The Doctor's Consultation
by Dr. Iain Corness
Is your bathroom cabinet a treasure trove?
One of the patients brought me a present the other day. A
very large package which weighed 1.44 kg. This was just before Xmas too, so
it could have been all sorts of goodies. (Miss Hillary in this section would
have thought all her Xmases had come at once! Chocolates at least!)
for a headache in here?”
In fact it did contain all sorts of goodies. There were capsules, tablets
and lozenges and in all kinds of wonderful colors. This would have been a
toddler’s delight. And completely potentially lethal.
The package was the result of the patient’s cleaning out of his bathroom
cupboard of outdated, or no longer needed, or even ‘unknown’ medicines. The
man was not a hoarder, but knew that medications should be kept out of the
reach of children, which he had been doing - for quite some time! However,
when he started running out of room, a problem presented itself. How was he
going to get rid of them?
He was savvy enough to know that if he just ditched them in the local
rubbish bin, the recyclers would definitely consider them treasure trove,
and he could foresee some untrained person attempting to differentiate the
various pills and tablets and sell them somewhere. Paracetamol tablets do
generally look the same after all, white round ones, but so also do many
other medications, which are not as relatively safe to be taken
He then thought about flushing them all down the toilet, but decided that
1.44 kg of strange tablets might just block the precarious plumbing that
pervades in Thailand. When the locals are afraid of putting soluble toilet
tissue down the loo, what would strange foaming tablets do? Let alone
capsules and lozenges.
The next resort was to borrow a mortar and pestle from the local ‘som tum’
roadside kitchen and having ground them all to a paste then spread the
resulting pulverized mass over the garden as a somewhat powerful weedicide.
At least the grass would be germ-free! However, this was not really
practical either, as the som tum lady couldn’t wait the several hours that
was going to be necessary.
So I then became the last option, and with a smile he presented me with the
aforesaid 1.44 kg bag, with wishes for a very merry Xmas.
Abandoning my initial thoughts of hurling them from the top of the new 15
storey hospital building and watching people scrabble for free tablets, I
saw the chap in charge of Pharmacy at the Bangkok Hospital Pattaya who
assured me that yes, they could dispose of the 1.44 kg bag and contents, as
there was a service to allow total destruction of medications such as these,
under very secure circumstances, run by the Thai government, and he would be
happy to forward the 1.44 kg bag of goodies.
So there you are. It is probably a good idea as part of your New Year’s
resolutions to clean out your bathroom cabinet of old, half used, undated,
expired and unknown medications, tablets, lozenges and mixtures. If the
quantity is too great for flushing down the loo (and 1.44 kg is too great),
then bring them to the hospital and I will ensure their safe destruction.
And, oh yes, you have a good New Year too.
Thanks Gary, for being the stimulus for this week’s column!
Heart to Heart
I have delayed writing this letter, expecting to see on your page a
response, if not from him, from a lawyer to your reply on 17 Nov ’06 to The
Thoughtful Farang. I have seen none. Would you be kind enough to define
“5,000 Baht Lawyer” and state why you would not trust such.
I enjoy reading the letters on your page and your amusing, and sometimes
What do you mean “sometimes informative” replies? My dear Stamen (since you
can never be a Petal), my replies are always informative, though sometimes
couched in obtuse language. Now, to bring the other readers up to speed
regarding the “5,000 baht lawyer”, this all came after one reader proudly
boasted about his Pre-Nup agreement, and he wrote, “This agreement was
prepared by my lawyer and signed by us both and witnessed by two Thais. Cost
to me was 5,000 baht - a worthwhile investment I am sure you will agree.” My
reply was merely “that unless you personally can read and understand Thai,
what guarantee have you got that the English ‘translation’ and the Thai
paragraphs actually are a true reflection of each other? You are trusting a
5,000 baht lawyer, which is not something I would like to do.” Obviously I
was suggesting that if a lawyer would do all this work (including the
translations) for only 5,000 baht, this appeared to me to be a bargain too
good to be true. And bargains too good to be true, are usually just that!
