Subsistence farming as a safety net for food-price shocks

Governments need the capacity to manage price instability and its social consequences; but in countries where people suffer most, they are least able to respond, because of limited fiscal and institutional resources. This article argues that policies used by middle- and high-income countries are unsuitable for poorer, agricultural countries; it recommends instead that these nations promote broader access to land and raise land productivity. The authors explain why instruments used by richer countries, such as those that control prices and cheapen food, fail in poorer countries. They describe the features of smallholder farmers in poorer countries, drawing upon evidence from India, Peru, and Guatemala to demonstrate how subsistence farming can be part of policy responses to the distress of a food crisis in both the short and medium term. They call upon donors to improve their understanding of and support for small-scale, subsistence-oriented farming.

de Janvry, A., and E. Sadoulet. 2011. “Subsistence farming as a safety net for food-price shocks.” Development in Practice 21(4-5): 449-456. Also in Global Food-Price Shocks and Poor People : Themes and Case Studies, ed. M. J. Cohen and M. Smale, Oxford: Routledge.