Is it really that bad? Anton D Meister

The Farming Fiasco
David Yerex,
GP Publications Ltd, 1992

‘There is something absurd about the way the whole business of farming and food distribution was managed,’ writes David Yerex. In nine short chapters, Yerex covers a wide range of topics dealing with ‘the fiasco of farming’. The book opens with a discussion of the great absurdity of ‘an overabundance of food in one third of the world and the misery and hunger in the other two thirds’. An overview of the scandal of international aid, its misdirection, inefficiency and the self interest of the donors, is followed by a discussion of the major factors affecting farm production. Urbanisation, environmentalism, animal rights, science, commerce and trade are all raised here as presenting pressures on farmers and farming.

Agribusiness and politicians don’t fare too well in the book, the one leading m large industrialised farming and the others serving promises and platitudes. Economics and economists, according to Yerex, receive far too much emphasis in this world. Innovation and added-value are seen as spilt milk and attacks on single-desk sellers don’t sit well with him.

Farmers, of course, are described as the powerless victims at the end of the line (unless of course when they belong to a farmer cooperative type industry). We are told it is ‘not farming which causes environmental damage, but the type of farming dictated by economic conditions.’ And finally, society has lost sight of the real purpose of farming … to feed people.

The Farming Fiasco provides much interesting information (nothing very new, and sometimes a bit too much), all aimed at pointing out the ‘fiasco’. The book has a tone of despair… how could we all have let it happen and is there really anything we can do?

Yerex sticks his neck out and suggests that there is a farming future for New Zealand. It is as crumb caters from the rich man’s table in world trade, hoping that environmental problems will destroy the wealthy nations’ capacity to produce food. We should be sitting poised to catch any niche market opportunities that may appear and tackle them in a single-desk seller’s mode.

Even though at stages the reader may feel overburdened with the information and the despair it radiates (is it really that bad?), the book is easily read from cover to cover in one sitting. Yerex uses his long experience in farming and journalism to throw light on some of the absurdities of trade, aid, farming, business and politics. It is a book all should read. Not to despair, but simply to be once more confronted with what is, and I agree with Yerex, a great fiasco.

 

Anton D Meister is Professor of Natural Resource and Environmental Economics, Department of Agricultural Economics and Business, Massey University.

 

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