Enough: Why the World's Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty by Scott Kilman and Roger Thurow
|Enough: Why the World's Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty by Scott Kilman and Roger Thurow|
|Genre: Politics and Society|
|Reviewer: Trish Simpson-Davis|
|Summary: Two U.S. journalists' overview of the reasons for famine in Africa despite decades of aid. Readable, balanced, informative and highly recommended.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 304||Date: November 2008|
|Publisher: Public Affairs US|
If you have ever wondered why famine is still widespread, so many years after Oxfam started nudging middle-class Britain into consciousness, then read Enough. As a young woman, I donated to Oxfam at the end of the 1960s in the belief that concerted international action through governments plus charities would eliminate hunger within a decade or so. Four decades later, it's impossible to comprehend why children are still dying at much the same rate: one every five seconds.
Oxfam – and many other NGOs, of course – were always keen to fund small, pump-priming projects, often quite literally. I was hopeful that on a large scale, the international community knew how to optimize progress in developing countries, that there would be some kind of consensus among moderate governments which would guide the global community in generally the right direction. I was utterly wrong.
Here are the bits and pieces of news which we've been fed over the years, contextualized in a coherent time-line. Here is a clear and reasoned account of progress, with a critical analysis of the shortcomings that have stalled the best efforts of so many well-intentioned people. While this doesn't make for comfortable reading, it is engrossing. I feel an awful lot better informed for reading this book and I heartily recommend it to you.
For a start, Thurow and Kilman make it clear that this is a story about Africa. They argue that the Green Revolution virtually eliminated famine is Asia and South America by providing local farmers with well-engineered seeds, fertilizer and mechanization to multiply their harvests. Scientific advances in the 1970s coincided with liberal aid policies in the West. Countries such as India grew surpluses, enabling them to increase industrial production, both of which helped to reduce poverty.
When the father of the Green Revolution and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Norman Borlaug, turned his attention to Africa in the 1980s, the political wheel had turned. Africa, with its complex political issues, was left to market forces as development budgets were slashed by new right-wing governments. AIDS began its savage cull of the adult workforce. When the price of staples fell as a result of the glut of crops, African subsistence farmers lost out. When drought also hit, famine returned to Africa.
As individuals, we responded to pictures of starving children on television with donations to Live Aid and the rest. We pressured governments into providing food aid, sourced primarily from subsidized US and EC farms. In the short term, there's no other way to feed the hungry. Trouble is, that created a vicious circle in which internal subsidies enriched (particularly) the American farmers; the resulting bags of grain sent to Africa ensured financial and physical dependency on the West. Even worse, Third World debt more than swallowed the huge sums raised by the public. For example, Ethiopa's annual debt obligations were double the amount raised by Live Aid and Band Aid.
Thurow and Kilman balance their indictment of global politics with good news. Determined and reiterated publicity from Geldof, Bono and many more entertainers merged environmentalists, students, Christians and other religious and political groups into a ground swell for change. Cancelling Third World debt has made a difference. More quietly, the Gates Foundation has recognized the need to eliminate hunger in order to conquer AIDS and malaria. Plumpy-nut has revolutionized capability to feed starving children. Some multinationals and some of the best entrepreneurs of their generation have climbed on board. Importantly, the international political community's development aid policies are moving towards enabling African farmers to prevent famine hunger locally: small scale loans and grants finance the set up of a local system to produce, transport and market crops sustainably. With growing competition for space from biofuels, Africa is the one country with spare agricultural capacity. All reasons to be hopeful.
With governments and aid organizations on the same track at last, surely this is the time for us all to push, in whatever ways we choose, to ensure enough for everyone. I guess that's why, after two decades of investigative reporting for the Wall Street Journal, Thurow and Kilman have chosen now to publish. If you're not convinced, please beg, borrow, or better still buy a copy of Enough and read their arguments for yourself.
Many thanks to PublicAffairs imprint of the Perseus Book Group for sending us a copy.
[[Aid and Other Dirty Business by Giles Bolton and Falling Off The Edge: Globalization, World Peace and Other Lies by Alex Perry provide contrasting views. Lisa French Blaker writes angrily about her life as an aid worker for Medecins sans Frontières in Heart of Darfur.
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