Detail Article

Searching For Hunger or Famine Solutions

26 February 2013



Agus Pakpahan

Institutional and Natural Resource Economist

                "Ideas are everywhere and knowledge is rare", wrote Thomas Sowell in his book Knowledge and Decisions (1980). It is true because knowledge is not that is one says but it is what is one understood and conducted.  It means it is both containing cognitive and practical aspects at the same time.

                Here I will take the case of China that has been so successful in attacking hunger.  The world societies acknowledge that China was significantly suffering from famine for many years that causing millions of death tolls such as shown by Frank Dikotter in his book Mao's Great Famine (2010). Fortunately, China in 2012 was in the second rank of Country Global Hunger Index (CGHI) provided by International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). China CGHI value in 2012 was 5.1. It means that China hunger position just in the border between low and moderate class of hunger, namely 5.0.

                Let us see aCGHI of Malaysia in 2012, i.e., 5.2, which was a slightly higher than that of China's.Why Malaysia's hunger status was worse than that of China even though Malaysia income per capita was US$ 8373, almost twofold of China's income per capita in 2010? How come China can solve her country's hunger problem better than Malaysia even though China population is almost 50 fold of Malaysia's or almost six fold of Indonesia's population?

                Surprisingly, Indonesia hunger position was worse than that of Lesotho, Mongolia, Congo Republic or Vietnam. What was per capita income of Lesotho, Mongolia, Congo Republic and Vietnam in 2010? It was US$ 1004, US$ 2250, US$ 2970, and US$ 1224, respectively.Indonesia's income per capita at that same period was US 2952, higher than that of Lesotho, Mongolia and Vietnam. I think most of us unaware with that of Indonesia facing serious hunger and income per capita is not a major explanatory variable in abolishing hunger.A CGHI of Indonesia in 2012 was 12.0, means Indonesia was under a serious class of countries hunger status.

                IFPRI uses there basic indicators to reflect the multidimensional nature of hunger and developed an equal weight on those three basic indicators in CGHI composite index.  Those three basic indicators are undernourishment, child underweight, and finally child mortality (IFPRI, 2012).

                Amartya Sen developed a theory of famines that was related with entitlements. His thought can be read in his book "Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlements and Deprivation" (1982). A Household Responsibility System (HRS) is a form of entitlement reforms in China that has provided right to use the lands to farmers when at the former period the farm landswere managed under the commune system.

                Even though HRS system has been significantly contributing to food production in China, by using the available World Bank data, its sustainability should be carefully examined because the share of farmer's income which is approximated by the ratio of agricultural value added per worker and national income per capita of China is significantly low, i.e. 0.12, compared to the same ratio for the USA's 1.10, meaning that the gap between farmers' and other occupational groups income in China is significantly wide.

                China's capacity in producing knowledge has been extremely high.  Scientific journal is one of the most important indicator that shows how strength a country in knowledge generation and utilization.  In 2011, according to Scimago Journal & Country Rank (2012) China produced 2.2 million documents of all categories of subject of sciences that made China in a second rank of all countries in the world.  The first rank was the USA with scientific journal production about 6.1 million documents.

                How strong China in agricultural and biological sciences such as in biotechnology, genetics or molecular biology compare to us? Indonesia has 47, 21, 21 documents of journal in the areas of biotechnology, genetics, and molecular biology in 2011, respectively.  In China, in 2011, there were 4356 documents in biotechnology, 2841 documents in genetics, and 3809 documents in molecular biology. It probably means that the scientific power of China in biotechnology, genetics and molecular biology are 93, 135, and 181 fold of Indonesia, respectively. 

                So, we can learn that China has been reaching the status of countries with a second rank of scientific power in the world even income per capita is still low. The implication of that China position is very far. One of the most important things is that the average IQ level of China was above 100. On the other hand, the average IQ level of Indonesia was about 89 (Lynn and Vanhanen, 2002).

                Learning from China's experience in solving hunger will be very important for us.  The first lesson is income per capita that shows has not played as the only determinant factor. Furthermore, cases of Lesotho, Mongolia and Vietnam show us that their hunger status was better than us even though their income per capita was lower than that of ours. Comparing the case of China and Malaysia generates the same conclusion. The best lesson from China for us is that China's scientific power can be viewed as one of the most important explanatory variables that significantly explain of how the success story of China in solving one of the most disgraceful life such as hunger or famine and other socio economic progress.