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View the documentStructural adjustment and food security in the Sahel: the example of Senegal
View the documentGuarded optimism for African cocoa
View the documentRitual, religion and development in Madagascar

Structural adjustment and food security in the Sahel: the example of Senegal

by Tom Amadou SECK

Many countries of the Sahel, like Senegal, have been trying to apply a policy of food security since 1986 (when the Cereal Plan was set up), as part of a structural adjustment drive. In Senegal, this is called the Medium- and Long-Term Adjustment Plan, or PAMLT, covering 1985-90. It is perhaps a good idea to look at the past five years to produce a partial summary of the New Agricultural Policy and its limitations and of the constant effort needed to ensure it fits in with regional cereal policies in the Sahel.

Combining structural adjustment and food security is no easy matter. We shall attempt to examine the practical difficulties involved in any structural adjustment policy aimed at fitting in with an agricultural development drive.

A strong lever

The system suggested by the funders, particularly the World Bank, hinges on a farm price policy which makes imported cereals (such as rice) more expensive’ removes the subsidies on agricultural inputs and urban consumption, liberates the input market and ensures remunerative prices for the peasants. What is actually being proposed here is a cut in the real price of the rice produced locally in the River Valley, given the very high production costs (rice being a strategic product in that it is a staple for the majority of Senegalese). In fact, a farm price policy can be a strong lever when it comes to changing the terms of domestic trade to the benefit of the rural community and the detriment of the people in the towns (by pushing up the price of local products, doing away with urban consumer subsidies and engineering a change in eating habits in relation to imported cereals such as Thai rice). But it will not promote a food security policy on its own. There are political constraints- such things as political upheavals among the urban consumers-which are not easy to get round. In February 1986, for example, political upheavals forced the Senegalese authorities into lowering the price of imported rice from CFAF 160 to CFAF 130 per kg, thereby compromising their food security policy and showing just how difficult it is to run a cereal plan properly. Encroaching on the urban consumers’ privileges by making cereals more expensive, doing away with consumer subsidies or charging real prices can easily threaten the nation’s political stability. Political constraints of this kind are a real dilemma for any Sahel country attempting to run a food security policy during a period of structural adjustment.

They are indeed preventing the introduction of the Farm Sector Adjustment Policy (PASA) and they have been holding up Senegal’s SAP III (structural adjustment, phase three) negotiations with the funders (the IMF, the IBRD, France’s CCCE, the EDF etc) for nearly a year now. What is causing the friction, of course, is the rise in the price of imported rice from CFAF 130 to CFAF 160 per kg.

Senegal may be what the IMF considers to be ‘a good pupil’, but its political leaders also have public opinion to take into account, since they are living in what has long been rare in Africa, a political democracy. But a compromise is on the cards.

The funders see a rise in the price of imported rice from CFAF 130 to CFAF 160 per kg as tantamount to discouraging its consumption and encouraging people to eat locally-grown cereals (millet, maize and local rice), bringing in selective protectionism and making for the emergence of a food security policy as advocated in the Cereal Plan (established in 1986, as a complement to the New Agricultural Policy of 1984, to exploit the agricultural potential of the Diama and Manantali dams in the Senegal River Valley and achieve 80 % food security for the nation by the year 2000).

They also propose doing away with various subsidies (on seed, fertiliser, transport etc) to rationalise the management of agriculture and bring down the price of local rice which is presently high because of the heavy production costs. If the negotiations are to get going again, both sides have to compromise. Over and above the divergences of opinion between Senegal and the funders, no farm price policy will have any real chance of success unless it goes hand in hand with a series of land and credit reforms, selective subsidies, road infrastructure, agricultural research, technical extension work, nutritional surveys, meteorological monitoring of rainfall (an essential factor) and institutional changes in the administration. If it is to work, it must aim to harmonise with the policies of the other countries in the region on cereals, exchange rates and structural adjustment. But national policies are frequently drawn up without taking all of this into account.

Farm price policy-the challenge

An efficient farm price policy must be a synthesis of all the above factors, a culmination rather than a starting point -something the funders do not seem to realise. If it is to make a proper job of inverting the domestic patterns of trade to the benefit of the people living in rural areas, then it must also introduce selective protectionism (hence the search for a good nominal rate of protection-40 %, say, in the case of Senegal), which is completely different from looking for comparative advantages.

It all hinges on selective subsidies, decent agricultural credit facilities and land reforms.

