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close this bookCERES No. 097 - January - February 1984 (FAO Ceres, 1984, 50 p.)
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Question: What did you learn from your experience at the Ministry of Cooperation and Development?

Answer: I was on Jean-Pierre Cot's staff for 18 months. We inherited policy of cooperation from the preceding governments which was marked by bilateral cooperation between France and all the French-speaking countries of black Africa. What we tried for was a development policy hat covered not only bilateral policies but the entire gamut of North-South problems. Many lessons emerged from this period, especially as far as he content of the policies were concerned. But the most important, perhaps, is the realization that changing a policy means organizing a nationwide debate in order to bring into confrontation the leading actors of our foreign relations research institutes, all he specialists in cooperation or the tropical world, as well as France's professional organizations, the trade unions, NGOs, the enterprises, in fact all the vital forces of the nation; and then through this debate we must strive to find a solution which our country can apply to the development of North-South relations.

Q: Is the French population prepared to receive this message and cooperate in development?

A: It all depends on how it is presented to them. Of course, the "poor and starving" image doesn't work as well as it once did. For fifteen to twenty years we have lived on exploiting the poverty and hardship image. Those who wished to give have given. But demonstrations, year after year, that giving has not proved all that effective were, well, somewhat discouraging. The essential thing is to get people to understand that we live in one interdependent world.

Q: Once we have accepted the interdependence of the various actors and countries concerned, how do we begin to find a way out of the crisis? How can we set this 'virtuous circle" in action?

A: I think it must be acted on different levels. At the international level we must negotiate the ground rules that allow each country to resolve its own crisis, and this is not happening at the moment: liberalism, or free trade on a basis of unequal exchanges, and in a period of weak growth blocks development in the countries of the South. Many of the countries of the North have themselves entered upon rather serious crisis cycles. The rules prevailing at the moment must evolve steadily toward an organization of spaces and exchanges. Now, economic spaces with their own existence, and with a minimum of autonomy have not yet been set up, in either the North or the South, nor have the exchanges and markets been organized (and I mean exchange of capital, production, or labor). So I think that none of these efforts will bear fruit in the Third World, because the fruits of the efforts are immediately sucked into a sort of central pump where wealth is accumulated. This is why I believe it is absolutely essential to back, very heavily, wide scale international negotiations. In a world where growth is falling, the only thing people know how to do today is to export to the weakest countries - whatever their particular problems happen to be, whatever their unemployment, inflation, deficits, whatever their production level. It is absolutely necessary to give each of them, and to each of these spaces, a chance, to organize geography a bit, for each space, and draw up policies which I would describe as centralizing and production boosting. This means that the economies must begin to exist rather more autonomously.

Q: Can countries of one, two, or three million inhabitants, as we find in Africa, be considered viable economic spaces? Or is it essential for these countries to regroup themselves either with WAEC. ECOWAS or other common markets or organized economic areas?

A: There is a sense of scale in economic space. For certain problems the economic space may be extremely limited (it could be the village, or even the farm, in the case of auto consumption); on the other hand, it would probably be more convenient for the electronics industry to organize things at the level of the entire African continent. This being said, however, you cannot have a series of interlocking spaces corresponding to the same number of outlets. I think the Africans had the right approach when they drew up the Lagos Action Plan, which combined the continental with the subregional outlook. They outlined a scale which naturally allowed for agriculture, but included a relatively centralized industrialization.

Q: You spoke of organizing exchanges: how would you resolve the problem today?

A. A debate contrasts those in favor of restoring free trade with those who, sometimes without saying so, would impose order in the markets. The position of the United States and some other big food- and agriculture-exporting countries is identical, that is, identical as far as liberalism is concerned, even though there may be some question about the freedom of the real situation of the markets. This liberalism, this free trading, brings up a number of difficulties, because, first of all, many countries absolutely need to see their export receipts stabilized: development cannot be planned if export returns are unpredictable. This kind of liberalism leads to enormous difficulties in the South, because these markets are no longer real markets. The prices are established by the exchanges in primary materials or by the dealers; the countries of the South have little access to the inner sanctum where prices are fixed. In a word, this liberalism creates many problems for those whose trade is weak. But there is no particularly coherent line of action to meet the situation. There are, I would say, two lines of actions for the Third World and two for Europe.

Q: When you say Europe do you mean the West?

