Collier on the Food Crisis

Paul Collier’s The Bottom Billion was my pick for best economics book last year (not written by a dear friend), it was smart, hard-hitting and unconventional.  Collier hasn’t lost his touch as a great comment, more like an op-ed, on the food crisis over at Martin Wolf’s Economic Forum illustrates.

The remedy to high food prices is to increase food supply, something
that is entirely feasible. The most realistic way to raise global
supply is to replicate the Brazilian model of large, technologically
sophisticated agro-companies supplying for the world market…. There are still many areas of the world that
have good land which could be used far more productively if it was
properly managed by large companies…

Unfortunately, large-scale commercial agriculture is unromantic. We
laud the production style of the peasant: environmentally sustainable
and human in scale. In respect of manufacturing and services we grew
out of this fantasy years ago, but in agriculture it continues to
contaminate our policies. In Europe and Japan huge public resources
have been devoted to propping up small farms. The best that can be said
for these policies is that we can afford them. In Africa, which cannot
afford them, development agencies have oriented their entire efforts on
agricultural development to peasant style production. As a result,
Africa has less large-scale commercial agriculture than it had fifty
years ago. Unfortunately, peasant farming is generally not well-suited
to innovation and investment: the result has been that African
agriculture has fallen further and further behind the advancing
productivity frontier of the globalized commercial model.

Read the whole thing.  Many more oxen are gored.


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