Thursday, June 10, 2010

Summary on Poverty

This post is an extract of the speech delivered during FAO Regional Conference in Bali, Indonesia on 10th October 1994.

Food Security

At its 22nd session in 1993, the FAO defined the concept of food security as encompassing three conditions:

1)      Adequacy of supply throughout the country
2)      Stability of supply throughout the year
3)      Access to food, physical and economic, on the part of those who need it

Action Programme

I noted in the proposed action programmes on food security of Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), attention is brought to the following subjects:

1)      Establishing fertiliser plants
2)      Training of farmers in their own country or in other countries
3)      Technical assistance and cooperation from capable nations and the private sector
4)      Cooperation in research and development (R&D) among experts in NAM member nations
5)      Establishing joint-venture projects among member nations
6)      Encouraging food trade among member nations
7)      Supporting food production increase in Africa
8)      Reducing poverty, enhancing food security and self-efficiency
9)      Management of buffer stocks (reserve)

Solutions and Problems

There are more noble ideas which deserve the support of all but marrying the solutions to the problems, we find that:

1)      For low productivity of land, we have fertiliser, irrigation and R&D
2)      For low productivity of farmers, we have training, technical assistance and R&D
3)      For limited provision of agro inputs, we have fertiliser and R&D
4)      For relatively long draught, we have irrigation

It seems to me that for the problem of rapid growth in population, there is no recommended solution. Supporting food production increase in Africa should be stated as problem rather than a solution.

The same goes to reducing poverty, enhancing food security and self-sufficiency. This topic should also be classified as a problem to be solved and not a solution.

As to the joint-venture proposal among member nations, managing buffer stocks and encouraging food trade among member nations, we only need political will.

Population and Poverty

Zeroing in, therefore, we still have ‘population’ and ‘poverty’.

Assuming that there is peace and abundant capital, which are really scarce ‘commodities’ in many non-aligned nations, we have some humble thoughts and two smalls and simple programme which might be of interest to fellow delegates.

We noted that there are rich and powerful nations, like the United States which have serious poverty problems like that found in the ghettos of New York.

We also noted the progress of China with the world’s biggest population, currently enjoying the highest economic growth rate, which enough food to feed its population, practising communist capitalism or neo-authoritarianism, and moving towards becoming the world’s biggest economy.

The question before us therefore, “What, where, when and how we went wrong?”

Wrong Ideas

Looking at what went wrong with most of us, we will find some ideas that we are taught to believe for a very long time, and these ideas are wrong.

For example:

Benjamin Spock once told mothers of certain ways of raising their children. Several decades later, he confessed that he was wrong.

Thomas Malthus argued that population would grow by geometrical progression and food production would increase by arithmetical progression while humans would die of hunger due to food shortage. He was also proven wrong. Science has made possible the production of surplus food although humans still succumb to starvation due to the inefficient distribution.

While we are aware of Thomas Malthus attempt to relate food to population growth, we forget that Thomas also endorsed war, famine and diseases as ways to solve over population problems.

Combining the ideas of Thomas Malthus and Maynard Keynes, who preached government spending as means to generate economic growth of nations, a country with economic problems can therefore undertake war, the bigger the better, as the biggest government adventure with big expenditure. It also satisfies Thomas Malthus theory with so much for the relationship between population and food.

With the end of the Cold War, free market economy appears to be fashion of the day. In this, we often hear Adam Smith being quoted. In his “Wealth of Nations”, Adam Smith propagated that there is a hidden raving hand which ensures that when men struggle in search of great wealth, the people at large will also benefit.

People forget that Adam Smith is not an economist but he is a professor of moral philosophy. One should not, therefore, read only the “Wealth of Nations” but also his earlier bark “A Theory of Moral Sentiments” in which he propagated the necessity of moral values. Reading these two books, we can conclude that crave for riches of man can only benefit the poor and the lesser have if the rich subscribe to moral values.

Poverty Eradication

Proceeding from here, we in Malaysia are having a second look at the question of poverty; first, the interest on poverty.

Rejecting Thomas Malthus, we have for almost a decade moved away from product-oriented agriculture to human-oriented agriculture. We do not intend to produce enough food in order to feel secure.

Political View

Since then, we decided to focus on poverty eradication. Can problems of poverty be solved in countries where democracy is practised? It is true that in countries where democracy is practised, government’s interest in solving poverty problems directly proportionate to the number of poor voters. So long as the population of poor voters is large, interest in poverty eradication will continue to be political.

As the number of destitute citizens is reduced and the middle class grows in each country, the political impact of the poor will also diminish.

