Monday, October 5, 2009

Donor Funding: Pseudo Worries About Pseudo Aid?

The parabolic solar cooker, made from an umbrella lined with tinfoil, works well when it comes to heating up water. I'll try cooking with it when I have found a suitable pot with handles and painted it black. Meantime, I wish to demonstrate the 'Cookits' that I bought from Solar Cookers International to an audience that could turn out to be as many as 20 people, far from ideal. I'd prefer very small groups of people but I've agreed to it.

As I am trying to win people over to solar cooking, I'm concentrating on things that people here like to eat. Thankfully, that's quite a small range of fairly basic foods. Tomorrow I hope to cook githeri, a mixture of beans and maize. It will take some time to cook so I'm hoping for 4 or 5 hours of uninterrupted sunshine. I'll have to cook something else that doesn't take so long or my credibility could be open to question.

Actually, the credibility of some Westerner lecturing people in a developing country about renewable energy and sustainable cooking techniques is pretty questionable as it is. Someone recently claimed in an email to me that people in the US have shown great interest in his solar cooker. It's a pity they couldn't show a bit more interest in reducing energy and resource consumption on a national level. And if every American family purchases one of those particular solar cookers, the amount of plastic needed to manufacture them will be phenomenal.

When people ask me if we all use solar cookers in Ireland, I tell them there is not enough sun. This is true, but does everyone there use wind, wave or tidal power? I don't think so. Come to think of it, one of the more dubious gems of wisdom sent from rich countries to poor countries recently is biofuels. In addition to using up scarce land, water and other resources, people here are very unlikely to make much money from such activities. They need food, not biofuels and they need to grow food for themselves, not accept handouts in return for biofuels. Enough land in developing countries has already been destroyed in order to produce cheap raw materials for rich countries.

Questions are now being raised about jatropha production, a biofuel crop that is said to grow in marginal land. Well, they say that about all biofuel crop production. Unsurprisingly, people at the Nairobi Trade Fair last week were promoting jatropha even for farmers with as little as one acre to spare for cash crops. Perhaps just about anything being hawked as good for small farmers by rich countries should be viewed with great suspicion. We in developed countries don't have a great reputation for telling the truth.

Questions are also constantly being raised about the effectiveness of aid, especially now that so many wealthy countries are feeling the pinch from the current financial crisis. Personally, I'm not against all aid or all aid agencies. However, much of the money that is called foreign aid is spent on furthering the economic, strategic and political interests of wealthy countries and corporations. The most important questions should be about how much 'aid' money even leaves the donor country and what (and whom) the money that does leave is being spent on. The idea that developed countries bestow lots of goodies on developing countries and get nothing in return is pure bullshit, but sadly not the biodigestible kind.


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