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Sharing information for economic development Sharing information for economic development
by Joseph Gatt
2021-02-22 08:59:21
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It's a big mistake to think that just because people in developing countries have access to information online, that they have access to information on economic development.

I've taken a look at the African and Asian and Latin American versions of the World Wide Web. Lots of local entertainment. Lots of kids and teenagers and adults singing covers of folk and popular songs. Lots of embarrassing videos of events that took place at the local level. And a few pundits who throw insults at local leaders and dig up dirt about local leaders (that they get from dubious sources).

financ01_400More importantly, information on technology, farming, industry, crafts or economic activities tends not to be available online in their native language. I did see a glimmer of hope where some activists made excellent silent videos, all visual, about how to grow gardens, how to grow plants, how to craft furniture, how to recycle, how to make handicrafts out of recycled products and so on.

Other important fact. The World Wide Web should enable populations in developing countries to connect with each other, both at the friendship level and at the business level. Unfortunately, harassment and scams and weird people are so common that social media users in developing countries tend to resort to aliases, tend to set privacy settings to a maximum, and tend to avoid interacting with anyone other than close friends on social media.

So what kind of information do people in developing countries need?

For those who own farming land, they need information on farming techniques that improve their farming yield, and information on potential clients to purchase their produce. Unfortunately, in most developing countries, small farmers’ control everything from sowing to harvests to taking the harvest to the local market and trying to sell it. Farmers are not put in touch with industrialists for example, who could use their harvests and offer a better price than if farmers sell their harvests at the local market.

For those who don't own farming land, or those too lazy to farm, training in the crafts should be considered an option, and the incentive should be making money by selling the crafts. In many developing economies, there are severe shortages of crafts, be they furniture, clothing items, hygiene items, cleaning products, kitchen utensils, insect repellant and the like.

So rather than feeding the man for a day by donating clothing items and hygiene items and industrial items in developing countries, you may want to teach the men and women how to fish. By “how to fish” I mean how to knit, how to become a carpenter and build furniture, how to make hygiene products at a small scale, building micro soap or shampoo or liquid dish soap factories (that is a factory with only one or two individuals doing all the work). And building communities of craftsmen who manufacture products at a small scale, with the village as their main clients.

The only problem in economics is what I like to call the “information availability” problem. That is, if people in a village have never seen a bar of soap, they won't bother asking for one. Nor will they need one. Nor will they even imagine one. But if you start making bars of soap, soon enough, some village youngster is going to find ways to import bars of soap of much higher quality, putting the small soap manufacturers out of business. People will purchase the higher quality soap because they tested the lower quality soap, and would not have bought the higher quality soap if the lower quality soap was not available.

Other kind of information people in developing countries need: information about urban development and rural development. That is, information on how to fix houses, rebuild houses, build roads that connect houses and businesses, make more rational use of local water sources, install electricity, install antennae to catch television, radio and Internet waves and so on. This is the more sophisticated kind of knowledge that needs to be available in accessible terms.

Then again, you have the same old “information availability” problem. When villagers have access to the radio and television, they find out that moving to big cities is an option, and they move to bigger cities.

Other type of information that needs to be made available: education materials and information on education. General reading, math, science and history knowledge tends to come in handy for social harmony purposes, for economic development purposes, and for administrative purposes.

In sum, development aid today usually works like this. You pay leaders a big “development aid” bribe in the name of distributing development aid. And then you send people over to distribute development aid in the form of “emergency aid” as in emergency medical aid, emergency food aid, emergency clothing and shelter aid.

But how long is this state of emergency going to last? A century or two, maybe? So a new form of development aid should involve training villagers that own land in agriculture (which is often done). But villagers should also get training in the crafts (everything from kitchen utensils to clothing to cleaning products to everything else). And villagers should have access to village development knowledge and education.

The end goal is to eliminate poverty. Because poverty means being hungry, but it also means famines that lead to wars and massive population displacements. Or famines and mass death rates and no one the bury the dead, and that lead to epidemics and can become global pandemics.

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