitment by Bill and Melinda Gates to look on the bright side of development progress

Global hunger index: see how the world compares
How bad is hunger around the world? Get the latest data, country by country
‘Is global hunger getting worse? According to the 2010 Global Hunger Index (GHI), published by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), in many countries nothing has changed over the last decade. . . . The biggest contributor to the global figure is child undernutrition, which accounts for almost half of the score. . . . Twenty-nine countries have levels of hunger that are “extremely alarming” or “alarming.” Most of these are in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Pregnancy and the first two years of life provide a vital “window of opportunity” to prevent future health problems among children, said the report. . . . It added that undernourishment during these two years can cause irreversible, long-term damage. “The high prevalence of child under-nutrition is a major contributor to persistent hunger,” said the report. Marie Ruel, director of IFPRI’s poverty, health and nutrition division and co-author of the report, said: “To improve their scores, many countries must accelerate progress in reducing child malnutrition. Considerable research shows that the window of opportunity for improving nutrition spans from conception to age two. After age two, the negative effects of under-nutrition are largely irreversible”. . . . The report notes that – despite gains in reducing hunger and undernourishment over the last 20 years, with hunger levels falling by one quarter – the number of hungry people has recently begun to rise. The report defines world hunger levels as “serious”. It notes that the recent spike in food prices pushed the number of undernourished people beyond one billion, although estimates from the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the UN suggest the number will drop this year. Eight of the nine countries in which hunger levels rose were found in Africa. These include Liberia, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Burundi and DRC had “extremely alarming” hunger levels, along with Eritrea and Chad. North Korea was the only country outside Africa to show an increase in hunger levels, which has been blamed on negative trends in economic growth and food production.’
> Read the whole blog post (11 October 2010) here.

Will broadband internet establish a new development trajectory for east Africa?
After investing heavily in IT, Rwanda and Kenya hope to set up stall in the global economy. Yet their expenditure is a gamble

‘Six young software developers start the morning with a team meeting about implementing cloud computing solutions for an international client. This isn’t Silicon Valley, Seoul or Bangalore. It’s Kigali, Rwanda. East Africa is in the process of reinventing itself. The government of Rwanda has invested heavily in IT infrastructure to bring high speed internet connections to even the most remote parts of this small, resource-poor country. Kenya, similarly, has ambitious plans to become a highly wired nation and attract a share of the growing market in international business outsourcing. Only a year ago, east Africa was the last major region on Earth without fibre-optic broadband internet connections. People were forced to rely on painfully slow and prohibitively expensive satellite connections. However, the recent arrival of three submarine fibre-optic cables into the Indian Ocean port of Mombasa has now fundamentally altered the connectivity of the region. Bitange Ndemo, Kenya’s permanent secretary for information and communications, compares the landing of these cables to a virus that has infected the region. “In the next five years there will be a full blown status of the virus,” he says. “It has to kill something. It will kill the current inefficient systems, it will kill the corruption we have, and it will create completely new systems. In my view, the IT industry is the leading system that will be created”. . . . The sense of anticipation and expectation is palpable. A commonly expressed sentiment is that the cables have fundamentally altered the relative distance between east Africa and the rest of the world. For instance, Anthony Nguru, a Nairobi-based software developer, said: “Without fast internet, you are landlocked. You can only do small projects around here.” However, the fragility of the technological fix on which these companies are relying is often painfully apparent. Both countries have suffered multiple internet outages in the last few months due to vandalism, technical faults and an explosion in Uganda that severed the main internet connection into Kigali. Older infrastructure problems will also undoubtedly continue to plague the development of the industry. . . .’
> Read the whole blog post (7 October 2010) here.

