Skip to main content

Who cares about Bangladesh? 3. Kevin McKague’s doctoral research on how to make markets work for the poor

This is a re-post. Kevin will be adding some photos and a short comment. This past term at York, Kevin organized a seminar series about Sustainable Value Creation. If you want to learn more about how to be a responsible, activist consumer, please check out the work of the speakers that Kevin brought to York.

"Congratulations to long-time IRIS Senior Research Fellow, now Dr. Kevin McKague, on a successful defence of his dissertation last week.

Kevin's research has focused on micro finance and farmers in Bangladesh. Some of Kevin's research will be published in the journal, California Management Review (McKague and Oliver, 2012 vol 55 no 1. pp. 98-129. Enhanced Market Practices: Poverty Alleviation for Poor Producers in Developing Countries)

Over the years, Kevin has been active in the IRIS community and has brought in excellent seminar speakers including a wonderful talk on microfinance by speakers from MEDA, the Mennonite Economic Development Association.

Here is his dissertation title and abstract.

Kevin's PhD. is titled, Making Markets Work for the Poor: Market-Based Approaches to Poverty Alleviation as Institutional Leveraging and Redistribution of Social Control

Interest in market-based approaches to reduce poverty has grown substantially in the last decade. To date, however, explanations in the management literature of how this can be achieved have focused on viewing the poor as consumers at the base of the economic pyramid, as microentrepreneurs in need of microfinance loans, and as potential employees of local small and medium-sized enterprises. Missing from the core of the management conversation has been an adequate understanding of the poor as primary producers and an explanation that situates them within their broader market and institutional context. Drawing on an in-depth study of market-based poverty alleviation initiatives for smallholder farmers by a non-governmental organization in a least developed economy, this dissertation offers the first theoretical model to explain the process by which a non-state organization can strategically enhance market practices in ways that reduce poverty for poor producers and improve overall market functioning. Findings suggest that meaningful improvements in income can be explained by the enhancement of market practices that redistribute social control toward poor producers in ways that reduce market and government failures. In addition, data revealed that the effectiveness of market development and poverty alleviation strategies is moderated by the extent of institutional leveraging to incentivize market changes in alignment with existing norms and logics. The model offers an integrated explanation of how market-based approaches can alleviate poverty and grow inclusive markets for poor producers. Findings suggest a number of business implications, including the importance of rebalancing power relations and enhancing productivity throughout an entire value chain. In addition, findings contribute to the literatures on business and poverty alleviation and the literatures on institutional change."

Dawn Bazely

Food Blog no. 10 – cities as sources of food – The Toronto Urban Veg Tour 2012 & 2011

The City of Havana, Cuba produces a tremendous amount of the food for its citizens, as we see in the BBC show, Around the World in 80 Gardens. In the 2004 documentary, The End of Suburbia, the futurist, James Kunstler talked about how people living in the 'burbs, will, in the future, use their front gardens to grow food.

Just how close are we to this being the case in Toronto? Based on my experience across the city, with schools, neighbours, various botanic gardens and teaching the Plants course, I would say that we are still pretty far off. But, there has been movement and a steadily increasing interest amongst youth (for me, that's everyone under 30) in gardening and growing food over the last 5 years - the same trend is happening for knitting. One example of why I think we are far off this, is that I spent a good chunk of my volunteer time in the mid 2000s on my knees, digging, with other dedicated parents (see Catherine Majoribanks, Pete Ewins, myself, Sheila O'Connell and Jeff Hanning above), and restoring an overgrown public school butterfly garden to have a focus on food and herbs, and installing a new native species garden. My various strategic attempts, at that time, to make the sporadic efforts of parent-driven efforts in school gardens more sustainable and widespread over incoming generations of parents, teachers and children, failed. There was simply not a broad enough interest and uptake on multiple fronts - in other words, the tipping point hadn't been reached.

In 2011, The Horticultural Societies of Parkdale and Toronto became a part of the local urban food movement. In an initiative led by Beth Kapusta, a resident of the High Park-Roncesvalles,  the Society supported the highly successful Veg Tour 2011. When Beth was looking for local gardens to include in the tour, my family's garden got volunteered as a stop on the tour by the owner of our local cheese shop, the Thin Blue Line.

