Friday, July 5, 2019

The Agricultural Impulse

My favorite photograph from a trip my wife and I took to Kenya in 2011, was of this young man selling carrots by the roadside.  I thought of it as entrepreneurship at its finest.  The location was a speed bump in the highway as we were traveling west across the country from Limuru to Kakamega.  Because the speed bumps caused traffic to slow down, roadside vendors had set up and approached travellers with their wares.  I didn't get a photo, but on the opposite side of the vehicle a young lady was carrying a basket of plums, also for the purpose of selling to passersby.

Most of the homes we saw were on small plots of ground.  Areas not utilized by the structure were often intensely "farmed" as the family garden.  Any excess produce was sold in the local market, or as opportunity provided, to anyone with the means to purchase.  It was a clear demonstration of how foundational agriculture is to the economy.

As we consider agriculture around the world we must always be mindful that it is a source of income to the poorest of the poor.  Many would farm on a larger scale if they had access to land.  Control of land varies from country to country, but often it is in the hands of a few who have political connections.  Frequently, foreign investors control large swaths of the most productive land.

Flourishing agriculture goes hand in hand with good governance.  If allowed the means and access to productive soil, most people find a way to grow food.  Even in refugee camps, gardening is seen.  Many of the issues related to food are in the areas of governance, infrastructure and the concentration of people into ever larger cities.  Governance and infrastructure are closely related while the movement to cities is a highly complex issue involving governance, infrastructure, concentration of capital and trade.

Solving the challenges of food supply among exploding populations will require multiple approaches, all of which must consider the social and governance factors which compound the difficulties.  When governments recognize the value of feeding their own citizens -- not through a concentration of power, but by a diffusion of the productive impulse into the hands of the people -- the task will become easier.  The young man from Kenya stands witness.

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