Writing in the Guardian, Oxfam GB‘s head of research Duncan Green says investing in small farmers brings a developmental double whammy, putting more food into circulation while boosting the income of some of the world’s poorest people.
Small farmers get a bad press: developing country governments often see them as a throwback, and hanker after the glitter of modernity that surrounds large-scale investment in biofuels or export crops.
Aid agencies and donor governments with more money than staff prefer the scale the big farms can offer.
But there are at least two good reasons why, when it comes to agriculture, small is still beautiful.
Green makes some interesting and valid points but, as is so often the case, he completely overlooks the small farmers who live and work on his doorstep—there are many of us in the UK and all developed countries who face the same issues and burdens as our counterparts in the developing world.
Those issues tend to come down to four main areas: obscurity—we’re barely noticed by the global food production system, governments or the media; limited resources—time, labour, machinery and capital are all short so we spend all your time on day-to-day work and survival; distribution—opportunties are limited and made more expensive by our small scale; and the conversion of food into generic commodities—we don’t have the economies of scale while almost all food is as generic as possible so the only differentiator is the lowest price.
In those terms, it doesn’t matter whether a small farm is in Uganda or Scotland, the Philippines or Wales, Kenya or Canada. If solutions are to be found, then surely it’s worth looking in the obscure fields of the developed countries as well as in those of the developing world?
If we can solve some of their problems, might not those solutions be able to help us? And might our solutions be able to help them?
Why try to improve the lot of one group of small farmers while ignoring the rest?