Use of Policies to Promote Family Farming with the Involvement of other Relevant Sectors
Promotion of family farming seems to require the same generic steps regardless of where this is to be undertaken. However, how urgent this is depends on the food production and general economy of the area in question. Moreover, there seems to be a categorical difference between why family farming ought to be promoted in those two areas. This note discusses both of those reasons and suggests how policies may be used to achieve the present objective.
Immediate action is needed in countries where a greater portion of the population is engaged in agricultural pursuits owing to the following reasons:
• Incidence of inadequate and/or inappropriate nutrition is high in those countries.
• High unemployment and/or under employment rates are a chronic social problem there.
• Considerable number of children and youth do not have access to adequate and appropriate education, health care or social security. Hence, there ability to acquire modern technological skills is very limited.
• Owing to the permissive trade policies and defective national laws, national and multi-national monopolies are making alarming inroads into the already fragile local agriculture and food trade causing the following;
- Introduction of few food species resulting in vulnerable monoculture which is intended for the manufacture of factory food to supplant the wholesome and varied local food culture.
- This approach will result in environmental degradation owing to the clearing up of large areas, intensive use of biocides and fertilisers. The last often results in soil salination and permanent loss of arable land.
- Factory foods and drinks are ‘promoted’ intensely with the help of those proficient in public mind management. Intake of such stuff is known to result in an increased incidence of NCD’s as they are rich in sugar, starch and fat.
- As this practice is capital-intensive, it will not open employment opportunities to people engaged in family farming or youth who are not competent in factory farming. Thus, it does not provide the slightest advantage to the people we intend to assist.
• Weaknesses in national infra-structure adversely affect the critical transport sub-system of the national food system. Furthermore, lack of adequate irrigation facilities i.e., inadequate supplementation sub-system of a food system may also be a problem.
• Secure land tenure is often a major problem family farmer’s face. Urgent and effective legal measures should be taken to deal with this challenge.
• Aging adults and youth migration into cities often give rise to a critical shortage of man-power. We do not propose the reductive solution of mechanisation as a solution for it will often exclude the present day farmers as they lack the necessary skills nor are they educated enough to acquire them in a timely fashion. Furthermore, their children are frequently not educated enough to carry out anything other than temporary unskilled labour and are a burden on cities where there are few or no social services. What is needed is a mechanism to attract them back to farming with a clear prospect of earning a decent livelihood.
• In some instances, armed conflict makes it difficult to provide the services taken for granted in affluent countries.
We have included lack of security for the sake of completeness even though the problem of peace making is one of the thorniest to resolve. The argument this far illustrates what non-agricultural hindrances we will have to surmount before we can begin to direct our attention to family farming. But before we proceed to specific policies, let us consider what we want to achieve by promoting family farming:
• Family farming should contribute to family and local food security and adequate nutrition, and should there be a surplus production, it should be used to help one’s neighbouring areas achieve the same objective. This is very different from the pseudo altruism of growing ‘ecological food’ to be sold in cities for high profit for personal gain without addressing the question of family and local nutrition.
• It should enable the farming families to earn a decent livelihood or at least make a significant contribution towards it.
• It should promote the local biodiversity in food species and the well-being of the environment.
• Whenever possible, it should help to sustain and popularise the local food culture.
• It will encourage the rural youth to take up family farming as an attractive profession and will do everything possible to attract some of the young people who have left home to return and take up agricultural or related pursuits.
We may be asked, why talk about policies instead of giving examples of successful actions or refer to a long list of international resolutions or authorities? There are several very good reasons for our approach:
• However successful a project/scheme may have been at a specific location, its success in other locations is not thereby guaranteed owing to the changes in geographical, climatic and Soil conditions within a country.
• The obstacles to family farming with which we began our discussion cannot be surmounted by best practices in family farming, resolutions or by scientific articles about it.
