How Malawi Fed Its Own People

The New York Times

By JEFFREY D. SACHS

Published: April 19, 2012

 

President Bingu wa Mutharika of Malawi died on April 5 of a heart attack at the age of 78. His countrymen, suffering a massive economic and political crisis, seem to have declared good riddance. Some of his rogue allies apparently tried to hold on to power after his death, but democracy prevailed with the installation of the vice president, Joyce Banda, to the presidency. President Banda inherits an acute crisis much of which was Mutharika’s making.

Yet we should also remember a positive legacy of the late president, because that legacy holds a key for Africa’s future development and escape from poverty.


Until his final two years, Mutharika had actually engineered an agriculture-led boom in Malawi, one that pointed a way for Africa to overcome its chronic hunger, food insecurity, and periodic extreme famines. To accomplish this, Mutharika had to stand bravely against the arrogance of an ill-informed foreign aid community back in 2005.

 

Malawi is an impoverished, landlocked, tropical country in southern Africa, one of the poorest in the world. Its population has soared beyond the carrying capacity of the land. Many farms are one to two hectares, or even smaller, for a family of five or more. Powerful and often foreign owners hold the larger tobacco estates. AIDS began to ravage Malawi, along with the rest of southern Africa, starting in the 1980s and 1990s.

 

As a landlocked country, Malawi faces profound challenges of high transport costs. It cannot attract investments in assembly operations — such as those required for garments, plastics or electronics — as can other poor but coastal economies. 

 

I began to visit Malawi in those years through my work as special adviser to Kofi Annan, U.N. secretary general at the time. I was shocked by the overflowing pediatric wards of hungry, malnourished and dying babies, and the adjoining adult wards filled with AIDS patients without medicines in the central hospital, waiting to die an agonizing death. I could hardly imagine this hellish scene as actually belonging to the 21st century.

I worked with the government of Malawi in 2001-3 to help the country become one of the first recipients of the new Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria that I helped to design and that was finally opened for business in 2002.

 

Yet the donors fought bitterly, and alas successfully, to keep Malawi’s early programs very small, in some ghastly exercise of budgetary prudence. Countless Malawians continued to die unnecessarily as a result of this penny-pinching.  

 

In 2004, Mutharika was elected president. He entered office with a drought already under way. Yet as my colleague and World Food Prize winner Dr. Pedro Sanchez explained to me, the drought was not only a rainfall drought, but also a nitrogen drought. 

 

Malawi’s impoverished farmers were too poor to buy fertilizer, and their intensive farming over many years had depleted the soils of nitrogen, with a consequence that the farm yields were among the lowest in the world.

This was to be a ‘‘smart subsidy.’’ Rather than simply lowering fertilizer prices for all, which would disproportionately benefit the rich, the government gave a voucher ticket for a small fixed amount of fertilizer and seed per household, thereby disproportionately benefiting the poor.

 

The donors were aghast, scandalized.Didn’t Malawi know that farm subsidies were bad, indeed ‘‘prohibited’’ by the donor community? The head of Britain’s Malawi assistance program actually told me that Malawi’s peasants (presumably by the millions, though this was only implicit) should leave Malawi for other countries rather than be supported by ‘‘unsustainable’’ subsidies. I told him that his idea was tantamount to a death sentence for a vast population.

 

In the end, Mutharika prevailed over donor resistance. Malawi used its own paltry budget revenues to introduce a tiny subsidy program for the world’s poorest people, and lo and behold, production doubled within one harvest season. Malawi began to produce enough grain for itself year after year, and even became a food donor when famine struck the region. Life expectancy began to rise, and is estimated to be around 55 years for the period 2010-15.

 

Once the program began to show success, the donors started to fund it, thank goodness, since Malawi could not carry the program on its own (at least not without squeezing other life-and-death needs such as health delivery). Even more importantly, many other African countries began to follow Malawi’s lead, and thereby to achieve breakthroughs in farm yields and food production for the first time in their modern history. Malawi had pointed the way to a new Green Revolution for Africa.

 

Around 2009 there were rumors, fortunately false, that Britain would withdraw its support from the donor program. I called one of the U.K. government’s lead development advisers. The adviser, a very congenial person, told me in all innocence, ‘‘No, of course we won’t stop funding it. The subsidy program was our idea.’’ I had to laugh. Such is the way with success.

