A New Sail Plan


Photograph by Sam Kapoi

I found this metaphor of human kind creating a new sail plan, carving a new path forward for itself, to be both aptly beautiful and inspiring. This tale of navigation is a warm reminder of what’s possible through human connection and affirms the motto: passion plus perseverance prevails.

Speaking to National Geographic, Adventurer of the Year nominee Nainoa Thompson of the Hōkūle‘a’s crew shared how his experience sailing the globe has informed his thinking on living sustainably:

“Our strategy is to constantly make connections—to good ideas, to other sail plans—whether it’s in alternative energy, education, protection of the oceans. What we found was that past all the gloomy data there is a human movement. We run into thousands and thousands of people around the world doing extraordinary things that we’re learning from all the time. We’re finding a brand-new culture. It’s not limited by racism. It’s not divided by geography or nationalism. It’s a culture of the Earth. A new, emerging culture that’s based on the values of kindness and caring. That’s where the hope is. In the end all we’re trying to do is be a part of that movement and help that movement be successful.”


A Few Recommended Readings:

1. Electrifying India, With the Sun and Small Loans – Micro-lending and pay-as-you-go plans create a pathway for those without electricity in rural India the opportunity to gain access to a clean, renewable energy source.

“The idea behind Selco, and other companies like it, is to create a business model that will help some of the 1.2 billion people in the world who don’t have electricity to leapfrog the coal-dependent grid straight to renewable energy sources.”

2. Where Is All the World’s Money Going? – A new Oxfam International study provides further evidence that wealth inequality continues to grow globally.

“To build an economy that distributes its wealth more evenly, the researchers suggest creating a stronger system of taxation that prevents trillions of dollars from being pulled out of circulation via offshore accounts and allows companies to reduce their tax liabilities via loopholes. The report also suggests that politics needs to change, diminishing the power that companies exercise through tools like lobbying and patents, which can decrease competition and raise prices.”

Also, while we’re on the subject, you can learn more about what caused the rise of wealth inequality and policy solutions via economists  Joseph Stiglitz and Thomas Piketty (see TED Talk below).

3. The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare – Among the most terrifying pieces of journalism I’ve encountered in recent memory, focusing on the dangerous results of unregulated substances and improper, unethical chemical waste management.

The story began in 1951, when DuPont started purchasing PFOA (which the company refers to as C8) from 3M for use in the manufacturing of Teflon. 3M invented PFOA just four years earlier; it was used to keep coatings like Teflon from clumping during production. Though PFOA was not classified by the government as a hazardous substance, 3M sent DuPont recommendations on how to dispose of it. It was to be incinerated or sent to chemical-waste facilities. DuPont’s own instructions specified that it was not to be flushed into surface water or sewers. But over the decades that followed, DuPont pumped hundreds of thousands of pounds of PFOA powder through the outfall pipes of the Parkersburg facility into the Ohio River. The company dumped 7,100 tons of PFOA-laced sludge into ‘‘digestion ponds’’: open, unlined pits on the Washington Works property, from which the chemical could seep straight into the ground. PFOA entered the local water table, which supplied drinking water to the communities of Parkersburg, Vienna, Little Hocking and Lubeck — more than 100,000 people in all.”

Ring the Alarm

On our jaunt home from Bali early last month, Oliver and I remarked on the unusually smoggy weather on display during a layover in Kuala Lumpur; from the terminal shuttle window, a thick fog muddled the view of everything in sight—palm trees blurry and whatever was in the distance was left to our imaginations. Only later did we realize that the pervasive haze was actually the result of forests and peatlands being torched in neighboring Indonesia.

Freshly planted palm oil seedlings on recently burned land.
Photograph by Tim Laman, National Geographic

These annual fires occur in part for the purpose of clearing land for agriculture use and palm oil plantations. Some experts have also cited the routine of setting fires simply out of habit (for the purpose of burning household garbage, food waste, etc.) or “just for fun” as additional contributors to the flames. Many of these fires are burning peatlands, which is especially concerning due to the immense stores of carbon and methane that peat accumulates over time, and the higher CO2 emission intensity of peat (106 g CO2/MJ) compared to other sources, such as coal (94.6 g CO2/MJ).

Adding to the complexity of this calamity is the confusion over land and resource ownership, which is spurring conflict between individuals and farms, and continuing to make enforcement and accountability of proper land management difficult. With ineffective national government regulation, these fires—already causing more than “500,000 cases of haze-related respiratory illness in Southeast Asia and the deaths of at least 19 Indonesians”—continue to have direct consequences not only for the Indonesian people and their neighbors, but also for our planet.

