Manzanar and Mangroves

Warning: This post has nothing to do with linguistics.

I was scanning for news when I came across this:

HIRGIGO, Eritrea (AFP) — Kneeling by the sparkling waters of the Red Sea, Ahmed Shengabay presses sand carefully over a mangrove seed.

“When this grows, it will provide protection for fish and food for my goats,” Ahmed said smiling, waving at a long and thick line of tall trees already reaching high into the sky.

“We’ve planted all this already,” the fisherman cum farmer added proudly, the mangroves lining the shore beside his small desert village of Hirgigo.

“The little fish like the mangroves, the big fish like the little fish — and we like the big fish.”

The seed-planting is part of a remarkable yet low-tech pilot project, designed as a model to improve the lives of desert coastal communities by using the salt-water trees to increase fish numbers, provide feed to raise livestock – and combat desertification.

A very interesting article. Now, after you have read it maybe you would want to check out their website, they have some equally interesting videos to watch.

I have to admit I’m a sucker for these various cute, small, environmentally friendly, economically sustainable, development schemes and technologies made for the developing world; I even bought an XO laptop when it was made available to the western public.

Ever since I was a kid I have always loved these alternative ideas, they made me think of the world in a new and novel way; even as a child I used to have fun by making a Solar still out of my mothers large kitchen pots.

However, nowadays I’m a bit more realistic to whether these ideas can really transform a developing nation. Solar cookers are nice, but people will always need stoves; Stirling engines are fascinating, but they will never replace the combustible engine; fog nets; roof cisterns; wind farms (1, 2, 3); improved mogogoes; etc… are wonderful, but will they make a large impact on the country’s economy or development. I hope so, but I am doubtful.

I do believe that they are useful and that they do a good job at improving peoples lives; so, I think the key is not to ignore these innovative projects or ideas, but to prepare yourself to their limited power. The Manzanar project (once fully expanded to include Eritrea’s entire coast) can provide great changes to the ecosystem and economic development of the country’s coastal area, but it will not push Eritrea into the 21st century in line with the western world.

The development of Eritrea will only come from a continued influx of foreign wealth, in other words, we need them to give us money. How we are going to do this? Beats me. But this is how it works with all those developed countries.*

Most countries produce something and sell it to other countries for money, then they take that money and import anything that they can’t produce. The Saudis have their oil exports; Ethiopia has their coffee/khat; and the Chinese export everything else.

However, if your country really doesn’t produce anything, you can’t really export much; but you can get money by way of tourism like Cuba, Jamaica, or Egypt. If your country is not a tourist hot spot then you have no other choice but to create a highly skilled and educated populous who can work in internationally valuable, skilled jobs like the IT sector (this seems to be India’s strategy).

Being a nation of farmers, that last idea seems to be the least likely outcome for Eritrea. We need to bring our country into the 20th century by first industrializing and/or improving our agriculture industry before we jump into the 21st century with IT. Or maybe not. Ideally, a country should be diverse in its economy and do a bit of everything. However, the bottom line is the same in all countries, high GDP = an influx of wealth (money/goods) = better lives.

According to the CIA world factbook; Eritrea has roughly 80% of its labour in agriculture, while agriculture makes up only 21% of our total meager GDP. We also import $565.9 million of goods and export only $16.82 million. As a country we are clearly not producing at a sustainable level, let alone enough to provide the type of growth required to lift us out of our poverty.

How do we do this? I’m not too sure, I’m not an economist. It seems like we need to focus our labour out of the agriculture sector where most Eritreans currently work.

Now, I might be just a ‘Beles‘ but I am aware of the fact that Eritreans take land ownership very seriously. Land is equal to wealth for anybody who lives in rural areas. But when everybody lives in the rural areas (like 80% of Eritreans) they will all ultimately end up being farmers, who will inefficiently work on their small plot of land, using outdated and unproductive animal labour. This is a waste of our human capital.

I’m not going to propose some sort of crazy land redistribution to a small productive class of farmers (although it really did work for Zimbabwe’s economy), so what Eritrea needs is heavy urbanization. An urban population is easier to educate, feed, house, transport, and satisfy; they also tend to produce more (in terms of GDP).

Now, we can build as many roads, bridges, railways, dams, or other various infrastructure as we want in our country; but we need to also produce goods and services for foreign markets. I know Eritrea has a lot of conflicting problems when dealings with it’s economic stability due to politics and international aggression, but I really do think that the country could be doing better.

Anyway here is Eleni Gabre-Madhin, a real economist (unlike me) who has done real work in African market economies (again unlike me), talking about Ethiopia and building a commodities market. It’s pretty interesting. I really have not much else to say so I will end this post with directions for making my childhood Solar still:

  • take a large pot
  • put salt water inside (maybe even with grass, dirt, or whatever…)
  • then place a smaller cup in the center of the pot (make sure it is clean)
  • cover the pot with clear plastic wrap
  • secure plastic wrap to the top of the pot with tape (or a rubber band)
  • place a small stone on top of the plastic wrap directly above the small cup (inside the pot)
  • leave out in sun for five hours
  • and when you return, there should be clear, drinking water inside of the small cup.
  • drink water and enjoy.

*Side note: I want to make a note that I am not an economist or, in any way, qualified to evaluate a nation’s economy or economic model.

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April 18, 2008  Tags: , , , ,   Posted in: Eritrea

One Response

  1. what are solar cookers used for - May 27, 2008

    […] waters of the Red Sea, Ahmed Shengabay presses sand carefully over a mangrove seed. ???When th GREEN San Diego Union-TribuneVeerabhadran Ramanathan tours the globe to conduct experiments […]