2005: I’m intrigued. I’ve known of the
writing, thinking and activities of Edgar Pisani for only
a few weeks, but already he has reinforced my view that the
status quo for farming, our food system, our countryside and
our environment cannot be the future.
Edgar Pisani served as Minister of Agriculture under France’s
Charles de Gaulle in the early 60s. As one of the negotiators
of the Common Agricultural Policy for the fledgling European
Union, he held a front row seat during those years when the
business of farming was transformed by one of the most dramatic
waves of new technology. During the 60s, technology made it
possible to double the output from a typical dairy farm with
no additional physical labor. Dairymen merely needed to borrow
the money to invest in a milking machine, a silo with an automatic
feed un-loader and a push button gutter cleaner that mechanically
swept the livestock manure out of the barn.
In the decades that followed, farm policy emphasized better
science and more technology – the result? butter mountains
and wine lakes in Europe, and surplus grain production in
North America. Surplus production which resulted in lower
prices. The resulting lower prices left farmers unable to
invest in the next round of better science and more technology.
Additional farm policy became necessary to support the better
science, more technology policy – subsidies and more
The subsidy farm policy is now severely criticized. A number
of voices are proposing an alternative – “access
to markets,” based on visions for a new trade deal supervised
by the World Trade Organization. How this trade-based vision
will solve agriculture’s problem mystifies me. European
consumers don’t pay their farmers enough so that they
can make ends meet. North American consumers don’t pay
our farmers enough so that they can make ends meet. But if
Europeans sell to our consumers and we sell to the Europeans,
both groups of farmers will make ends meet??? Go figure –
I can’t do the math.
I do believe that a trade deal under the auspices of the
World Trade Organization can create a level playing field
for farmers around the world, but it will be at prices for
farm commodities at still lower levels than exist today –
just check out the unsubsidized cost of production of the
Edgar Pisani’s ideas, on the other hand, are intriguing.
He has created considerable public debate in France with his
analysis – the business of farming has become marginalized
to the economy and the common good, even though everyone needs
to eat every day. A return to relevance requires a dramatic
paradigm shift – a comprehensive policy that includes
agriculture, the food system, the countryside and the natural
environment. His central point is this: “The world needs
all the agricultures of the world, and each country has a
right to feed itself.”
His ideas have been translated into English in “An
Old Man and the Land,” available from Legas Publishing.
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