Entries tagged with “Ghana”.


Andy Sumner was kind enough to invite me to provide a blog entry/chapter for his forthcoming e-book The Donors’ Dilemma: Emergence, Convergence and the Future of Aid. I decided to use the platform as an opportunity to expand on some of my thoughts on the future of food aid and food security in the context of a changing climate.

My central point:

By failing to understand existing agricultural practices as time-tested parts of complex structures of risk management that include concerns for climate variability, we overestimate the current vulnerability of many agricultural systems to the impacts of climate change, and underestimate the risks we create when we wipe these systems away in favor of “more efficient”, more productive systems meant to address this looming global food crisis.

Why does this matter?

In ignoring existing systems and their logic in the name of addressing a crisis that has not yet arrived, development aid runs a significant risk of undermining the nascent turn toward addressing vulnerability, and building resilience, in the policy and implementation world by unnecessarily increasing the vulnerability of the poorest populations.

The whole post is here, along with a number of other really interesting posts on the future of aid here. Head over and offer your thoughts…

Over the past year, I’ve been working with Mary Thompson (one of my now-former students – well done, Dr. Thompson) on a report for USAID that explores how the Agency, and indeed development more broadly, approaches the issue of gender and adaptation in agrarian settings. The report was an idea that was hatched back when I was still at USAID. Basically, I noticed that most gender assessments seemed to start with a general “there are men, and there are women, and they are different, so we should assess that” approach. This binary approach is really problematic for several reasons.

  • First, not all women (or men) are the same – a wealthy woman is likely have different experiences and opportunities than a poor woman, for example. Lumping all women together obscures these important differences.
  • Second, different aspects of one’s identity matter more or less, depending on the situation. To understand the decisions I make in my daily life, you would have to account for the fact that sometimes my decisions are shaped by the fact I am professor (such as when I am in the classroom), and other times where what I do is influenced by my role as a father. In both cases, I am still a man – but I occupy two different identity spaces, where my gender might not be as important as my profession or my status as a (somewhat) responsible adult in the house.
  • Third, this approach assumes that there are gendered differences in the context of adaptation to climate change and variability in all situations. While there are often important gendered differences in exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity in relation to the impacts of climate change and variability, this is not always the case.

My colleagues in both the Office of Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (GENDEV) and the Office of Global Climate Change agreed that these issues were problematic. They enthusiastically supported an effort to assess the current state of knowledge on gender and adaptation, and to illustrate the importance of doing gender differently through case studies.

Mary and I reviewed the existing literature on gender and adaptation in agrarian settings, exploring how the issue has been addressed in the past. We also focused on a small emerging literature in adaptation that takes a more productive approach to gender that acknowledges and wrestles with the fact that gender roles really take much of their meaning, responsibilities, and expectations from the intersection of gender and other social categories (especially age, ethnicity, and livelihood/class). You can find a first version of this review in the annex of the report. However, Mary and I substantially revised and expanded this literature review for an article now in press at Geography Compass. A preprint version is available on the preprints page of my website.

The bulk of the report – and the part probably of greatest interest to most of my readers – are three case studies that empirically illustrate how taking a binary approach to gender makes it very difficult to identify some of the most vulnerable people in a given place or community, and therefore very different to understand their particular challenges and opportunities. These cases are drawn from my research in Ghana and Mali, and Mary’s dissertation work in Malawi. They make a powerful case for doing gender assessments differently.

This report is not the end of the story – my lab and I are still working with GENDEV and the Office of Global Climate Change at USAID, now identifying missions with adaptation projects that will allow us to implement parallel gender assessments taking a more complex approach to the issue. We hope to demonstrate to these missions the amount of important information generated by this more complex approach, show that greater complexity does not have to result in huge delays in project design or implementation, and ideally influence their project design and implementation such that these projects result in better outcomes.

More to come…

While I appreciate the overall sentiment behind “World Hunger, the Problem Left Behind”, Tyler Cowen’s op-ed piece in the New York Times earlier this week, in trying to put forth an important message he reinforces really problematic understandings of hunger. Cowen, like so many others, continues to frame food security and hunger issues as a crisis of production and productivity.  Citing Michael Lipton, Cowen writes:

Rwanda and Ghana are gaining, but…most of the continent is not. Production and calorie intake per capita don’t seem to be higher today than they were in the early 1960s. It remains an issue how Africa’s growing population will be fed.

