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ECONOMICS [image, unknown] New Books and a Classic

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Are Western experts ‘development tourists’? Two books this month show how poor world farmers are hindered by the West. And we review two do-it-yourself printing manuals.

Editor: Anuradha Vittachi

The Poverty Brokers

Rural Development: Putting the Last First
by Robert Chambers
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Longman (pbk) £2.00
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The Law of the Seed: Another Development
and Plant Genetic Resources
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by Pay Roy Mooney
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Development Dialogue
1983: 1-2, Dag Hammarskjold Foundation,
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Ovre, Slottsgatan 2, Uppsala, Sweden.
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‘Development - is it for us or against us?’ The Brazilian peasant who asked the question was way ahead of many development experts in seeing that ‘development’, rather than overcoming poverty, can create it.

In his highly readable and example-packed book, Rural Development: Putting the Last First, Robert Chambers tells us that one of the main reasons for this is the ‘arrogance of ignorant educated outsiders’. Such Western-trained experts (‘development tourists’) fail to see the true dimensions of rural poverty and cannot allow themselves to recognise that their own prosperity may have something to do with it.

The solutions which ‘slip glibly off the polished tongues of (these) practised non-thinkers avoid the hard realities of power structures. Nor do outside experts, snug in their ethnocentric cocoons, take into ‘account the vast store of indigenous knowledge. Not surprisingly, the perceptions and priorities of the rich, even when well-meaning, are often irrelevant to the poor.

Chambers would reverse the emphasis of development efforts: from big to small, from near to remote, from external to indigenous, from strong to weak, from teaching to learning. It’s a stimulating handbook for all development workers, even though he ignores the one major example of a country whose development was based on ‘putting the last first’ - Maoist China.

It is disappointing, too, that he does not deal with those outside forces maintaining and profiting from the system within which peasants have to operate. TNCs, for example, can - and do - warp whole economies, directing development against the interests of the country’s peoples and leaving them little room to manoeuvre. To get to the roots of underdevelopment we have to study not only the poor but the powerful, who control the system which creates poverty.

In the latest issue of the twice-yearly journal Development Dialogue, which is concerned with the pillage of the Third World’s genetic resources, Pat Mooney illustrates the importance of this approach. The South has most of the plants from which our major food crops have been developed. Most of the plant breeders are in the North. The genetic resources of the South are being converted into enormous profits by TNCs which develop and patent new seed varieties whose use in the South is frequently a condition for development assistance.

The introduction of these new varieties leads to the elimination of older, more robust, varieties with their vital germplasm. We are now in danger of losing the genetic raw material on which all cultivated crops depend. Moreover, blanket planting of narrowly based varieties increases the risks of crop ‘wipeout’.

Companies like Royal Dutch Shell, Ciba-Geigy and Sandoz increasingly control the supply of seeds. And the seed companies are increasingly inseparable from the chemical companies which control pesticides and fertilisers. This is a dangerous interlocking of interests in such an important field; interests moreover, which have clout in UN and international regulatory bodies.

Mooney unravels both the complicated and unsavoury history of corporate attempts to monopolise seeds through Plant Breeders’ Rights (PBR), and the failure of moves to control the seed industry. The message is clear: most regulations are directed against the small farmer, against the needs of the Third World and, ultimately, against the needs of us all.

‘Genetic engineering can seem a long way from the struggles of peasant farmers to find food and justice.’ But germplasm is the vital first link in the food chain. He concludes:

There can be no true land reform - no agrarian justice of any kind - and certainly no national self-reliance, if our needs are subject to exclusive monopoly patents and our plants are bred as part of a high-input chemicals package in genetically uniform and vulnerable crops.

Or, as Third World leaders have put it: ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ must not become a prayer to Shell Oil.

Anne Buchanan

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Getting your hands inky

The Sten-screen
by Ian McLaren
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IT Publications, 9 King St, London WC2E 8HN, UK (pbk) £1.95
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Low Cost Printing for Development
by Jonathan Zeitlyn
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Available from 51 Chetwynd Rd, London NW5 (pbk)
£4.00 per set ± 45p postage surface mail
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If a Third World group could produce its own printed materials, and in small quantities while keeping its printing costs rock-bottom low, it could avert two dangers. The first and fairly obvious danger is the dependence on expensive Western technology. The second and more insidious danger is the dependence on someone else’s ideas about what the materials should be saying. A community health centre in the developing world can distribute health education materials produced in the West - but these materials may be slightly off-target; and even if not, they still perpetuate a ‘gift relationship’ with the local group as grateful recipients. Producing a local health cation pack could empower the community as well as providing uniquely tailored information - written in the local dialect, using a picture/text ratio that suits the local literacy level, suggesting recipes using local foods, and so on.

Ian McLaren has produced a manual on how to make and use a low cost printing process called The Sten-screen. He is a graphic designer (it shows in the clean, sharp illustrations) whose work on the stenscreen was funded by Intermediate Technology Industrial Services. The sten-screen requires no electricity and can be made From locally available materials. The 16-page manual is thorough and detailed.