In 2012, instead of a public Veg Tour the local gardeners previously involved in the tour visited each others' gardens as well as new gardens, and exchanged ideas, as well as a taste of  food grown in our' gardens (those are my tomatoes and nasturtium pesto on the tray - photo by Howard Rideout, used with permission).
It was very interesting and educational. This year's tour was an illustration of the principles of successful grass-roots movements. First, it was notable that the leads and participants in the Veg Tour were neighbours who are activists, gardeners, writers, etc. with lots of background knowledge and experience. For example, the 2011 Veg Tour included gardening writer Lorraine Johnson and social innovator Tonya Surman, while the leader, dynamic Beth Kapusta, grew up in Delhi, Ontario, a farming community. What the tour did, was to allow us to aggregate as a group. Reaching critical mass is important for grass roots efforts. As we say at IRIS, "if you're not networking, you're not working".

There are two main challenges for local urban food movements like the High Park-Parkdale Veg Tour. The first is to broaden the community participation to include diverse gardeners from varied cultural backgrounds, who might not normally think about getting involved with such a group. A few years ago, the Toronto Botanical Garden held a workshop aimed at figuring out how to be more relevant to the broader Toronto community. I, along with others suggested the idea of asking culturally diverse gardeners to plant gardens characteristic of those that various waves of immigrants to Toronto created when they arrived: so many immigrants have brought with them knowledge about growing crops. Many of us at the workshop also suggested increasing engagement with school gardens.

A second challenge facing these urban food movements is to transfer the knowledge to less experienced and skilled, but interested youth. Bottom line, is that sustainability-ideas such as growing more local food  in urban locations is not new. It's about getting to a tipping point where a critical mass sustains the movement. In Cuba they had no choice. In Toronto, it's more of a choice, at the moment.

Here are some of my favourite veggie gardens in my west Toronto neighbourhood.


Dawn Bazely

PS Through the Veg Tour events, I discovered some interesting York University connections. Clement Kent, the president of The Toronto and Parkdale Horticultural Societies is a post-doctoral fellow in the Biology Department. He was  featured in a Y-file article, about the Pollinator Advocate Award that he received for his Pollinator Garden Project.

Food Blog no. 9 – Thinking about how fossil fuels subsidize food production

Could you imagine having to grow your own food?

Industrial agriculture has, in the recent past, brought us wine and milk lakes and butter mountains. This industrial approach to agriculture is the main reason why the per capita food production continued to increase during the 1990s and early 2000s. Though there is concern that this upwards trend may now be declining.

The downside of industrial agriculture seems to be most often expressed in arguments for organic foods. What is very rarely mentioned, however, is that our ability to engage in industrial agriculture is primarily due to fossil fuels.The energy value of the apple that we buy in the store is about 60 kcals. The total energetic cost of producing that apple, is far higher. Energy was burned in the form of gasoline that drove the tractor, and in the production of the fertilizers. While financial subsidies to Europe, via taxpayers' money, are often a hot topic of debate, in general as a society dependent on fossil fuels, we are generally not considering the energetic subsidy from fossil fuels of food production.

The energetic cost to a Medieval peasant, working the land, of producing a kcal was explained to some of us in an excellent lecture in 2008, by Professor Verena Winiwarter. There was a very high human energy input, but the relative production efficiency was actually much better than it is today! If you saw any of the excellent TV series, the Victorian Farm, you may have been aghast to learn, as I did, that 100 years ago, a ploughman might walk, on average, 14 miles a day behind his horse and plough. And, that plough was a modernized steel version that was a direct product of the industrial revolution. No wonder he would sit down to a Ploughman's lunch.

Even WITH fossil fuels to run our tractors, bailers and harvesters, food production is HARD work. As a doctoral student in Oxford, I had to put in my time on the University Farm, with sheep dipping and bailing. Could you imagine what would happen without  fossil fuel energy replacing human (peasant-style) labour? Recently in Colorado USA, John Harold, a local onion farmer  decided to bring in less migrant labour for the harvest, and to offer the jobs to local unemployed people. But, they either did not apply, or if they did, could not hack the physical work involved... as reported in a recent New York Times article - "Hiring Locally for Farm Work Is No Cure-All" (Oct 5th 2011).

Dawn Bazely   

Live Green Toronto Festival

With the sun shining and the mercury soaring (30+ degrees), I think we can breathe a collective sigh and say, "summer is here". The July long weekend is the official start of cottage weekends, summer concerts, and events and street festivals in the city. From Pride Week to Taste of the Danforth, the Honda Indy to Caribana, there is no shortage of action this summer.

