Indonesia Anonymus

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Ignore the Experts

A country once had a terrible famine. 5 out of 13 million of its people needed food aid. It practically had to beg to the world for help.
Then the new elected president, thinking enough is enough, said: "As long as I'm president, I don't want to be going to other capitals begging for food".
Now, not only the country can feed itself, it also feeds its hungry neighboring countries.
Name of the country? Malawi. And how did it manage to achieve this? By ignoring the experts !

"Over the past 20 years, the World Bank and some rich nations Malawi depends on for aid have periodically pressed this small country to adhere to free market policies and cut back or eliminate fertilizer subsidies. In the 1980s and again in the 1990s, The World Bank pushed Malawi to eliminate fertilizer subsidy entirely" [1].

Bear in mind that the US and Europe are known to greatly subsidize their farmers. The developed world funnels nearly $1 billion a day in subsidies to its farmers. A typical cow in the European Union receives a government subsidy of $2.20 a day [2].
Yes, folks: A cow in France makes more than a poor farmer in Indonesia !

That means:
The World Bank advised Malawi to do things that the rich countries are NOT doing.

The result: the price of fertilizer went sky high. The farmers could not afford it.
"Desperate to feed their families, they could not afford to let their land lie fallow or to fertilize it. Over time, their depleted plots yielded less food and the farmers fell deeper into poverty."

"In a withering evaluation of the World Bank's record on African agriculture, the bank's own internal watchdog concluded in October not only that the removal of subsidies had led to exorbitant fertilizer prices in African countries, but that the bank itself had often failed to recognize that improving Africa's declining soil quality was essential to lifting food production."

And so, "Bingu wa Mutharika, Malawi's newly elected president, decided to follow what the West practiced, not what it preached." [1]

He then subsidizes fertilizer heavily.

The result:
"deep fertilizer subsidies and lesser ones for seed, abetted by good rains, helped farmers produce record-breaking corn harvests in 2006 and 2007, according to government crop estimates. Corn production leapt to 2.7 billion metric tons in 2006 and 3.4 billion in 2007 from 1.2 billion in 2005, the government reported." [1]

There you go.
So, Indonesia. Is there a lesson to be learned here?

[1] - Ending famine, simply by ignoring the experts
[2] - Cow Politics