How Can Scientists Help Address Poverty?
IRA FLATOW, host:
From NPR News in St. Louis, this is TALK OF THE NATION SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow.
Nearly a billion of the world's people live in extreme poverty without adequate food, water, sanitation, or power. And when natural disasters strike the poorest, the suffering is compounded. This hour, we'll look at the causes of worldwide poverty and the role that nature and the environment play. Some experts say that climate change will hit the poor the hardest as glaciers melt and sea levels rise. What can scientists do to help? From clean water, to drought resistance crops, to access to electricity, can science and technology help ease the suffering of the world's poorest people? Some answers and your questions after this break. Stay with us.
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FLATOW: This is TALK OF THE NATION SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow. We're coming to you today from St. Louis and this hour we're going to talk about the plight of a billion of the world's citizens. That's how many people experts estimate live in extreme poverty, and that means not enough to eat, no running water, no electricity and sanitation systems, but with a host of diseases, like malaria and anemia, and an astronomical rate of infant mortality. One would think that in the 21st century, science and technology should offer some help in fighting extreme poverty. How can science and technology offer us some way out of this?
That's what we'll be talking about this hour. We'll also talk about how the lives of poor people around the globe are affected by nature, like tsunamis, to droughts, to hurricanes. Today comes news, of course, you might have heard on the news of a mud slide in the Philippines, 23 people dead, more than a thousand people missing. Why do so many more people die when disaster strikes in impoverished areas?
We'll also take a look at the role climate change may play in the lives of the world's poor. These topics are all being discussed here in St. Louis where we are broadcasting from the site of the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. And if you'd like to get in on our conversation, you're more than welcome to. Give us a call. Our number is 1-800-989-8255, 1-800-989-TALK. And if you're here in our audience in St. Louis, we have microphones in the aisles. Please don't be afraid to come up and take hold of the microphone and ask your question.
Let me introduce my guests. Per Pinstrup-Andersen is the Babcock Professor of Food, Nutrition and Public Policy at Cornell University. He's also the winner of the 2001 World Food Prize for his work to end hunger. Welcome back to SCIENCE FRIDAY, Dr. Pinstrup-Andersen.
Dr. PER PINSTRUP-ANDERSEN (H.E. Babcock professor of food, nutrition and public Policy at Cornell University): Thank you very much. Good to be here.
FLATOW: You're welcome. John Mutter is deputy director and associate vice provost of the Earth Institute. That's at Columbia University in New York. He's a professor of earth and environmental sciences and of international and public affairs at Columbia. Welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY.
Dr. JOHN MUTTER: (Deputy Director and Associate Vice Provost at the Earth Institute at Columbia): Thank you. Pleased to be here.
FLATOW: Thank you. Benjamin Orlove is an anthropologist and a professor of environmental science and policy at the University of California-Davis. Welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY.
Dr. BENJAMIN ORLOVE (Anthropologist, Professor of Environmental Science and Policy, University of California-Davis): Thanks. Good to be here.
FLATOW: Let me ask you, John Mutter, when we think of poverty, define it by how much money people make a day. That seems to be what the standard, you know, how poor people are, is definition.
Dr. MUTTER: That's not a particularly good guide. In fact, most people who are extremely poor live outside the cash economy. Most indicators of poverty will include other sorts of issues. One of the more important, for instance, would be infant mortality rates, which are not monetizable.
Access to health, access to education. So, for instance, the U.N. development program uses something called the Human Development Index, which is an aggregate of GDP per capita, that you just mentioned, plus life expectancy, plus access to education. It tries to measure the number of people in school of a certain age relative to those in the population, so it's a better measure of the sort of deprivation that is associated with poverty.
FLATOW: Why is it that mortality is such a good measure?
Dr. MUTTER: Infant mortality in any significant number really only happens in places where health services are poor or where access to good health care is not adequate. So, it turns out to be a not perfect, but very good indicator of a deprived livelihood.
Dr. ORLOVE: If I may just add to that.
FLATOW: Go ahead, Ben Orlove.
Dr. ORLOVE: Poverty is certainly something that we want to compare around the world. We want to see which country is poorer, which is wealthier, and how countries are moving out of poverty. But, people in different places define poverty on their own terms. They have particular goods that they care about, but just everywhere in the world, people really care about their children.
If they feel that they have so little that the mother's weak or that they can't care for children when they fall ill, everyone around the world feels that that's a sign of their own poverty.
FLATOW: Mm-hmm. You studied poverty in South America.
Dr. ORLOVE: Yes.
