What is the future of domestic agriculture? I appreciate that this is a rather loaded question. But it is a question, ultimately, of food sovereignty, to which I apply the normative definition positing that communities have a right to own and control the foods which they consume, produced in a sound accord with their local environment Foremost amongst these is whether or not the modern condition will permit such aggressive alternatives, answers to our assumed modes of food production, distribution, and consumption—i.e. the society of mass ad eternum. The assumptions of the mass society are indeed the root of tragedies signified, perhaps prophetically, in Goethe’s Faustian spirit. What I mean here is to illustrate a point: that apathy generated by such impervious assumptions, such conditions of existence, are equally the hinge-points of bad intent. A personal lack of concern for the very political questions of our day, indeed questions of power and knowledge, does not mitigate the concern for which political actors have with regards to our way of life. Politicians will fight with one-another only to settle the question of who gets to loot the public purse first. To this end, ignorance is no option; change will occur whether we like it or not. In Spinozan fashion, the body which remains unaffected is the body which has never known change. But as we have all known change, there is left one fundamental question: How do we respond to it? For the question of agriculture, the question which dictates the further question of food sovereignty, there are several responses.
The path of the mass society is defined by its characteristic political apathy, the relegation of political privileges to a class of semiautonomous (by which I mean almost wholly unaccountable in any meaningful sense of the term) actors who are left, for extended periods of time, to turn screws and pull strings. All of which, perhaps inadvertently, affects our lives. I say inadvertently because apathy, by definition, cannot intend something it does not directly will; a lack of interest cannot directly will an interest in others. However, this does not mean that said political actors do not, by their own will, have an interest. They very much do, and the evidence is proven by today’s prevailing condition.
So far, it is this latter interest which, in its power, has dominated the course of events, resulting in the systematic outsourcing, and corresponding decimation, of local agricultural production, of food sovereignty. The collapse of these very local, very organic frameworks is headed by two modifications: A) the wholesale repurposing of agricultural land for vast retail parks, or B) the continuation of agricultural production under contracts of tenure which alter the course of production. Often in the latter case, the dislocation of profit margins mean that the course of production is shifted away from the direct consumption requirements of the local community and toward the mass growth of things demanded by larger, often multinational and faceless, corporate chains. How does this happen? In short, it is best represented as a triangulation: the producer sits between the outcomes of policy which, on the one hand, taxes, inflates, and imposes quotas ensuring only mass wastage, and, on the other hand, is tailored to benefit and cartelise those firms which are already fencing acre after acre to industrial-scale production. In the latter instance, the issue is compounded by the fact that any policy which results in mass wastage is a cost which can be borne without much of a sweat by the industrialist. Not so for the small businessman.
Yet I am likewise working to a market prerequisite that business failure results in liquidation and a reorientation of capital to more lucrative pursuits. Ceteris paribus, this is the typical situation. But all else is not equal. The policies briefly mentioned above are evidence of a type of insidious interventionism, for vested interests, that is exacerbating the situation; there is no perfect law of competition. What freedom is there for a business, an agricultural producer, forced to renege on their pursuits as a result of bad policy, of cartelised interests? I mean to say that there is nothing here determining the intrinsic necessity, the fundamentality, that this is the way it must be. Likewise, I am not suggesting that all control be gone, all concern forgotten—a leap of faith that things will simply fix themselves. The response should position itself around multiple approaches, each designed to jumpstart the project. What I am suggesting instead, working to the prerequisites above, is a policy which aims to address the need for meaningful, and local, investment.
The first, and perhaps foremost, is to establish a system by which local residents can become bondholders, issued by local agricultural businesses. Were they designed to mature slowly, not only would they justify the purchase-incentive by offering higher returns, they would likewise afford local producers more time and adequate preparation to utilise the new stream of investment accordingly. Special-purpose building societies could be instituted to mediate this process and provide fluidity to what is, essentially, a localised joint-stock effort. Second, a shift in tax policy. A structure of tax-relief incentives (on land, product sale, and income) for those producers who issue bonds, as well as a zero-rate of tax on the bonds themselves, will lubricate the project by removing millstones at both ends of the pole. Likewise, if the produce were tax-free, consumer demand would begin to relocate in that direction, as prices would shift downward as a result of tax-exemption . Third, and finally, a form of wealth-fund initiative which would operate similarly to a discount. If it were targeted toward those businesses participating, the immediate benefit would be the relocation of demand, directing it toward said local producers, as it would take effect in lowering prices, interlocating with the direction of tax relief. This, much the same as the tax-relief policy, could be achieved, funded, by cutting away at some bureaucratic excesses which cost at both national and local levels, for example. Although perhaps not sustainable over a long-term as the first two, this latter policy could aid the process immediately by further encouraging a demand which would justify supply.
Whilst much of this is rather brief, the intention has been to avoid something of book-length, and, to some extent, conceptualise some suggestions which could illustrate a path toward local agriculture. By proxy, then, issues of sustainability and food sovereignty are likewise addressed. A Localist orientation would soon confront a paradox were it to be tailored from the back of an economic system which is anything but local. While there is an element of convergence with central policy here, the concepts themselves do not rely de facto on centralism to operate; they do not necessarily intersect forever. In fact, conducted properly, such a policy would instigate a wresting of determination from the centre and toward a relative local autonomy.
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