Africa's Organic Peasantry: Beyond Romanticism by ProQuest


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									feeding the planet                                                      Features

                         Africa’s Organic Peasantry
                         Beyond Romanticism
                                                                                                                  PauL CoLLIer
  a G r I C u Lt u r e

                                n the Western imagination Africa now stands for
                                the antithesis of our own modern economy: its             PAUL COLLIER is Professor of Economics at
                                authenticity contrasting with our own contrivance.        Oxford and Director of the Centre for the
                                More specifically, the dominant image of Africa           Study of African Economies. He is the author
                                is that of the peasant farmer. In contrast to the         of The Bottom Billion which won the Lionel
                         large, commercial organization in which most of us find          Gelber and Arthur Ross prizes for 2008. His
                         employment, the African peasant is self-employed. In             latest book, Wars, Guns and Votes: Democracy
                         contrast to the global market into which we find ourselves       in Dangerous Places, was published in March.
                         integrated, the African peasant produces for subsistence.
                         In place of our restless mobility characterized by frequent
                         changes of job and home, the African peasant is rooted          of a lifestyle of which that of the African peasant is the
                         to the ancestral soil. In contrast to our industrialized        hallmark.
                         destruction of the global environment, the African peasant          This is not how I see rural Africa: I see not a paradise
                         preserves as custodian the natural world. In contrast to our    but a prison. Peasant agriculture offers only a narrow
                         atomistic isolation, the African peasant is bound to a local    range of economic activities with little scope for sustaining
                         community by ties of kinship and reciprocity.                   decent livelihoods. In other societies people have escaped
                              As the global crisis has made starkly apparent, the de-    poverty by moving out of agriculture. The same is true
                         ficiencies of our own economy, so these contrary qualities      in Africa: young people want to leave the land; educated
                         of the African peasant economy look increasingly appeal-        people want to work in the cities. Above all, people want
                         ing. Indeed, the counter-culture in our own society: the        jobs: peasants are unavoidably thrust into the role of risk-
                         new emphasis upon the consumption of local produce, on          taking entrepreneurship, a role for which most people are
                         organic food, and on farmers’ markets, is a pallid version      unsuited. Globally, where people have the choice between

                          62   H A R v A R d I n T e R n A T I o n A l R e v I e W • Summer 2009

                                                                                                                                 AfRICA’S ORGAnIC PEASAnTRy: BEyOnD ROMAnTICISM
the defined structure and safety of wage employment             peasant mode of organization has always been incompat-
and the open-ended responsibilities of the entrepreneur,        ible with economic development, but in Africa the issue
overwhelmingly they choose wage employment. entrepre-           is even starker than in other developing regions. Africa
neurs are important, but in a well-functioning economy          has the fastest population growth rate in the world, so
they are a small minority. The reality of peasant life is       that if the extra workforce is to be employed in peasant
one of drudgery, precarious insecurity, and frustration of      agr
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