Subsidies: Subsidisation (of inputs and urban consumption) is a very delicate matter. Let us start by looking at urban consumer subsidies, since town-dwellers are politicised and therefore in a good position when it comes to defending their privileges and causing political strife. Farm subsidies cannot last for ever, either, because that would turn them into assistance.

However, some subsidies are worth maintaining to protect underprivileged target-groups in the cities-low-paid employees, for example, children, pregnant women and old people in working class areas such as Pikine, Guediawaye, Grand Dakar etc.

Selective subsidisation may mean handing out food or using a percentage of food aid (Food for Work, for example), combined with information campaigns to change eating habits-’Eat Senegalese’, say, to get Thai rice replaced by local maize and millet.

Nutritional surveys of poor household budgets and cereal markets may also go some way to a solution.

Import taxes on the luxury goods used by the comfortably-off can also yield revenue to provide food stocks for associations in working-class districts (fairness through taxation). This kind of selective subsidisation, which can help improve the nutritional situation of the underprivileged sections of society, could be accompanied by a policy of better primary health care.

Food for Work programmes are very common in Sri Lanka among the landless peasants and unemployed in poor districts.

Efficiently used food aid can be a help here too (with the construction of village dispensaries etc).

Such schemes would aim to cushion the social effects of structural adjustment policies. Unless the weight of structural adjustment is spread fairly amongst the different social categories of the population, adjustment will always be synonymous with austerity.

Some forms of selective subsidisation -of seed and fertiliser-have to be maintained and the right sort of rural credit facilities chosen for small farmers when the input market is freed.

Total liberalisation of the seed market could lead to speculation by rural middlemen and better-off peasants, penalising the small producers.

It is generally agreed that small farmers can run up debts with rural middle-men and better-off peasants during periods of non-production and pay them back when they harvest. The creditors are paid in seed during the harvest period (at very high rates) and they then sell the seed back to the small farmers during the sowing period (at even higher rates, thus ensuring very high profit margins of, say, 45 %).

The SEDES report clearly explains the strategy of the various people involved in the cereal market. The whole seed problem hinges on storage capacity and the better-off peasants really do have good facilities here, which is more than can be said for the small ones. The authorities have made a considerable but as yet limited effort with USAID help, but there is a long way to go before village associations of small farmers have largescale storage capacity (thanks to the building of sheds, for example).

Credit facilities: Selective subsidies must be arranged so that small farmers can get fertiliser and avoid situations in which high prices preclude its use and output dwindles, as has happened over the past year or two.

There is a lot to do in the credit sector. Access to loans should go some way to solving the problem of seed use, fertiliser supply and farm equipment utilisation. Any farm price policy not accompanied by a credit system that is available to the small farmers is not likely to be a success.

Senagal’s National Agricultural Credit Fund (CNCAS) is being set up gradually, but the interest rates are very high (13 %)? the individual guarantee unsuitable for the needs of the small farmer, the paper-werk expensive (about CFAF 25000) and beyond illiterate peasants and the management too centralised.

The NGOs have done some interesting work in their Green Africa campaign, providing credit at low or zero interest, setting up cereal banks to suit the small farmers’ storage capacity, introducing local-language training and simplified management, generalising primary health care in the regions concerned, converting food aid into financial means so as to even out the harvest over areas with surpluses and areas with shortfalls and so on. The funders (the World Bank and USAID, for example) and the authorities should get together with the NGOs and the village association representatives to take these original ideas further. Other forms of credit should be tried out along with a kind of federation of Farm Economy Interest Groups and NGOs. The Interest Groups have to form a federation to ensure their future effectiveness.

Alongside this, the CNCAS management should be more decentralised and the representativeness of the delegates of village associations, economic interest groups and other groups of well-off peasants greater, so that every member of society in the rural areas is represented.

All the problems attached to obtaining input supplies depend on accessible credit facilities.

Small farmers need to form groups

The local powers: Unless the small farmers form proper, autonomous groups which are independent of the influence of leading rural figures, there is no chance of an efficient food security policy or even a decentralised agricultural development model.

As the NGOs showed in the Green Africa campaign, there is a potential for the emergence of small farmer groups in rural areas everywhere. Encouraging their formation means a policy of offering training in the local language, providing an introduction to simplified management (human resource management) and ensuring decent credit facilities- all leading to the creation of different forms of non-official power (including peasant women in the rural areas), which could be partners involved in a dialogue with the authorities and the funders and have an effect when major rural development decisions are taken and structural adjustment policies brought in.

