A different take on “traditional agriculture”: risk-averse v. reliability-seeking

–A risk-averse farmer keeps multiple varieties of crops, livestock and/or sites so that, if one fails, s/he has others to fall back on. The more crops, livestock and sites a farmer can muster and maintain, the greater the chances s/he won’t lose everything. Where possible, the risk-averse farmer avoids hazards whose probabilities and uncertainties cannot be managed so as to maintain a survival mix of crops, livestock and productive sites. The risk-averse farmer faces a carrying capacity that sets exogenous limits on the total crops and livestock produced.

–A reliability-seeking farmer keeps multiple varieties of crops, livestock and/or sites because any single resource—e.g., the soil that sustains the crop, site and livestock—is managed better if it provides multiple services. The more crops, livestock and sites a farmer can muster and maintain, the greater the chances s/he can meet peak demands made on his or her production system. The reliability-seeking farmer seeks to manage the probabilities and uncertainties of hazards that cannot be avoided so as to maintain a peak mix of crops, livestock and sites. The reliability-seeking farmer faces a carrying capacity whose endogenous limits are set by farmer skills for and experience with different operating scales and production phases.

–Farming behavior, no matter if labelled “traditional” or “subsistence,” that is developed around high technical competence and highly complex activities, requires high levels of sustained performance, oversight and flexibility, is continually in search of improvement, maintains great pressures, incentives and expectations for continuous production, and is predicated on maintaining peak (not minimum) livestock numbers in a highly reliable fashion without threatening the very limits of system survival is scarcely what one would call “risk-averse.”

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