1990s >> 1997 >> no-1109-january-1997

The Scavenger: These Foolish Things . . . Harvest

Harvest 1
A recent US study has found that for every dollar spent on foreign aid for rice research, the US got back $17 in better varieties for its own crop. Aid dollars for wheat research realised 190-fold returns, according to the International Food Policy Research Institute. Guardian, 24 October.

Harvest 2
“I do it because I would prefer to die than see the rest of my family starve,” said Sabir Saleh, a middle-aged man who used to be a farmer but is now too poor to hire a tractor to plough his land. Every morning he goes out into the minefields laid around Penjwin, a village in northern Iraq shattered by fighting in the Iran-Iraq war. Mr Saleh looks for one mine in particular, the Italian made Valmara, one of the most lethal anti-personnel mines in existence. It is not easy to spot, because its five khaki-coloured prongs look like dried grass. Pressure on any one of them causes the Valmara to jump to waist height and explode, spraying 1.200 ball bearings over a range of 100 yards. “I defuse the mine with a piece of wire.” said Mr Saleh. “Then I unscrew the top of it and take out the aluminium around the explosives. When I have taken apart six mines I have enough aluminium to sell for 30 dinar (about 75 pence) to a shop in Penjwin.” Independent on Sunday, 20 October.

Our friendly bobby
Two policemen have been accused of abducting a homeless old woman who had been sheltering in a terminal at Heathrow airport . They are said to have bundled her into a van and dumped her 25 miles away on a golf course at midnight. In December last year an officer was reported for attacking a down-and-out with his American-style baton. A pilot spotted the officer hitting the man five times, causing head injuries which required hospital treatment. Mail on Sunday, 20 October.

Trust the market!
There are 40,000 programmers working as temps in the UK alone—a figure that has doubled in the last two years. Basic pay is £200 a day, a total wage bill for British industry of at least £2 billion a year and. because there’s still a shortage, rates are climbing . . . Contract programmers might seem risky and expensive, but they’re better and cheaper than the alternative . . . Sharing the available bodies helps meet the demand for their skills. But this is only half the solution—the skills gap in the industry is getting worse, according to a depressing report from the Institute of Data Processing Management called “The End is Nigh”. The report says that too few programmers are being trained—partly as a result of companies relying on contractors . . . “New programmers are not coming through and there’s still a shortage for the older languages. Training for contractors is pretty rare, so they can’t develop new skills.” Guardian, 7 November.

Poor outlook
Nearly one household in six in Britain is living below the poverty line, putting the country on a par with some of the poorest states in the European Union, according to the The Cohesion Report, published by the European Commission, 6 November.