Celebrating farmer ritual and routine: a contribution to comparative advantage and the moral economy.
Jun 25, 2019
This article reflects on a discussion of comparative advantage regarding crop choice and location from a business development perspective in Africa, echoes the moral economy from the Bali agricultural scene and responds with an conceptualisation of cacao farmer pedagogy and the role of local customs as a contribution to comparative advantage; and how it contributes to strengthening of that moral economy.
Listening to Kebba Colley, Director Inclusive Business Development at IDH , the sustainable trade initiative in Holland, he refers to the role of developing comparative advantage for farmers, both in terms of their geographical location as well as crop choice. I enjoyed listening to Colley's discussion which was focused on leveraging comparative advantage for building out local production AND use of crops, in terms of both meeting own market needs while also developing more targeted trade export options. While Adam Smith in the early 1800s famously proposed the competitive advantage model, it was David Ricardo who riffed on the concept in nuance of England and Portugal’s lace industry development soon after. What I appreciated in Colley’s podcast discussion was sense of both economic development, and heart-felt discussion of the essential back up demands regarding technical assistance, access to funding and connecting actual supply to demand. In my experience as a cacao farmer, as well as researcher in the field of farmer pedagogy, I see this is as actually the tipping point on where and what crop serves the purpose. Certainly, my father experienced it when Papua New Guinea was once a world leader in rubber growing, and how our plantation role suddenly changed when Brazil entered the supply market and the world price slumped almost rendering the PNG production market useless, and our humble trees became almost worthless. They were, at the time, just a commodity with zero uniqueness or advantage.
Reuter nuanced the topic in context of moral economy in his long-term ethnographic research of crops in Bali, Indonesia. In the mid 1990s he observed how local food products traded between coastal and mountain villages which involved
+ Salt, palm-sugar, fish, coconuts and coconut oil traded from the coastal regions to the mountainous regions; and
+ Bananas, maize, root vegetables, spices, coffee, and meat trade from the mountains to the coast villages.
This is the classic comparative advantage that Kebba Colley and David Ricardo discuss 200 years apart, in context of a single island. What Thomas Reuter asks in context of the Bali example is about the role of moral economy and how it fundamentally impacts food security tracing food pathways from production to consumption, tracing declining ecologies as a result of agri-intensification. Reuter explains moral economy as the following:
‘Moral economy serves as a socio-cultural system of mutual insurance, wherein participants mitigate economic risks by sharing resources based on an ethos of mutual care, co-operation, solidarity, and trust.’ (Reuter 2018)
In conclusion to his research on food security in Bali, he concludes the need to
‘…pinpoint the various pathways by which a loss of moral economy has contributed to a decline in food security and food sovereignty within “modernizing” local food systems and, conversely, how the implicit or explicit use of moral economy principles is contributing to the success of community-led initiatives to rebuild ecologically and socially sustainable food systems. It is safe to conclude, however, that food system resilience is significantly affected by the extent to which food production and exchange is supported by cultural values and social practices of mutuality and co-operation.’ (Reuter 2018)
Makes me consider that one key part of comparative advantage IS that of the local moral economy. That the planting methods reflect this, as the rituals that surround the local ecology as they might be a reflection of a religious or cultural norm.
In my research about cacao farmer training, the role of indigenous, religious or cultural priorities comes up twice. Both in terms of the focus to ensure that when we train farmers in planting methods, to ensure that local cultural norms are woven into the plant pathology science, as well as in the pedagogy of ‘how’ we train farmers to prioritise the social priority and norms.
What informs my ideas currently is Foley (2018) who reviewed the top-down model-led impact assessments versus bottom-up, vulnerability-led approach in looking at how to get the right information about climate adaption and action people who need it, like small-scale farmers who are often isolated on rural locations. Rather than coming in with bland economic theory or climate data, to start with a local understanding of climate and crop growing and building together a responsive method.
Similarly, the work of Lebel (2013) has suggested to ensure that science and indigenous knowledge can be well brought together when compatible messages are found, and also Mercer, Dominey-Howes et al. (2007) contributed research demonstrating how environmental processes can be well brought together with traditional coping mechanisms from the indigenous knowledge to be a way to contribute to vulnerability to climate change risk reduction.
If I think of this in context to the IDH podcast about comparative advantage, what if these culturally-led and indigenous-intelligence approaches to growing was PART of the advantage.
What if it not only ensured sovereignty for local customs, yielded resilient cropping but also was one of the success factors in building more proof points to that unique comparative advantage?
We see this in the market already in the wine industry which celebrates the grape growing and wine making process to the fine details of the rituals of the wine maker. What if, we had that level of celebration for nuance and ritual more in agriculture, especially in commodity crops. And what if pricing was influenced from this, like in wine too?
- Ricardo, David. On the Principles of Political Economy, and Taxation. 1st American ed. Georgetown, D.C: J. Milligan, 1819. Print.
- Foley, A. M. (2018). "Climate impact assessment and “islandness”." International Journal of Climate Change Strategies and Management 10(2).
- Lebel, L. (2013). "Local knowledge and adaptation to climate change in natural resource-based societies of the Asia-Pacific.(Report)." Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change 18(7): 1057.
- Mercer, J., D. Dominey-Howes, I. Kelman and K. Lloyd (2007). "The potential for combining indigenous and western knowledge in reducing vulnerability to environmental hazards in small island developing states." Environmental Hazards 7(4): 245-256.
- Reuter, T. (2018). "Understanding Food System Resilience in Bali, Indonesia: A Moral Economy Approach." Culture, Agriculture, Food and Environment 41(1): 4-14.
Podcast from IDH: Kebba Colley, Director Inclusive Business Development at IDH , the sustainable trade initiative in Holland, https://www.idhsustainabletrade.com/news/podcast-value-chain-development-in-africa/