Monday, 12 November 2007

Newcomers to farming

The abandonment of small farms is occurring worldwide, as it is a side-effect of major economic theory streams, underlying agricultural and trade policy. As these theoretic ideas underlying policies are predominantly based on narrow insights into the complexities of economic life and the role of agriculture, it is understandable that unwanted consequences accompany them.

Land abandonment is one of those unwanted consequences of agricultural and trade policy. It is problematic in so far as it implies that small-scale farming is not profitable anymore and entire farm families, villages and regions cannot derive an income from farming and have to search for alternative income sources to secure their livelihoods. However, alternative income sources are scarce in rural areas and people are forced to migrate into cities and foreign countries to find a job they can carry out with their former working experience. The abandoned land can be subject to natural succession and revegetation, but when agricultural land goes out of cultivation for local needs, people once supported by those lands start to rely on far-off resources, implying dependence on factors out of their control (Norberg-Hodge, 2000), low real economic efficiency in the agro-food chain (Pretty, 1998, Groh, 1997) and an increased ecological footprint (Sachs, 1998).

Industrialization of agriculture started late in the XXth century in Portugal and family-farming and the peasant economy are facing a serious threat of extinction. Therefore it is urgent to preserve the traits of still existing traditional farming systems that will be key to develop a sustainable, locally adapted agriculture. These traits can only be preserved if the knowledge underpinning it continues to be used and passed on. As the agricultural population in marginal areas in Portugal is mainly made up of elderly, with little skills in farm business management, as they are required nowadays to assure farm viability, newcomers to farming will play a crucial role to start off sustainable development of marginal areas.

(This is a little excerpt of my annual report)

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