The Church

In the days before the Industrial Revolution in Britain, the solution to the problems of poverty also had religious flavour. The church was then interested in poverty, illiteracy and diseases.

However, following the Industrial Revolution, British politicians removed the church from meddling with poverty, as it was thought to be the responsibility of the government. The church continued to pay attention to the construction of hospitals and schools in British colonies.

Poverty was from then on, secularised – it became a subject for politicians and academicians. However, intellectual interest in poverty will cease with the completion of yet another thesis or working paper. Political interest in poverty will last so long as there are sufficient poor people to influence an election.


As poverty exists among rice growers, rubber tappers, coconut smallholders and fishermen, it is therefore, one of the responsibilities of the Agriculture Ministry.

We are aware that it is poverty that causes malnutrition, deprivation of shelter, drinking of polluted water and destruction of the environment.

With this awareness, why are we still far from success?


I cannot offer another reason except that many nations, capable of providing assistance, are really helping. Some do and we are grateful to them. Some rich countries are immune to the plight of the poor, even in their own country, as not to be interested in the problem on global basis.

The poor in these countries are minorities who do not count for much politically. They are negligible lots for the politicians. Whatever our common stands, we really have to help ourselves. We can wipe out poverty from the face of this earth by wiping out poverty in our own countries.

Malaysia’s success in poverty alleviation is recent. Poverty is therefore, a subject within the living memory and experience of our leaders. Most decision-makers still have poor relatives. The commitment to poverty eradication therefore continues.

Poverty, as in love, pain, hatred and satisfaction, needs to be experienced to understand. It is beyond literary capability to write about pain and evoking the same feeling as cutting your fingers with a knife. It is also impossible to read anything on love and have the same feeling as falling in love itself.

As most experiences in poverty eradication all over the world have failed, the enthusiasm of many leaders has also waned. As humans do not appreciate failures, we have to reinstate enthusiasm by returning a religious flavour to poverty eradication.

Holy War

In Malaysia, we have introduced jihad or holy war against poverty, thereby giving a divine flavour for the effort of poverty eradication. While recognising efforts against poverty as holy, the enthusiasm of leaders, intellectuals and professionals can be sustained.

The subject of poverty will not merely end with an election victory or the completion of a thesis. Eradication of poverty should be a divine mission.

Even in developed countries such as the United States, where the voters among the more then 30 million poor people have no impact on election results, there is a necessity for a body or institution to continue the crusade against poverty. The West is frightened of the word jihad. We therefore, use this word to frighten away poverty.

Jihad on Poverty

It is in the name of God the Most Benevolent and the Most Merciful that Malaysia launched a Jihad Basmi Kemiskinan or holy war against poverty in 1991.

Nineteen and ninety one which is nineteen in reverse, is an important number in Islam as there is a sentence in the Quran which reads “Alaiha tis’ata asyarah”, above everything is nineteen.

It is necessary that each country, having sufficient number of poor people, have its own national institution to eradicate poverty. Poverty being a global problem, there is a need to wipe out with the partners of a World Institute for Poverty Eradication (WIPER).

A WIPER in each nation is national organisation without an international bureaucratic control. Only the identity, idea and purpose should be globally identical. A WIPER is a training institute. WIPER students of any age should have experienced poverty and not just read about it.

The poor in any country should be trained to help themselves. The staff of the institute can be selected from the international community of nations.


We must start thinking of propagating a WIPER network with each national institute helping to train the poor in its own country. If it has a capacity, WIPER of each country should allow the poor from other countries to participate.  There should then be a global network with the same logo, theme, syllabus, motivation and orientation. Malaysia has established one such institute. The chain of institutes will produce committed leadership with the capability to lead the poor to change and succeed in this rapidly changing world.

There is a need for an integrated global idea for poverty eradiation.

Malaysia will continue its efforts at eradicating poverty as it had been undertaken during the country’s earlier 20 year New Economic Policy. With the reduction in the incidence of poverty, we are now paying attention to relative poverty and the remaining hardcore poverty.

To accommodate the differences in ideology, culture and democratic practices, WIPER in each country should be an independent, private and national training institution; the idea for which can be shared internationally.

It is necessary not only for poor nations to be assisted by the rich, poor people in rich nations should also be helped by rich people in poor nations, for poverty is universal.

Our experiences, as well as those of other nations, will be institutionalised in the hope that WIPER will eventually wipe out poverty. When WIPER exists in more than one country, there can be an exchange of information, experiences, techniques and methodologies. WIPER may seek funding from private, national and international agencies.

Just as there are very rich people in poor countries, there are also very poor people in rich countries. WIPER will provide an opportunity for the rich to help the poor.

People do not choose to be poor.

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