FLATOW: And you're telling us that the same measurement that we normally think of poverty being in Africa, but you're saying that you use the same yardsticks and the same things show up.
Dr. ORLOVE: Well, I would say something slightly differently, that I would say that on the one hand you want to see what people care about, and there are very specific things that will matter in one place and not another. There might be having just enough food for a particular ritual, it would be important in one place.
In another area, it might mean having the clothes that really mark you as a civilized person. But we really do need to be able to bridge these different conversations. We need to not just have it be each place is a little bit different and probably they're okay. We want to be able to see how these different cases link up to be able to offer broad answers.
FLATOW: Many of us can look at a map of Africa and point out areas of poverty, but we don't look at a map of South America very much and look at it that way. Where would we be finding these areas in South America?
Dr. ORLOVE: The poorest areas are in, well, we see Haiti, certainly, in the Caribbean, close to South America, northeastern Brazil and in Peru and Bolivia in the mountains, ironically all areas that were among the wealthiest at one point, that attracted Europeans for the sugar and the silver and the various products they produced.
FLATOW: Mm-hmm. Per, whenever we talk about people not having enough to eat around the world, and we've talked about this for years, people will say, you know, there's enough food being made around the world, it's just not being distributed. There's no real food shortage, the people who need it are just not getting it. How true is that, Per?
Dr. PINSTRUP-ANERSEN: That's absolutely true. There is plenty of food in the world today. There may not be ten years from now, but there certainly is today. And 800 million people, which is about two and a half times the population of the United States, do not get access to enough food. But, it is too simple, too simplified, to simply say that we just have to distribute what we have.
This would be like saying, we don't have a poverty problem, we just have to distribute the incomes that we have. There'll be plenty of incomes to go around if everybody got the same amount of money. It's a little difficult to implement, and that is also the case for food. So, what we really have to do is to find out where the poor people and the hungry people are, and help them earn enough income, whether that's through production of food or through wage income, of whatever it is, so that they can get access to the food.
It just so happens that 50% of the hungry people are small farmers. They're trying to eke out a living from a very small piece of land, maybe the size of a football field, and that is where science can help, by producing more food, which produces more income for poor people. So, to simply argue that we have enough food, now we just have to distribute it, really misses the point.
FLATOW: Whatever happened to the vaunted green revolution that was supposed to cure world hunger?
Dr. PINSTRUP-ANERSEN: The green revolution was not supposed to cure world hunger forever, in the future. What it did do was to save millions and millions of lives, particularly in Asia. Asia was confronted with mass starvation in the '60s and the green revolution, which was a research effort to help farmers produce more per unit of land, and per unit of labor as well, was extremely successful in doing exactly what it was supposed to do, namely avoid mass starvation in Asia. It has also worked well in parts of Latin America. It has not worked very well in sub-Saharan Africa.
But the green revolution is alive and well. The productivity increases, meaning the additional production per unit of land and per unit of labor that small farmers can obtain, is still going on. The green revolution is still alive. What we need now is something different for sub-Saharan Africa, because that's where poverty and hunger continue to increase.
FLATOW: And what different would that be?
Dr. PINSTRUP-ANERSEN: Well, we need to develop the kind of solutions to farmers' problems that will fit the particular localities. And we need to develop solutions that will be sustainable, meaning that we don't tear down the natural resources in the process of feeding people. One of the, there are basically two problems related to food today. One is that the food that we are producing we are to a very vast extent producing at the expense of the environment or the natural resources. We need to be smarter in the way we produce food.
And the other problem is the one you referred to that so many people don't have access to the food that is being produced. And again the issue here is that most, about half of the people who are hungry would actually escape hunger and poverty if they could produce more food because they are farmers.
FLATOW: Well, a lot of these people are living in very dry, arid areas are they not?
Dr. PINSTRUP-ANERSEN: That is absolutely correct. And that's again where, where science together with investment in roads and institutions and so on would be very helpful. Science can help us develop drought-tolerant varieties for the crops that these farmers are producing so that when the drought hits, and it will in those areas, farmers will produce something.
Right now, when the drought hits in those areas, the farmer, let me just paint this picture for you. You've got a farmer in West Africa with six children who is trying to feed her family from a very small piece of land. And she's doing okay as long as the rains come. The year the rains don't come she loses a child.
Now, I'm not overdramatizing; this is in fact what's going on. We lose ten children due to drought, due to hunger and malnutrition every minute around the clock. That adds up to six million preschool kids who die every year who didn't have to die if they could get enough food, get access to primary health care, clean drinking water.
FLATOW: Did you want to say something, Dr. Mutter?
