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Professor Mendlinger on Economic Development in Africa

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The idea of development economics is to root out core structural problems, transforming low-income communities into more functional ones. Sam Mendlinger, a professor of administrative sciences at Boston University, is an expert in the field of economic development, specifically focusing on agriculture and tourism, among other disciplines. He is currently seeking to sustainably enhance the economies of developing countries by examining the effects of tourism on the local population. His research spans the globe from Boston to Tanzania, and his scope ranges from ecotourism to local business adaptation. This is what he had to say about his experiences in Africa and its economic development.

Appropriate Development in Emerging Economies

When our discussion began on the topic of sustainable development, Mendlinger informed me that the term itself lacks substance. Instead, the term “appropriate development” holds much more meaning in the context of emerging economies. He believes that sustainable development is too one-dimensional, and that appropriate development focuses more on proper resource allocation rather than a terminal value. Appropriate development is all about balance; it requires efficient allocation of resources and a reduction of environmental impact, as proven by studies conducted in Africa.

Agriculture: A Call for Better Resource Allocation

Subsistence agriculture makes up the majority of food production in under-developed countries, so food security is a prevalent issue in emerging economies. It is impossible for our culture to view food production in this light; given that we see eating as a choice among consumers, not as a necessity for survival. “Agriculture in developing countries is all about inputs and controls,” according to Mendlinger. Therefore, it is essential that farmers receive sufficient inputs, such as water and fertilizer, as well as access to proper controls, such as pesticides and disease preventatives to yield healthy crops. It is vital to appropriately allocate resources in developing economies to ensure hygienic fitness. The problem in Africa is that “farmers are losing 40% of their crops due to a lack of fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides” according to Mendlinger. This inexplicable statistic calls for a restructuring of resource allocation, in order to provide a sufficient food supply to the people of Africa.

DDT: The Effects of Hindered Development

DDT was initially used in the 1940’s to combat malaria and other insect-borne diseases. However, due to its environmental impact and potential harm to creatures beyond the crop fields, the pesticide was banned in the US and abroad. Subsequently, supply of DDT has fallen dramatically ever since. The ban “includes a limited exemption for the use of DDT to control mosquitoes which are vectors that carry malaria”, according to the EPA. Unfortunately, the pesticide is extremely hard to come by in rural Africa, since its demand has diminished worldwide.

DDT suppresses anopheles mosquitoes, which are responsible for the transmission of malaria, a disease that kills one to two million people in Africa annually. Since the ban of DDT in 1972, 20 to 25 million deaths in Africa can be attributed to malarial disease, according to Mendlinger. It seems that policy-makers jumped the gun on banning DDT due to its nearsighted effects in the US without taking into consideration the profound impact it has on vulnerable, developing economies.

This jeopardizes the relationship between environmental preservation and disease control. A sustainable development outlook deems DDT as poison and ousts it from worldwide use. On the contrary, an appropriate development outlook attempts to contain DDT and use it as necessary, but in moderation. By using a proper amount of DDT, African farmers could significantly reduce the number of disease-carrying mosquitoes along with malarial disease. Thus, finding an adequate balance for pesticide use could potentially save millions of lives in rural Africa. Appropriate development calls for a balance of resource allocation to benefit emerging economies, but this balance is teetering with setbacks.

Ecotourism and the Indigenous

Another aspect that is integral in most developing economies is tourism. Mendlinger reiterates the importance of a harmonious relationship between the tourist, the local population, and the future asset. Ecotourism promotes visitors to invest in the local economy, yet it is not always a win-win situation.

For example, Mendlinger takes twenty-five students to Ngorongoro Conservation Area, designated by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage Site, to examine economic development via tourism in Tanzania every year. The site is unique because it is a wildlife park as well as a living area for indigenous people. Conservationists strive to protect the wildlife, attract tourists, and enhance the economy of the indigenous. He believes the best way to do this is to educate the tourists about the local culture, to promote interaction with the indigenous people and thus spur investment in local businesses. This will not only enhance the learning experience of the tourists, but will also develop opportunities for the indigenous people as guides and educators.

Emerging economies face many setbacks in their development, thus it is crucial to understand the dynamics of building an equitable economy that holds promise for future generations to come.