A: No, no; Europe of the ten. The Americans, Australians, and Canadians have a relatively identical line. The Europeans have two lines: they organize. They are proposing an organization of markets. There is an intra-European line because Green Europe is in fact an attempt to organize the markets; and at the same time, when it comes to exporting outside Europe, they take a relatively liberal line. There is a slight contradiction in this. The Group of 77 too have two lines; theirs are based on parallel outlets. They insist on the organization of markets of tropical produce; they speak of a common fund and agreements on products. On the other hand, when it is a question of cereals, what they want is free trade because it is in their interests as producers of tropical products to stabilize, and to stabilize at a good level; when all their grain is imported, it is in their interest for competition to lower prices to a minimum. This means that the 77 take both a free-trade line and a market-organizing line, and the same thing holds for the Europeans. So it is extremely difficult to negotiate on one or another product in view of this ambiguity. Personally I feel there should be a Europe-7, alliance for the organization of markets. It should be a solidly grounded l alliance, and it should be an alliance against the excesses of free trade

Q: Aren't the Lome Agreement a first step in this direction?

A: The Lome Agreements are a first step in negotiations through Stabex; but Stabex is a mechanism set up to correct, after the fact the faults of the system. In some cases it may even have the same tendency to increase the problem of the markets. When you put out al product that has already been over produced, free trade means that you market price is going to fall: you will be persuaded to stop producing But Stabex deals with the situation by blocking this persuasion. This is only partially true, because the Stabex prices are calculated on the previous four years. A consistent decline over the four-year period will only weaker the rates of reimbursements. But l in questions like these, however difficult it may be, it is obviously necessary to attack the causes. Ant l this means attacking the supply and the organization of markets. There are quotas for supply; an organization of producers is necessary, to see that these quotas are not exceeded. When that happens there is a good chance that the market will come under satisfactory control

Q: Are the main partners of the UNCTAD discussion likely to come to an agreement? All they have accomplished after years of discussion are a few minor agreements.

A: Yes, that's absolutely right They are getting nowhere. There were six agreements. For the Common Fund, which is the focal point for these agreements, a certain number of signatures are required, and some are always missing. And then the Americans are not taking part, and even if they were it is hard to imagine an organization without the Americans. So it is true that it is not making, very fast progress. I think the trouble l however, has something to do with the confusion of "lines" I mentioned' before; that is, as long as there is no,found alliance between the countries which desire a minimum of market organization and those which are urging an increasingly wide freedom of trade, we can expect to get nowhere. This is where the real dialogue, the real negotiation, lies. And then the game of alliances must be stabilized. We cannot back the United States against Europe on Point Four, then back Europe against the United States on Point Five. If this is the case, there can be no worldwide negotiation. Now, the Group of 77 are asking for worldwide negotiations, but the game of alliances underlying:heir proposals is making worldwide negotiation extremely difficult. So, on my opinion, there can be no progress as long as there is confusion in the game of alliances.

Q: Are the organization of markets and the protection of export products more important or less important than the development of what we night call the "agrarian communities"?

A: I think it all links up. Since the fifteenth century there has been a system which has slowly and progressively taken over the entire economic space. Today the smallest farmer, or grazier, from the North or South, somehow or other sees his activity regulated by an integrated system: by prices, or the rate of exchange, or interest rates. There are few central regulations allowing a capitalist economy, if you like, to drain and organize the factors of production of the entire world. So here is the temptation to want to separate the two things. In the present rule of the game it is impossible of conduct national policies by making abstractions from international negotiations. But it is necessary at the same time to negotiate new rules or the international game to begin proposing policies on a national or regional level, aiming at centralization and boosting production. It is absolutely essential to boost production because world growth is weak, persistently weak in the present situation, and because it is necessary to create wealth (there are still hungry people and more food must be produced for them). But at the same time we know that this boost in production can only come from the development of every economy. Attempts to boost production by foreign income, indeed by" petroleum income", which is also a boost by a contribution of capital that has no connection with production method, do not get us very far. They end up by developing consumption and increasing capital transfers which channel off into the international banking system. But locally speaking they do nothing to help the production process; they only externalize the economy all the more. There must be centralized policies, and this means the utilization of potentials, the local factors of production. With the boost, policies of recentering are needed. Its economic space, its trade must, to some extent anyway, be controlled. There must be a consumption geared to production; there must be an accumulation of capital in the zone or a credit and savings policy to allow local investment. Only by operating on these lines can a production boost take effect. There is talk of a "Marshall Plan", but not enough financial resources exist to conceive a Marshall Plan; public assistance for a development is simply marking time; and then there is the Third World debt. Nobody is suddenly going to come up with 200 billion dollars to transfer from North to South.

Q: In any case, is there likely to be capacity absorption?

A: That would be not only an illusion, considering the state of international finances, but also ineffective, considering the capacity of absorption; or, more precisely, the incapacity to incorporate this income in a scheme of production and a process of development. So I think that the boost must come from a mobilization, by decentralized economies, of factors of production which are very little used today. We must focus attention on technologies, production methods which use more lab our, since there is unemployment everywhere; methods which allow the use of renewable sources of energy, and, even though it does not always take us very far, the use of local factors of production. As some traditions have taught us, it is absolutely necessary to remobilize the factors of production which, today, have become marginalized by a capitalist means of production. That will be the real boost.

