Sociology deals with matters concerning people’s awareness of each other. If on the road you come across one man who is dead drunk and take him to a room. You then come across another man equally drank and unconscious take him to the same room. As long as they are asleep, there is no social relationship between them. They are not aware of each other. But when they wake up and are sober, a social relationship will develop between them. They will express surprise to be found there. They will be talking to each other.
Sociology deals with questions of marriage and families, property ownership, stratification, politics and authority, crime and population. Often sociology deals with groups of people rather than Robinson Crusoe’s on islands.
When discussing questions of agriculture, we are usually concerned with productivity inputs and outputs. We pay less attention to the social organisation of agricultural development. Economists and policy makers brought up in the western tradition of private ownership of land often say agricultural production in African countries would be enhanced if Africans registered their landholdings as freeholds. They would then use their land as collateral when negotiating for credit from banks. This view has been especially espoused by one of the most renowned Latin American economist from Peru.
Borrowed funds do not always make farmers prosper. Price fluctuations due to gluts on international markets are a constant nightmare to farmers. Suppose a farmer is unable to pay back the loan on agreed time and his creditor gets his land foreclosed what will follow? One morning the farmer wakes up to see the cruel face of the sheriff accompanied by police officers and they order him to quit his land and the creditor takes over. The poor farmer and his farm have become landless. If many farmers are thrown into this plight of indebtedness, there could be social disturbances in the rural hinterland.
Farmers must have access to credit in order to boost food and cash crop production. But the collateral must be chosen with due regard to maintain rural social stability. It is a big contribution to national political stability.
Rural unemployment is mostly in a disguised form. Where there is acute shortage of land, a farmer works on an acre or hectare. He would be fully employed if working on 10 acres or hectares. Disguised unemployment is less serious than the unemployment that results in complete idleness.
There is a good deal of social stability in Malawi because the unemployment that exists in a disguised form, it is in the form of underemployed rural dwellers. Until there are enough secondary industries in urban centres, we should avoid adopting economic policies that erode and depopulate the rural hinterlands.
The Anglo- Irish poet and novelist Oliver Goldsmith lamented about the fate of a village during the agrarian revolution of England.
Sweet Auburn, to hastening ills a prey Where wealth accumulates Population decays
The agrarian revolution of rural England was accompanied by the Industrial Revolution which was offering jobs to those who had been thrown out of their lands. Some of these went overseas to populate colonies. The evicted Malawian peasant has nowhere to go for employment and settlement.
Family stability is stronger among people dwelling on lands. There on traditional customs are preserved and they regulate behaviour. There is less crime in rural areas than in towns and cities.
The tradition of having big families is stronger among farming families than industrial workers in town. An urban dweller who depends on his salary alone, for his living is easier to convince about the burden and thoughtlessness of unplanned birth rates. Children living in cities only contribute to consumption. In rural areas, they take part in production at a tender age and are therefore seen as assets.
Agricultural development exposes rural people to exotic consumer goods. As soon as they realise the harvest, they tend to oversell it for cash in order to buy radios, suits, shoes and even vehicles. During lean months of November to February, we find even farmers queuing up for maize at Admarc depots. The high prices of which urban dwellers complain do affect rural dwellers as well. Chiefs and political leaders have appealed to smallholders not to sell too much of their crop, the appeal seems to fall on deaf ears.
To whom should government pay greater attention, smallholder farmers who want higher prices for their harvest or urban dwellers who want lower prices for the food they buy in shops? Experience has shown that urban dwellers have the political balance of power while farmers do not.