Slightly Off-Topic: The Gates Foundation’s 2015 Letter

In the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s 2015 Letter, they make a “big bet” that Africa can feed itself through innovations in agriculture.  The Foundation presents statistics about current crop yields and the potential yields if the Foundation’s innovations are accepted and work.  But then the Letter gets to the real problem, almost as an aside:

There are other limitations besides productivity that keep Africa from feeding itself. The lack of infrastructure across the continent, for example, means that it’s almost impossible to move food to the places it needs to go. (The most extreme case: The Democratic Republic of the Congo is the size of Western Europe, with a population of more than 60 million, but it has fewer than 2,000 miles of paved roads—the same amount as any middle-sized Western European town.) Trading within the region can be so difficult that it’s often easier to fly food in from other continents than to drive it a couple hundred miles.

Africa can feed itself.  It just can’t get food and agricultural products from the producers to the consumers because the infrastructure is insufficient and where roads and transport networks exist, they are for export (or impeded by landmines and illegal checkpoints).  I can very easily get Ethiopian coffee, but many Ethiopians cannot get food from their countrymen.

Famine in Africa is not a function of agricultural output; it is the result of deliberate political and development decisions.  Lack of access to markets due to poor infrastructure and absence of markets due to cheaply available food aid prevents agricultural markets in Africa from working efficiently.  The proposed changes in the US Government’s food aid program, which would reduce the amount of food imported from the United States and buy food locally to be distributed locally would create the markets to incentivize increased agricultural production.  This is the kind of change that Africa needs to be able to feed itself.  Would the Foundation’s proposals make a difference?  Yes, but access to markets and consumers would make a bigger difference and likely encourage many of the activities the Foundation is backing.  The answer isn’t more “innovation” but since “innovation” is what the Gates Foundation does, that’s what it will promote.  The answer is much simpler: African farmers need to be able to sell what they grow; if they can do that, Africa will feed itself.

Michael P. Moore

January 22, 2015

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

Off-Topic: The Maserati Theory of Development

In the run-up to release of the Post-2015 development framework, the Sustainable Development Goals, one concept has come up several times: the differential responsibilities of developed and developing countries.  According to the Open Working Group tasked with drafting the proposed Goals and associated indicators, “Each country has primary responsibility for its own economic and social development and the role of national policies, domestic resources and development strategies cannot be overemphasized. Developing countries need additional resources for sustainable development” (emphasis mine). Thus, “developed countries” will be financing the sustainable development of “developing countries.”  Which is correct and proper.  But how to distinguish between a developed country and a developing country?

Ask any development professional to name all of the developing countries and he or she will produce a list that mostly agrees with any other development professional’s list.  I would assume that we can agree as a community on about 75 – 80% of the countries that would qualify as “developing.”  It’s on the margins between “developing” and “developed” that we might disagree.  For example, there are more poor people in India than anywhere else in the world, but India’s economy is one of the largest in the world.  Is India developed or developing?  Are Kenya and Nigeria with two of the three largest economies in Sub-Saharan Africa developed countries, like South Africa, or developing countries like their immediate neighbors?  These are the debates that will consume much of the negotiations as countries try to position themselves to benefit from the resources that are made available to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.  There will be many good and reasonable arguments on both sides as the status of these and other countries are decided. However, we will not have a long time for these debates as the final Goals will be approved in less than a year.  Therefore, I propose a simple test to determine whether or not a country should be classified as “developed” or “developing”: Does the country sustain a Maserati or Ferrari dealership?

This question came to me when I was working in El Salvador and learned that a new Maserati dealership was opening in San Salvador.  At first I was dismayed at the thought that Maserati would even consider opening a dealership in a country which had only recently suffered civil war and natural disasters, but then I figured that the bigwigs back in Italy had done their homework and knew that the conditions in El Salvador were ripe for sales.  As such, we in the development community can use the presence of Italian super car dealerships, specifically Maserati, Ferrari or Lamborghini, as a marker for certain preconditions in a country, but we’ll keep the name “Maserati Theory of Development” because Maserati was the inspiration.

