Nigeria: Investing In Education Gives Greatest Benefits For Every Naira Spent – Lomborg | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Nigeria: Investing In Education Gives Greatest Benefits For Every Naira Spent – Lomborg

Posted: Jun 28, 2015 at 12:01 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Danish political scientist, Bjorn Lomborg, Director of the Copenhagen Consensus Centre, in this interview with Business Editor, Sylvester Enoghase, during the Post-2015 Consensus Journalists training seminar at Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Centre, Abuja, insists that the most important, over-arching problem of the entire world is poverty, which still afflicts billions of people. Excerpt:

LomborgCould you tell us the purpose of this media training?

The purpose of this training is to give Nigerian journalists the tools and information they need to gain quality media coverage of the post-2015 process, and it focused mainly on distinguishing the really great targets from the poor ones on a country by country basis.

The Copenhagen Consensus Center, through its local representative, Ms Amuta Okwute, organised this specialist-training seminar in Abuja for journalists to learn about the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

The centre, in collaboration with some of the world’s top economists, has highlighted phenomenal, good, fair and poor targets, and selected the 19 targets that are expected to produce the greatest benefits.

The Copenhagen Consensus Center has been running the Post-2015 Consensus Project to assess the targets and to identify which ones will have the greatest impact for each $1 spent. The project involved 60 teams of leading economists, Nobel Laureates, NGOs, UN agencies and international think tanks to provide a comprehensive review of the targets.

This Post-2015 Consensus country specific training seminar on the post-2015 development agenda held in Nigeria was the sixth seminar in a series of 10 seminars to be held around the world.

This Abuja summit aims to act as a start point, counting down to the broader UN Meeting in September. The targets agreed at the UN later this year will guide the global spending of $2.5 trillion of development aid, as well as domestic budgets, over the next 15 years.

The purpose of Nigeria specific discussion was to bring together international economists with local sector experts in order to delve deeper into the potential benefits which the post-2015 development agenda could bring to the country and the necessity of prioritising smart targets to achieve the desired outcomes for the country.

The training seminar, through a dialogue led by economists and sector experts across three themes: education, energy and tuberculosis, the participants of the seminar were given a concrete understanding of potential good the post-2015 development agenda can do within Nigeria if smart targets are prioritised for each theme.

The training is also to give journalists the tools and information they need to gain quality media coverage of the post-2015 process, focused on distinguishing the really great targets from the poor ones on a country by country basis.

 What is your position on Post-2015 Education in Nigeria, and what do you suggest should be the priorities ?

Nigeria has a lower than expected level of educational achievement given its moderately high per capita income. Illiteracy rates are high and there are big gaps in achievement between rich and poor, boys and girls and different regions.  Overall, Nigeria ranks 152nd out of 187 countries in the UN’s Human Development Index, below Kenya, Ghana, Botswana and Rwanda.

In my view, investing in early years’ education gives the greatest benefit for each naira spent. One of the most pressing problems is the low rate of attendance of pre-primary schools, which is only 13 per cent in Nigeria compared to an average of 20 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa.

The answer to Nigeria’s major educational problems is not to adopt vague, aspirational targets which have been missed in the past and are unlikely to be met in the future, but to focus on three vital areas where real progress can be made: improving school quality, getting more children into primary school, and increasing preschool coverage.

And given the current low rates of literacy, expanding primary education would also be very beneficial, giving N13 in benefits for each one invested. The most cost-effective target, though, would be to reduce by half the number of children not attending preschool. A Naira invested here would give social benefits valued at N65. In particular, this promises a better future for students from poorer families. Since the most vulnerable groups are in the rural communities in the states across the country, this is where educational investment should be a priority”.

There is a pressing need to collect and report basic educational statistics since “if you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it.

What have you to suggest to the government of Nigeria on planning ahead for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In few months from now, Nigeria, alongside 192 other governments will meet in New York to set global targets for tackling development issues often referred to as the UN’s Post-2015 development agenda or the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It is crucial that government, policy-makers and the general public better understand which targets are going to make the most difference to Nigeria and to the world.

What is your position the proposed Post-MDG targets in terms of their value for money?

