Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Land Reform, Big Ag and Social Unrest

My friend Rajaratarala has a blog post on that argues land reforms of the 70's caused economically unfeasible sizes of agricultural property.

My contention is that land reform has brought social stability specially during economic downturns. Yes, sounds idiotic given that we are coming out of a 30 year civil war. But then there were no large landholdings in the North, so no gain from land reform to the poorer section. They were probably expecting jobs, University entrance etc which is an whole other discussion. Whats more applicable was the JVP insurrection which kind of disappeared after the reforms.

The opposite example is the US, where since the 60's small holders have been sold out to Big Ag.
In 1962, a committee of the most powerful corporate executives in the United States issued "An Adaptive Program for Agriculture," a plan to eliminate farmers and farms. Called the Committee for Economic Development, this group represented oil and gas, insurance, investment and retail concerns as well as the food industry. Industry giants such as Campbell Soup, General Foods, Pillsbury and Swift lobbied Congress with the message that the biggest problem in agriculture was too many farmers. The U.S. government encouraged farmers to move off their farms and retrain, allowing their land to be consolidated in the ownership of fewer and fewer corporations.

The Bill

This has resulted in extreme urbanization even ghettos (Projects e.g. Cabrini Green). These are social powder kegs that would explode in unrest. The two main reasons that have kept the lid on is high employment and welfare programs. There are cynics who also think drugs and alcohol prevent organized unrest. Anyway with decrease in welfare and increasing unemployment expect social unrest where the Watts Riots would look like a picnic.

Some other thoughts of the US and Global Agri systems.
Farming itself is the least profitable and least energy intensive segment of the entire economy of agriculture. Of the roughly 2,000 liters of oil required per year to feed each American (Pimentel 459), only one-fifth of that energy is actually used for agriculture, with the rest going toward transport, processing, packaging, marketing, and food preparation and storage (Brown 35). The transformation of farm products into consumer commodities, along with the provision of farm inputs, are the biggest moneymakers in the American food system, and not surprisingly, the sectors dominated by large agrifood corporations. Farmers operating under the capitalist system must sell their products on the open market, which usually means selling to the large transnational corporations that dominate the market.

The example of Cuba shows that it is possible to feed an entire nation with organic agriculture, but it also demonstrates the hardships involved in moving away from fossil fuels. In the first few years after the Soviet Union’s collapse, the average Cuban’s daily caloric intake decreased by 36 percent and protein consumption by 40 percent, while undernourishment increased by 15 percent (Pfeiffer 57). It must be noted that Cuban government policies played a critical role in helping to ensure that the collapse of industrialized agriculture did not turn catastrophic. There has also been a change in attitude towards farming amongst the Cuban people. Cubans now see farming as an important and profitable endeavor and many families have migrated to rural areas to become farmers or have started urban gardens (Pfeiffer 60).


  1. Thank you for visiting my blog and for your comment. I replied on my blog, but will post it here as well, if only for the purpose of discussion:

    I think it is poverty, unemployment and a few other factors (see my post on the Arab unrest)

    that leads to social instability. If land reform leads to increased employment agriculture, then we can expect an improvement in social stability. I am not sure if this happened following land reform in Sri Lanka.

    Another pertinent question to ask is why food prices are so high in Sri Lanka today, despite large subsidies being given to farmers.

    Rice is at Rs.100+ (rice from India or Pakistan could be imported at Rs.40) and a similar problem exists in vegetables.

  2. Land reform caused the JVP insurrection to disappear? Please do explain, since the worst insurrection was in '89 and land reform was in the sixties and seventies.