paul richards technology agrarian development group wageningen university paul richards@wur nl n.
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  1. Paul Richards Technology & Agrarian Development Group Wageningen University Aiding development:Food security

  2. Food Security Revolutions • Agricultural Revolution: mid-19th century food security land enclosure, mechanization of farming, peasants displaced to towns; also food imports from Australia, US etc • Green Revolution: mid-20th century food security in South and South-east Asia based on public sector science, improved (non-hybrid) seeds, agro-chemicals, in situ intensification for peasant farmer • Exceptions – Africa and Asia

  3. China • Soviet-style collectivization failed and caused massive famine • China pursued its own seed-based food security revolution • This was a bottom-up knowledge-intensive initiative based on peasant capacity • Successful F1 hybrids for rice were developed • Scope was created for local adaptation • A new seed revolution is planned around genetic modification (but stalled, due to international pressure)

  4. Africa • GR never took off • Too many crops • Too many diverse environments • Africa is ruled by mercantile elites who make money out of food imports • Agriculture remains embedded in social systems oriented towards basic subsistence • Food security was once work for slaves; it remains work for women

  5. Africa remains the most food-insecure continent • Development agencies removed support for African agriculture in the 1990s • Damage was especially severe for research into appropriate technologies • African political elites followed the anti-agrarian fashion in aid thinking • India and China continued to invest in appropriate agricultural science • For Africa, agribusiness is supposedly the answer

  6. Why agribusiness is not the answer • Private seed companies cannot penetrate the peasant food security sector • A vicious circle of hunger and poverty = market failure • Africa has land, and is of interest for biofuel developments • These are controversial – government land grants are not authorised by peasants • There is a strong possibility of social unrest

  7. Solving African agrarian problems – Plan A • Low productivity of land and labour • Investment in soils and investment in labour-saving technology is needed • External large farms lack the social knowledge to address problems of impoverished peasantry • African elites (including returning diaspora elements) have social knowledge • There is no where for the peasantry to be displaced; locally-owned large farms will have to be based on ethical commitments to the poor

  8. Solving African agrarian problems – Plan B • Basic requirement is for a knowledge-led agrarian revolution “from below” (the Chinese model) • Desiderata: • Mass mobilization of peasantry and peasant knowledge • Strong public sector science partnering peasants • Willingness to assert some trade protection (to hold cheap food imports at bay)

  9. Why the GR and Plan B are incompatible • Plan B requires locally-adapted solutions, not external technology packages • GR depends on supervised learning – e.g. dissemination of “superior” seeds via extension • Plan B implies unsupervised learning (policy shaped by intense feedback from farmer networks) • This implies enlarged scope for local invention and adaptation + decentralised science

  10. Conclusion • All the world apart from Africa has made progress towards food security • Africa requires a different approach based on (Chinese-style) simple adaptive solutions • Mass mobilization by the African agrarian poor will be resisted by the political elites • Existing aid programmes should be abandoned - peasant populations require smart technologies for unsupervised learning

  11. References/reading • 1. Mitra, Sugata 2005, Self-organizing systems for mass computer literacy: findings from the 'hole in the wall' experiments, International Journal of Development Issues 4(1), 71-81 • 2. Richards, Paul, De Bruin-Hoekzema, M., Hughes, S. G., Kudadjie-Freeman, C., Offei, S. K., Struik, P. C., Zannou, A. 2009. Seed systems for African food security: linking molecular genetic analysis and cultural knowledge in West Africa, International Journal of Technology Management 45, 196-214 • 3. Shen, Xiaobai 2010, Understanding the evolution of rice technology in China: from traditional agriculture to GM rice today, Journal of Development Studies 46(6), 1026-1046