From Field to Plate...


Saturday, February 28, 2015 @ 06:02 AM
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A preview of the unpublished book A CIVILIZATION WITHOUT A VISION WILL PERISH: AN INDEPENDENT SEARCH FOR THE TRUTH by David Willis at CHAPTER 1: INDIFFERENCE TO POVERTY (Part 63). This blog is a continuation of the review of The End of Poverty: How We Can Make it Happen in Our Life Time, by Jeffrey Sachs, published in 2005

Sauri’s Big Five development interventions
The international development community should speak of the Big Five development interventions that would spell the difference between hunger, disease, and death and health and economic development. Sauri’s Big Five, identified by the villagers as well as by the UN Millennium Project, are: agricultural inputs; investments in basic health; investments in education; power, transport, and communication services; safe drinking water and sanitation.

The costs of these services
The irony is that the costs of these services for Sauri’s 5,000 residents would be very low. Here are some quick guesses, which colleagues at the Earth Institute are refining:
Fertilizers and improved fallows for the 500 or so arable hectares would be roughly $100 per hectare per year, or $50,000 per year for the community.
A clinic staffed by a doctor and nurse, providing free malaria prevention and care and additional free basic services other than antiretrovirals, would cost around $50,000 per year.
School meals could be paid for communally out of just a small part of the incremental grain yields achieved through the application of fertilizers.
A village truck would be an annual inclusive running cost of perhaps $15,000 per year if amortized over several years (or leased from a manufacturer).
Modern cooking fuel for the primary and secondary school students (numbering about a thousand) in the entire sublocation would cost an additional $5,000 per year.
A few village cell phones and a grain storage facility would add perhaps $5,000 per year, for a total of $25,000 per year.
A combination of protected springs (with improved access), bore-wells (with pumps), and community taps connected to the large-scale storage system would provide access to water at ten convenient locations and cost around $25,000.
Electricity could be provided to the school, the nearby clinic, and five water points by a dedicated off-grid generator or by power line from Yala or Nyanminia for an initial cost of about $35,000. For another $40,000 in initial costs and recurring costs of $10,000, every household could be provided with a battery/bulb assembly to light a small bulb for a few hours every night with the battery charging station connected to the village generator. The annualized costs would be $25,000 per year.
Additional expenses would include scaling up educational activities, various costs of local management, technical advice from agricultural extension officers, and other related delivery services.

These investments would repay themselves
My Earth Institute colleagues and I estimate that the combined costs of these improvements would total around $350,000 per year, or roughly $70 per person per year in Sauri, for at least the next ten years. The benefits would be astounding: decisive malaria control (with transmission reduced by perhaps 90%, judging from recent CDC bed-net trials in a neighboring area), a doubling or tripling of food yields per hectare with a drastic reduction of chronic hunger and undernutrition, improved school attendance, a reduction of water-borne disease, a rise in incomes through the sale of surplus grains and cash crops, the growth of cash incomes via food processing, carpentry, small scale clothing manufacturing, horticulture, aquaculture, animal husbandry, and a myriad of other benefits. With anti-AIDS drugs added to the clinic’s services, the mass deaths from AIDS, as well as the deluge of newly orphaned children, could also be staunched. Sooner rather than later, these investments would repay themselves not only in lives saved, children educated, and communities preserved, but also in direct commercial returns.


Friday, February 27, 2015 @ 06:02 AM
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A preview of the unpublished book A CIVILIZATION WITHOUT A VISION WILL PERISH: AN INDEPENDENT SEARCH FOR THE TRUTH by David Willis. CHAPTER 1: INDIFFERENCE TO POVERTY (Part 62). This blog is a continuation of the review of The End of Poverty: How We Can Make it Happen in Our Life Time, by Jeffrey Sachs, published in 2005.

Soils that are utterly exhausted of nutrients
The rest of the community is farming on tiny plots, often no more than 0.1 hectares, with soils that are utterly exhausted of nutrients, and therefore biologically unable to produce an adequate crop. The soils are so depleted of nutrients and organic matter that even if the rains are good, with yields of around one ton of maize per hectare, the households still go hungry. If the rains fail, the households face the risk of death from immunosuppression because of severe undernutrition. Stunting, meaning low height for one’s age, is widespread, a sign of the pervasive and chronic undernutrition of the children.

