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Flight from the land and food riots

Over the last two centuries capitalism has expanded food production on an enormous scale, but three decades ago it reached a limit which it has been unable to overcome through the methods used so far. We put the different aspects of this blockage into context: exploding food prices, wastage, over-fishing, biofuel etc. In the end it boils down to the question of who is doing the (agricultural) work.
 http://www.wildcat-www.de/en/wildcat/89/e_w89_nahrungsmittel.html


Flight from the land and food riots

During break-time conversations at lefty conferences everyone talks enthusiastically about their allotments and their self-grown veggies. More people of the left scene attend workshops on tomato cultivation than day schools on the global crisis. On the German magazine market 'LandLust' is the current shooting star, their print run registers double-digit annual growth figures. The magazine expresses the desire of the urban population for the conventional, the simple and healthy life.

All this has little to do with 'agriculture'. Agriculture still means hard physical labour and a modest income, last but not least in the organic farming sector. Globally people try to escape from this type of labour in order to make a living in an easier way. These people are in high demand at the global assembly lines because they are used to heavy work, which has to be done because otherwise the livestock would starve or the crop would wither away.

From a 'consumer' point of view a better life means reducing the share of your wage spent on basic necessities like food and being able to obtain more and better consumer goods or accommodation with the rest. Recently we started to hear threatening announcements on all channels: "The time of cheap food is over." The reasons given are food scandals (E.coli), droughts, floods and the trouble in North Africa. The unrest in North Africa started with demands for lower food prices, but went far beyond the archaic 'bread riot': not the poor demanding bread from their rulers, but people who want regime change or even a different society. They actually put the 'agrarian question' back on the agenda, but neither in a backward-looking way nor in terms of a rationalised capitalist agribusiness.

In the following we try to address all these questions. The solvent 'conscious consumer' will certainly find his or her niche, but on a wider social scale the food question emerges together with fundamental ruptures and lasting blockages in development, which form a common link between workers' struggles in China, upheaval in North Africa and impoverishment in the northern metropolis. Over the last two centuries capitalism has expanded food production on an enormous scale, but three decades ago it reached a limit which it has been unable to overcome through the methods used so far. We put the different aspects of this blockage into context: exploding food prices, wastage, over-fishing, biofuel etc. In the end it boils down to the question of who is doing the (agricultural) work. In the next issue of Wildcat we want to elaborate on the central questions further.



Reasons behind the exploding food prices

In 2001 food was cheaper than ever before. Six years later, in December 2007, food prices were at the highest level since the beginning of statistical records in 1846. Is this all due to speculation? What is the significance of the warning of a food crisis issued by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)? Where can we actually see shortages?

Often news about bad harvests serves to push up food prices. For example, despite the catastrophic heat wave last summer in Russia and the prediction of a catastrophic harvest, the harvest has actually been good. Today the floods in Australia and the drought in China make the headlines...

Over the last five years food prices moved up and down with the rhythm of the financial bubble. Speculative capital flowed globally into assets of 'risk-free return' such as raw materials, basic foodstuff and soil, which resulted in massive price hikes from autumn 2006. One year later wheat prices had increased by 80 per cent, rice prices by 320 per cent. After the Lehman bankruptcy in September 2008 prices suddenly crashed. When central banks subsequently shifted towards a policy of ultra-cheap money and investment -seeking capital streamed into agricultural commodity markets, the prices went up again. By 2010 prices even topped the historic levels of 2008. In 2010 of all years - a year of record wheat harvests! - the bushel unit of wheat was traded at all-time high prices of $25 on the Chicago stock exchange.

The most recent example is the price of rice, which increased by 24 per cent within five weeks during early 2011. Rice, like wheat, yielded record prices topping those of 2008, despite the fact that record harvests are expected and global stock levels are very high. Five days after the catastrophe in Japan all agricultural raw material prices fell: 'experts' now claimed that there had not been a shortage of rice after all (FAZ, March 13 2011). They observe that prices are rocking and they look out for stories which could serve as an 'explanation'. This has little to do with the actual reasons.



