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Maya Brahmam's blog

#8 from 2016: Globalization of Food Has a Long History

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Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2016. This post was originally published on June 17, 2016.  

Our Green Competitiveness Launchpad team is looking at agriculture supply chains in Bangladesh and how they’re affected by climate change – as farmers change the crops they plant owing to drought or flooding. As a result, we’ve been exploring the supply chains of a number of crops from guavas to sunflower and mung beans.

There’s a fascinating infographic from CIAT (International Center for Tropical Agriculture) that illustrates the geographical diversity of the common foods we eat every day. It shows that the globalization of food began centuries ago. Many cultures incorporate foods that originated thousands of miles away. For example, sunflower originated in North America and is now widely produced in Eastern Europe, and guava originated in Central America and is now mainly produced in South Asia.

Blog post of the month: A sidekick for development

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Each month People, Spaces, Deliberation shares the blog post that generated the most interest and discussion.
For October 2016, the featured blog post is "A Sidekick for Development" by Maya Brahmam.

October 17 was End Poverty Day – and we at the World Bank in Washington had a small celebration and a lively discussion around the new Poverty report: Poverty and Shared Prosperity 2016: Taking on Inequality. Topics ranged from 2 billion people living in countries affected by conflict to the work on social inclusion – which included a two-part definition of social inclusion: “The process of improving the terms for individuals and groups to take part in society” and “The process of improving the ability, opportunity, and dignity of people, disadvantaged on the basis of their identity, to take part in society.”

A Sidekick for Development

Maya Brahmam's picture

October 17 was End Poverty Day – and we at the World Bank in Washington had a small celebration and a lively discussion around the new Poverty report: Poverty and Shared Prosperity 2016: Taking on Inequality. Topics ranged from 2 billion people living in countries affected by conflict to the work on social inclusion – which included a two-part definition of social inclusion: “The process of improving the terms for individuals and groups to take part in society” and “The process of improving the ability, opportunity, and dignity of people, disadvantaged on the basis of their identity, to take part in society.”
 
Then I happened to notice a tweet from Owen Barder on the Sidekick Manifesto (with a cool pop art look) with the apt tagline: In the story of poverty’s end, we can only be sidekicks. I particularly liked the statement: “The poor are not powerless or waiting to be saved.”
 
It seemed to be a good reminder that economic development is a complex and costly process, which requires political buy-in from a broad range of actors, including the local community. Progress is built over time, and there are no quick wins. In the larger scheme of things, the poor are the main actors, we’re just the sidekicks for development.

Lessons from our Fathers

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My father holds a special place in my heart – and with Fathers Day this past Sunday, I want to give a shout out to my dad (now long gone) and share a story about him.

One summer afternoon when I was about nine years old, I was in the kitchen of our house in an un-named tropical country. I heard a rap at the back door. I peeked out – a man I didn’t recognize stood there. He thrust a small white envelope he’d been holding into my hands and rushed off.

I turned the envelope in my hands curiously – it was creased – as if it had been folded in a pocket- and it was sealed, and my dad’s name was written on it in blue ink. When my dad got home, I gave him the envelope and explained how it had arrived.

He took it from me and went to his room and changed, and a little while later he came back with the open envelope in his hand. We sat together on the porch, as we sometimes did. Dad looked both thoughtful and angry. After a moment, he said, “I want to share something with you; it’s upsetting but important, and I think you’re old enough to be told.”

Globalization of Food Has a Long History

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Our Green Competitiveness Launchpad team is looking at agriculture supply chains in Bangladesh and how they’re affected by climate change – as farmers change the crops they plant owing to drought or flooding. As a result, we’ve been exploring the supply chains of a number of crops from guavas to sunflower and mung beans.

There’s a fascinating infographic from CIAT (International Center for Tropical Agriculture) that illustrates the geographical diversity of the common foods we eat every day. It shows that the globalization of food began centuries ago. Many cultures incorporate foods that originated thousands of miles away. For example, sunflower originated in North America and is now widely produced in Eastern Europe, and guava originated in Central America and is now mainly produced in South Asia.

No Money, No Worry

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Rafu, the chief of the fishing villageThe World Bank recently completed two surveys that confirm that large global banks are restricting or terminating relationships with other financial institutions and that banking services for money-transfer operators have become increasingly limited.

The risk is that a decline in correspondent banking services can lead to financial exclusion, particularly for remittance providers – poor people working in richer countries who send money home to their families in poorer countries. To a large extent, these restrictions have come about because of worries about money laundering or financing for terrorism and less appetite for risk.