The price of fertilizer was now out of reach
Farmer after farmer described how the price of fertilizer was now out of reach, and how their current impoverishment left them unable to purchase what they had used in the past. Credits to buy fertilizer are neither available nor prudent for these farmers: a single failed crop season, an untimely episode of malaria, or some other calamity can push a household that has taken on debt into a spiral of unending indebtedness and destitution.

The only things coming back from the cities were coffins
I asked how many households were home to one or more orphaned children left behind by the pandemic. Virtually every hand in the room shot up. I asked how many households were receiving remittances from family members living in Nairobi and other cities. The response was that the only things coming back from the cities were coffins and orphans, not remittances.

They cannot afford the bed nets
I asked how many households had somebody currently suffering from malaria. Around three fourths of the hands shot up. The problem, many of the women explained, is that they cannot afford the bed nets, which sell for a few dollars per net, and are too expensive even when partially subsidized (socially marketed) by international donor agencies.

The villagers could not afford to pay the doctor
A year or so ago, Sauri had a small clinic. The doctor has left and the clinic is now padlocked. The villagers could not afford to pay the doctor and buy the medicines, so the doctor departed.

An increasingly erratic climate
A few years back, Sauri’s residents cooked with locally collected fuel wood, but the decline in the number of trees has left the sublocation bereft of sufficient fuel wood. The community has no money for fertilizers, medicines, school fees, or other basic needs that must be purchased from outside of the villages. This year the rains are failing again, another disaster in an increasingly erratic climate, quite possibly a climate showing the increasing effects of long-term man-made climate change emanating from the rich world.

Survival depends on addressing a series of specific challenges
This village could be rescued, and could achieve the Millennium Development Goals, but not by itself. Survival depends on addressing a series of specific challenges: nutrient-depleted soils, erratic rainfall, holoendemic malaria, pandemic HIV/AIDS, lack of adequate education opportunities, lack of access to safe drinking water and latrines, and the unmet need for basic transport, electricity, cooking fuels, and communications. All of these challenges can be met, with known, proven, reliable, and appropriate technologies and interventions.

A cost that is tiny for the world but too high for the villages
The crux of the matter for Sauri sublocation can be stated simply and directly: Sauri’s villages, and impoverished villages like them all over the world, can be saved and set on a path of development at a cost that is tiny for the world but too high for the villages themselves and for the Kenyan government on its own.


Thursday, February 26, 2015 @ 07:02 AM
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A preview of the unpublished book A CIVILIZATION WITHOUT A VISION WILL PERISH: AN INDEPENDENT SEARCH FOR THE TRUTH by David Willis. CHAPTER 1: INDIFFERENCE TO POVERTY (Part 61). This blog is a continuation of the review of The End of Poverty: How We Can Make it Happen in Our Life Time, by Jeffrey Sachs, published in 2005

Chapter 12: On-the-Ground Solutions for Ending Poverty
The end of poverty will require a global network of cooperation among people who have never met and who do not necessarily trust each other. One part of the puzzle is relatively easy. Most people in the world, with a little bit of prodding, would accept the fact that schools, clinics, roads, electricity, ports, soil nutrients, clean drinking water, and the like are the basic necessities not only for a life of dignity and health, but also for economic productivity. They would also accept the fact that the poor may need help to meet their basic needs, but they might be skeptical that the world could pull off any effective way to give that help.

The world’s remaining challenge
If the poor are poor because they are lazy or their governments are corrupt, how could global cooperation help? Fortunately, these common beliefs are misconceptions, only a small part of the explanation, if at all, of why the poor are poor. I have noted repeatedly that in all corners of the world, the poor face structural challenges that keep them from getting even their first foot on the ladder of development. Most societies with good harbors, close contacts with the rich world, favorable climates, adequate energy sources, and freedom from epidemic disease have escaped from poverty. The world’s remaining challenge is not mainly to overcome laziness and corruption, but rather to take on geographic isolation, disease, vulnerability to climate shocks, and so on, with new systems of political responsibility that can get the job done.