Unless such powers exist, society will never be revitalised. No dynamic movements will occur and no decentralised agricultural development model geared to the culture of the Sahel countries will emerge.

Land reform: Other reforms should go along with the farm price policy (agricultural research and a reform of the land arrangements). A land reform would be aimed at updating the 1964 National Domain Act and giving the peasants greater security of tenure and broader individual rights to encourage them to invest in the land and improve its value. This sort of reform could be a kind of individual guarantee of better access to credit.

The law adopted at the time of independence (during a period of State centralisation, that is to say) ought to be reformed in the light of the New Agricultural Policy, which recommends that the State withdraw and producers be freed from administrative supervision. A detailed account of the content and practical arrangements of such a land reform is outside the scope of this article, but, undeniably, with the new economic deal which adjustment brings, some provisions, and maybe even the spirit of the law are now outmoded.

Lastly, agricultural research and extension work should emphasise cereals, not just groundnuts, and involve such things as the investigation of new strains of cereals and pulses, modern extension methods and so on.

Ultimately, a cereal policy will only be effective if it aims to harmonise with the policies of neighbouring states in the region and sub-region.

Regional harmonisation of agricultural price, exchange rate and structural adjustment policies in the Sahel.

Differing agricultural price policies in neighbouring countries (Senegal, Gambia, Mauritania, Mali etc) are barriers when it comes to harmonising cereal policies throughout the Sahel region. Maize (see table) is one example.

Cereal prices in Mali and Senegal are different. In 1981-82, for example, maize was CFAF 42.5 per kg in Mali and CFAF 50 in Senegal, while Niger’s price was twice that of Mali.

Mali had a surplus at the 1990 cereal harvest (about 600 000 t of sorghum, millet, maize and rice), which it was barely able to dispose of in Senegal.

Mauritania sells imported rice (CFAF 250 per kg) to its consumers at about twice the price asked in Senegal (CFAF 130 per kg).

A sack of Thai rice is far cheaper in Gambia than Senegal (around CFAF 9 000), a situation which encourages smuggling along the frontiers, partly neutralises Senegal’s policy of charging more for imported rice and loses it revenue from tax and customs duties.

In some years, Burkina Faso has had good cereal harvests which it has found difficult to sell to the neighbouring countries. In some years, the Senegalese peasants go and sell their groundouts and groundout oil in Gambia and Mali where the prices are higher, which encourages parallel marketing and home grinding and thereby reduces the revenue of the State.

The effect of all these farm price imbalances is to encourage informal trade between consumers in different countries and hamper the efficiency of the tax, customs and price policies of the states in question-which is why farm prices in the sub-region (Senegal, Gambia, Mauritania, Mali and Niger) and region (Nigeria, Cd’lvoire, Senegal, Mali and so on) have to be harmonised.

Towards a solution

-The countries in question could agree to common prices for some cereals, in the light of the different transport and marketing costs and exchange rates.

-Regional food security stocks, gradual production cost alignment measures and more technical cooperation (meetings of national experts and then of Ministers of Agriculture, Finance, Cooperation etc. in the form of quarterly meetings, lectures and work sessions coordinated by CILSS could be arranged in the short and medium term.

In the immediate future, CILSS (the Permanent Inter-State Committee on Drought Control in the Sahel) could, say, take the initiative for a meeting to discuss this in 1991. Although there is a lot of controversy over regional exchange rate harmonisation, the World Bank, the French Treasury and the various States could come to some provisional arrangement. The problem is one that will of course come up in the medium term with the opening of the single European market in 1993. A provisional solution, or even a permanent one, could be found at that time. Sub-regional-and then regional-harmonisation of structural adjustment policies could be outlined with the help of the World Bank, the other funders and the states concerned- although the question is one which is often only seen from a national angle.


Table 1: Price producers obtained for maize, 1981-82, November - April

The adjustment of the economies of the Sahel and the whole series of social and political reforms (protection of the most underprivileged groups and involvement of the operators, particularly the rural and urban associations) that goes with it I can only be achieved on a regional basis I and the World Bank, representatives I the national authorities and, most important, various African and foreign research workers (in universities, consultancies etc) interested in the subject should suggest ways of doing this.

Lastly, no regional harmonisation of agricultural and cereal price policies will ever be successful unless it actively involves CILSS, the Club du Sahel and the other operators (i.e. the groups of small producers, who are primarily concerned). Unless there are local non-official powers, regional harmonisation decisions could well be little more than ‘ inefficient red tape. It is upstream, with the public authorities, and downstream, with the local operators, that the question of regional integration has to be envisaged in both the Sahel and on the continent as a whole.

