Food First Part 12




HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY BOSTON                          1977




Chapter 44: What Does Food Self-Reliance Mean?

Question: throughout this book you have mentioned food self-reliance. What does food self-reliance mean and how can it be achieved?

Our Response: Achieving food self-reliance involves at least seven fundamentals. These fundamentals are not speculative points but elements already proved to be necessary in countries that have achieved or are well on the way toward achieving food self-reliance – countries, we should not forget, that contain over 40% of all living people in the underdeveloped world.

Fundamentals of food self-reliance

  1. Food self-reliance requires the allocation of control over agricultural resources to local, self-provisioning units, democratically organized.

Only then will increased agricultural production benefit the local majority instead of local and foreign elites.

  • Where a narrow production focus has succeeded in raising GNP per capita and production totals the well-being of the bottom 20% to 80% of the population has actually worsened.
  • Land reform laws in countries like Pakistan, the Philippines, India, and Egypt have neglected the landless – who comprise 30% to 40% of the rural population.
  • In some cases, the largeholders are the real beneficiaries of these “reforms.” In 1959, land reform in Pakistan compensated landlords handsomely for poor, unirrigated land that had previously yielded them no income. Such fake reforms have obscured an appreciation of what the effects of real redistribution could mean.
  • People who own their own land, either privately or collectively, naturally invest more time, labor, and money in it than do nonowners.
  • Only the redistribution of control of the land can create a new kind of farmer, one willing to face up to difficult challenges, no longer afraid of bosses, moneylenders, and landlords.

In Japan, in 1940, only about 31% of the landholdings were worked by people who owned the land. By 1969, over 75% of the holdings were operated by owner farmers. This shift goes a long way in explaining why recent yields per acre of foodgrains in Japan were as much as 60% greater than in the United States.

2. Food self-reliance depends on mass initiative, not on government directives.

Self-reliance means not only mass participation but mass initiative, the initiative of people freed psychologically from dependence on authorities, whether they be landlords or government officials. Mass initiative is the opposite of individual self-seeking. It rests in awakening the confidence of the people that only through cooperative work in which all partake and benefit equally can genuine development occur. People have proved themselves willing to sacrifice and work hard for future reward, when they can see that all are sacrificing equally. Thus equality is a necessary prerequisite for mass initiative. In countries with great inequalities in wealth and income, appeals for national sacrifice are correctly perceived by the poor majority as a way for the controlling elite to extract yet more wealth through the extra exertion of the masses.

3. With food self-reliance, trade becomes an organic outgrowth of development, not the fragile hinge on which survival hangs.

Agricultural exports should come only after the agricultural resources are in the hands of people first meeting their own food needs. Only after food production has been diversified and people are feeding themselves can food trade play a positive role. Clearly no country can hope to “win” in the game of international trade, as we saw in Part VI, as long as its very survival depends on selling its one or two products every year. A country simply cannot hold out for just prices for its exports if it is desperate for foreign exchange with which to import food. Once the basic needs are met, however, trade can become a healthy extension of domestic need instead of being determined strictly by foreign demand.

4. Food self-reliance means reuniting agriculture and nutrition.

If colonialism’s plantations first converted food into a mere commodity, production contracted by multinational agribusiness for the Global Supermarket completes the divorce of agriculture and nutrition. Self-reliance would make the central question not “What crop might have a few cents edge on the world market months or even years hence?” but “How can the people best feed themselves with this piece of land?”

As obvious as it may seem, the policy of basing land use on nutritional output is practiced in only a few countries today. For these countries food is no longer just a commodity. As a necessity of life, it is considered as precious as life itself.

With Food First self-reliance, industrial crops (like cotton and rubber), livestock feed crops, and luxury fruits and vegetables are planted after meeting the basic needs of all the people. In the United States, by contrast, as pointed out in Diet for a Small Planet, livestock production is, in fact, antithetical to getting maximum nutritional output from our land. Livestock is used instead to get rid of “overproduction” in a world where most people do not have the money to buy the grain they need. Livestock thus consumes the production from over half of the harvested acreage in the United States. At the same time beans and grain products, competing with feed crops for land use, soar out of the price range of the really poor who rely on these staples.

A self-reliant policy in this country would use the land to supply Americans with all our necessary grain and other plant food staples before land was diverted to crops destined for livestock. With new attention to the development of improved forages and waste products to replace grain in livestock feeding, the United States, according to a USDA official’s estimate, could reduce the amount of grain fed to livestock by 50% and still produce roughly the same amount of meat.

