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close this bookCERES No. 145 - January - February 1994 (FAO Ceres, 1994, 50 p.)
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Searching for super cassava

John Madeley's article on cassava in No. 140 (“Make way for super cassava”) was particularly interesting. In the province of Convenciassava (called yuca here) is cultivated, but with poor yields. Despite this, it remains the basic food staple for peasants who also raise coca, coffee and cacao as cash crops. I would be very grateful if you could indicate how we might procure the high yielding variety mentioned, TMS 30572, in order to introduce it in our region and increase local yuca harvests.

Hugo Rojas Ayala
Cuzco, Peru

Ed. Note: For further information, write to Dr. Sang-Ki Hahn c/o International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Oyo Road, PMB 5320, Ibadan, Nigeria.

Mafeje encourages “nostalgic wishful thinking”

I read A.B.M. Mafeje's article on land reform in No. 139 (“Where the theory doesn't fit”) with some concern, because it may encourage nostalgic wishful thinking by many rural sociologists, intellectuals and politicians in sub-Saharan African countries, and give the impression that old ways will suit new situations - which I think in this case very doubtful. In Africa, traditional peasant systems are breaking down, just as they have already done in Europe, and for the same reasons. People - I expect including the writer of the article - don't want to continue at peasant living standards. Even existing standards are threatened by population growth and land pressure: Nigeria is now as densely populated as Western Europe, with a population growing 10 times faster.

Traditional land-use systems are adapted to more or less self-supporting communities, where subsistence farming provides most food requirements. The “bush” makes an important contribution via hunting and gathering, and by providing fuelwood, browse for livestock and material for construction. For a country to be self-sufficient in wood, about one-third of its land must be under forest. Traditional farming systems once could conserve the soil, but have been rendered unsustainable by population growth and the spread of cash cropping, which today includes food crops. Demand for farmland is destroying the bush, and on arable land is resulting in shorter fallows, causing serious soil erosion and fertility loss - reducing the carrying capacity of the land.

A change to new farming systems is inevitable, but what change? In peasant communities the farming and social systems are meshed, and changing one changes the other. As Cobbett wrote of England's earlier Agrarian Revolution, “all our properties, all our laws, all our manners, all our minds changed. This took place within 40, and most of it within 10 years.” The change was from a system adapted to feeding relatively isolated communities to one capable of feeding a nation.

The latifundia of Latin America or Asia are irrelevant to African problems, unless as an awful warning. Rider Haggard, inquiring into the bankruptcy of British agriculture before the First World War, showed owner cultivation is the most efficient and productive farming method, concluding: “The land can rarely return three clear living profits - one to the owner, one to the farmer and one to the laborer.” At the time of England's “enclosure” laws, land was initially divided among the existing rights holders, but a laisser-faire attitude to land acquisition turned peasants into laborers on land they once owned. Fortunately, government policy since the Second World War has moved England from a situation where two-thirds of farmers were tenants to one where two-thirds are now owner-cultivators. Nevertheless, the key to development is change in land tenure arrangements.

Rights must be re-allocated among rights holders so that individuals obtain more exclusive land rights, including the right to alienate land (generally lacking in traditional systems). This permits change in the farming system, and by encouraging mortgage enables land to pay for its own development. Moreover, a free market in land allows it to move to its most economic use, which is not necessarily arable cropping. A visible effect of this change in Kenya has been to encourage tree planting by private individuals, and to promote landownership by women, who do most of the farm work. In Nigeria, demand for timber is several times greater than the sustained yield capacity of remaining forest reserves. Private forestry must make a substantial contribution, which in present circumstances it is failing to do. As Cobbett indicated, part of the problem is that peasant society has the wrong mental “software” to suit an industrial economy, making change difficult and traumatic. In a peasant community human relations are considered more important than work, where in industrial societies it's the other way round. As in war, the survival of the society becomes more important than that of the individual.

Communal tenure in Nigeria is cracking under the strains imposed on it, but it must be admitted that freehold tenure does have some harmful social consequences. In Kenya it resulted in abandoned children on the streets of Nairobi, and jobless laborers slumped in parks. These problems must be resolved by other means. In England these included the Poor Rates (a social tax) to maintain the indigent section of the population.

The author appears to think that the 1978 Land Use Decree in Nigeria has solved the problems. A majority here would not agree. The decree's provisions are either ignored or evaded. It has impeded evolution toward freehold tenure, which has been occurring progressively in southern Nigeria since the turn of the century. The decree tried to put political authorities in place of traditional ones and convert land proprietors into tenants of the state, which in theory could then dictate land use. I have little faith in the clairvoyance or organizational ability of government. As formerly in England, people should be allowed to make the changes for themselves when they feel the need to do so, and government should confine itself to providing a legal framework. Premature attempts by the former colonial regime to introduce some changes, such as mixed farming, failed (the Anchau scheme), but Nigeria is now at the stage where change must begin - and it must start with land tenure.

R.G. Lowe
University of Ibadan
Ibadan, Nigeria

Cultural sensitivities matter

Gideon Samuel Jubara's article in No. 142 (“An SOS from Southern Sudan: help us save our environment”) clearly puts forward a major problem round Juba. Even before people were marooned in Juba by the civil war, fuel was a problem, but this has been multiplied many-fold by the present situation.

However, the picture you have chosen to illustrate the article shows a lack of sensitivity to the cultural needs of the people of Southern Sudan. The picture shows northern Sudanese, of a completely different cultural background from the people described in the text.

Pictures of northern Sudanese are not appropriate for illustrating articles relating to the south. I had the same problem with an article I wrote for another FAO journal two years ago, when photos of northern Sudanese were included, causing cultural offence. Please be more careful. These cultural sensitivities do matter.

Roger W. Sharland
Nairobi. Kenya

Ed. Note: Thank you for pointing out the error. Information accompanying the file photo we used did not specify in which part of the Sudan the picture had been taken. It should be realized, however, that it is impossible for Ceres’ small staff to be personally familiar with the dress and customs of all of the thousands of separate ethnic groups of the world, to the point of being able to recognize each of them on sight. It would be helpful if specialists like yourself, who are familiar with the differences, would point them out to us at the time manuscripts are sent in for publication. This would minimize the chances of error, and of unintentionally giving cultural offence.