One of the festivals I am most looking forward to is the Live Green Toronto Festival at Yonge and Dundas Square on July 16. This is Toronto's largest outdoor green festival with hundreds of green products and services, outdoor vendors, and live music throughout the day!

I can't wait to check out the vendors, munch on some local (and wheat free!) food, and take in some great live music. I'll also bring some of my duplicate, or less loved, DVDs for the SWAPZONE. I'm always looking to update my DVD collection at home and at the cottage (I need to at least entertain the possibility that there might be a rainy day) and this swap event is a totally free way to add some new titles to my collection -- plus, unlike other no cost options i.e. holding up your local blockbuster or downloading titles online, it is legal! 

Meaning, after it's all said and done, I'll have some new movies and music, and some extra coin in my wallet for some more tasty treats or perhaps a local microbrew on a patio that evening…

Food blog no. 7 – Canadian Food Inspection Agency lacks strategy for of surveillance of imported food

So, here I am am, happily blogging about Food Security and food sustainability, and there on the front page of Friday's Globe and Mail, above the fold, is the headline "Food watchdog asks who's minding the store: Canadians drawing more and more from foreign sources of food, but domestic regulation isn't keeping pace, internal audit finds". The article reports that an internal audit found that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency - CFIA - "has failed to develop a strategy to ensure that health hazards are not entering Canada in cans of spices and jars of cooking oil."

Now, I have had various interactions, on and off with CFIA for a decade, about the development and implementation of the Invasive Alien Species Strategy for Canada. CFIA and Environment Canada were two of the lead agencies on this issue. From a global perspective, Canada has been a laggard when it comes to the development of strong laws, policies and programmes for managing potentially invasive, non-indigenous, introduced species, and their potential threats to both agriculture and the natural environment. I have witnessed this laggardliness from when I was researching my book with Judy Myers at UBC, and in the decade since, as Canada has tried to move forward on this issue (see Myers and Bazely 2003). I have come to the conclusion, that one of the main reasons for Canada being at the rear of the pack when it comes to action, is the woeful under-resourcing of the various agencies, including CFIA, who are tasked with the issue. Who's at the front of the pack? New Zealand and Australia.

Therefore, Prof. Rick Holley's (University of Manitoba) observation about the lack of resources for CFIA in the context of screening imported food for quality and contamination, certainly resonates with my experience. For example, I referred to a US Department of Agriculture report on "Imports from China and Food Safety Issues" in an earlier Food Blog (no. 2) because I couldn't find a Canadian information source.

Dawn R. Bazely

Food blog no. 6 – putting up food in summer kitchens

In the 2001 reality tv show, Pioneer Quest: A year in the real west, two couples went back in time to live as pioneers would have done in 1875. Watching this show, all I could think of was how happy I was NOT to have been a pioneer in Canada. But, I foresee a future in which we will all be rediscovering and reverting to many of the practices of these amazingly resourceful people. They spent a huge amount of time harvesting and preserving food to see them through the harsh winter.

The Summer Kitchen is one great early Canadian pioneer idea. In Ontario, old houses often had two kitchens. One inside for the winter and one outside of the main house, for the summer. This summer was one of the hottest on record, and I made a summer kitchen on my back deck. We do not have air conditioning, except for a large American Elm shading the south side of our house, so I banished all heat-generating cooking to the summer kitchen. Putting up food, as it's known in North America took place outside in this kitchen over our propane camping stove. In the UK, preserving food in glass jars is known as bottling.

As part of my family's developing interest in eating more locally, in the last three years, I have officially progressed from freezer jam to boiling water canning. Along the way, I watched a ton of You Tube videos and amassed a library of very informative books, as well as scoured the USA Agricultural Extension Services' websites. This summer, friends and I embarked on an ambitious, comprehensive canning programme. This also involved picking our own berries at local Ontario farms - strawberries, blueberries, redcurrants, blackcurrants, and cherries. It's hot, hard work, but it's very gratifying to know which tree your cherries came from.

I also discovered some of the top people writing on this issue today - both recognized in the print world of publishing and the blogosphere.

