Magazine article Stanford Social Innovation Review

Lucrative but Deadly

Magazine article Stanford Social Innovation Review

Lucrative but Deadly

Article excerpt

HEALTH CARE

For a rural coffee grower in Colombia, rising global coffee prices should be nothing but good news. Grow more beans, make more money. So Grant Miller, a health economist at Stanford University, was surprised to discover what else higher prices herald: Sicker kids. It turns out that "child mortality rates go up when prices go up," says Miller. The opposite is also true: Child mortality decreases - fewer infants and children die - when prices slump.

Miller and his coauthor examined average annual coffee prices from 1970 to 2006. Three events during that time led to huge price shocks: Brazil's cropdevastating frost in 1975 and drought in 1985 increased the price of coffee dramatically; the collapse of the International Coffee Agreement in 1989-90 decreased it They compared these sudden price changes to indicators of child health and mortality such as immunization records, prenatal care, population size, and acute disease to come up with their counterintuitive conclusion that abetter economy can be hazardous to children's health.

"Things that are important for your health are often not expensive, but take a lot of time," Miller explains. Competition for time is much stronger when coffee prices are high, as the value of tending to the household coffee plot goes up. Breastfeeding, kitchen hygiene, and securing clean drinking water can be very time intensive. So can access to primary health services in rural Colombia, which are cheap but maybe over the mountain and have a days-long wait. "If you're a coffee grower, you can earn more money in a high-price year by working harder on your coffee plot But that comes at the cost of other things that you're spending your time on less, including taking care of your kids," says Miller. …

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