Writing for The Guardian, journalist and environmentalist George Monbiot details the magnitude of damages from these man-made fires still raging in Indonesia today:

“It is hard to convey the scale of this inferno, but here’s a comparison that might help: it is currently producing more carbon dioxide than the US economy. And in three weeks the fires have released more CO2 than the annual emissions of Germany….Orangutans, clouded leopards, sun bears, gibbons, the Sumatran rhinoceros and Sumatran tiger, these are among the threatened species being driven from much of their range by the flames. But there are thousands, perhaps millions, more.”

Daily Emissions from Indonesian Fires

Without action on the part of the Indonesian national government, this problem is likely to re-emerge as a destructive force on a yearly basis. Business as Usual isn’t going to cut it if we’re to truly make an impact on reducing CO2 emissions in order to curb the rate of climate change and its ever-reaching effects.

Here’s what you can do:

1. Consume responsibly

Our consumer choices have consequences. Support companies that value sustainable business practices in the communities they influence. Palm oil is present in an array of everyday products ranging from shampoo and detergent to chocolate and bread, and can be found in “about half of all packaged products sold in the supermarket.” Inform yourself about which companies are reforming their supply chains (you can feel less guilty about indulging in Krispy Kreme) and refrain from buying products made by those that aren’t–PepsiCo, Kraft, and Unilever are among the laggards.

2. Bring attention to the issue

The World Climate Summit will bring government and multinational corporate leaders across the globe to Paris this December and the more attention we bring to these forest fires, the more likely it is that this issue will be on the table of discussion. Share this post (shameless self-promotion) or any of the other informative sources found here on social media. Research the issue on your own and write about it yourself. Read The Snack Food 20 Report Card and write to the companies that aren’t taking sufficient action. Collectively, we can put pressure on the Indonesian government to restrict deforestation—spread the word.

Or, spread the photos.

Photograph by Tim Laman, National Geographic

3. Financial support

Donate to organizations that are devoted to conservation efforts and advocate for smarter policies related to climate change. Remember, your donation to many organizations, including the two below, is tax-deductible.

Rainforest Action Network – They are committed to protecting the world’s rain forests and its incredible species. Join as a member with a one-time donation or dedicate yourself to contributing monthly.

World Wildlife Fund The WWF has a new project partnering with the Frankfurt Zoological Society and The Orangutan Project focusing on protecting Sumatra’s rain forest and its wildlife.

Recommended further reading:

Global Forest Watch Profile on Indonesia – A collection of data on the economic value of, employment reliance on, and changes overtime (depletion and gain) to the forests of Indonesia.

Project Potico – The WRI’s fact sheet on the palm oil industry in Indonesia and its push towards sustainable planting practices for companies by using already degraded land rather than clearing forests.

Project Potico Info.Click for full view.

3 Ways Obama Could Help – Different organizations and governments are working to put pressure on Indonesian President Joko Widodo to push for forestry reforms (and stick to enforcing them even after the fires burn out). Scientists from the World Resources Institute, alongside the WRI-Indonesia director, offer possibilities for the U.S. to support improved land management practices in Indonesia.

A Few Recommended Readings:

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1. The Global Goals for Sustainable Development – This weekend world leaders from across the globe will convene in NYC to commit to 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development aiming to end extreme poverty, fight inequality, and tackle climate change. A variety of organizations, nonprofits and NGOs are working alongside the UN to inform the world population of these targets. As stated by Project Everyone: “The more famous these global goals are, and the more widely they are understood by everyone, the more politicians will take them seriously, finance them properly, refer to them frequently and make them work.” Educate yourself on what the global goals are and what you can do personally to assist in accomplishing these necessary and ambitious goals by 2030.

2. The Rise of the Nudge – Governments are investing in research teams that use behavioral economics and psychology to create ‘nudges’ to meet certain policy goals. As highlighted in this WSJ article, this science based approach can be used to fight poverty and test ways to help the poor find economic security. Unfortunately, this isn’t always how these data-driven teams are being utilized. A recent article from Aid Thoughts found that a Behavioral Insights Team has been tasked in the UK to figure out how to get illegal migrants to return to their native land voluntarily. Perhaps the team can test the effectiveness of Hungary’s wall?