Dr. MUTTER: The global number of poverty-related casualties: somewhere between 25,000 and 40,000 human beings die daily because they're simply too poor to live. What Per describes is the particular burden that children face in this. About half of that number are children.
You need to also understand that they don't necessarily die of starvation because they're weakened by being hungry. They pick up diseases and die from those, diseases that you would not even go to a doctor to have treated. It's the weakened condition that makes them vulnerable to illness and still die that way.
FLATOW: Same would be true in Latin America?
Dr. ORLOVE: There are certainly are places where many children die where I've heard when I've heard it said, I heard one woman say to another when she found out that she had a child. She said I hope it lives. (Speaking foreign language). It's a really common expression for people who are accustomed to this and yet it's a still very painful to this child. And I'll just add that if the people with the high infant mortality rates are also places where there can be population - problems can be linked to that actually. That the areas that have a more balanced population are the ones that have high rates of child survivorship. People know how many kids they want and they have them.
FLATOW: All right we're going to take a short break and when we come back we'll talk more about poverty and world hunger and all the other aspects that go with it with Per Pinstrup-Andersen, John Mutter, and Ben Orlove and questions from the audience so stay with us. We'll be right back after this short break.
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FLATOW: I'm Ira Flatow, this TALK OF THE NATION SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News.
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FLATOW: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow. We're talking this hour about poverty and malnutrition and all the things that go with it around the world and what science might help to alleviate poverty and hunger. We're in St. Louis at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science with my guests Per Pinstrup-Andersen, professor of Food, Nutrition and Public Policy at Cornell, John Mutter, deputy director and associate vice provost at the Earth Institute at Columbia, Benjamin Orlove, professor of Environmental Science and Policy at UC-Davis. Our number, 1-800-989-8255.
Per, I want to point to an article, a story in the Wall Street Journal this past January. You talked about the use of new kinds of crops. It shows this article said that the use of biotech crops has slowed. It says, The biotech rice, the great hope for feeding the world's poor, has yet to reach world markets, and concerns about the safety of the modified staple amid concerns about the safety. Is that a problem?
Dr. PINSTRUP-ANERSEN: That's a very serious problem. In fact, it's a much bigger problem than just related to rice. There is a great deal of concern among some population groups about the use of modern science to solve poor people's problems. We have much less concern about using modern science to solve our own problems in the high-income countries.
We use genetic engineering in human medicine if that is the best way to find a cure or a prevention to our own problems. We are much more concerned when it comes to using modern science including genetic engineering for food and agriculture. And that's partly because we are not hungry, but we may get sick, in the high-income countries.
What we need to do is to support developing countries in making their own decisions about how they're going to solve their problems. In the case of rice, Iran is the only country in the world that has approved the production of genetically modified rice, production by farmers. China has developed technology that would increase yields in rice as well as reduce the risk of losing the crop to various pests. But the Chinese government has not approved the particular technology.
The underlying problem here is that we really don't know the long-term consequences of genetic modification in food. But we know enough to do the testing that's necessary to at least understand if there are any risks, and if so, if those risks exceed the potential benefits.
Dr. PINSTRUP-ANERSEN: Let me, let me just give you an illustration. The small farmer in West Africa who's trying to feed his six children that I mentioned earlier. When the drought hits she would like a solution so that she can produce something when the drought hits. She doesn't really care that much if the solution comes from modern science or from some other source as long as she gets the solution. The benefit to her is that the child doesn't die. And in some West African countries, two out of five babies that are born do not reach their fifth birthday. I mean this is extremely serious.
Two out of five kids die before they turn five. And most of them die in rural areas. Some because of drought, some because the insects are eating the crops, and there are other reasons as well. So, the problem here is that there are population groups, there are advocacy groups that feel that it's premature to release genetically-modified material in the fields because we don't know what impact it might have on the ecology.
FLATOW: And other critics would say then you're using these poor people as guinea pigs to find out what effect might be.
Dr. PINSTRUP-ANERSEN: Well, what we know for sure, Ira, is that these kids are dying right now. Last year, six million of them died. Another four or five million died of other preventable causes, but regarding hunger and malnutrition specifically, that we know. Are we using them as guinea pigs by keeping them alive? I think that's kind of turning the argument on its head.
FLATOW: Mm-hmm. Jump in, gentlemen, if you want to...
