Category Archives: Millennium Development Goals

Poverty Contests

An article published in today’s New York Times reports on efforts in India to enshrine access to food as a constitutionally protected right, a law its proponents expect could enable the food-insecure to make their own market choices to purchase food with food coupons or cash, instead of waiting for monthly 77 pound bags of grain, sugar and kerosene under the current regime. The article also goes on to highlight statistics about how India’s poverty is more widespread and intense than Africa’s, despite the “Tiger” rebranding and annual economic growth rate. A report compiled in India Current Affairs in July also highlights these poverty rankings, comparing the one Indian state of Madhya Pradesh in the country’s center with the entire Democratic Republic of Congo, both of similar population (though the Congo’s size is more comparable to India in its entirety), and finding the same levels of deprivation, even with DRC’s wars (though Madhya Pradesh is not without Naxalites and other struggles for land and resources between communities and multi-national mining and other interests, not unlike DRC).

On the one hand, the expectation around the world seems to be of Africa as the world’s eternal poverty yardstick. This in spite of similar levels of conventionally measured economic growth in a number of Sub-Saharan countries that approach such activity as seen in India in recent years. By comparing favorably to Africa, a government should have license to claim progress in the war on poverty – that’s the ridiculous, racist assumption, an assumption of development stasis.

On the other more important hand, these rankings and contests, especially as presented in the links mentioned above, are patently absurd in themselves, ignoring the basic fact that most of the annual GDP growth measures the rise in income of mostly exclusive urban, male, elite high-end sectors which determine and direct mining, cash-crop, real estate (land displacement), and [cheapest] labor configurations which exclude vast rural populations, whether in India, Congo, or Colombia. Human beings are impoverishing other human beings – not continental geographies. And the story is similar in most geographies including those concerned in this essay – Adivasis in rural Chhattisgarh struggle to hold on to their land in the face of “Memoranda of Understanding” signed by illegitimate politicians to mining interests to violently displace the people from their land, similarly to how Niger Delta militants attack oil infrastructure and kidnap oil workers in response to land displacement and ecosystem destruction by a half century of oil exploitation by foreign corporations in happy concert with local state governments and the Federal Government of Nigeria.

Once you understand neo-colonialism and neoliberal market economics, these patterns can be easily understood as to how they determine poverty and struggle around the third world. Malnutrition and poverty propagate fastest and most consistently wherever governments fail to prioritize enabling peripheral population groups to exact their own capacity to cultivate, live and eat of the land. Changes in the environment, and dietary demands which may place undue stress on the ecosystem and reduce its carrying capacity, may further impede nutrition and food security, as predominates in Sahelian countries that currently suffer serious drought. But policy-makers in much of the third world more often than not do not care, since they do not share the same fate as those far beyond the capitals, the urban and privileged spaces where they bury their heads, forgetting what rural populations go through, forgetting they exist.

I think that in itself, that food security should become a constitutional and human right anywhere is excellent. But a shifting in societal priorities would be a more lasting solution, towards actually considering the plights of women, of agriculturalists, and enabling their self-determination while the wealth of the nation focuses first on human and ecological needs rather than profit for exploitative corporations and salaries for ministers and bureaucracies.

Why focus on these poverty contests, with Africa at level zero? These statistics only measure those who, already in positions of control over powerful economic interests, are getting richer as they exploit more underpaid, vulnerable workers, and the land those workers may have been displaced or evicted from. These statistics don’t measure women’s reproductive work, don’t measure broader levels of quality of life that get inflated by those at the very top, even while the masses at the bottom suffer more dispossession and malnutrition year after year.

