Tuesday, May 13, 2008

No Grain, Big Pain! Whose Pain?

Here's a commentary i sent to the editors in TIME magazine. It's not published; and i hope it's because it's not beautifully written, rather than due to its contents.

On the article: NO GRAIN, BIG PAIN by Peter Ritter

As a Malaysian, I feel unease reading the concluding remark made by the author in this article. The not-so-implicit conclusion is that Asia should be responsible for the food shortage in Africa.

Well, food shortage is a complex problem. The causes (what we thought) and interventions to address the problem often would also lead to other problems. The author rightfully argued that national hoarding should not be used as a long term solution to food shortage. The economics, the author argued, just doesn’t make sense.

However, the move to hoard rice in many developing Asian countries is not just an effort to control its prices, but rather it is also intended to ensure that their people will have sufficient food supplies. Insufficient food leads to famine, and the impact is more a humanity and survival issue rather than an economical one.

The social responsibility of the developing Asian countries is, I think, being taken out of context in this particular issue... and I am carefully referring to the concluding remark of the article, quoted directly from the author:
"Vietnamese rice going to the Philippines is rice that is unavailable for Africa — or for the NGOs that feed the world's most vulnerable populations. 'A lot of people don't realize that Africa's rice depends on Asia's surpluses,' says the Rice Institute's Zeigler. In other words, Asia's grain is Africa's loss. With Asian nations scrambling to protect their own supplies, that could mean a much hungrier world."
It may be politically incorrect to say the developed countries should have more social responsibilities than the developing countries. But fact is fact: many of the developed countries were colonial powers before the Second World War, and many of the developing countries were their colonies. Should the problems in Africa today be seen as the (undesired) consequences of colonization? Nobody knows! But is it right to say that the conquerors are responsible for the under-development of their former colonies? Well, may be not, just as it is equally incorrect to blame Asia for the hunger in Africa.

The causal relations of a complex problem are not one-way traffic and always multifaceted. To make any causal judgment about a complex issue without taking into account the context of the problem is futile under any circumstances.

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