The tools for sustainable development
In the next chapters I lay out the strategy for ending extreme poverty by 2025. The strategy focuses on the key investments – in people and in infrastructure – that can give impoverished communities around the world, both rural and urban, the tools for sustainable development. We need plans, systems, mutual accountability, and financing mechanisms. But even before we have all of that apparatus – or economic plumbing – in place we must first understand more concretely what such a strategy means to the one billion-plus people who can be helped. It is the bravery, fortitude, realism, and sense of responsibility of the impoverished and disempowered, for themselves and especially for their children, that give us hope, and spur us on to end extreme poverty in our time.

Together with colleagues from the UN Millennium Project and the Earth Institute, I spent several days in July 2004 in a group of eight Kenyan villages known as the Sauri sublocation in the Siaya district of Nyanza Province, about 44 kilometers from Kisumu, in western Kenya. We visited farms, clinics, a subdistrict hospital, and schools in Sauri and the environs. We met with international organizations working in the region, including ICRAF (the World Agroforestry Center), the UN Development Program, and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The visit made vivid both why extreme poverty persists in rural areas and how it can be ended.

The situation is more grim than described in official documents
We found a region beset by hunger, AIDS, and malaria. The situation is far more grim than is described in official documents. The situation is also salvageable, but the international community requires a much better understanding of its severity, dynamics, and solutions if the crisis in Sauri and the rest of rural Africa is to be solved.

They are impoverished, but they are capable and resourceful
In response to an invitation from our group, more than 200 members of the community came to meet with us. Hungry, thin, and ill, they stayed for 3½ hours, speaking with dignity, eloquence, and clarity about their predicament. They are impoverished, but they are capable and resourceful. Though struggling to survive at present, they are not dispirited but determined to improve their situation. They know well how they could get back to high ground.

Leguminous (nitrogen-fixing) trees
I canvassed the group on the material conditions of the community, and received very perceptive accounts of the grim situation. Only two of the 200 or so farmers at the meeting reported using fertilizer at present. Around 25% are using improved fallows with nitrogen-fixing trees, a scientific farming approach developed and introduced into Sauri by ICRAF. With this novel technique, villagers grow trees that naturally fix nitrogen, meaning that the trees convert atmospheric nitrogen, which most food crops cannot use directly, into a nitrogen compound that food crops can use as a nutrient. The leguminous (nitrogen-fixing) trees can be planted alongside maize or other food crops. By choosing the right timing for planting and the right combination of trees and crops, the farmer gets a natural substitute for chemical nitrogen fertilizer.

The ICRAF technique could be scaled
So far, just one fourth of Sauri farmers use the new method. It costs money to introduce the technique and one planting season is lost. Farmers may also need to add some non-nitrogen fertilizers, especially potassium, which is also costly, too costly for the impoverished farmers. All of these additional complications could easily be addressed, and the ICRAF technique could be scaled up throughout the village, if only there were additional financial resources available to ICRAF and the village to jump-start the process.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015 @ 05:02 AM
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A preview of the unpublished book A CIVILIZATION WITHOUT A VISION WILL PERISH: AN INDEPENDENT SEARCH FOR THE TRUTH by David Willis. CHAPTER 1: INDIFFERENCE TO POVERTY (Part 60). This blog is a continuation of the review of The End of Poverty: How We Can Make it Happen in Our Life Time, by Jeffrey Sachs, published in 2005

Columbia University would lead the way
Incoming President Lee Bollinger later shared with me his vision that Columbia University would lead the way in the United States to become a truly global university. All of the UN Millennium Project work has depended utterly on the Earth Institute. Fundamentally, progress on the MDGs rests on thorough scientific understanding of the underlying challenges of disease, food production, undernutrition, watershed management, and other related issues. These, in turn, require specialized expertise. Modern science has given us technological interventions, or specific techniques for addressing these problems, such as antimalarial bed nets or antiretroviral drugs. To name just a few examples, the Earth Institute is
Pioneering the use of geographic information systems (GIS) in rural Ethiopia to monitor, predict, and respond to malaria epidemics
Using specially programmed cell phones in remote rural Rwanda to provide real-time health data to the Ministry of Health
Introducing new agroforestry techniques to triple food crops in the nitrogen-depleted soils of Africa
Designing new efficient and low-cost battery devices to power lightbulbs in villages too poor and remote to join a power grid in the near future
Demonstrating how high-tech forecasting of El Niño fluctuations can be put to use in impoverished countries in the timing of crop planting and harvesting, the management of water reservoirs and fisheries, and in other ways
Applying state-of-the-art hydrology, geochemistry, and public health to devise solutions to the crisis of arsenic poisoning in Bangladesh’s water supply.