Years ago I spent a lot of time in Jakarta, a place different than anything
in Thailand. I get this weekly newsletter, and really enjoy it. Reminds me a
lot of the good old days. Reason for sending it, I thought you’d get a kick
out of the letter from a Falang gal.
(It was a little long, but here is an extract from the Falang girl’s
letter): “Finding a man in the bar area, believe it or not, is possible.
Whether you want it however, knowing where else he may have been, is another
thing. Your initial catch is more likely to be an over 40’s Texan cowboy
than a 30 something hot dish. But at least you get the attention. The 30
something hot dish is blinded by the number of bar girls approaching him. He
flits from one to the other, overwhelmed. Everyone wants to talk to him.
Everyone wants to touch him. He feels cool as a cucumber, popular as a film
star, dashing as something out of Bollywood. The world (or this bar, at
least) is his oyster. He can’t believe this paradise. He is king. He sees
the falang girl and presents an expression of surprise. He may even comment
as you walk by ‘Are you sure you are having a good time?’ He may even show
some admiration towards you for having the guts to be there in the first
place. The 40 something cowboy is drawn to you for protection. He is new in
town, and also overwhelmed, as he is on his orientation outing with his
office colleagues. His colleagues have disappeared, and he is lost. It is
relief for him to spot you - you can be his savior. You can rescue him from
this madness, just by dancing with him. Meanwhile after enough beers the 30
something hot dish will have had enough. The room is spinning and he can no
longer handle the heat. That is when you step in. You take him outside for
some air and water, and he’ll tell you (as if he is the first) his string of
wild stories, including the black magic that’s been cast upon him, and how
it’s so good to have someone to TALK to!
After a few years in Jakarta, you will be able to stand more than half a
minute in the bar toilets. In fact the longer you stay the tougher you feel.
In there you’ll find the Indonesian girls fixing their hair, applying some
lip gloss, adjusting their boobs just so. The cubicle will be locked for at
least ten minutes, and eventually three of them will appear from within. You
find yourself towering above them which can be an uncomfortable feeling at
times. At first they’ll stare at you like some kind of alien from outer
space, but all you have to do is compliment their dress or hair and you are
immediately their best friend. Another way to connect is to indicate to them
your suffering over the need to empty your bladder while waiting. This will
make them giggle and they’ll imitate the notion of crossing legs while dying
for a pee. There is something satisfying about making that connection –
we’re all girls together, no matter what.”
Dear Cheers Art,
Thank you for reminding all my male readers out there that us girls are all
girls together, no matter what. I think some of the Lotharios might also get
a surprise at just what us girls (farang or otherwise) think of the bar
hopping male. The bar area is not a man’s world after all, but a corral
where us girls herd the unsuspecting males, ready for ritual wallet
plucking! Thanks, Art, for bringing it to the surface.
Camera Class by
Taking the best travel shots
There are only two reasons for you to take your camera on
holidays. To show your friends just where you went for your
vacation, and to show yourselves enjoying the vacation. The
photographs you need for these two can actually be quite
different, as there is a difference in topic.
Take, for example, a trip to London. This is a rather large
city, and to take a picture of your wife standing outside
Buckingham Palace, which is also very large, does not do much
justice to either the palace, or your wife. In these kinds of
situations, then you have to keep in mind, the ‘hero’ in the
I have written about photographic heroes before, but it is
amazing how many people forget to make the main subject the
hero. If it is a shot of the palace, then concentrate on that,
to the exclusion of everything else. The hero is the location.
Photograph the palace building through the railings, take a shot
of the guardsmen changing shift, the impassive guard in his
uniform standing in the sentry box, the gates themselves, with
the gates in sharp focus, and the palace softer focus behind.