• It is generally agreed that in spite of the successful efforts of trade and industry to gravely undermine democracy, a national government can still play an important role in determining a country’s future. One of the implications of this is that the government has the will and ability to undertake actions to achieve national food security and nutrition. This involves taking the necessary steps to remove those obstacles to successful family farming. Both sets of action are undertaken with reference to a set of suitable policies and not specific examples.
Such policies when appropriately implemented will coordinate individual local efforts so that they will benefit the individual family farmer, the locality where he works, region and the country as a whole in attaining food security and adequate nutrition. This can never be achieved by isolated projects/schemes however successful they may have been in local terms. National involvement is essential here in order to ensure an adequate infra-structure and land tenure, deal with the threat of monopolies, etc.
• It is undesirable to have non-governmental sectors to participate in promoting family farming for two main reasons. Pseudo altruism of ‘ecological food production’ has already been mentioned. The second problem is that unless they are carefully integrated into a holistic endeavour directed at the goals listed earlier, there is a great danger of family farming turning into being a tool of various vested interests. We ought to keep in mind that the rewards of family farming should first go to the family involved, after that to the immediate area and then to the country as a whole. We are not interested in using family farming to boost export trade, but rather in helping the family farmers to earn a decent living while procuring sufficient food for their adequate nutrition, etc.
• We do not claim good policies to be a panacea, but if they are followed up with appropriate implementation at strategic and operational levels much would be done towards attaining our objective. Moreover, it would be inclusive of governmental, non-governmental and individual efforts provided they do not serve some partisan interest.
• Another problem in carrying out projects/schemes outside the auspices of the relevant policy is that they may pull in a variety of directions. This will make the total effect of the endeavour unpredictable with respect to what we intend to achieve.
So far, we have refrained from discussing one important aspect of family farming viz.; how to ensure that it would go a significant way in enabling family farmers earn a decent living. First, let us recall that after air and water, food is the third essential thing to life. Unless adequately nourished, neither the adults nor the youngsters will be able to acquire new skills needed to make worthwhile and appropriate improvements in farming. Therefore, adequate nutrition of family farmers has a logical priority above everything else. However, later in this discussion, we will address this issue.
The Way Forward
The keen reader will have perceived by now that promoting family farming requires not just a food and agriculture policy, but a set of them. While the former will focus on family farming per se, the others will support and sustain it by removing the obstacles it faces. Now, we face the challenge of how do we go about designing and implementing such a policy set.
Here, we need to make sure that two practical matters can be settled:
• Institutions of the national government are sincerely will and able to coordinate their actions towards the same objectives we have identified as the aims of family farming. We must not overlook the inter-departmental jealousies, reluctance to cooperate with other departments, etc. It is time those bodies understood that isolated efforts do not solve even the simplest of problems. Not only do we need to think outside silos, but we need to act from there.
• International organisations should direct their cooperation with reference to the goal a given policy set is intended to attain. In the present instance, family farming, but they should bear in mind its emphasis is first and foremost on family nutrition and income and then local and eventually national food security and nutrition. Unless the non-governmental bodies are willing to meet this requirement, their involvement would prove rather detrimental.
Our next step is to design a policy set to whose implementation international organisations and local non-governmental bodies may fruitfully contribute. As we have seen earlier, revision of a number of policies other than that on food and agriculture is required to pave the way for the latter. We shall call those adjunctive policies because their help is necessary.
But it is critical that the adjunctive policies and the food and agriculture policy should display in inter-policy harmony with respect to the objectives the latter is intended to attain. For instance, assume that we have the optimal food and agriculture policy needed to promote family farming, but if the national trade and legal policies allow huge factory farms where monoculture is in use and manufacture and/or import of factory food and drink, and their promotion, family farming will fail for reasons we have already discussed.
Likewise, our food and agriculture policy will not succeed if it does not display an intra-policy harmony. It will lack this quality its implementation included support for the production of ‘ecological food’ to be sold for a high price in distant big cities. True, this will earn a farmer an income, but it does not make wholesome food available to him. Moreover, most family farmers are not familiar with ‘ecological foods’ and selling techniques.