 

In 2009, Mutharika won a resounding, indeed landslide re-election, based on his success in feeding the people through improved agriculture.  Yet things went downhill soon afterward. Mutharika began to try to put family members into power to create a dynasty. The family’s corruption, according to many reports, soared. Mutharika made big mistakes in economic management, for example in completely mismanaging the exchange rate. When riots ensued on July 20, 2011, police killed at least 19 demonstrators.

 

In this context, Mutharika and the donors began to fight again. When the foreign donor countries withdrew their aid, Malawi went into a tailspin. It is all too easy to destroy an impoverished country that depends on donors for a variety of life-saving interventions.

 

Mutharika goes to his grave widely despised by his own countrymen, and unknown to most of the world.  Yet however many missteps he may have made in the last years, his positive legacy remains historic.  He was the first African president in recent years to face down the donors by insisting that Africa can and must feed itself, especially by helping smallholder farmers to gain access to the vital inputs they need to raise their productivity, diversify their production, and escape from poverty.

 

Fortunately, much of Africa and  the donor world has come around to this vision. As of 2020, Africa could double, or even more, its current grain yields. By recognizing the potential of Africa’s smallholder farmers, Mutharika helped put Africa on a path out of poverty and hunger.

 

Jeffrey D. Sachs is director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and author of ‘‘The Price of Civilization.’’

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Fri

13

Nov

2015

Are Languages Products of their Environment?


shutterstock_222422665_151112


DISCOVER MAGAZINE published this very interesting article: 


  Languages Are Products of Their Environments


The characteristics that make each language unique may actually be adaptations to the acoustics of different environments.

0 Comments

Tue

03

Jun

2014

The Case for Reparations

 

The Case for Reparations

 

Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.

 

By Ta-Nehisi Coates

May 21, 2014

 


Chapters

  1. I. “So That’s Just One Of My Losses”
  2. II.  “A Difference of Kind, Not Degree”
  3. III. “We Inherit Our Ample Patrimony”
  4. IV. “The Ills That Slavery Frees Us From”
  5. V. The Quiet Plunder
  6. VI. Making The Second Ghetto
  7. VII. “A Lot Of People Fell By The Way”
  8. VIII. “Negro Poverty is not White Poverty”
  9. IX. Toward A New Country
  10. X. “There Will Be No ‘Reparations’ From Germany”
0 Comments

Mon

02

Jun

2014

A Look At 19th Century Children In The USA

PHILADELPHIA — DINNER with your children in 19th-century America often required some self-control. Berry stains in your daughter’s hair? Good for her. Raccoon bites running up your boy’s arms? Bet he had an interesting day.

 

As this year’s summer vacation begins, many parents contemplate how to rein in their kids. But there was a time when Americans pushed in the opposite direction, preserved in Mark Twain’s cat-swinging scamps. Parents back then encouraged kids to get some wildness out of their system, to express the republic’s revolutionary values.

The New York Times

Sunday Review

By JON GRINSPAN MAY 31, 2014

 

A late 19th century family taking a stroll down a set of railroad tracks
A late 19th century family taking a stroll down a set of railroad tracks

American children of the 19th century had a reputation. Returning British visitors reported on American kids who showed no respect, who swore and fought, who appeared — at age 10 — “calling for liquor at the bar, or puffing a cigar in the streets,” as one wrote. There were really no children in 19th-century America, travelers often claimed, only “small stuck-up caricatures of men and women.”

 

This was not a “carefree” nation, too rough-hewed to teach proper manners; adults deliberately chose to express new values by raising “go-ahead” boys and girls. The result mixed democracy and mob rule, assertiveness and cruelty, sudden freedom and strict boundaries. Visitors noted how American fathers would brag that their disobedient children were actually “young republicans,” liberated from old hierarchies. Children were still expected to be deferential to elders, but many were trained to embody their nation’s revolutionary virtues. “The theory of the equality” was present at the ballot box, according to one sympathetic Englishman, but “rampant in the nursery.”

 

Boys, in particular, spent their childhoods in a rowdy outdoor subculture. After age 5 or so they needed little attention from their mothers, but were not big enough to help their fathers work. So until age 10 or 12 they spent much of their time playing or fighting.

