Isobel Coleman

Democracy in Development

Coleman maps the intersections between political reform, economic growth, and U.S. policy in the developing world.

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Missing Pieces: Africa’s Food Security, Measuring the Middle Class, and More

by Isobel Coleman
May 18, 2012

A woman walks past a grain shop at a market in the Kibera slum of the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, January 20, 2012 (Noor Khamis/Courtesy Reuters).


Charles Landow highlights stories and reports on African agriculture, the global middle class, and the G20 economies in this week’s Missing Pieces. Enjoy the reading and the weekend.

  • Africa’s Food Security: UNDP this week published the first Africa Human Development Report. The focus: food security. Overall, Africa remains “on the bottom rung” of the Human Development Index (HDI), but this may change, since “nine of the ten countries with the largest gains in HDI” over the past decade are African. The report offers extensive analysis of both the proximate causes of food insecurity and malnutrition, such as low yields and micronutrient deficiencies, and broader factors such as climate change and gender relations. Governance and inequity are crucial, too. As the last chapter argues, “interventions to strengthen food security have greater impact when women, the poor, and the vulnerable have a key role in decision-making.”
  • Measuring the Middle Class: I wrote on the blog last month about the world’s growing middle class. One of the questions in charting this trend is how the middle class should be defined. In a blog post last year, CFR’s Shannon O’Neil reviewed various scholars’ definitions based on income or expenditures. A new Foreign Policy piece faults these monetary measures and proposes a new one instead: the number of passenger cars in circulation. Cars, the authors write, “indicate the ability and willingness to purchase many other nonessential goods,” making them a good marker of middle-class status. They are also easier to measure than income and spending. By multiplying data on passenger cars by average household size, the authors conclude that the middle class is far larger than standard measures suggest in such countries as Brazil, India, Indonesia, and Mexico.
  • Jobs in the G20: A report from the International Labour Organization and the OECD tracks growth and employment in G20 states since the economic crisis. The differences between the bloc’s industrialized and developing members are stark. The real GDPs of Turkey, Argentina, and Indonesia have grown by at least 20 percent since their respective nadirs during the crisis; most European countries have grown by less than 5 percent. Countries such as Brazil, Indonesia, and Turkey have lowered their unemployment rates since 2007, while rates have skyrocketed in the United Kingdom, the United States, and most of all, Spain. Germany is an exception to the developed world’s struggles. The report also notes rising inequality. The United States records the highest income inequality among developed members, but it is topped by Turkey, China, Russia, Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, and South Africa.
  • Advice for Kenya’s Farmers: A farm might seem a strange setting for reality TV. But a Kenyan show, profiled on the Guardian’s Poverty Matters blog, thinks otherwise. In Shamba Shape-Up (Shamba is Swahili for “small farm”), crews visit farmers to provide expert advice on their concerns, from crop yields and animal health to pest management and water use. Farmers also receive makeovers of buildings and equipment. The show, which is sponsored by companies and non-profits, allows farmers to send questions by email or text as well. In the Guardian post, the show’s creator projects that it could inject $210 million into Kenya’s rural economy through the improved practices learned by viewers. Time—and future seasons—will tell.

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  • Posted by Darlene Buckingham

    Earth is abundant – there are trillions of seeds. With our modern know how there is no reason on Earth for anyone to not have food to eat. The false monetary system of trillions of paper dollars that are used to buy food is the real problem. Another huge problem problem is we are not taught from birth that we are sacred, sovereign spiritual beings here on Earth to learn about life and how to take care of life which means aligning with the Earth not constantly waging war. Its time for truth and integrity to guide us to wise choices that honour life and our Sacred Spirits. Peace Peace PEace!

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