By September, the world’s 193 governments, including Nigeria, will meet in New York and agree on a set of ambitious, global targets of 2030. Over the next 15 years, these targets will direct the $2.5 trillion to be spent on development assistance, as well as countless trillions in national budgets.

Based on peer reviewed analysis, from 82 of the world’s top economist and 44 sector experts organised by the Copenhagen Consensus, three of us- Finn, Tom and Nancy- have prioritised more than a hundred of the proposed targets in terms of their value for money. They are certainly not all equal. Some targets generate higher economic, social and environmental benefits than others, per dollar spent.

The natural political inclination is to promise all good things to everyone, and the UN is currently poised to pick 169 well-intentioned targets. But the evidence at hand, although, indicates pretty clearly that some of these targets are much more promising than others.

And we have selected the 19 targets that we expect to produce the greatest benefits.

The analyses of the experts suggest that some of the targets are barely worthwhile, producing only a little more than $1 in social benefits per dollar spent, while others produce much higher social return.

The expert analyses suggest that if the UN concentrates on these top 19 targets, it can get $20 to $40 in social benefits per dollar spent, while allocating it evenly across all 169 targets would reduce the figure to less than $10. Being smart about spending could be better than doubling and quadrupling the aid budget.

Our short list cover a lot of ground, but the trend that connects the individual targets is the benefits they will provide for people around the world in terms of health, the environment and economic well being.

We considered a couple of targets that help people directly through health benefits. Tuberculosis TB is a hidden disease. Over two million people carry the bacterium that causes it, about 10% of those people will develop TB at some point, and about 1.5 million people each year die from TB. But treatment is inexpensive and in most cases, highly effective. Spending a dollar on diagnosis and treatment is a low-cost way to give many more years of productive life to many people. Ebola may get the headlines, but TB is a much bigger problem.

Reducing childhood malnutrition is another excellent target. People of every age deserve to be well nourished, but nutrition is essentially critical for growing children. A good diet allows their brains and muscles to develop better, producing life-long benefits.

Well-nourished children stay in school much longer, learn more and end up being much more productive members of the society. The available evidence suggests that providing better nutrition for 68 million children each year would produce over $40 in long-term social benefits for every dollar spent.

There are excellent targets involving the planets as well. Governments round the world still subsidize the use of fossil fuels to the tune of over$500bn each year. Cutting these subsidies would reduce pollution and free up resources for investments in health, education and infrastructure.

There are other benefits in term of biodiversity, but healthy reefs still produce more tangible and efficient benefits.

They increase fish stocks- benefiting both fishermen and consumers, and attract visitors who explore their beauties-benefiting everyone working on the tourist industry, as well as tourists themselves.

Of all these you have mentioned, could you please, single out the most important target which the world leaders must priorotise?

Laugh. The most important, over-arching problem of the entire target facing the world is poverty, which still afflicts billions of people. Poverty is the ultimate source of many other problems. Poor families have trouble providing their children with adequate food, education and medical care.

The instant implication is high rate of infant mortality, as well as poor cognitive skills and reduced productive capacity among surviving children. The ultimate result is a cycle of poverty.

It is only better nutrition and better schools that would help alleviate poverty, but there is another target that promises to be even more effective: lowering barriers to international trade, which the historical evidence on point is compelling. For instance, in China, South Korea, India, Chile and many other countries, reducing trade restriction has lifted incomes and reduced poverty, and triggered decades of rapid income growth.

Poverty reduction was the first item in UN’s list of Millennium Development Goals, and the numerical target was achieved. Why? Income growth in China was a big part of the story.

How did the Chinese achieve that remarkable feat?

Most evidence showed that international trade was a key ingredient. Trade produces immediate benefits by opening up markets, but it also facilitates the flow of ideas and technologies, producing even greater benefits over a longer horizon. A successful Doha free trade agreement could lift 160 million people out of extreme poverty.

 Could you please, from your point of view, tell us how global campaign on food security can be achievable in the world ?

Hunger is a complex problem, exacerbated by financial pressures, volatile commodity prices, natural disasters, and civil wars. But we could take an enormous step toward winning the global campaign against malnutrition, simply by investing in improved infrastructure and in agricultural research and development.

