agriculture


market in Ghana

market in Ghana 2007

A good friend who works for the US Department of Agriculture generally buys in to the theory that big agriculture is more efficient and productive. I have wondered about that, because a lot of what I have been reading seems to point in the opposite direction. Today I found documented confirmation that smaller farms are more productive farms, courtesy of George Monbiot:

Though the rich world’s governments won’t hear it, the issue of whether or not the world will be fed is partly a function of ownership. This reflects an unexpected discovery. It was first made in 1962 by the Nobel economist Amartya Sen(2), and has since been confirmed by dozens of further studies. There is an inverse relationship between the size of farms and the amount of crops they produce per hectare. The smaller they are, the greater the yield.

In some cases, the difference is enormous. A recent study of farming in Turkey, for example, found that farms of less than one hectare are twenty times as productive as farms of over ten hectares(3). Sen’s observation has been tested in India, Pakistan, Nepal, Malaysia, Thailand, Java, the Phillippines, Brazil, Colombia and Paraguay. It appears to hold almost everywhere.

If governments are serious about feeding the world, they should be breaking up large landholdings, redistributing them to the poor and concentrating their research and their funding on supporting small farms.

There are plenty of other reasons for defending small farmers in poor countries. The economic miracles in South Korea, Taiwan and Japan arose from their land reform programmes. Peasant farmers used the cash they made to build small businesses. …

But the prejudice against small farmers is unshakeable. It gives rise to the oddest insult in the English language: when you call someone a peasant, you are accusing them of being self-reliant and productive. Peasants are detested by capitalists and communists alike. Both have sought to seize their land, and have a powerful vested interest in demeaning and demonising them. In its profile of Turkey, the country whose small farmers are 20 times more productive than its large ones, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation states that, as a result of small landholdings, “farm output … remains low.”(9) The OECD states that “stopping land fragmentation” in Turkey “and consolidating the highly fragmented land is indispensable for raising agricultural productivity.”(10) Neither body provides any supporting evidence. A rootless, half-starved labouring class suits capital very well.

Big business is killing small farming. By extending intellectual property rights over every aspect of production; by developing plants which either won’t breed true or which don’t reproduce at all(14), it ensures that only those with access to capital can cultivate. As it captures both the wholesale and retail markets, it seeks to reduce its transaction costs by engaging only with major sellers. … As developing countries sweep away street markets and hawkers’ stalls and replace them with superstores and glossy malls, the most productive farmers lose their customers and are forced to sell up.

This leads to an interesting conclusion. For many years, well-meaning liberals have supported the fair trade movement because of the benefits it delivers directly to the people it buys from. But the structure of the global food market is changing so rapidly that fair trade is now becoming one of the few means by which small farmers in poor nations might survive. A shift from small to large farms will cause a major decline in global production, just as food supplies become tight. Fair trade might now be necessary not only as a means of redistributing income, but also to feed the world.

You can read the article Small is Bountiful. For those who wish to see the source material, the citations are listed at the end of the article.


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Chickens in Ghana

Chickens in Ghana

The latest WTO Doha talks have ended without an agreement.  This is good news for developing countries, and generally for the world at large.  For one thing it gives countries a bit more sovereignty:

The past has seen a tendency of nations to give up their sovereignty to some unaccountable organizations or contractual agreement frameworks. The EU, IMF, NATO or the WTO are example for such.

Afraid of mass imports of hugely subsidized goods from the U.S. and EU, developing countries insisted on their right to put tariffs on these and to protect their local long term food sources from economic ruin. The rich countries tried to deny that right to the poor even while they insisted on subsidizing their exports.

The real issue at stake here was the responsibility of a nation to provide for its people. That duty includes their security in a wide sense. Any nation is obliged to take care that it can feed its people from its own soil.

The failure of the Doha talks reaffirms this responsibility. The ability to adopt national policies on food production stays with the local people. Everyone who believes in real democracy should welcome this event. It is a win for the sovereigns of the world – its people.

The contractual agreements with unaccountable organizations mentioned above have traditionally locked developing countries into crushing cycles of debt.

The end of Doha is also a step in the right direction for the environment.

From Derailing Doha Trade Deal Essential to Saving Climate:

Global trade is carried out with transportation that is heavily dependent on fossil fuels.  It is estimated that about 60 per cent of the world’s use of oil goes to transportation activities which are more than 95 per cent dependent on fossil fuels.   An OECD study estimated that the global transport sector accounts for 20-25 per cent of carbon emissions, with some 66 per cent of this figure accounted for by emissions in the industrialized countries.

A derailment of Doha will not be a sufficient condition to formulate a strategy to contain climate change, but given the likely negative ecological consequences of a successful deal, it is a necessary condition.

