Essays in Honor of Keith B. Griffin
Edited by James K. Boyce, Stephen Cullenberg, Prasanta K. Pattanaik and Robert Pollin
Chapter 4: A Future for Small Farms? Biodiversity and Sustainable Agriculture
James K. Boyce* Introduction The small farmer is today an endangered species. In the industrialized countries of the global North, the number of farmers has been dwindling for generations. In the United States for example, the total number of farms fell from 6.8 million in 1935 to fewer than 2 million today (Stam and Dixon, 2004). Referring to trends in Europe, where the farming population is now declining by 3 percent annually, a recent New York Times editorial derides the idea that ‘every village that was inhabited in Charlemagne’s day must be sustained’, and declares that ‘more consolidation, in the form of larger-scale farming and an abandonment of absurdly inefficient production, is inevitable’.1 In the developing countries of the global South, governments and international agencies alike appear to be intent on following the same path. Fifty years after the publication of Sir Arthur Lewis’s (1954) dual-economy model, in which economic development was identified with the transfer of labor from the ‘subsistence’ agricultural sector to the ‘capitalist’ industrial sector, the assumption that small farms are destined for the dustbin of history remains conventional wisdom. ‘Those indios,’ a Guatemalan official told me a few years ago, referring to the country’s indigenous majority. ‘As long as they grow maize just like their grandparents, they’ll be poor just like their grandparents.’2 Rather than simply letting nature take its ostensible course, governments often seek to speed it along, promoting agricultural ‘modernization’ by means of subsidies and other policies that favor large-scale farming, purchases of...
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