First, production and caloric intake per capita are not necessarily directly linked.  As I have observed elsewhere on this blog (and as Hans Herren and I argued at the New America Foundation/Slate event Feeding the World While the Earth Cooks), there is a massive loss problem in most food systems that more than accounts for most food shortages in the world today.  Considering the absolutely remarkable explosion of the African population since 1960, when it held about 300 million people and today, when it holds 870 million, holding the line on per-capita production means that people effectively tripled the agricultural output of the continent.  But when you lose 40% of that production between the farm gate and market, you are going to get a disjoint between production and caloric intake that has nothing at all to do with the skills of the farmers or their on-farm circumstances.  Are there ways to augment production and improve it?  Probably, but this is not the central problem at the moment, nor is it the low-hanging fruit.  Don’t reengineer the ecosystem, just fix the road!

It would be good to see some serious discussion of food insecurity that did not center on agricultural productivity.  It seems that the urge is to start from the hardest end of the process to fix, perhaps because it is in the fields that food goes from abstract to concrete. It is hard to argue that the biggest problem is loss in the supply chain, because that is harder for people to see.  We need more posters of rotting loads of food on the back of trucks, and less pictures of dusty fields with stunted crops.  Maybe that would start to shift the narrative?

OK folks, yesterday I pointed to my friend Keith Bratton’s kickstarter effort to fund a photodocumentary study of the impacts of climate change on life in Ghana’s Central Region.  Please go to the page and check it out – Keith is a great photographer, and will produce really stunning stuff (some of which you can have, for a very low pledge!).  He’s crawling toward what he needs for the project, so all donations are important.

But to up the ante, I want to point out another “reward” option that Keith is now putting up.  The case he wants to document is a fantastic example of the complex challenge that climate change presents to the achievement of development goals – it raises issues of cross-sectoral work, the connections between people and the natural world, and how climate change creates unexpected challenges that, if unaddressed, can compromise the things you are focusing on.  It is, in short, a perfect case from which we can learn about why we must integrate climate sensitivity into development work, and the ways in which such sensitivity makes us “think differently” about development.

To whet your appetite, an example from my own work in Ghana that I talk about in my public speaking on the book: in 2005, I suddenly noticed that there were flocks of toucans flying around the villages in which I had been working from some 8 years.  I had never seen toucans before, and their sudden presence puzzled me.  It took me a while to piece together what was going on – you see, the Gulf of Guinea large marine ecosystem has been collapsing due to an intersection of overfishing (itself driven by a combination of local overfishing to feed a growing population, and the presence of large international trawlers overfishing the territorial waters of Ghana and other countries, largely with impunity) and climate change (which has changed the upwellings of cold water in July-September and December such that there are fewer fish riding those upwellings into the local fisheries).  With less fish to eat, communities in the coastal hinterland had started hunting aggressively, wiping out most terrestrial animals in the process – along with them, rodents…who must have eaten toucan eggs.  Hence the explosion of toucans, who are likely wiping out some other species they like to eat, etc., etc..  The toucan is just a manifestation of a complex ecological change taking place along the coast of the Gulf of Guinea that is poorly understood, but presenting real challenges for people’s food security and incomes.  Achieving development goals in this region, then, requires understanding climate change and its impacts, as well as the complex and seemingly-distant outcomes of these impacts.

That is a remarkably simplified version of what I see happening in Ghana – and it can be told more eloquently, and with more grounding in the human experience of these changes, in the work Keith proposes.  So, beyond seeing him work toward publishing this important story, I have suggested to him that he offer, at the $1000 pledge level, to put together a training module for your organization, using his pictures and findings, to help train your people up on the importance of climate change to development, and on how to think about climate change in the context of development.  Further, because I believe in Keith’s project but lack the wherewithal to back it out of my own pocket, I have offered to work with Keith to build this module should anyone order it.  So, in return for supporting Keith’s work, you get his photos and experiences, as well as my expertise – 14 years in university classrooms, over two years of living in villages in sub-Saharan Africa, lots of refereed publications addressing the climate change/development connection, and work on the donor side examining the climate change/development connection – all wrapped up in a training module that you can plug in to your own training program.

