Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Food crisis revisited!

LeMelle and Stulman on Africa Policy Outlook 2009:

The World Trade Organization's Doha Round mistakenly attempted to fix global food challenges by liberalizing agricultural markets. Poorer producers have been left without government support and developing countries have grown increasingly dependent on imported food. Even given the enormity of the financial crisis, the U.S. government continues to perpetuate failed solutions for Africa. More must be done to protect the poor. Fair, not free trade must be adapted immediately as a part of creating a new global economic system.

The food crisis is largely overshadowed by the financial crisis and ensuing global recession. At times, development policy becomes one dimensional!

Meanwhile, the Kerala model (state-sponsored land reform, education, infrastructure, and social services initiatives), which is largely insulated from the current financial crisis.

The southern state of Kerala boasts nearly universal literacy — 91% as opposed to the Indian national average of 65%. It's also one of the fastest growing states in India, second only to the tourism-rich state of Goa…In addition to its tremendous literacy rate, Kerala boasts one of the nation's finest healthcare systems, even for those who can't afford to pay user fees and therefore depend on government hospitals. Kerala's infant mortality rate is about 16 deaths per 1,000 births, or half the national average of 32 deaths per 1,000 births.

Aside from the social development indicators, Kerala's growth rate is nothing to sneeze at. In the last few years it averaged between 6-10%, not only keeping pace with the national average but at times ranking among the fastest growing states in the country. The sectors that are doing well are largely those that are thriving across India — IT, services, and tourism — but agricultural production and small-scale manufacturing are also succeeding.

  • the state had a matrilineal and even a matriarchal society, with a line of forward-looking queens that still ruled much of Kerala in the early days of the British Empire…A single party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPI(M), has ruled Kerala for much of the past 50 years. The CPI(M) successfully pushed for three major reforms in the 1960s and 1970s. The first and most important was land reform.
  • the CPI(M) deliberately and methodically invested in education, setting goals so popular with the electorate that even when the Communists lost power, new governments did not dare modify education policies.
  • Kerala invested heavily in government-financed healthcare. The state now boasts 160 patient beds per 100,000 people, the highest rate in the country.

…With the end of this ideology, Kerala represents a real alternative. Investing in people — whether through breaking the oligarchy of big landlords (or perhaps investment bankers) or providing social services including universal education — will ultimately lead to the development of a meaningful middle class.