women in charge – long live the peasant!

Just read this excellent piece on an erudite blog:

Why the success story of Rwandan women and economy doesn’t even make it to “International News”? The section “International Development” sometimes appears to be a token gesture of goodwill; to prove the readers the Guardian Weekly is still a paper with the critical edge. If the paper didn’t have an “International Development” section, would they have published the story about Rwandan women rescuing the country’s economy in another section or would it have remained unpublished? Who is the readership of the “International Development” section? Do economists read it? In short, my question remains: as a person interested in feminist economics, I want to know what makes the “real” economy news?

As far as I’m concerned, “Women take charge in Rwanda” is an important and interesting piece of economy news – plus a welcome change to the usual complaints of oil prices, sub-prime crises and the like. This article tells that “Female entrepreneurs in industries from agribusiness to tourism have been key to efforts to rebuild the nation and fight poverty. Women, far more than men, invest profits in the family, renovate homes, improve nutrition, increase savings and spend on children’s education. This seismic shift in gender economics in Rwanda is altering the way younger generations of males view their mothers and sisters, while offering a powerful lesson for other developing nations.”…

This is the case not only in Rwanda. “In 1990 a major study on poverty in Brazil, published in the Journal of Human Resources, showed that the effect of money managed by women in poor households was 20 times more likely to be spent on improving conditions in the home than money managed by men. In Bangladesh the Grameen Bank has focused its microloans on women. Microloan programs in Africa, Asia and Latin America have shown similar results.”

So this stuff doesn’t cut it for the economy section? Aren’t there some golden nuggets for both economists and policy wonks dealing with questions of poverty? Are the economy sections even in left-leaning newspapers the last bastion of the master narratives? The best irony of all is that also in that same paper, Guardian Weekly, June 13, 08, there was a “Comment&Debate” piece by George Monbiot — on small farmers being the planet’s best hope!!! (That was on page 24.)

Monbiot claims that Robert Mugabe is right, at least in theory. He writes: “Although the rich world’s governments won’t hear it, the issue of whether or not the world will be fed is partly a function of ownership. This reflects an unexpected discovery, first made in 1962 by the Nobel economist Amartya Sen and since confirmed by dozens of studies. There is an inverse relationship between the size of farms and the amount of crops they produce per hectare. Then smaller they are, the greater the yield. In some cases the difference is enormous. A recent study in Turkey, for example, found that farms of less than one hectare are 20 times as productive as farms of more than 10 hectares. Sen’s observation has been tested in India, Pakistan, Nepal, Malaysia, Thailand, Java, the Philippines, Brazil, Colombia and Paraguay. It appears to hold almost everywhere.”

The successes of Green Revolution didn’t last very long – a fact that’s often omitted in pro-gene technology geeks and others. Today in India, the Green Revolution results can be seen, among other things, in the alarming rates of farmer suicides. Monbiot asserts that “There are plenty of other reasons for defending small farmers in poor countries. The economic miracles in South Korea, Taiwan and Japan arose from their land reform programmes. … Growth based on small farms tends to be more equitable than growth built around capital-intensive industries. Although their land is used intesively, the total ecological impact of smallholdings is lower.”

Monbiot points out, like others have done before, the prejudice against small farmers. We use the word ‘peasant’ to insult and look down upon others. In our modern imagination, peasant implies backwardness if not primitiveness. But as Monbiot notes, “when you call someone a peasant, you are accusing them of being self-reliant and productive.” And it’s not only the self-styled modern individuals dissing farmers, but organizations such as the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and OECD who argue that small farms are not productive enough.

Monbiot writes: “Like Mugabe, the donor countries and big international bodies loudly demand that small farmers be supported, while quietly shafting them. Big business is killing small farming.” I would add the media to this conspiracy. In addition, most journalists, including Monbiot, miss the gender analysis in their articles.

Full post here

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Filed under Africa, Development, gender, Land

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