Without local democracy, without fresh responsibility for the local operators, no cereal policy (at either national or local level) will work and no efficient decentralised development model will emerge. So lessons should be learned from the NGOs’ educational approach and the ideas disseminated. Lastly, in the institutions, the states should try and take a closer lock at the farm price policy scenarios and their financial consequences on the balance of payments.

Farm price policy scenarios to be investigated

It is worth taking the investigation of farm price policies, and the effect they have on the balance of payments, further, as this should make the relevant administrative decisions more efficient.

Although it has shortcomings, the World Bank’s first study has at least merit of actually being there. The main virtue of the SEDES 1989 report, by far the fullest and most original, is that it sets out four series of scenarios.

In particular, Scenario No 3, the ‘quest for greater self sufficiency in cereals’, explores some very interesting ways of setting up an efficient farm price policy to obtain food security-although it does raise problems of practical application at an institutional level. The Sahel countries have to encourage more of these studies to promote the harmonisation of their cereal policies.

The funders, especially the World Bank and the CCCE, have to give their financial backing to studies of this kind. More generally, they should increase the flow of finance to help the states bring in the reforms attendant on the economic social consequences of structural adjustment (finding work for redundant civil servants and providing selective subsidies for target groups). Unless the international flow of finance is increased, the Sahel countries will continue to be prey to damage to the fabric of their societies and destabilisation of their political situations.

In turn, the Sahel countries, like Senegal, have to use this improved international financial flow to bring in reforms to go with their structural adjustment policies, spread the burden of adjustment more fairly (via tax reforms, educating the people to change their eating habits etc), make a better job of explaining the scope of the adjustment policies and try to devise alternatives.

Imported rice has to go up in price if the cereal plan and the food security policies are to work. But the reform has to be gradual and go hand in hand with such things as selective subsidies.

It is in its practical arrangements that the Senegalese state has to try and find flexible answers to the question of higher Thai rice prices. Both partners have to compromise to get the PASA negotiations off the ground again, in the interests of the people and the politica. stability of the nation. When it comes to selective subsidisation, the funders have to be more flexible, since no country so far has managed to achieve self sufficiency in food without subsidising its farm sector.

Even developed countries such as Japan subsidise cereals such as rice, as do the EC Member States and the USA (see table).

Adjustment, a condition of economic development- necessary but not sufficient

Financial adjustment is unavoidable for the Sahel countries, but an adjustment policy, while necessary is not sufficient of itself to promote economic development. Priorities have to be changed to favour economic development. Institutional, economic and social reforms, first at national and then at regional level, may suggest a decentralised development model which puts priority on the needs of the ordinary operator rather than just aiming for large-scale macro-economic equilibrium.


Table 2: Hypotheses based on the 1 May 1986 scenario


Table 3: Subsidisation of main products (including assimilated transfers) in some developed countries, 1979-80 to 1984-85 (%)

Unless something is done about the dynamics of ordinary society, there will be no democratic development, no food security, no regional market and no possible success for structural adjustment. Adjustment will only work if it adapts to the peasant way of thinking, not vice versa, as has been the case so far. The natural, Darwinian selection of economic operators and states, as recommended by the adjustment policies (a real cult of the market and its comparative advantages), can only hope to succeed if it harmonises with the Socratic-type approach of the NGOs. And reconciling Darwin and Socrates means explaining the full complexity of the links between economic development and structural adjustment. Greater emphasis has to go on Socrates and his approach. Economic development is not only a financial parameter. It is a fact of life.

T.A.S.

Guarded optimism for African cocoa

Take it easy, take it easy. The future of the African cocoa industry is not as gloomy as the current situation would suggest. This observation is what emerges reading the report entitled ‘La compvitu cacao africain’ carried out by experts of CIRAD (Centre de cooption internationals en recherche agronomique pour le dloppement) for the French Ministry of Cooperation .

Based largely on the comparative advantages the African cocoa producets vis-a-vis their competitors in South America and South East Asia, the authors, in their analysis of trends in supply and demand, lay particular emphasis on the cost of production. They take into consideration issues as wide ranging as the scale of plantation, availability of virgin forests, soil fertility and water retention, and the cost of labour. ‘The game’, they say, ‘is not up’ for African producers. Indeed, in the coming years, cocoa ‘will be one of the rare exportable products of the countries of the Gulf of Guinea’ (Cd’lvoire, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Sao Tomamp; Principe, and Equatorial Guinea).