Human solidarity is to be encouraged instead. The same problems in Nigeria or Congo are found in India, Bangladesh, Indonesia or Peru, the same exact identical types of fierce corruption, the same exact types of high-official sellouts, the same exact identical types of Western aspirationalism and mimicry, the same exact types of ideological and religious extremisms and hysterias which cripple the masses from thinking critically and boldly enough to challenge the regimes that cause their suffering, the same exact multinationals praying on their resources, human and natural, to be exploited to the lowest common denominator. The same exact types of ignorance forced upon the masses with the absence of schools and the tolerance of illiteracy, despite official claims to the contrary. The exact same types of oppression of labor activists and human-rights campaigners and journalists. The exact same types of classisms and casteisms that compel generations to accept their designated desperation. The same exact types of false democracies in which the people do not have choice or voice in the structural economic questions of society, only at best over the latest personality who says the prettiest things or just looks pretty, but in power does little to nothing of the good he or she promised.

Thus I reject poverty contests. Instead, I move towards human collaboration and solidarity in the third world in pursuit of revolution! Towards the African revolution, the South Asian revolution, the Latin American revolution, the world revolution! Towards human-based economics! Towards the end of rapacious capitalism, the end of the rush to privatize water, seeds and land! Towards human and community-level self-governance and self-determination! Towards the humanization of labor such that people are not reduced to pack mules to produce Wal-Mart products at competitively lower and lower wages in ever more dangerous workplaces!

Towards human development work which is interested in human development, not numbers nudging and statistics masturbating.

West Africa’s “slow-motion” famine

This is why Pan-Africanism or African Internationalism is the answer. And I don’t mean at the level of the institution of the nation state, as I’m an anti-fascist anarcho-syndicalist and ubuntuist (all useless labels). I’m talking about at the level of the grassroots in a situation where borders are erased and collective well-being is recognized as crucial for the prosperity of Africa. Africans in the regions of Niger or Chad don’t have to find themselves trapped inside those map boxes as food runs out in those countries over climatic and geological time and in the very near future and present. As climate changes, landlocked Sahel countries, whose existence was precarious to begin with, will only get drier, more arid and less agriculturally productive. It is all but inevitable, thanks to the profligate pollution of the stubborn West+China and their erstwhile refusal to arrive at a climate deal that would cap carbon levels in the atmosphere at 350 parts per billion, a threshold beyond which would essentially broil Africa in the long run. When, over the course of the coming months, years and decades, Sahel countries realize even more desperate climatic circumstances that are irreversible short of the construction of the great “Green Wall” of Africa which, given African corruption, will probably never happen, where will its people go if they are prevented from moving freely across borders? Will they be expected to starve into extinction due to the accident of their geographies of birth? That is why borders must be erased in Africa, borders imposed by imperialists at a conference in Germany 125 years ago at which not a single African was present.

Climate change is going to dry and fry the already delicate ecosystems of the Sahel especially, while rainfall may increase in other ecosystems. The same is true for dry savannah regions in other parts of the tropics/ third world such as parts of Mexico, Southwest Africa, India, the Middle East, and even some parts of the Mekong River delta in Southeast Asia which is reporting record drought and low river depth (to the point of unnavigability) this year. Each consecutive month this year since February has been the warmest on record.

Pastoralism is also a huge, HUGE part of the problem. I’m not a cultural relativist about this, in fact I’m not a cultural relativist about anything and I criticize everything that doesn’t work and is stupid, even if people have been doing it for centuries. It’s gotta go! Having animals browse the land and eat off every last speck of vegetation, only to slaughter and eat them, and then ask what happened to the arable land, is the mark of woefully uneducated and ignorant people. Education is the answer here, to demonstrate in no uncertain terms how destructive and unsustainable pastoralism is. This will prevent the inevitable and often violent conflicts that so frequently occur at the meeting of pastoralist nomad and settled agriculturalist (i.e. Darfur, Chad, Central African Republic, Ethiopia, etc.). So does this mean I am guilty of privileging the permanently settled farmer of vegetables, produce, fruits and so on? Hell yes! Especially when incorporating the best practices of sustainable, organic, high-yield agronomy and agroforestry. In the Americas, in countries like Brazil, we already know how rapidly we are losing the Amazon rain forest to giant cattle ranches that supply burgers to America and its fattening waistline. This is why veganism is part of the solution for humanity, considering how much more we can feed ourselves eating vegetables grown on the land instead of waiting for other non-human animals to eat them before slaughtering them mercilessly and consuming the most unhealthy products known to the human palate.

