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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!)

“Anything 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The package was the result of the patient’s cleaning out of his bathroom cupboard of outdated, or no longer needed, or even ‘unknown’ medicines.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 indiscriminately.
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  with Hillary

Dear Hillary,
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 informative, replies.
Stamen
Dear Stamen,
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!
Dear Hillary,
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.”
Cheers Art
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 Harry Flashman

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 photograph.
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 changed.
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 back-drop only.
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 great ones!


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.
- Security
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 contingencies.
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 social set-ups.
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 Western world.
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 reading:

Country

People/sq m Country People/sq m

Australia

2 India 330

USA

29 Netherlands 463

Sierra Leone

68 Bangladesh 965

UK

244 Hong Kong 6,755

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.
Corruption
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 these eelworms.
Development Economics
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]