A cautious welcome to the World Bank’s rejection of old orthodoxies
The one-size-fits-all development strategy is dead, says Robert Zoellick. But will the World Bank therefore be run differently?
The World Bank provided one of the three pillars of the Washington consensus. Along with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the US Treasury, it was the source of an economic orthodoxy exported, often ruthlessly, from America to the rest of the world. Put simply, the Washington consensus provided a one-size-fits-all solution to the problems of development. Countries were told to privatise and to liberalise, to slim down the size of the state, bear down on inflation, reduce their budget deficits and concentrate on exports. “We know what works”, the advocates of the consensus said. “Free markets work.” So it was fascinating yesterday to find the World Bank’s president, Robert Zoellick, acting as the gravedigger for the once-all powerful dogma. Urging a rethink of development economics, Zoellick said in a speech in Georgetown: “This is no longer about the Washington consensus. One cannot have a consensus about political economy from one city applying to all. This is about experience regarding what is working – in New Delhi, in Sao Paolo, in Beijing, in Cairo, and Accra. Out of experience may come consensus. But only if it is firmly grounded – and broadly owned.” Some might say this is simply bowing to the inevitable, since one big casualty of the crisis has been the economics profession, with its over-elaborate mathematical models and its messianic belief in the invisible hand of the price mechanism. But, as Zoellick rightly noted, even before the crisis broke there was a questioning of the orthodoxy and a sense that development economics needed to be rethought. . . . 
All absolutely true, and very welcome. Talk, of course, is cheap. The real test is whether Zoellick’s openness to new ideas makes a difference to how the World Bank is run and how it acts.
> Read the whole blog post (30 September 2010) here.

Will DfID money speak louder than words?
Andrew Mitchell insists that DfID values agricultural research but only next year’s spending review will tell
Slightly lost among the coverage of last week’s UN summit on the millennium development goals was a plea on this site [Poverty Matters Blog] from a group of academics that the government does not forget agricultural research in its future funding commitments. The group, which included Lawrence Haddad, the director of the Institute of Development Studies, Sir Gordon Conway, from Imperial College and Steve Wiggins, from the Overseas Development Institute, challenged the international development secretary, Andrew Mitchell, over the UK’s “ambivalence” about agricultural research, a topic that “lingers at the back of the memo leaked from the Department for International Development (DfID) last month, and one they believe is unlikely to be given sufficient notice or fulfilled. The academics explained how they saw agricultural research as having a “major contribution to DfID’s stated new priorities in value-for-money ways that other investments cannot match”. Today, Mitchell responded in a letter, denying his department was ignoring agriculture . . . . Whether agricultural research is as important to Mitchell as he suggests, we’ll have to wait for the results of his department’s spending review, expected in the new year.’
> Read the whole blog post (27 September 2010) here.

Bill and Melinda look on the bright side
Bill and Melinda Gates believe there have been too many negative stories written about global development, talking up the dire plight of the poor and the dispossessed and under-playing the real benefits they believe aid is bringing about.
‘Melinda Gates has had enough of bad news. So has her husband, Bill. I suppose you don’t build a company like Microsoft without a sizeable chunk of optimism. So now the pair are attempting to tackle the doom-laden negativity that sometimes seems endemic to their current field of endeavour. Bill and Melinda want to talk about success in improving the health and welfare of the world’s poorest people. At the UN’s Millennium Development Goals summit in New York last week, Melinda was in relentlessly positive mode. “I think so often what we read about in the press are all the things that are not happening – all the negative stories coming out of Afghanistan. Yet what we are seeing on the ground is so different… 1.3 billion people have lifted themselves out of poverty since these goals were set. We won’t meet all the goals but I think they are a phenomenal benchmark…
Bill and I [feel] particularly during this time of recession when it is hard for governments to think about sustaining their commitments… the aid has been unbelievably effective.” In October they wil be in London. Next year they will go to Germany and France and possibly Spain. They are going to spread the word through an event they call Living Proof, which will tell of the success stories in aid and development. There are two ways of trying to stir the well-to-do into action on behalf of the poor – one is to shock them into reaching for their wallets and the other is to show them how aid can make a difference. Mr and Mrs Gates are headed determinedly down the second road.’
> Read the whole blog post (27 September 2010) here.

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