Q: In doing this, must everything be cent red on agriculture, on rural communities? Or is there also an optimum of interrelation between the three sectors (primary, secondary, tertiary)?

A: For most countries today the strategic goal is to create economic wealth, that is to say, wealth which does not necessitate imports, and therefore losses of foreign exchange. It is a question of accumulation. But even before that stage is reached, it is necessary to repay the debts, or at least to seem to in order not to lose contact with the international banking system. As far as the countries of the East are concerned, or of the South, mainly the heavily indebted Latin American countries, it is obvious that repayment, the creation of economic wealth, and the capacity of obtaining foreign exchange become for them the number-one strategic goal of development. However I think that if indeed the number-one strategic goal is the creation of an economic wealth, it can be better attained through agriculture than through the other productive sectors. And in agriculture it is the peasant method which will give the best results. A technocratic enterprise, a state enterprise, or a large private concern possesses production methods which may give better yields, but in terms of biological output, they will show only middling results because they require an enormous incorporation of inputs. The peasant method results in a far better biological output. All this is to say that agriculture obviously has a role to play, and a very important one at that, but it goes without saying that it can only be a component within a unified complex.

Q: In the long run it is impossible that all the countries in the world will ever have, at one and the same time, a persistently positive balance of payments. So, won't they need to agree upon a certain form of organization?

A: Yes, that is perfectly obvious. No one knows how the crisis will be solved. We have no model to help us resolve this crisis which is absolutely convincing. The only thing we know how to do correctly is to export our crisis to the weakest areas we can find. Then it becomes a cascade phenomenon. We can be quite sure that the present policies, with their interest rates and their dollar values, are the best way of exporting the crisis to communities which are a little weaker. And then, we ourselves, the rich countries of the North, though not supremely powerful in the economic sense of the term, we are still exporting part of our unemployment and our crisis as well.

Q: To the very ones who have no one to export to.

A: To the very ones who have no one to export to: and so if they do not plunge into debt, they will die of hunger; but in any case they get poorer. They are artificially impoverished by debts and are effectively impoverished by the deterioration of their productive potential. So to answer your question: obviously the theories proposing the restoration of dominant structures, that is to say, an essentially free-trade system that results in an international division of lab our, cannot claim to be a universal solution. As a result of these solutions, the more feeble economic growth becomes, the more the situation favors the minorities, and this is what is happening now. Because some are in a position to export their crisis, and others are not. And the crisis is gaining. Until now the North South frontier has been more or less stable, and one could even say that certain countries, the newly industrializing countries (NlCs), hoped to change sides. However, the tendency has been reversing itself for some years: the newly industrializing countries are in serious difficulties, and you have a situation where the countries of the North are finding themselves in a bad way at the moment. It looks as though the frontier is moving up, and this is perfectly clear since the growth rates of the world economy are weak and there is a concentration of wealth. This means there can only be an encroaching impoverishment.

Q: All this doesn't sound very optimistic.

A: No, it doesn't: the reality of today is quite sinister. All you have to do is look around some of the city outskirts, or the bushland, to realize what is going on: advanced decadence, the stifling of peasant communities, the stifling of urban economies. This, in fact, means over and over again that you come across pockets of poverty and disequilibrium. You find, for instance, that the countryside is being crushed out of existence, and this sets off an exodus or an emigration, which creates the pockets. And the pockets expand and expand all the more, because there is no industrialization, at least not an industrialization in step with the rhythm established by the exodus. Here too, obviously, the system breaks down. It has worked for, say, two centuries, with a lot of suffering because Europe's industrial revolution was no easy period to pass through - but then the argument was: "OK, this is a bad patch. The countryside must be squeezed to produce a lab our force for the towns. Not fun, of course, in the end it is the price of changing the system." Today the problem is less and less fun, especially as the system is not even being changed. We are heading for a sort of cancer. This is what is so much more disturbing: this rout of the rural areas will never be transformed into a productive urban force.

Q: Yes, but then, what is the solution? Because if it is in the interest of the richest countries (or shall we say the less poor?) to export their crisis to the weaker ones, it is hard to imagine their suddenly becoming generous.

