• Nicole Backhaus (CAS’16)

    Nicole Backhaus (CAS’16) Profile

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There are 6 comments on POV: Foreign Land Grabs Aren’t Reducing Poverty

  1. This thoughtful writer is on target, but it’s important to change even the way we foresee, imagine, describe. For example, the term “developing” in this economic context is by itself an oxymoron. “Sustainable development” is the only term conceptually that implies a viable future for humans and various other organisms upon which we depend. Also “investing” in more sustainable agricultural practices makes most sense when it involves a DI-vestment based on rapidly reducing and eventually eliminating fossil fuel dependency — a driving force behind these destructive policies.

  2. It is better to teach a man to fish than to just give him one, but it is foolish to insist that everyone make a living as a fisherman.

    Once upon a time, the people of New England practiced sustainable agriculture – which meant trying to raise crops on small tracts of land with poor soil and a lot of rocks and trees in the way. At some point, they figured out that it would be advantageous to transition to an industrial economy, which exploited the particular resources that they had in abundance – hydropower, labor, and seaports. Meanwhile, farmers in Kansas exploited the resources they had – rich, open farmland that could be cultivated on a large scale. America is prosperous precisely because New Englanders don’t even try to grow their own wheat and Kansans grow it on a colossal scale.

    It may be possible for Africans to continue to eke out a bare and tenuous existence as small farmers, but the only way to lift them out of poverty is to rationalize Africa’s economy, as Europe, North America, and much of the rest of the world did a century or more ago. That almost certainly means implementing the practices that you object to – large-scale investment to make African agriculture viable in a competitive world market, and industrial diversification to lessen dependence on farming.

    1. Hi Jim –

      First, I think it is important to note that Africa is comprised of many, diverse economies – something that perhaps I did not give enough deference to in this piece. Second, I disagree that rationalizing these economies necessitates the use of some of these practices. I do not at all believe that foreign investment is inherently a bad thing. In fact, I would argue that FDI is absolutely necessary to bring a country out of poverty. However, the way that it is being channeled into the agriculture sector of many of these economies is not sustainable – economically or environmentally. I think one of the chief concerns of mine in regard to this land-grabbing phenomenon is that the land is essentially being treated as disposable by foreign governments and businesses who will not have to face the negative consequences. In the long run (heck, not even just in the long run – some of these consequences are already evident!) the land will become less arable, provide lower crop yields – and by extension, will become less profitable. There’s also the fact that these land-grabs contribute to food scarcity which in turn contributes to political turmoil: one needs not look any farther than Egypt and Syria to see that.

      I’m not suggesting that agricultural development alone is the way out of poverty for these economies. I think that ultimately that will come with greater industrial development (and more/smarter investment in education, healthcare, etc…but that’s another story). I simply object to this type of investment being heralded as an effective means of development / poverty alleviation – which it has not been to this point.

    2. Jim, Your very foundation — America is prosperous today — is a delusion. Something cannot be prosperous in any meaningful way if its overriding policies and morality promote a non-sustainable, non-viable future for our children and their children. Over-consumption, exploring and ravaging of finite earth resources, profoundly changing the overall water and air chemistry over short periods of time — these are potentially catastrophic consequences. One must integrate overwhelming scientific findings — i.e. evidence — into any economic vision that seeks to be within reality.

  3. Nicole, thank you for a solid original article, & for a thoughtful reply to a flawed critique. May I please add to your contributions?

    As practiced, New Eng agriculture was not truly sustainable. Population growth & inheritance laws, combined with poor productivity, led to overcrowding, soil erosion, declining yields & eventually massive outmigration. Only the “safety valve” of westward migration spared Yankees (not the NY kind) more severe consequences. See refs. below.

    P Greven, Four Generations
    R Gross, The Minutemen & Their World
    K Lockridge, A New England Town

    Nicole is on the mark in noting the diversity of African agriculture & the appropriate forms of sustainable agriculture. Africa will benefit from direct investment in small-scale farming initiatives, instead of funding mega-projects whose goal is profit more than sustainability. And in the last 1-2 decades Africa has been & is changing before our eyes. The bad old days of poorly-conceived projects aiding a favored few are fading away. Apparently Jim B has missed these important developments; regardless, it’s no longer sufficient to say simply that “Africa needs more capitalism” without specifying what kind, & what the likely results will be.

    S Berry, No Condition is Permanent
    D Galvan, The State Must Be Our Master of Fire
    R Schroeder, Shady Practices

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