The message here is that the shot of the location is not just
one shot, but a series of shots. You are going to try and show
the people who have not been there, something of the destination
you went to, and that is impossible to do in one photograph.
Always remember to try and take your shots from different
viewpoints as well. Climb a building and look down to give the
‘bird’s eye’ view. Lie on the ground and look up at the statue
to give exaggerated perspective. Walk in close to get some fine
details of the structure. Going back to the palace, I would even
try and get a close-up of the guard’s gloved hand holding the
rifle, and another of the lock on the gates. These are all
‘atmospheric’ shots to give the viewers at home some idea of the
ambience surrounding historical sites such as Buckingham Palace.
But now you want to show that you really did go there, and these
shots were not postcards you bought at the airport. The ‘hero’
is now the vacationer, not the location. The emphasis must be
Take a shot of your wife standing next to the sentry. They do
not mind, they are photographed every day on duty. Do not use a
wide angle lens or wide zoom setting to try and get the palace
in this shot as well, but concentrate on getting a close-up with
just the two people – the guard and your wife. I would use a 135
mm lens for this. It is, after all, a double portrait.
You can take a shot of your wife and the palace itself too, but
do not take the shot with her standing at the gates, with all of
the palace in the background. You will get a very small person,
dwarfed by the large building behind. The trick in keeping her
the hero is for her to walk very close to the camera, so that
she is the main subject, with the palace in behind her as the
Here is the shot that 99 percent of holiday makers get wrong. It
is the “Here we are in front of our hotel” shot, which is taken
by the bellboy, where you appear as tiny dots by the doorway of
a very large building. The way to take this, still using the
bellboy, is to position the camera far enough away to get the
entire hotel building, but then bring your wife into shot at the
edge of the composition (plan on making the people waist up, not
full figure), get everything composed correctly and only then
hand the camera to the expectant bellboy!
There is no secret to good vacation photographs. The important
fact to remember is just who is the hero in each shot? If it is
the person, concentrate on that. If it is the location, then
concentrate of showing that to the best of your ability. And
finally, take plenty of shots. Discard the duds and show the
Money Matters Graham
Macdonald MBMG International Ltd.
The Art of Development
For a number of years I have been irritated by people in
authority who breeze into World Conferences of whatever variety, pontificate for
an hour or so, grab the world press headlines with such statements as that ‘the
target shall be that all the world’s poor will have clean water and proper
sewage facilities in ten years’. Alternatively, that world hunger will be
abolished over a similar time frame. Then they have a few pictures taken and
disappear until the next photo-shoot opportunity. Another pet hate is those same
people who widely announce that they have approved the allotment of say USD20
million as food aid for some stricken part of the world suffering from appalling
famine due to drought - without bothering to mention that this is the equivalent
of providing one chocolate éclair per head of population in the afflicted area.
Development in its widest sense is a very interesting subject and of
considerable importance to the well being of the human species, yet it is a
subject that is little understood - even by the experts. Many years ago, when I
was at university, the question was asked as to why people thought Britain was
rich and places like Uganda and Cambodia were poor. One student immediately
responded by saying the former was wealthy because it printed as many bank notes
as it wanted to. It took the lecturer some time to explain that this was a false
reason for Britain’s wealth. He pointed out that if took a subsistence farmer,
gave him a spade, hoe, panga and some planting material and put him on a desert
island he would probably survive. However, if one took the UK Prime Minister or
the Chancellor of the Exchequer and gave them suitcases stuffed full of money
then they would probably not survive.
The discussion then went on to talk about the differences between the
subsistence farmer with his survival skills and the Chancellor of the Exchequer
with his specialized financial/economic skills. Such discussions can lead one
into hidden quicksand.
One such quicksand is the moral debate as to whether the sophisticated, highly
educated, rich Westerner has a right to change the subsistence farmer’s
primitive (to us) society. This person, providing he has sufficient natural
resources, lives in a stable way of life that has allowed him to survive for
centuries. Who are we to introduce a different capitalist, technological based
way of life that is entirely alien to his historic way of life? The fact that
the subsistence farmer may have a much lower life expectancy than the average
Westerner gives a powerful answer.