Dr. MUTTER: One thing that, the other thing that science can do is that we now have a sufficiently refined knowledge of climate systems that we can actually predict a significant number of months in advance whether there is going to be a drought year or not. We can't prevent there being a drought but if we know ahead of time that there will be a drought year, then it is possible to take preventative measures to save, to use different crop types. Recently, we have learned that we can predict malaria outbreaks by predicting the amount of rainfall because it's tied to the El Nino cycle, which we now have a very good forecasting skill. And that is now being built into country programs in Botswana, successfully, for instance. And in a way it's able to reduce the incidence of malaria outbreak simply because science has told us that we can predict the rainfalls.
Dr. ORLOVE: I would just add that the news stories that we heard at the top of the hour. There is one about the storms in the Midwest, and so, there were some people who had power knocked out. But you didn't hear about the deaths that you heard about in the Philippines, where we use weather forecasts all the time. It's just essential to how our whole country operates. And Dr. Mutter's explaining how we can use these forecasts of what weather will be like some months or perhaps a year in the future. And I think that will become routine and hope to look further, we are looking further into the future with climate change and trying to anticipate some of the changes there.
FLATOW: Well, one of the things we're hearing about global warming is if we're not getting more hurricanes perhaps, we're getting more intense ones. Dr. Mutter, you've been studying I think Hurricane Katrina. Have you not been studying statistics from that?
Dr. MUTTER: Yes, shortly after Hurricane Katrina happened it was common for the news media to describe the effects of Hurricane Katrina as like a third-world catastrophe. Unfortunately, I think what was meant in the news media was a reference to the apparent lawlessness and looting etc., which is turned out to be very greatly exaggerated, but Katrina in many ways did look like a poor world catastrophe, in that the death numbers were very high.
Now you just heard as being said that this landslide in the Philippines has taken probably about a thousand lives. Katrina, the official death toll right now is 1,417, at least I looked at that about last week. That doesn't count people who died in traffic accidents escaping, and it doesn't count people who died subsequently of derivative effects. There's still four thousand people unaccounted for, some portion of those are surely deceased.
So it's very possible that the number of deaths in Katrina is certainly 1,500 and maybe as high as 2,000. That's a poor world number. That's because the poorer people in New Orleans are in the same sort of vulnerable geographies, the same sort of environments in the lowlands and the places where the rich prefer not to live, that made them as vulnerable to this sort of catastrophe as people in poor world countries.
FLATOW: We've heard statistics of and we've seen on television what appeared to be the people left behind. The people that Katrina left behind were people that could not get out. It was almost portrayed as a racial problem. Do your statistics about the stratification match that?
Dr. MUTTER: If you were in one of the flooded areas, the chances are you were African American. African Americans occupied about 75 percent, or at least 70 percent, of the population in those affected areas. The survivors that have caused, the ones we saw on television, we didn't see deceased victims. But among the deceased victims the demographics are a little bit different. The primary selector for mortality was age. Although only about 15 percent of the population in the affected areas was over 60 years old, sixty-five percent of the deaths were people over 60 years old. So age became the primary determinant and the great equalizer.
The demographics of African Americans in the affected areas was relatively normal with quite a few young people, quite a few middle-aged people, and some old folks. The demographics of the Caucasians, the white people, in the affected areas was primarily old. And because Katrina selected for the elderly, there was a way in which the white residents of Orleans Parish were just as, if not more imperiled, than the elderly African Americans in that area.
FLATOW: Yes, if you have a question please step to the mic right there in the aisle and we'll be able to take questions. Our number 1-800-989-8255. Sir, step up, step up to the mic and we'll be happy to hear you. Go ahead.
Mr. WILLIAM IDELL (Audience Member): My name is William Idell and I'm a physical science teacher. And I've heard that some of the deaths that occurred from Katrina particularly with elderly people in health care facilities could have been predicted by different scientific techniques if people had looked at trends in the way those facilities were delivering their health care. I'm wondering if any of you could talk to that.
FLATOW: Could you just repeat, we had a little mic problem. Could you repeat the question one more time?
Mr. IDELL: I've heard that - I've heard that some of the deaths that occurred in health care facilities for the elderly may have been prevented using scientific means to look at trends in the way the health care was delivered in those facilities and that those trends may have indicated a certain amount of negligence that could've led to these things happening.
Dr. MUTTER: I'm not sure if there was a scientific predictor, but certainly we heard many stories of elderly people being abandoned in these health care facilities. I think it would've been plausible for the children, you know, the middle-aged people to assume that those elderly were being cared for well. My understanding is that in many instances the power went out. So power support systems weren't there. But a backup generator could've been placed on the roofs of these buildings. There's a lot that one could've thought of ahead of time that apparently wasn't thought of ahead of time.
FLATOW: 1800-989-8255. Let's go to Chuck in San Francisco on the phone. Hi Chuck.
