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Up until now, agriculture has been the domain of professional agriculturalists with a narrow focus on increasing productivity.

Merely having people leave the land for big city slums does not improve agricultural yields, as linca wrote:

The majority of peasants in the third world are stuck with agricultural methods that went out of fashion in the High Middle Ages... And the productivity that comes with it : whereas these tools only allow a worker to cultivate about 1 hectare,  or 2.5 acres by himself, and yield thus 1 ton of grain from his work, a 1900 European or American peasant, using animal traction and basic industrially produced tools, could cultivate ten times the area, and get about 10 tons of grain for his work, and thus was already 10 times more productive ...

As the use of hand/animal labor was not able to raise the total yield of the land but concentrated the improvement - 10 peasants producing 10 tons to 1 peasant producing 10 tons.  

Second, the nine who left the land didn't evaporate!  They moved to major cities where they compete for lower paid, unskilled, jobs implying supply-side driven wage reduction.  In turn, this indicates the market price of agricultural goods produced in that country will lower as the Purchasing Power of those jobs is divided among more people.  

Third, the migration of people from rural to urban areas enfeebles the rural economic structure as the number of consumers lessens.

This trend is countered by the introduction of (however minimal) Public Health measures by various organizations increasing the rural population.  From a humanitarian stance lowering the child death rate is a good thing.  From a systems stance, not so much.  A general trend in Africa, for example, is that women and children stay in the agricultural areas while the men go to the city to try and earn some money, returning intermittently.  Since, as Asinus Asinum Fricat observes, women are not empowered this intermittent return implies Yet Another Kid.  

The last thing anybody or the planet needs.

The given examples are from Africa.  The same general system is in place in any country conforming to the same general pattern, e.g., rural Appalachia in the US., albeit with different dongles; the dance is the same, the steps are unique to the economic and technological situation of the country.

While disheartening I submit this opens the possibility that solving the Third World food crises would go a long way to solving the problems of rural poverty in the First World as well.  If this is shown to be correct it would give 'cover' for First World politicians to effectively act to change policy.  

The key, as I've already said, is to broaden the pool of experts influencing First World agricultural policy making.  As an added benefit it would broaden the pressure group(s) beyond those directly benefiting from the current policies.  Those people are powerfully connected to and in the political structures of a country.  It has been said, elsewhere, the largest beneficiary of EU agricultural subsidies in the UK is the Royal Family.  I'll bet a dollar to a bucket of cow manure investigation would uncover similar situations in the other EU countries.  It will be hard to overcome their influence.  If it isn't, nothing will happen.

Before ending this ramble let me say: eliminating ag subsidies would be a disaster, effectively gutting agriculture in the US and EU.  Whether or no in some different reality ag subsidies aren't required in this reality -- you know, the one we live in? -- it can't be done.  

What needs to be done is a wide-ranging, embracing, policy change to move the global agriculture system from here to there.  Where "there" is a sustainable agricultural system in vibrant, economically viable and diverse, rural areas.


She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sun Apr 20th, 2008 at 01:11:02 PM EST
A 10 for that.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sun Apr 20th, 2008 at 03:00:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thank you.

[O/T] We're starting to develop a really good database of information and analysis on things agricultural.  

Perhaps some (hint) FP'er (hint) could put a slot in the Debates Box (nudge, nudge) others of us (push, push) could work on throwing together some position papers (type, scribble, type, type).

Seriously, it would be a shame to let all this fall through the cracks. [O/T]

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sun Apr 20th, 2008 at 03:13:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Got an idea for a specific focus? Or just a boilerplate statement of global problems and everyone have a go at hashing out solutions?
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sun Apr 20th, 2008 at 03:29:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Right now compiling all the diaries, and the ensuing discussions, in one place would be a good start.  

Then abstract the various Topics: GM, water depletion, transference of food crops to bio-fuel production, rural economic diversity, overpopulation, Climate Change, & etc with their associated diaries/comments -- something like I did here.  (which I then let lapse, my bad.)

Then construct a flow-chart or Fuzzy-Cognitive Map or some other Modeling tool to provide a Top-Down and Bottom-Up Index.

Goal: provide a quality Information Source for position papers and decision-makers.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sun Apr 20th, 2008 at 03:51:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
OK, one, I'll pool the diaries together into the Occasional Series box.

Next, I think a debate might be the occasion for identifying the issues & topics, as well as sketching the outlines of solutions (debatable of course).

