Ha-Joon Chang uncovers what’s worked in agricultural policy

I vividly remember the impact of Ha-Joon Chang’s 2002 book ‘Kicking Away the Ladder’. At the time I was an NGO lobbyist on the WTO’s Doha round of trade talks, and Ha-Joon’s book showed how when they were still poor, today’s rich countries had systematically used the industrial policies and other forms of state management of the economy that they were now urging the WTO to outlaw. Within months the book’s expose of northern double standards was being quoted extensively by developing country delegates at the talks.

via www.oxfamblogs.org

Ha-JoonChang Ha-Joon's analysis in "Kicking Away the Ladder" helped me to understand that the United States has been trying to push on developing countries a path of development based on myth, not on the actual history of how the U.S. and European countries developed. The very trade rules we are pushing into international policy via Free Trade Agreements and the WTO would likely have thwarted our development as a country.

Now Ha-Joon has done a similar analysis on our agricultural system. This summary shows how countries have successfully taken alternative approaches to the conventional ideologies pushed by U.S. institutions:

‘In the earlier stages of development, today’s rich countries had to grapple with the very problems that dog the agricultural sector of today’s developing countries – land tenure, land degradation, fragmentation of holdings, agricultural research, extension services, rural credit, irrigation, transport, fertilizers, seeds, price and income stabilities, trade shocks, agro-processing, marketing, and so on.

Many successful policy interventions have gone well beyond (or even against) the scope recommended by the New Conventional Wisdom (NCW), which has ruled agricultural (as well as other) policies in the last quarter of a century:

· Japan and other East Asian countries had a very successful comprehensive land reform that included strict land ownership ceilings.

· Virtually all of today’s rich countries used state-backed specialized rural banks and credit subsidies, state-subsidized agricultural insurance, public provision or subsidization of warehousing facilities, and input (e.g. fertilizers) quality control

· Denmark and some other European countries benefited from effective export marketing boards

· The USA and Japan successfully used price stabilization measures

‘History frees our “policy imagination” by showing that the range of
policies and institutions that have produced positive outcomes for
agricultural development has been much wider than any particular
ideological position – be it the pre-1980s statist one or the pro-market
NCW – would admit.’