Sunday, December 13, 2009

new position - new thoughts

It is now seventh month since I am employed in a brand new industry - agricultural research for development. I have joined the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) Tashkent office in June 2008 as the Assistant Executive Secretary to the Central Asia and the Caucasus Association of Agricutlural Research Institutions (CACAARI). Even though my current position is more a secretarial and managerial one, having plenty time for self-reflection and thoughts about development, I have become much more informed about applied development management and about the issues underpinning the development research and practice.

The first and most important pillar of development and especially rural development is food. I have been taught about the importance of democracy, liberty, freedom and entrepreneurship for development, but for millions of people around the globe, dying in poverty and hunger the issue seems to be much, much more "primitive" - readily available, adequately nutritious, stably provided food - sorghum (still have no idea what the heck this is, never ate it, it seems), wheat and rice, livestock, fish and suprisingly (for me, who always thought of this stuff as "dessert") - fruits and vegetables. While cool dudes have shown how politics affects food (most notably Amartya Sen with groundbreaking work on the linkage of hunger and democracy) the issue, at least in this region is more about researching on food and policies that make that food available to those who need it most and get it the least.

Researchers, policy makers and the private sector are the most important actors in delivering that food. But all three need to listen to their clients - either individually or mobilized and represented by grassroots (I stress that again, grassroots, not up-down) institutions - NGOs, farmer associations etc. This is relevant not only to hard sciences, but also to us - why ask a Dean about a research topic - go and talk to the local mob leader, marshrutka driver or pensioner - they will give the research topics that really matter - not the effects of congressional districting on voter outcomes (no offence, voting guys, but the outcomes of such research are for the rich guys that need to divide the districts property go win posts spending less).

In line with the Freakonomics sequel, I realized again that best things come out of the small-profit motives. One of the causes of unemployment in my region has been lack of information, say, about the jobs. Non-profits can spend zillions trying to put up an information exchange platform, but the wide array of successful newspapers and websites that link jobs and candidates and make profit (not huge profits, by the way) is an indication of the fact that it is best to outsourc virtuous acts to the profit sector, when and where appropriate. part-time students and the greedy will work much harder to sell their virtuous product than a fat guy at the development agency who does not even have to sell it, but spend the project money on half-way efforts.

Stop giving out Nobel Peace Prize to politicians - they get rewarded by being reelected and writing memoirs and being studied in history books. From now on, Nobel has to be given to people like Normal Borlaugh - who have researched, educated, organized and voiced, saving millions of lives around the world by doing their ordinary jobs. For more people like this see: This is for food, but there are also people like Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier, who "discovered" AIDS, working in medicine etc.

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