 

The writer William Dean Howells recalled his ordinary, violent Ohio childhood, immersed in his loose gang of pals, rarely catching a “glimpse of life much higher than the middle of a man.” Howells’s peers were “always stoning something,” whether friends, rivals or stray dogs. They left a trail of maimed animals behind them, often hurt in sloppy attempts to domesticate wild pets.

 

And though we envision innocents playing with a hoop and a stick, many preferred “mumbletypeg” — a game where two players competed to see who could throw a knife closer to his own foot. Stabbing yourself meant a win by default.

 

Left to their own devices, boys learned an assertive style that shaped their futures. The story of every 19th-century empire builder — Carnegie, Rockefeller, Vanderbilt — seems to begin with a striving 10-year-old. “Boy culture” offered training for the challenges of American manhood and a reprieve before a life of labor.

 

But these unsupervised boys also formed gangs that harassed the mentally ill, the handicapped and racial and ethnic minorities. Boys played an outsize role in the anti-Irish pogroms in 1840s Philadelphia, the brutal New York City draft riots targeting African-Americans during the Civil War and attacks on Chinese laborers in Gilded Age California. These children did not invent the bigotry rampant in white America, but their unrestrained upbringing let them enact what their parents mostly muttered.

 

Their sisters followed a different path. Girls were usually assigned more of their mothers’ tasks. An 8-year-old girl would be expected to help with the wash or other physically demanding tasks, while her brother might simply be too small, too slow or too annoying to drive the plow with his father. But despite their drudgery, 19th-century American girls still found time for tree climbing, bonfire building and waterfall-jumping antics. There were few pretty pink princesses in 19th-century America: Girls were too rowdy and too republican for that.

 

So how did we get from “democratic sucklings” to helicopter parents? Though many point to a rise of parental worrying after the 1970s, this was an incremental change in a movement that began a hundred years earlier.

 

In the last quarter of the 19th century, middle-class parents launched a self-conscious project to protect children. Urban professionals began to focus on children’s vulnerabilities. Well-to-do worriers no longer needed to raise tough dairymaids or cunning newsboys; the changing economy demanded careful managers of businesses or households, and restrained company men, capable of navigating big institutions.

 

Demographics played a role as well: By 1900 American women had half as many children as they did in 1800, and those children were twice as likely to live through infancy as they were in 1850. Ironically, as their children faced fewer dangers, parents worried more about their protection.

 

Instead of seeing boys and girls as capable, clever, knockabout scamps, many reconceived children as vulnerable, weak and naïve. Reformers introduced child labor laws, divided kids by age in school and monitored their play. Jane Addams particularly worked to fit children into the new industrial order, condemning “this stupid experiment of organizing work and failing to organize play.”

 

There was good reason to tame the boys and girls of the 19th century, if only for stray cats’ sake. But somewhere between Jane Addams and Nancy Grace, Americans lost track of their larger goal. Earlier parents raised their kids to express values their society trumpeted.

 

“Precocious” 19th-century troublemakers asserted their parents’ democratic beliefs and fit into an economy that had little use for 8-year-olds but idealized striving, self-made men. Reformers designed their Boy Scouts to meet the demands of the 20th century, teaching organization and rebalancing the relationship between play and work. Both movements agreed, in their didactic ways, that playtime shaped future citizens.

 

Does the overprotected child articulate values we are proud of in 2014? Nothing is easier than judging other peoples’ parenting, but there is a side of contemporary American culture — fearful, litigious, controlling — that we do not brag about but that we reveal in our child rearing, and that runs contrary to our self-image as an open, optimistic nation. Maybe this is why sheltering parents come in for so much easy criticism: A visit to the playground exposes traits we would rather not recognize.

 

There is, however, a saving grace that parents will notice this summer. Kids are harder to guide and shape, as William Dean Howells put it, “than grown people are apt to think.” It is as true today as it was two centuries ago: “Everywhere and always the world of boys is outside of the laws that govern grown-up communities.” Somehow, they’ll manage to go their own way.

 

________________________________

 

A National Endowment for the Humanities fellow at the Massachusetts Historical Society who is writing a book on the role of young people in 19th-century American democracy.