For those of you outside the development implementation world, this might seem like an insanely high price – but everyone in that world knows that this is a steal.  Were I a training consultant, I would be charging an order of magnitude more for such a service, at least.  And my illustrations would not be as nice as what you will get from Keith.  Again, Keith will produce the module, and I will help him do it – but I will not be paid to do this.  I have no financial stake in this project at all.  This is my in-kind backing of what I think is a significant project.  So if your organization needs the training, here is a great opportunity.

 

OK folks, I have never done plugs on the blog, but I am about to do one here.  A friend of mine from back in my Syracuse/Ph.D. fieldwork days named Keith Bratton is trying to get funding for a photodocumentary project that explores the complex impacts of climate change in coastal Ghana.  Keith knows this area well – he was there during my fieldwork (and took some of the photos of my site and artifacts that I still use to this day), and has been back since. He is a remarkable photographer – his previous work from Ghana is here.

The project he is trying to get funded seems to have emerged from a combination of his own experiences in Ghana and (in part) his reading of my book and its discussion of the complex ways in which the collapse of the Gulf of Guinea fishery is radiating into various onshore ecological and economic impacts.  Just as I wrote my book to reach a wider audience, Keith wants to do this project as another means of telling this story.  Not only do I think this work has the potential to be picked up by media outlets, I suspect that in telling the complex story of how climate change becomes a development challenge, there will be many in the donor and implementer world who might find this work, or versions of it, useful for training – something that I think is really critical if we are ever to mainstream thinking about climate change and its impacts into development.

He’s trying to do this on a shoestring – he wants to raise $4000.  The plane ticket will eat $1200 of it.  This is a huge bang-for-the-buck potential operation here, so if you can find a buck…or two, or ten, please think about pledging it to Keith and this project.

His kickstarter page is here.

 

Full disclosure: While I have offered Keith advice and feedback on the project, I am not a part of it, nor will I profit from it in any way.  Further, this project is not, in any way, connected to any of my employers.  It’s just a good idea that deserves support.

I will be speaking about my book and research at the University of Florida on Friday as part of the Glen R. Anderson Visiting Lectureship.  Poster here:

Hope to see folks there!

So, a while back I decided to talk about how I negotiate peer review, semi-liveblogging my response to a revise and resubmit request from a pretty big development journal (see part 1, part 2 and part 3).  Well, I now have a response to my resubmission . . .

No.  To quote: “after much deliberation, the editors have reached a rather difficult decision. [The editors] feel that they cannot accept your revised paper.”

Yep, I have gone from revise and resubmit to outright reject.  This is . . . unusual, to be honest. More unusual, however, is the rationale for the rejection.  To quote from the decision:

What makes this difficult is that [the editors] recognize that you have in fact taken account of what the referees said, and have tried to accommodate their comments, but the editors feel that what has emerged from the revision process is not an appropriate paper for Development and Change.

Translation: you did what we asked, and addressed the referee comments, but in doing so you ended up with a paper that we think belongs at another journal.  Well, fair enough, this happens.  But why it is not appropriate is a little odd:

While they still believe that there is an interesting idea at the core of your paper, they don’t feel that the revisions have solved the initial problems, and they are not convinced that further rounds of revision would be any more successful. The intended contribution of the paper appears to be theoretical, but the paper hasn’t managed to work out that contribution in a way that will be accessible / comprehensible to our readers.

Soooo . . . I have an interesting paper, but the editors more or less think their readership can’t deal with the complexity of the argument.  [Note: I am disregarding the assessment that my revisons have not solved the initial problems, since they already have said that I took account of the referees’ issues – this is a contradiction I am just going to leave aside. That, and they did not show me any reviewer comments, so I have no idea what I did not resolve]  One of my colleagues has called this the oddest rejection he has ever seen.

Now, I want to be clear – the folks at the journal with whom I interacted throughout this process were very responsive and polite, and were kind even in their rejection (they were quite apologetic, actually).  I would submit to this journal again, though I admit to wondering exactly what aspect of my work might fit here, as I am confused by what they believe the capacity of their readers to be.