No Agrarian Revolution in Sight
Peak Soil

There is an absolute decline in the area cultivated for foodstuff: the construction of roads, industries, urban areas etc. has resulted in a global shortage of cultivable land. Private investment funds and state-run financial corporations (China, the Gulf Countries) have started to grab large areas of farmland in order to use it for export agro-production. This 'land grabbing' radicalises the former cash-crop production. Former owners are expelled from their soil and the local population has to face food shortages.

The price hikes for fossil fuels have resulted in increased global biofuel consumption: plants used for heating, fuels or as raw material in production of synthetics. In the US about a third of the corn crop is used for fuel production. Instead of producing biogas from organic waste, a crop is planted specially for the purpose of fuel production and is heavily subsidised thanks to pressure from the agro-lobby. In consequence there is less fertile land for food production left. Not only in Africa but also in Germany, peasants are forced to buy expensive land (and to get into debt for it), because there is no more land locally available to rent cheaply.

Obviously there are still large uncultivated areas on the globe which could be used for agriculture [FAZ, April 26 2008]. In South America cultivation is blocked partly by big landholders, who would only make use of it if production (for export) turned out to be profitable. In Russia, Ukraine and even in the EU (Bulgaria), agricultural areas lie fallow. It would be possible to expand the cultivable area by further deforestation, which would have dire consequences for the climate and biodiversity. Some of the 'fallow' areas are actually not lying idle, they are used by small peasants or shepherds who would be pushed further into the margins by cultivation.


Peak Fish

Sea fishing has been industrialised from the 1950s onwards. Massive investment resulted in major increases in the global fish catch and collapse of fishing resources formerly exploited by traditional means. The rapidly decreasing volume per catch led to expansion of the fishing areas, the introduction of deep-sea fishing and the extension of fishing towards new or previously shunned types of fish. The global annual quantity of fish and other marine animals caught reached a peak of about 90 million tonnes in the late 1980s (this excludes the catch of unofficial, unregulated fishing activities of approximately 20 to 30 million tonnes) and has decreased since then.1 Around 75 per cent of the global fish stock is said to be fully or over-exploited (FAO 2007).2 Over-exploitation results in drastically shrinking catch volumes, way below the yields theoretically possible, to the point that entire fish populations collapse.

The aquaculture of today is no alternative, it depends on the already over-exploited resource, i.e. fish. Either carnivorous fish species are raised by feeding them other fish, or non-carnivorous fish such as carp are fed industrially manufactured food including an increasing share of fishmeal. While fishmeal production is static at roughly 30 million tonnes per year, the proportion of the total amount used for feeding in aquaculture increased from 8 per cent in 1988 to a current level of around 70 per cent.3

The potential for exploiting new marine animals as food or feeding stuff is limited. Arctic krill [small crabs feeding on algae] is rated high for future markets: currently around 100,000 tonnes are fished annually. Given the ice coverage of the arctic sea an expansion of arctic krill fishing to levels of several million tons would require major efforts, and even then it would only amount to a few per cent of the total global fishing yield.


Wastage and Rotting

In the western hemisphere around a third to a half of total food produced is later simply chucked away. In poorer countries food is 'wasted' because of rotting due to bad storage after the harvest; in this way around 15 to 20 per cent of the harvest is just lost. Vegetarians usually point to the 'wastage' of wheat fed to animals for meat production. As a result of growth in income and changing nutritional habits, meat and milk consumption in developing countries, particularly China and India, is on the increase. Accordingly the consumption of wheat (and the energy consumed for its cultivation) grows. The main 'wastage' is the use of wheat for fuel production. It takes 200 kilos of wheat to produce one tankful of fuel: the equivalent of one person's wheat consumption in a whole year.


Agrarian revolution and industrialisation: cheap food for cheap labour

Every new cycle of capital accumulation was accompanied by an 'agrarian revolution' allowing food to be produced more cheaply. This became necessary in order to feed a rapidly growing urban working population. The cheaper the food was, the lower the wages could be. Capitalism is primarily an agrarian revolution (Goldner; see reading list).

