Thursday, October 22, 2009

Small Scale Food Production is Basic, Large Scale Production is Not

For months, politicians, journalists and other pundits have been saying that the El Nino rains are coming, it's just a matter of time and then everyone will be able to plant crops. Some areas have been waiting for years for good growing conditions and have been depending on food aid and other handouts to get by.

Well, in some areas, parts of the Rift Valley for example, the rains have started. It would seem to be a good time to start planting, except for one slight problem: there is a national shortage of seeds, especially maize seed, the country's staple food.

Some say the shortage of seeds is due to their being bought up by the government for cheap or free distribution, which hasn't yet happened. Whether that's true or not is unclear, but it's a bad time for uncertainty as the rains may not be adequate and may not last long.

Another article points out that food security is at its worst since 1989. The article, entitled 'Let's go back to the basics', advocates promotion of smallholder production units, arguing that peasant farmers, who are in the majority, need support. This article mentions approvingly the provision of free seeds and fertilizers, along with reduced dependence on rain fed agriculture and greater crop diversity.

However, the article goes on to advocate the encouragement of private sector led agricultural development projects by giving government support to them, too. The naive reader may think that 'private sector led' means that the private sector provides some of the capital needed, rather than expecting the government to foot the bill. However, it doesn't mean this. Rather, the government is always keen to use public money to fund 'private' ventures, which often belong to the government or members of the government anyway.

Then the article does a complete about face and states that 'the only way out is to abandon food production at smallholder level for subsistence to commercial profitable businesses', with the country committing itself to a technology-led agriculture. This is the opposite to going 'back to basics'.

People need food. If the majority of farmers are smallholders then they need to grow the food, for themselves and for others. Food produced by large scale operators will not be affordable to smallholders or to others who get by on some form of subsistence. Putting public money into the private sector will only enrich those who least need it at the expense of those who are now suffering. Going back to basics means supporting people who support themselves and others, that means small farmers, the ones who feed most of the country. Sphere: Related Content

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