Economic Boom in Developing Countries Puts Farmers in Other Countries at Risk

The economic boom in developing countries is putting farmers and whole communities at risk in less developed countries hungry for cash.  The Chinese economic boom is becoming SE Asia and Africa’s boom (link) as China struggles to feed its booming industries, but not without problems.  The demand for input by companies in China is putting smaller, remote economic regions at risk as food farming is replaced by single-crop agrobusiness farms.  How is this occurring and what does this mean in the long term?

Rapidly expanding businesses in developing countries need increasing amounts of input, and have to go to less developed countries to find it.   In the smaller and less developed countries where such businesses find their inputs, some people lose their lands as the foreigners manipulate local politics to acquire land or land use, while others see big increases in income as they find themselves on the receiving end of corporate payments for agricultural crops or minerals, or of taxes or bribes paid by those corporations for access to the farmers and their land.  All this inequity extends the battle between corporations and individuals into new territories and makes it appear that the worldwide imbalance between corporate and individual power will continue and probably increase.

The economic boom works against sustainability.  I see this as the downside of capitalism, if not an actual failure.  Diversity in many cases is a protection from ecological and social problems, and when it is more profitable for corporations to push people away from diversity than to help preserve it, it is an increased risk to everyone including the corporations.  This scenario occurs because the corporations involved are focused on short term profits, and serve a customer base that is remote from where they get their inputs.  This kind of corporate behavior suboptimizes the good of all for focused, short term profits for a few, and shows the absence of a long-term world view that could drive better behavior among corporations and governments. 

The move to sustainability may require a return to past ways for the farmers in these cases.  At least two scenarios are possible in the longer term.  Increasing energy costs will eventually make the raw inputs of the farmers and miners uneconomical for the corporations, and (1) they will stop sourcing their inputs from such distant areas unless (2) the standard of living of the farmers improves such that they become customers of the corporations.  In the latter case the corporations may build production facilities in their former source areas and hire some of the farmers to work in them.  Otherwise (1) the farmers will be abandoned by their former customers and will have to re-diversify their crops to provide for their own needs and establish a sustainable situation.

You “can’t go home again”, however.  While the move to sustainability may require a return to past ways for many people, this will be tempered through combination of the most sustainable and ecologically responsible systems of the past with modern, advanced technology.  It will be a different world (and, as always, ever-changing), as the new and old are synthesized into hopefully better and more sustainable conditions for all.  One thing seems certain: unless fusion or some other ecologically-friendly energy producing technology comes along, we will all be living on a LOT less energy in the decades to come than we do today.

As always, I welcome your comments.


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