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Mon

21

Apr

2014

Investigating Family's Wealth, China's Leader Signals a Change

From The New York Times 

By CHRISTOPHER DREW and JAD MOUAWAD

APRIL 19, 2014

 

HONG KONG — His son landed contracts to sell equipment to state oil fields and thousands of filling stations across China. His son’s mother-in-law held stakes in pipelines and natural gas pumps from Sichuan Province in the west to the southern isle of Hainan. And his sister-in-law, working from one of Beijing’s most prestigious office buildings, invested in mines, property and energy projects.

 

In thousands of pages of corporate documents describing these ventures, the name that never appears is his own: Zhou Yongkang, the formidable Chinese Communist Party leader who served as China’s top security official and the de facto boss of its oil industry.





A visitor at the Zhou family's ancestral graves in Xiqliantou, eastern China.  Intrigue surrounds the family after a spate of arrests.  Sim Chi Yim for the New York Times
A visitor at the Zhou family's ancestral graves in Xiqliantou, eastern China. Intrigue surrounds the family after a spate of arrests. Sim Chi Yim for the New York Times

But President Xi Jinping has targeted Mr. Zhou in an extraordinary corruption inquiry, a first for a Chinese party leader of Mr. Zhou’s rank, and put his family’s extensive business interests in the cross hairs.

 

Even by the cutthroat standards of Chinese politics, it is a bold maneuver. The finances of the families of senior leaders are among the deepest and most politically delicate secrets in China. The party has for years followed a tacit rule that relatives of the elite could prosper from the country’s economic opening, which rewarded loyalty and helped avert rifts in the leadership.

Zhou Family Ties

1 Comments

Fri

13

Nov

2015

Are Languages Products of their Environment?


shutterstock_222422665_151112


DISCOVER MAGAZINE published this very interesting article: 


  Languages Are Products of Their Environments


The characteristics that make each language unique may actually be adaptations to the acoustics of different environments.

0 Comments

Tue

03

Jun

2014

The Case for Reparations

 

The Case for Reparations

 

Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.

 

By Ta-Nehisi Coates

May 21, 2014

 


Chapters

  1. I. “So That’s Just One Of My Losses”
  2. II.  “A Difference of Kind, Not Degree”
  3. III. “We Inherit Our Ample Patrimony”
  4. IV. “The Ills That Slavery Frees Us From”
  5. V. The Quiet Plunder
  6. VI. Making The Second Ghetto
  7. VII. “A Lot Of People Fell By The Way”
  8. VIII. “Negro Poverty is not White Poverty”
  9. IX. Toward A New Country
  10. X. “There Will Be No ‘Reparations’ From Germany”
0 Comments

Mon

02

Jun

2014

A Look At 19th Century Children In The USA

PHILADELPHIA — DINNER with your children in 19th-century America often required some self-control. Berry stains in your daughter’s hair? Good for her. Raccoon bites running up your boy’s arms? Bet he had an interesting day.

 

As this year’s summer vacation begins, many parents contemplate how to rein in their kids. But there was a time when Americans pushed in the opposite direction, preserved in Mark Twain’s cat-swinging scamps. Parents back then encouraged kids to get some wildness out of their system, to express the republic’s revolutionary values.

The New York Times

Sunday Review

By JON GRINSPAN MAY 31, 2014

 

A late 19th century family taking a stroll down a set of railroad tracks
A late 19th century family taking a stroll down a set of railroad tracks

Read More 0 Comments

Mon

21

Apr

2014

Investigating Family's Wealth, China's Leader Signals a Change

From The New York Times 

By CHRISTOPHER DREW and JAD MOUAWAD

APRIL 19, 2014

 

HONG KONG — His son landed contracts to sell equipment to state oil fields and thousands of filling stations across China. His son’s mother-in-law held stakes in pipelines and natural gas pumps from Sichuan Province in the west to the southern isle of Hainan. And his sister-in-law, working from one of Beijing’s most prestigious office buildings, invested in mines, property and energy projects.

 

In thousands of pages of corporate documents describing these ventures, the name that never appears is his own: Zhou Yongkang, the formidable Chinese Communist Party leader who served as China’s top security official and the de facto boss of its oil industry.





A visitor at the Zhou family's ancestral graves in Xiqliantou, eastern China.  Intrigue surrounds the family after a spate of arrests.  Sim Chi Yim for the New York Times
A visitor at the Zhou family's ancestral graves in Xiqliantou, eastern China. Intrigue surrounds the family after a spate of arrests. Sim Chi Yim for the New York Times

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