So, what really happens is that people from cities with ‘advanced agriculture education’ will purchase family farms to produce such items using a few locals as labourers. This neither helps with the nutrition of farming families nor the locale where they live. Indeed, it will provide food of better quality to the urban affluent, but paraphrasing an old adage “nutrition begins at home.” Another reason for intra-policy disharmony is the use of farm machinery, seeds, and animals etc., which require capital-intensive methods.
We emphasise here that we do not deprecate the use of modern methods; some of them are quite appropriate with respect to the well-being of the environment as well as the farmers’ ability to master them in a short time. The greatest mistake many ‘experts’ make is to ignore the current learning ability of family farmers, the time it takes, and the resources needed to maintain farm implements and not to mention their climate tolerance.
Thus, the success of the food and agriculture policy required to achieve our aims depends on the following:
• An inter-policy harmony exists among its adjunctive policies and between them and itself.
• Our food and agriculture policy displays an intra-policy harmony among the means used to implement it.
One may now quite reasonably object that it would be impossible to ascertain whether those harmonies obtain unless we have already formulated our policies. This is correct, but we believe that keeping these requirements in mind before we begin on the necessary policies would be useful to avoid them. We will present some of the features the adjunctive policies should embody in order to ensure the success of our food and agriculture policy. Although they are far from being exhaustive, it is hoped that they would be useful as a general guide on their subsequent expansion.
Revision of Adjunctive Policies
We will list some of the most relevant policies and their proposed implementation strategies will be given in Roman numerals. Whenever applicable, those strategies will be placed in two categories, viz., international and national. For the sake of brevity, regional policies are subsumed under international ones.
• Regardless of the source, funding for promoting family farming should be channelled through the organisation most fitted for the purpose in order to avoid wasteful replication, policy disharmony, unnecessary administrative costs, etc. Here, FAO with its world-wide representation and high competence in the field ought to be employed as this channel. It is hoped that donor organisations including NGO’s will be able to see the rationality of this policy proposal.
I. UN and FAO ought to act vigorously to persuade international donors to consent to this arrangement. Suitable tactical measures such as national conferences, publicity, etc., ought to be undertaken to promote national willingness to accept the proposed arrangement.
II. Inter-organisational conferences with relevant donor organisations in order to persuade them to agree to this step are very important. Diplomacy and reasoned persuasion may be some use here even though the undesirable ploy of using organisational autonomy may still raise its Gorgon head.
III. Stoppage or at least a drastic reduction of loans to national and international food and agricultural monopolies. Much advocacy and legal measures may be needed to achieve this objective.
• As countries where a greater proportion of the population is engaged in agricultural pursuits, suffer from chronic shortages of wholesome food, their finance policy should give priority to the promotion of family farming both to deal with that problem and enable a significant numbers of people to be gainfully employed. In order to compensate for their shortage of financial resources, some ways forwards have also been included here.
- Greater portion of foreign aid should be channelled to extend and expand family farming and trade as described in V and VI under trade strategies below; it would be optimal to require such funds to be channelled through FAO while how such international and the national financial resources are to be employed may be done by coordinated joint action between it and national food and agriculture authorities.
- Aspects of national financial policy favourable to the formation and operation of food and agriculture monopolies in the country including tax benefits should be annulled with immediate effect. These include retail and restaurant/eatery chains.
- Reductions in defence budget and investment in prestige projects will make more resources available for use to promote family farming.
• Encourage safe labour-intensive methods in countries where rate of unemployment is high.
I. Disseminate information on appropriateness of the methodology in use i.e., it should be benign to environment, safe to the people, suitable for use under given climatic conditions, potential users have the capacity to acquire within a reasonable time the knowledge and skill needed to use and maintain the tools involved.
• It is important to understand that unemployment poses the greatest real threat to national security. Actively support the labour-intensive occupations and remember those who describe some work as ‘monotonous’ or ‘boring’ are highly paid ‘experts’ writing while firmly seated in comfortable offices; they have no idea of the difference between having a ‘boring’ job and being penniless in a country with scarce social services.
