[Marxism] Land productivity is going to peak.

Barry Brooks durable at earthlink.net
Thu Jun 12 11:57:59 MDT 2008

So far, the good answers to the questions
people are asking are too radical, too
technical and too scary to be heard. Most
people would become radical if they found out
that radical really just means getting to the
roots of problems. Then, we still have the
technical and the scary to deal with.

Below, the semi-radical Monbiot says... The
nobel economist Amartya Sen found that there
is an inverse relationship between the size
of farms and the amount of crops they produce
per hectare. The smaller they are, the
greater the yield, ... because they have more

Biz measures farm efficiency by output/money.
Those concerned with feeding people like to
measure farm efficiency by output/area. Now,
with oil going up the money cost of farm
automation will rise, giving farm labor a boost.

Farms will have more people/area. But, if
that labor is controlled by big-biz would the
output/area really go up?

Finally, it will prove to be inefficient and
un-sustainable to push more and more from
the land. Land productivity is going to peak


Small Is Bountiful

By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian

I suggest you sit down before you read this.
Robert Mugabe is right. At last week’s global
food summit he was the only leader to speak
of “the importance … of land in agricultural
production and food security”.(1) Countries
should follow Zimbabwe’s lead, he said, in
democratising ownership.

Of course the old bastard has done just the
opposite. He has evicted his opponents and
given land to his supporters. He has failed
to support the new settlements with credit or
expertise, with the result that farming in
Zimbabwe has collapsed. The country was in
desperate need of land reform when Mugabe
became president. It remains in desperate
need of land reform today.

But he is right in theory. Though the rich
world’s governments won’t hear it, the issue
of whether or not the world will be fed is
partly a function of ownership. This reflects
an unexpected discovery. It was first made in
1962 by the Nobel economist Amartya Sen(2),
and has since been confirmed by dozens of
further studies. There is an inverse
relationship between the size of farms and
the amount of crops they produce per hectare.
The smaller they are, the greater the yield.

In some cases, the difference is enormous. A
recent study of farming in Turkey, for
example, found that farms of less than one
hectare are twenty times as productive as
farms of over ten hectares(3). Sen’s
observation has been tested in India,
Pakistan, Nepal, Malaysia, Thailand, Java,
the Phillippines, Brazil, Colombia and
Paraguay. It appears to hold almost everywhere.

The finding would be surprising in any
industry, as we have come to associate
efficiency with scale. In farming, it seems
particularly odd, because small producers are
less likely to own machinery, less likely to
have capital or access to credit, and less
likely to know about the latest techniques.

There’s a good deal of controversy about why
this relationship exists. Some researchers
argued that it was the result of a
statistical artefact: fertile soils support
higher populations than barren lands, so farm
size could be a result of productivity,
rather than the other way around. But further
studies have shown that the inverse
relationship holds across an area of fertile
land. Moreover, it works even in countries
like Brazil, where the biggest farmers have
grabbed the best land(4).

The most plausible explanation is that small
farmers use more labour per hectare than big
farmers(5). Their workforce largely consists
of members of their own families, which means
that labour costs are lower than on large
farms (they don’t have to spend money
recruiting or supervising workers), while the
quality of the work is higher. With more
labour, farmers can cultivate their land more
intensively: they spend more time terracing
and building irrigation systems; they sow
again immediately after the harvest; they
might grow several different crops in the
same field.

In the early days of the Green Revolution,
this relationship seemed to go into reverse:
the bigger farms, with access to credit, were
able to invest in new varieties and boost
their yields. But as the new varieties have
spread to smaller farmers, the inverse
relationship has reasserted itself(6). If
governments are serious about feeding the
world, they should be breaking up large
landholdings, redistributing them to the poor
and concentrating their research and their
funding on supporting small farms.

There are plenty of other reasons for
defending small farmers in poor countries.
The economic miracles in South Korea, Taiwan
and Japan arose from their land reform
programmes. Peasant farmers used the cash
they made to build small businesses. The same
thing seems to have happened in China, though
it was delayed for 40 years by
collectivisation and the Great Leap
Backwards: the economic benefits of the
redistribution that began in 1949 were not
felt until the early 80s(7). Growth based on
small farms tends to be more equitable than
growth built around capital-intensive
industries(8). Though their land is used
intensively, the total ecological impact of
smallholdings is lower. When small farms are
bought up by big ones, the displaced workers
move into new land to try to scratch out a
living. I once followed evicted peasants from
the Brazilian state of Maranhao 2000 miles
across the Amazon to the land of the Yanomami
Indians, then watched them rip it apart.

