Friday, May 19, 2006
The national political debate rarely records talk of "the poor" anymore; all politicians speak only of caring for "working families." Local politics in some cities inovolves the issue of homelessness. Rarely, however, does our hyper-metropolitanized nation think much about the rural poor any more. This would have shocked liberal politicians from the 18th century up to fairly recently, when big programs such as the Tennessee Valley Authority sought to help desperately poor rural areas.
It is refreshing, therefore, to read the Economist's interesting article this week on the Delta region of the Mid-South -- the largely African American farming area on either side of the big river in Mississippi and Arkansas. By some measures the poorest region of the nation, the Delta has been hurt in recent years both by the technology boom (most residents are not online) and by hurricane Katrina, which has slowed the tourist trade down to the Gulf Coast.
Sensible plans to help the Delta focus on its strengths -- fertile soil and a citizenry skilled in tilling the soil. Instead of relying largely on cotton, local governments are investing in facilities to foster farming of the sweet potato -- that famous crop that provides more nutrients per work than any other food. Local grasses are useful in making bio-fuels, which some expect in part to replace petroleum products in the near future. And east Arkansas has a plan to moisten its enormous rice fields with irrigated water as underwater aquifers dry up. One problem -- much of the water would come from the White River, whose adjacent wetlands are where birders claim to have seen the once-thought-to-be-extinct-and-still-elusive ivory-billed woodpecker.