CHUCK (Caller): Hi. Thanks very much. I just, I'm not at all against the idea of using science to help poor hungry people, but I wonder if you guys who study this sort of thing take into account the effects of applying technological, green revolution for example, sorts of solutions to these problems as far as doing violence to the traditional ways of life of the people you're trying to help goes, 'cause it seems to me that, for example, if you start to apply some of these much more production agricultural methods to societies that have, whose whole traditional way of life is based on an agricultural tradition, you've risked doing real violence to their way of life.
FLATOW: Let me get an answer for you. Ben Orlove?
Dr. ORLOVE: Well, I certainly agree that there are many negative consequences that have come with technology change and I think it's very important to reproduce at the community level what we were hearing about agricultural policy at the national level. I think that we want people around the world to make their own decisions and to form a solution. And so I think we would hope that there'd be ways to present them with a variety of tools, and help them understand them. In this case, agricultural tools and see which ones, to see which ones they pick up. It's like health care. Health care, in some ways, there can be all kinds of intended consequences that can disrupt traditional religions. And yet people often can make their choices about how to treat their own illnesses...
FLATOW: I'm sorry, go ahead.
Dr. ORLOVE: So, too with many areas of their life, their agriculture. That the Philippines case that we heard again that big landslide I think is a case of a different kind of neglect of the failure to use knowledge. I don't specifically about that landslide, but when we think of the tremendous landslides in Central America and South America, those are often cases where poor people were forced to live on vulnerable areas where the most basic aspects of zoning weren't followed, so that governments essentially allowed people to build in dangerous areas and then they die. So that's where the science is neglected.
FLATOW: We're, I have to pay the bills here, we're talking about poverty this hour on TALK OF THE NATION SCIENCE FRIDAY, from NPR News. Yes, go ahead, John did you want to jump in?
Dr. MUTTER: And once the people are in those vulnerable areas in very steep slopes, it's very hard to move them. So, having made the mistake of allowing people to live in those sort of very vulnerable circumstances, it's extremely difficult to change it once it's already happened.
FLATOW: Per, did you want to jump in?
Dr. PINSTRUP-ANERSEN: Sure. This is not a decision for us to make. If people want to maintain their traditional way of life, they should have a right to do so. Everybody that I've talked to who suffers from extreme poverty and whose kids are malnourished want to get out of traditional ways of life.
It is not as romantic as it may look when you are not poor and you're not in those circumstances. So, let's not tell the people that they should not have the same opportunities that we had, because we might still be living traditional lives, where two out of every five of our babies would die. So, let's be real careful that we give them the choice, and everybody that I've talked to want to get out of the human misery that most of are in because of poverty.
FLATOW: So, you're saying if you gave these people a choice, for example, about the seed, the gene seed, we were talking about before, to grow it or not, and it's drought-resistant, they would take that choice.
Dr. PINSTRUP-ANERSEN: I think the choice is that they should have, should be wider than genetically modified seed. The issue is do they wish to solve the particular problem that they are confronted with? And if so, we need to give them a menu of solutions, because frequently there's more than one solution that would solve their problem.
FLATOW: Give me an idea what would be on that menu?
Dr. PINSTRUP-ANERSEN: In the case of, for example, drought, we could have a drought-tolerant variety of a particular crop that would grow on that farmer's field. Or we could help the farmer change his rotation system. We could so that he would produce different crops in different years. We could help the farmers maybe produce several crops in the same field. There are a number of things that one could do. We could also help that farmer escape farming and move into cities. And of course they're doing that in large numbers, probably a little faster than cities can absorb them right now.
There are a number of things that can be done. But the issue here is we start with the problem, and then we help poor people to solve their own problem.
FLATOW: But if they've gone bust from the last drought, where are they going to get the money to afford that next step to get out of poverty?
Dr. PINSTRUP-ANERSEN: That's a very good question and that is why we need safety nets, we need poverty relief programs, both to be paid for by the public sector where there's the government of the particular country or its development assistance from the United States or elsewhere. Because absolutely, many are in what we call a poverty trap. They simply cannot get out of it on their own. So, they need help from the outside. But they do not need somebody to come in and tell them, the only solution to your problem is this, and we're going to say no to everything else.
FLATOW: Hmm. Well, they, people will say we're paying to get you out, you've got to take our solution.
Dr. PINSTRUP-ANERSEN: Yeah there are people who say that, I also remember a time when we had colonial powers and I think we need to get away from both.
FLATOW: Okay, let's go to a question in audience. Yes sir.
