July 01, 2005

Let's get out of poverty, or not

In an invited essay in Nature (free) Anthony Nyong, of the University of Jos, Nigeria, writes wisely:

Poverty is a major cause of environmental degradation and causes people to live unsustainably. Take deforestation: people who cut down trees don't do it for fun: it is a bid to survive. Much of the rural population depends on wood as fuel for domestic energy and cooking. Faced with the need to survive, people even have to encroach on protected forests and game reserves. It is unfair and impractical to think that force can prevent this.

And unwisely:
It is time to stop the 'mercenary' form of development that has long been practised. Africa does not need food aid that continually impoverishes its own people. We need to enable farmers to grow their own food in the face of environmental challenges.

Growing your own food doesn't make you rich. Quite the opposite.


  1. I agree with your concluding remark. Can you expand on it?

  2. What makes you rich is to produce what you are better at, and buy everything else from others. Buy apples from those who are better at growing them. Wealth comes from the efficient division of labor. And global division of labor generates more wealth than local division of labor.

  3. I am going to do a post on this topic at Grist. I will be linking to this article if that is ok with you.

  4. Bio d you beat me to it. I just found this post in my RSS box and was intrigued. I just listened to an interview of Jeff Sachs, author of The End of Poverty, in which he made the same point that Nature "unwisely" makes and I was going to ask you to expand upon it as well. I agree with your comment that efficient division of labor is necessary, but I don't think that this leads to food aid to Africa. If first world producers are so good at producing food that they can do it without a subsidy and do it so efficiently that they can pay the FULL costs to ship the food half way around the world and still come out ahead, then great. Neither of those conditions are met right now though.

  5. I quite agree with you that grwoing your foood does not necessaily make you rich. Like Bret has said, if the major producers who supply food aid to Africa's poor can do so without the giant subsidies, then that would be great. Agriculture in Africa is not just a major economic venture but a major livelihood system and once this is no longer viable such that farmers grow to depend on the cheaper food aid, what becomes of the more than 70% of the population that depend on it?

  6. Thank you Tony for your comment. What becomes of the 70% of population that now work in farms? Some of them will keep working in farms and the remaining ones will work on other things. We could have asked the same question about other countries a few years ago, and the answer is for all to see. Meanwhile, farm subsidies in rich countries are a gift for Africans. See my previous posts here, here and here.