Importing agricultural institutions

So we\’ve this development problem, see?

We need to get African agriculture up to speed. Current yields are pitiful and by and large it\’s horribly inefficient peasant farming.

That needs to change, just as our own agriculture changed over the past two centuries. Quite apart from anything else, the introduction of efficient agriculture will mean less pressure on the forests and wild lands.

And we\’ve, in theory, at least two ways to do this. We can send all sorts of lovely, no, really, they mean well which is the important point, arts and sociology graduates through Oxfam, War on Want, WaterAid and the like, kit them out with lovely expat salaries, expense accounts and Toyota Land Cruisers, and despite the fact that they know fuck all about farming or the land, they can tell everyone what to do.

Or, we can, well:

White South African farmers are now being courted by the north, by countries who believe their agricultural expertise can kickstart an agrarian revolution across the continent. They are being offered millions of hectares of allegedly virgin rainforest and bush, as well as land already farmed by smallholders or used as pastures by herders.

In the biggest deal to date, Congo-Brazzaville has offered South Africa farmers long leases on up to 10m hectares of land, an area that includes abandoned state farms and bush in the remote south-west of the country. The first contracts, which put 88,000 hectares in the hands of 70 farmers, were signed at a ceremony in the country last month.

Meanwhile, in Mozambique, some 800 South African farmers have acquired a million hectares in the southern province of Gaza, thanks to an arrangement set up by sugar farmer Charl Senekal, an associate of the South African president, Jacob Zuma. This deal will be celebrated at a ceremony in Pretoria next month.

There have been sporadic moves north by white South African farmers since the end of apartheid. But the current migration is more organised, says Ruth Hall of the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies at the University of the Western Cape in South Africa. \”South Africa is exporting [not just] its farmers, but also its value chains, to the rest of the continent,\” she told a meeting on international land grabs in Brighton last week.

We could send people who actually do know about farming in Africa, people who have been there and done it, and get them to do actual farming instead of lolling about in expensive restaurants.

It\’s a tough choice really, isn\’t it?

Which is likely to be more effective? Which will increase yields? Which option will actually solve the problem we wish to solve?

Yup, you guessed it, the one that everyone\’s going to start screaming mustn\’t happen, you got it right.

For of course our South African farmers, the ones who actually know what they\’re doing and who could and would solve the problem, they\’re motivated by profit. The middle class ignorants we export from Europe are motivated by cuddly, kittens with balls of wool, style thoughts.

And as we all know, it\’s the thought that counts, not the outcome, isn\’t it darlings?

Plus, of course, what would happen if we actually solved this problem? Brought African farming up to speed, fed the continent, made some exports so there\’s money rolling in, protected the rain forests as we don\’t need to raze the trees so that peasants can scrape in the dirt with sticks?

There\’d be no more Land Cruisers, no more reason to run campaigns tugging on our heart strings and, horror of horrors, those arts and sociology graduates would stay home, fucking up our own lives.

Nah, the Africans can starve. After all, we don\’t want them all learning Afrikaans, do we?

10 comments on “Importing agricultural institutions

  1. Hmm. You can kind of predict the future here – white farmers move in, lots of investment, get everything working again, its all looking peachy, plenty of local employment and foreign currency earnings rolling in. Then some uppity local starts getting green eyes and the whole Zimbabwe scenario acts out again.

    I’d give it 5 years before the locals start complaining, by 10 the politicians will be involved, and the South African farmers will be out on their ears (if they still have heads let alone ears).

  2. This is true development.

    Somebody is going to make money on currently inactive farmland.

    The wealth will grow and people currently ‘living’ from subsistence farming will learn and become more valuable and command greater salaries and will cease to need aid.

    It is what is working in China in industry.

    As the need for aid dies out, we will then get horror stories about lack of Health & Safety regulations, low salaries compared to a French farm hand etc., and we can get all self-righteous about it.

    Maybe the guys and gals in the countries concerned will go back to subsistence farming and aid handouts, or maybe, just maybe they will prefer to spend their new found surplus income on some of the crap we buy.

    Maybe they will send their kids to school instead of making them work. Watch out, some will continue to work on those new farms and then we can cry about child exploitation.

    Which way kiddies? Shall we make ourselves feel good or shall we put SA farmers’ experience to work, let them keep some wealth and create a self-sufficient wealth-creating agricultural society ?

    Or do you feel the SA farmers should go for the feel-good factor alone?

  3. Yep, the Guardian will be running stories about racist white farmers taking land approximately 0.3 seconds after they move in.

    Within 5 years, with the right preparation, there will be mobs with machetes occupying farmland and letting it rot.

  4. I suspect that the sending of the fresh faced arts and soc grads out to foreign climes is an incidental side effect, almost a distraction really.
    It has long seemed to me that the main purpose of the exercise is to fund the London offices and lifestyles.

  5. It is an interesting question of precisely what those farmers bring. I mean farming is not high tech. Well, modern farming is, but Africa should be doing better anyway.

    I assume it is a combination of capital and hence machinery together with “soft” intellectual property – who to ring if you want to sell some beef in Europe. That sort of thing.

    But think of what they have to cope with. No roads. Corruption. I wish them well. Much like the retiring quasi-academic and military historian Edward Luttwak who started a beef ranch in Bolivia – google it. I assume it did not last given the politics of Bolivia.

  6. This trend has been going for some years now and clearly is a step in the right direction.

    Jim & Rob highlight the obvious pit falls of this, which is where our old friend Land Value Tax rides to the rescue – our White Farmers will not only be boosting their economies and providing jobs, but also bunging (relatively) large amounts into their public coffers

    The chances are, an African subsistence farmer would get just as much in LVT-dividend as he currently gets from scratching in dirt with a stick, PLUS he’d be able to get a better paid job driving a tractor or working in a food processing factory etc, so it’s win-win all round.

  7. The biggest socio-political problem any developing nation faces is getting most of its population off the land, because many of them don’t want to leave it. It’s understandable. When you’re on the land you can’t be unemployed. Once you’re in the wage economy, you can only earn when you can find somebody else who wants what you can do.

    The reality is that good agriculture requires few workers, so you have to turf most of the agrarians off their ancient lands and into the wage economy. It’s hard to do that without major political ructions. The fluffy kittens “nations of subsistence farmers” stuff isn’t practical, but it’s appealing.

    This is a Hard Problem.

  8. Thanks Tim. Can we look forward to you giving the bio-nannies both barrels shortly? If we continue to fund these plonkers to advocate organic we’ll all end up in the organic. World food prices are at record highs, which is a bad thing if you have no money.

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