The justification for this essay is that there is a real need to explain simply
the problems of development in a developing world context, in order to get rid
of the magic wand approach adopted by many world leaders. Without doubt, there
is a real need for sound development for more or less half the world’s
population just to provide them with what the Westerner would consider to be
minimal standards of living. The knowledge exists, but the implementation does
not seem to match the good intentions of the actual developer.
The Western World
It is important to give a brief introduction to the development of
society in the Western world so as to give the necessary background to present
day development initiatives.
For mankind to survive in the distant ages he has had to ensure there was enough
adequate provision for three basic needs:
- Food for the family and associated tribe/clan day in and day out and year in
and year out.
- Shelter or housing, no matter how primitive.
Once he has met these requirements, then he would have time to think about other
advances. The major of these was to devise a settled system of agriculture which
was to be the key and fundamental basis for any further progress. This has
happened in many parts of the world apart from, with one or two honourable
exceptions, Africa south of the Sahara. It is important to mention Africa as it
has virtually no indigenous food plants. Most of the present day food plants
seen in Africa have their origin in South America and were not available until
Columbus discovered the New World in 1492. Amongst these plants were maize,
cassava, sweet potatoes and groundnuts. Before their introduction survival in
Africa was not easy.
One of the next events which was of crucial importance to mankind’s development
was the evolution of alphabets and writing. The importance of this advance is
demonstrated by the lack of advancement by those tribes which did not find
alphabets. For example, the whole of Africa - south of the Sahara - along with
the native Indians of North America and the Aborigines of Australia were all
devoid of the written word and, therefore, had to rely on word of mouth. This is
restrictive to say the least.
The next essential was the mastering of power. Firstly wind and water and then,
when it came, coal and steam which provided the necessary energy for engines.
Also, worthy of mention is the evolution of money (not barter), the creation of
markets and the Industrial Revolution. Along with the mechanization of
production and, regrettably, taxation all of the above have all led to where the
Western world stands now. I mention taxation due to things like tobacco, which
is one of the strange success stories in the history of mankind’s economic
advancement. It is a crop that requires skilled agricultural practice,
sophisticated research facilities, highly automated factories and a well
developed marketing set up. All for the end product to, literally, go up in
smoke. This is a seemingly daft waste of agricultural resources but one that has
provided many governments with a veritable Eldorado of tax income.
We must also draw attention to the fact that it did take a very long time to
achieve the fundamental infrastructure on which is based the whole of Western
society as we now know it. Sadly, modern mankind does not seem to appreciate the
tremendous inputs of effort, man-labour and human cost it has taken to achieve
that infrastructure. A Western child is born and quickly assumes water comes out
of a tap without wondering how that facility was achieved. The same can be said
of schools, roads, medical facilities, supermarkets, aeroplanes, trains, etc.
Things are taken for granted and nobody thinks it is important to mention than
many of these aspects of modern life have taken hundreds of years to bring
about. Just think of the man-years of research and effort that have gone into
achieving our present medical knowledge. Yet, curiously, governments and men in
high positions of authority think that the Western standard of living can be
achieved in poorer areas at the snap of a finger or signing of a cheque.
Yet again, and even more strange is the inability of the present day politicians
and their advisors to understand why it is so difficult to replace centuries old
infrastructures which have been destroyed by natural disasters. An obvious
example of this is the chaotic attempts to repair, restore or replace what there
was before the Asian tsunami wiped things of the face of the map.
Having mastered power and developed the fundamental sciences of
industrialization, Victorian mankind then came up against the constraints of
education or rather the lack of it. So then heavy investment was made in schools
to provide labour, mainly male, who could become proficient in the three ‘R’s -
reading, writing and arithmetic. This was not a charitable act but a realistic
response to the need for these fundamental skills in factories. With time, the
factory owners realized the need for universities to teach the sciences at
degree level. This corresponded in England with the foundation of the Redbrick
universities. The establishment of soundly based schools of learning for all
ages took many years to achieve.
