This post is an extract of the speech delivered during FAO Regional Conference in Manila, Philippines on 4th October 1994.
Upon reflection, I conclude that as far as food is concerned, we have erred for two specific reasons:
1) We have been influenced by the idea of Thomas Malthus
2) We have been guided by the Consumer Price Index (CPI) which is a city idea to measure the rise in the price of food supplied from the rural areas.
Thomas Malthus’s theory on population, whereby he predicted that population will grow by geometric progression while food increases by arithmetical progression should not be read in isolation from his endorsement of war, diseases and famine as legitimate happenings to reduce population and, therefore, leave enough food for those who survive.
These are wicked ideas.
The Western world, having accepted Thomas Malthus’s theory, have proceeded to grow more and more food until there is now enough food in the world for all but due to mal-distribution, people are still dying of hunger.
Consumer Price Index
Excessive growing of food in rural areas is good for the city consumers as prices will fall due to excess supply, when measured by the CPI criteria.
General Agreement on Tariff and Trade (GATT)
However, to compensate for the decrease in income of the good growers, subsidies are provided by governments. This becomes a problem when rectifying GATT.
Being influenced by Professor Joan Robinson of London School of Economic and Professor Karl Schiller of Hamburg University, Malaysia moved away from Thomas Malthus’s product-oriented agriculture to people-oriented agriculture.
People Oriented Agriculture
When we were only interested in the production of agriculture commodities and food, we were more concerned about products than people.
We were concerned about rice instead of the paddy planters.
We were concerned about rubber than the rubber tappers.
We were more concerned about fish than the fishermen.
We were more concerned about the animals than the breeders.
We neglected people and we left them with the problem of poverty.
Now that Malaysia puts man before products, we become more interested in:
1) Paddy planters than paddy
2) Rubber tappers than rubber
3) Breeders than animals
4) Fishermen than fish
As a result of this changed approach, Malaysia, formerly a net importer of fish when we were more interested in fish than the fishermen, has become a net exporter of fish.
In order to increase the income of the fishing community, we turned some of their villages into tourist spots. We train their children to be live-savers and we teach their wives and daughters international cooking.
Other Aspects of Poverty
Poverty is often related to income but there are also other aspects of poverty, such as poverty of quality of life. For this, we introduced:
1) Music for the ears
2) Sports for health and recreation
3) Landscaping for the surrounding
4) Strong and united family
There should be something for the palate, the mind and the heart for there is poverty of taste, poverty of knowledge and poverty of faith.
Indeed, a happy fisherman is a more productive fisherman. A happy farmer is a more productive farmer.
Malaysia’s record at poverty eradication is most satisfactory. Having boasted so much of our success at poverty eradication, many visitors have come to Malaysia to see for themselves. Unfortunately, their impression of our various efforts is dependent on who or which agency the visitors meet. The importance of each department, activity, agency or ministry is exaggerated by the officials concerned so as to make other activities by other institutions involved in poverty eradication, irrelevant or unimportant.
As such, the Ministry of Agriculture has initiated the setting up of what it names as WIPER to wipe out poverty. WIPER stands for World Institute for Poverty Eradication. It is a global mission with a small beginning.
WIPER will provide a more liberal definition for poverty and will not limit the scope of poverty to income.
For income, one needs to train the poor to acquire skills, or to provide or supply marketable or saleable services and goods respectively.
Other Forms of Poverty
There is also poverty of:
The first programme of WIPER Malaysia in order to deflect the definition of poverty from income is to collect used spectacles for the poor, with defective eyesight, who cannot afford to buy the spectacles.
In our effort to help the poor, we should be honest, broadminded, get away from wrong ideas and make belief of successes.