STAN (Audience Member): Yes, Sam, from Tulsa. I have a question about export crops. Much of the best farmland is owned by large landowners rather than the poor people, and they raise, for instance, peanuts in West Africa, pineapple, sugar cane in the Philippines, soybeans in Brazil. What sort of role does that play in making poverty worse for the majority of people in the world?
FLATOW: I'm going to have to make you wait for the break because we have to take a short break and we'll come back and let you think about that answer and everybody stay with us. We'll be right back after the short break.
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FLATOW: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow. We're here in St. Louis at the site of the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. We're talking about science and technology, and the role they can play in ending worldwide poverty.
My guests Per Pinstrup-Andersen, professor of food nutrition and public policy at Cornell University. John Mutter, deputy director and associate vice-provost of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, Benjamin Orlove, professor of Environmental Science and Policy at University of California Davis. Our number 1800-989-8255 and when we went to the break, a gentleman was asking a question. We've probably all forgotten it by now so I'll have him ask it again. Yes sir.
STAN: Yes, Stan, from Tulsa. I was asking about the role of export crops. Much of the best farmland in the world being owned by large landowners and being used for crops exported to the United States such as sugar cane and pineapple from the Philippines, soybeans from Brazil, peanuts from West Africa, although that's primarily a European market, I understand. How big of a role does that play in making people poor despite having lots of good farmland?
FLATOW: Per, you want to give it a shot?
Dr. PINSTRUP-ANERSEN: Sure export crops can become, can be a very important income source for small farmers. Now you, you ask the question in terms of large plantation farmers and that's a somewhat different issue, even though they generate employment but that's more questionable but smaller farmers earn a lot of money from export crops.
You mentioned peanuts, those, I can't think of better ways to help poor farmers in Senegal and Gambia and West Africa than to open up our markets in the United States for peanuts from West Africa. Right now, we are keeping those farmers out of our markets in order to protect our peanut producers in the United States. If we could remove the import tariffs, the West African peanut producers can out-compete the American ones. They will make money, and they will escape poverty, and they will send their kids to school. Export crops can be a very important source of income. And keep in mind that hunger is not created by lack of ability to produce food. It is created by lack of ability to get access to food, whether you produce it or you buy it from your neighbor or from the grocery store.
Now what's really important here is whether the earnings from exports will actually go to the people who produce, in this case, the peanuts or whatever it is, the sugar. Because in some cases, the earnings, part of it at least, will go to the state in the form of export taxes and that is not, of course, helping poor people. At least not, not directly so yes export crops can be a very important source of income but it all depends on how it's handled.
FLATOW: Ben Orlove you want to...
Dr. ORLOVE: I would add that I agree very much that the concentration of land ownership can also be a source of poverty and I think it's important to distinguish that from the export itself.
FLATOW: For the last 40 minutes we've been talking about poverty and hunger and it, we've all talked about farming. Is that what the bottom line of poverty in the, around the world is just bad farming problems? Per?
Dr. PINSTRUP-ANERSEN: No, that's not, that's only part of the story. But, but 75 percent, that is three fourth of the poor and hungry people live in rural areas. Half of the world's hungry people are trying to eek out a living from a small piece of land. They are farmers. So, if we want to solve the poverty and hunger problem, we got to do most of our work in rural areas. Now it is true that urban poverty is increasing because the people who are poor in rural areas, in many cases, are trying to escape into urban areas, and they frequently remain poor because the urban areas are not capable of adding employment for the large number of people who come in. So, we need to put most of the focus in rural areas, but yes, we also need to worry about urban poverty.
FLATOW: Let's go to the, go to mic over here. Yes, sir.
Unidentified Male (Audience Member): There is an ancient saying that if there is no flower, there is no Torah, and if there is no Torah, there is no flower. To what extent education of these poor people will help them to elevate from their poverty?
FLATOW: Anybody? I have, let me add to that, because I've seen studies over the years and that have said where poor women are well educated, there's no hunger. Is that right?
Dr. ORLOVE: There are, certainly there's studies to point to that. You have studies that compare different regions within one country. In India, for example, where there's higher rates of female literacy, their women often marry later so they can work and so have children later and that slows down the population growth. There certainly are many areas where access to education allows access to employment and ends poverty, but there are also places where there are high school and university graduates who don't have employment. So, I think there is no single solution.
FLATOW: Yes, Per?
Mr. PINSTRUP-ANDERSON: Yeah, I want to support that. There are no silver bullets in this business. Education is very important, but it is very important as a component of a package of solutions, and that package has to be determined at the local level, and in some cases at the national level, and not in St. Louis, Missouri, because the content of the package would differ widely across countries and over time periods. But education is a very important part of it.
