Kathmandu:

Globalisation helps the affluent and does nothing for the poor. This is the war cry of many in the world today; the loudest protests are often heard in the rich, developed countries.

It is simply not true. There is growing proof that it is the poorest who stand to gain the most.

The November 4, 2002 issue of the ‘Fortune’ article, ‘The Hunt for Globalisation that Works,’ starts with an example of a US-based company which makes solar-powered chicken coups for the farmers in poor countries. As chickens don’t eat in the dark, the solar power lights up

the chicken coup enabling chickens to eat well into the evening hours. Chickens grow more quickly and this means more income for the poor farmer.

The same article goes on to talk about the Bangladeshi experience. The Grameen Bank, which makes small loans to the poor, finds a village woman who takes out a two-year loan of Rs 19,000 for a cell phone. She then sells phone time to other villagers and repays the loan in two years. In India, Hindustan Lever, 51 per cent owned by the multinational Unilever, knowing that the poor could not afford its shampoo bottles, sells single use shampoo sachets.

More important than all this, globalisation of technology means Internet access for the poor, who cannot afford a daily newspaper. Illiterate villagers when provided with a computer quickly learn how to browse and soon demand a faster machine.

More information is more power and money in the hands of the poor. Fishermen in South India use technology - cell phones and the Internet - to check out the market prices and utilise this knowledge to obtain a better price frequently eliminating the middleman. Naresh Kumar, a farmer in Bangalore, checks milk prices over all of India on his computer to decide on an appropriate rate for selling his milk.

Globalisation has the wherewithal to banish Nepal’s poverty to the history books. If government restrictions inhibiting the spread of technology are eliminated, there will be many cell phone companies competing for business in Nepal.

How will they grow? Not by selling their services to Kathmandu’s elite - they already have cell phones - but by reducing their rates so much that a majority of Nepal’s poor will have access to this marvel of the modern world. This would spawn a whole range of businesses, which cannot exist at present for lack of communication facilities.

Allow tariff-free movement of goods into and out of Nepal and people over here will not need to look for employment opportunities abroad.

This step would globalise Nepal’s economy, enabling its intrepid traders to buy from the cheapest source (the Internet makes it easy to compare prices around the world) and sell

not only to local buyers but to tourists from India, China and elsewhere. The low labour cost would give it a huge advantage over even the duty-free Dubai, Singapore and Hong Kong markets. Nepal could then easily become a shopper’s delight with its charming scenery and hospitable climate.

One can picture Nepal lined with showy shopping malls, selling goods from all over the world. Can’t we? Do you think that in this scenario there will be any shortage of tourists?

Combine this free movement of goods with free movement of capital as well and Nepal will rocket itself out of poverty. If foreign investment is not hindered by government controls, money will flow into Nepal as the low labour costs ensure a higher return for investors.

There is no shortage of products and services which this nation-requires. On the one hand, Nepal needs more electricity, water, food, clothing, hospitals, roads and so on. The consumption per-capita is a fraction of that in the developed world.

On the other hand, Nepal also has enough people unemployed and under-employed who would, given a chance, work hard to fulfill this demand. The ingredient which is lacking is capital. Free up foreign and domestic capital from restrictions, regulations, and taxes and Nepal would get its investment needs fulfilled from the domestic, regional and global markets.

Investment dollars are constantly seeking a better return, and any time entrepreneurs and investors see an opportunity in Nepal, money will come flooding in. This would mean not just any jobs but quality jobs for today’s unemployed and disillusioned youth.

Nepal with its economy integrated with the world has nothing to lose and everything to gain. There is not that much which the government has to do either — just remove the artificial barriers which cause poverty. The time to seize the future is now.

(The writer can be contacted at: everest@mos.cnm.np)