Farmers of the world, unite!
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de Melo, Ivaro Soares. 2003. Farmers of the world, unite!. Spore 103. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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Farmers have improved agriculture by breeding plants and animals and building sustainable systems of production. They have borne the brunt of agricultural and industrial revolutions too. Yet forces outside agriculture dictate its production and...
Farmers have improved agriculture by breeding plants and animals and building sustainable systems of production. They have borne the brunt of agricultural and industrial revolutions too. Yet forces outside agriculture dictate its production and distribution of its wealth. For how much longer? In their magnificent history of world agriculture from Neolithic times to its current crisis*, Marcel Mazoyer and Laurence Roudart analyse the long saga of the farmer and agriculture, a saga well worth reflecting upon. It all started about 10,000 years ago when crop production and livestock rearing became the stage upon which humanity took some historically decisive steps. It was then that the many cultivation and technical systems which still coexist today were born. A blind, mad evolution Agriculture in developed countries is blessed with advisory services, credit, grants, price guarantees, customs barriers and accessible markets. This is in stark contrast to the poorest nations where farmers lack almost everything: advice, inputs, credit, communications, transport, trading organisations, sometimes even land and, often, governments genuinely interested in supporting them. This blind, mad evolution of the world s agricultural and food supply system is a tragedy. In just a few regions of the world, a few large farms acquire more and more resources to produce highly competitive crops and livestock and put them at low prices on world markets. In vast regions of the world, most farmers cannot produce competitively, do not have enough land and end up as simple bit players in a crisis which often leaves them destitute. This dreadful distortion is the root cause of inequalities between nations. The critical position of an under-resourced and non-productive farming class is the basis of the rural and urban poverty which holds back the development of agricultural countries. It suppresses demand, it dampens economic growth, increases unemployment, creates poverty and leads down the path to exclusion. The consequences ultimately come knocking on the door of developed countries, compromising their prospects on developing country markets. And the developed countries are affected, directly or indirectly, by other aspects of this complex Third World crisis where misery, stagnation and despair foster massive migrations, terrorism and armed conflict. Legless and deaf Today s fashionable solution is economic liberalisation and the globalisation of trade, widely promoted in developing countries by international institutions. It brings to mind the story of the scholar who puts a flea on the table and shouts 'Jump!'. The flea jumps. The scholar rips off its legs and again shouts 'Jump!'. But the flea does not jump. The scholar concludes that, without its legs, the flea cannot hear. We can do the same and shout to the farmers of poor countries that they should jump aboard the train of globalisation. But they will not be able to do so, unless we return their legs to them, unless we help them acquire the resources they need for development. I believe that the existing instruments of international trade will not alter the lopsided balance of power, and will do little to change the sad scenario of poverty and economic fragility of poor countries. It is just not enough for a country to liberalise its systems of exchange and to offer favourable conditions to foreign investors. If the question of internal redistribution of wealth is not addressed, a new structural imbalance looms, further impeding economic and social development. To overcome these inequalities, the world needs a more equitable monetary, financial and commercial system which, during a transition period, can correct the enormous differences in productivity which are rooted in history and in the unequal availability of resources. Let us return to the legless flea. What is the point of aid flows, of debt cancellation or of development projects if the people in poor countries are not equipped to withstand the shocks of liberalisation and globalisation imposed upon them by the rich countries who have protected their interests through customs duties and farmers subsidies? Education, key to development The foundation of development is knowledge isn t it? or, better still, the capacity to acquire, use and increase knowledge. Education and professional training should logically be the top priority of globalisation if there is committed and genuine interest in helping the poor. To move beyond the current world crisis, the rich countries have to renounce profit in the short-term, opt out of their unsustainable, unequal growth and choose a model of harmonious, participatory and sustainable development. Was this not the model sought by the founders of the European Union, or to some extent by the Marshall Plan after the Second World War? [caption to illustration] Álvaro Soares de Melo is an agronomist with a wealth of experience in rural training and extension, project development and agricultural cooperation in Africa. Between 1993 and 2000, he was the editorial coordinator of Esporo, the Portuguese-language edition of Spore. * Histoires des agricultures du monde du néolithique à la crise contemporaine by M Mazoyer & L Roudart, Seuil, Paris, 1997. 533 pp. ISBN 02-032397-4 The opinions expressed in Viewpoint are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of CTA.
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