3. This Cartoon Succinctly Explains the Background to the Syrian Conflict – Some background to help people understand how and why the situation in Syria developed as it has. Heed the warning and be prepared: Syria won’t be (and isn’t) the only country to suffer under the stresses wrought by climate change and political instability. Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 9.10.50 PM

That’s Entertainment?


I’ve never particularly enjoyed the experiences I’ve had at zoos. As a child, I was selfishly disappointed that animals didn’t come closer to the window for my viewing pleasure and, alternately, tinged with a sense of discomfort upon witnessing so many magnificent creatures looking tired and bored in their cages. My few and far between trips to zoos growing up always left me in a confused state of guilt, mild amusement, and disappointment. As an adult, I’ve managed to mostly view animals in their natural habitats—happening upon all types of mammals and bird species while visiting national parks in America’s southwest, spotting goats galore while weaving through the mountainous regions of Morocco, traveling from ger to ger on a combination of horseback and camel-back in Mongolia, or even lounging with well-attended to house cats in a cafe in Seoul. Unfortunately, all it took was a trip to a Chinese zoo to remind me of how easily we humans can take advantage of our position in the food chain.

IMG_8862Last March the second grade team took our students on a field trip to a local zoo in Xiamen to examine the impact humans have on animals, both positive and negative, for our IB unit of inquiry focusing on the theme Sharing the Planet. I didn’t expect the experience to be pleasant, however I had no idea just how severely we would expose our students to how humans affect animals. Our shocking adventure began in a barren open area, roughly the size of a football field, with a stone walkway, partial grassy patches, and a man-made lake hardly-filled with muddy water. In this space, a variety of animals—including skittish emus, an ostrich with half of its left wing feathers missing, friendly goats, and a couple of skinny cows—roamed freely with no particular appealing destination in sight. Halfway down the walkway were a couple of cages, each roughly the size of a parking space, with one containing a nervous wolf pacing back and forth, its grey tail curled between its hind legs. My students crowded around this cage, watching the wolf back away into a corner, and asked me why the animal’s cage was so small; why did it look so afraid; why was the wolf’s tail between its legs? They had been taught to ask questions, to be inquirers, but on this field trip the answers they found were hardly satisfying.

Employees of the zoo hustled our hefty school group along to their animal show—an appalling atrocity none of us anticipated. We sat on the tiered amphitheater steps, curving around the rusting, metal-barred cage with its bare, interior stage–a sad suggestion that a show most certainly will go on. Men, with bright polyester costumes thrown over their everyday attire, paraded monkeys out onto the stage to peddle bicycles in circles and walk along metal tight-ropes, much to the audience’s delight. After the monkeys departed back to their quarters, two slobbering tigers were made to perform tricks at center-stage. Students were in awe at the sight of these magical, beastly creatures acting on command—standing on their hind legs, jumping through hoops, and even pulling a cart carrying the two costumed employees—all while somehow refraining from devouring the humans demanding actions from them. Within moments of the tiger’s appearance on-stage, numerous students noticed their seemingly unusual behavior and surprising details—why are they slobbering that much; why don’t the tigers have a full set of teeth; how can the tigers eat without their teeth; why are they so fat? Informing a bunch of eight-year-old children that these endangered species were likely slobbering because they were drugged or sedated, that their teeth were removed to make it easier for a human head to fit inside their mouth without being hurt, that humans provided them with food so they didn’t need to hunt, and that, more likely than not, these tigers spent a significant amount of time in a cage, unable and without need to sculpt a lean physical form, was, once again, providing students with answers they didn’t want to hear and that I certainly didn’t want to deliver.

IMG_8863The treatment of animals at this zoo was, with no exaggeration, barbaric. Furthermore, the show I described above is not all that uncommon in China and despite this sort of mistreatment of animals being explicitly banned, there appears to be little to no enforcement of these laws (sound familiar?). It’s horrifying to think too that for some children this savage experience is the norm when partaking in an outing at the zoo. At least the zoos that I took discomfort in visiting as a child were on beautifully manicured properties, ran by  highly trained and dedicated caretakers.

Though some of our students were remiss in recognizing animal mistreatment, distracted instead by the plentifully offered amusements, the majority of students left the zoo that day expressing to varying extents that what they saw was wrong. I remain partially conflicted about exposing students to this disturbing reality—simultaneously wanting to maintain their innocence like some type of Ms. Holden Caulfield, but also burdened with the sense that these young minds are tasked, along with us, to make this world a better place. It’s hard to tell where the balance is sometimes. One student summed up her field trip succinctly, “I think it was fun, but I don’t think it was right.” Too often today, that’s entertainment.