The philosophy of subsistence
It is of the utmost importance to understand this when trying to bring about any
kind of development in the tropical world. Subsistence farming required the
farming family to evolve a system of crop and/or animal management that ensured
the survival of the family from year to year. It took hundreds of years to
develop these systems and, once they were created they were granted an almost
iconic status and the societies following such a stable survival system would
become ultra conservative and reject all attempts at change.
Subsistence farming as practised in the really poor areas of the world, is
almost entirely based on the energy value of man-power using quite primitive
hand tools. This can give the romantic idea of independence but it is, at the
same time, an enormous constraint to change. Under reasonably fertile soil
conditions it may take one man a year to cultivate 1.3 acres. Of this area,
again under reasonable conditions, 80% would provide enough food for a year,
leaving some 20% for cash crops such as cotton or coffee. Providing there are
unlimited land resources which will counter the population explosion, the
subsistence system will provide for the family, virtually indefinitely, even
with famines, droughts and other catastrophes. For example, in the north of
Uganda, the farmers would have three years food grains in reserve to cover such
Though the system is good, its one main drawback is that it is independent on
the energy value of the family, i.e. hand labour. To put this statistic into
proportion we have to compare this with the mechanized factory farming system of
the Western world. In the USA it takes 1.3 man-hours of work to grow wheat from
seed to seed. The problem for this mechanized form of agriculture is that it
needs thousands of dollars worth of investment in machinery. Also, the farms are
large which allows for economies of scale. Consequently, the American farmer can
export maize to Kenya at a price which is cheaper than the local Tanzanian
farmer can produce it by hand labour locally. Another thing to bear in mind is
that the former produces enough food for 100 people - twenty of which are
overseas whilst the subsistence farmer’s objective is to have a full meal on a
plate for his family each and every day for a whole year.
One of the issues regarding the development of the subsistence farming
communities, which comprises of a large part of the world needing development,
is that many experts, both agricultural and non-agricultural, think that all the
subsistence farmers need to improve their agricultural husbandry methods and
their farms can be brought to the same level of productivity as that of the
farms in the Western world. The planners think of this development as a smooth
continuous process from poor subsistence farming to the good farming systems
where farming is regarded as a business. This is a fundamental error. The
‘subsistence farming’ system and the ‘farming as a business’ one are as
different as chalk and cheese.
The subsistence farming system is very efficient at growing crops and raising
livestock, with minimal inputs, has provided and continues to provide continuous
sustenance for the family in variable environments which are often adverse. It
is a system that has continued for centuries. On the Indian sub-continent and
here in South East Asia there are rice fields that have been cultivated
continuously for over two thousand years. The system was devised for survival
but has limited development potential due to the man-power restraint.
Farming as a business evolved, fairly quickly, as a system of farming matching
the needs of the urban areas created in the late nineteenth century to house the
workers needed for the industrial revolution. Without the industrial revolution
there would have been no agricultural development and certainly no mechanization
of farming practices.
So, if we want to bring about the development of the poor fifty percent of the
modern world, we must consider the whole question of urbanization. Without this
there can be no development for the world’s rural poor. However, it is not an
easy thing to achieve and it is easy to create slums and their immense health
and social problems.
The importance of urbanization as a factor of development
This is a complex issue to study and understand in a modern day context. People
at the top, whoever they are, want fast development in the developing world.
Needs are identified and the answer must be provided by the time the next
election or promotion comes around. They forget that it took the Western world
hundreds of years to achieve their present developed economies and bounteous
Many politicians et al have tried to improve the plight of the poor worldwide.