A rather more ambitious attack on the problem of printing in the developing world comes from Jonathan Zeitlyn in his four-part manual, Low Cost Printing for Development. Each part is around 30 pages long, and is brimming with ideas. He whistles through the mechanics of do-ityourself printing in Part Two - describing everything from ‘Hecto jelly pads’ to photo stencils.

But the manual also tells you much more.

In Part One, Zeitlyn explains how to plan a publishing operation from scratch; how to design pages and create headlines; he reminds you to check your illustrations to make sure they’re understood correctly, to use lightweight paper if you’re going to post the end-product. He signals all the major pitfalls.

In Part Three, Using a Printer, he sails into deeper waters. Here Zeitlyn tells you what to expect if you deal with a professional printer, and later how to use a printing machine yourself. The fourth and final part describes setting up and running your own printshop - ‘and how to make a fifth section yourself.

Zeitlyn writes with infectious enthusiasm. The pages bloom with pictures and the text is lively and approachable. Interestingly, the manual is printed in India, with a small printrun. Zeitlyn is planning a second edition - comments from readers of the first edition will, he says, be welcome.

Tara de Silva


The Diary of Anne Frank
...being the book that illuminates the damage done by racism

An argumentative young student once asked his professor: ‘How do you know that the human race is worth saving?’ The professor replied: ‘I have read Anne Frank’s diary.’

What is it about The Diary of Anne Frank that makes it so special? It has haunted literally millions of people: over ten million copies have been sold, translated into over 50 languages. It has been turned into plays and films. One playwright wrote a play about quite another Jewish family and introduced Anne Frank into that - not Anne Frank the girl who died in a concentration camp, but Anne Frank as a grown woman who had survived. It seems as if he couldn’t bear the thought of her being really and truly dead.

Of all the 50-plus classics that have been reviewed in this column, The Diary must be the most widely read and loved; ironically, since it was also the only one not intended for publication. It was written as the private journal of a 13-year old Jewish girl living in Amsterdam during the Second World War. The opening entries show a vivacious and intelligent child, irrepressible at school, flirting with a string of boyfriends who chat her up as she cycles home from school. Then the cage door swings shut.

It is 1942, and the Nazi invaders are tightening the noose around the Jews in Holland. The Frank family go into hiding with another family, the Van Daans. For two years, eight frightened people live cramped in a secret apartment above an office and warehouse. The child who laughed and teased must now remain still and silent all day in case the office workers hear; the restless teenager must not pull back the blind at night to look at the moon in case the moonlight shining in her face gives the families away.

Fear surrounds them: that they will be discovered by the police, especially when the office is repeatedly burgled; that the heroic Dutch friends who smuggle in food and news will be caught or fall too sick to come (one haemorrhages from stomach cancer), leaving them trapped and helpless. Hunger drains them: by the second year,the daily diet has dwindled to boiled rotten lettuce and potatoes sweet and yellow with rot. Hardest of all, there is the rising tension among eight people who can never get away from one another.

Never, that us, until they are caught. The families are split and scattered at Auschwitz. In 1945, mere months before liberation, Anne dies alone and broken at Belsen.

The diary that records all this misery could have been a catalogue of ills. But it never is. Anne’s joi de vivre, which exasperated her schoolteachers, now saves her.

But there is something else,too, far more important than this sparkling surface. Eerily, just weeks before their incarceration, Anne had recorded her dissatisfaction with the superficiality of her life. She was too happily distracted by friends and a loving family to plumb her depths. Would she ever find out what inner resources she had?

Her wish is cruelly granted: two years trapped in the secret apartment makes a perfect forcing house, bringing out the best as well as the worst in the prisoners. Anne changes before our eyes from a spirited child to a complex, courageous young woman whose observations about persecution and survival are profound. She comes to understand,for example, that the violence against the Jews can’t be blamed only on a few aberrants: it is a reflection of the urge to destroy in us all If ‘the little men’ were genuinely free of inner violence, she says,the Nazis and capitalists simply couldn’t get away with it.

And she understands herself better than most of us do at twice her age. Her mother, for instance, copes with their hardship by denying it (‘think of others worse off’) but Anne faces her situation squarely. She says, in effect: ‘I am sad, I am hungry, I am afraid - and I am alive, and loved, and have found my strength.

By the end of the book, one grieves Anne’s death as a personal loss. That she was killed on the thin pretext that it was justifiable to kill Jews hits one freshly as a montrosity. We all know that six million Jews were murdered by the Nazis, but too often that remains a blank statistic, unwieldly and ungraspable. Anne Frank is flesh and blood. She stands before us, trembling or smiling, and what happens to her matters.

Other writers have tried imitating the diary form to personalise the horrors of war, especially nuclear war. But in these cases,the star is the situation; the human characters merely puppets to get across the writers’ anti-war message. Their lives come across on the level of gossip, racy or banal,like Dallas plus radioactivity. Unlike Anne Frank, they don’t touch the heart. If the characters are carved from soap, who cares what bubbles they blow?

Anuradha Vittachi

The Diary of Anne Frank
by Anne Frank (1947)
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Pan (pbk) UK: £1.75
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New Internationalist issue 134 magazine cover This article is from the April 1984 issue of New Internationalist.
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