The Agrarian Question in the Neoliberal Era: Primitive Accumulation and the Peasantry

Patnaik, Utsa
Moyo, Sam
Fahamu Books and Pambazuka Press, Cape Town, Dakar, Nairobi and Oxford, 2011, ISBN: 978 0 8574 9038 4, 92 pp.
Reviewed by or other comment: 

Brian Pratt

Development in Practice

The authors work from a well-travelled Marxist analysis of colonialism to challenge long-accepted economic orthodoxies and their effects on peasant agriculture. They aim to debunk ideas such as natural comparative advantages between economies which have driven international trade for a couple of hundred years, noting the implicit imbalances between the developed (colonial) powers and tropical (colonised) economies. Looking at modern day agriculture, in particular focussing on Africa, the authors try to show how modern economic neo-liberal policies maintain the dependent or subservient position of African peasant farmers in an unequal exchange. They follow through this thesis with a critique of free market economics, which they believe creates greater food poverty in Africa despite, indeed perhaps because of, the increase in highly productive and export-based commercial farming (flowers and air freighted vegetables). These theories are used to explain the present push towards land grabbing in Africa (and elsewhere, although similar trends in other parts of the world are not really covered). Their concerns are legitimate, and the authors provide examples from countries such as Ethiopia; which is expanding its agricultural exports, and its government transferring major land parcels to foreign companies, whilst still receiving significant external food aid for several million people per year.

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