Most have failed in the long term due to poor advice and investments. For
example, President Nyerere of Tanzania had a good objective for his people. He
wanted to improve their daily lifestyle and came to the conclusion that is was
only by bringing the subsistence farmers and their families from their
individual small holding and congregating them in villages that progress could
be made. At these villages, which were called Njamaas, he was going to establish
schools, dispensaries, clean water supplies and sewage facilities. The concept
was good but the advice the President received was not. He was not made fully
aware of the vast expense that such an undertaking would cost. The result was
virtual bankruptcy, the sisal and cashew nut exports collapsed as there was
no-one to farm them and the foreign exchange rate became chaotic to say the
least. All because the vast costs of urbanization had been grossly
underestimated as they continue to be now by the present day planners in the
That this continues to be the case almost defies belief and there are many
examples of how much all of this costs. Nearly thirty years ago there was a
development project in Saudi Arabia. The basics were to utilize available
artesian groundwater for the creation of an irrigation scheme of about 5,000
hectares. However, the government wanted more than this. They also wanted a
small town for the farmers and their families along with all the usual things
that make up an urban area - schools, dispensaries, electricity, water, etc. All
of this was to be carried out in an area that was basically a desert.
The project itself was not difficult or that interesting but the costs are. Once
the project had been completed it was calculated that the prices for development
were over GBP3,000 per hectare and GBP35,000 per farmer/workplace. This was, at
the time, the same as the cost of a hectare or farmland in Germany.
So, the costs of development in Saudi Arabia more or less matched the
accumulated costs of hundreds of years to develop the agricultural industry in
the UK and Europe. Thus the accumulated costs of clearing the land of rocks,
levelling, erecting fences, drainage, water supplies, machinery and buildings
over the past decades would equal the present day costs of development in what
was virtually virgin land.
Kenya is another example. There, some thought was given to the problem of
finding urban employment for some two million people who had already been born
and were now in the ‘pipeline’ needing to be provided for. The problem was the
available land for subsistence farming was becoming very limited and the
fragmentation of holdings was also a real problem. The Kenyan government
estimated that it would cost GBP14,000 to employ a person in an urban job. This
might seem high but think about the setting up costs for schools, dispensaries,
electricity, water, etc. Then multiply this figure by two million. It is well
nigh impossible for countries with low GDPs to find such large sums of money.
The population explosion
Irrespective of one’s opinions of the capitalist, imperial Victorian period in
the development of the world, one good thing that came out of it was the
sponsorship of science, particularly that of medicine. This applied happily to
the Victorians who found that modern medical advances kept their children alive
which fitted in nicely with the labour need of the Industrial Revolution. People
in the western world started to live into their forties, fifties and sixties and
even beyond that.
This advance over the overall health of Victorian, Edwardian and Georgian eras
was not matched in the developing world, particularly in the tropical areas
which had their own vicious, insidious diseases which were not really controlled
until after the Second World War. This kept the populations low, with a high
infant mortality rate. Also, parasitic diseases, if not fatal, were at least
debilitating. With WWII came great leaps in medical knowledge, mainly motivated
by the need to keep the troops in the tropics in good health. Armies could be
decimated by disease. After the war these medical advances became available to
the general public in the more unfavourable climates of the world. The result
was a population explosion which crept up almost unnoticed.
For instance, in 1950 the estimated population of Nigeria was 50 million. In
2000 it was, according to the World Bank Development Report, 120 million and the
projection for 2050 is 300 million. Before WWII the population of India was 300
million - now it is over one billion. At one time post-WWII, India was
increasing its population by one million people a month. Think about this as a
logistical problem each year. This is three times the population of Norway - per
annum. Strangely enough, the Scandinavian country donates development aid to
India. Let us think about the implication of such statistics.
Over a fifty year period, Nigeria would have to increase four fold its
availability of: foodstuffs, housing, clothes, pots and pans, schools, medical
facilities, water, etc., just to stand still. Consider the provision of an
adequate diet for the population. Over the same time period, the small holders
would have to multiply the production of foodstuffs by four, not to improve the
diet but just to maintain what their forebears had half a century before. This
is a massive task with limited resources. At least Nigeria has a revenue stream
through oil and gas, other countries are not so lucky.
