Sunday, January 4, 2009

Duffy, Commercial Agriculture, Collier, Corn, anti-Americanism and the poor in America

Greetings all you Duffy lovers who google and accidentally come to these pages in search of a download of mp3's of the sweet warbler Duffy.

We appreciate everything about all kinds of Duffy, and we hope this link  will keep you happy and make you think your journey to this obscure part of the web hasn't been in vain. It's not likely that the link will last - everything is fleeting and transitory on the web, vanity, all is vanity - but hey you should learn how to do more effective googling (if the above link doesn't work, try this which will get you near where it once was - the site is dynamic and things slip down in the archives - then use the search function or scroll through the page counters at the bottom of the page).

Happily that's where journey ends for you, because this blog is dedicated to the unmusical stylings of the lesser spotted Duffy, a minor owl who writes an esteemed column for The Sydney Morning Herald, a rag which once used to be a broadsheet but is now a tabloid in spirit and soul. This Duffy is notorious, and if you cast the runes correctly, you can see the future, for everything he predicts is in error, and the opposite will be truth. If he calls south, turn and face the north, if he calls east, then your journey is surely to the west.

This week the Duffster, in a column entitled "Three steps - two of them easy - that can ease world food shortages", displays his usual cloth eared incapacity to discern complexity when a simplistic right wing answer will suffice.

Duffy's ostensible concern for the poor people of the world, who don't have enough to eat, producing food riots as food prices increase. His guide through this forest is one Paul Collier, who has written a book, typically entitled in the American way The Bottom Billion: Why The Poorest Countries Are Failing And What Can Be Done About It.

Personally I wouldn't have minded seeing a subtitle to the book The Bottom Fifty Million: Why the Poorest People In America Are Being Failed and Why The Powers That Be Are Doing Fuck All About It. But that's just me - it's remarkable, for example, if you do a quick tour of the Bronx, or Queens, or Brooklyn, and you see the 'ample fittings' and watch the endless debates about diet on the morning television shows, that access to an abundance of fructose corn syrup isn't something you'd care to offer to the bottom billion poorest people in the world.

Between eating the food available to the poor in America and eating in the poorest village in France (or Italy or Spain), the choice is an easy one - so long Lubbock Texas, Europe here I come.

But of course Collier, as transcribed by Duffy, won't have any of this - we have to get rid of our western prejudices and our love of peasant agriculture. The pair are infatuated by "commercial agriculture", though they never bother, in Duffy's column, to explain what that means, but you do get the sense that the more pigs grown in shit, the more chickens shoved into very small boxes, the more cows force fed on waste oil, and the more fields combined into one giant farm is the way to go.

What needs to happen in Africa for example is that it be turned into the American mid-west, preferably under an exclusive contract to Monsanto. (Well I made that last bit up, but you should look up the Wikipedia article on Monsanto and see how it's contributed to the health of world agriculture, especially with its terminator seeds that offer a new kind of technological serfdom to farmers).

Of course it's all the fault of the Europeans and their ban on GM crops, which unfortunately in turn prevents African farmers from selling out to American interests, then selling their crops to Europe. Collier dubs this - with full approval from the Duffster - romantic populism, a result of agricultural protectionism, anti-Americanism and the paranoia of health conscious consumers.

Stupid health conscious consumers. Why don't they accept agricultural scientists and disavow any interest in global warming science, in the Duffy way? Why don't they accept the American agricultural system of stupendous anti-competitive subsidies and grotesque ear-marks, as practised also by the EU and Canada and Australia? 

Why don't they adopt a system like a single Wheat Board like the Aussies to make sure you can deal with the excesses of mono cultural production? (Okay sure it was totally corrupt and had to be wound down, but hey it was good while it lasted and farmers could make out like bandits). Better still, why not make sure your garlic comes from Peru and your chillies from Mexico and your out of season grapes from California, and ship it all around the world by air, just to make sure we chew up as much avgas as we can on designer foods.

About the only thing Collier gets right, at least in Duffy's transcription of his opinions, is the stupidity of growing corn to make ethanol to escape oil dependency, when there are much cleverer and efficient solutions to hand, involving technologies the Bush administration distrusted and didn't understand or care about.

As for the ultimate solution, Collier suggests it would be simple if world leaders just sat down at the table and made a few compromises. Sure. As if. But in the usual American bleating way, Collier again attributes the obstacles to standard European anti-American protectionism. If they only understood that the American way is right - except for the bit about ethanol - they could tear up all their villages and pretty landscapes, and turn Europe into one giant farm covered with giant harvesters. Now there's an exciting vision for the future. As if the Europeans haven't already attempted this in many places in their battle to survive against American combine harvesters.

As for commercial agriculture, according to Collier and his little Sir Echo, the Duffster, it might be irredeemably unromantic, but if it fills the stomachs of the poor, then it should be encouraged. Could we just add a little coda - if it fills the stomachs of the poor with fructose corn syrup, and the rest of the crap that poor Americans are made to eat, then perhaps it should be actively discouraged. 

The trouble of course with all this is that commercial agriculture in its simplest definition surely means that to be commercial, you have to be able to sell enough food to cover your costs and make a little on the side so you can have a healthy lifestyle (this might not include the plasma screens in the American dream). But what happens if your economy is fucked and inflation is measured in the zillions? Cue American aid? Like the way Iraq's been helped?

And if we want the poor to eat, should it be cake with two thousand chemical additives and preservatives, designed to make American agricultural industries richer? Might not getting rid of Mugabe and restoring Zimbabwe's agricultural capacity a simpler short term solution?

But what can you expect of the Duffster and his consorts. Never complexity when simplicity and the American way will do.

So to this week's scorecard:

Ostensible concern for the poor, a poorly disguised excuse for further American expansionism and adventurism: 11
Willingness to prescribe for the rest of the world what the rest of the world should do, without bothering to ask them what they might actually want, in the American way: 11
Abundant use of abusive shorthand terms like affection for peasant agriculture, romantic populism and anti-American as a convenient way to avoid structuring credible arguments: 11
Capacity to write an entire column without actually explaining what is meant by commercial agriculture, and what its advantages and disadvantages might actually be: 0
Willingness of the Duffster to dabble with authors using long winded titles in the American way without actually questioning anything they propose in an intelligent way: 11

Well, I'm looking forward to a new title from an American publisher worth their salt: The Remaining Six Billion: Survivors of the Bush Era and How They Can Reclaim the World.

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