Will Africans use this opportunity, at the grassroots civil society level, to overturn centuries of top-down tyranny, capitalist division, unsustainable pastoralism, irrational meat prestige, and export-oriented cash-crop production to realize a borderless and human society of cooperation, collectivism, sustainability and food security first? Will the world? Humans have a lot of work to do on this planet, as we may be either its most inventive beings or its most destructive, selfish and irresponsible children.

Food Security and the Last Billion

atakpame-1983Yesterday, Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Administration, complained that this year, due to the global food crisis, an additional 40 million humans are joining the ranks of the chronically food insecure around the world, and the total for the seriously at-risk is now at least about 963 million. About 1 billion around the world are now at dire imminent risk of starvation and debilitating malnutrition. Needless to say, Afrikan countries, most run by anti-Afrikan, indeed anti-human kleptocrats and neo-colonialists, serve up some of the highest numbers. Likewise for India, China, and elsewhere in the third world.

Perhaps in the wake of the urgency with which Mr. Diouf testified to the UN’s food agency, now may be a time to muse about the implications of our individual eating habits on global ecology and food security. In what I’ve learned of agronomy, it seems vegetarianism is the most ecologically sustainable diet that human populations can pursue. Even in rural settings, runaway grazing eats up land and depletes its moisture carrying capacity far more quickly than even conventional mono-crop rearing. Eating fruits and using herbs from the forest – minimally invasive in practice – seems like the total opposite of grazing, factory farming, and other practices that have led to extreme deforestation and desertification, including the misguided steps being taken in Indonesia, Malaysia, and elsewhere to convert old-growth broad-leaf rainforest into vast groves of palm oil for bio-fuel export.

I think the Afrikan that moves away from meat is making a profound move. Not only is it in pursuit of the primal health colored folks will need to fight imperialism and neo-colonialism and establish a united Afrika serving and enriching the lives of Afrikans, but it is also an engagement with the carrying capacity of the Earth, and an acknowledgment of the delicate balance needed for the planet to replenish itself. It suggests we are willing to share and allow what the Earth can bountifully give to us, so long as we don’t take in excess and destroy the ecosystem in the process. It is well documented how much more water, land, food and fuel inputs are needed for even modest styles of animal husbandry to feed one individual, compared to inputs needed to feed one person through plant-based means only. At one extreme is factory farming and agribusiness that rapes the Earth without recourse to the least iota of moral restraint, and on the other, I think, the Afrikan moving towards serious raw veganism.

It is a move for the zealots, most will probably conclude. So be it. It tastes good and at least we know we are on Earth’s side, custodians of ecological sustainability and food security, because of our dietary choices. Already there is enough food to feed the world’s population, just that it’s concentrated in granaries in the West, and its potential to be utilized sensibly in Afrika is thwarted by cash-crop export economies, political instability, pollution, war, runaway urbanization, land privatization and land misuse. How much more could the ability to feed the world be expanded if less of us opt for the most wasteful land-use patterns by going for the meat, especially the factory-farmed meat?

Not that the millennium development goals are worth a damn beyond their pretty letters on conscience-appeasing paper, but if we want to take Mr. Diouff’s grievances seriously and consider how we can contribute to food security, even if rather indirectly, perhaps more of us should consider putting the meat down. This is just a microscopic baby-step into being a bit more mindful of the planet and all its resources we usurp to feed us, given the choices we make, even in diet. We haven’t even begun to discuss the fundamental problem of parasitic capitalism and its imposition of hunger, ignorance, land theft, and wretchedness on the “developing” world.

Don’t you get tired of it being the 21st century and black folks (and Asians, Indigenous folk and Latin Americans too) are still starving, still part of the last billion?