Then attempt the type of tool you suggest, for which we don't have a slot. The ETwiki was supposed to do this kind of thing, but it's spam-botted to hell.

The fuzzy-cognition tool I may leave to others... ;)

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sun Apr 20th, 2008 at 04:11:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This week is going to be too busy for me to devote to non-money making activities.  I'll do what I can, when I can.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Sun Apr 20th, 2008 at 04:18:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'll start with the first part, then we'll see about the second?
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sun Apr 20th, 2008 at 04:25:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If you can put up the Debate Box and whatever you can find I'll plug away filling the gaps.

As to the second, I know how to do that.  The challenge will be getting enough time to do it.  But that's OK.  My feeling is it's better to start with high-quality but limited rather than lots and lots of nuthin.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sun Apr 20th, 2008 at 05:03:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
is an important focus around which many issues revolve - and thus worthy of a unique database. Not as sexy as finance, but perhaps more important.

  • food
  • biofuels
  • water
  • land rights
  • diet
  • poverty

etc in no particular order

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Apr 21st, 2008 at 12:38:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Good list.  Plus

  1. Rural/regional development
  2. Ecological impact/sustainability
  3. Subsidies/trade barriers/marketing regimes

I did an academic study 20 years ago that demonstrated that the then level of CAP price subsidies not only severely depressed world agriculture by dumping European surpluses on world markets, but cost more than paying European farmers a "social wage" whilst dismantling price subsidies.  That is what has been (slowly) happening since with "decoupling".  Current price rises may make European agricultural viable again even without "social wage" payments.  The long term value of the CAP in maintaining a European agricultural industry at a time of declining world prices is now being born out.  Once farmers leave the land, they almost never go back.

"It's a mystery to me - the game commences, For the usual fee - plus expenses, Confidential information - it's in my diary..."
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu May 1st, 2008 at 01:15:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Why are agricultural subsidies calculated at level of the producers and not the consumers? Decoupling seems a better system than crop prices, but I think it still has complexities which prevents it from being a really responsive system of food production.

Can't the subsidies operate almost like a backward VAT, moving upwards from the end value of the produce to the consumers, which promotes premium crops (like organic, for example). The subsidy only being paid if the end consumer is within the EU to prevent dumping on third world markets.

Member of the Anti-Fabulousness League since 1987.

by Ephemera on Thu May 1st, 2008 at 03:33:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Subsidies started out as an attempt to produce some price stability (smooth fluctuations) so that farmers had some certainty of at least a minimal return on their investment/crops.  As world food prices fell below the economic cost of production in Europe the subsidies rose to ensure farming within the EU remained viable.  This incentivised volume production. However large productivity increases resulted in both surplus production (butter mountains, wine lakes etc.) which in turn were dumped on world markets depressing world prices further and creating an even greater need for subsidies!  The costs became so enormous that the subsidies exceeded total farming income from crops/products actually sold.

The solution, which I advocated 20 years ago, was to decouple the social supports for farmers from their actual production - and thus de-incentivise production - and positively support reduced intensity/ more sustainable/environmentally friendly farming.  The result was that farmers got a social wage, the environment was supported, overproduction eased, third world farmers had less produce dumped on their markets, and the total cost of the enterprise to the taxpayer/consumer was reduced.

Now, with world prices rising, and pressure to liberalise trade (not least to provide access to developed markets for third world producers), farming incomes are rising in any case, and the need for a social wage support structure within the EU may diminish.  However the money saved should be spent on ensuring third world farm productivity rises to enhance their incomes, prevent food prices rising further, and provide subsidies to the poorest of the poor who have no prospect of feeding themselves.

The problem with increasing farming productivity is that it increases energy/chemical inputs and reduces labour inputs leading to increased unemployment/rural poverty, soil degradation, social inequality, corporate dependencies etc. so more sustainable and equitable means of increasing production have to be found.

"It's a mystery to me - the game commences, For the usual fee - plus expenses, Confidential information - it's in my diary..."

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu May 1st, 2008 at 03:57:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It sounds like the correct solution would be a reverse Corn Law, only allowing exports from Europe when world prices rose above a certain level in order to prevent food shortages. Other than that, European (and US) produce is just bad news.

Member of the Anti-Fabulousness League since 1987.
by Ephemera on Thu May 1st, 2008 at 05:01:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Diary!

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 Tue May 6th, 2008 at 07:49:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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