This, folks, is the nature of peer review – sometimes, you just have no idea what happened.  I am not privy to the internal conversations of the editorial board, and will not pretend to know exactly what happened here.  What makes this hard is that I did not receive any substantive comments on this second round of review, so I have no guidance at all on edits.  I am rereading the paper, adding a citation I had missed earlier, and making minor tweaks to the argument (the article I missed before actually strengthens the case for what I am doing in the manuscript).  I’ve sent it off to a trusted senior colleague to have a look, and to see where he thinks it might go next.  I will probably sound out the next editor in advance, just to make sure that s/he thinks the paper is appropriate before starting a long review process again . . .

Two years and counting, folks, since my initial submission.

Any editors out there interested?  Anybody?

I’ll be running my mouth about the book again at Chatham University on December 2nd.  Chatham has some very cool stuff going in sustainability and the environment (a new school!), including a new Eden Hall Campus in Richland Township, PA.  My talk will actually be out on that campus, and not in the Shadyside campus . . . directions are here.

The flyer (they’ve done a nice job on it):

Hope to see some of you there . . .

Whenever you write something, you hope that other people will like it . . . or perhaps hate it so much it spurs them to do something useful in response.  In any case, you want feedback.  A vast, echoey silence just sucks.  I have a weird version of this with my own academic work.  More often than not, I write things that land in the literature with a huge thud.  One or two people notice, read and cite it in the first two or so years it is out . . . and then all of a sudden lots of people start citing it in all kinds of places, ranging from academic journals to UN Reports.  This has become a pretty regular pattern for me, which to some extent reflects the fact that I have a habit of writing stuff on the edges of my discipline(s), and also reflects how long it takes new ideas to get into people’s work and show up in print (generally speaking, it takes between 9 months and a year, at least, from the acceptance of an article to its appearance in print – so any new idea has to be read, processed and incorporated into a new article, which takes a few months.  Then the article has to be accepted, and review typically takes 3-6 months.  Finally, after it is accepted, another 9-12 month wait.  Add it up, and you realize that it takes anywhere from 14-24 months for the first people who read a new idea to start responding in print).

Delivering Development has been a little different, as it is being reviewed in different kinds of venues – a lot of blog attention, for example.  I also had the good fortune of having two people review the piece for the back cover, so I got some feedback before the book even came out.  In any case, the reviews are now starting to flow in, and overall they are really kind.  Best of all, they seem to get what I was trying to do with the book – which are the best kind of reviews one can get as an author.  The reviews (with links to full reviews):

Back Cover

Carr’s concern is that development and globalization, as currently pursued, are creating more poverty than they solve, needlessly producing economic and environmental challenges that put everyone on Earth at risk. Confronting this paradoxical outcome head-on, Carr questions the “wisdom” of the traditional development-via-globalization strategy, a sort of connect-the-development-dots, by arguing that in order to connect the dots one must first see the dots. By failing to do so, agencies do not understand what they are connecting and why. This fundamental questioning of Post WWII development strategies, grounded in life along “Globalization’s Shoreline,” sets his approach to development in the age of globalization apart from much of the contemporary development literature.

— Michael H. Glantz, Director, CCB (Consortium for Capacity Building), INSTAAR, University of Colorado

Over the fifty years since the end of the colonial era, rich nations have granted Africa billions of dollars in development aid—the equivalent of six Marshall Plans—and yet, today, much of the continent is as desperate as ever for help. In Delivering Development, Edward Carr delves into the question of why the aid system has failed to deliver on its promises, and offers a provocative thesis: that economic development, at least as international donors define it, is not necessarily equal to advancement. Unlike many combatants in the debate over the causes of global poverty, who jet in and out of these countries and offer the view from 10,000 feet, Carr takes a novel approach to the problem. He examines the aid system as it is actually experienced by poor Africans.Delivering Development focuses on a pair of Ghanaian villages, which despite their poverty by statistical measures have nonetheless managed to construct sophisticated systems of agricultural cultivation and risk management. Carr doesn’t argue that these places hold the secret to ending poverty. On the contrary, his point is that there are no overarching solutions, that each community holds a unique set of keys to its own future. By delving into development at the grassroots, Carr reveals the rich and bedeviling complexity of a problem that, all too often, is reduced to simplistic ideological platitudes.”

— Andrew Rice, author of The Teeth May Smile but the Heart Does Not Forget: Murder and Memory in Uganda

Summaries of Recent Reviews (with links to full reviews)

The book is a riveting read, horizon broadening and . . . takes a somewhat unusual path towards challenging the dominant paradigm that complements other, parallel efforts . . . All-in-all, a must read for aid wonks everywhere.

