Wednesday, 7 October 2009

It all start with satisfying our tummy

Let's compare a farmer from a developed country and a farmer from a developing country; let's say The Netherlands and Ghana.

The Netherlands is 41'526 km2 and with a population of about 16 million, it is one of the richest countries in the world (the 10th to be exact). Its agricultural sector employs 4% of its work force but provides a large surplus for exports. It is obviously a highly mechanised sector – The Netherlands ranks third worldwide in value of agricultural exports (55 billion US dollars a year – or 8% of the GDP). If you haven't been to Holland yet, let me tell you how it is: they have literally no sun and the average temperature is 10 degrees – and yet they export a quarter of the world's tomatoes and a third of the world peppers and cucumbers.

Ghana, on the other hand has a different story. It is 237'535 km2 and with a population of 24 million, it still has about 30% of its population living with less than a 1.25$ a day. Agriculture accounts for about 40% of the GDP – or 14 billion US$ - and employs 56% of the workforce. Ghana is known for exporting some cocoa, coconuts and cashew nuts, but I have never heard of any Ghanaian fruit, nut or vegetable dominating the market. So obviously their agricultural sector is not really mechanised, even though Ghana is one of the richest countries in Africa and well endowed with natural resources.

I think it is evident that the main factor contributing to this major difference between the two countries is the mechanisation of the agricultural sector in The Netherlands and the very traditional one in Ghana. The outcome is: more competitive Dutch products on the market, hence more yellowish, sunless and flavourless tomatoes in your supermarket.

So now let's compare how the farmers from both countries live. In the Netherlands, it's almost like any other jobs – the farmers have machines doing almost all of their work, pesticides contributing to more successful harvests and a government subsiding the industry in case of extreme weather conditions. The farmers go to the supermarket to shop, go to the coffeeshop to smoke and to the red light district for sex. Probably the best life ever.

In Ghana, the farmers handpick and manually water their crops, they produce at a far smaller scale than The Netherlands and in case of bad harvest the government isn't there to help. Since the farmers are mostly outside the big Ghanaian cities, they live in a very traditional way (or to use Western terms: uncivilized) and the people's daily needs depend on their farms. If they have a bad harvest, not only will they not be able to sell their products on the market, but they won't be able to eat much. So their lives are quite similar to the one of our ancestors that I talk about in yesterday's post, Hunting for dummies. They spend their days working on their own meal – unlike us, we go to the supermarket.

And don't forget that farmers represent almost 60% of all Ghanaians which means that 60% of Ghana is only working on an individual basis, trying to feed themselves and their respective families. Whereas 4% of the Dutch not only feed themselves, but provide food to the whole country and to most of the world. In other words, 96% of the Dutch can work on developing other sectors such as technology, medicine, art, tourism, leisure, etc.

My point is that "getting food" is secondary for 96% of the Dutch (and not much of a worry for the 4% remaining) and this allowed The Netherlands to be one of the richest, yet smallest countries in the world. The Dutch had reached America, the Caribbean and South East Asia, they have an amazingly rich, organised and environmentally friendly country and they have a highly technologically advanced society. Whereas Ghana and other developing countries spend too much time focusing on getting their food and living their lives on a day-to-day basis. And I think this is why these countries haven't been able to strongly develop themselves on their own and always depend on foreign aid.

The reason why these populations don't get rid of their dictators is because they're too busy gathering their daily needs, it's not because they're lazy or stupid – as many westerners tend to think. So if we want the developing world to start writing its own history, to create and to participate to the world's evolution, we need to give them a little push. Not only money, food and doctors as part of a "charity budget", but the technology and the knowhow to develop a rich and sustainable agricultural sector (and I emphasise on sustainable and environmentally friendly) so that they can feed themselves, export and compete with western products. This way, the agricultural sector will provide enough food and money to the country to develop its own other industries – in other words, they wouldn't need Total or Exxon pumping all their resources, but they'd invest their own time and money and do it themselves.

But I don't think that they would be able to do it on their own. There is too much corruption and unwillingness from their governments blocking the process and enriching themselves – it's like a vicious circle. This is why the West needs to be willing to genuinely help and give them this little push – breaking their vicious circle. The way I see it, is that if we provide them with the technology and the knowhow (all while being ENVIROMENTALLY FRIENDLY), encourage them to enforce a mandatory education for the future generation and try not to rip them off in the process; they'd be able to oust their corrupt governments on their own and over time develop their societies without any constant help from the West. Also, when the country becomes economically prosperous, there'd be less social unrest due to tribal differences, and that will also contribute to more stable grounds for the countries to grow on.

So, ain't that cool?

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