Thursday, June 6, 2013

To Cultivate Peace

This is an old report called “Cultivating Peace”, about the relationship between agricultureand violent conflict (if you have trouble downloading the pdf itself, try here).  It is wide-ranging in its scope of topics, talking about different theories of war, agriculture, and economic prosperity (all with a focus on the post Cold War context).  The last part of the report is an impressive and sad survey of how agriculture has been specifically targeted for destruction in different (mainly Western) wars throughout history.  Especially horrid was the Biafran example of 6000 daily starvation deaths for part of1968.

Incidental to the report’s argument but fascinating for me, someone who is interesting in agrarian social structures, the report has a good discussion of vertical patron-client relationships, which is to say when a poor or landless peasant feels more loyalty to the local wealthy farmer that employs him and somewhat provides for his needs, than to the other poor peasants around him.  There is also an accurate description and diagnosis of how an urban policy bias exists in many countries, whereby governments protect industries with policies while simultaneously undermining agricultural producers, thus keeping happy urban elites and food-purchasing workers, while driving peasants out of business and towards the cities as destitute migrants.

The report is somewhat inconclusive about the effects of agriculture on war, but its general gist is that a productive agriculture, backed by a functioning democracy, tends to defuse the possibility of widespread war.  This is because in the midst of plenty and in the midst of real representation, people feel their government is legitimate, and this legitimacy in turn allows the government to channel people’s frustration and respond to smaller conflicts before they spin out of control.  The ending conclusions of the report focus on the agricultural productivity angle, despite most of the report’s focusing on governance and not food productivity.  This makes sense; the study was commissioned by the CGIAR agricultural research centers, so the authors must have felt obliged to play up the importance of agricultural productivity in assuring peace.  The conclusion thus comes off as a bit clumsy, but the rest of the report is a really good analysis.

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