In England, the first industrial nation, a food industry emerged early on to provide workers with basic foodstuff and beer. A European market for food products formed as early as the 16th century; in the 1870s a world marked started to develop; by the 1980s it was already cheaper to ship wheat from Buenos Aires to Barcelona instead of sourcing it from 'local areas' 100 km away. The accelerated industrialisation during the long depression (doubling of the industrial working class population in Germany during the last quarter of the 19th century) was based, among other factors, on cheap imports of grain from America. In 1880 a single agricultural labourer managed to work 26 hectares of land; by 1980 it had already increased to 239 hectares. During the last century hardly any production sector achieved productivity increases on a comparable scale to agriculture. While the world's population has doubled since the 1950s and more than half of humankind lives in urban areas, food production has grown two and a half times.


The world food market

"You cannot expect commercial farms to feed people... Feeding people who are not able to buy food is the job of the government."
(Jan Prins, farmer in Ethiopia, in a DLF channel radio interview on 'land grabbing', 22nd of February 2011)

The use of food exports to stabilise favoured regimes and to open markets for multinational agribusiness has been debated widely. In the 1950s and 60s, post-colonial states in Asia and Africa received US wheat as food aid, or they imported industrialised countries' cheap, subsidised surplus production. In the late 1960s two thirds of all wheat exports went to 'developing countries'. Parallel to these exports, the World Bank-funded 'Green Revolution' of the 1960s resulted in mechanisation of agriculture and use of high-yielding types of grain, artificial fertilisers, pesticides and artificial irrigation in Africa and Asia. Development focused on resource-rich regions and fostered the emergence of a layer of affluent peasants, who became dependent on banks and agribusiness. Agricultural yields grew strongly and the price of food decreased.

Thus the Green Revolution achieved its goal of stabilising the 'Third World' politically and socially and immunising it against revolution; at the same time sales markets were created for the agricultural multinationals, along with production areas for cash crops. With cheap imported grain available food habits changed: in Africa millet is hardly consumed anymore (it is seen as 'primitive'): people prefer rice - which does not grow there - or wheat. Globally human nutrition is based to a large degree on ten crops, which form only a fraction of the total number of edible plants.
Social death of the peasantry: the example of Germany

There is less discussion of the other aspect of the enormous productivity leaps in agriculture: the redundancy of labour. We will demonstrate this aspect using the example of Germany, where agriculture saw major productivity increases in the 20th century, particularly in the second half. Around 1900 a peasant produced food for 4 additional people, in 1950 for 10, in 2004 for 143. After the Second World War agriculture in Germany was still largely characterised by farms making use of draught animals, producing for subsistence and exchange of surplus produce, but with hardly any money at their disposal. When new factories offered attractive jobs, the young generation began to flee the land on a massive scale. The agricultural policy fostered rationalisation, the focus on few agrarian products, the cultivation of new crops using agro-chemicals and machines. Given that use of machinery demanded large-scale farming, the peasantry became divided up into 'full-time peasants' on one hand - those who had resettled their 'farm' outside of the former villages and who applied a high level of technology - and millions of 'sideline peasants' on the other, whose acreage was too small to make ends meet.

The GDR [German Democratic Republic, East German 'socialist' state]4 went a step further: monoculture on even larger acreage and restriction to crops which could be cultivated using machines and stored for long periods (potato, cabbage, carrots, celery). But the LPG [agricultural production cooperative] brought the peasants the 8-hour working day, paid holidays and culture. The LPGs were extremely unproductive. They had too many employees, among whom an increasing number worked in administration. Instead of making labour redundant and thereby available for industry, the agricultural cooperatives absorbed it! In 1990 the peasants in the East Germany achieved only two thirds of the yields of their counterparts in the west. The reunification of Germany changed things in this sector, too: in 1989 around 830,000 people in East Germany worked in agriculture, ten years later only 190,000.5
The family as a natural resource

