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The Meaning of Poverty - page 19 / 35





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Regarding the application of Green Revolution methods in Africa, the FAO report continues:

“[Attempts] to replicate the Green Revolution in Africa rarely recognized the importance of women's independent farming and income-generating activities to meet family food requirements and cash for the purchase of goods vital to family well-being….The failure to perceive and/or respond to differential allocation of resources and responsibilities between men and women in farming households meant that women's labour requirements for cash crop production were increased although control of the income remained in the hands of men. Moreover, women were allocated small plots of marginal land for food production which resulted in insufficient food for the family and increased pressure on fragile environments.”33

A review of analyses of the distributional impacts of the green revolution (Freebairn, 1995) found that most such studies, 80% of them, concluded that the introduction of the technology based on high-yield varieties of grain resulted in greater inequality at the producer and interregional levels.  That a majority of such studies have this result does not make the general conclusion correct, and the distributional impact of the technology remains controversial.  But the issue cannot be viewed as irrelevant, a conclusion that could be readily inferred from the Sachs Report.  Moreover, as Freebairn’s review suggests, the distributional impact of green revolution technology depends in large part on the overall framework in which it is adopted – the nature of the institutional and social framework.  That is, the extent to which a ‘technical fix’ is likely to improve the conditions of the poor is largely dependent on the context in which it is introduced – on the way markets work and the way government policies are implemented, which are largely dependent on the prior structure of distribution and power.34

The context in which the green revolution has had its impact, in many parts of the world, has been one of great inequalities in the distribution of income and wealth; most immediately relevant is the unequal distribution of land holdings, which, as pointed out above, serves to create poverty and limit change.  The long history of landlordism,

33 The FAO report appears on-line at http://www.fao.org/FOCUS/E/Women/green-e.htm (accessed September 28, 2007).  Also, on the failure of development programs to recognize the different roles of men and women in agriculture, see Elson (1991)

34 Freebairn (p. 277) also points out one of the strong motivations for attempts to deal with poverty by a ‘technical fix’: “A technological strategy for agricultural and rural development is politically attractive. If seeds, fertilizer, water control, and pesticides can assure a productive agriculture and a prosperous countryside, the struggles and dislocations of altering social relationships, landholding patterns, political power sharing, and other deeply entrenched arrangements can be avoided.”  But, Freebairn continues, “If they cannot, however, other approaches are necessary to help alleviate the destabilizing and demoralizing effects of worldwide rural poverty.” For a recent and forceful critique of the green revolution strategy in Africa and more generally, see Holt-Gimenez et al (2006).

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