Eugenia Bone - whose food-preserving recipes have been featured in Martha Stewart Living - is a simply outstanding writer on the whole topic of putting-up, local food and growing your own. She can be found at her Denver Post blog. She divides her time between the rural and urban worlds (New York - seen below in her SoHo loft) and is provides a reliable for starting point for anyone wanting to get into this topic.

A more organic, grass-roots source of information can be found at Tigress in a Jam blogspot. The blogger, who doesn't give her name, as far as I can see, is a young, local-food and animal welfare activist, and she has instigated all kinds of seasonal canning contests, where people experiment with one main ingredient and post their recipes. It's a great example of the web as capacity builder.

Dawn R. Bazely

Food Blog no. 5 – the 100 mile diet? I’ll pass on the 100% version

The 100-mile diet, at least in Ontario, is, I believe, nothing more or less, than the rediscovery by a highly urbanized population, many of whom are recent immigrants to the province, that we live in one of the most productive agricultural regions of the world. As a teen in 1970's Mississauga, (or as I liked to think of it, by the pet-name, Miseryssauga), I was bombarded with Foodland Ontario recipes using local ingredients. But, along with Home Economics, and a basic ability to cook, much of this local knowledge appears to have been lost during the 1990s and early 2000s.

It's great that there is such a huge interest in local food, but I, for one, am not giving up olives, citrus, cinnamon and nutmeg or salt. The first three don't grow outside in Ontario, and I don't know of any local sources of salt. The history of humanity is all about how we moved from being hunter-gatherers, to providing ourselves with more predictable sources of food, by farming. Food preservation for the winter was hugely important, and spices, herbs and salt play an important role in this. Our most important spices are all tropical, as my Plants course students learned, in my lectures from our textbook, the wonderful, Plant Biology.

The spice trade is of enormous historical, geopolitical and economic significance. This is what took Marco Polo to China on the spice route. Ghandi's challenge to the salt tax, and his making of salt, shook the British Raj. Today, principles of sustainability, equity and justice come together in the fair-trade movement and are being explored in an interesting programme from World Wildlife Fund aimed at transforming markets and supply chains. At this year's Ecological Society of America AGM in Pittsburgh, Jason Clay gave a very interesting talk about the programme.

So, before you consider embracing the 100-mile diet 100%, please think again, and consider the 5,000 mile diet for 5% of your food intake. Remember that trade in foreign foods IS incredibly important for bringing income to local peoples elsewhere in the world.

Dawn R. Bazely

Food blog no. 4 – essential reading on the topic of sustainable food

I thought that I might have enough opinions about food sustainability for 4 or perhaps 5 blogs. I am aghast to find that I could probably write one blog a week for a whole year. I shouldn't be surprised, since we all eat to live, and this is a universally interesting topic. Plus I have a professional interest in the subject as a plant ecologist, with an applied ecology focus involving animals that we eat - like geese, sheep and deer. This has taken me to many farms. I am also a keen gardener, and a keen cook.

I am not alone in my interest and there are superb writers and bloggers who inform me. My favourite book about diet, cooking and food sustainability is Hungry Planet and the photo essay, What the World Eats, reviewed in the following excellent You Tube video.

Alex Lewin's blog reviews books about food sustainability, including a number that I have mentioned.

Four other lists and sites worth mentioning include:'s sustainable food section's must-read books. This is a favourite, because the blogger admits to not having read Michael Pollan's In Defence of Food, which I haven't read either, for exaclty the same reason: I get the take-home message - "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants."
Planet Friendly's website is worth a look, along with's sustainable food booklist for 2010 and's 2008 reading list.

Dawn R. Bazely

Food Blog no. 3 – why Gordon Ramsay’s F-Word is worth watching

During the three years before my family emigrated to Canada, I attended one of England's most academically elite schools: Haberdashers' Aske's School for Girls.

At the age of 12, along with Latin, French and German, I was taught some very basic life skills in my Cookery and Sewing classes. I built on these skills when doing field work on the shorelines of Hudson Bay. At 19, I took my turn in cooking meals in a field camp for up to 30 hungry field biologists (I was one of them). Today, I'll never compete in a top amateur chef contest, but pulling off a 4-course dinner party, in which every dish served is cooked by me, is no bother.

Sadly, Home Economics has been dropped from school curricula, not only in the UK, but in much of Canada. Jamie Oliver is the most famous TV chef  tackling the issue of food education for children, with his campaign to get British school kids to eat healthier lunches. The institutional history of British school food is fascinating. Jamie's latest T.V. show, the Food Revolution brings the campaign to the USA.