Agriculture, then, seems to be particularly 'productive' only when it is performed as a family enterprise and/or by employing migrant seasonal workers. Once an agricultural enterprise becomes a 'factory', people start to act accordingly: they leave the tractor standing on the field at clock-off time and they start seeking administrative positions. After the annexation of East Germany the farming 'family enterprise' was promoted again: enterprises run by a married couple, mainly by the female peasant, but which, unlike in former days, only rarely avail themselves of additional help from other family members or from farm hands. Actually they are highly specialised - and only nominally 'self-employed' - as independent producers in the agro-processing industry. They form part of a very finely calibrated division of labour; the work methods they apply are prescribed by the processing industry, but they have to bear the entrepreneurial risk themselves. They are driven by their creditors, working from the morning till night and hardly taking a day off. In the end they don't care what they sow and reap - as long as the price is all right.

Today around 1.25 million people work in agriculture, covering 530,000 full-time jobs, which is about 2 per cent of total employment in Germany. The average capital outlay per job in agriculture is 284,000 euros, making agriculture one of the most capital intensive branches of German economy (in comparison: in manufacturing capital outlay is 172,000 euros, in trade it is 53,000 euros, in construction 34,000 euros). In 1960 the capital investment per work place in German agriculture was the equivalent of 37,000 euros, which means that back then the sector was only slightly more capital intensive than the rest of the economy, where average investment stood at 34,000 euros (figures according to AgE, February 1 2010.)

German agriculture is highly integrated into the world market. Around a quarter of the total revenue of the 'food industries' stems from exports; for the agrarian technology industry it is even a third of total revenue (BMELV). In euro-denominated terms, Germany is a net importer of foodstuff, but at the same time it belongs to the major producers and exporters, with exports tendentially rising. Around 80 per cent of exports are to the EU; major shares also go to the US and Russia and increasingly to China, Vietnam, India and Africa. In 2008 around 2.2 million tonnes of pork produced in Germany were exported, around 40 per cent of total production, making Germany the second largest exporter of pork after the US. This was accompanied by a concentration process within the industry: during the record export year 2008 around 14,000 'pig farming businesses' - one in every six in the sector - had to close down (FR, January 19 2011). During the crisis year of 2009 the food industry had to digest only minor losses; the meat business even achieved record figures.


The end of a mode of accumulation

It was a policy starting in the 1970s and expanded during the 1980s - as part of the negotiations over the global debt crisis (Uruguay summits, WTO) - to detach world market prices increasingly from production costs. This policy led to further concentration and centralisation of capital in the agro-food sector. In 2000 only four companies controlled 82 per cent of the beef market and 75 per cent of pork and mutton market; five companies controlled 90 per cent of the international grain trade; three countries produced 70 per cent of the global maize export; the 30 biggest food traders control one third of the global retail market etc. etc. But despite these major concentration and monopolisation processes the massive productivity leaps have ceased since the end of the 1970s. So-called 'neoliberalism' was not able to break through or overcome this stagnation. The picture changed: over the last 20 years the global working class has doubled in number, but food production has not reached the same growth rates any more.

The methods of boosting productivity - making labour redundant through use of fertilizers, machines, energy input - reach ecological limits. In Asia half of the fresh water resources available are used for irrigation of paddy fields. Global wheat production has tripled between 1950 and 1990, but in the medium term industrial plantation methods and monocultures without crop alteration lead to depletion of the soil and rapid drawdown of ground water tables; crop yields are declining. Wheat, soybeans, maize and paddy cover about a third of global acreage. Related to fertilizer input the yields of all four crops have declined by over 70 per cent compared with 1961. The following yields were harvested per kilo of nitrate fertilizer:

year: 1961 2006
wheat: 126 kg 45 kg
soy beans: 131 kg 36 kg
paddy: 217 kg 66 kg
maize: 226 kg 76 kg

Source: medienschafe

These problems cannot be solved by the agrarian sector alone. They mark the limits of a (social) model of accumulation. The 'third technological revolution' has not taken place, it has mainly produced technology of information and control, but it hasn't resulted in further reduction of production and reproduction costs. Can we even draw parallels between the exhaustion of the current productivity dynamic and the crisis at the end of feudalism? Back then it was only possible to feed the growing population by extension of acreage, which led to an ecological crisis (forests had been largely cleared; shortages of wood resources emerged; lack of grazing areas led to a fertilizer shortage). The intensification of agriculture through increased labour input conflicted with an increasing demand for labour from the emerging industries. These problems were only solved through development of machinery, extraction of organic fertilizer (guano) and later on production of artificial fertilizers, and last but not least through colonial access to land (North America) and peasantry (India) [Moore; see reading list]. The historical constellation which developed at the time seems to have run out today. The situation in China today allows us to focus on all these questions as if in a magnifying glass.