That is, at least, good news for a region that is increasingly being marginalised in international trade and for which forecasts speak of increased national or regional use of the traditional agricultural exports (palm oil, coffee, cotton, etc) m the coming years.

If cocoa is men as an exception it is because the factors militating against its domestic transformation are considerable: world over-supply of ground cocoa (about 500 000 tonnes at present), a product with high technological demands, minimum value-added, heavy transport costs from points of production to points of consumption, and difficulty of storage in the tropics, particularly for chocolates.

A vital source of foreign exchange for the economic development of the West African producers (less so for Nigeria), cocoa has not earned much foreign exchange in the past decade because of the over-supply in the world market which has led to falls in prices. At the end of 1989, prices fell to their lowest level in over 40 years. They have sinœ recovered slightly and are hovering between UK £ 650 and £ 750 per tonne.

The over-supply is the direct result of the overproduction caused by the revolution that has taken place in the industry in recent years. At the turn of this century, the West African producers and Brazil accounted for 98 % of the world market. Indonesia entered the scene as recently as the 1960s. It was followed by Malaysia, in a most dynamic way, only 8 years ago. Thus in less than three decades, these South East Asian nations have become the ‘new pole’ in production to which West Africa has lost a big share of the market, about 13 %.

The West African producers themselves have had varying fortunes over these years: Ivory Coast has emerged from virtually nowhere in the 1940s to be the biggest producer with 34 % of the world market, while the hitherto leading cocoa nations of Ghana and Nigeria hold no more than 13 % and 8 % respectively.

Although no major upsets are expected in this pecking order in the coming years, the CIRAD report forecasts a significant fall in Brazil’s production, a less significant fall in Cameroon’s, and stagnation in that of Malaysia, Nigeria and Ghana. Only Indonesia, whose production has consistently been up in recent times, is expected to maintain this in the short term at least.

The Report could not predict Ivory Coast’s production, unable to gauge the effects the reduction in the prices paid to farmers will have on output. Ivory Coast’s potential is put at around one million tonnes per annum (about two-fifths of the world’s total). It currently produces 820 000 tonnes annually of’ which it exports 600 000 tonnes.

The Report notes that although world cocoa consumption has increased substantially, neither the successful launching in 1972 of the International Cocoa Agreement nor Ivory Coast’s desperate attempts to influence prices single-handedly in the late 1980s, have succeeded in controlling supply: the quota system and regulatory stocks foreseen under the Agreement have never actually operated let alone been effective.

A new accord has been difficult to secure, and it was in view of the disarray among members, that the International Cocoa Council, in March 1990, was obliged to suspend the Agreement’s economic clauses and to extend its conditions for a period of two years, with effect from October 1990. The hope is for a new and more effective Agreement to he concluded by October 1992.

The experience of the last 20 years shows clearly that market forces are powerful factors in price determination. The report nevertheless places considerable hope in an international agreement making a significant contribution to the stabilisation of prices. Compiled before last November’s news of an official acceptance by Malaysia to join the Agreement, the chances of such an agreement being eventually effective have been enhanced. Malaysia, it should be noted, accounts for 10 % of the world market.

Stocks during the 1989/90 season were estimated at around 1300000 tonnes. ‘Expressed in months of consumption’, says the report, ‘they hardly exceed those of 1965 which did not prevent a rapid recovery’ in the 1970s. But each recovery or boom in the industry has always been followed, a couple of years later, by a slump. Any recovery this time will be of short duration, according to the report, as this would give a new lease of life to the industrial plantations in Malaysia and Brazil which would, in turn, lead to overproduction and to another fall in price.

Although the threat posed by substitute materials remains as research continues, the Report is optimistic as to a realistic increase in world consumption of chocolates (the increases of recent years being more as a result of manufacturers increasing the proportion of cocoa in chocolates rather than an increase in the number of the consumers of the final products-a growth that is obviously fragile).

It forecasts increases in consumption in the southern countries of Western Europe-Spain, Greece, Italy and Portugal-where it is currently low-in Eastern Europe where the potential is great, in the medium-term, and in Japan where it will accelerate.

Cost of production

The global picture therefore appears encouraging, but this in itself does not guarantee the West African producers a future in a competitive world. The authors of the Report think that although climatic conditions no longer have the importance they once had (frosts in Brazil, for example, which not only influenced prices but gave African producers opportunities to sell more of their cocoa on the world market) because of the appearance of a new centre of production in South-East Asia, the cost of production will be crucial.