— Andy Sumner, Global Dashboard

Development often fails. This is not a new premise. Many have written about it. But Edward Carr offers a fascinating perspective on why he believes this is true in Delivering Development.”

— Robin Pendoley, Thinking Beyond Borders

This book makes an important contribution to critical literatures on globalization and development . . . [providing] an often overlooked perspective within critical development literature: the real possibility for positive change and for a more active role of development’s target population to participate and shape the direction of change in their communities.

— Kelsey Hanrahan, Africa Today

Yep, no sooner do I post on failure and how we account for it and learn from it, then I come upon a big fail of my own.  That I can learn from. Irony, anyone?

As many of you know, I have been working in Ghana since 1997.  I’ve spent some 20 months there, though it has been a while since I was last on the ground (I need to change that) – basically, the last meaningful research trip I took was in the summer of 2006.  That work, along with the fieldwork that came before it, was so rich that I am still working through what it all means – and it has led me down the path of a book about why development doesn’t work as we expect, and now a (much more academic) complete rethinking of the livelihoods framework that many in development use to assess how people make a living.

One of my big findings (at least according to some of my more senior colleagues) is that inequality and (depending on how you look at it) injustice are not accidental products of “bad information” or “false consciousness” in livelihoods strategies, but integral parts of how people make a living (article to this effect here, with related work here and here, as well as a long discussion in Delivering Development).  One constraint specific to the livelihoods in the villages in which I have been working is the need to balance the material needs of the household with the social requirement that men make more money than their wives.  I have rich empirical data demonstrating this to be true, and illustrating how it plays out in agricultural practice (which makes up about 65% of most household incomes).

In other words, I know damn well that men get very itchy about anything that allows women to become more productive, as this calls one of the two goals of existing livelihoods strategies into question.  Granted, I figured this out for the first time around 2007, and have only very recently (i.e. articles in review) been able to get at this systematically, but still, I knew this.

And I completely overlooked it when trying to implement the one village improvement project with which I have been involved.  Yep, I totally failed to apply my own lessons to myself.

What happened?  Well, to put it simply, I had some money available after the 2006 fieldwork for a village improvement project, which I wanted the residents of Dominase and Ponkrum to identify and, to the extent possible, design for themselves.  We had several community meetings that meandered (as they do) and generally seemed to reflect the dominant voices of men.  However, at the end of one of these meetings, one of my extraordinarily talented Ghanaian colleagues from the University of Cape Coast had the experience and the awareness to quietly wander off to a group of women and chat with them.  I noticed this but did not say anything.  A few minutes later, he strolled by, and as he did he said to me “we need to build a nursery.”  Kofi had managed to elicit the womens’ childcare needs, which were much more practical and actionable than any other plans we had heard.  At the next community meeting we raised this, and nobody objected – we just got into wrangling over details.  I left at the end of the field season, confident we could get this nursery built and staffed.

Five years later, nothing has happened.  They formed the earth blocks, but nobody cleared the agreed-upon area for the nursery.  It was never a question of money, and my colleagues at the University of Cape Coast checked in regularly.  Each time, they left with promises that something would get going, and nothing ever did.  I don’t fault the UCC team – the community needed to mobilize some labor so they would have buy-in for the project, and would take responsibility for the long-term maintenance of the structure. This is on the community – they just never built it.

And it wasn’t until yesterday, when talking about this with a colleague, that I suddenly realized why – childcare would lessen one demand on women that limits their agricultural productivity and incomes.  Thus, with a nursery in place women’s incomes would surely rise . . . and men have no interest in that, as this is not the sort of intervention that would drive a parallel increase in their own incomes.  I have very robust data that demonstrates that men move to control any increase in their wives incomes that might threaten the social order of the household, even if that decreases overall household income and access to food.

So why, oh why, did I ever think that men would allow this nursery to be built?  Of course they wouldn’t.

I can excuse myself between 2006-2008 for missing this, as I was still working through what was going on in these livelihoods.  But for the last three years I knew about this fundamental component of livelihoods, and how robust this aspect of livelihoods decision-making really is, even under conditions of change such as road construction.  I have been looking at how others misinterpret livelihoods and design/implement bad interventions for years, all the while doing that very thing myself.

Healer, heal thyself.