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Friday, July 27, 2012


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The aid industry needs to get away from its obsession with keeping poor people on their tiny plots of farmland.

The problem I've seen with Feed the Future is that it ignores the basic problem of agricultural crowding, i.e. families trying to live on plots that have been subdivided down until they're far too small to support them in anything but grinding poverty, even with the adoption of improved seeds, fertilisers, etc. When you look at areas like Rwanda, southern Uganda, coastal West Africa, there are far more people on the land than it can support at a decent living standard. The small plot size prevents adoption of technologies like tractors, irrigation, and other things that boost yields elsewhere.

The South African Minister of Industry has made the point that large numbers of industrial jobs need to be created to get many of these crowded rural families off the land. This would serve three purposes: Provide a better living to the people concerned, facilitate more productive agriculture, and boost industrial self-sufficiency. Food production could then rise and much of the pressure could be taken off rapidly-degrading soil.

This is a well-worded non-partisan appeal as well as a good foundation from which to proceed in dialogue and creative considerations for action. The comparisons to the AIDS control campaign are effective because both mass-scale afflictions of disease and food insecurity are prone to spark donor fatigue. This is an energizing and optimistic appeal from a stance of logic.

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