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Smallholder farmers in developing countries have vital role in meeting growing the global demand for food

COLIN McInnes (Letters, January 26) suggests that the goal for developing countries should be to make small-scale subsistence farmers, "or at least their children, entirely redundant", replacing them with mechanised agriculture and releasing them for more productive jobs in nursing and teaching.

That's fine as it goes. The difficult part is managing the transition. Even a country like South Africa, with its substantial mineral wealth and technical resources, still has large urban "informal settlements" with high levels of poverty and violence. In a country like Malawi, where some 80% of the population work on the land, and which suffers shortages of foreign exchange, rapid change would be financially difficult and socially dangerous. If the agricultural population were suddenly to become redundant, they would flood into the towns, creating the kind of Dickensian conditions which scarred the Industrial Revolution in Britain.

There needs to be as steady a transition as possible, where improvement in agricultural productivity and appropriate and climate-friendly industrial development go hand in hand.

The National Smallholder Farmers' Association of Malawi has a proven track record of helping its members to develop their operations into small viable businesses. Provision of good quality seed and training farmers in new planting technologies can significantly increase yields at a relatively low cost. Opening up markets for such crops in the UK and Europe, as Just Trading Scotland has been doing for the last four years, can drive such developments and provide valuable export earnings to support other forms of growth. In this way, the development of farmers' associations (as occurred in Germany during their industrial revolution) can go hand in hand with industrial development.

The IF campaign, about which Anne Johnstone was writing last week ("Do we have the appetite to tackle world hunger?", The Herald, January 24), seeks to gather political support for smallholder farmers and sees them as having an important role in meeting growing global demand for food. Garnering such support will be crucial for the future stability of Africa.

John Riches,

Just Trading Scotland, 3 Greenlaw Industrial Estate, Wallneuk Road, Paisley.

IT would be very wrong to push developing countries towards mechanised farming. This would make them dependent on the world market for petroleum products and push up consumption of a finite resource which should not be squandered, burning it in yet more internal combustion engines or alternatively require more land to be spoiled growing monoculture crops to produce biofuels.

The one thing the developing countries have is labour, far too much of it, because of the short-sighted attitudes to birth control in times of reducing infant mortality. To deny the population the opportunity to work on the land, albeit at a subsistence level, would force a tidal wave of migration to the already-overcrowded cities reduced to an even more wretched existence seeking non-existent jobs.

What the developing world needs is localised production and control of food production assets. The benefits of the developed world will flow once the population explosion is drawn back and the indigenous education systems have developed sufficiently to absorb modern technology without the need for a phalanx of foreign advisors who generally operate the industry of a country in a way more beneficial to the foreign power than the local economy.

Rodney Snook,

Shanton Cottage, Cove.

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