The institute is built on five clusters
The Earth Institute provides a unique academic base for garnering the science-based, cross-disciplinary understanding needed to confront the practical challenges of sustainable development. The institute is built on five clusters – earth sciences, ecology and conservation, environmental engineering, public health, and economics and public policy. By joining these disciplines under one roof, the Earth Institute can better connect the sciences with public policy to find practical solutions to problems at all scales, from local villages to global UN treaties. Bringing these five clusters together makes possible the kind of rigorous thinking about the challenges of the MDGs that otherwise rarely takes place, even in partial perspective. One of the remarkable and deeply heartening aspects of directing this unique institute has been the enthusiasm with which the scientists have rallied to the cause of fighting extreme poverty. Their eagerness to use cutting-edge scientific knowledge to solve some of the most pernicious problems facing the most vulnerable people on the planet is inspiring.


Tuesday, February 24, 2015 @ 05:02 AM
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A preview of the unpublished book A CIVILIZATION WITHOUT A VISION WILL PERISH: AN INDEPENDENT SEARCH FOR THE TRUTH by David Willis. CHAPTER 1: INDIFFERENCE TO POVERTY (Part 59). This blog is a continuation of the review of The End of Poverty: How We Can Make it Happen in Our Life Time, by Jeffrey Sachs, published in 2005

The shadow of September 11
How quickly that optimism was shattered. There were small things that dented the optimism – the US trauma of a tied national election, the end of the stock market boom, and a spate of high-profile corporate scandals – but these look insignificant now in the shadow of September 11. Much changed that day, partly because of the unwise ways in which the US government reacted. More than ever, we need to return to the purpose and hope of the MDGs.

September 11 was the start of World War III
One of the leading journalists in the United States, Thomas Friedman, immediately declared that September 11 was the start of World War III. The ease with which pundits talked about World War III stunned me deeply. They were playing with fire, or much worse, with the destruction of our world in a new conflagration. Were they not aware, I asked myself, of the way World War I had destroyed globalization a century before? In that case, too, the pundits had been only too happy to see soldiers march off to war, sure that that tidy affair would be wrapped up in a month. The demons unleashed by that war, however, stalked the planet until the end of the 20th century, having their hand in the Great Depression, World War II, the Bolshevik revolution, and much more.

10,000 Africans die needlessly and tragically every single day
Terrorism is not the only threat that the world faces. It would be a huge mistake to direct all our energies, efforts, resources, and lives to the fight against terrorism while leaving vast and even greater challenges aside. 10,000 Africans die needlessly and tragically every single day – and have died every single day since September 11 – of AIDS, TB, and malaria. We need to keep September 11 in perspective, especially because the 10,000 daily deaths are preventable.

Address the deeper roots of terrorism
The appropriate response to September 11 was therefore two tracks, not one. Civilized nations needed surely to take up the challenge to cripple the networks of terrorism that carried out the attacks. The financial controls and direct military actions against Al-Qaeda were a necessary response, but hardly sufficient. In addition, we needed to address the deeper roots of terrorism in societies that are not part of global prosperity, that are marginalized in the world economy, that are bereft of hope, and that are misused and abused by the rich world, as have been the oil states of the Middle East. The rich world, starting with the United States, needed to commit its efforts even more to economic development than to military strategies.

Building a consensus around a shared vision
Analytical deliberation – the process of finding a cooperative approach to complex problems by building a consensus around a shared vision and understanding of the challenges – lies at the core of the UN Millennium Project. No sooner had I begun the UN assignment than I received another call from New York, this time from Columbia University. Columbia President George Rupp and colleagues had heard about the UN work and were interested in exploring whether I might simultaneously take on the leadership of a major institute devoted to the challenge of sustainable development, Columbia’s Earth Institute. Upon meeting with Rupp, I learned more about Columbia’s bold and innovative initiative linking many major scientific departments at the university to take on the interconnected challenges of climate, environmental management, conservation, public health, and economic development.