- Financial incentives to enterprises that promote safe labour-intensive work.
- Prevent any ‘relocation’ of a facility that may result in direct or indirect unemployment in the country.
- Concentrate on assisting sustainable employment opportunities that entail no harm to the environment.
• An appropriate global trade policy is vital to the success of family farming. Fully aware that vested interests of trade and industry more than ably supported by the WTO, it will require great moral courage and clarity of thought in that organisation to admit national and international food and agriculture monopolies pose the greatest threat to sustainable and equitable global food security and adequate nutrition, cause adverse climatic changes, loss of soil fertility, etc. In view of this, it is incumbent upon the FAO and the UN to persuade WTO to re-negotiate food and agriculture trade and industry policies. WTO should revoke the privileges such trade and industry now enjoy while granting them to smaller cooperative endeavours that demonstrably promote sustainable, varied, wholesome and balanced nutrition through out the world.
I. There seems to be no alternative except for the FAO, UN, ILO and other international NGO’s to rally around and persuade WTO to undertake a radical change in its global trade policy as it affects food and agriculture trade and industry.
• Gradual revocation of privileges granted to existing national and international food and agriculture trade and industry in a country should be carried out. Establishment of such new entities should be rigorously prevented.
• New production and trade in cash crops replacing food crops should be strictly prevented. The existing production and trade in such items should be carefully reviewed with a view to enhancing the national FSN.
• Emphasis should be placed on a trade policy that facilitates family farming and cooperative disposal of food with a view to its concentric expansion.
- FAO and UN should encourage the national authorities to influence WTO towards changing its global trade policy as it affects food and agriculture.
- National NGO’s and other relevant groups should vigorously canvass the government to undertake the action described in I above.
- News providers should publicise the current state of national nutrition, incidence of NCD’s, relevant dietary competence, vital importance of national food production and food culture, the employment opportunities it offers, etc., with a view to changing the public opinion in a manner that promotes family farming.
- Providers of news and entertainment should show the public the misery of unskilled rural migrants in slums and hovels in big cities and refrain from presenting the people a falsely glamorous picture of city life.
- Trade ministries should facilitate the establishment of cooperative family farms, food preservation and storage facilities, regional units to facilitate the purchase of agricultural implements, seed, household animals, etc.
- They should also promote cooperative or state-run local transport from food producers to the nearest consumer centra. Railway and water transport is to be given priority here.
- Assistance should be given to the establishment of family run and/or non-chain restaurants in population centra nearest the sources of food production. These may be extended farther from such sources as food production increases in concentric circles. It should be remembered that the twin goals of this effort are the enhanced local nutrition and enabling the family farmers to earn a decent income. It has nothing to do with providing distant city dwellers ‘ecological food’ while producers may get cash but have to subsist on low quality food in inadequate quantities. This peculiar brand of ‘altruism’ has been advocated vociferously by some who have been trained in advanced agriculture unknown to the poor family farmers. Another fancy idea is introduction of hydroponics to make up the loss of food production due the abandonment of rural farms. This fails to address the food needs of the poor, enabling large numbers of people to secure a gainful employment as well as diminishing their dietary enjoyment for reasons described previously. Hence, the last two tactics should be rejected.
• Success of family farming is incumbent upon adequate transport from farms/fishing ports or villages to the nearest populated areas. At present, we are not concerned with distant cities or exports, for our aim is to ensure the adequate nutrition of those nearest to production centra while enabling food producers to earn a decent income. This will be gradually expanded in a concentric fashion as food production increases. Therefore, the relevant transport policy would be to improve local and/regional transport rather than the whole. Not only is this less expensive, but it would help the bottom-up improvements in farmer/fisherman income and local nutrition. This may seem counter to traditional ‘development’ theories, but they all show very meagre results when administered from the distant top.
- Some of the international aid should be channelled to this purpose concentrating on railway and water transport. What is crucial to remember is the newest is often the worst. Appropriateness with respect to local climate, geography, available human resources necessary to run and maintain the system should be always borne in mind.
