Thursday, August 05, 2004

Food for thought

Contrary to perception, the single-most important reason developing African countries are underdeveloped is a gross lack of nutritious, affordable foods. The why's vary: Geography, political turmoil, meddling by the British empire...the list goes on.

Lest we forget the basics of economic development, satiating hunger should also be a priority alongside the massive US' AIDS/HIV initiative (which now prescribes use of expensive Western cocktail drugs vs. generics w/ vitamin supplements). More investment and attention is required in smart nutrition as well as developing and planting more productive crop strains, which doesn't require big programs to administer or much money to start-up.

There is an overwhelming amount of data available (outlined below) that draws a clear picture of the best ways to tackle this problem. For next tax season, you might consider a donation to a relief organization today.

There are 800,000,000 people at stake.

Quoted from The Economist - Food for thought:

....Western experts tend to tiptoe around the issue of how malnourishment makes people less intelligent, but local experts sometimes do not. "If your brain is stunted when you are young, that affects the decisions you make in later life. If you can't do simple arithmetic, you won't invest wisely. The cost of that will be very high," says Tomaida Msisika, a consultant on food security in Malawi. Sam Chimwaza, an analyst for Malawi's Famine Early Warning Systems Network, says that the reasoning ability of people in rural areas has been affected by malnutrition and it is hard for them to execute simple instructions. "They can work as servants in the city for two or three years and still not figure out how to adjust the temperature on an iron," he says.

Several pieces of research have shown the broader economic effects of these problems. A study on Zimbabwe found that children exposed to a drought completed on average nearly five months less schooling (and were 2.3cm shorter than expected). It estimated that this resulted in a loss of 7-12% of lifetime earnings. At a somewhat larger scale, the World Bank estimates that in low-income countries, the net present value of causing children to be born of normal rather than low weight would be about $580 per child. That is more than a year's average income in a typical sub-Saharan African country...