New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 99

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[image, unknown] LETTERS

[image, unknown] EXPERTS[image, unknown]

Cartoon by R. K. Laxman. Local expertise
Chris Sheppard should be lauded for his accurate depiction of the general ineffectiveness of technical advisors in rural development, but his article (NI No. 96) perpetuates a dangerous myth: that experts are those who have been trained in Western institutions.

The true agricultural experts in any area are the farmers who live there. In regions with standing agricultural tradition, local people have knowledge accumulated over years of observation and experimentation - detailed knowledge of soil qualities, crop varieties, planting patterns, tillage requirements, macro and microclimate relationships and pest problems. The failure of Western trained scientists has been to ignore these true experts and impose technologies in spite of, rather than with regard to, the local social and physical environment. Successful development plans will only be devised when Western experts consult and work with local cultivators as colleagues, learning from each other and working together.

Kate Showers
Cornell University
New York

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Too ambitious

During my 30 years as an engineer in the plastics industry I have travelled throughout the world installing and supervising plastics processing plants. Very early in my travels I realised it was impossible to cram 2,000 years of technical development into a few weeks or months. So when in charge of project design I made sure that the equipment was as simple and unsophisticated as possible.

I feel sure that many development projects for developing countries are far too ambitious in scale and technolology. Consultants too often succumb to the pressures of national one-up-manship and the politicians' desires to be as sophisticated as the North. Project failure would be reduced by a much slower change: from cottage industry to community industry to area co-operative industry. Technology could then be acquired at an appropriate rate at the deprived end of the labour market.

I appreciate that this is an idealistic solution. But unless some similar development takes place the Third World worker will only change from scratching the ground to cleaning up dirt as a clock number in an industrial unit and have very little chance of developing his or her talents.

R. G. Bird
Welling
Kent

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[image, unknown] DISARMAMENT[image, unknown]

Soviet bluff?

The Western Bloc sweats and flurries in fear of Communism. But the threat is not so much military as ideological. Though every acre of land might be occupied with nuclear weaponry, an ideology can still penetrate. Scaremongering and propaganda may keep it at bay, but only to a limited extent, for some individuals have a mind of their own.

The Eastern Bloc has no sweat and flurry. It is in command of the situation and playing a gigantic game of bluff. The success of this particular game should be obvious, as the NI points out, for the West is concerned about building weapons to equal or surpass those of the East. By so doing the West plays the game exactly as the East expects; for its real intention is not to 'scorch our our eyeballs' but to wreck our economy. Which is exactly what is happening.

T. S. Siddle
Bradford

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Missing links

The special disarmament issue (NI No 97) was an excellent precis of recent arguments within the industrialised world. But where were the articles about arms spending in the Third World and its effect on development spending? What about the nuclear blackmail by the super-powers over the Third World, and the designs for aggrandisement by Third World leaders - both leading to nuclear proliferation?

Neil Fodor
Exeter

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Eden revisited

In response to God's question 'Adam, where art thou?' the latter could only reply that he had hidden himself because he was ashamed of his nakedness. But 'Protest and Survive' (NI No 97) brings the Book of genesis right up to date. The same question put to modern man would have to be answered: 'Here I am. Under the stairs.'

L. Knight
St. Peter Port
Guernsey
Channel Islands

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[image, unknown] WOMEN[image, unknown]

Daycare defended

In her response to my article on day care (see NI No.'s 90 and 92, August and October 1980), M.M. Davies acknowledges the pressures on today's parents but rejects the proposal that a broad range of community-controlled, publicly-funded care services be provided to meet their needs. She suggests instead that parents turn to mutual help groups and to 'relatives, friends and neighbours giving friendship and help freely for as long as it is needed.'

