The Champs-Élysées, the most famous boulevard in Paris, has been silenced for a few days – by young farmers! Overnight, lorries brought in tonnes of soil and turned a one-mile stretch of the normally busy thoroughfare into an enormous green space. The aim of the event, which has been organised by the French Young Farmers (Jeunes Agriculteurs) union, is to reconnect the general public with agriculture. Consumer demand for lower food prices is causing financial problems for farmers so they hope to showcase the quality of their produce and demonstrate the effort that goes into producing it.
Reconnecting farmers and consumers is also discussed by Guy Robinson in his article ‘Towards Sustainable Agriculture: Current Debates’ (Geography Compass, September 2009). Since the Second World War, the relationship between farmers and consumers has distanced due to mass production techniques, supermarket-based retailing and government regulation. Gradually people have forgotten where the food they eat comes from and how it reaches them. The system is becoming ever-more unsustainable as fruit, vegetables, meat and fish are flown across the world to meet year-round consumer demand for exotic produce.
Moving towards more sustainable forms of production and consumption will not be easy. Although demand for organic and locally-produced produce is growing, it is still a relatively niche market in overall terms. Changing consumer behaviour – particularly when it requires them to spend more money – is not a simple task. The cows and sheep on the Champs-Élysées over the holiday weekend is a starting point, at least, for reminding people of the quality and diversity of their nation’s food.
The UNDP’s Human Development Report 2009 focused on the role of mobility in increasing human development. The report identified that voluntary migration provides higher incomes and more opportunities to those who move and also has beneficial effects on the areas that send and those that receive the migrants.
Ben Rogaly’s article in Geography Compass examines one particular type of economic migrant: unorganised temporary migrant workers, defined as those who travel away from their usual place of residence for just a few weeks or months. His field research in eastern India looked at men who combined crop production on subsistence plots in their village with local wage work and temporary migration for agricultural work.
He found that the temporary migration did, indeed, bring some benefits. One labourer explained that by travelling to a neighbouring village to do agricultural work he was more likely to be paid promptly for his work, whereas in his own village complex relations of patronage often meant delayed payment. It also emerged that some engage in temporary migrant work as a strategy to raise resources to start a small trade or business. On the other hand, temporary migrants experience harsh work regimes and dangerous conditions. One person explained the physical pain he experienced when working in a potato cold storage where he was required to carry loads of fifty to sixty kilos for a stretch of three to four hours. Another described the risks he took to earn more money, such as sleeping at night on a travelling lorry to avoid losing a day’s trading.
Temporary migration for work has both positives and negatives, but the scales must weigh on the side of the advantages for all those who choose to do it. The overall impact on human development, though, is variable.