Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Africans should go back to subsistence farming

From National Geographic

The article discusses high food prices, and suggests people plant small gardens. So far so good. But then we see the usual bunk: Go back to susistence farming (i.e. backbreaking work for an iffy harvest that will feed your family in good years but not pay school fees or buy luxuries like radios or clothes). Yup. You have a black skin, so never mind that your family has been literate for three generations. Go back to hoeing the corn, (explitive deleted)....what nonsense. Why don't the poor people have better paying jobs?

And then the "bad guy" is biofuels. Never mind that the main reason for the increased price of food is the huge increase in oil prices, and that here in Asia, our farmers can't afford diesel for their handplows or afford fertilizer or hybrid seeds without government subsidies/loans.

And no mention of growing jatropha on all that fallow land for biodiesel, which might let locals make money.

As for "fallow land": Africans rotate fields traditionally. The soil is thin, so it is exhausted in a few years, so new fields are planted and the old fields are left fallow. Again, it needs research in the best way to plant and fertilize fields.

One other note: The "poor" area described in the article is next to a huge game park. No one wonders why the "poor" can't be given all that nice land laying fallow so that animals can live naturally, or why the locals aren't benefitting from the tourist industry...


With the global food crisis forcing South Africa's poor to struggle to make ends meet, officials have put forward a novel solution: Resume the subsistence agriculture that used to be part of the area's heritage.

A significant portion of South Africans and the majority of the country's poorest people live in rural areas, finance minister Trevor Manuel said....

"Higher prices are a signal to plant," he told National Geographic News. "This is true for poor people in rural areas as it is for large-scale commercial farmers."

Overall food prices have gone up 15.3 percent in South Africa over the past 12 months, with fats and oils increasing by a whopping 52.1 percent and heavily used staple grains by 22.9 percent.

(Related video: "World Food in Crisis.")

Failing to plant crops on fallow land would squander an opportunity to protect the poor from an erosion of incomes because of these higher prices, Manuel said.

And while most urban dwellers do not have the land to plant sufficient food, many have vegetable gardens that could be used to supplement household food provisions, he added.

Government Aid

Asked why people have moved away from subsistence farming, finance minister Manuel's communications officer, Kuben Naidoo, explained that it might have to do with social grants or because food prices had been falling over the past 15 years when adjusted for inflation.

It might also be because of poor support from provincial agriculture departments.

The minister now supports the idea of small-scale farmers clubbing together, such as through farmer co-ops, to buy equipment and goods and to sell at better market prices. The legislative framework has been set up to facilitate such arrangements....

Manuel has also been strongly critical of the global shift from food into biofuel production, especially in the United States.

Subsidies paid to farmers in such countries to produce feedstocks for biofuel have priced staple grains out of the reach of the world's poorest people, he said.

To help internally, the South African government has specifically excluded maize from the country's nascent biofuel industry. And it has reduced the targeted biofuel component of the country's fuel needs from 4.5 percent to 2 percent, to 100 million gallons (400 million liters) a year by 2013.


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