There is no population problem for a country providing the amount of land
available for subsistence farming is not limited. Alternatively, that amount of
under utilized land is more than the subsistence farming communities can use via
the traditional hand labour. Any increase in population can be accommodated by
horizontal expansion. However, with populations doubling every 15 to 35 years,
land availability has become a limiting factor. Fragmentation becomes an issue
and boundary disputes increase. Families become functionally landless, that is
they now have insufficient land to grow enough food to feed the family
throughout the year. The family gets indebted and eventually has to sell their
land to pay off their debts. Employment in the rural areas is scarce as each
family is independent for its labour needs. This then forces the broken families
from the rural areas which cannot support them to the fringes of urbanizations
where they joined the others in the same plight and this then created shanty
towns with all the inherent problems they carry.
What sort of figures are we talking of here? Obviously, the amount of land
needed to provide sustenance for one person varies according to the environment,
climate and fertility of the land itself. However, if the above conditions are
good then families needed one acre of land per person to survive. Thus a six
person family would need six acres of good land plus a bit more for cash crops.
So, we could say roughly that a square mile would support 640 people. Let’s put
this into perspective, in the dry areas of Kenya, up to 30 acres of land may be
needed to support one cow so the amount of land needed for nomadic cattle
families such as the Masai is correspondingly greater.
The economist often says that the number of people that could be maintained on
limited land could be increased vertically by providing purchased inputs. But,
by definition, subsistence farmers consume all they produce and so do not
generate any money to purchase such inputs as fertilizer. Figures for a decade
or so ago show that Sierra Leone imports some 4,000 tons of fertilizer per annum
whereas the USA uses some 48,000,000 tons every year.
Actual cash incomes of subsistence farming families can be very little, even
less than GBP20 per annum, compared to the economists calculation of income
which includes values for the food eaten.
Population density figures in 1998 for various countries make interesting
To re-emphasize, soaring population numbers provide a country with no major
problems providing land is not a limiting factor. Life for the subsistence
farming families may be pretty basic but it is still an acceptable way of life.
It is when the land is no longer seemingly limitless that the problems arise
mainly due to the high costs involved in providing work places in urban
situations. It is relatively easy to provide work for one person, it is less so
for one million people.
Countries that were given their independence after WWII expected to achieve
similar standards of living to that of the West. This was the hope for the
peoples of these countries and of their political masters. There was terrible
disappointment when the magic wand approach did not materialize. In many cases
the standards of living have declined.
Sadly, developing countries were also infected with another serious debilitating
disease known as corruption. This was not entirely initiated at the time of
independence but it became rampant shortly afterwards. Nor is it true to say
that it was internally inspired. In fact much of the major corruption was from
external Western sources. This must be true for the reason that it was only the
rich developed countries that had the vast funds which were to be allocated for
corrupting Heads of State. Much of these funds ended up in numbered Swiss bank
accounts. Nothing less than a tragedy for the peoples of the countries involved.
Management as a problem for the developers
The West, and the world in general, was sincerely interested in bringing about
the development in the less developed countries. Seemingly large sums of money
were allocated for the purpose of achieving development though the sums made
available were, in reality, woefully inadequate for what was being envisaged.
There was also a problem that donors were prepared to provide capital but not
the recurrent funds which were to vital if a project was to be given any hope of
survival and success. Indeed these developing nations had great difficulty in
servicing their existing developments let alone any new ones.
In one African country in the 1960’s there was one agricultural engineer. It was
no wonder that the agricultural machines were in such a parlous state. This
further backs up the argument that donors are not enthusiastic about accounting
for depreciation which results in long lines of unworkable machines standing
idly because this was something that no-one had thought about.