This is because one-quarter of all the food in the world is lost each year, owing to inefficient harvesting, inadequate storage, and wastage in the kitchen. Halve that waste, and the world could feed an extra billion people and make hunger yesterday’s problem.

The extent of food loss is particularly galling in view of a new global study on food security from the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization. According to the FAO, 57 developing countries have failed to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of halving the proportion of hungry people by this year. One in every nine people on the planet – 795 million in all – still goes to sleep hungry.

Of course, there has also been remarkable progress: over the last 25 years, the world has fed an extra two billion people, and – for all the 57 failures – the developing world as a whole has almost halved its hunger rate. But the challenge is to sustain the progress: by 2050, demand for food will have nearly doubled. One reason is that by then the world will have added another two billion mouths to feed; a second reason will be the growing appetite of a surging new middle class.

At the moment, the UN is considering 169 new development targets to succeed the Millennium Development Goals (hunger is one target area, among many). These targets are vitally important, because they will determine how more than $2.5 trillion in development money is spent on everything from climate change to malaria.

The Copenhagen Consensus Center, therefore asked 60 teams of top economists to assess which proposed targets will do the most good – and which will not. Our research on food security shows that there are smart ways to feed many more on the planet – but they have little to do with the campaigns against waste seen in most of the rich world.

By contrast, the world’s hungry poor waste very little, simply because they cannot afford to. In Africa, for instance, daily food waste averages 500 calories per person – but consumers account for only 5% of this loss. More than three-quarters of the waste occurs well before the kitchen, in inefficient agriculture, because birds and rats eat crops during harvest, for example, or pests spoil grain stores.

There are many remedies for this kind of waste from the “curing” of roots and tubers to minimise damage, to more expensive refrigeration. So why aren’t these technologies widely used in richer countries adopted in the developing world?

The answer is a lack of infrastructure. If there are no proper roads linking fields to markets, farmers cannot easily sell their surplus produce, which may then spoil before it can be eaten. Improving road and rail capacity enables farmers to reach buyers – and fertilizer and other agricultural inputs to reach farmers. Supplying reliable electricity permits grains to be dried and vegetables to be kept cool.

Economists from the International Food Policy Research Institute estimate that the overall cost of approximately halving post-harvest losses in the developing world would be $239 billion over the next 15 years – and would generate benefits worth more than $3 trillion, or $13 of social benefits for every dollar spent.

This would make food more affordable for the poor. By 2050, better infrastructure could mean that 57 million people – more than the current population of South Africa – would no longer be at risk of hunger, and that about four million children would no longer suffer from malnutrition. Most of these gains would be in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, the world’s most deprived regions.

But there is an even better investment. We can achieve three times the economic benefits, and even larger reductions in the number of people at risk of hunger, if we focus on improving food production rather than just on preventing food losses.

Today, only $5 billion is spent annually on research to improve the seven major global food crops, and just one-tenth of that is targeted to help small farmers in Africa and Asia. Investing an extra $88 billion in agricultural research and development over the next 15 years would increase yields by an additional 0.4% each year.

That might not sound like very much, but the reduction in prices and improvements in food security would help almost everyone. It would be worth nearly $3 trillion in social good – yielding an enormous $34 of benefits for every dollar spent.

 What do you suggest that UN  member states should do in their preparation for the post 2015 SDG ?

The report by Morten Jerven, a development expert at Simon Fraser University in Canada, estimated that each new target would cost $1.5 billion if it were tracked via censuses and surveys of households; living standards and health must be taken serious. And if it is taken serious, that would mean a total $254 billion for all 169, or about twice the amount of annual aid donations by developed nations worldwide, he wrote. Many developing nations, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, need aid to help improve data collection.

The study said that data collection costs are high, even with the help of the Internet and modern technology.

The United States spent $13 billion on its latest census in 2010, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. This shows that reliable data is vital to gauge development needs.

In April 2014, for instance, Nigeria abruptly overtook South Africa as Africa’s largest economy after a revision of statistics almost doubled its gross domestic product.  This explains the importance attached to reliable data.

I am of the view that the United Nations should limit targets or risk diverting money from spending on health or fresh water supplies. This is a wake-up call to avoid costly demands on the global system.