However, there are alternatives. Mobile money is a fast-growing alternative to traditional banks. CBS’s Lesley Stahl recently reported on how MPesa has transformed financial inclusion in Kenya, where people- many of them poor- do most of their financial transactions via cellphone and outside of traditional banking systems.  She also pointed out that tech giants like Google, Facebook, PayPal and Apple are all exploring this new consumer market, where sending money can be as simple as sending a text message. Also, according to the Financial Times, mobile money is making serious inroads in Latin America, where 37 mobile money services are now operational across 19 countries. Unlike the experience of Africa, Latin Americans are using mobile money to support urban middle-class lifestyles.

Things I Learned from WikiStage WBG Lima

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The first WikiStage WBG was held in Lima on October 6 on the topic of social inclusion. You can view the entire show at World Bank Live.  

WikiStage Lima crewWhat’s a WikiStage?
This was a special event organized by the World Bank and produced under license from WikiStage. It featured an inspirational sequence of talks, performance, and films in a 3-minute, 6-minute or 9 minute format. The WikiStage Association in Paris is a non-profit organization that supports a global network of volunteers and event organizers. WikiStage is independent from Wikipedia or other “Wiki” projects and is a young knowledge sharing collaborative that began in 2013 and today represents a network of more than 50 event organizers in 10 countries.

Our goal was to create an interesting and tightly choreographed program that explored social inclusion through the perspectives of people from a variety of different backgrounds and disciplines. It was presented in English and Spanish to a live audience of 500 and livestreamed to a global online audience.

Here are three things I learned from organizing the WikiStage WBG Lima.

World Cup and making history for women

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Women's World Cup Championship 2015Today is the anniversary of the first World Cup, which was held in 1930 in Uruguay. Last Friday, almost 85 years later, the US Women’s Soccer Team was feted for their victory in a New York City ticker tape parade. A moment quite sweet to contemplate – I was surprised at how many people I saw tuning in and watching the final game.

The economic reality of women’s professional sports is not so sweet. According to PBS, the US Women’s soccer team got $2 million for World Cup win; German men got $35 million in 2014. That New York City ticker tape parade cost almost as much as the US Women’s winnings.

In an interview with the Guardian, Jerome Valcke, Fifa’s secretary general, has argued the men’s World Cup prize money pool is so much larger because the men’s tournament generates more revenue. The men’s World Cup “brings in $4.5bn direct to Fifa,” he said...But women’s soccer is newer, which means the women could be waiting a long time to earn a payout like the German men did last year.
 

New thinking on digital storytelling

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I have been reading with interest some of the questions posed on storytelling inside the World Bank. The recent blog post by Bruce Wydick is a case in point. Reactions ranged from positive to some uneasiness around the idea that we’re using stories to share results, when we’re generally more comfortable with a “Just the facts” approach. One concern seems to be that we might surrender our decision-making to the emotion of a good story versus hard evidence.

In fact, doesn’t the word fabulist mean someone who stretches the truth a bit, by telling stories? I was therefore not so surprised to find storytelling used as an explanation for NBC news anchor Brian Williams’ recent troubles. A Washington Post article about Williams noted, “Former colleagues reveal a man who took such delight in spinning yarns that he could sometimes lose sight of where the truth began and where it ended.”

We have examined brain science and other areas to figure out why stories are so compelling, and I’ve blogged about this in this space before. Storytelling is compelling because it’s memorable, shareable (nice feature in this digital world), and relatable (people respond and retain for longer material with an emotional content).

Aid Is Politics: We Need to Act

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Stefan Dercon, Chief Economist, of UK’s DFID gave a thought-provoking talk about Aid Is Politics last week, and he made the point that much of what passes as political economy analysis is pessimistic or refuses to make policy suggestions. However, people who work in development do not have that luxury. They are in a country to act, to make a contribution.

Dercon quoted Esther Duflo, “We can do lots of bad policies in good institutional settings, and lots of good policies in bad institutional settings.” He continued, “Development policy as well as aid is still about doing the ‘right things’ and not the ‘wrong things’.” What we need to admit is that the process is political. Development actions are constrained by politics today and will affect politics tomorrow.

By acting, we’re taking a stand. Therefore, we better get some of the things right. And to do that properly, we must take into account the power structures and politics that are endogenous to a particular place. We should think through economic advice based on what tomorrow will bring. This won’t be easy, but we can push for this, and by so doing, gain a better political equilibrium in the countries we advise.

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