Jamie aside, for me, the most entertaining take on the whole "why can't people cook ?" issue is Gordon Ramsay, in his simultaneously hilarious and shocking F Word season 1 (the F Word is a programme about Food) campaign to get young British women into their kitchen. He got a lot of criticism for picking on women and was accused of being sexist. It certainly was mind-blowing to watch giggling young women admit to never having turned on their stove, but I can also attest to the fact that pretty much everyone I know who is under-35, male and female, with a FEW notable exceptions, lacks basic home economics skills. So, I'd have to side with the "Gordon was sexist" crowd on this one.

When a significant proportion of the younger demographic is not taught the basic ability to cook simple, nutritious food from scratch, and to plan menus and food budgets, why wouldn't we expect to see an obesity epidemic hitting the Global North from the USA to Europe? Lack of exercise is important, too, but for me, diet is as big a factor. Understanding food and where it comes from is also an essential part of educating for sustainability.

My extraordinarily busy family eats food mostly prepared from scratch, and we all pitch in, including my husband, a Julia Child afficianado. Forcing my kids into the kitchen has been a challenge. To do it, I had to run my own Home Economics course at home. Topics included how to clean a sink and toilet. And yes, I learned about basic hygiene back at Haberdashers'.    Dawn R. Bazely

Sack your bags

I've decided to accept IRIS Director Dawn Bazely's challenge to blog about creatively reducing, reusing and diverting everyday household waste (see post "Hey, get me out of here, I don't want to go to landfill!").

The first challenge item she has thrown at me is a milk bag. Not being much of a milk drinker, milk bags do not find their way into my life very often. When I do buy milk, though, I purchase the less sustainably packaged wax cartons of lactose free milk.

For milk lovers and bag avoiders, there is hope. Local dairies and dairy cooperatives like Harmony Organic have reintroduced the classic milk bottle, in addition to also offering carton and bag packaging options. Their website states: "All our products are available in returnable glass bottles* which leaves the milk tasting clean and 'fresh from the farm'. Each bottle is expected to make 15-20 trips before being recycled. In an effort to bypass the use of chlorine as a sanitizing agent, we use hydrogen peroxide in our cleaning processes." While I don't drink much milk, I do eat yogurt every morning for breakfast. Similarly packaged in a reusable glass bottle, I buy delicious, creamy, full-fat, organic yogurt from Pinehedge Farms, located in St-Eugène, Ontario.

I case you're wondering, St-Eugène is at the Ontario border with Quebec, between Ottawa and Montreal, and over 500 km away from my home in downtown Toronto. While I love the idea of reusable packaging, I wonder if shipping a relatively heavy glass jar 500 km each way is environmentally better than shipping a relatively light plastic container.  Would I not be better off consuming the equally delicious Saugeen Country Dairy organic yogurt, which is packaged in plastic and hails from Markdale, Ontario, only 150 km away? If this is the case, surely it would also be better to purchase milk in light weight bags (ideally from a nearby dairy) rather than in glass bottles. It seems we are back to generating plastic milk bags.

There are other, more challenging alternatives.  For example, you could forgo milk entirely, taking on a vegan (absolutely no animal products) or paleolithic (dairy-free with only certain plants and animal products) diets. You could live close enough to a dairy farm, so as to not worry about shipping heavy glass bottles long distances. Or you could lobby the government to allow urban backyard bovine, though I doubt a cow would be very happy living in a 20 square meter backyard.

This question is like so many other "what is more sustainable" scenarios, which are highly complex and -- if you're not careful -- might make you think, it's all bad so why bother? In those cases, often a simple act is a good place to start. So, start by reusing all your milk bags (including the clear ones that are impressively durable). Stop accepting plastic bags from retailers and stop buying them as much as possible. While you're at it, stop buying food storage bags and use these instead. In fact, in many cases they could even replace plastic cling wrap if coupled with a rubber band or twist tie. The goal should not be to make your life guilt-ridden or inordinately complicated. Rather, we should all try to use less and use thoughtfully.

What do you think, Dawn? Agree? Disagree?

Ready for  a new challenge? My challenge to you, Dawn, is what should we do about these pesky items -- cigarette butts?


Good luck,