Best way is to get the region’s farmers off the farm and into the city writes Bas Bouman for Asia Sentinel

Probably the most effective way to revolutionize Asian agriculture is to send more people to the cities. There is precedent in what happened in the European Union in the 1960s, although it didn’t come easily.

In 1968, Sicco Manshold, the EU agriculture minister, sent a memorandum to the Council of Ministers of the European Community that would kick off a storm in the agriculture sector.

A Thai farmer cuts grass at her rice field in Fang district, Chiang Mai province, northern Thailand. Pic: AP.

Mansholt’s plan was called the “Agricultural 1980″ program but became more popularly eponymously known as the “Mansholt Plan.” It noted that, despite costly policies of price and market support — that would lead to unsustainable production of surpluses and despite increases in production, the standard of living of farmers was still way behind that of other sectors of society.

At that time, the average European farm size was 11 hectares and two-thirds of the farms were less than 10 ha in size, though it was noted that “with modern techniques, one man can cultivate 30 to 40 hectares of crop land.” Labor had steadily been migrating out of agriculture and “half of the persons who run a farm are more than 57 years of age,” Mansholt wrote.

Even gender issues were reported and the plight of women recognized: “It must be evident how difficult life is for a woman on such a farm. Elsewhere, every effort has been made…to liberate women from the more onerous and unpleasant forms of work…yet the farmer’s wife finds more and more that she has to do a man’s full-time job!”

There was a lot of concern whether young people would still be willing to keep farming. In response to these challenges, Mansholt suggested that production methods should be reformed and modernized and that small farms should be increased in size. That latter part was the cornerstone of his plan: “The new structure envisaged rests, essentially, on enterprises of adequate size.”

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