5. Food self-reliance makes agriculture an end, not a means.

In countries where so much of the population today is hungry, agriculture has been seen, since the onslaught of colonialism, as the sector from which to extract wealth to serve urban, industrial, and foreign interests. Theoretically things have changed. But have they really? In most underdeveloped countries agriculture continues to contribute much more to the national income than it receives in investment. Although agricultural production ordinarily generates most of the national product and foreign exchange, a recent survey found that, on average, agriculture in underdeveloped countries receives only 11% of all investment. On the other hand, mining and manufacturing receive over one quarter of all investment. A United Nations study of Africa notes that although agriculture contributes 20% to 50% of the GNP, it receives only 10% to 30% of the public investment.

  • With food self-reliance, rural development becomes an end in itself.

Since by food self-reliance we mean not only adequate food production but adequate food consumption by all, it cannot be achieved without a genuine rural development in which all participate. Indeed food self-reliance and true development must be seen as one and the same.

6. With Food First self-reliance, industry will serve agriculture; town and country will meet.

If the masses of people are in command, invention and production will be based on the need for a product. A rural, dispersed, small-scale industrial network will grow to fill the need for fertilizer, farming equipment, and other simple manufactures. We are not talking about plopping factories producing for urban markets in the middle of a rice field just for the sake of “decentralization,” but of developing industry as an organic outgrowth of the local population.

Food First self-reliance will halt, even reverse, the flow of landless refugees who daily migrate to cities in hope of work. The wide gap between rural and urban workers will begin to close. Rural life will no longer be looked upon as backward. The Cuban people, for example, understood the need to bring to rural areas the health, educational, and cultural facilities – dance, film, library, theater – invariably associated, especially by the young, with city life. Over the past several years more than 500 boarding high schools have been constructed in the countryside for students from both rural and urban areas. These schools are among the country’s finest and offer not only a regular high school education but also daily work in food production. Through such schools in the countryside tens of thousands of young people come to appreciate the difficulties and rewards of rural work and to realize that they too can contribute to their country’s development.

7. Food self-reliance requires coordinated social planning.

When Westerners look at China most are overwhelmed by the enormity of the organizational problems that have been tackled in the literal transformation of the countryside. When we see mammoth dams completed by human labor and whole landscapes transformed, it is hard for us to conceive of anything but people mindlessly following plans handed down to them. But social planning need not mean authoritarian rule from the top. Indeed, effective social planning of the scope necessary perhaps can only result from the decentralization of authority that allows each region to work out appropriate solutions.

The reconstruction of society involves “bottom up/top down” social planning on a grand scale. For instance, Food First self-reliance starts with the nutritional needs of all the people and translates them into a national agricultural plan. A Canadian report on agriculture and nutrition in Cuba describes how local farmers participate in this translation: “Meetings take place with all the farm workers and small farmers at the local level to discuss the plan and the production quotas allocated to their area. Suggestions for revisions or changes are made. This feedback process is very important because it is the local farmers and workers who know best what crops will grow in their area.”

The food self-reliance bandwagon

The devastating impact of export agriculture on the majority of the people will become more and more undeniable, and food dependency will continue to translate into food shortages and rising prices for the politically volatile urban centers. Predictably, national politicians will increasingly call, and some have already begun, for food self-reliance. They will claim that their new agricultural policies will make their countries independent. But the food self-reliant policies we have described simply cannot be implemented by the present governments of most underdeveloped countries. Why not? Simply because these policies directly counter the self-interest of the propertied elite now in power. Food First, then, is not a simple call to put food into hungry mouths. It is the recognition that, if enabling people to feed themselves is to be the priority, then all social relationships must be reconstructed.

If present governments will not implement Food First policies, what, then, is the value of this prescription for food self-reliance? Its value, we think, lies in showing what is possible – in giving evidence to groups struggling for self-determination that food self-reliance is a viable alternative. A prescription for food self-reliance and a continuing effort to garner the proof of experience that it is possible will serve to discredit all governments that now rationalize continuing dependency as necessary for survival. Indeed the strongest weapon of oppression is the belief, by oppressor and oppressed alike, that while dependency may not be desirable, it is better than starvation. Food self-reliance is the cornerstone of genuine self-determination and it is possible for every country in the world.

Food self-reliance and the industrial countries


Chapter 45: But Where Would Development Capital Come From?

Chapter 46: Aren’t Poor Peasants Too Oppressed Ever to Change?

Chapter 47: Food Versus Freedom?

Chapter 48 What Can We Do?

Question: If you say that it is all up to the underdeveloped countries themselves, then what role is left for us?

The basic message of Diet for a Small Planet is that all fundamental change has to begin with the individual. Do you still feel that way? Aren’t individual acts no more than symbolic gestures against the enormity of the economic and political reality of hunger?

Our Response:

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