Saturday, 4 May 2013

Subsistence farming isn't the solution to world poverty - mostly it's the cause


Yet that is precisely what the "Live Below the Line" campaign would have us believe - that rich kids in the UK showing off by eating the diet of a subsistence farmer so as to gain some sponsorship and "raise awareness" somehow helps change the world.

The master of the sob story, Geoffrey Lean, having described his daughter's great sacrifice to raise £500 for this "Live Below the Line" cause, clambers up onto his soap box:

This is partly because the subsistence farmers who account for most of the hungry have been neglected. The proportion of international aid provided to agriculture slumped from 17 per cent in 1980, to 4 per cent in just over a quarter of a century.

Now this makes a lot of sense. Subsistence farming is not good for humans (they starve) or for the environment (those humans chop down forests and over-cultivate poor soils without fertiliser). Therefore it is utterly stupid to do what Oxfam and the other do-gooders want us to do and to direct the international aid to keeping these poor folk grubbing away at a tiny patch of soil - you only need to look at the photograph on Lean's piece in today's Telegraph to understand.

What we see is an African subsistence farmer watering a few seedlings with a galvanised watering can. You see the dry, dusty soil and, in the background a couple of rows of plants that have grow on a little. You'll see more productive and healthier looking allotments down your street. Yet, it seems that we must be aghast at the land these men are scraping a living from being enclosed so as to grow profitable crops on a commercial scale.

They are also increasingly being turfed off the land on which they depend by investors from rich countries. Every six days an area the size of London is either bought or leased by them in developing countries; nearly a third of Liberia’s farmland for example, has been acquired by companies. And around two thirds of these foreign investors intend to use the land entirely to grow, not food for local consumption, but commodities for export. 

"Turfed off" being trendy environmentalist speak for selling up and move to the city where there's more chance of a better life. We rightly note - and Lean does just that - how that last decade or so has seen the biggest and fastest reduction in extreme poverty in human history. But what these trendy environmentalists and socialists fail to acknowledge is that subsistence farming is the problem not the solution.

Instead these people want to keep those starving farmers on the land they can barely survive on - through aid and subsidy. The focus is on:

...aid for hungry farmers, land grabs, biofuels and the company tax avoidance that deprives poor governments of three times as much revenue as they get from aid.

Rather than realising how free markets, free enterprise and free trade provide the escape from poverty, these people want to trap poor Africans into dependence on the state's largess while trying to lay the blame on the businesses that create the means of escape from starvation, ill-health and penury.

Keeping farmers poor is not, and never will be, a solution to world poverty. Yet that is what the international aid establishment (living well and fat off our donations and our taxes) propose. Utterly shameful.


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