Should rural areas maintain their traditional agricultural role?
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Maintaining the traditional agricultural role of the countryside is essential. We should not only s...
Maintaining the traditional agricultural role of the countryside is essential. We should not only support local traditions and sense of identity, but also reinforce a natural division of labour between the rural and the urban. Even as modern economies continue to move towards service jobs and industries, our basic needs – including that of eating – will continue to exist and be met through agricultural production. The rural is best equipped to meet these needs. We should invest in smaller agricultural schemes that follow traditional practices, invest in people and the environment that supports them, and offer the health and animal welfare advantages of less intensive food production and processing practices. This is a much better alternative to large-scale intensive farming and diversification schemes that are often purely profit motivated and may rely for labour not on local inhabitants but on gangs of cheap migrant labourers.
We should instead encourage the countryside to modernise. The idealized vision of rural communities blissfully living together and passing down age old traditions from one generation to the other is long dead. The villagers of today demand jobs and are more than thrilled to be offered one in large-scale production farms or one of the livelihood diversification schemes. Far from being able to support others, subsistence farmers can hardly feed themselves and their families. Exploitation of small plots of land has long proven to be inefficient and in some cases even damaging to the environment. Rural life began to change a long time ago, and the process is inevitable. Without rethinking the role of the rural we will end up condemning rural populations to a life of continuous poverty they can only escape by migrating to the city. This migration may in end prove to be even more dangerous.
We should work to protect the countryside from unwelcome change. There are many ways in which we ca...
We should work to protect the countryside from unwelcome change. There are many ways in which we can help the countryside adapt to the changes that the entire world is currently undergoing. Privatization and sudden liberalization practices and investments are not always the best solutions. Central and Eastern Europe can be regarded as a laboratory for emerging and developing democracies, and here ‘shock therapy’, de-collectivization and liberalization practices had a devastating effect on rural areas and their inhabitants. Such modernising policies resulted not only in increasing poverty but also in bitter conflict over land and access to jobs in the newly created private farms and greater exploitation. These conflicts have significantly undermined the local solidarity that the traditional development of the countryside has always depended on as one of its major resources.
We should help the countryside embrace change. There are many ways in which we can help the countryside adapt, yet we also need to accept the fact that any change will be disruptive to some extent. Shock effects, and the negative side-effects that come with them are inevitable, and can only be avoided by simply refusing to see that change will occur whether we want it or not. As for Central and Eastern Europe, the de-collectivization process and liberalization process was indeed painful, yet it was largely demanded by the rural inhabitants themselves. While we do not deny that some people are having a hard time learning how to negotiate these new changes, there are successful models that can be implemented. In Balninkai, Lithuania, a very successful model of grassroots organizing involved people in the decision-making process and helped retrain them for the new environment they were facing. In many parts of Central and Eastern Europe people have voted with their feet and moved away from the countryside in search of better prospects. Change is already here and unless we are prepared to force these people to stay on the land, we should work with it rather than against it.
There are many problems with rural development schemes. The fact that people understand the liberal...
There are many problems with rural development schemes. The fact that people understand the liberalization process better and are able to function within it does not mean that modernisation is preferable. Doing away with small family farms and replacing them with larger and more diversified investments is largely dependent on the availability of credit and the stability of the banking system. In most places such credit is not available or comes with many strings attached, and even in areas where credit can be secured, the banking system may not be trusted. In Romania, the collapse of several banks giving out credit for rural development had a significant overall economic impact that could not be buffered by a relatively weak state relying on limited financial resources.
Rural development initiatives should be applauded. For every example of set-backs, there are many examples of the positive impact that investment has on rural communities. One only need look at Muhammad Yunus, a micro-credit pioneer from Bangladesh and winner of the Noble Peace Prize, to understand the life changing effect that a credit as small as $9 can have on the lives of rural inhabitants. These credits have opened a world of opportunities and hope for rural inhabitants throughout the world and, more importantly, have helped set free their creativity and entrepreneurship. Micro-credit has given the world community a lesson in small-scale management, perseverance and unexpected, yet much needed, financial success.
Rural communities provide a valuable safety net and should be preserved. In times of crisis and fin...
Rural communities provide a valuable safety net and should be preserved. In times of crisis and financial collapse, agriculture in rural areas has proven to be an important employment buffer, offering entire families some sense of stability upon loss of jobs due to restructuring, market or currency collapse – some of the insecurities that are part of the new global economy. In South East Asia, after the 1998 crisis thousands of people were forced to return to their ancestors’ villages where they found a home and a means to feed their family. In Central and Eastern Europe, the privatization of large industries had a similar effect, sending many people back to their villages and the traditional agricultural lifestyle. In these cases, the countryside has proven to be an essential safety net for those who would have otherwise had no other means of support.
Those same people who moved to the countryside after financial crises moved right back to the cities upon securing a new job, leaving rural areas for what they thought were much better opportunities. Moving back to the village was not a choice, but rather a survival must. Modernisation of the countryside does not mean that the village could not continue to serve an important role as a social buffer in times of crisis. It means that it might be able to offer a lot more than that: an alternative to city living that could attract people not only in times of crisis. Resisting change means rural areas will continue their plunge into poverty and only reinforce dangerous trends of turning entire rural regions into international labour reserves – a heaven for a series of dangerous abuses such as child labour and prostitution.
Radical reform of the countryside that seeks to transform it into something other than an agricultur...
Radical reform of the countryside that seeks to transform it into something other than an agricultural powerhouse is particularly dangerous in places where the majority of the population still lives in rural areas and relies on subsistence farms for their daily bread. Taking away this minimal sense of security by pushing people to invest in unfamiliar schemes that might or might not guarantee more profit threatens to plunge entire countries into even more conflict and instability.
Poor areas, particularly rural areas, have already proven to be a great source of conflict, with or without attempts to reform it. If anything, reforms have offered young people alternatives - a job that would keep them from joining guerrilla forces or joining criminal gangs. Subsistence farming is no longer an alternative and certainly does not offer the sense of security that the proposition might have you believe it does. Poverty will always breed insecurity and while solutions may be difficult to find and fraught with failure, we owe it to ourselves at least to try.
Preserving the traditional character of rural areas benefits the environment. Running down national...
Preserving the traditional character of rural areas benefits the environment. Running down national farming sectors and importing food instead of producing it at home is very damaging in terms of food miles - much energy is used to transport crops and meat thousands of miles, producing harmful emissions and contributing to global warming. Cheap foreign food is also often grown at the expense of the environment, with rainforests chopped down to create plantations or grazing. Growing food for local markets in traditional ways (e.g. without pesticides or chemical fertilisers) may be less efficient but it helps save the planet and also benefits wildlife. And preserving the character of the countryside in this way can have economic benefits as tourists are attracted to its beauty and age-old traditions.
Trying to fix the countryside in some “traditional” remote past could only be done at huge economic cost. In order to support a few rural landowners, food prices for everyone else would have to rise greatly as cheaper foreign imports are kept out by trade barriers, tariffs or subsidies. Encouraging inefficient small scale production over huge modern farms will further raise the costs of production. If there is a market for locally-grown organic food, then some farmers can grow it to sell to the rich at a premium, but we shouldn’t impose massively higher food prices on the urban poor. Keeping out foreign imports would also hurt desperately poor farmers in the developing world who need markets for their crops. Even if this was desirable, we would have to withdraw from international trade/political blocs to implement it, which would hurt other parts of our own economy.
What do you think?