PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 July, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 July, 2009, 12:00am

G8's initiative will not make the desert bloom for Africa's farmers

Once again a panel of paternalistic white leftists in the Group of Eight think that by overthrowing normal market mechanisms, they can 'save' benighted Africans from hunger and misery.

The UN Millennium Project's Hunger Task Force has decided that providing quality seed and farm chemicals to small farmers at little or no cost will suddenly make the desert bloom and put a chicken in every pot. Unfortunately the cure may be worse than the disease.

Small-scale village entrepreneurs who have accumulated medium-sized blocks of land by hard work inevitably suffer when agricultural bureaucracies tinker with the free market. They must compete with subsidised small farmers receiving free inputs. Mid-sized farmers typically go on to be food processors and traders, providing useful value-adding and marketing services at the village level. If wiped out by state intervention in the market, they cannot do so.

African governments must focus on developing vital rural infrastructure to minimise post-harvest losses of food, in excess of 50 per cent. It is pointless focusing on boosting production if the product is allowed to wilt or go mouldy afterwards, or if the surplus production cannot be transported to an outside market for sale. A simple transport infrastructure is needed to move products to market promptly and the private sector induced to develop grain dryers and cold storage facilities at the village level through tax breaks. Basic irrigation infrastructure needs to be developed and paid for by small but transparent water usage charges.

This is a great deal cheaper to fund than the mansions and Bentleys that many African politicians are so fond of purchasing in Europe and likewise cheaper than the bloated payrolls of power-hungry international agencies.

Ultimately, reforming land tenure is the key for small farmers obtaining modern farm inputs. Marxist collective land ownership mechanisms leave relatively asset-rich small farmers without any effective collateral.

With secure private title to their land, they can obtain small loans needed to buy farm inputs and quickly improve their annual net earnings. By studiously avoiding the market distortions caused by selective subsidies, small and medium-scale farmers can elevate themselves by participating in village and district economies.

Free international trade in agricultural commodities, the bogeyman of socialist do-gooders for decades, would allow Africa to become the bread basket of Eurasia, instead of a black hole for aid money.

Simon Appleby, Sai Kung

Tata Nano bad news for India's crowded roads

It is quite disturbing that your editorial singled out the introduction of the Tata Nano in India as an example of 'good capitalism' ('Capitalism - it's a double-edged sword', July 19).

First of all, the suggestion that 'the ultra-low price tag means many commuters in India's busy and crowded cities will be able to switch from motorcycles to safer vehicles', seems to miss the point that the switch to cars will make India's bursting-at-the-seams streets and road infrastructure only more busy and crowded, as the footprint of a car is many times larger than that of a motorcycle.

It is hard to see how that will improve anyone's quality of life.

Most important, however, in an age when the environmental damage of motor vehicles is clear, the prospect of millions of Indians switching to cars run on fossil fuels is hardly a positive development.

This also goes to the recent incentives given by Beijing to encourage car ownership on the mainland.

Rather than emulate the destructive habits of Western car-based societies, India and China would be much better served by focusing on building efficient and affordable mass transit systems and developing transit-oriented cities.

Unfortunately, such undertakings are rarely supported by capitalism.

Oren Tatcher, Sheung Wang

Obama's jobs pledge has hollow ring

US President Barack Obama promised to create more jobs. Where are they?

He pledged to follow the example of his hero, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and find more people work through road-building projects. Millions of Americans need work.

However, these jobs have not materialised.

We voted for Mr Obama because he promised 'change'. Well, there has been some change, but not in a positive way for the majority of Americans: the unemployment rate has gone up.

We see higher levels of violence and yet local authorities are cutting back on the number of police officers and fire fighters. Americans are still hurting.

Peter Stern, Driftwood, Texas, US

Website on ordinance review seriously flawed

When it was announced that the submissions from the first round of consultations on the Control of Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance review had been published, I visited the ordinance website.

I found that e-mail submissions had been printed on paper then scanned as images and packed into a series of 200-page PDF files. I e-mailed the website, detailing some of the problems that type of publication causes: in short, the documents are inaccessible to blind people and cannot be automatically indexed or searched. In its response, the ordinance website 'webmaster' stood by its actions, but failed to explain why it chose to convert documents from a form where blind people could access them into a form where they cannot.

It displayed a worrying lack of understanding of IT, for example, incorrectly stating: 'The paper stage is necessary to allow us to remove the personal particulars.'

The webmaster was apparently unaware that using the tools it had available, it could have produced a better-quality result with less effort.

An important objective of the ordinance review is to update the law to address the internet and information technology.

How can our lawmakers pass reasonable and enforceable laws when the reports they receive have been summarised and filtered by officials who do not know the technology they are fumbling with?

Allan Dyer, Wong Chuk Hang

No law can protect a resident's good view

I refer to the report ('High-rise will block air flow, Jardine's Lookout residents say', July 19).

It has always been the way in Hong Kong that the prime view from the flat you purchase will vanish when a new building is erected in front of it.

In fact, it has been the strategy of developers to sequence a development, to sell flats with a view that always disappears later.

While I do sympathise with the affected residents of Dragon Garden at Chun Fai Terrace, I am sure that whatever the developer is building at Villa Splendor will be totally legal and in accordance with the relevant building codes.

Since there is no code that protects the view from your flat, protesting residents can only try to build a case on air circulation as a health issue.

Until there is legislation that requires a developer to undertake a written environmental assessment, prospective property owners must be more cautious and do their own assessment.

They should decline to buy a property if they are concerned about something like the view. But if they buy, they must accept the consequences of their actions.

Developers should be careful about claiming good views when promoting new properties, to ensure they do not face legal action in future.

John Yuan, Beijing