All quiet on the far-east front

Historically each new phase of the expansion of capitalism (and therefore of each new hegemonic power) was preceded by a revolution in agrarian production, both for local populations and for export. In China, development of agrarian productivity has not kept pace with the development of industry. Up to a few years ago, for example, China was autarchic in terms of soybean production; nowadays China is the leading world importer. China's ascent to its current status as the 'the world's assembly-line' was based on mass migration of rural workforce to the industrial centres. This workforce still had a minimal base of subsistence in the countryside. This (human) resource is now running out: more than half of the population lives in urban areas and China has become an aging society.

The five-year plan adopted in March 2011 is supposed to square the circle: the coming years should see a move away from extreme dependency on exports by boosting private consumption, and at the same time the massive migration from the rural areas is supposed to continue (according to the plan every year about 10 to 20 million people are supposed to move from the countryside to cities, which are yet to be built; by 2030 the regime aims at re-settling 100 million peasants in urban areas; this would be the biggest wave of migration in history).

Agricultural productivity would have to be increased to such an extent that the following three conditions would be met: the redundancy of this huge amount of rural labour; increased total food production, and a significant increase in wages for rural labourers, in order to keep them in the countryside. Currently they earn 30 per cent of urban workers' wages. "So who would work the land voluntarily?", the SZ (8th of March 2011) quotes a peasant named Dong as saying. "We might be peasants, but we are not stupid." "If the gap between agrarian and industrial wages increases, then the motivation of the peasants will decline and China will be threatened by a grain crisis", says a scientist at the centre for the grain trade, quoted in the same article.

The means applied by the Chinese regime to achieve this huge leap are both modest and familiar: extension of landholding and technological measures are supposed to increase agrarian productivity. China keeps on copying the methods of the 'Green Revolution', but this has already resulted in China using up a third of the global production of mineral fertiliser on 10 per cent of global acreage. Due to their high content of pesticides certain food items are not 'fit for export'. There is also an increase in the share of fishmeal in feed stuff for carp breeding, which has traditionally been done alongside in the actual paddy fields.

China also opts for gene technology. Since 1992 farmers in China have planted tobacco which is resistant to the tobacco mosaic virus; since 1997 they have planted cotton which produces pesticides by the aid of induced genes; by now this type of cotton grows on 60 per cent of all cotton fields. During the same period China has become a leading producer of organic foodstuff: this food is mainly for export, it is too pricey for the local masses. Years of experiments with GM technology in agriculture have not led to an increase in crop yield. This is not the issue anyway, GM technology mainly results in peasants' dependency on big capital: new types of seeds, resistant to the weed-killers produced by the same company, force the farmers to buy that company's new herbicides in turn, etc. It is difficult to imagine how the Chinese regime wants to grapple with these problems when at the same time it is confronted with the rising demands of the urban working class.6


A world of small peasants?

At the annual meeting of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft baeuerliche Landwirtschaft (Abl) [Consortium of Peasant Agriculture] in mid-January 2011, Benny Haerlin of Zukunftsstiftung Landwirtschaft [Future Trust Agriculture] said there has to be a change of agrarian policies in Germany in the EU and worldwide. The main issue will be to keep the small peasants on their soil...