Improvements in local ports should be undertaken. Small vessels suited for the purpose can often be made out of the available local materials. What we need is adequate functionality in transporters and not sleek ‘cutting edge’ stuff that is difficult to maintain locally and besides, very expensive.
• FAO ought to work in closer collaboration with WHOM and the national health authorities to establish adequate primary health care especially in food producing areas. It is self-evident that ill health will make family farmers much less productive and may impair children’s ability to acquire the relevant and appropriate skills. This should receive highest priority at the highest level.
- Strategic persuasion of the relevant organisations including NGO’s to undertake this task by the FAO.
- UN engagement in this task remembering to encourage its implementation at local and regional levels. A national endeavour at this juncture will fail to have the results required for our purpose.
- Health aid from every external source should be directed at this goal. No foreign entity should be permitted to establish ‘high tech’ speciality units in the capital for prestige or any other vested interest, but the potential undertakers of such projects should be requested to invest in primary health care in agricultural districts.
- National news providers, NGO’s and other public organisations should vigorously agitate to achieve this objective. It should be remembered that unless public helps to a service itself, political authorities are content to engage in masterly inaction.
• Arms and ammunition used in countries we have described earlier come from affluent nations as defence aid or purchase on credit. Such affluent nations should seriously consider donating a significant portion of such aid to promote food production. They should display statesmanship rather than short-term strategic interest here.
- It is proposed that UN should convene an international conference to encourage arms donors to at least half their donations and offer the rest to the present purpose. FAO would be the most suitable promoter of this strategy.
- The relevant international organisations should exert their influence to induce the national governments to reduce their military expenditure in favour of agriculture.
- National organisations and news providers should actively campaign towards the same end. Public indifference is the greatest hindrance to real progress in every country.
- What national governments should do here is obvious. We hope that they will display maturity and a real desire to help food producers in appropriate ways, but not by introducing eye-catching and inappropriate methods.
• UNICEF and other international organisations involved in child welfare should do their utmost to establish and continue dietary education in schools so that they will be able to acquire the relevant dietary competence from a young age.
- Aid to prepare suitable teaching material in collaboration with local nutritionists, cooks, etc.
- Influence the local education authorities to incorporate dietary education in school curricula.
- Work shops and conferences devoted to the purpose.
• Appropriate dietary education that embraces the local food culture and personal hygiene should be made an integral part of school curriculum. This should be accompanied by education concerning the local environment and its importance.
• Public education designed to increase people’s dietary competence.
- Revise the current teacher training programmes to qualify people to teach those subjects.
- Develop suitable school curricula.
- Utilise external competence in presentation and a portion of foreign aid for the purpose.
Involvement of news providers and national non-governmental organisations to facilitate public education.
• Donors should ensure that they do not support activities detrimental to the environment of a target nation even though those may yield ‘economic growth’ in the short run.
• A holistic international policy on environment is an urgent necessity. Paris agreement has not been a resounding success with respect to its implementation. Besides, it lacks the specificity the matter requires For instance, commercial deforestation, marine pollution, dumping of dangerous materials, etc., require attention.
- Supporting birth control to reduce the geometric progression of consumerism.
- International action similar to ban on the sale of ivory applicable to tropical hard woods.
- Support environmental regeneration through actual reforestation with local species (but not televised events where saplings are left to die after the organisers have reaped enough publicity.), recovery of salinated and/eroded soil, land detoxification, removal of plastic waste from the oceans, etc.
• Introduce birth control as a national priority essential for survival and an adequate quality of life for all.
• Prevent foreign industries from ‘relocating’ to the country because of lax laws pertaining to labour safety and protection, factory safety, protection of environment and cheaper labour.
• Energy efficiency should be made compulsory in every sector.
- Reforestation of denuded land with local species.
- Tree planting by the roadside and public spaces and encouraging the people to grow fruit and/or nut trees in their gardens.
- Restrictions on the use of biocides and fertilisers to prevent marine pollution.