A Few Recommended Readings:

1. Home-Brewed Morphine is Around the Corner – Scientists have discovered a way to create a genetically modified yeast that brews morphine, thus allowing patients in developing countries that normally do without due to strict regulations by governments and drug lords to have access to pain relievers. Of course, this scientific breakthrough is not without potential consequences.

2. A Choice for Recovering Addicts: Relapse or Homelessness – This investigative report by The New York Times examines the rise of three quarter houses in NYC.

“Opportunistic businessmen like Mr. Baumblit have rushed to open new homes, turning them into vehicles for fleecing the government, an investigation by The New York Times found. The target is easy: vulnerable residents whose rents and treatments are paid for with taxpayer money.

Yet three-quarter homes are tolerated and even tacitly encouraged, pointing to a systemic failure by government agencies and institutions responsible for helping addicts and the poor.”

3. Anti-Homeless Spikes  – For The Guardian, writer Alex Andreou explores the rise in use and impacts of defensive architecture. “From ubiquitous protrusions on window ledges to bus-shelter seats that pivot forward, from water sprinklers and loud muzak to hard tubular rests, from metal park benches with solid dividers to forests of pointed cement bollards under bridges, urban spaces are aggressively rejecting soft, human bodies.”

The Great Wall of China Isn’t Visible From Space, Pollution Is

Credit: Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC

To witness first-hand the ever-evolving results of China’s massive economic growth over the last 30+ years is an impressive and simultaneously nerve-wrecking sight. They build buildings at an unfathomable rate, bestowing cities with a super-ability of transformation, constantly condensed into shorter and shorter periods of time. They are among nations investing aggressively in infrastructure, including clean energy, and are producing the greatest farm output of any country in the world. They are also bearing the consequences of their rapid development, particularly and most noticeably in the form of hazardous air quality. Coupled with and compounded by the challenges of climate change, China’s mitigation actions to limit or decrease CO2 emissions thus far have proved insufficient.

The graph below offers a stark contrast between the top two producers of CO2 emissions in the world–China and the U.S..

Though the current situation is grim and hard to swallow, China can and has taken action to cut back on CO2 emissions, including increasing investment in renewable energy from wind turbines and setting a target to generate “15% of energy needs through renewable energy by 2020.” China is also home to the city of Rizhao, a city of roughly three million in Shandong Province, which has been recognized by the United Nations for its habitable environs and, more notably, for its dedication to clean energy generation through large scale solar panel adoption “Rizhao has effectively reduced its energy consumption by 30 percent and achieved annual CO2 savings of 52,860 tonnes from solar water heaters.” (-WFC) 

By providing incentives to residents and educating the public of the benefits of solar power generation, plus the favorable market conditions for consumers seeing a decrease in solar panel prices, the people of Rizhao embraced renewable energy. This success story doesn’t have to remain an isolated exemplar. To take greater steps towards mitigation, China should continue to invest in clean energy solutions, provide incentives for consumers themselves to invest in renewable energy at home, and provide subsidies for clean energy industries. Enforcing stricter regulations for emissions and continuing to focus on decreased coal production will not only aid in improving conditions for those residing in the middle country, it will also assist in turning down the heat worldwide.

Climate change is a battle every single living thing will be impacted by and a challenge we all must tackle through making conscientious decisions about how we consume. China’s scale never ceases to shock me; it is a place unlike any other with a significant contribution of consumers capable of making decisions with widely felt consequences, for better or worse.


Clockwise from top: street art in Taipei’s shopping district, garbage collection in Hualien, and Taipei 101

Gorge-ous, delicious, scoot-scooting, better China

These are the five words that sum up my recent spring break to Taiwan.  Though much can be said about the stunning sights and scrumptious grub I had the pleasure of encountering, my main focus is on the discovery of a better China.

After residing on the mainland for half of a year, I’ve identified plenty of standard behaviors, misconceptions, cultural differences, and spectacles worthy of criticism or sometimes, albeit rarely, praise. I approached a visit to Taiwan with great curiosity and intrigue given the obviously deep, conflicting connections between China and Taiwan and the endless commentary I’ve collected over the years from fellow travelers comparing the two nations. What I found in Taiwan was, without a doubt and simply put, a better China.