Former editors of the far-left magazine 'Radical', anti-globalisation groupings, Attac, Brot fuer die Welt [Christian charity] and the World Bank, they all want to support small peasants in order to improve food security. This is not just the aim of alternative capitalists, but also of mainstream ones. Deutsche Bank agro-analyst Claire Schaffnit-Chatterjee wants to increase the productivity of small peasants in developing countries. This is where "globally the highest potential for productivity hikes" lies. The big corporations would support this effort: "There is a growing trend among these companies to integrate small peasants in developing countries into their supply-chains." (FTD, 7th of January 2011). Vietnam is often presented as a shining example. In Vietnam seven million small peasants, who are part of a wider trading network, produce such large amounts of rice that Vietnam has become the second-largest rice exporter globally.

Everyone wants an access to this amazingly flexible and indefinitely exploitable labour capacity of (mainly) women in the countryside! If there were a way to attach these people to their soil, then the food question would be solved. "The main task is... How do you get the peasants of this world to extract more from their fields?", asked an author in the FAZ [German daily newspaper] during the last wave of 'food riots' (Wir brauchen eine Agrarrevolution - FAZ, 13th of April 2008). In his book 'The politics of hunger', Walden Bello speaks about a global 'repeasantisation', and claims that the trend of proletarianisation and semi-proletarianisation, as described by Hobsbawn and Wallerstein, has reversed itself.

A lot of migrants might have the possibility of a return to the countryside as a fall-back option in their minds, but only in rare cases is this option actually feasible. (One historical exception is the migration to the US and Australia during the 19th century, when 'non-peasants' became farmers). In most cases the migration of the young people to industrial areas and cities results in barely productive agriculture being abandoned. The remaining old people mainly live off wage remittances. The young people return to the village every year and the first savings are invested in house-building - but in the long run they have left the village behind. Due to the economic crisis more and more unemployed in Greece are returning to their villages, where they might still own a small house, and they start working on their fallow patch of land. But they are not 'peasants' any more, they have experienced urban and industrial life and developed new needs and desires.

If Walden Bello concludes from the current social developments that the peasants have turned into a 'class for itself', then he falls back behind the content of the current, globally connected social struggles. He typecasts people to the identity of the 'peasant' - a condition they may no more wish to remain in than workers worldwide want to go on being workers. He neglects that they perceive themselves as 'brothers and sisters' rather than as representatives of separate interests needing to be joined in 'workers and peasants alliances'. Here we find potential far exceeding the traditional demands of peasant movements for one's own piece of land for one's own family.

'Small peasant agriculture' alone suffices hardly anywhere to secure the survival of the household. The increase in 'small peasant agriculture' is a phenomenon related to the crisis, not a voluntary choice of the proletarianised rural population. It is an expression of an economy of scarcity if nowadays people in Cuba cultivate and sell vegetables in city suburbs. Cuba imports officially 60 to 70 per cent, unofficially 80 per cent of the state-administered food supply. The enforced transition from an industrialised agriculture based on large monocultures towards 'sustainable' production proceeds slowly. There is a shortage of labour in the countryside because conditions there are somewhat mediocre. The reforms focus on private incentives and introduction of 'market-oriented methods'.

Venezuela has a rate of urbanisation of 87 per cent and imports around three quarters of its food. So far all attempts to resettle 'peasants' from town to countryside and to introduce land redistribution have failed. Recently a new development programme for agricultural small producers was legislated by the state; in March 2011 a scheme for urban agriculture is supposed to follow. The MST [Movimento Sem Terra, landless movement in Brazil] has been the shining example of a land occupation movement trying to set up socialist cooperatives, but in recent years the MST has had to struggle with the fact that a lot of the poor prefer a life in the urban areas based on social welfare rather than hard labour in the countryside.

Nevertheless people around the globe obviously struggle every day to keep hold of these means of subsistence when called on to surrender them to dam construction projects, large landowners or multinational agribusiness, given that the land amounts to the only food reserve if people are unable to find waged work. Hunger mainly exists on the countryside, not in urban areas. Conditions in the slums of the big urban areas might well be extremely dire, but at least one sees possible ways out of the misery. The slum cities are an expression of the fact that far more people flee the countryside than capital is currently able to valorise.