- Permit logging only when successful previous replanting of the same species as the cut down ones in an equal number can be proven.
- Introduce stringent measures against illicit logging and capture of exotic land and sea animals backed by the affluent foreign countries whose depredations have already caused grave harm in South East Asia.
• The relevant international organisations should actively deprecate the establishment and operation of national and multi-national food and agriculture monopolies of every size.
• Introduction of international laws to devolve food economy in favour of cooperative operations. We know that this may appear strange to the traditionalists just like heliocentric view of solar system did to the clergy, but when it is widely accepted that political power should be devolved, there is no rational reason to exclude economic power from becoming decentralised, i.e., devolved into smaller cooperative national units.
• Support every national effort to preserve and regenerate the environment.
• Legislative measures needed to require the policies and strategies listed here to become the law of the land.
- Legislative action to gradually devolve food and agriculture monopolies in the country.
- Tax benefits to all those engaged in agricultural pursuits in line with the local food culture, re-introduction of neglected food species, environmentally sound agriculture, family farms, family or cooperative restaurants, etc.
- A ban on road transport of food when rail and water transport of it are suitable.
- High tax on factory food.
- A ban on the promotion of factory food.
- A legal mechanism to establish rural banks that will cater to the needs of family run farms, restaurants, food preservation and storage facilities and fisheries.
- A ban on changing farms growing food crops to the cultivation of cash crops, and export of national food crops for cash when it adversely affects national nutrition as it did in West Africa by export of pea nuts on the advice of World Bank.
- Legally requiring the establishment of railway and water transport whenever possible.
- Legal restrictions on the introduction of farming methods merely because they are ‘high tech’ especially when high unemployment levels exist in a country. It should be required that labour-intensive measures are to be employed in order to provide employment opportunities to as many unemployed people as possible.
- A ban on deforestation; a project will not be exempt from it until and unless it simultaneously undertakes to regenerate a denuded area of comparable size by planting and nurturing there local trees, shrubs, etc.
- Strict measures to ensure the protection and regeneration of the local environment using local species only.
- Every legal effort must be made to introduce human birth control as a necessary component of preserving the environment and maintaining the quality of human life for reasons given earlier.
- In some countries, law of equal inheritance has reduced the individual’s portion of one’s ancestral land into insignificance. Obviously, this does not contribute to successful food production and therefore its revision should be given serious consideration.
- Equitable land reform and secure land tenure are urgent In some areas of the world. Effective action in them is long overdue.
We have included a large number of legal strategies even though we are fully aware of the uneven distribution of effective law enforcement throughout the globe. Moreover, reasoned necessity is seldom compatible with political opportunism, incompetence, superstition, corruption etc. that are wide-spread in spite of the much vaunted broad access to information. Further, scientism and belief in so-called ‘theories often blind the educated just as religion has done and still does. It seems impossible to make one grasp the simple ontological fallacy of regarding human behaviour as a phenomenon only involving non-living objects, hence, the current theorising.
Let us now take up the food and agriculture policy required to promote family farming. Leaving aside its preamble, it will be generally agreed that it would be the following:
• Goal of the food and agriculture policy is to achieve global/national food security and adequate public nutrition. On elaboration, it will observe the qualitative and quantitative aspects of food security, whose sustainability depends on the availability of the ecosystems services, hence the well-being of the environment. We have described elsewhere why human birth control is an essential element of a sound environment policy.
The perspicuous reader would have understood by now that promotion of family farming is a strategic measure appropriate to achieve our main objective described immediately above. We have also pointed out the immense difficulties it faces from many other policy domains and have proposed some ways of overcoming them. Thus, placed within the context of the present food and agriculture policy, it would be reasonable to delegate the following purposes to family farming:
• Enhancing nutrition and food security of the family involved.
• Contributing to improved nutrition and food security of the locale.
These may seem too modest to those advocates of scientism who ignore dietary enjoyment of the people, their actual capacity to acquire new skills, the value of food culture and agricultural biodiversity, etc. We are only interested in helping living people whose dietary needs are urgent. Once the number of areas where family farming thrives increase, their surplus food can be made available to a wider circle and the process can be repeated as a food system is progressively devolved.
