Thursday, 27 December 2007 by Dr Maytel
You know the one that goes....feed the world...do they know its Christmas time...
I imagine bands of celebrities descending on poor villages in Africa (which as the lyrics tell us, aren't snowing, is world of dread and fear, where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears and the Christmas bells that ring there
are the clanging chimes of doom and the greatest gift they'll get this year is life... Where nothing ever grows and no rain nor rivers flow) and asking poor little children...
"Do you know it's Christmas time? Do you know what that means"
Heads shake and look perplexed
"Well my starving little heathen native...have you heard of Jesus Christ?"
More perplexed looks
"Well...Jesus was.....umm, look forget about it what it means is today's you're lucky day - how about lunch?"
As much as I try not to be a cynic...I think it must run in my blood...and although I seem destined to make a living out of picking on good Samaritans, there's something in my bullshit radar that rings the alarm, the-empty-gesture-designed-primarily-towards-self-gratification-alarm
I loved the idea of Menu for Hope.....and I got on board. Organised some kick ass prizes and generally tried to rouse our small readership to action...but all the while knowing in the back of my head, after having read James Ferguson's "The Anti-Politics Machine: "Development", Depoliticization, and Bureaucratic Power in Lesotho a few years back, like all good development studies scholars should, that such efforts especially in the area of agriculture seldom work due in great part to the oversimplification of the supposed problem, I am after all writing my PhD thesis on agricultural aid and development.
Although I'm no expert on Lesotho, Ferguson does point out that Lesotho must must be understood within its environmental, historical and geographical context. That is, that it is a country where farming has traditionally always been unsustainable. At best the mountainous ranges support grazing stocks. The population has always sought its sustenance through economic migration to South Africa (where rain and rivers do flow and things do grow generally well). Lesotho, like so many other countries is an economy dependent on outside interconnections, regional migration and remittances. Ferguson details how development efforts always try to frame problems as if countries like Lesotho exist within a vacuum, as economic and agricultural nulius, instead of acknowledging the reality of Lesotho's historical economic relations. Borders are taken as "natural" and problems are posed as if they exist only within these borders. The "problem" is then further reduced to a set of technical problems that can only be solved through technical interventions of high paid international consultant staff whose interest may be as much one of "feeding the world" as of preserving their 100,000 plus salaries and expat perks.
Ferguson goes a long way into detailing one such failed attempt to "improve" cattle farming in Lesotho, all the while explaining how while the development project failed at it's intended aims (due to a complete misunderstanding of the culturally specific uses of cattle within the Lesotho economy) it very much succeeded at extending bureaucratic power, reorienting bureaucratic accountability towards the aid industry rather than the people they were supposed to serve, and depoliticising development through framing problems as merely a set of 'technical' problems to be solved by consultants rather than a deeply political issue with long standing historical antecedents and regional connections.
Nonetheless, I hope the WFP school lunch program for Lesotho works and not just on Christmas either
I am a big fan of the World Food Program. At least they do give food directly to the poor, even if they make them build roads in exchange (try heavy labouring on an empty stomach) and even though many a local government or patron will often try to make out as if they food is actually coming from them, it is after all no easy task to depoliticise development.
At least the WFP give directly to starving people, unlike say some other development agencies which set up complex conditionalities and projects aimed at stimaulting economic growth all the while holding their fingers crossed that this will mean that people will eventually be able to feed themselves in the long run.
So that's why I've spent the last couple of hours supporting the WFP and playing my new guilt-free highly addictive procrastination game Free Rice. Afterall, I'm not procrastinating...I'm feeding the world...it is Christmas time you know