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I'm gonna harp on a theme I used to play over at MoA.  one road to fuller employment and a number of other bennies is land reform and the revival of family/smallholder farming using sustainable practises (i.e. less petro intensive, IPM/organic, diversified cropping, shorter haul to market).  it is a win/win/win paradigm shift with lots of positive spinoff:  reduced water usage per acre, increased productivity per acre, regional food self-sufficiency (cf this interesting finding by a Japanese bank on the economic benefits of a one percent increase in food self-sufficiency for Miyagi Prefecture), reduced pollution of rivers and lakes, higher food quality for local markets, preservation of diversity in cultivars, hence reduced vulnerability to crop diseases and pest outbreaks, preservation of soil quality, repair of damaged topsoil, reduced dependency of regional populations on fossil-intensive truck transport, and yada yada.

right now we are running out of cheap oil, but we have an oversupply of unemployed people.  yet our industrialised ag policy (unwritten but pervasive) on the American model is to maximise "effiency" by minimising the amount of human labour needed per kilocalorie produced, and maximising the fossil fuel inputs ("energy slaves" which substitute for human labour and expertise).  this form of farming often produces less biomass per hectare than diversified organic practice, thus failing to maximise return on another precious and shrinking resource (arable land) and is grossly wasteful of water  (about to be a limiting resource in many countries).

I do not suggest that we pack the unemployed off to forced agrarian labour camps in some kind of Maoist re-education programme;  but if I were chronically unemployed and my children had only the same to look forward to, and if I were offered "40 acres and a mule" of my very own plus training in sustainable ag practise and assistance in finding regional markets, I would jump at the chance.  the yeoman farmer makes a pretty solid middle class on which to anchor a stable polity;  and with today's electronic communications networks there is no need for the rural community to be cut off from cultural and educational stimulation, news, political life etc.

there is also the fascinating potential for urban farming -- that very activity which the Mugabe government (at a time of food shortages!) recently threatened to outlaw, apparently as part of its campaign to evict shantytown dwellers and to undermine any attempts at local food security in urban areas.  if the government is paying for unemployed persons to sit idle, why not pay them to produce food for local consumption?

just a thought...

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Thu Jun 30th, 2005 at 05:56:44 PM EST
Sorry the Japanese link got broken and I don't seem to be able to edit the comment. Let us try again

The 77 Bank, Ltd., headquartered in Miyagi Prefecture in northern Japan, recently announced the results of a study...

that's much better.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Thu Jun 30th, 2005 at 08:19:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I mentioned this sustainable small-farm model in the biodiesel discussion in Jérôme's post on how much biomass went into  creating the oil we burn.

I believe it's possible to evolve towards something of the kind you mention, which could offer the benefits you mention. But it would be a huge evolution -- demanding almost Maoist intervention, in spite of what you say -- if it were to significantly reduce unemployment. What government agency, with what powers, would redistribute land? After all, "40 acres and a mule" came after a bitter civil war...

Perhaps a redefinition of the CAP in favour of small farmers might begin a slide. Currently, the way the CAP works (subsidies are paid per hectare, and based on specific fields contractually consecrated to growing a specific crop) is a thinly-disguised form of pressure towards rapidly-increasing farm size; land prices have risen as farmers borrow to attempt to attain "critical mass". Smaller farmers leaving for retirement are not replaced, their farms are gobbled up by bigger ones. If the CAP subsidized, neither the crops nor the land, but the farmer, there might be a change in the right direction.

Otherwise, I'm all for what you suggest. I was all for it thirty years ago. I just didn't get my 40 acres and a mule!

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jul 1st, 2005 at 02:07:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
As far as I can remember, that is how it is now done, at least partially, here in Switzerland. Especially for the small farmers in mountain regions. They are more or less payed for the environmental upkeep.

If I can find some time I will look for a link.

by Fran on Fri Jul 1st, 2005 at 02:15:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, and this kind of farming would hopefully also stop this nonsense trucking around of our food. I do not know how it is in the US, but here in Europe it is possible for i.e. cattle be shipped from the North to Italy for the slaughtering and then the meat being send to say Hungary for being cut in to pieces and then being send to a third country for emballage and then finally to return to it's origin country to be sold. Absolute nonsense in my way of thinking. Well, hopefully oil prices will stop this practice soon anyway.
by Fran on Fri Jul 1st, 2005 at 02:12:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I totally agree, Fran. We should be producing quality foodstuffs for local/regional consumption. Apart from any other consideration (the amount of fraud that goes on trucking livestock and meat around, for example), it's simply a criminal waste of energy transporting food over long distances.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jul 1st, 2005 at 02:43:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I enjoyed this commentary. I lived and worked a few years as a coffee farmer, and it changed my life. I loved it!!

What this brings to my mind to wonder, combined with another post below, is what kind of influence do the European people have in influencing decisions about CAP? What could be done to move things in the small farmer direction? (Perhaps this is a future diary!!)

Please write more on this subject, De Anander!

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia

by whataboutbob on Fri Jul 1st, 2005 at 02:49:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Bob, if you like DeAnander's comments you should also check in on Moon of Alabama. Unfortunately she hasn't been commenting as often lately, there are other good comments, but for me usually her's are the highlight.
by Fran on Fri Jul 1st, 2005 at 03:01:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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