I’m hoping the failure of Doha will help Ghana protect itself a bit more from EU and US agricultural dumping.  That dumping has made earning money with our small farms extremely difficult.  It is difficult to compete with goods that are priced below the cost of production.

h/t to Moon of Alabama and the well informed people who comment there.

young corn in Ghana

young corn in Ghana

From  Food aid, a gigantic waste of money?, come the following figures:

It costs about $77 in fertilizers and hybrid seed for a smallholder African farmer to produce an extra ton of maize, based on our research at the Millennium Villages. To bring in the same ton of maize into Africa as U.S. food aid costs $670, based on a Government Accountability Office report. Both numbers are as of April 2007 … Since it may now cost an African smallholder farmer about $150 in inputs to produce an extra ton of maize, and she can sell it locally for $250 to $300, the farmer will generate income and begin the economic transformation from sub-subsistence into commercial entrepreneurs.

Based on this information, it seems fairly clear what the most effective way to finance food aid is.  Subsidize seeds and fertilizer for the people who are growing the food locally.  And make sure the seeds produce crops with seeds that can be harvested and regrown without paying tolls or tribute to some distant agribusiness imperial power.

Jamaal Montasser took this shot of a man ploughing a field with cattle while on a work placement with Ghana’s ministry of agriculture.

Henry Saragih, the International Coordinator for La Via Campesina. Has written an open letter to the Secretary General of the Food and Agriculture organization (FAO). La Via Campesina is an organization of millions of small farmers and landless workers in more than 60 countries around the world. Mr. Sarigih has described the current food crisis succinctly and accurately:

This current food crisis is the result of many years of deregulation of agricultural markets, the privatization of state regulatory bodies and the dumping of agricultural products on the markets of developing countries. According to the FAO, liberalized markets have attracted huge cash flows that seek to speculate on agricultural products on the “futures” markets and other financial instruments.

There is lots more, read the letter.

Africa climate projections from the Economist

Today the twelth annual United Nations Conference on Trade and Development convened in Accra. The theme is Addressing the opportunities and challenges of globalization for development.

At a press briefing on his arrival, the UN Secretary-General noted that the current food crisis that threatened the world, had dire consequences, especially for the developing world, adding that, the conference would take a serious look at the situation and how best to deal with it.

He said another issue that needed to be examined was the current trend of trade liberalisation and its impact on developing countries.

Speaker of Parliament, Mr Ebenezer Begyina Sekyi Hughes … said trade, democracy and development were linked in the modern era of globalisation, but noted that “for a number of years now, the inputs of the Legislature, which is the microcosm of the people, have been left out during global discussions on trade and development”. Mr. Hughes said the trend was slowly, but hopefully changing, and representatives from the Legislature were now being involved in some of these discussions.

Unfortunately, leaving out legislatures and other organizations that gather and express the views of broad cross sections of people has been the practice in far too many countries.

I hope that the conferees at UNCTAD will pay attention to the conversations and conclusions of the IAASTD, International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development. IAASTD concluded a three year study in South Africa last week.

“The question of how to feed the world could hardly be more urgent,” said Robert Watson, director of the IAASTD and chief scientist at the British environment and agriculture department.

The findings of the three-year IAASTD indicate that modern agriculture will have to change radically from the dominant corporate model if the world is to avoid social breakdown and environmental collapse, he explained. “Agriculture has a footprint on all of the big environmental issues…climate change, biodiversity, land degradation, water quality, etc.”

The IAASTD brought together more than 400 scientists who examined all current knowledge about agricultural practices and science to find ways to double food production in the next 25 to 50 years and do so sustainably, while helping to lift the poor out of poverty. They concluded that the way to meet these challenges is through combining local and traditional know-how with formal knowledge.

The effort produced five regional assessments and a synthesis report, as well as an executive summary for decision makers.

Representatives from 30 governments of developed and developing countries, the biotechnology and pesticide industry and a wide range of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), including Greenpeace and Oxfam, were involved. Public sessions were also held to gather input from producer and consumer groups, as well as others within the private sector.

However, last year the two biggest biotech and pesticide companies, Syngenta and BASF, along with their industry association — Crop Life International — abandoned the assessment process. This was on the grounds that the final draft of the synthesis report was overly cautious about the potential risks of genetically modified crops, and sceptical of the benefits.

“It’s unfortunate that they backed out … I don’t think they are used to working with a wide variety of participants as equals” …

From Kenya’s Daily Nation comes the headline:
Farmers planting maize that poses threat to humans

Farmers in one of Kenya’s largest grain-producing areas have been cultivating genetically modified maize that is potentially harmful to human health without knowing it.

The Sunday Nation can exclusively report that the relevant seeds are sourced from a South African company that is a subsidiary of Dupont, a leading US-based biotechnology firm.

This was revealed to the Sunday Nation by officials of the Kenya Biodiversity Coalition (KBioC), a body that brings together 45 farmer groups, NGOs and civil society bodies.
. . .
After tests, it was conclusively established that the sample was contaminated with traces of MON810, a genetically modified maize variety owned and marketed by Monsanto, an American biotechnology company.
. . .

Long-running suspicions

The revelation confirms long-running suspicions among many Kenyan farmers that they could have been cultivating genetically modified varieties of maize without being aware of it.