And in this regard, they pinpoint phytosanitary problems as being a determining factor: in times of depression in prices, they say, the big, rigid plantation structures of Brazil and Malaysia incur higher costs than the relatively flexible system, close to gathering that the Ivorians, for example, have, which can adapt the level of phytosanitary protection to the prices in force. This, in spite of the West African producers being handicapped in a variety of ways -state control (in most cases) compared to the free, private system in operation in Malaysia and Brazil, high cost of transport, difficult ecological adaptation of certain varieties and the presence of diseases, etc.

The West African producers, furthermore, appear less vulnerable during long periods of low prices, and they have an additional advantage in their extensive system of production, which is due largely to the existence of ‘pioneering fronts’ and of wet, fertile and virgin forests (open to more peasant plantations and offering such plantations protection against dry winds).

The importance of policy

The extent to which the West African producers derive the benefits of these comparative advantages will depend on the kind of policies they pursue: As the world’s biggest producer of good quality cocoa, Ivory Coast is in a position not only to influence prices but also to compete effectively with the potential rival that Indonesia represents. It must, for example, reduce the marketing costs of its cocoa; Ghana and Nigeria, which along with Indonesia, have the lowest cost of production and which have begun to recover their erstwhile vitality thanks to better economic policies, have yet to prove they can regenerate their plantations.


Cacao production by principal production region 1975-2000 (in millions of tonnes)

The authors of this report recognise, however, that the optimism they have expressed is dependent on the current situation not taking a turn for the worse, for example a sudden increase in investment in Malaysia, its cocoa becoming more viable and its production rising to more than 400 000 tonnes per annum or alternatively a sudden fall in world consumption.

A.O.

Ritual, religion and development in Madagascar

by Cne RATOVOSON

Bernard Nkuissi’s article on traditional religion in Africa appeared in no 123 of ‘The Courier’. In this issue, Cne Ratovoson uses J.B. Pratt’s definition of religion (a formal and social attitude of individuals and groups to the force(s) which they believe to have an ultimate hold over their destiny and interests) in her explanation of traditional faiths in her country. These beliefs, she suggests, can often have a negative economic and social effect-which suggestion will probably upset some established ideas.

Madagascar has beliefs- which can be complex and contusing and difficult to understand. The island, it is generally agreed, was only relatively recently peopled by its diverse inhabitants-’the people of Madagascar have a basic faith of Indonesian origin with borrowings from Arabia and Africa’, as H. Isnard puts it.

In this article, we shall concentrate on the effect of traditional religions on the development of Madagascar, a society which is 85 % rural with a fairly strong structure of authority (king, chief, god). Practical examples from the east coast, the Merina region, the north west and the west show that traditional beliefs affect development in at least two ways.

Economic and social effects

The first typical example of tradition and ancestral custom is spirit and ancestor worship. Madagascans live in villages and the oldest villager is both chief and elder, he who can serve as intermediary between the living and the dead-for villages also contain those who have passed on and, in Merina territory in the central highlands, their graves may well be among the dwellings of the living. People in Madagascar usually believe that the dead can still act in the world of the living, that some form of reincarnation is possible, and so the dead must be honoured and pleased. Ritual exhumation (famadihana) is practised in some parts of the island. The dead, people think, can appear to the living, in dreams for example, to bring them messages- hence the need for exhumation. And festivities, ostentatiously expensive ones, are organised for this purpose and shrouds costing anything between FMG 100000 and 150000, depending on quality and finish, are bought. On the east coast, especially in the Faritany de Toamasina, this ritual ceremony is called rasa hariana (a share of the fortune brought by members of the defunct’s family) and the remains of the departed have to be re-arranged in the specially prepared family tomb. In Imerina (the highlands) and Betsimisaraka country (on the east coast), the ceremony costs an immense amount, for cloth and a rosewood coffin must be bought. Every area has its ritual requiring consultation of an omblasy (or soothsayer) and the help of specialists (mpijoro). And to honour both the village community and the departed, the festivities are organised at the tomb itself. Tradition has it that a couple of zebus are sacrificed, spirituous or fermented drinks purchased and rice cooked- a feast for the whole village.

A family in one Betsimisaraka village in the former sub-prefecture of Soanierana-Ivongo spent at least FMG 500 000 on the rasa hariana ceremonies, buying a good, fat zebu, betsabetsa (a fermented rice drink), rum and rice for the guests from the Fokontany to which the defunct belonged. The village community is a religious unit as a rule and none of the tribe could avoid these customs. Sometimes, families get into debt if they have no ready money at the time, for evil may befall if the rituals are not carried out and the threat of moral sanctions by the village community is there to ensure that they are.