The kinds of evaluations that have been done about the public investment to solve poverty problems, the kinds of evaluations that have been done show very clear, two things that almost always pay off handsomely. One is investment in primary education, and another one is investment in agricultural research. Those two almost always give very high economic rate of returns, and remove a lot of poor people from poverty.
FLATOW: Last week we did a program on glaciers and global warming, and the loss of glaciers around the world, and one of the things that one of the scientists said is that, in fact, with glaciers retreating, the melt water that some of the people had been using as their fresh water supply is also leaving with that, with the retreating glaciers. Is this the kind of effects we're going to be seeing with global warming now?
Dr. ORLOVE: That's certainly one of the effects. But people who, there is an area, in Ecuador, where actually the glacial retreat is completed. This mountain that had been white for centuries is now just a hunk of black rock and so the farmers have to dig irrigation channels long distances to try to get some water to grow their crops. But there are many impacts of global warming. One is, we were talking about disease, that malaria is now being found at higher elevations, areas that used to be too cool, parts of Uganda in particular. It used to be too cool to support the mosquitoes, and now they can move upslope.
FLATOW: Mm-hmm. Okay, John.
Dr. MUTTER: The interesting thing here is that the very same phenomenon in a rich and poor country can have very, very different consequences. Poor countries will depend on that sort of melt water. Here, it might be something of an inconvenience that we're losing snow and glaciers f we can't go skiing anymore. But we're a very strong economy, and we may be buffered against that sort of thing. But global warming and its consequences in poor countries are going to have fatal effects.
FLATOW: Couldn't we actually, Per, have global warming increase yields? More carbon dioxide, more rains, perhaps?
Mr. PINSTRUP-ANDERSON: Yes, absolutely. There is a possibility that yields would increase in certain areas. There would be more CO2 in the air, which is a good thing for plants. In some cases, there may be more water available in otherwise drought-prone areas. I think one of the real critical issues is the increasing fluctuations in the weather patterns. That is doing a lot of harm to poor people, and we've been talking about this in terms of the hurricane and so on. The adaptation to the global warming itself is much easier to deal with than adaptation to the increasing fluctuations, in my opinion.
But yes, you could have areas that would be able to produce more food, maybe my own country, Denmark, since it's so far north, maybe it would be better off. Except if the Gulf Stream disappears, we would all turn into another ice age.
FLATOW: Yeah, you're at the latitude of Alaska up there.
Mr. PINSTRUP-ANDERSON: That's correct.
FLATOW: Yeah. 1-800-989-8255, let's go to Helen in Shaker Heights, Ohio. Hi, Helen.
HELEN (Caller): Hi. Good afternoon.
I recently returned from Honduras, going to a, participating in a medical brigade, where we took care of quite a few people that were impoverished and had problems with obtaining food. My question, and that was mainly because of Hurricane Mitch, back in 1998, the people that we saw were living in vulnerable areas, and they, I'm questioning whether or not to even consider science applied, when 80 percent of what we saw could've been prevented, medically prevented, if there was potable water and an adequate sewage treatment. Shouldn't our resources not only be directed towards education but also in improving the infrastructure of an impoverished country so that people do have adequate water and sewage?
FLATOW: May not take such a high-tech fix. Might take something simpler.
Dr. ORLOVE: Some of the answers are appallingly simple. Everybody understands that you need to have fresh water, but you do need an educated population to make leaders in governments that understand the infrastructure and the water needs. These problems, as Per says, need to be solved locally, and you need well-educated people to think about it carefully and be able to craft solutions. Those solutions aren't always rocket science.
FLATOW: But you need money. I mean, it comes down to money, right?
Dr. ORLOVE: In many instances there isn't enough capital locally. In most of the places that are being discussed here, in sub-Saharan Africa, there is an essential step of external intervention in order to get people on the first rung of the ladder towards development. Once they're there, they can climb the ladder. They just can't get on the first rung. They're in this poverty trap that Per described.
Mr. PINSTRUP-ANDERSON: I completely agree with Helen. I think infrastructure in all of its ways including roads and health clinics and education and clean drinking water. But there's one other thing I want to add which we haven't talked about, and that's reproductive health and family planning. We still have lots and lots of women in developing countries who would like to have smaller families, fewer children, but they do not have access to reproductive health facilities. They do not have access to family planning. It is extremely important that the United States is not supporting those kinds of. They are so very important as part of solving the poverty problem.
FLATOW: I think we answered somebody's question in the audience. Yes, ma'am? Step up to the mike.
