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If there is nobody left knowing how to cultivate them, there is going to be a problem...

I pointed this out the other day in Bruce McF's latest Arc of the Sun diary. And that current prices might persuade peasant farmers to stay on the land - though we have to stop bringing world prices down with our subsidised exports (we = EU & US).

OTOH, we shouldn't give up farming. There's a free-trade notion that says we don't need agriculture any more (like we didn't need industry?), and we should just import from the cheapest bidder (comparative advantage). Which, practically, means buying from Cairns Group and emerging agri-countries that run wide-scale production of dubious sustainability. And (Doha Round) from plantation-type farming that should be encouraged (invested in by capitalists) in poorer countries, where lucky peasant farmers will be able to get wage-slave jobs and we will be told they have been raised out of poverty.

My view is we should aim at self-sufficiency, as far as possible, for all. Free-traders' schemes take no account of ecology or of human society, do not cost these into their utilitarian calculations, forget past agronomic experience of virgin deforested soils exhausted by colonial cropping (North American forest, C17 - C19?). Rather than go for plantation monocultures, we should encourage sustainable, smart small farming providing basic food plus cash crops for sale on regional and national markets. Food will be more expensive? Good. Then it will pay farmers to stay on the land, it will maintain and enrich social structures that are otherwise doomed by uprooting and flight to the cities.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Apr 18th, 2008 at 09:58:40 AM EST
Damn, I knew I had forgotten a couple paragraphs in the end. Thanks for writing them ! :)

Another point made by Mazoyer is that large-scale farms are actually quite inefficient ; that economies of scale happen only up to 5-7 workers per production units, and that after that you meet diseconomies of scale.

Also, the amount of food GDP going to the producer will rise again : even France or the US spend ~15% of GDP on food, but most of that goes to Agrobusiness and supermarket nowadays, not farmers. i.e. food prices for the end buyer need not rise that much.

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Fri Apr 18th, 2008 at 10:28:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Another point made by Mazoyer is that large-scale farms are actually quite inefficient ; that economies of scale happen only up to 5-7 workers per production units, and that after that you meet diseconomies of scale.

That's interesting... So what is the optimal farm size, in terms of people and land area?

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun May 11th, 2008 at 08:52:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What I said, 5-7 people seem to be the maximum amount people that work efficiently on an agricultural exploitation before you have to add in various administrative and coordination tasks.

Land area OTOH is very variable, depending on the type of production, the amount of capital available... A shepherd with a dog can look over a much larger herd than without...

The insight is that agriculture is very easy to decentralise, which is why economies of scale don't apply.

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Sun May 11th, 2008 at 08:44:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Self-sufficiency in basic needs is necessary for a sustainable economy. If the US or EU are importing either our food needs from elsewhere, or our energy needs from elsewhere, then intrinsically we have a technological system that cannot be replicated around the world, because there is no "elsewhere" for the whole world to import from.

At least, not in this century ... maybe we can get an elsewhere to import some high value things from down the track, if we don't screw the pooch too badly in this coming century.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Wed Apr 30th, 2008 at 09:54:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
... if it is necessary to subsidize food to avoid food riots, then it becomes critical to be food self-sufficient, because a government can create additional domestic purchasing power to mobilize domestic resources, but a low-income nation that tries to create additional domestic purchasing power to buy imported products just drives down its sustainable exchange rate.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Wed Apr 30th, 2008 at 10:00:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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