In an article in Sozialgeschichte.online , Walden Bello's translator Max Henninger rightly accuses Bello of 'romanticism'. Yet he himself sticks to the future perspective of a global small peasantry, accusing our article "Beyond the peasant international" (Wildcat no.82) of "teleology", i.e. seeking in a Stalinist way to get rid of the peasants so that the "the dreamed-of revolution" would emerge quasi-automatically from worldwide proletarianisation. We don't know which to shed more tears over: the fact that revolution does not form part of Max's perspective any more, or his wish to keep the peasants on their patch of land. Proletarianisation and semi-proletarianisation is a global process actually taking place, not our wishful thinking: our wishes are definitely different! We try to clarify this in the essay on Global Labour History in this issue of Wildcat.


Land or Freedom

Agrarian work always and everywhere means hard physical labour, long working hours, bad payment or none at all. Only a few manage to remain as peasants and to have a good life at the same time. The usual capitalist way out: to become an entrepreneur and to specialise, which results in heavy dependency on suppliers (feed stuff, fertilizer, seeds) and buyers (no guaranteed prices, but price competition).

The 'slow food' movement chooses a different path (local products and local buyers), but is only able to yield higher prices for the producers by selling the products to the higher income strata, i.e. by further segmentation of the food market. No organic farm in Germany would be able to survive without state subsidies and the underpaid labour of interns, because no-one would pay what would otherwise be even higher prices. Therefore the numbers of farms is further declining.

Knowledge about improved cultivation methods could make small-scale peasant agriculture more productive. In many aspects of agriculture alternatives could be found, from growing of more robust type of crops according to climate zone to cultivation of vegetables in compost sacks. But any type of 'sustainable' or 'organic' farming depends on a higher input of labour and/or energy: if you don't flood the paddy fields but only keep them irrigated the paddy plants may grow better but so does the weed. You can attack the weed with chemicals, or weed it yourself.
In the end it boils down to the question: Who does the work and under what conditions?

To be continued...

footnotes

[1] Pauly, D. 2009. Beyond duplicity and ignorance in global fisheries. Scientia Marina 73(2): 215-224

[2] FAO 2007. The state of world fisheries and aquaculture. Rome, p.162

[3] Deutsch et al. 2007. Feeding aquaculture growth through globalization: Exploitation of marine eco-systems for fishmeal. Global Environmental Change no. 17: 238-249.

[4] On GDR agriculuture: Tanja Busse, "Am Ziel vorbei: die deutsche Einheit - eine Zwischenbilanz, Berlin 2005.

[5] Nor did the Soviet Union manage to force the agrarian workers to achieve corresponding productivity increases. From 1880 to 1914 Russia was a major wheat exporting nation. But despite the fact that Bolsheviks advanced industrialisation of agriculture by most brutal methods, the Soviet Union had to import US wheat on increasing scale from the 1960s onwards. The wheat was mainly used for beef production in order to be able to satisfy the workers' increasing appetite for meat. It became obvious that this type of capitalism was about to reach its end.

[6] On China:
Die Zeit, Nr.10, 3.3.2011, Chinas grosse Urbanisierung, von Felix Lee.
Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Nr.55, 8.3.2011: "We might be peasants, but we are not stupid." In rural China men prefer going to work in factories. The fields often turn into building sites for houses and industry.
Stephen S. Roach, Chinas Wendepunkt/China's Turning Point, 24.2.2011

Suggested reading:

Jason W. Moore - The End of the Road? Agricultural Revolutions in the Capitalist World Ecology 1450 to 2010, in: Journal of Agrarian Change, Vol. 10, No.3, July 2010, p.389 to 413
Moore asks the question: Can Capitalism overcome the crisis (end of cheap food and cheap fuel) - or do we face an epochal turning point in the relation between capitalism and agrarian revolution?
Ernst Langthaler, Landwortschaft in der Globalisierung (1870-2000), in: Cerman, M. / Stellbauer, I. / Tost, s.: Agrarrevolutionen. Verhaeltnisse in der landwirtschaft vom Neolithikum zur Globalisierung. Wien 2008
Loren Goldner: Communism is the Material Human Community: Amadeo Bordiga Today
Harry Cleaver: Food, famine and the international crisis - Harry Cleaver

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