The second example is the doany of the north and north west. This is the place where the holy relics of the founder of a kingdom and his main dignitaries are buried. After death, the king becomes a god and his relics are worshipped by the Tsimihety and Sakalava in a gathering of 3 000-6 000 people every five years. Typical examples of this are at the holy lake of Andranova at Diego-Suarez and at Lake Kinkony near Katsepy-Mitsinjo vhere ceremonies are organised round the sacred waters where the spirit of the dead king is said to live. Often, the body is ‘buried’ in the water in a silvercoated coffin and the spirit is reincarnated in the caiman lizards of the lake-what is called dady. And sometimes even, a serpent may come out of the water, to be honoured and venerated, but never killed, by the people. In 1973, G. Rabearimanana said that gifts to the doany of Mahamavo-Najunga amounted to something like 350 oxen, more than FMG 3 million in cash and various other donations (rice and honey, for example) in kind. All the delegates of the Mahamavo peninsula led by King Doda himself offered 15 oxen and 100 litres of honey.

Such festivities cost the village concerned a great deal and, as the villagers themselves often have a very poor standard of living, they are forced to run up debts that take years to pay back.

The third example is the feast of circumcision, or Sambatra, which the Antambahoaka tribe in the former subprefecture of Mananjary organises on the River Manaujary every five or seven years. At this ceremony, a group of at least 50 and as many as 200 children are circumcised on the same day, with a joro (ritual invocation) and the sacrifice of a number of zebus at the mouth of the river -and a contribution from every family.

Briefly, the idea of all these festivities is to strengthen the ties between relatives and villagers and indeed they are an opportunity for people in villages and hamlets to enjoy themselves, although they lead to arguments and disturbances of all kinds.

Health-wise, the irrational consumption of cane wine or rum causes drunkenness on these occasions and cases of sickness and accidental death are common.

Economy-wise, the rituals require ostentatious spending, which is sometimes ill-planned, and families are forced into debt to honour their gods, ancestors and customs. The different tribes still maintain the traditions in good and bad years alike, despite the present economic situation, and they are all the poorer for it, as a lifetime’s savings may well disappear in two or three days.

Tavy-itinerant scorched-earth farming

This is tied up with fomban-drazana? or ancestral customs. The peasants of the eastern central coast, who live in a closed society . are anxious to cling to ritual and avoid the wrath of invisible, threatening powers and the stamp of religion on the farmer’s timetable is very strong as a result. So basically, tavy is not seen as an economic activity, but as a way of expressing ancestor worship. The system is conditioned by the observance of taboos and farming methods are based on respect for the ancestors and when, say, deciding which piece of land to clear, the peasant has to:

- adhere to various rituals and customs;

- consult a soothsayer to decide which is the best day to start work ( on selecting, clearing or burning the land etc);

- perform the rites before the different stages, i.e. fire tavy (clearance), oro tavy (burning), mitorona (weeding), fiangaviana (ody tavy prayer) and petrandango (lango ceremony).

The point of all these prayers, in fact, is to ask the local gods for a good harvest and: all the ritual gestures are thought to be a guarantee of getting on in a good and neighbourly fashion with the ancestors and invisible gods.

A short study of the different kinds of tavy shows the strength of religious customs and ancestor worship by the ‘tavysts’-who have taboos (or fady) to obey if they are to avoid a poor harvest.

An omblasy has to be consulted in cases of tavy on old forest land (called teviala) and he tells the farmer to take one or two clods of earth from the future field before a final choice is made. If land clearance is imminent, the potential user of the field has to offer special prayers, or ala-dike, to the gods, followed by a burnt offering of chicken or betsa (fermented drink ).

In the case of ancestral tavy (jinja finomana or simbontrano), at the site of the ancestral tomb, two or three zebus (according to the area of the tavy) have to be sacrificed. Immolation of the beasts signifies respect {or the ancestors, because by clearing the land immediately round the tombs, the farmer is apparently removing the ancestors” protective covering. People in parts of the former sub-prefectures of the north east were still sacrificing two or three zebus when clearing or weeding land or performing the jinja abandoning rite in 1972, but the practice is gradually dying out now because the economic situation is difficult.

