"The reality is that there has not yet been a controlled trial on the impact of the standard microfinance product – a small loan given to a group of women who meet together weekly for repayment. Put another way, all of the above-mentioned 'received facts' about what is accomplished by giving people access to small lines of credit have been based on anecdote. The reality is that no one knows what impact, if any, micro-credit has on the lives of the poor."
What IPA is trying to do here is important. There are a lot of caveats that need to be applied here, please don't look at these results as definitive. The nature of the question being asked - "what is the impact of micro-credit on the lives of the poor?" - requires studies across multiple implementations and environments.
For example: "Take-up of micro-loans was relatively low at 17.5 percent among the sample – this raises a question about whether demand is in fact as high as policy makers and lenders claim, or if there are other countervailing dynamics in play, such as risk aversion." Or, maybe the program was poorly marketed?
Or: "Loan-takers also spend more on home-based durable goods." Would this effect last if the observation was continued over multiple loan cycles, or was this a one-time "stocking up"?
But their final conclusion in this write-up, "we really know almost nothing about the real impact of micro-credit and how or whether it works," is certainly correct. Everyone who is interested in micro-credit and development should spend some time thinking about how difficult it can be to measure results.
The focus of One Acre Fund is different. While extending credit is core to the program, market access and training are just as important. The impact of programs that provide a business model as well as credit will have to be studied separately.
This is so contrary to my experience I have to mention it.
The increasingly urbanized youth are often reluctant to help with digging and hoeing ... "The consequence: A lot of land – particularly rice fields – is not exploited. This has increased the suffering of some families who have a hard time feeding themselves during certain periods of the year."
In the area of Kenya I live in, very little land is not exploited. For generations, people have had large families, and divided the land up among their sons. This has reduced the average plot size to below five acres. At this point, traditional farming methods do not yield enough to feed a family.
Senegal's situation, to be frank, seems enviable to me. They are at a much more sustainable level of population.
The poverty of African peasants is not accidental: it is intrinsic to the peasant mode of economic organization. The very features that make the peasant mode of production appear attractive to jaded members of an industrialized society also make it unproductive. Large scale organization of specialized production, and integration into markets, are fundamental to the generation of income at a level that we now regard as necessary for a decent quality of life. We have been blinded to this evident fact by our own romantic attachment to the preservation of a society which is the antithesis of the modern.
I don't disagree with any of it. But the structural changes he's talking about require a really farsighted agricultural and industrial policy, which is not on the horizon. They also, in order to produce better lives in the near term, rather than in the glorious future, require a careful migration path. For most farmers, land is their only real asset. How will they be recompensed, resettled, reintegrated? These questions aren't even being asked yet. So I think there is a place for efforts to improve farmers' incomes right now, before any grand plans take shape.
The GMO thing is a red herring, I think he throws it in for shock value. The real issue is the move to efficient, large-scale farming.
Unpredictable weather has always presented serious problems for smallholder farmers and fishing communities in poor countries, but farming is becoming even more difficult and risky because of the greater unpredictability in seasonal rainfall patterns. Heat stress, lack of water at crucial times and pests and diseases are serious problems that climate change appears to be exacerbating. These all interact with ongoing pressures on land, soils and water resources that would exist regardless of climate change. The most common observation is that the changes are "shortening" the growing season.
We've seen these effects first-hand. The season of long rains has started 2-3 weeks late for the past couple of years, and rain during this crucial growing season has been more unpredictable.
I used to talk about how I wished I could get a fortune-teller to read my palm and tell me what career I should pursue, "rather than some long torturous journey of self-discovery." Never happened. The journey's been good, anyway. A couple of things I've read have, explicitly or implicitly, triggered the self-discovery theme again.
Dani Rodrik on "self-discovery in practice" in Ethiopia: "...entrepreneurship in a developing country consists of discovering the underlying cost structure--what can and cannot be produced profitably. Initial investors in a new line of economic activity face a great amount of uncertainty, since foreign technology always needs some local adaptation. Plus, their cost discovery soon becomes public knowledge--everyone can observe whether their projects are successful or not--so the social value they generate exceeds their private costs."
Random internet commentors on Kenya's new media bill: this bill has received a lot of negative media attention in Kenya, due to increased government censorship powers in the bill. The comments section of this post has attracted a lot of smart, well-informed Kenyans. Interestingly, they don't seem to trust the media much more than they trust the government (see comments about the media's "hate propagation" during the post-election violence.) Anyway, no specific key phrases here, it's just fascinating to watch democracy evolve through debate and power struggle. And the debate is as much about Kenyan identity as about any abstract principles of democracy, because if those principles had no purchase on people's values, they'd never take root.
"It is a country that seems to have achieved a sweet spot, combining the vigor of American capitalism with the humanity of European welfare, yet suffering the drawbacks of neither. And it manages this while keeping a consistent budget surplus. That country, rolling into its 16th year of uninterrupted growth, is Australia."
Privately owned co-op that invests with the aim of "high social impact and sustainable development", about 50% of their investments go to microfinance. Apparently distinguished by a unique structure and a long history in the space.