Unfortunately these traditional resources are no longer adequate. Parents who work outside the home must find safe, reliable day care for up to 40 hours per week or more, and in large urban centres up to three quarters of all parents with preschool children need alternative care. Ms Davies further suggests that planned parenthood has reduced the preschool period and that many 'conscientious mothers' will feel 'it is worth taking such a comparatively short interval out of their careers.' She appears oblivious of the fact that paid employment is not a free choice but an economic necessity. Most women cannot afford a seven year absence from work. Nor does all need for day care end when a child enters school.

Given that parents must work, the quality of alternative child care becomes a crucial issue. This concern seems to underly a number of Ms Davies' comments. While I agree with her emphasis on quality of care I must challenge her assumption that organised day care is inferior to informal arrangements. This does an injustice to the many dedicated and caring individuals who have chosen to work with young children, despite wages that fail to match the skill and responsibility of their job. Government regulations in many areas require employees of licensed centres to be graduates of a two-year early childhood education course. Such workers are trained in both the practical aspects of care and the theory of early childhood development.

Ms Davies states that 'child care is too important to be left to the professionals' and I agree. It is too important to be left to anyone. Parents must retain control of this vital activity themselves. But 'professional' is not a dirty word when it refers to trained and highly motivated men and women who can co-operate with parents in the promotion of a child's optimal development.

I believe that Ms Davies in her concern for quality of care, has chosen the wrong target. The danger does not lie in publicly organised day care but in unlicensed centres, profit-making 'chains', and unsatisfactory private arrangements. In the absence of government initiative and public funding, substandard and even harmful services will flourish. Parents will continue to 'make do' with a haphazard assortment of temporary solutions.

Ms Davies wonders whether day care advocates know or care very much about children. It is precisely because they do care that they have become active in the struggle for high quality services.

Genevieve Leslie
Toronto
Canada

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[image, unknown] CARIBBEAN[image, unknown]

Profits from slavery

In the December issue (NI No. 94) Wayne Ellwood wrote about the triangular trade in slaves and sugar. Citing Eric Williams, he suggested that the profits from these trades were 'a primary source of capital for the Industrial Revolution'. There is evidence to challenge this assertion, however.

Most of the successful iron and textile companies that grew up at this time were built on the savings of craftsmen and their relatives, and were expanded with reinvested profits, independent of any money earned through slavery.

But sumptuous country houses like Fontihill in Wiltshire show that several British families benefited from slavery. These were built with plantation profits, and banks in Liverpool and Glasgow were founded by men with profits from the slave trade. Yet the building of country houses and establishment of banks had little to do with the Industrial Revolution. Moreover, it has been calculated recently that the slave trade provided on average only a ten per cent return on investment - so to call it 'lucrative' as Williams does, is a great overstatement.

All this goes to show how dangerous it can be to base an argument on the evidence of just one historian.

Andrew Lyburn
Edinburgh

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Pacific banquet?

I was concerned to discover (NI No. 90) that the graph comparing protein consumptions in different parts of the world classified Oceania as a single region. It was clear from the large protein content indicated that Australia had been included as a component in the calculation.

This generalisation concerning diet in Oceania is misleading because it fails to highlight the Pacific Islands'region which is made up entirely of developing nations whose people have a diet generally very low in protein.

This failure to differentiate between developed and developing nations of the region means that in Australia we cannot utilise these figures to point out to Australian audiences the disparities between their diets and those of their nearest neighbours.

Sue Sifa
Australian Freedom from Hunger Campaign
Adelaide

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Dinner in the dustbin

May I draw the attention of your readers to a letter published in the Australian magazine 'Choice'. A recent survey of domestic garbage shows that 42.3% is food waste. This amounted in 1974/75 to about 1.25 kg per person per week and rose in 1977/78 to 1.40 kg per person per week. Apparently these results are quite similar to results obtained in other major Australian cities, according to no less an authority than the Chief Land Waste Management Officer of the Environment Protection Authority of Victoria, Mr. C. Schaller. Bear in mind when next you junk the potato peelings!

Lucy Harris
Melbourne
Australia

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