“Initially, we were given the suspect seeds as donations by politicians and we planted them. But when we harvested, the maize started rotting almost immediately,” said Isabel Wandati, a farmer and official of a women’s group in Butere.

She laments that she finds it impossible to replant the same maize and blames the Kenya Bureau of Standards for not properly inspecting the relevant maize variety.

She adds that instead of arming farmers in Butere with the relevant information on the variety, the local agricultural extension officials have been championing its cultivation.

There is now a danger that the country’s entire maize crop could be contaminated with traces of MON810. This is because maize is a cross-pollinated crop and pollen that bears traces of MON810 might be transported by wind from contaminated farms into uncontaminated ones.

The variety is patented by Monsanto and is banned in several European countries because of its negative impact on the environment and its harmful consequences on such useful insects, such as butterflies and bees.

Research conducted in some European countries had shown that feeding mice on the variety damaged their kidneys and livers.

However, its effects on humans is yet to be fully studied since maize is generally not used as human food in Europe and America. It is instead fed to horses and other domestic animals.

Once the country’s maize crop is contaminated with genetically modified varieties, Kenya risks losing traditional hybrid varieties that were painstakingly developed by KARI at the taxpayer’s expense.

Genetically modified grains are injected with bacteria that produce poison to kill nuisance pests and resist adverse weather conditions.

However, these poisonous bacteria have the downside of potentially destroying the soil by killing helpful bacteria and insects. Also, they compromise food safety and might prove to be harmful to humans over time once the grains are consumed.


From
gmofree-europe.org come these findings:

Since approving the MON810 in 1998 there have been a host of studies that have shown alarming results

for example:

  • A study by Swiss researchers found fewer flying insects in Bt maize fields. Flying insects are important food sources for insect-eating birds and bats.2
  • A study published in 2003 found that earthworms feeding on Bt maize litter showed a weight loss compared to a weight gain in earthworms feeding on nonGM maize. Earthworms are extremely important for nutrient cycling in soils.3
  • A study in Switzerland found that the Bt toxin could still be detected in soil the following year after the Bt maize was harvested.4

In fairness to Monsanto, I don’t think it is only African agriculture they wish to colonize and control. I think it is the whole world. But the complicity of governments promoting the use of these seeds needs to be checked. Kenya’s entire maize crop is at risk, and may already be contaminated. The farmer’s words are most worrisome Initially, we were given the suspect seeds as donations by politicians and we planted them. But when we harvested, the maize started rotting almost immediately” and that: She laments that she finds it impossible to replant the same maize. This sounds like they may be using terminator seeds. The plants are genetically engineered so that the seeds are sterile, forcing the farmers to buy new seed each year, rather than save and plant seeds from the previous crop. Populations are exposed to famine just because they may not have money to buy new seeds. Lives are dependent on the seed vendor. The vendor, or government sponsor, can trap the farmers in a cycle of debt, pricing seeds so that the farmers are forced to borrow each year in order to plant, and never escape debt.

GM, genetically modified, seeds can cross pollinate and contaminate non GM crops. Supposedly to prevent this, Monsanto has developed seeds that are sterile. Unfortunately they can still cross pollinate. The resulting seeds can’t grow, which is an additional contamination. The seeds that have been genetically modified not to grow are called terminator seeds.

In the past I have been skeptical of the people crying about GM foods. I have wondered if some of the fear was more superstition than science. The more I read, the more I realize there are serious reasons to be wary and skeptical of GM food. Even contained experiments have cross polinated outside of their contained zones. The west needs to do its research and experimentation at home. And it needs to provide some conclusive evidence of safety IF the seeds are safe.

One friend says that “I’m sorry” is the white man’s national anthem. He cuts off your brother’s head and then says “Oh, I’m sorry”, and you are supposed to take it.

It looks like the US is trying to colonize Africa militarily with AFRICOM, and colonize it agriculturally as well, with GM seeds and biofuel plantations. While this is not necessarily about race, there is a racial component. “I’m sorry” later on will not compensate for the suffering and destruction caused by these hugely mistaken approaches to the continent.

As another friend of mine used to say: Don’t be sorry, be careful.

From:
Unmasking the new green revolution in Africa: motives, players and dynamics

Key principles –

  • a revolution defined and implemented by Africans: any solution to Africa’s problems must be defined, designed, formulated and implemented by Africans
  • smallholders and poor farmers as central actors: any “true” revolution must have the people as central and lead actors, not mere extras in a play scripted by outsiders
  • structural change is pivotal: strategic solutions to the problems in agriculture heavily depend on access to productive resources such as land
  • agriculture as a living system: solutions to agricultural problems should be viewed as an integrated whole, and as part of the agricultural knowledge systems of local farmers
  • food sovereignty and self-sufficiency is key: agricultural development projects must first and foremost address the challenges of food security at the household level, instead of being designed as market-oriented
  • harnessing Africa’s resources for Africans: Africa’s resources should be harnessed and developed to benefit the poor who constitute the majority of the population

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