How To Keep The Poor Poor, European Greens Edition

In the area of the ongoing progressive campaign to keep the poor poor, I tend to focus mostly on issues that hit close to home:  things like policies designed to jack up the price of energy in the name of "saving the planet"; policies designed to confine the poor into lifetime poverty warehouses known as "affordable housing"; policies designed to make young minority adults unemployable by making it illegal to hire them at a wage that any employer is willing to pay; and so forth.  All of these issues are currently playing out on my home turf in New York City.  But for today, I'll look at one farther afield: the apparently successful (at least for now) efforts of European Greens to stifle a major initiative to raise agricultural productivity in Africa.

If you study economic history at all, you know that there has been a great enrichment of people that has occurred in the Western countries over the last century or so, multiplying average real incomes by factors of ten and more and lifting the large majority of the people out of the poverty in which they previously suffered.  And you also know that one of the largest, if not the largest, contributors to that great enrichment has been the enormous technological transformation of agriculture.  People often refer to this change as the "mechanization" of agriculture, but mechanization (that is, the change from using draft animals to using machines like tractors and harvesters) is only one part of the transformation.  Other major factors in the transformation of agriculture include new and hugely improved seeds, fertilizers, weed killers, pesticides, and more.  As a result of all the technological advances in agriculture, countries like the United States have gone from having well more than half the population involved in the primary production of food, to today, when the comparable figure is under 2% of the population.  That has freed tens of millions of people from formerly backbreaking and minimally-paid agricultural labor to work at things like writing computer programs in cushy offices and earning many times the income.

Now, I do not mean to suggest that the process by which the United States and other Western countries went from Point A to Point B was easy.  The opposite.  Millions were forced off farms and into cities by powerful economic forces, including low prices for agricultural commodities that left farmers struggling to survive.  Millions lost their farms through bankruptcies and foreclosures and ended a lifetime in farming with nothing.  Still, nobody would remotely suggest today that we should go back to having half the population working in agriculture, with the attendant diminution of our living standards by at least half -- representing the production of the half of the population that we would no longer have producing other things.

But then, how about Africa?  There is some mechanized agriculture in Africa today, and there is some use of the new seeds and fertilizers, but by and large African agriculture is about where American agriculture was a century ago.  Tens of millions of people work the land in very, very, very low productivity jobs.  If Africans are to achieve average incomes anything like those of Americans or Europeans, a huge piece of that must necessarily come from transforming their agriculture in much the way that we transformed our agriculture.  Not necessarily exactly the same way -- indeed, they may well come up with some advances that we never thought of -- but definitely they must transform their agriculture in ways that overall increase agricultural productivity by a couple of orders of magnitude and free up the bulk of the population to do other things.

Which brings me to the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition.  This was a big initiative launched a few years ago (2012) by the G-8 to get lots of public and private entities involved to work on improving agricultural productivity in Africa.  Here is their website.  The initiative was actually launched at a summit held in the U.S. at Camp David and involving Barack Obama personally.  Here is the Fact Sheet on the initiative put out by the White House at the time of the summit.  As the Fact Sheet states, a big part of the initiative was the effort to get private capital involved in improving agricultural productivity.  Another significant piece was to encourage land titling and improved property rights.  These can't have been Obama's favorite parts of the initiative, but to his credit, he went along.

Now, my own view is also that the NAFSN had plenty of flaws.  In essence, it is one of those big "Public Private Partnerships" -- and getting into partnership with the corrupt African governments has caused many good intentions to founder.  But, for once in the international aid arena, NAFSN seemed to be getting many of the big things right, at least if the goal was to advance agricultural productivity in Africa.  Private land ownership and private investment are the two big ones.

And now to the latest from the European Parliament.  The Parliament's Committee on Development commissioned a report on the NAFSN, to be prepared by one Maria Heubuch, a member of the Parliament and of the Green Party.  I can't find much about the process of how such reports come to be undertaken, but this post from ("How to Starve Africa") attributes the initiative to the Green Party and to "countless environmental NGOs."  The draft report is here.  Apparently the initial draft issued back in January, but it just came before the Parliament in June.

Here is the comment from

The report tabled by Green MEP, Maria Heubuch, is as vile as it is selfish in its neo-colonialist demands to impose peasant agriculture on a continent trying to develop and feed itself. The Greens are demanding that the European Union not be involved with the G8’s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition which is donating billions to create a green agricultural revolution in ten of the poorest African countries. Many identify what has been achieved in Asia today as due to the World Bank’s investments in agricultural technologies in the 1960s and 70s and what is sorely lacking in Africa today.

The report itself is too long to quote much of it here, but I'll give you some flavor:

[The Reporter] . . .

3. Notes with concern that NAFSN promotes intensive agriculture that heavily relies on chemical fertilisers and hybrid seeds, with consequences affecting local communities such as soil erosion, ecological and health risks and biodiversity loss;

4. Warns against replicating in Africa the Asian ‘Green Revolution’ model of the 1960s and ignoring its negative social and environmental impacts; recalls that the SDGs include the goal of promoting sustainable agriculture, to be achieved by 2030;

5. Urges the EU Member States to strive to transform NAFSN into a genuine instrument of support for family farming and local economies in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), recalling that family farmers and smallholders produce about 80 % of the world’s food and provide over 60 % of employment in SSA. . . .  

Yes, they actually think it's a good thing that "family farmers" constitute 60% of employment in sub-Saharan Africa, and by God they are going to keep it that way!  Also pervading the report is patent horror at the prospective involvement of large multi-national agribusiness corporations.  For example:

Instead of supporting NAFSN’s model of ‘modern’, ‘business-oriented’ agriculture based on large-scale industrial farming, your rapporteur, in line with recommendations of UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food and the 2009 International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), calls on African governments to invest in family farming and agroecology. 

There's plenty more.  In many pages of bureaucrat-speak, the basic message is, we think Africans should remain forever on the edge of starvation in peasant agriculture, for the sake of the environment.

The European Parliament took up the Heubuch report on June 8.  Again, according to the post at

[I]n the European Parliament in Strasbourg, MEPs voted “overwhelmingly” by 577 MEPs, with only 24 against and 69 abstentions to accept the Green Party’s Heubuch Report and demand that the European Union stop funding the G8’s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition.

They just have no concept of morality, at least as I understand the term.  Just one more reason why the Brits are doing well getting out of there.