While FAO and other international and national entities do their utmost to overcome the shortcomings in adjunctive policies, we can now consider how to ensure intra-policy harmony within food and agriculture policy at international and national levels. Afterwards, we will take a brief look at the tactical measures that may be taken to promote family farming in the field.
- FAO and other international organisations involved in food and agriculture should intensify their support to and advocacy of preserving agricultural biodiversity, local food culture, and agriculture practises benign to the environment.
- They should actively deprecate the inappropriate use of ‘better’ and/or newer species and methods.
- In discussions related to the value of food, they should give priority to the real value of food i.e., its value derives from its vital importance to life, and has little to do with the gain of the intermediaries involved in a food system.
- They should not ignore the importance of human dietary enjoyment and the social value of meal times, for food cannot be equated with fuel used in engines.
- They should commission impartial research to establish the claims made by the advocates of ‘food fortification’ adding minerals and vitamins to insipid food, for nutrient uptake is an immensely complex process.
- They should support national efforts to produce seeds, saplings, etc., of indigenous food species so that those may be made available to family farms free of charge or at affordable prices.
- Their role as the main channel of foreign aid to agriculture has been already discussed. It will not be easy because vested interests are rather strong, but it is a powerful tool to deal with the misery of hunger.
- They should support an intensive proliferation of cooperative food production and its sale either as meals at restaurants, preserved or raw food.
- They should support the establishment of appropriate on-the-job training facilities for farming families, shared tool and implement depots and purchasing and Storage units etc.
- FAO should intensify its role as a reliable source of appropriate know-how to family farmers.
- They should emphasise the food security and adequate nutrition of the food producer and his locale first and secondly on cooperative trade in gradually expanding circles as the surplus food output increases.
- They must understand food production should evolve over a period of time and not in ‘revolutionary jumps’ as the dismal failure of the so-called ‘green revolution’ amply demonstrates. Please remember there are still people who remember the misery of its aftermath and the loss of previously moderately fertile soil due to its salination.
At the country level, our food and agriculture policy remains the same while its implementation will be confined within the national boarders. This proposal differs from the traditional approach in that it does not require or recommend a nation-wide effort undertaken with great deal of fan fare. What we require however, is that the government together with international organisation do its utmost to deal with the problems the adjunctive policies pose to the national food security and adequate nutrition and refrain from assessing the value of food in purely commercial terms.
In addition, it would be highly desirable that the efforts to promote family farming embody the strategies given below. There is no reason that NGO’s should not participate in this endeavour as long as their involvement follows the dos and don’ts listed throughout this contribution. Owing to shortage of finances, other material resources or the appropriate know-how, the implementation of these strategies may be unevenly distributed in a country. Though regrettable, continuation of even that would help its wider distribution in the long run.
- Every effort should be made to channel foreign aid ear-marked for food and agriculture through FAO so that unified budgeting policy could be adopted. Such funds reinforced with local allocations must be administered as rationally and honestly as possible. Reliable outside auditors must be employed to minimise the temptation to engage in creative accounting.
- Work closely with education department and reputable local nutritionists who are versed in the qualities of national food to develop appropriate school syllabi for dietary education and request the local news providers to disseminate such information to the public.
- Cooperate closely with the department of justice to develop an appropriate legal framework on lines described earlier. However, do not introduce into the national statute book the vacuous ‘right to food’.
- Expand the agricultural extension services; it would be more effective to construct them as mobile units so that they may re-used as needed. They should be deployed as close as possible to the targeted family farms. They are to be used as on-the-job training units proving the required services. They should only provide practical training that is relevant to the work of the trainees. Dr. Banji’s contribution to the present discussion is a good example of the kind of training intended. Naturally, one will have to modify the species used with respect to the food culture of the target area, its climate, geography, etc.
