The Hague: This volume brings together the public lectures that were imparted in 2011 at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS)1 by a number of key figures in the fields of agriculture, food, food policies, environment, and land issues in developing countries. These topics are (again) at the top of the development agenda, as questions regarding food security and the volatility (and increase) of food prices are crucial to the survival of millions of people, in particular in the developing world.
These key figures were brought to ISS in The Hague as part of a high-powered public lecture series under the title “Agriculture, Rural Employment and Inclusive Growth”, co-organized with the Netherlands Chapter of the Society for International Development (SID) and supported by the NCDO as part of the Food First Programme.
The speakers were, following the order in which they presented their contributions at ISS:
* Andries du Toit, Professor and Director of the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) of the University of West Cape (UWC), South Africa (3 May 2011);
* Kevin Cleaver, Associate Vice-President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) in Rome, and Edward Heinemann, lead author of IFAD’s Rural Poverty 2011 report (23 June 2011);
* Camilla Toulmin, Director of the International Institute of Environment and Development (IIED), London (4 October 2011); and finally,
* Olivier De Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur for the Right to Food and Professor at Leuven University (12 December 2011).
In all the public lectures we also invited a senior peerdiscussant to reflect on the presentation, which was followed by public debate.
These discussants were Frits van der Wal, Senior Policy Advisor Food & Nutrition Security at the Sustainable Economic Development Department of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The Hague; Jan Douwe van der Ploeg, Professor of Rural Sociology of Wageningen University and Research Centre (WUR); Philip Woodhouse, Senior Lecturer in Environment and Rural Development of Manchester University; and finally, Frances Moore-Lappé, of the Small Planet Institute, Cambridge, USA. The lectures by du Toit and by De Schutter were part and parcel of the 2nd and 3rd Critical Agrarian Studies Colloquium Series (organized by Initiatives in Critical Agarian Studies (ICAS), which is based at ISS and co-ordinated by Saturnino (“Jun”) M. Borras Jr.; the Transnational Institute (TNI); the Inter-Church Organization for Development Cooperation (ICCO); the Land Deal Politics Initiative (LDPI) and the Journal of Peasant Studies (JPS). Jun Borras was also instrumental in bringing the other high-level speakers of the SID-ISS Public Series to the ISS.
The title of the volume has become “Agriculture, Food Security and Inclusive Growth”, as this reflects more precisely the range of issues and arguments that were presented by the contributors. In their public lectures, although sometimes presenting similar or mutually supporting arguments, they certainly did not always agree on some of the main issues.
These debates can be sub-divided into six fundamental areas, which all return in one way or another in the contributions that are included in this volume:
(1) Are smallholders or large-scale farm enterprises going to “feed the world”? This issue has been debated for decades but there seems to be a revival led by those scholars in particular who have shown that smallholders or peasant producers are in fact more efficient in their use of scarce resources, while the often revered large-scale agriculture, which is hydro-carbon intensive, is actually less productive in comparison. Furthermore, food production by smallholders is much more labour-intensive, which is important in relation to widespread un- and underemployment. Redistributive land reforms are again on the agenda, and there are growing critiques on the recent wave of land grabbing or largescale land acquisitions/investments, which are usually defended as good for food security.
(2) In the period 2007-2008 and in 2011, prices of food staples rose dramatically, provoking more hunger and malnutrition in the developing world, as low-income households spend most of their earnings on food. What caused these food price crises? Were the price increases the consequence of insufficient production (and productivity) in combination with increasing demand for food, while the expanding production of biofuel crops competed for land with food staples? Or was financialization of agricultural production and increased speculation on future markets to blame? And what is the role of energy markets in this, with ever-rising fuel prices that translate into much higher prices for external inputs for agriculture?
(3) What type of agriculture (large-scale or smallholder) is best for the environment and biodiversity? Can the millions of smallholders be seen as the “guardians of nature”, or are they destroying the environment through overexploitation f land resources, forced by poverty? Are the large investments in land actually improving land quality, or do they lead to large-scale external input-dependent production which negatively affects water resources and biodiversity and contributes to deforestation and land degradation in the long run? And what is the impact of the ever-widening spread of genetically modified (GM) crops on biodiversity and the position of the peasants or smallholders?
(4) Should food security be “trade-based”, as is argued by the WTO and others as the most efficient way of acquiring food when demanded in an ever globalizing international food market; or is there a need and a real possibility for food sovereignty, in view of the growing power of international food and agri-business that has created new “food regimes”. The latter can be defined as the 4F (foodfeed-fibre-fuel) complex, which also includes the seed and pesticide companies and stretches out to the consumer supermarkets. Hence, what is the fate of the peasantry in view of this process of “hyper-marketization”?
(5) If smallholders or peasants are accepted to be a fundamental force in global food production, it is suggested that they should insert themselves, or at least be linked to, the rapidly emerging food and other agricultural global value chains. In the World Development Report 2008, the World Bank brought smallholders back onto the agenda, but the “panacea” of market inclusion through value chains was connected to this re-valuation. As most of the value added is indeed generated in these value chains, one should ask whether the peasant or smallholder who will be linked, through contract agriculture, outsourcing or land leases, will actually be able to benefit or whether this linkage makes the process of land eviction and dispossession in fact easier and faster, to his/her detriment?
(6) Is rapid growth in developing countries producing “trickle down” effects of poverty reduction, or are the phenomena of inequality and poverty inherent to the capital intensive growth paths that are most often followed? To make growth “inclusive” and to substantially reduce poverty and inequality, is agricultural development, focused particularly on the peasantry, the key to success; or should it be taken up by large-scale commercial agriculture? Initially there was no attention to the quality of growth, but more recently “macro-economic policy with poverty reduction”, focused on the development of growth models that have a higher poverty reduction elasticity and a greater capacity to produce employment in those sectors where most of the poor are, have become more prominent.
In the volume that follows, there are four chapters containing the transcribed and edited text of the public lectures, which are followed in each case by the text of the discussant. They follow the inverse order of the lecture series, which is deliberately done as it will take the reader from a broad level of policies and alternatives to more concrete cases and practices regarding agriculture, food security and inclusive growth.
- Extracted from the introduction to the volume. The 82 page volume can be accessed here.