International travel seemingly promotes constant comparison–your mind approaches every new experience as though you’re completing a venn diagram, charting the distinct differences and charming similarities between all that you’ve partaken in prior. Arriving in Taiwan, I immediately felt a surreal sense of being somewhere intensely familiar–Chinese syllables engulfing my eardrums, signs scrawled with intricate, unknown characters, views of dilapidated constructions long past their prime, food carts touting intimidating cuisine, etc..

However, as swiftly as I recognized these totems of my current home, there came a barrage of clear signs that I wasn’t behind the Great Firewall any longer. Those unknown characters flooding my field of vision with every glance were noticeably depicting traditional characters (much preferable to read for beginning Chinese learners, such as myself, as the characters tend to depict pictures that clue one in to the meaning of the word, a value lost with simplified characters, which are commonly used in mainland China); wifi was accessible all over the place and so were beloved social media sites, even the NYT, rendering my VPN wonderfully useless; the chaos of using public transportation was completely absent as people waited patiently in line, in the demarcated space, for passengers to exit before calmly stepping onto the train; sidewalks were shockingly clean of bodily fluids and other general waste; gorging on street food didn’t instantly make one’s stomach turn inside out from questionable hygienic practices or mystery ingredients; the hurdles to obtaining train tickets or just about anything were nonexistent and missing the oft expected bureaucratic nonsense.

Taiwan was a delightful shock to the senses and provided an appreciated view of what China might be like if I could simply wipe away so many of the grievances that induce a general tension and irritation when trapped inside this monolithic place for too long. By no means is China a lost cause; in fact, I encourage everyone with the means to experience this weird and fascinating country, rich with history and dense with power to reshape the world, for better or worse–just be sure you’re ready to see a baby shit on the sidewalk if you do pay the mainland a visit.

Ethical Tourism with Tao Expeditions

This site has been quiet the last few weeks as my partner and I took a break from teaching and ventured off to the Philippines for the Chinese New Year holiday. Though we spent some time relaxing in the well-traveled paradises of Palawan, the bulk of our trip was spent on the water traveling from El Nido to Coron on the Balatik–a stunning, wooden sailing vessel designed after the ancient paraw ships of the Philippines. For six days and five nights, we maneuvered across the brilliant blue waters, our captains Toto and Gener at the helm, tracing our way around remote island villages sprinkled throughout this span of sea with 24 fellow guests, nine crew members, and one fearless Jack Russell, Datu. The sights were, no surprise, completely breathtaking and oh-my-god-amazing. Though I could brag at length about the painted sunsets, intricate and ornate coral reefs, abundance of exotic neon fish, and belly busting feasts prepared by our ship’s very own Chef Jeff, I mainly want to highlight the invaluable work of the organization behind our life altering adventure, Tao Expeditions.
Displaying IMG_8797.JPGPhoto credit to fellow guest Janet Tejada
Tao developed from humble beginnings as two friends with a passion for sailing and exploration transformed their remote expeditions into a business plan. From their simple dream, Tao evolved into a mixed breed of aid organization and travel group. Tao Expeditions is very explicit with guests that their trip offerings are not tours–though they take guests to beautiful sights and comfortable base camps (emphasis on camp), the experience one has is mostly up to the individual. Your day can be spent relaxing and reading on the boat, sun bathing and snorkeling, swimming and hiking at base camps, or whatever else tickles your fancy.
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With the money Tao generates from sharing some of the Philippines’ most incredible sights, they provide services and training to under-served locals residing in communities spread across the islands. These services include building and operating schools in villages, providing quality, sustainable materials for building homes and structures in their village, and assisting with garden and farming projects. Additionally, Tao plays a role in improving the economies of these small villages by not only offering locals the opportunity for training in specific skills and trades, but also guaranteeing them a market by which to generate income through the guests that visit while on expeditions.
On our expedition, a portion of our payment to Tao went to the village women who were trained masseuses and thus an evening of our vacation was spent having our sore muscles massaged beneath the starry night sky. Similarly, Tao will pay villagers to use the structures they’ve built, with materials donated by Tao, as base camps during expeditions. Tao also trains young, interested Filipino’s in the ways of the sea–providing training in all aspects of sailing and boat management–and the especially gifted end up working and earning wages as crew on Tao’s small fleet. These are just a few of many ways in which Tao has aided in improving the quality of life for Filipino people, particularly those that are outside of the common zones of government assistance.
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As an organization, Tao Expeditions has a demonstrated and palpable mission of sustainability, empowerment, and celebration of Filipino people, land, and culture. I didn’t have to look very hard or far to bear witness to the powerful positive impact this group has had on human lives and the environment. Despite the cliche, it’s no stretch for me to proclaim this adventure a life changing one and it certainly re-affirmed my passion for learning as much as I possibly can about the economics of sustainable development in order to best serve those in need. Organizations such as Tao, and the faces behind it, give me hope that we can meet our shared goals as a planet to do and be better for each other and our Earth.