But the prejudice against small farmers is
unshakeable. It gives rise to the oddest
insult in the English language: when you call
someone a peasant, you are accusing them of
being self-reliant and productive. Peasants
are detested by capitalists and communists
alike. Both have sought to seize their land,
and have a powerful vested interest in
demeaning and demonising them. In its profile
of Turkey, the country whose small farmers
are 20 times more productive than its large
ones, the UN’s Food and Agriculture
Organisation states that, as a result of
small landholdings, “farm output … remains
low.”(9) The OECD states that “stopping land
fragmentation” in Turkey “and consolidating
the highly fragmented land is indispensable
for raising agricultural productivity.”(10)
Neither body provides any supporting
evidence. A rootless, half-starved labouring
class suits capital very well.

Like Mugabe, the donor countries and the big
international bodies loudly demand that small
farmers be supported, while quietly shafting
them. Last week’s food summit agreed “to help
farmers, particularly small-scale producers,
increase production and integrate with local,
regional, and international markets.”(11) But
when, earlier this year, the International
Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge proposed
a means of doing just this, the US, Australia
and Canada refused to endorse it as it
offended big business(12), while the United
Kingdom remains the only country that won’t
reveal whether or not it supports the study(13).

Big business is killing small farming. By
extending intellectual property rights over
every aspect of production; by developing
plants which either won’t breed true or which
don’t reproduce at all(14), it ensures that
only those with access to capital can
cultivate. As it captures both the wholesale
and retail markets, it seeks to reduce its
transaction costs by engaging only with major
sellers. If you think that supermarkets are
giving farmers in the UK a hard time, you
should see what they are doing to growers in
the poor world. As developing countries sweep
away street markets and hawkers’ stalls and
replace them with superstores and glossy
malls, the most productive farmers lose their
customers and are forced to sell up. The rich
nations support this process by demanding
access for their companies. Their
agricultural subsidies still help their own,
large farmers to compete unfairly with the
small producers of the poor world.

This leads to an interesting conclusion. For
many years, well-meaning liberals have
supported the fair trade movement because of
the benefits it delivers directly to the
people it buys from. But the structure of the
global food market is changing so rapidly
that fair trade is now becoming one of the
few means by which small farmers in poor
nations might survive. A shift from small to
large farms will cause a major decline in
global production, just as food supplies
become tight. Fair trade might now be
necessary not only as a means of
redistributing income, but also to feed the




2. Amartya Sen, 1962. An Aspect of Indian
Agriculture. Economic Weekly, Vol. 14.

3. Fatma Gül Ünal, October 2006. Small Is
Beautiful: Evidence Of Inverse Size Yield
Relationship In Rural Turkey. Policy

4. Giovanni Cornia, 1985. Farm Size, Land
Yields and the Agricultural Production
function: an
analysis for fifteen Developing Countries.
World Development. Vol. 13, pp. 513-34.

5. Eg Peter Hazell, January 2005. Is there a
future for small farms? Agricultural
Economics, Vol. 32, pp93-101.

6. Rasmus Heltberg, October 1998. Rural
market imperfections and the farm size—
productivity relationship: Evidence from
Pakistan. World Development. Vol 26, pp
1807-1826. doi:10.1016/S0305-750X(98)00084-9

7. See Shenggen Fan and Connie Chan-Kang ,
2005. Is Small Beautiful?: Farm Size,
Productivity and Poverty in Asian
Agriculture. Agricultural Economics, Vol. 32,

8. Peter Hazell, ibid.

9. http://www.new-agri.co.uk/00-3/countryp.html

10. OECD Economic Surveys: Turkey - Volume
2006 Issue 15, p186.
This is available online as a Google book.

I was led to refs 9 and 10 via Fatma Gül
Ünal, ibid.


12. International Assessment of Agricultural
Knowledge, Science and Technology for
Development (IAASTD), 2008. Global Summary
for Decision Makers. www.agassessment.org

13. IAASTD, viewed 9th June 2008. Frequently
Asked Questions. www.agassessment.org

14. Eg Terminator seeds.

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