A: NO, of course not. I think it is absolutely unrealistic to look at these things in moral terms. What can force them to action, however, is an alliance of international forces, especially at diplomatic level. The two worlds should come face to face. The two economic systems: the one we have now, which some people would like to see restored to all its former purity, and another macro-economic system, which we mentioned just now when we spoke of the organization of exchanges and spaces. The alternative lies in this confrontation Each region should be allowed to solve its own crisis without worldwide influences causing not only con fusion but a perpetual drain on the hard-won production of these peripheral communities. Here we must be very clear about one thing: no everybody in every country has the same interests. There are social categories in poor countries in whose interest it is to maintain a growth of worldwide connections since tines' social categories benefit from the transfers from North to South and South to North. And even this is no a moral judgment. I am not saying, that these categories, these individuals are to be condemned. I am simply making a sort of socio-economic analysis. In my opinion as long a there exists no minimum of decentralized economic spaces which can, be developed on their own, this phenomenon of permanent concentration will remain, and with it a, increasingly serious impoverishment Is the combined Third World, all on its own, in a strong enough position, to force the rich communities to modify the rules of the game a little I don't think so. Here we come against a problem of alliance. I think that Europe (because Europe, or a any rate southern Europe, suffer frequent crises) should be able to defend this line of organizing exchanges and spaces. The relationship between these forces depend on the state of the crisis. If the crisis get worse, there comes a moment when the balance of forces finishes be equalizing and eventually by reversing itself.

Q: How do you explain the fact the some peasant communities seem to be able to look after themselves, while others suffer?

A: There are several conditions for a prosperous peasant community. But first I want this point to be quite clear, and this is the first condition: rural development means peasant communities, and that, of course, means the peasants. I think the collective forms of agricultural production or the purely capitalistic forms, that is, without peasants, are not efficient. To let us begin with the statement at rural development means the existence of a healthy peasantry, is a healthiness which the peasants an only - and this is the second condition - have acquired if they possess an economic space, that is, they enjoy the benefit of the right prices, the right terms of exchange, regulate what they buy and what they sell, if they have access to the end, if they can accumulate without drain of rural savings into other sectors, through duties or some such mechanism. Now, when one says this, one is saying big things: if there is no access to the land (I am thinking - certain Latin American countries) is not worth giving it another, thought. When the peasants have no access to the land, there can be no rural development. But when a peasant community has the advantage of an adequate economic space, it must defend this ace, in order to organize on a professional and productive level, by farming cooperatives or professional organizations. It must be able to pull as weight against social and political forces, otherwise its space would be permanently impaired, since the social fame insists on each player's trying accumulate maximum wealth. It is e that many have prospered on the lacks of the peasantry, not only in the South but of course in the North as well. This is the third condition of wealth. The last condition concerns production method: for the peasant community to produce a good agricultural output it must possess appropriate technologies, either traditional or acquired technologies, and it must have its own method of production adapted to the natural and social environment. These four hints are the elements of a peasant community's road to progress, a peasant strategy. And if one of these elements is blocked, well, it can mean suffocation. Blockage at land level means instant suffocation. Blockage at price level means gradual impoverishment. If the technologies are inappropriate things may continue for a little while, but the soil suffers erosion, and the land is degraded. This process is perhaps a little slower. But I think these conditions are valid in the North, the South, or anywhere else. The whole art of a policy is to help peasant communities to find the path of sound production. This involves considering the land problem, calculating prices so that wealth accumulates in the countryside, focussing production technology through scientific research. If we consider the case of Europe, the peasantry have followed precisely the same stages. They have hotly defended their economic space (you know the difficulties whenever agricultural prices are fixed: there is a real collaboration among the organized forces); the large landowner is regulated, the peasantry is organized.

Q: Yes, but the striking thing is that when the peasantry is pulling its weight all their hopes are admissible. But when they are satisfied with submission, where will driving force come from then?

A: Here I think we have to distinguish the will from the possibility. Not everybody can organize and pull his weight. There are conditions, for example: politically repressive conditions, which put it out of the question for a group to be established, for a peasant force to organize and take charge of its training. This does not depend on whether it wants to or not. You can still find the will to fight, and history has much to tell about the struggles of the peasantry in every age and country. It is interesting to notice what happened in France during the years 1945-50: the French peasantry claimed the power to pull their weight against political forces, mainly electoral, and power to use on the big land owners through the SAFER (Society for agriculture and tenure and rural settlement). All this assumes an organization, but the most important is perhaps the assumption of power in training problems. And here we can bring up an interesting experience the rural family houses which were launched in France in 1935 by a rural initiative. A parish priest, with the parents of his pupils, constituted the first family house. Why? Because although there was no lack of children from the best peasant families holding some of the highest posts in the community, there were however no more rural children. They had become young French citizens who had passed through the machinery of social homogenization. The agricultural movements of the day said: Stop we need proper training to prepare our leaders and our technicians. And the family houses, the Agricultural Christian Youth (JAC), and a certain number of private schools made contributions to form this stratum of agricultural leaders, who, in a way, took possession of French agriculture (rather more, perhaps, than was actually desirable) in the years 1950-60. But is it possible elsewhere? I think there are countries where it would work. But if it doesn't, well, there can be no peasant community; there are only producers in trouble; producers who are separated one from the other, isolated, paying duties. But there can be no peasant force which, progressively, builds up is not a production unit, a capacity for exchange, an economic basis for national development.