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High Level Panel of Experts open e-consultations

Re: Promoting youth engagement and employment in agriculture and food systems - e-consultation on the Report’s scope, proposed by the HLPE Steering Committee

James Breen
James BreenretiredIreland

The problem with youth employment in agriculture in "developing countries" is that these countries do not have the minimum conditions needed for investment in agriculture, namely, private property backed by the rule of law.  The developed world has had this advantage for generations and only a few countries that did not have these laws in the 20th century have made the rapid advances in wealth that harnessing the capital value of land engenders.  Such countries include Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.  Their experience is well described in the book: Owning the Earth, The Transforming Power of Land Ownership by Andro Linklater, Bloomsbury, 2015.  

It is facile, even bordering on dishonest, to try to give young people the opportunity to grow economically when the capital value of land is zero, as it is in so much of the world.  Hence the growth of migration, with such people having no hope within the existing system where traditional chiefs work in cahoots with elected politicians to maintain the status quo.  I have worked in many countries in Africa since 1971 and have seen that farmers I knew then have not improved their lot since.  On the contrary, their land has been systematically mined of organic matter and nutrients since they cannot ever afford fertilizers and still less, irrigation infrastructure.  

If countries such as Zambia, the 'traditional lands' of South Africa, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Eritrea could have the same rights to their land that were given to farmers in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan in the late forties and early fifties, then it would be appropriate to show the young people the way forward.  In those countries, agricultural production shot up immediately following " the freeing of the farmers" in the words of General Douglas McArthur in his "Reminiscences", Heinmann, 1964, or "Land Reform in Japan" by R.P. Dore, The Athlone Press. London, 1984.  

It will not be easy to convince governments and people that change to private land ownership is necessary if people in these countries are to develop economically in the way that the West and the countries named above has done.  But it is essential, especially in view of the explosive growth in population in Africa, driven mainly by poverty.  Zambia and South Korea had about the same GNP at PPP in 1960.  Now Zambia's GNP at PPP stands at $4223.90 while the equivalent figure for South Korea is $40,119.80.  The capital value of land in South Korea provided the springboard for the country's developement, while in Zambia land still has not been usable as collateral for loans or as a capital base.  Until this changes, much foreign aid is totally wasted.  The elites in poor countries, e.g. in the DRC or Angola continue to live a very high life while those who work the land are mired in everlasting poverty.  

James Breen.