In order for a country to have a Maserati, Ferrari or Lamborghini dealership, we can reasonably assume the following:

  1. There is a cohort of individuals in the country who can actually afford enough of the cars to make the investment in a dealership (as opposed to one-by-one imports) a reasonable business decision;
  2. The quality of roads and infrastructure, especially road repair, in the country are high enough not to damage a car with a low chassis;
  3. Skilled workers are sufficient to conduct maintenance on the vehicles;
  4. The security situation is stable enough that luxury car drivers are not instantly targeted for theft;
  5. Banking system is secure enough to allow for payment transfers to be made reliably, both within the country and back to Italy;
  6. This would not be the first luxury car dealership to open in a country. That would be Mercedes.

So, what countries should be considered “developed” countries under the Maserati Theory?  Below is a list of all countries with a Maserati, Ferrari or Lamborghini dealership according to the companies’ websites (Maserati; Lamborghini; Ferrari).  All countries with a Maserati dealership also have a Ferrari dealership; countries in bold have a Lamborghini dealer only.  The numbers next to the countries are their rankings on the 2014 Human Development Index.  Worth noting, the “most developed” country, Norway, does not have a Maserati, Ferrari or Lamborghini dealership…

  • Australia                            2
  • Switzerland                       3
  • Netherlands                      4
  • United States                    5
  • Germany                            6
  • New Zealand                     7
  • Canada                               8
  • Singapore                      9
  • Denmark                           10
  • Sweden                              12
  • United Kingdom              14
  • South Korea                     15
  • Japan                                 17
  • Israel                                  19
  • France                                20
  • Austria                               21
  • Belgium                             21
  • Slovenia                             25
  • Italy                                    26
  • Spain                                  27
  • Czech Republic                28
  • Greece                               29
  • Qatar                                 31
  • Cyprus                           32
  • Estonia                          33
  • Saudi Arabia                    34
  • Poland                               35
  • United Arab Emirates    40
  • Portugal                            41
  • Hungary                            43
  • Bahrain                             44
  • Kuwait                               46
  • Argentina                          49
  • Romania                            54
  • Oman                                 56
  • Russian Federation         57
  • Malaysia                        62
  • Mauritius                          63
  • Lebanon                            65
  • Panama                             65
  • Venezuela                         67
  • Turkey                               69
  • Mexico                               71
  • Azerbaijan                         76
  • Jordan                            77
  • Brazil                                  79
  • Ukraine                              83
  • Thailand                            89
  • China                                 91
  • Dominican Republic      102
  • Indonesia                          108
  • Egypt                                  110
  • Philippines                        117
  • South Africa                      118
  • Vietnam                         121
  • Morocco                             129
  • India                                135
  • Taiwan                                n/a
  • Monaco                               n/a


So, check this list next time a country claims to be “developing” and in need of multi-lateral or bi-lateral assistance…


Michael P. Moore

December 31, 2014


moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org


Landmine action in one graphic

The United Kingdom, through the Department for International Development (DfID), released a policy paper, Clearing a path to development, describing its mine action policies.  The paper describes why and how DfID will support mine action, focusing on landmine clearance and mine risk education.  The paper lays out four reasons for the UK to continue supporting mine action: 1) to reduce casualties from landmines and explosive remnants of war; 2) to meet the UK’s commitment as a donor country under the Mine Ban Treaty; 3) mine action supports other UK strategies; and 4) the UK has experience in the field that should not be lost.  The prioritization scheme for investments builds upon these reasons to achieve an overall goal “to build peace and security and support development in countries affected by landmines.”

The policy paper makes two caveats.  The first relates to survivor assistance, and says that while the UK seeks to “affect change” across all mine action pillars, survivor assistance is “best provided through broader social and economic development programmes in affected countries, rather than through targeting particular groups.”  This is in line with other European Union donors’ policies on survivor assistance.  The second is the “value for money” proposition which will set metrics for evaluating the effectiveness of mine action programming.  The value for money imperative is not a straitjacket for mine action operators, but it does require robust monitoring and evaluation systems, which the policy paper provides for, and a clear understanding of how the UK defines effectiveness.  Fortunately, the paper also provides, in a single graphic, the UK’s theory of change for mine action which I reproduce here without comment, except to say this: I appreciate the clarity of the graphic and believe it would be very helpful to operators developing proposals for DfID’s review and approval.

From "Clearing a path to development," the UK's Theory of Change for Mine Action

From “Clearing a path to development,” the UK’s Theory of Change for Mine Action

Michael P. Moore

November 25, 2013