Mieke Dale-Harris

Graphics: Inheriting Poverty – Learned Helplessness and Empowerment in Development

All this month Development Roast has looked at different psychological issues involved in poverty. Today we ask: Does a population’s mentality affect a nation’s development? More specifically, is it possible that when many inhabitants of a country are children of multiple generations of poverty that they can suffer from what could be described as “learned helplessness”, which, as the name suggests, is a feeling of utter disempowerment and uselessness (see graphic). 

This idea was first outlined by American educator and author Ruby Payne in her 2005 book “A framework for understanding poverty”. From her studies of the Urban American class system she concludes that one aspect of generational poverty is a learned helplessness that is passed down from parents to children. This mental attitude means that, unlike the middle and upper classes, many poor people do not foresee a future that is free of poverty and therefore do not have the motivation to even try to escape it. Read More »

Graphics: Defining Poverty

So far this month the Development Roast blog has published articles about being poor but not feeling poor, challenges of identifying the poor and consumerism to hide poverty.  All of which highlight the loose and ever changing perception that people have of poverty.

As a result, the topic of pro-poor development often sparks lengthy debates when raised, since without a specific definition of what poverty is and what it is not, people differ in their views of how to relieve people of this intangible concept. This is especially the case when supposedly very poor people actively choose their lifestyle over one that offers financial gains through entering the world markets, a phenomenon that is largely attributed to poor people’s assumption that certain financial improvements would threaten their community lifestyle, which in the end is what they prize above all else.Real poverty, rather than just being poor, can be defined in terms of food insecurity: if you cannot provide food for yourself and your family due to physical or circumstantial restrictions to sufficient finances or fertile land, then you are living in poverty. Read More »

The Conundrum of Identifying the Poor

I used to think that giving aid was easy. You just find those in need and give them money, incentives or beneficial programs, right? It turns out that even the seemingly simple initial process of identifying the poor is not as easy as it sounds. Not only has a truly efficient method of identifying those living in poverty yet to be established, but there are discrepancies between community satisfaction with known methods and the method’s official success rate.

The main challenge that is faced by researchers and potential benefactors in developing countries when identifying poor people is a lack of reliable income data. Many of the poorest people work informally and/or inconsistently, with few or no verifiable income records. Considerable and creative efforts therefore need to be made to identify intended beneficiaries if aid money is not to be misdirected toward wealthier households.

To date, Proxy Means Tests (PMTs) have proved the most accurate method of identifying families living on USD$2 or less a day. Read More »

Graphics: Mental Illness and Homelessness

Last week “Giving to beggars is bad and exploitative labor is good” was posted. This article cited people’s rationalizations for not giving to beggars. Two of the major public perceptions of beggars that the author received were that the adults were on the streets by their own fault and that direct charity would discourage them from doing something pro-active to relieve themselves of homelessness. However, data from developing countries and in particular the United States (U.S) indicates that many homeless people are not to blame for there homeless state, but suffer from mental disabilities and often severe mental illness (SMI). Persons with SMI are identified as “individuals with serious and long-term mental disorders that impair their capacity for self-care, interpersonal relationships, work and schooling.”   Read More »

Giving to beggars is bad and exploitative labor is good

Two days before Christmas I spent an hour watching a beggar. Would you like to hazard a guess at how many people gave to her? She was an old woman. She looked ancient but was probably only 50 or 60 years old. She was shriveled and doubled over to the extent that she took up little more than the space of an average TV set on one of La Paz’s busiest pavements. And her spindly wrist stuck out of this buddle desperately imploring passers-by to spare a coin or two. But no, hearts didn’t jump. Even in the peak of their Christmas generosity people were not going to jolted into giving by this pitiful sight and, in the end, out of the hundreds that went past, just six people stopped to drop a coin into her hand.

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The empowered backpacker

Although backpackers often look bedraggled and like they haven’t bought any new clothes for years, it is definitely a rich man’s hobby.  To travel you have to save. You need to have the money to live, often for months on end, a lifestyle where you stay in hotels, eat in restaurants and pay entry fees to various tourist attractions. Anyone who has been on holiday knows that these costs add up. In fact, for an average American household they apparently add up to us$1,200 per person per summer vacation.

Most people do not have this kind of money. Young people all around the world desperately try and save from their pitiful minimum wage earnings so they can go “backpacking”. But many of them fail. In the end, they find it impossible to resist those Friday night calls imploring them to go for an end of the week beer or, more commonly, just feel the money is better spent at home.

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Is the quinoa agriculture model one that can be replicated in other parts of Bolivia?

Mieke Dale HarrisThe recent history of quinoa production in Bolivia probably tells the country’s most inspirational agriculture success story.  In the five years between 2006 and 2011 quinoa production increased by 163 percent, from 7,750 metric tons to 20,366 metric tons. During the last decade quinoa prices have also shown an unprecedented increase. The price of the specialty crop ‘royal quinoa’ rose from US$1,245 per metric ton to 2007 and an astonishing US$3,237 per metric ton in 2012.

Quinoa is a grain-like crop that is traditionally cultivated in the most un-hospitable parts of the Andean mountain range. For centuries South Americans living on high altitude Andean plateaus have reaped the benefits of quinoa seeds, but little international attention had been paid to the crop. Read More »

Is economy of scale really what’s best for the agriculture sector?

Over the last two decades there has been a great surge in land reform policies in developing countries. These land reform policies have mainly focused on rural property rights, and have consisted of giving small to medium size farmers, who for years have suffered from tenure insecurity, legal ownership of their land and property. Land reform has different objectives in different countries, but it is generally an attempt to boost development of the agricultural sector and rural regions, where poverty is often at its most extreme.  It is also used to appease peasant farmers, who in many countries are increasingly disgruntled by the rural inequality legacy of colonialism that is now being heightened by the rise of wealthy large scale agribusinesses due to the globalization of the food market.

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There are no country-bumpkin economists: A problem for economic research institutes

Since entering the world of economics a short while ago I have repeatedly been surprised by some major development institutions’ lack of regard for the country-side and rural activities. In the 2009 the World Development Report the World Bank called on an increase in urbanization, and therefore a reduction in rural employment, as “essential for economic success.” This development policy was adopted by both the World Bank and a number of senior economists after seeing the positive effects that industrialization has had in North America, Western Europe and Northeastern Asia.  One underlying view behind this popular urbanization theory is that the countryside is a breeding ground for poverty, which can only be relieved with mass migration to cities where “proper” economic activities in the service and business sectors can be undertaken.

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Export/import restrictions – Will they really help to reduce food insecurity in Bolivia?

Mieke Dale HarrisOn the 16 October 2008 former President Clinton announced at a United Nations’ conference “we all blew it, even me.” This statement was acknowledging the major role that the west played in causing the 2006-2008 global food crisis, largely by their treatment of crops “like color TVs” rather than realizing their worth as a vital commodity for the world’s poor and thus differentiating them from material export/import goods.

Perhaps what is most surprising about this massive misjudgment of agricultural policies  is that it was heavily promoted by a number of the institutions that we tend, or at least hope, to think are working for poverty eradication and not against it. Read More »


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