NICOLA CLIFF: Hi. I'm Nicola Cliff, from England, right over the sea there, and I just wanted to ask what you thought about the biotech industry, and wonder if you thought that they may be interested in poverty, or they just might see it as a way of making some money?
FLATOW: Per? You've been elected spokesperson.
Mr. PINSTRUP-ANDERSON: Well, I'm quite sure that private corporations are interested in making money, and if they weren't, I wouldn't put my pension funds into such a corporation. So, I sure hope they're interested in making money. Are they also interested in helping poor people out of poverty? Yes, I believe so; some more than others. But if it's going to cost them a lot of profit to do so, they probably can't justify it to towards their stakeholders. And that's why it's so extremely important that we have public sector financing of the kind of research that needs to be done to help poor people out of poverty.
Right now, developing countries are spending about fifty cents of each one hundred dollars of additional agricultural production. In the United States, we spend five dollars of every hundred dollars additional production in agriculture. We spend ten times as much as the developing countries do. Half of what we spend in the United States comes from the private sector; the other half from the public sector. In the developing countries, it's almost all public money. It is a gross underinvestment. It is one of the best places to put public money, whether it's the countries own money or development assistance.
So that, it seems to me, is the solution to the problem. You cannot expect a private corporation such as Monsanto, here in St. Louis, to produce things that they're going to lose money on. They have to be able to cover their research expenses. Otherwise, it just won't work. Now you may not like the capitalistic system, but that's what we've got.
FlATOW: We're talking about poverty this hour on TALK OF THE NATION SCIENCE FRIDAY, from NPR News. Our number 1-800-989-8255. Ma'am, question?
CYNTHIA: Hi, I'm Cynthia from St. Louis, and since you are in St. Louis I thought it would be appropriate to bring up some work that's being done here on a global fashion that has truly made an impact in malnutrition. And you probably are already aware of it. It's Plumpy Nut, that Dr. Mark Manary has done at Washington University. It's a peanut butter, milk powder, sugar consistency that he started in Malawi, and is now advanced it to the point where W.H.O. has approved it and it is being now applied in other countries. And they actually manufacture it locally...
FLATOW: What is it? Is it a candy bar, is it a, what is a Plumpy Nut?
CYNTHIA: No, it's actually a paste-like substance. It's very sweet, does not require refrigeration but has absolutely changed the face of malnutrition in areas like Malawi.
Dr. ORLOVE: Yeah. I certainly think it's very important to have new types of food that can reach people who are faced with extreme malnutrition. But the other face that's changed in Malawi is the face of Malawi itself, a country that at one point had been heavily forest and then within just a couple of generations has had extreme deforestation driven basically by poor people who are lacking alternatives.
They need to cut down the trees to sell the wood or to start a new plot of land, to start a new farm plot, and yet that's what leads to erosion, that's what leads to declining soil fertility. And so I think we need to find ways to bring sustainable food, sustainable agriculture, rather than just shipping them miracles from the U.S.
FLATOW: How much is internal politics involved in a lot of poverty around the world?
Dr. ORLOVE: Well, there's politics at many levels, and Malawi is one of the countries that you can look at and see that it's, that there's national problems, that there's been the transition from colonial power to independence. That meant that you had a very small ruling elite that at times was corrupt and took money and squirreled it away. That's partly a national problem, but there's often local solutions that can be developed, of more village autonomy, and then there's also a kind of a global governance, everyone's looked away while this corruption has continued.
Dr. MUTTER: It's the great excuse that's used by rich countries to blame poor countries for their own problems. If you're running a country and the average G.D.P. pay per capita of your population is less than a dollar a day, you can't govern yourself out of that. You need external help, and then you can get yourself out of it.
FLATOW: Are you optimistic that'll happen?
Dr. MUTTER: I'm more optimistic than I used to be. Most of the African countries have shaken off their post-colonial violent period, and most of them are on a progressive trend. There's less conflict than there used to be, and conflict is a huge burden to development. None of these countries can afford to be using their sparse resources in conflicts with one another.
FLATOW: All right, we're going to end on that, at least optimistic note. I want to thank all of you for taking time to join me. John Mutter, deputy director and associate vice provost of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, and he's also professor of earth and environmental sciences and of international and public affairs at Columbia. Per Pinstrup-Anderson is the Babcock professor of food, nutrition, and public policy at Cornell University, that's in Ithaca, still, I hope?
Mr. PINSTRUP-ANDERSON: It is...
FLATOW: And Benjamin Orlove is an anthropologist and a professor of environmental science and policy at the University of California at Davis. Thank you all for taking time to be with us today.
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