Poverty = Hunger?

Generally, when people discuss poverty, hunger enters the conversation–it’s natural to think that if people are poor they are likely struggling to adequately meet their nutritional needs. However, through research and experiments, what scientists and economists have found is that most people, even the extremely poor, can afford to purchase enough calories to live and be productive. If this is the case, why are there still people who aren’t getting enough to eat? The answer, of course, is complex and multifaceted.

In their text Poor Economics, Abhijit Banergee and Esther Duflo examine how foreign aid policy has failed due to deep misunderstandings about poverty, and call for more careful planning and greater reliance on scientific evidence to steer policy decisions aimed at eradicating poverty. A portion of Poor Economics focuses on dis/proving the nutrition-based poverty trap, the idea that “there exists a critical level of nutrition, above or below which dynamic forces push people either further down into poverty and hunger or further up into better-paying jobs and higher-calorie diets.” They turned to places like India, where in 2004 only 2% of people surveyed stated they did not have enough to eat (that’s down from 17% in 1983), the Philippines, China and Morocco to research, among other objectives, the effects of food subsidies and determine how much of a person’s income is spent on food. Their research turned up some startling results.

“…if calories are the main driver of poverty, then we should expect people to spend every extra cent on the cheapest calories. What we see instead is people opting to consume tastier, more expensive food when they get the chance.” –Poor Economics

In the Philippines, a person can consume 2,400 calories a day for 21 cents PPP, but they would be limited to consuming mainly bananas and eggs. Despite this available access to calories, the poor tend not to purchase the quality food that would benefit them calorically and food aid programs generally emphasize quantity over quality.

While in Morocco, Esther and her research partners found that in some of the very poor villages they visited, people had cell phones, televisions, and even DVD players, but survived off of a very modest diet (leaving some unable to work due to insufficient calories). Any extra income people had tended not to go towards obtaining better quality, calorie rich food; instead, extra income was saved for small luxuries or, if food was acquired, better tasting food, not food that was actually better for a person to improve their work capacity. Though it may be obvious that the benefits of a nutritious diet are significant, for some, the need to momentarily escape the doldrums of poverty through entertainment outweighs the need for a nutrition upgrade.

Of the research shared in Poor Economics, what I found most fascinating was an experiment conducted in China seeking to analyze the impact of food subsidies on food purchasing decisions. This experiment was conducted by two economists, Robert Jensen and Nolan Miller, who were in search of an ever-elusive Giffen good–a good that people consume more of as the price increases, thus violating the Law of Demand.

Jensen and Miller found that rice (and wheat, though I’ll only address the former for the sake of brevity) in China fit the parameters for a Giffen good and decided to test their hypothesis by providing a random selection of families in the southern province of Hunan a six-month subsidy for rice. They collected data on family purchases during the subsidy period and afterward. In the end, the results found that when rice was subsidized, families actually bought less of it and instead used the extra income to purchase more expensive foods, mainly purchasing more meat and shrimp. These families were actually consuming less calories when their food was subsidized. When the subsidy period was over and the price of rice increased, families purchased more rice and thus violated the Law of Demand, proving rice to indeed be in this instance a Giffen good.

The important point this particular example illustrates is that food subsidies and food aid policy don’t always have the intended or expected outcome and can, in fact, result in the populations most in need making decisions that are counterproductive. Current food aid policy requires some rethinking. Not only is there a ton of money, and food, being wasted in the way food aid is currently being handled, but it’s also not as effective as other means of helping those in poverty. Esther Duflo cites two different programs with promising results–in Colombia school lunches are being sprinkled with micronutrient packets and deworming programs at schools in Kenya are not only improving the health condition of children, but also helping to improve their future income by keeping children in school for longer.

I’ll leave you with this:

“If we don’t know whether aid is doing any good, we are not any better than the medieval doctors and their leeches.” -Esther Duflo