There was one answer, the turn-key project, but this was not very popular with
the donors or the receivers.
However, there was an even bigger problem for the developers. They lacked a
cadre of highly skilled, long experienced, men of calibre to manage development
schemes involving the expenditure of hundreds of millions of pounds or dollars.
There was also pressure from the developing countries themselves to have their
own inexperienced people, often only recently qualified, as the top management.
These rapid promotions were rarely successful, simply because of the lack of
experience, particularly in management.
One answer by the donors was to put in highly specialized, extremely well
qualified people at the top. Doctorates become de rigueur. Sadly though, the
extreme specialization meant that the person lacked breadth in his/her knowledge
and had the belief that his own special subject was the only true foundation for
knowledge. There is the classic case of someone arguing that African agriculture
would never progress if they did not deal with the eelworm problem. Climate,
disease, civil unrest, corruption and soil corruption all took second place to
Forget all about theories of economic development, project analysis, 14%
internal rates of return and cost benefit analysis. These may be useful tools
but should be aids to development and not the prime issues of it.
What we need to understand is that any development involving infrastructures is
very costly and takes years to achieve. That is why many project descriptions
give great attention to the economic objective but completely ignore
infrastructural components. It is a Catch 22 situation. Without involving
everything that really needs to be included in a project then the costs look
good and the developed nations are happy to donate or lend. However, if
everything is included then it becomes uneconomic by Western standards and no
money is given at all.
Let’s put this into context. A Japanese automobile factory was built in Scotland
a while ago. The cost of the factory was about GBP100,000 per workplace. Sierra
Leone has a GNP per capita per annum of USD150. How can they ever fund such
developments or get external donors to come up with such development funds?
The purpose of this treatise is not intended to be a text on famine or the
development of agriculture in the tropics but rather it is meant to bring
together the reasons why the subsistence farming system is breaking down and
real development is so slow. Unless one understands the fundamental aspects of
subsistence farming, as it exists now, and the complexities of introducing
changes to that system, then no meaningful plans can be made for the future.
Many authorities, governments and international aid organisations confuse
‘symptoms’ with ‘causes’ - it is rarely worthwhile attempting to treat a
‘symptom’ though admittedly the determination of the ‘cause’ may be the more
difficult and harder task.
Strangely enough, the best way to help subsistence farmers is to get people off
the land and into the towns but only with the right planning and finance. These
two points are often overlooked and the difference between a GBP100 rural and a
GBP30,000 urban workplace is not fully appreciated. Sadly, for many developing
countries, developments are nullified by the alarming annual increases in
population. There is just no way that the small rural surpluses (if any) can
meet the enormous development costs of the urban sector and if the subsistence
farmer’s lands are being degraded because of population pressure then the future
is indeed bleak.
Undoubtedly the best aid the West can give to developing countries is to assist
in urbanization and job creation in these new towns. Unfortunately, this is a
sensitive issue as many of the developed countries cannot even do this
themselves for their own human resources.
It must also be understood by the developed nations that subsistence agriculture
is a stable and quite sophisticated survival system, provided there is no
population pressure. However, it is near or, possibly, has even reached its
plateau or peak of development and has only limited further expansion potential
because of farm power restraint.
Development is not a continuous ladder from subsistence farming to farming as a
business as they are two entirely different and almost incompatible systems. It
is not possible to change the former into the latter even with the injection of
large amounts of development aid - both initial and recurring - without
urbanization and the expansion of the markets.
Development in the under-developed areas of the world can be a very expensive
business and takes a long time to achieve. There is no magic wand. The sooner
the developed world realises this the better it will be for ALL concerned.
The above data and research was compiled from sources believed to be
reliable. However, neither MBMG International Ltd nor its officers can accept
any liability for any errors or omissions in the above article nor bear any
responsibility for any losses achieved as a result of any actions taken or not
taken as a consequence of reading the above article. For more information please
contact Graham Macdonald on [email protected]