Rethinking “food security” in Africa
In Food Security for Rural Africa: Feeding the Farmers First, Terry Leahy makes what he knows is an unpopular argument: that subsistence—not commercial—agriculture is the surest path to food security. Since the colonial era, government officials—and, later, development agencies—have sought to convert African smallholder farmers into industrial producers. Today, certain proponents of a “new” Green Revolution for Africa are guided by the theory of the agricultural exit, the idea that agricultural consolidation is essential for economic growth, and that such consolidation requires a majority of farmers to find off-farm employment.
It is in this context that Leahy intervenes and warns that a hypothetical agricultural exit would lead to a population of landless peasants. As an alternative, Leahy argues for reinvestment into subsistence agriculture, what he defines as when “food being produced is distributed without money changing hands” (2019, p. xii). This definition is purposely broad, as it allows Leahy to consider a variety of strategies to strengthen food production at the household level first and to plan for the market second. Such a model, Leahy argues, is not “a traditional relic of past practices,” as some detractors of the phrase “subsistence” often suggest, but rather, “a response to current problems” embedded in the current capitalist moment (2019, p. 132). . . .
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