- Establishment of plant nurseries and seed and livestock depots in the target areas may be necessary. Very often, in countries where public nutrition is deficient, it is difficult to obtain these. NGO’s may contribute by financing those, so that what is needed can be provided free of charge or at low cost.
- With the assistance of the relevant competent organisations, local food preservation and storage facilities should be built in suitable locations.
- Similar help will be needed to set up cooperative purchasing units to enable family farmers to purchase farm implements, tools, etc. Such units may also include repair shops run by the suitably trained locals.
- Identical type of assistance should be provided to the local fishermen with suitable alterations to what is provided.
- Food and agriculture authorities should cooperate vigorously with the providers of transport to enable the food producers to reach their nearest potential end-users. Please recall that the latter are not those who live in distant cities.
- Encourage the education and health authorities to improve their services in the target area. Ability to acquire new skills and putting them into practise require the facilities they provide.
The reader will notice that we have not shown conclusively that human birth control is an integral part of a sustainable future for the living, for we have done it extensively in this forum. Instead of talking about ‘not thinking in silos’ which is really re-inventing the steam engine under a different and longer name, we have done it by pointing out how easily the adjunctive policies may become the greatest obstacles to the success of family farming.
Therefore, it is incumbent upon the FAO, NGO’s and the general public to do their utmost to induce the decision-makers to make the necessary changes in adjunctive policies. If we should neglect this and focus only on food and agriculture in isolation, it would be analogous to laying asphalt on a long strip of wilderness hoping it would somehow become a road. Hope is not a strategy; it is something that may make suffering tolerable.
We have been critical of the so-called ‘better types’, ‘cutting edge technology’ etc. If we impartially examine world’s food production, it will be clear that we have more than enough food to go around. So, we do not need technology to get higher yields of progressively less flavour, we need it to devise better harvesting, preservation, storage and environmentally benign transport.
But that will not be enough. We waste great deal of food in other ways. Restaurants and cafes, customers who do not finish their meals, domestic dietary incompetence account for a very significant food loss. It is only recently that this problem has been acknowledged. This is not a problem amenable to any research, for it is a flaw in our behaviour. Dealing with it requires a change in personal attitude to food.
Even if we should succeed in solving those technical and attitudinal problems, a far greater challenge remains to be overcome. We have more than hinted at it in these pages, viz., and invasive commercialisation of the world’s food systems. This has gone so far as to make it a roller coaster ride to a dreadful disaster. A cursory look at the number of food species used to provide our food, the very few companies who monopolise seed and livestock breeding should give everyone a grave cause for concern.
Furthermore, proliferation of ‘groups’ i.e., huge conglomerates of companies that own and run wholesale and retail chains as monopolies, not to mention the chains of dubious eating places makes the picture even more grim. All of them are mere middlemen who earn enormous profits at the expense of the actual food producers and the gullible end-users who believe in advertisements and other modes of promotion.
What they sell is neither nutritious, healthy, nor yet do we know what long-term effects the additives they use may have on our health. Moreover, to maximise their profits, they resort to extensive monoculture of crops and factory farming of livestock, which are highly detrimental to the environment and inhumane to the animals. Further, it deprives people of their culinary enjoyment which is a part of human cultural patrimony.
Every impartial end-user will agree meat, fruit and vegetables that are ‘improved’ do not have the same attractive flavour. They are invariably insipid, but they are all of the same size and colour. In other words, they look good, but have no taste, another example of eye-candy. We personally know of bunches of ‘improved’ tomatoes which are common in Scandinavia. They have a uniform size, fine red colour, but free of detectable tomato taste. Their stalks are very aromatic, but the edible parts have no smell whatsoever! This is a cutting edge tomato.
Family farming will thus bring back to more people food enjoyable as food and not human fuel. It is benign to the environment and enables the farming families to meet their nutritional needs with culinary enjoyment and eventually, his neighbours and the people in the country. At the same time, those families will be able to earn an income which may soon be sufficient to meet their other needs. We hope this note will make some contribution towards achieving that objective.
Mr. Lal Manavado