Africa’s Organic Peasantry

An article in the Harvard International Review by Paul Collier paints a stark view of African peasantry. Collier presents a convincing argument that for African agriculture to become more productive, it needs modern agricultural technologies and new modes of organization

(Thanks to Eric Ward for alerting me to this article).

“The poverty of African peasants is not accidental: it is intrinsic to the peasant mode of economic organization. The very features that make the peasant mode of production appear attractive to jaded members of an industrialized society also make it unproductive. Large scale organization of specialized production, and integration into markets, are fundamental to the generation of income at a level that we now regard as necessary for a decent quality of life. We have been blinded to this evident fact by our own romantic attachment to the preservation of a society which is the antithesis of the modern.”

Comments

  1. #1 eddie
    November 21, 2009

    Maybe the Hansel and Gretel analogy is a good one, if you are the witch.
    Read it again and ask; if everyone else is going hungry, how come you’re living in a house made of gingerbread? Recall the irish potato famine. People going hungry while the corn exports were continuing.

  2. #2 Ewan R
    November 20, 2009

    I’m not convinced that peasants isn’t pretty accurate:-

    “a member of a class of persons, as in Europe, Asia, and Latin America, who are small farmers or farm laborers of low social rank.”

    I guess possibly as Africa is excluded from the classification perhaps – but it appears to be an accurate description of subsistance farmers – and the negative implication merely reflects that it is not a mode of life which should be wished on anyone.

  3. #3 James
    November 20, 2009

    Prometheus,

    There should be a term to make it clear clear how little we think of the lifestyle so many subsistence farmers are forced to remain in around the world, without sounding like we’re denigrating the people themselves.

    Peasants isn’t it, but I’m not sure what is.

  4. #4 Prometheus
    November 20, 2009

    P.S. for History Punk

    There is certainly the leitmotif of the infant abandoned due to plague/ famine /strife who wins the lottery in some way….(Hansel and Gretel find treasure in the witch’s house after they kill her). These stories are told as a salve to parents forced to expose their children since Moses in the bullrushes.

    In a way though Hansel and Gretel is a weirder story and it involves a battle over food and business so……..

    Hansel and Gretel started as a parody of an industrialist who was generally despised for getting away with Murder.

    Katharina Schraderin was a court baker turned entrepreneur and the chief competition for Hans Metzler who ran the early 17th century equivalent of Nabisco in Nuremberg. He attempted to marry her to acquire her bakery and when that failed he accused her of witchcraft (Die Bakkerhexe) legally entitling him to her property if she was found guilty.

    She was exonerated, moved her operation to an isolated location (in the woods) where she could make and ship Lebkuchen to market. Metzler tracked her down, stole her cook book, killed her and burned her body in her oven. When caught, he claimed again that she was a witch and this time added cannibalism to the accusation. When his sister Margaret ‘Grete’ Metzler backed up his story as the only witness, he was declared not guilty.

    Metzler grew rich and fat making cookies with his wonderful new gingerbread recipe.

    This was uncovered in the Wernigerode archive in the late sixties by a fascinatingly odd autodidactic archeologist named Georg Ossegg.

    That’s right…Prometheus was a historian once. I don’t know why I remember so much junk like this. I’m betting I spelled all of the names wrong.

  5. #5 Prometheus
    November 20, 2009

    Ummmm I don’t think updated ports and power stations are going to “fix” sub-Saharan Africa.

    Perhaps a little historical deconstruction of our own agricultural revolution would be a start.

    For example:

    CoOps that include one designated seed producer/breeder for every 200 or so production farmers so that there is a trend towards highly tailored climate tolerant and pest resistant plants and secure marketable seed/grain storage.

    Farm to market roads because unless you can take the surplus to people who will buy it there is no reason for growing it.

    Of course for advancing these propositions, how about we choose a word other than ‘Peasants’ for describing the people we want to assist?

  6. #6 Hinemoana
    November 19, 2009

    @ Mary

    Well, thanks for explaining it anyway, because I didnt get History Punk’s reference. I had no idea about the story’s origins.

  7. #7 MadGastronomer
    November 19, 2009

    Mary, given History Punk’s focus, that may rather have been his point in mentioning Hansel and Gretel.

  8. #8 Mary
    November 19, 2009

    @History Punk: not the dead ones.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hansel_and_gretel

    Abandoning children in the woods to die or fend for themselves because of famine, war, plague or other reasons, was not unknown, in particular during the crisis of the Late Middle Ages. Many critics have posited that the tale likely stemmed from historical instances of abandonment caused by famine; see the works of Jack Zipes and Maria Tatar for example,[4] with the obvious message.

  9. #9 History Punk
    November 19, 2009

    Organic farming worked for the people of Hansel and Gretel’s generation.

  10. #10 Mary
    November 19, 2009

    We were discussing another great piece on the realities of African science and agriculture on James’ blog the other day:

    Dr. Gebisa Ejeta on Investing in Agriculture

    If you haven’t read Ejeta’s testimony before Congress earlier this year, you should.