02 August 2009

Mud-Wrestling with the IMF

John Maxwell

I once calculated that given the track records of the IMF and the World Bank, their combined programmes aimed at eradicating world poverty would require at least another thousand years of effort to work. At that, my calculations could not assure me that the two heavyweights of international Finance would succeed in eradicating poverty before they managed to eradicate the poor.
Jamaicans and other poor people round the world are well aware that so-called Structural Adjustment Programmes were really designed to radically reduce our capacity to develop ourselves while allegedly making us more attractive to rich benefactors – in the same way that Indian beggars mutilate themselves in order to attract more pity and theoretically, more alms.
Special Employment Programmes – intended to provide jobs mainly for women while improving public amenity – were verboten and state ownership of productive enterprises were similarly beyond the pale since they risked making the state more able to fend for itself and make the lives of its citizens more bearable.
Besides which, as superstition has it, private enterprise is always superior to public. This nonsense was disproved in the fifties when Norman Manley bought out and operated the Bronstorph Ice factory which, without subsidy or any state assistance, almost caused the bankruptcy of the Kingston Ice Factory, then owned by Jamaica's leading family of 'industrialists'. He also started Zero Processing and Storage, now making millions for private enterprise under another name. The fantasy was again disproved in the seventies by the state-owned National Commercial Bank which quickly became Jamaica's largest and most profitable bank, although most government accounts remained where they had always been, with the Bank of Nova Scotia.
It was proved again by the State Trading Corporation which was able to reduce the consumer price of 'bully beef' by nearly 50% in its first month of operation and by the Agricultural Marketing Corporation which while raising the income of its farmer-suppliers, reduced the cost of food to the consumer, again without subsidy.
These facts are irrelevant to the Creationist capitalists and their allies in the IMF/World Bank.
It was N.W. Manley who began the Jamaican programme of 'industrialisation by invitation' and, as Bob Lightbourne's PR man, I wrote a great deal of the publicity designed to attract foreign direct investment. It took us fifty years to discover that unless you were blessed with mineral wealth or your government was expert at keeping its population docile as in Singapore or Indonesia, you could send out investment invitations t to every millionaire on the planet and still find that the only jobs from foreign investment were in sweatshops and other approximations of slavery.
In 1919, according to the Jamaica Agricultural Society's Journal, the Jamaica Government Railway (JGR) brought into Kingston 50 tons of butter from producers in the countryside. Today, most of our butter comes from New Zealand, 14,000 miles away. Our ice cream comes from Paris and Vancouver and Florida and the Dominican Republic while a perfectly good milk processing plant at Montpelier was destroyed by Mr Seaga's government. Our agricultural experimental stations – where Dr Lecky developed three breeds of world class cattle and where Department of Agriculture scientists developed varieties of citrus new to the world – were similarly burnt offerings to the IMF and its sponsors.
While we are building superhighways to enchant the day-tripping tourist, our farmers – those that survive – must depend on some of the worst roads in the world and commuters in the capital city take one hour to drive one mile from King's House Gate to Barbican Square.

Been there, Done that

Shortly after the Second World War the Jamaican government had a small problem. Jamaica's small farmers had a surplus of 5,000 tons of corn and didn't know what to do with it. I believe it was exported to the US. During the war, a functionary whose official title was "The Competent Authority" and next to God and the Governor in the official hierarchy, had decreed that all landowners should devote 10% of their land to local food crops.
The Jamaica Agricultural Society and its Four-H Clubs promoted self sufficiency through school gardens, backyard gardens and small stock husbandry. The result:
Except for saltfish and flour, Jamaica, in the midst of wartime shortages of everything, could feed itself. And, what's more, we produced surpluses of almost everything. The scientists at the Department of Agriculture invented a way to mass produce sweet potato slips.
Fifty-three years ago, in Public Opinion Weekly, I suggested that with air freight rates coming down, we should start ripening our fruit in Jamaica and exporting it directly to markets abroad. Guess what ? The Israelis, the South Africans and now the Turks, the Panamanians and Costa Ricans, the Moroccans and the Californians are sending their fruit all over the world by planes landing within a few miles of their markets, fresh, ripe and flavourful – but not as flavourful as the Jamaican varieties.
In California and Mexico, an item known as 'Jamaica flower' or 'Jamaica hibiscus', is a valuable item of trade for the making of fresh drinks and desserts. Jamaica flower is what we call 'sorrel' – Rosella sabdariffa. Sorrel Tea is also widely used for its reputed medicinal benefits – to lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, diuretic, kindney, liver problems and to strengthen the immune system.
In the Netherlands, where I have been for the last few months, what Jamaicans call coco and dasheen – tannia, taro, eddo or whatever, are valued foods because they are 'hypoallergenic' – i.e., people who can't eat wheat flour or potatoes can eat coco and its relatives. It is an almost perfect baby-food.
In Costa Rica and Surinam cocos are an important article of export trade. In Jamaica a few years ago I was told it was 'hog food.'
In my personal Pharmacoepia, sorrel, coco, mangoes and sweet potato are among several specifics against evil spirits and malignant afflictions such as the White Death, aka the IMF. Combined with hard work and a little imagination these products can be used to drive away all kinds of systemic weaknesses and the urge to bow down before bankers and usurers. They help strengthen the spine and reinforce the urge to be self-sufficient.
Many modern Jamaican ginnigogs are the product of families that have been driven from the countryside , forced through mostly urban secondary schools designed to unlearn them of any useful skills, into high cachet professions, Masters of Business Administration, banking and moneychanging and Ponzi scheming. Their land has become a portfolio asset, useful to borrow money for speculation and foreign exchange trading. Most of our land – like the people who could produce food and wealth from it – lies idle while thousands starve and moulder away in bloody slums, fighting for what one talk-show host salivatingly describes as 'scarce benefits and spoils.'
Years ago Norman Manley was on his way to revolutionising small farming and the culture of the Jamaican countryside. He invested in small farmers, enacting the Facilities for titles Law which gave farmers secure tenure and allowed them to borrow money loaned by the Agricultural Development Bank to buy farming implements and machinery, fertiliser and build sheds to house their pigs, goats and chickens.
The effort climaxed about a year and a half after Manley lost the Premiership. In 1964/65 Jamaican agriculture as a whole reached a peak not attained before or since. Even sugar was at an all time high.
In 1962, the year Manley was sent back into Opposition, there were about 1.7 million people in Jamaica. Today there are about one million more – an increase of 62.5%
In all of 1962 there were about 60 or 70 murders in all of Jamaica. An increase of 62.5% would mean about 113 murders a year. Today we kill that many in about three weeks in the hunt for 'scarce benefits and spoils.'
Copyright © 2009 John Maxwell

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