The land of the finimana is a property tied to the extended family (4-15 households). Land rights are handed down from father to son and no outsider may set up without the permission of the head of the line. The ancestral tomb and the land around it, an area of 10-16 ha perhaps, can only be cultivated if the forest has reached maturity (7-15 years) and then only by the whole family which owns the tomb.

Lastly, common or ordinary tavy (dinja tamana), in which each villager is free to choose the plot, involves a simple prayer plus various offerings (a zebu, a chicken, rice, honey etc) to suit the means of the people clearing the land.

We shall end this section by pointing out that the choice of land carries with it the of observance of various taboos and obligations throughout the different phases of work. Such bans may be territorial (fadin-tany) or local (during the growing period) or they may be attached to just some of the plants (pulses, for example, such as voantsiroko, which kills the souls of the dead).

Lastly, Tuesdays and Thursdays are generally taken to be taboo and harmful to any work on the land - these are decrees from previous times (didin-tany) which apply solely to rice and not to dry crops (hanin-kotrana).

Cultural and psychological effects

A look at some of the simpler and less complex rituals will show what the cultural and psychological consequences are.

The first example is tavy or itinerant, scorched-earth farming as practised by the people on the east coast (see box).

The second is joro-tany, the prayers said to exorcise a piece of land it is hoped to develop but thought to be inhabited by inimical or ill-disposed spirits. There are special prayers on the land itself and burnt chicken and betsabetsa (fermented drinks) and toaka gasy (spirits) are offered to the gods.

These two examples, we firmly believe, show that divine practices make the individual psychologically and morally dependent on bath the soothsayer and the gods.

The soothsayers prescribe taboos and talismans. Individual and local taboos prevent the individual from doing particular things and, as H. Deschamps says, there are many of them ‘strewing the people’s lives with countless inhibitions” encouraging poverty in some places and hampering social, cultural and economic progress. This obviously makes it difficult to get schools and hospitals accepted, as the villagers prefer to remain ignorant and keep traditional remedies for some diseases, with superstition and witchcraft thriving as a result.

Developing a region means pushing up its output, but it also means reducing areas of poverty and pauperism by bring in a modern attitude.

The essential thing in rural society in Madagascar at the moment should be the individual’s material development (self sufficiency in food, basic needs and a proper psychological balance), and cultural development-i.e. gradually and gently transforming a hidebound outlook by suggesting modern, but rational alternative solutions.

The manifestations which form part of the rites and beliefs interfere with the proper development of the individual. Although man is a being who needs security, although he is ‘fallible, he is also social and cosmic and religious in his being and his life is a battle against a cunning evil emanating from all places and all things’. So he has to wage a perpetual campaign against pessimism, for if he allows himself to be pessimistic, his ability to react to life’s problems will be neutralised.

The sikidy or geomancy of the Madagascar dictates ‘the future and the way to behave, whatever the object’ (H. Deschamps). It plays an all-important part in social! life, certainly, but the prescriptions which go with it and the prayers said during the joro are ill-founded because they are often based on superstition and routine. The consequences are obscurantist in nature and hostile to the spread of instruction and culture among the people -as ill-founded bans such as the one on working on Tuesdays and Thursdays, the one on eating pork or chicken or the one on building latrines in the villages show.

These cases of individuals bowing to or depending on mysterious forces are clear illustrations of a critical social situation, but Madagascans have tended never to realise the fact and lock upon it as something entirely natural.

Ritual exhumation and the rites of the doany, the tavy and the sambatra merely perpetuate ancestor worship. They are a kind of reaction making it possible to counter everything that is foreign to the life of the group.

Ultimately, traditional religions, with all their different facets, are phenomena of ‘human misery’ and they create a social system - the ‘servile society’ - to support them.

But despite being social phenomena, they are by no means cultural, for ‘man fights nature and all evasive behaviour enables people to live together, helping them to live, but not authorising them to be’, as D. Guignard puts it.

However, if we are to understand the Madagascan, we must take him with his religion, his traditions, his habits and his customs. If development in fact means the individual evolving on the basis of his own potential and involves transforming and changing the relationship between society and the space around it, there is no reason why all development schemes should not also transform Madagascar’s traditional religions. But how?

Harsh measures should be avoided and skill and tact are called for. A persuasive, indulgent approach will help people gradually distance themselves from rigid custom and adapt to new ways in a ‘materially and spiritually better’ world. Lastly, it will take tolerance to create a climate of safety and serenity for the individual - which will help him strengthen his personality and do away with that lack of ease which is an expression of human failing.

C.R