Britain has small farms, too

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.

via In agriculture, small is beautiful | Duncan Green | Global development |

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?



4 Responses to “Britain has small farms, too”

  1. I am not a farmer…simply a gardener with a high regard for what you and other small farmers do. Your comments in this post remind me of what Joel Salatin, in his book, “The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer, wrote in his chapter, “White Collar Farmer.” And I quote, “As a culture, we need to dig down deep into our collective psyche and ask ourselves: “What vocation can we least do without? What’s our most important career?” Is it accounting? Is it heart surgery? Is it teaching? How about software development? I’m certainly not trying to trivialize ever other vocation. But I think until we realize how few really good farmers we have, and how valuable they are, we will not have good land stewardship, good food, or healthy economies.”

  2. I agree completely with “dwitsett” and his comments from the quoted book.

  3. I am sure everyone would like small farmers of Britain to be treated well by the government (either the one run by Salmond or the one sort-of-run by Cameron) or local authorities of the day. I imagine it will be a long time in coming.

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