MORE FOOD WITH LESS SPACE:. WHY BOTHER?

Andre Viljoen, Katrin Bohn and Joe Howe

By agriculture only can commerce be perpetuated; and by Agriculture alone can we live in plenty without intercourse with other nations. This therefore is the great art, which every Government ought to protect, every proprietor to practice, and every inquirer into nature improve.

Dr Samuel Johnson 1709-1784 (Johnson,

1756)

By the year 2025, 83 per cent of the expected global population will be living in developing countries. . . . Agriculture has to meet this challenge. . . . Major adjustments are needed in agriculture, environmental and macro­economic policy, at both national and inter­national levels, in developed as well as developing countries, to create conditions for sustainable agriculture and rural development.

Agenda 21 (United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, 1992)

It is self-evident that food production is fundamen­tal to life and that it underpins all other activities. The Earth summit of 1992 recognised this and the need for adjustments in the current means of agri­cultural production.

Dr Johnson, writing in eighteenth century England, notes the role agriculture can play in supporting commerce, in this instance by making a nation self-sufficient. While we do not advocate a world ‘without intercourse’ between nations, a strong case can be made for modifying current practice in globalised food production and distribution by increasing local self-sufficiency in food production. An example of the impact globalised food markets can have on local economies is provided by a press release from the international anti poverty charity

ActionAid:

More than 75 per cent of Kenya’s population depends on agriculture, but subsidised imports are destroying the country’s market.

ActionAid Kenya subsidies expert Gichinga Ndirangu says farmers cannot compete against low-priced, subsidised products, such as wheat, which are flooding into the country. ‘Because farming in Kenya is no longer sub­sidised, the cost of production is much higher, ’ he says. ‘Kenyan farmers can not compete.’

During recent years they have been forced to reduce their production of wheat because they can no longer break even. They’ve looked for alternative crops, but with the entire agri­cultural sector facing similar challenges, it has been difficult to find viable substitutes. ‘Kenya is one of the countries that, in the mid-80s, was compelled to cut support to their domes­tic sector and open up their markets to cheap foreign imports as conditions of loans from the World Bank,’ explains Gichinga. ‘The Bank argued these measures would allow people access to cheaper products and alleviate poverty – of course it has had the opposite effect. All Kenyan farmers want is to be able to make a living from agriculture. And the only way to do this is by protecting them from cheap subsidised imports.’

The second reform was to focus on growing commercial crops for export and then rely on foreign exchange earnings to pay for import­ing the food it needed.

Today Kenya is no longer a self-sufficient pro­ducer of basic foodstuffs. The country has become increasingly vulnerable to the vagaries of the world market. Kenya must now pay for

vital food imports with the money it earns from exports.

Unfortunately, the prices of two of its major crops – tea and coffee – are currently falling because of a glut on the world market.

(ActionAid, 2002)