The number of academic textbooks and other writings on the economics and politics of agriculture is fast multiplying these days throughout Latin America, testimony to the rising concern for planning the rapid growth of output and trade of agricultural commodities and for determining the role of agriculture in an industrializing society. To make a maximum contribution, a discussion of the planning of agricultural development, i.e. of agricultural policy, ought to fit into a general conceptual framework, the outlines of which are formed by a set of social and economic norms. This is all the more important, because policy measures must by their very nature pursue a variety of distinct, and at times even contradictory, social and economic objectives. To furnish such a framework is a task which befalls the academician. It can be sought, as it has been done in some cases,1 in economic theory for the economic aspects of agricultural policy, or it can be fitted into a broader social philosophy.2
Unfortunately, Política agrícola seems to lack such a framework. Hence, it will be of somewhat limited usefulness to policy makers in Latin America and their advisors, faced with the decisions on whether, for example, to develop an agriculture based on family-sized farms, or on large-scale, commercial, mechanized, units; or on privately owned or collectively organized farms; or whether to assign production quotas and goals to individual farmers or leave the pattern of production to the individual decisions of farmers on the basis of the guidelines furnished by the so-called forces of the market, and who will have to justify their decisions on grounds other than merely political or sentimental ones.
It is also regrettable that the author of Política agrícola—Fernández y Fernández is Mexico’s foremost agricultural economist and rightly regarded as one of Mexico’s best experts in agricultural policy —have limited their text exclusively to Mexican experience. True, the text furnishes an excellent critical description of the Mexican agrarian revolution and its need of a “reform of agrarian reform, or its price programs, but the lessons which other Latin American nations can draw from such programs are not clearly stated and are often only faintly implicit—with the exception of lessons learned from the distribution of land to very small landholders. But this has by now become well known and is obvious to most agriculturists.3
Política agrícola deals with Land Tenure in Mexico (Ch. IV), Production and Land Utilization Patterns (V-IX), Education, Research and Technical Assistance (X-XII), Credit (XIV), Taxes (XVI), Labor (XVII), and Prices (XVIII). The book can be recommended to beginning students of Mexican agriculture, but the more sophisticated reader will use it only as a stepping stone to further studies, the references to which he will have to look for elsewhere. For the student of Mexico’s land reform, Política agrícola is obligatory reading.
See, for example, H. Halcrow’s text on Agricultural Policy (Prentice Hall).
See the excellent text of R. Schickele, Agricultural Policy (McGraw-Hill), soon to be published in Spanish by the Fondo de Cultura.
Of course, there is great merit in repeating over and over that an agrarian reform which seeks to establish an agriculture based primarily on family type operations does not therefore intend to establish “minifundios”—as pretend some enemies of land reform in order to discredit it.